Hands up who’s had an epiphany in a bank queue?
When I was a bright young thing straight out of uni, I was stoked to get my first professional job working as the lowest of the low in Queensland’s then largest ad agency. I loved the busy vibe of it, the culture was fast-paced and fun, and for a while there I thought that being a copywriter was my life plan. It was creative! It was glamorous! It was well paid!
And, I figured, it was work that could change hearts and minds. (Did I mention that the guy who interviewed me for my uni admission called me “Pollyanna?”) I truly believed it could be a force for good: the power of advertising.
And best of all, all of the people I looked up to had started right where I was. The plan was in motion.
A few months in, it had begun to dawn on me that the copywriters whose careers I admired in reality spent each and every day working well beyond full-time hours. The culture demanded it. If you left before 6.30pm it was considered an early mark. Before a major pitch it wasn’t unusual for them to work til midnight. I remember thinking even then that the most some of them probably saw of their kids was in the picture on their desk.
But still… it was a career in writing! That was worth its weight in gold! Right?
Cue the bank. Or cue the bank queue.
There I was, in line, waiting to lodge the week’s payroll (ah, the nineties). As I stood there, bored out of my brain with no iPhone yet invented (ah, the nineties), my eyes drifted up to a promotional poster on the wall, one which our agency had possibly even created.
“Finally,” it read, with a picture of a sixty-something couple smiling into each other’s crinkly eyes, a beachy background behind them, “You Can Enjoy What You’ve Worked So Hard For.”
Time stood still.
Really? REALLY? Was this what we were selling?
Was this what we were buying into?
That you should stick to the plan of climbing the ladder, working all the hours of all of the days of all the weeks of all the months of all the years, all the while taking comfort in the knowledge that there will come a day - so long as life doesn’t wipe you out in the meantime - when you will finally be given a societal permission slip to go and LIVE HOW YOU WANT TO LIVE.
I handed in my resignation a week later.
What do you know?
It turns out the power of advertising can be used for good.