My fave winners in the latest CA Interactive Annual.

Full disclosure: I pretty much copied and pasted all this content from various sites around the web, some from adweek, some from Cannes. Please do not sue me as I’m basically a very nice person.

SURRENDER YOUR SAY

Overview: Tourette Syndrome is widely misunderstood. The Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada wanted people to comprehend the frustration, randomness and isolation of the condition by actually feeling the lack of control experienced by those living with the disorder. The Foundation worked with Saatchi & Saatchi Canada to launch Surrender Your Say, a campaign in which Twitter users relinquished control of their feed and allowed Tourette tics to be tweeted randomly under their name. It was controversial. It hadn’t been done before. And for a day, thousands felt what it was like to have Tourette Syndrome in front of millions of followers.

BMW A WINDOW INTO THE NEAR FUTURE

Overview: It’s been more than 30 years since American auto and oil industries preempted the original promise of electric cars, and BMW was eager to show New Yorkers that the future of mobility has finally arrived. To build awareness and create anticipation for the new, all-electric BMW i series, BMW transformed a street-level window’s reflection of live traffic on 6th Avenue into an idealistic vision of a world populated by (mostly) electric cars. Four creative agencies collaborated over seven months to design and build the installation, which used digital projection and motion-detection technology to swap BMW i3 and i8 vehicles for the actual cars in the window’s reflection, giving passersby an exhilarating glimpse into the near future.”

CARLY’S CAFE

Overview: Carly is a young woman living with autism, and is the co-author of the book Carly’s Voice: Breaking Through Autism. To help promote her book, john st. wanted to bring people as close as possible to the feeling of living in Carly’s world. Since autism inhibits “normal” social interaction, the project took the form of an interactive video over the course of which the user gradually loses control, an experience that mimics the loss of control and focus Carly describes in her book. The level of interactivity we are accustomed to in websites is also consciously inhibited, and the site gives us a first-person point of view into Carly’s experience.

THE MOBILE ORCHESTRA

Overview: In this innovative app-based holiday card, AKQA sent a clear message to friends, family, clients and beyond: the holidays are best spent with others. Teaming up with the Pacific Chamber Symphony, the agency created an interactive orchestra that joins up to twelve phones and tablets to perform a single song, “Carol of the Bells,” a sort of digital carol to bring people together. Groups of friends can sync their mobile devices and each person is assigned one of twelve musical roles—maybe conductor or cellist. As the carol begins, they play together in harmony. Executive creative director Stephen Clements described the in-house project as “a great process of invention and problem solving. When you have very limited time and resources you make quick decisions and don’t overthink things. It’s more fun that way.”

A NEW KIND OF CATALOG FROM IKEA

Overview: With customers increasingly using their smartphones to get the same product information and decor inspiration provided by IKEA’s print catalogs, the global furniture retailer knew a revamp of its iconic mailer, then in its 61st year, was in order. But with over 200 million print copies still effectively serving readers of all ages in every corner of the world, an all-digital approach was premature. McCann New York devised a balanced solution. Working with interactive studio All of Us, the agency created a mobile app companion to the catalog that let readers scan printed images to unlock a whole world of additional online content—expanded product details, photo galleries, how-to videos from designers and more. McCann’s three-pronged UX/design, technological and storytelling overhaul turned the catalog experience into an evolving innovation platform worthy of a brand that “dares to be different.”

VIRGIN MOBILE BLINKWASHING

Overview: When you’ve already got a cell phone plan, you’re not likely to pay much attention to other offers, no matter how good they might be. Virgin Mobile’s Blinkwashing, an interactive YouTube experience that reacts to the blink of an eye, solves that problem by surprising the viewer into watching. It works by enabling a person’s webcam to scan for eye location and movement to accurately detect when a viewer blinks. Then, with every blink, the video on screen switches, while the dialogue continues uninterrupted. The ad is made up of 25 different films, all perfectly synced for a seamless transition between clips. Mother New York, working with Greencard Pictures and rehabstudio, created completely new technology to let viewers blink their way through an endlessly changing stream of videos detailing the benefits of switching to Virgin Mobile.

A Delightful End to My Week. A Clever Assignment from a SCAD Design Prof Results in Sweet Gift from SCAD Ad Student.

HALEY

A couple of weeks ago, a freshman ad student here at SCAD — Haley Kochersberger — contacted me and said she’d like to interview me for a “writing assignment.” I thought it was just one of those assignments students sometimes have, you know, to go interview people in the industry.

So, we met, and of course I went on and on about my excellent self. She asked some interesting questions, and then we parted.

Three weeks pass.

Today she shows up in my office with a gift. (See pic)

Turns out “the writing assignment” was a ruse. The real assignment was to interview someone and figure out what would be the perfect gift you could make for them.

