Monday, December 31, 2007

Nuts, Part Two. Sort of.

We had some discussion in the office this morning about the previous Emerald Nuts post. Mainly because one of us loved the Robert Goulet spot. But even she didn’t understand the “E-N” approach.

In any case, maybe I ought to explain a bit more exactly what it is about that kind of advertising that annoys me. It’s the non-relevant humor. The “joke” seems to be there for its own sake, not to help with the concept.

Like all those radio spots you hear that are genuinely funny ― until they get to the “sure that’s crazy, but not as crazy as our year-end pricing . . . ” kind of thing. You’ve heard them.

Relevant humor is a do-able thing and a powerful creative tool.

For example, “Got Milk?” and “Tastes Great. Less Filling” are both successful campaigns that employed relevant humor.

August Lang here in Bethesda did a “get off your ass and take care of your body” spot for an orthopaedic surgeons’ association that featured a fat kid calling his grandmother on his cell phone to ask her to bring him "another grape soda" ― from the next room. That was funny ―and relevant.

Years ago Goldberg Marchesano in D.C. did a great series of commercials for Ikea about product testing that was relevant and hysterical. If you’re old enough, you might remember “Mom can I have a cookie? Mom can I have a cookie? Mom can I have a cookie? Mom can I have a cookie? Mom can I have a cookie? Mom can I have a cookie?”

My friend Paul Safsel did the spot embedded here with some friends for Boylan’s Birch Beer that is genuinely funny ― around a concept. “Finklestein” is another in the campaign that you can find on YouTube if you search “Boylan's”.

And I’ll blow our own horn with the spot we did for a dog spa so nice that "everybody wants to be a dog". A parrot brings his "master's" slippers and offers up a leash for a walk. Marc Ryan at Third Story Films brought that one to life.

No, it’s not the use of humor I have an issue with. Or even the use of offbeat, goofy humor, like Addicted to Love video girls or Norwegians. It’s the use of humor that has nothing really to do with what you’re advertising. It’s like anything else in an ad or a spot. If it doesn’t help, its hurts.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

But I've been wrong before

Tough night at the Emerald Bowl last night. And not just because Maryland took a thumping. No, the Terps’ loss was only part of the agony of the evening.

The worst of it was having to watch the Emerald Nuts commercials.

Holy Mother of God. These guys have enough money to sponsor a freaking bowl game but don’t have the good sense to do decent commercials? If you look at their web site, they seem like a good, socially responsible organization and God knows they sure are proud of their campaign ("from the 'got milk' ad people" they say), but, I mean, really.

Here’s one: A guy with a Scandinavian accent is standing next to a target urging on whomever is shooting arrows at the target. And (get this, it’s really a scream) one of the arrows hits him in the thigh! But he carries on! Of course, he’s eating Emerald Nuts all the while and a VO tells us that “Encouraging Norwegians love Emerald Nuts.” Get it? Encouraging Norwegians? E-N? Emerald Nuts? Wow.

There’s a whole series of them on their (pretty good) web site. Some tell us that because So-and-So Next Door doesn’t eat Emerald Nuts, around 3 p.m. every day, the "Addicted To Love" video girls (see: Robert Palmer) try to turn him into one of them! Whoa! The "Addicted to Love" video girls! How hip is that? Then there’s the one about “Egomaniacal Normans” (get it?).
I could go on, but I just can’t.

These are the guys who bought Super Bowl time to tell us that if you don’t eat Emerald Nuts, at 3 in the afternoon the late Robert Goulet (still alive at the time) will sneak into your office and mess with your stuff.

I’m sorry. These are just jokes in search of a concept. I mean, this sells nuts? You got me. Maybe it does. Personally, I’d never knowingly eat Emerald Nuts just because of the advertising. But I would do this: Whatever Emerald pays their agency for this stuff, we'll do it for 1/2 the fee. And if they don’t like it and it doesn’t work, we’ll give them their money back. "Got Milk" made sense. This makes none.

Of course, the Emerald Bowl was the game played in a baseball stadium with both teams on the same sideline, a goal post that nearly touched the stadium wall and a play clock that stopped working in the fourth quarter.

So that ought to tell you something.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Who says you have to show the product?

These ads for late-night at Burger King are great, I think. Very cool art direction.

I mean "The King" ain't going to grab the all-night crowd, you know?

I especially love that they didn't take a short-cut and use the same bag shot for all the ads.

From Bleublancrouge, Montreal via Ads of the World.

Think globally. Or something like that.

There are any number of good reasons to hire an ad agency from out of town. The local shop isn’t automatically always the best choice. Geeze, one of our clients is 1,200 miles away, but I’d like to think that the quality of the work, the service and the relationship is why they take a pass on the dozens of good agencies between here and there.

And I don’t believe that an agency in, say, New York is automatically better than one in Washington (although it stands to reason that an exciting city like New York will attract top talent in all fields― including finance, law and various segments of the adult entertainment industry).

But I am baffled as to why a local enterprise ― like a shopping center or a sports team ― that depends on local support will do their own spending with an out-of-town agency.

For example, Tyson’s Corner Mall has an agency from Pennsylvania. How many people from Pennsylvania shop at Tyson’s Corner? It’s not like they couldn’t or can’t find anybody local to do the work, and there sure isn't anything special about the work they are getting from up north. Rosenthal Partners and Adworks were their previous two agencies, and both of them did work that was far better than the current shop if you ask me. I don’t know why that piece of business went out of town, but I’ll bet if I lived in Northern Virginia and told the marketing manager at Tyson’s Corner that I did my Christmas shopping in Pennsylvania, he or she would hit me with a shovel.

