Commentary

Jerry And The Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Clio

“I love advertising because I love lying,” a tuxedoed Jerry Seinfeld told a crowd of ad people last week while accepting an Honorary Clio at the 55thAnnual Clio Awards gala in New York City. Known for his observational humor, Seinfeld seemed a little out of character with this sudden turn to truthy sarcasm. But he reveled in the sharp-toothed delivery.

“I think spending your life trying to dupe innocent people out of hard-won earnings to buy useless, low-quality, misrepresented items and services is an excellent use of your energy,” he joked/non-joked.

Given that Seinfeld’s  nearly billion-dollar personal empire has largely accrued from advertising revenue, you might say he was being disingenuous at best, chomping so aggressively on the hand that feeds him.

Slightly more surprising was the audience reaction, however.  Far from being offended, they seemed to eat it up. In fact, his most scathing lines elicited the biggest laughs and cheers. Everyone seemed rapturous at hearing about how soulless, worthless, and joyless their lives were.

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You could say it was a perfect union: star hand-biter meets celeb-loving gluttons-for-punishment.

Seinfeld’s brilliance was mostly in the shock, and the delivery of the message. After all, the idea of ripping the lid off the ad industry to show that it is, well, manipulative or possibly fraudulent  is hardly fresh. Vance Packard wrote “The Hidden Persuaders in 1957, and it’s still referred to almost 60 years later.

But perhaps Seinfeld got that ecstatic reaction because the (drunk) audience perceived that he understood the misery of the people who toil in the ad industry these days. (That feeling seems to be at an all-time high, especially at increasingly meaningless award shows.) And that is something new. So we’ll give him props for that.

Still, it’s not as if Seinfeld is known for being a crusader for goodness, or that, post-“Seinfeld,” he himself has always created work that is worthwhile or even successful. His hardly breakthrough “Bee Movie” rated about a C-minus, to be charitable -- a 51% positive review on Rotten Tomatoes.

It’s not like the man with the 47 Porsches is known for being hugely philanthropic, either. His wife, Jessica Seinfeld, did start a foundation for families and children called Baby Buggy. She also wrote a cookbook about healthy food for kids, but was sued by an established cookbook author for plagiarism. At the time, Jerry went on Letterman and made fun of the other writer.

He also appeared in a bizarre series of TV spots for Microsoft, in which he palled around with someone who developed the world’s largest charitable foundation: Bill Gates. Among other things, one spot made fun of poor Hispanics. In another, the billionaires jokingly moved in with a middle-class family, and made fun of their furnishings. Seen as weirdly callous and off-message, the campaign was quickly yanked off their air.

But speaking of insensitive, nothing can beat “The Marriage Ref,” the NBC show that Seinfeld co-created and executive-produced.  NBC would have greenlit anything for Seinfeld, and it showed. The concept was to place bickering couples in front of a celebrity panel to have their squabbles judged. The result seemed throwback and mean-spirited, and made it through two seasons mostly because of the Seinfeld attachment and the A-list quality of celebs he could wrangle for the panel.

His current project, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee," is certainly the most successful work he’s done since the shutdown of “Seinfeld.” It’s sponsored by Acura, the brand for which Seinfeld also wrote a bunch of commercials. And when he raved about the client to Adweek in 2012,  he sounded like, well, a typical, ad guy, covering his rear: “The clients tend to get nervous, especially when they're spending a lot of money. But [Acura marketing chief] Mike Accavitti, I've never seen a guy like this guy. Nerves of steel. It's pretty rare. But I think that's why they came out so good. I would give him all the credit.”

Ironically enough, his rather self-serving Clios speech is Seinfeld’s best ad yet. It immediately went viral, and made him seem relevant.

Still, it seemed more the style of his former partner, Larry David, who famously hates getting awards, and isn’t afraid to blame the audience. Accepting the Paddy Chayefsky Award from the Writers Guild of America a few years back, David talked about how much he hated writing, and how the need to write the acceptance speech “ruined my life for the last two months” and made him “resent the WGA for choosing me.” He further joked: “This thing has disaster written all over it.” But he did finally say, “As much as it pains me, I’m going to be a little gracious, even if it’s already boring you.”

I don’t think David has done any advertising campaigns. So maybe Seinfeld is jealous of his colleague’s untainted-by-commerce persona -- which might be out-of-character for the incredibly dedicated and hard-working billionaire. In a current excerpt of her new book in Vanity Fair, former “Seinfeld” writer Carol Leifer said he was a wonderful boss and showrunner, and called him the” least hung-up person” she ever knew, who’d “never had a day of therapy.”

Said to be the basis for Elaine’s character, Leifer compared Seinfeld and David to Lennon and McCartney, with Jerry being sunny adorable Paul to Larry’s much darker John character.

Well, Jerry stole the show at the Clios by being self-loathing. Maybe he really hates being Paul. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. 

28 comments about "Jerry And The Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Clio".
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  1. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, October 9, 2014 at 2:02 p.m.

    GREAT COLUMN. I see a little more irony in David's acceptance, though. Not much irony in Seinfeld, more a confessional at best.

