Monthly Archives: November 2010

The Turkey Awards, Inaugural Edition

It’s that time of year again. We commemorate Pilgrims (code word: “Puritans”) who supposedly shared a turkey dinner with Native Americans before they banished them from their land and doomed them to the eternal fate of caricatured logos for sports teams and cigar stores. So in honor of such blatantly celebrated misanthropy, we bring you our first edition of the Turkey Awards — in recognition of all that is lowdown in our industry.

Just so you know, nobody likes a feel-good story more than me. I really did cry when Ol’ Yeller died. I look for good news every day. As they say in Missouri, “Show Me”. I’m all eyes and ears. But I’m not easily fooled by all the wolves in sheep’s clothing who have hopped on the Cause/Environmentalist/Phony Baloney Bandwagon. Maybe I’m naive, but I find it hard to believe that tire and carpet manufacturers, for instance, can make credible sustainability claims. Or that any QSR chain can credibly align themselves with any health initiative, whether it’s breast cancer or whatever. They manufacture death. It’s like the old subliminal messages in beer and cigarette ads — except there is nothing subliminal about them. You’d think some of these charities would tell our robber baron companies to bug off and “we don’t really want your blood money”.

This was the most hostile politically charged election year in history. Why? Well, beyond the actual politics of the candidates — media has enabled any cracker with political ambition and an HD camcorder to become a creative director. So we’ll begin the inaugural edition of the Turkey with the worst of a very bad lot. These are the lowest of the low, the bottom of the barrel, the seeds and stems, the outhouse of our industry. And we proudly bring them to you. Mikey, roll the tape.

Clinging Scoundrel Turkey — Let’s start with the worst commercial of the year, political or otherwise. One that supports violating our constitutional rights — and our true freedoms (all in the name of “freedom”, though). Don’t get me started on the war on terrorism. We lost that one in 32 minutes nine years ago. Anyway, enjoy this spot — it’s what happens when you put patriotism in the wrong hands.

Turkey Farmer — Let’s go right to the most notorious ad of the year. This guy  in Alabama scares me. And he ran for Agricultural Commissioner. The last thing you want to do is piss this guy off — he’s liable to spray Agent Orange on your crops. Go ahead, make my day.

Uncle TurkeyOkay, I’ve got to admit, I laughed at the next spot. The visual is pretty funny, Uncle Sam as a profligate pig. It’s so ironic, it warrants an honorable mention. You are what you eat, and we eat a lot of humble pie.

Turkey Jingles 1 and 2 Let’s exit the political arena with a song, well, actually two songs. Here’s two candidates with their own jingles (can we say they are “jingle-istic” patriots?). How blatantly gratuitous (and therefore condescending) to the youth and minority vote can you get? Take a look at Mike Weinstein, doesn’t he look like a hip dude? Isn’t that tune rockin’? I bet he smoked pot once.

Hold on, I need to jump in the shower, I’ve got all this sleaze all over me — be right back.

Okay, let’s move on to the to the Private Sector. There’s plenty to be ashamed of outside the political arena.

Shoo Turkey, Shoo —  Skechers is a pretty cool shoe brand. Well at least I thought so until I saw this spot. Can somebody say, “disconnect?”. Enjoy this one, it’s awful.

No Flo Zone Turkey — Flo from Progressive Insurance? Come on. Do we really need to dumb down dumb? Isn’t dumb dumb enough? We don’t need to show the link — she’s ubiquitous. You know her and you hate her. How can testing produce this kind of spokesperson?

Souse Grouse If drinking Svedka Vodka makes me act like this, then I will definitely need another drink. Thank you.

Turkey SushiOkay, we know them as a Japanese car company for the consumer who lacks the need to drive a pretentious vehicle. And I know this is a dealer spot and not a brand spot (I admire that there is any concept at all, actually). But forgive me if I don’t recognize the  connection between this “Paparazzi” spot and Honda‘s target.

Singing Turkeys–Time for another song. Although this is not a jingle — it’s an opera. A really bad opera at that. Where’s Pete Townsend when you need him? Try not to spew your stuffing and gravy over this one.

That’s enough Bad TV for one post. Let’s move on to the new frontier, Digital. Everyone talks about Social Media like it’s the salve that heals all marketing wounds. The good news about Digital? It’s viral. The bad new? It’s viral. If you run a bad spot, or a controversial print ad — you can just pull it — you’ll get some bad press, along with the requisite bad karma and in a few weeks — it all goes away. But if you fuck up Social Media, you’ve created a monster that might not ever die — it will take on a life of its own.

