Let’s be blunt: NBC shit the bed in their Olympic coverage.
In this digital, social media age – when earthquakes are tweeted about before the Earth even finishes shaking – NBC made the unfathomable decision to broadcast events on tape delay in order to garner primetime ad dollars. Apparently NBC execs figured a few billion people could keep secrets until after dinner.
The funny thing is, even if a few billion people weren’t on Facebook, Tweeting, texting and blogging, NBC’s strategy was so stupid, they spoiled their OWN results. While the broadcast was holding back the biggest events into the evening, at practically every other commercial break, they were encouraging viewers to check out additional content on their Olympic website which… wait for it… showed headlines of results they had yet to broadcast.
Their Twitter and Facebook pages were no better. Before Americans got to see for themselves, the NBC Olympic Twitter stream had already blown the surprise of the Queen and James Bond parachuting into the arena.
NBC, you do understand how the internet works, right? (Rhetorical.)
But wait! There’s more! While you’re stuck trying to navigate a slow, horribly-designed, advertising-laden NBC site to see streaming events, 64 other countries get to view it live on YouTube for free. Afghanistan and Botswana get YouTube. You get McDonald’s ads to pay off NBC’s investment.
Because, you know, THAT’S the way to respond to social media criticism. There’s no way that strategy could backfire.
It sure seems like NBC’s entire strategy was “Let’s just say we’re streaming everything live!” without understanding how the viewer actually wants to engage with their content. Consumers have spent the past decade buying giant-ass HDTVs. Not everyone wants to be forced to their 10-inch iPad screen to watch events live. And certainly not everyone can stay completely away from Twitter, Facebook, and the rest of the internet long enough not to ruin the surprise before primetime.
Someday, the networks will come into the 21st century with a digital strategy that makes sense. Unfortunately for fans of the Olympics, that day isn’t in 2012.
Naming is not easy. Every word in the dictionary is already taken, and forget about trying to find a web address unless you make up a word that sounds like nonsense. Yet memorable names are being invented everyday. That's because there are reliable techniques that marketers can use for creating new names – and apparently the creators of He-Man knew all of them.
Before you write me off as a hack, let me explain. My grandparents sent my son a box full of old He-Man action figures they had saved from when I was a kid. While showing the figures to my son, I realized that despite the absurdity of the characters' names, the techniques used were the same ones being employed by top brands to name products and services. No joke, if you're trying to name something, everything you need to know can be found in my son's toy box.
So, the next time you have to come up with a compelling name for a new company, product or service, just hold aloft your magic sword, (or dry erase marker) and let the Power of Grey Skull show you the way.
TECHNIQUE 1: SWAP A LETTER
Change one or two letters to create a new name that conveys a strong association with the original word.
He-Man Example: Extendar
A cyborg with extending head and limbs. Get it? Extender becomes Extendar. Just like that, you've got a hit name that's perfect for a cybernetic warrior, an adjustable ladder or the latest E.D. treatment.
Real-Word Example: Triscuit
Is it a biscuit? Nope, it's a Triscuit. But it still conveys the idea of hardy baked goodness.
Tip: The Swap a Letter technique works best with vowels or the first/last letter of the word. That's because changing vowels and first/ last letters is the easiest way to make sure the word still sounds similar to the original. Also, when swapping vowels, keep in mind that different vowels carry different meanings. Front vowels, whose sounds come from the front of the mouth, like "I" and "E" tend to have a connotation of small or sharp. Back vowels, with sounds that come from the back of the throat, like "O", "U" and "A tend to communicate the idea of largeness or roundness. Hence why no one wants to buy a nice sharp Knofe.
TECHNIQUE 2: TELL IT LIKE IT IS
Not every name has to be clever. There's nothing wrong with a name that also serves as a clear description of the product or service. Sometimes it's easy to combine two or three descriptive words together to create a great title.
He-Man Example: Beastman
He's a beast, he's a man, yadda yadda yadda.
Real-World Example: CrowdFunder
Need some funding? Want to source it from the crowd? Well have we got a website for you!
Tip: Start by creating categories of descriptive words, such as: appearance, taste, functionality and color. Brainstorm as many words as you can in each category. Then combine words from different categories to come up with possible names. Also, consider how the two words sound when spoken out loud as a single word. "Beastman" and "CrowdFunder" both roll of the tongue. But "BeastCrowd" and "Manfunder"? Those just sound... wrong.
TECHNIQUE 3: FORGET HOW TO SPELL
Choose a word that describes a key attribute of your product or service and misspell the shit out of it.
He-Man Example: Optikk
He's got a bulbous eyeball for a noggin and his name is Optikk. Wow, there's really a lot a character development going on here. The name "Optikk" doesn't tell me anything. Is he a good guy or a bad guy? Does he even have any powers other than the ability to see? This is a great example of what not to do. Taking an obvious attribute of a brand and misspelling it doesn't convey any additional information. If you are going to misspell a name, first be sure to come up with a name that enriches the brand by conveying additional meaning. The real-product example below does a good job.
