• 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.

  • David Abbott is Dead. Long Live David Abbott.

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    You may have heard the news already; legendary adman David Abbott passed away at the weekend, aged 75.

    David Abbott photographed by Julian HanfordDavid Abbott photographed by Julian Hanford

    I never worked with him or even met him, but my relationship with him was special to me. Quite simply, he was 'the man'. He was the guy I wanted to emulate. As a copywriter, a businessman and a gentleman, he set the benchmark - impossibly high. At college, his copy was the text we learned from. Intelligent prose that charmed and seduced, forming arguments you couldn't disagree with, building brands and a legacy with just these: words.

    His reel is better than just about any agency's in the world. He was a master of his craft and a giant in a cut-throat industry, yet you won't find anyone with a bad word to say about him.

    Anyone wishing to emulate his achievements may want to start here: "I write with an Artline 200 Fine 4.0 Pentel – blue ink, never black. I generally work on A3 layout pads but will sometimes switch to an A4. Definitely low tech stuff."

    I used to pass him on my way to work on the King's Road in Chelsea. This white-haired gent was a nobody as far as everyone else was concerned. But to me, he was a rockstar. A part of me wanted to stop him and tell him I was a writer too, though he was in a different universe to me. I never did work out what I'd have followed that up with. It would have been awkward for both of us - though no doubt he would have been charm personified.

    I didn't have posters of him up on my wall like I did Kevin Keegan, but I held him in the same heroic regard. His hit-rate was phenomenal. Did he ever write a duff ad in his life? I don't think he had it in him.

  • Yes, John Oliver, We Are Stupid Fucking Idiots

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    To the highly valued employees of NORTH and our cherished creative and strategic partners:

    As you probably know, one of the tv spots we created as part of last year’s campaign to drive enrollment in Oregon’s new ACA exchange was brutally parodied by John Oliver on the debut of his new HBO show this past Sunday. Images from our campaign have also recently accompanied scathing reports by MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, and pretty much every conservative blog in the known universe.

    Now, you may think none of this is fair, given that we have had nothing whatsoever to do with the $200m+ dollars spent to build Cover Oregon’s online application portal.

    You may also think it’s unfair to single out that particular tv spot from the many different ads we created, this one made specifically to connect with mothers, the primary drivers of health care decisions in the family, and always meant to be but one part of a much bigger whole that would reach all Oregonians, regardless of income, ethnicity or geography.

    You may think it’s especially unjust because our work helped delivered the numbers: awareness of Cover Oregon through advertising increased nearly 70% in only four months prior to the first enrollment window in 2013. And on that first day of enrollment, a third of a million people came to the website to sign up. Had it been working, it’s a safe estimate we would have been more than half-way to enrollment goals within the first week. Relative to the marketing budget, along with the many efforts of the Cover Oregon marketing team, we created real return on taxpayer money.

    It’s also never mentioned that as portal delays and bad press persisted, we hunkered down, responded with ads that were transparent, honest and informative. We worked especially hard with the Cover Oregon team to move people toward paper applications through agents and sign-up fairs.

    Most importantly they fail to mention that, despite the broken portal, more than 250,000 Oregonians who previously had no access to health insurance were still able to shop for, apply for, and obtain coverage. Even with no online portal, Oregon is in the middle ranking for state enrollments. Remarkable, given the circumstances, and also a tribute to the tireless efforts of Cover Oregon’s communications and marketing staff.

    So, is it fair?

    Well, Mr. Oliver and others are quite right to expose and even parody the costs associated with the portal’s dysfunction. They’re also right to be angry at the damage potentially done to the ACA’s national momentum and to supportive politicians in the upcoming mid-terms. Unfortunately for us, our passionate, hard, honest work will forever be associated with a broken website. So no, that’s not necessarily fair, but it is how the world works.

    More importantly, are we, as Mr. Oliver suggests, stupid fucking idiots?

