July 2008


He knew a thing or two about success, whee-doggies!

He knew a thing or two about success, whee-doggies!

(The following is a commencement address given by Patrick Scullin, ECD of Ames Scullin O’Haire Advertising/Atlanta, to the graduating class of The Huckington School of Advertising Arts & Sciences & Whatnot in Stoneboro, Pennsylvania)

Greetings, graduating class of 2008. I am honored to be here and delighted that this P.A. system is working. “Check, one-two. Check. Ladies and gentlemen–– The Rolling Stones!

Uh, just kidding.

(Silence envelopes the crowd. A cricket chirps. A mime slowly slashes his vocal chords…)

As I stand here today looking out at all you young, eager and energetic, hopeful people, I realize I am seeing our most valuable asset for the future. I am speaking of course not about youth, but about gold.

For I see that many of you are wearing glittering gold jewelry. Gold is our most precious asset because it gleams and people have always valued a good gleam. History is filled with stories of gold and its fantabulous value.

Take Midas. Everything he touched turned to gold, but remember that he made his fortune in mufflers and brake repair. Shocks, too. And never underestimate what you can get for a good alignment job.

Then there was that goose that laid golden eggs and that woman who spun gold–– both skills that look great on a resume and really help boost one’s popularity.

And what about the incredible story of Jed Clampett, a poor mountaineer who was shooting for some food when up from the ground came a bubblin’ crude–– oil, that is, children, black gold, Texas tea. I think we all know the happy ending of that story: swimming pools, movie stars. Yes, gold can change lives for the better.

Gold has always been worth its weight in gold, and now that you will be pursuing a career in advertising, gold will soon be yours. Next to advanced vinyl repair or being Warren Buffet, there’s no easier way to make BIG money fast than advertising.

I’d like to share some wisdom I’ve learned throughout my distinguished career. Wisdom I wish some learned person had told me when I was young and being thrust from the comforting incubator of academia into the cold reality of constant disappointment, bitter frustration and the awful agony that is this miserable hell on earth we must endure before our reward of a dirt nap and discovery if we’ve bet on the right religion.

In advertising, it’s our job to “communicate” with people in clear, concise words and visuals that leave no room for ambiguity or opportunity for miscommunication, which in and of itself would be a form of communication, but not the form of communication you originally intended and so would be bad because it is not what you set out to do when you set out to do what you originally set out to do. The communicating part, I mean.

To communicate clearly, I think language comes in handy. The importance of language cannot be expressed in silly little words, but the effects speak for themselves–– especially those energetic verbs shoving lazy good for nothing nouns around and forcing them pick up the pace.

We can also communicate with images. Someone once said ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ but try communicating that with just one picture. Can’t be done. You need words–– about seven of them should do: a picture is worth a thousand words.

In advertising, our job is to communicate in persuasive ways, making our clients’ products or services absolutely irresistible. How does one entice the public into buying? With psychology, or as I call it “mental tom foolery and tinker-majiggity-wiggity-woo-woo.”

All humans want love, security, sex appeal, power, soft gripped kitchen utensils, immortality, whiter teeth and X-ray vision. So pass your client’s product or service through the prism of potential consumer triggers.

A soft drink is not just carbonated sugar water; it can be the ticket to making someone irresistible. For example, take a picture of attractive people gathered around a soft drink smiling and looking as if an orgy might break out at any moment. Marry it to a provocative headline like, “Refresh all your parts.” Slap a logo in the lower right corner and you’ve got yourself a sure strong seller (logos always go in the right corner, unless your ad is running in the Torah).

Some say that the public is less susceptible to our messages. They claim a growing cynicism has made it nearly impossible to gain the trust of the public through paid media. To that I say, “Oh yeah?”

A suspicious public is merely one that needs more selling. Which means adding extra power to your messages. Watch how easy this is.

Before: Crest toothpaste fights cavities. After: “Crest toothpaste fights cavities. It really does, honest. Ask your dentist if you don’t believe us, you cynical soon-to-be-toothless bastard!”

Before: Nike. Swoosh symbol. After: “Nike represents wonderfulness in quality athletic footwear that gives one a sense of coolness. And now Nikes come in styles for your left and your right foot. Step lively, friend… step Nike!”

Before: BMW. The ultimate driving machine. After: “I care about the attractiveness of my automobile—mister, make mine a BMW!”

With the correct message, cynicism melts like ice in Satan’s tumbler.

There is much more I could say, but I see by your subtle body language— the closed eyelids and raised middle fingers—that perhaps you’ve heard enough.

Thank you. Remember one thing: don’t sell your souls for 30 pieces of silver. Hold out for 30 pieces of gold. Gold’s the cheese you want, people.

