The Don Corleone of the advertising industry

The Don Corleone of the advertising industry

Tonight in New York City, Norm Grey will be inducted into The One Club’s Advertising Hall of Fame. Norm is cofounder of Creative Circus, and only the third educator to receive this prestigious honor (Rob Lawton, another Circus cofounder is already in the Hall).

I’ve known Norm for over 20 years through mutual friends. I remember when they started Creative Circus–– a band of renegades breaking off from The Portfolio Center determined to succeed as the premier advertising school in the country.

Norm had the passion, wisdom, empathy, compassion and caring to nurture talent and attract great teachers. He had vision, determination and patience. Legions of talented people came out of the circus with their logo ball caps and heads filled with knowledge, discipline and imagination that would change and charge the advertising industry worldwide.

You know the alums, their names are in the index of award show books. Their work is everywhere, their network of influence both incredible and pervasive.

And every grad can trace her/his roots back to Norm, the head of the Circus family. He’s the Don Corleone of modern communications, without all the bloodshed.

Congratulations, Norm, you are a true Mensch among men and an inspiration. Long may you reign.

If you watch television, you’ve probably seen Apple’s new holiday spot. If not, here’s the cheese:

It works because it’s a simple human story, something in short supply these days.

The young woman is rummaging through her granny’s vinyl collection and comes across a Voice-O-Graph. This is a recording the grandmother had made in 1952 for Raymond, her lover who was off to war. The granddaughter turns on the old analog stereo receiver and drops the needle on the Voice-O-Graph. We hear that distinctive sound of a needle etching its way across vinyl, a sound that is absent in today’s all digital crystal clear audio world. That sound, that imperfect sound, connects on an emotional level because it has warmth and tonal resonance. For anyone familiar with vinyl, that sound of a needle on a record is hardwired to our innocence.

We hear the young woman speak to her soldier. “My darling Raymond, though you can’t be here for the holidays, we’ll always be together in my heart.” Then, the young woman begins singing “Our Love Is Here To Stay” by George and Ira Gershwin. The granddaughter is moved.

Enter technology.

She takes the Voice-O-Graph and digitizes into her Apple Air. She accompanies her grandmother’s voice from 1952 with guitars a keyboard and her own voice.

The granddaughter plays Santa and leaves an iPad Air with earbuds on the kitchen table along with a card reading “‘A duet’ press play.” We see modern granny as she listens to the composition of her young self accompanied by her granddaughter and views the collection of black and white photos that have been left for her. She views the pictures as she listens. There she is, as a young woman. There is her soldier. There is their daughter as a little girl dressed up and standing by the Christmas tree. There is the proud young woman granny once was, standing with her freshly-pressed Voice-O-Graph.

The granddaughter did not make a movie of the pictures and marry them to the song. That would have reduced the story to a screen. No, we see the grandmother handling physical B&W pictures as she listens to the soundtrack enjoying the movies of memories in her head. We can’t see these memories but we read her reactions to them on her face. She is touched. We are touched. The woman who plays grandma plays her perfectly, not milking the emotions but allowing them to wash over her in fond reflections.

The granddaughter sits on the stairs and watches granny at the kitchen table. Although she can’t see her face, she’s happy that she has delivered a perfect Christmas gift–– a personal one built on a moment from 62 years ago (one that was hidden in a stack of old records), digitized and improved thanks to her love for her grandmother.

What does this spot say about Apple? It says that this company makes technology that enables magic moments like this. Add your creativity and make something special.

The gift is not the product, it’s the humanity one brings to others thanks to the product(s).

So, couldn’t any number of companies have created this spot? Absolutely. But they didn’t. They’re too busy comparing themselves and their products to Apple.

This is another holiday classic, like last year’s Apple spot “Misunderstood” (see below). Congrats to everyone involved with these spots. You are proving that in an age where we live in front of screens, we can still create magic to move and touch people.

The carefree days of beer and bikini beaches

The carefree days of beer and bikini beaches

Recently, I was contacted by Dave Infante, senior writer with the excellent website called The Thrillist. If you don’t subscribe, do so, it’s must-read cheese for people who like living.

Dave wanted to write a feature on The Swedish Bikini Team campaign I helped create over 30 years ago. He tracked me down from my blog post about the campaign’s creation here on TLS. We had a great conversation and Dave posted his article today. It’s excellent.

