July 31, 2014
Great tune. Too bad I wasn’t there. Or am I?
I’m reading Bill Flannigan’s book, U2: At the End of the World, about the band’s epic Zoo TV tour in the early nineties. The book is equal parts fascinating and cloying (like the band!) but one thing is certain the dude was there for all of it: back stage, in the vans, on the plane, in the pubs, at the hotels and, most importantly at the concerts.
And now because of the miracle of Internet, so am I. I can find high quality footage for any number of these amazing U2 shows online. I know we take it for granted that anything and everything is now available to us if we have a computer; hell, even a phone.
But back when Flannigan wrote this book, and U2 did those concerts, none of that was true. One could only imagine how cool the stage was and how bombastic the band. Flannigan’s words could only do so much. In the end, we are left with that great old saying: You had to be there.
Not anymore. Not now. Now I can literally find the very concerts he was writing about, and watch them. In Sydney. In Dublin. In my hometown of Chicago. All those big, fantastic shows I/we could only read about are right here right now.
I am able to do the same thing for Guns and Roses, upon reading Slash’s recent memoir. Or Keith Richard’s. The idea of being able to read about a specific event and then find that event online and watch it is, to me, one of the coolest things about the Internet.
I was so captivated by this notion, I took my entire third novel, Sweet by Design and committed it to a blog and gave virtually every reference in it a link to some relevant piece of content. A character goes to Water Tower Place to get a blow job (read the book) I provided a link to Water Tower Place. Every restaurant, town, street or landmark I gave a link. The reader could click on the word and see for himself what the character was seeing. (It takes me a couple hours or more to produce a single blog post. You do the math on a novel.) I even crowd sourced the cover, should it ever get published in -egads- paper. Check out the winner. It’s a pretty sweet design.
Did I expect people to actually check the links? Maybe a little, here and there. Honestly, I didn’t expect very many people would even read the damn book! But I did it anyway. It took hours every night and many months. I didn’t care. That’s how much I loved the idea.
I still love the idea. It still blows me away. A kid reads about the JFK assassination and she can watch the Zapruder film. And countless other related pieces. That’s amazing kids.
Brutal… but available.
Many of you can’t relate, I know. But I’m old enough to remember when none of this was possible. To support a lecture, professors told students to read this book or rent that movie. And a lot of times there was no supporting content, or if it did exist you had no way of accessing it. It wasn’t free. It wasn’t for you. Try and imagine that. Can you even? Oh well, I guess you had to be there.
And in a strangely related way, this bit of nonsense…
Oddly, there is nowhere in Hawaii to smoke my cigar. The hotel I am staying in –the lovely Surf Rider in Waikiki- has positively no smoking anywhere on the premises, which is why I’m huddled beneath a canopy in one of the stately courtyards currently not being used, which is surprising, given it is Saturday night and I counted four different brides shuffling nervously from powder room to salon. Interesting, each of these lovely ladies is Japanese.
For those unawares, myself included, the Japanese absolutely adore Honolulu, ironic I should think given Pearl Harbor. A local told me they started coming in droves when the Yen got strong, during the 1980’s, and have not stopped. I’m not exaggerating when I say there are more Japanese tourists here than Americans, followed a distant third, by Australians. It’s a nice place; I don’t blame them!
If the global economy is still troubled one cannot tell it here. Honolulu is packed with tourists. I cannot recall being at a place with so many people not from that place. Consumers abound!
Honolulu is expensive, even by San Francisco standards. I’m guessing, however, that prices are even higher in Tokyo. How else does one explain all the glitzy retailers like Gucci and Prada positively killing it? $30 dollar and up entrees are commonplace at most restaurants. Alas, the fare is mediocre. Even high-end establishments serve food no better than business class on a plane. That said, I’m certain the casual dining is superb and much cheaper. But my wife values ambiance. As good as it looked to me, we were not getting plates of spicy chicken from a strip mall or bags of fried shrimp from the ubiquitous “shrimp trucks” lining the public beaches. Our loss.
