Sunday, October 28, 2012

How to survive in advertising.

A lot of extremely credible, and no doubt, scientifically-tested rules that apply to horror movie survival can be used to ensure our own advertising industry longevity. 

I'll get back to that in a minute. First, we must be aware of another potentially scary situation…

Years ago, a software program became capable of doing our job. Well, kind of. It produced mass quantities of ad ideas – all in blandly-adequate fashion. Acceptable creativity in ten seconds. About two coffee or martini sips worth of creative team time.

Is creativity merely an algorithm? Can a machine do that thing that not even strategists can realistically explain with a set formulaic definition? I've actually seen it defined with whimsical hand movements placed mid-sentence.

BETC Euro RSCG Worldwide, creators of the Creative Artificial Intelligence (CAI) technology, determined the software is only so clever. It's built with existing creative connections. Thankfully, enlightened humans are still superior. CAI was an experiment to demonstrate just that. 

...But don't let your guard down quite yet. That's rule number one in advertising survival.

1. The moment you get comfortable and complacent is the moment you become obsolete. Think about it. If your "character" is not contributing to the main plot, you are potential prey. (Especially if you go off on your own, mock someone on the team, or live in Maine.)

2. The junior creatives are always right behind you. Always. They're hungry and they don't sleep. (Encourage them and let them inspire you. Seriously, you really don't want them turning on you.)

3. Anything you think you know about advertising you probably don't. The rules are always changing. Go with it. Arm yourself with current knowledge and collaborate with other creatives. (Whatever you do, do not take that shortcut you heard about from one of the locals. It never ends well.) 

4. If an idea is dead, don't assume it's going to stay dead. An ambitious idea always has one last shot at reality. Theoretically, it could resurface at any time – with more power. Ideas love to avenge their own deaths. And, idea sequels are always in the works. (If the idea has access to a hockey mask, get the hell out of there.)

5. Do not try to unmask creativity. It shows up where it wants, when it wants. It's everywhere and nowhere. It laughs maniacally and probably hangs out in a sweet lair during it's downtime. Whatever it is, it's certainly not a single software program. (Sooner or later, in a shocking orchestra-crescendoed plot twist, you'll realize it was actually you all along.)

Thanks to everyone who voted this October's Post of the Month in Neil Perkin's Think Tank Hall of Fame. 

This piece is cross-posted on The Denver Egotist , Uprising, design TAXI, and the Vladimir Jones Blog. It's also cross-posted throughout the Egotist Network: AustinBostonChicago, Des MoinesDubaiKansas CityLondonLos AngelesMemphisNew YorkOklahoma CityPhoenixPortlandSan FranciscoSt. LouisSydneyTorontoTulsa, and Vancouver 

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

At the end of the day.

In advertising, it's an overused phrase. For clients and brands, it gives us perspective. But what about our own expectations?

At the end of the day, all you have is... 

your relationships.
your work.
your reputation.


another night to work until failure.
an opportunity to change everything.
a chance to appreciate what you have.


At the end of the day, all you have is tomorrow. 
And, at the end of most days, tomorrow is enough.

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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Beauty, imagination, and the what if?

I'm not sure what I like most about this spot. The graceful overlapping of reality and surreality. The perfectly-woven dreamlike music. The regretfully-romantic voiceover of a favorite actor. The nostalgic-yet-timeless art direction. The flawless final scene transition, lingering on a fleeting look before taking us to a present day self actualization.

The idea that you could put an ad like this out into an audience that has previously been treated to humor, hijinks, and shallowness is impressive. Sure, they're supporting the concept in funny and less epic ways through social media. But still, they've hit on something that not only speaks to the AXE-drenched teenage kid who just wants to get laid. It speaks to anyone who's ever been in love. Or in high school. So, will guys in their forties be buying more AXE? Well, hopefully not.

Of everything, the copywriting gets me the most. It's the hopeless romantic in me. Every word is heavy-hearted, yet quirky. A man poetically lamenting about an intriguing girl next door. Not the cheerleader, but the universal girl who got away. Not a girl, the girl. BBH New York has crafted an unexpected masterpiece that plays to our own sense of what if.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Combinatorial creativity, experienced.

Experience is more important than we think. But, it doesn't start with that shiny new internship. It starts well before that. When you first become aware of the world around you and begin collecting insights. 

They say creativity is combinatorial. It's a remix of what came before. Originality builds from the existing and grows through recombination. It's the culmination of all your experiences.