At one point in the interview she asked me, “Tell me something quirky about your childhood.” So I recounted for her this silly New Year’s Eve ritual we used to have years ago in the Sullivan family. At the time, I was taking Latin in school and it occurred to me that the singular of confetti was arguably “confettus,” which I thought would be a fine word for Webster’s to include in their next edition, defining a single teeny square of colored paper.

So, from that New Year’s on, instead of throwing confetti, we invoked our annual ritual of the “Throwing of the Confettus.” At precisely 12:00am, my brothers and Mom would all cheer as I threw a single tiny square of colored paper into the air.

Silly, I know.

I just love this shot of Haley and her sweet gift. I know it’s impossible to see here, but nestled inside the box, set like a diamond in felt, is an actual confettus. And in the envelope under the band, a helpful instruction book on how one goes about actually throwing a confettus.

Congrats to both SCAD Design professor Warren Thorp on a brilliant class assignment and to student Haley Kochersberger on a brilliant execution. And such a sweet gift. Thanks to both of you.

Ad Coach’s Post-Game Locker Room Speech

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Hey everybody. Particularly you ad students who were in the national ad competition last week:

Professor Novak sent me an email last week giving me the results of the competition you all went to last week. Like him, I was truly bummed. Certainly not as bummed as you guys, but bummed just the same.

Empathy is probably way-more-called-for here than any lesson, but this is a school and I am a teacher, so… sue me, but I see a learning opportunity.

Believe it or not, I was once a young ad geek too, and back then winning in the shows was the most important thing to me. Nothing else mattered. This attitude served me well….but only on those days when I won a lot of awards. The days I didn’t do well in the shows, I got so depressed. It was kinda pathetic.

Fortunately, I managed to grow out of that phase and develop a healthy respect for my talents regardless of how I did in the shows. A big part of what helped me get to that place was what happened the first time I was invited to be a judge in the show of shows – The One Show.

There I was in Barbados (yeah, not too shabby) with all these big-shot ad stars, creatives I’d been studying for years. These were some really great ad people, okay? As the show was judged over the course of about five days – and to my dawning horror – I saw things die that just….well, shouldn’t have died. Great stuff, dying left and right. I was amazed at the capriciousness of the judges. One day they’d love a piece of work and move it forward in the competition. The next day, “What’s this crap still doing in the show?”

I came back to my job with a renewed vigor and, more importantly, a perspective I didn’t have before.

The shows – both the good and bad, local and international – the shows are all ruled by the Gods. Ultimately, you cannot control what gets in, even if you write the best single ad ever written in the space-time continuum. Sure, excellent work has better odds, but at the end of the day, it’s a roll of the dice.

So, to you guys on the team that competed last week, I say hats off to you. Yeah, goddammit, we didn’t win. It sucks. Fine, feel rotten for a day, but don’t let it keep you from getting in the ring next year. Same thing goes for those great times when you win – feel great for a day, and then get ready for the next one.

If only I’d listened to my old boss, the late Mike Hughes, when I was at The Martin Agency. All those times I came dragging into work depressed that I’d been shut out at some award show, Mike would say, “Luke (you whiny self-obsessed dingbat ….[okay, I added that part]), let your joy come from the journey, not the destination. Let your joy come from the working, not the results of your work.”

–See you in the hallways, Prof Luke

Advice to Students on Putting a Book Together.

Interview Hell, extra crispy
(INTERVIEW HELL, extra crispy version)

Your portfolio is the only way an agency knows how good you are at solving problems creatively. You get one shot.

That said, I’d like to dole out a little advice on the kinds of projects I think prudent to put in your first advertising portfolio.

First off, no public service stuff.  Sorry, I wanna save animals as much as the next guy, but it’s just too easy to do wowzer ads for clients with names like “Let’s Stop Stomping on Kittens.”  (And yes, I know, back in the ‘80s, I did some ads for PETA and won awards for ‘em, but …  but … that was just different. Anyway, shut up.)

Next, don’t do any work for brands that are doing great work. Even if you do come up with a cool concept, your interviewer will likely compare your work to the famous work, which isn’t good. So, no Nike, no VW, no Apple.

Choose instead a real brand that could use some great advertising. Some middle-of-the-road product or service, one that’s running a lot of mediocre advertising. Like, say PetSmart. Or an airline or a bank or a line of power tools.

I’ll also caution you against picking products that are already interesting, in and of themselves. Sure, it’d be fun to do ads for, say, PlayStation 19’s Direct Retinal Control system but as my old friend Bob Barrie says, it’s better to “do something interesting for a boring brand.”

Choose also a service or product that you don’t have to explain. (“Well, ya see, it’s this thing shaped like a dodecahedron that attaches to the…”) If you first have to explain your weird niche product, you’re already playing catch up.

