Swaggering Insecurity

Most musicians stop the ride before it’s over.

They take us on a tour of fame and fantasy, climaxing at a predictable peak. Not The Weeknd. He takes you all the way up, but doesn’t let you out of your seat until you’ve also felt the comedown.

Don’t get me wrong, The Weeknd indulges in the same superficial fun we’ve come to expect – and enjoy – from pop music. But he also exposes its emptiness, and his own. Which makes the experience kinda’ deep (or me kinda’ shallow). He’s mastered the art of making us feel invincible and ashamed on the same track.

First, you’re seduced by incredible beats and innovative instrumentals. Then, you sing along as he flaunts a ruthless approach to fame. And just when you think the show’s over, he pulls the curtain back, showing us the twisted reality behind fame’s glittery cliches: Cocaine confidence followed by excruciating insecurity. Playing females for fools, then falling in love with one who’s playing you. Arrogance that seamlessly devolves into vulnerability – I’m killin’ yall / I’m dying inside.

We hear ourselves in his hypocrisy, which creates a pang of compassion. It’s not easy to feel sorry for a superstar. But we do–feel his pain. Because he’s captures a paradox inside us all.

He invites us to party on his yacht, then sets it on fire and makes us watch as he drowns heartbreak and addiction. He seems to be saying, If you’re gonna’ laugh with me, you’re gonna’ cry with me too. If he stopped the song while he was still afloat, it wouldn’t be real. Because we don’t all know what it’s like to party on a yacht, but we all know what it’s like to feel like we’re drowning.

Anyone can get you high, but only an artist can make you enjoy the comedown.

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Crusading for Street Cred

Fighting for change takes courage.
Supporting minority rights is brave.
Defying the status quo call for boldness.

These are true for social justice issues, and ‘90s action movies.

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Remember that scene from Desperado? – Antonio Banderas walking away from a huge explosion (killing an tyrannical drug lord and his gang) with Salma Hayek by his side (who helped him do it). They look like a total badasses, and for good reason. Now watch this Pepsi spot:

It’s like the whole commercial is Antonio walking… and us waiting for an explosion, or something! to justify the drama, the marching, and all the outraged millennials. We still don’t know what Pepsi was supporting, or was it fighting against? I want to be offended, but this level of ambiguity is almost impressive.

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In a desperate attempt to be woke, Pepsi exploited every cultural trope and racial cliche they could think of. But a part of me is still fascinated. This might be my favorite crime against authenticity – all tattoos, no personality.

There’s the guy who buys a leather jacket, leases a Harley and pretends to be Sons of Anarchy around the neighborhood. Then, there’s the guy who wears a “I gave blood today” sticker, and lets people pat him on that back; when in reality, he’s scared of needles and hasn’t given blood since college when his girlfriend forced him to get an STD test.

In the spirit of authenticity, let’s be real; brands will always push manipulative, unfounded messaging that panders to consumers. But when they imply their support of ACTUAL problems (not fictional drug lords) it becomes offensive.

We all put on an act from time to time. But when you’re faking the funk, don’t pretend to be a fire alarm.

Speak in Tongues

Storytelling demands good taste, literally.

When we eat too much of something our palate reaches a point of saturation, becoming blind to the omnipresent flavor. In other words, your taste buds need variety to operate effectively. So does a storyteller.

Half way through a jumbo bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, you stop tasting Ranch. Not cool. But if you mix in a pickle or a Hershey’s kiss, your palate is cleared and the ability to taste renewed. How does this apply to storytelling? Because familiarity breeds blindness. When someone gets murdered in a Pablo Escobar biopic, it’s brutal, but it’s not shocking. Because a half hour into the show we’ve been conditioned to extreme violence. But when someone dies in Romeo and Juliet, it emphasizes the romance. Why? Dynamic storytelling aka well-placed dead people. Really though. If Escobar’s life ‘story’ had more tender moments,  we’d be primed to feel the pang of murder. Oppositely, if the epic of Romeo and Juliet had no death, we wouldn’t remember their love.

Get it? If not, I’ll kill you. 

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Art in Advertising

Advertising is the art of branded storytelling. So it’s no surprise that brands recruit artists and storytellers to convey their message. When it’s done right, there’s hope for creativity and capitalism to coexist. When it’s done wrong, the artist loses her studio street cred and the brand looks like the self-conscious white kid wearing FuBu to fit in.

Nike recently commissioned sculptor Michael Murphy to create a Michael Jordan instillation for their store in Tokyo, Japan. It’s stunning, unexpected and most importantly, does the brand and the artist justice. How? Nike gave Mr. Murphy a project that embraced his style and challenged his craft, pushing him to create a double perspective reveal, something we haven’t seen from him prior to the Nike project.

Meanwhile..

JetBlue swung and missed at its partnership with Gemma Correll, a cartoonists who writes comics about her pet pug. JetBlue hired Gemma to create Instragram content, and immediately dumbed down and twisted her humor into liquorless punch. How? By neutering the very quality that attracted them to her in the first place – candid, self-revealing jokes about loving pugs too much and people too little. Instead of commissioning a project that would have leveraged her style, like – Puglife meets Jetlife and the adventures of a traveling dog lover – they micro-managed her voice to the point that they could have written it themselves (which they probably did)… I rant. I holler. I make my point:

It’s not about finding an artist with a good voice and teaching them to sing your tune. It’s about knowing your own brand well enough to identify artists who already speaks your language.

