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Copywriting is not about the print ad anymore and hasn’t been for some time. But that doesn’t make the skill set any less important. You don’t have a website without words; try building a wire without them.

Providing clever, provocative and powerful copy to web designers and the like is critical. For many copywriters, feeding them content that inspires their work is the job. Just as art directors and designers have had to evolve so have writers. When the dust cleared from these early transitions both writers and art directors realized that what they do is essentially the same. New media still uses words and pictures. Creating a “look and feel” for this website or that social campaign has new obligations but the fundamentals are the same.

For example, I’m asked to help create a website for a B2B start up. The first thing we need is an “organizing principle” or key idea that drives the whole thing. This means a strategy line and a creative line – just like it does for any mass media campaign. Without it, you’re flying blind.

In a sense then the landing page functions as your “anthem” or “mantra.” Clients need, want and demand this asset the same as they did 25 years ago. So we write it. I present these to my clients much like I did in the beginning, when I was creating brand campaigns at Leo Burnett. Poetry and power had better be there.

Subsequently, each page of a website operates like a print ad, with a killer headline and precise and compelling copy. Every vertical needs an “ad” that wholly demonstrates its unique offering while at the same time adhering to the covenants of the organizing principle.

The email campaign directing targeted customers to the website is not much different than your classic teaser campaign. When we make advertising it is still advertising, be it online or off. And it damn well better be magical.

The lesson for clients and agencies alike is not to forsake the core skills of writing and designing in a chase for so-called digital natives. If they are mediocre designers or write like they text the output will suck. Don’t go there. Look for brilliant writers and art directors. The modern world is not an excuse for creating superficial tactics.

For magical copywriting and creative direction, no matter what: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

First, let me say Happy 100th birthday to the National Parks of these great United States. It seems like only yesterday I was hiking through Muir Woods gazing up at the towering redwoods. Actually, it was only yesterday. I’m privileged in that they are only a few miles from my house.

We are all privileged to gaze upon this new campaign from Grey New York, celebrating our National Parks’ milestone. It’s a glorious body of work, befitting the subject matter. And so simple too. A tall tree creating the numeral “1.” An reptile’s eye depicting a zero. And so on.

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Using Mother Nature’s own perfect graphic design insures everyone will appreciate our precious natural resources as well as the campaign. The elegance in which the images are put together make us smile and think (not too hard) about our National Parks and what they mean: not only to us but to the inhabitants of the parks. Rare is a poster or a billboard that no one –not even an advertising hater- could take umbrage with.

The campaign has legs. Literally. It must have been a “hoot” to create. Like putting a puzzle together each time: which animal should we use, which iconic feature? Triptychs have always intrigued me. And these are great examples of why.

Rather than replicate the concept in TV, which certainly would have worked, the creative team went even further, utilizing sound and visuals wishing these parks a happy birthday. It works seamlessly with the static pieces but stands alone.

As an aside, I’d like to commend the continued renaissance of Grey, New York. When I was starting out in this business, and for years after, Grey, true to its name, was considered by all to be conservative and bland. No creative wanted to work there. But then some new people came in (Jim, Tor, others) and it got great. Their E-trade babies took over America and all the award shows. This delightful campaign continues that trajectory.

Bravo all!

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Van Gogh’s newest bedroom

There is so much I like about this concept I don’t know where to begin.

The idea: To celebrate the Art Institute of Chicago’s new exhibition bringing together all three of artist, Vincent Van Gogh’s iconic “Bedroom” paintings, the museum has joined forces with Airbnb to create a stunning real application of Van Gogh’s evocative boudoir, which people soon can actually stay in for ten dollars a night plus the price of exhibit tickets. Good luck with avails. Thankfully, a detailed display marking the renovation is currently available for viewing and is blowing up social media.

Rightly it should. Look at what they’ve done. Inspired by an idea from Chicago advertising agency, Leo Burnett (my alma mater!) and the media agency Spark, brought to life via the uncanny efforts of Ravenswood Studios, the result speaks for itself. We can’t believe our eyes.

This is truly a multi-dimensional “campaign,” employing so many weapons in the modern marketing arsenal: advertising, promotion, PR, experiential and social. They all come together here -flawlessly. So much so, I wouldn’t know which category to enter this in at Cannes. Doesn’t matter. It could and should win in all of them. The idea has an “it” factor we rarely see in any category, let alone all of them. Honestly, in concept and execution, I think this idea blows every ad on the SuperBowl out the proverbial (albeit slanted) door.

What I also love is its timelessness. The 21st Century evoking the 19th. Technology made something so very analog: a celebration of an oil painting and a bedroom! From oldsters to hipsters, who won’t dig this? Who wouldn’t want to experience it?

From the Chicago Tribune article: “It’s sort of crazy how excited people are over the project,” said Glenn Ragaishis, who oversaw the room’s fabrication at Ravenswood Studio, the Lincolnwood firm that, more typically, builds sets for Lyric Opera and other theater companies.

