When We Advertise in a Crisis, Do We Lose Our Soul or Find It?
Simon Sinek is overquoted in our industry, yet I can’t help but voice displeasure in how many “What” and “How” pieces I’ve seen from advertising publications. “What to Do With Your Media Buy Now That Everyone’s Inside,” “How to Stay Productive When You Work From Home,” etc. I understand these insights are valuable to businesses at a time when businesses are losing value, but if you peel off the top layer of these headlines they essentially read “How to Profit Off This Disaster.” Instead of taking such a callous approach to this unprecedented moment, I’ve been asking myself why we should even be advertising right now, and thankfully I’ve found the answer to be far from a hollow number at the bottom line.
I might get fired for saying this, but we don’t need the governor to tell us advertising isn’t essential business. Advertising is grease in the wheels of capitalism, and if every agency closed its doors for the next few months those wheels would still spin, albeit slowly. So, if we aren’t essential business at a time when the world’s only calling for those that are, why should we still be writing, drawing, planning, calling, and more? To put food on the table? No, everyone needs a paycheck, regardless of where they work. We should still be working because we have the power to improve lives. Not to save them like doctors, protect them like cops, develop them like teachers, or even sustain them like grocers, but to improve them—even slightly—at a time when we all could use it. We need to remind ourselves that on every project.
Today I wrote an ad for PeoplesBank, a small, community-focused bank based in York, Pa. It wasn’t a placement in The Wall Street Journal to assure clients that the markets will recover with patience (they will), or even a Facebook post to clarify their adjusted operations (branches are closed, but ATMs, mobile banking, and phones are open). It was a full-page spread in gameday programs for the York Revolution, an unaffiliated minor league baseball team. Now I could cynically wonder why an ad like that matters in a time like this and muster up “I need a paycheck,” or I could really think about it. And the more I thought about it the more I remembered that life’s better with baseball, and if this ad is running, that means baseball is back, and that means life has improved. Now I’m no longer writing to pay rent, but to celebrate the boys of summer and the bank that keeps them playing. It’s not hyperbolic, it’s advertising.
You don’t need to be a copywriter, or even a creative, to fight for meaning in what might feel like meaningless work amid this crisis. If you’re shifting dollars from billboards to television, think about the families watching their new favorite show together. If you’re building the content calendar for a sandwich shop, consider how delivering fresh bread to someone’s door when visiting a supermarket feels like Armageddon might make their day. Don’t put yourself on a pedestal when others are putting their lives on the line, but don’t lose sight of the good you’re capable of either. Look past the numbers. Fight cynicism. Find your soul in the work.
Oh, and please stay inside.