Real-World Example: Tastee Freez
They could have called it Iyce Kream. But all that tells me is that they serve ice cream and suck at spelling bees. The name Tastee Freez tells me that they serve treats that are cold and delicious. Misspelling words can be a great way to create an ownable name, but you need to choose words that convey value to your audience.
Tip: When using this technique it is best to change letters at the beginning and end of the word. That's because people don't typically look at every letter in a word when reading. To save time, our brains look at the overall shape of a word and focus on the first and last letter. If you rearrange letters in the middle of the word, some people won't notice. And the ones that do may read it as an unintentional typo instead of a clever misspelling.
TECHNIQUE 4: LOSE A LETTER
Removing a single letter from a word can be an easy way to create a unique, ownable and evocative brand name.
He-Man Example: Zodac
Zodac is a mystical character who lives in outer space. Zodiacs are magical figures written in the stars. It's a perfect analogy. Just drop the "I" and you have a unique name that still conveys the same meaning as the original word. Now if they could just redesign this guy's costume so he doesn't look like an S&M fireman.
Real-World Example: IZZE
This name actually drops the letter “F” in fizzy and changes the “Y” to an “E.” Just like that a name is born. Okay, not just like that. There were probably hours of meetings with copywriters sitting in a conference room throwing out names like "Nature Fizz." And then there was probably a presentation where the client said something like "I know, lets call it iPop!" But somehow it all worked out in the end.
Tip: When applying this technique, it's usually best to drop a vowel. Consonants tend to carry more of the identity of the word while vowels give language a sense of rhythm and shape. That's why you can spell a lot of wrds with no vowels and still get your meaning across. It's also why the Hebrew language can have no vowel letters. Okay, I know what you're going to say, "but Mark, what about Hawaiian, it's practically all vowels?" Well, there's an exception to every rule.
TECHNIQUE 5: BRING THE ACTION
Pick a two-word phrase that communicates a sense of action or purpose to create a name that is also a call to act.
He-Man Example: Buzz-Off
It's a cheap pun, but it's also an action-packed name that says something about the character. I instantly understand that this is an anthropomorphic bee that doesn't take shit off of anyone. You're not going to find this guy sprinkling honey on cereal. No way, he's too busy kicking the crap out of Skeletor and his evil lackeys.
Real-World Example: LinkedIn
When you join this social network, you're not just sticking your face in some book. You're connecting to a community of movers, shakers and job makers. There's important stuff happening here and now you're part of it. Wow! That one guy from accounting who got let go because they found porn on his computer just gave you a positive recommendation. Now you're career is in overdrive.
Tip: Make a list of verbs that describe actions that could relate to your product. Then combine those verbs with prepositions to convey a strong sense of action. In addition to prepositions, try thinking of directional nouns like North and South.
TECHNIQUE 6: NAME IT AFTER A DISTINCTIVE PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTIC
Pick a unique attribute of the product to create a memorable moniker.
He-Man Example: Trap Jaw
This guy's lower jaw is made of metal and shaped like a bear trap. Trap Jaw sounds like a good name to me.
Real-World Example: Razor
For those of you who are six years old, the Razor was the must-have phone before the iPhone. Back then it wasn't about apps, it was all about small phones and the Razor was so thin and sleek you could easily forget it was in your pocket. If you miss the Razor, don't worry. It won't be long before the hipster crowd starts using them ironically.
Tip: When naming a product after a distinctive physical characteristic, opt for a metaphor instead of an overt description. The Razor phone could have just as easily been called the "Thin." But that just doesn't have the same sizzle and pop. Why is "Razor" a better name than "Thin?" the answer lies in the concept of metaphor. The name "Thin" just flops the conclusion right out there for everyone to see. But Razor doesn't spell out the benefit in such blatant terms. All the ingredients to come to the conclusion that the phone is thin are there. But the final step of actually coming to the conclusion is left to the audience. Razor is a metaphor for thin. The name leads people to conclude that the phone is thin instead of telling them that the phone is thin. Something that you tell yourself is way more persuasive than something you are told by marketers.
TECHNIQUE 7: NAME IT AFTER THE PEOPLE WHO USE IT
As a potential customer I will be flattered that you named your product after me, or at least after my vocation.
He-Man Example: Man-At-Arms
Okay, he is a royal guard of the Eternian palace and he needs a name. I'll just grab the thesaurus, look up the first synonym for "guard" and we can hit the bar in time for happy hour. Mission accomplished.
Real-World Example: Salesforce
Who's this product for again? That's right.
Tip: Start out by defining the main target market for your product or service. Then think of some words that describe them. If the names you come up with don't sound quite right, use a tool like www.visualthesaurus.com to find some clever synonyms.
TECHNIQUE 8: DICK JOKES
Okay, I know we already covered this in the "Extendar" example, but it's worth revisiting.
He-Man Example: Mantenna
This monster is probably male, but I don't see an antenna. This is clearly a dick joke. But you know what? Of all the names in this article, I bet this is the one you remember. That's because sex sells. But for this technique to work, it's got to be the right product and the right audience. Otherwise it will backfire and make your company look like a frat boy. By the way, dick jokes are probably a great idea when developing a product that targets frat boys.
