Poetry is a dying vine clinging to the stinking roadhouse of pop culture. Verse and beat and alliteration are now 140 characters, the new haiku. On steroids.

On advertising!

Brand after brand after brand like boxcars moving their freight using the rhyming words of dead men: Walt Whitman. Allen Ginsberg. In the ultimate Meta even the poetic rant of Robin Williams from a film called, of all things, Dead Poet’s Society is the new message for all of Apple’s new, new things. “What will your verse be?” As if Mac needed the incantation.

It is the ultimate irony the demon gatekeeper of popular culture has commandeered poetry. We are hearing it everywhere. Levis gave us the scratchy live recording of a dead poet in their propulsive and romantic “Go Forth” campaign. Johnnie Walker tells us to “Keep Walking.”

And so we do. Mashing words and music and imagery into myriad beats. We iterate. We aggregate. Co-opt and curate. We celebrate the stuff of life.

Copywriters are nothing if not failed poets turning out catch phrases “Just do it” and puns “Nothing runs like a Deere” and those are the good ones! The dusty classics. How many now don’t even compare? It doesn’t matter. We sing the body electric for toiletries and blue jeans. And when our great words are not great enough we simply commandeer someone else’s, someone who came before us, someone who died drunk and broke and likely unhappy but maybe not.

Who cares? Using old poems make advertising feel new and improved!

We wrote poems before copy. We read poetry before streaming horror movies and Old Spice commercials on You Tube. We wanted to be heard. And because the rejections from the New Yorker piled up like delivery menus in the hallway, spam in the inbox, we turned to advertising.

I mean I. Did that.

But We sounds so much cooler. More like poetry. Manifestos begin with “We.” Mantras and mission statements. Let’s motor!

In Adland, our lines mean a little something to all kinds of big nobodies. There we find recognition, awards and a paycheck. There I found an audience. There I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked…

No, I will not go there. But someone will. And soon. I guarantee it.

motorola-moto-x-print-ad-650x0
O’ spacious skies! Motorola goes all American…

Two huge consumer electronics brands have just launched advertising campaigns with patriotic themes, which makes a fitting topic for a post given the proximity to Independence Day. Alas, like a lot of jingoistic campaigns they both underwhelm.

What is far more surprising is who did them.

From Apple we get the clunky mantra “Designed by Apple in California.” Let me get this straight. An Apple commercial is telling me that Apple products are designed by Apple? Oh yeah, and in California. This from the company that told the world to “Think Different?”

Motorola attempts to rise from its cell phone grave by heralding an equally awkward, eerily similar refrain: “Designed by you. Assembled in the USA.” Honestly, words like “assembled” belong in an owner’s manual not the tag line. Besides, doesn’t “assembled” imply the parts came from somewhere else?

Clunkiness aside, this is also the first time either brand has ever relied on Americana to sell their wares.

Why now? Why period? To me it comes off as a cry for help. And maybe it is. Everyone is aware of both company’s troubles. Since the death of Steve Jobs Apple has gone nowhere fast. Samsung is eating them up and its share price is flagging. Could this limp wristed chest beating be in lieu of anything better to say? Motorola, on the other hand, could use all the help it can get. Still, I’m not wild about this use of red, white and blue. I think people want technology to be global. Giving tech a nationality makes it somehow feel smaller. A can of beer. Sure. A $500 smart phone I don’t think so.

Yet, Chiat (Apple) and Droga5 (Motorola) are both top-flight ad agencies, among the best in the world. Maybe they know something I don’t. (Frankly, I know they do!) So, what am I missing? Why are Apple and Motorola suddenly so patriotic?


Delightfully tacky stock photo of a “difficult client.”

Had coffee with another soldier in Adland. “Why are client’s so difficult?” he asked, rhetorically.

Those of us in creative departments have asked the question so many times it has become rote. Clients are difficult. Period. Especially with regard to buying and approving work. We expect them to demand changes to the concepts, to the script, to the voiceover, to the scene, to the CTA, to the size of the logo and so on.

We have become uncomfortably numb. We expect our work to be criticized. So much so the creation process has “revisions and changes” baked right into it. Furthermore, we are told –indeed, I’ve said it myself- if we were in our client’s shoes we’d do the same thing. To use the ultimate cliché “it is what it is.”

But you know what? That’s bullshit. I am far from perfect but I am usually a damn fine client. When I hire someone to do a creative job –be it a director or an architect or whomever- I never give him or her the kind of scrutiny that is typically given to me and/or my team. An interior designer shows me some designs I tell him which one I like, we discuss time and money, and I pay the man. This even when things are late and over budget, which they invariably are. Once in a while I have a question or an honest mistake has been made. We address it. Done. On to the next. Even though it’s my thing and my money I am seldom a dick.

Chances are you’re the same way.

So, why are advertising clients so difficult? Why all the concerns, tweaks and rejections? Like most things in the negative pantheon, I think the answer is fear based. CMO’s and their get are terrified (sometimes understandably) of losing their jobs. Often their counterparts at the agency feel the same way. Every tree we plant better bear fruit. Or else! With all that pressure (much of it self-imposed) it makes me wonder how they (or we) even get up in the morning.

Yet the resulting behavior –hacking at the tree or chopping it down- absolutely guarantees the tree will be barren. Or its yield will be paltry. In the end death by a thousand cuts is no different than doing nothing at all. Either way, the very thing one fears happening happens. The team is blown up. Another CMO is brought in and in turn another agency. The process begins all over again.

