Nostalgiotism

In ad school, they teach you that advertising seeks to solve a problem. From the brand perspective, it could be low awareness, bad associations or simply, sell more ____. From a cultural perspective, it could be that adolescents are using spray on deodorant like cologne (true story), or that women struggle with body image. And of course, solving a cultural problem benefits a brand, because that brand becomes the answer.

In the past year, a creative trend in advertising has risen as an answer to the national doubt spawned by the recession. It’s nostalgiotism, the grey area, full of honor and triumph, where nostalgia and patriotism overlap. And it’s everywhere.

I remember walking into the TV room on Super Bowl Sunday moments before Chrysler’s “Imported from Detroit” spot played. In silence we watched a car drive through the gloomy industrial city as the gruff-voiced storyteller on screen began:

“What does a town that’s been to hell and back know about the finer things in life?” he asked.

“Well I’ll tell yah, more than most. Yah see, it’s the hottest fires that make the hardest steel. Add hard work and conviction, and a know how that runs generations deep in every last one of us, that’s who we are. That’s our story” he answers.

The voice-over was referring to Detroit, but plenty of Americans outside the Motor City could relate to “hell and back.” They understood that in recent years Detroit’s struggle had become the whole nation’s struggle. The commercial’s answer, the “defense of a city, an industry and a way of life,” as Tim Nudd called it, let a lot of viewers feel proud of, and hopeful for, the traditions of the American auto industry…and in turn, America. Take that, recession!

Fast-forward to this fall, and Mother NY took on a nostalgiotic voice in its web campaign for the Chevy Centennial. The first webisode of “The Road We’re On,” introduces Bridgeville, Pennsylvania, the small town home to one of the oldest Chevy Dealerships in the world.

Beginning with sentimental stories from the locals, the music turns thoughtful about two minutes in and an older woman quietly says: “A growing plant has roots. And it can’t go anywhere without them. If you don’t know where your roots are, how can you move forward?”

Boil down the (well-done) copywriting and once again, you’ve got America’s past giving hope to its future.

And then, mere days after the Chevy campaign launched, the new Carhartt spot aired. Once more, a gravelly, salt-of-the-earth voice saluted “the people who built the country, who rely on themselves to get things done.”

The ad industry’s bent for nostalgia during hard economic times is a well-documented paradigm. This version though, this particular mixture of nostalgia and patriotism, goes beyond that. It seems to be answering the question, “is America doomed?” “Are we more doomed than last time when we thought we were doomed?”

The Chicken and Egg dilemma in advertising asks, do ads create culture or does culture creates ads?

So, do the ads above create a new way of thinking during the recession? (maybe so.) Or are they more a reflection of an American spirit, one that doesn’t even need to be dramatized during a coffee shop brainstorm? (definitely so.) In my own experience as a copywriter, it’s been far more natural for me to create something based on a cultural truth, than it has for me to create something that seeks to force a “truth” onto humanity. I, along with thousands of YouTube commentators, got chills while watching the Chrysler spot because it brought something to light that had recently gone dark. It held up a mirror at exactly the right angle to remind us all that America has been, still is, and will be again a home we can be proud of.

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The editing process

I wrote something about editing but then edited it down to this.

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So here’s the pitch

There’s this man…mid forties, married, no kids. His wife dyes her hair red to stick out in a crowd and belong to one too. But David, back to David, he’s “unhappy.” He lives in New York with his wife in a spacious, less-than-ideal apartment in midtown. They get it cleaned three times a week. “Clean is an improvement. Clean is an improvement.”

Mia, the Filipino woman who does the cleaning, keeps her hair short like a man’s.

David has never met Mia. She comes during the day while he and his wife are at work, and his wife leaves her pages and pages of instructions about dry cleaning, or emptying her desktop trash can, or pickling things.

But Wife takes a job in DC. She’ll be commuting during the week. She leaves David pages and pages of instructions on what he should have Mia do.

David begins writing the notes:

Hi Mia. Day light savings is coming up…just wanted to make sure you remembered. – David.

Hi Mia. How’s your day so far? Things are quiet around here. Every time she leaves I think the same thing. It’s this skit, there used to be this skit on tv called “Middle-aged Man,” about a man whose age brought him “powers” beyond those of guys my age (at the time). A woman asks him about her disinterested husband, and he goes: how long have you been married? “7 years,” she says and he says: “how long have you had that hairstyle?” “7 years,” she says.

David keeps writing the letters. After a while Mia starts writing back. They still don’t meet.

Gaping plot mysteries find no home in a premise.

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Well,

You have the tendency to make me feel like my teeth are on fire.

When your screech stretches through the part of the ear that helps us stand up straight.

If you could perhaps go up a few thousand hertz, we could peacefully coexist, though the dogs would protest.

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Sick? GTFO.

A sick adult is an unsightly creature. Hair unkempt, dark circles. A raw red ring around the nose and that stale, stale breath. There’s no mother trailing behind him to show the world he’s taken care of.

Those he once considered friends wish him good health from a distance. And acquaintances? Work buddies? Forget it. The prospect of catching whatever turned him into a homeless zombie is not worth the small talk.

The sweet spot of the sick adult scenario is any interaction with a roommate. A sick man is despised by his roommates. Though their social graces encourage otherwise, they can’t help but resent his (weak) immune system for losing to the microbes currently multiplying in MTA’s underground petri dish.

He’s left to fend for himself. Preferably where no one can see, hear, or smell him.

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The Hoarder Upstairs.

Our place was surprisingly quiet for a city apartment. We attributed it to lots of bricks, deadening the sounds of those living above us. The noiselessness kept things cozy.

One Saturday morning we were confronted not with sounds from upstairs, but with smells. I woke up, turned on the bathroom faucet and a stench of earthy decay filled the space. The foulness was embarrassing. Though none of us produced it, another human did–and it was a disgusting, shameful scent.

We had no idea where the stink was coming from, just that it got substantially worse when water was running. Putrid plumbing? Delightful.

A roommate concluded this was an emergency situation, and harassed management accordingly. They replied with a nonchalant, “Oh. Yes. It’s most likely coming from the hoarder above you.”

….

…..

“The Hoarder?”

Unbeknownst to all but the owners of the building, there had been a hoarder living–and hoarding–for three or four years in the unit directly above ours. Permission to evict him had finally been granted, so the process of hollowing out his dwelling had begun. Layers and layers of coke cans, receipts, paper bags, feces-urine-vomit, and possibly a few more creative collections, were removed to a dumpster on the street. None of us encountered the culprit himself, only the ghosts he left behind.

For days the smell lingered, welcoming us home every time we stepped inside. A sensory reminder of one man’s bizarre habit – one he has continued elsewhere, no doubt.

New tenants will arrive soon, bringing sounds of footsteps above along with them.

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100 Degrees

is the breaking point for people’s put-together-ness. Finally. It’s 100 degrees in New York City right now, and something seems different. People have given up on keeping up appearances. I saw a man snarling at nothing. People are gross, and they’re embracing it. Much more exciting and less uptight. How seriously can you take someone whose hair is making a perfect sphere around their head? Little girl ringlets curling about her neck as she delivers a very important presentation.

(paper to Internet conversion…a few months late. I think this was in July.)

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