Thursday, January 29, 2009

Super Bowl XXII - American Airlines: What Have I Done For You Lately V

American Airlines, Anabelle Jankel, Top Gun, Tom Cruise, Bozell-Jacobs-Kenyon-Eckhardt, Dennis Quaid, Max Headroom, Meg Ryan, Mike Patrick Scullin, Ridley Scott, Rocky Morton, Super Bowl Commercials, Terry BedfordUnbelievable. I had to check a website to figure out how to count to forty three in Roman numerals - because I couldn't get there from 22 (XXII), the last time I had a commercial on the game. And this gettin-old game is gettin' really old.

This spot, for American Airlines, aired for :60 seconds in 1988 and that's easily a 5 million dollar buy in today's Super Bowl dollars - but nobody can afford a :60 this year so they're selling the lot off in 1 second blipverts. BUD! CHEVY! PORN! INVEST! PORN! RETIRE! PORN! PORN! PORN! Just kidding, but the stories I'm reading don't forcast much of a creative breakthrough year due to the financial crisis and the fact that Obama has decided to review all the creative to make sure that it's at least as cool as his posters. Just kidding again, but who knows?






As this story goes, Patrick Scullin and I had been working at Bozell & Jacobs for nearly three years as a creative team on the American Airlines account. As pecking orders go, we were on the bottom, with Associate Creative directors and Creative Directors and Executive Creative Directors and Uber Creative Directors above us so the chance of getting a spot each year was basically nil. We did however get to work on the print and during our tenure we produced three ads a year, for three years as I recall, and it was premium stuff - double page ads that ran everywhere from The New York Times to The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune, Time and the like. I was flown out to Cupertino, California and recruited by Apple Computer on the strength of those ads but wound up declining the job as it was an in-house position with no possibility of working on broadcast. I was waiting for a cherry like this.

Earlier in 97 we had both worked on an additional print campaign - a sort of public relations effort - to put American in a leadership position following Elizabeth Dole's Department of Transportation initiative to clean up the airline's smarmy reputations after Ronald Reagan's deregulation of the business. In light of this campaign, as well as our daily work on the account, we had a high enough profile, but the TV work was the Holy Grail - and this year it had been decided that Ridley Scott, director of films such as Blade Runner, Gladiator and American Gangster, as well as the Apple "1984" commercial, would shoot the spots. But this was 1987 and Scott hadn't gotten to his Gladiator period yet. What he had done was the Apple spot and it remains the most outstanding Super Bowl spot of all time - quite possibly the most outstanding commercial of all time - and so the possibility of working with someone of this caibre was to say the least, daunting.

A new Uber Creative Director had been brought in from New York named Mike Slosberg and Mike was definitely a different animal from the good ole boyz in Dallas. With red reading glasses hanging from a chain around his neck and sweaters as opposed to shirts and ties, Mike appeared more a professor than an advertising man and had a disquieting influence on the agency from day one. Nobody really knew what to make of the guy - but in his work with us he proved refreshing, provoking and unusually apolitical. Mike had come from a history of writing novels and in this commercial excercise he encouraged us to forget everything we thought we knew about making commercials and urged us to focus instead on writing screenplay style. In our first presentation he refused the use of any visuals or storyboards and asked us to write for the imagination, locations that we could conjur and characters that had depth and history. Character backgrounds were written and, as I remember things, long detailed descriptions of imposing architectural set pieces were constructed in the mind's eye before any dialogue or scripts were offered. Our's was a bit more simple. It was "Top Gun". And with those two words, we had them at "hello". As an interesting production aside, Top Gun had been filmed, just the year before by Ridley Scott's brother,Tony Scott and so our two-word sell, only needed a script that stuck American Airlines in there somewhere.

Creative teams in advertising agencies are traditionally paired as Writer and Art Director. It's a convention that goes back a long time and pretty much the way things still work today. I was the Art Director at this point and Pat, the Writer. But aside from the scenes you may remember from the TV show
ThirtySomething, the creation process is rarely two guys sitting in a room until lightening flashes - rather it's two guys sitting in a room until one of them either runs out of cigarettes or needs to pee. During what looks like brainstorming, mostly only scraps get thrown on the table and then they shuffle them around until they can agree on at least one lame construction that they can both independently work on their respective pieces. You draw the pictures, I'll write the copy. But in my experiences, the real brilliant ideas happen mostly in one person's mind while they are alone, busying themselves with something entirely different, that will probably never see the light of day, much less the cutting room floor.

I certainly claim no brilliance here, but this one was mine - soley based on the sexiness of the setup and the idea that our "fighter pilot" was on his last mission and would soon be leaving the Air Force to work for American. Research had indicated that a majority of American Airlines pilots had come from military service and that was a positive in reinforcing the best in class quality of the airline's staff. In previous commercials an American Airlines ticket envelope had always been the Logo Delivery Device in the spots and I was looking for a different way to deliver the sell. The mail envelope proved to work very well and you'll notice that neither character ever utters a selling word or the client's name throughout. That particular brilliance came from Pat, the writer. His script is terse, full of open ends that allow you to think what you like - "Susan and I have made plans" - and hopeful enough to keep you from just busting a tear at the end when the two men walk off into the sunset. Yeah, right. Actually, the whole thing to me is just cloyingly corporate, but this is advertising, that's what the client wanted and I was about to go shoot a spot with the director of Blade Runner and the most famous TV commercial ever made, so do you think I gave a fuck about any of that? Of course not. There are much more embarrasing ways to make a living.

And so it became sold, and that's when the weirdness really cranked up. Within weeks of the sell Pat was offered a job at another agency that would allow him to be a Creative Director under the wing of another famous Uber Creative Director and have a shot at making his own name in the business. Fearing that I was too young to handle this type of production, the agency hired a guy in above me and under all the other creative directors and I was told that Ridley Scott's company (RSA) would be handling the production of three commercials but that Ridley himself would not be shooting mine. That job would fall to Terry Bedford. Pat had written another spot which happened in a lovely hotel in England and Ridley and the Uber Creative Directors would be doing that whilst the rest of us were in the Mojave desert dragging airplanes around on cables. It was perfect. Aside from the distractions of the guy they put above me, I was getting as much as anyone had ever gotten out of the business and couldn't have been happier. Until I met Meg...

