To clocks, bad ads and good ads are identical.

In Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This! Luke Sullivan reminds us that it takes just as long to make a bad commercial as it does to make a good commercial. Whether it’s a brilliant, shining idea or a dripping wad of hair and toe jam, you’re still going to have to do storyboards for it. And present it to the client. And walk through a director through the idea. And sit through a pre-pro. And sit in video village. And edit. And revision after revision after revision.

So don’t cut corners on the idea. Make the idea solid. Because even if the client strips away your very best shots, and makes you change the music you love, and doesn’t want to pay $1 million for the celebrity voiceover, you’ll still have a strong idea.

If you spent the time to uncover it.

Know What You Need To Know

If you’re doing an ad – even a spec ad for your student portfolio – know what you’re advertising.

If you’re advertising gum, go buy a pack and chew it. Chew it every day for a week.

If you’re doing an ad for a car, go to the dealership and sit in it. Take it for a test drive.

If you’re doing an ad for insurance, call them up and pretend like you’re interested in buying some. You’ll get a bunch of junk mail and follow-up phone calls. But you’ll probably have a better ad in the end.

A lot of times, students (and even professionals) rely on the internet for research. We watch videos. We read articles. We sit through planners’ consumer insights presentations. We think we’re too busy for hands-on experience.

We’re not.

Get to know your product. Use it. Live with it. See what you love and what you hate about it.

You can do a good ad without ever touching your product.

But without it, it’s very difficult to do a great one.

How to Write for Television (When You Have Never Written for Television)

If you want to concept TV commercials, you’ve got to start with premises. Do not write scripts. Let me explain…

Forever ago, I did a summer internship at GSD&M in Austin, Texas. I was in between semesters at the VCU Adcenter (before it was the Brandcenter), and I was excited not only to be at an agency that had been all over the award annuals, but to be partnered with a classmate of mine who was a fantastic art director. It was going to be a very good summer.

That first week, we were given a chance to write TV commercials for Chili’s. Yes, the Chili’s of Baby Back Rib fame. Our first year in school, we had worked on lots of print campaigns, but had never worked on TV. (This is before digital was even a thing. Web banners weren’t even a thing. Like I said, this was forever ago.)

So we sat down and spent days concepting. We came up with a story about an Amish boy. We had another one about a kung fu master and his disciples. We had one shot from the point of view of a bird. And we crafted each script in detail. We argued over dialogue for hours. I thought the Amish boy should say, “Yea, verily,” because it sounded funny and biblical. My art director thought he should say, “Even so, mother,” because it made more sense. This went on for days.

Finally, we brought five or six scripts in to our creative director. Who killed them all. Welcome to advertising.

So we came up with five or six more scripts. And we agonized over dialogue and descriptions. Again, we showed them to our creative director. Nothing.

We were feeling disappointed and a little bit of pressure because we knew that the interns VCU sent to this agency the year before had actually produced a commercial for Pennzoil. That’s insane. Summer interns producing a TV commercial? But it happened. And we wanted it to happen for us, too.

But it never did. We had a fun summer. But we produced nothing. (To be fair, the idea that interns would produce anything other than spec work is a little unrealistic. But we didn’t know that.)

On the last day of our internship, our creative director gave us an evaluation. And we were shocked to hear that it wasn’t so hot. He said we came in with five or six scripts a week. According to him, the team that had produced the Pennzoil spot last year came in with 100 ideas the day after they were briefed. Maybe 100 was an exaggeration. But it was certainly more than five.

It took me the better part of my career to learn that there is a difference between writing premises and writing scripts.

A premise is a short two to three sentence blurb about what the spot’s about.

A script is a crafted document that tells you exactly what happens in the commercial.

A premise is loose.

A script is tight.

You can write 100 premises in a day.

It might take you an entire afternoon to write a decent script.

A premise is something you jot down as a potential idea.

A script is an idea you begin to craft.

So if you have the chance to write TV scripts. Don’t just start writing TV scripts. That’s like crafting the body copy for a marker comp. Start with a premise. And then come up with another. And another. And another.

Creative vs. Creative Director

There’s an article in CA‘s Interactive Annual by Xanthe Wells called “Promoted to Fail.” It includes  this chart from Rob Schwartz.

I love it. It’s true. Absolutely true.
But if you’re a young creative with aspirations of becoming a creative director, don’t just jump to the right-hand column. Embrace the left side. Be about your book. Have lots of ideas. Worry about now. It’s what you need to do now.
Someday, you’ll realize you’re more concerned about the client than your book. You’ll know what finding the idea feels like. Unifying won’t sound so lame and kumbaya-ish.
Nothing wrong with either column. Just know where you fall. And play your part as best you can.

It doesn’t have to be what you think it has to be.

I’m a fan of Stephan Sagmeister. I like his book. I like his TED talks. Maybe I’m suckered by the Viennese accent, but I think he does fascinating work.

Sagmeister was asked by Adobe to “make an interpretive graphic of their logo.” A lot of creatives would have come back to Adobe with just that. A different version of their logo. Sagmeister gave them a game show. The first episode is below. But you should view the entire experience here.

https://player.vimeo.com/video/87875328?color=ffffff&title=0&byline=0&portrait=0
Episode 1, Sagmeister X Walsh from Sagmeister & Walsh on Vimeo.

I work at The Richards Group. And though I’m not on this account, one of our most famous campaigns is the Chick-fil-A cows. This is one of the longest-running, most-awarded advertising campaigns around. And the Cows were completely off-brief. Not even close. The idea was at odds with the original strategy. It took guts to present something off-brief to the clients. And it took guts for the client to buy it. But it’s done pretty well for both parties.

We all approach assignments with pre-conceptions. And sometimes we’re able to overcome them. But even then, we still stay within expected parameters. Yes, we have clients to answer to. And yes, we have to be grown-ups and deliver what we promised. But don’t let that stop you from doing something more.

It doesn’t have to be what you think it has to be.

 

The 30 Most Creative Women In Advertising

How many amazing, world-class female creatives can you name? (Go ahead, post them in the comments section, I’m curious.) Not just good female creatives, but Cannes-jury-level female creatives. Off-hand, I can think of four or five. And a couple of them aren’t really in the business anymore. I know there are more. But unfortunately, they don’t come as easily to mind.

There are lots of women in advertising. But not on the creative side. At least not in my experience. If you’re a female writer or art director, I hope you can change that. I hope you can put your stamp on the industry. Here’s a list to get you inspired. It’s The 30 Most Creative Women In Advertising according to Business Insider.

Go through the list. See how many of these women you already know. You probably already know their work. See what they do, and how they do it. Then, go do it yourself.

Guys, you may want to pay attention, too.