lali lessons in advertising #9: work dies and then you go back to the well. wash, rinse, repeat.

This is advertising. Work dies. We all know it and it’s just a fact of our lives.

dead as a doornail

However, li and I have had a particularly rough six months of work dying. When we got an email the other day stating the following:

is dead, sorry, they appreciate the work, they just don’t want to go in this direction.


We decided to just count out how many campaigns we’ve had die in the past six months. Seven.

Now, let me just back up a second. I’ve gotta whine for just a bit before I can spin this into something positive, e.g. a lali lesson (#9 to be exact).

When we get a brief in this business, there’s hardly ever one team working on a brief. Anywhere from two to ten or more. And we don’t present one idea. We present anywhere from one to 42+. And then we take whichever of those ideas the creative director likes and tweak, massage, blow out, revise, comp, revise, rewrite, comp more, rethink, rinse and repeat, for the account team, for the GCDs, for the Rob Schwartzes and Patrick ONeills of this business. And finally it goes to the client. If we’re lucky and everyone of those people likes our ideas enough.

Well, these seven campaigns we’ve had die over the past six months have not only gone to the client, some have gotten as far as director calls, photographer calls, focus group testing, etc. And the more you work on something, the more you pour your heart into it a little. Which means that when it dies, it hurts just a little bit more.

That’s not to say that we don’t realize this about the job we do. A big lesson for us over time has been to walk the line between caring enough to make it good and make it something we’re proud of and caring too much, caring to the point where a campaign’s death is detrimental and distracting. It’s just that when you put hours and weekends and holidays and creative juices and heartfelt belief into your ideas and they get rejected, it’s hard to get an email saying sorry it died followed by an email saying please can we have more work.

It’s like the Greek myth where the guy rolls the boulder up the mountain only to have it roll back down and so he has to roll it up again. Ad infinitum.

Now, for the positive spin.

tired & concepting

I love my job. As much as li and I roll around in the red couches room bemoaning our fate and grunt and moan over comps and writeups and campaign deaths, I’d far rather be doing that that doing something else. What we do is exciting. Thrilling. Different every day. In the past six months, we’ve gotten briefs for soda, lunchmeat, sausages, breakfast sandwiches, airlines, credit cards, luxury cars, compact cars, sportcross turbo cars (what?), batteries and makeup. We get to lounge around in flip flops and sweatshirts, show up late and have that be the norm, act unprofessionally and be rewarded for it. I mean, we get to sit around and talk about the iPhone apps we want someone to make for us. If I’m using Facebook during the work day, that’s just “research.” I’m expensing a photography class because it’s going to help me creatively. We get tickets to free shows (this Thursday in fact, Greek Theatre, Death Cab) from reps like John Buckley just for having “creative” on our business cards. I mean, that’s cool in and of itself – we’ve got the title “creative” on our business cards. And hey, maybe the coffee is runny but there’s always free food somewhere. Cool bands play for free on our basketball court. Wait, there’s a basketball court in our office? Oh, that’s kind of awesome too.

And while seriously, I spent most of this blog post whining about having to come up with MORE creative ideas, we actually get to spend out days coming up with creative ideas. That’s pretty awesome. And when shit gets really tough, and my brain is on the fritz and li and I can’t find anything to sing about and our personal lives keep taking over our concepting discussions because we don’t want to be concepting, we just need to remember that work dies, that sucks, and that’s why you have to keep working so that you can have work that eventually doesn’t die. And step back every once and a while and think that even though this particular moment sucks, we’ve still got it pretty good. And apparently, as noted by several ACDs, it’s totally normal to go a year (or years) without so much as producing a banner ad, let alone a tv spot or a campaign.

When li and I got our reviews (omg almost a year ago!), Chris and Margaret told us that we were incredibly resilient. That when work dies, we’re good at just bouncing back with more ideas and a smile. And that’s a great compliment. And even though they’re not here to compliment us anymore (frowny face), we’re gonna try and still make them proud.

Chris also said to us, when a spot we really loved died (it was on life support for many months, and then they finally pulled the plug), that it’s never really dead. He said ten years ago, Apple had wanted to introduce the Beatles to iTunes. And they had a great campaign. And then they never launched the campaign. Until ten years later. And not only did Chris and Margaret get to make their campaign a decade later, but they got their credit for it too.

beatles itunes billboard

As noted by our nickname a year and a half ago of “Black Widow Team” (since everything we touched sold to the client and then died) and then our brief stint as “Zombie Team” (since our dead work kept coming back to life), and then two months later we launched into our summer of producing two Nissan spots and four Pedigree spots and the entire Juke digital launch, things turn around. And maybe our dead Energizer campaign or our beautiful Nissan spot or our Infiniti campaign will come back from the dead.

Until then, we’re going back the well and we’re doing it with the conviction that if it gets made or not, we’re still going to make it good.

(with a little bit of healthy complaining because we’re still human after all)


PS In a meeting right now where it looks like a spot of ours just got greenlighted, fingers crossed, maybe. Did I just jinx it?
PPS One of those seven campaigns that died had a spot in it called “Imaginary Friend.” When I sent that script to Richard O’Neill, Executive Producer at Chiat, I got the most heartwarming email back. And while this spot didn’t get made, maybe it didn’t matter. This email made my day because I made someone feel something. And after all, what we’re doing in this job is just trying to make people feel or think or do. And if I can do that with a word doc and Richard’s imagination, maybe I don’t need a 2mill budget, a fancy director and months of production to get the validation that we can go back to the well and not come up dry.

Here’s the email:

It’s a terrific script. My daughter Hayley had an imaginary friend “Puppy Spark” when she was little. My wife and I would hold doors open longer for “Puppy Spark” as my daughter looked back to make sure he made it. We’d tuck “Puppy Spark” into bed every night beside my daughter and wish them both good night. Your script brought back this wonderful memory of Hayley’s childhood. My daughter is now in her twenties and is an artist in the movie industry. She still has a great imagination which she exhibits in her work. I’ll treat your script with TLC just like I did with “Puppy Spark”.



Filed under lali lessons

5 responses to “lali lessons in advertising #9: work dies and then you go back to the well. wash, rinse, repeat.

  1. Alex

    Seems like you guys have a fun job (despite the challenges). I’m a student at The Book Shop, and I have to say this post lit a fire under my ass to keep on working.

    Onwards! (Love the blog.)

  2. Never, never, never give up.
    Winston Churchill

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  5. Anonymous

    Yeah, really great blog! So much fun to read – I fell like I’m bouncing along by your side as I read about your adventures in advertising :)

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