If you can make it here yada, yada, yada…

Has it really been over a decade since Cadillac reintroduced their brand via the Modernista agency and a Super Bowl commercial featuring Led Zeppelin? It’s actually been longer. What’s weird is that Cadillac always seems to be reintroducing itself to the world. And so yet another new brand launch campaign, this time from Publicis, comes as no surprise. Now the creed is a phrase: “Dare Greatly.” Derived from a famous speech by President Theodore Roosevelt, “The Man in the Arena.” Great when he delivered it, I’m sure. In the commercial it sounds exactly like the overblown pontifications of a preening copywriter: a purple brand manifesto if ever I heard one. Written my share of them as well. You know what I’m talking about. Such mantras usually include a plethora of big seldom-used words like plethora. Adjectives are used as nouns and vice-versa. Old-time-y phrases. It’s all here in this Ode to trying and failing and trying some more, aka “daring greatly.”

I guess Cadillac has a new CMO, a German named Uwe Ellinghaus. (Say that three times fast.) “The new point of view for Cadillac is one that embodies the American spirit in a contemporary manner without using American cliches,” Mr. Ellinghaus said.

Whatever you say, Uwe.

An uber-German selling the quintessential American car is both discomforting and ironic. But ours is a free country. If Cadillac wants to throw money at a Bavarian in order to reinvent Cadillac for the 100th time that’s their prerogative.

Wozniak dared greatly to think different!

In fairness, the consumer only sees the work. So what of it? The campaign premiered on the Academy Awards, a total of four commercials including the above-mentioned anthem. The other spots depict specific people who dared to do something great and (of course) became famous for it. Cadillac’s step-up line at the end: How dare a 112 year-old carmaker reinvent itself?

Thin argument but at least I get it. More so than the better-to-have-failed opus we get in the anthem. Still, the question comes off a tad disingenuous because, as was stated, the brand has been perpetually trying to re-start for over a decade. Like a car trying to turn over on a winter’s morning: It’s…It’s…It’s…Damn! But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.

However, I am weary of American history co-opted to sell products. It feels tired and cynical when it should be bold and fresh. W&K’s image campaign for Levis did all of this…and so much better.

Now that’s Americana made fresh…

Expectedly, the film is pretty but the subject matter is mundane: New York City streets, iconic high rises, carefully chosen “real” people. Honestly, it’s no more than a serioused-up version of SNL’s iconic opening signature film. And they were there first. Outside of a couple shots I’m not inspired by any of it. In the end I can literally feel the advertising agency behind these commercials.

I miss Led Zeppelin.

Author’s Note: As I was writing this I got pinged from my old creative partner, Mike Coffin regarding a blog post he’d just written on the same topic! it is here:

https://medium.com/@mikecoffin_30299/howdarethey-db279342e148

Last year the Super Bowl! This year the scrap heap.

I grew up with Radio Shack. Like 7-11, they were everywhere. And like 7-11, they offered quick stop shopping, in their case for consumer electronics and myriad electrical supplies. I may have bought a Sony Walkman there. I don’t remember. What I mostly purchased at Radio Shack were blank cassettes, CD’s and floppy discs. And well, we all know what happened to those. For all intents and purposes they are extinct or, at best, just hanging on.

My Tweet: Let’s face it anything with the words “radio” and “shack” in its title had it coming…

For the last 10 or 15 years (maybe longer) Radio Shack clung to existence. As Best Buy and Circuit City floundered and died somehow the Shack persisted in subsisting. That in and of itself was a miracle.

I kind of rooted for them. Nostalgically, Radio Shack comprised a tiny bit of bandwidth in my aging, shrinking brain, representing Saturday morning excursions for a pack of batteries or ear buds. But then those things were available at Walgreens and, frankly, anywhere else that had a cash register. To say nothing of Amazon.

Even when Radio Shack was big it had painted itself into a corner. Quick electronics on the cheap always struck me as a shaky platform. When by comparison, Best Buy is considered “high end” you know you’re in trouble.

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“We get twice the crowd on Saturday!”

For a good chunk of its 94 years it didn’t matter. People defaulted to Radio Shack for camera batteries and the like long after they had to. Such was its appeal. But eventually my grandfather died. Mom got a Costco card. Radio Shack dimmed like an old TV tube never to be replaced.

Radio Shack did not go down without a fight. Various ad campaigns entered the ring but, alas, were completely clobbered. Even if some of it was vaguely clever and/or self-aware, marketing could not save them. The Super Bowl could not save them! Calling one’s self “The Shack” and trying to be a neighborhood pal isn’t sustainable in consumer electronics. Now when you’re opponents are Amazon and Wal-Mart.

The stark reality is no one under retirement age will miss Radio Shack. But they are at least worth saying good by to.

The details of RS’s demise on, of all things, Gawker.

justin-bieber-calvin-klein

Let’s start with a compliment. Despite all the Taco Bell and prodigious amount of booze he’s been illegally imbibing since he was 12, Justin Bieber is in shape. Dude is ripped. I’ve got to believe this is on account of good genes, this said despite his built in DNA for stupidity.

Bieber, Bieber, Bieber.

One is hard pressed to find another pop star capable of making so much cultural noise that has nothing to do with his crooning, which, being an adult, I have little awareness of. I am, however, very aware of his many scatological, misogynistic and even racist moments. Who isn’t? My favorite is when he, upon visiting the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, wrote in the guest book: “Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber.” Tone deaf. Yet priceless. (Compliment #2: At least he actually went to the Anne frank museum. Name another teen-ager who did, not in a school group or being towed by his parents.)

