Jul 31, 2007

Storytelling

I recently stumbled upon the Talentworks section of AdAge.com, whereupon I came across this story about R/GA’s newest Executive Creative Director. And I decided to share it with you because it’s significant for so many reasons.

First and foremost is that it makes use of my new favorite buzzword: Storytelling. Now a few weeks ago, I noticed that an acquaintance had taken a new job as “Director of Storytelling” for a company I’d never heard of. Foolishly, I assumed he was working for some kiddie web site, where his job would be to somehow get Johnny Tremaine, Misty of Chincoteague, The Phantom Tollbooth and other childhood classics onto the internet.

But no, it turns out “storytelling” is something completely different. It’s what “media agnostic” agencies do for their clients: they tell the brand’s “story” over a variety of media.

Really.

It’s such a perfect buzzword too, because it sounds so warm and fuzzy, not to mention sort of classy. Storytelling. I mean who could be against something so positively “engaging”?

It’s also a great term because you can apply it to just about anything. The “storytelling” experience in the article, for instance, was “a JetBlue campaign that integrated traditional storytelling with interactive media in the form of a traveling "story booth," where travelers could videotape their stories about experiences with the airline. The videos became the basis for the campaign's work online and on TV.” (emphasis added)

Now call me crazy, but “traditional storytelling” to me is a children’s librarian sitting in a chair surrounded by a couple dozen kids as she acts out some fable about a Lithuanian ox. It’s certainly not about a clever way to gather customer testimonials.

You can be sure to see “storytelling” cropping up all the time now as a way of describing pretty much anything having to do with advertising or marketing, especially anything untraditional. Clients all think their brands have an interesting story to tell, and agencies will only be too happy to tell it for them.

What’s baffling, however, is that where I come from, advertising is supposed to be about news. You know, tell me something I didn’t know about the product, something I might actually care about, because that’s the only reason I’m going to take the time to listen to you. Now “storytelling” sounds dangerously like “tell the consumer what I, the brand, want to say” rather than “tell the consumer what s/he wants to hear.” It makes that deadly assumption that I actually want to sit down and hear some long drawn out story from your brand, and as we all know Your Brand Is Not My Friend. So I don’t really care to hear its story. Unless, of course, there’s some news in there for me.

Now there are two other things of note in this TalentWorks story. The first of which is yet another example of lazy, reprint-the-press-release journalism. The ECD in question, Robert Rasmussen, is going to be running the Nike account at R/GA. And the article plays up his whole JetBlue “storytelling” experience, while failing to even once mention that he spent 10 years (1994 – 2004) working on Nike at Wieden and Kennedy, doing all sorts of award-winning work and no doubt greatly endearing himself to the Nike client. A fact that I, no brilliant journo myself, was able to quickly glean from his public LinkedIn Profile.

Finally, there’s this gem: the article, as so many do in this 2.0 world of ours, allows for unedited commentary. And the one comment (as of today) is this vituperative screed from a “Jennifer A. of Norwalk, CT”
Can we be honest here? Anyone who has worked with Robert knows he is arrogant, rude and a hack who lucked out with this job. This is one reader who will happily watch his demise. JWT Forever! –NORWALK, CT
Wow. That is nasty, public, raw, inappropriate and leaves you wondering WTF? Is Jennifer his ex-wife? A friend with a PoMo sense of humor? A jealous rival for the JetBlue account? A young assistant whose advances he spurned? I mean I assume Rasmussen and his friends won’t have too much trouble figuring out who “Jennifer A. of Norwalk, CT” is.

The whole thing is rather fascinating in a People magazine sort of way. And if we were to somehow find out the actual history behind this post, that, my friends, would be storytelling.

Jul 30, 2007

Blogging For Dollars

Ever since the woman who started MediaBistro sold her blog for $23 million, there's been a lot of talk about bloggers actually making money for this.

But I think we need to look at blogs for what they are: online evolutions of newspapers and magazines.

There are really two types of blogs, particularly in the advertising and new media space: Aggregators, like Adfreak and Adrants, where you can find all sorts of new and unusual work along with some mildly snarky commentary, and OpinionBlogs, like this one and most of the ones in the links column on your right, which are basically daily op-ed columns on what's on the writers mind.

And like most things in life, there's a whole lot of gray in this: few blogs fall exclusively in one camp or the other.

Much as we'd like to think that they're some revolutionary new thing, most blogs are basically not that different than what newspapers were about a few hundred years ago: one persons opinion of the news.

