Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 5.14.16 PM.png

Lovely but is it also tacky?

The unexpected death of prince created a maelstrom of activity in the social spheres. Not surprisingly, a bunch of brands wanted to, ahem, pay their respects as well.

I definitely agree with Adfreak in that some fared better than others. Yes, to the Minnesota Viking’s (Prince’s home state) understated salute. Definitely no, to the props from Hamburger Helper. However sincere their words, the goofy Helping Hand logo makes it all insanely glib.

But the bigger question is should brands be doing this sort of thing at all? To the degree you feel advertisers can actually have “conversations” with consumers likely determines how you feel about them taking on social issues, being political, or, in this case, paying tribute to a dead person.

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 5.13.21 PM
An Unhelpful hand…

Part of the problem is that everything a brand says or does is, on a primary level, copy. For example, any words or pictures McDonald’s or Budweiser tweets out are, by definition, self-serving. Therefore, any attempts to “be real” must be met with skepticism.

However, as the examples in the above-linked article demonstrate, our ambivalence can at least be tempered by the use of inspired creativity or simple understatement. With few exceptions, I don’t think it’s ever eliminated. Clearly, this is infinitely harder to manage in painful circumstances (death, earthquakes, etc.) than joyful ones (winning a playoff game, birthdays, etc.) In tough times, it might be best to hold off altogether. As lovely as Jim Beam’s purple wax image is it’s still an ad. And what if, God forbid, it comes out that Prince overdosed on drugs or alcohol? That makes the connection to Jim Beam worse than awkward.

Still, if thousands upon thousands of people are willing to follow a consumer packaged goods account on Twitter or befriend a fast food restaurant on Facebook then I suppose the brands might as well give these people something other than coupons and contact information.

is

In my last job, I was asked by a colleague to take down a Facebook post because it apparently offended someone in the office. I had offered a less than politically correct view on the hot button issue regarding race relations (or lack of) in America.

Reluctantly, I removed the post. Not because I rethought my position and came to the conclusion I was wrong. Nor was I upset that my post offended someone. For what it’s worth, many people were supportive of my opinion. It’s not about that. Rather, I took it down because I concluded my role as an officer of the company took precedent over my personal opinions. Said another way, I put my professional reputation and currency ahead of my social reputation and currency. It would not be the first time. Rightly or wrongly, I usually put work ahead of personal matters.

Yet, the event has continued to bother me. Partly because of the post’s emotional weight (which I won’t go into here) but also because I feel like a coward for removing it. After all, it was on my personal Facebook page. While hardy benign, the post was not racist or classist or sexist or, in my view, “ist” in any way. It was merely a provocative take on current events, which I feel is totally valid on social media. I did not (and would not) post the piece on LinkedIn or on any professional forum.

Still, I realize work and personal life have converged like never before. People as well as companies have become like one thing. If a CEO Tweets something inappropriate her company takes it on the chin. People will judge the firm as they judge the person.

Back in the day, the artist and his art existed separately. For example, T.S. Eliot was an “on again, off again” anti-Semite but people (even Jews) appreciated and studied his poetry. There are countless such examples, historical and modern. Recall director, Lars Von Trier’s recent controversial comments at Cannes and the subsequent toll it took to his career. He did not stand down and he paid dearly for it.

eliot.jpg

TS Eliot: Poet. Hater.

I know my controversial Facebook post was not hateful. However, I do not doubt someone who disagreed with it might interpret it (and me) as hateful. Therefore, I took it down. I did not want to bring negative attention to my company.

We are all learning (and struggling) with this. Some play it safer than others. And while I think playing it safe is often the equivalent of being dull as a bag of dirt I did not want to risk my company’s reputation and my place in it. Would you?

I have always worn many hats: husband, father, brother, son, citizen, officer, employee, Christian, Jew, drinker, non-drinker, author and so on. In the age of social media, knowing which hat to wear and when is increasingly difficult.

429196_3157215410720_1275288885_3363015_1112589719_n.jpg

A while back, in the Admiral’s Club at Laguardia airport, this youngster caught my attention. Regular looking kid, a bit disheveled in his ill-fitting blue sweatshirt and no-name blue jeans. But something marked him apart: a striped cap with a propeller on top!

Wow.

I remember thinking he’s safe here but that goofy cap would be a death sentence in the schoolyard -certainly in the ones I attended. I mean, what symbolizes dork more than a beanie with a propeller on top? It’s a nerd icon from when nerds were at their nerdiest. Spanky wore one on the ancient TV show, The Little Rascals.

images1.jpg

But in this day and age, an adolescent boy wearing something so silly… in public. He might as well have had a “Kick Me!” sign affixed to his back. I decided to sneak a picture -not to mock him as a person but to document the reality. I uploaded the anonymous photo on Facebook, adding my line about the schoolyard.

The comments came quickly. To my delight they all were deeply supportive of the Beanie Boy. Here’s a perfect example from a Facebook friend, Brian Collins:

I think the kid is astounding. He is wearing it with some pride. And it looks like it’s motorized. Even better. If this makes the kid happy that’s perfect. And he looks deeply engaged on the web, too. Great.

What we don’t need are any more cookie cutter kids dressed in oversized nylon football jerseys, cocked baseball caps and ratty jeans with their lifeless eyes glued to ESPN.

