The “a” word.

Things happen in my professional life that either make me proud or make me cringe.

For those of you that don’t really know me, my name is Michel and I am an advertising creative. My title is Creative Director, I fancy myself as a creative story teller. My discipline was that of an Art Director, I will explain that later.

The two events that happened week were related. Here’s the story…

Be Different

On last Wednesday, I attended the annual Cincinnati AdClub Cannes Awards luncheon, brought to us by USA Today and sponsored by(crap I can’t remember). We had a dude from Bridge Worldwide talk beforehand about his french y french riviera experience. It was interesting and I have to admit some envy, OK a lot of envy, raving frickin’ jealousy, but I digress. The one thing that I do remember because it’s still stuck in my craw like a hamburger stick with the little red plastic crap on the end.

He said there was a discussion about removing the “Advertising” from the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival which they actually did. Henceforth it is now the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. WTF!

When exactly did Advertising become a four letter word or the “a”-word.

On Saturday, I attended the Kilgour Fall Event. They made me feel great by gushing about what a good job I have done over the years on their “graphics.” In my line of work(advertising) it is very rare to receive platitudes or be celebrated and I truly appreciate being appreciated. My pro-Bono work gives me great satisfaction in that respect, because it’s great to be able to give back when I have gotten so much.

But. I did more than just the “graphics.” There’s a concept in there some where.

Splitting hairs, you ask?

In my mind, Advertising is the root/core of what I do. Webster’s defines advertising as 1 : the action of calling something to the attention of the public especially by paid announcements. I would add the word “persuade’ in there and targeted public too.

It’s the concept behind the action above. It starts with the homework of finding out what exactly we’re selling and to whom we are selling to. It involves the emotion of the experience of the brand and how to tap into that emotion to persuade them(whoever they are) to action(buy). I’ve found over the years that there’s only one way to do this well.

Tell a story.

So I use all of these tools to tell a story, starting with a objective, then strategies to reach the objective(s), executions of the strategies using a plethora of creative techniques and concepts, and finally the craft of art & copy to create the thing. I said thing because this works for campaigns, ads, the ugly trifold pamphlets, Outdoor, POP, websites, banner ads, TV spots, tweet campaigns, facebook fan pages, all that voodoo that medo and my friendsdo so well. Why we make it so complicated is beyond me. Confession, I do know why, it’s all about billable hours.

To me, Advertising is the Genus of the species and Branding, Packaging, Interactive, Graphic Design, PR, TV & Radio production, and many others are the sub geneses of the species. All very are important to a marketer to deploy on their brand development. But, the creative CONCEPT has to be KING, all the other stuff is delicious icing on the cake. Mere delivery vehicles. It doesn’t matter who creates the concept! So often I see stuff without a core concept, just snappy or sloppy technique.

When I started my career, thirty years ago, I had two paths from which to choose. One path was to go into te graphic design side of the business and find work at one of the many fine Cincinnati Design Studios. They did mostly packaging work for a huge dualithic consumer package goods marketer and soap maker. The second path was to land a job at one of the local/regional advertising agencies. They work on all the big companies advertising campaigns and that meant my first love TV and second Radio(storytelling). I chose the later. Proudly.

Lately, I have seen the Design Studios become the dominate force of the local creative scene. The advertising agencies have gotten smaller and more scarce. It’s a shame and I don’t like it. Admittedly , ad agencies have caused much of their own demise by over charging, excessive mark-up and blantant arrogance. We made it too damn hard to do business with us by bring impossible to work with. Too much beatdown is not good for business.(Ask any client)

Now, LPK, Landor and the likes offer services that ad agencies used to do, product and market research, branding, packaging, the spinoff were the Digital agencies like Bridge and Hyperquake. They design and create. They craft experiences and content. It’s all good. But what about the storytelling? What about the selling? The persuading? The art? It’s there, but you have to hunt for it.

So what do I care if they take the Advertising out of Cannes or I’m applauded for being a gifted graphic designer. I guess I don’t care all that much, but it’s not me.

