Goodbye for now
This isn't goodbye, for sure, but I certainly should have left you with a bit more closure. I began a story-telling project in January called A Beautiful Trench It Was. New Breed of Advertisers simply couldn't fit.

Thank you for reading, listening, commenting, and caring. I've enjoyed sharing content with you here since 2008 and your feedback helped me to press on. The advertising world is as influential as ever and advancing daily. With more screens and greater screen time, remarkable personalization and multi-sensory attraction, we love it even if we hate it. Of course, there is plenty to respect about advertising, which you know if you run a business or host a yard sale in the spring. But it needs our prayers.

Keep on promoting the good, challenging the bad, and encouraging the insiders who make this stuff and who care enough to make it better. This is how we live as neighbors to each other.

Visit me at A Beautiful Trench It Was, where you'll find audio vignettes of a boy. Or listen to a sample story here.



Sign Up, Maybe? A Jubilee Parody

The CCO cares very much about "being good neighbors to the consumer next door." In fact, this tagline here at New Breed of Advertisers was inspired by my work with the CCO over the past 15 years, and also my work with The High Calling over the past four or five years. We care about every provider/consumer relationship, in fact, not just Advertiser and Consumer.

Doctor and Patient, Teacher and Student, Artist and Aficionado. Each one matters.

Since the late 70s, the CCO's flagship conference, Jubilee, has attempted to help college students and young professionals understand those relationships in a way that demonstrates love. Jesus kind of love.

Thousands fill the hotel and ballroom in Pittsburgh for conversations about work and faith. Veterans in a host of vocational fields share their stories—what works, what doesn't, what the Bible says about something like scientific research or accounting.

Navigating our work life is not always easy. It requires discernment, community, mentors, and faithfulness. But we can get the conversation started at least.

I'll be heading back to Jubilee again on February 15-17, 2013, and I hope you'll join me. The world needs more workers who love the consumer next door.  Jubilee inspires those workers. Jubilee is a great place to find encouragement as well as perhaps a calling for the first time to something bigger.

Enjoy this playful parody. It's obviously geared toward toward a young audience, though Jubilee has gifts for everyone. Pass it along to those who need to "Sign Up, Maybe?"

Read about how Jubilee has inspired my vocation here.


Bullying in Advertising

by Sam Van Eman

Transcript of this recording:

My daughter just entered middle school. It's the age of bullying, the life spell when kids find their way, sort each other out, make decisions about what fits and what doesn't.

Image by Chesi. Used with permission via Flickr.
Anti-bullying education has been a primary social focus in these first few months of her year. Videos, assemblies with outside speakers, a poster campaign, all of it to postpone the inevitable. Bullying seems to exist as an unavoidable rite of passage, a gauntlet for punishers and those who run between them. Both parties could use the extra help.

I'd like to think we grow out of this painful activity, but election year competition proves we don't. Stand-up comedy sarcasm proves we don't. Prime Time elimination shows prove we don't, especially when nationally televised audiences inflict flagrant disapproval upon the serious souls who risk self-esteem to stand before them.

And what of advertising? One print ad for Nike lacrosse cleats reads, "Made with absolutely positively no regard for your opponent's feelings." Blatancy looks more like exaggerated humor than bullying. I knew a lacrosse player who beat his head against the wall before games to stimulate adrenaline. If he thinks a shoe will boost his dominance over competitors (who wear the same laced promise), who can reason with him? He's a bully who feeds on being bullied.

Advertising works more often in subtleties. Though not regarded as a chief perpetrator of meanness, advertising—the sort we criticize for doing harm in the world—leaves its mark, whittling with a slow and consistent stroke. Consider the following example.

A magazine advertisement for the 2013 Lexus ES states, "May cause technolust." Creatively poignant, this phrase, though it is unclear who it marks as the target. Let's say it's you, the buyer on the lot. Lust is a longing for something you haven't got. You haven't got the all-new, tech-loaded Lexus ES. Lexus makes a light pass at your current status, and insecurity stirs beneath the surface. The seemingly benign expression resembles little of real bullying, perhaps confirming why the insult earns our pardon, if we have caught on to its malice at all.

Lexus 1, Consumer 0.

Now let's say it's your friend, not you, with the technolust. You converted $40,000 into magnificent wheels, and the showroom still lingers in the seat leather and bamboo trim around you. Your friend slides in and sins a little.

Lexus 2, Consumer 1, Friend 0.

Lexus gives you permission to do this stirring. You're nice about it, of course. Your friend is your friend. But condescension is never kind. Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn, we're told. Instead, Lexus says, Rejoice when others mourn, mourn when others rejoice. 

Causing technolust isn't giving someone a swirly; it is a pricking we tolerate because it feels mild, clever even.

