A Few Observations on Framing and Language

One of the important things you'll have to do many times in your advertising career is craft language to frame a topic a certain way. This simply means that you control how someone looks at an idea. What perspective are they viewing it from and how are they judging it?

You obviously can't always control how someone perceives your idea, but with the right language and the right tone, you certainly can influence it. Here are some examples:

1) Setting up your work for a client. I like to let the client know, as I set up the work we're showing, how I judged the work and what I think it has going for it. This doesn't always mean they'll agree, but it lets them understand where I'm coming from before they form their own opinion. Or I'll ask them to put their 12-year-old boy hat on (or whatever the target is) for a moment as they listen to the script.

2) Is there a completely different strategic approach? When my agency did a campaign for Brita Water Filters, which had always been about super-clean water without impurities, someone had the smart idea to re-frame the issue to be about conservation. Because a good deal of the plastic water bottles that people use end up in landfills or circling the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Here's another example, the likes of which you've probably seen in hotel bathrooms.

The cynic in me sees those signs and thinks, "Yeah, right. The hotel's just trying to save money on laundry." Which may be true, but it is helping the environment too, and in the end I reuse my towels.

3. Word choice for the little things. Consider these possible call-to-actions in a banner ad:
Click here to visit blah.com.
Discover more at blah.com.
Start the journey at blah.com.
They're all asking me to do basically the same thing, but each sets my expectations for blah.com. Is there a better way to say what you want?

Here's another example that always strikes me when I see it. Rather than the typical SELL BY DATE, some drinks have the much more promising ENJOY BY date.

Framing is not about tricking anyone. It's about asking someone to consider something from a different viewpoint. And if you have any questions as to whether it's important, I invite you to listen to this episode of one of my favorite podcasts, Radiolab. In it, they discuss the potential effect of Obama's election on the academic performance of African-American students, as well as how the simple act of framing a test (i.e. the language used to say what the test measures) can have a huge impact on test scores.

The best blog post ever

We don't promote too many books on Makin' Ads. We'd encourage you to get very familiar with the annuals, first. That said...

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Creative directors vs. creative engines

Don't confuse being the creative director of an agency with being the creative engine of an agency. Sometimes, they're one and the same. But not always.

I've worked at agencies where the creative director, however well-respected, was not the creative engine. Those who came up with the best work, the killer lines and fresh layouts were not always the ECD, the CCO, or even the CD. They were the people who loved their jobs and worked like crazy to make sure their ideas were as good as they could be. They never settled.

It may take you a few years to be a creative director. But you can be an agency's creative engine whenever you decide to be.

A thoughtful article from Jeff Goodby

"We are becoming irrelevant award-chasers."

Here's a great article by Jeff Goodby on the current award show mentality.

Living vs. Working

Years ago, I read an interview with Richard Branson. He said that one of the keys to his success is that he stopped seeing a difference between working and not working. I'm paraphrasing, but he basically said it was just living. He worked. He spent time with his family. He played. He worked some more. It was all just living.

Granted, that may be easier to say when you're a multi-billionaire and family time is spent on a tropical island you own. But still, I think he's given us a key.

The best creatives I've known come to work the next day and say, "Hey, I had this idea last night. What if we..."

Shamelessly Plug Your Agency Whenever You Cannes

Congrats to my coworkers for bringing home a couple statues from Cannes this year with their Reverse Graffiti work for Greenworks-in my opinion, the coolest thing my agency's done.

How I got unstuck

About a week ago I was in a serious rut. I was down on work. Down on our clients. Down on co-workers. Needless to say, it was a pretty unproductive few days.

Then I started listening to this podcast called The History of Jazz by Georgia State University professor, Dr. Gordon Vernick. (Look it up. Wish I could link you to it directly.)

I also started reading my co-worker's copy of Paul Arden's book It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want To Be.

And on a bright sunny day, I accidentally took the bus too far and had to walk through a couple of neighborhoods I'd never explored on foot.

And suddenly, things were awesome. I liked work. And I've been very productive since.

If you're stuck, frustrated or down on work, it's not enough just to take a break. A walk around the building or a trip to the burrito joint across the street can sometimes help. But you really need to change your routine.

The Importance of Taking Showers

95% of my good ideas come to me while I'm in the shower or walking home from the train.

In total, that amount of time represents about 25 minutes a day, or only about 2.5% of my waking time.

The fact that such a little amount of time seems to be so productive has made me consider spending more time in the shower. If I could increase my shower time to, say, 30 minutes a day, and take a more circuitous route home from the train, stretch that 10-minute walk into an hour, my career might really take off.

The truth is, we have creative breakthroughs (ideas) when we're in the shower because we're not actively thinking about the problem. Our mind has all this junk in there rolling around, and it's processing, but we're not sitting at the desk, staring at the blank piece of paper, trying to force the idea, burning ourselves out.

