Thursday, August 13, 2009

Mosey on over to my new web page

Now that I've got a new website with a blog on it, I'm going to be posting stuff over there, for the most part. The new site is more for potential clients to view, so I may reserve this one for occasional, more off-the-wall topics.

Anyhow, come on over and see the new website, blog and writing samples.

See you there.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Palm Pre TV: What th'--?

Haven't you always wanted to be surrounded by hundreds of orange-clad dancers making YOU the center of an elaborate dance routine? If so, you'll love the new Palm Pre spot. It is all about YOU, or rather, a strange woman apparently meant to stand in for you, effortlessly controlling her world by using her brand-new Palm Pre. And for no apparent reason, being danced around by a whole bunch of people in orange outfits.

In the introductory TV spot, the otherworldly girl casually walks to a big rock in the middle of a green field, then climbs up on it to fiddle with her Pre. Instantly, a human mandala of hundreds of dancers in orange Japanese outfits encircle the girl and begin doing a large-scale routine. Hey, are these the "Thriller"-dancing Phillipine prisoners? Or are they monks with AFTRA cards?

From far overhead, then, we see the swirling dancers creating various symmetrical formations around the girl on her rock, ala Busby Berkeley, only without the sexy legs. Finally, we return to ground level to see the girl, Pre and big rock, the dancers gone. The girl's voiceover talks about all the lives of ... what the heck is she talking about? as she pushes different images across the screen of the Pre. I gather it's something about "flow."

A grandiose production number like this would look right at home in "The Last Emperor," but for the introduction of a dumbed-down iPhone?

Then there's the principal talent. I don't know what she's supposed to be. Pale, nearly featureless, wearing a sliplike garment of no-color, her golden hair pinned up on the back of her head in a shape resembling The Visible Man's intestines.

I would love to have been in the room when this concept was presented. Then maybe I'd understand it. I sure don't get it from watching the commercial.

Now there's another Palm Pre commercial featuring the same woman. No dancers, just the woman, the digestive tract hairdo, the face of the Pre, and the greenscape background. Did she just say, "reincarnation??" Oh, I get it. We all have various connections, wear various hats, have different organizations and all. And the Pre can help us keep track of them. But that message could apply to the iPhone as well as the Pre. Advertising 101 says you have to have a meaningful point of difference from your competitor. Not just weird commercials. And these certainly qualify as weird.

Monday, July 20, 2009

If you hate infomercials, you'll hate FedEx's new YouTube videos, too.

When FedEx declined to advertise on the Super Bowl, for the first time in 18 years, a ripple ran through the advertising world. Not advertise on TV's biggest show of the year? What's up with that?

Fact is, FedEx has lost ground (so to speak) to alternate means of sending documents online. FedEx lost more than $800 million in the second quarter of this year. And the high cost of gas hasn't helped the company's bottom line, either. So they decided spending more millions on Super Bowl spots didn't make sense. But maybe going YouTube did.

According to an article in the NY Times, the cubicle lunch crowd has turned out to be a sizable YouTube audience, rivaling the home TV audience. To reach them, FedEx created 3-minute spoof infomercials touting FedEx's benefits. The videos, starring the wonderful Fred Willard as pitch person, debuted on YouTube today. BBDO Worldwide, New York is the agency.

Fred tries to play it straight, and for the most part, he succeeds. I'll hand it to the creators of the videos for neo-realism: a couple of female co-stars, who are WAY over the top, make me want to hack up a hairball, just like the raving idiots on real infomercials.

In terms of effectiveness, I have three concerns about these videos:

• I wonder how many infomercials the cubicle lunch bunch watches. They're at work during the day, then after work, they watch their favorite series or movies. If you've never seen what is being satirized, does the the satire lose its bite?

• The gag is obvious after seeing one of the videos. So will you bother to watch the others?

