Ad History, Through the Words of the People Who Made It.

George Tannenbaum writes an incredible blog called Ad Aged. Everyone in the business should read it. He cuts through a lot of BS and jargon and gets to the point of what this business is supposed to be here for.

I am blatantly stealing one of his post’s links because I think every student of advertising should read it. It’s a compendium of a bit of early “content marketing,” a series of editorials the Wall Street Journal did interviewing the legends of advertising. At the end of each interview, they conveniently talked about how important the Wall Street Journal is to them.

Here are many of the greats who laid the foundation of what the business is today. It’s about 80 pages, but they are quick reads. Know where we’re all coming from. It will help you get where you’re going. Study from some old masters. That’s part of how new masters are made.


Maker? Or Director?

Alex Bogusky is, by trade a designer. Started as one. In fact, he is the son of two of them. He was the 16th employee at a small Miami based agency named Crispin Porter. By the time his tenure ended, his name was on the door (Crispin Porter + Bogusky) and he and his agency had re-written all the rules of advertising.

He recently returned to his eponymous agency after what shall now be called a hiatus. And that means he’s posting again to the ad world. He posted this on LinkedIn and it definitely got some people talking. Some of that talk undoubtedly employed the use of foul words.

But here, read it for yourself:

Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 11.36.34 AM

Hmmm. The same can be said about copywriters, in my opinion. And that’s not going to be a popular opinion, but, well, this is my blog, so here I go.

Everyone in a creative capacity needs to be a maker these days. There are 11 year olds with millions of followers opening boxes of toys on YouTube. No director. No editor. No EP. Just them and a phone.

So, whether you’re a copywriter or an art director or a designer or a social media strategist or something else, put pen to paper. Pick up a camera. Edit something. Screw around in Garageband until you come up with a beat. Edit your clips into something that resembles a movie. Challenge yourself to create compelling Instastories or whatever. Make, make, make. And get better as you do – because craftspeople will always be in demand.

But here’s where I need to caveat: just because every creative needs to be a maker does not mean that every maker is a creative. In fact, quite the opposite. Too many makers who can make quickly can dominate the world with noise (both visual and audible). But that is just pollution. Sure, it may get eyes on it. Sure, it may have followers. But if it lacks substance that sticks, well, it’s the “content” equivalent of eating candy corn – perhaps overwhelmingly sweet, pleasurable and briefly satisfying, but ultimately forgettable and unfulfilling. And, if consumed too often, it will actually make you unhealthy. (Disclaimer: I effin’ love candy corn).

I believe the communicators of tomorrow need to know how to make while remaining focused on ideas. Ideas, ideas, ideas, born out of insights. Sometimes those insights are discovered in data. Sometimes, they are discovered watching the people walk by the coffee shop you’re sitting in, banging your head against the wall, trying to come up with an idea.

So, be a maker. But be idea driven enough that one day, makers will want you to be their director.


PS: You know Alex Bogusky’s post was also an ad for a designer, right? And who said advertising doesn’t work…



An Insight is an Insight; the Medium is a Way to Deliver It

When I teach students who are beginning to build a portfolio that will (hopefully and eventually) land them a gig or job in this crazy world of advertising/creative/content creation/curation/whatever we’re calling it today, I always personally bristle a bit, then sigh, then say, almost exasperated with myself for saying it, “we’re going to start with print.”

Fortunately, it’s usually early enough in the term that my students haven’t yet taken to heart my directive that 1. they are allowed and encouraged to question me and that 2. I am often wrong.

I usually follow it up with, “I know, I know, no one reads print anymore. Think of them as subway ads.” (Our school is in New York City) “Or, think about them as display ads that you might see in social, or while reading a website.”

Let me start by saying this: my class is about getting a fundamental footing in idea conception, mainly focused around communication of what brands can do for people or what need they can fulfill in their lives. And I think you have to walk before you can run, despite the pace of a world that would try to sell you otherwise.

That said, I bristle because I know my students won’t be doing print right out of the gates. In fact, they may never do “print.”

But I am not teaching how to do print.

I teach (or at least try to teach) how to make ideas that connect insights about what people believe or do with brands that can help them do it, believe it, or, as the case may be, not do it or not believe it.

And I am trying to get them to consolidate those ideas into a form that will convey itself efficiently and fully in a matter of nanoseconds – first to a creative director or recruiter that will hire them, and later by an audience that will be conditioned to ignore them. I want them to make ideas that are simple and insightful, that you can get the idea in a heartbeat and go, “oh, yes, I get it.”

