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Selfie from Hawaii, posted much to the chagrin of my children…

Oddly, there is nowhere in Hawaii to smoke my cigar. The hotel I am staying in –the lovely Surf Rider in Waikiki- has positively no smoking anywhere on the premises, which is why I’m huddled beneath a canopy in one of the stately courtyards currently not being used, which is surprising, given it is Saturday night and I counted four different brides shuffling nervously from powder room to salon. Interesting, each of these lovely ladies is Japanese.

For those unawares, myself included, the Japanese absolutely adore Honolulu, ironic I should think given Pearl Harbor. A local told me they started coming in droves when the Yen got strong, during the 1980’s, and have not stopped. I’m not exaggerating when I say there are more Japanese tourists here than Americans, followed a distant third, by Australians. It’s a nice place; I don’t blame them!

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A yen for Hawaii…

If the global economy is still troubled one cannot tell it here. Honolulu is packed with tourists. I cannot recall being at a place with so many people not from that place. Consumers abound!

Honolulu is expensive, even by San Francisco standards. I’m guessing, however, that prices are even higher in Tokyo. How else does one explain all the glitzy retailers like Gucci and Prada positively killing it? $30 dollar and up entrees are commonplace at most restaurants. Alas, the fare is mediocre. Even high-end establishments serve food no better than business class on a plane. That said, I’m certain the casual dining is superb and much cheaper. But my wife values ambiance. As good as it looked to me, we were not getting plates of spicy chicken from a strip mall or bags of fried shrimp from the ubiquitous “shrimp trucks” lining the public beaches. Our loss.

What little advertising I’ve seen on the television in my room is comprised mostly with candidates running for local and state elections. These electoral ads are as crappy as anywhere else, with each candidate hitting on family values and a history of caring for people and the Hawaiian way of life. One spot was about how poor the candidate’s parents were: they didn’t even have hot water! I guess cold showers help in making good decisions. I will give the local populace points for zeal. There are placards everywhere.

In non-advertising news, we swam with dolphins just off the western shore. There was no shortage of these ”spinners” either. In the water five minutes and they were all around us: delightful creatures, social and chattering, blissfully unafraid of our presence in their aquamarine playground. We also visited Turtle Bay on the North Shore. And sure enough…

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Shutterbugs are annoying to turtles but better than tiger sharks…

Another awesome sight are the massive, sprawling Banyan trees one encounters on the island. Mature branches sprout hanging tendrils that eventually become massive trunks of the same tree, perpetuating its canopy. The one at our hotel is perhaps the island’s most famous, planted over 100 years ago; it now spans the entire courtyard of the hotel, covering a bar and café in its shady canopy.

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My lovely daughters arrive at Waikiki…

On our last night my wife is taking the girls to a Luau, their first. Mercifully, I do not have to go. The idea of spending three hours watching Polynesian folk dancing does nothing for me.

So, that is my snapshot of Hawaii, with some attention given to themes relevant to this blog. And to think, I got through the whole piece without saying “aloha.”

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Crazy good!

For the past few days, even longer, I have been working on a manifesto for one of our (hopefully) new clients. Actually, I’ve been working on two. Even more actually, I’ve been working on manifestos for 25 years, since becoming a copywriter.

Nothing suits me more. For like many a creative soul, I am by nature a show off. And this is the way I can do it. I know I am not alone. Most copywriters get off on writing manifestos. At least they’d better. Writing such documents is at the heart of what we do, and can do, for our clients.

Most of you know what I’m talking about. For those unawares, a manifesto or mantra or anthem is the bringing to life in words the highest and most noble aspirations of its subject matter, aka the brand.

Yes, it is advertising copy but in the best sense of the word. Think Apple’s great script to the modern world: Think Different. Consider the lines that first and forever defined Nike to a generation: Just Do It. We know these iconic tags because we fell in love with the manifestos. Frankly, neither line would have lasted this long, or even gotten out the door, if not for their beloved manifestos.

