Have you read Dan Brown’s new book? Inferno is a lot like The Da Vinci Code, only this time all the action swirls around Dante Alighieri, his epic poem The Divine Comedy, and its infamous nine circles of Hell.
Dante’s rings were carefully devised to mete out a fitting punishment for the sins that each soul committed on earth. For example, if you were greedy or miserly in life, you’d be forced to push around enormous bags of money around for all eternity.
When Dante wrote his masterpiece 700 years ago, he was harping on the seven deadly sins. But I can’t help but wonder, if the poet were alive now, would he carve out a deeper circle exclusively for business-to-business advertising professionals? For the lazy? The uninspired? The easily satisfied?
I mean, there’s an endless stream of stuff out there competing for your audience’s attention. Why make it easier for them to ignore you by settling for recycled, unimaginative work?
I can easily picture Satan flipping through the pages of a trade pub, groaning and shaking his head as he looms over a cowering creative team.
“Really, guys? Of everything you could have possibly created, you chose to do an ad of two business guys in suits shaking hands? Even though you knew it had been done a million times before? It’s the 10th circle for you, amigos.”
And with a dismissive kick of one of his taloned heels, he’d send the writer and art director bouncing pell-mell ever deeper into the bowels of hades. If you think about it, Satan, the king of temptation, makes for a fitting judge of advertising. Tricking people into coveting and lusting after material possessions is his MO, after all. Lazy visual clichés and tired puns rarely get the job done.
The team’s penance would be to languish perpetually in a conference room as a pack of demons pummeled them with stock photography books—meanwhile, a mountain of shiny industry awards loom maddeningly close but just out of reach.
And they wouldn’t be alone. For using sports-related metaphors as a crutch—especially ones showing track and field athletes—there’s a corner of Hell where creative teams are buried in a field up to their waists while runners wearing shoes cleated with spikes try to hurdle their heads, and just miss.
The deepest ring of Hell runneth over, writhing with advertising executives just like us: Creative directors who blessed images of climbers ascending to the tops of mountain peaks. High-tech designers that resorted to digital 1’s and 0’s as a motif for their annual reports. Art buyers who purchased photos of spinning globes, broken piggy banks, chessboards, and chains with breaking links.
The next time you sit down to ponder an assignment, remember Dante’s cautionary tale and resist the temptation to commit advertising’s Cardinal Sin. Clichéd work may be easy to write, easy to sell, and easy to buy, but it’s also easy to ignore.