To write or not to write…

As most of you know, I’ve been traveling. Right now, I’m in sunny Los Angeles and before that I was in sunny Palm Springs. Beautiful places, no question, especially where I’ve been hanging. Yet, when it comes to writing for this blog the possible topics are limited. Bountiful sunshine is not a subject. It’s not like anyone wants to read about my hikes in the mountains or the many wonderful dinners I’ve had. (Last night salt-roasted Branzino and Broccoli Rapini. Yum!) As gratifying as all that has been it is boring subject matter -for this blog anyway. A tweet sure. But to go on is journaling and, as valuable as journaling may be to a writer, it’s deadly dull for readers.

I want to write stories I would want to read. And unless one is very good at writing or famous or both, journaling falls flat. In my opinion, bloggers that ruminate are talking to themselves. Perhaps if one decides to come clean about a murder or scintillating peccadillo….

That is not to say I haven’t found any interesting stories during my trip. Despite not smoking it, I was pretty excited about my encounters with medical marijuana. But for the most part those stories were either too personal (aka boring) or off limits because they involved subject matter I was not at liberty to discuss.

And so we come (finally) to the interesting part about this post: the mighty pull to write about stuff even though you know you shouldn’t. For example, today I was privy to a juicy conversation involving the production of a new TV pilot created by my friend and host in Los Angeles. I would love nothing more than to tell you about it. But I won’t because it’s not my place to do so. I have to temper my desire to not be boring with my desire to have good friends that trust me. Likewise, when I wrote about the controversial topic of medical marijuana I was careful not to mention the good people who had it. Those friendships are more important to me than a good story.

If you think these are easy decisions to make then you are likely not a writer. Writers want a story. Whatever the topic, we want to create buzz. The urge to discover, expose and reveal is damn near primordial. Especially when the topic falls into a sweet spot -for me advertising and popular culture. But lest I forget, I am not a journalist. Blogging does not give me license to trample private property. Peeking I will do. Flirting with danger and dark places is a character defect of mine. But if the story isn’t fiction than I must respect the rules of common sense. Yes, it’s tricky. The rules are unwritten. Thankfully, I am not navigating in the dark. I do have a moral compass, albeit damaged. So, while I know it is the M.O. of many bloggers (you know who you are), I do not wake up in the morning wondering whom or what I can reveal and expose. Better to be dull on occasion, than a dick even once.

“When it’s people doing the right thing, they call it responsibility. When it’s an insurance company, they call it Liberty Mutual. Responsibility. What’s your policy?”

And so goes the copy in this feel-good campaign for Liberty Mutual done by Hill Holiday in Boston. The films show real people stopping what they’re doing in order to help others, one after another. Contributing to the good karma in our universe. Paying it forward, as it were. While this is hardly a new idea in our culture (the Judea-Christian belief system is based on it), it is striking sentiment for communications from a large multi-national. Let me rephrase that: Lot’s of companies talk about what nice companies they are but few endorse human kindness as an operating principle. Either way, the key to this thing working is whether consumers buy into it. If Joe America believes insurance companies are a soul-crushing matrix of liars and paperwork, he is not apt to appreciate the “do unto others” approach. Or, and this is what the marketing team at Liberty Mutual undoubtedly hopes, upon receiving these heartwarming messages, Joe America will soften to the company like cold butter on a hot muffin.

Either way, I admire this creative. By going back to biblical pretext (do unto others, etc), LM has actually modernized the rhetoric. “Like a good neighbor,” is an overt claim about State Farm’s personnel, as is the “Good Hands People” for Allstate. The LM films depict a succession of civilians doing good deeds without selfish motives. Which leads to more good karma and, well, the world gets better. By calling this behavior “responsibility” Liberty Mutual suffuses their strategy with a moral imperative. I’m curious what others think about this move. Are you impressed by it…or depressed?

Interestingly enough, in my new novel, The Happy Soul Industry God solicits an advertising agency to come up with concepts for marketing Heaven or, as the angelic brand manager in the story puts it: “goodness in all of its forms.” Kind of like the LM brief, isn’t it? In my book, “How are you?” becomes the organizing principle in a new campaign for Heaven. If people are honest in their answers, they realize something is missing in their lives and that something is God.

Examine the “How Are You?” blog at Happy Soul’s website. People are willing to unburden themselves online. To be rigorously honest. Maybe people are just as open to helping others as well, and not just friends and family. But “Everyone!” as Bono often exhorts in his famously uplifting concerts. Taken further, maybe we are all looking for a higher power (of our understanding) to help us on a daily basis. Could we, as a society, be dusting off our moral compasses? The Liberty Mutual campaign suggests as much. The Hill Holiday planner clearly saw something happening in the culture, to the consumer, which could alter the category. Paying it forward became a creative strategy.

There’s a great saying in recovery houses: If you want to improve your self-esteem, do estimable things. That’s what Liberty Mutual is telling to “do” in their commercials. Is that an appropriate strategy? A bigger question: If the quest for spirituality is becoming a strategic platform for advertisers is that exploitation or an example of doing the next right thing?