Liveblogging Super Bowl XLIII

A little something put together by Graphicology. Might be interesting.

Strike that. If you check out the panelists, it will definitely be interesting.

How to Make Art

I've said this before, but I think it's one of the most instructive quotes I know:

Art is not about thinking something up. It's about putting something down.

I see creatives - students and professionals - all the time ask, "What if we did..." My answer is, "I don't know. Draw it up and we'll know." 

Write your headlines. Comp up your layouts. Doesn't have to be fancy. But your mind's eye is different than mine, and neither is as good as what's actually on the piece of paper.

"How to Write Great Radio" by Coldplay

Maybe you've seen the new Coldplay video directed by Dougal Wilson. If not, here it is:

Weird as it will sound, this is exactly what a great radio spot should be.

LAYER 1: This could have been video of Coldplay lip-synching on a soundstage. You've seen a million music videos like that. They're pretty boring. Unmemorable. And very self-indulgent of the group that's funding the project. Just like 90% of the radio advertising you hear.

LAYER 2: If the director had simply said, "Let's have the band be puppets!" that makes things a little more interesting. But just seeing puppets sing wouldn't have made it as memorable. In radio that's the equivalent of "Let's have this announcement be read in a silly voice or accent!" or "Let's have this be a conversation between two people!"

LAYER 3: There's a little more to this video than just "Coldplay as pupppets." It's recreating a concert. There's a jumbotron, pyrotechnics, crowd surfing. Things are starting to get a little more interesting. In a radio spot, you need to start pushing past the initial concept and consider what your idea really means.

LAYER 4: There is a lot of unexpected stuff in this video. And like a Cirque du Soleil show, every gag builds on and outdoes the last. First the stage expands. Then a catwalk appears. Then there's a sound guy by the hors d'oeuvres. Then the motorcycles. By the time the helicopter crashes through the glass window things are completely over the top. In a radio spot, you can't just pick a gag or a theme or a hook and just repeat it over and over. The spot has to build. Maybe it gets funnier. Maybe it gets more profound. It definitely has to get more interesting.

LAYER 5: When I started watching this Coldplay video, I was not expecting funny. Cool? Sure. But funny was completely unexpected. But it's not un-Coldplay. In a radio spot, if you can add a dimension that is still true to the brand, but completely new, you've probably got some Mercury Radio material on your hands.

Some Legal Advice

To protect all those involved, I've changed the names of the people and companies involved in this story.

Not long ago, I heard of a unique predicament that one of my former students, let's call him Sam, found himself in. He had just graduated with a great portfolio full of spec ads for a wide range of products, some which he'd been assigned by teachers and some which he'd selected himself. Like most students, he had a website displaying his book.

One day, Sam received an email from the president of a small candy company for which he had a spec ad in his book. Instead of complimenting the campaign (it was a nice one), the email claimed that Sam was illegally using the company's registered trademarks and must remove the campaign from his website.

Until this incident, I'd never heard of this before, but I did some asking around, and it's not completely unheard of. Typically, it's freelancers who find themselves in this predicament. Legally, companies that pay agencies own any work the agency does for them, even if they choose not to buy or run the work. So if a company doesn't buy a campaign, it's possible that the company doesn't want the campaign on the Internet either, not even on the freelancer's website. But a company coming after a student's portfolio? That seemed a little ridiculous.

Sam responded to the president of the company, explaining the nature of student portfolios, asked what specific trademarks he was violating and offered to include a disclaimer on his website. He had landed a job at a top agency by then, and he considered the matter over. But it wasn't.

The candy company actually went so far as to contact the powers that be at Sam's agency about the matter. Luckily, the agency backed Sam and agency lawyers sent a letter to the company, basically stating that they had no case. I've included an edited version of this letter at the bottom of this post.

This situation is pretty ridiculous. I would think that a company would have better things to do than chase after students. But the reality is that companies can be very protective of their brands.

Do I think you'll ever have to deal with this issue? I wouldn't bet on it. But if you do run into this, here are a few things to consider:

• A company might be able to, if they really wanted to waste a bunch of time and money, take you to court and make you take spec work off your website. But they can never monitor what's in your physical book, or the pdf of your book. What's more likely, though, is that a company might pressure their agency not to hire (or re-hire) a freelancer with "unauthorized" work on his site.

