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Hopefully, I strike oil…

I’m writing this on board an American Airlines flight to Dallas, Texas, where I will be meeting some folks about a cool project. I haven’t been to the Big “D” in a long time. Do the locals hate their town being called “Big D” the way San Franciscans loathe the touristy expression “San Fran” or New Yorkers “The Big Apple.” If so, I’m sorry. And PS: I don’t blame you.

In any event, this excursion reminded me of my very first business trip EVER IN LIFE, to the same destination, where I’d been sent to present copy I’d written for Dewar’s Scotch Whiskey. It might have been a couple print ads – I don’t recall. But I do remember sitting in first class – an AMAZING perk of working at Leo Burnett during their AOR with United Airlines.

Though its unhealthy days were numbered, one could still smoke cigarettes on a plane –in designated seats (as if the smoke stayed there!). And I smoked and drank with impunity. Wouldn’t you? Unbelievably, though our flight was but two hours and change, they’d also served us a beef roast (steaks on a plane!) freshly sliced and plated by a stewardess, who, at the time, had no problem being called a stewardess.

Needless to say, those days are over.

In many ways that’s a good thing. Smoking and demeaning titles are no less attractive at 30,000 feet. But as I look up the aisle toward the front cabin from my current seat 24D, I can’t help but have fond memories. I’d missed the Mad Men era by over 20 years but at least I’d caught a last remnant of it then.

By the way, I’m offering my mad-loco copy and creative director skills at recession-era prices. Check out my portfolio. Find me.

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The glittery potential for every brand…

According to Zen, one’s serenity is inversely affected by one’s attachment to things. The more you live the more you realize it. Obviously, you can’t take anything with you but I wonder why it takes us so long to figure that out? On some level, we all accept the spiritual truth in this idea but on a day to day basis most of us don’t “go there.” We are too busy acquiring things, building things, starting things and ending things.

When I began this blog a decade ago I titled it the way I did for irony’s sake. As if there could be Gods of anything, let alone advertising. Ha! I also gave the blog a subhead: “We Make You Want What You Don’t Need.” Even then I felt the low-level hum of tension inherent to making a living in Adland. I’m an agnostic (mostly leaning on belief in a higher power) but I’m also a realist (leaning on skepticism). Still, I knew and know that making people covet brands was a form of idolatry. Obviously, I’m not talking about selling a car on Craigslist. I’m referring to branding. Big “A” advertising: Nike, Apple, McDonald’s, etc…

As brilliant as Nike’s historical marketing story is (and precisely because of), there is a tension to it. When Air Jordan’s came out with its iconic marketing (the jump man and the swoosh and “Just Do It”), all hell broke loose. People who could least afford them wanted them the most. And, well, bad things happened to realize those aims. People stole for them. Harmed others. Or more casually frittered away resources. Nike had become a religion. It is believed God can walk on water. And so, as all of us are lead to believe, with a pair of Air Jordans, can we.

This is an extreme example and not typical of most branding efforts. Yet, that is not because we don’t try to achieve those results. We do. Therefore, in theory and sometimes practice, we are efforting to “make people want what they don’t need.”

Admit it, copywriters. When you’re drafting a manifesto for a product or service or company (it doesn’t much matter what the thing is) don’t you feel the power at your fingertips? There, at your desk, you are creating a myth. Our words are like sparks and we want them to ignite. We are toying with Pandora’s Box and it is nothing short of thrilling. For me it is.

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As far back as 2008, I made a presentation at Cannes (at the Palais no less!) sharing some of the above ideas. I recklessly compared coveting Gold Lions to the Israelites worship of a Golden Calf. Needless, to say I was not invited to give that speech again. Ever.

Who doesn’t want their copy to go viral? To be shared. To spread like, frankly, a disease. If it does, we are blessed with silver in our paychecks and Gold Lions at Cannes. With powerful alchemy, we will have turned people into consumers. Into Believers. We will have become GODS OF ADVERTISING!

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With great passion comes great responsibility.

Recently, I was asked about my creative philosophy. Namely, do I have one? Seems like a reasonable question. Seems like something an Executive Creative Director ought to have.

Well, I’ve had many. Which, if you think about it, is as it should be. As creative professionals, we must remain open-minded and forever teachable. For us, one-way streets are typically dead ends.

Look at the term, “creative professional.” It’s almost an oxymoron, isn’t it? There’s tension there. The right brain (creativity) and the left brain (professional). But that’s the gig. That’s what we do. The first word in ECD is “executive.” Therefore, any philosophy we have must strike a balance between passion and responsibility. Said another way, we are both craftsmen and business people. We gotta do both.

