bad and loving it…

I don’t like Charlie Sheen. I never have and I probably never will. And I’m guessing he’s okay with that. Actually, I’m not guessing. I’m certain of it. Because Charlie Sheen has built a masterful brand for himself based on being unequivocally un-likeable, playing “cocky screw-ups with a dark side.”

Writing for Entertainment Weekly, Jennifer Armstrong wonders and answers why Sheen, for all his uncouth and downright harmful behavior (to himself and others), manages not only to be “scandal-proof” but “TV’s highest-paid actor on a No. 1 sitcom.”

The answer is obvious but none-the-less fascinating, especially in light of other fallen celebrities who are struggling to get up. Can you say Tiger Woods? A long time ago, Armstrong points out, Sheen made a decision to take on roles that favor his natural tendencies as a white, male, American fuck-up. Unlike Woods, who aspired to be the great American role model, Sheen wisely chose characters that suited him: a skirt-chasing mayor on Spin City and jerk womanizer on Two and a Half Men. Fittingly, both these characters are named Charlie.

In advertising parlance we label this brand authenticity. By being a dirty, rotten scoundrel, the brand, Charlie Sheen is staying true to himself. His brand equity grows with each malfeasance.

Therefore, when Charlie is outed as Heidi Fleiss’ best customer or, worse yet, goes fight club on his soon-to-be ex-wife Brooke Mueller (on Christmas Day no less), his vast array of fans merely chalk it up to bad behavior. If anything, his men behaving badly routine has become an expectation of his public, like when rock stars do drugs, get busted, over and over and over again. We still buy the music. We still watch the shows.

Fact is, when cultivated properly, dark sides make for enduring and lucrative brands. Charlie Sheen is a perfect example. He’ll probably go to jail this summer but you’ll be watching him in the fall.

Thankfully, bad guys can become good guys and stay popular as well. And not just in pro wrestling. Robert Downey Jr. did it. And penchant for smoking dope aside, so did Snoop Dog.

There is no lesson here, no moral to this story. Good and not so good are fraternal, existing side by side, gleefully and lucratively in Hollywood, on Madison Avenue and in real life.

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Modern fable about good and evil

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Tiger’s commercial: Bogey or Ace?

“It’s a fascinating, creepy document. I don’t know whether I love it or hate it,” said Steffan Postaer, chief creative officer at Euro RSCG, Chicago. “But I do wish I’d made it.”

-Yours Truly, Adage

The above quote comes hot off the presses, as they used to say, from today’s story in AdAge about the now-infamous “talking from the grave” TV commercial from Nike featuring Tiger Woods and the voice of his deceased father.

I actually made the above remark to reporter, Jeremy Mullman on Friday, half way through the golf tournament. Well, the Masters is over and Tiger Woods did not win it. Phil Mickelson did. Tiger came close. Fourth place. Shooting 11 under par. But the spot lives on, as does the buzz surrounding it. Jeremy’s latest story is but one of thousands being written and read about Tiger, the commercial, and everything in between.

On Friday I wrote about the spot, expanding on the above comment. That post garnered more readers and comments than just about anything I have ever written on Gods of Advertising.

The comments were, by turns, astute, bitter, cynical, thoughtful, and then some. But all of them had one thing in common: passion. You folks were fired up!

All because of one commercial. In the end, my comment to AdAge holds true. I do not know whether I love this commercial or hate it. But as was quoted, I do wish I’d made it. Fervently.

Can you imagine being the copywriter and/or art director who put this thing together? I’d be downright giddy. This spot is going to separate its creators from every other creative on the planet. Even if the commercial never wins a single prize (and whether it does remains to be seen), that commercial is now famous. Ridiculously famous. Everything that has been written and said about it, good and bad, is only fuel for a fire the likes of which Ad land has not seen is some time, if ever. As I said in my previous post, not since Crispin Porter & Bogusky introduced America to the subversive Burger King have we been so captivated by a TV campaign. (You could also make a case for CP&B’s Subservient Chicken but that was an Internet idea.) The Nike spot was just that: a spot. A lone 30-second TVC. (And weren’t those supposed to be passé?”) Granted the commercial has been viewed several million times online but you get my point. This thing is a phenomenon. Whether any of us likes it or not.

How do I feel about this commercial: What it says about Tiger, What it says about Nike, What it says about us? I’ve already covered that. As have many of you. I reckon the jury is still out. But as a copywriter, creative director and chief creative officer I’m absolutely certain of one thing. I wish I had done it.

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Fallen hero or Everyman?

Jeremy Mullman from AdAge called me today asking my opinion on the blazingly radioactive new Nike spot, featuring Tiger Woods. Or should I say the new Tiger Woods spot featuring Nike?

