Can I get you a drink, Chicago?

Can I get you a drink, Chicago?

A friend called my writing last week on Gods the “Love Boat marathon.” And I suppose it was. As most of you know, I looked at five marvelous but unheralded campaigns from five different Chicago advertising agencies. We hear a lot about what’s wrong with the Chicago advertising community. I decided to go another way. I held to the good, as my pastor instructed. (Don’t you love that line?)

Sure, a few cynics made fun and/or took exception with some of my “picks.” That’s inevitable, especially in the blogosphere. Still, the vast majority of readers were pleased by the examination. Online and off, I received many pats on the back for, basically, giving others a pat on the back. Proof positive that good always begets good, even in the supposedly cutthroat world of advertising, perhaps especially in our world.

I’ve written a lot about schadenfreude in advertising, of how we are all so sensitive and paranoid that we actually take pleasure in our peer’s misfortunes: in the lost pitches, laid off colleagues and deposed leaders. I maintain that we advertising folk, always seeking approval, have insecurities so ingrained in our psyches we almost can’t help ourselves. Almost. (BTW, this week I’m writing about the topic on Talent Zoo.)

Lord knows I’m not an angel. As does anyone who knows me! I’ve drunk from the cup of cynicism. I’ve indulged in the forbidden fruit of mean-spiritedness. Yet, I don’t want to be that guy. And neither, I’ll bet, do my peers. The material gains are minimal and the emotional hangovers are nothing short of debilitating.

And so, leaving the past, we try and do the next right thing. And we are successful.

Last year, we pulled together and resurrected the Chicago Creative Club from its very sorry state. No need to rehash all that was wrong with the CCC. (If you must, just search this blog’s archives.) The point is we turned the once-contentious event into a community-building celebration of our town’s creativity.

While there’s still plenty of room for improvement there was also a lot to be proud of. This year’s show can be even better, despite the crippling financial crisis. But only if we hold to the good.

And only if we work together. In this context, praising each other’s work, as opposed to maligning it, seemed like the right thing to do. I hope to do this again soon. And I hope others do as well.

A pet peeve of mine as a copywriter and creative director is the dogmatic tagline. This happens when a product or brand pushes its theme in the form of a rule, code or mandate without having either serious credibility or a great sense of humor.

If done right it’s not a sin. The textbook example is Nike’s world famous clarion: Just Do It. I don’t think I have to elaborate on how this wry command has changed our world, let alone sports. A good runner up might be “Think Different” from Apple. Both of these brands are telling us what to do but it’s okay; we want to be led.

The beer and spirits category is paved with examples many of them bad. Most recently I saw an ad for Milwaukee’s Best beer. The theme: “Brewed for a man’s taste.” Even if some executions are halfway funny, I still don’t buy it. Everyone who knows beer knows Milwaukee’s Best is cheap swill for teen-agers and factory workers. Nothing wrong with working in a factory or being 18, but let’s face it, the best is yet to come and it ain’t coming in a 4-dollar six pack. “Miller Time” on the other hand, had credibility with the workingman and a big, iconic beer to back it up. And only Budweiser could claim “King of Beers.”

Hard liquor often combines the preaching with another peeve of mine: showing the target the target. Man, do I abhor ads with fake people trying to look real. Add pretentious copy and I get annoyed. Add a celebrity and I’m downright put off. Puff Diddy’s latest pile of money comes from Ciroc Vodka, yet another poseur-player in the premium spirits category. Puff sneers at the camera, his Ciroc-blue shades half-cocked. The copy TELLS us Ciroc is “the art of Luxury.”

Puh-lease.

Our job as copywriters are to find compelling ways to say ‘”the art of luxury” or “cool people drink it” without actually saying it. For example, instead of telling the consumer that a beer is “brewed for a man’s taste” a far better line was “Schaefer… the one beer to have when you’re having more than one.” That’s good copy. Declarative as hell but also funny as hell. Men and wannabe-men got the message and liked it. In the 70s Schlitz ads beckoned men to “grab for the gusto.” Gusto is copy for beer brewed for a man’s taste. And so on…

Lots of ads walk the line. Was Crispin’s controversial “Man Laws” campaign for Miller dogmatic and funny or neither, just weird?

Both the Ciroc and Milwaukee’s Best campaigns are touting their strategy as theme lines. Where is the creative in that?

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