Sunday, March 23, 2014

Life Lessons In The Brackets

So what can the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament teach us about life?

It’s that NCAA Final Four time of year once again. And once again we're all a flutter over filling out brackets and trying to anticipate who will win–and when. It makes us all pseudo-basketball wizards. 

Many in the basketball world believe that tourney hoops is some of the best basketball ever. The passion and emotion exhibited by the fans, the players and even the commentators far surpasses that of the NBA or international rules basketball. Some believe it's because those kids are playing their hearts out for those pro scouts in the stands. Million-dollar contracts are on the line and every shot, every free throw–possibly every dribble–brings them that much closer to a giant payday with the coveted NBA rookie contract. 

That’s the complex and business side of college round-ball. There is something else, though. In tournament play, it's one-game elimination. One and done. Every game matters. No series, no best of five or seven games. Snooze you lose. Just like in life. Arguably, a powerful lesson for college hoops players and college-bound players alike as well as students of all ages (kids, I'm looking at you). 

But wait! That isn’t even the best part.

The best part is that a # 14 seed can upset a # 3 seed. A number one ranked team (or seed) can be toppled by a relative unknown, a nobody. And you know what the lesson is there, don’t you? That there are no guarantees, no such thing as a sure thing. No matter where you’re ranked, you have a shot at the big time. You have to be a giant-slayer and the road ahead is wrought with the toughest obstacles—but it can be done. Because it has been done. 

The best part of the NCAA tournament is that we can–even secretly–route for the underdog. Since the beginning of this nation’s history, we have been the underdog, the one least likely to succeed, the16th seed. It lifts our hearts and gives us hope that, even the least of us, can be champions.

And there is something pretty damn reassuring about that. 

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Godiva only knows

I usually despise when luxury brands do traditional mass market advertising. I find that it dilutes the brand message. Then I chanced upon this (ahem) sweet series of promotional posters for Godiva chocolates

While I still don't subscribe to advertising purely for the sake of advertising, this series of posters (again, damn near works of art unto themselves) make much more sense as posters, possibly for display in malls and specialty shop promenades. 

As a professional creative, I try to always encourage my kids to think outside the box (of chocolates). I think this is a fantastic example of how to do just that.  

This campaign is imaginative, unique and, in my eyes, highly successful. Hard to find all of those in one body of work–I believe this is one of those campaigns. What do you think?


(Suddenly, I'm overcome with a desire for chocolate and caramel.) 

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Friday, February 14, 2014

Embracing My (Newly Adopted) Viking Heritage

Recently I attended my first-ever Renaissance festival. 'It was a hearty time with plenty of grog and mead, sturdy lads and fiery lasses, bouts of jousting to rattle your loins with feasts, beasts and performance to free you from your coins.'

Okay, I'll stop. Hey, shut up, so I'm no Tolkien alright? 

Along with good friends, two of my sons and I rumbled out into the desert hills in Phoenix' East Valley and I dare say a good time was had by all.

The Viking Code

Amongst the many stores, shoppes, and concession stands, I chanced upon the fair storefront of Gryphon Song Gems, the collection of the hand carved, hand-crafted Celtic carved gems & jewelry of master craftsman and jeweler, Epaul Fischer. A calm, unassuming man who loves what he does and is damn good at it. 

In his pavilion, you will be dazzled by a breathtaking array of carvings in gems, precious metals and custom Celtic jewelry. One piece caught my eye. A beautiful Viking-influenced design bearing the interlocking heads of a boar, an eagle and a wolf.

The price was beyond me but I took his info and promised to look online. When I left, little did I know, things got interesting. 

Later in the day, his assistant (a good friend of mine I have known for year and watched grow up alongside my own children) presented me with a gift at another event.

Epaul had gifted the pendant to me. He told her that when he carves a piece, he knows that each piece belongs to someone but often does NOT know who that person is until they make themselves known. 

For this pendant, that person was me. 

