On the front page of our site it asks why are you here? Either to do great advertising and make a lot of money, or, because you work for the competition and want to figure out how we do it.
The funny thing is, we’ll tell you how to do it, but most of you will still fail. Because, we’ll make you uncomfortable. You’ll ask, “has anyone done this before” or “show us a case study” to somehow soothe your rankled idea of what works. And by the time you are able to rationalize, to knit pick, to quiet that little demon on your shoulder saying “are you willing to bet your career on this idea”- that idea has sailed. It’s done. It’s too late.
Lee Clow has disrupted the ad world and done some of the most iconic advertising ever. He’s also failed spectacularly- but, after bringing Apple back from near death to be one of the most valuable companies on the planet- maybe, you can trust him just a bit. At TBWA\Chiat\Day they call that discomfort “Disruption” and here’s their little manifesto:
People couldn’t stop complaining about the tagline “Think Different” for not being grammatically correct, while they showed a whole rogues gallery of people who were told that they were trying to do the impossible. They made those people, or the idea of rising to their level, to be associated with Apple. Never mind that Mohamed Ali, Mahatma Gandhi, Picasso, Einstein never touched an Apple product on their rise to fame.
That this video isn’t on an Apple official YouTube channel is proof that even with the best advertising agency and smart people, some companies still don’t get how to do this right.
So when CP+B suggested to Domino’s to tell the world their pizza sucked- and that they were going to change it with “Pizza Turnaround”- was the only reason they allowed it- because Domino’s were either at rock bottom- or the people selling the idea rock stars? You decide.
The crazy part is everyone thinks they know the secret to great advertising, because they can identify it when they see it, but, even when they see it- sometimes, they still don’t understand it. Ryan Reynolds isn’t an ad guy- but his Superbowl worthy ad for Match.com is great advertising- even if it breaks all the supposed taboo’s of dating site ads- suggesting you may end up with a sociopath for a date- or worse- Satan.
If it makes you uncomfortable, it’s probably going to make you remember it, share it, think about it, have some kind of emotional response. If it’s just funny, snarky, or cute- it probably doesn’t have a real basis to convert thoughts into an action. The real question is if Match knows how to make this more than a one hit wonder- will it keep doing what it’s supposed to do- after the 2020 dumpster fire is over?
The true skill in advertising is finding an insight, a universal truth, a way to connect your product or service to something the customer already believes, or knows, and wants more of- and getting the client to trust your skills enough to be brave, to disrupt, to evoke trust and create lust. To do this- you start with truth. It’s authenticity that’s the currency, not the size of your budget.
On the last day of 2020 I sat down with my favorite former intern, who left us to get a masters at BIC, and went to work in a NYC agency. He was a bit disillusioned with the business- because so many people are too timid to greenlight work that will work. And that’s a part of the business too. You come up with great ideas- and then the client kills them. Over and over. He was in the first meeting we had with the following client- there’s a funny story that had us both wondering if we were going to get shot on the spot to the answer I gave to a question, but, that’s a story for another time. Instead, the client tortured a big idea to a slow death soon after we started on the account.
At the beginning of 2016 we had a client who made a light that was optimized for old people who loved to read- and we had a new president who was elderly and proud of his not-reading. We quickly put together an ad for the Washington Post- that the president supposedly did read.
To the brave, can go the spoils. Unless you pick it apart
By the time, 4 months later, the client was done picking it apart and re-writing it, Trump had started to perfect his “Squirrel!” strategy of distracting people daily. The days to contemplate the idea of actually reading his daily brief was long gone- and the client stripped out the address line. And, then, it only ran once, as a remaining space ad. C’est la vie. BTW- the “Get illuminated” line was contributed by the one and only Alex Bogusky. Yes, I ran it past the Creative Director of the Decade for suggestions and he liked it.
A Public health anti-covid campaign that doesn’t suck
Star power, a big idea, digital activation and talk value
Just before the second spike of Covid in the fall of 2020- we responded to a public health RFP to reach out to minority communities to get them to be smart about Covid- to warn them of the dangers of not wearing a mask, not washing your hands, not gathering. It had a fixed budget. The RFP was written by people who had no idea of how to write a brief or an RFP (see this post). They asked for the moon- on a shoestring budget. As part of our activism, we’d uncovered them as crooks 6 months before- handing out a no-bid contract for even more money to the agency that would do a county officials political campaign. Needless to say- we knew we wouldn’t get the contract- but, with good ideas and good connections- we decided to pitch them the moon. We came in dead last on the score sheet. Why? Maybe because we’d embarrassed them- or maybe because they have no idea or tolerance for a great idea. Here it is:
Strapline: Don’t bet your life.
