“Land of Dreams” from JWT

Besides the Statue of Liberty, I didn’t realize the United States of America made tourism advertising. Cities and states run ads. But the entire country? Seems an unwieldy proposition, given our nation’s vast size and wildly disparate peoples. But they do. Above is a TV commercial called Land of Dreams produced by JWT, New York. The client is, in fact, the United States Government. I wonder (jokingly of course) if the President approved the concept.

Comprising lush vignettes of different parts of the country, cut to a song by Roseanne Cash, Land of Dreams is a textbook definition of anthem commercial. Most definitely American, it’s a fastball down the middle, with a good song and gorgeous images. I wonder about one scene or another but basically I’m impressed.

Many of you aren’t.

I discovered the commercial while trolling Agency Spy. Granted, that isn’t the place for thoughtful film criticism, let alone compliments of any kind, even so, the tone and level of hatred toward Land of Dreams was downright nasty.

Hating on America is vogue with young people. Hating advertising is vogue for everyone. Therefore hating on an ad for America is decidedly low hanging fruit. Vitriol was aimed at everything from too many scenes of California and New Orleans to the broad strokes of Ms. Cash’s anthem.

Misguided dumb-asses. Do you honestly think shots of tattoo parlors and dank bars would have sold America better? Hip or not, this is the USA Sven and his brood wants to visit. Nothing wrong with Brooklyn, Wicker Park or the Mission but these aren’t tourist attractions. (And by the way, you should be grateful!) Foreigners come to America because of the clichés. Not in spite of them. It would be foolish to advertise our country any other way.

As for dissing Roseanne Cash, you’ve got to be kidding. She makes the fricking commercial. Cash not only has a great voice but, unlike any number of pop stars, she’s credible.

I’m not saying this spot is awesome. It ain’t. But it ain’t bad either. The hate spewing critics need to realize our country is not best sold through the eyes of a 29 year-old, zombie nuking, pierced hipster from Hoboken, let alone an unemployed Internet troll.

Oh, and this: You try selling something better to the United States Government.

You can’t hide, why bother?

The spike. That moment when a measurement goes crazy, registering pressure, size or magnitude. Something big is happening. Something wicked this way comes. And so it was yesterday for the Gods of Advertising…

Returning from the gym, I open my laptop to my blog, the latest post on the Mcgarrybowen advertising agency. I have a couple comments waiting, which is typical. However, one is a ping from none other than Agency Spy. To quote George Jetson’s dog, Astro: “Ruh-Roh.” I don’t think I need to introduce any of you to this muckraker of marketing. I’ve been in the crosshairs of Agency Spy before. Once, they championed a post I’d written (a rarity), the other time not so much. Then I was a shit and the comment flies came out in droves.

Impulsively, I check the stats on my blog’s dashboard. And I see the spike, a gargantuan one, towering above last week’s numbers like the Burj Dubai. Gods of Advertising has a modest following. On a given day, I might get 600 visitors. On this day the number is triple that and growing. I don’t have a choice; I go to Agency Spy. I find it, second down on their list of “Odds and Ends.”

Euro RSCG alum Steffan Postaer equates McGarryBowen to Tim Tebow. Please, make it stop.

Granted, the “make it stop” hangs there like poop on the fur of a dog’s ass. But still, only one line. And yet my blog’s traffic has more than tripled.

“The Spike”

Most agency leadership teams squirm at even a mention of Agency spy or George Parker’s Adscam/The Horror! Don’t go there. Don’t talk to them. Ever! It reminds me of our government’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding gays in the military. Among other things, it’s naive. I know for a fact plenty of agency leaders visit these sites. How could they not? It might come smothered in crap and surrounded by flies, but sites like these post news at the speed of word-of-mouth. Sometimes they even make news.

Agency silverbacks like to say that only kids, morons and malcontents go to these sites. Hmmm. I’ve heard that said about “American Idol” and “Perez Hilton.” To paraphrase David Ogilvy: they are not a morons; they are your wife. Pretending Spies of the world don’t exist is, in my view, dumb and out-of-touch. Like when a company tries to “control a message.” News flash: The age of the press release is over. Like it or not, corporate strategy (for agency and client) must be what I’m calling relentlessly transparent. Choose otherwise and you pay a price. Calling bullshit is the new normal, the critical offspring of authenticity.

