Northwestern Wildcat…or Horndog?

And so we come to the live sex demonstration that took place at Northwestern University following Prof. J. Michael Bailey’s popular “Human Sexuality” class. By now you must know the lurid details. To dramatize the world of kink and fetish, a man penetrated his fiancé with a jerry-rigged reciprocating saw (or Sawzall) in front of some 100 students. If you haven’t heard the story then after cleaning the coffee you just spit on your computer’s keyboard, here is the coverage from the Chicago Sun Times. And from the Chicago Tribune. I’m not going to editorialize one way or the other. I simply don’t know all the, um, ins and outs of this story to put it into context. I understand no laws were broken. The participants were adults. I’m guessing the students were too. It was on the syllabus.

Like most of you, I was flabbergasted by the story and a little titillated. Certainly, because of the subject matter but also because it took place at Northwestern University. Forever, Northwestern has been considered the brainiest school in the Big Ten, sort of the conference’s answer for the Ivy League. With its beautiful and swanky North Shore location (Lake Michigan to the East, stately mansions to the West), it certainly looks the part. In addition, the institution regularly tops out in all metrics related to superb education. Including admission criteria and costs. Even so, it only admits 20% of applying freshmen. To go there is a privilege. Here is where my wife and I –gulp- hoped to send our three daughters one day.

Prestige at a price. That’s not the University’s tagline but, in frankness, that’s the brand. Maintaining a brand like Northwestern’s takes a fine mixture of conservative stewardship and progressive leadership. Negotiating this dichotomy is critical. Mom and Dad want the former. The kids want the latter. There are other targets worth mentioning: alma mater, perspective employers, partner schools and institutions. In the end, it’s not easy getting it right. For over 150 years, Northwestern has done so masterfully.


And then out came the “fucksaw.”

Putting aside all the different hats I wear as a man (father, husband, lover, guardian), what is my position as an advertising man? For better or for worse, the brand got done to it what was done to the woman on stage. Some may view the episode as an example of fearless education in a modern world. Others will likely see it as an awful, awful mistake. Frankly, I’m leaning on the latter. Despite my fervent belief in a liberal arts education, I can’t help but think this was a bad move. When the inevitable video comes out millions of people will experience the brand as if it were nothing less than an episode on You Porn.

The school’s color is purple and a deeper shade now.

Special note: The male in the sex act is a Group Creative Director at Tribal DDB, an advertising agency in Chicago. He is about to become a lot more famous. Let’s hope his clients aren’t too conservative. Wishful thinking I’m afraid.


Note to agencies: We are not alone

For the last few years our agency’s worldwide mandate has been to “put digital at the core” of everything we do. This means exactly what you think it means. Instead of putting digital in a “bucket” or “silo,” and treating it as one of many marketing services, Euro RSCG revolves the company’s universe around it. And within that scheme, we (the employees) have been strongly encouraged to “get social” or get out of town! These directives are elemental to the agency’s primary purpose of “getting us and our clients to the future first.”

A couple weeks back, JWT named its Worldwide Digital Director, David Eastman, North American CEO. Worldwide CEO, Bob Jeffries indicated that this sent a strong message (to clients and competitors) about what direction the agency was going, and that JWT was serious about putting digital at the center of business operations.

As I write this, Ogilvy & Mather Chicago rehired digital ECD, David Hernandez from Tribal DDB. He’ll “provide digital creative leadership across all agency disciplines,” said Joe Sciarrotta, Chief Creative Officer of the agency.

And so it goes, by hook or by crook, ad agencies everywhere are finding ways to make digital their big story: on our creds, in our case studies, in general. Whether this is done via purchase or through internal machinations or both it is getting done. Some of us are doing it faster and better than others. But it’s a crowded field. And the race is far from over.

My point is not to ridicule this any of this. I wholeheartedly support it. What I find interesting is Ad Land’s belief that this is a media centric phenomenon, that the migration of marketing to digital platforms is somehow unique to our industry.

