"By the way... if anybody here is in marketing or
advertising, kill yourself. Thank you, just planting seeds, that's all I
am doing. No joke here, kill yourself. There is no rationalization for
what you do, you are Satan's little helpers, kill yourself, kill
yourself kill yourself now." - Bill Hicks (Arizona Bay)
My life working for an ad-agency was not all bad - in fact there
were some amusing moments. However as a choice of career, I would not
recommend this sector.
1. It's a dying industry.
In most English speaking countries the number of people working in
the ad-industry has continually declined. Share prices of all the major
advertising groups have fallen by more than 1/2 since the late '90s.
This industry has been shrinking rapidly and consolidating for the last
Occasionally marketers dream up new fads that will allegedly rescue
the advertising industry; Direct Marketing, Interactive marketing, Viral
Marketing have all been toted as the big issue that will revive the
sector. To date, none of these have halted or even slowed down this
industry's rate of decline.
Things have changed substantially since glory days of the 1980s when
ad-men could afford cocaine and champagne parties. Once an industry that
attracted the highest calibre of graduates, these days the best young
people are far more likely to want a career in banking, IT or
engineering. There is nothing glamorous about this industry: Wages are
low, hours are long and opportunities are fewer and further between.
2. Your agency is first supplier to get
canned in a recession.
Well perhaps not if your client has also appointed a Feng Shui
consultant or a cordon bleu chef. Shortly after those guys get the sack
your client's advertising budget will be slashed and your Agency's
contract will be ended.
Like the infamous "Death of a Thousand Cuts", a failing agency will
lose its clients one at a time. With each lost contract the agency will
have to make another round of redundancies until it becomes the victim
of a hostile takeover bid.
3. The skills you will learn are not
Once you begin your agency job you will become indoctrinated in your
agency's proprietary marketing methodology. This mystical technique
promises to make those who fully understand it into the marketing
equivalent of an OT III Scientologist. Being able to quote from and
practice this methodology will mark you as an agency insider.
This new knowledge is nothing more than your agency's sales spiel.
It has no value outside the agency since each agency has its own
version, and however profound this knowledge purports to be; it will
rarely amount to any more than stating the obvious.
Clients will not value your 'proprietary methodology' because they
will be instantly able to detect that you are just quoting from the
While your agency life teaches you mainly soft or non-transferable
skills, other sectors provide their employees with hard skills... even
qualifications. Former employees of agencies who find themselves made
redundant are often faced with the problem that the skills they posses
have no relevance in the real world. Furthermore they have been left
behind their peers whose careers have progressed more conventionally.
4. Your clients don't appreciate what you
Even worse, they probably resent you for things that are not your
fault: While you draw your miserable agency wage, your company may be
charging you out for more than 5 times what you earn. However well you
might think you get on with your client; they think of you as a kind of
vampire or at best, a leech. No matter how hard you work, or how much
value you add; you are expensive and they would love to get rid of you.
The fact that you are also being exploited will matter very little
to your clients as your agency bleeds them dry for another ill-conceived
project that will most likely do no good at all!
5. Much of what you do can be done better
Ever heard of 'CRM'? The whole idea of it is to replace tedious
costly manual marketing processes with more efficient automated
systems. This transfers the task of marketing from a traditional
marketing department into the hands of your client's IT department.
Whilst your agency may enjoy a cordial relationship with your
client's marketing team, you can be certain that your client's IT
department do not like you and think that everything you do is wrong and
stupid. When the marketing department's funds get transferred to IT so
that they can launch their a CRM initiative, your agency will be canned.
As a final humiliation your company may be invited to re-pitch for
this CRM contract only to be disqualified at the first stage for failing
to answer the brief. The contract will go to an established IT firm. Oh
dear... there goes another client.
6. You will never get the credit for your
Once in a blue moon, an advertising contract goes spectacularly well
- you will be surprised when it happens. If you stick in the industry
long enough, the chances are you will have at least one success story.
Don't think that successfully leading a project that achieves something
unique and remarkable now qualifies you for the advertising big league.
You are only a small player in a giant multinational machine - the
reward for your efforts goes to your manager and your client.
Don't be surprised to see your boss taking all the credit for your
big idea on the front page of your industry's trade mag. You will
swallow your pride when the client who failed to understand the
campaign for an entire year now claims to have thought up the entire
concept. In this business success or failure amount to the same thing.
Quite soon everybody in the entire company (including people who
were not even in the company at the time) will have claimed some kind of
involvement with your project. Your reward for your contribution to this
project will be to be re-assigned to a problem client and made redundant
when that client is eventually lost.
7. Your industry is amoral
Bill Hicks said that Ad-Folk are "Satan's Little Helpers" ... the
people who would quite happily "sell anthrax as a child sedative".
The company I worked for derived a great deal of its profit from
marketing cigarettes. As the law on how cigarettes could be advertised
grew increasingly restrictive - agencies would spend a great deal of
time developing concepts that would increase the consumption of
cigarettes by working around the laws.
Cigarettes deliver no known benefit to their users. They are the
only product that if consumed for long enough will almost certainly kill
their users. Despite these glaring flaws in the product, the agency
marketed them in Europe, America and especially 3rd world countries
where well designed ads could take advantage of smoker
You are probably thinking, that not every agency advertises
unethical products such as cigarettes - thats true, but every agency is
guilty of a far greater crime - creating the illusion that consumerism
can solve our problems.
Whether an agency tries to advertise a cigarette or a pair of
sneakers the goal is to tell a lie: This cigarette will make you look
cool, these shoes will get you laid. When the product ultimately fails
to deliver on the hype we consumers have become so unused to thinking
critically that our only salvation is yet more consumerism.
8. Advertising pollutes our environment.
As audiences become fragmented, traditional advertising becomes less
effective. In order to stay in business, advertisers need to compensate
for this by finding ways to 'cut-through'. This means that advertisers
seek more intrusive methods to grab your limited attention.
In the future every kind of entertainment will be interrupted by a
commercial breaks. Every landmark will be polluted with ad-hoardings.
An agency wants to turn every moment of your 'life-style' into a
9. What your company does is worthless.
If your company spontaneously ceased to exist, there is not a single
member of the public who would notice its absence. Nobody depends on
what you do, not even your clients.
The vast majority of what you produce will be instantly forgotten -
the only thing that you can guarantee is that you are lowering the
signal-to-noise ratio of life - filling the environment with yet more