Tag Archives: advertising

I know where I stand, do you?

Like all organizations we’re imperfect. I see the dysfunctions up close. We all suffer from the organization’s failures, we live its frustrations. Of course you can’t just accept imperfections, dysfunctions, failures and frustrations. You have to work constantly, diligently, to right what’s wrong. And here’s the big question: Will you find joy in this frustrating, never-ending circumstance. Or will you be one of the bitchers and moaners who are constantly unhappy?

~ Mike Hughes


Advertising as a force for good

I remember one of my early classes where we were told to define great advertising. I remember including the word ‘integrity’ in my definition. I was told that advertising has to sell, but didn’t have to ‘be’ anything other than that. It is usually honest, but that’s only because the consumer is smart enough to know when s/he is being lied to.

Where do you stand? It seems easy to say ‘keep morality out of this’ but you can’t define what ‘great’ is without making a normative call. Take the ‘so long as it sells’ argument: If you invented a way to hypnotize people into doing whatever you wanted, but it was completely uncreative and meant the target would suffer serious physical/emotional consequences, would you use it?

Maybe that’s why we need all these laws and regulations, because if we didn’t the ad industry would just threaten people into buying their products.

I still don’t believe this one bit. Advertising can and should be so much more. The end goal of the ad person should never be simply to move product, but also to re-imagine how the product can actually fulfill a vital need for the consumer. It’s hard to say who inspired who between client and agency when we talk of Nike, Coke, Apple or any of the other iconic brands today, since much great creative is presented as the clients’ idea, but there isn’t much doubt as to how they’ve impacted society. Sure, there will always be problems with sweat shops, etc. (which they’re actually working to fix), but they’ve also done much good in developing nations, improving domestic poverty, and inspiring people to strive for their goals. They also happen to be among the wealthiest companies in the world, which shows the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

But the moral obligation of the ad person goes beyond heckling people into buying, it extends to leaving things better than you’ve found it.

Take the consumers’ time, and give them something more valuable. A laugh, a sentiment, a cure. We can’t always deliver on that, but we must always try. Because the quickest way to wealth rarely involves seeking it out directly. And because every failure to deliver more than we take makes it that much harder for the rest of us to gain the consumers’ confidence in the next message.

Bootleg Swag can be Good Branding

There are some really bad examples of your product out there that could destroy your brand.

Usually they’re in foreign countries, and usually they are trying to avoid getting sued for making stuff that looks exactly like yours. They tend to come off as the equivalent of movie-only brands. You know, those props that get made with names like Tilde or Bludveiser to avoid having to pay royalties? Well, if you don’t, look at some examples of real-life knock-off swag to see what I mean:


The problem with this stuff is that it can become a subversive means of discouraging sales of your swag.

Disney’s Imitators Ruined My Innocence

My parents used to make me wear ‘Michael Mouse’ sweatpants from Hong Kong growing up. I’ve never bought ANY Disney, legitimate or otherwise, as a result of the ridicule I received. Disney didn’t just lose sales since my parents obviously couldn’t tell the difference between real or fake, they lost an opportunity to advertise to real potential customers.

Those were lame-looking pants because they weren’t at all the real deal. If they had been, the kids in my class might of gotten their parents to buy Disney swag. Instead, they probably threatened to run away from home if they were ever caught wearing anything remotely like what the fat kid they chased around in class was wearing.

While I’m Not Crying

I believe bootlegs of a certain standard should be kept around. So long as the contraband isn’t obviously fake or too much like the real deal they should be allowed to perpetuate in developing countries. Most people living in those countries aren’t likely to purchase the real stuff anyway. Those who can pride themselves on buying the real stuff and being able to tell the difference. Some can afford it but will insist on buying fakes. Forget them, the day you take away all knockoffs is the day they switch to no-name brands. Why not allow the market to flood itself with shoddy-looking knockoffs with your logo on them and get some free advertising? It’ll push their prices down and make yours look more prestigious by comparison.