And lastly, don’t work on brands that scream “I’m a campaign in a student book!” Energy drinks, no. Hot sauces, no. Duct tape, no. Every single student in the space-time continuum is doing ads on these. Also, I implore you, please, no pee-pee jokes, potty humor, and for the love of God, no condoms. All of these things have been done to death. You won’t just be beating a dead horse. You’ll be beating the dust from the crumbling rocks of the fossilized bones of an extinct species of pre-horse crushed between two glaciers in the Precambrian Age.

(I stole that last paragraph from Hey Whipple, Squeeze This. Sue me.)

 

 

I believe there’s something more powerful than creativity. (I’m serious.)

More and more these days I’ve begun to think creativity isn’t the most important thing in an ad campaign. Heresy, I know, but I’m thinkin’  there is another way – possibly a better one – for a brand to stand out.

See, the thing is we’re a nation of eye-rollers. We’re cynics. Nothing is authentic anymore. We put finger-quotes around everything.

This national eye-rolling and “yeah whatever” didn’t happen overnight. Our sense of ironic remove is the result of a steady drip of lies from every authority figure we’ve ever set on every pedestal throughout history.

The heavens began to fall (in this writer’s opinion) when President Dick Nixon was exposed as the paranoid felon he was. That was in 1974 and ever since we’ve watched pedestals fall like dominoes as icon after icon was exposed as a liar, a cheat, a criminal, a pederast. Murderous policemen, horny congressmen (remember “wide stance”?), and priests PRIESTS, don’t even get me started. The Wall Street dirtbags, the Enron asshats … the nightly news is an endless perp walk of fallen heroes laid so comically low even our best satirists cannot summon the necessary irony.  Well, Fran Lebowitz came close when she wrote, “No matter how cynical I get, it’s impossible to keep up.”

Even as I write these words, on the news I am watching yet another Florida judge tell yet another pudgy white cretin after killing yet another black man, “Dude, we can’t stay mad at youuuu.”

And so we are a nation of skeptics, cynics and eye-rollers. It isn’t just that our bullshit detectors are set on high; it’s our truth detectors; those we turned off a long time ago. There isn’t any.

Okay, so here’s my question. Given all this, how can any brand manager continue to think people are going to believe his commercials? People don’t believe the news anymore. Considering all this, is more creativity really the answer?

Well, obviously, creativity’s important, but I’ve come to believe that right now the fastest way to stand out in this blizzard of bullshit is to tell the truth.

In The Art of Immersion, author Frank Rose wrote, “People today are experiencing an authenticity crisis, and with good reason. Value is a function of scarcity. And in a time of scripted ‘reality’ TV and Photoshop everywhere, authenticity is a scarce commodity.”

If I were a brand manager today, I’d at least have a go at accurately describing my product with candor and honesty, without superlatives, and maybe throw in a dollop of self-deprecation. And I’d publicly admit, “Yes, we have an agenda. We want you to buy our stuff.”

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Crispin wanted you to buy Domino’s pizza and they brought the brand back to life with honesty (“We heard our pizza isn’t so great.”) and transparency (“Here’s what we’re doing to improve it.”) It isn’t rocket science, as Bogusky himself explained: “This generation knows you’re trying to sell them something. And you know they know. So let’s just drop the pretense and make the whole experience as much fun as possible.”

I’m reminded of one of my favorite ads, the ’60s VW ad shown here. While Detroit was selling “sizzle” and chrome and bullshit, VW shrugged its shoulders and went, “We don’t mind. Have fun at the party.”

So this is where I net out these days: the most unusual thing a brand can do to show up on a consumer’s radar is to be authentic. To be real. To cut the bullshit and quit trying to hide the fact that you’re trying to sell them something. Be authentic. Talk about about your brand the way you would tell a friend. You wouldn’t lie. You wouldn’t exaggerate. You wouldn’t use exclamation points. You wouldn’t oversell. You wouldn’t “spin.”

You’d say, “Hey, check this cool thing out. It works pretty well. I bought one. Maybe you’d like it too.”

Very smart guest-posting by a former student: Racism, Xenophobia, and the Super Bowl Coke spot.

Double-selfie of me and my smart student, Igor Tanzil.
Double-selfie of me and my smart student, Igor Tanzil.

I had, for a number of reasons, left out Coca-Cola’s “Beautiful” Super Bowl spot by W+K out of my ad picks of the year. The first reason being that it didn’t quite move me like my other options did. It was a spot that is worthy of the Wieden + Kennedy name: a larger than life message for a larger than life brand that was executed to a tee. Nevertheless, it didn’t elicit enough emotion in me to warrant a spot in my favorites. Maybe its because I’m not an American, or maybe its because I’m not a huge fan of soda; whatever the case, I saw it, appreciated it for the beautiful sentiment that it presented and moved on.

Now, the second reason I left it out was the obvious can of worms it presented. The moment the lyrics of “America the Beautiful” was sung in another language, I smiled. It changed to another, and another, and the spot culminated in a number of languages I hardly recognized. As previously stated, it was a beautiful sentiment and I admired both W+K and Coke for it. I was however, almost immediately fearful for the backlash it might bring upon itself and chose to avoid touching the subject. Call it cowardice, call it indifference, whatever – I left it alone.

