The artist works alone.

I’m not sure if “pleased” is the right word but I share with others a relief of sorts knowing that I’m not the only introvert making a living in the creative ranks of Adland. Since my last post on the subject, a fair number of readers commented or emailed me directly stating that they too are introverts and that it has periodically caused them a fair amount of pain. But mostly they were just relieved to be acknowledged and, in turn, respected.

From Chad:

I’ve been an introvert trying to come off as an extrovert for most of my life. Perhaps this is the source of my internal conflict. Even in the company of my closest friends, sometimes my own head is a more comfortable place to be. Mine, too, can be a bad neighborhood at times. After all, it’s where the selfish and resentful things are. But it’s also where I find most of my inspiration. Like Luke seeking Vader in the dark corners of his mind, I face the demons, learn and emerge stronger in my resolve. As a creative, this is invaluable. Nothing, for me, is scarier than the blank canvas. And no amount of socializing will paint the picture. I have to go “upstairs”. Alone. Shut the door and create.

I can relate, Chad, especially with your last sentence: “I have to go upstairs. Alone. Shut the door and create.”

For years now the talk in our business has been about integration, unification and collaboration. Brought about by new media, we (not just ad people, all people) are connected in ways before unimaginable. Naturally, it was required the creative process follow suit. And so we are. Working in confluence with others, adding digital and new media specialists into our midst, building off each others ideas; these are becoming standard practices at agencies all over the world. At the Hyper Island Master Class (digital training for advertising professionals), we are told that even the writer/art-director dyad is obsolete. Two people are no longer sufficient for creating robust integrated marketing concepts. Hmmm.

These changes are almost certainly for the better but there is a wrinkle: the creative process is, and in certain respects always will be, a solitary one. Individuals conceive the vast majority of all artwork, be it books, paintings, essays, poetry, sculpture, plays, etc. Obviously, producing music, films and other forms requires collaboration but chances are the essence of the product belongs to one creator. And chances are that person was or is an introvert.

Introverted or extroverted, creating concepts has a deeply personal component that cannot be ignored. Even traditional teams worked apart and then “presented” ideas to their partner. As a copywriter I value privacy to “shut the door and create.” As a creative director I must respect the same desires from all who work for me.

One of my favorite pieces of Leo Burnett lore is the famous ad man’s salute to the “lonely man…the man at his typewriter or his drawing board or behind his camera or just scribbling notes with one of our big black pencils – or working all night on a media plan.” Darn near admonishing his troops, Leo tells them if and when “you lose your respect for the lonely man…THAT, boys and girls, is when I shall insist you take my name off the door.” ‘Nuff said.

For those interested, here is the transcript of Mr. Burnett’s speech, from 1967.


“I just know your red nose will help me navigate social media.”

Last weekend I read yet another article featuring a chief marketing officer bemoaning his advertising agency for being out of touch with new media. Here is Part II of my response…

For the entire twentieth century brands endeavored to grow by alleging they bring people together. Indeed, connectivity has long been the uber-strategy of so many of our biggest clients: CPG, QSR, Telco, beverages and spirits, the list goes on; you name a brand and I’ll show you a connectivity strategy. The Holy Grail was to create an obsession around brands. A cult. Nike, Coke, McDonalds, Apple and so many others claim –often rightfully- to have done just that. And they’ve done so with our help.

But client’s now bellow (sometimes at us): “We need to be part of the conversation. We need to engage people!” Clueless about these new paradigms, the much-educated CMO is frustrated. He clamors for relevance like a drowning man over a life preserver. He wants “likes” and “fans” and “followers.” In some respects advertisers are dogs chasing their tails. The faster they run the more frustrating things get. Agencies become their scapegoats. But isn’t that like blaming the pusher because the drugs don’t work?


“Make me relevant!”

Besides, whenever we created something new and different you called it “edgy” and “hard core.” We’re not selling skateboards to skinheads, you said. Guess what? We cut our shit with vanilla because you make us. But now the world is upside down. Everyone is praying to new and different Gods. Indeed, the new, new thing is the only thing. And guess what? Your best chance at getting religion is with us misfits in the creative department.

While we’ve all got a lot to learn, the ad industry began digging into new media before most industries. Likely including yours. That makes us the closest thing to experts your money can buy. Welcome to the Island of Misfit Toys. I suggest you stop making fun of the red nose.


“Make me relevant!”

Over the weekend I read yet another article featuring a chief marketing officer bemoaning his advertising agency for (among other things) being out of touch with new media. This is for him, recompense in two parts. It’s all in good fun…

We all know the last few years have seen advertising agencies universally scrambling to figure out and monetize social media. Some are doing it better than others but all of us are feeling the heat. Adland wants to master social networks so we can sell that mastery to our clients. No big secret, right? The diminishing role of mass media, as a source of revenue needs to be replaced and social media is that new well. Maybe I’m overstating the issue or understating it. Either way, we agency folks are feeling the heat.

