Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Oh, how they hate advertising

It’s pretty much accepted as true that sane, free thinking individuals despise advertising. Gee, was it the container loads of horseshit we have piped into your dens since the dawn of commercial TV? Picky.

Here’s something else that is true.

Thousands of those same commercial-haters pack out the Walker Art Center every year here in Minneapolis to watch the British Advertising Awards.

The show runs five sittings a day for the entire month of December, and it’s sold out every slot, every year. In fact, it’s the single biggest source of traffic and non-grant income for the Walker. People pay $10 a pop. They sit, willingly, through ninety wall-to-wall minutes of commercial activity. And they love it.

I’d never been before, but I started to wonder, who ARE these people? Students from one of the umpteen local ad schools? Indigent copywriters? Mike Lescarbeau and his mum?

So, yesterday, I went. Judging from the number of grandmas and teenage girls… these were ordinary ‘non-industry’ citizens. Giving time out of a gleaming Monday afternoon, to watch, laugh at, be moved by COMMERCIALS.

Some possible takeaways:

A lot of grandmas and teenage girls actually do work in Minneapolis ad agencies.

People hate advertising except when it’s done for products they can’t buy, in accents they can’t understand.

People hate advertising except when it’s surprising, funny, moving, shocking, beautiful, or silly.

I suppose I’ll get no arguments on the last one there. But - just remember that theater full of delighted faces next time you hear someone sounding off about the forever damaged relationship between advertisers and audiences.

It’s just not true.

Image by nick_s_hoban

Thursday, November 12, 2009

How to speak authentic

People have asked me what I think about Foster’s returning to an advertising campaign I helped create many years ago. They wonder if I’m pissed, if I feel vindicated, if I feel I should get royalties.

None of the above.

What it makes me think about is how much has changed, how Foster’s squandered its place in pop culture, and what it all means for today.

Let me say first though that I think the people behind the latest Foster’s advertising did a good job revisiting the original spirit of the advertising. It was always hard to ‘get’ what Foster’s was about… whoever did the latest work is either Australian, or channeled their inner Hugh Jackman.

But here’s some history that leads to a criticism, not of the advertising but of the brand.

When I first worked on Foster’s, it was the beer of choice for Wall Street workers commuting home to Connecticut or Staten Island. It was one big can, big enough to last the ride home, small enough to tuck discretely into a brown paper bag. Though those guys all wore suits and ties, a little piece of their self-image connected with the larger than life macho nature of a huge can of fantasy Aussie.

That’s what we focused on. And back in those days of ‘advertising campaigns’, it didn’t matter all that much to us or to our customers that Foster’s was moving from a cool tin can to a new, sleek, but still large, aluminum one. Nor did it matter terribly, though the fact made me queasy, that the beer was actually brewed in Canada (so it could still say ‘imported’ on the can, y’see).

We just went all out at doing short, sharp, tough guy advertising.

It was a huge success. Big sales increases. Pound for pound the most effective beer campaign of its time. Years later, men in focus groups still mentioning Foster’s as their favorite beer advertising.

Funny thing happened, though.

As much as Americans loved the imagery, Australians hated it. HATED IT. Though all of our senior clients were either Canadian or American, they answered to people who answered to people back in Australia. And at a time when Australia was trying to brush off its outback imagery and set itself up as a glittering, modern, cosmopolitan society.

We managed to fend off the complaints. But then, a new regime of marketing people inherited the brand. They looked at the customers - the urban white collar professional. They looked at the communications - blokes in dusty denim. And they said, hey, we have to show our customers in the communication. That would make the work so much more effective.

You know what happened next. The whip-cracking, croc-wrestling imagery disappeared, to be replaced by sophisticates at cocktail parties.

Fantasy over.

For a decade, Foster’s wandered from one excellent agency to another, trying to get its groove back. Trying to re-capture that tiny slice of pop culture relevance. And, up until now, assiduously avoiding any hint of neo-neanderthal outback shindigs.