That is of course until the following couple days. I hold my Facebook friends and other social media contacts in high esteem in the fact that I didn’t have to see too many negative reactions to the ad in any sort of agreeable fashion, and for that, kudos my friends: this post is for you.

So a little background for the unaware: Two iconic American companies, Coca-Cola and W+K, presented the nation with a message of tolerance and grace that is a direct reflection of the global world we live in today. Of course, the internet and its denizens reacted as one might suspect and you can find evidence of this on Coca-Cola’s Facebook page, their YouTube spot, and this nice compilation by Matt Binder on his blog: Public Shaming.

In one fell swoop, the consolidated vermin and scum in a country that preached racial equality and world peace came out of the woodwork. Bigots rose as one and cast their Cokes in protest, armchair politicians and closeted Klan members took to their keyboards and bullhorns; and so revealed are a nation’s worst.

I am, admittedly, not a political person and am for the most part content with confining my political views and outrages to close friends and family. However, something like this deserves a little more attention. The unfortunate lifeforms that took to the web are a sad reminder to the many nay-sayers out there that bigotry and racism are alive and well. Lest we forget, hate breeds hate and the clear heads that preach tolerance and understanding are few and far between. In my humble opinion, when you actively hate a culture and people so much as to express your hate in public – please stifle your surprise when they reciprocate.

I grew up in three different countries, I was shaped by two cultures not of my own, and I am more fluent in a language that is not my mother tongue. Such is the nature of a modern, global society. And yet, even in a country that proclaimed world dominance with the right to maintain a role as peacekeeper, such hate persists.

Every remark that condemns this ad is a reminder to all that we are indeed different.

Every can of Coke thrown in anger is a call to others to hate.

We often forget just how easily a little discrimination can lead to full blown war. And to react to a soda ad with such vigorous spite? I’d wager some money that these people also believe that the world is flat and that the sun is in motion around their sad pathetic lives.

To Wieden + Kennedy and Coca-Cola, rock on. No matter how you cut it, the commercial conveyed a message that is apparently ahead of its time. To you and the rest of us who saw the ad and didn’t immediately turn into a degenerate: take solace. For every bigot out there attempting a Coke boycott, the rest of us will go on towards a future that is quickly leaving them behind.

To those who have the urge to express anger towards a multilingual take on a song, please take a moment to consider this:

Your actual nation anthem – called The Star-Spangled Banner, by the way – has not actually been defiled in any way.

Your vision of an all white nation under an enforced language is a similar aspiration held by a one Adolf Hitler in the early half of the twentieth century.

Also, given all the effort put forth by both the ad agency and Coca-Cola to make this commercial a reality, it is safe to assume that countless hours have gone into studying any possible backlash and response from the ad. You, and your inbred bigoted kin have been considered and deemed to be in the minority (or a fantastic emotional pressure point to exploit).

Finally, to those who insist that you aren’t a racist with the argument that the English language is a sacred unifying factor in the United States, well consider this: If your language is the last and sole unifying thread for the country, then the country itself has some issues.

Love of country, regardless of who you are, is an intangible feeling that goes beyond language. It is a feeling that is borne out of familiarity, appreciation of everything your country has given you, and most importantly, the people that make up your country. Countries aren’t divided by language, to that point, why aren’t you the United States of America, Australia, Canada, England, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa?

A country is an ideal, a feeling, a place, a home.

I’ve watched in envy as people call America “home” regardless of where they are from and regardless of the language they are most comfortable speaking. This is the ideal that made so many of us foreigners flock here, and whether or not we will ever be accepted, we look to this ideal as a beacon of what could be. America, the beautiful, will remain beautiful regardless of what’s being spoken on the street. And my country, Indonesia, will still be mine even after we’ve incorporated the English language into our education. Because at the end of the day, home isn’t defined by a language, a language is but a means to understand.

It’s just a crying ass shame that so much misunderstanding has to fall in between.

- Igor Tanzil

• • • • • • • • • • • •

NOTE: It’s a sad day when the Americans I’m proudest of are from other countries. You rock, Igor.

The two states of consumer awareness: Shopping for Vegetables and Being a Vegetable.


potato

Open on Scene I: (In front of Hilton at SXSW Austin)

I’m on the sidewalk, minding my own business, inside my bubble.

My taxi pulls up and just as I’m about to hop in, I’m attacked.

Some Jesus-y type of person is in my face telling me how his god is better than my god and how my ass is gonna fry to a crisp on Beelzebub’s Griddle unless I take his stinkin’ brochure.

He doesn’t ask for my permission. He doesn’t know if I’m open to his message. He just thrusts a brochure in my face. I go into Matrix-bullet-time, dodge his sales pitch, leap into my taxi, and I’m gone.

