Tag Archives: ad agency

Advertising in the Garden of Good & Evil

How Agencies and Brands Feed Each Frenzy

A curious and somewhat troubling inertia is pressing upon the advertising industry today. It represents a conflict as primary and epic as Milton’s Paradise Lost and Genesis 3. The conflict is, essentially and literally, Good v. Evil. In the beginning, God didn’t really want us to know the difference — He omnisciently wanted to wait on that one for another 4,000 years or so. But, the low-hanging Forbidden Fruit dangled seductively from a particular tree. That sacred, yet grasp-able tree, according to the Bible, was The Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil. Its nectar produced Godliness, Godly knowledge. The knowledge of… good and evil.

We look to our institutions for leadership, to provide valuable knowledge. We award degrees for levels of knowledge — various degrees in various degrees. Institutions: universities, churches, hospitals, banks and the like don’t reflect society. It is their purpose to lead it. They must remain as constant as the northern star. They are our true compass. Institutions tell us things and we believe them, sometimes as gospel. If our governing institutions tell us that Osama bin Laden was assassinated, for example, we believe them. Even if a body or photographic evidence do not exist. We believe them. They lead us and they don’t stoop to our level by providing proof. (As an aside, did you ever notice that assassinate has two asses?)

This is also the way other institutions, like churches, work. They insist that God is a mystery. There’s no physical proof of a god. There doesn’t need to be. Oh, I know there were a bunch of miracles in Italy — and a shroud exists. But, religious institutions demand that we maintain this sort of blind faith. Medical institutions claim there is no known cure for cancer. We believe them. Academic institutions deem what is and isn’t valid and useful knowledge by their curricula — nobody questions that. It’s mono-cultural and flat — this is this and it is what it is: your education. Now go out into the world and make something of yourself. You are cast east of Eden.

Advertising agency people don’t consider their industry institutional. They’re too maverick, too iconoclastic. Conversely, people outside of our industry view us as if we ARE an institution. They talk about us as if we’re really important — like we actually do have an institutional effect on society. Or at least they blame us when we are negligent in our messaging. Our clients get class-action lawsuits when the beef we advertise as real beef is just 38%, uh, beef. Some women blame anorexia on advertising. Yes, we have that kind of institutional control over society. This is how we deal with it: we reflect society instead of leading it. We insist on proof.  We claim knowledge — intimate and insightful knowledge. We reflect society — we take it and give it right back.

Except this is how it all really works in advertising: some brilliant creative mind sifts through all the crap from research and focus groups (anything can be proven with statistics and then immediately disproved, as well) and creates something somewhat magical — an idea. Then everyone goes back and rewrites revisionist history — building a bullet-proof case for that idea that even Columbo couldn’t crack.

How else could today’s advertising be so violent? I got whiplash watching the Super Bowl spots this year. Has advertising ever been so gruesome? How about the new Alec Baldwin ads for New Era caps? That’s supposed to be funny? A Red Sox fan getting punched in the face by a Yankee fan is funny? We are reflecting society — not leading it. Agencies would like us to believe that they tested a modern 3 Stooges routine with the target dummies in focus groups and they came out with the insightful knowledge that Betty White and Abe Vigoda getting smacked down into the mud is funny. Our knowledge told us that violence is funny. Unexpected violence is REALLY funny. Shame on us for reflecting society in such a self-serving and evil way. No wonder some women blame us for anorexia. How do brands allow it? I liked us better when we airbrushed naked women on the ice cubes in liquor ads. When sex and violence was subliminal, it was cool. It’s just way too obvious today.

On the other side of the fulcrum of this inertia is the trendy way brands and agencies are hopping on the “cause” and “purpose” bandwagon. I mean, even Gucci is into cause marketing. Give me a break. How many alligators do they kill per year? I suppose their customers want to feel good about themselves despite their conspicuously narcissistic species-endangering consumption. And I suppose brands also realize how disingenuous and mindless their advertising appears so they may be trying to overcompensate with cause initiatives. But even those initiatives reflect society rather than lead it. Agencies always brag that they can change or motivate certain behaviors. What if they actually did this for good instead of evil?

