Remember that time you wanted to chuck your company-paid laptop out the company-paid window? Or when you wanted to high-five someone… in the face… with a chair? Of course you do. Because if you’ve spent any time in advertising at all, you know that frustration is just another part of the job. Indeed, no matter which agency you work for, the reality is that things are never as simple or as straightforward as they should be. Ever.
So get ready to introduce your face to your palm while I share with you some of my most exasperating, cringe-worthy and unforgettable anecdotes from my decade-long stint in advertising. Please note: although I have used fictitious names to protect the guilty, I can assure you that the stories are real. All too real.
It’s Photoshop, not God.
I once had to supervise a photo shoot for a new product. It went on for three gruelling days. On the last day, the client showed up and informed us that the product we were shooting wasn’t final and that the final one would look different. When I asked what we were supposed to do, he very casually turned to me, put his hand on my shoulder, and said: “Just Photoshop it.”
I wanted to drop-kick him like John Cena, but I didn’t. Instead, I spent the next two weeks treating every image pixel by pixel until it looked like the final product. There was nothing else that we or anyone else could do. It was complete injustice. A little bit of me died that day.
Do you copy?
A few years ago I was presenting new packaging designs for a well-known pharma product. The company’s head of finance was a very senior and well respected individual, so he was roped into almost every meeting. Unfortunately, he was also borderline senile and one grumpy old b******.
As soon as I presented the first design, he exploded, “This is plagiarism! You’ve copied my competitor’s design! You think I’m a fool! You’re a bunch of a********!” Of course, we hadn’t copied anything, but he was so adamant that I started to doubt myself. He then requested that the competitor’s packaging be brought to the meeting as evidence. Five minutes later it arrived. Guess what? It looked nothing like ours. Different shape. Different colours. Different design. Not even close. He got up and stormed out of the meeting. I slammed my laptop shut and did the same. Although we continued to work with them for another two years, I never presented to them again. They never apologised for the incident.
The Firing Squad
I used to work for an agency that had a team I called the ‘Firing Squad’. This was an elite group of about 10 client service people, creatives and senior management individuals who did nothing but sit in a boardroom and beat every single idea to death. Ideas were either too complicated or too simple. Too creative or not creative enough. There was no middle ground.
Once I had been working for about two weeks on this very major pitch. I had a great idea that was completely on brief. It was a winner. When I presented it in front of the Firing Squad, most of them were silent because they had no way of poking holes in it. But just before I thought I was safe, the senior-most person in the room shook his head and said, “There’s nothing wrong with it, but it has no… oomph.” I still don’t know what the hell that means. But apparently lack of “oomph” is reason enough to kill any idea.
Thanks, but no thanks
I’ve been working for this client for over three years now. And in those three years, we’ve done tons of creative work, some of which was below average, and some which has been appreciated at a global level. The catch is, she refuses to send us briefs, nor does she know how to give feedback or direction appropriately. But the one thing she can do well is send stinkers via email. Oh, she’ll praise you face-to-face, but in writing she’ll always go out of her way to run you and all your efforts into the ground. So, after completing this particularly challenging campaign a few years ago (that too under tight timelines), I really thought some written appreciation was due. Surprise, surprise… she sends a stinker. All she did was nitpick about all the minor and trivial issues that she faced during development of the campaign. It was completely uncalled for. So I wrote back, trying to justify that we were accommodating her lack of brief, lack of direction, and lack of time. Her response: another stinker, this time claiming that she spent more time doing my job than her own and I was actually hindering her product launch.
Instead of driving over to her office and burning her alive, I decided to take the high road and cease all further communication with her. I haven’t emailed or spoken to her to this day and hopefully I never will again. Always remember, never argue with stupid people. They drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.
But I’m still here
After reading this, you’re probably wondering why I’m still in this field. That’s a good question. Maybe I’m a sadist. Or maybe I’m afraid that I could get into something worse (if that’s even possible). But one thing’s for sure: there’s no other profession that will test your patience, make you question your sanity, or keep your ego in check as much as the ad industry will. I’ve learned more about myself and my value as an individual in these 10 years than I ever would have working anywhere else. For me, that’s not a bad thing. That’s a scar worth showing off.
The author of this article has spent nearly 10 years in the industry and is currently working at a senior position in a major ad firm. He plans to spend a few more years there so has requested his identity remains anonymous.