Nov 23, 2008

joker's 20 on 20 with a twist: The Advertising Agency blog

Recently I posted some links regarding my 20/20 series with The Advertising Agency. It's been a while, but finally the answers are complete and thanks to the magic of cut and paste, here are the answers. Oh, and thanks to the magic of point and click, doing so with the title of this post shall transport you to the deliciously morbid world of The Advertising Agency.

Here are the twenty questions in full.


1. If you had to draft an honest job description for a position in advertising, what would you include in it? Pick any job you like (more than one if you like).

Copywriter wanted. Must be prepared to work long hours writing copy great enough to impress a creative director who thinks he is Hemingway; short enough to impress an art director who hates more than three words in a headline and two paragraphs in body copy; long enough to actually convey some kind of convincing message and creative enough to sell a bad product to a non-existent target audience in a tanking economy via a 10 x 2 ad in a trade magazine published in January. Money used to be great but now an IT geek two years out of school gets twice your salary.

JOKER: The salary bit is the most painful I think. I hear of the glory days of advertising with golden budgets, splurging all around and clients trusting agencies blindly even if led down the road of bankruptcy. Alas, tis a problem I don't have to worry much about in my current professional predicament. :)

2. What are the pros and cons to working in Australia?

Pros: Australia is a small-to-medium economy with most major world brands thanks to strong economic and cultural alignments with the UK and US; bringing with it all the benefits of exposure to multi-national companies. Meanwhile proximity to Asia draws immense wealth into Australia. The downside is that Shanghai's building boom has consumed eighty trillion tons of steel, leaving a giant hole where the State of Western Australia used to be. Its capital, Perth, should fall into the hold any day now, taking with it its population of drug dealers and grifters, so maybe it's not such a downside. (There is even an advertising agency in Perth called Marketforce, which is a kind of black hole, having swallowed up all the other agencies who were stupid enough to set up in the horrible, wind-blown backwater that is the world's most isolated city.)

Cons: Australians are lazy in a kind of laid-back, fun way which is fine until the drinks run out. Then you're on your own.

JOKER: What party goes on without something to make other humans bearable? As for the pros and cons, between your steel, other countries coal, etc, seems Asia is well on its way to consuming world resources. Too bad governments get fooled that little papers that represent acquisitve power are reason enough to acquiesce to the desires of larger countries... though a huge army and bombs helps a lot too. Oh well. At least I'm half a world away form Perth... though if I had the balls I could go to surf Shark Island. Hmm......

3. Ten visual clich├ęs you'd like to see doused in holy water and burned at the stake?

Slow motion hair. Dogs. Children. Rosebud lips tasting stuff. The face the male actor pulls to show that he is stupid. The face the female actor pulls to show that she is intelligent, smart, savvy or infinitely more superior. Or vice versa: I don't care. Most stills from most car ads. Most stills from most beer ads.

JOKER: Here's my lineup:

- Family having breakfast at the table.
- Happy couples in a kitchen for an erection pill commercial.
- Tampon wearing dancing woman
- Children running to drink orange juice.
- Preppy white kids talking about my credit score.
- Bursts for the sake of bursts.
- Athlete endorsements.
- Champagne glasses and engagement rings.
- Thinning hair and speedboats.
- Cars as anniversary gifts.

4. How often do you get foreign people in your agency? How would you describe their attitude depending on where they're from?

The British continue to invade Australia, getting off the plane and going straight to St Kilda Road where they pretend to be strategy planners. This would be immensely annoying except that they are better than Australian strategy planners. Australian strategy planners have neither strategies nor plans which makes them completely useless. Europeans are less common which is a shame. I want a female Swedish art director but they are hard to come by here, for some reason.

JOKER: May the swedish gods offer thee some professional company for some vert unprofessional adventures... oh shit, what am I saying? I can't preach eating where you shit.... oh well. At least it'll keep things intresting albeit annoyingly so.

