Angela Natividad's Live & Uncensored!

27 September 2007

How to Leverage a Hostel Stay During a Business Trip

When this entry was posted on Adrants, Steve saw fit to give it a preamble. I'm just mentioning it (yeah, preluding the prelude) so you don't wonder why I'm referring to myself in the third-person - in italics, no less.

Believe it our not, everyone that writes for Adrants does not, contrary to popular belief, live in New York. So revel, herewith, in the story of Angela as she masters the art of traveling on an Adrants budget as opposed to an Advertising Age budget which, for Adrants readers, is a very good thing.

After all, do you want the highly-edited, overly-tame version of Advertising Week - or do you want the gritty reality of life in the big city as seen by someone like you: People without huge expense budgets who go from glitzy hotel to cab to advertising conference and back again without reveling in everything New York has to offer? Read on

You never know when you'll need the skills necessary to support your survival (and cool factor) if you happen to find yourself at a youth hostel during Advertising Week on a (trendy) Bohemian budget. And after three days doing it, I'm a PhD. Read on to glean the fruits of my loving labors:

1. Buy a map. This serves two purposes: locating all the 1 Line stations in Manhattan, and all the shot-in-the-dark buildings the Advertising Week people chose for the seminars (couldn't one location have done the job?).

If colleagues ask why you never take a cab home, say nonchalantly that you know the Subway like the veins on the back of your writing hand. They'll be impressed. Or at least they'll look like they are.

2. Debate, fairly seriously, the merits of leaving the hostel in one set of clothes and changing into another at the conference. You feel like an jerk frequenting a hostel in your working pinstripe. It's probably the only time in your life you'll feel excruciating lust for a pair of flip-flops and a wife beater. Besides college.

3. Actually pretend to be a starry-eyed tourist when hostel-mates catch you taking pictures of ads or bringing home Anheuser-Busch paraphernalia. The problem with hostels is all your neighbors want to talk to you. What are you going to do, ignore them? That's not an option when you share living quarters or a loo.

4. Invent a reason (besides Advertising Week) for being there. Being an ad guy - even a blogging ad guy - is not exactly sexy amongst youth traveling-kind, particularly if they're from Socialist countries or still in college.

People usually invent a reason for you, so this isn't such a big deal: "You're on vacation? How nice." Yeah, if by vacation you mean distilling the social importance of the Green Giant.

5. If you smoke, carry both rolled cigarettes and ready-mades. You'll look trendier if you roll cigs at a youth hostel, but you'll look like a fringe pot dealer if you carry the habit back to Advertising Week. (Be extra cool: bring Parliaments* to the ad parties. This shows you're fringey in a "cultured" way.)

6. Consider foregoing the extra suit in your luggage for spare towels (trust me).

7. Get up at six. This provides you with two-for-one perks: you'll awe colleagues with your fresh-faced early appearances, and you beat your hostelmates to the shower. The early bird doesn't just get the worm; it gets the hot water too.

It's worth noting that staying at a youth hostel has plenty of merits, besides the fact that you'll save $700/night that probably would have gone to a Doubletree. The bonuses are listed below:
  • They sometimes have $1 beers.
  • They enable you to slip out of working-mode once you've left the frenetic world of Advertising Week and Times Square.
  • They have wall clocks that tell the time all over the world. I cannot describe the social dividends you rack up when you're able to recount, off the top of your head, what time it is in London for the homesick Saatchi & Saatchi guy. You will look like a genius.

*I'm actually a little confused about the significance of Parliaments as a trendy social tool, but from experience I know its power can't be denied. My best guess is that it vaguely associates the user with being Soviet.

Advertising Week: Getting Deep Over WeeMeetinis, and Why Priceline is Tricky

Tell me how to nail cheap two-star accommodations in NY the day before Advertising Week, and I'll call you a liar and tell you how you - yes, you - can survive in a youth hostel during a business trip.

Because after (reeeeally) bad planning on my part, that's where I ended up.

At the end of yesterday's Saving Darfur session, which ran a half hour over time, I wandered the streets of New York in desperate pursuit of the 1 Subway line.

