Archive for the ‘Creative’ Category

167172306When it comes to marketing in today’s digital and social world, I believe coming up with ideas is the easy part. There, I said it, and I have no doubt I’ll get pummeled by many of my colleagues for making that statement.

I doubt anyone would disagree that in the advertising industry, we love to celebrate creative thinking. But we must remember that creative thinking goes nowhere without people who can bring ideas to life. And that’s getting harder every day as technology gets a stronger foothold in the marketing world.

A 2013 Harvard Business Review article titled “Closing the Chasm between Strategy and Execution” got me thinking about how the “chasm” applies to advertising. And while I don’t say this lightly, the truth is, with the digital ecosystem being so complex and continuously evolving, finding talent with the skills to deliver flawless execution is much harder to come by these days than a creative mind to dream up the idea.

Mapping out the customer journey is a painstaking and methodical process, and I’m not talking about the old “Attract-Engage-Convert” model. I’m talking about the complex and convoluted path the consumer takes today, and the detailed planning we have to do for every step of it. For which device should we optimize? Where does the data live? How do we analyze the data? Are we following the rules of every social platform and exploring how to use each to our advantage? What technology do we use and why? What are the potential effects of those decisions? The list goes on and continues to grow every day, and people who can not only navigate these waters, but can also lead within them are invaluable.

But I have to say, they are hard to find these days.

So what is a marketing executive to do? Here is what I think: (more…)

I have a confession to make. I don’t usually watch the Super Bowl. I don’t even care about football. (This is about the time I usually get weird looks from people.) But this year, the powers-that-be at Brunner requested that my colleague, Maria Bowers, and I watch the “big game.” As you can imagine (considering we work for an ad agency), they didn’t want us to watch for the hard-hitting, yard-measuring, rules-lawyering action, but rather for the advertisements. And, with Maria sitting in the creative department and me being on the technology team, they specifically picked the two of us knowing that we would have very different perspectives on what we saw. So, while the rest of you were busy getting beer and competing over who could eat the spiciest chicken wing, we were hard at work watching television and searching for stuff on the Internet. (Did I mention that I love my job?) Here are our observations about a few of the many advertisers who laid down $4 million in a bid to win over consumers.


show-us-your-heinzKyle: For their first Super Bowl (I mean “Big Game” – wouldn’t want any legal reprisals for a simple blog post) ad in 16 years, Heinz tries their hand at successfully executing the buzz-word that I like the least: “viral marketing.” They opened up showusyourheinz.com, which encourages fans of the ketchup masters to take photos of themselves with the product and submit them for the opportunity to win a prize. This is pretty standard fare for an online contest, but I found the connection to the television commercial to be tenuous. (more…)


It’s not easy being a creative in an ad agency today. Ick, that sentence I just typed makes me sound cranky; like I’m one of those “nobody understands my genius” creatives. Not to worry; this isn’t one of those rants. Just a little helpful advice I’ve recently put together after 21 years in the business. (Yes, my career is now old enough to have a drink.)

Advertising agencies have become more integrated, with members of every discipline working side-by-side on campaigns. Which means more and more people have ideas for executions of the brands you work on. Making it open season on what we as creatives bring to the table. Namely, ideas. Writers and art directors once exclusively owned all the thinking when a campaign consisted of TV, radio, point-of-sale and outdoor. Standard practice was for creative to go away for a couple of weeks and come back with ads and soak up the praise from everybody else who was in awe of us heroic storytellers. All hail the great and powerful creatives. (more…)

About 15 years ago our agency picked up a small project from a manufacturer of fiber-cement siding. The product was called HardiePlank. It wouldn’t rot, warp, crack, or burn. It was even hurricane proof. At the time, wood composite sidings were experiencing huge problems around the country, yet no one would try this remarkable product called HardiePlank. Our challenge was to change that.

