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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: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

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Back when I started in this business, at Leo Burnett, the agency had its share of iconic clients and for the most part did iconic work for them. None more so than it’s fabled “Fly The Friendly Skies” campaign for United Airlines. At the time, the agency had just procured rights to the quintessential American anthem, Rhapsody in Blue and in my opinion there was no finer way to advertise an airline. While United has since changed agencies and themes many times over, if you fly the airline they still welcome you to the “friendly skies of United.” They can’t let it go. And why should they? It’s better than anything they’ve done since.

Regarding technology, there are three critical plot points in the 20th century: The automobile. The airplane. And computing. For many years, nothing defined an agency better than a big car or an airline client. And Burnett was cock of the walk in that regard. Then Apple turned everything upside down.

But planes are still a big deal. And when a new campaign for one as big as American Airlines comes out, we take notice. Not like in the eighties and nineties, but still.

“The World’s Greatest Fliers Fly American,” is AA’s new theme, introduced by agency CP&B. The first thing you notice is how serene it all is. No voiceover. Just idealistic, lovely images with superimposed copy. The intent is to idealize the best in fliers, even if the reality of airline travel is anything but. Forget that today’s “fliers” wear ill-fitting sweatpants and eat stinky Whoppers from a paper bag. This campaign is a romantic myth, which, while understandable, is admittedly a push.

Still, I do like its audacious simplicity. Like a soaring eagle, the AA logo casts a shadow over the gorgeous images – the poetic titles a polite interruption. Another word that comes to mind is glossy. On gossamer wings, right?

For the most part the aviation industry has recovered from its lengthy post 9/11 slump. Many are now turning big profits. So we are not talking about saving American Airlines. But I wonder: Is this campaign enough? Will it make a difference? Will consumers change their flying behaviors or even notice at all? I’m not being coy. I really do wonder.

View the rest of the campaign in this story from Adweek.

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Hopefully, I strike oil…

I’m writing this on board an American Airlines flight to Dallas, Texas, where I will be meeting some folks about a cool project. I haven’t been to the Big “D” in a long time. Do the locals hate their town being called “Big D” the way San Franciscans loathe the touristy expression “San Fran” or New Yorkers “The Big Apple.” If so, I’m sorry. And PS: I don’t blame you.

In any event, this excursion reminded me of my very first business trip EVER IN LIFE, to the same destination, where I’d been sent to present copy I’d written for Dewar’s Scotch Whiskey. It might have been a couple print ads – I don’t recall. But I do remember sitting in first class – an AMAZING perk of working at Leo Burnett during their AOR with United Airlines.

Though its unhealthy days were numbered, one could still smoke cigarettes on a plane –in designated seats (as if the smoke stayed there!). And I smoked and drank with impunity. Wouldn’t you? Unbelievably, though our flight was but two hours and change, they’d also served us a beef roast (steaks on a plane!) freshly sliced and plated by a stewardess, who, at the time, had no problem being called a stewardess.

Needless to say, those days are over.

In many ways that’s a good thing. Smoking and demeaning titles are no less attractive at 30,000 feet. But as I look up the aisle toward the front cabin from my current seat 24D, I can’t help but have fond memories. I’d missed the Mad Men era by over 20 years but at least I’d caught a last remnant of it then.

By the way, I’m offering my mad-loco copy and creative director skills at recession-era prices. Check out my portfolio. Find me.

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The bewildered gather…

I did not think I would ever write a blog post about something so cliché as a terrible airline experience. Griping about shitty airlines on social media –not me.

Yet, the debacle I am currently enduring regarding United flight 466 to Denver is so epic in it’s awfulness that if I don’t detail it here it will form a cancer inside me. Besides, I’m waiting in an emptying concourse. What the hell else am I going to do? I’ve already eaten a $5 dollar M&M cookie from the newsstand as well as imbibed a Monster energy drink. Currently, I’m sitting in an abandoned wheel chair staring out the window at my sick aircraft being operated on.

Look. I get that planes have mechanical difficulties. I comprehend the myriad issues that come up during air travel. Like you, I’ve slept on dirty carpet waiting for a Z-grade flight out of Mexico. Like you, I’ve endured projectile vomiting from ill children. Like you, I’ve said my prayers during extreme turbulence. And so on.

But the clusterf–k that United put me and my fellow travelers through goes beyond the pale; not so much because of the delay (4 hours and counting) but because of the carrier’s incomprehensible stupidity and, in my view, duplicity. More than anything, the lack of communication and the questionable nature of what little we were told is why I am writing this post.

The gory details: Flight 466 was scheduled to leave SFO at 5:39PM, Sunday night. At 6PM, no plane is at the gate. The first announcement states our plane is coming from a hangar somewhere near, it’ll be here in 15 minutes. Half an hour goes by and still no plane. When the aircraft does arrive, for some reason we are not allowed on it. Unexplained delay ensues.