After accidentally interrupting the filming of a movie called "Fighting," I located this crucial urban vein, hopped on and trekked to my hotel. has this cool option where you can "name your price!" on a hotel. The setback is, if they find you a place at "your price!", you're married to it - no refunds, no takebacks.

So it was with surprise, some chagrin and a sudden craving for croissants that I discovered my hotel, attractively dubbed West End Studios, was not a hotel at all but a youth hostel.

The world spun. I'd gone from from Underdressed Amongst Ad Execs to Overdressed to Kill. Flippin' amazing.

I was there long enough to drop my gigantic duffel in a room - a dorm-style accommodation with a shared loo - then I changed clothes and headed back downtown for the WeeWorld Cocktail Party.

The launchpad for the fete was decorated very much like the WeeWorld universe, complete with human-sized cardboard props representing the miniature playland (ironic). Some guy took an awkward Polaroid of me (eyes closed!) and later handed me a bag of goodies, which included a framed Angela WeeMee.

This is how people see me? was my first thought, but I couldn't ruminate for long because a smiling girl with an oversized belt came and handed me a WeeMeetini - ice-blue suicide, baby - and I later stumbled off to a series of laptops, where a bunch of women were making WeeMees and talking about WeeMees and showing me all the supercool aspects of WeeWorld.

I bit the hype hard and consequently tried convincing everyone around me of how awesome it would be to build a WeeMee Facebook app that mimics WeeWorld's interactive comments feature.

Have you ever made a WeeMee? You really need to. The beauty of this deceptively simplistic business model is it does little more than leverage our fetish for individualism. I wasted at least half an hour, high on my last WeeMeetini, looking for an eyepatch for my virtual persona.

"And look!" cried a WeeMee exec. "You can try on Bratz gear and paint your face in the colors of your flag!"

No kidding.

Anyway, I burned a good three hours hanging out at the WeeWorld Cocktail party - and not just because it had little fried chicken tenders on potato chips. It's a good party when you keep slipping off to a corner to pen the epiphanies you're sponging up in conversation, hopelessly convinced that you are the voice of the Next Great Conference Bash Epic.

My frenzied scrawl faithfully records the following literary deal-breakers:
Advertising - as function of addiction. Addiction reflects personal values.

Attractiveness of American Dream - NOT opportunity but low cost of failure. Ability to erase history, start anew. What are we BETRAYING?

Resilience of the "baseball legend" (e.g. American Dream) will transcend superficiality of steroids.

With all that profundity left to stew, I bid adieu to my cohorts - including the whole WeeMee team, which I'm just in love with; a sales exec at Brickfish; and a man who claims to have spawned an infamous podcast called It's "Much Worse than We Thought" - and hit the Subway to return to my shoebox hostel quarters.

26 September 2007

What Does it Take to Define 'Just Do It'?

The answer: Five execs, a poetic moderator, and two hours.

I'm sitting at a panel called Want to start an AD Agency?!. To my right sits a dude whose name I shall not mention. He expresses sincere, almost meddling interest in the GelaSkin on my MacBook. So I ask why he's here and he says, "Technically I represent BBDO, but really I am here for my own self-interest."

Tell it like it is, yo. "Lots of self-interest stewing around," I say vaguely.

The BBDO guy agrees. "I'm guessing that's why everybody's here," he observes.

This is a covert little world.

Onto the session (streamed on*, for your reference). It's an atmosphere in which you expect the moderator - in this case, Jerry Shereshewsky of - to cite Leo Burnett's "When to Take My Name Off the Door." And he actually does.

"My name is Jerry and I've been an ad-aholic for 38 years," Shereshewsky begins. (Laughter.) "There is no business more amazing than this." Way to start a conversation - deprecation followed by zeal. I'm on an emotional roller coaster, man.

He notes how personal the business is, calls companies "families," and channels visions of your burgeoning agency sitting around you on the floor of your living room. You know, like Josephine Baker's rainbow tribe.

How The Execs Got Where They Are

"I was 26 years old..." begins the first panelist, Richard Kirshenbaum of kirshenbaum bond + partners. He recounts the tale of a younger, more naive Richard, comfy-cozy at JWT, preparing to leap into the Great Beyond.

One day he nailed the Kenneth Cole account and produced a great print. The head of JWT said, "Why can't you produce ads like that?"

"I did," Kirshenbaum said, then he quit.

Zan Ng of Admerasia describes his dire American beginning: No money, no English skills. He started out a commercial photographer with little technical understanding. Every morning he woke up and said, "What's the next thing I want to do?"

Now, imagine the sound of string chords as Asian landscapes flit by. This moment represents how, on the backburner, Ng witnessed opportunities bloom for the Asian-American population - not just in terms of hireability, but in terms of their attractiveness as a target market. This could only culminate in one result.

"Nobody was going to hire me - no education, no experience - so I started my own agency," he said simply.

Linda Kaplan Thaler of The Kaplan Thaler Group hails, like Kirshenbaum, from JWT. She took the jump for independence, earned Herbal Essences (the orgasmic-tastic "Yes! Yes!" campaign was her work), and actually commented to the client that "only an orgasm could save this brand."

Michael Gray of G&G Advertising said he was hanging out with David Kennedy of W+K, expressing righteous indignation about the portrayal of Indian-American products in advertising, when David (of course) asked, "So what do you want to do?"

"Change this," Gray decided. So he pursued the creation of an Indian-American ad agency.

Misc. Observations

The room is infested with pipe dreams and romanticized war tales. It's like Ad Land or Mad Men in the flesh. And I think somebody spat out "Just do it!" at least six times.

To fully grasp the inescapability of Nike's marketing-savvy, an audience member mentioned he wants to bring his London-based firm JDI to New York. "[The firm's name] stands for 'Just do it'," he added happily.

The only thing used more than "Just do it" is the word "passion."

On Financing

Thaler admits that early on, clients would book shoots and not pay. When they pitched AFLAC - which thought using a duck to sell insurance was horribly tasteless - her agency shelled out $35,000 to support the research (funded by Clairol, which "finally paid their bill," Thaler quips).

"It was really scary in the beginning," admits the exec.

Kirshenbaum admits it took 10 years to get "competent" help in billing. He wrote his first invoice and said it was "like magic" when it was sent out and money came back.

Ng describes dealing with creditors. "There's no perfect picture. When you do well," put money away, he says.

Aside from that there are lots of sad stories about bootstrapping and more talk about passion which leads to "winning more accounts" - you are left to do the math.

On Hiring the "Right" People

Gray: "I had the only one-story building in Albuquerque with a revolving door." He realized in the first handful of years that you can't just have a dream; you had to share the dream with your team and keep them informed. (Helps with the passion, I guess.)

Thaler says the little things count. She also notes, "A village stops being a village after about 200 people." She bemoans not knowing everybody by name anymore at her agency, but adds that a resilient business has to keep standing without you.

Kirshenbaum**, referring to the personalities of hirees: "I'll take 'smart and mean' or 'dumb and nice' but I won't take 'dumb and mean.'" He also observes that there aren't enough personalities in the business anymore.

McGarry: "In this land of magic, the people you surround yourself with - advisors, banks, talent - is the holding. You could be at the top of the world but go right out of business." This guy needs to write a book. He says similarly Earl Nightengalish stuff like this all afternoon.

Some time later he adds, "Environment is really critical in the world of creativity."

Don't I know it. That's why I do all my work from a yacht, baby.

The Takeaway

Ogilvy got into the agency game at the age of 38. The people at this panel are proof that anybody can be Ogilvy, or Leo Burnett, or half of Saatchi & Saatchi.

I'll try derailing the cliche train in my head (there's one in particular that comes to mind) with a frank appeal. Got a dream? Got big ideas?

Want to start an AD Agency?!

Just leap. To consider: the uglier the situation looks, the better your romantic war story will be when you're a raging exec.

I'll conclude with a flashback to the audience member with the agency called JDI. "How should I start [building a brand in New York]?" he asked the panelists.

(Long pause, awkward hesitation, furtive giggling.)

Ng finally takes the torch: "Don't rent space," he says. "The rent will kill you."


