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Back when I first started out as a copywriter for the Leo Burnett Company in Chicago, I had been on the job only a few months when a new copywriter was hired into our creative group. Tom Coleman came to us from a small agency in Washington DC, along with his art director partner Bob Wyatt.

Tom and Bob would go on to create wonderful award-winning work for Dewar’s White Label, among other campaigns. One of my all time favorites from his “oeuvre” was this print ad, convincing young men to try Dewar’s even though research suggested most new drinkers hated the taste of scotch. Freaking genius.

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Tom had a strong personality with a biting wit. He also possessed fashion sense way beyond most young men and, frankly, just about everyone else in Chicago. (Except for maybe our boss, Ted Bell but that’s another story.) Tom regularly came to work in a suit and, if not that, always donning a jacket. Unless he was hung over or ill, he always wore a tie, usually a bow tie, and never a clip on. He cherished his weathered Cordovan loafers from Brooks Brothers. His shirts were monogrammed.

Needless to say, we road him hard for his sartorial streak. But like Dewars, Tom “never varied.” He knew he was ahead of the game and certainly beyond us slobs. Despite our wardrobe differences, Tom and I became good friends. He tried to get me to dress like an adult but unless we were presenting to a client, I dressed for comfort not success. Truth be told, even my “fancy” clothes were pretty lame. Especially compared with Tom’s.

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Tom Coleman, towering over the shallow end…

I’m writing this not to reminisce but because Coleman (as we often called him) has a fabulous and fun new book that just came out, detailing the greatest fashion missteps of otherwise smart and stylish people. It’s called, I Actually Wore This: Clothes We Can’t Believe We Bought. In it a bunch of genuinely cool people (some famous, some not) talk about the single most embarrassing article of clothing in their closet: why and where they acquired the garment and a fun anecdote about it. Each person is marvelously photographed in said item(!) by Jerome Jakubiec. As Tom wrote in his inscription to us: “It won’t change your life but it may liven up your coffee table.”

It’s a hoot, hard to stop reading and gawking at. Obviously, Tom’s “concept” is titillating tapping into our voyeuristic tendencies. But it’s more than that. There’s something intimate and warmly human about the book. With a handful of words and a portrait, you really get to know these people. How they could buy, let alone wear, these things is actually a far bigger question that it first might seem. We discover the ego’s power and the trouble (albeit harmless here) that it can get us into.

Tom once told me he was a “collector of people.” In I Actually Wore This we see the fruits of his labor. Coleman’s book is available on Amazon and likely the chicest coffee tables.

Though my wardrobe is still suspect, I write copy fashionably well: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

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A while back, in the Admiral’s Club at Laguardia airport, this youngster caught my attention. Regular looking kid, a bit disheveled in his ill-fitting blue sweatshirt and no-name blue jeans. But something marked him apart: a striped cap with a propeller on top!

Wow.

I remember thinking he’s safe here but that goofy cap would be a death sentence in the schoolyard -certainly in the ones I attended. I mean, what symbolizes dork more than a beanie with a propeller on top? It’s a nerd icon from when nerds were at their nerdiest. Spanky wore one on the ancient TV show, The Little Rascals.

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But in this day and age, an adolescent boy wearing something so silly… in public. He might as well have had a “Kick Me!” sign affixed to his back. I decided to sneak a picture -not to mock him as a person but to document the reality. I uploaded the anonymous photo on Facebook, adding my line about the schoolyard.

The comments came quickly. To my delight they all were deeply supportive of the Beanie Boy. Here’s a perfect example from a Facebook friend, Brian Collins:

I think the kid is astounding. He is wearing it with some pride. And it looks like it’s motorized. Even better. If this makes the kid happy that’s perfect. And he looks deeply engaged on the web, too. Great.

What we don’t need are any more cookie cutter kids dressed in oversized nylon football jerseys, cocked baseball caps and ratty jeans with their lifeless eyes glued to ESPN.

Go, beanie boy, go!

Upon further consideration, Brian is right. My knee-jerk reaction was shortsighted, even ignorant. The Beanie Boy is not a dork. Frankly, he’s anything but. He’s a maverick and a rogue, a lad who’s not afraid to defy convention.

Recently, I compared the typical ad agency creative department to Romper Room. I wrote: “The older I get the more I realize how important it is to stay connected with my “inner child.” The best creative people do not grow out of it when they grow up. We remain inquisitive. Lovers of fun. You see it in our bicycles in the hallway. Our dubious wardrobes. Our playlists. Our silly snapshots on Facebook.”

Indeed, defying convention is what makes us creative. I don’t want to lose that. Ever. And so, young admiral from the Admiral’s Club, I echo the words of my wise friend, Mr. Collins and the champions of creativity everywhere: “Go, beanie boy, Go!”

Author’s note: I wrote about the Beanie Boy before. For me, he never gets old.

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Hello Kitty!

I just dropped some serious coin on braces for my three daughters, which I’m happy to do because it seems like that’s what good father’s do. They provide. But then I read about this craze in Japan, where cute young girls are spending good money to make their normal teeth look bad. For a bunch of whack reasons, it apparently is fashionable and even sexy to have snaggleteeth. How crazy is that? Apparently, in Japan it is not.

Anyway, it just goes to show you how strange and different our world is. Up is down and geeks are cool and my God we just had breakfast for dinner!

We in Adland have always prided ourselves in being forward thinking, up on popular culture. But popular culture is getting pretty fast and loose, isn’t it? There are so many “in” crowds nowadays I don’t think anyone is out. Once outcasts, Gross hillbillies like Honey Boo Boo and her kin are raking it in. Talentless individuals have huge followings of adoring fans. They are multi-million dollar brands.

