Guide to Internet Memes

Another example of how design makes an onslaught of data digestible.

My Ad Anthem

Just thought I'd share this song. For the last four years or so, it's kind of become my advertising anthem.

The Mentor Effect

Having taught a lot of portfolio school students, I can say that what most junior creatives want - almost more than anything else - is a good industry mentor.

And having worked in advertising agencies for a long time, I can say most junior creatives aren't really getting what they want.

So several months ago, I started talking to junior creatives, students and creative directors about their expectations of each other. Turns out there are some gaps no one's really addressing. That's "The Mentor Gap," and you can see what I mean in the SlideShare presentation below. And having a good mentor (or being one) is more than just lucking out or being a good person. There are some ramifications for entire agencies. I call that "The Mentor Effect."

You can read the whole report here, or just watch the intro below. Since these points apply to portfolio school students, junior creatives, CDs and even agency principals, I think it's worth discussing. So if you like what you read, feel free to tweet it, post it, share it. Thanks.

SxSW Favor

Please vote for our friend John Keehler's presentation to be delivered at the SxSW Interactive Conference 2011.

And if you're going to SxSW 2011, let's meet up for tacos.

Running Short

If you’ve ever run track, you’ll probably agree that the hardest race is the 400 meter dash. It’s running as fast as you possibly can, one quarter mile around the track. Absolutely grueling.

In high school, one of the guys on our team was a contender for the state championship in the event. He won every meet and came close to breaking the state record almost every time. So to help him prepare for the state finals, the coach took him off the 400 meter event and made him run the 800 meters – probably the only race worse than the 400.

The coach (who’d been a 400 meter state champ himself) knew that after conditioning this kid’s mind to run for 800 meters, running the 400 in the qualifying tournament would seem like a piece of cake.

Turns out it worked. The kid went on to win the state championship, and break his own coach’s state record.

Here’s how this applies to you writers and your radio scripts: Start writing 30-second radio scripts instead of 60s.

It’s tough to get a script to fit into 60 seconds. But squeezing a great idea into 30? That’s almost torture.

Sure, 60’s are standard. But I’m seeing a lot of clients who are buying 30s – especially in this economy. Some clients buy them because they’re less expensive. Some buy them based on media buyer’s recommendations. And some buy them because they don’t believe in or care about radio.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t do great 30 second radio. Just visit the
Radio Mercury Awards site and hear what I mean.

:30s and :60s are different beasts. What works in one might not work in the other. But practice writing a few. Because if you can write a fantastic :30, you’re going to be that much better at writing :60s. Not to mention TV spots, headlines, and concepting in general.

Einstein on Advertising

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler."
-Albert Einstein

Know When To Work

I don't know about you, but around 2:00pm, my brain turns to mush. It stays that way for a few hours. My good times to work are first thing in the morning and late at night. For awhile, my partner and I were blocking off mornings on our calendars so nobody could schedule meetings for us then. We did all our concepting before lunch, then spent the afternoon handling meetings, emails, expense reports, all that low-brain work.

You should figure out what works best for you. If you work best at night when it's quiet, try to get in the habit of sitting down and at least jotting down some ideas then. And if you feel like you're in the mood, don't let it pass you by.

A few months ago, Greg posted the idea from Stephen Covey that our tasks can be divided up by their urgency and their importance. He basically argued that we spend most of our time doing urgent but unimportant tasks, leaving important things with no deadline (all those big ideas that you'll get to one day) on the back burner permanently.

My good buddy Brian Button just sent me this great post from Mark McGuinness that argues essentially the same thing. To him, we get our priorities backwards, doing reactive work (emails, returning calls, etc.) first and leaving our big creative tasks for the dusty hours of the day, when our brains are running on fumes. Thus, our novels never get finished, our websites remain half-vacant and our great side projects never become more than cryptic sticky notes above our desks. I encourage you to read Mark's post. Creative people are fueled by the big ideas. We do ourselves a disservice when we don't follow through with them.

When a Great Visual Isn't A Visual

Unless you've been living in a cave, you've heard of Steven Slater--the now-famous Jet Blue flight attendant who recently quit his job by giving a verbal lashing to a passenger over the aircrafts's PA system. He then deployed the emergency slide, grabbed a beer from the bevvy cart, and slid to freedom (until he was arrested shortly thereafter).

I was listening to a podcast the other day, and someone said that one of the reasons this story has captured the imagination of people everywhere (other than the fact that 95% of us wish we had the nuts to deploy our own escape slides) is that the visual of it is so good. That struck me as spot on. I have not seen, nor been able to find, an actual image of Slater descending the big yellow inflatable slide, beer in hand, but ten years from now I'll remember that story as if I'd actually seen a movie of it.

