There are a many ways that you can tell if someone really understands advertising – though they’re probably not what you think they are.
For example, you can’t tell by the number of awards they have on their shelf. You can’t tell by the way they dress (client expectations to the contrary) or by the names they drop in conversation, or by the obliqueness of their references to Mad Men.
No, in my experience, the best way to be sure you are talking to someone who really understands advertising, who really gets what it can do, what it can’t, how it works, how it doesn’t, and why it’s, on occasion, remarkable, is by their articulation of a handful of simple, often unpleasant, observations about this business. Observations borne out of years of experience and close attention to the actual business of this business. Observations that would make a lesser person cynical to the point of abandoning this industry for something less frustrating and more rewarding.
Observations like: “Astonishingly, many bad and banal ideas work. Not because they are bad or banal but because advertising works. Good advertising works better than bad advertising, but bad advertising works better than no advertising.”
Or like this: “Alas, the agency will not change the bad client. More likely, the bad client will change the agency. But it will all come down to the same thing. The client will get exactly the work they deserve.”
Or perhaps most importantly this:
That’s the difference between an ad and advertising. Anyone can write an ad. What they can’t do is write an ad on deadline, on budget, with sales going down, the client all over your back, the phone ringing, and you need to have an idea, NOW. Then tomorrow, when everything you have done is rejected, resetting and delivering a fresh approach.
The person who understands those things is someone you should entrust your advertising to. And based on what he’s written in Ad Men, Mad Men & the Real World of Advertising (from which we have been quoting), it would appear that Dave Marinaccio is one of those people.
Marinaccio, the author of two other books, began his career in stand-up at Second City in Chicago, “graduated” to JWT (back in the days when you could do that without a book vetted by a portfolio school), then did time at FCB, Darcy, DDB Needham, and Bozell until finally founding his own shop – LMO Advertising – where he has been the Chief Creative Officer for the past twenty years.
Now, one would like to believe that anyone with that many initials on his resume has learned a few things about the business, but we both know that that’s rarely true. Or if they have learned anything, it’s usually highly idiosyncratic and involves a proficiency in the art of office politics, a mastering of the science of wangling boondoggles and probably a few nefarious skills involving the Chateau Marmont and some West Coast celebrities you’ve never heard of.
And while Marinaccio may have learned those things too, the things he’s willing to share in this book are the basic, fundamental, timeless truths that the real, rare professionals in this industry know, but that for some reason too rarely get passed along.
Like the fact that this is a messy business – so if you don’t like messes, you should probably try something else. Like the fact that it’s both an art and a science – and if you only deliver one or the other you’ll never do really great work consistently. Or that we actually owe it to our clients to explore the outer limits – not because we’re “creative” and we’d rather be writing poetry, but because the outer limits is where the next great connection is always made.
And why is it important that these things be passed along?
Because if we all knew these fundamental truths at the beginning, if we all understood what we were really trying to accomplish, what tools we had at our command, what traps were strewn in our paths that we were trying to avoid, and the rules of the game we were playing, then we could spend more time more effectively dealing with the things we can’t agree on. Like the radically changing media landscape, or the constantly evolving economy, or the client’s volatile competitive set. Or we could even, heaven forbid, actually spend some real time trying to come up with something new and compelling and effective for our clients. Imagine that.
Will Ad Men, Mad Men & the Real World of Advertising, solve all these problems for you? No (though the final chapter will come damn close).
But it’s a terrific place to start.
Ad Men, Mad Men & the Real World of Advertising by Dave Marinaccio was published by Arcade on 11/03/2015– order it from Amazon here, or Barnes & Noble here – or pick it up at your local bookseller (find one here).