It’s only a little ironic that lately I find myself commuting on the 405 freeway from my house in Culver City to a freelance gig in Costa Mesa. Ironic, because it was exactly 9 years ago this week that I quit my job as a Group Creative Director, running the Jaguar account, at Y&R/Irvine.
And why did I quit that job, you may ask.
Because the drive, the exact same drive, was killing me.
It’s not more pleasant than it was then. But it is considerably less stressful.
I don’t worry about making meetings. Or navigating the awkward politics. Or dreading the awful employee performance reviews. Awful, because even if someone was doing a stellar job in 2004, when the economy was doing well, there was never any money from the holding company that I had the liberty to dispense.
For 99% of ad agency people, raises/bonuses have not been seen since 1997. Regardless of how the economy was doing.
Of course, now I’m a mercenary and have nothing to complain about, right? Well, if I lacked the ability to manufacture a legitimate gripe, roundseventeen would have been over a long, long time ago.
You see, on the long drive down to beyond the Orange Curtain I noticed something had disappeared from the freeways – Outdoor Advertising. Oh there are plenty of billboards, hundreds of them in fact, but none them are memorable. At least not for the right reasons.
I saw one for a luxury automobile, with the obligatory beauty shot of the car, accompanied by the three of the most uninspired words I’ve ever seen, “Upgrade your commute.”
Really, that’s the best you got?
I don’t want to go all Gran Turino on you, but in my day, in my time, a line like that would get you demoted from Senior Copywriter to Unemployed Senior Copywriter. (Not to toot my own horn, but I dug out the very first outdoor board I worked on for Public Storage. I think it stills holds up today.)
Billboards have a unique ability to make you think, to stir some emotion, and to leave some kind of lasting impression. Perhaps I should say had. Because what I'm seeing on the road today doesn't do any of the above. In fact the best writing I’ve seen doesn’t originate from any of the major ad agencies, it comes from the Department of Motor Vehicles.
That made me laugh out loud.
Like doing 65 mph is even possible on the 405.