••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Cut to scene II: (interior of house, living room).

This time, I’m at home. I’m watchin’ TV. In fact, to make it apples-to-apples, let’s say I’m watching “Taxi,” not waiting for one.

Suddenly the movie stops and another schmuck is in my face. Only now it’s some yuppie at his breakfast table telling me his coffee is better than my coffee. What am I? Flypaper for freaks?

Don’t these guys get it? Whether I’m watching “Taxi” or getting into one, I ain’t shoppin’.

Does lying on my couch in my underwear, eating stale Cheetos, does it look like I’m shopping? I’m not kicking tires, comparing prices, or squeezin’ melons; I’m relaxing.  I’m a vegetable.

Vegetables are not interested in sales pitches. Vegetables like escape. They like stories, adventure, drama, but definitely not pitches.

Tomorrow, however, is a different story. Tomorrow, I actually am gonna be buying something — a new Toyota. And before I buy it, I’ll want all the facts. I’ll welcome the brochures. I’ll listen to the sales pitch. I may even watch the in-store video. But that’s tomorrow.

••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

I propose that at any given time, every customer is in one of these two modes: “Shopping for Vegetables,” or “Being a Vegetable.”

These two modes go by other names: passive and active. emotional and rational, intuitive and analytical. And if you agree there are times when you’re actively shopping and times you’re not, it stands to reason two different kinds of sales method ought to be employed.

It seems to me that any sales pitch that intrudes on someone Being a Vegetable ought to go easy on the detail and maybe just tell a cool story.

The Vegetable is not shopping, he’s watchin’ “Taxi.” He doesn’t have a notepad and pencil and  won’t be taking notes on whether a car has a V-6 engine or ABS brakes. In fact, even if his current car is on fire out in the driveway, now’s not the time to read him a brochure.

But the next morning? When the Fritos are gone and the TV is cold to the touch,  our vegetable will be in a different frame of mind. Now he’s ready to kick a tire. He’s Shopping for Vegetables. This is where the rational brain kicks in, gathering facts to support what began as an emotional decision; prices are compared, trunks looked in, brochures gathered.

Given all this, it would seem to me that traditional ad people ought to throw themselves in a quivering, grateful heap around the ankles of the internet and say thank you.

Thank you for helping take the load of information that until now every client wanted jammed into every ad, every TV spot, and if it didn’t fit, get a shoe horn and some Crisco because, by God, we’re gonna get it all in there.

R.I.P. Mike Hughes, The Most Loved Man in All of Advertising.

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On January 24th, someone told me Mike Hughes was sick again, and when I read his first blog posting it broke my heart.

The first entry on Mike Hughes’s blog: I’m supposed to die tomorrow. Hope not. Two weeks ago, the doctors gave me two weeks to live.  I’m pretty sure they’ll be proven wrong.  In fact, I’m actually making plans now for next week.  A friend now in Ethiopia is planning to travel here at the end of next week. I told him to get here as soon as possible because I might have a funeral I have to attend at the end of the week.

And so began a long series of essays on his blog, Unfinished Thinking: Some Thoughts on Living and Dying.  Today, December 15th at 9:30am, Mike finally died. I have been thinking about him all year long and this morning paged through my journals to read all our emails, all the messages we’d sent back and forth throughout 2013.

Mike was one of those guys who could make fun of himself, and as you can see from this first email, even his cancer was not off limits for comic material.

April email from Mike to me, Mike Lescarbeau, and Jim Riswold: I need new jokes about my situation.  By now everybody’s heard me say that after 15 years of dire warnings I’m embarrassed to still be alive.  They’ve all heard me say that if you want beautiful women to tell you how good you look, get cancer.  I’ve got a million of ‘em. Actually, I don’t. Like all old men I repeat corny old jokes over and over—I can’t help it.  I’m sick of hearing me say these things.  I need new material to run into the ground. I always give credit to others when I tell their stories or jokes.  As you suggested, I picked up one or two things from Tig Notaro’s stand-up.  I’ll really have to give her credit since so many have listened to her routine.  Got any good lines for me? –Mike

Email response from me to Mike: Okay, I’ll send you some. But as a writer I need a deadline. How long do I have? Get it? “How long do I have?”

The jokes I penned for him are lost somewhere in the e-ether but I remember one, somethin’ about “Dibs on your pain killers.” Giving Mike grief was a pastime I remember with great fondness, one that began back in 1983 when I first began to work at the Martin Agency (I think I was creative hire #10). But it was Mike’s taste in movies that was the most common target of my derision. He styled himself a bit of a “film buff” and rarely missed a visit to Sundance with his wife Ginny. Myself, being a middle-of-the-road movie moron (I love stuff like LOTR and Dark Knight) well, we had plenty of mean-spirited things to say to each other.

