My Ad Anthem

Just thought I’d share this song. For the last four years or so, it’s kind of become my advertising anthem.


Your Competition

Our friend Nate is also teaching at Miami Ad School this quarter, and he, Greg and I exchanged a few emails of advice and what to expect last week. In one of them, Greg said something that I think is really important and that students often forget (It applies to people in an agency too. It’s easy to compare yourself to your coworkers and nobody else.):

I usually found that midway or 2/3rds of the way through the term, students had kind of figured out how to coast. Come in with some kind of interesting ideas, listen to the instructor, revise them a little bit, start to lay them out and they look a little like ads. Almost every term I’d have to have a break-them-down-to-rebuild-them meeting where I’d do two things:

1) I’d have them look at a CA or One Show annual in class. Spend about 5 minutes with it. And then have them examine their absolute best (usually comped-up) work and honestly say whether or not it belonged.

2) Point out that their competition for a job isn’t in that classroom (it’s very easy to start to rank yourself among your peers). The competition is coming from Richmond, and Atlanta, and Miami and wherever any of those ad schools are, plus all the talented juniors who are still looking for work. No one can afford to coast.

Fawlty Reasoning

Recently I was watching an interview with Monty Python’s John Cleese, and he was talking about the success of Fawlty Towers. (If you’re not familiar with the show, you’re missing out.) Even though there were only 12 episodes, Cleese claims that Fawlty Towers has actually become more popular than Monty Python everywhere but the US where It mostly runs on PBS.

He says the one of the reasons Fawlty Towers was so successful was “because we worked so hard on it.”He and his co-writer/then wife, Connie Booth were writing scripts that were 135 pages long. When their producer told them the average 30-minute script was only 60 pages, they continued to write more than double the amount.

If anything needed to be cut, they could leave the best bits in. But it turned out they crammed in everything, giving the show a faster pace, which hadn’t really been seen on BBC comedies before.

Cleese says he and Booth would spend about six weeks on each script. The first three weeks were in developing the plot, and the last three on the dialogue. According to Cleese, writers today spend an average of 10 days on script, and sometimes as little as four, “which is why most of them aren’t very good.”

Cleese wasn’t pulling late nighters to look good, or because he thought his producers expected it. He’d already made a name for himself with Monty Python and could have easily coasted on that. But he was genuinely enjoying what he was doing. The result was not just good work, but fantastic work.

You may not have six weeks to work out a script, come up with an idea or develop a campaign. But you can get passionate about your work. And suddenly, it won’t seem like work any more. When that happens, my guess is you’ll be having a lot more fun, and winning a lot more awards.

There’s always more ink in your pen.

I once had a couple portfolio students who did a really cool campaign. The visuals were great. The tagline tied everything up perfectly. They could have kept it there. But they wanted to push it. So they tried writing headlines for each ad. And the lines they wrote were good and funny and well-crafted.
They printed out the campaign with and without the headlines. And we all sat down to take a look. And we ultimately decided the ad was better without the headlines. But just barely. It seemed such a shame to cut such scintillating copy from their campaign.
But what an awesome position to be in. It wasn’t a huge surprise when these ads were featured on Adcritic’s homepage before the team had even left portfolio school.
What did they lose? Some great lines? Sure. But even golden copy isn’t gold. You’ve got more ink in your pen. More ideas in your brain. You’re not wasting nonrenewable resources.

Thinking is not wasted effort.

Natalie Goldberg, who wrote the how-to-write books Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind, encourages her students to write constantly. And she says every once in a while a student will ask, “But what do you do with what you write?” She answers, “I don’t know. What do you do with after you drink a glass of water?”
She means that you don’t have to do anything with it. It becomes a part of you. Maybe there’s a line or two you can use. Maybe a whole paragraph. Maybe nothing. But it’s not wasted effort. You write because you’re a writer. You art direct because you’re an art director. You come up with ideas because you’re creative.
So don’t be afraid of generating ideas you won’t use. Experiment with layouts. Write long body copy for a visual solution. And then you’ll be able to decide what, if anything, to do with them.

Why Creativity Isn’t Enough

Here are four characteristics of the kind of advertising we all aspire to create:

But most of us focus the majority of our efforts on only one area:

We’re in the creative department. We’re called creatives. One of the leading industry magazines is called Creativity.

The problem is, almost all of the student portfolios I see are creative. But that doesn’t get them a job. In most cases it doesn’t even get them an interview.
A lot of the advertising I see on TV and billboards and online is creative. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to win Lions at Cannes. It doesn’t even mean the writer and art director who came up with the idea will want to showcase it in their portfolios.
The way creative begins to stand out is to make it brilliant.

There are a lot of ways creative can become brilliant. A great brief with a great insight. Mind-blowing art direction. A real human truth. Basically, I think it’s creative work that the team actually cares about. It’s creative that tries harder.

Brilliant creative elevates your book out of the crowd a little bit. It puts you in the top quarter of portfolio school graduates. But top quarter isn’t really enough, right?
The next leap is to make it different.
It can’t just be different for different’s sake. You’ve got to back it up with the brilliance. So what’s the difference between brilliant creative and being different? It’s got to have that “I’ve never seen that before” feel. Look at the Skittles work. Completely different than anything in the candy category. Look at the Space Chair work from Toshiba. Or the We Choose the Moon site from Martin. Or Whopper Freakout. Not just brilliant creative, but very different from anything that came before.
I have seen only a few student books that have been able to do something truly different. And those were students that agencies were quick to hire.
But the big leap is to make your work innovative.
This is real Titanium Lion territory. And to be honest, it’s hard for me to imagine pulling something like this off in portfolio school. It’s hard enough once you’re in a job. But knowing what to reach for is a great place to start training your brain.
The adage is “Good enough isn’t good enough.”
But whether you’re trying to get a job, a raise, a Lion or a reputation, I think the new thought is “Creative isn’t good enough.”
(Credit for the four-quadrant idea goes to Gideon Amichay, the ECD of Y&R Tel Aviv.)

Avoid This Phrase

“It’s good. For what it is.”
For example, if you’ve done an okay pharmaceutical ad, you’re saying it’s good, considering the majority of pharmaceutical ads are awful.
But that’s just being a giant in a company of dwarves.
And the scariest thing about this phrase is that, used too frequently, it can easily be applied to your career.
“I haven’t won many awards. I haven’t really built any brands or even my own company. And I haven’t really created anything of value. But my career’s good. For what it is.”

The virtue of working fast

Ryan Ebner is a very good copywriter and director (that’s his Boba Fett spot at the bottom of the post). I’ve worked with him peripherally, but I can’t say I really know him. But I’d been around him enough to mention it when I met his old boss Mike Shine. Mike had a lot of good things to say about Ryan. But there was one thing he said that really stayed with me:

“He works fast.”

It had never occurred to me that working fast would be something to shoot for.

But think about it.

How often do you stare at your screen waiting for inspiration to arrive?

How long to you stare at your blank notepad, waiting for something to happen?

How many times have you idly surfed the web because the deadline was a couple weeks away?

My guess is Ryan doesn’t do any of those things. My guess is Ryan works fast because he works.

So get to work. Fast.