George “Adscam” Parker, calling bullshit on Adland…

I knew my post would draw criticism. But so what? That’s a good thing. Just like the traffic it created. That’s the so-called “conversation.” I don’t believe agencies can tell clients to embrace new media (and its sensational and scary byproducts) unless we do so ourselves. Hypocrisy otherwise.

I don’t like attacking people or spreading gossip. That makes sense for me. But I will tip sacred cows and I do make plenty of mistakes. When I do, you tell me and I adjust accordingly. We have a conversation.

I’m pretty sure that’s how smart brands need to behave with their consumers as well. (If they want to keep them, anyway.) Not fearful and controlling. But open and inviting. Lord, I know it sometimes hurts. But you develop a thick skin. You learn how to react. More and more being hated on seems less offensive than being labeled a shill. For me, for you, and for brands. Strange as it may sound, I learned a lot of this from Agency Spy.



Recently, Goodby Silverstein & Partners changed their logo. Shortly thereafter, someone came forward via Agency Spy indicating the logo was essentially a direct copy of another company’s mark. It should be mentioned the original logo was created a century ago. Nevertheless, people were quick to accuse GS&P of plagiarism. This ugly debate led Rich Silverstein to issue a memo stating that the “appropriation” was “100% intentional.” That memo found itself on, you guessed it, Agency Spy and, as one might imagine, a slew of mostly critical opinions followed.

Plagiarism is a hot button topic in Adland. I’ve covered it numerous times on this blog, including this post about my favorite campaign in 2010, which, apparently, had been plagiarized. The same thing happened when I chose my favorite campaign of 2011. Ironic history repeating itself when I talk of plagiarism.

Wikipedia’s definition of plagiarism, which in turn is ‘plagiarized’ from “other dictionaries” is as follows: the “wrongful appropriation,” “close imitation,” or “purloining and publication” of another author’s “language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions,” and the representation of them as one’s own original work.

By that definition the logo was plagiarized. But then things get interesting. Wikipedia states, “with the boom of the modernist and postmodern movements in the 20th century, this practice has been heightened as a central and representative artistic device,” concluding that “plagiarism remains tolerated by 21st century artists.”

Sigh. This is a tricky debate on so many levels, many of them covered in the myriad (mostly mean) comments following the Agency Spy posts as well as my own.

While I agree with Richard Silverstein that “sampling” has become a big part of popular culture (and this argument is not to be taken lightly) I also agree that his agency copied. And as we were all taught in second grade, copying is wrong.

So, what’s a girl to do, especially if that girl is a copywriter looking at old advertising annuals for inspiration or a creative director looking at work?

I think the key is what was added or changed to build on the original idea. If sampled music becomes part of a new thing it’s not plagiarism, like when Run DMC appropriated the lyrics and licks to Aerosmith’s Walk this Way. (That Aerosmith was in on the remix further diminishes any argument against it.) Yet, when Lady GaGa channeled Madonna in her hit, Born this Way it felt like a shameless rip off. In this context the difference is obvious. One is okay and the other not so much.

Advertising (and design) is another animal, however. Are not the white lines grayer than with art? I still think my “building on” theory applies, which suggests Goodby crossed the line…unless, of course, you believe in a statute of limitations. Like I said: tricky.

The Bully of Adland.

March 21, 2011

We were a small community, vibrant and strong, though not without hardships. Times were tough and our benefactors were cutting back. And while we sometimes competed against each another, for the most part we got along. Many of us had friends on other teams.

Then a bully came along. For some reason, he disliked us on principle. He made fun of the stuff we made, kicking over our sand castles and spitting on our pictures.

In the beginning, we all tried to make peace with the bully. That failed. Then we merely tried to appease him. But that failed, too.

The bully acted with impunity, because he knew we wouldn’t strike back. He knew our guardians told us to ignore him, that discretion was critical. As his attacks grew evermore personal, this became harder and harder to do. Yet, we never fought back. We became weak.

