Tuesday, August 30, 2016
If you were to look at my dropbox and the many files added, tweaked, revised and re-revised last week you'd have a hard time telling I was on vacation. But I was.
At least the freelancer's version of a vacation.
One of the perils of my current position is never being able to schedule anything in advance. Because as the world would have it, jobs, assignments, projects, never come up when I'm looking for them. But always come up when I plan to wind it down.
Before my oldest daughter returns to college for her junior year or as I like to call it, "The $110,000 - $135,000 Semester", my wife thought it would be great to rent a little cottage in Newport Beach and just slum around for a few days.
She found this little frumpy flop house, a block from the sand, and we were in walking distance to a bevy of seaside restaurants and little dive bars where 60 year old surfers still wear tank tops and speak in monosyllabic beach slang.
Of course, as luck would have it, I also got a call from an agency that had never called before, so it was not one I could turn down. Or turn over to my many freelance copywriting friends eager to soak up my leftovers.
So while my wife and daughter were tanning on the beach, I was writing commercials.
While my wife and daughter were riding rental bikes between the piers, I was writing commercials.
While my wife and daughter were drinking mojitos made with fresh mint from our garden, I was writing commercials.
Ok, I was drinking mojitos too.
Drinking and writing are natural dance partners. See Hemmingway, see Bukowski, see Hepinstall.
But don't start the pity party just yet.
As any freelancer will tell you, there's something comforting in being booked, especially when you're an aging 44 year old copywriter. And it's sort of nice knowing the vacation you're partially enjoying is paid for in its entirety.
One night, we went to the Crab Cooker, a longstanding Newport Beach institution. There, knowing I was working and had earned a well-deserved reward, I ordered the market price lobster. I'm half Scottish and half Jewish and given to self denial. Meaning, I never order the market price lobster.
But I fought off the guilt and was eagerly looking forward to cracking into that inordinately expensive red shell, digging out the fleshy nectar of the gods and dipping it in high caloric melted butter.
You can imagine my disappointment when the waitress put the plate in front of me and explained how the lobster had been pre-shelled, cooked on a grill and placed on a skewer. It had all the visual appeal of a dirty dish sponge. And was 180 degrees from a Red Lobster TV spot.
OK, now you can start the pity party.
Monday, August 29, 2016
Years ago, so long ago I sometimes have to wonder whether it really happened or if it was product of my imagination, my father purchased a dairy farm in Upstate New York.
Not upstate like Rockland County, a bedroom community just outside of New York City, reachable with a good titanium driver and few well placed fairway shots.
But upstate, upstate. In the northern reaches of the Empire State, where the locals had never eaten a bagel or met a Puerto Rican.
In many respects, my father was like a well-educated Ralph Kramden, always believing the next get rich scheme was just around the corner. Or in this case, 379 miles due north of Jerome Avenue in the Bronx.
Al, and another of unlikely partners, I believe his name was Irving, Murray or Schmuelly, purchased a small farm with a herd of 30 or so cows. The idea was to run the farm at a loss -- which turned out not to be too difficult. And thus he and his partners would have a legitimate tax loss, thereby pocketing oodles of money that would have been earmarked for the IRS.
Back in the day, my father ran with a streetwise crowd which included many guidos, I hope that term is not off limits. Apologies in advance to my Italian-American friends. When I was a kid, once a month, on Tuesdays nights, some of these crooked-nosed, truck-diverting fellows came to our apartment in Jackson Heights to smoke cigarettes, drink beer and play poker.
So, it is not out of the question to believe the dairy farm, could also have been a front. That is, an enterprise for Jimmy Two Times or Freddie The Runt to launder bundles of cash. I was in California and the milking, such as it was, was taking place 3000 miles away. So I just don't know.
I do know that had my brother and I been anywhere in the vicinity of the farm, my father would have put us to work. It didn't matter that we were grown men, he would have rousted us from our beds before the sun got up and in his unique forceful manner had us doing chores...
"I brought you into this world, I can take you out. Now get those cows washed before I give you something to cry about."
All of which would have come as a surprise to me because frankly I had no idea cows needed to be washed. All the hamburger and milk is on the inside, so who cares if they get some schmutz on their leather coats.
There can be no doubt, my brother and I would have brought the automatic cow washing machine to his attention. We would have whined and begged until he could take no more and signal his forfeit with a purchase.
You probably didn't know there even was an automatic cow washing machine. I know I didn't.
But my art director partner came across it recently while were were doing an assignment for a state Dairy Association. Naturally, we pitched the cow washing machine as an idea for a campaign. And naturally, the idea died. It went straight to the advertising slaughterhouse, a highly efficient abattoir run by small minded planners, account people and committee think.
The spots practically wrote themselves. And probably would have won a ton of awards.
But then, what do I know?
Thursday, August 25, 2016
A few weeks ago my wife did a favor for a colleague. I'd tell you what that favor was, that is if I could remember. But like many husbands I only retain 10% of what she tells me.
5% if I've been taking my cough medicine.
In any case, the favor was returned when that colleague gave my wife a bottle of G.H. Mumm Brut Cordon Rouge champagne, which one reviewer on Vivino described as...
"Crisp citrus acidity and bountiful firm bubbles with good length."
If I've said that once, I've said it a thousand times.
This week we have good reason to pop that sucker.
Not because the 2nd proof of my new book came in and it is almost ready for release.
Not because my white trash neighbor seems to be inching closer and closer to self-destruction.
