d/n-umbfounded

Have you ever heard it said that you teach people how to treat you? I first read it in an article about four years ago. I like to say that I live by this as often as always, but reality is in the funny reminder that I only do when I wish I had. See, I suffer from premature infatuation. This and teaching people how to treat you come from very different sides of the tracks.

Premature infatuation takes shape in more areas than just the obvious. Yes, with boys of course. But matters of the heart go beyond boys and before I learned about all that, it was with the girls I was friends with, the music I loved, the movies I adored, the actors that brought those characters in those stories to life – and so on. James Cameron released Titanic when I was 18 and it reeled me in like a drug. I was addicted to the passion behind the detail and the love that was woven between it all. I paid to pay attention to 180 minutes of tragic beauty, 15 times over. I kept each movie ticket stub and glued it into a journal I was meticulously invested in – along with the names of who joined me each time. The names whittled as the number of stubs grew and eventually I was going to see it alone, but I was okay with that. This was a lone infatuation. I wasn’t ever insecure or stalled by it, I never over-analysed or revisited it and I never gave any of it a second thought. It was my love and that sat perfectly with me.

Matters and passions of the heart have colours for me. This eager intensity that drove young-me was organically orange. It roused and riveted me; it never needed publicity and it never needed hiding. But that sure-bet beauty has gone cotton-mouth and I can no longer not wonder where it went. That innocence. That nostalgia. That confidence to be nostalgic.

Something I did or didn’t do sent those musings and that colour to a concentration camp where they barely survived its scorched-earth-policy, yet bloomed cynical hesitations that disconnected me from that part of my source that enables me to teach people how to treat me. Its cackle echoes the sound my cowering made when the bullies bullied. It ricochets off the walls like my crumbling did when they said me, my ideas and my passions were stupid, and it bleeds through cracks like their vehement verbosity did when it chanted in unison – “Hey fag! You walk like a girl.” But… that was all so long ago?! And, at the time, that organic orange never flickered. But now that the noise has gone… so too has the colour. I can’t see where or what it is anymore and I am not okay with that.

This wandering wondering led me here to this edge I’m at where I am able to see the coming season changing again, because of (some) others who are not unlike me. In a magic minute, one of them heart-sleeved something special my way that prodded my presumptuous assumptions of my lonely alone. It was morning-dew fresh as it wrote headlines for how much more breathtaking-bloom is still to come. My oddball is special, but not that special that it deserves no oddball friend. Reading words that looked and sounded like I’d put them together myself was purgative and mind-boggling, legitimising and laudable, and it reeled me in like a drug because it was brave. It was big. And it was buoyant.

We paw at the Gilberts, the Dyers and the Hays like they offer an oxygen we haven’t been given before… but we know it. We know it well. Because your self-help is you, yourself, and you breathe that in when you hear the things you’ve said lovingly before, said lovingly back to you by someone whose tapestry is coloured a little like your own.

Her heart-sleeve gesture was a socks-off moment like no other, because – as much as I will always be addicted to that passion behind the magic that loves living – it is rare. It sits quietly, too often, hiding behind colourless insecurities that echo sounds of the ugly I thought I’d beaten. But that can only win when I am not brave. When I am not big. And when I refuse to be buoyant. So thank you for buoying me into this pleasant
d/n-umbfounded, Cath. My premature infatuation led me here and your heart-sleeving proves that we really can teach people how to treat us.

These two virtues are not ships in the night, at all, after all.

Cynthia Ozick says that we often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.

That thing is us.

Ourselves.

This is inspiration awake.

It looks like an impellent indigo…

…and I like it.

photo © Dylan Balkind

Discomfiture

The problem is not that the call goes unanswered.

The problem is that the answer sounds nothing like what these horse feathers have had me wanting to hear.

Cupid ran out of arrows and shot only one person instead of two, and now this אהבה נכזבת is my resident alien, twisted by that lost arrow here in the bullseye of its target. This discomfiture deluging through me belies the lineal comfort that we’ve shared, and in the TV show of my mind, commercial breaks save me from your unfixed ald… So I don’t know what you smell like and I don’t know how I got here.

My imagined interpretation sees my soul dance happy in the good space of this lie until I acknowledge the truth and suddenly I have to count patterns along the horizon’s city of glass. But the suspicion that this reason is proper is the only captive infatuation I have to hold, because it is just ēkataraphā pyāra after all… and who dares deny that this is true, but you? (And you, and you… and you?)

The unpretentious honesty that you allege to be uncomplicated is a quality my decades haven’t yet allowed me to master. ‘It takes a man to suffer ignorance and smile, be yourself no matter what they say.’ But this be yourself is expensive, because even through the brevity and defiant nerve, amor não correspondido will always be the blueprint for how we gladly feast on those who would subdue us.

So Cupid ran out of arrows, shot only one person instead of two and here in the bullseye is where this unerwiderte Liebe finds its pulse. Should I hunt for a stronger gene within me over willing you to find different ones in you, and end the imagined interpretation that sees my soul dance happy in the good space of this lie? Yes… because I don’t know what you smell like and I don’t know how I got here.

