Kingdom of Failure Gets the Last Word on Cameron Day's New Book
Cameron Day’s second book, Spittin’ Chiclets, is a damn good book. That’s a subjective statement but having read it, at least you can consider it an informed one.
However, I also think Cameron Day’s second book, Spittin’ Chiclets, is an incredibly important book. Especially if you happen to find yourself in the midst of a full-fledged advertising career. That’s also a subjective statement but having lived it, I can honestly say that it’s in your best interest not to treat it as one.
Before the concept of open seating ruined the modern day office environment, there used to be these things called hallways. They were cool because a lot of times they had nice posters of famous ads on them or some kind of cool outsider artwork to enjoy on your way to the bathroom. But even better than that, hallways were where you learned how to survive a career in advertising.
It's where the closely guarded secrets were whispered to you by the elders and passed on via muffled conversations and last minute pieces of advice.
“Dave hates anything with an exclamation point in it.”
“If you’ve really got a problem, the only person who can actually help you is Greta.”
“There’s an entire tray of deli left over in the main conference room.”
Those hallways aren’t there anymore. It doesn’t mean the secrets aren’t still being passed on, but today we must dig a little deeper for them. Which is why a book like Spittin’ Chiclets is so important. Generational wisdom simply isn’t as accessible as it used to be. Ageism has pushed a lot of those people out the doors of the agency world. Their broken model can’t afford as many Camerons anymore. The people who can help you the most are now either out of the business entirely or out on their own as freelancers. Spittin’ Chiclets focuses its lens on providing solid career advice on some of the most universal issues creatives face every day. It’s like being back in those hallways. The whispers are worth their weight in gold.
The first person you hear from in the book is Thomas Kemeny. He writes the foreword and I thank him for teaching me that it’s a foreword because, like him, I too thought it was a forward. Thomas is witty and talented, has worked at some of the best agencies in the country and wrote Junior- one of the hottest advertising books in recent memory. He also hates similes which I think is a little bit like hating Arbor Day. It doesn’t necessarily make me think you’re a bad person but it gives me pause. However, he’s more talented than me, a ton more successful and devastatingly handsome, so I'm going to just move past it. Afterall, it’s only Arbor Day and he really is good looking.
The next person you hear from in the book, as it should be, is Cameron. After all, his name is prominently featured on the cover right after the word “By”. He says a lot of interesting things that we’ll discuss shortly but when he’s done the book isn’t over. There are more voices to be heard from on the back cover.
Up first on the back cover (which many people in the publishing industry will tell you is the most important part of the book in terms of sales) is Ernie Schenck. Ernie has worked on some of the most famous brands in the world. He’s helmed some of the most highly awarded agencies in the United States. He’s done groundbreaking campaigns through-out his career—most famously for John Hancock and Liberty Mutual. He’s an Emmy winner, three-time Kelley finalist and a perennial presence at every awards show in the business. He's also a contributing editor and columnist for Communications Arts magazine and the author of The Houdini Solution: Put Creativity and Innovation To Work by Thinking Inside The Box.
So, he’s pretty good.
Next is Asha Davis. She’s brilliant. And she’s Canadian, so you know she’s really nice. Asha kicked off her career as a wunderkind at Ogilvy working on a bunch of famous shit like the Dove Real Beauty campaign and helping win a bunch of Coke business. Then she goes to Chiat in New York, where Rob Schwartz is in the middle of one of the most prolific new business winning streaks in advertising history, and she ends up as the lynch-pin on the largest piece of business in the entire Omnicom network. I won’t bore you with the rest as it only gets more impressive from there. She’s into AR now. She’s a bad ass.
Then you get Jeff Gelberg. He’s a seasoned creative who’s a heck of a nice guy and has been all over the damned place. But what I’m most impressed by is the fact that he’s been to 117 Bruce Springsteen concerts. I haven’t been to one. In 1984 I had a ticket in my hand for the “Born in the USA" tour. I was 14 years old. Two nights before the concert my fucking report card shows up at the house. I chock it up to bad chemistry between Ms. Mauzy and myself. It just wasn't a good fit. She rode my ass the whole semester like I was the God damn town donkey and then gave me the worst grade I’d ever gotten. My parents made me sell the ticket. I’m sure Jeff Gelberg’s parents didn’t make him sell his ticket. And if they did, what the fuck does it matter, he had 116 more in his back pocket for down the road.
