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.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

How Do We Trump Loyalty?

     Trump has caused the smarter Republicans to think about their loyalty.
     I sympathize. Years ago, someone wanted me to do something that I wasn’t comfortable with and tried to pull the loyalty card. He couldn’t understand how I could possibly be disloyal. Which only made me more un-comfortable. Eventually, I figured out that instead of thinking in terms of loyalty, I should change the context. I should make it about right and wrong. Once I implored a higher morality, my decision, suddenly, became easy. Of course my friend still didn’t understand how I could be disloyal but I could now live with myself.
     Recently, there are republicans who don’t believe that Trump is a trustworthy candidate and yet are feeling pressure to be loyal to their party. So, what’s the right thing to do?
     The only way to counter such a powerful force is with a more powerful emotion, an emotion that beats loyalty to the team with a higher calling, something that turns defection into a positive: Courage. And once you see the opportunity to make a courageous decision, the rationale follows almost effortlessly.
     Emotion is a powerful thing. It can over ride reason. In my opinion, it can be the only explanation for Trump’s popularity. It’s a lesson for all brands.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Emotions Trump Facts

    So far, the presidential race is being won and lost on emotions. It’s like who can get Americans the most stirred up. The candidates who are most effective are sparking emotions that have gasoline on them; and the audiences are so stirred up, they aren’t using their heads.
    When the Democratic race became tight, Hillary’s team was accused of not having taken Bernie Sanders seriously. But Hillary’s problem wasn’t Bernie, per se; it was –– marketing-wise –– her lack of attention to her target. Bernie, understanding their deep-down frustration, just struck a chord with the audience, got them fired up and tapped into an idealism that most people felt had been buried.
     It’s not so different with the Republicans. The contenders didn’t know how to discredit Trump, which shouldn’t be difficult, given that he doesn’t address the issues so much as he riles people up about injustices. But it’s not a reasonable contest. Millions of people have attributed him with virtues and principles that he clearly doesn’t have. So how do you bury the guy? In the New York Times, Ross Douthat wrote this:

"…don’t tell people that he (Trump) doesn’t know the difference between Kurds and the Quds Force. (They don’t either!) Tell people that he isn’t the incredible self-made genius that he plays on TV. Tell them about all the money he inherited from his daddy. Tell them about the bailouts that saved him from ruin. Tell them about all his cratered companies. Then find people who suffered from those fiascos –– workers laid off following his bankruptcies, homeowners 
who bought through Trump Mortgage, people who ponied up for sham degrees from Trump University."

    In other words, if Trump followers are feeling angered and ennobled, make them feel duped, as if he is some used car salesman pulling one over on them. Expose him as a con artist, a sleezeball who’s former advisor, after all, had ties to the mafia. Target the emotion. Identify it in the brief. Did you know that neuroscience tells us that it is emotions that change our minds? So don’t start with the issues or the ideas or the RTP. Attack the brand.
    Pleeease, someone, attack the brand.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Little thinking

        I’m kind of tired of everyone worshipping the innovation gods, as if every innovation is a sign from above. Of course no one knows if the innovations will be good for us –– that’s irrelevant. All we need to know is that this is the innovation age. Go with it. Be optimistic. Have faith.
     But the Doubting Thomas in me seems to remember that hydrogenated oil, at its inception, was an innovation. So was the Ford Pinto, Betamax, Subprime Mortgages, DDT, Tanning beds, Crocs and Phone Fingers (remember them!). So was Foursquare. 
     Emerson wrote, “The foolish man wonders at the unusual, but the wise man at the usual.” He was referring to the really big stuff, the timeless, universal meat on the bone.
     I can't help but think that a preoccupation with innovation blinds us to wisdom and simple truths, limits us to the general surface of things so we never reach the heart. It's created the assumption that something is better because it comes from tech, thinking that doesn't give us a chance to ask if, you know, it’s just better for us.
     I think we need to remember what a big idea is.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

If it’s not advertising, WTF is it?

    “I’m a little afraid,” an ex-client of mine recently confessed, “to use the words “brand” and “advertising.” He made it sound like he tip toes around them, concerned that a growing number of people use “brand” interchangeably with product, while “advertising” connotes something leftover from the dark ages. Mind you, this isn’t just any client saying this; this is a client that has spurred a lot of great work with Weiden, Crispin and BBDO.
    I’m not entirely sure what’s happened to “brand.” Perhaps everything is now a product. Maybe our content is on level with the widget on the shelf, so if consumers like the communication, they will like the widget, as well. And, if there are only products, there doesn’t need to be a distinction, right? Or, maybe it’s being confused with the identifying mark burned on cows. Regardless, shouldn’t the communication have some different specs from the actual product? If it doesn’t, what about it will change consumer behavior, assuming that changing consumer behavior is what we’re paid to do. As it has been defined, “brand” is what the consumer thinks and feels about a product, and as such, it labels what we’re supposed to be working on. I think it helps to know what one should be working on.
    And what about “advertising?” Admittedly, for most of my career, I’ve preferred to use “communication” over “advertising,” because I wanted my work to communicate, genuinely, if not sincerely. For me, “communication” was just a way to separate the wheat from the chaff –– like, I hate advertising but I don’t hate good advertising. The fact that it was meant to shape a consumer’s attitude toward a product was assumed. Hey, we’re accountable for the brand; maybe we’re in accounting.
    What if we call it “persuasion?” To my way of thinking, if our work were formulaic and feels “traditional,” it cannot be persuasion. The word may be a little antiquated but at least it states a purpose. And, as Bernbach wrote, “Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.” Without the art, the communication can’t make people feel something powerful and if you can’t be artful, you can’t compel people to change. Without the art, it’s dreck.
    This is not a picayune argument about semantics. Words are symbols; symbols motivate; and symbols actually direct behavior. We ought to know that.

    Wait a second. Isn’t advertising “any paid for communication intended to inform or influence one or more consumer?” What’s wrong with that again?