‘The best attitude is to care and not to care,’ writes the author of this account of copywriting after her ten years’ experience in several big London advertizing agencies. Aged 33, j.a.n. started as a typist in an agency and now earns £1,800 a year for three days a week ‘helping out in creative emergencies’.
One writes good copy and gets paid an enormous salary for it. The guilt this evokes is similar to that of an actor who cannot understand that he is earning thousands for the accident of a beautiful profile.
Many people say they don’t feel guilty. They regard advertizing with utmost seriousness. After all, this kind of money is a serious business. The money is embarrassingly good. And promotion is fast. I earn £1,800 for coming in three days a week. A trainee who sat opposite me five years ago became a Director of a smaller but very flashy agency after three years. With rewards this high, everyone tries to play good poker. And one of the essential things is to remain poker-faced about the fundamental absurdity of advertizing. I mean the fact that so many thousands of pounds profit can depend on one good creative idea; slogans that a copywriter can dash off in a few lucky seconds, or strain for, unsuccessfully, month after weary month. Of course, it’s more complicated than that. But not much.
It’s this essential absurdity, the elephant of profit balancing on the pin of an ‘image’ that so many people who work in advertizing try to conceal—from themselves and from others. Hence the plethora of tall, grave, pompous persons who talk weightily about The Market and The Product and the Sales Figures. The client, who would be put off by frivolity or check-suited vulgarity or a conference that takes five brisk minutes, is reassured by the presence of upper-class undertakers with double-barrelled names who take nine times longer than necessary to say anything.
I am a copywriter in a big agency. It is one of the top ten. They believe in giving their copywriters a lot of freedom. They are not punctilious about the time you arrive in the morning. We usually all turn up about ten and take long lunch hours.
When there is a lot to do, I get involved, interested in, even fascinated by the problem, as one would be about a crossword puzzle. One accumulates an incredible magpie store of background knowledge on each account. I know how textiles are woven; how toothpaste is made; I know about the structure of a piece of human hair (a shampoo account), and that some cakes contain plastic cream; I know about