Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Emperor's Clothes

     How disappointing is it to open a bag of chips and find two thirds of it is air? What about when you buy a bottle of vitamins and it’s only a half a bottle of product? Or, when dining out, your entrée makes you want to echo Oliver Twist  –– “More, please!” or cry “WHERE’S THE BEEF?” Don’t you hate it when reality doesn’t live up to the advertising?
     Which makes me wonder: Why the hell does Donald Trump wear suits that are too big, with ties that are like oversized eels draped around his neck? The shoulders of his suits are too wide by at least a size, and they slump over to the side. The jackets are a solid inch too long, and billow. The baggy trousers manage to look worn out, though they are not. What’s he trying to say? He’s a big man? He’s a sloppy big man? He’s bigger than Napoleon but he still has a complex?    
     At this point, with nothing from Trump but pandering about outcomes –– without specifics, decorum, civility or even real intelligence –– our conclusion can only be: beware of big packages with small products inside.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Orange Age of Advertising

        I have great news for everyone who thinks the nation will go to the dogs if Donald Trump becomes president. At least advertising could get its next big trend.
      We should call it Rambotising. Why not? Donald Trump became a contender for the presidency by creating advertising based entirely on angry emotion rather than reason, so our business, ever keen to ride a new wave, could pick up on that and make it all the rage, literally.
      It’s really not hard to imagine. Let’s say we got briefed on Head & Shoulders shampoo. We could depict the dandruff as evil, ruthless and sadistic. We’d probably animate it, but let’s make it animated like Mortal Kombat is animated, so we could make the scumballs really look like criminals. Then, with the human scalp looking like a post-apocalyptic landscape from a Mad Max movie and the shampoo acting like a deadly chemical warfare agent, we’d let the dandruff have it – HAHAHAHAHA, MAGGOTS! It’s kind of fun, actually.
      Let’s say we had to work on Ford. In our social communities, we’d pummel home that all drivers of other cars are losers. And on film, we could show a Mustang at a red light, just minding its own business when, from the second lane, putters up a pathetic little Fiat –– an annoyance, a gnat on a hot summer night –– so the driver would send a warning. He’d rev his engine, a slow, surging and menacing snarl. The driver would then roll down his window, turn to camera and like Dirty Harry on a really bad day, he’d growl, “If any pint-sized calzone tries to cut me off, it’ll be the last car they’ll ever drive!”
      It being much more important to say whatever riles up our target, legal claims wouldn’t be much of a concern. We could lie and we could shitpost . After all, this is low, lowbrow. Remember whom we’re targeting.
      Do you remember that great ad from Bob Levenson, “Do this or die”? To quote, “There is indeed a twelve-year–old mentality in this country; every six-year-old has one. We are a nation of smart people.” Forget that. We’d be targeting Man at his basest, which, if you ask any woman, would have him swinging from tree to tree and throwing poop at all his enemies.
      Long-term, when this kind of work becomes popular, our industry would attract new talent. Creative people with issues would find this work cathartic. All those hate-ridden people in the customer service field will be naturals at this. Who knows. A few kids might give advertising a shot over professional wrestling,
      So, is it right? Is it ethical? Is it artful? Will this approach actually work? Probably not, but that’s not the point. The point is about Trumpism seeping into our world. It raises a serious question: What happens when lies and anger and extremism are normalized? I suspect more than a few ads will be affected.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

It's only propaganda.