Real-World Example: Kum & Go
Dicken's Cider was just too easy. But Kum & Go is pretty low hanging fruit too. It's the perfect name if you want to tell truckers that your gas station is crawling with lot lizards.
Tip: Sorry, the tip got cut off of this one.
TECHNIQUE 9: IF ALL ELSE FAILS, JUST TACK "R" ONTO THE END AND CALL IT GOOD
He-Man Example: Skeletor
He's not a Skeleton. He's the Skeletor. For some reason changing that last letter to an "R" does a nice job of making the name sound important and very much like a title instead of a generic description.
Real-World Example: TriCor, Lipitor, Crestor
I think the pharmaceutical industry has a lock on this technique. The only thing more overdone is adding a lowercase "i" to the front of a word.
Tip: It seems like you can slap just about any letter on the front or back of a word to come up with a new name: Xname or NameX. Just try and pick a letter that’s not already overused.
There you have it. Lots of great ways to create an outstanding brand name. I guess He-Man can now be reclassified as educational programming.
Mark Stiltner is the Creative Content Manager at the Market Creation Group, a B2B marketing firm in Denver, Colorado. His mission is to make business-to-business marketing sexy.
Photo credits: thanks to the following photographers for posting their excellent work on Flicker under Creative Commons.
Beastman and Trap Jaw, Photographed by CG76
Buzz-Off and Mantenna, Photographed by Slim Ficky, www.fotosum.blogspot.com
Extendar, Photographed by Patobot
He-Man, Skeletor and Zodac, Photographed by Christian Hernàndez
Man-At-Arms, Photographed by Grego
Optikk, Photographed by Ricardo Saramago
When the world was introduced to desktop publishing thirty years ago, proper punctuation marks and kerning pairs were not brought to the party. Foot and inch marks were used instead, and they weren’t exactly the best stunt doubles. Today, I expected a more savvy designer pool with an arsenal of modern tools to rectify this problem. Nope.
Then again, should I expect such a giant leap in only a quarter century? After all, 200 A.D. saw the rise of woodblock printing, a practice that ran the show until 1476 when the printing press was born. It was an era where typography used to be a specialized occupation filled by highly skilled artisans. It should be no different today.
When your keyboard isn’t set up for smart quotes by using the foot and inch key, you can create the proper marks on an Apple keyboard by the following keystrokes. To kern using your keyboard, use Shift-Command combination with your bracket keys shown below.
Tip: Use a serif font punctuation on san-serif design for more pronounced typographic presence. San-serif punctuation marks tend to be lifeless.
Bad kerning (or tracking) is equally destroying design. It’s 2012. We should have enough computing power today to accurately plot any two letters together with good spacing between them. And yet, our design software still struggles with how to negotiate visually-appealing kerning pairs. I’ve noticed the worst infractions between upper and lower case letters. The Heinz example below has issues so obvious, it’s hard to imagine what designer, art director or creative director signed off on this. POUR ABLE MUST ARD. Really?
Tip: It’s ok to have letters crash into each other to create correct letter spacing. The R and A in pourable need to touch due to the negative space created by the slant of the A. The B had to move to the left slightly too to close-up the white space.
Dr. Pepper recently ran a national campaign with a blatant kerning error. That is, unless the 10 Bold T Asting Calories was the primary message.
Now, look at this “Professional Sign’s & Lettering” company mark (of all businesses). Yes, they did use the proper apostrophe over inch mark, even though it’s still grammatically off since chances are unlikely the company is owned by some guy named Sign. But all the points they scored were lost when they left a gaping hole between the n and s. But we can give extra credit for the use of Brush Script.
Tip: Reduce the size of your apostrophe and lower its relative position to characters in the word. This gives it a better lockup in the word. You don’t have to accept where your design program plots your punctuation.
If I had to just kern one thing on any piece of creative, I’d spend extra time with your headline—especially if your layout is type and/or copy driven. Because when your all-type headline layout looks good, it is your visual. Treat it that way.
Good typography isn’t always about where the computer places your 26 characters. It’s about how it looks, flows and feels to the reader. And that takes effort. Effort takes time. If you don’t have time for good typography, another line of work might be in order. Goat herding, perhaps?
With the launch of their first self-initiated project last week and the announcement of Alex Bogusky joining as the fourth partner in an already exceptionally strong agency, we caught up with Made Movement's CTO, Scott Prindle, regarding the past, present and future of a shop that's currently on the tip of a lot of tongues.
Q: Less than a year ago, you made Adweek’s list of ‘The Top 10 Technologists’ working in advertising. And since arriving at CP+B to eventually become Creative Technology Director, Crispin has been named Interactive Agency of the Year three times at Cannes. Why climb down the advertising mountain to get back into the fray by starting something from scratch?
A: It was a very difficult decision to leave. But I’ve always had a tremendous respect for entrepreneurs who have an idea and a vision and then put in the hard work to bring it to life. And in Boulder it seems that every other person you meet is running a start-up, and that entrepreneurial spirit can be contagious. So when the conversations started with Dave and John about forming Made Movement, I realized it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
Q: Why Boulder as headquarters for an agency focused on supporting a revival in American manufacturing? We know Colorado’s lovable, but wouldn’t somewhere in The Rust Belt, like Detroit or Pittsburgh, be more fitting?
