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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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One of my all-time favorite episodes of the Simpson’s is about St. Patrick’s Day. The whole town of Springfield gets drunk and stupid. More so than usual. Everyone is stumbling, puking and fighting. Even the police. Especially the police. And all of them are wearing that dumbass shade of green. Only when Bart accidentally gets drunk does Springfield’s citizenry show any concern.

When it comes to drinking, St. Patrick’s Day rivals New Year’s Eve for “amateur night.” I’d argue that given my hometown, Chicago’s ‘proud’ Irish heritage March 17th is actually bigger and dumber than Dec 31st. We dye the river green!

For me, the mandatory drinking that the “holiday” requires is annoying. As is the mob scene. By 7 PM, North Clark Street resembles Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras. Rush Street is even worse.

Before you take me for a Puritan, you should know for many years alcohol was one of my best friends. We went to high school together. In college, I graduated from beer to vodka. Like playing “Quarters,” beer just seemed silly. Plus it took too long to get drunk. I took drinking far too seriously to be caught dead in some Irish bar on St. Patrick’s Day. Granted, I took drinking far too seriously period but that’s another story.

Anyway, I’m not a fan. That said here’s a clever piece of outdoor advertising from McDonald’s and Leo Burnett. Cheers!

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If you want more than luck with your copy, hit me up. Skilled and sober, 24/7 https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

 

 

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Link courtesy of Bart Smith…

Bart Smith is an old friend from back in my Chicago days. Well before I moved west Bart trekked to Seattle, where he continued his audio production company, Bart Radio. (now bartplus) Anyway, he and I collaborated on some radio scripts I wrote for Art.com, including the one linked here about Vincent Van Gogh. Inspired by a popular biography series on TV, the spots featured the indelible voice of the now departed, Peter Graves.

I’m on the record as saying 90% of all radio sucks. But of that rarefied 10% Bart produced a great many. In 25 years in this business, so far I have written only a handful of radio commercials. The Art.com stuff was a highlight. Not only did I get to tell true stories about interesting people I got to tell them in a way that was uninhibited and fun, inviting people “to bring the art world into their world.”

They say radio is the true test of a copywriter and hopefully I aced it. I’m currently doing various freelance projects (content creation and creative leadership) and would love to hear from you. This is my portfolio. And if you’re looking for great audio production and a truly supreme collaborator, look up Bart. He’ll take good care of you.

Back when I started in this business, at Leo Burnett, the agency had its share of iconic clients and for the most part did iconic work for them. None more so than it’s fabled “Fly The Friendly Skies” campaign for United Airlines. At the time, the agency had just procured rights to the quintessential American anthem, Rhapsody in Blue and in my opinion there was no finer way to advertise an airline. While United has since changed agencies and themes many times over, if you fly the airline they still welcome you to the “friendly skies of United.” They can’t let it go. And why should they? It’s better than anything they’ve done since.

Regarding technology, there are three critical plot points in the 20th century: The automobile. The airplane. And computing. For many years, nothing defined an agency better than a big car or an airline client. And Burnett was cock of the walk in that regard. Then Apple turned everything upside down.

But planes are still a big deal. And when a new campaign for one as big as American Airlines comes out, we take notice. Not like in the eighties and nineties, but still.

“The World’s Greatest Fliers Fly American,” is AA’s new theme, introduced by agency CP&B. The first thing you notice is how serene it all is. No voiceover. Just idealistic, lovely images with superimposed copy. The intent is to idealize the best in fliers, even if the reality of airline travel is anything but. Forget that today’s “fliers” wear ill-fitting sweatpants and eat stinky Whoppers from a paper bag. This campaign is a romantic myth, which, while understandable, is admittedly a push.

Still, I do like its audacious simplicity. Like a soaring eagle, the AA logo casts a shadow over the gorgeous images – the poetic titles a polite interruption. Another word that comes to mind is glossy. On gossamer wings, right?

For the most part the aviation industry has recovered from its lengthy post 9/11 slump. Many are now turning big profits. So we are not talking about saving American Airlines. But I wonder: Is this campaign enough? Will it make a difference? Will consumers change their flying behaviors or even notice at all? I’m not being coy. I really do wonder.

View the rest of the campaign in this story from Adweek.

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Hopefully, I strike oil…

I’m writing this on board an American Airlines flight to Dallas, Texas, where I will be meeting some folks about a cool project. I haven’t been to the Big “D” in a long time. Do the locals hate their town being called “Big D” the way San Franciscans loathe the touristy expression “San Fran” or New Yorkers “The Big Apple.” If so, I’m sorry. And PS: I don’t blame you.

In any event, this excursion reminded me of my very first business trip EVER IN LIFE, to the same destination, where I’d been sent to present copy I’d written for Dewar’s Scotch Whiskey. It might have been a couple print ads – I don’t recall. But I do remember sitting in first class – an AMAZING perk of working at Leo Burnett during their AOR with United Airlines.

Though its unhealthy days were numbered, one could still smoke cigarettes on a plane –in designated seats (as if the smoke stayed there!). And I smoked and drank with impunity. Wouldn’t you? Unbelievably, though our flight was but two hours and change, they’d also served us a beef roast (steaks on a plane!) freshly sliced and plated by a stewardess, who, at the time, had no problem being called a stewardess.

Needless to say, those days are over.

In many ways that’s a good thing. Smoking and demeaning titles are no less attractive at 30,000 feet. But as I look up the aisle toward the front cabin from my current seat 24D, I can’t help but have fond memories. I’d missed the Mad Men era by over 20 years but at least I’d caught a last remnant of it then.

By the way, I’m offering my mad-loco copy and creative director skills at recession-era prices. Check out my portfolio. Find me.