The Washington Post works with a local shop now, but it wasn’t too many years ago that they had a New York agency. Sure, you can make an argument that the Post isn’t exactly just a local business, but how many of their advertising dollars come from the local business community? Most of ‘em I’ll betcha. If I had a local retail business and told the advertising manager of the Post that I spent my Christmas advertising budget on the D.C. edition of the New York Times, he or she would hit me with a shovel.

I’m not saying a local business should only work with a local agency. Not at all. Several years ago, the Ad Club ran some campaign about how your mother-in-law should be out of town, not your ad agency. I thought it was goofy, not just because of the trite headline, but because it didn’t present any substantive reason for hiring a local agency other than proximity. And there are plenty of good reasons. Like Arnold, Rosenthal, Adworks, Smith+Gifford, Redhead, August Lang, Design Army, and on and on. (Plus, of course, Nasuti + Hinkle Creative Thinking.) Pick up an Addy showbook and see for yourself.

Blind loyalty to a zip code doesn’t necessarily make good business sense. But if you rely on the local market for your business, why think about doing business with the local market?

So hire the best agency you can find. But don’t assume that the best are somewhere else. Or at least don’t get too bent out of shape if your customers take their money out of the market. Like to Pennsylvania.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

So, what's the head count over at the agency?

For the ooopty-ith time since we’ve been in business, we recently heard from a new client about a major research or branding project just completed by some large agency or firm that fell short. In this case, the reaction was along the lines of: “Branding, schmading. They didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know.”

But it still came with your basic, bona-fide hefty price tag.

We hear this now and then. And, more often than not, in our experience, it’s one of the large, national PR firms that did the work. I don’t mean for this to be a knock on PR firms (I’m a card-carrying APR member of the PRSA) or big agencies (of course I know big agencies do great work; in our market Arnold comes immediately to mind.)

And I’d be stupid to try to make the argument that research, branding or any other kind of similar project isn’t usually worth doing. That’s not it at all. Besides, I’d like to think I’m not stupid. At least my mother never thought I was. Neither does my sister.

What it is, is that the only thing you can say with absolute certainty is that work performed by a big group is going to be more expensive than work performed by a small or medium group. You absolutely cannot say with equal certainty that it will be better work or more valuable advice. But often, credibility is shaped by the number of cars in the employee lot.

You know, the “Well, they’re a big company and they handle So-And-So, so they must be right” approach. When what is really called for is a cold, hard look at the work or counsel itself and let it stand or fall on its own merit. Speaking for smaller agencies and PR firms, I say that, as often as not, our work can stand up to that done by groups much bigger than we are. What’s that saying about it’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog? Like that.

Don’t misunderstand. Big agencies and PR firms got there for a reason. Good work. They earned their growth and success. But that doesn’t mean that whatever they come up with is automatically sound or worth the money. They are easily as capable of dreaming up bone-headed ideas or boondoggle projects as anybody else. By the same token, the fact that an agency is small doesn't mean their ideas aren't big. Or that their advice isn't good.

So the next time your smaller agency or PR firm makes a recommendation or gives you an idea, don’t factor in the square footage of their office space. Don’t do it the next time your big agency or PR firm makes a recommendation or gives you an idea either.

Remember, Ford Motor Company is a pretty big organization. They developed the Mustang.

But they also came up with the Edsel.

Friday, December 14, 2007

It ain't so, Joe.

There are plenty of things I simply don’t understand. (The popularity of country music comes to mind. So does why I never learned to type with more than two fingers.) But one thing that baffles me is why people in business will invest thousands ― if not millions ― in a new company, a new product, a renovation or anything at all and then go on the cheap when it comes to promoting it.

Well, maybe “go on the cheap” is a little harsh, so I’ll rephrase it. “. . . and then don’t devote the resources necessary to protect their investment by promoting it to potential customers.”

We had a restaurant client recently that spent nine months and spared no expense on the build-out of their new place, then lamented that they had “no money at all” to promote it. And this was a restaurant new to the market, on a street with very little foot traffic in a highly competitive restaurant district. A tough sell all around. Maybe the money for the stainless steel beaded curtain for the cloak room could have been better spent on advertising or public relations.

You may have noticed the use of past tense here. The restaurant went out of business in three months.

One can never know for sure if “we don’t have any money for that” really means “we don’t have any money we want to spend on that”. My guess would be that at least some of the time, that’s the case. And there is a real argument to made for characterizing that approach as short-sighted ― spending money on something but not wanting to spend any money to tell potential customers you did it.

Now, I’m a big proponent of the “the smaller the budget, the bigger the idea has to be” school of thinking. Our agency specializes in challenger brands, and that kind of thinking is inherent in our approach. But there are limits. You have to have some money to apply to the problem. There is an appropriate spending ratio of your investment to promoting your investment.

My point here is that advertising, promotion, marketing or whatever the hell you want to call it isn’t something you bolt onto a project when the construction is done. Protect your investment. Budget from the very beginning an appropriate amount of money to devote to telling potential customers how nice your new hotel is, how wonderful the renovations are, how great your new restaurant is, or how zippity-doo-dah your computer repair service is. Whatever. It’s not an afterthought. It’s as important to your success as hiring the right construction manager.

“If you build it, he will come” only works in the movies.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A thought on Do-Good work

Like many agencies, we do pro-bono work now and again. And finding people who can devote their time and talents to a good cause usually isn’t all that difficult, especially if there is an opportunity to do good work there.

The thing that usually hangs it up is getting those things that have dollars signs attached to them. Like media time or space. That’s usually the real drag of doing that stuff ― you have to find people to donate out-of-pocket to make it work. A great ad or spot doesn’t do the organization any good if nobody runs it. “Sure, we can do an ad or a spot, but where’s it going to run?”

Reading through a variety of papers over the weekend gave me an idea.

(Up front, this is one of those ideas that I really don’t know yet how to make work. So there’s that right now. But it’s an idea. And if the Ad Club or someone was to take it on, I’d be willing to be one of those working to figure out a way.)

