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Before I was offered a new job, I visited a lot of agencies. Typically, I met with people representing the management team. It was a gauntlet. But I always expected a positive reception, from both the interviewers and myself. However, that was not always the case. At one agency, a number of the folks I met were down on their company and told me so. There were politics. There was unfairness. Dead weight permeated the company. One interviewer asked: “Steffan, do you know what you’re getting yourself into?”

Sad but true.

Complaining is common in Adland. Granted, usually not as part of a first impression but typical nevertheless. It’s not a good look. Seldom is it useful. Startled, I told the above-mentioned complainer a parable, the best thing I could think of at the time. Here is part of it:

Every day a group of men set out to forage in the desert 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 was 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 complainers failed to realize was 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 resting place fostered among the travelers. All was taken for granted to spite the obvious.

I recall a company meeting at a previous place of employment, a long time ago. 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. Our agency was beleaguered but 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 respect I was talking to myself. Though I harbored many of my fellow’s misgivings 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. We all did. 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.

Author’s note: I published a version of this story some time ago, while I was looking for my next job. Having found one, I am filled with gratitude. Here’s to never forgetting what matters…

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“I’m going to tell you a true story, okay?” Colette is looking at her phone but you know she is listening. You are driving her to rehearsal. She has a big part in Les Miserables. She plays the grown-up version of Cosette. (Colette playing Cosette. How’s that for kismet?) Though you saw the movie a while ago you don’t really remember the story. Victor Hugo is not your thing. Being a musical and being a lead, Colette must sing and she has been practicing a lot. You’ve heard her belting out lyrics from her room, in the shower, on the trampoline in the backyard, which she pretended was a stage. You can’t tell if she’s good or merely loud but her enthusiasm is amazing. Many members from your family are coming in to see her perform. There will be hundreds of other people as well. The tickets cost money and this is a real show. Up until yesterday Colette has been psyched. Then one of her “friends” disrespected her online, insulting her skills and some other shit you’re not sure. Usually a brick, Colette was wounded by it. Your wife told you this much. And you can see it now in your daughter’s sullen demeanor. So you have a story…

“Before you were born,” you begin. “Back when I was coming up at Leo Burnett in Chicago I was preparing for a huge presentation. It was my idea. I wrote all the copy. And I had the show to go with it. I’d been practicing for weeks. What I was going to say. How I was going to say it. I had the shit down.” Colette looks up when you curse. Good. “Anyway, the night before I’m rehearsing my presentation in front of the team. And when I’m done the head account person –the guy who deals with the client- he shits all over my work. All of a sudden he doesn’t like the creative. He’s not happy with it… or me. I’m dumbfounded. Like where’d this shit come from?” Traffic on the 101 is heavy but that’s fine. It allows you to look at your daughter. “The guy says to me, in front of everybody, if you present that work tomorrow it will be Armageddon.”

“The end of the world?” Colette asks. “What did you do?” One of Colette’s most beautiful features her eyes, big and blue, and they are wide open staring at you.

You laugh. “I told him I would make some changes. That I’d do a bunch of things he wanted and not do a bunch of things he didn’t.”

“That really sucks,” your daughter says.

“It would,” you say. “Had I listened to him. “The next day I delivered my presentation just as I’d planned it. My work. My way. And I fucking killed it. When I was done the clients actually applauded.”

“Really?” She’s serious, you can tell. You have her full attention. And something more.

“Story’s not over,” you say. “The meeting ends. My campaign’s a huge hit, right? Everybody’s shaking hands, patting each other on the back. So, I walk over to the account guy who’d dissed my work the night before. He thinks I’m going to shake his hand. I look him right in the eyes, and I say, ‘Welcome to Armageddon, asshole.’ And walk away.” You change lanes swiftly, almost missing the exit.

“Wow, that’s a great story, dad,” Colette says. “It’s all true?”

“Every bit, sweetheart.” At the red light, you look at Colette full on. She is the sassy one. The middle child. The daughter that gives your wife the most trouble. You choose your words. “If people are disrespecting you or your work, you don’t have to change.” The light turns green and you move the car forward. “All you have to be is… devastating. Redemption like that, there’s no sweeter feeling.”

In the parking lot, Colette thanks you again for driving her to practice. You’re not a hugging family but you can see it in her eyes. The fierceness is back. You watch her march toward the theater. The entire world’s a stage and you’ve given an important player some badass direction.