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Oh, Mama!

Back in the day ad agencies liked to talk about target audiences in terms of huge numbers: 18 to 34, people who make over 100K, black and white. Now targets can be microcosmic. A couple hundred people like something on Facebook and Voila! It’s a target audience. Odd minorities can find likeminded friends online. People who were reluctant to identify with a certain group now seize the opportunity. We relish in fetish.

I wonder. Can big data really mean anything when everyone is so damn unique? Yet, fashions and trends have always changed. That’s what they do. That’s what makes life so interesting, even if it is increasingly tough on advertisers. (Good thing we have so many planners to help us figure it out.)

Back to the braces thing. When I was a kid I had to get them. And I hated every minute of it. Not only were braces painful and gross but they were also considered just about the most uncool thing on earth. Now my girls were asking for them! OMG. What happened? Yes, technology made them a little less painful and gross. But still. Maybe it had something to do with all those ridiculous grills hip hop stars began sporting in the eighties. Braces became a status symbol. Now a right of passage. Like you’re a dork if you don’t have them.

Sometimes seismic shifts in coolness have obvious origins. Take bicycles and electric cars. Not too long ago no young person would have selected either, if they could have Dad’s old Honda instead. Thank you Global warming.

But the snaggletooth craze in Japan? Inexplicable. Especially when you consider that for so long the Japanese culture was known for order and symmetry. Yet there are reasons for this bizarre altering of the zeitgeist and even if we don’t comprehend them they are real.

As fate would have it, about half way through the designated time frame I was supposed to wear my braces I pried them off with needle-nose pliers. I’m not kidding. Subsequently, my bottom teeth remain crooked to this day. But maybe I was just ahead of my time. After all, in Japan my mouth is now SUPER AWESOME!

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“Make me write bad checks!”

On Buzzfeed, the Copyranter recently ran this post depicting “the violent exploitation of women in fashion advertising.” Many examples were provided, from big name fashion brands like Calvin Klein and Vogue magazine. I posted the article on my Facebook and called it fascinating. As expected, the post elicited commentary more scathing than “fascinating.” One Facebook friend deemed the examples “abhorrent,” as did countless others on the original posting.

I don’t dispute that.

But here’s why I find it fascinating. Most, if not all, the brands romanticizing violence against women were, in fact, advertising primarily to women. (I don’t know very many men who read Vogue.) Which begs the obvious question: if these ads are so abhorrent to women then why are these purveyors of women’s fashion doing them? Why is Vogue running them?

What do women want? One would think Vogue knows better than most. Like modern pornography, I wonder if there’s a perverted elephant in the room. Do more than a few women find violent portrayals of bondage, S&M and even rape erotic?

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Quincy Jones and a dead hooker?

Before jumping to conclusions bear in mind the massive popularity of E.L. James “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Not only is it a massive best seller all over the world but a film adaptation is in the works. I’ve never read the book (are you kidding me?) but I do know what it’s about. Sex. Very naughty sex. Much of it not unlike the illicit concepts being portrayed in the above-mentioned advertisements.

So, what is the truth? A possible opinion may be that those discounting such fantasies are out of touch or overtly puritanical or just plain frightened. Fair enough. Yet, I have three young daughters. I’m not especially keen on them exploring their sexuality via such extreme measures. For the record I’m not into this stuff either. On the other hand maybe violent fantasies are just as valid as any other fantasies. As George Harrison once wrote, “Whatever gets you through the night… is all right.”

A modern view might suggest that these dark themes are abhorrent regardless of being popular. Like slavery not so long ago. I think the key is whether such topics are appropriate in advertising. To be honest I’m not sure where I net out. What do you think?

“Hey, Biff. Have you seen any poor people?”

Living in San Francisco, I’ve had to watch my politics more than in Chicago. Nothing major, mind you, but I am a bit more careful dishing out vulgar asides, gritty observations and being a smartass in general. This is after all the epicenter of political correctness. When every other person is a Prius driving vegetarian one has to watch where one blows his cigar smoke. Funny this, given SF was once a bawdy, corrupt hellhole. Can you say Barbary Coast?

Being an election year adds to the sensitivities. Chicago was Democratic. Here the Blue Donkey is a religion. For what it’s worth I’ve never identified with a political party. They both frustrate me, especially now. Frankly, I could do twenty minutes on both.

However, that is not the point of this post. What I’d like to talk about is the continuing animus levied at the rich, the so-called 1%. Even though the Occupy Movement petered out some time ago, a deep-seated resentment toward the well off lingers, in particular when it comes to the trappings of success, i.e. fancy shit. These days, even the filthy rich are self conscious about it. More than ever, status symbols symbolize greed. A middle-class guy at my office told me he could never drive a BMW in San Francisco because of the derision it would evoke. Really? I see plenty. But his point is well taken.

Among other things, I wonder how all this zeitgeist bending is changing (or not) the business of advertising. How does one sell luxury cars to people who are afraid to be seen in them? Some brands try to redefine the “new luxury” as being about the pragmatism of buying well made but necessarily expensive things.

Walking in the other gal’s shoes…

A large group that doesn’t give a shit (and never has) about coming off as elitist is the vainglorious world of fashion. Ralph Lauren is rich, white and proud of it. Same with most of the other “houses of couture.” It’s like they get a pass on being socially aware. Even poor people expect Gucci to be Gucci. And love them for it. I find that interesting, if not downright odd. Don’t you?

Fair to point out a few popular fashion brands at least riff on social issues. Such as Kenneth Cole and United Colors of Beneton. Yet, I wonder if even these brands are merely playing fast and loose with edgy politics to look cool and concerned.

The hippest family evuh!