* Worth the listen.
** Korshenbaum makes me laugh. He's like David Spade, except with flair.

If 'Darfur' Sounds Familiar, Thank Heaven for Saint Advert

It bears mentioning Advertising Week's Panasonic Ideas for Life - Saving Darfur panel was as much about advertisers' power to set global agendas as it was about the actual plight of Darfur. Call it a conceit, but there's method to the madness.

Advertising played a pivotal role in raising awareness about genocide in Darfur. Some members of the panel expressed having been inspired into their current professions after seeing ads about famine or others' suffering.

Early on in the panel, a member of the Save Darfur Coalition referred to driving "mass education" about genocide via "mass advertising."

That sets the brain afire: do we want to take up the mantle of "educator"? If not or if so, what does that imply for ad firms that specialize in wrapping emotional experience around things?

Should we embrace social responsibility, or is this a slippery slope?

Policymaking is described as a supply and demand operation: there needs to be a demand, a citizen outcry, about injustices, in order to drive political change. Who better than advertisers to wield sentiment like a sword, eh?

A speaker described the marriage of marketing and movements thus: "One of the most important missing ingredients in the fight against genocide and famine and war in Africa is, strangely, marketing and advertising. Talk about strange bedfellows." Indeed.

And Advertising Week's Julie Thompson noted efforts like this "remind people of the good advertising and marketing can do; it's not just about Super Bowl ads, it's about moving people into action."

That's a warm, fuzzy takeaway.

Work for the Save Darfur Coalition was created by GMMB (an "issue agency"), which swelled the number of e-activists for the non-profit to over 1 million just last July.

David Mitchell of the Save Darfur Coalition shared some rules he discovered over the course of the campaign:

  • People want to see evidence: dead bodies, masked raids, murders. Unfortunately, "Despots don't call in the photographers when they're about to execute mass numbers of people," says Mitchell.
  • You can't make genocide ads that look like other ads about issues in Africa (like Save the Children ads, par exemple). People don't pay attention to them.
  • People want to know who the bad guy is. That's not easy. Who do you blame? Investment houses? Omar al-Bashir? George-fucking-Bush?
  • There are standards for taste and appropriateness: If you want something to appear in The New York Times, you can't throw in the dead bodies people want to see. There are also specifications for Pan-Arabic publications regarding issues like rape and murder.

Campaign foci:

  • Prior to the campaign, most people didn't know what or where Darfur was. First-person accounts about rape, torture, murder, various horrors were used, and often read out loud by American suburbanites in the ad work, to make the issue more personal.
  • Most muslims didn't know this was muslim on muslim violence. Had to demonstrate this in a culturally sensitive way.
  • Darfur was compared to Palestine, Lebanon - this struck the agency as off-center, but research indicated it would drive the point home.
  • Divestment efforts - the campaign waged war against Fidelity, which ended up selling over 90 percent of its petro China interests.

In one campaign, satellite imagery was used to "show people a place that was otherwise an abstraction." This effect was pretty awesome: "Google Earth" technology let users see "before attack" and "after attack" images of the grounds.

The session closed with words from Mira Sorvino, who made a few great points that rose like cream over a sea of emo.

The actress started working with Amnesty Int'l in March '04 as a Stop Violence Against Women Goodwill Ambassador. The use of rape as a tool of war in Sudan affected her a great deal.

As a kid, she had nightmares of being a Jew in the Holocaust (Sorvino is Christian) - she blames Anne Frank for the fixation.

One thing that stuck out for me: In her elaborate fit of passion, she described wondering whether she would have been a brave enough Jewess to suicide-bomb Hitler.

I could imagine her PR guy going, "Oh fuck."

But Sorvino's testimony shed light on an interesting point: advertising has power, not merely to encourage children to admire movie stars and beautiful women, but to appeal to their sense of sympathy - and indignation - on injustice and human sufferings.

This can make a huge impact on what they choose to do with their lives.

Sorvino points out that if we can inflame people, veritably intoxicate them with an idea or a notion, why not use it to save Darfur?

