I was thinking about the concept of love/hate. Not love (puppies, your children, etc) or hate (terrorists, traffic, etc) or even of loving to hate (Abba, Reality TV, etc) but love/hate, that odd state of experiencing both feelings more or less at the same time.

Staying on point with this blog, nothing in my view exemplifies love/hate like advertising. Everybody hates TV commercials but loves them, too. We can’t stand how commercialized our culture is but are fiercely patriotic about it. Don Draper is loathsome… but awesome!

I wrestle with it daily. The strap line for my blog is “We make you want what you don’t need.” Hell, I wrote a novel about it, The Happy Soul Industry. Advertising plays fast and loose with most all the Seven Deadly Sins: Gluttony, Lust, Envy, Pride and so on. Coveting is bad juju. Materialism is pagan. Yet, these dark drivers steer us like go-carts, careening us into one another and ultimately ourselves. Outside of the Dalai Lama, I can’t think of anyone who is exempt from this conflict. And I even wonder about him…

“I love those Geico ads.”

What other thing inspires the majority in such a way? Politics? Maybe. Though when push comes to shove we generally take a side. We choose. And while it’s unlikely we ever love a candidate we certainly can and do hate the other.

There are variations of Love/Hate. We adore music but we abhor certain kinds of music. We crave food but loathe many dishes. I, myself, dig peanuts but despise peanut butter, which, of course, is another variation on this theme. And what about the laws that keep our society intact? Love those but hate lawyers. And yet what parent doesn’t want their kid to grow up to be one?

What’s unique about advertising is that we all most certainly would love a world without it yet at the same time would likely hate the world we live in without it. Paying to watch sports on TV? Times Square without neon? The Internet without banners… Okay, scratch that last one.

Ah, the Internet! That’s one isn’t it? In it’s pure state so free and unbridled by advertising. But what are the most popular domains? Amazon, Craig’s List, Ebay… That’s right. Basically all Advertising! OMG, it’s like brain freeze, which, by the way, I secretly love.

Today the water broke at gyro!

Ladies please forgive the comparison but we are in the process of birthing a new TV commercial, our first. And it is indeed a lot like delivering a child…metaphorically. And today we show the client the fruits of our labor: the rough cut. One big difference, unlike a child, the client is not obligated to love his commercial unconditionally. While I have ample reason to believe otherwise, he may loathe it.

The agency is a maternity ward, with expectant fathers pacing about, excited and nervous. The copywriter works the phones, preparing for his baby’s introduction into the world. The art director steals outside to smoke cigarettes. The account executive keeps asking all of us if there’s anything she can do, God bless her. And the client wants to see his goddam commercial. Right. F—king. Now!

And then there’s me: the most nervous and the most proud papa of them all. For it was only a few weeks ago the idea to make this spot was consummated. Until then, the scheme was but a glimmer in our agency president’s eye. He planted the unlikely seed with our client and they fertilized it with enthusiasm. But it was I who told my business partners and clients that yes we can do this thing; that it will be born on time, in budget, and most of all it will be fabulous! And so it will be me who presents this creation to our client, they who footed the bill, trusting us, trusting me, now anxiously awaiting a glimpse of their progeny: the rough cut!

At no time is the cliché about ads being “our babies” more apt than in the making of a TV commercial. For me, crafting a print ad or some graphic design is more like art. More intimate. Less frantic. Waiting to see a piece of film, with living breathing characters, acting in a story, is as amazing as it is precarious. The stakes (emotionally and financially) are massive. Even in the Internet age the average broadcast commercial costs several hundred thousand dollars to produce. Ours was no exception.

And they liked it! God willing, so will you…

Elephant, Residence Inn

Giraffe, Residence Inn

Call me champion of the unappreciated or call me a chump but I genuinely enjoy praising advertising that is usually overlooked, often unfairly.

This new campaign for Residence Inn by mcgarrybowen (the agency the hipsters love to hate) is a perfect example. Both agency and client represent a brand of thinking that bucks trends and invites criticism. So be it. But this new advertising has a lot going for it…

First and foremost, we have a beauty of a tagline: It’s not a room. It’s a Residence. Genius. Not only does it take the ubiquitous hotel-word “room” and deposition it as a compromise but the line also makes the brand name a hero while working its double meaning. It shares many of the same qualities as my all-time favorite strap line: “Nothing runs like a Deere” for John Deere.

