Temper Your Irish With German.

Assigned reading.
Assigned reading.

 

“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

                                                  –Gustav Flaubert.

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I love that quotation.

I’d like to act all high and mighty and say, “What?! You haven’t read Flaubert?? Duuude!” But, the only Flaubert I’ve read is this one line. Still, it sure has stuck with me, because it’s such good advice. In fact, it’s good for anyone who fancies him or herself a creative.

If I may be allowed a wee generalization, we creative types are complete knuckleheads. Because the very thing that makes us slightly weird and left-of-center, also makes us procrastinators and  – hey look, a shiny object – distractible.

This is why I’ve been telling juniors for years “to temper your Irish with German.” (Another one of my favorite quotations).

Temper your Irish with German.

See, the Irish is the fun part, the party dude, the part that produces brilliance out of the clear blue. German? Well, I guess that’s the part that has some discipline and follows the rules. The German part fills out his time sheet so the Irish part can get paid and go out drinking.

But I digress.

So, today’s assignment is to go get this little book and inhale it. Its title sorta says it all: Manage Your Day-To-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, & Sharpen Your Creative Mind.

Authors Jocelyn Glei and Scott Belsky have filled this book with cool chapters full of brilliant advice and titles like “Training Your Mind To Be Ready for Insight” and “How To Create Amidst Chaos.”

The chapters are short (perfect for us ADD’s) and the book isn’t but 240 pages long. I highly recommend it. There are tons of books out there about creativity (mine included) but very few address this issue of using discipline to sharpen one’s creative edge.

“It’s not a principle until it costs you money.”

The quotation above is from the famous Bill Bernbach. I think it is one of the smartest things I’ve ever heard and is such a great way to truly describe what the word “principle” stands for. The best single example of somebody standing up for a principle (and having it cost them some money) was what my old friend, Wendy Ludlow Clark, did when my agency pitched for the company she worked for. Without saying names of brands or names of agencies, suffice to say that I was the CCO at the “losing agency” she mentions in her article below. I was there the day she came to our office to tell us who had really won the pitch (>ahem<)….and why it went to someone else. Wendy went on from that day to rise to the highest echelons of a far bigger brand (Coca-Cola)  and yet what she did on that long ago day is what I respect her most for. Excerpted below from the site LeanIn, this is an example of someone with principles in a business not famous for them.

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Early in my career I encountered a situation that challenged my personal ethics and became a Lean In moment that forever shaped my life.

I was about 10 years into my career running an agency pitch for a campaign that would almost certainly gain national prominence. I was a director level/middle manager within the organization, but I was leading the campaign, so it was my responsibility to successfully lead the agency review.

Accepted practice when you run an agency review is to provide a fair and balanced opportunity for all the competing agencies in the process. Each agency is given equal access to internal knowledge, data, insights, experts and so on.  During the review period, agencies are not permitted to curry individual favor, time or insights with company contacts, as it can provide unfair advantage and can also muddy the clarity of decision-making for those involved from the client side.

In this instance, as we were ending the agency review (an intense 10 weeks), I discovered that an executive from one of the participating agencies and one of our senior executives had spent extended time together (a weekend golfing) during the review process.

Perhaps it was my naiveté, but I was shocked. To me this was, without question, outside of acceptable and appropriate boundaries and significantly compromised the integrity of the review and, indeed, the results.

Following corporate protocol, I immediately voiced my concerns to my direct boss. I was disenchanted and disheartened that this could have happened under my watch and my first thought was: How can I ever explain how this happened to the other competing agencies who have worked nonstop, in good faith, for the last 10 weeks?

Instead of agreeing with me, my boss essentially told me “sometimes things like this happen in business” and “to be a good soldier.” When I argued my point further, he said the agency decision had been made and that it came not only from him, but from his boss as well.

I was stunned. That night I sleeplessly wrestled with this outcome as I weighed my options. The same thoughts played through my head: This is not how you want to work. You know the chosen agency did not win the review. This can be the company’s decision, but it doesn’t have to be yours.

Adding to the dilemma was my personal life, including a new marriage and a new mortgage. I gingerly approached my husband about the possibility of separating myself from the decision and, therefore, my job. To my delight, the next morning I found a spreadsheet outlining our current financial situation. While we’d have to make some adjustments, we could meet our commitments without my salary.

So that day I went to work and resigned. News of my decision traveled rapidly through the organization.  Our CEO, confused about why his advertising director had quit, came to my office to express his disappointment, but I held firm.

