When I was a student at art school in Brooklyn, we needed to furnish our apartment.
Me and my room-mate, Artie (who later founded the New York Dolls) each had a mattress but that was all.
One day, we saw a twenty-foot long wooden dumpster outside a block of flats.
We went back at 2am with a hammer, knocked one side off and ran away with it.
We sawed it in half so we could get it into the apartment, that made one bed-frame each.
But we needed to get the beds up off the floor.
So the next night, we went behind the A&P supermarket and took a lot of plastic milk crates.
I used one at each corner of the bed, but Artie used four or five at each corner.
(His bed was so high he had to stand on his mantlepiece to get in it.)
Then we needed a table, so we got an empty wooden cable-drum from a roadworks, rolled it back and laid it on its side.
Then we needed wallpaper, so I got a 48-sheet poster, advertising a Chevrolet, and pasted it up all round the room.
Finally, I needed a light, I found two crutches in a waste-bin and took a glass bulb-cover from a stairwell. I rearranged the screws in the crutches, so they made a letter A shape, and ran the wire down the back.
Now we were fully furnished. We had beds, a table, wallpaper, a lamp, we were all set.
Everything did the job it was supposed to do: milk-crates supported the bed-frame, poster covered the wall, wooden drum was a table, crutches were a light, job done.
So given that everything worked, everything was good enough, is that the sort of furniture I have at home now?
Well of course it isn’t, but what’s useful for us is the answer to the question, why not?
If it does what it’s supposed to do, and if that was good enough, why didn’t I stop there?
The answer is, I want something better, something nicer, something more enjoyable.
Yes, the junk-furniture did the job, but that’s not enough.
And that’s the lesson for us.
I once asked Mary Wear why she went into advertising.
She said, “Well there’s so much of it around, I just thought why can’t it be better?
So much of it is boring and awful, it’s like architecture, there are loads of ugly buildings around, why do they have to be so ugly, why can’t they be better?
I felt like that about advertising.”
And that makes sense, why do we do advertising that ‘does the job’ and stop there?
No one likes it any more than they’d like bits of old junk for furniture.
But the justification is, it does the job so we don’t need to waste any more time on it.
We can do more work faster, and make more money.
If it works that’ll do, there’s no point making it better than it has to be.
The funny thing is, all those agencies that are cranking out boring ads as fast as possible have beautiful receptions.
Beautiful staircases, stylish lighting, designer chairs, espresso machines.
Why do they put so much more time and money into their receptions than into their ads?
Why don’t they have a reception that just ‘does the job’?
The answer is, they know the nicer the reception, the more likely it is to attract clients.
So it justifies spending more time and money on their reception.
But that thinking doesn’t apply to the ads they do for their clients.
They don’t need to spend more time and money doing nicer ads that will attract more customers.
Anything that ‘does the job’ will do, that’s good enough.
Strangely enough, most clients don’t seem to notice the disparity.