Blog On Vacation

We're all taking a much needed chillax. So, check back in after the New Year for more daily advertising hijinks . In the mean time let us know what topics you would like us to tackle in 08.

Tis the Season

When I was a kid I always loved the holiday season for the commercials. It's the one time of the year when Fred Flintstone let Barney Rubble eat some Fruity Pebbles. All year he'd be a total jerk and take them away, but once a year santa would say "tis the season" and Flintstone would let him have some. And the Clydesdales would come in with their wagon full of Bud and the sappy music would play. Then there was the Coca-Cola polar bears that I thought were so cute. I don't know if they were all that creative, or effective, or whatever, but they always made me feel in the spirit of the season. (I'd include pictures, but I'm in Europe and my keyboard keeps doing this: éáűőúöüó and the y and z are flipped so it's confusing as crapola).

Happz holidazs. May the new year bring you inanimate metal objects that increase your feelings of self worth.

a few of my favorite things

The Holidays have me in a mood to share (and be shared with) so I'm going to list a few books I'm currently reading and a few blogs I read regularly (I'm currently up to 50 blogs I follow regularly. Is that too many?? How many do you follow?)


  • Everything is Miscellaneous by David Weinberger: great book about how the web is changing the way in which we make meaning and organize knowledge
  • The Wealth of Networks by Yochai Benkler: a heavy read that attempts to explain how the web, and more specifically social media (or web 2.0), are changing the way we express our freedom, engage in politics and think about our economic markets
  • Ethnography For Marketers by Hy Mariampolski: a guide book for conducting ethnography for marketing, with step-by-step instructions and real world examples from which to learn
  • The 5 Habits of Highly Successful Slackers by K.P. Springfield: a corporate guide book for the younger generation; you'll laugh and perhaps be awakened to the sarcasm that lies just under the surface of your corporation
  • A VC: Musings of a VC in NYC: Fred Wilson's blog that focuses on a VC's perspective on all things related to the web. He has a wonderful grasp on how to make a successful web company
  • Cheskin's Fresh Perspectives: a blog from the research and consulting company, Cheskin, covering all aspects of consumer research, innovation and consulting
  • Seth Godin's Blog: the guru of marketing has taught me so much through his blog that covers just about everything. Seth is a must read for anyone in the business world
  • How to Change the World: Guy Kawasaki is another must read if your interested in being an entrepreneur or just interested in succeeding in your own job
  • The Dozen Blog: a blog written (mostly) by my friend, Julie Fleischer, covering digital trends, advertising trends, and innovation

So, there you have it. I'd love to continue to add to my growing list so let me know what you're currently reading and hopefully we can all learn from each other.

Some Strong Comments

I was talking with a colleague of mine today, Lawrence Neisler, and this is what he said, “We had a big win yesterday. I was in a client meeting and they told me that they had some input about their web site from a disgruntled former employee. On her laundry list of the company’s failings was their new web site. She called it ‘barf-y.’ Fortunately, everyone from the client started laughing.”

My colleague had a good time with “barf-y” at the office today. He made barf-y jokes and talked about putting the quote on his company’s web site.

He said, “Barf-y somehow seems like a compliment to me. I like that this person included our creative product in her strong feelings about her former employer. In my book, strong feelings about anything we create, even if it is perceived as barf-y by someone is a win.”

I know what he means. Anytime you create something strong, something that people like, others are going to disagree. After all, it’s impossible to please everyone. Do you agree? If so, what are some of your barf-y moments? Pease feel free to list them in the comments section.

Peanut Butter Needs Jelly

A lot of times we loose track and forget about how a beautiful unity can produce something that makes you stop and think. It's a simple concept. "two great tastes that taste great together". We'll call it the "Reese's Effect". It applies to tons of things if you think about it. What would peanut butter be without jelly? What would Ren be with out Stimpy? What would the message be without the key visual?

A great example of the Reese's Effect is This guy gets it. Amazing technology and a simple aesthetic yields a captivating user experience. Grab the little black scrollers to shift perspective and control the 3d space. Click on the squares and sit in amazement. Scratch your head trying to figure out how this was done over your triple-tall-non-fat-caramel-machiatto. This unbranded, simple, even pointless site will have you interacting with every section just to see what's behind the next door. And that's the point. If you can engage the audience, it will make and impact and be noticed.

Butt Check

If you've ever played chess they'll tell you that the best way to get really good is to play people who are a lot better than you. It might sound odd, but basically getting your ass kicked repeatedly is the best thing that could ever happen to you. You learn from every butt whooping. And you learn fast. Playing against weaker players, makes you sloppy and you learn bad habits.

Advertising isn't a game of chess, but the rule of butt-kicking applies. So, if you walk out of your creative directors office after showing some work and feel like you just got owned, and you have no clue what you are doing. You're at the right place. If you're not getting pushed beyond your ability, if you're not being asked to do more than you think you can, if you're not thinking, "how am I ever going to ever do this?", you're probably not learning much.

I'm getting my butt kicked right now. And it hurts. But the hope is, down the road, maybe, If I'm lucky, I'll be someone people want to get their butt kicked by.

2007 Johnnies

It's around this time of year that we pass along our files to the guys and gals in the studio department so that they can prep all the creative for the award show season. It's an exciting, yet "let's see if I'm as good as I think I am," time to be a creative.

Will your latest magazine insert make a shortlist in half way decent award show? Will that 30 second spot that needed to be 60 get silver instead of gold? It's stimulating when you've seen most of the stuff out there and you think to yourself, I think my stuff actually has a shot at some hardware. We all want a little piece of advertising history and the award show is probably one of the few, if not the only, way to get it.

Even though I can't influence anyone's legacy in the annuals, I can give them a little love on the world wide web. So for he next five days I'll be posting one new TV spot a day for a year end wrap up. If anyone has a favorite spot from 2007 leave a comment and I'll add it in.

NOTE: Due to some hilariously tight deadlines today I won't be able to update the Johnnies until tomorrow.

My favorite spots of 2007:

#5 can be found here.
#4 can be found here.
#3 can be found here.
#2 can be found here.
#1 can be found here.

Cows to the slaughter

Several of advertising’s sacred cows have come under attack in recent years. This is nothing but good news in an industry that absorbs so much change and yet tends to become set in many ways that once may have worked but no longer do.

Last week’s column (Rant? Submission? Entry? Piece? Post? What’s the best term?) by Tom Tom questioning the value of the campaign got me thinking about this healthy questioning of ideas, processes and devices that are generally considered holy in our business.

In addition to the notion of the campaign, other targets include the big idea, the creative strategy (as represented by its tangible manifestation, the creative brief) and the advertising component nearest and dearest to my heart, the tagline.

All of these have been considered by many to be pillars of the process of creating advertising. In fact, very often the process of creating advertising has consisted of writing the brief, which helps inspire the big idea, which is often alluded to succinctly or expressed by a tagline. And the bigness of the idea has been measured, at least in part, by its “campaignability.” An idea with legs has almost always been considered superior to a one-shot by virtue of those same legs.

You might think that these are all components of a paradigm that is shifting or has already shifted. But if you do think that, I would argue you don’t fully appreciate (or perhaps understand) them.

One big problem in criticizing the value of campaigns, to take Tom Tom’s topic, is that what is being criticized is actually bad campaigns, not the idea of the campaign per se.