Within a day, there was press coverage on my exit. That coverage was like a free want ad for a job and I received numerous job offers. I was amazed by the many emails and messages I received from friends and strangers alike congratulating me for “standing up for my values and principles.” And notably, while not a consolation, the “losing” agencies did feel some sense of vindication. Most importantly, I felt proud of myself for standing up for what I believed in.

Perhaps the most important learning from this experience that I carry with me today is this:  I’m pretty sure at the end of my life no one is going to wax lyrical about some advertising campaign I launched in 1999. But, if I do my best to lead with values, purpose and principles, they just might say that I was a decent person. And to me, that’s a far greater achievement.

Recent interview from some nice folks in Romania who were kind enough to translate it back into English.

I never cured a disease or saved someone's life. But I wrote a book that didn't suck. Woo hoo.

 

Sorry I haven’t posted in awhile. Cardinal sin of bloggers, not to create new content. That, and sucking. But anyhoo, here’s an interview I did a while back with some nice folks in Romania.

Here was their very nice intro. (I promise, the interview’s more interesting.)

Luke Sullivan is included in the Business Insider’s top of the most influential marketing people today. Accumulating over 30 years of experience in the industry, he has worked for agencies such as The Martin Agency, Fallon, and GSD&M and won awards at all the major advertising competitions, including D&AD, One Show and Cannes Lions. In 1998 he released the first edition of Hey Whipple, Squeeze This A guide to making exceptional ads (the official Romanian translation: Hei, Whipple, incearca asta – Un ghid pentru a crea reclame de exceptie), included in the bibliography of every adman and considered a Bible in the field. Now at the 4th edition, Hey Whipple was included in the Ad Age top of the most important media and marketing books of all times. Last year, Luke Sullivan gave up his agency job and started teaching, becoming the Chair of the Advertising Department at the Savannah College of Art and Design. He continues to write about advertising on his blog and his Twitter account and he holds conferences that have an important merit: they don’t suck.

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I grew up on the streets of… nope, not even the streets of, but the back roads of Rochester, Minnesota. My dad was a surgeon at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Oh, have I mentioned yet that my second book just came out? It’s the perfect answer to this question because it is a memoir: Thirty Rooms To Hide In: Insanity, Addiction, and Rock ‘n’ Roll in the Shadow of the Mayo Clinic. Oh, I have mentioned it then? Good. Didn’t want to not mention it. My new book, that is.

As a child, I dreamed of becoming Steve Ditko or Jack Kirby, the famous artists who brought Marvel Comics to life. Them, or the Beatles.

(Just checking. I did mention my new book, right? The Thirty Rooms one? I did? Okay, sorry. Proceed.)

This picture of me being Superman was taken in August ’65 on top of the great house I describe in Thirty Rooms To Hide In. (And for those interested, there are more family photos and movies at the book’s official site, http://thirtyroomstohidein.com).

The craziest thing I did in highschool is that I wrote, printed and distributed a small book calculated to tick the school officials off. Titled “Student’s Guide to Better Skipping, Smokig, and General Misconduct”. It worked. We had this Nazi named Thatcher who called me into his office to yell at me about the book. If I called a kid in today about somethin’ like this, I’d be upset if, like, the layouts were crap, or there was too much kerning or something.

In college I was the guy who thought it might be a cool idea if we called the dorm elevator up to the 9th floor, and then ran up to the 10th floor and forced the doors open, hop on the top of the car and go “ride the ‘vators.” Oh, my poor mother.

Being a stand up comedian about a year and a half in 1981 helped me learn how to present. I can think of no better preparation for pitching work to clients than doing stand-up. You have just the microphone and the curtain behind you to tell a story and make people laugh hard enough to remember you. You can’t fake it. You can’t have a second try at it. You just gotta go out there and kill. Does wonders for your confidence.

I decided I wanted to work in advertising when I was going through all these old school papers and things my Mom had saved for me. They were all drawings and stories, drawings and stories, and I thought, man, what else is like that? I knew right then.

My current relationship status with advertising: We are seeing other people now. I am now the Chair of the Ad Dept at the Savannah College of Art & Design. This gives me the opportunity to concentrate on helping others get into the same business I’ve had so much fun in all these years.

Not working in an ad agency anymore makes me breath a deep sigh of relief. I don’t have to worry whether I’m going to come up with the big idea before 9am tomorrow. I don’t have to worry whether a client is going to take its account into review. But I still have worries. Like, whether or not the kids in my class are really getting it, or just seem to be getting it. But it is nowhere near as bad a worry.

