“You want a sign-on bonus and 6 months severance?
How ’bout I get drunk instead?”

A lot of you seemed to appreciate my last post about creative people and ignorance when it comes to employment contracts. I’m grateful my advice was helpful. I sympathize if it came too late. I’m also appreciative for the smart discussion that followed in the comments section. Veteran creative bigwig, Tom Messner and executive recruiter, Anne Ross covered territory I had neglected…

For instance, there is help for us. But we often avoid it. Leery creatives tend to view lawyers and headhunters with trepidation, thinking them an unnecessary expense or worse, sharks. That is not a prudent valuation of their worth. A good go-between allows you, the prospective employee, to remain clear of potentially difficult conversations that need to take place in order for you to get the best possible deal. For mid-level or senior creatives such advocacy can be a huge advantage. Actually, it helps both parties. You get an aggressive negotiator. They get a learned one. It’s fallacy to perceive them as costly distraction. They are often the opposite. Sure, in a perfect world the company comes at you with all the goodies but this is an imperfect world, especially in Adland, especially now.

A second matter I washed over is severance. In our ignorance (or is it arrogance?), creatives like to think they are incapable of failure. “Just give me the damn brief!” But bad things happen to good people. More likely the agency simply changes from the one that hired you. Your boss quits or gets axed; where does that leave you? If it happens higher up it might be a “change of control.” In either event protective measures may exist for you…

Reality check: I know many jobs posted on Linkedin and Monster are “as is.” But if you’re talking to a company about a leadership position in their creative department, it probably wasn’t from a job posting.

This brings me to my final point: we must be deserving of attention in order to receive it. You need to be good and able to prove it. If there isn’t evidence on the table, or enough of it, then you’ll need to demonstrate your potential upside to the company. How one does this is topic for another post. Suffice to say, none of the information above is relevant for amateurs, journeymen or sons-of-bitches. Well, maybe the last group gets lucky once in a while.

“The Stupor-80”

Observation during the holiday travel season: How come commercial airplanes haven’t evolved in 40 or 50 years? I’m flying on the same planes I did when I was a kid. And so are you. Yeah, some have been rehabbed, their cabins reconfigured, Wi-Fi installed, but it’s still your father’s jet plane. The last American Airlines flight I was on had ashtrays built into the seats! It was an old warhorse, the Super 80, one of the most popular planes in American’s fleet. Scratch the word “popular.” I meant common. Like Pigeons. The S80 cannot possibly be popular to anyone. Narrow, short and squat, the plane flies but otherwise is a super drag. Again, like a pigeon.

Hold on Gentle Reader, for this is not a blog about the trials of air travel. God knows there are more than enough of those. What amazes me is why gains in aircraft technology have been so minimal. Most fleets literally are your father’s jet planes… even your Grandfather’s. On the American flight I took to Palm Springs the snowbird sitting next to me said he’d flown the same exact plane to Viet Nam. And it’s not just American Airlines; most carriers employ dated fleets. I’m sure it’s cheaper tweaking old planes versus building new ones but still…

What’s even stranger is that even the newest planes aren’t that different from the oldest. I wonder why. Look at how far personal computing has gone in the same time frame, say from 1960 until now: from cumbersome word processors to an endless array of digital wizardry. Yet, air travel has stayed essentially the same: metal tube, big jets, bad coffee. Where is the Ipad of personal air travel? Sir Richard Branson is taking reservations on flights to the moon but his commercial jets are pretty much the same as any other…from 1975.

Sayonara Super Sonic!

Ironically, the biggest innovation in airplane technology, the rocket-like Concorde was deemed too expensive, too loud, even too fast (!) for it’s own good, and was discontinued October, 2003.

So, did airplane technology peak in the Mad Men era? You tell me. Next time you board a plane glance into the cockpit.

Check out all those knobs and dials! Do they not resemble the corny control panels from a 50’s sci-fi movie? Hey Flash Gordon, it’s 2011.

Let’s do the naughty ones first!

This time of year everyone is making lists: Who’s in and out? What’s hot and not? Winning and losing streaks. Brett Favre. Pop culture is a Petri dish of lists. Given that it’s December, let’s start with the penultimate list: who’s naughty or nice? Forget Santa, it is we who gush over this list. That most of us want to be on the nice list is a given. But yet we are obsessed by the naughty list, aren’t we? For without the naughty there is no line for which to measure the nice.

