The Draper Cycle


I’ve never met more workaholics that in an ad agency. Admittedly I’m one of them. As I type this at my desk at work at 9pm, I can see at least half of the creative department outside my office cranking away like it was noon.

Do we work to distract ourselves? Does writing or photoshopping or coding become theraputic? What makes creatives never satisfied with anything we create? Sure we can blame unrealistic deadlines and impossible client demands but at the end of the day, there’s no gun to our heads making us stay. We choose this.

Then there’s the physicality of it: do we find comfort in tweaking and retweaking and feel good when we get lost in the rhythm of typing or sketching? It’s like running or snowboarding to me. After a while, I get lost in the physical act of doing what I’m doing and everything else goes away and I like that.

I’ve notice that there are two types of personalities in ad agencies: those who hide behind what they create and those that want attention because of it. In both types of people, doing work seems to answer some basic need: we feel better when our ideas are acknowledged or built on or come to fruition after hard work.

It probably answers the part of Maslow’s hierachy of needs to feel acceptance. Every day, our ideas are rejected or celebrated. We pat ourselves on the back or self flagellate when we know something is standing in the way of what we know we’re capable of. This industry can make you feel like a genius one minute and a complete hack the next. We barely sleep, work on holidays and weekends and vacations. We put in hours that would make Snow White’s dwarves cringe and the majority of us will do it until we retire. As much as we complain about the hours or muse about it on an article like this, we show up day after day and find comfort in each other’s workaholism.

What makes so many of us compromise other aspects of our lives for our careers and live these crazy nomadic stints where the average time spent is 3 years before we itch to find another company, another city? Why do people in our business end up finding a spouse in the industry or have their kids run around the conference room while Dad puts out a little fire on a Saturday?

The unspoken motto in the ad world is to ‘work hard, play harder’. It’s why we all lie to our doctors when they ask us how many drinks we have a week and feel a little pride when we talk about pulling another all-nighter. But how long can we do this for?

Do we need to, as much as we like it, repeat the cycle of binge-work, then binge-drink? Do we need to do everything to the extreme to stay inspired? Can creatives only find stimulation in imperfection?

I don’t want to think so.

I like positive people. I don’t believe that constant bitching and negativity is the only environment for a creative to create. Yes it feels good – very good – and is healthy and cathartic. But I don’t think it’s productive when that negativity doesn’t turn the corner into a solution. It’s an age-old cliché that the brooding creative is the best creative; there are even studies analyzing brain chemistry that point to this. But I don’t want to believe that. It can’t be that the only way to do good work is to tap into some dark part of our psyche, dampened only by brown liquors. I don’t want to be Don Draper.

I very much value my friends who are not in advertising, who think about poodles and pugs when I say ‘Best in Show.’ Don’t get me wrong. Some of my best friends are people I’ve met in the industry. But I didn’t become friends with them because of what they know in advertising but because who they are outside of it makes me a better person. Variety, in people and attitudes, is what makes us good and stay good.

So here’s a mini-two-month-early resolution that maybe you all can help me with: If you ever see me at an industry party or on Twitter, I will talk to you about advertising for T-15 minutes. Then unless we change the subject, I will walk away. We can talk design or geek out about some beautiful video that made your eyeballs happy. We can talk about The Knot Collective. But please… let’s not just talk shop. Because as much as I can blab endlessly about advertising, there are so many other things in life that’s interesting. And I’m sure, like every good creative person with a brain like a sponge, you know a ton about some awesomely random subject that will expose you as a pretty cool, messy, complex person underneath that perfectly designed Ad one. And ironically, not talking about advertising will make us better at it.

Article Info
Posted by: Caprice Yu
Thinking About: Advertising / Creativity / Culture / Random
Location: NY, NY
Twitter: @capricey
  1. Tim Geoghegan

    The advertising business, in all of its variations, has always been a symbiotic relationship. Creative people get what they need and clients get what they need. The variety and challenge is the honey that attracts creative people. The chance to collaborate with the world’s most creative people : directors, animators, photographers, inventors is irresistible. And the business provides the experiential and financial rewards that validate dedicating your life to it.

    But you have to thrive off of what you do. We’ve all met so many of those creative people who find themselves experiencing that ‘Draper Effect.’ Artists, writers and designers…all attracted to the business in a love/hate relationship. They end up feeling like sadomasochistic mice in a skinnerbox, coming back for more, self-destructive perfectionists cursing their pursuit at one moment and passionately defending it the next.

    And we’ve all met those many creative thinkers in the business that could easily be multimillionaires if they quit advertising and focused on one type of business. But that’s not what drives people to create, and it’s something a lot of people can’t understand. The fact is, most of them can’t just focus on one thing. It’s not what drives them.

