Interested in advertising? If so, let’s think about something else for a moment.

After a long, hard week of working on several massive projects, I would like to “cheat” for my column today and just directly quote a piece of advice from my book, “How to Succeed in Advertising When All You Have Is Talent Second Edition,” rather than giving you something new.

I hope you don’t mind.

The advice comes from advertising legend Tom Burrell, founder and former chairman of Burrell Communications, and I believe that it’s a good piece of advice.

What is it? That you should maintain a life outside of “advertising.”

He believes that it is important for advertising professionals to be Renaissance people and that maintaining a life outside of advertising is how you stay one.

“You have to know what’s going on and be aware of what’s happening,” says Burrell. “If you don’t have a life outside, you don’t have anything to bring to the job.”

I agree. We all need to seek out fresh ideas, something that we all too often fail to do, because we get caught up in the intense stress of meeting our deadlines. What do you think? And what do you do? Please let me know in the comments section. I actually do read them and appreciate your thoughts.

In the meantime, I am going to go read a book. I just hope I can find one on my bookshelf that has nothing to do with advertising.

Ace of all trades

The term "jack-of-all-trades" has gotten a bum rap in advertising. If you refer to someone as a jack-of-all-trades you mean they did an OK job at few tasks outside of their specialty.

An example of this would be: you're strapped for time and you have a writer layout his own line.

One might say: "Boy, Andy is a jack-of-all-trades."

On the surface not a bad thing, but most likely the headline is laid out so you get the jist of what's going on but it isn't really ready to be produced. So Andy is actually getting a back handed compliment by the sheer nature of the term.

That gets to me a little, not that Andy didn't excel at laying out the line but for the fact that he has perpetuated the myth of jack-of-all-trades.

Damn you Andy.

A true jack-of-all-trades is someone who excels at a variety of tasks outside of their specialty. It's the kind of term that should be applied to the people who can pick up a pen and both write and draw with it. Some of the best creatives have been known to be jack-of-all trades.

So the next time you feel like calling someone a jack-of-all-trades try calling them something else, like an "odd-jobs-man," until they truly are a jack-of-all-trades.

I can’t divert my eyes from the Oscarnage.

Why do I do this to myself? Every year I loathe the entire spectacle, starting with the announcement of the nominees. The concept, like all “creative competitions” is ill conceived. This we already know. To compare one movie against another, and declare one the winner, and the other, by implication, the loser, is pointless, meaningless, wrongheaded, empty. Yet, in every “creative “ business, some such ritual arises. I’ll never understand it.

So why can’t I use my loathing as a motivation to simply ignore the entire sad mess? Why must I always subject myself to it, to actively feed my loathing? I’ll never understand that either.

The highlight of every Academy Award show, without exception, is the opening monologue by the host du jour. If not for the humor—provided by the host, occasionally by presenters, seldom by the winners—this suffocating exercise in vanity, self-importance and self-congratulation would be devoid of any redeeming qualities.

Is there some Federal mandate that among the nominees for best song there must ALWAYS be at least one upbeat, formulaic, insipid happytune from a 90-minute cartoon movie, invariably including a steel drum somewhere in the arrangement?

Tonight’s evening of excess seems to feature better commercials than that other evening of excess, the Superbowl. Why no hype, no buzz, no “rate the commercials” feature in USA Today the next morning?

Even after I’ve flipped over to the sanitized network version of Dexter to escape the gushing and posturing, I find myself sneaking back for another glimpse of the horror show.

WAIT A MINUTE. They just announced the song from Once won for best song. This never happens. The best song actually won best song. It even beat out the steel drum happytune. Suddenly, for about 20 seconds, all is forgiven. Then it’s back to the marathon of excess and extravagance.

Finally, I summon the will to turn off the tube before they’ve even announced what everyone watching already knows, that the Oscar for best picture will go to No Country For Old Men. I find myself still chuckling, through gritted teeth, at John Stewart’s “GayDolph Titler” joke, and already relishing dreading next year’s cinematrocity.

Exploding people's minds

Today's post is about Olafur Eliasson, one of the coolest modern artists (if not the coolest) ever (well modern anyway I guess). His art is amazing because it's not just a work of art that you look at, think about, and then see how it makes you feel, it makes you feel as you're looking at it. Seeing his exhibit is like being a kid in a fun house all over again. It's all clearly art, but something about it makes your brain tingle and look at it all in a new way. My favorite piece is one where you go in and literally stand a few inches away from an illuminated wall as it changes colors and's way cooler than it sounds.

