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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

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Still a man’s world… Really?

The Bachelor has always bothered me. But last week’s episode took the cake, especially coming one night after the Academy Awards, which, in a matter of hours, became a tipping point for the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Whereas the Oscars built up female empowerment, leveraging the zeitgeist to considerable acclaim, the very same network brought it all crashing down with a ridiculous and ghoulish season finale of The Bachelor. For those unawares, the bachelor reneges on his proposal of marriage and the shunned woman cries for two hours. It was gross. And he was the least of the reasons why.

 

Here it is. By design, The Bachelor makes women into objects of desire. Nothing more. Yet plenty less. In a very real way, The Bachelor is worse than pornography. At least in porn no one is pretending to a romantic ideal. A show that celebrates romantic love to silly extremes, The Bachelor is as sad an indictment on womanhood as any beauty pageant. Yet women love it. Show me the ratings for The Bachelor and I’ll show you as one-sided a demographic as men and the NFL. The few straight guys that watch The Bachelor vacillate between belittling the women and ogling them. What choice do we have? Without these primitive attractions, the show has no meaning.

 

I tell my daughters that The Bachelor is bad for their soul, that it reinforces ancient stereotypes about women and men. They reply it’s a guilty pleasure, no different than guys watching sports. But it is different. With sports men (and women) do difficult things to achieve valuable things. What exactly do the women on The Bachelor… do? That is besides preening and crying. And to what aim? To be given a freaking rose by some clod! The Bachelor undermines everything women are striving for. Respect. Money. Power. Women deservedly want what men have. But they aren’t going to get there pining over some dude on a reality show.

 

Attracting a man. Fantasizing about true love. Dreaming of their wedding day. White dresses and sugary cakes. Make me a princess! That’s the stereotype our parents grew up with. The Bachelor is a relic from the 1950’s. And it should be treated as such. Yet, it’s a smash hit and primarily with women. Why isn’t its time up?

Author’s Note: Available for copywriting, content creation and creative direction: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

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The best thing about this mildly amusing parody of those “Real People/Chevy” commercials, which have been running endlessly on TV, is that it proves I’m not the only one who loathes the source material. And I do. Unreservedly.

I’m not sure why I (and others) dislike these advertisements so much. On the surface they are but showroom testimonials. Hardly creative but hardly nefarious either.

I suppose it’s the little things.

Like the seemingly random and unaware “real people,” who act surprised and delighted by the appearance of… cars? Gosh, we’ve never seen those before! Yet the curtains lift. Walls part. And lo and behold cars appear. By oohing and aahing, the allegedly unwitting folks come off as witless. Even if a $19,000 dollar Chevy Impala were capable of eliciting such responses, playing the reactions as spontaneous rankles what’s left of my jaded advertising brain.

And how about the ringmaster? Another supposed regular guy, only smugger. Note to Chevy: Being in on a joke that is positively un-funny only makes one complicit to the insult to our intelligence.

Digging deeper (if that’s possible in such shallow material), maybe it’s the adoration for Chevrolet’s commonplace vehicles that vexes me most. Nothing against affordable sedans and efficient trucks. They are the meat and potatoes of America’s roads, and we appreciate them as such. But falling to one’s knees and hugging the bumper, as one character does, is too disingenuous for words. Yes, this would play on, say, The Price is Right after winning one of these vehicles, but merely being shown these cars? And after the pomp and circumstance of so many vainglorious reveals… It’s crummy stagecraft.

I’m guessing from the many executions and frequency of airing that on some level this campaign is selling cars. In which case Chevrolet and its agency, Commonwealth shall have the last laugh.

I’m also aware that on these very pages I’ve written about my reluctance to criticize advertising in purely negative terms, which makes me a hypocrite. Perhaps my excuse for such shameless behavior is the same as Chevrolet’s: I couldn’t help myself.

For content that’ll make you very happy, hit me up: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

 

Boy meets girl. They become friends. Grow up together. Fall in love. And when they inevitably become a couple Chase Bank is there with financial guidance to help them protect their growing nest egg. Perfectly reasonable fodder for an anthem commercial. And this one mines the territory with aplomb. Beautifully shot. Lovely music. Great cast.

