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Commercial Art Is An Oxymoron

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					I'd like to begin my rant on commercial art with a short story about one of the best
salesmen I've ever met - Paul Huling. Paul was a legend at Gary Miller Chrysler
Plymouth on Peach Street in Erie, Pennsylvania. The rumor was that he had been fired
and re-hired something like twenty six times by the General Manager.

I'd heard about Paul for a long time before I actually met him. It was Summer, 1984
and I decided that I wanted to learn how to "sell," so I took a job as a salesmen at
"Gary Miller, the Detroit Discount Dealer." After a month of training and four months
on the lot, I thought I was a pretty good salesmen. After all, I made new car
"Salesmen of the Month" two out of the four months, selling between five and seven
new cars each month. Then I met Paul.

The Autumn of 1984 was not a particular good time to be selling cars - especially
Chryslers. Lee Iacocca was on TV nightly begging people to test drive the new "K"
car - aka. the Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant. At that time, Chrysler was emerging
from the brink of bankruptcy and the "K" car represented it's last-gasp-shot at
re-capturing enough market share to turn things around. Reganonomics hadn't really
taken hold yet and Pennsylvania was still in the depths of a major recession. It was
against this dismal economic backdrop that Gary Miller's new car manager and
general manager decided that new car sales needed "jump starting" and the decision
was made to re-hire Paul for something like the 27th time.

The showroom was abuzz at the news of Paul's impending return. It seemed from
water cooler conversation that Paul was universally hated at the dealership. No one
had a kind word to say regarding Paul demeanor. Even the managers trembled at the
prospect of "managing" this rogue menace. I listened intently to the gossip and stories
of Paul's previous antics. One salesmen told of his epic gambling binges, another
talked about his drinking, yet another told of his steamrolling over dealership policy.
But after listing to everyone, I really couldn't pin down exactly why everyone seemed
to hate him so much. After all, charging a car salesman with drinking and gambling,
was like passing out speeding tickets at the Daytona 500. Eventually, I decided it was
simple jealousy toward a man who reportedly could easily sell twice the number of
cars as the second place salesmen.

On the morning of Paul's first day I waited and watched intently. My curiosity was
becoming overwhelming. What would this legendary salesperson look like? What
would he say? What could I learn from him? Would he talk to a newbie, peon like
me?

Finally I heard a deep, loud, boisterous, voice boom from the other side of the
showroom and someone said: "Hi Paul."

I sprang from my desk and rushed toward the conversation to get a look at "the
legend." Over the top of a Laser coupe, I caught sight of the "super salesperson." I
was shocked! He was nothing like what I had imagined. He was a really average
looking guy of average height, dressed in gray slacks, smartly shined, oxford shoes,
white shirt, tie, and a blue, v-necked sweater. He had a round, red face, thick,
pop-bottle, glasses, and thinning, close cropped hair. Through his black, rimmed,
thick glasses, his eyes always seemed to squint. But his dominate feature was a
contagious smile that stretched from ear to ear.

He wasn't what I had imagined, but I liked him immediately. He seemed very friendly
and seemed to have something endearing to say to everyone he recognized at the
dealership. I was having a hard time reconciling the stories I had herd with this
seemingly friendly guy. I introduced myself, welcomed him, and offered assistance on
his re-acclimation. He thanked me and took to calling me "B.A."

Over the next few days, I made it my mission to observe Paul and discover his secrets
for selling. I'd imagined that he must have been an expert on cars in general and
especially, Chryslers. He must know the intricate details of option packages,
horsepower ratings, wheel base measurements, curb weights, and gas mileages of
every model on the lot. Surely he must be able to field any question regarding our
product offerings by drawing from his vast knowledge and experience accumulated
over years of professional selling. He must surely carry a mental inventory sheet
noting the make, model, options packages, and price of every car on the lot. After all,
hadn't I made it my mission to learn everything about our products and inventory?
Hadn't my product knowledge been a major factor in winning two "Salesmen of the
Month" awards?

I also imagined that anyone that was so good at selling Chryslers must love
automobiles and subsequently, love Lee Iacocca, and his mission to bring "The New
Chrysler Corporation" back from near extinction. He must be passionate about his job,
his products, the dealership, and Chrysler.

I was dead wrong on both assumptions. After befriending Paul and observing him
over the following weeks, I was astounded to learn how little Paul actually knew
about cars and how little he cared about "Gary Miller" or Chrysler. In fact, during
Paul's first week, he had to consult the brochure rack more than a few times just to
remember what models we offered. "How could this be?" I wondered. I knew
everything about our cars and I was extremely passionate about Chrysler. How could
this guy sell so many cars and seemingly not care weather they were Chryslers or
John Deeres? How could he be so successful without knowing anything about the
products?

