We’re this close to shutting down the blog

Because this exists.

2 months after we disparaged Microsoft for an embarrassing* web spot, Anheuser-Busch has set the bar so high, Sergei Bubka couldn’t clear it.**

See if you can spot the joke!!! (It’s REALLY subtle so you might need to watch it several times!!!!)

The most discouraging about this video is that YouTube commenters gave it 4.5 stars. Not out of a billion, out of 5. And the one commenter who said something insightful (“Great to see they’re hiring 13 year olds to write their ads”) received unanimous thumbs-down for his comments.

Thanks for reading. And to the creative directors and clients whose brainchild this is, may your future sons and daughters be born with some heretofore undiscovered strain of lupus.

I hate you all, especially since you just forced me to finally break down and use the first-person singular pronoun.

Here, read this as it comes true. And try not to move your lips while doing so.

*Embarrassing to the viewer. Apparently for the creative team and the client, it’s the Taj Mahal, The Garden of Earthly Delights, and Bach’s Mass in B Minor all rolled into one.

**ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick used this in his Baseball America column, circa 1994. If this is going to be the last McFarlane USA post, it was important to record that brilliant pre-internet line for posterity’s sake.

Barf for the course

George Reeves and Christopher Reeve each think this is an ignominious end

With its latest advertising, Microsoft is positioning itself to successfully defend its 2008 Worst Ad Of The Year title (Decently Sized Ad Budget Division).

If you haven’t seen Microsoft’s new web-only spot (first in a series!), enjoy.

Give an advertising creative team a shiny new toy, and they’ll abuse it as surely as a hyperkinetic child will. Bradley and Montgomery, a New York/Indianapolis agency, created this disjointed piece of cinema nauseé available only to those of us with online access. Which means that Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Microsoft’s agency of record and the force behind the infamously unfocused Bill Gates/Jerry Seinfeld spot, escapes our derision for the second consecutive post.

You see, this isn’t your conventional TV ad. This appears on something called the Inter-net. It’s a series of tubes, outside the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission. If you want to fill your Inter-net spot with sex, violence, or people actually drinking beer instead of just raising it to their lips, you can.

When Marshall McLuhan said the medium is the message, he had something of a point. The corollary to his observation is that the actual message itself, in this case that of a vomiting woman illustrating the need for private browsing, becomes secondary to the naughty things the spot’s creators can do with the medium.

Everything about this ad is wrong.

a) Just because you’re using an unfamiliar medium with fewer rules, you don’t have to break all the rules of the previous, more familiar medium just for the sake of doing so. Bradley and Montgomery apparently thought, “All those years of being forbidden from showing emesis, and now we can! So let’s!”

To really test the limitations of the new medium, why not show urine? Or better yet, feces?

For a similar illustration of “medium creep”, listen to the rock and hip-hop stations on satellite radio. For several of the jocks, the novelty of using profanity and neither getting fired nor suspended for it has yet to wear off – which leads to awkwardly placed swear words denuded of their original purpose, that of adding emphasis for especially appropriate occasions.  Or read Matt Taibbi, who has all of H.L. Mencken’s disdain for the human species but none of Mencken’s talent. Yet because Taibbi’s lucky enough to live in an era when profanity doesn’t cause people to fall supine with the vapors, he can cuss his way to something approaching notoriety.

b) The premise of the spot, while feasible, progresses in a nonsensical direction.

The woman shares breakfast, and presumably her life, with the man. He’s comfortable enough with her that he thinks nothing of handing his laptop over to her with the web browser open to HairyVaginasWithHerpes.com. (That appears to be the URL, after several attempts to read spokesmercenary Dean Cain’s lips.)

Which brings up the question of why the edgy creative team bleeped out the name of the offending website. Why not mention it, and throw in a profanity to boot? Better still, why not make it HairyPreschoolersVaginasWithHerpesContractedFromTheirUncles.com? Anything goes in cyberspace, right?

The woman feels no disgust toward the man, managing to somehow compartmentalize his personality from the offending website he visited. If anything, she seems remarkably composed and forgiving for someone who lives with a guy who starts off his morning with cereal, milk and images of infected genitalia.

The spot could have been salvaged, even enhanced, had it shown something approaching a reasonable reaction from the woman. She could have walked off in a huff and left the husband/boyfriend pleading for clemency. Or she could have told the man how disgusting he is and then proceeded to hurl (with her hands) projectiles at him. Exaggerate it to make it entertaining, show the man curling up to avoid getting attacked. That at least makes sense, more than gratuitous vomiting does.

c) The most offensive second of this spot comes at the :35 mark. Upon being vomited upon – for the second time – the guy counters the deluge with a disapproving hand gesture and the one-word comeback, “Really?” Yes, because when your wife vomits on you because of something you did, the natural response is act as if she just told you her brother’s coming to visit for a month.

d) The product is being sold as a groundbreaker, which it’s anything but. You don’t have to own a Mac – you only have to know someone who owns a Mac – to know that Apple introduced private browsing with OS X Safari 4 years ago.

Microsoft is almost proud to be playing catch-up to Apple at this point – consider Microsoft’s recent “I’m a PC” campaign, which violates yet another fundamental precept of advertising – only acknowledge the competition if you’re attacking an indefensible weakness of theirs.

The vomit spot is not part of a campaign foisted upon the public by an upstart startup desperate for recognition. It’s from the second-largest company in all of commerce, whose book value is approaching a quarter-trillion dollars.

Microsoft’s current vomit-free TV campaign shows a series of thrifty computer shoppers saving money at Best Buy by taking home Microsoft laptops. Yes, the company that was founded as the exemplar of modernity and technological sophistication is now selling itself as

-the budget alternative, and
-4 years behind the curve.

This post was written using a MacBook Pro, by a writer who’d used Windows for 6 years, and therefore had accepted crashing, freezing and restarting as unavoidable facts of life.

Some campaigns are just hard to swall…oh, forget it.

