• Are We Just Jerking Off?

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    Any Blazing Saddles fan should know that reference. As the townspeople attempt to make a duplicate of Rock Ridge in one night, Reverend Johnson says, “Do we have the strength to pull off this mighty task in one night...or are we just jerking off?”

    That phrase has been running round and round in my head for the last few months, and it happens every time I see an ad filled with hyperbole and platitudes.

    As you can imagine, I’m hearing that phrase a lot.

    Advertising has changed. Anyone who refuses to admit that can basically kiss their career goodbye right now. It’s not just that everyone and everything is going digital. It’s not just that we’re becoming jaded with advertising messages. In fact, at Advertising Week many experts talked about the trade off millennials are willing to make; you give me something, I’ll engage with your ad, if it’s got something to say to me.

    This is about the way we are willing to receive our advertising messages. As a copywriter, it’s hard to believe that the kind of ads Neil French, Tony Brignull and David Abbott wrote are no longer relevant. But…they’re not. Anyone who knows me knows that is a really fucking painful thing to say.

    Am I saying copy is dead? Not at all. I’m not even saying long copy is dead. But what we’re dealing with now is a culture that, for the most part, wants to know what the hell you’ve got to say. And you better get to the point really quickly.

    So when you get ads like the latest Ikea “Bed” spot, or “Up” from Delta airlines, you have to wonder what the fuck the creative team was thinking.

    Let’s look at the script for “Up.” (Remember, this was a Super Bowl spot). Imagine lots of black and white images of planes, airports, and passengers, all with Donald Sutherland’s smooth and expensive VO over some inspirational music.

    “Up. A short word that’s a tall order./

    Up your game. Up the ante.

    And if you stumble, you get back up.

    Up isn’t easy. And we ought to know. We’re in the business of up.

    Every day, Delta flies a quarter of a million people, while investing billions improving everything from booking to baggage claim.

    We’re raising the bar on flying. And tomorrow, we will up it yet again.”/

    Delta: Keep Climbing.

    I can imagine the writer and art director patting themselves on the back for some of that. “Oh yeah, I love that short word, tall order line. Nice.”

    What does it mean to anyone watching? Jack shit. It means nothing. It’s a lot of pomp and puffery and not much else. Is anyone going to go online to book a flight and go “oh fuck, don’t choose United. They have that godawful Rhapsody In Blue song. I hate that. Let’s book Delta, they’re in the business of up. I like up. Up is good.”

    What will make the difference? Probably price and number of stops. If the cost is identical, then it will come down to prior experience. The ad is a lavish waste of millions of dollars.

    Instead of saying a lot of poetic small talk, the ad could have pushed a product innovation. What does Delta do differently? What makes flying Delta a way better choice than flying any other airline? If there’s nothing new to say, why not think of something inexpensive that could be rolled out across the fleet of aircraft?

    How about a section just for kids? Maybe use a service that uses something like Tinder to let singles find each other on the plane and chat for the flight? What if long flights gave you the chance to learn something? Offer free interactive courses that use the touchscreens in the headrest in front of you. When you get off, you’ve got a new skill.

    So maybe those suck balls, but what I’m saying is that fancy prose is not going to cut it any more. The modern consumer wants something tangible. You are fighting for their attention, and the fight is getting harder and harder every, single day. You always have to ask, what is in it for them?

    This must comes down to responsibilities. It is the client’s job to bring something worth talking about to the ad agency. If they have nothing, they must be willing to listen to ideas from the agency that include suggestions on a better service or product. This is not a new concept; Bill Bernbach was doing it in the sixties.

    It is also the ad agency’s responsibility to present ideas that go beyond hyperbole and tired old clichés. The client is usually not brave, and that kind of glossy shit is easy to sell in. Everyone loves a good-looking ad, but if it’s as empty as Kim Kardashian’s book shelf, what’s the point?

    Finally, it is the responsibility of everyone in the industry to stop awarding these empty vessels the gold and silver gongs. Just stop it. We can’t keep slapping ourselves on the back for work that looks good but doesn’t move or persuade the target audience. As long as we keep on doing it, we really are just jerking off.

    Felix is a site contributor, ranter and curmudgeon for The Denver Egotist. He’s been in the ad game a long time, but he’s still young enough to know he doesn’t know everything. If he uses the f-bomb from time-to-time, forgive him. Sometimes, when you're ranting, no other word will do. He's been known, on occasion, to drink alcohol by the gallon. Do as he says, not as he does.

  • If You Build it They Will Come: Growing the Idea of Develop Denver into a Community

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    Three years ago I was working from home as a freelancer, I was busy as could be working away. One night after a rather long coding session I sat back and was checking out twitter. It was about 2am and as I was catching up with my feed I had a realization.

    I know all of these people, but do I actually know them?

    It hit me. I am part of a community of designers and developers, who I follow around the web, places like Stackoverflow, Github, Twitter and elsewhere, but I didn’t actually know many of them. What if there was an event that brought that community together and we learned from each other and got to actually meet IRL?

    So I posted a tweet —

    there should be more development workshops in #Denver. #experimentsInInteraction

    After posting that and going to bed I woke up the next day and the idea kept burning, so I did what I do really well. I stopped what I was currently working on and geeked out for the next few days and planned an event.

