I Get Paid to Do this?: Mike Caguin on Choosing a Career in Advertising

It’s 1962 in New York City. Don Draper is looking at a second round of creative concepts for Mohawk Airlines. He sent his creative teams back to the drawing board just 24 hours ago because the work wasn’t good enough. Peggy Olson, a young, talented copywriter, and her art director partner, Sal, lay their work on Don’s desk with conviction. They’re confident they’ve nailed the campaign. They show two ads. Each concept overtly depicts an attractive woman in a short skirt. Pop quiz: who’s the target audience? It’s an attempt to deliver upon one of the oldest clichés in advertising: sex sells.

Don hates it. He steers the conversation in search of a deeper meaning for the fledgling airline. When Peggy challenges him, he counters, “Just so you know, the people who talk that way think that monkeys can do this. They take all this monkey crap and just stick it in a briefcase, completely unaware that their success depends on something more than their shoeshine. You are the product. You—feeling something. That’s what sells. Not them. Not sex. They can’t do what we do, and they hate us for it.”

Like any good period fiction, “Mad Men” is an exaggeration of what was the truth. Many of its characters carry enough personal baggage to fill a Boeing 747—they chain smoke, drink heavily, use drugs, cheat on their spouses. They are almost all morally questionable. Sounds like the best job on the planet, doesn’t it?

Of course, all of that juicy stuff helps keep the storyline interesting, but when you strip away all of that, you’re left with an industry and career choice that are still unbelievably exciting. What Don Draper meant when he said, “You are the product. You—feeling something,” was that when advertising is at its best, it stirs your soul in a big way.

It’s the reason why every first Sunday in February we debate at great length and measure in infinitesimal detail the most memorable commercials of the Super Bowl.

It’s the reason why we all know someone who’s cried or gotten goose bumps because a commercial tugged on their heartstrings.

It’s the reason why some people proudly and permanently tattoo their bodies with company logos.

Or share something hilarious—it just happens to be an ad.

Or decide to train for that marathon after all.

Or feel compelled to help those in need.

And, whether we admit it or not—or consciously think about it or not—every person in this room owns the things they own, at least in part, because somewhere along the way those brands we wear, share and evangelize made us feel something.

It’s the same in 2013 as it was in 1962. When marketing is done well, it not only connects with people, it becomes a part of people. The only difference is that today, things are more exciting than they’ve ever been. Today, with technology changing every minute and the lines separating advertising, design, digital, media, product development and public relations blurring all the more, our creative sandbox is now infinite. 

Here’s the best part of all this. You will find many moments throughout your career where you will say to yourself, “I get paid to do this?” Yes, yes you will. And it’s a beautiful thing.