For example, here's a quote from one of my favorite posts capturing the value of experience:
Picasso is sitting in the park, sketching. A woman walks by, recognizes him, runs up to him and pleads with him to draw her portrait. He’s in a good mood, so he agrees and starts sketching. A few minutes later, he hands her the portrait. The lady is ecstatic, she gushes about how wonderfully it captures the very essence of her character, what beautiful, beautiful work it is, and asks how much she owes him. “$5,000, madam,” says Picasso. The lady is taken aback, outraged, and asks how that’s even possible given it only took him 5 minutes. Picasso looks up and, without missing a beat, says: “No, madam, it took me my whole life.”
Everything you've done influences everything you'll do. Take as much in as you can. The more eclectic, the better. Then, someday, see what you can laterally combine.

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Change is hard, but it's a great thing.

When you leave an agency, it's not like clocking out from a factory job. Your coworkers become your close friends and family. A safe little world where you can unleash crazy ideas at will. You're surrounded by young talent who you've helped mentor and by creative incumbents who have influenced what you are today. It's always harder than you think to say goodbye.

No matter how busy things get over the years, you take the good times and the small victories with you. Like the time I was nominated to sell our suggestive app and disruptive ideas to a large group of conservative older women because, apparently, I was the only one who could pull if off without offending them. We built an elaborate presentation to repetitively remind them that they were not the target audience. We found examples that like-minded thinking had been successful within their intended audience of collegiate men and women. Believe it or not, and in spite of my inevitable blushing, I sold it. The work changed the organization's stodgy preconceptions and the executions generated positive awareness for their cause. It was the beginning of an evolution they needed to make to stay relevant.

So, after five eventful years at my last agency, I find myself at the forefront of change. Filled with excitement and anticipation, I hope to grow with a great new team of people in a brand new space. Opportunities are everywhere. I can't wait to see where we will go and what we will create.

Wherever you are, when you find visionaries willing to take chances and support innovation, find a way to keep that momentum going. Put your heart and soul into the projects that you want to attract more of. Find the people driven to do great things. And no matter where change takes you, always stay connected to them.

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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Storytelling and advertising.

People ask why I'm drawn to advertising over design alone. Without a doubt, it's the focus on copy first. Storytelling is the difference between decoration and intentional visual meaning. And here's what George Louis said about that:

Even though the synergy between words and images is crucial, Lois always tells people just starting out in advertising that when concocting a great ad, the words must come first. "They look at me stunned," he says. "They say, 'No, no, you create these powerful visual images. Why would you think of copy first?' I say, 'Because, a line, a slogan should be famous."
One powerful idea or headline can spawn an instant visual direction. If you have a strong idea, you don't have to retroactively search for connections in the visuals. Art and copy ignite each other. And the idea's media road map goes from there. You're not forcing anything.

Whatever the application, we should approach every project with storytelling in mind. Build the brand's character and create what drives it.

For fellow fans of storytelling, this TED talk by Andrew Stanton is a must see. Here are some of his storytelling insights applied to an advertising audience:

1. Make them care. Emotionally and aesthetically.
2. Promise that the brand experience is worth their time. And always deliver on that.
3. Sometimes it's the absence of information that draws them in.
4. Give them 2 + 2, not 4. Let them participate.
5. An evolving brand experience should be inevitable, not predictable.
6. Find what drives your audience, then encourage them to take the wheel and steer it.
7. Remember, change is fundamental.
8. Evoke wonder.

Video discovered from this post.

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Paper Fashioned.

For a couple of years, I've attended the Art Director's Club of Denver's Paper Fashion Show. It's always more impressive in person. And, this year I had full appreciation for the work that goes into creating a dress out of paper. Not easy.

Our team had a Neenah Classic Crest paper swatch book. We could use 35 sheets maximum. Ninety-percent of the dress had to be created from those 35 sheets. We were also encouraged to make an accessory, so we did a lantern with a light inside.

Unless you go through the process, it's difficult to imagine all the details. Fitting the model, thinking about structure, and getting through those first cuts as you bravely use the scarce final paper. We worked with paper mache, oragami, paper braiding, grommets, and got very familiar with wielding a glue gun.

The dress tends to change as you go. Even if you have a solid plan, it's kind of a crazy science project. What about this? Or that? No, I think that would be way over the top. Uh, have you seen our dress? Yeah, we crossed that line long ago.

