Category Archives: Advertising & Media

RIP Hugh Hefner, 1926 – 2017

When Hugh Hefner, the maverick founder and publisher of Playboy, died last week at the age of 91 it was tempting to say that it marked the end of an era. But in truth that era ended long ago, perhaps as far back as the 1990s and the birth of widespread internet access with all the instant onanistic delights that would bring. It wasn’t hard to see that his death was treated as the passing of a retrograde dinosaur by the gleeful way so many piled on, tamping the dirt down on poor old Hef before the body was cold or the last period was put on his New York Times obituary.

The first Playboy cover in 1953

Hef was called a creep, a pervert, an exploiter of women, a pimp, a lonely old loser. Great claims were made about how he had single-handedly degraded the sexual culture of the United States and done us all irreparable harm. That these claims were primarily made by women on the left of the political spectrum, as well as a few pearl clutching conservative men, made me wonder if Hef wasn’t lying bemused there in his special crypt in Westwood Memorial Park — a final resting place that he purchased so he could spend eternity next to his feminine ideal and also the ticket to his success as a publisher, Marilyn Monroe. It almost seemed as if Hefner’s sexual revolution had turned back on itself and become a new puritanism despite — or perhaps because of — the unlimited, undreamed of access to the multifaceted turn-ons of the cyber universe, a time where most if not all sexual imagery is debated as someone being exploited and all nudity, artfully shot or otherwise, is once again shameful “pornography.”

Hefner’s legacy is an understandably complex one. But of course judgements from the distance of 2017 on men who made their fortunes in the mid-20th Century amidst its highly sexist, highly male-dominated society are rarely going to be favorable. That Hefner made his particular fortune on the naked bodies of nubile young women would make him a polarizing figure no matter when he did it. That very first coup of the Monroe nudes that instantly propelled Playboy to a must-buy men’s publication — photos which mortified Marylin but which she also admitted helped her career — illustrated the dichotomy of Playboy in a nutshell, the opportunism and panache, the exploitation and pitch perfect taste. In future all the other models would be willing participants, paid certainly, but also unashamedly showing their naked bodies at the peak of their sexual attraction — young, fit, and airbrushed to perfection. It’s true that Hefner was selling the idea of “sexual liberation” and revolt against puritanism. But of course it’s also true that he saw it exclusively through the male lens of available sexy college coeds and girls next door to perfectly compliment a swinging bachelor’s lifestyle filled with little black books and a pad decorated with Eames and Saarinen furniture with a premium Hi-Fi system playing Miles Davis and John Coltrane on quarter inch reel-to-reel tape.

But then, this was a men’s magazine back when such notions were not yet vigorously contested. The barbershop, the pool hall, the club and especially the board rooms were almost exclusively men-only (and white men only, at that). In publishing a racy magazine for men in the 1950s how much could we really expect Hefner to cater to an equal-opportunity female perspective? He had no interest in that whatsoever and he never really would. But as time passed and Playboy became an American institution like Coca-Cola and Lucky Strikes, Hefner pushed the intellectual boundaries that could be intertwined with such a publication. If sex was undoubtedly still the main selling point he wanted something that was worth discussing after orgasm filling the pages of his life’s mission. So alongside Miss July one could find minor (and sometimes major) works by literary giants like Ian Fleming, Arthur C. Clarke, Roald Dahl, Ursula K. LeGuin, Jack Kerouac, Ray Bradbury, Alex Haley, Vladimir Nabokov, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and even feminist icon Margaret Atwood, among many others. And Hef put his considerable fortune not only into his famously cheesy Playboy clubs with its parade of tightly corseted, cotton-taled Bunnies (blisteringly exposed by a young, undercover Gloria Steinem in “A Bunny’s Tale”) but also groundbreaking television shows, Playboy’s Penthouse and Playboy After Dark, which featured swinging, fantastically hep soirees with entertainment by the leading  black, white and Latino performers of their time, a quietly revolutionary fully-integrated scene in the 1960s.

He was also a staunch advocate for free speech, civil rights and a woman’s right to choose (though obviously feminists will say that last one was completely self-serving, as do, ironically, staunch conservatives). The Playboy Interview series had some of the better in-depth conversations with stars of sport, politics, technology, music and film. The interview conducted with Jimmy Carter while he was running for president where he admitted that he “lusted in his heart” is probably one of the most famous ever given by an American politician, while future Roots author Alex Haley’s chilling interview with American Nazi leader George Lincoln Rockwell in 1966 was another of many important groundbreakers that put a spotlight in American race relations, a long-time Hefner concern.

So yes, it’s a complicated legacy. Like a lot of the greats he peaked after an extraordinarily fertile period and then rode his fame and stereotype to ever-diminishing returns. If he somehow opened the door to the pornographic free-for-all that some perceive around us now it’s also true that he never capitulated to hardcore and gynecological close-ups like his main competitors, Bob Guccione’s Penthouse and Larry Flint’s execrable Hustler (Flynt may be a fee speech hero to some but his magazine is absolute garbage). Although Hef did try to have his cake and eat it with the quiet purchase and publication of the more explicit Oui magazine, over at Playboy even pubic hair was a long time coming. As swinging and revolutionary as it had been in the 50s and 60s, by the late 1970s amidst the tumult of the real sexual revolution that it had arguably uncorked, Playboy was actually reactionary in its “wholesome” approach to the female nude. And by the time of the internet explosion Playboy was more of an American fixture like a Chevrolet or a ranch house than any kind of avant grade trendsetter or integral part of a happening zeitgeist. It’s what respectable people read when they wanted a little titillation and perhaps an interesting article or interview. Sure it was cringe-worthy to see Hef still walking around in pajamas and squiring a rotating harem of identical perfectly proportioned blondes in their 20s preaching the gospel of Viagra. But that was the image Hef had created for himself and he was unable or unwilling to slough it off despite his advancing years. What did we really expect this ultimate adolescent-cum-swinging bachelor to do after all these years, stop living his fantastical dream, settle down and grow up? From a marketing perspective, if Hef and Playboy were essentially the same entity how could this aging Don Juan possibly change himself as the embodiment of the Playboy lifestyle that he so enthusiastically promoted?

In some of the fierce critiques that have emerged in the short time since Hugh Hefner’s passing there has been an effort to tarnish him with the tragic death of Dorothy Stratton in 1980, as if her introduction to and promotion to stardom by Playboy had been responsible for her murder rather than her scheming, scummy, murderous husband. I would only answer that with a question: how many murders have occurred among employees of other “respectable” businesses during all the years Playboy has been published? A hell of a lot more than one, that’s for sure. There is also a concentrated effort to portray Hefner as the ultimate exploiter of women, somehow luring them to bare their flesh for his personal profit and satisfaction. This seems to me to be one of the more ironically antifeminist positions, as if the countless models and centerfolds of Playboy did not have any choice in the matter. True, they did not make the money that Hefner made off of their labors. But what employee makes the same money as the CEO? Many former playmates wound up working for the company and many were happy with their nude photo shoots. I’m sure some were dismayed in retrospect but again, in what employment transaction is satisfaction 100% guaranteed? The idea that these literally thousands of women were exploited against their will seems like utter nonsense. It’s much less condescending to think that they knew what they were doing and perhaps had a plan for what they would do with money they were being paid to better their lives. It’s a distinct possibility that many of the models actually enjoyed the prospect of being desired by millions of men and perhaps look back now when they are older at their youthful images with pride. If that’s a sick proposition to some it may be time to re-examine just where exactly the border lies between exploitation and willing sexual participation, of human desire and fantasy, of lust and admiration, of voyeurism and necessary physical gratification. And to the critique that Playboy presented an unrealistic vision of perfect women that warped the boys and men exposed to it I’d just say this: look at the millions of boys and men who read Playboy at some point in their lives. As one of them I can tell you the boys were certainly ecstatic to finally find out what grown-up women looked like under their clothes and what to look forward to when they grew up to be men. And the vast majority of men understood the idealized nature of the images and simply settled down to perfectly normal marriages and relationships undamaged by such visions of All-American Aphrodites no matter how much they may have enjoyed them and, like President Carter, lusted in their hearts.

