From: Darren Smithers – CEO, The Meridia Marketing Group
To: Creative Teams
Re: Omnidyne Contract
Date: Daycycle 313.215
Folks, I’m sure a lot of you have been following the coverage in AdWeek regarding the shakeout among Madison Avenue firms after the “Soylent Green is People” story ran in the New York Post last week. For those of you who have not been following the story, here’s the recap.
A New York police detective has charged that Omnidyne violated a number of laws by processing human corpses into its popular Soylent Green protein supplement crackers, and has gone to the press with some damaging photos and evidence of that allegation. This comes on the heels of the recent republication of an unflattering audit of Omnidyne manufacturing practices that was conducted last year by the FDA and the FTC.
For many years, marketing of Omnidyne products had been handled by our competitors at Tilwater and Pryne, but both we and the executives at Omnidyne felt that T&P was both too stodgy and slow-moving to adequately respond to the public relations challenges posed by the allegations of posthumous human-derived protein content in Omnidyne’s most popular food product, “Soylent Green.”
The good news is that Omnidyne has indeed chosen to place its corporate trust in us to help handle national and international rebranding efforts for Omnidyne products; we’ve been given creative responsibility for the North American TV and radio spots, as well as brand refocusing in international print advertising. The story will go public this afternoon, but the rollout timeline for the new campaign is extremely challenging, so I wanted the creative team leads to get the news now, while the ink is still drying on the contract. It goes without saying that the business news about the contract is embargoed until after the 2:00 p.m. phone conference.
The bad news is that we’re going to have to pull some long hours on this one. As a first step, I’d like the team leads to conduct brainstorming sessions and get back to me by no later than 9:00 a.m. tomorrow with some ideas. Here are the key things to keep in mind about this project:
1. Omnidyne is married to the Soylent brand name following post-incident phone polling of consumer name-recognition. They feel that any negatives are outweighed by the almost universal market penetration that they’ve achieved.
2. PR repair is being coordinated by one of Omnidyne’s longtime lobbyist/PR contractors in D.C., who will review our work for message consistency and legal issues. Omnidyne has already bought a lot of national airtime for a 30 second “mea culpa” fireside chat to be conducted by its media spokesperson, to run in prime on the three bigs and cable outlets during dinner time tomorrow night. After a day or two, Omnidyne would like a massive media blitz for rebranding and consumer base reinforcement.
Anyway, all the senior staff agree that this is an extremely exciting and humbling opportunity to show the world just what the Meridia Group can do with an established brand, (and possibly poach other accounts from T&P).
Best to all.
From: Team Sy
To: Meridia Marketing CEO
CC: Sy Stevens, Daria Dawkins, Art Team
Re: Omnidyne Contract
Date: Daycycle 313.218
Okay, we’re just gonna free-associate what we threw up on the whiteboards this morning, to prime the pumps, so to speak.
1. Meeting the issue head-on. In response to the meme that Soylent Green is made of people, we say, “Yes, it is.” For both print and TV, we envision a series of campaigns using actual Omnidyne employees and customers, a cross-section of young, healthy, attractive 18-34 yr-olds in a variety of settings and activities, all saying, “I’m Soylent Green.”
2. Vibrancy and change. T&P hewed to an extremely conservative packaging and taste motif – for twenty years, Soylent Green has consisted of one-inch square green crackers, flavored with a hint of wheat and packed in dull, almost generic-looking cardboard boxes.
This was due in part to the close partnership between Omnidyne and the quasi-governmental Caloric Assistance Combine (the administrators of the non-profit food rationing network that was the primary distributor of Soylent Red, Soylent Yellow, and Soylent Green during the height of the amok-time, and throughout the present crisis), and the fact that the packaging was subject to a fair number of bureaucratic government contract requirements. But now it’s time to tell the world, “this is not your grandma’s Soylent Green.”