You know the film. I don’t even have to link it. Tiger stares into the camera as his deceased father’s words play over him. Dad is saying something about an inquisitive nature. He asks, eerily: What were you thinking? And that’s more or less it.

But man oh man, has ‘it’ lit up the blogosphere. Everyone is talking about this commercial. The trades. News outlets. Even the drive time jocks I listen to on my way home from work played it. They played a TV spot on the radio! Talk about viral. Talk about integration.

And that is why this TVC is perhaps the most potent ad-like object I’ve seen, heard –dare I say experienced- in a long, long time. Not since Crispin, Porter & Bogusky introduced us to the homoerotic and creepy Burger King have we experienced a TVC with so much daring.

My first reaction to it was “Wow.” Then “WTF?” I was creeped out and impressed in equal measures. I told Jeremy what a lot of people told/ tweeted/ wrote a lot of other people: I don’t know whether to love it or hate it.

And that, my friends, is the definition of provocative. It not only makes you think about Tiger Woods, it makes you think about everything: sex, morals, race, sports, integrity, death, advertising, pop culture and, yes, maybe even Nike.

There is no category at Cannes for something like this. Otherwise it would win. Have to. But “30-second TVC” does not do it justice. If anything this thing functions more like a documentary, a snapshot of our culture as it is right now, for better and for worse.

Laurence Holmes from The Score asked his listeners if seeing Tiger this way, as a flawed man, actually makes him more real, as opposed to the robotic golfer we’d come to know. The answer is unequivocally, yes.

Despite his gambling and womanizing, Michael Jordan has remained a legend. As have Babe Ruth and Mohammed Ali. Tiger was on that pedestal. But not anymore. Win or lose, Tiger has now become part of the human race. He is like your brother-in-law who fucked up his marriage by screwing his secretary. He is like you for lying about Vegas. He is like a lot of us, which means he is…likable.

I know it sounds perverse. Here’s a guy who cheated and lied and let us all down. But having fallen, he is getting back up. Or something. Who really knows?

But one thing is for sure, whereas before I admired, respected and envied Tiger Woods; now I can like him because he is, after all, no better than me.

Nike and Wieden & Kennedy made their considerable reputation by making Gods out of athletes. Now they have done one better. They have shown us God in our own image. It’s not pretty but it’s real.

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Mullman on Tiger in AdAge

Ad of the Day, Adweek

What happens in Vegas…

Is Tiger Woods a naughty boy, a truly bad man or merely a very, very famous person who got caught? I learned a long time ago not to cast stones at someone for his or her indiscretions. And I won’t here. My bet is few professional athletes come out against Tiger for much the same reason. They know too well the temptations that come with being a celebrity. They know how easy it is to cross the line. After all, these are young, obscenely rich men. They are worshipped and fawned over. Millions adore these athletes (and rock stars and movie stars and politicians and so on). Adoration can take many forms, some of which are quite alluring. In their Gucci loafers, what would you do?

Whether we participate in immoral activity or not, it’s safe to say we are titillated by it. Consider our most popular TV shows and films. The Real Housewives. The Bachelor. The 40-year Old Virgin. The Hangover and Knocked Up. Adultery is the most popular topic on earth. And that’s the mainstream! Pornography was (is) by far the most lucrative market for VHS and DVD rentals. The digital age has only increased this ardor. Fantasies and their fulfillment are alive and well on the Internet.

And then there’s advertising. The byline on my blog states ‘We make you want what you don’t need.’ I could have just as easily shortened it to ‘We make you want.’ And want and want and want. Granted, lusting after a flat screen TV is not the same as coveting a comely TV star but, according to most spiritual principles, wanton want is very much a sin. Creating it can be no less of one. For obvious reasons I hope I’m wrong.

Getting back to Tiger. It seems he’s quite the player.  The pun is intended. A “player” knows how to have a good time and where to go to have one. For many of us (Tiger included), that place is Vegas. And nothing sums this up better than its notorious tagline: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Even though gambling is also a sin, I don’t think I have to point out that they are not talking about roulette.

As Woods (and many before him) found out, the Vegas hall pass for infidelity is only imaginary. (In the digital age nothing stays private.) But the advertising doesn’t make this distinction. On the contrary, the advertising would have you believe your fantasies are not only permitted in Vegas they are expected. And it does a damn good job of it. I think just about everyone on earth (men and women) winks when they hear about Bob’s trip to Vegas. And we’re the prudes! In other countries, they don’t even bat an eye.

An old boss of mine once told me that every good ad makes the consumer think they are going to get laid if only they’d use the product. He was talking about spirits advertising but in a way he was talking about all advertising. We make you want and the keenest form of want is lust.

So, to my original question: Is this hypocrisy? How can society cut down a person for participating in activities we not only advertise but also celebrate? Adam succumbed to temptation and we are no better. In the end, how we behave is our own affair, so to speak. That is until we get caught.

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