Idea: Groucho Marx used to host TV show- You Bet Your Life. We will have Dave Chappelle talking to people about betting their life on Covid- in a very Dave way.
Action: We’ll have scratch off lottery like tickets to win in a sweepstakes. The scratch offs will be distributed in gas stations, corner stores, minority businesses, churches. They will be supported by a poster by Shepard Fairey and Studio No 1.If you don’t think you know Shepards work- you missed the whole Obama Hope and Change poster thing.
First round prizes- 1 in 4 chance is to win a deck of washable playing cards. 56 chances to share messaging- and lots of room for sponsorship. You can play solitaire with yourself- and take no chances- or you can play cards with friends and engage in risky behavior.
By filling out an online form- and allowing us to continue to message you via text or email- you can register to win a top of the line phone and service for a year- from T-Mobile who was signed on to sponsor. 10 prizes available
To get pastors into the act- they were to do short video sermons against gambling- either *wink* lotteries and scratch off- or with the virus. The top ten in shares and views would be randomly eligible to win a complete video streaming system.
And- the grand prize- sponsored by a local funeral home- for if you gamble and lose, a complete pre-paid funeral. Because if you bet your life with Covid- you stand the chance of needing one.
The last part- well, it made the “evaluators” nervous. Talk about death, oh, no. As if it’s not something everyone will face?
We pitched it to the State as well. The former newspaper reporter who runs public health communications, and knows nothing about advertising said “At first glance, I don’t think it strikes the right tone that we are trying to convey.”
And there you have the death of a big idea that would have made a difference.
A US Army recruiting campaign- for your mom and dad
Here’s one more. The US Army is a huge marketeer, it’s hard to get people to sign up to risk dying for their country. The account, worth $4B over 10 years recently went to DDB. They had some brilliant insight in their pitch to the Army and their new tagline, “Tomorrow takes an Army” was a huge departure from the gung-ho video gamer campaign the Army was running- “Warriors Wanted.” As a former soldier and disabled veteran, I understand the dilemma of teens on deciding to join the service- and their expectations, better than most people in advertising (very few minorities and very few veterans in the field). Unable to get in at the last agency or current one- we went to Ft. Knox in November of 2019 to pitch our idea based on a key piece of insight: a higher percentage of recruits come from families that have veterans in them.
We pitched a reality TV show called “Back to Basic” where old veterans went back through basic training to finally dispel the eternal myth of “It was harder back in the day” and compare the experiences- and the wisdom gained by serving. We had hoped to get parents with their kids at the same time. We had the perfect host- a celebrity MMA star who had served- and we knew it would do blockbuster ratings.
The Army rejected us- saying “We’ve done reality TV” and it didn’t work. Hate to tell you, Mark Burnett has done a lot of reality tv- and some has worked out just fine, others have bombed, but that doesn’t stop him from continuing to try.
Well, last month we found the vindication for our pitch. AARP posted a video about a 59 year old veteran who had to go back through basic training so he could serve with his kid. In less than a month it had 750K views, it’s at 847,411 in 50 days. That far exceeds the views, shares and discussion of anything the Army is producing right now.
If an idea doesn’t make you uncomfortable, it’s probably not big enough.
And, the size of your agency, the size of your budget, has nothing to do with the size of your agencies ideas.
Disney has closed their theme parks because of Covid19 and the difficulties of social distancing in a space where people are supposed to get together. Coronavirus isn’t going to go away tomorrow, so what is the answer to opening the parks back up- and making it a magical experience? Does Disney already own the answer?
What does a Stormtrooper and a drone have to do with making the park safe? Well, we’ll share.
