Thou Shalt Not

February 2, 2012

Memo To Stinky Beaumont

February 2, 2012

The Smithsonian:

The Martin Agency, based in Richmond, Virginia, has a knack for creating memorable ad campaigns. In the late 1960s, the group coined the now-famous tourism slogan, “Virginia is for lovers.” More recently, the ad shop has created the Geico gecko,’s catchy jingles about the repercussions of not knowing your credit score and “Peggy,” the worthless (and despite the name, male) customer service agent of its Discover Card commercials.

In advance of the 2012 Super Bowl on February 5, and the inevitable buzz over its commercials, I spoke with the agency’s chairman and chief executive officer, John Adams. An adviser to the National Museum of American History’s “American Enterprise” exhibition, slated to open in 2015, Adams reflects on past Super Bowl ads and his agency’s creative process, now and into the future.

When it comes to the Super Bowl, many people anticipate the commercials more than the actual game. I imagine you watch with particular scrutiny. What is it like watching the Super Bowl with you?

We will occasionally invite people from the company to come to a Super Bowl watching party. It really is funny because all of the conversation goes on during the game and then everyone gets quiet during the commercial breaks.

The Super Bowl is a unique venue. I think the entertainment value, the distinctiveness, the breakthrough value of the commercials is dialed up a lot. USA Today comes out the day after the Super Bowl and ranks the commercials. There is a lot of editorial comment about the commercials. It is just different from doing a regular television commercial. There is a good side to that, which is that the commercials tend to be quite entertaining, and then there is a downside, which is that for so many advertisers the entertainment value can sometimes outpace the practical value.

This year, the price for 30 seconds is reportedly about $3.5 million. Is it worth it?

In general, I would say, yes, it is a good deal—if you look at the cost per 1,000 people reached. Last year, the Super Bowl set a new record for viewership. It was almost 163 million people.

Now, having said that, we have to put the specific cost of that one television opportunity within the context of the budget of a brand. So, if that cost is 5 percent of your budget, then that is a pretty good buy, because you are not putting too many chips on this one commercial. If however, it is 30 percent of your budget, then that is a big bet. During the dotcom boom, there were some Internet companies that almost bet the farm on a single Super Bowl exposure. In one or two cases, it worked. In most cases, it did not, because it wasn’t enough to really launch a company and to develop fascination with a new idea.

Last year, the Martin Agency created a 30-second pre-game spot for Living Social. How long did the agency have to make it? And can you take us through the process?

Looking back on it, it is hard to imagine. We had 18 days to put that together. When we began working for Living Social and the timing of their thought process and decision making about whether to run in the Super Bowl resulted in an outrageously compressed time frame. It was completely and utterly atypical for any commercial, let alone a Super Bowl commercial. The time that one typically is looking at for the development, approval and production of a television commercial is somewhere between 7 weeks to 10 or 11 weeks.

But, we went through the typical process. A message goal is set for the commercial, and that is done in collaboration with a client. Very often these days the goal is “I want to be more noticed. I want to be ranked highly in the polls. I want to be one that people talk about.” Once the goal is established, then a communications strategy is established. In order to achieve that goal, to whom do we need to direct the commercial? What target audience? Of course, the Super Bowl audience is so huge that it encompasses just about any target audience. And within that target audience, what is the behavior or attitude change that we want to make for the individual?

From there, a writer and an art director are charged with coming up with a creative idea that is responsive to that strategy and that is compelling and that has a style and tone that is reflective of the personality of the brand being advertised. That idea has to be inextricably connected to a particular brand. We have all had the experience of recounting a television commercial that we liked, but we can’t remember who it was for. That is a failure. Once the idea is submitted and approved, then production begins. The stages in production are casting, location scouting, filming, editing, voice over and all the things that go into that.

One thing that a good Super Bowl commercial can do, I realize, is recast a brand’s image. Is there a commercial that comes to mind that best accomplished this?

I think there are two. One is the commercial titled “1984,” which was done for Apple computer in the Super Bowl that year. All the things that are suggested by that commercial had a dramatic impact on the emerging view of Apple. It was less a question of changing and it was more a question of pronouncing and demonstrating an attitude or ethos of that company. This is a computer that is for people who aren’t going to just march along with the crowd…

Read it all.

Letters of Note:

In August of 1865, a Colonel P.H. Anderson of Big Spring, Tennessee, wrote to his former slave, Jourdan Anderson, and requested that he come back to work on his farm. Jourdan — who, since being emancipated, had moved to Ohio, found paid work, and was now supporting his family — responded spectacularly by way of the letter seen below (a letter which, according to newspapers at the time, he dictated).

Rather than quote the numerous highlights in this letter, I’ll simply leave you to enjoy it. Do make sure you read to the end.

(Source: The Freedmen’s Book; Image: A group of escaped slaves in Virginia in 1862, courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

Dayton, Ohio,

August 7, 1865

To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee

Sir: I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this, for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Colonel Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here. I get twenty-five dollars a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy,—the folks call her Mrs. Anderson,—and the children—Milly, Jane, and Grundy—go to school and are learning well. The teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday school, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated. Sometimes we overhear others saying, “Them colored people were slaves” down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks; but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Colonel Anderson. Many darkeys would have been proud, as I used to be, to call you master. Now if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again…

Read it all.

Wall Street Journal:

Children today reach puberty earlier and adulthood later. The result: A lot of teenage weirdness. Alison Gopnik on how we might readjust adolescence.

“What was he thinking?” It’s the familiar cry of bewildered parents trying to understand why their teenagers act the way they do.

How does the boy who can thoughtfully explain the reasons never to drink and drive end up in a drunken crash? Why does the girl who knows all about birth control find herself pregnant by a boy she doesn’t even like? What happened to the gifted, imaginative child who excelled through high school but then dropped out of college, drifted from job to job and now lives in his parents’ basement?

Adolescence has always been troubled, but for reasons that are somewhat mysterious, puberty is now kicking in at an earlier and earlier age. A leading theory points to changes in energy balance as children eat more and move less.

At the same time, first with the industrial revolution and then even more dramatically with the information revolution, children have come to take on adult roles later and later. Five hundred years ago, Shakespeare knew that the emotionally intense combination of teenage sexuality and peer-induced risk could be tragic—witness “Romeo and Juliet.” But, on the other hand, if not for fate, 13-year-old Juliet would have become a wife and mother within a year or two.

Our Juliets (as parents longing for grandchildren will recognize with a sigh) may experience the tumult of love for 20 years before they settle down into motherhood. And our Romeos may be poetic lunatics under the influence of Queen Mab until they are well into graduate school.

What happens when children reach puberty earlier and adulthood later? The answer is: a good deal of teenage weirdness. Fortunately, developmental psychologists and neuroscientists are starting to explain the foundations of that weirdness.

The crucial new idea is that there are two different neural and psychological systems that interact to turn children into adults. Over the past two centuries, and even more over the past generation, the developmental timing of these two systems has changed. That, in turn, has profoundly changed adolescence and produced new kinds of adolescent woe. The big question for anyone who deals with young people today is how we can go about bringing these cogs of the teenage mind into sync once again.

The first of these systems has to do with emotion and motivation. It is very closely linked to the biological and chemical changes of puberty and involves the areas of the brain that respond to rewards. This is the system that turns placid 10-year-olds into restless, exuberant, emotionally intense teenagers, desperate to attain every goal, fulfill every desire and experience every sensation. Later, it turns them back into relatively placid adults.

Recent studies in the neuroscientist B.J. Casey’s lab at Cornell University suggest that adolescents aren’t reckless because they underestimate risks, but because they overestimate rewards—or, rather, find rewards more rewarding than adults do. The reward centers of the adolescent brain are much more active than those of either children or adults. Think about the incomparable intensity of first love, the never-to-be-recaptured glory of the high-school basketball championship.

What teenagers want most of all are social rewards, especially the respect of their peers. In a recent study by the developmental psychologist Laurence Steinberg at Temple University, teenagers did a simulated high-risk driving task while they were lying in an fMRI brain-imaging machine. The reward system of their brains lighted up much more when they thought another teenager was watching what they did—and they took more risks.

From an evolutionary point of view, this all makes perfect sense. One of the most distinctive evolutionary features of human beings is our unusually long, protected childhood. Human children depend on adults for much longer than those of any other primate. That long protected period also allows us to learn much more than any other animal. But eventually, we have to leave the safe bubble of family life, take what we learned as children and apply it to the real adult world.

Becoming an adult means leaving the world of your parents and starting to make your way toward the future that you will share with your peers. Puberty not only turns on the motivational and emotional system with new force, it also turns it away from the family and toward the world of equals.

The second crucial system in our brains has to do with control; it channels and harnesses all that seething energy. In particular, the prefrontal cortex reaches out to guide other parts of the brain, including the parts that govern motivation and emotion. This is the system that inhibits impulses and guides decision-making, that encourages long-term planning and delays gratification…

Read it all.

Six More Weeks

February 2, 2012

Via Newsday

Romney’s New Approach

February 2, 2012

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.


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