What little advertising I’ve seen on the television in my room is comprised mostly with candidates running for local and state elections. These electoral ads are as crappy as anywhere else, with each candidate hitting on family values and a history of caring for people and the Hawaiian way of life. One spot was about how poor the candidate’s parents were: they didn’t even have hot water! I guess cold showers help in making good decisions. I will give the local populace points for zeal. There are placards everywhere.
In non-advertising news, we swam with dolphins just off the western shore. There was no shortage of these ”spinners” either. In the water five minutes and they were all around us: delightful creatures, social and chattering, blissfully unafraid of our presence in their aquamarine playground. We also visited Turtle Bay on the North Shore. And sure enough…
Another awesome sight are the massive, sprawling Banyan trees one encounters on the island. Mature branches sprout hanging tendrils that eventually become massive trunks of the same tree, perpetuating its canopy. The one at our hotel is perhaps the island’s most famous, planted over 100 years ago; it now spans the entire courtyard of the hotel, covering a bar and café in its shady canopy.
On our last night my wife is taking the girls to a Luau, their first. Mercifully, I do not have to go. The idea of spending three hours watching Polynesian folk dancing does nothing for me.
So, that is my snapshot of Hawaii, with some attention given to themes relevant to this blog. And to think, I got through the whole piece without saying “aloha.”
Within a few months of each other, two large, nearly full commercial airplanes tragically went down killing every soul on board. The first jet presumably disappeared over the Indian Ocean and, unbelievably, has yet to be found. It may never be found. The second, of course, was almost definitely shot down by Russian Separatists over Eastern Ukraine. As I write this, the world is rightfully growing more and more furious at the Russian government for enabling this horrible byproduct of a petty, ego-driven war.
Both tragedies are variations of every air traveler’s ultimate nightmare. I don’t know which is worse: disappearing from the face of the earth or being blown off of it.
That they were both jets from the Malaysia fleet, defies comprehension. What are the odds? Thankfully, the chances of anything going tragically wrong on an airplane are tremendously long. That two worst-case disasters like these befall the same carrier, one after the other, is mind boggling.
Before continuing I want to draw attention to the following: I’m writing the next few paragraphs with respect and compassion for the hundreds of people who lost their lives and the thousands of others whose lives have been altered forever. Still, it won’t be enough for some readers. You may claim: too soon! Perhaps. I beg your pardon.
But as an advertising professional, attuned and trained to servicing brands of all kinds, I can’t help but wonder what this double disaster means for the relatively tiny Malaysia Airlines. While I don’t think the company will go out of business I cannot imagine it will be good for business either.
Do you believe in karma, good or bad? If so, can brands have it, lose it, or gain it? In Adland we talk about brand personality all the time. We shape brands for a living. With the advent and proclivity of social networks, corporations are necessarily behaving and speaking more and more as people do, with souls and consciences (or lacking them).
When a person is deemed bad news people stay away from him or her. Malaysia airlines have had a stunning amount of bad news. Will people stay away? Though one event (and perhaps both) wasn’t an accident, I think most reasonable people realize the two tragedies were entirely coincidental. Still, who wouldn’t think twice about booking passage on Malaysia? We know flying is ranked near or at the top of every phobia known to man. People associate it with all manner of intangible fears. Flying on ‘cursed’ planes? That can’t be good. And what if trouble does come in threes? Will the next Malaysia aircraft to take off be the third one to go down? God forbid.
Superstitions aside, brands do go through awful things. Remember the Tylenol murders? Most recover eventually, but the short-term losses can be significant, from a sales perspective as well as from the inevitable insurance claims. MH 17 knowingly flew over dangerous skies. They will pay dearly for that.
You might rightfully consider these questions arrogant and morbid but mark my words they are being asked, in so many ways, by the owners and operators at Malaysia airlines. I’m guessing marketing by the airline has been halted until further notice. For obvious reasons, a brand associated with tragedy will shun advertising. It’s too self-serving. At this sensitive stage just seeing the logo makes people cringe.