• The videos are fast-paced, and FedEx's many features and benefits are sort of stuffed into nooks and crannies between sight gags and other distractions, so I wonder if the audience will get the sales message. But if the point is simple awareness, then perhaps the videos score well.

These 3-minute FedEx playlets have their funny moments, but I hate real infomercials so much, I could only stand to watch two. Take a 3-minute break and see what you think.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Vendor Client relationship - in real world situations

When you put certain client demands in real-world contexts, you see how weasly they sound. Thanks to Ted for the link to this video. It'll make you laugh while you squirm. Or vice versa.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Lousy pay, death by blog, and other complaints

The great Benjamin Disraeli said, "Don't explain. Don't complain." He was a wise man.

However, I now will ignore his sage advice and complain, loudly, and explain why.

Like most other creatives these days, I look at the classified ads for creatives. And what I see is horrifying. Most ad agencies or companies dealing with communication want to hire one person who can write and design -- AND manage a department, keep track of a budget, split atoms, and juggle knives, bowling balls and flaming torches while making Belgian waffles. And worst of all (I shudder at the thought.), know Excel.

In normal times, these jobs would take three people to fill: a writer, a designer, and at least a Creative Group Head. But that was before The Great Recession, aka The Never-Ending Ca-Ca Doo-Doo Economy. No kidding, I saw an ad for a Creative Director job in Kansas City with all the above requirements (I think gene splicing experience was also "preferred."), and the salary was... wait for it... $35,000 per year. Yes. And they'll probably get some recent college grad to do it. Or outsource the job to one of the highly educated unemployed in India, who will do the job for 12¢ per day.

I received an email recently from some Chinese person offering to do design work. China has an overabundance of smart, well-educated university grads, too, looking for paying work. Is it too late for the U.S. to become an isolationist country?

This global low-balling is playing hell with the creative fee structure. I post my print samples at, but I gave up trying to bid for jobs on that site long ago. Because most of them involve a lot of work and the pay is listed as "under $500." Most of the clients are not what you'd call professional. And you see jobs like the one I came across the other day, offered by a client who sought a "top-quality" copywriter to produce 60 (that's sixty) 500-word articles, every one "original," with "no cut-and-paste," all proofread and perfect. And the fee he would pay for all this quality and perfection? $125. One hundred twenty-five dollars. Which I guess is equivalent to approximately $7 million in India.

I'd have to move to India to afford to take any of those jobs. Well, I've always liked the food... But no! I refuse to be used by clients who want the whole world for a crummy penny.


Today, out of curiosity, I did talk to someone who needs 15 500-word blog articles on a subject I know virtually nothing about. It would require research, of course. And then there's the writing. Guess how much they're paying. Seven dollars per 500-word article.

Now, I asked myself, how long would it take me to write one such article? Depending on how perfectionistic I'm feeling that day, I might spend two or three hours, even without the research. That's because I generally like to polish my writing to at least a dull sheen before letting go of it. With this client, taking time for that would be highly optional, if not completely insane.

To write, let's say, three 500-word articles in a day, I would make $21. Or $30, if I "work up to" a higher rate after a few months, they said.

No surprise, this potential client told me they've had a hard time retaining writers, and they can't figure out why. Well, heck, it isn't rocket science: a writer would do better working at a McJob or retail clerk job than s/he would "writing" (I use the term loosely.) for this company.

The gaping maw of blogdom eats up "content" so fast, eventually there will be a need for "content-producing machines" to keep feeding the beast. There already are bots that can answer simple questions, and online, there is a Postmodernism Generator. It rearranges a bin full of postmodernist terms around verbs and adjectives, and in a micro-second, voila! There's your postmodern essay. Postmodernism doesn't make sense to begin with, so even a postmodernist couldn't detect the phoniness. From a Barnes & Noble review of Alan Sokal's most recent book:

When physicist Alan Sokal revealed that his 1996 article, "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity," published in Social Text, was a hoax, the ensuing scandal made the front page of the New York Times and caused an uproar among the post-modernists he had so hilariously—and convincingly—parodied.