Hef’s last laugh on us all may just be how far we’ve regressed as a society where to be successful at what Hugh Hefner and Playboy did 50-60 years ago involves exponentially more debasement and exponentially less aesthetic and intellectual veneer, where pundits knowingly reference PornHub but turn around and excoriate Hefner and Playboy. You can lay the blame at Hefner’s feet for the fact that there’s a strip club in every town and endless porn available on the internet if you like. But better to look at our own human needs and weaknesses to find the real answer to the question of just why that is so. If men didn’t want it and women weren’t willing to participate in it Hugh Hefner and Playboy would’t have been the massive success that they were. He sold an openly sexual dream world at a time when Americans were desperate for it and people bought it in spades for decades afterwards. So tell me how exactly did he corrupt such willing consumers? You can shoot the messenger if you’re uncomfortable with that. But I’m afraid he and his silk pajamas have just left the Mansion.

Watch Collector’s Notebook — The “Nina Rindt” Compax and how markets are made for vintage watches today

The following article is an opinion piece and solely the personal opinion of the author. It should be read strictly as opinion and not as a blanket statement of fact.

This is a story about Nina Rindt, or more precisely the vintage watch that was named after her: a smallish, panda-dialed Universal Geneve 3-register “Compax” chronograph from the 1960s. And it’s about what this collectible chrono’s meteoric ascent tells us about how markets for vintage watches are made these days. The Valjoux 72-powered “Nina” was so dubbed by collectors because of pictures showing the wife of legendary Formula 1 driver Jochen Rindt wearing her UG chronograph at various racing events in the 1960s through the fateful year of 1970, when Jochen was killed at Monza and went on to become the first and only posthumous Formula 1 champion. Jochen Rindt also has a watch named in his honor because of his personal association with it, the Heuer Autavia 2446 with screw back. As with so many great vintage pieces, “branding” vintage watches with a celebrity’s name is nothing new. It certainly worked magic with the Paul Newman Daytona and its market value. So ever since, savvy dealers have been looking for links to the famous when selling their watches, often with mixed results (see the “Steve McQueen” Rolex 1655 Explorer II, a watch McQueen never actually wore).

Header photo via Yorktime.com; Nina Rindt photo unknown

Header photo via Yorktime.com; Nina Rindt photo unknown

The earliest reference I can find to the “Nina Rindt” nickname for the panda UG Compax is from back in 2012 in a Chronotrader ad. But it’s probably safe to say the term had been kicking around at least since shortly after this 2006 post on the main On The Dash Heuer Forum. OK, so we have a catchy nickname and established celebrity provenance. And we also have a genuinely uncommon watch, one that you are simply not going to see in most second hand watch stores or even find on eBay too often. Now what? Well, after a few years of steady increase, the “Nina” gradually rose to around an $8000 dollar watch as of the end of 2013. Which is not too shabby and probably a quadrupling of value in about 4 years give or take. I think this is well within the level of standard appreciation in the timeline of a desirable model getting more well known, talked about, shown on the internet and eventually having “Grail” status bestowed upon it by collectors of that specific brand or type of watch.

And then things got really nutty. In early 2014, watch enthusiast site extraordinaire Hodinkee published one of their ubiquitous “Found” articles on a very nice “Nina” with a lot of backstory on the watch and the entertaining account of the owner’s acquisition of it. Now blessed with Hodinkee’s unparalleled reach as the arbiter of what is hot and sexy in the vintage watch world, the “Nina” really took off. The other enthusiast/industry fluffing sites caught on and so, of course, did the collector forums, who are no dopes either. By the time Hodinkee made another mention of a nice “Nina” for sale in October of that year on their dealer booster feature, “Bring a Loupe”, the “Nina” had blown up to around $15k during the course of that red hot summer and early fall. But we still hadn’t seen anything yet.