My father-in-law was a builder. My grandfather had been a carpenter for 40 years. I’d run my own painting and deck maintenance company in college. Heck, my first job ever was working in a lumberyard. So when it came time to choose a copywriter for this assignment, I was the unanimous choice. If anyone could talk about building products like a man, it would be me, they said.

Fast forward a few years and the brand was enjoying remarkable success. Our program had gone nationwide, and James Hardie was one of the top three requested brands in all of home building. So picking the good ol’ boy to be the copywriter was a wise decision, right? Well, yes and no. When asked how we’d found such a powerful way of communicating their brand, the CMO had this to say: “Brett is a 40-year-old mom trapped in a young man’s body.” Say what? (more…)

Simply put, the Internet of Things (IoT) connects physical things to a network. It’s the fusion of the digital and physical worlds.

Soon, consumers will want everyday objects connected to support their hyper-connected lifestyle. That’s why so many manufacturers are inventing ways to add value to physical products by connecting them to the web.

There’s evidence of rapid adoption all around us. Nike’s Fuel Band proves that consumers are ready for it. As is interest in wearable media like Google Glass. In addition, tech giants like Cisco and Salesforce have put their best and brightest talent on IoT. And nearly every buzzworthy digital marketing campaign of the past year featured a “physical to digital” connection.

Internet of Things represents a third significant shift in the digital landscape for which marketers MUST prepare. First everything was social. Today it’s all going mobile. And soon, everything will be connected.



ad-age-digital-conference-20131The theme of day two had much to do with video: TV in the past, now and the future, and how the new and evolving platforms are breaking the norms. We even had a star sighting with Eva Longoria on stage to talk about her upcoming venture on Hulu. With all of the trends, information and speculating about the future, the big takeaway for me was that Ideas win. That’s it.

Robert Wong, CCO of Google Creative Lab, shared some of the most interesting and dynamic work of the conference. It was powerful, engaging, smart, and it told stories. In the end everything he shared, from product innovation to ads, came from good ideas. What I found most interesting is where the ideas came from. Unconventional ways of going about the thinking seems to lead to these really great ideas. For Google, one example was to come up with the commercial before the product – as with Google Glass. As the team was searching for what this “thing” could be and do, they decided to put their efforts into making a commercial, allowing them the freedom of thinking “what could this be?” with the focus of needing to produce a spot. The product idea got better because of the approach to thinking about it. Smart. (more…)

When it comes to mobile, most of the leading mobile strategists and designers that I know put an emphasis on utility.  This sentiment, in large part, is probably driven by the plethora of completely useless “throw away” apps that were prevalent shortly after the iPhone’s launch (did the world need another “beer pouring” app?).  During that exuberant period, creative directors everywhere were proposing the next “gimmicky” app that would make a brand famous. Only to find out that without a significant promotional budget, most apps never got downloaded.  And if by chance they did find their way into a user’s hands, they got used once — maybe.

So, most smart digital and mobile marketers ensured that the emphasis was placed on providing “useful” app experiences (anyone else having flashbacks to 1999?).  UX began touting navigation best practices and iOS design guidelines.  Brands started to create platforms that connected their consumers in deeper ways than ever before…Nike+ being one great example.

The trouble is, much of the new design work being done in the app space today looks the same as everything else that’s been done.  For some elements like global navigation that makes perfectly good sense.  I liken it to the evolution of e-commerce shopping carts.  Once someone landed on a model that consumers liked, then why not replicate instead of reinventing the wheel and spending tens of thousands on usability testing.

Lately, while reviewing design concepts for a project we were working on, it struck me that once the various art directors applied brand standards, that many of the designs started to look the same.  It prompted me to ask the question — Is there room for creativity in mobile?


