images-1images
Two peas in a pod?

“Much of the Simpsons’ success can be traced to two main sources: an independence from network interference and a complete dedication to the writing…”

                                       -John Ortved, The Unauthorized History of the Simpsons

 

The Simpsons TV show is the creative standard by which all comedy writing (perhaps all script writing) is measured. Few ever meet those standards. Many duck them all together. The Simpsons is also one of the most successful things ever created. Period. No part of popular culture (ours or anyone’s) is unaffected by this quirky cartoon. How and why can be summed up in the above quote.

As you might imagine, the above quote is sweet music to any creative person’s ears, especially if you’re a copywriter. Unfortunately, it is a song we seldom get to play or hear in the creative department. We get “network interference” all the time, so much so it is considered part of the “process.” And while we may have a complete dedication to the writing, few others in a typical agency do. And why should they? Writing is not their skill set. They are executives, strategists and managers. Their skill set, if you get right down to it, is to affect the writing, generally via “comments.” Comments can be good. Comments can be bad. My point is we don’t work in a vacuum.

The “curiously strong mints” campaign is my Simpsons. In my own unauthorized untold true story of Altoids, I make a similar statement to Ortved’s. A great campaign for many reasons but, in the early going, its meteoric success comes down to the same two things: autonomy and an obsession for writing. I obsessed over those headlines as my partner, Mark Faulkner obsessed over images, color scheme and typography.

In that first year we answered to no one, save for our creative director, who was only appreciative and supportive. Obviously, the client had to sign off (they were a joy by the way) but “network interference” was negligible. Why? No one in the agency cared. The budget was tiny and TV never an option. (Remember this was 1995 and this was Leo Burnett. TV was king.) Anyway, the rest is history: Wrigley bought Altoids and Lifesavers for $1.5 billion dollars.

Ultimately, many would contribute in the case study of Altoids (I’ve named them in previous posts as well as in an Adweek story) but year one it was just a creative team and an assignment.

So, what do we make of “network interference” aka the age-old battle between suit and creative? We are both on the same team, working for the same “network.” But the partnership is strained. Necessarily perhaps. And maybe that’s healthy. But for those once-in-a-lifetime campaigns –“Think Different” “Just do it.” “Curiously Strong Mints”- I’m guessing it’s the creative lonely man who called the tune.

Author’s Notes: This article first ran last week in Reel Chicago – If you would like a creative lonely man as cipher hit me up Portfolio

Advertisements

The “geeter stick”

October 25, 2017

default.jpg

The “geeter stick”

Coach Grapera has the class doing laps, twenty-five, no stopping. He marks time with a sawed off pool cue, hitting the cold, white tiles with its tip. Whack! Whack! Whack!

And you can’t make it. Maybe the water’s too warm, the chlorine too strong. Maybe you’re just too fat. You slow down, trying not to take in water. Your arms burn and so do your eyes. You grab the side of the pool. Just in time, because now you are choking. You hated gym class in general, sucked at most sports, if rope climbing and dodge ball counted as sports. But pool days were the worst. You had to swim naked, a barbaric rule from when Lane Tech was only for boys. Questioning it was futile, only bringing criticism. You were a sissy if you complained.

Whack! You feel the stick on your knuckles. “Come on, Fatso,” you hear Grapera yell. “Move your ass!” You will your ass to move, pushing off from the ledge. You paw the water, floundering forward. Whack! The stick catches your right butt cheek and part of your lower back. The pain is tremendous. It feels like a shark has bitten you. Whack! This time Grapera hits your shoulder. Struggling to tread water, you shout at the coach. “Jesus Christ! Why won’t leave me alone!” Your words reverberate off the walls.

Nobody is swimming anymore. You are aware of some thirty boys standing or treading water. Their eyes go from you to him. The water ripples to a calm. Nobody says shit.

“Get out of the water,” Grapera commands. “Now!”

And so you get out of the water, slowly, until you are standing naked and dripping at the pool’s edge. You begin to shiver. Like a newborn kangaroo, your minuscule prick crawls up into your large belly. You’d just seen the movie about Australia in science. So had your classmates. Embarrassed is not the word. You are scared. Petrified. Grapera tenses his grip around the pool cue. You think he is going to hit you again. He points instead.

“That way.”