A: We want to promote manufacturing across the country. And with Boulder being one of the most creative, progressive and innovative cities in the U.S., we think we’re in the perfect place to rebrand the Made in U.S.A. movement.
Q: Tell us about Made Collection, your flash-sale site featuring premium American brands.
A: Our original plan was to launch solely as an agency. But as we spent more time looking into American made product, we realized it was very difficult to find things that we like. So we saw this as an opportunity and started sketching out a few approaches for a curated collection of American made brands. The more we sketched, the more we liked the idea and saw the potential for combining commerce, cause and community as a central hub for the Made in U.S.A revival.
A site feature we’re excited about is a game layer, called Boom Points, which highlights the direct link between your purchase and the good that you’re doing for the U.S. economy. Alongside each product, you’ll see the location of the manufacturer, the number of employees, and the associated Boom Points. This score derives from the manufacturing multiplier effect, a measure showing that a dollar spent on a Made in U.S.A item sparks $1.40 of output in other parts of the economy.
Q: Are you hoping Made Collection becomes a new-business engine for your agency?
A: We think that it can be. Both components of the business—the agency and the e-commerce site—work towards the same goal of helping drive demand for American-made products. At the confluence of these efforts, we’ll build a social platform where we’ll lead and engage a community of enthusiasts. We think this opens up a number of options for clients looking to advance their brand and actively join the conversation around the Made in U.S.A. movement.
Q: Have you always been a believer in American-made products or have you grown into it recently?
A: It’s something I’ve grown into over the last few years. My wife is a fashion designer and works with manufacturers in the garment district in New York City. Through that process, I started to better understand the mechanics of production and the effects of offshoring. And as the economy has continued to struggle, I began to see the importance of buying American-made product in support of American jobs.
Q: If an American product pales in quality to its foreign-made counterpart, do you still condone purchasing it? In other words, how deep does your commitment go toward stuff made on our soil?
A: We don’t want support for Made in U.S.A to mean an acceptance of inferior product. We know we live in a global economy, and there are many high quality products made outside of the U.S. that we love and can’t do without. And in a lot of product categories, especially in the electronics space, options for buying American-made are very limited. So one of our goals is to rally consumers around the reshoring movement, letting our favorite brands know that we’d love them even more if they made their products here.
Q: How did Americans get so far off-track by not consistently seeking out and supporting companies and products made in this country?
A: It’s very easy to get hooked on buying a lot of stuff at very low prices. And that’s what has happened as offshoring has reduced the costs of manufacturing. At the same time, there’s been a growing sentiment that nothing (or very little of interest or quality) is made in the U.S.A. any more. So we stopped seeking out American-made products.
Q: Why do you think now is such a prime time for the resurgence of ‘Made in the U.S.A’ sentiment?
A: As we continue to struggle to work our way out of the recession, with an 8.2 percent unemployment rate and with all of us knowing a friend or family member out of work or underemployed, I think we’re starting to see the hidden costs of offshoring—costs in terms of jobs, costs in terms of poor quality, throw away products, and costs in terms of the environment. The recession has been a wake-up call, and more and more we’re seeing the good things that happen when you buy American-made products.
Q: What’s your favorite American brand?
A: I like Rag & Bone, an NYC-based clothing brand that makes a lot of their garments in American factories. And I also like New England Shirt Company, based in Fall River, Massachusetts, which once had a thriving textile industry. They have a great story to tell in terms of staying in continuous operation through the offshoring era.
Q: Name three dream clients for Made.
A: There are many clients on our dream list, and that’s hard to narrow down. But we talk a lot about three key categories of manufacturers where we’d be really excited to do work. One is a brand that has always made their products here, has resisted the offshoring trend, and is looking to get a boost by lifting Made in U.S.A in their brand messaging. Another is a brand that has offshored but is now looking to re-shore some (or all) of its manufacturing. And a third is a brand doing advanced manufacturing in growing sectors such as renewable energy, high tech or automotive.
Q: Political party affiliation aside, who better aligns with Made Movement’s agenda come this November election — Obama or Romney?
A: Jobs and the economy are front and center in the campaign, and we see this as a non-partisan issue that any politician would want to support.
Q: Who’s your hero in the industry and why?
A: John Mayo-Smith, Chief Technology Officer at R/GA. I had the good fortune to work for John at R/GA for many years and learned a tremendous amount about how to integrate technology into a creative-driven environment. This experience helped me significantly in my efforts in building out the technology department at CP+B. John continues to raise the bar for innovative technology leadership in our industry.
Q: What invaluable thing did you learn at CP+B and/or R/GA that you’ve carried forward into your new endeavor?
A: A key learning from R/GA is that interactive is a team sport, and the closer the relationship between UX, design, production and technology, the better the work. And a key learning from CP+B is that great work starts with a great idea. Then you look for the right technology to bring the idea to life.
Q: A visionary, young coder is about to take a job at a software company. Convince them to instead take a job at an advertising agency.
