Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Save the seals

My garage has seasons of its own.

Six months of the year, it's clean, organized and accessible. The other six months, it becomes a tangled mess of weightlifting machinery, sweaters in boxes, camping equipment and nostalgia that my wife cannot, and will not, part with.

Sadly, the change of seasons is not Mother Nature's responsibility. It is mine. Meaning I've got break out the broom, move the boxes and fix the shelving I built 19 years ago. It takes an entire weekend and lots of coffee.

But occasionally it does yield some treasures.

I don't have many family heirlooms. My father was poor most his life. And when he did make the leap from working class to middle class he made sure there was no going backwards. So he rarely spent his money on anything but necessities.

He must have been in unusually good spirits when he disposed some of his income on this faux leatherbound book (picture above). You see it's not really a book. It's an office novelty that he kept on the bookshelf at Brownell Electro in lower Manhattan.

Inside you'll find an amusing collection of rubber stamps:

These stamps hardly gathered dust.

I can picture my cantankerous dad gleefully reading a memo from an underling and sending it back to his or her attention marked: Great Job -- but it's done wrong.

He did not suffer fools gladly. He liked to bust chops. And was often in dire need of a filter.

The fact is, these eight stamps provide a surprisingly complete snapshot of who my father was. And when they get passed on to my daughter, I'm sure she'll say the exact same thing.

(There's another reason I consider this, flimsy as it may be, a family heirloom. As you might know when immigrants from Eastern Europe showed up on Ellis Island the intake officers often had a hard time with the last names. Consequently many Russians, Germans and Poles, were assigned last names that corresponded to their occupation. The German translation for Siegel is Seal. So I am assuming that my great grandfather was a seal maker, which were used quite commonly in the late 1800's. I hope he made a seal or a stamp as funny as: The idea's terrible, but I like your nerve.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Stew on this

My first run in with Mark Fenske was not a good one.

This was a very long time ago. He had just opened up the Wieden & Kennedy satellite office in Santa Monica. And for some unknown reason I believed I was good enough to work there. I wasn't.

Nevertheless I dropped my book off at his office and waited for Fenske to call me. Begging me to join W&K and start work immediately. He didn't.

In fact, I didn't get my portfolio back for another three weeks. And when it was returned there was no note, no criticism, no evidence that the portfolio had ever been looked at.

Fenske had made my Shit List.

Years later, while at Chiat/Day, I ran into Mark again. He was a freelance writer and I was someone that Lee Clow actually knew by name and would talk to in the hallway. In creative circles, that signals instant credibility.

Mark and I became friends. In fact we established a golfing foursome that played quite regularly at Malibu Country Club on Tuesday mornings. There is nothing so satisfying as playing golf, even poorly, and getting paid at the same time.

Fenske left California and became a professor at VCU. I don't know how one teaches copywriting (I suspect one day I'll be doing the same) but if anyone knows anything about the craft, it's Mark.

Here's an ad (in the form of a letter to his students) he wrote years ago. You won't find it in any awards annual or framed in any corporate hallway. In fact if you've never been to Richmond, Virginia chances are you never would have seen it.

But among the hundreds he has written and I have admired, this is my favorite:

What makes this copy so good?

It is brimming to the top with persuasiveness. After reading this ode to cubed meat goodness I wanted to rush to the supermarket to pick up all the necessary fixins' and start cooking.

But here's the thing, I hate beef stew.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Analog Retentive

I miss the One Off.

The One Off was a singular great idea/great execution/great ad that stood alone in the limelight. It was unencumbered by contrived brand extensions. Unfettered by social media integration. And unburdened by the false prophecy of 360 degree synergy.

Look through the awards annuals of days gone by and you'll find page after page of great One Offs.

But the One Off is on the endangered species list. Today, Creative Directors will trash an idea simply because it is a One Off. As if that were some kind of pejorative.

Or worse, like some crazed Joe Pesci character, they'll stick a great idea in a table vice and squeeze it until it yields banners, mobile apps and "something fun we can do on InstaGram."

It's all such nonsense. Sometimes a great spot is just a great spot. And that should be more than enough.

Ask the man, the woman, or the CMO on the street which brand does the best job marketing itself and you will no doubt hear, Apple. This is more than a little ironic since Apple is a company that defines the cutting edge of digital technology. Yet they refuse to play in the digital marketing arena.

When it comes to advertising they don't subscribe to the flavor of the day. They are iconoclasts. And refreshingly old school.

Steve Jobs, and his successor Tim Cook, never bought into the Java-scripted, HTML, inflective paradigm shifting mumbo jumbo that is being peddled in executive boardrooms across America. They know snake oil when they smell it.

But what if the greatest One Off of all time, Apple's original Super Bowl spot, were in the hands of folks who didn't know how to leave well enough alone?