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Both ends burning…

Your exact philosophy will be a function of percentages. I’d say my current philosophy is 60% passion to 40% responsibility. Those numbers change over time. Back in the day, I’m sure my split was more like 80/20. But then I started facing clients. I had to mitigate my obsession with winning awards and other personal achievements. I had to compromise. I had to listen. I became responsible-ish.

It is important to note that while passion is the fun part -and closer to what people think about when they think about creativity- it is often destructive in too large a dose. Without empathy for the business, even the most brilliant creative person will be stifled… often by his own hubris. Obviously, I don’t need to discuss the unduly “responsible” creative. They are hacks. To me, mortgaging one’s passion to the hilt is both sad and unmanageable.

While percentages vary, I’m a big believer in “responsible passion.”

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Gaga did good…

Outside of picture-perfect weather and a truly beautiful performance of our National Anthem by Lady Gaga, little about the Super Bowl was amazing.

Unless you’re a fan of crushing defense (which is something), everything about the game was… okay. It was a sloppy, penalty-ridden affair, periodically fun to watch and technically competitive. The score was close. Both defenses were good. Denver’s was outstanding. Peyton Manning “The Sheriff” got to ride off into the sunset with a Super Bowl win. He’d be insane to come back. But staying home and making hokey commercials could easily drive him back onto the field. I don’t care one way or the other. Do you? Sometimes nice guys don’t finish last.

So that was the football. What about the rest of it i.e. the commercials and the halftime show? Again, the word “okay.” Coldplay, Beyonce and Bruno Mars were slick, watchable and, frankly, forgettable. Folks in the Bay Area grumbled that it should have been local artists, Metallica that did the show. According to reviews, the band killed it “The Night Before” at AT&T park. This would have to suffice as the only controversy surrounding the halftime show. Given the NFL’s tumultuous year (concussions, deflated footballs, domestic violence), I’m sure they were delighted by an “okay” show.

The advertising had no outstanding entries, excellent or terrible. Lots of celebrities and talking animals. Again. The “Wiener Dog” commercial for Heinz was cute. An Audi spot had the added gravitas of featuring David Bowie in its soundtrack. Jeep gave us a nifty hashtag with #4x4ever delivered on the back of a rambling anthem for their vehicles. Doritos iconic triangles were sky-written across San Francisco’s azure skies. Clever. There was a dancing monkey-human baby. Whatever.


Not just dogs – wiener dogs!

Honestly, I was somewhat bummed there were no truly awful commercials, though the preponderance of bizarre medicine spots grated. I mean a stomach puppet? Honorable mention for sucky goes to the specious argument put forward by Scientology –something about it being the intersection of spirituality and technology. Scientology is neither. Still, the commercial came and went. Hating on it more would be like beating a dead horse.

All in all, the SuperBowl was damn okay.

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Crazy good…

For the past few days, even longer, I have been working on a manifesto for one of our clients. Actually, I’ve been working on two. Even more actually, I’ve been working on manifestos for 25 years, since becoming a copywriter.

Nothing suits me more. For like many a creative soul, I am by nature a show off. And this is the way I can do it. I know I am not alone. Most copywriters get off on writing manifestos. At least they’d better. Writing such documents is at the heart of what we do, and can do, for our clients.

Most of you know what I’m talking about. For those unawares, a manifesto or mantra or anthem is the bringing to life in words the highest and most noble aspirations of its subject matter, aka the brand.

Yes, it is advertising copy but in the best sense of the word. Recall Apple’s great script to the modern world: Think Different. Consider the lines that first and forever defined Nike to a generation: Just Do It. We know these iconic tags because we fell in love with the manifestos. Frankly, neither line would have lasted this long, or even gotten out the door, if not for their beloved manifestos.

The power and glory of a brilliant manifesto cannot be overstated. They raise the hairs on the back of your neck. They make CMO’s smile. They win pitches. Most of all they change things: attitudes, behaviors, even lives.

At least the good ones do.

Alas, we’ve all heard or, God forbid, written our share of shitty ones. They can be purple or redundant or both. They get long pretty damn fast. They turn into cheesy rip-o-matics. Yet, in a weird way, even the bad ones sound pretty good. They are like pizza that way.

Why?

Because we slave over them. Into these haloed paragraphs we put everything we know or think we know about writing, about persuading, about life. Here you won’t find speeds and feeds, racks and stacks or friends and family. None of that. These are the best neighborhoods in Adland. No trespassing!

Author’s note: Because I have been busy writing a manifesto I had to refurbish this blog entry from a previous post.

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