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Scott McKay is a Toronto strategist, writer, creative director, patient manager, half-baked photographer and forcibly retired playwright.

This little site is designed to introduce him and his thoughts to the world. (Whether the world appreciates the intro is another matter.) If you'd like to chat, then you can guess what the boxes below are for.



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    "They had their cynical code worked out. The public are swine; advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill-bucket."

          – George Orwell






    "Advertising – a judicious mix of flattery and threats."

          – Northrop Frye






    "Chess is as an elaborate a waste of time as has ever been devised outside an advertising agency."

          – Raymond Chandler


    Entries in advertising (2)


    "it's all in your head"

    There's no better way to describe what we do in this business, this thing of ours: "it's all in your head."

    We do everything we can to conjure up a story, a meaning in the heads of our audience. It's the heads of our agency partners and clients that we need to see nodding. It's in our heads where strategies and ideas are sparked and nurtured.

    So it's almost inevitable that it's our heads that are also our worst enemies. 

    I don't have any proof that our business is more likely than any other industry (like say ER nurse or soldier) to trigger mental health issues. But my humble half-baked insight would be that advertising is probably up there as not being great for mental health. 

    On a daily basis it forces you to expose something of yourself. As a creative, you have to be passionate about the ideas you're working on and then presenting; you have to believe in them, you have to put everything you have into them, otherwise they just won't be very good. I can confirm that the same thing is true in strategy, and I've come to understand that it's also true in different ways for account and media people. You're going to do a lot of work and spend a lot of time with your clients; you simply can't be on autopilot and be successful.

    And in opening yourself up, your work – and by extension, you – becomes vulnerable. Most of it will be rejected; that's inevitable when we present three concepts for every project. You will likely feel rejected in an extremely personal way when two of those three concepts get killed. It'll be worse when they all get rejected and you have to go back to do three more. You will spend a lot of time sucking it up, pretending that it doesn't affect you, and doing exposing yourself all over again. Day in. Day out.

    Perhaps it's the cumulative impact of all that emotional exposure, but many of us begin to doubt our ability, clouding our judgement, which leads to second guessing. The work suffers. And gets rejected. And we double down on insecurity.

    Of course, even brilliantly successful ad weasels like Don Draper and Darrin Stevens gleefully self medicate. In my early days as a somewhat less successful ad weasel, the self medication meant four nights a week at the Pilot. It was a way of temporarily forgetting the rejection, and the need to do it all over again the next day.

    So your sense of self worth, any kind of healthy mental equilibrium, is weak at best. Add in a relatively normal life event like relationship or money problems, or illness, and not even Stella Artois can help. Your brain betrays you, tells you you're worthless, tells you not to bother.

    Of course I'm not saying that's the progression for everyone – it's been mine, roughly, a couple of times. But it's a common story in our business. And depression and anxiety are common in our business. If 1 in 4 Canadians generally will suffer from a mental health issue, the number in advertising is somewhere north of that.

    And I'm not sure what to do about that. As I said at the start of this post, it's all in our heads – and we more or less know it. We tell ourselves some version of, "fake it until you make it." We tell ourselves to act normal and we will be normal, eventually. And we're terrified of revealing any weakness in what after all is a giant headgame. 

    The hardest thing to remember is that the doubt, the anxiety, the terror and the feelings of lack of worth are not reality – they're quite literally just in our heads.

    But that's a tough sell to folks who believe that's where reality is.


    ignore what I said – read the damn body copy

    Far too long ago I wrote about the fact that no one reads body copy in advertising. And I still think it's excellent advice for us working ad weasels to remember as we toil away in our underground sugar caves of persuasion. If you can suck someone in your target audience down to paragraph seven, you're doing a pretty damned good job.

    That said, it doesn't happen. As our old friend Howard Gossage said, "People don't read ads. They read what interests them. And sometimes, it's an ad." Something that, with that quote now being more relevant than the day it was uttered, far too many of us continue to forget.

    So, people don't read body copy. But you know what?

    They should.

    Okay, I don't mean marketing body copy. (Although, if you do, I'd really appreciate it.) I'm talking about news and information.

    This spring has brought an abundance of events that required understanding: Fukushima, our recent federal election, and our city's current budget crisis, the Vancouver riots... Most TV and radio news turned it all into mere headlines. Harper wins! Ignatieff's a stiff! Ford builds subways! City's labour costs 4X too high! Then they move on to another brief, meaningless headline, or celebrity news – gosh, too bad about JLo and Marc Anthony! – and they never get actually get to what's interesting about the story: the why. And as much as I love Twitter, it has probably exacerbated this trend – instant knowledge, instant reaction. (Ever notice that, when a name or topic is trending, the bulk of the tweets about it are of the "OMG, why is this trending?" variety?)

    Increasingly I feel that it's our duty as citizens of this city, this country and this planet to go deeper than the headline or the tweet. It's our duty to read the body copy, to click on the link and read the article, to seek out the complexities and try to understand them. Body copy is where the facts are, where the nuance is. When you understand that any event has multiple causes and can be seen many different ways, you may be confused, but you're also getting closer to how things really are. By relying on headlines, you're just being fed someone else's version of the story.

    Is this unrealistic? Elitist? Just plain goofy? Of course it's all of the above. But continued attention to the facts buried in the body copy is how the Guardian kept the phone hacking scandal alive in the U.K., and why one of the world's most powerful men is now acting a little like King Lear.

    Without that understanding, it's hard to run a democracy.