Here’s to the Crazy Ones…

I admit it. I’m crazy. And for the most part I’m okay with that – not that I have a choice. Ever since I can remember I’ve been aware of my, shall we say, unique perspective on the human condition – or my condition anyway. I wasn’t like the other kids. And I’m not like the other men. And while that can prove irksome at cocktail parties, or at times to my wife, it is simply reality.

Fortunately, I was able to forge a very successful career in advertising, where tempered crazy mixed with hard work is called creativity. Finding compelling ways to persuade people into believing in a product, brand or service requires more than a sound strategy; it demands a unique intuition. Crazy good ideas are hatched from crazy good minds. On good days I was crazy.

Like a lot of crazies, I ran into trouble “augmenting” that reality with drugs and alcohol but those days are thankfully over. I accept the way my mind works, even relish it, and am “aware” in ways no artificial stimulation can simulate.

Going deeper, I’ve come to the conclusion that for a great many of “us” being crazy is merely being more wholly aware than most so-called “normal” people. I am aware of my demons and defects and, for the most part, have learned how to live with them and even play with them. They can be muses. Pandora’s Box can be opened and shut. Yes, depression and anxiety are a part of it. And this is not always a small price to pay (see the preceding paragraph). So be it.

Looking at the world, we see chaos. In religion. In politics. In every other Instagram feed. Millions upon millions of people acting crazy but not identifying as crazy. Speaking and voting and even killing and not aware of it as crazy. Are the multitudes normal or just in hopeless denial?

We crazy ones know the difference. That doesn’t make us “better than” or “less than” but it makes us saner.

(Author’s note: The above anthem is the never-aired version with voice over by Steve Jobs. In retrospect, I prefer it to the read given by Richard Dreyfuss.)

Here I go again on my own…

While there’s little chance any of these children know Whitesnake from asparagus (Hell, I doubt many of their parents do either) this back-to-school anthem from Walmart rocks.

The idea couldn’t be simpler, which is why I like it so much (that and my penchant for 80’s metal). You see, it’s time for kids to kiss summer goodbye and get on that big yellow school bus. But they are not moping. Anything but. Armed with supplies from Walmart they do so with a vengeance!

Historically, I do not have an affinity for Walmart. Nor their advertising. But this. This kills it. We barely see the store. No parking lots. No greeters. No deeply discounted back packs for $9.99. None of the tired tropes so familiar in retail advertising.

Instead it’s all kids, facing up to the un-face-up-to-able: School. And they do it with an awesome song in their heart.

Sing it:

Here I go again on my own,

going down the only road I’ve ever known.

Like a drifter I was born to walk alone.

But I’ve made up my mind. I ain’t wasting no more time…

So, let’s hold up our cigarette lighters –er, I mean iPhones- and shine a light on this joyously fun ode to new beginnings.

One request. Come Halloween I hope Walmart has the stones to go even harder. I’m thinking Motorhead.

Final note: If this indeed was The Martin Agency’s swan song for Walmart (having recently lost the account to a Publicis agency) then they should hold their heads high. They went out with a bang.

From dickhead to sainthood…

Thank you, Adweek. I’ve been waiting for something like this. A truly original idea based on a deep and meaningful insight – as opposed to all the farfetched click bait (so-called “weirdvertising”) or, conversely, heavy handed content pushing social causes. So much modern advertising is about riding a pop culture wave, grabbing attention with glib shininess, or bludgeoning us with kumbaya kindness that I’ve almost forgotten what a solid piece of creative looks like.

Almost.

For me, the Martin Agency’s campaign for Donate Life is that concept. One can be redeemed by donating vital organs after death. So simple and yet so compelling. Whether you’re religious or not, the eternal theme of redemption burns within us all. We want to be good people and do the right thing but we always fall short. Some of us more than others but nobody’s perfect. By agreeing to donate our organs after death we are doing something sublime, ending on a high note if you will – a divine benefit we can enjoy right now.

The film depicts “the world’s biggest asshole” being one to anyone and everyone around him: hijacking a washer at the laundromat, honking at the handicapped, shooting at a neighbor’s pet, even stealing candy from children. Mean and misanthropic, bereft of all decorum, Coleman Sweeney was the picture of ugly self will run riot. Until he dies, unexpectedly of an aneurysm while trying to gyp a waitress in a diner. Even more unexpectedly the waitress discovers he’s an organ donor from his driver’s license. “Nobody knew what caused Coleman to do it,” the voiceover tells us. “But there it was. Generous and majestic.” We then see the various beneficiaries of Coleman’s grand gesture – a father of two, a school teacher, a wounded soldier. AVO: “Yes, in life Coleman was a bonafide asshole… but in death… he was not an asshole anymore.”

Is the film too long? Perhaps. Is it a tad over-written? I think so. Do we hear the word “asshole” more than is needed? Yes. And is that Coldplay? But those are qualms. The idea is transcendent. Fresh, vital, and human to the core.

Some creep redeems himself by being an organ donor. Boom.

Coming up with this concept must have felt like winning the lottery. If it were me my hands would’ve shook. I’d write the script in a fever, maybe overwriting out of excitement. I’d be so keen to show my boss, the client, the director that I wouldn’t sleep the night before.

But there I go making it about me. My problem is I’m too self-absorbed. At least now I know how to redeem myself, thanks to this wonderful commercial.

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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.

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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