I Heart Pixar

Mostly for their amazing aptitude at capturing emotion in animation. Toy Story and Finding Nemo represent great storytelling, regardless of medium, and as a father, I will ever strive to be half the man Mr. Incredible was.

If you haven’t seen it, their latest release is a lovely, short form delight.

If after watching this you’d like to read a book that proves the lie in the incredibly unfair misinformation intentionally ascribed to this charming, and uniquely American breed of dog, a good place to start is horse veterinarian Vicki Hearne’s wonderful “Bandit: Dossier of a Dangerous Dog.” Reading it is both affirming and depressing, given the incredible media distortion callously ascribed to this breed.

Regardless, a short film like this is an uplifting way to launch the workweek. So Happy Monday.

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Not That You Asked…

My favorite part of the Super Bowl is not the commercials; it’s talking about the commercials on Monday with WGN’s Bill and Wendy. They’re not in advertising; they’re simply students of culture with curious, interesting minds, which means I’m never fully prepared for what they might want to discuss. They are also amazingly supportive and helpful, particularly if your voice sounds like you spent the morning gargling molasses and working on your Harrison Ford mumble…

 

And because it’s not really kosher to comment without sharing your own perspective for critique, here are my four top ads from Super Bowl LIII. Sure I loved Amazon’s over-the-top, super Super Bowl-y ad about Alexa’s mythical failures. I was also heartened by Google’s showcasing of data on the three most translated phrases worldwide (spoiler alert: “I love you” is #1). And who didn’t choke up at the emotional resonance of Verizon’s “The Coach Who Wouldn’t Be Here” ad honoring first responders? Still, you can only pick four in this totally arbitrary exercise I just dreamed up, so here goes:

1. BUD LIGHT: GAME OF THRONES

I hate everything about Bud Light trying to conjure an issue out of corn syrup. As the category leader, these types of mean-spirited attack ads should be beneath them (did they learn nothing from the sweet Google Translate ad?). That said, the mash up ad with Game of Thrones was stupendous. It delivered what you rarely get in Super Bowl ads: genuine surprise. After an expectedly breezy dilly-dilly opening, the story makes a head snapping turn to the dark side that stopped me cold and was entirely brand appropriate for HBO.
And despite his gruesome death, I’m also certain the Bud Knight will be back in future ads with no explanation, kinda like Kenny in South Park.

2. NFL: THE 100 YEAR GAME

This was pure fun; a playful, winning nod to the amazing personalities that have played the game over the years. How can anyone not love this? It sidestepped mountains of controversy surrounding the brand without appearing to be sidestepping controversy. Nicely done. And great to see Singletary again.

3. HULU: THE HANDMAIDEN’S TALE

I haven’t read or watched “The Handmaiden’s Tale” but as an ad fan, recycling the Hal Riney-esque VO from the ad that got Ronald Reagan elected in 1980 was an inspired move. An amazingly simple, graceful idea…though admittedly, it probably spoke more to ad nerds than the general public.

4. THE WASHINGTON POST

Call me old fashioned, but I don’t believe the relentless attacks on the free press come from a place of selfless concern for the republic. Yes, both sides of the media aisle are complicit in exaggerating and framing facts to fit their frameworks; chasing clicks in a social media powered world does little to encourage centrist reporting. But the fact remains that Jamal Khashoggi was an American resident and father of three citizens yet we did nothing to hold the foreign powers who murdered him accountable. That’s weak. And wrong. And this spot does a tremendous job of speaking to a social issue in a manner relevant to the brand.

All in all, the general consensus seems to be that the crop of spots were disappointing, but I didn’t really find that anymore true this year than others. It’s nearly impossible to please all the people all the time, and this is the one few advertising platform where that’s still the job. It’s an unforgiving spotlight, and yet everyone in the ad game still wants to be there. That says something…

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A Sweet Act of Creative Generosity

Most challenges modern agencies face stem from how we, as an industry, spent decades devaluing our one, singular asset: creativity. We gave it away for years since we earned our margins in media markups.

This worked fine, until it didn’t. By the time broadband and mobile fragmented the media landscape into a thousand platforms, we had trained clients not to pay for the one thing we truly own. And the results have not been pretty.

It’s a situation made worse by creative people themselves. We tend to underprice our own product, accepting lower compensation due to our sheer love of making things. That’s why a story last Saturday involving a creative team from Wong Doody LA made me smile so much. Call it “The Saved Quinceañera.”

