Friday, May 30, 2008

a poem

I am a ghost. I am a shadow. I am a whisper in a crowded conference room.

I am spoken of often. But spoken with rarely.

I have an age and a gender. But I have no name.

Who am I?

I am the target.

I am a successful businesswoman who is spoken to like a 50’s housewife.

I am a sensitive man who is expected to act like a perverted alcoholic.

I was born in 1987, and yet I am supposed to understand references to 70’s sitcoms.

I have never used a computer, but I am supposed to know what rotflol means.

I am a 13 year-old girl who loves the Rolling Stones.

I am a middle-aged mom who can recognize Usher and Ryan Sheckler.

I am a teenager who shuns iPods and satellite radio and instead reaches for FM.

I am a wealthy businessman who gets excited about saving a dollar fifty.

I am a grandfather who is treated like a small child.

I’m an 8 year-old girl who is told I must worry about how hot I look.

I never leave the city, but apparently I’m into camping, hiking and mountain biking.

I am a beautiful, intelligent woman who is either too fat or too thin.

I am a unique individual who is told to join the crowd.

I am a conformist who is told I must be different.

I am screamed at from every medium, in every country on Earth.

I am the reason all advertising exists.

Everybody talks to me.

But no one listens.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Take a Break

I was all set to write an amazing essay for today’s post. It was going to be a great piece that explored the reality of being a creative member of the modern advertising community. It would have been filled with my usual humor and sarcasm, but it would have also been a thoughtful examination of how creative individuals struggle to combine art and business into the thing we call advertising.

But then I saw this headline on dig:
Monkeys Can Control Robot Arms Using Only Their Thoughts.

Let me repeat:

So if you’re looking for a break from the routine of agency life, just click here. Or here. Or here. And you will see video of a monkey controlling a robot arm with his thoughts.

Life is good.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

They say it's your birthday

It seemed like there were a disproportionate number of birthdays at the agency last month. And with birthdays, come birthday cards.

For those of you who don’t live in an office, this is how it works. Someone will inform you that there is a card at Ted’s desk that you need to sign. So you stroll over to Ted’s desk, and he hands you a card and a pen. Then the trouble begins. As a copywriter, everyone expects you to come up with some incredibly clever message.

There are three problems with this. First, you probably don’t know the birthday person very well. Two, this card is for public consumption, so no penis jokes. And three, high up on the list of things copywriters hate is coming up with clever ideas on the spot.

Usually I will just jot down some generic message, And Ted will give me a look that says, “Wow, you’d think a professional writer could come up with something better than, ‘Have a great day!’”

So to make birthdays easier for all of us, I am making up some new rules about cards.

1) Copywriters get at least a day to come up with their greeting.
2) Copywriters will receive a brief bio of the birthday person, so that we can construct a personalized message.
3) Art directors have to design their own cards. (If we have to write, they have to design.)
4) On my birthday, skip the card.

Extra Credit: Fill up the comments section with witty things to write in a birthday card. Then when one of us needs to sign a card, we can refer to this post.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Your Client's Ad Dollars at Work

Hey Tom, I think there's a typo in the legal.

Friday, May 23, 2008

5 things I won't think about for 3 days

1) Clients

2) Status meetings (except for the donuts)

3) Rush hour traffic and the guy in front of me who doesn't move forward when he can, because he's too busy talking on his cell phone. So I just sit there starring at his stupid "My child is a total dork" bumper sticker and thinking up excuses about why I'm late again.

4) The guy in the next cube who never takes a sick day and enjoys projectile sneezing.

5) My blog

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Parenthetical Fun

Business sayings (translated for advertising)

1. It’s not what you do, but who you know. (Actually it’s who your father knows)

2. Clothes make the man. (Unless you’re a creative genius. Then ratty t-shirts and old flip-flops will do.)

3. There’s no substitute for experience. (See number 1)

4. You have to spend money to make money. (Just make sure it’s other people’s money.)

5. The customer is always right. (The client is always right. The customer is usually forgotten)

6. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. (If it ain’t broke, refresh it!)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Time off for bad behavior

How are you going to spend your 3-day weekend? Trip to the islands? Cruise to Mexico? DIZ-NEY?

