Top 10 Reasons I Left Advertising for Bus Driving
Adapted from Advertising vs Bus Driving
By David de Haas
Hey, Mr. Bus Driver! The blog that started it all.
Advertising, as we call it in the advertising business, is an incredibly self-important and self-congratulatory industry with numerous awards shows to fuel all the fragile egos. The awards shows are funded, produced, judged and attended by people in advertising.
Globally the self adulation culminates in a bacchanalian festival known as Cannes, where the 1% dance upon the backs of the 99%. In Canada, awards season is marked by the annual issue of the Creative Report Card which actually tracks and assigns points for all your awards and ranks you on a publicly available list of the top art directors and writers in Canada.
Not sure why I’m telling you this other than to let you know I topped out at 14th. The guy who won that year conceived the Dove evolution spot that I’ll assume you’ve seen. I’ll assume you’ve seen it because I too think advertising is that important. That was a few years ago. Last time I checked I had dropped to 75th so clearly now I need to adopt the attitude that award shows don’t matter. But they do. And secretly I still covet their gold plated comfort.
The quickest way to trick someone out of their money is to gain their trust. You gain trust by making an emotional connection with someone. The easiest way to make an emotional connection is to share a laugh. This is why so many ads try to be funny. Funny = Money.
In the eternal quest for funny I’ve staged riots in a mental facility, I’ve made fun of drug addiction, the homeless and teenage suicide. I’ve had a Spanish boy beaten in a Pinata suit. I had a small goat waiting outside for what was secretly known as Project “X.” I even managed to get a mouse humping a Gameboy on TV, although the censors wouldn’t allow the money shot. Fucking censors.
Just so you know, the holy trinity of advertising humour is:
- A kick to the nuts.
- Fart jokes.
- Fart jokes, now with added poo!
Advertising can be a lot of fun but the burnout rate is crazy and you end up working with a lot of interesting/emotionally damaged people. Because you work in teams of art directors and writers, you get to know some people really well. Maybe too well, it’s like an arranged marriage but far more random. Some of the writers I have known in the business have: quit and gone into rehab, attempted suicide in a manic depressive downswing, become alcoholics (actually most have become alcoholics), quit and become a real estate agent, loved their job but died of a heart attack at the age of 38, won the lottery and still do it as a hobby and finally moved on to interviewing Tori Spelling for articles in Modern Dog Magazine. Not all of those writers were my partners - but most of them were. I try not to blame myself.
I’m going to write mostly about TV commercials. Which will make me seem like some pre-social media ad relic left over from the 80’s. Truth is, working on TV provides the perfect microcosmic shitstorm of agency life. It’s the only time you get all the warring factions in one room, the clock is ticking and millions of dollars are on the line.
In this corner you have the creatives, they want to win awards or at least make something that doesn’t suck. In that corner you have the client, probably a junior client who doesn’t care what sucks and doesn’t want to make any decision that might cost them their job. Over there you have the director, who might be aligned with the creatives or just pretending so he can hijack the whole shoot for his reel. In yet another corner, there’s the account person from the agency. Also a wildcard. Depending on if that person is a closet creative or wants to eventually go client side will depend on who they sell out. At the end of the day, or EOD in adspeak, you need to have something in the can that you can go edit into a commercial.
I have maimed many people in my quest for something that doesn’t suck. I once asked a very old woman to walk in manacles in a prison line again, because on her first take she fell down and hurt her hip. Sorry it wasn’t really what we were looking for. Another woman sliced off part of her finger in an audition where I needed someone to look bored as they diced carrots with a sharp knife and a real blindfold. So why a real blindfold? I thought it was the kind of Sobeys commercial that Kubrik would have made. I’ve dangled people from buildings and even had a coworker ride a dangerously makeshift exercise bike on the streets of Vancouver, with very little steering and absolutely no brakes. But I always said that if I ever killed someone making an ad, I’d have to quit. I almost quit after this.
We were doing a spot where a mother realizes her infant needs a change and hands the child to her husband. Yes it’s a poo joke. (See #3 of Advertising Holy Trinity of Comedy, above).
We’re casting for infants and we asked that real moms come in with their actual kids. Unfortunately the casting agency didn’t really work that way. We saw a lot of desperate actors who were really uncomfortable attempting to look natural with a screaming six month old they just met.
During an audition, a baby had that moment where she realized, hey you’re not my mommy and started silently screaming. Because she was still quiet the actors kept the scene going and passed her to her stand-in father. At that point the casting agent noticed that the kid isn’t breathing and is turning blue. She jumped up and grabbed the baby who seemed to have passed out and called to the adjoining room for her mother. Her mother seems agitated before she even knew what was going on. She took her baby, started to soothe her and moments that seemed like hours later the baby started to breathe again. We all started to breathe again.
We tried to apologize to her but her first response in a really angry kind of way was, “I guess we’re not going to get that call back now are we?”
It was half directed at us and half directed at her infant, she genuinely seemed angry at her six month old for not being able to breathe and fucking up their audition.
Another tragic daily affirmation.
“You’re sitting on a tack.”
“You’re sitting on a tack.” He leaned forward and pressed his fingertips together, you could tell he had done this before. “Now.” Another measured pause. “I could prescribe you some pain killers to help with the pain of the tack, I might even be able to hypnotize you into thinking that you’re sitting on a balloon, but you’re not. You’re sitting on a tack and you need to get off.”
It was my first and only time at a psychiatrist and after spending most of my hour in self diagnosis telling him everything that wasn’t working about my advertising career, that was his advice. You’re sitting on a tack. What he meant was, if I wasn’t enjoying my job, I needed a new one. Good simple common sense advice that cost me about $250. He also offered to get me a prescription of medical marijuana which he himself found to be quite relaxing. The way he was offering suggested that if I said yes we’d probably get blazed right then and there. I thought about it but decided to go with the tack idea instead. Besides, a bag of pot was about as easy to get as a cup of coffee in Vancouver.
