Bruce Springsteen

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This week, after a very bad week of news in Atlantic City, I was reminded of the industry truism, “Good advertising can sell even a bad product. . .Once.” During a major new tourism campaign, “Do AC,” and the another launching the upscale Revel casino,

two Canadian women tourists were stabbed to death in broad daylight on the boardwalk in front of a casino. Thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of these ladies. It didn’t seem possible to make this horror show worse until news broke that the killer was a paranoid schizophrenic homeless woman and that the incident revealed a pattern of other towns around the state dropping their homeless, mentally ill, and prison parolees, a solution nicknamed “Greyhound Therapy.” Could you ask for worse PR in support of your paid advertising efforts?

But while the “Do AC” and the Revel casino campaigns represent good advertising, Atlantic City is NOT a bad product. My wife and I had our favorite wedding anniversary there, with dinner at The Borgata, followed by an amazing Stevie Wonder concert.  Spent portions of various shore vacations there. Annually attend at least one trade show at the Convention Center. Enjoyed dinner at the fabled Knife and Fork. Shopping at the Havana styled Quarter at the Tropicano. Despite this week’s bad press, Atlantic City still has many great things and places and events to offer. According to this account, Governor Christie has concluded the same and is even upping the ante by trying to push for sports betting. Since AC is often compared unfavorably to Las Vegas, this is one small way to level that playing field.

In spite of this horrendous week, Atlantic City will survive, perhaps in large part because of its romanticized past. You couldn’t be farther from the wholesomeness of the Miss America pageant right now; however, there is a mystique of long odds/down-on-the-luck/always the chance of a big win to AC.  Some of it is tied to organized crime, and much of it still ends badly, but hope always springs eternal.

In 1972, Bob Rafelson made “The King of Marvin Gardens” with Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Ellen Burstyn, and Scatman Crothers. This very good scene between Nicholson and Dern turns “It’s Monopoly out there” on its head with “Go directly to jail.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YuIIkqrwgHA

Louis Malle captured that spirit in the wonderful Burt Lancaster vehicle, Atlantic City. Here is a truly bad trailer that doesn’t do this exceptional movie justice. The first 10 minutes of the movie does a much better job of hooking viewers. Later in the film, there is a passing reference to Nucky Thompson.

Martin Scorsese and HBO elevated the gangster turned Prohibition politico into a terrific series, Boardwalk Empire. Maybe the folks who recently voted to keep Ocean City dry have been avid watchers and determined that nothing good can come from the business of alcohol, legal or illegal.

Of course, no one has ever captured the criminal and gambler sides of Atlantic City better than Bruce Springsteen in his ode to the town. “Put your makeup on. Fix your hair up pretty. And meet me tonight in Atlantic City.”

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Over the past two days, I’ve spent a lot of time on the Schuylkill Expressway (I-76), which naturally makes me think about parking. Thanks to its legendary jams, the Schuylkill is purported to be the inspiration for The Soul Survivors’ regional hit, “Expressway to Your Heart.” Yesterday’s standstill on my return trip from the city was due to a regatta and a lot of rerouting along the river drives. Tonight, after picking up my son from the Bolt bus, I got stuck in traffic leaving the Sixers and Phils games.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQpTEaPFHXQ

 

However, it was all worth it because on my way into the city this evening, I passed one of the all-time great advertising icons — the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile. Definitely a sight that commands your attention, even in the dark. Guess I can cross that one off my bucket list.

Hot dog! I passed the Wienermobile on the Schuylkill Expressway!!

Vehicles of all sorts have been on my mind ever since Thursday when I attended a seminar put on by one of our clients, Time and Parking Controls, at the National Constitution Center. Spend a day with these guys, the manufacturers they represent, and their clients, and you realize how critical parking solutions are — to municipalities, to hospitals, to private city lots, to companies with secured employee facilities. We all drive. We all need a place to leave our cars, day and night.