And not because my dance card has been filled to the brim with well-paying clients.
The reason for celebration is simple -- we are over the hump.
Thanks to the rigging of the system, we have two daughters attending out of state colleges. Scholastically speaking, they were good enough for the state of Washington and the state of Colorado but somehow not good enough for the state of California.
Out of state tuition is almost double that of in state tuition. I could cry Foul or Bullshit or "Attica!" but I'd be wasting my breath.
Last week I made the payment for my first daughter's first semester. I don't need to get into the numbers or show you the picture of the Bentley I could be driving, suffice to say that we have passed the halfway point.
It's all gravy and depleted IRA accounts from here on out.
Of course my wife doesn't drink champagne, and unless one of you want to come over, it means I'll be drinking it all by myself.
Might be a good way to wash down the prescription cough medicine.
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Winston Churchill once said, "You have enemies? Good that means you stood up for something."
Well, in the course of the past 6 months I've made an enemy. Who are we kidding? I've probably made more than one. But this one enemy in particular has now taken to publicly besmirching my good name on the Interwebs.
In accordance with a longstanding rule here at RoundSeventeen, I'm not going to give out his name. This ancient Hebraic tradition dates back to the time of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the goats they begat. As it is written in the Talmud, Rabbi Ezekiel once said,
"Thouest who is besmirched shall not partake in any further besmirching. Or the eating of any Lobster Newburgh."
And though I am prohibited from speaking his name, there is nothing that says I cannot lay out some clues for those who might be curious. As the picture above indicates (not his picture btw), he is a white male. He is given to wearing hoodies or the fashion of the minute. And he sports dreadlocks.
If I know my readers, and I believe I do, that has already caused half of you to whisper, "douchebag" silently in your head.
Let me get the other half on board the bus.
Hipster Bob Marley is also...wait for it...a Planner.
I've taken plenty of shots at Planning on this blog. Perhaps even too many. I've also had a career's worth of good work killed by the scholars in the Planning Department. Had that work left the agency and been approved by the client, I might be writing this piece from my oceanfront home in Malibu as opposed to my dump in Culver City.
So, in my feeble mind, it's somewhat justified.
What I have never done however is aim The Big Pointy Stick of Disdain at any one particular Planner.
Rasta Man thinks differently and recently tweeted that I had "a history of bullying planners, young female planners in particular."
I don't take kindly to professional slander and asked him, point blank, to site the blog piece that backed up his spurious claim. That request went unanswered. A simple cut and paste on his part would have put me in my place.
But De Bredda couldn't post any evidence because there is no evidence.
Recently DanceHall Harry's name popped up in a contentious Facebook thread regarding the topic of creative plagiarism. I'm thoroughly against it. Dutty Money is for it. In a magazine interview he did years ago he was quoted as saying, in his annoying obtuse manner:
"Stealing in our schema of language is not dishonest. It exposes its debt. It uses the reference. It says, 'this is the reference. I'm using it. I'm putting it in here."
I've seen some semantic gymnastics, but this guy is a multi-gold medal winner.
Unlike many colleagues, I don't have a ton of achievements in my advertising career. But getting to the very top of this rastafarian gasbag's shitlist counts as one of my proudest.
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
Last week, I mentioned I got my start in advertising as a Mailroom clerk. I was paid $800 a month. A month! At the time, rent for my shitty apartment in West LA was $400 a month.
So after work, I'd run home, jump out of my mailroom clerk clothes and jump into my short order cook clothes. And work at a nightclub in Santa Monica from 7-Midnight.
My brain hurts just thinking about it.
It would have exploded had I known, or even had an inkling, how much money the top officers at the company were hauling home every two weeks. But this was pre-Internet and pre-social media so there would be no way for me know.
Moreover, and this is the important point, they, meaning the people wallpapering their dens with $100 bills, had the good sense and decorum to keep that shit private. And not in a passive manner. They went out of their way not to flaunt their wealth. They drove crappy cars. Brown bagged their lunches. And even washed their own coffee mugs. To appear grounded. To exhibit some type of modesty.
Because it was in the best interest of the company not to demoralize the other employees by demonstrating the inequality of the pay scale. This bit of wisdom seems to have been lost. Along with the notion that workers who put in 70 hours Monday thru Friday should take the weekend off to recharge their batteries.
Recently, on her blog Heidi Consults, Heidi writes The Five Reasons Why Your Best Creative People Will Quit. As someone who has been in the trenches for longer than I want to believe, I can tell you four of the reasons hold no water whatsoever.
Reason #2 however resonates like a 6.7 earthquake.
Which has inspired me to write a little note to my future self.
I'm only 44 years old and I believe the best part of my career is yet to come. Some may think that is delusional, but if you've been a reader here for any amount of time you know I'm an eternal optimist.
If I ever become wealthy -- but Rich you have your health, a loving family and all the blessings a man could want, yeah, well none of that shit pays the two college bursars or the bank with the huge note on the house.
Like I said, if I ever become wealthy, or have my own agency, or land a really sweet staff job, the first thing I'm going to do is buy my family an outrageously expensive membership at a private ski club, I didn't even know those existed.
The second thing I'm going to do is delete my Facebook account.
Monday, August 22, 2016
As the Olympics exit the news cycle, we can welcome back the crazy and oh-so-unpresidential antics of one Donald J. Trump -- the most unqualified candidate to ever take to the political stomp, shake hands and kiss babies.
Or, kick babies out of a rally.