I realize it’s unauthorized and I understand that some ‘luxury’ products derive value from being rare or from pure functionality. If you don’t have much brand image and your product is function-specific, then you’ve got a branding job ahead of you, invest the crack-down money on that instead. If you’re a rare luxury product, I’d say the real stuff will look even better by comparison, and there’ll be no shortage of people who’d still buy it.

Look, nearly all viral marketing is unauthorized, all you have to do is capitalize on the opportunity.

Bottom line? Stop fighting free advertising.

If you really only want the ‘right’ people buying your product, then you can consider this:

An Example of the Internet Helping

Say you sell a product that isn’t based on some specific function. Say it’s beyond the price range of everybody who seems to be wearing them, because they’re actually identical knockoffs. The good news is it’s free advertising for anybody who can afford them by everybody who can’t. The bad news is if it gets into your target markets. Here’s what you might do:

Incorporate something like a scan-able sticker into the product design. Maybe redesign tags so they shouldn’t be removed. Then do nothing. At least, not until those you don’t really want representing your brand with copies have already purchased your product. Then, rather than try to force producers of fakes into creating fake logos, run a campaign educating people on how to spot fakes, emphasize how much of the core benefit of your product is lost (better fit, molds to body, whatever). Throw in an online component allowing people to post and ridicule egregious examples of fraudulent merchandise. Your pseudo-competitors can’t advertise, but since you aren’t suing them for using your name, they’ll likely keep producing cheap versions of your stuff. The difference is that people will be less likely to buy them once they realize they’re being tracked by those who buy the real goods.

Of course, this could potentially backfire, creating two camps of people who love your product, and people trying to make a statement by buying fakes. But that’s fine, at the end of the day the net gain in interaction with your brand and sales will almost certainly be greater than if you covertly tried to crush your competitors.

And that’s how you might make bootleg swag into good branding.

Corporate Camouflage: Why it pays to wear a blazer

Recently I met with a friend in the ad biz. Over drinks he told me that the recession has knocked out quite a few people in the agencies. What was of particular interest to me was the type of people being let go. At one agency here in Toronto the ratio of account people to creatives is something like 10 to 1.

Which is why it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to get a suit, even if the unspoken rule at your office is never to wear one. When it’s about keeping your job, it helps not to stand out as the un-presentable, sloppy dude. At the very least having a suit will make you more difficult to spot when they send security to round up the scruffy creatives in t-shirts and stained jeans. You may even be able to run off a few resumes or lock an account person in the closet and steal his identity before they catch you. You could also sell a few more ideas and thus avoid getting fired in the first place.

For years we’ve assumed the ‘suit’ to be the purview of accounts people, we even call them such on a bad day. The truth is clients with BofCs and MBAs are trained to judge people based on their attire. They may dress like Ed Hardy or wear Affliction t-shirts on the weekends, but to them the blazer and trouser are the mark of someone serious about getting things done during business hours.

Historically the suit has also been a privilege. For the longest time it was the mark of professionals who didn’t have to work with their hands. It meant you could afford expensive clothing and didn’t have to worry about getting them dirty on a daily basis.

In the same way creative teams in this industry are expected to work creatively to a set of guidelines (make the client shine, avoid offending the target, make sense to consumers), sartorially I find it far more impressive to see someone subtly express themselves to a dress code than loudly wear a really cool t-shirt to a black-tie event.

Apparently I’m not the only one, agencies who dress like Mad Men (great finale last night) seem to have a better time acquiring and attaining business than those who don’t. And Don Draper is a good example of somebody who buttons up while expressing himself. From his battle-ship suit to his creative tie to his armored cufflinks, he’s a man so well put together and so definitive in his style that no client doubts Don understands the importance of appearances.