Or are you going to be like me and spend your long weekend at home? I’ve taken more couch vacations than I care to remember. Long days spent watching TV, playing video games and re-reading old magazines.

I think I envy the art directors here. Three days off means three days to work on your system. Maybe you’ll even make a trip to the Apple Store and pick up a new Mac or some software (probably a new Mac).

You guys have it so lucky. Building the perfect Mac is a ton of work. So you have to finish this “huge project” before you can even begin your “get the hell out of advertising” project. And the best part is, just when you’re about to complete the ultimate Mac system, it’s time to start all over again with a new machine.

Copywriter can’t do this. I mean, what are we going to do? Buy a new pencil? Upgrade to Word 2007? Learn French? The only way we can delay our PROJECT is with family obligations or heavy drinking.

So I hope you art directors enjoy your Memorial Day Weekend. And remember, if I run into you at the Genius Bar, I’m buying.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Monday Beef

You can smell it in the air. The economy is in a recession (or as the politicians say, a temporary growth reduction) and one by one, clients are dumping their brand advertising and going for the great big Price Point. Yep, it’s time for 10% Off, Zero Down, EZ Financing and BOGOF. If the economy continues to tank, even luxury items will head down the retail path.

As short-term solution, it’s probably a good idea. No one would argue that reducing the price on high-quality goods will move some units.

The problem is, branding doesn’t stop just because you switch your style of advertising. Endless sales events, discounts and deals days send out the message that your product is CHEAP.

Keep that “temporary solution” going on long enough, and one day you’ll be staring at a big fat focus-group report that says the pubic lists your product just below the 99 Cent Store Brand.

So what’s the lesson here? First off, all advertising is brand advertising, regardless of your intentions. And second, short-term solutions should remain SHORT-TERM. Coupons are great every now and then, but don’t turn your brand into crap just for a few quarters of increased sales.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Friday Fun

“Good morning and welcome to your new job at the Cosmodemonic Advertising Agency. This is your cubicle and here is a hand-me-down laptop from an Assistant AE. For the next year (or 2 or 20!) this will be your home away from home. Now before you get started, here are few things to remember about the advertising business. I’ll see you after lunch.”

1) An ad agency is like a collection of small hostile tribes that are constantly battling each other for resources, power, etc. To succeed you must prove your loyalty to all of them.

2) Unless you are the star Creative Director, keep your brilliant ideas to yourself. New ideas are dangerous and indentify you as a trouble-maker.

3) All deadlines are lies.

4) Most of the changes that come from the client don’t really come from the client. Learn to identify your coworkers’ handwriting.

5) The harder you work, the harder they’ll make you work.

6) Strategy, branding and target demographics only matter to clients with huge budgets.

7) The squeaky wheel doesn’t get invited to any meetings.

8) Trying to figure out how the client reached their position of authority is a dangerous thought exercise. It can lead to depression and make you doubt the existence of logic, justice and reality.

9) You are not the first person to come up with the line, “Look what we have in store for you.”

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Can You Hear Us Now?

Sometimes the stories just write themselves.

On Monday, the Ottawa Citizen reported about a new advertising technology called Hypersonic Sound. This system transmits sound waves directly to your eardrum. The result is voices that sound as if they were coming from inside your head.

Last December in New York, A&E used this technology to beam messages like “Who’s there?” and “What’s that?” to promote their new show, Paranormal State. Apparently the system was a big hit with New Yorkers. People actually visited the site to experience the technology for themselves.

Now I was all ready to go off on how this technology could be abused. How putting voices into peoples head is a terrible, terrible thing.