Production Notes: The airplane our pilot exits from is not a fighter. Anyone who knows anything about planes can tell you that. What kind of airplane do the pilots climb out from using a ladder? In our case it was a DC 8 cargo plane. We had two of them, procured from the Mojave Airport boneyard and repainted in camoflage. We resurfaced an entire deserted runway with cheap jet black asphalt so that at around 3pm each day we had to be happy with where the planes were because we could not move them anymore. Their tyres were picking up and collecting the asphalt in a kind of snowballing effect that also left deep ruts in the runway, and no amount of water would cool the tarmac down in the 117 degree Farenheit heat. There were two EMT vehicles on set at all times in case of crew dehydration or heat exaustion. We all wore ball caps over wet towels on our heads all day (French Foreign Legion style) and rarely had to pee until sundown because of the rapid evaporation of body fluids throughout the day. The uniforms, patches and all insignia were all designed by me. The US Air Force had been contacted but declined participation in the production because in the end, we were recruiting pilots away from the Air Force and not towards it. We were no Top Gun, that's for sure.
The jet you see being towed in the background is a Saab fighter. We were under strict orders not to use any American miltary markings on anything. I remember that my motel in Mojave had a swimming pool that had been filled with cement. We shot for three days in the desert. When the pilot character says, "My mind's made up, alright..." the shot has been "flopped" meaning that we are looking at a reverse image of the original. There was a huge debate in the editing suite regarding the direction of the character's eyes during the line, in relation to where we are supposed to have believed he and the pilot were standing. The President of our company thought so and he had taken the place of the Uber Creative director once the thing got to post-production. You will also notice that the CO, who rides up in a Jeep, removes his glasses twice - a goof caused by the conventions of syc-sound and a continuity malfunction. The end shot of the American Airlines plane turning in the sunset is a model about twelve feet long. And...neither Pat Scullin nor myself had anything to do with writing the corporate themeline. We thought it was dreadful.

At the end of the shoot, the "wrap party" as they say, was held at a rather swank restaurant in Beverly Hills. I ordered a dish called Squab, which I later learned was French chef for pigeon. It was terrible, but I didn't care. The woman to my right at the table was endearingly attractive but I had no idea who she was. Our director, Terry Bedford had invited some friends of his from England, a pair of directors named Rocky Morton and Anabelle Jankel, who had just finished a film called
D.O.A., and he had invited some actors from that film, but Rocky and Anabelle were probably most known at the time for having created the character, Max Headroom, a cyber-punk sensation who ended up hawking Coca Cola in the late 80s. Max had made blipverts popular. Shit. I was having dinner with real cultural rock stars and trying to slice up a diminutive, untasty bird in the presense of all of this and a girl named Meg - "Meg who", I asked my producer, "Meg Tilley, Meg somebody?" - was driving me crazy. He didn't know, but I had recognized her from the film Top Gun. She was Goose's wife, who in the bar scene at the piano jumps up in a vivacious sort of girl next door kind of way and says she wants to leave and have sex. She was Meg Ryan. And her husband-to-be of course was Dennis Quaid. He was the Dennis who had been sitting across the large round table from me all evening and just having a wonderful time.

We, all together somehow, left that restaurant, went to my hotel and Dennis bribed the bartender to sell us all the opened bottles of alcohol he had behind the bar. They were put into a cardboard box which was deposited in the trunk of his 57 Chevy and we all proceeded up into the Hollywood Hills to his house. The house, as I remember, a modest California ranch with a pool, had no furniture at all, save for a mattress on the master bedroom floor and a grand piano in the living room. Dennis Quaid was busy preparing for his role as Jerry Lee Lewis in the Film,
"Great Balls of Fire". He played the piano and sang for us. We all sat on the floor in a circle and smoked pot, and for a closer, somebody got thrown in the pool. Meg was quite clearly, out of my league but Dennis was never allowed to do the vocals for the film - Jerry Lee wouldn't hear of it - it's somehow comforting to know there were things quite clearly out of Dennis Quaid's league as well.

I'm often asked if I got autographs from the stars I have met and that to me has always seemed like an abuse and an invasion of some sort of privacy. It also would put me on a level much lower than I already have if I am having dinner with them or flying on an airplane in the next seat. In reality, we were all just working and having a bit of fun at the end of a job well done. And there's an awful lot to be said for that.

We watched this commercial on Super Bowl XXII at Pat Scullin's house, sitting on the floor of his living room. We were both just recently married and had our first houses. They were reasonably shy of the digs I had just left in Hollywood. Chubby Checker and the Roxettes were the halftime show and I have no idea who the teams were. What did I care? I had just gotten 60 seconds of the most expensive airtime in the world and had a career to plan around it. Pat left the agency shortly after for his new position and I, after a raise, a promotion to VP and a new office left as well. The guy they had stuck in above me was just a certified pain in the ass and there was no getting around it. I had heard later that he was shopping his book in NY with this commercial on his reel and telling people it was his. Silly shit, people do in the advertising business.

For our part, we weren't critically trashed. No articles were written about how lousy, nor how breakthrough the spot was. It certainly wasn't breakthrough and it certainly wasn't Apple's 1984, but it was ours, and we were proud of it. It won a number of awards including a National Addy, 4 CLIO nominations and a Director's Guild of America Gold but other than that it had little value to me aside from how much I could get the next agency to pay me to come to work for them. I left Bozell a few months after the Super Bowl to a Creative Group Head position in Washington D.C.

While I was sitting on the floor in Pat's house watching it, I didn't feel much at all. I had seen the thing so many times by then all I could think about were the fights in the editing room over the direction of the guys eyes in one scene. Silly shit, people think about in the advertising business. At no time during the creation, filming or editing of the spot did we know it was going to be aired on the big game. That decision was made after all three spots were finished and reviewed by the client back in Dallas. Had we ever known that there was a plan to put a commercial on the Super Bowl, we probably would have fucked things up terribly.
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As for "What Have I Done For You Lately"? Stay tuned for a post on a new life for an old Nintendo commercial coming up in the next few weeks. I'm workin' this antique Super Bowl angle until then!



Tuesday, January 27, 2009

That Embarrassing 70s Show - I Was In It!

Oh dear. It's all about to come out of the closet - and I'm not talking about my gayness - although from this photo, you've got to wonder. Note particularly, my full-length denim jumpsuit (I'm on the far left) and my buddy's not-so-delicately-cross-hatched pants. Fucking hilarious, you've got to admit.

This photo comes from Sylvia, a really good art-friend during our freshman year in college and the dude standing next to me is my best friend at that time, Tom Nelson, or "Nels" as everyone knew him. I was known also as "Carls" at the time and together we composed a most deviant organization called "The Swedish Mafia", a clandestine cooperative dedicated to art, beer drinking, cigar smoking, classic car repair (we both drove junk piles of ever-changing make and model including Studebakers, Ford Mustangs a Buick "Invicta" and a Datsun) and the chasing of many women who were essentially bad for our mental health, although many times more than good for our physical health. From that was born another private club, "The Porker Brothers", but that's another story entirely. Tom now makes a "clean" living in custom homes.

In these days, we were both obsessed with getting through school (Black Hawk College in this photo) and finding jobs in the ad business (His mother was an art teacher and his dad had an advertising company of some sort) and Sylvia was a bit of a Tom-boyish art buddy of ours who was just really, really sweet and truly a good friend as well. Little did we understand that these days would pass quickly and this photo is probably the last time I saw or spoke to Sylvia. Until now.

Over the last year, since starting the blog and posting thrice weekly at least, my Internet presence has increased exponentially. Along with Facebook and LinkedIn, I'm pretty easy to find and any great number of voices from my past have popped up recently - and interestingly enough, primarily female - the account executive from my first TV shoot with Bozell & Jacobs in Dallas, the researcher and media woman who worked on the Nintendo Game Boy account with us in the early 90s, and another woman with whom I had an affair with at Leo Burnett. Oh, dear. If 25 year olds start popping up calling me "daddy", I'll start to worry. But that hasn't happened, yet. Yet. So there is definitely another side to being a Web 2.0 provocateur. A side that tax collectors, old enemies and older ex-girlfriends might find to use to exorcise antique angst. But that isn't what has happened to me at all - conversely, everyone I have re-met has been just so sweet and nice that it makes me wonder what kind of a guy I really have been? Even Tom and I are still in contact. Wasn't I supposed to have been a Porsche driving, cocaine snorting, advertising-creative-hero-in-his-own-mind, sort of asshole in all those years up the ladder? Well, we'll do a call-in show for that later. I'm sure we can find a guy I bullied in gym class - or maybe art class for sure. Are there art class bullies?

Thanks so much to Sylvia for this, and for letting those of us who have spent time in divorce court know that there is another side to that 50% figure. Sylvia and her husband in the photo, Jim, are still married. But no damn thanks for the fashion faux pas "outing". Damn that hurts!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Chúc Mừng Năm Mới - or Happy New Year in Vietnamese! : Nothing Much Happened in Vietnam Today VI

Toshiba, LG, Samsung, Mitsubishi, Casio, Hitachi, Canon, Sanyo, Mobifone and Budweiser. So began my Lunar New Year in the roundabout before Saigon's Ben Thanh Market, the Vietnamese equivalent of Times Square with the pulsating neon buzz that defines any Asian city - signs. Signs of the times.

The Vietnamese had assembled a stage, worthy of Madonna in stagecraft, lighting, and sound to host the annual bringing in of the Lunar New Year festivities. I call it Lunar New Year, as opposed to Chinese New Year because it's just not fair to give China all the credit for what is an Asia-wide festival - and it's based on the Lunar calendar as opposed to the solar, or western, giving it dates distinctly different from the way the rest of the world counts time. But everywhere I've been in Asia they celebrate both, giving them two holidays for the eternal timely price of one. In Vietnam it's referred to simply as, Tet.

Wandering onto the grounds it was obvious that some seats were just more fly than others - rows of plastic chairs, some draped with fabric, as if for a wedding, militarily arranged before the cameras, and others, rows upon rows, more peasantly distributed in the grass as background. The rows for dignitaries or pop stars de jour were expansive and strategically placed for what HTV (Ho Chi Minh City Television) had decided, or the boys in Hanoi had decided for them, was going to be the show of the year.

Hundreds of plasma screens behind a milky styrene stretch canvas, all run through a processor to form a single image, would backlight the performers in a way that no rear-screen projection could and calculatedly look just absolutely bright and stellar on TV. The HTV guys were running around peeing their pants just thinking about it. Lotus flowers, giant hanging lamps with poetic geometric designs, lit from both interior and exterior, and motorized coloured strobes, choreographed to swing with the bass beat, would be just wallpaper in the light of the calibre of stars they were about to trot out on this gargantuan, multi-tiered stage - or one would think from the vast expanse of premium seating and rock solid security that swarmed the venue.

Showtime folks! This of course is all free. Paid concerts in general have been a novelty in Asia for some time as the governments use the majority of public events as giant movie sets, with thousands of unpaid extras, to grace the TVs of the plebes in the hinterlands who essentially pay for this grand extravagance, thus providing the Asian version of quid pro quo to keep the farmers happy while the skyscrapers go up. The price of technology is never too high in light of the loyalty bourne per pixel or digit. iPhones grace the audience as I enter the seating area. Oh, no - not that one, that silk draped nirvana reserved for those who may float above the common dirt upon which the rest of us tread - but the general seating - a place behind speaker columns and with no really good view of anything except the jumbo-trons set up on the sidelines. We are there, but oh so tactively removed.

I find a place, good enough, in a front row, just behind a patch of grass of where it is, described by placards in Vietnamese, to be no seating. This will be just perfect. I can see the center of the stage and two sides of the plasma-tron background screen, divided by, yes of course, a tall black speaker column, but otherwise, everything is cool. Shit, it's free. What do I want?