Look through any newspaper ― the Washington Post and Washington Times, The Examiner, The New York Times and even the suburban weeklies ― and you’re going to see a certain amount of filler and self-promotion. And you hear a lot of broadcast self-promotion too. Especially radio.

I’ve also seen dioramas and bus tails that run past their pull date.

That's space and time that might could be put to good use.

Maybe there is some way to create some sort of public service clearing house to make good use of that excess of unused space and time. Charitable organizations would have to register in some way ahead of time and have to have their ads or spots done and produced and ready to go on short notice, but when a publication or station has some remnant space, they can offer it up for public service.

Maybe it’s web based. There would probably have to be some sort of order so everybody gets a shot at it and there would certainly have to be some sort of time window, so the pub or station would have time to use some filler if nobody comes forward. No question about it, there are plenty of details to resolve.

But it might be worth working out, it the bottom line was be a way for more good causes to take their appeals to the public.

Just a thought.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I love this.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Flavor of the Month

It’s getting a bit frantic out there.

FaceBook, MySpace, E-mails, web sites, Wikis, database and customer relationship management, ambient advertising, print advertising, blogs, Stickam, radio, television, direct mail, text messages . . .

It seems a bit like the various executions are driving the marketing communications effort. And as soon as a new one comes out, everybody rushes to embrace it. Until something else comes out. Did you see “The Wiz”? Remember the part where the Wizard decrees the “in” color and everybody’s down with it. Then he decrees a different color and they all love that one?

That’s kind of what it looks like to me as “advertisers” (and I use that word to describe anybody who has anything they want to sell or promote) run to and fro from the last Next Great Thing to the next Next Great Thing.

And it seems, as often as not, the message is crafted to fit the medium, rather than the medium chosen to suit the message ― a message that was developed to meet the needs and strategy of the product or service. And a lot of clients are being sold on a particular execution or medium because they think it’s going to deliver astounding results at a very low cost. (Usually because whomever sells that particular gee-whiz thing told them it would.)

And then when something else comes along . . .

I think there is a bit of tail-wagging-the-dog going on. Tactics are taking over and the brand is getting lost.

Maybe the message comes first, then the media and execution?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

'Tis the Season or Not?

What happened to the cool agency holiday cards?

Maybe it’s just that I'm not on anybody's card list or nobody enters them in awards shows, but it doesn’t seem like there are as many ambitious agency holiday cards out there as there used to be.

We used to have an art director who said he hated to do holiday cards, but I’ve always kind of liked it. And we’ve had some real fun with them in the past. I posted a couple here. In the top one (shot by Ira Wexler), the “bum” model is Karen’s father, John Nasuti, with a couple of “ladies” we got though (ahem) Lim-O-Grams. The "kidnapped Santa" is Gonz Accame and it was Debie Accame who did the photography.

I loved the one we sent out with Slim Jims and the one where we used a rough piece of cardboard with orange type. (A friend told me he couldn’t throw that one away, but he just didn’t know what to do with it. I liked that.) One year Debi Fox shot a very cool sort of time-lapse sequence of a dancing elf (the kind of thing people would do in Photoshop today, but she did in the camera). We sent it out as an oversized poster. Another year we ran a picture of a snowman trapped in a refrigerator. Then there was the one that apparently pissed off our clients, because none of them even owned up to getting it.

And then one year we were totally broke and sent out a blank #11 card, with a rubber-stamped logo. This one was “guaranteed to absolutely not offend anybody.” And, actually, it got us some business.

Maybe it’s the expense, or maybe it’s the time it takes. But it just doesn’t seem like agencies have the fun with holiday cards they used to have.

Personally, I think clients need to step up, make America great, and pay us all to do original holiday cards -- so we can tag onto the print job and get ours done for free. Are you with me kids?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Found Art

We're moving our office. These two things have been on my bulletin board for 10 years, and I thought I'd share.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Experience Necessary

A talented young recent ad school graduate I’d met with (but didn’t have a job for) a while back sent me an e-mail last week. She’s been looking for a job, but with no experience, it’s tough. “ Everyone seems to be hung up about the fact I have no internship or experience. It's incredibly frustrating, since I'll never have any experience until someone gives me some. I've looked for internships, but most of them require that you are still enrolled in undergrad classes.” Obviously, she’s not eligible.

How do you get experience without a job and how do you get a job without experience? Everybody should be able to identify with this particular dilemma.

We worked something out with her, but it made me start thinking. Like most people in my position, I see a lot of people with student books and no experience trying to break in. Most are willing to do any damn thing just to get their foot in the door. But not everybody has an entry-level position open – at least not one they can devote any real money to. And the reality of the situation is that people need paying jobs, so a lot of these kids wind up taking jobs as waiters or temps or whatever to make ends meet. Which further hampers the job search.

So here’s an idea for the DC Ad Club. Find a way to fund small subsidies (and I mean small) for relatively short periods of time (maybe 3-4 months) that will let people right out of school be able to afford to take part-time or full-time internships with agencies. And then agencies won’t have to be able to find available payroll dollars to take them on.

I’m not talking about bringing someone on board to answer phones or file or run errands, but I mean let them do some work under the guidance of working writers, art directors, AE’s, media buyers and designers and get some real experience under their belts.

Obviously I don’t have it all worked out, and there would obviously have to be some sort of application process, but it does seem to me like it’s the kind of thing that can benefit the entire community – present and future. Not only would it help agencies and studios find some short-term, low-cost help, but also – and more importantly – nurture the next generation to help keep Washington alive with talent.

