Flashback Feature: Roger Sterling’s Agencies Of The Future (Mad Men, The Hollywood News, Nov 2014)

MM 1Greetings and salutations. My name is Roger Sterling and I run Sterling Cooper & Partners, a thriving advertising agency in Manhattan. We have one rule – if you can successfully cross the street after a lunch meeting then you’re the man for us (tougher than it sounds folks). You may have read the opinions of my colleague Don Draper about the state of the industry and where we go from here. I like Don. Who doesn’t like Don? If you don’t want to sleep with him you at least want to shake his hand, hope some of that magic rubs off. But he isn’t the only one here with strong views as to the direction our business should be taking. In this feature I intend to highlight key areas of growth that can be capitalized upon to ensure the ad scene becomes a key motivator in peoples’ lives. Not just in a day-to-day capacity but in a way that expands the consciousness of the nation and that one day will eventually challenge the established social hierarchy. Now if you’ll excuse me I just tipped a mohito down my leg.

Sorry about that. Where was I? Ah yes. The future of the modern day advertising agency. What role could a creative organization like Sterling Cooper & Partners play in shaping this great country of ours? Allow me to paint you a picture…

THE MEDIUM & THE MESSAGE

MM 2The President is sitting in the White House. He’s just had yet another meeting with the group of cotton-brained bamboozlers he calls his advisers. The country is in turmoil. There are riots in the streets. He’d call in the troops but they’re busy losing their lives in Vietnam. He has a headache, and who could blame him? What he needs is a message. A means of getting how he’s feeling out to the population that put him where he is. And who’s going to be doing that? You’ve guessed it. An ad agency. If you can sell a can of cream corn you can sure as hell get a man re-elected. Without sounding disrespectful, there’s virtually no difference.

In the future, all world leaders and men of influence will come to outfits like ours to impart their wisdom to the masses. There will be a room beneath the oval office that you can access via an elevator operated by some great-looking chick in a bikini.

Sorry, what was I talking about? That’s right, the advertising bunker! It’ll make the War Room look like my ex’s walk-in closet. The finest minds in the industry will steer the political and cultural trends. I’d say Don would be in that room but he’d probably be President by then.

WOMEN IN OUR INDUSTRY

At Sterling Cooper & Partners we’re proud to be progressive. Our female staff not only take messages and make the coffee. They also write campaigns and eventually stab their mentors in the spine. I like to think of our agency as a model for the path things are going to follow into the next few decades. To illustrate this let’s look at one of our most valued employees. Names aren’t important, but let’s call her Joan…

MM 4Joan not only participates in our light-hearted battles for supremacy, she also has a man working under her! This would be unthinkable at other firms, yet here a squeaky clean opportunist can worm his way into the attentions of a woman who really should know better. But I digress. (Though I would say I get the impression this guy buys his fruit upstate as well as downtown if you catch my drift.  Maybe we’re more socially radical than we’re letting on…)

HEALTH & HAPPINESS

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The biggest factor facing the way we do business is our mental and physical well-being. Creating ads for clients is like trying to share your steak with a hammerhead. Chunks will be taken out of you as well as what’s on the plate. That’s why we grease the wheels with alcohol, try and slow the hungry bastard down a little, but it can’t carry on like this. I may look like the love child of Howard Stark and Lena Horne, but believe it or not I suffered a mighty heart attack once. We’ve got to take the focus off lacquering our livers with liquor and find a more practical solution.

MM 6That’s why in the future all ad men will be fitted with stainless steel organs. Lungs for smoking. Liver for Sterling Cooper’s penthouse-sized drinks cabinet. And a cast iron spleen so I can deal with the ex-wife…

MM 7With these modifications in place there’s nothing an enterprising creative couldn’t do in his pursuit of a deal breaker. And if the eggheads are reading this, there’s a certain part of my anatomy that would benefit from an overhaul.

THE SPAGHETTI FACTOR

MM 8The other afternoon I was sitting on the roof of my building on a particularly hot day. As usual I was naked, I tend to think better that way, and as I placed one of my special orange pills on my tongue I came to a staggering revelation. The sounds of Hell’s Kitchen were drifting on the air. If New York is a kitchen I reasoned, then surely the different boroughs are saucepans. And what does that make us? Yes you’ve guessed it. We are all strands of spaghetti! Like a good bolognese the stuff at the top is rich and delicious but beneath it we’re all tangled together. We need to blend our minds so the strands merge to form something broad and supportive… like a sheet of lasagne! Society will be much better ordered with the sauce distributed evenly between layers. That way everyone gets a better bite at the beef and if you can make it up to the beschamel, well, good luck to you.

MM 9We’ve all got to get together people! Show those bureaucrats with their detachable faces that they don’t run the show. If we could all just strip naked and run into Central Park, using the conduit of the trees to channel our natural energy to create a shockwave that could wipe greed from the streets of the city, there’d be a free and groovy future from which we could all make a healthy profit!

My name is Roger Sterling and I am currently sitting in a pool of my own ingenuity.

This feature first appeared on The Hollywood News and was researched via this Vanity Fair article.

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Brilliant But Blatant Movie Product Placements (The Hollywood News)

AS CTMUK TV viewers are currently being treated to the sight of Arnold Schwarzenegger being blackmailed by two nattily-dressed Eastern European meerkats. Tied in with the release of Terminator: Genisys, this is an advert for car and home insurance – now the T-800 has popped up in some odd places, but lending itself to a company that helps you when your water pipes burst? That’s a whole new level of terror. As the star reaches pensionable age, so the endorsements get more staid and sensible.