And readers of newspapers and magazines have come to accept that a certain amount of advertising is necessary to get the content they want. Provided it's clear that the advertising doesn't in any way impact the editorial.

Now what gets dodgy and what's causing so many bloggers so much tsouris, is the fact that the money bloggers in the advertising and marketing arena-- especially opinion bloggers (as opposed to aggregators) can make from advertising is pretty minimal. Certainly not enough to support themselves or to enable them to provide better or different content. (Let's face it: we're talking to a pretty limited audience.)

So then it starts to seem like a vanity project. Jaffe asking for an iPhone becomes "Is my blog that cool that you'd give up an iPhone to be associated with it?"

That's a whole different question than "Are the readers of your blog valuable enough as potential consumers for me to pay money to advertise my iPhone to them?"

And even if it's not, even if someone's really bartering an iPhone because they want to reach Jaffe's readers, it doesn't come off that way. Because the advertising becomes noteworthy. It intrudes into the editorial in a way that offends us. I mean when was the last time you saw a magazine article about how the publisher landed the Mercedes ad on the back cover?

Seeing ads on blogs I read doesn't bother me. I mean more power to you if you can get someone to pay you. But when you start letting the advertising become part of the editorial (the whole Nikon blogger outreach program) then you've pissed me off and likely lost me as a reader.

And that's probably not worth the $20 a week most of us can actually make from advertisers.

Jul 29, 2007

Persistent Spammers

Check out the second comment to the post below this.
It's a spam message for some website about the Kennedy assasination.
Now this is the third or fourth (unrelated) spam message I've gotten on the Toad Stool so far. I usually just delete them, but it's got me wondering.

I have one of those password-protect things on here, where you need to type in the secret hard-to-read alphanumeric code in order to post a comment.

So either these guys took the time to hand-post the spam or hacker technology is better than Google Blogger technology.

EIther way, it seems like a whole lot of effort for what promises to be very little profit.

Jul 27, 2007

More Generational Thoughts

My post the other day about the whole "Gen Y is spoiled" nonsense made me think of one of my favorite sociology-type books of all time. Neil Howe and William Strauss' 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?

Funny how old-school the title sounds, but at the time the book was published (1993) the phrase "Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?" was completely unfamiliar to most anyone over 30. (For those of you too young to remember, it was what PCs asked when they were thinking of crashing.)

Strauss and Howe were the first to highlight Gen X as a separate and unique entity. And while many reporters defaulted to Doug Coupland's Generation X as the seminal generation-defining novel, it has none of the insight of Strauss and Howe.

A lot of their theories and observations still hold up. For instance they spend a lot of time talking about how kids became a low-level priority in the 1970s as their parents (and society) devoted their time to "finding themselves" and how this effected Gen Xers psychologically by making them more self-reliant than the generations before and after. They also define Gen X as being anyone too young to remember the Kennedy assassination, thus including the cohort born between 1961 and 1964.

Well worth a look (or second look) for anyone whose interested in how generations affect consumer behavior.


Imitation Is The Best Form Of Flattery

Thanks to Matt Dickman of Techno/Marketer for flagging this very funny parody of all the new video sites.

Parody is a lot harder to pull off than you'd think, so props to the people to made this.



Jul 26, 2007

Second Life Needs One

One of my loyal readers, Jonathan Trenn, sent me a link to a fascinating article in the current issue of Wired about Second Life and what a complete bust it's turning out to be.

The entire article is well worth reading, but here's a brief excerpt to whet the appetite:

What's behind this stampede is not that hard to divine. "A terror has gripped corporate America," says Joseph Plummer, chief research officer at the Advertising Research Foundation, an industry think tank. Plummer has been around Madison Avenue since the early '60s, when modern advertising techniques materialized. "The simple model they all grew up with" — the 30-second spot, delivered through the mass reach of television — "is no longer working. And there are two types of people out there: a small group that's experimenting thoughtfully, and a large group that's trying the next thing to come through the door." Second Life appeals to the latter — the ones who are afraid of missing out, who don't consider half a million dollars to be a lot of money, and who haven't figured out (or don't want to admit) that Second Life is less than the bold new frontier it appears to be.
There's even a cameo appearance by Joseph Jaffe, whose not-an-agency Crayon created Coke's Second Life "presence."

Or Maybe It's Just Because They're 21

Today's New York Times features an article by Lisa Belkin about the clash between Boomers and Gen Y-ers at work. There's been a recent spate of these kind of articles, all of which, like Belkins, trot out the usual examples of clueless interns wearing flip-flops to meetings and having a hard time adjusting to the idea of regularly showing up for work at 9 AM.

