Tag Archives: writing tv commercials

i guess advertising really does suck

As pop culture goes, so goes some advertising I suppose.

It all started back in the summer when I was concepting new brand spots for a state electric company. One of the messages we wanted to get out was about “energy vampires” (aka phantom energy). We even did a radio spot, with accompanying print ad and billboard, that helped get the word out about all they wasted energy people are paying for just by leaving things plugged in when not in use.

It’s only once these started hitting the market did I began to notice a similar theme in other advertising. (It’s probably like, once I have my eye on a new car that has my interest that I start to notice them all over the place.)

Here’s one print ad I recently came across in Wired magazine.

Even Microsoft is taking a bite outta the hype that is Twilight.

All told, I can’t be too surprised by all the different advertising messages using similar (if not the same) themes. But I am grateful that I didn’t have to sell my soul to continue working in a biz I really like….but not ready to die for.

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seeing the fruits of my labor

We recently relocated from Surf City USA to the Land of Enchantment. This move was for a few reasons, mainly lowering our cost-of-living and the potential of full-time employment.

Since we’ve been here, it’s been fun to drive around town and see the results of my creative collaboration with the agency here. Whether it’s the billboard along I-40, the print ads in the various local publications, or even a TV spot during the Olympics the other night, I still get a kick out of seeing my work out in the market. (I’ll admit to never listening to the radio in my car….so I haven’t had the chance to catch one of the radio spots.)

Here’s the main “brand” TV spot I contributed to back in the summer.

It’s great to begin the process of settling into a new area, and to be surrounded by such amazing beauty. The fact that I get to continue working with such a talented team — and seeing the results all across town — is just icing on the cake.

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I’m happiest just being a fish

As I continue finalizing my plans to move to Albuquerque, it’s interesting to hear some of the comments of fellow creatives and/or recruiters. Most don’t understand why I would even consider thinking about leaving SoCal.

Sure, I’ve had the pleasure of working on not just national, but international brands. I’ve had work recognized not just for creative excellence, but also for effective communication and measurable results.

But nothing has sent me giggling like a school girl than seeing outdoor boards I worked on this summer lining the streets and highways of Albuquerque. And the back-to-back print ads that appear in the “Best of” issue of Albuquerque magazine. I only wish I had seen one of the TV spots, or heard a radio spot while we were driving all over town looking at the vastly diverse neighborhoods.

Sure, there is some appeal to working on national messaging. And already this week, I’ve received 2 calls from recruiters for positions with companies here in LA. But, right here, right now, I much more excited about the prospect of working on regional — even local — ads. There just something satisfying about not only seeing the work around your neighborhood, but also seeing a business that is hopefully thriving in this current market because of it. (It doesn’t hurt that the agency I’ve been working with is comprised of a group of amazing people with no ego, just the desire to do great work that is best for their clients’ needs.)

With this desire to go more regional, does this make me think of myself as a big fish in a small pond? Absolutely not. I know I’m just a guy who uses the power of words to help market a wide variety of products and services. And as long as I get to continue producing work like this…

I’ll keep swimming along, content and happy in my lil bowl called Albuquerque.

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Loyalty vs Survival

In today’s job market, which is stronger? The need to remain loyal? Or the instinctual desire just to survive? Based on recent polling numbers, I’d say the pendulum is swinging toward survival when only 45% of those currently employed can express any type of job satisfaction. And seriously, when the second best reason those polled state as a “good thing” about their current position is the commute, there’s something very wrong.

When I explore my feelings on this subject, it’s from a different perspective. I don’t have a full-time gig. I’m one of those currently swimming in the independent contractors’ pool. But I AM being faced with a similar dilemma.

Do I continue to remain loyal to the small, regional agency I’ve been freelancing for over the past 9+ months with the hopes that the “job offer” they verbally extended months ago will actually materialize? Or do I respond to the job posting for one of their competitors?

My heart tells me to remain loyal because I’ve really enjoyed working with the agency. And feel the work has been outstanding.

My bank account says “go for the possibility of a regular gig that is currently open.”

Sure, this is totally hypothetical. First, the current opening is just a posting on a job board. There’s no guarantee that they’ll A) be interested, B) actually want to interview me, and C) offer me the job. Granted, there’s no way to know if any of that actually happens unless I pull the trigger and send out the email that has been sitting in my Draft folder for days.

The challenge with all of it, is an upcoming trip planned to the city where both agencies are located. I need to respond to the posting soon if I hope to have any possibility of an interview. But if I do, and because it’s a small market, do I run the risk of spoiling any possibility with the other agency I’ve been freelancing for? I mean, these people have to talk. And when I list some of the work, people are going to connect the dots.

