Read this at 11:15 pm, right before you leave the office.

Advertising is notorious for keeping crazy hours. People work until 10. On Saturdays and Sundays. In some places, that’s just the culture. And it kind of makes sense, because logically, the more time you spend thinking about a project, the more ideas you’ll have, and the more refined and amazing they’ll be.

That’s how it works on paper, anyway.

But here’s an argument that’s also worth considering: In advertising we pride ourselves on the ability to draw from our own experiences to create really insightful, moving advertising. But by spending more of our time in the office under halogen lamps, the fewer real experiences we’re going to have, and the more our work may suffer.

Again, that’s theory. But it’s an argument we don’t really allow ourselves to hear in this industry.

I’m not saying don’t work late. Work the hours that work for you, if you can. And know that when you’re pitching an account, late hours are a given.

But beware of places where the culture is “work until nine, or you’re slacking.” Don’t avoid them. But beware of them. And no matter where you end up, when you start burning the midnight oil, ask yourselves if it’s really to make your ads better, or because you want the people in the cubes next to you to think you’re a hard worker.

Great creative is a badge of honor. But staying late shouldn't be.

Radio On! Creative Workshop

The Radio Mercury Awards are hosting the Radio On! Creative Workshop in New York on February 9th. Should be great. Sign up or get more info here.

The Future of Advertising Article in Fast Company

A friend of mine sent me a link to a really good article in Fast Company today about the future of the ad biz wanting to get my take on it. You should check out the article. It's long, but it's packed with knowledge.

As a somewhat lazy blog post, here's what I wrote back to my friend:

I read this, and I think a little bit of it is overly dramatic and alarmist (any article called "The Future of Advertising" is bound to be). I also see some executives freaking out because they haven't been paying attention to/believing in what's been happening for the last 5 years. But I also think there's a lot of truth in this, a lot of really smart people trying to figure out what the hell to do. Things are not necessarily broken with the type of thinking we do, it's more in the structure of the agencies and the billings and what the relationships look like.

I think you and I both know that a good idea is a good idea. Execution, all that stuff comes into play. But a smart creative should be able to come up with ideas in whatever format. All that said, for our own careers, we need to be able to look at the agencies out there and assess which ones are figuring it out and which ones are going the way of the Triceratops.

Here are some of the themes I see for the future agency:

SMALLER. Trim the fat salaries. Trim the layers. Trim the holding companies. It's the pods theory. Small, independent teams of 4-7 smart people.

CREATE VALUE. It's not about what we're saying. What are we giving people?

NIMBLE. Adapt and respond quickly.

RESOURCEFUL. Get it done without the waste. You have a battery, a toothpick, a plastic baggie and some table salt to work with. Make a hydrogen bomb.

VERSATILE. Work in any medium, create content, buy media, be connected.

A lot of questions about the big monoliths, and a lot of visionary people who could easily coast off into the sunset are starting to grab their parachutes and jump. To me, that's the biggest signal that these changes are real.

What do you think?

The Fallacy of the Fried Mermaid

I'm reading Improv Wisdom: Don't Prepare, Just Show Up by Patricia Ryan Madson, and I just finished a chapter in which she explains what she calls "The Fallacy of the Fried Mermaid."

At an improv show, the performers will sometimes ask the audience for a suggestion: "Give us a _______ in a ________" in which to build a scene (e.g. "a chicken in a bowling alley"). Without fail, the audience will try to think of something wacky or weird. There is the perception that this is more creative and will lead to a better scene.

That is the "Fallacy of the Fried Mermaid." A fried mermaid is already a joke. There's no punchline left. As Madson says, "It's a closed loop...Doing an actual scene about a fried mermaid isn't likely to result in a very appealing story, if you think about it."

Weird for weird's sake, is what I usually call it. When discussing a comedy spot with directors, I almost always say "I don't think this should telegraph funny," or "The casting shouldn't look funny." Humor is based on surprise, and making something look funny is the equivalent of starting off a joke with "Oh, I have this hilarious joke to tell you."

Madson continues:

Don't fall for the idea that something needs to be "way out" or whimsical to be creative. Getting a laugh is easy--trivial, actually. Anything unexpected seems funny. This kind of humor is like a sugar hit. It gives temporary lift, but it is like a poor diet and won't nourish artistically. If you give up making jokes and concentrate on making sense, the result is often genuinely mirthful. Besides, making sense is a lot more satisfying in the long run. Give the obvious a try.
Incredibly applicable to what we do.

As a counter examples to this, I could use one of my favorite spots:

That said, I think the weirdness of the casting, etc., is about establishing the world in which the spot takes place and is integral to the idea. Weird is not the idea in itself.

Radio Lessons from Ira and Alec

If you listen to NPR, you probably heard some of their Alec Baldwin spots during their most recent pledge drive. The spots were written and produced by Ira Glass. They don't time out to clean a :30 or :60. But they're still pretty good examples of announcer-driven radio. To hear them, click here.

"Don't Give" is my favorite.

This Post Isn't Cool

You will never sell anything to a client by telling them, "It's cool."

Cool is not a reason any client will put their budget and their job on the line. Even if you're doing ads for the new HALO game, a surfboard, or Porsche. In client parlance, "cool" is not shorthand for "it will sell your product, and make you money, keep your job secure, and maybe even get you an interview in Fast Company."

Make your work cool. But before you present it, figure out the real reason it's cool, and sell that.

You'll not only have more success selling your ideas, you'll become a better presenter.

How to Read CA

The Communication Arts 2010 Advertising Annual has hit the shelves. If you haven't picked up your copy, go get one today. (Seriously, why would you be reading this blog if you're not already investing in CA?)

