The Experiment, postmortem.

You are three years old. Your mother has just placed you in a sandbox to keep you occupied while she talks to Sally, her gossipy neighbor with the bad dye job. You are told you cannot leave. You are not happy with this, but have no choice. So there you sit, nothing around you but sand and two appealing objects. One is the head of a Barbie doll. Your older sister recently beheaded it and gave it a crew cut in a ceremony known only to 8-year-old girls. Next to it lays a bright red and yellow plastic airplane missing its left wing. This is all you have. You pick up the doll head. You giggle as you squeeze it between your tiny fingers. It looks like a puffer fish. You place it back in the sand and reach for the airplane, pick it up and begin to make it fly. Then you remember the doll head. You turn the plane on its side and marvel at the shark you made. The shark chases the puffer fish. The puffer fish fights back. They make up and start a family together. The shark is crowned King of the Ocean. They have sand babies and sand dogs and sand cats. They grow old together and experience many adventures. An hour or more passes without notice until your mother grabs you to go back inside with her. Reluctantly, you leave your ocean world behind.

This experiment was a sandbox. The first sentence was a doll head, the second a broken airplane. This is what is wondrous and magnificent about creativity. Restrictions. Structure. Rules. And it’s what I love about advertising. We are given oppressive rules and mandatories that we have to make into something interesting. We have to make our ocean world. I know I have wasted many hours of my career fighting to keep a logo small or a photo black and white, when I should have been turning them into sea creatures. The most liberating thing in my life was realizing the fun was playing within the rules, not necessarily trying to break them. Yes, it is fun to break the rules, too, but sometimes it is even more thrilling to see what you can get away with without leaving the sandbox.

The other thing I wanted to point out in this experiment was the impact an individual’s life experience has on creativity. Not a single person who participated in this experiment came up with the same solution. If 50 or 100 or 1000 more people tried their hand at bridging sentence A with sentence B, not one of them would come up with the same thing. The great thing about being a human being is that no one can ever be in the exact same place at the exact same time as anyone else. Ever. That means that no one anywhere has the same perspective on anything observable in the world. What awesome power. No one can ever see anything like you can and no one can communicate what you see or hear or feel in the same way that you can. I think that is wonderful. And I am thankful for every day that I get to play in the sandbox, no matter how many toys I am given.

I do want to thank all of you for participating. There is an enormous amount of creativity in this group and I am proud to be a part of it. I learn something from you every day. Great stuff everyone.

Joseph

13 comments

ivan's picture
ivan

Wow! This is the most inspiring description of our profession I've ever heard. Thank you for putting on "paper" what I always felt, but could not verbalize properly.

Joseph Campbell's picture
Joseph Campbell
230 pencils

Thank you for the "paper". I am forever indebted to you.

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I've decided I love advertising.

ellehcimeo's picture
ellehcimeo
3522 pencils

thank you Joseph. much needed reminder of why i love what i do.

right now i'm dealing with turds in my sandbox, stupid ferrel cats.

hang-the-dj's picture
hang-the-dj
1262 pencils

Mr Campbell, your metaphoric prose 'reigns supreme'. Glad to see some positive attitudes around here for a change too.

I agree, it's easy to lose track and waste time fighting the battles that you will never win. Much easier to accept that some clients will never sign off on anything great and spend more time and energy on those that might. I'm always reminding myself that as crap as I feel about the work I'm sometimes doing, I still have a pretty cool job. Occasionally, a great job.

My sandpit is small, my toys cheap and broken, but I am determined to have fun.

popdistortion's picture
popdistortion
1594 pencils

Truly inspiring. This made my day.

TRICKY's picture
TRICKY
3950 pencils

a friend of a friend of a friend wrote:
Regardless of which type of creative person (artist or writer) you are, understand this “reality” about the advertising industry you wish to join or stay in, that never seems to get mentioned. The truth of the matter is: Advertising is basically a bullshit business, full of bullshit people, doing bullshit work, for bullshit clients, which is all reflected in the bullshit results their bullshit work produces, and the bullshit public perception and image they have for being involved in the aforementioned bullshit. Why, because in the advertising business, no body really knows nothing about anything, nothing they do works that well, nothing lasts, no one gets credit for their work, and after a while no one really cares. In the future I do not see it getting any better. (God help me, I love it so.) My simple advice to the vast majority of the creative people I meet who wish to enter the advertising business… do something else with your talent and skills and passion, find another viable outlet for them, where you can earn a decent living, without having to exchange your life in return. In the end, the advertising business will more than likely break your heart. How tragic it is when a creature with wings dies on the ground. . . . . . . . On the other hand, for the right mindset with talent, practiced skills, meaningful experience, and resolve, anything can be done and can be made to work for your benefit.

ellehcimeo's picture
ellehcimeo
3522 pencils

bleak thy name is TRICKY.
now i'm sad.

ivan's picture
ivan

This is BS. Advertising is the renaissance of art in the 21st century. You can not be more creative in any other profession. In advertising you play with everything known to human in infinite different ways. Other professions will limit your activity to a certain area of culture.

No credit? I think creatives are celebrated like pop stars within the industry and get huge paychecks at the end of the month. What else do you need? Yes, it comes with coke and girls too if you want it to.

Advertising has the power to change the most important thing in the world. People's perception and motivation. With advertising we can reverse global warming. We can change the president. We can sell more Coca-Cola.

I don't want to earn a decent living by making beautiful tiramisu cakes, I want to talk to 100 thousand people at the same time and tell them to do something. I don't want to be liked by a selected few as a pianist. I want the Mom's of America to read my words in the Oprah magazine.

Advertising is a bitch, but not for the reasons stated.

hang-the-dj's picture
hang-the-dj
1262 pencils

Well said Ivan.

I'm not sure I want to touch all the mums of America, but I get your point, if you view great advertising as art (which, of course it can be) then, yes, you have a huge (though very transient) audience. And you can make a bucket load of cash while you're at it.

(Ivan, how do find any time to write ads when you do such a great job maintaining this site? Do you sleep?)

ivan's picture
ivan

Because that's all I do. Work/AotW/Family. My friends complain, but there is not enough hours in the day.

brandsurgeon's picture
brandsurgeon
693 pencils

Oh, my God Joseph (sniff) that was (sniff) inspirational... (sniff) i wish my momma and the rest of my 'job-haters' could read this (sniff) thanks, Joe, can I call you Joe? (sniff)

Anyone got a hanky?

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ivanlim's picture
ivanlim
262 pencils

Michelle couldn't find her shirt.

brandsurgeon's picture
brandsurgeon
693 pencils

You're NUTS, Ivanlim. lol!

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