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Built with passion or just up to code? (Or, why holding on by your fingertips only delays your doom)

We were watching Meet Me in St Louis on TCM the other night – it’s a nice, warm and idyllic movie and after watching the news, we needed a little escapism.   My wife said “Look at that house – isn’t it beautiful?”   I nodded agreeably in the darkness. Sure, even viewed through the Vaseline lens of 1944, they were pretty inviting.  Lots of establishing shots and exteriors featuring great old Victorians rife with attention to detail, interesting architecture and a solidity of construction that was somehow exuded warmth and comfort even through the flatscreen.

A little while later she says, apparently rhetorically, “Why were the houses so much nicer back then?”  I answered anyway, saying “Well, they used to be built one at a time, older wood, better materials.  Slower times, more craftsmen, less automation – now they’re pretty much just built up to code.”

She sighed in agreement.  The family stayed in St. Louis, made it to the World’s Fair and everything was happy and dewy.

But the idea of ‘up to code’ stayed with me…

One of my clients is a Chrysler dealership and once, while looking over the newer, smaller and more efficient models,  I said that I’d rather be in a big old car made of metal.

“Nope,” the owner said, “You’d die in one of those if you hit something.  I wouldn’t let my grandkids in one of those.  These new ones are a whole lot safer.”

And it wasn’t  just a sales pitch – it’s a third generation dealership, so they actually sold a lot of the old metal monsters.

Hmmm.  So the perception of older is better might be a little skewed. But I’ll also counter that today’s classics that you find at the Barrett-Jackson auctions are forty-year old Buicks, Plymouths and Chevy’s, and somehow I don’t think that in another forty years we’re going to be dropping big time cash on an ’09 Ford Taurus, regardless of the safety features.

Why? Because as regimentedly nice and hi-tech as it is, it’s unremarkable.  And a symptom of building just up to code. I’m not a car guy, but I get it.  Those cars that increased in value were the ones driven not by volume-centric bean counters, but by passionate individuals, even within something as corporate as the auto industry.  By the enthusiasts (there’s that word again) who built these things to be remarkable because they loved them.

In an age where everybody gets a Gold Star (everyone in my daughter’s class gets a gold star – no difference between winning or losing – Aaargh!  But that’s for another post), things can be returned for any reason and there’s a push for an ‘Effort Roll’ to coddle students not driven or able to hit the  Honor Roll, are we being groomed to be satisfied with the soft edges of meeting the standard, rather than being fired by passion and interest to perhaps exceed these standards not because we adhere to the concept of ‘wish to exceed’, but because we are human beings with genuine emotions and passions which, when pursued, produce far superior results?  The place where we discover the organic nexus of art and industry, and not just concept and consumerism.  Has materialism, concession and perceived safety become the new opiate of the masses?

It applies.  To everything.  Ask yourself, is your business keeping your customers merely ‘satisfied’ because, if so, when the truly passionate comes along, you’ll be in trouble.  Are you ‘meeting the bar’ in your efforts in business, work or life, or are you so lost in the passion of what you are doing that the bar disappears?  That’s where you want to be. And if you’re not, change.

I know, I know…it’s a recession.  We’re reminded of it daily, yet the unfortunate side-effect is that we tend to hold on by our fingertips for fear of falling off the cliff.  Most, it seems, stay with the safe and the unremarkable for fear of, God forbid, offending someone.  Of making waves.  The side effect of pursuing the passionate and unique is that it tends to stand out.  And the unintended side effect of remaining with the safe pack is that, ironically, you make yourself quite replaceable. In my business, we do make waves, and have a nice little collection of letters from people who somehow found minor offense ( or at least thought they should be offended), by some of our advertising and marketing work.

But a far larger percentage noticed the work, and the client or product.  And remembered it. And our clients benefited. Because in a still pool, even a single wave is the one that gets noticed.

But here’s the thing: if you continue to hang on by your fingertips, eventually you will fall off the cliff, because you’ve stopped climbing. And, ultimately, no one will care, because your life and your efforts made no sound in the first place.

Is immediate access to information killing the urge to explore? (Or how I put down the mouse and learned to love Phineas and Ferb).