The problem with unrequited love – no matter what language you live it in – is not that the call goes unanswered. The problem is that the answer sounds nothing like what you’ve been wanting to hear.

ship airport

© Dylan Balkind

The lookout

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Closeted sensitivities are brought to bear by the honesty of our hearts. A rarity in the fast lane of life, which itself is a compassionate time-lock on most passions that need incubation before some sense can come from none of it.

sense
sɛns/
noun
a feeling that something is the case

When the lookout had nothing to report from the horizon, his impatience would coerce an imagined reality into being. The price paid was the arrival of watermark versions of the very incredible indelibles he’d hoped so hard for. Then one day, he sat, silent, listening before the untagged teacher and learned lessons about the very deity in distance. Not animal-physical nor that defined by the geography of maps, but the simplicity of space granted to refrain from the rein. It is here in this leeway that the foiling becomes the fruit.

sub·jec·tive
(s b-j k t v)
adj.
Particular to a given person; personal

But now the lookout had to wonder: What if our fruits from these foils are just a million-million animations upon beached pebbles that glisten like art along the galaxy’s shoreline for a God we are still hoping to meet? Each an imperfect endurance with its own pockets of untrained measures for both the anguish and the love that inspire our cerebrations to bequeath and bleed over the tundras of our lands? And whether brought to life in the written, the painted, the danced or the song, it was only in the simplicity of this space where the foiling could become the fruit.

perspective
pəˈspɛktɪv/
noun
a particular attitude towards or way of regarding something; a point of view

This rousing rolled in with the mist that shroud the smitten, and as the sun rose behind the untagged teacher’s face, there had never been anything nicer to look at. It was not this time that needed prolonging but the inestimable concept of time itself … because there is only ever never enough of this.

irony
ˈʌɪrəni/
noun
the expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite

Now, from unchanged horizons still, the lookout finally had something to report: That by our own vulnerabilities – and because of those we learn to see within each other – we will understand how in this together we really all are. And between one laud and another lament lives the closest thing to proof that, on any one bullion sits a million-million sides to a soul that remains unbudged and unbudging, save for when its own heart’s strings will yen for the tug.

un·planned
n-pl nd
adj.
Not intended, having no particular purpose or structure, not thought out or prepared in advance

In the silent simplicity of space, the lookout looked out and watched as the mist set light to the horizon, writing stories of closeted sensitivities that are brought to bear by the honesty of our hearts. As the sky flamed from orange to blue behind the untagged teacher’s face, there had never been anything nicer to look at, not even across the million-million incarnations that glisten like art along the galaxy’s shoreline for a God we are still hoping to meet.

This was passion’s incubation before some sense would come from none of it, and, with nothing to report, the lookout remained unbudged and unbudging … save for when his heart strings might yen for the tug.

 

© Dylan Balkind

Backwater

If you ever need some perspective on the infinite differences between us, watch Come Dine With Me, South Africa which throws four people from the mix of all of us with all of our differences, together. Think about it: There are the obvious ones like colour, language and religion that are then compounded with the less obvious ones like why I get excited about Meryl Streep and you about soccer. You then multiply these by 742.3, divide by the length of side c on the hypotenuse and when you really look at it, there aren’t a lot of people you have a lot in common with… unless you’re just common, because there is always that.

So when you pull the pin from your opinion-hand grenade and throw it into any sum of people – each with their own set of infinite differences – the explosion shouldn’t come as any surprise. I got a few scanty sparks from my latest skirmish, which is really just because most people don’t actually give a fuck. Lucky me, because if people paid any attention to most of what I said, they’d have Danvers reopened faster than you can say ‘doolally tap’.

Poe said: ‘I was never really insane except upon occasions when my heart was touched.’ I get it. Irresolute ambivalence is in such abundance these days and I personally can’t think of anything worse. Opinion is the fruit of the engaged, and with it comes the slopes formed by the opinions of others. How you navigate the slippery ones is based on the motley of your predilections, your mindset and your temperament. The result is as common as your fingerprint. That’s personality for you – our caliber to be compelling. If we were designed to think and love the same things, Hitler would have been happy to wile away the days braiding frau Eva’s hair and the rest, as they say, would not be history.

Intellectual intimacy is like any other coupling. There will be plenty just not that into you‘s on your way to finding some people that you have some things in common with. But getting there means being okay with the chaos in the conflict that often comes with refusing to live in your blind spot.

I refuse to live in my blind spot.

I have an opinion. You have an opinion. That’s personality for you.

We were designed to think, love and loathe different things. And in each passion and from every plight – within ourselves and in each other – comes the lottery of a moment to listen. And, with a bit of luck, maybe we even learn something.

Miracles happen as we trip.
But we’re never gonna survive,
unless we get a little crazy. 

© Dylan Balkind

Dear Diary: Mandela is dead and Lionel Bastos is (apparently) stupid

Children’s playgrounds are wondrous façades, filled with more subtext and surprise than an episode of Twin Peaks. What looks like a voluntarily good time hides undercurrents of malice, friend-stealing and cold-shouldering. No wonder we’re so naturally adept at social media.

