Are these good ads good?

This week two ads have been causing quite a buzz in the advertising community.

The first is a broadcast spot from Apple for the new iPhone. Love hearing Courtney Barentt and the images are (allegedly) all beautifully shot on an iPhone.

Watching the ad, it begs the question: Is this an ad?

They get around to mentioning the product in the final seconds of the spot, but we never see it. Hence my “Allegedly” comment up above. Assuming this was actually shot using the phone, I can see benefits of the camera. There is a logo right before everything goes black. It’s 60 seconds, historically the length of an ad. What is going on here?

Let’s be honest here — this is not an ad for the iPhone.

Before I go any further, I want to be clear: I am all for gay-marriage, that is not what my post is about. I come from Kinky Friedman’s school of thought that gay people have the same right to be miserable as straights. What I am questioning here is whether or not this is an ad.

Same thing with this ad for The Gap where a mother is breastfeeding her baby. I have no qualms with breastfeeding, other than I do get uncomfortable if a woman feeds in public and doesn’t alert me that something’s about to come out of her shirt. Sorry, but I am old-fashioned that way.

What does this ad have to say about The Gap or their clothing? My guess is that it’s not about the neckline is that t-shirt popping back into shape.


I don’t understand why the advertising community and their clients feel compelled to take sides and promote social issues with ads. If the product in the ad is solving a problem, then great — celebrate that point.

I have been a customer The Gap since junior high and of Apple’s since college. I am not offend by the message in either of these ads, but I am suspect of the ads effectiveness. Neither are making their product so attractive that I want to take a trip to the mall to make a purchase.

And isn’t that the purpose of an ad?

The Winter Olympics just ended last weekend. Did you notice how many of the adverts prominently featured handicapped athletes? Out of curiosity, I counted one night while my wife and I watched the Games: roughly half.

Did portraits of handicapped athletes move consumers to take action?

Were these ada good or are they forgettable?

Will Apple sell more iPhones because they’ve taken a stand on gay marriage?

Will Toyota sell more Corolla’s because they used the image of a handicapped person skiing?

What are these ads really about?

It’s not my place to tell anyone how to spend their money. If Apple, The Gap and whoever else wants to actively push a social agenda, that is their business. What I am questioning is the validity of these “ads” as ads.

A creative director I worked for years ago once quipped “If it doesn’t sell something, it’s art.” I got the stick eye from him when I retorted that I thought good art was selling something, too.

I’m not calling these “ads” ads. And they aren’t art either. I’m not sure what they are exactly.

Week links, #06


Who Is Robert Cialdini? Meet the Master of Influence and Persuasion
Dr. Robert Cialdini is the mind behind Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, one of the great and enduring works of social psychology, along with a number of other books, including Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade. Cialdini’s work is among the world’s best resources on how we persuade others and how we are persuaded.

New study reveals why some people are more creative than others
It’s not just your ability to draw a picture or design a product. We all need to think creatively in our daily lives, whether it’s figuring out how to make dinner using leftovers or fashioning a Halloween costume out of clothes in your closet. Creative tasks range from what researchers call “little-c” creativity – making a website, crafting a birthday present or coming up with a funny joke – to “Big-C” creativity: writing a speech, composing a poem or designing a scientific experiment.

The One Thing You Need to Generate Great Ideas
A drawing is worth a thousand words. That’s my version of the age-old adage. When it comes to expressing the functional and emotional merits of a new idea, I firmly believe you have to make it visual.


Check Out Adweek’s Instant Reviews of Every Ad in Super Bowl LII
See all the spots again, plus our thumbs up or thumbs down

It’s Time to Stop Devaluing Creativity
TBWA Worldwide’s CEO reflects on how tech is creating more room for big ideas

The IAB says blockchain technology “is a natural fit for the digital advertising supply chain” with potential to increase efficiency, reduce costs and eliminate fraud. Blockchain can also significantly reduce the number of queries that ad-tech systems need to make each second; ensure that premium video inventory is bought and sold reliably; reduce the number of suppliers and increase transparency, according to the IAB.

Far Too Many Creatives Are Wasting Their Energy on Drivel
Need I make any additional remarks?

