On being creative amidst followers and haters.

January 17, 2011

My office: Me, Bo and the Internet

Last year at this time I wrote about Martin Luther King’s inspiring Letters from a Birmingham Jail. It’s an amazing piece of writing (his not mine) and on this day, when we celebrate what would have been his 82nd birthday, I urge you to read it or his famous “I have a Dream” speech. Despite all evil in the world, we are better because Dr. King was in it.

But it made me think…the line between hater and follower is razor thin isn’t it? Look at the craziness surrounding the tragedy in Tucson. Gun sights on Palin’s blog! Dark postings from the shooter! The finger pointing online is as reckless and hate-filled as that assassin’s gun. Yet, however uncivil, it is the “conversation” we are having. It is representative of how we think and feel. Therefore it is valid.

That is the blessing and curse of social media. As a writer and creative professional, it is the reality I chose to embrace, as much from necessity as desire. To do our job, one needs to be versed in the good, the bad and the ugly of the Internet. And that includes vitriolic blogs. When I left my job last week the trade tabloid, Agency Spy posted about it. As of this writing it has engendered over 60 comments, which I have not read. Needless to say, I’m guessing they are not voting me into the Advertising Hall of Fame. Sometimes being part of the so-called conversation means getting your ass handed to you.

Popular culture is vulgar and wonderful at the same time. (Have you played Left 4 Dead?) Advertising has always been a reflection of that. In turn our creative ideas shape popular culture, taking it in wonderful and vulgar directions. Often simultaneously. As we move from mass media into more personal territory, the distinction between what is inspired and what is cruel, stupid and downright creepy blurs even further. Last year, Diesel won a Grand Prix in Cannes for its Be Stupid campaign from Anomaly of New York, work that championed bad behavior in the name of self expression. I found the ads vulgar and wonderful at the same time. Didn’t you? Is that, then, the current definition of brilliant? It was rewarded as such.

I rest my case.

Such questions are a cornerstone of this blog. And I hope it is with this same inquisitiveness that I create and/or look at work, deciding what to make and how far to push it.

Ideas begin crude. Refining them is our craft. Lately, however, the refining process has altered. Instead of polishing words and pictures we keep in some of the crude. We think it honest. In this way our craft is reflecting a self-disclosing popular culture. Crude is real. It also happens to be promotional (Whopper Sacrifice) and direct (Be Stupid). Ironic for all our digital savvy how blunt we’ve become…again. Fifty years ago we said let the buyer beware. Now we say let the consumer decide. I say what’s the difference? What goes around comes around, right? Damn right it does.


21 Responses to “On being creative amidst followers and haters.”

  1. brian said

    I’m disturbed by the lack of accountability assigned to anonymous comments.

    I read the 60 comments and wonder how many of your detractors have a campaign as stellar as Altoids under their belts.

    • SRP said

      You get used to it. The disenfranchised and disillusioned need to be heard. All people do. The relative safety of commenting anonymously gives them (us) a sense of power and control in a world that they feel is ignoring them.

  2. Anne said

    I think the elephant in the room is the desire to be “hip and cool” over the ability to be truly innovative. Sarcasm and mean-spirited communication replace wit. The holiday Sprint campaign using unkind texts (unlimited, of course) to criticize the neighbor’s decorations and family card is a perfect example. And if that appeals to a younger target market, thank God I am getting old.
    How easy it would have been to flip the conversation to unlimited ways to spread the good will of the season.

    • I think edgy humor and snark is the #1 most overused tactic in advertising. It is rarely genuinely funny, and I question whether it puts the brand in the most favorable light. But I know I am in the minority among ad creatives on this issue.

  3. I’m basically an advertising nobody with a little bit of nice writing here and there and a funny last name. And you should have seen the vitriol thrown at me the last time I was posted on Agency Spy. That’s just the way things roll over there.


  4. SRP said

    Gervais’ pointed and personal “comments” at the Golden Globes are a perfect example of what I’m talking about. Tucson, A-Spy; it’s all part of the same “conversation.”

  5. JT said

    steff – i never usually post any sort of reply on blogs and message boards, but i know you do appreciate when people respond so i’ll throw in my two cents. i have read the post on AS and read some of the comments and it seems everyone, for various reasons, is basically venting from 3 camps – 1) your continual boasting about the Altoids campaign, 2) non-stop self-promotion about your blog and book 3) continual critique/observation about what is wrong with the ad world when your own (former) agency and work at Euro does not “put your money where your mouth is”. you have never done anything to me personally so i have no beef with you, but i can see where some of your detractors are coming from. you and i are friends on Facebook and i can relate to some of the comments regarding what they are calling your “endless self-promotion”. everyday you post and repost and repost about 1 of 2 things – your blog or your book. over and over and over and over, multiple times a day. people know you have a book and a blog. you don’t need to jam it down your “friends” throats. we get it. we are aware. at times it’s as if you are begging us to read it. regarding Altoids, everyone knows you did the Altoids campaign. EVERYONE. and everyone respects the work. there is no need to continually reference it and talk about it and dissect it. do we see Dan Weiden or Alex Bogusky or Jeff Goodby talk over and over and over about Nike, Mini or Got Milk? no. of course it will come up from time to time, but they are not bringing it up merely to bring it up.

    i think some of the things i have mentioned, in conjunction with whatever personal experiences that have had working with you, have rubbed people the wrong way – and people are now venting. it will all subside and this will all be a distant memory. we are all flawed, every singe one of us, but i have to say that some of the flack you are receiving you simply brought on yourself.

    again, just my observations. just my two cents.

