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Foundation Wants Artists to Quit the Ad Game

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Foundation Wants Artists to Quit the Ad Game

The promise of cable TV all those years ago was that by paying for the service, you could avoid the commercials. That promise has faded, with most cable and satellite channels carrying just as many ads as regular TV. Besides television, those advertisements find their way onto billboards and magazines, trailed behind airplanes and stamped on pieces of fruit. Much of the work that goes into these ads is done by creative types. And it can be a lucrative career move for work-starved artists, writers and musicians. But one organization wants those folks to quit their jobs and use their talents elsewhere. Eight Forty-Eight's Michael De Bonis has the story.


In his basement workshop, John Solimine is getting ready to run a series of prints.

SOLIMINE: I'm doing a two color poster today.  So, this is going to be the color which is the background of the whole thing and then when that one is done I will print this on top of that.

This is relatively new thing for Solimine…doing what he loves to do, making his art…in the middle of a weekday afternoon.  For over three years he worked as a designer for one of the world's biggest advertising agencies. Last November, he quit that job to concentrate on his poster business, Spike Press. He says he was frustrated with culture of advertising…from the feast or famine work flow, to ad campaigns that caused…ethical uneasiness.

SOLIMINE: A lot of the clients who would be deemed morally ambiguous, they don't directly sell their product. For instance a tobacco firm like legally it can be about somebody happily sucking on a cigarette.  It's about lifestyle, so there's a guy on a jet ski or a guy riding a horse or something.  So, when you are working on it, sometimes you have to remind yourself, ‘what the hell am I selling here?'  You couldn't think about it too long, once you stopped and though about it too much, you kind of saw the bigger picture and that's when the creepy feeling started coming in.

Though some feel...well creepy working on certain campaigns, the advertising industry is filled with willing employees.  But Solimine says that many of his former coworkers were using their advertising paychecks to fund other pursuits.

SOLIMINE: The guys in the AV department were all filmmakers and working on independent films. Another designer friend of mine was working on a screenplay.  And then, a lot of the designers themselves were either doing freelance on the side or having gallery shows or they were painters or illustrators.  I think the agency allowed them to do what I was describing meaning sort of financing their side projects.

And now there's an organization that's cooked up a campaign targeting those folks.

MOORE: Would you quit for $700?

At a cultural center in Rogers Park, artists Anne Elizabeth Moore and Steve Lambert are counseling disgruntled ad men and women. Moore and Lambert are the co-founders of the Anti-Advertising Agency’s Foundation For Freedom.  Lambert says they want to help people find work that won't compromise their ethics.

LAMBERT: Most people in advertising have a line that they won't cross or don't like to cross and the agencies themselves don't have that.  They are there to sell whatever the companies want.  And so there is always some sort of conflict and we want to give those people opportunities to work where they won't have to make those kind of compromises to there values or be put in those positions.

To do this they've created a competition to help push people who've been thinking about quitting to cut the cord.  To win the award, which is currently about $700, you must provide proof you've quit, describe your sleaziest ad campaign, and write about the hopes and dreams you had for the world when you were five. It may sound like a joke and they admit that they probably wont see and exodus from ad firms.  But Moore says they are reaching people.

MOORE: We start this crazy idea and we immediately get these sort of adoring letters from advertisers who are like I'm so glad you guys are doing this.  Oh my god, I've wanted to quit my job for so long.  And they are not necessarily committing to quit but that the emotional impetus is there for them to even write to us to me is just so telling.

Of course, there are lots of people in Advertising who are perfectly happy.

AMBI: club music and chatter

In a nightclub just north of the Loop, the Chicago Advertising Federation’s Young Professionals meet up for drinks, appetizers and networking.  Dan Rutter is one of them.  He's a project manager for the ad firm Digitas.  He says part of what he loves about working in advertising is the diversity.

RUTTER: Working with people from all over the country, all different backgrounds, whatnot, and watching them collaborate and come together to form these great teams that come up with great ideas. It is definitely a work hard play hard industry and the people that I know and myself definitely take advantage of both sides of that.

Rutter says he's happy with the path he's chosen.  But he's also quick to admit that he'd like to do something more creative…Maybe making better use of his journalism degree as a copywriter.  But what about taking it one step further…quitting the ad game altogether and focusing solely on his love of writing?  Does he ever think about moving to a shack in the middle of nowhere to write the great American novel?

RUTTER: Oh absolutely, everyday I think about that and whether it is true or not and maybe I need to hone my skills, but they say your passions lie in the thing that never leaves your mind. So, I think that one day I will do that.

Rutter may not be thinking of leaving the ad world anytime soon.  But the Foundation For Freedom says there are others who are fed up, but feel trapped.  They want people to know that there are many ways of making a living and being creative, without selling a product.

For Eight Forty-Eight on Chicago Public Radio, I'm Michael De Bonis.

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