Thanks to all

My hat is permanently off to Littlejohn for, among other things, having created and evolved this blog over the last few years. That’s a long life for any blog. And to have kept it vital the entire time is no mean feat.

As Littlejohn knows all too well, I am not a fan of the blahgosphere. I think that, while it does serve our collective need to communicate, it also serves to encourage a culture of self-importance and self-indulgence, it enables (in the negative sense) tons of unhealthy and wasteful behavior by people and businesses who would be better served getting a life or tending to their businesses. And it feeds the tendency to self-delusion that plagues thousands of would-be-if-they-could-be “writers”, “thought leaders”, “pundits” and so forth.

That being said, this blog has been a great experience for me. In particular, I’ve really enjoyed reading the posts of the other members of the peanut gallery, who have served up much to chew on. And it is thrilling to have gotten responses to some of my/our posts. For a person who has worked in the dark anonymity of advertising for almost 30 years, where we send out messages and never hear back from anybody, it is very gratifying and encouraging to read the thoughtful, funny and challenging things that many people have had to say in responding to my/our blatherings.

So I want to join Littlejohn and my fellow peanut gallery denizens in thanking every one of you who have consumed Advertisingforpeanuts.

Keep an eye on Littlejohn. You’ve not heard the last of that guy.

Next to lastly, in keeping with my decades-long tradition of exploiting every last opportunity to promote myself, let me offer two suggestions:

1) If any of you bloggers out there can find a way to make use of the random cantankerations (cantankerizations? cantankerosities?) of a grizzled ad guy, by all means let me know. I know just the guy, and he’s always looking for an outlet. (Is it slightly hypocritical to eviscerate the blahgosphere with one breath and pander to its population with the next?)

2) As a freelance copywriter, I am forever searching for new clients. I just can’t get enough of new learning curves and thorny communication problems. If you are, or you know anyone who is, in need of some powerful big thinking, or intended-for-human-consumption writing, whether you’re at an ad agency, design firm or a business of some sort, I encourage you to make contact. Keep in touch. Don’t be a stranger. Let’s have a conversation. You know where you can find me. Or, if you don’t, here’s where: jim@communicaterer.com.

Finally, I’d like to leave you with this simple reminder regarding advertising. In the words of Chairman Jimmy, “Advertising, like a good brassiere, is designed to lift and separate.”

The Death of an Advertising Blog

(BOULDER, Co) - Advertising For Peanuts, the daily blog known to all its readers as the Consumer's Guide to Advertising, Media and Organic Produce, has died at the age of 3 (which, in blog years, was a good long life). Its final post was number 858. Its visitors total 1,211,743.

Advertising For Peanuts was born September 9th, 2005, in Chicago, Illinois. In its infancy AFP showcased daily the freshest and most innovative advertising found on the world wide web, accompanied by quippy comments via blog editor and creator Littlejohn (ad copywriter).

Above all, AFP always sought to highlight the good in each piece of creative, the part that makes the brain tingle. Some days AFP even offered a nugget of ad insight of its own. AFP never slammed, trashed or poo-pooed, and it always cited its sources. At its core, quiet simply, it was a place for ad nerds around the world to get their morning fix.

On November 11, 2007 Advertising for Peanuts found a new staff of esteemed writers and a grown up format: 7 columns, 7 writers, 7 days of the week. Each writer offered a unique perspective on the ad game, giving AFP a new depth, range and a varied voice. (It should be noted that, unlike Advertising For Peanuts, all of its writers are living and in good health. And perhaps, even interested in writing for your non-deceased blog. See their info to the right.)

You could say, in the end, that Advertising For Peanuts simply lost the will to live. But, while the blog itself might be dead, its content lives on forever, pingable and searchable by Google robots, in that great big archive in the cloud. So future generation can stumble upon the ideas and words written in these pages, only to realize this site actually has nothing at all to do with organic produce. Just another faulty search result in the ad blog blip of time.

Thanks to all of you, our loyal readers.
Feel free to pay your respects in the comments.

Advertising: the cottage (cheese) industry

In these troubled times, here’s a reassuring thought. Advertising may languish at times like these, but it will never die. Because, like so many other disciplines, the effectiveness of which is wide open to interpretation, advertising is too squishy to be pinned down—like cottage cheese. You can’t dismiss a discipline in its entirety, once and for all, if you can’t come up with irrefutable evidence of its worthlessness. Some advertising seems to work sometimes. And that is enough of a carrot to keep businesses coming back for more.

Disciplines that vanish are those that can be definitively disproven and discredited. Alchemy. Phrenology. That kind of stuff. But advertising, bless its heart, will always be able to make a plausible (but never airtight) case for its effectiveness.

The influencing of human behavior in a gross and macro manner can’t generally be tested and proven successful or unsuccessful. You can look at the numbers and find evidence of the effect of advertising, maybe, but other variables invariably muddy the waters. Not the least of which is the psychological/emotional variable that inclines both agency and client to interpret numbers sympathetically and optimistically, because they need to justify the time, money and effort invested in it.

Of course, direct marketing zealots will be quick to point out that their brand of advertising is absolutely measurable, and I concede that point to them. But that subdivision of the advertising community, it seems, will forever be just that—a subdivision—because, among other reasons, that form of advertising doesn’t seem to lend itself to softer emotional brand image/brand voice advertising that contributes, presumably, to the long term health of the brand. So far, no one has cracked the code on making an ad funny or touching or provocative while at the same time screaming “but wait, that’s not all!” and pounding away at the 800 number or URL.

What about all this online/interactive stuff that is being heralded by many as the future of advertising?

All this alternative/guerrilla/webby stuff suffers from many of the same limitations that traditional advertising does. The metrics that are used are mostly indirect—click through rates and other such dubious measures. But whether the website or the interactive game or whatever is actually enhances the brand or is responsible for an increase in sales is mushy stuff. Like cottage cheese, it’s slippery and squishy and it conforms to the container in which it is held.

I celebrate the cottage cheesiness of advertising because, as long as advertising appears to work, or, at least, doesn’t clearly not work, advertisers will advertise (though maybe not in the coming year, given the gloomy forecasts). And you and I will continue getting away with doing what we do.

A penny for your parallel thoughts

There is a kind of silly movie that came out in September called Eagle Eye. This movie relies heavily on the following device: the protagonist spends much of the movie being directed, via one electronic medium or another, to do this or that by a terrorist cell that has somehow secured control of every electronic network (ATMs, the electricity grid), including networked communication devices like news tickers and other electronic signs used to communicate.

So our hero glances at a news ticker on a building or some such thing, and is instructed to jump off a building or stop a train or whatever, in order to forward the terrorist plot.

The reason this idea of being able to instantly communicate with a single individual out in the world, using whatever medium is in his proximity at any given moment, interests me is that I’ve seen this idea executed by three different parties within the past month.

Here in the Chicago area, the Harris Bank has an ad campaign based on the idea of helpfulness, and has just started running a new set of spots that employs, basically, this same device. In one vignette, a guy bumps into a woman on the street who greets him by name, but he can’t recall her name. At that moment a bus passes by with a poster reading “Her name is Jane” or something to that effect. He reads the sign and greets her by name, thus being saved from an embarrassing moment. Each spot contains three or four of these helpful vignettes, always with signs of some kind providing a critical piece of information in the nick of time.

This month I also spotted a commercial from some other advertiser, the identity of which escapes me, that employs another facsimile of this same device.

Now, for all I know, this idea has been employed in the past by other advertisers. There are, after all, few new ideas. But it’s interesting that all three manifestations of the same device have occurred at virtually the same time.

The fact that all three popped up at the same time tells me that none of these three ripped the idea off from one of the others. This is not an example of bandwagon-jumping. It is, instead, just the most recent example of parallel thought, a phenomenon that most anyone who’s been in this business for any length of time, has experienced.

Being the victim of parallel thought can be very exasperating. How often have you presented an idea to your CD or a client, just to have essentially that same idea show up on TV or the web or whatever, sending you back to the drawing board?

What I’d like to know, but so far have no clue about, is exactly how this happens. Is it, in fact, pure co-incidence, because there are so many ideas being released into our culture at any given time that, inevitably, every now and then, two or three iterations of the same idea are bound to surface more or less simultaneously? What are the odds? I’d really like to know.

Or is there some other process at work, where by the probability of the occurrence of certain kinds of ideas is increased according to the nature and flow of our collective cultural conversation? Or is there some other organizing principal at work?

I have to think that some of you out there have given this phenomenon some thought. Any theories?

Sadly, not beckoned

I feel compelled to react to Littlejohn’s most recent post, in which he points a big arrow to Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s latest project to make a film comprised of “lovely things” submitted by everyone so inclined.

I checked out the short film chronicling the event that inspired or kicked off this larger film project. At first, it did my hippie heart good, watching this charming story of an event that she caused last August in Millennium Park in Chicago.