A: First, I’d acknowledge that this person has a lot of opportunities in front of them. Software development is a skill set that has been in high demand over the last 15 to 20 years, even through the recession. And the demand will continue to grow. Second, I’d stress that advertising isn’t for everyone. Software development in a creative-driven agency looks different than it does in a pure software development shop, or enterprise IT organization.
But for the coder interested in being in a vibrant, team-driven, creative environment, where they’ll have the opportunity to explore, prototype and invent on a daily basis, and work with a wide variety of technologies on a wide variety of project types, then an advertising agency is the perfect place.
Digital is disrupting the advertising business, and brands are looking for inventive, groundbreaking digital platforms to drive their business. This opens up significant opportunities for coders to be creative and strategic leaders in the advertising space. The industry’s next Don Draper could be a coder.
Q: On this topic of agencies losing good developers to other industries, what are your recommendations for finding and attracting primo digital talent?
A: I’ve spent a lot of time recruiting developers over the last 10 years. I think the most challenging stretch was during the Flash-microsite era, when every digital and advertising company was recruiting from the same very small pool of Flash developers—a niche skill set combining visual, motion and software development capabilities. With the growth of social and mobile technologies, and the accompanying shift towards larger-scale brand platform and utilities, the advertising industry now affords opportunities for a broader range of technology skill sets. Developers who started their career in software development shops, within enterprise IT organizations, or in academia, who never would have considered working in advertising, are now starting to see the rewarding opportunities that the industry offers.
Q: BDW seems to be going through a shift from training students for careers inside agencies to training students for running startups. As a member of the school’s advisory board, can you give us some insight on why this change is happening?
A: BDW was founded to develop digital talent for the advertising industry. But with digital transforming everything around us, we recognized that we could evolve the program to support a broader range of creative industries, including start-ups. I’ve been fortunate to work with BDW students at the school, CP+B and Made Movement, and it’s inspiring to see the level of leadership, creativity, problem solving and innovative thinking that they bring to any organization.
Q: What makes a great technology leader in advertising today? Creative technologists seem to be a lot of different people with different skills — some are developers, some are not, some are idea people and some are neither. What is it that makes a great tech person in advertising?
A: A great technology leader in advertising combines a comprehensive knowledge of coding and software engineering principles with an understanding of all aspects of the advertising, media and digital marketing space. The creative technologist experiments, invents, brings forth brand and platform ideas, guides creative and strategic thinking, and teams with other discipline leads to deliver innovative digital solutions to clients.
Q: How do you stay at the forefront of emerging tech so you can properly advise the creatives around you on the best solutions?
A: The pace of technology change over the last few years has been amazing. It wasn’t too long ago that the agency technologist’s toolkit was centered around a handful of technologies—Flash, HTML, video and databases. Now the technologist thinks about mobile, tablets, social, mashups, open APIs, physical computing, gesture recognition, gaming and a long list of other technologies.
What I’ve found is helpful for keeping pace is taking a rapid prototyping approach, where you research a new technology, move quickly to a working application, and then show that to others within the organization. Eyes light up when people can interact with something and comment and quickly imagine all of the possibilities.
Q: Personally, what do you wish you would have or could have spent more time learning (ie. ROR, Python, other)?
A: I’d love to spend more time experimenting with physical computing technologies. As computing gets faster, cheaper and smaller, we’ll continue to see digital move beyond our laptops and smart phones into every aspect of our environment. Over the last few years, the industry has seen some innovative work in this space, including Nike’s Chalkbot and Volkswagen’s Fun Theory—two of my favorite recent campaigns.
We’re fortunate here in Boulder to have one of the leaders in this space, Sparkfun Electronics, close by. It’s always fun to browse their listing of components and sensors and think of all of the amazing possibilities. Now I need to head over there and take one of their classes.
Q: How do you reconcile the idea of having a set budget and deadline in advertising alongside the idea that development is never finished? “Agile” and “advertising” seem completely at odds.
A: This has always been one of the challenges of making software in an advertising environment. But as digital has moved to the center of advertising, and as clients shift marketing dollars towards digital product and utilities, we’ve been able to arrange ongoing retainers to allow for continued platform evolution and development.
Q: So, it’s officially been announced that Alex Bogusky is a partner and creative adviser at Made. That’s large. Tell us something about the partnership that Alex didn’t already tell The Wall Street Journal in the article they ran.
A: Alex is just fundamentally bored by the traditional agency model. So he keeps pushing us into uncharted areas of community building and movement engineering. And already our relationships with clients are much more like partnerships, where we’re building their offerings and sharing in the upside.
Q: Paint us a picture of Made Movement five years from now.
A: A thriving, vibrant creative culture; working with innovative, forward-thinking clients; continuing to evolve the agency business model; leading the community of Made in U.S.A enthusiasts; and having a measurable impact on jobs and the American economy.
The inspiration to make something culturally and psychologically strong enough exists when you get back to what blew your mind.