  2. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, October 9, 2014 at 2:07 p.m.

    I agree, Tom. For David, the irony was about himself, and how he didn't deserve it. For Seinfeld, it was embarrassment over getting a "special" Clio and not a real one.

  3. Mark Burrell from Tongal, October 9, 2014 at 2:13 p.m.

    I think of all the people in the world to come down on, there are better choices than the creator of the best show ever made.

  4. AC Winters from ACWintersEsq, October 9, 2014 at 2:21 p.m.

    I'm with Mark Burrell here. Seinfeld's speech was funny and resonated with his audience. Why all the hostility? I also find it impossible to believe that Jerry Seinfeld envies Larry David for being untainted by advertising. I am laughing at the very thought of it. As Carol Leifer pointed out, Seinfeld probably has the healthiest self-esteem of anyone you could name. He's laughing all the way to the bank. And full disclosure, I worked on one of his first contracts for Amex, and was proud to do so.

  5. Edward Shain from EMS Associates, October 9, 2014 at 2:26 p.m.

    Have a little argumentum ad hominem with the quips. I hear it's good for the digestion.

    Insult comedy has a long and honored tradition. I didn't think Seinfeld was all that funny. Criticizing advertising for being manipulative is like accusing the atmosphere of having oxygen. The entire point of advertising is consumer manipulation, for good or ill.

    What he deserved criticism for was being condescending, of assuming he had the moral high ground. You were 100% right to go after him for that. He's a guy who understands business and profit, and likes his money deeply green. The only ads he'd ever turn down were ones he would calculate might hurt his brand.

    Still, his spiel gave you an opportunity for that wonderful last line.

    Not that there's anything wrong with that......

  6. Ruth Ayres from Harte-Hanks, October 9, 2014 at 2:32 p.m.

    Great article as always. Funny thing is that when I heard watched the tape of the Seinfeld bit at the Clios, I heard it as a a riff on the fleeting nature of happiness. But then, I've been told that I am too deep for this business.

  7. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, October 9, 2014 at 2:35 p.m.

    Genius, Ruth. Let me rethink this!

  8. Claudia Caplan from MDC Partners, October 9, 2014 at 2:50 p.m.

    I thought it was an incredible shot by someone who's defined by brand names and acquisitiveness. And I agree with you, the most interesting thing about was the audience's willingness to agree. I think it goes back to the idea that Jerry is a "real" creator -- not someone who uses his art for ads. Back in my copywriter days, I was frequently asked when I was going to write something "real," i.e. a novel or a movie. I thought what I did was plenty real and some of it was damn good and I'm proud of my Clios. So there.

  9. Ruth Thomas from Second helping, October 9, 2014 at 3:02 p.m.

    i think Jerry suffers from the problem most celebrities suffer from- the Emperors new clothing Syndrome. Most people will laugh at anything he says now- He's Jerry! it must be funny- if we don't laugh, it will look like we don't get it or are taking ourselves too seriously-- i haven't found him very funny in many years- his funny old self would find his awful wife( and how she ran off on her own honeymoon to be with him) and excessive lifestyle great fodder for jokes--- i got in trouble with his awful show "The Marriage Ref" - i went to an early screening, and altho i never signed anything saying i couldn't, was tracked down by his lawyers to take down comments from a blog--- apparently, Jerry doesn't like not being liked - so, to the guy worth a billion because of advertising, you might try to be a bit more gracious...or at least a bit funnier again

  10. Joe DePreta from Launchpad, October 9, 2014 at 3:06 p.m.

    Agreed, great insight. Re Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee: it expresses itself as smug bores laughing too hard at stuff that isn't funny.

  11. George Simpson from George H. Simpson Communications, October 9, 2014 at 3:20 p.m.

    I routinely give the ad industry a hard time but I think Jerry was way off the mark, not funny and it was highly inappropriate for any audience except a nightclub at 2 am. He not only bit the hand that fed him, he severed off the arm. I think he is one of the most talented comedians of our generation, but this was a massive Fail.

  12. Doug Ruhl from J Walter Thompson, October 9, 2014 at 3:35 p.m.

    This is exactly why Jerry's speech was so funny. Because the industry and lots of people in it, takes itself waaaaaay to seriously. I mean come on. If you don't find it funny, that's one thing. Comedy is that way and hardly deserves your effort to comment on it here. He was poking fun at a lot of our collective insecurities about what we do for a living and the award show absurdity as a whole. He probably feels similarly about Emmys, Golden Globes, etc. But to say that the guy hasn't done anything since Seinfeld? Seinfeld is sort of enough. Get over yourselves people it's satire.

  13. AC Winters from ACWintersEsq, October 9, 2014 at 3:53 p.m.

    Doug Ruhl, I agree with everything you said. I don't want to accuse anyone of not having a sense of humor, but ... he's a comedian! And even if you want to take his speech at face value, he started by saying "I love advertising." Which if you want to be all serious about it, I believe he does. He's poking fun at his own efforts as much as anyone else's, too. Totally in the vein of that great insult comic Joan Rivers, just to name one.