What with Sylvester Stallone flogging sliced bread and Jean-Claude Van Damme karate’ing his way round his own ice palace for a popular beer brand, it seems Eighties action stars are really starting to build those nest eggs. It isn’t a great surprise to see these commercially-minded butt-breakers sign up for the big bucks – after all Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Bruce Willis made a hefty mint out of the Planet Hollywood restaurant franchise. Yet when the likes of George Clooney, Cate Blanchett and even Al Pacino start appearing in your home hawking various products and services it opens a different chapter on the history of movie stars mingling with the Mad Men.

Bill Murray mildly spoofed stars who absconded to foreign territories to peddle rubbish in Lost In Translation. However these days the business of plastering your face onto a money-making exercize is viewed with less embarrassment, to the extent that Sean Penn weighed in to criticize his fellow actors for being quite so quick to open their wallets. Mind you, he’s a fine one to talk, as our list is about to demonstrate!

Here we take a moolah-strewn peek at the complex relationship between the film industry and advertising. Along the way we uncover some alarming examples of Hollywood shunting brand names front of camera, in creative or often just blatant fashion. This is the art of extracting cash from unsuspecting punters, and where better to start than our first choice, a man who earns a crust from being covert? Well, as covert as a handsome man in a tuxedo doing major stunts in capital cities can be…

JAMES BOND (1962 – present)

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The 007 franchise has been a bandwagon of luxury brand names for decades. From the Aston Martin he drives, to the Walther PPK he shoots people with, right through to the tipple he enjoys after a hard shift beating up bad guys and bedding beauties (Martini, shaken not stirred) this agent has a licence to print money as well as kill.

Today’s Bond is no different, with watch manufacturers, fashion houses and even purveyors of fragrances courting Daniel Craig‘s attention. Be it deploying one of Q’s gadgets, checking the time to see whether the bar is open or tearing up the streets of an exotic location, there’s a queue of corporations as long as Richard “Jaws” Kiel‘s arm waiting to put their stamp all over the latest adventure.

There are too many examples of product placement in the Bond movies to catalogue here, but my favourite was Pierce Brosnan‘s Nineties superspy driving a remote control BMW off a roof in Tomorrow Never Dies… landing it perfectly in the window of a Hertz rental shop!

CARRY ON UP THE JUNGLE (1970)

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The Carry Ons epitomized the idea of a long-running film series way before the blockbuster entries of Hollywood. Featuring liberal helpings of irreverence and outright sauce, their approach was also characterized by the product placement on offer. It’s perhaps appropriate that iconic star Sid James became the arch exponent of this.

Known to be partial to a drop of Scotch whiskey, he took his interest to new extremes for studio-bound tropical romp Carry On Up The Jungle. In an infamous sequence he opened a cabinet, where an obscene amount of Johnny Walker Red Label was seen inside!

Ranking as one of the booziest movie scenes since Richard Harris and Richard Burton sat down for a chat and a vat of spirits in The Wild Geese, the unexpected and, more importantly, distilled addition to the shoot ensured both the actor’s representatives and his thirst were satisfied.

BLADE RUNNER (1982)

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Director Ridley Scott‘s visionary sci-fi epic impressed audiences in many respects, bringing them a neon-soaked urban landscape the likes of which they’d never seen before. One of the factors which rang true was the generous helping of brand names lit large amongst the giant geisha faces and the pollution.

Everyone recognized Coca-Cola, but the film also highlighted other logos that reflected the Eighties as much as a futuristic vibe. Atari and Pan-Am were two of the major entities on the list that either changed and vanished into the smog in ensuing years.

Interestingly, there is a “curse” associated with the machine-hunting masterpiece. A noticeable number of companies who got displayed prominently wound up going the way of the replicants! I wonder who’ll be queueing up to have their wares splashed all over the upcoming sequel like a robot’s brains…?

GHOSTBUSTERS (1984)

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Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis‘s lucrative comedy spawned a lot of merchandise, and these two savvy humour-mongers may have had their gameplan worked out to perfection – the ectoplasmic quartet were branded with a distinctive logo, Ray Parker Jr.‘s catchphrase-heavy title track became the anthem for a generation and the “ugly little spud” Slimer was a toymaker’s dream come true.

Yet the writers also cannily included everyday products in their concept, some of which must base part of their revenue on the basis of ‘Buster involvement. American sweet treat the Twinkie got a name check in a legendary piece of dialogue from Aykroyd’s Ray Stantz. And then there was the small matter of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

A massive dude made of marshmallows dressed in a sailor outfit may have been fairly low on the list of global threats up to that point, but you can be sure the citizens of New York found him pretty damned horrifying after he tried to wreck the city in a fondant-fuelled rampage! How the incident affected Stay Puft’s profits has yet to be revealed.

U-TURN (1997)

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When you find yourself stranded in the middle of nowhere, in a dustbowl hotter than Ricky Martin’s jockstrap, you’re going to get thirsty, right? That was exactly the type of hard-boiled nightmare experienced by Sean Penn in Oliver Stone‘s vicious thriller U Turn.

While Penn’s character Bobby found numerous distractions in the remote community of Superior, most notably Jennifer Lopez‘s femme fatale Grace, it was the prominent appearance of a lower level brand name that gave viewers the impression they were suddenly watching the world’s harshest soft drinks commercial.

Usually a vending machine in an American movie is full of the all-powerful elixir that is Coke. However, when Bobby really needed to drench his parched throat after a battering Stone opted for the lesser-known Dr Pepper as the town’s speediest source of refreshment. Penn may well look back on this scene and shudder, bearing in mind he took A-Listers to task recently for their flagrant ties to advertising!

As long as the film business earns money, the big beasts of commerce will always be looking to make a deal. But it’s an interdependent thing between art and acquisition, that shows no sign of either party wanting to kick the other out of bed.

This feature appeared on The Hollywood News