Email to Mike, Mike Lescarbeau, and Jim Riswold: Mr. Hughes is under the mistaken impression that since he’s sick he gets a  “Get out of jail free” card regarding his hoighty-toighty taste in  movies, or “fil-um” as I think he probably calls it privately. And so, I am very sorry to shock any of you with this news item, (received seconds ago from the World of Rational People who Judge things Fairly and Accurately and are not Drunk with I-was-at-Sundance-and-Saw-a-celebrity Fever)… but the movie Lincoln? Sorry, it was not a good movie. We wouldn’t even be talking about it if anyone other than Spielberg had directed it. …  –Mr. Sullivan

And then in my journal (not an email, just a diary entry) this: … The past two days I have been blue thinking about my old boss Mike Hughes and his losing battle with cancer. People are flooding his Facebook page with well wishes. I just sent him a private message that said, “I love you, old friend. Hey, if you are well enough to watch movies, lemme know what you’re watching. I promise to watch it and also like it without sending you the usual disparaging note about your taste in movies.” And he wrote back: “I don’t want my near-death experience to be inconvenient for your movie-going, but I bet you still haven’t made it through the attached list I sent you last month.” Lordy, it hurts to see this good man leave us so early. He’s only 66 or so. Christ.

A June email to me from Mike: How are you?  Hope all is well. Richard Pine at Inkwell Management in NYC is talking to a ghost writer about turning my blog into some kind of book.  We’ll see what happens with that.  (Or, given my current prognosis, I should say you’ll see what happens with that.)  The writer is looking for additional samplings of things I’ve written.  Of course, if it’s not on my hard drive, I haven’t saved it.  Mike Lear mentioned to me once, I think, that you actually saved some things I wrote back in the ’80s.  You wouldn’t still have anything would you?  If so, could you send a copy to Susan? Don’t bother with it if it’s any problem. How’s academic life?  Want to teach at the Brandcenter? –M

An email I sent to Mike in September: Hey Mike: My son Reed smokes. I’ve been trying to get him to quit for the longest time. I have never expected my occasional emails would have any real effect. … . He remembers meeting you in the RIC airport with me. My possibly inappropriate request is this. A message to him from you, a man with cancer, a man who never smoked a cig in his life, who rages against the dying of the light writes to say, Jesus, what he would give for the health that young smokers so blithely ignore.  You could also then use this email to a young smoker as a blog posting; two birds one stone sorta deal. If you are either unwilling or unable to do this please accept my apologies for asking and know I love you anyway. –Luke

Mike wrote this email, that same day, to my son Reed: We’ve met once or twice over the years.  I worked with your mom and dad a long time ago at The Martin Agency in Richmond.  If you think your dad’s crazy now, you should have seen him then. ¶ Of course, being crazy is one of the privileges of being young.  Hell, it might even be one of the obligations of being young.  If I could live some of my early years over again, I guarantee I would have been a little crazier. ¶ But I hope I wouldn’t have been stupider.  There’s a difference between crazy and stupid.  Crazy is a tattoo.  Stupid is a cigarette.  I personally don’t understand why anyone would get a tattoo; I bet most of our tattooed brothers and sisters regret the decision they made back when they were young (crazy) and drunk (crazy.) But a tattoo is a crazy they can live with.  ¶ My dad started smoking in the pre-World War II days when all the young guys were doing it.  Three packs a day.  As much as he loved the taste of the Camels and Kents he smoked, he came to hate the habit.  It made him quit the sport he loved (tennis) and it undoubtedly hastened his death in the mid ’80s.  He tried to quit many times.  But a 3-pack-a-day habit developed over many years doesn’t go away easily. ¶ He didn’t live to know that the second-hand smoke he left in his wake was almost certainly the likely reason his only son—a lifelong nonsmoker—developed lung cancer.  I’ve had radical surgery to remove a lung.  I’ve been through seven or eight different kinds of chemotherapy programs—half of which kept me sick most of the time.  A collapsed lung sent me to the hospital for a week. I’ve had three or four different radiation programs.  I’ve been hospitalized with a pulmonary embolism.  I’ve spent an entire summer in American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge while undergoing various treatments.  I’ve been told that my cancer has spread to my pancreas.  To my liver. To my brain. I take 14 or 15 doses of medicine every morning, mostly pills, but also injections and creams.  I take half that many again at night.  And about a half a dozen during the day.  Three times a day I do a horrible tasting, 12-minute nebulizer breathing routine.  I spend almost all my time hooked up to an oxygen machine.  I’m going to see an ophthalmologist in a couple hours because my vision’s gotten a little weird lately. ¶ I’ve had to live with the public humiliations and indignities that go with this serious disease. There have been times when I can’t allow myself to go too far away from the bathroom. A couple of times I’ve coughed up a little blood.   It’s usually hard to eat solid foods.  My hands shake sometimes;  my wife or my sister have had to cut up food for me a couple of times. One night while dining with friends at a nice restaurant I repeatedly threw up some strange kind of phlegm on my plate of food.  I’ve listened to the lies friends told me about how good I look when my hair has thinned away and my face has puffed up.  I’ve found out too late at times that I’m not strong enough to climb even one or two stairs.   I’ve given up a number of things I loved:  diving, skiing, foreign travel.  I often cancel visits with friends because I’m just not up to it. ¶ Several times I’ve had to tell my wife and my sons the statistics about how long I have before I am expected to die.  I’ve had to say goodbye to family and friends I thought I’ll never see again.  Lately, it’s become hard to eat solid foods:  my chest feels clogged, my breathing becomes labored, my eyes water uncontrollably. ¶ All that said, I know how lucky I am.  While I often feel sickly and uncomfortable, I’ve rarely felt much pain.  And, amazingly and against all odds, even though I’ve had lung cancer for at least 18 years, I’m still alive.  I don’t usually feel great, but I’m still able to love my life.  And I do. ¶ Increasing your odds of getting cancer is stupid.  When my dad’s generation of young men—the “greatest generation”—started smoking, they didn’t know what we know now.  They thought smoking made them look more sophisticated, more mature.  When young people start smoking now, they just look young and stupid.  That’s what everyone says.  “Look at those kids lighting up.”  “Oh, they’re so young.”  “So stupid.” ¶ The only good news I have about it for you right now is this:  recent research confirms it’s easier to quit the habit now, when it’s still relatively new. Quit. Don’t just try to quit, quit.  Make your mom or dad a serious $1000 bet that you won’t smoke at all for the next year.  Do something crazy a year from now with the money you win.  Just don’t do anything stupid. ¶ You don’t really know me, but I really care about what you do here.  If you do quit now—and stay off the tobacco for a year—my wife Ginny and I will also give you  $1000 to go crazy with.  She’s cc’d here because you might have to give her the good news about the money she owes you after I’m gone.  (Every day is a gift for me now.)  ¶ Please let me know your decision. –Love, Mike