But that hippie heart of mine has always been sort of half-hearted. I just can’t reconcile it with the darker part of me that finds emptiness, folly and/or hubris in most human undertakings. That part of me promptly filed Ms. Rosenthal’s project in the same bin where I store so many silly sentiments that pop up in our culture. Make love, not war. Music can change the world. Stuff like that.

It is refreshing, I suppose, and surprising, to come across such an innocent and optimistic enterprise. But, as a citizen of the ugly real world, I find my self backing away from the sentiment.

Maybe it’s a guy thing. Maybe I am terminally cynical. Maybe I’m old. Maybe it’s because, as I now realize, “lovely” isn’t in my vocabulary.

Whatever the reason, I just can’t bring myself to join this lovelyfest. My loss, no doubt.

I wish the project and its originator well, but I must recuse myself.

The Beckoning of Lovely.

In advertising, we get to make a lot of stuff: videos, posters, websites, widgets, booklets, characters, sometimes even new inventions. Making stuff is my favorite part of advertising. I think it's most people's favorite part. But it's rare that we ever get to make something that one would describe as lovely. Clever, funny, smart, fresh, innovative, these are the words that most often describe what we do. And sure, advertising has its lovely moments (Cog, Balls, Halo). But when was that last time you made something truly Lovely?

Amy Krouse Rosenthal is an Author, former "Ad Girl" and a skilled maker of stuff (you can see 17 things she made here.) Her latest project is a film called The Beckoning of Lovely. And she wants to use all the lovely things you've made to make it. Music, short films and videos, art, stories, lists, monologues, poems, sand castles, whatever it is you're making, if it's lovely, she wants it.

So, ad friends, this your chance to make something lovely, anything, and then, like we do in the ad biz, share it with the world. But this time you'll be making and sharing something, for the sake of sharing. A lovely thought indeed.

Watch how the Beckoning of Lovely project got started here.

And when you're ready to submit your lovely thing, go to whoisamy.wordpress.com

I’m Joe Blow and I approve this message.

Now that this silly waste of time has become well-established in political advertising, let’s take a moment to examine it.

I guess its original intent was to help viewers distinguish between an official commercial from the candidate and a commercial from some group supporting that candidate, but not sanctioned or financed by him. Some of these wacky groups can get even more irresponsible in their messages than the candidates themselves, so this “claimer” has now become mandatory in order to be clear just where the misleading advertising is coming from.

If politics were a “for-profit” endeavor, I assure you that they would have found a simpler, more efficient way to accomplish this task, rather than burning three-to-five precious seconds of a 30-second spot. For example, a simple seal of approval of some sort could appear in the corner, taking up no time.

But, for now, those who make these commercials are stuck with this stupid declaration.

SELF-CONGRATULATORY MOMENT:

I was asked to work on a political spot last spring. I’d like to think I was the first person it occurred to, to embrace this mandatory, rather than just having the candidate say it as quickly as possible. But I probably wasn’t. But I’m laying claim to the idea anyway, until someone else disowns me of the honor.

I figured, if the candidate has to speak the words, why not give the words more weight, more reason for being there. Make USE of the statement rather than treating it like evil legal copy (even though that’s what it is.)

I thought it might be nice to hear from the candidate WHY he approved the message. And maybe in the process, underscore his message, thus wringing a little bit of value out of it.

Otherwise, cynical viewers might tend to assume the worst. I know, when watching one of these spots, I often would complete the thought, in my own head, with something like this:

“My name is Joe Blow and I approve this message because I think that it has a good chance of pushing some emotional button with lots of you bozos out there, even if I know perfectly well that it’s misleading, exaggerated or an outright lie.”

So I wrote a script in which the candidate simply asserts, “I approve this message because it’s true.” I thought it would be refreshing to hear the candidate make such a bold claim.

“Hey Marge, did you hear that? This guy is claiming that what he’s saying in his commercial is TRUE! Can he say that? Is that allowed?”

This spot was produced and ran early last spring, prior to a local primary election. I hadn’t heard anyone else ever modify the mandatory in this way up to that point.

Of course, six months later, most of the spots I’m seeing have the candidate expand on the thought, but, invariably, the reason they give for approving the spot doesn’t make sense. All they are doing is using this slot to re-iterate some political blah blah that they “stand for” i.e. “My name is Joe Blow and I approve this message because it’s time to move the country forward.”

That doesn’t really qualify as a reason why he approved the message. In fact,it makes no sense.

I’m just not sure if it doesn’t make sense because the candidate thinks the voting public is too stupid to realize that it makes no sense, or whether the candidate is, himself, too stupid to realize this. I lean toward the latter.

hidden desires

I only have time for a quick post today to point you to a fascinating documentary (The Century of the Self) about Freud's theories and their influence on politics, marketing, advertising, and how we as people consume products.   I'm embedding part 2 of 4 (all available free on Google Video), but this segment talks about the beginning of focus groups and the influence psychoanalysis has had on marketing.  


I'm planning to post more, but my quick take is that Freud's theories show how easily we can be manipulated and the power of persuasion, but they don't suggest that we are merely driven by irrational, subconscious forces (as he thought).  Although we do need to be more aware of why we do what we do (as consumers), and companies should be more honorable in how they *attempt* to manipulate, I don't think we are merely ruled by subconscious forces.  I think we can, through practice, become more aware of our (so called) hidden desires.  

 

Beg High The Roof Beam

In advertising, it’s important to have a grasp of how and why language is used, so that we can use it appropriately and effectively with whichever audience we are having a conversation. To that end, it’s important to monitor the ever changing meanings of various words and phrases. Here’s an example I’ve noticed lately that may prove instructive.

More and more often we are hearing people use the phrase, “begs the question.”
The rise of the use of this phrase coincides with the frequency with which it is “misused.” To beg the question means, or used to mean, “to assume that which your argument is trying to prove.” This phrase has been commonly used in philosophical discourse and other contexts of scholarly argument.

Today “beg the question” has come to mean, “raise the question.”

Why? What is gained by replacing the phrase, ”raises the question” with the phrase “begs the question”? They denote precisely the same thing. Nothing is gained, in terms of communication effectiveness, by saying “begs the question” rather than “raises the question.”

Yet, more and more, this substitution is being made, led largely by the news media. This development, and countless other similar developments in our constantly changing language, are almost universally mourned, if not reviled, by the self-appointed defenders of the English language, who I call “language zealots.”

This raises the question, “Why?”

The meanings of words and phrases are regularly modified by people using them to mean other than what they had previously meant, even if it doesn’t seem to add to our ability to communicate, and often, in fact, diminishes that ability. Often this change is motivated, ironically, by a person’s desire to sound smart or sophisticated or learned or whatever. I think that is motivation provides a partial explanation for why “raise the question” is becoming “beg the question.”

What I think the zealots are missing is that, at least as regards modern American English, there is another, more fundamental and universal need or motivation. Many American English speakers have need or desire for novelty. We have a strong tendency to evolve, modify, distort, vary bits of language, simply for the sake of novelty.
Why there exists this irrepressible need for novelty, at least in our culture, is a question for someone else to answer. My guess is that there is some kind of cultural ADD behind it. Whatever the reason, judging by the manner and rate at which English evolves, the need is clearly there.

Is this need less “important” than the need for clarity, stability, richness in language? I would say the people have spoken and the answer is no.

BegRecognizing and understanding this need for novelty in language is a useful insight because it provides us with one more lever, one more way to please, entertain, engage our audience. If we use this tool intentionally, rather than unconsciously, we can use it more effectively.

superb insight

I found this ad for Meetup.com to be spot-on regarding the people they are targeting.
They are targeting people that spend a lot of time on the Internet, but are likely a bit self
conscious about that fact. They like the Ineternet, but cherish face-to-face connections
with people.

And, the humor of updating multiple social networks so that friends know our status at all
time juxtaposed with the simplicity of face-to-face conversation is powerful.

This positions meetup.com well as the company that uses the Internet to help people get off
the Internet.

Don’t give thanks.

How often have we seen commercials, usually from local or regional businesses, which consist, at least in part, in showing real customers, or pretend real customers, coming right out and thanking the advertiser?

The most visible campaign of this sort, at least in my neck of the woods, is the endless campaign by Buy Owner. Every spot is riddled with happy folks chirping “Thanks, Buy Owner” for their good fortune in saving that real estate broker’s commission.

So what, exactly, is wrong with an advertiser doing ads consisting of customers thanking them? After all, there is an entire, rich tradition of using customer testimonials in which people praise the advertiser, presumably in their own words. This sort of advertising, while looked down on by those ad denizens who patrol advertising’s outer reaches, can be very effective, and can be artfully executed, telling engaging human stories and revealing glimpses of genuine human emotion.

I don’t find testimonials, per se, repugnant. I do find “Thank you, me” ads repugnant. What’s the difference?