The Constitution Center has its own underground lot off Race Street. When I came up on the elevator to the lobby, there was a car parked IN the lobby. It was the classic Corvette that Bruce Springsteen purchased when he could first afford one following sales of Born To Run. The Bruce exhibit, “From Asbury Park to the Promised Land,” is featured at the Constitution Center till September. In the words of a certain California governor, “I’ll be back.”

As it turns out, the Constitution Center, besides being a great place to learn about the namesake document, and its amendments, that have served our nation well since colonial days, is also a terrific site for hosting an educational event. Time and Parking Controls lined up two excellent speakers to address very different concerns under the banner of “Parking Operations – Internal and External Threats That Affect Your Business.”

Time and Parking Controls is one of many VARs of Lenel, the leading provider of access control and security software. Mick McDaniel provided an excellent overview of the United Technologies owned industry giant, which works with just about every major government agency and large corporation you can think of. Its impressive suite of solutions puts tremendous monitoring and control capabilities in the hands of key security personnel (and always just two mouse clicks away). Access control points and CCTV cameras, coupled with a variety of enterprise databases, enable amazing response time and instant decision-making, with parking lots being a critical first line of activity and defense.

Larry Donoghue, Parking Fraud Consultant Zen Master

Larry Donoghue, Parking Fraud Consultant Zen Master

Following Mick to the podium was Larry Donoghue, a member of the Parking Hall of Fame and a one-man consulting dynamo for parking lot operators with automated revenue control equipment who need to detect fraud and prevent it. Larry’s 65-year career puts him at a very youthful 93 years old. This man came from Chicago, loaded with case histories that stunned me and other audience members with the ingenuity that parking lot patrons and parking lot employees employ in figuring ways to cheat business owners out of recurring revenue. There is big money to be made in parking. And also big money to be lost in parking. Larry has made a career identifying the ingenious ways in which people game systems and line their own pockets.


Capping off the seminar was a visit from a Philadelphia mystery guest whose knowledge of parking seems stuck in the horse-drawn carriage  era, although his kite and key experiments are finally helping spur development of electric-powered, rechargeable cars. If you ever need to hire Ben Franklin to add colonial authenticity and wit to your next event, he is a personal friend of this marketing agency and he knows how to party like it is 1776.

Last night gave me plenty of time to ruminate on the importance of having a good, safe place to leave your vehicle whenever you venture into the city. Parking on the Schuylkill Expressway has that effect on people .

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My deep-rooted belief in the American free enterprise system, also known as capitalism, has made it harder and harder to enjoy political statements thinly disguised as entertainment from Hollywood, TV, and the music industry because so many movies, songs, shows, and performers are insistent on bashing business and evil corporations as if they were piñatas filled only with ill-gotten profits.  Especially painful is having to balance my love of the music of Bruce Springsteen, a local hero from college days, whose politics seem to lean increasingly far left toward non-existent Utopias of fairness, equal outcomes, and overreaching government control known as socialism and communism.

Bruce Springsteen's "Wrecking Ball" Hits Hard About Lost Work

Bruce Springsteen's "Wrecking Ball" Hits Hard About Lost Work

With the release of Bruce’s ambitious new album  “Wrecking Ball”, I have had my usual concerns whether I could balance any one-sided sermonizing with music and musicianship that is always engaging and risk-taking. I wasn’t encouraged by this interview in Rolling Stone, in which the exceedingly well-compensated New Jersey sons, Jon Stewart and the Boss, spoke unironically  about income disparity in the USA.  Both guys are wonderful examples of the American Dream. They need to stop feeling guilty about their success. Each one is an industry unto himself, employing a long list of people wherever he goes. Bruce especially sells a lot of records, concert tickets, memorabilia, clothing, and concert concessions, all in the name of rock and roll art. On top of that, he is an extraordinarily charitable guy, always giving funds and support and time to national and local causes. He has nothing left to prove, yet he still seems to be bothered about now living in a “Mansion on the Hill”.

