I like history, always have. Even as a kid, I preferred a good war movie to Star Wars and cartoons. The future was all lasers and space. Phooey. History just seemed more exciting. And it actually happened. It was true. It was real. Luke Skywalker couldn’t hold a candle to Magellan or Robert E. Lee.

For a time, before getting into advertising, I worked towards a PhD in history. I quit my studies midway. As it turned out, I preferred reading history to researching it. Still, many years later, I get a great thrill from reading a solidly researched, well-written historical tract. Nothing beats it, except golf.

It bothers me that people don’t know or appreciate history. I think they’re depriving themselves of an important part of being alive. They’re missing the richness of appreciating where they exist in time. They don’t get to absorb the happenings of another place and era. And sadly, I believe their ability to fully make sense of the present world is compromised. Because man is a creature of memory, custom, and ritual, and the past will always be with us. For good and bad. The future is coming; I’m here to tell you, so is the past.

Well, for my money, there’s no better supplemental training a creative can have than a grasp of history. Each day, I face the blank sheet of paper. It can be daunting. But thanks to my passion for history, I don’t look down on that empty whiteness alone. I have inspirational helpers as I search for a concept to tackle a client’s problem. You may know some of them: Napoleon, Buzz Aldrin, James K. Polk, Cortez, Thomas More, Erasmus, Hannibal, Pericles, Botticelli, Peter Abelard, Chester Nimitz, Plato, Hadrian, Otto Von Bismarck but enough name dropping.

Headed to Haiti
Headed to Haiti

A few months ago a professional colleague and a friend told me about a project he was working on in Haiti. When I first heard the idea, I knew I had to find a way to help. And now, I’m leaving within the next 24 hours to spend five days in Haiti with a video and still photo crew.

My friend Jim Bryson is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met working in the advertising business. His research company, 20/20 Research, has been our partner with countless clients as we work to uncover powerful consumer insights that will help build our clients’ brands and grow their business. Jim was also a state senator in Tennessee for several years and when he sees a problem, he is really good at finding a solution and doesn’t rest until things get better.

Which is why when Jim visited Haiti last year on a mission trip after the earthquake, he uncovered some pretty powerful insights of his own and developed an idea on how things can be improved for future generations. His insight after visiting Haitian orphanages was that the common practice of providing formal education to orphans only until the 5th grade and more or less turning them loose on Haiti’s unpaved streets was only perpetuating a cycle of joblessness, poverty and hopelessness. If, instead, proper schools could be built within or attached to orphanages that provided an education for kids from the 6th grade on, a new generation of educated, service-minded Haitian’s could become future leaders and begin to solve some of Haiti’s ongoing social problems.

Jim has already begun the fundraising process and is now headed to Port-au-Prince to purchase land where the first Joseph School can be built. Several of my Lewis colleagues (Sarah Cooper, Ben Fine, Jeff Williams and Steve Moe) and I are tagging along with Jim in order to shoot stills and video of teachers, parents, and children. By telling the stories of the Haitians we’ll meet, we hope to create a powerful way for people in the US and around the world to know about and support The Joseph School. For some people, they will be compelled to donate much-needed funds to build schools. But for many others, supporting Jim’s work and the work of so many others in Haiti can also be accomplished by spreading the message through Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other social media.

Please check out TheJosephSchool.org when you get a chance. Once back from Haiti, we’ll be updating the site with a new design with images and video from our trip.


Stony Brook University Medical Center captured the Gold Award for best total campaign for an Academic Medical Center at the 2009 Aster Awards. Individual honors went to Stony Brook’s microsite and print advertising. Clients Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt Medical Center and the University of Virginia Health System were also recognized for a total of nine Aster awards. In addition, Lewis clients received ten honors in the 2009 Healthcare Marketing Awards.

Should a car tweet?
Should a car tweet?

I eagerly awaited the delivery of my 2012 MINI Cooper, tracking it day by day on the boat from Southampton, England to Brunswick, Georgia. When it finally arrived, I was practically giddy.

Meanwhile, most of my coworkers glanced in the parking lot and shrugged: “Uh, what’s the difference?” After all, it was my third red MINI.

But I was excited about this one because of the addition of a new feature called MINI Connected.

What is MINI Connected? Watch the Official MINI Video.

By now, most of us are used to some level of iPhone integration with our cars. Many of us have cables that allow us to control our music from the dashboard, Bluetooth to make calls and that sort of thing. But MINI Connected takes the bleeding edge of automotive technology to a whole new level.

It consists of two components – an enhanced navigation system built into your dashboard, and an app you download from Apple’s App Store.

It’s a little bit unwieldy, because you have to launch the app on the phone, plug it into the dashboard cable, and leave it on the console.