Toward that end, we’ll roll out new flavors (Soylent Xtreme Spicy Ranch, Soylent Xtreme Cool Lime Cilantro, Soylent Xtreme Habanero Supreme), new colors (Soylent Rainbow, Soylent Natural, Soylent Bloo), new formulations and shapes (Soylent Kids – FunDough!, Soylent Surprise!, Soylent Flavor Sparkles), and new product lines (Pizzalent, Bagelent, Spicy Thailent) aimed at different ages, palates, and consumption styles. We’ll have a breakfast line (Soylent Chococrunch, Soylent Berrylicious), a health-snack line (Soylent Embrace, Soylent Heartbalance, Soylent Soul), a convenience-snack line (Soylent Handfuls, Soylent Mini-Handfuls), a diet convenience-snack line (Soylent Light Handfuls, Soylent Mini-Lights), a meal-stretcher line (Soylent Sides, Soylent Oven Buddies), a seasonal line (Frosty Soylent Santas, Pastel Soylent Bunnies), and new after-purchase consumer value-adds (a Soylent Answers! line of cookbooks featuring Soylent Green-inspired easy-prepare recipies for busy homemakers on the go; a Soylent Teacher’s Guide (K-12) with specific Soylent Green-related educational content and resources), and derivative licensing/products coordination with third-parties (fast-food, video games, T-shirts, board games, comics, animation, puzzles, books, etc.)
In the midst of all this, we don’t want to lose risk-averse consumers who derive emotional comfort from familiarity and continuity. That’s where the “Soylent Traditions” product line comes in, with a print and TV ad campaign focused on soft colors, licensed and public-domain classical music, warm Norman Rockwell-inspired visuals, and heart-tugging stories. We’ve already done storyboard mock-ups and V.O. scripting for 30-second through 2-minute radio and TV spots with recurring characters, along four parallel tracks (English non-Hispanic, English Hispanic, Spanish Hispanic, and African-American).
TV Spot – Remembering Dad (1 minute version)
Open – sepia filtered shot of domestic interior – little girl’s bedroom, working class/prole furniture and fixtures. Dad (wearing glasses) is reading to his preschool-age daughter, who is tucked into the tiny bed. V.O. of adult woman, “They called it the dark times, but I never thought they were dark, not with my dad there protecting me.” Under this at low volume, we can just make out that the dad is reciting the climactic scene from Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl.”
We flash through three brief scenes, each lasting around 10 seconds. In the first, the slightly older girl is in an educational work camp. She opens her lunchbox and pulls out a tiny, precious packet of Soylent Green crackers – they’ve been tied together with a ribbon and a tag reading “XOXO – Daddy.”
The second scene is of the preteen girl at a refugee depot. She has just gotten out of the train car and is searching for a familiar face. She smiles and races past the other refugees, into the arms of her graying father, who surprises her with a full ration booklet and an emergency tin of Soylent Green.
The third scene is of the woman, now grown up. She is collecting paperwork for her curfew transit application, and is leafing through a bundle of old, yellowed correspondence. Tucked in between the pages, she finds a little dogeared book – (The Matchstick Girl), and wipes away a tear. A scrap of an old Soylent Green box tab marks a page, and falls out as she opens the book.
V.O. continues, “I feel like Dad is still there, looking out for me.”
End music (Bach instrumental) with white text emerging against a black background, “Soylent Green is memories.”
For some time now, I’ve been obsessively playing “The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind,” a computer game that came out in 2002, but that continues to garner praise and fans for its rich background and story (something that the 2002 game shares with its sibling games in this long-running series that began with 1994′s “Arena,” and that continues through the recently released Skyrim, and the heavily advertised MMORPG “Elder Scrolls Online.”)
Those who are interested in the Elder Scrolls games can find great mounds of online resources, beginning with Wikipedia and moving on from there to various official and unofficial fan sites in astonishing profusion.
The games themselves are fascinating. But I’ve been equally charmed and astonished by the proliferation of non-commercial art that the games have inspired, including multiple competing documentary videos, chorale works, paintings, essays, symphonic transcriptions of game music, costumes, machinima, poems, how-to guides, novellas, marginalia, ephemera, jewelry, and so on.
As gratifying as all of this fan activity must be for the games’ copyright holders, it must also be a little intimidating. A lot of people immerse themselves deeply in the Elder Scrolls universe, to the point where the fictional nature of that setting is irrelevant to its importance as a place.
The phenomenon of fan devotion is a pretty trite topic today – we live in a world of Klingon-English dictionaries and a Middle-Earth-driven tourism business in New Zealand, and I can’t really say that an intellectual inquiry into either the cultural foundations or the artifacts of fandom is interesting to me in the abstract.
What is interesting to me is when a particular field of fan enthusiasm begins to outshine and improve on the aesthetics of the thing that inspired that enthusiasm. The output of the Elder Scrolls fan community has (I would argue) reached that point, such that the people who make the games and the people who play the games have started to notice that the aggregated talents and artistic contributions of the fans exceed the aggregated artistic content of the original games.
Why have the Elder Scrolls games engendered a little Renaissance of writing, painting, singing, computer programming, etc.?
