Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Certain uncertainty.

Last week, an infographic defining audiences for Twitter and Facebook was making the rounds. BrandSavant had a great follow-up article calling out the comparison as descriptive, but not necessarily predictive. As noted, many Twitter users are also Facebook users and vice versa. The two are not completely isolated. Networks are evolving and the platforms are used differently. Definitively predicting follower vs. liker brand or service acquisition is uncertain. 

The rise of uncertainty.
In 1927, physicist Werner Heisenberg introduced a crazy idea that challenged everything from core scientific capability to basic philosophical theory – The Uncertainty Principle. Determinism became a myth. Order went back to chaos. Scientific limitations were exposed. It was a turning point for analytic thinking. What if a fact could never be a simple, indisputable fact?

Imperfection gives us direction.
Though there are many interpretations of this principle, overall, it exposed process as imperfect. It's filled with variable contradiction and human influence. Uncertainty determines where we'll go next, and it's a back-and-forth journey.

Everything affects everything.
By observing, we can actually alter the outcome of the observed. And, the observer determines what is and isn't observed. This is where the source of content becomes just as important as the content itself. (Or, if you figure out a way to time travel, don't mess with anything. We'll call that the loosely connected McFly Principle.)

Uncertainly engaged.
Captive audiences are gone, and brands must engage socially. Unfortunately, social ROI is uncertain. We want to predict solid outcomes. However, it's more important to be relevant and adapt. Focus on awareness. (One thing is certain – if your brand is not confidently at the party, it will not engage with anyone.)

On being uncertain.
Uncertainty brings us clients. It drives better solutions. It's a risk-driven challenge fueled by intuition and probability.

There's a thrill that accompanies uncertainty. It encourages us to lead our lives as certainly as we can today, knowing that we await an onslaught of uncertain tomorrows. That we may never have all the answers, but we'll learn along the way. And, of that much, I'm certain.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Simple is not simple.

One of my favorite posts lately was from Dave Trott. With four words, he summed up what we do: making the complicated simple. Now, don't get me wrong, this does not trivialize the art of advertising. The simplification process is quite complex. There are layers to be sifted through. Patterns to be exposed. Associations to be made. Beverages to be consumed.

He references a great piece of writing from Nick Wray where he imagines World War I as a pub fight. Beautifully, a multifaceted, propaganda-ridden event becomes something we can relate to on a smaller scale. Something we want to pass along and remember. (Okay, so I've never been in a pub fight or fought in a war. I have however seen my fair share of action movies and, in theory, can identify with the scenario.)

Simple is difficult. We are trained to over-think and overcompensate. Do we really need to exasperate every detail and feature? (Boring.) Does our audience care about anything other than the ultimate connection they perceive themselves benefiting from? (Probably not.) What's the projected comradeship urging them to close the deal? (Cut to the chase, but make it interesting.)

How can you say the most with the least amount of information? Can you take insight and research resembling a volume of War and Peace and boil it down into one resonating idea?

As you read through the project background – eyes glazing over, brain visiting somewhere loosely connected, but probably much more awesome – try to regain focus (again) and grasp the metaphor. The essence of the brand.

Knowing a little about a lot delivers the complex simplicity of an analogy. Incidentally, it also requires a little craziness and a lot of free time. But hey, in the end it all looks simple, right? Well, that's the idea anyway.

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Monday, December 6, 2010

Creative organization.

Last June, I had the pleasure of hearing Scott Belsky speak at The How Conference. He announced the launch of his updated Behance Network (version two), spoke of plans for the 99 percent, and also offered insight from his celebrated book, Making Ideas Happen. If you haven't read the book, you should. Now.

In a very matter-of-fact way, Scott identifies problems all creative teams face and offers simple, yet powerful solutions. One realization in particular helps us best utilize our team's strengths.

He identifies three agency personality types:

1. Dreamers – Always coming up with new ideas and maniacally starting new projects. If left to their own devices, Dreamers would never get anything done. How to spot Dreamers: They are probably dressed in ironic plaid and working beneath a pile of desk clutter. They'll remember random culture references, but will forget basic survival necessities. Time eludes them.

“Dreamers are fun to be around, but they struggle to stay focused. In their ideas frenzy, they are liable to forget to return phone calls, complete current projects, even pay the rent. While Dreamers are more likely than anyone to conceive of brilliant solutions, they are less likely to follow through."
(Though they may never admit it, Dreamers benefit from Doer structure.)

2. Doers – Focused on logistics and execution. They can get mired in the details. Doers need to be empowered and suppressed at different phases in the creative process. How to identify Doers: Their work areas and lives are immaculately maintained. Chaos makes them nervous. Doers are stellar time managers.
They ask, “How are we going to implement this?” “While Dreamers will quickly fall in love with an idea, Doers will start with doubt and chip away at the idea until they love it (or, often, discount it). As Doers break an idea down, they become action-oriented organizers and valuable stewards." 
(When they're not annoyed with them, Doers are inspired by Dreamers.)

 3. Incrementalists – Can play both roles. However, they sometimes sacrifice quality for quantity.
“An Incrementalist is able to bask in idea generation, distill the Action Steps needed, and then push ideas into action with tenacity.” Incrementalists may seem like the best of all worlds, but they “have the tendency to conceive and execute too many ideas simply because they can. This rare capability can lead to an overwhelming set of responsibilities to maintain multiple projects at the expense of ever making one particular project an extraordinary success.” 
(Incrementalists can deliver alone for awhile, but will go the distance with support from Dreamers and Doers.)

So, what personality are you? 
Ideally, your team is made up of a mixture of these three personalities. All add value and have their strengths. When they are all working together, ideas happen.
 

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

The behavior business.

What will people think? Will they even notice? Will they want to connect?
As this Tech Crunch article points out, digital serendipity is less about magic and more about science. But, there's a fine line between meaningful connection and creepy assumption. (And yeah, Facebook and Gmail-targeted advertising, you know what I'm talking about with the latter implication.) 

So if we rely on former audience algorithms are we allowing for future evolution?
In research groups, and in general, there's something called the 80/20-percent rule. 80-percent of your audience should love an idea, and 20-percent should be challenged by it. If you try to please everyone, you'll end up with diluted mediocrity. (And hopefully, for your sake, you're not only presenting to the 20-percent. Tough room.) 

Misbehavior leads to opportunity.
I'm not condoning bad behavior here… no crazy egos or blatant obnoxiousness please. (Unless it's funny). Just because things have always been done a certain way doesn't mean that's the way you should be doing things. If you consistently deliver safe work that's on-brief, under-budget, and on-time – chances are, no one will remember. In the long term, that's more costly for your career and your client. In an environment that's filled with noise and content, you have to be a little disruptive and a lot relevant.

"I don't want people who do the right things. I want people who do inspiring things." – Bill Berbach
We need to be brave, for our brands.
Jed Hallam brilliantly confronts the Fast Company article that spawned numerous related 'digital is scary' and 'we are all going to be run by robots' articles. The truth is, advertising is about connection. How we connect will always be based on the core idea, not the technology used to deliver it.

So stop worrying about the robots, for now. 
Inspire behavior. Focus on authentic connection and brand serendipity will follow.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

You are your book.

When speaking to tomorrow's designers and writers, one question always comes up:

"What do you look for in a portfolio?"

This is the challenge. What all those years of college and experience have prepared you for, right? Well, maybe. The truth is, there is no answer here. Everyone interviewing you will give you a different list of essential items. If possible, tailor your book to the agencies you're targeting. Find a way to stand out from the pile of contenders.

Your portfolio is only part of the deal.
People get hired based on a mixture of personality, talent, and potential. And, I'll be honest with you, some people are simply more hire-able (or more relentless). Will you be a good fit with the team? Are you driven? Do you adapt quickly? Do we even have an opening?