Let’s look at the Volkswagen brand as an example:

A few years ago, VW hired Crispin and unleashed a new mascot upon the great autobahn of life. He was named, “FAST”. I can only imagine how this happened — Crispin told VW that they understood how to connect with young people (the Truth campaign) and they understood how to sell them cars (Mini). They probably told them there was a huge, untapped youth market for VW and they knew just how to suck them in. Young people want to go FAST. Hence, this creepy mascot named FAST was born. They probably went into focus groups and came out with the precious insight that young people like to drive fast. This is neither responsible or institutional. It reflects what’s bad in society instead of leading it. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t imagine a greater disconnect than that of the Volkswagen brand and the concept of FAST.

Fast forward to this year’s Super Bowl. A wonderful and humane Volkswagen commercial produced by Deutsch entitled “Darth Vader” (who ironically looks strikingly similar to the FAST mascot). It made VW owners and prospective owners feel good about their car and themselves. So how does that lead society? Just the other day I was driving on a crowded midtown street. Suddenly, my lane was blocked by a DPW truck filling a pothole. I had 20 yards to stop or change lanes. In my rear view mirror I saw the driver of the car in the left lane motioning me to cut in front of him. He slowed down and allowed me to change lanes without incident. It was a Volkswagen. He didn’t care about FAST. He just wanted to do good. Do you think it’s possible that VW’s advertising might have influenced that random act of good? I wonder.

The Sporting Scene: NCAA Tourney Notes

It Takes a Thief…

They call it March Madness. To most of the players, it’s March sadness. And for the coaches, it’s March badness. The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament — an $11 billion showcase (that’s right, $11 billion) of athleticism, teamwork and chicanery of the highest order. That the tournament was ultimately won by a coach who, three weeks prior to the tournament, was cited by the NCAA for specific recruiting violations and “failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance” sends an ironic message to its membership and the general public whose interest fuels the whole shebang. The message is: if you break the rules well enough, you can succeed and be a champion. I mean, it also played out this way for the NCAA and the BCS. Auburn cheats. Cam Newton’s Dad takes the money. They win the championship. This is more than a trend, this is the new reality of college athletics.

I love the way the NCAA talks tough about enforcing its amateurism by denying the players dollar one  (while they steal their names, images and likenesses for lavish profit) and yet barely slaps the hands of defiant renegade coaches. If the NCAA really wanted to send a message to Jim Calhoun and the University of Connecticut, it would have suspended him immediately for the Big East Tournament, and then from the NCAA Tournament. Then the nation would have seen George Blaney again leading the Huskies as interim coach. Rogue coaches would have received a shivering jolt. It would have been a deterrent. Instead, Calhoun was suspended “next year”  for three games in the frozen meaninglessness of January (what if the 68-year-old decides to retire now?).  And coaches everywhere are giggling. It’s one thing that Jim Calhoun is the highest paid state employee in Connecticut (that includes ALL state employees). It’s another to reward cheating instead of penalizing it.

The UConn v. Kentucky Regional Final was especially disgusting as it pitted a mouse (John Calipari) against a rat (The Uncompliant One).  Headline should have been: “Mouse Studies to Become Rat”.  It reminded me of the scene in The Sting when Doyle Lonnegan got out-cheated in the poker game by Henry Gondorff, “What was I gonna do, call him out for cheating better than me?”

