Not in front of the kids!

Have you seen this latest TV commercial from the Clinton campaign deriding Donald Trump? As far as political advertisements go, it’s pretty tight. Well produced anyway. The execution unfolds with scenes of Donald Trump laying some of his most well-known verbal turds: mocking the handicapped. Disparaging Mexicans. Et-cetera.

However, showing the world DT’s gross behavior is nothing new. And, oh by the way, it doesn’t work. At least it hasn’t so far. After all, the DNC tried such tactics during the primaries and it only seemed to strengthen his position as the potential Republican nominee. He, of course, would later win the bid in a landslide.

So, what’s different about this particular salvo? Well, now there are children watching Donald Trump say all these crude and stupid things. The theory being, obviously, that if we weren’t ashamed of Donald Trump before we should reconsider knowing that “our children are watching us” and waiting to see which candidate we choose to be President. Will it be the racist buffoon or (shown here in the least screeching way possible) an almost matriarchal Hillary Clinton?

Does the ad work? Well, first of all, it need only do so on the undecided. Getting the previously shameless to feel otherwise for the sake of “the children” is a wobbly argument. Plus, children have always been used as pawns during political debate. In its own way the tactic is shameful.

That all said, the spot works on me. It reinforces my belief that the devil I know (Clinton) is better than someone incapable of making it through a speech, interview or conversation without shitting on himself and countless others. The possibility of a Trump Presidency makes the otherwise depressing scenario of “business as usual” seem like the only sane option.

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Say what you will about the horror franchise but the latest Purge movie is eerily prophetic in its depiction of the divisive state of our Union. For those unawares, the concept deals with a government sanctioned night of rage that takes place once a year in America. All crimes, including murder, are legal for 12 hours. The subsequent carnage is supposed to “purge” everyone’s pent up frustrations and lead to less crime overall. Something like that anyway.

Regardless of what we think of this science fiction one cannot deny how prescient the idea is. So ripe is the concept I don’t know where to begin. Ragged race relations? Check. Police brutality? Check. The gun debate? Check. Political unrest? Check. Rich vs. poor? Check. And on and on. Clearly, The Purge has tapped into the zeitgeist in ways unimaginable and uncomfortable.

None more so that the latest entry, aptly titled The Purge: Election Year.

One scene has a corrupt, white officer shooting a young black man dead through the window of his car. Another has angry black civilians rampaging against a stronghold of rich white people. At times it was like watching You Tube videos of chaos in our streets. And I haven’t even mentioned the gross similarities between the “Election Year” depicted in the movie and the one we are enduring now. The two Presidential candidates are a fearsome and corrupt rich white man and a liberal leaning female. Sound familiar?

Of course the film is over-the-top and grossly distorted. But it’s all too freakishly on point. That the film was produced well before the recent mayhem in our country further adds to its power. If America wasn’t going through what it is going through right now this movie would come and go as a mildly entertaining piece of pulp genre. Instead, it damn near passes for a documentary.

No shoes, No shirt, No problem…

Somewhat unexpectedly, Chili’s bar and grill is going for the big branding idea with its new retro ad campaign from agency, Hill Holiday. I say “unexpectedly” because when it comes to advertising, chains like Chili’s, Fridays and the like usually default to food porn and price points vs. any sort of branding. For this reason alone, the effort here deserves props. I know from experience how hard it is to get marketers of “casual dining” to do anything exceptional.

But is Chillin’ Since ‘75 the right answer?

Let’s start with the obvious. I do “dig” the wordplay on the name and how that naturally “jives” with the “groovy vibe” of 1975. Moreover, one can easily accept the campaign’s mythology because of legitimate connections to the period. If you’re old enough to remember, or are a student of Americana, you know that as far as foodie culture went, in the 70’s, salad bars and hamburger joints were where it was at. During this time Lettuce Entertain You opened the first such joint in Chicago, RJ Grunts. In LA, Barney’s Beanery was gut filling rock stars and stoners with specialty burgers and chili. Jim Morrison got fat there. And who can forget Hamburger Hamlet? (Probably a lot of you but I’m trying to make a point.)

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Grass fed beef…

Chillin’ since ‘75 does make sense for the brand. The 70’s have aged well in our collected conscience and have about as good a chance of resonating with twenty-somethings as anything else. Perhaps even better. Beyond the fashion, there are definite similarities between the 70’s “Me-Generation” and the narcissistic current one. Do I even have to point them out?

Chili’s succeeds in creating a Boogie Nights atmosphere first and foremost by copping to the awesome tunage of the day. Hearing the opening chords to Foghat’s Slow Ride bring it all back, man. As does the washed out film and the gnarly casting. Granted, it’s not a difficult era to replicate but getting it wrong would have been a total fail. On that note I’m glad Chili’s paid for the real music and not some half-assed facsimile.


