Category Archives: Advertising

Santa or else.


The haze of liquor and cigarette smoke that hangs langorously over Mad Men doesn’t obscure the piercing truths about our business that still have the capacity to hurt.

Last week’s episode, when the Lucky Strike client Lee Garner, a good ol’ boy and closeted homosexual (he had Sal fired in Season 3 when his advances were rebuffed) forced Roger to put on the Santa suit at the office Christmas party, it tore at my heart.

In a beauifully nuanced escalation, the client went from jovial “suggestion” to more insistent request to a chilling command. And it was made all the worse by playing out in front of the entire staff.

And by the fact that it was Roger.

Choosing Pete would have meant nothing. Steeped in self-loathing, Pete would have seen donning the Santa suit as an escape from himself, not to mention a career-enhancer.

Don? Wasn’t gonna happen. And Lee knew it.

Burt Cooper? He already plays the jovial fool.

No…to exert maximum authority and to inflict maximum pain, the client chose Roger…elegant, patrician, unflappable Roger. Roger, whose ties to American Tobacco go back a generation on either side. Roger, whose inherited relationship occasionally lulls him into believing he is something other than a vendor.

Put on the suit, Roger. Put it on so I can remind you of exactly where you stand in the order of things. Put it on for your wife, your partners and all the employees with their stricken expressions to see.

As I sat there and watched in sick fascination, my wife turned to me and asked if anything like that ever happened to me and my partners.

A highlight reel of slights and humiliations, verbal cuffings and inappropriate demands unspooled through my head.

Not that overtly, I said. But do some clients look for and exploit opportunities to make us choose between our dignity and our paycheck? Yes.

We may just have to put on the beard, or carry the sack, or bellow “Ho, ho, ho,” but it’s putting on the Santa suit, it’s still uncomfortable, and the alternative, the unspoken “or else” is still terrifying in its unknowability.

Spies like us.

With the ten Russian deep-cover spies safely in the hands of the KGB (and wishing they were back waiting in the checkout line at Costco), it got me thinking what good advertising creatives they’d be.

Great creatives are natural snoops and voyeurs. They are not Joe Sixpack, but they need to create beer ads for him. They are not Soccer Moms (well, most aren’t) but they need to sell them cookies, hand sanitizer, minivans and back-to-school supplies. They are not Seniors but they need to sympathize with their aches and pains and need for financial security. Most agency creatives are urban hipsters, frat boys, geeks, emos or some other strain of boho.

So what you have are these well-educated aesthetes living undercover…listening, observing, furtively turning on Fox, scooting in and out of Wal-Mart on the DL, trying to understand regular Americans and, via the ads they make, trying to become one with them.

Every Tide commercial you ever saw, every redneck ad about huntin’, fishin’ and racin’, was an act of subterfuge, carefully concocted by people who have spied on these worlds, but who are Other.

So when the Kremlin gets done “debriefing” you, you clever moles, you may want to think about putting together your books. Anyone who can put together that convincing a facade of American strip-mall consumerism is someone who can sell anything.

Location, location, location

Seen on the corner of Bowery and Spring Street yesterday:

Bet the Carerra sunglass people (the advertiser on the left–sorry for the crappy phone pic) didn’t see this one coming, so to speak.

This kind of unfortunate message juxtaposition happens more often than you’d expect, in every medium. So much so that you might wonder whether some bored junior media folks are doing this for laughs after huffing a few spray cans.

Yes we Cannes!

Usually I try to gin up some original content. Today I am content to urge you to listen to PodCast 59 from the guys at American Copywriter. I listened to it on my train ride home last week and laughed so hard my frozen Blood Orange Margarita came out my nose and nearby fellow riders moved away.

John and Tug don’t get caught in the If-you-had-great-work-you’d-be-there-so-don’t-bitch trap common to creatives talking about Cannes. They merely point out that such cavorting is only possible for people who work at big agencies (and, more recently, their clients) because at little shops like theirs (and mine) who’s going to get the work out the door that week?