Friday, June 28, 2019

Words without meaning. (Also known as flight #76 to SFO.)

For about the past 15 years, new-age, digital bloviators and theorists have been bludgeoning us with the "democratizing" power of technology.

They've asserted (while flying in the face of reality) and with no evidence whatsoever, that "the consumer is in control." You need only to be awake and aware for about two-microseconds to realize how specious and stupid such blathering is.

Virtually every aspect of our lives is controlled by either a monopoly or an oligarchy. And the plutocratic concentration of wealth in our country is such that it makes the original Gilded Age, which lasted from about 1880-1929, look like a mere bubblegum pop overture to today's Wagnerian opera.

Putting that somewhat aside for a second, almost nothing in our world gets me more roiled than flying for business. (Our industry is run by an oligarchy of course. Something like 80% of the jobs are under the crushing thumb of just five publicly-traded companies.)

Though you're ostensibly a valued "member of the team"--agency propaganda insists on telling you that you matter, and we do get free ice-cream on Tuesdays--you are crammed into an oligarchy-controlled "carrier." Virtually every bit of airline-employed humanoid biomass is so angry and unhappy in their jobs that they either don't answer you with any courtesy or they flat out bark at you.

What's more, as aisles on planes have gotten narrower, my personal observation says that the hind-quarters of various flight attendants have become steadily more considerable. You are, therefore, "rumped," about forty times a flight.

We are now one-hour and 23 minutes into my scheduled six-hour flight, already my back hurts, I am engaged in arm-rest warfare and my deep-vein-thrombosis is thinking "class-action suit."

Amid all this, what gets me most irked however, is the language inflation that every one of the aforementioned assails you with.

"Sit back, relax, and enjoy your flight," hasn't a shred of truth in it. You cannot really sit back (my seat doesn't recline), the constant rumping precludes relaxation and enjoyment is out of the question and certainly has no place on my spiritual timesheet.

Just now breakfast options were barked at me in a manner that would make a drill sergeant at Parris Island proud. 


"Are you speaking to me?" I plaintived.


"I'll have the eggs," I said.

I was handed a two-inch by nine-inch plastic container that will wind up in the ocean or in a landfill one day. Or a whale's intestines. Inside there was one hard-boiled egg, cut in half, presumably by a rusty blade.

"You said eggs," I said to the tiptoeing maiden. "There is only one egg."

She gave me a look that could help re-constitute our melting ice-caps.

"You shouldn't say eggs, when you're offering just egg," I Kafka-ed.

"DO YOU WANT IT OR NOT," she said with the maternal kindness of Lizzie Borden.

I demurred. And tried to open the plasticine. The sticker that sealed the contraption shut had, of course, an ad on it. Today, everything has an ad on it. 

The label said, "Savor the moment." By my approximation roughly 97% of all language is now devoid of meaning. Instead, it's dripping with deception.

I read somewhere that the average Yelp! review is 4.3 star out of 5. A B+. At five of the top universities in the US, Brown, Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Columbia and Cal, the average grade is 3.61 out of 4. A solid A.

So, Dean's List, Honors, A's themselves are without meaning or distinction or, even value.

Why is everything rated so great when everything is really so lousy? Why am I asked to savor plastic food encased in plastic packaging? Savor?

It's not hard for me to see a simple prevailing reality. As everything in our world disappoints, distresses or discomforts, we nonetheless rate it highly. 

As for that label, I wonder if the people having breakfast backhanded onto their "tray-tables" would at least have a small smile if the copy said something slight more honest.

"Sorry about this. Corporate's mandated that breakfast cost no more that 79-cents."

If that were the case, I might still hate my egg, but at least I'd admire the airline's candor.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Killer's Kiss.

I bumped into an excellent bit of sarcasm yesterday written by someone I didn’t know. I tracked him down and asked him if I could re-print it. To my eyes, it was that good. He said “yes.” So here it is.

But first, an “About the Author.”

Joe Coleman is a freelance copywriter based in Manchester, England. But he works everywhere.  He's won numerous major awards and was on this year’s writing for design jury at the D&AD awards. 

You can see his work and get in touch at here or follow him @JOETHECOLEMAN on twitter.

10 Ways to Stop Decent Work Ever Making it out of your Agency

Are different, memorable ads still sneaking out of your agency’s door? Then put a stop to it with these 10 foolproof techniques. From brief writing to post-campaign assessment, they'll help you keep your work bland, generic and forgettable.

1.  Avoid making your proposition single-minded.
Good ads come from distinctive single-minded propositions. So make your proposition broad and vague instead. Get this right and you can nip creativity in the bud, avoiding the awkwardness of having to kill off good ideas later down the line.

HANDY HINT - Use the construction “The smarter way to… [insert product function here]” in your proposition. This makes it sound like it’s single-minded, but actually means more or less nothing. It’s a really effective way to make sure creative thinking stays generic.

e.g. "Heinz Baked Beans. The smarter way to eat lunch." " The smarter way to buy books." "Toyota Auris. The smarter way to drive."

ANOTHER HANDY HINT - Make your proposition confusingly multi-pronged, so it’s impossible to communicate simply. e.g. “It’s the combination of product, service and heritage that makes [company name here] so special.” Then watch your creative teams flounder as they try to come up with even one functioning ad. 