I think it has to do, at least partially, with how easy and empty the latter is. A good testimonial requires some effort in finding a real person who has a real story, a story of some interest, and getting that person to relate that story, wrapped in some credible genuineness. And we LEARN something from the story, hopefully something positive about the advertiser, and perhaps about the customer as well.

“Thanks, Buy Owner” and the like involve no effort, give us no glimpse into who the person is who is parroting this empty sentiment. “Thank you”, after all, is something that any satisfied customer could presumably say to any company whose product or service he purchased. It doesn’t tell us anything more than that the company has some happy customers. This fact applies to every business that remains in business. So it isn’t interesting. It tells us nothing.

Even if the “thank you” is preceded by a story that does reveal something good or interesting about the advertiser, punctuating the story with the most obvious, heavy-handed, self-congratulatory words possible tells us that this company and/or its ad agency are devoid of any shred of understanding about their customers, about how to speak to them respectfully, about how to catch people’s interest, engage them or motivate them.

It is as transparently shameless as advertising gets.

Other than that, it’s a fine approach.

Thanks, Advertising For Peanuts reader.

ads ARE NOT the new online tip jar

Recently I read this post from Seth Godin and, unlike usual, I disagreed. Here's the crux of his argument,

If every time you read a blog post or bit of online content you enjoyed you clicked on an ad to say thanks, the economics of the web would change immediately. You don't have to buy anything (though it's fine if you do). You just have to honor the writer by giving them a click.
It's not often that I disagree with Seth and I'm hesitant to do so because his insight has inspired me and helped me develop my own thoughts on marketing and advertising, but alas I must.

To me the suggestion that banner ads are the new online tip jar only reinforces the fact that online advertising (and perhaps all of advertising) is very broken and in need of innovation. And, by treating ads as online tip jars, we are complying with the broken model, costing advertisers money, which in turn will theoretically drive up the cost of their product. Not good.

Instead, we should do two things:
  1. Create more innovative advertising solutions, perhaps like the one Avenue A and Pluck recently unveiled, called Adlife. Adlife allows people to comment within the ad on the ad itself or the product as well as rate the ad and product and upload pictures or videos.
  2. Create an actual online tip jar that is as easy as clicking on an ad, and allows people to show their support for the content they read for free.

Olympic Advertising: Who Won?

The 2008 summer Olympics Games are almost over. It was among the most watched - if not the most watched - in the history of the games.

So who won?

I liked some of the United spots. But what were your favorites?

Please nominate the gold, silver, and bronze ad winners in the comments below and tell us why you liked the spots too.

After all, the champions of advertising should be recognized too! Right?

AmeriCrap

I hereby proclaim a permanent ban on names that start with Ameri-.

AmeriTrade, AmeriPrise., AmeriShred, Amerigroup, AmeriFab, AmeriLine, AmeriSource, AmeriSeal, Ameritech, AmeriTec, AmeriCure, AmeriKing, AmeriCart, AmeriCrew, AmeriLog, AmeriCrew, AmeriTel, AmeriKiwi (?), AmeriLoo, AmeriClay, AmeriGas, and on and on.

First of all, since there are what, hundreds, or thousands of names sharing this same empty prefix, they’re all guilty of no imagination. Since the prefix is ubiquitous, it is also meaningless and powerless.

And considering that Ameri- can attach itself to any word starting with a consonanant, how clever is it.

There is simply no reason to resort to this cheap pander. Do the people responsible for choosing the name at these companies really believe that they are conveying anything useful by having the name start with Ameri-? Would anyone choose your brand over a competitors because it has part of the word “American” in it?

Does “Ameri-“ signal that your company is exceptionally patriotic? Or that it’s not a local, regional, or, for that matter, global company, but operates strictly within the boundaries of the United States. What about the rest of North America? Or South America, for that matter?

If you’re hoping to be listed first in any alphabetically determined contexts, I recommend AAAATrade, AAAAPrise, etc., rather than Ameri-.

The only justification I will accept for using this prefix in a brand name is if there’s something clever about it. For example, a company that sold sexual devices might call itselfAmeri-Tal Aids, or a company that made amusement park rides could choose Ameri-Go Rounds. Or for that matter, a company that made cans could . . . well, you get the idea.

But really, there’s just no good reason to slap Ameri- in front of the name of the category of product or service you provide and declare it a name. And many, many reasons not to.

So stop it.

Is wordsmithing passé in this experiential age?

I have accepted that proofreading has been devalued almost out of existence. I mourn its passing, but clearly spelling, grammar and punctuation are not the details that our culture, and this industry, choose to fret over any more. As long as its close enough that you get the idea, that’s sufficient.

But what about that careful crafting of language that we used to call “wordsmithing”?

As everything continues to accelerate, one of the tradeoffs we seem to be making in the pursuit of immediacy, freshness and so forth, is the thoughtful, well-considered construction of our communications. The idea itself, however germinally or sloppily expressed, has become more important than the most powerful or evocative articulation of the idea. When we have an idea, the task is now to express the idea as quickly as we can, in the first passably acceptable way that we can find. We settle for coherence, seldom holding out for finesse, nuance, dare I say, perfection.

Example: Those of you who call yourselves copywriters out there, when you write a headline, a banner ad, or some other one line articulation of your client’s message, once you come up with the idea, how much time do you spend on getting the exact articulation of your thought just right? Days? Hours? Minutes? Do you force yourself to write down two hundred, or even two dozen, variations in the quest to find the most compelling set of words? Or do you go with the first one that seems pretty good?

I know I’m guilty of caving into the pressures of time that have contributed to the erosion of wordsmithing. Where I once would have spent a full day sweating over a short paragraph of copy, I now spend, at most, half that amount of time. I’d like to think it’s because I’ve gotten better at my craft and work more efficiently these days. But, while that may be true, it’s just as true that I simply don’t work as hard, or as long, at the wordsmithing thing as I once did. No value is placed on my doing so, except by me, and I’m easily talked out of bothering, because I am a slug.

The ubiquity of email, text messaging and blogs has contributed mightily to this decline. It’s all about getting it down and getting it off to the recipient, rather than getting it just right.

Here’s another factor I’ve identified that I think is contributing to the waning of wordsmithing. As clients and agencies demand ideas of an interactive/engaging/experiential nature, the pressure is to come up with “experiential hooks”, which don’t demand such carefully crafted articulation. The heat is off, wordsmithing-wise. It is less the job of the words themselves to engage, involve, grab attention, and more the job of the experiential device.

This is an inevitable consequence of advertising’s shift to the interactive world of the web, and away from the more passive media—TV, radio, print.

For those of us who are better at words than experientials, it is a worrisome shift.

the most inneffective ads that work

It is interesting that the most ineffective ads (search links) are coveted for being so effective. But imagine if someone just asked for a car ad and then a car ad appeared; that car ad would be very effective. So really search ads probably aren't all that effective outside of the intent people infuse into the process while searching on google, yahoo, etc.

So what's the lesson we can learn from search?

  • align with people's intentions
  • don't interrupt what people want
  • give people the ability to explore
  • surrender control
  • don't horde people's time; instead push them toward their interests
  • simplicity often works (a simple text link)
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that search ads are effective. I'm saying that we misinterpret their effectiveness. The intent people bring to the search process is what makes search ads effective.

Keeping commitments in the ad business

It’s now 10:15. After more than a month away from Advertising for Peanuts due to a variety of reasons, I had made a commitment to myself to write a post for tonight.

But I am still at my computer working on another project. Something that has to get done. It’s on a deadline. And it helps pay my bills.

My day started wide open. More than enough time to do both.

But then I had to put out a few fires.

And then a few more.

I also had a few meetings.

And, of course, a few calls to return.

Not to mention a few emails.

And now in the evening, I can finally get to the first scheduled task of the day, the project I mentioned earlier.

But now I also have a conflict because, as I said, I made a personal commitment to come up with a column for tonight.

I am not writing this to complain.

I am writing this as a set up to two questions: How often does this happen to you—i.e., how often do portions of your day job get pushed to the night—and what do you do about it, especially when you have another commitment?

Please let me know. Advertising is an industry that puts huge time demands on us, demands that can often interfere with outside commitments. So how do you keep those outside commitments and keep your clients? Thoughts? Please, let’s get the discussion going. Just click on comments below to start.

Another disingenuous dancing alert

In the spirit of summer reruns, I’d like to reprise one of my pet peeves for a moment. Among all the contrived, non-credible behaviors we see portrayed in advertising, I find the “breaking out into dance because I’m so pleased with such and such a product” thing to be among the most reprehensible.

Because dancing can be so wonderfully expressive and joyful when it’s genuine, it’s that much more repugnant when the dancing is false.

There is a lot of behavior in advertising that would never take place in real life. This if fine, as long as the ad makes it clear that the advertiser is taking license—that there is a clear, mutual understanding that they aren’t pretending to replicate real life.

