Learning at the Feet of the Master(s)

For "Listen" Chapter 4 -- "Spot On."

By Published on .

In 1990, a Welsh band called the Darling Buds released a song called "Tiny Machine." After 700 weekends, Casey Kasem still hadn't played it on the radio, but, no matter, George Masters had it on his iPod. One fine California day in June 2004, Masters was on his way to work, listening to "Tiny Machine" on his tiny machine, when inspiration struck.

"I thought that would be a great jumping off point for creating an advertisement," he recalls.

His assessment would prove to be correct, but there was an obvious problem. Masters didn't work at Apple in Cupertino or TBWA/Chiat/Day in Playa del Rey. He worked at a vocational high school in Orange County, which, suffice to say, didn't have the iPod account.

Masters, however, was undeterred. A video artist by training, he sat down at his Mac and started crafting an iPod commercial. It took him five months to complete, but when he was done he posted it online. Kaleidoscopic and pastel-laden, it looks nothing like TBWA's dancing Day-Glo silhouettes. But Masters' piece is a masterpiece all its own, and it quickly went viral. Very viral. Millions of people viewed an iPod ad that nobody paid for, because, in the words of author J.D. Lasica, "Something that's genuine, true and authentic, even if it has a commercial message in it is going to resonate."

And that native authenticity is out there, like Arctic oil, just waiting to be tapped. Pitiful as this may sound, there are people all across this great nation of ours who give immense amounts of thought to, for instance, consumer electronics. They're not in it for the money, either. They just plain care.

"It was never my intention to profit from it," Masters told me. "I still haven't profited one dime from it. In fact, it's cost me money."

So why would a 37-year-old man invest a half year of free time to advertise somebody else's business? Masters answers the question with a question: Why does anyone devote time to the things he is passionate about?

"There's some guy in his garage who's been working on a hot rod for 3 years. Andy Warhol painted soup cans, right? Guy loved soup."

Or maybe Warhol's motivation was a bit more ironic, but George Masters was undoubtedly smitten iPod, which made his video less of an ad and more of a love letter. Once again, what is more poignant and genuine than a love letter? (Hint: Nothing generated by Omnicom.)
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