25 September 2007

Advertising Week: An Awkward Prologue

After a 4:00 AM dash through the dark, followed by a five-hour bus ride, followed by an eight-block trek with a Streetwise Manhattan map, I've crossed the threshold of the Paley Center and made it to the Promised Land: Advertising Week 2007 in NYC.

Paley's squeak-shined glass windows have become giant YouTube stations. Beyond the lobby, thoughts about marketing by great men and civilians line the walls. The whole set-up fills my eyes with De Beers quality tears. (This may be less of an emotional reaction than exhaustion resulting from insomnia, and the fact that I haven't eaten.)

Apparently members of the press were only able to pick up their passes yesterday morning. This is disappointing. I call Blake the press pass guy. Blake is warm, pleasant and, in fact, female. "I'll bring you your pass around 1:00," she says.

Bummer. It's 10:00 AM, my first session's at 2:30, and I've still got a gigantic duffel bag with me. In a sea of suits I am the one jean jacket. And I'm sweaty and gross, and did I mention I've got a gigantic duffel bag with me?

I look, quite frankly, like an asshole. It's like a scene from Pretty Woman but 10 times worse.

An AdWeek director takes notice of me - possibly to throw me out - but goes the motions of asking who I'm with. I tell her the whole sad story, then I decide to head to my hotel until my press pass arrives.

"That doesn't make any sense," she says. And in a fit of unexpected kindness (or worship - or pity?) she adds, "Have a seat, I'll find you a workstation where you can set up and put down your belongings."

I take a seat beside one of the AdWeek volunteers, who has been charged with guarding the door and handing out programs. He's a happy-enough-looking dude. I turn to him, introduce myself and say, "So, you're volunteering for AdWeek?"

Hesitation. "I am here to ensure your every need is met," he says mechanically. His eyes dart around furtively. He presses the tips of his fingers together. "I'm new," he adds slowly.

"Um, awesome," I say. "So are you with AdWeek or are you doing this for school or...?"

"I've heard there are volunteer opportunities," he steamrolls loudly. "I don't know about unpaid ones. I don't know anything about that."

"Cool." I pause to work out where in fuck-all I went wrong. Are we even speaking English? "So what's it been like so far, are you enjoying--"

"Look." This is the first hard statement he's made since we shook hands. "If you're going to do a story on me, I'd appreciate if you tell me."

"I'm sorry...?" I'm appalled, genuinely hurt and confused, but he cannot admire his handiwork because he's already turned away. "Sir, I don't know what I did to make you feel like..."

He starts to whistle. He won't look at me.

We've reverted back to the sandbox. With that, I decide I'm going to do a story on him. This is that.

"Do you mind if I plug in my computer?" I say to no one in particular.

"I'll have to ask my manager," he says icily. The manager is a woman named Erin, who has been talking with the AdWeek director about where to station me.

"Sure, do what you want," Erin says, waving her hand in my direction.

I open my laptop and start screwing around on the 'net. The spazzed volunteer keeps looking for excuses to walk behind me and glance hard at what I'm doing while appearing nonchalant.

Later the AdWeek director returns and invites me into the Darfur session at noon.

"It really doesn't make sense for you to go back to your hotel and come here again anyway," she says with a warm smile. I love her. I would pledge my allegiance to her.

I ask her if she's sure, and she says everything will be fine.

Saving Darfur. SCORE!

That's how I currently find myself sitting in a large theatre below the camera guy (Richie; he likes photography), watching pictures of George Clooney and hungry-looking children dart by on a gigantic projector, at the very beginning of the Saving Darfur session.

I'll tell you how it goes.

14 September 2007

Addressing One versus Many

For the cinematic adaptation of his novella Breakfast at Tiffany's, Truman Capote balked at the notion of Audrey playing Holly. He wanted Marilyn Monroe.

Paramount clearly had something else in mind.

Side-by-side, it's only fair to say the film is, at best, only loosely based on the Capote book. Capote's Golightly is completely different from the one we encounter on the big screen - similarly frothy, granted, but by no means was she planning to forsake her own ideas to go running into Paul's arms in the rain.

In the book, she doesn't even go back for the cat she deserted.

