BrandSutra: Why advertising is not engineering

‘Advertising is the most fun you can have with your clothes on’

Narayan Devanathan | Updated on: Saturday, April 10, 2021, 07:13 AM IST

BrandSutra: Why advertising is not engineering  | Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay
BrandSutra: Why advertising is not engineering | Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Among all the things that have been said about the only profession I have known (and continue to be inexorably in love with), these words from Jerry Della Femina are probably the best ad for advertising.

A lot of times, the clothing has seemed optional too. Like when the rain dance at Goafest serves as a prelude to what an otherwise sedate world might balk at as debauchery. Like when you become one with the ‘naturalists’ on the beaches of the Cote D’Azur with or without the aid of conversation lubricants at The Gutter Bar on the Croisette in Cannes. Like when summers make it too warm to wear clothes that cover all skin, but not too warm to imbibe recreational substances to get creative (and other) juices flowing. Like when you discover you are the proud wearer of a tattoo acquired sometime between the rain dance, the usage of recreational substances and a liberal use of conversational lubricants. Although you have no recollection of the conversations or of having gotten the tattoo imprinted on your skin but now have a clear enough head to wonder why you didn’t take an art director along during this whole…trip.

One of the purest things about advertising as a career was that it was never about the pursuit of money alone. Sure, there was always a hankering for fame. But that was only to pander to the ego. Contrast that with what passes off as today’s most attractive talent magnets: unicorns, consultancies, venture capitalists, technology upstarts.

Since when did the accumulation of money become an end by itself? Look at what the world’s billionaires have to put up with. First they have to get into the Billionaire Rat Race. Then they have to get into the Philanthropist Rat Race. Then they have to get into the Future Creation Rat Race. Where’s the time for fun in any of that?


The way that I’ve explained the raison d’etre for my profession for the majority of my career is that I play a very important role in balancing the world. I mean, someone’s gotta do the meaningless stuff. Somebody’s gotta have fun, while everyone else is busy with the next Disruptive Innovation, the next Big Thing That Will Save The World From Itself. If everybody set out to only do meaningful stuff, Fun would be a lost artefact, much like we lament the loss of many linguistic and other traditions to relentless march of Progress.

Which is why, when I look at my colleagues in the Brave New World of Data, I want to take a pair of scissors to their shirt sleeves and pant legs.

And this is the code I would ask them to write and run according to:

If (profession == “data”) {return “don’t make it boring”}

If (profession == “advertising”) {return “holy what are you smoking that’s hella fun”}

Else (profession == “switch”) {return “to engineering college hostel days and get your mojo back before you say you are in advertising, with clothing optional”)}

The savants of WFH have shifted their focus from Productivity to Empathy and Resilience, but they’re not yet evolved enough to figure out how technology can enable Fun. I’m often asked how I don’t have the Monday Morning Blues. It’s because I’ve never had to seek fun outside of my work separately. It’s what made me fall in love with advertising in the first place. And continue to be in love with it to this day.


Even without the aid of trippy substances, my profession is quite a trip on a daily basis. It’s the headiest cocktail of irreverence for boring, for stuffiness, for old codgers with staid ideas, for the disgracefully pure pursuit of power or wealth. It’s an invitation to snort the most unadulterated concoction of ideas, culture and the unexplainable, irrational joy of connecting seemingly unconnected dots to persuade people to believe, for a just a fleeting moment sometimes, in the magical power of a story, told intriguingly, tantalizingly, entertainingly, with a crooked come-hither finger that dares you to resist its siren call of temptation.

I’m all for data and technology that aid intelligence, but I’d put this out as my call to arms to all my colleagues (young and old) in advertising: the robots can never deal in the realm of imagination. Nor would they know the joy of a rain dance. So, cherish this most ignoble of professions for the immoral pleasures it legitimizes.

(The author is CEO, Dentsu Solutions, India. Opinions expressed here are his own but he wishes more people shared them.)

(To receive our E-paper on whatsapp daily, please click here. To receive it on Telegram, please click here. We permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)

Published on: Saturday, April 10, 2021, 07:13 AM IST