Thursday, September 18, 2014

Taco Hell, Part Four -- Is She Clean?

(Sandee Westgate, John Shirley, Woman with inappropriate midriff, Rich Siegel -photoshopped in)

(The fourth in a four part series detailing our 2001 descent into Taco Hell. At this point I should remind the reader this story happened 14 years ago and has no bearing on today's Taco Bell or their ad agency where I am frequently brought in as a freelancer. No bearing whatsoever.)

So by now, I hope I've painted a pretty vivid picture of a huge fast food account (Taco Bell) at the very end of its incredibly successful, though often bumpy, relationship with its advertising agency (Chiat/Day).

They knew they were shopping elsewhere.
We knew they were shopping elsewhere.
And despite the smiles, the overly-firm handshakes and the sugar-coated conference reports we were all simply going through the motions.

Nevertheless we were professionals.

And in the face of incredible odds actually managed to get one more spot with Gidget the chihuahua. Perhaps as a testament to Chuck Bennett and Clay Williams, the guys who put so much heart and effort into the campaign, this last Gidget spot still produces a smile.

It was written and art directed by John Payne and Gary Pascoe, two of the most talented guys to ever come through Chiat/Day.

My only contribution as Creative Director was selling it, reselling it and bringing it back to the table every time the client threatened to pull the plug.

Yesterday, I teased the conclusion of this story with the promise of Internet porn sensation, Sandee Westgate (seen above in black top).

We met her, along with hundreds of other impossibly-built aspiring models/actresses, at a casting session that can only be described as grueling. The script called for two hot women hand feeding Chalupas to one of our Road Trip guys in a sensual-but-safe-for-TV fantasy.

The women were only on screen for 4 seconds, but in the mind of my partner John Shirley and I, and every other male involved with the production, those 4 seconds were crucial.

With the wrong cast, the fantasy simply wouldn't look very authentic.

One 10 hour casting session turned into two. Two turned into three. And when we found out the production office was located near Roku Sushi, we thought why not go the extra mile and make this search as comprehensive as possible.

Because as I mentioned before, we were professionals.

Having made our thorough selections, we presented Sandee and her colleague to the Taco Bell clients.

They gave us their approval immediately. With one stipulation. They wanted both women to be completed vetted. They ran a fine upstanding organization with high morals and wanted to make sure the actors and actresses who represented Taco Bell were of the same caliber.

Thankfully, they were.

That was 14 years ago. If you were to Google Sandee Westgate, and I know that you will, you'd see she has successfully ridden this Internet thingie to success.

I don't think Taco Bell's business has changed much. I have to believe their core audience is still 14-17 year old boys. And sometimes those boys (the HFFU's for those of you in the biz) even get the Munchies. In essence, they're the same pimply faced guys that frequent Carl's Jr.

We know how Carl's successfully married the notions of horny and hungry, albeit in a very soft core manner with nothing racier than anything you might see on Skinemax.

What if Taco Bell were to take it to the next level? And make Sandee their new national spokesperson to capitalize on her digital prowess.

For one thing they'd have a much better chance of having something go viral. And furthermore, I'm willing to bet those same boys would be lining at the store waiting to get their hands on a Crunchy Gordita.

Well, at least their left hand.

Now that's Living Mas.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Taco Hell, Part Three -- Phoenix in August

(The third in a four part series detailing my 2001 descent into Taco Hell)

With our concepts thoroughly scrubbed and approved, including a frame-by-frame storyboard that mapped out each of the thirty seconds -- a new height in anal retentiveness -- and our five demographically-correct actors properly cast, it was time to take to the road.

Of course, the premise of the campaign was a road trip so that made sense.

But it was also a point of necessity. You see, in the summer of 2001, the Screen Actor's Guild was on strike. Moreover, they were actively seeking Los Angeles-based shoots to disrupt and shut down.

So we, the agency, cast and crew, boarded a plane for Phoenix.

I don't know if there's a good time to be in Phoenix.
It's brown, ugly and hellishly hot.
I do know if someone were to make a list of the top ten months to be in Phoenix, August would not be among them.

How hot was it?
While passing by a restaurant with outdoor seating, we saw the workers applying 50 SPF sunscreen to the patio furniture.

Not only was the asphalt road hot enough to fry an egg on (I know because we did) it was hot enough to grill and blacken the chicken that egg came from.

Satan has a satellite office in Phoenix, right off West Yuma Road, across the street from the Subway sandwich shop.

The plan was to tech scout and shoot 5 commercials over a 17 day period that included many 12-14 hour shoots. That was a significant chunk of my summer. I thought, well at least I'll be at a nice hotel.

Again, this shows you how stupid and naive I could be in the age of the emerging holding company ad agency.

Our fully loaded van left the airport, we passed a bank, flashing the brutal 114 degree temperature, and 20 minutes later arrived at the front of the Phoenix Park Motor Inn.

If you're thinking it looks less like a hotel and more like an old nursing home, you'd be right on the nose. Because it was an old nursing home.

I don't know about you but I'm a little picky about where I lay my head down at night. I had no intention of spending my last days at Chiat/Day where, figuratively and literally, folks were spending their last days gasping for their last breaths of oxygen.

My inner Diva took over and I told the producer I wasn't going to be holed up for 17 sweaty nights in God's waiting room, a room that smelt of adult diapers and industrial-strength vitamins.

Particularly knowing that these cost cutting measures were put in place to maximize profits for our holding company overlords in their 5th Ave., 10 million dollar,  four-level town homes.

And I certainly wasn't going to do it in the service of an ungrateful, ball-pinching client, the kind of tighty-whitey wearing people who'd bring a Bible to a bachelor party.

So we, my art director John Shirley and I, moved.
To a hotel just down the street, where our Director, Jonathon David, was staying.
The hotel/resort was designed by some famous architect, I believe his name was Frank Lloyd Wright.

Sensing our imminent demise at the agency and saddled with an unstable account, John and I spent the next fortnight on a vigilant crusade to max out our per diem's. Employing our wits and our 500 miles away-from-home charm, we did everything we could to outfox the production accountants.

