For the first time in over a decade, I'm enthusiastic about my work.
No, not my fiction writing. That's an obsession, my great white whale. My work is writing copy and if you feel so moved, write your redundancy joke here.
Last week I was talking to a colleague about the grand years of advertising. Our conversation was sprinkled with names like Dan Wieden, Ed McCabe and Hal Riney, people who changed my world. When we speak of these people, largely unknown outside the biz, we speak the way music geeks talk about Keith Moon or Don Van Vliet.
I know most of you probably agree with Bill Hicks when he advised all marketing people to kill themselves, but if you'll indulge me, I want to take a quick look at how we got here.
That classic poster up there was created for Maxell by art director Lars Anderson. The agency was Scali, McCabe Sloves, one of the first New York agencies to take the ad world out of the hands of Ivy League WASPs like the guys you see in Mad Men, and put it into the hands of kids with names that were Irish, Italian and Jewish.
This was in the day of Ring Around the Collar, when big companies advertised to your mom as if she were an idiot. A P&G brand manager once told me their standard formula was 2CK. When I asked what 2CK meant, he told me it involves two women talking together in a kitchen, but in much less-enlightened language.
So when Scali started writing to real people and Doyle Dane Bernbach went against all the big-finned, big breasted, Detroit advertising with this, it caused a revolution.
It lasted a few years and then, in the 70's, pants cuffs got big and brains got small again and advertising became as boring as disco. But like punk, surprising things were happening in surprising places, and while the dinosaurs lumbered about in the cocaine haze of Studio 54, eager young mammals in places like Portland, Minneapolis, Richmond and Seattle were re-inventing advertising with smart work.
This is when I started, learning from giants like Tom McElligott who told us we can outsmart our competition, not outspend them. He also taught us that you didn't need a big client to win big awards.
So I wrote ads like this one with art director Mike Sellers. It was for the Durham County Literacy Council and yes, we won awards.
Great work was being done all over the place and it was exciting to be a part of it. Then I started making money. And I took jobs for money. And my love for the business dimmed as I started working for people whose only passion was making money. I burned out and I quit.
I started writing novels. I still worked part time for a small ad agency where I wrote this ad for a real estate developer. You can still see Tom McElligott's influence (as well as our blatant theft of the layout from an Art Director named Tracy Wong).
But writers have a hard time paying the rent with novels, so I'm working again. I came to this job as a temp, then as a full-timer, happy to reduce my patient wife's angst with a steady paycheck.
This is not a traditional ad agency and that has its benefits. It also meant that for the longest time they didn't quite know what to do with me. Then they hired a new creative director. He understands my passion for the business. He knows who Jay Chiat is and why he's important.
For the first time in years I'm excited about the possibility of doing smart work. It's kind of like going through a really ugly divorce and for the first time being tempted to date again. I like this.
Do you love your work? If you do, do you know how lucky you are?
And are there ads that you love?
Talk to me.