I’m advertising artist and storyteller and always will be.

My Last Elementary School Horrah!

Tonight is my final Kilgour Elementary Silent Auction and Bid N Buy.
I’ve been supporting my little excellent, public school now for 9 years running.

Once they found out that I had some skills, I became the go to guy for graphic help. I did this gladly, it is a noble cause which i have trouble saying no to.

But I have some scars, here’s the story.

9 years ago, our boy Cary was in kindergarten with Mrs. Braffman. We love her. Her class was controlled chaos from start to finish. Judy is the kind of teacher that loves her kids, and with who knows how many years, she’s got the teaching down pat. So when asked to do something for her year-end present, I jumped at it. I did a ink drawing of the school and Jen Raabe had a matte made with all the kid’s fingerprints on it.  It was very cool and hangs on her wall to this day.

Now the deal was, that the gift was to be put on the bid ‘n buy table  at our school carnival and the parents of our class would bid it up to make money for the school. We had a new principal, Angela Cook, that year, it was her first carnival, as well. Ms. Cook started bidding against us. She wanted the drawing. It got crazy, we finally out bid her BUT I got corralled into doing another drawing specifically for Ms. Cook. So I did the drawing, made a scan, silk screened 100 prints for the next year’s Bid ‘n Buy and gave the original to Ms. Cook. All was hunky doorey. So I thought.

That class of parents were, shall we say, very enthusiastic and overly involved, and I was sucked into a 9 year project of public school branding project. The old logos were pathetic. We had a Bronko instead of a Mustang. The typography was horrible, the wareables was a mess. So I agreed to take the branding project w with a committee of Kilgour Moms. They kicked my ass….for months…version after version-rejected. The Mustang  was too mean or  to happy. The school logo was too artsy or too plain. Finally the year ended and  Ms. Cook made the final decision on a new school logo and a new sports logo. God Bless her.

From there, it was March Madness t-shirts(which were fun to do), and sports booster newsletters(also fun) and the brand style guides that everyone ignored. I was actually told that my sports tee shirt designs were …well, one mom said “We need to design some shirts that kids(her kids) will actually want to wear”. Zing.

I did a website design for the PTA only to be ripped for being too…corporate.

At Kilgour Elememtary, we have a Spring Carnival. Did I mention that we are a Cincinnati Public School? It’s a real money maker with a 5K race. My designs for it were shitcanned.

Then we moved the Silent Auction to the Fall, four years ago. I, of course, was asked to do the invitation and other campaign materials. It was nice, pedestrian. Very successful. The next year, my friend Amy let me do my thing, no committee, just do it. We were moving back to our newly remodeled school and I did a panorama photoshop number of the new addition. I’m very proud of it. Amy set a new standard for me on all these kinds of projects and I  want to thank her for that. It’s gotten better every year since.

From then on, when asked to do a Kilgour or any other pro bono project, I lay out my rules of engagement, first. I will do the best ______insert project_____ for you that I can possibly do but you have to accept the artwork as is. No committee, no meetings, no presentations. I’ll get everything donated or as cheap as possible. It’s worked out great since then. This is my last Kilgour Event. It’s a little sad.

But that original class of parents that I mentioned before. They are all at Walnut Hills HS, now. They call then the Kilgour mafia because they(we) are taking over. I left my mark on Kilgour, my logo is on the gym floor, on the wall and on the flag.

Don’t forget me, Kilgour.|I won’t forget you and the friends that we made while involved with our wonderful neighborhood school.

The quest for my inner positivity.

I’ve been told that I’m negative. I put off negative vibes, I’m pessimistic, ornery, that I bitch too damn much, I’m a complainer, whiner, narcissistic, the power of no and all that.

Well, it’s time for that to change.

But I have questions that need to be answered first.
Like if I disagree am I supposed to keep my mouth shut?
What if I’m being asked to go against my principals?
Am I not allowed to dislike something?

