Tuesday, February 28, 2023

His Name Was on the Sign

Pontiac Dealership

"The appointment is set for 9:30. He needs people to buy his cars. Tell him how commercials on our station will reach listeners. And that listeners need cars."

"But, I ..."

"Don't worry, kid. You'll do fine. Fake it 'til you make it."

It was my first day in sales. I was given a handful of sales brochures and sent to make a call on a Pontiac dealership.

I wasn't making enough money as a radio DJ, so I had taken a job on the station's advertising sales team. It was my first day and I was having second thoughts. "Fake it 'til you make it" didn't sound like a strategy for success.

I walked across the Bob George Pontiac showroom and asked to speak to the man my manager had made the appointment with. The sales manager. Ted.

"I'm sorry, but he had to step out."

"I have an appointment."

"Let me check."

I waited. Shifting my weight from foot to foot. Adjusting my tie. Thinking about the sales brochures I hadn't had time to read in my briefcase.

"I'm sorry. He had to pick up his son at school, but Mr. George can see you."

Mr. George?! That's the name of the dealer. The guy whose name is on the sign.

"OK," I said.

Said? More like squeaked.

I followed her past offices and a break room to a door that was more elegant than the other doors in the place.

She opened it and ushered me in.

Nice office. 

Really nice.

Occupied by an imposing older gentleman. 

He was probably in his early 40's, but, at the time, to me that was old. Established. Beyond my pay grade.

Looking at his suit, I became uncomfortably aware of my suit recently purchased from a thrift store. I felt like it had "Thrift Store Suit" embroidered on it. Electrified somehow. And flashing.

"Sit down," he said pointing to one of the chairs that was considerably smaller than the throne he easily filled on the other side of an imposingly large desk.

I sat. I wasn't sure what to do next. Running away didn't seem to be a prudent option, but it was the only suggestion my mind was pushing.


"Uh. I'm Scott Frothingham. From the radio station. I was supposed to meet your sales manager. Because he needs people to buy cars. And commercials on our station reach listeners. And listeners need cars," I blurted like a 6-year-old telling a mall Santa what he wants for Christmas.

"That's your pitch?"


"Have you done this before?"

"No. It's my first day."

"And they sent you to call on me?"

"Uh. No. Your sales manager."

So, you're being hazed."


"You've been set up. Your first day they send you to call on Ted. He beats the hell out of you and sends you back to the station with your tail between your legs. Old school assholes call this training.


"You seem like a nice kid. Let's fuck with these assholes."

He turned and pulled a binder out of his credenza. As he handed it to me he said, "Study this. Learn it inside and out. Don't tell your boss. Tell him that Ted wasn't here, but you have an appointment with Bob George on Monday at 11:00. He won't let you come alone, I'm too big a prospect. When you come back, pitch me like this teaches. Your boss'll shit his pants."

I looked at the binder. "How to Master the Art of Selling." Tom Hopkins.

Tom Hopkins - How to Master the Art of Selling

On Monday, I returned with my manager, Randy.

Again, I followed the receptionist to the fancy door.

Mr. George scowled at Randy. "I don't know how this kid talked himself into this meeting, but I don't have a lot of time."

I presented.

Mr. George was engaged. Randy seemed a bit stunned.

When I was done, Mr. George signed a 3-month deal, insisting I write and produce his commercials as part of the agreement.

Randy seemed more stunned.

In the dealership parking lot, the receptionist chased us down and said I'd forgotten my pen. She handed me a pen that definitely wasn't mine. Along with a folded piece of paper.

"Nice," chuckled Randy as he checked out the receptionist walking back to the dealership. "Looks like somebody has a secret admirer."

a note from the receptionist
That evening I fished the paper out of my pocket, thinking that I'd call the receptionist who had not so subtly slipped me her phone number.

There in scrawled script was written: "Nice job. Your asshole manager didn't know whether to shit or go blind. See you next Monday at 11. Got some Zig Ziglar training for you. Bring back Hopkins. Don't bring Randy. Bob"

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

How to be a Successful Copywriter

Wanna be a successful copywriter?

Write for legitimate products/services that are in demand and
that have the company support to distribute an attractive offer
to a properly targeted audience.

Of course there is more.

Such as learning and perfecting the craft of writing to persuade.

But my point is that excellent copywriting isn't enough.