Click here for a nice backgrounder of a famous campaign that lives on in infamy. Enjoy and thanks, Dave.

Got to give it some lovin'.

Got to give it some lovin’.

Advertising is supposed to be a creative business, yet most creative people hunting for a job take an unimaginative approach. They don’t create good ads for themselves.

I recently came across some of the work I used early in my career and share it now for your enlightenment or amusement. There was a simple reason I did these creative letters of recommendation–– my advertising work was bad. When I opened my portfolio, the work sucked so much it created a vacuum.

But my letters got attention and usually led to interviews where I often heard the same comment: “Why isn’t your work as good as your letters?” Good question. It would take me awhile to find the ability to express myself in ads.

Years ago, I wrote about my Ed McMahon letter of recommendation.
Here’s that letter in all its PDF glory: Ed McMahon:Scullin

Ed wasn’t the only guy singing my praises. I also enlisted legendary adgod, Jay Chiat. Here’s what he had to say: Jay Chiat:Scullin

And, finally, a couple of brothers with a pollywog & stilts store: Turley Bros:Scullin

All of these self-pimps under the pen of others was my way to show what my work did not–– that I was creative. Stupid? Yes.
Childish? Certainly.
Effective? Absolutely.

These letters got noticed, remarked on, and led to interviews. Eventually, I even proved myself somewhat worthy.

So, prospective creative job hunter, how could you pimp yourself more creatively? Do so, because you can’t get any less hired and you may find your dream job.

CA Resume

I’m a pack rat. I have separation issues with stuff–– my issue being I rarely separate from it. But sometimes, one has to ditch things lest one appear featured in a “Hoarders” episode. So, down to the storage area of the basement I went.

I had piles of work created over my advertising career. Much of it, I’d rather forget. I began filling a large box with things to jettison, and placing keepsake samples to keep in a smaller plastic box (until the next time I go through them).

In sorting through my archives, I came across my all-time favorite resume created back in my California days. The concept was simple: use the business cards I had accumulated as the visual touchstones of my career. Beneath each card, a few sentences that explained what I did at that company and why I left there. That’s it.

There was no B.S. about “being a natural problem solver” or “an enthusiastic and passionate professional” or “in the eternal pursuit of excellence.”

No. It was just the truth, told with a little humor.

The resume was a hit with all who saw it. It was an instant conversation starter. Mission accomplished.

I share this resume to pique your curiosity. How can you tell your story in an interesting way?

Don’t just be a natural problem solver who is an enthusiastic and passionate professional pursuing excellence. Do something more honest and interesting.

Happy hunting.

A few lessons learned from watching Super Bowl commercials (huh?)

A few lessons learned from watching Super Bowl commercials (huh?)

Chalk another Super Bowl ROMAN NUMERAL SOMETHING OR OTHER into the history books. The Seahawks blew the Broncos off the field. When your opening snap leads to a safety, you know you’re in for a long night.

Since the game was a blow-out, America was ready for the Super Bowl of commercials, and they got served a tepid bowl of meh.

In year’s past, The Lint Screen has done a blow-by-blow of all the spots aired, but not this time. No, I’m on an Atlanta Ad Club panel discussion tomorrow night of the S.B. spots so I wanted complete and total focus (or at least the best I can muster).

I will say precious little impressed and I have these few observations after sitting through the gaggle of spots.

1. Celebrities does not a concept make. It would be nice if star power met idea power.
2. Wrapping your brand in the American flag can feel very cloying and disingenuous.
3. You’d better tell your story visually. Many people watch the game at parties or in bars or other public places meaning they may not hear your voiceover copy. So what are you communicating visually?
4. Relevance is key. There were so many spots where the product’s relevance was M.I.A. Bill Bernbach said “Be provocative. But be sure your provocativeness stems from your product. You are NOT right if in your ad you stand a man on his head JUST to get attention. You ARE right if you have him on his head to show how your product keeps things from falling out of his pockets.”
5. You can’t rely on the Hail Mary of a product shot to seal the deal. See point #4.
6. Maybe the best way to create a Super Bowl spot is to not create a Super Bowl spot. Yes, it’s Zen, but I suspect because the stakes are so high creatives and clients fall into these bad habits of trying to do things in an even more spectacular fashion. Ideas first. Ideas first.

That is all, for now. Try and make it to Monday Night Brewing if your Atlanta tomorrow. Thanks.

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