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“Blogging, eh…”

Seven years ago in October, I began this blog. I’ve since written 882 posts. If I’m reading my stats correctly just over one million people have visited Gods of Advertising, far less of them unique (obviously), and a few thousand have left comments. On average about 700 of you visit each day. For the record my best day had just shy of 2,000 unique visitors, for a piece I wrote on the demise of a Chicago advertising agency. Over the course of seven years the most continuously visited story (actually in two parts) was a piece I wrote on the origin of the “Not Your father’s Oldsmobile” campaign, which I helped create at Leo Burnett. Among those readers were several advertising historians, researching that arguably dubious, definitely silly but now iconic campaign. Gods of Advertising has been “freshly pressed” by WordPress two times. In 2012, it was ranked by Business Insider as one of the top 20 ad blogs in the United States.

These numbers are modest, I know, but for me they rank among my most prized personal accomplishments. I’ve never accepted a dime of revenue from advertisers nor have I published a single post from another author. Gods of Advertising is my baby. Depending on your point of view that is either something to be proud of or the antithesis.

Based on my earliest posts it’s pretty clear I began GOA as a means to get more eyeballs on my novels and other writing projects. I’m a big fisherman and I figured chumming the waters couldn’t hurt. I was wrong. One of the first lessons I learned (the hard way I might add) was that you were not interested in being pitched to. Most of my first visitors did not appreciate anything resembling an ulterior motive. Some of you left comments to that effect. Many more trolled other trade blogs, ripping me to shreds. Personal feelings aside, it was a great lesson. I was taught to value authenticity and transparency, in the blogosphere in particular and in life in general. Clearly, to monetize this blog was to ruin it.

Fortunately, a higher calling took over, the same one that has always driven me: to write. You see I love writing. I always have. My passion for the craft (be it fiction writing, poetry, screenwriting and blogging) is worth more than incremental dollars in my bank account. Writing copy has provided me more than ample compensation -a blessing.

Needless to say, I adore reading as well. I can’t do one without doing the other. And so my appreciation for having readers –any at all- is beyond what I can express in this final sentence.

Thank you.

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The bewildered gather…

I did not think I would ever write a blog post about something so cliché as a terrible airline experience. Griping about shitty airlines on social media –not me.

Yet, the debacle I am currently enduring regarding United flight 466 to Denver is so epic in it’s awfulness that if I don’t detail it here it will form a cancer inside me. Besides, I’m waiting in an emptying concourse. What the hell else am I going to do? I’ve already eaten a $5 dollar M&M cookie from the newsstand as well as imbibed a Monster energy drink. Currently, I’m sitting in an abandoned wheel chair staring out the window at my sick aircraft being operated on.

Look. I get that planes have mechanical difficulties. I comprehend the myriad issues that come up during air travel. Like you, I’ve slept on dirty carpet waiting for a Z-grade flight out of Mexico. Like you, I’ve endured projectile vomiting from ill children. Like you, I’ve said my prayers during extreme turbulence. And so on.

But the clusterf–k that United put me and my fellow travelers through goes beyond the pale; not so much because of the delay (4 hours and counting) but because of the carrier’s incomprehensible stupidity and, in my view, duplicity. More than anything, the lack of communication and the questionable nature of what little we were told is why I am writing this post.

The gory details: Flight 466 was scheduled to leave SFO at 5:39PM, Sunday night. At 6PM, no plane is at the gate. The first announcement states our plane is coming from a hangar somewhere near, it’ll be here in 15 minutes. Half an hour goes by and still no plane. When the aircraft does arrive, for some reason we are not allowed on it. Unexplained delay ensues.

We board. Once in the tube it becomes clear there is no room for luggage in the overhead compartments. Everyone is paralyzed. The dimwitted staff does not know what to do, like this mess is totally foreign to them. One barks at us standing in the rear to turn around and head back to the front, to check our bags. However, no one in the front gets this message, creating a jam of irritable and confused people, myself included. Before this matter is settled, I will have lost my temper. None-the-less, we finally sit. And sit. And sit…

30 minutes goes by yet still no movement from our plane. Eventually, the captain reports over the intercom that we’re waiting for something but he’s “not sure what it is.” When whatever it is finally arrives, he jokes about the miracle of flight and pushes off. We are now 130 minutes late.