Hitting in the clean-up position is Toby Barlow. Toby is a Detroit guy, just like me. But instead of being me, he’s him and he’s a genius. He’s done famous work all over the place and now has his own agency here in Detroit called Lafayette/American and they do killer work. I’ve only met Toby once. It was right after a Jeff Tweedy concert. He was walking out of the show with his wife, Liz (who is lovely and also extremely genius). I was with my good buddy Dan John Miller who is a musician, actor and phenomenal voiceover talent. His band, Blanche, had toured with Wilco and he was friends with Jeff Tweedy. Dan John and I were on our way to hang out with him for a few minutes on his tour bus. Toby and Dan John are friends too and we all exchanged a few pleasantries. Toby is a phenomenal writer, producer of documentaries, author, restauranteur and helped put together a really cool program here in Detroit a few years ago that gave houses to writers who were working on books. He’s a force of nature for the creative community and a force of good for the city of Detroit. To be completely honest, I was more starstruck that night by Toby Barlow than I was by Jeff Tweedy.
Finally, the very last person you hear from in the entire book is me. Yeah, this me. Yours truly. It’s my first time having a quote on the back of a book or really on anything at all for that matter and it’s extremely exciting for me. It means so much to me that Cameron included me. Cameron’s an incredible guy. He was one of the first people to reach out to me when I started writing Kingdom of Failure and he’s been encouraging me to keep writing ever since. He’s become not only a generous mentor but a really great friend.
Here's my quote. Which is technically, the last thing you read in Cameron Day’s book—or at least on Cameron Day’s book. Sorry. But this is a very big moment for me. I’ve never seen my name on a book before and it’s my fucking dream to have it on one and here it finally is—sort of. So, here’s my quote:
“A lot of books teach you how to make advertising. Cameron’s book teaches you how to make it in advertising.”
You saw what I did there right? With the make and the make it? Pretty clever, right? It’s called an antanaclasis. Antanaclasis is from the Greek word for reflection. In rhetoric, it’s the repetition of a word within a phrase or sentence in which the second occurrence utilizes a different and sometimes contrary meaning from the first.
Despite its noble Greek lineage, it’s considered to be a type of pun. Which in general, many people frown upon. Thomas Kemeny, in his best-selling book Junior, calls them “basic”, “easy” and “cheesy”. God he’s gorgeous. I feel like a young J. Edgar Hoover gazing upon Clyde Tolson for the first time. Dammit! I really shouldn’t have used that pun. I’m such a boob.
But Cameron doesn’t think I’m a boob. And that’s why he saved me for last. Because we all know what you save for last, right?
Yeah. You’re damn, right.
Cameron’s second book is supposed to be about the middle of your career. And it is. But really, it’s more about the meat of your career. Again, I stand by my quote. This isn’t a book about how to make ads. Though you certainly do pick up a few pearls of ad making wisdom when he explains how he got to an idea or a campaign in one of his stories- which are amazing by the way.
What makes Cameron’s book so valuable is that it’s not about making ads. It’s about all the other shit you have to deal with. The really hard shit. The bullshit.
Making ads isn’t that difficult. People who work in creative departments at major agencies and have at least 5 years of non-stop, high pressure ad making experience under their belts can make relatively decent ads all day long. Give them a clear strategy and permission to do something original and most creatives can deliver at least one great one. Walk into any creative department and you’ll see tons of them lying around on the floor or carelessly dangling by a corner on the wall of an empty conference room. Left behind for something less polarizing.