What is great about working in advertising is that I got to work with the funniest, smartest people in America. I never had the same day twice. And I never had to pick up something heavy here and carry it over there and put it down.

I like to fish insights from anywhere but work. I used to have to take the train from Richmond to Philly. Loved sitting in the dining car, my writing pad open, and watching the fall colors whip past the window.

That second book started off in the year 1992, mostly as a family project. A project that provided a snapshot of my family during those terrible years when my father was insane. I was just going to gather all the letters my mother had written to her grandfather, as well as all the diaries my brothers kept during those years and sort of turn it all into one big copy-heavy scrapbook. But as the project grew over the years (it took forever) I realized, wow, this is a heck of a story with all these letters and photos and diaries and so what if I just tried writing the story instead of pasting its pieces together.

Is there anything  in Hey Whipple, Squeeze This with which I would not agree anymore with what I’ve said? Well, I appreciate you giving me an out like that, but I’ve had the opportunity to refresh it through 4 editions. I wasn’t ready to tackle the digital revolution until I could at least talk about it intelligently, if not fluently. I almost started writing about it in the third edition, put if off. Then I realized, dude, you’re never gonna be an expert in this stuff. It changes way too fast to think that you can put some definitive piece into a paper-based book that’s reprinted every 4 years. So, I took the summer off in 2011 and just sorta wailed on it. Every chapter was scrubbed and rewritten with digital in mind. Most of the examples in the book were updated. And Chapters 5 and 6 are where I focused hardest. I still kinda dig my title for Chapter 5: “Concepting for the Hive Mind”. Yeah, the 4th edition is the one to get; has the grey-ish cover. It’s also available as an iBook and for that platform I made sure the cool examples mentioned in the text were linked. So if you wanna see a famous TV spot, click, and you’re watchin’ it. It doesn’t suck.

I believe that digital changed advertising completely and totally. There is no more digital revolution. It is over and digital won.

The most rewarding moment in my career was when I refused to work on a tobacco account.

I feel most frustrated when I can’t get a great idea out of the agency. That means you have traitors inside the castle walls. Ads are supposed to die valiantly in battle with the client out in front of the castle walls; not get a shiv between the ribs in the wine cellar.

My best sources of inspiration are reading, movies, and TV. But mostly reading.

When I’m online, I am always checking The Onion. I think it is the funniest print being written these days. I always check out the new trailers on the appletrailers page. I update my blog. I like to see all the cool stuff my friends have posted on Facebook. I like Tweetdeck because I can use it as a weather post to see what people are talking about, as well as a sign post – to point people to other cool sites, or my blog.

The reason I have a blog is that I’m a writer. And writers ought to be writing. If you’re not writing, well, then you’re not a writer. Right?

The best piece of advice I ever received from someone in the industry is “Start from where you are.” That actually came from a speech by author Anne Lamott. It’s advice I now give to people who are overwhelmed by the size of a campaign they have to do. I liked the advice so much, I devoted a blog entry to it.

More than talent, creatives should have curiosity and outside interests. Oh, and not be a douche-bag. I’m leery of hiring kids who have no outside interests. To not be passionately interested in something outside of your stupid job? That’s just creepy. Curiosity is also a must. If you’re not innately curious, why did you even get out of bed this morning? Don’t you wanna know where the digital economy is headed? Don’t you ever wonder why we only see one side of the moon and never the other? You know how they say never to go grocery shopping when you’re hungry? Because you’ll buy everything? I feel the same way about going to book stores. Because I’m goin’ in stupid and there is so much in there I gotta know about. And lastly, don’t be a douche-bag. Nobody good will want to work with you and you’ll soon find yourself starring in the movie “The Lone Douch-Bag”.

I think a great speech should be equal parts substance and entertainment. If it’s all substance, well, it may not suck but it’ll be more of a lecture, won’t it? And if it is all entertainment, well, then you’ve just wasted an audience’s time doing stand-up. I work very very hard to make sure my speeches don’t suck. When people book me, they know they’re getting more than just some ad dinosaur who’s gonna show slides of his 14th century portfolio. I work very hard to stay current (hey, when you teach, you have to) and I work hard to make sure the material is presented in a way that’s either really funny or just “Oh, wow, I never thought of it that way”.

