Sunday, September 26, 2010

are we getting dumber?

Imagine a brand using a literary critic as spokesperson today in a world where consumers are told to get stupid. This hilarious 1998 Yellow Pages campaign was launched by Richmond-based Martin Agency which opened an office in Denver to work on the newly-won $33 million business. Concept: Yellow Pages as epic work encompassing the culture and begetting inspiration. Campaign was multi-platformance, including not only TV and radio but video with SNL's John Lovitz as "the man who wrote the Yellow Pages." It might have gone viral if youtube had existed in the era of Nintendo. Kinda makes me wish Google hadn't come along. Thanks to Slap!media for the find.

Friday, September 24, 2010

have traditional ad creatives exceeded their sell-by dates?

Ana Andjelic wrote a provocative post this week on a topic that's got Adland's knickers in a twist, a piece so provocative, she's incited no less than seven comments from one irate Mad Man. Her thesis is that traditional advertising creativity is being marginalized.
"The 'kick-ass' creative director and what he/she does is no longer culturally relevant as it used to be. Today's creativity is way more collective, iterative, and yes, humble. To deliver it, creatives got to move away from "I have an idea, and it's brilliant" MO: the artistry today is in creating environments where collective creativity can flourish."
Ana postulates that the trend of traditional ad creatives leaving motherships to start up new enterprises has nothing to do with producing new agency models, everything to do with renegades from BDAs (hi George) setting out to replicate old models that let them continue to do what made them a success in the first place.

I agree with Ana that traditional advertising is itself being marginalized. (Oh, for the days that Harry Crane enjoyed, when all a brand had to do was buy 60 seconds on 3 networks to hit a stationary target of 85% of the country's consumers.)

But the creativity behind traditional advertising? Here to stay, I hope. Because non-linear marketing brains capable of producing great TV and print can be essential contributors to greatness in a multi-platform arena. At least three examples of recent digital goodness--Old Spice, Tipp-Ex and Pepsi Refresh--are products of creatives at traditional ad agencies.

True, breakthrough creative isn't a headline anymore. (Headline: just the sound of the word in your mouth feels ancient, doesn't it?) And creating content for old media and new(ish) media require different ways of thinking. To do a great print ad, you don't have to know how the ad is printed, but you can't do great digital without understanding at least some of the technology behind it. To their credit, plenty of traditional ad types have taken time to explore the space and find that creative (and collaborative) skills they've relied on for years are valuable in coming up with new content, complete with moving parts.

Perhaps some of the problem lies in traditional Adland's limited use of the label "creative". The longheld convention of titling one department "creative", implying that those in other departments aren't, has understandably pissed off "non-creatives" for years. Post-millennial shops like Big Spaceship have done away with the nomenclature entirely, eliminating creative from all titles because "everyone is."

Of course, creative thinking is essential to campaign success no matter which part of a campaign you're contributing to. And as Ana points out, there's artistry in creating environments where collective creativity can flourish. But it's not the same skill as coming up with concepts for brands year after year, noise-making ideas that are on strategy, on deadline and executable within budget. So, Ana, please don't toss out all of us traditional creatives just yet!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

wacky idea in toy marketing: dysfunctional stuffed animals

Speaking of brand fiction via plush toys, a German toy company has created a fictional asylum where animals go to work out their issues. A mentally ill plush patient can be yours for $38, complete with medical history, referral letter and treatment plan. (Healthcare plan not included.) Choose from an entire line of mental ailments. There's Dub the Turtle who's depressed by the fast life. Delusional Dolly, a sheep who cross-dresses in wolf's clothing. Kroko the paranoid crocodile. And more! The company's founder says: "It started as a bit of a joke with my girlfriend, who has lots of soft toys, and then we thought there could be something in the idea. Children and grownups like their vulnerability and find something in them that gives them a great sense of comfort in helping to heal them." Guess it worked for Eeyore. Heard about this from cwazy wabbits at Adfreak.

Monday, September 20, 2010

imagineering brand fiction

A few years ago, with no special promotion, a simple plush bear began selling out at Tokyo DisneySea. Disney saw opportunity to push sales further. They gave the bear a name: Duffy. They gave him a backstory: Minnie sewed the bear for Mickey to keep him company on a trip. They introduced a line of accessories and made him a walk-about mascot and soon Duffy was accounting for 40 percent of the resort's merchandise sales.