This used to be my playground 

If you say something on Twitter that doesn’t sit perfectly with another’s own Weltanschauung, you’re a cretin. Some may even go as far as to say a troll. But are you? With its 232 million active users, Twitter is just digital graffiti; a ‘wall’ to express every thought upon as if the world had been dying to know it all along. But here’s the clincher: it’s public, so every tweet must be considered an invitation for dialogue. You may not intend it as so, but you tweeted it, so you must accept it as so.

Context 

Today was one that brought earnest heartbreak to 49 million people (and then some!). Last night, our venerated Captain, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela – the closest thing to proof of God’s existence if ever there was – died. And you know what? It feels like the whole country is still holding its breath… The statements and condolence-commiserations on news and social media sites have been respectfully regal, even in their numbness… And numb we are. Still, I saw, heard, felt and read such untainted honesty in people’s reactions to this deeply moving moment in history, and honesty should never have to be questioned… except when it looks like this:

Lionel 5FM

What a pity that such gravity should invite such naïve perspective. Contrary to your affront Lionel, they didn’t fly a voice over artist out from Los Angeles just to piss you off. 5FM is a brand. The American voice over guy has been doing their links for years and, as a brand, he is part of its identity. So on a day of mourning and ironic solidarity, when we should be embracing the opportunity to come together one last time for the man who set it in motion for us to begin with, you chose to bleat about that. Did it add any value to the gentle conversations around Nelson Mandela’s death? No.

wtf is that? 

That is a troublemaker, because here’s the thing Dory: when you have thousands of followers, you hold the potential to set other unthinking people off on some remarkably pointless albeit flammable crusade (anyone remember the Woolworths won’t hire white staff debacle?).

So in the spirit of dialogue, I pointed out:

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On the same night that Madiba passed away, Paris had lit up the Eiffel tower in the South African flag’s colours, yet buildings here today were still flying the flag at full mast. That’s disrespect to me. How 5FM pre-promo’s upcoming content is not.

Sure, my incredulosity may seem unbalanced. My only excuse is this bottomless frustration I have with voluntarily stupid people. This is because they are a) stupid and / or b) voluntarily stupid. After some lamaze, I deduced that Lionel was just stupid thin on content, but when prompted with my theory, he declined to comment. And by declined to comment, I mean passive-aggressively continued to slag me off in a one-way convo with without directing any of it at me.

Screen Shot 2013-12-06 at 11.06.54 PMWimp

Fierce.

Can't be bothered

Ergo… I too am giving unnecessary airtime to someone who openly thinks the same of me as I now do of him.

But wait … because here’s the real meaty stuff: People who like to use the word ‘cretin’? Depends on how old you are. I believe it was super popular back when people watched Twin Peaks, 5FM was still called Radio 5 and used, no doubt, a different voice over guy. Urban Dictionary defines ‘cretin’ as a brainless person who makes no sense, except of course to other cretins. A right pair our Lionel and I would be. Oh the fun we’d have meeting for a spot of dinner and world-problem-solving! I bet a chinwag with Lionel would include plenty “…no offence, but…” sentence starters, “…needless to say…” conjunctions and “…at the end of the day…” summations.

Lekker.

No offence Lionel, but I say do what all little girls do and get a diary for those poignant proclamations. With its little lock and key, no cretin shall upset your panty twist again.

And that’s the end of mine.

Nelson-Mandela

Hamba Kahle Tata Madiba.

© Dylan Balkind

_Intractable Savage

A bitter nastiness flows wildly through its blood. It’s not just a personality clash… This is a nastiness that comes to the fore in vehement flood. The double standards spiral in its unwillingness to listen… and to see… and to concur. To refuse the happy-medium for harmony’s accord.

I’d like to know how you forget the sacred sanctity of stories privy through nights long and days for the damned? Trust is tried … for when the journeys have been so similar, that shove is an intractable savage. Slam, slander and sulk. And in that grows the unforgivable enmity in never saying sorry.

Responsibility doesn’t have to live with one man alone. It is more powerful when shared. Still… the double standards will spiral as her lone–grazed–crucifixion is one that only she thinks she can see glisten. So trust is trimmed until it is torn… For when the journeys have been so similar…  

…this shove is an intractable savage. 

Pillow

© Dylan Balkind

Concept is dead

Originally written for and published on BizCommunity.com.
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Never mind potholes, rampant crime or corruption, what we really need to expend our energy on is the fact that more and more mediocre pedestrians are being allowed to stumble into roles they have absolutely no clue about. So the scheduling clerk for a bicycle hire shop can become the marketing person for the brand you thought you’d die to work on. And die you will. Bit by bit and a little more each day.
4886172-in-loving-memory-of-words-chiselled-into-a-wooden-bench
Let me introduce you to Sally. Sally loved to colour during her early school days and was ever so good at staying inside the lines. She wasn’t sure what to do after high school so she worked in her father’s corner shop weighing butternut and manning the till. Then her uncle poached her to help run the front office of his car repair shop and in just a few mediocre minutes, she was bored of that too. With her eclectic mix of ‘FMCG and retail expertise’ coupled with being the ‘brand custodian’ for her uncle’s shop, Sally found herself mincing in to the first of many corporates in no time at all.