Creating campaigns is thrilling. Yet, their potential is and always will be unknown. Hence the thrill. No one can be sure how an audience will react to a thing until the thing is out there. What makes a client nervous might be what makes the thing truly great. We all know the story behind the world’s greatest advertisement, Apple’s “1984.” When it was screened to dealers everyone except its creators and Steve Jobs hated it. The agency, Chiat Day was asked to fire-sell the media, which happened to be two slots on the Super Bowl. One insertion was not sold. And the rest is history. Granted the follow-up commercial, “Lemmings” was an abject failure. Still, was Apple really hurt by it? No. Being reckless and cavalier has never hurt the brand. Failure can be the most excellent teacher.


Follow up to Apple’s “1984″ was considered a failure. So what?

So put it out there. Instead of ‘why are we so afraid?’ let’s ask ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ If it doesn’t work as planned we try something else.

Were it that simple, right?

Timely piece in AdAge on the virtues of failure.

Virtues of being “unpopular” from Tedx presentation.


A genius…and a douchebag?

Apple’s founder, Steve Jobs died one year ago. However, I’m just now reading his biography by Walter Isaacson. Among the book’s many surprises, none are as jolting (to me) as the endless examples depicting Steve Jobs as an egomaniacal asshole. Since so much has already been said regarding these controversial passages, I won’t go into them here. Among other things, he publicly berated his staff, stole ideas, took credit inappropriately and was unpardonably cruel to his family.

This by no means diminishes Job’s enormous contribution to Apple and, indeed, the world. Case in point, I’m writing this on one of his inventions, an iPhone and iPod are in my backpack. I use his stuff every day, constantly. So do most of you. Apple has become the most impressive brand in the world. And Steve Jobs had a lot to do with it.

Yet should that excuse him for having been an “assoholic” as one of his peers called him?

In a rare bit of self-awareness (apparently, he mostly had blinders on), Jobs admitted to being overly rough on his people but he remained unapologetic. He claimed the Mac would never have been created if not for his intolerance and meanness. Many people, including some he was ruthless to, concurred. In the end, according to Isaacson, they didn’t mind getting fucked over by a visionary.

Makes me think. In my time on the planet I’ve been intermittently difficult in matters of social discourse. I’m uncomfortable making small talk and listening to it as well. I’ve been an ass. Perhaps my record at work isn’t as spotty but it’s hardly immaculate either. I can be socially inept.

Granted, I’m not a creative visionary like Steve Jobs was but I am always trying to improve my behavior. What struck me about Steve Jobs is that he never bothered. When a brave insider called him on his bad behavior Jobs berated the man: “You don’t know what it’s like being me!”

Well, now we do.

Jobs’ claimed he was perpetually hard on Apple employees because otherwise the company would have softened, invariably inviting “B” players and eventually “C” players; which, of course, was unacceptable (to him).

Reminds me of Vince Lombardi.


Or Ayn Rand, a notoriously brilliant asshole.

Few of us are “special” like Steve Jobs but then we are not as cruel and unfair as he was either. Does that make us “B” players? Can an “A” player be a nice person?

Precious few creative geniuses grace Adland. Yet, I’m privileged to have known several of these men and women and can say, with a fair degree of certainty, that they’re not assholes, professionally or personally.

Obviously, there are jerks. Talent does not always predict good behavior. The backstabbing, cherry-picking, credit-hogging SOB is alive and well in Adland. While they are sometimes foiled by their own hubris, most hide inside the lingering fat of big agencies, manipulating people and the truth, and making too much money on the backs of others.

We are quick to call them hacks. But that might be a specious declaration. For hacks often possess great people skills. It helps him or her succeed in lieu of talent.

My wonderment is about the very best in our business, past and present. The true creative geniuses. Are/Were any of them assholes? If so, is/was bad behavior tolerated because of exceptional talent? Is “thinking different” a license to kill?

iWait…

I am officially, unequivocally amazed at the relentless fervor over Apple’s release of their newest iPhone. It’s almost as if the object came with the gift of immortality or offered some kind of glimpse into the meaning of life. People the world over want the damn thing. Are obsessed over it. Will wait in line for it. Over night! On the street! Will pay others to wait in line for it. Over night! On the street!

No matter it cost hundreds of dollars.

No matter it is only incrementally better than the previous iteration (which I own by the way).

No matter it will require costly peripherals to operate.

No matter Apple’s guru, Steve Jobs is dead.

No matter Samsung has arguably a better product and they are advertising it quite effectively.  The “waiting in line” campaign by agency 72 & Sunny is hysterical.

No matter Apple’s advertising isn’t what it used to be.

No matter.

People don’t care. The iPhone 5 is another hit in a long line of hits going back years: iPod. iTouch. iPad. iPhone.

iiiiiiiiiiiiiii…

I can’t think of a brand that has created so much heat for so long. Can you? Maybe Starbucks. Maybe Nike. Maybe the Simpson’s. Maybe not. We’re told nothing lasts forever. Especially in the ephemeral world of technology. Motorola. Nokia. I remember when Sony was the shit. Now those brands are also-rans, fading like embers from yesterday’s barbeque.

Even Christianity has seen better days. (Ironic it started with a man biting into an apple!) Cynic that I am I keep wondering if the other shoe will ever drop on Apple. Not when, mind you. “If.” Given there are more Apple products in our house than children and pets combined I’m not holding my breath. Or selling my stock.

First in line…

Fresh news: Apple worlds first trillion dollar company? 49141878

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