Going Down Swinging and Ennis Cehic are teaming up to bring you Sadvertising: a short fiction series about the existential drama of working in the creative industry. Catch up with part one, first published in Going Down Swinging #38.
noun. [mass noun]
The state of feeling or showing sorrow while trying to make your way in advertising.
On Friday, we announced we were all poets.
We’d had enough of being called copywriters. At lunchtime we got together to discuss our plan. We decided to make a formal announcement at the end of the day and invited the rest of the agency to come into the reception area after 5 p.m. We let Jamie speak on our behalf because he was the most poetic of us all. We asked for our briefs to be called distillations. Lunches to be poetry readings. Meeting rooms to be named after our favourite wordsmiths. Brainstorms to be held in parks. Most of all, we wanted to stop writing calls to action. We wanted our audiences to contemplate and ruminate on the ideas we wrote about.
Most applauded our initiative, but our CEO didn’t.
He just offered us a separate bookshelf for the new poetry books we brought in to read. Then he told us to get back to work.
When Ennis started as a junior copywriter, he was told that copywriting was all about action. The writing had to make people do something.
That’s what advertising was: persuasion. The more immediate, the better. After a year writing banner ads no one clicked on, Ennis was sad. He felt he wasn’t cut out for advertising. Everyone told him not to worry. No one ever clicks on banner ads. It was just about awareness. They even gave him stats to make him feel better.
But Ennis wasn’t convinced. He thought, there must be a way to get people to click on banner ads.
To test a theory, he made banner ads for a company he’d made up that mowed lawns. Instead of writing strategic calls to action, he wrote the opposite. He wrote ads with pensive sadness. They made people brood and contemplate their own life. He didn’t expect the world to listen, but it did.
Suddenly everyone clicked on the banner ads for his lawn company.
They became the most effective online banner ads of all time. They dumbfounded the advertising industry and cracked statistics. So much so that, ten years later, Ennis was awarded Best Online Banner Ad Writer of all time by D&AD.
The whole debacle started when the UI designer told the UX designer she wasn’t a designer at all. It was just a Freudian slip at first, and the UI designer apologised immediately. But the apology didn’t stick with the UX designer. After a short, uncomfortable silence, the trivial spat turned into a serious argument that soon spread throughout the design department. Some argued that if you didn’t know how to use Photoshop, you weren’t a designer. Others said that design is simply a way of thinking. When the argument got heated, everyone stopped working and took the debate into the boardroom.
They continued to argue, quarrel and swear for the remainder of the day.
The rest of the creative department waited patiently to see what would happen. At 6 p.m. the design team walked out of the boardroom. They said they reached a decision: UX isn’t design. So they created two separate departments.
Geoff always felt confined by his job description of copywriter.
He knew he could do so much more. In addition to being a copywriter he was also a planner, strategist, UXer. Quietly speaking, he was also an art director, but he could never talk about it in front of real art directors.
For years he reserved himself to the copywriter title, until he began to give some serious thought as to how to broaden his skills.
One Thursday morning, as he smoked a cigarette on the office balcony, an idea came to him. He asked to have a hot desk in every department so he could collaborate with everyone. Soon he was everywhere. Everyone knew him; everyone asked for him.
It was an idea that slowly changed the makeup of the agency. Geoff became a new kind of creative. The first of its kind. The collaborationist, they called him.
But the title didn’t change Geoff alone. It also inspired a significant change in the agency, which finally realised the most important capability in advertising is collaboration – for only through collaboration can you truly innovate and create the best work in the world.
There was nothing more meaningless to Joe than being stuck in meetings.
He was a doer. And meetings, he felt, were the enemy of doers. He hated the idea of sitting in a room with a bunch of his colleagues, discussing how to solve this and that. Planning ahead. Going over things, again and again, until the very idea of their idea was boiled into something so generic it had no value whatsoever.
One day, he calculated that out of the fifty hours he spent at the agency each week, he spent about fifteen hours in meaningless meetings.