I suspect Tank Top Girl would have her own Facebook page. We'd know where she buys her athletic shorts. The workout routine that produced such stunning triceps. And the high protein, gluten free cereal she eats every morning before her daily assault on convention.

Similarly, the Big Brother character would have his own Twitter feed. And a team of 20-something social media writers would be working night and day, wearing out the dictionary and the Thesaurus to come up with authentic sounding Orwellian doublespeak.

And of course there would be a website where users could enter their own target of disdain and, through the magic of algorithms and UX design, see their ex-bosses, old girlfriends, and former landlords, destroyed by a rebellious airborne sledgehammer of destruction.

Oh the hours of meaningful brand engagement that would produce. Yeah, right.

Thankfully, 1984 was not like 2012.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Who wants some spotted dick?

Writing this blog and providing a laugh, 4 days a week, every week for the last 4 years, can get a little tiring. There are times when I just don't feel like making with the funny. But, as I have often found, when the inspiration isn't there, friends and family are.

Last week, we went to a housewarming party for some dear friends who moved from Beverlywood (2 miles from Canter's Deli) to Irvine (56 miles to Canter's Deli).

The party was attended by some of the folks we go camping with every year. Including Liam, a 14 year old boy, who is unusually averse to bathing soap but shares my affinity for sophomoric humor.

Particularly when it shows up on the shelves of a local supermarket.

So Liam brought this can of Spotted Dick Pudding as a housewarming gift. Not because anyone at the party fancied some with their ice cream (if that's what people do with Spotted Dick Pudding) but because he knew I would want a picture of it for my blog.

His little gift brought a smile to my face. It also served as a reminder to count my blessings, meaning my two daughters. Because if I had sons, who would now be teenage boys, life in this house would have been insufferable.

And as surely as a toilet seat that never went down, my wife would have left a long, long time ago.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

If you've got time

The Presidential election is almost upon us.

And in 2 weeks, millions of dirt poor people will cast their lot with Mitt Romney, an obscenely wealthy man practiced in the art of making a select few equally obscenely wealthy.

Millions of Jews will vote for President Obama, despite his abysmal support of Israel and the administration's unwillingness to call Islamic extremism, Islamic extremism.

In this spirit of going against one's own interest, I'd like to share a youtube video I came across last week. It makes an excellent point about creativity and the time it takes to produce inspired ideas. I say this is against my own interests because as a freelance writer I am often paid a higher fee to deliver creativity on demand.

I am typically brought in at the tail end of a project. When 99 other solutions have already been explored. When calendars have already expired. When patience runs thin and project managers are one conference report away from "going postal."

But now, it seems, even the relatively short time given to freelancers is being compressed.

In the halcyon days of 2005, a TV campaign would be allotted two weeks for development. A print campaign, 10 days. And a radio spot needed a full week to gestate. Add another two days for tagging alternatives.

That is no longer the case.

I was recently asked to work on a Super Bowl spot. I was handed the brief at 10 AM and called for a 'check-in' with the Creative Director by 4 PM. The same day!

Agency Creative Directors have become very fond of the 'check-in'. It's a way of monitoring progress, but in reality, it hinders progress. Check ins assume we go about our assignments the same way sweatshop workers of the early 20th century sewed piece work. If I'm spending two hours telling you how far I've got, that's two hours less of actually getting further.

Not to mention the fact that 'check-ins' plays havoc with my online Scrabble games.

Time is not elastic. It's a finite commodity. So the only way to give more time to Creative people is take it from somewhere else in the process. Some place where it is being utterly wasted and flittered away like a Pentagon Procurement Officer on a billion dollar toilet-seat buying binge.

The question is, where could that time come from? Where are precious minutes, hours and days, exchanged for copious amounts of meaningless, insipid, latrine-worthy data?

Think about that. I've got to get to a focus group.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Insanely Dry

This is an Apple iPod Shuffle. An amazing piece of technology. It weighs less than 3 ounces. Has 2 gigabytes of memory. And can store hundreds of songs. When the designers at Apple came up with this marvel of innovation, they thought of everything.

Well almost, everything.

You see while the iPod Shuffle is perfect for running, cycling, hiking, walking, or even napping on the beach, it is a land-lubbing device. It does not do well with water. This can be a problem if you do your jogging in Seattle. Or if, like me, you sweat excessively and come from a long line of schvitzers.

It certainly rules out the notion of swimming with music.
Or does it?

You see while Apple was fine making an insanely great compact MP3 player, the folks at have made it insanely greater.

They purchased truckloads of these Apple iPod Shuffles. Then started tearing them apart. Piece by piece, component by component. Then they meticulously coated each tiny electrical thingamajig with a chemical solution that makes it impervious to water. A team of neurosurgeons and Japanese Bonsai gardeners carefully reassembled the thousands of pieces. Producing the world's-first submersible MP3 player.

