The Totally Digital Man: Will Smith, Michael Jordan … and Ed Miller

Perhaps you’ve read about Ang Lee’s new movie The Gemini Man that features an entirely digital version of actor Will Smith’s 23-year old self. The results look pretty spectacular in early behind the scenes footage. By any technical measure, this is an extraordinarily special effect; creating an entirely computer-generated human being–particularly someone so universally recognized–is ridiculously difficult.

We certainly thought so back in 2003 when we needed a college-aged Michael Jordan for the end of a Gatorade commercial. Fred Raimondi of Digital Domain did amazing work throughout that groundbreaking project (watch the spot and a behind the scenes footage here) and yet, as good as the then state of the art effects were, the final version of young Michael always felt a little … Playstation.

But that wasn’t my first encounter with an entirely digitally-rendered man. No, I first experienced a digital doppelgänger upon joining J. Walter Thompson Chicago in 1997. That’s where I first encountered Ed Miller …


That’s Ed on the left. A kinda good looking guy with one of those faces that feel somehow familiar. For a year or two, we’d read about him in the agency newsletter occasionally and see his face up there with the rest of us on the big, agency wall hanging in the lobby.

The thing was though, Ed didn’t exist. He was the product of the pleasantly subversive minds of three agency creatives: Joe Van Trump, Russell Heubach, and Mark Westman. As Mark put it … the idea came from the growth and flux in the agency personnel. There were so many going away parties, we joked that we could make up a fake going away party and people would still come. I used to do a lot of compositing for Russell and Joe and I lived with Joe at that time. They asked me if I could make a mash up of Joe and Russell for a fake person that would use both their middle names to get ‘Ed Miller.’ What made it possible was 3 things:

  1. I had all of the company head shots.
  2. They were all taken in the same set up, at the same angle with the same lighting.
  3. Photoshop had just released version 3.0 and introduced layers, so I could stack the heads and align the features. 

Having great source material made compositing easier so we could focus on finding unique features to combine. Merging two people was too obvious so we started pulling in more folk. Russell’s hair, Joe’s smile, your jaw, Matt’s shoulders and Steve’s eyes. The face felt familiar, but you couldn’t put your finger on it. Then for me, it was just a little blending and minor contrast adjustment to make them all look like there were meant to be there. I was a figure painting major in art school; it felt like sketching in charcoal. John Siebert took the face and started dropping it into old photos of guys in the army, company party photos, etc. He finally put the face on a going away card to sign for Ed. The venue was the dive bar Trotter’s. The party was packed; multiple people asked where Ed was. Later, I put the example in my book when I interviewed at DDB. It was so fun to do.”

These days companies like Generated Photos (“100,000 Faces Generated by AI, Free to Download!”), offer entirely digital people as a way to serve content-sucking new media by making copyrights, distribution rights, and infringement claims a thing of the past.

But in 1997, none of us were thinking that far ahead. We were just having fun.

Of course, Einstein said “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” So maybe we were just being creative.

But done right, you can’t really tell the two apart anyway.



B-G-B (Bonus Guest Blog): There’s No Better Time to be Rad to the Power of Sick

Picture 1Guest Blogger: Ross Buchanan

The Lincolnesque Ross Buchanan has been writing and creative directing for over two decades in Minneapolis and Chicago at shops big and small, from traditional to design to digital.  At Campbell Mithun, Ogilvy, JWT, MC Brown, Bagby and his currently freelance gig at Tribal DDB, his thoughtful and comprehensive approach to problem solving and continuing self-education about every aspect of our constantly changing business lend his work a decidedly pointed relevance and impact.  Of course, this flexibility can also generate some internal cognitive dissonance, like when he simultaneously juggled work for one client serving the poor and another selling luxury timepieces.  Ross’ creativity extends far beyond copy to the carpentry and wiring required by his ongoing, six year restoration of the vintage prairie-style home he enjoys with his wife and two daughters.  In an industry of far-flung creative talents, Ross is particularly rangy.  And a damn fine fellow to boot.

Last Friday Dennis introduced you to “The Wicked Sick Project,” the brainchild of two creatives from George Patterson/Y&R in Australia.  Hopefully you carved out four minutes and change from your busy day to view this simple reminder that creativity does, indeed, work.  For those of you who missed this “Rad to the Power of Sick” effort, you have homework and can view your assignment here

Lost in the sheer entertainment of the piece is the motive for the exercise.  These two guys probably wouldn’t have made this video unless they felt like racehorses put in a pen.  They are emblematic of creatives everywhere who feel hamstrung by client constraints.  Sure, such constraints are an occupational hazard to anyone who works on the agency side of the business.  However, the current recession intensified these constraints as clients are now extremely reluctant to put a foot wrong.  In my freelance travels, I find more and more of my peers struggling to produce engaging work for increasingly safety-minded clients. 