As I take a single seat, next to some kids, one of them addresses me in perfect English. "Where are you from?", he queries. "America", of course, I respond. Then in a choreographed chant that I swear I didn't script form my previous "Lunch With Obama" post, the boy and his two sisters sing back, "Obama!". I smile. Yes. Nobody ever choired "Bush" or smiled in return.

We wait for the show and converse. They are so cool. The boy, the best speaker, tells me that his dad is with the show. His father is a truck driver. Dad comes up with his neckchain crewpass during our more than two hours waiting for the big event. I'm doing a bit of babysitting and dad approves. I feel good - for a roundeye. Many parents go out of their way to point me out to their kids and get them to say "Hi". It's a way to teach them that people are people but also a chance for them to get a response out of just a one sylabble word in the English language. You be surprised at the shy blushy grins you will get from kids by just saying "Hi" back, or by being just slightly more expressive and retorting, "Yo mudda fucka - my home boy, main man, dog and brotha dat I don't see for a yea or anotha!"

Just kidding. These kids, no matter who they are, a truckdriver's son or the progeny of captains of industry, are growing up in a bilingual world and their parents are acutely aware of this. It will be interesting to see how America handles this new reality.

As the clock ticks away I don't have any idea of when the show really starts - but I understand the prep of a crew on a clock. And they are busy as bees. Lighting checks, sound checks, camera and director reviews of all the angles on the jumbo-trons to my side. This shit is going down. But the main seating area remains oddly unpopulated. The Hoi Paloi have dutufully filled the cheap seats but there seems to be a distinct lack of papparozi ready subjects for the big cams. Tick-tock. Beautiful girls in Ao Dais (pronounced "ouw yai"), the sleek long Vietnamese dress with silk pants, dispatch to the sides in search of foreigners. Any white dude in a t-shirt and his girlfriend will do. I am spotted and offered a seat in the golden area, but decline. Somehow I don't like the idea of serving this reverse racism, that makes me more valuable to a camera, than a man or his children who live here and have worked for it. It's part of their 15 minutes, not mine. I experienced this in Korea as well, where groups of people would hang out at the drop off of a ski-lift and try to drag me into a photo with their friends - just to show all their friends back in Seoul how international they were. Bullshit. These people would no more buy me a beer in a bar than a buffalo, in any other year, but they wanted my face for a photo. (okay, maybe they'd buy me a buffalo) Fuck em'. With the Ao Dai girls failing to find enough foreigners to fill the seats the pedestrian Vietnamese quickly spotted the vacancies, five minutes ahead of showtime, and stormed the area. Seats filled. In about 30 seconds.

The show began and it was just what I have come to know are the majority of these shows in Asia. Not much. One major star preceded by an hour of beautiful dancing girls and canned music leading up to a lip-sync two song "show". Dreadful. And so made for TV that you get tired of being an audience member pretty quickly. Duh. I left after 20 minutes.

The booms and sparkles of a more than 30 minute long fireworks show were a fitting symphony for my simple walk home. I thought it was splendid.

The previous day my photographer friend, Mads Monson, had wished me a happy new year by involking the words to an old Depeche Mode album, "Enjoy the Silence". This he sent to me by SMS. I understood. After the flurry of activity before the new year in Vietnam, there is a distinct lack of activity for maybe a week or more. Silence in a sense. Shops are closed. People go to their home towns. Ancestors are worshiped and the requisite amount of gambling is done with the "lucky money" they receive as gifts from family members and friends. But it's a generally quiet and reflective time after having worked an entire year to have gotten to where they are today. Peaceful. Serene. At one with the Buddha, so to speak...

Bullshit. Today I was awaken by the pounding of drums and, having donned my shorts and t-shirt to parade out on the balcony of my building, witnessed a Tiger Dance, the likes of what you might have seen to be a Dragon Parade, with one man inside a large paper tiger head and any great number of others trailing behind to hold up the striped body. My motorbike drivers, the lady who runs my convenience store, the neighborhood dwarf hunchback and anybody else who happened to happen by, dragged my sorry ass down to the street for a ritual beer drinking, eating and karaoke ceremony early this morning.

Happy New Year, everyone. Chúc Mừng Năm Mới. I think it will be anything but quiet.

As you may have noticed, we've adopted a festive red as the blog colour du jour, or du week for this New Year. As it turns out, you people are just wildly fickle about colours and so I've decided it just doesn't fucking matter and I'm going to make the blog any colour I want, uhh, depending on my mood. Music has been programmed for the event as well. For those who hate the music...learn to use the Podcast control in the right sidebar.

My thanks also to Rebecca Wolkenstein for her image of the ox/buffalo for this new years post. Rebecca represents Neil Massey, a photographer out of the U.K. who had taken me out for a few pints earlier in the week to help get my new year off to a more than comfortable start. My best to all.

For more in the "Nothing much happened" series, check below:

VIII People Are Just Dieing To Get Out of Here
VII The Hair Job
VI Happy New Year! Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!
V The Vietnam sNews
IV At The Center of Miss Universe
III My Walk in the Park Today
II The Stevie Wonder Post
I Ear Cleaning



For my New Years post for 2010 check here.

Friday, January 23, 2009

How Not To Market In Asia - The Importance of Time, Money, Quality and Knowing How Much of Each You Need to Succeed

Recently I had another request from yet another potential client to do something that didn't seem realistic within the time-frame and budget. You may remember a post I did last year regarding a different potential client who needed an entire business and advertising plan for bringing a blimp to Vietnam. In that case, I submitted a six page outline with essentially questions for the agency to ask the client so that we could begin to get a handle on whether it was a good idea for the client to proceed with his (pun intended) somewhat overblown idea. Suffice to say, no one has yet to see a blimp floating the skies of Vietnam as a giant Heineken bottle, condom or sausage company promotion. It never happened - and it never happened for one particularly very good reason. The client had absolutely no business plan - and wanted the agency, along with my assistance, to create one for free - stop wait, reverse that: He wanted us to actually pay for the privilege of planning and selling his media - a scenario I had seen already in Vietnam and documented in my "Pay to Pitch" post. Don't do it.

And so, having had this happen, at least once a quarter since I've been in Asia, I've decided that although I may not be the self-help business guru that many people may be looking for in this still wild wild east, I may be able to more than competently offer another kind of assistance. Aside from the successes I've enjoyed with British American Tobacco, Samsung LG and others, I may have learnt far more from the businesses I chose not to do business with - the broken startups, the never-been contenders, the people with no plan whatsoever or the companies who just simply had their heads up their asses - than the ones I have. There is indeed an art to choosing who not to work for, at least as much as there may be in deciding who to work for. Only after that, the not always easy choices of how much you are to be paid, and when and on what terms may progress.

And so with the combination of my successes, and avoidences of other, almost certain, failures, I have become an unequivocal expert on:

"How Not To Market In Asia".

To give you an idea of how I arrived at this writing premise, let me go through just a few of the details of this last week's scenario. For good sportsmanship, I'm not going to name any of the companies, specific programs or people involved, aside from myself, but I'll just give you a basic idea of the facts I had on hand:

I was contacted early last week by a gentleman who had found this blog, as well as my profiles on Facebook and LinkedIn. If you Google the words "Advertising", "Marketing", and "Vietnam" in a Boolean fashion, you'll more than likely hit me on page one, giving me a more than fair web presence in Vietnam - with credit given also to my significant postings on the previous subjects.

The gentleman proceeded to ask a number of questions related to my business via Google chat and I directed him to my LinkedIn profile to get a handle on my previous experiences. After another day or so of chat inquiries I deduced that he was looking for someone to do sales work on a commission basis. He had a TV show with a sponsorship package he wanted to sell to a large foreign bank in town, and assured me that the sale was almost closed - save for the fact that the bank had questioned his company's lack of "Demographic Profile" for their show - which he needed in less than a week. I was immediately taken aback. How do you get to almost closing a deal on sponsorship of a TV program without a Demographic Profile of your product? It's almost slide #1 in your Powerpoint intro, isn't it? Apparently it wasn't. My immediate feeling was that if they had missed this, that their pitch probably had quite a few more holes - and that basically, they were a long way from selling anything.

I looked at the company's website, read the show description, watched the demo and read the bios of all of the Directors of the company. The project, as it exists on the Internet looked good by local standards, but that's a far cry from getting a bank director, in these currently murky financial waters, to sign off on what I was told was a US $20,000 sponsorship deal - and with the Demographic Profile being the only thing standing in the way? I didn't see it.


After more and more questions and fewer and fewer answers - hours worth - over the Internet and phone, it was obvious, that I could no more guarantee a sale based on only one small part of the plan, no matter what I wrote, than I could pull rabbits out of hats or coerce Genies out of bottles. Quite simply, I felt there was far more work in the job than the gentleman was claiming. And convincing him of that, was not going to be easy. It was time to cut to the chase.

I made it abundantly clear that I worked on a fee only basis and was not interested in any sort of success based pay structure. How could I be confident of any success when I was only being asked to fill one hole in a dike that was obviously full of them, and on very short notice? We then began the dance that begins all negotiations and that's pretty much where the whole deal hit the wall. This company simply had no money, or from the numbers bandied about, reasonably less than would excite the profit motives of a convenience store clerk in Toronto - and they were rapidly running out of time. I turned the work down and hung up my phone.

Over the weekend, I sent the man a mail that more fully explained why I had turned down the work. I explained that in every job there are the three elements of Time, Quality and Money. Each of us are allowed to choose two. If you have no money, time may buy you quality. If you have no quality, money and time could produce that, but not always. But if you have no time, only money and quality can get you where you need to be. This man was running out of both time and money. There was now, truly nothing I could do to help him unless we could come to some sort of budget.
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The next few days, leading up to his deadline were almost humourous. Various messages on my phone and Google chats claiming things like "marketing is easy" and "I'm going to start my own marketing company" and such, letting me know that he was doing the work himself.
Here is the final message about his client meeting:
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me:.........You close your deal?
client:......yes we got some closure
me:.........what does "some" mean?
.............."closing" a deal means getting a contract on paper...
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End of conversation. I've not heard anything from him since. Why do I think he did not get his deal signed and will probably be crossing "T"s and dotting "I"s for quite some time? With no ill feelings towards this guy or his company (it's only business, right?), our introductory work together pretty much told me that we wouldn't be doing any more work together in the future. And it's not totally about the money. In the end it became about respect. He didn't respect my (or anyone else in my position's) participation in the process enough to allow enough time or money to get the job done properly in the first place, and then in the end, when he was out of time, decided to declare he could do it better himself.
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That's not a decision I will ever make. #1, because I am neither a financial guru, nor a TV producer and #2, because I have a tremendous amount of respect for those who do what I do not - and do it extremely well. So the moral to this entire story, if there is a moral to be expected, is this:
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Understand what it is that you do better than anybody else - and - stick to your guns.
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If you can do both of these things, you'll be about 8 million miles ahead of the other guys, gals or companies who are all trying to do something similar to whatever it is that you are doing. If you can do both of those things you will not be wasting time doing a lot of other things that you should have other people doing. If you can do both of those things, you will have mastered the art of picking your battles and be spending your time doing whatever it is that you really love.
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"The more steps you take to avoid failure, the fewer you will need to achieve success."
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This week, I turned down a job, because it was not a job that was going to ever be a good job in the future. If so many of the marketers in Asia, be they agencies or other, could do that, they'd be a lot further along the curve. I end today's post with item #15 from Hugh MacLeod's upcoming book "Ignore Everybody - How to be creative". "The most important thing a creative person can learn professionally is where to draw the red line that separates what you are willing to do, and what you are not." Hugh is also responsible for the cartoon that begins this post.

For more information on Brand Marketing Training in Vietnam, go here.

For more in the "How Not To Market In Asia" series, click below:

II) What's Wrong With the Vietnam Advertising Association?

III) Detri-viral Marketing: When Web 2.0 works against your brand

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Music Is Up, and It's Gonna Stay That Way! Get Used to it...

Every once in a while I get some anal-retentive-circular-cavity-in-a-posterior (a-hole) who complains about the music on this blog. And every once in a greater while I get people who are just very happy to hear it. In either case I do want to put as much control over content in your hands as I possibly can (within artistic reason) and so the "podcast", as it is called, has controls on it.

Look down in the sidebar on the righthand side of this page and you'll find the podCast player, or Gcast as the folks at GarageBand are wont to call it. There you will find both "pause" and "volume" controls that allow you to adjust or just turn the farking thing off if you should so desire. Use them. Because I'm not about to begin to apologize for the music on this site. It's not particularly there for you to like so much as it is a counterpoint to whatever you may be reading and intended as colour or possibly education or possibly just confusion. And I like it that way. And it's gonna stay that way. Because, basically... I said so. So do please, should be a regular reader, learn to use the controls provided and use them appropriately. And should you be a new reader, learn the house rules around here, and if you have any objections, kindly fuck off - or send me a note...


With that little monkey off my back I'm just proud as punch to present the following wildly incomplete concert history of my personal experiences - just to give you all a real idea of how eclectic and basically confused my musical tastes can be - and even more thoroughly confound even those who may already know me well. The examples here come direct from The Chinese Cookie Jar, a bit of pre-war porcelain left to me by my great grandmother (really Japanese) and the receptacle for little bits of collections of mine - one being my left-over Boy Scout patches and the other being the ticket stubs from all the concerts I have ever attended. In many cases I have not save the stub but noted the show anyway in a lighter colour. Enjoy. I sure did.


1973 Cheech and Chong - Fall - Augustana College - Rock Island, Illinois
1974 Golden Earing, T-Rex, Eric Clapton - July 4 - State Fair Grounds - Davenport, Iowa
1975 Charlie Daniels, Three Dog Night - Summer - State Fair Grounds - Davenport, Iowa
1976 George Carlin - Fall - Augustana College - Rock Island, Illinois
1976 Marshall Tucker Band, Doobie Brothers - Summer - State Fair Grounds - Davenport, Iowa
1977 Todd Rundgren's Utopia - Summer - RKO Orpheum Theatre - Davenport, Iowa
1977 Kool and the Gang - Fall - SIU Arena - Carbondale, Illinois
1977 Judy Collins - Spring - SIU Arena - Carbondale, Illinois
1978 Bob Dylan - October 28 - SIU Arena - Carbondale, Illinois
1978 Huey Lewis and the News, Hall & Oates - Spring - SIU Arena - Carbondale, Illinois
1978 Jean-Luc Ponty - Fall - Shryock Auditorium, SIU - Carbondale, Illinois
1979 Elvis Costello and the Attractions - March 6 - Keil Opera House - St. Louis, Missouri
1979 Maynard Ferguson - March 31 - Shryock Auditorium, SIU - Carbondale, Illinois
1979 Pat Metheny & Lyle Mayes - Spring - Shryock Auditorium, SIU - Carbondale, Illinois
1979 The Beach Boys - April 23 - SIU Arena - Carbondale, Illinois
1980 Utopia (Todd Rundgren) - July 30 - McFarlin Auditorium, SMU - Dallas, Texas
1980 The Rolling Stones - Summer - The Cotton Bowl - Dallas, Texas
1980 The Ramones - Winter - The Western Place - Dallas, Texas
1980 Phil Collins - Winter - Reunion Arena - Dallas, Texas
1981 Marcel Marceau (Concert? He's a mime!) - Mar 29 - Dallas Theatre Center - Dallas, Texas
1981 John McLaughlin, Al Dimeola, Paco De Lucia - Apr 27 - Agora Ballroom - Dallas, Texas
1981 Cheap Trick - Summer - Reunion Arena - Dallas, Texas
1981 Utopia (Todd Rundgren) - July 18 - Agora Ballroom - Dallas, Texas
1982 The Cars - Feb 23 - Reunion Arena - Dallas, Texas
1982 Utopia (Todd Rundgren) - Dec 7 - Agora Ballroom - Dallas, Texas
1983 Jean-Luc Ponty - Oct 29 - Majestic Theatre - Dallas, Texas
1983 Todd Rundgren - Dec 10 - Nick's Uptown - Dallas, Texas
1984 Ben Vereen/Dallas Symphony Pops - Jan 13 - Fair Park Music Hall - Dallas, Texas
1984 Genesis - Jan 21 - Reunion Arena - Dallas, Texas
1984 Suzanne Vega - Spring - Majestic Theatre - Dallas, Texas
1984 The Tubes/Utopia - Summer - Universal Studios - Hollywood, California
1985 Neil Young - Spring - Reunion Arena - Dallas, Texas
1985 Todd Rundgren - Oct 31 - Arcadia Theatre - Dallas, Texas
1985 Todd Rundgren - Nov 22 - Arcadia Theatre - Dallas, Texas
1986 Andreus Vollenwieder - Spring - Majestic Theatre - Dallas, Texas
1986 Lori Anderson - Fall - Majestic Theatre - Dallas, Texas
1987 Spiro Gyra - Summer - Fair Park - Dallas, Texas
1988 Dave Grusin/Lee Ritenour - Harbour Front - San Diego, California
1988 The Duke Ellington Orchestra - Smithsonian Institute - Washington D.C.
1988 Gypsy Kings - Winter - DAR Constitution Hall - Washington D.C.
1989 Campagne Maguy Marin - Nov 11 - Kennedy Center - Washington D.C.
1989 Todd Rundgren - Winter - Baltimore, Maryland
1990 Tears For Fears - May 16 - Star Theatre - Herrillville, Indiana
1990 Julia Fordham - May 22 - Park West - Chicago, Illinois
1990 The Pursuit of Happiness - Sept 22 - Cabaret Metro - Chicago, Illinois
1990 The Phantom of the Opera (Musical) - Nov 24 - Auditorium Theatre - Chicago, Illinois
1991 The Posies - Spring - The Vic - Chicago, Illinois
1991 The Grand Hotel (Musical) - Apr 27 - Chicago Theatre - Chicago, Illinois
1991 Les Miserables (Musical) - Aug 24 - Auditorium Theatre - Chicago, Illinois
1991 Louie Bellson - Winter - Blackhawk Hotel - Chicago, Illinois
1991 Big Audio Dynamite (BAD), Public Image Limited (PIL) - Winter - Agora Ballroom - Chicago, Illinois
1992 Todd Rundgren - Apr 17 - The Oak Theatre - Chicago, Illinois
1992 Van Cliburn - Summer - Grant Park Band Shell - Chicago, Illinois
1992 Chuck Berry - Summer - Ravinia - Chicago, Illinois
1992 Jon Lee Hooker - Chicago Blues Fest, Grant Park - Chicago, Illinois
1992 Utopia Reunion - Fall - Somewhere - Santa Barbara, California
1993 Prince - April 6 - Chicago Theatre - Chicago, Illinois
1993 Eric Clapton - Summer - a horrible Hockey Arena, Hinsdale, Illinois
1993 Ray Charles - Summer - Ravinia - Chicago, Illinois
1993 Steely Dan - Aug 15 - Poplar Creek - Chicago, Illinois
1993 The Grateful Dead with Sting - June 19 - Soldier Field - Chicago, Illinois
1993 Todd Rundgren - Nov 23 - Park West - Chicago, Illinois
1993 Todd Rundgren - Nov 28 - Park West - Chicago, Illinois
1994 The Grateful Dead with Traffic - Jul 23 - Soldier Field - Chicago, Illinois
1994 Blur - Sept 17 - The Vic Theatre - Chicago, Illinois
1994 Ringo Star's Allstar Band - Poplar Creek - Chicago, Illinois
1995 Todd Rundgren - Aug 17 - The Orbit Room - Grand Rapids, Michigan
1995 Todd Rundgren - Dec 31 - Park West - Chicago, Illinois
1995 Luciano Pavaroti - Fall - Olymic Gymnastics Arena - Seoul, Korea
1996 Vienna Symphony Orchestra - Spring - National Theatre - Seoul, Korea
1997 Sting - Summer - Olympic Park, Seoul, Korea
1998 Eric Clapton - Fall - Olympic Gymnastics Arena - Seoul, Korea
2000 The Kronos Quartet - Spring - LG Performing Arts Center - Seoul, Korea
2003 Turandot - Spring - Seoul World Cup Stadium - Seoul, Korea
2000 Chuck Mangione - Feb 13 - Seoul Art Center Auditorium - Seoul, Korea
2004 David Bowie - Mar 14 - Hong Kong Convention Center - Hong Kong
2004 Todd Rundgren - Oct 27 - Shibuya Ax - Tokyo, Japan (click here for story)
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Herbie Hancock was in Saigon three years ago but I didn't hear about the show. Asia is basically a crappy place to get good concerts - or at least anywhere outside Tokyo, Hong Kong and the places that are relatively wealthy. I'm sure Seoul has gotten better since I left, but it was still slim pickens during my time there. Hopefully you'll now understand my great need for music on the Internet and just bear with me and use the podCast controls provided in the sidebar.





Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"I vote for black guy!" - Obamanation II

Barack Hussein Obama, Beyonce, Bruce Springsteen, Garth Brooks, Inauguration, James Taylor, John Melencamp, Pete Seeger, Phatmanvisa, Presidential Disaster Area, Sheryl Crow, U2, Will.I.AmMy inauguration day began with a visit from my friend Phat who goes by the nickname Phatman in relation to his business of handling Visas and renewals for foreigners living in Vietnam. Should any of you need visa work done here in country please don't hesitate to contact him at PhatmanVisa@gmail.com. He's efficient, competitive and a super nice guy - So anyway, my phone rings and it's Phat. He's completed my Visa renewal just before the big Tet holiday and wants to deliver it to me at my house. I agree to meet him downstairs at the street coffee lady's stall and get the day off to a positive with a brand new visa and a cafe sua da. Phat pulls up on his motorbike and what is he wearing but a colourful Obama t-shirt, made in the USA, in the same graphic theme as many of the posters you see. I ask him if he got the shirt in Vietnam and he says, "no", a friend brought it to him from the States. But along with his shirt he has also printed out a sign that sits on the face of his bike, right below the handle bars that says, "Obama, I vote for black guy!" I laugh. This is funny, that even in Vietnam Obama's election still brings a smile, and holds hope for all sorts of people. My post "Lunch With Obama" was my first brush with this Presidential fame and it gives me hope as well. I finish my coffee with Phat and go back to my house to get a start on the near round-the-clock coverage of the event starting with the concert on the mall in DC on Monday. Maybe, because a lot of the music came from my generation, I loved hearing James Taylor and even John Melencamp, of whom I would not ordinarily be a fan, but his "Little Pink Houses" worked well for the venue and he performed it with a vigor and energy I would have not expected. Will.I.Am, Sheryll Crow and Herbie Hancock worked surprisingly well together but I reserve quite a bit less adoration for Garth Brooks doing "American Pie" and U2, who just seemed out of place and way over indulgent for the moment. But the real crowning glory I thought, was Pete Seeger singing "This Land Is Your Land", flanked by Bruce Springsteen and a host of other stars including Beyonce, who was positively regal, enjoying in his lifetime the recognition of being one of the 20th century's great American songwriters (I keep Prince and Todd Rundgren on that list as well, but that's another story). In the end I know it was all staged - manufactured to go directly to my heartstrings and pluck them with wreckless, propagandized, abandon - but it worked for me. Cathartic, if you will - and gave me just the sort of feeling I needed to not only get on with my day, but my New Year in the hope that the dark shadows of the Bush administraion will fade and America will begin to chart a course of being a responsible world partner in a newer world order, far from the monochromatic visions of the first President Bush. Happy New Year everyone. "I vote for black guy!"



For more on Obama, click below:


Obama to Send 30,000 Troops to Tiger Woods House






Monday, January 12, 2009

Your Man In Saigon III

Way back in March of 08 I was surprised to find a mail in my box from a reader in New York who claimed that Vanity Fair magazine had tread on to The Wild Wild East's turf with their own "Our Man in Saigon" feature. The reader went on to explain that "to your readers, your are our man in Saigon" and wondered what I had thought of the story.

At that point this blog was but a month old and I wondered how I could even have had any readers at such an embrionic stage, but at least one reader there was, and from New York none the less, so I was happy to find any audience at all. A few weeks later I recieved a hard copy of the feature from New York and was able to reference it on the Internet as well. It was interesting, to read a newcomer's view of this city, as I had been here a little over two years at that point, and interesting to read it in a Vanity Fair context. Readers of this blog will certainly not confuse any writing here with the Pulitzer prize winning product of many of the Vanity Fair writers but it was more than curious to read Brian McNally thrust into that context. My comments and introduction to the first story are here.

For those not familiar with all this background suffice to say that Brian McNally is an old friend of Vanity Fair's editor, Graydon Carter, and a former restauranteur of quite some repute in New York. It's not difficult to understand Mr. Carter's fascination with his friend's decamp to Saigon in episode number one, but the second installment, published in November, brings a lot of questions to mind, not in the least Vanity Fair's editorial reasoning and various journalistic responsibilities. I had to ask myself just exactly why they were continuing with what one reviewer termed as Mr. McNally's "walking breakdown" I encourage you to read the entire piece here, but will also run through it briefly with Vanity Fair excerpts in colour, which you can click on to see the original, and my comments attached as follows:

"In Vietnam, if the weather doesn’t claim you—whether by scorching heat, the hair-trigger deluges, or a ravaging cyclone—then the swarming traffic or counterfeit medicine will."

A curious introduction at best, as neither the heat was scorching this last year nor did we experience anything so severe as a cyclone, certainly not as far inland as Saigon is situated - the work of the editorial staff at VF is more than plainly evident in McNally's second Web Exclusive "Letter From Saigon". Gone are the patchy transitions and somewhat coloquialy quaint constructions from his first public entry replaced by strands of pristinely elegant prose that might send the most avid reader, or certainly a second year political science student, to his Wiki or Dictionary.com search in hopes of figuring out something like the following:

"No doubt, in the lurid imaginations of Wolfowitz, Perle, and Co., the place is teeming with subversive samizdat cafés, where students and intellectuals, thirsting for democracy, surreptitiously pass mimeographed essays on Thomas Paine from table to table. Apart from the fact that anyone interested in reading essays on Thomas Paine should head straight to the English-language section of any one of a number of bookstores here..."

Aside from being just needlessly erudite, this passage, and a whole political bit around it starts out by violating expat rule number one - "Unless your're a professional journalist or diplomat, stay out of politics in your host country." - and ends by just not being factually responsible in that none of McNally's political wonderings are substantiated for the reader, or other writers, in a way that could illuminate or encourage any positive change - never mind that it's plainly obvious that he's never entered one of the bookstores he references looking for Thomas Paine - of which you will find, of course, absolutely none.

"It’s far more dangerous to expose corruption in Vietnam than to practice it, as the recent widely reported trial of two journalists and two whistle-blowers demonstrated. (Two were sentenced to jail terms for breaking certain vague and paranoid laws such as abusing democratic freedoms and infringing on the interests of the state.)"

I'd be much happier to read McNally's take on restaurants and culture than I would traipse through his political or social ramblings, since in most cases he's way out of his element or just flat wrong, or blind:

"Strip clubs are nonexistent and most bars close at midnight. Scantily clad go-go girls dancing on a stage would be enough to lose a bar its liquor license. Apart from a few streets outside the tourist and ex-pat neighborhoods, street prostitution is represented almost in its entirety by the same two lady-boys who cruise Le Loi Street every night on a moped. There are no brothels that I have ever heard of and, more important, there is no organized crime, and there are no pimps involved in prostitution."

To say there's no organized crime or managed prostitution in a city growing as fast and furiously as Saigon, after having claimed that corruption is rampant in the earlier parts of his story, just doesn't make any fucking sense. And it's not true. I'm quite sure the Vanity Fair code of ethics forbids me to say the word "fucking" but it should also prevent Brian McNally from writing, and Graydon Carter from approving any purported facts about things they don't know fuck all about - since former New York celebrity restauranteurs and Spy magazine writers should not be the first people anyone would pick to route out the underworld in an unknown land.

The absense of any real humanity or real relationships for that matter is what finally permeates this second installment from VF's man-supposedly-in-Saigon. And the question of what he is actually doing here remains yet unanswered.

"There the fashion doyenne who manages to be both genuinely eccentric and genuinely dull, there the Hollywood producer who has written more books than he has read, there the phony English journalist who has been trading for 30 years on an accent that was drowned long ago in the Thames Estuary and, hijacked by happy hour, has rarely seen a sober dusk."

This snippet of carboard cut-out character sketches from New York is about as close as McNally ever gets to relating to people and it's never in a particularly personal nor complimentary fashion, whether in Saigon or New York. It is however evident that he's outgrown New York, at least in his last incarnation, and seems to be spending most of his time contemplating whether there will be anything next, aside from being a VF contributer, or not.

What I get out of the whole exercise at this point, is that a man in a more than influential publishing position has taken a shine to the seemingly curious travails of an old friend from another life and has given him a platform in which to excorcize whatever late-mid-life demons he may have left and that a tourist - an ex-NYC restauranteur as he might have been - is writing his still naive impressions of a place he had only fantasized about through the decor, staff and dishes of a restaurant he once held sway over.

For my readers, after nearly a year on this blog and three posts a week, I will carry on as their Man In Saigon as a worker, resident, writer and provocateur of a city of which I still believe holds the promise that New York may have had for Mr. McNally in his beginning years there.


For the entire "You man in Saigon Experience" check below:

IV: The search for Brian McNally ends
III: The second Vanity Fair Story
II: The first Vanity Fair story
I: Your Man In Saigon"


The Wild Wild East Dailies


D a v i d E v e r i t t - C a r l s o n
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