I bought my waterfi way back in March and have been swimming regularly with it. As I've noted before, swimming can be dull and monotonous. Many folks say it's more mental than physical. Swimming with music changes all that. Time disappears and 1/2 miles easily become full miles.

Years ago, I had tried the SwiMP3 with its patented Bone Conduction System. It looks like this:

The music is literally transferred, via vibration, from the player through the swimmer's cheekbone. What self-respecting man wants to walk around with two plastic toys strapped to his face? And what self respecting man shaves his armpits?

I sing the praises of my waterfi wherever I go. And even more so now.

Two weeks ago, it stopped taking a charge. I contacted the company in San Diego. I mailed them my defunct unit, they checked it out, found a defect and decided to send me a second generation player with improved waterproofing.

They didn't ask to see a receipt. Didn't argue about warranty coverage. And they didn't do anything but stand behind their product and deliver excellent customer service. How do you not love a company like that?

I hope the waterfi folks succeed beyond their wildest dreams and expand their product offerings. I know it's a stretch, but I hope they go into the airline business.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Oh My Dog

For the past two weeks I have been playing doctor. This is a role that does not come easy to me. I'm squeamish. Short-tempered. And, if you've read any of the 700 plus entries in this blog, not the soft, mushy type.

But, as of October 12th my best friend, ok the friend that likes to sleep on my chest, my half-shepherd, half-golden retriever has been seriously ill. Her temperature spiked at 106 degrees. She stopped eating. And she started digging large holes in the backyard, which I took as a very ominous sign.

In that time period she has been to two veterinary hospitals and seen 4 doctors. She's been on fluids. And 8 different medications. I'm not ashamed to admit the situation has occasionally brought me to tears.

Of course, this blog does not traffic in tragedy. Unless you consider what is happening to the advertising industry, the repression of human rights throughout the Middle East (pick a country, any country) or the rapid disappearance of courtesy and common manners.

Other than that, I'm here to share smiles.

To that end, I'm happy to report that Nellie (my dog) is running around the base of my pineapple palm tree and chasing two squirrels that seem to be taunting her with half eaten palm nuts.

In other words, she's back to 90% of her old self. And much of that recovery is due to my vigiliant care. I've told my daughters I am to be addressed as FloRich Nightengale. The reference and the bad pun went right over their heads.

My crash course in veterinary medicine did not start well. Because she wasn't eating, it was impossible to hide Nellie's medicine in the beef flavored pill pockets. That meant the pills had to be administered manually. And when I say manually I mean rammed down the back of her throat. Did I mention that many of these pills (the antibiotics) are the size of a SmartCar?

Additionally, the doctor asked me to carefully monitor her temperature. She handed me a rectal thermometer and said, "have fun." This is when things got ugly.

I found a well-lit area of my family room, sat next to Nellie, lifted her tail and was suddenly reduced to a clueless 14 year old boy. I passed high school biology course with flying colors, and was somewhat familiar with dog anatomy, but I could not locate the...uh, exit hole. I poked . And I probed. And I think I got some KY jelly on the carpet.

But I did not get entry. Or a temperature reading.
I mentioned earlier that I cried. This was one of those moments.

The following day, Nellie and I had to return to the vets office. And I had to be shown, by a female vet no less, where to stick the instrument. That was a week ago. Now I'm an old pro and can take her temperature blindfolded if I had to. Though I can't imagine a scenario like that would ever happen.

The point I wanted to make is that apart from some finicky eating, Nellie is getting better.

Before penning this story, I had to do a Google Search for DOG ANUS for just the right picture. Last week I mentioned my penchant for  religious apparitions. So the fact that the first image to come up, looks amazingly like Jesus with outstretched arms, can hardly go unnoticed.

Nor should it.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Holy-Anointed, Miracle Spring Water is Here!

And not a moment too soon.

A week or so ago, if some of you might recall, I began a correspondence with the Rev. Peter Poppoff Ministry, a late night TV charlatan promising to unlock the limitless wealth of Jesus. Providing, of course, that you line the pockets of his church with what little wealth you might have.

I posed as the former resident of my house and now I have begun receiving an avalanche of Rev. Popoff's direct mail solicitations.

I know this avalanche is going to keep coming, because years ago I did the same thing with The Lady of Fatima Society, who believe the Virgin Mary makes a yearly pilgrimage to Flushing, NY, of all places.

I lived in Flushing and can't for the life of me think why the Mother of God, blessed be she, would choose to reveal her divinity right off Parsons Blvd near the JIB Bowling Lanes. Especially when there are so many nicer hamlets like Great Neck or Dix Hills, just a few more exits down the Long Island Expressway.

Truth is, I've always been fascinated by these religious apparitions and actually tried to work it into a Taco Bell campaign many years ago.

