Richmond 1985: Life at a Small Agency and a Really Small Agency.

In 1983 – for you English Lit majors, 30 years ago – I joined the creative department of a small agency in Richmond as hire #10 or so. I went on to work at medium-sized and large agencies, but my time at the Martin Agency I remember with particular fondness. For students waffling between big versus small – both have their charms – today is about small.

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This is the original building at Lee Circle where I first met Mike Hughes, best boss I ever had. (To our great shock, Mike died this last December 15th.) We ten creatives whom he oversaw worked on the third floor, which was an old ballroom. The biggest client at the time was Barnett Banks and while I don’t remember their billings, we did maybe two TV spots a year, buncha magazine, and too much radio. (Today their big account is some company called Wal-Mart.)

In those days, creative teams weren’t as common and everybody pretty much worked with everybody; and everybody knew everybody, and not just in the creative department but all over. If I were a new staffer at some big-ass shop in New York, I doubt their president woulda walked up to my desk – like Don Just did – to whisper, “Psst, we’re takin’ the timeshare jet to Palm Beach for the weekend and stayin’ at The Breakers.” (What followed was kinda like Spring Break, but without the youth, beauty, or sex.)

Not all small agencies were as fun as Martin was in the ‘80s. Come to think of it, it was probably the crazy decade of the ‘80s that got us nuts. Nah. It was us. We were crazy. Well, maybe five of us were crazy. Okay, I was crazy.

We’d gather almost nightly in one area bar or another, and not just Martin Agency people. The creative departments from other city agencies (Siddall, Matthus & Coughter, Lawler Ballard, Ford & Westbrook) gathered at joints like Humphrey’s, Jay’s, Strawberry Street Café, and Joe’s Inn; the last of which still has some of our brain cells on the ceiling, plus I think Mahoney left an open tab there.

Cynicism and sarcasm were the coinage of our realm, and we encouraged leaning into people’s cubicles to insult their work, looks, age, sexual orientation, whatever was handy. Insults were so common on the third floor they were the default setting of all hallway greetings. In fact, to signify you actually had something nice to say to someone, you had to lean in, speak, and then back away with two raised and open hands. (“I’m unarmed, not a threat.”)

Rollover to enlarge.
Rollover to enlarge.

Sometimes blanket insults were called for, such as the time I tacked this list to the third-floor bulletin board. It was for all “my” art directors, a list of rules about proper behavior while riding my coattails to the One Show. (My favorite being rule 5, somethin’ about, “Be quiet, I’m trying to think up here.” Boom!)

Though Richmond was a small ad town back then and never made the New York Times (well, once) we all wanted to crush each others’ dreams in the local ad competition, burn their pathetic villages, and leave their old women wailing in the streets, “Why do we suck so much?”

Actually we were all great friends and we’d help any and all with concepts and share our ideas scribbled on bar napkins. In fact, it was the napkin-layouts that gave my friend Cabell Harris the idea for Drinking Buddies Advertising and the logo. I managed to save only a piece of the stationery but the business card was cooler; an actual napkin with ad scribbles on it. (Oh, and the Martin Agency toilet paper? That’s from the bathroom during a party at an agency across town, Westbrook Inc.) Also pictured below is the entire creative department of Drinking Buddies Advertising. (Cabell, me, Danny Boone at the Strawberry Street Café branch office). Like Martin, we were a small agency too; we just didn’t have a health plan. (No wait, we did. “Try to switch to filtered cigarettes and always eat the fruit in your drink.”)

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Our good boss, Mike Hughes, somehow put up with all this foolishness and freelancing, as he had only to peek out his office to see we worked pretty hard at our day jobs. Still, I’m not sure any of it woulda been possible at a big-ass agency (or under a different creative director).