I have no idea what the Washington Ad Club Foundation does. Nobody’s keeping secrets from me; I just don’t know for sure. But near as I can tell from the Ad Club’s web site, a lot of it seems to center around scholarships and internship programs and such for current students. Well, maybe there’s a way to stretch that assistance a bit and help recent graduates and agencies at the same time? Might be a real direct benefit in there somewhere for everybody.

Just a thought.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Trash advertising and great graffiti

I don't know whether the clothes are any good, but as far as American Apparel ads are concerned, for some time now I've been in the of "why are they so hell bent on dehumanizing women"? camp.

The ad above left is fairly typical of the crap they run. Ahhhh, but the shot on the RIGHT shows the reaction of someone in New York's Lower East Side to a billboard.

Love it.

(If you can't read it, the handwritten part rsays: "Gee, I wonder why women get raped.")

Friday, October 26, 2007

Baseball, Tacos, Cars and Lipitor

Like some of you, I’m staying up way too late watching the Series. A couple of things make it worthwhile.

One is those Malibu commercials with the woman who keeps running into a parked car while jogging and the bank robbers who are ignored by the cops. They aren’t the highest-concept spots I’ve ever seen. The “Soon, there will be a car you can’t ignore” line is kind of ordinary and the VO doesn’t blow me away, but there is something about these spots that just makes me laugh every time. More memorable than most car commercials you see.

The other thing that cracks me up is when this or that particular segment of the game is sponsored by both Taco Bell and Lipitor. Lipitor is a medication for controlling cholesterol. One kind of thinks that fewer tacos might help too.

And speaking of Taco Bell, just how cool is it that everybody in America gets a free taco (between 2 and 5 p.m. on October 30) because Jacoby Ellsbury stole a base last night? Taco Bell was the company that, a few years ago when the Mir satellite was going to crash land in the ocean, floated a big target out in the Pacific somewhere with a “hit it here and everybody in the world gets a free taco” promotion. Smart, clever folks over there.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

On The Road

I’m a Virginia-to-Maryland transplant. That gives me permission to say that I think the road-side political sign placement in Northern Virginia has gotten totally out of control.

But since I live in Maryland, it doesn’t really affect me so much. So why bring it up at all? Because, as we drove to a client meeting in Virginia yesterday, it occurred to us that those median strips covered with signs are a great analogy for media advertising and a great way to illustrate why a good, attention-getting ad will pull better than one that looks like all the rest. This is a real-life show of what ad people mean when they talk about “cutting through the clutter.”

Take a ride out Rt. 50 in Fairfax. Tell yourself that median strip is a publication. Which signs will you remember? Probably, the biggest ones and the ones that appear the most frequently. In other words, the ones where they spent the most "media" money.

If you pay for fewer signs (that is, “spend less on media”) and attract the same or more attention aren’t you ahead of the game? I think so.

And isn’t that where creativity comes in?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Nothing like Jack on a Friday.

Posted yesterday on AdFreak, this is pretty funny. If you're a writer or know any, that is.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

This is an amazing spot.

It's an AIDS awareness spot Leo Burnett France did.

In case you don't read French, the line is "
Every 10 seconds, someone dies of AIDS in the world. Protect yourself."

Be sure you have the sound turned on.

(P.S. Ignore the "click to play" at left. That's just on the image I grabbed from the site where the thing actually is. Wait until you get there to click to play.)

This is your idea? Really?

This may be old news at this point, and for that I apologize. But I just ran across this ad for Converse in a copy of the New York Times Spring men’s fashion issue I’ve had lying around for reference.

Here’s the thing. You’ve got a client like Converse, a classic brand. A cool factor that’s off the charts. You’ve got a New York Times fashion magazine as your canvas – and your very best idea is a photo of two people who (snicker, snicker) look like they are having stand-up sex in a public park with a headline that (giggle, snort) sounds like a dirty word. Whoa, dude. Like, totally awesome creative.

I imagine the creative team were all pretty pleased with themselves and thrilled that they “got away” with coming this close to showing and saying “fuck” in an ad.

This passes for an idea? I mean, I’ve been known to f***ing drop the f-bomb freely. It’s not that. It’s the stupid, cheap f***ing joke here that pisses me off. They had an opportunity to do something good and f***ing blew it.

Is the target for Converse a universe of people who will identify more strongly with the brand because of this Beavis-and-Butthead approach? Really?

Some years ago, Jeff Kidwell of the late, lamented AudioMaster started a monthly get-together of creative people called Last Tuesday. Sadly, it died, but one evening we were doing group concepting on a pro-bono campaign for a charity organization. One team came up with a headline that said “Hey career bitch, cough up $25.” When someone asked Mark Greenspun of Adworks what he thought, his response was along the lines of “it’s easy to just do something shocking.” That applies here.

Point is, if you have a client like Converse and the smartest thing you can come up with is “Get Chucked”, you need to get out of the business. And so should your CD. Obviously I wasn’t privy to the brief or any of the meetings, so maybe there is something here I don’t know, but I can’t imagine what it might be or why they went with this. Where were the clearer heads? Where were the adults?

I have no idea why the girl in the ad is spitting a stream of water. Use your imagination, I guess. (Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, knowwhatImean?)

Friday, October 5, 2007

A little diversion on a Friday afternoon

A working lunch debating a branding project and I come back and, naturally, check out the copyranter blog to see what's important. And I found a link you might enjoy.

Nonsense, a boutique British agency is asking The World at Large to vote on the creative concept for their new web site.

Go here and vote

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Get yo'self a Lisa.

We had a great client experience yesterday. We love all our clients, of course, but reality is, just like we do things that drive them nuts now and again, they do things that drive us nuts. Sometimes. (No, not you, I mean all those other clients.)

But yesterday with Lisa was pretty fabulous. We’re working on a branding project for a clothing company and we’re doing some phone and in-person interviews with the top marketing people. You know, to get their initial takes on strengths, weaknesses, the competitive arena -- like that. And that's what Lisa is -- one of the top marketing executives.

