August 9, 2011
I’m having problems with my Internet. Maybe it’s the summer storms besetting Chicago or maybe one of my routers is faulty. Most likely it’s my Internet Service Provider but at least I’m considering the possibility that it’s something on my end.
In any event, all my tricks to get the Internet back failed. I tried rebooting my machines, the router, etc. Checked all the connections. Nothing turned the trick.
The last thing I want to do is get on the phone with a customer service representative from RCN. Besides I’ve already done everything he or she would tell me to do. If I must I will call them tomorrow morning.
Alas, I need a connection right now. I promised someone I’d send them some important documents, which is why I am now sitting in a Starbucks at 10 PM on a Monday evening.
Good old Starbucks: the office/library/den for so many students, job hunters and various oddballs…just like me. Currently there are about 30 people here, sitting alone, nursing “tall” coffees (the smallest size), logged on to some device and doing whatever it is they do.
What’s funny (though not surprising) is save for the innocuous drone of a CD they’re pimping this relatively full Starbucks is damn quiet. I very much doubt founder Howard Schultz (whom I’ve actually met) had this in mind when he coined Starbucks America’s “third place.” Either way, I’m sure he’s not complaining. Like I said the place is nearly full and it’s late Monday night.
And so I’m having an absolutely unnecessary cup of coffee and writing an absolutely unnecessary blog post…just like everyone else in this joint.
Toward the end of Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker the main character makes a disturbing, little speech to his infant child, essentially stating he’s lost the ability to feel love for anything except defusing bombs. It’s a poignant scene to say the least. Addicted to the adrenalin high of war, the officer becomes hopelessly caught up in it, forsaking his wife and baby boy.
A lot of stories about war portray it as hell on Earth. Hence the phrase “War is Hell.” Not so many assert war is a drug. Apocalypse Now is the other movie comes to mind that took this route. Here we got the ultimate line of dialogue: ‘I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”
I believe most of us at least comprehend how and why some people become addicted to booze and drugs. Those things make you feel good. Most folks also get how gambling works on the psyche, same as extreme sports, even sex. The risk and reward is tied together. It becomes irresistible. Literally.
The pull from something dire as war is another matter. The risks far outweigh the rewards, unless, of course, you believe –really believe- in what you’re fighting for. God bless those that do. But, in fact, the main characters in both the movies I’ve referred to do not. These soldiers have become obsessed with war –killing and saving blur together. For them, it truly is a journey into the heart of darkness. There is no turning back. We know this addiction will kill them. And we know that they know it too. That’s what makes both these movies so compelling and intense.
Being drawn to something that will kill you is one hell of a paradox. Yet, addiction is commonplace. Putting my own demons aside, I’m drawn to the concept for pragmatic reasons. As copywriters, when we exploit addictive properties from the brands we work on we are doing our jobs. When we actually create addictive properties for the brands we work on we achieve the penultimate. We become, if you’ll pardon the expression, Gods of Advertising.
Indeed, we make you want what you don’t need. Not just want, but covet. As in can’t live without it. Think Apple, Starbucks, Nike, Play Station, American Girl to name but a few. And while only precious few achieve indelible, cult-like status, many more obtain phenomenal success for periods of time. Fashion brands are notorious for this: Guess. Juicy Couture. Von Dutch. Either way, creating belief systems for places or things is a lot like starting a cult.
As many of you know, this is one of my favorite themes. Cults can be attractive when they’re built around dolls or smart phones. Potentially, they may also turn dangerous as when youths steal and spend precious dollars to acquire products they crave, like gym shoes. Defusing bombs in Iraq more perilous still.
September 16, 2009
My last post was about U2’s 360 Tour, which I generally liked despite having serious issues with Soldier Field. Among numerous comments I received, one stood out for its indictments. Migrane66 wrote the following:
…I suddenly understood why Kurt Cobain put a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. He looked at his future and saw something like soldier field this weekend: banners reading “Blackberry loves Nirvana”, a huge, dumb stage that was there to take to the focus off the average musicianship emanating from said stage, and a group of musicians who have become mere props in a corporate money grab…
Though I disagree with the writer’s bleak positions, his or her letter got me thinking. (No small feat!) Are not fan disappointment and the band’s success codependent? U2 became hugely popular and now the population holds it against them.