    Yes.

    Given the world today, you have to be a stupid fucking idiot to want to help activate a legislation so controversial.

    You have to be a stupid fucking idiot to suggest a strategy that unites people around a common good before selling them on something as complicated as health insurance.

    You have to be a stupid fucking idiot to think advertising can actually help improve the quality of people’s lives.

    But at North, we welcome stupid fucking idiots. And I’d do it all again just the same, proudly.

    Although, next time I’d probably leave the website out of the ads.

    Mark Ray
    principal, chief creative officer
    North

    ed. note: This response was re-published in its entirety from the original blog post on the North website. A thank you to Mark Ray for giving us permission to do so.

  • The Magic Behind the Video for Coldplay's "Magic"

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    Ziyi Zhang, best known for her role in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Ziyi Zhang, best known for her role in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

    We were really taken with Jonas Åkerlund's promo for "Magic", especially the production design. The attention to detail is phenomenal. And the world-within-a-world is totally believable, evoking another time and place, yet in a surreal twist, set in a field with modern-day LA forming the backdrop.

    We wanted to learn more about the thinking and the process that led to this tented universe, so we caught up with Production Designer Emma Fairley who very kindly took time out to answer ALL our questions and supplied us with a veritable treasure trove of behind-the-scenes photos.

    Firstly, could you describe your role on the project?

    As a Production Designer it is my job to work closely with the Director to determine the "look" of the film. This means that we decide on the period of time, the colour palette and by pulling research and reference we gather an emotional reference that helps the storytelling. The props, fabrics, decor, construction - all of that comes under the banner of Production Design.

    What was your brief?

    Our director Jonas Åkerlund sent me a file of photographs - documents of circus and carnival life from the 1930's. He knows clearly what direction he wants to take a film and his reference is so specific that I know exactly the mood and decor he wants me to create.

    He likes to bring his own style to it and didn't want this to just be a period take on carnival life. He want to bring modernity to it which was the drive behind our location choice - modern downtown Los Angeles.

    Jonas always wants props and dressing to be emotionally palpable. If an element makes it onto film, it has to mean something.

    At one point during the shoot I noticed that a regular old cutlery set had been placed down for the dinner scene. In mad panic, that the cutlery was just not good enough, I sent a PA running off to my house to rifle through my cabinets to find an old gypsy set that my Auntie had bought me in Russia. It came back and made it onto set just in the nick of time. That's what we do.

    What timeframe did you work to?

    Music videos normally are built very very quickly, but on this one we actually got some nice time for preparation due to Coldplay's and Jonas's schedules having to coincide nicely. The film pushed back once or twice which meant that the rest of the artistic crew were able to get more and more detail in the work. 

    How would you describe the look you settled on?

    Norma Desmond and Charlie Chaplin take a trip to the circus and get waylaid by the opium den...? I thought a lot about the Charlie Chaplin film "Circus" - that has great decoration details.

    Where did you find all the props and set dressing?

    There is a great emporium of circus paraphernalia just outside Los Angeles where we were able to find all the vintage tents as well as a lot of the carnival dressing. Wini is the owner of this place and was a circus performer herself many years ago. At one point during prep, I found myself sitting in a room with Wini, her partner Chester and our director Jonas. It turns out I was in the company of three Guinness Book of World Record-holders.

    What was the hardest piece to source?

    Finding the beautiful tents was my first worry when the project came to me. I knew we had to get the textures and patinas right and I was worried we wouldn't be able to make as many as we needed in the timeframe.

    When I found Wini and her tents, I saw clearly the direction to take the design of the project. 

    What was your favourite item?

    The little fox with the rifle. We used it in Christophe's (Chris Martin's) tent. 

    The two statuette lights get a prominent supporting role. How did you find them?

