He’s Baaaack

Could anyone be more lovable than Derrick Rose? I’m going to overlook the fact that he probably cheated on his SAT and might not be the sharpest tool in the shed, because he’s the epitome of what’s right with sports. He’s so marketable because he’s real. He has the right people around him, he knows where he came from, and he’s rightfully grateful for the opportunities sport has given him. Just watch him cry on Sportscenter, and I’m sure you’ll agree.

This ad from Adidas and 180 LA celebrates his return to the game, and the launch of his new Adidas sneaker line, by spotlighting Chicago – look it’s Dan Roan! – and by evoking the excitement, not to mention the  nerves, that come along with D-Rose’s return to the Madhouse on Madison.


Heineken is my favorite brand. Here’s why:

I’ve said it before. Heineken is one of, if not the, smartest brands around. They use every possible medium, and they do it in a fun, memorable way. Sure, it’s my favorite beer too, but I don’t think that clouds my judgment in this case.

A while back, I talked about a few of their most innovative activations. And now they’re at it again; this time, with a theatric ad that leads to an online game called Crack the Case. The premise is basically this: James Bond doesn’t always drink beer, but when he does it’s a Heineken.

The campaign, produced by Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam, features an intriguing male lead (not to mention a spot appearance by Bond himself), a track in Gin Wigmore’s “Man Like That” that matches the energy, drives the story, and complements the idea, and a great tagline in “Open Your World.”

Not only have they hit the spot itself on the head, but the branded game, “Crack the Case,” which promises to be played live in a city near you, provides yet another unique example of Heineken innovating in the social and digital space.


Digital Playgrounds

Everyone needs to visit Google’s Creative Sandbox. I mean it, right now.

Get inspired by the digital work of others — and share your own great ideas.

That’s the idea of the Creative Sandbox. At Google, we’re amazed by how the ad industry is using new digital tools to bring brands and ideas to life. That’s why we’ve created a space where everyone can see this insanely great work, talk about it, and roll around in it like a big happy dog.

The Creative Sandbox is a place to flash your brilliance, spark new digital ideas, inspire and be inspired.

As with any sandbox, looking and playing are required. Vote to push your favorite projects to the top. Tell other creators what you love, admire, or just can’t believe.

That’s Google’s spiel. And it’s ingenious. Click into the first campaign that catches your eye – for me, it was this BAND-AID & Muppets pairing (kids today are so technologically advanced!) – and you’ll see a quick video, the motives and ideas behind the project, the technology that inspired and drove the campaign, “what makes (the campaign) a win,” and finally, the creative agency and team behind the project.

Here’s another of my favorites from Grolsch Beer and Beattie McGuiness Bungay:

All of the campaigns featured on Creative Sandbox bring digital to life in a big way and make me envious of the talent of creative technologists everywhere.

I hope agencies, especially stateside,  take Google’s initiative and use the Sandbox as a way to inspire and innovate. Leaders like JWT and Ogilvy & Mather are already taking advantage, with a lot of great work making its way to the Google platform. Regardless, Creative Sandbox is (if you’re anything like me) a haven for ad junkies, not to mention an educational tool.

Speaking of awesome creative technologists, someone at Myspace is doing everything right. Yes, Myspace, your favorite social network of, give or take, 6th grade. Still a player in the music game, Myspace – taking its cues from Pinterest and Windows 8 – is rolling out a fresh, original, and according to Ad Age, sexy redesign.

Now owned by an ad network and backed by Justin Timberlake, I have to admit this looks good – and does in fact make Facebook look like it was designed by a kid in a college dorm room. Gratuitous pics of JT aside, it will be interesting to see whether Myspace can capitalize.

Buying “Cool” and how MTV died with TRL

Today in my consumer behavior class, I watched a documentary (Frontline’s Merchants of Cool) that I’d seen before, probably in Comm 101 and possibly again in Understanding Media Industries, I don’t remember. Half paying attention because I could have recited bits of it, I started thinking about what it all means. Hey, at least it was productive daydreaming.