2.  Make your campaign talk to everyone.
Identifying a tight target audience helps creative people picture who they’re talking to and talk in their language. So write “the human race” or “everyone really” in the target audience section of your brief.

HANDY HINT - You can also eliminate all nuances of language and culture by insisting your campaign “has to work globally”, even if it’s an Easter holiday promo for a car dealership in Filey.

3.  Judge the work by tick list.
Rather than deciding which executions are different, going to stand out and likely to stick in people’s minds, take a tick list approach and forensically analyse every ad to see which achieves the most of your objectives.

HANDY HINT - Actually create a tick list and send it to lots of “key stakeholders” to get their feedback. This way you can scientifically prove that the campaign that made everyone laugh isn’t the one you should go with.

 4.  Create ads for clients not customers.
It’s always best to completely ignore your end customers. They’re cynical, hard to impress and aren’t paying your monthly fee. Instead, build your thinking entirely around what you think your client will buy.

HANDY HINT - Take the “nuclear option” and refuse to present a campaign unless it’s what you think your client is expecting. "I already know they won't buy it."

 5.  Try the “It’s a bit like…” test.
Is the campaign a bit like that reference film the client said they liked? Is it a bit like that John Lewis campaign everyone loves? Is it a bit like that campaign their rivals ran last year? If the answer’s “yes” you can be sure no new ground is being broken. It’s good to go!

6.  Outnumber the Creative Director.
A good failsafe is to make sure a planner and senior suit are in every catch-up, so they outnumber the Creative Director 2:1. That way you can vote down anything unexpected and stop any maverick routes slipping through the net. Hell, bring an Account Manager and an Account Exec along too! A 4:1 ratio is even better.

7.  Chip away at the idea.
Getting closer and closer to the presentation date and the work is still distinctive and interesting? Then it’s time to start chipping. Gradually grind the creative teams down by getting them to stay until 10pm at night and keep making small amends that seem like nothing in themselves, but which gradually add up to a full scale castration of the core idea. Keep at it and you’ll soon have a bland, broken shell of the campaign everyone liked when it was a set of marker visuals.

8.  Treat research like it’s the word of God.
Hauled 5 people in off the street to look at some campaigns for £50 each and free sandwiches? Then obviously, you need to hang on their every word. One of the group doesn’t get a punchline? Kill the idea immediately. One of them has never heard of Star Wars? Then delete that reference from the script. One of them says “It’s alright I suppose” through a mouthful of crisps? Then it’s a winner! Tell your client, “We asked the public what they thought and this one really resonated with them.”

9.  Have loads of layers of sign-off.
Build in multiple layers of approval, with one boss after another stepping in to make comments and amends. Make it a bit like playing an X-Box game. So, when the creative team have seen off one impossibly large, fearsome baddie on one level, they move to the next level and another baddie that’s twice as large rumbles in from the shadows.

10. Judge your success by how pleased the client is.
Sales figures flat? Target audience shrugging their shoulders? Social media interaction limited to the client’s marketing team? Never mind, Ken and the team think it’s “really moved the needle in the market”. Put a glowing client testimonial on your website and the job’s a good ‘un!

There’s no silver bullet for killing great creative ideas. You need to be on your toes at all times. Creative people are inventive by nature and are always finding new ways to sneak interesting, distinctive things out of the door. But apply these techniques from briefing to post-campaign assessment and you’ll know you’ve done all you can to fight the corner for bland, generic and forgettable work. Good luck!

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

This is a test.

More years ago than I care to remember, I devised a test to help me discern if a person was cut out to be an advertising creative.

It was a simple test, and I’ve found through the years that it’s a pretty good barometer. I ask people if when they go to a grocery store, particularly a high-end grocery store, if they’re interested in the products that are being sold.

When they see the 117 varieties of mustards, are they interested in the stories behind those condiments? Do they care about how things are packaged? Even the language on the jar.

It doesn’t have to be mustard, of course. It could be olive oils, steel-wool pads, 91 different types of hammers. Are you curious about them? Do you want to know more and tell their stories?

Today, with the world’s and our industry’s ongoing assault upon our language, I am developing another test. It is a test of clarity. It is a test of simplicity. It is a test that separates ‘complicators’ from ‘simplifiers.’ And it spots blowhards like you’d spot an incipient forehead-pimple on prom night.

In the words of Robert Caro, one of the world’s greatest living writers, good writers should: “Find out how things work and explain them to people.” That definition works for pretty much all writing, whether it’s a planning deck, a brief, a tweet, a commercial, or instructions on how to set up a new printer.

So next time you read something at work—no matter what it is, ask yourself, does it do the above, does it explain things? Or does it spray out buzzwords like a Gatling gun?

Basically, it makes sense to look at most writing (and speaking) you'll encounter within an agency with this simple chart in mind. My guess is it's right 99% of the time. 

If people can't make things simple or refuse to, they either don't understand it themselves and haven't the bravery to own up to that, they're purposefully being deceptive, or they're simply full of crap. In some circumstances, they're probably all three.

Occasionally people have the misfortune to arrange an interview with me. If that unhappy event should ever happen to you, watch your mouth.

I’m testing you.