She hopscotched through half a dozen roles, careful not to stay anywhere long enough to ever actually learn anything of substance, and then – with a stroke of right-place-right-time-luck, and enough bullshit to baffle some very distracted brains – she secured herself the role of making some medium-weight marketing decisions on a brand doing itself proud.

There wasn’t an agency presentation or creative review where the words I don’t get it didn’t waft from her pouting, lip-glossed lips. Imagine how brilliant this imaginative doyenne was for the conceptual prowess of the creatives whose paths she crossed… No challenge was too big as this fierce game changer would design by numbers and rewrite copy at the drop of a hat – no questions asked… So die they did. More and more each day.

Mindless ads

Sure, “mindless ads” have their place. I once bought a fat busting apparatus from one of those if-you-dial-now-but-wait-there’s-more places. With a series of battery operated contractions, it promised to work all the unnecessary lard away from my stomach. It did. I lost so much weight I was kidnapped by a helium balloon at the Rand Easter Show.

People have brains and an imagination and despite popular belief (albeit brand specific), aren’t completely against having to think. Simple doesn’t mean you got smarter. But it may mean Sally gave you a budget of R2.50 with the disproportionate insistence that you address every shopper and consumer group out there. So you did… but at what cost?

The over simplification era

We’re living in an era of over simplification. Brands have a wider cross-section of people to talk to while clients shamelessly play agencies against one another for the work. This reduces the creative mettle by people who then have to spend more time tap dancing through ludicrous demands than being conceptually brilliant… And somewhere between the brief and the output, someone convinces everyone to put all their eggs on the semantics of the big idea and none on the magic of the journey that takes you there. Rest in peace, concept.

As much as agency creatives need to learn about strategy and the tangible differences of our audiences, so marketing professionals should be required (and driven) to have a semblance of creative vision. This way, the creative interpretation of a brief can be viewed at any point in its evolution; to be understood in the context of what informed it.

The movement away from waffling is not what I’m on about. I’m on about the unnecessary over simplification for audiences that aren’t simple. We get told so often to be sure the box is far away from our thinking yet, time and time again, we end up back inside it anyway.

Makes you wonder what our Sally would say to these three examples:

Okay… so concept isn’t completely dead, but it’s definitely looking pale. Something needs to be done soon or our dear friend should get its affairs in order and tie up any loose ends.

Let’s not forget the thinking man’s story… It is the magical vortex of the interpretation of creativity where talkability comes to life.

How’s your Sally?

© Dylan Balkind

Who moved my lobster thermidor?

Originally written for and published on BizCommunity.com.
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“One day, if you play your cards right (or perhaps wrong) you might be a creative director. It is the most thankless, trying and difficult task you’ll ever undertake in your creative career.” – Sir John Hegarty.

Sir-John-Hegarty-1024x1024Experts are kept very busy theorising on Generation X and Y – and no doubt the (sometimes) Zealots that have to coordinate us all. It’s this mish-mash of leadership styles that are really worth the marvel. I was fortunate enough to attend the Heavy Chef event with Michael Jordaan (Wednesday, 22 August) and listened as he welcomed us into his mind for almost an hour. A few basic sums will deduce that the man is no Generation-Y, but has an invested understanding into what makes them tick. And why shouldn’t he? It is the very driving force of the organisation he helms. He is a passionate advocate of the collective spirit of good ideas and their prowess for the benefit of companies, individuals and the world we live in.

Jordaan says corporates still see change as antibodies and that if yours has a culture where the people at the top don’t recognise how little they know, you’ll have no hope of inspiring innovation. Innovation doesn’t live within an autocratic culture. Still, it wouldn’t be fair to blame business owners and managers alone about everything wrong in the organisation. Recognition is defined by how you approach what you do everyday – all up and down the ‘chain of command’. And no matter how easygoing you think you are, we are all averse to change – just ask the IT guy to trade his metal for Madonna and watch him squirm.

The difference between nagging and power

I know I am not alone when I admit I’ve spent several hours (maybe more) hammering my gavel about recognition and engraved statues. It’s part of my immature charm and what makes me such a champ to have around – that, my knack for brutal honesty on what you’re wearing and perhaps just one or two other redeeming qualities. But now consider the men and women who have to manage dozens of different personalities like this, under one roof.

Horrible-Bosses-Film-Poster-Jason-Bateman-Kevin-SpaceyIn my working life (*rubs chin as eyes glaze over of memories past*), I have been told: We don’t do increases or bonuses, you can leave if you want to and will easily be replaced; and I’ve been told not to overestimate my value or believe that I am more than I am. But I’ve also been rewarded for my hard work and my spirit, and I’ve been offered jobs on numerous occasions while still in one. I’ve had some leaders leave me wondering what Darwin Award candidate put them in charge and others who I consider an absolute privilege to have known and learned from. Regardless of my reasons for moving on, it is these I am still in touch with today. You decide whether you’re going to be a good part of the process.