This ironic phenomenon is not limited to bands. Frankly, it applies to many people, places and things. Because of their success the New England Patriots went from unexpected darlings to annoying juggernaut. Now that everyone loves your favorite restaurant you hate going there.
Advertisers should pay special attention. All brands want to get big. But the smart ones worry about it as well. When I worked on Altoids, we rightfully worried that our success would ultimately come back to haunt us. Whenever someone suggested we “merchandise the brand” my spider sense began tingling. New flavors I could accept but Altoids mouth wash? Not on my watch. The key to maintaining Altoids’ cult-like status relied on keeping things under the radar –in brand management and advertising. That was one of the reasons we never did TV.
Has Altoids gone too far? What about Starbucks, Apple or Nike?
Everyone lusts for growth, especially in business. If one isn’t growing their business, one is considered failing. Yet, all around us are age-old examples of people, places and things growing too big or jumping the shark. Hence the above emailer’s brutal review of U2.
Our own industry is hardly immune. Pat Fallon and Jay Chiat both asked, “how big can we get before we get bad?” They got big. One can debate whether they got bad.
The great irony remains. When David slays Goliath we cheer. When David becomes Goliath we jeer. Word of warning to challenger brands: be careful what you wish for.
Finally, GROWTH is not always synonymous with EXCELLENCE. Take cancer for instance.
February 25, 2009
I recently gave a presentation to the advertising department at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). The topic was Creating Cult-like Belief Systems for Brands. A favorite topic of mine, I’ve covered it on Gods numerous times. It is also an important component of my new novel, The Happy Soul Industry. The idea is converting people into true believers -the Holy Grail for advertisers. Brands like Apple, Nike and Altoids (thank you!) have been able to do this, with marketing playing a key role. Amazon and Starbucks have done it without much advertising. Either way, once a belief system is in place, people worship these products like they’re deity.
To be honest, I half expected SCAD to be a tiny, artsy workshop. Nothing could be further from the truth. With a student body approaching 9,000 students, and covering almost 50 fields relating to design, film and advertising, SCAD is no mere workshop. First of all, the campus encompasses buildings all over the historically famous town of Savannah, capped off by a 28,000 square foot student center housed in a gloriously redone 19th century synagogue! It was there I gave my presentation.
Before my speaking engagement, I visited the Advertising School, auditing Professor William Shanahan’s Advertising Business class. The students were creating integrated marketing communications (IMC) as part of their curriculum. I was impressed at how accurate the process was compared to “real life” IMC plans. Granted, their plans were rudimentary but the program is timely.
In terms of current technology, the school is loaded. These kids were working on the best machines in Apple’s repertoire. In a film editing class, I observed students cutting film on dual monitors with state-of-the-art flat screen preview in front of the class. I was told their professor was the sound editor for the Academy Award winning film, Amadeus. Because of his pedigree, the students actually get to work on that movie. Pretty cool.
Despite what seems like a exceptional education, I told the students it will undoubtedly take time getting gigs in our woeful economy. But that’s true for everyone is almost every field. Oh well, if twenty-year olds have one thing on their side, it’s time. Given the grim prospects (at least for the short term), I can’t think of a better place to hang and learn than SCAD.
In my day, there were no such schools. Not really. Back then advertising was part of journalism and it was often fairly naïve. For perspective, I took one ad class at the University of Wisconsin and I took it pass/fail. I recall our mid-term featuring a print ad with various blank call-outs. We were to identify the headline, tagline, logo and body copy. Pretty lame. While my alma mater has dramatically improved since then, I doubt even it has the species-specific expertise so obviously on display at SCAD.