My advice to all the juniors who want to create great advertising is study the masters. Read all the awards books. Study the working masters, too. Read all the best advertising sites (the best of which is, according to some – me – heywhipple.com). Read all the great books out there on advertising. There aren’t many and I listed my favorite 30 or so in the back of Hey Whipple. For juniors, there is no better book out there than Vonk & Estin’s Pick me: Breaking Into Advertising and Staying There. And lastly, for the first couple of years, listen waaay more than you talk.

Radio is my favorite medium. I think it is the very toughest one to work in. So I am doubly pleased to have my favorite career-long work be a radio campaign for a technical school in Minneapolis called Dunwoody Technical Institute. It was one of those small break-even clients we occasionally did at Fallon.

A good headline is ‘Lose the ability to slip out of meetings unnoticed’ (The Economist).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let me show you two print ads from my students.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love the print ad for the Boston Bruins done by one of my SCAD student’s Ariel Heinnman. I like it because she wrote it and she’s an art director. The great creatives can always do both. I like how she uses the phrase “inside voice.” Such a nice matronly thought to appear in an ad as mean as this. I like how politically incorrect it is. And though you can’t see it, I like the whole idea behind her campaign which is “Save The Crying For Baseball”.

I love the Vespa ads from my student Nicole Corely. She’s a writer (and just landed a job at GSD&M). I loved her Vespa campaign for the headlines but she also did a pretty good job art directing, considering she’s a writer. I like how she cropped out the face of the person in the Vespa. Makes it easier for the reader to sort of put herself in the picture. My fave headline from this campaign was based on a truth and went something like “No One Ever Pulls Up Next to a Buick and Asks to Take a Picture”. I may be butchering that line, but the truth is still there.

In Hey Whipple, I described some of the common horrible clients you’re all likely to meet out there during your career. Let’s see, there’s the Meat Puppet, the skinny little product manager who runs on fear and kills everything. There’s a place called Pablum Park, where they don’t really have anything to advertise but want to look at some advertising anyway. There’s the Bully, any mean-spirited MBA who is certain he is right. And then there’s any agency or client that has one of those huge research machines in the basement, the worst being the one called the Koncept Krusher 2000. Those are just the main ones of the Bad Client Ecosystem. In the end, the ones I had the worst time with were those who were dishonest.

The best clients are the ones that have a good product and want to make money with it, realize they are not the communication experts and so rely on your judgement. Also, I love clients who are just delightful people. I mean, come on, this is just advertising we’re talking about here. Can’t we all have fun while we work on this stuff? Clients like these are the ones I worked hardest for. Partly because if I failed, damn, it’s because I failed. There was no client to blame it on.

 

 

Scenes From A Marketing Intervention on Subway Sandwiches.

OH, SUBWAY, WHEN YOU COMIN' HOME?

Several years ago, I wrote an article for Adweek about the addiction some clients have to promotions at the expense of their branding.

“Should we throw out promotions and go cold turkey?” I asked.  “Of course not. In the retail world, promotions are an essential part of the marketing mix. What I’m suggesting is, first an intervention, and then partial withdrawal.”

Today, I think it’s time we intervene on Subway sandwiches.

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OPEN ON JOHN X, SUBWAY’S CHIEF MARKETING OFFICER, OPENING THE DOOR TO SOME DINGY ROOM AT A HAMPTON INN.

INSIDE, HE’S SURPRISED TO SEE A GROUP OF 400 PEOPLE SITTING ON COUCHES, ALL WITH CONCERNED LOOKS.

INTERVENTION MANAGER: Hello John, these people here love your brand a lot and they don’t want to see you killing it anymore.

JOHN, SITTING DOWN: But …

MANAGER: With us today are representatives of the 300 agencies you’ve burned through on your promotional binge. Plus a hundred or so creatives who threw a year of their careers away hoping they might be the one to get you to stick with a decent campaign.

CREATIVE DIRECTOR #1: John, your promotions have affected the brand in the following negative ways. (HE STARTS BLUBBERING) I was up all night going through the YouTube collection of your crappy spots and I’ve never seen you commit to anything.

JOHN: Yeah, but I have all these franchisees who…

CD #1, GETS KLEENEX, CONTINUES: I saw some remarkably stupid shit with people holding up “five fingers for the $5 footlong.” And I cannot count how many idiotic spots I saw with sports figures – John Cena, Michael Phelps, some boxer named Mike Lee. Who the hell is Mike Lee?

CREATIVE DIRECTOR #2: I was so hopeful when you let our agency air the fat-people-eating-burgers stuff, but the next thing we knew, you were whoring around with that “Febru-ANY” campaign. And what happened with that marvelous “Badonka-donk” radio stuff?