  14. Becky Swanson from Leo Burnett , October 9, 2014 at 4:13 p.m.

    People laughed because Jerry was funny. I was there. He was prepared, he played the audience and his comedic timing was spot on. Unlike Whoopi Goldberg - who didn't seem to give a shit.

  15. Joanna Patton from LPNY, October 9, 2014 at 4:24 p.m.

    Excellent piece, Barbara!

  16. Bruce Dundore from Lazaroff/Dundore, October 9, 2014 at 5:17 p.m.

    I thought it was pretty good. We get awfully carried away with our awards. We also get mighty self important. Next time you get all high on the horse, write or art direct a couple of banner ads. You'll settle down, and appreciate the sarcasm.

  17. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, October 9, 2014 at 5:23 p.m.

    Seinfeld, Rivers, Goldberg have all made millions doing advertising besides being a medium on their shows for advertising. Seinfeld's buddy, Jason Alexander, even played Choo Choo Charlie for Good and Plenty (maybe for scale). "telling lies to people to get them to buy things they don't need" is a tired comment from the galbraith-packard era. Most ads today that offend offend for taste rather than duplicity except for political ads which the public weighs and ignores the selling propositions or at least the focus groups tell you that they do. It is amazing, though, that the people who bought the Clios have made a big go of it enough to afford Seinfeld of the billion-dollar syndication, almost as amazing as the people who bought the Cannes Lions and increased revenue throughout the world-recession and now have themselves a home run. I wouldn't have put a cent into either of them, alas.

  18. George Parker from Parker Consultants, October 9, 2014 at 5:29 p.m.

    @Barbara...
    Best thing you have written since the forward of my last book. Yes, I am an AdHo. And yes, why do so many people in this less than ephemeral business take themselves so seriously. It's advertising. As George Orwell says on the masthead for AdScam... It is the rattling of a stick in a swill pail. In the meantime, keep up with the tuba lessons.
    Cheers/George

  19. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, October 9, 2014 at 5:54 p.m.

    George, you woulda bought the Clios just to get Evans's stash....

  20. david marks from self, October 9, 2014 at 6:17 p.m.

    Great piece, Barbara, and give Jerry his due pound of fat; he gave the puffy shirt its 15 minutes of fame, even though he never wanted to be a pirate.

  21. George Parker from Parker Consultants, October 9, 2014 at 7:17 p.m.

    @Tom...
    I have Bill's stash. I will share it with you and Barbara. It is hidden behind the Picasso in the Four Seasons. Let that be our secret.
    Cheers/George

  22. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, October 9, 2014 at 11:07 p.m.

    http://observer.com/2014/10/julian-niccolini-has-an-dubious-plan-for-the-picasso-replacement-at-the-four-seasons/

  23. Cat Bow from CC, October 10, 2014 at 9:06 a.m.

    Logo's and lunches - thats all Jerry Seinfeld is. If he joined the real world where people have to take outShort Term Loans he would be shocked.

  24. Doug Ruhl from J Walter Thompson, October 10, 2014 at 11:12 a.m.

    I rarely weigh in a second time, but to discount Jerry's achievements because he is now rich and successful is weird. He's the most successful comedian (by revenue created - a statistic the ad world holds dear) of all time and last I checked his last name isn't Rockefeller. He probably knows what it's like to create something (wildly valuable) from nothing and all the associated financial pitfalls. We somehow see the successful and don't remember that they worked their ass off to get there. Oh and to use an old adage - You don't get what your worth, you get what you negotiate. Or don't hate the player, hate the game.

  25. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, October 10, 2014 at noon

    Doug-- I see what you're saying, and indeed, he did create the sitcom for the ages with Seinfeld. But I've got to say that his post-Seinfeld work reflects a certain kind of smug sensibility that just sets me off. (And that doesn't happen with Larry David. He's right out there about his miserable-ness.)The funniest moment in "Comedians in Cars' was when he visited with Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, who have dinner together every night, and Jerry was sort of asking for validation, and Mel Brooks said, "You know who's funny? That guy Louis CK. You should look into his work. " or something like that. everybody was kidding, ostensibly.

  26. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, October 10, 2014 at 12:05 p.m.

    Becky Swanson-- I totally agree that his timing and delivery was spot on-- one of his best stand up performances ever. And he is always prepared. I think I stated that.
    I agree with you about Whoopi. Celebrity-culture worship.

  27. Thomas Siebert from BENEVOLENT PROPAGANDA, October 11, 2014 at 1:31 p.m.

    Still feel like the most relevant observation to be made is the audience's response while Seinfeld is tearing them to shreds: Until the very end, they cheer him on. Why? Is it because they at first think he's endorsing their behavior? Is it guilty, self-hating relief? A Pavlovian response to a well-known comedian? Beats me, but more interesting to think about than Jerry biting the hand that's fed him.

  28. Jim English from The Met Museum, October 11, 2014 at 2:19 p.m.

    I think I agree with Tom. Seinfeld is a huge media presence, and I don't think an audience filled with advertising people will find Jerry anything but hilarious no matter what he says -- and even if he insults them. Thanks for taking him on, Barbara.

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