    Most creative thinkers are attracted by the very nature of our industry: the constant stimulation, the never-ending challenges of different types of the briefs, the chance to dabble in hundreds of different subjects. The interesting thing is, it’s a microcosm of what our whole world is becoming: a pool of constant stimulation from all angles with ample opportunity to interact, collaborate and reach the masses. A creative department that now exists everywhere, that anyone can be part of. So soon, ‘The Don Draper Effect ‘ may not just be a dynamic found in the ad business, but in the rest of society as a whole.

    Scotch anyone?

  2. James Tung

    Let’s talk about ferns.

  3. Jason Gramke

    There’s a great deal of romance laced in martyrdom. Fun game we play. Well played.

  4. Tim Geoghegan

    Lycopodium Huperzia, James? I think I used one in an ad for Miracle Gro once.

  5. Lexie Kier

    Hey! I quoted you over here ( and reflected in longer form, but direct feedback is all here:

    Right off the bat I love that you’re invoking Maslow, because that it’s absolutely spot on. It’s exposing in a way, because for me, that’s the whole purpose of seeing ideas brought to life.

    Re: lifestyle and hours, I think your observations — while correct— invoke certain broken parts of our industry and all industry for that matter that are systemic rather than something voluntary (re: “we chose this”). To me that’s a cop out that’s developed over time to rationalize what’s really unhealthily foist upon us.

    Yes, the “work hard / play harder” is certainly a part of the DNA but it also feels kind of retro to me. It calls to mind an era of 3 martini lunches that I never got to enjoy. I don’t watch Mad Men so I might be missing some of the subtleties here, though. Or maybe being on the digital side I feel the shadow of dot com collapse: a sort of looming presence that underscores that we should be having a blast doing what we do and if we aren’t then something is wrong…

    I also am absolutely fascinated by what you’re saying about the “two types of people” — you’re onto something for sure. I think ‘hiding’ behind work might have the wrong connotation. And I really feel like rather than two types, it’s a yin yang or two sides of the same person. In essence, I both want attention for great work I’ve been a part of creating, but also stand behind work and try not to be that obnoxious person using work as a platform for respect, when instead we should always be pushing for that next great project, not resting on our laurels.

    • Caprice Yu

      Thanks for the comments, everyone.

      Lexi, thank you for your thoughts. Much appreciated. I agree that there is something strange in the way our ‘system’ works, but I think the personalities we find in the industry thrives on it and in turn propel the lifestyle.

      By ‘we choose this’, I noticed that there are people who find the work-life balance, do their work by 6pm and are out the door with their families or hobbies. Then there are those, me among them, who make the choice to do more, deliver more options and are never ‘done’ with a project. Are we martyrs or work harder than anyone else because the job demands it? Not always: those that decide to leave at 6pm make their deadlines and deliver damn good stuff. But the group of us that stay… i get the feeling that we like it and a lot of times, it IS a choice.

      As much as I’d like to think that the idea of ‘work hard. play harder’ is antiquated, I see it every day, every weekend, after every pitch when the only thing the team wants to do after a month long work marathon where no one sleeps for 38+ hour stretches, is to drink themselves into oblivion. Then we shake it off, sleep it off, and start the process all over again.

      The ironic part of all of this is that I love what I do, get a high off of the process of this business and the incredible people I meet. But I also get the feeling that there is this freight-train or cycle that the majority of us don’t get out of until we look around on a yatch in the Cannes Ad Fest with other aging ad folk and think: is this it?

      • ravi motha

        having worked in both the creative industry and outside it, I can safely say this attitude is one that permeates all walks of life. the most pervasive is the talking shop problem. My friends and I solved this by having having a 10 minute moratorium, we can talk tech and shop for 10 minutes at the beginning of a night out, but from then on we are banned from any lengthy discussion.

        “Work hard , play harder” is a expression is supposed to mean that we enjoy our life out of work more. People aren’t playing harder they are just playing with the same people.

        What needs to change is the ethos to work hard, go home.

  6. Carl Panczak

    Since leaving ‘advertising’ and working for a digital agency, I run our Sydney office, I’ve managed to find an excellent work/life balance because it’s part of our company culture. We start at 9am, and leave by 6 or 7pm. We pay staff overtime if they have to work late. Working long hours is more a product of: 1. bad planning 2. because you are understaffed or 3. company culture. It doesn’t have to be that way.

    Of course some companies create an atmosphere of family, which seduces employees into thinking that it’s their social and work life combined. But also because advertising attracts creative, interesting, and young people, who like to spend time with each other, it’s only natural. However I do think that sometimes this becomes toxic, because work IS work, and the people you hang out with there are not necessarily friends, sometimes they’re frenemies.