The creative team was prepping a massive video and still shoot down in Houston with Patrick Molnar, a nationally-recognized, professional lifestyle photographer. As they worked in the museum district off Rice University, producer Amy Wise noticed a group of teenagers posing around a fountain as family members snapped photos with their phones. Being curious and outgoing (invaluable traits in an agency producer), Amy quickly learned it was Jasmine’s quinceañera–the traditional celebration of a fifteen year old girl’s transition from childhood to womanhood. Unfortunately, the large bus they had rented for their celebration hit a curb and blew a tire, setting them back a few hours. By the time they arrived at the park for their shoot, their photographer had given up and left.

And yes, the movie-of-the-week scene you are currently imagining in your head is exactly what happened next. Amy told the creative team, the creative team told Patrick, and within minutes, a major professional photographer was lining up shots of the young woman and her court, saving the day with a level of professionalism far beyond anything the family might have imagined. For no other reason other than it was fun, and it would brighten this girl’s day, transforming disappointment into delight.

The whole experience lasted less than fifteen minutes, but in that time, Patrick squeezed off bursts, insuring he’d have lots of selects to choose from, which he did later that night, retouching frames in the hotel bar.

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Unretouched photo courtesy of Patrick Molnar.

Creative people get into the business for the joy of making things. On Saturday afternoon, they didn’t make an ad or a piece of content or a digital experience; they simply made someone’s day. And in this case, that feeling was compensation enough. Well done Matt Burgess, Vanessa Witter, Callie Householder, Amy, and Patrick.

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The Enduring Magic of Motion

Video drives powerful branding. On air, online, in environment: the power of moving imagery to evoke emotional responses is unparalleled. Today we have more places than ever to showcase moving imagery and attract attention.

That wasn’t the case in 1973, particularly in the gray environment of Leipzig, East Germany. Long before HD flatscreens or mobile video, and years before reunification, two graphic designers created a neon advertisement that has since become a beloved landmark: the “Löffelfamilie” or “Spoon Family.”

At 40′ wide and 23′ high, no passerby can miss the nuclear family gathered around the table to enjoy the delicious products of “VEB Feinkost Leipzig”, a catchy title translating to “People-Owned Enterprise Delicatessen of Leipzig.” The ad copy is not particularly better, translating to “fruit and vegetable preserves, table ready-made dishes, double concentrated soups” (yum!).

The illustrative style is ham-fisted and the animation is rudimentary and relentlessly repetitive. The more than 650′ of colorful twisted neon was updated to more economical LED’s seven years ago. And keeping this relic in repair requires ongoing donations. If you’re in the neighborhood, send a text to 0900-LOEFFEL, which charges you a donation of 3€ to light the sign for three minutes.

Still, the size, colors, and simple motion continue to earn our attention.

For all the enormity of changes in communication, it’s remarkable how this endures.

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#HaveHerBack: From Awareness to Initiative to Action

The #MeToo movement and its immediate, widespread adoption raised awareness of the blatant sexism and privilege in Chicago advertising. It was nauseating to learn the firsthand accounts of people forced to deal with everything from institutionalized boorishness to outright criminal behavior. So when Ron D’Innocenzo, a colleague from Element 79 and current ECD at Golin, asked me to sit on a panel to discuss the issue, I agreed. But Ron insisted I first talk to Caroline Dettman, Golin’s CCO and the creator behind this initial #HaveHerBack event.

Caroline quickly let me know I’d be the only white male on the panel and that, while no one was looking to attack me specifically, I would inevitably represent the kind of dirtbags that forced this corrective initiative. Fair enough.

I went, I learned, and I walked away inspired by so many people working to evolve actionable steps to create a better, more inclusive way forward for the industry.

My heartfelt thanks to Caroline Dettmann, Liz Traines, Jewell Donaldson, Kat Gordon, Mary Pryor, and Megan Colleen McGlynn. You make this industry, and all of the people in it, far far better.

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Creativity Will Save Advertising. Again.

I know, I know–it’s too late; advertising’s already dead. Digital/social/experiential/big data killed it…

The only problem is this constant, dire drumbeat sounds juicy, it creates alarm, but it’s mostly just opinion or self-promotion. It’s clickbait.

If you want facts, follow the money. In the most recent case, digital entertainment powerhouse Netflix bid $300m to buy Regency Outdoor Advertising.

That’s right, the disruptive, disintermediating, digital content giant wants to buy a billboard company.

Their motivation is fascinating. Netflix noticed that big outdoor imagery stokes social sharing. People posted lots of shots of their “Netflix is a joke” campaign to Instagram which promoted their comedy line-up.

