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Cool New Must-Read Book. (But First, This Metaphor.)

This short essay is ultimately a book review, but it starts off with a metaphor. One where I liken creating advertising on multiple platforms to those geeky 3-dimensional chess sets. Remember the ones you saw on early Star Treks, or maybe in the lounge of your freshman dorm?

The classicist in me scorned how these 3-dimensional chess ruined the purity of the game. I’d think, dude, come on, the game’s been around since what? The 6th century? And now you and Hasbro are changin’ the rules? Bite me, is what I said.

It occurred to me my reaction was a little like the one I had back in the ‘90s when the digital revolution was changing the rules of the advertising business. At first I thought this online stuff wasn’t really advertising. It didn’t adhere to the rules I’d learned in my apprenticeship. Then as the ones-and-zeros gained ground, they just sorta pissed me off because now, just when some of us were starting to get the hang of this thing called advertising, just as we were finally learning how to write our way out of a paper bag … (hint: write on the top inside of the bag and then just sorta angle your hand out and down and then keep writing) … just as we gained some command of the craft, the whole world changed.

Can you imagine something like this happening in the world of, say, plumbing? Dude goes to trade school, learns American Standard toilets, learns Kohler faucets, learns welding, piping … gets out, first house he goes to the owner points to some computer bank where his toilet has “digitally backed up.”

That’s how it felt to knuckleheads like us; we, who the press called the digital immigrants.

To deal with this revolution, we had a number of options. Some of us got drunk. Some of us got angry. And some of us just took a deep breath and swam with the current; tried to learn the new world and perhaps bring to it the disciplines and abilities we’d learned in the old.

Which brings me around to my short book review.

There’s a fantastic new book out there by the editor of Creativity, Teressa Iezzi. Titled The Idea Writers: Copywriting in a New Media and Marketing Era. Appropriately, (he thinks smugly) I’m reading it on my iPad. I highly recommend it.

It’s the first book I’ve seen that thinks through what passes for “rules” in the new digital world. She uses many great examples, mostly campaigns you probably know about, but they all help her build a map, a way of looking at this new three-dimensional chess set.

Yes, the old game is still in there, somewhere. Creativity, still needed. Storytelling, still needed. But the added platforms, the interactivity, the inclusion of the customer, the fluidity, the speed, man,  it all makes for a totally new game.

I’m playin’ it the best I can. I’ll see you down in the freshman lounge.

Bored Kids with an 8mm Camera. (Excerpt from an as-yet-unpublished book.)

In 1992, I started scribbling down notes about my family history. 18 years later I have finished the project, and it’s now a memoir of  growing up in the ’50s and ’60s with my five brothers in a big house in Rochester, Minnesota. I’m  proud of the work and though my good agent couldn’t find a publisher, I don’t hold it against her. The market is in fact saturated with memoir: seems everybody came from a fucked-up family, everybody has a dead dad or a rock ‘n’ roller in the basement with a needle in his vein. Christ, did everybody have a dysfunctional childhood? Oh well… like I said, I stand by the work and one day I plan to publish it as an iBook. In the meantime, here’s a small excerpt. It may be of some interest to the creative crowd out there, given that it’s about making movies when we were kids.

Hang on, hang on….what??? … Christ, someone just told me everybody also made movies when they were kids. Jesus.


Watching the Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night gave us the idea of making our own funny movies. They were all victim comedies and we called them “The Ridiculous Films.” They were shot with an old 8mm movie camera that Dad had given up on and if they had a theme it was “Fourth Graders Getting Killed.”

Their structure was classic.

We open on our protagonist, a fourth grader with buck teeth (that would be me) strolling along in front of the Millstone. In Act II, the antagonist is introduced with swift and economic story telling – brother Jeff comes around the corner with a baseball bat and beats the shit out of me. (A pillow hidden in the victim’s coat allows for the delivery of many cinematically robust and satisfying blows.) The fourth-grader collapses on the driveway.

Had the film ended here critics might have rightly argued the work lacked finality; that the entire piece was ambiguous and left the audience asking, “What, ultimately, happened here?” But Act III ties up the storylines in a tidy denouement. Thanks to a cleverly wardrobed body double, when the camera rolls again we see Jeff driving Dad’s car over the crumpled form of our Fourth Grader. Fade to black. (Cut, actually; there’s no fading with a Brownie movie camera.)

Audience test scores were off the chart. Squeals of delight filled the living room when the little 50-foot reel premiered on Dad’s projector. “More blood,” demanded the audience and a sequel was released the following month (after we talked Mom into getting us a new roll of film).

What might now be called “Dead Fourth Graders II” built on the original’s success and used the same opening: fourth-grader stands in front of Millstone. But this time it is brother Dan who enters screen right, grabs the victim and throws him into the house through the open door. The camera, still running, tilts seamlessly up to third-story window where a stuffed body double suffers the indignities of defenestration and thuds on the pavement below.

[pro-player type=”mov” height=”500″ weight=”500″][/pro-player]

Where’s this going? a savvy audience might ask. Will the narrative clarify the victim’s back-story? Who is he, really? What issues in his past led him to this development? Act III, while answering none of these questions does address the test audience’s earlier suggestion for “more blood.” A crowd encircles the protagonist, now lying unconscious on the concrete. They’re lining up to pay Dan a quarter. But for what, dammit, what?

Ah, it’s the rental fee for the baseball bat, making its second appearance in the Ridiculous Films. As the curtain falls on Act III, the brothers pound the bejesus out of me.