Advertising Can Be Deadly

Many paperballs laying on a dark mirror plate. picture is toned.

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The bones of ideas are strewed everywhere in agencies.


Advertising agencies live by the work they sell to clients. Hopefully, that work is imbued with good thinking, a good idea. Ideas are our currency. It’s how bills get paid and careers get made.

Not every idea is great, or even good, for sure — even the lamest ideas sometimes get filmed or given pixels. And from the moment any idea is formed, from the moment it is spoken within a team, that idea is in a gladiator’s arena, fighting for its life — and everyone knows it. Ask someone in an agency what happened to this or that idea or project and the answer is usually, “it got killed.”

For every idea that gets sold through there are exponentially more ideas that “died.” Junior creatives are sent back to the drawing board for a fresh round of ideas with the voice of senior creatives saying they need the work to “just be better.” Ideas wither in front of account teams and planners when seen as too far out or off-brief. Clients politely thank the team for the work they’ve put in, and then, like a firing squad, shoot down every idea and ask to re-brief. The bones of ideas-past are everywhere.

It’s frustrating to maintain engagement in the face of repeated defeat. Working in advertising can feel outright Sisyphean and the psychic impact of this cannot be underestimated. The best of the industry acquire an ability to distance themselves from the outcome of their pitches, keeping the whole process of creating and selling an idea at least an arm’s length away. For those who are not as emotionally savvy, or have maybe been in the industry too long and can no longer muster the super-human resilience needed, the roller coaster of ups-and-downs, the accumulated messiness of wins and losses, can have a drift toward bitterness or alienation.

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