    They came from a prop house in Los Angeles called Twentieth Century Props. The prop house suffered badly in the recession a few years ago and with film leaving Los Angeles, it was forced to close. It was a big loss for Set Decorators to lose such valuable vendors but these two globe-holding ladies were rescued by Wini, who had bought a lot of the pieces at auction. 

    Where was the promo shot?

    In a field right next to downtown Los Angeles. The metro runs right by that field. We liked that. The horn would go off in the night during filming - it added a special ambience.

    Tell us a little bit about the shoot - how long did it take to dress the sets?

    We dressed the sets in a day. The tents were pitched at 6am then at 10am in rolled five 5-ton trucks packed to the gills with fabrics, lanterns, antiques, trumpets and stuffed animals. It was overwhelming to unload so much dressing and to start to know where to put it all. That is my favorite moment in a set dress though- when you start to build the stories and make it come alive. We shot for two nights.

    Did filming illusions add another dimension to the shoot?

    All of the magic in the film was done for real. There was no CGI or post production (except for the levitating, of course). Chris Martin carefully learned the tricks with the help of Joe Labero who Jonas brought in from Sweden to coach. Magic props are a special and secret territory, well-guarded by the masters of illusion. I didn't have a prop master on the shoot and so to be prepared to make the props work. I really had to rely on the power of magic - and trust in it. I still managed to learn a few tricks though.

    Were there any technical challenges or hitches that needed to be overcome?

    After a ten month drought in LA, Los Angelenos got their wish granted out of the blue - in the middle of our night shoot. With equipment and antique props lying all around the field, a rainstorm descended. It had us scurrying like rats for shelter all of a sudden. 

    Does all the dressing go back to the hire shops or did you buy it outright?

    We buy quite a lot of the props, make a lot and hire a lot. It works out an even breakdown. For this shoot we made a lot of props with items we just went and bought at the hardware shop. Curtains were made out of painters drop cloths, knives were carved out of wooden blocks. I have a really great crew, all bringing their own special talents and it is great that on jobs like this, we can really let everyone contribute with their skill. That's why I love making music videos.

    What are your upcoming / current projects?

    One project I can't particularly mention may have some familiar artists in it... Otherwise we keep busy with a lot of commercials and other short film projects.

  • 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.

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
    3-Step Process
    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    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)

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

    Ideally,
    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...

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
    Credentials
    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    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)

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
    G.O.A.T
    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    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:

    Saturdays
    Girlfriend
    Hunter Gatherer AKA HUGA
    Mo’wax
    Slack
    Dress Code
    Mother
    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.

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
    Pretty Good Tools & Resources
    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    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.

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    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 or @pieratt

  • It's a Team Game

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    Originally published on Copacino+Fujikado

    In case you didn’t hear, there’s a bit of a football contest coming down the pike in East Rutherford, New Jersey this Sunday. As I sit here in my work podule trying to write quality advertisements that both engage and entice, it’s hard not to get caught up in the footballphoria. It all got me thinking – a great ad agency is an awful lot like a great football team. They both require a group of talented, dedicated individuals with unique skills and experience to band together to accomplish a common goal. Everyone needs to understand their role, be passionate about what they bring to the table and do the little things that add up to something big over the course of a season, or uhh, fiscal quarter.

    First, you need a quality front office and we have two of the best in the game with Jim and Betti. They’re the Jedi Masters (geeked-out mixed metaphor intended) who see the big picture and make the monumental decisions but who also aren’t afraid to hit the field on occasion to catch passes and tackle problems just for the love of the game.

    Then you need a quality GM who’s tough but fair, supportive but challenging. Someone who will talk budgets one minute and provide donuts the next. Nice going, Brandy. It goes without saying you need the right coach. One who is the first to pat you on the back when your ideas are platinum and shows you how to do better when it’s just not getting done. The kind of leader who can deliver a speech like Pacino and wear a sweater vest like Ditka. And when you work at a small agency or need to streamline an analogy for a blog post, sometimes the coach has to also play quarterback. You can follow our great Coacherback on Twitter @BrainPunch.

