Dude’s gotta dream…

New, new things and advertising go hand in hand. Often lovingly. Look at Apple. Yet great things are not always created by marketers. The creators do not have the resources to advertise. Nor do they have product to keep up with potential demand. Mostly they have only the desire to make something special. I’m sure they dream about commercial success but first things first.

Well, I have such a thing in my possession. It’s fancifully called the Faraday Porteur. In short, it is the prettiest electric assist bicycle you will ever see. With lovingly tooled steel frame, bamboo fenders(!) and a classic Brooks saddle the Porteur is a true bicycle, in look, feel and temperament. But she is belt driven (no greasy chain) and stops via disc brakes. Most impressively, it has an electric assist mechanism that has been marvelously realized. I cannot speak to the technology involved but when climbing the steep hills out of Sausalito to the Golden Gate Bridge, I flick a switch and it as if God himself is helping me pedal. Flick it again and I feel His invisible hand pushing me forward.

Postaer’s Porteur. Number 42 in the world!

You say electric bikes are cool but hardly remarkable. I say you need to see this one. Everyone that does is blown away. I pull up to a coffee shop in Mill Valley and within moments a small crowd gathers around me. And given where we live this is a crowd accustomed to seeing great things, especially when it comes to technology and craftsmanship. Yet there they were. Agog.

They ask questions: Where is the battery? Is that a rubber chain? When I point out the discreet motor and how easy it is to engage, pure joy. Not unlike when people first experienced the iPad. People are attracted to it. The familiar design of a classic bicycle made new via technology. it’s like Bike 2.0. I recall how those around me –it really- were compelled to just touch it. One fellow, a nearby storeowner, was so enamored I let him ride it up a side street. I wanted him to feel what I felt. I wanted to share the experience.

The Faraday bike is the brainchild of bike maven and engineer, Adam Vollmer. I don’t know him from the proverbial Adam but last year I came across the above video and then found his website: http://www.faradaybikes.com/. Long story short, I put down a couple hundred bucks on a hunch that his machine would make me smile, if not change my life.

It already has.

The “ad” scientist…

One of the things I’ve come to disdain about our business is how damn serious we take it. Not the craft itself, which I think is beautiful and even pure, but rather the extemporaneous crap we built around it over the years. Stuff like process and proprietary tools; the things we fill our slides with that come before we actually do what we do, which, for those who’ve forgotten, is create work that gets people to think and/or behave in a favorable way to our clients. I was going to say: we make ads; but I realize that “advertising” has become an outmoded term. Still, we are always selling something, even if it’s just a philosophy or an idea. Yet, because of this variable I accept, begrudgingly, that advertising isn’t all we do.

Whatever your take on the matter, you must agree we have complicated what we do beyond what is necessary to doing it well. This is why briefs are no longer brief. This is why Cannes has become a cluster fuck. This is why I am writing this post.

By definition, planning and strategy are the progenitors of creativity. The agency gets an assignment and we formulate a team. The left brains give us facts and insights. The right brains turn them into ideas. In a healthy agency the two sides work together. Part of this is collaboration. Part of it isn’t. Each assignment predicates a different balance of both. Inviolate in all this are the people. The better the people the better the outcomes.

Yet, as obvious and true as all this seems (to me anyway), agencies (not just mine, not just yours, all of them) have endeavored to codify every step we take in getting to our outcome. We call it our process. Basically, process is how agencies mitigate the fear involved with taking a risk. We create the illusion of proof to support an idea. This insight divided by that challenge equals a solution. Ta da!

Another bit of reverse alchemy occurs when we justify an idea after the fact. True story. My one-time creative partner at Leo Burnett, Mark Faulkner devised the brilliant green color that to this day represents the iconic Altoids’ campaign he and I created so many years ago. Taken for granted now, in the campaign’s infancy it was questioned. After all, the client reasoned, the product was white not green. As was the packaging Altoids came in, with red piping.

