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The shot heard ’round the world.

Sometimes I take pictures of myself post them online. I know a lot of other people do, too. Selfies. We all do it. So much so it has become a phenomenon. In 2013, Selfie was deemed word of the year. Ahead of “Twerk.”

Sigh.

Since the beginning of photography –hell, painting…even cave painting- we have all been interested in how we look in pictures. Very interested. That is why when you view a group photo and you are in it you always check yourself out first. “I look like crap,” you sometimes say. Or, “I hate when I make that face.” If you think you look good –a win- then and only then you might say something about someone else in the photograph. “You look hot, Katie!” Then Katie will say, “I think I look like crap.”

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Et tu, Obama?

And so it goes. We are all narcissists. We want to be awesome looking. We obsess over it. Even people who say they don’t do. Pictures don’t lie (not counting Photoshop). They are worth a thousand words. Or were. When photos themselves were relatively rare they had a certain value. Now they are as common as words and far more popular. Thank you digital photography. And Snapchat. And Instagram. Millions of photos are taken every day. Every hour. Perhaps billions. Frankly, one does not have to ever take a photo of anything in order to find visual documentation of it. Just ask Google. Boom. There it is.

We are the one exception. We are evergreen. The advent of the Selfie was inevitable. For we never get tired of seeing pictures of ourselves. Better said we have become addicted to them. In our desire to feed our narcissism, in a world of digital photography, it has become pure mania. Quantity has trumped quality. More me, we clamor. From the endless updates we post on Facebook to the galleries we create, we have become a Selfie society!

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The Royal Selfie…

Guess what? the more we create the weaker it gets and the more we need. And so the Selfie has become the ditch weed of popular culture. We are like the junkie chasing a high and never quite getting there.

The ultimate narcissists, celebrities have latched onto the mania, taking Selfie after Selfie knowing they will go viral. Viral equals popularity equals giving a damn. Ellen at the Oscars. Kanye everywhere. Even the President of the United States!

Marketers falsely assume that a Selfies’ social currency equals sales. They mistake the image as saying something about them. A Kardashian is wearing a dress. Therefore it an ad for the dress. Free advertising! Samsung thought Ellen’s much-shared Oscar Selfie was an ad for the camera. Insanity. For that is like saying the addict values his needle.

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The Devil made me do it…

Will it end? No. But the insane value placed upon the Selfie will. In particular the value placed upon the Selfies taken by others. We will revert back to our narcissism and only care about Selfies of ourselves. Knowing deep down no one else will and not much giving a shit one way or the other. Advertisers will chase the high longer than most, clamoring for the buzz, sucking on ditch weed and wondering why they aren’t getting high. Vines and the like will suffer a similar fate, if they haven’t already. Of course these marketers will first blame their dealers: the experts and gurus (internal and external) that fed their mania. Then they will clean house, “rethinking marketing strategy.”

Alas, the rehab won’t last. Some idiot will sprout two heads and take a picture of it. The “Freakie” will be born and we will chase after it. And in turn the marketers will chase after us. The circle of life, such as it it.

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The Selfie portrait is nothing new…

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I am Legend!

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Good boy!

Sigh. One of the tough things about working at a relatively young agency with a B2B/technology pedigree is the persistent opinion that such a group is not capable of creating big ideas at the brand level. It has been a fairly high hurdle in our quest for new business. Recently we did not make the cut with a client we coveted because they felt we were experts in a different part of the “funnel.”

We are that… but we are so much more. My company is filled with expert thinkers and creators from the general side who’ve migrated into B2B precisely because we know businesses (big and small) need and want to communicate and sell to each other as human beings. Our mission is not only accommodating them, by creating “humanly relevant” work, but to excel at it.

Once the big idea is hatched we know how to deliver campaigns up and down the funnel, including digital and demand gen. I think that makes us, and other like-minded agencies, perfectly poised to address the needs of any and all comers in the modern world.

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Thar she blows…

Like many of you reading this, and certainly the majority of my colleagues, I was trained to find the “organizing principle” or “creative business idea” for each and every entity clamoring for one. Not only is our process for doing so honed in best practices I believe it to be as good as any I’ve ever divined upon. Most who experience it come away with the same opinion.

If only we are given the chance.

I “grew up” at Leo Burnett as well as worked at DDB and Havas. In my long career I’ve been a part of creating countless ‘big’ ideas for many clients, including Altoids, Heinz, McDonalds and Anheuser Busch, to name a few. I had two spots run on the Superbowl. Won four Lions at Cannes, two of them Gold. I learned from the best. For my second act I began developing campaigns for ecommerce, software manufacturers, electronics and data driven organizations. In fact, I helped Leo Burnett develop its B2B/Technology capability, co-founding an agency within that venerable agency, called LBWorks.

