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Ok. So you want to build a new brand, specifically one that competes with a global powerhouse. In a brainstorming session, some genius suggests giving away money. Who doesn’t want money? That would make people love us! So you pick a huge, overcrowded city and hide your signature vegetable in a public area, then release a press release telling everyone in this huge city to go and find the vegetable which will have cash attached. What could possibly go wrong?

Of course, the result of this colossally stupid idea is that mobs of people, seemingly desperate for a few bucks, rip the public area to shreds and attack the person who finds the money, sending him to the hospital and summoning the police to break up the riot. All of which is captured on video, posted on the new company’s global powerhouse competition, and the new company has successfully gotten its name out to lots of people who now think they are complete idiots. Worse, the event organizers leave the scene without cleaning up their mess (remember the time the raccoons got into your trash cans after a particularly big house party? You get the idea) and any possibility of good PR is lost.

A company representative is quoted saying, “Maybe next time, I would plan this better.” Brilliant!

Found on AdFreak.

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Ever work for a company whose main goal, it seems, is to sell itself on a pile of words that actually don’t mean anything at all? Communications, digital, solutions, marketing, strategies… seriously. What company is going to tell its customers that they do NOT offer solutions? Instead these words are tossed around interchangeably in a desperate attempt to make some companies seem to be on the “cutting edge” and “integrated” with all the latest “digital solutions.”

Ad Age posted an article today by Maureen Hall on this subject today, which happens to be one of my pet peeves. It’s one thing to toss these words around in meetings in an attempt at sounding credible or informed, but it’s another thing altogether to decide to make these buzz words part of one’s company name or part of one’s everyday speech (worst: bringing it home with you – “Honey, we need to review our strategy of financial integration with digital offerings and a multimedia tier-structure proposed by this direct marketing platform.”). The most grating can be when some puffed-up clueless manager-type starts spouting buzzwords without a clue what they mean, and often quoted incorrectly to boot (“We need to start thinking outside the square. I’m just talking out loud right now.”)  

I’ve discovered that the best therapy for this pet peeve is to make it into a game: watch for company slogans and advertising campaigns that use these empty words, and replace them with blah blah blah – and I think I end up with a much clearer view of what they are selling.

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In a deliciously nasty opinion column on AdAge, Richard Rapaport skewers the recent tendency for advertising to be… well, nasty. Using several examples of ads that use sophomoric witticisms or put-downs in an attempt to make their product seem cool, he postulates that this cutting humor is either a reflection of the downturn of the economy and dissatisfaction with American politics or somehow causing a domino effect of the snotty, ambivalent attitude typically associated with sixteen-year-olds (which, oddly, he compares with Ty Pennington, who seems to be one of the most passionately involved TV personalities, throwing his slightly manic ADHD-type self into every family-saving, tear-jerking project with the kind of zeal typically expected from a rabid badger, and ending each episode with a heart-rending interview in which he can usually be expected to tear or choke up at least once – somehow, despite his freshman-in-college-just-rolled-out-of-bed appearance, this doesn’t say “ambivalence” to me).

Nevertheless, it does seem to be true that comedy in advertising is more often choosing a sacrificial blunderer in their ads to skewer in the name of marketing. To me, this is not a new thing, but I think the choice of target is changing a bit. It used to be that every ad featuring a family showed either a) Mom unable to complete her womanly duties in the expected briskness due to some kind of faulty product, causing Dad to be grumpy that his collars aren’t clean enough or his dinner isn’t waiting for him when he gets home, and causing kids to whine in righteous indignation at the abuse they are enduring in the name of her store-brand cheapness; or b) Dad as the ultimate bumbling idiot who can’t read a map, tie his shoes or pick out a loaf of bread without constant, aw-you-poor-thing intervention from both mom and kids. Now, however, the sacrificial lamb is often the gray-skinned cube-mole of corporate America, or the clueless neighbor, or the slobbering, panting neanderthal male attempting any stupid stunt to attract the attention of some ridiculously beautiful woman entirely out of his league.

What do people find funny these days? Watch any of the myriad excessively stupid recent comedy movies (Epic Movie, for example, which we TiVo’d just out of curiosity, and quickly deleted less than 5 minutes into the first attempt at watching) and you’ll find gross-out violence, potty humor and excessive stupidity to be the hallmarks of what makes the average watcher chuckle. Family Guy, a TV show that I admit has made me laugh on more than one occasion, relies on the kind of snide, cutting wit that supposedly reflects an increasing dissatisfaction with society at large.

So why would this type of comedy be off-limits to advertisers? The author of the article postulates that the ads often communicate an attitude that the advertisers can’t be bothered to try and sell you anything, an ultra-hip detachment to all things earnest. My response to that – cool sells. It always has. If your target market is a group of people (teens & early twenties) who are living in the culture where the measure of one’s coolness is the only thing that matters, and often caring too much is way uncool, why would any savvy advertiser be bothered to create an earnest, dorky ad to appeal to that target market? Regardless of the product, a spastic, sweating Tony Little in skintight leotard screaming about his latest gizmo for only 12 payments of 29.95 just isn’t going to sell as much as a similar ad that parodies that kind of over-the-top salesmanship, no matter whether the product is a similar gizmo or a stick of gum.

