Tag Archives: Theory

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.

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.

After Price and Function come…

Aesthetics. And that, sadly, is why the Zune can never win.

No news about whether this version will let you play songs you got for, uh, “free” (and come on, what’s the point of owning an mp3 player if you can’t control which songs you can play?). Price doesn’t seem that different from the iPhone ($219 for a 16 gig Zune vs $199 for iphone with similar specs). So it’s down to aesthetics:

Compare with the iPhone:

The Zune’s design is so overdone it’s hard to tell if it was imitating the Nokia 6300 or the iPhone. It’s angular design and austere logo may lend it an air of ‘business’ but the blocky all-caps sans-serif interface screams arrogant hipster. Which means? HD or no, just about everything from package design on down to apps and appearance will signal square.

We Need Our Art & Copy!

What a film. I had really enjoyed it at a students-only screening put on by Marbles in Toronto some months back. I never commented because Sundance was done and I figured with most of these smaller indie flicks, readers wouldn’t be able to find it.

I was probably right, but I’ll say a few things anyway.

I snuck into despite not actually being a ‘student’ of that unholy capitalist trinity of PR/Advertising/Marketing (unless you count autodidacts), and this film, while not necessarily ‘changing my life’, did reaffirm my commitment to be in advertising. It’s a wonderful, glorious profession that can be difficult, can be dirty and nasty and ignominious, but is nonetheless outweighed by the impact it can have.

For any aspiring creative seeking to make their skills useful, to effect change with their art, and to get maximum exposure for their work and not their egos, there has never been a better career. This is true also because all artists have been advertisers. The Old Masters, like Handel or Bach, Bernini or Da Vinci, Shakespeare or Marlowe, just shilled for different clients, like the Church, the Monarchy or wealthy merchants. Still, advertising for a time was considered the domain of ‘failed’ artists, which isn’t necessarily true. After all, there are wall-painters and then there are Michelangelos. Billboard painters, package designers, and Alphonse Mucha. Fops and Beau Brummell. Poseurs and Andy Warhol… you get my drift. The point is that art and advertising are inextricably intertwined and hacks and true artists exist in both professions.

Art & Copy is a film about some of the people, who made this abundantly clear. It is also, despite his being dead, a film about the legacy and debt this whole industry owes to one man: Bill Bernbach.

PS: It has occurred to me that I’ve actually written very little about the movie itself. I’m recovering from vacation, but if you want to get a glimpse of the movie from people saying what I would were I not exhausted go below:



While you’re at it, check out 9 ways to improve an ad:


And stuff that’s likely to end up on the film’s DVD:


And lastly, a trailer: