Pepsi. United. Spicer.

Look at your feeds. Your friend’s and your family’s. Hell, look at mine. These three fails have dominated EVERYTHING the past few days, one following the other, aftershocks in a pop culture earthquake. I don’t even have to provide a summary. We’ve all seen the videos. Shared them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. If you turn on the news that’s all they are talking about.

And my o’ my, have we commented. Holy Hashtags! The shaming has been resounding. Pepsi is tone deaf! The “Friendly Skies” have gone berserk! Sean Spicer is a fool… or worse!

And you know what? In two weeks it won’t matter.

In some of these cases, maybe all of them, there will be a backlash of support, if for no other reason than to court controversy and/or create “click bait.” A second wave of folks will “rise up” and say what needs to be said. All ink is good ink, they will say about Pepsi’s idiotic commercial. “It became part of the conversation!” And that “doctor” who was bloodied while pulled from his plane seat? Well, it turns out he was nothing but a pill pusher anyway, convicted and defrocked. And Sean Spicer was only comparing one dictator to another. The righteous will quote Jesus: “Let him who is without sin… be the first to throw a stone…”

In the unlikely event that none of the above happens, this will: Pepsi shall throw support at various “urban” causes, proving they are not tone deaf to the needs of the “community.” Their PR will be all over it. United will codify its CEO’s janky apology with a full-page newspaper ad and a preachy commercial. They will give the mistreated passenger money to go away. Mr. Spicer will be muzzled and muted, more for embarrassing the President (that’s Trump’s job) than the content of his words.

In the end there is no end. More lunacy will occur, replacing the current noise with new louder noise. Shameful acts will occur and thusly be shamed. Then the shamers will be shamed. And so on and so forth. In the olden days of the 20th century any one of these scandals would have lasted for months. Not anymore. The modern content zombie constantly needs new flesh to tear apart. Why do you think they’re called “feeds?”

And yesterday’s chewed upon? You guessed it. They merely get up. People will still drink Pepsi. People will still fly United. And, if he’s not scapegoated into the private sector, Sean Spicer will still be the White House Press Secretary.

One final thought and it’s a dark one. We find this all terribly funny.
Maybe it’s true: “We are all Negan.”

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For copy & content creation that breaks through the noise, hit me up:


“C’mon angel, that leaked memo was pretty sweet.”

My last post on advertising agency, Cramer-Krasselt parting ways with client, Panera Bread garnered more views in one day than any other in this blog’s history. On June 13, several thousand of you read my story about a frustrated agency CEO having reached his wit’s end with a client. He’d written a memo to his staff, which had been “leaked.” For the record, the story wasn’t my “get.” I’d learned about it from a piece in AdAge. I know from experience agencies seldom let go clients let alone provide messy details. The fact that I once had unpleasant dealings with this client made writing about it impossible to resist.

Given the boffo amount of readers the post attracted I guess I am glad I wrote my story. I “guess” because although I am grateful to anyone who reads my blog, I wish I received those numbers for my other less sensational stories. I get it though. There was more than a hint of gossipy revelation (leaked memo!) in the reporting and we all know that chum attracts fish.

Controversy sells. Duh.

Not surprisingly, the second most-read story I’ve ever written was on the controversial closing of the Chicago office of J Walter Thompson. This was big news in Adland, especially in my hometown Chicago. I knew a lot of the people involved and had almost worked there myself. It too was a tale soaked in chum.

Interestingly, the third most viewed piece was nothing like the first two; it was an essay I’d written on our tendency to “front” on Facebook. I’d been seeing a lot of shiny, happy faces on the platform and was curious to explore why. I loved that story but I know the reason why it got so many hits was only because WordPress chose to “freshly press” it, for which I am grateful.

“Let me tell you about last night…”

There’s a brilliant episode of the Simpson’s where, in typically surreal fashion, Homer finds himself teaching a self-help class on marriage. He quickly learns in order to keep his class interested he must reveal intimate details about his love life. Much to his wife’s dismay the class quickly becomes the talk of the town. Things escalate. Despite Marge’s pleas, Homer finds it nearly impossible to stop gossiping about his marriage. The rush he gets from all the attention is too intoxicating. That is until everything blows up in his face.