I understand some of you have a visceral disgust with his opponent, Hillary. She's dishonest. She's cunning. And she's manipulative. Newsflash, she's a politician and they all are. In the arena of politics those are not character flaws but attributes for success.
But I'm not here to discuss her worthiness, I'm here to discuss his unworthiness. To put it more succinctly, here are five candidates who are more fit for the Oval Office than Trump:
1. Richie, the talkative HVAC repairman. Months ago, my doctor suggested that my recurring bronchitis could be the result of dirty air. He suggested I give the vents in my house a thorough cleaning. Enter Richie, tatted from head to toe, with enough muscles for two men. Despite looking like a jailhouse lifer, Richie had the gift of gab. A self-taught history buff, he peppered his sales pitch with references to the ancient Greeks, Voltaire and Heinrich Himmler. I believe Richie the talkative HVAC repairman had a better body of knowledge than Cheetoh Jesus and would therefore have my vote. Oh and I'm very happy with the stainless steel filters.
2. Craig, the shit-for-brains account guy. I've had the pleasure of working with some of the brightest people on the planet. That they all work in advertising is a crying shame. Nevertheless, even our not-so-brightest, like Craig, would make a better commander in chief than Trump. Sure, he once left the portfolio on the plane. And yes, there was that time he had us work on a brief that the client never saw. But Craig, the shit-for-brains account guy always made sure the account ran in the black ink. And he kept the client happy. So there was always an opportunity to do another Year End Sales Event.
3. Mr. Jones, my old boy scout troop leader. When I was a kid my father made me join the Boy Scouts. To learn how to make a fire or fight off the local gentiles who'd never met a Jew before. Our troop leader was Mr. Jones, an ex-NYC cop who sported a crew cut and smoked Lucky Strikes. He was about as rigid as they come. He'd tell you where he stood on an issue and never wavered. Once he planned a Winter Klondike Camping Trip. It snowed about a foot and the temperature dropped into the single digits. Did Mr. Jones cancel the campout? No. No, he did not. He's probably dead now, but his cadaver would get my vote.
4. Sarah Palin. She doesn't read. She doesn't write. And in many cases, she doesn't even speak the English language as we know it. She's a special kind of stupid. Nevertheless it's a benign stupid. She never threatened to whip out the nuclear weapons or carpet bomb an area inhabited by civilians. Or jail women who've had an abortion. Or shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue. The fact that we now have a presidential candidate who has done all that, and more, speaks volumes to the clusterfucked situation we find ourselves in.
Thursday, August 18, 2016
This was a thing on Facebook last week.
Apparently everyone was doing it. Which is usually a good reason for me to abstain. I'm not big on following the crowds.
Also, because I was raised by such an authoritarian father who placed an undue emphasis on work and because my life has been so defined by work, I thought a listicle could not do the early section of my resume any justice.
But a blog piece could.
1. Newspaper Delivery Boy -- The kid in my neighborhood who had the franchise was giving it up. Pretty sure he left to go to a Hitler Youth Camp. In any case, I took over. And by chance also snagged another adjoining neighborhood route, essentially giving me two routes. And increasing my chances by 100% that some MILF-y housewife would choose to pay her eternally-horny 14 year old newspaper delivery boy in the fashion favored by Mrs. Robinson. That never happened.
2. Jackster -- I turned 16 (legal employment age) on a February 28. On February 29th, I was hired to be a Jackster at the Spring Valley Jack in the Box on Route 59. It was the very first JIB, built on the east coast. I flipped burgers, fried tacos, swept the parking lot, scrubbed the toilets, and on several occasions donned the clown outfit for lazy parents who threw their kids birthday parties at a Jack in the Box. If I close my eyes and want to torture myself, I can still smell that polyester clown suit with its aromatic mixture of B.O., fryer grease and the tears of many scarred children.
3. College Dormitory Dishwasher -- I could've saved a whole bunch of money had I decided to go to SUNY, the State University of New York. And had acceptance letters from Buffalo, Binghampton and Albany. But my father decided I was going to Syracuse University, one of the most expensive universities in all the land. And that I was going to pay for the privilege. I spent more time in the Brockway Dining Hall dishwashing room than I did at Calculus 101, Biology and Introduction to Russian Literature. "The best four years of your life," I was told. Bullshit.
4. Bartender -- You get a little older, you get a little wiser. By my senior year in college I had managed to convince the financial aid office to subsidize my education. My streetwise father had also done me a solid. He hooked me up with two NYC guys who were in the mob. These 'mafioso' were setting up a new bar on the campus -- essentially to launder cash -- and hired me to be a bartender. They showed me how to mix drinks, though it was hardly a discerning crowd, fed me and paid me extremely well. It was a great job that put me next to the two things I loved most -- alcohol and women.
5. Forklift Driver -- Three weeks after receiving my college sheepskin, I bought a cheap one way ticket to Los Angeles. Didn't know a soul. Had no money. And not a clue what I was doing. But the company that employed my dad also had a distribution warehouse located in Gardena. And when I say Gardena, I mean Compton. Like the scenario from the movie Carwash, I was the sole white boy on the crew. A crew that was largely Crips, Bloods and future Crips and Bloods.
6. Mailroom Clerk -- Who knew that as current CEO of my own company, I'd be joining the ranks of many other CEOs who also got their start in the business world by pushing that damn mail cart around? It was the break of all big breaks. And for that I will always be grateful to the folks at Needham, Harper & Steers or as we affectionately called them Needless Hard-ons & Tears. You can learn a lot from being a grossly underpaid indentured servant. An errant boy. A slave to the wishes of anyone positioned higher on the company org. chart, which would be everyone. Mostly, you learn about Ambition and getting out of that damn mailroom.
