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.
January 15, 2013
The call of duty beckons…
In Adland, people come and people go. Turnover happens, now more than ever. Without long term incentives employees are not bound. Upheaval in our industry exasperates an already virulent tendency: to keep moving.
Agencies feel the urge as much as individuals. Like a submarine, new crew is necessary to keep the ship going, to keep up with the other subs, to stay fit. While we may feel distraught to see a beloved crewmember leave, it is part of an agency’s lifecycle, inevitable as the tides.
For a long time I was the anomaly. I spent my first 15 years at the venerable Leo Burnett Company in Chicago. I seriously thought I’d never leave. All my vocational dreams were coming true. I had great partners and bosses. I created lots of work, some of it good, some of it even very good. I felt a part of something bigger than myself. Alas, that strong tie didn’t fray. It was severed. A wave of corporate jive crashed over my head and I swam for the doors. For me wanderlust came late and not without a strong kick in the ass.
For a time I looked back in anger -a pointless endeavor and one I don’t recommend. But then I signed on to another ship. And then another. Like you, I was no longer a “company man.” My updated goal was to be of maximum use. Last year, I took the helm at gyro in San Francisco. She is a relatively small ship but with great ambitions and a stellar crew. Our mission is to create humanly relevant ideas, often for clients unaccustomed to them. Of course it’s hard. But I am loyal to this brief and despite the many challenges feel its potential on a daily basis.
I’m looking for good crew: Specifically, an art director with web production capabilities and knowledge of B2B marketing, someone who knows their way around technology-based clients. In addition to, or instead of, we will also consider men and women who create and design content, be it websites or online advertising. Doers in new media are welcome to enlist. Speaking of media, a position also exists for a top strategist. Lead generation. Emerging platforms. You know the drill, call us.
Turnover happens. And we’ve seen our bit. Yet, now it’s time to reload. 2013 started with a new President. Maybe you’re next?
Yes, we will use age-old methods to fill these positions. But I’m trying a newer one. Hell, if I find one great recruit this blog will have been worth it. In the oddly timeless words of Van Halen’s David Lee Roth, “Change, nothin’ stays the same/ Unchained, ya hit the ground running.”
Interested? Hit me up on Linkedin.
Samsung debuts trailer at CES for “seamless integration of smart devices.” Haven’t we seen this movie before?
January 11, 2013
By definition film trailers are supposed to titillate and provoke a potential audience into becoming a legitimate one. Trailers are commercials and historically some of the best ever. Yet, red flags go off when we are confronted by a trailer for an ad-like object posing as a film. Such was the case when I happened upon this one, for “We all Share” a short film made by Samsung and Leo Burnett.
The trailer teases Samsung’s new “AllShare” technology debuting at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. According to the Chicago Egoist AllShare will allow you to “wirelessly and seamlessly stream video, photo, and music files across all Samsung smart devices.”
Where have we heard that before? Isn’t seamless integration of electronic devices table stakes in the modern world? Microsoft. Apple. Google. We expect ‘all share’ from everything these days, even our Government. Be that as it may, Samsung is trumpeting theirs, with a “global conversation” that we are all invited to join, via Instagram and Twitter.
But first we have the trailer. It is pretty. It is global. And in my opinion it is dull. We see filmed portraits of citizens of the world. These humans look right at us, stoic as icons. If only they were. A person with a wrinkled face or yellow skin is not an icon. Then the trailer remembers it’s a film not a slide show and we get moving pictures of more citizens, in this case a number of young people kissing in a number of places. A title card informs us “We All Share” and then it kind of ends, with a group of old Chinese people playing a board game, Scrabble I think. A final super informs us of the “World Premiere” at CES inviting us to follow the film at a microsite..
Good thing there’s nothing better to do in Las Vegas.
Perhaps I’m too harsh or, worse, hypocritical. Lord knows I’ve had my hand in making many such pieces, usually of the not-for-air variety: manifesto or mood videos, sometimes called “rips.” Still, I made ‘em and thought they were manna. What’s irritating is when a mantra becomes the final product. My frustration compounds when such a film poses as a trailer.