A 30,000-foot view of taglines.  Make that a 22,841-foot view.
A 30,000-foot view of taglines.  Make that a 22,841-foot view.

Make that a 22,841-foot view.

Just Do It. Sounds trite, but I firmly believe that I stood on the top of Mount Aconcagua, one of the highest mountains in the world, on Jan 14, 2011 because of an ad man from Portland, Oregon. Our industry has the power to influence. Sometimes for good, sometimes not. I’m not a copywriter, as witness to this blog post. I’m an art director. And while I do believe that art can certainly move you, words, on the other hand, have a lasting quality and a power that transcends a memorable photo or a striking illustration.

“Just do it.” has remained Nike’s official tagline for over 20 years, and is one of the most memorable slogans in advertising history. It’s also a mantra that can be heard on any weekend bike ride, or college keg party. You can hear it at the local gym, an 8th grade dance, or maybe on a morning jog with a few buddies. It always comes to the surface when someone is contemplating something new. Something that will most likely push them out of their comfort zone. A tagline written for a shoe company has changed lives. It changed mine, of that I have no doubt. No, I don’t have a Nike shrine under the stairs at home. I don’t even buy Nike shoes. But I bought in, 100 percent, into their marketing effort. I love “Just do it.” Sometimes it gets me in trouble. Sometimes it puts me in places I thought I would never be. Like the summit of the tallest mountain in the Andes. So in a way, I guess I do use Nike’s product. The fact that I think about Nike’s tagline every time I push back at the urge to sit on my ass, is testament enough.

Words have power. The power to persuade. The power to motivate.

A simple note can change the course of someone’s life. A single paragraph from a paperback book, graffiti on a wall, a love note passed in a 5th grade classroom. Just a few words from a speech put 12 men on the moon. Words can move people, change people. Words can make you cry, make you laugh. A message on an answering machine, or even the lyrics from a song can have a profound impact. Like the tagline of a shoe company that put an old art director on the summit of Mount Aconcagua.

Finally, advertising makes a rebound
Finally, advertising makes a rebound

These days it’s difficult to escape the heavy-handed and negative media reports regarding our economy, consumer confidence and the recession. We constantly hear off-putting reports and statistics on unemployment, real estate, the stock market and a myriad of other social and economic issues.

The advertising industry has also seen its fair share of negative press. We’ve witnessed media conglomerates collapse, 65-year old magazines dissolve and national mega-newspaper corporations suffer. However, in this massive sea of negativity, it seems as though things might be headed in the right direction.

According to data recently published by Kantar Media, total advertising expenditures in the first quarter of 2010 rose 5.1% from a year ago and finished the period at $31.3 billion, marking the first increase in quarterly ad spending since the first quarter of 2008 and the largest gain since the first quarter of 2006, as the ad market finally experienced a long-awaited rebound.

The study tracked 19 types of media —13 of which increased from this time last year. Network TV, Cable TV and Spot TV all increased significantly (11.6%, 8.2% and 22.0% respectively), as well as Internet (display ads up 5%) and Local, National and Network Radio (4.6%, 19.0% and 3.0%). As a whole, print media recorded a slight decline in 2010 (an average of -3.4%) except in Sunday Magazines (13.7%) and National Newspapers (9.1%).

While we continue to follow the ups and downs of the economy, we can be encouraged by studies like this that provide us with an indication that the ad market is moving forward. With the political season approaching this fall, we anticipate these numbers to increase further as inventory tightens and media costs rise. As I’ve recently prepared media plans for several clients, I’ve noticed a renewed confidence in our vendors that I haven’t seen for some time. I think we’ve seen the bottom of the media market and the only place to go from here is up.


An integrated campaign themed “Never Settle” to promote the Birmingham Addy Awards was itself honored with a gold National Addy in Arlington, Virginia, June 6. The call for entries made use of candid photographs of the messy desks of top advertising creatives in the city, encouraging people not to stop at the first good idea. Elements included a giant piece of crumbled paper atop a downtown building and a microsite, keeptrashing.org.

It’s fascinating to watch the advertising press get all atwitter (forgive me) about the advent of social media. The simple fact is that a company’s brand has never been defined by lush print advertising, clever TV commercials, or a stunning brochure or website.