Meet Burger King's new creative director

The first objective of advertising isn’t to be clever, to shock, to inspire, to get people talking, nor even to be clear. (Although that last one is the second objective.) The first objective is to move product.

Which is why it’s been impressed upon McFarlane Media several times that the ultimate ad is the hand-painted billboard that reads “Hot Dogs $2”. What the product is, and why you should buy it – in this case, presumably because it’s cheap enough that the sign painter thought its price was worth mentioning.

Of course, adding subtlety or even a datum of information requires a more complex ad. Otherwise we never would have advanced as a species from cave paintings to Principia Mathematica. A proper ad for a MacBook Pro or a Lexus GX470 needs more than just a product mention and a single selling feature to make its point.

For a relatively involved product, some sober illustration or demonstration of its benefits will help. For a stylish or trendy product, an advertiser needs maybe a more subjective feeling of tone and color to position said product to a fickle customer base.

And for a fast-food sandwich, you clearly need pre-adolescent sex jokes.

(Body copy: “Fill your desire for something long, juicy,…etc.)

Behold the latest brilliance from a Singaporean agency that Burger King is so proud of doing business with that the company refuses to mention them by name in press releases. (The ad runs only in Singapore, a nation where spitting on the sidewalk can result in corporal punishment.) Burger King’s American agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, isn’t responsible for it. CP+B might have devised that hideously disturbing king mannequin measuring women’s posteriors with a ruler, not to mention Darius Rucker serenading a scene that apparently came from one of Steven Adler’s dreams, but the agency can wash their hands of any involvement with this one.

There’s nothing wrong with ribald humor. We’re not an agency of nuns and eunuchs. But Good Lord.

And don’t think that there’s some inherent value in the campaign simply because “Well, look at you. You’re talking about it.” Several newspaper column inches, filmstrips, magazine articles, books and conversations were devoted to World War II. Just because something gets people talking doesn’t mean that it’s of value.

Detroit City Council recently took time away from watching its miserable excuse for a metropolis crumble into oblivion to claim that racial stereotyping in billboards is “killing (their) community”. Do people of Nordic descent have a legitimate gripe over the depiction of a blonde, blue-eyed woman as someone who needs her cravings satisfied by 7 thick inches of juicy meat? Are Singaporean ad agencies that racist? Or are Singaporean women just naturally content with less impressive sandwiches?

Does the Burger King campaign move product? Not if its American counterpart is any indication. Does it force Singaporean mothers into uncomfortable conversations with their kids? Probably. Does it compel? No. It simply gives an unimaginative creative department a chance to justify its existence via the inexact mensuration of “buzz”. They can do better. And as consumers, we can do better.

As a real agency with actual writers, McFarlane Media can do better still. Email us today for work far better than what you see here. info@McFarlaneUSA.com

The client is (occasionally) an idiot.

M'm! M'm! Repetitive!

Harry Selfridge, a Wisconsinite, moved to the United Kingdom after amassing a fortune in retail. He then founded the chain of stores that bears his name, currently in its second century of clothing and accessorizing stylish Brits. However, he’s best known for uttering the most misunderstood phrase in the history of commerce:

“The customer is always right.”

There are two common ways to react to Selfridge’s aphorism: ignoring it (like most customer service people do), or obeying it mindlessly (which is often worse).

Here’s the problem: Selfridge didn’t mean to be taken literally.

If you put Ferran Adria, Wolfgang Puck, Joël Robuchon, and Nobuyuki Matsuhisa in the same kitchen, they’re probably not going to spoil the broth. An assailant armed with a sword is going to be a tougher matchup than someone wielding a Bic extra fine. Which brings us to those frequent instances when the client is dead wrong.

McFarlane Media’s clients don’t buy ads from us, so much as they buy our expertise. If they want ads, they can go to the freshman class at the Art Institute. Or write them themselves.

But that’s just it: they’re buying our expertise, because they don’t have any – at least not in our area of specialization. If the customer is always right, then the customer can demand that our work be twisted, recalibrated, augmented, diminished, reconditioned or otherwise weakened.

When you buy an airline ticket, you’re paying a sliver of the captain’s salary and by some measure become his temporary “boss”. But that doesn’t give you the right to offer tips on cruising altitudes and angles of approach.

If you’re a client, and think the killer headline crafted for you would work better with an exclamation point in place of a period, you are wrong. As wrong as you’d be if you suggested to your anesthesiologist that maybe she’d like to administer the methohexital during your surgery instead of the lorazepam. Exclamation points have only two legitimate purposes:

-irony, which few clients understand;
-factorials, which no clients understand.

One particularly illustrative example of a client neutering a message is in one of the most elegant campaigns to appear on TV in the last few years. Campbell’s has been brewing soup for 7 generations, positioning itself to the point where it’s synonymous with an unexciting if ubiquitous product.  In the mid-90s, agency BBDO New York positioned Campbell’s with a fantastic line that works on every level:

Never underestimate the power of soup.

Rarely have six words resonated so strongly in the framework of an ad campaign.

Nellie McClung rallied woman’s suffrage with the line’s antecedent, “Never underestimate the power of a woman.” Rudy Tomjanovich provided one of the all-time NBA soundbites after his Houston Rockets squeaked into the 1995 playoffs and somehow successfully defended their title: “Never underestimate the heart of a champion.” Campbell’s took most of an inspiring, heartfelt line, and closed it with a curveball of a flourish. The idea of soup as powerful, or something not to be belittled, was so incongruous as to be unforgettable.

The campaign ran for a few years, until a Campbell’s middle manager got a hold of it and rechristened it with:

Never underestimate the power of Campbell’s.


Why would you underestimate “the power of Campbell’s”? Why would you even gauge the power of Campbell’s? Why would you even think about the power of Campbell’s?

This is one of the darkened paths down which corporate overthought can lead. The objecting middle manager’s plaint is clear: “Uh, yeah. That’s not going to work. That line focuses on the market, rather than the company. We want people to think ‘Campbell’s’, rather than ‘soup’.”