We really owe a huge debt of gratitude to Taco Bell and the mother company, YUM. They put us through a bit of hell but the shareholders rewarded us with a little bit of heaven.

We started every day with the room service breakfast, not with the $12 pitcher of fresh squeezed orange juice that easily serves 4, but the larger $22 pitcher, because the remaining orange juice in its beautiful Waterford decanter looked so nice against the rising desert sun.

We smoked cuban cigars, hand selected from the hotel's secret humidor.

And we drank mojitos made with rum imported not from Jamaica or the sugar canes of Hispaniola, but from the far reaches of Eastern Madagascar, not because it was better but simply because it was more expensive.

Mmmmm, Madagascar.

There's a statute of limitations on creative financial skullduggery, isn't there?

Tomorrow: Don't miss the conclusion of the Taco Hell adventure, including the on-set appearance of Internet Porn Sensation, Sandee Westgate.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Taco Hell, Part Two -- Happy Birthday David.

(The second in a four part series detailing my 2001 descent into Taco Hell)

How do you follow up the Taco Bell chihuahua campaign?
How do you produce work that will produce immediate sales?
And how do you save an account in order to save your own ass and avoid the prospect of your children going to the DeVry Institute to study Cashiering?

These were the questions that kept me up night and day. And while vacationing in Kauai, I thought had the answer.

I called my partner, John Shirley, stateside and we started brainstorming an ambitious campaign that would take place in a small, fictional Mexican village in northern Sonora. Where, after a violent thunderstorm, a lightening bolt had hit a tree and left a haunting image emblazoned across its trunk.

Not of the Virgin Mary (as seen above), but of a Crunchy Chalupa.

John picked up on the vibe immediately and started working on comps. We always had a shorthand rhythm like that, where the ideas would come fast and furious.  We started envisioning pilgrimages to the tiny town. Villagers creating meat, beans and cheese shrines to the Holy Site. And interviews with the faithful who believed the Chalupa Tree had special healing powers.

Mostly, it cured a stoner's appetite for just $1.29.

But the premise gave us a platform to talk about the food, show the obligatory cheese pulls and poke fun at those who see apparitions, religious, comestible, or otherwise.

My boss, Lee Clow, saw the next evolution of the Taco Bell campaign going in a slightly different direction.

And while I still bemoan the death of the Chalupa Tree concept, you gotta give it up to Lee for his brilliant strategic vision.

His idea was to assemble 5 guys, put them in a van and send them on a road trip where they would make frequent stops at Taco Bells. They even brought the chihuahua, who would play a very small part in each spot, so as not to alienate the millions who still loved Gidget.

You might even remember this campaign.
I'm hoping you don't.

One spot featured the guys inside a Taco Bell while David, overcome with cheap fast food exuberance, started doing a white man rap.

My name is David,
My friends call me "G".
One hungry young dawg I be.
I'm cool like a penguin,
slick like a tuxedo,
so hook me up with gooey Encharito.

Chorus: Go David, it's your birthday, Go David it's your birthday.

Oh yeah!!!

I had to sit in an Orange County conference room and watch that get presented to a bunch of toe-tapping, gang-sign throwing, lily-white Promise Keepers.

BTW, I never approved the spot, but I bit my tongue and shut up. Because, as I had mentioned yesterday, with so many folks in upper management dropping massive turds in my career punchbowl, my employment status at the time was tenuous at best.

So where was the brilliance in Lee's plan?

In addition to shooting the heavily-scripted, watered down, executive approved spots, we handed each of our road trippers a Sony Handicam -- this was before iPhones. And we told them that during the course of the 17 day shoot, they could capture everything and anything they wanted on video.

From these hours and hours of raw, unscripted footage we would edit and piece together a campaign unlike anything on the air. With graphics and a voice-over narrative we could shape the stories, write the jokes, and deliver a breakthrough alternative that would blow the $55 cashmere blend-ribbed Paul Smith designed socks off the client.

Well, that was the plan.

We, including Lee Clow on occasion, spent months in the edit bay and actually presented more than a dozen of these free, improvised, off the cuff spots. And at the risk of sounding immodest some of them were very good.

Of course, despite the sage counsel, the client didn't air any of them. Why, after all, would they listen to marketing advice from the man who teamed up with Steve Jobs to make Apple the 5th richest company on the planet?

Their reasoning was beyond reproach. And it all had to do with the sacred process.

None of the spots had been vetted, committee'd and subjected to focus groups and therefore hadn't earned the Taco Bell Clusterfuck Seal of Approval.

Coming Up Tomorrow: "This hotel room smells like old people!"

Monday, September 15, 2014

"Ladies and Gentlemen, we are now beginning our descent into Taco Hell."

This week we're going to do something we've never done here at RoundSeventeen.

I'm going to tell of my adventures with America's leading purveyor of fast faux-Mexican food. But I'm going to do it four parts, because to compress it into one would simply not do the hi-jinx justice.

Keep in mind, this all happened in 2001, the year of our other great national tragedy. So this has absolutely no bearing on today's Taco Bell, its current marketing regime or their current ad agency, where I am sometimes employed on a freelance basis.

"We're not selling dog food!"

That was the battle cry from many Taco Bell franchisees in the spring of 2001. Methinks the owners and operators of Taco Bell doth protest a bit too much.

Nevertheless, the rank and file were tired of the Taco Bell chihuahua, Gidget, and the numerous catchphrases that digitally emanated from her mouth.

It isn't often that an ad agency (in this case, my alma mater Chiat/Day) produces a pop culture icon who appears in movies, TV shows, lunch boxes, coffee mugs and T-shirts, and generates millions of dollars in unforeseen merchandising.

It's even less common to have that same national advertiser request a 180 degree shift in direction and, in effect, demand the death of the goose that laid the Golden Egg. Or, the Chihuahua that deep-fried the Cheesy Gordita.

"Kill the dog!"

Had Jay Chiat still been at the helm, I'm sure he would have had some choice words for the khaki pants and polo shirted half wits in Irvine. Not only would he have resigned the account, the next day he would have pitched the talking chihuahua to the folks at Del Taco. And more advertising history would have been made.

But at this point Chiat/Day had been swallowed up by a holding company. And holding companies don't like to lose $200 million accounts. Those holding company yachts, private jets, 24 hour a day Town Car limos and discreet top shelf escort services don't pay for themselves.

While this drama was unfolding, our stock -- meaning my partner John Shirley and I -- was dropping faster than the hull of the Exxon Valdez.

The glow from our somewhat infamous ABC Yellow campaign had long faded. And though we were winning awards for our other client Earthlink, we weren't winning new subscribers.

Inside the agency walls, John and I weren't making friends. We were contrarian, combative, and uncompromising.  And spent a fair amount of time answering complaints via the HR department. In other words, we were being creatives.

And that's when it happened.

Not unlike the prisoner who gets that unwelcome and unexpected tap on the shoulder from the biggest, baddest triple murderer in Cell Block D.

"Hey you know that huge, obstinate dumbass client that hates the agency, hates the campaign, hates Playa Vista, hates this building, and hates the fact that they paid for the expensive art work in this building? 

They're yours now. 

You guys are the new Creative Directors on Taco Bell."

Tomorrow: One of the most embarrassing commercials ever produced at Chiat/Day. On my watch, I'm happy to add.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

No In-N-Out Urge

Today's post will enflame many of you.

That's because I know many Californians worship at the altar of In-N-Out Burger. I am not one of you.

In addition to testosterone, the Kardashians, and the excessive use of the word, "cute", it is among the many things that separate myself from my wife and two daughters.

I can't remember a single road trip without the obligatory, over-enthusiastic pit stop at an In-N-Out.

Frankly, I don't get it. Their burgers are not great. They're not even good.

If you were to de-construct an In-N-Out burger you'd see the patty was no better than the gruel served at McDonalds. It's thin. It's grey. And it's flavorless. So flavorless that it needs to be enhanced with lettuce, tomato, cheese, pickles, onion, mustard, Thousand Island dressing and a thick bready bun better suited for drying spilt milk off the counter.

People who enjoy In-N-Out burger are really eating a salad, that's been flavored like a hamburger.

When I was in college, I had many jobs. Of course when you attend an expensive private university and your parents shoulder you with the tuition bills, full time employment is more of a given than an option. One year I found myself working as a line cook at a gastro-pub  -- they were just called bars at the time -- in South Syracuse.

I believe the name was PJ's.

PJ's was home to the 10 ounce, Grade A, sirloin burger. Each patty was hand weighed, sculpted to perfection and then flame broiled over a scorching hot grill. Unless requested otherwise, each burger left the kitchen a perfectly pink Medium Rare, guaranteeing maximum juicosity.

Similarly, every burger went out unadorned.

Pickles, lettuce, tomato, onions, or any other accoutrement was placed on the side. Though many were ordered with a thick slice of perfectly aged, perfectly melted, sharp cheddar cheese.

If I've used the word perfect too much it's only because this burger was.

I know the comparison is unfair. Just as the praise heaped on your precious Double Double is unwarranted. Fact is, that burger isn't worth the paper it's wrapped in. Frankly, I wouldn't feed it to my dog. Of course my dog had her gall bladder removed 6 months ago and is on a very restricted diet.

But even if I did, I like to think she has good taste and wouldn't go near it.

I know I won't.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Tale of the Thin Packet.

Please forgive me for the usage of this stock photo, found easily on Google images.

As I have noted in the past, teasers like this often result in increased web traffic. Which is very important right now as we prepare RoundSeventeen for its IPO and eventual sale to Google for 3.8 billion dollars.

Like I said, it's all about marketing, a field I thought I knew something about. With each passing day however, that expertise seems to be waning.

War story time.

Years ago I was hired to do a freelance gig. It was a one week affair. A run and gun, drink some coffee, bring an extra set of clothes, bitch of a pitch.

I'm not very fond of these affairs and never believed the best creative is produced under these conditions. But, as my niece -- a guidance counselor -- once pointed out in a book of job definitions for graduating high schoolers, a Copywriter must be able to sparkle on demand. 

On this particular job I was teamed up with another copywriter. That doesn't happen too often but he was a colleague and someone I had known for many years. He's also one of the few people who can hold his own in a battle of wits, despite being raised in Wisconsin.

We were briefed at 9:30 AM and by 9:45 AM had fallen into a comfortable rhythm.

We were riffing.
And sparkling on demand.

We maintained this scorching pace throughout the day. Interrupted by several bitch sessions about being married, fathering children, scummy Hollywood agents, other hacky copywriters, and again about being married.

At 6 o'clock we got a phone call from the Creative Director who had briefed us just 9 hours earlier. He was offsite but wanted to see the work. And told us to email everything we had by the end of the day.

So we stopped looking at Turkish Bestiality Porn and knocked out a couple of more scripts.

At 8 PM, we hit the Send button, a hastily-written note and 16 fully written scripts. That was some serious sparkling.

The very next morning we approached the swaggering Creative Director and solicited some feedback.

"The packet was a little thin."

That was his response.
16 scripts.
One day.
And the packet was a little thin!

I thought we were in the business of solving a client's business challenge with strategic, disruptive communications, I didn't get the memo we were now in business of pumping out marketing manure by the pound.

As if that doesn't defy logic, consider our reactions.

I, born and bred in New York, wanted to clock this ass nugget and share with him some of the wisdom I've learned in my 44 years on this earth. But I bit my lip and smiled.

My Wisconsin compatriot was even more steamed.

"The packet was thin," he muttered under his breath. 

Sensing his anger, I wedged my body between my midwestern colleague and the shit-for-brains Creative Director. You probably don't know many people from Wisconsin, but I'm here to tell you, they're preternaturally nice and usually not prone to violence.


But pacifism prevailed.

In the end, none of the 87 scripts we wrote that week made it into the 534 page deck presented to the client. And the agency we were working for, didn't win the pitch. In fact they had their pockets picked and lost the account.

Two hardworking, hard sparkling copywriters enjoyed a heaping helping of schadenfreude.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Bull Shingy

If I were Superman, and clearly with my barrel-chested body type and penchant for salty snacks, I'm not. But if I were Superman, pretentiousness would be my Kryptonite.

Perhaps it's because I grew up with working class roots and lived in a town, Suffern, NY, that somehow lived up to its name.

In any case, I have such a visceral reaction to phony, hipster bullshit that I cannot let it go unchallenged.

With that I'd like to introduce you to David Shing, who often goes by the singular moniker of Shingy.

Normally I'd have made a snide comment about that. Or his nail polish. Or the funny glasses. Or even the hair-don't. But I don't want this to be a personal attack. I don't know him and it would be wrong of me to use this pulpit to shit on Shingy.

This is more about the message than the messenger.

Besides, he has done numerous interviews, where he bills himself as a Digital Prophet, and put out some very impressive videos, which in my opinion, are more damning that anything I could possibly come up with.

Between the suspended lightbulbs, the moody music and the hand gestures I didn't get too far in the video. He lost me when, he started babbling on about…

"Where people are going to cluster in small villages, or tribes. And understand they can have deep intimate communications. And I think we're yearning for those experiences."

Oh Shingy please.

Yeah, the other night my wife wanted to go to a movie but I told her I was going to be on the Internet with my tribe of Claussen's Sauerkraut lovers discussing new variations on the Reuben Sandwich.

I added that I might not be able to drive my youngest daughter to her SAT prep class because I was having deep intimate communications with one of the tribe members who was working on some new Vines with slow cooked corned beef.

The truth is, I couldn't get past 38 seconds of Shingy unique brand of bull. Mostly because what he and other marketing gurus, has to say, has no application in the real world of advertising.

Few are the brands that can actually make a difference in this world. And it's because of their products, not because of their live tweeting or InstaGram shenanigans.

I've got news for all you game-changers, planet savers, media artists and plaid-short wearing, rose-sippers, ours is the world of tent sales, 20% off coupons, and Buy One Get One Free. That's the stuff that pays the bills and keeps the lights on.

For all I know Shingy is a good guy. I know he's a smart guy. He gets paid to speak at industry symposiums. I don't speak at industry symposiums. I don't even get paid to write about the digital ninjas and the HTML flim-flammers who speak at industry symposiums.

But he lives in a delusional world. And like all prophets, digital or otherwise, has made a living shoveling shit and putting the kibosh on critical thinking.

If you're buying what Shingy is shilling, perhaps you should look into the Rapture Hatch:

Monday, September 8, 2014

Back in the U.S.S.R.

Of my many, many, many faults, my family will tell you the most obnoxious is my compulsion to beat a good joke to death. It's driven my wife to solo paddle boarding. And my daughters will tell you, they can't leave the house and go to college fast enough.

This predisposition to wring every last laugh out of a joke -- good or bad -- is my Achilles heel. Maybe it's common affliction among all 44 year old men.

In any case, today we're reaching into the files, revisiting Mother Russia and the glory of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

We do this not only because I stumbled across this treasure trove of captioned pictures that so succinctly capture the unfinished, shabbily-constructed spirit of Sochi but also because Vladimir Putin, his man boobs and his vodka-soaked stormtroopers are in the news.

But before we work ourselves up into a frenzy about Ukraine, whose track record of Nazi collaboration leaves me a little unenthusiactic about coming to their aid, and before we put any American soldiers in harm's way, let's remember who we shouldn't be getting frenzied about.

A wannabe superpower that is not so super.
Not even when they're sober.

Cue the Beatles and roll out the dead horse:

Feb. 10, 2004. Sochi, Russia -- Olympic visitors find it difficult to recharge their iPhones.

Feb. 11, 2014. Sochi, Russia -- Olympic officials remind the athletes to stay hydrated.

Feb. 12, 2014. Sochi, Russia -- Hotel utility workers unable to turn off the heat.

Feb. 13, 2014. Sochi, Russia -- "I tried jiggling the handle."

Feb. 14, 2014, Sochi, Russia -- Security officials say, "so far we haven't seen any imminent threats."

Feb. 17, 2014. Sochi, Russia -- Winning athletes have been upgraded to luxury suites with built-in soap dispensers.

Feb. 18, 2014. Sochi, Russia -- Homeowners next to Olympic biathlon course plan lawsuits.

Feb.19, 2014 Sochi, Russia -- Food running scarce at Olympic venues. Russian farmers are working overtime to fix situation.

Feb. 20, 2014. Sochi, Russia -- Polish Hockey team unable to enter the newly-constructed practice arena.

Feb. 21, 2014. Sochi, Russia -- The 4-Man PlopShed.

Feb.23, 2014 Sochi, Russia -- To celebrate the end of the Olympic Games and in anticipation of the arrival of warmer weather, local women folk celebrate with the ceremonial drinking of the vodka through the flip-flop.

March 7th, 2014 Sochi, Russia -- Locals return to the night club scene in Sochi.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Loaded for rat

As you can see I just made a trip to the local Home Depot.

Not for a new motion detector.
Not for a new O-rings for the leaky faucet.
And not for one of those extendable Swiffy things so I can reach up high and dust the top of the ceiling fans which haven't been touched since they came out of the box in 1997.

No, those projects can all wait.

I've got mice on my mind.
And my mind on my mice.

If you're from Southern California you are surely aware we live among millions of mice and tree rats. On any given night you can see them scurrying across power lines, running from telephone pole to telephone pole, at speeds that would make any Flying Wallenda jealous.

Now that we're in a drought situation, the mice and the rats find themselves up Shit's Creek without a creek.

They're thirsty. And they're desperate. None of this seems to bother one of my neighbors who runs a patio fountain 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. I asked her to shut the rodential watering hole down at nighttime and she just stared at me.

Why am I surrounded by such an asinine crowd of white trash? I thought the point of owning (OK the bank owns it) a million dollar home was to get away from these cretins.

Anyway, in years past, I was willing to ignore the nocturnal activity. They were out of sight, out of mind. But last week, while pedaling the recumbent bike in my garage, I saw a plucky little bastard had taken one of the Heirloom tomatoes from my garden and was pushing the meaty vegetable across the driveway to his little rat nest.

By the time I had leapt off the bike he had disappeared into the bushes. With my fresh bowl of salsa no less.

That tomato across the driveway was a direct shot across the bough.

It's war.
And it's on.

I've already deployed my arsenal. And at this writing have snagged four of the little buggers. Actually, one of them wasn't so little. It was a Norwegian Tree Rat and was about two milkshakes shy of being a Chihuahua.

Had I been true to the principles espoused by Les Stroud, Bear Grylles and other survivalists/hunters that I enjoy on the Manly Channel, I would have skinned it, cleaned it and roasted it over an open fire.

I'm told grilled rat tastes just like chicken. But as luck would have it, my wife had already defrosted a chicken for dinner that night.

Maybe next time.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Dear Infidel,

Dateline: Culver City, CA -- Imam Rahul Abdullah Ach ben Mohammed, religious leader of the Saudi-built King Fahad Mosque in Culver City (see above with the blue dome) has sent a special request to NFL Network (the angular building to the left) President Steve Bornstein.

Dear Mr. Bornstein,

As neighbors on Washington Blvd. in Culver City, California, we have always maintained a cordial and respectful relationship. 

As you may know, our congregation religiously abstains from all pork products, including ham, sausage and even the mouth-watering St. Louis Baby Back ribs served at Lucille's at the nearby Westfield Shopping Center.  Accordingly we would like to ask the NFL Network and the NFL organization to stop referring to football as a "pigskin."

This is but a small dispensation your organization can make in order to preserve our special friendship and please the will of Allah (PBUH.) 

To show we are reasonable people with reasonable demands, we have taken the liberty of providing you with suitable alternatives, including:

Leather spheroid



I thank you in advance. 

Likewise, per our earlier correspondence, we will soon have the new burqa designs that our congregation believes will be a pleasing wardrobe alternative for your NFL cheerleaders.


Rahul Abdullah Ach ben Mohammed

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

My Plans to be a Planner

Stop me if you've seen this movie before.

And I wouldn't be surprised if you had, because this scenario plays out every day in every ad agency across the country, from the wickedly-inspired hallways of Weiden Kennedy in Portland to the anabolic steroid-laced hallways of Zimmerman Advertising in Fort Lauderdale.

A senior planner hands a Creative Director a meticulously-crafted planning brief.

He is peacock proud of the brief's brevity, insight and mapping potential towards marketing success. As the sacred document is passed from one professional to the next, a slight addendum is added.

"We need to show the client something in three days."

"Slow your roll," the Creative Directors responds, "How long have you been working on this brief?"

"About two months. We had initial research. Data Analysis. Loop backs. Deep dives. More research. Oh and then the CMO went to Machu Pichu. So really only 6 weeks," the planner replies, with not a hint of guilt.

The Creative Director, having just enrolled her kids in an expensive private school, bites her lip and tells her team to do the best they can.

And in three days time they do.

The work goes down to the client and in one of those meetings that can only happen in advertising, the Associate Chief Marketing Officer claims he never signed off on the initial brief.

He seizes the opportunity to do a little grandstanding of his own, because he just put a down payment on a Porsche Carerra, and instructs the agency to come back with work in a different direction.

His direction.

The senior planner, with all his various degrees in demographics, psychographics and social media metric confabulation, could push back and contest the point, but he and his wife just bought a new town home. And the formica counters in the kitchen need to be replaced with granite.

And so, the original precious planning brief, the one that incubated for 6 weeks and was pored over with loving care and undue attention, is tossed in the trash can in favor of a new brief. The one that was angrily ad-libbed by the ambitious Associate CMO who is eager to tell the world he has a small penis.

The cynical among you, that's almost all of you, might be thinking, why do we need Planning at all if the client is going to reject our council and write their own briefs based on nothing more than gut instinct and that morning's caffeine intake?

But as a seasoned ad veteran who has spent considerable time in the industry, I know that every problem is also an opportunity.

The silver lining in this case is I can extend my already lengthy career even longer by transitioning into the Planning Department. That's right, I'll become a Copywriter/Planner.

As a hybrid creative/strategist I'll be uniquely positioned to take advantage of the aforementioned scenario. And short circuit the all-too-familar strategic clusterfuck to my advantage.

For instance, I don't need 6 weeks to write a crappy brief. I can do it in three. Which leaves me ample time to work on my online chess game and perfect the Sicilian Gambit.

And crappy ads for my crappy brief?
Well, God knows I have plenty of practice writing those.

It's the perfect plan for a 44 year old.
Who knows, I might get another dozen years out of this industry.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Aryan Brewerhood

In the earlier incarnations of this blog, I wrote much shorter posts.

And I squeezed out articles based on the thinnest of premises, an odd photo, something my daughter said, or even a bumper sticker I had comes across.

Then I caught the writing bug and started 'going off' on anything. And it seems, everything.

That's how we got to more than 1100 posts.
Which is nothing to sneeze at, considering how shallow and uninformed yours truly can be.

Today, in light of the upcoming Labor Day weekend, I'm returning to those roots and taking the easy way out.

Last week, I took the time to look at the carton of light beer I like to drink, Beck's Light. They pack a lot of good Teutonic beer flavor into those 64 calories.

That's when I noticed something odd about the labeling. (See picture above)

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.

Wait until the very verbose Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center sees this.

I'm sure this will merit quite the stern letter. And if I know the good rabbi and his hypersensitivity to anything remotely Holocaust, it'll be a thousand words and then some.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Pith of Pythagorean

There is a meme floating around the Internet that goes something to the effect of:

Another day of life, Another day I never used Algebra.

I get it, algebra is useless.

The same can probably be said of Organic Chemistry, Roman Mythology and Wood Shop.

Truth is, we learned a lot of shit in high school and college that has very little application in real life.

I've always contended there should be more hands on courses like Navigating Marriage 101, Introduction to Pleasing Your Parents, and Advanced Leave Daddy Alone, but that's another blog, for a later date.

Surprisingly there is one course that has come in very useful in my career as an advertising copywriter: Geometry.

I'll explain why.

You're all familiar with the Pythagorean Theorem that states the sum of the squares of the sides of a right triangle equals the square of the hypotenuse. Or:

But did you know there are more than 400 ways to prove this particular theorem?

Proving theorems accounts for the majority of most Geometry classes. I didn't know it at the time but the practice of laying out a theorem proof could be the most useful skill I obtained in four years of high schooling. That, and the proper selection of underarm deodorant.

Constructing a proof, whether it's Pythagorean or the countless other theorems, requires a discipline, logic and sometimes even creative flair. In many ways it's the same thought process that goes into writing a screenplay, an ad or even a blog post.

There's a beginning, an exploratory middle and a satisfying conclusion.

Properly executed, it's precise and persuasive.

When you do enough of them you can begin to find art and unexpected elegance in every proof.

I don't use Algebra every day, but I do put my Geometry skills to use every time I step up to the keyboard. Clacking away with the hope that I will deliver something compelling, articulate and insightful.

Clearly today was not one of those days.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

WARNING: Graphic Video

On February 26th, 1993, a group of Muslim terrorists set off a truck bomb in the basement of one of the World Trade Center buildings. The bomb killed 6 people and did extensive damage to the underground structure. It did not, however, topple one building into the next as the planners had hoped.

I remember watching that incident on the news and laughing to myself, thinking do these assclowns actually think they can take down the World Trade Center?

My flippant reaction, and that of our government, represented a monumental miscalculation.

Today, 21 years later, we, who are busying ourselves with cat videos or submerging ourselves in buckets of ice water for worthy charities, are guilty of the same faulty misjudgment.

I'd like you to watch a video.

No women are being stoned. No children are being bombed. And no American journalists are having their heads separated from their torsos in the name of an almighty, loving and merciful God.

But in many ways, this is even more disturbing and more chilling.

We know how the masked, gun-toting militants ravaging through Syria and Iraq feel about establishing a Caliphate -- a one world government designed to bring the planet's entire population under the laws of Allah.

This video shows us how some of the more "rational" followers of Islam feel about the impending unification of the Ummah.

What is most shocking is the cavalier attitude. There is an uncontested notion the Caliphate is coming and we must all, Muslims and soon-to-be-Muslims, live under Sharia law.

It's not a matter of if. It's only a matter of when.

Thankfully and not surprisingly two of the woman state their opposition, though they hardly make a forceful case. Lest they upset their male overlords.

What I find most frightening is how even the most soft-spoken of the men has no issue with the actual establishment of a one government, one religion, one-size-fits-all system of 9th century barbaric Neandarfuck totalitarianism.

It would be easy to dismiss all this if it were espoused by a few hundred, a few thousand or even a few million faithful followers. But Islam is practiced by 1.6 billion people, almost one out of every 4 humans on the planet. And if this video is any indication, I happen to believe it is, the majority of them are eagerly awaiting the day for the Caliphate to come. You know, so things can get better.

Just as in 1993, the warning signs are out there. You can go back to your ice bucket challenges, but the rise of ISIS, the savagery of Hamas, and the naked ambition of Islam should be a pressing concern for all of us.

Particularly if you are:

A woman
A Christian
A Jew
An atheist
A homosexual
A bisexual
A fornicator
A football fan
A Democrat
A Republican
A Libertarian
A Progressive
A beer drinker
A sommellier
A writer, painter, artist or photographer
A critical thinker
A Kafir
A dhimmi
A human being

Or just someone who loves a pulled pork sandwich on crusty toasted ciabatta bread

Monday, August 25, 2014

College Parenting 101

Last week, my wife and I ventured north to the Emerald City for a college orientation at the University of Washington, UDUB. It brought back vivid memories, of a long time ago, when my parents and I stepped foot on the hallowed grounds of Syracuse University.

Oh wait, no it didn't.

You see my parents never did any of the mishegas I find myself doing on behalf of my daughter's higher education.

An hour and half long seminar on the University's health resources and facilities, sign me up.

A 45 minute tutorial on dorm room organization, save me a seat.

A 5-mile walking tour of the enormous campus including a detailed explanation of the university's extensive recycling program and a thorough dissertation on the difference between Composting Material and Organic Waste, that's a memory-maker.

Al & Isabel Siegel would have none of that nonsense.

Here's the way it all went down for me. When I was 12 we took a family road trip to Hamilton in Canada to visit my mom's sister and her family. On the way up Route 81, my father spotted the unmistakable buildings of Syracuse University.

We pulled off the highway, rolled up East Adams Street, followed by a slow cruise down Comstock Ave. and looped back to Route 81. The "tour" lasted all of 5 minutes. No sooner did we turn onto the NY State Thruway did my father turn around and pronounce…

"That's where you're going to college."

No inordinately expensive application counselors.
No SAT tutors.
No exploration of any other choices.

Nor was any of that necessary.
It was Syracuse University.
And if the check cleared, my father reasoned, they'd accept my boy.

Because UDUB is on the quarter system, school doesn't start for another 3 weeks. And I'll be returning for another trip. This time to drop her off and move all her belongings into her room. She's in a crappy dorm but she's on the 8th floor and it has a hotel-like view of Union Bay.

I'm sure it will be a gut wrenching, 3 Kleenex box affair. Which again differs from that day 26 years ago when my parents shlepped me and my crap up to Sadler Hall on a cold Saturday in late September.

We drove for 4 & 1/2 hours.

My parents smoked their way through three packs of cigarettes, interrupted only by some fevered fighting. We dragged the boxes into the building because Al wasn't about to dole out 8 bucks to rent a hand truck.

We met my roommate and his parents from a very wealthy area of Long Island. My father, from the mean streets of the Bronx, assumed they were mobbed up and whispered to me, "don't accept any favors from him."

And that was it.

Dad shook my hand. Mom cried a little. They bought some more cigarettes and got back in the car for the 4 & 1/2 hour drive back.

And then, it started snowing.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

An Adventure on Amsterdam Avenue

Across the street from the Bristol Farms, where I get my daily lunch of tuna fish, fresh fruit and cottage cheese, there is a medical marijuana dispensary.

I'm not sure of the name.
I know it's not Doug's Weed Store.
It's usually something more affected like Grace, Sunshine, or Herbal Caregivers.

And every day, I see an eclectic cross section of Angelenos go into the store to be given their special care.

It's all so amazingly nonchalant. In fact, today I am in Seattle, where one doesn't even need a "medical affliction" to be "prescribed" a spliff of Blue Haze.

What a far cry from my youth, when we would literally risk life and limb in order to score some Mary Jane.

If I may indulge, one night my buddies and I were loitering around Greenwich Village. There, in the shadow of NYU, we often found dealers willing to relieve us of our hard earned suburban dollars in exchange for a plastic baggie of reefer.

But on this one particular evening we were having no such luck.

"Tuinal. Seconal. Uppers. Downers. Qualudes. you want em, I got em," barked the peddlers under the arch of Washington Square.

We were just four 16 year old boys from Suffern, NY who had no desire to pop pills. We just wanted to get high. And then we ran across two black guys who could help.

They had weed, they explained. Only it was back at their apartment. In Harlem.

That might have bothered or intimidated some, but it didn't phase our buddy Jim, who was as fearless as they come.

"Let's go," he said, pointing to his sea foam green Dodge Dart parked illegally on Bleeker Street.

And with that, Jim was off to 127th street with his two new BFFs.

We waited. We watched the jugglers, the unicyclists, the clowns, the street entertainers who would work hard enough to collect enough coins for the next meal. Or Malt liquor.

One hour turned into two.
Two turned into three.
And our imaginations ran wild.
How would we explain Jim's disappearance to his parents? More importantly, how would we get out of the city without Jim's trusty Dodge? And should we get on an uptown train and start scouring 125th street for our friend?

This last question merited very little discussion.

Just as we lost all hope, Jim arrived, smiling from ear to ear as if he had already sampled the goods.

He showed us the twenty dollar bag, enough to last the rest of the night and keep us laughing the entire ride back to the suburbs. But it didn't. Because most of what was in the little plastic baggie was nothing more than store-bought oregano.

A story born.
A lesson learned.
Caveat emptor.

We never got our "care" from Harlem again.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I hate the Internet

Where's my check, Ariana?

If you've been following the blog lately you know in the past week or so, I've had three, er....four stories republished on the Huffington Post.

I'm not saying this to brag. If anything I should be ashamed of myself. If I could write worth a damn I'd have several books published by now, like my skilled friends, Jim Jennewein, Kathy Hepinstall, Toby Barlow, Ernie Schenck, etc.

Instead, like the schmuck who gets the soup spilled on him by a klutzy schlemiel, I give it away for free.  For the hollow promise of 'national exposure.'

That, and $3.50 will get me a small latte at Starbucks.

Of course, as my published writing friends will tell you, there's not a whole lot of money in the paid-for-publishing world as well.

It sucks to be a writer…er, content creator, these days.

And I blame it all on the Internet.

Thanks to the world wide webs, people can't be bothered to drop 50 cents for a daily newspaper. High brow magazines like National Lampoon, Spy and Mad, are no longer purchased and brought into the stall for a good laugh.  And an even better expulsion.

They've all been replaced by Vines and Instagrams and BuzzFeed quizzes that don't even approach funny.

But the public, and I'm looking at you regular readers of RoundSeventeen, loves them because they're Free.

They used to say, "Funny is Money." That was before some four-eyed Silicon Valley geeks started confibulating the flik-flacks and modulating the flux capacitor and pumping the Internet into the ether.

Growing up, I had dreams of becoming the next Art Buchwald or the more WASP-y P.J. O'Rourke.

I would dash off some biting satire or vomit some stream of consciousness ha-ha's onto the page and the adoring public would shower me with wheel barrels full of greenbacks. Enough to pay for a huge house with a huger backyard and enough room for my own personal lap pool so I wouldn't have to slosh around with the unwashed masses.

But you ruined that for me, Internet.

And all your online restaurant reviews, free fetish porn and easy-to-navigate driving maps will not make up for it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

On trying harder

Sporting events have to be watched live.

The DVR simply does not suffice. It records the game or the match or the fight fine, but if I accidentally find out the result, it all becomes moot. And like a recent insightful Hyundai commercial (produced by my very smart friends) it's impossible NOT to know the results.

This maxim holds true for most sports.
Not all.

Last week I came across the coverage of the 2013 Kona Ironman. It took place a year ago. And to be honest, I don't really care who won.

In fact, I'm much more interested in the "losers."

Let's be clear about this. There's nothing as boring as watching people swim, bike or run on TV. And yet, like the airings of The Godfather, 12 Angry Men, or Bridge Over the River Kwai, I cannot pull myself away from watching.

I suspect it stems from my own participation in the sport.

I competed in my first triathlon when I was 26, for those of you who are counting, that was eighteen years ago. Growing up I was never involved in any organized athletics. Not in junior high, high school or college. I played Little League baseball and always incurred the wrath of the teammates and teammate's fathers on the bench.

"I bet the fat Jew strikes out. Again."

And of course, I always did.

Nevertheless I always felt like an athlete. So when I moved to California, I started running. And I started competing in 10K races. My obsession grew, so I added swimming. Before long I was doing Tri's and became well versed in carbo-loading, cross fit training and the benefits of ketosis.

The longest triathlon I did covered 1.2 miles in the ocean, 40 miles on the bike followed by 6.2 mile run. It is the Olympic distance and it went by the book. Except for the rib crushing kicks in the water, the flat tire and the bloody blisters. But I finished.

In fact, if I stepped up to the starting line I vowed to myself to always cross the finish line.