Nonetheless, the book and the movie gleaned acclaim in their own circles, and even drew audiences to one another - the book to the film, the film to the book.

Capote was a writer appealing to the individual. He knew what he was doing. An individual has opinions. For him or her, Holly is less a woman than an allegory. On print, her betrayals make sense.

Paramount baked visual and auditory hits for hundreds at a time. They knew what they were doing. In a theatre, individual opinion is largely dependent on the sentiment of others. And Holly isn't just an empty vessel open to interpretation - she's living, breathing skin, a woman with a fashion sense and a personality that reminds people of themselves or their aunts or their mothers.

Decades after Audrey Hepburn's star hit its peak, women are still fashioning themselves after the charmed Holly Golightly. The "little black dress" is standard issue for any self-respecting New York female.

It would be unreasonable, I think, to call one more or less authentic than the other.

With Breakfast at Tiffany's in mind, consider a marketer's attempt to shove a TV ad campaign onto YouTube or some kind of microsite.

These efforts largely fail. Unless an ad is particularly conversation-worthy, what in hell makes you think people are trawling YouTube for it? They're too busy spoofing Miss South Carolina and gawking at the miracle that is Sonic Speed Run. (Seriously, how does he do that? I could never get past Chemical Plant Zone 2.)

You cannot separate the medium from the message. A person is not a passive receptor for any piece of data we choose to spoon-feed it. When I watch television, I have completely different expectations, and a completely different mindset, from when I am sitting in front of my computer.

Paramount understood there's a difference between the individual experience and the group encounter. Paramount also knew it had a limited amount of time to turn a flighty hooker into a social icon. The individual can be forgiving; the group, less so.

These are things that architects of the individual experience alone don't always understand. That's why Capote was so good at addressing the one, while Paramount turned addressing the crowd into a multi-million-dollar business.

The challenge lies in that, these days, a marketer must try to accomplish both: addressing one, touching many.

10 September 2007

The Confidence Game

While promise has legs, only talent has hands.
- Paco de Lucia

In February or March I was standing around in the break room at my old job, burning a hole in a big tin cookie jar, when Deanna, one of the co-creative directors, walked in.

"Hi, Angela. Is everything okay?" she said.

Deanna is nice and I have always liked her. But I didn't really want to go into specifics about why I was standing in the break room eating butter cookie after butter cookie while scowling at the Formica, so I said something along the lines of, "Deanna, I'm really sensitive."

She stared for awhile as though trying to work me out. Then,

"Is this personal or work-related?"

"Work." I can't remember what was irking me so much. It could have been any number of things: a recent fight with the COO, an angry client, an unreasonable (or all too reasonable) blog comment...

Deanna tilted her head and kept staring. It's possible that I stopped eating cookies at this point. It's hard to say.

"You know," she began slowly, "it's hard to be young and have a lot of responsibilities at work."

"Uh huh," I said. This was somewhat flattering and I was already starting to cheer up. God, I'm such a sucker.

"But," she continued, just as slowly, "you get to a point."

"What kind of a point?"

"You get to a point where it doesn't matter what other people say and what other people think of you, because you know what you can do, and you're confident in your skill."

"When did you get there?" I said, pressing insufferably even though I could feel us veering into Wonder Years territory.

Deanna smiled in a manner most motherly. "I think I was in my 30s," she said.

That seemed like a very long wait.

She started walking off. "If you want to talk about it more, come by my desk," she added. She stopped to hug me, then left me alone with the cookies and the godforsaken coffee, which was burning in its gurgly machine.

I have thought about that conversation a lot since then. Reading Chuck Klosterman's IV added to the discourse inside my head. There's a kind of arrogance you possess when you're young and bright. The arrogance isn't quite made up of confidence; it's made more of a desperate desire to prove to everybody you meet that you're somebody.

It's another telltale sign that you haven't yet become confident in your skill.

How do you break out of that? How do you get confident in your hands and your head? How do you stop sucking on every word the critics and the flatterers say?

Do you have to wait for it, like puberty?

09 September 2007

One Monkey to Berate Us All [video]

Dance, monkeys, dance!