Three things stuck with me:

First, buying cool means killing cool. In other words, once something from a so-called niche hits the big time, the trendsetters move on. Fast. Can we talk about hipsters? Yes, I know, you were hipster before hipster became hip, but what’s that all about? Why does it matter? I liked the All-American Rejects when their self-entitled album debuted in 2002. Why does that mean I shouldn’t have liked the earworm Gives You Hell six years later? Maybe it’s mental, but we all do it. We love to be on the cutting edge – and we hate it when our thing becomes everyone’s thing.

Take house music. Majority of the pseudo cool kids today love it. Those who jumped on the bandwagon first? They’re pissed. Because all of the sudden their thing is parading itself around Lollapalooza and being blasted at so-and-so’s frat party pregame. It’s not theirs anymore, it’s everyone’s.

It’s the same reason we get annoyed when “x” song plays on “y” radio station over, and over, and over again. Sure, We Are Young by Fun. was great the first 15 times we heard it, but by time 467? Not so much.

So what does that mean for brands, for marketers, for advertisers? It means you need to know your consumers inside and out, you need to be able to spot the trends before they reach the mainstream, and you need to spot the next trend while you ride the wave of the first.

There’s a reason consumer understanding is such a vital part of account planning and strategy – and why I find it all so interesting. Without that knowledge, how can advertisers hope to develop a meaningful connection with consumers?

Second, Sprite has done really well. What do you remember about Sprite from your childhood? What do you associate with the Sprite brand name? For me, I’m thinking about hip-hop music and the NBA. I think every brand should strive to create a connection as strongly as Sprite has with urban culture. The Coca-Cola spinoff has activated this relationship by sponsoring the NBA Slam Dunk contest, pairing up with MTV for the “Sprite Step Off” series, hosting parties featuring big name artists, and producing spots that feature artists and athletes at the top of their respective games.

While Sprite was used as an example in Merchants of Cool, I think Mountain Dew has done an equally terrific job at ingratiating itself in the culture of extreme sports. Not only do they sponsor the Dew Tour – but they activate using the tour outside the tour. Just glance at the Mountain Dew website – you’ll hardly be able to separate the soda from its cultural identity.

We ourselves don’t necessarily have to buy into the culture in order to consume the product, but we do hold the association. Sprite and Hip-Hop. Mountain Dew and Extreme Sports. We remember that; and maybe that’s what makes the difference.

Finally, MTV died with TRL. For at least an entire generation and much of my own generation’s childhood, MTV defined cool. It’s where the music video debuted in an age before Youtube, where people stopped being polite and started getting real, and where the non-manorexic Carson Daly had quite clearly the best job in the world.

When TRL ended, MTV should’ve changed its name, having replaced music with so-called “reality” programming almost entirely. Since TRL’s demise in 2008, what has MTV been known for? Snooki? Awful dating shows? Also-rans from previous hits like my favorite, Laguna Beach, now call MTV their permanent home.

The “M” in MTV is what made it what it was, a cultural magnate that was able to determine what would be “cool” for millions of American teenagers. The culture that surrounded the music was equally as important, but music was at the heart. Without it, we’re left with GTL and not much else.

So what now, if not MTV, defines “cool” for the largest and most marketed-to generation yet? 

In this age, with social media, globalism, and segmentation down to the smallest of characteristics, it’s possible that no single entity could be so culturally significant again. My takeaway is this: understanding your consumer is now more important than ever. Generalizations are harder to make, trends are harder to find and faster to fall, and for a generation who thinks its smarter than advertisers? We have to be that much better.

Consumer Behavior: Learning From the Toddler Crowd

Brian Millar, strategy director at Sense Worldwide and co.Design contributor, spent a couple of years as a stay-at-home dad and learned a few things that proved valuable to his career as a creative strategist.

His insights are remarkably dead on. What that says about consumers, I’m not sure; but the 5 lessons he mentions can certainly go a long way in teaching consumer behavior.

1. Emotional benefits sell better than rational ones. 

Rational: “Eat your spinach, it’s good for you.”
Emotional: “Kids, tonight we’re having…pasta presents!” – also known as spinach ravioli.

2. Don’t ask your consumers whether they want something new. 

He cites two really smart guys in talking about how he got his kids to watch Laurel & Hardy in black and white, an impressive feat when they were used to watching the Tellytubbies.

Malcolm Gladwell in Blink (a book I highly recommend): “We’re programmed by evolution not to like unfamiliar stuff (me, especially). So if you ask people whether they’d like something completely different to what they already have, they say no.”

Steve Jobs – in a quote that was ironically talked about in my marketing class just this morning – acknowledges that he knew better. “He didn’t ask us whether we wanted to lose parallel ports, floppy drives, or DVD writers. He just stopped putting them on his machines, and gave us something better.”

Consumers don’t always know they want something until its put in front of them. Did you know you wanted an iPhone before those first commercials came out? It’s more likely that on June 4, 2007, you had no idea such a phone was even possible.

3. Bonuses are better than bribes. 

Sales promotions fall into 2 categories: bribes and bonuses.

Bribes: think vouchers, money-off deals, etc. When the bribes dry up, everybody moves on. Millar uses the example of airline-loyalty schemes: when you pay for people to like you, you shouldn’t be surprised when they demand more.

Bonuses: getting something extra for doing something you’d like to do anyway. Think 2-for-1, discounted upgrades, etc. Bonuses increase loyalty after the promotion ends, where bribes do not.

4. Move beyond functional equivalence. 

For toddlers, everything is a toy. The toy itself, the box it came in, pots and pans, or a pile of rocks – it hardly matters. As a toy maker, the goal is to make something that’s especially fun.

That’s what marketing really boils down to. All cars are basically functional nowadays, and a Rolex tells time as well as the $20 watch from Target. Price has to be justified with better design, luxury, and superior service.

5. Nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising.

It doesn’t matter how good your ad is, if the product is crap the product is crap. Telling his kids The Louvre would be better than Star Wars may have gotten them through the door, but skepticism quickly reared its head.

Lesson: “Don’t write checks in your communications that you can’t cash with your products and services.”

Gloom + Doom: Is the Social Media “Revolution” Indicative of Future Innovation?

Would you consider social media revolutionary?

By standard definition, a revolutionary act or product is one that brings about a major or fundamental change. Economist and Advanced Leadership Fellow at Harvard, Steven Strauss, takes that definition one step further and proposes that “an innovation is revolutionary if it so changes society that going back to the pre-innovation technology would be catastrophic.”

So I ask again, would you consider social media revolutionary?

When we imagine the future – or say, when we watch Alex P. Keaton hop in the modified ’81 DeLorean  – we might imagine flying cars, space vacations, and a generally Jetson-esque lifestyle. But in reality, as Peter Thiel of the venture capital firm Founders Fund put it: “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.”

Is that such a bad thing though? Should we be disappointed? Or fear for the future of innovation?

25 years ago, the Internet – and generally, most of today’s digital technology – would’ve been unfathomable. The Internet, along with the automobile and communication technology, fit Strauss’s definition: it would be catastrophic to lose any of the above.

I’m obviously not going to make the argument that if Facebook and Twitter suddenly vanished, the world economy would collapse. However, I will argue that the advent of social media has brought about fundamental change. Social networks have taken the “world stage” to a whole new level. We are more interconnected than ever before, and I’d argue, than we ever could have imagined. This sort of globalization and connectedness has created myriad opportunities for individuals and brands.

Marketing campaigns can go viral in a matter of hours, celebrities can fall from grace with the click of a button, more and more sporting events are deemed my least favorite oxymoron, “instant classic,” due to the constant commentary and interaction that the Internet, and more pointedly, social media allows.

So no, I don’t think we should be disappointed that our latest innovation is social media.

Strauss argues that these most recent innovations are incremental rather than revolutionary, and further, that we’re “at the start of a new megatrend of diminishing marginal innovation.”

I hate to go all economics on you, but let’s talk about that.