Now what's baffling to me about this is that these behaviors are all being attributed to some sort of generational zeitgeist rather than to the fact that 21 year old interns have always had trouble adjusting to the schedule of the work world and that the offspring of the upper middle class have always entered the workforce with a sense of entitlement.

One curious behavior, which Belkin didn't mention, but which I've seen reported several times in the pages of The Wall Street Journal, is parents calling employers on behalf of their 20something children. Either to demand raises, get feedback from interviews or negotiate a job offer. Now I will tell you that I have never heard of such a thing from anyone in the ad business, and we certainly employ a large number of 20somethings. But I can't begin to fathom why the employers in question allow this. I mean if someone who worked for me (or wanted to work for me) had their parents call to demand a raise, said employee would be out on the street in a heartbeat. Or at least suffer a huge drop in my estimation. And it would take all of my willpower to remain civil to the parents.

Now the reason I'm posting about this is that you know this is bound to show up on a brief sometime soon. Product X is aimed at Generation Y and this is what they're all about.

Just wanted to prepare you all with the proper objections.

Jul 25, 2007

Social Media Is Only "Social" If You’re Alone

A few weeks back I was preaching about how Social Media sites are quite anti-social if there are other people in the room, and thus mainly appeal to two demographics: teenagers and affluent, workaholic, single 20 and 30somethings.
What both groups have in common is a feeling of isolation based on the fact that friends and loved ones are not accessible on a constant basis- either because they are living in a college dorm or with their parents (teenagers) or because they work 18 hours a day and tend not to live in the same cities as their college friends.
And as if to prove the existence of this latter group, I stumbled upon this post written by a woman in praise of Web 2.0. Entitled “10 Things We Can Learn From Facebook,” I’ll give you the relevant excerpts:
Local is a state of mind. My new best friend, who I met in December, lives in New York; most of our friendship is bites and bytes, but she's my can I borrow a cup of sugar/do I look fat in the dress pal. (In other words, tech powers connections--powerfully.)
We want to be local, not global. Small is beautiful, and a digital backfence like Facebook's status updates or twitter, has irresistible appeal.
Forget Starbucks, the third place is digital. Got 5 minutes? Need a break? That place you like to go is probably right on your screen.

Again, for the groups I mentioned, social media is a wonderful thing. For a teen or 20something for whom social life is paramount, it’s a way to keep the party going all the time. And for someone as isolated as the blogger above (who it turns out is actually a bit older than the main demographic) it’s a way to stay connected. But for the rest of us, it actually has the reverse effect. I mean do you really want someone Twittering at the dinner table? Checking their Facebook mid-conversation?

I thought not.

Jul 24, 2007

Tim Nudd's Own AdCritic

My favorite AdFreaker, Tim Nudd, has been posting noteworthy TV spots to YouTube, thus creating something like a free version of AdCritic.


(UPDATE: Nick, from AdCritic, just wrote in to say that with their new site redesign, all the content on AdCritic, now known as creativity-online.com, will be free for the first seven days it's up. Way to go, Nick.)

This spot from Cingular, via BBDO, is one of my favorites. It does a great job of telling a fairly complex retail story in 30 seconds, staying focused on the product while entertaining us. The writing is very well done too: this could have been a disaster in lesser hands.

And, as per American Copywriter, it's been nominated for an Emmy, which made me happy because retail spots like this often get overlooked by award shows.



Jul 23, 2007

Toad Predicts

Sometime in the next year, one of the interweb-only agencies like Razorfish or RGA is going to do a fairly clever online campaign for one of their (packaged goods) clients that the client absolutely loves. Later that week, the same client will see yet another mediocre TV-centric campaign from their offline agency that's bombed in whatever sort of snake oil testing program they put it through.

Frustrated, the client will give the interweb shop the chance to do the offline work as well, telling them to see it as an extension of the much-loved (and much clicked-through) online campaign.

The interweb shop will do a decent job on the offline work, certainly no worse than what the traditional agency has presented. The client will buy it, and, when they see the cost savings, will pull the account and give the whole kit and caboodle to the interweb shop.

Much will be made of this in the ad trades and the mainstream business press. Everyone will point out that this is the first time an interweb shop is doing print and TV (probably false, but it makes for better copy) and that this is first mainstream ad campaign that’s designed around an online concept, with TV playing a supporting rather than leading role. (Ditto.)