Here’s how things went from October 2014 on from the horse’s mouth, a then-Hodinkee contributor:

“…recent transactions that we have record of for the Nina Rindts:

Last October [2014], one reportedly sold for $23,000 in a silent auction by analog/shift that I wrote about on HODINKEE. 
https://www.hodinkee.com/blog/whats-selling-where-five-absolutely-killer-watches-begging

Then Yorktime in Canada reportedly sold one for $19,000 within the weekend after I wrote about it on HODINKEE [January 2015]:
https://www.hodinkee.com/blog/whats…net-jackson-to-her-lover-and-a-watch-to-avoid

Then Matt Bain reportedly sold one for $22,000 within a couple days after I featured it on HODINKEE [March 2015]:
https://www.hodinkee.com/blog/from-a-lecoultre-deep-sea-alarm-on-ebay-to-a-crazy-vintage-b

The Hodinkee - Analog/Shift "Nina" that lit the fuse (Photo via Analog/Shift)

The Hodinkee – Analog/Shift “Nina” that lit the fuse (Photo via Analog/Shift)

Let’s unpack this a little bit, shall we? So we have the Analog/Shift “Nina” — presumably the same example highlighted in that earlier “Found” installment — being sold at silent auction for a reported $23k. Continue reading

Gorgeous Lady of the Week — Jana Kramer

Maybe you only recognize Jana Kramer as the athletic, leather-clad heroine replacing items for hapless customers in those Nationwide Insurance commercials.

But in certain circles the petite 31-year-old Michigan native is kind of a big deal. Ms. Kramer has been a TV staple for years with recurring roles on Friday Night Lights, the 90210 re-boot and most notably for her fans, on the CW young adult smash One Tree Hill as the flirty starlet Alex Dupré.

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Jana left that show at the height of her television stardom to follow her dream of making it big in Country music, which she succeeded at with the release of her self-titled 2012 debut album and hit single “Why Ya Wanna.”

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OK, OK, so Country music is not exactly my bag, baby. But there’s no denying that Jana Kramer brightens up any music video she’s in, especially when she’s wearing denim shorts and riding a bike… which she usually is. Exceptionally pretty girls with smiles as warm as Jana’s have a way of getting you to do — and listen to — what they want.

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How some agency folks got us to stop hating their spots after all

Looks like the folks at Grey must have read my open letter and taken my advice — there are now something like 7 or 8 Robe Lowe spots running in the DirecTV campaign, all very funny and no longer driving us mad with the endless replaying of the original two.

See, that wasn’t so hard, was it? Just spend gobs of money on production and the buy and let your creatives run wild. I’m sure your client is grateful despite all those expenditures because this campaign is a high profile success that also drives home the DirecTV > Cable argument. Win-win for all concerned and I’m happy I could be of service.

An open letter to agency folks on how to get people to stop hating your spots

Dear ad agency creatives & account people,
I’m sure you’re tired of your friends and family telling you how much they hate the commercials you lovingly write, produce and work so hard to get your clients to grudgingly green light, not to mention the random vitriol from total strangers. Or the many dates that have ended in tears when you mention your work. Or maybe you’ve begun gradually obfuscating your profession in polite conversation, claiming you are in a more nebulous field like “marketing” or “branding” rather than owning up to the fact that you are, in a lot of peoples’ minds, a worthless suckfish clinging to the sleek and noble underbelly of their favorite TV shows.

Fear not! There is a simple way to regain pride in your work and earn the plaudits of your fellow man. You see, the majority of what you produce does not at all deserve such vituperation. In fact, most of it is quite amusing and well-crafted. In the best of your work, only one or two viewings create an indelible connection between the product and its benefit in the potential customer’s mind. And that should be a good feeling for you, shouldn’t it?

But here’s the rub: once we the viewing public see your little bit of genius 5 times in an hour, well, even the sweetest rose will begin to stink like a freshly opened can of lutefisk. And that not only tarnishes your formerly sterling work but also drags the client right into the crosshairs of our discontent as well.

Take, for example, this typically funny commercial for DIRECTV featuring Rob Lowe and his super creepy doppelganger.

