Friday, February 29, 2008

Wolfgang vs. Ludwig

Are you a Mozart or a Beethoven? Both were great. Both were dedicated to their work. And both became immortal. But they were gifted in very different ways.


Mozart wrote his music as if it were dictated to him by God. If you look at his sheet music (or just rent the movie Amadeus), you'll see that he never made any changes. Everything was exactly the way it was supposed to be the first time around. Mozart's genius was his incomparable talent.

Beethoven, on the other hand, would write a few notes. Look at them. Scratch a few of them out. Write a few more. Think about them. Change them. And change them again. If you look at his sheet music, you'll see a mess of scribbles, revisions, and second thoughts. Beethoven's genius was his indefatigable hard work.

I don't know about you, but I'm a Beethoven. I wholly subscribe to the adage "Hard work will be talent. Especially when talent doesn't work hard."

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Triple Threat

Yes, you're all too busy putting your books together to indulge in "reading." Certainly, not when the book is 500 - 700 pages long. But in the off chance you're looking to squeeze in a chapter or two between Starbucks runs and wearing down your Sharpies on your comps, let me introduce you to three books worth reading:

If you're lucky enough to be hired at Ricther7, these are three books the agency's president, Dave Newbold, will suggest you read. Not because they're advertising books (okay, "Whipple" is), but because they're about creativity, and what it means to create.

The Agony and the Ecstasy is Irving Stone's novelized biography of Michaelangelo, which he's cobbled together from the Master's actual correspondence. Here's a guy who not only sculpts, paints and writes, he becomes legendary in each arena. Why? Because he's creatively driven. The movie with Charleston Heston is pretty good. The novel is fantastic. If you don't have time to read it now, be sure to before your next visit to Florence.

The Fountainhead is Ayn Rand's epic story of Howard Roark, an architect who will not cave in to convention. While everyone around him is insisting the best work has already been accomplished (Renaissance, Gothic, Roman, or whatever they happen to consider "the best"), Roark follows his own creative vision. It's loosely based on and inspired by the life of Frank Lloyd Wright. If an early attempt at Atlas Shrugged turned you off to Rand's philosophy, give The Fountainhead a try. If you are a creative person, I can almost guarantee this book will speak to you.

Do we really need to talk about why Hey, Whipple is included? No. If you haven't read it by now, dear student, shame on you.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Tiring Experiences = The Best Thing

"Sometimes you hit it right away, sometimes you have to do eight different things, sometimes the publisher or the author or the agent will wear you down to the point where you want it to be over with, and what you end up with is kind of a mess. You just accept it and move on.

"The most tiring - and yet the most rewarding - experiences are when you have to keep redoing it again and again, but what you end up with is actually the best thing."

-Chip Kidd


(Though set in the 1950's, the first half of his book The Cheese Monkeys is about as accurate description of portfolio school I've ever read - especially if you knew Jerry Torchia.)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

How Good Is Your Story?

This is not a political post. It is not an endorsement, or a condemnation. It's simply an observation that applies to each of us.


I was watching Hillary Clinton's speech last night after she lost Wisconsin. This being Obama's ninth straight win over her, it's fair to say she's really on the ropes. Her political advisers must be acutely aware of this, because she's starting to attack Obama's strength. Over and over again, she pronounced "We need solutions, not speeches!" This weekend on Face the Nation, I heard Clinton's campaign manager accusing Obama of being all fluff and no substance. They're trying to take Obama's public speaking strength and turn it into his Achilles' heel.

But here's the thing: After Hillary's speech - which was punctuated by pattered applause - Obama takes to the podium to address his supporters in Texas.

And the place is going absolutely nuts.

Sure, they were celebrating his Wisconsin win. But it's more than that. When Barack Obama speaks, people behave the way our parents did when the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan show. Whether he's fluff or substance isn't something people debate when he's speaking. Because when he speaks he excites people. He makes them feel great. He stirs their emotions. Hillary can talk all she wants about solutions vs. speeches, but if she doesn't start to elicit responses the way Obama does, she'd better get comfy in her Senate chair.

What does this have to do with advertising? It's all storytelling.

Say I have two ads for two different pairs of jeans. One ad gives me the straight facts. It tells me in simple terms that these jeans are made of the most durable material, that they will not fade, and they will be comfortable. The other ad simply makes me feel "I have got to get those jeans!" Which ad is more persuasive?

I don't pretend to know which candidate's going to be the best for our country. But most people vote the same way the buy: heart first, and maybe the head can tag along. People want a candidate/brand/product/service that makes them feel good. Don't confuse this with lying or covering up the truth (that's just a false feeling waiting for backlash to happen). It's about emotion.

When you're doing your ads, you need to use emotion. Facts are good. Facts can even help. But emotion is what is going to convince, persuade, and even rally.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Ira's American Life

"I wish someone had told me that if you want to do creative work, it is going to be bad for a long, long time. For a long, long time before it's going to be good. You should come to peace with that. When I speak to student groups, I'll replay stories that I did when I was 25, 26 years old. It's so bad, you can't even tell what I'm trying to say."