I know everyone got all weepy eyed over “Cinderellas” Butler and VCU. The truth is, with most of the best college-aged players already in the NBA thanks to the unconstitutional “one and done” rule, there are no more Cinderellas. Everyone is fairly mediocre (or redundant). So there is hardly any difference between, say a 3 seed and a 14 seed. Heck, VCU nearly DIDN’T get invited to the tournament by the RPI monkeys. Cornell started the “trend” last year, and VCU carried the torch in 2011. There are no big upsets anymore, just mild ones. VCU didn’t just eek their way past four national powerhouses — they blew them out. Those weren’t upsets. Basically, all teams are created equal.

How about the level of play? I’m not sure I even recognize this sport they now refer to as basketball. How bad is it when a team inbounding the ball under its own basket has to throw it all the way across the half court line to get it in? I never saw that until recently. Is this some kind of joke? They can’t inbound the ball into their own frontcourt? How about the free throw shooting? Even white boy teams like Butler & BYU clang boinkas endlessly. Who needs the pep band? There’s more noise from missed shots than the band. I’ve read a lot of stats on the Final game, but the fact that blows my mind is that BOTH teams managed to score 19 points in an entire half of basketball. Too bad both teams couldn’t lose — they deserved it. This year, I must say, the NCAA Women’s Tournament features a better brand of basketball. Better shooters. Better passers. Better ballhandlers. Better players.

I played in three NCAA Tournaments (3-3 overall) — got to the Elite 8 in 1977 and lost to Al McGuire’s Seashells & Balloons Marquette team  — we were up 5 at the half. It was different then. I actually played in the first tournament that climaxed with “One Shining Moment” (we thought it was the dumbest song we ever heard). There were no TV timeouts. No 3-point line. There were 32 teams in my first tournament, then 48 in my last two, It was not an $11 billion spectacle. I believe that had a lot to do with the no TV timeouts. It was basketball. I’m not sure what it was that I watched these past three weeks.

False Prophets Convention

Multi-Conferencing in Austin

Within the span of one mercurial week — a week that included earthquakes, tsunamis, financial market extremes, stateside tornadoes (and that’s just one guy, Charlie Sheen) — Austin, Texas hosted two of the most anticipated industry conferences of the year: the 4A’s Management Conference and South By Southwest. Last week, more false prophets descended upon the Land of the Longhorn than can be found in the entire Koran. Good thing they have all those bars downtown.

The big spin coming out of the 4A’s event (dubbed “Transformation 2011”) is the advertising industry is “coming back”. The New York Times headline chronicling the event heralded “Marketers Celebrate Glimmers of Recovery”. We are an industry known for celebrating glimmers. The statistics supporting said glimmers include increased budgets for the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards and at P&G and Kraft. Pardon my lack of participation in the celebration. This news could not be less relevant to the majority of 4A’s member agencies.

The American Association of Advertising Agencies consists of hundreds of small and mid-sized regional agencies. Its existence and survival relies upon a constituency of maverick, entrepreneurial local companies that we used to call ad agencies. Most of these firms will never get near Cincinnati (P&G) or Chicago (Kraft) no less produce a Super Bowl or Oscars spot. Like our society, the rich may get richer — those global, multi-national agencies fortunate enough to be on P&G’s roster — but the little guy will have to wait for the rest of the economy to recover. You’ll get nothing yet, and you’ll like it.

Conference attendees were assured that “what doesn’t kill us will make us stronger”. It figures that when all else fails, we resort to Nietszche, Existentialism and ultimately, Nihilism. I remember hearing this backwards battle cry when I worked at BBDO (often collaborating with 4A’s CEO Nancy Hill, not-so-ironically). But, I never understood it. It was our way of reconciling a lost new business pitch. I always thought that what makes us stronger is what makes us stronger; silly me. Neither Coca-Cola nor orange juice kills us. I’m betting only one actually makes us stronger. Don’t get me wrong, I like Nancy Hill a lot — once placed her with TBWA back in the day. If anyone can breathe some life into the 4A’s, it’s probably her.

