Advertising is everywhere. Wherever you go, whatever you’re doing, the power of advertising will follow you in a desperate attempt to sell you things. Some of them are good. Some of them are clever. Most, however, are constructed by people who probably hate you and only really care about the money that can be extracted from your pocket. How do I know this? I know this because I was once one of them. I was an advertising sales executive.
Contrary to popular belief, advertising is not actually about selling products. It’s about fostering a false dependency within you, making you believe that your life will not be complete without their product. It’s essentially an industry of manipulation and deception, often employing people who are not particularly good at either, and these are 10 things I’ve learned:
1. I Have A Bad Feeling About This
The first thing that you learn as an advertiser or a salesperson is how to ‘build desire’ in your audience. This essentially boils down to making a person want something that they previously had no interest in or even outright did not want in the first place. This often leads to an advert being specifically designed to covertly denigrate the consumer through unpleasant, often quite hostile, subliminal means, such as attacking their self-esteem, belittling their social status or casting them in contrast to their perceived betters. Good adverts work off positive features of the products they aim to sell, but this is significantly harder and a demonstrably more difficult sell than just making people feel bad about themselves.
2. So What I Told You Was True… From A Certain Point Of View
Being an advertiser requires you to maximise the positives of your product while also drawing attention away from the negatives. In fact, you are repeatedly told to deliberately omit any negative aspect of your product. If you do HAVE to make a negative admission, you are told to flip it into a positive. The problem is, if people are pointing out negative aspects of your product, your product is probably not for them, but improving a product takes time, effort and money. It’s far easier, and more cost-effective, to try to alter someone’s perception of an unsuitable item or service, and if you sales team can’t do that, just replace them instead!
3. Stay On Target
As a salesperson, your entire worth is measured by your ability to meet the sales forecast set by people way further up the chain than you are; people who, worryingly often, have never actually worked as salespeople themselves. If you fail to meet these targets, your job security goes out the window. If you meet the targets, the higher-ups just raise your targets even higher. The ideal salesperson, apparently, is a magician who can keep pulling more and more money out of their ever-profitable arse. Unfortunately, the real world doesn’t work on infinite pools of cash, but greed is good and they want it all.
4. There Is No Try
Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, as the saying goes. No matter how much effort you put into a sales job, if it doesn’t translate into cash in the bag, you aren’t trying hard enough. Never mind that there’s no market for what you’re selling. Never mind that your product has a better competitor. Never mind if you’ve never been trained properly to sell this product. Never mind if somebody else on your own damn team stole your sale. At the end of the day, all that matters is the money and whether or not you’re bringing it in.
5. Perhaps I Can Find New Ways To Motivate Them
Because a sales floor is such a horrible, oppressive and cut-throat environment to work in, companies often have ‘incentives’ to get their people motivated and trying hard again. In theory this idea is pretty solid; you offer the consumer a cheap deal and, for every cheap deal you sell, you get a little bit closer to a nice bonus. In practice, however, more savvy members of the sales team will hold off on closing deals with their repeat customers until such an incentive comes around and then close them all for a big cash prize. Meanwhile, the new employees who are trying to find new business get screwed like they always do and the higher-ups get pissed off because, for some reason, overall sales are down. It’s short-sighted, it’s stupid and it makes everyone hate everyone else.
6. We Seem To Be Made To Suffer
Ferreting out new business is a big part of any sales job, and especially in advertising. Wherever there are new products to sell, there will be advertising people trying to sell them to other people. However, in this age of Facebook, Twitter and online trending, advertising is something you can quite comfortably and confidently do yourself. This makes seeking out new advertising business extremely difficult, especially when you’re trying to do it over the phone at four o’clock in the afternoon with a person who swears like a sailor’s abusive mother.
7. You Are Unwise To Lower Your Defences
When you become part of a sales team, this might lead you to conclude that this is a group venture and that you will all be working together, but this is rarely true. The new team members are simply left to sink or swim because the established team members have too many of their own problems to deal with. Factor into this the constant interference of the higher-ups and the festering cauldron of half-truths and speculation that is office politics, and you’re about halfway towards the awfulness of working in sales. It’s far better to just keep your head down, get on with your own work and never do someone else’s work for them!
8. I Have You Now
As bad as the emotional manipulation and the soul-crushing weight of unrealistic expectations are for one working in advertising sales, advertising design is worse. This is where all the worst aspects of the secret psychological war against consumers are front and centre, as you struggle to create something that will immediately draw the eye of a curious viewer before their brain knows what’s happening. This has led some advertisers to create adverts that are so bizarre and weird that they are impossible to ignore, like a mental harpoon embedded deeply in your frontal lobe, eschewing any vestigial notion of salesmanship in favour of completely unbridled contempt for the customer’s intelligence. If you’ve ever seen a perfume advert, you know what I’m talking about.
9. Search Your Feelings
While I was working in advertising, there were many points where I was unhappy doing the job I was doing. There were many reasons. I wasn’t very good at it, I felt like a burden to my team and a disappointment to my boss. Nevertheless, I stayed there for six months, mostly out of a sense of obligation. It wasn’t until my exit interview that I realised that I couldn’t think of a single good reason to stay. Instead of being resigned to a terrible situation, work towards getting yourself out of it. Sometimes you are going to run into things that you just cannot do. I am not saying that this means that you should just give up, however. Just bear in mind that you can’t lick the back of your own head either and you don’t seem to lose any sleep over that.
10. Only At The End Do You Realise The Power Of The Dark Side
Of all the awful things I learned working in advertising sales, one stands head-and-shoulders above the rest: you cannot escape from advertising sales. It marks you out as one who has seen the innermost workings of the great monstrosity, as one who now understands how companies see people as things attracted by flesh and shiny objects. It can make you a very cynical person if you let it. Even your own interpersonal interactions become exercises in psychoanalysis, trying to figure out what underlying agenda this other people are pushing. However, this awareness, if used correctly, can be a mighty weapon in your own arsenal. In life, you have to be able to sell yourself, whether as a friend, a partner or a potential employee. If you can do it well, you’re going to look a lot more appealing than somebody who hasn’t got a clue. I recommend that everyone do some time in the dismal underworld of advertising sales, if only to learn how to beat the companies at their own game and find a little bit of compassion for the poor bugger who just phoned you up and asked about your current service provider.
You will, however, gain a newfound hatred for automated sales calls.