At least he was honest…

The lottery has been trending, hasn’t it? No not the famous short story by Shirley Jackson. (If you haven’t read it you should.) Something about 1.5 billion dollars caught everyone’s attention. Biggest jackpot ever. A “call to action” if I ever saw one. Any direct marketer would salivate if he could generate the response that Powerball did. It made everyone and their brother a consumer. Unfortunately, offering two additional lines for $19.99 on your Family Plan just doesn’t have the same pull.

The fantasy of winning untold riches is at the crux of human desire. It drove countless throngs into the California wilderness looking for gold. A few found some. More died trying. Still, there was that chance…

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The Golden Ticket. It could be in that very next chocolate bar. But you have to buy the chocolate bar. Or hundreds of them.

Or you can rob a bank. Why is it we root for bank robbers in the movies and romance them in our history books? Because it taps into that same fantasy: Getting rich. Now. Safe crackers and masked robbers titillate us to the point where we overlook the criminality of it. Jesse James is revered as a folk hero and not the viscious douchebag he undoubtedly was. It’s not right but it’s true.

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“It’s my time.”

The dream to change one’s circumstances via riches is deeply human and more than a little sad. Obviously, if there’s a God in Heaven, He would prefer we not covet cash. Monetary enlightenment is an oxymoron. We are taught it is the root of all evil. That it corrupts. That the super rich are super assholes. Remember the “Occupy” movement? Down with the 1%.

And yet who didn’t buy a lottery ticket this week? I’m willing to bet millions of people who otherwise despise the 1% stood in line for a shot at becoming one. Perhaps these myriad hopefuls believe, upon winning hundreds of millions of dollars, that they would not become selfish snobs living only for pleasure and hedonism. One need only look at rock stars and pro athletes to see how that plays out. Sure, I’m generalizing (there are plenty of millionaires and billionaires who are great philanthropists) but you must concede the point: We are all willing to chance our integrity for the possibility of riches. It’s the American Dream.


I maintain a 180-gallon reef aquarium in my home. Try to anyway. That’s it up there. The coral reef is the most complex, delicate and beautiful ecosystem in the world. Lighting. Filtration. Water parameters. Flow. Everything has to be calibrated and monitored in order to even passably mimic a real reef. One or two miscalculations and your reef crashes. Suffice it to say, this is not your father’s guppy tank.

Still, or maybe because, I am an addicted reefer. I can easily spend two hours in twenty-four with my hands in the tank and even more online doing research. Nothing tweaks my nerd DNA more than scouring websites, gaping at corals, bidding on equipment, or contributing to a forum. Reef porn is real.

An ad agency has a lot in common with my reef. Though typically more polluted (joke), the hallways and cubes of this ecosystem are populated by equally diverse and complicated organisms. Some species, like the showy creative, can in fact be very sensitive. While others, the account director for example, can be very aggressive. Given the two must live together the experience can be challenging. Certain aggressive species torment smaller creatures, nipping at their work, crushing them. Biting criticism takes its toll. The wounded creative hides in his cave, camouflaged by ear phones, avoiding the persistent predator. If the biggest fish in the tank is a bully, everyone suffers. When the tank becomes mired in territorial disputes, the whole thing crashes. Sound familiar?

It doesn’t have to.

Last night I observed my cleaner shrimp nibbling parasites off a troubled yellow tang and I realized that there is wonder here. When all these myriad creatures work together, giving and taking in harmony, the results are truly breathtaking. The solitary superstar flashes brilliance. A school of darting Anthias show the awesome power of collaboration. If the tank masters accept the occasional skirmish, providing nourishment to all, then the ecosystem will flourish.

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Making of a Murderer will stun you…

What kind of blogger would I be if I didn’t post a list for 2015? Things I liked. Things I didn’t. You know the drill. First the good stuff…

I adored this spec commercial for Johnnie Walker. It wasn’t “real” but it’s really good. That it was made by aspiring film students make it even more remarkable.

My favorite thing on “TV” was a jaw dropping documentary from Netflix.  Like a combination of Boyhood and The Jinx nothing on any screen mesmerized me as much as Making of a Murderer – a deeply sad but utterly riveting series detailing the systematic failure of our judicial process as it pertains to one man. You have to see it.

Runners up: Fargo. Mr. Robot. The Jinx.

By far the greatest sports story was and is the unbelievable performance of The Golden State Warriors. They won it all last year. As of this writing they have only lost two games and the season is one third over. Steph Curry and the Warriors put LeBron James on page two.

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From the world of music I got nothing. Sure Adele. But frankly only one song from her new album penetrated popular culture and it’s already fading. I liked U2’s new record but a lot of people didn’t and I concede that it wasn’t anything epic like Achtung Baby or How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. My daughters easily pick Taylor Swift’s 1989 as the greatest thing ever but, all respect to this prodigy, not my thing…

In terms of movies, I liked a whole bunch. Spotlight stands out. The Big Short. But in the end, I didn’t love anything as much as Bone Tomahawk. Why this movie did not get more love is a sin. A beautifully written, well acted and startlingly horrifying Western. See it. Unlike all of you, I haven’t seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens. So maybe that. Somehow, I doubt it though.

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The best movie you never saw…

I read a lot of books (honest) but I can’t recall one in particular that came out last year and blew me away. Right up there was The Unfortunates by Sophie McManus – a novel about wealth and wasted years.