7. Recruitment Advertising Copywriter -- Finally, and in a fitting way to close the circle on this piece about jobs, I landed my very first writing gig at Bernard Hodes Advertising. Penning Help Wanted ads. This was a lifetime ago. But there's true irony here. This was before computers, so writers and art directors had more than a day to work on an assignment. We also didn't have planners. We didn't need them. Kaiser Permanente needed nurses so we wrote ads about nurses. Similarly, Dodge has a year end sales event or Pizza Hut needs to hawk some $10 deal, you do ads about a year end sales event or some crappy $10 pizza. Why do we need insights or a briefing deck or a communications platform strategy session? Why godamnit, why?
Also, I had my own office. Writers don't get offices anymore.
Wednesday, August 17, 2016
As I write this, I am now entering Day 3 of Mancation 2016.
The cobwebs are a little thick this morning as I inflicted heavy damage to a recently-purchased bottle of Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum, my newest alcoholic vice. It has the easy, smooth drinkability of a lady cocktail. But it's 92 proof, so it has the Holy-Shit-I-Did-That Blackout Potential of a frat boy drink.
For those of you not familiar with the Mancation terminology (interestingly enough, spellcheck does not recognize the word and keeps nagging me to change it) allow me to explain.
Thanks to some stupid late-summer sorority functions, my youngest daughter had to return to the University of Colorado quite early. My wife and other daughter flew to Boulder to assist with the move in process. Leaving me, the dog, and a year's worth of pent up irresponsibility all to ourselves.
What on earth should I do?
Go fly fishing in Wyoming?
A golf outing in Scottsdale?
A last minute camping trip to the Kern River?
A debauched return to Vegas, where I could continue my hot streak on the roulette table and maybe catch a show with an Elvis or Blue Brothers impersonator?
Sadly, none of these options were available. After the early summer advertising doldrums, when the Siegels had to subside on Sneaker Soup and Ketchup Sandwiches, business has picked up.
In a big, big way.
I don't know why it always happens, but when the phone rings once, it often rings twice. Or thrice. That's the nature of being a freelancer.
And so, what could've been 4 days of letting hairs #6, #38, and #129 down, has now become a relentless clicking and clacking and manifesto writing-polluzza that begins at the unheard hour of 5 AM -- even before the neighbor's dog starts howling at the rising sun.
Work, work and more work.
And you wonder why I'm angry all the time?
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
My old boss, Jim, who became my roommate, who became my friend, who became a professor, first introduced me to Charles Bukowski.
"Read this, you're gonna love this guy."
Naturally, I didn't, because frankly poetry was not in my wheelhouse.
"This is different. It's not daffodils and doilies. This guy writes about drinking, shitting and working. It's funny and it's dark and it's right up your alley."
I was in my early twenties and my alley was about getting money and getting laid.
Eventually, I came around.
And now my house is littered with Bukowski books. Some of which I've actually cracked open. And I did become a fan of his gritty, muscular and surprisingly-insightful work.
For a quick introduction you could stream the Mickey O'Rourke bio-pic, Barfly. But I found his over-the-top performance distracting and way too Hollywood. The better choice is Factotum, starring Matt Dillon as Bukowski's brooding alter ego, Henry Chinaski.
All of which is a longwinded preface to my current annoyance.
It appears some dipshit millennials have exploited the writer's legacy, purposely de-gentrified a former dry cleaning store and built themselves a hipster douchebag dive bar, cleverly (though not really) named Barkowski.
From the red leatherette booths to the low rent pool tables, everything has been faithfully and meticulously recreated to harken the Trilby-hat wearing poser crowd to a different era.
Only it hasn't.
Because in a total affront to the man and the man's authenticity, the "bar" does not even serve whiskey.
They have beer and something called soju -- a Korean rice liquor, that according to Wikipedia is often mixed with yogurt and enjoyed in slushy form.
If Bukowski were to pass through the doors of this Disneyfied abortion of a bar I have no doubt he'd be hurling all over the sawdust covered floor before the bartender could say...
"Can I get you an artisan-blended blueberry soju?"
BONUS: One of my favorite poems. If you wanted to honor Bukowski, this is the bar you should have built. (NSFW)
Monday, August 15, 2016
Last year at this time I was a mess.
Some of you might recall that I had taken my family for a Mexican vacation. Whisked them 4000 miles away to the Yucatan Peninsula, where we had hoped to spend 8 glorious days on the beach at a hotel ironically called The Beach.
Sadly, the gods of Sargasso decided they too would park themselves on the powdery sands of Tulum and brought with them enough smelly, slimy seaweed to blanket half of Canada.
I spent the entire week drowning my sorrows in Mojitos. Which I would've done anyway but the alcohol went a long way to make me forget about the otherwise inescapable stench.
Simultaneously, I was also dealing with one of my neighbors, who was raising the loudest barking dog on the planet. Seriously, jet-engine loud.
All compounded by the fact that my youngest daughter was about to enter the University of Colorado for her freshman year, leaving my wife and I at home to deal with the emotional uncertainties of an Empty Nest.
We're over that hump now.
But I can't help noticing on social media that many of my friends and colleagues are about to cross that same heartbreaking threshold. It's so commonplace that even some advertisers are pivoting on the theme.
