Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Kill your babies.

Whenever I tell juniors or students that they should kill their babies, I get the same reaction. Eyebrows raise. Heads tilt quizzingly. And feet shuffle back ever-so-slowly, creating a bubble of safety between us.

Before you sic Interpol on me or banish me from this and every other ad site on the Internet, let me explain.  I am not a proponent of infanticide. The babies I’m referring to are concepts and ideas that just aren’t working.

So often, as both a teacher and creative director, I’ve seen young creatives simply unwilling to let a mediocre idea go, their minds closed tighter than a Crazy Glued eyelid. And I understand why. It’s hard work coming up with ideas.

When you think about it, the creative process isn’t that different from making actual babies. You usually pair up with another person. You both go back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. It’s often fun. And sometimes painful.

Inevitably, though, the time will come when you have to reveal your bundle of joy to somebody else. You’ll hold it up, smiling, feeling proud and vulnerable at the same time. Only to hear “it’s ugly.”

“It’s ugly.”

This bad news may come from your teacher, your creative director, your AE, your strategist, or, more than likely, your client. But the rush of crushed hopes will rock you regardless of who delivers those hurtful words.

You’ll feel your face flush, knowing it’s beet red without the aid of a mirror. The hair on the back of your head will bristle. Flop sweat will bead your upper lip. You’ll want to simultaneously partake of both fight and flight. They hate your baby!

Of course you’ll want to protect and defend it. As you should. Tell them why it’s on brand. Why it’ll work. Why it’s strategically sound. Why it’s the best idea since “Lemon.”

But also be prepared to listen. And learn. And, if you’re lucky you may understand why your baby isn’t actually that cute after all. And, if you’re really, really lucky you may even gain some helpful insight.

Then go back and make more babies. Yeah, it means more work and more late nights and more pressure. Welcome to advertising. You can’t become the next David Droga without building your muscle like David Droga has:

As you learn to challenge yourself, trust others, and let go of those unattractive babies, you’ll also discover that the deeper you dive into the well, the fresher and cooler your ideas will be.

And remember, when somebody tells you that your work isn’t quite there, don’t pout or clench your fists or roll your eyes or huff and puff or stomp your feet. Don’t throw a tantrum. Because, try as you might, you won’t be able to save your baby by acting like one.

Friday, 10 August 2012

"AAARRUGGGGHHH!!! Please buy some of our nice bathroom and kitchen fixtures."

Let's talk about relevance. When you think about bathroom and kitchen fixtures, what comes to mind? Smooth, comforting, shiny, clean, spotless, civilized additions to our homes? Or a Barbarian wearing SM gear and brandishing an axe? Even the word BLITZ doesn't make sense in this context (and could a measly 20% Off be considered BLITZ-like anyways?). I'm no historian, but wasn't BLITZ more of a WWI and WWII word? Didn't Barbarians invade and pillage? Do we want our bathrooms and kitchens invaded and pillaged? This is a full-colour ad that (other than our rather threatening friend) respects the brand with its use of colour, type, and soft, flowing shapes. But ruins it with an image inconsistent with the store, its products, and audience. I enjoy a clever juxtaposition in ads but they have to make sense. This one just made me ANGRY!!!!!

Monday, 9 July 2012

Back to S'Cool'. OMG, did I write that??

It's that time of year again, kids. Right now, across the continent, writers and art directors in agencies and in-house creative departments are struggling to come up with concepts for back-to-school. Every year it gets harder and every year it seems as if it's all been done before.

Is there anything more difficult than coming up with decent ideas for annual retail events like Christmas, Valentine's Day, Thanksgiving, or Halloween? Having once been the author of "Back to S'Cool'" I can attest to the difficulty in keeping it fresh.

And yes, I AM ashamed of that line. Maybe I was tired. Maybe I was frustrated. Maybe I had too many other jobs on the go. Doesn't matter. I own it. And it wouldn't die. In fact, an ex-colleague of mine, Randy Allan, repeated it back to me whenever he wanted to bring me down a peg or two. He'd say it very slowly, enunciating hard on the break between the S and the C, raising his eyebrows like Groucho Marx and smirking all the while.

The lesson? Even though it's really hard to be fresh for events that aren't, it's worth it to keep plugging away until you can surprise yourself. It will take longer and you'll have to dig deeper, but believe me it will be worth it not to have a hack heading or concept haunt you for the rest of your days.

Each year, if you look very hard, you WILL find that SOMEBODY has broken the cliché barrier. Shouldn't it be you?

Friday, 29 June 2012

Clients get the advertising they deserve.

Do you find this to be a true statement? My years in the biz have led me to believe it's true most of the time.
Clients who ask for amazing work and approve it or get it approved.
Clients who ask for amazing work and squash it to death.
Clients who are quite happy with the status quo and looking and sounding like everybody else.

Love to hear from agency folks as well as clients on this one.

Monday, 18 June 2012

What the wha??

This ad is on the back of TIME magazine. For Sheraton hotels. The shoot looks professional, using lots of talent and shot on location. So you know that money was spent. But what the heck does that headline even mean? And don't even get me started on the ellipses.

How do you reckon this concept got to be? Was it a creative team that tried and tried but finally just gave up? Or was it their first idea on the list? Was it the client's suggestion? Did somebody think this was good?

There are plenty of bad ads out there, but I'm always fascinated with bad ads that have obviously tried but failed to say anything.

Friday, 15 June 2012

The client/agency relationship

Jen Griffiths, one of my newly-minted graduates, suggested that I should teach "the client/agency relationship...trying to create something wonderful while getting in each other's way at times" next year.

If people keep sending me ideas like this, blogging will be super easy.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

One of the things I keep reminding my students is to think of themselves as students of advertising rather than just advertising students. After all my years in the biz, I'm still watching, learning, and analyzing what's going on out there. Not because I have to, but because I can't not do it.

I've started this blog after being inspired by two advertising bloggers, one I know and one I've never met. The guy I know is Tom Megginson. We've worked together, we're friends, and I'm amazed by how prolific he is, updating his blog at least a few times a day in spite of the fact that he's a very busy creative director. He's always insightful and sometimes funny.

The other is Anthony Kalamut, Professor and Program Coordinator of Creative Advertising at Seneca College. I've been following Anthony on social media since I became a professor myself. His passion for the industry as well as his students' success is palpable. While he and I were both creative guys in the Toronto ad industry at about the same time, we never crossed paths. But I respect him greatly.

I hope to add something to the blogosphere. I plan on sharing some of the insight I've gained over the years, ads I love and hate, and teachable moments that come out of my classrooms.

While my students are away for the summer, this blog won't be too active. But come, September, watch out.

So, if you're a student, hire students, teach students, take students on placement, speak with students, or just happen to be a student of advertising like me, I hope you enjoy this blog.