The power and glory of a brilliant manifesto cannot be overstated. They raise the hairs on the back of your neck. They make CMO’s smile. They win pitches. Most of all they change things: attitudes, behaviors, even lives.

At least the good ones do.

Alas, we’ve all heard or, God forbid, written our share of shitty ones. They can be purple or redundant or both. They get long pretty damn fast. They turn into cheesy rip-o-matics. Yet, in a weird way, even the bad ones sound pretty good. They are like pizza that way.

Why?

Because we slave over them. Into these haloed paragraphs we put everything we know or think we know about writing, about persuading, about life. Here you won’t find speeds and feeds, racks and stacks or friends and family call free! None of that. For these are the best neighborhoods in Adland. No thugs allowed.

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helping others is scary…

Helping a sister agency within your network is a double-edged sword if ever there was one. In theory the helper gets the benefit of participating in important national or global business, which can mean lucrative assignments with blue chip clients as well as face time with your company’s top management. In theory…

The reality is often far less lucrative for the helper. For one thing, the help you provide is speculative. Aka unpaid. If they/you lose the pitch it stays that way, which actually is a loss, given whatever hours (usually plenty) your office sunk into it.

To encourage participation, agency brass generally promise and always imply that should the network win its engagement a fair share of the revenue will come your way. In my lengthy experience of helping –and, yes, also soliciting help- this rarely happens. With few exceptions, the soliciting office keeps the money, makes the work and holds all the key relationships.

And that’s the winning scenario!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before any verdict is rendered a shit-ton of work must be produced, the bigger the stakes the more work that is required. There are other reasons for soliciting help from a network partner (geography, skill sets, etc.) but it almost always comes down to increasing the breadth and depth of your agency’s response.

The only person who has the juice to request (aka commandeer) another office’s resources is the network’s CEO, (though the actual request may come from one of his lieutenants, perhaps the CMO or Head of Strategy.)

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“More resources…or I will release the hounds!”

Answering the dinner bell is is what constitutes your “face time” with top management. While this experience has genuine value, it is also far more one sided than you’d like. Trust me. Command central is only interested in winning. Once they’ve drafted you they are only concerned with your output. Not your opinion. Not your participation. Most certainly not your emotional health.

This means what you think it does. You are building a pyramid for Pharaoh. When “feedback” for your efforts does come, it will be a litany of change orders delivered by a fear driven messenger. He will smile and listen to you vent. It will change nothing. Therefore, any illusion you may have regarding a dialog with He Who Wears The Crown needs to be forgotten. Building a pyramid demands heavy lifting and your office can either do so angrily or stoically. It makes no difference to Pharaoh. Either way, you’re gonna do it.

All this being, said I’ve never declined giving help no matter the circumstances. And my guess is neither will you. Look. People are intrinsically good, even ad people. We are wired to provide assistance. We may fancy ourselves as solo creators but we also want to play for a winning team. What’s good for the goose, right? Yes, they will cry wolf once too often. Yes, you’ll be mortgaging your time on a loan that might never get repaid. And yes you will want to kill someone in the home office. But then you will get back to work. We always do.

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“C’mon angel, that leaked memo was pretty sweet.”

My last post on advertising agency, Cramer-Krasselt parting ways with client, Panera Bread garnered more views in one day than any other in this blog’s history. On June 13, several thousand of you read my story about a frustrated agency CEO having reached his wit’s end with a client. He’d written a memo to his staff, which had been “leaked.” For the record, the story wasn’t my “get.” I’d learned about it from a piece in AdAge. I know from experience agencies seldom let go clients let alone provide messy details. The fact that I once had unpleasant dealings with this client made writing about it impossible to resist.

Given the boffo amount of readers the post attracted I guess I am glad I wrote my story. I “guess” because although I am grateful to anyone who reads my blog, I wish I received those numbers for my other less sensational stories. I get it though. There was more than a hint of gossipy revelation (leaked memo!) in the reporting and we all know that chum attracts fish.

Controversy sells. Duh.