Hamburger Hippies…

Not to be a buzz kill but the commercials may actually go too far. “Heck, sometimes we didn’t even wear shirts!” Ew. Sweaty hippies making dinner is kind of a turn off. Still, you gotta give them credit for going all in. Another quibble: By 1975, the hippie culture had virtually expired, having been crushed by Altamont, Charles Manson and other factors. Punk rock, disco and cocaine were right around the corner. Chillin’ by any standard was over.

Full disclosure: I haven’t been to a Chili’s in many years. What I do recall of the place resembles little the hedonistic hamburger joint of these commercials. The last one I was in felt more like a box in a strip mall. Because it was. Can the chain get that loving feeling back? Possibly. In college a good friend of mine cooked burgers at Chili’s. He loved his weed and got a buzz on before every shift. He gave us freebies all the time. So, there’s that.

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“You’re in the great game now…”

Adweek published a story asking the big winners at Cannes 2016 what their “secrets to success” were. You could read the article here or just stay with me and I’ll tell you how to win at Cannes. Forget analysis and trendspotting. Don’t be mystified by all the never-ending categories either. Winning at Cannes has more or less relied on the same formula for years.

First and foremost, do great work. Then get it seen and talked about. This one-two punch, by the way, is the same formula for ANY awards show.

Ideally, at least some of your great work should be real. Real means it went through the gauntlet known as your client (not to mention your agency’s often debilitating process) was brilliantly produced, ran in genuine media, and received boffo results.

Enter the shit out of it.

But, dear friends, you know as well as I do, that it doesn’t end there.

Long ago intrepid creatives learned how to game the system. At first simple cheating, what this looks like now is far more, shall we say, ornate. Boiled down it means mimicking the legitimate. Something like this: Create gorgeous work, share it with select others internally, maybe have a friendly client smile at it wistfully, then run it on your own dime somewhere cost efficient or, even free, like posters at the local coffee shop or via some innocuous website. Take a bunch of pictures of it “in situation,” make a case study video and voila: you have award show bait!

Enter the shit out of it.

Professional winners have huge budgets for entering shows and a complicit team doing it. Mixing in fake campaigns with real creates a juggernaut that is hard to untangle. A few real pieces win; a few scams. Who knows which is which? Who cares – the agency clearly does good work.

Be part of a network that knows all the ins and outs. Networks have a regular, sustained presence and they will massage the process to help you win. Networks know people in high places. Networks get judges into shows. Networks have wags who do interviews, predictions and the like i.e. Global Creative Directors. Networks do PR. Networks spend money.

Gaming the system has become the system. Varying degrees of corruption are tolerated for the greater good. A few unfortunates get caught and thrown to the –ahem- lions. The rest is the rest. If it looks like a winner and comes from a winner then, by golly, it is a winner!

The agencies that won the most at Cannes do all of the above, legitimately and otherwise. Been this way for years.

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A few 24 hours ago, I had the pleasure of conversing with Alex Bogusky before he became a demi-God of Advertising. We were at a vendor-sponsored pool party in Cannes. However unlikely as it seems, both of us were not really digging the scene. He seemed to prefer a quiet discussion versus living it up in the shallow end. I was perhaps more torn on the issue but also more than happy to oblige him.

For the record, later that week, Alex and his namesake agency would win handfuls of Lions, including the Grand Prix for a charming spot from Ikea called “Lamp.” Crispin Porter & Bogusky were in the middle of an epic run making them perhaps the most famous ad agency on earth.

But Alex wasn’t interested in talking about prizes.

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Alex Bogusky, from that period…

Like a lot of executive creative directors (myself included), he’d come to Cannes simply because he could. However, he now admitted to being unsettled by the attention he and his agency were getting. He confessed that this would likely being his last time at Cannes. “Steff,” he said, “we’ve got plenty of swimming pools in Miami.” (This was before CP&B moved its home office to Boulder, CO.) Then he added, “I find that I like doing work more than celebrating it.”

I’m paraphrasing from memory but this was my favorite bit. Ironic commentary coming from the man who would later write “Hoopla” (a book about fame in marketing), not to mention win more Lions than probably any other person or agency in the United States.

Yet, to me, Bogusky’s ambivalence about all of it seemed indicative of a higher power beginning to work in his life: that making work, really good work, was more important than drinking champagne and toasting about it. Bigger picture Alex was also discovering the persistent headache and clash of conscience that hedonism invoked.Lessons I would learn the hard way.

Later that year, Alex resigned from his agency to pursue other interests.

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