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The “Ghost Writer” at your service…

No secret I’ve been looking for a creative leadership position in the advertising industry. But securing full time employment has proven to be daunting, even for a lesser title and reduced pay.

No secret either that Adland has a fixation on youth, especially when it comes to creative.
Too bad since most under-thirties are best at creating “ideas” that amuse and delight their peers but sell nothing to no one. However, rather than piss and moan about it (Plenty of that being done already), I have a plan…

I’ll need an accomplice. Perhaps as many as three. Specifically: You’re a Creative Director or an Associate CD. Maybe they dropped the VP title on you as well. Congratulations! Still, it’s been a while since you’ve sold anything. Your stuff is no longer on the agency site. There are junior writers nipping at your heels. They work for you…for now.

Frankly, your team is bereft. Their silly social and gamification ideas raise eyebrows but you can’t sell them through. Why? Because they’re strategically incoherent and the account supervisor vetoed showing them to her client. You’ve already fallen on a couple swords and your reputation for being “difficult” is growing. You’ve also heard rumors about holiday layoffs. You go home at night to try and crack the strategy but you invariably find yourself distracted. After three PBR’s and the West World finale you’re just too tired to write. And why do you have to write anyway? Everything’s video now. Nobody reads copy. Advertising sucks.

Here’s where I come in. You forward me the brief. I’ll come up with a legit organizing principle (aka Big Selling Idea) and write copy for all the necessary touch points, curate it for your presentation and voila! Tomorrow when you wake up it’ll be in your inbox. All yours. It’ll be just like that time in college. Wink, Wink. This I will do for a modest bit of your paycheck, which I dare say will only get bigger after you begin demonstrating your remarkable turnaround. You can call me “The Ghost Writer.” Badass, right?

So, let’s collude on some copy! I know how to do this job better than most and you have better things to do. Ski season, brah! You think I’m joking? Try me:
https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

Author’s note: This post was originally intended as satire but the more I think about it the more I’m willing to break bad. Anyone have the stones to hit me up?

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He’s making his list…

We read about holiday layoffs in the trades. Perhaps we experience them in our lives. A grim subject, I know. For I have been on both sides of this sad equation. What I’m about to tell you may not be morally right or wrong but it is a matter of fact.

First, a note on the obvious. Nobody likes to fire people. Especially during the holidays. We forget that, in the rush to create demons. Still, firing is better than being fired. Like I said: obvious.

Why now and why always the middle tier that gets it? Well, Virginia…

Since August, the CFO of your agency has been warning the CEO that the numbers are down. Way down. The CEO, being a glass half full guy, advises restraint in pushing the panic button – don’t want to alarm the troops or start any rumors! Besides, he says, the tide will turn. There’s still that pitch. They debate behind closed doors. Alas, come November, the shortfall is now impossible to ignore. Budget reports are due and the agency is, let’s say, $750,000 dollars below its target. And so the CEO calls together his or her management team: Managing Director, ECD, Head of Planning. A dour PPT ensues. New business did not come in. Organic growth was less than expected. Yada, yada, yada. To sum up, the CEO requests that every department cut a portion of overhead, say 250k each.

The Management Team goes off to their respective corners and creates a “list.” Rather than fire 5 junior people to arrive at his number the executive invariably chooses the highest salaried person he can do without. She figures she can pick up the slack or more likely beat it out of the kids. That, and it’s a hell of a lot easier to let go one person versus doing five. A couple ACD’s. An Account Sup. Two Senior Planners. Throw in that loose cannon from the production department. And Boom. A half dozen souls doomed. If the shortfall is bigger then so will the body count. By the time HR has the necessary paperwork completed it’s after Thanksgiving and just before Christmas. The result is another Black Friday.

Here’s the kicker, in case you missed it. Since the senior-most people were asked to create these lists that means neither they nor the askers appear on them. Gadzooks! This is perhaps unfair – it may very well be that one or two of them are the reason the agency is ailing in the first place. Likely even. What is certainly unfair is having now arrived at their targets the senior executives qualify for a bonus. You may ask, could not the bonus pool have filled the shortfall, sparing jobs? Nope. Because that money comes from “separate buckets.” That last piece has been explained to me several times but I still don’t get it.

Economics and ego. The result is not unlike a third world country, or a sweat shop: a minority of leaders bossing a majority of juniors. Of course there are exceptions but not enough and less so every year. Maybe that’s why so many holiday parties get out of hand… because tomorrow we die.

Like many brethren I’m doing freelance and can provide superior content creation as well as creative leadership: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

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Link courtesy of Bart Smith…

Bart Smith is an old friend from back in my Chicago days. Well before I moved west Bart trekked to Seattle, where he continued his audio production company, Bart Radio. (now bartplus) Anyway, he and I collaborated on some radio scripts I wrote for Art.com, including the one linked here about Vincent Van Gogh. Inspired by a popular biography series on TV, the spots featured the indelible voice of the now departed, Peter Graves.