Not surprisingly, the second most-read story I’ve ever written was on the controversial closing of the Chicago office of J Walter Thompson. This was big news in Adland, especially in my hometown Chicago. I knew a lot of the people involved and had almost worked there myself. It too was a tale soaked in chum.

Interestingly, the third most viewed piece was nothing like the first two; it was an essay I’d written on our tendency to “front” on Facebook. I’d been seeing a lot of shiny, happy faces on the platform and was curious to explore why. I loved that story but I know the reason why it got so many hits was only because WordPress chose to “freshly press” it, for which I am grateful.

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“Let me tell you about last night…”

There’s a brilliant episode of the Simpson’s where, in typically surreal fashion, Homer finds himself teaching a self-help class on marriage. He quickly learns in order to keep his class interested he must reveal intimate details about his love life. Much to his wife’s dismay the class quickly becomes the talk of the town. Things escalate. Despite Marge’s pleas, Homer finds it nearly impossible to stop gossiping about his marriage. The rush he gets from all the attention is too intoxicating. That is until everything blows up in his face.

Because I am mostly not a cartoon I cannot allow things to blow up in my face. Unlike Homer, I like my job. Therefore, I’m afraid most of my posts will continue to be about ad campaigns, consumerism and popular culture. But I am an addict and I did like seeing that massive spike in my dashboard. So you never know…


Understanding meaning without understanding words…

Tim Nudd of Adweek asks if Beats by Dre “just out-Nike-d Nike” with a new five minute film celebrating the World Cup, which begins shortly in Rio. The answer is yes and the reason isn’t the game’s featured stars’ prowess on the pitch but rather what these athletes do before the games. Hence the film’s title, The Game Before the Game. The rituals, the cultural details, the family involvement. These are the things that make this film shine.

In particular, the riveting opening scene featuring Brazil’s Neymar Jr. engaging his father in a quiet but intense telephone conversation -apparently a pregame ritual. What I especially love about this scene is the use of sub titles. The intimacy of the words is made even more poignant by seeing them.

Not too long ago, in my previous agency, we proposed a concept featuring an Italian mother speaking to her child before sitting down to a bowl of our client’s pasta, which was a huge Italian brand. While the commercial was intended for an American audience, we wanted to highlight the client’s authentic Italian heritage by filming the dialog in Italian and using sub titles. We were filming in Italy with an Italian cast for that very reason: to be authentic.

The client vetoed the idea. In fact, they were vehemently opposed to it. The reason cited was that American audiences would be frustrated by having to read. Instead they preferred we find an Italian cast that spoke English well enough to deliver the lines.

What a fail that was.

In my opinion it is the use of sub titles that drew me in to the Beats’ commercial. Hearing the men speak in a very personal way, in their native tongue, is what establishes the films high level of integrity and authenticity. The filmmakers could have chosen another way to open the spot making it “easier” on foreign audiences. But they didn’t. They could have tried getting the two men to recite their lines in English. But they didn’t.

Conversely, what my provincial client failed to grasp is that we live in a global world. Hearing other languages is a part of our everyday lives, regardless of where we live. Why should commercials be any different?

To this argument, our client said their Middle-American target was not sophisticated enough to appreciate a commercial in another language. Bullshit. While I partially agree the average American may not have patience for a movie with sub-titles they certainly could tolerate a 30 second commercial. Plus, and this is key, the fact that the characters were speaking Italian would say a lot more about the pasta’s authenticity than the inane lines we had scripted. Our pleas fell on deaf ears, pun intended.

In 2014, l like to think most advertiser’s are “progressive” enough to get that American audiences can handle a foreign language being spoken in a TV commercial as well as the sub-titles (if necessary). Ironically, in other countries other languages (particularly English) are a part of modern advertising. Granted, English is the default language of the world.

Whatever. Are we still asking if “it’ll play in Peoria?” Are we that provincial? Are we that stupid?

Special update: super similar story via AdAge:http://adage.com/article/cmo-strategy/world-cup-marketers-air-subtitled-spots/293973/?utm_source=daily_email&utm_medium=newsletter&utm_campaign=adage&ttl=1404854361

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