By Trent Rentsch
I’ve started eavesdropping again. As I dial, the woman at the payphone next to me is whisper/screaming louder than her orange cowboy boots. As nauseating as the haze of her liberally squirted perfume is, her side of the conversation begs a listen. Feigning a re-dial, I focus on her words.
“… And I said, ‘It’s going to cost HOW MUCH to clean up the mildew? I mean, like I could buy a herd of goats and have them EAT it away for less than that!’ And there’s like this dead silence, you know? So I finally say, ‘I expect this shit cleaned up at no cost, we got a contract! Or, I bring the herd over to crap on your lawn after THEY do the job!’ I think THAT finally got through to him!”
The conversation shifted to more mundane fare after that. I didn’t find out exactly where the mildew was, or how widespread. I’m not sure what made her think of goats, or if mildew is really part of their diet, although I’ve never known a goat that didn’t find the world its menu item. And God only knows where she found the orange boots or cheap perfume in a drum. But the whole multimedia event was food for thought, just what I was craving.
Okay, I was also craving red meat. So after I finished my own lonely-at-the-airport call, I went to Chili’s too. There I got a big greasy burger and an unexpected floorshow. It’s possible that sitting next to me was the clumsiest man alive. First, he spilled his drink. Big deal, small accident, could happen to anyone. Then, he spilled the replacement, all over the table, his laptop, and his lap. Startled by the icy-cold cola shower, he jumped up, knocking over his briefcase. Papers flew, drifting gently into the puddle under the table. About that time, his slick-soled shoes met the wet ice on the floor, and he found out what happens when a sudden lack of friction, gravity, his head, and the corner of a table collide. It was the first time I’ve seen that little emergency golf cart actually be used at the airport.
Bits and pieces as I headed for the gate. “Does this smell like cheese to you” “Myyyyyyyyy! My! My! My! My! He ran faster than a hog on fire!” “What, has she gone celibate?” “It will take me MONTHS to unscrew his head!” “Of course I’m calling you from a bathroom, you idiot! You’re ideas are full of shit!” “I’d push back the Circumcision, but the Rabbi is booked solid.” “DADDY! I gotta TAFFY in my pants!” I watched a “sweet” little old blue-haired lady kidney punch her husband when he didn’t hear their boarding announcement. I saw a man wearing what looked more like a wet wolverine than a toupee. And I saw my pilot come off the plane giving the attendants a “thumbs down” sign. I really don’t like thinking about that one too much, but I did write it down.
I wouldn’t have started being so snoopy again if I hadn’t met Norman Not-his-real-name. Norman has some… issues at his station. You can ramble on for hours about the way things should be. Sales should have some familiarity with the client—some background information, what makes them unique, what they like and don’t like. What he SHOULD have is every tool to be strategically creative. Yeah, yeah, yeah, should… but doesn’t. His desk is drenched each day with a downpour of spec orders—actually print ads stapled to the spec order form, as well as a note to be “real creative.” We are talking about a new client; the spec is for COLD CALLING! Before you blurt out, “Well, he ought to just…” don’t bother. Been there, done that, deaf ears. Management encourages the actions. We’ve all been there, but trust me, not to Norman’s degree. The station demands nothing less than creativity on tap, with nothing really provided to ferment the creative juices.
So, Mr. Writes-About-Creativity-Every-Month, where’s he supposed to come up with something out of nothing? Honestly, since I met Norman several weeks ago, it’s been gnawing at me. I did stumble on something that used to help me long ago with a similar staff of “marketing professionals.” I wrote about it some years ago in this column. I call it my Brainsprout File. If I over-heard an absurd sentence come out of someone’s mouth, in the file it would go. Weird names, awkward situations, any off the wall human foible, in the file it would go, ready to use when I was pressed for an idea, any idea, thanks to a lack of information about the client. I’d go through the file and see if I could harvest one or two Brainsprouts for the germ of an idea. Sometimes, I’d just take the whole event and adapt it to my needs. What I didn’t realize when I started using the Brainsprouts was that it was more than a quick reference to generate ideas. Because it was all based on real, slice of life situations, the spot became something everyone could relate too. Who hasn’t had an uncomfortable moment with a police car behind them at a red light? Who hasn’t been and/or seen a parent trying to stay calm looking for the unmarked bathroom while their child is screaming that they have to “make their twos, NOW!” And who doesn’t have a preconceived notion of a person named Gertrude? Whoever said that you can’t make this stuff up was right. No matter how crazy the finished product is, it still rings more true than a talking stapler or a magic toilet you rub for 3 wishes.
So, there is method to my voyeurism. My hope is to find some Brainsprouts that Norman can transplant to his workload, perhaps get him to start a file of his own, and share the wealth. Lord knows everyone is starving for new ideas. Although I must admit that I don’t really want the story behind the guy in the purple leather jumpsuit, carrying the Siamese cat with a Mohawk… yes, the cat has a Mohawk. They both seem to be waiting for the same plane I am…