When you get your copy, try this:

1. Grab a pad of sticky notes.

2. Tab all the work in the annual that you think is amazing. Not just cool, or funny. But the work that is so good it gives you an inferiority complex.

3. Take a break. Go see a movie. Get some work done. Play Doodle Jumper for a couple hours. Whatever.

4. Come back to the annual and going through only the work you flagged, reflag the pieces you think are smart. Not just clever. But the work that sells. The work that either makes you want to buy what's being advertised, or recommend it to someone.

5. Spend your time with those ads. Figure out who the audience is. What the planners probably said was "the single most persuasive idea." Try and determine what the idea was before the execution was created.

6. Try using some of those approaches in your next assignment. Rip them off. Steal them. Make them yours. I'm not talking about the executions. That's just plagiarism. But when you figure out what the basic starter idea was, you'll see those themes kicked up over and over in advertising from different agencies for different clients. It's basic psychology stuff. And it will make you a much better creative.

(All credit to this approach goes to my old copywriting professor Coz Cotzias at the VCU Brandcenter.)

"Constantly Being Out There"

Last week, I got to work with a musician who was at RISD about the same time Shepard Fairey was there. He said he remembered Fairey printing his Andre the Giant stickers and bringing boxes of them to the small concerts he loved attending. He’d give them to the band or to their road manager for free, provided they take them on their tour with them. That’s why, after a few years, with no paid advertising, these little stickers made by some design school kid in Providence began to appear all over the country.

I was in portfolio school the first time I heard about Fairey. It fact, I don’t even think I heard about him. What I heard was, “There’s this guy who makes these Andre the Giant stickers and gives them away for free. They’re pretty cool. Look, there’s one on the back of that stop sign over there.”

Years later, he’s the guy who designed the first presidential portrait to be purchased by the United States National Portrait Gallery before the President had been sworn into office.

What this former schoolmate of Fairey's told me was this: “I honestly don’t know if ‘Andre the Giant has a Posse’ is a great concept or not. It could be brilliant. It could be absurd. Maybe both, I don’t know. What I do know is that never quitting, and constantly being out there can make all the difference.”

Carl Sandburg and Manifestos

We've written before about manifestos. A well-written one can be a powerful opening to a meeting. Couple it with the right art direction, and a great manifesto can sell a campaign, even if it never appears as a print ad or in the voiceover.

As a writer, you need to know how to write a great manifesto. As an art director, you need to be able to imbue those words with meaning, making them even more relevant. They may not be ads, but they can help you make and sell better ones.

Here's a poem I recently found by Carl Sandburg. I think this would make a great manifesto. Maybe for Corvette. Or Gulfstream. Or FedEx. (Any other ideas?) It's about the right length. What really works for me are the cadence and the imagery. Read it out loud. Poetry, like manifestos, is meant to be heard.

The silent litany of the workmen goes on –
Speed, speed, we are the makers of speed.
We make the flying, crying motors,
Clutches, brakes, and axles,
Gears, ignitions, accelerators,
Spokes and springs and shock absorbers.
The silent litany of the workmen goes on –
Speed, speed, we are the makers of speed;
Axles, clutches, levers, shovels,
We make signals and lay the way –
Speed, speed.

The trees come down to our tools,
We carve the wood to the wanted shape.
The whining propeller's song in the sky,
The steady drone of the overland truck,
Comes from our hands; us; the makers of speed.

Speed; the turbines crossing the Big Pond,
Every nut and bolt, every bar and screw,
Every fitted and whirring shaft,
They came from us, the makers,
Us, who know how,
Us, the high designers and the automatic feeders,
Us, with heads,
Us, with hands,
Us on the long haul, the short flight,
We are the makers; lay the blame on us –
The makers of speed.

(I'm not expecting any takers on this, but if any of you art directors want to art direct Sandburg's poem and submit it, we'll post it, tweet it, link to your portfolio and sing your praises.)

Pre-Roll Is Broccoli

I was at the Oakland Airport the other day and was pumped to see that they now have free wi-fi. That is, free wi-fi for 45 minutes, if you sit through a commercial. Awesome, right? Free wi-fi? And all I had to do is sit through a 30-second commercial?

Then a couple days later, I was watching a video online, for free, and there was a discreet "Brought to you by MINI" up above the video player. No pre-roll.

So here's my question: Which of these models is better for the brand?

Traditional thinking would say that the one where you get the full brand message (i.e. option A) is the better. The brand spent all this time crafting a strategy and money producing a commercial--they want people to watch it.

But the problem with this is that it positions the advertising as something negative. It's the work you have to do before you can enjoy the reward. It's the broccoli before the ice cream sundae. The barrier between you and what you want. The negative end of the trade-off. The cost. In short, not where we want our brands to be.

Option B, the little logo, represents more modern thinking about a brand's relationship with its consumers. What is Mini giving me? An interruption-free video? Awesome! Thanks, Mini! In this case, the brand is the bowl in which the ice cream sundae is served. I like that bowl, and I'm left feeling good about the brand. It has given me something I want. Sure, I didn't get a "message," but I have a FEELING (I would argue that's more important anyway).

We're at a pretty pivotal time in the way advertising is perceived. The old model sets up advertising as annoyance. It interrupts our shows. Delays our movies. Clutters our scenery. Do we really want to carry this legacy forward online?

This is a media question. In the traditional model, it was answered by the media folks. A lot of agencies and media companies still work like this. It's all about the numbers--the GRPs and Impressions and Clicks. But media has become the responsibility of everyone. If you're a creative, it's a conversation you should be involved in, because it influences how people view your creative and your brands. So get in there and ask questions, start conversations and, most important, be thinking of alternative solutions.