So what is your response? Do you think the article reflects a kind of “turn down that racket” maturity, or do you see sarcastic advertising as a reflection of the snarky, Dubya-era American way?

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An article on AdAge recently discussed the results of a study about how price affects brain function. Apparently, if someone thinks they are getting something expensive, the pleasure center of the brain reacts at a higher level than if they believe they are getting something cheap or at a discount. It seems the message of this study is that if you want your brand to be sought-after, it’s best not to give out coupons or run sales.

Makes sense to me. I certainly have a better feeling when I shop at, say, Nordstrom’s rather than Wal-Mart. But if I shop at Nordstrom’s during a big sale and can actually afford to buy something, I have to say that makes me feel even better because the guilt factor is decreased. Maybe that’s something the study didn’t take into account – if those people sipping wine and being told they were drinking $90-a-bottle Pinot Noir were also informed that their checking account was being debited for each precious sip, they might not feel quite so fantastic about it.

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Ever wondered how some cultural staples came to be? The Slinky, Mr. Potato Head, Trivial Pursuit… all items that most households have at least one of. Today CNN features an article about how each of seven famous toys made it big, including the winners (not always the inventor) and the losers (sometimes being cautious & doing your research doesn’t pay off). It’s a fascinating look at how often circumstances beyond control can be manipulated into gold with the right amount of creativity and courage.

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I read an interesting article this morning that sparked a great discussion between a variety of designers offering their opinions and personal experiences on a polarizing topic in the design world: team or solo? This is something I’ve grappled with since design school, sitting through four years of critiques where the personalities in the room may be more interested in shredding any possibility of personal style rather than offering constructive observations on one’s work. Trying to convince myself that I shouldn’t take the criticism personally proved to be an almost impossible task when I felt that my best work came when I poured my heart into it. Discovering that for the most part my style didn’t fit the mold of what was considered “high design,” or what I called “design for designers,” to some degree I was able to distance myself from the critique process, take what I felt helped my design and push on with what I felt was right – after all, the world doesn’t need a bunch of designers making the same thing, right?

Then at my first agency job, I discovered a whole new edge to the critique process. A job comes in the door, and the team of 6 designers all take a creative brief and make comps. Then in some of the most painful, grueling meetings I can remember, we’d gather at the conference table and review the comps with the creative director, choose the best ones to show the client, and trash the rest. Then the client had the opportunity to “cut & paste” the resulting group of designs into an often bizarre montage of styles, and the project would get tossed to one of the designers for completion, regardless of how much input they had on the original design. As a result, a tense and often nasty competitiveness existed within the group, and everyone knew that their brainchild would likely be modified to the point of oblivion by the end anyway.

Since then I’ve worked for other agencies and now I work for myself, with no peer critiques and only myself to answer to. I find that the freedom to develop my style has improved the quality of my work, and the responsibility is refreshing. But at the same time, I miss having a creative professional sitting feet away that I can bounce ideas off of, take an idea to the next step, or work through a block with.

For the most part I think agencies tend to drift toward the negative kind of group design, but they don’t have to. In the design world often “agency” becomes a bad word for designers who have had these kinds of negative experiences, myself included. But it doesn’t have to be that way. An agency can be a creative think tank, a group of like-minded but unique creative professionals working individually and together to produce a wide range of great work. A client may not look at the portfolio and say that it all looks like it comes from the same agency, but they know that they are going to receive a unique approach to any challenge they bring in the door. And of course, the designer coming to join the team knows that they will be given the freedom to improve and develop a unique style and craft, while being nurtured in an environment of trust and positive feedback.

In a perfect world.

 Found on Veer

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A new ad for Commonwealth Bank begins with a confusing mix of punk koala bears driving Mad Max-style vehicles through the outback, a Crocodile Dundee guy making rebel yells and tossing a boomerang, and an over-the-top voice-over straight out of the movie trailers. Then comes the exploding logo – and camera pans out to reveal the “ad” playing on a flat screen tv in a conference room, several giddy agency guys patting each other on the back and dropping comments about the lengths they went to in order to make the comp – and the three clients sitting silently looking slightly shocked. In the end they say they like only the last two seconds, much to the dismay of the presenters.

Looking at the comments that have been made about this ad on YouTube, it appears that some people aren’t catching on to the sarcasm. It seems that the ad agency (Goodby, Silverstein &Partners) is making fun of ad agencies in order to show their clients as level headed, uninterested in overbudgeted exploding cliché-filled ads like this one presented by the ubiquitous “American Ad Agency.” Michael Bay, a director well-known for blowing things up and over-editing, is mentioned as having paid his own money to get the comp made for the clients.

Apparently there will be a continuation of this theme in a mockumentary style, following the clueless advertising team as they attempt to put together an ad the bank likes. My guess is this will culminate in a new ad campaign reflecting the message underneath the sarcasm, that this bank is interested in the “real” and not the glitz. For now, they’re stirring up emotion as Australians take offense at the blatant stereotyping. For my part, I find it refreshing to see a major agency making fun of itself – while at the same time making the point that bigger isn’t always better, and hopefully we’ll end up with a clean, crisp, succinct message at the conclusion worthy of the comparison.

Found on AdFreak.

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