As if they didn’t anyway. As if Campbell’s hadn’t already been synonymous with soup since the childhood of everyone alive except Robert Byrd and Jamie Moyer. Soup is lukewarm, often literally. It’s smooth, it simply sits there – heck, it’s not even solid. Its name even sounds faintly funny. Positioning soup as powerful is brilliant and somewhat hilarious.

But “never underestimate the power of Campbell’s” says nothing. If anything, it casts doubts on Campbell’s as a legitimate business entity. “Never underestimate the power of Microsoft”? You wouldn’t, it’s the market leader. Nor would you underestimate the power of Wal-Mart or ExxonMobil. But for Campbell’s, a company as dominant in soup as ExxonMobil is in petroleum, to remind you not to underestimate it almost defines weakness and neediness.  Not a characteristic you’d want in your soup. Or your Campbell’s.

That’s just one example. Trust the agency. Trust the copywriter. Trust your own area of expertise, and let the agency do what it does.  Or find another agency.

How to write an apology letter without it requiring an even bigger apology letter.

Bonnie Ashley approves as Nevada Assembly majority leader Steven Horsford displays his 2nd-place Special Olympics ribbon

This week’s post focuses on advertising only tangentially. It’s more about how to represent oneself.

A fear of candor has almost destroyed all concept of meaning. A world in which “public relations” has somehow become a legitimate industry (granted, one populated primarily by women) is a world in which the passive voice trumps the active voice; where if a verb can go without attribution, it will; and where if meaning can be clouded, it must.

A president who knows better can boast about how many jobs he’ll “save”, and the cheering masses add it to his apotheosis. Even though “saving” a job means not creating a job. Preserving the status quo. No net gain. As many jobs gained as lost. Zero.

(Regardless of what the chief executive chooses to take credit for, there’s nothing wrong with jobs being preserved, as long as there’s economic justification to fill them. But it’s rather like the president saying, “Under my administration, the western part of the Canadian border will never sink south of the 49th parallel.” It’s not a bad thing, but it’s hardly an improvement.)

Meanwhile, Jimmy Polk bangs on his coffin lid. Just in case anyone thinks this blog exists solely to bash Democrats.

PR in place of plainspokenness works especially on the personal level. Just to state the obvious – Jimmy Swaggart’s tearful confession, Bill Clinton’s show of regret post-irrumatio, and the one time Michael Richards was captured on camera not being a hyperkinetic goofball all have one thing in common: each guy got caught, would have done it again if he didn’t, and only attempted to save face thanks to a gullible public that feels better about itself by giving second chances.

It’s not like those above examples are rare. Every guilty criminal in every courtroom attempts to execute the same ruse.

Which brings us to a woman guilty of screechingly poor judgment: Bonnie Ashley, the self-styled “first lady” of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. She actually calls herself this. (You’ll recall how Connie Snyder regularly introduces herself as “First Lady of Microsoft”.)

Playing the role of the incorrigible newlywed she is, Mrs. Ashley recently sent a series of nasty emails to university employees. Something about food for a party. Mrs. Ashley has no formal position within the university, doesn’t draw a paycheck and doesn’t really have any ceremonial duties short of smiling and showing decorum. But even that appears to be an unreasonable demand of this part-time photographer and actress. Excerpts from her emails included

“you need to remember who works for who” (sic)

“You all are paid way too much for me to have to put up with the constant problems I am dealing with, and it’s just wasting my time.”

And the kill shot:

“I should not have to tell you this … you do NOT argue with the first lady … that behavior is completely unacceptable.”

Email being the sociable beast that it is, Mrs. Ashley became another bloodied victim of the “forward” feature. And backpedaled. Here’s the open letter that she crafted, apparently while sober:

To all the Regents, Chancellor Jim Rogers, and EVC Dan Klaich,

The recent discussions in the media regarding David’s Presidential Performance Evaluation have unfortunately focused on my activities in support of UNLV. Let me take this opportunity to comment on these concerns.

In all issues, there is always a cause and effect, and I am addressing that now.

The first year I lived in Hawaii, I made sales calls to my potential clients, introducing myself to them in a very professional manner. I proceeded to tell them how I could help improve their business with our services. What I didn’t realize at the time was what they saw and heard. I was to them a newcomer and outsider coming in and saying I knew better than them how to run the business they had operated for many years. It was a lesson learned the hard way, one that I in turn have taught many other newcomers to avoid since then.

Now, years later, I apparently had forgotten that lesson, and didn’t realize the same concept applied in this setting. My main goal at this point was to do my part and assist in any way I could. I was asked by many to take on key hostessing responsibilities, and proceeded to come with all my zest and zeal to help with those aspects usually expected of the President’s Spouse or partner.

I did not realize how my perceived improvements or my striving for excellence in UNLV’s face that was put forward to the community would affect the people associated with those tasks. I truly did not believe it was causing them so much distress.

For this I am most apologetic, as in my quest for improvement I was not always as gracious as I could have been in the carrying out of those plans.

Even when confronted in ways I felt were disrespectful to me as a human being, I should not have reacted so harshly and am very sorry for not being more even tempered in my response. I don’t want this to be misconstrued as an apology for being a strong minded woman, but rather to show an awareness that it must be exercised in a more temperate fashion. I will be working on making this right with the people involved as best I know how.

Since it was in the Hostessing role that the concerns arose, I am willing to remove myself from that capacity, until such time as you, the Regents and Chancellor decide what it is you do and don’t want from me as the President’s spouse.

We all have the same goal in mind, being the advancement of the University. In times when people are extremely sensitive on every level, the last thing I want to do is cause them any more distress and anxiety.

I am truly apologetic as that was not my goal.

I am more than willing to learn from this, as I hope we all can. It is always best to talk to the ones concerned rather than take it anywhere else.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my response to your concerns.