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Pop culture? In 2014, for better or for worse, we got Miley Cyrus twerking on a “Wrecking Ball.” The concept of “Selfies” took over the world.  Last year, nothing quite like that. Maybe that’s a good thing?

In my opinion, the two most awful things permeating our world in 2015 is the growing mayhem of terrorism –all of it, everywhere- and the sad, shocking popularity of Donald Trump. For the love of God and Country, don’t let this bombastic clown become our President. We can’t really contain evil. But we don’t have to put a cherry on top of it.

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The most significant phenomena in 2015 was the cell phone video. From the constant revelation of police abuses of power –a sickening runner up to terrorism, if not the same thing- to the opening up of every door imaginable nothing has shown ourselves to ourselves like the random footage on a cell phone.

I keep ruminating over this film for Johnnie Walker the way one might ponder a glass of scotch itself. It’s that good, completely deserving of Adweek’s hyperbolic praise. Maybe it’s even better than the Cannes winning “Keep Walking” film done a few years ago by advertising giant, BBH London -attached below. Pitting the two is perhaps insulting to both. Still, the fact that the newer piece is a spec film made by a pair of film students, Daniel Titz and Dorian Lebherz is truly remarkable. Everything about their film is done with grace and beauty. I hesitate to even call it a “spot.”  This is a statement piece, for them and the brand. Clearly, these two young men have old souls. Brave ones, too. Blessedly unaffected by the myriad politics of Adland, they merely did the right thing. Oh, were that it were!

Scotch whiskey has always been known as a thinking man’s drink. It has depth and character best appreciated by sipping. This differentiates the liquor from most other spirits. Unfortunately, this difference is seldom romanced by the advertising industry. Instead, we get endless variations of people having a good time. While in some portrayals the partying around whiskey may be more uptown it’s still partying. Advertisers are hell bent against exploring deeper truths about these brands for fear of coming off as old fashioned, melancholy or maudlin. Drinking alone was and is considered verboten for 99% of all spirits’ advertising. Likewise, men drinking without women (or vice versa) is almost as taboo. And so on. In Adland, solitude means loneliness and depression. God forbid a gentleman has a neat drink at twilight. Next, he’ll be reaching for a gun!

I know of what I speak. As a creative at Leo Burnett, I worked on Johnnie Walker Black Label and Red Label. I was thrilled to have written and sold the campaign, “Welcome to Civilization.”  But Lord, what an uphill battle. Alex Bogusky considered it the best thing in my portfolio. Probably because it went deeper. Though not as deep as what we have here.

In this film, two young men –brothers- return their father’s ashes to the sea. In the process of their journey, they share a glass and toast the departed. By no means are they whooping it up. But they’re not crying or miserable either. They are celebrating a good life and yes, a good death.

The kiss of death? Hardly. Even if its topic is an ending, there is something deeply life affirming about this story. These young men are graceful and true men, doing something wonderful. And in doing so aren’t they just extensions of their father – a man who obviously taught them well?

This is the very best thing a spirit can be a part of. Not the dumbass partying of frat boys looking for a good time but a reflection and celebration of a life well lived. It’s easy to blame brand managers and the like for insisting on “happy” and “fun.” But I actually think we are all culpable. Quiet moments, especially the quieting of life, are topics we constantly push aside, mostly out of fear. Advertising yields to this fear like butter to a knife.

But this “commercial” gamely looks right at death and in turn reaffirms life. Finally, I should add that though the script is lyrical and stunning, it is also hard working copy, seamlessly integrating the brand’s longtime theme, “Keep Walking” in a way that elevates it like never before.

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Beaten down by the force?

The Force Awakens.  Boy, has it ever. The hoopla surrounding JJ Abrams’ reboot of the galaxy “far far away” is creating as much noise this December as Christmas. That’s saying a lot.

Though I’m certainly over the hype surrounding the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, I am glad the reviews for the movie are good. I most definitely will see it… eventually. Best to let the galaxy of super fans have those seats first. I can wait.

I could always wait. Even though I was like the perfect age to fall in love with Star Wars when it first came out, the truth is I did not. I saw it of course. But honestly I could take it or leave it. With its bombast, colorful characters and costumed morality the movie reminded me of the rock band Kiss, which was also hugely popular at the time.

Only not with me.

Kiss and Star Wars reminded me of kid’s toys not rock & roll or science fiction. I could not get over it. As a teenager, I adored rock music and sci-fi films (still do) and I was indifferent, even let down, by these popular offerings.

I was a Close Encounters of the Third Kind kind of guy. To me, Spielberg’s masterwork far outshined Lucas’ cartoon universe in terms of depth and power. Close Encounters was awesome (in the truest sense of the word) while Star Wars was simply fun.

Don’t get me wrong. Fun ain’t bad. But over the years as the Star Wars empire grew and grew in popularity I basically observed from afar. I didn’t even bother going to the last three installments. Like with Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and most fantasy pieces I don’t have a passion for it. Never have. Never will.

Oddly, I like most heavy metal and horror, a lot, which you would think makes me a prime candidate for Star Wars fandom. But in the nerdist lexicon there are huge differences within these seemingly same genres.

Those who know know.

Still, Star Wars has triumphed over the litany of nerd sub sets and rocketed into popular culture, which is part and parcel why the Empire can and is marketed so much. As with Christmas, the vast mainstream seems to tolerate and even get off on the hype.

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