Consider this my significantly abridged tribute to Jean Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, his massive tome on the ins and outs of existentialism. In my case it’s the ins, outs and then in again reality of being a writer for an advertising agency, a your-only-as-good-as-your-last-idea world of excessive mental meandering, trite reasoning and circular second guessing. And that’s just Monday.
But what is most debilitating is the absolute disposability of everything we do. My computer is a virtual wasteland of sound, strategic thinking. And what’s worse is that my best ideas, the stuff I’ve been most proud of, have never seen the light of day. In fact, after reading or presenting what is usually the most clever and creative work, what usually follows is a long awkward silence, during which time the client scrambles to frame something coherent to say. Usually this is a least common denominator kind of response where only the most obvious and cliché concepts are considered while the gems get glossed over and ultimately killed in the interest of not rocking the boat.
So here’s a tried and true advertising principle for any situation where the client wants changes:
First, make it red.
If they still don’t like it, make everything bigger.
This really works. I swear it.
Here are other principles that will always get you through any meeting.
- With conviction, bandy about serious sounding words like encode and decode.
- And always, always, always make sure you include the take away.
- Talk about evolving things like ideas and ads.
This last pointer is essential to the veil of strategic competence, becuase the decode (See how it works?) says, “I’m smart, I know ads, you don’t. I have my finger on the pulse of buyers the world over and if you listen to me and you will get a big bonus at the end of the year.”
But what about the writing?
Well, that’s complicated too. Certainly it’s not easy. But the hard part isn’t what you’d think. It’s not creativity. It’s not ideas. It’s the churning out of an alarming volume of creative on demand, in a pinch, and with increasingly shorter deadlines. Because that is the reality of creating ads in my world. There isn’t time for nuance, meaning or beauty, although sometime they happen by happy accident. There is only the message in it’s most direct and naked form.
In the end, this is what I know: I consider my afternoon coffee house jaunt to be daily catharsis. I consider ad making a lesson in patience. I consider being a copywriter simply a form of creative reinterpretation. I consider all of the above to be the essence of writing and nothingness.