One of Tom Tom’s premises seems to be that campaigns consist of barely discernible, cookie cutter iterations—a straw man, in my view. While some clients view campaigns this narrowly, this is a problem with those clients, and with particular campaigns, not with the idea of the campaign itself. (Tom Tom, of course, offers other salient arguments, questioning the value of repetition, familiarity and so forth, all of which would require a whole different discussion.)

The same argument applies to the creative brief and the tagline. Most criticism seems to be aimed at bad briefs and bad taglines. It is a fallacy to condemn an entire class of entities—be it creative briefs, taglines, big ideas or campaigns—based on the failings of its most flawed members.

European vs. US Advertising

I'm off to Europe for 2 weeks and it got me thinking about all the great ads we see here in the states that come from Europe. It makes me wonder if people on the other side of the pond feel the same way about US advertising. Maybe it's because we only see the good work that we assume it's a magically place of fairy dust and lollipops where all clients want is a simple visual solution with a high production budget. So what is it?

What comes to mind when you hear the word "advertising"?

I've been doing a lot more qualitative research lately which has me in moderator-mode. That is to say, I've been asking a lot of questions and trying to understand "why" people do the things they do.

Which leads me to this post. I'm curious why each of us chose a career in advertising and instead of asking that directly (which doesn't always get at the truth), I'm more interested in what comes to mind when you hear the word "advertising".

Don't think about it too much. I'm looking for a quick, gut reaction. Leave your thoughts in the comment section to the question, what comes to mind when you think of "advertising"? What do you hear? What do you picture?

Finals Time

I feel my students’ pain. I gave a final exam last night and I feel drained. To give you something to think about—something of value—in light of my temporary lack of brainpower, I’d like to leave you with a quote from my book. (And since I own the copyright to it, I can.)

The quote comes from Steve Hayden, Vice Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide. You may recall his classic work for Apple Computer and his current work for IBM. And, I understand that he’s the highest ranking creative at that agency since David Ogilvy.

This quote expresses something for which we should all aim.

He said, “When there is a commercial on TV that seems so absolutely natural and yet riveting that it causes a reaction of delight and intrigue—and on top of that, everything works—that’s what I find exciting.”

He then explained, “Anything that hints that we’re not a brain-dead culture makes me happy. I think that most people are in kind of a rut, just muddling through. You look through a magazine and all the ads are pretty much expected and you’re watching a sitcom and you’ve heard all the jokes before. Life is grinding along. … Then, all of a sudden, something strikes you as delightful. And you think, ‘Maybe life is not bad; maybe life is interesting after all.’”

What are doing in your advertising to make life seem interesting and exciting? And what advertising have you come across that helped you break out of your rut? Please let me know in the comments section.

Time Machine

Hey there friends of peanuts. I'm posting as Littlejohn today (although not nearly as eloquently or devilishly handsomely). He got sucked deep into the world that is the advertising creative department. Today we'll be asking a question. If you could go back in time and grab any person from history to be your creative partner, who would it be? Accounties/media-types out there, same question but as your coworker. I think I might go with Andy Warhol. He made that Cambell's Soup can look seeee-xy.

I'm gonna make you famous

Discovering the agency that is responsible for a TV ad is a relatively easy process. You usually Google the spots name or some keyword, like if the commercial had a space station in it, you Google "space station." Almost every script I've ever read is named literally after the content of the spot. Wouldn't an anagram every now and then would be nice?

It is also easy to find the creatives responsible for it, they are usually under the agency's name in the credit section or comment box. Usually credited are a set of one or two AD/CW teams, a CD and maybe a group creative director.

Recently I stumbled across a TV spot online and did a little research to see who was responsible for it. When I first saw the agency and the creatives responsible for the spot I wondered: who in this group walked out of his office, script in hand, and said "I'm gonna make us famous."

Good work on the web doesn't need to be a viral campaign, a normal TV spot can do all the things a self described viral piece can. It's also easier to find the credited creatives, one of whom just made made everyone else famous.

Here's a viral TV spot from Beattie McGuinness Bungay.

Creative Director: Trevor Beattie
Art Director: Gavin McGrath, Ondrej Nekvasil
Copywriter: Patrick Burns

Wordification Part II

Comcast’s word, Comcastic, while not exactly genius, is an invented word that does a nice job of leveraging the brand name.

On the other hand, I see an awful lot of invented words in ads that merely tack some general purpose suffix onto the end of a word that relates to the product or service being advertised. has based its campaign on getification, for example. This strikes me as lazy. You name the service. It wouldn’t take much effort to –ificationize some word that sums that service up.

And how often have we seen the writer stick –icious or –umptious or some such suffix at the back of their chosen descriptor for a snack or cereal or whatever. Whatz!?

Another reason writers make up new words, especially when they are elaborate compound words, is that the message/promise/benefit from the creative brief is so unfocused, so multi-minded that, out of desperation, the writer tries to condense that multi-faceted promise into one word in the hope that it will now seem more single-minded.

One reason I know this happens is that it happened to me when I was an ad infant. Working on a campaign for the now long defunct York Steak House chain, when I was still just trying to understand how to process a creative brief, I wrote a jingle lyric that consisted of their
four-pronged, all-things-to-all-people promise, rolled into one word. That word was “BetterMoreBiggerNicer.” Let’s see if I can reconstuct the lyric from memory:

SINGERS: BetterMoreBiggerNicer
York Steak House is

The client was orgasmic. We did a TV spot and a print campaign based on this “idea” and I added it to my stack of one other tagline. Now I look back and try to laugh, but mostly I wince, whimper and reflect gratefully on the mercifully impermanence of advertising.

Campaigns are BS

There, I’ve said it. Many will argue it, but there it is. I don’t mean advertising is BS, just the idea of a “campaign” as it currently exists. Campaigning is a way that an agency can rationalize why all of a client’s business should go through them. “It needs to be consistent” says the account director, but you know what, the consumer does not care (or notice likely) if a brand is consistent. They will not call you out if a font is different, or if a color changes slightly. They won’t be destroyed if one ad was smart and one was silly. If one is long copy and one just a headline.

Campaigning is based on the false notion that the consumer cares enough to notice. They don’t.

We seem to have convinced ourselves and our clients that if something can be done three times it’s better than if it can be done once. Can someone out there give me a rational reason why? Because of all the things I remember this year that I liked, none came in a three-pack.

The truth is, brands are like people and can have diverse, sometimes even contradictory characteristics. In fact, having little quirks and anomalies make them feel more believable. It’s like the golden rule in fiction writing, if you want an evil character to feel real, give them a positive quality, if you want to have the hero feel real, give them a negative quality. As long as it feels like one person (which often becomes the personal tastes of the CD on a brand) it will have more punch than the same execution three times.

Do you hate ads?

In a former life I executed a study to understand people that claimed to hate advertising. It was an interesting research project and I wasn't sure what to expect, but we did find that to avoid ads these people either used technology or just went off the grid (i.e. didn't watch TV, etc.).

As advertising professionals we often forget that there are people that hate what we do, and even if the majority of people don't hate it, they wouldn't go out of their way to watch our ads if our ads didn't interrupt what they were doing.

