Last week, I received a phone call from my downstairs neighbour. It seemed an indoor version of Niagara Falls was coming down her kitchen wall. As it turned out, the waterfall originated somewhere in my bathroom floor. And so I did what any man with the DIY skills of an earthworm would do and called a plumber. He had a quick look, mumbled something unintelligible and then without having so much as glanced at a wrench, handed me an invoice for an amount for which I could have had someone assassinated. Just as I was about to force-feed him the invoice, I realised something important. That this man provides a very necessary solution for a very pressing problem – albeit at a price bordering on extortion. Which made me think about what it is us advertising folks do. Or more specifically, what it is we add to the world.
You see, a plumber adds value. His work prevented me from crashing through my bathroom floor and onto my neighbour’s kitchen table the next time I would flush the toilet. That’s value. Whereas we make things people wrap fish in, consider the perfect opportunity to go to the loo or install apps for to block what we’ve spent weeks to create. The difference becomes painfully clear when talking to real good-doers. I once tried to chat up a pretty girl in a bar who then told me she had just returned from volunteer work building schools in South Sudan. Panic instantly grabbed me by the throat, because it was only a matter of time before she would ask me what I did for a living. At which point I would have to tell her that I was in fact a mercenary of Beelzebub, happily advertising booze, cigarettes or assault rifles if the pay is high enough. When moments later she did pop that dreaded question, the fact that I was slightly drunk and therefore answered with a minor slur made my performance as a walking talking advertising cliché complete. Shortly thereafter, the pretty girl went to the bathroom and never came back.
Does being in advertising make you a bad person? Of course not. Although sometimes I wish we would make a little bit less of this and a bit more of this. But it’s up to us – the advertising community – to give brand communication and the brands for which we work value. Whether that’s value through entertainment, utility or by doing what advertising was invented to do in the first place: telling people about some great new product they’ve never heard about. Nothing wrong with that. Do I like my job? Very much. Am I ashamed of what I do? Only when talking to those damn Good Samaritans.
* Written for Amsterdam Ad Blog