But before I could get started, I noticed another headline on my handy Reddit list. Just two lines down from the Ottawa link was a story from Let me quote:

“A recently unclassified report from the Pentagon from 1998 has revealed an investigation into using laser beams for a few intriguing potential methods of non-lethal torture. Some of the applications the report investigated include putting voices in people's heads,”

There you have it. To advertisers it’s a cool new way to reach customers. To the military it’s a new form of torture.

My work is done.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Big Brother is Talking to You

Just last week I was complaining about people putting ads on our cell phones, and now in Australia they’re doing it.

To promote the reality show Big Brother, Perth agency Marketforce has set up Bluetooth transmitters in 20 bus shelters. Messages are transmitted to the cell phones of people nearby. The first message says you’re being watched. The second message is reminder to tune into Big Brother.

Now if you’re thinking, “Wow, how clever,” then you haven’t been in the business long enough. Sure it’s clever. But that just means that a bunch of clients are going to demand that their agencies come up with something just as clever. In other words, do exactly the same thing.

Remember the birth of viral advertising? Burger King put a guy in a chicken suit on the web, and suddenly every client was screaming for a viral ad just like it. The thing they never realize is that new and original ideas work because they are NEW AND ORIGINAL. When you copy them they become dumb and annoying. Do it enough, and it’s borderline terrorism.

I suspect that soon Australia will be crawling with public spaces sending out messages to commuters. Toilets will talk about toilet paper. Fire hydrants will advertise cigarettes. And pay phones will suddenly become a lot more popular.

Details at

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Why they hate us

Creative 1: We could make the bat symbol appear right in the middle of the page.

Creative 2: But wouldn’t that make it hard to read the content?

Creative 1: Nobody reads websites. Besides, it’s BATMAN!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Coming Attractions

I went to see IRON MAN this weekend. I thought it was pretty good. (I just wish they had used the Sabbath song more. I’m thinking it should have been in every scene. Even when the characters were having quiet discussions, I would have had it playing quietly in the background. And Ozzie should have done a cameo as the President!)

But this is an ad blog, so I guess I’ll have to complain about the pre-movie commercials. First up was your typical “Hey kids, join the military. It’s all about uniforms and teamwork! That stuff you see on the news about casualties is just a bunch of media lies!” spot. This one featured a line of marines stretching from sea to shining sea. All I could think of was that the second they finished filming the spot they sent all those marines to Iraq or Afghanistan. Unless, of course, they were digital clones. In which case, they shipped off the one marine they used as a model.

There was also an Acura spot that featured a cast of good-looking yet vaguely unhappy people roaming around a city at night. The music said they were “cool”, but I’m not buying it. They ended up at some underground club where good-looking woman rocks out by barely nodding her head.

That’s about it, unless you count the LA Times ad. Which I don’t.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Happy Mother's Day

Since Mother’s Day is this weekend, I thought I might comment on the gift suggestions from last Sunday’s Best Buy Pullout. According to the BB marketing staff, when it comes to technology, what moms really want are red phones, pink ipods, and leopard skin cell phone cases. Come on Best Buy, it’s 2008. Today there are moms who are gamers, coders and web designers. They don’t want a cutesy pink laptop. If you want to give the mothers of America a gift, offer them GTA4 for $19.99.

They also want to you to give the woman who gave you birth a 12-bottle wine cellar. That will come in handy if she needs to blot out the memory of you as a teenager.

Love American Style

I know that I'm loved. How do I know? Because ever since my first days in advertising, I’ve been told that the client loves me.

Every time I notice that the creative work is becoming crappy, I like to point out that Bad Advertising=Bad Sales=Client Review. But before I can take my argument any further, some AE will always pipe up with the classic, “Oh that will never happen. We do whatever the client says. They love us.”

But do they really? Does love mean abuse? Does it mean begging for forgiveness for something you didn’t do? Rushing to take the blame for someone else’s mistakes? Does it mean doing things you know are wrong just so you might keep the relationship going one day more? That doesn’t sound like love to me. It sounds more like some abusive 1950’s marriage. And we are Stella.