So what does someone raised in a world that’s only recently come back to the almighty jacket do? A few ideas:

1. Avoid wearing black during the day, avoid wearing brown at night

2. Fit is everything.

3. Break it up–jeans with jacket, trousers with sweaters, vests with t-shirts and other colors–then…

4. Bring it all together if the situation warrants, or if you just feel like it

5. Socks are actually an accessory, never wear white ones.

In a business where ideas are notoriously difficult to sell and clients don’t often believe you actually know anything, showing that you can dress at least as well or better than they can will make them wonder what else you can do better, too. Most of us splurge on watches, sneakers, glasses and gadgets while completely neglecting the other 75% of our bodies. Tighter-fitting, better-looking clothing may feel uncomfortable at first, but you probably cried when you were first swaddled, too. And now you wouldn’t imagine going in public without fabric armor.

Plus you get at least two more pockets on your torso, and who doesn’t love pockets?

Get a good suit, and wear the hell out of it.

It’s not that hard


I should say that I haven’t won awards and I haven’t written anything I personally consider absolutely brilliant. I’ve spent most of this year looking around trying to figure out what was wrong with my work and how to make it better. Now, coming up on mid-terms at Humber, I have realized how crucial portfolio school really is. Nobody really tells you what brilliant work looks like, most people don’t even know it.

Every creative director I’ve shown my book to has given me passes but haven’t let me in. I understand this a lot better today. They don’t want to be your teachers, they are looking for excellent workers. If you don’t fall into that category they’ll just give you encouragement and maybe a water and toss you on your way.

I will probably eat these words if by next year at this time I’m still unemployed and pounding pavement. But truthfully, great creative isn’t all that hard. We see what is ‘good’ by industry standards, what sort of tricks or formulae are tested, and we take a pretty neat idea and mold it to that model. Ideas come after several hours of thinking hard and trying several models. It’s not rocket science, the fate of the free world rests on the shoulders of others. This is just sign-painting.

I’ve seen what great looks like. Now it’s time to go out and get it.

It’s definitely Y!ou, not me.

Thanks to Barbara Lippert, who brought me much insightful commentary and this campaign to my attention. I can’t figure out what I dislike more, how corporate this whole campaign feels when it should be about reaching out to each user individually or how Yahoo can’t help pointing at themselves when claiming to talk about ‘you’.

If you can’t agree on one thing, don’t just incorporate everything

Visually this ad is right up there in meaninglessness with Bing. It’s worse, because Bing could at least make some claim to novelty and at least the cut-scenes could be construed to capture the media-overload problem that product was supposed to solve. Here, Yahoo is professing to be about the individual, which means it shouldn’t really be about a bunch of cookie-cutter demographics. If it is, then it’s about everybody, even if they’re all isolated. At best they’re only extremely loosely-based on people I know. Nonetheless, that means it’s not about me.

It’s tough to try speaking to one person at a time. Tougher to convince them you’re speaking to them for the first time, and that this isn’t some rehearsed spiel that’s been hashed over by marketing departments, account people, creatives and their directors, and a load of focus groups. Ads that have accomplished this in the past didn’t try to reference that fact. Uncle Sam didn’t say, “I Want You–poor/middle/rich, white/hispanic/black, guy/girl anywhere between the ages of 18-35 of fighting age or capable of working in a factory!” he said “I Want YOU” and the message was strong enough. Throw in that other crap and people very quickly realize you aren’t really talking to them.

If your strategy is that you MUST make the brand about this nebulous non-existent person-in-the-street loosely referred to as ‘you’, then evade outlining who you’re talking to as best you can. In this post-post-post-modern era, irony helps. So does honesty. Come right out and say it.

The message is, “We’re interested in you, these are the people who you are obviously NOT (because our marketing department dreamed them up and stuck them in an ad), now tell us who you really are. Prove to yourself that you are not just DNA on a cotton swab, or the space between your retinas, or a blurry image on cold security monitor.”

