I'm full of shit.
I realize this every few days or so. It's unclear how many rationalizations, hyperboles and humble-brags have to bounce around my skull before the hogwash tipping point is reached. But when I come to the end of my rope, I know it. A faint spark of contempt jumps from gut to spine to cerebral cortex and flickers just long enough to set my eyes rolling.
"You gotta be kidding me," I'll grumble. Because this is, of course, exactly what I've been doing — kidding myself. That the colleagues "liking" the new commercial my company posted are doing so free of quid pro quo obligations. That Brussels sprouts, no matter how artisanally roasted, have photojournalistic significance. That people read blog posts over 350 words.
The thing is, I have a suspicion that you're full of shit too. That we all are, in fact, and that it's not really our fault. To want to be perceived as an accomplished, productive, well-intentioned member of society: that's human nature. So should it really be surprising that our inner spin doctor is on call 24/7? Facebook profiles and Instagram feeds have certainly amplified this tendency. But even before the age of "personal branding," I'm willing to bet humans scorched many a retina scanning horizons for the most "favorable light" to cast upon their lives.
In my particular case (and likely yours if you're reading this via professional channels) the promotional realm in which I work sprinkles kerosene on the aforementioned sparks and leads this blaze into my office on a daily basis. On the one hand, the job is to court positive attention for a client's brand. On the other, said courting must be done in an industry so notorious for manipulation that a trust deficit is inevitable from the get go.
Fortunately, this is where knowing you're full of shit can be a saving grace. As it turns out, recognizing the pretense we're all capable of is the best safeguard against it crossing your lips, clearing your outbox, or making its way into the client presentation/PR strategy/TV spot etc.
Are there times when that kind of second-guessing gets in the way? Absolutely. In the short term, concepts die. Strategies are rebuilt. But it's also what keeps you and the brands you work for credible over the long haul. Moreover, it helps you fully appreciate when someone else has taken the unadorned highroad and ridden it to a truly exceptional creative destination.
That's what this post was supposed to be about — saluting brands that have dropped the Stepford act, resisted Madison Avenue's default conceits and allowed themselves to be exactly what they are: well-meaning, imperfect, contradictory, temperamental human experiments. In other words, mirror images of the customers they hope to attract. Dove's flipping the cosmetic category script with it's Real Beauty Sketches is old news, but that doesn't make it any less of a triumph. New Castle's No Bollocks campaign calls out the usual beverage marketing B.S. to hilarious and substantive effect. And despite a slightly-over-scripted-and-rehearsed-one-too-many-times-to-sound-authentic voiceover, Mass Mutual deserves kudos for embracing genuine struggle and vulnerability (especially at the 35 and 52 second marks) in its "Mother" commercial. Any one of these examples might have been dissected into a perfectly adequate case study in the brand benefits of letting down appearances. But then something came across my desk that, for multiple reasons, put "adequate" to shame.
Obituaries don't grant their authors a second chance. So when Buzzy Whitt died early this year, his daughter Alisa knew she had only 12 hours to write a memoriam and make the local paper's deadline. What she crafted in that time is a clinic in unvarnished tributing. With humor, tenderness and plain spoken poignancy, Alisa spreads out the puzzle of a life whose pieces don't all snap together the way they're expected to. Her style flirts with the bizarre in a way that perfectly befits the life it honors. Most importantly, she holds enough respect for the man her father really was not to spin him into a saint or scholar. Her summation of Buzzy's journey treats us to uncommon, irreverent insights on a host of life's fundamentals:
On Finding One's Niche: "He built a garage in his backyard and did work for all sorts of men, young and old, souping up their cars with Chevrolet big block V8 engines. He put a 427 into more than one SuperSport. He put a 427 into a Porsche. He put a 427 into a Camaro. He was, apparently, the go-to-guy if you wanted a 427 engine in your anything."
On Transformations: "With the police in pursuit, Buzzy stepped on an iron rake that smacked down those two teeth into a position where they would stay for most of the rest of his life."
On Perseverance: "Since Buzzy had lost his right arm to a bush hog in 1997, he developed a habit of using his mouth for things most use their other hand to accomplish. That's hard duty on teeth, and he continued to use them as tools [until] one of them finally gave up the fight and exited the scene."
On Friendship: "...If anyone knows what happened to the monkey, it would be Bill Macy, Buzzy's oldest friend. Bill is the only person who could manage to stay on speaking terms with Buzzy for seventy years. For that we remain ever grateful, since Buzzy got pickier and pickier about the company he kept."
On Family: "Lakin Barnes, Rhonda's son with her ex-husband Mark Barnes, is the closest Buzzy [had] to a grandchild. Lakin looks enough like Buzzy…and Buzzy was closer to Lakin than any child, so there is that."
And, finally, On Priorities: "In lieu of flowers the family respectfully requests that memorial contributions be directed to the Pulaski County Humane Society…Buzzy had some varied opinions about people, but he loved animals. And Chevrolet.
Please enjoy Alisa's work in its entirety, and try not to rush to conclusions. Sometimes we're fortunate enough to come across something so unique, we don't know what to make of it. And at first blush, the piece can seem like a joke. In the end, however, there's no doubt Buzzy and his obituary were as real as they come.
Perhaps this is the challenge Alisa has unintentionally issued us all. On behalf of ourselves and our brands, what if we spoke freely? What if we messaged as if there were nothing left to prove? What if every assignment were treated like an obituary?
In lieu of closing your browser, the writer respectfully requests that you "Like," share, or comment on this post—Michael was full of shit, and he knew better than to claim otherwise.