Outdueling alcohol and tobacco with advertising is like bringing a knife to a gunfight.     

For over 25 years, I worked in the creative department at a number of big name advertising agencies. I was (and am) a copywriter by trade and began my career in that capacity, at the Leo Burnett Company in Chicago. During my lengthy tenure at that storied agency I wrote and produced copy for numerous alcohol and tobacco clients, including (in no particular order): the Phillip Morris company (now named Altria Group), Diageo (Wine & Spirits), Anheuser Busch, and the Miller Brewing company. These were and are Fortune 50 multinational companies spending many, many millions of dollars a year on marketing alcohol and tobacco products to any number of audiences, none more coveted than the youngest populations.

      Though federal and state laws were in place regulating the drinking and smoking ages of consumers, by definition mass media easily allowed advertisers to circumvent them. After all, a beer commercial televised on a football game could be seen by adults and children alike. Print media (remember that?) had more discernable target audiences i.e. Playboy and Esquire (adult males) Martha Stewart (adult females), etc. Outdoor adverting (billboards, bus shelters, and the like) had the unique benefit of being able to infiltrate very specific markets via targeted media plans. Putting malt liquor billboards in impoverished urban neighborhoods is a classic and controversial example of how easy it was for advertisers with money to influence the people who could least afford to drink and smoke – economically, sociologically, psychologically, physiologically and even spiritually. But hard times beget hard drinkers and heavy smokers.

      And we all knew it.

      Really, every department in the traditional ad agency (creative, strategy, accounts, media) was built to optimize getting the right messages to the right people. I spent my days crafting copy specifically designed for specific drinkers and smokers, existing and potential. I knew who they were: their age, sex, ethnicity, proclivities and so on. We all did. Our clients paid us to know everything possible about targeted populations. And they had their own people doing the same. Elaborate strategies were developed and implemented to move product. As data became more accurate and actionable, the ability to optimize reach and efficiency grew exponentially. Unsurprisingly, substance abuse disorders among these targeted groups routinely were in excess of national norms. The ramifications were not lost on public servants and various anti-drug/alcohol/tobacco groups.

      Consequently, in order to combat this growing problem, many governmental and societal watchdogs invariably found themselves playing catch up and keep away. Banning outdoor ads near schools and eliminating cigarette ads from many publications were two of the more significant regulatory measures put into place. On another front, groups like Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and the Truth Initiative began calling for more stringent policies while underwriting marketing efforts of their own. Many of their efforts have been successful. For example, most teenagers no longer consider smoking cigarettes a right of passage. But many huge efforts were also huge failures. Recall the “Just Say No!” campaign?  It had the opposite effect on young people, perversely making illegal drugs the definition of cool. Getting folks to try something is a lot easier than getting them to stop. It’s not so much a matter of putting the genie back in the bottle; it’s getting the genie to stop drinking from it!

      Therefore, during our class discussion on prevention strategies for reaching and influencing people with either existing substance use disorders or the potential to develop an SUD, it became painfully apparent that these same strategies were (and still are) employed by advertisers to reach the very same audiences!

      For example: The Diffusion of Innovations Framework i.e. utilizing an influencer to create momentum behind a new idea is among the oldest saws in the advertising tool kit.  E.M. Rogers may have coined the phrase in 1962 but using celebrities to sell goods and services dates back hundreds of years, not long after the printing press was developed.

      The Health Belief Model we talked about (that messages will achieve optimal behavior change if they successfully target perceived barriers, benefits, self-efficacy, and threat) perversely mirrors the most common messaging strategies employed by marketers of beer, wine and spirits: Drink this and you’ll be in with the in crowd. Different agendas. Same conceit. “Good for you” can be spun.

      Advertisers are as interested in the Stages of Change Theory as any drug counselor, assessing someone for the likelihood that they might use as opposed to might not.

      And so on.

      Rules and regulations change. But human nature never varies. The theories driving many of the popular environmental strategies for the prevention of drug and alcohol problems are eerily (and necessarily) similar to the strategic marketing plans for alcohol and tobacco. When anti-groups have the most success effecting the environment via advertising it is when they employ the same levels of creativity, sophistication (and hopefully budgets) as their nemesis do. Like they say: fight fire with fire. Know your enemy.

Written for course at Berkeley Extension Certificate Program in the Treatment of Substance Use Disorders

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My Laptop, a Monster Zero and Thou!

Nothing suits me more than writing a good manifesto! I know I am not alone. Most copywriters get off on writing manifestos. At least they’d better. Writing such documents is at the heart of what we do, and can do, for our clients.

Most of you know what I’m talking about. For those unawares, a manifesto (aka mantra or anthem) is the bringing to life in words the highest and most noble aspirations of its subject.

Yes, it is advertising copy but in the best sense of the word. Recall Apple’s great script to the modern world: Think Different. Consider the lines that first and forever defined Nike to a generation: Just Do It. We know these iconic tags because we fell in love with the manifestos. Frankly, neither line would have lasted this long, or even gotten out the door, if not for their beloved manifestos.

The power and glory of a brilliant manifesto cannot be overstated. They raise the hairs on the back of your neck. They make CMO’s smile. They win pitches. Most of all they change things: attitudes, behaviors, even lives.

