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He’s making his list…

We read about holiday layoffs in the trades. Perhaps we experience them in our lives. A grim subject, I know. For I have been on both sides of this sad equation. What I’m about to tell you may not be morally right or wrong but it is a matter of fact.

First, a note on the obvious. Nobody likes to fire people. Especially during the holidays. We forget that, in the rush to create demons. Still, firing is better than being fired. Like I said: obvious.

Why now and why always the middle tier that gets it? Well, Virginia…

Since August, the CFO of your agency has been warning the CEO that the numbers are down. Way down. The CEO, being a glass half full guy, advises restraint in pushing the panic button – don’t want to alarm the troops or start any rumors! Besides, he says, the tide will turn. There’s still that pitch. They debate behind closed doors. Alas, come November, the shortfall is now impossible to ignore. Budget reports are due and the agency is, let’s say, $750,000 dollars below its target. And so the CEO calls together his or her management team: Managing Director, ECD, Head of Planning. A dour PPT ensues. New business did not come in. Organic growth was less than expected. Yada, yada, yada. To sum up, the CEO requests that every department cut a portion of overhead, say 250k each.

The Management Team goes off to their respective corners and creates a “list.” Rather than fire 5 junior people to arrive at his number the executive invariably chooses the highest salaried person he can do without. She figures she can pick up the slack or more likely beat it out of the kids. That, and it’s a hell of a lot easier to let go one person versus doing five. A couple ACD’s. An Account Sup. Two Senior Planners. Throw in that loose cannon from the production department. And Boom. A half dozen souls doomed. If the shortfall is bigger then so will the body count. By the time HR has the necessary paperwork completed it’s after Thanksgiving and just before Christmas. The result is another Black Friday.

Here’s the kicker, in case you missed it. Since the senior-most people were asked to create these lists that means neither they nor the askers appear on them. Gadzooks! This is perhaps unfair – it may very well be that one or two of them are the reason the agency is ailing in the first place. Likely even. What is certainly unfair is having now arrived at their targets the senior executives qualify for a bonus. You may ask, could not the bonus pool have filled the shortfall, sparing jobs? Nope. Because that money comes from “separate buckets.” That last piece has been explained to me several times but I still don’t get it.

Economics and ego. The result is not unlike a third world country, or a sweat shop: a minority of leaders bossing a majority of juniors. Of course there are exceptions but not enough and less so every year. Maybe that’s why so many holiday parties get out of hand… because tomorrow we die.

Like many brethren I’m doing freelance and can provide superior content creation as well as creative leadership: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

Normally, I don’t go for hidden camera stuff (in advertising or entertainment) but this provocative campaign for a difficult subject is an exception. What I admire is the light touch it took with such a heavy subject. For example, the main actor is youthful, handsome and charming. In ordinary circumstances any father would be delighted to have his daughter date a fellow like this. Not casting an older, salacious man invites us into the concept. When the girls run up and hug him our first reaction is hardly uncomfortable. It seems normal… until we grasp what’s going on.

The real people are real too. This is not a dumb observation. In my opinion 90% of so-called “real” persons seen on videos today come off as vulgar, coached-up buffoons. It’s all about BIG reactions. But here the unaware parents are more perplexed than SHOCKED!!! These are genuine reactions. The subtle shift into full awareness make the commercial utterly believable and, in a way, transfixing. The light tone is counter-intuitive and utterly effective.  Bravo.

Read more in Adweek.

Client: BØRNEfonden (Child & Youth Foundation.)

Agency: Robert/Boisen & Like Minded

Falling on deaf ears?

Like Hollywood and all its stars, the vast majority of Adland despised the idea of a Donald Trump presidency. Which is why for many months so many of us rallied for a different outcome. The best and brightest from our tribe, hired by the DNC, or of their own volition, created films and microsites and social programs in a righteous effort to see the one time First Lady become the first lady President of theses United States and, with perhaps even more ardor, to make certain one very strange and polarizing man didn’t. Emulating the luminaries in La La Land we had our Goodby and Droga and all their get doing everything imaginable so that America voted one way and not another.

Funny or Die presented an entire movie mocking Donald Trump. Baldwin killed with his impersonation of DT on SNL. Poignant commercials told us “our children are watching” as clips of The Donald ran before their innocent eyes. The Tonite Show. The Daily Show. All the shows – ranted and raved. We made memes and anthems. Jay Z and Beyonce’ stood by Mrs. Clinton swearing a blue streak for blue states. The sitting POTUS boldly stated that Donald Trump was “not fit for the office” and we made endless propaganda to support that claim. Oh, those ripping hashtags. So many followers. So many Likes. So many shares.

And yet.

All the Kings horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Hillary Clinton back together again. Donald Trump won. And he did it with a clown car for support and a fraction of the money.

