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Homicide By Powerpoint.

Just saw the story in the paper about that guy who was so depressed he checked into a room at the Chateau Marmont and watched agency Powerpoint presentations until he died of narco-flatline-boredom induced coma brain-death. Poor bastard must’ve been at the end of his rope.


I’m of the opinion that 99% of all Powerpoint presentations suck. (Perhaps you’ve seen my Powerpoint presentation about this on Slideshare.)

Right now I am reading a book called Presentation Zen and it’s pretty good. It’s one of those books you can kinda read standing there in the aisle of the bookstore. Because the main message is summed up in the title of one of its chapters: “Simplicity: Why It Matters.”

That is the sum and substance of it, folks. Simplicity. And the reason almost all Powerpoint presentations suck is because their authors pack way too much into the slides and make their audiences read their speech. The thing is, the audience came to hear a speech, not to read a big white book up on the wall.

Seems to me the reason most presenters pack too much into each slide is because they use their slides as a crutch. They use the words on the screen as prompts to remind them of the speech they should have tattooed into their skulls.

Two bad things happen when a speaker cedes control of their presentation to a screen. They lose their audience (people are watching the screen) and they lose passion (because they’re reading, not speaking from the heart).

To see what Powerpoint does to the passion and power of true oratory, I refer you to an oldie-but-goodie. First, click here to read Lincoln’s incredible Gettysburg Address. And then here to see Prof. Peter Norvig’s famous parody: The Gettysburg Address As Powerpoint.

Does Powerpoint always have to suck? No. When good speakers use Powerpoint it serves to amplify their presentation, not replace it. Steven Jobs uses it quite well (of course, he uses Apple’s Keynote) and his speeches are the subject of another pretty good book, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs.

Again, the main message is SIMPLICITY. Perhaps one good way to think of your slides is this: if your speech is the product, your slides are the outdoor boards. Big, simple, graphic, on-message, and on-brand.

Selling Vs. Selling Out.

John Cusak’s character in the movie “Say Anything”:  “I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.”

So the other day, I am walking down the agency hallway.

Dude walks past me, gives me the hairy eyeball, so I go “What?”

And he points at my Southwest Airlines t-shirt. (Southwest is a client of ours.) I say what? and he points at my t-shirt and snickers, so I go what again and he says, “Sold out to The Man, eh? Look at you, wearin’ a t-shirt with the client’s name on it!”

I could tell he was kinda kidding … and kinda not.

I laughed agreeably and we both went our separate ways. Later on I had one of those “Man-I-wish-I’d-said” moments. I wish I’d said, “Dude, look where you work. You’re at an advertising agency, for Chissake. What do you think this is? Walden Pond?”

And as for selling out? That’s what we do. Selling, that is. Selling out is a phrase I’ll reserve to describe doing things I don’t believe in, for personal promotion or profit.

It made me wonder how many creatives out there share his attitude; who really don’t embrace what it is they do for a living. Considering all the snarky sales-free advertising I see out there, I’m guessing more than a few.

I think part of the problem is that much of today’s work is being crafted by creative people who are simply disdainful of their clients’ products, or of their customers. Perhaps, too, it could be that they hate the advertising business itself. These are people who — with sufficient amounts of alcohol in them — might privately admit they hate thinking of themselves as salespeople. Salsepeople suck, you see. True “creatives,” well, they’re more like that cute Lloyd Dobler from Say Anything. Real creatives, they’re edgy.

See, it’s not cool to be too into our clients’ products. Cool creatives have what’s known as “ironic remove.” Ironic remove means nothing impresses them. They are far above the scrum and rattle of pedestrian life, up in a lofty sphere where worldly things have no effect upon their excellent selves.

The thing is, I don’t know how you can write a single persuasive sentence without loving the product you’re working on, without really knowing what appeals to its customers.

Me, I happen to love our clients’ stuff; their airlines, their cars, their clothes, all of it. I don’t mind being a salesman.

Things That Suck, #954: Pop-Up Ads On Top Of My Movie.

Okay, so I’m watchin’ Alien, right? Classic movie.

And I’m at that part where John Hurt keels over sick, right? And they lay him on the table. And then…and then…just when I’m ready for the alien to pop up out of his chest, some stinkin’ ad pops up instead, down on the bottom of the screen advertising a bad TV show. So now, instead seeing of a toothy alien spattered with gore, I’m taking in this horrifying image of the New Jersey Housewives.

Being in the advertising business, you’d think I’d be more forgiving about these ads; that I’d understand how ads-pay-for-the-content-I’m-enjoying-bah-blah. No, this is different. When the ads invade the content, when they appear on top of my movie? Dude, that’s way different than cutting to a commercial. That’s like a fat guy in the theater seat in front of me standing up and shoutin’, “HEY, CATCH UP WITH THOSE GOSSIPY, EYE-SCRATCHING WHORES IN THE NEXT EPISODE OF ‘NEW JERSEY HOUSEWIVES!’”

Hey, TV-programmer-guys? C’mere.

Listen, uh, can we draw the line at invading content? Seriously. Otherwise, what’s next? I’ll be reading Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities. “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. In fact, it’s Miller Time!”

No. Okay?

Just, … no.

In fact, while we’re on the subject, I feel the same way about cinema ads. Here I’ve just paid $9 for a ticket and a little over $400 for a small popcorn, and I wanna see content, okay? Trailers, movies, either one, but not ads.

With maybe one exception.

