During the hullabaloo surrounding Superbowl ads this year not one article, blog post, comment, or poll had anything to do with the actual stuff that was being advertised. Plenty of lip service was given to product recall and product relevance but precious little to the thing itself. Is that because no one cares about products and services enough to discuss them or because there isn’t anything really new to talk about?

Take the automobile industry. There were plenty of extravagant commercials on the Superbowl for 2012 models. Indeed, some of the best work came from Honda, Acura, Kia, Chevy and others. But what about the cars themselves? For the most part they’re all good products. We know them well. Maybe that’s the thing (I’m not saying problem): We are all so familiar with car brands that new models do nothing for us. I loved the Kia Optima “Sand Man” commercial driven by the Bombastic metal of Motley Crue but calling it a “dream car.” Really? It’s just another sedan with some whistles and bells. Yet, I’m not calling Kia out. Perhaps this thrilling commercial is what’s new about the Optima. That a sedate car brand like it has the stones to be in an ad like this. Maybe that’s enough.

Frankly, the only really new car on TV Sunday was the Acura NSX. Now that’s a dream car. And yet, it was Gerry Seinfeld we remembered. The spot rightfully garnered high praise for its production. The vehicle, awesome as it was, held silent vigil, appearing only briefly, ignition off.

In terms of actual product news, beyond the ad itself, other advertisers fared no better. From yogurt to beer, the products were but placeholders or, said another way, commercial enablers. What little news there was (more alcohol in Bud Light Platinum) got lost in translation. Oh, look. A new bottle…


Gee, I wonder if it glows in the dark.

That’s the blessing and curse of advertising. It exists to trumpet stuff but the stuff is blown out. We are conditioned to not believe anything is new or improved or better than ever. We accept these come-ons like a sailor walking past a string of brothels. Been there. Done that.

Yet, the sailor is going to make a purchase. Therefore, the only sin worse than advertising would be not to advertise. The other brothels are fronting their goods. Therefore they all must.


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Those who suggest the sailor may have already chosen a brothel online, thereby eliminating the need for advertising are only half right. Now the girl out front must convince the sailor to break his appointment and choose her instead. Or, in broader terms, the brothels need to take their marketing online. Suddenly, we get loyalty programs and tiered memberships. And, of course, the messages get evermore creative. Yet, the girls remain the same.

Which gets me back to my original point: the more we turbo-charge the messages (as with Superbowl commercials) the more the products feel the same.

Wearing your heart…

Presumably you’re in advertising or you wouldn’t be reading this blog -unless, of course, you’re my mother. Hi Mom! That means you’re well aware how much our profession has taken it on the chin lately. And not just because of the recession. Other shit that has hurt our industry, in no particular order: too many awards shows. Corrupt awards shows. Scam ads. Holding companies. Ageism. A woeful lack of diversity. Closings. Firings. Layoffs. Bogus pitches. Greedy consultants. Cheap clients. Evil bloggers. And yes, bad product. As Lee Clow so eloquently put it, “Ninety percent of advertising is shit.” He may have said “Ninety five percent.” He may have used the word “crap.” I’m paraphrasing.

In any event, I bet we could all use a reminder of why the ad game is still so much fun…

I look forward to Mondays. I really do. Part of the reason is because I am subordinate to everyone in my home, including the dogs, whereas at work I am the CHIEF CREATIVE OFFICER.

Anyway, other than recklessly wielding incredible power, here’s what makes me happy about advertising, often on a daily basis. First and foremost: I like coming up with ideas and selling them. The moment of creation is a blessed event in my life. Breaking through. Nailing it. However you describe the ah-ha moment. I love that. Unlike some of my peers, I also like selling ideas. Unveiling creative ideas to clients is exciting and fun. Not always, sure. But it’s supposed to be. After all, we’re showing the client a glorious new campaign. For some, this has become a fear driven affair. I’m lucky. Pitching and presenting thrill me to the core. Losing sucks, yes. But today we’re talking about what we like about advertising. What I like anyway.

I like the people. We are crazy, neurotic, brilliant, damaged, and young at heart. We dress up. We dress down. We ride our bikes to work. We are inappropriate. We have fun, even if it’s in a crazy, neurotic, damaged way.

