Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Friday, December 26, 2014
Thursday, December 25, 2014
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
In case you haven't guessed I'm still fuming about last week's decision by Sony executives to cancel the premiere of The Interview, the assassination comedy about Kim Jung Un.
It should be noted that I am hardly a fan of Seth Rogen/James Franco movies.
Last year my wife and I were planning to go see a Finnish documentary about fracking, global warming and its devastating effect on the survival of the Norwegian Blue, a fjord-dwelling parrot now on the extinction list. Unfortunately, this award winning doc was sold out and we ended up watching The End.
Sitting through a poorly-scripted Rogen movie is difficult. It's hard not to think, "Damn, I could have written something funnier than this."
And even harder to think, "I've got write another end of year Sales Event campaign just to pay for the air duct cleaning guy and the new brake pads for my daughter's Volvo."
In short, the quality of the Seth Rogen movie is not the issue. Cowtowing to a fat-ass tinpot dictator who runs a third world cesspool of a country, is.
I'm sorry, but how friggin' soft have we become?
It's shameful to think that America's Greatest Generation, women who riveted planes and men who stormed Nazi-fortified beaches in France, have lived long enough to see us quiver in cyber fear. Pissing our pants, because some boiled-carp eating nerds in Pyongyang might hack into our computers and seed some malware into our iPad Solitaire application.
Earlier this year, there was a restaurant in Vermont that dared to promote their prize-winning bacon. A woman, who happened to be a vegan and a Muslim, took offense and complained to the restaurant owners. And before the fat began to sizzle and emit that unmistakable aroma that says, "forget what your God commands and gnaw on my grizzled goodness", they removed the sign and apologized for upsetting the community.
In my book, bacon is more American than Baseball, Chevy or Apple Pie. And can, in fact, be used to improve all three.
I'm surprised these spineless restaurant owners didn't buy hijabs for the staff and go all halal, you know just to prevent any further religious disturbance.
Being in the ad business, I've admittedly developed a thick skin. But the truth is I'm offended by people who are easily offended.
Here's what I'm going to do about it.
I'm going to step up production of my Kim Jung Fun tumblr.
I'm going to continue my scathing criticism of Islam and the silent masses who get more riled up about Danish cartoons or pork products, than they do about the murder of children, stonings, honor killing, ethnic cleansing, FGM, the persecution of homosexuals, slave trading, and 7th century misogyny.
And I'm going to ramp up my attacks on the stupidity we all seem to be swimming in, whether it's in politics, advertising or just life in general.
This is the last post for 2014.
In 2015, I'm going on the offense.
No more Mr. Nice Guy.
So have a Merry Fucking Christmas.
And a Happy Fucking New Year!
Monday, December 22, 2014
People often ask me, "Rich, what's the longest ad you've ever written?"
OK, no one has ever asked me that.
No one asks about anything I've written. Perhaps that's why I'm driven to throw so much up against the wall. In the hope that one day, some misguided soul will act on the presumption that I have anything meaningful to say.
But I digress.
And if it weren't so easy to slip into a stream of consciousness digression, there's no way I could have written the ad you see pictured above. I'm also providing you a link to a larger photo in the off chance you actually want to read all 1839 words. The link also brings you to my portfolio page where you can entertain yourselves for about 47 seconds.
The reason I bring this ad to your attention, as if I needed a reason, is because this year, more than others, I am seeing more complaints from clients and from agency presidents about the lack of writers.
Ad schools are graduating art directors, UI designers and flick flack conflibulators, but not many people who can legitimately string sentences together. Earlier in the year, I was at one agency where a recent graduate was asked to write a headline congratulating a client on some corporate jack off achievement.
The headlines presented were not creative. I'm not even sure they were English.
Verbs were fighting nouns. Adverbs were adversely attached to other adverbs. And in the end, the client would have been better off simply running the brief. 14 monkeys randomly clacking away on keyboards would have produced more legible work.
It's bad out there.
But, it's also good.
Because it means my phone will continue to ring. And next year, I will have two daughters attending expensive colleges, so I will need to stay busier than ever.
I see double-dipping, overcharging and shameless self-promoting in my immediate future.
If I may come full circle, and frankly I don't see why I need your permission, the ABC ad pictured above never ran. Our intention was to place it centerspread in the Sunday NY Times Book Review Section, but a consortium of Southern broadcast affiliates took offense and lobbied the corporate brass to kill it before it went to press.
First of all, I wasn't aware that anyone in the South could actually read. If they could, I'm sure it wouldn't be The Book Review Section of the Jew York Times -- for those of you below the Mason Dixon Line.
Moreover, if they had bothered to wade through the ad they would see that it was chock full of irony. They'd be reading words written by a writer freely quoting other writers to dispel the notion that reading was of any value to writers and/or readers.
It's so meta, my head is about to explode.
Just to thumb my nose at the half-wits who lacked the courage to run the ad I'm going to submit this piece to the Huffington Post.
Where it promises to be seen by even fewer people.
Thursday, December 18, 2014
If you were to Google the word caganer (I know my audience and I know you will) you would discover the lovely tradition started in Northern Spain by villagers who decorated their yearly nativity scenes with The Shitter.
If you were to investigate further (again, I know you will) and click on the Images section, you'd see caganers of all shapes and sizes, including many celebrities, political leaders and even sports heroes, all hunched over and "Launching a lifeboat off the SS Assitania."
About three quarters down the page you'd see this entry:
It comes from my original posting about caganers way back in 2010.
And if you were to click it, you'd be redirected to my blog. I know this from doing a careful analysis of my recent web traffic. Turns out an astounding number of people are now coming here because of something I wrote nearly 5 years ago.
No small achievement.
Particularly for someone like me, an advertising copywriter, who can only look back at a pitiful series of small 30 second and 1/4 page meaningless lifetime achievements.
Nevertheless, I couldn't be prouder.
I am winning the Internet.
RoundSeventeen has now become synonymous with people pulling down their pants in public and taking a big curly dump.