Here’s the problem, though. “Advertising campaigns” don’t work like they used to. Unless they’re absolutely accurate depictions of the brand’s heart and soul, they’re dead in the water. And they smell that way, too. In fact, I doubt we’d have gotten away with that original campaign today, pretending to be an authentic (fantasy) Australian experience when on the back of the can it said ‘brewed in Canada’.

So, the problem does not lay with the new advertising. It’s the brand itself that’s gotten lost in a series of sensible, efficiency-driven decisions.

Unless your brand has efficiency at its center (say, Intel), efficiency is the enemy of authenticity. And authenticity is everything today.

Now, one of the greatest beer drinking countries in the world, with a legendary drinking culture, has no mass representative in the US market. (With the possible exception of Cooper’s. Limited distribution, great AUTHENTIC beer. But really… is there anyone who’d like to make a fortune importing and distributing VB? Let me know.)

And if you look at the back of a can of Foster’s today, you’ll see it’s no longer brewed in Canada. Whoah! Did common, modern sense win out?

No, Foster’s is now brewed in Tennessee. Dear oh dear.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Delight is in the timing

Fresh on top of a project we’re currently working on - to make devoted fans of casual customers - comes a real life and quite delicious demonstration.

After an evening at Miami Ad School, I met up with star Miami alum Bobby Appleby for a bite. (BTW, Bobby is fresh out of Fallon, and one of the best hires I ever made. He’s damn good. Hire that man!)

We went to Black Sheep Pizza on Washington. My first time. Great coal oven-fired pizzas, short and sharp beer list, sassy service.

At the end of the meal, our waitress brought over the bill, and with a flourish and a grin, she announced that it was the restaurant’s first anniversary, so the pizza was on them.

Maybe it was the amount of beer I’d consumed, but I was suddenly madly in love with the place.

They had kept their anniversary a secret all evening. There was no sidewalk sign hawking celebratory deals. They apparently hadn’t even announced it in advance to regular customers. It was just a gift they loved presenting to whoever was lucky enough to be there that night. And who knows what effect it had on the wait staff - and consequently the atmosphere - knowing that at the end of every meal, they were going to get to be Santa.

How cool is that?

Advertising a special night would have no doubt crammed the room full of bargain seekers. (They were packed anyway, late on a Tuesday.) It would have been a hectic and perhaps not very comfortable customer experience. They’d have given away tons of free pizza. And everyone would have gotten exactly what they were expecting - freebies.

Instead, they made it a surprise. A secret shared between me and them. They won a fan. All through timing.

So, if you’re considering using offers to entice new customers, cool. But see if you can keep a little something in reserve, and drop it on your new customers when they least expect it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Thinking strategically

As per previous posts about learning from those more experienced…
As per Dave Trott’s urging in the comments to pay it forward…
I’ve finally gotten off my arse and volunteered some time to Miami Ad School. I taught there regularly after leaving Fallon, and enjoyed it immensely, but growing family and work commitments took me away.
It’s good to be back.
As the theme of the class I’ve been asked to teach is ‘Thinking Strategically’, I put that into an opening night primer for my class. And then, on the kind invite from Tim Brunelle, I shared that same thinking with his class over at MCAD.
Take a look, let me know what you think. One thing I discovered is that after putting 90% of it together, my thoughts lined up in a spooky way with a presentation given by Simon Law. So I cribbed a couple of his thoughts to make the mind-meld complete.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The two immutable conditions for purchase

These are the two conditions under which I will buy your product. Either:


I notice it,

I need it,

I can afford it,

I like how it looks/feels/smells/sounds/tastes,

I like how it makes me look/feel/smell/sound/taste,

I haven’t been disappointed by it in the past.

I like the people who made it better than I like the people who made some competing product.



I just feel like it.


Image by jeezny

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Big, yes. But dumb

In 1966, Hertz ran one of the toughest counter punches in advertising history.

For a few years, they’d watched Avis claim ‘we’re number two, so we try harder.’