The bully became a tyrant. He belittled our capabilities and integrity as if he were the only one possessing any of either. From the top of his mountain he took to calling us names, hurtful and extreme. Few were spared his wrath.

Some of us took to viewing his acts of carnage with fearful glee, not unlike staring at a car wreck. When it was over we rushed away to our forts, glad it hadn’t been us but full of shame. We tried to remember what it was like before the bully, but we could not.

Oh, the bully had his pets. But those he nurtured only felt pitiful for being spared. They knew it was only a matter of time before the bully turned on them. In the end some of us tried becoming his allies, giving him information he could use against others in our community. Thus we became accomplices.

And then one day the bully was gone, disappearing like dirty snow in spring. Maybe his protectors had had enough. Or perhaps the difficult times that had befallen us had gotten to him as well. We only knew the bully’s reign over our tiny community was over.

We rejoiced. But at the same time we were a little sad. From the bully, we’d learned how to point fingers and criticize one another. Often from behind hiding places. Our sense of community was damaged.

Shrugging, we continued making things for our benefactors, not really sure if it would ever go back to way it was before the bully. For there were other bullies lurking beyond the fence and we knew it.

He didn’t respond so it must be true!

I still haven’t read the comments on Agency Spy’s “story” about me leaving my job at Euro RSCG Chicago. But then a visitor to my own blog (by the name JT) had to go and sum them up for me! Thanks JT. I guess. His full assessment is posted in the comments of my last post. Look, I believe JT was trying to do the right thing. He seems to have put a lot of effort into his “two cents.” While I was not planning on rebuttal, here are my responses to the three primary criticisms levied at me –chronicled on Agency spy and summed up by JT:

1. “Steffan- you’re always pimping Altoids.” The last time I wrote or spoke about Altoids was last year, in a speech for the Outdoor Association of Puerto Rico in San Juan. It wasn’t the primary focus of the material but they had asked me to work it in. Other than that, I don’t recall any recent communications I’ve done regarding Altoids. Tell you what. Search my blog or twitter feed. If you find something vainglorious promoting Altoids send me the link and I’ll publish it with my humblest apologies. Here’s a promise: If everyone else stops talking about Altoids and me the conversation dies. Your call everyone else.

2. “Steffan- you’re always promoting your books and blogs.” I link my blogs to my facebook and Twitter account. Doesn’t everyone? If not, why not? It’s called connectivity. When I write a post it sends the link to both. In addition, within 48 hours of creating new material on my blog I’ll probably tweet it 2 or 3 times, so as to share the link with friends and followers. My favorite bloggers do the same. I try to write three new posts a week. Do the math. Seems like normal behavior to me. Otherwise, I tweet about the same silly shit you do: “Bears suck!” “Go Bears!” BTW, one of my blogs, The Rogue's Gallery is a showcase for OTHER people. Not me. The other blog, Sweet by Design gives away my latest book coupled with a contest to design its eventual paper cover and win an iPad. In none of my blogs do I make any money or try to.

3. “Steffan- you criticize other people’s work but what have you done.” Here I might be culpable. Though I mostly write about tendencies in modern marketing from time to time I do select certain campaigns and talk about them. I believe praising Allstate’s “Mayhem” campaign is the most recent example. (Full disclosure: I am working on a story about another campaign, which I will share soon.) As for personal accomplishments (or lack thereof), I stand behind what’s on our website. I also think our campaign for Valspar paint was some of the best work I’ve ever had a hand in. Still, one of the things I’m most proud of from my last job was helping to build a good, decent agency from some pretty damaged material. We became viable and competitive, a real team. That we survived the crippling recession with minimal job losses is pleasant proof we did something right. Alas, I cannot put that in my “portfolio.” It was a mortgage on my creative reputation that I was willing to make. I’d do it again.

As I’ve already acknowledged, being part of the so-called “conversation” sometimes means getting your ass handed to you. Of course I get upset at the shit people say about each other and me. But I try not to contribute to any death spirals and I most certainly do not comment anonymously. In the end, I’m forever learning, just like everyone else! So, thank you JT and anyone else who cares to read and write on my behalf. Even the haters. It’s an honor.