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Ever since helping give rise to the “Curiously Strong Mints” campaign for Altoids, I’ve been a huge fan of outdoor advertising. Especially posters, propaganda and signs. Yet, maybe the awe for it goes back even further than Altoids…

Case in point a small excerpt from my keynote presentation to the Outdoor Marketing Association of Canada (OMAC), which I gave earlier today:

…I grew up in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago. Nice now, but when I was a kid the area was rife with gang violence, in particular a turf war between the Latin Eagles and the Latin Kings. Their flamboyant signs permeated my neighborhood, haunting the alleyways, literally threatening me from around every corner. Marking their territory, if you will pardon the expression…

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Marking one’s territory has always been humanly relevant.

Crude as it sounds brands exert power marking their territory. We are here, they say. And we mean business. You cannot resist us! Granted, brands don’t jump you in the alley and take your bus money (not yet, anyway) but that doesn’t make my crude metaphor any less accurate. Signs and symbols have always been used to convey messages. For good. Evil. And everything in between. And OOH has done so for a longer stretch of time than all the other media combined.

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Feeling blue (in a good way) w/ local LA choir performing in background…

Thought I’d reflect on my 15 minutes of fame hosting the Obie awards Tuesday night in Los Angeles. For those unawares, the Obie’s are the oldest advertising awards show in the world (seriously!), representing the best work in out-of-home media. The Obie’s are a big part of the Outdoor Advertising Association of America’s (OAAA) annual convention.

I have been a friend of the Obie’s & OAAA for many years and am a proud member of its Hall of Fame, for my “Curiously Strong” Altoids campaign. At the Obie’s in 1996, Altoids won its first of many creative prizes in our industry, thus beginning my long relationship with the show. That was a long time ago. Unfortunately, I recall being pie-eyed at the ceremony and little else. I gave a horrifying acceptance speech. Thank God You Tube was not invented yet.

Fortunately, I was clear-eyed and present this time around. Good thing as I had a job to do. While my primary purpose was to help steer the show along I was also given ten minutes to talk about some of my favorites subjects: signs, propaganda and their many roles in popular culture. I’ll likely post that content soon enough so I won’t go into it now. I will say that unlike any other media, outdoor advertising transcends time, technology and culture. ‘Signs’ are innately human and part of our collected DNA. Since early man first scribbled on cave walls several thousand years ago we have been using signage to communicate and advertise. By comparison broadcast is a moment in time and digital a blip.

Some highlights from the event are as follows:

Best of Show went to Droga5’s touching work for Prudential Financial, celebrating retirement on a very personal level. Part of an integrated campaign, billboards elegantly used quotes from various retirees.

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This year’s Hall of Fame award went to ESPN for its long history of creating amazing advertising. No question ESPN deserves the award. Frankly, for creating great advertising in general. However, I have to say it was awkward reading about massive layoffs at the network on the very same day.

A personal highlight was witnessing art director Ed Odyniec, receiving a Gold Obie for his terrific OOH execution of the Allstate’s “Mayhem” campaign from Leo Burnett. Ed worked for me at LBWorks. Heartfelt congratulations to both he and his creative partner, Christopher Warmenen. Below is a video they created especially for the show. That’s Ed brilliantly cast as a nerdy lab scientist.

The day before the Obie awards Governor Jerry Brown made an impromptu visit to the convention. He gave a short but entertaining speech, where he extolled the virtues of outdoor advertising. His one piece of advice: Keep it simple. “Vote Jerry Brown… It worked for me.”

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Governor Brown heading for the stage…

It must be gratifying to the OAAA and all the outdoor media purveyors, suppliers and vendor just how healthy their coral reef actually is. One need only look at the Obie winner’s list to see the robust mix of big brands and edgy new comers from both the client and agency side.

The Obie’s may not be in the same league as Cannes or The One Show in terms of prestige but no other medium is as exciting, versatile and vigorous as OOH. Period. And few awards shows are as meticulously planned and plain fun.

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Shocker: creative director in a tie!

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“And another thing…”

Finished my 15 minutes of SXSW fame, delivering a “quickie” presentation called Signs and the Evolution of Ambient. Bit nerve wracking this one, on account of the round robin approach with presenters: one up one down and another in the wings. It kind of worked though, especially given attention spans of wired to the gills audience.

Among other things, my discussion dealt with human being’s seemingly innate compulsion to imbue meaning into just about anything. Creating and/or perceiving signs are an inevitable part of the human experience, transcending mediums and technology. Graffiti, tattoos, constellations, billboards… all signs. As such they attempt to compel belief and behavior. Modern advertising is merely an extension of this age-old process.

