Friday, July 30, 2010

Jantzen was right--Don's creative was lame

[OK, I think I've waited long enough to post after Sunday's season premiere of AMC's Mad Men so this won't be a spoiler.]

As you may know, I'm a huge Mad Men fan, but. Am I the only one who found Don's creative pitch to Jantzen as lame as a one-legged reporter? "So well built, we can't show you the second floor" Really? They're turning Don into a Catskills routine? C'mon folks! It's 1964! It's a creative revolution on Madison Ave! Down the street from Time/Life, DDB was winning awards for Alka Seltzer spots with Gene Wilder, running politically incorrect (even then) print ads for Jewish Rye and coming up with auto ads so inspired that an ugly little excuse for a car from enemy territory (consigned by Hitler himself!) started flying out the doors of factories in Germany. In November 1964, a man was elected president due in part to the TV creative of a copywriter (Tony Schwartz) whose spot ran only once, but remains one of the most controversial (and persuasive) political commercials ever made.

Given opportunities for creative cross-pollination with leading madmen of his era, wouldn't a hotshot lauded for talent come up with something more intriguing than a raunchy oneliner? I know show writers meant it to be metaphor for the new agency, but the concept should also have worked as an ad. Marty Puris was willing to do an intersticial for BMW; why didn't they ask him to help brainstorm on Jantzen. He could have told them that no shop in the history of start-ups has pitched a new prospect with a single, one-page print ad. Then again, given that the mustachioed gun-toter pictured right was the actual print ad Jantzen was running in 1963, perhaps writers can't be blamed for assuming anything they came up with would be an improvement.

can writers save publishing?

One of the best panels I attended at SXSW last year was on the future of publishing where I was happy to hear that yes, there is one⎯ if old models give way to new, creative approaches. Recently I've come into contact with three authors taking unconventional approaches to the age-old business of transforming dead trees into handheld content. Interestingly, all concepts involve crowd sourcing, that model antithetical to revered image of lone writer scratching away in a garret.

Crowdsourcing Cover Art. Crowdsourcing content isn't a new concept, actually. The book that's been a bible of sorts for getting into the ad business has been crowdsourced from creatives since the 80s. (Proud to say recent update includes an essay from AdBroad.) The author/curator is Maxine Paetro, who was manager of creative talent at some of the best agencies in New York before she segued into writing bestselling thrillers. But crowdsourcing cover art? For recently edited update now available for pre-order, her publisher offered three design choices , none of which Paetro felt was quite right. So she dreamed up a contest and sent out word to art and design schools, offering a bit of cash and the chance to be published. She received hundreds of Flickr entries from around the world, so many of which were good, she had a hard time deciding which she liked best.

Crowdsourcing an Advance, a Title, an Editorial Board. Strategy Director Bud Caddell recently launched a project on Kickstarter, to develop and publish a book that is an evaluation of how everything in the attention economy actually works, and how to profit by it. The genius of his idea was this: instead of circulating a proposal among agents, waiting for interest, then waiting for an agent to strongarm a publisher into shelling out an advance, Bud approached book writing as if he were setting up a nonprofit: he sent out word to people passionate about the same subject he was and wrote them a proposal, promising them an opportunity to help make a difference. Within a month, he enlisted not only 103 board members (including, full disclosure, myself) but over $18K which allows him, five weeks from the day he put out the book concept, to be travelling around the country doing interviews for it. Further brilliance of writing a book this way? You've got a built-in community of amenable readers, editors and fact-checkers, which relieves friends and loved ones of these onerous duties.

The Dickensian Approach: Blogging Installments Euro RSCG Chicago Chairman/CCO Steffan Postaer, discouraged by the bleak house that publishing is these days, is releasing his third novel a la Dickens whose books were first published serially in magazines. Postaer is blogging a romantic comedy chapter by chapter via blog posts, an approach that gives him the benefit of further dimensionalizing the story world with visuals. He's also staging a contest for cover art. Ironically, the winner will receive what many in publishing are fiercely resisting: an ipad.

Hopefully, many more writers are transforming old world publishing models out there. Aren't they?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

you knew it was coming⎯product placement in Farmville

Next week, for the first time, you can plant a real crop on your pretend farm. According to the NYTimes, Cascadian Farm, a subsidiary of General Mills, is offering Farmville players a branded blueberry crop that can be "harvested faster" and "bring a bigger cash return." Marketers are hoping to incent real-world buying of Cascadian Farm's 75 organic products by seeding awareness of the brand in FarmVille’s audience: of 20 million who farm daily, 60% are female, 20-40 yrs. old.

It's the company's first venture into social media. More evidence of ad dollars trending social: before this campaign, the company relied mainly on promoting via print ads in lifestyle magazines like Real Simple and sampling at community events like 5K races.