A few principles came out of this study that are worth thinking about:

  • Courtesy: it is important to understand that we want consumers' attention, but they aren't required to give it to us
  • Control: the age of interruption might not be over with yet, but it is getting close. Consumers have control and want it more and more
  • Creativity: entertaining and clever ads are recognized for their efforts
  • Content: in exchange for their time, consumers desire something in return, whether it be new content, free stuff or something else, they want a value exchange
Now, just for fun check out ad block plus, a Firefox add-on that allows people to block all Internet ads and Commercials I Hate, a website whose stated focus is,
"I started this site in 1997 because the advertising industry thinks we're stupid. Commercials assume the worst about us. Commercials use ugly stereotypes to appeal to the lowest common denominator. That's nasty and insulting."
Those are some harsh, but sobering words that we all need to take to heart. What do you all think?

How to make it famous in advertising (at least to the others in the industry)

Do you really want to make it really, really successful in advertising? I am not talking about making a paycheck, building up a 401K-type successful.

I am talking about selling your name to the “PublicinterpublicomPP Group” famous.

Then change the industry.

Leo Burnett did it. David Ogilvy did it. And Bill Bernbach did it big time.

So did Helmut Krone, Alex Bogusky, Stan Richards, Steve Hayden, Amil Gargano, Tom McElligott, Roy Grace, Rich Silverstein, Jeffrey Goodby, Ed McCabe, Nancy Rice, Tom Burrell, Bud Frankel, Rick Boyko, James Webb Young, Lee Clow, Paul Rand, Jay Chiat, Bob Gage, Bob Levenson, Carl Ally, Jim Durfee, Mike Hughes, Luke Sullivan, Harry Jacobs, Hal Riney, Howard Gossage, Don Easdon, Mike Koelker, Sam Scali, Susan Hoffman, Dan Wieden, David Kennedy, Jim Riswold, Linda Kaplan Thaler, Rosser Reeves, Phyllis Robinson, David Abbott, Ron Anderson, Phil Dusenberry, Alex Osborn (the inventor of brainstorming), Nancy Vonk, Janet Kestin, Claude Hopkins, John Caples, Mark Fenske, Jelly Helm, Phil Dusenberry, Cliff Freeman, John Hegarty, Tim Delaney, Diane Rothschild, Mike Tesch, Albert Lasker, James Webb Young, Shirley Polykoff, Raymond Rubicam, Mary Wells Lawrence, Lester Wunderman, Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet, Tracy Wong, and many others (and not in any particular order).

What are you doing to change the industry?

Please tell me in ten words or less. (Okay, fifteen words are fine). Just click on comments to begin.

PS: I purposely left off a few names. But I’d love to hear who you would include. Please include them with your comments.

Interactive Agencies: 2 , Advertising: 0

Something we’re noticing having worked in both interactive agencies and traditional advertising firms is this: Traditional advertising, in general, doesn’t “get” the web. It could be that their mostly television based deliverables drive the culture there to believe that the industry isn’t changing. Maybe it’s all the corpses, er, uh, we mean “creatives”, of campaigns past clinging on to the notion that TV, as we know it, isn’t dieing.

Regurgitating the same assets the audience has seen in your print campaigns or beating us over the head with your tired-ass TV spot isn’t going to cut it on the web anymore. Bringing the spirit of the campaign to life is just one way you can go. You see, when people begin to interact, there is an exchange. An action begets a reaction. Science. An expectation is created. Satiate the user. Expand your campaign.

If you don’t understand the medium, big boys, it’s fine. You’ll eventually catch up (let’s hope). But until then, follow the leaders and partner with best of breed interactive agencies out there like the hi-res’s and north kingdoms of the world. All the companies you idolize did it. Goodby did it. Crispin Porter + Bogusky did it (We didn't forget to mention you, Bogusky :) ). You copy well, so copy them. Follow the leaders. And when you do, bring them in early – at the brainstorming level – so they can keep you on trend or blazing new trails. That’s where the notoriety is. That’s doing the client justice.


Put on Your Ad Glasses

In advertising we're dealing with products people walk past every day. It's stuff they have seen a thousand times.

We set out to make bars of soap famous, and coffee makers sexy. But we spend so much time thinking up fresh and exciting ways to talk about our goods or services that we often forget that people don't even see them anymore.

A lot of well-dressed people might tell you that a snazzy new package or a logo redesign is the answer to your product's invisibility issues. But it seems everyone is already officially invited to the new logo club.

In a world where fresh, updated, upgraded, improved, new, and 2.0 are standard. We need to think of ways to really help our customers see us again. Because when they do, it's a beautiful thing.

Lefthand: Looks like someone caught this artist's "3 Second Rockstar" moment on camera. You're right, it is worth it.

(Street art by Leon Reid IV. Seen in Syracuse NY
. Pic via)

Three second rockstars

From time to time a unique moment will occur and you may be lucky enough to witness it. Actually for this unique moment to occur you have to witness it because it’s the act of you witnessing it that makes it so unique.

This unique moment occurs when you actually see someone looking at one of your ads, and that they seem to enjoy it.

Maybe you’re walking into an airport bookstore to grab a magazine when you stumble upon a guy laughing out loud at your ad in the latest Wired Magazine. Or maybe you’re sitting in a crowded theatre and your commercial plays and the crowd rolls with laughter. Or maybe you’re walking down the street and there’s your bus shelter ad and it appears people are actually reading the body copy. Wherever this unique moment occurs be happy you witnessed it because it’s a great feeling.

The long hard months of work have now beared their fruit.

But don’t pat yourself on the back for too long because this moment happens quickly. Your three months of hard work will most likely be viewed in less than three seconds.

But it’s worth it.


I made up my first adword when I was just a couple of months into my first agency job. The product was Bols Liqueurs, and the word was paradisiac. This word served the strategy and was reasonably engaging. I was proud of myself. The client didn’t go for it, but my fondness for inventing words had emerged.

It may seem odd for a guy who loves to invent words to take issue with others making up words. But, because I like to do it, I also understand that it often is the easy way out.

What got me started thinking again about this whole making up new words thing was the AT&T campaign that features compound names made up of parts of four or five names of locations, like virgicolomentoflagantonio. This campaign rides (or should ride) largely on the fun or interestingness of these compound words that conflate multiple locations.

Every time I see one of these spots, I expect the compound location name, which is the punch line of the spot, to tickle me somehow. So far, none of them have. I would have expected the writer to spend some time finding syllables within several locations that, when combined, are fun to say or hear. Something sillier or more alliterative or with a common theme. Something.

I spent ten minutes on this exercise and came up with five locations—Missoula, Santa Barbara, Ann Arbor, Sarasota and Honolulu—the merging of which yields this location: MissBarbaraAnnSaraLuLu. With all the world’s cities, states, provinces and countries to play with, just imagine the fun you could have. Surely, you could produce something more inventive than virgicolomentoflagantonio.

Next week: Wordification, Part II.

Life vs. Advertising

At least once a month somebody comes to me to share that they've realized life (namely having one) is more important than advertising. With about the same frequency someone comes to me and says that it can change the world and is important. The answer is likely some mash-up of the two. Advertising is not life, advertising is YOUR life. It's more than your job. It consumes you. It wears you out and it makes you happy, occasionally even in love. Tell me you've never gotten that sparkly euphoric feeling when you've cracked a problem? Tell me that and I'll tell you you're in the wrong field.

There's something messed up in our heads as creatives, because it actually does matter to us, and because of that it is important to the world. To quote an ad (yes, that's what us ad people do) "the ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do".

Ads or not, it leaves a legacy. I have a framed VW ad in my home. People quote commercials and sing jingles when they're in shopping aisles. We're leaving something behind. We want to make it good.

