September 24, 2014
Did you know there are proofs of God’s existence? Neither did I. That is until my daughter informed me at dinner the other night. Camille is a student at Marin Catholic High School. Therefore, in addition to a standard curriculum she is also taking a theology class. It is one of her favorite courses. I’m not surprised. Whether one believes in God or not, religion and spirituality are fascinating subjects.
And so, when I’d remarked, somewhat cavalierly, that all religions are based entirely on faith my daughter was compelled to interject. There are so-called “Proofs of God,” she said. Among the most commonly cited examples is the notion of “beautiful design.”
The “Design Proof” suggests that our world is too perfectly engineered to be a happenstance of nature. Turns out it wasn’t just her teacher saying so… Peter Kreeft, a Professor of Philosophy at Boston College makes the “argument for design” as follows:
“The universe displays a staggering amount of intelligibility, both within the things we observe and in the way these things relate to others outside themselves. That is to say: the way they exist and coexist display an intricately beautiful order and regularity that can fill even the most casual observer with wonder. It is the norm in nature for many different beings to work together to produce the same valuable end—for example, the organs in the body work for our life and health.”
It is summed up nicely on the UK website, Philosopher.org:
“Is it possible that such an intricate mechanism, from the orbits of planets round the sun to the cells in your fingernails could all have happened by chance? Surely, this enormously complex mechanism has been designed, and the being that designed it must be God.”
Bringing it all down to earth, my daughter suggested baby animals are cute because God made them cute. Interesting notion. Why are babies adorable looking? Science suggests it might be to ward off predators. I don’t know. Baby seals are pretty darn cute and sharks love ‘em to death. Are cuteness and beauty God-given?
I have long been familiar with “Intelligent Design” as a faith-based take on Evolution. As a matter of fact, on glass-half-full days I believe it. But the argument for design as proof of God sharpens the point. As a creative professional, I’ve long valued design more than most aspects of our business, even copywriting. After all, good design mitigates bad copy far better than stellar copy saves crap design.
In a God-like way, designers make things beautiful. Steve Jobs certainly agreed. For him, and his company, design was God. Apple’s millions of obsessed devotees more than support the notion. The company inspires cult-like behavior because of its product’s impeccable designs. Period.
Is good design a proof of God or just a lovely coincidence? Yes, I first wrote about this last year but I continue to wonder about it now. Truly a fascinating subject…
September 19, 2014
In the latest issue of GQ are hundreds of fashion ads featuring hip, trendy people and not one of them is interacting with a smart phone or tablet. And yet, in reality that’s all these people do. I was taken by this dichotomy between the idealized world and the real world.
If technology is so NOW then why isn’t it conceptually a part of these ads targeting the very people who most want to be seen as hip, sexy and cool? I Tweeted the question and wasn’t surprised by the interest it created. There’s something very telling going on here. But what exactly?
Here’s my theory. It’s simple but also unsettling. Despite (or because of) our addiction to smart phones and computing, we don’t want to see ourselves that way. At least not through the mirror of advertising. GQ has page after page of young, beautiful people NOT interacting with technology. Instead they are rowing boats, camping, driving convertibles, kissing… In other words, doing all the things we aspired to do before we fell into our iPhones.
Walk down Chicago’s Magnificent Mile or NYC’s 5th Avenue and what do you see? Real versions of these same people tethered to ear buds, faces buried in their smart phones. Girls walking and texting is so rampant they should put up signs.
I’m no exception. I spend so much time at my computer it causes family problems. Seeing all these fashion-y people not on their computers was like an epiphany. We are still in denial about our addiction to technology.
The ambivalence in my lead is based on mitigating factors I will get to. First some praise. These new GE commercials are more than TV spots they are truly short films, carefully and wonderfully produced. Every element has been rendered at the highest level of craft. Listen to Beck’s score, for example, how it gently but persuasively pushes our buttons, keying in on what is humanly relevant and even profound. Making us feel the message.
Not to be a shill for GE or its ad agency, BBDO but I could easily rhapsodize about any aspect of these commercials. The casting. The writing. The cinematography. Like them or not, anyone who knows anything about production will recognize the obvious care (and cost) that went into making these commercials. BBDO has long been known for it’s prowess in making exemplary TV campaigns, and these will do nothing to hurt that reputation.