When I first read the NY Times article on the conference, I was with a CEO at his agency which he founded in 1987 (with roots in the 50’s). They were 4A’s members for 20+ years and they recently withdrew their membership. Why? There was no tangible benefit to the agency. Once a database and research center , the 4A’s intelligence offerings drag behind newer, less-expensive alternatives. They encourage agencies to adopt newer technologies, yet embrace few themselves. Other than access to some proprietary research readily available or created elsewhere, why would a 20-person shop join the 4A’s — to be discovered by Procter & Gamble?

I always get a kick out of the perfunctory lip-service acknowledging the dearth of original budding talent in the industry. This year, the 3 Blowhards: Sorrell, Wren and Roth held a panel discussion on the ghastly vacuous black hole of talent coming up through industry ranks. In 2008, I sent a series of essays to the 4a’s to be considered as a “Best Practices” offering on Recruiting, Nurturing and Retaining agency talent. They were rejected on contact. And maybe they should have been because they were overly optimistic. The introduction to those essays is here: https://mikepalma.wordpress.com/2010/04/01/the-agency-recruiting-primer-for-2010-beyond/

Aside from having to suffer through cliche-ridden pep talks laced with aging and deceptive buzzwords such as “nimble” (glaciers move faster than WPP, IPG and Omnicom), “robust” (mid-sized agencies are down 30% pretty much across the board) and “agnostic” (code word: “inexpensive”) — member attendees got to throw back some Shiners and be posers at the conference and blues bars on 6th Street.

Speaking of 6th Street, one day after the agency honcho (brand-new-purchase-at-Allens) cowboy bootheels went a’wanderin’ out of town; and the next, a mass infestation of music industry hangers and hangers-on converges upon Austin like locusts. Sheesh. How much false optimism can one city deliver? It is somewhat fitting that two industries in the toilet would descend upon a cow town for salvation. When was the last time somebody white made any money in the music industry? That’s a tribute to true entrepreneurialism, not a racially biased observation.

Once upon a time, when rock and roll was actually relevant, South By Southwest was a place where young recording artists could get a record deal. It teemed with A&R types that could “discover” exciting new songwriters and swing a label deal and a publishing contract. The internet changed all that. iTunes changed all that. Technology changed all that. Ironically, the technology types have swooped in to “save” the very carcasses they created. Sadly, SXSW (what would it be without a tweetable acronym?) is now a technology marketing event. There are more marketing leeches in town than artists; and rock and roll remains an endangered genre. More hash tags came out of Austin last week than out of Haight-Asbury in the ’60’s. Problem is, like most of technology communications, there ain’t much money in it. At least for white folks.

As an aside, I recently heard a Chuck Berry interview from the early 60’s on WMLB AM. He was railing on Brian Wilson for blatantly lifting “Sweet Little Sixteen” and turning it into a “surfing soundtrack” for White America (note for note, “Surfin’ USA”). He eventually won his lawsuit. It’s poetic justice to see that kind of creative liberty come full circle, with the Brothas lifting riffs from Whiteys like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Aerosmith to mash-up rap hits. They make money. Why doesn’t anyone at SXSW?

The Anatomy of a New Campaign

What’s the Beef?

Beef seems a rather newsworthy topic these days. First, the 38% Taco Bell scandal (frankly, I’m surprised there is that much real beef in their taco meat). Just when we thought it was safe to swim in the erstwhile Mad Cow waters, and our national taco stand belies public trust with beef that is nearly two-thirds not. The resulting vitriol from special interest groups and the public grew to incendiary proportions. You would think they were guilty of bio-terrorism or something. I fail to see the logic in any legal complaint grounded on the claim that QSR chains disingenuously sell nutrition or food value. No, duh. We don’t need Morgan Spurlock or even Owen Marshall to know that. Imagine a class-action suit founded on the fulcrum of fast food total disclosure? Count me out and save the stamp for the time-sensitive proxy vote mass mailer.

