Let’s be real. A good copywriter creates sweet myths because of and despite the bitterness of reality.
March 27, 2014
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.
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.
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.
New orbit campaign abandons campy blond chick for Sarah Silverman (and her Spanish speaking compadre).
March 19, 2014
Orbit number one
Orbit numero dos
I’m not going to editorialize (too much) on Orbit gum’s new ad campaign, featuring comedienne, Sarah Silverman. It’s certainly watchable, though the brand and agency have arguably done better. Worth noting I’m not a big fan of anthropomorphizing objects like gloves and coffee cups.
Interesting, however, is the brand’s nearly total about face in protagonist -from longtime campy blond spokesperson (the so-called Orbit girl) to an edgy Jewish gal, Ms. Silverman. No two women could be more dissimilar! Not too long ago it would be the “ethnic” gal being dinged for the perky blond. Progress!
Especially intriguing (or is silly a better word?) is the hispanic version of the same TV commercial I discovered while previewing the original. As far as I can tell, the two spots are virtually identical, save for the actors and language.
Over the years I’ve had countless pieces of copy translated into other languages, which typically means sending the work to a network office in another country. If print, then it’s simply a matter of transcribing the text. For obvious reasons, television is trickier. One requires a proactive strategy. For example, if you anticipate the need for a translated version, it behooves you to generally shy away from concepts featuring dialog, opting instead for campaigns relying on voice-over. That way you only need to redo the AVO, and not the film.
Orbit chose to completely reshoot the TVC. That’s an expensive choice. The client is doubling the cost for basically one execution. Other questions arise. For instance, I wonder if the Spanish-speaking actress is also a celebrity comedienne in her country or if she’s just commercial talent? Is the story the same in both spots? Looks like it is but I really have no idea. I’m guessing she and it are mismo. (Perhaps one of my Spanish speaking readers can help us out?)
In Hollywood, it is not unheard of for certain foreign titles to be remade for English speaking audiences, sometimes even shot for shot. The popular Mexican-made horror film, Rec was remade almost identically in English as Quarantine. Incedentally, I liked both pictures. There are countless other examples in TV as well as film. Stands to reason advertising would be no exception.
I found the foreign Orbit commercial unintentionally hilarious. I know I’m being childish. Wouldn’t be the first time. I also think it’s fascinating to view both films side by side, just to see the distortions and similarities. Kind of like seeing one’s reflection in a fun house mirror. Ay Carumba!
Painfull yet thrilling, the advertising pitch is like a hurricane. “Post Pitch Depression.” What’s up with that?
March 15, 2014
I’m writing this on a malfunctioning computer attached to a malfunctioning human being on the long flight to San Francisco from New York. Regarding my computer: Upon pulling a wad of printouts off a table in the “war room” my laptop fell to the hard, wooden floor. I thought it had survived but now I’m not so sure. All my web pages keep opening up in extreme grandpa close-up. And while this does make my tired eyes happy it is also causing pandemonium on my desktop. I highlight this banal fact primarily to segue into my postmortem post on my pitch in NY, or PMPMP.
Quite a week. Or was it two? Without naming the client, three of gyro’s offices (including mine in San Francisco) participated in a whirlwind global pitch in New York. Hardly my first rodeo but by any standard this pitch was a doozy, replete with all-nighters and lost weekends on both coasts -pretty much everything you’d expect from just such an activity.
Except, remarkably, for fighting. Given how many sleep-deprived Type-A’s were involved I’d have expected more clashing and scheming. I’m not saying we were saints but I’ve seen these pressure cookers go off like dynamite in a microwave. Didn’t happen. Not to be a homer, but maybe there is something to this “Uno” culture we talk about at gyro.
Cut to Friday, when we delivered a big, careening hurricane of people and ideas. Prior to that, the pressure had been building all week and as the first bands rippled through our offices the energy became palpable: people running around, printing docs, yelling into phones. Then when the client finally came off that elevator: total quiet. In the eye now. Hush. The adrenaline crackling like electricity… kaboom! 90 minutes of full-on energy. The pitch.
And then, just like that, it’s over…
A bit later, sitting in the cab to JFK, I find myself feeling depressed. Not because we did a bad job. Frankly, I think we killed it. So why? Did I miss the crazy camaraderie? The caffeinated late night writing sessions? The crap take-out? My colleagues?
That’s part of it. One can’t help but develop a corps d’esprit. But there’s also a strange sadness that isn’t so easy to describe. My business partner calls it “post pitch depression.” It’s a perfect name for it. After all, we’d gone through a protracted labor and given birth to three ideas (triplets!) in front of parents who may or may not even want them!! Intense!!!
Understandably, I am spent and a little shell-shocked. I don’t drink alcohol anymore but I most certainly would if I could.
A pitch is a force of nature. For all of the stress and pain it causes, they also create a Stockholm Syndrome among the participants (me anyway).
I don’t want it to end even though I desperately want it to end. I love my teammates even though I want to kill them. Weird shit like that. Post pitch depression. I’ll get over it. And there will always be another.