Quality versus quantity

I’ve said this before and will say it again: good copywriters are a dying breed. I can say this because I have faced the challenge of adding new ones to teams, and although I can’t speak for other professions, from what I hear things aren’t always sunny for other roles either. There’s this constant pressure to grab the best of the crop because there are so few of them and so many of the average kind. In a world where Kim Kardashian is the benchmark for success, it is this vapid self-belief that trumps drive in the person who wants it all for nothing. Where’s the innovation in that?

It’s far too easy to take a job, start the job, start looking for another job and all the while deliver some tepid version of what you were hired to do. I once had a client (senior brand manager) ask me where the storyboard for her radio script was. Mmm… yes… you can’t tell me she wakes up everyday, flings herself out of bed and yells to the Universe: “Today I am going to be the best me I can be.” Dealing with quality like this is what Hegarty must mean to be them trying and difficult tasks. And let me tell you something for free, that pretty petal will (somehow) own her own something-or-other one day and will be the person who says to her young assets: “We don’t do increases or bonuses. You can leave if you don’t like it and will easily be replaced.”1 Like Michael Jordaan taught, no one is smarter than everyone, so if you want to be a creative director, best you direct yourself far away from people and places like that.

Be it cheese, lamb or lobster thermidor, it’s going to move, you’re going to have to chase it and if along the way, you have any hope of actually eating any, you have to exert a little patience. Don’t take any advice from me on this one because, as a weapon of mass consumption, I want everything immediately – if not sooner. You can tell how well this has worked for me because I have my own show on Oprah’s network that’s about to take the world by storm. But before that kicks off, I am in full support of each-one-teach-one and think that we should be doing more for advertising and marketing our advertising and marketing industry to kids who are proud to live in the galaxy of their daydreams; people who subscribe to Jordaan’s model of thinking differently and who will take risks and make mistakes. It will take a little sweat, passion and commitment, but so what? Who wants Kim Kardashian’s life anyway?

Job-Descriptions-Creative-Director

1 If you find that moved lobster thermidor, please slap her with it.

© Dylan Balkind

 

Would the real Copywriter please stand up?

Originally written for and published on BizCommunity.com.
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In a world of SEO (dead or not) and the immediacy of content-to-consumer needed, there seems to be more copy needed than Copywriters out there. Never fear, for an article titled How to Get High-Performance Sales Copy Without Hiring a Copywriter hit the blogosphere recently.

Information like this is priceless and will change the future for Laquisha, the envelope filling entrepreneur, Donathan’s Christmas present opening startup or aunty Martha who believes that her smoked haddock air freshener range is going to make a mint. It’s easy, you see? This white paper on our profession by Christina Gillick says that readers make good writers, so if you read a lot, you can do your own Copywriting.

Everyone’s a writer

I arrived at the New Zealand Chiefs Super 15 practice. They asked what I was doing there before I explained that I’d watched a few games on the telly, was a fan of the scrum and always fancied being the guy they throw in the air in the lineout. Naturally, they showed me to my locker right away, kitted me out with my costume and we won the tournament. Hoorah! Anyone can do it, right?

Not really. So would you sit down at the latest iMac complete with state-of-the-art spectroradiometers and design your own corporate identity? Quickly go and read a lot so that you could write you own objective-driven copy or sew yourself a tuxedo for that promotion-to-CEO gala dinner? You could certainly try – everyone loves a guy with a sense of humour.

I can count on my hands the amount of times I have read something and said “Holy shitballs Mom! I wish I’d written that!” – yet it would take you more than a day to count all the people in our industry who are calling themselves writers. Then try vetting them… that should blow your hair back.

I Googled one Christina Gillick and found a lovely picture of her lying under the tree with her laptop, working – obviously. It was titled: “Christina Gillick enjoying the writer’s life at her quiet country home in Texas.” They must do things differently in Texas because, let’s be honest, writing is anything but quiet-time. It’s as deadline-driven as any job and usually involves at least nine other voices in your own head before the first word has hit the page. But I’m down when it comes to helpful tips, so anytime I have to produce any High-Performance Sales Copy, I’m heading for a tree in Texas.

Supply and demand

Bad-Copywriting2Fact is, more and more people are looking for (competent) content generators. However – and whether it comes down to a budget or the urgency pandemic – the entry barrier at many agencies into these roles is not exactly up there with the bar exam. And if you believe that these agency roles are no science, then you may be part of the problem – there’s no avoiding the fact that writing decent, engaging copy is not for everyone.

Someone who kinda sorta maybe enjoyed English in High School isn’t necessarily the right talent for this work. What should be important to agency owners and clients alike is not necessarily finding someone with a Masters in English, but someone who has a natural talent mixed with an undeniable passion for their craft and a body of work that demonstrates such. There’s your candidate.

 

Has Copywriting lost its heart? 