The waitress who just forgot to refill your customer’s iced tea? She’s your brand. The door that squeaked awkwardly when your most important prospect walked in? Branding, that could use a little WD-40.

Everything a consumer sees, hears, believes, touches, encounters, smells or feels is the essence of your brand.

The biggest challenge for marketers today is being authentic. Because nothing will torpedo positive perceptions of a brand faster than a negative customer experience.

That doesn’t mean that you, your company, or your service has to be perfect. Consumers don’t expect perfection; they expect satisfaction. What it does mean is that you need to present yourself as genuinely obsessed with meeting your customers’ needs, and willing to step up and make it right when you don’t.

Aubie and Big Al
Aubie and Big Al

My family moved to Birmingham from Los Angeles when I was a kid. It seemed like everyone on the playground that first day asked me if I cheered for Alabama or Auburn. “I cheer for USC,” I proudly told them. The other kids didn’t seem impressed. Instead, they further pressed me, “War Eagle or Roll Tide?”

I quickly learned how insane this rivalry is, and it was absolutely necessary to pick a side. The emotions around the Iron Bowl run deep, and all year long. It’s definitely not just a game.

Recently, fans have shown that there are no limits to how far they’ll take things, from vandalizing the lawn in front of Bryant Denny to poisoning the trees at Toomer’s Corner. If you watched the Roll Tide / War Eagle special on ESPN this week, you would agree that it certainly encompassed the extreme nature of the two fan bases. It is a deeply rooted hatred. Fans here mean business.

This summer, we shot new TV spots for one of our clients, Tiffin Motorhomes, who sponsors various SEC football programs, including Alabama and Auburn.

The spots feature Aubie and Big Al poking fun at each other and playing pranks. The mascots put this playful, innocent spin (especially when Big Al steals Aubie’s toilet paper!) on a rivalry that often runs deeper and more extreme than seems reasonable.

I love how these two mascots are able to make light of a situation that can get a little crazy, both on and off the field. Aubie and Big Al are never going to be best friends, but instead of hating each other, they channel their emotions and intensity into silly pranks and poking fun.




Going to Boulder to drink the Kool-Aid
Going to Boulder to drink the Kool-Aid

My colleague Carlton Wood and I just attended a fantastic seminar at Boulder Digital Works (BDW) in Colorado. Thanks to a nonstop schedule, we barely saw the Rocky Mountains, but we did have the chance to hear from some of the leading voices in digital marketing.

BDW, a joint venture between Crispin Porter & Bogusky and the University of Colorado, is a graduate school that offers both a 60-week program for full-time students and an immersive workshop for working advertising professionals. Instructors are working creative and strategic leaders at top agencies like Crispin, Colle & McVoy, RAPP, Mullen, Modernista, and Victors & Spoils.

The session was sponsored by ICOM, our international agency network. It was revealing for Carlton and myself to work side by side with agency principals from the US, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Finland, India, and beyond. After each session, we went into breakout groups and concepted digital ideas and solved problems, based on the information we had just learned.

A few takeaways from our seminar that seem well worth sharing:

Everyone knows that social media is playing a larger role in marketing campaigns now, and that there is movement toward a two-way conversation, rather than just a creative broadcasting of a slogan or positioning.

BDW instructors spent a great deal of time talking with us about the next wave of digital marketing—the notion that a brand’s communications should not only be powerful, but useful, to consumers.

If the first stages of the Web were about microsites, e-commerce, and brochureware, and today, it’s about a two-way conversation with consumers, what lies ahead is a fully-integrated digital ecosystem. It’s not just your website, or your Facebook page. It’s about shaping your brand at every touchpoint of contact. Are you the same company in your print ads as you are on your mobile website? Does your social media speak in the same voice as your event advertising? What about emails, banners, and search?

Kip Voytek, SVP Communications Planning at RAPP: It’s no longer about talking at consumers—it’s about talking with them—listening, helping, inspiring, and facilitating conversation. (If this sounds a lot like the language you’ll find on the Lewis website, we think that’s good news; it’s a sign that we are headed in the right direction.)