Half way to the runway the plane stops. The captain gets back on saying “you are not going to like this but that we have to go back to the gate.” No reason is given. But he’s right about not liking it. I begin Tweeting my disapproval and soon receive hilarious and useless Tweet-pologies from United. To the drone working UA’s Twitter feed I reply #fuckyou

When the plane arrives back at the gate we sit in silence, engines off, for another 10 minutes. We are like that haunted aircraft from The Strain. Just sitting on the Tarmac. Dying inside. I’m kidding. Sort of. It dawns on me I’m missing The Walking Dead.

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The Strain! The Strain!

Then the captain tells us that one of the engine’s “oil filters did exactly what it was supposed to do: fail on the ground.” He laughs. Tells us they are getting another one from Jiffy Lube. Thirty minutes go by with no further details and, thankfully, jokes.

Suddenly, a flight attendant makes the announcement to “prepare for arrival.” But, the entire plane is thinking, we haven’t freaking left! To make a long story longer they kick us off the plane to replace an oil filter. We are told the job will take 20 minutes.

An hour goes by. Then this: “Due to regulations, the legal time limit for the flight crew to work this flight has elapsed. We are now looking for a fresh crew.” We are told this will take 45 minutes “or so.” Liars. By the time we board we are 260 minutes late for departure. And counting…

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Free cookies and warm soda, for our troubles…

But the delay isn’t what’s most infuriating. What kills me is that United should have known better. About so many things. For example: The plane arrives to the gate with a defective oil filter? Guys, it’s coming from the garage! United waits until the last minute to tell us the crew has run out of legal flying minutes, despite knowing as much the moment they turned the plane around? On a lesser note, why would the flight attendants allow every person to board knowing full well the luggage compartments would fill up long before the plane did? Why bother when you can make thirty angry, hot, tired travelers back up? You fly this route every day. You should know better. Or else you’re way too f–king stupid for words.

And speaking of words, United, where were they? A weird joke from the captain is hardly a communication plan for a flight that’s over four hours late. All airlines suck at communications. In my experience, United is the worst.

While I can’t hold everyone at United accountable for this awful experience, I do know the brand suffers among the lowest scores for service and quality in the aviation industry. Sadly, the once “friendly skies of United” have sucked for a very long time. There is a Twitter account: @UALfail

For the record, I landed in Denver at 1:47 AM.

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All the news that’s fit to share…

Have you noticed how online journalism and media purveyors have increasingly tarted up and/or dumbed down their content? Things have gotten way more visual, mimicking the look of Instagram and Pinterest. Echoing Buzzfeed and other pseudo journalism sites, we see more and more lists of dubious nature populating web pages: Top ten this. Worst 20 that. Native advertising and news stories are now slurry. No secret why. Editors want consumers. Publishers want advertisers. Both need more and meaningful clicks to survive.

Oh, and you like this shit. (Not me. I’m impervious to salacious come ons and all those sweet, sweet lists.)

In one respect, this is nothing new. Sensationalism has permeated journalism since it began. Whether it’s creepy crimes or naked ladies or both, newspapers have always flirted with the devil. Boobs sell papers. “If it bleeds it leads.”

Yet, what’s different here -and more insidious, in my opinion- is the meshing of bullshit with the news. An obscenity-laden video featuring ghetto trash fighting in McDonald’s is presented as a news story. The “ten outfits no woman over 30 should ever own” is displayed in the same space as an article about foreign policy. Throwback Thursdays. Monday Mug Shots. Fail videos. It’s stupid content just for the hell of it. Gone are the obvious markers for “advertisement” or “paid for by.” So, why would any reader-obsessed editor put this stuff on a separate entertainment-only page? You don’t hide the chum, fool. Put dat shit where people can see it. Stink up dem waters. We. Need. Clicks.

I get it. I really do. Still, it’s sad when journalists start putting inappropriate hyperbole in their copy. Suddenly, everything is “fascinating” or “terrifying” or “hilarious.” Aren’t we -the reader- supposed to be the judge of that?

The immense and growing popularity of Buzz Feed, Reddit, Devoured, Huff Post and countless other content buffets make it impossible for struggling news sites and online magazines to ignore, let alone exist.

Oh, and we like this shit.

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My girls in girl mode, from a recent plane trip

The weekend drive to the barn with my daughters is a mostly beautiful 20-mile trek north of Mill Valley to horse country in Nicasio. Normally, I listen to sports radio, catching up on football scores, half-heartedly paying attention to an assortment of retired jocks conversing about this team and that play. I don’t particularly care but I find the chatter soothing. Sometimes.

