Why I Suck at Foosball

I am a horrible foosball player. I ended up sitting out all the pickup games at my last agency, because office rules held that you played for a dollar, and I got tired of always losing dollars.

I think one of the reasons I’m so bad is because I tense up. I take foosball much too seriously. Especially for someone with such poor foosball skills. Last December, when my nephew and niece were creaming me in a game, my wife made fun of me because because, in her words, I looked like I was “trying to save the world and losing.”
I used to tense up when I sat down to make ads. A blank piece of paper. And I’m the one who has to fill it. I was trying to save the world, and I was afraid of losing.
I don’t approach ads that way anymore. It’s counterproductive and counterfun. I work hard. But I know that if I whiff on an assignment, I’ve got either another round or another assignment headed my way. 
I’m a lot more successful and have a lot more fun coming up with ads than I do playing foosball. Because to me one’s a game. And the other is a competition I’m trying to win.

Match Wits With Professor Layton

I’ve been playing Professor Layton and the Curious Village on my Nintendo DS. It’s a very addicting puzzle game. Here’s the trailer…

There are over 100 puzzles in this game, from simple riddles to chess games to jigsaw puzzles. A famous riddle that appears in the game is this: “If A is the first letter, and B comes after, what is the last letter of the alphabet?” Of course, you immediately answer “Z,” which is incorrect. Because the question’s really about the last letter of the word “alphabet” and not the 26 letters.
I was really stuck on another one where I had to create a + on a field of pegs. Given the parameters, it seemed impossible. Until I realized that if I tipped the + on its side to make an X, the problem was workable.
What does this have to do with advertising? Almost without exception, the puzzles in this game are solved by looking at the problem from another angle. They’re deliberately phrased to make you assume one thing, but it’s not until you see past those presumptions that you’re able to crack the code.
Like approaching a new assignment, you go in with some presumptions. Like you can’t do award-winning work on packaged goods. Or the client never buys humor. Or the answer is a full-page print ad. Or any kind of an ad.
Presumptions. Scrap them. Ignore them. Pay them no mind. That’s what Professor Layton does.

My book is my boss.

A couple of posts ago I asked “Who will you work for?” My answer (which most of you hit on in some form or another) is this:

I work for my book.

It sounds selfish. Ego-centric. A little self-absorbed. But it’s the only answer I’ve found that really makes sense to me.

When I work for my book…

I win. Because I know I’m pushing myself creatively, and I’m more likely to end up with a breakthrough idea. If my end result doesn’t garner any awards, I’ll still know that I didn’t phone it in, and I’m that much sharper for the next assignment.

The agency wins. For all the reasons listed above. The agency gets another number by its name in the index of the One Show and/or I’ve become that more valuable to the office as an employee.

My creative director wins. For all the reasons heretofore listed.

The client wins. I can’t do great creative if the client’s not benefiting from the effort. It’s not creative if it doesn’t sell. And it probably won’t sell if it’s not creative. Also, outside the industry, when a great ad appears, it’s the client who becomes famous, not you. Happy to live with that.

Your alma matter wins. No matter what portfolio school you went to, they get to say that you went there as a recruiting device.

The industry wins.
I think we’d all agree at least 90% of the advertising out there is garbage. Work for your book and you’ll automatically be in the top 10%. Better yet, you can be part of the effort to push the percentage of bad advertising down to 89%.

My bank account wins. Keep your eye on the ball. But, yes, this too will be affected.

Work for your book. It’s the only thing guaranteed to follow you to the next gig.

Triple Threat

Yes, you’re all too busy putting your books together to indulge in “reading.” Certainly, not when the book is 500 – 700 pages long. But in the off chance you’re looking to squeeze in a chapter or two between Starbucks runs and wearing down your Sharpies on your comps, let me introduce you to three books worth reading:

If you’re lucky enough to be hired at Ricther7, these are three books the agency’s president, Dave Newbold, will suggest you read. Not because they’re advertising books (okay, “Whipple” is), but because they’re about creativity, and what it means to create.

The Agony and the Ecstasy is Irving Stone’s novelized biography of Michaelangelo, which he’s cobbled together from the Master’s actual correspondence. Here’s a guy who not only sculpts, paints and writes, he becomes legendary in each arena. Why? Because he’s creatively driven. The movie with Charleston Heston is pretty good. The novel is fantastic. If you don’t have time to read it now, be sure to before your next visit to Florence.

The Fountainhead is Ayn Rand’s epic story of Howard Roark, an architect who will not cave in to convention. While everyone around him is insisting the best work has already been accomplished (Renaissance, Gothic, Roman, or whatever they happen to consider “the best”), Roark follows his own creative vision. It’s loosely based on and inspired by the life of Frank Lloyd Wright. If an early attempt at Atlas Shrugged turned you off to Rand’s philosophy, give The Fountainhead a try. If you are a creative person, I can almost guarantee this book will speak to you.

Do we really need to talk about why Hey, Whipple is included? No. If you haven’t read it by now, dear student, shame on you.

When Headlines by Committee Works

Awhile back, Greg posted an article by Sally Hogshead with the simple statistical reality that you have to write about 100 headlines to get a good one. And while creativity by committee can be a frustrating and deadly process, if you have a concept, it sometimes helps to have several writers plugging away at headlines, just to generate the volume.

Here’s an example I found entertaining and relevant to what we do. It’s a story from This American Life about the process they go through at The Onion to create their fantastic headlines.