From August 2005

Writing and Nothingness

Consider this my significantly abridged tribute to Jean Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, his massive tome on the ins and outs of existentialism. In my case it’s the ins, outs and then in again reality of being a writer for an advertising agency, a your-only-as-good-as-your-last-idea world of excessive mental meandering, trite reasoning and circular second guessing. And that’s just Monday.

But what is most debilitating is the absolute disposability of everything we do. My computer is a virtual wasteland of sound, strategic thinking. And what’s worse is that my best ideas, the stuff I’ve been most proud of, have never seen the light of day. In fact, after reading or presenting what is usually the most clever and creative work, what usually follows is a long awkward silence, during which time the client scrambles to frame something coherent to say. Usually this is a least common denominator kind of response where only the most obvious and cliché concepts are considered while the gems get glossed over and ultimately killed in the interest of not rocking the boat.

So here’s a tried and true advertising principle for any situation where the client wants changes:

First, make it red.
If they still don’t like it, make everything bigger.

This really works. I swear it.

Here are other principles that will always get you through any meeting.

  • With conviction, bandy about serious sounding words like encode and decode.
  • And always, always, always make sure you include the take away.
  • Talk about evolving things like ideas and ads.

This last pointer is essential to the veil of strategic competence, becuase the decode (See how it works?) says, “I’m smart, I know ads, you don’t. I have my finger on the pulse of buyers the world over and if you listen to me and you will get a big bonus at the end of the year.”

But what about the writing?

Well, that’s complicated too. Certainly it’s not easy. But the hard part isn’t what you’d think. It’s not creativity. It’s not ideas. It’s the churning out of an alarming volume of creative on demand, in a pinch, and with increasingly shorter deadlines. Because that is the reality of creating ads in my world. There isn’t time for nuance, meaning or beauty, although sometime they happen by happy accident. There is only the message in it’s most direct and naked form.

In the end, this is what I know: I consider my afternoon coffee house jaunt to be daily catharsis. I consider ad making a lesson in patience. I consider being a copywriter simply a form of creative reinterpretation. I consider all of the above to be the essence of writing and nothingness.

My One Problem With The Karate Kid

Everytime I watch the Karate Kid I’m left with this nagging qustion that has pretty much ruined the movie for me: What’s the deal with the fat guy in Cobra Kai? You know the one pictured left fighting the really speedy guy who lost to Johnny in the quarter finals although he clearly had better moves than any Cobra Kai.

But, if Cobra Kai was all about picking on social outcasts, why wouldn’t the fat guy have been the first to go? He wasn’t up to snuff. Daniel La Russo was much cooler than that guy. What gives? But there he his fighting in the tournament, lumbering around the stage before catching a flying kick to the chest that wasn’t even that hard. I mean, what a wuss. La Russo got his knee hyperextended and probably all his ligaments stretched and torn and he still beat Johnny with a bad-ass crane kick right to the nose. And I know, all of you from the “Mr. Myagi has magic hands school” may disagree, but all the massaging in the world ain’t gonna take that pain away. Special ancient technique or no special ancient technique.

The Cobra Kai were all about “No mercy” and had it drilled into them with a relentless vigor by Sensei. Great. I get it. But then I see the fat guy and think why does he get a free pass? He doesn’t represent Cobra Kai values. The only thing that didn’t get mercy from him was a visit to the all you can eat buffets around town. They clearly cut him lots of slack and showed lots of mercy to his out of shape, huffing and puffing ass.

This just bothers me. Don’t ask me why. But it has come to ruin the Karate Kid for me. I’ll get into the why there’s no way in hell Ralph Macchio could ever take Steve Vai in a guitar duel in a later post.