• When you're putting work on your website, don't include tags that include the product. Nobody will be searching for your portfolio by brand (but apparently, presidents of small companies have time to google their brands and harass students).

• IF a company does contact you, I'd suggest just ignoring them for at least the first few emails.

• If the company persists, you can offer put a disclaimer on your site.

• If the company still persists, temporarily pull the campaign from your site (but keep it in your book and minibook).

• You could change the campaign to a different, similar product (just as a matter of principle, I don't like this idea, but it would cover your butt).

• If the company still persists, call in the A-Team. Or steal some language from this letter, which is what the agency lawyers sent to to the company:

Dear Mr. President:

This firm represents Sam Student. We write in response to your e-mails to Mr. Student and Sterling Cooper in which you allege that certain materials posted by Mr. Student on his website,, violate your company's copyrights and trademark rights.

With respect to any copyright claim, you have not identified which, if any, of your company's advertising materials are substantially similar to the materials created by Mr. Student. In order to evaluate your company's copyright claim, it is necessary to compare the parties' materials. Accordingly, if you intend to press this claim, please send me copies of the advertisements that you claim have been infringed.

Your allegations of trademark infringement are without merit. The materials posted under the "Work" section of Mr. Student's website were created solely for certain college classes. As you may know, trademark law seeks to prevent consumer confusion. Here, no consumer would ever believe that Mr. Student is the source of your company's products, or that he is in any way sponsored or affiliated with your company. In any event, to address your company's concerns, Mr. Student has included a disclaimer in the Work section of his site to make it clear that the materials posted were not created or disseminated by your company or any of the other companies whose names appear on his site. We trust the inclusion of this disclaimer addresses your company's concerns. If you wish to discuss this matter further, please do not hesitate to contact me. Otherwise, we will consider this matter closed.

Nothing contained in, or omitted from, this letter shall be deemed a waiver of any of our client's rights, all of which are expressly reserved.

Line and Visual Tension

Generally speaking, if you have a really interesting, bizarre, or fascinating visual, you should keep the line really straight forward. Don’t get too clever with it.

Similarly, if you’ve got a brilliant headline, don’t work overtime trying to make the visual quirkier than it needs to be.

These are rules of thumb. It's nothing written in stone. But look through the first few pages of the latest CA annual, and you'll find a few salient examples.

Interesting visual, straight line…

Straight visual, interesting line…

And of course, a couple that defy this advice…

What Happens in Cranfills Gap...

Tony Marin was a student at the Chicago Portfolio School just five or six years ago. Now he does work for Las Vegas tourism. Check it his latest work. Cool stuff.

Consistency matters... matter what brand you're building.

Taken from Fast Company, November, 2008.

How to Start an Ad Agency

Forgive the cross-pollination of blogs. I wrote this article about three friends of mine who started Hadrian's Wall (now Zig, Chicago) in 2001. I think it's pretty inspiring. Those of you who aspire to start your own shops may as well.

Also, you may want to check out Kevin Lynch's new blog. Just like Kevin, it's pretty smart and pretty amusing.

Full disclosure: I was the 3rd person hired at Hadrian's Wall and worked there from 2001-2003. But I don't mention myself in the piece.

How Signs Say It

Last weekend, just because the weather was nice and I wanted to mess around with my cameras, I decided to be all touristy in my own city. So I went down to the Golden Gate Bridge to take some photos of people looking at it.

I've written here about the impact of brands being, rather than just saying. But as I was walking down to the bridge, I came across a sign that demonstrated another thing that can work just as hard: support.

The sign above could have just said "NO SWIMMING." But it gives support for why you shouldn't swim (people have died here) and it explains why (rip currents) and then even makes it feel dire (by providing the phone number for emergency services, in case you forgot). Honestly, it scared the shit out of me and I didn't go anywhere near the water.

There's a reason briefs include support on them. And when that support is a compelling fact, sometimes you just want to say it in an interesting way and let the fact do the convincing.

Speaking of persuasive signs, yesterday I coincidentally came across this great analysis of "Falling Ice" signs in Chicago on Kevin Lynch's blog. Smart guy. Smart blog. Greg's got more to say about him on Tuesday.

I Wish I'd Known

"If you're interning at an agency: get involved, rub elbows and bend over backwards with a smile. You might be calling these people when you need a job."

What is this?

How to Let Someone Else Have Your Ideas

Today, I came across this ad.

