Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The art of serious fun.

       After one of my classes, a student bundled up her papers and dropped a comment. "You really make this class fun."

      It made me wonder if the advertising classes I took in college were fun. Upon reflection, they weren't. They were dry and monotonous, but fortunately only lasted for 50 minutes, three times a week. Our classes today are four hours.

      I loved those courses anyway, because each week we discussed a different ad campaign. Then we had to do new ad campaigns as homework, and creating ads and TV commercials was enjoyable even if the lectures and classes weren't. Eventually earning a living playing with pictures and words, and putting them together in new ways, was fun to contemplate.

      The University of Michigan had just one ad professor, and he was in the journalism department, surrounded by grizzled ex-reporters and editors trying to look academic in tweed jackets with factory-sewn patches, but unable to quit smoking. Professor Wooding had worked as a writer on the Canada Dry account in the pre-Mad-Men days, and felt the weight of representing Madison Avenue in little Ann Arbor.  He wore a grey flannel suits with black knit ties and smoked Lucky Strikes in class. He exhaled cynicism.

       We students did awful ads for the homework and colored them with crayons. They were terrible because they looked and sounded like ads, full of cliches, which Professor Wooding found comforting. He handed them back with a dour mien, and discussed our work in technical terms. We never learned anything about persuasion, the human mind, desire, nor that the readers and viewers were human. Apparently that was what my psychology, sociology, and anthropology classes were for.

      Professor Wooding asked me to be his afternoon assistant, for which I raked in $35 a month. I must've done his filing pretty well, because he got me a summer internship at the largest ad agency in Detroit. That paid $175 a month.

      As for my classes now, I have to make them fun, because if the ad isn't fun to make, it won't be fun to read or view. Solving a problem, working out a strategy, employing the right tactics, and finally doing the words and pictures --- they are why New York agency head Jerry Della Femina called advertising "the most fun you can have with your clothes on."

      What more could we ask?



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