Are We Just Jerking Off?

By / /

Any Blazing Saddles fan should know that reference. As the townspeople attempt to make a duplicate of Rock Ridge in one night, Reverend Johnson says, “Do we have the strength to pull off this mighty task in one night…or are we just jerking off?”

That phrase has been running round and round in my head for the last few months, and it happens every time I see an ad filled with hyperbole and platitudes.

As you can imagine, I’m hearing that phrase a lot.

Advertising has changed. Anyone who refuses to admit that can basically kiss their career goodbye right now. It’s not just that everyone and everything is going digital. It’s not just that we’re becoming jaded with advertising messages. In fact, at Advertising Week many experts talked about the trade off millennials are willing to make; you give me something, I’ll engage with your ad, if it’s got something to say to me.

This is about the way we are willing to receive our advertising messages. As a copywriter, it’s hard to believe that the kind of ads Neil French, Tony Brignull and David Abbott wrote are no longer relevant. But…they’re not. Anyone who knows me knows that is a really fucking painful thing to say.

Am I saying copy is dead? Not at all. I’m not even saying long copy is dead. But what we’re dealing with now is a culture that, for the most part, wants to know what the hell you’ve got to say. And you better get to the point really quickly.

So when you get ads like the latest Ikea “Bed” spot, or “Up” from Delta airlines, you have to wonder what the fuck the creative team was thinking.

Let’s look at the script for “Up.” (Remember, this was a Super Bowl spot). Imagine lots of black and white images of planes, airports, and passengers, all with Donald Sutherland’s smooth and expensive VO over some inspirational music.

“Up. A short word that’s a tall order./

Up your game. Up the ante.

And if you stumble, you get back up.

Up isn’t easy. And we ought to know. We’re in the business of up.

Every day, Delta flies a quarter of a million people, while investing billions improving everything from booking to baggage claim.

We’re raising the bar on flying. And tomorrow, we will up it yet again.”/

Delta: Keep Climbing.

I can imagine the writer and art director patting themselves on the back for some of that. “Oh yeah, I love that short word, tall order line. Nice.”

What does it mean to anyone watching? Jack shit. It means nothing. It’s a lot of pomp and puffery and not much else. Is anyone going to go online to book a flight and go “oh fuck, don’t choose United. They have that godawful Rhapsody In Blue song. I hate that. Let’s book Delta, they’re in the business of up. I like up. Up is good.”

What will make the difference? Probably price and number of stops. If the cost is identical, then it will come down to prior experience. The ad is a lavish waste of millions of dollars.

Instead of saying a lot of poetic small talk, the ad could have pushed a product innovation. What does Delta do differently? What makes flying Delta a way better choice than flying any other airline? If there’s nothing new to say, why not think of something inexpensive that could be rolled out across the fleet of aircraft?

How about a section just for kids? Maybe use a service that uses something like Tinder to let singles find each other on the plane and chat for the flight? What if long flights gave you the chance to learn something? Offer free interactive courses that use the touchscreens in the headrest in front of you. When you get off, you’ve got a new skill.

So maybe those suck balls, but what I’m saying is that fancy prose is not going to cut it any more. The modern consumer wants something tangible. You are fighting for their attention, and the fight is getting harder and harder every, single day. You always have to ask, what is in it for them?

This must comes down to responsibilities. It is the client’s job to bring something worth talking about to the ad agency. If they have nothing, they must be willing to listen to ideas from the agency that include suggestions on a better service or product. This is not a new concept; Bill Bernbach was doing it in the sixties.

It is also the ad agency’s responsibility to present ideas that go beyond hyperbole and tired old clichés. The client is usually not brave, and that kind of glossy shit is easy to sell in. Everyone loves a good-looking ad, but if it’s as empty as Kim Kardashian’s book shelf, what’s the point?