Bonnie J Ashley

Once more, with annotations:

To all the Regents, (We would’ve gone with “To the Board of Regents”, but then McFarlane Media are sticklers for getting it right) Chancellor Jim Rogers, and EVC (“Executive vice chairman”? Who knows? Anybody?) Dan Klaich,

The recent discussions in the media regarding (Yes! A verb attributed to a phantom. No finger to point, no foul.) David’s Presidential Performance Evaluation (NB: the president is about to be fired with a year left on his contract. No word on what grade he got for “spousal suitability”. He should have listened to his mother and married that nice Jewish girl, the one who became an oncologist) have unfortunately (Lady, let the readers make the judgments. Stephen King wasn’t kidding when he said the adverb is not your friend) focused on my activities in support (Our first loaded term. She was just trying to make the college a better place, you heartless peons) of UNLV. Let me take this opportunity to comment on these concerns. (Is that what you wanted? Up until this point we just assumed that you were writing to sell us some satellite TV.)

In all issues, there is always a cause and effect, (Thank you, Kahlil Gibran. You know what else? To every time, there is a season) and I am addressing that now. (I will now tell you what the purpose of this letter is. The one that you are attempting to slog through. Here it comes. This letter’s purpose. I am getting to the point now. I am not going to make you wait. For the purpose of the letter.)

The first year I lived in Hawaii, (NB: Mrs. Ashley mentions her residence in Hawaii apropos of nothing. This isn’t merely tangential, it’s full-on perpendicular.) I made sales calls to my potential clients, introducing myself to them in a very professional manner. (The “wearing dirty clothes and belching” school of cold calling not having found its way to the Islands by this point.) I proceeded to tell them how I could help improve their business with our services. (Never one to fix what was never broken, Mrs. Ashley would also use English to convey her pitch. This involved positioning her mouth to form words. Words with which she would explain the benefits of what she was selling. These words were directed at her potential clients’ ears, so that they could hear the benefits. By this point, the most astounding thing is that a First Lady this incapable of forming a thought does not look like Helen of Troy. Yet the president loves her anyway.) What I didn’t realize at the time was what they saw and heard. I was to them a newcomer and outsider (Don’t forget “visitor”. Also “intruder”. See Thesaurus.com) coming in and saying I knew better than them how to run the business (Guessing this should be plural) they had operated for many years. (Don’t worry, her comma key makes a triumphant return in the very next sentence.) It was a lesson learned the hard way, (Again, no verb attribution. Who learned the lesson? You did. Say so.) one that I in turn have taught many other newcomers to avoid since then. (The funny thing about arrogant people is how blind they are to their own arrogance. Yes, I was a bitch, but in the big picture I’m really a heroine. See?)

Now, years later, I apparently (Try it without the adverb. Or at least explain how it improves the sentence) had forgotten that lesson, and didn’t realize the same concept applied in this setting. My main goal at this point was to do my part and assist in any way I could. (We get it. You’re the patron saint of higher education in southern Nevada. Now for God’s sake, put away the backhoe and stop digging.) I was asked by many (Active voice. Who? Who asked you? No one who wants to be named?) to take on key hostessing responsibilities, (“Hostess”. The feminine of “host”. Which is also a verb. Try using it for its intended purpose. Even “act as a hostess” is better than “take on key hostessing responsbilities”.) and proceeded to come with all my zest and zeal (Bonnie Ashley: Supporter. Teacher. College betterer. Zesty. Zealous. Alas, her alliteration doesn’t compensate for her self-righteousness.) to help with those aspects usually expected of the President’s Spouse (You know Who gets to capitalize His own title? God. Not you.) or partner. (And a little political correctness, for completion. “President’s wife” works just fine if she’s talking about an individual, which she is. Instead the went with the inclusive “President’s spouse or partner”, which covers all forms of heteronormative and/or differently constituted relationship. And drivel like that belongs in an antiseptic campus speech code handbook, not in a letter that’s supposed to change people’s minds.)

I did not realize how my perceived improvements or my striving for excellence (“Excellence striver”. Add that to her list of accomplishments.) in UNLV’s face that was put forward to the community (Wow, that was a headscratcher. A byproduct of being too timid to attribute verbs and speak in the passive voice. Otherwise she might have made sense.) would affect the people (Who?) associated with those tasks. (“Those tasks” is every bit the mystery that Hawaii was, or is.) I truly (Again, how does this adverb improve the letter?) did not believe it was causing them (Who? [reprise]) so much distress.

For this I am most apologetic, (Because “I am most apologetic” sounds more scholarly than “I’m sorry”, or “I apologize”. “Apologetic” derives from a verb. Use the verb.) as in my quest for improvement (That’s SIX pats on the back, if you’re keeping score) I was not always as gracious as I could have been (As temperate as lukewarm water) in the carrying out of those plans. (What plans? In classic narcissistic fashion, she wrote this letter for…herself. Whether the recipients can understand it is immaterial.)

Even when confronted (Verb attribution. Who confronted you? Why not name them, or at least give a vague description?) in ways I felt were disrespectful to me as a human being (Mrs. Ashley’s ancestors apparently having evolved from trilobites several epochs ago), I should not have reacted so harshly and am very sorry for not being more even (hyphen wouldn’t hurt) tempered in my response. (Semi-sincerity and remorse! We’re almost there) I don’t want this to be misconstrued as an apology (Ahh!! And we were so close!) for being a strong minded woman, (7 pats on the back. If you count her being confronted as a negative for her opponents, she’s at net +8 right now) but rather to show an awareness (She can’t even attribute verbs to herself at this point) that it must be exercised (”) in a more temperate fashion. (Because calling it “dialing it down” would betray me for the non-academic I am, as if that matters. Better to try to use big words and fall) I will be working on making this right (Even notice how losers love to “work” on things? “I’m working on losing weight.” “Quitting smoking?”/“I’m working on it.” It’s not building a dam. It takes one second. Either do it, or don’t) with the people involved as best I know how. (Because I NEVER take half-measures. See my list of achievements above.)

Since it was in the Hostessing (see above, both for creating an unnecessary verb and capitalizing like a German) role that the concerns arose, (One more time – “concerns” didn’t “arise”. Someone did something. Say who did what.) I am willing to remove myself from that capacity, until such time as you, the Regents and Chancellor decide what it is you do and don’t want from me as the President’s spouse.

