Making fun of monks may not be very zen but it is intrusive.

We’ve all seen the commercial, the one where Tim Hutton has dinner at Tibet’s expense. If you didn’t catch it on the Super Bowl (all three of you) then you most certainly read about it EVERYWHERE. The damn thing made the front page in all the papers. Conan did a skit. Bloggers went bonkers. Children cried! And now even I am putting in my two cents.

My opinion: Yes, it was crass. But crassness is why it was so intrusive. And intrusive is something advertisers want to be, especially those seeking marketing communications from a certain shop in Boulder Colorado. CP&B promises fame for its clients. Period. And fame is what they delivered.

Groupon is now covering its tracks claiming that consumers didn’t see the big picture; that, in fact, they are a socially aware company. That the causes they make fun of are actually near and dear to their hearts. That if one looks on their website one will find links to charities sponsoring the very causes they poke fun at. This morning, I read they are also “tweaking” the commercials so that all this ‘goodness’ becomes clearer to the consumer. Then I read they are pulling some or all of the work from air. What next: A mea culpa from the CEO?

Too late. The spot ran on the Super Bowl and that means it is part of history. Better said, it made history. Therefore, it did what it was supposed to do. Agency CP&B made yet another client more famous than they were before contracting them. No easy feat if you’re Groupon.

And it wasn’t the first time they’ve done so using shock and awe. Remember Crispin’s campaign for VW, which horrifyingly dramatized car crashes? Or when they gave Whoppers to poor people in third world countries? CP&B pushes buttons other agencies (and their clients) don’t, won’t and can’t. It’s their M.O. And they fearlessly stick to it.

And Groupon knew it. Why else would they have contacted them? They wanted dynamite and they got it. In my opinion, for them to pretend the collateral damage was wholly unintended is more offensive than the commercials.

And while King Consumer can react to the work as he or she pleases, we in Adland should think hard before throwing stones. Emulating CP&B has long been a silent mandate in many creative departments. This could be one of those teachable moments for all of us. Knock it off or lighten up. But before taking sides, take stock.

Something else. Alex Bogusky left his namesake agency for personal reasons. Once, he was their creative leader and conscience but that same conscience directed him elsewhere. A higher calling, if you will. He is now fronting a socially aware brand of capitalism called “Common.” Could it be Alex wearied of creating drama reckless of his moral compass? I would love his take on the Groupon campaign. Wouldn’t you?

Update: I had the spot posted above but it was yanked from You Tube, ergo the Tibetan flag…

Wearing your heart…

Presumably you’re in advertising or you wouldn’t be reading this blog -unless, of course, you’re my mother. Hi Mom! That means you’re well aware how much our profession has taken it on the chin lately. And not just because of the recession. Other shit that has hurt our industry, in no particular order: too many awards shows. Corrupt awards shows. Scam ads. Holding companies. Ageism. A woeful lack of diversity. Closings. Firings. Layoffs. Bogus pitches. Greedy consultants. Cheap clients. Evil bloggers. And yes, bad product. As Lee Clow so eloquently put it, “Ninety percent of advertising is shit.” He may have said “Ninety five percent.” He may have used the word “crap.” I’m paraphrasing.

In any event, I bet we could all use a reminder of why the ad game is still so much fun…

I look forward to Mondays. I really do. Part of the reason is because I am subordinate to everyone in my home, including the dogs, whereas at work I am the CHIEF CREATIVE OFFICER.

Anyway, other than recklessly wielding incredible power, here’s what makes me happy about advertising, often on a daily basis. First and foremost: I like coming up with ideas and selling them. The moment of creation is a blessed event in my life. Breaking through. Nailing it. However you describe the ah-ha moment. I love that. Unlike some of my peers, I also like selling ideas. Unveiling creative ideas to clients is exciting and fun. Not always, sure. But it’s supposed to be. After all, we’re showing the client a glorious new campaign. For some, this has become a fear driven affair. I’m lucky. Pitching and presenting thrill me to the core. Losing sucks, yes. But today we’re talking about what we like about advertising. What I like anyway.

I like the people. We are crazy, neurotic, brilliant, damaged, and young at heart. We dress up. We dress down. We ride our bikes to work. We are inappropriate. We have fun, even if it’s in a crazy, neurotic, damaged way.

I like the technology! The moment Apple created a laptop my agency gave me one. They’ve been giving me one ever since. I’m typing on it now. Advertising also gave me my Blackberry. We have more flat screens than an ESPN Zone. Down the hall is a full blown recording studio. Try finding that in a bank.

I like the travel. Milan, Paris, London, Shanghai. I’ve been all over the world. Especially L.A. and New York. And this isn’t just because of luck although I most certainly am lucky. Many creatives go many places, provided they are good at coming up with ideas and selling them.

Most advertising creatives adore production. Up before sunrise. 14-hour days. Hurry up and wait. That said you meet the coolest people on production. Like the film crew, who are cooler than you because you are now the client! Still, you’re making a film in Hollywood. It’s like being in the center of a reality TV show. What’s not too like?

I will finish where I began: Coming up with ideas and selling them. For me, nothing is as satisfying. This is why I like Mondays better than Fridays. This is why I love advertising.

Steffan\’s Twitter address

The Happy Soul Industry on Amazon

Out of the mouths of babes…

Along with editorial about the nefarious side of our industry, the inimitable George Parker (Adcam/the Horror!) often posts sexy photos of supermodel, Kate Moss. English and silly; it’s like page 3 in the UK’s Daily Star, which is devoted to topless women. This is but one of the reasons why Parker’s blog is so popular.