In just 90 seconds, Michelin does a remarkably good job at capturing the sentiment. And unlike other long form ads, there is no stupefying contortion of thought at the end to link the premise to the product.
This is organic. And small. And truthful.
Full disclosure: it was produced by my alma mater, TBWA Chiat/Day.
More full disclosure: I'm not polishing their rims because I'm looking for any freelance work, lately I'm been getting out of bed at 5 AM just to stay ahead of my current workload.
To the parents out there who will soon be saying goodbye, I offer my sympathy. It is gut wrenching. Heart crushing. And soul sucking. Not unlike working on the Pizza Hut account.
But with the kids away at college it gets better. The house gets cleaner. Toilets get flushed. And the expensive imported roquefort blue cheese gets properly wrapped up and stored in the crisper so it doesn't become a $19 glob of inedible spoiled milk curd.
It also gets different with the passage of time.
Abby: Dad, I'm going back to Boulder can you take me to the airport?
Me: Get yourself an Uber.
Thursday, August 11, 2016
Aerodynamically-engineered for your driving pleasure.
The Bentley ain't bad either.
For those of you not in the know, that's Kash Doll. I had the pleasure of making her acquaintance last weekend while visiting Oakland for my niece's wedding. I know what you're thinking, but Oakland is up and coming. And the hipsters have actually done a good job gentrifying the place. So watch out Niagra Falls, Oakland could become the Wedding Capitol of the World.
My family and I, in fact the whole Siegel/Weinblatt/Baker/Barger/O'Conner/Keogh clan were staying at the Courtyard Marriot in downtown.
After a 7 hour drive on Interstate 5, where one can enjoy the aroma of diarrhetic cows enjoying their last graze before making their way to the abattoir, I was looking forward to a good night's sleep.
Kash Doll and her posse Philthy Rich, had other plans.
You see, they had unceremoniously parked a $300,000 white Lamborghini in front of the hotel on Broadway. There, at the ripe of hour of 11PM, they began filming their newest (c)rap video.
Not sure what the song was about, but it involved Ms. Doll and her blinged-out friends making all kinds of hand gestures and a lot of swerving around on the hood of the car.
Not exactly the most groundbreaking approach, as I seem to recall about 7 million other rap videos of rappers mugging for the camera and doing the exact same thing.
Nor could I hear any of the "lyrics" but I did a quick audit of Kash Doll's previous work and it's safe to say the song included lots of rhymes involving:
And even more motherfuckers.
The filming, the laughing, the blasting of the music just outside my single pane window continued until 1:30 in the morning.
That is until I threw on my adidas sweat pants and made a beeline for the front desk.
I made it clear to Todd, the night manager that if he didn't stop the "music" I would make sure the Oakland PD would. And that given the opportunity I would love to review his hotel on Yelp. By the way, the footstraps on the stationary bike in the Fitness Center need replacing.
Todd assured me he would tend to the matter and asked if he could comp me the night.
I said that would be fine and that while he was trying to mitigate my rage he should also erase the minibar charges for the 2 Guiness Blond Ales ($16), a bag of Planters Cajun Flavored Nuts ($7) and the jumbo sized Snickers Bar ($9).
I won't be adding any of Kash Doll's music to my iTunes library, but I did want to thank her nonetheless for the warm Oakland hospitality.
And for exposing me to her unique brand of "art."
Wednesday, August 10, 2016
Yesterday I had mentioned 'craft' in the same sentence that I had mentioned 'advertising.'
To some of you, particularly if you were born after 1985, that may seem incongruous. But to a 44 year old like myself it's just plain sad. Because while personal computers and the Internet have given us unfettered access and the ability to crank out ideas at breakneck speed, they've also robbed us of the thing we used to call craft.
Take the example above.
It's one in a series of ads, produced by a friend and colleague Christopher Gyorgy, and it has stuck with me since the day I first laid eyes on it.
Granted, I'm unusually obsessed with the Holocaust and the lessons it has given to mankind (up until the campaign of Donald Trump, that is.) But my admiration goes far beyond the subject matter.
For one thing, the print ad features long copy. Pound for pound, still the best way to engage and persuade people. But Rich, people don't read long copy ads. You're right, they don't. Because ad agencies don't employ writers who can do long copy ads anymore.
If it doesn't fit on a Post It Note, or a bullet in a Powerpoint deck, or if it has 141 characters, it's as useless as an Apple Watch.
I also love that the ad employs a blind headline. It doesn't spoon feed. If you want to know what the ad is about you have to read it. The breadcrumbs are all there. But the reader/viewer must actively put two and two together. As a result the message is more impactful. (I apologize for the poor resolution, this was the only digital copy I could locate.)
The only thing I love more than blind headline is outstanding art direction. Look at the beautiful texture on this. It has dimension. Each piece has been placed on the page with the type of care and precision of a swiss watchmaker. That is not by accident.
It takes a great eye.
And more importantly it takes TIME.
Know why great advertising like this isn't made today? Because work like this doesn't spring from any 5X5 nonsense (5 ideas by 5 o'clock). Or, "here's the brief, let's see where you're at in 3 hours." Or, "I like it, but the Assistant Assistant Planner thinks it's negative."
I could give you a million more reasons, but then I'd run the risk of coming off as bitter and cynical.
I wouldn't want that to happen.
Tuesday, August 9, 2016
These days everyone is a Creative Director.
The kid who graduated from Art Center three months ago, he's a Creative Director.