It is the advertising that attempts to represent some semblence of real life behavior that usually fails miserably. Generally, what we experience is simply the advertiser’s wishful thinking about how reality goes. “If only people, upon discovering my wonderful product, would really beam, or eagerly tell others, or be inspired to break out into a celebratory dance. Maybe if I portray this scenario in my advertising, it will somehow make it so in reality . . .”

What compels me to return to this topic again and again is that it keeps happening. We, the creative community, seem incapable of learning this lesson.

I am hearby issuing citations to three advertisers and their ad agencies for recent crimes against dancing credibility:

Aleve

Jello

(Though this, I concede, is a grey area, because sometimes the wiggly dancing represents the fun nature of the product, but in recent executions, the dancing seems to cross the line into characterizing the reactions of presumably real people)

Yo Plus

During the decade or so of diatribes against disingenuous dancing that I’ve produced, I must have cited at least a score of examples, starting, if I recall, with the notorious Senekot commercials in which old people who’ve returned to regularity dance with joy to a wincingly diluted arrangement of the James Brown tune “I Feel Good.”

There has been no letup recently. In fact, if anything, the frequency with which creatively bankrupt advertisers and their agencies have been resorting to this desperate, empty device, has been increasing.

Please, I implore you, whoever you are, desist with the disingenuous dancing.

advertising as content (revisited)

Back in March I wrote about the possibility for banner ads to carry content (i.e. The Office episodes), not ads. Back then I had this to say:

Picture this scenario: you are browsing yahoo news and you notice an ad that says something like, "Did you miss the last episode of The Office? Click here to watch it". You click on the ad and a player pops out and starts playing the episode of The Office that you missed. You can either watch the entire episode in full screen or leave it on in the background as you continue to browse the web.

This seems like a winning scenario. It's useful to consumers, the Studios get folks watching their programming and they make money off of every view, and advertisers make it all happen by running a few ads during the content.
I then stated that Hulu was closest to making this a reality with their "embed" functionality, where people can take an episode of a show, a movie, or a clip and embed it on their blog, website, etc, which allows the content AND the advertising to go beyond a static website.

Well, it now appears that Google is also attempting to make this scenario a reality. In a recent press release Google announced that they will be partnering with Seth MacFarlane to distribute his newest creation, Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy. The way they will do this is what is most interesting as they will be distributing the content across the Internet using Google's Ad Sense Network. So instead of needing to visit a website to view the content, the shows can be viewed from some of the most popular blogs around the Internet in the same place as where the ads are usually displayed.

This is interesting to me and raises a few questions:
  1. Will people pay attention to this new form of advertising / content distribution?
  2. Do people want to watch shows or clips as they visit / read their favorite blogs?
  3. Will they allow themselves to be interrupted?
  4. Will this cause more people to pay attention to the ad space on websites, rather than ignore it?
  5. Will the episodes carry ads with them or be advertising free?
  6. Will Google allow people to view the episodes in full-screen or embed it on other sites?
I'm sure there are many more questions, but this is a start.

Creativity vs. Co-optivity

This is a larger topic than this post has room to do justice to. The question I raise is not a new question in the arenas of art, popular culture and commerce. When artists, and I’ll use this term broadly enough to include rap/hip hop artists and even “advertising artists”, borrow or pay homage to or include a reference to the content of another piece of art, or include the actual piece of art, as happens very often in music, particularly rap music, and as also happens constantly within advertising, is this creativity? Or is it simply what I term “co-optivity”?

Of course, as is maddeningly true of any question of this sort, we immediately sink into a dark grey semantic sinkhole—what do we mean by “borrow”, “creativity” and so forth?

And the answer, if there even is one, will wind up somewhere in the middle, and totally case-dependent.

Nevertheless, the question bears asking because the simple act of raising the question may help quell the everpresent tendency to cross whatever the line is between borrowing and stealing, between paying homage and plagiarism, and ultimately, between creativity and co-optivity.

Let’s consider just two old examples that I can’t seem to shake:

Beck has a song called “Devil’s Haircut” from the Odelay CD, which is built on the defining riff of an obscure song by Van Morrison’s formative band, Them. It’s not just built on the riff, however, it is built on a faithful reconstruction of that riff, as it was executed in the Them song, fuzz guitar and all. Beck took a key piece of another artist’s work and created a different song built on this same piece. Never mind the legalities, how much of another artist’s work are you allowed to steal, and how little do you need to change it, and still be able to claim that it is your creation?

While he didn’t sample the actual recording, such sampling is a common practice, and while these samples are often used as seasoning for some musical piece, there are those who compose songs around them, which is just taking what Beck and many others have done one step further.

Last night I heard a musical piece by a “mashup” artist with the moniker, “Girl Talk”, in which he peppers his composition with several samples of others’ work, each playing a fairly prominent role. I didn’t recognize all of the samples, but his composition begins by leaning heavily on a sample of The Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin’”. So here we have an entire musical genre, or sub genre, that feeds shamelessly off the creativity of others, pretending to share authorship.

The textbook example of co-optivity in advertising is when the Budweiser creatives at DDB Chicago lifted the characters and schtick from an independent film and more or less re-created them for the purpose of selling Bud. The “Whassup” campaign was critically acclaimed and showered with accolades. It was as if these creatives had actually thought of the idea or something. Is this what creativity in advertising consists of? The audacity of theft?

Advertising seems to be increasingly Simpsonized, where the power of advertisements relies on pop cultural references, which is a practice that already skirts the edge of co-optivity. But when allegedly creative people don’t simply make a reference, but, rather, resort to ripping out entire chunks of someone else’s creation and claim them as their own, how is it creative?

I loathe intellectual dishonesty, especially when it’s not me doing it. And I submit that co-optivity is inherently intellectually dishonest.

I told you that this topic is too large to do justice to here.

inverse relationship

I have a theory. I'm not sure whether it matters, but I find it a bit funny and potentially true.

Tom's theory:

companies that are hiring ad agencies to help them "innovate", or become more "digital", are companies that are doomed to insignificance and lackluster performance

whereas

companies that are hiring ad agencies to help them create advertisements are companies that are innovative, significant and delivering a superior product or service
It is all very counter-intuitive and ironic, but I think it's true.

Collateral Damage

Let’s make a list of things that have been ruined forever by advertising, shall we?

Talking animals;

Countless pieces of great music, from pop to classical, most recently, Daydream Believer;

Talking babies. Granted the Etrade baby is, at times, inspired, nevertheless, the whole talking baby shtick is toast;

Our respect for artists who prostitute their art by allowing it to be bastvertized, starting with Dylan, the Beatles, The Who, the Rolling Stones, Springsteen, and we haven’t even touched on visual artists;

Countless one word punchlines such as:

“What?” (in response to being stared because of having done or said something stupid or outrageous)

“Dude.”

Children talking like adults;

Impossibly clueless people who are dumbfounded or rendered speechless by the news of a benefit of some product or service, (see the new National City Bank campaign.);

Many special effects and other manipulations of reality. For example,

morphing;

abrupt changes back and forth between normal speed to fast motion to slow motion;

Large objects (cars, pianos, wrecking balls, etc.) falling unexpectedly into frame, crushing a person, a car, whatever.

The credibility of many iconic cultural figures, when they become aadvertising pitchmen, i.e. Robert DeNiro. Bob Dylan, Spike Lee, Bill Curtis,

This, surely, only scratches the surface of stuff that advertising has beaten to death, thus severely diminishing or outright ruining the original intended effect, along with stuff like great art, music etc., that simply ought not to be cheapened/diminished/ prostituted for the purpose of selling banking services, soda pop and so forth.

I invite you to add to this list. It’s not only good therapy, but it might turn into a useful list of “don’ts” next time you’re conceptualizing. If we compile a long enough list, it could become a book, in which case we could all split the royalties.

Do something good, jerks!

Most days we sell crap to people who don't need it. Every now and then we do something good for humanity.

These isolated cases we praise in our industry publications and awards shows. We then get back to our day-to-day grind.

I keep hearing that advertising has some of the brightest people in the world working in it. Theoretically we could change the world.

But, we don't.

A friend of mine here in San Francisco (not an advertising guy) just planned a fund raiser based on people bringing pies and paying a few bucks. It's a simple idea, but it's doing something good. Why don't agencies come up with stuff like that more often? We're brilliant supposedly, why don't we put just a small percentage of our minds towards making the world a better place?

Big praise to Droga5 for setting a good example.

less and more

--choice is good, but leads to more, which creates complexity
--simplicity is good, but can limit choice, which is undesirable


i suggest choice and simplicity as the model. the tension between the two is helpful in:

  • creating a strategy
  • writing copy
  • art directing
  • client management
  • web design
  • etc.
the phrase less is more should be rewritten to be less and more

In praise of the Dos Equis radio campaign

I’ve praised the Dos Equis “Most interesting man in the world” radio campaign previously. (The TV extension of this campaign is okay, but the radio campaign is the gem.) But I feel compelled to revisit this campaign in light of a couple of new spots I’ve heard recently.