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There are more stories to tell another day. For now I’ll part with these last two pictures, both of me and Cabell Harris. It clearly shows what horrible things 30 years in the business can do to a person. Forgive me for leaving out all kinds of wonderful Martin Agency people, but that core group, you guys know who you are: Andy, Cabell, Christi, Danny, Diane, Hal, HV, Jane, Jerry, Mahoney, Russ, Tyson, and Wayne-us. I love you guys.)

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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

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

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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.


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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.

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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.

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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.

Old Man Sullivan Yells at Ad Kids from His Porch, “You Kids Just Git Now!”

Selling stuff is so much more important than people.
Selling stuff is so much more important than people.

Okay, I have the next viral branding stunt all figured. Just nailed it.

We go to a college and randomly pick ten freshmen for an “interview” in some office on campus. Obviously, the room will be wired for video and sound and we’ll record everything that is said. The fun starts when our moderator tells the first student:

MODERATOR: I am sorry to inform you that your father just died.

STUDENT: What?!  Wha…

(Oh, the look on her face is priceless.)

MODERATOR: No seriously,” we’ll say handing her a Kleenex, “your Dad, he’s like totally dead. Takin’ a dirt nap.”

STUDENT: My dad, you mean my…

MODERATOR: Yep. Dude fell out a seventh-story window, landed on a bike rack.  Ouch!  Now that’s gotta hurt. … Sooo, anyhoo…

STUDENT [CRYING]: This can’t be happening, it, it…

(Keep the tape rollin’ fellas, this is golden.)

That’s when our moderator says, “That Kleenex you’re using, to sop up all those blubbery cry-baby tears? That, my friend, that is the new more absorbent Kleenex. Boy howdy!”

STUDENT: What?! You….you fuc….

MODERATOR: Your Dad? He’s not dead, ya big silly. But … don’t you love how soft new improved Kleenex is?

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Okay, so how is this stupid idea any different from those pranks we see more and more brands doing on YouTube?

Yes, they are clever but many of these pranks scare the heck out of people. Watch what they do to the poor lady in this video just to sell their stupid deodorant. The set-up of the stunt is very clever, no doubt, but does the lady look like she’s havin’ fun?

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The latest prank makin’ the rounds is a concept to promote the movie “Carrie.” Again, I love how clever the set-up is, but look carefully at the video. Do the people in the coffee shop look like they are havin’ fun?

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One could argue that this is experiential advertising; really good experiential stuff. Instead of just telling people that “Carrie” is frightening, they make them feel the product. On that score, this promo delivers.

But what if I staged, say, a terrorist take-over at La Guardia airport for the movie “United 93”?

Is a defense of “Well, come on!, We made people experience the product,” is that really justification?

I’ve told several friends how much I hate these fear-producing stunts, and some of my buddies just tell me to shut up and get over it. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I’ve become the old guy on his porch shakin’ his fist and yellin’ “Now you kids git offa my lawn!”

But I’ll wager I’m not the only one who hates this crap. Am I?

 

Actual client comments turned into posters. Plus my worst-client story.

Check this site out. It's funny.

In your career you will hear many very stupid things. Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to keep a straight face and not laugh out loud. And this site just posted a nice series of some of the silliest client comments turned into posters. It’s very funny, very cool. My favorite client story is the “Mr. Froggy” story. It was a tale of such immense stupidity that you’ll just have to take my word for it that it really happened. I put it in my book Hey Whipple, Squeeze This. But here’s the excerpt:

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Koncept Krushers can be bigger machines than just a client’s research department. The whole company may, in fact, be structured to blowtorch new ideas. This sounds cynical, I know, but I’ve seen it. I’ve stood right next to these furnaces myself and felt the licking of the flames.

Try this on.

The client in question was one of those Sisyphus accounts I described earlier. A big Fortune 500 company. Huge. The kind that asks for tons of stuff that’s always due the next morning and you find out later it’s for a product they’re thinking about introducing 10 years from now.

So, anyway, this poor art director is stuck on a Sisy Corp type of account. She doesn’t know this, so the day she gets a job for a big TV commercial, she’s excited, right?