    • SRP said

      Oh, JT-
      I specifically wrote I hadn’t read all those comments and here you go summing them up for me! Thanks. I guess. Listen, I know you were trying to do the right thing. You seem to have put a lot of effort into your “two cents” so while I was not planning on rebuttal, I’m going to do something on my very, next post. God help me!

  6. jim schmidt said

    I like what Gervais did last night. Anyone who makes fun of Charlie Sheen, the Hollywood Foreign Press, The Tourist and Scientology is ok with me.

  7. hb091666 said

    Cynical ad person is not an oxymoron. I enjoy your well-written blog entries a lot, and look forward to the next one. When you let me know via Fakebook or Twitter that you’ve finished another chapter in Sweet by Design, I feel it’s more noteworthy than a picture of someone’s freshly baked banana bread: social networking is legitimized self promotion. And success in the ad industry is tied to one’s ability to promote one’s excellence at promoting various brands/products. All the best to you!

  8. J V said


    It’s somewhat sad that vitriolic rhetoric (phrase of the week) becomes fact to some people with the mere pressing of an anonymous “Post” button.

    In the creative world of advertising, copywriting, filmmaking, or any subjective field of work for that matter, it seems the collective work that creates the most vicious of debates for and against it is usually an indication of its merit and success.

    This has probably always been the case, but in the current “socially anonymous world” the capacity for public, unedited vitriol (or mental vomit) has increased exponentially along with the volume for participation in “discussion”. Unfortunately, jealousy and envy are left with an un-barriered means to clog the debate with vicious or at best petty comments.

    That said, the fact that 60+ people took the time out of their day to rant or praise your work is an indication that you’ve probably done something quite right as a whole…

    Keep up the blog — looking forward to the next post!


  9. Chad said


    Fortunately for some, anonymous, cynical criticism requires very little talent. It levels the playing field for the weak. And it relieves them of the difficult task of actually creating anything. It takes guts to put so much of yourself out there, whether on the blog or in your books. Keep on keeping on. Good luck to you. Your adventure is only beginning.

  10. Tad Dewree said

    First off, enjoy the liberation Steffan. You’ll be happier.

    Almost 20 years ago, I walked away from the agency business. What I discovered was how kind clients can be, and how relaxed life is without the politics and backbiting of the Ad world.

    Don’t worry about those bitter, envious and faceless minions who courageously post anonymous comments on agency gossip sites.

    Odds are they’re out of work, out if luck and sitting in a Starbucks waiting to fill out an application.

    Write on..amigo.

    • SRP said


      For me “liberation” is not not working. I will continue elsewhere. For now, however I’m content “sitting in a Starbucks waiting to fill applications.” That and writing, always writing.
      Thanks for the note,

  11. Anonymous said

    “a man without enemies is a man without character”

  12. Scott said


    Like Mr. Brooker, I read the AS threads. I found them disturbing on many levels. As I said on the Sun-Times post earlier, vitriol wrapped in anonymity is the providence of cowards. You may be many things to many people but a coward is not one of them.

    During the two brief periods where our paths crossed you always had the courage of your convictions and pushed for what you felt made the work better. For that alone you have my respect. Keep pushing and keep writing.

    I admire the way you have continued to rise above the fray. We would all be well served to pass that teaching onto our children. The world would be a better place.

  13. AgencySpy exists for a reason. It’s popular because people love to see other people be defamed, particularly those who are more successful and/or “better” than them. So is it any surprise as the the kind of people who are hating on AgencySpy every time someone switches jobs?

    Note: Unfortunately, this is one human behavior I can’t help but take part in every so often. AgencySpy, like a car wreck, is hard to take your eyes off of.

    What’s the topic? Oh yeah, I think if if you look back twenty years, you’ll find the same struggle of smart humor vs. easy or caustic humor (both in advertising and popular media). But now that everybody has a voice, we’re seeing a disproportionate amount of the easy brand of funny.

    That said, I think Be Stupid is some of the smartest work I’ve seen in years.

  14. Stef,
    You and I met and became friends over 25 years ago at Leo Burnett. I have always had a great deal of respect for you both as a man and a creative. The things you did for me when I first moved to Chicago will never be forgotten. You’re work on Altoids, Oldsmobile, etc. will also not be forgotten. You hit grand slams on both of those pieces of work. Most creatives never hit a double in their entire career. People who know you love you. Yes, you are full of shit sometimes, but that’s what we love about you. I hate bloggers. Most are chickenshit cowards who are too gutless to sign their names. My name is Jim Ferguson and Stef is my friend. The rest of you can go fuck yourself. Ferg

  15. Kid Awesome said

    Advertising, like all art, is more or less a reflection of the times. Only the truly brilliant work (art, music, film or advertising) ever transcend the times. That’s the beauty of something great vs. something good. The Old Spice work was/is great, and will, I believe, be remembered and looked at and an example of powerful advertising for years. The Diesle work will be forgotten by Friday. That’s the thing with everything being so instant and disposable these days, it’s easy to get attention, keeping it is the hard part.

    As for blog comments, I’m not sure why anyone would give a fuck what some random jag-off thinks. Rickey Gervais surely doesn’t.

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