For the past few days, even longer, I have been working on a manifesto for one of our (hopefully) new clients. Actually, I’ve been working on two. Even more actually, I’ve been working on manifestos for 25 years, since becoming a copywriter.
Nothing suits me more. For like many a creative soul, I am by nature a show off. And this is the way I can do it. I know I am not alone. Most copywriters get off on writing manifestos. At least they’d better. Writing such documents is at the heart of what we do, and can do, for our clients.
Most of you know what I’m talking about. For those unawares, a manifesto or mantra or anthem is the bringing to life in words the highest and most noble aspirations of its subject matter, aka the brand.
Yes, it is advertising copy but in the best sense of the word. Think Apple’s great script to the modern world: Think Different. Consider the lines that first and forever defined Nike to a generation: Just Do It. We know these iconic tags because we fell in love with the manifestos. Frankly, neither line would have lasted this long, or even gotten out the door, if not for their beloved manifestos.
The power and glory of a brilliant manifesto cannot be overstated. They raise the hairs on the back of your neck. They make CMO’s smile. They win pitches. Most of all they change things: attitudes, behaviors, even lives.
At least the good ones do.
Alas, we’ve all heard or, God forbid, written our share of shitty ones. They can be purple or redundant or both. They get long pretty damn fast. They turn into cheesy rip-o-matics. Yet, in a weird way, even the bad ones sound pretty good. They are like pizza that way.
Because we slave over them. Into these haloed paragraphs we put everything we know or think we know about writing, about persuading, about life. Here you won’t find speeds and feeds, racks and stacks or friends and family call free! None of that. For these are the best neighborhoods in Adland. No thugs allowed.
“I love my INSERT PRODUCT NAME HERE.”
Adweek’s Tim Nudd is right to praise this new campaign for American Value City/Signature Furniture –as much for what it is not (direct response crap) as for what it is (mildly entertaining). Few genres of advertising annoy like discount furniture advertising. The screaming. Those spinning dollar signs. Ugly ass products as far as the eyes can see. Kudos to agency Translation for not doing that.
But I want to focus on a detail from the campaign, a feature of the copy, which hopefully invites an interesting discussion. It points to something as a copywriter I’ve wrestled with a long, long time. Listen to the commercial.
Every spot begins essentially the same way. In the one above (my favorite), the lead actor states, “I love this new bed from American Signature Furniture…” He then goes into his bit, which is actually kind of funny.
But here’s the thing. Few “normal” people would use the store’s proper name in a conversation. They’d just say, “I love our new bed!” By overtly stating the client’s entire 3-part name, the actor breaks the so-called wall between the viewer and the narrative.
I doubt the copywriter would disagree with me. While it’s entirely possible the writer tried to sell a more “real” sounding piece of copy and failed I have another theory: that the line is intentionally commercial because the creators believe it’s funnier that way. Obviously, it also appeases the client to hear their name right up front but that just might be a lucky strike extra.
Some time ago, popular culture, in particular advertising, embraced its fakeness as part of the fun. Actors happily began occupying the twilight between spokesperson and character. The many great Old Spice commercials are famous examples.
Let’s go back even further. In the early 90’s, prior to grunge music and the genesis of mumblecore, being realistic was all-important. Call it a cynical reaction to shoulder pads and hair metal. Not looking commercial in commercials, especially in commercials, is what many of us creatives in Adland aspired to.
But everything cycles doesn’t it? Eventually the idea of trying to be real in a TV commercial became patently absurd. Actors began breaking character to address viewers directly. Then this ironic pose became a defining characteristic. It has now become ubiquitous in popular culture.
Fallout from all this is when the actor playing a husband talks to his wife (and us) at the same time. Like in these commercials for American Value Furniture. No surprise given people nowadays consider themselves brands. That’s my theory anyway. What do you think?