I’ll admit that I’ve been struggling with this. I believe my pendulum continues to swing more toward the loyalty side. But I have to be realistic that, with our desire to locate to a smaller (and more affordable) market, my choices are more limited. Sure, I continue to get freelance from other agencies, but the whole battle to keep work coming in gets tiring. Especially if one of my biggest sources is the one agency.

I have about 24 more hours to struggle with this before I need to “shit or get off the pot.” And this decision is honestly causing mental hemorrhoids. And I’m not satisfied with that in the least.

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redundancy

I love the English languange. And in this particular case, I’m talking about the Queen’s English.

Recently, during a lull in freelance projects (Why is it that projects all come in at once, and then, like the ocean’s waves, all go out to sea at the same time?) I sat down and watched the movie, Kinky Boots. It’s the story of an old world shoe factory that has to come to terms with a changing marketplace.

And like so many companies, trying to create a niche wherever they can find it. (I won’t spoil the storyline of the movie by saying exactly what this niche was for this particular industry.)

But what I did find relevant, is that this factory was facing the same issues our current workforce is dealing with – layoffs. Or as the English like to call it….redundancy.

I’ve never felt redundant in any position in my life. I always felt like I was bringing something unique to the table. But apparently that isn’t always enough to keep your job. And now, those that are lucky enough to still have a full-time position, it’s not just a fear of redundancy that is creating tension.

Last Sunday, I was reading an article in the Los Angeles Times (pictured here with a link to the article). In it, they talk about the current workforce is toiling longer and harder just to keep their job.


Many U.S. workers are being pushed to toil harder and shoulder the load once carried by colleagues who’ve since been laid off. That can mean long days without overtime pay or raises, less family time, and more mental and physical fatigue.

Don’t like it? Walk out the door and you’ll join 15 million unemployed Americans, the largest segment of whom have been idle for more than three months. Your former boss will have plenty of replacements to choose from. There are about six job seekers for every opening.

I’ve been in those situations before. My first job after post-grad work was for a publishing company. My next door cube mate was released of his responsibilities, which I inherited. On top of all my other ones. And, of course, without any additional compensation. But I needed the job. So I did it. (Granted, I made more money working 3 nights/week waiting tables and bartending than I did in 40 hours there, but it was the experience I needed.)

Another time was back when I was managing a restaurant in Texas during the oil bust of the mid-80s. There were no PR jobs, so the only thing my recently acquired college diploma was good for was wall art. While managing, a sr. manager (to me) took a “medical leave” which left me doing all my normal duties AND hers. So when she came back, of course I naturally assumed that she’d take them back over. Oh contraire! I was actually reprimanded for not performing all these duties because “once I’d taken them on, I had to keep doing ’em.” Granted, what I didn’t know at the time was that this particular manager was “doing” the regional manager who just happened to be married. To someone else. But that’s a whole other story….

I can honestly say that, no matter how stressful the constant search for new projects can be, that this “break” from punching someone else’s clock has been good for me mentally/physically/spiritually (and probably kept me from punching someone’s head during the past few months of my most recent FT gig). And I’ve managed to do pretty good for myself, and produced work that I’m quite proud of.

And I know, that while I’m ready to consider (and hope to find) a position with a new agency or company, that I’m not ready to sign back up for 12+ hour work days. Or picking up additional work when someone is made redundant.

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colorful language

“Almost all words do have color, and nothing is more pleasant than to utter a pink word and see someone’s eyes light up and know it is a pink word for him or her, too.” (Gladys Taber)

Back in my post grads day at the Ad School in Atlanta, I had a copywriting mentor (the actual head of the writing department at the school) who did a lot to challenge my writing style. My first few quarters there were all about settling in and embracing the process. But, as she reminded me on a few occasions, writing is about a conversation. Not a lecture.

Or as she used to say to me…. “Stop being so preachy!”

She was the one who introduced me to the writings of Tom Robbins. Still Life With Woodpecker was the first of his novels that I consumed. And there have been plenty more since. Doreen (the mentor) encouraged me to loosen up (I was heavy into preppy clothing, and she chided me one time during an end-of-semester review that the ads and copy I was showing for the final “looked like they came from someone wearing suspenders and a bow tie”). She quipped that I needed to “fill your bed with Jell-O and roll around in it nekkid.” For a kid from West Texas, this was just too….wild. (But boy has that, well, boy changed a lot over the last 20 years.)

She was also the one on the other end of the phone line that would remind me that “I had a quirky writing style that not everyone was going to get….let alone like. The secret to my job searching success would be finding the right place with people who DO appreciate my writing.”

But over the years, I have encountered some polarity to my writing. I guess I’ve had to face it through every interview I’ve been in. Or every time I’ve shared my portfolio with possible agencies.

