The new ELR. I got mine.

The loud guffaw over Cadillac’s new anthem TV commercial, which like many of you I at first hated, has prompted me to reconsider my position… or at least modify it somewhat.

Critics deemed the TVC elitist and arrogant. And it sort of is. A douche-y, type-A yuppie parades us through his McMansion on route to his new Caddly ELR in the ample driveway, all the while boasting about his just reward for busting ass in a tough world. He’s a go-getter straight out of the eighties and he makes no apologies for his material success. On the contrary, he’s damn proud of his many achievements, his car being one of them. “It’s simple,” he says. “You work hard. You make your own luck. And you’ve got to believe anything is possible.”

As I’ve indicated, many people found the commercial arrogant or at least wanting. Their criticisms are not without merit. The man is not likeable. Nor is his rant on earned privileges. The man also states, “Other countries don’t work so hard.” Ouch.

On the other side of things, the commercial’s defenders are having a tea party. They see the spot as an about-time ode to what makes America great. It is, they argue, the Horatio Alger story of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps and “getting stuff done.” Which, if I’m not mistaken, is what Cadillac used to stand for back during, you know, the Greatest Generation.

And so the debate rages on. This story in AdAge gives you a sense of the uproar the spot caused and continues to cause.

Regardless of your take, you’ve got to give Cadillac credit for at least having the balls to strike this politically incorrect chord. It is not middling in its POV. It is not just another smarmy ode to luxury. In addition, the added publicity (positive and negative) has to be viewed as a good thing in terms of getting the brand noticed and talked about. The new school teaches us that great marketing must do more than just get noticed it must enter into the proverbial “conversation.” This commercial does so in spades.

You can’t hate me. I’m the American Dream!

Final note: Whatever gets said here, in AdAge or anywhere else: Please Cadillac, do not apologize for your commercial. For any of it. F—k ‘em. Make another. To thine own self be true. I’m so sick of our “sorry for everything” culture. Aren’t you? What is more insincere than “I’m sorry if I offended anyone?” Precious little. Frankly, I believe it is not in our nature to be politically correct. We merely pretend in order to keep our jobs and get invited to brunch.

I love this story.

During the star-studded hype fest known as the Golden Globes there appeared this funky little commercial for Pine Brother’s “softish” cough drops, featuring none other than Martha Stewart.

“Hi, I’m Martha.” She begins. “If you know me, you know I don’t do many ads…”

But she does this one. MS walks into a conservative parlor in the Waldorf Towers of Beverly Hills (!), sits down on a comfy chair and, well, pitches Pine Brothers. “Nothing on the market soothes your throat as effectively and deliciously,” she says looking directly into the camera.

Every word of that sentence is from another time. Frankly, the whole spot is. There are no pop culture references. No irony. No special effects. No surprise ending. Hell, even the product shot –a mortis still life- is pure old-timey advertising. It’s like they dropped this 90’s icon into a 50’s commercial for an 19th century product! That it appeared on a TV spectacle vaingloriously trying to be contemporary makes the spot even more memorable.

According to AdAge, Twitter blew up. Much of it was critical (of course) but so what? Calling the spot lame is beside the point. And erroneous. A global audience was conversing about Pine Brothers, whereas 30 seconds prior no on earth was. If that’s not a win what is? By being so conservative the spot came off as damn near rogue, a zig amid a zillion zags.

Apparently the co-owner of Pine Brother’s cough drops, Rider McDowell, hired the matronly icon on the fly, when the original talent “flaked.” You can read the rest of the story here. It’s a Mad Men-era doozy.

In a way, the whole thing reminds me of that infamous campaign for Mentos “The Freshmaker!”

For whatever reason, these commercials were produced in another country (another galaxy!) but were intended to look thoroughly American. A bizarre fail but the effect was surreal. Long story short the campaign became a smash hit precisely because of its hopelessly awkward and hokey production.

Being unwaveringly traditional and sincere, in a time and place so completely the opposite, the Pine Brother’s commercial accomplishes what few ads these days do: it got noticed. With the right follow through, Pine Bros could become the next Mentos or Altoids –an old-fashioned brand on the tip of everyone’s tongue.

The next Altoids?

Putting my ego in its place…

In preparation for my family’s move from Chicago to San Francisco, I threw out six boxes of advertising awards I’d amassed during my 20+ years in the business. Among the discards were countless certificates of merit and honorable mentions. Basically booby prizes. I was tempted to keep my first place trophies and Best-in-Shows but for the most part even those I chucked. Made of metal, they lasted ten minutes in the alley before the garbage pickers got them. They took the framed certificates, too, no doubt for the generic black frames. Zero chance some local picker will have use for a 1997 merit award from the Chicago Addy’s. On the other hand those bronze and silver One Show Pencils weigh a ton. Scrap prices are sky high these days. I wonder how many cents each of them netted at the smelter, or wherever it is metal gets bought.

A pair of old-school, badass Lions

I did keep my first two Cannes Lions, a gold and bronze awarded for a TV campaign I wrote on behalf of Heinz Ketchup. The gold was for a spot featuring a teen-aged Matt LeBlanc (Joey from Friends). It’s shown from time to time on nostalgic TV specials. A grainy version can be seen HERE. Back then there were far less categories at Cannes. And broadcast was the king. Ergo, I’m keeping my kitties.

