If you can make it here yada, yada, yada…

Has it really been over a decade since Cadillac reintroduced their brand via the Modernista agency and a Super Bowl commercial featuring Led Zeppelin? It’s actually been longer. What’s weird is that Cadillac always seems to be reintroducing itself to the world. And so yet another new brand launch campaign, this time from Publicis, comes as no surprise. Now the creed is a phrase: “Dare Greatly.” Derived from a famous speech by President Theodore Roosevelt, “The Man in the Arena.” Great when he delivered it, I’m sure. In the commercial it sounds exactly like the overblown pontifications of a preening copywriter: a purple brand manifesto if ever I heard one. Written my share of them as well. You know what I’m talking about. Such mantras usually include a plethora of big seldom-used words like plethora. Adjectives are used as nouns and vice-versa. Old-time-y phrases. It’s all here in this Ode to trying and failing and trying some more, aka “daring greatly.”

I guess Cadillac has a new CMO, a German named Uwe Ellinghaus. (Say that three times fast.) “The new point of view for Cadillac is one that embodies the American spirit in a contemporary manner without using American cliches,” Mr. Ellinghaus said.

Whatever you say, Uwe.

An uber-German selling the quintessential American car is both discomforting and ironic. But ours is a free country. If Cadillac wants to throw money at a Bavarian in order to reinvent Cadillac for the 100th time that’s their prerogative.

Wozniak dared greatly to think different!

In fairness, the consumer only sees the work. So what of it? The campaign premiered on the Academy Awards, a total of four commercials including the above-mentioned anthem. The other spots depict specific people who dared to do something great and (of course) became famous for it. Cadillac’s step-up line at the end: How dare a 112 year-old carmaker reinvent itself?

Thin argument but at least I get it. More so than the better-to-have-failed opus we get in the anthem. Still, the question comes off a tad disingenuous because, as was stated, the brand has been perpetually trying to re-start for over a decade. Like a car trying to turn over on a winter’s morning: It’s…It’s…It’s…Damn! But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.

However, I am weary of American history co-opted to sell products. It feels tired and cynical when it should be bold and fresh. W&K’s image campaign for Levis did all of this…and so much better.

Now that’s Americana made fresh…

Expectedly, the film is pretty but the subject matter is mundane: New York City streets, iconic high rises, carefully chosen “real” people. Honestly, it’s no more than a serioused-up version of SNL’s iconic opening signature film. And they were there first. Outside of a couple shots I’m not inspired by any of it. In the end I can literally feel the advertising agency behind these commercials.

I miss Led Zeppelin.

Author’s Note: As I was writing this I got pinged from my old creative partner, Mike Coffin regarding a blog post he’d just written on the same topic! it is here:



A raw “moment.”

The Academy Awards are hard not to watch. One just feels compelled to share “Hollywood’s Biggest Night.” And I was no exception, although, I must say, I was not so much riveted by the show as buzzed by it. Having the TV on, the family with me, a half-assed dinner being consumed. Telling the kids to shut up so we can hear who won. Them not listening. Them saying, “like, who are all these old people?” Um, sweetie, that’s Robert Duvall. Sean Penn. Michael Keaton. Emma stone they recognized. And because I share a house with four ladies eyes were on the clothes and hair.

It’s a palpable buzz.

One thing I noticed in the coverage and after-coverage was the pointing out of “moments.” When Neal Patrick Harris sent up Birdman by taking the stage in his undies. When John Legend emotionally sang and totally delivered the evening’s best song, Glory. The perspiring, young writer of The Imitation Game beseeching all of us to ‘embrace our weirdness.’ All those Latinos up on stage for Birdman. 

The definition of “having a moment” has got to be winning an Academy Award. I remember winning a few big advertising awards… how giddy I felt stumbling up to the stage. Of course I was drunk –I always was drunk- but I still remember those moments. I can’t recall a thing I said and that’s just as well.

I believe in moments. Life is a puzzling journey. We mark the trail with moments: Graduation. New Job. Closing a deal. Or is it a drama? Fair metaphor as well. In this case moments are like plot points: Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl back. Babies are born. People die. There are countless plot points to every life. Pretty cool way to look at it.