    Anyone who knows anything about football understands you’re only as good as your O and D-lines, or as I like to call them, the Account Team. These are the players in the trenches who do the hard stuff, the stuff that takes guts, the stuff that requires a skillset which includes strength, speed, quickness, agility and a stare that immediately lets people know deadlines are non-negotiable. They’re often the unsung heroes, but if you study the game like I do, you’ll see how valuable and sought-after great ones truly are.

    And let’s not forget the importance of exceptional Offensive and Defensive Coordinators, aka Media, aka Engagement Strategy. These are the tacticians, the strategerians, the people who understand that strategerians isn’t a word. Basically, the smart ones. The pitbulls who don’t just get what they want, they get twice the amount of what they want and a free bottle wine to boot. And the best part? They don’t have to be tall to be effective.

    Special teams are essential to any successful franchise. They need to be steady and reliable but also lightning-fast and aggressive. Excellent coverage is key and the best squads score points when people least expect it. We’re looking at you, PR.

    Then there are the fullbacks and running backs: Production. We’ve been calling our Production staff Beast Mode long before Beast Mode knew what Skittles were. Okay, that’s a lie, but it’s a lie based in fact. These are the guys and ladies who will run through foam core walls to get it done. The people who are often forced to carry the team on their backs to get us all to the goal line, aka Friday happy hour.

    Then there are the art directors and designers. They’re the slot receivers and TE’s, mainly because we’re running out of positions. Not only can they make beautiful plays, but they’re tough and resilient. They’re always the last to get here in the morning and the last to leave at night. An agency and a football team grinds to a standstill without them.

    Which brings us to the Accounting department. This is a no-brainer. These are the team doctors. Without them, we’d all probably be dead. Or at the very least, making ads with torn ACL’s and wicked concussions. I don’t know if team doctors send out all-franchise emails nagging players to get their timesheets done, but they probably should.

    As we’ve seen this year, a world-class secondary can take you all the way to the promised land. We call our Legion of Boom “Producers.” They will crush your face in two. Why, just the other day someone was handing me a cup of coffee and Kris Dangla came out of nowhere to knock it out of my hands. Then she kept yelling, “Don’t talk to me! Don’t talk to me! I’m the greatest! You’re mediocre!” It was weird and unprofessional, but highly effective.

    Then there are the Wide Receivers, the handsome players. The players who get all the glory because they deserve it. They’re the ones who land reality shows and incredible endorsement deals. At C+F, we call them Copywriters.

    ---

    Andy Corbett is a Senior Copywriter at Copacino + Fujikado in Seattle. Since graduating from the Creative Circus, he's written ads at Blue Sky Advertising, AKQA and Goodby Silverstein & Partners. He's an avid indoorsman who enjoys reading, writing and avoiding arithmetic. Career highlights include coining "The Highlight Factory" for the Atlanta Hawks and being the Farrah Fawcett of Dan Balser's Advertising Podcast “Don't Get Me Started.”

  • From Printing Press to Pixels

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    Originally posted on Atomicdust's blog
    as, "Web Development Brings Design to Life".

    Until a few months ago, I spent all of my time in a print shop. To be specific, it was a letterpress and screen-printing shop, where we still mixed inks by hand, set type, etched metal plates with acid and carved wooden blocks. We printed most of our work one sheet of paper at a time, or on 70-year-old automatic presses that required constant attention and mechanical adjustment. It was one of those jobs that people would talk to me about all the time. “I had an uncle who worked on old presses,” or “I did a little printing when I was in college,” were common things to hear in a conversation about the shop. People understood the basics of running a print shop and making prints.

    I eventually came to the conclusion that printing wasn’t what I wanted to do. The daily requirements of the job just became boring. When I finally decided to move on, I became a web developer here at Atomicdust.