Judging from all the visitors and comments on my last post I should be making lists 24/7. There I chose my top advertising campaign for 2010: Leo Burnett’s “Mayhem” campaign for Allstate. Many of you liked the choice. Some of you didn’t. It’s terrific work and I stand by it. The point I’d like to make here is that by making a choice I was being provocative. And provocation is part of a writer’s job, is it not?

I’m pretty sure some aspect of list-mania is thriving in most ad copy. If it isn’t the ad probably sucks. I’m damn sure the dynamic is driving social media. Brands covet “followers” and “fans.” They want “likes” and as many as they can get. What is crowd sourcing if it’s not a compilation of choices? And is not Groupon the quintessential aggregator? Mom’s shopping list has been conceptualized and monetized. What about dad’s to-do list? Or junior’s wish list? Herein lies the opportunity.

Entities like Twitter and Groupon do it with aplomb. Advertisers are getting there. Crispin’s “Whopper Sacrifice” for Burger King is a great example: List ten friends you would ding from your Facebook and get a sandwich. There’s no coupon. Nor were they trying to build the brand. “Whopper Sacrifice” provoked people by allowing them to make a naughty list. That’s it.

Bubbling beneath the surface of their infamous Dominoes “Oh yes we did” campaign is a provocation to consumers to list what they hated about bad pizza. That drama is what fires the campaign. Without it the company would just be defending its crappy pizza.

Maybe that’s the big truth about SO-ME. Lists, for lack of a better word, fire us up. Therefore, the big question for all of us in marketing communications is how do we harness this human desire to ‘list’ in order to provoke consumers on behalf of our clients?

“I’m your favorite campaign.”

My opinion, the best advertising of 2010 is the “Mayhem” campaign for Allstate. Yes, I once worked at Leo Burnett but that just makes me happier and prouder making this choice. Besides, I like to think of myself as an early adapter to this campaign. Back in June I applauded the introduction of “Mayhem” even when others didn’t.

The others were wrong. Actor Dean Winters and his “Mayhem” character have already ensconced themselves into popular culture. And unlike other popular advertising characters (Can you say ‘Flo’ from Progressive?), Mayhem is smartly written and deftly produced. Some eight or ten spots later, not only does the campaign have legs but the work is getting better and better. Have you seen the holiday commercial? It’s hysterical.

I know there have been more famous marketing creations in 2010. Early on, Old Spice and Nike knocked campaigns out of the park. But those brands moved on. Mayhem, on the other hand, keeps on wreaking havoc, making it a big, enduring idea. The others, however brilliant, were one-offs. A solo homerun, no matter how far it’s hit, is still a one-point affair. (Granted, advertisers like Nike and Old Spice have demonstrated they are very capable of hitting numerous solo homeruns! As of this writing AOR for both brands, Wieden & Kennedy was deservedly selected agency of the year by Adweek.)

My one quibble: no Mayhem on Allstate’s website. Nor could I find any digital work highlighting Mayhem. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. After all, Mayhem is what prompts us to buy insurance not where we go to buy it. Still, if the campaign wants to become the penultimate case study they’re going to want/need some digital credentials.

The Shack wraps on Christmas

My opinion, the best TV holiday ad campaign (linked below) this year is for Radio Shack, by Butler Shine Stern & Partners. The idea is simple. Giving the right gifts can make you a superhero. My favorite executions depict various Christmas morning scenarios, whereby gift givers are transformed into mostly ridiculous super heroes, from a transformer-like robot to a flexing wolf boy. The family dog setting the Yule log ablaze via laser eyes is one of many comedic high points.

It’s not the strategy that impresses; we’ve seen it before, many times. For me it’s the execution of these spots that I appreciate. Like the DirecTV NFL Ticket campaign from Deutsch, the work achieves perfection via simple vignettes, attention to detail, good music and winning characters.

Inspired by popular films like Kickass and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, the superheroes are, as said, ridiculous. They are low on muscles but high on charm. They are laughable caricatures, which makes them and the spots loveable and not just for young hipsters but everyone. No easy feat. Being all-inclusive and funny is almost an oxymoron in today’s bifurcated pop culture. Old and young, gay or straight, minorities; everyone can appreciate these silly personalities.

Better yet, the scheme totally fits the brand image Radio Shack is trying to convey: a simple, small & fun electronics store. Competing with big box retailers like Best Buy and Walmart (let alone Amazon, ABT and others) has to be brutal. Frankly, I’m surprised Radio Shack is still around at all. But I’m glad they are. Not only is the creative entertaining, it also leads me to believe Radio Shack is a viable alternative to the crowded, chaotic and complicated experience of buying electronics anywhere else. Nice job.

View the Radio Shack campaign, courtesy of Adfreak.