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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. 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!

May I write one for you? https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

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I love it when I crack the code on a piece of creative. You might not believe me but I love it even more when someone in my group cracks the code on a piece of creative. Either way, this was, is and always will be the best part of my job.

Which is as it should be. It doesn’t matter how big or small the job or what medium it’s in. That first peek at something that works, that will work, that will please the person paying for it, is bliss. You won’t believe me again but seeing a set of banners that totally nails the brief is as intoxicating as looking at a tight and right storyboard for a TV commercial. Knowing to one’s core that a piece of creative is capable of winning the day is, if I remember correctly and I do, like that first sip of that first martini: so freaking good!

Whether it comes right away or is the result of toiling, bearing witness to the birth of a healthy campaign is why I get up in the morning and go to work. Everything else -operations, meetings and conference calls- is work. It’s the job part of the job. The creative piece is the gift. And as with any good gift the giver feels as good or better than the receiver. Which is also as it should be.

Within the last two weeks I’ve gotten to see such a thing. Twice. Two different projects. With differing people involved, and me to a certain extent. How lucky am I? While it would not be professional of me to discuss specifics or showcase the work, I most certainly can write about the joy that it brought.

So much of what we do in Adland is fraught with anxiety and stress. We bicker over strategy and deliverables and what’s right and what’s wrong that we often forget that in the delivery room are babies (and I don’t mean the creatives). New campaigns, hours old, are things worth celebrating. Of course, we seldom do. They’re fragile here. And besides now we must prep them for clients, tightening the copy, tweaking the art direction, responding to the pokes and prods of our fellows, and otherwise getting them ready for that precarious run up the flagpole.

But sometimes even in this newbie state you know everything is going to be all right. You just know. Internally, with the client, and even the consumer you know you are holding the Ace of Spades.

No automotive company has done more to alter their brand’s image than Cadillac. Via edgy product design and mostly provocative creative approach to advertising, Cadillac has taken a tired symbol of wealth (the car for white grandpa’s and stereotypical black pimps) and fashioned it into an aggressive lineup of slick and sporty vehicles.

This transformation happened in recent memory. Which is only to say I can still remember the other Cadillac. Vividly. My grandfather had one. I loved playing with the power windows (then a newish feature) and pretending I was in a limo. In a funeral. Which, I suppose, was exactly the problem.

Whether we like the new Cadillac or will ever purchase one remains to be seen but we must give the automaker credit for trying and succeeding in making this epic change. A lot of things could have gone wrong.

I speak from experience. Back in the day I was part of the team at Leo Burnett responsible for invigorating the Oldsmobile brand. As with Cadillac, General Motors had totally redesigned their fleet. For advertising, we’d come up with the now famous (infamous?) “Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile.” Lots of history here, some controversial, which I’ve written about before. Regardless, less than a decade later Oldsmobile was out of business.

So, kudos to Cadillac! You made it into the 21st century. They and their marketing agencies deserve a lot of credit.

For me, two commercials define Cadillac’s transformation. The first one happened early on during Cadillac’s rebirthing. Visually, the spot was nothing out of the ordinary- just driving footage against beautiful scenery. But a couple things were decidedly different. First, the car itself had been conspicuously altered from every Caddy before it. So much so I’m not sure most folks (including me) had even liked it. With its bodacious lines and risky silhouette, I thought it was perhaps trying too hard to be different. Looking back I can better appreciate this radical design change. It took balls. Second, and to me just as conspicuous, was the spot’s usage of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock & Roll” for a soundtrack. Whether you consider Zep dinosaurs or not, nothing signified Cadillac’s resurgence better than this famously badass tune.


Been a long time since I did the stroll…

The other TVC I’d like to call out (posted up front) pays homage to all the great innovations and inventions having occurred in garages: HP, Apple, Amazon and numerous other hugely famous companies all mentioned by name. Including another iconic band, the garage-born Ramones! Then we see the new Cadillac coming out of a garage.

While I concede any new car could have starred in this commercial it was Cadillac that did. By linking itself to so many modern success stories, particularly in technology, Cadillac has once again has broken away from its history of being a pimp mobile or, worse yet, your grandfather’s champagne colored boat.

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One of my favorite “spots.”

And so went another Super Bowl, like sands through the hourglass. I had the dubious honor of “live blogging” about the commercials for Mashable. I say dubious because I had to do it at someone’s Super Bowl party. Basically, that meant I stayed put in a corner of the TV room, laptop on my lap, tapping away, trying not to get nacho cheese on my Powerbook. I’m not a terribly social guy but this was downright isolationist. The host referred to me as “Hey, Blogger!” As in, “Hey Blogger, do you need a beer?” God forbid I tell him I didn’t drink. Then I’d really be an outcast. Truth be known, I greatly enjoyed the engagement. I’m not good at parties. Thankfully, given I now live in San Francisco, the game was most everyone’s priority. Some geek on his computer caused little distraction. Regardless, I am appreciative of my wife for tolerating my boorish behavior.

