Monday, October 5, 2009

Roman history.


Philip Matyszak is an English historian who writes thoroughly readable histories of Rome and Greece that serve to remind us how nothing has really changed in the 2,000 to 3,000 years since Rome and Greece passed their heights. Matyszak has the unique knack of recreating not the lives of the rich and powerful but instead the everyday routines of the meek and humble.

I just read a joke he's recounted from 3,000 years ago in Greece. Unfortunately, it reminds me of the advertising industry today.

"Elithio Phoitete remarked that he was the unluckiest of men, for no sooner had he trained his donkey to live without food than the beast died suddenly."

In the ad industry today, the copywriters and the art directors are Phoitete's donkey. We are being starved by the corporate monoliths. Made to produce more work faster and given little sustenance for our labors. (No wonder we turn to faux awards to mitigate our malaise.) The CEO's, CFO's etc. think they are beating the system by squeezing the heart of any self-respecting agency. But they are starving the beast. No wonder so many agencies are withering on the vine.

Almost 50 years ago, Avis CEO Robert Townsend asked Bill Bernbach "I have 1/5th the money Hertz has to spend on advertising. How do I get advertising that's 5 times as effective from my agency." Bernbach replied with a list of rules, primary among those concerning work, "Approve, or disapprove but don't try to improve" was Bernbach's dicta. He said, "If you follow these rules, everyone in the agency will want to work nights and weekends on your business. And you will get great work."

I guess there was a time when agencies knew that their workers weren't donkeys.

7 comments:

Tore Claesson said...

So true. It was a time when being a humble art director or copywriter paid relatively well. You didn't have to rise to the top of a holding company to make a decent living. The students at today's "ad schools" are getting into a work place where they are not paid much more than an unqualified uneducated burger flipper. Per hour. If they can anything at all that is. And they can't expect to get much more in a foreseeable future.

Teenie said...

Lovely post, Geo--even the comparison to donkeys. Have you ever thought of taking to the advertising pulpit with a motivational tour? I'd pay a fiver to see you!

Shanty Mathew said...

One can almost hear the nail been driven in.

Anonymous said...

I took my cell phone with me to Italy. I had to pay Roman charges.

geo said...

Anonymous, now I understand your anonymity.

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