What can Buddhism teach the average adman ?
The immediate answer would seem to be, very little.
In fact quite probably, Buddha all.
It’s rather like the old Monty Python sketch where Graham Chapman as a charity collector goes in to see John Cleese as a City businessman. Cleese as the businessman is completely confused by the notion that he should give his money away, and expect nothing in return. He ponders over this concept, trying to look at it from all angles, but he can’t see the logic in it at all.
In the same way, Buddha’s life story reinforces the apparently total disconnect between the two halves of this equation.
Buddha was born into a rich and powerful family who did all they could to protect him from reality. He was surrounded by things and people that were beautiful, young and dedicated to providing pleasure.
At this point Adland and Buddha are in total agreement.
Because 95% of the ads on TV show a world of impossible perfection.
But the first step towards enlightenment came one day, on a rare trip outside the Royal Palace, when Buddha saw three things for the first time. An old man, an ill man, and a dead man.
Of course, the great majority of TV ads are usually quite short on appearances by the old, the diseased and the dead.
Although you should feel free to make up your own jokes about various campaigns for Iceland over the years.
So is there anything at all that links the two ?
Well, let’s start on a trivial level.
The goal of Buddhism is Nirvana. But when Buddha first came up with the word, there was a lot of resistance to it.
The word means “extinguishing the candle”. There are many other words he could have chosen that would have expressed…bliss, enlightenment, happiness. Like Brahmanubava, which means “the experience of the ultimate”. He didn’t use any of those. People kept questioning him and saying surely there is a better word than Nirvana …
But Buddha stuck to his instincts.
And he was right. Because Nirvana isn’t just a beautiful-sounding word – its very syllables seeming to conjure up the notion of other-worldly bliss.
It tells you how to get there.
By extinguishing the candle of your ego.
So, on a profound level, Buddha teaches us to ignore focus groups.
And in fact most of the great philosophers and poets in history would agree with him on this.
Although it does prompt another thorny question. What would’ve happened if Kurt Cobain had decided to call the band Brahmanubava ?
But back to Buddhism. This preaches compassion and that’s something which Adland could definitely explore.
It’s interesting that Innocent, which has always had a pretty turbulent relationship with agencies, is now saying that its marketing will be focussed on emotion and charity.
I love this and can see it really catching on.
So, instead of covering the real and digital landscape with expensive wall-paper that brashly trumpets the egos and logos of indistinguishable brands, we could use our marketing budgets to make the lives of our customers better in some tangible way.
Of course none of this guarantees the things which Adland traditionally loves – like stealing clients and staff from their friends, watching with glee as another ad agency hits the skids, and getting drunk at one of the myriad creative award evenings.
But hey ho.
And one final thought occurs to me.
Even if you do win at the creative awards, beware.
Adland being quite full of envious folk who will begrudge you your moment in the limelight, you should perhaps be prepared … as you walk to the podium … to hear the sound of only one hand clapping.