When I See Advertising


I thought this would be a good post for the day after Labor Day since it acknowledges the hard work and long hours of frequently unconsidered employees at companies all over the world.

I don’t know what you see when you see advertising but what I see are all the people behind the work, and I’m not just talking about the commercials you see on TV. I’m talking about all of it. I’m talking about all the marketing collateral, all the websites and all the software that has to be produced every time someone in some brand strategy department somewhere has an idea. You might see a commercial for some product you may or may not buy, but I see all the poor people behind the scenes who have to work late and lose sleep because they didn’t hear about the updates that needed to be made to the company’s website until it was really too late to get them done right. You might see a commercial, but here’s what you don’t see.

  • You don’t see the guy sitting in his wife’s hospital room with his newborn baby on his lap trying to meet some deadline.
  • You don’t see all the people talking on Skype with offshore developers at ungodly hours of the day because it’s the only way to get their job done.
  • You don’t see large numbers of people scrambling at the last mine to make changes because something didn’t pass legal review, or worse, because some lawsuit was filed by your client’s competitor while you were feeding your three your old that morning.
  • You don’t see the poor guy who had the original idea for the campaign which was actually kind of genius but who had to watch his own idea get so badly watered down over the course of six months and thirty-nine rounds of internal review that he’s downright embarrassed by the time his family sees it.
  • You don’t see the twelve-hour emergency conference calls that start on Thanksgiving night and don’t end until the next morning because some last minute Black Friday project for some ubiquitous brand just blew up in everyone’s faces.
  • You don’t see the badly written contracts which frequently don’t get read at all and usually don’t get signed until after the projects have started.
  • You don’t see how long it takes for some of these campaigns to go from idea to execution and you don’t think about how sick of looking at it everyone is by the time you get to see it.
  • You don’t see the woman, two years later, changing the channel with a shudder because that ubiquitous brand is re-purposing the creative collateral (and national TV advertising) from that Black Friday project that blew up in everyone’s faces and resulted in that twelve-hour emergency conference call.
  • You don’t see all the price tags on all the projects that are required to support one national TV advertising campaign.
  • You don’t see how many agencies and how many people are involved when one big brand launches any size campaign.
  • You don’t see the hundreds of conference calls that people scurry to all day long most of which are not progressive and some of which are downright nonsensical.
  • You don’t see all the sixty-hour weeks or the high agency employee turnover rates.
  • You don’t see the postmortem meetings for the train wreck projects that almost didn’t make it to market.
  • You don’t see all the pitches that didn’t make it through the final round even though tons of people worked through multiple weekends to meet those pitch deadlines.
  • You don’t see how the decisions each advertising executive and brand CEO make affect the people who work for them.
  • You don’t see all the very funny fake marketing collateral which is produced by agency employees who are so frustrated by their current clients they can’t help but make fun of them.
  • You don’t hear the nicknames agency employees give their projects or the nicknames they give their client-side counterparts most of which should never be repeated in public but many of which frequently are.
  • You don’t see those meetings where everyone is so tired that an otherwise relatively important discussion devolves into delirious hilarity. And you don’t see those meetings where everyone is so frustrated that an otherwise relatively simple discussion turns into an awkwardly tense one.
  • You don’t see the story boards for the option B commercials which often don’t get produced but still have to be ready in case of disaster.
  • You don’t see the producers scurry when the only B-level talent their client could afford bails on their commercial contract the day of shooting forcing a sudden and unfortunate shit to the option B-commercial at literally the very last minute.
  • You don’t see the six versions of the website design that preceded the one which finally got client approval.
  • You don’t ever think about the enemies which are made or the friendships which are kindled over the course of all those conference calls and I’m sure you never think at all about the awkward silences which some of those conference calls produce when someone has to tell the truth and admit that this or that deadline is never going to be met.

All they want you to see is the product they are trying to sell you, but when I see advertising, I see all the people behind the work, and all the work behind the work. I see all the meetings and conference calls. I see all the versions it took to get to market. I see all the departments at all the companies which have to work together in order for the wheels of the advertising machine to turn, and I see the suffering of those poor souls who work at all those brands, and agencies and subcontracted vendors.

I think that’s why I like it so much in the Adirondacks, where I can walk for hours without being bombarded by the visuals of the advertising machine and without being reminded of all the people behind the work. Just yesterday I walked for over an hour and the closest thing I saw to advertising was a small sign on a lawn encouraging passersby to vote for Peter Olesheski for Johnsburg Town Supervisor.

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