For just a moment, you’re a kid in 1970s suburban Los Angeles, ok? Pedal your bicycle to the big Topanga Canyon Boulevard record store. See what I saw: an epic, billboard-sized reprographic image of Pink Floyd’s album, Wish You Were Here, bolted to the side of the record emporium and taking up huge amounts of sky. Big record company marketing budgets could afford to blow a lot of minds in those days.
It was a mysteriously huge, Godzilla-sized piece of pop-surrealism that captured my imagination: A man on fire obliviously shakes hands with another suited man. It’s a random meeting in an abandoned soundstage backlot, like a dream in constant production. The handshake, a blithe and obligatory social grace, appears to hide the true burning intensity of ulterior motives. Or is that something about the fear of getting burned?
This was all the proof I needed for what I had suspected in my young mind all along: People are weird. And deep and funny. And this was weird, deep, and funny marketing.
I got lost in a new kind of alchemy, a mixture of what I both did and did not understand about this album cover. I actually liked not understanding the imagery. There’s power in mystery. Though I knew the marketing for this album was about dreams. Not Disney-esque life goal dreams, not those dreams, but the unsettling world of dreaming. And was this a billboard for an uncomfortable dream? Pink Floyd knew how to show you how dreams really feel. That’s what they do. Later, I’d find out that they made music, too.
Something else that astounded me—although I didn’t know how to name what it was in my monosyllabic, child mind. I can find the word now. The imagery was alluringly unwholesome.
Unwholesome? Yes. Every bit of product marketing I had ever seen in my limited time on earth seemed to dance a giddy dance of the effusive, wholesome-hypnotic, the good—and good for you—wash of the brain. Secret ingredient: sugar. (Or, substitute the word, trustworthiness).
This album cover on the other hand, was marketing that used dream language to call no bullshit, and for me, great marketing began with that album cover.
Eventually, I saw how this imagery shared the same surreal power of the Buddhist monks who had self-immolated in protest of the Vietnam War. Add the imagery of Rene Magritte’s Victorian men floating in the sky, perhaps. That was the era. The era of the inner mind meets social upheaval.
Artwork for Wish You Were Here had a power that purposely reached for what was wrong and yet beautiful about the world.
Like most album covers produced during that slim psychedelic and post psychedelic creative era, meaning and hidden meaning trumped safeness, and it’s difficult to not regard album artwork created of that ilk as a true slice of cultural honesty through the language of symbolic imagery and playfulness.
Chances are, like me, you’d recall the marketing you probably don’t regard as actual marketing, but as something meaningful enough to feel and recall on a deeper level.
That might require you going back in time. When you were a kid. When you were raw-minded. Re-experience what affected you, the unspeakably good montage intro or trailer to a film, the world of colors in the Maoist propaganda poster you saw on Canal Street in NYC, an album cover you forgot you loved, a commercial that rocked your world, a PSA that pulled like a maddened emotion, desperate to free itself from the leash of the everyday.
That’s where the inspiration to make something culturally and psychologically strong enough exists, because it’s still living psychologically and culturally in your mind. That is, if you believe that marketing is actually part art, part storytelling, part psychological event, and is powerful enough to act as a sociological medium that does something amazing.
As an agency creative, I’m always amazed at our propensity for ripping off (aka “drawing inspiration from”) pop culture and now, social media trends. It seems that’s a huge part of what we do - “You’ve heard of the Amazing Race, yeah? Well imagine we do the whole thing in a Ford Escape and make it an online series? Do you hear that? It’s the sound of China running out of Ford Escapes BECAUSE I JUST SOLD THEM ALL WITH THAT IDEA. See you at the bar.” It seems a huge part of what we do is take what’s out there, juggle it and serve it up in our pitches and client presentations like lukewarm leftovers.
Now I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, for us to stay relevant we gotta use what’s out there. I’ve told a Creative Director more than once “Picture a hand-made Gondry puppet stage but with bananas” or “It’s OK GO, except with four thighmasters.” So I’m not above it, we all do it. Pinterest, flash mobs, 8-bit graphics, hipsters, TED, everything is fair game in the art of appropriation. This ongoing article series hopes to pinpoint what’s next in pop-culture-trend-stealing. Or in other words, you’ve pitched Zach Galifianakis 400 times, what can you take next?
I’ve seen this pop up a few times over the last week, it even has a catchy title, AdBombing - the act of putting drop down or pop-up menus on existing outdoor advertising or signage.
It recently came to light on the one-sheet for the piss-poor Adam “I Should Have Stopped At Happy Gilmore” Sandler flick That’s My Boy. The graphics stem from the brain of NY underground and subway artist Jilly Ballistic.
“The product you are looking for is currently under maintenance due to a lack of quality.” Delicious Coors Light? I doubt it, Ms. Ballistic. The Silver Bullet is ALWAYS operational.
Aside from “nom nom nom” I love the Facebook comment “BAHAHA”. I give this one three BAHAHA’s.
Adbombing seems a bit limited, and you may or may not have to contact Jilly Ballistic’s lawyers for rights usage, but leave it to a fresh Miami Ad School grad coming to a conference room near you to weave it into a presentation.
By the way is it too late to do something with planking? It is, isn’t it? Dammit.