As far as creatives were concerned GGT stood for ‘someone beginning with ‘G’, Someone beginning with ‘G’ and DAVE TROTT’.


The Future of the Chief Procurement Officer… Is already here.
CPOs (Chief Procurement Officers) is the function in charge of leading this transformation. Many leaders within the procurement world are ready to realize the change that lies ahead. This much is clear after hearing about the CPOs that praised coming disruptions and transformations within procurement at DITx. This is a new breed of CPO.


Becoming a More Thoughtful User Experience Designer
The difference between creating good experiences and amazing experiences often comes down to how thoughtful we can remain during the design process.

The ultimate guide to user experience
The secret to a good UX is not to make users have to think about what they’re doing: it should come naturally to them to find what they’re looking for and interact with your site. In a web design agency, user experience may be the responsibility of the team as a whole or a specific UX designer. There are even entire firms that specialise in user experience consultancy.

Interview with Barry Katz, IDEO first Fellow, on Design Thinking.
Barry Katz is IDEO’s first Fellow and Professor of Industrial and Interaction Design at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco, and Consulting Professor in the Design Group, Department of Mechanical Engineering, at Stanford. He is the author of six books, including (with Tim Brown) Change By Design, and most recently, Make it New: The History of Silicon Valley Design (MIT Press, 2015).

Future of Print: How Design Brought it Back from the Dead
When we were sitting on our family computers in the basement of our parent’s Midwestern homes, downloading music from Napster, Limewire, and, we had no idea we were part of a revolution—a way of getting and hearing music that would fundamentally change the industry forever. We eventually quit because it was illegal and not worth the viruses, but not before that fundamental shift occurred. Nearly twenty years later, we don’t even bother with owning digital files, we stream them from various services. And we collect vinyl.


We Are Our Own Typos
As Wired summarized the problem a few years ago: “The reason we don’t see our own typos is because what we see on the screen is competing with the version that exists in our heads.” They go on to explain that one of the great skills of our big brains is that we build mental maps of the world, but those maps are not always faithful to the actual world.

Quick side comment about typos: I accidentally left a typo in an article I posted on LinkedIn last weekend. It made me eternally happy when I got a note from someone notifying me of my mistake. Someone actually read what I wrote!


Ecclesiastes 1:9

Much has been made of the ad on the left. Over the course of the past week, it has popped up multiple times on both my Twitter and LinkedIn feeds with people lauding its originality.

The ad on the right was an ad I wrote and designed in 1998 when the writer I was working with jumped ship for another agency.



About two weeks before my ad broke in the Houston Chronicle, we had run a standard 3-column ad listing all the qualities and requisite skills we needed for a new writer in a rather bland run-of-the-mill ad. The old cobbler’s children syndrome. We got almost no response, and any resumes I did receive from that posting were not in the least what I was looking for. We needed to take drastic, creative action.

I thought a lot about what attracted me to JWT in the first place. I had responded to an ad written by the guy I was looking to replace. Being a clever writer, he wrote an ad talking about things that go great together. “I’m looking for the peanut butter to my jelly…” (Something like that, although I can’t quite remember exactly.) Apparently I was one of the few people who responded with a cover letter that opened with “Dear Tom” and closed with “Your friend, Jerry”. We instantly hit it off and have been friends ever since.

With my writing partner gone, I had to take matters into my own hands. Having blown off most of my English classes all throughout school, I lacked confidence in my writing. So I wrote an ad from the perspective of how I felt. And Phil Hartman’s Saturday Night Live character Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer was probably in the back of my mind.

What happened next was crazy. Resumes were faxed so fast that our office admin kept feeding the machine paper all day. This went on for several more days. In total I received more than 200 resumes from a little local print ad, including one handprinted on leather delivered by hand. I ended up hiring a terrific writer who is now off shooting movies in Dallas.

What struck me as funny about the ad LA county did is that it got a ton of notoriety, but it is hardly original. Which begs the question, how much creative work is original? I think it’s a great ad, same way I thought my ad was great 20 years ago.

