Does Don Draper still exist?
May 5, 2009 9:34 AM   Subscribe

Are there still jobs in the creative side of advertising that don't require a path from graphic design/art direction and aren't subordinated to marketing and its modern emphasis on data and metrics?

I've been investigating advertising for a possible career change. I've always found myself to be visually and linguistically creative, but have rarely found an outlet for that in the career I've previously had, and it struck me that advertising (or the classic Madison Avenue vision of it) might be a better place for me.

Unfortunately, I'm unsure of how I could move into this area without coming from a graphic design background or specializing in marketing, which doesn't really interest me in the same way. Perhaps people in the industry who read this could give me some details on how they got to where they are now? Do people that just come up with ad campaigns and present to clients still exist like they do in Mad Men?
posted by Big Fat Tycoon to Work & Money (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Copy writing! Creative teams have both graphic designers and writers working together.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:52 AM on May 5, 2009

You could be a copy writer.
posted by Kololo at 9:54 AM on May 5, 2009

Sure. Don Draper was a copywriter, not a designer.
posted by ottereroticist at 10:01 AM on May 5, 2009

IMHO advertising is pure evil and you should stay away from it.

From what i know of it (the freelancer point of view), either you get some artistic job but you have pretty much no saying on what is to be done or you have to make a pile of various propositions, competing with others doing the same, and it's almost always the less creative that gets chosen and sometimes they use your work without telling (or paying) you.
posted by izwalito at 10:04 AM on May 5, 2009

I deal with many Don Drapers in my daily work.

In the agencies I've worked with (not for - I'm on the publisher side of the advertising world) that position is usually called "Campaign Manager" or something similar. They craft a campaign that they think will work for the advertiser and present it. Then the graphic designers and copy writers create, the media buyers buy and the publishers publish.
posted by geekchic at 10:08 AM on May 5, 2009

Don Draper is a Creative Director. But you have to work you way up the ladder to get that kind of a job. Nearly all advertising is moving toward a measurable model -- it's not enough to impress other advertising nerds; you actually have to move the product. It was just a lot harder to do that in Don's day (but it was still being done).
posted by zpousman at 10:17 AM on May 5, 2009

More and more ad agencies are picking up user experience folks to help with the increased demand for better web campaigns.
posted by kables at 10:18 AM on May 5, 2009

The one-word answer is "yes" -- I've been trained in radio and television, ran a campus/community station for a time, and through various diversions wound up as a creative strategist (kind of halfway between senior copywriter and the above-described campaign manager with lots of client interaction) at a mid-sized agency doing national work up here in Canada.

The longer answer is -- and I say this with love for the medium -- if you go into advertising because you "want to be creative," you're begging for a letdown. The marketing MBAs at the client companies are strictly by-the-numbers people, which is why the tried-and-true often wins out over the new-and-innovative; while there's some brilliant advertising out there, 90% of client decisions are oriented towards safe ways to increase sales, not maverick risk-taking with off-the-wall campaigns.

So there's a lot of soul-crushing moments where you've come up with genius and they come back asking for "Two for the Price of One". The key is to find your joy in the act of creation; where the clients go with your ideas is their decision, and you have to trust them with it.

I love my job, but I still feel the need to get my raw creative jones elsewhere -- I write comic books, do some woodworking, etc. The folks that go into advertising with stars in their eyes thinking it's all wild ideas and coming up with the next great viral video often wind up very jaded very quickly. izwalito sounds a lot like the embittered flacks I run into at parties, who grouse about the clients and the by-the-numbers "Marketingization" of the field. I've gone on at greater length (with more vitriol) about the whinging of the misunderstood genius here on MeFi before.

But there are lots of great people working in advertising, and lots of great work being done. You just have to do it because you enjoy the work, and not stake your satisfaction on whether the people at the end of the chain understand or appreciate the depth of thought that goes into it.
posted by Shepherd at 11:24 AM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

But you have to work you way up the ladder to get that kind of a job.


You don't get to just Be That Guy at an ad agency. In your case, Peggy's track on the show is the one you should be following, and even that's glamorized.

I think you're also missing a crucial point- Mad Men is a TV show, where it works much better if every "hunch" Don Draper has about the best way to pursue a client is the correct one. Those people are, in life, few and far between- the ones who are go on to be Golden Boys like Steve Jobs and Rupert Murdoch. Any modern ad agency is going to rely heavily on metrics to, essentially, validate hunches. You're mischaracterizing how these agencies work if your impression is that a bunch of data is fed into a machine and a creative plan comes out the other side.
posted by mkultra at 11:30 AM on May 5, 2009

Response by poster: mkultra: I wasn't intending to imply that data was what drove the agencies; my mention of Mad Men was a shorthand for "do there exist modern agencies that put less emphasis on marketing metrics to determine the effectiveness of a campaign?", the answer to which is clearly no. Back in the Draper era, this kind of data analysis of campaign effectiveness was probably still in its infancy.

Thanks for the answers thus far.
posted by Big Fat Tycoon at 11:41 AM on May 5, 2009

FWIW, unless you happen to find that rare, highly creative-driven shop, blessed by clients who value creative work, most places are going to be deeply, deeply, deeply marketing-driven. Take that for what it's worth, but, judging from your op, I think you know what that means.

I worked in advertising for several years and experienced the very real shift to marketing. The major difference for me was that, while advertising valued creativity, marketing valued the appearance of creativity. Advertising people tended to be very self-critical about the creative. Marketing people simply knew that everything they did was the best! I loathe marketing people...
posted by Thorzdad at 12:48 PM on May 5, 2009

I used to have an account guy who'd bitch, "Everybody wants to be a friggin' Picasso around here!"

Advertising is the skill of using creativity to capture attention and emotion and transfer it into purchase or action. There are going to be metrics there. It's creative problem solving, not art. If you think it's just being clever and you're not Sagmeister, don't give it a second thought.

Advertising is a tough gig. Traditional agencies were dying off, even in the boom years, as TiVo and internet "robbed" clients of a captive audience. Internet agencies live and die on metrics. "Viral" marketing has fared no better. When I taught at ad school, we were graduating 30-50 kids per year with killer books and internships all struggling for the same few jobs.

Now there are twice as many ad schools and the enrollment in them has skyrocketed with everyone laid off thinking, "hey, advertising looks cool." At the same time, good folks with tons of creative experience, big name clients and ad awards under their belts are all looking for jobs.

If you want to be creative, do what you're interested in and the creativity will help you accomplish it and make you rise to the top. But unless you like consumption and selling, seriously, it's too tough of a gig to make it worth it to most people (with tiny starting salaries, crazy hours, and layoffs galore.)

If you really want to do it, and hate metrics more than you like doing good work, stick with small clients too broke too do metrics. You can do yellow page ads. The smaller and crappier the shop, the less likely they are to do metrics. But the more likely they are to do crappy work.

However, you'd be amazed at how great planners turn things like qualitative research into inspiration that makes you far more creative than a blank piece of paper and a box of dog food. Metrics in advertising are actually fun... at least to an ad geek like me. How many people think your brand is "sexy" 3 months before launch compared to a year after launch? How many people think probiotics are something they should look for in a dog food?
posted by Gucky at 7:23 PM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

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