Traditional agency creatives will rail against the campaign, correctly pointing out that it’s a rip-off of something done in Belgium for a similar client back in the mid-90s that got into CA, and regardless, it’s just not very good. While they’re busy bitching and moaning however, their bosses will be commanding them to work with their (allegedly integrated) online brethren to come up with a similar campaign that’s all about the online component.

Most of the traditional agencies—and their clients-- won’t really get it, so we’ll see a spate of campaigns featuring 30 second TV commercials with longer, YouTube “viral” versions (all shot by Pytka) that drive to a pointless website where you can read all the copy the agency convinced the client didn’t need to be in the TV commercial or viral video.

Meanwhile, other clients, unhappy with their agencies, will begin shifting accounts to the interweb shops. The marketing teams that do this will be rewarded for (a) saving so much money and (b) being so forward thinking. The work that comes out of the interweb shops won’t win any awards but won’t be noticeably worse than 90% of what comes out of traditional agencies. The only noticeable difference will be that some of the TV work will be informed by a more flash and video game derived visual sensibility and will look much better on an an iPhone screen than a 50 inch HDTV one.

Traditional agencies will bitch and moan about how bad the creative from the interweb shops is, but slowly, more and more clients will shift their accounts, probably even one or two really big ones.

After a year or two of this, some interweb agency is going to stumble upon the sort of “big idea” that pleases award show judges and Miami Portfolio Circus Center students. The campaign will clean up at The One Show and Cannes (but not D&AD, where it will be shut out) and everyone will be clamoring to have their agency/creative department come up with something just like it.

You read it here first.

Jul 22, 2007

Chocolate Rain: The Next Big Thing In Viral

With close to 600,000 hits, and some recent play from Carson Daly, among others, a truly bizarre-yet-infectious song called "Chocolate Rain" posted to YouTube by someone named Tay Zonday is on its way to becoming the next "Chunky Pam."

Zonday appears to be about 12 or so, yet sings with a deep bass, so I'm guessing he's lip-synching (His previous YouTube video was a Karaoke version of "Never Gonna Give You Up")

Whatever the origin, I've gotten about a half dozen emails and pings about it in the last few days, so I'm guessing many of you already know about it. And if you don't, it's bound to be the source of hundreds of bad jokes and imitations this summer, so take a listen and get used to it.

Not sure what it proves other than the appeal of the bizarre and the camp (think Sanjaya and William Hong) but that alone is something.


NB: If you only listen to the first 30-60 seconds, that's plenty. Nothing new or different in the back half.



Jul 20, 2007

Mad Men

Not that impressed with the first episode. Without rehashing the entire episode, here's a few thoughts:

While The Sopranos (writer/producer Matthew Weiner's previous show) was about people who seemed just like us but lived in a world we could never imagine being a part of, Mad Men is about people who live in a world we can easily imagine being a part of but seem very different from us. The Sopranos is a window into a world we'll never be a part of; Mad Men is a mirror to a world we could clearly have been part of. So while The Sopranos fascinates us, Mad Men makes us uncomfortable.

The writing, as others have mentioned, is stiff and unconvincing. (There's a belief, in Hollywood, that great shows are the result of one person and that the people who come out of those great shows rarely succeed on their own. Mad Men seems to bear that out.)

Since there's an entire subplot about the existence of Jewish ad agencies and the complete lack of Jews and Italians at the agency the show is set in, Parker owes me a drink. (For context, click here or here.)

It seemed strange (and possibly untrue) that a CD and 26 year old account guy would be the only agency people in the room with one of the agency's biggest clients. Dramatic license and all that, but still, I felt like I was watching Bewitched again.

thirtysomething, which I loved when I was twentysomething, didn't always get it right, but got close. Miles Drentell, in particular, was a great portrayal of the sort of psychopaths who often manage to succeed in our business.

I TiVOd right through the commercials without realizing there was something in there that was supposed to make me stop and watch them. I only learned about this when I read CK's blog.

Don Draper got off the train in Ossining, which is in Westchester County, not Connecticut, as some others have stated. It's also the home of Sing Sing Prison, which, given the general heavy-handedness of the show, was clearly some sort of metaphor.

I'll watch the next episode or two to see if it gets any better, but not counting on it.