I’m not a hateful person, at least I don’t think I am. I don’t hate you. I don’t hate Obama or Olberman or Oprah(I don’t like them much, though). I’ve been told that if the idea wasn’t mine that I thinks it sucks, sometimes… I just want to improve upon it. Is that bad?

I think that that is my core problem, I want to make things better. And my better may not be the same as your better. I don’t like stupidity or goofyosicity. I don’t like meanness or selfishness or righteousness. I’m guilty of all of this from time to time.

Another problem I have is that I have trouble saying NO to a noble cause. I’ve gotten better at it by applying some basic rules of engagement for my non-profit-do-it for-free projects. Simply put, let me do what I do and I’ll do it for free. If it’s work, you have to pay for it.

I’m not a bad guy, I think I’m a good guy. I worry about what people think of me and what I will end up being when I’m done being. I worry about taking care of my family. I worry about my business and my career and how it plays in the scheme of my life. I like my life but want it to be better. I like where I live, my city, state and zipcode. I want it to be better too. And if there’s anything I can do to make you better, just ask.

I realize that being positive has to be balanced with a wee bit of the neg. Otherwise, I’ll just be annoying.

So what do I do? How do I become the Mr Positivity that I want to be? But do you want me to be Mr Positivity? Really?


Halloween. It’s all about the candy. I like candy.

Instead of ranting about the midterm elections of next tuesday, I thought I’d share a few stories about my favorite non-religious holiday.

I love Halloween….candy.

My fav

Back in the day, in my neighborhood, we were all about the tricks, soaping’ windows, throwing corn at houses, canning cars. It started about two weeks before the big day. I lived next to family of six kids, with another family of six kids next to them(irish catholic families/of course related). The Keidel’s had three boys, me being the middle, misunderstood creative kid.

Anyhoo, we would start raiding the local corn field of rock hard corn on the cob, each of us filling up an old pillowcase of ears and hoofing it back to my neighbors basement.  The Graham basement was the gathering place for the whole neighbor hood. They had a pool/ping pong table and lots of room.

Corning was guy thing. We would shuck corn off the cob till our hands were worn raw. Then we would go out in the early autumn darkness and throw it at houses till the grownups came out and yelled…we’d run like scared dogs. Ocaisionally someone would give us a chase which was always bad idea, because if we knew anything, we knew the neighborhood, and we would lead the chaser into a briar patch with hidden escape routes, that only we would know. Cursing would follow.

Soaping was a total clan event, usually saved for the Halloween weekend, we would soap only cars, not houses.One year we did every house on the the street except our three houses. Stupid kids. Even stupider was the idea of using canning paraffin. We all got in trouble, don’t remember the punishment.

Canning was even more insidious, it involved a coordinate group effort.  We would tie coffee cans on a length of rope, both ends which was laid across the road. A car would come up over the rise and with a kid on each side of the road we would  raise the rap to snag the car. The car would drag the cans dow the road, we would run like wild dogs, laughing, chases inside, briar patch, cursing, aughter in the woods. We lived on a street with a sheer cliff on one side and houses on the other. Not once did we think of what happened if a car went over the cliff. Stupid kids, public school. Whatever.

Then on Halloween proper, we’d put on our costumes and beg for candy from the very people that we corned, soaped and canned. At my house there was no store bought costumes, you were a hobo or a ghost. It was the 60’s so the sheets were always bright colors.

Older kids would lead the pack of the motley crew, taking a protection portion of the younger kid’s stash. Again. pillow cases were used for the booty. My friend Cary, would save his candy till friction’ Easter. Dan, John & I would have ours down to the bare wrappers in a day or two. they were big bars too, none of these smaller shit they have now, full Mounds bars, Butterfingers and Charston Chews. Some moms gave homemade popcorn balls and apples. Homemade caramels. Hot pennys.

Now we celebrate with our kids, nobody’s every soaped me, canned or corned me. Linda has three full boxes of halloweenie stuff.. We carve a lot of pumpkins.  As I look back, those were the days. But today’s also full of good times and, of course, candy.