    When it comes to talking about my job now, the situation is very different. The questions I am asked now are, “What’s a developer?” or “So, wait, what do you actually do?” I figured out pretty quickly that when people ask this, they are not asking about coding. If I start telling them about that part of the job, they get bored really fast.

    They want to know what is at the core of my job. Essentially, what makes someone a good developer?

    For me, the truest answer to these questions is, “The job I do now is exactly the same one I did in the print shop.” The core of my job is to find the most elegant and efficient way to bring a project from design to final product.

    In the print shop, the problem was how to create a perfect set of final prints. I chose the proper paper, set the pressure, adjusted the presses and mixed ink so that the final prints would reinforce the concept and look of the design. If I chose the wrong paper, perhaps a handmade paper when a machine-made paper would be more appropriate, the final prints would look completely wrong. The prints might look rustic and varied instead of slick and precise, undermining the original design.

    Now, as a developer, my problem is how to create a perfect website. I choose the proper coding methods and languages, set up the framework for the site and style it so that when it goes live, its function reinforces the concept and look the designers have created. If I choose the wrong framework, it may be too difficult to update or impossible to incorporate social media. If the concepts behind the design are speed and adaptability, the chosen framework will undermine the entire project.

    Although the specifics have changed, the backbone of each job is the same: creative problem-solving that serves concept and design. What makes someone good at each is the ability to see a project from design to final product without losing any of the importance of the design, but instead, reinforcing it.

    - - -

    Steven Brien graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a BFA in printmaking and shortly thereafter founded All Along Press with his fiancée, Elysia. Steven and Elysia still do custom letterpress and printmaking, but Steven scratches his web development itch at Atomicdust.

    When he’s not pedaling around St. Louis, making websites or print pieces, Steven can be found working on mopeds, building robots and tapping into his New Orleans roots.

  • Using Your Brain as a Designer

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    Originally posted on Atomicdust's blog.

    “I really like it.”

    Probably one of the most important things I learned in design school, and subsequently in the working world, is that “liking” a design is not sufficient enough. That’s what separates art and design; art is subjective, design is communicative. It’s also, like Atomicdust Creative Director Mike Spakowski often says, disposable. Design always has new trends and technology always has new devices. The only thing that seems to have any longevity is the content behind them.

    It makes sense then to design around the message. After all, the purpose of any design is to remove obstacles and make it easier for people to understand a specific message. I am as guilty as any designer when it comes to getting swept up in the romance of making something look cool, but here are some things that help me keep a focus on the real purpose of what I’m making:

    1. Understand What You’re Trying to Say

    It’s surprisingly difficult to communicate something, when you don’t know what that something is. It’s your job to be a translator of sorts, explaining broad ideas and feelings in simple visual terms so you should probably know what those broad ideas and feelings are.

    2. Focus Group of One

    Chances are the people you are talking to are actually people. And what luck, you’re a person too. Test your design on yourself. Would you really read that chunk of text in the corner? Does that button actually make you want to click it? Does this piece of marketing accurately communicate the right message?

    3. Be as Genuine as You Can

    There’s a lot of marketing in the world and we’re bombarded with it every day. Subsequently we’re starting to automatically rate things as believable or unbelievable and that determines to what we’ll give the time of day. Avoid making outrageous claims, or implying that stock image perfection is exactly what you’re selling. Where does your design piece rank on the believable scale?

    4. Now, Make it Cool

    You’ve got the basics of the message, it’s a functional piece, and your tone is believable. Here’s your chance to flex (within reason) your design skills. Half the fun of being a designer is creating something that communicates a message and makes people say, “I really like it.”

    - - -

    Beth Porter joined Atomicdust as a design intern in 2011 and has been designing there ever since.

  • The Pitch Season 2, Episode 1. Hunks Get Screwed.

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    You know, I said I wasn’t going to watch this season of The Pitch. Last season infuriated me to the point of bursting a blood vessel or two.

