The Power of Advertising and The Advertising of Power

If you live somewhere in America where hotly contested elections are underway and watch any local local television stations, November 2nd can’t come soon enough. Why? Political advertising. And, it’s not the quantity of political advertising glutting the airwaves, although it’s become a tsunami. It’s the quality, stupid. (To paraphrase James Carville’s famous line.) And, due in no small part to the lack of restraint, guidelines and standards placed on their content, enabling political strategists to throw out these 30 second packages of swill and tripe.

Working in the Industry of Ideas since late last century I’ve created more than my share of television commercials… some very creative and entertaining, some not so much, for clients who have a very clear idea of what respect for rival brands meant.  They all had one thing in common… respect for the sensibilities of the viewer. Then there’s also something called broadcast standards.

In political advertising there appears to be none. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

The advertising industry gets enough heat about what we do without the help of ‘political advertising professionals’.

I’ll grant you that political advertising can often be creative, but I don’t mean that as a compliment.

And talk about trashing the competition! Better take back that overdue library book before you’re accused of “defrauding the government”!!! And that high school report on the McCarthy hearings!!!

Let’s, just for just a minute, apply the same (lack) of standards to a mainstream  American auto manufacturer’s advertising – here we go…

Fade up on an accident scene at a busy downtown intersection, ambulance lights brightly flash red, gold and blue in the background, the static sound of police radio messages cut in and out. In the foreground are two mangled hulks of automotive sheet metal. Cut to a series of tight shots of ambulances speeding down the road, twisted multi-car wrecks, hospital emergency rooms, rows of cemetery headstones.

The audio might sound something like this: “Toyota. They’ve played fast and loose with our safety. Ignoring the safety warnings. Lying to congress. Putting the American people in danger. Hundreds killed. Millions of cars recalled. When will it end? Protect the future of our children and the generations to come. Call Toyota. Tell them to stop selling dangerous cars and trucks… tell them the future of American families is at stake. I’m Henry Ford III and I approved this message because I want to make our roads a safe place again. And, oh yeah, for a limited time you can lease a for Ford Focus for only $198. a month. See your local Ford dealer for complete details.”

I wonder what Microsoft would have to say about Apple, Coke about Pepsi, Adidas about Nike, Bloomingdales about Nordstrom? And vice versa?

How would you apply political advertising standards to a television spot?

Homage to the PLUS sign

Two short lines. With perpendicular proclivities. Intersecting. Replete with possibilities.

Positive. Optimistic. Add-ictive.

It’s humble, yet unpredictable. Lacking pretension and calmly confident

It’s given us great inventions. Great food. Great art.

Yes, I love the plus sign. And the endless opportunities it affords the creative mind.

Consider the combinations it creates.

Peanut butter + jelly. Ham + eggs. Macaroni + cheese.

Abbott + Costello. Martin + Lewis. Oscar + Felix.

Captain + coke. Gin + tonic. Scotch + soda.

Lennon + McCartney. Plant + Page. Jagger + Richards.

To those of us who ask “What if?”and for the ones who channel Thomas Edison, the plus sign is empowering. Emancipating. It’s an enabler.

When do you + ? How do you + ? What do you + ? Why do you + ?

What’s your favorite combination? Your greatest combination?

Original Concepts and The Stock Execution.

I’ve seen the following unfortunate situation unfold countless times for nearly a decade in advertising courses I’ve taught : A student will come up with a highly engaging, on-strategy, traffic-stopping campaign idea for a creative assignment. Then, execute it with visual images that are as well matched and powerful as Lady Gaga singing opera.

Sure, a well composed photograph from one of the many stock photo websites looks great in a layout at first glance. But, upon closer examination of the ad and its concept, the image often does more to blunt the idea than amplify it.

Imagine if there were a website that offered stock concepts. Think ‘’ for instance. Type in  “Funny, toothpaste, whitening.” Hit search and bingo!!! A page full of creative ideas ready to go. Now imagine coming to class and seeing another student’s work with the same idea from the same site. Royalty-free concepts???

Now I’m not denigrating stock photography. The quality and selection of photography by way of a “click” has become quite impressive. And royalty-free stock has long since shrugged off the perception as generic and common. Full disclosure… many of the outstanding images we see in advertising, both online and off, use stock photography. And to great effect. As a result of today’s shrinking ad budgets, stock is often the only viable solution.

The point I’m making is this: a concept that’s highly original deserves nothing less than an image of the same quality. Your photograph may be original or taken from stock and Photoshopped until its origin is unrecognizable, but you should settle for nothing less than a final execution for a wicked concept that’s wicked as well.

Remember this… when you finally get that interview with the Creative Director of an agency you’d kill to work for, the last thing you want to hear during a review of your portfolio is “Is that picture from ThinkStock or Corbis?”

The Velveeta Effect

Do you like Velveeta? That bright orange semi-soft mass of psuedo-food.

I do. And I don’t.

OK I know that sounds like political speak but I’m 100% sincere about it. I like Velveeta when it comes out of the microwave and you dip your Dorito into it. And yeah it works great in a simple Mac & Cheese. That’s ’cause it’s not cheese. It’s processed cheese food. So it has it’s place, just not in the world of real cuisine.

Which brings me to the point of this week’s post.

Is your advert Velveeta? Was your idea real cheese? But, when you went to your computer and started “app-ing” your way to creative nirvana, did it turn into Velveeta? What got lost along the way? Very often that mistake lies in trying to be too clever. Too “advertise-y”. Not real. Not relevant. Lacking real ingredients that the viewer can taste and enjoy. Then come back for more. Again. And again. And…

Sure, sometimes Velveeta is the perfect food to serve. But, by halftime they’ll be looking for something with more substance.

Art Direction or Graphic Design. Who leads?

Who’s more needed, necessary and valuable in toady’s creative environment? The AD or the GD? In my opinion it’s neither. Or rather both. Versatility and broad creative-solving skills are the best way to stay relevant and valuable in the marketplace of ideas.

More and more online and offline media are becoming mashed up. More online media outlets are popping up everyday. Consumers shape-shift from social community to social community with increasing rapidity. All of this requires creative skills that can adapt ideas – big ideas – to whichever medium is called upon to create a connection to the consumer ad the communities they form.

Design and advertising have formed a creative alliance thanks to the Internet and social media.  Let’s call it designvertising.