Basics I look for in designer's book:

1. Quality over quantity. Only show work that you completely stand behind. Try for 6 to 10 project examples.

2. Idea evolution. The ability to take an idea and expand it into an integrated campaign.

3. Process thinking. Purposeful design, not merely decoration.

4. Solid design foundation. Aesthetic balance and innovative art direction.


Key attributes you should possess: 

1. Computer capability. You must know the programs. If you don't, learn them. Tutorials, hands-on, whatever it takes.

2. Work ethic. There are no shortcuts or entitlements here. Earn your respect.

3. Presentation skills. Be able to sell your work.

4. Mediocrity fear. Keep up with industry news and challenge yourself. Always be observing and learning.

More thoughts:
There's a great episode on FearLessTV where CP+B Creative Director Tiffany Kosel gives her portfolio advice.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Reanimating the story.

Once in a great while, a song momentarily stops your heart and commands full attention. The first time I heard this song, it was live. And mesmerizing. I had no background on the song's meaning or where the story was going. I hung on to every last poetic word.

I'm always most impressed when something ridiculous becomes something transcendent. This song resides at the intersection of absurdity and raw beauty. Fabrication-cloaked authenticity. A darkly-optimistic fairy tale with an underlying morale. Naive love, fame, and consequence.

Previously, I was somewhat familiar with Josh Ritter (old albums and, admittedly, mostly the Aesthetic Apparatus posters). His music is outside my normal music genre preference, but his narrative lyrics are complex and inspiring. He's the Midwestern singer-songwriter son of two neuroscientists – writing his first novel.

As writing becomes more about 140-character function and less about form, it's refreshing to hear a lyricist so driven to pair the right words together. He joked that he has trouble ordering at a drive-thru window. Continually writing, editing, and rewriting.

Take a moment and check out Liam Hurley's visual interpretation of the song that got my attention, The Curse. It's the story of a mummy who wakes up one day and falls in love with the archaeologist who is studying him.

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

The creative reality of pretending.

If your going to advertise something, you need to experience it. Even if you have to simulate the experience like a child at play. (IDEO's Tim Brown brilliantly explores the value of this method.) Basic, human-centered insight drives today's successful marketing. It's the ability to pick up on a core truth that is usually so simple, it's been overlooked.

Years ago I was asked to market a snowmobile adventure from Steamboat Springs, Colorado to Saratoga, Wyoming. The client insisted we do the trip. Having never driven a snowmobile, seven hours to and from a resort was a bit much. Two major snow dig outs, one useless throttle hand, and a couple of recovery days later – I had what I needed. I could tell the story. And with a little pretending, I could tell it from the perspective of someone more in tune with the whole trip. Not that the snowmobiling wasn't fun, in moderation. (If I were just marketing to myself, I would sell the overnight spa part. And, oh yeah, the homemade cookie thing. Definitely.)

We can't always fully experience what we're advertising. However, we can resurrect our instinctual childhood method for figuring things out and pretend.

Why do children pretend? Even though it can be silly, it's an essential part of developing life skills. Children learn to empathize and make sense of the world through pretending. Imagination leads to new realizations, pattern connections, and unexplored possibilities.

Though I'm biased, I'm amazed with what my niece comes up with. Always dressing up – performing, pretending, and creating. She's in her own world. It's like a window to the past. I can see myself and her mother doing the same things. Getting lost in imagination. Reveling in stories as they unfold. Occasionally subjecting adult victims to whatever ridiculousness we thought was pure genius.

As we become adults, imagination fades for most of us. It's still there, but buried under layers of daily responsibility. Those of us who can hold onto it go into some crazy business like advertising. And if we do our jobs correctly, we can bring our audience's imagination back to the surface. Even if it's just a pause before they turn the page and get back to reality.

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

When wrong is right.



Fallon launched The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas with "Just the Right Amount of Wrong." A bold direction for a new resort.

In a city where we thought every concept had already been done – and was staying there – Fallon introduces the open-ended story worth telling. Luxurious curiosity paired with the always perfect Black Rebel Motorcycle Club track. Stunning art direction with a delightfully-twisted concept.

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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Self awesomation.



RSA animated this presentation by Daniel Pink. As the author of Drive, he advocates right-brained and intrinsic motivation. That's where our passion lives. It's the difference between safely completing a job and pushing yourself to exceed job expectations. Checking it off our list or making a deeper statement.

If you're a creative thinker, chances are you're not driven by standard external motivators. Creatives have a love/hate relationship with themselves. Most of the time they are trying to appease their inner critic (who is often a discerning asshole.) If they can impress this inner critic, the world will love them. At least briefly, in their own minds. They may not admit it, but this is their motivation. (That, and yes, cool shiny things.)

Pink calls out three key intrinsic motivators:
1. Autonomy (empowerment) 
2. Mastery (improving skills)
3. Purpose (working toward a bigger goal or being part of something bigger)
 
More than anything else, creatives want to be challenged to do great work and be empowered to do so.

Pink references an interesting study, with a Bob the Builder metaphor no less. The study goes against the core concept of self motivation. (Someone says self motivation, I think Stuart Smalley daily affirmations.) We've been taught to picture ourselves succeeding. No doubts. This is known as declarative self-talk.

Declarative vs. interrogative self-talk

Declarative self-talk = "I will be awesome."

Interrogative self-talk = "Will I be awesome?"

You would think the declarative statement would be more effective. Wrong. When doubt is introduced, you are forced to question variables. Construct a game plan. Humility becomes part of the equation. You have to take a step back and look at the big picture. Challenge yourself and your team.

"… questions open and declarations close. We need both, of course. But that initial tincture of honest doubt turns out to be more powerful than a bracing shot of certainty," Pink concludes.
So, the question is, will you be awesome? Ask yourself and get back to me.
 

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ad industry, have you met your audience?



I still get chills watching the Levi's 'Go Forth' campaign spots from W+K. 

Yes, the campaign was criticized for not speaking to the Levi's-buying audience. Or for being "too good" in execution. (If that's a bad thing?) In spite of the critics, they had a bigger idea here. They captured an idealized, yet gritty America. Blurring stereotypes and encouraging us to go forth with purpose. However, to move forward, we must first look both ways and behind us.

"Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." – Soren Klerkegaard
A 3six5 post by Rishad Tobaccowala reminded me of that insightful quote. He also inspires the idea that today is the culmination of many other singular days. Significant or insignificant, these days combine. They affect who we are and influence what we will do with today. It's almost subliminal.

As I think about my audience and an angle for a campaign, I realize we don't really understand ourselves. Well, not today anyway. We have to look backwards first. That's how we got here and that's what's driving today's decisions. And likewise, our audience comes to today's table with their own unique set of yesterdays.

Sometimes we generalize, thinking that everyone aspires to live or be a certain way. That's not really the case.

Your utopia may be another's nightmare. Ad Age wrote an eye-opening article on how the advertising industry sees pop culture. It's littered with assumptions. Assumptions we all occasionally make. Some things to consider for that "integrated" campaign pitch.

AdPulp referenced the Ad Age article and offered Congress contender David Esrati's advice. He suggested that ad people get into politics. That we should step off our pedestal, swim in real mainstream America, and better understand our actual audience.

Though I've always considered myself urban-minded, I happen to be a product of Middle America.

In fact, my hometown deemed itself "America's Home Town." My mom could care less about technology and admits she has no idea what I do. I may as well be speaking another language. She smiles and nods as I update her on what I'm working on. I do the same as she tells me the latest high school sport news and small town happenings. My parents were always very supportive of our crazy whims and ambitious endeavors. That's what Middle America is built on – community, hard work, and possibility. 

What you think people think is not always what they think.

Middle America or Manhattan, we need to start seeing our audience as a group of individuals.

That's what we are. That's what they are.

