With nearly 9 million views as of this writing, K-Mart’s “Ship my Pants” commercial by Draft FCB is a hit. Conceptually, it’s a one trick pony, and a dirty one at that. The word ship gets punned with the word shit. Over and over again.

Still, by any definition the film has gone viral, its viewers increasing by the minute. Pretty special given how many (and I mean many) similar efforts by other advertisers drop then sink like stones. Clearly, a ship-ton of people watched the film. Judging the work by sheer numbers, it gets an “A.” How could it not?

Creatively speaking, I’m not so sure. Funny or not, is it good advertising for Kmart? Will any of those 9 million viewers actually relate to and/or respond to Kmart’s underlying message? Shipping out of stock pants to shoppers who are in the store seems like table stakes. Won’t the Gap do that?

Back to the concept. To quote an ambivalent fan commenting on a popular trade blog, the spot is “funnyish.” Typical smart-ass troll. But the “ish” is a deserved barb. We laugh when the first actor says, “I’ll ship my pants.” Then a bunch of other folks say it. By the time a small boy reads the line we’re grimacing. Punishment.

Another thing, a close variation of this ‘almost swearing’ concept has already been done (repeatedly) by Orbit Gum. Cleaning a dirty mouth.

This being the age of iteration, we tend to overlook such issues. Case in point the California Powerball campaign discussed HERE last week. Still, the Orbit work was literally the first thing I thought of when I saw the K-mart spot. I don’t want to be thinking about another campaign when viewing new creative.

This brings me to my last point. Insiders like myself are quick to judge (often harshly) the work of certain hot button accounts and, in particular advertising agencies. Draft FCB is at the top of this list. Which is unfair. The makers of this commercial don’t deserve negative scrutiny. They did interesting work, delivering impressive results. We should all be this shippy.

Update: Spot going on TV. http://adage.com/article/news/kmart-s-sophomoric-ship-pants-video-air-tv/240934/

The “comfortable” agency? More like comfortably ahead.

You’ve got to hand it to agency McGarry Bowen. They just keep winning business. After reeling in a big piece of the Sears account a couple weeks ago they followed it up this week by catching all of Burger King.

Not to kill the fishing metaphor but this monstrous haul is no fluke. McGarry Bowen has been on a winning streak for years. Maybe even since their inception in 2002. According to Wikipedia, in 2008 MB was the largest independent advertising agency in New York. Clearly, those numbers will have to be revised.

The paint was hardly dry in its Chicago office (2007), when they began pulling in account after account, namely from Kraft Foods and often at the expense neighboring agencies, including mine. It seemed they were winning new business every week, and this during the height of the recession.

What gives? Was this seemingly innocuous babe born of the devil? Not likely. Lord knows there’s nothing naughty about their work. Even their relatively edgy “Don’t be Mayo” campaign for Miracle Whip was pretty straightforward when you got right down to it: vignettes, music, supers. Old school.

And indeed principals, John McGarry (Chief Executive Officer), Gordon Bowen, (Chief Creative Officer) and Stewart Owen (Chief Strategic Officer) are as old school as they come: Y & R guys from New York. In addition, many on the management team in Chicago grew up where I did, at Leo Burnett. All these guys are old enough to remember The Brady Bunch and the ads than ran on it. Who said advertising is a young man’s game?

John McGarry: “Dag Nabbit, I’m good!”

So, what’s their secret? I know CEO’s from every agency in America are dying to find out. I’ve heard some theories, one being that the founders are totally committed to relationship and brand building, notions that most every other firm considers antiquated and even trite. Are they? Here’s what the inimitable George Parker had to say about it on his controversial and popular blog, Adscam/The Horror:

“Perhaps all the fucktards out there (aka Big Dumb Agencies) pontificating about how they are social douchnozzeling and friending, tweeting, liking, whatever, should wake up and realize that having gone around the track a few times on all this communicator – conversationnozzle – shit… What they (clients) really need is a fucking ADVERTISING AGENCY!”

For the entire new century the hippest agency on earth has been Crispin, Porter & Bogusky. And rightly so. Their winning streak of both business and creative awards was unsurpassed. (I even called them the Doyle Dane Bernbach of our time.) Until now. Whether I was right or wrong, CP&B lost the Burger King account to McGarry Bowen.

Does this signify a changing of the guard? If ever two agencies were polar opposites it’s these two. Avi Dan, in a piece for Forbes, stated,

“maybe post-recession clients are not in a gambling mood. McGarryBowen is the ultimate safe choice. Sort of the advertising version of “Nobody ever got fired for hiring IBM.”

