I’ve worked in this industry for 28 years. In a business that thrives on what happens five minutes from now, there are times I feel like a relic. Especially when I see alarmist predictions about the demise of this crazy business that I love.
I can remember almost the very moment I fell in love with advertising. As the managing editor for the now-defunct student newspaper at my high school, The Viking Shield, advertising was my responsibility. In addition to writing stories for the paper, I had to ensure the right ads made it into the right issues, create ads that didn’t exist, and then put the paid-for foundation together for the editorial. I could create my own Absolut vodka-style campaigns with a smaller palette of yogurt stores, card shops and pizza restaurants. At 16 years old, I was already all in to my future.
I could sit here and let you think it was that easy. That my work on the high school paper led me to where I am today: writing for clients. But it wasn’t simple. Nor was it easy. So much happened in the middle. I started as a designer, became an art director, and even enjoyed stints in the paper industry and as a nonprofit marketing director before finally settling into the life of a word wrangler. Fun fact, I have worked almost everywhere I worked, twice.
What’s been central in these 28 years is not the art directing or writing; it’s the ideating. What I love most is the brainstorming. When I was 16, it was creating a small space ad campaign to honor the sponsor of our journalism lab: Pepsi. Then studying at USC and later working in the business, it meant coming up with varied concepts for campaigns that clients would use in the holy trinity of pre-Internet media: TV, print and direct mail. Idea after idea. Bought and sold. Every now and then one of those ideas would bloom into a huge success. I have to say, it’s been a great way to earn a living.
But the real beauty of what we do is often confined to the brainstorming sessions. Of course the output of brainstorming was reliably good — a kernel of a campaign concept that we could thresh into something bigger. But the fifty or hundred other ideas we dreamed up had bountiful possibility, too. Even better, I’d say because they were a little more out of the media-driven box. For every kernel created, there were also a few great ideas custom-tailored to support it.
Things that weren’t in the budget. Things we weren’t asked to do. Things that were never presented to the client. Little things, big things. Things the client could do, things their customers could wear. Things that had the real potential to make a mark in our media-cluttered world.
Yes, the three-headed print campaign king has been toppled and for some time. But the new king isn’t the latest CMS platform or even a keyword. It’s bigger than character counts and Snapchat.
At least for the next five minutes in marketing history, what’s king is the interesting extra ideas that for years were idled on the sidelines. The strategic anthems built to rally empassioned people together. The funny t-shirt that boosts brand recall and spreads the gospel. The targeted event that puts a product in exactly the right place and time for sonic impact. The “wouldn’t-it-be-great-if-we-could”s.
Yes, the industry is different, but the work that goes into even the newest fangled digital campaign is decidedly old school. It’s built on an idea. And as long as there are people like me — and hopefully you too — there will always be ideas.
When the ideas are gone, that’s when we’ll really be in trouble.
So with my 28 years of experience I’m going to tell everyone to just settle down and relax. Advertising isn’t dead. It will exist as long as there is commerce. And as for us being relics? That’s not true either. If you’re a dreamer or a thinker, there’s business to be had.