Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Hey, Shakespeare, remember me?

       I'm writing this from Ashland, Oregon. It's my first time at the Shakespeare festival here, and the town is really different. People smile here all the time.

       For many years, Shakespeare was an annual habit of mine when I lived in the Midwest. Get in the car, drive a few hours into Canada, and you're at the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario. The tiny town on the Avon River was originally a place where the Canadian National Railroads repaired trains. Now it's Elizabethan --- the inns, the shoppes, and unfortunately the food. Except at about six wonderful restaurants, one in a church belfry.

        Ashland seems a lot like that, and attracts people who are relaxed, care about the environment, and are reluctant to tip-toe into California. There are no state taxes; on the other hand, there is a Starbucks.

        The whole scene reminds me of one week when I was the creative head on the GM account in Detroit. I had planned to go to Stratford for the weekend, to see a new production of "The Tempest", and on Wednesday, GM had a crisis. A protest was announced by a group that believed GM was unfair in their hiring practices. They were going to march on the GM Building the next Thursday.

         When GM is upset, the first thing they did was call in their ad agency for help. They wanted a full-page ad to run in the newspapers the day before the protest, and wanted to see ideas Monday afternoon. There went my weekend in Stratford.

          I was determined to go anyway, and like a pro, I looked for a loophole, a way out, some idea that I could execute in no time at all. Everyone else in my group was slaving away at long-copy response ads with headlines such as "An Open Letter to the Leaders of Tomorrow's Protest" and "What You Should Know about General Motors' Hiring Practices".

         I decided to create an ad that simply showed a blank GM employment application as the visual. Under it was the headline "Just try us." Then the GM logo. That was it, and I left early Friday to drive to Stratford to see Shakespeare.

         The following Monday afternoon, my ad was chosen --- and cancelled the next day. The protest was called off.

         And the tempest was all for naught.

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