I’d love to report that Mike’s long and thoughtful email convinced my son to stop smoking, but no. Still, I think Mike’s thoughts may yet save my son from this terrible disease.

Email last week from me to Mike: Yo Mike: The passing of Mandela prompts me to nominate him for sainthood. But you, Mike, maybe you could be the patron saint of less pressing causes. Off the top of my head, I think you’d be a great patron saint of, say, the proper use of it’s-versus-its. I myself continue to take the lord’s name in vain every time I see that mistake make its way into print. But perhaps that is too small a cause. I’m pretty sure there’s an opening for patron saint of “Please let me win a $100,000 in next year’s Mercury Radio Awards.” (If you do end up landing that gig, can you ask around to see why my half a million prayers were just, like, TOTALLY ignored?) Your many fans will probably suggest your beatification be instead for some high-falutin’ post, like “Patron Saint of Niceness” or something. Which is cool. Yeah, YOU take that one Mike. I probably won’t land the $100k Mercury Award gig, but when I come up to take the helm as, who knows, Patron Saint of Scratch-Off Lottery Tickets, the first cloud I’m gonna be stopping at is yours, dude, because you’re gonna be a real saint, mos def. –Luke

What I thought was my last letter to Mike: I have put off writing this letter, a real letter, because I don’t know what to say other than I love you. I had a dream about you last night where I finally decided to simply call you on the phone and in the dream I remember saying “I think about you every day” and I was crying as I said it. Thank you for being the best boss I ever had. Ever. Thank you for showing up with your credit card that day I cluelessly showed up in Richmond without a way to pay for the hotel. Thank you for putting up with my erratic and ungrateful behavior during my using years. Thank you for having breakfast that one day in 1983 when you showed me a picture of your son and said, “Kids are the best reminder that there is a life outside of advertising.” Thank you for giving me five of the best years of my career, maybe the best, at The Martin Agency when it was a small agency. And thanks for expecting better writing from me. Even to this moment I’d like to impress you and I wish this letter were better. (Do they give One Show medals for letters? No? Then who gives a shit, right?)  Anyway, I don’t have a punchy ending. My heart is breaking. I love you, old friend. –Luke

But as it turned out, this was the last email I wrote to Mike, sent last week on December 6th: Hey Mike: Here are four poems from the only poet I have ever liked, Billy Collins. [In this post, I include below only one of them.] My mom turned me onto him many years ago. I love every word this guy has written. Try downloading The Art of Drowning, for a start. The four poems I’m attaching here are about death, yet I find all of them comforting. ­–Luke

Memento Mori by Billy Collins

There is no need for me to keep a skull on my desk,

to stand with one foot up on the ruins of Rome,

or wear a locket with the sliver of a saint’s bone.

 

It is enough to realize that every common object

in this sunny little room will outlive me –

the carpet, radio, bookstand and rocker.

