The Commercial Chronicles: You Are Not a Hack!

comm chron logo1by Dennis Daniel

In the Talking Heads song ONCE IN A LIFETIME, lead singer and genius extraordinaire David Bryne states, “You may ask yourself… how did I get here?” As you sit staring into space thinking about yet another creative idea that’s needed immediately, are you asking yourself, “How did I get here?” Or more specifically… ”How did I end up using my gift of creativity to help sell crap?” Ohhhhh, I tell you… this question really knocked me for a loop by the time my mid-life crisis hit at age 39.

I grew up with such promise. Everyone thought I’d be an actor, director, comedian… even a ventriloquist. Instead, I’m using my abilities to sell shit.  To be, as I called it, “a professional liar.” Buy this product and all your dreams will come true. Yeah, right.  I started feeling like a “hack.” Like I had wasted my talent on a profession that slowly eats you alive.  I was so frustrated at one point, I just quit. Had no other job or place to go.  I just quit because I couldn’t take it anymore! Sell! Sell! Sell! AHHHHHHHH!

Okay… I am here to tell you that if you are thinking that way at all, STOP! It is a disservice not only to yourself but also to the gift that got you where you are now.  I want to save you a lot of grief and frustration, my RAP PACK pals and gals… don’t deface it… EMBRACE IT!

The way I worked past all that was by coming to the realization that if I don’t do it, someone else will.  We are not all so lucky that the exact things that we have a gift for is exactly what we’re doing with our lives.  I came to understand that I should be grateful that I’m earning a living as a writer and a performer… even if it’s not EXACTLY what I had envisioned my future to be.

There is purity about creativity that I always compare with a birth.  Here you have this nothingness… then suddenly, an idea bursts forth and is brought to life. It is the driving force for all creative people to see this birth take place, be it a short story, a book, a blog, a movie, a painting… you name it.  But somehow, it’s sometimes hard to feel like you’re not “selling out” because you’re using this gift to tell people to buy shit. At least, that’s how I began to feel.  BUT IT’S NOT TRUE! You’re using your gift to feed your family, yourself, etc. We all gotta pay the bills.  I’d rather be doing it this way than another way that doesn’t involve creativity!

Trust me, I know of which I speak. 

At 39, I gave it all up! I quit! I couldn’t take it anymore.  I thought I’d just be able to walk into any radio station or maybe even another ad agency and they’d be biting at the bit to have a Clio award-winning writer, producer, director, voice artist. HA! Wrong! I ended up broke and doing door to door sales of Domino’s Pizza gift certificates… out in the freezing cold in Queens, New York. Every door said “No Solicitation!” It was a nightmare.  I ended up doing sales for a local newspaper.  It is only by sheer luck that I met up with the people I now work with at Cameron Advertising, people who knew my reputation and said. “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING???”  I eventually did some spec work for them and after a while they hired me. Been here 15 years now.

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of creating something for yourself and having it recognized and loved by others, you know the feeling. It’s bliss. It’s bliss because it came from the heart and was done out of… dare I say it… love. Yet here we are, locked in our boxes, computer screen staring at us, with this dictum to create something that has impact and will motivate people to buy something.  It’s such a different form of creativity.  Our job is getting a consumer to listen and act by pulling out their wallets.  And it’s harder today than ever before because there are so many forms of media and so many distractions… not to mention the form of instant gratification that comes with being a part of this 21st Century way of life.

Any job is going to have a certain level of frustration, stress and even anger associated with it.  Doesn’t matter where you work or what you do. Thinking that the grass is greener or that somewhere there’s a place where these troubles don’t exist is unrealistic. There are many famous people who got their start in advertising -- Director Ridley Scott is a perfect example.  It is do-able to break free of these chains and move on to even greater achievements… but it is rare.  For most of us… this is it.  Some of us have been doing it for so long it’s almost impossible to think of any other way to make a living.

So I say unto you… let not thy creative soul be tarnished by the assumption of hack-dom. You did not waste your talent. You did not “sell out.” You found a way to use the gift you have to help make you a living.  In your spare time (if you have any) you can use the gift for other things! I’ve written books, produced spoken word CDs, even writing this column… something I’m so grateful that Jerry Vigil asked me to do again after almost two decades… even THIS is a way to be creative without worrying about selling a damn thing.

Find other avenues and keep your chin up!

When you tell people what you do for a living, how many marvel at it! “Boy, what a cool job! I wish I could do that!” Well, they’re right!

This month’s piece I’m submitting for your approval is yet another example of being given creative freedom and using it to the hilt.  We have a client called ALL AMERICAN FORD.  They decided they wanted to run on a Country station and wanted a Country oriented commercial.  Of course, I didn’t want to do anything typical.  I was lucky because this client was one that always liked my way of thinking and encouraged me to break the mold.  So, I proposed doing a jingle that had a sense of humor about being a Country music piece. 

I always enjoyed guys like Jim Stafford (“I Don’t like Spiders and Snakes”) and Ray Stevens (“The Streak”) who were country music artists with a sense of humor.  You don’t hear stuff like that anymore… certainly not on pop radio.  So I wrote something that kind of pokes fun at the country style while still being IN that style. I wanted to have fun with the lyrics, the singing, and the overall message. It started out just with a melody in my head and some lyrics. I wanted them to be funny but not take away from the message.

ALL AMERICAN FORD have a slogan I came up with: EVERYONE CAN AFFORD AN ALL AMERICAN FORD. It’s sung in their normal jingle, so it was well known in this market.  I made sure I included that phrase in these lyrics so I could build on the equity already established with the original jingle.  I added all kinds of little vocal treats throughout to give it some flavor. One of the things I really loved was singing the harmony and figuring out where those parts would come up. I have been working for many years with a very talented musician, Tom Schizanno, who understands me like a book.  I just sing my idea into the microphone, and he transforms it into music.  If you are not a musician (like me) there’s always someone who knows one… so seek them out.  Many a musician would love a chance to do a jingle.

The result is truly one of my favorites and it worked out very well for the client.  Of course, I got to sing the whole thing so… ham that I am… it was a VERY gratifying experience for me! One of those rare moments when creativity mixed with commerce and was actually fun! Enjoy!

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