Fear and Advertising

After an exhilarating weekend spent in the Sup for Golden Plains festival, my Tuesday was spent picking away at client files, doing a few loads of post-festival washing, sneaking in a run along the ocean, and devouring not one… not two… but three Netflix documentaries.

Have I mentioned how much I’m loving this freelance lifestyle?

Here’s what was on the docket:

  • The final episode of Cooked, an elemental look at food and culinary practices around the world, inspired by veteran food writer Michael Pollan’s book of the same name;
  • Jumbo Wild, a weighty discussion of the pros and cons in developing British Columbia’s Jumbo Valley – one of the province’s few remaining wild spaces and home to an anchor colony of grizzly bears – into (yet another) ski resort; and
  • Art & Copy, an exploration of the intersection of words, images, and emotions in advertising as described by select industry greats.

The latter was of particular interest to me, since I am currently enrolled in a “Copywriting: Words That Sell” course as part of the Professional Writing (Marketing and Public Relations) certificate I am due to complete in a few months’ time.

One of these industry greats is Mary Wells – a real-life Peggy Olson, for all you Mad Men aficionados out there. This Vanity Fair article offers a glimpse into Mary’s life as told in her autobiography, A Big Life in Advertising. I especially loved this passage:

When I had my chance, everything that I was and everything I’d learned came together in Wells Rich Greene and made theater out of the advertising business. My way of running an agency was as if it were a motion-picture company with a lot of productions happening at one time; I was the director, sometimes the star. The people I hired were the cast of characters, and I was Elia Kazan, Mike Nichols, or Robert Altman—whatever it took to make them as good as they could possibly be. I gave each of them a part to play and then whispered in their ears, cajoled them, hypnotized them, overpaid them, cradled them, tickled them, soothed them, or terrified them into turning out exceptional work. I wanted a heroic agency. I dared everybody to be bold, to be thrilling, and I dared our clients to be bold and thrilling as well. I kept saying that our goal was to have big, breakthrough ideas, not just to do good advertising. I wanted to create miracles.

To take risks, to create miracles, to be a hero, you have to conquer fear.

Towards the end of the documentary, Mary discussed fear in a way that really resonated with me… perhaps because I’ve just relocated to the other side of the planet, perhaps because a new friend I’d made over the weekend entrusted me with a personal essay on this very topic, or perhaps because I’m generally a bit of an anxious person.

She called fear a “powerful depressant” and explained that, if given the chance, fear will try to consume you.

At its core, she says, advertising is the business of rejection. And it’s true. Let’s say a client approaches you for a new ad campaign. You research, you write, you test, you revise, and then you do it all over again. Eventually, your work culminates in a shortlist of ideas and a sense of satisfaction and pride. A job well done… for now.

Unfortunately, these feelings are fleeting, because you know the next step will be the hardest: the chopping block. Over the course of the coming days, weeks, and months, your ideas will be hacked to bits by your client, your colleagues, your partner, yourself… even perfect strangers.

It takes thick skin to put yourself out there like that, knowing full well that much of your work is destined for the bin.

The more I thought about fear and rejection, the more I came to see how this principle applies to all forms of creative expression, be it advertising, poetry, sculpture, or penning a love note to that girl you’ve had a crush on for ages. Everything we produce is like a tiny mirror, reflecting who we are, how we are, and – sometimes unbeknownst to us – why we are. It’s only human to feel nervous or hesitant to shine that tiny mirror to the world.

As Emma Donoghue, author of Room (a book you must read if you haven’t already!), said,

Scared is what you’re feeling. Brave is what you’re doing.

Since moving to Australia and devoting myself full-time to my writing, I’ve felt scared and “done” brave already more times than I’d expected. It isn’t easy – I dare say it will never be easy – but I’m getting better with each go ’round.

Cheers to fears,


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  • Reply Ashley Kilback March 16, 2016 at 10:28 pm

    Great post, Jess! I still have yet to watch the Art & Copy documentary but it’s on my to-do list. I also really loved the quote “Scared is what you’re feeling. Brave is what you’re doing.” I honestly feel like that every single day, but I know that each day I’m getting a step closer to where I wanna be. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Reply Jessica Reimer March 16, 2016 at 10:48 pm

      Thanks Ashley. I definitely recommend the doco, especially for someone as creative as you. You are one brave chica; I’ve got your back every step of the way!

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