The other day Parker had a story to go along with the photo of Kate. Apparently, Miss Moss was asked if she had any favorite mottos. She replied: “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” According to Parker, she took some heat for saying it. Promoting anorexia in young women, etc…

Moral implications aside, as a piece of copy, I love this saying. For all the back and forth on dieting and body image, Kate’s axiom hits the sweet spot, or soft spot, depending on your point of view. The statement is persuasive in the extreme. It rings true (even if it isn’t.) It motivates. It’s a great line.

Given I recently wrote about annoying phrases we could do without, it seems only fitting I write about pieces of language that still hold their power. Sentences like that are pretty special; they don’t feel manufactured or repurposed. True or not, I feel as though Kate made this one up herself. And I say to myself: ‘Ah, that’s it. Now I know how and why supermodels stay thin.’

During an interview about new business pitches, I once made the following statement: “Losing feels worse than winning feels good.” I’ve since heard it used before. Yet, at the time, I felt I’d come up with it. Both lines (mine and Kate’s) are great reminders at how powerful the human language can be.

Ernest Hemingway was obsessed with making sure every sentence he wrote was perfect. Subsequently, most of them were. But once in a while schlubs like me, or Kate Moss, get it right as well.

Adscam post

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Steffan\’s novel!

The Adchick featured a pretty terrific German TV commercial the other day. Highlighting the spot here also gives me a chance to introduce la femme d’advertising to you. Adchick runs a small agency in “Hooterville” (her words). The small-town perspective she brings to the urbane but jaded world of Adland is always appreciated… and fun. Bookmark this lady, folks. You won’t regret it.


Adchick, you dirty bird!

As for the pro-bono TV commercial, it’s the perfect subject matter for my blog. It’s not that we haven’t seen the idea before. Variations on its theme are ingrained in popular culture. The idea of following a piece of currency (in this case 50 Euros) from one person to another reminds me of countless stories, films and, if you think about it, the evolution of communication itself. Is not the telephone game a variation on this theme?

Here the currency circulates through society’s grimy underbelly, from stripper to thug to drug dealer, eventually being put to “good” use helping a worthy cause. Such a simple idea, as old and universal as organized religion. Good triumphs over evil.

Understandably, most of the TVC focuses on evil. That’s what makes the spot cool, right? Yes, but I’d also argue there’s deeper meaning here, perhaps more so than even the filmmakers intended. While the currency is inanimate it symbolizes mankind’s descent into Hell. Money is the root of all evil, right? In this short film we partake in all seven deadly sins: Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, Pride. Why? Because hitting bottom is a necessary part of recovery. We need to wallow in depravity before getting saved.

Then redemption. When the banknote is finally placed in the charity jar the story is complete. More than a happy ending, through this act of contrition, the giver receives salvation. In a sense, we all do.

Out of pride, I’m sure the creators of this film only wanted to win some awards… but their creator found them as well! God works in mysterious ways. Especially the Gods of Advertising!


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I, Troll.

June 8, 2009

I create therefore I snark

Those of you who follow the advertising trade blogs, or even just this one, are likely aware of this creative director’s more dramatic moments in the blogosphere. Without giving details (you know how to find them!), I’ve been vilified, praised, offended and defended; some of it deserved, some of it not. I’ve come to expect the haters. For the most part, they no longer bother me. Price of entry, I reason.

Alas, I learned my lessons the hard way, which, given the newness of this frontier, might be the only way. Once, upon discovering a slew of hate about me, I lashed out into the void, futilely trying to defend myself. Dumb move. This only fanned the flames, in effect making me guilty of my accusers claims by association. Heed my warning: fight back on the Internet and you will invariably lose. The blogosphere is a casino and trolls run the house.

Unfortunately, remaining stoic is easier said than done. There is something unsettling about seeing your name in a situation where you didn’t write it. Even now my heart still skips a beat whenever I discover something written about me, even if it is flattering. Especially when it’s not.

And so, in the proverbial heat of the moment, I’ve reacted. I’ve also been an instigator. Maybe I didn’t hide behind a pseudonym but I was abusing the privilege and power that comes with the Internet.

In most cases, I’ve tried to make amends. That may be ill advised as well. Recently, a mea culpa elicited more jeers than cheers. Again, heed my warning: You. Can’t. Win.

That said I intend to close this discussion with a controversial hypotheses. And here it is: I’ve come to believe that most haters and trolls in the advertising blogosphere are (or were) members of the creative department. Only we possess that unique combination of insecurity and unrequited ambition which, when ignited, creates levels of schadenfreude not seen anywhere else in Ad Land. I’ve written about this before. Creatives are constantly being criticized (and praised) for their ideas. We crave adulation, never quite learning how to process criticism. No excuse for bad behavior. But it is what it is.

No question bitter account people are trolling the Internet; jilted CEOs, the recently fired, but I am convinced these poor souls do not take it out on the Internet (and on each other) the way we do.

Circumstantial evidence abounds. Below the C-suite, just about every online attack I can recall was directed at creative people, creative directors in particular. We are over rated, over paid, over exposed, over analyzed. The only people who care that much about us is… us.

Food for thought next time you’re composing a clever piece of vitriol about that hack at Y&R, that perverse Crispin spot or that grandiose has-been at Euro ☺. Remember you’re not as anonymous as you think: You are likely a male. And you are almost certainly a creative.

Prove me wrong. If you’re not creative and you’ve also been an online troll, let us know. Let me know. You can start by unloading right here and now!


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