Not entirely. But very often, the diluted skill-set in a room that determines the direction of a brand forgets the importance of stories. We all need stories that prompt us to feel something, and be inspired or motivated by. Whether these are seen on TV, heard on Radio, watched in a taxi or at the rank, interpreted across a series of billboards and reinforced with what we engaged with online once we got to the office, seen in a double page spread, advertorial, blog or TTL campaign – people need something to latch on to. What good is content that popped up first on your search but did absolutely nothing for you after that? And to tell stories by mastering his craft, a writer needs to be able to see something different about the world around him; to understand that the resonant power of writing is in the magic of how 26 letters are arranged together and that there is nothing coincidental about this.

There really are no sneaky tricks, nor are there quick fixes. If you want copy that moves and motivates while delivering on the brief, find a talented, passionate writer that loves to write. That’s all there is to it. Failing that, you could be master of all (none) and use Google to teach you how to do it all yourself. While you’re at it, you can learn how to remove warts, how to design a poster, how to be a good wife, how to become a vampire, how to strategic plan and how to find the best tree to lie under when needing to produce High-Performance Sales Copy.

The list is long, how much time do you have?

Copy1

© Dylan Balkind

Who do you think you are?

Originally written for and published on BizCommunity.com.
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What’s your take on some of the fancy-pants titles doing the rounds on the circuit currently? Happiness Advocate. Social Media Trailblazer. Head Cheese. Digital Dynamo. Copy Cruncher. I can’t decide. I’ve been called a pain in the arse but hey, that’s not on my email signature or the cards in my wallet. Obviously, as a complete stick in the mud and advocate of all things old-school conservative, I find veering from the norm in any shape or form completely ludicrous. That aside – if I were to challenge myself to stretch a little – I’d still have to question the merit of some of these new offerings.

Mad Men (Season 5)Wacom Wunderkind? PowerPoint Prodigy? The list is long. But listen pal, if you’re calling yourself a PowerPoint Prodigy, you need to sit down and face the front. There’s no need for that kind of ostentatious behaviour in a creative industry like ours. These new clever descriptors to describe your business prowess have birthed a tricky trend.

Tricky because not all trends are supposed to stick. Look at Mara Louw on Idols.

In fact, look at Idols.

Your email signature that lists you as the organisation’s Dynamic Paradigm Facilitator is very exciting – to you and maybe one other daffodil on the planet (your Gran). Then you take it to the next level and hit the town talking about it to anyone who will listen. Creepy. It smacks of trying too hard to be cool and we all know what happens when you do that. Well not me, obviously, but most people.

Not convinced?

These are some very real and active titles in the mix right now.

  • “Erection Engineer.” Mm… I plead the fifth.
  • “Mighty Eagle.” Penned for the creator of Angry Birds. *cough*
  • “Swiss Army Knife.” This is a Web Developer. I’m lost. 
  • “Social Media Rockstar.” Because if you believe this to be rocket science, the title matters.
  • “IT Pro Evangelist.” Because it takes a lot of skilled preaching to advise people to reboot.
  • “Director of Intrusion Detection.” If you can guarantee NO rain spiders, sure – have the title.
  • “Kingpin of Financial Trading & …” Yawn… I could do with a manni…

It’s all about context

obn br 2Some titles and name badges are best kept for agency drinks on a Friday. Internal company relations are such a powerful forum for team morale and a great place to boost that wunderkind who genuinely doesn’t expect that he is a wunderkind. It doesn’t mean you have to change his job title, redesign his brand within yours and reprint his business cards (if you’re still doing that). It means that you have a fantastic opportunity to create an internal culture that is unique to those who eat, sleep and breathe the organisation – internally. It doesn’t have to match how you project yourself to your clients based on the services you’re selling. It also tells your team that you know them and that you’ve seen and heard the parts of their personalities that make them unique.

Pass begin. Forget the R200.

Here’s the thing: if you start convincing your impressionable team that these swank new titles are cool, they will start putting them on their CVs. And to move on with something like Erection Engineer is like having a wine-fuelled brainwave at 2am and expecting the ‘artful’ scamp you drew to wow your audience come presentation time. So I’ve heard.

Think about that CV landing on top-shop hot-shot’s desk with the title that got you so excited you actually wet yourself. He/she won’t agree. Promise. It’s like Romy & Michelle’s ‘…we invented post-its…’. It’s awkward and it’s creepy – and so is your dodgy job title.

Director of first impressions

Ergo, don’t take yourself too seriously. There must be a way to keep the spirit light while you keep people thinking but while being clear about the difference between what’s smart versus what’s simply stupid. Unlike one tepid who took all this very seriously and complained to the ASA about Johannesburg calling itself a World Class African City. It wasn’t me. So don’t get me wrong: I do believe in the value of titles. They are important for defining goals, accomplishments and a structure within the organization – even if yours professes to embrace a flat one. If for nothing other than for process-driven deliverables, they certainly have their place. Still, it doesn’t have to be brain science, but if you insist on frolicking with the flowery options of (en)titlement, changing your title as often as your mood swings is easy. Simply log onto bullshitjob.com/title and have a ball.

