I knew I should have been ready for the worst when #1 started off with Advertising Executive:
$$: Ground-level workers with writing ability move quickly to the top, immediately snagging low to mid-six figures; those who can spin mythological concepts surrounding quotidian household objects can command up to seven figures.I already knew the profession doesn't command a lot of respect; Bing's assessment crisply underscored it. But then we got to #25: Executive Vice President, New Media and I knew the jig was up. As Bing puts it:
The upside: Great expense account living, see your handiwork everywhere, the wonderful feeling of being creative and corporate at the same time.
The downside: Must take meetings with the AFLAC duck.
The dark side: You're considered a dinosaur at forty.
The upside: As long as the bubble is full, you're golden. And there's never any need to prove yourself with real results, because people don't want that, they want simply to feel that there's somebody thinking about all of it, and that's you.
The downside: Hard to see if there is one. Whatever it might be, if you're a really good bullshitter, and I know you are, it will take ten years to discover it.
The dark side: Your entrepreneurial friends in this area, who have the courage to push the envelope on the outside of corporate life, are now multitrillionaires. You are slogging along on less than a million a year.
Uh-oh. These two categories represent my current job and the job I'm looking for. To be in the company of Crumber, Feng Shui Consultant and Boulevardier is a little scary.
All kidding aside, Friday's Wall Street Journal ran a column by Daniel Akst titled False Advertising, with the honest admission of a subtitle, "Pop culture has rarely been kind to the heroic ad man." Akst took up the subject matter after reading Joshua Ferris' novel Then We Came to the End, an account of a fictional Chicago advertising agency in the post dot-com boom.
But the Ferris novel is only the most recent example of the lumps that the advertising profession takes; this grand tradition dates back 60 years to the book The Hucksters and countless movies and television shows that inarticulately, inaccurately and inanely portray advertising executives. And it wouldn't be a commentary about fictional admen if the Executive Doofus himself, Darrin Stevens, didn't get a mention. What was he exactly, a creative or an account guy?
It's so easy to use the advertising executive as a scapegoat. Advertising appeals to our emotions. "Damn those manipulative admen! They made us feel the emotions that would make us buy more stuff!" Forget about free will or self-control. It's easier to blame someone else.
Case in point: the Boston Globe ran a story last Wednesday that claimed advertising is taking the blame for pediatric obesity. I had two major problems with this article:
- Even if kids are being barraged with commercials, who makes the purchase decisions for a 10 year-old? In any responsible household, it's the parents. And if there are parents shirking their responsibilities, I'd wager that they'd rather blame an industry for their own lack of parenting skills.
- The Globe's sources are clearly outdated. The psychologist they interviewed was quoted as saying that she sings an advertising jingle. "And then I see if they can complete it. If I say, 'You deserve a break today,' they will say, '
McDonald's.' That's as familiar to them as anything else in their lives."
The problem with that? McDonald's currently uses "I'm lovin' it" and has since 2003; "You deserve a break today" debuted in 1971 and hasn't been used since 1980. Furthermore, McDonald's has been one of the leaders in trying to give kids - and adults - healthy alternatives on its menu.
- Responding to customer feedback
- Talking with customers and not at them
- Incorporating suggestions into product design
- Making lives easier through widgets, networks and communities
But in the meantime, let's hope the public doesn't shoot the messenger.
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