    (A good way of motivating you to work less is to divide your salary by your actual work hours, then that big salary you’re earning may not seem so big after-all. Time is money.)

  7. AD GUY

    I get in at 10, leave most day by 6, fuck about most of the day, have a laugh, do a bit of work, and forget about advertising on the weekends on holiday and when I get home. I sleep 8 hours a night. I work in the best agency in London and make brilliant work. Stop giving so much of a shit and enjoy life. ITS ONLY ADVERTISING. xxxx

  8. Ciaran McCarthy

    Great post.

    A few years ago I realised I was a workaholic, staying late and working weekends on ads. But, I didn’t attempt to change the fact that I was a workaholic, I knew that wouldn’t change, instead I changed what I was working on. I had a tendency to spend long periods of time on pieces of work that didn’t deserve or require it and no time at all on personal projects outside of advertising. Since I’ve changed the focus of my workaholism I don’t view it as a negative anymore. My ad work has benefited from actively working on side-projects and from being selective in terms of how much energy and time I give each brief.

    • Caprice Yu

      Redirecting our workaholism… that’s a great thought.

      • Ciaran McCarthy

        Caprice, if we redirected our workaholism to ideas that helped the other 90% as you described in your earlier post, maybe we could start using it for good? Is there something in that? A website / company that asks people to donate part of the workaholism to help these people, turning a negative into a positive?

  9. Dan Becker

    Nice thoughts Caprice.

    Maybe design & ad schools should incorporate recess into their curricula?

  10. Caprice Yu

    Ciaran – very cool. It’s interesting that the nature of workaholism suggests that time isn’t finite… we keep going despite of hour or day.

    what you’re suggesting is to allot a finite time to workaholism and turned it into a commodity and resource which can then be applied.

    yes, it’s a mental shift but also one that can be turned into some kind of utility or actionable product. awesome. thanks for turning what may seem like a page of my brain dump into something that could potentially be useful. you’ve got me thinking…

  11. Susan

    I enjoyed your post, Caprice. It a reflects the minds of several millennials I know. We get a taste of what the industry may be like from the hardcore workload at school and the people we work with. I like being kept on my toes. It’s dynamic, challenging and definitely not boring.

    Students, like myself, have this fear of failing. I learned to use that as a motivator and love the quote, “Failure lies not in falling down, but in not getting up.”

    Coincidence that Tim mentioned collaboration. My classmates today were discussing working with people with great energy and focusing on getting work done right the first time. We feed off the creativity of one another, like a game of table tennis.

    What I learned so far about advertising and from people in the industry is the variety of ways of finding inspiration in and outside of advertising. I enjoy hearing various people talk about new/different/random/bizarre topics. I get to learn more about how people communicate. For some reason, though, it always leads me back to advertising.

    Thank you for your post.


    • Caprice Yu

      Susan – I think what the most important thing to keep in mind as you go through school and throughout your career is to have fun, work hard, think hard, and enjoy the people you work with.

      If there’s one thing that you will find consistant in this business is that we cannot do this alone. Whether it is feeding off of each other’s energy or relying on each other’s support, advertising is a team sport. Of course, we all find ourselves needing to sit in a dark cave once in a while to gather and work through our thoughts, but at the end of the day you need each other – so treat each other well!

      You’re right that the workload never stops and I think at the beginning of your career, you will find what feels like the right pace for you. Some people thrive in the freight-train environment but it’s not right for everyone. Keep in mind that there’s nothing wrong with not wanting to put in an 80hr work week but never let your team members down either.

      The people you meet in school are the people you will eventually work with. This is a very tiny industry and the number 1 rule I’ve told my students is ‘don’t be an a-hole’. Your reputation will absolutely proceed you in this business. The relationships you create and the very interesting people you meet and work with will shape the kind of creative you are.

      Good luck with school and enjoy it. Never lose your enthusiasm and energy. Welcome to a very fun industry :)

      Thanks for your comments.

  12. Caprice Yu

    apologies, all, for the emoticon. don’t know where that little sucker came from.

  13. Alvin Lim

    Good read. Gonna share it.

  14. Jeffree Benet

    But its the dumb clients that make it all worth while. I mean, while our colleagues might admire that we took gold at the one show, it’s the “you won’t believe this moron” stories that get us laughing off our bar stools…

    and we’ve all got a toolbox of those stories, don’t we… (nice article by the way).

    Jeffree Benet

  15. Josh

    Did you deliberately spell ‘therapeutic’ incorrectly, as a reference to dropping e? Maybe that’s what keeps us all happy.

    • Caprice Yu

      Ha. Good eye, Josh. No, nothing more than something spellcheck missed, but an interesting reference nonetheless. Thanks for reading.


    Brilliant article!

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