There are a lot of reasons – these are pretty well-made first-person fantasy roleplaying games with increasingly attractive graphics and game mechanics, and good pacing.
But I think there is one element of the Elder Scrolls series that is far and away the biggest reason why these games work so well, and why these games have inspired such professional artistic creations.
The Elder Scrolls games are full of in-game literature. In fact, books, papers, notes, diaries, broadsheets, and letters are pervasive in all the Elder Scrolls games, along with in-game representations of the infrastructure associated with literacy. There are competing bookstores in all the cities. There are non-player characters who are journalists and essayists and librarians. There are universities with professors and monasteries with scribes and researchers hunting for patronage.
There are competing schools of thought, and scholarly rivalries, and censorship and underground presses. There are bitter intellectual disagreements that play themselves out in literary settings, sometimes involving the player directly. There are antiquarians and translators struggling with problems of interpretation and ambivalence and variation. Every building or shop or home in the game of any significance has at least a few books lying around inside it.
One of the great accomplishments of the Elder Scrolls games is that the game’s writers have done a masterful job of simulating the complexity of literature. One can spend hours in-game doing nothing but reading books; most of the Elder Scrolls games contain a core “canon” of around 700 different titles, including items as diverse as a four-volume political history, a few biographies, a comparative religion textbook, a collection of ribald folk songs, and so on.
A particular historical event in the game may be memorialized by (1) an epic poem, (2) a play, (3) a popular history, (4) a fictionalized short story or novella based on the popular history, (5) a primary source memoir or eyewitness account, and (6) a revisionist scholarly interpretation that points out errors or inconsistencies in one of the other works.
The method the game creators used to create this atmosphere of rich textual flavor is ingenious. The “books,” in the game are actually very short – with the exception of a couple of novella-length works, most of the books would only be a few pages long if they were reproduced in physical form.
But the books don’t have to be long works to simulate or stand in for long works – a few paragraphs sketch the broad outlines of a massive tome and highlight the way in which that tome differs from another competing work on the same topic. And the physical nature of the books is reinforced by the game mechanics – the pages turn audibly; the covers of the books thump open and shut, the books occupy space on the shelves, and have the weight and presence of thick, leather-bound objects.
Through clever dressing, the literary content of the games feels more substantial than it is – the game creators didn’t have to sit down and write 700 full-length books (although they did have to sit down and write 700 bits of text masquerading as 700 full-length books), and so the burden that the books represent in terms of electronic resources of memory and text is comparatively minor. And the illusion of a rich literary universe can be pretty effectively created with 700 titles – it’s a small enough number that a player can notice and be pleased by books and titles that indirectly relate to each other, while at the same time it’s a large enough number of titles to allow for some novelty in genres and topics.
The in-game literature isn’t a perfect simulation of a literary world – one tends to see a few too many duplicate copies of the same titles over the course of many hours of play (although one of the pleasures of the games comes from running across a book one has never seen before, after being certain that the game has no more surprises to offer). And while the quality of the writing is high, some of the books are less successful in perpetuating the illusion that they are just portions of longer works.
But I think that even when the in-game libraries fail to perfectly evoke a literary tradition, the failure and the gaps – the places where one can see the artifice growing threadbare – compels fans to make up for the game’s imperfections. Much of the fan output for the game is arguably motivated by a desire to experience the game universe more deeply than any game could ever possibly accommodate.
Being at least partially exiled from the fictional world that the game imperfectly represents, we feel compelled to reconstruct the artifacts of that world.
My wife has a coworker whose high-school-age daughter needed to interview a lawyer for a homework assignment. I thought the questions were interesting, and they got me thinking about my life up until now.
In some ways, my advice is really advice to myself. Even while telling this kid to find whatever career she loves, I realized that I often failed to make decisions based on what my “calling” might be. Anyway, in the interest of further discussing my favorite subject (me), here’s the help I gave this kid for her homework assignment:
I attended Southern Methodist University, and got B.A.s in Economics and Political Science. I was a member of the Philosophy Club, the Economics Club, and the Russian Club, and I volunteered as an usher for the Theater Department, and worked summers as a conference aide.
It is no better and no worse than any other job, from fixing cars to flying spaceships. You have a calling – if it’s the law, that’s great. If it’s not the law, that’s great too. Experience the world, find what you love, and do that.