Oh wait, that didn't come out right.
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
This is my home, circa 1998.
As you can see it was undergoing a major remodeling.
Unable to afford a new house, unless we moved to a double-wide in Palmdale or Mojave, my wife and I were left with no other option but to blow out our modest California ranch house and add a second story.
It was not an easy decision.
Particularly since my knowledge about construction was quite limited.
In my teen years I had seen my father acquire the entire Time Life Homeowners Collection. And I witnessed his incredible growth from a tinkerer to a full fledged carpenter. When he wasn't CPA'ing, he was always playing with his band saw, his miter saw, his two fisted router and his belt sander.
At one point, he grew so ambitious that he single-handedly tacked on a Home And Garden-worthy Finnish Sauna to the master bedroom. I could have learned quite a bit from him, but typical father/son friction made that all but impossible.
And so it was I found myself entering this remodel business completely unarmed. Fortunately the Internet was coming into its own and offered a wealth of information and references on potential contractors.
So I did my homework. Lots of it.
Mostly because I didn't want to flitter away thousands of dollars. But also because it gave me a good excuse not to change diapers and escape from the non-stop crying of our two colicky daughters.
I ended up awarding the job to Fischer Construction. The owner, Joel, was perhaps one of 13 Jews in America (my dad had passed away a decade earlier) who knew his way around a Nail Gun, a Torpedo Level and a Hammer Tacker.
My exhaustive research paid off. Apart from some miscues with his subcontractors, my experience with Joel the Jewish Contractor was outstanding. He showed up every day. Did what he promised. And as you might expect, did not exceed the budget.
Which is why I find it so amusing that my landline phone is ringing off the hook with cold call solicitations from contractors who are "in my area and ready to get going on my next project."
I never thought of demo-ing my home or adding another bathroom as an impulse buy, but hey if you're nearby, sure stop on over and let's fire up cement mixer.
Seriously, who does that?
What these contractors lack in marketing savvy they certainly make up for with persistence. I have asked over and over again to be taken off their calling list. But they keep dialing my number. So now I have a new way to get crossed off their list.
I purposely whet their appetite and get them worked up about landing a big job. The script goes as follows:
"Yes. Yes I am interested in remodeling the bathroom, maybe even the kitchen, we're thinking granite counters. Even granite shelves…wait, can you hold on I have another call…(slight pause) thanks for holding, that was a creditor on the other line…well, one of the creditors…hello….hello?"
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
I have a bone to pick about advertising.
I know that's shocking.
But the cardinal rule of journalism is, "If it bleeds it leads."
So what has crawled up my butt and deemed itself worthy of a diatribe today? It's this notion of "branding". More specifically, the idea that every commercial should start with a brand identifier in the first few seconds. And by the way, exposure does not equal persuasion. Not by a long shot.
I was at Chiat/Day when this pedanticism was born. I distinctly remember the day when an eager Account Director, tried to gussy up this client dictate and dropped the stinkbomb on my boss:
"The CMO at Sony had a great idea. And wants us to start every PlayStation spot with a Playstation mnemonic. Isn't that great?"
"What?", said Jerry with unusual resistance.
In case you hadn't noticed, they never walked away from that mandate. In fact, they started an ugly trend. Today, commercials for cars, beers, phones and insurance companies, all begin with a navel-gazing logo, sound or hamfisted branding device.
As a result, they have taken an important tool, perhaps our most engaging, out of the hands of copywriters and art directors -- storytelling.
Imagine going to see a stand up comedian who begins every joke with the punchline. I'm not sure you'd stick around for the two drink minimum.
The same laws of set-up, prologue and tension building hold true for the crafting of commercials. But no one, it seems, wants to hold their cards until the end.
"Make the logo bigger" has been replaced with, "get to the logo earlier."
Let's say it's January 22, 1984. It's the third quarter of the Super Bowl. The Raiders are up 21-3 over the Washington Redskins. A 60-second black and white commercial begins with…
"Ap - ple."
SFX: MUSICAL STING
And instead of being captivated by a mysterious dystopic vision of the future and the unveiling of a desktop computer that would change the course of history, 25 million Americans take this blatant commercial cue and decide it's a good time to take a whiz.
1984 isn't like 1984.
Apple doesn't get $10 million worth of free publicity.
The Mac dies a quick death. And for good measure takes the entire company to the grave as well.
There's never an iPod, an iPad or an iPhone.
And you're reading this on your IBM Homeputer 9000™. That is, if you figured out how to reformat the C: drive and have your modem hardwired to the Gates Worldwide Interweb Complex a/123.
Monday, December 15, 2014
A long time ago I revealed one of the dirtiest secrets about copywriters: we spend the majority of our time not copywriting.
That is, we're not clicking and clacking from the moment we step up to the keyboard to the moment we hand it off to an art director and say, "here, make me look pretty."
I suspect this is true for real writers as well.
Writing comes in spurts.
It's stop and go. Then it's stop and play some online chess. Or stop and check out who's eating what on Facebook. Or stop and look at the Google analytics and lament the fact that millions of people are not reading your daily drivel.
On one of these fanciful Facebook forays I ran across an Australian gentleman named Ken Hamm. Maybe you've heard of him. Recently Mr. Hamm did a Youtube debate with Science Guy Bill Nye.
Though he was backed by the power of providence, he did not win.
Ken is also in the news because deep in the backwoods of Kentucky (America's Think Tank) he is building a life-size replica of Noah's Ark. It will be, according to the website, "the largest timber frame structure in the USA."
It would have been the largest in the world, but some nut job in Belgium is working on a 14 story high Birdhouse.
As you can see from the schematic, the construction of the Ark is quite ambitious.
Ken is hoping to raise close to 30 million dollars for its construction. At least 3 million of that will be earmarked for the oversized bathrooms on the top deck, including a separate facility for the children, on the far left.
Apparently, while God is wiping out all of humanity for their collective sins and all the animals of the world have been herded on to a large open-air, floating petting zoo -- the predecessor to today's Open Office Plan -- it's important to have proper facilities to make a pee-pee or a doo-doo.