But to hear BMW engineers tell it, that inconvenience is by design. Texting and driving has become an incredibly dangerous habit on our roads. And c’mon, tell the truth: you know you’ve checked a Facebook update at a traffic light.

What MINI Connected (and its similar but not identical sister, BMW Apps) aspire to do is give you some of the functionality of your smartphone, but delivered in a way that’s safer and more car-friendly. Meanwhile, it reduces that temptation to reach for that cell phone and check just… one… more… message.

It includes about a half dozen features, with more being added. Part of the beauty of this is that now adding new functionality is as easy as updating your iPhone. Suddenly, the electronics in your car aren’t a total dinosaur three years after
you buy it.

What can MINI Connected do? You can do a Google local search and program the results into your nav system. You can use Google Send To Car to pre-send various addresses from your home computer to your Cooper nav system. You can subscribe to RSS feeds. You can listen to web radio. I couldn’t be happier to have access to one of my favorite stations, Birmingham Mountain Radio, wherever my travels take me. Or, you can listen to your iTunes, with the Cooper suggesting a mix of music, based on your current driving style.

And you can check your Facebook and Twitter feeds. On a three-hour road trip, I find Twitter especially useful for keeping up with the news. You can read friends’ updates and “Like” or retweet as desired.

Wisely, BMW engineers have made it impossible for 70 MPH motorists to tap out status updates while driving. Instead they helpfully offer a rather hilarious selection of pre-written tweets, based on activity on your iPhone and your car:

“It’s 92° outside and I’ve just talked with
Lewis Communications on the phone.”

“I’m listening to Nirvana and will arrive on
Peachtree Street at 9:32 PM.”

When disconnected, the iPhone lets you carry vehicle stats with you – how much gas is left in the tank, how many miles of range you have. But for me, the most compelling feature is a brand new one. MINI Connected now includes MOG, a music service similar to Spotify. Now, I can drive down the road and listen to virtually every CD on the planet, for $9.99 a month. It takes a toll on your iPhone’s data usage, however, so I’m grateful to be grandfathered into AT&T’s unlimited data plans.

I love the way BMW and MINI are continuing to bring value to my new car with app updates. I suspect that in three years, most cars will come with a 4G LTE connection, and we won’t need smartphones as a bridge.

But if this is where the future is heading, I Like.

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.

In the battle between Canon and Nikon, both camera companies are trying to cram more and more megapixels into their sensors. And people are buying into the more is better theory. Although some photo pros need these advances, the majority of the population can save their money and stick with fewer pixels.

I used to carry a 21-megapixel camera with me everywhere. It was rare to see me without it. But something strange happened about a year ago. I started seeing some amazing photography by pro Chase Jarvis. That is nothing new. He is a world-famous commercial photographer. What surprised me was that the shots were taken with his 2-megapixel camera phone. After seeing such awesome photography, I started thinking, “it’s not the camera, it’s the photographer.” So I began shooting with my iPhone daily, trying to capture better shots. I shoot anywhere from 1 to 50 shots a day. And I truly feel that it has helped me become more creative, which carries over to my commercial photography assignments.

The purpose of this story is to get you shooting. It doesn’t matter if you are using your camera phone or a Hasselblad with a 50-megapixel digital back. The more you shoot, the better you will be. And it will show in your photos.

London 2012 is Over. Which Brands Won?
London 2012 is Over. Which Brands Won?

Team Great Britain, Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Gabby Douglas and countless others won athletic gold in London, but which brands came out on top during these games?

The Peacock
In the U.S., NBC’s brand saw mixed results with soaring ratings delivering a huge and positive impact to their bottom line. Unfortunately, the hashtag #NBCFail was ubiquitous during the games and reached a crescendo last night as Bob Costas pulled the ultimate bait-and-switch promoting an appearance by The Who, but only after a pilot for a new sit-com. NBC pays billions of dollars to have the U.S. broadcast rights for the Olympics, and must make hard decisions about how to recoup that investment. It is still hard to see how going out of your way to aggravate your viewers is a winning long-term strategy.

The Swoosh
Although Nike wasn’t an official Olympic sponsor, they almost don’t need to be. The swoosh logo was shown on screen thousands of times on athletes’ shoes and apparel. Their guerilla marketing campaign “Find Your Greatness” was brilliant in both strategy and execution by featuring everyday men, women and children finding greatness on a less-than Olympic stage, but still in a town called London.

The Ultimate Branding Machine
One of the less-heralded Olympic partners was BMW Group who found smart and relevant ways to keep their brands and their cars top-of-mind. In addition to TV spots touting their sponsorship, BMW riffed on Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket by driving a Golden Bimmer around London giving free tickets to those who shared photos of themselves with the car. During the closing ceremonies, Jesse J and two other singers were transported into and around Olympic stadium in three Rolls-Royce Phantoms specially built and badged for the event. BMW’s Mini joined in the competition with remote-controlled Mini’s carrying javelins back to athletes finding a way onto hallowed athletic ground that is supposedly free of commercial clutter.