Famously (or at least it should have been famously), the late, great Spy Magazine introduced an editorial flourish in it’s September 1989 issue, when it proposed that the dreadful behavior of the ultra rich made it feel as though we were all living inside an overheated, overstuffed potboiler of a novel, entitled, “1999: Casinos of the Third Reich.” Klaus von Bulöw attempting to off his wife, Donald Trump frittering away billions of dollars in other people’s money, deregulated Wall Street firms blowing up, John Tower’s plane going down just before he spilled the beans on the Iran Contra Affair, the embarrassing greed and shear awfulness of the era made everyone bit players in a reality far worse than Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities.
Well, it’s 2013, and I still haven’t gotten to read the great scandalous novel of our generation. We’re now nostalgic for post-apocalyptic futures because they seem so quaint. What does that say about us and our expectations about how our American Empire is going to end?
So one of my wife’s coworkers tossed out a bagatelle online, stating that Abed and Troy from “Community” are TV’s best friends since Laverne and Shirley. Of course this begs the question whether the friendships of various fictional characters can even be ranked, or whether the entire enterprise is … oh, who am I kidding? Pop culture challenge accepted!
Here are some of my wife’s suggestions for TV best friends whose relationships rivaled or bettered the intensity of the Laverne-Shirley friendship:
1. Spike and Angel, from Joss Whedon’s “Angel.” (In Spike, Angel has found his perfect comic foil and romantic ingenue.)
2. Jack Donaghy and Liz Lemon, from Tina Fey’s “30 Rock.” (Jack and Liz have the most consistent and solid platonic friendship, unsullied by ham-fisted suggestions of romantic tension.)
3. Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, from Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad.” (From murder to naked greed, Walt and Jesse are humanized by a complex and tenderly drawn friendship that has elements of familial and fraternal depth.)
4. Walter White and Heisenberg, from Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad.” (As an alter-ego that can effectively express a lifetime of frustration and rage, Heisenberg is both Walt’s dark side, and his better half.)
And now, some of my suggestions for best TV BFFs:
Dana Scully and Fox Mulder, from Chris Carter’s “X-Files.” (Until ruined by late-season contract shenanigans and weariness, Scully and Mulder had a deeply empathic work relationship of true feeling.)
Donna and Josh, from Aaron Sorkin’s “West Wing.” (Another finely-drawn work relationship, this one concerning a boss and assistant with different sensibilities, but deep mutual respect.)
Bo and Kenzi, from Michelle Lovretta’s “Lost Girl.” (In a supernatural world of hypersexualized werewolves, succubi, and valkyries, it’s refreshing that the most enduring friendship is a warm sisterly one between a super being and her human runaway “pet.”)
Aiden, Sally and Josh, from Jeremy Carver’s and Anna Fricke’s North American version of “Being Human” (originally developed for the BBC by Toby Whithouse). (Three decidedly inhuman roommates develop a sometimes rocky but heartfelt friendship among themselves, in one of the best-written shows currently on TV.)
Jake and FInn, from Pendleton Ward’s “Adventure Time.” (Jake the Dog and Finn the Human don’t always see eye-to-eye or agree with each other, but they have an easy and unspoken deep bond of friendship.)
I could go on, but instead, I will say this. First, as has been noted often, it is in this moment of its greatest financial uncertainty, when the very nature of and future of television entertainment is unclear, that television has also experienced its greatest intellectual flowering. Without doubt, this is a golden age of television, whether any of the business models of television production or consumption survive our generation.
And second, one of the hallmarks of this golden age of television is the artistic exploration of friendship. In fact, I would say that stories of friendship (the origins, boundaries, disputes, betrayals, and consequences of friendship and loyalties) are by far more prominent in our current culture than the stories of sexual romance. Sexual romance is still very much a part of our TV culture, but I put it to you that our favorite stories of love and sex are very often now stories of love and sex in the context of how sexual relationships affect and are critiqued by the community of friends associated with the lovers. Witness almost every episode of “Friends,” “Seinfeld,” “Mad About You,” “Cheers,” “Frazier,” “Big Bang Theory,” “Two and a Half Men,” “Up All Night,” “Political Animals,” “Burn Notice,” “In Plain Sight,” “Castle,” “Bones,” “NCIS,” “Monk,” “Psych,” “Men of a Certain Age,” “White Collar,” “Smallville,” “Dirty LIttle LIars,” “OC,” and, well, every single scripted show that has run on television in the last 20 years.
The only notable exceptions are (1) “Charmed,” which was a fashion dress-up show co-produced by pre-teen girls and middle-aged sexual predators, and (2) “Everybody Loves Raymond,” which was written and produced by incarcerated criminal sociopaths who had murdered at least one or more of their own family members, and who were all serving life sentences in various federal prisons around the country, as part of an experimental social rehabilitation program that ultimately failed. But with those exceptions, every other show has been about friendship first.