Jul 19, 2007

Mad Men: Long Before HD

I went to TiVO “Mad Men” this morning, so that I could catch its debut on AMC. And as I was programming the box to receive the much ballyhooed show, about a 1960s era ad agency, I realized two things:

1. I’d thought to myself that I needed to “TiVO” it, despite the fact that I was using a Comcast-supplied DVR.

2. I was more than a bit perturbed that AMC is not available in HD. I mean ever since we got the big plasma screen last year I think I’ve watched no more than a few hours of non-HD television. The difference is way too noticeable. And given that most of what I watch is either sports or HBO, this hasn’t been a problem.

Point is, while I don’t like to assume that my personal experiences are universal, I don’t think I’m going out on much of a limb here to guess that I wasn’t alone on either of these thoughts. Within a particular socioeconomic demographic, anyway.

PS: There’s been some debate on Adscam and Adpulp about how tough it really was for Jews and Italians to work at many of the bigger agencies back then. Having not been there, I can’t be sure, but Alessandra Stanley, the New York Times TV critic does mention it in her review as well:

Men wore white shirts, drank Manhattans and harassed compliant secretaries in the elevator. Everybody read Reader’s Digest. Jews worked in Jewish advertising agencies, blacks were waiters and careful not to seem too uppity, and doctors smoked during gynecological exams. Women were called “girls.” Men who loved men kept it to themselves.


So Now It’s Our Fault

Jeffrey Zaslow, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal has a follow-up today to his infamous column wherein he approvingly cited an author who blamed today’s culture of self-entitled young people on, of all people, Mr. Rogers (of "Mr. Rogers Neighborhood." The premise being that Rogers telling kids they were special lead them to believe they deserved special treatment as adults.)

In today’s column though, he tries to lay the blame on advertising, citing two fairly innocuous slogans of yesteryear which have clearly damaged the psyches of our nation’s youth:
Meanwhile, advertising fosters entitlement. Consider Burger King’s slogan “Have it your way.” Tim Curran of Omaha, Neb., believes it encouraged rudeness and selfishness, leading people to become “unglued over minutiae,” such as burgers that arrive with unwanted pickles.

FedEx began as a service for packages that “absolutely, positively” have to get there overnight. The slogan helped cement the idea that everyone is entitles to instant gratification, argues Jonathan Spira, CEO of Basex Inc., a business research firm.
Talk about digging yourself in deeper. Zaslow’s columns, however, were one of my inspirations for The Toad Stool. I mean I figured if people were willing to read what this guy has to say, then they'd find me absolutely fascinating.

I’m just saying…

Jul 17, 2007

And Sometimes Your Brand IS My Friend

Fake websites, blogs and the like work best when they're created by things like movies and TV shows.

Why?

Because we have a tendency to consider the characters our friends. We see the websites as an extension of the story we see on TV. And as such, it's not an intruder.

"John From Cincinnati" - a new HBO series I've been watching, if not 100% understanding- has jumped into the already crowded pool with two new websites, both of which work to extend the show's brand and appeal to hard-core fans.

If only they could explain what's going on.

Check them out here and here




More Red

My sources tell me that Ogilvy and American Express' Open product have parted ways.
No word on where Open is going yet. (UPDATE: Adweek reports it's going to Crispin.)

Hopefully this is just a case of AmEx doing the usual "when all else fails, blame the agency" trick for a piece of business they never quite figured out what to do with, rather than the first breach in Ogilvy's armor.

Time will tell.

Jul 16, 2007

More Sightings of "Your Brand Is Not My Friend"

The inestimable George Parker has a post on Adscam about how all those companies who set up shop on Second Life are having virtual going-out-of-business sales.

Why? Well to begin with, Parker's source, an article in the L.A. Times, notes that despite claims of 8 million users, there are only about 30,000 to 40,000 actual users on line at any given time. Most of whom are in the virtual brothels and strip clubs. (Hey, there's a reason why "one of the most frequently purchased items in Second Life is genitalia.")

Which again leads us back to the drumbeat of "Your Brand Is Not My Friend."

People come to Second Life to meet like-minded people, to play and have fun. And since your brand is not one of their friends, they don't want to play with you. Ever. Second Life is all about fantasy. It's where people go to escape from consumerism and advertising. Making it one of the last places they're going to be receptive to your messages.

Second Life, in particular, has amused me, since every brand with a digital agency-- and more than a few political candidates-- rushed to "develop a presence" on there as a way of establishing their hipster chops.

I mean literally everyone from Reebok to Starwood Hotels to John Edwards.

And rather than face more eye-rolling and "they just don't get it" sighs from the Web 2.0-niks on staff, clients and agencies have willingly gone along for the ride without ever really understanding where they were headed.