Cascadian isn't the first General Mills brand to partner with Zynga, growers of Farmvillle. In May, Green Giant Fresh subsidiary placed a coded sticker on broccoli, celery and other fresh (really?) products sold at 4,000 Target stores across the country. Each sticker was redeemable at for five free “farm cash” units, the currency players use for FarmVille projects. In five weeks, $100,000 worth of the units were redeemed online by customers, who cashed in an average of two coupons each.

The Cascadian Farm promo is scheduled to run for only a week. Future direction will be determined after assessing FarmVille results, which will be measured by not only Web activity like hits to its blog but by call-ins to a real-world 800 number.

My guess is, faux farmers will soon be greening their acres with Deere tractors, Sears harvesters and Monsanto weed wranglers as Farmville enters its Second Life.

adland redeems itself with campaign you wish your campaign could smell like

For readers who aren't twitterholics like me, you may have missed the latest extension of the brilliant Old Spice campaign. I'm not talking about Man on Horse now swandiving off a waterfall, but about his masterful rocking of the social mediasphere. Sure, lots of brands use social media to engage with consumers, but Old Spice made major waves this week by delivering personalized messages to individual fans via youtube.

In a move that seems destined to reshape the way brands interact with consumers, W + K creatives (CD Jason Bagley, digital strategist Josh Millrod, interactive producer Ann-Marie Harbour) holed up in a studio with spokehunk Isaiah Mustafa, writing, recording, editing and producing video responses to tweets and comments in quick succession, posting almost 200 "commercials" in the course of 2 days. What makes the work genius isn't only the concept but executions: spot-on writing and Mustafah's flawless deliveries ensure the spots are entertainment even if they're not directed at you.

Some of the first videos were addressed to Twitter magillas including Ashton Kutcher, Biz Stone, Ellen Degeneres and George Stephaopolous-- Mustafah answers his question about how Obama can attract women voters.

But plenty of responses went out to non-celebs; one of the most memorable was to a tweeter who asked Mustafah to propose to his girlfriend.

Apparently, it worked. @JSBeal's twitter profile is now "Happily Engaged." Then, the campaign extended even to voicemail.

As of this writing, creative content on the Old Spice channel has elicited over 61 million uploads and almost 16,000 comments. (Recent response videos viewed over 11 million times, stats graphed by interested party here.) Will sm success translate into Old Spice sales? Yet to see. Just because it's digital doesn't mean it's direct response. As with any branding campaign, time is required to assess true impact. But I trust an effort that breaks through doldrums of summer to jazz so many consumers and press. (Although I agree with writer for UK Telegraph--sales numbers might be better if scent was a bit less, um, potent than its marketing.)

What most impresses me are two things:

1. Viral campaign wasn't "crowdsourced", but curated and crafted by those who knew not only how to elicit feedback from irascible internet audience, but how to ensure feedback was mostly positive (and civil)---not always the case when brands venture into social media. (Hi, Nestle!)

2. The campaign that is being hailed as groundbreaking use of digital was created by a traditional ad agency. Ironically, launch coincides with the revival of MadMen. Who says all Adland is Lost in last century?

Thanks, W+K for giving pundits on social media circuits something to deconstruct besides Subservient Chicken.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

greetings from writers camp

Posting this from New York State Summer Writers Institute in Saratoga where I come every summer to work on my writing that isn't for sale. (Or more accurately, my writing for which buyers aren't clamoring.) It's a gathering of writers from all over the world, started in the 80s by William Kennedy (Ironweed) and now run by editors of legendary litmag Salmagundi. Every day there are classes and seminars with writers I admire. Every night, writers take turns sharing their work, much of which is new and not yet in publication. A few years ago, I had the breathtaking experience of hearing Marilynne Robinson read the opening chapter of her then forthcoming novel, Gilead. (Readings are open to all, check out impressive lineup if you're in the area.)

Last night was a double-header by Allan Gurganus (Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All) and by one of my favorite poets: Franz Wright. Here is Franz (left) (ha) at the after-party, with another of my favorite poets: Frank Bidart. If you don't know their work, treat yourself to the pleasure. Even people who aren't poetry fans are taken in by Bidart's "Old Man at the Wheel". (If you like it, you'll love the rest of the book.) Wright has garnished many distinctions, including the distinction of publishing the first dot com poem, at the turn of the century when most people thinking about dot coms weren't poets.

Address Search

And you will find me
any night
now, try
at the motherless sky.

How dare you

I'm sorry
I was ever

No doubt
you can always find
me any
time, any

in the damned world

--Franz Wright
The New Yorker, June 5, 2000

Sunday, July 4, 2010

happy fourth