Of the four or five classical forms of love (agape – spiritual love; eros – physical love; philia – mental love, or loyalty; xenia, or generosity towards strangers; and storges – instinctual familial or genetic love), the one that demands the most intense examination and exploration in our current popular culture is philia – loyal love of friendship. And that’s what’s reflected in our TV screens.
This discussion began with a Facebook posting by one of my wife’s coworkers, who followed up by arguing that many of the relationships cited (Walt and Jesse, Jack and Liz, Spike and Angel) were either not relationships of equal peers, or weren’t really “friendship” relationships, but were merely business partnerships, etc.
To which I say – explorations of friendship across divisions of class, education, and relative power are what drive much of TV scripts. Not even Laverne and Shirley were peers in every sense. While both Laverne and Shirley were high-school educated blue-collar workers with virtually identical class standing, their childhood cultures and attitudes were strikingly different. Laverne was the “bad girl” who in one memorable episode suffered an unwanted pregnancy scare. Shirley was the “good girl” whose sometimes-priggish attitudes were punctured by Laverne’s accusations that Shirley was being hypocritical. Between the two, Laverne was often seen as the “boss” or speaker of the communal friendship, while Shirley was the “manager” or technician.
Similarly, Abed and Troy are not in parity with respect to their social standing (Troy is the popular kid, while Abed is the autistic weirdo), emotional development, or intelligence. One would be hard-put to identify any fictional television friendship in which the members of the friendship are all on the same intellectual and social plane.
In any case, power parity or social class was not included as a limiting condition in the initial discussion.
So … last weekend my wife and I went to see Pacific Rim, which did successfully entertain us. But we both immediately thought that Guillermo Del Toro owes a big debt to the Duncan Brothers, and should at least have acknowledged the profound artistic influence of “Overdrift” on “Pacific RIm.”
For those of you who have not seen “Overdrift” and “Overdrift 2,” please do so now. And for the sake of completeness, you may also benefit from viewing selected episodes of the web series “Gigabots,” also from the Duncan Brothers.
Now that you’ve experienced that awesomeness, consider the parallels between the Overdrift Universe and the world of Pacific Rim.
Our hero in “Pacific Rim” is partnered with his older brother as the rock star pilot of a giant monster-hunting robot. When his brother is killed, our hero swears off his previous life, taking a job to pay the bills and forget his past.
Our hero in “Overdrift” is also traumatized by the loss of his older brother, and also swears off his previous life in order to pay the bills.
In “Pacific Rim” we learn that an alien race has opened a rift between two universes, with malevolent intentions to invade our reality. Their first effort at sending giant monsters to Earth occurred millions of years ago, and resulted in the Age of Dinosaurs.
In “Overdrift,” the dinosaurs never went extinct. Instead, they entered another dimension (the “D-Dimension”) where they await the arrival of the prophesied One Who Walks Between the Worlds, bridging our universe and theirs by “overdrifting.” (i.e., skidding a car sideways).
In “Pacific Rim” the hot-shot pilots of the giant robot “Jaegers” must “enter the Drift,” merging their memories and subconscious minds in order to control the massive war machinery. The specifics of “drifting” are intentionally vague and mystical, and drifting is presented as a potentially dangerous experience that only a select few have the talent for.
In “Overdrift,” one may intentionally or inadvertently enter such a hard drift (parodying movies like “Too Hard Two Furious: Tokyo Drift”) that one punches through the fabric of the universe. Such overdrifting is implied to require a rare supernatural talent.
In “Overdrift: Stage 2,” we see that an agent of the D-Dimension is in direct opposition to our hero’s efforts (now that his dino-ized brother Duke, “needs our help more than ever.”) Clearly, at least some inhabitants of the reptilian realm mean ill; certainly the same thing is true in “Pacific Rim.”
More than specific plot lines, both “Pacific Rim” and “Overdrift” play on various anime and manga themes, merging elements of Japanese and American popular entertainment toward a satisfying end. Of course, “Overdrift” manages to combine these elements in a punchy, rapid-fire way in the space of a five-minute short, while “Pacific Rim” lumbers along in its elephantine way for nearly 3 hours. Nevertheless, to the extent that “Pacific Rim” succeeds, it does so by emulating “Overdrift’s” breathless quick-cuts and resistance to explanation or logic in favor of a kind of fever-dream pacing.