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Back when I first started out as a copywriter for the Leo Burnett Company in Chicago, I had been on the job only a few months when a new copywriter was hired into our creative group. Tom Coleman came to us from a small agency in Washington DC, along with his art director partner Bob Wyatt.

Tom and Bob would go on to create wonderful award-winning work for Dewar’s White Label, among other campaigns. One of my all time favorites from his “oeuvre” was this print ad, convincing young men to try Dewar’s even though research suggested most new drinkers hated the taste of scotch. Freaking genius.

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Tom had a strong personality with a biting wit. He also possessed fashion sense way beyond most young men and, frankly, just about everyone else in Chicago. (Except for maybe our boss, Ted Bell but that’s another story.) Tom regularly came to work in a suit and, if not that, always donning a jacket. Unless he was hung over or ill, he always wore a tie, usually a bow tie, and never a clip on. He cherished his weathered Cordovan loafers from Brooks Brothers. His shirts were monogrammed.

Needless to say, we road him hard for his sartorial streak. But like Dewars, Tom “never varied.” He knew he was ahead of the game and certainly beyond us slobs. Despite our wardrobe differences, Tom and I became good friends. He tried to get me to dress like an adult but unless we were presenting to a client, I dressed for comfort not success. Truth be told, even my “fancy” clothes were pretty lame. Especially compared with Tom’s.

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Tom Coleman, towering over the shallow end…

I’m writing this not to reminisce but because Coleman (as we often called him) has a fabulous and fun new book that just came out, detailing the greatest fashion missteps of otherwise smart and stylish people. It’s called, I Actually Wore This: Clothes We Can’t Believe We Bought. In it a bunch of genuinely cool people (some famous, some not) talk about the single most embarrassing article of clothing in their closet: why and where they acquired the garment and a fun anecdote about it. Each person is marvelously photographed in said item(!) by Jerome Jakubiec. As Tom wrote in his inscription to us: “It won’t change your life but it may liven up your coffee table.”

It’s a hoot, hard to stop reading and gawking at. Obviously, Tom’s “concept” is titillating tapping into our voyeuristic tendencies. But it’s more than that. There’s something intimate and warmly human about the book. With a handful of words and a portrait, you really get to know these people. How they could buy, let alone wear, these things is actually a far bigger question that it first might seem. We discover the ego’s power and the trouble (albeit harmless here) that it can get us into.

Tom once told me he was a “collector of people.” In I Actually Wore This we see the fruits of his labor. Coleman’s book is available on Amazon and likely the chicest coffee tables.

Though my wardrobe is still suspect, I write copy fashionably well: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

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No shoes, No shirt, No problem…

Somewhat unexpectedly, Chili’s bar and grill is going for the big branding idea with its new retro ad campaign from agency, Hill Holiday. I say “unexpectedly” because when it comes to advertising, chains like Chili’s, Fridays and the like usually default to food porn and price points vs. any sort of branding. For this reason alone, the effort here deserves props. I know from experience how hard it is to get marketers of “casual dining” to do anything exceptional.

But is Chillin’ Since ‘75 the right answer?

Let’s start with the obvious. I do “dig” the wordplay on the name and how that naturally “jives” with the “groovy vibe” of 1975. Moreover, one can easily accept the campaign’s mythology because of legitimate connections to the period. If you’re old enough to remember, or are a student of Americana, you know that as far as foodie culture went, in the 70’s, salad bars and hamburger joints were where it was at. During this time Lettuce Entertain You opened the first such joint in Chicago, RJ Grunts. In LA, Barney’s Beanery was gut filling rock stars and stoners with specialty burgers and chili. Jim Morrison got fat there. And who can forget Hamburger Hamlet? (Probably a lot of you but I’m trying to make a point.)

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Grass fed beef…

Chillin’ since ‘75 does make sense for the brand. The 70’s have aged well in our collected conscience and have about as good a chance of resonating with twenty-somethings as anything else. Perhaps even better. Beyond the fashion, there are definite similarities between the 70’s “Me-Generation” and the narcissistic current one. Do I even have to point them out?

Chili’s succeeds in creating a Boogie Nights atmosphere first and foremost by copping to the awesome tunage of the day. Hearing the opening chords to Foghat’s Slow Ride bring it all back, man. As does the washed out film and the gnarly casting. Granted, it’s not a difficult era to replicate but getting it wrong would have been a total fail. On that note I’m glad Chili’s paid for the real music and not some half-assed facsimile.


Hamburger Hippies…

Not to be a buzz kill but the commercials may actually go too far. “Heck, sometimes we didn’t even wear shirts!” Ew. Sweaty hippies making dinner is kind of a turn off. Still, you gotta give them credit for going all in. Another quibble: By 1975, the hippie culture had virtually expired, having been crushed by Altamont, Charles Manson and other factors. Punk rock, disco and cocaine were right around the corner. Chillin’ by any standard was over.