And the reason it happens when we're not thinking about it is because to solve a creative problem, you usually need to approach it from a different angle. Approach. That's important. Because you can't approach something if you're slogging around in the muck of it. You need to climb out, go do something else, and then come back to it. Approach it.

That's what those strokes of genius are. They're just us coming back to the problem with a fresh mind, from a different angle. This is why you find ping-pong and pool tables and video game consoles at agencies. They give the mind a recess.

Now some will say that's hogwash, that I'm just giving an excuse for laziness. And be sure, many a lazy creative has spent entire afternoons at the ping pong table telling himself that it's how ideas are formed. He's fooling himself as much as the creative who sits at his desk 12 hours a day staring at his notebook trying to will an idea to happen. Both parts of the process are required.

Work smarter, not just harder. The brain needs a recess. Or sometimes it just needs a shower.

Body copy road trip

Writing body copy is like going from LA to Boston making stops in Denver and Pittsburgh.

You need to know where you're starting, and where you're going to end up, and what points you need to hit along the way. You can take some detours and circuitous routes in between, and some will be more interesting than others.

But while getting in the car and just driving can be fun, you might get really, really lost and end up nowhere interesting. Then you've just wasted time. If you're writing body copy, map it out. It will look like a bad, bulleted PowerPoint presentation, but it will help you stay on course.

(Speaking of copy and road trips, here's a link to an old Mark Fenske post I think is brilliant.)

Great creatives = Great partners

If you want to be a great creative, you have to be a great partner. Here are a few ways you can do that:
  • Listen.
  • Try to make their ideas work. Even if you don't think they will.
  • Don't say no.
  • Don't say you can't do something if they've just suggested maybe you can.
  • Talk to them about things other than advertising.
  • Share what you think is cool with them.
  • Give credit where credit is due.
  • Be willing to share credit.
  • Don't kill their ideas. If it truly needs killing, they'll figure it out on their own.
  • You don't have a monopoly on great ideas. Try to be humble.

Stop H Commerce

My agency finished this project for McAfee recently. I didn't work on it, but I think it's pretty rad. Basically, they determined that more than software, what people really need to protect their computers is basic awareness. So they created this campaign, including a full-length documentary, to help alert people to the dangers out there. It also tells some pretty interesting stories.

Visit the site.

Brand Character = Character

I often tell my students that a good way to think about brand character is to just think about character. The traits we admire in brands are the same traits we admire in people--honesty, integrity, quality, dependability, usually some humility. This is, apparently, a difficult concept for many marketers who think that smug arrogance is somehow appealing.

Now I don't know Howie Long personally, and I'm willing to give him a pass as just reading scripts. But if this commercial is how I get to know Chevy, then Chevy is that asshole jock from high school who made fun of anyone who wasn't on the team. Not someone I particularly care for.

And this next spot is me walking into the local burger joint ten years later to find Chevy working behind the counter. What, Chevy? No more Friday night lights? No more glory days? Same big swingin' dick attitude (pardon the language), but now you're talking about...what? Fuel efficiency instead of big ol' trucks? And comparing yourself to lawnmowers. And sounding like an idiot.

It doesn't necessarily make me happy to see Chevy working behind the counter in a burger joint still sounding like a jackass, but I can't say I'm surprised.


Click to enlarge.

Taken from a Zig blog post.

How to handle quality, innovation and superior customer service

One day you may be faced with a client who wants to run an ad saying something like "We're committed to service," or "We have the highest standards of quality."

Very talented and committed account management may be able to talk the client down off this ledge. If not, do the best you can, make the client happy, and move on to something else as quickly as possible.

In the meantime, here are a couple suggestions for making the most out of such an assignment:

COPYWRITERS: If the mandated message is something like "We have a dedicated and driven sales force." Write your headlines in the voices of celebrities. How would Robert DeNiro say this? What about Alfred Hitchcock? Or Will Smith? Or Richard Simmons? Some voices will be better than others. But you'll be able to inject some personality into what would otherwise be a pretty dull headline.

ART DIRECTORS: In my experience, if a client's set on a message like this, they probably don't have enough money for a photoshoots either. So you're stuck with illustration or stock photography. If that's the case, try laying the ad out as if you were working on a different category. Do the layout as if it were a new cola. Or a snowboard. Or an insurance company. Or an airline.

I'm not guaranteeing these exercises will help you win awards and get a book piece out of the assignment. But they will make it more enjoyable. And you may discover a look or a voice you can use a little later on.

Also, you don't have to wait for an uninspiring brief to cross you desk to try these. They work perfectly well on fantastic products and fantastic briefs, too.

