Advertising Thanksgiving

Now don’t be misled by the title. This post isn’t going to wax poetic about television commercials advertising Butterball Turkeys or Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce.

No, I just want to take up a little digital real estate (is that an oxymoron?) to say thanks to Advertising for the opportunity it has given me to earn a pretty fair living, work with a lot of great people and have more fun coming up with ideas than I ever could have imagined. Along the way I’ve logged lots of frequent flier miles, worked late into the night countless times, and sold my share of campaigns with smoke and mirrors. No, I’m not going to name names here. It’s Thanksgiving, remember.

My work has sold everything from supermarkets to Chevrolets (before the bailout). Light bulbs to surgical blades. Spaghetti sauce to ice cream. Casinos to bottled water. And while every client relationship has its ups and downs, I’m thankful for them all. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them, although sometimes I’m not quite sure exactly where that is.

But I digress…

I’m also thankful for the opportunity given to me by Kean University as an adjunct professor on the Robert Busch School of Design. It’s a great honor and challenge to share my knowledge and expertise with the next generation of young creative thinkers. And to see so many of my former students become successful art directors and copywriters is personally rewarding, to say the least. One of my students, who shall remain nameless, once called me “the Simon Cowell of Professors.” I think she meant that as a compliment.

But I digress… again.

Like any business, our “industry of ideas” has certainly changed since I created my first advert back in those dark days of the last century when typesetters roamed the land. But, the technology revolution of the last decade and the communications opportunities that have resulted offer more ways for us to be creative than ever before.

I’m REALLY thankful for that.

I guess there’s not much else to say but “Can you pass the sweet potatoes, please?”

Thinking outside the box that isn’t there.

I recently was discussing a creative project with someone who remarked to me that they had a hard time “Thinking outside the box.”

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh, that old cliche. The one that describes the land beyond those four little cardboard walls. The place where incredible, unforgettable ideas float gently across our minds like so many puffy clouds on a sunny spring day.

Which brings me to the point f this post.

Who came up with this box? What’s in the box? What’s outside the box? And, what makes the inside of the box such a bad place for ideas, and outside the box such a great place?

Frankly, I don’t believe there’s a box. Or a tooth fairy. Or a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Or……

You fill in the next one.

I’ve seen “outside the box” thinking that couldn’t sell ski gloves in Alaska in January. Great idea? Sure. Make me want to buy the product. No way.

And, I’ve seen a supposed “inside the box” idea drives sales off the charts. No Gold Lion Winner to be sure. But a solid, creative concept that made me want the product, get up off the couch, and part with some hard earned money. Mission accomplished.

The point is, that whatever the idea, it had better connect with the viewer and drive home some positive, motivating thought. Great ideas that are funny, entertaining and well executed but fail to deliver a relevant differentiating brand message are just that. These messages still have to solve a problem in some way. And, the problem doesn’t have to be a big one. Often the small conquest of a problem can have the most impact… if the idea that solves it is a big one.

Porsche makes some of the most wicked fast sports cars in the world. They built their brand on speed and the adrenaline rush that results. Find a curve in the road, drive fast. Find a straight stretch of road, drive wicked fast. Then, they build the Cayenne. An SUV. With all the Explorers and Grand Cherokees already out there on the road, and selling for a LOT less money, what problem were they hoping to solve?

Remember, there’s no box. Really. There’s just ideas. Big ones and little ones. Smart one and dumb ones. Ones that entertain and ones that really sell. Ones that make people like a brand and ones that make people buy.

There’s just a place in our minds where ideas come from that we have to discover. Over and over and over and over and…

Let’s all go there.

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?

Ideas need a bit of attitude but just how much ego?

I just finished reading a posting by Eric Karjaluoto of smashLAB in Vancouver. I found it interesting because of his single idea hypothesis to problem-solving design for his clients. While I applaud his methodical and logical process, and involvement of the client in the project development I have to question the wisdom of the all-or-nothing solution approach. According to Eric they do the same amount of creative development work prior to the presentation of the final idea. They just don’t show the creative options.

It’s been my experience over a long period of time and for a wide number of clients that they, increasingly, want to be part of the final decision. After all, we know what we do better than they do. And conversely, they know their business in greater depth than we do. So, it’s a collaborative process where mutual trust and respect are the foundation of a successful relationship.The ultimate satisfaction of our clients rests on the nurturing of that relationship. It needs to weather the good times and the bad. We have to accept criticism with the same grace with which we accept praise. We need to hear their likes and dislikes. We need to understand and empathize with their world. Like any good relationship, it’s not all about us.

Let’s make sure we give our clients choices and that all those choices are great.

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