The best thing, though, is when I HAVE found those connections. Having clients/employers/partners who totally get what I’m saying through my word choices.

So, as I’m sitting here thinking about the possibilities that 2010 will bring, I’m reminded by not only the words of Doreen, the grad school mentor. But also the quote from Gladys Taber.

Gravitate toward those who gravitate toward me. Those who don’t just see “pink” but actually feel pink when they see the word.

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Good enough?

There’s an article in a recent issue of Wired where the author lists a whole bunch of “technology” that, despite being inferior in build and results than more expensive competitors, is having a huge impact on the way business and industry are bringing their products to market. From video cameras to the MP3, today’s consumers are content to purchase products and services that are “good enough” for now, and almost adapting a disposable mindset.

Screen shot 2009-10-13 at 1.24.38 PM

So what happened? Well, in short, technology happened. The world has sped up, become more connected and a whole lot busier. As a result, what consumers want from the products and services they buy is fundamentally changing. We now favor flexibility over high fidelity, convenience over features, quick and dirty over slow and polished. Having it here and now is more important than having it perfect. These changes run so deep and wide, they’re actually altering what we mean when we describe a product as “high-quality.”

And it’s happening everywhere. As more sectors connect to the digital world, from medicine to the military, they too are seeing the rise of Good Enough tools like the Flip. Suddenly what seemed perfect is anything but, and products that appear mediocre at first glance are often the perfect fit.

Is this new attitude making it more difficult to market products and services to the right target audience? It seems that, for a whole bunch of marketing communications, the thinking and creative behind them matches this “good enough” mentality. Especially in the digital marketplace.

The beauty (and possible flaw?) of most digital marketing is the ability to quickly adapt and change the look, feel, and message. It’s not like print ads or broadcast, where you want to be absolutely sure before you put something on press, on in the can.

But is this “hurry up and get the best message [for now] up” really doing a service for the advertising industry? I know there are still numerous agencies that still do focus group testing, and then use the learnings from such sessions to tweak and adapt the message to make sure they get the biggest bang [to the widest audience] for the buck. But that seems to be more of a rarity than the norm.

Of course, part of the challenge for this disposable thinking, is the constant shopping of ad business from ad shop to ad shop the minute sales stall or decline. Don’t people know that building a brand takes a little time? And that constantly changing your message leads to confusion, not brand loyalty?

Sure, there are times that I’ve adapted the “hurry up” approach to some projects. But only when it was appropriate. The rest of the time, I remind myself that, in this day of practically “no act left undocumented,” that it’s not just a company or product’s name on the communication. In a way, it also has mine.

Because of this, I’ll continue to take a little extra time to make sure the words are doing their job. And that I’m doing mine. Because anything less isn’t good enough.

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getting in the “mood”

adschoolmeWhen I was at ad school in Atlanta, my mentor in the copywriting program made a great suggestion to help my writing style. Her tip: before starting the ad copy, write a quick letter to a friend. It helps put you in a conversational tone. And I found that it was usually pretty effective.(I’ll even admit, I wrote good letter. Even made myself LOL, only that was WAY before we even had LOL.)

Of course, the natural progression was to evolve from snail mail to e-mail. So as my career progressed, it was easy to fire off a quick electronic note to someone to help put me in the mood.

Next came IM, and the constant connection with people in the next office, or across the pond. It still remains a great conversation starter, and does help keep my tone casual.

Sure, it’s not always appropriate to be casual. And adapting to that style isn’t too difficult.

Today, we have status updates for Facebook and Linkedin, tweets, SMSs, plus the continuation of e-mail and IM. With all this electronic communication, and more time spent “connected” to people you know, and even people you actually know personally (and not just electronically), I find that it becomes more distraction, less motivation for the projects I have going. Almost to the point of quitting all communication programs (e-mail, IM, even the web) just to have a little peace and quiet.

It’s time to go old school. You know, using a writing instrument and (gasp) paper.

My new motivational process, well at least something I’ve done once this week with great results (IMO), was inspired by my dear editorial friend up in Seattle. She suggested a blank piece of paper, a writing utensil, and some actual quiet alone time. The intent is to be in the moment, and find inspiration in my immediate surroundings. Watch, listen, feel, and then capture whatever thoughts bubble up from wherever thoughts come from, and then jot them down in one of the four quadrants I’d drawn on the blank page. There is really no specific purpose of the writing, other than to just be present. But as my brain can do at times, it took it a step farther.

I think this extra curricular brain activity stems from my new desire to write poetry. I’ve been told my ad writing can (at times) be poetic, and seemed like a natural extension. So, once I had captured the four strongest thoughts of the moment, after a little tweaking, I actually turned it into 4 poetic tidbits. It’s still rough. Still a work in progress. But I’m pretty pleased with the overall results.