The spots from this campaign are the only radio spots I can recall laughing out loud at in recent memory. Even the “Real Men of Genius” campaign, in its early days, evoked smiles, not out loud laughs from me.

The writer or writers of the Dos Equis spots are funny and inventive in a way that we seldom hear. It’s almost as if whoever the agency is (Euro RSCG? Which office?) put their “A” team on this assignment.

For those who aren’t familiar with the campaign, it consists largely of a series of one liners providing instances of why the most interesting man in the world is the most interesting man in the world, or consequences of being the most interesting man in the world.

Allow me to hopefully not butcher just three of the lines in these current spots that made me laugh. Each line carries an implied “He’s so interesting that . . .” (I’m pulling these from my addled memory, so I may not be precisely word for word):

Alien abductors ask him to probe them.

He is the only man in the world to have aced a Rorschach test.

Many years ago, he built a city out of blocks. Today, 600,000 people live and work there.

As you may be able to tell from this brief list, it is the cumulative effect of several of these grouped together that makes the spots so funny, and, of course, they are meant to be read out loud by the very well cast voiceover guy, rather than read in a blog post.

The reason I’m spending all this time adoring this campaign is that it is a graphic reminder of just how lame and un-funny almost all presumably humorous advertising is. It doesn’t have to make you laugh out loud to be funny, it might simply bring a smile. But SO MUCH of the stuff I see and hear that is intended to be funny is just not. It is failed humor. Humor-like in structure, form and pace. But devoid of actual funny content.

It’s only on the rare occasion when we experience genuinely funny ads that it becomes apparent how bad faux funny advertising (namely, most advertising) is. And how invaluable genuine humor can be to a brand. I’d love to know how Dos Equis sales have been going over the last couple of years. Anybody know?

Open source oops: Timing is everything

A while back, I wrote about open source advertising. While I had the idea for more than a month (two, actually), I sat on it, because I had other topics that I wanted to write about. But I finally got around to it.

As soon as I published my post on open source advertising, I got a comment that Pepsi was already doing what I had described. Then I got a comment from an individual who had just opened an firm dedicated to providing open source advertising. And, on the following day, I found a recently published book called The Open Brand.

While written in a semi-joking tone to make fun of the conventions of the industry, all three of my points in my article were predictions: a corporate title, a specialized agency, and books (and eventual trade show) keynotes.

If I had published my post when I thought of the idea, I might have been leading the way. Now I was just following fast.

My obvious lesson is don’t sit on an idea—not even for a few weeks. When the time is right, more than one person will get the idea. And just like the rest of advertising, it’s not just the idea; it’s also the execution of the idea. And, it’s how quickly the idea can be executed.

Now if only I could learn my own simple and obvious lesson. After all, I got the idea for this follow up post weeks ago and I am now finally getting around to publishing it. But maybe my failing to post this sooner will remind you to not wait with acting on your ideas.

“Communication is unlikely . . .

If you get what I’m saying.” -- Chairman Jimmy.

I apologize in advance for the length of this post.

My post from last week elicited several comments, which was heartening. On the other hand, most of these comments revealed my apparently total failure to communicate the point I was trying to make. I’m trying to view this as an instructive failure.

So where did I go so terribly wrong?

The first and main mistake I made was to assume a shared experience with you, the devoted readers of AFP. As it turns out, either many of you have in fact shared the experience to which I was referring, but I was so cryptic or unclear in alluding to or characterizing this experience that no one had the slightest idea what I was talking about.

Or, the experience I was talking about is not as common as I had assumed.

Or both.

Whichever the case, it has been a very humbling reminder of just how much more careful I need to be about taking into consideration who one’s readers are, what they do, where they’ve been, etc.

I guess the good news is that I’ve never experienced such a total miscommunication before.

Or have I? How would I know?

In any case, to set the record straight, let me try to at least clarify the phenomenon about which I devoted last week’s post.

In my experience, when I’ve gone into a meeting with a creative director, in which my art director partner and I are to present initial concepts for, let’s say, a print ad, sometimes the following takes place.

We show a rough layout, (Remember rough layouts? No? Yikes.), with some visual, a headline, and the client’s logo and tag down at the bottom somewhere.

In critiquing the concept, the CD often reaches into his quiver and pulls out some standard deflating arrow, like, “Um, I feel like I’ve seen this before” or something similar.

Another such arrow, the one about which my whole post was concerned, involves the CD saying, “I feel like if I removed our client’s logo and replaced it with a competitor’s logo, it would work just as well.” The point of this comment being that the concept isn’t distinctly reflective or expressive of our client’s brand voice or look or whatever. It’s too generic.

This arrow, like so many in the CD’s quiver, is totally unhelpful and, in my view, wrong-headed.
If it’s a great ad idea, who cares if a competitor could, hypothetically, have done the ad. The fact is, they haven’t, so it’s available for us to do it for our client.

So, unless the concept carries a particular competitor’s actual brand look, feel, voice, what’s the problem?

See, now my confidence has been so undermined that I feel like I’m still not making myself clear.

It seems as if some of the people who posted comments were mostly responding to the idea of showing a client’s competitor’s logo within the client’s ad, and the value/advisability/effectiveness of this ploy.

Which is a whole different topic, about which I’m not prepared to opine at the moment. Maybe once I get over my despair regarding this recent communication breakdown, I’ll be able to assemble a coherent thought regarding this issue.

from the gut vs. research

As a researcher I often feel that much of what I do could be accomplished by just going from the gut. Many of the questions I'm asked to answer could (and should) be answered by instinct, not surveys or focus groups.

I know, this is blasphemy coming from someone that actually does research for a living, but I think the first question that a good researcher should ask is, "could I answer this question from instinct much quicker (and cheaper) than conducting research?" At the very least this will help refine any research that is conducted and it may actually replace doing research altogether.

You should try it. It's fun.

If you can put the competition’s logo on the ad . . .

I’ve heard this rule invoked by dozens of creative directors over the years as grounds to reject a concept. I recommend that this criticism be tossed on the slag heap along with other bogus rules such as the “borrowed interest” prohibition we discussed in an earlier post.

If you were to view every ad currently running in a particular category, without knowing which brands did which ads, there would likely be some ads about which you could easily identify the brand. But most ads would possess a degree of “interchangeability.” Could be a Miller ad. Could be a Bud ad. Could be a Toyota ad. Could be a Nissan ad. Could be LG. Could be Sony. That, by itself, would not make the ad bad. In fact, it could be a great ad, carrying a powerful truth, delivered in a striking manner, consistent with, or at least consonant with, its brand. And yet not be obviously assignable to one and only one brand.

If you have to look for the logo to find out who did the ad, this is no basis for dismissing the ad. In fact, it might be a basis for praise, since it means the viewer of the ad was sufficiently engaged by the ad to take the trouble to wonder whose ad it was.

In most cases, every brand within a category has to choose from among the same finite set of benefits as the other brands in that category. Ideally, what sets a brand apart is the ownership of a certain benefit or combination of benefits, as filtered through their own unique brand voice, face, personality. Unfortunately, this circumstance is rare. Most brands don’t do that good of a job of setting themselves apart. But the fact that a brand has not differentiated itself clearly and unmistakably doesn’t preclude the possibility of producing a great ad for that brand. Even if, were you to swap out logos and taglines, that same ad could just as easily have come from some other not-very-well-differentiated brand in that same category.

Roar

With the Cannes Lions happening and everyone struggling to be the first to pat everyone on the back I remembered back to this great clip I saw in one of the "behind-the-scenes" judges videos for what I believe was D&AD. They're going around and asking the judges what they think of the work, etc and everyone says "oh it's great it's so fantastic to see all the innovative blah blah blah". And then they get to a guy from Kesselskramer and ask him. And he in essence says that there's nothing impressive or new and that it's basically the same stuff they always see. It made me really glad he was a judge, because if he votes on something, I know it's good.

"Skip the pun"? Not so fast.

As Sally Fields once pointed out, “’Pun’ spelled backwards is “nup,” and a nup is a nup.

I appreciate the point that Tom Tom made about looking beyond, or beneath, the pun, is his post of June 12.

However, in searching for the deeper thought underlying the pun, As Tom Tom rightly advocates, we mustn’t dismiss or ignore or sell short the value that a good pun itself brings.

Before I explain, let me first make an impassioned plea. Can we call them “plays on words” rather than “puns”, please? I’m not trying to euphemize here. It’s just that the word “pun” is so hopelessly burdened with connotations of cheap-and-easiness, groaning corniness, etc., the stigma precludes any credible defense of this device itself.

Here are two reasons I would not be so quick to encourage simply moving past the play on words to find the deeper, perhaps more compelling thought that underlies that play.