We wrestle a lot with how to treat comments on this site. One side of us says keep it as it's been for the last five years — allowing people free reign to drop honest feedback about the work they see posted here. The other side, says the all-too-common negative, irresponsible tone brings down the site, ruins what we're trying to accomplish and casts a shadow over Colorado's creative community. Nearly every blog in the world has this issue of drive-by douchebags, so it's definitely not unique to us.
We don't want to create a politically correct circle jerk full of glad-handing, because critical feedback is important to improvement. But we also feel pretty gross at the end of a day that's been particularly (and many times unnecessarily) brutal on an agency and their work.
It's your site too, Denver. How do you feel about it?
The last episode of the Pitch was enough for me to say enough’s enough. I am not going to write about the shitty show any more. It’s quite clear the whole thing is a fucking shambles. After seeing them award the account to that pathetic agency with one of the most offensive and clichéd ideas that I’ve ever seen, well that was enough for me to call it a day. Seriously, “women just know” is about as awful as seeing women jumping out of planes because of the fucking tampon they’re wearing. Jesus H. Christ!
And speaking of his holiness, The Pitch did bring up something I think we should talk about, people. It was in episode 4, and it really caught my attention. John Boone was waxing lyrical about something forgettable — then it cuts to him in church playing a guitar!
I was a bit taken aback to be honest. But like a good car wreck, I was glued to it. It turns out that John Boone is a man of faith. He likes to pop along to the local happy clapper camp and praise the lord with the rest of the faithful followers of JC.
That bugged me. A lot.
Now, a few disclaimers. First, I’m not religious. Not even slightly. The idea of it all is ludicrous, and if you’ve ever read anything by Joseph Campbell, you’ll know what I mean. Second, if you are religious, and can’t take someone bashing your beliefs, you should probably sod off now and read something else. If you can take it, go ahead. I will expect the usual drubbing in the comments section. And finally, if you really are a true believer, you’ll simply forgive me. Or chop my head off. Or believe I am going to burn in a fiery eternity of damnation. So there’s that.
Anyway, why did it bug me? Here’s why. If you really are religious, and believe all that bullshit, then you have absolutely no place being in this industry. The very idea of advertising goes against everything you “choose to believe.” And of course, that’s where all the fucking hilarious loopholes and interpretations come into play, meaning that you can pretty much do whatever the fuck you want and still claim to be a follower of Jesus. Or Mary. Or God. Or Buddha.
Advertising is one of the most capitalist professions going. We whore ourselves out daily, pushing shit people don’t want at prices they can’t afford and collecting a paycheck. We sell cigarettes, booze, flashy cars, bikes, sneakers, fast food, in fact, everything that is either superficial, unhealthy or just plain pointless. Sure, we sell other stuff too, but it’s a tiny percentage. We even do charity work, but tell me that’s not about easing our conscience, or doing some self-serving crap to bag an award.
John Boone himself has worked on a symbol of modern greed and capitalism — the Lexus account. If it’s hard for a rich man on a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, he’s got no fucking chance behind the wheel of a flashy Lexus.
And current BooneOakley clients include: Bojangles’ Famous Chicken and Greasy Biscuits, Ruby Tuesday, MTV2 (count the tits on that channel), HBO Video (again, hardly church-going material) and Batter Blaster! I don't think that last one even counts as any kind of food, does it? I can hardly see Jesus feeding the five thousand with fried chicken and chemical-soaked pancakes, while handing out copies of Sex & The City and Pornocopia.
So John Boone sits in his office, thinking of all the ways he can get people to part with their money to make rich people richer, then goes and sings songs of praise to feel good about himself.
Fuck. Right. Off.
I know full well what I do for a living, and I really don’t have a problem with it. I don't believe I’m going to hell — or heaven — I am going into the ground in some way, where I’ll be eaten by worms and maggots. My “soul” won’t be there, because it doesn’t exist. It’s just something people invented as a way to make themselves feel like there’s more waiting for us after the last 20 shitty years of our lives, when we wear diapers and can't pronounce our words properly.
Moreover, I personally believe religion is just another way to control people and keep the masses in line. Unless you offer one shred of proof that there’s a heaven, I’m not getting on board that boat. Oh, and don’t refer to the fucking Bible, a book that’s been written and rewritten hundreds of times by men more corrupt than the Lehman Brothers, as proof. It’s just as realistic as Scientology.
But I digress.
The bottom line is this. If you have deep religious beliefs, then good for you. I hope it all works out for you and you get to go to your heaven and live forever on a cloud next to everyone that ever existed, all living in harmony, and all that.
However, if you are in this business, I put it to you that you’re a huge fucking charlatan who is betraying every principle you chose to believe in. Fuck off and be an artist or a songwriter or go and work for a charity in Africa helping starving people. Do anything that helps you live your “faith.” But if you go to church once a week on Sundays to praise God, then go to work on Monday and sit at your desk trying to figure out how to make more money at the big capitalist gang-bang, you are a giant hypocrite.
I mean, religion is not about trying to sell people shit they don’t want based on massive lies and exag…oh, well, maybe that part’s accurate.
But if you’re religious, you don’t believe that, so get the fuck out of this industry and leave it to the spawn of Satan. We’re better at it, because we’re not conflicted.
