Gold, Frankincense…and Metal

So, how many times this season have you heard Paul McCartney’s treacly “Wonderful Christmas Time”? Did an act of congress dictate that every store’s playlist must feature an inappropriately-breathy rendition of “Santa Baby”?

If you’re struggling to find your musical merry this season, search no more. In what is the polar opposite of anything on Neil Diamond’s Christmas playlist, a metal band out of York, PA has released their own magical antidote of sorts. Small Town Titans have re-interpreted “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch” with a metal sensibility that would make Boris Karloff smile. And it gladdens my heart more than all the sugarplums on Michigan Avenue…

Wow. The Zevon-worthy lyric “YOU HAVE ALL THE TENDER SWEETNESS/OF A SEASICK CROCODILE” never felt so ominously threatening. And apparently, lots of us agree that’s a good thing.

The unsigned power trio released this cover last year but according to lead singer Phil Freeman, “we weren’t really expecting more than maybe a million views by Christmas.” To their surprise, their Facebook post of a live performance went viral. It now has over 23 million views…and it’s still climbing. That’s what happens when your post gets shared by over a half a million people.

In a lovely twist of fate, Freeman, Ben Guiles, and Jonny Ross all met as students at Lebanon Valley College; my decidedly non-metal mother and sister’s alma mater.

So yes, it is a lovely season and indeed, it may well be the most wonderful time of the year. Still, there’s definitely room for this sentiment as well. Nicely done lads.

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Yes, Creativity for Creativity’s Sake Can Generate Significant Agency Value

It was nearly five years ago. Mike Fetrow and I were struggling to bring better, more interesting creative work to Olson–the kind that keeps the incredible talent we’d recruited happy and productive.

Back then, Cory McLeod worked in Olson’s studio, creating web banners and microsites and generally bringing far more creativity to his projects than they deserved. A multi-lingual Canadian/Latvian immigrant, Cory had a rich life outside of work, creating public art and collaborating with his documentarian wife, Mara Pelecis (here is the trailer to Surviving the Peace: her emotionally-shattering, powerfully personal film about the effects of PTSD on America’s veterans).

During a trip back to Latvia, Cory struck up a friendship with Rabbi Menachem Barkan, who created the Riga Ghetto Museum to commemorate this overlooked chapter of history. And that’s how a midwestern agency in a city populated by Norwegian Lutherans ended up making a website for a Jewish pro-bono client halfway around the world. We worked on this project during down hours, nights, and weekends. Brilliant people jumped all in, much to the growing concern and outright displeasure of agency management and our militant project managers.

We were scolded for wasting time, since time is money in the agency business. Upper management and our VC owners pressured us to drop it, to do the bare minimum and move on, since they were trying to sell the agency and needed to optimize our margins and billable hours.

But we weren’t and we didn’t. Our only personal payment may have been pride and trees planted in Israel in each of our names, but the Olson agency garnered international attention, earning coverage in high profile outlets like Fast Company. Which proved very valuable to the agency sale process.

In today’s margin-stressed agency world, passion projects are often the first to go, but that’s inexcusably short-sighted. Done right, they serve as compelling ads for agencies, drawing in new audiences by showcasing creative capabilities without restraint.

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I bring this old story up again because Cory’s back–this time with a magnificent VR Rockumentary about the Latvian band Perkons. It’s another Cory passion project, one that drove him to teach himself VR filmmaking. And it was only made possible through the continual support of Fallon.

Perkons had its US debut last night at the Walker Art Museum. For ten minutes, lucky people strapped on Oculus GOs and HTC Vive’s and lost themselves in a tale of Soviet repression, artistic expression, and the changing tides of history.

On the surface, Perkons is far from a project with obvious agency value. But ex-ECD Jeff Kling supported it (going so far as to provide the VO) and now Fallon has a tremendous, widely promotable example of VR storytelling that makes any agency envious. The project is beginning to gain press (some amazing outlets are already making sponsorship inquiries) in a way that will inevitably attract client interest.

Thanks to a creative thinker. With a dream about a forgotten Latvian band that changed the course of modern history. And an agency wise-enough to fund it.

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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.

No Irish Here Today…

More than text or still imagery, video has the power to summon visceral emotion. These feelings can be inspiring and uplifting, affirmations of our better selves, or they can be base and degrading screeds, as delivered by those wedge-driving Russian trollbots.

That emotional backdrop makes this video created by Dan Margulis, an advertising Group Creative Director at Doner, very intriguing…

Dan worked with content production company Atlas Industries to shoot this video last Sunday during Detroit’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It anchors “No Irish Pub”: a website Dan built as part of his project, which he describes this way:  “This social experiment hopes to foster thought and dialog around immigration in America.” The Detroit Free Press wrote a nice account of peoples’ reactions during the event.

God love him. If it makes people think and talk instead of post and shout, he’ll have accomplished a grand thing. And either way, good on him for trying.

Happy St. Paddy’s 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.

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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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Filmmaking Lessons from David Fincher

Back when DVD’s were a thing, it was always a joy to rent anything directed by David Fincher. Whether or not you enjoyed the movie itself didn’t really matter because every Fincher DVD came with the director’s invariably intelligent and thoughtful commentary track. If you paid attention, it was like a grad school class for filmmaking. You’d learn why he set up shots and edits in specific ways, the character development motivations for holding on to a long take or creating an elaborate, circling camera move. It was always my favorite part of the DVD experience.