The woman who designed the 78 X 128 banner ad for Pepsi, she's a Creative Director.
The planner who convinced management that the scope of her work extended beyond big data, she's also a Creative Director.
In fact, it has become such a sought after title, stars in Hollywood have poked their heads out of their customized trailers and said, "I want to be a Creative Director."
And now the ranks are swelled by such luminaries as Justin Timberlake, Alicia Keys, Will I Am and of course, Swiss Beatz.
The latest entry to the club, once reserved for people who actually knew the craft, is shirt-averse Mathew McConaughey -- who has just signed on to be the Creative Director on Wild Turkey. For those of you who know, Wild Turkey is a bourbon for people who don't know the first thing about bourbon.
Perhaps it's only fitting that the distiller now has a Creative Director who doesn't know the first thing about advertising. You see, MM isn't satisfied with just some titular role. Oh no, he's more than just a pretty face and rippling triceps.
According to the article in ADWEEK, MM wants to get his hands dirty and be involved with every piece of the process.
As the newly minted CD put it:
"When making a movie you have two hours to tell a story. here I have 30 seconds to re-introduce the world to this authentic American brand that has shaped an entire US industry: bourbon. It will be very interesting and fun."
A couple of things Matt, can I call you Matt?
Your naivete is so refreshing. I don't know if you've heard, but 30 second TV spots are so outdated and traditional. The business is all about "extending the platform and engaging consumer interaction via the disruptive use of emerging technology and all its various paradigm shifting possibilities."
MM: Wait, what?
Also, you used the word authentic. That's not on-brand. Our Content Strategists tell us people associate authentic with old. Heritage. Traditional. Wild Turkey is about youth. And energy. And being aspirational. You know changing the world for the better? I want you to see this.
And finally Matty, can I call you Matty? You know that e-mail blast you wrote to the Southeast Distributors, well the CMO thinks the call to action is a little weak. Needs more urgency. Why don't you give it another shot. You know, now that you're a Creative Director.
Oh and have fun with it.
Monday, August 8, 2016
Last week there was some sweet, sweet news coming from the ad agency world.
A Big Wig, a Mucketty Muck, a gasbag of a man who shrouded himself in black, lounged gleefully at $1000 a night hotels and took home more money in a year than 100 ad agency employees who actually work in the business take home in 10, found himself getting pounded by the big, thorny, ugly stick of justice.
The LoveMark™ man, Kevin Roberts, the CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, was quoted in an interview,
"...the fucking debate over gender equality in this industry is over."
With that you could hear the collective inhalation of a million XX chromosome-bearing media planners, art directors, and account supervisors, collectively stopping in their tracks,
"Oh no you din't."
I live in a home full of women. My dog is an old lady. I have two daughters. And my wife has three sisters. Sometimes, there's so much estrogen in the house I think I'm getting a contact high and growing man boobs.
So I know what it's like to incur wrath of the feminine variety. But in Kevin's case the fallout was unusually fast. And it was furious.
The Chairman of Publicis, Maurice Levy, had no love for the LoveMark™ man and put him on leave within hours. But an obscenely paid suspension would not be enough for the torches and pitchfork crowd, who took to social media and made it clear that Kev had to fill out his last creatively imagined timesheet.
And so, the man who had given so much to advertising and cemented his legacy with such stellar work as...I'm trying to remember what he did...I can't find his name on any campaign...I've now looked through 20 annuals and One Show Books...someone help me out here...
Well, he's gone.
All this, on the recent heels of the Gustavo Martinez scandal.
Surely you haven't forgotten about this Jew-hating CEO of J. Walter Thompson, who was also brought down by his jokes about rape and a pending lawsuit from a woman who could no longer work in a hostile environment.
Clearly, I am taking great delight in the demise of these two colossal douchebags.
Frankly, it's nice to see tone-deaf, ignorant, Peter-Principled money grubbing C-Suiters get their due.
It would have been even nicer had the Karma Train been somewhere in the vicinity of my career when I was a staff guy. Because, and I'm not naming names (see Official RoundSeveneteen Policy #38) I have been in the company of head honchos and agency poobahs who have said worse and done worse.
Much, much worse.
In fact, if I were to do a comparison -- and I have no reason not to -- the can't-keep-their-pants-on-clowns I worked with, and grudgingly worked for, make the minor league antics of Kevin Roberts and Gustavo Martinez seem like a bunch of tea-totaling, Mensa-qualifying, Eagle Scout eunuchs.
Thursday, August 4, 2016
Last week it was reported that IHOP, the International House of Pancakes, was moving its advertising account from Dailey & Associates to Campbell Ewald & Associates.
This news set off no alarm bells.
Triggered no industry earthquakes.
And shifted no paradigms in the casual dining world.
Mostly because IHOP is known to be an agency hopper, that is, switching their agency of record more often than the "chefs" at IHOP switch out their fryers full of high caloric peanut oil.
Moreover, the account bills about $389, 000 in total media, creating just enough revenue to give the agency receptionist a $5 an hour raise.
Years ago, I'm assuming the NDA on this has expired, I was on the unfortunate end of one of these bi-annual pitches. If memory serves, and often times it doesn't, we were asked to solve an interesting conundrum. With little regard for their name or their brand equity, the International House of Pancakes wanted to capture more of the dinner market.
That's understandable, since dinner tickets are generally higher than breakfast or lunch tickets. But who in their right mind (or the CMO) would ever say...
