Saturday, April 28, 2012

Traveling light on the rapid transit.

       While others are reading the baseball scores, or a J. B. Priestly mystery they downloaded, or patiently staring at the ceiling, I'm on BART writing a blog. I write one every morning, because I promised myself I'd write one every day for a year, and I'm rounding third base.

        Today I'm sitting next to a young woman who's studying a chemistry book. I can see she's looking at diagrams of dietary lipids. And I'm wondering if my marketing and advertising students are on other trains and buses, as intent on mastering a chapter in our textbook.

        While some students love case histories and data, others are convinced marketing is a game of wits. Who's sharper, more clever, more up to date on hipster trends and pop culture. I think I've gone through both phases.

         In college social science courses, I was more into "big picture" theories and analyses, rather than data.  I loved learning about social strata in small towns and why some men want the biggest Christmas trees.

         In my first years in advertising I became the secret scholar, casual and jovial and even lazy during working hours, but reading research reports and advertising books at night. Ad Age, biographies, textbooks and award annuals, whenever I could find them. I strained to read the copy in the tiny ads reproduced in the art annuals, and for times I couldn't, I had a small drugstore magnifying glass.

         As a beginning writer I loved when art directors came up with visuals before I had written anything. That way, I had the challenge of writing headlines to go with them. I quickly broke myself of the habit of repeating the message of the picture, and instead, writing a headline that furthered the message.

         My early bosses wouldn't look at my copy unless I had a visual to go with it. A "writer's rough". They said headlines can't be evaluated alone. A good lesson.

        Learning advertising and marketing doesn't require as much memorizing and formulae as  my seat-mate's organic chemistry. In fact, all the old formulae are being thrown out. No crazy cramming, and fewer all-nighters.

         While the woman next to me on BART is taking copious notes about fatty acids, I'm very happy I chose a field where you meet nice people and the most you ever have to dissect is a competitor's strategy.

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