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Forgive me for I have hated…

Since I began Gods of Advertising almost a decade ago (!), I’ve carefully avoided demonstrating hatred of any kind to persons, places or things. When I was critical, say of an ad campaign, I tried to look at it from all angles, positing why, perhaps, an advertiser or agency would put something so questionable into the cosmos. Most of the time I have succeeded in being personally true to my feelings while maintaining respect for other points-of-view. (My last post bemoaning Selfies is a good example.)

When I’ve (perhaps) crossed a line you let me know. And I’ve published virtually every comment to that effect, unless they were patently offensive or obscene. Take a look at a piece I wrote about an ad campaign for Walgreens, featuring the cloying (in my opinion) voice-over talents of John Corbett. 62 people came to John’s defense, condemning me for being rude, cynical and worse. Precious few take my side. Either way, a new comment to this post shows up in my inbox every month or so. I publish all of them.

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I’m just not that into you…

While I seldom defend myself I don’t freak out either. We have a conversation. I’ve written far more interesting pieces. Yet precious few engender as much feedback as the Corbett story. Proving, yet again, everyone loves or hates a critic.

As an experiment, I tried come up with three things I hate unequivocally. My one criterion (or do you say “criteria?”) was to limit selections to only matters germane to advertising and popular culture. God forbid, I drift into politics or anything particularly important.

As cynical as I am it was harder than I thought. I came up with three.

1. Laugh tracks. Oh my God, how I loathe laugh tracks. A remnant of the Golden Age of Television, the laugh track is, for me, an utter and complete turnoff. Now mainly a staple of kid’s TV, they elicit the exact opposite effect in me: one of utter and complete revulsion. I find all programs that use them guilty by association. A pass is given to the many inane sitcoms of ancient times, like Green Acres or Gilligan’s Island. That shit’s funny.

2. Auto Tune is to popular music what the laugh track is to TV. Why this dopey audio implant isn’t as reviled as lip-synching I’ll never know. A million years ago Peter Frampton Comes Alive came out to boffo reviews and went mega-platinum, largely because of his “Wa-Wa” infused number, Do You Feel Like I Do. I hated it then and make-out nostalgia aside I still do now.

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Is Auto Tune his fault?

3. My most controversial and final selection is the current spate of faux premium lagers, like Bud Light Platinum or Miller Fortune. Who’s kidding whom? These variations on a theme are nothing more than marketing ploys to upsell customers, who are dumb enough to fall for them. Like the so-called Ice beers of yore, they come in gaudy bottles that supposedly evoke class and distinction. They are anything but. I consider these brand extensions the Ed Hardy of beers. A badge for douche bags.

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#douche-y

4. Honorable mention goes to Reality TV. This much-reviled yet inexplicably popular genre is far too low hanging fruit to make my list. None of these shows are real. They’re just shitty.

So, that’s my hater blog for 2014. I hope you liked it, or hated it, as the case may be. If you have something to add, this is the time and this is the place.

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“Two Miller Fortunes…and a f–king lime.”

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Yes, the New Yorker.

While traveling these holidays I found myself on a 3-hour flight with only a copy of the latest New Yorker magazine. Only? I ended up reading the thing cover to cover (and not just the cartoons). It didn’t take long before I realized what a bunch of dumb fucks we’d become. Nobody reads poetry anymore, let alone essays about it. And who cares for long-form film and food criticism? Why bother with all that reading when you can just Yelp or check the meter on Rotten Tomatoes?

God bless The New Yorker. For it has staunchly stayed about important and interesting things even if much of the world, myself included, has not.

I’m a pretty smart guy. But sometimes I think I used to be smarter. And that perhaps I’ve been dropping IQ points every year starting, let’s say in 1994, around the time the Internet began changing everything. I am not alone. Perhaps this is the first great irony of the 21st century: that instead of providing people with untold knowledge the World Wide Web has merely flooded people with content. And because this creates competition for our attention all that information had to become entertaining. Ergo Infotainment. So videos instead of words… instead of even films. A whole lot of instead…

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Theory of stupidity: We are getting dumber by the link.

