It's Advertising. It Should Be Fun

Learning to enjoy a business that isn't life or death

My dad is a retired cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon, which meant his day-to-day was cutting open people's chests, fiddling around with their hearts, lungs and arteries, fixing them up, and then stitching or stapling them back together again.

I remember one late night/early morning at about 1 a.m., the phone rang—this was before mobile phones, so every phone in the house rang. And we all knew when my dad was on call what a ringing phone meant: Someone's life was at stake.

My dad didn’t talk much about his cases, but that morning when he returned home, I asked him about this one. His response was, "There was a woman who was admitted into the hospital with several self-inflicted stab wounds to her chest. In spite of my best efforts, she got what she wanted."

We never discussed it after that. But that memory has helped shape how I approach creativity and working with teams.

My point is, it's advertising. (Notice I didn't say "just advertising," because I love this gig.) And the fact is, in the vast majority of cases, if we do our jobs perfectly—or even less well—no one's going to die. So we might as well have fun doing it.

Sure, advertising is not always fun. There's the initial terror of the blank page, wondering if you'll be able to come up with anything good. There's the pressure of a deadline that you thought was next week but is really in a few hours. Those moments may not be absolutely jovial, but they should inspire the fun.

Because when it comes down to it, our job is to play, to try things that on the surface might not make much sense at all.  No, this isn't an excuse to just phone it in, and let's not get started on quiet quitting. If you want to have the most fun in this gig, you have to be engaged, enthused, willing to work and willing to look the fool. Concept like no one's watching. The most fun I have is being in a room with a small group of fiendishly smart people where the ideas are flying around faster than you can say, "Crap, did I just use a Sharpie on the whiteboard?"

I've been lucky to have had a few epiphanic moments over my career where I was able to recognize in real time how silly our job is. Like sitting in a pre-production meeting where a slide from the deck being presented listed all of the skateboard tricks we intended to have a dog do in a snack spot. (Roll plaintiff's evidence Exhibit 1). That shoot was good fun, too—and proof that old dogs can learn new tricks.

Hopefully, you have a hard drive filled with those memories, too. Or you're working towards them.

Many of us know Wieden+Kennedy's "Fail Harder" wall, which is a fabulous, grand statement. But it's not always about swinging for the fences. What about failing smaller and more often, to explore more and discover those little creative nuggets? As Greg Hahn says, failure is the first step to finding success. We should be running all over the playground like omni-observant 4-year-olds with our shoes getting filled with sand. And ideas, and words, and colors.

This may result in a few metaphorical (and cerebral) bumps and bruises. And ideas may occasionally get "killed." But actual deaths? No.

Over the course of my career, I've worked on hundreds of campaigns. I'm proud of some more than others. But without a doubt, the ones that we had fun working on, that had more of a sense of play in their creation, are my faves. I'd also reckon if you looked at some of the most effective and award-winning work out there, you can almost see the license to be frivolous that the creators gave themselves in the creation of it.

In this career, we (hopefully) don't get calls in the middle of the night. Though I'm sure we all have moments in the wee hours when our calling rouses us. Thankfully, we can write those musings down and (also hopefully) go back to sleep with the ease of mind that no one's life is actually on the line, all while reminding ourselves that the best work comes when we allow ourselves to have fun and play.

After all, this isn't brain (or heart) surgery.

So in the words of Crash Davis, "Relax! Let's have some fun out here. This game's fun, OK? Have some fun, goddammit."

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David Smail
David Smail is creative director at PPK.

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