Me (pic 1), Blake Ebel (pic 4), Euro RSCG volunteers and the kids of OTSC -live and in cardboard!

My previous post explains the Who, What, When, Where & Why. As these photos demonstrate, the event was both successful and fun!

VW advertising: Inspired vs. Inspired lunacy

Volkswagen is in review. Either the churlish magicians at Crispin Porter & Bogusky ran out of spells (doubtful) or VW’s brand managers ran out of patience (more likely). Here is a quote from their VP of marketing, Tim Ellis pulled from Adweek:

“The Volkswagen brand needs to inspire our base of enthusiasts as well as reach out and captivate those in mainstream America. Therefore, we are re-evaluating all areas of our business, and after careful considerations have decided to take the necessary steps to ensure we have the right agency partner in place.”

For their part, CP&B provided a polite good-bye, citing their policy not to defend in reviews. Bully for them.

Forgive me the following cliché’ but “Yada, yada, yada.”

This is not the first time a red-hot agency came, made its mark on VW, then left. We all know the history. Doyle Dane Bernbach changed advertising forever by calling the VW Bug a “Lemon” in an advert. Dozens more iconic print and TV ads followed. This was a big deal for both parties but mostly (and somewhat secretly) it was a big deal for the agency. When the buzz died so too did sales. And so began a rollercoaster ride for the automaker that has continued to this day, of dizzying highs and demoralizing lows.

VW has got to be the most underachieving car brand in the world. Always flirting with being great but never achieving it. VW is like someone’s troubled big sister: sexy, beautiful, well heeled, but she just can’t get her act together. Always in the conversation but never in the driveway. What’s her problem? She has everything going for her. Poor girl. What a shame.

You’ll notice I keep referring to Volkswagen as a “she.” That’s because it’s a female brand, unmistakably feminine. And that just might be the problem. VW is German. And Germany is masculine…very, very, very masculine. How does the brand reconcile the two? My opinion, it doesn’t. Hence the metaphor of one’s confused big sister. Can you say bi-curious?

VW has always adored creativity. Hence all those fun ads from DDB, Arnold and CP&B. But America has trepidations about this girly German. The ads draw us to her but then we, too, get confused. Guys won’t (can’t?) buy Jettas and Pissots and certainly not the Bug, with that silly flower holder by the dash. Das Auto looks like a lady! Clearly, not enough women buy VWs either. I think they’re just as puzzled by the brand.

Whichever agencies participate in the review better not get hung up on the brand’s notorious advertising past. They and Volkswagen would be better served delivering a message of stability and integrity. The hipster stuff is just making everybody nervous.

While you’re musing on the sexual orientation of Volkswagen, check out the fascinating anthem below. Somewhere inside it lurks both VW’s problem and solution.

Steff on Twitter

lunch pic
Pass the salt you hack…

How many times do you actually go to lunch with people from your team? Back when, I think my creative group ate out together almost every day. Often these were raucous affairs, with between 4 and 6 men crammed in a booth. Sometimes even more. They were not alcohol-fueled affairs, so no wine and roses nostalgia here. What I’m talking about is camaraderie in the creative department, with a lynch pin being the group lunch. In a way our noon sessions reminded me of the movie Diner, everyone busting each other’s chops, reiterating agency intrigue and debating the office beauties. If many of us were competing on a specific project at work, we were usually able to let all that go.

When assessing copywriters and art directors, I like to talk about the “creative athlete:” those men and women who are fit to create, execute and sell top quality work on a consistent basis. There’s a physical component to doing it well. In addition to being aware and smart one needs to be fit, suited-up, and ready to play. Group lunches played into that idea, fostering a corps de sprit that usually translated into better group dynamics and a better creative group in general. Lunch in lieu of the locker room.

Today a typical lunch for me consists of a quick bite at my desk. Not only am I eating less food I’m doing it alone and in a matter of minutes. When I do go out it is primarily to interview a job candidate or something similar.

