THE PRODUCT WAS CUTE IN A NEW BEETLE kind of way. We could see it being a big hit, the fun iMac-like advertising was already forming itself in our heads. Then the agency from New York unveiled the print campaign we were supposed to tie our online work to...

...and East Germany would have done cheerier work than this. It was problem-solution advertising that made the problem seem beyond hope of solving. It was a Doris Day product with a Seven campaign. The product put a smile on our faces, and these ads wiped it right back off again.

Our CD challenged their CD. Shouldn’t people be made to feel good about a product like this? Their CD drew himself up, wrapping his pomposity around him like a mighty cloak. “I don’t believe in aspirational advertising,” he said.

We sometimes wonder why clients don’t listen to us as seriously as they do, say, their attorneys. Here was a reason why. For an ad professional to say he doesn’t believe in the power of aspiration is like a banker saying he doesn’t believe in compound interest. Were it not for the existence of mortuary ads, the very term “aspirational advertising” would be redundant—all advertising promises a better life in some tiny, or not so tiny, way.

Yet where you could never become chief surgeon at Sloan-Kettering while expressing fundamental doubts about the circulatory system, you can apparently become a creative director at at least one major New York agency while doubting the most obvious and fundamental truth about our business. To the client’s face.

Sure, advertising is an art, which means it’s personal and unpredictable and needs to be given room to run free in. But jeez louise, after a century we do know one or two things. And encouraging this kind of the-sky-is-green iconoclasm in the belief that it shows what a hip, free work environment you have is simply forfeiting any claim to be taken seriously as members of a profession with a body of knowledge and a track record. (Assuming, of course, that being taken seriously is something you believe in.)

Our happy work kicked their grim Madison Avenue butts in focus groups, it goes without saying. But their ads ran anyway... and the only thing I’d bet went up in correlation with their media buy was the incidence of depression among our target audience.


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