I like candy.


There’s only one word for this season’s political advertising…despicable.

There’s only one word for this season’s political advertising…despicable.

I consider my self an expert in the field because of my thirty years of experience building and supporting Cincinnati’s iconic brands. I have created award winning advertising for LaRosa’s Pizzerias, Gold Star Chili, Skyline, Hudepohl Schoenling, it’s a long list. Not one negative ad.

When running a TV spot, I consider that I have been invited into my customer’s living rooms or with radio into their cars. I consider it an honor and not a place to shout or insult.

There’s nothing honorable about political advertising these days. What’s being played out in my living room is deplorable. The back biting, disclaimer riddled, lies and distortions are fatiguing and down right disgusting. Instead of running for an office and outlining their agenda, offering coherent solutions to the problems we all face, todays politicians use negative comparison approaches that literally turn off their constituents.

Crazy Juice

Don’t tell me about the other guy, tell me about you. What is your unique selling point as to why I should vote for you, pay your salary, send you to Washington to represent me? When did distortions become the norm? When did the old adage ” if you don’t have something good to say, don’t say anything” become not i the standard. Just once, I’d like to hear an actual coherent good idea for change not a promise for fundamental redistributive change.

is Monzel the idiot? Or does Tarbell have the solutions?

We live in the best country in the world but every couple of years we forget about that fact and show our ugly underbelly that is the political landscape today. The world is laughing at us. I don’t really care what the rest of the world thinks, but for one, think it stinks. While my President thinks that anyone that disagrees with his agenda is dangerous or that the tea party people are bigoted and says so on TV, he diminishes he’s stature and the office he precariously holds. Can’t we just agree to disagree? Stop calling me names.

Now, to be fair, I must disclose that I am a proud Cincinnati Tea Party member, if they had a card, I would be sporting it. If you look at my site, I do have a political section, it is a ranting, seething conservative dissertation  about how  President Obama’s policies are poison for my country. I do think that there  is “Power” in saying “NO”. BUT, it’s on my site, I’m not beaming it into your living room, you have to go looking for it. And yes, I do stir the pot on Facebook and incite some heated discussion threads. I lose FB friends all the time and gain new ones. Nobody really wants to actually discuss politics in a rational way. It makes Facebook interesting, more interesting than your Farmville or 4Square status.

I think that politicians should knock off the negative crap. Hire a professional advertising creative and craft a positive message. Push a positive agenda, change the same old to look to the future. Be nice and shout down the negative fearmongers in public, not on public airwaves.

Otherwise, you are NOT invited into my living room and I won’t vote for you.

I don’t think I want to be republican anymore…

I don’t think I want to be republican anymore…

I will never, ever be a democrat either. Seems to me, both parties are out of touch with me, freaked out about losing their power structure to a bunch of decent grandmas and grandpas, moms & dads, you know the astro turf gang of haters and racists that I more than identify with. Would you like some tea?

I got FB defriended by both the Hamilton County Republican party fan page and their leader, Alex Triantafilou. Just for speaking my mind on their establishment elite, GOP threads. Actually, I was just trying to warn against using the evil political tool box of negative advertising.

I hate negative advertising, passionately..

It’s a pity, I wanted to help them with their story telling, guide them to the power of positive imaging, where you talk about what’s great about who we are and how we can make our little patch of grass always green even during the harsh summer recession.

John Kasich fell for the trap of Strickland’s lies, hell, Drehaus calls himself a fiscal conservative and voted for the porkulas, Obamacare and the financial bailout and reform, you’ve got to be kidding me. Chabot distorts Drehaus, on and on-blah blah blah. Enough already, i’ve had enough. Don’t fucking tell me who I can or can’t trust because I trust neither right now.

The great candidateThings are changing, the tea party, especially the Cincinnati Tea party has really made a difference and it is a force to be reconded with. Mike Wilson is an excellent candidate, he’s not in my district, I’d vote for him twice if I could. We need to clone him or find people just like him (they are out there in the Tea Party, but they are shy.)