JOHN: What about Jared? Whenever we ran him, sales went up.

CD#1: Then fine, stick with Jared but at least do something interesting with him, instead of the insipid, brainless, promotional crap you air.  What are you on, crack?  Jesus, Bob.

MANAGER: Calm down now. … So, Bob. What’s it gonna be? Can you commit to a good mix of brand and promo?  Can you find even a … a decent brand campaign and then really stick with it? And maybe cut back from 600 agencies to five or so?

JOHN: I… I…

THE SUBWAY CMO LEAPS FROM THE COUCH, RUNS,  THE CAMERA FOLLOWS HIM TO THROUGH THE HALLS DOWN TO THE PARKING LOT WHERE WE JARED WAITING FOR HIM IN A CAR. THEY PEEL RUBBER AND DISAPPEAR IN A CLOUD OF BLUE SMOKE.

INTERVENTION MANAGER: Well, he’s on his own. I hope when he wakes up as the assistant product manager for some third-tier regional brand of acne cream, that he’ll finally get it. That he’ll finally see how brand will get you through times of no promotion better than promotions will get you through times of no brand.

 

Is Your Ad Complete Bullshit? Try This Simple Test.

Your Bullshit Laboratory

Most of us grow up with pretty finely tuned bullshit detectors. The thing is, this technology is getting better every day.

In fact, over the years, I think bullshit-detection technology has more than kept pace with computer technology, to the degree that kids today have BS detectors picking up readings as low as one-part-bullshit-in-a-million.

Interestingly, many of these same kids – these wonderful cynical rebels – will, when asked to create advertising, revert quickly to bullshit. They aren’t stupid. They’ve simply grown up listening to all the horrible advertising out there and, hey, when you grow up in France, you speak French.

This is why I ask beginning students to forget every single thing they think they know about advertising and keep only their disdain for most of it. I ask them to be honest and to just talk. Yes, I want them be interesting, to be funny, or dramatic, but to just talk; not bullshit.

As a test, I give students this process, one they can apply to their own work to see if it qualifies as bullshit.

Pretend you’re sitting next to some guy at a bar and you’re talking about the product you’re advertising which, today, let’s say it’s some chain restaurant. And this guy asks you, “So, tell me again why I should go to this place?” You take a big slug of beer, look ‘im in the eye, and you say….

“The flavors of ancient Italy will tantalize your nose and suddenly you’re in Rome.”

This is where he slugs you.  > POW! <

You’re on the floor lookin’ up wondering what just happened. Well, what happened is you decided your bar buddy was an idiot and he’d believe any insipid, bullshit cliché you come up with.

So, that’s my little test.

Look your best friend in the eye and speak your message. Can you say it with the same authenticity and unadorned honesty as you would tellin’ her what the weather is?

If you can, you’re not advertising. You’re just tellin’ someone about this cool thing you heard about. And what’s wrong with that?

On Being A Devil’s Advocate VS Being The Angel’s Advocate.

I’m just finished reading a very good book by the guy who founded Behance – Scott Belsky – titled Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles between Vision & Reality.

We’ve all seen our share of creative directors who believe that critiques should be based on finding out what’s wrong with a piece of work. But in a chapter on giving creative feedback, Belsky has this marvelous little section I wanted to share with you.

In the lead-up to this excerpt, the author talks about a creative retreat he went to, one on the art of storytelling, led by a man named Jay O’Callahan. He wrote about his first try at telling a story to the group after which….

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I was grateful for the positive response from the group, but I was eager (and somewhat anxious) for critical feedback. I wanted to know what went wrong. Then I remembered that the workshop operated with a very nontraditional approach to sharing feedback. Specifically, constructive criticism was not allowed. Rather than bracing myself for the onslaught of critical comments, I would have to refine my story by listening to the group’s “appreciations.”

Appreciations is a technique O’Callahan and other storytellers use to improve students’ skills without any demoralizing consequences. It’s a unique form of feedback that helps creative professionals focus on developing their strengths. Here’s the concept behind appreciations: having just shared a story (or, in other contexts, a presentation or an idea), you go around the room and ask people to comment on the elements they most appreciated.

In my case, many people appreciated the pace at which I told the story. I also received a lot of unexpected comments about the character descriptions I’d provided. After hearing the aspects of the story that people appreciated most, I got a sense for what strengths I should emphasize even more in future stories.