Hertz eventually decided enough is enough. Or maybe it was that they finally figured out how to respond. The gist was this:

“For years, Avis has been telling you we’re number one. Here’s why we’re number one.”

The ads went on to absolutely steamroller the Avis argument. Hertz is number one because Hertz has more cars to choose from, at more locations, with a better service guarantee, etc etc.

Avis stuck with their message, but it never again had that same valiant tang to it.

So to Big Dumb Agencies. That’s what little companies like ours are supposed to call the big guys. But we don’t.

Not because we don’t think there’s room for improvement, there and everywhere else. Everyone agrees on that.

It’s just that to call time on the most successful machines in the industry is to misunderstand what they do for a living.

Here’s a quote from Ad Age, regarding the rumored split between Chrysler and their agency. Chrysler is “cutting back on the broad scope of services BBDO provides, including dealer training, call centers, point-of-sale materials and database management.”

Dealer training and call center management. Let’s call an all-agency meeting in the kitchen and get right on that, yeah?

The fact is, big agencies are big for a reason. Because big is the right answer for a lot of marketers. Someone has to do all that heavy lifting.

Now, is big the only answer? Can big and small co-habit? Those are different questions. First things first… let’s understand and appreciate why the big agencies are the way they are.

Image by ethomsen

The only thing worse than being talked about is…?

Did you see this banner on adweek.com recently?

It leads to this somewhat overwrought expansion on the argument.

There are theories as to why Kleenex is spending good money on such an arcane message - essentially, creating a platform from which to launch any future trademark protection cases.

It set off a few other thoughts, though.

The people at Kimberly Clark are right - there’s a generic quality to tissue. Tissue is tissue is tissue. They want you to know that only Kleenex is Kleenex. (Sorry, only Kleenex Brand Tissue is Kleenex Brand Tissue.)

But, wait, we work hard to win our clients’ a place in culture. That’s supposed to be valhalla.

And here is a company wanting their name to be withdrawn from the conversation.

Is there another way at this for Kleenex?

Instead of lobbing the same old ’softness’ message at your customers. Why not involve the customers in this language debate? They care enough about the brand to use it as a descriptor in every day conversation. And the subject of brand name usage might just have enough pop cultural weirdness to it.

It contains that same little cultural/corporate/consumer collision that KFC had with their secret recipe, or that Lifesavers had with sparks in the dark.

When looking for cultural ideas, the place to start is with what people are already talking about - especially if it’s your product they’re talking about. Here is a twist on that story, and Kleenex is letting it go to waste.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

3 reasons why award shows are crucial

We’re into the last throws of award season, which means we’re almost done with the alternate pontificating, slamming, justifying and etc.


Though I love/hate award shows as much as the next guy, here are three reasons why we should love that advertising award shows exist. Starting with one you’ve heard before… but it’s amazing to me how so many gloss over this point when they pronounce award shows ‘irrelevant’.

1. Without award shows, creatives would not see all of the most innovative thinking in the world. Clients benefit in myriad ways by having their creatives exposed to ingenious solutions such as the Kit Kat postcards. Sorry, but reading the first headlines about Best Job In The World had nowhere near as much effect on the people in your creative department as reading the headlines that it just cleared up at Cannes. Isn’t that valuable? Having the ambitious creatives of the world inspired to make their client’s business famous on as little money as possible? Using modern media in exactly the way the award show haters have been touting?

2. Our industry, like other creative industries, is fueled by insecurity. The creative people working through the weekend on your business are not doing it just so they can sell your product, make you happy and keep their jobs. They’re doing it because they want to come up with something better, something that will make them famous, or at least worthy. We see colleagues getting all the attention, and it spurs us all to try harder. Clients benefit from this by having the lower paid creatives putting a disproportionate amount of sweat and imagination into your business. You get to pick and sift through the patently self-indulgent and find the blasts of brilliance that can stand out, attract, and connect.