Regardless of this and countless other boneheaded moves (or precisely because of them), Calvin Klein has made the Biebs their latest underwear model.

A bit of history is in order. In 1992, CK did the same thing with Marc Wahlberg (then Marky Mark), catapulting him and the briefs into damn near iconic status. At the time, Wahlberg was coming off a tour of duty with boy band, The Funky Bunch as well as a series of run-ins with the law. He was in every sense of the word, a hot mess.

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One can only deduce that this is exactly what CK had in mind when they cast Bieber for the role. It worked once, right? The photos look eerily similar. Instead of famous fashion photographer Herb Ritts (who shot Wahlberg), CK has enlisted currently famous fashion photographers Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott. They do a great Herb Ritts imitation.

The early returns for this work are not good. “Yes, they went there.” One cheeky headline gasps. Yet, the criticism is knee-jerk. Frankly, the same snide comments and negative uproar occurred when the Marky Mark photos came out. People forget that.

But not Calvin Klein. They are probably delighted with the criticism, especially if what comes after is also a repeat. Casting bad boys in tight underwear is a strategy not a mistake. The more people hate on this campaign the better.

Ironically, the only thing that has changed in 20 years is the idea that these images would be considered inappropriate. Back in the day, all kinds of people came out against Marky Mark’s member and the audacity to show off such a thing in mainstream magazines. Bieber’s balls will not capture such attention. For that CK can only depend on his controversial and douche-y disposition.

Controversy? Nah. The buzz grows. http://www.adweek.com/adfreak/justin-bieber-claims-untouched-calvin-klein-photo-fake-162295

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For the refuge it provides…

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’m compelled to speak about gratitude. After all, gratitude is the very definition of giving thanks. Many of us (myself included) often experience a lapse in gratitude. We get caught up in the business of work and the mostly silly dramas that govern our lives.

I once heard a parable that I’d like to paraphrase here:

Every day a group of men set out to forage in the savannah by their village. They ventured far in order to get to the forest and its abundance of resources. At the half way point of their journey existed a lone, large tree in which they took a break to rest and eat lunch. “A shame this tree,” one man said. “It has no fruit for eating.” The others agreed. “And its wood isn’t suitable for building either…”

And so on they complained. What the men failed to realize the great benefit the tree provided. In fact, the old tree was a refuge. Seemingly barren, it provided shelter from the noonday sun without which their journey would have been infinitely more treacherous. This critical benefit was lost on the men. As was the unity this resiting place fostered.

I recall a company meeting at my previous agency. We’d had a tough year. Morale was low. The employees were skeptical about their agency’s future. Many used the setting as a forum to voice their complaints: Management was inept, they cried. Our clients are bound to mediocrity. Woe is us!

During my turn to speak I told the story about the old tree. Though our agency was, in fact, beleaguered I wanted us to appreciate all that we had: jobs, community and a place to voice our grievances freely and without fear of reparations.

In some respects I was talking to myself. I shared many of my fellow’s misgivings but I wanted healing words. Not apathetic ones. We’d had plenty of those already. Change was needed. And change would come. But on that day I needed gratitude. I worked for one of the greatest advertising agencies in the world. It had been hobbled but it was still there. Despite our weakened position, so were we.

That first winter for the pilgrims was a brutal one. Many did not make it. Yet, a precious few did. With help from the Indians, they not only survived the second winter; they thrived. Despite their many hardships the frail community held a great feast. The rest is history.

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What are you scared of?

In Eula Biss’s new book, On Immunity: An Innoculation she writes about fears, rational and otherwise, associated with vaccinating ourselves against terrible diseases. It’s a good read, a lot more interesting and scary than you might think. However, it was a tangential paragraph about fear in general that I bookmarked for later consideration:

“We do not tend to be afraid of the things that are most likely going to harm us. We drive around in cars, a lot. We drink alcohol, we ride bicycles, we sit too much. And we harbor anxieties about things that, statistically speaking, pose us little danger. We fear sharks, while mosquitos are, in terms of sheer numbers of lives lost, probably the most dangerous creatures on earth.”

Biss provides more context as well as fascinating quotes around the topic but you get the idea. We are scared of remarkable things but are indifferent to mundane items that are, frankly, far more dangerous to us. For example, every spring entire football stadiums are emptied out because of lightning spotted in the area. The rarity of being struck by lightning is more or less a cliché yet we fear it excessively. Of course, we don’t question authorities for taking such precautions. But I am struck by certain ironies, perhaps not so obvious. Consider that in those same football stadiums countless cups of beer and nachos are zealously sold and consumed even though alcoholism and obesity will, in fact, kill thousands of people in this country ever year; and a lot of them probably at those very ballgames that were postponed do to weather.

I know very well the tendency to do things that are bad for me despite knowing full well they are bad for me. When I drank, the fear of poisoning myself to death was not present; not like the fear of being struck down by a lightning bolt. To different extents, all humans are like this.

I can’t help but wonder what role popular culture and, in particular, advertising plays in this potentially dangerous mega-quirk of our thinking. Advertisers pummel us with enticing messages about alcohol, cars, soft drinks and fast food.

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Fear of flying but not bacon…

Sexy women slobber over bacon double cheeseburgers inviting us to join the “mile high club” referring to piles of bacon. Bud Light proudly states it’s the beer for those who are “up for whatever.” Ad nausea, literally and figuratively.

The theme for this blog is, “we make you want what you don’t need.” I came up with that more as a provocation regarding the sins of envy and gluttony. Is it possible many persuasive communications are even more insidious? Over time do many of them actually cause us to allay otherwise rational fears for our emotional desires?

Of course they do. Caveat Emptor!

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