Well, she and her partner begin working on it. After a vast amount of work, they have a couple cool ideas. I mean some really smart things that also happen to be potential award winners (or “podium wobblers,” as they’re called in Britain).

Cut to next scene, meeting number 1 with the client — all of their ideas are dead. The reason? Doesn’t matter. (You’ll see.)

So they get to work on another series of ideas to present in meeting number 2. Days later, there’s excitement in the creative department, rejuvenation. “We’ve done it again!”

Time wipe: It’s meeting number 3. The client opens the meeting by announcing they’ve changed the strategy.

Okay, here’s where we cut to that movie cliché — the clock hands spinning ’round and ’round, the calendar pages flying off the wall. The changes keep coming in. The client doesn’t like the idea. Or they cut the budget. Or they change the product, or they change the strategy. One time it’s the client himself who’s changed — fired, actually — and now there’s a new client who wants something totally different. Whatever it is, it’s always something.

It gets worse.

During meeting number 4 through number 63, the campaign is watered down, softened, and diluted so much that the final commercial is precisely as interesting as a bag of hair. The last interesting thing in the commercial is successfully removed in meeting number 63. An optimist might say that things should have gone smoothly from here on out. (“For cryin’ out loud. It’s a bag of hair! What’s left to complain about?”) But there are no optimists in advertising.

It’s Friday. The scheduled day of meeting number 64.

Meeting number 64 isn’t even a very important meeting, given that the CEO signed off back around meeting number 50 or so. But there needed to be a few dozen more “For Your Information” sort of presentations, and if any of them went badly the agency would have to start over.

The meeting begins. The art director goes through the old moves, trying to remember the fun of presenting it the first time. But there’s no spark left. She just . . . presents it.

The client sits there. Says nothing at first.

The client then reaches down into her purse and pulls out a small Kermit the Frog doll. (This really happened.) It’s one of those flexible dolls, and she begins bending the frog’s arms around so that its hands are covering its ears. Then the client says: “Mr. Froggy doesn’t like some of the things he’s hearing.”

This really happened.

The client actually said, “Mr. Froggy doesn’t like some of the things he’s hearing.”

Let me put it this way. There are two kinds of hell. There’s “Original” and then there’s “Extra Crispy.” This was Extra Crispy.

Well, Ms. Froggy-Lady, as she came to be known, wasn’t able to kill the commercial, only make it a little worse—a feat in itself. And so, finally, in meeting number 68, the whole company had signed off on this one storyboard.

All in all, it took 68 presentations to hundreds of MBAs in dozens of sweaty presentation rooms. In fact, there were some sarcastic agency memos to the media department suggesting that since the commercial had been shown to thousands of people already, there may not be a need to air it at all.

The creative team went back to the agency, opened two beers, and sat looking at the sunset through the windows of their offices on the 30th floor. There, over the body of the original storyboard that lay on the floor, they performed an advertising postmortem, discussing the more shocking moments of its horrifying death.

Eavesdropping, a casual listener might have thought the two had just come out of the theater and were talking about a horror movie. (“Yeah! And remember when that one guy came in and ripped all its guts out? Man, I did not see that coming at all.”)

That’s when they noticed something out their window — something disturbing.

Outside their window was a 40-story building.

The thing is, the 40-story building wasn’t there the day they began working on the commercial.

With horror, the creative team realized that a building had been raised, built from a 30-foot-deep hole in the ground and 40 stories into the sky, faster than their little 12-frame storyboard had been destroyed and approved.

Why do I tell you this? To chase you away from the business?

No, to steel you for it.

This stuff happens all the time. And keep in mind, none of these clients were stupid people. (Well, we can discuss Froggy-Lady later.) They were all pretty sharp businesspeople, trying as hard as they could to solve a problem for their brand. But as smart and nice as they all were individually, a calcified approval process had crept into the company’s structure, and it became completely impossible to get a decent idea out the door.

This happens all the time. Be ready.