If anything is to be learned from “The Wicked Sick Project” it is that any client who still has the financial wherewithal to advertise in any media should make the most of it, not the least.

“The Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign for Dos Equis beer is a fine example of a brand doing the former, not the latter. My guess is the folks who create their advertising are a having a pretty good time, too.  How could they not with copy like, “He’s a lover, not a fighter.  But he’s also a fighter, so don’t get any ideas”?  One TV spot features a scene of our hero as he runs laughing through the woods clutching a red fox.  In the distance, hunters on horseback with their hounds are in hot pursuit.  Hilarious.  And memorable.  Meanwhile, the rest of the category is mired in a recitation of attributes and ingredients.  The big domestics are having a tug o’ war between “triple hops brewed” and “drinkability” they actually expect us to watch.  The result?  Dos Equis sales are up.  Way up.  Double-digits up. reported that, through mid-June, a period when imported beer sales dropped 11%, sales of Dos Equis rose more than 17%, moving the brand into eighth place among imports. “There’s never really been an import brand that’s been built so clearly through advertising,” said Benj Steinman, publisher of Beer Marketer’s Insights.  Hmmm, could it be that “Rad to the Power of Sick” levels of creativity work beyond tired BMX bikes?

Of course, some brands still insist on playing it safe.  But is safe really all that safe these days?  Slashing advertising spending erodes brand equity.  Not being interesting to people erodes brand equity.   And brand equity is often all the packaged good manufacturers like the Procters, Krafts and Quakers of the world have to offer.  They can farm out manufacturing, but they can’t farm out marketing their brands (although some have tried with those hideous “Brand Power” commercials).  In the end, much like the US healthcare conundrum, there is a big opportunity cost to doing nothing or doing something poorly: the brand can erode to the point of irrelevance.   Right now, the value of the brand is the only thing preventing a switch to private label. “Hey Kraft, see that red dot glowing on your forehead?  Private label holds the gun and has an extremely itchy trigger finger.” 

Since there is no longer true safety to be had, the safety-minded may as well go big or go home.  Toward that end, an old boss of mine used to remind his charges of what he called the Three S’s. “Simplify, surprise and sell,” he used to say, “Not ‘simplify, sedate and sell’ or ‘simplify suck and sell.’”

In other words, be Rad to the Power of Sick. 

By Ross Buchanan, Freelance CD/CW

BTW—that old boss was Dennis Ryan.

B-G-B (Bonus Guest Blog): Fastest. Smartest. Wins.

Guest Blogger: Tim Mauery

Picture 1

Until a few weeks ago, Tim Mauery was a Senior Partner and Director of Planning at JWT Chicago, but his career in advertising has taken him through a number of shops and more remarkably, a broad variety of disciplines.  After graduating from Medill, he began his career at Backer & Spielvogel as a copywriter, creating spots 1-257 of the Dave Thomas campaign for Wendy’s. He then moved to the account side with Ammirati & Puris, helping craft the strategy that led to the “Priceless” campaign.  Eventually, he moved on into business development with JWT, over to integrated and digital development at Euro RSCG and then back to lead planning at JWT before ultimately helping shut off the lights at that legendary shop.  Currently between gigs, Tim’s active curiosity and deep knowledge and experience in advertising keeps him lecturing at Northwestern, Kansas and Oberlin College, not to mention coordinating his three daughters’ active calendars in Park Ridge.  Speaking from personal experience, Tim’s also simply a damn fine fellow.

Due to the bizarre closing of JWT Chicago (fodder for another guest entry someday), I have recently been pounding lots of pavement in these economically challenging times.

Let me state the obvious:  “wow, things are different out there.” 

It’s been five years since I interviewed for a job, and those five years have bred mucho change.  Some more obviousness (is that a word?): the economy is a mess, particularly for advertising folks.  And yes, the new world of media – and the confusion around who does what – has left agencies scratching their heads while scrambling.  But it’s quite apparent to me that the intersection of those two factors will change the agency business forever – even after the economy recovers, and new media (whatever that is this week) is no longer new.