    Two days later I tweeted again —

    I’d like you all to meet @dvlpdnvr http://bit.ly/Avf20u #experimentsInInteraction #denver

    The idea was simple enough. Get designers and developers together for two days of hands on coding and networking. Get nerdy. I reached out to people I knew to see if they were interested in speaking. To say this thing was bootstrapped was an understatement. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, I just knew it had to happen. After reaching out to a number of people each involved in totally different spaces of development and design, I had a total of 4 panels for this event I called Develop Denver. I set the date for 1 month later.

    What have I gotten myself into…

    That thought was a constant, the only thing I had ever organized before were shows when I was in bands.

    Venue — Check
    Speakers — Check
    Beer — Double Check

    Okay, let’s do this. The response off the bat was incredible, so many people were actually interested in the idea, I thought to myself “this might actually happen!”

    The original idea was to have this be a creative development workshop, but what happened next blew my mind in the most amazing way.

    Fast forward to March 1st — Checkin. That first year sold out, and by sold out I mean I messed up and oversold. We were packed in this space that held only about 50 people max, and we had around 65. Going into this whole thing I figured I knew most of the people who would be attending, but as people started showing up I was completely in awe at the fact that I knew almost no one. WOW.

    The next two days went amazingly, we had amazing speakers and from there the community was started.

    Let the dust settle.

    Those two days were incredible and the reaction from the community was stunning. I thought to myself, “this needs to happen again, but bigger and better”

    As the year went on from that March I started planning and talking to people who I had met that day. New friends were everywhere and getting to put faces to names and twitter handles was awesome.

    Coming out of all of this I walked away with a core mission and concept for Develop Denver.

    Create a conference that was unlike any other conference.

    Most conferences you go to cost an arm and a leg and there are so many panels and topics it can be overwhelming and for the return on investment in terms of money and time, really never felt like they were worth it. I wanted to make something different. I wanted to make an affordable conference that had a limited number of panels and topics that were lead by people within the community and on top of that I wanted those topics to be interesting and incredibly valuable to attendees.

    When I say affordable, I mean affordable. Money is always something that will be involved in these types of things, but that shouldn’t ever be the focus of creating something that can bring so many people together for good and learning. I wanted to make a platform for sharing ideas, and knowledge.

    Let’s melt some brains.

    The second year of Develop Denver was to say the least, one of the most incredible humbling experiences of my entire life. When registration began and tickets went on sale, we again sold out. This time over 150+ people showed up. Speakers came from out of town! We had two full days of two track panels and a massive space.

    The dream I had for this whole thing was actually happening. That year I saw many from the first year again, as well as a TON of new faces. Watching people meet and connect and learn from each other was the dream being realized.

    This doesn’t belong to me. This whole thing, Develop Denver belongs to the community. Many people had no clue who I was or who was actually running this conference, and that was the idea. Make something where the community is in charge, give them a platform to come together.

    Develop Denver is more than a conference. It’s a gathering. Bringing together the movers, shakers, makers and doers of the design and development community. It’s a place where brains are melted and friendships are formed. Where someone can come knowing little to nothing about code and leave inspired, and return the next year with a wealth of knowledge because they met people to help mentor and teach them. Where people can get nerdy and dive head first into some code just for fun. Most of all. It’s about community. It’s about those relationships and friendships formed. It’s about meeting someone from a company and a year later being a perfect fit for their team. It’s about making a connection that leads to a freelance job. It’s about sharing ideas and inspiring one another.

    That, is what Develop Denver is all about.

    Gearing up for year 3.

    I am so excited to see what this August 1st and 2nd have in store. From the speakers to the people I cannot wait!

    For those who have taken part and those who are new, thank you for making this all happen.

    See you in August.

    Develop Denver is more than just a conference, or social mixer. It’s a gathering of the makers, doers, movers and shakers in the development and design community. Get your hands dirty in code, design and more. Technology, Experiments, Booze, Hackathons and like-minded people coming together to make something and learn new tricks. For tickets to the event Friday August 1 – Saturday, August 2, visit DevelopDenver.org.

  • Aging Denver Art Director Believes Next Campaign Will Be "The One"

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    DENVER, CO – For over twenty years, Gary Kester has worked 80-hour weeks in the hope that one of his advertising campaigns would get to print and television unsullied. Every time, intervention from the account managers, creative directors, the client, the client’s family, the client’s accountant and the receptionist has turned something that was once “a thing of beauty” into “an unmitigated shit show.”

    “But this next campaign will be different,” said Kester, as he worked late into the night on an idea that even he admits is “so fucking good I’m going to quit if they don’t buy this one as it is. And this time, I’m serious. I mean really, fuck ‘em, they’ll see. They’ll miss me.”

    At the ripe old age of 42, Kester has seen his fair share of rejected campaigns and mangled ideas. Once, about 11 years ago, he had a campaign go to production that was definitely “the one.”

    “It was killer,” said Kester. “I mean, everyone was applauding the presentation I gave to the client. They were laughing, jumping around, they even said ‘we can only see a few places we’d make changes, but they’re tiny. Nice job!’”