Go, beanie boy, go!

Upon further consideration, Brian is right. My knee-jerk reaction was shortsighted, even ignorant. The Beanie Boy is not a dork. Frankly, he’s anything but. He’s a maverick and a rogue, a lad who’s not afraid to defy convention.

Recently, I compared the typical ad agency creative department to Romper Room. I wrote: “The older I get the more I realize how important it is to stay connected with my “inner child.” The best creative people do not grow out of it when they grow up. We remain inquisitive. Lovers of fun. You see it in our bicycles in the hallway. Our dubious wardrobes. Our playlists. Our silly snapshots on Facebook.”

Indeed, defying convention is what makes us creative. I don’t want to lose that. Ever. And so, young admiral from the Admiral’s Club, I echo the words of my wise friend, Mr. Collins and the champions of creativity everywhere: “Go, beanie boy, Go!”

Author’s note: I wrote about the Beanie Boy before. For me, he never gets old.

gapkids-hed-2016

Her shirt says “love” not “hate.”

Apparently, this seemingly benign ad for GapKids elicited a shit storm on social media, critics from hither and yon claiming it racist on account of a white girl leaning on a black child’s head.

That scores of people expressed their displeasure over the image shouldn’t surprise any of us. The world is very, very sensitive right now. Putin. Trump. Obama. Black Lives Matter. The Occupy Movement. The Big Short. Domestic Abuse. Radical Islam. Terrorism. Right Wing. Left Wing. Police brutality. Syria. Refugees. I could free associate reasons on why we’ve become so mercurial and still be just scratching the surface.

But this uproar? Come on, people. That ad is about as racist as your average 11-year-old girl, which is to say, not at all. The kids were posing for a photograph. You put my daughters on a stage with a big time photographer they’ll do the same thing.

And to overblow the matter even more, Gap issued an apology. So unwarranted. If ever a client was respectful to multiculturalism, it’s this one. Gap and Gap Kids have long been vanguards when it comes to diversity in their casting. At least that’s been my observation.

Why isn’t the interpretation that the white child is leaning on a friend? As opposed to something foul like demeaning a black girl? Methinks latent racism exists in the eyes of the beholder. They see evil because they want to see evil.

Why stop at racism? The two other girl’s poses are –gasp- sexual. Are they not? Legs spread wide like that – for shame! And what about the exploitation of children in general? Shouldn’t these kids be in school? And where were those inappropriately tight-fitting clothes made – a sweat shop in China?

Enough is enough.Does racism exist in the world. Absolutely. In this ad? Absolutely not. Moralizing the crap out of a silly photograph like this goes too far.

Update: On top of everything else the two children in question are adopted sisters! http://www.fastcocreate.com/3058611/gap-apologizes-for-kids-ad-controversy-swaps-image

is-1.jpg

Time for a new campaign…

The headline in AdAge: “Miller Coors Distributors nix planned Leinenkugel’s campaign.”

It’s a story as old as the advertising business, though less common now than it was in the 80’s, when distributors, wholesalers and franchisees held significant power over even CMO’s. And no categories felt it more than QSR (fast food) and spirits, especially beer. (Car dealers had their own version but that’s another story.)

Silverbacks and students of Adland might remember the  burger and beer wars. Rivals like Burger King and McDonald’s duked it out for market share, often quite publicly. Ad Agencies battled for their client’s supremacy like the loyal henchmen they were. And with Mafioso bravado, if a brand teetered from it’s position, the agency’s campaign and its creators were the first to get whacked. In this way, agencies became heated rivals as much as the companies they represented.

Fighting over AOR status for one of these clients was equally vitriolic. Back in the day, DDB and Leo Burnett fought ceaselessly over the McDonald’s account. Anheuser Busch pitted its agencies against one another for sport. In both cases, ketchup and beer spilled like blood.

 

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 5.27.18 PM
Screen grab from the good old days…

 

Here we have a remnant of that skullduggery. My guess is the distributors wanted a more predictable, macho approach to “their commercials” than what San Francisco shop, Venables & Partners came up with, which features a quirky group of Wisconsinites playing an impromptu version of Boston’s “More than a Feeling” on a lakeshore up north in the Dairy State. The tag: “Welcome to the Leinie Side.”  (You can watch the commercial in the AdAge Article here. )

Is it the best commercial ever? No. But it has an understated, shaggy charm that I think fits the brand to a “T.” I like the spot. Moreover, I think young adults would have to. If Leinie’s mission, under the glaring watch of Miller Coors, was and is to expand the brand’s popularity nationwide this funky take on Wisconsin hipsters (such as they are) probably makes a lot of sense. The spot has a light touch. And, who, if only secretly, doesn’t love Boston?

I’m guessing the Goombah wholesalers demanded hotter chicks, more jocks, and club music. That or a blue collar Wisconsin, more about hunting, fishing and campfires – a linear evolution of the family heritage campaigns Leinenkugal’s did for years before selling (out) to Miller Coors.

Rightly or wrongly, the dealers won. We can only morbidly wait to see their “fix.” It’ll probably look a lot like this:


An older spot, ripe with obvious…

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 12,611 other followers