I guess that was the moment that I started really considering the switch to bus driving. Until then it had just been a bit of a crazy day dream. Something I would think about while account people were droning on and fuelled by my daily commute on the 246 Vancouver. The 246 is an art director’s wet dream, which is particularly bad because I also used to nap on it. It takes a ridiculously beautiful route from up near Grouse Mountain, through Edgemont Village, over the Lion’s Gate Bridge, past Stanley Park and terminates in one of the nicer areas of downtown Vancouver. I’m pretty convinced it gave me unrealistic expectations of what driving a bus would be like.
Top 10 Reasons I Left Advertising for Bus Driving
Or why I turned down TAXI® to drive a bus
1: I USED TO LOVE ADVERTISING
Really. As a kid I looked forward to those precious few commercials that were actually better than the show they were sponsoring. Unless it was the Transformers in which case the whole show was a shitty commercial. Even more so than the ads I liked though, I passionately despised those other ads. Stupid, formulaic, shouty ads that insulted what little intelligence I was able to muster in between re-runs of WKRP. I wanted to protect the world from shit like that. The ads, not WKRP. Advertising was a necessary evil but I was going to try and make it a little less evil. I was going to save the world from suckvertising. That was then. Maybe leaving the thing I used to love would make me love it again. Maybe not.
2: EVERYTHING WE DO IS DESIGNED TO TRICK PEOPLE OUT OF MONEY THEY DON’T EVEN HAVE
We’ve become so good at our jobs that we’ve taken all the disposable money and now we create itches that people can only scratch with their credit cards. Whether we like it or not we are part of the problem.
3: WE THINK WE’RE ARTISTS
Creatives work too hard. Way too hard. We take things too personally. We’re still those kids rushing home from school with a piece of paper in our hand shouting, “Look what I did!” Now we have a bigger gallery than our kitchen fridge and our work gets shown everywhere. We still want to look at that work and say hey I did that, but that’s just pride fucking with you. We’re not artists, we’re salesmen. Draw a picture and don’t sell it, write a song that no one will ever hear, then you’re an artist.
4: I WANTED A REAL JOB
Thou shalt not live in an ivory tower. If you’re in advertising you’ve probably read the book of Whipple. If you haven’t, you should. It says something like this but it’s been a while since I read it. I took it to mean: don’t get so wrapped up in your life as an advertising rock star that you lose touch with who you’re actually advertising to. Well, my advertising tower wasn’t exactly made of ivory but it was fortified with inside jokes, pop culture references and ads that came with a special making of the ad award show entry video. For me the advertising snake had succeeded in swallowing its own tail and disappeared completely. Nothing seemed real anymore. Driving a bus seemed very real in comparison.
5: IT IS AND IT ISN’T ABOUT THE MONEY
I used to have a 3 step 10 year plan:
- Do 5 years of good award winning work at a good award winning agency.
- Cash out for 5 years at some big multinational doing shitty work for big money.
That plan has since changed due to moral compass reasons. Now I won’t get too specific but bus driving pays less than one-third of my former advertising booty. But to be honest I was starting to make the kind of money I wasn’t really comfortable with. How much are you charging me out at? Are my ideas really worth that much? The whole thing makes you feel kind of nauseous and guilty. One agency president explained it to me like this, “We’re not just paying you, we’re paying for a chunk of your life.” Oh, so you’re paying me not to go home to my family? Well that certainly made me feel better. In general when you attach money to something you used to love it tends to make you not love it so much. Unless you just love the money in which case you’re fine.
6: HARRY CHAPIN
I dare you to have kids and listen to Cat’s in the Cradle. You’ll end up home schooling them on a hippie commune and/or sustainable organic soy farm.
Side note: The worst thing my son ever said to me while I was away on an extended TV shoot. Dad, “I kinda forget what you look like.” Cue the song.
7: THE WEIGHT
When you’re given a brief there is an almost physical weight you feel upon your chest until you come up with something that doesn’t completely suck. (Again I’m pretty sure this came from Whipple.) That weight tends to increase as time and shitty ideas go by. More briefs and less time is the new norm at most agencies, which equals more weight and less time to actually feel good about what you’re coming up with. What’s worse is when you do actually go home at least 50% of your brain power is dedicated to whatever you need to solve for tomorrow. 100% if you bring your laptop. My goal was to be more mentally and physically present for my wife and kids whether they wanted me around or not.
8: WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE MY DRAWRINGS?
Taking the bus everyday into the city was my 30 minutes of downtime. I used that time to draw pictures of people on the bus and despite me being a creative in advertising those 30 minutes felt like the most creative part of my day.
9: WHAT I REALLY WANT TO DO IS DIRECT
This point is not specifically true. Maybe it was once upon a time when I first thought of getting into advertising. I thought it would be like getting paid to go to film school. Also not true. What I did learn was that I really didn’t want to be a commercial director.
They are sad lonely failed film makers that appear to be more of a husk than an actual person. Just ask A&W director Bob Rice. And yes, he, I and another Bob to be named later are responsible for that A&W helium commercial. Sorry about that.
10: I WANTED TO FEEL PRETTY AGAIN
I wanted to know what it felt like for my creative bits to not be for sale and you know what? It feels good. What I found out is: you don’t need to be a creative n. to be creative adj. But since this is my last point I should probably leave the door open a crack. So, if some Richard Gere type agency were to come along and make me feel special again maybe I would give it up. Just buy me a nice dress and some dinner okay?
Adapted from Advertising vs Bus Driving copyright 2014 David de Haas