People with unique stories and important opinions. People that are passionate about beliefs today that have grown out of the culmination of their yesterdays. People dealing with internal and external conflicts that we can't imagine. People that see themselves differently than others see them.

Now get to know each other and behave. 

As in politics, it's one thing to say something and another thing to do it. Can you inspire your audience to change their behavior? Can you entice an individual into becoming part of something bigger? After all, as Faris points out, we are in the business of behavior. And with motivation, behaviors can change.
"Behavior is motivation filtered through opportunity." – Clay Shirky

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

The art of music and album survival.

I was reading today about the music industry and its scramble to adapt for digital usage. Demand is high for impulse-purchased songs. There are suggestions that albums go away or get priced ridiculously low in order to compete with single-song sales.

Are we really an anti-album society? 
One song is purchased and then thrown into a sea of other lone songs. I'll admit, the iTunes shuffle setting is pretty cool. I swear it's using some crazy mind-link-technology, playing songs that I'm thinking. And yes, Pandora radio is awesome.

But what about the bands who still consider themselves album artists?
The musicians that produce an album meant to tell a story or capture where they were artistically when they produced it. Maybe they sequestered themselves somewhere, writing hundreds of songs and carefully selecting a dozen. From beginning to end, painstakingly pacing and ordering those chosen songs. Are they all going to have to go rogue?

Are we respecting the music enough? 
The hunt for new music is over before it begins. Songs are easily attained today and the supply is endless. We take it for granted, get bored, and move on fast. We may not even see the album artwork before it gets tossed aside.

There used to be an extensive album courtship followed by a serious relationship with new music. The stages went something like this: 

Side note: I think my music obsession started at age 7 if that helps put this list in context. And yes, I realize that's weird. 7-year-olds probably don't need to be members of 'tape clubs' – listening to David Bowie, Joy Division, Duran Duran, etc.
1. You were enamored with a song, and you may or may not know the name/artist.
Yes, this was a time before the magical interwebs. If you were lucky, you caught the video credits on MTV. You know, back when they used to play videos. (You're thinking, what?!! A full, uncut video? That sounds like some sort of insane urban legend. Or, you're nodding your head and feeling old.)
 2. You made a bad, static-laden radio recording of the song to get you by until you could buy the album.
Flashback: Some of you will remember impatiently waiting for the radio station to play that 'one' song. Blank cassette locked and loaded. Your old school, all-in-one-music-playing/recording device of choice within reach. The siblings warned to keep it down because that song 'might' play at any moment and you're still pissed about them busting in on the last failed recording attempt.

It's been hours since you caught the end of that amazing song. They have to play it again, right? And, since only so many songs were on regular radio rotation, they do. Recording initiated. You mentally will the doorbell and phone not to ring for a couple of minutes. Dammit, there goes the dog. Do over.
3. At last, you buy the album and listen to it over and over, until you have to shelve it for awhile.
Ah, the record store. It's a designer's dream. I could get lost in there. The album art, the smell of vinyl, the complex packaging, and the inevitably cool background song playing.
4. You see the band perform in concert.
If you truly love a band or album, nothing compares to seeing the live performance. The best performers bring their passion to the stage. The audience can't escape it. Live music exposes layers beyond audio alone. You feel it in your soul. 
5. You get the album off the shelf and play it over and over, until you have to shelve it for awhile. Again.
After seeing a much-anticipated live performance I sometimes go on a band-related semi-OCD tangent. For instance, after seeing Black Rebel Motorcycle Club this year (finally) – I watched documentaries and listened to BRMC or bands associated with a band member for at least a week.
6. If it's really good, you'll discover it again later. When you listen carefully, it can take you back to another time and place.
Nostalgia is powerful. When you've completely forgotten an album that you once loved and hear it again, it's pure ecstasy.
7. Okay, no one has time for that sort of music commitment anymore, but let's support ways to save the albums worth saving.
Artists are finding ways to deliver albums on their own. Bands like Radiohead have broken free from music industry constraints, offering online honor systems for downloading their music. It's a great way to get the music out there and offer fans a variety of purchase options with reasonable pricing. Like the best album artists, they are personally committed to the art of music.
"The Smiths was an incredibly personal thing to me. It was like launching your own diary to music." – Steven Morrissey

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

The blank page: Hero and nemisis.

There you are, face to face with the abominable snowman in a blizzard. Again.

Though teeming with possibility, the blank page is daunting. Horrifying, yet exhilarating. Omnipresent, but absent.

As far as the overall idea for the blank page goes, the shotgun approach works. Generate as many ideas as possible, until something stands out. Your first idea is generally not your best. 

The visual manifestation of the idea is another story. Everyone achieves this differently. My sister Janelle, who is also an art director, likes to mentally visualize a solution before anything goes on paper. We rarely sketch. More often jotting down reminders for what we were thinking or need to figure out. Our 'sketchbooks' are filled with illegible notes, clouds of symbols, and walls of words. If it were an idea-execution instruction manual, it would be highly ineffective for anyone else.

Her company project status meetings go something like this, "So-and-so is finishing up this logo, what's-his-name is starting on a campaign, and Janelle has a bunch of 'Janelle-things' going on." They usually have a general idea of what she's doing, but they let her have free reign on the details.

She is the visionary behind the ever-award-winning Petunia Pickle Bottom catalog and the Meyer May House anniversary campaign presented by Steelcase. I wanted to give her some credit since names were missing from the 2010 ADCD award book and she couldn't make the dinner.

Whether we do what we do to win awards, to deliver results, or simply to appease our inner muse – we must continue to face the blank page. It's an unrealized dream. The seed of a movement. The beginning of a revolution. Or maybe just a really cool failed-idea paper airplane en route to the recycling bin.

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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Light bulb installation: How many creatives does it take?

How many people does it really take to come up with the big idea?
(Or just to make sense of the collective small ideas.)

A.) A lone rockstar
B.) A writer/art director team
C.) A select collaboration
D.) A and B with support from C
A.) There's still no "i" in team, but there is in creative.

You have to respect Leo Burnett's 1967 speech, 'When to take my name off the door.' Especially, his tribute to the solitary creative:
"Finally, when you lose your respect for the lonely man – the man at his typewriter or his drawing board or behind his camera or just scribbling notes with one of our big pencils – or working all night on a media plan. When you forget that the lonely man – and thank God for him – has made the agency we now have – possible. When you forget he’s the man who, because he is reaching harder, sometimes actually gets hold of for a moment - one of those hot, unreachable stars."
Along with the Burnett quote, this Gods of Advertising post uncovers some creative reality. Unquestionably, the transmedia revolution requires larger, more responsive core teams. However, there is an overlooked issue in this scenario – creatives are often introverts at heart. They may be masquerading as extroverts, but they still find essential inspiration from within. Usually alone, in solitude.
"Obviously, producing music, films and other forms requires collaboration but chances are the essence of the product belongs to one creator. And chances are that person was or is an introvert." – Steffan Postaer
B.) Two minds are better than one. Even better if they work as one. 

Bernbach's writer and art director team is still effective. Regardless of media execution, the idea needs to be expressed visually and verbally. Consequently, each team member is able to share idea ownership. Pushing the other, igniting new thoughts, and driving project passion. It's more exciting when a shared idea comes to life. Sure, the idea is executed by a larger team of experts, but it usually thrives within the original two people.

C.) With the right mix, group cooperation can trump solo cognition.

A new study co-authored by MIT, Carnegie Mellon University, and Union College researchers shows that collective intelligence within a group can surpass the individual intelligence of its members. But, the success of this idea depends on the group's social sensitivity. The better they collaborate and sense other team members' emotions, the better the result. And, if one person dominates the group, the collective intelligence goes down.
"Having a bunch of smart people in a group doesn't necessarily make the group smart," concludes Thomas Malone.
Get the right team together for a project and you can exceed an individual's capabilities. The new agency, co:, recently launched their flexible coalition. An impressive stable of thought-leaders and doers at the ready. I imagine they will still have core idea originators and protectors.