Alright, I’ll admit it.   I kind of like Phineas and Ferb, a cartoon that you’ve likely heard of if you have kids (I do), and probably haven’t if you don’t. I came across it the other day after a friend (also a parent) had mentioned it. Normally I would have kept clicking, but this time stopped: my friend said it was awesome – enough of an endorsement to get me to pause the thumb for a moment. In a nutshell, good show. And, by comparison to the spoon-fed drivel and homogenized cast-the-broadest-net-possible crap that was available that night on ‘adult’ stations, it was a great show.

So I watched it.  With my wife.  And with the kids asleep, it was kind of  guilty pleasure.  Hey, we’re on vacation, but when the kids got up the next morning, and Phineas and Ferb came on, we of course feigned ignorance.  Finally, my wife asked what the deal was with the characters.  I didn’t know, but my first impulse was to do a quick search on the internet.  Surely, there was some Wiki that could feed the whole plot and backstory to me in a nice, pre-chewed nugget.

But I resisted the urge.

Why? Really, I don’t know for sure.  Maybe it was because, in the semi-relaxed state of vacation, I was less eager to go on  the internet, which I associate with work,  and more open to a little exploration. Plus I had the time, I guess, to sit down and watch the show for a bit.

And in taking the time to explore something as minor as a kid’s show,  I think I learned something.  Here’s the thing: if  had, say, done a quick search on the show when my friend had originally mentioned it, I might have seen that it was a kids cartoon with these characters and this general plot and blah blah blah.

And I probably would have dismissed it, having just enough of a skeletal sense of the show in my head to render it unremarkable.  That would have been a mistake, I think, and one that showcases an odd danger of these times of immediate information.  Plus I would have missed the wonders of Phineas and Ferb, which is another matter entirely.

A quick encapsulation of anything is just that – someone’s inevitably subjective take on something. More and more, however, we seem to be equating the preview, the blurb or sound bite,  with the thing in its entirety. It may be factually correct, but really, is it enough to base a decision on – even a simple one?  I say no.

I remember when the tv show Friends came on in the mid-nineties.  No one was really watching it – it wasn’t a ‘thing’ yet.  I waded in and happened upon it and found that I liked it.  I told a few friends (no, not on Facebook – actually mentioned it to them.  In person, no less) and apparently a lot of other people came across it in the same way. They checked it out and decided whether or not they liked it.  More did than didn’t. The show became a monster hit with a long run.

Why mention Friends?  Because it came on a time when the internet and the availability of immediate information was, even that short time ago, still in its infancy –  and least compared to the current saturation level.  Back then I don’t recall shows being dubbed smash hits before they’d been shown, or after only a single premiere episode (Glee comes to mind as a show that took that ‘marketing-to-the-sheep-Jedi-mind-trick’ approach and succeeded – hugely, I’ll add, though I’m not one to watch –  but there are ten times as many shows now forgotten that got into the proclamation game before the starting gate had lifted and are now a part of history).

But consider if Friends had come out now, instead of back then. Realistically, I think that if  I’d read a quick overview about a show about some twenty-something friends set in New York City I probably would have passed.  And that’s the point, I think.  I wouldn’t have sat down and stayed with it to see where it was going.  I wouldn’t have met characters, or watched  them develop.  More likely I would have acted on quick information, rather than investing some time to discover for myself whether or not it was a decent show.  And maybe scores of others wouldn’t have, either.

But this isn’t just about television, of course.  It’s about life in the early 21st century.

It’s become far too easy to formulate opinions about anything any everything from a tight, easily accessible nugget from somewhere in the top couple of Google results. Sure, at times it’s awfully handy to get a quick snapshot, but it occurs to me that my generation occupies an unusual place: we not only remember the time before computers and information were  accessible everywhere and at all times, but we were also part of the revolution.  We grew up learning things by rote, then were introduced to the efficiencies of digital automation.  We could tell the difference.  Mine is the generation that bridges analog to digital, and thus wields a dual perspective; a generation who has borne children that know only the digital age, and who have parents who want very little to do with it.

We have a very distinctive perspective: I’ll argue that we see both the value and danger of our new, instant information age.  As a parent, my concern is that my children will lose the ability to patiently lose themselves in the rich process of exploration, and learn that things do have dimensions, texture, layers and value beyond the depth of screen and soundbite.