On the heels of this national QSR beef debacle, America’s Last Roast Beef Stand, Arby’s, has rolled out a new advertising campaign to breathe life into their anachronistic brand. I have always loved Arby’s — the Jamocha Shakes, the Beef n’ Cheddar, the Horsey Sauce. Ever since Roy Rogers disappeared, Arby’s has been the last dinosaur standing in the roast beef subcategory of QSR. And for an unashamed beefy guy like me, that fostered an enduring courtship that has become a rare and reliable relationship. Extra rare.

So Arby’s recent business struggles hit particularly close to home. For awhile it seemed as if the brand was on the brink of extinction. They disappeared from the QSR conversation, with the possible exception of old-school carnivores like myself. Faced with the looming anxiety of roastbeefophobia, I began tracking the brand, its value proposition and its equities and tried to figure out if America really wanted a (kinda) roast beef sandwich out of a window.

Certainly, the brand faced more than enough external obstacles. For one, Subway changed the SANDWICH conversation with the $5 foot long (Arby’s average ticket is 30% higher for half the sandwich). For another, Chick-Fil-A delivered on a perceptibly healthier and tastier product. But, more than anything, the new economy forever cemented dollar menus and value meals as staples in the QSR world. Arby’s, had none and couldn’t get out of their own way to boot. They lost their way, rolling out something called a roastburger (it was NOT actually burger, but… you guessed it, it was a roast beef sandwich). Talk about confusing your customers and torpedoing your point of differentiation.

Enter a hotshot new CMO with high-profile creative campaigns in his portfolio and a commitment to rebuilding the brand. How do you make a high-waisted khaki clothed, bad wristwatched, short-sleeved-dress-shirt-wearing square like Arby’s seem cool? Or relevant? Or, how about if we just start at tolerable? You do what Burger King did when it was in the scrap heap of QSR also-rans: you hire a hot creative ad agency to speak to your core in a cool way. Arby’s is a bit of a cult, a 3,600 unit cult, but cultish among QSR’s nonetheless. You grow your cult by speaking to your core and inviting others to listen in.

Enter BBDO NY, the agency renown for big-budget, celebrity spokesperson TV commercials. When Arby’s hired them in December, I couldn’t wait to see what they were cooking up — maybe Charlie Sheen? Someone topical and unapologetic — “I’m rarely hungry, but when I am, I go to Arby’s because it’s better for you than drugs”. That would have been pretty cool. Or maybe even Clint Eastwood selling his line and doing a $10 million spot “Go ahead, make my day. I’ll take an Angus Wrap Combo.” Why not? Chrysler spent $11 million for a Super Bowl spot 15 months after a federal bailout and sold Eminem back to us as nationalism. I mean if you’re not going for the big TV spokesperson thing, why hire BBDO? Not to do guerilla or live billboards, I hope.

Ironically, it was Crispin Porter + Bogusky that resorted to spokespeople for Burger King (quirky types like Darius Rucker, Erik Estrada and Tony Stewart). But, they featured them in cool, non-linear ways. Shockingly, BBDO and Arby’s didn’t. The new campaign broke last week. And I’m not quite sure what to make of it. It’s so un-BBDO and un-Arby’s that I’m actually stunned beyond immediate comment. I feel a bit like the audience at “Springtime for Hitler”, the play-within-the-play of the Broadway revival hit, “The Producers”. At first, my jaw dropped — not just as an ad guy, but as a member of the Arby’s cult. I felt a bit like they were “insulting my Fuhrer” (another “Producers” reference). And then, I laughed. And then laughed louder, and harder; so by the end of the first :60, I had laughed so hard, I was nearly crying. And I’m not sure if I laughed at the spot, or the irony.

