Why insanity is beneficial to a career in advertising

By Ben McGrath

Back in the UK, many offices display a sign saying something like YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE AN ASSHOLE TO WORK HERE… BUT IT HELPS. The folks at Yangon Creative Solutions had never encountered such hilarity before so here are a few examples of great British humor to prove that I’m not making it up:  

Significant British cultural artifacts

The sad part is that these wild declarations are largely found in the most boring working environments (bookkeeping, human resources, PR departments etc).* Places where individuality and inspiration are frowned upon or even banned.

But the thought is so true for advertising and marketing, where the initials OCD feature as prominently as MBA on resumes. You’re probably familiar with the series Mad Men (so called because most agencies were located on Madison Avenue plus the fact that the people who worked in them were bonkers). Another film about the profession is Crazy People. Then there’s the classic How To Get Ahead In Advertising in which an account director is possessed by a talking pimple. It’s obvious that the entertainment industry thinks we marketeers are batshit crazy.

The truth, of course, is weirder.

Let’s start with creatives. All I have to say is that if you can find a connection between chickens and car stabilizers (see here) or eggs and drug addiction (see here), you have to be seriously messed up at a fundamental level.

The problem can be summed up by my favorite copywriter joke:

Q: How many copywriters does it take to change a light bulb?


The basic diagnosis is gross insecurity warring with massive egotism fanned to forest fire proportions by overactive imaginations. There is currently no cure but many creatives choose to self-medicate with vast quantities of alcohol.

It is manifested in many ways. Examples from over 30 years of working in creative departments include attempted suicides and murders, dangerous addictions ranging from drink and drugs to Harry Potter and Japanese anime, compulsive behavior that makes Rain Man seem normal, psychopathic aggression (please refer to the copywriter joke above) and an inability to take anything seriously while worrying about every last thing.

And those are just my problems.

Suits are worse. Account handlers suffer from a pathological need to be loved. Not liked. Loved! Picture an orphaned Care Bear to understand the tragedy of their emotions. I once made an account director cry by not liking his Facebook posts.

The heartbreaking thing is that they all want to be creatives. But they can’t. The prime requisite for becoming a copywriter, art director or designer is obnoxiousness. Creative directors are required to turn being a turd into an art form. Suits, God bless their little cotton socks, are just too nice.

Paranoia, schizophrenia, narcissism and a domineering nature are the forces that forge managing directors. I’ve been in the role for five months now and know that it is my divine destiny to rule the universe.

*TO MY FRIENDS IN PR: Sorry, it made me laugh.

Ben McGrath is Managing Director of Yangon Creative Solutions and a former hitman for the Girl Guides

  • my