Altoids 1

I recall vividly my longwinded reply to this client. I stated that Mark’s color scheme evoked the “industrial strength” of a bygone era, like battleships and tough guy locker rooms. I talked about the “steam punk” phenomenon, likening the color to a powerful nostalgia “locked up” in every tin’s DNA. I said a lot of shit that day. And I’m pretty sure everyone in the room bought it. Everyone, that is, accept my partner. Mark rolled his eyes at me (not the first time) and stated where the color really came from: “I chose it because it looked cool.”

It looked cool.

In the end Altoids became a billion-dollar brand and the campaign a perennial award’s show favorite because he made it “look cool.” All that came afterwards –a textbook full of complicated nonsense- had less to do with Altoids’ success than Mark’s divine intuition. Food for thought next time we pray at the altar of agency process. For though we have made our agencies into churches of organized religions, divine inspiration often has nothing to do with it.

Here fishy, fishy…

I’m doing something this weekend I haven’t done for a long time but used to do all the time. I’m going fishing! Bass fishing to be precise, on Clear Lake, CA which supposedly has the best bass fishing west of the Mississippi. I hired a guide and booked a cottage right on the lake. I’m pretty stoked.

When I was a boy I fished every chance I could, and was pretty damn good at it. For various reasons, as time went by I fished less and less, to the point where I pretty much hardly do it anymore.

Yet, my interest in the sport (okay, hobby) never waned. Late at night I still “trolled” the Internet looking for kickass footage of real people catching really big fish. My girls and I are “hooked” on Animal Planet’s River Monsters. I own a giant salt-water aquarium.

I love fishing. There is something magical pulling a creature up from the depths. You never know what you’ll catch! Well, mostly you do but in theory it could be anything: a lake record, a world record, Godzilla.

But it’s more than just that. It’s searching for the fish. Tempting it. Setting the hook. Fighting it. Holding it up by the lips. Taking the obligatory photo. Letting it go. Honestly, every aspect of fishing appeals to me. Nowadays, most freshwater fishing is predominantly catch and release. But I know how to clean and cook my catch and was pretty good at that too.

For obvious reasons, most Californian’s associate fishing with the Pacific Ocean. Yet, I much prefer freshwater angling. For one thing, when you fish on a lake or river you are responsible for your luck. Generally speaking, the opposite is true on saltwater. There, your boat’s captain does all the work, rigging and setting out the lines, even setting the hook. I’ve been on saltwater boats, where the guy just hands you a rod and tells you to reel in your fish. It’s fun but it’s not the same.

While I have a guide on Clear Lake, it will be up to me whether I can pull anything into the boat. In a way fishing is a bit like pitching new business. You give it your best shot and hope for the best. On the other hand, fishing is nothing like work –which is why the hell I’m going! Wish me luck. I’ll see you next week.


Update: Day 1. How could I not add this pic?

helping others is scary…

Helping a sister agency within your network is a double-edged sword if ever there was one. In theory the helper gets the benefit of participating in important national or global business, which can mean lucrative assignments with blue chip clients as well as face time with your company’s top management. In theory…

The reality is often far less lucrative for the helper. For one thing, the help you provide is speculative. Aka unpaid. If they/you lose the pitch it stays that way, which actually is a loss, given whatever hours (usually plenty) your office sunk into it.

To encourage participation, agency brass generally promise and always imply that should the network win its engagement a fair share of the revenue will come your way. In my lengthy experience of helping –and, yes, also soliciting help- this rarely happens. With few exceptions, the soliciting office keeps the money, makes the work and holds all the key relationships.

And that’s the winning scenario!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before any verdict is rendered a shit-ton of work must be produced, the bigger the stakes the more work that is required. There are other reasons for soliciting help from a network partner (geography, skill sets, etc.) but it almost always comes down to increasing the breadth and depth of your agency’s response.

The only person who has the juice to request (aka commandeer) another office’s resources is the network’s CEO, (though the actual request may come from one of his lieutenants, perhaps the CMO or Head of Strategy.)

