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The “Surreality” of Advertising

December 22,2016

At the close of each year, Merriam-Webster selects a Word of the Year based on lookup frequency and trends on its website. For 2016, the dictionary publishers chose the word surreal, the definition of which reads “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream: outlandishly or disconcertingly strange or fantastic in a way that seems unreal or dreamlike.”

It’s not difficult to see why surreal won out this year. The word’s use in news coverage of everything from the Chicago Cubs’ World Series victory to the tense US presidential election likely inspired viewers to search for the definition—or surreal just occurred naturally to those trying to process these events.

This got me thinking about the surreal qualities of working at an ad agency.

At Fingerpaint, we’re immersed in our day-to-day tasks, crafting campaigns and tactics for clients while upholding the company core values to our customers and to each other. We’re also chasing the next big win: We work the extra hours and push ourselves to grow the agency without losing sight of the work-life balance that is a central pillar of our value system. It’s an intense and satisfying mini-world we live inside, one that—when there’s a pause for some reflection (or a coffee run)—can seem quite surreal.

As a medical editor, I’m often plugged into my own surreal mini-world, head-down throughout the day, reviewing copy and layouts for our pharmaceutical clients. Grammar, usage, and style are governed by particular rules in our space, in accordance with American Medical Association guidelines, US Food and Drug Administration regulations, and clients’ in-house preferences. Apply all of these elements, and the English language starts to look quite different from what we all learned in English 101. Pharma English 101 isn’t less correct, but it’s a sometimes-surreal version of what’s comfortable and familiar. For me, it’s a challenge that keeps me on my game and engaged in the work.

This surreal feeling will likely continue into 2017, inside and outside of advertising. I’m looking forward to the challenges and rewards that are sure to come with it.


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Dan Broslovsky thinks sleep is overrated. He heads up the editorial team at Fingerpaint’s headquarters in Saratoga Springs. 

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