Maybe they’ll listen to you…

The other day I was riding home from a fantastic hike in the mountains, driving my wife’s convertible with the top down, on yet another glorious sunny day in Marin County. In two hours I was to begin a journey to Berlin (I’ve never been!) for a creative conference. So many blessings in my life…

And yet I was fretting. I worried I didn’t have a presentation in order for my bit in Germany. I felt crummy about something I’d said to a family member. I’d forgotten to run an errand and now it was too late! Once again, the committee in my head was getting loud about yet another assortment of issues regarding people, places and things. As usual, it was a mixture of minor nuisances and shortcomings. As usual, they were ruining everything. When I have one foot in the past and the other in the future I am pissing on the present.

Is it just me? Or do you do the same thing?

What is it about human beings that make us unable to truly appreciate what we have and what is right in front of us? Instead of gratitude for my many blessings (I should be marveling at them, frankly) I am fretting about goddamned hangnails. Again.

The committee in my head is comprised of tough hombres. Shame. Envy. Fear. Pride. The usual suspects. The way I’m wired I can never turn them off. Sometimes I can lower their volume but I always hear them in the next room. Conspiring. Doing push-ups as they say.

Bad stock illustration. Even worse problem.

They cause all the “isms” and phobias of the world, don’t they? Take Pride for example. It hangs up great leaders and ordinary Joes alike. Like a lot of creative people, I have a big ego and a bit of an inferiority complex. We believe in our ideas but have endured criticism for them all our careers. Most of us never really get used to it. Not really. Insecurity like that festers in a person. Like the child of divorce, we wonder not-so-deep-down if it’s our fault.

What’s this damn fool going on about? Well, I’m fascinated by human behavior. Particularly my own. Our propensities for wanting and worrying are frustrating on a personal level but endlessly compelling from a writer’s perspective, particularly for us copywriters. After all, we make people want what they don’t need. I have a theory that advertising plays fast and loose with most of our defects (envy, lust, pride, etc.) and, along with other stimuli, foster a society of needy, insatiable narcissists.

One of the reasons I dig Don Draper’s character on Mad Men is because he is simultaneously a victim and perpetrator of his own psychological warfare, which compliments (painfully & brilliantly) his line of work. I can relate.

Am I becoming a drag?

I have not watched a single episode of Mad Men this year. Last few seasons I watched every one. I wrote about them on my blog. I Tweeted. I shared.

Why no interest this year? Maybe I’m too busy –a new home, a new job. But I had those things last year and they were even newer. Besides, the show is on Sunday night. With DVR and Internet, I could watch it whenever I want, anyway. That’s how I found time for The Walking Dead and Party Down.

Too busy is not the reason.

Frankly, I think it’s because I don’t care anymore. Better said, I lost interest. I moved on. Moreover, I have a hunch a lot of other people did too. I don’t know the ratings. But I’m willing to bet they are down. Maybe even way down.

What causes that? I wonder if there’s a psychological reason. I wonder if it’s a marker for something in the zeitgeist. Could it be the anti-hero as portrayed by Don Draper is fading from fashion in popular culture?

It’s possible we’ve had enough of melancholy and dubious motives. Are we over the beautiful downer? The Zenith may have been Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight.

So dark…

After considering that character, to say nothing of Heath Ledger’s Joker, what comes after? And so Batman has given way to a rowdier bunch of heroes. Thor, Captain America and Iron Man are ambivalent studs but their moral compasses are a lot more aligned than Batman’s or Don draper’s. I suppose Tony Stark has some issues but still…

My hunch are shows like Dexter, Breaking Bad and Mad Men have run their course. We may be entering a period where we want more ‘together’ heroes. Let the bad guys be riddled with doubt and pain.

It will be interesting, then, so see how the latest installment of Superman fares, Man of Steel. Director, Zach Snyder recently was quoted saying “Superman must be taken seriously.” Maybe so… Having seen only the trailers, I think Clark Kent won’t be vexed by the dark side; rather I think his problem will be hiding his super powers in a world that desperately needs them.

So steely…

That’s a very different dilemma than Don Draper’s. The titular ad man wants to be a better person but keeps slipping. While I most certainly can relate I’m just not in the mood for it right now. Are you?

Don could sell venereal disease to a third world country.

Next to gazing at Joan the thing I like most about Mad Men are the speeches, especially those given by Don Draper, and in particular when he’s in pitch mode. Observing Don orate in front of an expectant, hushed crowd, whether it’s Jaguar or some Podunk regional airline, is for me the zenith of this acclaimed show.

There, I wistfully think to myself, but for the Gods of Advertising go I. As a copywriter and creative director, I’ve long cherished the presentation spotlight and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Having a great idea and being its primary advocate is nothing short of a blessing. The trust. The power. The stakes. The so-damn-possible you-can-almost-taste-it glory. How can anyone resist? (Well, as it turns out many of you can. Public speaking ranks among the most feared of all human activities. Good. More opportunities for guys like me!)

We can be heroes!

Arguing for my agency and ideas is the closest I’ll ever come to a Braveheart moment. Think about it, for all the bloody mayhem in that awesome film, the only thing we really remember is Mel Gibson’s rousing speech to his troops. The same can be said for George C Scott as Patton. Or Jack: “You can’t handle the truth!” Well, hell, I want to stand for something. And I want to stand and deliver it. And so it is -kind of sort of- when I make a creative presentation. Emphasis on kind of sort of…

But still!

The adrenalin pumps. Time stops. Everything else fades from importance. In that moment, I am Atticus Finch, General Patton, Braveheart; or more likely, a poor man’s Don Draper, which, by the way, I will take any day of the week. Freedom!

Writer’s note: It is ironic AMC’s other advertising show (about this very topic: The Pitch!) has not shown us a single magnificent presentation. Frankly, far from it.