SuperBowl XLVII: How to blow $126 grand per second.

Everybody’s got their faves from the commercials on the Super Bowl. But let’s talk about the bottom feeders.

(Okay, fine. As for favorites, mine happened to end up pretty far down the list of the infamous USA Today Ad Meter: the spot for Oreos (“Whispering in the Library”) made it to only #26. I also happened to like #20, the silly argument between Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd for Samsung. Both spots had all the right SuperBowl-ness to them while at the same time building their story directly around product benefits.)

Nah, favorites have been done. But what about the bottom feeders?

Calvin Klein Guy in underwear
Anheuser-Busch Black Crown party
Anheuser-Busch Beck’s Sapphire fish singing
Anheuser-Busch Black Crown “coronation”
GoDaddy.co Bar Refeali make out

Between you and me, I sure wouldn’t wanna be the brand manager at Calvin Klein who said, “Trust me, this is a Super Bowl spot.” Fact is, the CK spot would’ve sucked on the local farm prices report. Sue me, but I think fashion is the last great hold-out to good advertising. The whole fashion category still seems convinced advertising has to be flash without substance. As long as this belief persists, fashion brands will continue to be the bimbo of the advertising world.

I’m still scratchin’ my head about Anheuser-Busch’s three crappy spots. A-B usually occupies the top spots of the list but this year they stomped $11 million down a rat hole with three commercials that prove yet again your strategy has to be just right, before you do the creative.  In fact, it’s hard to find any strategy at all in the spot titled (ironically) “Here’s to Taste.”

The opening line? “We summoned the finest of this nation to help us taste and choose a golden amber lager.”

The helpful video shows us that the “finest of this nation” is a fake-roomful of AMW’s from Los Angeles. (AMW’s – “actress-model-whatever.”) Criminy. It reminds me of one of my favorite toasts — Steve Martin in the movie Roxanne: “I’d rather be with you people than with the finest people in the world!”

And yet, even after Anheuser hit bottom with “Here’s to Taste”, they kept digging the rest of their way to China with another commercial further defining “the finest of the nation.”

The VO says: “The loud. … The savvy. … The famous. … It took all of us to taste and choose the new Budweiser Black Crown.”

Seriously? Somebody needs to hang up a sign in Anheuser’s break room that says “Crack is for weekend use only.”

The final spot where A-B blew $3.8 million was for Beck’s Black Sapphire. Here the “idea” was a Pixar-like black goldfish sorta swimmin’ around the bottle. I’m guessing they got to this idea by first seeing the beer as “black gold” and then taking that > > > to black goldfish. (“Dude, a black goldfish. You nailed it!!”)

Typically, I never criticize other people’s work in public. Fact is, I’ve done some pretty miserable work of my own. Still, I’m making an exception of these three spots because Anheuser-Busch, … they should know better.

I’ll also happily make an exception to criticize the annual national embarrassments that are the commercials  from GoDaddy.

Yes, bringing up the rear — the spot with the poorest rating – was GoDaddy.  Once again, they didn’t disappoint and aired an execrable spot in which a curvaceous model French kisses a guy who has the skin condition known as rosacea; complete with the squirm-inducing wet sounds of a serious make-out. This isn’t marketing. It’s a drunk frat boy with $3.8 million to blow. Too bad, especially considering GoDaddy ran another spot that wasn’t about boobs or bad taste; it wasn’t half bad. Go figure.

In any case, there you have it. The five worst commercials of Super Bowl XLVII. They cost $11 million in media alone.

If only they had listened to my marketing plan I could’ve made these companies millions in cold hard cash. Here it is.

“Don’t run these spots.”

Boom. $11 mill, right there. You’re welcome.

 

An e-mail I came THIS close to sending to a client just to let her know what her micro-managing felt like.


