In advertising, fun is serious business

Ask anyone working in advertising how his or her day is going and you’ll get the same response: “Busy.”

No doubt this is true—no one in advertising sits around twiddling thumbs all day. But sometimes we say “busy” because we want everyone to know that we’re earning our keep with long hours and sweat equity. “Busy” becomes synonymous with “working” which means “I deserve to be here.”

Here’s the problem with that answer: it ignores the actual content of that busyness, the quality of what it is we’re occupied with all day long. Yeah, advertising is hard work, but here’s the dirty little secret few of us are willing to admit: it can also be fun.

In fact, it should be fun.

It has to be fun.

Because fun and play – just as much as hard work – are essential to the advertising process, universally, no matter the brand or category.

And fun actually leads to busy, but in the best way. Myriad studies show that happier employees are as much as 20% more productive in the workplace, and take fewer sick days: more fun, more work gets done. We often overlook that fun is the engine in our $180bn U.S. industry, and that it’s critical to making good work.

Fun, in fact, is serious business. We need to acknowledge the dirty word, make it okay to own up to having fun, and understand—and augment—its role in the creative and critical process.

Here are four key ways that fun works hard in the workplace, as a positively disruptive force.

Fun diffuses difficult situations. Client relationships have their ups and downs, and sometimes things can get tense—maybe the website got delayed or they just didn't love the first round of creative. Everyone can think of a tense meeting when a difficult subject is being discussed, and everyone freezes, afraid to speak. But then someone makes a joke and, voila, tension is diffused, lines of communications are opened, creative solutions can be fairly addressed. Enjoying the problem-solving journey gets to compromise, understanding, and solutions faster.

Fun breeds creativity. It can be really hard to be creative when there’s not a drop of levity in the room. But to lead a brainstorming session with fun—license to be illogical, to get off track for a bit, to go forth in an unexpected direction knowing you’ll eventually get to the right place—is to be open to limitless possibility. And that dynamic is the basic diet of creativity. Without a playful, slightly irreverent brainstorm, Grey would not have made the connection between a home team victory in the big game and getting knocked up – and our NFL Super Bowl Babies idea would never have been born.

It’s important to mention: fun is not just a road to funny. Even if the brand is addressing more serious issues, rooted in harsh truths and/or complicated science, good creative product is still dependent on talent having fun in exploring the possibilities of how the brand can connect with people.

Fun opens up and creates connections– with employees and clients. Fun creates bonds. We engage with people when we have shared experiences, and fun is one of the most effective ways to both discover and fortify those connections. Play unlocks ideas, and simply provides the means for people to connect with those ideas and with each other. Which is good news, because advertising is a team sport. To create communications in this modern world, wildly different types of personnel need to collaborate: technologists, marketers, data analysts, account people and creatives. More fun means more sharing, which means better teamwork for all those talents and personality types.

Fun energizes productivity. There’s a reason healthy and happy go together: one begets the other (and it works both ways). It’s no different at the office: to have fun at work is to have increased mental and physical energy, better flow, a drive to work harder and commit more. All these things improve productivity. Studies show that having fun reduces the production of cortisol, “the stress hormone”; increases serotonin levels that regulate mood; improves memory; and makes people sleep better. So if you think you don’t have time to have fun at work…the truth is you don’t have time not to.

During the seven month-long Gillette pitch, the team celebrated every milestone, from creative breakthroughs to successful meetings – so yes, there was a lot of karaoke involved. Those celebrations kept the team motivated during the marathon, and there was even more karaoke when we won. The point is: don’t underestimate the effectiveness of karaoke.

It’s funny — well, ironic — that often the work we make is about selling the idea of pleasure, the fun a consumer will have with or because of our clients’ products, but we can’t cop to it ourselves.

We know employees generally spend far more than a third of their day at the office and we know that clients want to have fun too. Don’t be embarrassed to answer next time that your day is, in fact, fun.

Debby Reiner is chief executive of Grey New York

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Debby Reiner

Debby Reiner is chief executive of Grey New York

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