Crazy good…

For the past few days, even longer, I have been working on a manifesto for one of our clients. Actually, I’ve been working on two. Even more actually, I’ve been working on manifestos for 25 years, since becoming a copywriter.

Nothing suits me more. For like many a creative soul, I am by nature a show off. And this is the way I can do it. I know I am not alone. Most copywriters get off on writing manifestos. At least they’d better. Writing such documents is at the heart of what we do, and can do, for our clients.

Most of you know what I’m talking about. For those unawares, a manifesto or mantra or anthem is the bringing to life in words the highest and most noble aspirations of its subject matter, aka the brand.

Yes, it is advertising copy but in the best sense of the word. Recall Apple’s great script to the modern world: Think Different. Consider the lines that first and forever defined Nike to a generation: Just Do It. We know these iconic tags because we fell in love with the manifestos. Frankly, neither line would have lasted this long, or even gotten out the door, if not for their beloved manifestos.

The power and glory of a brilliant manifesto cannot be overstated. They raise the hairs on the back of your neck. They make CMO’s smile. They win pitches. Most of all they change things: attitudes, behaviors, even lives.

At least the good ones do.

Alas, we’ve all heard or, God forbid, written our share of shitty ones. They can be purple or redundant or both. They get long pretty damn fast. They turn into cheesy rip-o-matics. Yet, in a weird way, even the bad ones sound pretty good. They are like pizza that way.


Because we slave over them. Into these haloed paragraphs we put everything we know or think we know about writing, about persuading, about life. Here you won’t find speeds and feeds, racks and stacks or friends and family. None of that. These are the best neighborhoods in Adland. No trespassing!

Author’s note: Because I have been busy writing a manifesto I had to refurbish this blog entry from a previous post.


Bad ass?

Over the holidays I decided to check out the True Religion store in Chicago. I was looking for something fun for my daughters featuring the brand’s telltale insignia, like a tee shirt. Though they did have one specialty item for kids (some sort of gift pack), TR really isn’t appropriate for children. That’s part of what makes the brand so cool. True Religion gets $200 to $400 for a pair of blue jeans by cultivating an “R” rating, flirting with trendy young adults, celebrities and the urban hip hop crowd. I’m guessing they get their share of poseurs as well. Anyone who lays out that much green for tricked-out denim is compensating for something.

Anyway, I walk in the store and it was like I entered a creepy scene from a Tarantino movie. This was the stage set: Three blinged-out black dudes checking out denim and five feet away a big-ass white guy staring them down. The “security guard” had a serious looking revolver strapped to his waist. Though no crime was taking place, the tableau had entirely too much edge for my liking. For Christ’s sake, I’m Christmas shopping in Lincoln Park not looking for crack on the west side! Seemingly indifferent, the pierced hipster working the counter cheerfully asked me if I needed any help. Briefly, I feigned interest in some doodad and then got the hell out of there.

Later, I mentioned the episode to a nearby shopkeeper and he was completely unsurprised. “Oh yeah,” he said. “True Religion gets robbed all the time. Thieves steal the jeans and sell them on the street for a hundred bucks a pair. The guard is an off-duty Chicago policeman.” He laughed. “They don’t even try to blend in.”

I don’t know why I was so non-plussed. I grew up in the city, in a shitty neighborhood. I know what time it is. I recall the same sort of fervor over Nike’s Air Jordan basketball shoes -kids in the ghetto killing other boys for their shoes. For a time we were told not to wear them to school. In addition, I’m an ad guy. I know certain brands cultivate a bad-boy image to stimulate demand: Harley Davidson, Grand Theft Auto, etc… As a matter of fact, I’ve worked on such brands. Depending on the category, we called it “dark marketing.” It’s particularly common in the beverage and spirits arena. Four Loco, anyone?

A thug and his pop.

But a marketing case study is academic and benign. In Power Point, we see only clever schemes and boffo results. When you walk into a situation like I did your perspective alters. You experience the brand’s power head on and feel its energy. It may be impressive but it’s not always pretty.

Tiger’s commercial: Bogey or Ace?

“It’s a fascinating, creepy document. I don’t know whether I love it or hate it,” said Steffan Postaer, chief creative officer at Euro RSCG, Chicago. “But I do wish I’d made it.”

-Yours Truly, Adage

The above quote comes hot off the presses, as they used to say, from today’s story in AdAge about the now-infamous “talking from the grave” TV commercial from Nike featuring Tiger Woods and the voice of his deceased father.

I actually made the above remark to reporter, Jeremy Mullman on Friday, half way through the golf tournament. Well, the Masters is over and Tiger Woods did not win it. Phil Mickelson did. Tiger came close. Fourth place. Shooting 11 under par. But the spot lives on, as does the buzz surrounding it. Jeremy’s latest story is but one of thousands being written and read about Tiger, the commercial, and everything in between.

On Friday I wrote about the spot, expanding on the above comment. That post garnered more readers and comments than just about anything I have ever written on Gods of Advertising.

The comments were, by turns, astute, bitter, cynical, thoughtful, and then some. But all of them had one thing in common: passion. You folks were fired up!

All because of one commercial. In the end, my comment to AdAge holds true. I do not know whether I love this commercial or hate it. But as was quoted, I do wish I’d made it. Fervently.