Girls gone wild!

Linking the following essay to advertising might be a stretch, but I believe one of the best exercises for copywriters is the study of human behavior. As it happens, the human behavior I’m about to talk about involves copious amounts of stretching and exercise. So, kismet!

I try and work out for at least one hour a day. (Yes, it’s an addiction but it’s a healthier one than those it replaced. Trust me.) My passion has put me in gyms, clubs and spas all over the world, whether on vacation or for business. Currently, I belong to the Equinox Fitness Club in Chicago.

This is what I’ve noticed: men work out alone and women take classes. I know it seems like a small observation. If the numbers weren’t so staggeringly one-sided I wouldn’t be writing about it at all. Yet, in every class at Equinox –and there are many- every single attendee is female. They are old, they are young; some are fit and some are not. But, save for one of the instructors, they are all women.

Conversely, just about every man in the club (including me) works out by himself. Usually, on the machines or free weights.

This is not a coincidence. As it relates to the sexes, there must be some insight into human behavior. But what? Could it be that women feel more comfortable in groups than men? If so, why? And what of men? Why do we prefer exercising alone? If nothing else, this dichotomy debunks the popular myth that health clubs are pick up joints, otherwise wouldn’t men and women prefer getting sweaty together?

Digging deeper, I wonder if these distinctive behaviors are markers for both genders. Men have always identified with the lone wolf. We have James Dean. The Marlboro Man. Even the Terminator. Men find something timeless and appealing to the rogue iconoclast. We always have. Clint Eastwood and Rambo acted alone. The darker the persona the more we relate. Look at Don Draper.

Necessarily, then, this would have women identifying with groups. Which they do: Charlie’s Angels. Mean Girls. The Real Housewives of… But women also have their share of individual icons: Amelia Earhart. La Femme Nikita. Even Flo, the Progressive Insurance gal. Like Don, On Mad Men Betty plays a lone wolf, albeit a pluckier less “manly” version. But still, she’s no “agency Betty” or anybody’s fool.

Lord knows men play on teams. Fight on battlefield’s together. Make asses of themselves in fraternities. We can relate to a band of brothers.

So, why is it that women almost universally work out in groups and men don’t? I believe it has more to do with each gender’s willingness to ask for help. In other words, the same psychology that makes so many men reluctant to ask for directions is also what keeps us out of those gym classes. Ironically, it is a defect of character (as opposed to a hallmark) but the stoic problem solver is too ingrained in our masculinity for us to behave otherwise. We consider it feminine asking for help. Especially at the gym, where our physical manhood is on display. In general, women don’t have this problem. They take comfort in unity or are at least motivated by it.

A long time ago my father told me that if I wanted to be a good copywriter I should take psychology courses (along with creative writing) in college. That and work in a bar. Good advice. Observing human behavior (the patterns and distinctions) helps marketing men and women market to men and women.

On the other hand, maybe I need to keep my eyes on the prize and not on all the kickboxing girls in yoga pants.

Mentor, from Greek Mythology

As a beginning copywriter at Leo Burnett, I had two mentors who helped me immeasurably. The first was Ted Bell, a creative director plucked from Doyle Dane Bernbach in New York. He’d made a name doing some of the later adverts in the famed Chivas Regal campaign. He and his partner, John Eding (both perhaps mentored by the great Helmut Krone) had just been hired by Burnett to bring daring-do and expertise to our agency, specifically on the Schenley (now Guinness) account. Both men did just that, reinvigorating the moribund Dewar’s campaign. Their effort (and ours) would gather many creative awards for the agency. To this day, I hold the craft of print and poster making in the highest regard. And I owe much of that to these two exemplary creative people and, in particular, the writer, Ted Bell.

The Commodore, Ted Bell

Wanting to impress my boss and/or emulate him was key to my development as a copywriter. When you watch Mad Men observe how Peggy busts her ass to impress her boss, Don Draper. It was not sort of the same for me. It was exactly the same. Working all night –hell all week- to craft one paragraph and then, heart in my throat, presenting it to Ted was everything. At the time it just seemed normal. I wanted what they had and I was prepared to go to great lengths to achieve it. And Ted and John were almost always there for me. In addition to copywriting, Ted taught me, by example, the fine art of presenting. Watching him sell work was a privilege. He owned the room. Again, I think of Don Draper.

The other mentor I was born into. My father, Larry Postaer was and still is a model creative director and consummate writer. Obviously, I didn’t work for my dad but his influence on my chosen career was critical. Among other things, my father taught me about loyalty to company and client as well as the near-sacred nature in trusting one’s team and partner. While these qualities have lost meaning in today’s creative department that doesn’t make them in any less precious.

Father knows best…

I felt if I could bring the best of Larry and Ted to the office each day I would be set. Easier said than done. But that was my aspiration and that is what mentoring is all about.

Now that it is my turn to be a good mentor I know I often fall short. Being an introvert, I am not as inclined to work with others as I should be. However, I do try. My door is always open. In a very real way, I set up this blog to help newbies in advertising get a leg up. Fact is when I write here I imagine my audience as younger than I am. Always have.

So, whatever happened to mentors? My fear is that beginners in our field are less interested in being mentored than I was. There is a Keyshawn Johnson mentality pervading our industry: Just give me the damn brief! I have the know-it-all gene in me but I was smart enough to look up to others and ask for help. Being teachable is a virtue no matter who you are or what you do but it is especially valuable to the young in Adland.

Maybe they think, Hey, I’ve got X followers and Y friends so what do I need U for? By definition, social media breeds narcissism. A less cynical view: the average 25-year-old is afraid of asking for help. Or is the average 40-year-old afraid to give it? Probably some of both. My best response is the only response: Don’t be.