 

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You Can’t Hide

Social media is not a billboard, TV spot or banner ad. Everyone knows that. And every brand will tell you that they know that. But very few act like it. Instead, they want to talk about their product. Can you blame them? Yep.

When you make the decision to be on social, you make the decision to make content. Not commercials. Why? Because you can’t hide behind your product.

A TV spot is like family; they’re in your living room whether you like it or not, and can talk about whatever they want, no matter how uncomfortable or self-serving. A social piece is like your birthday party; they’re only there because you invited them, and they better be charming or they won’t see you next year.

When clients want to make a piece all about the product, they’re selling themselves short. The product is about something bigger than itself. Dog treats are about how much you love your dog. Computers are about perpetuating your creativity/productivity and green tea is about holistic health. And it’s that larger narrative that has an impact. And no story has an impact when the product is the plot.

We get to choose who we’re friends with, people we follow and brands we like. And since no one watches commercials by choice, ads are not effective advertising. That’s why you advertise (on social) with content — the stuff that’s valuable in and of itself. When you do it right, content becomes a brand benefit, like durability or flavor are product benefits.

The brand makes the product. The product doesn’t make the content.

That it?

This is a story.
 
 
“Mr. Hayes,” the slender man smirked. “At Texas Tech we have the best football program in the nation.”

Mrs. Hayes tried to smile as the coach continued.

“From state-of-the-art practice facilities to a personal barber for every athlete, we do our best to pamper our players.”

“Personal barber?” Mr. Hayes sat up.

“So our boys can shine on game day.”

“Jody does like his hair,” Mr. Hayes laughed.

Jody Hayes was the best high school quarterback in the country. Tonight, two coaches from two of the best colleges came for dinner.

“That it?” Mrs. Hayes asked.

“Pardon me?” The skinny coach adjusted his jacket.

“I know you’re going to put pads on my boy.” Jody’s mother paused. “But will he be a man when he takes them off?”

“I don’t follow.”

Mrs. Hayes.” The other coach leaned in. “At Western Texas we also have state-of-the-art practice facilities. And the biggest stadium in the conference.”

“That it?” She held her stare.

“But,” he added. “They don’t get access to any of them until they pass class.”

Two weeks later, Jody Hayes signed with Texas Tech.
 
 
This is a story about social media.

Social Media is

Social is advertising the way food tastes better when the cook loves you.

Social is advertising the way jokes about the president help you get elected.

Social is advertising the way you hold a door for someone who’s not your date.

Social is advertising the way your dog craps when everyone is looking.

Social is advertising the way jokes lead to love, not the proposal.

Social is advertising the way you have to earn it before you ask for it.

 

Social is everything that counts, that you can’t count.

 

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Faster Horses

Your customers define your brand..   Horse shit.

With the rise of social media and review sites, consumer’s two cents have been deemed priceless. Similar to grammar school brown-nosers, many brands are telling us exactly what we want to hear. But like all predictable lovers, this is terrifically unsatisfying.

When brands blindly bend to consumer feedback they develop a copy & paste personality. We need brands we can believe in, not manipulate. We depend on them to be bold, not boring. And the quickest way to bore someone is to give them exactly what they asked for. While the best brands give us exactly what we didn’t know we wanted.

Nike  We asked for running shoes; they gave us Nike+.

Apple  We needed a phone; they gave us a computer that could text.

Ford  We wanted a faster horse; he built the Model T.

Can you crowd source the next Prada bag or Kanye album? Of course not. And if you could, we wouldn’t want it. But what you can crowd source is the changing needs of consumers. And it’s the job of brands, and their advertisers, to provide creative solutions to those needs.

Great brands are like great storytellers; they know their audience, but that doesn’t mean they give them the mic.

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The Cunning of Humility

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Humility is about putting others above yourself. And when you look up to someone, you listen. When I listen, I get to know you, sometimes better than you know yourself.

Boxer’s Benevolence

Knowledge is power, and never more powerful than in the ring. In a sport marked by self-promotion and audacious vanity, there is a hidden humility.

Despite their self-centered façade, boxers know better than most the danger of pride; it comes before the fall, not the knock out. To be the last man standing you can’t afford to be vain, instead you must be vigilant. A mark of a champion is an effective counterpunch, which comes from diligent observation – a mark of humility.

The Telling Truth 

If you called them hustlers, sharks or gamblers, you’d be right. But most of all, poker players are students, and the course is you. There are dollars to be had in your every move, quirk and idiosyncrasy. It pays to get to know you.

It’s a battle of observation, a calculating exchange between opponents played off as casual conversation. Consequently, it’s more about the tell on your face than the cards in your hand.

Adman Sermon 

Despite their reputation for manipulation and lies, advertising’s most successful Admen are humanitarians; they make their money off paying more attention to people than they pay to themselves.

 If you ever need someone to talk to, Advertisers are there to listen. In fact, they will pay you to spill the beans. They love your beans. It’s hard to find a lover more concerned with your needs and wants. 

If you care to listen more clearly than I hear myself, and watch more honestly than I look in the mirror, you will know me better than I know myself. But only if you care, honestly.

Beware of those who care. It pays to get to know you.