And one last thing–– could someone validate my parking, please?

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What a long strange trip it's been.

What a long strange trip it's been.

Television teaches a lot.

To people outside the advertising industry, their view of our world was McMahon and Tate. What they knew of our profession was from watching “Bewitched” and seeing Darrin Stephens conjure up brilliant ideas and pitch them to clients as Larry Tate slapped them on the back and cheered Darrin on. Larry was no empty suit, no siree.

Oh, and “Bewitched” also taught that successful admen often marry witches and wacky hi-jinks ensued.

Today people have a new compass on TV to give some insight into our profession: “Mad Men” on AMC.

The time is 1960. The WASPy agency Sterling Cooper precedes the creative revolution of McMahon and Tate. Our main character is Don Draper, a brilliant adman who conjures ideas the old fashioned way: in thick fogs of cigarette smoke, bottomless tumblers of amber booze and tumbles between the sheets with women who cannot refuse his amorous pitches.

Don Draper doesn’t need his wife to twitch her nose. He sweats out his ideas, dammit.

He’s a man of mystery with a past as murky as beef stew in a black onyx bowl. He’s married to a beautiful woman and has two perfect children but his soul and conscious are MIA. Despite his flaws, Don is a corporate riser because he gets the job done dealing with weasels that populate his working life and charming clients endlessly. He’s smooth as a grease slick on satin.

These are the glory days of the agency business with big fat 15% media commissions and clients who not only seek their agency’s counsel, they actually heed it and are gratefully appreciative. It’s the days of account people who are so powerful they can hip pocket a hunk of business and carry it across town like a wounded bird, safely depositing it into a new agency nest.

It’s a time B.C. (before cable), there are three networks, no computers, no mobile phones, no modern day distractions like 5,000 daily sales messages. The public can be reached easily and they are not yet cynical or jaded–– people may actually believe what admen have to say! Imagine that.

Admen are the rock stars of the biz world. One bourbon breakfasts lead to three martini lunches stumbling into cocktail hours followed by slabs of beef, buttery baked potatoes heaped with gobs of sour cream and a few good belts of whiskey.

Order a couple nightcaps, weave your way home and hit the reset button. Tomorrow’s another bender.

The adworld of the early 60’s is a good place for a man to be provided he’s the right color, right religion, right educational background and he’s a real man’s man (there is a homosexual character who’s so closeted he probably smells of mothballs). It’s a time of narrow minds, open prejudice, open discrimination and sexual harassment galore. Women are objectified and nullified, unless they can type or take dictation. Sad, but true. We’ve all come a long way, baby.

Sterling Cooper is an old school ad agency. The Mad Men deride and mock the early Volkswagen Beetle ads being put out by the upstarts at Doyle Dane Bernbach. “Cute” and “creative” are code for ads that won’t work and ads that won’t sell. The Mad Men are miffed by ads that tell truth and poke a little fun at a product. But dinosaurs never see the meteors coming their way–– in fact, some agencies today are still wondering if interactive advertising is just a passing fad.

So why is “Mad Men” such a hit with fans and critics? Because it’s a slick period piece soap opera of a glamorous profession, well written, superbly acted and exquisitely produced. Yes, Virginia, advertising is still considered a glamorous profession to the outside world, and this show is a snapshot of the business in its most sumptuous and exotic time. The creative revolution is underway but the fat cats at Sterling Cooper have yet to feel the ripples. Rumor has it in season two that will change.

I love “Mad Men” and I hate “Mad Men”. It shows our profession in a glorious time as a business and an ugly time of society. But one thing’s for sure: people seem to have had a lot more fun back then. I’ll wager people were having a lot more fun when you first got into the business, too. Was it our youth, or has society just gotten less fun?

I believe there’s a drastic fun shortage in the business world today. Everyone’s over-worked, over-scheduled, over-connected. We mine our various screens for e-mails and messages and life slips by. I recently read where the average person laughs 15 times a day. Factor in sleep and that’s less than one laugh an hour!

How depressing is that? (Fortunately my wife tells me I laugh in my sleep, then again I also scream in my sleep–– maybe I need a new pillow.)

Catch “Mad Men” and vow to yourself that you’ll have more fun (without drunk driving or sexual harassment). This is advertising, after all, and if we’re not having fun then who the hell is?

When your friends, neighbors and Aunt Sue who watch “Mad Men” ask you about advertising and the constant drinking, perpetual smoking and incessant sexcapades, nod your head knowingly and tell them it’s all true–– except we don’t wear hats these days. That would be absolutely mad.

 

"I wonder what Adam Smith would make of this..."

"I wonder what Adam Smith would make of this..."