At least the good ones do.

Into these haloed paragraphs we put everything we know or think we know about writing, about persuading, about life. Here you won’t find speeds and feeds, racks and stacks or friends and family. None of that.

May I write one for you?

https://www.steffanpostaer.com/

Copywriting / Creative Direction / Creative Strategy

Boundless passion for developing creative business ideas, winning new accounts, and elevating a company’s creative profile.

Author Unknown (Pt. 4)

July 12, 2020

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Promoting yourself made you as many enemies as fans. Haters relentlessly trolled you online calling you untalented, vainglorious or worse. Colleagues wondered if you were paying more attention to your novels than your job. Your wife thought you were chasing windmills. To some extent they all were right. But the genie was out of the bottle; you simply had to keep trying. Something would click. You would have the last laugh.

One morning, you saw a complete stranger reading your novel on the “El” in Chicago. Small sample, but no less thrilling, it was all you could do to keep from introducing yourself to the reader. In terms of validation this rare sighting would have to do.

Much later, your daughter’s high school art teacher read two of your novels, one after the other. During that relatively long period of time, he had constantly told her how good they were. Your daughter respected her teacher and by him praising your work you knew she respected you. Any glimmer of awe she had towards you was significant. Especially given how you’d fallen from her pedestal. This would have to do.

The accolades you received for copywriting, the wealth it provided, ego trips. For many, that would have done quite nicely. For you it wasn’t enough. Like Icarus you’d reached sublime heights, until your wings got clipped and you fell to earth.

In the end as in the beginning, a writer writes. Writing for its own sake, without the obsession for income or outcome. A writer writes. This, too, will have to do.

(If you’re interested in any of my books please click on the links right side of this blog. Thank you!)

The Flicker Inside (3)

March 19, 2020

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Fun.

Maybe in high school, where after a few beers you became giddy and loose, laughed at TV commercials, enjoyed the wobbly feeling and loss of control. Hidden in back alleys and basements, you and your cohorts reveled in breaking the law. Time flies when you’re having fun.

Then drugs and alcohol became prerequisite to parties, dates, movies and concerts, the joys of those things no longer joyful without them. Using became the party. Then in lieu of the party. Then only it.

In college, your passion for writing and heavy drinking were one and the same. Oh, how you romanticized it! Your right hand on the keyboard your left hand on a drink. You were like Hemingway. Jim Morrison. To this day you still type with only one hand.

Upon entering the work force you listed drinking as a hobby on your resume, along with reading, writing and fishing. Such audacity. They hired you anyway.

to be continued…

A Chorus of Sirens

March 5, 2020

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Everyone, you think, is some kind of addict. Be they active, recovering, or on the brink. Passions which are good become obsessions which are bad. People are self-seeking. This is the human condition, the result of Original Sin. Yearning. Craving. Lusting. Demanding. Wanting. Needing. Soothing. The seeds of addiction are there, have always been there. Many are able to temper these urges, denying the seeds what they need to flourish. But they’re still there. Waiting for a deluge, a perfect storm of misery or even joy… or just another shitty day. Then boom! Out comes the Hagen Das. The lonely housewife turns on the TV and never turns it off. An old man retreats to the garage for a smoke. Some concede to only a few addictions. Maybe they are harmless ones – a gardening obsession, collecting figurines. Or weird: like hoarding. Hidden from the world. In others the seeds erupt as soon as they touch a nerve, like weeds in a vacant lot. Out of control. You’ve met no one who has not succumbed to something. Drugs and alcohol are the poster children for addiction. But plenty else is out there.

Most of the jobs people do are motivated by addiction. The salesman would like nothing more than for everyone to be addicted to his wares. Many are called dealers. They give out samples. The chef wants you to crave his cooking, the barista her coffee. And so on. If one deconstructs any vocation creating and/or satisfying needs and wants were at its core. Your job in particular was culpable. In more than a poetic sense advertising worked every one of the seven deadly sins. The theme for your advertising blog: We make you want what you don’t need. Indeed. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a litany of demands that must be met.

You suppose teaching is not inherently linked to a type of addiction. Considered noble and selfless, teaching gets a pass. Undoubtedly, there are other clean human activities. But you are not trying to win an argument; you are merely making an observation. As an addict of many things you are wont to rationalize your behavior. This theory of yours is likely an example.

It’s late. You sit outside smoking your Swisher, a cheap “cigarillo” that dope smokers also use to lace their weed. On this night, as on most nights, you hear the coyotes wailing from the adjacent hills and valleys. They sound hungry or horny. Wanting something badly. Like a chorus of sirens. In Chicago, you would lie in bed at night listening to the police cars and ambulances, wondering where the fire was, if anyone was dead or dying. At the time you did not realize how much they sounded like coyotes. A thousand miles due south, where California ends and Mexico begins coyotes are what they call the nefarious men who smuggle illegals across the border, often using the same hidden paths and dried arroyos that the drug smugglers use. Illicit desires. Unsavory dealers. Whether it’s for a better life or merely a bag of heroin, there is unmistakable craving shot through all of it.