From dickhead to sainthood…

Thank you, Adweek. I’ve been waiting for something like this. A truly original idea based on a deep and meaningful insight – as opposed to all the farfetched click bait (so-called “weirdvertising”) or, conversely, heavy handed content pushing social causes. So much modern advertising is about riding a pop culture wave, grabbing attention with glib shininess, or bludgeoning us with kumbaya kindness that I’ve almost forgotten what a solid piece of creative looks like.


For me, the Martin Agency’s campaign for Donate Life is that concept. One can be redeemed by donating vital organs after death. So simple and yet so compelling. Whether you’re religious or not, the eternal theme of redemption burns within us all. We want to be good people and do the right thing but we always fall short. Some of us more than others but nobody’s perfect. By agreeing to donate our organs after death we are doing something sublime, ending on a high note if you will – a divine benefit we can enjoy right now.

The film depicts “the world’s biggest asshole” being one to anyone and everyone around him: hijacking a washer at the laundromat, honking at the handicapped, shooting at a neighbor’s pet, even stealing candy from children. Mean and misanthropic, bereft of all decorum, Coleman Sweeney was the picture of ugly self will run riot. Until he dies, unexpectedly of an aneurysm while trying to gyp a waitress in a diner. Even more unexpectedly the waitress discovers he’s an organ donor from his driver’s license. “Nobody knew what caused Coleman to do it,” the voiceover tells us. “But there it was. Generous and majestic.” We then see the various beneficiaries of Coleman’s grand gesture – a father of two, a school teacher, a wounded soldier. AVO: “Yes, in life Coleman was a bonafide asshole… but in death… he was not an asshole anymore.”

Is the film too long? Perhaps. Is it a tad over-written? I think so. Do we hear the word “asshole” more than is needed? Yes. And is that Coldplay? But those are qualms. The idea is transcendent. Fresh, vital, and human to the core.

Some creep redeems himself by being an organ donor. Boom.

Coming up with this concept must have felt like winning the lottery. If it were me my hands would’ve shook. I’d write the script in a fever, maybe overwriting out of excitement. I’d be so keen to show my boss, the client, the director that I wouldn’t sleep the night before.

But there I go making it about me. My problem is I’m too self-absorbed. At least now I know how to redeem myself, thanks to this wonderful commercial.


Time for a new campaign…

The headline in AdAge: “Miller Coors Distributors nix planned Leinenkugel’s campaign.”

It’s a story as old as the advertising business, though less common now than it was in the 80’s, when distributors, wholesalers and franchisees held significant power over even CMO’s. And no categories felt it more than QSR (fast food) and spirits, especially beer. (Car dealers had their own version but that’s another story.)

Silverbacks and students of Adland might remember the  burger and beer wars. Rivals like Burger King and McDonald’s duked it out for market share, often quite publicly. Ad Agencies battled for their client’s supremacy like the loyal henchmen they were. And with Mafioso bravado, if a brand teetered from it’s position, the agency’s campaign and its creators were the first to get whacked. In this way, agencies became heated rivals as much as the companies they represented.

Fighting over AOR status for one of these clients was equally vitriolic. Back in the day, DDB and Leo Burnett fought ceaselessly over the McDonald’s account. Anheuser Busch pitted its agencies against one another for sport. In both cases, ketchup and beer spilled like blood.


Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 5.27.18 PM
Screen grab from the good old days…


Here we have a remnant of that skullduggery. My guess is the distributors wanted a more predictable, macho approach to “their commercials” than what San Francisco shop, Venables & Partners came up with, which features a quirky group of Wisconsinites playing an impromptu version of Boston’s “More than a Feeling” on a lakeshore up north in the Dairy State. The tag: “Welcome to the Leinie Side.”  (You can watch the commercial in the AdAge Article here. )

Is it the best commercial ever? No. But it has an understated, shaggy charm that I think fits the brand to a “T.” I like the spot. Moreover, I think young adults would have to. If Leinie’s mission, under the glaring watch of Miller Coors, was and is to expand the brand’s popularity nationwide this funky take on Wisconsin hipsters (such as they are) probably makes a lot of sense. The spot has a light touch. And, who, if only secretly, doesn’t love Boston?

I’m guessing the Goombah wholesalers demanded hotter chicks, more jocks, and club music. That or a blue collar Wisconsin, more about hunting, fishing and campfires – a linear evolution of the family heritage campaigns Leinenkugal’s did for years before selling (out) to Miller Coors.

Rightly or wrongly, the dealers won. We can only morbidly wait to see their “fix.” It’ll probably look a lot like this:

An older spot, ripe with obvious…


Why are client’s so difficult?