It’s not the making that’s hard. It’s the selling and the surviving that’s hard. And when I say hard, I mean it beats the shit out of you. Day after day it tries to tear away your confidence and diminish your spirit. It’s the mean bosses. The impossible to please clients. The bad partners. The bullies. The lay-offs. The horrible briefs. The soul crushing corporate culture they force on you. The battles you’re expected to fight and the wounds you can expect to receive from them. It’s all the stuff that wears you down and keeps you from doing the thing you’re best at.
It’s fucking corporate survival. It’s high school on steroids and now you’ve got kids at home depending on you to stay popular. It’s really, really fucking hard to get it right, maintain your dignity and not let it keep you from having a fair shot at success. That’s what we need help with. I’ve been in this business for over 25 years and I still need help with it.
One of the things I like best about Spittin’ Chiclets is its authenticity. This isn’t a victory lap kind of book. Cameron’s had a lot of success in his career. We’ve all read about it in the trades. He’s aware enough to know that and instead provides us with a generous number of missteps and failures that are much more valuable to the reader. Not to mention, relatable.
Cameron doesn’t hold back. You can almost feel the heat rising off the page as you read it because, personally, I think the man is still pretty steamed about some of this stuff. I can respect that. I know what it feels like. And if you’re in the middle of your career you probably know what it feels like too.
One of the parts that hits the hardest is the story of Stan Richards. I salute Cameron for including it. A lot of people out there aren’t as brave. But it’s a story that needs to be told and it’s one that hit’s close to home for me because his name is now on the advertising school I went to.
The personal wound is deep for me. As much as I now rail against it, I used to be a fan and student of agency culture. I loved the pirates of Chiat/Day and the fail harder spirit of Wieden + Kennedy. I fetishized the whatever-it-takes mentality of CPB in its glory days. And I always admired what I had heard of the culture at The Richards Group.
I loved the stories of Stan walking through the office at 6 PM every night encouraging employees to go home to their families for the evening. The long tenures seemed to be further evidence of employee satisfaction—a rarity in the advertising world. And any agency as big as The Richards Group, still clinging fiercely to their independence in this age of the holding company, earns my admiration.
But that’s not what it was. It wasn’t culture. It was one man forcing his world view onto an entire company. And that worldview included the exclusion of female executives from his famous ski trips that he would take his favorite male executives on every year. It included shaming employees over the loudspeaker for arriving minutes late at their desks in the morning. And, in the end, it included the racist perspective of an 88 year-old, white, wealthy, republican male Trump supporter.
That man cost a lot of people their jobs. And it taught me a valuable lesson about the difference between culture and the boss’s way of doing things.
Despite the fact that his actions disrupted the lives of hundreds of families, he gave the University of Texas $2 million to put his name on the advertising school. The one I graduated from and take a lot of pride in having gone to. It pisses me off and it pissed off a lot of other people too.
So much so, that according to the Texas Tribune, the college hired two outside experts to “help us gather more information and ensure all voices from our community are given an opportunity to be heard.”
According to a summary report of findings from those listening sessions, students of color in the advertising school felt unwelcome and ignored. The main takeaways were that many students did not think Richards' comments represented the college as a whole and wanted the name changed.
The school also hired an independent journalist, to conduct a review of Richards’ remarks and the “context and history within which they occurred.” In his report, the independent journalist recommended UT-Austin change the name of the college, along with other suggestions to improve race relations on campus.
I know you’re all on pins and needles to know what happened right?
Of course, they kept the fucking money. It’s $2 million. Fuck all those families he put out on the street.
And now, in addition to all the personal misery he caused, I believe the University of Texas football team is now cursed. That’s right. The Longhorns are cursed because of Stan Richards and that’s why we lost to the #1 team in the God damned nation by one stinking point this weekend. Because of Stan fucking Richards. Y’all think about that for a while.
So, in conclusion, Cameron Day is awesome. Buy his book Spittin’ Chiclets and maybe you won’t end up scraping by on freelance assignments and writing a blog called Kingdom of Failure. Stan Richards sucks and the Longhorns won’t win another national championship until his name is removed from the advertising school. Toby Barlow is a genius and Thomas Kemeny has eyes that I could just get lost in.
Thanks for reading. I’ll see you again real soon.