We all have the same goal in mind, being the advancement of the University. (Only I mentioned it multiple times. If you were as committed as me, you would have too.) In times when people are extremely (Again with the adverbs) sensitive on every level, (Not to go George Carlin here, but what levels is she talking about? The answer, of course, is that she isn’t. Rather, she thinks using the adjunct phrase “on every level” is something smart people say. That’s only a guess, of course, but if there’s a more likely reason, we’re listening.)
(Also, this sentence features the last resort of the hopeless cause – the blaming of external circumstances. The moment unemployment decreases and the Iraq War ends, people will go back to being as insensitive as they usually are) the last thing I want to do is cause them any more distress and anxiety.

I am truly apologetic as that was not my goal. (Causing distress and anxiety wasn’t your goal? Thanks for the clarification.)

I am more than willing to learn from this, as I hope we all can. (Mrs. Ashley somehow manages to finger-point in reverse. One finger at herself, the other three pointed right back at YOU.) It is always best to talk to the ones concerned rather than take it anywhere else. (And on top of everything else, unintentional comedic irony! She says it’s best to be candid – to speak to whomever has an issue with you – yet refuses to do so. Or have done so.)
(Couple this with the obvious reference to her readers being the ones who’ve “take[n] it” elsewhere instead of “talk[ing] to the ones concerned”, i.e. her, and we’ve now reached a monolith of pride and superciliousness. Just a first-ballot hall-of-fame performance.)

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my response to your concerns.

Bonnie J Ashley

It’s not that difficult to write a letter of apology. It’s considerably harder, however, if you go to the trouble of doing like Mrs. Ashley and mentioning midway through that you’re not apologizing.

Own it. Get to the point – in this case, the apology – out of the gate. Don’t backtrack, don’t rationalize, don’t choke on the details, and for God’s sake, don’t spread the blame unless you have cosigners.

Mrs. Ashley, enjoy a free one. A little late for you to cut and paste, but if you’d called us first you wouldn’t have had this problem.

To the Board of Regents, Chancellor Rogers, and Executive Vice Chancellor Klaich,

I’ve been bossy and ungracious in my role as the president’s wife and occasional ceremonial hostess. I incurred the deserved wrath of a lot of hardworking people, and I apologize to them. I will not act that way again.

Bonnie J Ashley

Does it sound obsequious? Only because it’s written from a perspective of honesty. It’s tough to fake honesty when you’re on the defensive: read the original letter if you think otherwise. If you’ve done something that warrants an apology, apologize. If not, leave it alone.

And go easy on the help.

The rest of the world calls it “corn”

This week’s guest blogger is Randall T. Mays (the “T” is for savings), president, chief executive officer, and #2 nepotist at Clear Channel Communications, America’s largest radio station owner.*

A face for radio. A mind for something less demanding.

Hi, and thanks for letting me address your readers. Websites don’t have Arbitron ratings, but I’ll bet you’ve got more readers than our average station has listeners. Especially considering that your blog’s format doesn’t change every time a consultant scratches his nose or a regional manager decides he’s tired of hearing your voice. By the way, how’s McFarlane Media’s stock price doing? Oh, privately held, huh? That’s too bad.

My daddy’s daddy’s and big brother’s company might be monolithic and national in scope, but radio is at its best when it’s local. Yes, that’s notwithstanding the generic syndicated hosts we pass off as talent (I think I hired Petros & Money on a dare fueled by cocaine, and not that cheap Peruvian stuff, either. That’s to say nothing of Delilah and her 45-second relationship advice pellets broken up by Richard Marx songs, the edgy and sardonic wit of Sean Hannity, not to mention that thigh-waxing queer talented young man Ryan Seacrest.)

Anyhow, getting back to my pablum about national radio really being local. (Or is it “pabulum”? I can never remember, and as an oligopolist and child of privilege it’s not my job to know things.) What really makes local radio resonate with listeners, assuming they don’t live more than 4 miles away from our transmitters and therefore can only hear static, is the commercials. As long as we can convince local merchants that sponsoring a dying medium equates to big savings, we can pass off the work and let said merchants be the ones who engage in the business of “localizing” radio, 4 times hourly.

But that’s not all. Our merchants should be heard, heard, and heard yet again. Because if there’s any inefficient use of our valuable air time, it’s 30-second spots. Why? Glad you asked. Our expensive research shows that people love to listen to commercials…and the longer, the better! We focus on 60-second spots, but that’s only going to be until 120-second spots become the norm.

Have you noticed something about almost all 60-second spots? Aside from the fact that they almost never tell a coherent story or exploit the features of an auditory-only medium?  It’s this – almost all 60-second spots are essentially 30-second spots, repeated.

Ahh…repetition. The same characteristic that makes our state-of-the-art 500-song playlists so compelling goes double for commercials. It’s the key to emblazoning yourself on the listeners’ brains – saying the same thing over and over again.

I always tell our salespeople – well, those of them who can stay in the job for longer than 3 months without dying of boredom or frustration – that a local business should never say its phone number once, nor twice, when 5 times will do.

I figure you can recite a 7-digit phone number once every 2½ seconds, or a 10-digit number in 3½ seconds. That latter is especially fresh in places like Las Vegas, or Wyoming, or Salt Lake City, where there’s only one area code and mentioning said code instantly betrays whomever’s speaking as an outsider who doesn’t understand the local culture. Anyhow, as far as I’m concerned that means that the ultimate commercial would therefore be one that repeats the phone number 24 times (or 17 if you include the area code.)

You know what another one of my fantastic ideas is, which I encourage all our stations to adopt? Giving the street address of a local business, but not the major cross streets.

