—If you’re young with something to say, the biggest megaphones are in advertising, says ANGUS TUCKER—
Google feeds you better than we do. Facebook has cooler offices. Consultancies pay better (to start, anyway). And start-ups get all the magazine covers. So why work in advertising?
Because advertising is the most public job I can think of.
And if you’re young and have something to say, the biggest megaphone you’ll get is in advertising. What we make is put in front of tens of millions of people every day—whether they like it or not.
I still—still—remember a billboard I read coming into Chicago from the airport about 20 years ago. It was outside Wrigley Field, and I could read it from the highway: “Welcome to Chicago. Especially pitchers with slow, hanging curveballs.”
I laughed out loud. And I seethed a bit, too, partly because it was better than anything I’d written that year, but mostly because the writer got to declare her love for the Cubs and Chicago to anyone passing by. It was her unique voice on that billboard: This is Chicago and don’t you forget it!
It boiled with personality. That’s what’s so thrilling about advertising, and what I have always loved—and still love—about it: we get to share our point of view with the world.
It is our job to come up with ideas that make a dent in pop culture, and sometimes, if they’re truly great, even create culture.
The stuff we make is discussed or raged about on Facebook, on Twitter, CNN and the BBC, which I personally find way more fulfilling than winning awards (I’d much rather stir things up in the real world than in a jury room, but I digress). When our work strikes a nerve, we get to be the news.
What other job gives you that much power? At such a young age?
A few years ago, two young women at our agency came up with an idea that skewered the way sports media covered women’s athletics. Their idea, #covertheathlete, became a trending topic on Reddit, made BuzzFeed and was retweeted by everyone from ESPN to Sports Illustrated. It was smart, insightful and, best of all, angry.
As high school and university athletes themselves, it pissed them off that female athletes didn’t get the same credit as male athletes. So they put that anger to work and did something about it. In a very public way.
Another young team at John St. came up with an idea called #EatTogether for President’s Choice. It made more than a dent in culture. The film has been viewed more than 70 million times, and eating together is now a permanent part of Canada’s new Food Guide. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Not bad for two 20-somethings who were interning only a few years before.
That’s what’s so intoxicating about working in this business. Our influence can be so public and so far-reaching. And so immediate.
And they don’t always have to be cultural home runs. They can be smaller things that subtly change attitudes.
Recently, I was talking with a young art director about how the little decisions we make in our work can speak to our own values. In her case, it was casting a young girl rather than a young boy for a street hockey scene where a kid shoots a ball through a window. It wasn’t a big part of the story but it was a little way to insert her particular point of view: hockey isn’t just for boys, it’s everyone’s game.
And these little decisions matter because so many people see them.
Twenty-five years ago, IKEA US introduced a spot with two gay men talking about how hard it was for them to buy furniture because they had such different tastes. It was pretty radical to show a gay couple in an ad then, but what truly gave it power was how they were portrayed; it wasn’t about them being gay, it was about how they argued over decorating their house. For many Americans who may have never met a gay couple, I’m sure a lot of them thought: “Wow, honey, those gay couples argue about stupid stuff just like us.”
I bet no one specifically asked for that spot. I bet it wasn’t on the brief. But someone who wanted to show that gay couples are just like any other couple, wrote it, sold it, cast it, and got that perspective out to the world. And while it sold a mountain of IKEA couches, it also said: Relax America. We’re just like you.
And that’s what advertising offers that consultancies, and tech companies and start-ups don’t: an enormous megaphone to influence the world in the way you would like.
Who else gets to do that?
And while we don’t succeed every day, at least we get to try. Which is why it hurts so much when your idea doesn’t resonate the way you’d hoped. But advertising is a lot like love. It’s supposed to hurt when it doesn’t work out just right.
But when it does? There is nothing else like it.
Angus Tucker is the CCO and co-founder of john st.—one of Canada’s most successful and most awarded agencies since opening in 2001. He spent way too many years trying to write stuff he thought his creative directors would like before he finally said: “Screw it. I’m going to just write stuff that I like.” He was as surprised as anyone that they liked it way more than the other crap he’d been showing them.