Now…bring forth the hate (which you can disguise as whatever you want).
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. In his spare time, he does not torture small animals. He's been known, on occasion, to drink alcohol by the gallon. Do as he says, not as he does.
The article is interesting, but I wonder if there is more at play here.
If you’ve ever gotten me liquored up, you may have heard me mention my belief that the internet is forming the foundation of what will eventually become the first artificial intelligence. Which is to say, I believe that someday, our collective activity online will reach the right density and type and the connections between us will become synapses. Somewhere in the digital aether a light will go on and a new kind of life will exist. The first self-aware machine, born of the wetware of a billion+ humans.
If you take this as a given (!), that we are all nodes in the network of a massive machine, then our move towards transparency begins to look more like system optimization on a cultural scale, encouraged through new memes and behaviors, as expressed in all sorts of unexpected ways, like Foursquare checkins, reality television and CEOs volunteering their failures.
A lie holds no information beyond what it says about the lie teller. An exaggeration stated in conversation does nothing but breed false expectations in the mind of listener. A great experience not shared is done so at the detriment of the collective. If my laptop was forced to run on the inefficiencies inherent to the day-to-day communication styles of a typical person, one full of nuance, assumption, and false starts, its processor would slow to a crawl and burn out altogether.
From the Next Web article:
I’ve literally stopped telling little white lies because it’s much easier to be honest. Instead of cancelling a meeting with a PR rep and using the excuse “I’m not feeling well,” I say, “I’m exhausted and taking tomorrow off to go to the beach!” because I know I’ll likely take a picture of my beach trip on Instagram and wouldn’t want to get caught in a lie. And you know what? Most of the time they just say, “Have a great time!”
As a society, we’ve had 10,000 years to choose to be open and honest with each other, and we have generally chosen not to. But now we’re at a point where new technology plays a critical role in our lives, and technology has no use for our half-truths and doublespeak. They are disruptions in the flow of information. As we are all becoming parts of the machine, our relationships with each other are being ground down to purer, more efficient forms so that they can be put to better use.
We are becoming more honest because it increases the speed at which information can travel. We are becoming less private because to withhold valuable knowledge from the rest of the network is to act selfishly. We are becoming more transparent because that is what the evolution of technology asks of us.
Ego Pro is an ongoing series that features a 5-minute Q&A with great Colorado talent. Ego Pro #1: Kent Carmichael, Freelance Copywriter.
Q: Your name. Your story, in 140 characters or less.
A: Kent Carmichael. 32. Writer. From Lexington, KY. Lives in Boulder, CO. Dog owner. Wears Vests. Likes laughing.
Q: You're having a great run at a lot of great agencies (DDB Chicago, element79, Carmichael Lynch, CP+B). To what do you attribute your success?
A: Staying hungry. Questioning everything. Doing things off brief. Being funny at parties. And when I got bored at an agency, I'd leave or make up my own assignments.
Q: What's the most valuable thing you've learned during your agency life?
A: 2 things. Listen to people. Agencies hire a million smart people and most of them don't work in the creative department. And the second, take time off. Finish a great meeting, take the day off. Go to the movies. Get drunk. Do anything but work.
Q: What work are you most proud of?
A: Last year, I worked on a project with two buddies called Kentucky for Kentucky. We created a movement and a brand out of nothing that was all about Kentucky pride. And we used Facebook in ways I never thought of before. And it really helped me at work in the social space for Kraft Mac and Cheese.
Q: Who's your greatest hero and what would you like to say to him/her?
A: My mom. I'd say: Thanks for making me in your stomach. That's crazy. And thanks for teaching me to be patient and enjoy the little things. I love you and miss you.
Q: You just left Crispin after 2 1/2 years. Why?
A: No idea. Crispin is the best agency I've ever worked for. I just came to the point where I feel like I graduated from CP+B. I gained trust from the senior leadership, I passed a lot of tests with clients and I learned a shit load of stuff, but now it's time to move on go do great things somewhere else.
Q: You can steal one of CP+B's clients. Which one is it and why?
A: Kraft Mac & Cheese was the best client I've ever worked for. We had one giant meeting and they bought pretty much everything for an entire year. And they really appreciated our work and ideas. They wanted to be a great American icon again and that was one of the coolest assignments I've ever had.
Q: What's your plan next?
A: No idea. Enjoy Colorado. Drive up to the Mountains. Ride my bike. Not worry about advertising for a couple weeks. It's not going anywhere. Then I'm going to talk to some great agencies, great ECD's and CCO's. Not rush into anything. If I've learned anything, it's your boss that makes a huge difference. Need to have a bit of chemistry and trust with the guy in charge.
Q: A local agency has a conundrum you can solve. What conundrum are they in?
A: Every agency I've talked to is still trying to figure out the social space. A lot of people claim to be social media experts and I don't think anyone is, except for 13 year olds. They live and breath it. A lot of older people are just watching it, but no idea how to get in there and do cool things. We all try, but social is the great open canvas. It's exciting to think about what we can do there.
Q: What's the best way to contact you for people interested in your wares?