What drives people to work in the advertising business? What human impulses are at work?
Advertising—like journalism, publishing, technology, and entertainment—is a tough field to join and a difficult field to stay employed in. So, it’s fair to ask, what is the original impulse, and what is the daily motivation that keeps the best people in the game, sometimes for years, sometimes for decades?
Legendary copywriter Ernie Schenck has the answer, and he wrote about it in the pages of Communications Arts.
Purpose is the only thing that’s going to save you. Awards won’t. Promotions won’t. Fame won’t. Fortune won’t. These are nothing but sugar highs for the ego.
Purpose is something else. Purpose is deeper. It’s primal. A need. I know it’s only advertising. I know it can seem shallow and far from noble. But there are some who toil in the name of things grander than a Lion or a Pencil or a week at Cannes or even a paycheck. The reshaping of society. The recalibration of culture. The moving of the needle.
In the end, only one thing is going to keep the creative maverick going, and that’s the resilience that comes from purpose.
Do you have a primal need to make ads? If you believe you and your team are capable of influencing outcomes and changing the culture for the better, you may indeed be a primal maker of communications.
You may be the modern cave painter, dedicated to moving your clan toward knowledge and an appreciation of things beyond mere survival.
Ads Are Not Mental Garbage, But Too Often Mental Garbage Appears In Ads
People who don’t like advertising see bad ads every day and use the evidence they’ve unwillingly gathered as proof that the industry’s output is shit. Primal ad makers, mavericks, and craftsmen are aware of The Sea of Ad Debris. It can’t be missed. It does not matter to them because it’s not part of their world.
Here’s a cooking analogy. A chef knows that 99 out of 100 people who prepare food are cooks, not chefs. A chef provides guests more than simple nourishment. A chef is an entertainer, and a person capable of expressing their vision through the medium of food. Primal ad makers are the chefs of the ad world, and there are damn few who manage to transcend the mundane on their client’s behalf.
Ad Legend, Hal Riney, did transcend the mundane on his client’s behalf, more than once. Riney had a clear purpose, and he managed to express it via his ads and his agency.
Was “doing good work” his purpose? Is it yours? Or is “doing good work” code for what you truly want? And what do primal ad-makers truly want? It depends on the maker, but I’d place abiding respect for craft and the power to help people on everyone’s list.
How Do You Find Your Purpose or Calling at Work?
For some people their purpose at work is clear. For instance, saving the family farm from imminent collapse or turning over the family business to the next generation. In advertising, it can be less clear. Say you’re purpose is to help elect capable public officials. When this is the case, the ads you make are merely a means to a political and societal end. This helps to explain why there are only two legendary political ads—”Daisy” for LBJ in 1964 and “Morning in America” for Reagan in 1984 (by the aforementioned Mr. Riney).
For a select few mavericks, advertising is never just a means to an end.
For the mavericks, an ad is an artifact that enters the public sphere, thus the maker accepts two responsibilities at the start of every project: (1) to please the viewer and (2) to help the client’s business grow or cause catch on. The two responsibilities go hand-in-hand. For me, there is another essential driver attached to the ad business and to Adpulp.com—my desire to help other writers make a living from their writing.
These deeper purposes evolve, sometimes undetectably inside of you, and through years of work, they start to show themselves and this is when your career gets richer. When you’re abiding by your principles and pursuing your purpose, you’re on the right path. This is not the same thing as strolling down the path. It’s an arduous climb to ascend to another level.
On your way, you may taste the ego fruits of money and industry fame. Maybe you never taste said fruits and feel whole inside. We all have our own needs and read on what the ad business is capable of, and what we are capable of as workers in it. I’m consistently pleased by the fact that our industry employs writers and designers. For me, this is worth celebrating and worth fighting for.
Now, tell me about your purpose. If you’re not comfortable sharing it with a larger audience, reach me via email at [email protected].