a republican in advertising. seriously.

I have a friend who works in an ad agency…and he is a Republican.

Shock, horror.

I have spoken to him a number of times about how he feels about it, usually after a department head sends out a virulently partisan pro-Obama email to the whole department or people get paid time off to go to an Obama rally or whatever the case may be on the day.

As another example, this morning he sent me an instant message:

Him: Dude – just had an all-agency meeting turn into an Obama rally led by the CEO complete with ripping on Republicans for hating “real change”, poor people, minorities, and fun.

Me: I just had a sadistic hitting contest between me and my art director partner with rulers and our ECD standing by cheering us on.

Him: It’s like nobody thinks that there is someone in the agency that might disagree with them.

Me: Or they don’t care.

Him: No, I think they don’t even consider it. Some of them may not have ever knowingly met and conversed with a Republican.

Political aspect of the conversation aside, it makes you wonder…after all, we in advertising are supposed to know the people that we are selling to. We don’t have to be them, obviously, but we need to understand them, know what makes them tick, empathize with them to the point that we can understand them emotional hook that connects them to the brands that we are advertising for. How can we do that if we live in our hipster Manhattan (and Austin and Portland and Boston and Minneapolis…is it any surprise based on these cities that everyone in advertising is a Democrat?) worlds and disdain the rest of America that isn’t us?

Think about it honestly for a second…and yes, most people in advertising actively disdain the Wal*Mart shopping, flyover country living, openly religious people that buy most of the stuff that we sell. Just think about any briefing you have been in, think about that point where the planner starts talking about the target, and think about all of the cracks about said target that you know are coming.

Shame on them for not being upper class urban hipsters!

When I started at Fallon back in the day, Pat Fallon told me that to be good I had to be open-minded in the truest sense of the word.

He said that if I didn’t do things that were otherwise foreign to me, from things as read meat middle America like going to the state fair to things as avant-garde bohemian like seeing an experimental dance show in an offbeat converted warehouse in Northeast Minneapolis, then I wouldn’t have a chance in hell of doing good work. Experience, he said, comes from doing things with open-minded wonder, not from reading about it in the paper or making guesses based on responses to canned questions from a 10 person focus group.

Republican or Democrat, it really doesn’t matter (that whole thing was but a launching pad into a diatribe about the sad lack of wonder and interest in the world that most in advertising have)…what does matter to the good advertiser is being able to understand people who aren’t you.

And that means that you have to force yourself to engage with, interact with and even respect the decisions of other Americans whose lifestyle may baffle, surprise or shock you…because you’ll notice that yours does the same to them, they don’t care about your ivory tower or think your tight hipster jeans are cool, and that they will freely give you insights into how to sell to them.

How can you emotionally reach people through the limited tools of advertising if you have never bothered to actually talk to the people you are selling to?

You can’t.

Oh, and by the way, it’s tacky to get political to a captive audience that not only has to listen to you but has to pretend to be all into what you’re saying because you’re the boss. Grow up.

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13 responses to “a republican in advertising. seriously.

  1. I absolutely agree, that one of our greatest challenges is the task of truly stepping outside of ourselves and our own worldview to understand others in a genuine and meaningful way. That kind of understanding requires an openness that in some ways is a bit impossible to achieve. I certainly strive for this kind of openness, but with the understanding that to completely relate to another’s conflicting worldview is, in a way, to diminsh your own. Great thoughts, thanks!

  2. Great post, very insightful. However, couldn’t you buy that stock photo rather than steal it? That watermark is pretty distracting. How much is a photo on istock, like 5 bucks?

  3. Back in 2000 I worked for an agency that was owned by a personal friend of Dick Cheney. Every Monday morning meeting for months this guy hijacked the proceedings to tell us what a good guy Cheney was and how we should go vote for him and Bush.

  4. @ Nicole – I like to think that keeping the watermark on is me providing advertising for iStock in return for image use. Also, I am pressed for time and it’s the best image I could find.

    @ MattM – That sort of political grandstanding by an agency leader during work hours to members of the agency is just wrong. I know that these people who spout propaganda in support of their candidate really believe that they are right, but politics is inappropriate at the workplace…especially when it’s coming from a person of power down onto the employees.

  5. Wait, wait, wait, I’m not the only Republican in advertising?!?

  6. I know several Republican agency people. A few are even creatives.

  7. Excellent post. Our agency, admittedly dangling on the buckle of the Bible Belt, seems evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. We have arguments, email incendiary links and generally get pissed at each other for our respective inability to Get It.

    As frustrating as it is, direct challenges like this grant you the empathy you need to understand someone else’s worldview. Too many people think “politically liberal” equals “open-minded” and conveniently excuse themselves from even trying to understand others.

    And you’re right; the same happens in advertising. We aim our work at other creatives, then bitch when the client, who might understand the market and audience too, just doesn’t Get It. Taking a moment to consider a contrary opinion doesn’t mean giving in; it means understanding.

    Thanks again for the thought-provoking post. And, by the way, I’m a raging liberal. RAGING.

  8. Another Republican (with healthy libertarian streak, no less) here…and I was one of probably half-a-dozen conservative Republicans in a 25+ person department very closely linked to creative. Go figure.

  9. @marlinco:

    Nicely put.

    An important lesson that’s finally been getting through my thick skull in the past several months.

  10. fucking republicans. jk nice post.

  11. Sorry I missed this first time out DB – excellent, excellent post.

    Could not agree more with all your points here.

  12. In the aftermath of the election, and being a journalism student, I’m relieved yet scared by this post. It is so refreshing to see a conservative in this line of work. However, what a tasteless, tacky situation the agency created. Putting up with the whole agency like that must have been draining. I thought I had it bad with a few left winged roommates. You have given me hope in the sense that you do exist. And if luck is on my side you will soon be joined in the industry!

  13. Most of my creative friends are Dems, and I used to believe that liberals were somehow more creative than conservatives or maybe even centrists. Now I’m not so sure. I think maybe they’re just less politically vocal with their skills.

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