So it was basically, “let’s talk about the most critical essential truth of [the company]”. Then we just sat back and wrote as furiously as we could, because this woman had it down.

She knew what we were looking for; she was colorful and poetic; she was candid, funny, insightful and, for all intents and purposes, answered our questions before we even asked them. She got it.

In a Previous Life, before I saw the light, I did some time as a newspaper reporter. And the kind of person I always liked interviewing best was somebody like Lisa. Ask a question and get ready to write it down.

People like Lisa make our jobs easier and make the end product so much better. No one-word answers. No having to draw it out of them. No guessing at what they think or what’s important.

So you kids at home thinking about going into the advertising business? Here’s a tip when it comes to finding clients: Get yourself a Lisa.

You've been there. You know you have.

This video is currently making the rounds on various advertising blogs. I got it on adfreak. It's a video that was shown at the Hatch Awards in Boston. It's a focus group test of the classic "1984" Apple commercial. Somehow, they found people who hadn't seen or heard of the thing and ran it past them.

It, um, didn't do well. And that's about 75% of what you need to know about focus-group testing creative.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Hold on a sec. How much is that by the minute?

I’m a little behind on my reading, so I just caught up with a great piece in the September 24 Ad Age – “Agencies Must Wake Up To A Different Business Model”.

There’s a lot in there – like compensation, revenue streams, outsourcing and social responsibility -- and I’d suggest anybody in the agency business read it. But one thing I especially agreed with was writer Avi Dan’s take on compensation. “Instead of compensating agencies fairly based on their contribution to wealth creation for their clients,” he writes, “clients [have] adopted labor as the metric for evaluating the contribution intellectual property has on wealth creation.”

As much as I have long been an advocate of paying agencies based on the value of their work rather than the time it takes to do it, I’ve never really taken the next step and expressed it quite as well as Dan has. That is, the value of our contribution to wealth creation for clients. Read that last part again: “wealth creation for clients.” What we really do is generate and apply intellectual property to build value, not just spend X-number of hours. It would be pretty terrific if more clients were on board with the concept. (But shame on us for letting it get to this point, I suppose.)

Dan goes on: “ Most intellectual-property wealth creators, whether they are Steven Spielberg . . . or Georgio Armani, don’t fill out time sheets and don’t get compensated based on how many hours they toil, but on the basis of the value that their artistry creates.”


See the whole article at Ad Age online.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Call it filler if you want . . .

A couple of thoughts have been rolling around in my head.

This: I know it’s kind of old news, but still I think it’s great that Qorvis/+SmithGifford got the Virginia Lottery account, breaking the stranglehold that middle- and southern-Virginia agencies have had for years.

That: I wonder why the DC Convention & Tourism group picked the local office of an international public relations firm to drive its marketing effort. Then again, these were the guys who picked a Baltimore agency a few years ago. With MDB and White & Partners both in the mix pitching that account, I know they could have gone with a local creative firm that would have done a great job.

But nobody asked me.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Because it's in Yass.

The Adland blog was the source of this particular Friday afternoon laugh. It really is in Yass, Australia.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

This has nothing to do with advertising.

I lied.

A copywriter sent it to me, so I guess in that sense it does. Fred Guthrie ( came across this cool little amateur Rube Goldberg-kind-of-thing. God only knows where.

Take a minute. Enjoy.

(Update -- based on Paul's comment below, make sure you have the most current Shockwave for it to work. Get it for free here. - WH)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Even if my grandfather wasn't from Scotland, I'd like this.

I've seen this on a couple of ad blogs over the past few days. It's for an upcoming Highland Games.

So this week's winner of "Best Use of a Telephone Pole" goes to Hangar 18 Creative Group of Vancouver, B.C.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

This sucks. Go with it.

According to Ad Age Today, that awful “HeadOn” commercial that we’ve all seen and groaned about is clearly one of the “worst commercials ever from a creative standpoint.” Jay Leno and John Stewart have both mocked it on the air and NBC News called it the “most annoying ad on television”.

Brace yourself.

Since they started running the spot, HeadOne sales have skyrocketed. We’re talking a 234% increase in 2006 from 2005 and already this year (September), they have nearly equaled 2006 sales. What the Hell does this tell us?

The VP of sales at Miralus, who owns HeadOn, says they are more interested in brand awareness than winning creative awards.

No kidding.

But it’s hard to deny their success. So what does that mean for those of us who believe that creativity sells? Those of us who spend our days looking for the different creative approach that we think will cut through the ad clutter for our clients?

I don’t know. I know that Miralus spends just $15 million a year on measured media – which is a drop in the bucket for a national brand. Much less than brands that have lost sales.

I also know this. Whether the creative is good or whether it’s garbage, whether it wins an award or doesn’t, whether the creative director is proud of it or embarrassed by it, the goal remains the same. To sell stuff (and by “stuff”, I mean things, services, ideas, positions – all of it). That’s something people in our business sometimes forget in the push for creativity.

If any of you reading this are clients and you’re going to hold this up to your agencies as a justification for bad creative, don't. One reason I think HeadOn has worked so far is because it is just so awful it stands out. Everything can’t be the worst. So in the spirit of Harvey Keitel’s famous line in “Pulp Fiction” let’s not all start shooting for bad creative. Besides, fame is fleeting.

Nobody values or believes in creativity as a practical business tool more than I do. Creativity and advertising effectiveness certainly go together in my book. But maybe it sometimes takes crap like HeadOn to remind us that the Point of The Exercise is, after all, to sell stuff. And I do know that sometimes creative folk let their ideas get away from them.