"You know what we should do for dinner? Go to IHOP."
Pancakes for dinner? But the genii at IHOP had the answer for that. They wanted to introduce Salisbury Steak, Swedish Meatballs, and Fried Chicken. Creating for themselves a monumental marketing task that could not be addressed with $38 million in media, much less one hundredth of the spend.
None of that seemed to matter to the new business folk.
Or the Planners.
"Make IHOP the number one destination for innovative, family friendly casual dining with an emphasis on quality, value and industry leadership...zzzzzzzzzz."
My partner and I had a very different idea. Having just read the book Good to Great, we wanted to pivot on pancakes (basically synonymous with IHOP), a food everybody loves and elevate pancakes into something more than just flour and water.
We were going to make pancakes the edible equivalent of champagne.
Pancakes, in our mind, could be celebration food:
Open on wife coming into house. She runs in the door, grabs her husband, gives him a bear hug and a big kiss. She tells him she got the promotion and a raise. He smiles, looks her in the eyes and says...
HUSBAND: You know what this calls for? Pancakes.
Break out the syrup.
Grandparents walk into hospital room. They see their son, his wife and their brand new baby girl. They kneel over the girl, telling the new mom, she's beautiful. It's a joyous moment. The grandfather looks up...
GRANDFATHER: I have a great idea. Pancakes.
Break out the syrup.
Not surprisingly, the President of the agency didn't get it.
Months later, we got fired.
Wednesday, August 3, 2016
When it comes to security cameras around my house, I'm proud to say I was one of the early adopters.
When you're surrounded by neighbors who enjoy fireworks, dumping rock salt on the grass, leaving their doggie doo, or just loudly going about their lives with no environmental awareness or consideration for others, it helps to have it all documented on cameras that can be seen.
And some that are not seen.
You may recall last summer, when a mysterious white van appeared form nowhere and left this little magic for my viewing enjoyment.
I was thoroughly disappointed when the marketing mavens at Nest refused to use the clip in their online promotions.
Last week, I received a notification from the camera pointing towards my backyard. It happened around 5 o'clock in the morning and I had no idea what to expect.
Was one of my neighbors lighting magnesium?
Were they roasting a pig?
Or setting up a still to brew moonshine?
When you live amidst white trash you just never know. But what triggered the notification wasn't because of any terrestrial activity. It came from above. (look for it at about :05)
And now ironically enough, it lives forever, stored digitally in my cloud.
Tuesday, August 2, 2016
Last Friday night was turning into another typical Friday night.
"What do you want for dinner?" turned into "I don't know, what do you want for dinner?" turned into "How about Mexican?" and devolved into, "I don't feel like Mexican, what do you want for dinner?"
I short circuited this rerun between myself, my wife and my daughter with, "Let's get on the train and head to Santa Monica."
Not that we couldn't have driven there. By 7:30 the rush hour traffic had cleared. But we like to support the public transportation, if for no other reason it gives us a sense of schadenfreud with regards to the privileged classes in Cheviot Hills who fought tooth and nail to stop the Light Rail construction.
The night was uneventful. We didn't want to wait an hour and a half for a table at Oysterette, so we snagged an open booth at The Independence, which I would give one star if I were to take the time to visit Yelp.
The food sucked. And the portions were tiny.
Then we visited Dreams and Creams and dropped more than twenty dollars for three small cups of ice cream. It was damn fine ice cream. But twenty bucks?
On the train coming back to Culver City, my wife and daughter grabbed two seats. I sat directly in front of them. And, seconds before the train departed, a drunken, homeless man, with all his earthly belongings, sat in front of me. He cracked open a plastic bottle of Sprite (yeah, right) and started drinking.
Then, and I knew this was going to happen, he turned his attention in my direction. I don't which was worse, his rummy breath or his 6 month old B.O., which could easily knock a buzzard off a shitwagon.
I made the mistake of cracking a small joke with Mr. SmellyPants and it was On.
You can learn a lot from a stranger in 35 minutes. Turns out he was a Woody Allen fan, a Jeopardy aficionado and a former native of Teaneck, NJ, just a stone's throw from my hometown of Suffern, NY.
All of this delighted my wife, who could not stop laughing at my predicament. While my noxious train mate regaled me with his in depth review of Hannah and Her Sisters, my wife was busy texting...
At one point in the conversation that ricocheted from topic to topic, he actually blurted out a line that I have said many times while sitting in my own living room. When contestants on the show get the wrong answer...
"That Alex Trebeck can be a real douchebag."
I know it's not a pretty picture, but the inordinately expensive ice cream my wife and daughter were enjoying, came shooting out their nose.
The NIMBY people in Cheviot Hills might not agree, but in my mind the entire hilarious exchange was worth the 2.5 billion dollars spent on the Expo Line.
That, and then some.
Monday, August 1, 2016
That's not me in the open salty waters that separate Palos Verdes from Catalina Island, that's 20 year old Abby Bergman, a friend and former classmate of my daughters.
Last week, in the pitch dark of a midnight hour, Abby dipped her toe in the warm water off Catalina Island and, pointing more than 20 miles across a dark abyss to a luxury resort on the mainland, told her two moms, Kim and Natalie,
"I'll see you over there, at the Terranea Hotel."
All I can say is: Holy Shit!
There are few attributes in a human being that I admire more than persistence and determination.
It's what drove me to complete triathlons and three LA Marathons. Nor am I a stranger to long distance swimming. Not long ago, I staged some long distance pool swims, and with RoundSeventeen reader assistance, raised more than $5000 for Wounded Warriors.