I question myself often. However, I woke up to something interesting this morning, that reminded me why I still get us started in print thinking. It was Creativity’s pick of the day from Pereira & O’Dell (one of the best creative shops running, IMHO) for Mini. These were single frames, in succession, on Instagram, intercut with footage of Mini cars racing around on tracks (I did not include it). Here are the relevant slides:


It’s a simple insight: TV is the time waster you put in your life that takes you away from the better things you could be doing in life. In this case, driving a Mini, which is fun. And then, it’s executed with great writing.

Now, a HUGE DISCLAIMER: What comes next is not me saying, “we did it first.” It’s a lesson about human insights being equally relevant in different media.

Some years ago, we wanted to remind people that on Friday and Saturday night, while they were looking for a movie to kill three hours or make up the bulk of date night, they could go to the nearby Mohegan Sun Casino. We ran these, not on Instagram (it didn’t exist) but in the movie section of local newspapers.

Obligatory: Of course, Pereira & O’Dell’s writers are better.

I think it’s a nice example of how “print” like thinking is still relevant in today’s world, a good place to start creating ideas that can get bigger. Both creative teams, completely independent of one another (trust me, I doubt anyone but me remembers these, including my partner), came to an insight: sometimes, it’s better to live your life than watch another’s on screen.

They put it on Instagram. We put it in the newspaper. But it all works.

It’s A Marathon, Not A Sprint

I was reading Agency Spy the other day and saw some cynical bastard note in the comments: “Career in advertising? This is not a career.”

That person sounds like a hack to me, but, because Agency Spy’s comments are anonymous, we’ll never know. He could be amazing, and I’m the hack (probably).

Here’s the truth: advertising has been around for a long time. They’ve found ads on the walls in Pompeii. And who knows? Maybe those cave dwellers in Lascaux were just advertising buffalo meat. And advertising, in some way shape or form, is going to be around for a long time into the future. It might not look like a :30 TV spot. But as long as their are companies and ideas that need to get noticed, sway people’s opinion or inform the public, there will be advertising.

Norm Grey, who started the Creative Circus and has mentored some of the best people in the business used to say, “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.” What he meant was, maybe you don’t win a One Show Pencil or work at Wieden right out of the gate. Maybe you never do. But over many years, yes, you can build a great portfolio, do interesting stuff, learn a lot, meet fun folks, and who knows what else. And maybe that’s advertising on Facebook or Instagram today and advertising in some media that hasn’t even been invented yet tomorrow.

Campaign US has a great feature called “My Career in 5 Executions.” Here’s the amazing Joe Alexander, CCO of the Martin Agency, with great work and simple ideas that span close to 30 years. Note how his ideas work in everything from out of home to print to YouTube pre-roll.

See the article here.

And keep at it.



When An Ad is Not an Ad

A good idea is a good idea, and, in my opinion, good ideas tend to be based off of good insights. As I have discussed on this website, often this insight is tied to “the benefit of the benefit,” that insightful truth about not what the product does for you, but about what the product’s doing what it does ends up doing for you.

You can read that post, with good examples of ads, here.

Well, sometimes, great advertising ideas are not expressed in ads at all. This falls into a loose terminology that changes from agency to agency. The old term (late 90s, early aughties) was “guerilla,” and some places loosely conflate this (often wrongly) with “digital.” Other terms I have heard creative directors, planners and more use: “other shit,” “not ads,” or “I don’t know, like, something else…” Or just “ideas.”

The kings of this style, for a while, were the folks at Crispin Porter + Bogusky in the late 90s through the aughties. As an agency, they re-defined what the advertising award shows considered to be awardable for clients like Mini Cooper, VW, Burger King and many, many others.

My personal favorite of Crispin’s was a series of video game for Burger King, sold exclusively at Burger King around the holidays.

original Crispin had a terrific insight here: 1. Their customers were young dudes; 2. young dudes forget to go Christmas shopping; 3. young dudes don’t have money; and 4. when young dudes do have money, they are going to spend it at Burger King. So Crispin developed 3 videos games (one of which was supposed to be really fun) and sold them at Burger King. They cost $3.99 with a burger, but were later sold online for much more.

A pretty awesome way to bring “have it your way” (y’know, with a video game!) to life. But it certainly wasn’t their most famous.

The most glaring and memorable of all Crispin’s efforts was arguably Subservient Chicken for Burger King. This was both (truly) digital at a time when most agencies weren’t, as well as brilliant, groundbreaking and “not an ad.” It was so popular, ten years later, they brought it back.


The idea was a simple digital extension of the brand’s tagline, “Have it Your Way.” Essentially, a full-grown man, in a chicken suit, did whatever you told him to, from flapping to perversions. Fun, entertaining, shareable, memorable, and (arguably) on brand (though not very appetizing).

Seems crazy now, but when this came out a little over ten years ago, the ad industry didn’t know what to do with themselves. Which seems odd, as people had been doing it for more than a century before – a fact that even agency creative leader Andrew Keller pointed out.

