Be The Rabbit
by Ernie Schenck
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?” asked the Rabbit. “It doesn't happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.” —Marjery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit
I suppose you think just because you’re one of the best and brightest at VCU Brandcenter or Miami Ad School or Creative Circus or Brainco, that you are well on your way to a career in advertising, assuming that’s what we're still calling it by the time you graduate. And I have no doubt you will have the skills to do exactly that. You guys have had the advantage of learning from some amazingly talented and passionate people in the business. Mark Fenske. Tom Monahan. Deb Morrison.
But let me ask you this, young Jedi. Do you love advertising?
I know you think you do. I know that at this moment, you think there is nothing on this planet that you would rather do. Not win American Idol. Not go to Mars. Not play in the Super Bowl. But do you really know you love advertising? Because unless you do, just like in The Velveteen Rabbit, it will never become real. It might seem real, but it won't be.
So take a walk with me.
What happens some day when an entire awards season has gone by and you haven’t accomplished a thing. Not a Pencil. Not a Lion. Not a solitary mention in the CA Advertising Annual or the Design Annual or the Interactive Annual. Will you love advertising then, do you think? What if you recover and you dig down deeper and you stay at work longer and you think next year, it’ll be different. And then next year comes. And goes. And still you haven’t won a thing. What about then? Will you love it then?
Fast forward into the future.
You’ve worked your tail off on a campaign that the whole agency is buzzing about. Amazing work. Breakthrough stuff. Everyone agrees. Even the suits. And then the client shows up. Rips it apart. Shakes his head. Says he’s disappointed in the agency. Mortally disappointed. And proves it a month later when the account goes into review. Shit happens in advertising. And it can happen with alarming consistency. The question is, will you still love this business?
Fast forward even further.
It’s been 25 years since you graduated from ad school. You are a digital god. You are at the pinnacle of digital Everest. And you have been for a long, long time. And then one day you wake up to hear the buzz. The question everyone is suddenly asking. Is digital dead? Is it the end of digital? Adweek. Advertising Age. They’re all writing about it. The next new thing. Human Neural Networking. Who needs the Internet anymore? Except that’s what you know. You, the digital god. You, the pinnacle of digital Everest. Except soon no one will give a tinker’s dam. And there you will be. Naked. Vulnerable. You will either die or you will reinvent yourself. Tell me. Will the love still be there?
There is a creative director I know. You know him too. Maybe not personally. But you know this man because he is as big a name in advertising as there has ever been. He told me once that a long time ago, when he was an art director working in Los Angeles, something happened to him that damn near killed his passion. He used to get up in the morning, bouncing off the walls of his apartment, dying to get into the office. And then one of his clients fired the agency. They said they wanted better thinking. And that was it. The CD started thinking about him differently. Taking away responsibility. A downward spiral that eventually found him out of a job. Hurt. Unfairly singled out. He thought about switching careers. Maybe he’d write screenplays. Or become a talent agent. But he loved what he did. He moved east. Found a new job. And never looked back.
Advertising is as close to a performing art as it gets in business. And as any dancer or actor or singer will tell you, even the most brilliant careers are riddled with booby traps, things that can blow a dream apart worse than a Claymore mine in a shopping mall. Advertising is like that. There will be times when it tries to dishearten you. Discourage you. Break you.
I hope you do not break easily. I hope you have no sharp edges. I hope you do not need to be carefully kept.
Love the triumphs. Love the disappointments. The ups and the downs, the sweet and the bitter. At the end of the day, a career isn’t all that different from a Velveteen Rabbit. Whether it comes to life or not is up to you. CA