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 Lake (5)

May 11, 2020

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My Michelle

It was as if the two of you were co-starring in a divinely written play, a pairing far removed from the inglorious hook ups taking place in the muscle cars behind you. You didn’t know if you were being watched and to your delight you didn’t care. Rex and his ilk did not matter. Michelle would remain your fantastic secret for as long as possible, that day anyway.

You walked with Michelle, holding hands, which for once did not feel strange, and arrived at an empty apartment she said belonged to her mother. Inside it was cool and dark. She left the shades down and led you into her bedroom.

To recite what transpired there would require a poet’s gift, lest it sound obscene. The two of you swallowed each other whole. Satiated, her head resting on your chest, you both drifted into a deep sleep. You didn’t know it then but this would be the only time you would ever fall asleep in a woman’s embrace.

Like a pristine bubble dangling precariously from a child’s wand, it would not last. The nirvana of that afternoon did not follow either of you into the relationship. Michelle revealed herself to be insecure and vain. All too aware of her exceptional physique and its effect on men, she vacillated between flaunting herself and retreating into a pouty shell. She liked dancing and disco music and the culture surrounding it: the clothes, nightclubs, older men, black men – all of which made you uncomfortable.

To be continued…

The Lake (4)

May 6, 2020

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My Michelle

Nearly 40 years have passed since that druggy July afternoon and you can still remember the details vividly. Not just her body but everything on it: her pink velour running shorts, the canary yellow tube top, a stretchy headband, reflective aviators.

You do not rise. Michelle sits down on the grass beside you. Tiny beads of perspiration dot her upper lip. When she smiles a rivulet forms on her flushed cheek. You watch the droplet encroach places you would kiss.

“I know you from the neighborhood,” she says. “I knew I would find you here.”

That didn’t make sense. You’d never seen this girl before in your life, save for in your dreams. How did she know you? You don’t ask. A gift like this you receive without questions.

While you remember particulars from that day at the lake, the vision of Michelle, the strange miracle of her coming to you, it would be disingenuous to reiterate the dialog you shared. As if under the rapture of Psilocybin, you only know the conversation flowed like a clear stream over smooth rocks – the actual words as elusive as silvery trout slipping in and out of the sunshine.

To be continued…