Here's a pic of that piece:

It totally made me rethink art, life, joy, and, in that moment, it made me incredibly happy.

I would love in my career to create something that makes people feel that way. Screw the awards shows and whatever else. Making something like this would be so much better. Wouldn't you want to also? Maybe we should all aim just a little bit higher than we do. I mean think about it like this, some movies win an Oscar. Al Gore made one and it won him the Nobel Prize. Surely we too can do better than Lions and Pencils. There's got to be a higher mark for us out there too. I'll race you all to find it. Good luck all. Enjoy your week.

Human Behavior

My job is to study human behavior as it relates to product development and marketing. You’d think I would know a whole lot about why people do what they do, but I don’t. Most of what I’m certain about are contradictions:

• We typically don’t mean what we say
• We typically always ask for more information, even though we will never read it
• We spend money we don’t have

Bottom line: we are not very rational. Which makes us hard to understand.

The lyrics from Bjork’s song Human Behavior sum up my argument better than I can:

If you ever get close to a human
And human behavior
Be ready to get confused
There's definitely no logic
To human behavior
But yet so irresistible
There's no map
To human behavior
They're terribly moody
Then all of a sudden turn happy
But, oh, to get involved in the exchange
Of human emotions is ever so satisfying
There's no map
And a compass
Wouldn't help at all
Human behavior

If human behavior were easy to understand our jobs would be boring. Thank God it isn’t. And, don’t get caught thinking it is – that’s too rational.

Go here to hear the song.

Where are all the old masters in advertising?

Why do so many advertising professionals seem to make their biggest contributions early in their careers? They may stay in the industry, but they stop innovating on their own. I just finished reading Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity by University of Chicago-based economist David Galenson and he might have the answer.

While I have some issues with the Chicago School of Economics, Galenson looked at the careers of prominent painters, sculptors, poets, novelists, and even movie directors, identified when they produced their groundbreaking work, and their individual creative processes. Then, he employed the tools and processes of his discipline to determine if there were any patterns in their work styles, motivation, and/or other attributes.

Based on the results, he argued that there are two distinctly different approaches to creating art:

1) Experimental innovators: “Their goals are imprecise, so their procedure is tentative and incremental. … These artists repeat themselves. … Each work leads to the next, and none is generally privileged over the others. They consider production of a painting (or other type of creative work) as a process of searching, in which they aim to discover the image in the course of making it; they typically believe that learning is a more important goal than make finished paintings (or in producing other artwork). Experimental artists build their skills gradually over the course of their careers, improving work slowly over long periods.” These artists tend to produce their most important, groundbreaking work later in their careers and are the “Old Masters.” Think Michelangelo, Georgia O’Keefe, Alfred Hitchcock, or Mark Twain.

2) Conceptual innovators: These artists are “motivated by the desire to communicate specific ideas or emotions. Their goals for a particular work can be stated precisely, before its production, either as a desired image or as a desired process for the work’s execution. … Conceptual innovations appear suddenly, as a new idea immediately produces a result quite different not only from other artists’ work, but also from the artist’s own previous work. These are the “Young Geniuses.” They tend to produce their most important, groundbreaking work early in their careers. Think F Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Orson Wells, or Andy Warhol.

For the health of an artistic discipline, both are needed. The advantage for conceptual innovators is found in the ability to “produce simple solutions for old problems.” The contributions for experimental innovators “typically involve superb craftsmanship” and “are praised for their wisdom and judgment.” And, if I am reading Galeson’s theory correctly, conceptual artists tend to be more self-referential; their groundbreaking work is more of a commentary on previous styles or a reinvention of work done by others while experimental artists tend to be more focused on capturing or conveying unique and/or new perceptions.

Which brings us to advertising. If you don’t make a huge contribution early in your career, you probably won’t get a chance to make one later. And creative directors seek art directors and copywriters who can do that, which virtually eliminates most people who fall into the experimental innovation camp. However, experimental artists are the ones who are better able to build lifelong careers while conceptual artists tend to get in a rut and become dated.