    As it turns out, on that occasion “the one” was put through the client’s meat grinder and became a shadow of its former self.

    “It was a real shame,” mused Kester as he continued burning the midnight oil on a campaign that will change the face of the auto insurance industry as we know it. “I told everyone in the office it would win awards and be my ticket to Wieden + Kennedy. It was THAT good. But these clients, man…they take your ideas, and show them to their dumb friends and wives and kids, and ask everyone’s opinion. Before you know it, you’re stuck polishing some turd to go next to all your other turds. Not this time.”

    Despite the setbacks of two decades of failed ideas and watered-down work, Kester had absolutely no hesitation in declaring this campaign the one that would break the mold and show Denver, — and America — that good ideas on insurance really can come from a regional agency.

    “Look, just because the client has crapped all over the ideas for the last decade, it doesn’t mean this idea will get the same treatment. In fact, they have a new head of sales, and their own team are telling me that they’re looking for work that will really inspire them. Why would they say that if it wasn’t true? They want something new and innovative. They want me to produce an idea that will blow away their CEO. And that’s what they’re getting.”

    As Kester put the finishing touches to the presentation, he cracked open a beer and put his feet on the desk. This was the pose of a man poised for victory.

    “Everyone in the agency knows I’m only going to take so much shit before I move on. But this is an idea that won’t just win awards…it will win me the respect of my peers across the nation. I just know it. I feel it in my gut.”

    Not everyone is as convinced as Kester, though.

    “He’s been threatening to quit after every campaign fails,” says Magda, the cleaning lady who Kester confides in every night as he eats his Lean Cuisine lasagna at his desk. “But I have a feeling he might actually do it this time,” she said as she vacuumed around the dozens of rejected boards in Kester’s cubicle.

    Kester presents his big idea to the client one week from today. If all goes well, “this time next year I’ll be wiping my ass with a Cannes Lion,” said Kester.

    Advertising news you’ve never always wanted.

  • From Marketer to Coder

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    People always ask me why I made the switch from marketing to writing code.

    Often, when it’s coming from a Marketer, the question is posed with an obvious tone of incredulousness. Like why in the hell would I want to spend my days looking at that horrible black screen, tucked away in a dark room, just a hair’s breadth away from turning into Gollum. The fear and loathing is unmistakable. And then sometimes, when the question is posed by a Coder, there is an air of distrust and skepticism. Like I am out to eat their young, or an evil secret double-agent, or simply that I am just a hair’s breadth away from certifiable cuckoo.

    So here is the thing - I didn’t wake up one morning and decide, oh, I think I’ll go do that programming thing now. I’d already done with that law school and it only amounted to a law degree, bar certification, and annual dues I pay as a permanently “inactive attorney”. My desire wasn’t to change careers and become a full-fledged coder. As a marketer, with a solid career in brand strategy, digital communication planning, project/account management, and campaign leadership to name a few... I didn’t have that much to complain about. I had worked agency and client side both, and was focused on growing my resume and climbing the executive ladder.

    But to keep my edge, and increase my value in the space, I felt like I needed to brush up on my tech literacy, specifically in the nitty-gritty details of actual coding. I felt like I was losing my ability to communicate effectively with developers because there was so much that I didn’t understand about their actual day-to-day work, which was work that I desperately depended upon.

    Also - The Aha Method needed a website, and Kat and I were not in a position to bankroll that project. Fortunately for me, I had a host of very close friends who were developers and a few that were willing to mentor. And so I started slow. Just a little coding work and pairing sessions every week on building a tiny little static site. It took me three months at that rate, which was excruciating, because I knew my mentor could have built it in a day. But once it was done, and I pushed it live… holy shit. No past marketing campaign that I lead, not even three Super Bowl campaigns combined, could measure up to the feeling of satisfaction in that one little accomplishment. Because I had built it. Because marketing a product now paled in comparison to actually building a product. And I wanted to do more of THAT. So began my journey into a formal career change.

    Luckily, I found Jumpstart Lab, which is now Turing.io. Jeff Casimir and the rest of his crew developed a six month, highly intensive and immersive program for taking those with no prior programming experience and turning them into real-live coders. I enrolled and was accepted. It was much harder than law school. It was a kick-in-the-teeth-humbling-experience in which I was pretty much failing for the first three months. I’ve always been a quick study and good at anything I put my mind to, but programming wasn’t something to be ‘conquered’ as I would discover. In her post, “Don’t Believe Anyone Who Tells You Learning To Code Is Easy”, I think Kate Ray most aptly describes what it means to learn to code and become a legitimate programmer:

    “... there is no mastery, there is no final level. The anxiety of feeling lost and stupid is not something you learn to conquer, but something you learn to live with.”

    And for as many times as it made me cry and doubt myself in those early months, the fact that programming isn’t something to be checked off some proverbial list - is exactly its appeal. It is truly constant learning and constant feedback. Progress is incremental, tangible, and deeply satisfying. It is a lesson in keeping things small and celebrating the cumulative wins.

    And shit breaks - a LOT, which is a constant reminder to practice humility and don’t give up. Honestly - its made me a better mother if you can believe that. How I interact with and teach my son has been influenced by what I’ve learned in programming. We pair build legos in a whole new way, and it’s RAD.