"Doing the reverse, where a character comes from a piece of merchandise and then becomes a piece of entertainment, is truly a first for us," said Disney's Manager of (kid you not) Merchandise Synergy.

Now the bear is coming to California. But will a stuffed animal with a Mickey Mouse silhouette birthmark on his back be the hit in the US that it is in Japan?

According to the NYTimes, Duffy's success in in Tokyo is due in large part to fandom among "Japan's office ladies, the unmarried 20 and 30-somethings who helped turn Hello Kitty into a pop culture staple." Disney may find this fandom a phenomenon unique to Japanese culture, as did Re-ment, the miniatures-purveyor that, based on enormous popularity for their merch in Japan, opened up a now-shuttered office in California.

Still, smart move by clever imagineers to move a brand by inventing a story for it. Maybe Sprint should come up with backstory for the Palm Pre.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

RIP Gene Case who started an agency the Mad Men way

Mourning original Mad Man Gene Case, a founder of Jordan McGrath Case & Partners where I did a stint on Bounty paper towels aeons ago. Little known fact (at least to me): The shop was launched originally as Case and Krone. Gene Case's launch partner was art director legend Helmut Krone, who in 1969, was already a name on Madison Avenue, celebrated for Volkswagen's Think Small and other campaigns Don Draper envies.

Case met Krone at Doyle, Dane Bernbach where Case, a copywriter, was assigned to LBJ's campaign against Senator Goldwater. There, Case worked on the famous Daisy commercial , still considered the most effective political spot that ever ran on TV. He left DDB to join Jack Tinker & Partners, a noble experiment in creativity established by Interpublic under Marion Harper--its sole function was creative exploration and development. (Mary Wells was another DDB writer turned Tinkerer.) But Case stayed in touch with Krone and their frequent lunches tipped off rumors they were starting an agency.

When Case teamed up with Krone, he was just 31, one of the youngest founders of a start-up then. Because it was 1969, Ad Age made it a point of record that he was also one with the longest hair. No Don Draperly Brilcreem look for Gene Case. But, a la Mad Men, he and Krone set up shop in a hotel, taking a 7th floor suite at the Plaza. A week later, they brought in Pat McGrath, an account man from Benton & Bowles, who figured out the business end of things: McGrath put up $5,000 and loaned Case an additional $5,000, bringing the start-up capital total to $15,000. (This was when $5000 meant something: the average house cost $4600) The partners agreed to take $2,500 a month each, though no one took anything for the first five months.

After a month, the new agency moved across the street to 4 West 58th St where its modest $2 million of business included Carey Limousine, Cybernetics Inc. and Nestle Decaf coffee. After a lean couple of years, they won Mennen Skin Bracer, an $1.8 million account from J. Walter Thompson and created the series of commercials Case became most famous for: "Thanks. I needed that" a mnemonic that went viral before there was viral: men would be slapped across the face or slap themselves, as demonstrated by a still-slim John Goodman in the best (sorry) copy of this spot from the 70s I could find, posted below.

But the success of Mennen couldn't heal a growing rift between Case and Krone who displayed not only creative differences, but disparities in work habits. According to a 1994 Ad Age interview with McGrath, Krone would arrive mid-morning, have coffee, read the papers, have lunch and by the time "his furnaces were fully stoked, Case, whose day began promptly at 9 a.m, would be getting ready to go home." In 1972, Krone high-tailed it back to Doyle, Dane, Bernbach where he stayed until retiring in 1988.

Case's agency thrived due to packaged goods clients, but his heart was always in politics. He did a print campaign that helped Nelson Rockefeller win a third term as governor. And in 2002, at the age of 65, he founded a shop called The Avenging Angels, an advocacy ad agency to create campaigns for liberal causes.

Like Don Draper, he was always the consummate pitchman. "He was without a doubt the best presenter of advertising who ever lived," McGrath is quoted in today's Times. "Clients were sometimes unhappy because the ads weren't as good as the presentation." Um. Like this one?:

Monday, September 13, 2010

sorry for hiatus. writing for food.