There’s a simple explanation why this tends to be the case. Galenson’s pointed out that experimental innovators are never satisfied with the results of their work. That’s is why they repeat themselves, trying to get it right. On the other hand, Conceptual Innovators stop innovating; they develop their “new solution to an old problem” and then keep using that solution.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Just look at Picasso. He worked in many different conceptual styles throughout his career and, at times, even worked in two or more styles concurrently.

I wonder how much richer our field would be if we had more room for both types of innovators. Just imagine the simple solutions of the conceptual innovator coupled with the life-long, keep pushing forward attitude, new perceptions, and dedication to craftsmanship of the experimental innovator.

As Galeson argues, both types of artists could learn from the other. I believe we just don’t have enough experimental innovators in our industry.

What do you think? Who do you see in the industry as a conceptual innovator and who is an experimental innovator? What kind of creative innovator are you? Please click on the comment below and let me know.

Cool magazine insert

I saw this booklet in this months issue of VICE. The booklet is pretty cool, it's for the video game Rockband (which I rock at). I flipped through it and laughed out loud a few times. The moves are pretty cool but the names they gave them really make the booklet genuinely funny. Have a look at a few of my favorites and then impress your friends with your new moves.

advertising as building a better mousetrap

This is going to be a quick, thought-post rather than a longer post with more analysis. That said, I'm really looking to solicit feedback on a thought I have.

The thought:

Has advertising transformed itself from being about building brands to building better mousetraps? What I mean is that it appears as if most of the investment by the major ad agencies is in analytics, operations, etc. rather than funding better innovation, insights, creativity, etc. Maybe the operations, analytics and such fuel the creative, but I'm skeptical.

Is this the future of advertising?


You know you have a good Creative Director when no matter what kind of feedback he or she gives you on your work, you always walk away feeling excited.

If the feedback is: "Home Run."
Obviously, it's rush of awesome.

If the feedback is: "Kind of cool, but it's not there yet."
You're pumped, because you walk away with some killer insights on how to make your work a lot better. You thought it was a good idea, but now you see how it could be great. And you know what you need to do to get it there.

If the feedback is: "This is crap, and here's why."
Sure, your ego stings a bit, okay a lot, but you walk away with a new challenge, new motivation, and a lesson learned. You know the feedback is making you a better creative, and that's a good feeling.

So, do you have a good CD? Are you a good CD?

While we're on the topic of feedback, we've been trying out this new format on the blog for a few months now and we'd love to hear what you guys and gals are thinking. What are you liking? What isn't working? What would you kill? Go ahead, play Creative Director and give us your feedback in the comments. Positive or Negative, we thank you for it.

The Insidious Myth of Loyalty

Loyalty is a presumed virtue that has bugged me for decades. In dogs, I will concede it really is a virtue. In certain dull-witted presidents, it’s one among many serious flaws. Generally, among humans, I regard it as a vice or perhaps some form of neurosis. Within the context of advertising, it is something advertisers try to generate toward their brands, and the existence of this type of loyalty continues to be debated.

In the world of business, on the other hand, there simply is no such thing as loyalty, at least not insofar as loyalty is reciprocal. Employees may feel some misplaced sense of loyalty to their employer, but employers, by their nature as essentially profit-generating entities, cannot be loyal to their employees. It’s too costly. Once an employee comes to realize this, that misplaced feeling of loyalty vanishes, or at least it should.

What is it, I’ve often wondered, that distinguishes loyalty from so many of its synonyms, like faithfulness, devotion and steadfastness? I think loyalty is unique in implying a certain blindness or active disregard for circumstances. It is beyond the bounds of reason. Like with dogs.

When loyalty comes into play, it’s always in the face of some reason not to be. Some adverse circumstance, some problem that the person or institution to which you’re loyal is associated with, that, if not for loyalty, would be a reason to distance yourself or repudiate that person or institution.

When an employee leaves a company, especially if the company has treated him well, and more especially, if his/her departure creates a problem for that company, that employee is often characterized as being disloyal. This is the height of disingenuity.

Loyalty, expected of every employee, never seems to be returned by management. When an organization does stand by an employee, it’s always because there is some corporate self-interest being served. Nothing wrong with that. But then, to condemn an employee for acting out of this same self-interest by leaving in pursuit of some other opportunity, is beyond hypocrisy.