We board. Once in the tube it becomes clear there is no room for luggage in the overhead compartments. Everyone is paralyzed. The dimwitted staff does not know what to do, like this mess is totally foreign to them. One barks at us standing in the rear to turn around and head back to the front, to check our bags. However, no one in the front gets this message, creating a jam of irritable and confused people, myself included. Before this matter is settled, I will have lost my temper. None-the-less, we finally sit. And sit. And sit…

30 minutes goes by yet still no movement from our plane. Eventually, the captain reports over the intercom that we’re waiting for something but he’s “not sure what it is.” When whatever it is finally arrives, he jokes about the miracle of flight and pushes off. We are now 130 minutes late.

Half way to the runway the plane stops. The captain gets back on saying “you are not going to like this but that we have to go back to the gate.” No reason is given. But he’s right about not liking it. I begin Tweeting my disapproval and soon receive hilarious and useless Tweet-pologies from United. To the drone working UA’s Twitter feed I reply #fuckyou

When the plane arrives back at the gate we sit in silence, engines off, for another 10 minutes. We are like that haunted aircraft from The Strain. Just sitting on the Tarmac. Dying inside. I’m kidding. Sort of. It dawns on me I’m missing The Walking Dead.

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The Strain! The Strain!

Then the captain tells us that one of the engine’s “oil filters did exactly what it was supposed to do: fail on the ground.” He laughs. Tells us they are getting another one from Jiffy Lube. Thirty minutes go by with no further details and, thankfully, jokes.

Suddenly, a flight attendant makes the announcement to “prepare for arrival.” But, the entire plane is thinking, we haven’t freaking left! To make a long story longer they kick us off the plane to replace an oil filter. We are told the job will take 20 minutes.

An hour goes by. Then this: “Due to regulations, the legal time limit for the flight crew to work this flight has elapsed. We are now looking for a fresh crew.” We are told this will take 45 minutes “or so.” Liars. By the time we board we are 260 minutes late for departure. And counting…

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Free cookies and warm soda, for our troubles…

But the delay isn’t what’s most infuriating. What kills me is that United should have known better. About so many things. For example: The plane arrives to the gate with a defective oil filter? Guys, it’s coming from the garage! United waits until the last minute to tell us the crew has run out of legal flying minutes, despite knowing as much the moment they turned the plane around? On a lesser note, why would the flight attendants allow every person to board knowing full well the luggage compartments would fill up long before the plane did? Why bother when you can make thirty angry, hot, tired travelers back up? You fly this route every day. You should know better. Or else you’re way too f–king stupid for words.

And speaking of words, United, where were they? A weird joke from the captain is hardly a communication plan for a flight that’s over four hours late. All airlines suck at communications. In my experience, United is the worst.

While I can’t hold everyone at United accountable for this awful experience, I do know the brand suffers among the lowest scores for service and quality in the aviation industry. Sadly, the once “friendly skies of United” have sucked for a very long time. There is a Twitter account: @UALfail

For the record, I landed in Denver at 1:47 AM.

Early returns on the new Jet Blue campaign from Mullen, featuring the second coming of pseudo-famous fast talker, John Moschitta, have been mixed. Yes, the spots are entirely derivative of director, Joe Sedelmaier’s famous campaign for Federal Express. But so what? Ain’t anything new since the Romans. It’s obvious Mullen was riffing on the old Fed Ex campaign. In addition to bringing back the speed-talking Moschitta (still good at his stupid human trick by the way), the films were made in exactly the same way as Joe’s work: muted colors, locked down camera, comic casting, etc. And guess what? The technique still works. Funny then. Funny now.

As discussed before on this blog, The negative connotations associated with copycat creative is less controversial than it used to be, say back when Sedelmaier was making films. Back then it was called plagiarism. Now we just call it ‘building on’ or ‘mashing.’ Besides, the argument follows, most people under 40 don’t have a recollection of the fast talking Fed Ex guy, so it’s new to them. What’s important is what consumers think of the campaign, not the opinions of jaded advertising critics. That’s the defense, whether we agree with it or not.

It is fair to criticize, however, the strategy behind the new campaign. Is “Mr. Non-Stop” a relevant shill for Jet Blue? Do funny spots about going to a bunch of places, etc, differentiate Jet Blue from Southwest, ATA or any number of other low-cost carriers? For a 21st century airline like Jet Blue, it does beg the question: why such an old-fashioned approach?

My guess is Jet Blue’s modern period is over; its credibility with early adapters collapsing when a slew of delays and service issues beset the airline a short time ago. Rather than attempting to woo back this crowd with design and technology promises, the client and agency go to market with humorous vignettes from a bygone era.

Whether ‘cheap, fast & easy’ is or isn’t a good strategy for them at least it’s not another haughty anthem vainly trying to emulate the brilliant United Airlines work from the 80’s and 90’s. If you’re going to be derivative don’t be boring. Thankfully, these spots are anything but.