DIY Observational Techniques

Everyone can benefit from practicing a few observational techniques, particularly if you work in advertising. Lucky for us, observational techniques are accessible to all of us and no one needs to know that you're actually conducting research. The specific technique I'm referring to is known as covert observation because the researcher (you and me) don't identify ourselves to our participants. The beauty is we don't have to because we're practicing this technique during the course of our normal lives.

Here's how it works:

  1. Go to a park, busy part of town, coffee shop, etc.
  2. Bring a notebook (and / or camera if you'd like)
  3. Sit in an area where you are inconspicuous, but can still observe people
  4. Observe and take notes (or pictures) of what you see. Pay attention to what people do (talk on cell phones while with a friend face-to-face), what they wear, how they interact, etc.
Sound easy? It is. The hard part is making sense of what you see, which takes time, but with focus it can be done. I suggest starting with questions in mind, particularly:

  • What are the commonalities of my observations?
  • Is there an organizing principle behind each of my observations?
  • Why are people doing (insert observation)?
  • Finally (for now), what human need(s) does this relate to?
    • Connecting, either through friendship, love, etc.
    • Expressing ourselves emotionally, creatively, etc.
    • Being recognized (i.e. desire to be famous)
    • Desire to explore and discover new things
By uncovering insights and identifying how they relate to other people, and our basic human needs, we will be better advertisers, entrepreneurs, researchers, and people. The good news is that, to some degree, we all already do this, but with a little more rigor and intentionality we can be so much better and so can our work.

Here are a couple of examples of researchers that engage in observational research that I respect tremendously: Dana Boyd and Michael Wesch.

I'd love to hear about more ways of doing this from you all. Fire back with thoughts.

Henceforth, Take Thou Eyes Lain Upon Thee Visions of Beauty In Thee Gracious Contemplation of One’s Portfolio And Banish Them Forevermore

Back when I was a student in college, I took a poetry-writing course that turned out to be on of the biggest influences on my writing career hawking hamburgers, pickles, pre-need funerals, and other earthly consumer and business-to-business goods. It was taught by a visiting professor. I don’t remember his name, but I was told he was a published poet.

Early in the trimester—it even could have been on the first day—he said that there are many words that inherently sound “poetic” and that we were, henceforth, banned from using them. He believed that these words were a cheap attempt at creating false emotion and had been used to death by students and others trying to sound lyrical.

This corresponds to the advice given by advertising legend Amil Gargano when he said, “Stick to simple language and, instead, put life into the concept.”

Amil Gargano also said, “If it has tremendous relevance and strikes some essential truth in people, an ad can produce astounding results.” Again, this sounded like advice that my poetry professor would have given.

Now I bet you’re about to say that I followed my poetry professor’s advice, which is half correct. Most of the time, I try to be as simple with my language usage as possible. I have found that this works for me. I try to stay away from “tortured English,” a phrase I first heard used by Gargano. I’ve never been very good at creating short, pun-like taglines and think that most of them are a waste of ink.

But in the course, I set out to write a poem that incorporated all of the banned words. It was fun to write, self-referential, filled with irony and humor, and a big break from the sensitive, woe-is-me style and the war-is-bad message poetry I and the other students in the course had been producing. My professor loved my poem.

I bring this up because I ask my students to stay away from easy and overused products or even entire categories. (Some portfolio schools even maintain lists of banned products and services.)

But every once in a while, a student challenges my advice, picks a “banned” product or service, and actually produces a unique, never-seen-before campaign based on a new insight or a new twist on an old insight. I think that’s great. In fact, I wish I could see more of that.

So, here’s my challenge to you. What do you see as the easy or overused products and services? And what campaigns have you seen recently that have made you think twice about them? If you can’t find one, what can you do to create one? Even if it won’t get produced, it would sure look good in your book.

The same goes for imagery and design styles. What images or tactics are currently being overused? Or what Photoshop trick is hot this week? Do you avoid them or do you keep going when the concept is right and make them your own? I think you know my answer. In fact, my goal is to be able to use a picture of two business executives shaking hands in an ad that is actually good. Perhaps one day, I will get the chance.

Scortched Nuts

Part 1 – Marketing a Movie in the web era

All it took was the lack of most things present in todays marketing arsenal. No name, No press release, No Ben Affleck... just that feeling of wanting more. Using mystery on the internet to stir up buzz isn’t new, but what is new is that a major release movie is being marketed that way – with great success.

Originally released without a title and slated to hit theatres on “1.18.08”, the new J.J. Abrams flick (now known as “Cloverfield”) was quietly leaked on the internet with little mention. Soon, blogs all over the place were on fire with speculation and rumor as to what the movie was about or even titled. In fact, many people were even searching names Paramount had reserved in an effort to get more information.

The trailer is about a monster attack on New York City from the point of view of a small group of people with a handheld video camera. Not a lot was given away in the trailer, no big monster shot… nadda. Even the .com for the movie is shrouded in mystery and vagueness. The lack of details makes people want to dig. It creates a buzz and a movement that harkins to the early Viral campaigns Bungie did (“I love bees”) for it’s Halo release.

The game is changing, boys. Better take notes.

Genius vs. Smart

Smart people care what other people think. If you're smart you probably listen to what your peers say about your work, and you make improvements based on feedback. You tweak and adapt your work until the majority of people who see it like it. That's just smart.

A creative "genius," whether a film maker or writer or whatever usually doesn't care what other people think. They just somehow know that the way they are doing something is the way it should be done, even when people tell them that it's ugly or nonsensical or wrong. They create it anyway.

Smart makes sense. Genius doesn't, yet it somehow manages to still feel right.

Smart people talk about taking risks. The only possible risk for a genius is that someone might get in the way of his creative vision.

When a genius fails, he fails miserably.

The advertising business doesn't really lend itself to genius does it?

I probably would have killed that

From time to time I see a great ad, whether it be print/online/TV, that I probably would have killed in the concepting stages. I would have shot it down, put the kabosh on it and relegated it to the idea wastebasket.

So how does one kill a great idea? In my head here's how I see it going down:

I imagine my partner and I sitting down at a coffee shop the evening before we present. After ordering some coffees he would jump into the idea I would eventually kill. I imagine his enthusiasm as he describes each and every nuance. He would reference movie scenes, camera angles and other idea landmarks so I could fully grasp the shear brilliance of what he was describing. He would then finish his frantic ten-word-a-second description at which point I would sit back, rub my chin, and give him the worst feedback a partner can give: "I'm not feeling it."

And right there I strike a fatal blow to the idea.

I assume he would then reiterate the idea in even greater detail as I surely must not have fully understood it. His denial would be fruitless as I would be certain that this wasn't the right direction. His emotions would run the gambit: denial would turn into anger and frustration then he would try to find some middle ground, which inevitably would bring upon the realization that the idea was dead and he had to accept it and move on.

I imagine the last words of this conversation being: "I guess this idea was better last night after I had a couple drinks."


Click here to see my favorite spot, ever. And yes I would have killed it. Damn.

Simply Irresistable

As we go about the business of attempting to persuade and engage on behalf of brands, our ability to create, recreate, manipulate and enhance entire worlds, to spin stories that span the globe, to fill visual fields with stunning, spectacular, mesmerizing imagery—all in brief chunks, fractions or multiples of a minute—this ability seems no longer to be bound by technology, but only by imagination and budget. It’s definitely a fascinating time to be doing what we do.

