Link courtesy of Bart Smith…

Bart Smith is an old friend from back in my Chicago days. Well before I moved west Bart trekked to Seattle, where he continued his audio production company, Bart Radio. (now bartplus) Anyway, he and I collaborated on some radio scripts I wrote for, including the one linked here about Vincent Van Gogh. Inspired by a popular biography series on TV, the spots featured the indelible voice of the now departed, Peter Graves.

I’m on the record as saying 90% of all radio sucks. But of that rarefied 10% Bart produced a great many. In 25 years in this business, so far I have written only a handful of radio commercials. The stuff was a highlight. Not only did I get to tell true stories about interesting people I got to tell them in a way that was uninhibited and fun, inviting people “to bring the art world into their world.”

They say radio is the true test of a copywriter and hopefully I aced it. I’m currently doing various freelance projects (content creation and creative leadership) and would love to hear from you. This is my portfolio. And if you’re looking for great audio production and a truly supreme collaborator, look up Bart. He’ll take good care of you.

First things first. I love the song. Though recorded before I was born, Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” is one of those rare tunes that transcends time. If the song came out tomorrow, sung by Adelle, it would be a smash hit. It’s that good. And it’s certainly the best thing about Toyota’s big budget, 60-second anthem for Corolla, which debuted recently. Because of this commercial, I’ve been singing the hero lyric, off and on now for several weeks. In that regard it’s indisputably memorable.

And yet something is the matter. The “creative algebra” doesn’t add up. Using a classic ballad of female empowerment for selling mainstream automobiles to Millennials is not enough to turn the trick. Showing assorted attractive young people engaging in mildly rebellious behavior isn’t enough either. Try as they do to appear otherwise, the cars seem incongruous to the lovely pictures and strong music. By definition most every commercial is fabricated reality but if it’s pushed too far the stink of bullshit corrupts the narrative. In my view that’s what’s happening here. The ad’s slip is showing.

Said another way, there’s nothing particularly interesting or provocative about these cars except for the fact that they’re in this commercial.

The ad is clearly targeting twenty-somethings and according to this article might actually be working. I’m suspicious about this data so soon after the commercial’s premier. Especially given my intuition points in another direction.

And then, just before posting, I saw another execution in the “You Don’t Own Me” campaign, a 30-second spot.

30 second version, with story…

The same great tune. Slick production values. But this time there’s a story. A young woman quits her job from an ornery chef (he can’t own her) and starts a food truck business. The Toyota Corolla gets her from point A to Point B. It’s a simple story but it is a story. And it made me like –maybe the better word is appreciate- the campaign. Stories will do that.

I haven’t enjoyed a Toyota commercial in ages. Compared to the white bread suburban approach the brand has maintained for eons, at least this musically powered approach –helped now I see by stories- has ambition. What do you think? Have I gone soft or was my original assessment accurate?

(Author’s note: I’m avail for copy, content creation & creative leadership:


Heel to Hero…

Going from Heel to Hero and visa-versa has not only become predictable but is occurring at dizzying speeds. I think this phenomenon is grossly underappreciated. Not only is it changing how we view good news and bad news but it is shaping current events and enabling shocking new discourse in popular culture and marketing.

A perfect example is Colin Kaepernick. When he was first caught sitting in protest during the National Anthem at a pre-season football game, the world all but tore him a new asshole. Within two weeks he’s on the cover of Time magazine and high school athletes around the country are emulating his behavior. Last week his jersey outsold all others. Pretty remarkable given he’s not even the starting quarterback for the team. Colin Kaepernick went from a goat to a God. Just like that.

The confluence of social media, proliferate video, celebrity obsession, reality TV and other factors have created a perfect storm, enabling controversial behavior and in turn changing our perceptions of what constitutes good and bad, right and wrong, and it’s doing so in real time!

Look at what a sordid sex tape of Kim Kardashian started. Once vilified and humiliated, that negative take has long been forgotten. She and her get are some of the most famous people on Earth.

The camera loves errant behavior. And society loves cameras. Ergo anyone can be a “star.” Provided you punch through. Dropping your pants or taking a stance are two surefire ways of getting that attention.

Courting controversy is not the real news, however. Like many, I have been writing about this for years.