You walk along the side of the pool, tempted to cover your genitals, but afraid that doing so will only make you look more like a girl. You reach the front of the diving board, where you stop. It is cold and your naked body won’t stop shaking. Coach Grapera seems to be feeding on your fear, turning it into something worse. He looks furious.

“Now get on the board.”

You climb the metal steps. In the gym, Grapera has an assistant, a buxom Polish girl named Yolanda. How she gets out of class to serve him is yet another bafflement. At least she is not allowed here.

“Walk to the end.” He wiggles the pool cue, impatiently.

The diving board feels like sandpaper on your feet. Your chubby thighs rub together. Your dick, a peanut, jiggles in the cold. If Grapera plans on hitting you again it will be now, because you are running out of diving board.

He remains silent, flipping his cue from one hand to the other.

You are at the end of the plank, toes curled around its edge. Like crocodiles, the others stare at your flesh. You hadn’t fully noticed them until now, they being so quiet and you being so frightened. Why is he doing this to me, you wonder? He’s grinning. And so are the crocodiles.

“Extend your arms on both sides, all the way out.”

You lift your arms, stretching them as far as you can. You wish they were wings, so you could fly away.

“Keep them there!” Grapera calls it his “geeter stick” and it stings your flank like an angry wasp. The pain explodes up your arm and down your side. “You will stay like that for the rest of the period,” he says. Raising his voice: “Maybe put some muscle on those arms so that you can actually swim!”

The laughter begins. At first only a murmur. It grows and echoes in the blue-green cavern. It is the most awful sound. And you can only stand there, your arms out, already burning. Naked.

“You look pretty sad, little hen. Doesn’t he class?”

He’s making fun of your name. Now you are a girl. “Look at her,” he tells the class. “This is what giving up looks like.”

The laughter is worse than his stick. You begin to cry, unable to hold back. Mercifully, the clock on the wall indicates only a few more minutes remain until the bell rings, ending this. Yet you still must contend with the locker room, the wet towels, and the jeers. Once a familiar humiliation, today will be even worse.

Reflecting back on that day is difficult. It took years before you acknowledged it to anyone. But that doesn’t make the memory any less vivid. On the contrary, you still smell the chlorine. You see yourself up on that plank, arms outstretched, like Christ on the cross. He had done much to provoke his attackers. What was your sin?

*            *            *

The above is an excerpt from a book I’m writing, The Chaos Merchant.

Gods of Advertising is on hiatus so I may devote my full energy to personal writing as well as for clients. My services include copy writing, brand manifestos and creative business ideas: Portfolio  Do you have a writing project you’d like to discuss?

I look forward to hearing from you!

p1123608148-3.jpg

In over ten years of keeping this blog, the last two weeks have been the longest time I’ve gone without writing a post. I am not naïve or prideful enough to think that anyone missed me. But to my loyal readers I offer my apologies. I know how annoying it is to arrive at a bookmark and find stale content. I was working on a freelance project, which deserved and received all my attention. Despite undying passion for Gods of Advertising, I enjoy working on outside creative projects even more. Plus, it keeps my family teetering on the brink of solvency.

At any rate, that project has now concluded, very successfully, and I’m ready for another. So, if you’re reading this and in need of copy writing and/or creative leadership please hit me up. I will deliver on time and above expectation. I have never failed in this regard and do not intend to start with you. As always, I will provide the last job I worked as a reference.

That being said…

Regarding the rash of stories about ageism in Adland, especially as it pertains to creative people. I’ve read we are too expensive. Too out of touch. Too ‘a bunch of things.’ The stigma is real. But it’s not based in reality.

A lot of us know as much about emerging digital platforms as our teen-age children. Certainly, we forgot more about coming up with creative business ideas than most anyone in Adland under thirty. And, last but not least, we know how to write a f–king sentence. Intangibles? Put me in front of a client. I’m a professional, who has a lot of fun being one.

I can’t speak for my peers but regarding money I’m no longer obsessed with it. Materialism is just one of the many sins of youth… like chasing prizes. Been there won that. Bottom line: If you want me for a project we’ll do it on your terms. The same goes for potential full time employment, for which my antennae are up. By the way, I believe the appropriate compensation for talent (me or anyone else) must reside in the range of one’s peer group at his or her particular company. One should never be conspicuous on a spreadsheet! Such wisdom comes from experience. Here’s another “old” idea: Do great work for great value and the rest takes care of itself.

http://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

th.jpg

Creator for hire…

That’s right, to prove my chops as elegant persuader I’m going to sell you on the idea that God exists using intuitive and rational arguments. No new age mumbo-jumbo. No beatific platitudes. No doctrine. I won’t apply one single faith-based point in my brief. When I’m done you may still not believe in a higher power but you may well be closer to Him (and hopefully me) than you were before.