As a marketer knowing what to focus on can be tough. It’s just Like That today. It’s like knowing when the old style is the new style. The guy that sits next to me rocks a different pair of Adidas just about every day. The old school shell-toes - he literally color-coordinates his Gazelles with his outfit. Reverend Run’s got nothing on him. Everyone knows that fashion is cyclical to some degree. Apparently, that’s not the only thing. adidas_run_dmc_shoe2

I save things. I’m not at the hoarder level, but I do hang on to things that interest me. Links to work, screen grabs of ads or images, videos, blog posts, etc. Recently I came across an email I had saved -the topics of the three feature stories?

  • Content
  • Search
  • Mobile

Now that may not be terribly surprising but perhaps the fact that the email was from 2008 might be. As I scanned the articles it became clear why I saved the email, it was good stuff. The importance of having compelling content was prevalent. It talked of content strategy, even though it wasn’t called that. The search piece had a familiar refrain to it as well; search should be part of the fundamentals, smart creative and have a call to action, pointing in the right place. Even the mobile struck a chord - albeit a different one than today - but still pretty on it.

So flash forward to today, that email (or those topics) are probably landing in your inbox daily. When you read whatever you read today it’s the same general topics. Maybe the details have changed a bit and we know more about the impact these three things can have independently or collectively (that was not at all referenced in any of the older articles). Here’s the question for marketers; what have you done, really done, to advance yourself or your brand(s) in these three areas over the past four years? We know more. We talk about it more. You read more about it. But do you truly have a content strategy, a search strategy, a mobile strategy - heck a mobile search strategy?

A couple of things you should do quickly:

  • Take stock of the content you already have. It might not be perfect, but see what you have and use it to tell your story.
  • Create content that has purpose for different mediums.
  • Look at your web site on a mobile device. Would you use it the way it is?
  • Search yourself. Check out your brand and don’t just drop off if you see yourself, explore, see where you go - navigate like your customers - dig in.

You may have heard all of this before - perhaps even dating back to 2008 - but if you are still having the same conversations or are confused about what to do, start simple and build to the bigger programs. There are lots of things that can be a distraction and you can make it complex quickly - but you don’t have to. Back to my colleague…I’ve now noticed all manner of people wearing the new/old Adidas. I see it everywhere. Apparently it’s back….maybe it never left. Knowing when things are back in fashion is a matter of timing but focusing on content, search and mobile is never out of style. It’s Tricky…..just ask the boys from Hollis Queens.

The 2012 South By Southwest Interactive Conference is over, and I would have to say that this year stands out as one of the better SXSW conferences that I’ve attended. The team at Brunner has spent the last  five days immersed in information, creativity and inspiration which we are all excited to share with our agency and our clients, as well as weave into our work in the coming months. And that is really the reason that I’ve come here over the years - to find inspiration.

This year, as every year, a number of key messages have been echoed again and again by the speakers, panelists and attendees of the conference. So here are a few of the main ideas that I’m leaving Austin with in 2012:

Business as usual has ended: there is a New World Order.

I heard Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins say it about music, Anthony Bourdain say it about TV, and a number of smart advertisers saying it about advertising and marketing: the legacy business models that shape the media world are dead. As Bourdain put it, “Everyone knows it. The body is dead but the brain keeps kicking, refusing to recognize it.” We, and the brands we represent, keep doing the same things today that we did in the past and wonder why we don’t get better results. It’s time to change not only the things we do but the way we do them to remain relevant to consumers.

Digital isn’t a medium, it’s age in which we live.

This is one of the primary themes that was present in just about every talk that I attended. Digital is not a channel in which to run adds. It is a way of thinking, and a state of being, that pervades all of our lives. Brian Solis called today’s generation Generation C - Generation Connected, and it encompasses the majority of us, regardless of age. So much of our lives have been affected by digital connectivity and we have discovered so much control in the messages we receive, the media we consume and the media we create that we have largely begun to reject anything that doesn’t fit into this culture of connectedness and consumer control.

Just go make things.