    So here is where I’m really going with all this, and that is that we need more developers with diverse backgrounds, hailing from all professional walks of life. There are a lot of opinions about what it takes to be a coder, including logic, problem solving, attention to detail, to name a few. And while those are valid and true, cultivating other aspects like passion, creativity, and even humor, are incredibly important. And you don’t have to be a math or computer science major to write beautiful code that works. The marketplace is in need of more developers (desperately), but it is also in need of innovation, new design thinking, and some fresh perspective from people with diverse experience.

    I would challenge all of you in Ad-Agency-Land who don't write any code, to begin an investigation in writing code, even if just for the sake of understanding the world around you a little better, or to communicate more effectively with your coder-colleagues. Whether you simply task yourself with understanding how the internet really works, or you dive head first into writing your own applications, both are valuable and can be key to positioning you for growth in almost any aspect, be that marketing or parenthood. Seriously.

    Here are some good places to start:

    • Turing Community Meetup in Denver: Free beginner classes. http://www.meetup.com/Turing-Community-Events/

    • Jumpstart Lab Tutorials Online: Excellent set of Ruby on Rails tutorials http://tutorials.jumpstartlab.com/

    • Code School: Online courses https://www.codeschool.com/

    This editorial is cross-posted from Aha Method's The BRAT Blog.

  • Max Lenderman Explains the Importance of Purpose-Led Marketing

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    How would you define purpose-led marketing, and why is it important?

    Purpose-led marketing is an emerging school of thought built on the idea that creatively commercial activities should try to make the world a better place. I often remind myself of a quote I read from Design House Stockholm: “Don’t make something unless it is both necessary and useful. But if it is necessary and useful, don’t hesitate to make it beautiful.” We, as the advertising and marketing industry, have been relatively fixated on the “beautiful” part. Purpose-led marketing tries to concentrate on necessity and utility.

    How did your background in experiential marketing lead you to purpose-led marketing?

    I wrote a book called Experience the Message, in which I tried to lay out the dominant tenets of experiential marketing, and the first chapter was titled “Experiential Marketing Must Provide a Tangible Benefit to People.” This thought has always been part of my ethos when creating campaigns for my clients. Experiential tends to occur in the real world—in the physical, one-on-one space between the person and the brand. So when crafting experiential campaigns, brands need to be aware that they must enhance, not detract from, the lives of the people they are trying to reach. If they debase the experience and it doesn’t do any good for the people involved, it’s a bad campaign and a worthless idea.

    Some would assume that a social mission is at odds with profit generation and competitive advantage. Why are they wrong? We at School believe that having a purpose is actually a competitive advantage, and a lot of recent studies and publications suggest the same thing. When you read Jim Stengel’s Grow or David Jones’s Who Cares Wins, you quickly realize something intuitively sensible: that when faced with two similar products that are similarly priced, one that has a social purpose and the other that doesn’t, over 90 percent of people will choose the “good” one. Moreover, global surveys from Havas and Edelman show that about 75 percent of the world’s consumers expect the brands and products they buy to do good in the world—but only 20 percent of the same folks think that brands are actually doing this. So there’s this massive disconnect between what people want and what brands are delivering. We at School hope to close this gap considerably.

    What is one challenge currently facing advertising agencies that they need to address in order to remain relevant?

    Ad agencies—and the entire industry, actually—need to reexamine what they do and ask themselves why they do it. If we take the money out of the equation, would we continue to do what we do? As an industry, advertising is the third least-trusted profession, just behind car salesmen and lawyers. How can we reform this through work that creates sales momentum as well as positive impact? How can we show our children our work and unequivocally say that it is “good?” I’m not sure many folks in our industry ask themselves these questions. Likewise, recruiting and retaining top talent is a major financial burden on agencies. We jump from one shop to another with alarming frequency. If not for salaries, perks, and a promise of a couple Lions, what are the reasons for this? It’s a serious issue for our industry—how do we create more purpose and meaning in our work so that we can attract and keep the top talent with something other than financial means and ego-stroking?

    What is the most influential marketing you’ve seen recently?

    I’m endlessly impressed with Dove’s Real Beauty work, and equally fascinated with Red Bull’s projects like Stratos. Between these two seemingly opposite marketing approaches, there is a sweet spot of purpose, grandeur and human spirit. The sense of humanity in the two pieces is palpable.

    If you could choose any product to create an ad for, what would it be? Why?

    I would choose the United States of America. What once was the ultimate challenger brand has gone stale, predictable and culturally irrelevant, yet it has so much potential for a renewed purpose on this planet. There is so much appetite for a better way forward in our political systems and global positioning.

    Max Lenderman is CEO and founder of purpose-led advertising agency School in Boulder, Colorado. He is one of the most vocal and respected experts on experiential marketing and its role in digital and social channels. His first book, Experience the Message, has been cited as “the best book on experiential marketing,” and his second book, Brand New World, about creative marketing in hyper-markets like Brazil, Russia, India and China, has been translated into five languages. Lenderman has worked as executive creative director at MDC Partners’ The Arsenal, director of OuterActive at Crispin, Porter + Bogusky and executive creative director at GMR Marketing, the largest experiential marketing firm in North America. Lenderman began his career after serving with the Peace Corps, drilling wells in Chad. He started as a marketing journalist, and in 1999, he founded and helmed Gearwerx, one of the first experiential marketing agencies in Canada.