“More resources…or I will release the hounds!”

Answering the dinner bell is is what constitutes your “face time” with top management. While this experience has genuine value, it is also far more one sided than you’d like. Trust me. Command central is only interested in winning. Once they’ve drafted you they are only concerned with your output. Not your opinion. Not your participation. Most certainly not your emotional health.

This means what you think it does. You are building a pyramid for Pharaoh. When “feedback” for your efforts does come, it will be a litany of change orders delivered by a fear driven messenger. He will smile and listen to you vent. It will change nothing. Therefore, any illusion you may have regarding a dialog with He Who Wears The Crown needs to be forgotten. Building a pyramid demands heavy lifting and your office can either do so angrily or stoically. It makes no difference to Pharaoh. Either way, you’re gonna do it.

All this being, said I’ve never declined giving help no matter the circumstances. And my guess is neither will you. Look. People are intrinsically good, even ad people. We are wired to provide assistance. We may fancy ourselves as solo creators but we also want to play for a winning team. What’s good for the goose, right? Yes, they will cry wolf once too often. Yes, you’ll be mortgaging your time on a loan that might never get repaid. And yes you will want to kill someone in the home office. But then you will get back to work. We always do.

The righteous drum continues to beat louder, calling for the termination of the Washington Redskins nickname, which got a huge assist when the United States Patent Office rescinded trademark rights for the moniker, deeming it offensive to Native Americans. Recently, the above commercial ran during the NBA playoffs.

The name is offensive. Period.

Anyone who believes otherwise, consider if the Redskins played a game against a team called the Seattle Slant Eyes or Miami Wetbacks. Why we took so long coming to this painfully obvious conclusion is the only issue worth debating.

Perhaps the biggest grotesque is that Washington DC is literally where, once upon a time, the orders were given to marginalize, if not wipe out, Native Americans. Naming one’s biggest sporting franchise after a people our forefathers nearly crushed out of existence is sick.

And yet the team’s owner, Dan Snyder is steadfast in fighting the injunction and any other measures demanding the team change its name. Claiming the term Redskins is a “badge of honor,” Snyder is not backing down.

Dan, here’s an idea for a name.

Eerie the similarities to what’s going on with the embattled, soon-to-be former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. Holding on to old ideas like these have no place in the modern era.

I know the bar stool defense. Old timers rail at political correctness. They bellow: Where does it end? The Fighting Irish? Chief Wahoo? Maybe those do go away. So what? The University of Illinois got rid of their mascot, Chief Illiniwek in 2007, deeming it “hostile and abusive.” The games are still packed with fans. Life went on.

Chief Wahoo. Ouch.

Piss off!

Not long ago, Jacksonville named their NFL team the Jaguars –an animal that is all but extinct in Florida. I think that’s kind of gross. Yet, I hadn’t thought about it until now. Maybe they don’t change the name but a dollar for every ticket goes to helping this endangered animal? New thinking comes from new ideas, even bad ones. New ideas rile people up. And that’s good.

But let’s get off the soapbox and into the boardroom.

Snyder is a businessman. Does he not see the huge financial upside in making a name change? All new jerseys symbolizing doing the right thing: like those wouldn’t sell. Please. As for all that old merch it would immediately become collectible. Moreover, can he not picture the marketing potential such a move would engender? Social media was made for an “event” like this. Fans could be solicited to help create a new moniker, or vote on one. Even if the selection process were contentious the freaking proverbial “conversation” would be radioactive.

I know a thing or two about popular culture and the influence young people have on it. New fans are not beholden to tradition, even when they should be. You can’t tell me the multitudes of young people, who voted for a black president (twice) and adore and follow the multicultural mainstream wouldn’t embrace a new look Washington football team.

Look around you, Mr. Snyder. Athletes are coming out of the closet. Pot is legal. More and more so is gay marriage. The world is moving on. Evolving. Adaptation is sound strategy. Making a name change transcends political correctness; it’s just good business.


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