What does it all mean? – by @philgull

Amy Cranston | May 20, 2019

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By Phil Gull


What does it all mean?

I’ve been struggling with meaning a bit this past week. I feel a bit listless, to be honest.

It seems to be one ad after the next, after the next.

I’m not knocking the process. I recognize that practice means improvement, and iteration is important, and all that.

But is there ever a point where the conveyor belt pauses and gives you a sense of completion, or meaning? An important skill I don’t have yet is a way of dealing with this unshakeable feeling of incompleteness. If everything can be pushed, improved, worked on, made fresher, there’s a tendency for that mindset to bleed over into your whole life.

A sense of guilt attaches itself to every bit of free time you have. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed listening to music or watching a film or reading a book, just for the sake of reading or watching or listening. Everything can be a dot-collecting exercise. Which can quickly mean that everything becomes a dot-collecting exercise.

Sometimes I wonder if the reason there’s an overabundance of awards and competitions in advertising is a tacit realization that none of it means anything. That if you’re producing adverts endlessly, none of which ‘complete’ anything – there is no final sale, no last, ultimate positioning, there are only new mediums, more campaigns, recalibrated positioning, etc. – the awards let you believe, or convince yourself, that an individual campaign or bit of work that you did might mean something. But trying to attach meaning to it might merely acknowledge the meaninglessness of the ads themselves. I think.

Think of Carlsberg undoing all their work on ‘Probably the Best… in the World’. For what? A limp poster, a strange campaign and a new position for the same beer. Nothing is really safe.

I guess the flip side to this is that creating your own metrics for value, and judging success independently of what you win, or what runs for longer or anything like that. Which is, in a way, an opportunity for individual goals, and not to judge yourself against others, and a bunch of mental postures that fall under the aegis of ‘positive thinking’.

But wielding power over your own achievements has two-edges and one of them can be unproductive and razor-sharp.

If advertising is a microcosm of the macrocosm we all live in, then the lack of fixed meaning is not surprising within the contexts of the world. I almost wonder if taking advertising as a joke, or something grotesque, would produce the most enjoyment and the best work – if recognizing all the nonsense advertising is founded on would allow you to make really ridiculous, and potentially original work.