A few years ago, Karen and I were at a presentation Dan Wieden of Wieden + Kennedy made at the Museum of Radio and Television. With the famous (or infamous) “Dick” campaign for Miller Beer having just bit the dust, I perhaps foolishly raised my hand and asked what could we learn from the fact that a wildly creative, award-wining campaign like “Dick” didn’t sell much beer?

Clearly Dan took offense and in a tone of voice that was equal parts condescending and angry told me that “It's not about selling beer, young man . . . "

And although I loved the "young man" part, I don’t even remember what he said after that. I was so blown away that someone I’d admired so much didn’t even seem to know what the advertising was supposed to do, I kind of blanked from that point on. If it's not about selling beer, then WTF is it about?

But I was put properly enough in my place that I didn’t challenge him on it. I just sank down in my seat as all the New York creatives in the audience sneered at me and asked Dan if they could show him their books.

And then again, there’s HeadOn. An absolute joke of creativity that just happens to be pretty damned effective. Much more effective than “Dick.”

Which I never liked anyway.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Bookmark this site.

Not this site (although that would be lovely).

No, bookmark this site. It's "I have an Idea", a wonderful creat
ive site with profiles, interviews and lots and lots of good work to inspire you. You have to register, but it's free and way past worth it.

Go. Go now.

We've having a party. Bring your checkbook.

Ok, I can tell you now that this one isn’t going to go over so well with some people.

But here we go anyway.

Today’s e-mail brings an invitation to the DC Ad Club’s “Sports Nite” networking event at Nellie’s, a hot new DC sports bar. At a cool $60 for members and $70 for non-members.

Are you kidding me? I’m an Ad Club member, but my wife and business partner Karen is not. So that’s $130 for the two of us to go have drinks and snacks at a bar for two hours.

Last I looked, $130 buys a pretty nice night out for two. Dinner, tickets to the National Symphony, a show at The National – you can even get into Caps games for that.

Isn’t the idea is to bring people together and to encourage participation in the Ad Club and the ad community? I believe it is – and should be. So why make it so expensive? $60 for two hours of networking?

The people who will typically be able to participate in events like this will be people for whom the fee is paid by their company (who can deduct part of it as a business expense) or who have the discretionary income that they can blow some of it on an Ad Club event. For the most part, that leaves out the junior and entry-level people, especially those at smaller agencies. And these are the people who have the future of our ad community in their hands. Not just the agency owners and senior players at the larger agencies.

If the goal is to grow the advertising community in Washington, then make it possible for people to participate. If the goal is to make money, have a car wash.

(Late addition / added 9/26 -- Just wondering. How many people go home toasted from things like this because they are determined to get their money's worth in drinks?)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

We all make mistakes

I know I have. But this bus tail is a complete waste of somebody’s time and money. You can’t tell what it’s for even if you’re right, smack, directly behind it at a stoplight. Which was where I was yesterday when I took this picture.

Concept, design, approval – there are a lot of fingerprints on this one, and they all ought to be ashamed. You’d think that at least the sales rep might have pointed out that nobody can read the damn thing.

I don’t know if this is public service, but unless it was free all the way around, somebody spent money they shouldn’t have spent.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Two things

One: "If you hate the headline, just say you hate the headline."

It's a condo project. $300,000 and up. Headline says "Buy two and we'll throw in a swell t-shirt." Client says "I don't want to have to give away a t-shirt."

The other one: This is a great use of the web.

Check this out - Part of a Horizon Air campaign for the Portland-Seattle shuttle by wongdoody. I haven't seen other elements of the campaign, but it's a good guess people weren't expected to just stumble on the web site by accident.
Somebody went to a lot of trouble for this. Somebody smart.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Fabulous Trunk Monkey

This not new, but for those of you who never saw or heard of Trunk Monkey, you're in for a treat. This is a truly fabulous campaign that proves once and for all that it actually is possible to do creative spots for a car dealer. (That is, spots without screaming announcers or family members either one.)

I've embedded my favorite one here (actually, it was the first of the series), but go to YouTube and search "trunk money" or go directly to and see them all. Either way, sit back and enjoy some truly inspired advertising.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Allrighty then . . . .

Found this on Adrants.

I understand it a little better after reading the headline.

I think.

What did you just call me?

I don’t know for sure, but sometimes I get the feeling that copywriters got screwed.

The basic creative “team” is an art director and a copywriter. Read that again: An (insert a flourish here) “art director” and a (drop your voice down and mumble) “copywriter”. Don’t you think that, as the people in charge of the words, copywriters could have come up with something better for ourselves?

Like “word wrangler” or “copy stud” or maybe even “redacteur publictaire". Yeah, that’s the ticket. If I could pronounce it, that would probably have a nice ring to it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Does creativity know anything about geography?

I’d like to think not. But, sad to say, some people think geography has something to do with creativity. Specifically on the Ernie Schenck blog recently, there was a post about the fact that Rudy Giuliani didn’t hire a “New York” agency for his campaign. The sad thing was that some of the posted comments referred to D.C. advertising with words like “buffoons”, “hamfisted” and “schlockmeisters”.

That was hard for me to read. Now, I hate the junk political consultants call “advertising”, and to be completely honest, I’m embarrassed they’re here. At the same time, I think that anybody who buys into the “any creative that didn’t come from New York is crap” mindset is a genuine, grade-A idiot. But what bothers me most about the Giuliani/Schenck post and comments is that the whole freaking city of Washington got painted with the “schlockmeister” brush.

For every one of those political hack agencies, there’s an Arnold. And Rosenthal Partners. A Design Army, August Lang, and a Redhead. With Lisa Biskin, Woody Kay, Joel Mooy, Dan Rosenthal, Ed Stern, Francis Sullivan, and so on. It’s a shame that sort of a little bit maybe sometimes to the outside world, Washington advertising is colored by the junk the hacks do.

