thinkdifferent

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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Genius/Douchebag

Apple’s founder, Steve Jobs died three year ago in October. And so I found myself re-reading passages from the best-selling biography, by Walter Isaacson. Among the book’s many surprises, none are as jolting (to me) as the endless examples depicting Steve Jobs as an egomaniacal tyrant. Since so much has already been said regarding these controversial passages, I won’t go into them here. Among other things, he publicly berated his staff, stole ideas, took credit inappropriately and was unpardonably cruel to his family.

This by no means diminishes Job’s enormous contribution to Apple and, indeed, the world. Case in point, I’m writing this on one of his inventions. I use his stuff every day, constantly. So do most of you. For all its recent bugaboos, Apple is still, basically, the most impressive brand in the world. And Steve Jobs had a shit ton to do with it.

Should that excuse him for having been an “assoholic” as one of his peers called him?

In a rare bit of self-awareness, Jobs admitted to being overly rough on his people but he remained unapologetic. He claimed the Mac would never have been created if not for his intolerance and meanness. Many people, including some he was ruthless to, concurred. In the end, according to Isaacson, they didn’t mind getting fucked over by a visionary.

Makes me think. In my personal life I’ve been frequently challenged in matters of social discourse. I’m uncomfortable making small talk and listening to it as well. I’ve been an ass. Perhaps my record at work isn’t quite as spotty but it’s hardly immaculate either. I can be… difficult.

I’m not a creative visionary like Steve Jobs was but, on the other hand, I am always trying to improve my behavior. What struck me about Steve Jobs is that he never bothered. When a brave insider called him on his bad behavior Jobs berated the man: “You don’t know what it’s like being me!”

Well, now we do.

Jobs’ claimed he was perpetually hard on Apple employees because otherwise the company would have softened, invariably inviting “B” players and eventually “C” players; which, of course, was unacceptable (to him).

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Was also an asshole…

Few of us are “special” like Steve Jobs but then we are not as cruel and unfair as he was either. Does that make us “B” players? Can an “A” player be a nice person?

Precious few creative geniuses grace Adland. Yet, I’m privileged to have known several of these men and women and can say, with a fair degree of certainty, that they were not assholes.

Author’s note: Upon first reading Jobs’ biography I wrote a draft of above story. The is my second look at the topic.

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Intelligent design is divine!

Did you know there are proofs of God’s existence? Neither did I. That is until my daughter informed me at dinner the other night. Camille is a student at Marin Catholic High School. Therefore, in addition to a standard curriculum she is also taking a theology class. It is one of her favorite courses. I’m not surprised. Whether one believes in God or not, religion and spirituality are fascinating subjects.

And so, when I’d remarked, somewhat cavalierly, that all religions are based entirely on faith my daughter was compelled to interject. There are so-called “Proofs of God,” she said. Among the most commonly cited examples is the notion of “beautiful design.”

The “Design Proof” suggests that our world is too perfectly engineered to be a happenstance of nature. Turns out it wasn’t just her teacher saying so… Peter Kreeft, a Professor of Philosophy at Boston College makes the “argument for design” as follows:

“The universe displays a staggering amount of intelligibility, both within the things we observe and in the way these things relate to others outside themselves. That is to say: the way they exist and coexist display an intricately beautiful order and regularity that can fill even the most casual observer with wonder. It is the norm in nature for many different beings to work together to produce the same valuable end—for example, the organs in the body work for our life and health.”

It is summed up nicely on the UK website, Philosopher.org:

“Is it possible that such an intricate mechanism, from the orbits of planets round the sun to the cells in your fingernails could all have happened by chance? Surely, this enormously complex mechanism has been designed, and the being that designed it must be God.”

Bringing it all down to earth, my daughter suggested baby animals are cute because God made them cute. Interesting notion. Why are babies adorable looking? Science suggests it might be to ward off predators. I don’t know. Baby seals are pretty darn cute and sharks love ‘em to death. Are cuteness and beauty God-given?

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Cute by design?