3. Advertising award shows are the best, most direct measurement of the creative contribution that we have. Most creatives I know start life curious about the effect their ideas have on a brand’s success. But they mostly quit asking because there is no such thing as a clear line between creativity and sales. If there were, the fog would be lifted, agencies could be paid purely on their merits, many creative people would be paid way less (and some would be paid tons more). We’d be more like Hollywood directors and writers, knowing for sure that our efforts resulted in a box office of $X. (Ahem, but it probably wouldn’t stop us from having our Golden Globes, Oscars, Cannes, Sundances, Venices, etc etc.) Clients would benefit from a more complete measurement system by knowing exactly what they’re paying for.

We’d love that world. But we’re not holding our breath.

That’s all. I’d really like to hear from any award show haters. It might be your last chance ’til next year’s season.

Image by kangster

Monday, June 22, 2009

Notes to self

If you’re working the same way you were five years ago, you’re falling behind.

If you’re thinking the same way you were two years ago, you’re falling behind.

If you’re not learning something new every day, you’re falling behind.

If you’re not experimenting with every new communications platform that comes along, you’re falling behind.

If you believe it’s all about the brand, you’re falling behind.

If you believe it’s all about the work, you’re falling behind.

If you believe it’s all about the big idea, you’re falling behind.

If you’re afraid of numbers, if you start with TV, if you assume you know everything, if you assume they’re interested, you’re falling behind.

If you’re paralyzed by the realization that you’re falling behind…

Monday, June 8, 2009

Beware the brilliant first meeting

We all wish for that triumphant first presentation. The one where we nail the brief. We bring insight. We provide variety. Our opinions ring true.

We want to see those smiles across the table. And confirmation that, yes, the client really did pick the right partners, that this will be, at last, a beautiful relationship.

Then we go back to the office and tick another one off the list. We relax. We assume the client actually meant everything they said. We marvel at their intelligence and good taste, based on the fact that they agreed with us when we said ‘this is the answer’.

Well, guess what? That great first meeting is the first great opportunity to screw things up.

The client is being nice when they say they love everything. All they want is for everyone to be inspired to come back with better and better.

What they mean is ‘this is good progress, you’ve worked hard and come along way, now, next time we meet, we want you to have covered the same distance again.’

Instead, we lose our paranoia. Alas, that’s just not healthy.

Image by clagnut

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Was it the drugs, or was it the clios?

If Hunter S Thompson were still alive, and if he were an ad guy, and if he still wanted fodder for a Las Vegas-based tale of distorted reality, he could do a lot worse than what we did a couple weeks ago: hop a cheap flight down to the Hard Rock Casino and Hotel to catch the last day of the 50th Annual CLIO Awards.

You have to feel for the organizers. The CLIOs are a business like any other, and their 50th birthday deserved to be a full-throated celebration - but the GFC put paid to that. Ticket prices sure didn’t help. (Though some enterprising folks managed to get the ultimate discount.)

The final evening, which featured all of the film awards - once upon a time the glamor portion of the proceedings - was uncomfortably devoid of guests.

It was like… hmmm… Twisted Sister booking an arena for their farewell gig, only to play to a crowd of less than a hundred.

What we did have was plenty of good old, cornball Mad Ave nostalgia. The CLIOs loves advertising, all of it, and as such is in its own way a much more complete reflection of all the flavors of ‘good’ that our industry creates. Witness the gyrating figures just beyond the entry to the show - not just showgirls, but a bevvy of life-sized ad critters. The Michelin Man. The Kool Aid Jug. And the multiple, multiple films about “The History Of The CLIOs”. And, most bizarrely, a Goldfinger-esque CLIO, enlivening one more retrospective with an interpretive aerial dance.

Wait, did I say ‘most bizarrely’? Actually, that CLIO went to the UNLV marching band and Charlie Tuna, performing another (!) paean to CLIOs past.