Chocolate Turkey Get a load of Nestle’s foray into Facebook, a cautionary tale for the Media Socialists.

Epcot TurkeysJust so you know that the US of A doesn’t corner the market on Social blunders, here are the five worst International Social Media Campaigns.

So, that’s about all I can handle for one post. There’s so many Dishonorable Mentions that we could post from now until New Year’s Eve, but we need to put a governor on this exercise. Have a Happy, y’all.

Friday:  The Sporting Scene continues with its very own Turkey Awards

On Writers, Part II

The Elements of Style

Due to the popularity of the post, “On Writers, Copywriting and How to Build a Portfolio”, I’ve decided to continue on the theme. Of my 38 posts, it’s been the most heavily re-tweeted. So we’ll give our readership more of what it seems to want.

Yes, writers are a peculiar and dwindling lot. Without writers, what would we read? Lately, I’ve taken to buying and reading books on my iPad. I just finished, Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost It To the Revolution. And I’m now beginning the new Mickey Mantle book by Jane Leavy. Neither book is terrifically well-written; nor riveting. The subjects are interesting and occasionally fascinating but the prose itself lacks a certain craft — a style. This reminded me that we are not to confuse topical or entertaining content with good writing.

As Auden said so well, “It is the duty of the writer to make language new” (I know, I beat that line into the ground, but it’s the best one I’ve ever heard about writing). I didn’t understand this at first. Or, I understood it on an academically superficial level. But, when I first read Jay McInerny’s Bright Lights, Big City in the mid-80’s, I finally grasped what Auden meant. It reminded me of Kerouac, in that each page was exciting — not so much for the narrative — but for the language and the style. When a great narrative meets original style, you have a masterpiece, like The Great Gatsby. It doesn’t have to be a novel. It can be an essay (“Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu”) or journalism. Actually, one of the most compelling works I’ve ever read is the Unabomber’s Manifesto. Revolutionaries make great writers — I regularly read Fidel Castro’s weekly column, Reflections.

Strunk & White have taken a lot of hits. Long dismissed by the high-waisted, khaki-wearing academic set as “50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice” — yet, just the title itself, The Elements of Style, strikes a chord in me. It begs the question, “What makes a writer a good writer?” I keep going back to Auden’s quote, but that too lacks instructiveness. Sure, Dylan can write songs, but what makes them good lyrically? What makes Howard Gossage special? What makes an Updike novel an Updike novel? Well, it’s the same thing that made Twiggy a sensation, and Jackie O an institution: STYLE.

How does one define style, then?  That’s a bit like trying to catch lightning in a bottle (eek, what a cliché!). That’s like trying to describe the color red to a blind person (there you go! make language new). Or diagramming a play for Julius Erving. Style repels definition — it relies on grace, color detail and description. These are some of the elements of style — but they are not style itself. Style is distinctively original and inimitable (yet entire industries thrive by mimicking it). You can write like Bob Dylan, but you can never be Bob Dylan.

Narcissistic writers reveal themselves — their verbosity overwhelms the narrative, or the lyric, or the ad. Don’t confuse description with verbosity. Even if you are a walking thesaurus, you are still not a gifted, stylish writer. You just have a good memory. That will get you through college, but it won’t win you the Pulitzer prize — or even a One Show Pencil. Style derives from acumen and attention to detail. It is learned in diners and train stations. It is acquired through experience by reading, listening, observing. Writing style begins with a sensitivity to the human spirit and condition. Writers look at the world differently. They extract meaning from the mundane. They distill amazement from the minutiae. This is why they are often monikered as “eclectic” — as if they don’t fit in to society.

To illustrate the point of verbosity versus description, let’s take a quick look at Bruce Springsteen’s writing. His first three albums are verbose beyond immediate assimilation. Clearly, a young, ambitious (and somewhat narcissistic) writer trying really hard (maybe too hard) to be a poet. I like some of those songs, they’re good. But with his next three albums, he grew as a poet and did what all great writers learn to do: SAY MORE WITH LESS. He became a reductionist. He made language new. Darkness On the Edge of Town, The River, and Nebraska, with their minimalist, austere and stripped-down lyrics are works of a disciplined writer. I’m not knocking the first three records, but it’s instructive to see how the writer evolved from an ebullient romantic to a disciplined realist. In short, writing is not typing. It’s typing and editing and reducing.

