Ad People: Now What Do We Talk About?

We advertising people sure love to talk about advertising.

At the farmers market, we tell the tomato lady our unsolicited opinion of those billboards on I-90. At the parent-teacher conference, we focus on the seven-spot package we’re about to shoot in LA. At the dinner party, we won’t let that geopolitical debate get off the ground until we finish our discourse on the inadequacy of consumer research methodologies. We enlighten our waiters, bartenders, landscapers and bicycle mechanics with our progressive views on an industry in need of reform. Our Uber drivers hear all about the crappy campaigns from the agencies we hate. Our doctors get earfuls of agency gossip—from what’s going where, to who’s doing whom—as they manipulate our breasts and colons. Our neighbors know all the awards we’ve won, the ones we should have won and the ones we don’t care that we haven’t won. And when we advertising people get together, the topic of advertising is an imploding star, sucking any other conversation within a ten-stool radius into a new, more nonexistent form of oblivion.

As for our parents, lovers, spouses and children, well, they just need to learn to listen. Especially when our ad has shortlisted at Cannes.

Here’s the thing, though, talking about advertising has gotten much, much harder.

For starters, few of us are willing to call what we do “advertising” any more. And even when we do, we don’t know what exactly it is. We’ve fractured, splintered, drifted in the wind, spread our seeds, converged, conjoined, merged equals, spun off, respawned and reprioritized. There seems to be no end to the ways we’re redefining our industry, our agencies and ourselves. We argue over what counts as a strategy, and what constitutes an idea. We follow what those millennials are up to, and say we do whatever it is they’re doing. We talk about interrogating the ask, so we can avoid further questions. We’re creating content…no, platforms…no, omnichannel infotainments. We resort to abstractions because we’re mixed up in vastly different things, and no longer share a common language.

In short, we don’t understand each other any more. You don’t get what I’m doing, and I don’t get what you’re making. Which puts us at a loss for words.

So what now? What on Earth are we going to talk about?

Well, I just happen to have assembled a list of alternative conversation topics. Mind you, this could be treacherous territory. These topics may take us uncomfortably deep into the wilderness of non-advertising. But who knows, we may emerge as more dimensional and self-actualized people. It’s worth a shot, no?


  • That growth on your thing
  • All the people you won’t miss on your one-way trip to Mars
  • The hues and patterns of sportscasters’ hair
  • Man, it would suck to be veal/Akron/Jay Cutler
  • Friendly fire, revenue enhancement, Alabama Hot Pocket and other favorite euphemisms
  • Owen Wilson’s nose
  • The Hobbesian vs. Lockean view of the social contract
  • Let’s steal a car!
  • Your sunglasses should cover no more than ___% of your face
  • The time you got drunk while backpacking through Europe and snuffed out the Eternal Flame of Luxembourg with your urine
  • Who would you eat first?
  • The billionaire whose wealth frustrates you the most
  • You’re pronouncing that wrong
  • Female Siri vs. male Siri
  • The celebrity you’d switch teams for
  • Hello? Is it me you’re looking for?
  • What’s likely to cause you to spin in your grave
  • Proper care of your baby/Christmas cactus/stoma
  • That annoying thing at conferences where audience members pitch their companies under the pretense of asking questions
  • Wrapped up like a what?
  • My children vs. your children
  • It wasn’t like that and you know it
  • Loyalty/the web/Bea Arthur is dead
  • I don’t get enough respect
  • How things changed between you and the neighbors when you performed “Dick in a Box” at the block party
  • Humans are condemned to be free
  • Those filthy, no-good, lying news anchors
  • “There’s a fly in my soup!” and other fun things to shout during orgasm
  • Mexican mud vs. Peruvian flake
  • What ever happened to John Rocker/manners/the corncob pipe?

Now, it would be irresponsible of me to share this list without testing some of these topics myself. And so I have. Results have varied, but overall, I have detected a touch more receptiveness to my approach at the dinner table, on the train and in the boardroom. People’s eyes are less evasive as we’re talking, and their gaits less elusive as we’re walking. Conversations have been more two-way; sometimes even three-way. There’s been a discernible change in the shape of my head. (Causation or correlation? Hard to say.) And I’ve experienced a strange sensation that some might call “an expansion of interests,” which I hope has a positive effect on my professional development.

I should point out, however, that I haven’t yet attempted these topics with my peers in advertising.

Mainly because I can’t figure out who they are.


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About the Author:

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John Carstens, ECD+Writer- Freelance

John Carstens is a seasoned and cured creative director, and copywriter by trade. He’s pitched, preened and written his prose at the likes of SapientNitro, Cramer-Krasselt and TBWA\Chiat\Day, and to show for it, has a plastic crate filled with awards in his basement. He’s currently freelancing nationally while residing in Chicago with his two mildly eccentric children and tolerant wife. Follow him at Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram @carstensible.

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Ad People: Now What Do We Talk About?