Which brings me to the couple. She’s black. And he’s white.

So what? So that’s my point. For all the animosity in our world regarding race relations (the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Civil Rights Movement) here’s this white man and black woman starting a life together. A couple. Through thick and thin.

And if our society is as misbegotten in terms of race as everyone thinks it is (the alt right vs #blacklivesmatter) then this couple is in for a lot of thick and thin. Which is why I think it’s remarkable that a notoriously conservative entity like Chase Bank has brought this couple to life. It’s as if the shit storm going on in America weren’t happening at all.

Not too long ago, when I was churning out commercials for clients like Kellogg’s, McDonald’s and Miller Beer we would not have considered casting a biracial couple as leads in a TV spot. Sure, we dutifully cast ethnic people here and there in a commercial, but certainly not as lovers, man and wife. This was, to use a loaded phrase, “the last taboo.”

Was.

Now it’s commonplace to see mixed race couples in advertising. Not just black and white people. Latinos and Asians are becoming ubiquitous in adverts – as if, as I said, the shit storm going on in America weren’t happening at all. The news gives us protesters and riots. People are going to be deported. A wall built between countries. Yet, despite this turmoil, more and more advertisers are simply moving forward.

Take notice. Because while diversity continues to be a hot button issue in Adland (and elsewhere), the content we produce could not be more progressive. My belief is that the more people see these images the more comfortable they will become with them. On this side of the camera, at least, all is right with the world.

Maybe life will imitate art. And the sooner the better.

( Ready and able to provide content and creative leadership at all levels: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/ )

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Something’s been bothering me for a while. I want it to blow over like the non-event that it undoubtedly is. But I can’t. So I figure I’ll just do what I’ve always done when something gets caught in my head. I’ll pry it out with my laptop.

These political conventions. God, I loathe them. I see an epic amount of bullshit being leveled at us from BOTH parties, BOTH candidates, and BOTH their get. I know, I know. That’s why they call it politics.

But that’s not what bothers me most. It’s the campaign wags. They bother me. These people, and their talking points, unable to let them go for any reason, ever. On FOX or CNN, it doesn’t matter the forum. The network puts a couple politicos from either party on TV, has whomever ask them whatever and the answers are always the same: talking points. The interviewees never answer as themselves but rather are channels for party rhetoric. They used to call it spin. But that word has gone away, hasn’t it? Fake answers are the new normal. Truthiness. I hate that. I wish everybody did.

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“Parse your words and live.”

In my years in Adland, I’ve seen this behavior before, all the time, actually, and from myself as well. And I loathe it all the same.

Especially when we are in a wooing mode, as in a pitch. Here, the mania of talking points becomes a grotesque. We are asked questions by potential suitors and we immediately assume that these are opportunities to score points. In this context saying “I don’t know” is never an option. Nor is, necessarily, the truth.

Unless we are brave. Over the years I’ve tried to be brave. To answer questions truthfully. To grandstand less and look like a partner more. I don’t know if we’ve won more pitches because of it or not. There are so many variables. And I’m just one man. But I try. Because it feels like the right thing to do.

And so when I see a person on CNN get asked a direct question (hopefully not vetted) and give a vetted answer, I cringe. Don’t you? As a human being, I don’t want everything to circle back to the platform, to be so campaign driven. I’ve come to expect as much from the candidates (God forbid they apologize or not know something). Yet somehow, I feel betrayed worse when a less-credentialed officer hands us a line. Yes, he or she is a “campaign spokesperson,” but can’t he or she be human as well?

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The messes just get stirred up by the other side, providing the only alternative to talking points we ever see: attack mode. Land a talking point about the platform and land a punch to theirs. This is what we get. Over and over again.

You know what I would love? If someone being interviewed just answered a question without a crib sheet. For example: “I wish Mr. Trump hadn’t said that today. I don’t agree with him and It hurt us.” Or: “Of course Mrs. Clinton back-channeled Bernie out of contention. She wanted to win the nomination. And she did.”

Never happen, I know. But when so many elephants are left in both rooms their shit smells a mile away.