It was produced by Ogilvy in Frankfurt, Germany. It is also identical to an idea and old creative director of mine had three years ago, but never produced.

Now, there's no way the good folks in Frankfurt stole my CD's idea.

What happened was simply this: He had an idea but didn't act on it. Years later (could have been weeks or even days), someone else had a similar idea, acted on it, and now has a very nice piece for their book.

The lesson: If you have a great idea, don't wait for someone else to make it happen.

In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else tomorrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Side Projects

Sometimes students ask me if they should include "personal projects" in their portfolio. To me, it depends on the project. Short stories, no. A few pages of design or photography, sure. Taxidermy, maybe not.

Your website, though, now that's the perfect place to show off your other talents. A creative director isn't necessarily looking for it, but side projects can give a better sense of your personality. I know a lot of people who divide their site between WORK and PLAY, or just have a "personal" section.

Creatives are usually good at coming up with cool ideas for projects and then really bad at following through with them. But here's a guy I went to school with who has a enviable list of non-ad projects and stuff on his site. His name is Todd Lamb.


Today at work, I attended an interesting seminar by Lee Silber and Andrew Chapman on simplifying and prioritizing based on what they call the 90/10 rule. It can be applied to life or work. Basically, it's a way to focus on the 10% of what you do that you love the most and is most beneficial to you.

As I listened to them, I was reminded of what Mark Tutssell, then ECD at Leo Burnett, once told me. It was maybe the most liberating, stress-reducing thing I'd ever been told by a creative director. He asked what I was working on, and when I told him it was just some crap for one of our crappier clients, he said, "Get it off your desk. It's not an opportunity. Spend your time on opportunities."

Real opportunities are about 10% of what we work on in our business (if we're lucky). The rest is just time-eating stuff. Your goal should be to increase that 10%. This isn't to contradict what I've said before, that you should look at everything as an opportunity when you start concepting. But when it becomes clear that a project isn't going to end up great and has gone past the point of no return, get it off your desk. Do your best to make it not suck, but don't get sucked into the trap of spending tons of your time on it. Polishing a turd, some people call it.

Some projects will never be opportunities. Some projects have potential but get so overburdened with junk that they cease being an opportunity. Once you recognize a project has gotten to this point, get it off your desk.

The Blank Page Manifesto

I've spent a lot of time thinking about our industry and its future. The great thing about advertising is it's in constant flux. That's also the scary thing.

When I left portfolio school, it was with a book full of print ads. That wouldn't cut it today. The bar is much, much higher. You've got to have ambient media, web executions, product design. Big thinking no longer means a double-page spread.

And yet you probably spend a lot of time in school working on headlines and layouts. We spend tons of time on this blog discussing body copy and photography - techniques that seem hardly revolutionary or cutting edge.

So are we wasting our time? Are you wasting yours? I don't think so.

I've written something that's put things in perspective for me as a teacher and creative director. And I hope it puts things in perspective for you as students, juniors and the future of this industry.

If you agree with it and if it helps, please share it, post it or print it. Just don't change it or charge for it.

Here's the link for The Blank Page Manifesto.

Steve and Leo

“Life is pretty simple: You do some stuff. Most fails. Some works. You do more of what works. If it works big, others quickly copy it. Then you do something else. The trick is the doing something else.” —Leonardo da Vinci, quoted by Steve Driggs in Communication Arts.

Why'd You Go Where You Went?

Taking the questions from this post a little further, why did you choose the portfolio school you're attending?

If you're not going to a portfolio school, why'd you choose not to?

How to Disagree

If you try to go through your entire advertising career agreeing with everyone, you'll probably have a short career that ends in a padded room. You just can't do it. And you shouldn't. Everyone likes a nice guy, but you can't put nice in your book. Some of the best creative is the product of tension and disagreement. Shouting matches between client and agency, angry phone calls, directors threatening to storm off set, assassination attempts.

Part of your success in this business depends on how well you can disagree. How well you can sell your point of view. I'm not talking about being a great debater here, though there's probably some overlap. I'm talking about settling difference without destroying relationships.

People are passionate in this business, which means that it doesn't take much for disagreements to escalate into arguments, then fights, then worse. So whether you're at odds with a partner, a client, a creative director, a director, or an account person, here's a list of ten things I try to remember in hopes of keeping a disagreement from becoming a crime scene.

1) Don't bullshit them. Be honest with yourself, and honest with whom you're disagreeing. This one probably comes into play mostly with clients. They're not stupid. They can tell when you're making shit up, and it doesn't help the relationship. If you don't believe what you're spewing, don't spew it.

2) Pick your battles. Of all the thing you disagree over, some are more important than others. Don't get in the mindset that everything has to be your way. You'll have to give a little from time to time. Do it for the things that are less important to you. You hear a lot of talk about people falling on their sword for things, but the whole idea of that analogy is that you only get to do it once.

3) Look at it from their perspective. This is a good rule of thumb in any disagreement. Understand what they want out of it. Speak to the issue in their language. If you're talking to a junior client who's worried what the VP will say, show some concern for that. Don't just dismiss it because you don't care what the VP says. And if you're arguing with a client, arguing that something is cooler, really weird, or sure to win a bunch of awards probably won't get you very far.

4) Recognize when it's subjective. A lot of this business is. If an argument's getting heated, it can sometimes diffuse it to acknowledge that what you're arguing over is a matter of taste. Both viewpoints are valid (though one may still be better).

5) Recognize who has the expertise. When I disagree with my art director on a visual decision, I will usually say my piece and then go with his decision. If it's a copy decision, I expect the same. I rely on the expertise of my directors, editors, designers and musicians. When I disagree with them, but it's in their area of expertise, I usually give them the benefit of the doubt.

6) Be respectful. Everyone is not equally good at everything, every opinion is not as equally valid, and it will become painfully obvious that everyone's time is not of equal value. That said, everyone deserves respect. I don't care if you're the president of an agency talking to the person who delivers the plant food, treat everyone with respect and you will earn respect.

7) Recognize who has the final say. When I disagree with students about ads in their book, I usually caveat it with, "This is your book, so it's your decision." Then they can take my advice or disregard it. On the job, the creative director has the first final say. Then the client has the final final say. And when this person, the person with "The D," as we refer to it sometimes (meaning "the decision"), has made up their mind, you might state once that you understand their point of view, but respectfully disagree. And then shut up about it.

8) When it's over, let it go. Don't brood over an argument that happened months ago. Be goldfish-like in your ability to move on. And if you turn out to be right, have the humility to not say "I told you so."

9) You might be wrong. I think the most important thing to remember, and something that will hopefully give you perspective, is that there is a chance, albeit slim, that you're wrong. It's happened to me before. When you're wrong, don't make excuses. Just have the humility to admit it.

10) Do not burn bridges. I can think of very few issues that are worth ruining relationships over. Storming out of rooms, cussing people out, etc. may feel good for about 37 seconds. After that, it can do nothing but hurt your career. I know people who have quit agencies in spectacular tantrums, calling in an airstrike on the bridge as they crossed it, only to regret it two months later. If you do have a nasty argument, one that leads to the end of a job or partnership, try to leave it on good terms. No matter how big of an ass someone has been to me, if they apologize afterward, I'm willing to shake and bury the hatchet. I can't stress enough how small this business is.

It really comes down to relationships. If you put in the groundwork, if you earn the trust and respect of those you work with, if you trust and respect them, and if you form a bond where you are genuinely concerned with their interests as well as your own, then disagreements shouldn't be a big deal. They can actually make a relationship, and the work, stronger in the end.

And if you disagree with anything I've said, you can piss off.

CMYK Call for Entries

$45 for 15 pieces is the best deal you're ever going to get on an award show submission. If I were you and I had some good pieces, I'd definitely submit them. You never know what's going to win, and who's going to see it.

Enter here.

Ontario College of Art & Design

If you're looking for a portfolio school, here's a recent ad from the Ontario College of Art & Design. Click to enlarge.

Out of curiosity, does seeing this make you want to go there? Does this?

Creative Love Handles

Welcome to post-holiday January. This is a big month for buying gym memberships, ordering salads, and signing up for Weight Watchers. It's okay if you let yourself go physically. No one here is judging.

But what shape are you in creatively? Did you take a break from your book during the holiday, too? Maybe you needed the break. That's fine. But don't wait around hoping to ease back into shape.

Creative love handles are what happen when you start to coast. When you stop challenging yourself. When you keep hoping for a great creative assignment to come your way instead of creating opportunities for yourself.

You get rid of creative love handles the same way you get rid of the physical ones: discipline and hard work.

Don't say you're going to do something great with the next assignment. Sit down with a pad of paper and a pen and go to work.