The call to become good neighbors requires abstinence, a willingness to set aside predictable factors that aggravate others' weaknesses. I can't stop advertisers from bullying. But I can refuse to play the accomplice; the bully who feeds on bullying. And maybe, if I employ some of the tools my daughter and her friends are learning in middle school this year, I can learn to ignore the pricking. Enough of us doing the same might even make the bullies go away.         

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Out of Context: Fast Company

Image by OAndrews. Used with permission via Flickr.

Image by Jonathan Nardi. Used with permission via Flickr.

Image by saturn. Used with permission via Flickr.

Image by ChvyGrl. Used with permission via Flickr.

Image by Nate. Used with permission via Flickr.

Image by Jason A. Samfield. Used with permission via Flickr.

Image by TC Morgan. Used with permission via Flickr.

Image by Mark Grealish. Used with permission via Flickr.

Image by henning. Used with permission via Flickr.

Image by Aitor Escauriaza. Used with permission via Flickr.

Just wondered what magazine advertisement captions would look like out of context. They look like this. All ad copy taken from the October and November 2012 issues of Fast Company magazine. 


I approve this message.

by Sam Van Eman

Transcript of this recording:

Dear Campaign Ad Writers,

You're probably still rejoicing, or mourning, depending on how last night's decision turned out. For months, you've invested time and your best talents to promote your candidate, taking information gathered by others to praise and smear, always in the hope of gaining an edge. Some of your top writing happened this year. You had 30 second spots to work with, billboard dimensions to hem you in, newspaper word counts, footage from archives to paint two pictures, perhaps cameras and lighting crews, a budget, an angle, and a mandate.

You were essential. Your work, done well, could change history, and you knew it.

Regardless of your mood this morning, there is, possibly, a reason for confession. While your project most likely rendered pride, there were times when beneath the celebration of dirt well-placed, even thick skin felt the hesitation of harsh words going public. You cringed. That was your text. Had you paused to feel for a moment, you know the same words could not have been said in person. You are kind at home, for example; a host or hostess who, though opinionated, enjoys good food, laughter, and respectable discussion with company. After pleasant evenings, guests always bid farewell wishing to return.

Public insult, though, from the norms of previous campaigns and from pop culture sources as far from you as American Idol, differentiated your work life. Insult was acceptable there. Harsh criticism thrived in a context where peer pressure affirmed it. In that arena, political aspiration, national attention, and the basic human desire to know that your work matters came together to create a second you. Success in the whirl of election excitement trampled civil discourse underfoot.

For the sake of winning, you sliced an opponent's career into talking points, five and ten words long. You edited, “Oh yeah?! Well you...” and kept everything after. 

As the election results wear off, you'll look back on your work. You'll remember that derision isn't you. It wasn't part of your childhood instruction. It wasn't endorsed by the professors who inspired you. It sits uneasily with you now, though you believe it was necessary for victory and for the aversion of perceived dangers that threaten American life.

Words have been your gift. People pay you to compose them just so. They come easily and you wish to use them well, though now you have the growing sense that you've betrayed them. 

The good news is that you can be forgiven.

Aligning with your candidate when he says, “I want to congratulate my opponent on a hard fight” does not cover months of slander. Assuming pardon when your candidate says of the loser, “I wish the best for you” does not erase distortion. It does not patch wounds caused by a year of playground antics and bullying.

As life resumes, I hope you find rest. I also hope you'll consider this citizen's request:

Please remember that nations around the world have observed your product and wondered what good exists in such ruthless strikes. Please remember that my children have observed your product and wondered, by way of message approvals, how your candidate's opponent could be such a bad person. Unable to discern adequately, my children assumed your messenger stood alone as the one source of good. (How many of us remain unaware just like them.)

For our sake, and for the sake of decency and respectability, please consider your actions and make amends. Do it this week. Enjoy the fruit of humility and a clear conscience. This is the high road for you and for us. I look forward to seeing your work again in the future. I will recognize it when it rings of competition fused with neighborly love.

Until then, peace be with you.

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Advertising and Book Burning

Photo by Dave Hogg.
Erin Straza's response to what turned out to be an advertising scheme:

"[G]ood advertising leads the viewer to think the thoughts they want them to think.

That’s what happened to the people of Troy, Michigan. As a vote for a tax increase to keep their public library open drew near, citizens became aware of a group called Safeguarding American Families (SAFE) that was against the tax increase. In anticipation of the tax’s defeat, SAFE planned a little post-election celebration: a book burning. SAFE promoted the book burning around town using yard signs and social media.

News of the book burning spread, as did a fierce response by the citizens themselves. It was the talk of the town, neighbor calling upon neighbor to prevent the book burning.[it]." 