In Washington the autopsies are well under way. Blaming the FBI. Blaming racist America. Blaming men. And, with eyes to the floor, blaming their candidate as well as themselves. How could we let this happen? They rightfully ask. Were we so wrong? That wildfire will rage for months to come.

And so I must ask the same questions of our industry. Was our strategy and creative so wrong? How did we bungle a pitch we thought so certain we’d won?

I did not create any content for this election but I am available to do so for you: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

Above the fray in every way, comes this gorgeous film celebrating America’s ideals and spirit, words eloquently written by Woody Guthrie expressed through the voice of a Latin American.

Yes, it’s a political message, stoically defending our diverse country of immigrants in the face of fear mongers like Donald Trump. (Building a wall against these people –all people- is indefensible.)

And yes, of course, it’s a commercial for Johnnie Walker Scotch Whiskey. And so what if it is? This does not lesson the “message” in any way. Sharing a well-earned drink among good men is a wonderful thing. A grand film sponsored by a proud spirit is not a sin. Here the advertiser is a patron of the arts and we are better for it.

But it’s more than that. This short film is an anthem for our time – for all time. Indeed, many of the images depict an America we know, remember or, failing that, at least mythologize. Strong men and women moving forward. Persevering. Getting the job done. Celebrating together. That most if not all of the people in the film are Latino changes none of that. As intended, these iconic portrayals of farmers and workers and parents are only intensified emotionally by them all being Latino.

Taking the high road and not stumbling into treacle is no easy feat. Like the characters it portrays this “commercial” never falters. The care put into its production (casting, audio, video, editorial, etc.) is impeccable. His politics aside, if you told me Clint Eastwood directed this piece I would have believed you. Such are the production values.

With stewardship from various agencies (in this case Anomaly), Johnnie Walker has been doing a marvelous job delivering powerful stories toward their longtime theme, “Keep walking.” And this small masterpiece is no exception.

Let me create uplifting content for you: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

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The paradoxical Chicago Cubs. The brand succeeds even when team doesn’t.

Can “sucking” be a brand virtue? The notion seems counter-intuitive but I wonder if in some cases sucking might actually benefit a brand.

I should define sucking. For the purpose of this discussion, I mean the act not being good. For example, I suck at golf. I can’t even hit a ball off the tee. Thankfully, this fact does not harm me in any particular way. I am not expected to be good at golf. God’s plan for me does not include acumen for the game. If I were an account executive, one could argue my lack of golfing skills impedes my ability to cultivate important client relationships. True or false, the point is a moot one. Assuming people can be considered brands, mine is not affected one way or another by sucking at golf.

Herein lies the critical distinction for my argument. In order for sucking to be considered a legitimate brand virtue, the brand –be it person, place or thing- needs first to first be something ordinarily expected to be good but for some reason… isn’t.

Take the Chicago Cubs. Please. Here is a major league team that has not won a World Series since 1910. The last time they appeared in one was during World War II. Frankly, the Cubs seldom make it to the post season and when they do they don’t stick around very long. By most criteria, The Cubs suck. So much so they are often referred to as “Lovable Losers.”

Lovable? Well, for one thing they regularly sell out beloved Wrigley Field, no matter what their record. WGN consistently scores huge ratings for Cub’s games, despite their record. Interestingly, WGN delivers a national audience for the Cubs, sustaining and creating fans all over the country. People love the Chicago Cubs even though they suck. Why? Fans typically point out the venerable, old ballpark as a reason. The fact that the Cubs play in the heart of one of Chicago’s most pleasant and fun-filled neighborhoods, Lakeview attracts executives, pretty girls, tourists and gay people –people who ordinarily wouldn’t go to games. The Cubs are transcendent.

images-16.jpg  “The Cubs are hot!”

But one hundred years of sucking? I can’t think of any other brand that could survive under these terms, let alone thrive.

Just look at Chicago’s other professional baseball team, the White Sox. They are held to an entirely different standard. When they suck attendance drops, ratings flag, and everyone but the diehards lose interest. Like any other team in professional sports, winning is mandatory. As the White Sox’ new slogan suggests: It’s Black & White.

If the Chicago Cubs suddenly became a great baseball team what would happen to the brand? The hysteria would be off the chart. Fans would go bonkers. But then what? The Cub’s would be held to a new standard, wouldn’t they? Folks might not tolerate sucking anymore. For the first time in a long time, The Chicago Cubs would be taken seriously. And if they started sucking again, they might not be taken at all. At least not like before. Therefore, sucking can be viewed as a brand virtue for the Cubs. The brand scores precisely because the team does not. Truly a paradox, I can’t think of any brand on earth with such a hall pass. Can you?

Author’s Note: First draft of this essay was written in 2010. The Cub’s were in 4th place in their division, going nowhere. Growing up 5 blocks from Wrigley, I could not be happier for their current success. #flytheW