4 Views of a Fall Afternoon

Wind blows, chimes sing.

Lower tones swaying in the breeze,

High notes answer with another gust.

Reverberation drifts as the calm envelopes.

Silence, broken only by shifts in the atmosphere.

Stirred by the wings of a dove, or perhaps a butterfly.

Born half a continent, or a world away.

Creating mood, creating music.


The dark, dark beauty of longing eyes.

Looking for trust. Assurance. Love.

Big dark pools that reflect joy followed by uncertainty.

From what depths does the fear stem?

Not when, but if it will ever abate.

Find solace reflected in my gaze.

Feel joy from my heart.

Safety is yours for the asking.


Long, luscious green blades

Gently bending, giving way,

But not giving ground.

Flitter. Flutter. Swaying to what music

Is found in the power of Mother Earth.

Warm under the rays of the sun.

Water splashes, giving life.

As hope continues to flow—and grow.


The drone of a single engine.

Where has it been, where is it going?

In the now, does it really matter?

Chase the blue! Dance with the clouds.

So light. So free.

The drone grows louder in the moment,

Then softly slips beyond the horizon,

Leaving nothing but memory in my ear.

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confessions of a poser

OK, I’m no Don Draper, nor am I Darren Stevens. (Though I don’t have a personal preference between the two Dicks, I guess I have more in common with Sargent than York.) I don’t play an ad guy on TV, I play one in real life. Dick_Sargent

I get paid to write a variety of different things. Print ads. Brochures. Web banners and sites. And, as of late, TV commercials and radio spots.

Here’s where the poser part comes into play: I don’t listen to the radio because I have an iPod connected in my car. I usually fast forward through commercials thanks to my DVR. And I can’t think of more than a handful of times that I’ve actually clicked on a Web banner. (Now, Web sites are a completely different story. I do visit quite a few sites on a regular basis, and always enjoy exploring not only the content, but how the whole thing is put together from an end user’s POV.)

Sure, there are quite a few commercials that catch my eye. Presently, I love the one for Little Cesar’s Bistro dog food commercial with the big dogs trying to act like little dogs.

In my “I love dogs in TV commercials”, I also love the one from Traveler’s Insurance.

I love the brilliance of the American Express “protection” commercial, especially the image of the shopping bag.

On the radio side, I do love the Kaiser Permanente spots from a couple of years ago. Their TV spots are pretty good, too.

With all of this said, I know my job as an ad writer is to compel people to click, call, visit, or buy. I know the words I commit to paper or pixel (or airwaves) are supposed to help tell a story, sell a product/service, and ultimately, evoke a reaction of some sort.

But when I’m rarely compelled to do the very things I’m asking consumers to do, does that make me more like a paid spokesperson who is hired to schlock a product? Does it make me Brooke Shields who seems to be hocking everything these days? Or more like the guy from the hair club, who isn’t just president, but also a client?

I will confess to being a huge Nissan enthusiast. Not only did I work on their brochures, POS, and Web business, but I’m the proud owner of a Murano, and had a Pathfinder before that. That counts as putting my money where my ad thoughts are, right?

Nissan aside, does my near ad avoidance make me any less credible as an ad guy? I like to think of it as more like I’m someone who just happens to be talented with ideas, and then brings them to life using words and pictures.

I mean, really, I’m not a paid actor. I’m a real person. Trying to make a living in the best way I know how.

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seeing the world in perpetual pink tones

Perhaps I’m disillusioned? Or maybe I just don’t realize I’m wearing rose-colored glasses? But there is a big part of me that does find the “c’mon, let’s all band together and make the world a better place” trend in quite a few of the new TV spots on the air to be….hopeful. I’ll admit some have even made me a wee bit misty.

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Even this morning, I was caught by the behemoth bank’s spot about how they’re all for helping people achieve their dreams. Especially in these “rough economic times.”

But how many people truly buy into that? I know from my jaded seat in sunny SoCal that most people would sooner step over your dying body to get to their next social engagement/double no foam latte/print out on the company Xerox than look down to help a brother or sister who is finding themselves down.

Because aren’t some of these people that run the companies or produce the spots the same ones that won’t even return a smile or get off their cell phone long enough to acknowledge the person taking their coffee order?

Regardless, I will continue to hope that good will win out. That people are intrinsically wired to be neighborly. And friendly.

Then again, I continue to believe that talent is more important than who you know or how you dress.  And it’s certainly more important than how many friends you have on Facebook, or the fact that you tweet on a regular basis.

Or maybe that’s just my rose-colored view of the world.

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