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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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A while back a guest writer on AdAge, Lauren Warner took some heat for an essay she wrote about the briefing process. Among other things, she claimed one should address “creatives on your shop’s team like they’re in kindergarten.”

Others may have been offended but the story made me smile. I recall an evening spent at my children’s school, meeting their teachers, discussing the upcoming year. During this visit, I became aware of how “creative” so much of my daughters’ curriculum really was. Colette’s science teacher explained how “experimenting and taking chances” shapes her powers of intuition. Lily’s drama teacher rhapsodized about “connecting to the inner fantastic.” She used the word “connecting” over and over again. “At this age,” she said, “the creative gene is ready to explode!”

I couldn’t help but think of all the “connecting” strategies I’ve puzzled over as a copywriter and creative director. “Connecting people” is the default strategy for all telecommunications, personal technology, and, frankly, just about everything people use in their waking lives. Connecting folks is Coca Cola’s uber-strategy. “I’d like to buy the world a coke.”

Even more interesting was this business about creativity “exploding.” I believe the teacher was saying that our creative muse is born in these opening years of life. That stimulated and nurtured, we begin to understand and respect our intuitions. Kindergarten is a creative department. Experimenting with ideas on the stage, colors on paper, sounds in music class… That’s what I do!

Or that’s what I prefer doing. Much of my day, however, is spent lawyering on behalf of ideas. Defending them. Subjecting them to all manner of worries and concerns, making them more appropriate, more coherent, more on strategy. It’s inevitable. It’s my job. But it’s also like killing the butterfly in order to appreciate it.

The older I get the more I realize how important it is to stay “connected” to my “inner child.” The best creative people do not grow out of it when they grow up. We remain inquisitive like children. Lovers of fun. You see it in our bicycles in the hallway. Our dubious wardrobes. Our playlists. Our silly photos online. Alas, you also see it in meetings, where we become pouting and defensive, wilting under criticism, frustrated by the grown-ups ruining our fun. I know we can be insufferable. Imposing MBA logic in Romper Room is bound to create problems.

But our muses shouldn’t be stymied: the ability to ideate, to find that “inner fantastic” is necessarily petulant. What’s regrettable is marketing’s obsession with guaranteeing results…or else! Research. Testing. Groups. I say Bleh! There are no guarantees. Never were. Never will be. Intuition, if cultivated and nurtured, is the most important tool the creative department has. The old saw is wrong. Ideas are not our “babies.” That job belongs to us.

Author’s note: This post originally ran as guest commentary on Reel Chicago

I am available for copywriting and creative direction and I will behave like an adult: Steffanwork/CV

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Your kids call it “triggered.” When someone or something sets one of them off. It happens a lot. Snap! Snap! Snap! Teenagers. Sometimes it seems they are moving through mousetraps. Yet the genius of it is that they are not caught up in any one trap. The trap goes off. They yelp. Maybe lash out. Then let go. Maybe they return the insult. Maybe they shrug it off with a benign curse. Where are the seething long-term resentments that plagued you when bedeviled by others?

You held onto such pain, letting it fester, cultivating revenge fantasies and, whether acting on them or not, made it infinitely worse. One sprung mousetrap was all it took. The howl in your head echoed too long. Such was your pathology. An addict and introspect you could never let go. Like diabetes of the soul, your psychic wounds took forever to heal. You still remember slights from high school, about your weight for example, or lack of fighting skills. That girls didn’t think of you the way you thought of them. Such disturbances shaped your life. If only you had a word like “triggered.” Then you could have called out the bad feelings and smashed them like the mosquitoes they were. A bit of blood on the skin and some itching afterwards.

But no. You turned every bite into a bloody scar, scratching until your flesh was ragged, picking at the soar for weeks, trying to prolong its presence in your life. To this day you relish the occasional scab for the distraction it brings. You floss your teeth overly hard, drawing blood. Pleasure and pain intermingle -the physical as well as psychological. You understand cutters.

You don’t envy your daughters or any young person. Their world seems vapid and idiotic – an endless slew of You Tubes and disappearing dick pics. You must explain almost every reference to the 20th century. They do not read for pleasure and barely for school. If it’s not on their social media feeds they aren’t consuming it. Yet, you do envy their paradoxically thick skins. Their ability to “shake it off” is remarkable. Moving through the minefield of mousetraps with ease you find breathtaking.

Does a glib term like triggered render life’s brutalities benign? For all the very real talk of bullying and its fatal consequences, those maladjusted loners shooting up high schools, your children seem blissfully immune.

I’m delighted to help you with writing, content creation and creative direction! Find me: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

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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/

As this year’s baseball Hall-of-Fame class continues to deny entry to Barry Bonds and others for using PED’s i.e. “cheating” here is a very different perspective:

Gods of Advertising


Nothing wrong with doping if you create art…

Lance Armstrong was just stripped of his seven Tour De France titles for allegedly juicing. Prior to this news, Vanity Fair Editor Greydon Carter opened his ‘Letter to the Reader’ with an interesting perspective on society’s relentless persecution of professional athletes for using performance-enhancing drugs. Among other things, he wonders why we obsess over athletes taking drugs to get better results and not the myriad writers, musicians, painters, etc. who have done (and still do) the same thing.

Intriguing argument.

We loved Bob Marley for smoking weed. We dug the Beatle’s Magical Mystery Tour. We can’t imagine Pink Floyd without LSD. So many great pop song from the sixties and seventies were inspired, performed and written under the influence of mind-expanding drugs. Performance was undeniably enhanced. Lest anyone think this was but a “phase” listen to the songs your kids listen to…

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