I’m on the record as saying 90% of all radio sucks. But of that rarefied 10% Bart produced a great many. In 25 years in this business, so far I have written only a handful of radio commercials. The Art.com stuff was a highlight. Not only did I get to tell true stories about interesting people I got to tell them in a way that was uninhibited and fun, inviting people “to bring the art world into their world.”

They say radio is the true test of a copywriter and hopefully I aced it. I’m currently doing various freelance projects (content creation and creative leadership) and would love to hear from you. This is my portfolio. And if you’re looking for great audio production and a truly supreme collaborator, look up Bart. He’ll take good care of you.

First things first. I love the song. Though recorded before I was born, Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” is one of those rare tunes that transcends time. If the song came out tomorrow, sung by Adelle, it would be a smash hit. It’s that good. And it’s certainly the best thing about Toyota’s big budget, 60-second anthem for Corolla, which debuted recently. Because of this commercial, I’ve been singing the hero lyric, off and on now for several weeks. In that regard it’s indisputably memorable.

And yet something is the matter. The “creative algebra” doesn’t add up. Using a classic ballad of female empowerment for selling mainstream automobiles to Millennials is not enough to turn the trick. Showing assorted attractive young people engaging in mildly rebellious behavior isn’t enough either. Try as they do to appear otherwise, the cars seem incongruous to the lovely pictures and strong music. By definition most every commercial is fabricated reality but if it’s pushed too far the stink of bullshit corrupts the narrative. In my view that’s what’s happening here. The ad’s slip is showing.

Said another way, there’s nothing particularly interesting or provocative about these cars except for the fact that they’re in this commercial.

The ad is clearly targeting twenty-somethings and according to this article might actually be working. I’m suspicious about this data so soon after the commercial’s premier. Especially given my intuition points in another direction.

And then, just before posting, I saw another execution in the “You Don’t Own Me” campaign, a 30-second spot.

30 second version, with story…

The same great tune. Slick production values. But this time there’s a story. A young woman quits her job from an ornery chef (he can’t own her) and starts a food truck business. The Toyota Corolla gets her from point A to Point B. It’s a simple story but it is a story. And it made me like –maybe the better word is appreciate- the campaign. Stories will do that.

I haven’t enjoyed a Toyota commercial in ages. Compared to the white bread suburban approach the brand has maintained for eons, at least this musically powered approach –helped now I see by stories- has ambition. What do you think? Have I gone soft or was my original assessment accurate?

(Author’s note: I’m avail for copy, content creation & creative leadership: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com)

Much to admire in Apple’s new TVC for their latest iPhone 7. The plot is simple as all good commercials are. Despite a hellacious storm brewing, a serious bicyclist suits up to ride, including on his bike the water resistant iPhone, shown depicting his route with mapping technology. That’s essentially it.

Yet, the details are what make this 30-second film spectacular.

Let’s start with the production. The dark and ominous tone, impressive. The CGI storm impeccably rendered. The gray, black and brown color palette, accentuated by flashes of lightning, make a bold statement.

Speaking of bold color, one has to comment on the brilliant casting of an African American. In Marin County, serious bikers are ubiquitous and in the 4 years I’ve been here I can count the black riders I’ve seen on one hand. The stereotype of a lean Caucasian bedecked in colorful skintight gear is completely accurate. I don’t think it’s controversial to say, like swimming, biking just isn’t a black thing.

So we notice the man here. And pay attention. He is perfect for the role. Steely-eyed and stoic, this dude is hardcore in the best sense of the word. If anyone can handle the impending storm it’s this guy. Even his dog looks more worried than him. Kudos to the creators for casting against type. It makes this commercial.

Another counter-intuitive aspect that raises the commercial up is the lunacy of riding a bike on a mountain road during a raging storm. Normal people don’t do that. But intense people do. Instead of thinking what a nut, we think what a badass. If the commercial weren’t made so well, the narrative might’ve come off as preposterous. It doesn’t. The result: Like his other gear, the iPhone feels like serious equipment for a man on a mission. We want what this guy has: his reckless courage, his boldness, his phone. In other words, the ad works.

Finally, again surprising and delighting, is the unexpected use of AC/DC’s iconic anthem, Thunderstruck. Slowing potting up the song’s alluring guitar riff builds excitement and tension, placing us directly in the rider’s mindset. Thrilling. Long a bastion of white stoners (now sober dads like me), the AC/DC song, like everything else in this commercial, totally disrupts expectations – forcing us to pay attention.

Watch the spot. That last image says it all. To hell with the weather, let’s ride. We can handle it and so can the iPhone.

Creative leadership, copy & content: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/