But, for all the mindblowing, eyebrow-raising, impossibly beautiful or sublime stuff we conjure up, it remains the power and beauty of simplicity that I find most evocative and enduring. The quiet power of a genuinely human moment, whether to illustrate a selling point or to encourage a brand bond, trumps spectacle and wizardry. Why?

Is it because such focused simplicity is hard to think of? Hard to capture? Hard to sell? Absolutely. In the words of Chairman Jimmy, “If easy is one end of the continuum, simple is the other.” In these digital glory days, complexity has become so easy, its power has been largely sapped. And flash and glitz in lieu of a genuinely human moment seem to be the rule.

For those of you who still watch TV, I recommend studying the following four commercials, currently running:

The AIG spot that consists of nothing but home video of a baby laughing the enviable laugh of a new, human who has just discovered the intoxicating joy of funniness;

The Bud Light “Dude” spot (I’ve seen two, actually, but only one succeeds completely, because this is a great one-shot idea that, in the sad, conceptually impoverished tradition of Anheuser-Busch advertising, is apparently being stretched and squeezed into a campaign by beating one good moment to death—see Whassup, Frogs, etc);

The Wal-Mart Christmas spot touting more checkout lanes, in which the “lane open” lights above each lane light up in synchronization with the bells of a simple Christmas carol;

The Fresh Step commercial in which the cat needs a bloodhound to help her find her cat pan.

Of course, I could also cite almost any Apple, Nike or Volkswagen ad ever made, but you already know and, I’d guess, admire/revere/worship these bodies of work.

And it should, but won’t, go without saying that simplicity is not in itself a sufficient condition for delivering an evocative message that contributes to our culture rather than further polluting it. Many of the dullest and most demeaning ads ever created have been very simple. Head On. Apply directly to the forehead.

What Gandhi can teach us about advertising

Most people don’t know this, but Gandhi wasn’t just some sappy peaceful dude who’d sit around smiling. He was a sharp lawyer who had a mind for spreading a message. He was non-violent, but not passive. He devastated an empire by taking residence in people’s minds. He had his message spread by causing civil disobedience that got talked about in the international press and word of mouth. That’s the power of having a story that can be spread and believed in.

In less noble ways perhaps, we do the same things for brands. We find what’s right about our product and cause some civil disobedience (guerilla marketing, breakthrough thinking, press-worthy work), for the betterment of our client’s brands. Something that gets people talking, the news writing, the schoolyard buzzing. In other words, if our ads are well-behaved and don’t spark conversation, they’re basically useless and won’t devastate our competitors. We’ve got to be rebels. We’re the black sheep of the business world and the black sheep of the art world, but at least we’re not just ordinary sheep. Kind of a cool way to think about what we do for a living, no?

Twitter as phantom limb

Take a moment to view a 10 minute documentary I created for my last class, Ethnographic Documentary. The name of the short film is Phantom Limb and it explores twitter and its many uses. Below is the description I wrote for the screening:

What are you doing? It is a simple question that may have a profound influence on the way in which we communicate, and it is the question that greets twitter users every time they use the service. In Phantom Limb we will explore the way in which twitter is connecting people as well as driving them apart, all with an inquisitive posture toward understanding how twitter is changing relationships, love, me, and you.

Once you view it, let me know your thoughts, specifically:

  1. How, if at all, is twitter changing the way in which we communicate?
  2. How, if at all, is twitter changing the way in which we relate to each other?
  3. Is twitter a passing fad or will it start a new communication phenomenon?
  4. Would you ever use twitter? Why or why not?
I tried to raise quite a few of these questions in my film, as well as others, but I know I don't have all the answers so I'd love to hear your perspective.

If you missed the link above, click here to view it on YouTube.

Thanks to all my interviewees, Greg Scott (my professor), and to the rest of my class for their support and encouragement.

How to tell if it’s going to be a bad day (and what to do to make it better)

Part of my mission as a writer is to collect and communicate success strategies of people more successful than myself. But Fridays are great days to deliver less than stellar news. And, I believe that it is best to be prepared. Watch out for these telltale signs that things won’t be going your way in the near future:

1. You get a free copy of Who Moved My Cheese. It’s sitting there, right on your chair, when you arrive in the morning.

2. You get “invited” to the “other” meeting down the hall. It’s in the smaller conference room or even offsite.

3. You log on and your email or Internet service doesn’t work (or you get a call from a friend saying that a recent email sent to you bounced).

4. Someone from facility management inventories your office furniture or painters show up and then realize that they’re a day early.

5. George Winston music – or the like – is playing in your boss’ office and you remember that he/she doesn’t like George Winston.

6. Your co-workers invite you out for lunch (don’t worry, they say, it’s on them) or for a few drinks after work (let’s go at three).

7. You get introduced to a guest of your company as being “most recently with” (drop in current employer name here).

8. People start telling you about the benefits of getting a realtor’s license or they start asking if you still have that dream of opening a bed & breakfast.

9. Your boss tells you to skip the client meeting and meet him/her for breakfast at a quiet restaurant far away from the office.

10. You’re asked to present your portfolio to your new boss and you realize that you have not produced anything that makes you proud in the last six months.

Seriously, bad things happen to some very talented people in this industry. Clients leave, jobs get cut to boost profits, people feel threatened because you are younger, older, their age. Even some of the most successful people in the business have experienced extreme low points in their careers.

At the risk of sounding obvious, there’s only one thing we can control on my list—the quality of our portfolios. It’s also the only thing that could help save our jobs or enable us to get new ones should something happen. So here is my question: What have you done for it today? Ask this question every day. And, every day, you should be able to give at least one answer.

I truly hope you have a good day. If not, remember, tomorrow will be a better one, especially if you focus on improving the quality of your portfolio.

Give me back my 5 minutes, Bounty (hypothetically)

Genesis. The Dancing Baby. Pop Icon of the Internet generation. Several others followed and before long “Virals” had their own TV shows. These days, “Virals” are a household name in Internet Advertising. You’ve got a product and we’ve got a “Viral” campaign in the works for it. And we guess that’s all fine and dandy, but it’s getting a teeny tiny bit ridiculous.

Just because you spend a million bucks shooting your spot with a shaky-cam doesn’t mean its going to go “Viral”. The term “Viral” is really more of an achievement than a delivery platform, much like a double platinum album. Beyonce might aspire to make a multi-platinum record, but if she didn’t buy all the right songs from the right faceless producer, then it was just a missed goal and a bunch of jelly we aint ready for.

A lot of times, “Viral” projects fail because clients don’t understand the level of risk involved in making something noteworthy. Lets not forget most of the “Virals” that have been successful had something a little less PC about them that made some viewer say “HOLY SH*T, I GOTTA SHOW THIS TO SOMEONE!!”. That’s what makes something “Viral” in the first place. People want to pass it along.

A lot of times “Virals” get killed mid-way through the creative process… when it hits legal. What the HELL is legal doing dictating creative now? Remember, it’s the legal departments job to AVOID conflict, so anything ran past that train is castrated immediately. How did this happen? Was it the ball-less ABM afraid to lose their job? or was it the lazy agency more concerned with payroll than payoff to stand by an idea that would work.

So when you corporate blokes decide to do your next “Viral”, think about this: The medium was built on risk. Don’t repurpose your commercials in hopes that the 90% of us that skipped it on our DVRs would even care for your watered down lil’ crappy TV spot.

