At a recent all-hands meeting, I was asked about my “creative vision” for the company. I’m not sure I provided a good answer. Not a concise one anyway. Big picture my vision is the same as any sane employee: to grow, to succeed, to become prosperous -as an agency, as individuals.

This is not the first time I’ve been asked about creative vision and philosophy. Typically, my answer lined up with whatever mantra the agency I worked for was advocating. For example, at Leo Burnett it was to create brand believers with big ideas. At Euro RSCG (now Havas), it was to make creative business ideas (not just ads). At Gyro, it was to create humanly relevant ideas for B2B and technology clients. At R2I, it’s to help accelerate connections.

Whatever the hoo-ha, the common denominator is always ideas. Specifically, I want to divine the organizing principle out of every legitimate creative opportunity we have. If/when a client comes to our doorstep with inherent gravitas, social currency or the ambition to achieve those things I would expect our creative solutions rise to that potential. Put another way: Wouldn’t it be nice if we could actually talk to our friends and family about what we made at work without their eyes glazing over?! Creative that makes a statement and leaves a footprint. I want us to do that. I want us to be seen.


Adios amigo.

Dos Equis’ “The Most Interesting Man in the World” is a thing of the past. For whatever reason (one provocative theory is here), last year its agency replaced the iconic character with a younger yet sadly cruder version of TMIMITW, who quickly bombed. Then Dos Equis replaced its agency with another agency, Droga 5. And that’s that. One of this centuries best advertising campaigns has almost certainly come to a close.

The new agency will do something sort of kind of good (like the beer itself) and it won’t really matter. Dos Equis will fade into the Mexican sunset becoming once again a beer we drink on vacation or at the occasional BBQ.

With TMIMITW, Dos Equis had its pop culture moment –a moment that lasted a decade. Few ad campaigns actually move the needle the way this one did. Explosive and sustainable growth is so freaking rare. (I had similar success with the “curiously strong mints” campaign for Altoids and consider myself VERY fortunate.)

Let’s face it, most campaigns, even the best ones, don’t blow up their respective categories. Advertising, whether we admit or not, is usually about not losing ground and maintaining the status quo. Beer number one advertises so beer number two doesn’t overtake it. We all think –or should think- that our work will make more than dents. But those overblown case study results aside, dents are what happen when we’re lucky. More than that and we’re blessed.


She can’t stop looking at his nose…

A lot of us will blame the new guy for the campaign’s demise. But honestly TMIMITW had lost its interestingness some years ago. After many years of inspired copy the bit had grown stale. Nobody, not even the last copywriter, is to blame for that. When we see the joke coming and coming and coming we cross the street. Havas may have been foolishly chasing millennials by casting a younger hero but in my opinion they were just throwing up a Hail Mary. The public had already stopped being thirsty.

Adios amigo. It was fun while it lasted.

May I create some interesting copy for you?


My old agency in Chicago (EuroRSCG then, Havas now) made some noise this week by using their entrance on Grand & Wabash as a mock peep show in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Basically, the agency “dolled up” the façade to look like a seedy strip joint. When passersby looked into the “peephole” in the window they saw a trio of black mannequins tattooed with copy about breast cancer and the agency’s pledge to donate a buck to the cause every time someone uploaded content with the hashtag #HavasPeepShow.

Conceptually, I get it. What’s not to get? It’s a bait and switch, linking breast cancer awareness with a lurid tableaux dramatizing, ahem, breast awareness. On that level I will concede it’s a clever ruse.

However, when I posted the story on Twitter and Facebook, a number of my peers derided the effort calling the stunt “cheap and facile…like a fart joke.” Another wrote: “Tone deaf hipster drivel that disrespects the intended audience – the energy would be better spent on winning clients.”


Important to note these comments came from people in the industry so they know, as well as I, that Havas Chicago did this to generate publicity for itself now and hopefully win some awards later. The self-serving nature is not lost on us.

“Us” is the key word. We in advertising know too much about ourselves and are beyond cynical when it comes to self promotion – except when we are the ones doing it. It’s like the matter of scam ads. We all bitch about other agencies creating them but somehow it’s okay when we do it.

Back to the peep show. What about pedestrians? Would they take umbrage at an ad agency doing something like this or would they just think it’s a cool idea in support of a good cause? I don’t know. Probably both and everything in between. In the above photo a mother is seen walking by the display with her young daughter. As a father of three daughters how does that make me feel? Tough call. I’m pretty liberal when it comes to my kids. How about you?

Like one of the upset commenters on Facebook, my mother had breast cancer. Fought it successfully. He thought his mom would be pissed. If I’m being honest, my mom might get a kick out of this. Mom- if you’re reading let us know.

Yet another Facebook friend said this was an “ad about women done by men.” If true, that still doesn’t make it wrong. Unless it’s sexist, which is what I think the person was suggesting. So is it? Lord knows peep shows are. But does the misdirection here make it okay? Does the end justify the means?

