BrokenJPG

A Copywriter’s Blog
June To-do List Ben Levy 12, June

Get promoted
Double size of client account at work
Help The Wife get settled in new job
Put Molly in new daycare
Close on condo
Move into condo
Put Molly in a different new daycare
Turn 30
Get back in shape

Exhale.

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This clarifies nothing Ben Levy 19, February

My mother often laments how she doesn’t understand what I do for a living. This post is not going to help her.

This morning, my partner and I stopped in a variety of fabric stores in NYC’s fashion district.

“Hello, we’re looking for faux rabbit fur.”

“Oh, I haven’t got that. Have you been to Elegant Fabrics yet? They’re the best in the city for fur.”

“Ah, thank you.”

2 blocks later:

“Hello, we’re looking for white rabbit fur.”

“Long or short?”

“Long.”

“Upstairs.”

The next fifteen minutes were spent making muppet jokes and comparing the bolts of faux pelts that crammed every square foot. Eventually we settled on a yard and a half of snow white yeti hair. We were back in the office around 11am, where we confirmed that, yes, the custom crunk chalice we had commissioned for a client would look “boss” amidst the fuzz.

After a quick lunch, we spent an hour discussing what sort of knit sweater a turtle should wear. We settled on turtle neck. Because, really, how can you not? I feel it necessary to point out that this was a legitimately billable discussion pertaining to an actual client project. The terrapin’s gotta wear something in the TV spot.

Afterwards we debated what picture should go in the bedroom that would appear in the ad. We were initially thinking a Lisa Frank style dolphin illustration, but quickly realized it would take away from the copious amounts of hand-knit furnishings that are going to be featured in the scene. Kittens were considered, but felt a bit overdone. Also, it was noted that if dolphins were good, narwhals were better. We tentatively settled on a silhouette of a narwhal against a solid background. A subtle touch of the unicorn of the sea.

I guess it’s worth mentioning that I also rewrote a few lines for the spot, and about a page and a half of copy for the company website. But those are mere details, like my attempt to tag a half-full champagne bottle with my nerf gun from halfway across the creative department.

And that’s what I do for a living. Some days. Today, at least.

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And what have we learned? Ben Levy 29, January

Things I am capable of writing, as evidenced by sales, interest, or employment:

  • Ads
  • Scripts
  • Books about dicks
  • Books about owls
  • Autobiographical blog posts

Things I am incapable of writing, as evidenced by recent feedback from proofreaders:

  • Short stories

A few days ago, I finally decided that the first of my short stories was “done.” By “done” I mean it was ready to be shown to a select group of test-readers. I was expecting them to find a fair number of grammatical errors, and maybe have a question or two about character motivations.

I think the best way to express their feedback would be “WTF?”

One reader absolutely tore it apart. Just decimated it. He didn’t have a single positive thing to say. He covered it all, from the awkward sentences, to the plot holes, to the unrealistic character behavior. It was incredible. He didn’t just tell me what wasn’t working. He dissected why, and then presented examples of other stories where it was done right. I sat there and got my work shit on for the better part of an hour, and it was done with precision accuracy. Then he finished by slapping me across the face with the question, “So how will you fix it?”

Keep in mind, dear reader, that I work in Ad Land for a living. My job description involves trying to please multiple people with creative ideas on a daily basis. This does not always work out. You’re constantly told something isn’t right, or good enough, or (worst of all) boring. You survive this daily diet of criticism by learning that they don’t hate you, they hate the thing you made. It’s ok. Just go make something better now. Or you’re fired.

I have lived this existence for the last 11 years. Trust me when I tell you I can handle criticism.

But when this reader got done with my story, I was honestly, legitimately, sad for the next 90 minutes. I don’t think I’ve felt this way since my freshman year of college. It was excruciating.

And then it was exhilarating. I had just been run through a master class of “what you did wrong,” and I am incredibly indebted to that reader for the time and energy he was willing to exert on what was clearly a steaming pile of excrement. People pay good money for classes that are not half as instructive.

I started doing this to myself precisely because I wanted to learn how to write in an unfamiliar format. I wanted a challenge. I appear to have found it. I mean, ideally it wasn’t going to make me feel like a total moron, but look, a challenge was found. And I will sit through a hundred more soul-flaying critiques if that’s what it takes to figure this out.

Besides, he doesn’t hate me. He hates the story.

I think.

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Foomi Ben Levy 7, July

Someone left a bunch of Munny’s around the office, along with a box of sharpies. Well, I wasn’t not gonna draw all over one.

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(I swear I actually do work at work. It’s just that concepting is a mental exercise, and sometimes my hands get bored.)

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It’s my third Munny, and my first all-sharpie. My previous experiments had led me to believe that all-sharpie was not a viable option. Apparently, reports of smearing were widely exaggerated.

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IMAG0687

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Don’t say it Ben Levy 24, March

In advertising, the only time you work 9-5 is if it’s a twenty hour day.

I don’t drink coffee. I’ve never touched a Red Bull, Rockstar, or 5-hour. Once, in college, I tried half a Mountain Dew at 4am. I wound up running laps around campus for 20 minutes before passing out. In no way did this help me finish my figure drawing homework.

I have my own method for working through fatigue. It’s to work through fatigue. Just don’t think about it. Just keep going. Focus on the task ahead, not on how you feel. Keep on keeping on.

In other words, I treat marathon work sessions the way most people treat marathons. Find a rhythm. Keep moving. Don’t think about it.

After a decade of operating this way, it’s second nature. I rarely notice how tired I am, or the dull ache behind my eyes, or how even my skin hurts.

Unless someone reminds me.

“You look kinda tired.” That single sentence breaks the zen-like trance I’m reaching for. It brings the reality of the past 24 hours, the past weeks, the past months crashing down around me. I’m suddenly reminded that I would very much like nothing more than to pass out. This is, to put it mildly, inconvenient.

My life is currently akin to unicycling down the steep side of a volcano while juggling chainsaws and balancing a jenga tower on my head. It shouldn’t even be possible to begin with but it’s working so for heaven’s sake don’t say anything. It’s like pitching a perfect game. Don’t jinx that shit.

“Aren’t you tired?” people ask me. And suddenly I’ve left the unicycle 20 yards behind, I’m missing all the chainsaws and possibly a limb, there’s not a jenga block to be seen, and here comes the lava.

Of course I’m tired. I’m exhausted. Aren’t you? Isn’t everyone? But I’ve got it under control if you would just, for the love of all that’s holy and the Adobe Creative Suite, not mention it.

Now hand me that chainsaw. I’ve got to get back on this unicycle before the jenga tower falls off my head again.

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I’m not dead Ben Levy 11, March

Really, I’m not. I am, however, working on 4 side projects (one of which is nearing completion, which is super exciting), doing a significant amount of overtime at work (some of which is also nearing completion, which is also super exciting), and frantically attempting to make life ready for my offspring (which is also nearing completion, and OH MY GD I WILL NEVER BE READY FOR THIS.)

Also in that time, I think I’m supposed to do my taxes. This is gonna hurt.

He’s not kidding, you know. That document is completely true. You can tell because only a brand manager would ever compose a memo that sounded like a buzzword-bingo cheat sheet.

Here then, is a bit of insight into what I do for a living. It’s my job (with the help of many, many people, usually smarter and cooler than I am) to take that, and make it something like this:

I’ve never worked on Old Spice, but I guarantee you they have the same sort of guidelines. They have brand managers and strategiests who say things like “Old Spice is not an exclusionary brand” and who want the ads to inform people that “Old Spice’s line of unique scents help teens 12-18 feel empowered and individual.” There are lines explaining that “the Old Spice product should never be shown doing something cool. Old Spice doesn’t do cool things, it gives the people the confidence to do cool things themselves”.

Is any of that actually written down somewhere at W+K? Who knows. But that’s the kind of language you get handed, and it’s your job as an Ad Man to – in the parlance of the business- “solve it.” And it is a problem that needs solving.

This may come as a shock, but I don’t actually have anything against brand managers, and certainly nothing against strategists, who are liable to say things like “The message we want to communicate is that Old Spice helps me feel empowered.” Yes, on paper it sounds ridiculous. Hell, it is ridiculous. But it’s also necessary in order to make great ads. I once had a legendary Creative Director tell me, “I know how good a campaign will be just by the strategy team assigned to it.” You get the right strategy, the ads practically make themselves.

And brand managers? Well, look at it this way- without brand guidelines, Apple’s website could be hot pink. Sure, it doesn’t match the aesthetic of the iBooks, iPods, and iPads, but who cares? In fact, forget all this iStuff- let’s call the next iBook a jBook. Cause, see, “j” is the next letter after “i”, and this is a newer version, so… Sound crazy? Some moron would try it, trust me.

And so you take this ridiculously corporate, soulless language, these documents full of “extreme” “unique” “inclusive” “shareable” and the like. And you try to make something human out of it. “Old Spice’s line of unique scents helps teens 12-18 feel empowered and individual?” Let’s tell people when they use it they Smell Like Power. In hindsight it sounds incredibly easy. In actual practice, when you’ve only got a couple of hours and a sheet of paper so pompous it can be thrown as-is into a Stephen Colbert skit, it’s a bit trickier.

So let’s all raise a glass of whatever you like, and drink it alongside no more than 16 wheat thins, which will perfectly compliment whichever beverage you’ve chosen. To the brand managers. To the strategists. And to my mother, who may or may not have any better idea of what I do for a living after reading this.

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The most popular Super Bowl ads, according to USAToday’s readers, as of this morning:

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You’ll note that three of the top 5 ads contain dogs, one contains a baby, and the contains anthropomorphic chocolate. Which makes me think about this Fed Ex spot from 2008:

I thought overall the ads were a hell of a lot stronger this year. There were a few notable exceptions. VW might have looked better if they hadn’t felt the need to end their spot by reminding you how much better last year’s spot was. Carinfo.com or whoever that was sucked. And GoDaddy still wanted to make me and everyone I know secede from the human race. But then, they pride themselves on being such enormous douchetools that even the average frat boy feels the need to apologize to any girls around when their spots air. So good for them, I guess. Anything about Bud Light bored me.

But aside from those, I thought we had some actually funny, decent, ads. Hyundai had a great start. Audi made me angry right up until the last 10 seconds, when they made me laugh. The Tax company that talked about feeling free while a kid ran around trying to find a place to take a leak was priceless. For the first time in a good three or four years, I felt like people might be able to talk about a few of the ads the next day. Rather than just the 2 that didn’t suck that hard.

I am sad I never saw this ad for FirstBank air, although it was leaked a few days ago. Must have been a local buy, but I really like it anytime someone sets themselves apart by spending all the money for an ad buy and then doing nothing with it. Intelligently, of course.

FirstBank – Super Bowl Commercial from TDA_Boulder on Vimeo.

Check ‘em all out here.

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Une Fille Comme Les Autres from Jalouse blog on Vimeo.

Well done, whoever thought of this. And well done to whoever has enough faith in their brand to take the piss out of it this way.

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Dear 2010 Ben Ben Levy 30, December

An open letter to my past. From my present. Which is his future.

What’s up 2010 me? Life’s pretty good, yeah? Working at a Madison Avenue agency, got a pretty sweet apartment, published a freaking book. You did well, man.

I don’t want to freak you out or anything, but the future’s not going to be what you think it is. In about 3 months, you’re going to be laid off. It’s ok though, I’m fairly certain it goes down in history as The Best Layoff Ever. Plus the new job is equally awesome. They have a ping pong table in the office, and free beer on Thursdays. And you get to do some really awesome work. No, it’s not a shop you’ve heard of before, but go to the interview anyway, alright? Otherwise we’ll run into some weird time-continuum thing.

Around the same time as The World’s Best Layoff, you’ll find out they’re jacking up the rent 25%. Fuck that place. Save yourself a few days of shopping around and just move three blocks down, to a one-bedroom with an amazing view, right on the water. Floor to ceiling windows overlooking the river. It’s a good move.

This is supposed to be a letter, so I guess you can’t see me. But if you could, you’d immediately know things changed a lot in 2011. I know you’re in great shape, 2010 Ben. It’s a side effect of working on the New Balance campaign. But man, you know nothing. You’re going to tear through P90X, and it’s going to be life-altering. You’re going to be in the best shape ever. Not just up until this point. For all time. Because if we ever see a workout regiment more intense than 2 hours a day, 6 days a week, for 3+ straight months, I don’t want us to do it.

Incidentally, if you can maybe focus on your middle back while you’re doing those exercises, that would be awesome. I didn’t, and it sort of caused a muscular imbalance that resulted in our back muscles literally trying to tear themselves off the spine. Don’t worry though, after 3 months of PT you’ll be pain-free. Anyway, I know I said not to alter the time-stream, but it may be worth trying it in this case.

Speaking of physical changes, I guess that birthmark thing we’ve always had was/is/was pre-cancerous? So you can go ahead and get that removed. Just a heads-up, 2010 me: that barbecue smell during surgery isn’t someone’s lunch being reheated. It’s going to be your face. But you’ll get a badass scar. I have so much more street cred than you do. Seriously, the ladies love it.

You’ll try to start a bunch of side projects, fresh off your book success. Aside from releasing your book in digital format, they, uh, they won’t be finished. I’m sorry about that. Hopefully I’ll be able to recapture some of your dedication in 2012. I don’t think it’s entirely my fault though. As you can see, 2011 was a crazy year.

Oh, yeah. You’re gonna get The Wife pregnant. Good job.

-2011 Ben

PS- Shit, I forgot to make this shirt, too.

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