It was a series of spots about a small village in Northern Mexico who believed they saw the vision of a Giant Chalupa emblazoned onto a large tree trunk that had been split by lightening. The vision kicked off the annual 90 day Festival of the Holy Chalupa, when, at participating Taco Bells, all Chalupas were just 99 cents.

As you might expect, the religious parody was not well received in zealous Irvine, Ca and the idea was shit canned before the second story board was even presented.

I seem to have digressed. Back to Peter Popoff and the elixir of wealth.

The miracle water showed up in mailbox. Stuffed between a bill from the Gas Company and a flyer for a local mattress store offering a 25% discount on all memory foam beds. Those of you familiar with this blog know I place no credence in the supernatural, the spiritual or the metaphysical. None.

But here's the thing.

Last Saturday, my dog stopped eating. She wouldn't eat on Sunday either. In fact, she wouldn't go near food for an entire week. Plus, she was incredibly lethargic. So we were off to the City of Angels Animal Hospital, where they relieved me of a week's salary but offered no relief to my dog. Her 105 fever went down and then it shot back up again. It did not look good and I was absolutely sure my dog was going to die.

Then we took her to our local vet who administered a different anti-inflammatory. To my surprise, but probably not to the surprise of Rev. Poppoff, my dog is eating again. And her temperature is stable. And a smile has returned to my face.

Do I believe a miracle has occurred?


But if the Taco Bell people call -- and reportedly the account is going into review -- and want to revive our Chalupa campaign, I'll be the first in line for a few more gallons of Rev. Popoff's Holy Anointed Spring Water.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Do Not Enter

This is David Butler.

He is not however my David Butler. My David Butler has no images on Google and is far too modest to post any pictures of himself. But that doesn't make him any less deserving of attention.

He is, after all, one of the legendary copywriters who built the Chiat/Day name and is responsible for some of the best work ever done there.

He's also the first person I ever had contact with at Chiat. We spoke by phone, first. And then he agreed to see me and look at my portfolio. This was way before the Internet, when ads were laminated and carefully placed in an expensive leather case.

He plowed through my mandatory 15 pieces, 5 campaigns, 3 ads per campaign. He didn't look too thrilled. But he didn't BS me either. He said some of the work showed promise. And then he made copies of the work and kept it in his file. And told me to keep working on new ideas, improve the ones he liked and come back to see him in six months.

It wasn't a job, but the honesty and the encouragement were worth a helluva lot more than the empty promises of CD's who said, "This is great but I don't have any openings."

Six months went by and my book got better. A year went by and the book improved some more. Eighteen months after our initial meeting, Dave suggested I meet with an art director about a possible opening to work on the Nissan Regional Dealers, the lowest rung on the Chiat/Day ladder.

That led to another interview with Bob Kuperman, a man who suffered no fools. Bob was gruff, but also quite receptive. He told me he wanted to think things over and to call back in a week.

Which I did.

BOB: I really like your book, but right now we don't need any Art Directors.

SFX: Click.

Ouch, I thought, too shocked to tell Bob I was a writer.

But I persisted to bang my head against the legendary Chiat/Day firewall. Eventually (three years later) I got in. And owe a great debt of gratitude to Dave. And to Bob, who, years later, championed work that would have died on the vine.

I also came away with enough scars and war stories to fill a book. Or at least a shoddily-written, sparsely-read Internet blog.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

An Apology

Just for giggles, I decided to write out the script for the now-famous Old Spice campaign. I'm not sure this is what the script looked like, I simply transcribed it from a youtube video. 

On paper, it doesn't look like much. There's a lot of copy. A lot of screen action. And frankly, it sounds like there's too much math going on, meaning it's too complicated. Take a look:


Open on athletic looking man stepping out of the shower, wearing a towel around his waist.

MAN: Hello Ladies.

Camera drifts in on the man.

MAN: Look at your man, now back to me. Now back to your man, now back to me. Sadly, he isn’t me. But if he stopped using lady-scented body wash…

Man holds up a bottle of Old Spice.

MAN: He could smell like he is me.

The shower behind him rises like a curtain and the props of the bathroom are pulled away, leaving the man on a boat.

MAN: Look down, back up. Where are you?

A beach shirt tied in a ring drops down and falls around the man’s neck.

MAN: You’re on a boat with a man your man could smell like.

Camera drifts in tighter on man.

MAN: What’s in your hand? Back at me. I have it.

The man is now holding a large oyster.

MAN: It’s an oyster with two tickets to that thing you love.

The oyster magically turns into a handful of diamonds.

MAN: Look again. The tickets are now diamonds.

A bottle of Old Spice rises from the diamonds.

MAN: Anything is possible when your man smells like Old Spice and not a lady.

The camera drifts back and the man is now longer on a boat, but sitting on a horse.

MAN: I’m on a horse.

SUPER: Smell like a man, man.