AND YET ANOTHER

Rather than start a whole new post, the Wall Street Journal [pay site, sorry] has an article today about how TV networks are using Twitter to try and get buzz about their shows. But, as the article notes:
Marketing through Twitter -- as with any new technology -- isn't a slam dunk. Sending marketing messages on the service could alienate users who see Twitter as a way to talk to their friends
Though I'd go a step farther and say "will alienate" rather than "could." Marketers trying to infiltrate Twitter and its microblogging siblings (Jaiku, Pownce) was more or less inevitable.

PS: Props to David Burn of the always-excellent AdPulp for actually transcribing the WSJ Twitter article.




They Must Know My Mother-In-Law

There's an interview in today's Wall Street Journal with Borders (the bookstore) CEO George Jones. He discusses some of his plans for making the store more innovative, one of which is teaching older people (35 and up) how to download music to their iPods.

You've got to think about America in general. There are tons of people 35 and older who don't own an MP3 player, or if they have one, they don't know how to operate it. These are people who just won't take the time to learn how to do it. I'm like that myself. I love music, but I don't download music onto my iPod. We think there is a place for a retailer to offer a comfortable environment that offers guidance... Bring in your MP3 player and let us know what you want. We'll download it for you.
The comedic possibilities of this scenario are endless. But joking aside, does Jones really think that there are 35 year olds who don't know how to load an iPod? Or, more importantly, wouldn't be embarrassed to walk into a bookstore and admit this? Now he may be onto something, because, as we tend to forget living in our little bubbles, not everyone has internet access, let alone an iPod and DVR player.

My fear for Borders would be that setting yourself up as a haven for technophobes could position you in consumers minds as the technologically backwards bookstore. And that the market for technophobes is shrinking rather than growing.

Jul 13, 2007

Physician Heal Thyself

Few things are as annoying to me as going to an agency web site and finding yet another "look how clever we are with flash" site that's pretty much impossible to navigate.

You know the ones I'm talking about. They've got cute little graphic symbols for the various nav functions that you're supposed to figure out and think "wow, they are so cool to think of that."

Whereas what I'm really thinking is "Hmmm. If I roll over this typewriter icon, it makes a noise and some other icons come up. None of which seem to indicate that they're the place I can find the phone number. I should have just dialed 411."

Yup. That's right. The main reason I, or most people, go to an agency web site is to find out the address and phone number of say their Los Angeles office. So we can figure out how to get in touch with someone who works there. If I'm a client (or if a headhunter calls me) I may also want to check out their work. But probably not. I mean I kind of know what BBDO's been up to, you know?

So why make it so damn hard to figure out? And that goes double for all of you who design your portfolio web sites to resemble the Rosetta Stone.

Seriously. I've got about 5 minutes to check out your site. I'll look at a few print ads and then a banner or TV spot or something before deciding if I want to meet you or not. And if you make me guess what all those little fucking symbols mean or if you've got flash that takes 3 of those 5 minutes to load, I'm going to pass.

And while I'm at it, please, please, please, avoid putting those dumb little quotes on your site that say things like "I don't do ads. I do ideas." (Really? I mean knock me over with a feather, I never knew there were people who did that.) Even worse is some quote you found on bartleby.com from Sartre about creativity that's supposed to convince me that you're a real Renaissance man or woman.

Now there's generally a strong correlation between how overdesigned a site is and how lame the work is. Same way I could generally have guaranteed you that the book in the $500 portfolio with that onion skin paper protecting every page was going to suck.

Now I understand that there's a temptation, both from agencies and creatives, to show off the latest flash tricks, to make your site seem just as creative as your work. But resist. You're only frustrating your users and clearly demonstrating the fact that you'll choose form over function at every juncture. Portfolio and agency websites should be elegant but still simple enough for a harried user to get through and find what they need in a hurry. With clear and simple navigation-- the ability to return to the home page with just one click is particularly important.

Or, as a great art director/mentor once said to me, years ago. "What is this shite Toad? Just do your resume in Palatino or Helvetica and be done with it. The only reason someone's going to read it is to see where else you worked and if they know anyone who knows you. Don't use it to show off how clever you are. That's what the rest of your book is for."

Jul 11, 2007

Cutting Edge Thieves

One of my readers, Raafi Rivero, discovered the inspiration for Goodby’s new Sprint work on a Japanese site and then made a comment that’s worthy of it’s own response:

I guess, in this youtube era, all one has to do is sit back and wait for an art director to find some cool graphical treatment somewhere on the interwebs, then see if it can work as a spot with some soupy copy and a logo at the end.

