The ‘No Ad School’ School of Thought

“You don’t need ad school to learn advertising. It is an art you hone on the job and none of the greats who ever lived and live have stepped into a classroom to learn advertising.”

“Why would you pay someone a fortune to learn how to crack campaigns? That’s plain stupid. You’ll never earn that money back.”

These are the top few arguments you’ll hear, if you embarrassingly mutter “I’m thinking of joining ad school” in an Indian ad agency. Now, I’m not saying that the entire industry is stuck up and doesn’t believe in the importance of formal ad education. I’m just basing this piece on personal experiences and an overall perception analysis of Indian ad creatives.

In 2014, I graduated with a mass media degree and took up my first real job at Grey Mumbai under and with some stellar creatives from the industry. It was a great run. I got to work on some pretty cool clients and produced way more work than an average junior copywriter does. Good times. Then 18 months in, soon after getting a jump, I decided to quit and apply to a highly expensive ad school to exhaust all my savings. Slightly stupid right? I thought so too and so did my parents, and people at work and everyone else I shared this plan with. Then why did I go ahead and pull off a low-res Wake Up Sid? Honestly, I don’t know, but I’m glad I did what I did.

Two years in there is a list of things I’m grateful to Miami Ad School for. A list I know I wouldn’t have made if I was still at an agency as a fairly-new creative. I’m not writing this article to promote the school in particular or disregard the agency way. I’m writing because the experience of learning advertising in a school as opposed to the general perception has been unreal. Moving into a classroom, without any demanding clients, inhuman deadlines and a hilarious pay check just opened up avenues of true and pure learning. Working with teachers was very different from learning under a compassionate boss. I acquired aspects of the craft that never seemed important earlier but significantly altered my thinking process. I picked up UX, design, strategy, digital trends and pop-culture engineering. No job teaches a copywriter that. I became equipped. In addition to the art, I got to build a network of creative directors, influencers and young like-minded thinkers who are not jaded and fiercely passionate. I worked on awards, brand briefs and more importantly personal side projects. It gave me the opportunity to move to New York and study at Madison Avenue, intern at Saatchi and Saatchi and Ogilvy and compete with the toughest professionals in the business. I got to perform stand up in its birthplace at few of the best clubs in the world. These experiences cannot be quantified. I’ve made friends from across the globe, understood cultures and backgrounds, and thinking processes. It takes years in the industry before you get to do that.

I know even though all these points sound tempting, the finances required to fund a course of such repute are extremely high and make a solid argument for anti-ad school propagators. If I got a penny for every time I have heard ‘You will never recover that money’ I would’ve been able to pay my tuition fees with it. I’m aware that fetching out lakhs of rupees isn’t economically viable and even I genuinely had to sort some finances to take it up. My problem however lies with the attitude. The root of the problem is that we’ve been conditioned to the fact that advertising is a last resort industry that shouldn’t require any strategic investment because you’re not going to do this for your entire life. It’s like telling a gardener not to water the plants enough because very few of them become a tree. I’m aware that the payback isn’t magnificent, but if you work your way through, the options you open for yourself are limitless. I’ve managed to win 14 awards in 17 months, executed personal projects that have received immense press and worked on things that might not even qualify as advertising. I’ve learnt to covert any moment, place or thing into an idea, and that’s something that would be more valuable to a brand and more importantly to me. In two years, I’ve moved from a writer who can write decent headlines to a one-person creative boutique who is currently broke but optimistically confident. And not just me, almost all my schoolmates are doing better than average mid-level employees and even most creative directors.

Advertising is changing and the impact it has on the world now is more influential than ever. The world is our canvas to create and what we need today are hybrids and fluid thinkers who have taken the time out to learn the fundamentals correctly, so they can break rules impressively. The job will always teach and self-learning will never stop but dedicating time to grow will convert a stressful job into meditative art. So, the next time someone mentions that they’re planning to go to school to learn advertising I hope you don’t scorn. I reckon you assess your work at whatever level you might be to answer if you’re actually growing and I request you to not discourage a young mind from avoiding a route you think isn’t a way to get better at what you love doing.

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