9pm, September 2003, St John’s Street. It’s Mother; current Advertising Agency of the Year, and the hippest, coolest, most creative shop in town. A scruffy, big-nosed Serbian-looking kid and overweight ‘Duncan from Blue’ are working on their first ever advertising pitch for Boddingtons. We’d been at the agency for three months on placement. This was our first opportunity to grab a job we’d been told 10,000 people apply for! Mother! 10,000 people! Mother! The place all the cool kids work, and where advertising dreams come true! But also, Robert Saville (the boss) was shouting at us down a landline phone, that’d been passed to us like a stick of Uranium by the previous team he’d ‘enlightened’. We’d taken one sheet of A4, with mad ramblings scrawled illegibly all over it, to the final review of the day and he wasn’t best pleased. We better have something by the morning or we could pack up our things (a copy of the Da Vinci Code and a bag of Monster Munch) and get out.
Two hours later and sitting in the basement kitchen, with the words still ringing in our ears, the eastern European and the fat backing dancer were staring at another blank piece of A4 -desperately searching for ways of making people give a shit about an old man’s beer that’s sort of creamier than other creamy old man beer. But nothing, and I mean NOTHING was coming.
Prepare yourselves people:
This. Is. Advertising.
This is the world you’re all fighting to get into. A world full of head-scratching, wall-banging, stress-inducing, hair-pulling hell. And you think your skin is thick enough from the book-crit bashings?
All of a sudden you’re literally leaving the ‘comfort’ of a university bedsit and finding yourself on the 6.05am bus to Guildford Station to get the 6.45am train to Waterloo to get the 7.35am bus to Clerkenwell to be in the job of your dreams by 8am. ‘First in, last out’ as they all say. But here’s the thing;
This. Is. Advertising.
Yes, it can be tough. Yes, it can be bloody. But it’s still just that stuff that sits between Gogglebox, or wallpapers bus shelters. Of course, we all want to make the aforementioned stuff amazing. We want people to care, we want people to listen, we want people to tweet the shit out of anything we interrupt their lives with. But, before our egos or stress levels go rocketing through roofs, let’s take one more moment to remember:
This. Is. Advertising.
Lives are not on the line, the world is not going to end, Michelangelo will not turn in his grave (even Neil Buchanan couldn’t give two hoots). You’re about to enter a world in which you make stuff that tweaks behaviour, that nudges minds. Stuff that titillates and tinkers with emotions.
We haven’t got a captive audience. People don’t pay for the stuff we make, people don’t make appointments to listen to our opinions or put their lives in our hands. Hearts don't start or stop beating. As tough as it is to often admit, people are entirely apathetic to the stuff we slave over and care so much about.
But therein lies the secret - the sooner you realise and accept that people don’t really care about what you do, the quicker you’ll come to love this job and be all the better at it. Why? Because you’ll make stuff entirely accepting of this apathetic audience, and free from the pressure of believing lives are at stake.
You’ll write desperately to try to make those who couldn't care less about what you do, well… care. To look up from all the other stuff that craves for their attention and listen to what you’ve got to say.
You’ll realise that leaving work at 6pm every day, not only lets you have a life outside of work, but essentially makes you realise how lives are lead, how people operate, how light falls through a pub window. Yes, go to the pub more, people. Soak it all up, and come to understand what these motherfuckers who fast forward through our ads are actually interested in. What makes them tick, what makes them laugh, what makes them different to the self-interested, ego-fuelled tarts that make up so much of this self-inflated industry.
Acknowledging that people don’t care is the most liberating and creatively freeing thing to entirely embrace and entirely take on. Grasp that, and it becomes both a source of pressure and most significantly a source of release.
So, enter this industry with an open mind and closed ego. Enter it without fear of missing the mark, without a concern for fucking it all up. Step in and enjoy yourselves. Bathe in the joy of having your stupid ideas turned into a reality. Having the stuff you’ve got to say broadcast out to stationary traffic on the Westway. Of course you’ll make mistakes, have horrible ideas, make creative directors angry. Hell, if you’re lucky enough you might even bag a Turkey of the Week from time to time. But, has anyone died?
No matter how much research companies will attempt to argue otherwise, what we do isn’t a science. It’s not something that text books can teach, there isn’t a rule book. We simply have to jump in and learn on the job. And with that comes a barrowload of mistakes, each one driving you forwards.
So, back to that evening of Cream of Manchester hell. Half-arsed Djokovic and his tubby mate are now close to tears. Nothing is coming. And then up steps the hero of this tale: Danny Bush. The happy-go-lucky, cheeky chappy project manager who’s somehow still smiling even though it’s going on midnight. ‘Alright lads? Cracked it yet?’. ‘No’ we cry. We’ve nothing. We’re doomed. Our world is ending. And so come the words, from this perpetually cheerful, carefree little glorious bugger, that’ll stay with us for the rest of days - “For fucks sake lads, cheer up. It’s not like we’re making parachutes”.