D.) My personal choice.

It's a mix between extended team collaboration, writer/art director idea development, and further personal creative thinking time. No matter how big a campaign or collaboration gets, there will always be limited idea ownership. It has to be that way. Without owners, the idea gets diluted or left for dead and chaos ensues.

The idea owners take primary responsibility. They flip the switch and bring the idea to life. Acquainting themselves with the essential details necessary to illuminate the idea as it grows and develops. Vowing to care for its well-being and ensuring it reaches its full, brilliant potential. Until it eventually fades out and gets replaced.

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Be curious. Because I said so.

Whatever you do, DO NOT read this blog post.

You're still reading aren't you? In fact, you may not have read this at all if I didn't tell you not to.

Curiosity encourages interaction.

So what was your first interactive experience? When you felt acknowledged as a participant and not just a passive viewer? Most of you will immediately think of something digital or maybe an out-of-home advertising stunt. Or how about that painting where the eyes followed you?

For me, I think it was one of my favorite first books, Oscar's Book. The whole preface of this book is that Oscar wants to be left alone. He speaks directly to the reader and devises evasive schemes, hoping you'll stop reading. I thought this was hysterical. Getting nervous before each page turn in anticipation of Oscar's next confrontational move.

So what was so intriguing about this book? It wasn't so much that I was doing something "bad" by continuing to read against Oscar's wishes. It was more about the curiosity factor and the sense of his engagement. Reacting to page turns, calling me out for still reading, and trying to trick me. Or maybe it was just an early affinity for moody creatives that may or may not live in trashcans.

Do what we want, not what we say. 

Of course in the end, Oscar liked having the reader there all along. (After all, who else was he going to complain to?)

Clients always tell us what they want, but it's usually not really what they want. If we follow the rules and deliver exactly what they say without question, they are usually underwhelmed.

That's why you focus on the other concepts and push existing boundaries. Those concepts read between the lines – delivering what the client actually wants and theoretically what the brand needs. However, the client usually needs to see what "they said" to realize what "they truly wanted."

Oscar's challenge.

Some of the creative foundations displayed in Oscar's Book were covered in Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers. You are encouraged to respectively question authority, indulge your curiosity, and surrender assumptions. Granted there are things out of our control that lead to crazy success (i.e. the year and location you were born. And maybe you've already clocked in on that crucial 10,000 hours of greatness training time.)

Curiosity fuels creativity. 

If you are only creative, your solutions will eventually become stale. You have to be curious. We should always look at creative problems with childlike curiosity. The way we did before we had everything figured out. Before we accepted "because I said so" as a concrete answer. Before we gave up the endless search for more answers.

"The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity." – Dorthy Parker

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Nostalgia: advertising's weapon of choice.

It's no secret, nostalgia is probably the most powerful tool in advertising. And really, it's the basis for any sort of shared human connection. Whether it solidifies a like-minded subculture, or perceptively reminisces a happier time – nostalgia is a sensory force to be reckoned with. Preying on memories and leaving traces of familiarity behind.

"A memory is what is left when something happens and does not completely unhappen."Edward de Bono (originator of the concept - and formal tools - of Lateral Thinking, b.1933)
We all favor our "remembered past." You know, the more pleasing version of our past that we mentally replay. It may or may not be what actually happened. The mind stores parts and pieces. Witnesses miss key details. The game of Telephone changes the original message. We all selectively forget about our awkward or fashion-trend-victim phase. (Come on, you know you had one. Break out the family photo album. Yeah, it's there.) 

There are many ways to trigger memories and unleash nostalgia. Sound, vision, touch, kinetic, and emotion-related memories are all areas of access. You may not readily remember something, but one of your senses might have been paying attention. If that sense experiences something similar, there is a direct connection.

Nostalgic cues combine past and present associations, creating related connections when evoked. If used correctly, nostalgia can bypass a lot of trust-building time for a new brand or idea. 

As future predictability becomes less certain, we find certainty in the past.

Recently, Arcade Fire demonstrated how emotionally infective nostalgia can be with The Wilderness Downtown Google Chrome Experiment. New technology unearthed formative memories from a large, diverse audience. The lyrics alone for "We Used to Wait," off Arcade Fire's album The Suburbs, are enough to whisk you back and forth between today and yesterday. A nervously-frenetic present and a calmly-anticipatory past.

The Wilderness Downtown Experiment made me question who I am today and what I would change if I could. It reminded me that patience is not my virtue. Waiting for letters used to drive me insane. But, when they arrived, they were tactile and real. Rich with personal and handwritten authenticity. Sometimes marked 'fragile' and filled with photos. I would read and reread them before they were filed away – to be discovered again at a later time.

Today's communication is mostly instant and temporary. Existing in the present. Living in our memories. Becoming enhanced in our remembered past. All while we no longer wait.
 

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Sunday, September 5, 2010

Productively producing productivity.

Creatives are a fairly feral breed. A lot of energy is devoted to corralling and controlling them. Chasing them down the street and trying to lure them back. Distracting them with shiny objects. "Hey look, is that the latest [insert music, video game, or technology reference]? Now, how about that presentation? Any ETA on that?" One jab step and the creative is completely off track and well into the next jurisdiction.

It's not really possible to contain "creative personalities." I use quotes around that because I know it's how the analytical agency folks see us. And understandably so, projects depend heavily on creatives being able to achieve focus. That, however, is not always easily attained between 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM while combating constant distraction.

Maybe there's a better way to wrangle creative work constructively within deadlines. I came across this article from The 99 Percent. Their theory is to focus on results, not time. When managed correctly, I'd have to agree with this idea.

They've broken it down into three areas of importance: 

1. Trust – When trust is evident, the wile creative is at ease. No need for welding gloves, tranquilizer guns, or extension nets. They can be safely approached. Who knows, maybe even unknowingly trained with stealth-reverse-psychology methods.

2. Emphasis on results not hours – One thing is certain, creatives are competitive. You don't have to throw down an official gauntlet, they hunt competition. Tell them what you expect and then retreat back to a safe viewing distance. Challenge them with results, and they will deliver on schedule. (Caution: Do not ever directly instigate creative against creative competition. Believe me, it's always understood. It gets ugly when it's spotlighted and prohibits team-building.)

3. Respect the creative process – It's somewhat elusive and cannot be forced. Rigidity leads to mediocrity. Take the anxiety-factor away and the process will develop better results. Teams collaborate and concepts strengthen.

You still have to make your deadlines, but on realistically-optimal terms:

"Of course, there is no short-cut for the perspiration required to make ideas happen. But the time required to complete a project successfully must reveal itself rather than be dictated. If you care about your work, you will do what it takes to get it done right."


[Post inspired by and quote taken from:  Focus on Results, Not Time. by The Behance Team and The 99 Percent]

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Research meet instinct. Now fight.

Whenever a new campaign is underway, there's a power struggle between instinct and research. It's not a situation where instinct and research enter a room and only one leaves. There are not (usually) any 'whimsical intuition' versus 'concrete research' angry-dance-offs. They have to coexist. However, their percentage of concept ownership is a moving target.

Seth Godin posted some thoughts on using internal monologue in marketing. Figuring out how we decide is important in determining how our audience decides. Mixing this introspection with targeted research is the idea. More importantly, we have to consider who the audience wants to be.

And just because a campaign is working now, doesn't mean it won't need to evolve with the audience. Instinct plays heavily into the category-reinvention direction. If instinct comes through, it throws reigning competitive leaders into a frenzy to catch up.

Make sure you do your initial research, but then put it aside for a moment. Look at things with a fresh perspective. Take the established category rules away. Ask "why?" and "what if?" And listen to the voice* inside your head. 