Well done & kudos! Except that there are only two spots in this campaign so far and they have been played to death already. Continue reading

Gorgeous Lady of the Week — Adriana Lima

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All right, so choosing the mega-gorgeous supermodel Adriana Lima for GLOW is a bit, how shall I put it, on the nose. But you have to give the devil her due: the Brazilian bombshell has been part of the big time fashion and pop culture scenes for over 14 years now, ever since she was anointed a Victoria’s Secret “Angel” back in 2000. That’s the modern day equivalent to Pin-Up superstardom and it instantly catapulted the Elite model, who had won Ford’s “Supermodel of Brazil” contest at the age of 15, into the stratosphere.

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Following that breakthrough, she was quickly signed to be the face of Maybelline in 2003 and also worked for Armani, Louis Vuitton, Versace, GUESS? and BCBG among many others. Of course, Ms. Lima’s lovely visage has also graced the covers of top magazines such as Harper’s, Vogue and Elle, as well as best-selling issues of GQ and Esquire.

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She’s also flirted with the art world, famously being photographed by artist Richard Phillips for cult fashion magazine Visionaire. Continue reading

Worst Ad Campaigns — Carfax

There are annoying ads and then there are really annoying ads. The campaign for used car subscription database CARFAX.com has gone from the former, when it used to feature skeezy dealers with a fox puppet trying to dupe buyers, to the latter, with the agency doubling down on the creepy talking Car Fox spokesthingy and introducing a managerie of other critters to help uncover the true condition of potential used car purchases. Because nothing says “reliable detailed research” like a terrifying drop into the Car Fox’s secret high tech lair so talking CGI animals can report back to him about used cars. Or something. Wes Anderson this ain’t, folks.

I guess you could say it’s a little like a Disney movie with the customers being the nice humans transported into a magic world and the not-very-cute animals reporting on crash history instead of bursting into song. Uh, oh. I hope I haven’t given the creative team a new idea of where to take this damn campaign next. Because if there’s one rule of thumb I have for ads it’s that, along with omniscient talking babies, yappity animals are the worst sort of cheap trick used to obfuscate the lack of a clear, creative message with a cloyingly cutesy mnemonic device. Look, I admit the Carfax-Carfox ploy is so stupid it works on the most annoying level of simple association. But if those helpful little beasties start bursting into elaborate musical numbers I just may throw my flatscreen out the window.

Notable passings — Tony Palladino

In memoriam of a family friend of tomvox’s we post this New York Times obit of self-taught graphic arts legend, one of the true “Mad Men” in 1960s and 70s advertising and a stalwart at the School of Visual Arts for over 50 years, Tony Palladino.

Tony Palladino, Designer of ‘Psycho’ Lettering, Dies at 84

Tony Palladino, an innovative graphic designer and illustrator who created one of the most recognizable typographic titles in publishing and film history, the off-kilter, violently slashed block-letter rendering of “Psycho,” died on May 14 in Manhattan. He was 84.

Mr. Palladino’s conception for “Psycho” originally appeared on the book jacket for Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel of that title, published by Simon & Schuster. For his 1960 film adaptation, Alfred Hitchcock purchased the rights to the lettering for its promotion, which influenced the opening credit sequence created by Saul Bass.

Mr. Palladino said the design — stark white letters torn and seemingly pasted together against a black background to resemble a ransom note — was intended to illustrate typographically the homicidal madness of the novel’s protagonist, Norman Bates.

“How do you do a better image of ‘Psycho’ than the word itself?” he said.

Read the complete NY Times obituary for this highly accomplished man here.

Gorgeous Lady of the Week — Jessica Paré

With the iconic 1960s advertising series Mad Men winding down to its final episode, it seems entirely fitting that we pay tribute to one of the loveliest actresses to grace that or any other television series, the stunning Jessica Paré. With her lean and lithe body, huge green eyes gazing out from above high cheekbones and mischievous gap-toothed smile, Ms. Paré is at once a classic beauty and a unique one.

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A native of Montreal, Quebec, the 33-year-old ingénue was raised bilingual in French and English and caught the acting bug as a child helping her father, a drama teacher and actor, rehearsing his lines. She quickly found success in Canada with 2000’s satire about beauty and fame, Stardomopposite Dan Ackroyd. This led to more featured roles in 2001’s adolescent lesbian love story, Lost and Delirious, and her Hollywood debut in 2004 as Josh Hartnett’s jilted fiancé in Wicker Park.