Say you’re a business in our home town of San Antonio. Never say that you’re “a block north of Rigsby and New Braunfels”. Not when you can say you’re “located at 1858 South New Braunfels.” (And don’t forget the unnecessary word “located”, by any means.) With the latter, your potential customers can waste time driving up and down New Braunfels all day long, looking for your shingle. Isn’t that far better than telling them exactly where you are?  You should always throw the ZIP code in there when giving the address, too. That way, if any listeners want to mail themselves to your place of business, they can do so.

Another handy tip is getting the proprietors of these local businesses to voice their own commercials. Yeah, I know my dad boss wrote some crap on our website about how valuable our stations’ talent is, but let’s be real: telling a local merchant that he can voice his very own commercial and be a low-magnitude radio star is going to make him that much more inclined to buy. Especially if we don’t charge him any more than if we’d used one of our jocks to voice the spot.

Damn, I know so much about advertising, I ought to be running radio.

*Please God, let him pull a Tony LaRussa and sue us for libel.

Last week, sexual humor executed brilliantly.

Probably should've found a photo with a couple of adult women in it, but still.

This week, welcome to its counterpoint.

Sometimes, Thursday creeps up on McFarlane Media with no viable, topical advertising issue that serves as an interesting departure point for a blog post.

And other times, Quizno’s steps up to the plate with a campaign so devoid of nuance, originality, or cleverness that the Thursday post can write itself. Witness the sandwich maker’s latest contribution to American culture, “2 Girls 1 Sub”. (Don’t let the “NSFW” in the URL throw you. It’s only NSFW if you work in a kindergarten classroom or a church rectory.)

For those of you who don’t trudge the internet’s shady recesses, “2 Girls 1 Sub” pays homage to “2 Girls 1 Cup”, a notoriously graphic meme. You don’t need to know every detail of the backstory, but “2 Girls 1 Cup” is a minute-long clip that starts off as standard lesbian porn, then takes an abrupt scatological turn around the :10 mark. And another one at the :19 mark. And another one, involving a different orifice that even a seasoned porn viewer would never have predicted, at the :38 mark.

“2 Girls 1 Cup” inspired a secondary meme that ended up outshining its parent, as hundreds of people posted G-rated videos of the horrified reactions of unsuspecting viewers watching “2 Girls 1 Cup” for the first time. Typical comments included “I can never have sex again”, “My eyes, my eyes!” and “That’s got to be chocolate soft-serve ice cream, right?”

Quizno has pilfered adopted the concept and produced a video with directorial help from Playboy, an entity that was apparently iconoclastic and hip during the Eisenhower administration. (They published a magazine that had nekkid wimmens in it!) Between them, Quizno’s and Playboy extracted all the excretory parts, found a couple of better-looking chicks, located “Toasty Torpedo” on the call sheet and rolled tape.

“2 Girls 1 Cup” was recorded 2 years ago and went viral last year, making it prehistoric by the measure of modern attention spans. Which is harder – staying classy, or staying current? Here’s an idea, gratis from a real copywriting firm: how about putting dancing hamsters in the next spot? Or incorporating Sean Connery saying, “You’re the man now, dog”?

Ad agencies call the conceptual side of the business the “creative” department, not the “rehashing” department. Regardless of its artistic merit, the very existence (and popularity) of “2 Girls 1 Cup” renders it unusable as a basis for any legitimate ad campaign.

See John Barr’s repackaging of Austin Powers, two posts below.  Or Palace Station’s tired TV spot featuring 4 homely women who think they’re attractive and cosmopolitan, sitting around a table and talking about shoes and singlehood. Like the above, “2 Girls 1 Sub” is not parody but plagiarism.

Quizno’s might fix a tastier sandwich than Subway does, but you’d never know it from the ads. The product is only the 3rd-most noteworthy feature in this particular spot.  Perhaps Quizno’s should have run to the patent office after developing the groundbreaking technology of putting sandwiches in a toaster. You know, before their competitors had a chance to rip off an original idea.

Lest anyone think “2 Girls 1 Sub” is an aberration in an otherwise stellar history of ad campaigns, Quizno’s previous work includes:

two hideously malformed, disjointed and possibly stoned rats singing a song that the copywriter might have spent less time “composing” than the 30 seconds the spot runs;

-homoeroticism between a talking oven and an impressionable young employee.

“Put it in me!”
Let the professional ad people break it down for you: the oven is likening the sandwich to a penis, or possibly a finger or dildo. Isn’t that clever? Go back and watch it again if the message remains unclear.

Apparently, Quizno’s has found value in drawing parallels between its sandwiches and not only vermin, but also fecal matter and maybe sex toys.

Quizno’s only redeeming feature as an advertiser is that the company was once responsible for indirectly forcing Al Michaels, the second-greatest play-by-play man in the history of sports*, to read the following billboard:

“Monday Night Football is brought to you by Pennzoil. Not just oil, Pennzoil.  Budweiser, the King of Beers. And Quizno’s. Mm mm mm mm…toasty.”

“2 Girls 1 Cup” might be of dubious societal value, but at least it was original. There’s no question that it illustrated the benefit of the product (a full-length porn film with the unambiguous title Hungry Bitches).

Again, this criticism is not coming from a position of prudeness. McFarlane Media advocates both lesbianism and the wearing of bikinis, in all possible social settings and ideally with impractical high heels.

But is it too much to ask for even a little self-awareness? If an advertiser is going to commit to using something so detached from its product to sell said product, how about having one of the spokesmodels acknowledging the absurdity of using female pulchritude to sell oven-baked meat and cheese?  No, much better to lift an existing concept and not even do it in a timely fashion.
*A close second to this remarkable human, of course. Michaels remains the greatest play-by-play man in the never-arrested-for-dentally-assaulting-a-woman-while-wearing-a-negligee category.

Offensive? Sod off.

Our gardeners also keep things neatly trimmed. Of course, that'd be Jose, Arnulfo and Jesus, and "things" would mean their mustaches.

America used to be to advertising what Indonesia is to nutmeg and San Pedro de Macoris is to shortstops.

Then we got fat, happy, and conservative.

Sure, the ad agencies of few other nations can match America’s technical expertise: we’ve got the highest-resolution cameras, the trickiest Flash programmers, we even invented the tri-vision billboard. But where the form flourished, the content withers.

