‘The profession of advertising’ is mostly considered to be a fine example of an oxymoron. It routinely features near the bottoms of ‘respectable professions’ lists, only very closely beaten by used-car dealers and water-purifier salesmen. Although in recent days, the tireless efforts of sharply-dressed MBAs have ensured that investment bankers and their chums are unassailable in their defence of the prized bottom-most spot. (Although these sorts of lists tend to be dominated at the top by people as useless as astronauts, or as offensive as priests, so one wonders how seriously they should be taken.)
This feeling of resentment towards the noble community is quite hard to explain. After all, we are the ones who make the giant wheels of the capitalist economy turn (and I suspect we will all agree that we do want them to turn). We are also often at the forefront of culture, defining our eras through jingles and taglines that stay with you forever (I challenge you to stop yourself from completing the sentence: “Iski jhaag ne…”)
Perhaps the contempt – some say, borne out of envy – arises from the way people in advertising tend to carry themselves. Wandering in to work at noon, playing games and watching videos of cats or ladies (sometimes cats and ladies) under the guise of ‘research’, and acting as if we were superior to the ordinary office-goer simply because we can wear tattered jeans and bathroom slippers to work, and earn more than most hardworking, honest folk by coming up with inane lines like “desh ubal raha hai”.
I must admit, the general demeanor does not cast the community in a highly favourable light. But you, the general office-goer, know only half the picture. You can only see the facade of ‘hip’ that hides the tormented souls of advertising men. (The women somehow manage to dress rather well and avoid long hours too. Maybe they’re just lazy.) The truth is that the ordinary advertising professional is unfit for any real job. Most people, in fact, end up in advertising precisely because they were unable to do anything else. Not because we’re not smart. Oh, we’re smart. Smarter than most people you’ll meet in, say, your office. It’s simply because we’re unable to follow these ghastly 20th century ideas of dedication and hard work and all such nonsense. We’re the professionally-challenged. And advertising is our asylum.
But it does not mean ours is an easy life. It’s a life of slavery to every whim of yours, the almighty consumers. For instance, if you insist on watching sports, especially ones as despicable as football, we must bow to your fancies and, against the vehement protests of the countless brain cell we possess, must stoop to your level and gain knowledge of appalling things like football players and teams from cities you couldn’t place on a map if they were the only places present on the map and marked in big, red circles.
Today, for instance, I had to work for a product which is nothing more than carbonated, sweetened, coloured di-hydrogen monoxide (yes, take your time) which looks, and probably tastes, remarkably like piss. This product, however, has had to be branded in such a way that excites you, people living in Tier 1 cities, belonging to socio-economic category A. Therefore, it now stands for ‘adventure sports’. It sponsors such events where people jump to assured death from airplanes, where uncultured men race strange, ugly vehicles on terrains which are most unsuited to racing, perhaps in a feeble attempt at irony. And I, the most ardent supporter of showing reverence to the human body; I, for whom getting out of bed abruptly is the highest degree of adventure that the body should be subjected to; I, have to study your psyche and understand why you, going against every instinct formed over thousands of years of human evolution, must insist on jumping off cliffs.
And that’s just the beginning. I then have to come up with ways to encourage you to jump off cliffs, and make you feel proud to have done so and survived to post your pictures on Facebook, thereby encouraging your worthy friends to follow your triumphant example. And by joining you in this spectacle of foolishness, I have to make you remember and prefer this brand of piss water over all the other brands when you’re in the mood to consume a cool, canned beverage.
And that’s one of the ‘fun’ examples. We also have multi-function printers, data plans and enterprise servers to sell.
So, spare a compassionate thought for the advertising professionals who must suffer this humiliation every day, torn between which fools to pander to – you, the consumer, or your beloved marketer, to whom you insist on donating your last penny. Is it too much to ask if, once in a while, they pretend to be superior to you starched-collared, money-minting corporate types? If every once in a while, they get drunk in office and spend the rest of the day playing table tennis? Have some pity on their bruised egos and tortured souls. It’s all they’ve got. And the next time you vote for the list, help them finally beat those dreadful, smug bankers.