Tonally, both commercials remind me of certain odd, brave feature films that, like them or not, are deserving of praise. Spike Jonze’s award winning film, Her. And the decidedly more flawed but fascinating Luc Besson feature, Lucy. Vaguely unsettling but ultimately heart-wrenching stories of technology, people and the mysteries of life are what propel those films and these commercials.
The comparison is more obvious with Her. Its quirky yet deeply intimate style is, in my view, exactly what the filmmakers of the GE commercials were going for. I chose Lucy because, despite a dubious concept and being silly around the edges, it shoots for the stars and damn near gets there. Lucy is fresh and interesting film. It’s not boring. It tried hard to rise above its genre and B-movie pedigree. Morgan Freeman and Scarlet Johansson certainly helped.
Likewise, these commercials try harder than most. Way more.
That said I am struggling with how similar the GE Scary Ideas film is conceptually to the attached German commercial for Epuron, The Power of Wind, which won countless awards in 2007-08, including top honors in Cannes. You can’t tell me BBDO’s savvy creative leadership were unawares. I’m certain they not only knew about Wind but likely set about emulating it. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Ten years ago I would have called it plagiarism. Now, I’m not sure the term even applies. Is it iteration or a rip off?
Yet, whatever quarrel we may have conceptually or otherwise, we all need to appreciate a client and an agency that tries and unequivocally succeeds at doing something interesting. Period.
September 12, 2014
How many times have we in Adland heard variations on the following comment regarding a member of the creative department: “Jack has talent… if only he wasn’t so negative.” Or: “Sally does good work but her negative attitude is holding her back.” The admonishment that creative people are by turns cynical, jaded and petulant –in other words, negative- is as old as creation itself. But is it a fact of life or an overblown stereotype?
Negative emotions have always been linked to artistic expression and therefore ability. The cynical writer. The moody painter. The depressed poet. These are but a few of the many common expressions linking negativity to creativity. For perspective try switching adjectives. The cheerful poet? I rest my case.
Rather than dive into the deep ocean of thought on how and why negativity and creativity go hand in hand (pain and suffering being catalysts for art, ego and inferiority, constant rejection), let’s explore what it means in the modern advertising agency. First off, it accentuates the unofficial divide prevalent (to varying degrees) at every agency on earth. While many an account person has been called a jerk or worse, precious few of them earn the moniker moody or melancholic. No sir, that’s our job!
In weird but totally understandable fashion the jaded creative department rolls its collective eyes at the cheery frat boy/sorority girl account exec. And the uber-cheery AE’s roll their eyes back at us. I cannot count all the times I’ve seen a creative person called out by an account executive frustrated by his or her bad attitude.
Conversely, I cannot count all the times when a creative has bitched about an obsequious account person. The personality divide defines and disrupts most agency cultures daily. Kind of like yin and yang. Only for us it can become toxic. If we let it. Rather than expecting tigers to change their stripes I believe the solution is mutual respect and acceptance. Live and let live.
Interesting to note (for me anyway) is the typical response a creative person offers up for being so negative. These tend to fall into two very opposite camps. The first type comes off as profoundly indifferent. “Whatever. I don’t care about the shit I’m working on. I’m sick and tired of trying.” Or some such. The second (somewhat thankfully) response is that the man cares a great deal about his work but has become defeated by the dimwitted autocrats running the show. He blames his attitude on others, who thwart his ability to “do good work.” The first is sick of trying. The second is sick of dying trying.
I refuse to editorialize. To me the above paragraphs are like photographs, capturing things as they are. While neither attitude is pleasant to behold (or likely very healthy), both situations are commonplace. Negativity cohabitates with creativity. To some degree we must accept this reality and at times even respect it.
As time goes by most petulant creatives grow out of it. (I like to think I did.) Maturity, hard work and luck all play factors in the lessening of the darkness.
Finally, there is the irony that negativity actually aids creativity. It is a paradox but the miserable creative is often an inspired one. Therefore, we must embrace edginess, cleverness and cynicism the way a cowboy appreciates a fresh horse. “That pony is mean but man is she beautiful.” The wise account executive learns how to bridle this animal but can never do so completely and not without occasionally getting bucked.
In turn, the rogue pony comes to understand that if it ever wants to leave the corral (i.e. get anywhere) it will have to accept the bridle of professionalism. Either that or get made into glue.
Author’s note: I published a version of this story a while ago. I beg your pardon. Work has been busy!