Suppose Disney makes real Stormtrooper helmets, that allow you to breathe highly filtered air on your visit? And suppose, we gamify your experience, by building in the same obstacle avoidance system that drones use to keep them from crashing? Every visitor would become a stormtrooper, complete with helmet and gauntlet gloves. Each helmet would be programmed to allow you to be within 6 feet of your family, but, no one else. An audible will go off when you are too close to others. You’ll be given a score that reads in your heads-up display in your visor on how you’re doing. The less contacts, the more rides, the higher the visitors score. The gauntlet gloves- when you make a push sign toward others- will send a signal to others helmets- and increase your score as well as warning them to stand back. People who don’t obey distancing, would eventually be told to return to base for retraining.
Would it be expensive to build the hundred thousand helmets and the gamification systems, sure, but, everyday the parks are closed is costing tens of millions. Estimates of the costs of the closures come in at half a billion. And that’s not including the rest of the tourism ecosystem of hotels, airfare, tourism.
Disney is full of imagineers, they’ve made money with creativity for years. Why not make the parks a true, full time, immersive experience?
And the best part? Who didn’t want to be a stormtrooper, at least once?
The hint of what was to come in the ending was summed up in this very short exchange in the episode before the finale. Don is asked to fix the coke machine
His response: “Don’t they do that”
Coca-Cola is one of the top brands of all time, and they, for the most part, outsource the “fixing” of their brand to guys like Don. They make the Coke- but, the few, the proud, the brave, come up with the ideas to sell it, which Don proceeds to do in the last scene of Mad Men, sitting on a hilltop, meditating, Ommmmmmm…… ding!
Clients often their ad agenices “to give me a new one” when what they really need is a new way to connect emotionally with their customers.
We have a favorite quote from Guy Kawasaki that fits: “advertising is the plastic surgery of business,: a procedure to make ugly and old products look good” from his book Selling the Dream, and that’s what Don does.
How the big ideas come, is still the magical part of advertising. The really big ideas, almost always fit on a cocktail napkin.
As I sit at home, writing this post (too many interruptions at the office) I realize that when clients are choosing an ad agency, many have no clue on what they are really choosing. In most cases, the overworked and under-recognized copywriters aren’t given a whole lot of thought. One of the first questions for the creative director/CEO/President/Chief Creative officer is to find out where they started in the agency business? The answers should tell you a lot about the agency- if it’s a former copywriter or art director the agency focus will probably be on great creative, if it’s an account planner- strategy may be their lead strength, if it’s a finance person- run, and if it’s a account executive/bag man/sales professional- I’m sure the presentation will be charming.
When it comes to the giants of advertising- and the guy you would want running your ad agency, David Ogilvy belongs on the top of the list. Even though the book is dated, I required all employees to read “Ogilvy on Advertising” for the first 20 years of The Next Wave. I still recommend it- but instead want them to read the excellent “Hey Whipple, Squeze this” by my friend Luke Sullivan first. Ogilvy was a brilliant writer and a consummate ad guy. He understood that you had to eat, sleep and breathe your product in order to do it justice. One of the requirements for working at Crispin Porter + Bogusky according to their employee handbook is that you are an ad person. Ad people are tuned into everything about the business- what accounts are where- and who is doing great work. If you aren’t an ad person you have a job- if you are one- you have a career.
When I stumbled upon this letter from David Ogilvy I knew things hadn’t changed much in the world of advertising. Great ads comes from people who immerse themselves in the work. It may be your most important indicator of what kind of agency you are about to hire:
On March 22nd you wrote to me asking for some notes on my work habits as a copywriter. They are appalling, as you are about to see:
I have never written an advertisement in the office. Too many interruptions. I do all my writing at home.
I spend a long time studying the precedents. I look at every advertisement which has appeared for competing products during the past 20 years.
I am helpless without research material—and the more “motivational” the better.
I write out a definition of the problem and a statement of the purpose which I wish the campaign to achieve. Then I go no further until the statement and its principles have been accepted by the client.
Before actually writing the copy, I write down ever conceivable fact and selling idea. Then I get them organized and relate them to research and the copy platform.
Then I write the headline. As a matter of fact I try to write 20 alternative headlines for every advertisement. And I never select the final headline without asking the opinion of other people in the agency. In some cases I seek the help of the research department and get them to do a split-run on a battery of headlines.
At this point I can no longer postpone the actual copy. So I go home and sit down at my desk. I find myself entirely without ideas. I get bad-tempered. If my wife comes into the room I growl at her. This has gotten worse since I gave up smoking.