Can you imagine being the copywriter and/or art director who put this thing together? I’d be downright giddy. This spot is going to separate its creators from every other creative on the planet. Even if the commercial never wins a single prize (and whether it does remains to be seen), that commercial is now famous. Ridiculously famous. Everything that has been written and said about it, good and bad, is only fuel for a fire the likes of which Ad land has not seen is some time, if ever. As I said in my previous post, not since Crispin Porter & Bogusky introduced America to the subversive Burger King have we been so captivated by a TV campaign. (You could also make a case for CP&B’s Subservient Chicken but that was an Internet idea.) The Nike spot was just that: a spot. A lone 30-second TVC. (And weren’t those supposed to be passé?”) Granted the commercial has been viewed several million times online but you get my point. This thing is a phenomenon. Whether any of us likes it or not.

How do I feel about this commercial: What it says about Tiger, What it says about Nike, What it says about us? I’ve already covered that. As have many of you. I reckon the jury is still out. But as a copywriter, creative director and chief creative officer I’m absolutely certain of one thing. I wish I had done it.

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Fallen hero or Everyman?

Jeremy Mullman from AdAge called me today asking my opinion on the blazingly radioactive new Nike spot, featuring Tiger Woods. Or should I say the new Tiger Woods spot featuring Nike?

You know the film. I don’t even have to link it. Tiger stares into the camera as his deceased father’s words play over him. Dad is saying something about an inquisitive nature. He asks, eerily: What were you thinking? And that’s more or less it.

But man oh man, has ‘it’ lit up the blogosphere. Everyone is talking about this commercial. The trades. News outlets. Even the drive time jocks I listen to on my way home from work played it. They played a TV spot on the radio! Talk about viral. Talk about integration.

And that is why this TVC is perhaps the most potent ad-like object I’ve seen, heard –dare I say experienced- in a long, long time. Not since Crispin, Porter & Bogusky introduced us to the homoerotic and creepy Burger King have we experienced a TVC with so much daring.

My first reaction to it was “Wow.” Then “WTF?” I was creeped out and impressed in equal measures. I told Jeremy what a lot of people told/ tweeted/ wrote a lot of other people: I don’t know whether to love it or hate it.

And that, my friends, is the definition of provocative. It not only makes you think about Tiger Woods, it makes you think about everything: sex, morals, race, sports, integrity, death, advertising, pop culture and, yes, maybe even Nike.

There is no category at Cannes for something like this. Otherwise it would win. Have to. But “30-second TVC” does not do it justice. If anything this thing functions more like a documentary, a snapshot of our culture as it is right now, for better and for worse.

Laurence Holmes from The Score asked his listeners if seeing Tiger this way, as a flawed man, actually makes him more real, as opposed to the robotic golfer we’d come to know. The answer is unequivocally, yes.

Despite his gambling and womanizing, Michael Jordan has remained a legend. As have Babe Ruth and Mohammed Ali. Tiger was on that pedestal. But not anymore. Win or lose, Tiger has now become part of the human race. He is like your brother-in-law who fucked up his marriage by screwing his secretary. He is like you for lying about Vegas. He is like a lot of us, which means he is…likable.

I know it sounds perverse. Here’s a guy who cheated and lied and let us all down. But having fallen, he is getting back up. Or something. Who really knows?

But one thing is for sure, whereas before I admired, respected and envied Tiger Woods; now I can like him because he is, after all, no better than me.

Nike and Wieden & Kennedy made their considerable reputation by making Gods out of athletes. Now they have done one better. They have shown us God in our own image. It’s not pretty but it’s real.

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Mullman on Tiger in AdAge

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“Where’s my Ipod?”

Toward the end of Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker the main character makes a disturbing, little speech to his infant child, essentially stating he’s lost the ability to feel love for anything except defusing bombs. It’s a poignant scene to say the least. Addicted to the adrenalin high of war, the officer becomes hopelessly caught up in it, forsaking his wife and baby boy.


A lot of stories about war portray it as hell on Earth. Hence the phrase “War is Hell.” Not so many assert war is a drug. Apocalypse Now is the other movie comes to mind that took this route. Here we got the ultimate line of dialogue: ‘I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

I believe most of us at least comprehend how and why some people become addicted to booze and drugs. Those things make you feel good. Most folks also get how gambling works on the psyche, same as extreme sports, even sex. The risk and reward is tied together. It becomes irresistible. Literally.

The pull from something dire as war is another matter. The risks far outweigh the rewards, unless, of course, you believe –really believe- in what you’re fighting for. God bless those that do. But, in fact, the main characters in both the movies I’ve referred to do not. These soldiers have become obsessed with war –killing and saving blur together. For them, it truly is a journey into the heart of darkness. There is no turning back. We know this addiction will kill them. And we know that they know it too. That’s what makes both these movies so compelling and intense.

Being drawn to something that will kill you is one hell of a paradox. Yet, addiction is commonplace. Putting my own demons aside, I’m drawn to the concept for pragmatic reasons. As copywriters, when we exploit addictive properties from the brands we work on we are doing our jobs. When we actually create addictive properties for the brands we work on we achieve the penultimate. We become, if you’ll pardon the expression, Gods of Advertising.

Indeed, we make you want what you don’t need. Not just want, but covet. As in can’t live without it. Think Apple, Starbucks, Nike, Play Station, American Girl to name but a few. And while only precious few achieve indelible, cult-like status, many more obtain phenomenal success for periods of time. Fashion brands are notorious for this: Guess. Juicy Couture. Von Dutch. Either way, creating belief systems for places or things is a lot like starting a cult.

As many of you know, this is one of my favorite themes. Cults can be attractive when they’re built around dolls or smart phones. Potentially, they may also turn dangerous as when youths steal and spend precious dollars to acquire products they crave, like gym shoes. Defusing bombs in Iraq more perilous still.

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