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“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign!”

Given I was at the epicenter of Interactivity I relished pointing out that low-tech does not necessarily mean less powerful. On the contrary. For advertisers, signs can be more humanly relevant than any other media.

Technology is grand but I think many marketers (and by default most everyone at this festival) try too hard proving how contemporary they/we are, by desperately and perhaps naively competing with screens.

I gave the following example on the ill effects of tech worship. In the 70’s, digital watches were the rage. So cool, we all had to have one! And then we didn’t. A traditional watch face is timeless. Ironically, digital watches have become nostalgic. I know it’s a flawed comparison but it makes good oratory.

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After presentation w/ colleagues from gyro…

I’ll be modifying this presentation (obviously) for a presentation at ad:tech San Francisco in April. Maybe I’ll see you there?

The King has smashed the building!

The Cannes of geeky popular culture is Comic-Con, held last weekend in San Diego, California. Or maybe it’s the SXSW of geeky pop culture. Whatever. It’s a big deal and, though some say CC has plateaued, I believe it will only grow in size and stature, especially as pop culture continues to embrace super heroes, the undead and other pulpy content.

Speaking of big, it was unveiled at this year’s Comic-Con that another remake of Godzilla (the geek-King of Monsters) is in the works. For those interested (like yours truly), I’ve linked a blog detailing these tantalizing plans. Alas, the teaser trailer shown at the convention is not available. Somewhat unbelievably, it was not leaked. Come on nerds, WTF?

Rather than discuss the Godzilla oeuvre (though I’d love to), I want to go back a ways to when the first non-Japanese remake of Godzilla came out. In 1998, one could not step outside without falling into Godzilla’s massive footprint. Such was the power and potency of the ad campaign created for director Roland Emmerich’s infamous remake.

Who would argue?

By all accounts the movie was an epic fail but not the advertising. It was killer. The tag line: “Size Does Matter.” And it was everywhere. As good as that line was, many of the creative executions were even better. Spectacular billboards and painted walls dominated our landscapes, ingeniously featuring only parts of the great beast. This technique both heightened the intrigue on just what the new Godzilla would look like as well as heightened the height of Him. Godzilla was going to be BIG.

I loved this campaign for it’s unrepentant hype. The monster would be big. And so would the movie. Staying on point with a singular theme is what outdoor advertising does best. And this campaign delivered. (I wish I could find more of it online to show you.) Anyway, the movie’s opening gate was tremendous, only to fall precipitously after universally crushing reviews. Soon parody ads came out claiming “plot does matter” and it was over. Godzilla died.

But the ads were brilliant. There’s little chance a new ad campaign, if one is even developed, will be half as good. On the other hand, maybe they’ll get the film right.

Mormon and proud!

The Mormon Church claims their new ad campaign has nothing to do with Mitt Romney running for President of the United States, they’re just promoting Mormonism as a normal religion for everyday people.  Many billboards like the one above have been put up in various markets around the country, including a glitzy board in Times Square, New York.

I miss the peep shows…

Rather than politics, the Church says the campaign is an effort to assuage widespread belief that Mormonism is a cult. Not surprising GOP presidential candidate, Mitt Romney denies involvement or support of this campaign. I’m not sure I believe him or them. But when it comes to politics and organized religion I get pretty cynical.

As for organized religion, I don’t want to get into a debate on what constitutes a “normal” one. For me, all religions are based upon belief in wild notions. Nothing in the Mormon dialectic is any less fantastic than countless stories in the Old Testament. The big difference with Mormonism is how relatively new it is.

Though it may come off as preening, even desperate, I totally get the strategy behind the Mormon ad campaign. I admit to a cynical view, based mostly on my tertiary knowledge of Mormonism. I read a book on it. I’ve seen Big Love. And yes, I’m as titillated by the idea of having numerous wives as the next guy. What red-blooded male wouldn’t be? Yes, I know polygamy is an extreme component of the Mormon faith, hardly representative of the mainstream practice.

Still… A harem!

Clearly, popular culture influences the wide view. Therefore, why not use advertising to try and mitigate that? As far as the ads go, they’re mashed potatoes: a creamy blend of smiling soccer moms and dentists exclaiming, “I’m Mormon.” Creatively, I would have loved something more intriguing yet comfort food might be just the right order for offsetting the exotic perception of Mormonism.

Finally, as we celebrate Independence Day it is fair to note that one of the cornerstones of our free society is the right to practice any religion we see fit. Another is the right to advertise, even if poorly.

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