When I finally picked up a copy of “Wrecking Ball” at the ultimate evil retailer, Wal-Mart, I wasn’t surprised to hear songs of anger directed at greedy bankers and corporate fat cats. However, upon repeated listenings, I have found myself moved by  another recurring message from Bruce — that work is what gives each of us a purpose (as well as income) and it is an essential thread that holds our communities, states, and nation together.

I encourage you to listen to songs like “Jack of All Trades”, “Death To My Hometown”,  and “Rocky Ground”, in which Bruce eloquently speaks to a middle class devastated by job loss and by the sickening realization that prospects ahead look bleak and bleaker. It does not have to be this way, however. While it is troubling that too many still put their faith in politicians to create and manage commerce, and that others are looking for special favors for their companies or industries (crony capitalism, not to be confused with actual capitalism), the free enterprise system here is still alive and just needs to be left alone to work.  And so that a lot more Americans can get back to work.

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Advertising typically reflects the spirit of the times it occurs in.  Lately, I’ve been thinking of building a time machine to escape to the MadMen era. I’ve been seeing a trend that reflects what DC likes to refer to as “our new reality”.  It is a reality that I don’t think many Americans are eager or willing to accept, which might fall under the heading of downsized dreams.

In the past few weeks, as the nation’s investment rating was downgraded and Warren Buffett expressed the odd belief that he and other millionaires weren’t paying enough in taxes, I have begun to notice some of this sentiment creeping into ads. Some of it is subtle, but the subtext seems to be that the American dream is dead or at the very least dying.

VIST Financial borrows an unfortunate image from the Depression

VIST Financial borrows an unfortunate image from the Depression

The first time I noticed it was in print and online ads for VIST Financial. The campaign showcased employees holding up “Will Work for Your Trust” signs that unintentionally (or perhaps intentionally) mirrored the Depression era imagery of the perpetually unemployed holding signs that read “Will Work for Food”.  What next? Apple Annie? Pencil sales on the corner? Bank employees jumping out of office windows after each day’s stock market decline? Can we find another theme? Forget about earning trust; this is confidence-rattling.

Moving on to automobiles, we’ve graduated from Cash for Clunkers to scenes of a Mad Max future. It started with the Eminem SuperBowl spot that showcased Detroit’s grit, but the latest Dodge Durango advertising is right out of Bruce Springsteen’s “rattlesnake speedway in the Utah desert.” The message is that naysayers shouldn’t be declaring America’s auto industry dead yet, but the visuals suggest that it is on life support. If this is a message of hope, Norman Vincent Peale is like a rotisserie chicken in his grave.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EcY4Di6OgWw

Then, there is the spot that led me to write this post — a really well produced spot. It was so well produced that I thought I was watching an ad for one of the big banks. The scene takes place as a couple prepares their nursery for their new baby. The voiceovers and supers promote the idea of starting a college fund for their kids, then for their kids’ kids, then for hundreds of kids in their community. Saving early has always been a great idea. Except the ad isn’t about investing wisely and often. It is about buying Mega Millions lottery tickets. Unintended underlying message — this may be the only way the next few generations will be able to afford higher education. Yikes!

I think we are all in need of an attitude adjustment. We don’t need Pollyanna preaching, but a little positivity in advertising would go a long way toward relieving the grim mood of the moment. Americans want to be inspired, not discouraged that the sun won’t come out tomorrow. We have TV news for that messaging.