While it was tough hearing the commercials over the party’s din I did see and comprehend most of them. I’m not sure there were any blockbuster ads in the lot but I did enjoy several. The few that stood out were Ram’s “Ode to a Farmer,” Tide’s “Montana Stain” and the VW Bug commercial featuring a white dude from Minnesota channeling a very happy Jamaican. His line “Land of ten thousand lakes!” was one of my favorites of the night.

The blog feed suggested Samsung’s epic, star-studded “New Thing” commercial was a winner. But since it was dialog driven I heard virtually none of it. I couldn’t help but think of the old adage that in order for a commercial to be truly good it has to make sense with the sound turned off. I don’t agree with the sentiment but I do wonder how many millions couldn’t hear the actor’s lines. I suppose that’s what the Internet is for.

By far the biggest crowd pleaser was Bud’s commercial, featuring a long lost Clydesdale reuniting with its owner, now driving a beer truck. This over the melodic strains of Stevie Nicks. Derivative of War Horse it was a sweet commercial, very well done. Still, I couldn’t help Tweeting “Fleetwood Mac & Cheese.”

As for the game itself it turned out to be an exciting affair, the Niners coming back from a huge deficit only to botch a set of downs at the goal line and lose. The whole game was mired by an interminable power outage, lasting 30 minutes. It was after the delay that the 49ers made their comeback. Had they won I’m sure all the talk would be about the power failure stymieing Baltimore’s momentum. Either way, the fail moment was an embarrassment for the league, network and maybe even the United States. It is one of the biggest events in the world. Heads will roll. In the end, who gives a shit?

The blackout did result in a marketing highlight from Oreo. The brand Tweeted about “dunking in the dark,” causing a blow-up in the Twitterverse. Will anyone buy more Oreos this week? I doubt it. But what does that have to do with anything?

Alas, I found Beyonce’s Half Time show a disappointment. She doesn’t lack for confidence and good looks but her spectacle struck me as an endless Pepsi commercial, circa 1980’s. My Tweet: “I miss U2.” Call me old but by her second number even the teens in our room began leaving.

Speaking of Pepsi commercials, one of my fellow live bloggers, the famed adman, Lee Garfinkel took Taco Bell to task for ripping off his long-ago “Stay Young” campaign for the number two soft drink. He was right but then wasn’t Ron Howard’s Cocoon about rocking octogenarians as well? In any event, products making people feel young is old as dirt.

Despite Ray Lewis’s checkered past and dumb pot game comment about God being on their side, I wish to congratulate the Baltimore Ravens for a dramatic win. Baltimore could use it. I also want to thank Mashable for the opportunity to participate on their platform. Hopefully, I added something. And to San Francisco: Nice comeback guys. Next year will be fun.

The other day I participated in a lengthy meeting about a cocktail party the agency is creating for one of its clients. A cocktail party. The team was discussing three concepts. The copywriter and the account executive got into a tussle over which concept to recommend to the client. It got fairly animated.

A cocktail party.

I had to smile. Since when did we become party planners? Since when did a copywriter give a shit about deliverables relating to one? Ten-years-ago-me wanted to yell: “For the love of God, it’s only a cocktail party!” Instead I lobbed a few jokes about hiring a magician or karaoke “the latest craze from Japan!” But I didn’t dare stop the debate. To paraphrase the copywriter: “This is our chance to do good work. These are the things that win awards.”

In fact, more and more it is these funky little assignments that yield the most interesting creative product. Apps, Twitter handles, ambient, street theater and, yes, cocktail parties are the low-hanging for many agencies. Not just ours. Juggernauts like BBDO and CP&B have long figured out it’s the whacky microsites, unusual videos and other oddities that drive buzz and garner acclaim. The Cannes Gold Lion for a fetching Facebook concept is just as shiny as the one given for press and broadcast. Plus, it has the added value of being ambient or digital, terms that make our industry gaga.

Still. Calling a video that gets 80 thousand views a viral sensation is a joke. 80,000 views are paltry compared to broadcast. Hence the development of another socially inspired, mouth-watering term: Engagement! 2.2 million viewers of a commercial on cable are not as valuable as 80,000 “engaged” people watching online.

There is more than a kernel of truth to it. The gurus aren’t completely high on fumes. Sharing and talking about something is buzz. And it happens to attract mountains of praise, albeit mostly from ourselves. Yet, we hire ourselves. Give raises to ourselves. Award ourselves. Therefore, an App that rates food based on fart smells gets a Clio. 32,000 people like it on “Facebook.” Adfreak does a piece on it. The creative team is among the “pairs to watch in 2013.” And so it goes…

PS: The Fart App or “Fapp” is all mine.