But an open water, midnight haul across a heavily trafficked shipping lane is a beast of an entire different nature.
It is monumental by every account of the word.
If you're running a marathon for instance and feel yourself running out of gas, you stop, take a breather, and maybe dash into a nearby Dunkin Donuts for a quick pick me up. There are no Dunkin Donuts at sea. You might spot an errant abalone, but try grabbing that slippery snack when your hands are pruned up from 6 hours of nonstop swimming.
And swimming is different than running.
Years ago, I was doing laps in Playa Vista and the training coach from the LA Clippers had brought some of the guys in to explore some new techniques to increase their stamina. Keep in mind, these were thoroughbred athletes who are paid millions of dollars to run up and down a court every other night of the season.
They were winded after 25 meters. Huffing, puffing and swearing at the water after 30 seconds in the water.
Abby was in the water for more than 10 hours! I know during that time she must have thought...
"Why am I doing this?"
"I think I've had enough"
"This was a bad idea."
But she silenced those demons and pushed on to the goal line, knowing that for this (or any other endeavor in life), there is no point starting something unless you intend to finish.
I rarely see that kind of fortitude in a full grown adult.
I am astounded when it is so gracefully demonstrated by someone who just turned 20.
Thursday, July 28, 2016
The great thing about the universe is how is it strives for balance.
Unseen, unknown forces are hard at work to provide a ying for every yang. A dog for every cat. A new calorie-burning cardio machine for every slice of German Triple Chocolate Forest Cake.
This great movement is also evident in the world of business.
Take Theranos for example. At one time this Silicon Valley wundercompany was valued at more than $9 billion. Today, the maker of medical diagnostic toys that literally wanted your blood, is worth less than the bandaids needed to cover up the pricks.
The ying to this particular yang is the Dollar Shave Club. A start up that had zero valuation in its infancy was just sold to Unilever for $1 billion.
And that's not faux Wall Street wall paper money, that's one billion dollars in greenbacks -- the kind of real cash you can use to buy groceries, purchase dry cleaning services or even hand over to your personal physician for verifiable medical testing.
Clearly I am delighted with the success of Dollar Shave Club.
Why? Because it can be argued the company owes its unprecedented success to marketing.
Look, monthly purchasing clubs have been with us for a while. You can have fruits and cheese delivered to your doorstep. You can have tailored shirts delivered to your doorstep. You can even join a purchasing outfit that will send you a new golf club every month.
Razor blades are just the latest commodity to join the list.
What stood out was the way those shaving utensils were brought to market -- with quirky, breakthrough, hilarious videos. Let me refresh your memory.
Of course my joy for Dollar Shave Club is tinged with a little bitterness. It's like digging into a delicious chopped salad only to find the chef has misguidedly added in some turnips. And beets.
You see I've spent the entirety of my career writing and pitching ideas of a similar nature. Deadpan delivery. Intelligent copy. A nod to the absurd. And for the entirety of my career I have returned from those pitch meetings with weird bromides like:
"We like humor but we're not looking for laughs."
How silly of me.
It may not have worked out in my case, but congratulations DSC. You have proven the maxim -- Funny is Money.
Wednesday, July 27, 2016
As I've mentioned on this blog many times in the past, when senior creatives, fellow copywriters and art directors who've spent years in the trenches, suddenly find themselves booted from those trenches, due to rightsizing or just the willy-nilly hiring of inexperienced (cheaper) kids, mine is the first phone to ring.
They want advice.
They want reassurance.
They want to know there's life after the agency world.
All very strange, because anyone who knows me knows I'm not exactly the nurturing kind, oozing with positivity and optimism.
I tell them all the same thing.
"Take a deep breath. Relax. And follow this fail proof formula for getting freelance gigs. Grow your ear hair out. Ask for twice as much as you think they might pay. And don't return any job inquiries for at least three days. It makes Creative Resource Managers want you that much more."
Let's keep in mind these people are now going after the same jobs that put food on my table and keep two college bursars at bay.
Because I've been fortunate enough to stay very busy during my past dozen years as a freelancer, every one of these panicked phone call ends with the same plea:
"If you have any overflow, send it my way."
And for twelve years, ever since I was 32 years old, I have.
I've placed more people in gigs than many of LA's top headhunters.
Two weeks ago, for instance, I found myself up to my own ear hairs in work assignments. And, as always the case, an agency called to inquire about my availability. Had they been open to me working remotely, I would have taken on the project, climbed out of bed at 5 in the morning, clicked and clacked on the keyboard until the clock struck midnight and gleefully started sending out the invoices.
But they wanted me onsite.
So I flipped through my Rolodex (you kids, look that up on your Lycos) and gave the recruiter the names of other freelance writers.
I know many, many freelance writers. But I know of only one who, 6 months earlier, repaid the favor of a referral with a rare bottle of Opus One Overture, which Vivino describes as "approachable in its youth with a generous fruit and a soft, supple mid-palate."
I have no idea what the fuck that means. Nor does it matter. Suffice to say, that writer's name was at the top of the list. And today, he is starting his second week on the job.
That gives me great joy.
What gives me even greater joy is that in addition to the very nice bottle of wine he sent, today I received another FedEx. A carefully bubble-wrapped bottle of premium Hibiki Suntory Whiskey (seen above).
Keep that, and my empty liquor cabinet, in mind next time you guys start hitting me up for overflow.