If there could be a really good creative director in charge of which commercials were allowed to play in theaters, maybe I’d think about it. You’d couldn’t just buy the media. You had to apply for it. And only entertaining, viral-worthy spots ended up on the silver screen. Which would be cool because … [–ADVERTISEMENT: Tired of the boring blogs? Want to read a good one? Try Mashable today! END ADVERTISEMENT–]…never mind.

Super Bowl TV Spots (Versus All The Rest Of The Year).

Well, it’s that time of year again: agencies and clients are buying time on the Super Bowl XLV. Two thoughts on this.

First off, um, Super-Bowl Owner Guys? Can we lose the Roman numerals? This has to be at least the XLV-th time I’ve told you guys how confusing those numerals are.

And the other thing is this.

I think it’s interesting the way agencies and clients go on record talkin’ about how hard they’re working on their Super Bowl spots. It’s usually a statement somethin’ like “With an audience this large, we’ve got to put on the best show we can.”

I’m glad everyone tries so hard on Super Sunday. (Though some try maybe too hard?) Overall, I enjoy the Super Bowl spots because everybody seems to be puttin’ on their Sunday best. My question here is why should a spot on the Super Bowl be any different than what we’d air on a Sienfeld re-run? Why do Super Bowl commercials seem so much more important than the ones that air during the rest of the year?

Agreed, only a fraction as many viewers are watchin’ Jerry and Elaine, but isn’t their money just as good as the money from folks watching the big game? For the sake of argument let’s say it’s just 100,000 people watchin’ Sienfeld. Let’s make it ten thousand. Why would we decide to do anything less for these Sienfeld viewers because there are fewer of them?

It’s sorta like this.

I’m giving a speech next month in San Francisco. It’s not gonna be a very big crowd at all — maybe 200 — so you know what? Instead of trying to make my speech interesting and memorable, I’m gonna throw out everything I know about oratory, about passion, and about connecting with an audience. I’m gonna save all that “interesting crap” for a bigger audience. For the 200 schmucks who show up at my measly little speech? I’m just gonna jam it all into a Powerpoint.

Dude, there’s just gonna be 200 people, okay? Why do any of the “interesting” crap I had planned? Why open with something that grabs their attention when I can get right to the point? Why establish any connection with them?

My speech was gonna be about how important it is to have one simple clean message. But now that I see it’s for a smaller audience, I can cram in everything I want — stuff about making the message relevant, stuff about the importance of production values, pretty much anything I want will fit in now.

In fact, from now on all my speeches for crowds under 2,000 aren’t gonna be memorable or interesting. They’ll be what I’ll call “hard working” speeches; “second-tier speeches.” To anyone who says they suck, I’ll say “My regional speeches have different objectives.”  People may not go away thinking I’m much of a speaker. They may not want to hear from me again, but goddammit, they’ll have heard all the facts I can cram in the allotted time.

On the other hand, say I get a gig speaking at the big Retail Advertising and Marketing Association? With two or three thousand? Damn, I’ll put on a really good show for those guys. No, seriously I will, because there’ll be more of them.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Maybe I’ve made my point here, maybe not. Just seems to me that a TV spot is a TV spot. TV, radio, any media buy is a public appearance for which we ought to put on our Sunday best, no matter how large our congregation is.

Never Shop At A Book Store When You’re Stupid.

You’ve probably heard that saying: “Never go grocery shopping when you’re hungry.” Well, it makes sense. You end up buyin’ all kinds of junk food that looks yummy, or buyin’ way more than you planned on.

Which reminds me of that time I went to a liquor store sober.

Dude. Big mistake. (“Awww, man, gotta get me some of this vodka. And this gin. Get some gin. Ooooo, tequila, get that.”)

Well, wouldn’t you know it, just the other day I walked into Book People here in Austin…. and I walked in stupid. Because there is so much that I don’t know, well, suddenly I’m reachin’ for every stinkin’ book on the shelves.

(“Gotta get me the new Seth Godin book. Oh, man, and lookit this new Gladwell title, ‘Outliers.’ He’s so smart, gotta git that.”)

Man oh man, I nearly flattened the embossed numbers on my Mastercard.

You know what might cure me of this book problem?

The new Kindle. Reason I say that is because the Kindle ads promise it can store 3,500 titles. Three thousand five hundred titles?

Here’s the thing. I’m a pretty fast reader. On vacation, I can put away about a book a day. But even at my best, … 3,500 titles? Polishing off that digital bookshelf would take nine and a half years of constant speed reading. Even Evelyn Wood, the speed-reading queen, man, at around book #1,954 … wouldn’t she just blow up?

Do I really need to carry 3,500 books on vacation? A guy named Barry Schwarz wrote a cool book called The Paradox of Choice. His main thesis: “We assume that more choice means greater satisfaction when it fact it means less.” He posits that a massive number of things to choose from can make a person feel bewildered, then anxious, and ultimately less satisfied after taking a purchase decision.

I think I know what Mr. Schwarz’s talkin’ about. Can you imagine if the first iPod’s commercials promised “A Trillion Songs In Your Pocket.” Man, I’d just tip over at the concept of a mathematical eternity burnin’ a hole in my pocket. I’d blow up.

Don’t get me wrong, I happen to love my e-reader (an iPad). But I don’t think the main promise of a Kindle or an iPad is Brobdingnagian memory. Just gimme a digital L.L.Bean-tote’s-worth of titles. Just enough books to get me through the Labor Day weekend.