I also kept three Andy Awards and two Clio statues, mostly because they look cool, as well as the Kelly Award given to me by the Magazine Publishers of America for best print campaign in North America: for Altoids. With only one winner, the Kelly was once highly coveted. I should mention it came with a check for $100,000 dollars. Ah, the days when magazine publishers were flush! Win a Kelly now you get a handshake and a photo in Adweek.


Advertising awards seemed so important then. I kept every certificate of merit, every clipping in AdAge. Oh, how I coveted those accolades! I was like a Roman conqueror collecting statues. I was a God of Advertising! Now, as I look upon the heap of paper, plastic and metal in my alley I feel anything but.

Author’s note: I realize this post probably qualifies as a humblebrag, which, according to the Urban Dictionary is where “one, usually consciously, tries to get away with bragging by couching it in a phony show of humility.” I’m pleading ‘No Contest.’

God forbid, a jingle…

When I first heard the opening strains to the Beatles’ iconic song “Help” coming out of the car radio I thought: Cool, the inane radio station my kids listen to is finally playing something worthwhile. I nearly spit my Rockstar energy drink when a voiceover started babbling about home electronics on sale for Labor Day.

Unbelievably, It was a spot for hhgregg, an appliance and home electronics store. I’ve never even heard of them but apparently they’re a southern retailer making inroads up north. One look at their website and you find a hard core retailer in the realm of Best Buy or the recently defunct Circuit City. Their theme line: “We Help.” Ugh. Ironically, Circuit City had an identical mantra. It didn’t help them any.

Can you say “I buried Paul?”

As I immediately Tweeted and put on Facebook: How in God’s name can a hokey retailer get the rights to the Beatles’ “Help” for their crappy commercial? A first responder adroitly replied: They can’t. A cease and desist is imminent.

Indeed. There is NO WAY this is a legitimate usage of the Beatles catalog. After all, it took iTunes until last year just to get the rights to offer Beatles music for sale to consumers. With all do respect, Apple has a lot more credibility and money than hhgregg. A LOT MORE. But even if it were Apple, I’d be bummed.

I know not much is sacred in Adland, particularly when it comes to using popular music in modern marketing. But the Beatles? I don’t know what to say: Too soon? Not ever. That it was done in such a lame commercial makes the whole thing even more mind-boggling.

So what gives? I agree with my Friend on Facebook. This smacks of a sleazy attempt for some nobody-retailer to suddenly get noticed. By the time the lawyers force them to yank the campaign they will have achieved their awareness strategy. I’ve often wondered if stunts like this were legal. It’s certainly the way popular culture is going. Yet even if somehow the store acquired the rights to this music (naked photos of Paul McCartney?) it was still wrong. Way wrong.

Been there, done that…

My entire career, I’ve been a full time employee of three agencies. Before now, my only work stoppage (six months) was on account of a separation agreement.

This time I have no such covenants. Therefore, in addition to copious amounts of personal writing, I’ve also taken my first foray into freelance copywriting. To my pleasant surprise, I enjoyed it. A lot. Not only did I not miss being the boss I actually relished being inconspicuous. Why? Well, that’s the subject of this post. I think I have a fairly unique perspective. Hopefully, most of you will find it interesting and maybe even enlightening, especially if you’ve got designs on creative leadership.

Freelancing put me back in the creative trenches: conceptualizing and writing. Two things I deeply missed. Fact is, unless a Chief Creative Officer actively fights against it most of us end up being curators and choreographers. Those are important tasks but it’s just not the same as coming up with ideas and writing. Whether my peers admit it or not, the longer they stay out of the trenches the more likely their creative muscles atrophy. It’s the same as anything else: use it or lose it. Remaining a player/coach isn’t easy, especially if various members of the agency are driving you in different directions. In addition, you have to want to do the work. Think about it. If no one at the agency expects you to write copy or compose layouts then would you? Lots of ECD’s and CCO’s (the most famous ones included) don’t create anything anymore. Regarding global creative directors, a colleague once told me the only “books” those guys care about are their passports.

Freelancing, I no longer have to suffer fools the way most creative directors must. A CCO is expected to work with senior people across his or her network as well as for clients. While many in the C-suite are brilliant and pleasant plenty are also tools. Paid only to write they are no longer my concern. A blessing.

Finally, I don’t miss power. As a matter of fact, I’m here to tell you power is overrated. For one thing, it separates you from the people and places and things that make advertising so damn fun. While separation from the troops is endemic to any leadership position I missed the camaraderie. You know who scares me? The ECD or CCO who doesn’t. Those guys are trouble.

As a freelancer, I get to create work with the other people who create work. That “flow” trumps pomp and circumstance. Plus, whether or not I become a CCO again, it’s nice to know I’m comfortable working the skill sets that got me there in the first place.

Full disclosure: As a CCO, I was never a big fan of hiring freelancers. I thought perhaps they wouldn’t try as hard as FTE’s. Or be as vested in outcomes as FTE’s. I was dead wrong on the first point. (Freelancers won’t get hired back if they don’t go full out.) And while the second point is usually true it’s also a moot point. If a company demands loyalty from a freelancer offer him or her a damn job!


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