LOGO: Old Spice.

Whistle Mnemonic

If a young team brought me this idea when I was a Creative Director, I'm pretty sure I would have sent that team back to the drawing board. I might have said something stupid like, "there's not enough sell in this" or "make it shorter" or even "It doesn't seem funny."

And that's troublesome, because work like this can make or break a career.

I've had a lot of talented people work for me in the past, people like Margaret Midgett, David Horton, Raymond Hwang, Kenny Lee, Richard Pass, Jeff Maki, Mike Collado, Cody Spinadel, Chuck Monn, and many others. I am positive that at one time or another I killed a script that could have been this good.

And so, today I'm going to do what my family says I never do: apologize.

I am really sorry.

SIEGEL: I'm on a knee.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Bastard

If Joaquin Phoenix had only fallen through the net and drowned. He could have saved us all two and half hours of cinematic waterboarding.

I'm about to do what I've never done here at roundseventeen, a movie review. I don't do movie reviews because my wife and I have stopped going to the theater.

It's expensive. It's not as convenient as popping in a DVD. And then there's the real problem of going to see a movie with a room full of strangers -- a room full of strangers.

Many of whom like to play on their iPhones, eat with their mouths open and yak. Yak. Yak. Yak.One time an older Hungarian couple sat behind us, the woman did an entire play-by-play call for her hard-of-hearing husband. He might have been blind too, because at the end she literally started reading him the credits.

We used to joke that the last movie we went to see at a multiplex was Jerry Macquire. Which is only partially true, because we have seen a few. And now there's one we wish we hadn't.

(Sarcastic Spoiler Alert: If you don't want to read about the details of The Master, please stop reading. I will be discussing vital plot points and reveal the ending of this movie. Just kidding, there are no vital plot points. And as far as I can tell, there was no ending as well.)

By this point you know how I feel about this movie. Others, who are clearly smarter and have more refined taste than I, have said the movie is notable just for the outstanding acting demonstrated by Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

I take issue with that. I couldn't understand half of what Phoenix was saying. And I didn't know that speaking in a seductive, whispering tone followed by a violent outburst of temperament was an example of fine acting. To me, that's Act-ing.

Oh, but they were so committed to the roles. Well, Goebbels was committed to the Nazi cause, that doesn't make what he did good by any means.

Did I just break out the Nazi reference? I did. That's how god-awful and sucky and shitty and worthless this movie is.

There's a scene in the film where Hoffman's Master character has to break the will and spirit of Phoenix's drunkard. He makes him walk back and forth between a wall and a window.

I got it. I got the first time. And the second time. And the third time. He was torturing Phoenix and breaking him down. But the director chose to replay the sequence, in all its glorious variations, a total of NINE times. When it was over, he had broke down the audience as well.

People were fidgeting. Checking their watches. And laughing at scenes that were not meant to be funny. Mind you, I saw this film at the Landmark theater in West Los Angeles. With a crowd of blue-state filmgoers who could hardly be described as Luddites. These are the same kind of people who could watch a 3 &1/2 hour Terence Malick movie and claim the man is a genius.

I wish I had recorded all the grumbling remarks as we exited the theater. They were more authentic, visceral and entertaining than the film itself. And almost worth the price of admission. Almost.

Next weekend, I think we'll stay home and watch Paul Blart, Mall Cop.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Writing Right

Last week, Michael Wolff, the former editor of ADWEEK published an article in USA TODAY.

If you work in advertising, it's worth a read. The piece details the demise of writing and the lack of respect once afforded the copywriter, a position held by the original Mad Man Don Draper.

Wolff's article appeared on September 30, 2012.

I preceded him with a very similar piece posted right here on August 13, 2012. And indeed fellow bloggers George Tannenbaum and Bob Hoffman, the Ad Contrarian, have also covered this territory.

Wolff and USA TODAY are staging a contest and offering a million dollars of free ad space to the best written ad in order to prove his point that, What Ad Biz Needs Are Writers. But I'm here to suggest that Wolff has jumped the gun.

Because What The Ad Biz Needs Are Writers Who Write Right.

Am I going off on another rant about sloppiness, poor grammar and bad sentence construction? Yes. Yes I am.

Let me preface what I am about to say with some candor. I am by no means perfect. This blog is littered with typos, occasional malaprops and some questionable paragraph breaks. But this blog is written quickly. And often under the influence of too much caffeine/vicoden.

It is also NOT my resume or portfolio. When I was sending out resumes, on expensive weighted paper, I made sure they were neat and error-free. The same can be said about my book. Why? Because there was a time when that was simply the price of entry.

Today, it appears the bar has been lowered. And entry is granted to anyone who can wear a Fedora and endure an intern program.

Some people like to watch cat videos on the Internet. Others like to follow fantasy football. Me? I like to look at other copywriter's portfolios. Here are some examples of what I found. Verbatim.