Truth be told, Arby’s is the genuinely quirky  brand compared to Burger King. And what BBDO has given us is a quirky “vehicle”: a Conan-esque Everyman character leading Fast Foodies through hybrid “We are the World”-meets-“Glee” verses with Mitch Miller bouncing ball lyrics super-imposed on the bottom of our screen. The new tag line,”Good Mood Food” is supposed to remind us that we are better off when we eat at Arby’s. It’s a choice that we should feel good about. At least better than the way we feel after eating a re-heated frozen puck that somewhat resembles a burger; or that meat they pull off the waxed paper at Subway; or the chicken they fry in pickle brine at Chick-Fil-A. And without question, certainly better than a visit to Taco Bell.

I’m still somewhat stunned by it all. So, for once, I don’t have an opinion. Not yet, at least. I invite you to influence it (role reversal is sexy). This is the first ever Palma Poll. The new Arby’s campaign from BBDO. Yay or nay? Comments welcome.

Super Bowl Thoughts

The Brutal Truth About Brutal Youth

So, everyone has become a critic of Super Bowl advertising. Give someone a WordPress account and cast them into the blogosphere with some loudmouth soup and Voila! Anyone can be Bob Garfield. I was scathingly critical of the critics on Monday — funny how so few folks that actually produced a Super Bowl spot will write or talk about it. Guys like Joe Pytka and Ted Sann, who practically pioneered the sub-genre. And it is with a rare dose of humility that I offer up my opinions, but there’s a first for everything.

My Super Bowl essay begins with a vengeance — er, I mean violence. First, the violence of the sport itself — the phenomenon of football. Never has the game been more popular or violent. I cannot help but think that there is a correlation. Whether we live vicariously through each helmet hit or if it is just another form of rubbernecking — there’s no denying the inextricable link between heads bashing and our fascination with American football. It’s like Rock ’em, Sock ’em Robots, but live.

There’s an urban myth going around that there are inordinately higher incidences of domestic violence on Super Sunday. This is a pure canard concocted by a self-promoting feminist. In fact, the myth diminishes awareness of and trivializes the true and very real social problem of domestic abuse. There is not a shred of evidence that supports this myth, in fact, statistics show that there are less than the usual incidences of domestic violence on this day. Many wives are attending parties with their husbands, not at home waiting to get beat up by their loutish lushes that missed winning the office pool by one box. Please don’t feed this frenzy. Okay, that’s my anti-Public Service announcement.

Violence permeates a lot of the Super Bowl advertising. True, most spots are old vaudeville slapstick gags: Betty White getting thrown into the mud (welcome to the Mud Bowl, Rosie);  people getting hit, punched, whacked, knocked over the head, the Doritos guy whose face is flattened. And women, children and even dogs are not spared some violently funny fate. If we don’t get enough violence in the game, then we can always watch the commercials. And to think, the FCC once had a problem with The Three Stooges.

I stopped following football when the Jets traded Joe Namath to the Rams. He was my first and only football idol. I liked Fred Biletnikoff, but the greatest football player of all time never played in a Super Bowl, Jim Brown, who was charged with criminal domestic abuse on several occasions (only to have the charges dropped time and again).

Now to the spots — these are just Palma opinions:

MVP — VW. I hate to be such a Crispin-file, but the Darth Vader spot was the best performer. It wasn’t like it was a mind-blowing BIG IDEA. It was just a cute, old-fashioned spot — a lot like the VW brand itself. Remember when most commercials made you smile like this?

The Palma — My personal favorite? Two-way tie between:

  • Chevy Volt — You may not have known about the Volt. It’s perhaps the greatest engineering achievement in the history of Detroit. Yes, a bunch of Midwestern guys named Bob and John (ex-Purdue guys, I’m sure) with bad haircuts and cheap wristwatches out-engineered Dolph from Germany, Sven from The Netherlands, Bruno from Italy and Toshi from Japan. Since I don’t understand the technical specs, you check it out. It’s not a “luxury” car but it’s $41,000 (does that include interest on the bailout?). Anyway, I liked the spot enough to check out the car. It wasn’t anything new, actually another old-fashioned formulaic technique (“great moments in the history of…”), but the story was well-told — something we expect from Goodby.
  • Cars. com — This brand gets the respect of a used-car salesman; but, in the past two years they have created a couple of really good spots for the Super Bowl. More of the same “the history of…” formula, but again, it’s in the details and the storytelling. Keep it up Cars.com, you are funny.

