I’m not sure if it’s just the people I follow, or if it’s indicative of a wider movement, but I’m receiving less ‘tactical tweets’ and more that are downright fun and interesting. By way of explanation, allow me to backtrack…

When I joined Twitter a few years ago, I quickly amassed a group of people to follow who I thought represented my interests, such as advertising, social media and popular culture. Still, I was skeptical, well aware of the criticism that Twitter was a pedestal for people who had little to say. All around me nonbelievers chided Twitter as a forum for the mundane: “I’m wearing all pink today!” or “My goldfish died ☹” Those people certainly existed. They still do.

But I quickly discovered another type of Tweeter, and while he was the antithesis of mindless chatterbox, unfortunately he was also a bore, just as self-involved as the cat and sweater people. This guy liked links (to case studies, marketing essays, gurus, wonks and even himself) and he liked lists. “Improve your blog in 5 easy steps!” Or: “Top ten reasons your digital strategy will fail.” And so on. For a while, it seemed like everyone on Twitter was trying to be Seth Godin.

At first I assumed this was Twitter, where users were either idiots or gurus. Obviously, I aspired to be the latter, and I began pushing people to those same links, lists and case studies.

Thankfully, with a little help from friends and followers, I stopped doing that. And now it seems so have a lot of people. On any given hour, my Twitter makes me laugh, provides me with valuable information and takes me places I genuinely want to go. Is Twitter right sizing and we along with it? Or is this just a lull between yet another slew of soul crushing SEO links?


The adoration of art history!

Something wonderful happened to me the other day while I was working on a freelance project: I was able to use my modest knowledge of art history in the formation of a creative idea! Yes sir, those classes I took long ago at the University of Wisconsin actually came in handy for work. As a matter of fact, we’ll be using examples from the Renaissance and other important periods in art history not only to inform the execution of our idea but also to help sell it. It isn’t everyday you see Raphael or Tintoretto in a PowerPoint presentation. But you will in ours. We even use the word chiaroscuro…correctly!

Why does that make me giddy? Because for the entire new century we’ve all obsessed about new media ad nausea, especially those of us in advertising, or whatever the hell we’re calling it. And I’m as guilty as anyone. Maybe more so.

My point is we’re so amped on whatever the new, new thing is we often forget how brilliant certain old things are and how vital. For centuries, paintings and illustrations were the primary visual media available to Man. Instead of clicking through myriad links and cable channels, man sought inspiration or entertainment from still images, the best of which were generally paintings. Earlier generations gazed upon frescoes in their church and if they were lucky got to see masterworks at a salon or museum. Granted, lewd and crude drawing pervaded popular culture but the high road was pretty damn high for those who elected to take it.

Pause here for a second…what we make is so ephemeral, isn’t it? The best marketing campaigns in the world quickly fade into trivia. Whatever wins at Cannes this year will be entirely forgotten in 3 to 5 years. Probably sooner. Our masterpieces might be game changers for our industry and even popular culture but they have no value or meaning beyond a few ad classes and even those are fleeting. Few things are more irrelevant than the 2003 Gunn Report.

Yet, I don’t want to lecture about art versus commerce or the dumbing down of society or anything like that. For one thing I’d be a hypocrite. I haven’t been to the Art Institute of Chicago in several years, and it’s 5 miles from my house. I stay up late to watch horror movies from Europe. I blog about advertising! For all my alleged culture you’ll find me on the low road often enough. I guess all I’m saying is that it felt pretty good knowing the old masters were still relevant to the creative process, mine anyway.

Yesterday, I received a missive from someone I hadn’t conversed with in nearly a year. He’d been compelled to criticize me about a Tweet I’d composed a few days prior! The offending Tweet: “So, who’s giving up Twitter for Lent?”

Among other things, the man wrote: “Steff- Who really gives a shit about what others are giving up for Lent? 

Too many posts, dude. You’re starting to get the reputation as a maker of white noise. 
Might want to be a bit more selective on what and where you post. Right message, right audience, right time, right place, etc.”

Wow. With friends like that…

I remained calm. First, I told him I don’t often use Linkedin but that my Twitter feed is linked to it. (I realize Linkedin is a professional network. To his point, personal Tweets might be out of place there.) However, I also referred him to my 1,870 followers who seem to get a kick out of my tweets. And I out of theirs. Then I mentioned my blog and its growing readership. Not monster numbers but pretty good for “white noise.” Thank you, by the way.

In conclusion I told my critical friend that I get a lot of satisfaction and pleasure out of social networking. Some pain too. But that first and foremost I believe social media should be FUN. That’s why it was created. The feverish networking and self-promotion came later.