I was floored. I couldn't accept this extravagant gift. I took it and went back to his pavilion. I thanked him and told him it was a beautiful gesture but that I could only take it to pay for it. At first he refused but I told him something I believe as deeply as any conviction I've ever held:
Artists and creative people must share their art with others. We are duty bound as writers, designers, painters, photographers, Illustrators, textile pros, craftsman, singers, performers to support each other in our specified skilled vocations. By word of mouth, by our participation and by our patronage. 
So I purchased the pendant, at a portion of it's value (the rare stone it is carved into alone commands a certain price). You can see it and hundreds of other designs and custom carved jewelry here

Thank you Epaul. I will always cherish my pendant and will do my share to always promote such excellent work.

Such is the Viking way.

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

LEGO My Hollywood!

So, I saw the new LEGO Movie this weekend with the kids. The movie was fun. Pure, clean, with well... pardon the pun, a well put together screenplay. It meanders and is at times, way over the top with the kid's humor but what are you going to do? It's a kid's movie.

A Franchise Done Right

The corporate story of LEGO is downright inspiring. Pulling itself from near brand-obscurity, LEGO has had one of the most remarkable self-improvement campaigns ever to increase it's marketshare, relevancy and profile. I mean lets face it, LEGO's are mutli-color building blocks of many shapes and sizes. What kid wants that with the likes of a Game-Boy DS, iPad, IPhone, XBOX ONE, PS3, PS4 and host of virtual and online entertainment options?

The answer is all of them. LEGO has re-invented itself, offering build kits for every modern franchise from Star Wars to Harry Potter to The Lord of the Rings. You can build the Justice League's headquarters, a Death Star or the Bat cave.

And Speaking of Awesome...

Some of the most successful (console) gaming titles of 2013 included LEGO Batman 2, The Lord of The Rings and LEGO Marvel Super Heroes (that one I ran the table on that's fancy gamer speak for having played to gain EVERY achievement in the game and unlock every 'world' and character. 

Thanks for letting me indulge my gamer side. 

So many licensing opportunities, this movie had to be a compliance attorney's nightmare. Batman, Star Wars, DC Comics, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The NBA just to name a scant few entertainment franchises who make cameo appearances, all showing their little 1.5" high figures with rounded little heads. It's evident that LEGO is now a permanent part of modern pop culture. How did these iconic little colorful building bricks become such an ingrained part of our entertainment tapestry? PR, baby, PR... and stellar strategic planning on behalf of the LEGO brand. 

A Pretty Good Little Flick 

With an all-star cast of voices, and top notch visual effects (you would not believe how incredible a world made completely of LEGOs can be), but the film is solid. Decent screenplay and terrific-looking visuals, it's a movie built from the ground up (sorry) to be an inspiration for movie-based follow-up releases like toy sets, the LEGO Movie video game (duh) and more kid's paraphernalia than can be counted. Tie-ins that are as shameless as they are brilliant.

LEGO has re-invented itself and is clearly here to say. And of all the things that don't seem to go away fast enough (Honey Boo-Boo, teenage vampire movies and junk food described as "healthy", I'm looking at you)—LEGO is a concept that has withstood the test of time and has proven itself worthy.

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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Super Ads 2014

Ready for the three greatest Super Bowl ads of 2014? Total opinion here, but these three ads will move the meter of my beloved ad industry forever.

I said greatest. Perhaps even boldest.

Not the funniest, not the coolest, the most expensive, best special effects or fan favorites. You can all debate those on Media Week, AdWeek, CNN, and a host of other news and business sources that will painstakingly read the metrics and analytics of response rates and recal. 

As a self-styled 'adman' I take measure of when the winds of changes move the narrative of promotional messaging and makes a difference. This year, three ads did that for me.

Note: to view these ads via their YouTube links, simply click on the title link under each image.

Imagine you've decided to quit your job. Bold decision (been there once myself actually). Now envision doing it front of 100 million people doing the super bowl. Add in actor John Turturro narrating your decision. That's exactly what GoDaddy customer "Gwen" experienced when she voices, emphatically to her boss; in front of whole world, "I quit." 

