The high degree of craft demonstrated by the Coen Brothers is obvious in this new “film” for Mercedes AMG. The casting, wardrobe, acting, editing: it’s all first rate. Seeing Fonda at the end is wonderful – the cocky peace sign he flashes. Yet, everyone in the commercial shines, transcending the biker stereotype. You’ve got to love the two brutes getting stuck in the silver chains adorning their leathers. Or the grizzled biker chick wearing her lines like so many badges. Good stuff, which is what we’d expect from a Super Bowl commercial directed by the Coen Brothers.

Beyond the obvious, however, a thing I really dig (60’s verb intentional) about this film is how damn analog it is, on both sides of the camera. No smartphones. No CGI. Nobody’s tweeting. Instead we see a jukebox. Playing Steppenwolf. Dude holds up a cigarette lighter not an iPhone. Gloriously absent is all evidence of the modern world.

That is until we see the sleek new AMG roadster at the end.

Lots of commercials riff on previous decades but we can often sense the phoniness, kind of like viewing an off-Broadway production of Hair. Something about the cast or wardrobe gives it away. And we’re like: Oh, here’s a commercial making fun of the 60’s, 70’s or 80’s.

But not here. The righteousness of this commercial lifts it above mere advertising content. Rich in detail, fun to watch and just plain good the Coen Brothers remind us of why quality filmmaking still matters. Even in advertising. Especially in advertising.

Agency credit (and kudos) to Antoni, Germany and Merkley + Partners, USA

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Gorgeous yet ugly. The poster says it all.

After almost 150 years, the fabled Ringling Brothers Circus is finally shutting down. I say “finally” because for the life of me I don’t know what took so damn long. This creepy institution was antiquated when I was a boy, before distractions like the Internet and smart phones and social media. I loathed the circus back then, preferring to stay home listening to my Rush albums or watching reruns of the Brady Bunch on the Zenith in our living room. Even before the endless reporting of cruelties under the Big Top (animal and human), I found the circus guilty of the biggest sin of all: being boring as hell.

Then and now, the Circus came off as a Victorian concept: a traveling freak show of creepy clowns, defanged tigers and bearded ladies. While those “attractions” may have appealed to kids in simpler times (say before the Kennedy administration), these days “children of all ages” were no longer willing to look up from their smart phones to watch so much boring and crappy cruelty. Thank God.

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That being said, from an advertising and promotion perspective, we should give the Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey their due. The “Greatest Show on Earth!” demonstrated the power of marketing on so many levels, starting with that killer tagline. From teasing the public to creating brand mythology, for better and worse, we in Adland owe these founding fathers a nod, if not a debt of gratitude, for ushering in the era of modern marketing. Selling the circus touched all the bases: social, promotional, experiential, advertising and the graphic arts in general. That much is true. Unfortunately, the wizard behind the curtain always was a monotonous and brutal entity. And the more obvious this became the more the circus suffered.

Ironically, the beginning of the end probably began way back in 1941, with Disney’s classic animated feature, Dumbo. As beautiful as that movie was, it highlighted the gruesome reality of circus life, in some ways like a horror movie. The circus was nothing more than a traveling prison camp. Precious few characters in it were spared the whip, caged living and daily abuse. Even those paying to see the circus were depicted as gaping, sadistic hordes. Deep down I think we all knew that besides a flying elephant everything else about the movie was grimly true.

How Ringling Bros and other such “entertainments” lasted so long defies reason. It also points to some uncomfortable facts about the human condition: that we would place tradition above grotesque.

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: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

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Say what you will about the horror franchise but the latest Purge movie is eerily prophetic in its depiction of the divisive state of our Union. For those unawares, the concept deals with a government sanctioned night of rage that takes place once a year in America. All crimes, including murder, are legal for 12 hours. The subsequent carnage is supposed to “purge” everyone’s pent up frustrations and lead to less crime overall. Something like that anyway.

Regardless of what we think of this science fiction one cannot deny how prescient the idea is. So ripe is the concept I don’t know where to begin. Ragged race relations? Check. Police brutality? Check. The gun debate? Check. Political unrest? Check. Rich vs. poor? Check. And on and on. Clearly, The Purge has tapped into the zeitgeist in ways unimaginable and uncomfortable.

None more so that the latest entry, aptly titled The Purge: Election Year.

One scene has a corrupt, white officer shooting a young black man dead through the window of his car. Another has angry black civilians rampaging against a stronghold of rich white people. At times it was like watching You Tube videos of chaos in our streets. And I haven’t even mentioned the gross similarities between the “Election Year” depicted in the movie and the one we are enduring now. The two Presidential candidates are a fearsome and corrupt rich white man and a liberal leaning female. Sound familiar?

Of course the film is over-the-top and grossly distorted. But it’s all too freakishly on point. That the film was produced well before the recent mayhem in our country further adds to its power. If America wasn’t going through what it is going through right now this movie would come and go as a mildly entertaining piece of pulp genre. Instead, it damn near passes for a documentary.

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 27:  (L-R) Guest, internet influencers Brittenelle Fredericks, Sara Dinkin, and musician Garrett Borns of BORNS attend Discover Los Angeles' "Get Lost" Pop-Up Concert at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA on April 27, 2016 in West Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board )

LOS ANGELES, CA – APRIL 27: (L-R) Guest, internet influencers Brittenelle Fredericks, Sara Dinkin, and musician Garrett Borns of BORNS attend Discover Los Angeles’ “Get Lost” Pop-Up Concert at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA on April 27, 2016 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board )

Buh-Bye, your services are no longer required.

Part of the reason I dig this story from Gawker is that it did NOT appear in a marketing trade publication. Not that Gawker has more integrity than Adweek or AdAge (it has less, frankly) but it IS a consumer-facing property and a popular one at that. Therefore, the story has more cultural currency.

What I really love about this story is that it calls bullshit on the idea that anyone with a few thousand followers on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter can be considered an “influencer” and worth paying money to. The practice of paying slews of d-bags thousands of dollars to “interact” with one product or another to “influence” buyers (in lieu of actually using creative ideas) has finally jumped its own self-made shark of stupidity. (In my opinion, it happened several years ago, when some fashion brand paid a Kardashian six figures for one God-forsaken Tweet.)

Paying celebs to endorse products is hardly a new concept. On the contrary, it may be the oldest trick in marketing. But the frenzy of chasing fabulous nobodies to capture the culture just reeks of laziness and stupidity. Why pay for creativity or thinking of any kind? Let’s just book a handful of Whoevers.

Read this quote from a social media strategist:

“I remember I once did a speaking thing to a school of young social media people, and they asked, “How do I become an influencer?” So I asked them what they were good at. And they said, “Nothing.”

As a father of young teenage girls, I am aghast by such vapidity and entitlement. Moreover, I want my kids to be as well. We’ll see. With scores of somewhat attractive, nominally talented young people appearing on too many reality shows to count, it’s easy to see how the easy way to fame and fortune took root. So, I’m delighted a controversial and popular site like Gawker is calling bullshit on one aspect of it. Having big boobs and tattoos is not a talent. So-called “influencers” should be skilled at whatever it is they’re fronting for.