As a copywriter and marketing strategist, I often operate behind the curtain, understanding (and yes, mea culpa, contributing to) the way in which information is controlled and manipulated, vetted, filtered and presented.

But that’s the thing: I can still hold it at arm’s length and am not immersed in it as a truth.  I constantly question its veracity, and wonder if others still take the same healthy precautions. No, I am not a crusty curmudgeon: I do see the value that this access can have, unlike the generations that have come before.  As I mentioned, it’s a unique, and valuable, perspective.

So what’s the solution?  I’m not sure, really.  Do we stop ingesting  the constant stream of information, credible or not?  It’s tough to get away from it, especially with the rise of the ‘smartphone’, which will no doubt be a dinosaur itself and technological advances continue to hurtle us forward.  Plus, information is not a bad thing – delivered by screen or not.

Life, however, demands to be experienced. Information needs to be questioned and tested, never blindly accepted.  A quick Google search should never be confused with trying and deciding for yourself.  It takes a little effort, an investment of time.  And time has to be afforded to undertakings so that they have a chance to grow and develop organically.   Although marketers, producers and politicians would like us to think that we live in some instant satisfaction utopia, the reality is that time needs to be invested and chances need to be taken.  And that sometimes things don’t work out, which is absolutely fine.  Things need to be allowed to fail, so that we can better learn how to succeed.

Remember, having an understanding the thing is not the same as doing the thing. Real, day-to-day Life, easy or hard, is a far richer and more rewarding experience than anything virtual. Tangible experience far outweighs secondary understanding.  The world is no smaller than it ever was, and it should be explored without the filter of the screen.  That’s how we grow as people and avoid becoming part of the herd, led by anonymous shepherds.  Get up, get out and do.  Make your own decisions, put in the effort.  Experience for yourself, don’t ingest the experience of  others.  There are no guarantees, regardless of the small print.

Alright, enough screen time.  I’m on vacation. I’ve got some exploring to do.

Google, You're Mistaken. We Don't Really like you. We're Just Using You.

This past week, millions of people apparently went into shock when the once pristine Google interface suddenly went all Bing-like.  It was jarring, to say the least, and while Bing’s approach is well-executed in terms of design and usability, Google’s was not.  In fact, it gave me the feeling I used to get when a web site would use a repeating, tiled image as a background: it was distracting.  Google, the king of real-time micro-metrics and response, appears to have recognized the error of their ways and quickly returned to their normal programming.

Well, it’s no secret that Google is focused on cornering not only the search market (done, check that one off), but all markets.  They’ve got a buttload of capital and likely the largest and best-configured database structure known to man.  This makes them extremely formidable.  And quite fearless.  This is bad news for their competition – a group which is growing every day as Google invades markets from hardware to software, operating systems to office environments, commerce, advertising – well, just about everything.

So what do we make of their recent failed experiment?

Well, I don’t think that a definitive conclusion can really be reached, but I will advance an idea: Google, dear and ubiquitous friend, we don’t really like you, not like that anyway. As much as you would like to get your information gathering tentacles into our lives, and make us dependent on you for all of our needs, many of us really just rely on you as a search engine – and a simple one at that.

Sure, back in the day when you were competing against the like of Yahoo and Excite and whatever other search engines are now footnotes, your algorithm was cool and your interface clean. Your results on the money and, for many of us, your selling point  was that there were no strings attached: you did what you said you’d do, were free and, when we were finished, we parted company.  It was casual, met our mutual needs, and simply worked.

Now, of course, we realize that you’ve been keeping notes on us, and are unapologetic about your limitless and infinite data collection. Even for the most innocent, that’s got an Orwellian creepiness about it that’s hard to swallow.  Moreover, it puts a little hitch in the process of using your search – and other – services.  Sure, most people probably won’t care, but as the internet becomes more and more integrated with every aspect of our lives, privacy concerns will continue to grow,  just as they do in the ‘real’ world.

But back to the background picture debacle.  When I opened my browser and saw it  (yes, despite all of my borderline paranoia, I use Google as my home page because it is a solid, functional and, until recently, simple point of departure) my initial reaction was to leave.  Immediately.