Earnest car manufacturer spots, kid-friendly fast food spots, we’ve got every possible subcategory of inoffensiveness taken care of. In America, the most recent and memorable example of a sexually suggestive (not ribald, just suggestive) national spot with a double entendre is Herbal Essences’ “A Totally Organic Experience”, which is at least a decade old and plays on a facile similarity between a couple of unrelated adjectives.

The United Kingdom might be lacking for some things we take for granted (refrigeration, fluoride, digestible food), but the Limeys do know how to appreciate a brilliant TV spot.

This spot was created by the New York office of J. Walter Thompson. If you’re the kind of sexually repressed uptight person who loves to find offense in every crevice, inhale and hold it for a second. It’s worth mentioning that the first names of the executive creative director, creative director, art director, copywriter, senior agency producer and executive producer for this spot are Sarah, Lisa, Megan, Margie, Kirsten and Melissa respectively.

Granted, maybe it’d be tougher for a creative team full of guys to put together such a concept without the suits or the clients thinking of them as lecherous and disgusting. Or if you want to be really cynical, you could believe that only men could come up with something like this, and used Sarah, Lisa et al. to front the operation and give it a sheen of credibility. (See Capote, Truman and Lee, Harper.)

Admittedly, for the first 16 seconds the spot looks like it’s just generically misogynistic – women doing yard work in clothes not suited to the purpose (and even better, enjoying it.)

It was the incongruous word “bushes,” not common in TV spots and in this case delivered literally with a wink, that caused this viewer’s ears to perk up.

Yes, the black chick just happens to get the line about really big bushes, and the Oriental* chick sings about mighty small gardens. So if you want to find the spot racist, in addition to being sexist, you have that to enjoy too.

On the other hand, if you’re a logophile, this is perhaps the only spot in existence that includes both the words “topiary” and “Aphrodite”. Maybe having the redheaded girl stroking a cat, twice, is a little much, but that’s just…

wait for it…

Splitting hairs!

But most importantly, the spot tells a story. There’s a narrative – or more accurately, a libretto.  The spot actually goes somewhere. Setup, exposition, payoff, ID. With laughs throughout, and vocals so busy that they require repeated listenings.

You can argue that the spot might be a little juvenile, to the extent that no sexual humor is highbrow. At least not since Geoffrey Chaucer, and that’s only because he lived 650 years ago and thus meets the definition of classic by attrition.

Does the spot resonate? Is it clever? Does it illustrate the benefit of the product? Boy, does it ever. Plus it doesn’t obscure the name of the advertiser. Wilkinson even resisted the temptation to insist on placing the company name somewhere in the song, preferably in the first line.

What’s a sexually suggestive word that rhymes with “Schick”?

No one’s going to confuse this with a competitor’s razors. And perhaps Schick Quattro enjoys a different brand identity in the Mother Country than it does here. Well, it does now.

What’s frustrating is that clearly there are plenty of American agencies capable of doing comparable work. What there aren’t are advertisers willing to buy off on a spot like this. Then of course, there’s also the leviathan matter of an endlessly intrusive Federal Communications Commission: a government agency that operates with neither checks nor balances, and that FIVE YEARS LATER is STILL looking for parties to punish after tens of millions of impressionable American youth were subjected to a split second’s exposure to Janet Jackson’s decorated nipple.  Some of those children are now adolescents and young adults, and a few of them have certainly adopted violent crime and living off the avails of prostitution as lifestyle choices. May God have mercy on Justin Timberlake’s soul.

*Some hypersensitive people like to feel self-important and point out that “Oriental” is somehow offensive and obsolete, and that the preferred term is now “Asian”. Considering that Iraqis, Israelis and Sri Lankans are all Asian, the term isn’t all that descriptive.

Decibels do not comprise a sales strategy.

Take this Englishman.

While you’re at it, do him a favor and find a cricket bat to beat a sense of self-awareness into him with. His name is John Barr, and he’s the head salesman for a Toyota dealership in Las Vegas.

Every city, of course, has at least one – the flamboyant auto pimp who apparently believes that no one ever buys a car because it’s powerful, or durable, or stylish, or economical. People buy only because the guy who represents the public face of the dealership has such a wacky and irresistible personality. It’s no great revelation that auto salespeople with egos this size are all but indistinguishable in their volume and obnoxiousness. There’s almost certainly a Barr equivalent in Des Moines, another one in Raleigh-Durham, and yet another in Amarillo.

Barr’s TV spots feature him acting the buffoon, either getting tackled by college football players, being shot out of a cannon…you get the idea. Emblematic of yet another thing that’s wrong with the advertising industry, Barr is that worst of narcissists – not only has he been blessed with an oversized ego, he’s got access to the vehicle with which to let that ego manifest itself and grow ever larger.

Decency prevents the posting of a Barr spot here. Search his name together with his dealership name on YouTube if you want to see the kind of work that will never, ever leave McFarlane Media’s doors. (At least not with our name on it. A paycheck is a paycheck.)

When criticized about the inanity and forced humor of his spots, which happens daily if there’s a God, Barr has a ready-made comeback he foists on the unsuspecting viewer who dares to call into question his tastelessness and silliness. According to a story on Barr in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, while you might find his spots annoying and patronizing, the star counters with the following irrefutable logic: “But you remember them.” Well. There’s a legitimate appeal to reason and judiciousness, shot down like a clay target with four pithy words.

Here are some other phenomena that people who witnessed them will likely never forget:

The Holocaust

The Rwandan Genocide


The Rape of Nanking

The Great Sumatra-Andaman Earthquake

The 2008 Detroit Lions.

Imprinting itself on the public’s consciousness, however indelibly, does not a great spot make. It’s the lowest imaginable standard for resonation. Barr’s series of “Bitty-Barr” spots (a ripoff of Verne Troyer’s “Mini-Me” character) might last longer in the viewers’ collective medulla oblongata than does a rival dealer’s spot whose most arresting visual feature is a graphic reading “0.9% financing or $2500 cash back.” That’s not the point. Being memorable is never enough, and the desire to be memorable is not just egotistical, it’s counterproductive.