We like getting paid just as much as the next guys. But honestly, shouldn’t we love results even more? Playing it safe never makes the highlight reel, especially when it comes to ”Viral”. Point blank. So go suck on that after your turkey dinner. Cheers!

Fresh Butter

Hey, check out the new Fresh Butter section over there to the right. Those are fresh links that will take you somewhere cool and magical on the Internet. We update them daily, so go ahead, scoop you some Fresh Butter.


The majority of communication is boring. That’s because humans exert far too much effort trying to make sense. They simply want you to understand the things they are saying. And when we say things that make perfect, exact sense, they usually come out “normal” sounding. And normal is very boring.

When I walk down a busy city street I see lots of business signs, and logos and billboards and messages in store windows. They all make perfect sense to me. I almost never pass an original or surprising idea. So, I’ve stopped reading these communication pieces. Instead, I skimstorm.

Skimstorming works on a very basic principle. Ideas happen when two or more very different ideas bump into one another and stick. Crash. New idea. Have you ever misread something, only to realize the thing you thought it said was way cooler than what it actually said? If so, then you have accidentally skimstormed. The trick is to do it on purpose

Since over 95% of communication pieces are a complete waste of brain activity, I have found if you glaze over business signs and billboards very quickly, without really focusing, you only get bits and pieces of the message. For instance you might see a fuzzy picture, and half of a word in a headline. Your brain then starts working to fill in the missing gaps. Basically your brain tries to make sense of something that doesn’t. And once it does…crash. A new original idea pops into your head. That’s skimstorming. And it works with magazines and web surfing too; anywhere you might find a bunch of boring messages. Go ahead and try it. It’s loads of fun.

It takes a little practice, but once you master the art of skimstorming you will start seeing fascinating stuff in the mundane. For instance, a few weekends ago I walked past a Tailgating Bar and Grill. A sports bar with truck beds instead of tables. You and your buddies sit around the truck bed and watch the game while they serve food and beer on the tailgate. What a cool idea! Then I realized it was a just normal bar and the sign actually read “Ted’s Sports Bar and Grill. GO GATORS!” (Now just thing how much more interesting this column would have been if you had skimstormed it)

Let’s give a little back

I consider myself an ad geek. I read the ad rags, peruse annuals with what I consider to be a discerning eye, reference obscure Scandinavian TV commercials in random conversations, and hell, I even write for an advertising blog.

One conclusion I’ve reached in my ad geekness is that we, as a whole, like to “borrow” from popular culture.

Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, if we want to sell a product, what easier way is there than to piggy back off a popular trend? It immediately elevates the product to a familiar level – popular trend, popular product. Hard to argue with, right? We take a little something, we spin it, and bam. We have a campaign that is memorable.

Well, in the short term it’s hard to argue with. But in the long term, it undercuts the advancement of our profession. What real value, as an art form, does advertising have if all we do is borrow and never add?

(Yeah, I just went there. I consider advertising an art form. And it is.)

Throughout history, there have been art movements that defined their times. Consider surrealism, cubism, classical, neo-classical or pointillism. Each was the defining movement of its era.

Sure, nowadays we’re hired guns for large corporations. But does that devalue the artistic merit of what we do? Consider for an instant that Michelangelo was hired by the church to paint the Sistine Chapel to advertise the notion of God. That’s art, isn’t it?

But advertising has more power now than any other art form in history. 50 years ago, you’d have travel your ass off if you wanted to see the masterworks of Toulouse-Lautrec or Michelangelo. But thanks to the nature of worldwide media today, we can instantly change the way people think. We create new words. We redefine the old with new definitions.

Advertising is capable of changing millions of people’s views in an instant. And that, incidentally, is precisely what art is meant to do.

Maybe we can create a new movement that defines our era.

But if modern advertising is going to merit serious consideration as an art form in the future, we need to stop borrowing and start adding. We need to invent.

So let’s motor, just do it and wait for the good things that come to those who wait.

Great is the enemy of good.

At the risk of raising the flag of hackdom, it seems that many of us in this business use the quest for “great” as a copout. By all means, let’s aim high, swing for the fences, blah blah blah. But, if great still means what it used to mean, it’s rare for any of us to have a great idea, and highly improbably for most of us. Hanging our hopes on executing a great idea can undermine our motivation to execute what is realistically the best we can do most of the time—a really good idea.

Very often, I see creatives who fight like crazy for what they’ve deemed a great idea. When it doesn’t get sold (because it wasn’t so great, or for a million other reasons having to do with agency and client myopia, paranoia, stupidity and the like), the creatives retreat and immediately resort to “let’s sell something” mode. Whatz!?

Maybe a handful of times in my experience have I witnessed a creative team going back to the drawing board, especially after the second round fails, armed with that legendary Chiat Day battle cry to return to the client with something better than what they couldn’t sell the first time.

This phenomenon of the quick retreat and shift from “create great” mode to “Let’s sell something” mode explains, at least in part, why the vast majority of ads, regardless of medium, fall into the just okay-to-dreadful range. Not only do many of us give up on great, we can’t even seem to get it up to go for good.

Would you trade our ad world in which the very occasional great ad is sold and produced, but where 95% of the ads are pretty bad or worse, for one in which, say, 40% of the ads were quite good, but we never saw a great one?

Littlejohn! RE: An Idea Reality Check, loved it overall, but . . . reading a book is experiencing a movie in my head? Whatz!? Experientially speaking, movies and books are similar experiences in only respect. Either way, someone tells you a story. Beyond that, they are profoundly different kinds of experience. At least in my head.

Why do we read?

Have you ever found yourself in an unfortunate situation where people tell you that your copy isn’t working for them? It happens a lot, and often times people are right, but sometimes they don't like it because they don’t understand a reference in it and are worried that people won’t respond well to that. This got me thinking, why do we read?

I think there are 2 reasons. One, which is the dominant by far in ads it seems, is to find comfort. It’s why we relisten to familiar songs or rewatch movies. It’s also why we feel drawn in by a story, because we feel familiarity with the character or the situation in some way. It’s also how we try and get a person to feel a kinship with our brand, by saying, “see, we’re just like you”.

The second reason we read is to discover something new. This seems to only appear in ads as the “client mandatories” where the new thing to discover is the product feature. If the client, or CD, or creative partner doesn’t immediately get something, they think it’s too smart. But nowadays, with the internet and google available at high speeds and even from your phone, there really isn’t much information that’s not known within 2 minutes, if you can intrigue someone enough to check it out. There's not much out there that's "too smart" (how cool is that)! Not everyone will look something up, but the inquisitive type of person is also the person most likely to be reading an ad or buying the new product in a category. Maybe it’s time we stop dumbing down and start smarting up.

DIY Consumer Insights

Take a minute and search google (is that redundant?) for your company, your ceo, or a brand you work on. Add words like "hate" "evil" "corrupt", etc. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Are you surprised by what you found? Maybe. Maybe not. Now, search for "cluetrian manifesto". Click on the first link, and bookmark it (i.e. add it to your account). Trust me, you'll want to go back to this over and over again, if you don't already.