In my view, the Lent Tweet was a fun, mildly provocative question relating to addiction and social networks. Twitter is addictive. For many of us Twitter would be the perfect thing to give up for Lent! I first saw the question asked by another person I follow. I re-tweeted it. Later I composed my own version. In turn, that was re-tweeted. My point to him: others appreciated the Tweet. It was not “white noise.”

And so what if it was? I’ve gotten way more flack pimping my novels via Twitter than from random, silly Tweets. We live and we learn and we Tweet about it all. That is the peeve and promise of social networks. Perhaps my friend would prefer more links to innocuous case studies. Frankly, I prefer white noise to white papers.

Needless to say, I did not put that last paragraph in my reply. Why? Because offering unsolicited criticism via email or social networks is almost never taken as intended. I learned that the hard way. Hopefully, now he has too.


Let’s do the naughty ones first!

This time of year everyone is making lists: Who’s in and out? What’s hot and not? Winning and losing streaks. Brett Favre. Pop culture is a Petri dish of lists. Given that it’s December, let’s start with the penultimate list: who’s naughty or nice? Forget Santa, it is we who gush over this list. That most of us want to be on the nice list is a given. But yet we are obsessed by the naughty list, aren’t we? For without the naughty there is no line for which to measure the nice.

Judging from all the visitors and comments on my last post I should be making lists 24/7. There I chose my top advertising campaign for 2010: Leo Burnett’s “Mayhem” campaign for Allstate. Many of you liked the choice. Some of you didn’t. It’s terrific work and I stand by it. The point I’d like to make here is that by making a choice I was being provocative. And provocation is part of a writer’s job, is it not?

I’m pretty sure some aspect of list-mania is thriving in most ad copy. If it isn’t the ad probably sucks. I’m damn sure the dynamic is driving social media. Brands covet “followers” and “fans.” They want “likes” and as many as they can get. What is crowd sourcing if it’s not a compilation of choices? And is not Groupon the quintessential aggregator? Mom’s shopping list has been conceptualized and monetized. What about dad’s to-do list? Or junior’s wish list? Herein lies the opportunity.

Entities like Twitter and Groupon do it with aplomb. Advertisers are getting there. Crispin’s “Whopper Sacrifice” for Burger King is a great example: List ten friends you would ding from your Facebook and get a sandwich. There’s no coupon. Nor were they trying to build the brand. “Whopper Sacrifice” provoked people by allowing them to make a naughty list. That’s it.

Bubbling beneath the surface of their infamous Dominoes “Oh yes we did” campaign is a provocation to consumers to list what they hated about bad pizza. That drama is what fires the campaign. Without it the company would just be defending its crappy pizza.

Maybe that’s the big truth about SO-ME. Lists, for lack of a better word, fire us up. Therefore, the big question for all of us in marketing communications is how do we harness this human desire to ‘list’ in order to provoke consumers on behalf of our clients?


David Byrne of the Talking Heads

I assume most of you, regardless of age, are familiar with the musical group, Talking Heads. And in particular their signature tune, Once in a Lifetime. Below are the opening lines to this pop masterpiece:

You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
You may find yourself in another part of the world
You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
You may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife
You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?

I bring the song up not because I’m a big fan of the band; I’m not. It came to mind because I caught myself thinking about the mundane aspects of my life (kids, dogs, stairs made of wood, the rain outside) and suddenly, for a split second, I was genuinely amazed by it. By all of it. And I had to ask myself: How did I get here? My God, I have three little girls. I’ve been married 20 years. I’ve read like a thousand books!

And then it was gone. Poof! And I continued walking up those stairs made of wood to my office at the top of our house. But that question: How did I get here?

I wrote it down. Then I Googled it. The top responses were all about the song. And why not? Cerebral and poetic, no wonder college kids adored it. The Talking Heads captured a fleeting but fine moment of our existence and put it to music. That simple. Once in a Lifetime is now forever obtainable on my Ipad. Such is the power of art.

At times, I think advertising –or whatever we’re calling it- can harness this power, capturing our humanity, or our dreams about humanity. And boom! We are spellbound. Moved.

Obviously, as with pop music and other art, this power is often diluted or corrupted. To use the parlance of drug dealers, the pure rock is stepped on over and over before it hits the streets… just enough to give us a taste.

We’ve all read and experienced how social media is diminishing the power of brands to tell stories. We all live on the surface now, surfing the evermore glossy and growing veneer. I’m not denying it. But what about those crucial moments, however fleeting, when we realize what a miracle life is? Thirty years ago a five-minute song nailed one. A few Yesterdays ago, the Beatles did so over and over in half that time. In 60 seconds, Hallmark and Apple and others have done it. What about now? Can Once in a Lifetime be done in 140 characters or less? Just a thought. Poof!

The lyrics to Once in a Lifetime.