I used to think that drivers who followed ambulances were just jerks in a hurry trying to cut through traffic jams. Then, one day, I came across the term ‘ambulance chasers’ and, well, it turned out to be pretty much the same thing. Ambulance chasers, you see, is the term used for cheap-shot personal injury lawyers, the kind of despicable low-life legal rejects who stalk hospital emergency wards in the hope of finding a victim naïve enough to think they had their interest at heart, but also disfigured enough to illicit a jury’s pity. Did I say jury? Well, if you’re in the advertising business, I suggest you look away now, because there’s another kind of ambulance chaser, and they are sitting in your agency as we speak.
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Now there might be something quite unpleasant about lawyers who make a living out of others’ misery but hey, you might argue, it’s a job and someone’s got to do it – just ask US Republicans or the UK Conservative party. But wait. Seeking notoriety from misery, on the other hand, is in a different league of despicability altogether. And as we close an awards season and enter another, this kind of behaviour will soon be not just on full display, but lauded, applauded and celebrated like a modern-day abolition of slavery.
Let’s not beat about the bush here. There’s hardly any agency that hasn’t jumped on the pro-bono-for-awards bandwagon, and hardly any creative – this one included – who hasn’t eyed human tragedies without seeing potential Lions and Effie fireworks, or maybe genuinely sought to help before the vested interest instinct kicked in.
Nevertheless, I would have liked to think that we have, well, matured. I would have liked to think that, as an industry, we would have given up on pretending that we were some kind of Mother Theresa with muscle when we were in reality Mother Theresa’s evil twin. I would have liked to think that the industry itself would have reined in our base instincts for the sake of the greater good – or at least the industry’s good.
But no. Because the industry is a misery junky. The industry loves its followers putting pedal to the metal in pursuit of the one-upmanship ambulance.
The industry likes nothing more than a case study in which the tears factor trumps the sales metrics. The industry, in its Dantesque descent into the abyss of its own making, likes – and celebrates – nothing more than creatives – or planners for that matter – whose only raison d’etre is to turn Pakistani floods, Lebanese tragedies and African famines into neat, compelling but utterly fraudulent, hypocritical case studies that do nothing for the people they are supposedly meant to help but, instead, fast-track the careers of their chasers, until the ambulance they are pursuing has been stripped of its role, until it is nothing more than an excuse, until it is a hearse carrying nothing more than the sadness of its own corpse.
Ramsey Naja is regional executive creative director at DDB Middle East.