Yes, crazy. Crazy as the artist himself. Crazy good.

The Chicago Tribune article linked above has a photo gallery. Here is another story from Adfreak.

So, after all these years, Barbie is finally making her foray into the real world. A new commercial from Mattel heralds the diverse line-up of figures, featuring a curvier doll, a petit doll, and others, none as Stepford-like as the leggy, thin blonde who has represented the brand for decades.

For obvious reasons, this is a good thing. And the film does a nice job of introducing the concept. The spot has a more serious tone than what we see in most toy commercials, with softer music and adult language. Yes, young girls are shown playing with dolls, in a light airy setting, which is typical. But the children deliver lines that are far more socially aware. “It’s important for Barbies to look different,” a child says, opening the spot. Later, one states she likes her Barbie because it reminds her of her mom. I respect that the children are not mere shills. A huge improvement.

What’s even more unusual is that the film is intercut with shots of Mattel designers talking about their vision for these new dolls. Now girls have dolls “they can relate to,” says one. We see these designers making the dolls as well, spinning their hair and sewing their outfits. That’s radical. I can’t think of a toymaker ever showing its toys getting made. In the past, dolls were always seen imitating human behavior. Showing them being built defies that illusion.

But so what? I think children comprehend dolls are manufactured and can appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into it. Granted, a hip designer creating a prototype probably looks nothing like the factory workers who really do make these Barbies but that’s another story.

Before writing further, I have to commend Mattell and its ad agency, BBDO San Francisco for not only evolving Barbie into the 21st century but for making a commercial with a degree of gravitas. Both things are remarkable and deserve praise.

That said, I still wonder about the oldest stigma regarding Barbie and dolls in general: that they are only for girls. As with Disney’s Princesses, I think there’s something forced about steering girls into passive feminine roles. I have three daughters and lived through it. I always cringed when they obsessed over dollies. It’s all so weirdly Victorian. We boys grew up with Star Wars figures and G I Joe. Men of action, power and violence. Then video games. Science, technology and war. Not that that’s a good thing but it completely reinforces that it’s a man’s world.  Even though it’s understandable, there are no boys and only 3 seconds of one man in this commercial. Maybe in the next campaign they can find a way to be less “girlie.” Likewise, where is Ken? Will he be gaining weight and going bald? Or will they take him another direction a la Bruce Jenner?

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I’ve always been passionate about posters, billboards and signs in general. So much so that I’ve given talks on the subject to various ad clubs, conferences, even at the revered Palais in Cannes. Because I’m in advertising, these discussions were invariably about out of home advertising. In the beginning, I framed my talks around the Altoids case study – a testament to the power of posters. The Altoids’ campaign has moved on (where I wonder?) and so have I. But the passion continues.

Billboards and posters can be the most effective persuaders known to man. They are certainly the oldest. Since man first scribbled on rock, signs and word pictures have defined our kind for better and for worse.

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Alas, we now have a case of the latter, which has drawn our country into emotional debate. It involves the Confederate flag, a totem of the Civil War. In the wake of the horrifying murders of innocent black parishioners in Charleston by one depraved white man, calls have again risen to remove this flag from public view. The primary argument being that the flag is a symbol of slavery and its ugly history. Given current events –in Ferguson, New York, Oakland and now Charleston- the Confederate flag is more polarizing than ever. Those that wish to keep the flag in prominence have their arguments, the best of which (I suppose) might be to serve as a reminder to the many lives lost fighting behind it during the Civil War.

Yet, I purposefully chose not to research this debate, or that flag. I write this with my ignorance uncorrupted by studied discourse of either side. I only have my visceral reaction to the power in that symbol, same as most everyone else.

The distinction is important. For most who experience this flag know little about it either. I’m betting 99% of every Bubba who hangs one in the back window of his pickup truck doesn’t know who created the flag and when, let alone what the various insignia on it even mean. They just like what it projects about them. Herein lies the secret to its power. Signs are not meant to encourage research. Quite the contrary. They are symbols, meant to transmit an idea (good or evil) to a lot of people. The Confederate flag incites us because that is what it was supposed to do. And still does. The Swastika works the same way. When it was relevant so did the raised fist of Black Power. On a happier note, Shepard Fairey’s “Hope” poster helped get President Obama elected.

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Signs arouse us. When I was a kid, growing up in the Lake View neighborhood in Chicago, the Latin Eagles and Latin Kings reigned over the alleyways and street corners. There graffiti terrified me, causing me to haul ass to school, my lunch money stuffed down my underwear. While I hardly respected what those symbols represented I behaved differently because of them.

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Done well, signs can sell products. They can get men elected. They can also instill fear and hatred and whether you believe the Confederate flag should be removed from public view or not that is exactly what it is doing.