One of the first challenges a person faces in the advertising business is the need to grow a thick skin. Like yesterday. Sadly, it’s a lesson unlearned by way too many acting professionals, inside and outside of media, marketing, and advertising.
According to Suzanne Pope, professor of advertising at Humber College in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, a percentage of advertising students that she teaches also suffer from false greatness. And it’s a blinding condition.
I have observed that there’s a significant minority of students who cannot tolerate the suggestion that their talent is anything less than exceptional. When their work is criticized, they scarcely seem to hear. It is as if they are listening instead to the fanfare they imagine will play when the team of unicorns pulls their chariot through the front door of Wieden+Kennedy.
That’s a paragraph to remember and recite. As someone who wanted to enter Portland’s Pearly ad gates one more than one occasion, I can relate to the fantasy, if not the myopic childishness.
The Highway to Humble
Like a great teacher, Pope points the way. “Advertising is a business that humbles all of us sooner or later. You will be much happier, personally and professionally, if you choose to humble yourself right now.”
Humble can do a lot for a person. Humble can also do a lot for a brand.
One of the greatest ad legends of all time, Bill Bernbach, was a big fan of using disarming humor and the soft sell.
The customers on the other end of his ads were also big fans.
This Avis ad from Doyle Dane & Bernbach (DDB) ran in 1962. It was part of a campaign of “We’re No. 2” ads that lifted Avis’ sales to new heights, while also creating a new standard for engaging ad copy.
“Obviously, the thing we try hardest for is just to be nice.” It’s dated, but beautiful. Can you imagine a brand saying anything like this today? It’s hard for me to imagine.
Concerted Effort, Not Ambition, Is the Starting Line
Entitlement is a highly contagious social disease. There’s no need to spread it.
Even if you were, or are, a good student and you have a decent spec book and a great attitude, the road to fame and fortune in the ad industry is long and winding, as it is in Hollywood, publishing, journalism and other fiercely competitive fields. Even if you land a job at a smoking hot ad agency with a massive trophy case, they won’t be flying you to Cannes anytime soon. Those reservations are made for dues payers many years in advance.
My advice is to find a way to love the craft of advertising because when you love the process of making ads, you’re golden. When you’re attached to the money or to industry fame, you’re playing a dangerous game with your career. The job of every ad maker under the sun is to shine a brilliant light on the client’s gifts to the world, not his own. Thus, humility is a job requirement. It’s not a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have.