It's is not the possessive form of its.

The proper American spelling is judging, not judgeing.

There are three ways to spell there. 
There's there. 
There's their. 
And then there is they're. 
As in, they're crazy if they hire you.

If you're (not your) a young writer and you recognize these mistakes on your portfolio, you can curse me now and thank me later. Then I'd suggest having a professional proofreader go through your entire portfolio.

Finally, you should be grateful that I'm no longer a Creative Director. And that I am no longer a  gatekeeper.  Because when I judge portfolios, I look not only for a professional who knows how to write well, I look for one who knows how to write.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

We have a winner

I'm trying to picture how this works.

Let's say I'm spiritually deficient and looking for answers. Answers to questions of the highest order. Who am I? Why am I? Why are we here? Is there life after death? Why does my neighbor have to do his boxing speed work at 2  o'clock in the morning?

And let's say I'm looking at options. And there are lots of options. There's the learned clannishness of the Jews. The dogmatic submissiveness requested by Allah. Or the countless variations and denominations of those who follow in the flip-flops of Jesus.

Of course, if I were truly open-minded I could look beyond the great Abrahamic faiths and explore polytheism or pantheism.

Where oh where shall I worship?

I know, I'll turn to the Culver City News, the throwaway rag that gets tossed in my driveway by two stoned Mexican guys in a van and often reaches my table waterlogged from the broken lawn sprinklers that go off like clockwork. The same 8-page newspaper that is staffed by a part time real estate agent, the local barber and a teaching assistant who offers an elective class on journalism at Culver City High School.

Not only did they apply their collective brainpower to solve this age old question, they staged a contest to determine the best place to worship.

Naturally, I'd like to know what criteria they used. Was it the comfort of the pews? The friendliness of the clergy? Or the quality of cupcakes at the Sunday (or Saturday) Bake Sale?

I'm sorry Culver City News, and by proxy Grace Lutheran Church, when it comes to faith and spiritual sustenance, I'm not going to the same newspaper where I get my discount coupons for dry cleaning at the Raintree Plaza.

Call me old fashioned, but I'm going to Yelp.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Bridge Must be Built

I ran into an old Team One colleague last week.

Naturally we reminisced about our time working on the Lexus account. And no story about working on Lexus in the mid-90's would be complete without many colorful tales of Mr. Chikuma, the former CMO.

If you read yesterday's post, you know I made a point about never naming names. I'm violating my own rules here. However, Mr. Chikuma is no longer with us, so I run little risk of igniting his often volatile temper. How volatile?

Every year Lexus holds a formal banquet for the dealers. On one particular year and prior to the dealer's arrival, Chikuma made a careful examination of the hors d'ouevres platters. While 9 of the 10 platters had the requisite 33 jumbo shrimp, one platter only had 32. The negligent caterer was summoned and then given what could only be described as the verbal equivalent of the Bataan Death March.

Of course, now with the benefit of time, my recollections of this man, who could speak less than 500 words of English and was in charge of all of Lexus' North American marketing efforts, are more likely to produce laughter than anything else.

Take the picture above for example. At Christmas time, Lexus made a habit of sending out cards to its vendors and associates. One yuletide season we received a card featuring the image of Mr. Chikuma in full cowboy gear, with chaps, and a horse, standing in silhouette on a hill. (Oh, how I wish I had saved that card.)

And while he fancied himself as some reincarnation of John Wayne, we, the Creatives at Team One Advertising, saw him as a different cinematic figure.

Those of you familiar with the classic Bridge of the River Kwai, will no doubt recognize the forceful Colonel Saito, who would counter the petulance of his British prisoner with five simple words, "The Bridge Must be Built."

And so it was in El Segundo, when week after week, month after month, Mr. Chikuma would review concept after concept. He would never critique the work. Or comment on it. Or offer any guidance as to what he was looking for. His feedback was sparse. It was often grunted, not spoken. But it was always to the point, "No good."

We'd stack the rejected storyboards until they reached the ceiling. But like Alec Guinness and his faithful brigades, we soldiered on. Because the bridge had to be built. And we were the ones to build it.

In 1995, one resilient team actually sold him an idea.

He signed the estimate, they shot the commercial, and brought the rough cut back for his approval. He gave the film his undivided attention. His minions replayed the spot for his further inspection. He removed his glasses and the room went silent. He pronounced the spot was, "No good."

And then he did what he had never done before, he explained why.

While the spot told a clear story. And provided an excellent look at the vehicle, inside and out. And the cinematography and composed music were nothing but first class. There was a fundamental, and fatal, flaw in the driving and the course the car had taken. Which none of us had seen.

Fortunately, our ersatz Colonel Saito was there to clarify the matter, "Left turn, unprofessional."

To which, there can only be one response:

Monday, October 8, 2012

What did he say?