    This interview is cross-posted from Communication Arts.

  • Jay Ferracane Reviews BDW's RE: Event

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    A week ago, right about now, BDW’s event RE: was well under way. The RE: event, billed as a 3 day celebration and showcase for innovative thinking, is the essence of the CU-backed grad school that is bent on honing the talents of the next generation of makers, doers and entrepreneurs by mixing innovation and ideation built on a strong understanding of technology, design and strategy.

    Day 1 saw an introductory event at Boulder's BMOCA, where a good mix of startup/tech folks and agency types were in attendance. The main event that evening was a social mixer, highlighted by an interactive game show of sorts, MC’d by Brian Morrissey, Editor in Chief at Digiday. The intent of this game show was to pit agency vs. tech and ultimately determine who was the best liar. The agency team was represented by the always controversial and pot stirring, Jon “Schoenie” Schoenberg of TDA, and the impeccable, and possibly the worst liar ever, Rachel Donaldson of Karsh/Hagan. On the tech side, we saw the Sendgrid team of CEO Jim Franklin and VP Revenue, Denise Hulce. Beer was served and wine flowed. After a series of hilarious personal reveals, slams and distractionary tactics, the agency team emerged victorious. Surprise.

    What did we learn? Agency folks are only marginally better liars than tech folks, but much more entertaining.

    Day 2’s main event saw a takeover of the Boulder Theater, for a day of improvisational creativity and reveal of the current cohort’s start-up projects. The current crop of BDW students were tasked with concepting, developing and launching a startup in only 16 weeks. A pretty good primer for anyone to understand what it really takes to launch a brand — whether you end up in an agency, in a client-side role, or take on your path.

    The event was hosted by Gary Hirsch, co-founder of On Your Fee, an improvisational outfit that balances fun, business and unexpected results. With a full house, Gary led the audience and the current cohort through a series of improvisational practices that yielded some surprisingly good if not hilarious ideas and outcomes. The students then took the stage and ran with it. An amazing amount of ideas and professionalism were revealed, but what was most evident is this crop of thinkers were all taking a common consideration into their products: People. Refreshingly, empathy ruled all of the startups' ideas in one way or another. The startup teams were led by faculty members, John Weiss of Human Design and Chris Zernold of Ship Better Product, in addition to mentors and advisors from the agency, tech and entrepreneur community. It was very rewarding, having been on the journey with the team members all 16 weeks as part of the design faculty, to see the final solutions they arrived at and delivered with story, authenticity and conviction.

    The result was well thought out products that are real or will be real very soon, and most importantly they all had a conscious intent to make products that made our personal lives a bit better.

    To closeout, Day 3 kicked off with a specially located Caffeinated Morning — with CP+B's Executive Director of Creative Development Evan Fry. Again, the audience of student, ad folks and tech was a good one to hear Evan provide some insight into his experiences and that what we all do everyday should be approached like a craft. Because it is a craft. And any craft or trade has a journeyman-ship to it — learning comes though experience, trial and error, serious failure, spectacular achievements and if we do it “right” it results in amazing things, that have purpose, intent and meaning.

    In the end, RE: is a focused glimpse, of what BDW is about every day. But it's also a reminder to approach whatever the hell we do every day, with unbridled curiosity and excitement.

    See you next year.

    Jay Ferracane runs the brand and design consultancy know as AngryBovine, he also founded the monthly creative speaking series called Caffeinated mornings and serves as the design faculty for BDW, he is also much better at design things than writing about them.

    Photo Credit: 23rd Studios | Paul Talbot
    And Jay Ferracane

  • Can Advertising Fix the Economy?

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    If a brief landed on your desk tomorrow with the problem, “fix the economy,” what would you do?

    It’s an interesting question for an ad agency to try and solve. What could an industry built on unfettered consumerism do to help fix capitalism? Does advertising have a responsibility in improving the economy around the world? And not in the “we help sell more shit to boost the economy” way, because insane levels of debt-driven consumption from the last thirty years have put a stranglehold on our world and is dragging us further into a recession.

    What’s wrong with what capitalism has become goes way beyond advertising. Radical changes in fiduciary policy are required, but if politicians follow the poets, might a new, sustainable type of business follow the creative technologist?

    Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream said,

    “…what many companies have been doing is to use PR and advertising and marketing — essentially paying money to agencies to come up with a made-up story to make customers feel good about their product or brand.”

    Advertising agencies — already facing an uncertain future themselves — have an opportunity to rethink what business for their clients should mean. Where are the advertisers focused on creating meaningful value for their clients? The few that are helping transform their clients and business, are the creative technologists and storytellers whose first goal is to provide meaningful value; not just short-term, move the needle quarterly profits that are here today, gone tomorrow.

    This new, new, new economy — or whatever version of ‘new’ we’ve arrived at — just isn’t working. And just as advertising of lipstick on the pig no longer is acceptable, advertisers cannot sit idly by schilling yesterday’s junk.