H.G. Wells Award — Kia— Did you see that? WTF? I was checking the artichoke dip for acid. I don’t like science fiction, but most people do. This spot froze the room that I was in (or maybe someone just left the door open).

The Pytka — Coke & Pepsi. Funny how these two brands once looked so different on TV and now they pretty much look the same. Soon they will taste the same.

The W (or The National Embarrassment) — Chrysler. Detroit. Don’t insult me. Detroit is prettier than I think? No, it isn’t. It’s actually worse. Who cares anyway? “From the hottest fires come the strongest steel” — talk about a self-important, untrue redundancy. Eminem? Yes, a Detroit native. Another guy whose cred relies on violence — in the lyrics and the persona. Local boy makes bad, I guess. The nerve of Big Auto to spend $11 million on a commercial 15 months after the government bailouts and then sell it back to us as Nationalism. Make a friggin’ car I want to buy. What are we, stupid or something? Or, is it just me? If so, you’re with stupid right now — proceed at your own risk.

No Daddy — Nobody gets panned more than GoDaddy for their Super Bowl spots. Nope. But about 5 years ago, they were the only brand willing to take on the Janet Jackson debacle and satirize it. While everyone else was kowtowing to the network and the NFL, they were spoofing the inequities of the spectacle itself (the final spot was PULLED OFF THE AIR IN MID-GAME! Which received more publicity than all the other spots combined). So all you critics of this brand can kiss daddy’s you-know-what.

Elia Kazan Award — Stella Artois. Boy, did this spot get panned. I loved it. This is a connoisseur’s brand and they created a connoisseur’s spot. Adrien Brody turned in the best singing performance by an Academy Award-winning actor since Kevin Spacey in “Beyond the Sea”. I’m guessing it was a spot that resonated with Stella drinkers and polarized Budweiser drinkers. Good. That’s the intention.

Vanishing Point — Where was FedEx? A casualty of the economy, I presume.

Everything Else — It’s only a commercial.

That’s about all I can take. I don’t even like football. I’m a pacifist who never produced a spot in his life, so what do I know?

Pitchers and catchers report in 4 days.

10 Tips to Improve Mental Toughness

Getting Your Head In The Right Place

So you work in a creative industry. You are neither a warrior nor an athlete. Yet, your ability to survive and advance often hinges on adaptation and perseverance. They require guts/moxie/vigor/fortitude/mettle/spunk/grit/pluck/hardihood/backbone and several other descriptive synonyms of  “mental toughness”.

Woody Allen said “90% of success is just showing up”.  If that’s true, the other 10% hinges on mental toughness. Anyone can be mentally tough. Certain challenges require extreme mental toughness, while others simply require that we stay out of our own way and perform. Let’s confront the former: the tough challenge, the big pitch, the presentation where the account is on the line; or away from business, in a competitive golf or tennis match.

These tips apply, use them at your own risk:

1. Stay In the Present — You’re only as good as your last win and you’re only as bad as your last loss. But what does NOW require? The future is a seductive temptress, but it distorts the task at hand. Now and what you are doing now supersedes all.

2. Trust Your Talent — It’s all you really have. It transcends your relationships, money, power, and tactics. You can only control one thing: your mind. If you don’t believe in your talent, your skill, your ability to do something when it counts — then you should do something else.

3. Don’t Beat Yourself Up — This tip is related to #1 but extends the thought. Learn to let things go (bad things especially). It’s not life and death. It’s not cancer survival. It’s advertising, tennis, golf, or whatever. Small failures should embolden you and make you more determined.