No, check that - the Grand Weird CLIO went to giving Barry Manilow an honorary CLIO. Not that he’s not deserving of such a recognition. The man wrote many of those annoying, cloying, outrageously effective jingles of the 70’s. It was that the room-packing, head-lining superstar performed a medley of his biggest ad hits (ie “Like a good neighbor… coz the Band Aid’s stuck on me…”) to such an empty room. With so many flashing lights and raking lasers and 120 decibel hoopla.

On two serious notes:

Let it be said that the work recognized was awesome. Say what you like about the CLIOs. Their place in the award show calendar, and their global reach, always gives them an authoritative shot at pronouncing what was great in the year gone past. Chairman of the jury, Mark Tutssel, did not disappoint. Nor did he give a grand CLIO. Stingy, standard-raising bugger that he is.

Second, the films that won were of such incredibly high executional standard. Meticulous. Fanatical. And, it seemed, most often entered by a production company rather than an agency. Which led me to wonder if that’s the future of award shows in a shrunken margin era - promotional opportunities for production companies. Who else could afford the labors of love on display? Who else has more to gain from flaunting those wares in front of an audience of creatives?

Yes, it was a moment in the history of advertising. The 50th CLIOs. The year no one showed up. The year we looked back on fatter times. The year we applauded brilliance, while trying our best, just for one evening, to ignore that growing sense of irrelevance.

Image by CLIO Awards

Monday, June 1, 2009

They made enough boats

Early last year, we had the fleeting good fortune to be working with America’s biggest boating company - just in time to see the whole thing go kebang.

Here’s what happened to the boating industry: If a boat owner couldn’t cough up hundreds of dollars for gas to go out for a couple hours (remember the price of gas last summer?), the worse news was, they couldn’t get rid of the damn dinosaur, either. Nor could they trade up or down.

Because no dealer in the country was taking trade-ins.

It turns out boats have a surprising longevity. Not much can go wrong with them that can’t be switched out. And boat companies had never designed fashion statements into their product, not ones obvious to the passerby, anyway, and so there is no stigma in rolling up to a marina in a thirty year old yacht.

So pretty much all the boats that ever needed to be built have been built already.

The whole industry got gridlocked. Factories closed down, entire companies, too - brands that have been around for decades.

Now, on the eve of GM’s bankruptcy filing, some are wondering if the same thing is happening in the auto industry.

In our long, long stay at the all-you-can-eat buffet, what else do we have enough of?

Image by Pinot & Dita

Monday, May 18, 2009

Print is petrified

Print advertising is by and large frozen in time. It’s not better than it was, and it’s not worse than it was. It’s just there, in a holding pattern.

The winners on display at the CLIOs last week demonstrated that the race to be best at filling a magazine page is over. The result is a virtual dead heat between hundreds of agencies around the world.

Cool visual employing weeks of photoshop. Laterally connected headline. Teensy packshot in left or right corner. Multiply by three in different colors if you want to enter your single idea as a campaign as well.

The good stuff is really good. It’s just not good in a way that’s different to last year’s crop, or even last decade’s.

The stasis is highlighted by the amount of innovation that is still evident in film, and of course the absolutely insane explosion in digital and ‘emerging medias’.

The next level of art, and this is where we could see print grow in the future, is how it can be used imaginatively as part of a well-orchestrated story.

Until then, print is marking time, waiting for its next revolution.

Image by Genista

Monday, May 11, 2009

If you can make it anywhere, you can make it anywhere

My first job in advertising was in a town called Brisbane, on the hot end of Australia’s east coast. That’s B-r-i-s-b-a-n-e.

That job, and the ones that seemed to lay out ahead of me until a projected booze-enforced retirement at the age of 46, consisted of doing ads for real estate developers and rip-cut-and-thrust retailers. Most of my headlines - that’s what we copywriters were hired to do - had either puns or exclamation marks. The really good ones had both. I paged longingly through my copies of D&AD, wondering how I could ever do work like that. All the true brand work in Australia was done in either Melbourne or Sydney. And that’s just the way it was going to be, forever. The very very best of the Brisbane work never even got a look in at the national shows. No matter how many entendres and screamers we could wedge in. Sigh.