Finally, it is the responsibility of everyone in the industry to stop awarding these empty vessels the gold and silver gongs. Just stop it. We can’t keep slapping ourselves on the back for work that looks good but doesn’t move or persuade the target audience. As long as we keep on doing it, we really are just jerking off.

Felix is a site contributor, ranter and curmudgeon for The Denver Egotist. He’s been in the ad game a long time, but he’s still young enough to know he doesn’t know everything. If he uses the f-bomb from time-to-time, forgive him. Sometimes, when you’re ranting, no other word will do. He’s been known, on occasion, to drink alcohol by the gallon. Do as he says, not as he does.


  1. Greg Cotten July 16, 2014

    Well said, sir. You use your
    Well said, sir. You use your tongue prettier than a twenty dollar whore.

  2. Saamhain July 16, 2014

    I usually hate the articles
    I usually hate the articles on here because they typically reek of narcissism and anger due to unfulfilled life goals. But this is honest, and I like honest.

  3. Anonymous July 16, 2014

    Way to use a boring ad as a
    Way to use a boring ad as a straw man. That campaign didn’t win any “silver gongs” anyway.

    Not sure what the real take away is. Do ads that sell product and don’t suck? How novel.

  4. daniel buchmeier July 16, 2014

    Everyone is trying to crack
    Everyone is trying to crack the same nut.

  5. Felix July 16, 2014

    Thanks Anonymous. I don’t
    Thanks Anonymous. I don’t believe it’s a straw man when there are so many examples of these crappy ads. The ad that prompted this was actually the Ikea Bed, mentioned in the piece. People are going nuts over it in the ad rags, and I think it’s a bunch of back-slapping crap. I never said my rant was novel; but it’s not stopping creative people doing ads just for the sake of doing ads.

  6. eanhold July 16, 2014

    Greg Cotten +1
    This is why

    Greg Cotten +1
    This is why having a conversation and responding to comments on social media is critical – if you are just posting and not engaging, you’re doing it wrong.

  7. Felix July 16, 2014

    And that engages in this
    And that engages in this conversation in what way, Eanhold? It’s irony at a base level.

  8. Greg Cotten July 16, 2014

    Greg Cotten +1 ?
    Is this

    Greg Cotten +1 ?

    Is this comment directed at my wife?

  9. DierveK July 17, 2014

    I blame it all on molly and
    I blame it all on molly and you should too.

  10. MtnChik July 18, 2014

    Good article.
    I’m all for

    Good article.
    I’m all for short copy and getting to the point, but fuck the millennials and their hipster null attention spans. Until they pony up in this society, I have no time for them.

  11. Anonymous July 22, 2014

    In a commodity type of
    In a commodity type of product like airlines, having a strong brand can help. Maybe the “Up” ad didn’t help move product directly but if it made people feel better about the Delta brand and would make them think about flying Delta in the future, there is some value in that.

    I am in agreement with most of what you are saying here but there is a point in some categories where just being a stronger brand and using items like a Super Bowl spot to do that are beneficial in the long run. Business isn’t about just today and making the sale right now, you have to have a longer term view as well.

  12. eanhold July 24, 2014

    Felix: Thanks for responding
    Felix: Thanks for responding to my post and engaging me in conversation.

    I was trying to state (what is apparently obvious to you) that companies need to look at how they ad value to customers outside of a commercial. The vast majority of companies fail on social media where it should be the easiest place to provide real engagement. They just push content without actually giving value to their prospects – they don’t respond to questions, don’t ask questions, they just talk out to them.

    Perhaps I should audition for the Captain Obvious role on

    Greg: +1 is a way to show appreciation for one’s comment in a thread that may not allow for giving “likes” or “thumbs up” as it were. I appreciated your Blazing Saddles quote.

  13. Anonymous July 31, 2014

    “People read what interests
    “People read what interests them, sometimes it’s an ad.”

    You can swap out read with: click, download, watch, bookmark …

    Media changes. People don’t.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *