May 31, 2009

It pays to be a geek

So we're all moved in and the cable guy was nice enough to fix up the dang router and we have wireless for the first time in years and, computer non-geeks that we are, we can't figure out how to secure our network. I mean we tried everything, on my Mac and his PC. It's like following a conversation in Italian: I just get the gist, and then something comes out of left field and I'm stumped.

So, petrified of freeloading downloaders, I call the Geek Squad. And some geek answers. And rattles off stuff like I know what he's talking about, and I nod along (not helpful on the phone, but still), just wanting some other geek to fix this so we can cross one of a gazillion things off our impossible list.

And then.

And then he says "That'll be a one-time, flat fee of $158."

Would that I knew other geeks! How is it that none of my friends or family sport Buddy Holly glasses (well, my Dad did in the 60s, but what good is that to me now) and carry pocket protectors? Am I the only person in the free world who has to pay $158 to have someone jiggle a few keys and make nice with my network? Ouch.

Maybe I should think of changing my freelance fees...

May 28, 2009

The Big M

As in "move". As in tomorrow. As in I still have 10 boxes to pack and I can barely bend over to tie my shoes.

Fortunately, I came to the conclusion two moves ago that big, burly moving guys are far better than a gangly group of friends with bad backs. So here's hoping all goes well, and quickly. And if they just happen to, oh, say, break my terribly old radio and have to replace it.. well...

May 27, 2009

Bleeding hearts?

This is Canadian Governor General Michaëlle Jean, doing as the Romans do.

In case you can't make it out, she's taking a great, big bite of raw seal heart up in Nunavut. Ever since she devoured this bit of fine dining the other day, the media--and the public--has been divided along its usual fault lines, some calling her gutsy and determined, others calling her disgusting and cruel. PETA, of course, has jumped on this bandwagon with a call to boycott Canadian maple syrup. Ho-hum.

Anyway, talk of seal hunts and boycotts reminds me of the dung beetle.

In Africa last year, we saw signs everywhere declaring the lowly, stinky dung beetle has the right of way. So endangered and so crucial to its environment, the dung beetle has the power to stop cars and skitter across the road, rolling its catch of the day along. If you've never seen a dung beetle, it's both creepy and fascinating--big, with a shiny back, and creepy-crawly legs that propel it along. Fascinatingly gross.

However, in all the time we were there, I did not see one dang PETA person holding a dung beetle sign. In fact, I don't even know if PETA gives a crap (ha!) for dung beetles at all. Because, you see, them things is UGLY. And creepy. They don't tug at the heart strings or make you want to reach out and pet them.

Unlike seals, of course.

Now, I'm not saying I'd be able to stomach watching poor baby seals being clubbed to death. I don't even think I could make it dry-eyed through a round of slaughterhouse cow killings, even thought I take my steak medium-rare, thank you very much.

But cuteness is not a criteria for animal protection. The best example I can think of is watching Heather Mills on the news, lying on a ice floe, reaching out to pet a cute, cuddly, furry baby seal. Who just about ripped her hand off.

In life, as in advertising, we tend to focus on the wrong things for the wrong reasons. You can beat the seal drum all you want, and boycott stuff till the cows come home, but that dung beetle still needs to shovel a whole lot of other people's shit if the world's going to work out right.

May 26, 2009


I'm back at work--and backed into a corner. This brief on my desk is a rarity: it's too detailed. Not only does it give me a road to travel on, it's decorated the scenery, fixed me a lunch and booked a hotel along the way. It's like working with handcuffs on.

Creatives work best with good, detailed briefs. Show me the path you need mown and I'll get out the rider and start cutting. Give me a clear communication objective and we'll find the right concepts to bring it to life.

But please, oh please, leave me breathing room. When I start to explore, I've got to look under a carpet here, peek behind a door there. I write some true gibberish which leads to something that sparks an idea which, eventually, surprises even me as it emerges as an concept. Take away that maneuvering space and you cut off any surprises.

And, let's face it, it's the surprises that touch the heart of the matter in ways no over-constructed idea can.

So give me a good brief. A short brief. A brief that explains the problems, states the objective and inspires us to work. And please don't start crossing my t's from the get-go. Else you'll force me to leave a whole lot of gems in the dirt.

May 13, 2009

Vacation! If they'll just let me get out the ^#%#% door...

Technically, there are palm trees where we're going, although I'd guess they were imported eons ago cause it rarely gets above 16C on the other side of the pond. But! Time off and a trip is always welcome, and I'm relishing the relaxation. Cause... well, you get to relax on family trips too, right?


Back on the 25th!

May 11, 2009

Lost in adaptation

Our agency's a little different than most, since we work in both official languages. That means a whole lot of making sure our projects work equally well in English and français--with just the right twist and tempo to appeal to two pretty different audiences.

So a word to the uninitiated--or at least the unilingual: be careful how you develop a campaign intended for a market that doesn't speak your mother tongue. There are two equally important but extremely different ways to turn one language into another:

1. Translate. That means word for word--as in exactly word for word. Translators are absolute masters at finding exactly the right meaning for just about anything you throw at them. They can debate the finest nuances between purple and mauve. They make sure every word is included and no bit of thought is left out. They are impeccable at legal copy and straightforward text and go over everything with a fine-tooth comb.

2. Adapt. And here, you see, is where a lot of people err. People who adapt--and it's usually the bilingual copywriter that gets this job--take the essence of one ad and carry it over into another language. That doesn't mean they'll use the same words--they may not even use the same play on words. Sometimes you just can't. Languages are not exact translations of one another; they each have their own essence and rhythm and expressions. Those who adapt take the core of the idea and massage the dang thing until it fits just right (or, at times, shout back up the pipeline that it just isn't going to work).

And so, dear readers, knowing when to translate and when to adapt is crucial to ensuring the successful switcheroo of your ad. Cause if you go about it the wrong way, you may well end up with this:

May 9, 2009

Disgusting observation

I've begun to notice that projects labeled "rush" are a lot like your digestive system during pregnancy.

They start out in a hurry, then get jammed up behind a bunch of loitering projects and end up leaving you waddling around in confusion and discomfort." Is it ready now? No? How 'bout now? No? Two more days? Yeesh."

At least vacation's just 4 days away!

Will you hate me if I call this post "The President cuts the mustard"?

As a Canadian, I'm always a little surprised by the American tendency of turning politics into an episode of Entertainment Tonight. Maybe it's because our own politicians are so stuffy and straight you couldn't manufacture a political news story interesting enough to beat out boob jobs and wardrobe malfunctions, let alone what Nickelback bought at Zellers last Friday.


Seems President Obama is being called "snotty" by Fox News' Sean Hannity for requesting Grey Poupon dijon mustard on his burger. Now, I'm no dijon fan (it's a little too suck-in-your-cheeks me), but I'm pretty sure condiments expand just a little beyond ketchup, mustard and relish.

But the Spin Doctors have been spun.

My question is, however: Just who do the spin doctors think will be offended? Grey Poupon is made by Kraft, an all-American company. It can be found on just about every grocery-store shelf in the nation. Sure, it's not a staple at McDonald's, but I'm pretty positive most non-fast-food burger joints have a jar hanging around somewhere. So just who is going to get up in arms about President Obama requesting a little zing on his patty? Isn't America supposed to be about having a million choices at your fingertips, an aisle-full of condiment options to choose from?

From up here, it's like watching a bunch of oxymorons. We're free, but you'd better toe the line. We've got choice, but you'd better make the right one. We're about honesty and openness, but you'd best stick to the script.

Then again, it would be nice to turn on the news at 6 to learn Stephen Harper had a wardrobe malfunction. But, please, just a small one.

May 8, 2009

Random words that should never be used in advertising - Part 2


Breaking news!

This just in:

Client requests DM piece with NO LOGO and NO COMPANY NAME. You heard right--they don't want to include any of their details in the piece, anywhere. They don't even want us to use their corporate colours.

They think it creates intrigue. I think it's like a joke without a punch line.

Next up: Pigs take wing!

May 2, 2009

Swine flu? Try a reality check (up).

A post in this week's Ad Contrarian was devoted to the knee-jerk psychopandemic that is swine flu.

I think we may all be a little sick.

I used to write fundraising letters for a living. We tried it all: stories about sick children, pictures of scrawny dying babies, mothers with AIDS, towns wiped out by war, child soldiers (some who passed initiation by shooting their parents), dump scroungers, homeless families, you name it. Good lord, what we didn't try to get a rise (and a cheque) out of people. What the clients didn't do to get their cause in the news. Sometimes billboards went up. Sometimes a news conference got media attention. But mostly it was same-old, same-old: the same group of donors giving the same money. And we fought to keep them giving.

So, please, a reality check:

* Influenza--plain, old flu--kills up to 500,000 people around the world every year.

* Over 1 million people die from malaria every year.

* 540 people die of measles each and every day.

* And, my personal favourite, 9.2 million children die EVERY YEAR (that's over 25,000 A DAY) before they reach their 5th birthday. Mostly from preventable disease.

So far, there have been 615 confirmed cases of Influenza A(H1N1)--the fancy new name for swine flu--and 16 deaths. But if we held a fundraiser today, I'd eat my hat if we didn't raise millions for each and every one of those cases.

All we need is a few measly dollars a day to protect dying children. What, oh what can we do--I beg you, truly--to get this kind of coverage for the kids dying of stuff we've had vaccines against for years?

Lord help us all.