In addition to his Ark project, Ken Hamm is an ardent Creationist and accordingly scoffs at Darwin/Evolution/Science, or anything resembling reason. Choosing instead to believe the Earth is only 6,000 years old.
I've been to my brother's apartment.
He has leftover Chinese food that is more than 6,000 years old.
Naturally, like a moth drawn to a flame, I often find myself on Hamm's Facebook page. And even more often, I find myself trolling the threads and making smart ass remarks. It is, as the title of this piece indicates, so damn easy.
Of course any attempt to dissuade the faithful is completely futile. They tend to whirl themselves into a dervish frenzy with an impenetrable circle of logic.
"The Bible says there is a God. And it has to be true because God wrote the Bible."
Why bother, you might ask.
I like to think of it as a chef sharpening his favorite kitchen knife. It's part of the job.
Plus it's fun.
I don't care for cats. But give me a box of kittens and a strong laser pointer and I can entertain myself for hours.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
Years ago, I was contacted by the head of a production company in town. We had never met, but for reasons unknown, he became a fan of this blog.
He was trying trying to grow his roster of directors and thought it best to start grooming talented copywriters who might blossom into something. When none of those talented copywriters answered the bell, he called me.
I know many who have made the leap from agency staff guy to incredibly wealthy helmsmen with work that we all know and recognize. And so for two minutes I entertained the notion. I remember talking to Richard O'Neill, head of production at Chiat/Day and soliciting his advice.
"Always cast someone unusual. Or frame the shot with something odd. Find a reason to surprise people with something unexpected."
This, it turns out, is excellent counsel. Look at what's good or at least memorable on TV. The Old Spice Man, The Southern Comfort Dude in his Speedo, or The Most Interesting Man in the World. Even Flo, from the Progressive campaign, -- though I'm not a fan -- stands out.
Because they're not vanilla.
Vanilla is the common denominator in all the unforgettable characters in commercials. I could start naming them, but then I might offend some friends and colleagues.
But we all know who they are.
They smile too much.
They revel in the stupidest shit.
And they're happy.
Happiness has got to be the most unlikable attribute to be put on film. And yet that's what focus groups, clients and bosses of people we call clients want. Happy, homogeneous and non-threatening. It's the way I imagine the white-robed residents of heaven. And why, even though I'm averse to excessive heat, I'd prefer to spend my eternity in hell.
The upshot is I never pursued a career switch to directing. Another bullet dodged.
I prefer non-team sports. I prefer writing. I prefer doing things the way I want to do them and not having to spoon feed or rationalize every artistic decision or choice.
And I like non sequiturs.
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Earlier this year, The Barbarian Group, a New York advertising boutique/agency/assemblage of unbearable hipsters introduced the world to their revolutionary new SuperDesk™. You might recall this "75 yard long unbroken ribbon of awesomeness."
It certainly made an impression on me.
Pablo Picasso once said, "good artists copy, great artists steal."
So today, I'm proud to introduce to you SuperDesk2™ (see above.)
Or as I like to call it, "A four and a half foot long mortgage paying, credit card reducing, 401K funding factory."
Unlike its predecessor, SuperDesk2™ does not promote employee engagement or creative collaboration or the shifting of any paradigms.
It has been designed for One.
One cranky misanthropic copywriter who abhors small talk, detests electronica music and does not play well with others, particularly if they are wearing a sock hat or have a greased handlebar mustache.
SuperDesk2™ has been handcrafted from the finest hard maple and in stark contrast to the original SuperDesk™ is equipped with many drawers and ample storage space, for personal items which may or may not be necessary for the purpose of writing and/or procrastination.
Keeping in mind the function for which it has been designed, the SuperDesk2™ has been thoughtfully integrated into the new SuperOffice™.
This revolutionary new workspace promotes quiet and a relaxed environment far, far away from incomprehensible Planners, useless brainstorming sessions and noisy agency birthday parties.
Witness the SuperDoor™.
Copywriters, particularly the underachieving kind, spend a great deal of time not copywriting. That is, their minds tend to wander. This can mean hours wasted on mindless websites, buildyourownyurt.com or kinkyeskimoporn.com.
Or it could necessitate a break from the computer screen. The designers of the SuperOffice™have thought of everything.
Yes, a window does seem like a relic from the past, but sometimes the old way of doing things is the best way of doing things.
Finally, after a grueling 20 minutes of headline writing or sales event conceptualizing, the exhausted copywriter will often find himself, or herself (for your 3%'ers), in need of some restorative downtime.
Once again, these forward thinkers have come to the rescue.
Introducing the SuperNapStation3000™.
The 2015 SuperOffice™.
Everything else is simply barbaric.
Tuesday, December 9, 2014
My wife is angry.
Not for something I've done. But for something I've stopped doing. Sleep.
You see, I've been getting up earlier and earlier these days. Not by choice, mind you. If I had my druthers I'd be sawing wood until 9 or 10 o'clock in the morning. Which is not all that unusual since I stay up way past midnight. And have the sleep patterns of a teenager.
All that is changing. And like many men of 44, I'm rising from bed shortly after the sun rises over the horizon.
In the past, I'd awake at an early hour, curl up around my wife's pillow and catch another cycle of REM with odd dreams of Scarlet Johansen, Angelina Jolie, a bottle of olive oil, a trampoline and a catcher's mask. The body is willing, the mind however is not.
These days, I have been waking up with all synapses firing. Words, ideas, sentences, phrases, paragraphs, are ricocheting off every crease of my tiny brain. I can't roll over and hit the rack. I am compelled to the keyboard to begin the clicking and the clacking.
It's not writer's block.
It's writer's bloat.
And I'm not saying it's all good either. In fact, I think you can see from today's post, that it is not.
You would think that my increased productivity would please my wife, and my two daughters. Because believe me it takes quite a bit of productivity to maintain the lavish lifestyle they've come to enjoy. But, as is often the case when I do your rhetorical thinking, you'd be wrong.
