Friday, November 30, 2007

welcome to scotland

Scotland spent over $250,000 in advertising fees to come up with a new tagline for itself. The new tag, devised after multiple go-rounds and with input from one of Scotland's top shops, The Leith Agency, is... Welcome to Scotland. The rebranding effort was initiated by First Minister Alex Salmond who pledged to scrap his predecessor's slogan, calling it too downbeat. The former tagline was Best Small Country in the World. Like all branding campaigns, it includes regional components. Edinburgh has the option of running "Real Financial Strength." Other cities are provided options like "First to Introduce Universal Education" and "Home of Europe's Fastest Growing Life Sciences Community."

The new core message will replace the old one at all Scots airports starting today which is a new holiday in Scotland. Scottish Parliament recently passed The St. Andrew's Bank Holiday Act of 2007 which declares November 30 an official bank holiday, but does not require banks to close, nor are employers required to give their employees the day as a holiday.

--sourced from Scotland's Daily Record, 11.28.07 and from the newsfeed screen in the elevator of the building I work in, my primary source of news until after the pitch

hearing voices

Today, I go to a sound studio to re-record voiceover for a commercial. The redo is a request from one of the drug clients. He wants a "however" in the copy where now there's a "but". He also wants the voiceover to slow down the read. He worries that the announcer reads the drug's side effects too fast. A prescription drug that advertises on network TV is required to list the drug's possible adverse effects. Speed-reading through "fair balance" was an old trick of drug advertisers when they first went on air in the 1980s. Now, it's illegal. If network lawyers catch this, they pull a spot from the air.

The sound studio is a site of contradictions. Fancy uptown address (Fifth Avenue) but hip downtown decor. Poured cement floors covered with Oriental runners. Elevator doors stripped down to pockmarked steel. The receptionist is a sweet-looking, baby faced guy. But when he reaches for the phone to announce our arrival, I see his arms are black with tattoos, like an old sailor's. "You'll be working in Ben's room today," he says. " It's the one with the giant glass eye on the door." (What is it with glass eyes in this business?) Ben's room is so dimly lit, I barely find my way to the soft leather sofa. Ben isn't there, but I know by the challenging lighting that he must be young. The decor is cowboy: longhorn coat rack, found wood coffee table. A baseball cap hangs over the fire alarm box. A collection of action figures stand poised for battle by the computer.

"Hi, I'm Ben, wassup." Ben extends a pudgy hand: he is a round, friendly guy who looks about twenty. His youth is emphasized by facial hair which is shaved into careful geometric shapes. We make small talk for a minute and my gaze shifts to a collection of children's art on the wall. "You have kids?" I ask, regretting the question immediately. Surely this guy is too young to have kids. The crayoned turkey is possibly his. Ben grins broadly, his facial hair leaps. "My daughter," he says proudly. "She's three. Going on twenty." He shows me a series of photos of her on his computer and the tenderness in his voice is touching. "It's the first Christmas she gets it about presents," he says. "I'm on the lookout for a Disney Princess Cash Register." He closes the program and we get down to work.

"You there?" he calls into space. We both look at the sound booth, though nobody's in it. The voiceover we're using is in California.

"Good morning," we hear through invisible speakers. I check my watch, it is 2 pm. We have the voiceover booked for an hour. The copy she's reading is sixty seconds, but it takes over an hour to get it right, for her to trip quickly, though not too quickly over side effects which for this drug (for a relatively benign condition) includes risk of falling asleep at the wheel and sudden onset of gambling or sexual urges.

To direct, I press a button on a remote which I must remember to keep pointed to an LED light on a box linking us to the studio in LA where the voiceover is. I think how different this is from my first voice record session which also took place in a studio in California. I was a secretary in a shop in San Francisco and some stout-hearted writer let me tag along and observe a session. How surprised I was that the woman in the sound booth, large and decidedly unattractive, could have the voice of a sultry goddess. As soon as she started reading the copy extolling the virtues of a certain corn chip, the studio shook. Our chairs vibrated, the knobs on the electronic panels trembled. "Quake," said the writer and engineer in unison. "Earthquake?" I asked and started to panic. No one made a move. "We're underground," shrugged the writer. Even before the vibrating stopped, the session proceeded, and I thought what a brave, brazen crew were people in advertising. Now, I know it was deadline pressure.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

a commercial that's better than most movies

Some years ago, I detoured off Madison Avenue to create an agency that worked exclusively with nonprofits. It didn't last long--my partner and I soon discovered what everyone else seemed to know: that nonprofit clients inflicted as much pain as for-profit ones, but without the numbing effect of big money. Creating work on social issues proved unexpectedly daunting when it wasn't for our books, but for pesky clients. Which is why I admire a spot by German agency Nordpol+ Hamburg for wind energy which racked up numerous kudos last year at Cannes.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

old ideas never die, they just get recycled

As a mother of girls, I love what the Dove Campaign says about women and admire that a packaged goods client was convinced to do something breakthrough. But I wonder if the team who came up with the creative could possibly have been inspired by the 1984 D&AD annual.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

my job is a turkey, but i'm thankful for it

It's the day after the day after the day after Thanksgiving and like thousands of (younger) others in advertising, I already dread having to go back to the office. My kids are home from college (the one who was dropped on her head goes to Harvard) and I love waking up without an alarm and wonder (again) why I'm still in the business --but a glance at online tuition bills makes me remember. I've got a freelance gig that plenty of boomer colleagues would envy: I'm covering a maternity leave, so the job is certain to last for months. The sector is healthcare which is a creative ghetto for over-40's (ok, 50s) like me. But it's not really healthcare: the client I'm working for doesn't care about health, they care only about hawking their magic elixir. The unconscionable target is kids 18-29. I can't say more or I'll be in violation of agency confidentiality agreements. I'll only add that the client hopes the campaign I am working on will mean a bump in sales next year of at least $20 million. No wonder healthcare is the one category where ad spending isn't in downturn, the only category I work on where I still get my full dayrate.