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?)

Books:

  • 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
Blogs:
  • 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 http://lab.mathieu-badimon.com/. 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. Ask.com 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
BetterMorebiggerNicer
Better
More
Bigger
Nicer
York Steak House is
BetterMoreBiggerNicer.

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.

Trust.

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.

Wordification

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.