At gyro, many clients appreciate our hybrid approach and other agencies are definitely on to it. They know the future is more about software and data than, say, selling canned peaches on television. That is one reason why holding companies have been buying and merging with digital agencies, social media specialists and, yes, hybrid shops like ours. But teaching old dogs new tricks is tough. Holding company agencies hold on to old ideas.

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Be careful what you wish for…

Though few big agencies will admit it, even today they struggle. Caste systems form internally, struggling for ownership of the client relationship as well as where the ideas come from. Sometimes even what those ideas look like are a puzzle. I’ve seen it. And so have many of you.

My agency began in the new economy. Many of us acclimated to this new way of thinking along with it. The only old idea I/we hold onto is that the big idea is paramount. That we have a history of executing tactics in tricky spaces should be seen as a bonus.

Time will tell, right? But it can be frustrating when you fervently believe, as I do, that now is our time!

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A stranger yelled at my wife the other day in the park. She’d taken our terriers off leash and a pedestrian took offense. Apparently, this other woman didn’t just get mad, she was irate, letting loose a torrent of expletives. My poor wife said she was too dumbfounded to respond, she just stared at this strange adult who was screaming at her.

Of course I felt bad for my spouse. On the other hand I’m pretty sure there’s a law against dogs being off their leashes. Even cute little buggers like ours. Regardless, that’s not what I want to discuss. What stood out for me about my wife’s tale: how rare situations like hers actually are. As mad as we might be personally, professionally, societally, we don’t yell at each other that much. Remarkable when you think about it. So let’s.

When was the last time someone not related to you yelled at you? For me, I can’t even remember. Maybe someone gave me the bird a few weeks ago from his car. But that’s about it. I’m guessing the road is where most verbal outbursts occur, yet people are generally moving and not in each other’s grill so to speak. I’m talking about screaming in your face. Like what happened to my wife. It’s pretty rare.

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Not a good look…

Turning the tables when was the last time you yelled at someone not related to you? Even more rare, isn’t it? Civilized people like us just don’t go off on each other.

Expressing anger, even righteous anger, is fairly uncommon. We may get or be pissed off on a daily basis but we seldom, if ever, express ourselves that way. It’s just not in our nature. Or it has been mightily repressed. Either way, when someone does go nuclear we not only notice we are also genuinely shocked by it. It’s ghoulishly fascinating. Which is why Reality TV is so full of drama queens and douche bags: folks wouldn’t watch otherwise. It’s also why these shows are so un-real in the first place. The characters are coached into tantrums. Really real adults seldom yell at one another, let alone five times a day.

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Reality TV people get angry to get filmed…

Unless of course they’re mentally unhinged, intoxicated or, as I implied earlier, related. Sad but true. If you add your children or spouse or a parent into the mix suddenly the outbursts aren’t so infrequent, are they? Admit it. I am. In some ways I think our inability to lose it with strangers fuels are propensity for grousing with our kin. There’s definitely wisdom to that lyric, “you always hurt the one you love.”

My wife’s experience prompted me to think about yelling and screaming… again. Many years ago I learned that I couldn’t handle anger very well. I seethed. My IQ dropped. Upon outburst I was an incoherent buffoon. Kind of like Homer Simpson strangling his boy. As Doctor Bruce Banner (aka The Incredible Hulk) put it, “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

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Don’t let this happen to you!

I still get angry, yes. But I try very hard not to lose it. What’s the point? I’ve discovered that even when I “win” an argument I still feel like crap. Probably why I drank too much. And I had to stop that, too. For me “emotional sobriety” is damn near as precious.

Anger is a gateway emotion to hell. When one opens his or her trap in response to it, we get a glimpse into that hell. Thank God, then, it’s infrequently we do.

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We’ve opened Pandora’s box…

The Walking Dead season finale contained one of the most violent scenes I’ve witnessed in a film of any kind and it didn’t involve zombies at all. A ruthless gang of survivors had the protagonists of the series dead to rights. And then the heroes turned the tables, eliciting vile payback. Rick bit open the throat of his captor and then guts the heathen who was about to rape his son. More death. Like that.

The previous week’s episode featured the entirely unexpected murder of a young girl, who’d lost her mind and killed her sister trying to prove that her subsequent “turning” would be evidence that the undead were, what, normal? These episodes were brutal, nihilistic and, basically amazing.

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The living people have become the walking dead themselves. They move forward killing everything in their paths, like zombies. The flicker of hope for humanity grows ever more dim. It’s barely there.

