The Man in Black

November 20, 2017

images.jpg

You are in the basement of a church, with twenty or so other people seated around an extended horizontal folding table. The usual cross-section, many have nothing in common except for a desire to stop drinking. A lot of them brought coffees from the neighborhood Starbucks. The meeting is nearly over.

Dallas is a thirty-something woman with black hair laced with purple. Wrapped around her left bicep is a tattoo of barbed wire. The tough exterior belies her fragility. Dallas is a newcomer, five long-ass days and longer nights under her belt. She is finishing her share.

“Now that I’m not drinking, my friends don’t want anything to do with me.” She looks around the room. “But what kind of friends are those, right?”

People nod. They’ve all had to say goodbye to their drinking buddies. It comes with the territory, this new life. Dallas continues.

“Anyway, they can go fuck themselves. My daughter’s the only other person that matters to me. I’m doing the deal. I’m doing it!” She taps the Big Book resolutely. “That’s all I got.”

‘Thank you, Dallas!’ the room chimes. It’s a good way to end the meeting. A newcomer with grit.

The first time you saw Dallas, at the loft, you didn’t think she’d get 24 hours. Yet, here she was. The secretary rings her bell then reads from the script:

“As there are only a few minutes left in the meeting it is now time to ask if anyone has a burning desire.”

No hands go up.

“Come on, people. This is the time and this is the place!”

A man raises his hand. His black shirt and pants contrast with his pale skin. He has on sunglasses, which if this weren’t AA might seem peculiar. But not here. The second part of the program’s name is Anonymous. He clears his throat.

“I have a burning desire.”

“Excellent!” The secretary responds. “The man in black has the floor!”

The joke garners a few chuckles from the group. Why not? It’s Friday. We are not a glum lot is a popular phrase from the Big Book.

The man in black reaches into the gym bag sitting in front of him and pulls out two liters of Dewar’s White Label. One at a time he places each bottle on the table.

“What I desire is for each you to have a drink.”

A gasp fills the room but the man in black pays it no mind. He begins arranging large sized Dixie cups into a neat row on the table. He opens a bottle and carefully begins pouring the scotch into a cup, then another. The smell permeates the room.

The secretary rises. Though stunned like everyone else, somebody has to do something. This is her meeting.

“Excuse me, sir,” she says. Her voice quavers. “Just what in the hell do you think you’re doing? This is a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous.”

Raising an eyebrow, the man in black merely smiles. He could be tending bar.

“Well, I’ve already told you, Mam. I want you all to have a drink with me.” With that said, he slides a full cup to the woman sitting directly across from him. “Starting with you, sweetheart! You look like you could use a pop. I hope you like it neat.”

April, a frail creature no more than 18 years old, looks at the drink and the man with terror. She can’t speak. She is literally shaking.

“I…I…”

The man frowns. “What’s wrong, darling? Scotch not your drink of choice? Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it. I was the same way at your age.”

April whispers. “Please. If I have another drink I… I’ll… I’ll die.”

In the room, shock has turned to anger. A few men push their chairs back. Enough is enough. They rise.

Undaunted, the man in black continues looking directly at April. He casually pulls a large handgun from his bag and points it at her face. Inches separate the barrel from her nose.

Everyone freezes.

“No, no, no darling, you’ve got it all wrong.” He says, clucking at her, twitching the gun. “If you don’t have another drink then you’ll die.”

He looks at the standing men. With his free hand he indicates for them to sit. When they do he returns his attention to the young woman.

“Now drink up, darling. It’s damn near closing time.”

With a shaking hand, April lifts the cup to her mouth and sips. It is her first taste of alcohol in almost a year. She grimaces. The man cocks the gun.

“All of it.”

When she is finished she places the empty vessel down in front of her. Two tears collapse from her eyes, the mascara making them look like black rivulets. She sobs quietly.

“Like riding a bicycle, right?”

A couple chairs down from the gunman, an addict named Roberto can no longer hold his tongue. “Please, sir, I beg of you-

The man in black wheels around and points the gun at Roberto. His voice remains calm, sickeningly so.

“Don’t worry, Senor. There’s plenty to go around. Matter of fact, you can drink straight from the bottle. We don’t mind.”

He slides the jug of scotch to Roberto. It stops alongside of his Big Book.

“I…I… can’t drink this!”

Undeterred, the man in black counters. “Sure you can, amigo. Isn’t that what got you hear – drinking this?

Roberto pleads. “But it’s been over eleven years!”

“Then you must be awful thirsty!”

Roberto stares at the bottle. He shuts his eyes. Prays? He reaches for the scotch but instead of picking it up he pushes it away, slowly, until it is just past his fingertips.