I had to know more. I secretly hid behind vehicles and listened intently to Paul's
"pitch" as he interfaced with customers. After a few days I finally realized why Paul
was so successful, and why everyone at the dealership seemed to hate him. To Paul,
the product was simply a solution to a customer's need - he had no passion for it or
opinion about it. He was completely neutral regarding make, model, dealership, or
company. In fact, he didn't really work for "Gary Miller" at all, he worked for his
customer and himself. His lack of passion and loyalty for the dealership and company
bred contempt from fellow employees who regarded his success as an assault on the
status quo. "Who does he think he is?" salespeople would say joking about his lack of
loyally and independent nature.

But his neutrality and friendly demeanor endeared him to his customers. He always
spent the first few minutes questioning new customers intently regarding their
transportation needs. He really listened and made mental notes of what seemed
important to that particular customer. Then he set himself to finding the car that met
those needs. He didn't judge, he didn't give an opinion, he didn't elaborate, he didn't
speculate, he didn't pontificate. He just got the customer what he or she wanted. His
neutral regard for makes, model, options, etc. put customers at ease - he didn't seem to
have any agenda except to find that particular customer the car they wanted. He had
no passion, but he sold a lot of cars and made a lot of money. In the following month
when the second best salesmen (me) sold seven cars, Paul sold twenty six.

After a while I began to regard Paul as the consummate salesman. He simply made it
his business to get people what they wanted without regard, judgement, passion, or
opinion. Making the sale was all that mattered. Giving the customer what he wanted
was paramount. Paul personified in my mind the "pure" businessman and my
observations of Paul led me to formulate my theory of the "Artist-Businessman
Continuum."

Simply put, my theory states that in their pure state, artists and businessmen represent
two opposite poles on a mutually exclusive continuum. To the extent that you are one,
you are not the other.

At the one end of the continuum you have the pure artist. The pure artist is only
concerned with bringing his vision of the world to life for his own sanity's sake. He
writes, he paints, he sculpts, he pontificates, he creates whatever he wants without
regard for marketability. He doesn't care weather anyone else likes it or not and
doesn't spend any time trying to explain it to others. He really doesn't care if you "get
it" or you don't. It's his personal vision and he created it for himself. He has no choice
but to bring his vision to life or he will spiral toward insanity.

Consequently, he doesn't sell much of his work or make much money. He's the
"starving artist" and has to be by definition. If he's commercial, he's "selling out" by
giving someone what they want, rather than staying true to his personal vision.

At the other end of the continuum resides a slightly more extreme version of Paul -
the pure businessman. The pure businessman's only vision is getting the customer
what he wants. He believes that the product is only a means to an end, and that end is
satisfying a customer's need. He does this without considering weather that need is
"real" or imaginary. He forms no opinion, makes no judgement, garners no passion,
and he defends no position. He is truly impartial to both the customers preferences
and the products attributes. He may have no "soul," but he gets rich.

Let me say that neither of these stereo types really exist. They only serve to mark the
extreme poles of the Artist-Business Continuum. The really important thing to
understand is that the poles are mutually exclusive; that is, to the extent you are one,
you are not the other. I believe that each of us lies somewhere on the continuum. It
follows then that each of us is imbued with qualities of each of the two stereotypes.

So much for my story.

By this time you may be beginning to understand what "Paul" and my theory
regarding the Artist-Businessman Continuum has to do with the title of this article -
"Commercial Art is an Oxymoron." I believe that "real commercial" and "real art" are
polar opposites. More accurately, commercial art is commercial communication that
uses good, efficient, tasteful, design to deliver a message that hopefully motivates a
potential customer to some action and usually that action is to buy something.

As an ad man, I try to never lose site of the fact that I'm always selling something.
That "something" may be a product, a service, an idea, a political view, or a way of
life. But selling is commercial - not art. Clio awards are great, but paying customers
are better. I spend my days employing my design skills and creativity to make my
customers happy by communicating the virtues of their products. This hopefully
makes them more commercially and financially successful (which hopefully leads to
more business for me).

Ok, maybe I'm slightly "left of center." But when push comes to shove, my customers
get what they want - and that's that. I then stay up late at night and write these articles
on my own time to amuse myself and practice my "art." ... :-)

				
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