Full disclosure: I haven’t been to a Chili’s in many years. What I do recall of the place resembles little the hedonistic hamburger joint of these commercials. The last one I was in felt more like a box in a strip mall. Because it was. Can the chain get that loving feeling back? Possibly. In college a good friend of mine cooked burgers at Chili’s. He loved his weed and got a buzz on before every shift. He gave us freebies all the time. So, there’s that.

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.

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A while back, in the Admiral’s Club at Laguardia airport, this youngster caught my attention. Regular looking kid, a bit disheveled in his ill-fitting blue sweatshirt and no-name blue jeans. But something marked him apart: a striped cap with a propeller on top!

Wow.

I remember thinking he’s safe here but that goofy cap would be a death sentence in the schoolyard -certainly in the ones I attended. I mean, what symbolizes dork more than a beanie with a propeller on top? It’s a nerd icon from when nerds were at their nerdiest. Spanky wore one on the ancient TV show, The Little Rascals.

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But in this day and age, an adolescent boy wearing something so silly… in public. He might as well have had a “Kick Me!” sign affixed to his back. I decided to sneak a picture -not to mock him as a person but to document the reality. I uploaded the anonymous photo on Facebook, adding my line about the schoolyard.

The comments came quickly. To my delight they all were deeply supportive of the Beanie Boy. Here’s a perfect example from a Facebook friend, Brian Collins:

I think the kid is astounding. He is wearing it with some pride. And it looks like it’s motorized. Even better. If this makes the kid happy that’s perfect. And he looks deeply engaged on the web, too. Great.

What we don’t need are any more cookie cutter kids dressed in oversized nylon football jerseys, cocked baseball caps and ratty jeans with their lifeless eyes glued to ESPN.

Go, beanie boy, go!

Upon further consideration, Brian is right. My knee-jerk reaction was shortsighted, even ignorant. The Beanie Boy is not a dork. Frankly, he’s anything but. He’s a maverick and a rogue, a lad who’s not afraid to defy convention.

Recently, I compared the typical ad agency creative department to Romper Room. I wrote: “The older I get the more I realize how important it is to stay connected with my “inner child.” The best creative people do not grow out of it when they grow up. We remain inquisitive. Lovers of fun. You see it in our bicycles in the hallway. Our dubious wardrobes. Our playlists. Our silly snapshots on Facebook.”

Indeed, defying convention is what makes us creative. I don’t want to lose that. Ever. And so, young admiral from the Admiral’s Club, I echo the words of my wise friend, Mr. Collins and the champions of creativity everywhere: “Go, beanie boy, Go!”

Author’s note: I wrote about the Beanie Boy before. For me, he never gets old.

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Let’s start with a compliment. Despite all the Taco Bell and prodigious amount of booze he’s been illegally imbibing since he was 12, Justin Bieber is in shape. Dude is ripped. I’ve got to believe this is on account of good genes, this said despite his built in DNA for stupidity.

Bieber, Bieber, Bieber.

One is hard pressed to find another pop star capable of making so much cultural noise that has nothing to do with his crooning, which, being an adult, I have little awareness of. I am, however, very aware of his many scatological, misogynistic and even racist moments. Who isn’t? My favorite is when he, upon visiting the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, wrote in the guest book: “Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber.” Tone deaf. Yet priceless. (Compliment #2: At least he actually went to the Anne frank museum. Name another teen-ager who did, not in a school group or being towed by his parents.)

Regardless of this and countless other boneheaded moves (or precisely because of them), Calvin Klein has made the Biebs their latest underwear model.

A bit of history is in order. In 1992, CK did the same thing with Marc Wahlberg (then Marky Mark), catapulting him and the briefs into damn near iconic status. At the time, Wahlberg was coming off a tour of duty with boy band, The Funky Bunch as well as a series of run-ins with the law. He was in every sense of the word, a hot mess.

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One can only deduce that this is exactly what CK had in mind when they cast Bieber for the role. It worked once, right? The photos look eerily similar. Instead of famous fashion photographer Herb Ritts (who shot Wahlberg), CK has enlisted currently famous fashion photographers Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott. They do a great Herb Ritts imitation.

The early returns for this work are not good. “Yes, they went there.” One cheeky headline gasps. Yet, the criticism is knee-jerk. Frankly, the same snide comments and negative uproar occurred when the Marky Mark photos came out. People forget that.

But not Calvin Klein. They are probably delighted with the criticism, especially if what comes after is also a repeat. Casting bad boys in tight underwear is a strategy not a mistake. The more people hate on this campaign the better.

Ironically, the only thing that has changed in 20 years is the idea that these images would be considered inappropriate. Back in the day, all kinds of people came out against Marky Mark’s member and the audacity to show off such a thing in mainstream magazines. Bieber’s balls will not capture such attention. For that CK can only depend on his controversial and douche-y disposition.

Controversy? Nah. The buzz grows. http://www.adweek.com/adfreak/justin-bieber-claims-untouched-calvin-klein-photo-fake-162295