Because I am mostly not a cartoon I cannot allow things to blow up in my face. Unlike Homer, I like my job. Therefore, I’m afraid most of my posts will continue to be about ad campaigns, consumerism and popular culture. But I am an addict and I did like seeing that massive spike in my dashboard. So you never know…

Publicity stunt, onerous mistake or both?

By now you’ve seen the new cover of Rolling Stone magazine, featuring the photographic portrait of Boston bombing terrorist, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Look again. It’s not just a picture of the killer but a kind of brooding, sexy one. The kind this magazine has been putting on its covers for decades. He looks more like a member of Maroon 5 than a despicable murderer of innocent people. The indie scruff of beard. The Jim Morrison hair. Are those bedroom eyes?

My god, they’re treating him just like a rock star.

My jaw drops at the audacity of it. It’s like a bit out of Oliver Stone’s controversial film, Natural Born Killers, where two killers become celebrities. But that was satire. A statement about society’s fascination with fame, our gullibility for people with much charisma and zero morals. Fiction. Until now…

Of course, I’m not going to buy the magazine. Ergo, I’m not going to read the article. But I’ll guess what the editors were thinking: super provocative image equals scary amounts of buzz. Sigh. Is Rolling stone so hard up for relevancy it would stoop to glorifying a cowardly terrorist to move its product? Apparently.

I can hear the brave editor now: “We are an icon of the sub-culture. Our mission is to stir the pot. We start brave conversations about challenging topics.” Or maybe he points to Time magazine’s consideration of Osama Bin Laden for “Man of the Year.” Or the New Yorker’s controversial cover featuring Barack Obama fist pumping his gun-toting wife. There are other such examples.


But I say bullshit. Time ultimately did not choose Bin Laden, dismissing him as a “garden variety terrorist.” The New Yorker’s cover was, in my opinion, legitimate satire. I would also argue they have poetic license. By showing the right wing’s fantasy of the Obama’s they were demonstrating its ludicrousness.

The Rolling Stone cover is wrong. Calling it “too soon” is too small an accusation. It’s worse than that. Rolling Stone covers are iconic for one thing: glorifying rock stars and celebrities. While they have featured controversial figures before, this portrait crosses the line. Not because of who Tsarnaev is, or even for what he did, but because of the romantic way he is being portrayed.

They want to do a story on him, fine. But if they’re going to put him on the cover don’t portray him as a lovely man. He is anything but.

Insert big joke here…

A jealous author. A disgraced General. A curvy socialite. Ah, just what the country needs after a super storm and bruising Presidential election: a juicy sex scandal! I don’t have to go into the details. You all know the story, or parts of it. The good parts. We’ve seen the TVs hanging above treadmills and barstools and in our living rooms, saw the file footage of these well-to-do’s, formed impressions, presented opinions, changed our minds, wondered what all the fuss was about while also wondering about the naughty bits: the trysts, the late night emails, the homely wife and what she must be thinking, the bad men and women who succumbed to temptation and found themselves shame-walking across the planet.

It’s been too damn long. Monica Lewinsky’s dress is in the Smithsonian or some rich pervert’s closet to be pulled out at cocktail parties, on bets or for charity. So long ago that the man who made that blue dress famous is now famous again for being dignified and stately, not the disgraced Chief of Staff who lied to his wife and a nation. That is how long it’s been since we in America have been treated to an epic soap opera like the Petraeus Affair.

More like this and maybe late night talk shows will still have a chance. As I write this Leno and Conan are force-ranking puns. For this is prime time. These are real, Real Housewives and Real American Heroes. People with money. People who served our country. Men in and OUT of uniform. Salacious. Irresistible…

Yet completely benign.