    But I’m an ad freak. I love the business, and I love watching reality shows about the business. Even if they illustrate how completely fucked up this industry is.

    Oh, there are huge spoilers in this by the way. If you haven’t seen it yet, bookmark this page for that moment immediately after watching it, when you feel the need to vent. You will be happy you did.

    So, the season two opener kicks of with two agencies competing for the business of College Hunks Hauling Junk. You’ve seen the vans. You know the name. It seems like a decent account to win. After all, they clearly have something of a sense of humor, judging by the name.

    The two agencies that came into the arena couldn’t have been further apart. Fletcher Rowley, an agency of stiff douchebags with mainly political clients on their roster. They’ve won 32 Pollie awards for their muckraking shit that gives advertising a really bad name. And Breen*Smith, laid back creative folks with a decent portfolio and a good attitude.

    Hang on Felix…we’re not even a few minutes into the episode and you’ve already made that conclusion.

    Yep.

    And I’m sure most people did, when they saw Bill Fletcher, the George Lucas lookalike, getting his hair cut whilst reading Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War.”

    Give. Me. A. Fucking. Break.

    This was about as spontaneous as one of his political clients kissing babies and wearing the USA flag pin. He instantly branded himself as a complete dickhead in one second. Nicely done. And then his protégé, John Rowley, showed his true colors by saying he still obsesses about a game he lost over twenty years ago.

    Now there’s a man who has his priorities right. Oh, and if first impressions count in this business, you may consider getting the haircut, John. Holy shit.

    Anyway, the other guys from Breen*Smith were humble, self-effacing and likeable. Based on last year’s winners, I figured these guys had no chance. I already wanted them to snag it.

    They get the pitch from the College Hunks execs, which is basically a blank sheet of paper. But as soon as they leave the building Bill Fletcher is on the phone, his pompous bullshit already oozing out of every pore. He wants to know everything about the competitor agency, down to what they ate for breakfast.

    For fuck’s sake! Why, Bill? Why?

    This isn’t political advertising. You can’t smear them and win. Your obsession with Sun Tzu is completely irrelevant here. In fact, I’ll ask you right here, just in case you’re reading this…what did learning everything about Breen*Smith accomplish for you? What nuggets did you glean than helped you pull together a campaign for College Hunks?

    The answer, I’m sure, is absolutely fucking zero. You cannot produce a great campaign by focusing on your pitch competitors. You need to focus on…the client. I know, weird right? You’re usually so obsessed with digging dirt on your opponents that you forgot the basic number one rule of a pitch – know your client and the product or service.

    Breen*Smith, on the other hand, were not digging into Fletcher Rowley. They would have shit themselves laughing (or maybe crying) if they had. Instead, they were more interested in going back to the client to get answers to new questions.

    Yes. Smart. Get those questions now, before you dive into a pitch campaign, not later when you’ll have to dump half the work.

    We go back to Fletcher Rowley to see they have decided to completely flush the College Hunks name down the shitter. Yeah, they only built a massive business from that name. It has great brand equity. We don’t need that. Let’s rename it something cool like, oh, “Heroic Movers and Haulers.” The tagline “With Great Movers Comes Great Responsibility” was just as lame. In one fell swoop, they dumped years of brand building and replaced it with something completely amateurish. It looked like student work.

    Wanting to sound cerebral, Fletcher started quoting Greek mythology – the word hero works across every continent. This guy could bottle his smugness and sell it in Target.

    Breen*Smith were throwing out lines like “Hunks holding your package,” They wanted to keep the equity College Hunks had built, and move forward. The right move.

    Then we go back to Fletcher to see that he’s brought in a focus group. At this point, I was convinced this was some kind of Candid Camera stunt. No ad agency is this pathetic. You don’t base your entire pitch on the musings of a few housewives from down the road. Christ, they all said Hunks was off-putting. This is the name that built an empire, how fucking bad can it be?! If Steve Jobs had put the iPad in front of these women, Apple would had shelved it. Which is why he didn’t.

