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

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Creativity Without Strategy is an Empty Pinata

Or maybe it's more like a fancy house built on a sand foundation.
Or a snazzy sports car without a steering wheel. You get the point.

In advertising, some people (mostly creative people) think creative is king. But the real king is strategy. Marketing strategy and creative strategy. Without sound strategy to guide it, even a highly creative advertising or communication campaign won't get the terrific results a strategy-based campaign might have.

If you're looking to win an ad show award, by all means go for an eye-popping, off-the-wall creative execution. But is your execution what the client needs to increase business? Or it is just meant to wake up a bored out-of-town Associate Creative Director on Addy judging day, so s/he will notice your clever, cute, or outrageous piece and bless it?

Please don't hear me saying when strategy comes in the door, creativity goes out the window. The fact is, I've found that working strategically pumps up creative energy. You can get on the right track immediately, instead of aimlessly flailing around for some wild graphic or bit of wordplay to hang a campaign on, or some lame "borrowed interest" execution. With a strong strategy in hand, you know the target audience, you know their hot buttons and the message they want to hear, and you know what media will be used. You're practically home-free! Nothing left to do but let the creative juices flow! Fun, fun, fun!

As a longtime agency creative, I admit I'm proud of the handsome Omni Best of Show award (bookend) on my office shelf, and the others. But I'm much prouder of the great results strategy-driven creative has won for my clients. Like the following:
• A manufacturing company whose multi-media campaign earned them a 1400% return on their investment.
• An insurance company whose three-part direct mail campaign achieved 400% of goal -- after the first mailing.
• A full-page newspaper ad that drew 150 applications for 12 positions with a KC company opening a new office in Jefferson City, MO.
Also as a longtime agency creative, I've been able to borrow (or steal) some pretty cool tools for formulating effective marketing and creative strategies. The process starts with asking the right questions. From there on, the rest falls into place naturally.

Let me show you how strong strategy plus on-target creative execution can work for you. Call or email me now. Let's get started.

Walt Disney and Salvadore Dali Collaboration

The short (6:46) cartoon, "Destino," is the result of an unlikely collaboration between Walt Disney (everybody's nice old uncle) and Salvadore Dali (the Surrealist who painted all those melted clocks). Dali was listed as one of the "writers," probably means he concepted and storyboarded it and told Disney's animators what actions he wanted between the still frames.

You see the familiar melted clocks and barren landscape, and bicyclists riding along with loaves of bread on their heads, and stones falling away to reveal bleeding flesh underneath. It's pure free-association imagery, some rather scary and/or gross. The music track, a faux Spanish love song with corny Mantovani-style orchestration, is disturbing in its own way.

I found out from another blogger's 2007 post that:
Dali worked on Destino between 1945 and 46 until the money ran out. It was recently taken from the Disney vaults and completed using details notes and drawings using modern technology.
Kids, don't watch this on acid.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Telling and selling is dead.

"The old model was informing, persuading and reminding... the new model is demonstrating, involving and empowering." -- Mitch Matthews, Head of Marketing, Microsoft
Have you ever seen the ancient Anacin TV spot where headache pain is represented by a hammer banging away inside a man's head? The copy, too, was pounded home as forcefully as hammer blows. Anacin quells headaches three ways! It gives you "Fast, fast, FAST relief from headaches, neuralgia, and neuritis." Over and over and over again. Loudly. If the CIA had played this commercial to Gitmo detainees for an hour or so, there would have been no need for other "enhanced interrogation techniques."

I'm sorry to say that one of my early heroes in advertising, Rosser Reeves, was the mind behind the hammer. Well, TV advertising was in its infancy, so he can be forgiven, I suppose, for using its superpowers wrongly.

But today, we're all modern and sophisticated. It's not cool to "tell, sell and yell" at potential customers. You have to seduce them. Pique their interest. Invite them in, rather than bashing them over the head and dragging them in the door. Give them value, not sales pitches. That's why social media marketing is such a hot new thing.

On Twitter, for example, with an intriguing 140-character message, you can entice a reader to follow a link to an interesting article that relates to your field -- or a new post on your blog.

