My toast to the Media Ghosts

Just moments ago, I read a tweet from a friend who’s currently working as a copywriter. She felt sad that nobody really reads what she writes and that she felt like people were just passing her by.

Yesterday, my friend told me that a group of  people have set up a group to bash people working in the industry. He used to work as a journalist, and felt enraged by the actions of these stuck-ups who think they know better.

Back when I was still working in a well established advertising agency, I’ve got to witness first hand the kind of abuse the workers had to go through everyday. They were all overworked and exhausted. Clients would call screaming over the phone, expecting and demanding so many things to be done within a short frame of time. To them, it’s just a few sentences made in an e-mail, most likely in the late afternoon just before they end their work: “Make these copy changes, move the logo to the right by 1cm, change the colour of the borders, move the globe slightly higher, I don’t like the colour of the rocks, can we do something about that and oh, I don’t know, maybe reduce the opacity of the background just to see how it looks. I expect the revised visuals when I open my mailbox tomorrow morning.” All it takes is probably an e-mail to do the job, but for the creatives working on this, it meant hours of staring in the computer until the wee hours of the night to make sure that visual is in their mailboxes the next morning. And clients never thank us: because we pay you to jolly well do what we say and do your job right.

I mean, I have known all along that there is no perfect job and that you’ve got to make sure that your passion is enough to sustain you. But at that time, it was like harsh reality had smack me extremely hard on my face. You never really know how bad it could be until you’ve experienced it for yourself. It shot through my body and weighed me down like a ball and chain. Almost towards the end of that period, I remembered I survived the week laughing and crying. One moment, I’d still be smiling at one of the creatives as she vented her frustrations on me, then breaking down in tears the next in the last cubicle of the female’s toilet. At that time, I felt like some part of me changed and I was, quite frankly, never quite the same again.

For a while, I’ve thought hard about what I most would like to do next in my life, I mean, besides doing media and communications. Questions like: Will I be able to adapt well  if I continued on with media? What else can I do besides this? Do I love anything more than media and communications? popped in my head.

I weighed my options. And for a while, I tried them out. But ultimately, I made the decision to go back to studying media and communications. People around me scoffed and belittled me whenever I tell them I’m studying the course, throwing all sorts of discouraging comments like they know any better.

Oh, it’s easy to score. That’s why you chose it right? It’s super easy to study for it.

What can you do with that kind of a degree? You can’t make it big.

Why do you want to study in that course for? Anyone can do it.

I’m not going to lie. There are certain degrees of truth to all of it. But I am even more saddened at the fact that this is exactly the kind of attitudes people hold towards people within the industry. Let’s face it. Nobody will really understand the blood, tears and sweat that goes behind every word in an article, every pixels or second of an advertisement, or every detail of a PR event. Nobody. Not unless you’re immersed in it yourself. Nobody appreciates what we do, and certainly nobody outside the industry will thank us for doing our jobs well.

From the PR side, we’re seen as propaganda. We’re like the ghouls whispering the devil’s words to the gatekeepers, who are no better as they would then translate and distribute these words to the masses. Or the devil itself that gives people the illusion of free choice. From the advertising side, we’re seen as annoying salespeople who leverage on people’s psychological weaknesses to sell products and services that people might not even need. From the journalistic side, we’re seen as puppets to make the people think what the puppetmasters want them to think. On top of that, most people would think the people working within the industry have no moral ethics or have poor characters.

So why?

Why do we do the job anyway, knowing people aren’t going to thank us for it?

For money? You’d be surprised to know how little the people in the industry are paid for the amount of work they do.

For prestige? Heck, no. Probably only within the industry itself.

For recognition? I never knew that one of my ex-colleagues won a Clio award for an advertising campaign until I was searching on the Clio website for academic research. That’s just about the amount of recognition you’d get. And it was only because he was an ex-colleague of mine that I recognised his name. Not even a picture to remember him by.

… then for what?

We have no other choice but to do it? Maybe it’s one of the reasons.

But as cliche as it may sound, i think for most of us, we actually like what we do, and this passion is what sustains us more than the money. It was something I could tell whenever I ask them what they like about their job. Simply put, they love what they do even though they probably will never gain any recognition or appreciation for a good job well done. Will I be able to keep holding on?

“… So,” I asked one of the creatives over lunch, “…why are you still sticking around?” I asked.

“… it’s damn annoying for the most part. But… I don’t know, everyday, there’s always something new. I get to work with other creatives, one of the bosses is a brilliant guy full of ideas, brainstorming and coming up with ideas that clients approve of is like hitting the jackpot, and oh, bitching about our clients together…”

At that time, I thought I saw a sparkle lit up in the corner of his tired eyes.