I think my favorite visual description ever is in Jitterbug Perfume, by Tom Robbins. He describes two women walking up a stairway: "Their backsides swung like mandolins on a gypsy wagon wall." Such a simple set of words, yet I can picture it exactly. The shape of mandolins. The way they sway in approximate unison, bouncing slightly. The fact that this is a gypsy wagon adds a certain attitude to the way they move. It's what you might call theater of the mind.

When a radio spot is visual, you'll often hear people say that. Theater of the mind. The spot conjures a clear image in the mind of the listener. All radio should do this. But really, all writing should do this. Most people remember visually (ever hear of the memorization trick where you construct a house in your mind, then assign the things you need to memorize to parts of the house?--you're building a visual to help you remember). So anytime you can create a strong visual, you should.

But as we've seen, not all visuals are literally visual. And sometimes they're better that way.

The other day, a student was showing me the concept for an ad in which a young kid was standing over a pride of lions feasting on their kill in the middle of the Serengeti. I asked him to see what happened if he tried to tell the same story with a headline. I don't know if it'll be any better, but the thing I've found is that often, especially when an image is a little ridiculous, a headline is a better visual than a visual would be. That is, letting the audience imagine an image is often more powerful than just showing it.

Consider this ad from Carmichael Lynch for Motorola walkie talkies:

What are you seeing? The visual is some kids waving from a boat. But what we're all really seeing is poor Paps with his head jammed in the pump. I don't even know what a bilge pump looks like, but the image I have in my head is pretty damn funny. Much funnier than if they'd just shown Grandpa stuck in a pump.

When you let the audience imagine the scene, you're involving them. That's something you always want to do. Of course, to do it right, your language had better be spot on. Your words need to be tangible. They need to be specific. "Bilge pump" makes the Carmichael Lynch ad. And your words need to be accurate. Even though I have never seen mandolins swinging on a gypsy wagon wall, I know that I am seeing the exact same bottoms in my head that Tom Robbins saw in his head when he wrote that line.


Here's a short piece that has great copy and great art direction.

[The link to this video was removed. But you can watch it here.]

Simple message. Simple images. Simple brand positioning. So clear and deliberate, you either hate the guy's guts, or you sign on as a lifelong follower. No wonder this show won Best Picture.

Caveat: Before you decide to "pay homage" to this by ripping it off, you should know Nike and Dennis Hopper already did.

Going Digital

Our guest poster Nate Archambault has had some interesting things to say about the industry going digital.

Check out a similar take by UK team Innovative Thunder in their new book. Their site's a pretty great place for inspiration, too. Pay with a Tweet is genius. If you can fill your book with this kind of stuff coming out of portfolio school, you're going to be in great shape.

Simon Sinek on Why

This WHY vs WHAT thing is so important for understanding a brand. As he implies, knowing only the what leads to talking at people. Knowing the why can inform your actions as a brand, your brand voice, its character, and everything else that helps build it into something people want to have a relationship with.

Thinking Visually

A copywriter in his first semester, on his first assignment came to me for advice. He was trying to do a campaign for Invisible Fence, a kind of invisible barrier for dogs. One of his ideas was to show a patch of ground the dog had mischievously dug up. The dog would be next to the big hole smiling innocently.

"The dog is smiling?" I asked.

"Yeah," said the student. "See?"

I looked at his Sharpied sketch. Sure enough, the dog was smiling.

"Would this be a photograph?" I asked.


"What does a real dog look like when it's smiling? Not a cartoon dog. A real dog."



He hadn't learned to think visually yet. Thinking visually isn't just coming up with a cool image and putting the client's logo in the corner. It's the ability to know exactly how an image is going on a page or a screen.

In portfolio school, some of my classmates had an idea for a TV spot that opened on a marshmallow.

"How are you going to know it's a marshmallow?" asked our professor.

"Because it's a marshmallow."

"How will I know it's not a pillow?" asked my professor. "Or a cloud?"

"Because it's a marshmallow! It will look like a marshmallow because that's what it is!"

But sure enough, when we saw that marshmallow on film, it was surprisingly hard to tell it was a marshmallow. Maybe Pytka could have pulled it off. But not us. We hadn't learned to think visually yet.

For more tips on thinking visually, read this article by Hal Curtis.

Agency Web Sites and Your Portfolio

A friend of mine is helping her agency put together their website, and she wrote to pick my brain about what I liked and disliked about agency sites.

First of all, I think the work is the most important part of any agency site. This is especially true if the site itself can be counted among the agency’s best work.

As of this writing, here are what I’d consider the best agency websites of all time:

Crispin Porter + Bogusky

Boone Oakley


What makes them remarkable? Two things: 1. Innovation, 2. Bravery. It's not easy to pull something like this off. But if you can, you win.

Some agencies are incorporating newsfeeds and their own blogs - not buried somewhere in the backwaters of the menu, but right on their landing page. If you have interesting things to say (or if other people are saying it for you) it says a lot about who you are. My favorites include:

Butler Shine Stern & Partners

The Martin Agency

Zeus Jones

Sites that have great design are worthy of note. So are sites with some level of interactivity.

I’m not a huge fan of agency sites that show introductory videos on the landing page. Nor am I a fan of background music. I think the more features an agency tries to build into their site, the slower (and consequently, the less interesting) it gets. I don’t have time to wait for your site to load. I’m sure your potential clients don’t either.

Sites need to have personality. You can go overboard with this. Or not. I guess it depends on the type of clients you want to attract.

What does this have to do with you? An agency site is basically the portfolio for the office. When you’re putting together your book, you should ask yourself if it’s as good, as memorable, and as innovative as the best sites you’ve seen.

Like the best ads, and even the best student portfolios, I really appreciate agency sites that are simple and direct.

What do you think makes an agency site good? Have any favorites I've missed?


That’s it.

OK, fine, I’ll elaborate. But just a little bit. No reason to overthink things here.

For the most part, traditional ads for TV and print are one-dimensional. They don’t require a whole lot of effort to understand. They’re like wide-eyed puppies sitting in the window, desperate for attention. No one struts down the block looking for puppies. But sometimes they’re just so darn cute or funny or meaningful that people pay attention. As a traditional creative, your job is to get people to stop in front of the window. That’s it. (Never mind if puppies have it easier than brands.)

You see a TV spot, you know what it’s for and what it’s trying to do. Sell yuppies more boat shoes. Get moms to upgrade their laundry detergent. Convert teenage girls from that shampoo to this one. Digital campaigns, on the other hand, are rarely one and done. Blame integration. A banner begets a Facebook fan page begets a web app begets a microsite begets an online contest that begets three web pages to register and enter. It’s tempting to figure out how to incorporate every social network and technology under the world wide sun. But that doesn’t make an idea better. It makes it more confusing. Every added step is another burden. An obstacle in the way of your message. Squeezing too many moving parts together doesn’t make a better-running machine. It makes a campaign that’s more likely to break down.

Digital campaigns need to be accessible. They shouldn’t require a bachelor’s degree and twenty minutes. When creative directors are flipping or clicking through books, they want to see brilliant thinking, writing and art direction. Not case studies. Take this
Movie Maker for Sprite. It’s ridiculously easy and it’s fun to play with. It’s not intrusive. You can explain it in five words.

Don’t confuse complex with smart. And don’t mistake simple for dumbed down. It’s hard to do easy. In digital, it’s very hard to do easy and cut through the clutter at the same time. That’s what I like about this
banner ad for Toyota. What it sacrifices in mindblowingness, it makes up for in effectiveness. Is it intrusive? Not at all. Fun? A little. Interesting? If you’re looking for an AWD vehicle, it is.

The best idea is one that has been boiled down to its most basic essence. Not watered down by whatever technology or social network is getting the most buzz. Just because everything on the web can be connected doesn’t mean it has to be. If people had to press a button and fill out a form to see puppies, pet stores would end up with a whole lot of dogs. What I’m trying to say is when in doubt, cut it out. Sorry that took so long.

This is the fourth in a series of guest posts by our pal Nate Archambault on his transition from traditional agencies to digital. Follow Nate on Twitter@NKArch.


Here are a few of the perks to working in advertising:

  • Staying in great hotels like Shutters when you’re on production
  • Being taken to fancy restaurants like Mr. Chow and Kittichai by producers and directors
  • Spending down-days on production in fun places like Santa Monica or New York
  • Going to foreign countries on production
  • Free lunches from great restaurants at editing studios
  • Swag from production companies that range from flash drives to iPods to baseball tickets

If you’re ever considering leaving one agency for another, here are a few things that should in no way affect your decision:

  • Staying in great hotels like Shutters when you’re on production
  • Being taken to fancy restaurants like Mr. Chow and Kittichai by producers and directors
  • Spending down-days on production in fun places like Santa Monica or New York
  • Going to foreign countries on production
  • Free lunches from great restaurants at editing studios
  • Swag from production companies that range from flash drives to iPods to baseball tickets

Advertising perks are great. But in the end, it’s all about the work. When you want to move up, move on, ask for a raise, start your own shop, win a pitch or court a client, no one’s going to ask you how many times you’ve stayed at Shutters.

You can get all of those perks by producing some very awful and embarrassing commercials, too.