    So, long story a little bit shorter, pitch time comes. The night before, Fletcher and Rowley are drinking and talking about Sun Tzu again. Give me strength. They stated they were unbeatable. I forget which part of “The Art of War” says you should embrace hubris. Oh, it never did. If he’d ever shown up, these guys would be too busy blowing him to realize he was berating their entire raison d’etre.

    The two agencies have to pitch in front of each other, which is the first time I’ve seen that. Hopefully, the last. Personally, I would have declined, and asked to pitch separately. It’s best all around. But they obliged, and both agencies presented pretty fucking awful work. I already knew I hated the Heroic stuff, but Breen*Smith’s “Hunks & a Dolly” throwback to World War 2 poster campaigns was dire. The College Hunks team looked underwhelmed to say the least.

    In the end Breen*Smith won, but really, there were no winners. Only losers, the biggest being College Hunks. They probably didn’t want to choose either agency, but went with Breen*Smith because at least they didn’t shit all over the brand equity.

    It was good to see the Fletcher Rowley shits run back to their political muckraking HQ, trying to convince themselves the College Hunks just weren’t ready for their bold strategy.

    If this is the kind of work we can expect from this season, I pity the clients. Did you see the episode? Am I off base? Fire away, you magnificent fuckers.

    There will be more analysis of Episode 2 next week.

    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.

  • Toronto Edition: In 20 Words or Less What's Your Creative Philosophy

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    In 20 words or less, what's your creative philosophy? What a great question that surely would generate some very creative responses. The SF Egotist first took to asking San Francisco based creatives that very question, the response was a wonderful glimpse into the thought process of some very talented creatives.

    We decided to take the very same question to Toronto creatives, in 20 words or less, what's your creative philosophy? What they shared gives us a look into the thought process of some extremely talented individuals. Take a look - tell us what you think and if you have a creative philosophy of your own share it in the comments.

    "Love what you sell.
    Then be honest with yourself about
    the human emotion why you love it (greed, lust, etc). "

    - Kevin Drew Davis
    Chief Creative Officer at DDB Canada
    ,


    "Don't be bitter.
    Be
    Better."
    - Andrew Simon
    Chief Creative Officer at Cundari Advertising


    "Exhaust all possibilities when you create and craft.
    There’s no worse feeling than, in hindsight,
    wishing you’d done things differently."

    - Allen Oke
    Executive Creative Director at TBWA\Toronto


    "Read everything. You'll find what you need when you need it.
    Travel everywhere.
    It's a great punch in the perspective."

    - Barb Williams R.G.D.
    Creative Director at RAPP Toronto


    "2 litres of magic,
    1 cup of cultural tension,
    1 cup execution."

    - Carlos Moreno
    SVP, Executive Creative Director at BBDO Toronto


    "Put energy into work that you believe in;
    find collaborators to vibe with,
    then believe in those people over product."

    - Kai Exos
    Executive Creative Director at SPOKE Agency


    “If you throw someone ten tennis balls,
    they’ll likely be able to catch only one.
    Throw one. Make it count.”

    - Fabio Orlando
    Chief Creative at Tag Idea Revolution


    "Spend weeks researching, experimenting,
    agonizing over an idea...
    then tell everyone it just popped into your head."

    - Jordan Foster
    Creative Director / Partner at six01


    "If the brief can't be
    Delivered in haiku form
    The suits must go back."
    - Suzanne Pope
    SVP, Creative Director at Sudler & Hennessey


    "Think with the mindset of a consumer
    and create
    with the imagination of a child."

    - Gary Watson
    Executive Creative Director at Capital C


    "Make sure your work has a pulse,
    and always remember,
    lions don't lose sleepover the opinions of sheep."

    - Anthony Wolch
    Executive Creative Director at Entrinsic


    "Simplify the complicated."
    - The Toronto Egotist

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