The Money Shot

That's what I've heard more than one client call it. Because there's a deeply held belief amongst some clients that certain shots are "magical" and that whether the product sells can be determined by this few seconds of film.

For a fast food joint, it's the burger sizzling on the grill. If it's bleach, it's the white shirt at the end. If it's a car brand, it's the car taking a corner. Heck, music videos have them--the band mugging to camera. Movies have them--the close-up of the stars.

When I worked on video games, we were often disappointed that the client just wanted to show game footage. There was such an missed opportunity, we complained, to do something funny with a story. No, the game developers said. Gamers want to see game footage. Much like eaters apparently want to see sizzling burgers and drivers will drop $40k if they can just see a brief shot of a car cornering on wet pavement.

If this were true, we'd run 30-second spots of just burgers on the grill. The important thing is to know going in what the "mandatories" are. Is there a way to build the spot around the "money shot" or work it into the spot naturally? At least make sure you save time for it.

And not that I'm a gamer, per se, but sometimes I think maybe the client's right.

Versions in the teens

Over the course of a project, I keep all of my revisions on my computer. Whether it's a TV or radio script, a list of headlines or body copy, I begin with a file like "TVscripts01.doc" which is usually followed by "TVscripts02.doc" after an internal review and "TVscripts03.doc" after that.

My point in telling you this isn't to encourage you keep your old drafts (I rarely revisit my own). It's to say that by the time a project is approved and on its way to production, it's usually labeled "TVscripts17.doc" or "Headlines15.doc."

That's not an exaggeration. It's just another reason to not fall desperately in love with the first ideas you have. There will always be something better.

Snickers Snacklish

Nate Archambault is a former student of mine. He just sent me this site that he helped create for Chiat/Day in New York.

Always inspiring to see former portfolio students go on to replace their student work with some very cool professional work. And it never surprises me that the former students who are creating the most remarkable work are the students I remember being the hardest working. Having fun = success. 

Advertising Zen

It is better to practice a little than talk a lot.
-Muso Kokushi

An open-ended question to those seeking fortune and fame

SPOILER ALERT: This is an ethical dilemma that I don't have an answer for.

These images are scanned in from the book Advertising is Dead Long Live Advertising! by Tom Himpe. I was at Y&R Chicago when the team came up with this idea. 

Here’s the story as I remember it:

The agency had already developed two different poster campaigns for the Hard Rock Hotel in Chicago. The team thought it would be cool to do some guerilla advertising by having a glam-model with smeared lipstick walking around Chicago a few blocks away from the hotel in a HRH bathrobe, asking strangers if they knew the way to the hotel. The gist was this hotel let you party like a rock star, and this was just another starlet/groupie/guest who had partied a little too hard and was now just a bit lost.

So the team hires a model and a photographer and heads down to Michigan Avenue. I could be wrong, but think the plan was to be there just long enough to get some pictures and make it legit for the award shows.

While they’re down shooting, a camera crew from a local news station shows up and asks if they can cover the stunt. Serendipity, right? Well, as it turns out, the model doesn’t want to be on TV in a bathrobe looking like a skank. Can’t remember why. Maybe she was afraid her parents would see her. But the bigger concern is that the creative director has to call the client on his mobile phone and say, “Um, remember that idea we talked about? The one where the groupie/stripper would be on Michigan Avenue, asking people – yeah that’s the one. Well, we’re kind of shooting it right now, and there’s a camera crew from Channel 4 that wants to film it for the evening news. You cool with that?”

The spin on this was that the agency was taking photographs of the model to build the case for the client that it would be a good thing to do.

Ethically, you could say this should have never happened because the client didn’t give their approval. You could also argue that doing agency-produced work like this simply for award shows is a waste of time.

Professionally, you could point out that this campaign is now featured in one of the seminal books on ambient media and certainly doesn’t hurt to have that when you’re interviewing for a job or asking for a raise.

I’m not saying which is right, or for that matter which I’d choose. But work long enough in this industry, and you’ll probably have to answer that question yourself.

One way to find out if the agency's any good

My first real interview as a copywriter was with an agency I wasn't really familiar with. So I looked them up in the annuals and found they'd done a few decent pieces. That gave me hope.

But what really sold me was when I interviewed with Kevin Lynch, the creative director. Their boardroom proudly displayed all of the work the agency had recently produced.

As Kevin took me through each piece, he told me what he wish they had done, and what they might do next time. In other words, he was always willing to push for better creative. It would have been just as easy for him to say, "Look at this piece! Isn't it fantastic! We're pleased as punch with this!"

One of the main reasons I took that job was because I knew the agency was committed to great creative and was consistently going to push for it.

Contrast that with a CD I sat down with at a portfolio review who explained their agency didn't do glamourous work, but encouraged their creatives to go out and find pro bono accounts like Madam Tussaud's Wax Museum to help build their books.