What’s especially fascinating is how predictable the pattern has become. And the subsequent opportunities this affords. Marketers can take more and bigger chances. So what if a campaign or Tweet creates a shit storm. Within hours, defenders will join the fray. Even turn the tide. One can game public opinion. Betting on the inevitable backlash should be considered strategy from the get-go. Whether we like it or not, this is happening. Certain groups will take advantage while others stand by gaping.

(Author’s note: I’m avail for copy, content creation & creative leadership:

Much to admire in Apple’s new TVC for their latest iPhone 7. The plot is simple as all good commercials are. Despite a hellacious storm brewing, a serious bicyclist suits up to ride, including on his bike the water resistant iPhone, shown depicting his route with mapping technology. That’s essentially it.

Yet, the details are what make this 30-second film spectacular.

Let’s start with the production. The dark and ominous tone, impressive. The CGI storm impeccably rendered. The gray, black and brown color palette, accentuated by flashes of lightning, make a bold statement.

Speaking of bold color, one has to comment on the brilliant casting of an African American. In Marin County, serious bikers are ubiquitous and in the 4 years I’ve been here I can count the black riders I’ve seen on one hand. The stereotype of a lean Caucasian bedecked in colorful skintight gear is completely accurate. I don’t think it’s controversial to say, like swimming, biking just isn’t a black thing.

So we notice the man here. And pay attention. He is perfect for the role. Steely-eyed and stoic, this dude is hardcore in the best sense of the word. If anyone can handle the impending storm it’s this guy. Even his dog looks more worried than him. Kudos to the creators for casting against type. It makes this commercial.

Another counter-intuitive aspect that raises the commercial up is the lunacy of riding a bike on a mountain road during a raging storm. Normal people don’t do that. But intense people do. Instead of thinking what a nut, we think what a badass. If the commercial weren’t made so well, the narrative might’ve come off as preposterous. It doesn’t. The result: Like his other gear, the iPhone feels like serious equipment for a man on a mission. We want what this guy has: his reckless courage, his boldness, his phone. In other words, the ad works.

Finally, again surprising and delighting, is the unexpected use of AC/DC’s iconic anthem, Thunderstruck. Slowing potting up the song’s alluring guitar riff builds excitement and tension, placing us directly in the rider’s mindset. Thrilling. Long a bastion of white stoners (now sober dads like me), the AC/DC song, like everything else in this commercial, totally disrupts expectations – forcing us to pay attention.

Watch the spot. That last image says it all. To hell with the weather, let’s ride. We can handle it and so can the iPhone.

Creative leadership, copy & content:


Bono has a great line from a lesser known U2 song: “Some days have bouncers that won’t let you in.” Well, today was one of those days.

In big ways and small I was vexed by unmet expectations. A rejection here. A late coming change order there. Computer problems. Trouble at the bank. Scheduling issues. Just a myriad of stuff. The day would not let me in.

Undoubtedly you have had such days. God forbid worse. God forbid lasting longer. For these are the vicissitudes of life. Said another way, shit happens. And no one is immune.

Yet, I did not succumb to it. When one crummy thing led to another per Murphy’s Law I did not rage against him. I paused before each fallen hurdle. Took stock. Thought about the many blessings in my life. When I picked up my youngest from school I asked about her day, giving a smile and looking for one back. It was received. Despite feeling hurt, my attitude spared loved ones. I did not make things worse.

Later, in the car with my middle child, a daughter of 15, I told her that this was a difficult day for me – the truth. She asked for details and I explained some of it. She put her phone away and we had a meaningful conversation. She worried and wondered and asked good questions. By the time we got home, we were both laughing. I came to realize my bad day enabled a rare moment with my daughter, something precious.

Silver lining? A door shuts another opens? There are many proverbs about our challenges teaching us but when we are in them they are easy to forget. For me, anyway. The old me would have added to my difficulties by creating ten more. Maybe I would have lashed out to those that were vexing me and to those that were not, making everyone feel bad, effecting consequences.

But today I did not falter. I remembered to pause when agitated. Take stock. I even asked a confidant for help. These are things many of you do intuitively. For me it’s a daily reprieve, this grace under pressure.

Maybe these words will help one of you. Writing them down is another tool for helping me. Like saying thank you for this day and all of its blessings.

(Author’s note: above mentioned lyric from Some Days are Better than Others, off U2’s 1993 album, Zooropa )

Let me write for you, all content: