Tuesday, September 11, 2012

She's talking about my colon

A few years ago I remember reading an interview with Gerry Graf, perhaps the best ad writer in the business today. A reporter asked him why his characters are so strange and twisted. Gerry's response, or my paraphrasing of it, was great.

Gerry didn't think his characters were weird at all. To the contrary, he wondered why America had such an easy time accepting and digesting characters who seemed hyper-normal.

Take the woman in the commercial above for example. She is a bridesmaid at a wedding. And instead of wishing the newlyweds a life of happiness and prosperity she takes her time on the microphone to inform the wedding guests about the wonderful probiotics contained in a spoonful of Colon Health.

Without so much as a nod or a wink to the fact that she is talking to people wearing $1000 dresses and rented tuxedoes about making a doodie.

That, counters the very insightful Mr. Graf, is disturbing.

And yet this ad, and thousands like it, sail through focus groups and stream across our TV sets everyday.

Well, the answer has to start with the people responsible for advertising in the first place: clients.

I've been on set for hundreds of TV commercials. Eaten thousands of breakfast burritos. And parked my ass in those uncomfortable director's chair for more time than I'd like to think about. And Video Village is no place for a creative person to be.

You see, high level clients rarely show up for shoots. Shoots are dull, tedious and can easily swallow up a 14-hour day. So high level clients send low level assistants to 'supervise' the shoot. More often than not, these are people with little or no thespianic, production, or even marketing chops.

You know, like their bosses.

The results are predictable.

When asked for feedback on a particular take, one will often hear:

"Can she say it with more energy?"


"He seems angry, can he be not angry?"


"I know she's done it 37 times, can we get one more for safety?"

Those of you in the business know exactly what I'm talking about. And for those of you not in the business, this should serve to explain why DVRs with commercial skipping ability are as vital to life as food and oxygen.

Everyday, we in the creative department do our best to run away from contrivances, plastic characterizations and out-and-out phoniness. And everyday, clients turn us around and make us run in the other direction.

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