TO: Luke Sullivan, Creative Director

FROM: Communications Manager

Please move the 56th pixel on the 233rd row about a 64th of a inch to the left. Also, the dot in the “I” should come down one font size, but not the lower vertical slash of the i, just the little dot on top of the i. The serif of the letter “k” is seems to be too big (am willing to discuss) but would like to see it both ways. Also, this is the second time I’ve asked about retouching the bottom two molecules of the lower 1/564th inch of the logo. It’s very “bland” and I’d like to see it the same way as presented to me in the pitch. The top of the two molecules is fine, but the lower molecules have atoms that are clearly not from our corporate palette. One last thing. The electrons in the outer shell of the lower atom are rotating counterclockwise. We talked about this already. Could we also see what it looks like when the electrons rotate clockwise, in time for today’s 3pm marketing meeting. For next week’s agenda: Now that the existence of the Higgs boson has been established, we will be able to help the agency make even finer improvements to the work.

Scenes From A Marketing Intervention on Subway Sandwiches.

OH, SUBWAY, WHEN YOU COMIN' HOME?

Several years ago, I wrote an article for Adweek about the addiction some clients have to promotions at the expense of their branding.

“Should we throw out promotions and go cold turkey?” I asked.  “Of course not. In the retail world, promotions are an essential part of the marketing mix. What I’m suggesting is, first an intervention, and then partial withdrawal.”

Today, I think it’s time we intervene on Subway sandwiches.

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OPEN ON JOHN X, SUBWAY’S CHIEF MARKETING OFFICER, OPENING THE DOOR TO SOME DINGY ROOM AT A HAMPTON INN.

INSIDE, HE’S SURPRISED TO SEE A GROUP OF 400 PEOPLE SITTING ON COUCHES, ALL WITH CONCERNED LOOKS.

INTERVENTION MANAGER: Hello John, these people here love your brand a lot and they don’t want to see you killing it anymore.

JOHN, SITTING DOWN: But …

MANAGER: With us today are representatives of the 300 agencies you’ve burned through on your promotional binge. Plus a hundred or so creatives who threw a year of their careers away hoping they might be the one to get you to stick with a decent campaign.

CREATIVE DIRECTOR #1: John, your promotions have affected the brand in the following negative ways. (HE STARTS BLUBBERING) I was up all night going through the YouTube collection of your crappy spots and I’ve never seen you commit to anything.

JOHN: Yeah, but I have all these franchisees who…

CD #1, GETS KLEENEX, CONTINUES: I saw some remarkably stupid shit with people holding up “five fingers for the $5 footlong.” And I cannot count how many idiotic spots I saw with sports figures – John Cena, Michael Phelps, some boxer named Mike Lee. Who the hell is Mike Lee?

CREATIVE DIRECTOR #2: I was so hopeful when you let our agency air the fat-people-eating-burgers stuff, but the next thing we knew, you were whoring around with that “Febru-ANY” campaign. And what happened with that marvelous “Badonka-donk” radio stuff?

JOHN: What about Jared? Whenever we ran him, sales went up.

CD#1: Then fine, stick with Jared but at least do something interesting with him, instead of the insipid, brainless, promotional crap you air.  What are you on, crack?  Jesus, Bob.

MANAGER: Calm down now. … So, Bob. What’s it gonna be? Can you commit to a good mix of brand and promo?  Can you find even a … a decent brand campaign and then really stick with it? And maybe cut back from 600 agencies to five or so?

JOHN: I… I…

THE SUBWAY CMO LEAPS FROM THE COUCH, RUNS,  THE CAMERA FOLLOWS HIM TO THROUGH THE HALLS DOWN TO THE PARKING LOT WHERE WE JARED WAITING FOR HIM IN A CAR. THEY PEEL RUBBER AND DISAPPEAR IN A CLOUD OF BLUE SMOKE.

INTERVENTION MANAGER: Well, he’s on his own. I hope when he wakes up as the assistant product manager for some third-tier regional brand of acne cream, that he’ll finally get it. That he’ll finally see how brand will get you through times of no promotion better than promotions will get you through times of no brand.