“I see,” says the man in black. “Well, how about we start you off with a shot?”

He pulls the trigger blowing a whole through Roberto’s chest. He’s dead before the blood exits his body, which it does suddenly and profusely.

“Any other requests?”

The man in black places the smoking gun on the table. He picks up one of the Dixie cups. “Cheers,” he says and downs it. “Who’s next?”

You have been sitting quietly, just a couple chairs down. You reach over and take one of the full cups of scotch. From the corner of your eye you see the man in black grinning, nodding.

“That’s right, son. If rape is inevitable you might as well enjoy it!”

He may have said that. Or you think he did. It doesn’t matter. A centimeter from your lips is alcohol! For years you’ve wondered if there was a backdoor, a way that would allow you to drink without regret. And here it is. Gunpoint! You lift the cup.

Your eyes they open. You are on your back. Breathing hard. You can smell blood and taste whiskey. But it’s so dark. And why are you in bed? Rainstorm and crickets from your iPhone. Oh. Okay. You’ve had a drinking dream. In the rooms they talk about these nightmares. They say upon awakening you are relieved none of it was real, that you are still sober. Yet “nightmare” isn’t the right word. Being able to drink with impunity. That part you liked.

 

The above is an excerpt from a book I’m writing, The Chaos Merchant.

Gods of Advertising is on hiatus so I may devote my full energy to personal writing as well as for clients. My services include copy writing, brand manifestos and creative business ideas: My portfolio

Do you have a writing project you’d like to discuss?

I look forward to hearing from you!

Advertisements

budlightjpg-cb9c5fff08f2636c

No means no… unless you’re drunk.

This week, Anheuser Busch got taken to the woodshed by numerous publications for a tone-deaf piece of copy that appeared on one of its Bud Light labels:

“The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night”

Functioning like Tweets these short bursts of copy or “scrolls” were created in support of the brand’s campaign, “Up for Whatever” created by advertising agency, BBDO.

To say I am not a fan of Bud light’s campaign is an understatement. Douche-y by design, this creative idea casts barely drinking age millennials as bar hopping pinballs with zero on their minds other than having A GOOD TIME!

Before going any further, I should add that I once worked on this brand’s advertising. For reasons I won’t fully get into, I loathed the experience. You might think casting bikini-clad babes in Hollywood a highlight in any young man’s career. I’m not denying that it wasn’t fun… at first. But like any binge, it became monotonous and even disgusting. Casting was a charade. For my stupid scripts, any girl would do. Frankly, the lights had been turned off strategically when the light beer category shifted from being a low calorie option to rocket fuel for party animals.

Yet, even in this hopelessly sophomoric category, “Up for Whatever” grates as much as anything out there. Ever. To me, the dumbass “scroll” about “removing the word no from the night’s agenda” is just more proof that being ‘up for whatever’ often leads to bad outcomes. Like rape charges.

That being said, the harpies digging their claws into AB have blinders on. If one is going to hate on Bud Light do so against the whole campaign not just a pimple on its ass. Any fool can see “up for whatever” is a euphemism for removing the word “no.” Why the hell do you think the brand is waving this flag if not to incite 20-somethings into acting like irresponsible teenagers (or irresponsible teenagers to act like irresponsible adults.) Splitting hairs over a specific execution is hypocritical and silly.

University profs weigh in. More context from Newsweek: http://www.newsweek.com/three-advertising-professors-bud-light-fiasco-326830

“Up for Whatever” continues to negatively blow up in social media: http://adage.com/article/cmo-strategy/bud-light-s-label-gafe-lasting-damage/298378/?utm_source=daily_email&utm_medium=newsletter&utm_campaign=adage&ttl=1431049359

Moe's

“Wake me up when we’re cool.”

What is it about spirit’s that leads to advertising that makes fun of people? Well, I’ll tell you. Since advertisers are not really allowed to talk about the intoxicating effect alcohol has on folks copywriters are left with two options: 1) taste and 2) badge value.