5. When was the moment you decided to pen the happenings of an advertising agency on a blog?

Many of the early stories were on disk, having already been written clandestinely during moments of extreme boredom at an earlier agency in between ducking out 'round lunchtime to go sit in empty cinemas - a great idea; it gets you back to work around 2.30 p.m. refreshed and revived - and reading entire books online at Project Gutenberg*. I transferred these stories from old-fashioned disk to blog in early 2004 and it took off from there.

JOKER: I don't think I ever had the fun of being extremely bored. Seems I have a knack for falling in with the slaver crowds. Oh well.

6. Have you ever considered doing something other than advertising? If so what and why?

No. I am qualified to do nothing as well as I can write, which is less of a conceit than a condemnation.

JOKER: Blessed be the damned them.

7. What's more evil, focus groups or the nut goblins we call clients?

Focus groups are the suspension of common sense, good judgment and nerve; and are a denial of the essential creative talent some of us offer the business. If you want a focus group you don't need an agency. Clients who spent money on both advertising and focus groups are wasting precisely half of their money. Just like the old saw says.

JOKER: I feel that most focus groups are tilted towards the will of the client to justify illogical requests. I've yet to be proven wrong in this thought pattern but I'll gladly get corrected if ever again I fall prey to advertising and the whims of a client.

8. Describe the most hateful of these types of ad people you've met in your life:
a. AE
b. Art Director
c. Copywriter
d. CEO
e. CD

a. Trent or Angelo.
b. Leo or Sophie.
c. Simon.
d. The American one on the tram.
e. Jason, Mikey or James.

9. What's the first thing random foreign people say to you when you say you're an Aussie? Yes, you can include interesting bits and the annoying ass comments people say like some reflex.

I have been mistaken for a South African, a Swede, an Englishman and others. They are possibly surprised becaue I use words of more than one or two syllables and I refuse to use nicknames for people with whom I am not acquainted. Even then I demur. I can't stand the Australian habit of shortening names to one syllable and adding -ie on the end.

JOKER: I'd be Jokes then? Shizer. As for being confused with other nationalities, I've been thought to be Cuban, Brazilian, Greek, Italian, Arab, Indian and from Portugal. The closest is Cuban since mum is but funny what a beard will do to people's perceptions.

10. Local musical bands and products anyone who visits should definitely give a try.

In Melbourne: Chinatown, Brunswick Street, Lygon Street, Acland Street and the CBD will provide enough mainstream and niche food, entertainment and music any visitor will need.

JOKER: Will take into account when I finally get to Oz. It's a shangrila of sorts for me, has been since I was a teen watching Chris Stroh surf movies with footage from Mystics, Durranbah, and Black Rock.

11. What's more frustrating, doing crap work that the client absolutely adores and tells everyone about, or doing great work that ends up in one print ad in the ROP section and gets mentioned in an unknown ad awards show?

The first. Being forced to do crap work is the bane of the industry. If you do great work that remains obscure, you still have the satisfaction of knowing you can do great work.

JOKER: I've yet to meet anyone from any continent that thinks otherwise. Seems some knowledge is still universal.

12. You get a mysterious phone call from a serial killer that says he's going to kill your most hated client and he wants your input on how to make it a special event, what do you reply?

"Hi, Craven. You're up late!"

JOKER: Our regards to Craven then. Does he do international freelance gigs?

13. An ideal agency needs______.

Luck, brains, money and talent.

JOKER: Don't forget free coffee and pizza.

14. What workshops would you give creatives, accounts people and clients to make them better professionals?

If creatives are any good they don't need workshops. You can't teach a writer to write and you can't instil an art director with an innate sense of design. So if they don't cut it they get to go to the New Job Start training workshop at Social Security. Accounts people will benefit from workshops such as finance management to help them maximise revenue and lateral thinking to reduce time-wasting and endless reporting. Clients? Probably the same as accounts people.

