Weekly Linkly

Don't tell your father I let you see this stuff after your bed time. You got that?


  • Wiggly Lines by Dave Dye. Another great lesson about print advertising. (Side note: I want to name my band Hot Metal Type. But that would mean having a band or a smidgen of musical talent.)


Out-there Sagmeister and Walsh Adobe logo design competition (part 1 of 5).

Wow. Can't believe he solved that one.

Boondocks is back!

PBS video about glitch art.

Weekly Linkly (Sent from the trenches)

I've been bogged down with work this week and haven't had a second to write anything that didn't pertain to that or my other side project. That previous sentence is what's colloquially known as a "humble brag." I did happen to catch a couple of interesting things out of the corner of my eye. Those are below.

Writings/Website Pages


BBC doing some hard hitting scientific reporting.

Smart, smart stuff from a while ago that I've admittedly only found recently.

Sasquatch is really good shit. Get to know them before they become too big and you'll be bummed you can't say you knew them before they were cool.

The woman who can't watch movies from Canal+ spain. Really love this.

Everyone's new favorite music video

Weekly Linkly

What do you want from me? Blood? Too bad. I only have links and my sincerest apologies to offer.

Steve Henry's warning/prediction that Advertising Will Eat Itself.

Japan's real Resident Evil attraction. This is cooler than anything stateside. 

Why appeals to altruism are dangerous by Rory Sutherland.

Prison Landscapes

A dark view from George Tannenbaum

The article that made me never, ever want to do anything associated with opiates way back in high school. Found it during a fit of random googling. "Confessions of an eBay Opium Addict"


Great new Aldi Australia ad. "Everybody in this room is going to be prime minister!"

Cosby does The Beatles.

Excellent (shouty) tribute to the performances of Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Need to re-watch all of these films.

Mr. Show "The Audition"

Sam Cooke blowing in the wind. 

Pushing pixels, paying to play, and tenacity: a portrait of a modern band.

Despite living in California I am still an avid listener of WBEZ (that's Chicago's NPR station if you didn't know). Listening to an hour of it a day is the easiest way I've found to learn a few dozen new things every day. Maybe a few dozen is overstating it a bit but not much. One of those things I learned recently was how bands promote themselves in the digital age in a radio report and series of videos on Jim DeRogatis' blog.

It's a fascinating look at what it takes to make it, even marginally, as a band in today's world. There's nothing especially shocking unless the thought of hard work is shocking. It's easy to assume success can happen if you get the right break but the right breaks come through work. But it was a discussion about a profession I know very little enough. Not too many of my friends are in bands that could be considered more than expensive hobbies. So it was interesting to hear from people caught in the middle of trying to break in.

It also tackles the interesting question of how to balance promotion with making the actual art. Without promotion you don't have awareness. Without the art you have nothing to promote. It's the same conundrum someone in advertising could have when they're out of work. Do I work on side projects or keep reaching out to Creative Directors? Do I promote myself or keep working on my skills. A mixture of both is ideal but time is finite and prioritizing is important. And, at least for Canasta, the answer to this quandary should skew towards work rather than promotion. 

"More recently our philosophy has been 'let's try to limit the amount of time we spend on this stuff [marketing, pimping themselves out]' and make sure we don't stop working on the music. Which some weeks go by and I swear we spend more time on this stuff than we don on working on the music or rehearsing or,you know, what have you. And that's a real shame and it took, a few years that went by before we sort of realized how imbalanced it had become." - Canasta's Matt Priest

Another part of the interview I found fascinating was the discussion of "Pay to Play." (Where a festival or venue asks the act to pay to be on a show.) Both the hosts and the bad members were against this and I think that's a very good thing. It reminds me of the phenomena a while back where people were paying thousands of dollars to work unpaid internships. It just seems wrong to me to charge someone to have them work for you. It's sick, actually, because you're saying that your time is worth so much and that you will derive so little from the person working that they need to compensate you for your time.

The most important thing I took away from all of this was the approach Canasta took. They didn't ask for permission to exist, they just put themselves out there. They were human in their communications with people and businesses, rather than being rockstars and standing distinct from other people. And they're generous with the things they've learned to help make them a success. That's something I always admire because it shows a level of confidence most people don't have. People usually covet success, lock their "secret" in a little locket they keep around their neck, then lie about said locket. Canasta is a refreshing change.

Alright, alright, alright, I'll shut up now. Here's the radio interview and a whole video discussion with WBEZ's Jim DeRogatis and Canasta. (It's a 5-part series but I'm assembled it into a playlist for you. Isn't that nice?)

Advertising from the Uncanny Valley (revisited)

(Just to be clear this post is primarily about comedy ads. Or ads attempting to be comedic. If you notice something I've left out feel free to leave it in the comments.)

Lately I've been watching a little more TV than usual. You can chalk that up to either the quality of current shows or general aimlessness. Regardless, this means that I'm seeing a whole lot more TV ads and get to spend a great deal of time with this "dying" medium. I can certainly see why people might want TV advertising to shrivel up and die, even if it won't.

The majority of it is miserable to watch, though that sentiment probably qualifies for Most Obvious Thought of the Century. Although this dearth of quality is not very different from any year in TV advertising that still doesn't change the fact that gobs of money are being squandered on making bad advertisements. (The worst of them seem to come from telecoms and internet providers, but that's a whole other issue.)