This realisation shocked him. There must be something he could do. A side project perhaps – anything, really. Then it came to him. Over the next twelve months, he would write a book called The Meaninglessness of Meetings. And the challenge he gave himself was to write it while he was in his meaningless meetings.
Two years later, Pan Macmillan published the book to critical acclaim. The Meaninglessness of Meetings became the Bible of new-age work methodology, and the advertising industry took note: they cut forty per cent of meetings and devoted the time saved to creativity.
Stephanie was struck by an ad in her Facebook feed.
It read: “If something can be imagined, it can also be created.” She felt inspired by this line.
That day she went to work feeling immensely proud to have started working in advertising. She looked around at all the people in her department and felt honoured to be in their presence. Advertising seemed just the thing to alleviate people from boredom. And here she was, in a factory that created cures for boredom every day.
When she arrived home that evening, she was still motivated by the ad. She tried to imagine something more imaginative than anything she’d ever considered, and fell asleep with a thousand ideas bouncing around in her head.
When she woke up, she knew she had one.
The idea was mimetic makeup. Every time you wore it, the makeup changed colour based on the weather to suit your complexion. She felt so inspired by this idea that she called the company that put the ad on Facebook and asked them to create it.
But they said it wasn’t possible.
Michael started to come up with twenty ideas for every brief he received.
He’d draw tables on sheets of A3 paper and write ideas into each box as fast as he could. He would do this for every brief, regardless of what it was.
Hardly anyone could keep up with his relentless enthusiasm. For a quiet guy who kept to himself most of the time, this burst of creativity dumbfounded everyone. Over a period of six months, Michael was behind every idea for every client in the agency. The sheer amount of brilliant work that was in the pipeline put the agency on the map as Creative Agency of the Decade. Michael became a symbol of the kind of thinking everyone wanted to adopt in the industry.
In the seventh month of Michael’s creative uprising, his enthusiasm began to slow. He started to come late to work. He’d leave early when he was needed the most and ask for countless days off without explanation. When he didn’t show up for work for a week, the agency became worried. To their dismay, they discovered that Michael had passed away.
They learnt from his mother that all he ever wanted was to come up with one Big Idea before he died. That’s why he worked so hard. He wanted to leave something everlasting behind. A memorable, eternal ad.
Ten years later, his dying wish came true. Michael was posthumously presented the Greatest Advertisement of Modern History award by Cannes Lions. And it wasn’t for the work he did for Nike, Aesop or Mercedes Benz. It was for a life insurance company. The ad Michael wrote spearheaded the company in a new direction and made them the most successful insurance company in the world.
Matt stopped feeling curious just a bit after lunch on Wednesday.
That burning desire he always felt to speculate and learn about the world around him drifted away like smoke from a cigarette.
His heart rate increased and he couldn’t focus, but he continued to design all the things he was tasked to design: EDMs, banner ads, web pages and social posts. He knew the enthusiasm to make anything new was no longer there, but he powered through the work anyway.
After a week, he asked to take some time off to recuperate. He wanted to resuscitate the energy he needed to stay curious. But, nothing happened.
He went back and ground through the work like a robot. He was in a constant state of automation without any sparks of interest. Weeks passed. Then months.
To unravel the mystery, Matt quit his job. He resorted to travel the world and find a cure for this peculiar problem he had. But he didn’t find a cure. After years and years of searching, he found an answer.
His curiosity had been replaced by immortality.
He was the only being in the world ever given that which humanity desires most: eternal life. But Matt didn’t feel lucky. He felt sad because he couldn’t think of anything worse than living in dullness for eternity.
Want to hold this story in your hands? Buy a copy of Going Down Swinging #38 here.
Ennis Cehic is a writer from Melbourne. Ennis writes fiction, poetry and essays and works as the brand director of SAMPLE Brew. He’s been published in Meanjin, The Lifted Brow, Kill Your Darlings, Going Down Swinging, The Age and Overland. He’s a former member of the West Writers Group from Footscray Arts and is currently working on his first short story collection.