The advertising industry occupies a very strange place in American culture. “Smart” people (whatever that means, most likely naïve college freshmen) love to say that advertising is soulless and ultimately pointless because advertising doesn’t usually work. And when it does work, it forces innocent babies to buy BMWs and Big Macs which they DON’T NEED.
Right. I’m just going to point out that advertising makes up a $500 billion (with a B) global industry, and most of that money is spent in the good ‘ol U.S. of A. In other words, I’m happy with my ultimate choice of profession but I understand that there are a lot of misconceptions about the nature of advertising. Here’s to giving you a little bit of insight.
“Real” people are in fact real, but they’re also usually actors
Usually when you see an ad claiming that the person in it is an actual consumer, the ad isn’t lying to you. Honestly! I mean legally, they can’t anyway. The only thing that the ad would fail to mention is that these people are usually actors from LA. So if you see a commercial with a bar owner bragging about only serving his customers Bud Light, Heineken, etc., he was likely found through casting specifically calling for bar owners. Basically, just know that those “real” people haven’t quit their day jobs yet and are trying to get acting work wherever they can. More often than not they’ve been in reality shows (or tried out for them), documentaries or other commercials.
There are dozens of different jobs in any ad agency
When people think advertising, they think kooky writers rocking beards and Converse sneakers. With a microbrewery at home. This is only a slim margin of the people you encounter in agencies. Basically it breaks down into four categories: Account Executives, Creatives, Researchers and Media Planners. A great way to think of it is the characters in Mad Men. The accounts people manage relationships with the clients and the day-to-day business (Roger Sterling, Pete Campbell). Creatives consist of writers and graphic designers (Don Draper, Peggy Olson and Stan Rizzo). Researchers tend to be Account Planners and Analytics people (who didn’t exist in the 60s) and Media Planners decide where ads will go, as well as negotiating prices (Harry Crane). All of this is a vast over simplification of the duties of each job. And positions in social media, code engineering or content development are growing every day. All of these different people are vital to almost every client, so ad agencies by nature are highly collaborative.
You can’t just “decide” to do advertising
Obviously the barriers to getting a job in advertising are different than, say, a doctor or a lawyer. That said, one of the most outdated assumptions about advertising is that anyone can do it, whenever they want, if they suddenly decide they want to get an easy job. I once heard a girl say, “If I can’t get a job in accounting, I dunno maybe I’ll just get a job in advertising.” Well, most agencies only want to hire people who majored in marketing, journalism or advertising to begin with. If you have a degree in something else, you would need to show a significant interest in advertising in other work you’ve done. Also, the skills that make you good at any job in an agency don’t usually come naturally. You have to learn how to create strategy based off of research, manage client relationships and handle massive budgets. Definitely skills you can use in a lot of jobs, but not if you were planning on being a chemical engineer.
Ad men and women aren’t trying to trick you into doing anything
I was skeptical about advertising before I made the choice to study it in college. I kind of assumed that “good” advertising meant commercials or print ads that could trick someone into doing whatever it wanted. Then I was taught that this is actually impossible. Let me repeat that: if you study advertising, you will be taught that you can NEVER trick anyone into doing something they don’t want to do. So no matter how many horrifying Playtex commercials I’m subjected to, I’m not going to go out and buy a bra.
Advertising works because it gives people the information they need in order to make a decision. That is the only goal. So if you’ve suddenly found yourself having bought something that two days ago you weren’t really considering, the truth of the matter is that you always had the desire to buy it but you just didn’t know it. The ad did its job of informing you that this product was out there to satisfy your needs.
Also, ad people tend to really care about consumers and want to do what’s best for them. They have to reconcile that with hitting them with a message, but there’s no need to think that someone is out to “get” you.
Campaigns take months to create
I used to assume like most people that if someone in an ad agency had a good idea for a commercial, they just yelled it whomever they needed to and boom! A commercial was created. Not true.
The origins of a campaign usually start with pretty deep research into the target demographic, for instance “18-35 year old women with at least one child and a full time job.” Yes, they’re at least that specific. Research usually takes a few months, at which point the account people and researchers devise the overall strategy of any campaign. Then they hand it over to the creatives, who are told “no” to all of their work a few thousand times. When creative strategy is finally done, the media people come in to plan executions (commercials, print ads, radio, social media) and then work with media buyers to, well, buy it. Then in two more months the campaign might actually run as long as the client doesn’t decide on a new direction and you have to do it all over again. So any campaign you’re seeing could have been in the works for about a year.
You’re not going to make very much money
Most entry-level jobs at agencies start off around $30,000 and you’ll be lucky if you’re making more than $55,000 in 10 years. And the really big bucks don’t come unless you reach executive status, which is yet another reason why advertising isn’t for everyone. If you’re going to put up with the salary you really have to love it But, working in advertising has its perks. Agencies tend to be the epitome of the “casual” office environment, meaning beer on tap, jeans galore and the occasional dog. I’ve also never heard so much cursing in my life as when I’ve been in agencies, and I couldn’t be happier about it.