         Stop sifting through the bluster for the truth. View the rhetoric as manipulation. Judge every pivot as a device to turn an audience. Donald Trump’s words are not chosen to convey sincerity. He’s a propagandist.
         Propaganda is the intentionally biased or misleading approach to promote a particular political cause. It's bad, bad advertising. 
Our first clue of this was that he kept a book beside his bed by the master of propaganda, Adolf Hitler. The book was My New Order, the follow-up to Mein Kampf. Just look at the way Trump speaks, argues, rages and retaliates. You attack one’s opponent, as opposed to the issues. You appeal to fear. You appeal to prejudices. And these are only some of the ingredients of propaganda. He and Adolf have a lot in common.
         Joseph Goebbels, the Chief of Nazi Propaganda, wrote, “Propaganda has no principles of its own. It has only one goal, and in politics that goal is always to conquer the masses. Any means to that end that does not serve that end is bad.” Ever wonder how Donald Trump could say one thing to one audience and totally change his tune and tone to another, like in Mexico and then three hours later in Arizona? It's a good sign he's spewing propaganda.
         There’s also his target. Trump speaks to the under educated blue-collar worker. In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote, “All propaganda must be popular and its intellectual level must be adjusted to the most limited intelligence among those it is addressed to. Consequently, the greater the mass it is intended to reach, the lower its purely intellectual level will have to be.” Throughout My New Order, Hitler calls his beloved simpletons “folk.” Isn’t that nice? If only Trump’s followers knew that they were chosen because they’re considered perfectly dim.
         Keep it simple, if not intuitive –– that’s another ingredient of propaganda. Make that audience feel good to understand what the politicians don’t. So if you’re sick of immigrants taking our jobs and threatening our personal safety, build a wall. If you don’t like Isis, bomb the sh*t out of them. If America has a problem, “I alone can fix it.” “The more modest its intellectual ballast…” Hitler wrote, “the more effective it will be.” It doesn’t matter how complex the subject matter is, whether modern economics or national defense. It doesn’t even matter if you reduce the issue, as Trump has done with Immigration, to such simplicity that the problem gets distorted and the solutions are impractical. Reduce everything to black and white. It’s all part of doing what it takes to win the moment.
         Then, rile up the troops –– demonize the opposition, call them names, fire up their fury. Trump paints a hellish picture of America as a third world country, a place of economic devastation and mortal fear in which he is leading the charge to reclaim the country. Isn’t that exactly what Hitler did? Trump accused the Obama administration of allowing Islamist terrorism to spread under the advisement of Secretary of State Clinton, who he summarized as "death, destruction, terrorism and weakness" –– the same sort of invectives Hitler used against capitalists and internationalists.
         Now, content-wise, it’s essential to propaganda that thou shalt tell a lie. But not just any lie, a big lie. “A big lie” was coined in Mein Kampf to describe a lie so "colossal" that no one would believe someone could have the balls to make up such a thing. It demands impudence, a talent Trump shamelessly displayed when he went after Hillary’s health, when he called her a bigot, accused her of founding Isis and claimed that “thousands and thousands” of Muslim Americans in New Jersey were cheering as the Towers tumbled down.

“…in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.                                                                    

         This is offensive and sleazy stuff. When you apply the tools of judgment, you can only conclude that Trump is not trustworthy. And, out of self-respect, how could anyone support someone who thinks so little of others?

Monday, August 15, 2016

About a boor.

          I’d love to see a whole article just on Donald Trump’s hair – the flip, the wispiness, the firm, long-lasting hold he gets from a half a bottle of hairspray. The more attention to detail, the better. As one of the executives in a season of The Apprentice, I spent an uncomfortable hour with the man in a limousine, waiting for the director to wave us onto the set, trying to keep my eyes averted from that orange super structure, and I can tell you, it’s fascinating. But, no, this is about his recent rhetoric, namely, his usage of “sarcasm.”
         Trump claims he was being sarcastic when he called Obama the founder of Isis. He’s mistaken. He was not even being “that sarcastic,” which was how he back-stepped from his original claim. He was not being sarcastic at all.
         If he were being sarcastic, he would have said the opposite of what he meant to make a point. He’d say something like, “Obama is not responsible for Isis, yeah right.” So when he claimed that we, the rest of the world, don’t “get sarcasm,” it is he that doesn’t get sarcasm. Neh neh neh neh neh.
         Trump was being hyperbolic, exaggerating Obama’s supposed contribution to Isis. Now, if I were being sarcastic, I’d say that Trump has a wonderful command of the language; I’d say he has a firm handle on reasoned debate. If I were being metaphoric, I’d say he was a boob. If Donald Trump knew his history, that it was mostly Musab Al-Zarqawi that formed Isis before Obama even took office, I'd have to consider the possibility that he stated a lie. 
         Sarcasm is lazy and so is hyperbole. It’s a way of attacking or dismissing the opposition without actually showing any respect with whom you disagree. Sadly, Trump seems to be incapable of taking the time to explain his position in clear, respectful terms, which is, in politics, the essence of diplomacy.
         Question: If Reagan was The Great Communicator, what does that make Trump? Let me think: what’s the opposite of “communicator?”

Friday, June 24, 2016

Word up

    I hesitate to hold up anything from the days before the Y2K bust. Everyone is so obsessed with new stuff –– God forbid I look like one of those old doo wop fans you see on PBS, twisting in the aisle with their hip replacements to “Rock Around the Clock.” So, I took down from my shelf an old book, okay? I swear I wasn’t being nostalgic, not entirely, anyway.
   Mayor of Casterbridge is on my short list of books that I can’t live without, along with Bleak House, Elizabeth Bishop’s The Complete Poems, Leaves of Grass, Muriel Spark's The Driver's Seat, something by William Trevor and Wodehouse. Oh yeah, and Walden and Mansfield Park. And Brothers Karamazov. Maybe one or two more. There are other books, some good ones, too, that I suppose I could manage without, but that short list I will take to my grave. Anyway, I had to have a dose of Thomas Hardy’s words, his descriptions, the way he paints the Wessex landscape.
   The story I could get from Cliffs Notes; but not the words. The story may be able to transport me; but the words make the journey worth taking. It dawned on me that I could open that book to absolutely any page and be totally absorbed. So that’s what I did:

The sun had recently set, and the west heaven was hung with rosy cloud, which seemed permanent, yet slowly changed. To watch it was like looking at some grand feat of stagery from a darkened auditorium. In presence of this scene after the other there was a natural instinct to abjure man as the blot on an otherwise kindly universe; till it was remembered that all terrestrial conditions were intermittent, and that mankind might some night be innocently sleeping when these quiet objects were raging loud.

