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

Read Me, Seymour!

October 3, 2020

Author Unknown

You’ve written three novels. After years of toil, most of it pleasurable (an apt definition of writing), enduring countless maybes, the quite interested and even an option from Hollywood, you ended up self-publishing. Not the happy ending you envisioned, with heady book tours and glowing reviews on myriad websites. But parking your books on the computer like an old tax return? No fucking way.

“Years of effort” is actually an understatement. You’d spent decades on these novels. High art or not you knew they were high concept. Your first, The Last Generation imagined a world bereft of children, slowly dying out. Yet, and this was the kicker, nothing else was wrong. For the remaining shrinking population, life simply went on. What does this last generation do with itself? Your marketing line: It’s not the end of the world, just the end of us.

Your second novel is a modern fable about God and advertising, The Happy Soul Industry. In it, God, frustrated by a world lacking belief, puts an angel on earth to find an ad agency in order to market spirituality. In the third act all hell breaks loose.

Your third story, Sweet By Design is a romantic comedy (!) about a disillusioned gay man and an aging female socialite, brought together on an improbable road trip.  This one you wrote to prove you could be whimsical and, being honest here, entirely commercial. Whatever your motivations and inspirations, you never worked harder in your life than on these three books. In doing so, you developed a keen appreciation for even the shoddiest novels at the airport bookstand. Readers who weren’t writers would never comprehend, couldn’t possibly, the effort required to scribe 300 pages of anything. Thinking. Rethinking. Writing. Rewriting. Losing weeks of content. Fighting demons. Overcoming doubt.  And then, when you honestly thought it was finally done, the painful discovery of a typo on the very first page, then another and another, a repeated paragraph – How did that happen?  How many more things were wrong?

To be continued…

(If interested in any of these books please click on the links right side of this blog!)

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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.

A Chorus of Sirens

July 24, 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. Plenty else is out there.

What are some of yours?

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…