15. Worst category/ies to work on and why?

Good question. Varies with time and place. Financial services was great from last century up to about, oh, a month ago? (In fact, finance and banking has been tanking since about last year. You wouldn't believe the off-the-record stuff I heard from my mortgage originator clients from late 2006 to the present. It went along these lines: "There's bad news and good news. The bad news is we're fucked. The good news is so are the banks!") The traditionally great category in advertising was cigarettes. I started soon before cigarette advertising was banned by governments (but not their sale, which tipped billions into their coffers).

JOKER: I actually think most categories have good opportunities but shit clients insist on making things difficult. Funny thing is that I've worked three banks. Two were utter pains while one was truly excellent. I've worked cigarettes, not fun, and pharmacos, not fun either. I've worked two soft drinks, one fun, one stupid. I've worked juice categories, same as sodas, half and half. I've worked two car clients, both sucked. I've worked fast food clientSo s.... no thanks. Healthcare, super fun... actually not as bad as you'd think. As for cigs not being fun, well when you can't do shit have to work with a client that looks like a date rapist and regards the existence of an agency as another obstacle, well can't say it's too fun eh?

16. Ten things your average layman does not know about Australia that you think would be of interest.

(a) It's not Austria. (b) It is a littoral society (no-one lives in the middle, which is why we win more Olympic swimming medals than we should. Also you can't swim in the rivers because crocodiles eat you). (c) Its two major cities - Sydney and Melbourne - warred over which should be capital but, being Australia, no-one could make a decision and instead, they built a new capital in the 1930s in dense bushland halfway between the two cities. (d) In recent times, kangaroos have been reclaiming the capital, invading sensitive Defence Department land and inflaming the debate about whether we should farm and eat the animal, hitherto protected. (e) Kangaroo meat is the most nutritious, low-fat meat you can eat. (f) Global warming has fed into this argument, with proponents of kangaroo farming claiming cows and sheep emit alarming levels of carbon. Kangaroo farming would, therefore, alleviate both global warming and invasion of Canberra. (g) New Zealand is a small nation independent of Australia to its south east in the Pacific Ocean. It is so insignificant that most of its population lives in Australia ("across the ditch"). (h) New Zealand has the highest proportion of sheep to people in the entire world. (i) Ultimately, Australia will invade New Zealand, sell off all the sheep, introduce the kangaroo and export its meat to the rest of the world. This will drag Australia out of the coming world depression and introduce the world to the joys of eating kangaroo meat, naturally lean because of all the jumping. (j) Then there's Tasmania. Maybe another day.

JOKER: Any popular kangaroo recipes? And I think the problem is that though healthy, the bastards are just too damn cute.... even if they can kill you with a kick or knock you out with a punch.

17. The single best put-down you've ever witnessed.

A verbose accounts guy called Gale was debriefing a major new business pitch presentation to the CEO of an agency. He finished, looked enquiringly at the CEO who, after a pregnant pause, replied, "I haven't understood a fucking word you've said, Gale." Dead silence in the room.

18. Do you blog at work?

Especially at work. What else is there to do?

JOKER: Ebay. :D

19. Name the worst agency you ever worked for. And the upside.

Adtown was an appalling excuse for an agency. It was a retail pretender with a couple of crap accounts that fell out the back seat of a second-rate account executive's SAAB convertible. Account service could be better described as mail service. Creative consisted of two bearded check-shirted ex-finished artists from Kilsyth. The MD was lazy and useless. The CD couldn't make a decision to save himself. The upside? Leaving after five minutes.

20. Finally, name the best agency you ever worked for. And the downside.

M & C Saatchi, during its first five years in Australia. It cleaned up at awards nights five years running. It used to hire a truck to fetch them at the end of the night. Downside? No downside in creative, but the account service department was a revolving door in the early years. Something about continually being told to fuck off by creative. It was advertising agency heaven.

JOKER: Never had the pleasure of being part of a Creative Olympus. Always seemed to end up in various shit holes. Should definitely take a course on judge of employer character.

BONUS: And if you could ask me anything you wanted, what would you ask?


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