LOVE AND DEATH: Ad Job Spills Fresh Blood

Having second thoughts about your choice of profession? Wondering if your chosen field is really the one for you? Apply this little axiom, and live in doubt no longer: If you can't explain what your job is in 10 words or less, you probably shouldn't be doing it. Do you want to spend the rest of your life watching people's eyes glaze over while you launch into yet another long-winded description of just what exactly it is that you do for a living? A profession that speaks for itself is one of the great unsung perks of the contemporary working world.

Doctors, lawyers, firefighters, journalists, teachers, interior decorators, bartenders and rocket scientists are all among the most fortunate professional laborers. Introductions for them are easy. It is instantly clear what they do; conversations can automatically advance to more sophisticated levels - i.e., what's in a Tom Collins, how can you get rid of that nasty rash you've had for weeks, is faux marble just out or really really out. These people will breeze through parties, dinner engagements and chance appearances on game shows. Meanwhile, beleaguered language managers, flavor analysts and data systems coordinators will still be giving self-definition another feckless go - "I help decide what bacon bits should taste like according to Midwestern teen market sodium indicators!" - when dessert is already being served. Life, as they say, is too short.

Unfortunately, the 21st century looks likely to usher ever-stranger titles into our midst. The general consensus seems to be that the less comprehensible something sounds, the more impressive it must be. (This explains the growing tendency, among Americans at least, to toss around outsized vocabulary words without a license - "the excitement in the air is palatable!" I heard during a recent sports broadcast in the United States.) Even now, when I am convinced they should be doing just the opposite, many employees strive for a complicated job title, hoping that a long string of vague words will create a kind of vigorous proletarian haiku that will stir the masses into believing that whatever they do is of vital importance to the very universe.

Speaking of things that are of vital importance to the universe, I once worked in advertising. Rest assured, there are few nobler pursuits on earth than convincing people how and why they should part with their money. I could have stayed forever, but there was that problem of not being able to explain what I did. Oh, I could toss around a few mandatory phrases like "defend logo integrity" and "maintain corporate literature," but after a year, I was no closer to a wham-bam job description than when I started. What could I say? I walk from one room to another. I often carry folders. Every conversation in the outside world began with the deadly "so tell me again what you do." Advertising is one of the few professions that combine the pursuit of pedestrian achievements with a constant fear of death. If John-Boy's Good Time Crackers can't see three concepts for 30-second spots and a proposed media plan by noon tomorrow, the company will go belly-up! Once someone nearly got fired for the mismanagement of party balloons. Different departments were allocated specific pen colors; you could be punished for using the wrong pen. In various corners of the office, assistants could be found weeping over lunch orders. "How many times have I told you that John-Boy is allergic to asparagus? I distinctly said: nothing green. If I don't see a pastrami on rye in two minutes, we're going to lose the account." Even client development took on a murderous hue. "What we're after in this business," a higher-up once explained with a gleam in her eye, "is fresh blood. Fresh blood. Fresh blood." "Fresh blood," the room chanted back in unison. I made a note to myself in my sanctioned orange pen: Tomorrow - defend logo integrity and look for new job.

To be fair, there are a few valuable lessons to be learned from advertising. For example: You are never right, your boss is never right, even your client is never right. Only the brand can ever be right.

Looking at Velveeta cheese food, Sally Hansen Kwik Nail Fix and any of a number of long-distance calling plans, I can see why this would be true. It's time we let products assume their rightful place at the top of the food chain and put humans in their place. Maybe a newer, simpler title would help ease the transition. Shopper, perhaps?