READ the rest of Erin's reflection at Christ and Pop Culture.

READ the original article--with a thought-provoking conclusion--at Salon.


Consumer Objectivity Down the Literal Drain

  by Sam Van Eman 

Transcript of this recording:

Two years ago, we bought a foreclosed home. The loan stipulated that we finish the upstairs bathroom which previous owners must have started but couldn’t afford to finish before being evicted. It was all studs, insulation, and exposed plumbing, and I argued that we didn't need to finish it yet since we had another one downstairs. I promised to take on the project myself, but the bank didn't budge. So we compiled a list of item numbers and paid a contractor to finish the job.

It's been two years, and we've never really used the downstairs bathroom I originally claimed would be sufficient. Turns out that except for a few emergencies, it served better as a tool storage for current projects. My wife was right: It really was a mess.

Last week, with tax return in hand and help from a friend who knows more than I do, I began gutting what had become the tool storage. I checked off his to-do list, even squeezing under the crawlspace for inspection and digging (By the way, a cubic yard of dirt is a lot to move while lying on your back in the dark).

Every trip to both local and box stores, I bought supplies based on what caught my attention from the shelf. Not willy-nilly decisions, but reasonable decisions. Products complement each other so well that if I saw an item on sale, I could pack it into the cart and take it home, knowing I'd find its match later.

Then yesterday evening, after comparing prices of what seemed to be rather different items, a reflection drew me out of the shopping trance. I realized that these items were not rather different at all; in fact, they demonstrated such a lack of creative variety that they suddenly appeared quite the same. I thought about the toilet, and then the shower fixture, and then the sink, and mirror, the light and fan, and all of it together appeared in my mind like every other bathroom of every other person who has a Lowe's within driving distance of their house.

Part of the problem lies with building code, which isn't too different than, say, car design. Just as you can only do so much with a side-mirror or a bumper before you risk driver safety, regulations for plumbing and electricity behind the scene influence aesthetics right in front of you. Certainly color and shape vary, but the stipulations are strict and the freedom, little, especially for the vast majority who can't afford gross distinction. Still, I ask, Why am I limited to few real options? Am I actually limited? And what convinced me to see the array of selections as more different than similar in the first place?

It's like a kind of shopping socialism had taken over and I was suddenly aware of its tight fit.

The project will move forward. It has to. I'm looking forward to problem-solving and installation—activities which make me appreciate being human. But now I feel tied. No matter how I’d like to escape cultural bounds, every member in my family views the world in their own shaped way, which means I can't simply claim the entire vote for what gets installed and what doesn't. I have to consider their aesthetic wishes too.

And even if they agreed to my requests, I'm still left with the effects of social influence. I want what others have. When Lowe's sells a product that I swear I've seen in a wealthy home, I feel drawn to the suggestion of elevated importance. When the cheap items are listed as "Basic" or "Our Most Popular Model," I feel poor and want to be above the tier of consumers who look for those items. (Design doesn't happen in a vacuum, after all.)

But here I am in the aisle, alerted by the trance and asking myself a perplexing question: How would this bathroom look if I could build it outside of the cultural parameters currently guiding my opinions?

I really don't know. Unless I've traveled abroad, or, conversely, grown up in isolation, contrast is hard to find. Innovation is difficult to consider. This fact reminds me of a former Disney employee whose boss said, "We purchased some land, build something." The employee replied, "You mean, like a theme park?" to which his boss replied, "Whatever you'd like." The employee's reaction was limited to what he already knew. He had to be given permission to think beyond it.

I don’t have the money for gross distinction, or even for sliding down the aisle past Basic in most cases. So I want permission. I could go with Our Most Popular Model and let someone else—the entire middle class, in fact—determine how to decorate our home, but I want permission. I feel alive when I create. I feel emboldened, empowered. Human. That's a spirituality I can enjoy—walking in the footsteps of the Creator.  

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Book Publicity as a Cultural Act

Image by Mikko Saari.
I needed a Stephanie Smith about seven years ago, before I gave up on publicity and a book I felt compelled to share with the world. It is what it is now, but I'm encouraged to know that service is her focus in a world of too many self-serving, megaphone-toting, insecurity-driven authors. I am happy to share her marketing view with you this morning at
"In between the dozens of drafts and the time their magnum opus hits the printer, some authors get cold feet. They feel it’s still an important book, but suddenly, to spread the word about it through a publicity campaign would be disingenuous. Suddenly, it’s not God’s message, but 'self-promotion.' They feel more comfortable in the high art of the writing process, and want to leave the 'dirty work' of promotion to me.
I count it my professional privilege to debunk this illusion. I understand that when you’ve poured so much of yourself into a work, it becomes harder to discern the lines between yourself and your art, and easier to equate book promotion with self-promotion. But these don’t have to be one and the same. What often makes the difference is our motives: Are we serving ourselves, or are we serving an idea that we believe will influence lives for the better?"
READ MORE about Stephanie's philosophy in Everything Matters: Book Publicity as a Cultural Act. is a site about faith, work, and God.