I have long been familiar with “Intelligent Design” as a faith-based take on Evolution. As a matter of fact, on glass-half-full days I believe it. But the argument for design as proof of God sharpens the point. As a creative professional, I’ve long valued design more than most aspects of our business, even copywriting. After all, good design mitigates bad copy far better than stellar copy saves crap design.

In a God-like way, designers make things beautiful. Steve Jobs certainly agreed. For him, and his company, design was God. Apple’s millions of obsessed devotees more than support the notion. The company inspires cult-like behavior because of its product’s impeccable designs. Period.

Is good design a proof of God or just a lovely coincidence? Yes, I first wrote about this last year but I continue to wonder about it now. Truly a fascinating subject…

Poetry is a dying vine clinging to the stinking roadhouse of pop culture. Verse and beat and alliteration are now 140 characters, the new haiku. On steroids.

On advertising!

Brand after brand after brand like boxcars moving their freight using the rhyming words of dead men: Walt Whitman. Allen Ginsberg. In the ultimate Meta even the poetic rant of Robin Williams from a film called, of all things, Dead Poet’s Society is the new message for all of Apple’s new, new things. “What will your verse be?” As if Mac needed the incantation.

It is the ultimate irony the demon gatekeeper of popular culture has commandeered poetry. We are hearing it everywhere. Levis gave us the scratchy live recording of a dead poet in their propulsive and romantic “Go Forth” campaign. Johnnie Walker tells us to “Keep Walking.”

And so we do. Mashing words and music and imagery into myriad beats. We iterate. We aggregate. Co-opt and curate. We celebrate the stuff of life.

Copywriters are nothing if not failed poets turning out catch phrases “Just do it” and puns “Nothing runs like a Deere” and those are the good ones! The dusty classics. How many now don’t even compare? It doesn’t matter. We sing the body electric for toiletries and blue jeans. And when our great words are not great enough we simply commandeer someone else’s, someone who came before us, someone who died drunk and broke and likely unhappy but maybe not.

Who cares? Using old poems make advertising feel new and improved!

We wrote poems before copy. We read poetry before streaming horror movies and Old Spice commercials on You Tube. We wanted to be heard. And because the rejections from the New Yorker piled up like delivery menus in the hallway, spam in the inbox, we turned to advertising.

I mean I. Did that.

But We sounds so much cooler. More like poetry. Manifestos begin with “We.” Mantras and mission statements. Let’s motor!

In Adland, our lines mean a little something to all kinds of big nobodies. There we find recognition, awards and a paycheck. There I found an audience. There I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked…

No, I will not go there. But someone will. And soon. I guarantee it.

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O’ spacious skies! Motorola goes all American…

Two huge consumer electronics brands have just launched advertising campaigns with patriotic themes, which makes a fitting topic for a post given the proximity to Independence Day. Alas, like a lot of jingoistic campaigns they both underwhelm.

What is far more surprising is who did them.

From Apple we get the clunky mantra “Designed by Apple in California.” Let me get this straight. An Apple commercial is telling me that Apple products are designed by Apple? Oh yeah, and in California. This from the company that told the world to “Think Different?”

Motorola attempts to rise from its cell phone grave by heralding an equally awkward, eerily similar refrain: “Designed by you. Assembled in the USA.” Honestly, words like “assembled” belong in an owner’s manual not the tag line. Besides, doesn’t “assembled” imply the parts came from somewhere else?

Clunkiness aside, this is also the first time either brand has ever relied on Americana to sell their wares.

Why now? Why period? To me it comes off as a cry for help. And maybe it is. Everyone is aware of both company’s troubles. Since the death of Steve Jobs Apple has gone nowhere fast. Samsung is eating them up and its share price is flagging. Could this limp wristed chest beating be in lieu of anything better to say? Motorola, on the other hand, could use all the help it can get. Still, I’m not wild about this use of red, white and blue. I think people want technology to be global. Giving tech a nationality makes it somehow feel smaller. A can of beer. Sure. A $500 smart phone I don’t think so.

Yet, Chiat (Apple) and Droga5 (Motorola) are both top-flight ad agencies, among the best in the world. Maybe they know something I don’t. (Frankly, I know they do!) So, what am I missing? Why are Apple and Motorola suddenly so patriotic?