First, in our business, there is a lot of value placed on economy of words, as well as on the ability of those words to interrupt, disrupt, draw attention, and engage the reader. The fact is, sometimes the play on words is unbeatably economical, because in letting it play on two meanings, both of which are germaine to the message, you have one headline (or whatever) doing the work of two. I think of it as two barbed hooks sinking into different points in the brain.

Second, because it cleverly plays on two meanings, the headline catches the eye and the brain and makes the reader think about it for a second, netting you a pretty dang effective headline. It’s possible that there is a deeper, more substantial thought that anchors this play on words, but if it takes two lines to express that thought, it may not be worth the tradeoff. Or it may be.

My point is, let’s not assume that the play on words will always be the lesser option.

One last thought. As with most everything else, the industry-wide disdain for plays on words is based, not on the play on words per se, but rather, on all the badly executed plays on words out there. The fact is, most are obvious, not really funny or clever, off message or in some other way deeply flawed and inadequate. Very often the brilliant play on words is not even seen as such because everyone’s too busy admiring the thought that it doesn’t occur to anyone to credit the play on words as the source of that thought.

I join Tom Tom in lamenting the reality that creative directors are, as a group, predisposed to trash the play on words out of hand. But I think this is all the more reason to confront the CD with great plays on words anytime you work hard enough to uncover one.

What Teaching Teaches

By Timothy Delaney

An MRI of a typical creative person’s brain would no doubt reveal a highly developed right lobe (that’s the intuitive side) and a somewhat atrophied left lobe. Most great advertising is not arrived at logically, but through a series of random leaps. For the typical ad geek the left lobe is reserved not for statistics and spreadsheets but for TV theme songs, film dialog and the names of ‘70’s rock bands. An art director might have a few Photoshop tricks stored in there but that’s about it. For creatives the right lobe is our bread and butter, where ideas, art and all other worthwhile things come from. Left-brain stuff is reserved for the suits. But every once in a while that half does come in handy.

A while back I was invited to teach an advertising course at Columbia College Chicago. I had taught portfolio classes in the past, where you give eager students assignments and get to play creative director. But this was different. The course was Introduction to Advertising and was meant for marketing students. I accepted the challenge, not knowing what I was getting myself into. Columbia College Chicago is a bona fide learning institution, with grades, evaluations and a teachers union. My students were not just creatives, but also included the clients of tomorrow. This course was to involve real information, not just opinion. And each class was nearly three hours long.

But there is a wealth of advertising related content out there waiting to be tapped. Books by Luke Sullivan, Pat Fallon, and my own friends Mark Silveira, Pat Hanlon and Larry Minsky function as our textbooks. The ad columns in the New York Times and the Sun Times provide weekly grist for discussion. And of course there’s YouTube. Anything the least bit noteworthy or just downright stupid in the broadcast world finds its way to YouTube in a nanosecond.

And there is also my own vast experience. My history stretches back to the Paleolithic era on the advertising timeline. I started out at Scale, McCabe, Sloves in New York working for the guys that pretty much invented the business. Not exactly “Mad Men” but close. I recall seeing the archetypal Maxell guy in the chair as a comp on a presentation board. I have spent time in Ed McCabe’s hot tub. I’ve witnessed Joe Sedelmaier verbally abusing talent. So when things slow down after about 90 minutes (and they often do) I can usually pull a great story out of my murky past. Accounts of in office drug abuse and debauchery go over particularly well

And more often than not, I learn from my students. These kids are not trust fund slackers. Many speak English as a second language. All of them work during the day. And although I had to explain who Mr. Whipple was, they are very tuned into pop culture, both past and present. So I don’t have to subject myself to VH1 to know what’s hip.

The net result is a fair exchange between student and teacher. They challenge me to regurgitate everything I’ve learned about this wacky business.

And in return, I get to feel like I actually know something.

Timothy Delaney is an art director who runs his own freelance creative services firm. He has won One Show, CA, Chicago Show, and various other awards. His most recent essay, prior to this one, appeared in The New York Times.

Skip the Pun

I am not anti-pun. I find that, on occasion, I actually enjoy them and that they are the right answer. However, I've also found that behind most pun-lines, there's are real lines trying to get out.

When you find yourself looking at a pun that just seems too good to be true, scratch it out and keep writing. More often than not, the reason the pun works is because there's actually something truer and deeper to your concept. There will be a brilliant line that accomplishes the same thing you thought only the pun could. The deeper thought. And when you find it, it'll feel damn good. And suddenly you'll realize how much smarter your ad feels.

Plus, the entire industry is so pun-phobic that you can now safely show that piece to a creative director who read somewhere that puns are bad and thus won't even look at an ad that has a pun in it. In advertising rules are meant to be broken. Just not that rule.

The Soundtrack of my Copy

I don't know about you, but music plays a large role in my creative process. Not so much in the concpeting stage, when my partner and I are batting around ideas. But when it comes down the the brass tacks of banging out some long copy or a couple dozen TV scripts or a few pages of headlines etc., for a meeting, I turn to my iTunes library and select the genre of zone I'd like to be in. And I've noticed, the music I select can have a profound effect on my productivity.

First off, I don't listen to music with lyrics or singing. Because the words I'm hearing tend to muddle with the words I'm thinking of in my head, and it becomes far to distracting. I'll suddenly realize I have been thinking of animals being let out of a zoo for the last 15 minutes and I haven't written a word. So that limits my copywriting listening to instrumental rock, hip-hop beats, classical, indie instrumentals, and some electronic stuff.

Secondly, the energy of the music I select is crucial to the quality and especially the quantity of work I can do. If it's late and I need to really kick it in gear I throw on some Ratatat or Hemsted, maybe The Go! Team. Something that gets the blood pumping. If I'm settling into a long session I usually turn to some beats like Yesterdays New Quintet, Madlib's "Beat Konduct in India," Bonobo, DJ Alibi, and instrumentals by the likes of MF Doom and Quasimoto. This stuff puts me into a loop-like copywriting trance. And then sometimes If I'm feeling distracted and unfocused I turn the lights down low and ease into some Tchaikovsky, or Papa M, or Rachel's or Calexico anything that sucks me into the computer screen.

And lastly, I've recently noticed that listening to music that sounds like the brand I'm working has a surprisingly significant positive impact on my writing. If music I'm spinning sounds like it could be the soundtrack to the TV spot I'm writing, the words just seem to flow faster and more fluid on the page. So if it's a young, hip brand I try to listen to something that feels youthful and energetic. If it's a mature brand I listen to something that has some weight and sophistication to it. Try it, you'll see what I mean.

But I'm curious. What do you guys listen to when you write, art direct or brand strategies? How does music play into your creative process. Because I could use some fresh tunes in the old copywriting repertoire.

how do you define advertising?

Princeton defines advertising

"as the business of drawing public attention to goods and services."
Is that how you define advertising? Is that how you think of your job?

Lest We Forget

[Given the title, there is, I suppose, irony in the fact that I posted the following rumination earlier today, having forgotten that I had posted it once already in May. Both my memory and my filing system failed me. Fortunately, Littlejohn had my back, and dutifully pointed out my blahgaffe. I've decided to leave this post intact for three reasons. First, as Prince reminds us, "There's joy in repetition. There's joy in repetition. There's joy in repetition." Second, within this post I suggest that we remind ourselves daily of the savviness of consumers. So it might make sense for me to remind us monthly to remind ourselves daily. Perhaps I'll post this thing again in July. Third, I added something to the close of this post. Maybe not qualitatively. but quantitatively. So let's let it stand.]

Here’s the thing. At least in the realm of most consumer advertising, when a person experiences an ad, it’s a brief moment, a tiny drop in the stream of their consciousness. They notice the ad, if we’re lucky, and if we’re really lucky, they engage with the ad and maybe even file some kind of positive impression in their head. They may even go to a website or make a call as a result of experiencing the ad. But that’s it. They move on. They don’t think about it any more. They don’t think back to the ad later in the day. They don’t look the ad over with a critical eye. They don’t spend time with it. They don’t start examining each element of the ad. They don’t question the motive of the advertiser. They understand full well that the advertiser will always present their product or service in a positive light. They understand that the advertiser will not denigrate or dis the target. It is safe to assume the person who experiences the ad is smart about advertising. They get the deal. They know their role. They’ve had a lifetime of experience being on the receiving end. They understand what the advertiser is trying to do and why. And, even if they won’t admit it in public, they appreciate, in a small way, being diverted, engaged, entertained and/or informed by a good ad. We would all be well served to remind ourselves and our clients, daily, how unimportant our ad is to the target audience, and how advertising-sophisticated that audience is. Maybe then we’d be more inclined to think beyond, and sell beyond, the obvious, the easy and the vacuous. And not indulge ourselves in silly, unfounded, unreasonable fears to justify killing our most interesting ideas.