I’m not going to editorialize; I admire both agencies. But I’m pretty sure only one of them is hiring right now. My take: MB and CP&B balance each other out. Like yin and yang. Maybe shops versed in both schools are where it’s at, places like Goodby and Wieden.

Scene and be seen: Une soiree Majestik Hotel

So, I was heading to the Palais des Festivals for the awards ceremony honoring radio, media and outdoor Lions, when I noticed a cocktail party taking place on the swank, poolside terrace beside my hotel. Not being a drinker, I could care less about the open bar; it’s the people that make these things work.

And man, did I see people. Kraft Foods was hosting a gathering to honor one of their guests, who was featured at one of the better-attended events at the Palais, none other than the famed auteur, Spike Jonze.

For those unawares, Jonze directed Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and more recently, Where the Wild Things Are. Two of these films are in my top twenty of all time and all three are universally regarded as brilliant. In addition to revolutionizing music videos, he’s also made numerous groundbreaking films for our industry, including one of the best commercials ever created, Ikea Lamp, which garnered every award possible the year it came out, not the least of which a Grand Prix at Cannes. This year he has a 30-minute film in the show about robot love. The piece can be viewed here: Spike Jonze Film \"I\'mheremovie\"

Confession: Hours ago I played courier in a futile attempt to deliver my novel, The Happy Soul Industry and screenplay to his hotel. Yeah, I know, a total mook move. But a guy can dream…

Along with Mr. Jonze, attending the party were Bob Jeffries, Howard Draft, Dana Anderson, Ron Bess, Jonathan Harries, David Jones, Mark Figliulo, Abbey Klaassen, Diane Jackson, Lisa Wells, Tony Weisman, Edie Weiss and leadership personnel from USA Today, Hyper Island, MJZ films and countless other Ad Land movers and shakers. To appropriate a phrase from high school: it was like the C-Suite “on acid.”

Needless to say, I missed the awards ceremony. But that’s the thing with Cannes. Everywhere you turn is an existing/potential boss, partner, competitor, or client and, most importantly, mentor. To meet some of these people, however briefly, is a privilege. And besides, even if Spike Jonze has little interest in my book, I can now say I had a meeting with him!

To view a wide selection of Jonze’s work: Spike\'s ouevre.

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I was honored to judge the Philadelphia ADDY Awards this weekend. While I did not get to see much of the city I did view a mess of advertising and assorted marketing communications. As is usually the case, this show had a few remarkable pieces, some that were god-awful and lots in between. As far as the winners are concerned, I took a vow of secrecy. I will say the judges were fair and fairly unanimous. The hot category was multi-media, with several fine examples of guerilla and experiential work. Numerous high marks given there.

Refreshingly, I saw no dubious work i.e. potential scam ads. That’s saying something. Indeed, I heard the ‘radio’ we’d just judged in a cab and saw various billboards that were in the show on the highway. In other words: IT WAS REAL! Kudos to the Philadelphia advertising community for their integrity and to Alan Tempest of the Philly Ad Club for putting on such a solid, straight show. The PAC should also be commended for assembling a diverse panel of judges. Of five, three were black. I wish I didn’t have to write how unusual that is.

I’m always amazed by the amount of mundane work that gets submitted to advertising award shows. Here was no exception. For example, we saw many TV commercials featuring little more than a voiceover reading strategy over pictures of the product. No concept. Zip. I realize the world is full of such advertisements. But in an awards show? This I don’t get. Why would an agency or client submit work (paying entry fees and filling out forms) that has absolutely no chance of winning a prize? Every creative director knows the criteria for award-winning material, even if they don’t produce much of it themselves. Don’t get me wrong. Doing so-so work isn’t a crime and neither is entering it into an awards show. It’s just dumb. Yet, I’ve never judged a show (local, regional, national and even global) where the vast majority of entered material wasn’t mediocre.

My agency does plenty of work that isn’t outrageous or remarkable. (I’m not apologizing for it; I’m just being honest.) But because of knowable, rigorous standards in judging criteria, we don’t enter it into awards shows. There is a vetting process. We do not want to waste money or embarrass ourselves. When determining entries, we look at our work with hypercritical eyes. We make many kills.

Therefore, when I see an ad entered into competition that features stock images of people shaking hands or staring into their computers accompanied by copy about “state-of-the-art business solutions,” I say loudly and profoundly: What were they thinking?

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