You see, my new routine upsets my wife's old routine.
She has always enjoyed the hour of quiet solitude after the girls have shipped off to school and she had the downstairs all to herself. That is no longer the case as I have noisily interrupted all that with my coffee making, my toast buttering and my thought scribbling.
How dare I?
There is a silver lining in all this, she will rationalize. If my sleeping habits can change, perhaps one day I will learn to put the seat down.
Monday, December 8, 2014
If you're married to (my condolences) or know of anyone who works in the Creative Department of an ad agency there's a good chance you are not seeing much of him or her these days.
It's Super Bowl Crunch Time.
And ad agency personnel are scrambling like mad to get their spots produced and polished in time for America's early February orgasm. They -- the creatives -- should be in edit bays and sound studios eating overpriced sushi and acting like royals.
Sadly however, some, many, are still struggling to get an idea out the door and through the client gauntlet of ineptitude.
That's right, The Big Game™ is less than two months away but because of the enormous pressure and the rampant committee-think that governs the corporate landscape, many agency staffers find themselves back at the drawing board.
Perhaps it's a sign of my declining career, but for the first time in many years I don't find myself caught up in this moronic morass.
At one time I would salivate over the prospect of landing a Super Bowl spot and would gladly endure the pain associated with the strategic changes, the revisions, the rewrites, and the endless do-overs.
The opportunity to knock one out of the park on a magical Super Bowl Sunday could make or break a career. Some have cemented a spot for themselves in advertising history. Like the creators of Apple's "1984", or Monster.com's "When I Grow Up" or more recently, Dodge's "God Made a Farmer."
That time, like a schticky, Vaudevillian episode of Seinfeld, has long passed.
The glory has been replaced with a Monday morning chorus that has been singing the same refrain for the last decade.
"The game was OK, but the commercials sucked."
They may be right.
They may be wrong.
Who am I to say?
It's not like I sit at my desk and relentlessly and often carelessly pass judgment on every single issue of the day. Oh wait…
The point is, this year I have no skin in the game. And I couldn't be happier.
Not long ago, I was toiling in the offices of a major agency. I happened across a conference room, where on foam core boards, many potential Super Bowl storyboards were pinned and competing to be the prized agency recommendation.
Next to each script there was a colored Post It Note: red from the Creative Director, blue from Planning, yellow from Account Management, green from Media, magenta from Finance and orange from Human Resources.
Each department head had weighed in on how to 'improve' the spot. And all the notes had a recurring theme:
"Make It Funnier."
I'm not sure how a copywriter and an art director can deliver on that consensual request. I'm only sure that in their efforts to appease the lowest common denominator, interdepartmental scrutiny, the spot got less funny.
Thursday, December 4, 2014
You didn't think I was going to weigh in on the mess in Ferguson, or even yesterday's fiasco in Staten Island, did you?
I like to play with fire and walk the razor's edge but I'm not about to poke that hornet's nest with a big pointy stick.
No, the jury I'm talking about is the one I chaired in an Inglewood courtroom about 5 years ago.
I had been called to jury duty many times prior, but never found a way to get inside the box. And unlike my fellow potential jurors who could spin a yarn or feign mental incompetence, I was eager to serve.
I wanted a first hand look at our dysfunctional judicial system. My experience in Inglewood did not disappoint.
Once in the leather seat, the prosecuting attorney greeted us, spent less than a minute with the pleasantries and then immediately launched into his case. He was not saving the best for last. He went straight for the jugular.
"Ladies and gentleman, I'd like you to look at this videotape."
With that he opened his laptop and hit the play button.
The screen positioned for our viewing pleasure brought up the picture in full High Definition. It was security camera footage shot from inside a convenience store, a 7-11 located just two blocks from the Inglewood Police Station. I could have covered that distance with a solid 5 iron and a good tail wind.
On the tape, we saw a large man wearing a tan polo shirt and blue shorts step behind the counter and hold a screwdriver to the back of a tiny Pakistani man who stood all of 5'4". He demanded all the money and the fresh-off-the-boat cashier complied and handed the man $32.68 cents from the register.
"Thank you, have a nice day," he said reflexively in his thick Urdu accent.
As soon as the thief ran out of the store, the Pakistani man called 911. While he was on the phone with the police he dutifully began ringing up a customer with a two Slim Jims, a bag of corn chips and a large Grape soda.
The burglar did not get far, as a cruiser was returning to base and chased the man down on a nearby street.
As open-and-shut cases go it was textbook open-and-shut. We returned a verdict in 45 minutes, a new world record the Bailiff told us.
It would have been sooner but one guy on the jury was not convinced by the videotape. His reluctance was short lived after an older African American woman on the panel started chewing him out in the most delightful public shaming I've ever witnessed.
"Did you not see the video? What kind of nonsense is coming out of yo mouth? Pick up that damn piece of paper and write guilty before I come over there and slap the stupid outta yo head."
The perpetrator, who has also served time for sexual abuse, is now sitting in a prison in Calapatria. I took the trouble to find him online. And ladies, though he won't be eligible for parole until 2019, he is available and currently looking for companionship.
Clearly, from his criminal activity, he's not the brightest bulb in the package, but he might want to rethink his movie references.
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
I'm told I need an exit strategy.
I'm told ad agencies don't need writers anymore.
I'm told there's even less need for 44 year old writers. And what do I plan to do in five years when I become 45?
There's validity to all these statements. But the truth, the sad truth, is I haven't made any contingency plans.
I haven't started studying for my real estate license and have no interest in wasting my weekends at Open Houses entertaining lookyloos while ignoring the awful smells emanating from someone's unsellable home.
I haven't been taking classes to get a teaching credential. Nor do I have the patience to deal with witless students.
"What don't you get? Just do it the way I did. Stop asking questions. And put away the damn iPhone."
And finally, I haven't sufficiently funded my 401k plans. In retrospect I should not have sunk my money into Betamax, Netscape and a new Radio Shack franchise. Who could have predicted people would no longer need pocket transistor radios?