    There’s certainly the necessary option of advertising focusing on the growing class of socially responsible businesses who need help sharing their story. But more importantly, I want to see advertising that natively serves the betterment of the world. The stories of business initiatives that work to make the world a better place are powerful and can help shape the future of capitalism.

    Brands should look to projects launched by the likes of Patagonia and their reuse/recycle clothing program, Coca Cola’s trial work to use their distribution network in Africa to deliver aid or even an agency like School that is helping brands “do better by doing good.”

    Brands and products are slowly beginning to understand their role of a triple bottom line focus of people, planet and profit. How can advertising — a practice dedicated to unquestioned consumption — participate in helping change behavior to a more balanced life?

    Honestly, I have more questions than answers. But it’s time for designers, strategists and developers to align with brands and refine capitalism to the betterment of our world.

    Ryan Moede is Director of Client Strategy @14Four focused on building useful digital experiences with ad agencies.

  • The Egotist & Ad Club Denver Interview: Paul Venables of Venables Bell & Partners

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    Advertising historians know well the distinguished, delightful charm of San Francisco, publishing decades of chapters telling rich tales of our industry. One of the newer chapters unfolds daily at agency Venables Bell & Partners, where Founder and Executive Creative Director Paul Venables oversees a think tank of 170+ staffers and a drool-inducing client list sporting brands like Audi, Google, SKYY Vodka, Intel and Reebok — where the independent agency was inked just weeks ago as the athletic company’s new global AOR. Prior to opening VB&P, Paul served as Co-Creative Director, Associate Partner and heir apparent at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.

    Paul Venables is yet another heavy hitter who will be here next week, Thursday, March 27, as part of Ad Club Denver's speaker series. Register now for Late Night with Paul Venables, where Paul and Ad Club are plotting an entertaining, interactive talk show format. In fact, you can now submit questions for Paul via Twitter to #AskPaulVenables and be part of the show. But first, we have a few of our own.

    Q: First off, congrats on your recent triumph of Reebok’s global ad account. Share the highlights on your pitch and plans to evolve this iconic brand.

    A: We’re so excited to work on this brand. It’s so phenomenal. Reebok’s at a moment in time where we can shape its future, be part of that wonderful growth. Also, it’s a global East Coast-based account that decided to make San Francisco its home, and we’re proud to represent the Bay Area on a global scale. That’s important to me.

    Throughout the pitch, our approach was to live and breathe the Reebok brand. People here became immersed in all things Reebok. And that enthusiasm and energy mattered. Early on, we showed them that commitment. It’s a brand that’s at a great point in its life cycle, and together with them, we’re taking it somewhere exciting.


    Q: Your client roster shows an impressive and rather lean list of blue-chippers. Has it always been your plan to stay focused on a handful of national accounts?

    A: Well, it would be disingenuous of me to say it was part of a master plan. A couple of factors were at work. We really put a focus and impetus on the people sitting on the other side of the table. What do they want? What can we do for them? We made it a point to not get obsessed about the product category or its ad history or even the budget. I want to meet the people and see what their aspirations are. What their passion is. The right people with the right intentions are semi-rare, so it keeps the roster at a smaller number.

    There was a time when we hit a lull after Napster, HBO and Mondavi and we only had a public utility company, a financial company and a software company. That was difficult, as they were arguably not the sexiest accounts to attract talent. But the common denominator was they all wanted to do something good. That’s what we’re after. Clients that have the passion to do something meaningful in the marketplace. Today, it’s led us to Reebok, SKYY Vodka, Audi, Phillips66, Google and Intel. A much sexier list of brands.


    Q: Let’s time-travel back to your Goodby days. While 'Got Milk?' overflowed in award show ceremonies during your days there, you elected to work on less visible assignments like Netflix and Discover Card. Tell us more about this experience.

    A: First, it was a conscious decision. I wanted a more lasting impact in the agency as a leader. I asked Rich Silverstein and Jeff Goodby if I could take away headaches for them, for three reasons. One, it allowed me to create my world. Two, I could hone my management skills. And three, I had clients on the other side of the table that wanted to do something meaningful and lasting. Not just the next funny Bud ad. And we did. We even took one of those “headaches” and won at Cannes.

    It’s a good lesson for younger people. Instead of going for that glamorous account, you can take a smarter career path by taking on more difficult and challenging accounts and then make something great. That was my approach at Goodby, and that reality translated to this agency when it first opened. We didn’t want to do ads for the used record store or the Kennedy Museum just to win an award. We wanted real clients, with real marketing challenges, and that mentality attracted respected clients like Microsoft, Barclays and HBO.


    Q: Before cutting the ribbon to your own shop, did you ever have second thoughts knowing that earning the keys to the GSP kingdom might possibly be yours?

    A: Ever since I commuted by train from Connecticut to New York to answer phones at an agency, I knew I wanted my own shop. Every job after, I approached it in a way where I was collecting the “do’s” and “don’ts” I might call on one day when I had my own shop. Jeff (Goodby) then one day called and brought me to the Bay Area. Eventually, I was in the catbird seat — I was running one of the best agencies in the world. Things were on a roll. We had just won Agency of the Year for the first time in a long time. And I thought maybe I won’t have my own place, after all. But then my old SBC client (who had moved to Microsoft UltimateTV) called me out of the blue, and that entrepreneurial spirit was rekindled. It felt right. Even during a bad economic time, it just felt right. And I never looked back.


