Good people and ad people. By @JemBauer
By Jem Bauermeister
Good people and ad people.
Traditionally the tax man and the ad man are two chaps you wouldn’t dream of inviting to a dinner party (and traditionally they’d both be men). But they serve a very similar societal purpose.
Whenever someone asks what I do I tell them I’m an Art Director and hope they don’t really know what that is. If they find out I’m at advertising school they either roll their eyes and change the subject or ask me what I think of the Go Compare man.
If they’re crazy enough to open the can of worms that is the question “why?” I say my goal is to inject purpose in to every piece of work I do. I tell them that I’m not just here to make ads, I use creativity to solve problems. Even if that’s just through a piece of communication. I tell them times are changing, if a brand doesn’t use it’s influence to make the world a better place, they’ll soon become irrelevant. And as a creative, for some reason, it’s my job to help them be more meaningful.
I tell them that in a consumerist, capitalist society, the best place to be is the belly of the beast. Change from the inside.
When Laura Jordan Bambach from Mr. President came in to school she talked to us about using your work for good in the simplest ways, even if it’s just through who you cast. Brands don’t always have to attach themselves to a cause to make a difference.
But I’ve started to realise these justifications for wanting to be in advertising are less for the benefit of other people and more to settle my own conscience.
Since the day I started at SCA I’ve been trying to reconcile my moral compass with my love for this industry. The industry I came to because I get excited about ideas, Psychology, story telling, Graphic Design, economics and video editing.
But what about selling soap and chocolate and “stuff”? What about when I’m trying to convince someone that a particular brand of deodorant is going to change their life? Make them a more desirable person? The official school mantra is “we sell or we die” and sometimes we’re going to have to do just that to keep the lights on while we save the world.
But that somehow still doesn’t feel quite right. Why can’t we JUST save the world?
Over Christmas I found a book called The Attention Merchants by Tim Wu. “The epic struggle to get inside our heads”. It’s not designed to help me fall in love with my profession but it’s incredibly interesting. It’s a very comprehensive history of the industry written with an opposing bias to what I’m used to hearing within the walls of SCA.
It starts with the very first New York Penny Paper in 1833. Until then, newspapers were a luxury item at 6 cents a copy and the only “advertising” they featured was purely informational and had to be deemed news-worthy. But the opportunistic Benjamin Day who simply wanted to promote his printing press decided to start a newspaper with a difference. This one would be accessible to everyone, he would undercut the competition by selling it at 1/6th of the price and in order to do that he would fill it with ads. Nobody believed him that it would work, it was impossible to get businesses to buy something they’d never needed before so the first few editions operated at an enormous loss. But he believed in the idea so strongly that he wrote free ads for businesses that he’d never solicited to prove that it worked.
He was the first person who understood that he had two products to sell, his paper to his readers and his readers to his advertisers. In just over a year, Day was circulating the city’s most popular paper.
As you know, the rest is history. There’s hundreds more stories in the book but I think the first one is the best illustration of what advertising has added to the world.
Much like tax, it’s created a more equal society.
Every day I walk through a station full of ads, I pick up a Metro full of ads, I get on a cramped train full of ads, I change at Vauxhall where I’m handed a TimeOut full of ads and I stand on the underground platform staring at the 48 sheets while I wait for the Victoria Line southbound to Brixton.
I’m a skint student. I’m not going to buy Jack Daniels or see Wicked or use Zoopla. But because some of my rush hour buddies with disposable income will, every day conveniences like reading the news and commuting to school are free or a heck of a lot cheaper for me.
Ironically, reading a book written by a man with a burning hatred for the commoditisation of human attention has given me a new found faith in what I’m doing here.
I’d happily choose a society with penny papers above one where only the rich can afford
to read the news. People who buy “stuff” are allowing me to watch videos, stream music, talk to my friends instantly, read Shortlist, navigate with my phone, watch TV and ask the internet any question I like for free.
So without curing cancer and ending poverty, yes, advertising is inherently good.