We'll use thesis # 28 as the basis for our first consumer
insights lesson:

  • Most marketing programs are based on the fear that the market might see what's really going on inside the company.
I love this statement for its simplicity and profundity, and it gives us our first lesson:

  • Be skeptical of any company for which you work. Most of us (myself included) get so excited about the companies we work for that we lose all judgment and ability to have a healthy dose of skepticism. In other words, always assume that your target is smarter and less convinced than you are of the greatness of the product or service you work on. On the flip side, you should be convinced of the greatness of your product or service. If you're not, quit. Immediately. No amount of great marketing can make up for a terrible or mediocre product.
Now, think about the product or service you work on and make a list of reasons why your target might not believe what you're telling her via your website, print ads, TV ads, etc. This is a good starting point to deep consumer understanding.

So what do you think? Is this something you already do? Is this helpful? Why? Why not?

Next week: DIY observational techniques.

I am sorry for my apology

I have to start my new weekly column with an apology. I tend to talk about my books too much. It’s not to be promotional (although I wouldn’t mind if you bought a copy or two or ten thousand), but the research I did to write them has shaped my views.

And, I believe that many of my views are best expressed in my books.

One of the themes from How to Succeed in Advertising When All You Have Is Talent Second Edition is to eliminate weak work from your portfolio and your presentations. If you never take the client a bad ad concept, says Ted Bell, former Worldwide Creative Director of Young & Rubicam and current novelist, they can’t make a bad decision.

Before you say duh, I can’t even begin to count the number of times a student (not all) or a creative team (ditto) says, “I knew you were going to say that" or “I was thinking the same thing” after I commented on their work.

If you know I am going to say that something isn't working, why ask?

If you’re thinking that something isn't working, why show it?

If the creators can sense that something isn’t working, what makes them think that I won’t pick up on it? And if I—an outsider to their creative process—can sense that something isn’t right, shouldn’t the consumer be able to sense that too?

True, they might not be able to use the same lingo as us.

But as one quote goes, “our job is to train ourselves to become consumers. It is not the job of consumers to train themselves to become ad executives.”

Now you can say duh.

Of course, if you realize that a piece of work you presented to a client is not up to snuff, admit it and then fix it. But it also means you should never knowingly put yourself in a position of feeling the need to apologize or provide an excuse for weaker work. And that includes the product; if you don’t like it, don’t work on it.

So eliminate straw dogs. If you don’t like something, fix it or broom it. Simple, common sense advice that is too often forgotten or ignored. See, I even ignored it in my headline and introduction. But, then again, I didn’t.

Who cares about your story??!!

Whether you blame the tired Creative Director who’s run out of ideas or the Assistant Brand Manager that read about it in Forbes and knows he needs one of those “Consumer Generated” thingies on his web site, Consumer Generated Content (CGC) is here in a big way.

FACT: Most brands think allowing the consumer to participate makes them feel like they are a part of the brand.

Eh… Kinda, but nobody cares about your potpourri candle story or how using that product made you feel. If I want to know about how great scented candles are, I’ll blow the jack on one and light it up.

Who the hell is reading this crap? Is it the mother of 3.5 children trying to get her kids and Hubby fed? Or is it, in reality, old people with nothing better to do than spend their last years riffing about products that were never scoped for them in the first place.

It’s cool to think that letting the users create the content would make sites fresh and current. Like that Chevy Apprentice video contest site. Remember that one? The one where people posted Pro Green videos about the gas guzzlers and it actually got them MORE hits? Success. Sans filter.

REALITY: You could have millions hit your site due to your open platform or 5 suckers that believe the edited pro-brand version.

And is the method relevant in the first place? Some products like car stereo sites that let people give feed back and reviews are smart, but when it comes to a CGC site for Bounty (hypothetically), it just falls flat off. There’s nothing really to add here, you make a spill, Bounty soaks that sh*t up. No story, just wet paper towels.

In reality, products like Bounty should do more “Consumer Generated Experiences”. What’s that? You mean you can entertain AND allow the user to participate with your brand without just making a glorified bulletin board or MySpace rip-off???!! Yup.

Sites like Paper Critters, Red Interactive and Wendy’s Hot Juicy Burger, to name a few, do an awesome job at allowing the user to experience the site in a community aspect that is both experiential and entertaining. Imagine that! (Actually, you don't have to, just go to those links)

The moral of the story? “CGC” has its place in the market. All we’re saying is 1. Do it right. 2. Make it relevant and/or entertaining and 3. Know your product and how (or if) the audience wants to interact with your brand. BOOM!

An Idea Reality Check

Ideas are these little sparks that happen inside our brain. And then, like the Big Bang, they rapidly expand. In just a few milliseconds, an idea is capable of creating a whole new universe inside your head that’s vibrant and detailed and yet at the same time, somehow lucid and bendy. That’s a pretty powerful power.

Now, a cool thing happens when you share that idea with another person. The spark jumps into their brain and it too rapidly begins to expand, and in a matter of milliseconds it creates an entirely new universe. It’s still the same idea, but that person sees it in the most spectacular way that only their brain can.

If advertising were truly an idea business our job would be easy. You could just go around telling people your advertising ideas and they would probably like your ads a lot, at least the way they imagined them. But the truth is, it’s not an idea business. It’s an idea execution business. We create ads. Physical things that people look at and hold and interact with and inspect.

When people complain that a movie isn’t as good as the book, what they are really saying is that they liked the movie they saw in their head a lot more. After all, imagination has no production budget and the acting is usually better.

The point is, our job in advertising is to execute ideas better than you or anyone could have imagined them. Truly great work surprises us. It actually turns our imaginations off. And in that brief, rare moment reality is actually cooler than anything we could have dreamed up.

So, until we invent a form of idea advertising that is created by and exists solely in the mind of the consumer, we need to stop talking about our great ideas and get much better at making them real. Just remember, it’s your ad verses millions of really vivid imaginations. (For instance this column was a lot better the way I imagined it.)

Neon now comes in the color of awesome

Sitting in the back of an editing suite at 3 in the morning with a looming deadline and a blog post due at roughly the same time I find myself wondering what the hell I should write about? Well, how about something that has great editing.

Arcade Fire released an interactive video for their song Neon Bible which allows viewers to interact with Win Butler while he jams. The movements for Win are pretty novel but the way in which they are done is impressive. It reacts fast and it feels natural to play with. Which is actually saying something considering most flash sites out there require a lightspeed modem to load user initiated clips fast and properly. The simplicity here is genius.

So after sitting through 3 days of editing I can begin to understand what it takes to make something feel so seamless. And making something seem so perfect is an art form. It's the acute attention to detail that raises something from good to great. So enjoy, you're looking at some interactive mastery.

Anheuser-Busch could learn a thing or two from P&G.

There’s a new Bud Light commercial featuring a TV news team about to begin a broadcast. This spot is entirely obvious in its “humor,” but that’s not my gripe. Instead, it’s this: As they’re about to go on the air, the anchorman eyeballs someone off camera pouring a Bud Light, and says, “Man, that looks refreshing.” This line sets the table for the ensuing laff riot. But I don’t care about any of that. I’m stuck back where the guy actually says the word “refreshing” as he ogles the beer. Really? Refreshing? Whatz!?

If the line was delivered with irony, or the guy was supposed to be a one-dimensional geek who talked like that, okay. But neither possible justification applies. The only reason he says “refreshing” is that this word is apparently the official descriptor for Bud Light these days.
Coming out of the mouth of an announcer, the word, though artificial, stiff and worn flat by its
overuse in beer commercials for so many decades, would at least be in character. An announcer, after all, is supposed to spew the product blah blah, largely so that the characters in the spot aren’t burdened with that chore, so their dialogue can rise above such banality and aspire to being something approaching real, natural or at least not straight from the brief.

