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Imprisoned, King set forth to writing…

When I was in college, I took a course on rhetoric and debate in 20th century America. In it, we looked at numerous famous speeches made by famous people: Lincoln, Jefferson, King, etc. Learning from great persuaders how to fashion a rational and emotional argument would later become useful as a copywriter and presenter. During that semester, no document we studied was more powerful than Martin Luther King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail.

I am not being glib when I say Letter from a Birmingham Jail is one of the finest pieces of long copy ever written. No question Equal Rights was and is a big idea. I like LFABJ better than King’s more famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Not because of content (both are awesome) but because of circumstances. King was alone in a jail cell when he wrote it.

On this, the anniversary of what would have been MLK’s 85th birthday; I think it a fine thing to reexamine this seminal document. An excerpt follows. The full text is linked below it.

“We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html

sinbad
“I will protect the creative with my life!”

We’ve been very busy at the agency, developing campaigns for a diverse and interesting array of fabulous clients. (Dear clients, note I said “fabulous” and that I lead with it.) That said, our ideas are now being “socialized,” a lengthy and treacherous path in which all work must pass. Few make it. We will do everything in our power to see that ours do…

In Adland, guiding a truly great idea through to completion is not unlike facing the many hardships Sinbad endured during his seventh treachery-laden voyage in 1958. (Not really, but humor me.) In that quintessential B-movie, the legendary special effects genius, Ray Harryhausen (1920-2013) pitted the seafaring swashbuckler against an armada of spectacular pre-CGI creatures that not only took Sinbad to the brink but also changed Hollywood forever.

But I digress.

My point is that it’s soooo difficult producing excellent work in a business built by process and mired in fear. Whether it’s a quick and certain death by the brutish Cyclops or killing by a thousand cuts from the many-armed Serpent Queen, getting our best work in market (unmolested) is, alas, damn near impossible. It can be done, obviously. But you can only lead the horse to water.

seventhvoyage-cyclopd-idol
“I will defeat your idea!”

Notice I wrote “produce” and not “create.” Contrary to popular hater belief, I don’t think most agencies are shit when it comes to creating excellent work. I’ve been doing this a long time and worked in just enough places to know that the ‘most agencies suck’ criticism just isn’t true. Most of us know what we are doing and generally get it up creatively for every brief.

I see spectacular work all the time. Hell, sometimes I even create it myself. But hard as that is, that is the easy part. Because for every hundred truly special campaigns generated inside a given agency perhaps five make it into the culture; and of those five only one gets out with all its feathers intact.

Experience the journey in terrifying Dynarama! See…

The vulnerable idea face its first hurdle of potential despair: The slew of the Internal. Hopefully, the idea’s champion (it’s Sinbad!) can protect it. For while the internal meeting starts with best intentions it may quickly devolve into chaos. (Fortunately, that never happens at your agency.)

And then, if we are lucky, the idea sails on to the client. Sinbad or not, these rocky shores have claimed many an agency’s idea. For it is here the Beasts of Doubt are unleashed. Up the organization it goes, suffering withering scrutiny. The Medusa of Research can and does turn our ideas into stone. That or something unrecognizable: a creature that is neither fish nor fowl. Pig Man!

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The many daggers of research!

During the lengthy ordeal a new King or Queen of Marketing may take the throne. Happens all the time. This ruler often has other ideas. Back you go! If an idea moves forward slashed budgets may take their toll, rendering your concept ill equipped to take on its daunting task of myth making and persuading certain masses.

In the end it is usually time that defeats an idea. Even Sinbad cannot battle time. A few months into the process of creating/selling/producing an idea and folks begin to second-guess it. If it was so good, comes the question, then why is it taking so goddam long to make?

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“By the Gods, will this ever end?”

So, here’s to the one in a hundred. The great idea that somehow grows stronger as it moves through its voyage. The concept that won’t die no matter what anyone throws at it. The great irony is these precious ideas are so rare they don’t even need a Sinbad to protect them. For they are legendary.

The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad

images-33
Imprisoned, King set forth to writing…

When I was in college, I took a course on rhetoric and debate in 20th century America. In it, we looked at numerous famous speeches made by famous people: Lincoln, Jefferson, King, etc. (Learning from great persuaders how to fashion a rational and emotional argument would later become highly useful in my career as a copywriter –both as a writer and presenter.) During that semester, no document we studied was more powerful than Martin Luther King’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.”

I am not being glib when I say the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is one of the finest pieces of long copy ever written. Certainly Equal Rights is a big idea. I like it better than King’s more famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Not because of content (both are awesome) but because of circumstances. King was alone in a jail cell when he wrote it.

On this, the anniversary of what would have been MLK’s 84th birthday; I think it a fine thing to reexamine this seminal document. An excerpt follows. The full text is linked below it.

“We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Letter From a Birmingham Jail


A man of few words…

I’ve always wished I talked a little bit less, sometimes a lot less. There’s something masculine and right about a man of few words. And given my propensity to self-disclose and/or take another person’s inventory I’m pretty sure I’d be a better man if I talked less and listened more.

We all would.

Fortunately, I happen to be a pretty good talker, at least in the context of talking about ideas. Selling them, sure. After twenty plus years in advertising I’d better be.

But what I’m talking about here is “thinking out loud.” Speaking about an idea while you’re forming it, if that makes sense. I can get caught up in an idea or rather an idea gets caught up in me. I need to untangle it. Let it out, knots and all. Sort of like writing, an idea seems to get better (for me) while it is being expressed. It’s like I am pitching it to myself and creative directing it at the same time! Unfortunately, this can be perceived as rambling. And there are few things as annoying as a rambler.

What to do? First off, I like to remind my audience that I am indeed thinking out loud. I beg their pardon if you will. Then I listen or try to. Listening well is so important and yet so hard to do, especially if you’re an insecure creative person with a big ego, like me.

This leads me to another point. When I’m excited I tend to talk better than I listen. Many of us do. For example, when I’m in a big meeting, pitching an idea, it can be hard to turn off the verbal faucet. Even though I’ve improved a great deal over the years, I still wish I could sit on my tongue. Say my piece and shut up. Like Clint Eastwood.


“I’m your favorite campaign.”

My opinion, the best advertising of 2010 is the “Mayhem” campaign for Allstate. Yes, I once worked at Leo Burnett but that just makes me happier and prouder making this choice. Besides, I like to think of myself as an early adapter to this campaign. Back in June I applauded the introduction of “Mayhem” even when others didn’t.

The others were wrong. Actor Dean Winters and his “Mayhem” character have already ensconced themselves into popular culture. And unlike other popular advertising characters (Can you say ‘Flo’ from Progressive?), Mayhem is smartly written and deftly produced. Some eight or ten spots later, not only does the campaign have legs but the work is getting better and better. Have you seen the holiday commercial? It’s hysterical.

I know there have been more famous marketing creations in 2010. Early on, Old Spice and Nike knocked campaigns out of the park. But those brands moved on. Mayhem, on the other hand, keeps on wreaking havoc, making it a big, enduring idea. The others, however brilliant, were one-offs. A solo homerun, no matter how far it’s hit, is still a one-point affair. (Granted, advertisers like Nike and Old Spice have demonstrated they are very capable of hitting numerous solo homeruns! As of this writing AOR for both brands, Wieden & Kennedy was deservedly selected agency of the year by Adweek.)

My one quibble: no Mayhem on Allstate’s website. Nor could I find any digital work highlighting Mayhem. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. After all, Mayhem is what prompts us to buy insurance not where we go to buy it. Still, if the campaign wants to become the penultimate case study they’re going to want/need some digital credentials.

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