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.”

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.

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.


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.

If you haven’t already seen the commercial, here it is. If you have, well, once is enough. This vulgar, racist thing from China pretty much lowers the bar into mud what constitutes mainstream content. A perky Chinese gal literally whitewashes a lecherous black man. Galling.

One assumes racial relations in China regarding Africans and themselves is far less volatile than what we see in America but that’s still no excuse for this vulgar artifact. It’s a small world. The joke is racist in any language. Surely one of the many, many people responsible for producing this commercial would have had the sense to put his foot down on it? Apparently not. Strange is the response from the detergent company: “We will not shun our responsibility for this controversial content.” Mea culpa? Interesting the use of the word “shun” a term that once related to shaming.

Beyond our righteous indignation (which could easily be examined as well) I have some observations on this spot that will surely not be shared by others. First, there is the irony that one of the most enduring stereotypes of Chinese people, especially before the country’s economic boom, is that they all ran laundries. Taking one’s dirty clothes to the “Chinese laundry” is something we all grew up with. It’s just an irony, I know.

Pic courtesy of George Parker

Staying on this tangent, in mostly black neighborhoods in America, the community has long had a tenuous relationship within Asian shop owners, each side viewing the other with contempt, not always quietly. That paradigm does not exist in China but one wonders if there are shared ghosts.

Something else. As a creative director I see the “cleverness” of this spot. The detergent is so good it cleans the color off skin. In another universe, where racism wasn’t a rampant part of everyone’s lives, this might be a fun concept. But that’s not the world any of us live in. Here, the spot directly suggests that being dark skinned is akin to being dirty. And lecherous. Maybe a better tack would have been for the subject to be a “dirty old man” as opposed to an African. Then the commercial would have merely been in bad taste as opposed to racist.

Clearly, the sexual politics in the spot adds an intense layer of awfulness to the proceedings. The black man leers, whistles and winks at the virginal young woman. Not so long ago, in America, such behavior could easily have lead to a lynching. Periodically, it still does.

At the risk of sounding politically incorrect, I believe many more people than anyone realizes (and not just Americans or white people) are at least passively racist. The proof is all around us, including now in this commercial.

According to Tim Nudd’s marvelous piece in Adweek, this Secret deodorant commercial debuted on the season premier of The Bachelorette -a show I deplore but my wife and daughter’s adore.  I’m not going to get into a rant on that but I do recognize the genius of this media buy. Like the Bachelor, the Bachelorette is a reality show about choosing a mate for life. Though such outcomes rarely happen long term for these contestants, the show acts as if it most certainly will. And that mythology is a potent one for lots of women and, I suppose, a fair amount of men. Whatever. This commercial flawlessly plays off and pays off the proposal ritual.

Instead of a rose, we get a fortune cookie. And the result is charmingly messed up. I won’t go into the plot. Watch the film yourself. It’s fabulous storytelling. Nudd’s analysis is spot on:

It’s a sly mix of comedy and tension, with great casting and subtle acting that really lets the scenario build nicely. When the reveal happens—even if you see it coming—it feels believable, and like a breakthrough, because of the obvious stress of the situation. Which by the way makes for a fine connection to the brand, even if inverting gender roles to sell product can still feel icky, however pure the motive.

The craft is first rate as well. Directed by Aoife McArdle for Wieden + Kennedy, the realness is laudatory – far more authentic than the Bachelorette that’s for sure. Everything about the spot rings true. (Not faux true.) The cast. The location. Direction and acting. It all works. I especially love the woman. Rather than get into specifics, let me just say it feels like we’re eavesdropping on a totally genuine moment and one that is delightful, romantic and full of life. Real life.

More of the same…

A bunch of new ads began running yesterday against Donald Trump for President. Like earlier ads they focus entirely on Trump’s infamously nasty comments directed toward women over the years. One in particular stands out because it puts these misogynistic sound bites into the mouths of regular women. I say “stands out” because in a normal universe it would be an atomic bomb for Trump’s candidacy.

But this is not a normal universe. And like all the other ads taking Donald “at his word” it will do nothing to change the course of this election. In the end, Donald may not win but it won’t be because of these ads.

Here’s why. The awful things Donald Trump says about women, minorities and ideas and people in general are what made him so popular in the first place. Why the Dem’s keep thinking he’s his own worst enemy is a fatal flaw in their strategy. He is the GOP’s presumptive nominee (like it or not) precisely because he talks smack. People, lots of people, find his candor, albeit buffoonish, to be highly refreshing and a change of pace from, well, anything they’ve seen or heard before from a politician.

it’s working.

Frankly, by dramatizing his words in ever more creative executions Trump’s rivals are only strengthening his position. Why they don’t see it this way defies logic and, moreover, will hurt the Democratic bid, maybe even mortally.

If I were proposing an ad campaign to thwart Donald Trump, I would do ads that point out his utter cluelessness in terms of policy. I would not attack the inherent racism of his “building a wall against Mexico” I would state he has absolutely no way to actually do it, let alone “get Mexico to pay for it.” The Mexican President has already said that his country has absolutely no intention to pay for anything of the kind. And he won’t. Period. End of story. Therefore, I would challenge Mr. Trump –in ads, in debates, everywhere- on just how in hell he intends to do it. He can’t and deep down we know he can’t. But until that truth is brought to light, and so many other truths, his fan base will continue to grow.

But the Democrats and their Super Pacs keeping wasting time on the smokescreen that is Donald Trump’s shocking statements. In a weird yet undeniable way, it makes the Dems seem out of touch with reality, which only helps the Trump machine get stronger. Trump has a foul mouth. We know that. Go after his brain. Do you want me to write the ads for you?


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