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p.s: I’ve renamed the title, courtesy of Sufian, a title very appropriate for this post. Let us celebrate. All of us. You know who you are out there. (:

The Need for Art

Art. Perhaps in Singapore’s culture, art don’t seem like much. Parents spend money nurturing their children through tuition, only encouraging them to develop creative skills using art only when it is practical to do so. Once they’re all grown up, it seems like the need for it is somewhat lost.

Although I believe people still dabble a bit here and there, I don’t think enough is being done to encourage innovativeness and creativity, which is why the majority of us have become such rigid-minded people. When I look at the creative industry here, everything seems like a template. That’s normal, isn’t it? When we’ve grown up with blueprints, formats and guidelines, we can’t expect people to be able to think out of the box for fear of getting blocked out by higher authorities, running into a deadend or get shot down by inflexible clients. As a result, there’s no room to grow and experiment.

As a side note: When I went for a trip in Korea, I noticed a stark difference in the way everything is packaged. My friends and I were impressed and spent a longer time checking out each and every item. They had incorporated unique and creative designs into their product packaging, whereas in Singapore, it was clear. It’s all about practical, practical, practical. They’re content with just sticking their brand name on the packaging, dabble a bit of brand colours here and there and be done with it. Because why? Why spend so much on a design for packaging? What for? How do we measure ROI and ensure it helps to sell the product?! Of course they’d have to scrap it. After all, why risk spending extra money on something when its returns cannot be measured? For one, such intangibles can go a long way in attracting new customers to your brand. When I was unfamiliar with all the brands in Korea, first impressions made a significant difference in my buying habits.

Also, take a look at our TV advertisements. If I compared them to other countries like Japan, Korea and Thailand (especially), we still have a long way to go. I agree that budget may be one constraint, but why is it that Thailand could produce ads that are able to capture the audience’s hearts (and most of them don’t even seem like they’re on high budgets: just good camera angles, editing and one heck of an idea)? It brings me back to the idea that we don’t seem to take art seriously enough. Creative talents in the industry aren’t honing their skills enough to present a variety of options to their clients while clients always want to “play it safe”.

On the part of the creative industry, it’s nice to see that there’s more upgrading, training and opportunities available. But unless every actor in the field (clients, gatekeepers etc) opens up and allows for change, the industry has little room to grow.

:/ Just my two cents.

Marketing at zero cost

Sometimes, all it takes is one simple idea to spread your name far and wide in a very short period of time in the digital world. Last semester, I attended an interesting forum that shed light on Youtube’s marketing success. The speaker was a former Youtube employee who pointed out that the embed code is the key driver of Youtube’s success and it did not cost Youtube a single cent.

That’s right, you heard me. The code did not cost anything at all, but heck it certainly served as a powerful marketing tool. So what makes this code so special then?

The idea was incredulously simple. This simple code gives people the power and control to embed videos uploaded in Youtube into any website that they want. Each embedded video player would fit seamlessly into any website with only a watermark to distinguish themselves.

And just like that, like a virus, it leeched onto blogs and popular social networks like Facebook and MySpace as its host and propagated itself across the internet like wildfire. People found new ways to sharing content on the Internet. They weren’t just the audience; They were the advertisers too. In 12 months, Youtube was a company that was bought over for a whopping $1.6 billion and has become the mainstream video provider for internet users across the world.

Moral of the story here?

In this digital age, it isn’t about the grand campaigns that would work. Grand is grand, but once the campaign is over, your brand could easily be forgotten if the idea doesn’t stick. Sometimes, all you need is to plant a simple ‘seed’ on the net which, when planted under the right conditions, would grow organically at minimal cost.

In the past, content producers have control over the sort of information that goes out to the consumers. Now, with the advent of the internet, holding onto that control may even backfire for some businesses. Users are now active and highly aware of their own needs and desires. They could easily drop you if you do not give them what they are looking for. Understanding your audience is even more crucial than it was before. Just take Youtube for example. They conduct several usability tests and ethnographic studies in each country to understand not just the local culture, the audience’s internet habits, interests and motivations for using a site, but also how they would explore the site so that they could design a site that would tailor to every segment’s needs.

Give the control back to the users and design it to mirror what users want and would naturally like to do on the website with ease, and you would find that they would keep coming back for more.

To end this off, this little video illustrates how the Internet has shaped the advertising/marketing sphere, and how we should make use of the affordances of the internet for effective communication.

If you can’t see the video, click here. It will open in a new window.