The Last Refuge Of The Misfit.

An ode to advertising.

‘Congrats on selling out.’

I used to say this, or chuck it on a slide, when giving talks to young/junior/aspiring creatives. It was half joke, half not, in a way. No one grows up wanting to ‘be an advertising creative’, it’s something that people end up stumbling into after not fitting in anywhere else. (Because let’s be honest, if your 8-year-old is drawing a picture of a midweight art director as part of their ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ exercise instead of an astronaut, I’d be worried.)

Because of this, creative departments are full of touring musicians, contemporary artists, published authors, graffiti artists, chefs, standup comedians, the works. (Sometimes I don’t even think brands and clients actually know the power they have at their disposal.) The reason being, the ‘starving artist’ cliche is a real one. Advertising is just about the only way for a creative to earn a pay cheque. It’s both a sad indictment on capitalism and a shining beacon of opportunity all the same.

Me on stage in 2010.

Me on stage in 2017. What a sellout.

The reason I break the ice with this joke is to offer some solace to young creatives struggling with finding their place in the world. If they’re thinking of working in advertising, it’s likely because they’ve realised that their actual passion isn’t going to work out the way they’d hoped. And not always due to talent, opportunity, or even money, but because you just can’t escape the machine. The music, film, or art world can be as compromised and uncreative as any other industry. If you’re going to get stuck in the grinding gears, you might as well make a buck. So just embrace it. It’s ok. You can still do your thing here, and you’re still with your people. And, what’s more, your grandparents will think your job ‘has something to do with copyright law’ because no one knows what a copywriter is.

This is the point where you start to see the beauty of the business. My entire life I’d been cast as a misfit, outsider, troublemaker, all of my school reports told me to ‘stop being disruptive’ and that I needed to ‘knuckle down’ or I’d amount to nothing. Terrible advice, in the end, as I tried to ‘knuckle down’ and worked for a bank in my 20s and just copped the same branding. The school system, as much as it would profess otherwise, doesn’t like new ideas or questioning of the status quo, and nor does the corporate world. Anything that requires making an effort outside of the worksheet/spreadsheet just goes in the too hard basket. That being said, in our business, we tend to spend our entire existence in the too hard basket. But this is the life we chose.

Jumping ahead a bit so as not to labour on, but everything changed for me in my first few weeks in AWARD School. Sitting in a room showing my weird ideas and reading out stupid scripts… but to rapturous laughter, applause, and enthusiasm, was something I’d never experienced to that point. Growing up, I was always told to shut up and sit in the corner for doing anything that engaged others, but these people wanted me to keep going. It was a watershed moment. This was it. This was where I needed to be. And nothing was going to stop me.

In what other professions could I fly a German man born with a giant arm over to Australia to fight Karl Stefanovic on live television, invent an insane magician that appears in your home to shrink your bills, work with Academy award winning DOPs, go to Cannes, go to SXSW, shoot an ad in New York with an NBA Hall of Famer, turn Miriam Margolyes into a talking rectum, there’s no other job on the face of the fucking Earth where the ‘Jess that needs to stop being so disruptive and do what he’s told’ could do any of this.

It can be a brutal industry. It’s a harder job than most. It often takes a lot more than it gives. It can, at times, be detrimental to your mental health. It’s becoming more and more insane the volume of thinking that creatives are expected to churn out EVERY DAY. But I’m still so thankful that I found it. And I’m so grateful for all the mentors and supporters I’ve had along the way. (There’s too many to list, but you all know who you are. No one ever really backed me in like this until I fell into advertising.)

Advertising is the last refuge of the misfit. There’s just nowhere else for us to go. Nowhere to carve out the kind of careers and collaborate with the like-minded people we get to hang out with here. If you’re a struggling or aspiring creative that happens to be reading this, maybe you’ll take something from it. It’s fucking hard getting in and making your mark, but if you can crack it, it’s worth it. This business has absolutely changed my life.

I opened this blog with this Banksy Quote: “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.”

It sounds very negative, but as contextualised in my first blog post, it also highlights the abundance of untapped potential that still lies in every creative department.

If you’re a client reading this, I’ll follow this post up with some reasons why everything I’ve said here is an absolute fucking goldmine for you, your brand and your career, and how to tap into it. But I’ll save that for another day.


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