But now look. The One Show has just awarded its Best Of Show to an idea from Brisbane. The ‘Best Job In The World’. Which, on a budget of a bit over $1 million, has been appearing in international headlines for four months now. And on a client I myself used to work on. I recall the best I ever got through was a quirky crop on a shot of a beach.

Final proof, as if it’s needed, that potential greatness is right in front of you, wherever you are, whatever you’re working on.

Image by aunwin

Sunday, April 26, 2009


Some advertising people, out of sheer principal, never use Tivo to skip commercials. Some.

Not me. Until recently I’ve lunged for the peanut every break, and for two reasons:

Reason one for biting the hand that feeds me - I could then experience the world of communication as a regular person would, ie., with as much commercial avoidance as possible.

Reason two - for an earnest creator of commercials, sitting through a parade of shoddy merchandise was always torture. The poor showing for my industry, the lost opportunities, it all pissed me off. And I’d forever be trying to make even the worst piece of crap better, at least in my head. “Gosh, that’s the wrong track to put with that flying logo cgi abomination. If only they’d…”

After a long hard day of trying to make actual good work better, it was not a relaxing outro.

I’ve recently realized my dreck-avoidance scheme, while making evenings more pleasant, has been lulling me into a place of disgusting complacency.

So, the thumb now stays off the FF. I sit through every second of every half hour. I gape. I gag. I re-edit. I fume.

And I come in to work the next morning, vowing to make my little contribution a good one. The spirit applies to everything I do, not just TV ads.

So force yourself to do what no sane person would do: stop skipping commercials.

Start seeing all marketing, not just the talked-about stuff, but the abhorrent majority.

You’ll know you can do better than them. You’ll know 99% of clients can be better served. You’ll be blissfully, productively angry.

Image from chikawatanabe

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

New continent discovered

Ideas are inspiring. But insights can be even more of a revelation.
Take as an example the winning entry in this year's PhizzPop challenge.
Whether you think the idea is brand new or not - a web site that enables the swapping of unused resources - the first minute and a half of the entry video is jaw dropping.
First time I watched it, I felt like someone had discovered a new continent, sitting at my feet all these years.
Cheers to Zeus Jones and Sierra Bravo. Minneapolis will rise again!
Read more here, and see the video here.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Annual Traveling Auto Museum

There was an uneasy silence at the Minnesota Convention Center this weekend. That's because it was the culminating weekend of the annual auto show, and everyone in attendance, exhibitors and visitors alike, walked around displaying the quieter stages of grief.

Gone were the boisterous side rooms featuring blinged out Escalades.
Hummer simply had a few models sitting on the floor, not like years gone by when the cantilevered models and rugged display-topographies exuded a wall of muskiness.
In fact the whole GM presence was anemic. Most of their displays were car only, and disbursed far apart from each other to make the space look as if it's filled, like entry-level hair plugs.
The Saturn anchor/presenter thanked an empty expanse of carpet for its attention. Chevrolet bleated its best about the number of its old school combustion-only engines were actually new school ethanol-able engines.
Saddest was the human dynamic. Past years, you could feel the buying process in the room. Brochures were gathered. Serious, engaging questions were asked of the company reps. This year, it was more a feeling of combing through the wreckage of some beautiful multi-billion dollar disaster, cataloging what could be useful in the future and what is now just a rueful memory.
The smiles from the company reps were as brilliant white as ever, but you could almost hear them hissing through their bared teeth a pained "I know... I know..."
Hyundai - a brand in ascendancy, one that not only has the economy coming to it, but that is also doing something about it - owned the day with aggressive messaging all around the show. One floor decal with a visual of footprints advertised their Assurance+ program. 'The most support your feet have had in a long time' it said.
And in one small corner of the vast wasteland, a dozen collector's cars. Here was the most interesting find of the entire night. Two electric cars, one from the early twentieth century, and the other a 1960 Henney Kilowatt, capable of 60mph and a range of 60 miles on a single charge. That's fifty years ago. What happened since?
To re-capture our lust, cars have a lot of progressing to do.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The market never lies

A few of us are back from a long and fruitful trip to California, where the word Mexico cannot reach its second syllable without all those present flinching and checking the shadows for drug assassins.