Well, Raafi, this has been going on longer than the interweb. And I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all.

Advertising rarely creates anything new.

The best of us steal the trend/style/tonality/graphic treatment/video with guys sticking out their tongues and saying "Whasssuppp!!" long before it hits the popular zeitgeist.

In fact, I’ve found that the one things that sets the Goodbys and Chiats apart from their more prosaic counterparts is that they are filled with art directors who constantly scour sites like the one you’ve linked us to. Writers who cut out at lunch time to check out a screening of the new Turkmenistani short that’s getting buzz at festivals in Europe. And because they’re adept at identifying which elements will easily become part of the pop culture vernacular, they create advertising that gets noticed.

Creatives at shops where the work isn’t such a priority tend to spend their weekends seeing the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Regardless of whether they’re accompanying a group of “totally stoked” 12 year olds.(This has always blown me away, people without kids going to see “Transformers” and the like.) And since this is all that informs their aesthetic, the work never seems particularly fresh. Their touchpoints are already part of the mainstream; the work may be well-executed, but we’ve seen it all before.

As the media landscape changes, and the consumer gets more control over what he/she wants to see, the ability to create something different will become very important. Because absolutely no one is going to download and pass along a video of one of the hundreds of “hold up the product and smile” commercials packaged goods companies and their agencies pump out. They’re not going to slow down their DVR to watch it either, and faced with the choice of sitting through 2 minutes of lame-ass spots or spending $1.99 to watch their favorite show commercial-free, you can bet that $1.99 is going to seem like a wise investment.

And that, my friends, gives me hope.

Jul 10, 2007

Toad's Big Idea

The unlinkable-except-for-today-thanks-to-Dell Wall Street Journal has an excellent columnist named Jared Sandberg, who writes something called "Cubicle Culture" about the absurdities of office life.

This week he writes about what happens when your boss wants to be your MySpace friend. Here's an excerpt that pretty much sums it up:

Paul Dyer was always able to hold off his boss's invitations to party by employing that arms-length response: "We'll have to do that sometime," he'd say.

But when his boss, in his 30s, invited Mr. Dyer, 24 years old, to be friends on the social-networking sites MySpace and Facebook, dodging wasn't so easy. On the one hand, accepting a person's request to be friends online grants them access to the kind of intimacy never meant for office consumption, such as recent photos of keggers and jibes from friends. ("Still wearing that lampshade?")

Mr. Dyer, it turns out, wasn't the one who had to be embarrassed. His boss had photos of himself attempting to imbibe two drinks at once, ostensibly, Mr. Dyer ventures, to send the message: "I'm a crazy, young party guy." The boss also wore a denim suit ("I'd never seen anything like it," Mr. Dyer says) and posed in a photo flashing a hip-hop backhand peace sign.

It was painful to watch. "I hurt for him," says Mr. Dyer.

Anyway, reading this, I immediately thought of LinkedIn, which is MySpace for work. And then it hit me: MySpace (and Facebook) should create a MySpace/Work (Facebook/Work) site that would allow users to connect in a way that's work appropriate. The pages would operate independently of the users "social" MySpace page and would likely attract an older audience as well. Users could take advantage of the multi-media tools to show off some of their achievements or even offer Dilbert-like plaints. About work. Either way, the sites would be free of pictures of people playing beer pong or exposing their breasts.* And landing on one would not subject the hapless viewer to a loud blast of Maroon 5. The sites would be a brilliant brand extension as well as a huge moneymaker for them.

Any venture capitalists out there?

*Why? Seriously, are so many people that insecure of their level of coolness that they need to post photographic evidence of their ability to "party?" Especially given that such evidence only serves to make them look even dorkier.

Jul 9, 2007

Sprint Ahead




Props to American Copywriter for finding this spot, the first of the new Sprint work from Goodby. The graphics are just outstanding and take the not-exactly-fresh message (when you were a kid didn't you dream about how cool the future would be)to a much better place.

The graphic treatment extends to the website as well. Which makes the whole rebranding effort that much more impressive. I mean compare the new site and overall look of the TV to anything Verizon, AT&T or T-Mobile are doing.

Nice work

Jul 7, 2007

(Sort of) Live Toad + A Wiki

I was invited to be a guest on Joseph Jaffe's podcast, Across The Sound this week, along with CK, of CK's blog.