So, if your creative director, or his/her boss ever tries to guilt you into pulling that all-nighter, or staying with the agency or whatever, by playing the loyalty card, please feel comfortable disregarding this cheap ploy.

Finally, do not confuse loyalty with commitment, which is a more appropriate emotion to feel toward your employer, as it carries no moral baggage and assumes no reciprocity.

Ads Don't Sell (they let sales happen)

This is somewhat a response to this week's post by Laurence Minsky, and somewhat a rant. Apologies on both accounts.

I've always had a belief on this that advertising is not intended to make you purchase something. It is intended to make it acceptable for you to purchase something. Either by changing your own perception, or by changing the perceptions of your peer group.

This is why there's problems when market researchers ask if an ad makes a consumer more or less likely to buy a product. Because the answer is no. It won't. Unless the commercial/ad gives new information about the product that changes the consumers actual knowledge of what the hell the product does, it won't make them more likely to buy it. It CAN however make it more ACCEPTABLE for them to buy it, which is what leads to sales in the end.

Ads don't happen in the vacuum of a focus group, they happen in a real world where others react. If one person hates a commercial for Nike, but all their friends loved it, the person's opinion doesn't matter when it comes to their likelihood of buying Nike shoes. It has become acceptable in the peer group in spite of them.

identity spam vs. useful advertising

Identity Spam. That's what will happen in the future. It will happen when advertising uses your personal information in a way that you find inappropriate, harmful, or just annoying. Picture yourself walking in a department store, passing a clothing isle and getting a text message stating there is a sale, or picture yourself browsing the Internet and all the ads have your name in them. Those are two examples of what I think might be seen as Identity Spam.

Now contrast that with the alternate scenario:

Useful Advertising. That's what will happen when advertisers know enough about their consumers that they can tell them exactly what they want to know, when they want to know it. Imagine that you are shopping for a car. You have looked at a few, but haven't found your exact match so you ask the dealership to track your location and tell you when you're near a dealership that has the car for which you are looking. So you're on your way to the grocery store and get a message that you're 1 mile away from a dealership that has your car. That's useful.

As you can tell, I'm trying to illuminate the tension that will exist between our personal information and useful advertising. It is a tricky proposition. When does advertising go from creepy to useful or useful to creepy?

I can think of a few keys to success in this future world:

  • Control: the consumer must feel in control of how she receives messages.
  • Transparency: advertisers must tell her why she received a particular personal message and how we know what we know about her.
  • Respect: advertisers must respect her privacy and willingness to engage us in a dialog.
Parting thought: assume you don't have the right to tailor a personal message to your consumer, not the other way around. Providing useful advertising is a privilege that must be earned, not a right to be taken advantage of by all advertisers.

Perhaps brand advertising has got it wrong

I have always been unable to reconcile a common argument for the power of branding with my understanding of cognitive dissonance, particularly since the main goals of most advertising is to convince people to change their behavior and try the advertised product.

With branding, action follows belief. In other words, if a person identifies with the brand imagery associated with a product or service, he or she would then form a preference for the brand, leading to a purchase.

But cognitive dissonance shows that belief follows action. For instance, if an individual acts in a way that is not in accordance his or her belief system, the person will change his or her belief system to rationalize the action rather than eliminate the behavior.

Could this mean that promotional marketing is a more powerful tool than branding?

True, give the person a large incentive and he or she might argue that action was a result of the incentive, but give him or her a small incentive and the person would rationalize that purchase because he or she actually prefers it. And that’s how the best promotions work.

(That is not to say that traditional brand advertising doesn’t have a place in the marketing mix, but that place is after the purchase—not before—and its goal would be to establish the rationalization to help the individual explain the behavior. And any advertising before trial would need to be more promotional, because it would be designed to broadcast the behavior changing offer.)

So how do you bring branding and cognitive dissonance together? Please let me know in the comments section.

Indecent Exposure

You have probably seen the Geico ad of Peter Frampton using his voice box to lend celebrity back up to a woman as she tells a story about insurance. I was a little taken aback when I first saw this ad because I had met Peter Frampton just a few months prior in the lounge at work.