The exchange of appreciations is meant to help you build upon your strengths, with the underlying assumption that a creative craft is made extraordinary through developing your strengths rather than obsessing over your weaknesses. And I noticed that a natural recalibration happens when you commend someone’s strengths: their weaknesses are lessened as their strengths are emphasized. As my storytelling compatriots recounted their stories a second and third time, the points of weakness withered away naturally as the most beautiful parts became stronger.

“It is strange that, in our culture, we are trained to look for weaknesses,” O’Callahan explained to me. “When I work with people, they are often surprised when I point out the wonderful crucial details – the parts that are alive.” O’Callahan went on to suggest that “if our eyes are always looking for weakness, we begin to lose the intuition to notice beauty.”

Of course, the contrarian’s view to this approach is that more direct feedback and criticism might help one cut to the chase. O’Callahan would argue that appreciation-based feedback helps us access a deeper creativity.

People need to relax to be able to discover. Our unconscious won’t come forward and help us see things when we are too logical and focused on criticism. Sometimes someone will say, “I just want to know how to improve, not what is good.” People think that pointing out faults is the only way to improve. Appreciations are not about being polite. They are about pointing out what is alive.

As O’Callahan explains, “Everyone thinks they can tell you what is good. But, no, it takes years to be able to say, ‘That phrase is fresh, that was a lovely image about sheets on the bed like snow-covered mountains, it was just lovely.’ It is hard to get people to pay attention to that skill.”

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Thought people might enjoy that. I sure did.

Why Creatives Shouldn’t Get Married To An Idea. (As explained in an original one-act play.)

Oh, metaphors, I love you so much.

“3 A.M. CALL TO THE PLUMBER.”

(Curtain rises)

WE OPEN ON A CLOCK ON THE WALL. IT’S 3 IN THE MORNING. WE PULL BACK TO REVEAL SLEEPY PLUMBER ENTERING A BATHROOM AS THE CLIENT HOLDS OPEN THE DOOR.

CLIENT: It’s in here. The sink is just totally clogged.

PLUMBER: No problem. Sounds like a hairball. It’s almost always the U-trap.

CLIENT: I’m pretty sure it’s a problem with the toilet.

PLUMBER: I thought you said the sink is clogged.

CLIENT: Oh yes, that is the problem. But I think you reeealllly oughta work on the toilet.

PLUMBER: ______

CLIENT: See, most of the guys in the office say the same thing. The toilet.

PLUMBER: Ummmmmm, okay. But …. okay…. but in order for me to work on the toilet, I’mmmmm… gonna have to go in through the sink’s U-trap.

CLIENT: Ooookay, you’re the “expert.” But I’m pretty sure the hairball is in the toilet and that’s  the problem with the sink.

THE PLUMBER GOES UNDER THE SINK, UNDOES THE U-TRAP AND COMES OUT HOLDING A BIG UGLY HAIRBALL.

PLUMBER: Heeeeere’s your problem. Like I said, it was a hair…

CLIENT: Fine, whatever, now if you will please put that hairball back in the U-trap and check the toilet like I asked.

PLUMBER PUTS HAIRBALL BACK INTO SINK, THEN DECONSRUCTS THE TOILET, WHERE IT’S CLEAR THAT THE TOILET IS IN PERFECT WORKING ORDER.

PLUMBER: Well, it’s like I said. Listen, it’s a little late, and so if you want that hairball out, I can do it now or just leave.

CLIENT: I hate it when you plumbers act like you know alllllll about plumbing.

PLUMBER: Sir, I’m sorry but… I’ve been doing this stuff for goin’ on 25 years and I’m tellin’ ya, it’s a hairball in the U-trap.

CLIENT: Fine. …. Fine…. Just get it out.

PLUMBER GOES BACK UNDER, UNSCREWS U-TRAP, BRINGS OUT THE SAME BIG UGLY HAIRBALL.

PLUMBER: See? This is your hairball. From the U-trap.

CLIENT: (Appraising the hairball, looking at it from 3 different views) Good effort….but that just isn’t quite the hairball I was looking for. I was seeing something more in a spherical shape or more like a capsule shape, you know, sort of like a big pill.

PLUMBER LEAVES

CLIENT: Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE your hairball, it’s a great start. But if you could just show me three other hairballs, I’m pretty sure I’ll know it when I see it.

PLUMBER DRIVES AWAY

CLIENT: (Calling out the front door to the departing plumber) And did your hairball have to have a wedding ring all tangled up in the middle? I mean, what’s that about? Is your hairball married?  Wait’ll Mrs. Hairball hears about this!

