Where’s Mr. & Mrs. Waldo?

While reading the “newspaper” online I came across a couple stories that captured my attention. I clicked on them both not because they were newsworthy (they weren’t) but because they appealed to my socially & digitally trained brain. The same brain that grew up reading long form magazine pieces in The New Yorker and Field & Stream; not to mention spending hours slowly devouring the Sunday paper, digesting sections like a python moving rodents down its throat.

That was then.

These stories are classic examples of the sort of content we feed on now. Both are fairly meaningless by old-school journalism definitions. Nobody died or got hurt. Nothing really is at stake.

The story about vandals knocking over a sandstone goads us into clicking its link, pushing our buttons to judge and to vilify. In this way it is like those “news” stories about drunken beachgoers tormenting a baby dolphin. We have to see these cretins and pillory them. Seeing for ourselves is made possible by amateur video or photography.

The other story functions in the same way but by pushing completely different buttons. The author beseeches us to try and find the “mystery couple” from this “Instagram-worthy…magical photograph.” The picture is of a bride and groom posing on a pretty spot in Yosemite. They are not famous. The photographer is not important. The location is unquestionably on infinite tourist-y photo albums. The chance discovery and the chance to discover are what makes this story click-bait.

Not long ago neither piece would be considered news. Now they probably get more clicks aka readers aka viewers than headlines about bombs falling in Syria.

Back when I started in this business, at Leo Burnett, the agency had its share of iconic clients and for the most part did iconic work for them. None more so than it’s fabled “Fly The Friendly Skies” campaign for United Airlines. At the time, the agency had just procured rights to the quintessential American anthem, Rhapsody in Blue and in my opinion there was no finer way to advertise an airline. While United has since changed agencies and themes many times over, if you fly the airline they still welcome you to the “friendly skies of United.” They can’t let it go. And why should they? It’s better than anything they’ve done since.

Regarding technology, there are three critical plot points in the 20th century: The automobile. The airplane. And computing. For many years, nothing defined an agency better than a big car or an airline client. And Burnett was cock of the walk in that regard. Then Apple turned everything upside down.

But planes are still a big deal. And when a new campaign for one as big as American Airlines comes out, we take notice. Not like in the eighties and nineties, but still.

“The World’s Greatest Fliers Fly American,” is AA’s new theme, introduced by agency CP&B. The first thing you notice is how serene it all is. No voiceover. Just idealistic, lovely images with superimposed copy. The intent is to idealize the best in fliers, even if the reality of airline travel is anything but. Forget that today’s “fliers” wear ill-fitting sweatpants and eat stinky Whoppers from a paper bag. This campaign is a romantic myth, which, while understandable, is admittedly a push.

Still, I do like its audacious simplicity. Like a soaring eagle, the AA logo casts a shadow over the gorgeous images – the poetic titles a polite interruption. Another word that comes to mind is glossy. On gossamer wings, right?

For the most part the aviation industry has recovered from its lengthy post 9/11 slump. Many are now turning big profits. So we are not talking about saving American Airlines. But I wonder: Is this campaign enough? Will it make a difference? Will consumers change their flying behaviors or even notice at all? I’m not being coy. I really do wonder.

View the rest of the campaign in this story from Adweek.

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.


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.