Since I got in the advertising game, I've sold lots of stuff.

Everything from a $1.99 box of rice to a $200 million dollar Boeing aircraft. I've written copy for beers, batteries and Buicks. I've done ads to help golfers sink a ball 6 inches into the ground. And, as recently as two years ago, written ads for a mortuary that can help loved ones bury relatives 6 feet in the ground.

I've sold an inordinate amount of crap.
But one thing I've never peddled is Bullshit.

This is ironic.

Because today there are many who call themselves advertising professionals who are only capable of the inverse. They can't sell anything you can touch, smell or feel. But give them a forum, an open microphone and a box full of pretension and hipster affectations, and watch them go all GlenGarry Glen Ross on your ass.

Of course it's one thing to make this charge, it's quite another to offer up the evidence.

And so I invite you to stomach your way through this enlightening speech from the Chief Innovation Officer at Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal and Partners. By the way, in my book the only person worthy of a title like Chief Innovation Officer is Thomas Edison.

But back to the video and if I may paraphrase the dreadlocked speaker, "...and I hate to be so terribly cliche (makes girlie cringing face), but this is such BULLSHIT!"

I've watched this video three times and still have no idea what the hell he is talking about. I had an easier time understanding the alcohol-garbled speech of Joaquin Phoenix in The Master.

As a rule I generally don't call out specific people in this industry because there is always the possibility that our paths might cross. But this video, and others by the same speaker, are such prime examples of how this business has gone off the rails, that I'm more than willing to take the risk.

Besides, the risk is somewhat mitigated when you consider this blog gets 200, maybe 300 hits a day. And I'm sure that readership does not include the juggling, poser watch-wearing fellow, who must have 1000 more important things on his agenda.

Furthermore, if it ever came down to a situation where my credentials were pitted against his, I don't think I have much to worry about. You see, I know what I put on the table. And what he puts on the table is usually put in a little plastic baggie or thrown on a compost pile.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Crush them

Last Friday I did something I hadn't done in a very long time. I went to a high school football game.

I'm not sure I actually ever went to one of my high school football games. While I enjoy football, I was never too fond of the football players who went to my high school. They were, in general, big dumb guys who used their physicality to get what they wanted, when they wanted it.

That, and many of them made no secret that they didn't like Jews.

So I stayed clear of them and spent most of my free time working. Or drinking beer and smoking pot with the money I had just made.

But this particular high school football game was special.

It was a homecoming game, meaning they had scheduled a cream puff team for a guaranteed victory. It was also special because my oldest daughter had been named a Homecoming Princess for the Junior Class.

I'm not sure that in the 75 year history of Santa Monica Catholic High School they had ever had a Princess from the Tribe, but this year they did. And I'm proud to say my daughter did the crown proud.

(She has forbidden me from posting any pictures.)

The team availed itself well too.

They ran the opening kickoff back 70 yards for a touchdown, followed by an interception. Also run back for a touchdown. Before the first quarter was over, they were up by a whopping 35-0.
It was such a lopsided game that you could hear fans on our side of the bleachers rooting for the other team.

The final score was 56-0. Meaning Jesus had answered the Monsignor's prayer for a homecoming victory. The meek might indeed inherit the earth, but on this warm early autumn evening by the Pacific, they weren't getting anywhere near the red zone.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Never the Bride

I looked at my profile recently and came to a realization. It was by no means revelatory, I have known what I am about to discuss for quite some time. I just never committed it to paper. Or to digital ink, before.

At my last staff job, my title was Group Creative Director. Not a bad title. I would say 90% of copywriters or art directors never reach such lofty corporate heights.

On the other hand, it's quite a meaningless title.

Allow me to explain.

On my delusional trip up the company ladder, I had always thought it would be great to be the Executive Creative Director or even the more distinctive Chief Creative Officer. But as I got closer and closer to that brass ring I noticed it wasn't as shiny as I had once supposed.

I assumed that once ascending to the throne I would be in complete control of all creative decisions. I'd be able to make an imprint. And steer the ship in the course that I saw fit.

Then, as a reward for navigating the ups and downs of business and delivering creative excellence on all fronts, I would be showered with praise and large sums of money, stocks and options. Enough to keep a small team of financial planners busy, 24 hours a day.

But that is hardly the case.

I remember a time when Larry Postaer or Lee Clow said, "This is what the ad is going to look like." And then damnit, it did.

Today's ECD's or CCO's are no longer the auteurs they once were.

There are so many people to answer to. People who once let creatives do the creative.

There's planning. Management. Clients. And then there are the omnipotent holding companies. All of whom have the power and the effortless ability to make what was once pure and good, not so pure and not so good anymore.