Shooting one idea through the lens of another.

(A small excerpt from the new fourth edition of Hey Whipple, Squeeze This.)

In a screenwriting book I read years ago I stumbled on this basic Hollywood trick that seems to apply to what we do here in advertising. To create a story, the author said, “Create one world and then look at it through the eyes of another.”

Long before the term was popular, this author was talking about mash-ups. For instance, isn’t Bladerunner basically an old-fashioned gumshoe detective story seen from the future?  More recently we’ve had Cowboys and Aliens. I don’t mean to go all-sci-fi-geek on you, so how about Brokeback Mountain … which one could argue is sort of a Cowboys and Gay Guys. One world, seen through the eyes of another.

My point is this: thinking in terms of mash-ups may be a good mental exercise to add to your regular creative process; a doorknob you’ll want to rattle as you search up and down the hallways of your brain for ideas.

One of my very favorite mash-ups was a piece used to create talk for Mingle2, a dating site. It was called Zombie Harmony, a dating site for the undead. It’s worth a visit.

For an Aussie beer named Tooheys, they mixed the worlds of money and beer. In this world, doing a favor like helping a buddy move was worth a bottle of Tooheys, while helping him move in with your ex-girlfriend would cost him a case.

Another way to start the mash-up engine is with a meme. Take a popular cultural image or saying and shoot it through the world of your client’s brand. Kit-Kat candy bars started a nationwide buzz by taking the whole silly Shroud-of-Turin, Jesus-on-toast thing and mixing it with the world of candy. (Figure 6.4) Voila, you have Jesus on a Kit-Kat, a “story” that was planted in Facebook and eventually picked up by the news media (on what I can only hope was a very slow news day).

FIG 6.4 JESUS ON A KIT KAT BAR

Memes are in great supply on YouTube, as are mash-ups. With a few edits, The Shining + comedy became a trailer for a happy family movie. You can also mash up media. Foursquare is Google Maps + social. And Google Maps + Twitter = Twittervision, a site displaying the location of tweets and tweeters in real time.  And TiVO + lots of marijuana = the Domino’s/TiVO ordering service that lets furniture vegetables order pizza without having to stop watching The Princess Bride for the 800th time.

How I Learned Not To Suck. (As Much.)

My first "ad." (I know, I knnnow.)

(I just “liked” my own essay to see what would happen. What happened was my name ends up in the list of likers. Made me feel creepy. Please forgive, won’t you?)

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A friend of mine is writing a book about advertising and he asked me to contribute some thoughts about my earliest experience with the craft, in particular any memories about my “first time,” my first successes (or failures).

As many of you know, I am a huge fan of Ray Bradbury. I think he’s one of the best writers in captivity. In a biography about the man, Mr. Bradbury  remembered the time he first realized he’d written a good short story (The Lake).  Of that 1944 story he wrote: “When I finished [writing it], I was crying. I knew at long last, after ten years of trying, I had written something good.”

I think as we grow up as artists and creative people, our reach exceeds our grasp for years and years. We grow up being able to see so much more than we can do. We love the creativity we see in the art we love, but it takes years for us to learn a craft well enough to finally make something as good as the things we’ve been admiring.

So it was with me.

When I first got into the business, my mentors were the Original Minneapolis Duo, Ron Anderson and Tom McElligott. For the first few weeks after they hired me, Ron and Tom put me in a room with their collection of One Show award annuals. They called these books the “graduate school of advertising” and told me to sit down and read them all.

I was such an ad geek that I did more than read them. I Xeroxed every single page of every annual and then cut them all into individual pieces, all the ads, and then assembled all the world’s best auto ads in one book, all the best tourism ads in another book, creating a shelf-full of 3-ring binders of the world’s best ads broken into categories. Then, whenever I got a job order, whether it was for a restaurant or a brand of liquor, I’d go back to those books and re-read everything in that particular category all over again.

I would give the same advice to students today.

Learning the language of persuasion, of excellent copywriting, it isn’t a whole lot different than learning French. It’s about immersion. I immersed myself in the craft and you should too. Eventually all that smart starts to rub off on you.

So I started by copying. I didn’t copy concepts of course, but I did my best to copy the rhythms of, say, Neil Drossman’s brainy headlines or Ed McCabe’s smart-ass writing style. After awhile (in my case it took about 3 years) your own style begins to emerge.  You don’t decide what your style is, you discover it. Style is hard-wired into your brain and it’s a matter of discovering what your style is and then sharpening it, exploring its dimensions.