In fact, I remember thinking ‘This isn’t good, what will I use for search now?’.  The viscerality of my reaction surprised me, so I gave it some thought.

Ultimately, despite the multitude of offerings that Google now has, it remains, I think, for many users, a search engine.  Simple to use, and does what it says.  And if it departs from that simple and effective core formula, it became vulnerable.   Google, despite your aspirations, you are not organically cool, and you are not a community: when you got in the way of what we use you for, you were done.

It sort of reminds me of those B-movies, when finally, someone get a lucky shot off and the monster bleeds, and someone says “Hey, If It bleeds, we can kill it!”

Same thing here: and I’ll argue that in its misstep in thinking that it’s part of the social networking (and every other) space, and that we love it and want to make it our home and dress it up with images, Google revealed that it can be vulnerable.

Ultimately, web users are not loyal – at least not in the way that friends and family are loyal.  No, they use what meets their needs in the best, cheapest, and most painless way.  Google got a bit of a reminder the other day: leverage what you can, but stick to what you do best.  Because though it’s not been made public (at least to my knowledge), for a few hours, people went to Google and bounced! And that was scary enough to make them immediately pull the plug on their rather assumptive and reaching experiment.

Like I said, we don’t really like you: we’re just using you because you deliver.  And when you don’t, we leave.  It’s the web way.  And it makes things just a little more democratic, which maybe puts some power back in the hands of the people.  Now if only we could get rid of those unmarked Google vans quietly sliding through every neighborhood in the country, vacuuming up data and exhaustively archiving public spaces…hmmm…

Will Pressure over Gulf Spill Stop CNN from Circling the Drain?

After watching the revolving door of faces, content and editorial direction at CNN move to a blur over the last couple of years, I got  the sense that it was going to have to do something dramatic to save itself from a total meltdown. It’s no secret that it has been on the receiving end of a prolonged beatdown in the ratings, and it was, for me, almost sad to watch. Almost. Luckily, like many, I still slow down and rubberneck, and this is what I’ve found myself doing with the CNN drama for quite some time.

Even during the presidential elections, when they proclaimed themselves the most awesomest political team ever assembled in the history of the universe (or something like that), one got the feeling that something was very wrong, and very desperate, going on here.  From the awkward, gimmicky worship of the giant magic screens and the decision to tag every bit of information as ‘breaking news’ in screaming graphics (and, ironically, for hours on end – a rather long time for something to break…) to being begged to ‘join in the conversation’,’iReport’ or ‘follow on Facebook’, I got the sense that I was being desperately pleaded to – ‘Please‘, the network seemed to say ‘we’re trying everything‘. Social Media’s cool, right? We’re hip! Look at us!

Inevitably,  the slide continued.  FOX came on loudly and strongly (did I mention, LOUDLY?).  Morning Joe (when Mika still had a wardrobe that included sleeves) popped up to strip them of their political cred.  It was a sad scene.   And they just didn’t get it. That much was clear.  As a one-man focus group and news addict, I had to go to these other channels, because CNN, once the world’s go to news resource, had even stopped doing headlines at the top and bottom of every hour – a necessity for a news organization.

Like a good portion of the western world, if I’m watching television and want to know what’s going on without wading through the other stuff, I’m programmed for news updates.  I’m guessing that mounting failure increased pressure for success (certainly nothing new as media sources multiply and traditional financial models stumble), so CNN was probably trying to redefine what it was in order to pitch to a broader audience.  In the end, they took the focus off of the news (the dropped half-hourly headlines likely a symptom of this tack), and instead tried to base their appeal on personalities, subsequent (and safe) ‘analysis’ and investigations of long-dead, falsely flammable or politically correct topics.

The Bottom Line? They weren’t giving me what I wanted, which was news – quick, objective and digestible information.  As a result,  I  had to move on to their competitors at the 29’s and 59’s of the hour when I wanted ‘hard news’ updates because with the CNN format,  sometimes it was there, other times not.  I might have even hung in through all the false starts is they’d simply kept this simple, hard-news anchor but they chose to discard it, a went further adrift.   I’ll argue that if a station identifies itself as a news organization, 24-hours of news should mean at least 24 opportunities for top-of-the-hour headlines, like clockwork.  End of story.  Otherwise it’s like running a business with random hours or random product offerings.  After awhile, nobody comes in anymore.