It’s a problem. And I don’t know if something like Advertising Week is the answer or not. But I do know that there is some damn good work being done here. And, truth be told, there’s a lot of crap that comes out of New York.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Beautiful. Powerful. Does it work?

Does this British spot push your buttons on gun control? Or not? Is it effective or just creative? Art or advertising? Comments please? Found on today.

I just love the art direction on these.

Of course, the concept and headlines are pretty terrific too.

This is a campaign I found on for a publication in Toronto. Note how the agency, Smith Roberts Creative Communications, resisted the temptation (or suggestion) to put a "to subscribe" phone number, e-mail or web address and such on there. Beautiful work. This goes in the "I wish I'd done it" file.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

In the comfort of your home or office, you too can . . .

Here’s something that’s been kind of gnawing at me lately.

On the one hand, I honestly believe that advertising is best when it’s a collaboration between the agency and client. On the other, I sometimes wish clients would trust us to do what they pay us to do.

For example – should a client get a group together with your ideas and comps and re-write or edit headlines and copy and send them back? Should they get into the “I don’t like the red” or “I’d like the background to be deep purple” arena of logo or web design? I mean really, at what point do we, should we, or can we as “professionals” try to insist on going this part of it alone?

This is not to say that everything any of us ever writes or designs is perfect as is. Far from it. What I do mean to suggest is that I think it works better if a client can give us the direction we need so we can apply our particular talents to satisfy the marketing challenge. (“Why not red?” Good answer: “It’s hard to read.” “Why deep purple?” Bad answer: “We saw it on another site and we like it.”)

When a concept or bit of creative isn’t cutting it with a client, I like to ask them to help me understand what it is doing that it shouldn’t do or what it isn’t doing that it should do. With that sort of information and insight, we can address their concerns.

I don’t mean to sound to arrogant here, but the fact of the matter is, anybody who does any particular thing full-time for a living can usually do it better than someone who doesn’t. That goes for legal work, plumbing, truck driving, competitive ice-skating, garbage collection or accounting. And it goes for art direction and copywriting as well.

Don’t get me wrong. Clients have very good ideas. A headline suggested by a client of ours won an award at The Addys last year. Another client had a fabulous packaging idea for a direct mail piece we’re doing. But people who don’t write or design for a living tend to write and design things that look to them like what an “ad” ought to be. That’s because they’ve seen it already somewhere. And re-creating something they and everybody else has seen already isn’t a very good way to grab anybody’s attention.

There are plenty of agencies out there who make a nice living simply carrying out client directions. Often those agency-client relationships last forever, because it works for everybody. But just as often, the client looks up one day and wonders why they pay an agency that has to be directed every step of the way. Sometimes, it’s because that’s what the agency has been conditioned to do in order to keep peace in the valley. Not everybody is inclined to disagree with a client who mandates an idea. And who signs the checks.

So if you’ve got an idea for your agency, by all means share it. Do not hesitate. If they are any good at all, they want to hear it. And if it's a better idea, they will use it. But recognize that there is a reason you hired them to do the creative, and don’t force your ideas on them. If their ego is so out of control that they are unwilling to recognize a good idea unless it’s theirs, fire them. You should give your agency the direction they need to get the work to where it needs to be. You should expect them to come through. You should demand creativity. You should not insist on joining the creative team.

That is, unless you’re inclined to invite the art director and copywriter in to help you with your sales forecast, inventory management or site permits.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

We're just too wonderful for words.

So it’s 15 years ago, and we're pitching Ballston Common mall with an idea intended to show that it was really a great shopping center full of good stores.

Print up some BIG shopping bags with “I got all this stuff at Ballston Common” on both sides, we said. Load them up with packages and have people ride the subway and/or walk around Tyson’s Corner carrying them.

We'd rather have a direct mail flyer for a sale promotion, they said. Got anything like that?

Don’t think anybody was using the term “guerilla marketing” then. Not to brag or anything.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

For those of you taking notes at home . . .

If you're doing a web site, get the sucker finished as fast as you can.

This is because if you take too long, it's a near certainty that your client, while surfing the web, is going to find something they like and call you up to suggest that you re-do or modify the site to be like that.

There is just too much new cool stuff out there every day. Thankfully, this never happens in the middle of production of a radio spot.

Monday, August 13, 2007

There's a new kid on the block.

And, as you can see, it's not Donnie Wahlberg.

It's Jessica Tree, the newest Nasuti + Hinkler, direct to us from San Diego. Originally from Green Bay, Wisconsin, Jessica graduated from the University of Minnesota and Brainco Advertising School in Minneapolis before heading West.

And now she's here.

Monday, August 6, 2007

I'm a professional. Don't try this at home.

So I’m cruising through to see what’s new and cool out there. And I came across a GLAD storage bag commercial. Couple in an RV runs off the road, flips over and over and over down a ravine and the woman stumbles out of the wreck with the GLAD bag containing her kitchen garbage totally intact.

An OK spot, but this was what struck me: the “Closed course with professional driver. Do not attempt.” disclaimer at the beginning. In other words, do not attempt to run your RV off the road and roll it over and over and over to the bottom of a ravine.

They felt the need to say that?

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

You mean it's not about the hammer at all?

Ad agencies and (and creative thinking firms) do not make money on production.

There. I’ve said it. And I’m not taking it back.

There is no valid business model that can work well for – or be fair to – both client and agency that is dependent on the agency making its money on production. And I’ll fight you about it if you want.

Just like the notion of the 15% media commission as agency compensation, the idea of fees and markups related to production as sources of income for an agency needs to disappear.

Clients need to pay their agencies for what it is they really do – or should – receive that is of value. Ideas. Thinking.