I suppose I'm going to have to turn my creative faculties on their head, and using nothing but my perseverance and imagination, figure my way out of this conundrum.
A buddy, a fellow copywriter, had an interesting thought.
He suggested getting a full time job again. At this stage in my career it would have to be a high level position with a multi-year contract. Then, knowing how averse I am to being on staff, he suggested I drink myself into a lucrative early termination.
His plan was simple.
I would drink. Not a lot at first. A cocktail or two at lunch time. Then a month into the position, I could add a mid-afternoon nip. Followed quickly by morning beers and pre-lunch Bloody Mary's. A couple of failed new business pitches and the agency would have no choice but to fire me and pay out my remaining contract.
It sounded promising, but I had seen others drink themselves into a daily stupor, only to get promoted and handed more managerial responsibility. And God knows I didn't want that.
Then he mentioned Clown Make-Up.
The idea was similar and stunningly beautiful.
In my first week of steady employment, I would apply an ever-so-slight hint of clown make-up to my face. It would hardly be noticeable. Two weeks later, when my fellow employees had become accustomed to my countenance, I would ramp up the rouge, the lipstick and the eye shadow by a mere 5%. Not enough to set off any alarms, but just enough to ease the transition to the next imperceptible phase.
Week by week, my morning make up ritual would last a little longer. Until at about the 6 month mark, someone would look across the conference room table and notice the Executive Creative Director (me) was in full blown Bozo mode.
This plan is nothing short of genius.
And as a bonus will provide me with hours of blogging material.
I better start freshening up my resume.
Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Soon, my buddy Paul will be making online site reservations for our July 4th camping trip. That's seven months away, you say. Yes it is, but here in Southern California, the land of too many fucking people, you have to plan ahead. If you don't, you'll be pitching a tent between a bear box and the campground dumpster.
There's a sushi restaurant we like on Sawtelle Blvd. We made our reservations for a Saturday night.
Of course, this long lead time gives my wife ample opportunity to start crossing items off The List. Each year, without fail, we haul up a half dozen of these useless Citronella candles. Supposedly, the burning of Citronella oil repels the bloodthirsty mosquitoes.
Unless the mosquito decides to set down on the burning wick and thus subject himself to a little self-immolation, these candles do nothing. Personally, I like my repellents like my cough medications, that is, they should contain some chemical(s) the FDA has declared potentially hazardous or addictive.
This doesn't stop my wife, or the others in our camping group, from swearing by them. Not surprisingly, Citronella falls into the same fairy tale category as organic fruit, past-life memories, and Congressional bi-partisanship.
Last week I watched a program on CNN, I know, I should be ashamed to admit that. Lisa Ling had travelled to the jungle to watch some addle-brained Americans go on a Ayahuasca weekend retreat.
There, under the moist canopy of a Peruvian rainforest and the spiritual guidance of a "shaman" (oh please), these wayward souls paid top dollar to drink a brew of banisteriopsis caapi.
Chemists say the plant contains DMT, dimethlytryptamine, and like LSD can induce severe hallucinations lasting up to six hours. I would suggest the hallucinations don't stop there.
Lisa Ling interviewed many of the participants, who after much vomiting, reported:
"I feel totally cleansed."
"It's like I was being born again."
"I was expecting to see my spirit animals. They didn't show up at first. But then they did. And now I know they live inside my. And guide me. And protect me."
The spirit animals should have warned you not to do an interview with CNN and making a total ass of yourself in front of millions of people.
I'm not sure how Lisa Ling kept a straight face. I may not be the most perceptive man on the planet, my wife can chime in on that, but Lisa looked like she wanted to burst out laughing.
One shaggy-haired participant looked her in the eye, and while stroking his soul patch said:
"I feel like I've reached a higher level of vibration."
If I thought reaching a higher level of vibration had any therapeutic effect and could ease my mid-life neurosis, I would save myself the airfare to Lima, Peru, pass on the self-inflicted hurling and hop on top of my Sears 7.6 cubic feet, front-loading Kenmore Dryer.
Monday, December 1, 2014
This being Thanksgiving Day weekend you might be expecting me to prattle on about how special it was to have my daughter return home for a visit from the University of Washington.
While it was nice to have her, my house was filled was something even more precious: 8 lbs. of leftover turkey, a fridge full of imported beers including some high-alcohol content Chimay Ale and a DVR spilling over with a bounty of NFL and college football games which would all impact the upcoming playoffs and the all important entry into the Lime-Flavored, Oven-Baked Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
You can imagine my reaction when my wife tried to drag me from my plenteous Man Cave. To see a movie, no less.
Personally I don't think there's much reason to visit a movie theater. And there hasn't been since the studios released Stay Tuned, the inspired John Ritter comedy classic from the early 90's, but I humored my wife and asked what she wanted to see?
"The Theory of Everything," she replied, "the Stephen Hawking movie."
You want me to walk away from the nail biting gridiron action between Virginia and Virginia Tech to watch a chick flick about some brainiac who believes in parallel universes?
I'm still trying to picture how the writer pitched this one to the studio.
"It's a Rom-Com meets Quantum Physics meets Rudy."
Before you write me off as some unenlightened lughead, if you haven't already, you should know I take a great interest in science and meta-physics. In fact I started out as a Calculus major in college and had visions of pursuing a career in Math, that is until I found out I could make more money by writing stupid marketing material for large corporations.
Last week I was watching a show that touched on Hawking and his multi-universe theory. The incredibly oversimplified version revolves around the notion of an infinite time space continuum. And within that lies the concept that our world is one of many. Furthermore, each of these other worlds is the result of an alternate choice, you or I made.
That's every decision, large and small.
For instance, let's say you had rye toast for breakfast instead of sourdough. According to Hawking, there exists an entire universe that is based on that innocuous bread choice. Somewhere, in a galaxy far, far away, you are eating sourdough toast and Virginia stops Virginia Tech at the 42 yard line and walks away with the win.