How this usually plays out in the massive beer category is that crappy brews (Bud Light, Miller Lite, Coors Light, etc) create advertising featuring communities of young, comely and predictable partygoers, who are “up for whatever” and dig silly new bottle designs and “frost brewing” or other made up brewing techniques. Watered down taste is mitigated by the beverages ability to enable your inner douchebag. I worked on these brands and am guilty of perpetrating such goofy myths. I still remember the copy: “The clean, fresh taste won’t fill you up and never lets you down.” Quality beers like Guinnes have a better creative history, either forging terrific myths or speaking to history, heritage and authenticity. Generally speaking, spirits follow similar narratives.

maxresdefault
Insert blue joke here…

But within these story arcs we see an ever-widening genre, one that mocks or belittles groups of people who just don’t get it. The “it” changes all the time. When I worked on Johnnie Walker Black and Red, I created two campaigns that endeavored to define “it” for each product. For the more expensive Black label “it” was “Welcome to Civilization.” Black Label drinkers were gentlemen. Everyone else wasn’t. For the cheaper Red Label “it” was an attack on political correctness. According to my ads, these drinkers blew cigar smoke in your face and were proud to be red-blooded men. Or some shit…

dscn3186

COPY: “Our drinkers are men of depth and substance. Which puts our advertising agency at somewhat of a disadvantage.”

dscn3192

That’s telling ’em!

And now we see ads for various spirits taking to task “hipsters” and status seekers. This is tricky. By definition hipsters are cool. That means “it” already is a badge. But for one reason or another this particular “it” has become tiresome. Skinny jeans. Plaid shirts. Ironic beards. Fedoras. Talk about low-hanging fruit. Yet, the attack is specious. Taking down cool people to be cool makes one just as douche-y as the target, casting the hero as a hater, and haters; well they’re lame.

250421_3_800250421_2_800

Ooh, the tagline has a cuss word…

Now have a look at this new campaign, from Smirnoff.

We see the bar literally turn from bad trendy to good trendy. Huh? Other than a few more black guys and brighter lighting I can’t tell the difference between the cool kids and the douchebags. I don’t drink anymore but if I did I wouldn’t be caught drunk in either of these places. I didn’t like to drink and dance at the same time. And with that racket how could I hear myself lie?

#I’mConfused

Next up we’ll see a campaign that celebrates dive bars and sleazy authenticity. And after that one that makes fun of it.

For an extraordinary article on “Hipsters and the Dead End to Civilization” read this: https://www.adbusters.org/magazine/79/hipster.html

PSA for Fragile Childhood

From Euro RSCG Helsinki something wicked this way comes: an extraordinary PSA dramatizing how parents, when they’ve been drinking, look to their children. As you would imagine, it ain’t pretty. The adults come off as monsters, literally.

While the ad’s concept is arguably straightforward the execution of this film is anything but. Instead of merely depicting “ugly drunks” the narrative reveals scene after scene of heartbreaking honesty, culminating in a masked killer bucking his frightened son into a car seat. (Who among us never strapped the kids into the car after consuming too much booze at a birthday party?) Also riveting is the hooded specter staring at her daughter from beyond the playground fence. It’s like she’s not there. Chilling.

A zombie walks her daughter to school, black gruel dribbling down her chin. A sickening clown staggers to the bus stop. Again, on paper this sounds facile, but watch the film. It’s riveting, and not because the monsters are grotesque but because the insight is. This commercial is scary because it’s true.

Its execution is letter perfect. The actors capture the melancholy of these fallen creatures as well as the horror. Sure, the children are frightened but so are the drunken parents. There’s a kernel of humanity still alive is these walking dead. Which I think is critical. In order for the PSA to actually work it needs to appeal to the person inside the monster. Otherwise, the alcoholic won’t identify. The fact that these drunks are still trying to do something right (fastening seat belts, taking the kids to the playground, shopping, etc.) make the portrayals truly devastating.

A damn fine campaign.


Me like beer…

One of my all-time favorite episodes of the Simpson’s is about St. Patrick’s Day. The whole town of Springfield gets drunk and stupid. More so than usual. Everyone is stumbling, puking and fighting. Even the police. Especially the police. And all of them are wearing that dumbass shade of green. Only when Bart accidentally gets drunk does Springfield’s citizenry show any concern.

When it comes to drinking, St. Patrick’s Day rivals New Year’s Eve for “amateur night.” I’d argue that given my hometown, Chicago’s ‘proud’ Irish heritage March 17th is actually bigger and dumber than Dec 31st. We dye the river green!

For me, the mandatory drinking that the “holiday” requires is annoying. As is the mob scene. By 7 PM, North Clark Street resembles Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras. Rush Street is even worse.

Before you take me for a Puritan, you should know for many years alcohol was one of my best friends. We went to high school together. In college, I graduated from beer to vodka. Like playing “Quarters,” beer just seemed silly. Plus it took too long to get drunk. I took drinking far too seriously to be caught dead in some Irish bar on St. Patrick’s Day. Granted, I took drinking far too seriously period but that’s another story.

Anyway, I’m not a fan. That said here’s a clever piece of outdoor advertising from McDonald’s and Leo Burnett. Cheers!