"By the way... if anybody here is in marketing or advertising, kill yourself. Thank you, just planting seeds, that's all I am doing. No joke here, kill yourself. There is no rationalization for what you do, you are Satan's little helpers, kill yourself, kill yourself kill yourself now." - Bill Hicks (Arizona Bay)
Why you do not want to work for an Ad Agency
Are you considering a career in advertising, or perhaps you have just been offered your first agency job? Perhaps you have been in advertising for a few months and are starting to grow jaded with this industry. Whoever you are, I would like to present this negative impression of life in the ad business.
My life working for an ad-agency was not all bad - in fact there were some quite amusing moments. However as a choice of career, I would not recommend this sector. If there is anybody reading this who would care to tell the other side of the story, feel free. My hunch is that the node called "Reasons why you want to work in Advertising" will be free of content for a long time to come.
In most English speaking countries the number of people working in the ad industry has continually declined. Share prices of all the major advertising groups have fallen by more than ½ since the late 90's. This industry has been shrinking rapidly and consolidating for the last four years.
Occasionally marketers dream up new fads that will allegedly rescue the advertising industry; Direct Marketing, Interactive marketing, Viral Marketing have all been toted as the big issue that will revive the sector. To date, none of these have halted or even slowed down this industry's rate of decline.
Things have changed substantially since glory days of the 1980's when ad-men could afford cocaine and champagne parties. Once an industry that attracted the highest calibre of graduates, these days the best young people are far more likely to want a career in banking, IT or engineering. There is nothing glamorous about this industry; wages are low, hours are long and opportunities are fewer and further between.
2. Your agency is first supplier to get canned in a recession.
Well perhaps not if your client has also appointed a Feng Shui consultant or a cordon bleu chef. Shortly after those guys get the sack your client's advertising budget will be slashed and your agency's contract will be ended.
Like the infamous "Death of a Thousand Cuts," a failing agency will lose its clients one at a time. With each lost contract the agency will have to make another round of redundancies until it becomes the victim of a hostile takeover bid.
3. The skills you learn are not transferable.
Once you begin your agency job you will become indoctrinated in your agency's proprietary marketing methodology. This mystical technique promises to make those who fully understand it into the marketing equivalent of an OT III scientologist. Being able to quote from and practise this methodology will mark you as an agency insider.
This new knowledge is nothing more than your agency's sales spiel. It has no value outside the agency since each agency has its own version, and however profound this knowledge purports to be; it will rarely amount to any more than stating the obvious.
Clients will not value your "proprietary methodology" because they will be instantly able to detect that you are just quoting from the company bible.
While your agency life teaches you mainly soft or non-transferable skills, other sectors provide their employees with hard skills... even qualifications. Former employees of agencies who find themselves made redundant are often faced with the problem that the skills they posses have no relevance in the real world. Furthermore they have been left behind their peers whose careers have progressed more conventionally.
4. Your clients don't appreciate what you do.
Even worse, they probably resent you for things that are not your fault: While you draw your miserable agency wage, your company may be charging you out for more than five times what you earn. However well you might think you get on with your client, they think of you as a kind of vampire or at best, a leech. No matter how hard you work, or how much value you add, you are expensive and they would love to get rid of you.
The fact that you are also being exploited will matter very little to your clients as your agency bleeds them dry for another ill-conceived project that will most likely do no good at all!
5. Much of what you do can be done better by machines.
Ever heard of CRM? The whole idea of it is to replace tedious costly manual marketing processes with more efficient automated systems. This transfers the task of marketing from a traditional marketing department into the hands of your client's IT department.
While your agency may enjoy a cordial relationship with your client's marketing team, you can be certain that your client's IT department does not like you and think that everything you do is wrong or stupid. When the marketing department's funds get transferred to IT so that they can launch their CRM initiative your agency will be canned in preference to an established IT firm.
As a final humiliation your company may be invited to pitch for this CRM contract only to be disqualified at the first stage for failing to answer the brief... oh dear there goes another client.
6. You will never get the credit for your good work.
Once in a blue moon, an advertising contract goes spectacularly well - you will be surprised when it happens... if you stick in the industry long enough, the chances are you will have at least one success story. Don't think that successfully leading a project that achieves something unique and remarkable now qualifies you for the advertising big league. You are only a small player in a giant multinational machine - the reward for your efforts goes to your manager and your client.
Don't be surprised to see your boss taking all the credit for your big idea on the front page of your industry's trade rag. You might even see the client who failed to understand the campaign for an entire year now claims to have thought the whole thing up himself.
Quite soon everybody in the entire company (including people who were not even in the company at the time) will have claimed some kind of involvement with your project. Your reward for your contribution to this project will be to be re-assigned to a problem client and made redundant when that client is eventually lost.
7. Your industry is amoral
Bill Hicks said that Ad-Folk are "Satan's Little Helpers" ... the people who would quite happily "sell anthrax as a child sedative."
The company I worked for derived a great deal of its profit from marketing cigarettes. As the law on how cigarettes could be advertised grew increasingly restrictive, agencies would spend a great deal of time and money developing concepts that would increase the consumption of cigarettes by working around the laws.
Cigarettes deliver no known benefit to their users. They are the only product that if consumed for long enough will almost certainly kill their users. Despite these glaring flaws in the product, the agency marketed them in Europe, America and especially third world countries, where well designed ads could take advantage of smoker naïvety.
You are probably thinking that not every agency advertises unethical products such as cigarettes; that's true, but every agency is guilty of a far greater crime - creating the illusion that consumerism can solve all of our problems.
Whether an agency tries to advertise a cigarette or a pair of sneakers the goal is to tell a lie: This cigarette will make you look cool, these shoes will get you laid. When the product ultimately fails to deliver on the hype we consumers have become so unused to thinking critically that our only salvation is yet more consumerism.
8. What your company does is worthless.
If your company spontaneously ceased to exist, there is not a single member of the public who would notice its absence. Nobody depends on what you do—not even your clients.
The vast majority of what you produce will be instantly forgotten - the only thing that you can guarantee is that you are lowering the signal-to-noise ratio of life - filling the environment with yet more useless lies.
In the future every moment of entertainment will be interrupted by a commercial break. Every famous landmark will be polluted with ad-hoardings and every waking moment of your life will be transformed into a branded experience.
If you make your career in advertising, you can say "I helped make all this happen."