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.

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“You’re in the great game now…”

Adweek published a story asking the big winners at Cannes 2016 what their “secrets to success” were. You could read the article here or just stay with me and I’ll tell you how to win at Cannes. Forget analysis and trendspotting. Don’t be mystified by all the never-ending categories either. Winning at Cannes has more or less relied on the same formula for years.

First and foremost, do great work. Then get it seen and talked about. This one-two punch, by the way, is the same formula for ANY awards show.

Ideally, at least some of your great work should be real. Real means it went through the gauntlet known as your client (not to mention your agency’s often debilitating process) was brilliantly produced, ran in genuine media, and received boffo results.

Enter the shit out of it.

But, dear friends, you know as well as I do, that it doesn’t end there.

Long ago intrepid creatives learned how to game the system. At first simple cheating, what this looks like now is far more, shall we say, ornate. Boiled down it means mimicking the legitimate. Something like this: Create gorgeous work, share it with select others internally, maybe have a friendly client smile at it wistfully, then run it on your own dime somewhere cost efficient or, even free, like posters at the local coffee shop or via some innocuous website. Take a bunch of pictures of it “in situation,” make a case study video and voila: you have award show bait!

Enter the shit out of it.

Professional winners have huge budgets for entering shows and a complicit team doing it. Mixing in fake campaigns with real creates a juggernaut that is hard to untangle. A few real pieces win; a few scams. Who knows which is which? Who cares – the agency clearly does good work.

Be part of a network that knows all the ins and outs. Networks have a regular, sustained presence and they will massage the process to help you win. Networks know people in high places. Networks get judges into shows. Networks have wags who do interviews, predictions and the like i.e. Global Creative Directors. Networks do PR. Networks spend money.

Gaming the system has become the system. Varying degrees of corruption are tolerated for the greater good. A few unfortunates get caught and thrown to the –ahem- lions. The rest is the rest. If it looks like a winner and comes from a winner then, by golly, it is a winner!

The agencies that won the most at Cannes do all of the above, legitimately and otherwise. Been this way for years.

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A few 24 hours ago, I had the pleasure of conversing with Alex Bogusky before he became a demi-God of Advertising. We were at a vendor-sponsored pool party in Cannes. However unlikely as it seems, both of us were not really digging the scene. He seemed to prefer a quiet discussion versus living it up in the shallow end. I was perhaps more torn on the issue but also more than happy to oblige him.

For the record, later that week, Alex and his namesake agency would win handfuls of Lions, including the Grand Prix for a charming spot from Ikea called “Lamp.” Crispin Porter & Bogusky were in the middle of an epic run making them perhaps the most famous ad agency on earth.

But Alex wasn’t interested in talking about prizes.

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Alex Bogusky, from that period…

Like a lot of executive creative directors (myself included), he’d come to Cannes simply because he could. However, he now admitted to being unsettled by the attention he and his agency were getting. He confessed that this would likely being his last time at Cannes. “Steff,” he said, “we’ve got plenty of swimming pools in Miami.” (This was before CP&B moved its home office to Boulder, CO.) Then he added, “I find that I like doing work more than celebrating it.”

I’m paraphrasing from memory but this was my favorite bit. Ironic commentary coming from the man who would later write “Hoopla” (a book about fame in marketing), not to mention win more Lions than probably any other person or agency in the United States.

Yet, to me, Bogusky’s ambivalence about all of it seemed indicative of a higher power beginning to work in his life: that making work, really good work, was more important than drinking champagne and toasting about it. Bigger picture Alex was also discovering the persistent headache and clash of conscience that hedonism invoked.Lessons I would learn the hard way.

Later that year, Alex resigned from his agency to pursue other interests.

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The eyes of the demon, The Conjuring 2

Last Saturday night, I served as the “adult aged person” allowing my 8th grade daughter and her BF to see The Conjuring 2. Truth be told they served as my ticket to see this horror film as well. I have loved horror films ever since I began sneaking into them at various grind houses in Chicago when I was in the 8th grade. That one of my daughters finds them intriguing as well is a bonus I hadn’t counted on. Having an ally in this dark pursuit is irresistible. When she asks, “Dad, will you take me to see The Conjuring 2?” we both know the answer.

For the record, The Conjuring 2, is a beautifully produced, at times ridiculous, but also legitimately scary horror movie about demonic possession. That it’s “based on true events” make it even more compelling.

And then this. On the car ride home my daughter asks me if demons and the devil really exist. Rather than abruptly saying “Don’t be silly, sweetheart it’s only a movie” I truly ponder her question. I take it seriously. “Well,” I reply, “if you believe in the Christian God then you have to be open-minded that evil exists in this world and that it has a face.”

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If one exists does the other?

Save for the radio, the remainder of the car ride is silent, perhaps the gravity of my answer weighing it down. Was that too heavy a statement, especially for two young girls to bear? I don’t know.

Later that evening, after the girls are in bed (not sleeping, their lights on) I go into my office and turn on the computer. There, I quickly learn about the mass shooting in Florida – the worst ever in US history. A lone gunman entered a gay nightclub firing a barrage of bullets into the dancing throngs, killing scores of innocent people enjoying their Saturday night. The next day his identity and photograph would be posted everywhere. Soon after, the terrorist group, ISIS, would take credit for his gruesome and deadly act.

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The eyes of a demon? Omar Mateen, mass murderer.

Again, I think about what I told my daughter “that evil exists in the world and that it has a face.” I stand by my answer. Demons exist. It’s not only a movie.

“It is the biology of tranquility.” And so begins one of the most purple-prosed commercials I’ve ever seen –for a mattress. The ZenHaven, I believe it is called. As if the words Zen and haven didn’t say enough by themselves.

The secret ingredient of this mattress is latex. But not just any latex. “Pure tree-tapped latex whipped to an airy foam.” It’s then poured, cured, frozen, burnt, molded; and other “magical” things to create, well, a mattress

You would think they were making a divine dish for the Gods! Maybe it is. “Zen Haven is a chance to return to nature every night.” Have any of these folks gone camping before? After two days most of us crave a hot shower and a real bed.

Anyway.

Fancy hand crafted mattresses are all the rage now. Adweek just did a piece about them and their marketing. Besides ASTONISHING quality, the other part of the story is that when you buy Zen Haven or one of these other beds, you get to bypass the grody mattress stores that anchor every strip mall in America. I won’t lie. That is a bonus. Few things are as mind numbing as killing your Saturday shopping at Mattress World.

I get it. Sleep is super-important. And is something we all could use more of. Getting the right mattress can, I concede, be a life-changing purchase. And these magnificent beds are the result of that inherent belief.

I have no qualm about that.

But as a copywriter, I marvel at the extreme writing of this script. Not only does Zen Haven compose a story linking nature and sleep they prove their case by romanticizing the shit out of latex. Folks, it’s glorified rubber!

Back in the day Chrysler motors made up the phrase, “Corinthian Leather” to dramatize some of their car’s interiors. Leather alone wasn’t special anymore. “Fine Corinthian Leather,” however was. Especially when the actor-spokesperson Ricardo Montalban said it.

Thing is it was Grade-A marketing bullshit. And of course it worked. As with the mythology around Budweiser being “beach wood aged” or Coors being “cold-filtered,” we Americans love a good hook. And we copywriters are more than happy to oblige.

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