What does all this have to do with advertising? I read a lot of “agency positioning” stuff. Everyone seems to have a new tag line for their agency: “Rethink Everything”, “The Factory”, “Brand Storytellers”, “Ideas for the New Whatever”. Yada. My favorite agency tag line is 84 years old, McCann-Erickson’sTruth Well Told”. This captures my point in 3 words more accurately than this entire post (talk about verbosity, Palma!). It’s not the content, or the concept, for that matter, that is king — it’s the WAY agencies tell the story that brings value to brands and clients. Yes, we need a good story, just like Updike needs a good narrative. But, what makes Updike Updike is the way he tells his story. Many a great ad concept died from failure to tell the story compellingly.

I hear so much stuff from or about writers these days — “digital writer”, “heavy broadcast writer”, “conceptual writer”, etc.. How about just being a WRITER? Write something I want to read — something that entertains, or educates, or motivates, or inspires, or gives me goosebumps, or makes me laugh or cry. If you can do that, you are a writer.

5 Factors Pressing the Advertising Industry

THE STATE OF OUR BUSINESS

“What are you seeing out there?”

This is the one question I am asked most often about the creative agency business.

This is what I’m seeing out there — the state of the advertising industry, via my somewhat myopic viewpoint

1. These Are the Good, Old Days — Invariably, the first question (“So, Mike, what are you seeing out there?”) is followed by a second question, “Will we ever get back to the good, old days?” No. I don’t even remember what the good old days were. I think they were a myth, or a mirage. They were never “here” to begin with. For the 21 years I’ve been in this business, our industry has been in constant transformation. The “good old days” of what? When “Integration” was a new horizon? Or Account Planning (then Connection Planning)? Things will never be the same again because they never were the same. Or do you mean the good, old days of when clients valued creative? It was never easy to sell in great work. Why? It was never easy to find it in the first place. This is as good and as old as it’s gonna get — now. Don’t dig in, because that fastball is coming right at your head.

2. Digital: Liar’s Poker for Dummies — Everyone wants what they don’t have. The “traditional” agencies are scrambling to add digital. Why? Because it’s the “new frontier”? Uh uh. Because that’s where clients are focusing their energies and budgets now. If it were the real “new frontier”, why are digital agencies scrambling to add traditional? Digital “is like the Ponderosa on Bonanza, it’s faked”.  I couldn’t resist that line from the movie, Diner. It’s really not faked, but it’s not really the “new frontier” either. It is what it is — another medium, another technology. Yes, embrace it, love it, sleep with it — but don’t marry it. Every award show I’ve judged to date is heavy on traditional and lean on digital. Of course, that will change quickly — but not drastically.

3. Rate of Change — Things are changing exponentially faster than ever. Not advertising things, or media things, or technology things — ALL THINGS. Like global climates, civilization and business are advancing at mercurially unprecedented rates. Today, four of the top ten in-demand jobs did not even exist 5 years ago. The amount of technical information is doubling every two years. More unique general information will be generated this year than in all of history combined. These are some things I’m hearing and reading. Does this scare you? Or inspire you? This is not, in the words of David Lubars, “some futuristic bullshit”, but the new reality. Perhaps the most valuable book for the our industry today is Darwin’s, “Origin of the Species”.

4. New Business is NOT the Answer — Geez, I’ve never seen more emphasis placed on agency business development. The Rainmakers are being named the CEO’s. Just look at what Omnicom’s PHD did last week with their CEO function. Out with a guy who is a true Digital pioneer (that list would be shorter than switch-hitting MVP’s) and in with a … new business guy. And one with a spotty track record at that. Did it ever occur to anyone that it’s easier to keep business than get it? But everyone seems to be so focused on getting new business that they’re losing more existing business than ever.  Business development is crucial, but an over-emphasis upon it is counter-productive and reinforces the perception that we’re content to churn and burn new clients. (That picture to the left is of Vida Blue, the last switch-hitting MVP.)

5. The Myth of Entrepreneurialism — Everyone talks about being an entrepreneur and hiring them — both agency principals looking for employees and clients searching for agencies. Yet, when given the option — clients revert to the same dated multipliers for agency compensation. They talk about agencies sharing their risk, but when the rubber meets the road, there’s very little precedent for incentive-based agency compensation. There are several reasons for this (too difficult to quantify, too many uncontrollable factors and variables, impossible to coordinate with Accounting Department, etc.). But at the end of the day, it just means that entrepreneurialism is more of  a noble concept than a reality. On the employee side, more folks than ever cling to dead-end, boring jobs for fear they will lose their precious 2,000 square feet in the suburbs. A high percentage of the workforce that I interact with says they can’t remember the last time they had fun at their job. When I suggest they quit and try something new, they cower in fear. Ten years ago, creative people trusted their talents and skills and embraced a freelance marketplace. Today, we take them out of their agencies in body bags.