Back to the topic at hand:

Commercial blogs offer content that is optimized with keywords that will cause the post to turn up on search engines. "SEO," or "search engine optimization" is the talent most sought by Web marketers. If a blog or site is well optimized with plenty of appropriate keywords, readers will be lured to marketers' Web lairs to see a sales pitch for something or other. So the writing is not the point, it's the bait. And it can even be stink-bait. It doesn't matter, as long as it's full of the right keywords.

Until this relatively new Internet-blog-as-marketing-device phenomenon -- which set off the explosion of "content" available free online -- writing was an art and a craft. In this terrible economy, we writers can be tempted by the need for income to take assignments that don't require art or craft, but only speed and physical endurance. While so-called "SEO experts" rake in the dough. More's the pity.

Truman Capote once said of Jack Kerouac's work, "That's not writing, that's typing." And boy, was Kerouac a league and a half better than any high-output blog writer. When the talent you've honed over decades no longer matters, and any kid with nimble fingers tapping away on a laptop in his parents' basement can underbid you for work, it's a sad situation.

But I do have hope. Next week, I am meeting with a new client about a project. And it will pay more than $7.00 per 500 words. So at least for now, I need not worry about being a blog-slogger or a retail clerk. Whew.

BTW, just to prove I'm not one of those commercial bloggers, I probably will not be able to publicize this blog post anywhere for fear of angering others in the world of blog-based marketing. I'm just whinin' for the sake of it.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Writing on the sides of big trucks

I said I hadn't done any writing on the sides of big trucks. That's true. It sounds like a singularly uncreative assignment. But one KC agency proved you can do something creative, no matter what the medium.

Like the writing on the sides of the big Mid-Continent Public Library trucks. What a brilliant idea!

Thanks to Joe for the link.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

So, what do you write?

When people ask what I do, I tell them I'm a writer (or sometimes, freelance writer). Looking a bit puzzled, they'll ask, "Well, what do you write?" My top-of-the-head answer is, "Everything!"

In a writing career spanning a couple of decades, it might be easier to say what I haven't written. Okay, I haven't written copy to go on the sides of big trucks. There.

What I have written, at ad agencies and as a freelancer, includes the following:

• Print ads and campaigns
• Radio and TV spots (and produced them)
• Website copy
• Web banners
• E-newsletters
• HTML e-mails
• Training video scripts
• Trade show materials
• News releases
• Brochures
• Graphic standards manuals
• Annual reports
• A children's TV show pilot
• A TV comedy pilot (Won an award, too.)
• Bus benches
• Bus signs
• Billboards
• Twelve :60 radio infomercials about horse racing
• Self-promotional postcards
• Product fact sheets
• Concepts for focus groups
• Satirical songs for an improv group
• Sketches for the same improv group (No, they don't make up absolutely everything!)
• A children's cookbook
• A novel (unfinished and now lost due to technological changes)
• Short stories
• Business articles for KC Small Business Monthly
• Non-fiction articles published in two books and one science-oriented magazine
• Weekly online news updates for a not-for-profit organization
• Blog posts
• Interviews
• Tattoos
• Just kidding about that last one.

Oh, yes. I did write copy for a seed packet that went into a direct mailer, too. The point is, a good writer should be able to do virtually any type of writing. The trick is tailoring your writing to the medium by which it will be distributed. That's where experience writing for lots of different products, services and media becomes important.

For example, communications on TV can be more purely graphically oriented than newspaper ads. Because TV has three characteristics that newspapers don't. The first is Z-axis, or depth. The second is motion. The third is sound. Put 'em all together, and you have a visually powerful way to present ideas to the audience. That is, if there's a strong strategy behind a great creative execution. But that's a whole other blog post. See "Creativity Without Strategy is an Empty Pinata," below.

By the way, some of my print samples are online, and I invite you to take a peek. You'll find them at