It's Tough to Be a Good CD These Days

Our very own AFP contributor Jim Morris has a delightfully controversial column appearing in AdWeek this week. It's about the increasingly difficult job we call Creative Director.
He prepossess several reasons why most CDs are finding themselves in over their heads these days, and here's just a preview.

"I submit that the underlying causes are a combination of corporate laziness and the account service department's collective abrogation of several of its obvious responsibilities. Sadly, the situation is exacerbated by some creative directors' quests for more organizational control.

I would hypothesize that the vicious cycle that spawned this sad state of affairs has gone something like this: Account management people, on average, have become weaker and less capable over the past three decades or more."
You will have to give the full article a read here. And let Chairman Jimmy know what you think. If he's right, perhaps soon we might see Mike Rowe of Discovery Channel at an Ad Agency filming another episode of Dirty Jobs.

how to research without researching

Step 1: begin (if you aren't already) using a personalized homepage. Many exist: netvibes, iGoogle, pageflakes, etc.


Step 2: track PR by going to google and typing in something you would like to follow. For instance, you may want to follow "digital advertising" or "DVRs" or whatever. Once you click search, look up at the top of the page and click "News". This will filter the search by news articles. Then click RSS and copy and paste the url onto your personalized homepage. This will allow you to track PR on an ongoing basis, and the results automagically update, meaning new articles automatically appear.


Step 3: track consumer sentiment by mining blog comments (via Technorati), and twitter comments. Here's how: go to technorati.com (technorati is a blog search engine) and type in the word or phrase you would like to track, copy the RSS of the results and put it on your personalized homepage. It will also automagically update when new posts are written. Next go to tweetscan.com and type in the word or phrase you want to track, grab the RSS and put it on your personalized homepage.


Step 4: track the experts by finding a few trade publications that matter and grabbing their RSS and placing it on your personalized homepage.


Bonus: if you want to literally see what people are doing related to a topic, go to Tag Galaxy and type in a word or phrase to see all the pictures tagged with that word or phrase on flickr.com.


Keep in mind: This is a great approach, but it is not without its own bias. And, don't track too much or you won't be able to keep up.


Let me know if you have other tips and tricks.

Eek! Entertainment! Eek!

The new definition of advertising:

n. Entertainment with some commercial message or agenda of some sort in there somewhere.

The industry simply must stop being phobic about unapologetically identifying what we do as entertainment.

I blame David Ogilvy for this affliction. Since his time, the advertising environment, as well as the larger cultural environment in which advertising plays, has changed enough to render many of his tenets about advertising obsolete. Including his jaundiced view of “entertainment value” in advertising.

Clients need to accept that, in today's environment, with consumers having so much choice and so much power to exclude messages that are boring or annoying, advertisers had better embrace not just the value, but the absolute indispensability, of entertainment in their marketing efforts.

Entertainment is a very broad word that doesn't preclude the possibility of effectively incorporating a strategically grounded, persuasive message.

After all, what does entertainment mean?

Entertainment:

n. That which is created in order to amuse, interest, please, divert and/or stimulate an audience.

Surely this is a necessary condition for something to qualify as a “good” ad.

So let’s stop being so dang timid and defensive about recognizing that advertising must be entertaining first, in order for it to accomplish its other goals.

Maybe if we can get over this problem, we can tackle the phobia that so many advertisers, particularly BtoB advertisers have about referring to their funny advertising as “funny.” When I’m selling work to a client, I’m still compelled to draw on my lexicon of euphemisms for “funny” in describing funny concepts. I can call an idea “lighthearted”, “fun”, “friendly”, “good-humored” and so forth. But if I call it funny, the client invariably squirms, and the idea is dealt an oft-fatal blow.

This “funny” problem is a simply a subset of the “entertaining” problem. But for many clients, they will become comfortable with “entertaining” long before they finally embrace “funny.” And it may only be when we can provide objective neuroscieentific evidence of desirable changes in the brain brought on by smiling and laughing (increased endorphins, etc.), evidence that these changes contribute to positive attitudes and intentions toward brands that makes them laugh, that advertisers will see the light.

What’s your favorite ad campaign?

It’s graduation time for all of you soon-to-be advertising junior copywriters and art directors. So if you have a portfolio that will get you in the door (the first hurdle), it’s time to prepare for that face-to-face discussion. And the headline of this column is a very popular interview question. But it’s amazing the number of aspiring professionals who want to get into the industry can’t name one. It’s also amazing the number of people who work in the industry can’t even name one. But I bet you can. What is it? Please list it in the comments section. If not for me (I always like to know what people like), do it to help all those soon-to-be junior copywriters and art directors. After all, if you don’t tell them what to think, who will?

The basics done well

This site for Norton is pretty sweet. I love it when something that has typically been dry gets coolified. I can think of few companies that seem more dull and buttoned up than Norton, but here they loosened that top button and started talking human.

I think it's great when companies step off their ivory pedestals and mingle with the commoners. I wish more companies would do it. Then we could understand what the hell they were saying.

listening to people

Here are a few things to think about the next time you are out listening to people in focus groups, on the street, in their homes, etc.

  • question their answers: people don't intentionally lie (at least not often), but we will make up answers and say things that will make us sound better than we actually are.
  • is it just an "easy answer": often we want to answer something just to get it done with which means we don't elaborate as much as we could.
  • do they know how to answer the question: many questions are tough to answer and need to be asked in a few different ways. if an answer does not make sense, perhaps they did not understand the question.
  • watch their body language: this is key. most communication is non-verbal. non-verbal communication adds context to verbal communication.
  • notice their pattern of response: many people are always positive or negative or apathetic. by noticing this, you can understand their response more fully.
  • understand your own bias: for the most part, it's hard to listen when our own biases are getting in the way. "older people don't get technology", "younger people are hasty", etc. these biases get in the way of actually understanding people for who they are, not who we think they are.

Off Target

Through recent meetings with clients and agency partners I came to the realization that the perspective on how to target a market is still incredibly narrow for most.

For most, if you're targeting a 35 year old tax broker you make an ad that screams "Hey 35 year old tax broker!"But this perspective assumes that a 35 year old tax broker has no aspirations beyond their present existence and no internal vision of who they are.

Consider that in the 80s Wall Street broker scene Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" became popular reading. None of these brokers were on their way into a sword fight, but they could relate based on their vision of themselves as warriors. Thus an ad "targeting" samurai might perform better than an ad targeting a broker sitting at a desk. Even though actual samurai are unlikely to purchase our product.

A more common example is in car commercials where the details given on a car are far too complex for the layman to follow. The layman may be more interested in the car based on the perception that the car was created for the enthusiast who would understand all those things (sort of a "it's what the pros use" perception).

Though it's easy to follow, this thought isn't necessarily intuitive. We need to be careful to close this gap as we present these kind of ideas. Otherwise our clients will think we're idiots selling investment software to ninjas.

The Ramp



This is some footage shot from a train of a giant ramp that was built in the small German town of Oberpfaffelbachen. The ramp was built with the the intentions of launching a car from Germany into America. There was a documentary made about the ramp, and the town that built it that you can watch here.

Now Please assist me with a little experiment. Look at your clock. What time is it? Now click on the links above. Watch. Explore a bit. Then come back and answer the questions in the comment sections (and no cheating) Thank you.

telling a story vs. joining a story

It is often said that we as marketers need to tell stories. We need to tell our client's stories and they need to be great. While I don't disagree, I think the more accurate phrase would be that we need to join a story.

Joining a story means tapping into a movement. It means understanding people so well that the product meets their unique needs exactly. When marketers join a story they are a participant. As a participant in a story you let others talk just as much (if not more) than you, and you accept the language and the mood of the already underway story.

This is a subtle difference, but real nonetheless. The psychology of telling vs. joining is completely different.

Telling:

--All about the storyteller
--One sided communication
--Story is potentially unwanted
--Story is, well...a story

Joining:

--All about ALL participants
--Two-way communication
--Story is living and evolving
--The story keeps going when you stop talking

So instead of focusing on telling a story, I suggest we focus on joining a story.

Aren't most advertisers wasting their time and money?

Perhaps the following ramble is simply the product of the brain-addling isolation of the freelance writer. Am I missing something? Am I stating the obvious? Or the obviously confused? After reading this, kindly let me know. Please point out the glaring flaw in my thinking and put me out of my misery.

Within the universe of consumer products, how many brands are competing, at least locally or regionally, for a slot in their potential consumers’ minds? Thousands? Tens of thousands? Surely there is some upper limit to the total number of brands to which one person can feel any allegiance (or any emotion, or any awareness at all, for that matter.)

Isn’t it likely that this upper limit is somewhere in the hundreds? And if that is the case, isn’t it ill-conceived folly for so many companies, especially those with smaller budgets, to be laboring so relentlessly against what will be, for most of them, a futile effort?