Mike Caugin of Colle & McVoy had this memorable observation:

Web 1.0 = The Information Age
Web 2.0 = The Participation Age
Web 3.0 = The Helpful Age

He cited companies that were pioneering helpful, such as Google, Netflix, and Kayak. In his words, “the lines are rapidly blurring between what is marketing and what is operations.” It’s challenging marketing departments and the people who actually create product to work together in new ways.

A great example is Apple, and the fact that the advertising, storefronts, and product are so seamlessly integrated that you can barely tell where one ends and the other begins. Great marketers are looking past media messaging and searching for ways to more powerfully connect with consumers at every touchpoint of a brand. At the same time, powerful storytelling will remain an essential part of a great brand.

Scott Prindle, Interactive Creative Director at CP+B put it this way: In the expanding digital ecosystem, brand utility is a key component of the marketing mix. How can we be useful in our interactions with consumers, in a way that’s congruent with our brand? This mix of utility and brand story will define the great brands of the future.

At our BDW seminar there was also a great deal of talk about the emergence of a new team member. The “creative technologist” is becoming a vital new member of the creative team: the technically-savvy individual who introduces the latest technological possibilities into a creative concepting session. Ideally, this is someone who speaks both advertising and technology and who can bridge the gap for the other players.

Two other key trends: the rapid adoption of smartphones is going to define our marketing efforts in the next few years, and the proliferation of crowdsourcing is definitely changing the advertising and communications landscape.

Carlton and I loved getting to work with our ICOM counterparts from agencies around the world. Agency networks sometimes are only mentioned in passing during new business pitches, but our experience reminded us that these ties are real, powerful and useful. As part of the ICOM network, we have the ability to gather research or get assistance from agencies all over the globe, and to share our knowledge with them. Being able to meet and work with these people firsthand really affirmed the value of the ICOM network for me.

Grand Theft Concept
Grand Theft Concept

This has happened to me before. I was watching the movie The Crying Game and developed an emotional attachment to the main character until something completely different was revealed about “her” at the end.And so I was left to deal with my emotional attachment—if it was right or wrong based on new information.

The same thing happened last night as I was mesmerized by the Dodge RAM spot that ran in the 4th quarter. I can’t remember another time I’ve watched a Super Bowl spot and been so completely blown away by such an artful, compelling piece. It was masterful. It was minimalist, yet larger than life. The lack of sound track combined with such a powerful voice from one of the premiere legends of radio—blended with some of the most moving still photos ever to grace a broadcast spot. I tweeted my excitement.

The artful world of advertising I have loved so long was back. And then I woke up.

This morning I discovered that the entire spot—the voice of Paul Harvey, the still photos, the lack of a soundtrack—all of it—was stolen verbatim from an earlier spot aired by Farms.com. It was “The Crying Game” all over again.

Only this time it hit closer to home. And it opens up some painful questions that we all need to consider in our advertising careers.

Where is the line? At what point does stealing an idea—verbatim—make sense for what we try so desperately to protect?

This happened a few years ago from another agency with a large budget stealing the entire “Whassup?” idea from an aspiring young director. His idea, but they got the credit because they had the money to “own” it. But was it their idea? No way.

Original ideas are what define this industry. Or at least they should. If you’ve spent any time in this business, there have been times when you had the same idea as someone else. In fact, every time I see someone have a really simple but powerful idea, their first reaction is “surely that’s been done before.”

And maybe as the years get added on it is harder and harder to have a truly original idea. But does that mean we should stop trying to attain it? This question opens up some deep wounds. Over the past year I lost one of my best friends and one of the best writers in the industry over a misunderstanding about this very same issue. We had worked on a campaign idea that had already been pitched to the client and sold (and was in production) before he told me he had already done it before. My rationale, for right or wrong, was that we had indeed come up with the idea independently of knowing about his. And since the campaign was already sold through, I let it go forward.

Judge me as you want, but at least I didn’t see a campaign and then steal every element of it as we see with the Dodge RAM spot. I won’t name the agency that did this because that is not really the issue. But I can’t excuse them just because they had far more money to produce the spot better than the original creators did. And I can’t excuse them for contacting the original creators of the message to get their permission. Stealing is stealing. There are a million different other equally great ideas out there. This farming spot had been done before. Move on.

Lee Clow would have. David Lubars would have.