It’s a little premature to pass all this judgment, and maybe future spots will feature different people, but I feel like it would only reaffirm the fact that Yahoo! is just an extension of Microsoft. If you feature individual people with their own stories, you’re doing what CP+B did with their ‘I’m a PC’. I’m saying there has to be a way to showcase the fact that people are unique without just showing a bunch of people hand-picked based on their congruence with various social groups.

The Y!ou logo is, in my opinion, poor design. It smacks of self-serving smugness and smells of burnt designer souls. This is the icon for Yahoo, and a shorthand of their logo:

This is how they write it when referring to the audience in second-person:

The question is, who are they putting first? An exclamation point is used to emphasize what comes before. They couldn’t even include the rest of us in the excitement. The rest of the word is tacked on alike an afterthought. This really reads, “It’s Yahoo! ou”, or “Yahoo! owns u” (because that’s what this campaign is trying to do really, own the very idea of self). Even the body copy begins with a boast about how great the company is.

I predict that nothing is really going to change, whatever increase in traffic they get will come from those who aren’t using yahoo even though they’d rather be because Google is actually that much better at delivering the goods. They will try Yahoo and likely leave again because the core message, and I suspect the whole corporate culture, was never about anybody but themselves.

Glad SOME good’s come out of DDB Brazil

Quickly, what happened last week:

Ad Agency DDB Brazil won some awards for a VERY CONTROVERSIAL ad linking 9/11 to Global warming and American interference in, well, everything. At least that was what I took away, and was promptly informed by some that I was reading way too much into it. I maintain that my viewpoint wasn’t unique, and that at least some extreme-patriots-cum-reverse-conspiracists must have seen these ads as anti-American.

copy reads: "THE TSUNAMI KILLED 100 TIMES MORE PEOPLE THAN 9/11. The planet is brutally powerful. Respect it. Preserve it. http://www.wwf.org"

Anyway, dabitch at Adland has covered this in far better detail than me, and informs many of the facts I have here, so you can get a fuller story there. Before I forget, Barbara Lippert was where I found this stuff first.

Long Story Short

Suffice it to say that creatives at DDB Brazil came up with this ad, the agency somehow sold it to WWFBrazil, ran it once in a small publication, and then submitted it all over. Cannes and OneShow awarded them for their, ahem, efforts. Then people started to get REALLY offended by it. While people were getting angry, some of them pointed out that it wasn’t even a REAL ad. It only ran once, it wasn’t even in a big paper. The head offices of both DDB and WWF never approved it. Then One Show revoked their award, the creatives were fired, and due to some excellent blogging by the Dog and Pony Show, new rules have come into effect at the One Club. The main punishment is a retroactive and cumulative 5-year ban for anyone submitting fake ads.

Effective beginning in 2010:

  • An agency or regional office of an agency network that enters an ad made for a nonexistent client, or made and run without a client’s approval, will be banned from entering the One Show for five years.
  • The entire team credited on the “fake” entry will be banned from entering the One Show for five years.
  • An agency or regional office of an agency network that enters an ad that has run once, on late-night TV, or only because the agency produced a single ad and paid to run it itself will be banned from entering the One Show for three years.

So that’s it. At least now it’ll be harder to get away with cheating. It won’t stop ads that have only run once, just those that are run disingenuously at late hours or paid for by the agency. Gotta love those clauses, because for a second there I was worried Apple’s “1984” by TBWA/Chiat Day were gonna get screwed (it only ran one Super Bowl).

Still, my question is how those guys won. The morning-after consensus is almost unanimously that DDB Brazil deserves their award IF they had run it in a real magazine, or more than once, or any of the other criteria above. Except that the original reason everybody was angry was that the ad flat-out made little sense and worse, pissed off more people who saw it than otherwise. So how do judges pick these things? Are awards but a complex form of chicken in which the agency with the biggest balls and the ability to cajole clients wins? Or was the coup great because they ran something so offensive that next-to-no initial public response to such a slap in the face could be termed ‘a win’?

As a student of advertising I’m really confused here. Any help?