 

Not one of these things will attend my burial,

not even this dented goosenecked lamp

with its steady benediction of light,

 

though I could put worse things in my mind

than the image of it waddling across the cemetery

like an old servant, dragging the tail of its cord,

the small circle of mourners parting to make room.

 

The last email from Mike: Luke: OK. I made it through his poems. Then [because one of the poems was called Aristotle] I paged through some Aristotle history. I had no idea how weird Aristotle was about women.  (No weirder than Steinbach on the last page of Grapes of Wrath, but weird enough.)  One thing I both like and resent about this kind of poetry is that it encourages me to get involved. It encourages me to go to Aristotle or to think of the lamp in my office that will outlive me by years.  The reason the lamp thought is better than the Aristotle poem is that Aristotle requires a middle step that I might not want or have the time to take.  With iPads, etc., it’s easier to do the middle step—to get the background on Aristotle—but it’s still a step I’d rather not have to take. I prefer the thought laid out for me to agree with, disagree with, ponder. I’m rambling. Thanks for thinking of me. –M

That was the last email from Mike.

I was planning to write back to him tomorrow, maybe Tuesday. Since he didn’t appear to LOVE the poems I sent him, I was gonna fire off some of the usual snarky crap I send him, somethin’ about how he probably likes the crappy kind of poetry that’s in the New Yorker. (Seriously, I have never been able to decode even one New Yorker poem. Not one.)

Mike’s death today came as such a shock. It shouldn’t have, given his terminal cancer, but still, it felt sudden. I’d grown so used to Mike’s benevolent online presence. All through 2013 he was his normal, thoughtful, marvelous, even chatty self, writing honestly, unflinchingly, about life and death and love and family and all that important stuff we don’t usually talk about until we are certain the end is near.

I love you old friend. Good-bye, Mike Hughes, the most-loved man in advertising.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Inadequacy Marketing–Lessons from a cool new book, “Story Wars.”

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I just read a marvelous book this weekend. Called “Winning the Story Wars: Why those who tell – and live – the best stories will rule the future.” It’s by Jonah Sachs.

And like the title suggests, Sachs says the brands with the better stories win. He cites a good example of an inferior brand prevailing over a better brand simply by telling a better story. Here’s an excerpt.

“Case in point: John Kerry [who ran against George Bush in 2004]. Kerry was so convinced of the clarity of his muddled message, and so exasperated with his opponent’s seeming ineptitude, that he blabbered on about his own heroic service and the strength of his resume. He was shocked (though he shouldn’t have been) to find himself defeated by a weaker opponent with a better story.

…A few days after the election, a frustrated [Democratic] James Carville complained: ‘[The Republicans] produce a narrative. We produce a litany. George Bush said: “‘I’m going to protect you from the terrorists in Tehran and the homos in Hollywood.’ We say, ‘We’re for clean air, better schools, more health care.’ And so there’s a Republican narrative – a story – and then there’s a Democratic litany.’” [Definition of litany is “a long list of complaints and problems.”]

I love that story. And whatever your politics are, you have to agree, in 2004 the GOP kept it simple. They told a simple story and stuck to it.

What’s most fascinating about Sachs discussion of the ‘04 GOP campaign was that it was based on fear. An emotional marketing technique that’s been leveraged by Madison Avenue for years. He calls the old approach “inadequacy marketing.”

“You aren’t pretty enough until you lose weight.”

“You aren’t clean enough unless you use this detergent.”

This approach has been around so long, it was used in a Stones tune from the ’60s: “(Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”

When I’m watchin’ my TV
and the man comes on to tell me
how white my shirts can be.
But he can’t be a man ’cause he doesn’t smoke
the same cigarettes as me.
I can’t get no…..

Sachs points us instead to a new world order of what he calls “empowerment marketing” – “stories told to help encourage audiences on their path to maturation and citizenship.”

Here, instead of appealing to fear or to the love of money, empowerment stories challenge the customer to reach higher, to be something more. No better example comes to mind than the copy Steve Jobs and TBWAChiatDay wrote for Apple’s “Think Different” campaign.

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The trouble-makers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify, or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

Very cool. It bears noting here that, in the wrong hands, “empowerment” stories can go all Hallmark Cards on you and get sappy. But, done correctly, it can lead to cool stuff like Weiden + Kennedy’s “Work” campaign for Levi’s. Even W+K’s campaign for Old Spice (“The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”) is arguably more about empowerment and less about inadequacy.

In closing, I need to point out that I’m not sayin’ inadequacy marketing is over. Leveraging customer fears can work just fine: I refer again to Bush v Kerry. But is it possible we could do bigger better things for our clients with a better story? Would it ever work if we told a story that appealed to higher ideals of the public? Can we appeal to the better angels of our nature and actually win a story war?

To quote from another campaign, “Yes, we can.”

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For a real brand geek thrill, listen to Steve Jobs actually reading the copy for the “Here’s To The Crazy Ones” commercial.