Everyone is putting digital front and center. Be it media, education, insurance, institution, government, finance, retail, CPG, the dry cleaners up the street. One is hard pressed to find any operation that isn’t doing business online, let alone marketing it that way. Some die trying (Pets.com). Some flourish (Amazon). Most are somewhere in between.

One has already heard the call that consumers are taking over the message. Ad Land’s first reaction was just that: a reaction. Born of fear. That somehow we –the creators and drivers of all consumerism- woke up one day and discovered a new landscape, and one where we weren’t needed anymore. That fear drove us to buy, hire and promote digital expertise with breathless abandon. To play catch up if you will.

But is the fear real? No more than it is for any other business. The only difference is somehow we deemed it our mission to re-take that landscape. Or perish. Perhaps we doth protest too much. By overly stating how important digital is to our operations, we demonstrate fear of being left behind.

I’ve said it before: We are all pioneers. The landscape is free country and has been since Al Gore invented it. We need only apply our vast skills (ideation, creation, brand management and so on) in the same direction as everyone else.

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“I was told I’d be the only bald guy.”

The New York Festivals International Advertising Awards launched its World Tour showcasing the World’s Best Advertising™ in Chicago on Tuesday, July 21, 2009. Yours truly spent a better part of the day participating in the festival -first as a panelist during an afternoon discussion and later as an audience member during the actual ceremony.

Personally speaking, there were three highlights: the panel discussion, actually winning an award, and the Lifetime Achievement accolade given to famed commercial director, Joe Sedelmaier.

Let’s start with the Sedelmaier prize. If you’re in advertising and ignorant about whom this man is shame on you! Do some digging. In the eighties, Sedelmaier was widely considered to be the premiere director of funny. His fast talking Fed Ex guy and Clara Peller’s “Where’s the beef?” commercial for Wendy’s are icons of the form. There were others: a “Russian Fashion show” mocking the brutal sameness of fast food, a Southern Airlines commercial depicting coach class as a Jewish ghetto. Many of these can be found online. I’ve attached one below.

As was acknowledged by Sedalmaier’s son, JJ and guest presenter, Bob Garfield from AdAge, the thing Joe did better than anyone was finding and using REAL people. Very real people. Often older and comically unattractive, Joe’s cattle call was welcome respite from the very beautiful and mostly fake actors representing most advertising during the glitzy Reagan era. When I started at Leo Burnett, everyone –and I mean everyone- wrote (or tried to write) in the brutally funny style that Joe Sedalmaeir made famous. Good to see him being recognized.

The panel discussion, entitled “Is craft dead?” was about whether or not the aesthetic quality of creativity suffered given the influence of social media, the recession and other mitigating factors. Internet wag, Alan Wolk moderated the group. Other panelists included the Chief Creative Officer of Element 79, Dennis Ryan and Tribal DDB’s Managing Director, David Hernandez. We covered a wide range of topics, including viral videos impact on TV commercials, crowd sourcing (good or evil?) and even the Zappos RFP fiasco. I hope the audience got as much out of it as I did.

After the discussion, panelists were interviewed for a segment on WCIU TV’s “First Business.” If you’re surfing channels next Saturday morning, try not to hurl your Cheerios.

Euro RSCG Chicago took home a Silver medal for Valspar paints. This integrated campaign continues to be our creative front-runner at my agency. Bravo team!

Had fun visiting with the many Burnett people attending the ceremony. My beloved, old agency won a handful of prizes, including a much-deserved medal for Hallmark Card’s “Brother of the Bride.” I adore this commercial and, frankly, the entire long-running campaign. Hallmark and Burnett have been making these beautiful long-form stories for decades. If craft is dying elsewhere it’s alive and well here:

The many other winners can be found on their website: New York Festivals

Finally, a special shout out goes to NYF’s Gayle Mandel. Lovely woman, the green ensemble she donned for the ceremony was damn near worth the price of admission!

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