I’d like to say that once I studied all these masters, my own style quickly emerged and I was brill from then on.

Oh, but becoming good at anything is rarely a graceful process. In those first  years, I created some truly horrible things. I’ve already written about my first ad in my book Hey Whipple, Squeeze This: A Guide to Creating Great Advertising, and if I may, I’ll pull this short quotation:

As hard as I studied those awards annuals, most of the work I did early on wasn’t very good. In fact, it stunk. If the truth be known, those early ads of mine were so bad I have to reach for my volume of Edgar Allan Poe to describe them with any accuracy:  “. . . a nearly liquid mass of loathsome, detestable putridity.”

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s my very first ad. Just look at it (for as long as you’re able): a dull little idea that doesn’t so much revolve around an overused play on the word interest, as it limps.

Rumor has it they’re still using this ad at poison control centers to induce vomiting. (“Come on now, Jimmy. We know you ate all of your sister’s antidepressant pills and that’s why you have to look at Luke’s bank ad.”)

As I said, it ain’t pretty and it ain’t graceful. I sucked for quite a while and this in spite of having some of the best teachers in the world.

Hall of Famer Tom McElligott once looked at a radio script I presented him, handed it back to me shaking his head and said, “This is a real mess.” It was a mess. Oh, it probably had some shred of concept to it but it was undisciplined, not single-minded, it sprawled, it had useless little asides I thought were so clever, and on top of all that, it had the most junior of mistakes — it didn’t time out to a sixty.

I had another excellent teacher, copywriter Dick Thomas. I remember bringing Mr. Thomas another over-long radio spot. He could tell at a glance it was too long and said, “Here, let me just trim it a bit.” That’s when he fed my script into an oscillating fan he had running on his desk. “There,” he said, handing back my shredded, truncated script. “Rewrite it to that length.”

May I take a moment here to humbly thank all those brilliant teachers I had early in my career.

And now, in parting, I’ll summarize: Study the masters. Immerse yourself in their work over and over again until you have it memorized. Surround yourself with people who are better than you are. Don’t waste time defending your early efforts. Just shut up and listen to your teachers. Stay humble. Stay hungry.

Sooner or later you’ll produce something that looks like the work you’ve been studying and admiring. Like Ray Bradbury, one day you’ll lean back and realize, wow, all that work, it’s starting to pay off.

In Praise of the Humble Print Ad.

That teeny caption upper left says: "Reading analysis and eye-tracking data courtesy of Interaction Labratory..."

This is the cover of the new book from London’s D&AD, The Copy Book. I am crazy proud to be one of the featured writers. That said, I would  have trouble looking anyone in the eyes and claiming my work should be featured in this book, and not that of my friend Greg Hahn’s. Or Jim Riswold’s. Or Ari Merkin’s.

(But screw ‘em. Isn’t it great?? Yesssss….)

Ahem … sorry about that … uncalled for. Unprofessional, is what that was. Let’s start again, shall we?

D&AD’s fantastic new book is out now, in a second and updated edition. The layout of new edition is better than the first with many of the featured ads appearing as full spreads, as they originally appeared in the magazines. And alongside the work, the advice of 48 different writers on the craft of copywriting.

At the risk of a wagging finger from its publisher Taschen, I’ll end today by excerpting my short offering in the volume, an essay titled “In Praise of the Humble Print Ad.”

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In Praise of the Humble Print Ad.

It is no longer as fashionable as it once was to be able to write a great print ad.  A print ad simply isn’t as cool as it once was.

A print ad is not interactive and it doesn’t link to other print ads. To create a print ad, you don’t have to go to LA or to Hyper Island. It usually ends its short life under a puppy and print ads are almost never featured on YouTube. Yet in its bare two dimensions the humble print ad contains all the challenges of the entire creative process.

In fact, when I am looking for talent to hire, I find the most telling pieces in their portfolios are the print ads.

There’s nowhere to hide in a print ad. The idea is right there on the surface or it isn’t. There’s no music to tell me how to feel, no loading bar to tell me the clever bit is about to happen.

You are reading a book that is still devoted (I presume) to print ads. If this edition is anything like the last, it is fairly bursting with good advice from great writers on their creative process. So I’ll limit my remarks today to just this: If you are a student or just starting out in this business, I encourage you to learn (before you learn anything else) how to write a great print ad.

It is the molecular building block of the advertising universe.