Monday, January 05, 2009
The Eschaton Sale
People from outside advertising like to make out that it's an industry founded on deceit, but anyone who's tried to work on a brief that is actually just all the lies the client wants to hear written on a piece of paper with the word "Creative Brief" at the top, will know that it's impossible to write ads that don't contain some germ of truth. Even if the planners come and hang around outside your office, offering you fruit and things they've made from twigs, it's still impossible.
Ok, from time to time I might balk a the value of this or that pointless gizmo that I have to hawk, but I believe, like Bernbach, that if you advertise a shit product well all that happens is more people find out that it's shit. Your ad is firmly attached to a piece of reality which consumers can experience for themselves, unlike news media where the media itself is also the product and the reality is gone gone gone. And frankly, if consumers want to surround themselves with a load of winking baubles and trinkets to help them forget the inevitability of their own death, well, so be it.
Part of my job, as I understand it, is to convince other people that the products that they're buying are worth the price they pay for them. Some people, not all of them planners sorry, I meant wankers, call this "adding value". But this current round of apocalyptic sales have just the opposite effect, sweeping everything off the table and saying, "look we've known it's worthless all along, but because we're desperate to sell anything, we're giving it to you for its actual value. Which is 8p". I find this dispiriting, because it makes it seem like the whole thing is just a kind of deeply un-fun game that I spend my life playing, just to while away the time.
Retreating from the sales on Saturday, I sought comfort in my vast collection of pornography, and what should I come across (woops) but George Bataille's book, The Accursed Share? Bataille (or "Pervy George" as I believe he was known to his friends) was a surrealist chiefly notorious for his porno rhapsody The Story of The Eye - hair-raising reading, but sadly for all you thrill-seekers, unless your proclivities involve tauromachy, eye-gouging, priest rape and optosexual intercourse, highly unlikely to give you a boner.
The Accursed Share definitely won't, I'm afraid, because its an essay about economics. What Bataille does is to say that the real business of economy is waste. That is, of dissipating the energy that is received, without reciprocation, from the sun. It's a mad idea, but no more mad than, for instance, the government buying the entire banking system. He details various instances of civilisation creating things that are well beyond utility - cathedrals, human sacrifices, shopping malls, all these things only make sense so long as the point of them is to waste. Advertising is, no doubt, also one of these things.
If you look at it this way the value of products you're selling starts to seem totally arbitrary and immaterial, and you'll either be overcome by a terrible sense of hopelessness, or just think meh, well, may as well get on with it then.
I won't be sharing this insight with my creative director, but it made me feel better about the whole grim business of coming back into work.