If you are a regional manufacturer of some product, let’s say mustard, which is number four in the category, eclipsed by one dominant national number one brand, a perennial national number two and a national number three that is itself barely on consumers’ radar, if at all.

In the absence of some very distinctive, unique benefit, or a dramatic price advantage, what should you, Mr. Mustard, do? How should you be thinking and acting regarding your “brand” (which may not really exist as a brand, to the extent that “brand” is defined as an impression in the minds of consumers?)

I don’t mean to go all Marketing 101 on you here. The point I’m trying to make is that, for many, possibly most, consumer products out there, the idea of using consumer advertising to create a brand in the minds of their target is pure folly, isn’t it? There’s just no room at the inn.

The vast number of products vying for attention vs. the number of brands any one person can hold in his/her head makes this conclusion inevitable. Doesn’t it?

I know that a lot of these products, wisely, never even bother with consumer advertising. But many, many others squander their budgets year after year, on the naïve hope that somehow they can break through. And this is a delusion that most ad agencies are more than happy to encourage. In fact, many agencies live or die on the (naïve? Self-deluded?) aspirations of the world’s struggling number three’s and four’s.

Is it wrong for agencies to behave this way, given the extreme improbability of success? Or does the free enterprise system require such tilting at windmills? Once in a blue moon, a brand defies the odds (usually due entirely to some brilliant advertising) and advertises itself into minds and homes of its target. But for every success story like that, think how many millions of dollars are wasted every year by all those other companies whose products try but fail to rise to the level of a bona fide brand in their targets’ brand-finite minds.

Make Room For Thinking

Sweet vindication. I have long maintained that the bigger the room you’re in, the more able you are to think expansively, and the bigger the ideas you can create. I suspect this contention of mine has been seen by many as naïve, simplistic, and just my lame excuse to get out of the office or cubicle or whatever confined space I’m inhabiting at the moment. But the truth will out.

A recent study has confirmed what I have been saying. It concludes that, when you think in a room with a higher ceiling, you are inclined to “freer, more abstract thinking”, whereas, in a room with a lower ceiling, the tendency is to think smaller and focus on details. So there. Ha. (Obviously, I write these posts in a very tiny room.)

This study did not test that ultimate high ceiling—the out of doors—so the jury’s still out on that environment. But from now on, when I try to explain why I must run off to the nearest big mall food court or library to get some thinking done, I’ll be armed with at least one shred of evidence that my need to seek out an expansive setting is not pure folly.

Have you found this to be true, that you think better or bigger when you’re in a bigger room? I’m curious how common this phenomenon is.

new language of marketing

lets start a new language for marketing. i find that the way that i speak about my job influences how i do my job. that is why i want to start a new marketing lexicon. below is a start. add your own.

  • consumers -> people
  • campaign -> conversation
  • 30 second spot -> 30 second interaction
  • direct response -> direct conversation
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM) -> Vendor Relationship Management (VRM)
  • purchase funnel -> instant research & purchase
  • reach -> attention
  • consumer insight -> human truth
  • marketing mix modeling -> predictably irrational
  • brand loyalty -> loyal brands
  • advertising agency -> business partner

Thanks for the comments

One of my goals when I post a blog is to get people to comment. Whether I am right or wrong with what I say, I want to start a conversation. Therefore, I want to thank Laura for pointing out that my post last week was close to one that ran a few weeks back and to Littlejohn for coming to my defense and pointing out that the themes of posts may overlap from time to time.

While there was some overlap, I believed that my message in this post was slightly different than the one in T. Willerer's post "Cultivating a questioning discipline."

I failed to look back at "Cultivating a questioning discipline" and, as I recalled his post, it was about how to generate unique insights that enable one to create great solutions. Mine was about how not to get fired. It’s the difference between asking “why” and asking “what.”

I agree with T. Willerer that we should question everything about the assignment. But one can question without physically asking someone. And one can ask for a simple clarification without engaging in deep questioning.

I wrote my post, "Just ask," because I recently overheard a discussion about two art directors. One kept asking questions and inviting feedback. The other worked alone until the end, apparently afraid to admit that she didn't understand the assignment. I don’t have to say which one was more successful. It’s obvious, but the failure could have been avoided if the second AD had only asked for simple clarification.

I was also inspired to write about it when Littlejohn wrote about embracing his stupid. After all, this AD failed because she was afraid to look stupid.

I apologize to T. Willerer for not looking back and for not referencing his post, "Cultivating a questioning discipline" in my post. It was a good post and he covered the need to ask for clarification. But I still would have written my article. Part of my mission with this column is to help people understand what it takes to find and keep employment in our industry. And the little act of asking is key to being successful. So much so, that I now devoted two columns in a row to it.

But enough is enough. Next week, I promise to cover something different. After all, with fewer successful people in the industry, there’s more work for the rest of us. Right?

The Power of the Forken


On a recent weekend trip to the grocery, to pick up some Cinco De Mayo celebratory goodies, I stumbled upon this interesting contraption. It's a plastic fork taped to an ink pen. (This is just my re-creation of the actual Safeway Store specimen; I didn't have my camera at the time.) Well, you might be wondering, as I was, what kind of nimnuts tapes a plastic fork to an ink pen? But as I finished signing my name to the store receipt, and set the Forken back down, I realized it was a very smart nimnuts that taped a plastic fork to an ink pen.

We humans have a habit of pocketing ink pens. Practically every day of our lives we get out a pen to write or sign something then put that pen back in our pocket or purse and go on about our day. So, in banks, stores, doctor offices and places where we sign stuff we tend to pocket pens that don't belong to us. It's not that we have a klepto problem when it comes to ball points, it's just habit.

But by simply taping a plastic fork to a pen it breaks that ingrained habit. We aren't used to putting forks into our pockets; they don't belong there. So we set the Forken back down and walk away. (Maybe smokers should tape a fork to their cigarette lighters at parties too.)

Changing habits and human behavior is what we do in this business. How do we get someone to walk to the other side of the aisle, visit a different URL, or drive to the other side of town, when it is their habit to do the opposite? Yes, I was inspired that day standing in line a the 15-item-or-less lane. Because I realized, sometimes all it takes to completely change a person's ingrained habitual nature and natural tendencies is a taped on plastic fork.

Lest we forget

Here’s the thing. At least in the realm of consumer advertising, when a person experiences an ad, it’s a brief moment, a tiny drop in the stream of their consciousness. They notice the ad, if we’re lucky, and if we’re really lucky, they engage with the ad and maybe even file some kind of positive impression in their head. They may even go to a website or make a call as a result of experiencing the ad. But that’s it. They move on. They don’t think about it any more. They don’t think back to the ad later in the day. They don’t look the ad over with a critical eye. They don’t spend time with it. They don’t start examining each element of the ad. They don’t question the motive of the advertiser. They understand full well that the advertiser will always present their product or service in a positive light. They understand that the advertiser will not denigrate or dis the target. It is safe to assume the person who experiences the ad is smart about advertising. They get the deal. They know their role. They’ve had a lifetime of experience being on the receiving end. They understand what the advertiser is trying to do and why. And, even if they won’t admit it in public, they appreciate, in a small way, being diverted, engaged, entertained and/or informed by a good ad. We would all be well served to remind ourselves and our clients, daily, how unimportant our ad is to the target audience, and how advertising-sophisticated that audience is.

Just Ask

I agree with Littlejohn's post from yesterday. As he wrote, "people suppress their stupid because they want to be the one who has the solution, hits a home run, and brings the big winning idea to the client table."

But I've found that many people also suppress their "stupid," because they don't want to look stupid. This behavior extends beyond holding back on blurting out ad ideas. I have seen people sit and try to figure out an assignment on their own rather than just asking a co-worker or their boss for insight, input, or help.

But one of the great things about this industry is that we're able and encouraged to collaborate. And people tend to remember accomplishments over process. Unless the process was truly miserable.

So go ahead, ask away.

Ask for more information or a clarification. The conversation that results might be what helps you reformulate the problem, enabling you to bring a truly new insight to the table.

Ask your boss or client what he or she would like you do. And, later, ask if he or she thinks you're achieving that goal (or successfully redirecting them to a better goal, if the one they want is not acceptable to you). After all, you're not a mind reader and it's better to know the truth.

Ask to pitch in when you're "up." It's not a mark against you if you can't figure out what to do on you own. And, people will appreciate your helpfulness.

And, finally, ask for feedback on your work as you're progressing. Just make sure it's with someone who won't steal your idea until after your client rejects it. You never know, the comment or reaction you receive - or lack of one - might be the spark you need to refine your idea.

If the obvious benefits of asking are not enough, think of the potential negatives of not asking.

For starters, at the risk of stating the obvious, not asking could actually hurt your career when the bean counters realize how much valuable time has been lost because you didn't ask. So to begin the asking fest, I'd like to close with one question: How did I do with this post? Please let me know in the comments section.