Opinion

Confessions of a millennial working in advertising

M&C Saatchi's Jamie Watson shares his runners-clad perspective on life as a millennial in advertising.

Advertising, what the fuck am I doing?  

Am I another self-entitled millennial not knowing how lucky he’s got it? Could I just be having a quarter life crisis, wondering what the hell I’m doing with my life. Or is our industry not able to keep young talent fulfilled or unlock their potential? It’s probably all three.

I know I’ve lucked out. I go to work with some of the smartest, most interesting people. Our job is to come up with new ideas, which get people excited and make brands a little bit better. And there’s some parties, free beer and I get to wear trainers to work. It’s not bad.

But sometimes it can feel like there’s something… missing.

It’s not just me. This is a bigger issue for others in the industry who are at similar points in their career and wondering if this is what they really want.

Our industry is obsessed with millennials (it’s a broad, yucky and over-used word but I’m talking roughly 25-33 y/o). We fixate on how us millennials favour brands with purpose and authenticity. How we want to make our very own, positive dent in the world. How we’re after our very own sense of purpose – not financial success and material goods (apart from my trainers).

Yet it can all too often feel like we’re flogging products that are at best – the same, or at worst – damaging to society. We’re told creativity can change the world but we spend days (and weeks) talking about the endline on an ad that will get skipped over or how big to make the bloody logo (yes, that’s still happening).

This can lead to a sour taste in the mouth, or at least a certain amount of discomfort. So I think it’s fair for me, and a few others, to wonder what the fuck are we all doing in advertising?

We’re constantly seeing the rest of our generation starting their own businesses, being independent creatives or just generally living the dream. That discomfort and nagging doubt can get very real.

Why don’t I just get up, walk out and do something else or start my own thing? And maybe I should, maybe you should, who am I to tell you not to? I’m trying to work this out as much as you.

But if you got into this business, then I reckon deep down you believe creativity genuinely does have the power to have a positive effect on the world. Sometimes it’s little nudges, sometimes it’s seismic shifts.

Our job is to use creativity for commercial effect, sure, most of us – in any industry – are making money for someone else. But this job also presents us with the opportunity to do more. Brands and creativity have shaped culture for years and they continue to do so.

They tell those less abled that if you have a body you are an athlete (Nike FlyEase), they make you feel proud of who you love (Absolut Love), they empower you to stand up for something (Fearless Girl).

So don’t forget this very industry can give us the opportunity to shape the world we want. Sure, not every brief deserves the hope of something great, but I know that some do.

Even on the stinkiest of briefs, you can push the dial forward a little bit more. A casting call, a media decision, the choice of director, all these little pushes count.

And beyond the work, you’re banking lessons big and small. How to sell an idea, how to convince someone to follow you, how to communicate with people. You’re surrounded by creative thinkers, magic makers, chief negotiators – you’re absorbing more than you know. All this is important – for this life or another.

This job may be for life – or maybe you will quit and find another path. But either way, keep being frustrated, keep being impatient, keep that restlessness, keep pushing for bigger and greater. It will make the work better, it will make culture better, but more importantly, it’ll make you better. None of us really know what the fuck we’re doing, but let’s keep going, keep trying until we work it out.

Jamie Watson is a senior strategist at M&C Saatchi Australia.

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