First a proposition: If anyone can definitively prove God does or does not exist I will give him all that’s left in my bank account. Non-believers and agnostics crave proof of God’s existence and, of course, it never comes. But why is it we rarely flip the question and demand proof that some Higher Power doesn’t exist? It’s just as impossible.

Let’s go totally left-brain and talk percentages. Applying common sense, one must conclude there is at least a 50% chance that God does exist. However, that also means there is a 50% chance that God does not. “God is everything or nothing.” It’s 50/50. If you had those odds on the lottery –or anything really- you’d take that bet. You’d be a fool not to.

Yet, so many of us are ambivalent about God or even the idea of God. Why is that? Because we can’t see him? Well, you can’t see gravity either. “That’s different,” the unbeliever claims. You can prove gravity. There are equations.

Do you believe in love? For your children? For your wife? Of course you do. But one cannot prove that love definitively exists. You feel love or you don’t depending on your circumstances but you can never see “love.” So, if one can believe in love then why not God? They are both faith-based concepts with no rational foundation. Why is one different from the other?

Do you covet money, prestige or status? Are you addicted to drugs or alcohol? Have you ever been? What about chocolate or coffee? Or your boyfriend? We often make higher powers out of people, places and things. The alcoholic knows this all to well. When she wakes it’s all she can think of. The addict’s drug of choice brings him to his knees every night. They will put spirits ahead of everything else, including jobs, loved ones and personal health. Even the sanctity of human life will not deter the devoted from blindly worshiping their drug of choice. In 12 step recovery it is suggested that the addict replace one higher power for another. When he or she is able to do so the results are demonstrable, even astounding. A freaking miracle.

I’m a cynic and a realist. But I’ve come to believe, even know, God is as likely to exist as not. Such circumstantial evidence may not hold up in court (which ironically trusts in God) but public opinion is all that matters here. Persuasion is an art that uses facts, not the other way around. Have I moved you even five percent closer to believing in a higher power? Or in me?

So, how about that freelance? Let’s do some creation together: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

ghost_writert9odetail

The “Ghost Writer” at your service…

No secret I’ve been looking for a creative leadership position in the advertising industry. But securing full time employment has proven to be daunting, even for a lesser title and reduced pay.

No secret either that Adland has a fixation on youth, especially when it comes to creative. Too bad since most under-thirties are best at creating “ideas” that amuse and delight their peers but sell nothing to no one. However, rather than piss and moan about it (Plenty of that being done already), I have a plan…

I’ll need an accomplice. Perhaps as many as three. Specifically: You’re a Creative Director or an Associate CD. Maybe they dropped the VP title on you as well. Congratulations! Still, it’s been a while since you’ve sold anything. Your stuff is no longer on the agency site. There are junior writers nipping at your heels. They work for you…for now.

Frankly, your team is bereft. Their silly social and gamification ideas raise eyebrows but you can’t sell them through. Why? Because they’re strategically incoherent and the account supervisor vetoed showing them to her client. You’ve already fallen on a couple swords and your reputation for being “difficult” is growing. You’ve also heard rumors about holiday layoffs. You go home at night to try and crack the strategy but you invariably find yourself distracted. After three PBR’s and the West World finale you’re just too tired to write. And why do you have to write anyway? Everything’s video now. Nobody reads copy. Advertising sucks.

Here’s where I come in. You forward me the brief. I’ll come up with a legit organizing principle (aka Big Selling Idea) and write copy for all the necessary touch points, curate it for your presentation and voila! Tomorrow when you wake up it’ll be in your inbox. All yours. It’ll be just like that time in college. Wink, Wink. This I will do for a modest bit of your paycheck, which I dare say will only get bigger after you begin demonstrating your remarkable turnaround. You can call me “The Ghost Writer.” Badass, right?

So, let’s collude on some copy! I know how to do this job better than most and you have better things to do. Ski season, brah! You think I’m joking? Try me:
https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

Author’s note: This post was originally intended as satire but the more I think about it the more I’m willing to break bad. Anyone have the stones to hit me up?