About a decade ago (give or take a year or two) I was a senior copywriter on adidas Originals at Sid Lee in Montreal. I could write a book on my time there as it was the most inspiring and intense part of my career and I know many who were there at the time who would agree. The shop had picked up a portion of adidas from 180. A year later, we won the global business. Some new people had started by then, junior level, and my partner and I who were doing the ACD job by then were onboarding them.
At one point I was waxing poetic about some of the older ads that inspired me, and by older I mean “a couple of years before,” and trying to impart some admittedly unasked-for wisdom when one of the juniors put his fists under his chin like a meme, batted his eyes and said, “tell me more, grandpa.”
I will admit that this person’s response dimmed my light for a good six months. Regardless of my position on the so-called ladder, I had always wanted to mentor people. It’s why when I was working in Atlanta at BBDO I taught at the now defunct Creative Circus, putting in extra hours making sure I answered emails from students promptly and stayed after class to ensure they left knowing what they should do.
I had hoped in some pathetic way to transfer some of the inspiration that I got from the genius that is Luke Sullivan when I was fortunate enough to have him as a teacher. His wisdom, never knowingly imparted but just exuded like the scent of a fragrant mango, changed my life. Luke was like DMT except it didn’t need some rambling endorsement from Joe Rogan. And way more practical.
What I learned from teaching is that not every student will respect you, a lesson that came in handy, especially as I became a creative director. One can see through the bullshit and recognize a fake smile when they see it.
Still, when I entered the “real world,” and encountered an asshole in the wild, I was strangely unprepared. After all, their sig file denoted their rank. Surely they’d want to listen to someone with more tours of duty, right? Sorry to use the war analogy but ad folks love that so I’m trying to appeal to everyone. War room, anyone?
I thought my skin was thick. I’d had a client on Georgia Natural Gas (one of the first brands I worked on) flat-out ask if I was on drugs because I dared present a campaign outside their wheelhouse. Spoiler alert, I don’t use drugs. But that insult rolled off me. The people in the agency, underneath or above me or whatever, I counted as equals. But I realize that wasn’t a two-way street.
That’s why it pains me to write this. Because I’ve seen a lot of people in my graduating class, let’s say, who have been posting ads on social media representing the good old days. When ads were “smart,” and “not pandering,” and “inspiring,” and “creative.”
And while that is one hundred percent true and every ad the people in my feed post is brilliant, and why Adland might be the only website still in existence where you can see ads from literally seventy-five years ago along with commentary as opposed to just websites who mindlessly data scrape to make money, that asshole who stung me with his ageist comment was right about one thing.
Not about my age because I was 32 at the time. But this: If advertising is guilty of forgetting its past and only looking at the newest app or media channel that ironically makes everything we do more fleeting, those of us who celebrate great work are guilty of wearing rose-colored glasses. We forget that it was just as hard to get great work through then as it is today.
We choose to remember the good while blithely forgetting the torture that went into making those ads. And if we are honest, making great work, regardless of the media, has never been easy. It’s hard to come up with a great idea in a vacuum. Harder still to get your bosses to approve it. And the effort to get it produced is herculean.
I am five-foot-five and weigh one hundred thirty pounds. After the ordeal of winning the adidas global campaign and then actually producing the work, I weighed a hundred and fifteen pounds. It’s more drastic at my frame than it sounds on paper, so much so that my brilliant colleague, Jasmine Loignon asked if I was okay when I returned from the shoot.
And while I will never advocate the kind of weight-loss-inducing stress to bring about a campaign, I will suggest that everything we learned should be passed along to people who are willing to learn with the emphasis on the word “willing.” Because the ones who are willing to learn are the ones who will ultimately be in charge of making or approving the campaigns that we will be sharing years from now. Lord willing.
We owe it to ourselves to honor the past because if we don’t, it will be forgotten. But we also owe it to ourselves to apply everything we learned in the past to 2023. It was never easy to produce great work. But if we don’t actually do our jobs and direct creative, and mentor people to weather the storms, then we can forget about ever celebrating current work the way we would like to. And that calamity will lie on us, not the grey matter who just joined our ranks.
Seriously. It’s your fault from here on out.
So yes, please keep sharing that amazing work with everyone. And if you see a glimmer in a junior’s eye, or even a more experienced person (creative or client) whose light has now been rekindled, by all means, nurture it. After we’re long gone, and they have reached the winter of their years, others will sing their praises.
And if AI overlords make us obsolete at least let us have the last laugh.
Because whether you like the current state of advertising or not, our profession is one worth keeping going.
To put it in a more succinct way, do you really want to shuffle off this mortal coil knowing advertising died in 2005, or at any time? Or would you rather keep it going? If the ad bug bit you hard enough, the answer to the first question is no, and the answer to the second question is yes.
So do all you can to inspire everyone around you. Teach them. Show them examples. Don’t color it in sepia and don’t act like the guy telling everyone younger than you to get off your lawn. Someone out there will get it and that will make all the difference in your life not to mention the profession.
But If some asshole makes an ageist joke about you to your face, feel free to stop talking, and hang them out to dry. No one needs to put up with bullshit.
We aren’t only archivists but we’re gardeners, too, As much as we need to cultivate, we should also remove the weeds.
So teach the children well, as the song goes. We need to talk to others other than ourselves. But if they won’t listen, fuck ‘em.