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In other words, people share great creative.

These days, $300m might not sound like an earth-shattering number, but it represents the largest acquisition in Netflix history. Imagine; a leading digital giant offering to pay one third of a billion dollars on a oft-declared dying medium…a smart company wouldn’t do that unless they knew it worked.

And that’s a fact.

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This post originally appeared in Screen Magazine.

Score One for MassMutual vs. Russian Trollbots

I’m an unabashed fan of films that feature people being nice to people. When all of Bedford Falls shows up to support George Bailey, I tear up. When the ground support team works around the clock to create a hack for the overburdened CO2 scrubbers in Apollo 13 because failure is not an option, I tear up. Heck, when H. I. and Ed McDunnough get caught returning Nathan Jr. to the home where they stole him, only to have Nathan Sr. free them both with a wave of his pistol and the admonishment “Before you go off and do another foolish thing like busting up, I suggest you sleep on it…at least one night“–yep, waterworks. I just like seeing people being nice to people. So you can guess how I reacted to this epic, affirming, inspirational ad on the Olympics last night…

The perfect song and amazing true life stories, all told with many of the people directly involved in them, this ad exemplifies genuine emotion powerfully realized. If you want to read more about all the individual stories, you’ll find them here.

At a time when broadcast networks, self-interested lobbies, and foreign operatives actively work to divide us, this spot serves as a wonderful reminder of America at its best and how we can all do and be better. Mass Mutual, their agency collaborators at Johannes Leonardo, and Radical Media should take great pride in this work.

Yep, I teared up a bit. And I don’t care who knows it.

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Talking Super Bowl Stuff with Wendy & Bill

Every year, I look forward to this day and my annual Super Bowl commercial recap with WGN 720’s Bill Leff and Wendy Snyder. Aside from being pants-wettingly funny, Wendy and Bill always bring their own fascinating, non-advertising-centric perspectives and I walk away thinking about things a bit differently. Good conversations have that effect.

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On a side note, if your city ever gets an opportunity to host a Super Bowl, do it. It’s a lot of fun and brings a ton of energy to the downtown that more than makes up for all the visitors and their unimaginative “but it’s so cold” whining. Even better, if your city planners can install special lighting around the venue, maybe you too can create something half as amazing as this…or you can do it in post, whatever.

Prince

Almost two years gone and Prince still owns this city. Remarkable.

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Video: Evolving Beyond Selling

So yesterday, I was lucky enough to present for the West Michigan Content Strategy Meetup’s first-ever lunch and learn webinar.

Of course, being that it was ‘first ever’ and involved warring Apple and Google technology platforms, it was a bit of a car wreck; dropped signals, video blackouts, etc. But happily, like all things digital and video, you can fix it in post. So we did.

My thanks to my old friend Scott Smith and the charming and redoubtable Laura Bergells for making this a terrific experience, technical difficulties and all.

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Today’s Example of How Creativity Pays

Ad agencies struggle to convince clients to pay for creativity, mostly because we gave it away for years, trusting television’s healthy margins to more than cover the cost of development. And so we inadvertently devalued our industry’s one core asset that spans medium and format: the idea.

Which is why it’s so fun to hear the story of Max Lanman, who recently decided to help his girlfriend sell her car online. Actually, he used her old Honda to produce his idea of making a luxury car commercial around a junky car. Her vehicle was one of a whopping 382,298 Accords produced in 1996, but now, twenty one years and 141,000 miles later, her “Greenie” shows its age…

The thing is, this spot’s fun but not especially hilarious. A similar used car ad spoof featured on this blog back in May used outsized visual effects to far more hysterical effect. Yet the simple fact that Max took the time, made the effort, and did something delightfully unexpected in a tired, uninspiring venues made his work shine.

It also paid off handsomely. Kelley’s Blue Book values the Honda at just over $1400. After posting the spot on YouTube last Thursday, Max and his girlfriend listed the Accord on eBay for $500.

By the weekend, the bidding hit $150,000, and eBay took the listing down, understandably concerned about “illegitimate bidding.”

Now it’s back up and bidding currently hovers around $4300: almost ten times their initial asking price and well above the Blue Book value. All because of Max’s creative idea and approach.

Listing

eBay also released this statement: “Mr. Lanman is a talented filmmaker and we’re pleased that the eBay platform brought us together. We’re hoping to work on some creative video projects with him in the future.

Wow. Nice work Max. Well played.

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