I like the technology! The moment Apple created a laptop my agency gave me one. They’ve been giving me one ever since. I’m typing on it now. Advertising also gave me my Blackberry. We have more flat screens than an ESPN Zone. Down the hall is a full blown recording studio. Try finding that in a bank.

I like the travel. Milan, Paris, London, Shanghai. I’ve been all over the world. Especially L.A. and New York. And this isn’t just because of luck although I most certainly am lucky. Many creatives go many places, provided they are good at coming up with ideas and selling them.

Most advertising creatives adore production. Up before sunrise. 14-hour days. Hurry up and wait. That said you meet the coolest people on production. Like the film crew, who are cooler than you because you are now the client! Still, you’re making a film in Hollywood. It’s like being in the center of a reality TV show. What’s not too like?

I will finish where I began: Coming up with ideas and selling them. For me, nothing is as satisfying. This is why I like Mondays better than Fridays. This is why I love advertising.

Steffan\’s Twitter address

The Happy Soul Industry on Amazon

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Take it for a test drive!

I saved an article from the Chicago Tribune’s business section (Gregory Karp, May 3rd) about “weaknesses” in consumer behavior. In it, Karp reports studies being done by the University of Wisconsin and a few observations published in the Journal of Consumer Research. The findings are both obvious and startling, probably because they’re true. Check it out.

Even when consumers think they are utilizing sound thinking they’re not. For example, if consumers see a punch list of attributes next to a product they immediately assume it’s better. Therefore, advertisers need only attach a slew of benign facts to their wares to imply superiority and justify higher prices. We see this all the time. Go to Home Depot. The higher priced lawn mowers have the most specs. The same phenomenon occurs online.

Touch equals sales. Karp points out, “When consumers handle a product, they begin to feel ownership of it.” We all know what happens next. Impulse purchasing. Or we obsess about the product, imagining if only we’d bought it, until we do. Test-driving vehicles is probably the most famous example of touching equaling sales. Apple stores do a pretty good job of it as well.

This is my favorite learning: Research shows that people loathe breaking large bills. Conversely, we will happily fritter away quarters and one-dollar bills. The studies suggest that if you’re trying to save money carry large denominations. I know when I have a “hun” in my wallet it tends to stay there longer than its younger brothers. On the other hand, if I’d left the hundred in the bank it would have probably lasted even longer.

Finally, this old chestnut: people pay the most attention to the left digit in an item’s price. In case you hadn’t figured it out, this is what drives the ubiquitous 99 cents suffix. We’ll fork over $3.99 far more often than $4.00. Silly us.

Granted, some of this info feels vintage, circa sex-in-the-ice-cubes, but all of it is vital. These observations defeat the old notion, once and for all, that consumers make purchases based on facts and rational thinking. What’s funny is few of us are invulnerable. I know I’m not. And I should know better, right? How about you?

images-1Willy ain’t going anywhere.

One of the many, many great lines in Richard Yates masterful American novel, Revolutionary Road comes during a business lunch between the main character, Frank Wheeler and the boss at his company. They are discussing a promotion for Frank in the sales department. The honcho tells Frank, “Everything is sales.” He goes on to elaborate how and why every single human interaction is, in fact, “selling something to someone.” As proof he offers Frank the delectable notion that “you wouldn’t be here if your Pop hadn’t sold your mother a bill of goods.”

Beauty, eh?

My creative partner, Blake Ebel just wrote an essay for Talent Zoo entitled “Salesmanship isn’t a four letter word.” In it, Blake makes the following point about clients: “If they had the choice between a salesman and an artist, who do you think they’d choose?”

Salesmen! That’s what copywriters and art directors always were and always will be. In the 60’s, Doyle Dane & Bernbach made selling “creative.” In the 70s, everyone did blow and nothing got done. In the 80s, Leo Burnett talked about building brands with “big, enduring ideas.” In the 90s, Saatchi gave us planning. In the 21st century, it’s about getting into a “conversation” with the “consumer.” All good stuff. But it’s all a means to the same glorious end: selling.

Look at 2009. It’s back to the basics. After all, there’s a recession on. What’s the unique selling proposition?

Wait a sec. The USP! Wasn’t that our industry’s catchphrase about a million years ago?

What goes around comes around. I don’t care if you’re Crispin, Porter or fricking Bogusky, you’re a salesman. Word.

Friday, Part II: Gods/ The year in Review.

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