The Rocket Sled Goes Too Fast
by Ernie Schenck
Here’s the thing about advertising: It’s an intense thing. I imagine if NASA were to call me and ask if I’d like to take a ride on one of their old rocket sleds, you know the ones where your lips come close to detaching from your face and your eyes swell up to the size of muskmelons, it might come close to the intensity of this business as we’ve come to know it, at least to the degree that any of us can know anything anymore what with technology changing faster than Lady GaGa’s wardrobe. This business, it commands your attention as few other things do. I don't think I’m exaggerating when I say that to take your eye off the ball, to look away from the firestorm of emerging media, transmedia narratives, ARGs and QRs, Facebook and Twitter, Foursquare and Gowalla, is to invite said ball to catch you squarely between the eyes, perhaps crushing your skull in the process. You blink and it’s over.
In a few days, my wife and I will be packing the car with sheets and pillowcases, desk lamps and a microwave oven, alarm clocks and hoodies and yoga pants and cereal bars and we will head off for New York City where our daughter will be starting college. I have no doubt that when she is all moved in and my wife and I have said our last goodbyes and we are heading back north, I will feel her presence in the back seat—raspberry chocolate chip frozen yogurt smeared on her cheeks, American Girl doll at her side, ballet shoes and Minnie Mouse ears. “Dad, can we go to the movies?” “Dad, can we play Legos?” “Dad, can we go on Haunted Mansion again?” You know she’s not really back there. The Legos are in the basement. The ballet shoes long since retired. You know this. You accept this. But it makes your heart hurt. And you hope that all those years you were on the rocket sled, you didn’t miss too much. You blink and it’s over.
I’ve been luckier than most. For half my career, I’ve been a free agent. Which means a couple of things. I’ve had the opportunity to work with agencies and clients all over the world. Amazingly talented people that I would in no way have met, much less collaborated with, had I stayed nestled safely in the womb of an advertising agency, be it my own or someone else’s. I’ve not had to endure the politics. I’ve avoided the jockeying for power, the endless meetings, some of which lead somewhere, some of which lead to little more than my eyes glazing over and the inglorious sight of me falling face down into my laptop in a dead stupor. (Alright, it never actually happened but so many times, I came sickeningly close.) Don’t get me wrong. My time inside the mother ship wasn’t entirely without its advantages. Each experience gave me something. But each time I let myself be pulled up into the belly of the beast, I found myself drawn more and more deeply into the work, and further and further from the real world. The raspberry chocolate chip world.
Advertising is an amazing thing. Those of us who’ve had the good fortune to cross its path, to be embraced by it, to be given the opportunity to make our mark on the world there, are truly blessed. It is such a magical way to make a living. I’ve often wondered if there really is such a place as an alternate universe, because surely alternative me is doing something far less fun than I am and he is really pissed off about it. But it can also eat you alive if you’re not careful.
Oh I know how it seems at first. You get out of ad school, you land an internship, you do some good stuff, you get hired by a cool shop, you work every night until eleven, every weekend, filling up on pizza and diet Cokes and you really don’t have a problem with that because you’re in a shootout between you and every other ad grad out there trying to make a name for herself. And that’s cool, you know, because nothing else is vying for your attention.
But it won’t always be that way. One day, you’ll be into your fifteenth day of shooting in Prague. You’ll be in a conference room in Singapore. You’ll be lying on a bed in a hotel room in Beijing and you’ll pull out your iPad and you’ll spend the rest of the night looking at photographs of the ballet recital and your wife and her sister running through the sprinkler and the dog wolfing down your son’s birthday cake and you’ll feel something inside of you break.
You blink and it’s over. CA