But not today. Last week, Taylor Swift dropped her newest album, 1989 and my girls, like millions of other girls, are agog over it. Rather than plug into it from their iPhones, they chose to sing from memory. Given how new the album was, they hadn’t exactly memorized the tunes yet. I got a kick out of listening to them singing aloud and correcting each other and saying which song was the best and their favorite and so on.

The music industry maybe in shambles but some things never change. When a superstar like Taylor Swift releases a new album the world listens –at least the world of young women. From what I understand she’s sold over a million copies in the first few days, way more by now. Pretty freaking amazing. Like her and her music or not, you’ve got to give the gal props. She knows what she’s doing. She has for years. My God, she’s not even 25!

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Swiftly went Platinum…

After a while of listening to my kids singing a-cappella, I asked one to play the album from her phone. I don’t have blue tooth so we listened to it straight from the iPhone’s tiny speaker. It sounded like crap but that didn’t matter. My girls were in heaven.

Anyway, the whole thing reminded me of when I was 16 and one of my favorite bands put out a new album. I was all over it. Just like my girls in the back seat. My friends and I would gather in our bedrooms and crank these new discs until our ears bled. Doodling the bands’ logos or cover art icons onto our notebooks, hands, tee shirts and walls. Passionately arguing over which song was best and whether this album was better than the last or better than the other guy’s favorite album. Who was the greater guitarist? Which concert kicked more ass.

Wait a minute. Who am I kidding? I’m still the same dude! A couple weeks prior, U2 released their newest album, Songs of Innocence and I’ve been listening to it non-stop. Granted, that’s only when I am running or biking but I do that a lot. Songs of Innocence has been in constant rotation. Critics be damned, I think it’s a great album. When it’s not playing I catch myself singing lyrics from it all the time, the same way my girls do with Ms. Swift’s latest.

I woke up at the moment
When the miracle occurred
Heard a song that made some sense
Out of the world
Everything I ever lost
Now has been returned
In the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard

U2 – The Miracle Of Joey Ramone (from Songs of Innocence)

Rather than get into a critique of U2 or Taylor Swift, I would like to just pause here and revel in the fact that my children and I have this great thing in common: The love of music, of singing out loud, bastardizing the lyrics, comparing and contrasting, waiting for the concert. Being alive. It’s a good thing in a world that needs more of them.

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A flash in the Internet pan…

Back in the days of dial-up, I worked on the Earthlink account. As you may recall, Earthlink was, and maybe still is, an Internet Service Provider (ISP). Based in Atlanta, created by a funky rich dude, for a moment in time they actually were a brand to be reckoned with; but alas, for a number of reasons, that moment was doomed to pass. And it did.

However, this post is not about Earthlink’s business model or the advertising we did for them.

Rather, my story is about the color orange. Because of Halloween, orange is ubiquitous come late October. It is especially so in the Bay Area (where I live) on account of the San Francisco Giants playing in, and winning, the 2014 World Series. Their team colors are orange and black, just like Halloween. As fate would have it, the parade for the champion Giants will be on October 31st. Market Street will be a sea of orange and black.

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Orange you proud to be a Giant’s fan?

Go back 15 plus years, late 90’s, and the marketing team from Earthlink is briefing my team and me. They were good people and we were delighted to be helping them –even if, in the coming years, Big Cable and the computer companies were going to eat them for lunch…

Anyway, we were discussing expectations and mandatories for our as of yet un-created campaign. Here is when the CMO uttered a sentence I will never forget. She says, “Steffan, we own the color orange.”

“Um,” I said back to her, “Don’t you think orange belongs to Halloween?”

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Orange belongs to Jack…

I wasn’t being a dick. I knew what the CMO meant. Yes, the Earthlink logo had orange in it. Sure, orange was a featured color in their brand guidelines. But I was resolute. Earthlink could not possibly…and would not ever…own the color orange. A national holiday or a major sport’s team can own a color. Just ask Christmas about green and red. Or the Green Bay Packer’s about green and gold. Orange (and black) means Halloween. And to a lesser extent, the San Francisco Giants. End of story.

Let’s be fair. The Earthlink folks are not the first marketers to think their particular brand walks on water. Most CMO’s and their get act as if the companies they work for are magical places of wonder and that their logos are iconic. Some brands can make a better case than others on “owning” certain equities. Coca Cola and the color red for example. But even that’s a push. When I see red I think of many other things before thinking of Coke. Don’t you?

Regardless, there’s no way on earth a fussy baby brand like Earthlink could ever lay claim to such an idiosyncratic color like orange. And so I have come to love/hate the brand narcissism prevalent in our industry. Having done my share of guidelines I get the pretense but it never fails to get my goat.

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