Tuesday, March 28, 2006


I find myself here every twenty-four hours, give or take a few minutes. Or if I have an early appointment or something, I’ll be a little late, maybe an hour or so. And the weekends are different, too. I’m not here on the weekends. I stay away on the weekends. But I always come back. I’m not sure why.

My kids probably have something to do with it. My mortgage and my wife. I have a responsibility to them, don’t I? I can’t just stop my routine, change the one constant in my life, can I?

I have responsibilities. Timelines. To do lists. I can’t drop them just because I’m idling. And yet, I return to this place, Monday through Friday and the occasional Saturday. Sometimes a Sunday every now and then. I don’t reach for the keys and turn the engine off. Not immediately. My eyes close. My breath stops. My head swims in the morning light. Sounds fade away, blur the line between acoustic wavelengths and heartbeats. The feeling comes next. It’s powerful and anxious; it forces my jaws to clamp and my hands to knot and my muscles to tense. Heat billows uncomfortably from my insides, undulates up and through me, encasing my nervous system, pleading for attention. Shaking. Twisting. Urging. Screaming. It wants out. Needs out.

I wait it out. Heart rate returns. Hands unknot. Muscles relax. Lungs reduce. Everything’s fine. Back to normal. Plain. Vanilla. No surprises. Just routine. I open the glove compartment, reach for the tiny package of Kleenex. Blow my nose.

Turn off the car.

Pull the door handle.

Get out.

Turn around.

Lock the door.

Close the door.

And wait for 23 more hours.

Friday, March 10, 2006

My job just got much, much easier

Creativity is for thinkers.

This is for me. :)

Monday, March 06, 2006

Back in the swing of things

It's been a rough go for the past couple of weeks, and I haven't had much time to blog, a point evidenced by the fact that my vacant blog. Anyhow, one of the reasons I haven't been blogging is that I've been busy at work and for once haven't been inundated with crap jobs. That's not to say my job isn't crap--it is--it's just been tolerable as of late.

Speaking of crappy projects, I was in one such project where the phrase, "No need to reinvent the wheel on this one" was uttered more than a few times. I shouldn't have to tell you that a creative agency worth its salt would never say this in reference to a creative solution; its very phrasing is the antihesis of creativity. I understand cost savings and all that, but there's no faster way to enrage (or depress or dishearten) a creative person than that phrase.

And then something happened right after the meeting. One of my art directors had left a speech by Dan Wieden on my chair. He gave this speech right before W+K moved to its new building up the street from us. It's quite a few pages in length and incredibly motivating.

Here's the beginning:

"When we started, no one in their right mind wanted to come to this weird little city on the banks of the Willamette, cut off from the cultural mainstream. Hell, cut off from culture, period. A city with virtually no nightlife. No history. I mean, the first house here was a log cabin built in 1844. That wasn’t that long ago, guys. The only ad people you could get to even consider moving here were people who had been fired from every legitimate and illegitimate agency in the country. Or kids fresh out of school who didn’t know any better.

We started as a ship of fools. And that, I firmly believe, is why we have succeeded. We were struggling to figure out what an advertising agency actually was. And our one and only client, Nike, was trying to get a grip on what a client was supposed to do with one. We were both incredibly stupid. That was the key. See, when you don’t know, you try desperately to find out. But the minute you think you know, the minute you go “oh, yeah, we’ve been here before, no sense in reinventing the wheel” you stop learning, stop questioning, and start believing in your own wisdom…you’re dead. You’re not stupid anymore.

You are fucking dead."

I rest my case.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Power Of Brand

Well, the past two weeks at work have been interesting. We've moved our agancy into a new building, expanding my cube by a good two square feet, which is nice. We've got exposed brick, huge wooden pillars, and tons of illuminum. It's nice...we actually look like an ad agency now.

Unfortunately, it's still a facade, still a mask of empty words and desperate promises. An agency, in my mind at least, is built around one single, solitary thing: an idea. And if everyone onboard in an agency feels that way, the work will ultimately get better and, more importantly, get results for the agency. It's true that some people simply don't know a good idea when they see one. I used to believe I could help these people to understand the value of a great idea, why it is superior in its ability to at once connect with its audience and create a miniscule impact in the back of their brain that makes them wonder and smile. And eventually remember that feeling when they see the product on the shelves or the roads or whereever.

Instead, however, I'm usually playing in the opposite realm; one where the idea takes a backseat to deadlines and client's who spend three days wondering if a woman in a stock photo is either "disturbed," "angry," "congested," "manipulative," "bemused" or "confused." But that's typical of clients, isn't it? It's expected of them. What is surprising to me is that it isn't just our clients that come up with these comments, sometimes it's our account people.

To wit:

Coffee cup in hand, I make my way to a conference room. As I enter, I see that our account exec and my art director are talking; the AE's hands are flailing about in the air, voice a mixture of exasperation and disbelief.

"60 million dollars? Are you kidding me? For ONE ad? Unbelievable. And there's not even a car in it."

As I take my seat, the conversation continues and I piece together that the're referencing Honda UK's "COG" spot; an ingenious piece of work done by Wieden + Kennedy London.

"60 million. Can you believe that? I can't believe that. It's unbelievable. It's trying to sell CARS, and there's no car in it! I mean, I understand branding, but c'mon...let's face it...we're trying to sell product here. Seriously, how many cars did Honda sell from that spot? None."

I tried to point out that a branding ad is selling product, but only as a result of an established emotional relationship; people never buy Nikes because they saw them in the Sunday ads, they buy them because they can relate to the lifestyle and image Nike has created for itself and its myriad of products, each one connecting and communicating to its audience. Same goes for Mini Cooper. The North Face. Lexus. BMW. Apple.

And Honda.

Honda's "Cog" spot wasn't meant to sell a car or even ten cars. It was meant to introduce the company to the European market that for years has been dominated by European cars. Sure, Honda and a host of other Asian car company's had a presence there, but really only in the commercial sector. But Honda wasn't satisfied.

Honda saw this as an opportunity and became determined to make a splash in the market with their consumer cars. They could have done a typical product ad that we would normally see here, perhaps a Civic with a few awards and Consumer Report quotes that convince current and prospective owners that the Civic is a great buy. But that makes sense because we're familiar with the car already; it's nothing new to us. The European market, on the other hand, wasn't. And Honda knew this.

So they asked their agency to create something that was different from all of VW's, BMW's, Mercedes's, and Peugot's ads; something that would stand out and position Honda as a leader in automotive innovation. "Cog" was the result. It was immediately noticed and Honda's sales increased. But was it a direct result of that ad? Probably not. No one saw that ad on their telly and went directly to a car lot and purchased the car. But it piqued interest and inspired research and test drives in the subsequent months to come.

The power of a brand proves itself to be a viable force in product sales and agency revenue. The only caveat to to this force however, is that it takes time: time to win an account, time to plan a campaign, time to think about the creative, time to plan the media, time to produce the work. And, of course, time is money. And since great branding isn't built first and foremost around an ROI calculation or cash flow statement (it really can't be; ideas are intangible and can only be measured by those who understand good ideas), centering an agency solely around creating effective branding is risky.

But it's also extremely rewarding, emotionally and financially.

Just look at our neighbors three miles away.