During a commercial break (yes, I watched the network broadcast) was a preview of a sequel to The Purge, a film about legalized crime including (and especially) murder. I didn’t see the original movie but enough people did to warrant a sequel.

Then came a Hyundai spot where you can build your own zombie killing car. Benign in terms of mayhem the spot is meant to be funny. I suppose…

My, oh my. So many visions of the Apocalypse! We Are What We Are is the title of a film about modern day cannibals, itself a remake of a Spanish film about people eaters.

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Read it with the lights on…

I’ve been a horror fan since I can remember. The first real book I ever read for “fun” was Salem’s Lot. As a boy I thrilled at Hammer’s vision of the undead. Christopher Lee’s Dracula and his gory sexy brides formed my world view –or at least provided lurid escape from the sketchy real world: my parent’s divorce, step-father’s suicide, gang-bangers on every corner, teachers that didn’t give a shit, friends who had it worse than me and acted accordingly.

By comparison, fictional evil was somehow… attractive.

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Lee’s Dracula and friend. What’s not to like?

For me, hanging out with miscreants on the street corner was far more threatening. Pretending not to be scared in real life was a lot harder than bearing monsters in books and on screen. Enduring evermore-gruesome fictions was (and is) a way for a young man to demonstrate courage. It’s a theory.

And now you feel it don’t you? The mainstream embraces horror like never before, as I did as a teenager and still do. In films, books, comics, games, television, music and even commercials. Always profitable but formerly seedy, the horror genre has risen from the grave!

You have become like me, God have mercy on your souls.

If the story is good does the truth even matter?

Watch the above clip from Mad Men, where the inimitable Don Draper delivers a moving story to a group of silver-haired Hershey clients in a pitch for their business. Then pause the clip. Think about what he said. It’s a gorgeously romantic picture, linking the venerable chocolate bar with all that is great about childhood, parenting, and indeed life in these United States.

And then he tells the truth.

With a roomful of happy clients, and as the media guy is going in for the close, Don does an about-face, a shocking one: admitting that, in fact, he was an orphan, raised in a Pennsylvania whorehouse. The story only gets sadder… and weirder. He ends it by recalling one of the prostitutes buying him a Hershey bar if he’d stolen enough cash from her john’s pockets while the pair were off “screwing.” Understandably, Don’s clients and partners are mortified. This grotesque portrait is the antithesis of Draper’s previous story. It is another brilliant glimpse into why this show and this character are so freaking special.

Yet…

I think Don’s ability to create the first tale in spite of the second is precisely why Hershey should hire him anyway. The man is remarkably capable. That he can spin such a marvelous yarn while having no actual basis for it make him the consummate copywriter.

Occasionally, I, too, have had this morbid fantasy (death wish?) of exploding a pitch by telling the unvarnished truth. It’s not that I desire losing. Anything but. It’s just that sometimes I feel compelled to remind everyone in the room that we are all in the business of telling stories, that what we are creating together is grandiose fabrication. Strategy is merely the plot.

Though I wasn’t orphaned in a brothel, by most standards my childhood was far from ideal. Chances are neither was yours. The point is some of us were able to transcend our compromised upbringings by creating stories in our heads that made us, well, happier in our conditions. This ability may have started as a coping mechanism, then evolved into a means of survival. For me it became a vocation. I found I could create stories for brands that in turn made them “feel good.” I could make people want things they did not possess the same way I filled these wholes in myself: with myths.

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My life has no meaning… but I can brighten it with Colgate!

Left brain thinkers often fail (refuse?) to realize that emotional connections to brands can be the result of deep seated anxieties or longings. Apple’s iconic “1984” commercial made obvious virtue of negative emotions, supplanting societal angst over a computer driven society by introducing the first personal computer. When Coca Cola made its epic “Buy the World a Coke” commercial it was interpreted as a love anthem, which it was. But beneath that song was perhaps a yearning by the copywriter for a world that absolutely did not exist, empirically and personally. Can you say Viet Nam? And it’s not just in ancient TV commercials. So much of what we do now –interstitially, experientially, et-cetera- is totally based on creation myths. Even a lowly banner beseeches us to take stock of our present situation and, upon finding it lacking, to take action. Click here for relief!

Critics admonish this ‘gift’ as duplicitous, which of course it is. Even the subhead of my own blog suggests as much. Sigh. It’s called copywriting. For most people the real world is deeply challenging. We believe in God to make us feel better. Well, guess what? We are made consumers for the same reason. Think about that next time you’re noshing on a chocolate bar.

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