*Note I said voice, singular. If 'voice' happens to be plural for you, don't listen to those. Just kidding. But no, really.

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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Advertising. For better or worse.

So you want to succeed in advertising? Well, there's just one thing that's essential beyond mind-blowing talent. Something you can't learn in school. The thing that makes you take an unpaid internship just for the chance to briefly be mentored by a creative genius. A crazy obsession with ideas and cultures. Maybe even psychology. A need to be surrounded by others who share this inspiration/addiction.

You have to love it.

Now don't get me wrong, a career in advertising is like any relationship. It's a spontaneous roller coaster. Euphoric and uncertain. You'll laugh. You'll cry. Sometimes at the same time. There are days you will hate it. Times when ideas get killed or, for whatever reason, are not possible. But, deep down, you know you will love it again. More than you did before.

There will be moments when you'll question your creative worthiness. Other times you'll experience a knee-weakening adrenaline rush. Swooning over a new creative brief. Drunk with what could be. What will be.

It can consume your thoughts. Your dreams. Your life. But, you won't mind. Because you love it. And, on most days, that's enough.

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Monday, August 2, 2010

Solitude theft.

I started this post a while back after reading about the inherent value of solitude and its effect on the creative process. Originally, it was written on a day spent somewhere inside my head. A place I frequently visit, but rarely set up camp within for a full-on society sabbatical.

I accidentally deleted the draft. Who knows where I was going with it, but I remember complete solitude felt like a guilty pleasure that day. A borrowed introspective indulgence.

There were a million things I could have been doing. Should have been doing. But wasn't.

Instead, I was reflecting on life while retreating from actively living it. Some people fear alone time, but it's something I periodically seek. Apparently, it's just one of the quirks that goes along with being highly sensitive. Many creatives are. Inevitably, we must learn how to leverage the virtues and manage the challenges.

I used to assume I was just shy sometimes. Moving to small towns and being deemed "the new girl," was a bit overwhelming. A somewhat introverted person's worst nightmare is the idea that they are being judged. Too much attention. Cue the anxiety.

I hated the shy tendencies and would do anything possible to overcome them. Pushing myself to excel in sports and grasping leadership opportunities. The older I got, the easier it became. Although, my bold interior personality may never match my calm exterior personality.

The real issue – I was overstimulated by everything. Processing too much from external and internal worlds. Total surrounding awareness amplified beyond normal maintenance levels. It was physically and emotionally exhausting.

Here is where down time and solitude come into play. Highly-sensitive creatives can take everything they have over-experienced – reflect on it, learn from it, and then release a new perspective back into the wild.

“Solitude gives birth to the original in us, to beauty unfamiliar and perilous — to poetry.” – Thomas Mann 
Somewhere in my busy schedule, I'll continue to take solitude when I find it. Even if it's just for a moment and I have to give it back after I'm done.
 

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

An idea within an idea.

A truly original idea is hard to come by these days. Ideas are recycled and reinvented. Polished, combined, and presented as new. Whether it happens deliberately or subconsciously, we are all influenced by what's been done.

Not only does Inception masterfully deliver an original idea, it bases the entire plot around the value of an idea. Sure, there have been movies about the subconscious before, but Christopher Nolan takes us somewhere we've never been. Directly into the front line of a seemingly logical, mind-bending maze where dreams become pliable and ideas can be extracted. The thought of idea espionage is brilliant when paired with Nolan's precariously balanced, house-of-cards plot structure.

Nolan began writing the screenplay over a decade ago, while working on Momento. It shows. His reputation for attention to detail and drive for character depth with real effects continue to raise the box office bar. He leads us through layers and layers of dreams and emotions. We are held captive at the edge of our seats, questioning our grasp on reality. In my humble opinion, Inception is awe-inspiring perfection.

The idea of an idea representing the world's most dangerous and valuable commodity has never been more relevant. The economy has forced us into an age of conceptual innovation and entrepreneurial motivation. Possibilities are endless, with the right idea and perseverance.

We must keep creative demand greater than supply. Logoworks offers identity design packages valuing designers at a devastating one-hundred dollars per project. Unacceptable.

The documentary Lemonade shows what happens when creatives must get creative in the name of survival. How one day a realized idea can change everything.

Your perceived creative value is based on your ability to think, not your computer skills. Of coarse, computer skills are an expected given. Original ideas are your personal collateral. From inception to execution, they set you apart. Ideally, you'll find a way to continually extract your ideas and bring them into reality – with or without extensive espionage training.

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Reality in digital or digital in reality?

(Source: Dreamworks)
There's a lot of talk about digitally disconnecting in order to connect with reality. The brave only dare visit this imaginary offline, unprofiled, non-status-updated world. Ironically, the articles are primarily coming from the most connected people in digital strategy and planning. The reality is, it's getting harder to distinguish where online stops and offline begins.

Either way, it's a celebrated blog topic. Experimentally, people will go days without checking in with their digital comrades. Yes, DAYS. And hopefully live to update their networks about real-world findings. They speak of human interaction in "real-time" and tell crazy tales of single-tasking. Okay, I'm guilty of writing about it myself. And yes, technically I'm writing about it again here.

In spite of sporadic disconnection efforts, digital experience and personal reality are intertwining more and more by the second. There's no going back. Integrated advertising finds us where we live, online and offline.

In two days, W+K changed integrated advertising – immediately taking Old Spice everywhere with a full-on, calculated (and hilarious) assault. Brilliantly written and responsively executed on-the-fly, the campaign connected with the world whether they cared about the actual product being sold or not. Personal ad targeting is here and getting closer to what we saw imagined in Minority Report.
Jason Mick reports, In Tokyo Big Brother is really watching you – with billboard cameras that scan nearby viewers' age and sex. Japanese firms believe they can use these metrics, much like internet advertising, to better target customers.
Check out this slide deck from BBH Labs. Mel Exon illustrates marketing insight through integrated reality. Where online and offline inevitably collide.

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Beauty in the breakdown.

The outsiders. No, not a group of greasers trying to belong while finishing a fight they did not start. I'm referring to the burden-driven, self-trained artists who will forgo everything else in life to manifest whatever is hiding in a dark corner of their soul demanding creation. Over and over. Painters, writers, musicians… famous tortured artists in general even have a Wikipedia page.

Crazy? Probably. Intriguing? Yes.

It's been a while since I've delved into the fine art side of my career roots, but while walking Canyon Road in Santa Fe, it was inevitable. Every corner of the road is filled with soul exposure. The road itself is a vision. Weathered doorways and brilliant colors. It's as if you're walking inside an artist's mind. Canvas walls, sculpture paths, and evolving environments.

I've never been a fan of art for art's sake. There should always be a concept or reason behind art and it should serve as a means for communication. But, there's something about the outsider art movement that blurs the line. Sometimes the concept is just the craziness. And it's beautiful.

I was reminded of a great movie, Junebug. It revolves around a Chicago art buyer trying to connect with her completely opposite in-laws while attempting to sign an outside artist. The movie is a little slow at times, but as a character study it's phenomenal. The subtle complexities inspire consideration from multiple points of view.

"Phil Morrison, who directed this movie, and Angus MacLachlan, who wrote it, understand how people everywhere have good intentions, and how life can assign them roles where they can't realize them." – Roger Ebert
The artist is burdened by his own eccentricities, but he boldly displays them in art. The other characters are also burdened, some hide it more than others. Confrontation with whatever they're hiding inside is unavoidable. As Roger Ebert captures brilliantly:
Consider a guarded moment between Madeleine and Eugene, her father-in-law. She observes cautiously of his wife: "She's a very strong personality." This is putting it mildly. Eugene replies quietly, "That's just her way. She hides herself. She's not like that inside." And then he adds two more words: "Like most." Thank God for actors like Scott Wilson, who know how those two words must be said. They carry the whole burden of the movie.
The eccentric outsiders of the world do not necessarily follow society norms, but they quietly live out loud. When you break it down, burdens are always there. Might as well find beauty in them.

