In Defense Of Advertising

See, how could advertising be bad when... Wait, shit, I got the wrong 60s throwback TV show.

Recently, a stupid person wrote a profane, inflammatory, ill-informed screed on the Internet, and for maybe the first time ever, it wasn’t me. Then, in response to a profane counterpoint that I consider well-informed because I agreed with it, he did it again. The gist of it is, Hamilton Nolan over at Gawker says that creative people should not go into advertising because it’s essentially allowing corporations to buy our creativity and use it for evil.

Nolan’s comments remind me of the worldview of a number of students in my journalism classes at the University of Oregon. One branch of the journalism school was an advertising program, and in class discussions about ethics some of the more self-righteous ‘true journalist’ types would make a lot of bold statements about how advertising was an evil, corrupting influence because its sole purpose was to convince people to give money to big faceless corporations. Most of the students making these arguments were wearing clothes from Urban Outfitters or American Apparel and usually within reach of a Starbuck’s cup.

The retort I always wanted to make but never did for fear of jeopardizing my already low chances of sleeping with any of the more self-righteous girls in the class was, “Okay. We’ll get rid of all advertising everywhere because it’s so evil. Then what?”

What would happen, of course, is that the economy would tank, thousands of creative professionals would lose their jobs, and television and magazines, which primarily exist as vehicles to show people advertisements, would cease to exist, throwing anywhere between a few hundred thousand a few million people out of work, depending on the breaks.

I’m not saying that advertising is universally good. Advertising as a whole, when compared to the Red Cross, high school science teachers, and the US Navy SEALs, comes up dead last. Advertising isn’t particularly altruistic, outside of some public service announcements (which often serve as something of a backdoor promotion of the agency’s creative talent), and exists largely to make money. It’s not a global force for good. (That title rests with the Navy, who paid the Campbell-Ewald agency around $800 million for the new slogan, campaign, and overall rebranding.)

But advertising also isn’t evil. Trust me, it’s got its negative elements. I’d say the fact that virtually every teenaged girl in America has an unhealthy obsession with her weight is probably a frontrunner for the most negative. But advertising is a business, like any other business, and most businesses have negative aspects.

Both of my parents work for insurance companies. Insurance companies are really good at denying coverage to sick people, but I never heard anybody in my classes calling the very idea of insurance evil. I’m not aware of a general disdain for hydroelectric power, even though the St. Francis dam collapse was the second-greatest loss of life in California history.

Advertising is a part of capitalism, plain and simple – companies can build as much shit as they want, but if nobody knows that the product is out there, what it does, or why they should buy it, the company may as well not have made anything in the first place.

A lot of Nolan’s argument, though, is specifically that creative people shouldn’t get into advertising, because they’re somehow cheating themselves by making a living off of their creativity. Here’s a quote:

”Do not go into advertising. Your creativity, as trite as it sounds, is worth more than that corporation will ever pay you.”

Damn, really? God, if only I’d known that when I wrote my rent check the other day!

Yeah, but in all seriousness, I wonder if Mr. Nolan knows who pays the lucky creative types who don’t go into advertising and instead are able to sell their novel or screenplay or sign their band to a record contract. It’s a big, faceless corporation like Viacom or Disney, who is paying you because they want to take the product of your creativity and use it to make a huge amount of money.

In order for a creative person to truly keep from disgracing himself in Hamilton Nolan’s eyes, he or she would have to refrain from pretty much every opportunity to make a steady living off of their work, because if you work in a creative field you’re all but certain to wind up in the man’s employ at some point, since faceless corporations tend to be the only entities with enough money to finance the extravagance of film production or printing hundreds of thousands of books or getting a roadie to take the fall for the cocaine they found in your lead guitarist’s carry-on bag.

Yes, unless you’re playing guitar in the subway for pocket change, selling copies of your self-published fantasy novel at a Renaissance fair, or toiling away at a job you hate and being creative in your spare time solely for your own enjoyment, Hamilton Nolan thinks you’re a sellout and a dupe. Remember, if your creativity benefits you in any tangible way, you’re doing something wrong and should stop immediately.

I’ve loved writing for as long as I can remember. It’s basically my favorite thing, and probably one of the only things I’m good at. And let me tell you something: The past month I’ve been working in advertising has been hands down the best time I’ve had since moving to LA, and by far the most creatively fruitful.

When I was a production assistant, I took orders, brown nosed producers, and moved furniture, tasks which were in no way creatively stimulating and did nothing to enhance my writing abilities, for about $100-$125 a day in a city where gas costs $4.30 a gallon.

At the ad agency, I work with a bunch of other writers on a daily basis, brainstorming and collaborating. Many of the writers I’m working with have written in the entertainment industry before and still have contacts there, unlike any of the PAs I worked with. My coworkers respect me and appreciate my work, and I’m paid very well. And, on top of all that, this job makes me incredibly happy.

Is that really so offensive to you, Mr. Nolan – that I’m happy and financially stable? That I’m growing creatively, and doing more writing on a daily basis than I ever could have in virtually any other field?

Because if it does, well, I guess you’re entitled to your opinion. But my opinion is that you’re just kind of a shitty person who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Well, no – maybe that’s an unfair characterization. You might’ve just been facing a deadline and desperately wrote the first thing you could think of, regardless of whether you agreed with what you were saying or not. I guess that’s the sort of thing that happens when you sell your soul and get paid to write a blog. I wouldn’t know, of course – I do this shit for free.

Truman Capps dreads the day when one of the public figures he insults on the Internet actually buys a plane ticket and kicks him in the nuts.