And a moment of silence (followed by the opening chords of Layla). This week, a different kind of era sadly ended with the announcement that classic rock station WYSP would fade out, soon to be replaced with an FM simulcast of AM sister station’s WIP sports talk format. WYSP, for a long time the home of Howard Stern before his move to XM, has also long been a staple of the Philadelphia region’s rock scene. It has always been a rival of WMMR, but increasingly, other stations began carrying classic rock fare, from WMGK to BEN FM. Although classic rock has enjoyed a resurgence among younger listeners, the youth music market has many other alternatives from top 40, to hip hop. Like every other medium, radio is a numbers game and with Philadelphia’s love affair with their professional sports teams, it makes sense that WIP can reach an even wider audience via the FM dial, where it can go head to head with its own rival,  97.5 — The Phanatic. Well, at least WYSP fulfilled the wish of The Who, “to die before I get old.”

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"Darkness on the Edge of Town" was Bruce Springsteen's Epic Follow-up to "Born To Run"

"Darkness on the Edge of Town" was Bruce Springsteen's Epic Follow-up to "Born To Run"

It isn’t often you find yourself transported to an earlier time in your life, but with the opportunity to view that period with the 20/20 hindsight of today. On Thursday night, I caught the HBO documentary, “The Promise,” about the making of Bruce Springsteen’s “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” It was a fascinating snapshot about the many challenges of being an artist after fame and success have happened, changing life forever.
I remember vividly waiting and waiting and waiting for this dynamic follow-up to Bruce’s breakthrough “Born to Run,” which catapulted him simultaneously onto the covers of Time and Newsweek. I had been lucky enough to catch one of his legendary live marathons in Bucknell’s tiny Davis Gym. The exhilaration of a three-hour-plus E-Street Band show was everything that reviewers raved it was.
In the mean time, I had graduated college, spent the summer in Houston, moved back to Philadelphia, found my first job in advertising, moved to my first apartment, all the while thinking something was missing from my life — it was any hint of any sign of a follow-up record from my favorite artist.
“The Promise” sheds a whole new light on that period. The two-to-three year delay was explained in dovetailed interviews with Bruce, band members, and his manager at the time, Mike Appel. The post “Born to Run” contract that was signed gave Appel extraordinary creative control over Bruce’s future recordings. It was like an alternate pilot episode to “Who’s The Boss.” When the dust settled, legal proceedings ensued, restrictions kept Bruce out of the studio, bills racked up, and pressure mounted. The fame of the moment turned into questions whether Springsteen was a one-hit wonder.
Ironically, the opposite was taking place. Bruce and the band holed up in a farmhouse in Holmdel, writing and playing songs for month after month. Meanwhile, the suit dragged on and sounded every bit as nasty as Beatles vs. Capital-EMI and John Fogerty vs. Saul Van Zaentz. Eventually, a settlement was reached and today, Bruce and Mike Appel appear to be friends again, with both reflecting openly and honestly in the documentary. It really came down to creative control and it only ever makes sense for that control to reside with the artist.
The rest of the documentary tracked the painstaking process of making the new record, finding the right sounds and tone, and not killing each other over the course of a very long time in the studio. Incredibly, Bruce wrote over 70 songs during this period and spent months figuring out which puzzle pieces fit the picture he was carefully creating.
There were clips of Bruce and Steve Van Zandt playing “Talk to Me,” which Bruce later gave to Southside Johnny, of Patty Smith’s gratitude for Bruce handing off “Because The Night” to her, and of John Landau discussing that track and “Fire,” which Bruce shared with the Pointer Sisters. “The Promise,” the title of the documentary is a gem that the band polished for three months, but still Bruce left it off the record. He hints at influences that shaped the album, from the emergence of punk to his first taste of country in Hank Williams.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzS2Vug-esA&feature=related
“Darkness on the Edge of Town” is a terrific ode to the difficult transformation from youth to adulthood. The toll that blue collar work exacts. The respect for his father but the desire to never follow in his footsteps. The longing for a better life amidst the many forces that stand in your way. Bruce Springsteen won that fight when he held his ground back in 1978. Now, I find myself waiting again, but looking forward to hearing those 60-odd tracks that didn’t make the record, many of which will be released on a multi-disc set, including live tracks, the documentary, and related content on November 16.

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