This was repeated again and again, panel after panel at SXSW this year. With so many possibilities in front of us to connect with consumers these days, we as an industry of communicators seem to freeze up and struggle to communicate. And when we finally work up the courage to produce something, it’s often a retreat back to what we are comfortable with: print ads, TV spots, banners and landing pages. It’s time to be more agile, to stop talking ourselves out of action and just go make this that aren’t necessarily ads. Make apps, make prototypes, try new ideas in social and mobile. Make products. We will never know what works unless we pick up the tools, make things and put them in front of people to get a reaction. If it works, invest more there. If it doesn’t, move on. The age of planning a campaign for 18 months is over. The age of failing fast in order to succeed is here, and we need to embrace it.

Combining these three key points and a new model for the advertising and marketing industry begins to emerge. Our old way of doing business has ended, and we need to recognize it and stop trying to do things the way they were even 5 years ago. The connectivity and control granted to society through the growth of digital technology has fundamentally changed the way people live, and has altered their relationships with media and brands forever. So advertiser and their agencies must become more agile, try more things more quickly, and make things that people want rather than try to make people want things.

It’s the way things are, and SXSW is not the first place that it has been said. But our industry, and our brands, will need to stop talking about this new world order it and actually start living up to it in order to truly move things forward.

gorillaRecently, someone at our agency did a Google search for “atlanta ad agencies”, and in his words:

“..right there amongst all us creative wizards, a prominent listing for an ad agency offering the latest breakthrough in marketing today.  Taa daa…sign spinners.  Just contact them and they’ll send out a guy in a gorilla suit to stand in front of your store and spin your message on a propeller-esque sign while occasionally lunging at passing cars.”

That raises the question, how is most advertising different than a guy in a gorilla suit holding a spinning sign that says “Buy Stuff at Main Street Mattress Warehouse?”

It isn’t.

Well, superficially it is. Yes, the gorilla might actually be Danica Patrick and the spinning sign may be the $100k 3D graphic of your logo that dances on the screen 25 seconds into your 30-second TV spot. But it is still lunging at passing traffic, trying to attract attention, just like the guy in the gorilla suit. Which is not very encouraging, when you think about it.

So I say, let’s stop spending so much effort lunging at passing traffic.

Let’s stop jumping up and down on the sidelines, waving our arms, trying to be noticed. Let’s stop spending so much time trying to interrupt people with things that, with very few exceptions, they really don’t care about.

Instead, let’s, as an industry of both brands and their agencies, be more like Bob, the helpful guy who works in Main Street Mattress Warehouse. The one who walks up and politely introduces himself when he sees a chance, not when you are talking to your husband. The guy who takes the time to explain the REAL differences between your product and the others. The one who tells you a bit about himself and the asks you about your needs, what would work best for you. The one who will listen to your complaints when there is a problem, and then work hard to fix them. And the one who gives you some valuable extra advice about getting a good night sleep, along with a free mattress-fluffer.

Will you know about Bob, the helpful, likable salesman in the Main Street Mattress Warehouse when you are driving down the road, chatting with friends in the car on your way to Starbucks? No. But you won’t care then anyway - you’re doing something else and thinking about something else.

Instead, you’ll hear about Main Street Mattress Warehouse when your friends who have been there and met Bob, or who have friends who have met Bob, tweet about the experience and talk about their great new mattress on Facebook, as well as in person. You’ll know that people who you know will be shopping there when you see it on Foursquare. Google searches will not only tell you where the store is, but, more importantly will show you all the people like you who have reviewed their great experience there talking to Bob and how much they love their new mattress, which they bought because Bob was such a genuine, helpful guy. And of course, they’ll tell you about the great, free mattress fluffer that they got just for stopping by, no sale required.

Yes, Main Street Mattress Warehouse still needs a sign out front, ads to tell people where they are, etc. But, given the choice, would you rather be the guy in the gorilla suit lunging at traffic as it tries to avoid him, or do you want to be Bob, who forms even a brief relationship with the people who visit the store?

The world needs both, I guess. But what type of brand do you want to be? What type of agency do you want to be?