[The title of this post was stolen from Imogen Heap.]

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

The 3six5 Project: 365 days told by 365 different people


What happens when crowdsourcing gets personal? (Actually, collaborative storytelling is more like it. Or how about human-centered digitology?) So far it's generating diverse content and capturing an even bigger picture.

Chicago-based digital strategist Len Kendall and social media manager Daniel Honigman are coordinating this amazing participatory project. Through 365 perspectives, they are daily life streaming 2010. The end result will be an eclectic journal for the year.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to engage with the project. You can read my story here. It's a very personal connection between observation, participation, and culture. Enjoy.

[An impressive variety of authors have and will be participating in the project. I recommend you follow the daily journey at the3six5.posterous. There's also a great interview about the project by BBH Labs.]
 

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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

HOW enthusiastic?

I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed by the amount of inspiration unleashed at this year's How Conference. For the most part, every speaker brought something interesting to the table. I've got miles of notes and links to slides with more to follow. But before I get into the sorting and revisiting, I'd like to think about the big picture while it's all still fresh in my mind.

One quote that really stuck with me was from the author of IdeaSelling.

"Selling is simply a transfer of enthusiasm, from you to the decision maker." – Sam Harrison
This is the underlying reason that we go to conferences. It's the transfer of enthusiasm from the speaker to the audience. And from peers to peers. Yes, there's a lot of new knowledge transferred as well, but what we walk away with is a renewed hunger to do something amazing. Armed with a new game plan and random vendor swag (bummed I missed out on the Yupo bags by the way), we are prepared to transfer this enthusiasm to our work, our co-workers, and our clients.

We all get into slumps. Things get in the way. Deadlines. Budgets. Life. But we have to find a way to push through and pursue the extraordinary. What is your genius work? The work that causes you to get lost and lose all track of time. Find a way to do whatever that is.

This quote also got me thinking: 
"Whatever you do when you're procrastinating is probably what you should be doing for the rest of your life." – Jessica Hische

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

The purposefully restless life.

Semi-distracted. Over-scheduled. Multi-tasked. It's become the standard. People fill every waking moment with something. Relaxation has been replaced with restlessness.

The outcome of all this restlessness varies. Restlessness can be a catalyst. It challenges the status quo and inspires innovation. It motivates us to pursue new territory. All while making us a little tired and crazy.

For me it's more of an insatiable curiosity. Surface answers are never enough. It doesn't take much to send me down a loosely connected stream of information.

For instance, after watching Art & Copy, I was intrigued by Dan Wieden's Nike tagline inspiration. This led to reading Norman Mailer's alarmingly-human characterization of Gary Gilmore in The Executioner's Song. Interested in how Mailer's mind works, I'm now on a controversial narrative writer kick. I'm starting with more Mailer, Advertisements for Myself. Believe it or not, he was thirty-six when he wrote this book. At that age, thoughts of his own grandeur were still somewhat delusional. In the book, he states that he would settle for nothing less than changing the consciousness of his times. Completely unafraid of failure, he went on to do just that for anyone who would listen. (His personal life may have had serious issues, but as a writer he was audaciously heroic.)

"I don't think life is absurd. I think we are all here for a huge purpose. I think we shrink from the immensity of the purpose we are here for." – Norman Mailer  
Is this restlessness evidence that we are all subconsciously seeking our own huge purpose? I'd like to think so, but maybe I should sleep on it first. Or maybe not.

 

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Saturday, May 15, 2010

So, what's a brand got to do to get attention these days?

As a rule, I appreciate Steffan Postaer's advertising views and his refreshingly raw honesty. I've been thinking about a post I read a while back from Talent Zoo. He ponders society's capability for being appalled. And, as he concludes, I'm afraid we've all become numb. How did this happen?

Postaer answers, "We have become inured by the proliferation of content. What mass media started the digital age is finishing. In order to stand out (be it advertisement, film, book, commentary, even acts of criminality), one now has to continuously up the ante."
Remember the first time a movie scene or an event stuck with you in a way that you could never forget? It demanded all of your attention. Your pupils widened. Your pulse raced. Your breathing became erratic. Intense shock mixed with shaky nausea. The more active your imagination, the more physical the reaction. Maybe it forced you to reevaluate your belief system or sleep with the lights on for a month. Your childlike optimism was compromised. You were able to put yourself in another's position and feel what they felt. It changed you. You were truly appalled. When was the last time you were affected at that core level? By anything. My guess is long ago and not to that extent.

One movie offers an extreme example of what happens when someone is incapable of being appalled. A Clockwork Orange introduced an idealized aversion-therapy solution. The question: Once someone is empathetically numb, can proper shock reactions be relearned? The answer: Not really. The part that was missing: Free will. He was not appalled by choice. In the end, the government was forced to cure Alex from his cure.

Kubrick is notorious for saying more through film element juxtaposition. Here's an insight I found at imdb.com. Apparently, he was testing the audience's ability for processing appalling content throughout the movie:
The film reflects this: many bad scenes in A Clockwork Orange are accompanied by jolly music; if we are to experience them as we should, we have to do it consciously, by realizing they are bad, and not because the director tells us so through the use of music and images. Steven Pemberton Pemberton@cwi.nl>

Each time we are exposed to something appalling, for better or worse, our capability for situation rationalization strengthens. We create boundaries. It takes more and more to engage our adverse moral-filter response system.

On a positive note, I'd call it survival mode. The mind is constantly analyzing external criteria and doing whatever it takes to enable us to carry on. If we didn't have this survival mechanism, we would probably all be housebound – paralyzed daily by our local news or even CSI promos.

So, if everyone is numb, how do you disrupt routines and generate brand attention? Ideally, a brand simply wants reactions from all of us content zombies.

In the connected age, everyone's thoughts are fair game. Appalling or simply intriguing, gauging what elicits a reaction is instantaneous. Society's content creation momentum infinitely builds. Making a blip in that spectrum is an ever-increasing challenge. But, it's being done. Just differently. One phenomenal commercial spot is not going to do it anymore. Brands have to coordinate smart, multifaceted, integrated-campaign assaults and be prepared to deliver.

We may be incapable of being appalled, but we are no longer a passive society. Interaction is the new action. And as Newton would predict, if a brand interacts in an interesting way, reactions will be inevitable.

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Saturday, May 8, 2010

Do you believe in fascination?

Sally Hogshead's latest book is not your standard reheated-leftover, marketing overview. It's a concise, but story-driven read about emotional branding and fascination. According to Sally, fascination is what ultimately drives us. In everything. It influences our situation responses, persuasive capabilities, and brand opinions.

She's dissected fascination into seven major emotional triggers: lust, mystique, alarm, prestige, power, vice, and trust. And, if you're curious, you can determine your main personality triggers through her F Score test. Mine were prestige (primary), lust (secondary), and trust (dormant). So apparently I could use some more luxury brand accounts.

Psychology and advertising have always gone together in a Wizard of Oz sort of way. The intended audience sees the brand magic without realizing an advertising mastermind is behind the curtain – pulling the strings and ensuring the brand personality appears effortlessly fascinating.

Fascination leads to a desire for belief. Without audience belief, you have nothing. Start over.

One of my favorite Mad Men scenes is an over-the-top attempt to gain client creative buy-in. It's a complete inundation of all seven fascination triggers. They cut it off before the final table-turning statement. After Draper steps down from his soapbox, the realigned client says he's looking forward to the campaign results. Draper calmly replies, "It's not a science, Hugh, we'll do our best."

It really isn't a science, but there is a rough process for emotional branding. I'd say it goes something like this:

1. Fascinate the audience. What is the core idea that makes the brand unique and exciting? Develop a brand atmosphere and experience around that idea.