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After keeping busy if not quite breaking through in subsequent years with good parts in the TV series Jack and Bobby, the vampire comedy Suck and memorably topless in Hot Tub Time Machine, Jessica made a massive impact when she debuted as Megan Calvet in 2010’s Season 4 of Mad Men. Looking stunning in mod costume, Jessica imbued her fellow French Canadian character with coltish naiveté balanced by observant ambition. In short, Megan Calvet was a revelation and it’s no wonder Don Draper proposed to her after she was so good with his kids in Disneyland despite it shattering the lovely and intelligent market researcher Faye Miller’s heart (played by the lovely and intelligent Cara Buono). And in a case of life seeming to imitate art, or at least art imitating itself, it seemed as if the show ditched January Jones in subsequent seasons almost as completely as Don ditched the former wife, Betty, that she played to such early fame.

Semi-Exclusive... Jon Hamm & Jessica Pare On Set in Hawaii

With Megan separated from Don in Hollywood and the entire cast of characters facing an uncertain future at the dawn of the 70s, Jessica Paré has done her finest, most emotionally challenging work to date this season. We’re not sure where she’ll pop up next but we’re fairly certain that even bigger things are on the horizon for this brunette beauty. We’ll certainly be watching the final Mad Men episodes with interest and hoping that certain Charles Manson/Sharon Tate-related rumors about her character’s fate are not true. And if we were lucky enough to be Megan’s chosen mate, we’d probably give up New York for the sunny L.A. climate and that beguiling, uncorrected smile. Heck, we might even give up advertising entirely. It’s not that hard with such a sweet incentive.



And the prize for longest article about a person you will stop giving a shit about after the seventh paragraph goes to…

This incredibly long paean by Liz Robbins in today’s New York Times about aging former Meatpacking District restaurateur & scenester Florent Morellet.  A mercifully short excerpt from this slavering epic:

In his raspy, French-accented voice, Mr. Morellet extols the potential development of Newtown Creek’s waterfront (post-pollutants), analyzes North Brooklyn’s messed-up grid and pushes for more skyscrapers to accommodate the city’s growth. He moved to what he considered the most viable edge of Bushwick, but he sees the boundaries soon pushing farther east on the M and L lines. He considers the two dirtiest words in the English language to be “nostalgia” and “gentrification.” He especially hates “the g-word,” as he calls it — but only because neighborhoods fight it.

That’s what’s happening now in Bushwick. A plan to rezone nine square blocks for retail and high-rise apartments has upset longtime residents and the likely new councilman, Antonio Reynoso, 30. Artists met this summer to discuss whether it was better to join the development bandwagon or be swept away by it.

Mr. Morellet, who read about the meetings in a local blog, thought they belonged in the TV parody show “Portlandia.”

“Cities change,” he said. “Young people are going to be pioneers in neighborhoods and make them livable. Wealthy people are going to move in and young people are going to move to the next neighborhood, and the next neighborhood. We have tons of neighborhoods to rebuild. Yes, the prices are going up. That’s great.”

To which those of us who are not discoing away every night in our luxurious retirement can only say: Fuck You. As if Brooklyn needs any more ultra-rich douchebags coming over from Manhattan to advocate for building luxury skyscrapers (none of them providing affordable housing) in the middle of previously low-rise working and middle class neighborhoods and trying to make their cool little “discovered” corner of Brooklyn more like, you know, Manhattan. Please go away or die already. You say “we have tons of neighborhoods to rebuild”… until we don’t and we are all living somewhere near JFK with jets roaring over our heads every 5 minutes because that’s all we can afford. And did not the editor think to tell Miss Robbins to maybe cut her ode to Mr. Fabulous here by, oh, I don’t know, 15 or so paragraphs?  It boils down to a fawning story about a guy who owned a restaurant and is now on his 3rd midlife crisis discovering his personal fountain of youth in Bushwick, not exactly Pulitzer-worthy journalism. Jesus wept, at 3000 words who could possibly make it to the end of this damn thing? I dare you to try to finish it without wanting to throw your computer out the window.