Websites of companies offering SM or other marketing advice give away amazing amounts of useful information in the form of free webinars, book downloads and educational videos. The idea is that if you chomped on the lure they threw you for free, they might then hook you into paying for a monthly newsletter, an eight-week online course, or a seminar. Once you've savored that tasty lure, you're more likely to, aren't you?

"Give? What is this word, 'give?'" My biology teacher, Mr. Webster, used that line on students asking that he give them a point on a test. It's counterintuitive, perhaps, but these days, giving is the way to receive. And the thing you must give is value. Why? In order to build a relationship with the recipient. You want to do that so your prospect or customer stays around. It's easier to ditch a stranger than a friend, isn't it?

In building relationships, trust is everything. Honesty and integrity are vital. You can give someone free stuff to get them interested in paying you for some more valuable stuff, but you have to make sure the stuff they pay for really is valuable. No bait-and-switch moves. And no popups for questionable or totally unrelated sites on your site.

The ancient money-grubbing instinct must now be tamed in service to kinder, gentler methods of commerce. Thinking back to the old Anacin head-pounder, what value did it offer the viewer? The information that there was such a thing as neuritis or neuralgia? And what kind of relationship did it build? Assailant and victim? Was it honest? I don't know. That "three ways" thing rings kind of false to me. Not to mention the lightning bolts in the guy's head. I think even Rosser Reeves, were he alive today, would agree the old Anacin style is defunct.

So the point is, if you want to receive something of value, you have to give value. And if you want people to hang around with you, you have to build relationships with them. And if you want to keep those relationships, you have to be honest, so they know they can trust you.

Wait a minute. Aren't those the old-fashioned values our parents and grandparents grew up with? Wow. The new-fangled way of selling is just old-fashioned decency. Makes it pretty simple after all, then, doesn't it?

Monday, July 6, 2009

A Time to Let Things Go

Memories seem to attach to things like barnacles to a pier. The things themselves are just a collection of atoms arranged to form a doll, a piano or a chair. And the memories aren't really attached to those things, but to some synapses running through my brain.

Will I forget my Great-Aunt Sophia, now that I've sold Mary Ann, the antique doll with the beautiful bisque head, that she gave me when I was tiny? I saw her infrequently and hardly knew her, yet it seems important to remember her.

Will I forget my grandmother (Sophia's sister, Ophelia), having removed the needlepoint cover she made for a stately armchair that was passed down to me, and then, unable to reupholster the chair or even to put the cover back on, having set the poor, ravaged thing out at the curb for the trash men -- or just anyone driving by?

Will I forget my dad, Ophelia's son, Roy, who used to play the Baldwin Acrosonic spinet that's been sitting unplayed in my extra room for years, the one I learned to play on, now that a young couple with a baby are coming Saturday to buy it and take it away?

No, of course I will not forget any of them. But if the physical evidence of their existence is gone, will they become more distant from me? For heaven's sake, they've all been dead for years. How much more distant could they be? And I have boxes and boxes of photographs of them, if I care to reminisce.

Damn! It's so silly to feel bereft, or queasy, or whatever it is that I'm feeling now. I always impatiently snap at others to get rid of things they don't need or use. It's easy, I say to them: just pitch it. I love the way they plow through and get rid of clutter on "Clean House." (Niecie is my role model.) So what is this tightness in my gut?

Wrong question. Right question: Can I allow myself to grieve these losses, even if it doesn't make sense? I say, "Yes."

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Let Me Tell You A Story

A couple of quotes from a great Business Week online article by Carmine Gallo, a communication skills coach:
Most business communication is dry, writes David Meerman Scott in his new book, World Wide Rave. "People love to share stories. When someone says: 'Let me tell you a story...' you're interested, right? When someone says: 'Let me tell you about my company's product' is your reaction the same? It doesn't sound like a way you want to spend your valuable time, does it? Stories are exciting." Tell more stories to create excitement. . . .

If you want to connect with your audience, inspire them, and motivate them to action, start telling stories.
From the looks of many (mainly local) TV commercials, the people who write them learned in the "bash 'em over the head" school of advertising and promotion. Read Gallo's examples of stories that invite prospects to learn more about your product or company here. Isn't an invitation much more appealing than an order?