Carrying the virtues of volume and impudence to their logical extension, if you want to create a memorable spot, why not just drop trou and defecate on a painting of the Virgin Mary? Sure, it’ll offend countless people. But depending on how sleepy the town is, such a campaign could result in the advertising becoming the lead story on the local evening news. It’d be certain to get the community talking and create hogsheads of publicity. (To anyone still naïve enough to believe the canard that there’s no such thing as bad press, go ask Captain Joe Hazelwood. Or Michael Richards. Or every cigarette manufacturer in America. Consumers are more jaded than they used to be, which is welcome. They’re also more sensitive than they used to be, which is not.)

Wait – there remains that pesky matter of a product that needs to be sold. Maybe, just maybe, there’s more to the game than just getting attention. A McFarlane Media staffer used to work at an all-sports radio station. The hack afternoon host would routinely start his show by introducing an audacious proposition – e.g., the NFL should go to 7-man football, opening the game up and encouraging more scoring. The phone lines would then light up with callers ready to tell the host how idiotic he was, much to his delight. As far as the host was concerned, it didn’t matter what the callers had to say as long as they were calling. Busy phone lines were the undeniable signs of an edgy radio show. But not a successful radio show. Never mind that for every caller, there were probably 50 other listeners who expressed their displeasure not by calling, but merely by changing the station, sticking candle wax in their ears, or deciding to never patronize the show’s sponsors.

Yes, a message needs form to attract passersby and the curious. To get people to part with their money, it also needs a little feature called “content”. Sometimes, it’s not how you say it, it’s what you say.

Is one original idea too much to ask?

No, an original idea. Mulatto president is so November ’08.

By December, or at least before The Nazarene’s reelection campaign begins in earnest, America’s unemployment rate will be close to 0%. Inflation will be at historic norms, neither so high as to erode wealth nor so low as to hinder institutional lending. General Motors and Chrysler will enjoy record revenues and profits, befitting the taxpayer charity cases (er, lambent icons of American commerce) they are.

All because of an $800 billion-and-counting government program created by a deviceful White House and a complicit Congress who took action with only seconds to spare, saving us from devolving into a nation of naked people who wear barrels in lieu of clothes and eat sand. (This is not a political rant in progress. It relates to advertising, if indirectly.)

Start by disregarding the efficacy or lack thereof of the stimulus package itself (If it’s such a great idea, why not make it for twice as much? Why not do it weekly? Daily? Does anyone even care that government by definition can never create wealth, it can only take it from some people and redistribute it to others?) One unintended byproduct of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is the plethora of underinspired national ad campaigns created from the unfortunate layman’s name for the Act.

Here’s the first of umpteen campaigns created in its wake, this one courtesy of the sober and restrained people at Trojan.

Isn’t it funny? The narrator refers to “hard times”. Hard, in this case, is a synonym for “erect”. Erect, as in erect penises! To have sex with! Get it?! Here’s a helpful diagram.

On second thought, you’re not getting a diagram. Ask your parents.

TANGENT: Note to Trojan, and its competitors: Use caution, because absolutely everything about your product is a potential punch line. Or at least the following are:

-Obscenely high markups.

-the word itself, starting with the always hilarious “k” sound.

-the conflicting emotions inside the retail purchaser’s head, whipsawing between “Should I hide these in my palm and bring them to the cashier sheepishly, placing them on the counter at the last possible second?” and “Why don’t I just buy the damn things and get it over with? Well, I’ll buy the package along with this beautiful Hanukkah card too. Even though it’s March.”

-the way it’s snuck into the public consciousness as a panacea for everything from reproduction, to HIV, to chlamydia, to feelings of unwarranted intimacy between partners who are thinking it might finally be time to put pleasure ahead of paranoia and go bareback, then think better of it.

-The existence of “regular” and “large” versions, when the latter exist only to assuage the egos of particularly Napoleonic lotharios. (Lotharii? If it isn’t, it ought to be.)

MagicJack got in on the Act act, too. Not to mention Gold’s Gym.

The Baltimore Orioles.

And Carmike Cinemas.

Auto manufacturers, traditionally among the most eager advertisers to take an overused concept and overuse it a little more, are noticeably absent from the stimulus parade. In fact, they’ve been uncharacteristically subdued all around in their recent advertising. Can’t imagine why.

Wait, there’s one more. Valpak, not satisfied with being “America’s largest purveyors of junk mail”, and now opting for the slightly catchier “America’s original stimulus package”.

You get the idea. Then again, you’re probably not a creative director who’s convinced that the first idea that pops into his head must therefore be the best one.

Here’s the seventh verse, not unlike the first.

“Bailout” and “stimulus” might be similar symptoms of the same disease, but regardless of the terms of art used, the net result in the same for viewers – languid catchphrases set to pretty pictures by a lugubrious agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky. (Slamming The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived and The World’s Most Dynamic Agency in one blog post? Why not drown a couple of kittens for good measure?)

Unlike their terrifying Burger King campaigns, at least the above CPB spot is coherent and illustrates the benefit of the product. But as Nicolae Ceaucescu’s bullet-riddled body would have said if it could have talked, shame about the execution.

The first rule of comedy applies to other forms of pervasive communication, too: never go for the obvious joke. Or the obvious reference. Or the obvious news item that’s become an intractable part of popular culture. Even in only its first month or so of existence, “stimulus package” has already passed

“what happens in _________, stays in ________” and is rapidly chasing down

“got ______?” on the career list of overused, overextended and overplagiarized campaigns. Great, we just inadvertently gave the seed of an “idea” to some Madison Avenue hack. Just remember when you eventually do see it – that the “got stimulus?” campaign had its genesis right here on the McFarlaneUSA.com blog. “got stimulus?”. Yeah, that’s Addy gold. Wonder what the product will be.