I was working at a large agency in Chicago and Peter Frampton stopped by on tour. It was less rocking than the 1967 San Francisco show that made him famous: he was making his rounds to different ad agencies to promote himself and his music for use in television spots. It felt sort of like a coming out party. Unfortunately, Frampton did not perform any brain-melting talk box solos, but he did answer questions. When asked why he was reaching out to the advertising world, Frampton said that he was seeking exposure: that the advertising medium was the most efficient way to get his music to young listeners.

Frampton evoked another aging classic rocker, John Mellencamp, saying that like The Cougar, he felt that the only way his music would reach the new generation of music listener was if it appeared in ads. That’s why Mellencamp, who formerly bristled at the thought of his songs being used for retail, allowed Chevy to use his music for their sappy This Is Our Country campaign. That’s why Frampton was meeting us in the lounge.

To this day, something about that answer seems misinformed and a little sad. What Frampton and Johnny Cougar did not realize is that their waning popularity among young people wasn’t a matter of exposure. If music listeners of the information generation wanted to listen to either of these guys—or any other established rock act for that matter—they would download the songs from LimeWire or The Pirate Bay. It’s not that music-listeners don’t know who these rockers are, it’s that they are uninterested in listening to them.

The exposure from advertising can be very helpful for bands, but usually only if it is lack exposure that is keeping the band back in the first place. Young bands (Band Of Horses appearing on an ad for the Ford Edge) and obscure older musicians (the classic Nick Drake VW spot) can prosper by appearing on ads. Aging rockers who are struggling for significance? Much less likely.

This week's guest column was written by DJ Mas - a Chicago copywriter and our resident ad-tune spinning house DJ.

The Unsleep Study

Lately, I've been exploring what a significant lack of sleep does to the working creative mind. Here are a few of my findings:

You stare at things that have corners a lot. And you try to remember what you were thinking just before you started staring at that thing with the corner. You think all your ideas are killer, and then you're pretty sure they suck, then great again, and then, well, then you're not sure. So you look over at something with a corner and think about it. You start to wish someone would invent inner eye lid moisturizing cream. You feel your heart beating in strange places inside your body. Places you know you don't have a heart, like inside your knee. Your sense of balance is slightly off. And you feel all floaty-sinky inside. Your laptop feels much warmer on your lap than usual. You hold the backspace key down too long every time. You spend 18 minutes trying to decide if "and" or "but" would be a more appropriate transition. But you're not sure. Your mouse-eye coordination gets sloppy. You have to look up how to spell words like coordination. And it still looks wrong to you. You can't figure out how to connect all the pieces and wrap it up. You doze off. You have a short dream about emailing the wrong files and screwing the meeting up. You wake up. You decide that maybe you could just sleep for a couple hours and then try to finsih it up early in the

I think I'm flattered

Recently something happened to me that I wasn't prepared for. At first I was surprised, then a little angry, then nervous and finally a little flattered. So what was this surprise?

I saw a print ad that "borrowed" from one of my ads.

So how'd it go down?

I was at a Barnes and Noble flipping through a student publication and about three ads in I saw it. Even before reading it I knew this ad looked familiar. Then I read it.

Honestly, my surprise turned into anger rather fast. I contemplated emailing the student and giving him an inbox full of what it means to do your own work. Berate him with a tirade of expletives that would have left him numb for days.

But then I thought about it.

I closed the publication and thought to myself about what it was to be a student. When I was at school I did something similar, unknowingly of course (probably like the guy I'm writing about). My partner and I came up with a campaign and about a month later we saw it in the One Show. Even though I had never seen the campaign I rationalized that since I hadn't seen it, I could keep it in my book. I kept it in there for about a quarter, then dumped it because the vast majority of my teachers thought it looked "familiar."

But still, I was pretty upset. I imagined the next time I showed my book to a CD, he would say "I like these, reminds me of something I saw in a students book...." Damn, how would I explain that. I could show him how my ad ran about 6 months before the students (I checked just in case I was the one doing the copying), but that's just awkward

Then I realized something, who cares? The kid may or may not have seen my ad, I don't know. And if he did why should I be mad? He may have given me the biggest compliment someone in advertising can give; I like your ads so much I will do them for myself. I don't think that's a long term strategy but at some level I'm flattered.

In the end I never emailed him or called or left a bitter comment on some blog. I instead took a little pride in the fact that somewhere someone looked at one of my ads and wished they would have done it (and then did).

