My first job in advertising was working in the Communications Department of an electric utility. I was the client. One of the best agencies in the southeast worked on our business.
My boss, the Communications Director, tasked the agency with creating an ad campaign that would prepare the utility’s customers for higher electric bills during the coming summer months. The agency presented several good ideas to me. This was my favorite:
Summer forecast: Record temperatures with a 99% chance of higher electric bills.
It was a long-copy newspaper ad which you don’t see much of anymore (long-copy ads and newspapers.)
I couldn’t wait to show the ad to my boss. And when I did, something incredible happened.
He got red in the face, pounded on his desk, and threw me out of his office. Just before his door literally hit me in the ass, his words rang in my ears.
“Are you a (expletive deleted) idiot?” he said. “We can’t tell our customers there’s a 99% chance their electric bills will go up! They’ll go (expletive deleted) crazy!”
This was my first big lesson in real-world advertising. In college, the VW work was one of the reasons I got into advertising. (See my blog on connecting the dots.) VW’s disarming honesty made me love the brand and what it stood for.
Hey, but even as a student right out of college, I got it. Companies aren’t in business to risk angry customers or stir up controversy.
Or are they? (Because of the ad below, angry customers set their Nikes on fire.)
I soon left my job on the client side and joined a small ad agency in Chicago. I still didn’t know much about real-world advertising. I was still a (expletive deleted) idiot. But I did know this. I knew the kind of advertising I didn’t want to do.