Let them eat cake!

And so Publicis and Omnicom have joined forces, which, I suppose, is a cool way of putting it. But whatever they did they did it and like any marriage it is for better and for worse. Only time will tell.

Time will also bring us more of the same. To wit: For all their current blather about being right sized the other now-conspicuously smaller marketing driven holding companies will undoubtedly conspire, eventually, whether they like it or not. That is the only possible outcome when growth is your mandate. And in the modern, Western way of doing things (especially business), growth is always the mandate.

Precedents are manifest. After all was not Omnicom once a collection of smaller agencies? Likewise Publicis, Havas and Interpublic. Merger upon acquisition upon takeover. Agencies have been gobbling each other up for decades now. And what do we make of Sir Martin’s WPP? Everyone in Adland loves to debunk him but here we are imitating his strategy. Publicis Omnicom Groupe is but a continuation of growth at all costs.

sir martin sorrell
“Join me!”

Despite all the obvious, negative evidence (can you say cancer?) “growth” is considered equal to great. Even being eaten alive is considered a positive event. And not just for the eaters but the consumed bodies as well. Here, in Silicon Valley, the great wish of all start-ups is to be bought. It’s the same with big, old-fashioned businesses. Morgan Stanley and Dean Witter. JP Morgan Chase. Think about Kraft, General Foods, GE, Wrigley. We can name many more. They are all a collection of other companies, some not related at all. Last I checked, Wilson Sporting Goods was owned by Sara Lee. Cheese cake and tennis rackets?

Who cares? It’s growth.

Playing the devil’s advocate I must recognize the beauty of “coming together as one.” Isn’t that the promise of One World? It takes a village, right? Maybe if Israel and the Arab nations came together that age-old war would finally be over. What’s that bumper sticker say: COEXIST. “Can’t we all get along?”

You scoff. Hell, I scoff. I don’t believe in arranged marriages. They might “work” but they don’t hum. Ask FCB and Draft.


Forced togetherness doesn’t hum because it denies cultural identity –at the individual level and at the group level. Tribes do not want to be taken over in the name of manifest destiny. The only ones who (sometimes) profit are the tribal chiefs (shareholders), and when they are over and done with all that remains is the result: a big tumorous entity. Perhaps the most telling example of forced togetherness is the European Union. Has that merger worked? Maybe someday. But right now it’s something between “working” and a clusterfuck.

Mon dieu, work is sooooo boring.

You’ve got to love the French. The nation known for wine, women and song is going bonkers over the prospect of having to work for a living. Mass strikes. Angry picketing. Fuel blockades. The way they’re carrying on over President Sarkozy’s referendum (just passed) to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 years of age, you’d think the Nazis were again marching up the Champs Elysees. (One wonders, where were they the first time?) Sarkozy needs this referendum to save considerable money that would otherwise be paid out in France’s lucrative but archaic pension system. It seems like a reasonable idea, particularly given the global economic crisis. After all, isn’t everyone trying to get work as opposed to getting out of it?

In America, we roll our eyes at France’s seemingly spoiled citizenry, literally and philosophically. Here, most of us have to work until we’re 65 or older, some far longer than that. And unless we work for the government (for shame), it isn’t because we’re trying to qualify for a pension; those rarely exist for us. It’s because we need the income, obviously. But it’s also because we have a seemingly inborn need to be useful and relevant. For Americans, “retirement” means old age and old age means game over. The idea of golfing everyday or playing canasta strikes fear in the hearts of most Americans. At least, if they’re being honest. Even those who dislike their jobs are likely fearful of the alternative.

The French don’t have this “problem.” The idea is to enjoy life to its fullest -Joie de vivre!- And for them that is seldom defined by work. In America we’re always asking each other what we do for a living. The answer defines us. In France, the question is considered mildly off putting, gauche, and even offensive. In the USA a laissez-fair attitude about work is frowned on. Laissez = Lazy. Not so in France.

Do not assume I am on one side of this issue or the other. First of all, my mother was born in France and did not come to America until she was a teen-ager. Believe it or not, I spoke French before learning English. As fate would have it, I also work for a French advertising agency (Euro RSCG), which is owned by a French holding company (Havas). Even my previous employer, Leo Burnett became part of Publicis during my time there. Ergo, I’m pretty damn sympathetic to the cause.

Secondly, and more importantly, even though I define others and myself by their work I’ve lately wondered if that’s a good thing. I’ve discussed this tension over and over on Gods of Advertising. Often the debate centers on being a self-absorbed copywriter/writer versus being a good husband and father.

Had I been raised in France would this even be an issue for me? Were the criteria for being a successful man different would I have different views about working? Maybe I would be a bon vivant, looking forward to a life of leisure as opposed to mildly dreading it.