Strauss argues that the low-hanging fruits of revolutionary technologies have already been picked, that innovations in high-growth sectors won’t be sufficient to drive revolutionary change/growth in the overall economy, and that this sort of slow-growth incremental capitalism will favor corporate bureaucrats rather than visionary entrepreneurs.

He goes on to state that “for most of human history, economic innovation and productivity growth have been low, as were productivity differences between countries. The last two or so centuries have been an exciting exception–but not the norm–for human history.”

I think that’s a fairly debbish* outlook. The Founders Fund attributes the incremental innovations of recent years to the venture capital community’s failure to support revolutionary tech companies and is itself dedicated to investing in revolutionary technologies. The Facebook debacle not withstanding, I am much more prone to agree with the Founders Fund rather than Strauss.

Just like those who came before us, we cannot fathom the technology and innovation that is to come. It should be our mission as a country to foster innovation – whether that means strengthening our education system, providing more research grants, or privately investing.

It would be foolish to rely on the next high-impact revolutionary technological innovation to drive our economy, but it is equally as foolish to settle and quit pursuing such innovations. And in the meantime, social media isn’t too shabby.

*Debbish (adj.): of or referring to one that is being a Debbie Downer.

Back in Action

I haven’t posted in a while because I just got back to school; well actually, last Monday, but things have been crazy hectic and my final welcome week certainly did its job. Anyways, I’m back and hope to make blogging part of my schedule during the year. We’ll see how that goes.

So, getting back to it, I have a few things to talk about:

First – I think it officially means I’m a grown-up when I’m purchasing books that fall under the “textbook” category on the Barnes & Noble website for pleasure. Well, I guess we’ll call it that. My first “professional development” book purchase was Adland: Searching for the Meaning of Life on a Branded Planet by James P. Othmer. It’s actually been a very entertaining read so far – so if you’re also into advertising I’d definitely give it a read!

Second – I got the best mailer, IMO in the history of mailers, from VCU’s Brandcenter a few weeks ago. People look at me cross-eyed when I tell them I want to go to VCU for grad school; but if you know anything about advertising, you’ve likely heard of the Brandcenter (formerly AdCenter) in Richmond. After talking to an account planning professional, I knew that VCU and Miami Ad School were the  programs I should be looking into, and this only cemented why.

I’m a sucker for packaging, design, creative messaging, and really anything memorable. Brandcenter’s Sixty definitely fits that description. Even if you aren’t thinking about VCU as a destination, it’s worth a look to really see where the future of advertising is getting its start. Essentially, it showcases student work and emphasizes just how closely the disciplines work together – art direction, copywriting, creative technology, creative brand management, and the program I’ll be applying to, communication strategy.

There’s some seriously awesome creative work in the magazine – a great deal of which I wouldn’t have been able to tell you was produced by students, and a pretty hilarious spread featuring the “Junior Art Director” meme.

You can request a copy of Sixty here. The magazine definitely proved to me why agencies love to hire out of the Brandcenter, and motivated me even further to learn about the work that’s being done at VCU and Miami Ad School.

I also think it’s pretty awesome that someone at VCU replied to me on Twitter, and I can’t wait to visit over fall break!

Finally – This article in Adweek is the story of my life, and my last piece of “if you love advertising, do x” advice for the day.

Behold the ad nerd, a new breed of ad professional who grew up admiring the industry as much for its ability to entertain as to sell. Long before Mad Men unleashed a new era of Madison Avenue retro cool, these millennials were being influenced by campaigns such as Budweiser’s “Wassup?” spots, which became a cultural phenomenon. As kindergarteners, they watched TV for the commercials. In high school, they joined newly formed ad clubs, and many studied advertising in college and graduate programs. They eat, breathe and tweet advertising, possessing the natural 24/7 Web habits of their generation. Addicted? Definitely.

To finally find something that you’re truly passionate about is the best feeling in the world – and to know that you’re working along side others who feel the same way is even better. So much of my time is about to be spent with graduate school applications and job hunting – which are tedious activities to be sure – but I’m so excited to embark upon a journey where I’ll (fingers crossed) join fellow “Ad Nerds” in shaping brands of the future.