Yet, what if it’s actually advertisers who are most threatened by social media? What if clients are the ones truly freaking out? Not us. Them. Think about it. Clients are the ones who got advanced degrees in marketing, learning a ton of stuff that no longer has value. (Did it ever?) I don’t know about you but I got a liberal arts education. I took writing and psychology courses. Wrote a screenplay for credits. Hell, I only took one ad class and it was pass/fail.

The average CMO spent 8 years in college(s) learning stuff that seemingly no longer applies. No wonder they’re scared of new media. They didn’t take that class or anything like it. Maybe now they do but not then. If anything, such courses evolved out of communication arts, not business or marketing curriculum. Chances are, then, we artists and writers got the leg up. We were already learning how to communicate via film, design, poetry and prose. New media was merely an extension of that, albeit a significant one.

And they, with their popped collars and backward baseball caps, laughed at us. “What kind of job do you expect to get with that,” they sneered.


“One day you’ll be working for us!”

And what about the kids who studied computers, anthropology and psychology, all those courses no self-respecting Master of the Universe would ever enroll in? Those wimps, as much as anyone, understand human behavior and therefore the true promise of social media. They know it’s not a tool with an instruction book. They know you don’t need a master’s degree to master social media.

According to Wikipedia, Mark Zuckerberg studied Latin and enjoyed dicking around on the computer. In other words he was an odd duck who didn’t quite fit in, especially at Harvard. That is until he invented Facebook. I haven’t seen the new film, The Social Network but I’m guessing it’s a lot like Revenge of the Nerds. How sweet it is to think, nay know, that it is we, the curious legions of liberal arts majors and rogue bohemians, who understand social media and intuitively grasp its mechanism. For us it is just more of what we already know and like.


Zuckerberg: Revenge of the nerd!

So why do clients belittle us, decrying our ineptitude at bringing them solutions, even when we do? Next up, a closer look at social media in Adland, before and after.

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The Twitter germ spreads among its followers!

Ad bloggers and the trade press are once again pummeling the topic of social media…

On Adpulp, David Burn grouses he’s being limited to selecting only 2,000 followers. (Apparently, the limit is in order to thwart spammers.) From the recent Clio awards, Ad Broad reviews a somewhat contentious debate about whether Twitter is even useful to marketers at all. (Apparently, a number of senior creative directors pooh-poohed it.) Reporting on AdAge.com, Ruben Steiger suggests, “Brands in social media should be like George Costanza…and just do the opposite of what is conventional.” (Apparently, treating social networks like TV networks is way bad.) Another George (that of Adscam) thinks Twitter is a piece of you-know-what. (Nothing “apparently” about that!)

So, is Twitter like some foul pest, having recently been introduced and now breeding out of control? Or is it the second coming? My opinion: It’s both! Yes, Twitter is here to stay… only not for long. Far from going extinct, it will evolve into another form, just like one of Michael Bay’s crazy transformers. Debating its virtues only speeds the process up. And that’s as it should be. It sounds oxymoronic, but in 2009 things can be temporary and vital at the same time.

Since the advent of TV and computers, the evolution of technology has been nothing short of explosive. What was science fiction 20 years ago is now mass=produced. It’s one new new thing after another. And while the previous iterations die off (pay phones and landlines for example) their DNA lives on in the ubiquitous cell phone.

With convergence, the Transformers metaphor is even more telling. Indeed, your cell phone can do almost anything. There’s “an ‘app’ for that.” Likewise, advertising has to transform.

Back up for a moment. You Tube hasn’t killed TV and film but one wonders how many different screens people need or want moving forward. And, given that answer, which, if any, of these screens will tolerate advertising? Ironically, it appears the oldest form of advertising (the outdoor sign) will be around forever…though clearly not as vinyl. More screens! Digital billboards. Transformation.

In the ad industry, we keep trying to shape these myriad transformations so we can sell the lightning to our clients. We call it integration. Problem is we don’t understand transforming technology any better than the average teen-ager. Why not just go with the flow? Treat all media (mass, social & hybrids) as if they are temporary and vital as opposed to one or the other.

Calling the kettle black: Friends and Followers, I’m on Twitter and Facebook!

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Digital. Easier than it looks?

The following in an excerpt from a piece I wrote for Campaign Magazine last week. The juiciest piece, it also fits into a wider discussion we’ve been having here about integration…

The biggest obstacle towards achieving creativity with digital can be found in our very own creative departments. For various reasons, we tend to build the digital creative group separate from the traditional.

This is a grievous error. In order for creativity to thrive (not just survive), another marriage is required: that of general and digital. I see a creative department made up of copywriters, web designers, art directors, flash artists and so on. Pair them up. Let them mate and have babies! These hybrid teams are the future. They can truly create worthy content that also functions precisely as portals.

Agencies hold on to old ideas. Unless we are forced (by conditions, clients or competition), we are likely to construct inefficient silos within our creative department, if not the agency as a whole. Separating digital creatives from traditional creatives (not to mention direct marketing from general) causes fiefdoms and redundancies. Working in multiple channels serves agency and practitioner alike, as well as the client.

We perceive digital creative to be more complicated than it really is. A screen is a screen, after all. Words are spelled the same.

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