“Refreshing” is the kind of word you would expect to come out of the mouth of a P&G mom in the ‘70s. Perhaps this once celebrated brand should go back to fart jokes and leave funny dialogue to the guys who used to write Bud Light spots back when they were funny. Oh wait. They’ve all retired or are writing sitcoms.

The New Advertising For Peanuts

to the Advertising for Peanuts upgrade package. We’re back with a new look, new writers and a fresh format. Now, if you have been a Peanuts regular for the past couple years I’m going to warn you, this blog has changed. And if you’re new to the site, well, what do you care? Enjoy.

Here’s the deal: For the past two years I have been posting and commenting on the advertising work I found to be smart, surprising, and inspiring (check the archives). Well guess what, since I started doing that, about umpteen hundred other people started doing the same thing.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the ad blogosphere is starting to feel like being inside a creepy advertising house of mirrors. Everyone ends up pointing to the same work. And you start to see the same stuff over and over again. Well, I got tired of my blog looking like all the other blogs. So, I’m not posting new work anymore. Believe me, there are plenty of other outstanding sites you can go to get your new work fix. (I’ll even recommend a few)

So what now? Instead of a posting a new ad every day and a quirky comment, you will find a short, thoughtful column in its place, written by a different advertising big-brain for every day of the week. That’s right, 7 columns in 7 days. Check out the column topics and the new authors to the right, and their bios below. It's a diverse group. And we intend on tackling the biz from both it's pretty and it's ugly sides.

The new Advertising for Peanuts is a place for opinions, and discussions and insight. It’s not about rushing to post the newest work before anyone else does. Instead, the 7 of us will take our time and think of something interesting to say. Because if we can’t do that, we rather say nothing at all.

We welcome your comments, insults and complaints. Whatever gets the conversation going. Whatever changes things up a bit. Whatever keeps you coming back.

Jim Morris

BIO: Jim Morris, The Communicaterer, is a hardwired contrarimudgeon who loves advertising, the persuasive art, and hates advertising, the business. He holds no interest in the blahgosphere.

As both copywriter and creative director, Jim Morris has been creating evocative, highly human, award-winning advertising for twenty five years.

Armed with a degree in philosophy and an unnatural fondness for hippos, Jim served time, full time, at several ad agencies. For most of the past 15 years He has enjoyed a thriving freelance copywriting business. Jim also taught copywriting at Columbia College for 12 years and wrote a monthly column for Screen for five years.

Jim’s accomplishments include authoring dozens of successful taglines (his specialty), including“We are Flintstones Kids, Ten Million Strong and Growing,” the cornerstone of one of the longest-running campaigns of the last half century; and creating an international branding campaign for Lions Clubs International, from tagline through TV.

Some of Jim’s work can be seen on his website,

Johnny Lefthand




BIO: Littlejohn is the Creator and Editor of Advertising For Peanuts. For two years he manned this little ad blog on his own, posting and commenting on the best work he could dig up (check out the archives). He now shares the blog with people who are a lot smarter than he is.

Littlejohn is a copywriter working deep in the Colorado Mountains, where he attempts to view the future of advertising. So far, it looks really foggy and bright (maybe a little lumpy too). Good ideas make the back of his brain tingle. On a good day he can make the backs of other people's brains tingle. So, let him know if you feel anything.

Cox & Yerkes

BIO: Brandon Cox and Giancarlo Yerkes are two graphic designers, with two wacom tablets, a big screen, xbox and a pot of coffee.

Laurence Minsky

BIO: Laurence Minsky is the author of How to Succeed in Advertising When All You Have Is Talent Second Edition, among other books. He is also an award-winning creative director and copywriter and has created communication solutions for many blue-chip clients, including Frito-Lay, Kraft, McDonald's, Motorola, and PETsMART. And, he is a tenure-track faculty member in the School of Media Arts at Columbia College Chicago.

T. Willerer

BIO: T. Willerer, aka Tom, is first and foremost a person (duh). By remembering that he is a person he has landed many jobs working in various positions that his parents don't understand: strategic research, insights & analytics, consumer insights, etc. He is on course to finish a masters degree in new media studies, and enjoys exploring the intersection of people and new technologies.

Tom Tom

BIO: Tom Tom used to run He stopped and instead refocused his life to the pursuit of shiny things (he's picked up a few but has since gotten bored of them). He is young and foolish yet has worked at some of the top creative agencies in the US. He's even lived at one.

He has a whacked view of the world, particularly the ad world. His approach to copywriting is part smart psychology, but mostly public stupidity. Sometimes he's funny (this is not one of those instances).

We go live Monday

Come back next week and check out the new site. It's going to be highly rad. So, write yourself a note so you don't forget. Or schedule a meeting on your Entourage Calendar. Whatever you need to do to remember to visit the new and improved, back from the dead, ready to rock Advertising For Peanuts. Monday. Monday. Monday.

Coming Back Soon

So I've got something in the works. Expect an Advertising for Peanuts relaunch in the next two weeks or so. I've got new writers coming on board and a completely new blog format and a site redesign. It's going to rock this tiny little ad blog world. So check back in. You're going to like what you see.

A Blogger Says Goodbye

Well, Kind of...
Here's the deal folks. I have been offered an incredible opportunity to work at an agency who's work I have admired for some time now and I'm moving to Boulder, Colorado (today actually). It's an agency known for big ideas, long hours, and late nights. So the little free time I'm going to have in the future, let's just say I don't plan on spending it blogging.

However, I've put a lot of work into this little ad blog. After two years of discussing work I think is freshly forward, I have built up a modest, yet noticeable presence in the blogosphere. And I would hate to see all that go to waste. So, I'm thinking about my options. I'm open to bringing on new writers. Changing up the format. Re-thinking how the blog world talks about advertising/ideas and seeing if some fresh blood can take this thing to the next level (whatever that is).

I'm most interested in exploring what you guys feel you're most lacking from the ad blogs. I've noticed a serious drought of insightful commentary (or any for that matter). We see lots and lots of ads, and read lots of random comments. But I'd like to build something that doesn't just celebrates great work, but also dissects it. A place we can all learn something and then push each other to do better work as an industry. I don't know what that blog looks like, but maybe you do. Maybe you're interested in building it. Let me know.

So, this isn't quite goodbye. But the future of Advertising for Peanuts hangs in the foggy air. Don't expect any regular posting for the next few weeks. But do expect something interesting to be happening here. That alone might be enough to keep you coming back in the short term. Thanks again to all you regulars. It's been fun. I'll let you know when I emerge from my work coma.

Halo 3

Have you seen the new Halo 3 spots? (Sorry for being late on this one.) This is epic advertising at its finest. They're actually not really spots. They're more like documentaries from the distant future (600+ years from now) set in the Museum of Humanity. A monument and diorama commemorates the battle where the human race won its own survival. The story is so real you forget we're talking about a video game here. And these films are just the tip of the ice berg. There's a whole Wiki page about the marketing of Halo 3. McCann Erickson has managed to truly capture the passion behind the Halo series. Their attention to detail and inside understanding of the culture surrounding the game connects with the hard core gamers, which are quite possibly the toughest crowd to reach on the planet. Get ready to start seeing this stuff in the award books.

Thanks to Alex and Jon for the scoop