Sadly, this piece doesn’t include any Fincher commentary, but it does show the amazing focus to detail he brings to pursuing his vision. Truly remarkable. The green screen sections starting around 3:47 are breathtaking…

 

The visual effects company behind this spectacular work is Artemple Hollywood. Creating a fantastic alien or a futuristic city on a distant planet is a true challenge, but creating visual effects that appear seamlessly invisible? Those are truly special effects. Wow.

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In Praise of Gentle Giants

Many of us struggle with life on social media these days: the bickering, the artless insults, the escalation of every disagreement to defcon 1… I find myself spending more time on Instagram, surfing the brighter parts of friends’ and relatives’ lives.

For my father-in-law, the brighter part of his life has always been his big dogs. Actually, anyone’s big dogs. So this morning when I checked my email, I wasn’t particularly surprised to see he had forwarded another one loaded with adorable dog shots.

But this one felt different. It was a collection taken by Andy Seliverstoff, a photographer based in St. Petersburg, Russia. His work features small children playing with very big dogs.  According to the email, Andy got into this subject later in life after taking family portraits for friends that included their Great Dane. He was fascinated by the relationship between the large animal and the young children. This dichotomy became his signature subject, to the point where early this year, he released a book called “Little Kids and Their Big Dogs.”

You can see a lot of Andy’s work on this page on 500px, a social network for photographers. I apologize that it’s not curated more ruthlessly, but if you are having an off day, or if you just like big dogs and play and smiling, click on the link and start browsing.

Some might find this work the canine equivalent of Anne Geddes‘ baby portraits; a little too adorable, too saccharine, too too. If so, I get it.

But compared to the sturm und drang of our political circus or the thought of Ted Cruz’ indiscrete habits, a healthy dose of gentle charm feels exactly right.

Happy Thursday.

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The Best Goodbye I’ve Ever Read

The following is the final essay from “A Book of Uncommon Prayer: 100 Celebrations of the Miracle and Muddle of the Ordinary” written by poet, editor, and novelist Brian Doyle. He graduated six years ahead of me in college, spent a rich lifetime writing, and died this past May from brain tumor complications. It takes a special gift to describe the tragic or maudlin with humor, but Doyle’s essay on death works as an inspirational, life-affirming, guide to living. I never met him, but I stand in awe of his remarkable talent…

Dear Coherent Mercy: thanks. Best life ever. Personally I never thought a cool woman would come close to understanding me, let alone understanding me but liking me anyway, but that happened! And You and I both remember that doctor in Boston saying polite but businesslike that we would not have children but then came three children fast and furious! And no man ever had better friends, and no man ever had a happier childhood and wilder brothers and a sweeter sister, and I was that rare guy who not only loved but liked his parents and loved sitting and drinking tea and listening to them! And You let me write some books that weren’t half bad, and I got to have a career that actually no kidding helped some kids wake up to their best selves, and no one ever laughed more at the ocean of hilarious things in this world, or gaped more in astonishment at the wealth of miracles everywhere every moment. I could complain a little right here about the long years of back pain and the occasional awful heartbreak, but Lord, those things were infinitesimal against the slather of gifts You gave mere me, a muddle of a man, so often selfish and small. But no man was ever more grateful for Your profligate generosity, and here at the very end, here in my last lines, I close my eyes and weep with joy that I was alive, and blessed beyond measure, and might well be headed back home to the incomprehensible Love from which I came, mewling, many years ago. But hey, listen, can I ask one last favor? If I am sent back for another life, can I meet my lovely bride again? In whatever form? Could we be hawks, or otters maybe? And can we have the same kids again if possible? And if I get one friend again, can I have my buddy Pete? He was a huge guy in this life—make him the biggest otter ever, and I’ll know him right away, okay? Thanks, Boss. Thanks from the bottom of my heart. See You soon. Remember—otters. Otters rule. And so: amen.

“A muddle of a man”? Hardly. Thanks Brian. Godspeed.

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Ryan Grewell

Where The Wild Things Are Today

Maybe it’s just me, but perhaps you too share my sinking suspicion that all this AI, all this data and machine learning, will ultimately create little more than the world’s most brilliantly optimized classified ads.

Oh they’ll be effective ads—remarkably so. They will forge an unprecedented level of tactical and transactional effectiveness. They will optimize the context of a wide variety of consumer journeys, they will weight the messaging hierarchy, they will include nearly infinite personalization integrated directly into the consumer experience.

They will do all these amazing, innovative, unheard of things every minute of every hour without ever taking a sick day or leaving for a new opportunity.

But they won’t fire human imaginations with the white hot power of pure delight. Continue reading

Better Living Through Food Science

Thanks to some inspired Australians who run Black Star Pastry, the world now knows the magic and majesty of the glowing donut: the Glonut. To celebrate Sydney’s Vivid Festival, an annual event of light, music and creativity, baker Christopher Thé infused icing with Vitamin B so that it would glow under black lights.

The luminescent results are worthy of Springfield’s Nuclear Power plant. But actually, while the donuts are wonderfully inventive, they don’t begin to match the visual impact of the lighting of the sails of Sydney’s Opera House. For even more amazing festival imagery featuring large scale light projection, visit here.

Wow. Winter in Australia looks really, really cool.

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