2. Establish belief. Can the brand deliver what's been promised? Verify brand benefits.  

3. Inspire participation. How can you encourage the audience to create supportive brand content? Be adaptive and stay relevant.

4. Repeat. Outdo what you just did.

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Is this project passion-worthy?

A recent Denver Egotist rant got me thinking about the balance between time management and creative passion. It's something that all creatives deal with. As you get more experience, it becomes easier to pace yourself. Some places dive into projects and don't come up for air unless they absolutely have to. Other agencies try to maintain the illusion of an 8-hour work day. Either way, it comes down to what you and your team can actually deliver. But, if you're going to do something memorable, you have to have passion.

There are different levels of passion. You can get your work done in a timely manner, do good work, and love what you do. But there is a level beyond that. A level where you completely immerse yourself in a project that has huge potential. Where good enough is not good enough. Where remarkable is the only outcome that will suffice. Where the budget and schedule are probably not enough for you to pull things off during normal work hours. This is called: a passion project.

Some things to remember if you've deemed a project passion-worthy (and assuming your doctor has given you the go ahead for passion project-related activity):

1. You must want this project to be awesome with all of your being. Actually more than awesome, we're talking blow-the-doors-off whatever you currently think is awesome.

2. Don't be a martyr. You decided to get into this insane, right-brained, no-definitive-answers industry. If you have an 'off day' and have to make up for it, it's part of the deal. So deal with it, to yourself. No one wants to hear about your self-imposed Survivorman cubicle escapades. (Unless, however, it's funny or embarrassing).

3. Don't make excuses for mediocrity. (See Rule #2.)

4. Learn the difference between urgent and important.* Your passion project is important and can potentially deliver value. That 'urgent' fifteen minute ad re-size or headline tweak is not 'important' in the big scheme of things. Just get it done efficiently and focus on the important things.

5. Intermission. If you're not being productive, get distracted. Lateral connections are made when you are not forcing yourself to concentrate. See a movie, go to the gym, get outside, meet with friends, read something unrelated, travel somewhere, etc.

6. Go better. Can your project benefit the greater good of something? Passion is contagious. If you can use it to leverage something bigger than the project itself, even better.

7. Be responsible. Don't take on too many passion projects at once.

8. Go forth and project passion.

"Clocks tick, life happens, deadlines approach. And all the while, we can decide how many seconds, minutes, and hours to spend on creativity. Our choice." – *Sam Harrison

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The actualization zone.

You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That's the sign post up ahead, your next stop… (Screeching halt. Harsh interrogation spotlight ignites. Wait a minute, is that a two-way mirror?) – The Actualization Zone. 
There's a thick line between introspection and actualization. At some point we have to leave concept land and move into strategic plan territory, a.k.a. reality. (If you listen closely you will hear a sad trombone when this transition occurs. Somewhere in the world a creative inexplicably spills coffee on his ironic t-shirt).

I spend a lot of time thinking about thinking. What if? Why? How the hell did I get on this tangent? Do I really need another coffee? (Yes). Sometimes the more I try to figure the answer out, the more I realize it's far too crafty for that. There isn't one neat and tidy answer. At least not with life. I'm not going to have an epiphany one day and realize that the answer was with me all along. Life is a series of events woven together over time. Joy, fear, light, dark, hope, despair… Sometimes we choose the material. Sometimes it's chosen for us. Either way, the threads wrap around us and become integral parts of who we are.

Do we think or do we just do? Instinct or probability? We can choose to apply reason and anticipate outcomes – or we can just simply navigate the course, one actualization at a time.

[Intro from the Twilight Zone.]

 

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Why you should apply for Next Creatives. Now.

Your book. Your ability. Your connections. After years of school and work experience, it all comes down to those three factors. The Next Creatives portfolio program is an opportunity to build all three in six weeks. So throw out your sense of entitlement, roll up your sleeves, and commit to some good old-fashioned hard work. Seriously, you're not too busy, and it's worth it.

So here's the part where I go into the "back in my day… walking uphill both ways, barefoot in snow, etc." speech, right? Okay, maybe a little bit. I did a portfolio program in Minneapolis which was the main reason I secured a job in my industry before I graduated. Let's just say when you know Joe Duffy is going to look at your portfolio, you step it up. On top of that, I had a really competitive class. Most of them ended up in Minneapolis, Chicago, and beyond (ever heard of Droga5, Razorfish or CP+B? Yeah, that's what I was up against.)

Not only does Next give you one-on-one insight from three of the most respected creative directors in the region, it gives you a chance to see what your peers are doing and compete. Maybe even find a partner that's as driven as you are (crucial in your quest for ad industry world domination). Then there's the networking, if all that wasn't enough.

As they say, you're only as good as the people you surround yourself with. If you're happy with "comfortable and safe," go ahead and continue along your current daily routine path (did I mention that path could be mired in cobwebs and intense malaise).

However, if you are passionate about advertising and want a chance to do something remarkable with your career, apply for Next. Who knows, you might get a sweet new job out of the deal. It happened last time, it could happen again.

(Do your future self a favor and apply.)

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Think design and get lost.

We need to think differently. Become observers and problem solvers. There's no such thing as coasting anymore. Company cultures must foster continuous innovation. We need to embrace what IDEO calls design thinking:

“Design thinking is an approach that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods for problem solving to meet people’s needs in a technologically feasible and commercially viable way. In other words, design thinking is human-centered innovation.” —Tim Brown
It's more than just design, everyone needs to think like a designer. It's about stepping back, considering the experience, and empathizing. People tend to find their areas of expertise and build knowledge within those verticals. In his book Glimmer, Warren Berger agrees you should go deep, but he also encourages people to go wide. Cross over and explore new areas. He lists ten universal design principles that anyone can use. Bruce Mau recommends, “keep moving away from what you know.” His Incomplete Manifesto for Growth was written over a decade ago, but still holds true today.

Are creatives really being taken seriously? Do we have a place among business leaders and industry experts? Creativity has made its way out of the whimsical corner and into the forefront of standard business practice. Fast Company regularly promotes design. You can go to Stanford and get a degree in design thinking. Believe it or not, there is even an improv-based engineering course on the subject.
“Design is the human capacity to plan and produce desired outcomes.” —Bruce Mau
Berger, Bogusky, and Mau had a great design thinking discussion on Fearless Q+A. Some of their advice: Get lost on projects. That's when your attention level increases, you become alert, and experimental. When you're lost, do you panic? Or do you accept being lost and look for a window of opportunity. Sometimes we get so focused on the correct answer that we forget to ask the right questions. It's not the answer that's important, it's the question.
 

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I'm not a writer, but I play one on my blog.

So what's the deal with an art director writing short (actually long) stories, making bizarre personal/ad industry connections, and offering strategic insight on a blog? Shouldn't the blog be filled with eye candy and abbreviated photo captions? Or random links to more obscure blogs. (Okay, maybe I have some of those). You would think that the blog itself would be designed, at the least. I mean really. (Well, maybe I'll get around to that someday).

Why do I write? Partly to download the ever-present conceptual noise in my head, but mostly because I enjoy storytelling. My family moved a couple of times while I was growing up, so I was constantly writing letters and keeping journals. Even more crazy, my oldest friend and I used to send a cassette tape back and forth (this totally dates me). We would record thoughts, come up with shows, and create fake commercials. She says she still has the tape somewhere. Lord knows what's on it, but I do recall it had some serious design flair.

As far as blogs go, it just depends what influences the authors most. For me, it's always been a mix of words, observations, and experiences. Anything that challenges what I know and forces me to think differently. Sure, I take in a lot of visual inspiration, but I try to make it my own. Starting with words allows you to stay in your mind a little longer without preconceived visuals. For example, consider the difference between reading a book and seeing its movie adaptation. If you're going to read the book, you should do so first. The movie will most likely fall short in comparison.