4. Maintain Unwavering Faith — Borrowing from “Good to Great” — reject cynicism.  Think good thoughts. Visualize success in the moment. Accept the bad breaks, there are more bad breaks than good breaks — they don’t “even out.” You cannot fail if you do your best.

5. Love the Process — Be ritualistic. Have a routine. Stick to it. Stop worrying about results. Love the process. Love to compete. Creativity is rumored to be the opposite of routine — it’s a bad rumor. Accept victory and defeat with equal dignity.

6. Be Yourself — To be yourself, you have to know yourself. Get to know yourself better. The best way to do this is to put yourself in unfamiliar situations. Don’t accept in victory what you would not accept in defeat. If you’re going down, go down as the person/player you are. Don’t try to be someone else — or what others want us to be.

7. Overcome Fear of Failure — Yes, fear is the mortal enemy of creativity (thanks Alex). It’s actually the mortal enemy of everything. Most psychiatric disorders and dilemmas are grounded in FEAR. There are literally hundreds of phobias — they all begin with “fear of…”. So how does one overcome fear?  Let go of all the stuff you can’t control (your opponents, public opinion, your relationships).  Stop trying to control EVERYTHING ELSE and start controlling the one thing that you can control: YOUR MIND!

8. Practice “Up” — Whenever possible, upgrade your competition in practice. This will elevate your level of play when it really counts. Hold your work up to higher standards. Get better every day. False confidence is nearly as dangerous as fear of failure.

9. Be Patient — Sometimes it’s best not to force the action, let the challenge come to you. Never panic. Wait for your opponent to panic, then pounce.

10. Find Someone That Believes In You — We all need a coach, a mentor, a partner in whom we trust with our goals and fears, a confessor, a counselor. Someone who can challenge us to be our best, or pick us up when we are down, or remind us not to sulk or whine, or just say nothing and support us with quiet confidence. Find them, they will help make you mentally tougher.

It’s Not Brain Surgery

One Big Tip to Operate Leaner & Meaner in 2011

I apologize to my readership for the lack of blog posts thus far in the new year. Sadly, I have been absent on medical leave. Thank you, to my close friends for your support through my convalescence (you know who you are). I am pleased to report that the recuperation is 80% complete and I have been cleared by my doctor to return to work. Fortuitously, the surgery was declared a success, and the removal was diagnosed as benign.

Male Genital Reduction Surgery is a somewhat inexact science and it’s no laughing matter. The sample size is small. It is most common in Africa, where medical procedures can range from rudimentary to downright Aboriginal. Therefore, the research is rather premature and the hypotheses inconclusive. So, it was a bit like diving into uncharted waters when I checked into Crawford Long Hospital on New Year’s Day, 1/1/11. But, I was committed to a fresh start to the year and the Decade of the Ones.

The surgery was scheduled for January 3rd and 4th. But, due to unforeseen complications, it extended to the 5th. You can view the operation video on YouTube, minus the conclusion. They ran out of HD videotape. I don’t remember much,  just that I wanted it to end. It was hard.

Long Hospital immediately shipped the excess specimen via helicopter to MIT, where an endowment was established in my name. I am now their most prominent male donor. This weekend, the Chancellor informed me that there are new plans to add a cantilevered hanging balcony extension to the Stata Center in honor of the donation.

I did write some morphine-induced posts in the hospital on my iPad : Film Noir in Retail Advertising, BBDO & The Culture of Pink, and, for my Japanese readers, Self-Detachment: A Leadership Style (yes, this blog has been translated into Japanese). But, I thought better of posting them here. I will save them for the book.

The surgery has had an immediate impact on my putting. I went out to the practice green yesterday and felt taller over the ball, more centered, better-balanced, lighter. I was finally able to feel the weight of my putterhead.

So, I’m back — like Jack Nicholson in Carnal Knowledge, er, I mean, The Shining. It’s good to be back in the saddle.