No wonder so many brands try to own them. It’s the perfect hash tag for the Academy Awards, if not life itself: #Moments


“The operation can wait. I want the E class!”

What did I do on President’s Day weekend? Why the most patriotic thing an American can do: I went car shopping!

Yes, my beloved 2008 Saab Aero is at that point in its lifespan where the updates and repairs are no longer worth it, especially considering the Saab Motor Company is defunct. Without a knowledgeable dealership, flushing the transmission (a surprisingly costly process on any car) would be even more maddening. Midas and Jiffy Lube told me they didn’t know how to do it. In addition, the new muffler I require would have to be special-ordered, parts and labor exceeding $800 dollars. And then there’s my Check Ignition light that has been haunting me for weeks. The diagnostic check at Jiffy Lube was a Saab code cryptically stating “cylinder #1.”

And so my love affair with Saab must come to an end. I spent the weekend “dating” other sports sedans, test driving 5 different vehicles and sitting in more. At night I dived onto Edmunds and Consumer Reports and various other sites to compare and contrast. At first it’s fun. And then it isn’t. Oh, to be a rich idiot and just pick the car of one’s dreams; say, for example the Porsche Panamera. Needless to say, that cannot happen if I want my children to go to college.


The Panamera. A figment of my imagination.

I did find some cars I like but rather than get into them here (plenty of websites for that), I want to write about my experience in general, because car buying is one of those endeavors that, for most of us, evoke huge emotional turmoil: excitement, passion, desire –yes! But tempered by disdain, mistrust and frustration- ugh! If you’re starting from scratch (no relationship with a dealer) and you want to do the job right, you must be prepared for all of it.

Since the beginning, competing car dealerships have always been strung together, usually on a frontage road beside the highway. This way you can go from one to the other, absolutely murdering your Saturday. The dealerships in lovely and expensive Marin County are no different. I’d made various appointments online, staggering each 90 minutes. Because I’m not shopping the low end the dealerships I visited were clean, open and modern, free from giant signs and balloons. That’s a good thing.

But you cannot avoid the salesmen; these guys all have one thing in common. They don’t want you to leave empty handed. Good or bad, they are basically copywriters who talk to you. Every aspect of your conversation is a pitch. Sometimes subtle, most times not, these men are trained to get you to drive home in one of their vehicles.

Cynically, I waited for the cliché’s to occur. The first dealership I went to pitted me with a pair of Indian men, donning cheap suits and shiny shoes. One focused on the vehicle while the other ran numbers. It was not long before I heard the obligatory “We want you to be happy, Steffan.” And “What will it take to get you in the car of your dreams?”

Well, how about removing 10 grand off the sticker? That would be awesome! That would make me happy. They were thinking more in the line of free car washes and maybe $500 dollars more on my Saab. For some reason both these dudes were perspiring. I flashed on Alec Baldwin’s character in Glengarry Glen Ross. When they brought me the wrong car to test drive I knew this wasn’t the place.


The next dealership I dealt with only one man, also from another country. (Why are they all from other countries?) His delightful English accent was mitigated by tenacity. He came off like an English bulldog. I began to get the willies when he coyly disrespected the competition. “Those are perfectly good cars, Steffan… If one is old.

“I am kind of old,” I wanted to say. But instead I just smiled, wondering what handbook instructed him (and all the others) to keep dropping my name. Still, I liked him better than the Indian tag team. And the vehicles, according to Consumer Reports, were some of the best in their class. Hence, I put the car on my maybe list. How I got out of there without it I’ll never know. The dude gave me his card and texted me 20 minutes later. “I see you in this car, Steffan. Let’s make it happen!”

The last dealership I visited impromptu. Without preparation for me, the salesman was caught off guard. He pointed me to the car I liked and stood back. I ended up test-driving two vehicles, which I adored, and it wasn’t because of his voiceover. I just liked the cars. And I didn’t hate him. That, for me, is the magic combination.

Alas, one still has to run the numbers –a sobering event if ever there was one. But this blog has already gone too long. Besides, who in the hell wants to read about leasing options? You’ll likely walk that bed of coals soon enough.