I find this take on infinity and the concept of slightly parallel universes quite fascinating.
It means that 7,931,478 light years away there is a leaner, meaner version of me, with a full head of hair.
He didn't sell his Apple stock prematurely and is sitting on millions of dollars.
And when he isn't swimming in his Olympic sized lap pool in his backyard that is 10 miles from the nearest annoying neighbor, he is being tended to by a crew of naked fitness models skilled in the semi-painful art of deep-tissue Thai Massage.
Of course in this distant Schrodinger world, Rich Siegel's wife is a vegetarian. So the only thing in fridge is half a carcass of uneaten Tofu-rkey.
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Today's post will piss you off.
At least, it should.
It's hard to fathom how much of our money, those Federal deductions we see subtracted from our paychecks every two weeks, gets wasted in areas of the world still stuck in the 7th century. And I'll show you exactly what I mean.
I did a little digging online and found this highly charged illustration.
The picture above is what 100 million dollars looks like next to man who could only afford some off-brand sneakers and a crappy red shirt form the local Target. By the way, those are stacks of hundred dollar bills. And the palette measures 4 feet by 4 feet, assuming palettes haven't changed since my days of driving a forklift in lovely Gardena, CA making a mere $7.62 an hour.
Now, consider the disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wars, which I mistakenly supported in 2003, mostly fueled by post 9-11 anger. Those wars have cost us thousands of soldiers, precious lives of our best and brightest, that can never be replaced.
We've also dumped $4 Trillion Dollars in a part of the world that can best be described as God's own taint. Using the same illustrative method as above, here's what $4 Trillion Dollars looks like:
That's the same dude on the left, with the emo haircut and the Wrangler mom jeans.
This, in no uncertain terms, is why your kids are not going to a private university. It's why you're not driving a new car with the self-repairing paint and blind side detection system. And it's why you will be drinking shitty office coffee and eating free bagels on Friday for a long time to come because you will not be able to retire until you're 82 years old.
What do we have to show for our $4 Trillion Dollars?
We have nothing.
The US trained Iraqi army, once considered the world's fiercest army, refuses to fight. When confronted with ISIS, they tore off their uniforms, dropped their weapons and ran for the hills. Probably to hide behind the Yazidis.
Women, when they're not being stoned or having acid thrown in their face for going to school, are draped in bedsheets, morning, noon and night. Not because they are held in the highest regard, but because they are property and an Afghani man is free to do whatever he chooses with his property.
And on every corner of this vast area, you'll find a mosque or a madrassa, where the faithful are taught the precepts of jihad and unrelenting hatred for kaffir (that's you and I) from their Holy Koran. Books, no doubt purchased with money deducted from your paystub May 15th -- May 31st.
Anti-Zionists like to make the point that we give Israel about $3 billion a year. You'd need a microscope to find $3 billion in the diagram above. And at least we get a return on that money, in the form of new technologies, advancements in medicine and a dependable ally in the fight against religious Fascism.
In Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Turkey, et al, we have received nothing.
It would be as if my wife went to Vons and dropped $1000 on groceries and then returned from the store with a soup cracker.
Not even the soup cracker.
Just the cellophane wrapper the soup cracker came in.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Recently, I sat down for a leisurely chat with an ad industry veteran. Turns out he is also a rabid fan of R17 so naturally, because of my insatiable need for validation, I hung on his every word.
I had mentioned that it had been a while since I put any new work in my book, or my online portfolio to be more accurate.
He stopped me mid-sentence.
"Are you crazy? Your blog is your book. You don't need new spots or outdoor boards or banner ads. You put up new material almost every day. It's digital. It's current. And it's probably the best writing you've ever done."
Here was a man who was also writing my checks at the time, so who was I to argue? Though to be honest, not every posting (this one for example) is what I would call "bookworthy." But I do subscribe to the volume theory of writing, that is for every ten pieces I write, one is good enough to make the grade.
This quantity to quality axiom does not appear to be in good favor those days.
It seems anything and everything that makes it to the Telly or the Internet also makes it to a FaceBook newsfeed. It doesn't matter whether it's good or not, in most cases not, it just matters that it was done.
And so we are treated to a cavalcade of work that is flat, uninspired, has no trace of an idea, or a deadly combination of all of the above.
Am I guiltess?
No, I am not.
Years ago I posted a homestore.com spot that I dubbed, "The Worst Commercial I Have Ever Produced." And it was. A million dollar, Joe Pytka-directed colossal piece of shit.
Had I been more diligent with my file keeping I could have continued the series. Here's one from the vintage folder:
That's crazy bad. But the funny thing is every time AIS would run that commercial the phones rang off the hook.
Believe me if I could find more bad work from the early days I would be an uploading fool. Hell, I'm 44 years old, what have I got to lose? Besides, as my wife often says, I lack the genetic material for embarassment.
Some of you younger hipsters and hipsterettes do not. And I would posit that not everything you do is something everyone should see.
By the way, if you recently posted some 'questionable' work and you're wondering if I'm directing this post at you, I probably am.
Monday, November 24, 2014
The picture above was screen grabbed off a photojournalist's page and his exploration of Equality. Having spent time as a short order cook as well as an apprentice at a fancy French restaurant, it spoke to me.
There were other fascinating juxtapositions, but you can check them out after you finish reading today's piece, which is, if you haven't guessed about equality.
In September I dropped my older daughter off at the University of Washington. And last year I wrote several posts about the journey to college and all its incumbent emotional adventures.
I would be remiss as a father, and in violation of the Sibling Act 19:31 A/b 432, if I didn't give equal time to my youngest daughter who will be flying the coop next September. Leaving me two empty rooms in the house and ample space to expand my collection of Caganers.
(Thanks to Kelly Fitzpatrick for bringing this one back from Spain)
It's still early in the process, but Abby has already received acceptance letters from the University of Arizona and the University of Colorado. The rejection letters are still to come, but you can imagine the relief, we, my wife and I, experienced with the first two positive responses.
