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Getting into advertising: Operation Middle School to Rocket Science

Back in the day, getting into advertising was a piece of cake. You just leafed through the free trade magazine, did a little course in this, or got a certificate for that. You followed your bosses all day long, grabbed a briefing for the introduction of a new kind of nappy, smashed out a concept and really got things moving with a mass medium. 25 years later, you’d be all set for early retirement in a villa on Bali. Nowadays, you’d be lucky to get a three-year unpaid internship with no job prospects. There’s no money for courses or for getting work experience with seasoned professionals. At the same time, the pension age is skyrocketing, which means you’ll have to spend the next 50 years being satisfied with a mid-week break under the Balinese sun.

The internet and data revolution has shot us off to a brand-new world in a two-stage rocket, and the simple era of one-size-fits-all advertising concepts and mass media has come and gone. It’s like we’re back at school, but we’ve walked into the wrong classroom and found it full of algorithms, artificial intelligence, digital assistants, augmented reality, marketing automation and analytics. Interesting, sure, but we could have done with a more gradual transition from middle school to rocket science.

Now there’s much ado about the education of our millennials. Young creatives are marching down the Croisette, protesting the extortionate price of the educational Cannes Lions. And rightly so! But why aren’t the other generations taking to the streets? They’re oblivious to the fact that their knowledge and experience are rapidly approaching their use-by date. They thought they’d have the shelf life of a tin of tuna, but it’s turning out to be more like that of a fresh mackerel on a sunny day.

Let’s follow the example of the advertisers: When you call a customer, 9 times out of 10 they’re out of the office for training. Their management teams are always heading off to China or Silicon Valley for a study trip. Michael Schaeffer, the author of ‘The secret of the Dutch Amazon’ was right: ‘It’s very important to be confronted with your own stupidity on a regular basis.’ Customers are rapidly modernising their knowledge, ways of working and workplaces. And because we don’t want to end up in The Useless Class from Harari’s ‘Homo Deus’, the agencies are also rapidly changing their approach. Code Red, time for a U-turn. Permanent right to education for everyone, or even better: mandatory education. No money? Bullshit! Time to stop sinking all that bonus money into yachts and Jacuzzis – make it compulsory to invest it in education instead. And let’s do the same with half of the budget usually reserved for award shows and company trips. Now all we need is for Barbera Wolfensberger from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science to match every euro the agencies invest, so that we can all go back to school. And live happily ever after.

Dick van der Lecq

Dick van der Lecq is the Managing Director at DDB Unlimited. He was previously the Managing Partner at Etcetera.