    Q: We hear you’re going to be taking on a talk show format here in Denver. What kind of sneak peeks can we get under this tent? Will you do a Top 10 List?

    A: Well, going with this format will either prove to be brilliant or stupid. It’s experimental. I hope people just have fun either way.

    I’ll give you a couple of glimpses. First and foremost, Paul Shaffer was unavailable. So we have the local band Pretty Girl, who will provide jams and riffs. I never had a band before in any presentation. If this works, I might use this for new business pitches. There’s no top ten list. That’s old. There’s a good chance I will do stupid agency tricks. They’re not tricks, but stupid things we‘ve done. Potentially, there could be a camera that gives us a glimpse of something else going on, offsite. People will be called up on stage, so wear a nice shirt. There’ll be some modest giveaways, and I have a few other things up my sleeve.


    Q: We also heard you’d like people to tweet questions in for the show itself. What kind of questions are you anticipating?

    A: The reason for people submitting questions, beyond my laziness and-slash-or stupidity, was the idea of getting at what people actually want to talk about. Career path stuff. Management tricks. Trends. Leadership issues. New business approaches. The work. Back stories. Who knows? Who needs to hear another ad guy bragging about his shop? I’m open to any category or any random thought. If it’s interesting to them, then it’s interesting to me.


    Q: Well, we’re ecstatic to have you out here. It should be one for the books.

    A: It’s experimental and we’ll have some fun. I encourage you to come. Ask whatever questions you want. I’ll get to as many as possible. Any lulls? We’ve got commercial breaks. People who come up on stage might have their own entrance music. This could be a disaster, but it’ll be a fun disaster.


    Register now for Ad Club Denver Presents: Late Night with Paul Venables of Venables Bell & Partners.

  • 5 Good Minutes with Dave Nadeau – Rhymes with Pixel Digital Imaging Artistry

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    Rhymes with Pixel is digital imaging artistry by David Nadeau. David has extensive experience in high-end people, automotive and product retouching. More than 16 years of experience working freelance, pre-press and in top ad agencies such as Mullen and Crispin Porter + Bogusky give David a huge advantage over his competitors. Top photographers and art directors ask specifically to work with him because they know he takes the time and effort to make every job exceed the vision of the artists involved.

    How did you end up in Colorado? Some background?

    I worked at Mullen in Massachusetts for eight years, and I was freelancing in the Boston area when I got a call from a former colleague who had jumped to CP+B. At the time, the agency was building the Boulder office as well as a high-level team of retouching artists. The idea was to develop a department of imaging pros who would be positioned as a cross between studio artists and art directors. I came to check out Colorado and fell in love with the place immediately. When I left CP+B, I had no doubts about staying and raising my family here.


    What got you started in this business? Are you an artist? A photographer?

    I went to RIT for photography. Near the end of my school years, I realized that I didn’t want to be a photographer. Oops! Instead, I loved working with photography, and Photoshop was just starting to catch on as the go-to imaging software—Version 2.0, if I must date myself. It became a best-of-both-worlds situation: My training as a photographer gave me the ability to understand what makes a good image, but working in Photoshop allowed me to be freer as an artist. I still shoot jobs occasionally. Small jobs, mostly, tabletop studio work.


    What’s the difference between digital artwork and retouching?

    There is a good amount of overlap. I’d say digital artwork transforms the image in a way that either enhances or reshapes the vision that was conceived for it when shot. Retouching tends to be the nuts and bolts of cleaning, compositing and color-correcting an image.


    What do you think will change in your business in the next few years?

    The obvious change has been the switch from print to digital media. While I miss seeing my work in print as much, I don’t miss working with CMYK as often as I did. The integration of 3-D imaging into photography is a fun and scary development. Fun because of the freedom you have to create an item you want to have in your image. Scary because you have to step out of your comfort zone and learn how to use the technology.


    What do you find most challenging?

    Honestly, the most challenging things I face are finding jobs and doing the grunt work that pays the bills. It’s tough to hold out hope for the really fun, creative projects when you’re clipping and cleaning a hundred-catalog shot.


    What was your approach to doing the ESPN The Magazine shots for the Olympics?

    I’ve worked with the photographer, John Huet, for quite a few years now, and we have a really good working relationship. He got in touch last year about doing the first shot, the one of the ice-skaters, and wanted to take the ESPN Technique feature to a higher level of artistry. We spoke about making the action as well as the background beautiful. We wanted to make a visually arresting stage for the action that didn’t detract from it. Also, we believed we could come up with a really interesting technique for ghosting the shots. I’m very proud of what we made.


    The work appeared in print and online?

    Yes, and in the online version ESPN animated the images, so each step of the action could be viewed. It was really cool to see an image develop like that.


    How is the digital artist’s role evolving?

    It’s not enough now just to be good at Photoshopping—it’s necessary to be part of the overall creative process. You have to develop a feel for the photographer’s or art director’s (or both’s) vision for the final product. If you make that happen beyond their hopes, you’ve succeeded. If you can add to their vision, that’s gravy. The ideal project has everyone on board and contributing creatively.


