Why I Decided to Advertise

In recent years, I had to decide whether I wanted to attend film director’s school or ad school. It was a tough decision. I had just come out of film school and was attending ad school under the watchful eye of professors who wanted me to practice what they called the “dark art of creative writing.”

Along the way there were writing professors who wanted me to join the dark arts as a writing student. I also continue to have friends who swear by my aptitude as an academic. So why did I stay the course in the end?

My first reason has to do with my natural urges (bear with me, please). In a way I was always an advertiser. From the first time I ever put my fountain pen to paper to draw cartoons for the school newspaper, I knew I had the urge to marry text to image, to be clever, to be brief, to speak with one voice, to be everywhere at once. I later understood these urges to be advertiser’s urges and still see few other fields where people have the same cluster of urges.   

The next reason is my cautious optimism about where this industry is headed. One point industry thought leaders have made in recent years is the importance of entertainment value in modern advertising. This is why many advertising portfolio schools offer entire degrees in branded entertainment, often lumping the two together to suggest there is no longer a distinction between selling and entertaining. New technologies like ad blocking plugins, which people can install for free on their internet browsers, have given rise to a new generation that has never seen a commercial. It seems antiquated to ask young people to sit through a commercial, let alone remember it, when, to them, it’s a distraction from the things they actually want to see. The viewer is empowered to choose, and the saturation of choices makes selection harder than ever. The abundance of great television, along with the viewer’s added power to see whatever whenever holds creatives to a high standard if they hope to win the tug of war for our attention.  I am excited by the ingenuity creatives will need to use to face the challenge of creating ads that look nothing like ads.

I am excited by the strategies brands have used to sweeten the sourness of advertising messages. One is through the complete union of commercial messaging and art. One masterful example is the LEGO Movie and its successful spinoffs, where storytelling was indistinguishable from advertising. Another example is the offering of an experience that adds value to existing brands, as in Airbnb’s partnership with the Chicago Art Institute , which transformed Vincent Van Gogh’s Bedroom into a physical space that guests could stay in overnight. 

It’s a creative time for advertising. The tilt of the balance from selling first to storytelling first disinhibited creatives from getting involved. No longer did they think they were simply selling their soul to a corporation and willingly made the jump to advertising.

I have been closely following the throwing of creatives’ hats into the advertising ring. Case-in-point: the Duplass brothers, who applied their indie filmmaking ingenuity in envisioning Donut , a short form creative shop. There are other examples of the intermingling of film and advertising, like Ridley Scott’s 3AM, which specializes in promoting films to young, digitally savvy audiences. With old methods of advertising emerging, creativity surging, my curiosity for this industry could not help but piquing.