Particularly since my youngest is given to drama and, with the slightest provocation, can throw a tantrum like a 5 year old who has just dropped his lollipop in the doggie doo.
I know some of you with fatter wallets and better breeding have already got your noses pointed towards Pluto. Arizona and Colorado?
"Those are hardly Ivy League Schools. What's she gonna major in Beer Bongs and Hemp?"
And that's fine, because here at the Siegel household we don't put on airs. And we're not particularly fond of labels. Or anything remotely to do with status. If the converse were true, we'd be in a lot of trouble.
I'm told my alma mater, Syracuse University, has cache in the world of communication and advertising, but now that I've been around the block a few times and know the industry for what it is, I find that rather embarrassing.
So yes, I'm proud of my daughter.
Earlier this year she had been failing an Honors Pre-Calculus Class. She stubbornly refused to ask for help. Then we had a sit down with the math teacher, who laid out a path to success that would require some hard work and determination. Well, the pit bull doesn't fall far from the apple tree. On her most recent midterm she scored a 97.
We also found out from her English teacher that my little girl is quite the writer. "Dark, brooding and funny," said her English teacher.
This news is both troubling and exciting.
On the one hand I know how hard it is to turn a dime into a dollar using nothing but the imagination and a computer keyboard. On the other hand, who's to say my daughter wouldn't surpass me as America's 7,934th best copywriter. After all she has been given a gift. A leg up. And should she decide to be a writer she has in her toolbox an invaluable asset that I never had. A bottomless well of comedic inspiration and divine dysfunction.
She went to Catholic High School.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
Oh no, you're thinking, we've reached that point with Round Seventeen wherein Rich pulls out ads from the past that never went anywhere.
I had lunch last week with my old Chiat partner, John Shirley. We met at Playa Del Rey's only Chinese restaurant. I'm not sure the place has a name. I'm not even sure it deserves one. The food isn't very good. But the portions are outstanding. And the Kung Pao Chicken is prepared with lots of those dried fiery hot red peppers I'm told you're not supposed to eat.
John was already sitting in the booth when I got there. He sprung a little surprise on me. A 150 page deck that we had done for the Hardee's pitch back in 2001. I'm gonna assume the statute of limitations has run out on me sharing some of the ideas.
Besides, upper management at Chiat didn't love the ideas then, I'm sure they don't have much use for them now.
In any case, our plan was to bring back Lil Chef. He was the Hardee's spokesman in the early 1960's and we were always fond of tapping into old brand DNA. It had built-in authenticity.
We were also very fond of Jack from the Jack in the Box campaign and knew that a founder strategy for fast food was a solid approach.
Lil Chef was different in that, at least in our incarnation, he was very much the reluctant spokesperson. He had retired a long time ago and was content to rest his 7 foot plastic body (think Bob's Big Boy), sit by the pool and nurse highballs of Kentucky bourbon.
That's right, we wanted Lil Chef to be a curmudgeonly old drunk. The first ever on national TV.
He wasn't interested in toy giveaways, in-store playgrounds or any of the nonsense associated with other fast food joints. Lil Chef was about putting out great, homemade food.
He wasn't always nice about it.
Or even sober.
As John and I paged through the deck we found some really funny spots. Clever ways to jam in the obligatory food porn. Even some internal employee retention work that would have given the kids that worked at Hardee's a reason to smile and be happy they were on Lil Chef's team.
You know, besides the promise of getting at some of his bourbon stash.
The poorly scanned pictured above is just one sample. By the way, before the planners and account people got hold of it, it said "damn" not "darn."
If we did the ad today it would say, "Too fuckin' early!"
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
As many of you know, in addition to R17 I also maintain another blog, Kim Jung Fun, on Tumblr.
It's not so much a blog, as it is a showcase for odd PR pictures coming out of the DPRK. I like to give them silly captions.
Some people play paddleball.
Others knit quilts.
This is what I do.
As social media goes, Tumblr is quite unique. I still don't have the hang of it but I make a habit of following anyone who has taken the trouble to follow Kim Jung Fun. And so, unlike R17, the people in my Tumblr crowd are all strangers. They post strange pictures. Including the questionable light switch above.
It goes without saying that I've always been fascinated with Jesus paraphernalia.
Years ago, I ran across novelty Jesus Sport statues. And though I've never been a big hockey fan, decided I needed to have this:
I photographed the statue in front of some personal property to prove I actually own this piece of art and didn't just screen grab it off the Internet. Although I'm sure it's hard to believe those two beautiful little girls belong to me.
Why hockey, you may be asking.
Well, I found it interesting that while Jesus could walk on water, when the water was frozen, he needed skates just like Gordy Howe. Here, the Almighty One delivers a brutal hip check to the Ginger skating for the red team.
Naturally, all this sent me on an Internet Jesus Chase where I found this monstrosity:
Jesus Christ, what were the people in this South Florida church thinking?
I know, that's a bit of an oxymoron, as many of you have already jumped ahead, people in South Florida don't do a lot of thinking. But don't jump too far ahead.
Because the only thing more shocking than the construction of this audacious monstrosity was its inevitable demise. Make sure you stick around until 1:31. If this country were to elect a woman for President, Sandy Smith would get my vote.
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
I became a copywriter in 1984. Since then, I've met all kinds of creative people. More, I would argue, than the average 44 year old.
I've met the Good German. You know this person. He is or she is willing to do whatever management wants them to do.
"Cram these 8 unique selling points into this 30 second commercial."
"You got it boss."
"When you're done with that, give me a 15 second cut down. With the same 8 points."
Then there's Petey Politician. Sadly, you've come across this shifty person too. He or she is always two moves ahead of you. And operates in that vague netherworld behind closed doors or after hours drinking establishments.
Petey Politician is so skilled with the back-stabbing knife that he or she can wield it out in the open, even while reviewing work at a creative gang bang.
"This work is great. And it seems to be on strategy. But is it ON strategy?"
