Death to shit ads.

And the birth of a blog.

“The thing I hate the most about advertising is that it attracts all the bright, creative and ambitious young people … Never in the field of human history has so much been used by so many to say so little.”

This is a quote attributed to Banksy, and it’s a stinging criticism on commercial creativity. It’s also hard to argue with. The concentration of talent within creative departments is unlike anything the world has ever seen. And it’s mostly used to make the 5th round of revisions on a web banner about toothpaste.

But therein lies the opportunity. (Don’t worry, this isn’t a woe is me diatribe.)

We’re incredibly lucky to do what we do. Within the capitalist machine, working in advertising/marketing is just about the only way to make a living (and a pretty good one) by being creative. We have an abundance of brilliant minds, access to millions of dollars, work with world-class filmmakers, editors, DOPs (one academy award-winning, and one nominee, have shot my stupid ads), get to have our work plastered all over the places in which we live, and explain to our relatives that, no, 'it's not a legal thing, it's copyWRITER. Writer. Like I write the ideas for ads', while they look at you with a glazed over blank stare.

It's bloody amazing. I mean, it’s hard, it’s an industry that often takes more than it gives, but when it’s good it’s just about the best job there is.

All that being said, I think we can do better. If we’re honest, most advertising sucks. The invention of the ‘skip button’ and ‘ad blockers’ is no one’s fault but our own. Thousands of people seem to have resonated with my, let’s call them ‘musings’, on LinkedIn, which tells me the world is full of people who think the same. And it’s led me to start this newsletter/community/blog/thing.

I’m calling it ‘Death to shit ads’. Because that’s the most direct way to express the purpose behind it. The first title I had was 'The Blank Page'. Because that's where all ideas start. And often, where they’re at their most brilliant. After that, we seem to put an incredible amount of energy into fucking them up. With multiple logos and CTAs and 12 product features and a list of ‘mandatories’ jammed in for no genuine reason, when the only ‘mandatory’ anyone in the real world cares about is not having their time wasted.

'Death to shit ads' was actually the subhead or tagline. But the more I looked at it, the more it called to me. Probably a terrible SEO decision, but AI will kill SEO as we know it anyway, so who cares. Might get caught by your employer's internet filter as well, but if you're in this business and work somewhere with a draconian internet filter you should probably quit anyway.

If you're here thinking, 'who even is this guy?', then fair question. I'm Jess Wheeler. A copywriter and creative director from Melbourne, Australia. Here's some things I've done that might at least mildly qualify me to have an opinion on creativity:

  • Created content used by 50 Cent to beef with Ja Rule

  • Been interviewed by Rolling Stone for programming a bot that generated apologies on behalf of Lena Dunham

  • Made a series of anti-tourism postcards that have since been acquired by a museum and state library

  • Circumvented Facebook's nudity algorithm using water-coloured boobs

  • Made memes that were printed onto placards and used at political rallies across the US

  • Invented a fake prototype chainsaw that converted a bunch of petrol heads over to battery power

  • Used psychedelic iguanas and The Terminator to sell phone numbers

  • Created a series of NFTs saying that NFTs were worthless and then sold them for money (if you can call crypto money)

  • Used AI to generate album covers of bands invented from newspaper headlines

  • Been a partner in an award-winning agency

  • Convinced the advertising industry to stop posting anonymous blog comments and be nice to each other for Christmas (by bribing them with presents and an award)

  • Run AWARD School (like Australia's version of Miami Ad School, kinda?) for 3 years

  • Lectured at Copy School and contributed to publishings on creativity

  • Won a bunch of international awards

A lot of the above earned hundreds of thousands, up to millions, in earned media by breaking with convention, not adhering to it. And if we're to usher in a new golden era in advertising, we have to keep questioning the status quo. The idea is king. Not data, not research, not 'best practices', not media, not fucking ChatGPT, not anything else - The idea. Everything else must amplify the idea, not dictate it.

In terms of structure, this is an experiment. There’ll be a mix of ideas, insights, stories, and just generally whatever is rattling around my brain. But I’d also like it to encourage conversation, even if they’re difficult ones. Amongst all disciplines (writers, art directors, CMOs, CCOs, brand managers, production houses etc…). And, importantly, keep it fun and entertaining and light-hearted. How most advertising should (and used to) be.

I’ll be totally transparent, I may also look at monetising it in some way (very affordably, I promise, or purely via advertising). Any feedback on this is appreciated, as I don’t want to ‘gate’ people out, but I also need to accommodate for time and money spent. I don’t want this to become a drain, it needs to be a positive energy in, positive energy out thing, to work. Best case is free content, paid advertising. That just requires a lot of subscribers.

Thanks for reading. And please, if you know anyone who might be interested, send 'em over.

Let's make some sick ads in 2023.

- Jess


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