Proctor & Gamble, Omega Watches and several other official and not-so-official sponsors of the games were highly visible with TV spots, online video, and social media memes. The brands mentioned above stood out most to me during these games, but branding is seen through the eye of the beholder.

Which brands grabbed your attention and won Gold in London?

The poorest country I know
The poorest country I know

In March, I traveled with a group of our staff to Port-au-Prince, Haiti to look for potential sites to build the first Joseph School. The idea was to send a video and still photography crew to document our time there. I will attempt to describe what we saw, but most people reading this will never be able to grasp the desperate living conditions for 98 percent of Haitians.

First, a little about The Joseph School. A good friend of mine, Jim Bryson, asked our company to help spread the word about a concept he developed while working to assist after the Haitian earthquake disaster. Most Haitian children are forced to live in orphanages because their parents simply cannot afford to take care of their basic needs. For generations, the country has found itself in a self-perpetuating situation in which the majority of the country is uneducated and has no hope of finding jobs to sustain themselves. Children in orphanages are basically turned out into the streets after 5th grade and face a career of panhandling to try to find a meal for the day. In Haiti, there is no long-term hope for “bettering oneself” as we are so accustomed to here. In Haiti, the long-term dream is to simply find sustenance for the day. Period.

Jim’s concept for The Joseph School is to establish a school that can take the 5th grade children and provide them with a free education all the way through 12th grade. His concept is, for the first time, to give the children of Haiti a chance to become leaders, a chance to find a real job and a chance at a future.

All those plans and dreams sound great when you are hearing them in the lobby of an upscale Nashville hotel. They take on an entirely new meaning when you’re riding in an open truck down a main street so embroiled in chaos it is hard to imagine that it has ever been deemed a “society.” Trash is piled everywhere because there has been no trash pickup since the earthquake (a year ago, really?). Trash is piled into every possible place: streams, the sides of the roads, etc. There is no sewer service, so the same stream that provides sanitation to one person is providing the source for cleaning clothes for another, or worse still—drinking water. The entire city of Port-au-Prince smells of burning garbage since that is really the only way to get rid of any trash at all.

The streets are full of dust, dirt and garbage, and untold diseases are kicked up in the air with each passing car. Traffic could easily be the situation one might find if a major city such as Los Angeles was to endure a nuclear attack; there is no real order – the rule of the day for traffic is to stick your nose in and hope it doesn’t get taken off. But somehow they never seem to hit one another. It is truly amazing.

The United Nations has a large presence, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what they are doing. They drive around in tanks with machine guns. I suppose they are “establishing order.” What we wish they were doing is trying to rebuild this country. It looks exactly the same today as it did the day after the earthquake over a year ago. Buildings are still piles of rubble. Many still hold the victims of the earthquake inside them.

But it is against this backdrop of utter chaos, hopelessness and despair that we discovered the most wonderful thing; the resiliency of the Haitian people. In a country that most people would agree has perhaps the worst luck on the planet – the world’s worst poverty, hurricanes frequently rake the country, few if any natural resources left, mudslides in the low-lying areas of the country, and now a catastrophic earthquake and a disastrous epidemic of cholera —we find smiling, embracing, joyful people. People who put on the best clothes they own every Sunday and walk miles to worship a God that most people would assume has turned his back on them.

If these people can have faith and hope living under such extreme circumstances they are faced with, I would contend that Haiti isn’t the poorest country on Earth. They are perhaps the richest. They live purely. They live for the day – thankful that they have been given that day to live. They remain hopeful while living through adversity that those of us who have lived a life of privileged excess can’t begin to imagine. They accept their lot in life with an attitude of thankfulness. They care for one another.

We, on the other hand, would never make it in this kind of environment because we would try to blame someone – anyone – so that we can satisfy our sense of entitlement. We wouldn’t deserve this kind of treatment and because we are Americans, we don’t have to take it. Not us, no siree.

Upon returning home we were profoundly embarrassed looking at our world, because we have lived a life of excess. We’ve gotten pretty much everything we have ever wanted. We live in houses that in Haiti would shelter 100 people. We never have to worry about whether we’ll eat today. In fact, we’ll all complain that we don’t have enough. There’s always that next something we don’t have. We’ll continue feeling our sense of entitlement and we’ll continue to make our life about Us. Life for the typical American is just that way; it is comfortable, it is excessive, and that’s just the way we like it.

So which is the poor country and which is the rich one?

Well, I can tell you that we are going to do everything we possibly can to make The Joseph School a reality. We are going to try to refocus the world’s short attention span on this country that is so desperately in need of the most basic services. But at the end of the day we hope we can bring home some lessons about life – for the country we live in.

The poorest country I know.