Making simple cool, circa 1980

New York Times marketing columnist, Stuart Elliot recently wrote an article heralding “simplicity” as the new, new thing in Adland and popular culture in general. He cited numerous examples of modern marketers capitalizing on a trend to “get back to the basics” and to provide consumers with “simple solutions.” Somewhat wearily, trend spotter Marian Salzman added, “We envy the time we had just three TV channels to choose from.”


Reading this article I could not help but think of my father’s agency, Rubin Postaer & Associates and their decades-long, mostly marvelous campaign for Honda: “We make it Simple.” Later (and fittingly) RPA simplified the tagline to “Simplify.” And while the brand is not overtly using the copy now it informs everything they do. Sort of like “dependability” permeates Maytag.

Somewhat snarkily, I tweeted that Honda was touting simple before simple was trendy, linking Elliot’s story. Within minutes Stuart replied to my Tweet, claiming he’d written about the heritage of simplicity mentioning Honda but it had been edited for space. I responded (more sheepishly now) that I’d merely been looking after my father’s legacy and thanked him for the prompt reply. Author’s note: My father’s legacy does not need me watching it. But I had to tweet something.

A couple things:

First: How cool is it that I can comment on a piece in the New York Times and within seconds receive a reply from its author? I love that about our new world, which is contrary to Salzman’s blather about envying old timey media. Back then you wrote a “letter to the editor” and were most likely ignored. If you got in the paper it was after the fact, when people likely didn’t care about the story anymore, let alone remember it.

Second: Although Honda rightly deserves providence over “Simplicity” in terms of modern advertising campaigns, I’m pretty certain the world has always come across as scary and complicated and that getting back to the basics provided relief. Just ask the Amish.

“Wish Pa would get a Honda.”

A drink before…

I no longer have to be as coy about our first commercial ever- the one with smoking women, guns and, what’s more treacherous, cigarettes! Yes, it’s true. Forgive me God, but my maiden voyage at my new agency (gyro San Francisco) is ripe with deliciously bad behavior. And while I don’t condone smoking, drinking, illicit sex and gun play it sure as hell makes for great drama…and hopefully a fine commercial.

It had better because we’re debuting it on the season premier of Mad Men. The client (the best, most trusting, yet cavalier group of people I’ve ever worked for) is Turn. What they do is deliver advertising to exactly the right online audiences faster than the proverbial speeding bullet. Ergo the most whack product demonstration I’ve ever had the sinful pleasure of producing.

Last I wrote about it, I had to be vague about our Mad Men scheme out of respect to reporter, Andrew Newman. He wanted a scoop and I didn’t want to screw that up. And voila! We have our story: In the New York Times! How exciting is that? Veteran ad sages, Abbey Klassen and Barbara Lippert even provide commentary. And so I held my tongue so that better ones could wag.

Hell hath no fury…

Alas, I cannot show you the commercial or the content-laden micro site. Not yet. For that you will need to watch Mad Men’s finale, which I wouldn’t miss anyway.

Bragging aside, I must thank Turn for their enthusiastic support and courage for doing something so remarkable and in such a short time. Though I guess that’s fitting given their business model is predicated on speed and precision.

Thirty days ago this commercial was merely a suggestion made by our agency’s President, Robert Ray (albeit an enthusiastic one). Our whole agency jumped on it and, well, you can read all about it in the New York Times!

I got the ink but the people below also deserve ample recognition:

Copywriter (gyro): Eric Flynn
Art Director (gyro): Ian Ashenbremer
Creative Director (gyro): Jeff Shattuck
Account Executive (gyro): Quynh “the mighty” Cline
Account Executive (gyro): Natalie Marmer
Media (gyro): Zak Garner
Motion Graphics (gyro): Toby Peterson
Director: Michael “True Blood” Lehmann
Exec Producer (Dark Light Pictures): Vince Arcaro
Producer (Dark Light Pictures): Sharon Groh
Editor: Mauro Camaroda
Music (MusicOrange): Blaise Smith

Turmoil in the Libya!
Catastrophe in Japan!
Tiger’s Blood & Adonis DNA!

Remember the bit from Sesame Street where they assembled a group of items and sang that song asking viewers to guess which item(s) didn’t belong? It was a catchy, fun way to teach youngsters about numbers and groupings. By design, choosing correctly was not difficult.

Consider the above headlines, all of them dominating the media and competing for coverage. How would you group them? If you’re like me, then chances are you break them into two camps: frivolous and serious. Obviously, the horrifying situations in Libya and Japan put them into the serious camp. By comparison Sheen Land, NCAA basketball and SXSW must be placed into the more frivolous bucket.

But is that the only way to categorize these events? In terms of popularity one could argue that Sheen belongs in the same group as Libya and Japan. If one aggregated stories about all three (allowing for time differences), Sheen’s metrics would dominate. In the coming days, countless stories about the crisis in Japan will no doubt surpass discussions of anything else. In fact it already has. According to Adweek, “Yahoo News served more pages than in any other hour in its history.”

But not by every metric. Not by mine. Most of the Tweets I’m receiving are about and from the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas. What am I consuming most in terms of mass media? The NCAA Tournament. Bracketology.

So, if “serious” equals “important” then how come I’m not consuming important content more? Easy answer: it’s less fun to consume. Like broccoli.

Nothing new about that. When given a choice, People have always preferred to be entertained than informed. Back in the day, the Beverly Hillbillies regularly outperformed even the powerhouse news program, 60 minutes.

The more things change… Even though the Internet and social media allow individuals to customize their content, we still choose entertainment. And while we could debate and discuss this ad nauseam, I’m taking another tack.

What’s new is the changing definition of importance. In the new world importance is more and more defined by numbers. How many “followers?” How many “Likes?” How many “Views?” For example, The Huffington Post claims, perhaps rightfully, to be more “important” than the New York Times. They justify this because of views. Therefore, if the categories game (serious vs. frivolous) is now a numbers game Charlie Sheen is as “important” as Muammar Gaddafi. Call it “virtual importance.”

Don’t read me wrong. Social media has unarguably done tons for positive change, driving the overthrow of Egypt’s government, helping to elect America’s first black President and so on.

But with consumers driving content, as opposed to mass media, the choices we make have become criteria for determining importance. And not just financially but culturally. By that measure, the line between crap and quality is more than blurring, it’s inverting.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,372 other followers