The topic was blogger outreach programs, the somewhat controversial Nikon D80 program in particular, and how brands should and should not insert themselves into Web 2.0. CK and Jaffe are a lot more thoughtful and interesting than I am, so it's actually a pretty insightful listen.

You can listen to/download us on the Across The Sound homepage here.

Or get a direct download here

Or you can download it off of iTunes here

And, since people seem to really be digging this whole notion of "Your Brand Is Not My Friend" (read the whole series here) and because CK suggested it, lol- I have started a wiki where you can add your stories of brands who made the mistake of thinking they were just another one of the gang and inserted themselves in places where people really didn't want to be advertised to. You can link to the wiki here

Jul 5, 2007

"User Generated Content" or "Stuff I Put Online For My Friends to Look At"

Adweek has a story this week entitled "User-Gen Space Poised for Growth."

I saw the headline and though "hmm, someone's really going to try and make money with silly videos kids make themselves."

But then I actually read the article and find out that what Adweek called "User Generated Content" is actually what the rest of us call "stuff I put up online for my friends to look at."

Because the stuff Adweek is calling UGC is "social networking, photo sharing and amateur video." Yup. Flickr, MySpace, Facebook and YouTube. And like I've said before, most 16 year olds have some sort of social networking page. Maybe even more than one. But for 99.99% of them, that site is something they share with their friends, not someplace they want to meet an advertiser. Ditto Flickr, PhotoBucket and, to a lesser extent, YouTube.

Because, to beat that dead horse, Your Brand Is Not My Friend.

Tadpole Favorite #2

As part of my campaign to present other perspectives on what makes compelling advertising, this commercial for Canon, via Dentsu America, is probably the Tadpoles' second favorite spot ever, after the Gatorade "Big Head" spot. This one, which features tennis ace Maria Sharapova's Italian-accented dog, induces fits of laughter and much mimicry hours after viewing. The not-very-professionally executed imitations of the voice of the dog (Dolce) seem to be instantly recognizable to the majority of their friends.

And while the Tadpoles are in no position to actually go out and buy a digital camera, the spot has made far more of an impact on them than it has on most ad creatives.

Just pointing it out.



Jul 3, 2007

What Michael Moore Can Teach Us About Marketing

Michael Moore’s latest movie, Sicko came out this week, but I have no intention of going to see it. Not that I disagree with Moore’s premise that our health care system needs reforming. Or that I dislike documentaries (quite the opposite, in fact.)

It’s just that I already know what the movie is going to be like and as such, there’s no real reason for me to go see Moore grill some not-very-bright factotums, take their quotes out of context, and use them to build his case that our health care system is in trouble. I’ve learned from the previews that he’ll also find the one instance where Cuba’s health care system does a better job than ours and highlight that.

Seen it already. It’s the same movie he’s made every time out. And if an informal poll of my friends is any indication, I’m far from the only one.

So what’s the lesson for marketers?

Serve up the same exact thing every time and eventually people learn to tune you out. While there’s a core audience that wants to see the same trick time and again, most people aren’t that enamored with what you do to want to put up with it.

That’s true whether what you “do” is an ad campaign, a product, a retail experience, a song or an agit-prop documentary.

I’m not advocating radical change—people like that even less than watching you do the same old, same old. But you do need to evolve some. Give people something a little different so they keep coming back for more. The greatest barrier to change is the old axiom “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It’s a line that too many people fall back on to avoid the hassle of change. Because face it: change is a hassle. It involves risk, relearning and reaction. Three things most humans, by nature, will gladly avoid.

No matter how much that works to their detriment.

Happy 4th.

Jul 2, 2007

Your Brand Is Not My Friend-- More Sightings

Today's Wall Street Journal has a story entitled "Young Surfers Spurn Banner Ads, Embrace "Widgets"." Relevant quote, from Samantha Skey, exec. VP of Strategic Marketing at Alloy Media + Marketing:
Kids have come to view [social-network profile pages] as their yearbook page. It's their collage. It's very personal.

A further reading of the article reveals that all of the widgets in question are being placed by movie and other entertainment companies to promote their shows. Which, in this toad's opinion, is pretty much a no-brainer: kids will put movie widgets on their sites because they identify with movie characters and because it's socially acceptable to say, be that into Harry Potter. But they're not going to put a Diet Pepsi widget on their site because it's not at all socially acceptable to be that into Diet Pepsi.

When will brand marketers realize that tactics that work for entertainment brands are not easily transferred to consumer brands?