In fact, this was such a part of Kirshenbaum Bond + Partners’ (now KBSP) model, they wrote a book about it called Under the Radar. They even nodded to one of their famous “guerilla” (actually merits the term in this case) pieces on the cover.


The piece they are referring to that I am now referring to was an ad for a New York lingerie store. Having no money to spend on media, the story goes that Richard and Jon created a staple and spray painted a message on New York City sidewalks. The message was, “From down here, it looks like you could use some new underwear.”

A brilliant way to address women – by upskirting them with a message. They got in trouble, but the store got tons of PR and so did Richard and Jon.

Kirshenbaum also advertised Snapple on fruit in grocery stores when the brand was a fledgling start-up.

But it goes way, way back. Two of my favorite examples are over a century old, but really demonstrate an insightful discovery of the “benefit of the benefit” of products.

The first is Guinness, the Irish Stout. Guinness figured, we’re a brand that people come together to celebrate and share over. So when Guinness heard that men frequently got in bar fights over sports legend facts and records, they decided to do something about it.

They put out a book to stop bar arguments and fights. A definitive end to trivial squabbling that could lead to fisticuffs (and fewer patrons drinking stout.) Here’s the book:


The Guinness Book of Records went on to become the Guinness Book of World Records, spawned it’s own museums and culture and more. And it’s all based on a perfectly valid brand insight: men argue over trivial crap while drinking. So, if Guinness stops bar fights, they keep drinking Guinness.

My other old favorite is from the French tire company, Michelin. In 1900, Michelin came to a fairly obvious epiphany: if French people drove more, they’d buy more tires. (In my class I always say, “advertising – it ain’t brain surgery.”) The trouble was, you had an agrarian and metropolitan economy that didn’t have a reason to travel. So Michelin distributed a travel tool:

110722-Kuperman-Michelin The first Michelin Guide ensured French people that they could travel – it gave them maps and locations of fuel stations and hotels.

But the real genius was added in 1926, when they added the Michelin Restaurant Star system. Here is the actual copy, explaining the significance each of the three stars:

1 Michelin star: Une très bonne table dans sa catégorie (A very good restaurant in its category

2 Michelin stars: Table excellente, mérite un détour (Excellent cooking, worth a detour)

3 Michelin stars: Une des meilleures tables, vaut le voyage (Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey)

What does Michelin need people to do? Drive. What do French people love to do? Eat. Therefore, the benefit of tires is you get to drive. The benefit of the benefit is you get to eat very, very well.

The Michelin Star System, like the Guinness World Records, has transcended the brand. It is the premiere rating system for restaurants in much of the 1st world. And it started as an ad. An ad that was, well, not an ad.

Nobody’s Going to Care About Your Cause if You Don’t

I found a great blog post through LinkedIn. He talks about two things I like very much: advertising and albums.

There is a lot of creative thinking out in the world today. No doubt about it. But the pitfall with having so many outlets in which to be creative – YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc – is that we live in a “pump and dump,” make-it-and-move-on, keep moving forward, new, new, new content creation culture. I have run into the line of thinking that this is the way to build brands on both the agency and the client side, and I believe it is dangerous and wrong.

In the linked article, Damon talks about the value of an album, of honing an idea and perfecting it and owning it. And loving the idea and the vision. And, through your own passion, getting other people to love it too.

He also talks about restaurants. Bear with him, it’s worth it.

His last line sums up perfectly what a good ad creative should try to do:

Remembering “how it made us feel.”

Thanks, Damon. Article here.

Have you ever wondered, “What would people on Reddit say?”

I love to debate the philosophy and ethics of advertising. I firmly believe in “truth in advertising,” and I think when truth is executed and stated in a clever, interesting, funny or thought-provoking and honest way, the ads win.

And yet, sometimes, crazy, terrible and seemingly dishonest work still gets through. There’s a lot of reasons why.

Here’s a thread on Reddit that starts with a discussion of “manipulation” in advertising, and devolves (or evolves, perhaps) into a pretty honest discussion of good and bad in the ad business. I found it particularly interesting, because unlike the ad blogs, it’s not filled with self-hating ad people, and unlike the non-ad blogs, it’s not filled with conspiracy theorists and tin-foil hat wearers who are convinced we’re necromancers and such.

Rather, it’s some ad folks who defend the biz, some who hate, and some non-ad folk who are curious and some who hate.

WARNING: This is Reddit. I cannot control what happens on here. There are some call-outs to racist (accidentally? intentionally?) stuff in the ad world. I am just reposting, so like comments on a DVD, the opinions expressed herein are those of the posters, and not that of Intro to the Creative Process with Paul.

Just trying to keep our minds open to different points of view.

Read the Reddit Thread here.