Hold on. This involved the CIA. The FBI. Homeland Security is concerned about potential breaches in our nation’s military intelligence. That’s dangerous stuff. General Betray-us could easily have passed along Pentagon codes to his mistress along with his little soldiers. We all know secrets are whispered over pillows. She strokes his trembling abdomen. He giggles about weapons of mass destruction. Oh, General, speaking of which!

Baby, you can drive my car…

Come on, people. This scandal is gossamer. While the principals are no doubt seriously humiliated, there is nothing to fear from it. If that were the case his paramour would have been stymied from writing her bio about him a long time ago. Didn’t happen. No one gave a shit then, let alone was scared.

On the contrary, we are distracted from our fears. Sublimely. For that’s what sex scandals do. They take us out of recession and war and whatever ails us. Horny famous people are the ultimate bromide. Fizz, Fizz, Oh, what a relief it is!

“Are you tickling my palm, General?”

Special Note: I realize there is a theory suggesting the scandal was teased out of it’s boudoir by government insiders to distract from serious hearings regarding military actions in Libya. This then would qualify the story as legitimate news. Until that is verified just tell me what they’re wearing!

He didn’t respond so it must be true!

I still haven’t read the comments on Agency Spy’s “story” about me leaving my job at Euro RSCG Chicago. But then a visitor to my own blog (by the name JT) had to go and sum them up for me! Thanks JT. I guess. His full assessment is posted in the comments of my last post. Look, I believe JT was trying to do the right thing. He seems to have put a lot of effort into his “two cents.” While I was not planning on rebuttal, here are my responses to the three primary criticisms levied at me –chronicled on Agency spy and summed up by JT:

1. “Steffan- you’re always pimping Altoids.” The last time I wrote or spoke about Altoids was last year, in a speech for the Outdoor Association of Puerto Rico in San Juan. It wasn’t the primary focus of the material but they had asked me to work it in. Other than that, I don’t recall any recent communications I’ve done regarding Altoids. Tell you what. Search my blog or twitter feed. If you find something vainglorious promoting Altoids send me the link and I’ll publish it with my humblest apologies. Here’s a promise: If everyone else stops talking about Altoids and me the conversation dies. Your call everyone else.

2. “Steffan- you’re always promoting your books and blogs.” I link my blogs to my facebook and Twitter account. Doesn’t everyone? If not, why not? It’s called connectivity. When I write a post it sends the link to both. In addition, within 48 hours of creating new material on my blog I’ll probably tweet it 2 or 3 times, so as to share the link with friends and followers. My favorite bloggers do the same. I try to write three new posts a week. Do the math. Seems like normal behavior to me. Otherwise, I tweet about the same silly shit you do: “Bears suck!” “Go Bears!” BTW, one of my blogs, The Rogue's Gallery is a showcase for OTHER people. Not me. The other blog, Sweet by Design gives away my latest book coupled with a contest to design its eventual paper cover and win an iPad. In none of my blogs do I make any money or try to.

3. “Steffan- you criticize other people’s work but what have you done.” Here I might be culpable. Though I mostly write about tendencies in modern marketing from time to time I do select certain campaigns and talk about them. I believe praising Allstate’s “Mayhem” campaign is the most recent example. (Full disclosure: I am working on a story about another campaign, which I will share soon.) As for personal accomplishments (or lack thereof), I stand behind what’s on our website. I also think our campaign for Valspar paint was some of the best work I’ve ever had a hand in. Still, one of the things I’m most proud of from my last job was helping to build a good, decent agency from some pretty damaged material. We became viable and competitive, a real team. That we survived the crippling recession with minimal job losses is pleasant proof we did something right. Alas, I cannot put that in my “portfolio.” It was a mortgage on my creative reputation that I was willing to make. I’d do it again.

As I’ve already acknowledged, being part of the so-called “conversation” sometimes means getting your ass handed to you. Of course I get upset at the shit people say about each other and me. But I try not to contribute to any death spirals and I most certainly do not comment anonymously. In the end, I’m forever learning, just like everyone else! So, thank you JT and anyone else who cares to read and write on my behalf. Even the haters. It’s an honor.