This is, of course, not limited to CNN.  Just another example of vacillation in response to fear: abandoning the  basics for the perceived quick fix ‘new media’ world of iReporters (ire-ports? hmmm), amateur journalism and ‘conversation’, but CNN clearly dropped a very fundamental ball in doing this.  Quite frankly like a lot of traditional news outlets, (regardless of media type) – the fundamentals were discarded in favor of the current supposed trend in an effort to garner ratings and revenue. And it has been devastating.  (I could make the argument that some of the world’s major religions, corporations and governments have also gone that route, but that’s for another post).

And it got worse – far worse.  All of a sudden, news was, in a sense, being manufactured. Or at least being used as some sort of elemental information-substance to be subjectively shaped and manipulated in order to bolster interest and viewership, perhaps so the folks up top could save their own hides.  No, I’m not naive, this happens all the time.  But for a news organization, this was exceptionally blatant.

It’s a big world and our news resources should serve as panoramic windows , not blinders.  It’s not like there isn’t news enough to fill a 24-hour news cycle without repeat – there’s plenty. Sure, it’s okay to pay a little more attention to a few top stories, investigate a little deeper, give me some measured editorial opinion (and please, identify it as such), and a little bump in frequency is certainly warranted. But instead, CNN would take one piece and play it over and over again.  Chew on it, beat it down. Pull it this way and that.  Ask me what I, the viewer, thought.  Make a ham-handed ‘join the conversation’ pitch. I got the sense that they were measuring the micrometrics of each attempt in real time.  Was there a spike? Do it again! Did it drop? Switch gears!

And then, perhaps most heinously, the news readers began to address the viewers directly, revealing their subjective ‘thoughts’  in a calculated effort to force engagement, guide the flow of information to a desired end,  fan emotional flames and incite a response.  A raised eyebrow, and ‘I think…”, or just manipulative, dialogue-like recitations of rote questions with pre-determined answers during so-called interviews.  Panels of ‘experts’ so wooden and predictable as to be automatons.  The ‘oh my!’ of Rick Sanchez.  No wonder Amanpour left.

And then I heard it. Right after the overbearing personal spin of the now departed Campbell Brown (and to be fair, likely not her fault given the editorial directives), I saw Anderson Cooper not only appear to be engaged and moved by a story (as so many crocodile-tear-spilling talking heads pull off at the level of art form) – he was pissed! Actually pissed about the whole business in the Gulf.  And it was good!  It smacked of genuine concern and emotion, and it got your attention that way that only the genuine can – it meant something, and it wasn’t a show.

And it caught on!  Suddenly, CNN had their game face on.  They were going after it – biting like pit bulls in every interview and not letting go!  I watched breathlessly as a very stern, levelheaded and hard-hitting John Roberts wiped the floor with a slippery BP COO. Even Rick Sanchez, sitting in at the primetime spot, somehow shed his daytime puffery and bluster in favor of insightful Q&A about the BP spill. It’s awesome, because they may actually be back on the road to relevancy as a news organization. They’re exercising their journalistic muscle in going after this entire BP situation, and just might be getting their getting their mojo back.  They’ve reestablished their relevancy within the news pack. Heck, Thad Allen just referred to CNN directly, in a comment about not being concerned about what the media thinks.  He didn’t say ‘media’, or journalists, or cite a competing network.  He said, very specifically, CNN.   They’ve grabbed the reins and are buzzing like hornets all over the Gulf Coast.  And I’m wondering if this whole thing can catch fire across other comparable media.

What’s the takeaway here? Maybe a lesson in not riding the prevailing winds when making editorial – or even marketing, advertising, public relations or business – decisions.  Maybe it’s a reminder to look to what your audience wants, rather than what conveniently interpreted metrics dictate. Maybe there is still a great deal of value – and opportunity – in traditional approaches that suggests that they should not be wholly discarded. Remember, regardless of ‘new’ media, your audience is still Human, and it is from this common denominator that needs arise.  The means by which these needs are met may vary, but will remain fundamentally the same because the audience still has basic human needs and wants, regardless of how they may be presented.  Human nature, to which all new approaches are ultimately tethered, will not change. Basics count, and will continue to do so. Respect the intelligence of your audience and meet their actual needs – do not dictate what you think their needs should be, or try and fill them with volume rather than substance.