I looked online for another story about originality that has been stuck in my mind for years, but cannot find it. Might be sitting on my bookshelf. The story was about a speech Bill Bernbach gave an ad club back in the late 1950s or early 1960s, while the Creative Revolution was in full swing. He plainly stated that there was nothing new under the sun. What’s great about Bernbach making that grand proclamation, is that he ripped it off. He was quoting Ecclesiastes 1:9:

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be;
and that which is done is that which shall be done:
and there is no new thing under the sun.

Inadvertently, I stumbled into another example years later. I was working up concepts with the Executive Director of the Houston Chamber Choirs’ for their annual program. While looking for inspiration, I was excavating quotes about music, trying to find something original and nuanced to hang my hat on that would resonate with the Choirs’ patrons. When I landed on a quote from one of my favorite musicians ever, Thelonious Monk, I found my concept:

It’s not about the notes, it’s about the space between the notes.

Man, that’s what makes jazz cool.

Except he ripped that saying off from Miles Davis who ripped it off from Claude Debussy, who said the same thing a couple of decades prior.

In the end, some ideas just seem to work. Over and over again. Maybe it’s not about the ideas, but how you use them.

Week links, #02


Here’s what the evidence shows about the links between creativity and depression
There’s a stereotype that mental distress is an almost inevitable part of being highly creative. But is there any substance to this idea, or have we been misled – by biographers drawn to artists with colourful and chaotic lives, and the conceits of cultural movements like the romantics?


Design in 2018 – what will graphic design look like?
As part of our series on the future of design in 2018, Standards Manual and Order co-founder Hamish Smyth looks at what will happen in graphics over the next 12 months.

Designers Finally Have A Seat At The Table. Now What?
Companies are finally listening to designers, writes Google Ventures’ Kate Aronowitz. Here’s what designers need to do now.

You’re not a designer unless…
Remember when you were learning design and your tutors told you that all you needed was was Photoshop and some ideas? Well, it turns out that there’s a whole heap of other stuff that you simply cannot call yourself a designer without.

2018 Is the Year of the Intangibles
At the Stanford we practice “design abilities” to navigate today’s incessant murkiness.

Gordon House: Designer to The Beatles, ‘Groovy Bob’ + London’s Swinging Sixties
House was an artist himself, in addition to designing for some of the most prominent figures of the era. How had we not heard of him?


The Death of Advertising
Given the contrast between the recent success enjoyed by companies like Google and Facebook and the utter paralysis being undergone by CPG companies and advertising agencies the world over, I felt this article was worth republishing. Advertising will not “die,” per se, but what will are the brands that succeeded in a world without the unparalleled access that Facebook and Google afford consumers and producers to each other; brands that succeeded precisely because Facebook and Google did not yet exist. The advertising that emerges in tandem with the new — brands borne out of the existence of Facebook and Google — is already different enough so as to warrant penning an obituary for the advertising that emerged in tandem with the old. This is that obituary.

Hands up who’s heard of TOM McELLIGOTT?

More brilliance from Mr Trott: SHOW DON’T TELL

Return on Influence, the New ROI
The more marketers accept the concept of measuring influence relative to reach, the quicker social media industry standards will surface. Social networking revolves around the art of people interacting with people, not logos. People have influence. Things do not. Ultimately, influence is power that differentiates.

How to Build ROI and Accountability into Your Marketing Plan
While determining the right marketing mix can be a significant undertaking in itself, some of the biggest challenges associated with building a strategic marketing plan include assigning accountability and resources for each task, staying on track throughout the year and demonstrating your plan’s impact and ROI.

Is Jeff Goodby the Best Copywriter at Goodby Silverstein & Partners?
Why Specialization isn’t the secret to success

Time is on your side. Or should be.
For about thirty years, I’ve regularly done “The New York Times” crossword puzzle. For about the last ten years, I’ve confined my efforts to the Sunday puzzle. I’ve always regarded it as a reward for the week gone by, and a way to relax and unwind.


Are You Having Trouble Focusing? These Simple Strategies Will Help
In today’s always-on, information-overloaded world, it can be hard to stay focused throughout the day. How often do you find yourself distracted by inner chatter during meetings? Or how often do you find that emails are pulling you away from more important work?

How to Become More Productive Using the Pomodoro Method
It’s deceptively simple and hard to wrap your brain around if you’re like most people, working hours on end without allowing yourself to stop (because you think you can’t). However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Designing Your Life Through Design Thinking
Design thinking has helped me create new products, imagine new retail concepts, & solve other abstract challenges. It has also helped me to design a better life for myself. In fact, I believe design thinking may have helped save my life and that it has the power to save the lives of others.

Being a chameleon

I have no style.

As I’m writing this, I am wearing a pale blue oxford cloth button-down with gray slacks and black loafers. There is nothing special about the cut, the quality, the material, the tailoring, the brand names, nothing. As I sit here to today, I have no style.

But that’s not what I’m getting at. The style I’m talking about is my work.

Back when I was in college, in my Intro to Design class, we were working on one of those conceptual projects where you were limited to using very simple images. We were a couple of months in and had moved well beyond the simple “black square” projects design students know all too well, and we could use more literal imagery to help communicate the idea. My concept was “compress”, and to show it I did a very graphic drawing in two panels of a hand squeezing a tube of tooth paste. The hand holds the tube in the left panel but grips it in the right hand side and toothpaste oozes out. The pencil drawing was right on.

When it came time to paint it, because that was what you did back when I was in art school, I chose a color palette that had a definite 8o’s flair. This was unlike me, but I had been spending a lot of time in the Print Regional Annual and decided I needed to start pushing myself into a more stylistic direction. I was particularly fond of the burgeoning scene in Dallas. Not a pastel as Miami Vice, colorful. Smarter looking. I wanted to be one of them, and by using their color palettes, I’d be on my way.

Prior to this act of artistic independence, all my work had been primary or bold colors. 100% Cad Red Light, for example. I’ve always had an affinity for color, especially ones that stand out. I looked at the “compress” project as a chance to break out of that mold and start down a path to stylistic salvation. So I painted my 15” x 15” board in soft pastels.

When it came time for the crit, all the students lined their work up on the rail along the wall that circled the design lab in the basement of the art building. Our profs walked around, looked, didn’t speak for a bit, soaking in all the work. Then the floodgates opened.

Jane picked up my board and asked who had done this one. I proudly raised my hand. Being an illustrator, she appreciated the drawing and commented that it successfully communicated the “compress” concept. But what was with these colors? I remember it like it was yesterday:

“It’s so pasty. I look at this board and it makes me feel like there’s this film on my teeth…”

While holding the board in one hand, she uses the other to scratch her teeth like a dental hygienist scraping schmag at your six-month check up. It was humiliating, but an important lesson.

The color selection, the choice to inflict a stylistic approach to my concept, totally disrupted the communication. Sure, the pastiness of it was indicative of tooth paste, but while doing the project that was not on my mind in the least. The drawing wasn’t about the tooth paste, it was about the action of squeezing the paste out of the tube. The style hindered the communication, made my audience think about something quite different. And gross.

This lesson has stuck with me for years.

If you look through my book, at all the design I’ve done, you’ll not find a single style. My intention is always to approach the project from the client’s perspective, not mine. At the end of the day, it about what they want to say, not me. I don’t want to impose my aesthetic on them, my mission is to help them to be themselves. The only style I strive for is “Good”.

Is the {logo, ad, poster, site, etc.] well designed? Does it communicate in a smart fashion? Does the design reflect the client’s values and beliefs? Is the design appropriate? None of these questions nor their answers should have anything to do with style.

That approach makes me a chameleon. I am not a slave to style or fashion.

I like looking at the logo trends every year. What are we seeing on Dribbble and elsewhere? (This is dangerous when you think about it.) Not only do you see so much sameness, you also see work that the logos are firmly fixed in a point in time. For a logo, that is the death nail. More than anything, a logo should be timeless. If someone is going to invest the money and time into making a logo, they will want it to last and be relevant for years to come as their business grows.

Adverts are interesting because they can and should be a reflection of the time and current culture. That is part of how they work. Tap into the zeitgeist, use it to your advantage to help communicate, and don’t worry about longevity. If the ad clicks with the audience and in a brief moment delivers the message, that’s a win.

But what that requires of the creative professional is stylistic acrobatics. You cannot hope to survive in the business if you hang your hat on one single look. You have to be nimble enough to adapt to changing times and tastes and clients and markets.

If you plan to have a long career, you’ll want to become a chameleon, too.

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