I know. They warned us about TV when it became massively popular. “The Vast Wasteland,” one critic famously stated. What did our parents call television? The Idiot Box. The point is we got stupid long before the Internet. Still, the chasm seems so obvious and wide after reading that issue of The New Yorker. Shame crept over me as I digested an essay about the American poet, Marianne Moore. Or Patti Smith’s sincere tribute to her departed friend and sometimes critic, the rock legend, Lou Reed. Shame because while I thoroughly appreciated these finely observed and written pieces I couldn’t help but think how many years I had devoted to not, well, learning. I still devour novels and biographies, thank God. And I’ll always love movies. But like most everyone, I’ve become an eater of junk content: GIFS, Memes, Vines, Fail Videos, Funny or Die, and versions of advertisements and countless other useless links.

I tell myself I do this in order to stay relevant. After all, I’m a copywriter and a creative director. I sell this shit to my clients. But an ever-growing part of me also likes noshing on useless infotainment. Scrolling through Facebook is a bit like chewing on Kat, that leafy stimulant the wretchedly poor use to block out pain and pass the time. It’s addictive. And these days everyone (rich, poor, young, old) is chewing content. I’ve said it before. We are content zombies, recklessly biting bits and pieces of this and that, digesting little and seldom satisfied…

…until being sobered up by the New Yorker.

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Hello Kitty!

I just dropped some serious coin on braces for my three daughters, which I’m happy to do because it seems like that’s what good father’s do. They provide. But then I read about this craze in Japan, where cute young girls are spending good money to make their normal teeth look bad. For a bunch of whack reasons, it apparently is fashionable and even sexy to have snaggleteeth. How crazy is that? Apparently, in Japan it is not.

Anyway, it just goes to show you how strange and different our world is. Up is down and geeks are cool and my God we just had breakfast for dinner!

We in Adland have always prided ourselves in being forward thinking, up on popular culture. But popular culture is getting pretty fast and loose, isn’t it? There are so many “in” crowds nowadays I don’t think anyone is out. Once outcasts, Gross hillbillies like Honey Boo Boo and her kin are raking it in. Talentless individuals have huge followings of adoring fans. They are multi-million dollar brands.

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Oh, Mama!

Back in the day ad agencies liked to talk about target audiences in terms of huge numbers: 18 to 34, people who make over 100K, black and white. Now targets can be microcosmic. A couple hundred people like something on Facebook and Voila! It’s a target audience. Odd minorities can find likeminded friends online. People who were reluctant to identify with a certain group now seize the opportunity. We relish in fetish.

I wonder. Can big data really mean anything when everyone is so damn unique? Yet, fashions and trends have always changed. That’s what they do. That’s what makes life so interesting, even if it is increasingly tough on advertisers. (Good thing we have so many planners to help us figure it out.)

Back to the braces thing. When I was a kid I had to get them. And I hated every minute of it. Not only were braces painful and gross but they were also considered just about the most uncool thing on earth. Now my girls were asking for them! OMG. What happened? Yes, technology made them a little less painful and gross. But still. Maybe it had something to do with all those ridiculous grills hip hop stars began sporting in the eighties. Braces became a status symbol. Now a right of passage. Like you’re a dork if you don’t have them.

Sometimes seismic shifts in coolness have obvious origins. Take bicycles and electric cars. Not too long ago no young person would have selected either, if they could have Dad’s old Honda instead. Thank you Global warming.

But the snaggletooth craze in Japan? Inexplicable. Especially when you consider that for so long the Japanese culture was known for order and symmetry. Yet there are reasons for this bizarre altering of the zeitgeist and even if we don’t comprehend them they are real.

As fate would have it, about half way through the designated time frame I was supposed to wear my braces I pried them off with needle-nose pliers. I’m not kidding. Subsequently, my bottom teeth remain crooked to this day. But maybe I was just ahead of my time. After all, in Japan my mouth is now SUPER AWESOME!

Dennis Rodman AP
Are you a “creative athlete?”

My last post was about “responsible passion” as creative philosophy. I wrote that whatever the philosophy a creative professional has it must strike a balance between passion and responsibility. We are craftsmen as well as salesmen. To do the job right “you gotta to do both.”

Now I’m going to talk about staying creatively fit and remaining relevant, which, in my view, is critical to any creative philosophy.