Each and every agency I have chatted with– from lumbering behemoths to scrappy start-ups — is trying to figure out how to make money in the face of rising client demands and lower revenue.  Not only has the economy caused clients to cut fees, the explosion of new media outlets has introduced said clients to new kinds of agencies – agencies that charge less and work on faster timelines.  These client-types wonder why they pay so much, and wait so long, for the work being done by “traditional” shops.  As a result, they are either re-assigning work to “cheaper faster” shops, or lowering their fees for work done by mainline agencies.

Now, this isn’t fair.  Because we all know that the traditional shops do lots of heavy strategic and creative lifting – from brand positioning to broad creative platforms, and everything in-between.  Without that strategic and creative acuity, the other agencies wouldn’t be able to perform so quickly or cheaply.  But life isn’t fair; the world is changing and agencies need to change as well.

Speed To Smarts

It seems to me that what these agencies need can be summed up with the notion “speed to smarts.”  Mainline agencies cannot give up being the smartest; they just have to do it more quickly.  When they are smarter faster, they will realize a higher margin.  And each time they’re the smartest fastest, they’ll get another chance to make a high margin, since clients will reward them with more work.  How are agencies going to get smarter faster?  Who knows, but I do know that those who get there first will win.

What does this mean to agency folk?  The ones who succeed will adopt an “impact mentality.”  They’ll actively seek to make a quicker difference; to see results faster.  They won’t just “work on” an account or “work for” an agency –nor will they float from meeting to meeting or project to project.  They will channel their energy, their restlessness, and their passion into making things happen.  And they certainly won’t be bound by the walls of their job description or their department; they’ll have the ability to play wherever, and whenever needed.  And at the end of the day, each and every day, they will be able to say to themselves, “this is what I made happen today”.

Smarter/Faster – first one in, wins.

By Tim Mauery, Planning Business Develoment, Kantor Wassink   

PS:  As of July 20, Tim began working with KantorWassink.  Proof again that talent never stays on the sidelines for long.  Bully Tim and good move KantorWassink.

Opinion’s Omnipresence Renders Traditional Conceits Like “Brand Truth” and “Consumer Truth” Irrelevant

The HSBC 'Points of View' Campaign

The HSBC ‘Points of View’ Campaign

For the past four years, HSBC has run a provocative poster campaign from JWT.  Using a brilliant media buy in high traffic airport jetways, the ads highlight paradoxical points-of-view.  Simple graphics and headlines illustrate the insight that people from different regions, backgrounds or cultures often view the same phenomena in vastly different ways.

More than anything, this campaign demonstrates the fungible nature of opinion; something that’s become all the more relevant with the massive informational and behavioral changes brought on by the pervasive, worldwide adoption of the participatory Web 2.0.  By most any measure, opinion’s recently emerged mass distribution channel makes it far more impactful than TV, print, and radio combined.  We may not think of it as a traditional medium per se, but we ignore it at our peril.  As word-of-mouth experts are fond of saying, as much as 92% of all purchase decisions are driven by recommendation, which is nothing more than vocalized opinion.  More importantly, opinions have never been easier to come by; out culture is literally awash in it.

Google “review of Pixar’s Up” and you get 3.6 million entries in .33 seconds…  Every product on Amazon features buyers’ ratings and other key retailers like iTunes, NetFlix and eBay encourage prominent feedback opportunities.  The crushing volume of blogs and soon the exponentially larger world of Tweets can be simply searched.  We even edit our own networks to match our personal opinions, watching Fox News, listening to Air America, or subscribing to magazines and blogs because they reflect our personal politics.  Opinion is literally everywhere and louder than it has ever been.

All of which threatens the relevance and usefulness of those long-held marketing saws ‘brand truth’ and ‘consumer truth.’  What is ‘truth’ in a world where opinion holds such dominance?  And whose truth?  Can there truly be a universal product or consumer truth?

Instead of the classic Venn diagram that guided years of integrated marketing by highlighting the intersection of ‘brand truth’ and ‘consumer truth’ we now have one vastly larger, much less uniformly shaped universe of consumer opinion, with all of its variants, anomalies and conflict.  Brands are opinions–and so our agency job today is to determine not something as debatable as brand truth, but rather the Brand Authenticity (and yes, Authenticities) within all of that opinion and then help meld and coalesce them into a universally-accepted Brand Authenticity.

Do that, and you bring powerful alignment to the often warring worlds of paid and earned media.

At least, that’s my opinion…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79