Angry Birds Matter

Sourced via Flickr.
In March, I began hosting a series at called Everything Matters. The premise is somewhat simple: What you do during your day is a cultural act, and it will either create, manage, or consume the world God has given to you. (Consume here has no negative connotations—rather, think consuming art or consuming broccoli.) Whether I'm digging out a new flower bed, balancing my checkbook, or, as I said, eating broccoli, I'm participating in the world as a cultural being, one who is called to create, manage, and consume the goods that surround us.

The most recent series entry was written by Kevin Schut, a professor of media + communication at Trinity Western University in Langley, BC, Canada. Kevin tells people he plays video games for a living, and it’s partly true. His book Of Games and God: A Christian Exploration of Video Games will be released by Brazos Press in early 2013.

Here is an excerpt of the article. I hope you'll join the conversation.

My new iPad contains several dozen worlds. There’s a boy’s bed where little wind-up robots protect him from scary dinosaurs. There’s the Caribbean, where I get to sail, hoist the Jolly Roger, and relieve Spanish merchants of their sugar. There’s a fantasy kingdom under siege from hostile orcs and skeletons. And, of course, there are rooms of boxes, glass, and stones erected by pigs desperate to stave off assaults from irate avians.

While it is amazing that one digital device can be a doorway to so many imaginary places, not everyone is excited about this... (Read more here.) hosts conversations about work, life, and God.


The Root of Criticism

by Sam Van Eman

Transcript for this recording:

I haven't watched TV since the Super Bowl and the result is that I'm low on blog content. I do have a sizable stack of ads and related quotes, articles, links, notes scribbled on Subway napkins and squares of toilet paper—a travelogue of potential material. But fasting through Lent did what it usually does to my advertising sensitivity: it put the critic to sleep.

Months away from TV and I forget what used to be on and who sponsored it. I go to bed earlier, realizing that Leno and company lack real stimulation power. I miss the 30-second appetizer bites and celebrity influence. I read more, like pieces from Fiction 100, a short story anthology; and from Deuteronomy 31 where the decision between light and dark, life and death, seem so obviously easy yet so surprisingly hard.

I'm out of content because I've been taking a new mental path to work. I'm not still simmering on last night's musings; on the death-knell of simple living, or the faux-invigoration of card-swiping for things I couldn't possibly need (but really do want).

This isn't to say I've been entirely unplugged, just filtered. I caught a handful of movies since February. Hugo was cleverly done, the French-made Microcosm captivated us with its ants drinking water, and both Art & Copy and Objectified—two documentaries up my alley—kept my ad-mind more on standby than a full snooze. Still, a month of blogging inactivity?

Fasting from too much TV inside also coincided this year with an abundance of growth outside. Our late winter and early spring were exceptionally warm, feeling more like late spring and early summer. I've exercised more, mowed more, walked the kids to school more, pulled weeds more. All good, like a thorough cleaning.

Clutter in general has a way of forcing me to tolerate limited space. If your desk is busy, like mine often is, you know exactly what I mean. You haven't got an entire desk, just something the size of a legal pad. The rest is for clutter. Lent, in a way, wipes it all clean. It helps me see what's there, what isn't, what could be that usually can't be. I'll go back, of course. Back to the mental confines. I do every year once the weather changes. By mid-fall, I'll be looking forward to this or that sit-com, and sitting around on Sunday afternoons watching football.

And that's when I'll get more material.

Just in time for Christmas deals and my own reawakening of consumer lust, I'll get more material because it will be material for me; for my own struggle to tread what feels like shoreless water, a commercial-made sea of desire and want. I'll want to drown in it like the humans in WALL-E, who lounge in chairs with, as one reviewer described, a "constant feed of TV and video chatting. They drink all of their meals through a straw out of laziness and/or bone loss...."

That material, the hyper-critical kind I'm prone to invoke, often comes from me trying to push the straw away. In those soap box moments I'm treading desperately to avoid being one of those people; I'm playing the preacher who rails against pornography only to be discovered as the audience to his own sermons. We fight against what we know best, right?

This is the root of criticism. It is my own struggle to keep from drowning in pleasures that pull me beneath the surface. For now, I'm enjoying dry ground. But I'll go back. It's inevitable, this draw toward heaven when hell offers the easiest substitutions.

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