“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.