My design instructor once told us, in a very sage-like way, "before you can dance, you must first learn to walk." Visual elements were strictly prohibited my entire first year in the program. We only worked with typography, symbolism, and concept-driven ideation. It was like extreme Swiss design boot camp once you made the cut.

I have a huge amount of respect for "real" copywriters. Believe me, you can tell the difference. I'm sure my writing breaks official AP Stylebook standards left and right. Letting a predominantly visual person write leads to adjective-laden, over-descriptive, wordy chaos. (Case in point). They say every word should have a purpose for being there. You know, earn its keep so to speak. However, as an art director, I can't help myself. I heart excessive adjectives.

Creatives are required to be well-versed in many disciplines beyond their job titles, but most importantly, they must always be students. Constantly learning, observing, and re-articulating ideas in new ways. I guess my way just happens to be with words first, visuals second.

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Digital Kitchen: process, passion, and layers.

Digital Kitchen (Bryce Wymer and Rama Allen) introduced us to the art of process through the ADCD last Thursday night. DK is known for their outstanding title sequence work. They have a way of saying everything while revealing nothing. I'm a fan of layers. For example, when an innocent morning routine becomes "serial." When there is more to something than what you initially see on the surface. I still remember the first time I saw the opening titles for Six Feet Under. Everything was perfect. The tone, the transitions, and the concept worked together in a way unknown to television previously. Every surprisingly elegant detail pulls you in, even the turn of a gurney wheel. I dropped whatever I was doing and was completely captivated.



As with most killer projects, there is not a lot of money in title work. In fact, even DK bills less than 15% of their yearly jobs in this category. Titles are definitely what they call "passion projects." Creatives get a halfway giddy adrenaline rush when they come in the door. (Tight deadlines and constraints aside, they are willing to give up any sense of a normal life routine to make them happen). Account people, well, not usually as excited.

They went into process details for one of their more current passion projects, True Blood. Working with the genius Alan Ball again, they decided to stay away from the expected vampire direction. No fangs or capes. Rama and his team were influenced by Harry Crews novels and the show's location, deep in the gritty Louisiana underbelly. Juxtapositions between the sacred and the profane along with the tempo and effects increasingly build tension. The sexual and religious pairings are further connected with implied violence. They explored nature as a predator or a parasite, which led to road kill (they assured us it was stock imagery, no one had to "live" with that fox). All of that is layered with subliminal effects, speed shifts, human elements taking on beast-like qualities, and the implied supernatural. The documentary assemblage of chemically-altered, Polaroid-style footage adds to the rawness. It's like pure evil emerges from The Bayou and assaults you. Originally, DK had a different soundtrack in mind. They presented their original love letter to the Gothic South. This was thankfully followed with a "chaser" photo (a cute pile of happy puppies).

DK is heavily influenced by music. They will make an extensive playlist before even starting work for a new client. This helps set the tone for the work. Here's a Devo-enhanced side project from Wymer, who keeps multiple sketchbooks. He advises creatives to constantly be creating.


"Flat Earth" Time lapse, Vol Two from Bryce Wymer on Vimeo.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Perfectionism and the adaptability course.

Is perfectionism really such a bad thing? Is it something that should always be preceded with "how to overcome?" As the winter Olympics kick off, I'd like to explore the benefits of adaptive perfectionism.

Olympic athletes live the idea of perfection. What they sacrifice and endure in pursuit of athletic perfection is inspiring. What truly drives them? Sure, everyone wants to win, but why? Self-worth? Fame? To impress their family and friends? Fear of failure? Sheer love of the sport? To avoid the wrath of their coach? Ending up on a Wheaties box or cashing in on endorsement opportunities? As with any career path, those who work toward achieving a big-picture goal are driven by a mix of motivators. However, self-motivated perfectionism is much more productive than anxiety-driven perfectionism.

Olympic athletes no doubt have natural talent, but dedication and persistence are their defining attributes. In Scott Young's post he states, "Stopping at “good enough” is an easy way to ensure you’ll never accomplish anything remarkable." He goes on to describe the two types of perfectionism:

  1. Short-term perfectionism on a particular project, task or goal. (Stifling/bad)
  2. Long-term perfectionism on projects, tasks and goals, in general. (Crucial/good)
Let's face it, there's a big difference between doing something just to get by and doing something with longevity in mind. By throwing the word adaptable together with perfectionism, we can encourage detail-focused movement (instead of completion-hindering idealism). Today's branding environment is in flux more than ever and adaptability is key. Put the energy into getting the idea right and go from there. Then react and realign. Stay fluid, but don't force media outlets if they make no sense for the brand. At the same time, don't be afraid of failure. It's part of going big. Some of the best ideas are born from heading back to the drawing board with new insight.

[Side note: As you may have guessed, I fall into the perfectionist category. If birth order has anything to do with it, I'm the first born of two first-born parents. Doing my best to stay on the functionally adaptable side.]

 

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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Brand trifecta, fail.

Why are we so underwhelmed with the Super Bowl spots? Let's start with the bar. It's exceptionally high for these coveted time slots. Big investment for a huge, diverse, and captive audience. Buzz kicks in early to hype potential front-runners. Any time I am told how amazing something is going to be, I automatically expect more from what it actually delivers. But, it's always fun to watch what brands do when they step into the ultimate advertising cage match.

Overall, the spots failed to effectively portray what I'll call the brand trifecta: brand culture, creative idea, exceptional execution. Most spots attempted to present at least one or two of these categories, but I don't think any of them completely nailed all three. Although Google took their simplicity angle to the next level. The product demonstration "story" was an obvious, but successful masterpiece. However, maybe a bit too quiet and deep for much of the Super Bowl crowd. There were some fun ideas, that were not targeted at the expected audience. Then some misguided ideas that were executed brilliantly. And also, lots and lots of just plain bad stuff. Nothing stuck with me as being an industry-changing campaign.

But hey, the game was excellent.

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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Perception in the balance.

Every person with a normal inner ear is equipped with the ability to sense balance. Your vision and spatial perception also collaborate in this upright process. Maintaining balance is a basic human survival instinct. We're all born with a fear of falling.

What happens when balance gets thrown off? The combination of low blood pressure and general squeamishness has led me down the fainting road a time or ten. It was worse when I was younger. When faced with the spelling word "vein", it was all I could do to get my shaky hand to spell it out. It wasn't until fifth grade that I had my first real battle with balance composure. My science teacher was graphically describing the bleeding difference between cut veins and arteries. This seemed to go on for an eternity. Tunnel vision kicked in and I could only see her and her hand gestures. My breathing and her echoing rant were amplified. Lightheaded, pale, and dizzy, I made my way out of there as inconspicuously as possible. I didn't officially pass out until I reached the school nurse's couch. From that point on, I tried to recognize the fainting symptoms early and deal accordingly.

Funny thing is, I'm a horror movie fan. The only time this juxtaposition went awry was at the theater, after Hannibal. If you remember the last scene… lots of audio clues as to what is going on, but you are left to your imagination for quite a while. Then when you finally do see everything, it is beyond disturbing. I made it outside and thought I had things under control, but no. Darkness ensued. I came to with my concerned friends hovering over me, cell phones at the ready. Being the advertising-type that I am, the first thing I said upon consciousness was, "I just sold a shitload of tickets to the next show."

So physically, we can agree balance is a good thing. Conceptually though, should balance be offset? Can we leverage what we know against new connections?

"Give me a lever long enough, and a fulcrum strong enough, and single-handed I can move the world." - Archimedes
Balance is synonymous with stability. Stability is a desired trait, but not usually associated with new thinking. Aesthetically, off balance things are more intriguing. Creating new perceptions while juggling existing beliefs builds forward-thinking momentum. Figuratively speaking, let's not be afraid of falling and walk the edge every now and then.

 

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