Confounding Borrowed Interest

borrowed interest, the intentional association of an unrelated theme or image with the product, service or subject being presented, to attract attention otherwise not anticipated. Also, sometimes a subtle way of gaining an implied endorsement.

Borrowed interest? Whatz!? I’m not sure this term is even invoked anymore as a criticism of an ad. I’ve always been a little unclear on this reason for criticizing an ad because most ads used borrowed interest to some degree. I’ve always wondered how much borrowed interest is okay, especially in this era where simply catching a consumer’s attention is paramount and communicating a benefit is often secondary. And how do we differentiate between “inherent interest” and borrowed interest? I would grant that featuring a picture of a bikini-clad babe in an ad for fertilizer or transmissions qualifies as unabashed borrowed interest, and might not be as persuasive as it is attention-getting. But what about, for example, all the ads that use a metaphor to express the benefit of their product? While the benefit itself, would be considered to be of “inherent interest,” doesn’t any metaphor, by its nature, borrow interest? And if so, are we to reject this approach on that basis? Anytime we see a baby or a puppy featured in an ad for something other than a baby or pet product, that’s borrowed interest, yet no one seems to mind that. Celebrities, even if they really use the product or service they endorse, still provide borrowed interest. That’s why they get paid so much. Music provides borrowed interest for anything other than any audio-based product, yes? Anybody out there prepared to defend borrowed interest as a basis for criticizing ads. And if so, please bring some clarity to the concept. Because I don’t get it.

Advice for Writing Students, Thoughts for Veterans.

While thinking of what to write in this week's post, I stumbled upon an old email I wrote to an aspiring (and pretty talented) ad student a while back (he has since gotten a job). I figure I try and go philosophical sometimes in these posts, but this is just an honest email and maybe it says more. Here's the email (edited a bit, no names etc):

Your adventure is just beginning. You've got some interesting starts, but I'm really not seeing anything that I wanted to show to my buddies at the office. You've got to break some new ground, shock someone, make them uncomfortable. The secret to every great ad is tension.

Do something that nobody else in the industry could do. Something that only could come from you, because it's the only thing guaranteed not to be in hundreds of books. It doesn't even need to be an ad, just something that sells the product.

When I was just starting out, I had a meeting with a guy from DDB. He told me about the first time he met a creative director. Apparently he took the guys book, flipped through it, and threw it in the trash right in front of him and told him to put together a new one. Now I don't think this is fully necessary, but keep it in mind. It's through this that work grows and gets better.

[comment on good headline, bad copy]...The copy on this doesn't seem crafted yet. It looks like you didn't care about it because it wasn't part of the "fun" of the ad. Pay close attention to everything. That part is crucial to the message, and if I don't read it, I won't get it. Now I'm not saying to make it silly goofy fun-time show or anything, just throw an unexpected word here or there. Write it as if you were Hemmingway writing it. Write it as if Alex Bogusky was going to judge you solely based on that one line...

Don't worry about spinning a line super slick, just say something interesting, funny, clever, smart in a simple honest way and it'll come off good.

Super Bowl Ads Canceled Next Year

The Super Bowl is bad for advertising. There, I said it. All the Super Bowl does is turn pretty good TV spots into garbage, crap, stink burgers. We complain every year about how junktastic the commercials were, but think about it for a minute. What are we really asking some poor creative team to do?

Super Bowl Ad Creative Brief:

Make one of the funniest ads ever.

Men ages 8-80, but not excluding women. Household income 14k - 900k. Whites, African Americans, Latinos and other. Basically every person in America.

Most people will be drunk. Half of them will already be angry. Since this ad is appearing during the super bowl, everyone is expecting this ad to be the funniest ad ever, so don't let them down. Lastly, if consumers don't rate your ad in the top 5, you will be fired.

Economy is not so good, so keep it low budget.

I don't know about you, but that's a brief I think I'll pass on. One of the greatest tools we have as advertising creatives is the element of surprise. The chance to talk to someone in a fresh way, when they are least expecting it. But The Super Bowl is like a bright neon sign around a billboard that flashes, "Best ad in the world, right here." It doesn't matter how great that ad is, I can tell you right now, it's going to seem pretty lame.

So, let's either stop doing Super Bowl ads all together, or stop calling them ads. They're more like highly anticipated 30-second sitcom pilot episodes, with lots of product placement. Actually, that sounds like a really bad sitcom too, doesn't it?