I am terrified of producing a lousy advertisement. This causes me to throw away the first 20 attempts.
If all else fails, I drink half a bottle of rum and play a Handel oratorio on the gramophone. This generally produces an uncontrollable gush of copy.
The next morning I get up early and edit the gush.
Then I take the train to New York and my secretary types a draft. I cannot type, which is very inconvenient.
I am a lousy copywriter, but I am a good editor. So I go to work editing my own draft. After four or five editings, it looks good enough to show to the client. If the client changes the copy, I get angry—because I took a lot of trouble writing it, and what I wrote I wrote on purpose.
Altogether it is a slow and laborious business. I understand that some copywriters have much greater facility.
The humility of Ogilvy’s letter is quaint. I’ve met other great copywriters and they’ve run the gamut in personality traits, but generally everyone of them is fascinating and perfectly capable of doing many different things. However, I’d beware of those who are really frustrated authors- because if you are writing ads to pay the freight while working on the “great American novel” you probably aren’t really an ad person.
The other key is to write daily. The day you run out of ideas is the day you die if you are a real copywriter. Blogs make it much easier than it was in David Ogilvy’s day to test your writing chops and get feedback. Real copywriters can’t stop writing- which may explain why I’m sitting at home, writing this post on a Saturday afternoon.
I will admit, I’m a music videos junky But lately, it seems like all music videos produced by major-label artists are lacking a certain charm. Super high-budget videos with a boring premise, often consisting of the artist performing in a surreal location. Which is fine for the hottest artists who are going to get views regardless of what content they put out.
But occasionally, a music video comes out that is original, memorable, and appeals to a large audience while still having a living, breathing charm.
Enter: Swedish House Mafia’s video for “Save The World” (bet you’d never heard of them or their music before)
Other artists and directors should take notes, because this video does what a video should; it tells a story, it’s funny, it’s well-produced, it’s memorable, it’s charming, and it gets people talking. Oh, and did I mention that it has over 25 million views? It was uploaded in May, which means that it gets over well a million views per week.
This is a perfect example of marketing through viral videos. Think about it, the whole point of a music video is to promote a musical artist, so it’s basically the same as a commercial. The key is to create a “commercial” that gets people talking, entertains them, and most importantly makes them forget that they are watching a commercial!
Oh, and by the way. I’m Max. I do video work at The Next Wave. Pleased to meet you.
I’m not going to go Sun Tzu on you, but a guiding principle in warfare is to attack where your enemy is weakest. In judo, you try to make your weakness your strength. Political advertising may be one of the areas where this is toughest- since incumbency and large campaign chests are considered prime indicators of product value. Shrewd political contributors don’t give to longshots, they bet their dollars on who they think can win. It’s the nature of the game, and a very hard marketing battle.
Think of it as launching a challenger brand, with no money, no time, and a very absolute deadline to dominate the market (election day). Can you imagine Procter and Gamble launching a new detergent and having to have 51% of the market make a purchase in two months?
Here is our first shot at launching a local political activist into a National Congressional race. Please note, not only did the candidate star in the ad, he wrote it himself (unlike his competition) because of course, the candidate is the same person writing this post.
One of the keys of viral marketing and leveraging your low budget campaign is getting others to talk about it- the “word of mouth” factor. You can’t count on this happening automatically. This is where your established network of customers can make or break you. First, you have to actively tell them that the campaign is out there. Digitally- this means sending e-mails, posting appropriate comments in appropriate places, and reaching out to people who think as you do. It used to be marketing to the influencer or early adopter- now, it’s to your social network either formal (Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace) or informal as I did. Here is what creative genius Ernie Schenck said about the spot:
Ernie Schenck Calls This Advertising?
Seriously, people, show me a spot in this already tired political year that comes close to this simple little gem from Dayton ad guy, David Esrati, and I will eat my moustache. Attention, candidates: A little imagination, a little self-deprectation and a little ability to lighten up can go a long way. The man ought to get elected on the spot alone. Nice work, Esrati.
A client, and really smart guy, Charles Halton posted on his Awilum site:
it’s the funniest political ad I have ever seen. If politics were more like this it would make election season actually fun!