What’s wrong with advertising these days? Advertising people. You grab a chair, I’ll grab a soapbox, let’s bitch this thing out.

I recently met with an art director with about eight years experience tugging down a small fortune in salary.

He took me through his book of nicely laminated ads and while he had some tasty things, well over half of what he was showing was fake ‘joy pop’ ads–– ads whose whole purpose was to snag awards.

The guy did these ads at big name agencies that actually spend a small fortune in time and salary costs to chase awards for chest thumping purposes. Imagine that, big time professional ad agencies playing make believe in hopes of winning some shiny trophies that prove to the world they are CREATIVE, dagnabbit!

Outrageous. Pathetic. Shameful.

Is it this guy’s fault he’s been showered with money for demonstrating his creativity for essentially phony ads? Hell no. He’s just playing the game. He’s a junkie, hooked on the goof of award shows and agencies that’ll drop their drawers to win them. He produces the work, snags some awards and steps up to the cashier’s window and another agency ups his ante.

But he’s not worth much to me–– certainly not his current high salary.

The beautiful thing about advertising is it’s a true free market. You’re worth whatever you can get. If someone else thinks this game of fakery is worth big geeters, they’ll pay it. But to me, if there’s any justice out there, this guy is headed to a healthy market adjustment to his salary. His stock will be downgraded until he can prove he can work with live ammo on real business problems. And when he can suffer through the rigamarole you sometimes encounter (see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kU9YeOQm3Y0).

But then again, maybe not. Maybe he can just keep climbing the salary curve doing what he’s done.

I’ve seen it time and time again: creative people who play the game and are rewarded. People who have work whose sole purpose is to get the next job. Ads not for clients but for creatives.

And so it goes. Ours is one of the few professions where such a thing could exist. Lawyers don’t do this. Engineers don’t. Other professions wouldn’t dream of rewarding work that was basically make believe. But we do. Some of us do. Too damn many of us do.

Let’s be adult and professional and prove our worth on real assignments for paying clients. I’d much rather see rejected ideas for real client projects than phony ads created to cop an award. Be up front about it. This is a subjective business. If it was a real assignment for a real client and you had a terrific idea that the rest of the world ignored or rejected, show it, stand tall and make your case on the interview.

Don’t succumb to the fake ad game. Students have to do this, professionals shouldn’t.

With the game being played by alleged serious professionals, is it any wonder we have a hard time getting paying clients to trust us?

I’ll now dismount the soapbox. I have some real work to do.

Curse you Darwin–– these monkeys have gone too far!

Curse you Darwin–– these monkeys have gone too far!

Recently I came across this alarming image and frankly life has not been the same since.

It seems to me that monkeys need to get along and be more accepting and open to tender loving, compassionate relationships. If they continue with their drinking, debauchery, sword fighting and gambling on violent conflicts, well, I don’t see much hope for us capturing monkeys and displaying them in cages at zoos so we can observe them and oooh and aaah when they do humanlike things like throwing dung or eating their own sick. Anyway, that’s my two cents. How about it monkeys–– how about a little more love for one another, for cry eye?

Only belligerant tattooed man ass could ruin these seats.

Only belligerent tattooed man ass could ruin these seats.

They were the best seats I’d ever had at a baseball game. Eight rows back, between home plate and third base.

Seats so close when the players scratched I felt it. Ahhh, that’s the spot.

Seats so close one could almost feel the showers of spit.

The kind of seats where you can park your lazy ass and eager servants stand at the ready to take your order and fetch whatever food or drink your highness desires.

Seats like what the swells sit in, from cradle to coffin to seated at God’s right hand.

Oh, baby, these were prime seats. But here’s the thing about any seat: it’s a confined hunk of real estate. You have no control over who occupies the surrounding seats. And that’s where this story gets interesting.

Directly in front of me was a twenty-something dude with more artwork on his arms than the Sistine Chapel. He was sporting loose jeans and a thick chain from a belt loop to his wallet, as if it were a Doberman that needed to be choked back. He had short red hair and a classic rock T. He was enjoying the game with his woman, who appeared to be eight months pregnant hunkering down on delivery at any moment. She was not drinking alcohol so the man was drinking for three: he, she and baby2B.

The Atlanta Braves were getting beat up by the lowly Seattle Mariners. Gregor Blanco was playing outfield and a fly ball was smacked his way. Gregor ran full tilt for a moment, then downshifted to a trot and fielded the ball neatly on a short hop, throwing it to the cut off man as a runner scored from second. The dude in front of me stood and angrily began shouting at Blanco.

“Come on, man, what the hell was that?! Hustle, you lazy overpaid son of a bitch! HUSTLE!”

His woman stood by her angry man as he berated the fielder returning to his position. Suddenly my prime seat was worthless–– I had a view of the angry man and his woman’s asses and little else. The man had his hands balled into tight fists as if he might just go down onto the field and administer a healthy beating to Blanco. The tats on his forearms seem to gain color intensity as he ranted. And rant on he did.

“Jesus, you’re making millions–– hustle, man–– run! You should have had that! What the hell are you doing?! Shit, I could have caught that. Come on, man! You suck, Blanco!”

I got the feeling the madman fan actually thought Blanco could hear him in the outfield and was shamed enough to come apologize to him. Nope.

Meanwhile, the game continued with a man on base on a field I couldn’t see for the blue jeans ahead, butts at eye level. The guy was obviously tanked and angry but I finally had to ask him to sit down. He did so begrudgingly. The Mariners scored some more and eventually he and his woman vanished into the night, like a beer burp that just escapes unexpectedly.

At least those Indians had them some sweet style.

At least those Indians had them some sweet style.

Those minutes where he stood before me and raged were testament to why I don’t follow sports as closely as I used to. Long ago I allowed myself to believe I could control the outcome of events I had no control over. I’d deliver newspapers listening to the Cleveland Indians of the early 70’s attempting to play baseball. I’d hope and wish they would not find new ways to blow games and disappoint me and their fans. Alas, no dice. Those Indians were God-awful and could manage to blow any lead, crush any spirit.

Still, I believed I could sway some power over their lack of athletic ability. I only set myself up for disappointment and the rage would manifest itself with my right arm hurling the transistor radio down the street, breaking it into pieces.

It was costly to follow the Indians. I began to wean myself off sports. I had to. Seeing the tatted man reaffirmed I’d made the right decision.

(But I still sneak peaks at the box scores of the Indians.)

We can all hide behind technology, right?

We can all hide behind technology, right?

The following appeared in Creativity Atlanta’s e-newsletter premier edition. The request was for a ‘rant’ on the subject of my choice to the ad community at large. I turned the faucet on, and here we are.

I am what ad-historians refer to as an ‘old fart.’ I can be carbon dated to the days when copywriters hunched over Selectric typewriters and art directors wielded Exacto knives like surgeons, cutting and pasting type until it kerned like a mother. The creation of an ad was a painstaking process that took time and craft–lots of both. If it was a turd of an ad, you had to live with the stink of it a long while before you flushed it into the world to be ignored. There was only so much varnish you could put on said turd.

Things are much different today. Now computer technology enables the creation and flushing of turds to be almost instantaneous, and the opportunities for varnishing turds are virtually limitless. Science marches on!

Great ads have always been rare, but today technology allows us to raise the level of mediocrity to such an art that we can actually create the illusion of an idea when there isn’t one. Put simply, we can create ads that have more varnish than turd! (For those of you just joining, this is not the Harvard commencement address or the welcoming speech for a Mensa meeting.)

Way back when, you began with an idea, and you did your level best to get a client to buy your idea so that you could work like crazy to bring your vision to life. Today, all too often, creative people begin with a great stock photo or trendy type treatment or borrowed award-show-winning-but-altered-just-enough-so-as-not-to-scream-complete-rip-off layout.

Today it’s easy to sell a beautiful stock shot or technique because the technology exists to do so. You can disguise the lack of a concept or strong selling idea with your pretty picture. The client buys the ‘shiny object’ you dangle before him or her. You get approval and off you go, trying to lay on some digital varnish in hopes that somewhere along the line the concept will get stronger, or maybe even come to life.

It doesn’t, but the varnish does seal-in the stink.

Back in the dark ages, I worked at the Richard Group and every art director was taught to draw (yes draw–with hands and everything!) layouts in a very precise rough style. They were taught to pencil-in headlines in a style that gave no indication of font or type trickery. Copy was indicated with horizontal lines. These were truly rough layouts that looked nice. The beauty of this system was simple: it forced creative people and clients to focus on the concept, not the elements of the ad. Turds rarely got through this system.

Has technology made our lives easier? No doubt. I don’t miss my Selectric, I don’t know of any art directors yearning to knife type again. But technology can be a seductress to hiding the fact that maybe what we have isn’t so much a great idea, but a well-varnished turd.

Maybe it’s time we all got a little old school; in concepting at least. Turn off the computer, put down the C.A. Annual, get prehistoric with pencil and paper and see if you can make an idea materialize before technology brings it beautifully to life.

That’s it, a not-so-vicious rant with some friendly advice. Now I’ve got to get to work on that Harvard commencement address. You never know when you’ll be asked to give one of those suckers.