Sunday, November 17, 2013

Advertising: Book me a room at the hotel California

 St. Georges Hotel
Touring Hotel
Original series "But you can never leave" published here.
This article was originally printed in ArabAd of October 2013.

As ArabAd asked me to write an article about the state of the advertising industry filled with my usual twists and turns and dipped with acidic wit, for some strange reason as I sat to write my ideas I found myself softly humming the Eagles “Hotel California.” Depending on how you see it (or hear it!) my humming is either comforting (unconsciously to myself and to some selected people whom I assure you were not wearing earplugs as I hum out of key), or maddening (to the normal human being with minimal appreciation to sounds).
But going back to the song, The Eagles describe it as their “interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles” and (according to co-writer and vocalist Don Henley) a “journey from innocence to experience.”
What starts out as a savior from tiredness and road fatigue, the luxury hotel in question reveals itself to lead to materialism, self-destruction, vicious circles of Stockholm syndrome (where victims identify with their captors and protect them), and eventually it all ends with some behavior whereby the whole situation becomes stuck in loop and repeats itself.
If you still do not see the correlation with the state of the advertising industry, then (to be honest) you deserve the advertising you are getting today. It is plain obvious why my mind was dictating to me to hum that specific tune instead of something more easily hummable (early Beatles songs come to mind for example). The analogy is pitch-perfect.
Just examine those small snippets of lyrics from the song and see how well they fit into the advertising industry narrative:
“This could be heaven or this could be hell” – yes, it could be both (and usually at the same time). It takes a specific type of personality to make it in the advertising world, one which thinks the universe owes it something and it is out there to reclaim it. Oh never mind those silly victim-playing creatives with tender souls, it’s dog-eat-dog world out there and those who know how to play the game end up “succeeding”.
Thankfully, there are many interpretations to the word success. And if Karma is indeed a (insert not-printable word here) the many major heads that toppled for a few years now inside the advertising agencies (heads of people who created said agencies no less – a little a la Robespierre who ended up under the guillotine of the French revolution himself), provides a clue that no one is big enough or powerful enough once someone even more higher up says “off with his head!”
Then comes the malanchomic (yes, both melancholic and comedic) bit: “Some dance to remember, some dance to forget” in that mixture of upbeat and sweetly sad combination. The same one juniors experience as they learn to play the ropes inside agencies, figuring out who to back up and which management figure to cozy up to. Or the way that the said management figures know they are way behind the curve, and still earn fat salaries because it is cheaper than the sacking clause (no dignity needed here by the way).
As we delve more and more into the song, we get to poignant admission: “We are all just prisoners here of our own device.” Yes, you were indeed offered a banking job, or a printing-press stint that has social security perks, and yes, your love interest ended up leaving you because of the many overnights you pulled at the office. True, your child could have seen more of you had you been in a 9 to 5 job with weekends free, and your parents are not growing any younger. However, you keep saying that “it’s a career track here and I cannot leave it” or “next year a more lucrative position will be available because so and so will leave.” Don’t kid yourself, the position will be vacant, and they will put someone else there instead of you. Or if it is you, you’ll get the same salary for doing the two jobs – your previous and the one you coveted – because you’d be assigned to the position par interim!
Which bring us to that final, self-evident conclusion: “You can check-out any time you like but you can never leave.”

Welcome to advertising, welcome to Hotel California.
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