And what if our beloved should leave? What if the head of marketing is replaced? Or quits? Or goes into rehab? Or gets hit by THE BUS?

Our optimistic AE has an answer for that one too. “That will never happen.”

AE’s seem strangely obsessed with the concept of “never.” “It will never happen.” “They will never go for it.” “They will never change their minds.” “They’ll never pay that much.” “Sales will never go up.” “Sales will never go down.”

It’s as if they walk through life believing that the business world is an unchangeable book which we may read, but upon whose pages we can never write.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

It can be done

I’m not sure how I feel about this commercial. On the one hand, it’s taking a classic rock song and filling it with Go Phone copy points. But on the other hand, the spot totally works. It has two things going for it:

1)The Song. There’s a reason Paradise by The Dashboard Light is a classic. It’s a great song AND incredibly catchy.

2)Meat Loaf. Seriously, does this guy ever phone it in? He’s doing a Go Phone commercial for god’s sake. And he’s belting it out like he’s on stage in ’77.

I’m the end, I guess I really like this commercial. I don’t really want to see all of my favorite songs turned into commercials. But hey, if you’re going to do it, do it right.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Lesson for Jr. Art Directors

Nothing says totally original advertising like a background from iStockphoto.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

When did the advertising world get so shiny? Every magazine has at leas one ad showing a product sitting on an unbelievably reflective surface. (Car people, I’m looking at you.)

I have to blame the art directors for this one. Some unnamed AD had to go and show his client how easy it is to create a reflection in Photoshop. NEW LAYER-FLIP VERTICAL-REDUCE OPACITY-DRINKS!

You can understand why the clients would love this one. Instead of a real reflection that might include unattractive elements like the undercarriage of a car, shopped reflections show all that beautiful features (like the hood and the interior and the roof).

Oh sure, it’s physically impossible. But when has that ever stopped a client. Impossible is their business. Try telling a client that you can’t possibly meet a deadline. They’ll stare at you with an expression on their face that tells you they’re thinking. (What about? Beats the hell out of me. Probably trying to decide which color interior they should get on their spare Jag.) Then they’ll pipe up with a “We’ll get back to you.” A couple of days later your friendly neighborhood AE will tell you that the client understands your problems but you’re gonna have to meet the deadline somehow. Oh, and the client is not available to answer questions because they’re spending the week driving their tan Jaguar to Aspen.

For good (bad) examples of shopped reflections go to here.

Friday, May 2, 2008

In Los Angeles, they have a program designed to get motorists to pay more attention when they drive. It’s called Watch the Road and you can learn all about them here.

I support their cause, but why would they put their message on a bumper sticker? If I’m reading your “Watch the Road” message on the bumper of an Escalade, I’m not really watching the road, am I?

What’s next? Buy a pack of cigarettes and get a health warning? Oh, wait.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Leave my phone alone

Mobile advertising has got to be the dumbest idea our industry has ever come up with. Don’t they realize how annoying it would be to have ads pumped into our phones on a daily basis? Do they really think that texting us a coupon for 35¢ off a large Coke is going to make us forget that we had to pay for that ad? The day some company begins large-scale mobile advertising is the day people start clamoring for a Federal Do Not Text List.

Why does the advertising industry do this? It takes them forever to notice a new technology, and then they swoop in like a flock of loud, annoying birds. They ruined MySpace, they’re ruining Face Book, and look at what they did to Second Life. Remember Second Life? It was a strange little world where people could gamble and have weird text-sex with furries and goths. Then the adverstisers labeled it the “hot new thing,” and turned it into a mall. A bad mall.

Don’t they realize that wherever we go, we are uninvited guests? We are not entertainment. We are obstacles to the entertainment.

Fun Extra Credit Project: Convince your client that in order to reach the youth demo and increase their brand’s coolness factor they need to purchase a $125,000 island in Second Life.