I believe in what I like to call the “creative athlete.” He or she is creatively fit, physically and mentally. He relentlessly works his craft. She takes classes and workshops. They are students of the game.

They are also switch hitters, in that he or she thinks about their agency from every skill position and can play there if necessary. A good copywriter is a planner. A good art director knows how to interface with clients. All are good salesman, if called upon.

The creative professional may prefer working alone or with a partner but is also a competent and enthusiastic team player. When I was coming up at Leo Burnett, I totally related to the founder’s screed regarding the “lonely man,” this romantic figure who wrote into the wee hours, etc. I had to adapt my game to accommodate the many others who ultimately affect a project.

When creative athletes become creative directors they remain active in their core skill. They get better at the other ones. They remain teachable and open-minded. I firmly believe in the player-coach. If I were to stop writing I would lose the ability to judge writing. I would also begin the not-very-slow fade into irrelevance.

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A writer writes…

Remaining relevant is, in itself, a creative philosophy. Honestly, I don’t know how a creative director can do the job well if he or she isn’t banging away on every other brief at the agency. I suppose some do but that’s not how I roll. A writer writes. Right?

Being fit creatively is both mental and physical. I think a good salesperson looks good doing it. They are pumped to be working one of the coolest jobs in the world. I’m not talking about jackets and skirts. Lord knows I don’t adhere to any dress code. Just don’t skulk.

Finally, I believe in the basic tenants of a liberal arts education; in that a good creative professional is knowledgeable about our culture in all its forms. He or she is a consumer of it as well as a creator. That means we must have a working knowledge of TV shows we don’t like and music we don’t listen to. For example, I loathe “The Bachelor” but I’ve seen it. I cannot stand gossip magazines but I read my wife’s copies. And so on. We go to movies. We make Vines. We Tweet. We read. The copywriter who hates pop culture and avoids much of it cannot possibly serve our craft.

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Know your crap.

I hope these last two posts have been helpful. While I am hardly the consummate teacher I have done this job for over 20 years. I know a thing or ten, many of them learned the hard way. Whether or not one agrees with me on all matters isn’t critical. Your creative philosophy can and should vary. Just as long as you have one and that you are open to changing it.

“Dead Giveaway” Auto Tune of Charles Ramsey

As horrifying details continue to unfold regarding Amanda Berry’s abduction by lowlife, Ariel Castro many of us are also laughing our asses off at the Auto Tune version of rescuer, Charles Ramsey’s now famous interview with a local reporter. For those unawares, Ramsey is the charismatic black man who helped rescue Amanda from the house where she and two other girls (now women) had been held captive, raped and abused for ten years. (PS: I mention Ramsey’s race because, well, he brings it up in one of his interview’s more entertaining moments.)

While the content Ramsey told the reporter was understandably dramatic, his accounting of it was also sensational ripe with provocative statements, great delivery and killer sound bites. The man is a natural. No one should be surprised to see him on Letterman or touting McDonald’s (a brand he name-drops numerous times during the interview). Straight up, the video is highly compelling. When converted to Auto Tune by nefarious online maestros it’s freaking hilarious. No way around it, the aptly titled song, Dead Giveaway created from interview footage is super entertaining. Frankly, I found it better arranged and cleverer than a fair amount of legitimate popular music. But that’s another story…

My wonderment is about creating content like this at all (much less being entertained by it) given the terrifying and extremely current circumstances. What are we to make of that? And it’s not just snarky young men finding amusement here. In my office even women were guffawing to the video. I would have thought rape and torture off limits for them.

So much for “too soon” even being a question. The parody song came out within 24 hours of the interview. I remember after 9/11 our nation required a fair amount of time before any sort of entertainment related to those events could be appreciated let alone made. Hell, comedy in general was put on hold for a period.

That was then. Online pranksters have multiplied like algae in the last 15 years. From the high-end producers (Funny or Die) to the entities making videos such as this one, it has become impossible to allow a grace period or time of mourning for anything at all. Assassinations. Terrorism. Rape. Suicide. Subject doesn’t matter and likely never will again. Competition for eyeballs is too fierce. If you don’t do the bit someone else will. And it will get shared and liked and followed until even your grandmother in Topeka has seen it.

That’s the world we live in. Have a nice day.

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