(Apologies to Tom Tom, whose sunny post immediately preceding this one.)

Given that my post lands on the day after the Superbowl, how could I not address the ritual humiliation of advertising associated with the big game?

Let us be clear. As I sit here, about to begin watching the Superbowl, I’m already pissed off and embarrassed about this year’s advertising mess. Because it’s always a mess, and every year it’s further exacerbated and amplified by all the media hype about the ads. It’s going to take all the restraint I can muster just to try to react to a few of the high and low points without going off, as the spectacle unfolds.

I must recuse myself from reacting to any of the Budweiser ads because my bias against them precludes any kind of meaningful assessment of this year’s crop. As for the rest of the ads, if there are three exceptional ads the entire night, I will be surprised. My intention is to only remark on the remarkable, one way or the other.

Tick tick . . .

So, the first quarter ends with not one commercial of any particular note. Sheesh. Not one interesting idea. Not one laugh. Not one raised eyebrow.

Tick tick . . .

Second quarter, presents a totally unremarkable spot promoting the spot they wanted to run, which was deemed unairable by Fox, if you can imagine such a thing. I’ve grown weary of godaddy’s yearly attempt to do a cheap titty exploitation ad while somehow expecting not to be held accountable. So I will not be going to their website to view the spot in question.

The FedEx big pigeon commercial: pretty funny, nicely done. But what was the point?

The Tide commercial about silencing the stain : kind of funny, except it just rips off the Jim Carrey/Steve Carell schtick from Bruce Almighty. Will we ever stop relying on movies and tv shows for our jokes? Are we that bereft of funny writers in advertising?

Maybe the best commercials are being saved for the second half.

Tick tick . . .

Guess not. Game over. In my modest judgement, not one exceptional commercial. A truly pathetic showing. Again. Zero risk. Zero smartness. Practically no genuine laughs. I got my hopes up with the spot featuring a dog drinking from his bowl, but it needed a payoff. No such luck. The Coke big balloon ad was charming in a wincingly sappy way, I suppose, but it raises the issue I will take on next Monday, borrowed interest.

Yawn. As always, most advertisers and their agencies squander their budgets on CGI and other production value stuff, or celebrities or hit songs, in the vein hope of masking the absence of new ideas, or of any ideas, really.

Almost four hours of “entertainment” and only one surprise—the final score.

The One Day of the Year People Don't hate What We Do For a Living

Super Bowl Sunday! A holiday amongst advertising people and sports fans. Where the jocks and the nerds get along. Where the dirty hipsters with their hip jeans and unsymmetrical haircuts hang out with beer swilling muscle-heads. Here's to this most glorious day of peace amongst all mankind (so long as they're not rooting for the other team). May all your NFL/Advertising dreams come true. And a special shout out to those brave creatives who somehow managed to make it through the 30,000 layers of approvals to get a spot in the big game. Happy Super Bowl!

learning from improv

I'm not sure how many of you have heard of Improv Everywhere, but if you have not they are an organization that creates public scenes wherein "actors" stage a coordinated event. For instance, they have coordinated missions where actors all take the train wearing no pants or listen to the same MP3 at the exact same time and act out a scene. Well, this "mission" (as they call them) caught my attention.

Frozen Grand Central from ImprovEverywhere on Vimeo.

It caught my attention because it was well executed and unique, but also because I think there are some lessons here that advertisers can learn from:

  1. The element of surprise is powerful. This "mission" surprised folks and took them out of their normal routine. Thus, acting as a powerful catalyst of conversation.
  2. The execution was simple and coordinated, but not controlled. All the "actors" were essentially doing the same thing, but not in the same way. The coordinators didn't tell them all to do the same thing, only to pause, which made this more believable and unique.
  3. It taps into a counter-trend. Grand Central Station is about fast movement. No one stops in Grand Central. It's not a place where people hang out. That's why this was so noticeable.
  4. It taps into a movement. This isn't just about doing a "mission". It's about helping people see the world afresh. To wake up. To not get caught in the monotony. That's why people applauded when it was finished and that's why so many people have viewed it online already.
Those are just a few lessons that we as advertisers should think about. Learning from Improv is not new in advertising, but I thought this was worth analyzing to start a conversation. Tell me what you think.