It was a great experience and our model was exceptionally awesome. I'm proud to say that our dress came in third out of 53 amazing designs. It was auctioned off for Downtown Aurora Visual Arts (DAVA).

Spring Renewal: My team's third place winning dress. Photo by Randall Bellows III.
On the runway with the lantern.

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Friday, March 2, 2012

Too busy being busy.

Without any semblance of bedside manner, my alarm clock ambushes me each morning. The grating noise crashes dreams and sets the conscious mind loose. Oh man, it seems like I just contained that thing minutes ago. Here we go again.

What day is it? What are my deadlines? How much coffee do I have access to?

I lay there watching the clock slowly change. One number at a time. You get a sense for the length of a minute when you do that. It feels like a long time, right? Throughout the day minutes disappear at warp speed though. As if they never existed.

Then, like a broken record, my mind runs through projects I'm working on. For whatever reason, this is a key time when I make sense of ideas. The subconscious solutions from the night before are there. Briefly. Waiting to be mixed with clarity.

I've maintained a crazy level of busyness for the last year. Being busy is a good thing, but I'm hoping to find more balance. More mandatory lost-in-the-moment time. Without the damn alarm clock.

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Saturday, January 7, 2012

What I Learned This Year 2011 #45: Jennifer Hohn

For my contribution to The Denver Egotist's "What I Learned This Year 2011" series, I realized that learning is never really finished. Sometimes a contradiction leads to a revelation. In fact, opposition can drive innovation. You can change things. The overall concept of my post was inspired by this insight. And thanks to everyone out there who also inspired me. Here's the post, in its entirety:

What would happen if everything we’ve learned needs to be unlearned? (Within reason, of course. Put down the pitchforks and come out of your bomb shelters. If you want to light something on fire, that’s your call. I’m not condoning it.)

In advertising, this rethinking challenge has been wildly successful. Bernbach went big and thought small for Volkswagen. Then he unthinkably owned second place for Avis. Steve Jobs activated his reality distortion field at will and really got things done.

Suppose the opposed:

1. There are no rules, but there are rules. I don’t know anyone in this business who doesn’t seek parameters when approaching a creative brief. Though awesome, the thought of limitless possibilities induces nausea. We want to know the rules so we can break some of them. For a reason.

2. Common sense isn’t common. (And, it’s kind of boring anyway.) Aside from basic survival and navigation skills, see what happens when you react counter intuitively. Then realize everyone sees things differently. We can’t always make group assumptions.

3. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Everyone is uneasy with the ever-changing technological landscape. Get comfortable with that. Stay agile and be creatively agnostic.

4. The future is the past. Albeit a never-ending, future-feeling remix of the past. Acceptance of the new is linked to previous behavior. For instance, the Google Chrome campaign doesn’t tell us about new technology. It shows us, like it has always been there.

5. Useless information can be useful. Or distracting. Or hilarious. Surface fascination is ironically deep among creatives. For us, disenchantment is in the details. (That’s right, constructive shallowness is encouraged.) Creativity is the combination of sometimes-unrelated yet related things. So, the more you know, the more likely you’ll come up with an original combination. (And then, really blow people’s minds by relating that to a cat video.)

6. Contributing is selling. I have to credit this one to our senior writer, Patrick Hunt. He tells me there are babies in Egypt named Facebook. The influence and reach of social media is undeniable. He said, “In 2011 and beyond, hell will have no fury like a citizen scorned. It’s no longer what we sell. It’s what we’re contributing to the global good that really matters.”

7. Affluence has nothing to do with money. “We are all born wealthy. We’re alive. Anything beyond that should be considered wealth enhancement.” I learned that from Bernard Amadei, founder of Engineers Without Borders.

8. Humility is loud. Our work can always be better. Always. Own what you’ve done, but build your potential.

9. Trust enables risk. As Wieden + Kennedy pointed out, "Trust is the secret sauce if you want to do groundbreaking work." If you have a team and clients who truly trust you, consider yourself lucky. Continue to earn that trust.

10. Fate is choice. It isn’t something that just happens. Life depends on decision and thrives on opportunity. We can choose to embrace the things we cannot change, and affect the things we can.

In 2011, I was fortunate enough to learn from and work with unbelievably talented people. Thanks to everyone for the inspiration. Let’s do great things in 2012.

[This piece is cross-posted on Uprising and The Denver Egotist.]

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