That’s what we sell. (Ahem) Creative Thinking. Ideas. Solutions. The pressure needs to be on us to deliver solid thinking and good ideas. Our compensation should never be based on how long it takes us to do something any more than it should be based on how much we spend on a photographer or printing. Exactly how frequently is it acceptable for the client’s and the agency’s best interests to collide?

There’s an old joke that has been told in many variations that goes something like this:

A customer takes a car to a mechanic, complaining that the engine makes a loud clanking noise when idling. The mechanic opens the hood, starts the car, and listens for a moment. Then he grabs a hammer and hits the engine sharply. The noise stops.

"That'll be $100." he says.

"What? " complains the customer. "You just hit it with a hammer. Anybody can do that."

"True, “ says the mechanic, "That's why I'm only charging you $5 for labor."

"Then what's the other $95 for?" demands the customer.

"That's for knowing where to hit it."

And that, boys and girls, is the business we’re supposed to be in. Knowing where to hit it.

Friday, July 20, 2007

A tag line is not your brand.

Well, that's paraphrasing the original statement, but it's paraphrasing it in a good way. A client sent us a link to hear2.0, a radio marketing web site and a brief, but great, piece on slogans and positioning.

Feel free to substitute "tag line" for "slogan and "brand" for "positioning" as Mark Ramsey, the president of hear2.0 clears it up nicely in this excerpt from "Positioning is not a slogan".

"What does it mean when a marketer asks you how you position your radio station to the audience? Twice today, stations have assumed I meant to ask "What's your slogan?" when that isn't what I meant at all. I don't really care what your slogan is.

"What I want to know is what, exactly, your station is supposed to stand for? What is it designed to represent? What do you want your listeners to believe about you and why do you think they choose you specifically over scores of other options as their favorite? What is the problem you uniquely solve for your audience?

" . . . A 'position' is not a set of words, it's a destination in the minds of the audience. "

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Big Budget Blues

Even though a few people who commented on this on Ernie Schenck's blog said they'd seen the idea before, it's a great idea.

We used to have an art director working with us who felt like if you didn't have $100,000 for a commercial, you might as well not even bother with television. I don't agree. If you don't have an idea, you might as well not bother. This spot has an idea.

If your client is willing to go with a big enough idea, a small budget isn't an issue. In fact, the smaller the budget, the bigger the idea has to be.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Bombs Away

“Advertising” in whatever form, is all over the place. I’m in the business, and even I get sick of it sometimes. For example, we were talking about sports events in the car on the way to work this morning. The Seventh-Inning Stretch has become the Sponsored By So-And-So Seventh Inning Stretch. Times-outs are sponsored. Around-the-league updates are sponsored. A basketball or hockey arena has one sponsor and the floor or the ice has another. Promotional events like pizza box races or trivia quizzes by some Clown With a Microphone in The Stands are all brought to you by somebody.

It’s not just sports. You can’t open up a web page without some sort of pop-up cluttering the screen. The Sunday paper is another great example of horrible intrusions. The Washington Post TV guide includes this wretched tabbed insert that sticks out and interferes with using the thing. My guess is that most people – like me – rip it out and throw it away. The comics and supplements bag is full of forgettable inserts.

Ok, so we all know advertising is everywhere. What’s my point?

My point is that it seems like there is so much advertising in so many places that agencies (who should know better), marketers (who should know better) and advertisers (who may or may not know better) try to overcome the numbing effect of the plethora of messages that bombard us by using even more messages. In more new and different ways. Read the advertising trades and you’re always coming across a story about how someone has developed some new medium – a new way to put ads on a grocery cart, a different kind of Internet intrusion or a new way to put a sticker on the front page of a publication.

As often as not, for some inexplicable reason, these stories are accompanied by great cheers and high-fives all around. As if creating more clutter was some kind of accomplishment.

But it’s like trying to put out a fire with gasoline. Responding to the mountains of advertising crap by adding more mountains of advertising crap.

Speaking of media advertising alone (defining "media" loosely and setting aside just for the moment a discussion of new, innovative and effective approaches to marketing and marketing communications) it seems to me like it would be a whole lot better and a ton more cost-efficient to simply work harder to do better advertising. More engaging, entertaining, informative and rewarding bits of creative. Invest a little more time and money into the work and give it the air to stand out in an overcrowded competitive arena. If you’re going to do media advertising, do it well. Don’t waste your money.

This all applies to individual advertisers as well as advertisers in general. For example, there is an institution here in Washington (sorry, no names) that runs perfectly dreadful print and television advertising. But they run a whole lot of it, so their awareness level is pretty high. My guess is – and I’d say it’s a good guess – they could accomplish the same awareness with a much lower media budget if the creative itself was compelling and memorable. I’ve never thought it was terribly cost-efficient to try to buy market share with your media budget.

In the right hands, creativity can be a pretty damn practical, cost-efficient business tool.

We – and I count myself as part of the general public here – don’t want to see more of the stuff. We want to see better stuff.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Every now and then you come across something brilliant

And sometimes you come across more than one. I Have An Idea ( is always a good place to see the Work The Smart People Do. Here are three we ran across today. All are copyrighted by

Click links to the site.

The one at the top is for a casino. Two baggage carousels have been painted to look like roulette wheels. In the middle we have a new take on wrapping a bus, this one for a laundry detergent. And finally, a graphic argument for washing your hands in the men's room.

All three are in the "I wish I'd thought of that" category.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Mutts to Life

As far as I am concerned, the two greatest comic strips going are “Pearls Before Swine” and “Mutts.” Period.

One “Mutts” strip not long ago, made its way to my refrigerator at home. It’s a simple drawing of a dog and he’s saying that every animal but man knows that the whole purpose of life is to enjoy it.

Kind of puts your day in some sort of perspective, doesn’t it?

I don’t know whether or not the whole purpose of working in advertising is to enjoy it. But when it comes to life as it should be lived, I think I agree with that little dog.