For too long, revenue opportunities have dictated the tone and content of news media – papers, web radio wherever.  The ‘old industry’ has been back on its heels, grasping a straws to bolster revenue as they compete in a new information space with fewer barriers to entry.  But maybe there is value in having these barriers:  The Wall Street Journal has held fairly strong – and has benefited financially – because it is an institution where you can still bank on (excuse the pun) the information they offer.  It’s credible, not mere opinion – the kind of factual resource that you can use to make important decisions on real matters.

In an information age, the information must not only be interesting and credible, but also valid: it forms the bedrock for all subsequent decisions.  That alone is the reason why hard journalistic practices are arguably more important now than at an other time.  If you liken information to currency, then validity is the gold standard. Valid information requires facts, facts require investigation and analysis and you’ve got to be hard-nosed to unearth and defend these nuggets.  It’s not a joint effort – when it’s important,  I don’t want to ‘join in the conversation’ or factor someone’s fleeting opinion into the mix.

I need my information vetted, credible and real – much in the way most journalism used to be.  And should still be.  This does not mitigate the importance and impact of, say, the blog and its brethren, or even the role of the new information space as a tremendous tool for vocalization, and leveler of playing fields and access, and a tremendous democratizing element.  But it does, I think, suggest that not only is there a place for the old style of deep, source-driven, investigative dogfight journalism that has been seen by many as a dinosaur, at least of late.

I’ll even advance here that, in the world of easy access and media saturation, bastions of true journalism in the most classical, trustworthy, researched, objectively ascertained and presented sense are now and will continue to be even more valuable that the plethora of alternative-media derived sources.

And, curiously enough, it might be this getting back to the roots of quality journalism that might just make CNN relevant, viable and a must-have trustworthy news source once again. If CNN can continue on with this focus on the basics, and become the news resource (instead of a news source among many) that provides credible, non-spun and bankable information, it could absolutely dominate the cable news space once again. We’ll have to watch and decide.  Which, I think, is the point.

Willie Wonka +AT&T+ Hybrid Hipster = Missed Opportunity for Gut-Punch Emotional Payoff

I keep coming across that AT&T commercial (“Birthday” that seems to be a secondary response to their recent Verizon attack – the one with the large crayon-colored cutouts that are roaming through the city environment ( I especially the like the scary monster being chased by the bus).
I’ve got to tell you that it grabbed me. At first.
The lead-in pulls you right in. “Pure Imagination” – not only from the original Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, but sung by the man himself: Gene Wilder. Listen I’m in my early forties, and happy to gamble that anyone in my general age bracket, or even a bit older, will stop and take notice – no mean trick in the tv adspace.

And it gets better. I’m in, the music’s playing. The crude child cutouts animated and moving through the cityscape. The wistful, nostalgic background bed tugging at my emotions. I’m drawn in. I actually feel good, and then…
Up the the rooftop where I meet shaggy haired, rough-bearded stereotypical hipster-hybrid, and I think…
What the F…?

In fact, truth be told, I actually said it out loud the first time I saw the spot. My wife punched me as our kids were in the room, but was right on board with my assessment.
I was in. Then the manipulation became transparent. I felt cheated, used – even embarrassed for being suckered in in the first place.
And all because of the hybrid hipster – hybrid because he’s clearly a hipster in suits clothing – perfectly messy facial hair yet damn nice suit and tie not tight to prove he’s not in with The Man.
But that’s not really what pissed me off after all.
I think it’s the missed opportunity that really digs at me here. And the Advertising works best when it’s emotionally relevant – when it’s genuine, and really makes a strong connection. Of course, that’s also a risky route, especially in these financially conservative, safe and spreadsheet-driven days. You don’t gain a lot by going the safe route, but then again, you don’t risk a lot either. Yippee.

Maybe AT&T was trying to be mindful of all of thepossible market segments they were trying to appeal to: corporate, but also youthful. Generation X, But also Y. And Maybe a Boomer or two. Hey! Let’s cast a wide net – that’s the safe route
But beyond the carefully chosen touchstones of Wilder, childhood and crayons, the hipster hybrid (HH) kills it for me, and not just because it’s the safe choice.

You see, when I see the HH, I don’t buy that he’s absolutely severed all of the ties from his old childhood.  There’s not enough distance.  No, instead I see a guy that, like the rest of the safe and broad targets for the spot, keeps a foot in all possible worlds – adult, child, corporate or cool artistic. He’s diluted – somewhere in-between.  It’s not a great stretch for him to go back to the possibilities of childhood or, with a little time at the barber, the corporate path.  He hasn’t sold out, because he hasn’t fully bought in to either route – his appearance suggests this, anyway.  So there’s not enough contrast, enough definition to really drive home the emotional gut-punch payoff.
It’s because of the could have been. It’s because this spot could have been Killer.

Now, I know that this spot has been given a pretty solid general thumbs up by the ad community in general – and it’s gotten pretty heavy rotation, so something must be working, but instead of staying with me, it’s a spot that I only think of when it’s on – it does not echo. When it’s over, I’m gone. The advertiser got their sixty seconds out of me, but Killer ads will get more.

Killer ads resonate. They’re a bargain for the advertiser, because they stay in the audience’s head long after the ad is done.
And I’ll venture that this could have been done here, too.  It’s just a suggestion: an awful lot happens between an idea from creative and client approval.  And it’s still a very solid spot, or it wouldn’t be worth analyzing in the first place.
But consider this scenario: the commercial starts a runs same as before – Wonka, Wilder, Cutouts and Chilhood, all nicely contrasted against the urban environment. But then, as we pan up, it’s not our HH sitting on the rooftop.
Instead, it’s an actual corporate guy – a real buy in. No facial scruff, no long hair. Perfectly coiffed, neat as a pin. But here’s where we pull in. Maybe he’s looking down, and though we’re in the nostalgic “remember when you were five…” VO space, maybe this guy really feels it. Maybe he bought in to corporate and, dare we show it, feels the pain of regret. His face could be a mask of regret, of longing.
And then maybe he looks down, a call comes in, he pulls out his AT&T smartphone listens – we watch as creeping revelation loosens his expression. A smile comes up, his eyes brighten.

He remembers…

And then we pull back to see, maybe, one of his old cutout friends sitting next to him on the bench. He continues to talk, clearly animated and happy now.
Maybe he even loosens his tie, shrugs off his jacket and tosses it over the bench. And then maybe as he turns and exits the frame, and his current life of regret and off into a new direction closer to that promised by his childhood, maybe his cutout friend, whatever it is, even takes his hand as they stroll off.
He’s gotten his ‘wake up call’. And he’s off to make good on his promises to himself.
And then the tagline really comes in: “Rethink Possible”.
Then it resonates. Then it’s rife with hope. Then I’m thinking about it 3 hours later in the car.  Then AT&T shares the optimism of youth AND reinvention and genuinely appeals to all segments in a genuine manner.
Then I’m fully invested.
Then, I’m In.

Hey, is this thing on?

I am a Writer and Brand Strategist and the head of LGM creative – a small creative shop focused on advertising, marketing and brand development. I founded LGM creative back in 2004, after a number of years as a freelance copywriter and a somewhat shorter stint as a Senior Copywriter with a small start up agency. When I left, some clients followed. It turned out to be a good move.

My original intention was to make this blog an adjunct to the business, especially the writing and copy side, while getting a handle on the ins and outs of WordPress. Of course, intentions don’t always hit their mark, but I’ve found that most things work out exactly as they’re supposed to.

On the professional side, I’m interested in Media, Perception, Persuasion, Direct and Indirect Response, Language, Ideation and Writing. On the personal side, I’m very much interested in where we’re going in the larger sense.

Given the nature of things today, the two seem very much connected. We are now constantly exposed to media and messaging as never before in our history, and each message is crafted with a specific purpose in mind. Sometimes it’s simple: buy a car. Other times it’s considerably more complex: buy a policy, or a belief system. Given the volume it’s easy to get overwhelmed, so here we’ll take small, thoughtful bites.

The above is pretty much what’s on the about page, but it seemed like a good place to start.