Author’s note: This is an excerpt from a book I’m writing, my fourth. If you like it let me know. Available for freelance as well: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com

And by the way, Colette was devastating.

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Colette et Cosette

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Pepsi. United. Spicer.

Look at your feeds. Your friend’s and your family’s. Hell, look at mine. These three fails have dominated EVERYTHING the past few days, one following the other, aftershocks in a pop culture earthquake. I don’t even have to provide a summary. We’ve all seen the videos. Shared them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. If you turn on the news that’s all they are talking about.

And my o’ my, have we commented. Holy Hashtags! The shaming has been resounding. Pepsi is tone deaf! The “Friendly Skies” have gone berserk! Sean Spicer is a fool… or worse!

And you know what? In two weeks it won’t matter.

In some of these cases, maybe all of them, there will be a backlash of support, if for no other reason than to court controversy and/or create “click bait.” A second wave of folks will “rise up” and say what needs to be said. All ink is good ink, they will say about Pepsi’s idiotic commercial. “It became part of the conversation!” And that “doctor” who was bloodied while pulled from his plane seat? Well, it turns out he was nothing but a pill pusher anyway, convicted and defrocked. And Sean Spicer was only comparing one dictator to another. The righteous will quote Jesus: “Let him who is without sin… be the first to throw a stone…”

In the unlikely event that none of the above happens, this will: Pepsi shall throw support at various “urban” causes, proving they are not tone deaf to the needs of the “community.” Their PR will be all over it. United will codify its CEO’s janky apology with a full-page newspaper ad and a preachy commercial. They will give the mistreated passenger money to go away. Mr. Spicer will be muzzled and muted, more for embarrassing the President (that’s Trump’s job) than the content of his words.

In the end there is no end. More lunacy will occur, replacing the current noise with new louder noise. Shameful acts will occur and thusly be shamed. Then the shamers will be shamed. And so on and so forth. In the olden days of the 20th century any one of these scandals would have lasted for months. Not anymore. The modern content zombie constantly needs new flesh to tear apart. Why do you think they’re called “feeds?”

And yesterday’s chewed upon? You guessed it. They merely get up. People will still drink Pepsi. People will still fly United. And, if he’s not scapegoated into the private sector, Sean Spicer will still be the White House Press Secretary.

One final thought and it’s a dark one. We find this all terribly funny.
Maybe it’s true: “We are all Negan.”

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For copy & content creation that breaks through the noise, hit me up: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

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Heel to Hero…

Going from Heel to Hero and visa-versa has not only become predictable but is occurring at dizzying speeds. I think this phenomenon is grossly underappreciated. Not only is it changing how we view good news and bad news but it is shaping current events and enabling shocking new discourse in popular culture and marketing.

A perfect example is Colin Kaepernick. When he was first caught sitting in protest during the National Anthem at a pre-season football game, the world all but tore him a new asshole. Within two weeks he’s on the cover of Time magazine and high school athletes around the country are emulating his behavior. Last week his jersey outsold all others. Pretty remarkable given he’s not even the starting quarterback for the team. Colin Kaepernick went from a goat to a God. Just like that.

The confluence of social media, proliferate video, celebrity obsession, reality TV and other factors have created a perfect storm, enabling controversial behavior and in turn changing our perceptions of what constitutes good and bad, right and wrong, and it’s doing so in real time!

Look at what a sordid sex tape of Kim Kardashian started. Once vilified and humiliated, that negative take has long been forgotten. She and her get are some of the most famous people on Earth.

The camera loves errant behavior. And society loves cameras. Ergo anyone can be a “star.” Provided you punch through. Dropping your pants or taking a stance are two surefire ways of getting that attention.

Courting controversy is not the real news, however. Like many, I have been writing about this for years.

What’s especially fascinating is how predictable the pattern has become. And the subsequent opportunities this affords. Marketers can take more and bigger chances. So what if a campaign or Tweet creates a shit storm. Within hours, defenders will join the fray. Even turn the tide. One can game public opinion. Betting on the inevitable backlash should be considered strategy from the get-go. Whether we like it or not, this is happening. Certain groups will take advantage while others stand by gaping.

(Author’s note: I’m avail for copy, content creation & creative leadership: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com)

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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