-Ira Glass

(True or false?)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

When Headlines by Committee Works

Awhile back, Greg posted an article by Sally Hogshead with the simple statistical reality that you have to write about 100 headlines to get a good one. And while creativity by committee can be a frustrating and deadly process, if you have a concept, it sometimes helps to have several writers plugging away at headlines, just to generate the volume.

Here's an example I found entertaining and relevant to what we do. It's a story from This American Life about the process they go through at The Onion to create their fantastic headlines.


Friday, February 15, 2008

Do Art Directors Need to Know How to Draw?

In an earlier post, I raised the question “Does an art director need to know how to draw?” I’ll give you my take, but first, a little background:

You future art directors are usually going to have to put pen to paper for one or two reasons:
  1. Rough comps for internal presentations
  2. Rough storyboards for internal presentations
Once your ideas are approved internally, in almost any pitch or big meeting, the agency is going to hire an illustrator to rework your original chicken scratchings. You could argue that illustrators are to art directors what proofreaders are to copywriters. So if you are lousy at shading, don’t worry. An illustrator can still put that chiaroscuro in your soap commercial.

Here’s a storyboard that was drawn by Corey Ciszek, an art director and creative director at Y&R Chicago:


Can Corey draw? I say yes. There’s quite a lot of detail in these pictures. Look at the pile of wood in the first frame. The guy with the goatee in the second. There’s even a little perspective and depth of field going on here. His characters look like Muppets, but there’s a lot that’s communicated in these four frames. It’s his visual short hand.

I knew a creative director who was incredulous at one of his art director’s inability to draw. And you know what? She couldn’t. Or at least didn’t try. She would have taken these four panels and made them wobbly stick figures on a 2-dimensional plane. No pertinent detail. Just stick figures that were placeholders for action.

So art directors don’t necessarily have to be able to draw. But an art director who can draw is going to have a much easier time communicating than one who can’t.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Interview with Mike Gorz

A brief interview with Mike Gorz, Director of Creative Services at Y&R Chicago.

GRC: What do you tell a student who wants to get a job?

MG: I’d tell them to be smart about it. And by smart, I mean they should send a link or a PDF of their work.

GRC: Not a minibook?

MG: Not a minibook. A minibook is going to get lost or misplaced. Or a creative that I leave it with will lose it or get a burrito smeared on it. It’s so much better and easier to share electronic work with people. And with more people at once. You get some quicker reads. And if they do get the call and they do get the interview, they can bring their book and give us a little deeper dive and really spend some time on each of the ads, and explain things. That’s the time to bring in a book.

GRC: Is it more effective to send a link [to the recruiter] or to an ECD or a creative?

MG: It’s probably advisable to send it to both. Send it to me as the director of creative services, and to maybe a creative.

GRC: And what happens if they send a link and they get radio silence? Should they take that as a rejection, or should they pursue it?

MG: No. A little bit of persistence is always good. It is a busy business, and we don’t always have time to answer every email and talk to every person who calls. But a little polite, efficient persistence is always appreciated. Don’t stalk me.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Salesgenie.com: Is any press really good press?

About a year and a half ago, my agency was approached by a company out of Omaha called Salesgenie to do Super Bowl spots. Apparently the CEO had picked us because he saw some of our work and liked it. Naturally, we were stoked. The whole creative department worked on the assignment, and we pitched several ideas to the CEO. He thanked us, said he liked the work, but his board wasn't convinced that the Super Bowl was a prudent use of their budget.

Apparently, they changed their mind, because they did run an ad on the Super Bowl last year. It was written by the CEO himself, and was voted the worst ad of the 56 Super Bowl ads by the USA Today poll. Here it is:



The commercial looks, feels, and has the production quality of a 1980s porno, but according to the CEO, the company made three times as much money from the ad as they spent on it. That was enough to encourage the CEO to write two ads for this year's game. Today, blogs and message boards are going bonky today calling them, particularly the second one, racist and offensive. Here they are:





Pretty bad. Offensive? Probably depends on who you ask. But they raise some interesting questions, I think:

1) What's their deal? Salesgenie's strategy is to intentionally do bad ads, as explained in this article. And if it makes the company a profit, that's good, right? Are brands crazy for trying to get people to like them when all they have to do is get people to talk about them?

2) Is there no difference between being famous and being notorious?

3) The CEO of Salesgenie is an Indian man. Does knowing that make the first one less offensive?

4) Where's the line between so bad it's good and just bad?

5) The Superbowl's audience is mostly American, and the country can hardly be held accountable for every ad our companies air, but I felt embarrassed and not proud at all for being in advertising, and even a little American when I saw these. Anyone else agree?

Super Tuesday and Animal Life

I still owe everyone a response on my last post. That's coming.

In the meantime, and in the spirit of Super Tuesday, check out the pro bono spots we created for the National Parks Conservation Association.

Best creative I've ever done? No. But they were fun to do on a shoestring budget. And they were for a very good cause. Hope you forward them to friends, or at least Digg them.