The gigantic underground market for illegal drugs has brought a war to our doorstep.
Take away the market and the war is over.
Not that we're pro drug here at Persuasion. Noooo. We sure are anti-crime, though. Take away the crime, and so go the criminals. No doubt you'll either violently agree or disagree, as these things tend to be.
Or car audio systems. Once they were designed to be proprietary to a given vehicle, the market for stolen racks disappeared. That's why your window hasn't ended up on the sidewalk so often this past decade.
Then to advertising, where the market is yet to shift. So long as there are buyers for the type of service offered by the big agencies, not much will change. ANA speeches are words, calls for change are well and good. But really, the power lies in the pocketbook. And if that power is not being exercised, what are the reasons?
The complaints are mere venting.
The complaints are negotiating postures.
The big agencies are changing to meet the demands.
The alternatives just aren't viable solutions.
Got any more?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Saab was different

What has happened to Saab over the last twenty years is a lesson in authenticity, or lack of it, in this case.

I had the good fortune to work on Saab for a few years back in the early 90s. None of us really knew it at the time, but Saab's glory days were already well and truly behind it. Though GM had bought in, the initial 51% ownership gave Saab enough control to stay Saab.
So we chose to ignore that GM influence. Okay, so they were taking an Opel platform and putting it into the new Saab. It seemed a smart business move. Didn't hurt at all.
The big brand work we did back then (which never saw the light of day - that's another story) was themed 'Saab is different'. Because it just plain was. Different in where it came from, how it sounded, looked, felt - and yes, where you put your key in to the ignition. The Saab drivers were 'rugged individualists' as one of the senior writers would say, the non-joiners, the contrarians. They saw themselves in the car.
Well, it turned out those first GM operating efficiencies were kudzu sprouts. Before long, the car became a mishmosh of parts, and, in one case, entire other vehicles.
The essence of Saab was completely lost. It was no longer authentic. It was no longer different. The brand was as much of a facade as the sheets of metal they were wrapping around someone else's technology.
The auto business is brutal even in the best of times. Saab would have struggled even if it had remained on story - and to be fair would have likely gone out of business if it weren't for GM's investments.
It's just a good reminder to me - stay true, stay true.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Know what you don't know

In our never-ending quest to swim upstream, to help our clients as much as we possible can, us advertising people can forget one very important detail:
we do not know what is at the head of that stream. We have no idea what it's like to sit at the head of that table.
Consider this: most advertising creatives are marginalized, either by choice, or design, or inertia, into solving communications challenges.
The people inside an agency who more reliably know their clients' businesses spend a lot more time on the corporate campus.
They, in turn, know far less about the business than the head of marketing. Yes, there are exceptions, but the chief marketing officer knows much more about the ways in which her company makes money and pays her bonus.
And then, the shocker of shockers - the position of CMO is not even on the fast track to true P and L responsibility. Meaning even our most respected ally on the marketer side isn't given the credibility to run the company.
That puts even your above-average agency, let alone your above-average creative, at a crippling distance from the nuts and bolts of a client's business.
Closing the gap is essential. Humility is a good place to begin.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

We've hit the edge of the future

I wanted to call out a New York Times op-ed piece from Douglas Coupland, titled "Back On Walton's Mountain" .
It's been stuck in the front of my brain since I read it last week. It's such a short, succinct provocation: many of us have wanted to consume less for many years, and now that we've accomplished it (through no choice of our own, largely) we're alarmed by the knock-on effect our swerving emotions are having upon our economy.
Will we adjust, how, and what to? Or will we hold our breath and wait for a return to our old ways?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Obligatory Super Bowl Opinion Piece

"There was nothing special on this year's Super Bowl. It was not a classic."
Expect to read that a lot over the next day or so. Similar sentiments are shared every year, and are often the fall back position of the insecure observer, but this year, I'd have to agree - overall, it weren't no classic.
Like every other person who breathes in and out, I have my favorites. But just like weather isn't the same as climate, one or two commercials do not make for an industry showcase.
Why the collective 'meh'?