I want to vote for the candidate who is honest, not over promising, someone who offers a common sense approach, conservative, conservative and conservative. If the republican not RINO, fits the bill, they have my vote. Conservative Democrat(oxymoron), maybe.  Progressive, no way in hell.

I truly believe that our governments are out of control and have to be neutered or spayed. Give the power of my life back to me.

That goes for  City, County, State and Federal. There needs to be someone who stands up to the Public service unions and SEIU and tells them that they sold their membership a lie…the American people are not going to pay for a 80% pension for a 55 year-old for the rest of their life or pick up 100% of their healthcare. Not happening. I want to see less government, less taxes, a lot less spending, less nannyism and idiotic unfunded mandates and regulation.

I will no longer put party over principal. When asked my party affiliation, I’m a conservative, when asked my race, I say American.

911 Thoughts and memories

On the eve of the 9 year anniversary of the heinous attack on my country by Islamic terriosts, I feel like we have learned nothing about these crazy people. They hate our guts and the only way to deal with them is to kill them.

I remember the day vividly, I was at work at FSD, a Cincinnati ad agency on 6th & Main, right across from the Federal Building. Donna, the production manager, said that the World Trade Center was burning and everybody was watching the TV in conference room. We all put down our mouses and filed in to the horror of the images on TV. People were jumping to their death by then, the commentators were confused. Was it an accident or not.

I remember thinking, how could it be.

Then the other plane slammed into the other tower. We all gasped. Shocked that we just witnessed mass murder. I know that I could not take my eyes off the TV. I don’t recall a lot of discussion, just shock. Then fear.

Thank GOD Linda was not flying that day. I called her and she told me about the skies being cleared and that more jets were missing. We had good friends flying back from Europe. They got stuck in Canada or Iceland.

When the first tower collapsed, I had had enough. No more creativity for that day. I had a strong desire to gather my wife and kids and hunker down in my safe den in Mt. Lookout. I came home to find noone, just an empty house with a cat that doesn’t particular like me. Ellie and Linda had gone to pick up Cary at Kilgour School and it kind of freaked me out. I sat in my living room on a comfy lazyboy watching the carnage and the second tower crashing down, it was gut wrenching(a word my facebook friend described today).

I watched Rudy’s documentary just the other day on cable, it all came rushing back, the gut wenching feeling, the pride in the New York people and their courageous mayor. I’m sure the Nat Geo special will be on tomorrow, I will watch as they again debunk the conspiracy therories of an inside job(stupid truthers)

Back to my original thought, what was this all for, why and how can people hate us so? On the days after 911, the country came together to morn like never before. I’ll never forget how 911 made me feel but I will also never forget how 912 and the day after made me proud to be American.

Stories are my life…and yours.

For my initial entry, I want to talk a little about stories.

Once upon a time, in a place not far away, this ad geek decided that doing my job the way everyone else was doing their job, was clearly not an effective way to be different or persuasive.

The sisyphus-like process of writing a headline, finding a photo that fit, making the logo small and hard to find, and then emailing it off to a client so they could tear it apart and resuture all the little pieces back together again with their own, hideous additions, wasn’t satisfying as a creative and didn’t do a good product justice.

Instead of watching suits and committees bastardize beauty, I decided it was time to bring back the era of crafting a telling and intriguing story for a product. It’s time to once again tell a simple story that enlightens the consumer about a product. End result…getting them to happily swipe their debit card to make a purchase they feel they absolutely need.

In honor of this approach to advertising, I decided my new blog is going to consist of war stories from my 30-year career in advertising. History lessons from my childhood in North Bend and Cleves, Ohio. And opinion stories about politics (oh do I have opinions).

So come back, get in the talk…as Pete Rose said in the spot he did for Gold Star, “you can’t get in on the talk or even form an opinion if you haven’t tried Gold Star,” and “Gold Star Chili…dem dawgs are good.”


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