That took balls. For her. For GoDaddy to stop showing boobs and comedy for a change and to back that with the most expensive prime-time viewing slot in the year. Impressive, GoDaddy. It might even sway my sullen opine of you and your monolithic and spurious business practices. Keep that up.

In what is certainly the most visible bi-racial family profile I have EVER seen on network television advertising, this commercial made my mouth drop. We've seen the traditional nuclear family, Mom, Dad, 2.3 kids and family dog, portrayed in 100's of commercials. And we have seen them in all colors of the rainbow, Caucasian, Negro, Asian, Hispanic, Hindi. But never so blatantly a racially mixed family as a black father, who frequently glances over to his white wife as they explain to their biracial daughter that she is going to have a little brother.

Coming from bi-racial heritage myself, as do all four of my (now teenage) children, this spot holds a special place for me, sure. However, it is a bigger–bolder–statement to the world at large that interracial harmony is both celebrated and embraced by a giant conglomerate-style entity as Cheerios. This is an installment in a series of ads featuring this family and the bigots are stewing. Let them. The real world is now reflected in the face of American advertising. This can only lead to further breakthroughs. I am beside myself. 

This one flew under the radar for a lot of people but sent shivers down my spine. This Coca-Cola ad features vignettes of people of all different ethnicity set to the backdrop of America the beautiful. With one powerful exception. 

The anthem is sung in over a dozen different languages. 

Not all at once, mind you,  but from bar to bar, the language switches only to keep coming back (and in final crescendo) to English. Every person, family or group is shown in all their ethnic and same-sex splendor. Sure Coca-Cola is a global brand, hell, it might be THE global brand–but this ad raises the bar of celebrating diversity in ways that can't fully be put into words. Believe me, as of the writing of this post, the racist response to this ad is also at near toxic levels.

Bravo Coke, bravo.

Now to be fair, my kids–and many adults I've discussed this with— didn't even recall these ads. They remember the big stuff, the goofy snarky, pranky and special-effect-laden, star-studded stuff. But these three ads have changed the face of modern mass media communications in ways that will ripple into our futures for years to come.

All three of these spots are bold and move us out of our collective comfort zone. I tend to hate or feel indifferent about mass market advertising—especially Superbowl ads—but the world of mass communication is changing and the future looks just a little bit brighter.

If only in the way big companies peddle their wares. 

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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Human Doing vs Human Being

Recently, a friend on FaceBook posted a video I just had to share. The video is powerful and moving—filled with inspirational footage, compiled from Director, Actor and Editor Zapatou. This video reminds us all that the world is much more than our little corner of it. It's more than social media Apps, video games and computer screens. 

Life is for the living. It's about running on the beach, playing in the snow, and marveling at this beautiful, fragile and awe-inspiring planet and all the fascinating people we share it with.

The video is bursting with incredible people, in breath-taking places doing remarkable things. 
It's full of humans doing, not just being. 

Lets join them.


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Friday, January 31, 2014

The Dark Knight: Shining Bright After 75 years

For 75 years, the Batman mythos has kept us captivated. In this the 75th anniversary of the introduction of the mysterious and haunted Bruce Wayne in Detective Comics issues 27 from May 1939, few characters have had as big an impact on the American pop culture psyche or the landscape of modern day icons. Batman represents so much more than a crazed eccentric in a mask it almost boggles the mind. 

Let's go on a journey.

An Unimaginable Tragedy

The spark event that transforms Bruce Wayne into the Batman is near legendary. Thomas and Martha Wayne are murdered by a two-bit thug (Joe Cool),  in cold blood in front of 10-year old Bruce. Shot to death before his very eyes. The trauma and agony of such a profound loss could easily have broken any of us. What happens though is quite remarkable. Bruce embraces the death of his parents as the catalyst for doing his part to insure no one ever suffers this kind of tragedy ever again. Bruce embarks on a life-long quest, using the vast resources available to him via his wealth to build a machine of calculated vengeance. 

The Best of Us

Millionaire trust fund baby, Wayne chooses a life of seclusion and grim determination to become the Batman, scourge of the criminal underground. As the air to one the world's greatest private (though fictional) fortunes, Wayne could spend his days in hedonistic debauchery but instead chooses to set his resources for the greater good. Instead of being a victim he becomes a symbol of hope and the embodiment of vigilante justice we could all aspire to. With no apparent "Super powers" and gifted with an incredibly gifted analytical mind, he transcends his human flaws while embracing them, becoming a far greater 'hero' than many of his equally heroic fellow Justice League compatriots.

A Serious Attack On "Funny Books" 

Batman and comic books in American society fell under heavy scrutiny and criticism in the 1950s by way of Congressional investigation. Falling on the heels of the infamous McCarthy hearings, the US Government went on a morality-fueled witch hunt of the comics industry. Funny Books–as many would laughably dismiss them–were seen as pulp literature, lumped in with soft-core porn and throw-away periodicals. 

Many comics publishers–including DC comics, publishers of Batman and Superman–found themselves in legal and moral stand-offs with Congress. While many comic characters–and companies–did not survive this onslaught, Batman and his publishers were able to tough it out.

Darkest Night

As a result of the US Senate's investigation on whether or not comic books contributed to the delinquency of minors, the Comics Code Authority was established to monitor the 'moral character' of comic books. This lead, in part, to the development of the popular and campy Batman live-action TV series that began in the 1960's. While this did much to return Batman to prominence and was a ground-breaking series in many ways, the series did some harm to the validity of both Batman and comics overall. 

However, while the TV show was running on mostly comedic energy, the comics were full-on returning Batman to his former glory as an ace crime-fighter and champion of street justice. And in 1986, after more than 30 years of being a cultural buffoon, he re-emerged to take his rightful place among fiction's elite ranks dark heroes.

In February, 1986, the kid gloves came off. Fan fiction super savior, Frank Miller, writes an draws the now legendary graphic novel Batman: The Return Of The Dark Knight. The story chronicles an aged, weary, future Batman, coming out of exile to return justice to a world overrun by corruption, neglect and evil. The book sets the stage for Batman's cultural return to serious, adult-driven story lines that include battling drug dealers, the paralysis of Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) and the death of Jason Todd, the second Robin. 

The Billion-Dollar Bat

Created by comic masterminds Bill Finger and Bob Kane, Batman has not only resonated with whole generations of young men and boys looking to 'do the right thing', Batman continues to be a juggernaut at the Box Office, in the bookstores, comic shops and the list of collectables is as long as the Batman's list of adversaries. As a study, each installment of the Arkham video games outsells its predecessors. Christopher Nola's 'The Dark Knight' grossed more than $1.1 Billion in worldwide ticket sales. There is even a custom car dealer that will deliver a specialized, built-to-order fully operational Bat-mobile, complete with 'Bat-phone' and turbo-boost fire just for a mere $260,000. More Batman toys, t-shirts, lunchboxes, action figures, collectible items and likenesses enjoy healthy sales figures around the globe and is currently the world's fourth most recognized icon (following the Swastika, the Superman Logo and the Coca Cola symbol).

A Hero's Journey

Batman represents the ultimate hero. Focused, sharp, articulate, devilishly handsome, ├╝ber educated, tech savvy, unwavering when the going gets tough, looks out for those who can't protect themselves and works tirelessly to stay physically fit. Come on parents, isn't that the role model you want for your family–for yourselves? I certainly do. No powers from atomic bombs, no technology-drenched armor (although that one's debatable) and no mutant powers, Batman embodies what it means to be human. To overcome bitter, character-busting circumstances and become a beacon of hope and admiration to us all. If that's not a hero and a role model, then I don't know what is.

Sure, he's not real–but if we get another 75 years of that kind of narrative, well, that would be just fine by me.

P.S. – Don't believe Batman inspires people to do great things? Watch this YouTube clip.
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