Building a Brand

I accidentally logged into my LiveJournal page yesterday. Didn’t even know that place still existed. My last post over there was on May 15, 2009 and I was unemployed and entering screenplay competitions. Seems like a lifetime ago. Also: makes me feel not quite as bad about neglecting this blog for over two months.

So, quick update: rewrites to Irish were finished before Xmas. After my agent gave a thumbs-up, our first “advance” submissions went out nearly three weeks ago to two specific editors. Just got my first rejection today…nothing but nice things to say about my writing style (compared me to Chuck Palahniuk) and the theme of the book, it just wasn’t quite there for him. He expressed interest in reading whatever else I produce though. That’s something.

Still have fingers crossed for the other early reader…he works for my all-time favorite publisher.

In the meantime, I’ll be putting pen to paper in another week or two on the third book. Spent a day earlier this week “on location” in the tiny village I plan to spotlight, just taking notes and soaking up the vibe of the town. Characters are forming, plotlines are beginning to knot themselves together, it’s almost GO time.

Other than that…wife…3 kids…trying to refi the house…going to Disney World soon…two good friends were diagnosed with cancer…my school’s basketball team is poised to take over the world…I let my subscription to SAVEUR lapse…uh…tacos for dinner tonight?

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I mentioned it last time, though neither of the people reading this seemed to notice, that my Tumblr is now active. I try to update daily (except weekends and holidays) with photos and quotes and tidbits that influence me or inspire me in some way. Think of it as a subconscious personality index.

And my Twitter is still going, though I’m not as quippy as I used to be.

And there’s this blog.

And my Facebook page if you know me in somewhat real life.

Basically, you can find me on all the major platforms under the moniker of deadbeatJONES.

That’s what we used to call synergy in the ad biz.

I think.

It’s been a long time, and I used to drink A LOT, so…

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87 Things That I Don’t Care About (with some links).

You ever have one of those days where nothing really interests you? A day when no matter how many magazines you read, conversations you have or websites you visit, you just can’t find anything that makes you emote in the least. This day is just a dull, bleak monotony with no end. Even sleep is boring to me right now. Not one single dream.

The sad thing is, my chosen profession puts me in a position where I’m supposed to stay abreast of pop culture and current events so that I can weave these touchpoints seamlessly into my writings. Our clients strive to be relevant. They want to be on the top of everyone’s mind. While the perks of such a profession can be enriching (tax write-offs for comic books and concert tickets under the auspice of “research”), the downside is a barely uncontrollable urge to just hide in a dark corner and weep.

In order to temporarily stave off the dreadful power of creative burnout, I’m going to talk about all the things that I don’t care about. Some of these things will be described in sarcastic detail. Some will be appended with evidence of my nonchalance. And all of them will be promoted by my non-promotion of them.

Yes, the irony is not lost on me.

Anyway, here are 87 Things That I Don’t Care About (with some links):

  1. LOST – I haven’t cared about people stranded on islands since the days of Gilligan. Smoke monsters and polar bears are just updated versions of Wrongway Feldman and Dr. Boris Balinkoff. Look it up, youngsters!
  2. Bluetooth headsets – You just look like a tool when you’re walking in a crowded shopping mall talking to yourself about tee times. Seriously. Is your life that important that you need to be in constant contact with someone? Will the world economy collapse if you take an afternoon nap?
  3. Harry Potter
  4. Miley Cyrus
  5. The Cleveland Browns – Win something, then we’ll talk.
  6. Free credit reports
  7. Amy Winehouse
  8. Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
  9. Turkey – The country, not the animal. Turkey, the animal, is delicious. It’s especially delicious when it’s sliced thinly and piled on a hard-crusted bread with watercress, Havarti and a smear of mango chutney. I’m not kidding. It’s superb.
  10. Superpoke
  11. Super Unleaded gasoline
  12. Superchunk
  13. “Super Duper” – Used as an adjective, especially in the lyrics to “Puttin’ On The Ritz” by one hit wonder Taco.
  14. PlayStation 3
  15. Lifetime television channel
  16. People who play the bassoon
  17. Ted Turner
  18. Professional wrestler The Blue Meanie
  19. Truck stops
  20. Preteen chick flicks about vampires
  21. This guy
  22. That new Star Trek movie
  23. Anything made out of gold (silver is less pretentious)
  24. Cash4Gold
  25. Kanye West
  26. Quilts
  27. Quilting
  28. Magazines about quilting
  29. Magazines about rock climbing (but not rock climbing itself)
  30. Pecan sandies – fuck those things.
  31. Songs about women riding horses
  32. Billy Baldwin’s film career (except for Fair Game…that’s a classic)
  33. Stores that sell $350 jeans
  34. Sporks
  35. Traveling anywhere by bus – Didn’t we outlaw torture in the US?
  36. Paintings of fruit
  37. Furniture that you’re not allowed to sit on
  38. People whose pet peeves encourage them to correct other people’s grammar
  39. Paddleboats
  40. The Colorado River
  41. The difference between bologna and salami
  42. Comic books about people who hate their jobs
  43. Coup d’états
  44. The Little Rascals
  45. Country music – Except for stuff that only sounds like country music but really isn’t…like some Neko Case and Jenny Lewis songs. However, I have extra contempt for stuff that is country music but pretends not to be. I’m looking at you, Wilco.
  46. Greeting cards
  47. Bumper stickers
  48. Department store changing rooms
  49. People who ride scooters just to be clever – I’m on to you.
  50. The bullriding monkey
  51. Umbrellas
  52. Scratch and sniff stickers – For my money, they could never nail down the smell of chocolate. It was always too sweet.
  53. Ukulele songs
  54. Small dogs – If I can accidentally step on it and kill it, it is not a pet.
  55. Flightless birds
  56. Electric can openers
  57. Kites
  58. The Canadian Pavilion at Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center – That’s just lazy.
  59. Trilobites
  60. Galactica 80 – Wow. That was just awful, wasn’t it?
  61. Hair dryers
  62. Shorthand
  63. Nicknames for basketball players – Let me guess, it’s going to have something to do with him being tall.
  64. Kentucky
  65. Superstitions based on weather
  66. Blue food – Not counting that funky milk stuff from the first Star Wars movie
  67. Origami
  68. The jackass at every Halloween party who shows up dressed as “himself”
  69. Cannibalism
  70. Commercials for life insurance
  71. Dancing With the Stars – Not only does the premise bore me, but they blatantly abuse the word “Stars” with apparent glee and relish
  72. Banana peels
  73. Organ grinders
  74. Mushrooms
  75. The Rolling Stones (except Paint it Black)
  76. Whooping cough
  77. This car
  78. Abstinence
  79. Staying up until 2am on a Thursday to watch The Pope of Greenwich Village, because I was under the impression that it was one of those underrated great movies of my generation. Instead, it was just sort of boring. And it was difficult trying to rectify both Eric Roberts’ perm and Mickey Rourke’s face in today’s celeb-centric world.
  80. Clothing for pets
  81. The new Beyonce album that Amazon seems to think I’d be interested in, based on me adding the upcoming Hold Steady live album to my Wish List. Correlation?
  82. Basing my entire workday around the latest announcements from Apple
  83. Deep sea fishing
  84. Balloons – What’s the point?
  85. Tricycles
  86. People who only want to talk to me about what they did today. Sometimes it sucks being a great listener. Might as well be a eunuch.
  87. Not winning the lottery.

Wow, I thought that would help me feel a bit better. But it didn’t.

More People Go (Into Foreclosure) With Visa.

At my very first advertising job, I learned a particularly useful technique for breaking out of “writer’s block.” I was told to make random lists of things. But these weren’t just any old shopping lists or bucket lists or lists of all the girls I ever slept with (which is, oddly, the only list I’ve ever made in my adult life). No, these were lists designed to stretch your creativity. You come up with a ridiculously restrictive topic and then brainstorm your way through a dozen or more items to put on said list. For instance, my coworker liked to come up with Rejected Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Flavors (Crunchy Lemon Diaper was a particular favorite). We used to come up with names for new car models, movies about vegetables and gay superhero teams (the overtly lispy We’re Ssssssuper! is a classic). I still use this exercise almost every day and it seems to go hand in hand with the other exercise I’ve perfected: Spontaneously Making Up New Lyrics to Old Songs.

What do these exercises have to do with today’s post title, you may ask? Go ahead and ask. I’ll wait…

Done? Okay. Good. Here’s the answer: Visa just changed their slogan. And, it seems, they found their new slogan on someone’s discarded “writer’s block” list.

More People Go With Visa.

Look, I get it. I really do. I understand the whole double meaning behind the slogan. More people CHOOSE Visa. More STUFF HAPPENS to people who use Visa. It just seems like an odd time to try to rebrand yourself. The markets are tanking. Unemployment is skyrocketing. People’s homes are being taken away at an alarming rate. And yet, Visa would like you to buy some balls. Literally (and figuratively too, you pussy). It takes a lot of balls to ask skittish consumers to dive into the deep end of the debt pool.

Anyway, this seems like some sort of cheap peer pressure tactic to me. Visa is calling you out. They’re saying, “Hey! Bunches of cool people are using Visa. Why aren’t you? What are you afraid of? Didn’t your mommy love you? Do it!”

When you think about it, that’s a pretty dramatic shift from their previous slogan: Life Takes Visa. See, life is in charge in that one. Visa is just along for the ride. You need Visa, but you need life more. Life just does what it wants and Visa is life’s bitch. Of course, the slogan that Visa employed for decades before that was: It’s Everywhere You Wanna Be. You can’t get much more passively convenient than that. We’ll just be over here, quietly sobbing in the corner, if you need us!

But now things are going haywire. Companies are getting more aggressive. And you can feel the tension. So, in order to show you how the advertising creative process really plays out, I’m going to reveal the rest of that rejected slogan list right here. You, my 17 loyal readers, will now get a peek inside the dirty business of brand making. You may never view the world with the same innocent eyes again…

REJECTED VISA SLOGANS FOR 2009 REBRANDING

Visa: More People Have Less Real Money.

Visa: Someone Else Will Pay For It.

Visa: We’re Everywhere Your Stuff Used to Be!

Visa: China Owns Everything.

Visa: Makes Your Wallet Fatter, In Theory.

Visa: Rhymes With Lisa. Remember her?

Visa: Oooh…shiny.

Visa: Our Favorite Color is Blue.

Visa: Don’t Look At Us!

Visa: Please?

Visa: Now With Chocolate-ish Flavor.

Visa: Cannot Be Used as a Flotation Device.

Visa: You’re Fucked.

We’re Hot Soft Spots on a Hard Rock Planet.

Words can sometimes make me sad. Not so much the emotional kind of sadness, like crying after watching a particularly touching episode of COPS, but more of a hollow sadness like someone just kicked my soul in the balls. It’s an echoing, empty pain that drives me to despair over our society and our progress and the messages we’re sending to the aliens who will one day stumble upon our ravaged planet and try to understand us. It really hurts.

Case in point: nonsensical advertising.

I don’t know what any of the words in that poster (aside from the “snack” part of that stupid name) have to do with Snickers, but I know that I don’t care for them or their arrangement or their foolish, misplaced wit. See…that’s the thing though. I knew that was a Snickers ad! Oh, those delightful advertising professionals are ever so clever, aren’t they? I’ll bet Don Draper came up with that one after three highballs, a handful of Pall Malls and an inappropriate fling with the client’s housekeeper. I’ll bet he and the boys threw that one up on the wall after an all-nighter at the comedy clubs flirting with cocktail waitresses and ad-libbing pithy monologues about politics and the cost of a good suit in Manhattan. Trust me, I work in advertising. This is how these things happen.

But, alas, this isn’t some fever dream from a disgruntled television writer. No, this is real life. How can I tell? Because Snickers has a Facebook page that ties into the advertising. And there ain’t nothing more real-er than Facebook, yo! On said page, you can Learn to Speak Snacklish (which has, evidently, been trademarked because there must have been a huge stampede for ownership of that phrase). You can see a dozen or so more of these messaging monstrosities here, unless you value your continued vision and/or that meal you just ate.

I guess this is what passes for “branding” these days…connecting the traditional and nontraditional advertising worlds with our day-to-day social networking. My question would be, does it work? Is there someone so enamored with Snickers that they’re going to spend any amount of time on the Snickers Facebook page chatting with other Snickers aficionados about the texture of nougat or the fine art of caramel stretching? Will they be trading their favorite photos of Snickers wrappers or Snickers in various states of being consumed? Will the creepy sub-genre of Snickers porn be born (or, if it already existed and I somehow missed it, resurrected)? And will any of that interaction matter three days later when they’re standing in line at the grocery store and decide to buy a candy bar? Will they think back fondly on those long-lost halcyon days of internet usage and random meaningless posters and think “I want a Snickers” or will they just say “Dude, they have Zagnuts here!” Just what is the goal?

I will grant the Snickers tribe one caveat. At least there was a certain amount of effort put into this one. I mean, they did print up posters and have them placed. And that’s a huge step beyond the “innovative” laziness of the Skittles folks. See, this week, Skittles opened their homepage to a streaming Twitter feed where consumers were able to live-blog their feelings about Skittles and their many flavors and uses, from tasty snacks to anal beads. Every Twitter post from the day, that mentioned Skittles, was aggregated on the Skittles homepage for all to see. All in uncensored glory…filled with curse words and multiple racial epithets (which is funny, because I don’t remember Twittering about Skittles that day). Some laughed, some cried. Some “experts” called it a grand maneuver similar to Deep Blue’s swift dismantling of Kasparov in the first game of the classic 1996 showdown. Some others thought it was kinda dumb.

Skittles next redirected all web traffic to its Facebook page, perhaps to better control content or perhaps because they’re just batshit crazy and wanted to confuse everyone. And today, all Skittles.com visitors end up on the Wikipedia page for the colorful candy. I think I’m going to log in as a Wikipedia editor and make up a fake history about Skittles being invented by Nazi scientists. That’ll teach ’em!

So what’s the goal of this rambling diatribe? I honestly don’t know. Maybe I’m confused. Maybe I’m bored. Maybe I’m just thinking “Hey, it’s Friday. Nobody cares what I scribble down on the blog today because everyone is either a) already drunk or b) thinking about getting drunk.” Whatever the reason, I suppose I should come to some sort of conclusion before you all drift back over to Facebook to network over your favorite munchies.

Well, I was chatting with a co-worker yesterday. He was asking me about Twitter. He wanted to know what it was and its purpose for being. The reason for his inquiry was an article he read about how Facebook wants to turn to a more “real-time” model similar to Twitter. We were both kind of baffled by this. First of all, I see no real use in Twitter. My life isn’t nearly fabulous enough to tell you about it in short bursts every few moments. In addition, I was under the impression that Facebook was already real-time. I post a status update to let all my “friends” know what I just ate for lunch and…PRESTO!…there it is, on my profile page for all my “friends” to see RIGHT NOW. How can it get any more real-er than that, yo?

And really, how much more immediate do our lives need to be? And why does Snickers need to try so hard? And who made money from betting on Garry Kasparov to beat that damn machine? And why did Don Draper run off to California when he has a perfectly good wife waiting for him at home.

That’s too many questions for a Friday. I’m gonna go get drunk now.

Can I Tell Your Congregation How A Resurrection Really Feels?

Fade in.

The backyard of a jubilant family barbecue. Rows of picnic tables line the scene, topped with traditional red-checkered tablecloths. Relatives, both young and old, mill about, talking and laughing. Camera pans across the yard to show just how big the festive scene really is. There’s a swimming pool with kids jumping in and adults playing a rousing game of volleyball. An older woman walks across frame, carrying a large bowl of macaroni salad. There’s even a large banner hung on the tall wooden fence framing the yard. It reads “2009 Walker Family Reunion.”

Cut to medium shot of a man working his magic at the grill. He’s dressed casually and looks like the typical “dad.” He’s wearing a white apron and twirling a set of tongs in his hand. Two small children, one girl and one boy, approach him.

Cut to closeup of kids, their bright faces beam with hope and love. They hold out plates filled with potato chips, cut veggies and…empty buns.

GIRL: Daddy, can we eat yet?

Cut to closeup of dad, smiling. He points the tongs at his cute little daughter.

DAD: In a second, pumpkin. Daddy just needs to season the meat!

Cut back to kids.

KIDS: Hooray!

Back to medium shot of dad as he reaches for a salt shaker resting on the prep table next to his grill. Tighten on salt shaker as his hand reaches closer for it. Closer. Closer. All we see are the words KOSHER SALT rapidly being obscured by his hand.

As his hand touches the shaker, a sudden demonic growl tears through the scene. There’s a rumbling as he lifts the shaker from the table. The noise, like a thousand galloping horses builds and builds as the shaker gets nearer to the grill and the sizzling meat. Back to a full shot of the picnic scene, but now in slow motion. As the camera pans the happy crowd, single frames are inter-spliced with the scene…frames of Biblical woodcut-like drawings depicting pain and suffering and utter torture, bathed in red light.

From out of nowhere, the wooden fence at the back of the yard bursts open, splintering wildly, and a battalion of armored knights pours through, maces and swords swinging haphazardly through the crowd.

Cut back to closeup of dad and grill. Dad is oblivious to the ensuing chaos and continues to shake his kosher salt onto the burgers and dogs.

Cut to shots of family members being mercilessly dismembered. Tables are trampled and some are set on fire, burning dark, acrid smoke. People are running and flailing everywhere. One older man falls into the frame, his eyes plucked from his skull and deep rivulets of blood pouring down his hollowed cheeks. Bodies float in the now red-tinged swimming pool. A paladin on horseback gallops through, smashing the spine of a woman cowering over her slumbering infant.

Cut back to medium shot of dad and kids at grill. Just as dad sets his salt shaker back down on the prep table, a hulking figure in gleaming silver armor takes his head off with a single swing of his mighty warhammer.

Cut to closeup of kids standing with mouths agape. A veritable bucketful of blood splashes across their faces and torsos as they watch in horror.

Cut to tight shot of red-checkered tabletop. This is the beauty shot. A succulent, steaming steak sits on a plate beside a heaping pile of fresh salad and a perfectly loaded baked potato. In the blurred background, we can still witness the picnic carnage. An armored hand enters the frame and slams down a very different salt shaker, its label smeared with gore. A lilting harpsichord tune begins to play over the bedlam and a friendly announcer chimes in…

ANNOUNCER: Christian Salt. The Flavor Crusader!

Fade to black.

We Were Trying to Stay Away From Those Kinds of Scenes.

It’s being called the “Anti-Social Social.” Globally-known DJ Kid Koala is hosting three consecutive Mondays of sonic boredom. The unspoken concept here is that creative types need background music to get their juices flowing, but the music can’t be any good or else it will distract them. Crazy Canadians!

I’m almost willing to spend the five dollars (is that Canadian money or real money?) just to sit and watch all the sad little emo kids pretend not to check each other out. And, free pencil. Score! As my father-in-law can prove, with his bags upon bags of acquired writing instruments, you can never have too many pencils. Especially when they’re free.

Sure, I understand the concept of this event. And I applaud Koala’s ability to come up with a new way to market himself and his minimalist talents. The crux of the argument is that even the irony makes no sense. If I’m having trouble concentrating in my own chosen environment and I don’t want to be bothered by others, then why would I subject myself to some public event where I’ll be in even less control of my own process? What if I don’t want other people to see me scrawling my racist screeds onto the pages of recycled bibles in my own blood? Maybe the pro-life fetuses I’ve been crocheting aren’t for public consumption. Or, hey, you know those nude sketches of my next door neighbor’s kid? Yeah, maybe those are just creepy and illegal. Do you really want that paired up with the purity of a free cup of hot chocolate? Is it hot enough to burn away the sins that will take place at this outing?

In my eyes, an “anti-social social” is just me yelling at the screen while playing No More Heroes on the Wii. I’ll definitely be thinking about all the people I’ve decided not to hang out with (mostly Canadians) and all the music I’ve chosen not to listen to (*cough*KIDKOALA*cough*). Plus, it’ll save me five bucks. And my wife can make brownies for me. She’ll just be happy that I’m not following her around the house asking her what she’s doing. No, I don’t want to help fold the laundry. No, cleaning the bathroom does not appeal to me in any way. To be quite honest, I was just mildly annoying you so that you wouldn’t be mad when I finally disappeared into the warmth of video game land. Two wrongs DO make a right.

And only 5 hours of music? Dude, my creativity lasts longer than that. I do not have a problem with premature creation. Ask anyone. They’ll tell you. When the music stops, you’re going to ruin my whole train of thought. The walls of Nirvana will come crumbling down upon us all. Everyone will leave completely unsatisfied, yearning for just those few extra minutes of creative bliss, trying desperately to achieve creative climax.

No thanks, Canada. I won’t be attending your creepy little creative key parties. I can, by definition, be completely antisocial on my own!