I have many friends and colleagues who hold the title that I once sought for myself. I see the way they live on planes. I see the way they juggle meetings from the minute they wake up, to the minute they lay their heads on the pillow. And I see the way they are forced to compromise and yield to the lowest common desires of committees.  They have raised tongue biting to an art.

And for that they have my respect and admiration.

Now that I've downsized myself and accepted my fate as a freelance writer it is clear that I will never enjoy the financial renumeration these friends and colleagues  might command. But I have something I value a little more -- my sanity.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

It's A Miracle

I am a sucker for infommercials.

Last year, I ordered the P90X extreme home fitness program. I completed the program and got stronger than I had ever been in my entire life. However I didn't get the 6-pack abs I had been promised. I suspect that had more to do with my affinity for cheese and bourbon than any shortcomings of the P90X program.

Following that I purchased the Insanity program. A week into that program, I had inflicted insane damage to my heels and begun my descent into plantar fascitis hell.

Two weeks ago, I stumbled across a program broadcast by the Peter Popoff Ministries. The right reverend promised his congregants that he could erase all their debt through the magic of his FREE Miracle Spring Water.

Taken at face, that may seem like an unusual claim. But this clergyman is market savvy. He knows there are those who will be skeptical of his silver tongue and his not-so-silver jet black hair. And so he turned the microphone over to those who not only found the Lord, but found miraculous money in their mailbox.

One convert tells the tale of how she was 4 months behind on her mortgage payments and was being threatened with foreclosure unless she could come up with $2271.38. A week after praying with Peter Popoff and presumably bathing in or drinking the Miracle Spring Water, she received a mysterious moneygram for $2271.38.

I don't know what I find more amazing. That Jesus would send the exact amount of money she needed to avoid being tossed into the streets or that Jesus would choose to send the money via Western Union.

In any case, I could not resist.

Despite living in my house for more than 20 years we still get mail addressed to the previous owner, Ruby Shipp. So I called the Peter Popoff Ministries under the guise of her name and expressed my interest in the FREE Miracle Spring Water.

This is what I received:

The foldout letter on the left is literally 6 pages long. And the mechanism for living a debt free life is quite complicated.

I will spare you all the details. But the first step is to return the unopened envelope with the green Jesus.

Curiosity got the best of me and I had to see what was inside. It was a weird oily packet with a small wood carved image of our Lord and Saviour. It should also be noted that Mr. Popoff requests a Prayer donation of $12 along with the unopened envelope.

I suspect if I actually send money back to the ministry they will overlook my procedural infraction.

And so dear readers, for your amusement, but mostly for mine, I have enclosed twelve dollars and the taped up mystery envelope and completed the first step down the Peter Popoff rabbit hole. I have no illusion that will produce any spiritual enlightenment or any debt cancellation.

At best, I'm just hoping to get twelve bucks worth of roundseventeen blog stories.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Beaver Tales

Spotted on Lincoln Blvd in Playa Del Rey, yesterday.

It's a new outdoor campaign for FX's American Horror Story. On bus shelters, the image of the nun in white is vertical. And notably less phallic. But stretched horizontally across the length of a billboard the penile resemblance is hard to miss.

Nor do I think it's by accident.

Having worked for more than 20 years with the distinctly juvenile characters in the Creative Department, I can tell you some art director is absolutely giddy that he, or she, was able to get this one out the door.

I also have no doubt there were other variations of this concept with the nun standing in patch of shrubbery or tumbleweed. I'll let you do the mental math.

How can I be so sure of my convictions?
Let's just say I know from which I speak.

Like many writers in this business I got my start doing the mundane stuff the senior staffers didn't want to touch. Here in Southern California, the automotive/motorcycle capitol of the world, that included many race win ads. These are nothing more than paid congratulations to sponsored racers at local car and motorcycle shows. Nobody reads these ads but the racer, the racer's mom, and the 20 or so junior clients trying to make a name for themselves in the marketing department.

One year, while working for Kawasaki motorcycles, I was tasked to honor Jeff Ward, who had managed to edge out his fellow 250cc dirt bike riders for some meaningless crown. It was his 22nd victory of the season.

And so, I wrote the following headline:

"Ward, you're being awfully hard on the boys."

At first glance you might assume this is just simple homage to a great 60's TV show, Leave it to Beaver. But at second glance, and with the help of the bolding tool, you will see that I cleverly buried a sexual innuendo right beneath the noses of some unsuspecting clients.

"Ward, you're being awfully hard on the boys."

Too subtle, you say. Consider this, in the original TV show, June Cleaver, the paradigm of pre-sexual revolution American momhood, was actually handed a script that read:

"Ward, you were being awfully hard on the beaver."

Those 9 words cleared network approval. And you can be sure that every time she uttered that phrase, and she said it quite often, there was a roomful of writers snickering and high-fiving each other as if they had scored a touchdown in the Super Bowl.

If you don't believe that, you haven't spent any time near a writer.