    What are your biggest Colorado clients? Do you work mostly with agencies or directly with photographers?

    My biggest Colorado client is Noodles & Company. It has a fantastic in-house setup. It really takes to heart the notion that the best idea is the right idea. As for collaborators, I’d say my jobs are pretty evenly split, 50/50, between photographers and agencies.


    What’s your favorite work you’ve ever done?

    I have to put the ESPN Technique work at the top of my list. Making the scenes was technically and artistically challenging, the work appeared internationally and, on top of everything, it was for the Olympics! How cool is that?


    What’s next?

    I’m working with John Huet in the coming weeks to retouch some of the work he did shooting the Games in Sochi. We’re trying to figure out an angle for me to tag along for the Summer Games in Rio in 2016. In the meantime, it’s back to work, paying the bills and finding the next super-creative project.

  • A 3-Step Process for Naming a Project/Product (And Some Resources)

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    Naming a project is always an awful experience.

    An earworm that won’t stop tapping your skull from the inside. A tenacious pop jingle with teeth and a paycheck.

    As a freelance designer, I do a fair amount of this for clients. Generally, my process has been a garble of notes and trips to thesaurus.com, but lately I’ve noticed a fairly simple pattern emerging, a 3-step framework for cutting through the fog.

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    3-Step Process
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    Step 1.
    Identify the feeling you want the brand to convey. A great brand communicates on an emotional wavelength, so make that feeling your bedrock.

    One way to identify what feeling you’re pursuing is by figuring out what you’re not. A great brand is defined as much by what it is as by what it is not. So if you’re entering a certain market that is a certain way, identify that point of frustration and invert it. For instance, if your market is confusing, you could pursue ‘Relaxed', or ‘Lucid'.

    Step 2.
    Embody that feeling in a list of persons, places, things or phrases (etc) that communicate viscerally. For instance:
    Relaxed = a picnic
    Exclusive = Studio 54
    Cool = Paul Newman

    Step 3. Final
    Identify a detail that represents the [embodiment] of [your feeling] in a non obvious but compelling way.
    Relaxed = a picnic = Sunny Nap™
    Exclusive = Studio 54 = Velvet™
    Cool = Paul Newman = Ben Quick™ (a character he played)

    New insights gained from the process should help you get a better handle on the unique feeling or value your brand has to offer.

    the name should have a ‘special wrongness’* to it. An unforgettable newness. A new shape. 1+1=3. If your name lacks this, the product itself may have a hard time differentiating itself in whatever market you’re entering. Why are you different than your competitors? That difference should be reflected in the brain jam your name causes in its audience.

    *"Special Wrongness” is a term I’ve stolen and adopted from Peter Mendelsund from this amazing interview: http://portersquarebooksblog.blogspot.com/2013/05/interview-with-peter-m...

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    As for credentials, here are some of the things I’ve named:

    Svpply (snobby social shopping)
    Varsity Bookmarking (link-based interview magazine)
    10,000 (TBA athletic apparel)
    General Projects (design studio)
    Work Of (maker community and store)
    Mined (TBA digital marketplace)
    Lookwork (visual RSS for professionals)
    Lunch League (foodie clothing line)
    Embrella Group (design consultancy)
    The Egotist (city-based online creative communities)

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    Some of my favorite brand names of all time, the ones I aspire to matching, have the appearance of having emerged from this kind of process. Names like:

    Hunter Gatherer AKA HUGA
    Dress Code
    The Quiet Life
    Public School
    Free People
    Girl Skateboards

    These names emerge from the fringe of their vibe. Familiar details that've been blown out larger than life.

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    Pretty Good Tools & Resources
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    http://www.Phrasefinder.co.uk — A robust database of slogans, phrases, idioms and such. Annual fee for this one.

    http://Rhymezone.com — Rhymezone is great for finding rhymes, but even moreso, it’s great for a feature it calls “related search”. Like a drunk cousin reading the dictionary, it often yields connections you wouldn’t see elsewhere.

    http://Thesaurus.com - Yep.

    http://Niice.co — Visual search engine. Good for non-linear, non-verbal associations. and its “Surprise Me!” button is great for knocking you out of a loop.

    http://iwantmyname.com - I use this for domain name searches because it has the most comprehensive list of TLD results that I’ve found.

    http://domai.nr - Domainr will cut your name up into chunks and tell you if there’s any odd domain combos available. Think: de.licio.us or days.am

    USPTO Trademark search - Once you’ve landed on a name, you’ll want to check for existing trademarks in your product’s space.
    USA: http://tmsearch.uspto.gov/
    UK: http://www.ipo.gov.uk/types/tm/t-os/t-find/tmtext.htm

    USPTO class list - When doing a trademark search, you’ll want to know your product’s class so you can tell if you're rubbing elbows with a trademark holder.

    Don’t Call it That!: A Naming Workbook - Folks I trust have recommended this book.

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    That's all I've got.

    I hope it's helpful.

    If you do wind up with any success because of this, I'd love to hear about it. myfirst@lastname.com (Ben/Pieratt) or @pieratt

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