A subtle change in inflection, but Karl Rove will tell you, that's all it takes. Next thing you know, your campaign is going in the storage files and your rival's campaign is going to the storyboard phase.
And then there's Herman Hardhead, the Passionate Purist. My favorite.
If you haven't known or met these folks you're missing out on the fun this business has to offer. Because these are the people, who, through their actions, their refusal to give one inch, their volcanic tantrums, give birth to the stories that get told at raucous Christmas parties or 15 hour shoots in the flats of Ridgewood Crest.
In accordance with R17 no-name policy I won't divulge his identity, but I remember one particularly short-fused writer, who came to Chiat/Day via Wieden & Kennedy. When it came time to defend his work, he Defended his work. First with his sailor's tongue. And then, more often than not, with his well-calloused fists.
Furniture got busted.
Foamcore boards got torn in two.
And panicked Account people and planners left the room crying.
Though not skilled in the art of pugilism, I've also been known to be obstinate. However, pushed, shoved and threatened with unemployment, I've often folded like a cheap hotel wedding chair.
I have a friend who is a bonafide Purist. He refuses to suffer the Death of a Thousand Cuts. I vividly recall the time he was asked to make a small creative change, a change he was convinced would compromise the spot that had spent months in the gestation period. Whereas most people would have acceded to the tiny revisions. He wouldn't budge and stood his ground.
"I'd rather kill the concept and come up with a new idea."
A demonstrable act of courage, conviction and uncompromising creativity.
An inspiration, really.
Six months later, the client came up with a new agency.
Monday, November 17, 2014
Did you have a good weekend?
I did, sort of.
I went to a memorial.
The second in the course of a month.
I'm hoping there's not a third anytime soon.
We gathered on a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon, the kind of afternoon that makes East Coasters, Midwesterners and Northern Californians jealous, to say farewell to our good friend and editor extraordinaire, Rick Shambaugh.
Like the previous memorial, there was an outstanding turnout. Similarly, it was another cherished opportunity to be among my old Chiat/Day colleagues, who as many noted, are more like family. There was an undeniable warmth in the air that was not attributable to any Indian Summer or Santa Ana winds.
Being with them brought back a flood of memories. Of late nights and weekends in the old warehouse next to Gold's Gym, Antioch, the Binocular Building and of course, Playa. These were the people that built the Chiat/Day legacy.
There was modest representation from the Creative Department, but most in attendance were Producers, Editors and staff from VBE, quite frankly, the best in the business.
It wasn't until I left Chiat/Day and started working at other agencies, with other in-house production people, that I realized how talented, professional and tight, these people were, and continue to be.
Rick was part and parcel of this team.
As I sat and listened to the eulogies, tales of Rick's missionary adventures in Africa, camping in the Mojave desert, working at a nuclear power plant, I was reminded, fittingly, of a phrase I heard in college. A film professor told us how in Italy, people subscribed to the notion of 'fate un cinema.'
Make a movie.
Your life, it is said, should be like a movie. It should be larger, more expressive, with lower lows and soaring highs. Your life should include stories that other people will talk about, laugh about and cry about.
If it wasn't apparent before, it certainly was yesterday. Rick led that kind of life.
I would always catch snippets of it while we sat in his edit bay, mostly while the Avid machine was rendering. Or buffering. Or transferring tape to D-9. All these years in the business, and I still don't have a clue about the terminology of film and video.
We spent hours, days and weeks in that smelly little room. It's why I selected this picture, above the hundreds of others that are floating around on Facebook. It's the way I remember Rick, looking at the back of his head while he drilled down on the rough cut.
To be honest, I never had the stamina to lock myself in a bay and piece together a story frame by painful frame. Rick did. He started as an errand boy and by the process of osmosis and Pennsylvania-born working class determination, taught himself into the profession. He got so good that often times my partner and I would simply hand him the script or some stupid corporate jack-off manifesto and walk away.
We'd show up later and it would be done.
Start to finish.
A polished piece of perfect communication.
Well, that is until Lee Clow had his revisions.
It is hard to believe that this gentle, stubborn, sometimes-quirky soul is no longer with us.
Whether he knew it or not, Rick, a film editor by trade, embraced the idea of 'fate un cinema.' But like all great movies that manage to transcend the screen and take you out of your world, this movie, Rick's movie, ended way too soon.
Thursday, November 13, 2014
I've made no secret of my admiration for Mark Fenske.
Mark is a professor at VCU now, but when he made a living as a copywriter he wrote unlike any other. Perhaps that's why his name was all over the awards books, which made it a whole lot easier to mimic his style.
In addition to teaching, Mark maintains -- and I use that word sparingly -- a blog. He puts up an entry every month or so, which means he has about two regular readers, me and whenever he does an infrequent spellcheck.
His most recent entry however struck a chord.
He tells his students, aspiring copywriters and art directors:
"Just do the opposite of everything you see."
His reasoning is simple. 99% of everything you see on TV, Twitter, Facebook, etc. is utter crap. That is undeniable. If you want to do something good, don't do crap.
It is for me, the first litmus test any work I present.
If it sounds like, looks like, or smells like anything that's out there I don't want to have any part of it.
If only clients bought into the same criteria. They don't. Their rationale is equally simple. If it doesn't sound or look or smell like anything out there they get nervous. Because it is different.
And, if a campaign dares to be different it also, by definition, flirts with failure. And as much as corporate yahoos and motivational masturbators would have us believe in the redemptive power of failure, the truth is Chief Marketing Officers with multiple mortgages and a sweet corner office will run away from risk faster than the Democrats ran away from Obamacare.
As a result we get shit, shitty and shittier work.
Special effects dreck.
Or happy smiling millineals in contrived situations speaking committee-written adtalk to other happy smiley millineals whose manicured beards should be pulled out by hand and shoved down their precious organic-only pieholes.
Sadly, it's also why there's little chance we'll see work like this anymore. Authentic, insightful and delightfully-small.
I'm sure Fenske would agree that God blessed the Creative Director who has the balls to ask for small.