   Speechless, I got to thinking: Ad agencies are always yammering about storytelling, “To connect to your audience, tell them a story.” And it’s not just general agencies; digital shops are in on it, too. Well, they're right – they are storytellers, but most of them lack the words to tell them. Look at Cannes – there isn’t a ton of inspiring work. It’s overrun by generic, schticky and shallow ads. And, that’s been my opinion for a few years now. So, maybe we ought not underestimate the words. Yeah, yeah, I'm aware that we now live in a visual world, but did you ever read the famous “Do This or Die” ad written by Bob Levenson or the Apple ads by Penny Kapasouz; how about the BMW ads by Joe O’Neil or….Dammit, I so don’t want to end up like one of those guys always waxing on about the old days when writers could write.

P.S. In other words:

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Spots change

“Advertising above all speaks to the unchanging core of what makes us human, and the work I see these days seems to assume that everyone has changed.” –Ian Mirlin, Fast Company, 10/29/12

           We have always heard that a leopard can’t change its spots and likewise, human beings can’t change what makes them human, but while some things are unquestionably immutable, such as men watching contact sports on tv while drinking domestic beer and farting, some human behavior has changed. It’s as if the whirl of technology caught human evolution in its undercurrent, and, after thousands of years, we see new behavior surfacing.
         At least that’s what a friend of mine says. He’s an ad guy, but when it comes to technology, a real whiz. One day I saw him reading Mashable and I swear I couldn’t detect his lips moving. He’s that good.
         He says that during the Mesologic Age (that’s what he calls the old days before the Y2K bust), consumers were most easily persuaded to buy something when they thought it had been demonstrated, when a simple deduction took place with the necessary facts or accepted opinions. In the Mesologic Age, if we thought, “If there is a God and if God knows everything, then computer geeks can hardly do so,” we concluded, “No way am I going to buy that Newton 2100.” But now, people put their faith in technology and advertising must change. Now, it takes a different kind of argument, a new way of establishing credibility, and a different feeling to compel consumers to purchase.
         First of all, there’s the rational argument. Today, humans are immune to being told what to do, and since all advertising does is tell people what to do, traditional advertising with RTBs and USPs won’t work. People resent an argument. Forget about anything that smacks of rhetoric; don't even sweat the big idea. What advertisers need now, he says, is content, and lots of it. Whether branded content, sponsored content, curated content, content marketing or digital content marketing, content is never resented because it’s just stuff, a filling, whatever takes up space. Content is the cargo that gives the system something to deliver and gets people to be impressed by the shiny, new and exciting vehicle. Want to win over consumers? Create an innovative delivery system and throw in some content. It may appear shallow, but no one can forget, say, a video meme for Friskies with Grumpy Cat. Grumpy Cat on your phone is the future.
          What sort of credibility works on today’s human being? It was once assumed that a company earned the right to make certain claims, as with Steve Jobs and Henry Ford. As credible sources, they were experienced, qualified, intelligent and skilled. To impress today’s consumer, you don’t need credentials. You need buzz and you need the participation of lots of people. Look at the line of products known as the Kardashians: there’s ­­no benefit or service to any of them, just lots of buzz and chatter. And because the talk can never get too deep or too serious, anyone can participate. Naturally, everyone does participate, because everyone wants to express themselves and no one wants to live a moment without technology. Bottom line: credibility comes from large numbers of people who are never so engaged as when Myley Cyrus sticks out her tongue or Justin Bieber pees into a mop bucket. 
         Finally, to be compelled, humans need to feel something different than they used to feel. While there may be centuries of prevailing theories going back to Aristotle that one had to provoke a particular emotion in the target, based on understanding his or her current emotional state, that’s not how it works today. There is a new feeling that barely existed before in history, and it applies to every single situation. It’s called liberosis. It’s the desire to care less about things. Apparently, people want to care less about everything other than technology, so we must be careful not to be too poignant, too funny or too inspiring, lest they care too much.
         My friend is a smart guy. He’s proven that the Mesologic Age is gone forever, that people have changed and advertising must change with it. I admit that I see a few holes in his conclusions, but trying to dispute what he’s saying would mean posing a logical argument, so it would be a waste of time to challenge him.