Dylan Balkind | Director of Chaos

obn br 3

PS: What do you think of these new titles? Smart? Or stupid?
© Dylan Balkind

Thatcher and the man candle

I recently discovered the marketing genius of man candles. I’m thrilled that there is finally a provision for an entire gender that has always wanted to buy them but didn’t want to look ridiculous with luscious lavender or calming chamomile in their shopping trolley. I personally love being ridiculous so I’ve never had a problem with buying any kind of candles. But the amount of times a man in cowboy boots, greasy overalls or idling in his bakkie in the parking lot has asked me for advice on where to get such items – well I can’t even tell you.

Absurd stories fill our headlines daily. I guess that in this era of information-overload and bullshit-saturation, it’s a welcome rebound from the death toll, fraud, corruption, education and politician-fiascos we have to roll our eyes at daily.

Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher died today. I was too young to grasp very much about her reign but – from what I do know and have seen since – I think our country could do with a politician who has enough cerebral capacity to know what he/she is talking about while exacting zero tolerance on the bandwagon brigade of blue lights, parties, jets, houses (“compounds”) and more wives than you can (literally) shake your stick at. Margaret Thatcher was consistent and true to her word, and if that incited an uprising, well at least people felt compelled to react. We have sadly reached the global status quo of ambivalent shoulder-shrugging. We too readily throw our hands up with a mumbled ah well… but we’ll demand to see the manager of Woolies when there’s a spelling error on the makeshift notice at the pie section. We are odd indeed…

Here’s another ridiculous headline from today: “Couple hold teen prostitute hostage for 2 days.” This happened in the Cape where they held her hostage for a sex orgy that lasted, well… for two days. The list of what is wrong with the world when a teenager has to resort to prostitution is a very long one, never mind the pond-scum that creates a demand for such a service.

From one teen to another, Justin Bieber has a new haircut. This left me unable to sit still because I religiously model my hairstyle on Justin Bieber’s and was just thinking I could do with a change. Ergo… This breaking news was higher on the list than a new HIV three-in-one pill with fewer side effects for the people taking it and a therapy that would cut monthly costs per patient from R150 to as little as R89 per month. We are a peculiar audience, aren’t we?

balloon_run

Looking for something with more heart? Matt Silver-Vallance took Pixar’s Up to heart and filled enough balloons with helium to fly from Robben Island to Cape Town. Why would he do such a thing? To raise R10million for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.

What a champ! I bet he’s not even slightly perturbed by the candles he buys or what Justin Bieber’s hair looks like. I’ve never actually seen him shopping for candles, but if we can’t get Maggie back, maybe Silver-Vallance is keen for a bout of politics?

 

© Dylan Balkind

Every soul’s one religion

Art

The triangle of the Foundation, Intelligence and Wisdom lives deep inside us.

It is not animal nor is it mineral – but it is the glittering compass of life.

One day, after many chum-pal back pats, calls, walls and flown-off-handles, the chorus of exhaustion was multiplied in the skies again to where enough was just enough. The Cipralex / detox / retox / Xanor treadmill was exhausting and no longer a welcomed cilice.

Close lines were blurred and yet again you went from zero to manipulation and emotional abuse in a nanosecond. Your back peddling spoke loudly of your ludicrous laments, petulant and petty in that psychological warfare – yet always immature, unprofessional and embarrassing still.

The triangle of Yesod, Binah and Chokmah lives deep inside us.

It is not animal nor is it mineral – but it is the glittering compass of life.

The silence was ridiculous and retarded. But – like a suited-up superhero – I’ve climbed from where you lead the chorus with the echo of the farewell-call that I made because that Cipralex / detox / retox / Xanor treadmill was chiselling and I no longer wish to welcome that cilice.

Every soul on the planet is unified by one religion – to dream.

Don’t let anyone ever take that away from you.

dreaming

© Dylan Balkind

Creatives critiquing creativity

How many writers does it take to change a lightbulb? One and a chorus of whingers to point out that someone else has – somewhere in the history of the planet – already changed a light bulb, so changing another one would be unoriginal and therefore completely pointless.  

Creatives are an odd bunch. We work inside the silos of the sanatorium called an agency, being a part of the tug of war between our central creative pull and the client’s same when it comes to their brand mandatories.

We know the drill. We know that to get a campaign out involves a dozen meetings where the idea that has been presented, critiqued, reworked, re-presented, reconsidered, re-tweaked and re-presented is then put through some real paces and eventually given the green light. It is (almost) never the case of a good idea sold and preproduction briefed, because a good idea inside my head for example, may make no sense to the others at the table and the same may be true of what comes from them.

So then why are we such a bitchy bunch? I’m no saint when it comes to opinion – I can’t handle bad advertising and my candour when I see it is palpable. But bad advertising is often very clear about how bad it is. Like when two women who obviously travel with their washing machines are seen standing in a kitchen talking about how concerned they are that their husband’s shirts don’t look bright and new. I always travel with my washing machine so that’s not the part I hate. No wait, it is – because that’s just stupid. It sets feminism back a hundred years and has been responsible for more eye rolling than Julius Malema or Marie Straub.