Even if I still write copy (player), I’m primarily a creative director (coach). I get that I’m probably not supposed to hang out with my team anymore. After all, I’m the boss –the guy they want to talk about! I also know certain creative folk are solitary by nature. I possess that gene as well. Even so, I love it when I see my staff going out in packs, laughing as they pile into the elevators, heading for this diner or that bar. I think it’s a sign of a healthy creative department, if not a fit company.

Less is more in advertising

If you thought the now-infamous Red House Furniture commercial was controversial and bizarre (it was) wait until you watch this little ditty from Argentina. It does to boy/girl what Red House did to black/white. I don’t want to play spoiler but this seemingly innocuous bank commercial takes a gender-bending turn that, frankly, is an absolute first in the annals of advertising. Take a look and then let’s come back for discussion.

Aye Carumba! Dude look like a lady! Or is it the other way around? It isn’t necessarily the topic that shocks us… but in a bank commercial? And what’s more remarkable is how perfectly straight (no pun intended) they play it. Produced with utter sincerity, it is identical to a Hallmark card commercial.

The plot is ripe with subtext! Who is Mr. Lopez – brother, former boss, best friend? What did he to the hero(ine) that required making an apology? And what about the gift he gives to her? A porcelain ballerina, it must be symbolic of something, perhaps little girl fantasies finally being realized?

The tagline attempts to make sense of it all: “Your life changes when your bank is disposed to change.” So, let’s see if we got this right. Banco Provincia is advertising its progressive policies with regard to lending by giving a loan to a transvestite. Conceding the bank’s corporate heart is in the right place, why on earth does a person’s sexual orientation or body type matter when providing a loan? As long as clients have collateral what’s the difference? Sure, banks are historically conservative but not to money. On the other hand, if the bank had given him/her a loan in order to have a sex change that would at least represent open-mindedness with regard to lending money. But in this spot the lady opens a hair salon.

I think this commercial is weird. I can’t imagine writing or approving it. Still, you have to give it points for chutzpa. In a macho nation like Argentina, it took “balls” to make a spot like this.

Note: Special thanks to Adpulp for finding this commercial.

Excuse me, Ellen but this is the men’s locker room.

There’s a health club in the basement of our agency, of which I am a thankful member. It’s super convenient, inexpensive no-frills place to work the bagels out of your butt and the office politics from your head.

Lately, my favorite time to work out has been around 3 PM, after the lunch crowd is gone. That way I get back to the office at 4PM, feeling revitalized and inspired. It’s kind of like creating a second 10AM vibe toward the end of the day.

Here’s the problem. In the men’s locker room the TVs are always playing soap operas and female oriented talk shows. Loudly. Annoying by any measure but in a men’s locker room? Needless to say, the sets are mounted too high to turn off.

Come 3 o’clock it’s the Ellen DeGeneres Show. Nothing says good workout like a middle-aged lesbian dancing to pop music. Back in the day I liked Ellen. I thought her sitcom with Jeremy Piven was better than most. I even applauded her coming out. But this talk show thing? In terms of vest-wearing lesbian star-schmoozers wasn’t Rosie enough? Why do the women in her audience shriek so much and for so long? It’s a talk show, for Christ’s sake. A few jokes. A few guests. The turbo-charged laugh track to Icarli (I have three daughters don’t get me started.) is less painful.

Folks, I’ve witnessed naked men throwing jocks at Ellen during her trademarked opening dance.

Apparently the TVs in the men’s locker room are connected to the women’s so we watch what they watch, like it or not. For whatever reason, regardless of complaints (and thrown underwear), the girlie programming wins out every effen day.

Unfair and annoying but that is my reality. Ellen has watched me undress for over a year.

Relevance here? A vague lesson is bad targeting. But mostly it’s an opportunity for me to vent. OMG! Venting? I’m turning into a bored mom.