At the peak of my involvement I dreamed of crossing the finish line at Kona. That dream never came to fruition. And now with chronic heel pain it never will. I'll never forget the day the orthopedic surgeon showed me the x-ray, pointing out the heel spur, "that's the biggest I've eve seen." If only I had heard something like that from my urologist.

In any case, watching and hearing the stories of those that hurl themselves, despite all odds, over that incredible threshold is nothing less than inspiring. And can often have me grabbing for the Kleenex.

The father with the special needs son.
The woman who lost a leg to diabetes.
The 78-year old widow who wanted to honor his departed wife.

It's all a testament to the better part of the human spirit.

Ample proof that pain is ultimately endurable. Including the pain, I suppose, of fathering two increasingly surly teenage girls.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Taking Care of Business

I tightened the perfectly-made Windsor knot until it pressed the sharp, heavily-starched collar of my white shirt into my fleshy teenage neck.

It was a scratchy wool tie. Mostly because my father was too cheap to spring for anything silk.

But the tie was mandatory, especially if I was going to work in his office at Brownell Electro, the nation's 3,829th leading distributor of electric motors and industrial wire cable.

Brownell Electro. 
Grinding out a living since 1887.

With the garrote secured to my neck, my father led me like a puppy to the Suffern Shortline Bus Station where we climbed aboard the 6:32 AM to the Big Apple. Most teenagers don't know from 6:32 AM. Particularly those who had just discovered the joys of Acapulco Gold.

But then my life, and my summer, hardly resembled the life of most teenagers.

The working men, mostly in their late 30's and early 40's, though they walked slowly as if they were in their 60's, filed onto the bus, stored their briefcases, settled in to their seats and lit up their cigarettes. I pressed my head against the plexiglass window and tried to draw oxygen from the 1/2 inch wide vent that pumped in clean carbon monoxide from the nearby exhaust pipe.

It was already 97 degrees outside. And more humid than Fiji. The windows on the air conditioned Shortline began to sweat.

I was wet, half awake, suffocating and smelt like a carton of Lucky Strikes. And it wasn't even 7 o'clock yet.

At the office, just south of Chelsea in a shabby area of the city that hadn't been gentrified or Disneyfied, I sat in my wooden banker's chair. This was long before the era of Herman Miller. There was no height adjustments. No lumbar support. And no Kevlar backing to increase maximum ventilation and optimal comfort.

This chair had a gimp wheel. And one of the rear railings sported a small knotty oak protuberance. That protuberance was small at 7:30 in the morning. But by 3 o'clock it felt like Excalibur was impaled in my kidney.

Monday through Friday was the same routine.

Peggy, the unusually buxom chief of Accounts Receivable, came by at 7:45 and placed a boxful of checks on my desk. My job was to match each check with the Accounts Payable invoice and then post the amount to the ledger. I had to keep a running tab of all the incoming money. At the end of the day, the checks had to be deposited. So the tally, the invoices and the checks all had to balance.

They rarely did. It never phased my busty boss, Peggy. She knew all the tricks of bank reconciliation. If the amount was off by 9 cents, I had transposed some numbers. If the amount was off by a dollar or eleven dollars, I had forgotten to carry the one. And if the amount were off by anything more than $500, I had simply fucked up.

Then I'd be treated to a full-chested tantrum by my hot-tempered Puerto Rican supervisor.

"Pinche hijo de jeffe!"

The memory of Peggy, sloppy bank slips, torturous bus rides and hours spent waiting at the Port Authority Building came flooding back to me while driving home from the office and stumbling across Bachman Turner Overdrive's, "Taking Care of Business", a song that had vaulted to the top of the pop charts that August.

I took care of business that summer. And the following summer when I worked as a Pot Washer at Good Samaritan Hospital. And the subsequent summers, when I was a Line Cook, a Landscaper and a Forklift Driver in lovely Gardena, California, where the 110 meets the 405 and forms the 9th Gate of Hell.

Each of these character building experiences changed the vector of my life.

And each serve to remind me that since I became a copywriter in the ad industry, I haven't worked a day in my life.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Bumper sticker wisdom

Spotted on the dirty windshield of an SUV in the parking lot.

Not sure why the Can is capitalized. And I don't know what happened to the 'n' in doesn't. Nevertheless, the intent of the decal is clear.

And funny.

I've never taken to affixing decals or political bumper stickers to my car. Not because I don't possess strong feelings or leanings one way or another, I think you know I do.

It's more about not sharing those often politically incorrect opinions with the 450,000 commuters who travel on the 405 everyday. Many of them with baseball bats, hand guns and tiny brains on board.

I prefer the somewhat sanitized and rhetoric-based arena of social media.

Lately I've been going toe-to-toe with friends and coworkers who have an opposing -- meaning wrong -- view of the current crises in Gaza/Middle East.

Don't worry, I'm not going to open up that can of worms again. Frankly I'm tired of the issue and half-heartedly wish the Israelis would just cave in and give their sworn enemies everything they want. The world will thank them. Goodwill will be restored. And finally there will be peace.

Well you know, except for the raging Muslim insurgencies and real genocide going on in Eastern China, Chechnya, Iraq, Syria, Mali, Nigeria, Sudan, Ethiopia, Libya, Kashmir, Somalia, Egypt, etc. Basically anywhere you find a mosque, women in burlaps bags and people shouting obscenities about kafir.

Sometimes these discussions get heated and insults buried in subtext are hurled. My feelings were not hurt. And I hope I didn't hurt anybody else's. OK, truth be told, some I don't really care about.

And I think that former colleague, who is fond of sending me private drunken late night missives laced with blatant anti-semitic insults ("no wonder your people have been hounded for years"), knows exactly what I'm talking about.

So let's get back to the car decal.

It's safe to say the driver of the vehicle in question is a fellow misanthrope.

I love misanthropes. If only for their pragmatic, honest and unfiltered view of the world. We misanthropes should form a club and get together on Tuesday Nights for sandwiches, beer and frank discussion.

Oh wait, no, that would suck.