Successful yes but it created a virus…

Public service campaigns authorized by state or local governments tend to veer quickly into the slow-witted lane, especially when they pertain to driving safety. I do not mean this is to be a complete admonishment. Often these campaigns are poorly funded and run by bureaucrats, limiting an agency’s creativity or, more likely, open-mindedness to an agency’s creative solutions.

Despite inherently dramatic stories and the public good being served, in the realm of public awareness advertising one has to moderate creative expectations. After all, these are the same sort of clients who run the DMV and Passport Services. Playing to the lowest common denominator is what these offices are all about. Repetition of a message’s main point is far more important to these practitioners than high concept.

The perfect example of what I’m referring to is the Click It or Ticket campaign, which, to its credit, gets its message across succinctly. The myriad executions of this campaign hardly matter (they are mostly Z-grade crap) but that line is a zinger. So catchy! I am sure this refrain has saved lives. When I was a kid few people actually wore their seatbelts. Now everyone does. Case closed.

My beef comes with the numerous other civic campaigns that blatantly and poorly rip this formula off, hammering home a theme line that isn’t as good, expecting the same results. Like this hodgepodge of off rhyme and alliteration:

Buzzed. Busted. Broke. Buzzed Driving is Drunk driving.

Why not just go with Think Before You Drink (and Drive) and be done with it? I’m sure there’s some tax paid research suggesting kids don’t perceive a buzz to be the same as being drunk but that’s where the word “think” comes in. You don’t need a different campaign and idiotic tagline.

Here’s a relatively new ditty, about changing area codes:

When in doubt dial it out!

In fairness, I love the It Can Wait campaign against texting and driving.


So much so I wrote about it here. Why is another line needed? Yet here are 31 ridiculous and terrible candidates. My favorite:

Don’t drive inTEXTicated

Yet, I can just here the droning in City Hall. “We need a rhyme! We need our Click It or Ticket!” Feeble marketing types, of which grow in local government like mildew, love simple formulas.

Next time you see or hear a public service spot funded by your government listen for the tag line. It’s bound to be guilty of copywriting under the influence.

Last year the Super Bowl! This year the scrap heap.

I grew up with Radio Shack. Like 7-11, they were everywhere. And like 7-11, they offered quick stop shopping, in their case for consumer electronics and myriad electrical supplies. I may have bought a Sony Walkman there. I don’t remember. What I mostly purchased at Radio Shack were blank cassettes, CD’s and floppy discs. And well, we all know what happened to those. For all intents and purposes they are extinct or, at best, just hanging on.

My Tweet: Let’s face it anything with the words “radio” and “shack” in its title had it coming…

For the last 10 or 15 years (maybe longer) Radio Shack clung to existence. As Best Buy and Circuit City floundered and died somehow the Shack persisted in subsisting. That in and of itself was a miracle.

I kind of rooted for them. Nostalgically, Radio Shack comprised a tiny bit of bandwidth in my aging, shrinking brain, representing Saturday morning excursions for a pack of batteries or ear buds. But then those things were available at Walgreens and, frankly, anywhere else that had a cash register. To say nothing of Amazon.

Even when Radio Shack was big it had painted itself into a corner. Quick electronics on the cheap always struck me as a shaky platform. When by comparison, Best Buy is considered “high end” you know you’re in trouble.

ViviCam 3765
“We get twice the crowd on Saturday!”

For a good chunk of its 94 years it didn’t matter. People defaulted to Radio Shack for camera batteries and the like long after they had to. Such was its appeal. But eventually my grandfather died. Mom got a Costco card. Radio Shack dimmed like an old TV tube never to be replaced.

Radio Shack did not go down without a fight. Various ad campaigns entered the ring but, alas, were completely clobbered. Even if some of it was vaguely clever and/or self-aware, marketing could not save them. The Super Bowl could not save them! Calling one’s self “The Shack” and trying to be a neighborhood pal isn’t sustainable in consumer electronics. Now when you’re opponents are Amazon and Wal-Mart.

The stark reality is no one under retirement age will miss Radio Shack. But they are at least worth saying good by to.

The details of RS’s demise on, of all things, Gawker.


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