It won't be successful in a vacuum.

If nobody wants the product/service ... 

... or there isn't an attractive offer to motivate a prospective buyer ...

... or the message isn't exposed to an audience that want/needs the product/service ...

... the best copy in the world isn't going to significantly move the sales numbers in the right direction.

Wanna be a successful copywriter?

Write for legitimate products/services that are in demand and
that have the company support to distribute an attractive offer
to a properly targeted audience.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

AI: Creative Vending Machine

Grant Smith on Artificial Intelligence in advertising

Artificial Intelligence in advertising

It doesn’t matter a tinkers cuss, if I love the idea of AI creating advertising or hate it.

All our well considered and sage opinions are tragically unimportant because the real value of AI isn’t about expanding creative opportunities. It’s about the money.

Well, money and being at the forefront of a very enticing tech trend. Not that there is anything wrong with that, no one wants to seem like an advertising codger, metaphorically smelling of urine and menthol cigarettes, leaning on a walker, shouting at teenagers about how the music these days isn’t like how it was at Lollapalooza.

For better or for worse, advertising is married to tech. Not that new tech always brings that much to the table, and is most often used to annoy consumers in places they’ve never been annoyed before.

The unspoken truth about new technology is that most people don’t use it.

In most cases, innovation just isn’t all that personally relevant to most consumers. UNLESS it is used to enhance a customer’s experience. Remember Adam Berg’s wonderful 2009 film for Phillips Carousel, or CP+B’s super fun Subservient Chicken? All good stuff, that captured imaginations and interest from consumers using new techniques and new tech. Delighting audiences by creating more enjoyable and memorable ad experiences is the best use of new technology in advertising, and thats why we love it.

The problem is that AI isn’t going to go big because it offers consumers something that they’ve never seen before. The real reason AI will be adopted by almost every ad agency is because AI supports three dominant trends in our industry:

               Modest budgets
               Tiny timelines
               Smaller expressions

AI will be adopted because it isn’t a person. It doesn’t push back on crazy deadlines. It doesn't expect pay raises for doing amazing work. It doesn’t take PTO or ask about maternity leave. AI works overnight, on weekends and on every holiday. It doesn’t mind creating 287 rounds of a single banner; or a digital anthem film that is exactly like every other digital anthem film.

AI is the creative vending machine that so many people have wanted for so many years. Is it innovative? Procedurally. Is it focused on enhancing a consumer experience? No. Will it create lasting brands and unforgettable work? There's no evidence of this. Will it create cultural moments that live rent free in consumers’ minds for decades? You bet it will… JK, fuck no. Will it make money? Hell yeah baby, it will print it.

So, when we talk about AI, keep in mind the drivers of the conversation. Will AI create opportunities? A few. But it’s not really about more memorable and unique consumer experiences and it’s not about building culturally influential brands. It's about fulfilling an advertising work order as quickly and cheaply as possible.


Grant Smith is a writer and creative lead whose career has included time with Yamamoto, McCann, and BBDO. His formal education includes Southwestern University, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Miami Ad School

You can see his work and read more about him at GrantSmithAdvertising.com and he is on LinkedIn.

Monday, February 6, 2023

The Iceberg Theory of Writing

Hills Like White Elephants - Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway's story Hills Like White Elephant is about a man and a woman talking and drinking together as they wait for a train.

Below the surface, there is a question of whether or not the woman will have an abortion.

Hemingway never uses the words "abortion" or "pregnant."

This is his theory of omission. Also known as the iceberg theory of writing because icebergs have more hidden beneath the waterline than what is revealed above it.

The warm wind blew the bead curtain against the table.

“The beer’s nice and cool,” the man said.

“It’s lovely,” the girl said. 

“It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig,” the man said. “It’s not really an operation at all.”

The girl looked at the ground the table legs rested on.

“I know you wouldn’t mind it, Jig. It’s really not anything. It’s just to let the air in.”

The girl did not say anything.

“I’ll go with you and I’ll stay with you all the time. They just let the air in and then it’s all perfectly natural.”

Then what will we do afterward?”

“We’ll be fine afterward. Just like we were before.”

The Parking Spot Next to the Front Door

“You could sell sawdust to a lumber mill,” said my boss as he threw his arm around Byron’s shoulders. The team applauded as Byron held up th...