Logo Hustle and grind.jpg

In absence of full time employment, I’ve been working my tail off. If this sounds contradictory it is not. As any freelance writer will tell you, the hustle is as crucial as the creation. Unlike fat and maybe-happy FTE’s the freelancer must work to get work before he can work.

Ah, the hustle. It’s like the fisherman who has to both catch fish and sell them. Two jobs. Both with distinct roles and responsibilities. He rises early to fish. Stays up late to sell.

Same for me. Work the phones in the AM. Write into the wee hours. Get up and do it again. Call it hustle and flow. I’m not complaining. Just saying.

Though I am also primed for full time work, I do find rogue satisfaction in being a grinder. The hustle keeps one alert. My sonar is on. Even the glimpse of silver beneath the waves and I turn to it. Lowering my bait. Jigging for a nibble.

The writing part I know well. Am good at it. Adore it. But after composing a manifesto for this client and writing content for that website, I’m just too fatigued to tend to my blog.

I trust you understand. And if you’re so inclined, hit me up. I will most certainly deliver. Spoken like a true hustler, right?

My portfolio: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

Boy meets girl. They become friends. Grow up together. Fall in love. And when they inevitably become a couple Chase Bank is there with financial guidance to help them protect their growing nest egg. Perfectly reasonable fodder for an anthem commercial. And this one mines the territory with aplomb. Beautifully shot. Lovely music. Great cast.

Which brings me to the couple. She’s black. And he’s white.

So what? So that’s my point. For all the animosity in our world regarding race relations (the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Civil Rights Movement) here’s this white man and black woman starting a life together. A couple. Through thick and thin.

And if our society is as misbegotten in terms of race as everyone thinks it is (the alt right vs #blacklivesmatter) then this couple is in for a lot of thick and thin. Which is why I think it’s remarkable that a notoriously conservative entity like Chase Bank has brought this couple to life. It’s as if the shit storm going on in America weren’t happening at all.

Not too long ago, when I was churning out commercials for clients like Kellogg’s, McDonald’s and Miller Beer we would not have considered casting a biracial couple as leads in a TV spot. Sure, we dutifully cast ethnic people here and there in a commercial, but certainly not as lovers, man and wife. This was, to use a loaded phrase, “the last taboo.”

Was.

Now it’s commonplace to see mixed race couples in advertising. Not just black and white people. Latinos and Asians are becoming ubiquitous in adverts – as if, as I said, the shit storm going on in America weren’t happening at all. The news gives us protesters and riots. People are going to be deported. A wall built between countries. Yet, despite this turmoil, more and more advertisers are simply moving forward.

Take notice. Because while diversity continues to be a hot button issue in Adland (and elsewhere), the content we produce could not be more progressive. My belief is that the more people see these images the more comfortable they will become with them. On this side of the camera, at least, all is right with the world.

Maybe life will imitate art. And the sooner the better.

( Ready and able to provide content and creative leadership at all levels: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/ )

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.

Almost.

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.

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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.

 

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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…

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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?