Are our expectations way too high? Yeah, that could be. I was asked at a dinner party on Saturday night by a professor of chemistry if the Super Bowl was a big deal to advertising types. I hope my laughter conveyed just the right blend of irony, pride, dread and excitement.

Are we jaded? As connoisseurs of sparkly ephemera, that goes with the territory. I'm one of the few that believes the overall quality of TV creative has risen over the past decade - inevitably, that makes the peaks harder to see.

Or is it not perceptual, but an actual fact? If so, then maybe the heart of creativity, the 'I gotta gotta gotta do better or I'll die' soul, has gone off-air.
Witness Big Spaceship's Pretty Loaded. The digital practitioners appear to have more creative snap in their pinkies. Or, in this case, preloads.
(Speaking of interactive, I was surprised how few advertisers leveraged the Super Bowl's unique position in pop culture to launch compelling on-line efforts. Shoot me for saying so, but Go Daddy lead the way. Ow that hurts.)
And let's not leave aside possible economic reasons. If we're all hanging on to our clients for dear life and project fee, then no wonder the flights of imagination are stifled.
Here's something else I'm wondering about:
It's true there are more avenues for commercial creativity than ever. And our generous, optimistic natures would believe that there's an endless supply of creativity to meet the demand. Not so. For talent, channel expertise, brand experience, and the wise voices that make sense of it all, there's only so much of the raw material to go around. The Super Bowl, at $3 million a slot, is one heck of a place for the shortage to show.
Okay, that's my opinion. What's yours?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Thinktank Post Of The Month - The Vote

Apparently my heart-breaking tale of self-destructive, lemming-like behavior, in which I flub a job interview with the great Dave Trott, is a nominee for December's post of the month over on Only Dead Fish.
It's a great idea (the poll, I mean) and a great way to catch some good stuff you might have otherwise missed.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Your friend the gorilla

We're often briefed on what NOT to do.
A defensive posture is built in to many communication objectives.
"We're afraid when we do X, people will think Y."
Sometimes, the wisest path is to navigate away from the danger zones. Especially if political capital is low.
But occasionally, the opposite is true. The smartest approach is a headlong dive into the controversy.
After all, that controversy is instant conversation. What we're most afraid of can be an extremely valuable PR headstart. It's up to us to frame the discussion.
When I was a junior writer at Chiat/Day, I got the brief to write an ad to run in Campaign magazine announcing the opening of our London office.

London had been a notoriously unwelcoming environment for American agencies. We could hear the sharpening of knives all the way back in Venice CA.
We came up with lots of cute 'ads', all in their own way trying to distract attention away from the potential trade press bloodbath.
We faxed them off to Jay, who was flying around Europe, stringing it all together.
In between contract negotiations and heaven knows what else, he fired back his response.
"C'mon you guys. That's such shit. Please set the following line in the middle of a full page of white space. Thanks."
And the line was:

To find out why Chiat/Day would even dare open a London office, call (phone number)

That was Jay. Always the first to walk up to the gorilla in the room and make sure it was on his side.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Creating is easy, it's editing that's hard

The lessons to be learned from Apple are endless.
So though I'm sick of the sound of myself talking about Apple this and Apple that, here's another observation, courtesy of my iPhone.

Like the click wheel on the original iPods, the navigation system of the iPhone can't be much of a mystery to figure out and replicate.
I suspect it's not a mater of creative ability as it is one of restraint. What to edit.
More buttons equal more options. Surely that's a good thing, so goes the thinking.
Simplify. Simplify. Simplify. As they say.