Thursday, February 14, 2013

Fall in Love

I'm posing as a professor this semester, co-teaching a portfolio class for a talented group of UNT advertising seniors. My co-adjunct professor assigned some seriously difficult clients for these students. One in particular, the magazine edition of TV Guide, made me question: were we being too hard? Were we purposefully making their lives difficult?

Then I remembered how, two years ago, I was working on The Yellow Pages. The actual book.
And yeah -- it was hard. But that was my job. Sell the tree-killing, finger-dirtying, always-went-in-my-recycling-bin-the-second-I-got-it-until-I-finally-gave-up-landlines-in-part-because-of-the-fucking- Yellow Pages.

And a hundred other assignments over my career that I didn't want. At least, not initially.

It's easy to look at something -- anything -- and pick out the things you don't like. Or come up with a reason to keep your distance. We live in a generation of snark. It's become kind of a sport to deride the people and things that surround us.

But I realized, at some point, that no product, no company, no job is perfect.
And as a person who had decided on advertising for a career, I had made the choice of celebrating things that I might otherwise turn my nose up at.

Who does great advertising? The best advertising ever? Weiden? For who? Nike? I can say, that advertising is absolutely incredible. Heartfelt, inspiring, sometimes humorous but always thoughtfully conceived and artfully produced.

I very much believe in Nike, the brand. But I don't typically buy Nike, the product.
I dislike Nike shoes. I haven't had a swoosh on my feet in a long time, for a variety of reasons.
Some practical, others more political.

As a consumer, I am absolutely afforded the luxury of turning my nose up at brands I dislike.
As an advertiser? Not so much.

So what's a creative to do?

I suggest you fall in love.

Look past the blemishes. Look past the ugly ears and the big nose and that unfortunate eyelid mole and find something -- maybe something deep down -- that you believe in, and can unconditionally celebrate.

(I tried to convey this to my class. I fear it had mixed results. They may have though I was just being funny. Or perhaps a little insane. I wrote a long-winded love letter to them on the white board in the class room. It may have been kind of creepy.)

I will attempt to capture the essence of what I told them here:

Fall in love with your client's product or service.
Look past the ugly stuff. Especially the stuff over which both you and they have no control.
Look at shortcomings as opportunities.
Look at things with humility, and empathy. You're not perfect either -- even if you're trying.
Look at things through the eyes of a human -- with hope and optimism.
Look for the bright side. Make it shine as brightly as possible.
Look for the dark side. Rim-light it so it remains seductive and mysterious.

Don't lie. Don't ever lie.
But shape your observations -- and your belief around the good, not the bad.
Make sure you can believe it. And say it with a straight face. Because you MUST believe it if you expect me to.

You should be able to introduce me to it, as you might your girl- or boyfriend, while looking me in the eye. Without winking, or raising your eyebrows or looking at your shoes. You aren't just sleeping with it this weekend -- you're taking it out to dinner and introducing it to your parents.

Now if the thing you've been asked to sell kills people. and you're not okay with that. Then refuse to do it. Break up. This is your right. You are, after all, a moral being. A conscientious objector.

You may be fired. Or flunked.

In fact, it's probably better that you are fired/flunked if someone asks you to sell cigarettes or WMDs or anything else that kills or sickens millions of people.

Maybe you no longer create advertising. (I don't)
Maybe you never did.

But, in whatever you do -- hopefully you do something -- there are the good things and the bad things. If you focus on the bad things -- it will definitely be bad.

But if you can find the light, through clear eyes clouded only by humility and optimism, then maybe you, too, can fall in love