Those of us in the creative department have asked the question so many times it has become rote. Clients are difficult. Period. Especially when it comes to buying and approving work. We expect them to demand changes to the concepts, to the script, to the voiceover, to the scene, to the CTA, to the size of the logo and so on.

We have become uncomfortably numb. We expect our work to be criticized. So much so the creation process has “revisions and changes” baked right into it. Furthermore, we are told –indeed, I’ve said it myself- if we were in our client’s shoes we’d do the same thing.

But you know what? That’s bullshit. I am far from perfect but I am usually an accepting and grateful client. When I hire someone to do a creative job –be it a director or an architect or whomever- I never give him or her the kind of scrutiny that is typically given to me or my team. At home a contractor shows me some designs I tell him which one I like, we discuss time and money, and I pay the man. This even when things are late and over budget, which they invariably are. Once in a while I have a question or an honest mistake has been made. We address it. Done. On to the next. Even though it’s my money I am seldom a dick.

Chances are you’re the same way.

So, why are advertising clients so difficult? Why all the concerns, tweaks and rejections? I think the answer is fear based. CMO’s and their get are terrified (sometimes understandably) of losing their jobs. Often their counterparts at the agency feel the same way. Every tree we plant must bear fruit. Or else! With all that pressure it makes me wonder how they (or we) even get up in the morning.

Yet the resulting behavior –hacking at the tree- absolutely guarantees the tree will be barren. Or its yield will be paltry. In the end death by a thousand cuts is no different than doing nothing at all. Either way, the very thing one fears happening… happens. The team is blown up. Another CMO is brought in and in turn another agency. The process begins all over again.

Creating campaigns is thrilling. Yet, their potential is and always will be unknown. Hence the thrill. No one can be sure how an audience will react to an idea until the thing is out there. What makes a client nervous might very well be be what makes the idea truly great. We all know the story behind the world’s greatest advertisement, Apple’s “1984.” When it was screened to dealers everyone except its creators and Steve Jobs hated it. The agency, Chiat Day was asked to fire-sell the media, which happened to be two slots on the Super Bowl. One insertion was not sold. The spot ran. And the rest is history. Granted the follow-up commercial, “Lemmings” was an abject failure. Still, was Apple really hurt by it? No. Being reckless and cavalier has never hurt the brand. Frankly, Apple could stand to be more brave. Again.

Instead of ‘why are we so afraid?’ Let’s ask ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ If it doesn’t work as planned we try something else.

Were it that simple, right?


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.


Gaga did good…

Outside of picture-perfect weather and a truly beautiful performance of our National Anthem by Lady Gaga, little about the Super Bowl was amazing.

Unless you’re a fan of crushing defense (which is something), everything about the game was… okay. It was a sloppy, penalty-ridden affair, periodically fun to watch and technically competitive. The score was close. Both defenses were good. Denver’s was outstanding. Peyton Manning “The Sheriff” got to ride off into the sunset with a Super Bowl win. He’d be insane to come back. But staying home and making hokey commercials could easily drive him back onto the field. I don’t care one way or the other. Do you? Sometimes nice guys don’t finish last.

So that was the football. What about the rest of it i.e. the commercials and the halftime show? Again, the word “okay.” Coldplay, Beyonce and Bruno Mars were slick, watchable and, frankly, forgettable. Folks in the Bay Area grumbled that it should have been local artists, Metallica that did the show. According to reviews, the band killed it “The Night Before” at AT&T park. This would have to suffice as the only controversy surrounding the halftime show. Given the NFL’s tumultuous year (concussions, deflated footballs, domestic violence), I’m sure they were delighted by an “okay” show.

The advertising had no outstanding entries, excellent or terrible. Lots of celebrities and talking animals. Again. The “Wiener Dog” commercial for Heinz was cute. An Audi spot had the added gravitas of featuring David Bowie in its soundtrack. Jeep gave us a nifty hashtag with #4x4ever delivered on the back of a rambling anthem for their vehicles. Doritos iconic triangles were sky-written across San Francisco’s azure skies. Clever. There was a dancing monkey-human baby. Whatever.

Not just dogs – wiener dogs!

Honestly, I was somewhat bummed there were no truly awful commercials, though the preponderance of bizarre medicine spots grated. I mean a stomach puppet? Honorable mention for sucky goes to the specious argument put forward by Scientology –something about it being the intersection of spirituality and technology. Scientology is neither. Still, the commercial came and went. Hating on it more would be like beating a dead horse.

All in all, the SuperBowl was damn okay.