Dunce

There is so much to consider when making a quick, uninformed quip about an ad on a social media forum: a) Are you the target market? If you are not the target market (believe it, not everything is aimed at you), it was not intended to resonate with you anyway; b) Does it successfully speak to the target market? c) How would you rate the production values? Because there are cheap shit ads, and there are cheaply made but very effective ads. The list is long…

I made the senseless mistake of engaging a silly sally on Twitter recently who evidently has no awareness or skills on the above measurables. She is an editor in chief which means that she must have some common sense, somewhere. But on a scale of one to Lindsay Lohan, it’s quite clear that not everyone who has it, uses it. She hates stereotypes but has become one in the process: a tightly wound, self deified strawberry who hears but does not necessarily listen – let alone think.

They say you can’t put people in boxes. Wrong. You can if you want to – even with creatives. There are those that have to have five different colours in their unwashed hair – simply because they are a creative. There are those that take long, dramatic moments to pause, deep in thought before sprouting their pearl – simply because they are a creative; skinny jeans, aloof and emotionally unavailable – or flowing cotton, open shirts and a self-created quirky lilt – simply because they are all, well, creatives.

You can also put people in boxes as to whether they are, for example, a features writer, a copywriter, a script writer, a blog writer, a vapid content creator, or a twitter update writer. Where your talent resonates is what you live to be proud of. Sure, it’s been said that good work shouldn’t need to be defended, but then does that mean you shouldn’t be passionate about what goes on your porti? If so, be sure then that while you sprout this cliché, your own work is at an infallible level for all the world to see and bask in.

I hear there are shock collars for dogs that need testing. I can think of two people who should sign up.

 

© Dylan Balkind

The Ex’s Axe

Stumbling upon the information that your ex is spending Q.T. with someone else is as appetising as an anthrax scare from your toilet paper company or getting the new 50 Cent album as a birthday gift. Either one of these will leave you feeling short of breath and a little off colour.

It’s not about timing, because let’s be honest, there’s never going to be a good time. Unless you get there first. If I had got there first I wouldn’t be writing this and you wouldn’t be losing this valuable time of your life reading it.

Efforts to move-on / compete with / win / find happiness (not necessarily in that order) have proven that this whole ‘new love’ thing is a very dangerous space to traverse. It requires that you commit to a series of… *cough* … “first dates” … which – from personal experience – are an intolerable, exhausting and ridiculous right-of-passage that have the very real potential to scar you for life.

I have proof! Somebody’s else’s personal experience. And just so that you know, this is a real story about a real friend; this isn’t one of those I will pretend it was a friend to save myself the embarrassment. She’d tell you herself if you asked her.

Jolene* finally scored a date with the guy she had been after for as long as Telkom hadn’t answered their phones. The big night arrived, she tried on nineteen outfits and went with the first one, obviously. Their evening was like a soft focus, candlelit montage wherever they went… until he spoke. Their proximity was much closer than it had been on campus and she found out the hard way that he was a ‘spalker’: a spitter and a talker. She went on record to say that the two elements must have been out of sync somehow because, even if he was saying very little or nothing, she was a glistening glob.

As charming as she wished he was, she was more so. Always polite. Ever refined. It wasn’t like Jolene to excuse herself for the ladies and leopard crawl out through some restaurant-kitchen’s back door. She is an endurer – to a fault. So as the evening wound down and he held her hand along the sidewalk, she convinced herself that there were way worse qualities a guy could have, and when he asked her back to his place for coffee, she summoned some sparkle and accepted.

As her luck would have it, his house was actually his parents’ house. This is not a problem. There are all sorts of contributing factors that have respectable adults living with their parents. Ask me. I know. What secured this man’s role as the leading lad of lust was that his parents – who chirped a hearty “hello” when they arrived – were seated at the dinner table in their underwear. Correct. Their underwear. No exaggeration or embellishments here at all.

Semi-nekkid.

On a Friday night.

And they’re Jewish.

Fast-forward to Jolene and Don Juan in his room. She wasn’t sure if this geography was better than the underwear convention in the dining room or whether she should feign a burst appendix and call it a night.

She should have.

Despite being near impossible, things got worse. In a small way.

What is it with guys who know you like them and their gumptious grit to get away with anything?

Cut to my point: It’s a terrible sump of peril out there. Because if a perfectly good girl from the right side of the tracks with an incredible mind and all the manners in the world can barely stomach a chance nauseating evening like this one, what hope is there I’ll ever get back on – or even near – any horse to speak of, ever again? There is (almost) nothing polite about me, but I will say this though: I have standards. Despite my own sagas of small penises and overzealous spit, I grew up in a household that taught me to draw the line at nekkid Shabbat.

Maybe after all is said and done – there’s nothing ‘stumbling’ about it?!

Maybe everything is just as it should be.

*Name has sort-of been changed in a half-arsed effort to protect Jolene’s very ex prince charmless. 

Eject

© Dylan Balkind

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