I won’t lie. Today was not a banner day at the office. I’ve been struggling with a couple super tough briefs. (I guess that’s why they call it work.) I’ve no doubt we’ll crack it. I have never missed turning in a homework assignment and I’m not about to now. But until I do: pain.
My workload has necessarily interfered with my ability to create a fresh post for this blog. That is rare for me. I beg your pardon.
Sometimes, when I’m feeling especially frustrated I make a gratitude list. I know it sounds corny but it really works. In times of stress I can forget how good I’ve got it: a healthy family that loves me, a good job in a fantastic city, a clear head and fit body and on and on. So many blessings! I feel better already. You should try it.
On that note, last week I rode my bicycle to work. I live in Mill Valley, which is about 15 miles from my office in San Francisco. The trip isn’t easy but it’s well worth the effort. The hilly ride comprises some of the most breathtaking (literally) scenery in the world. Coming home that evening I stopped along the iconic Golden Gate bridge and took these photographs.
And so how can I not feel like the luckiest man in the world?
I wrote the above copy for Altoids in 1997. A year or so before, Mark Faulkner (art director) and I created the “Curiously Strong Mints” campaign for Altoids. The two of us would run this creatively driven account for about 7 years, producing myriad posters, print, ambient and digital pieces.
The campaign exploded into popular culture. Sales boomed. Within a couple years, Altoids became the number one selling mint in North America. Later, in a parlay with Life Savers candy, Kraft sold the brand to Wrigley for over 1.5 billion dollars. Pretty sweet, especially for a confection that wallowed in obscurity for over a century.
Those ads were game changers: for the client, for the agency, and thankfully for yours truly. Mark and I (plus a growing and talented team) would go on to win tons of creative awards for our work, including, in 1997, the $100,000 Grand Kelly Award for best print campaign in North America. Which, fortuitously, brings us back to the above execution: “Makes Other Mints Feel Inadequate.”
Imagine my surprise discovering it in the latest issue of People magazine! Holy crap. After all these years and all that history, they’re rerunning our ad. The headline. The typography. The color scheme. Save for a different (and in my opinion) crappier looking tin, it’s the same exact ad.
Big deal? Well, sort of. For whatever reasons, rerunning old advertising is unprecedented. Creative has a super short lifespan. Like cicadas, campaigns appear, create buzz, and then die. Precious few last longer than their first flight. Once gone, even the most successful ad campaigns stay that way. Yes, taglines or other assets get resurrected all the time. But never the ad itself.
Until this one.
What can I say? Of course I’m flattered. But seeing my ad after all these years is also discombobulating. Like running into your ex and her new beau. Altoids was and is so personal to me. I still remember pitching the above headline to my client. In fact, I recall telling them Altoids’ smart and cynical audience would appreciate a quirky word like “inadequate.” The subtle innuendo was highly intended. (As the brand grew, its widening audience would appreciate much sillier copy. But my favorite pieces always remained true to that “smart and cynical” core.)
So, having perhaps lost its way, is Altoids’ advertising returning to its base? Literally. Look, I don’t blame agency and client for rerunning our copy. There’s a whole new generation of “smart and cynical” out there. It’ll be new to them.
Special note: I discovered a website devoted entirely to Altoids advertising. In it, you’ll find “Inadequate” along with all the others, far as I can tell, pretty much in the order we produced them. I have no idea who hosts this site or why. Pretty cool, though.
For an internal agency thought piece, I was asked to provide words of wisdom to me as a 22 year-old, just starting out in Adland. Others in gyro management were asked to do the same. These pearls would then be circulated throughout the network. Mostly just for fun.
But lessons are lessons and this seemed as good as way as any to give and receive them. As part of the exercise we were also asked to dig up photographs of ourselves from that time period. This is harder than you might think, especially if you, like me, were 22 before the advent of digital photography. It’s amazing how few photos I have of myself as a young man. I found the above winner and reluctantly submit it for your amusement.
Therefore, my first piece of advice: take more selfies! Kidding. Besides, I know you’re doing that anyway. So, other than telling my 22-year old self to buy gold coins and stock in Apple what would I suggest?
First thing: Be curious. Do not shirk learning in favor of seeking pleasure. Better said, seek pleasure from learning. Then, figure out what you’re good at and become really good at it. You might not achieve greatness but you won’t suck either. Thankfully, despite my careening ambition I carried my childhood love of learning into adulthood. I also chose writing as a “path” and, despite all manner of distractions, never stopped doing it.
The harder question: What new advice would I tell my younger self?
For starters, I’d tell me not to be so uncomfortable not knowing something. “I don’t know” is a perfectly good answer, especially if it’s the truth. As a young man, I thought I knew so much… that I was hard wired for being right. I was wrong. Curiosity is a great virtue. By definition that means having questions. Not answers. Amazing how long it took me to figure that out. So, to all the 22 year old creatives out there (and anyone really) my biggest piece of advice is to ask bigger questions.
Here’s another. Stick with the winners. At work (or anywhere) seek out people who have a gift, be it a skill you covet or even a big heart or both. Chances are they will not be unwilling to share.
This may come off as superficial but a great piece of advice I’d give my younger self is to dress better. Unless you’re Mark Zuckerberg, wearing sweatshirts and faded jeans every damn day is not a key to success. Working in a creative department has always meant come as you please but I bet I would have been taken more seriously and sold more work if I would have looked a bit more put together. Probably would have had more dates, too.
Finally, I wish my younger self had been nicer. Like a lot of twenty-somethings in advertising (then and now) I was, at times, a sarcastic and overly competitive SOB. So unnecessary. Begrudging my fellows to get ahead was foolish at best and likely a detriment. Working at a big agency, as I did, created tribes. We often competed on briefs. I’m all for healthy competition but I could have done without the snarkiness.
Alas, I doubt I would have listened to older and wiser me. Some things must come the hard way. Karma is real.
“Five Years Out” is the mantra for Arrow Electronics, a distributer-provider of technology solutions. Honestly, I’d never heard of the company until seeing these fun and ambitious films from Ogilvy in Chicago. Surprising my ignorance, given I’ve been specializing in technology clients for going on ten years. In some ways that makes the campaign that much more inviting. I’m being introduced to something.
I dig the mantra. “Five Years Out” is simultaneously hyperbolic and realistic. No easy feat for advertising. The conceit that there’s a special club for innovators, which can be accessed by others with a desire to participate or behold them is genius. Of course Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers are there. But so are the inventors of air conditioning and the three-pronged outlet.
A benevolent, ghost-like host informs his wide-eyed guests (and us) that while we “won’t know most of them” they are all part of a “calling.” He then proceeds to explain innovation in a simple yet soulful way that makes modern miracles seem both amazing and feasible.
As I wrote before, talking about technology in such humanly relevant terms is no easy feat. Most tech companies and their agencies get mired in jargon, trying to describe the science instead of delighting in it. The copywriters have really done their jobs.
In particular the writing shines in the shorter spot. A young man marvels at Edison: “You came up with the light bulb. That’s the symbol for coming up with ideas!” He then asks him how he came up with it. Edison replies: “It was dark.”
Simple. Funny. Charming.
The production company, Tool deserves ample praise for delivering film with gravitas. I was reminded of Kubrick’s haunting depiction of the Overlook Hotel (The Shining), during those lushly romantic flash back scenes. Nostalgic but fresh. Timeless.
Finally, what a joy it is to see storytelling again. Especially for a tech company! I’m so weary of bearing manifestos and mission statements. Aren’t you? Lord knows, I’ve written my share. How refreshing to see something different! Proof of life for the old school. I’d never heard of Arrow Electronics before. Now I adore them.