Then there’s the wonderfully old school “demo” featuring animals known for their bigness (a giraffe, an elephant) freely gallivanting about their “residences” with plenty of room to spare. As far as I can tell these demonstrations are totally legit, in other words no CGI or modified stage sets. Just big animals in big, beautiful hotel rooms… I mean residences. And I have to admit these residences do look pretty nice.

I’ve never been a fan of “animal commercials.” They ‘re typically too cheesy, predictable or even creepy. FYI: I never liked stupid pet tricks. It’s my opinion these spots work because the animals serve a ‘bigger’ concept and are not just there for laughs. One could argue animals and hotel rooms don’t mix and I don’t dispute this might be a turnoff for some. But I doubt it.

Finally, the film is pretty and the writing is surprisingly witty. What can I say: it ain’t bad.

Goes great with rat droppings!

I’m betting this is not a real ad. I got it from Psychographism, a website trafficking in ad-like objects, some real and some not. I’m guessing this clever piece of outdoor propaganda belongs in the latter camp. Frankly, I’m hoping it does. Call me crazy but linking coffee to New York’s sewer system seems like a very bad idea. Especially for such a well known brand as Folgers. They would never do something this down and dirty. Not in a million years.

Zealous students of Adland (the likely makers of this work) are increasingly in the habit of creating risqué advertising, regardless of good sense. Their hearts are more or less in the right place but they are not thinking. Clearly.

Clever as this execution is, it suggests the product tastes like something steaming from below a sewer. In my book that’s a deal breaker.

Where do these ideas come from? My fear is that certain portfolio schools are partly responsible. Teachers and students alike want so much to get noticed that they abandon reason to achieve notoriety. They see fame factories like Crispin Porter & Bogusky making shock and awe and they assume they can and should as well. They see ever more crazy shit on You Tube and they assume stunts and badass behavior constitute the new standard for modern advertising. They saw famous actresses crapping in the streets in the Oscar-nominated Bridesmaids and, well, it and they were nominated for Academy awards!

Therefore, they think: Who cares if it’s a sewer? It’s shaped like a cup of coffee and steam comes out of it. That would make a great ad for Folgers!

True story. A long time ago I was working on a beer account, either Miller or Bud, I forget. (I’ve worked on both.) Anyway, we were in the middle of a big creative presentation and this team presents a commercial set in the bathroom of a bar. It was clever and it got a lot of laughs. But it was also killed. Promptly. The Creative Director pointed out that while beer drinkers do take lots of pisses the brewery would never tolerate their golden liquid being associated with that golden liquid. Or as my amigo, Joe Dapier reminds: “The reason this ambient doesn’t work is the same reason people don’t advertise on urinal cakes.”

Has advertising “evolved” is such a way that prudent creative direction no longer holds water?

Something rubs me the wrong way about Budweiser’s lavish “End of Prohibition” commercial, which first ran on the Superbowl. Not the idea, which I like. But the tone. Beer did not save America from sadness. It’s a libation. Not a cure.

The idea is based on a true story, which the commercial tells us via title card. I believe it’s the bit where the iconic Budweiser Cleisdales deliver a shit-ton of beer to a just re-opened bar. Cool. Like I said, a good idea.

Where the commercial goes awry (in my opinion) is in tone and manner. Its swaggering demeanor comes off as hokey and forced, further dramatized by a blatantly heroic musical score. None of this surprises me. The agency and client undoubtedly went for a War Horse look and feel. And why not? Both stories are period pieces. Both stories feature horses.

But the ball, albeit well hit, goes foul of the pole. Consider these images: The dusty can-opener lifted off an unused bar. The guy in mid-shave forgetting to towel off. A newsboy rushing through the street shouting at the top of his lungs: “It’s over! It’s over!” Chill out Phidippides.

Even the super rankles: “Prohibition denied Americans BUDWEISER for 13 years.” The biggest word in the sentence is the client’s name. Hmmm. The other nouns seem like they should be more important. And couldn’t AB get off their high horse and state the fact that it was alcohol prohibited to Americans, not just Budweiser?

Beer is good. And this is a good story. But this commercial is a might drunk on its own hubris.


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