So between fits of anger about how bad ads are, it dawned on me that too many TV ads are stuck in the Uncanny Valley. Here's short primer if you don't know or remember what that is: the Uncanny Valley is what causes that uncomfortable feeling when things are a little too close to being life-like but not far away enough to be discreetly inhuman. It elicits fear or discomfort because brains don't know what to make of this not-quite-a-person person.

You can see this in ads using the "dumb dad" or "women standing around a spotless kitchen talking about bowel movements" tropes. Things that appear to be truths on the surface, may have been funny with more finessing, but are situations too far fetched to get recognized to the viewing audience. Like ads where the dad makes the family camp in the neighbor's back yard because they have faster WiFi.

The central conceit of ads like this are flawed in that they are too divorced from the realities life without being totally divorced. It's as though companies are asking, "this is funny, right?" or, "people live like this, right?" to the audience. These types of commercials exist in a world too close to our own without rational thought or behavior. Without subtlety. And it's not not subtle in the way an old Ally ad is, it's blunt in the way that sucks the humor and intelligence out of it.

It doesn't work because it's attempting to be funny or touching without ever being those things.  It's a farce. Which is a shame because I can't imagine anyone who worked on it intended for it to be that way. 

Contrast this with the worlds created by agencies like BFG9000, Wieden, Cliff Freeman (tear), and Goodby on behalf of their clients. Those are some sort of parallel universe where crazy product specific situations can exist. It's like our world but it's different. It's distinct or bizarre enough that the audience can buy it's an ad without having their intelligence insulted. That's where the comedy comes from. And it's consistent in that it doesn't put people off by patronizing them. Sometimes it can be too strange for some people but at least it's not insulting. Or if sticking closer to reality is your cup of tea, ads like Budweiser used to produce. Those were funny in the way the best sitcoms are funny, not the way your Aunt Margret is funny at Thanksgiving while regaling you stories about the checkout boy.

So if those types of ads work for why do these Uncanny Valley ads come about? It's because comedy written by committee rarely works (discounting TV writer's rooms because that's a bunch of people trying to beat each other's jokes). This is even more true when trying to amend the comedy to fit in one more product point, or make a jab at a competitor, or shoehorn the product name in. That's not to say these things can't be done but ads are best, and often funniest, when they're trying to do one thing. When everyone involved lets them be less complicated in favor of effectiveness. 

This isn't always going to produce a hit but it'll hopefully help reduce the number of stinkers out there. I may have to quit TV if it doesn't.

Weekly Linkly

Lots of stuff for you all this weekend so let's dispense with the chit chat and head straight to the links.


  • Writing Tips from George Tannenbaum. And good ones at that.


Harold Ramis' advice to filmmakers. (via @RobSchrab)

News report about Kenyan slang contains three languages. Puts US news to shame.

New Richmond Sausages ad from Saatchi London.

Most amazing instrument I've even seen.

Impressive security cam footage. 

Teaser for the upcoming Harmontown Documentary.

Thanks for stopping by. I mean I really, really enjoyed this. Kinda needed it honestly. Hope you'll call. Oh that? Yeah it happens from time to time. Well, bye I guess. Unless you want me to make you some food? You're okay? That's good. Should I call you an Uber? No. Alright, bye now.

Shameless recycling of wonderful advice from "Ordinary Advertising."

I recently finished reading "Ordinary Advertising. And How to Avoid It Like the Plague." If it's not clear from the title, this is a book about making good advertising. The author is Mark Silveria, who started his career at W+K in the early days (jealous) and went on to work at Ammirati & Puris and Ally & Gargano and Scali, MCCabe, and Sloves. Needless to say he saw a lot of good and bad advertising during his career.

While the book is great to read for creatives it was really written for clients. If I owned an agency I would buy enough copies of this book to give to every account person and client I work with (a small expense if the trade off is everyone looking to produce great work). But since I don't own an agency but think people could still get something from the book I've decided to replicate some of the best parts. 

One of the strong points of this book is how painfully clear it makes the road to good work. The material is extremely approachable and should be understood by anyone who reads it. (A benefit of having a copywriter as the author.) These may be well-trodden thoughts for many people but maybe they will act as a reminder of what advertising is trying to do.

Let the shameless recycling begin!


p. 62 When you finally have the opportunity to being a conversation with this target, you will under no circumstances begin by shouting at the top of your lungs: "BABY, I'M WHAT YOU'VE BEEN SEARCHING FOR SINCE THE FIRST TIME YOU OPENED THOSE BIG BLUE EYES!!!" (Unless your goal is to ensure that your gene pool never makes it to the next generation.) Yet that's precisely how a lot of advertising comes off. Loud, obnoxious, self-centered bragging. Talk with the average marketing or advertising person about promoting a product and they can't understand "why we're screwing around here instead of just coming out and telling people why to buy our stuff". Shift the paradigm to getting a date, and they all get it. "Oh yeah, I guess we need people to like us a bit and want to listen to us before we can convince them to do anything."

ON THE WORTH OF SMALL ASSIGNMENTS (my favorite type of assignments because they provide the most freedom.)
p. 120 - 121 "But because these hangtags represented 75% of Columbia's marketing communication's budget, our boss, Bill Borders, insisted that these be the most exceptional hangtags ever created. Which in this case proved to be prescient. Because it was out of this drive to create the world's most extraordinary hangtags( and the small print ads that went with them) that the "Mother Boyle" idea emerged--i.e. casting the wife of the Company's founder and the mother of its CEO as a relentless taskmaster when it came to quality. Which combined with brilliant leadership, great product design and getting their gear on all the commentators at the Winder Olympics drove Columbia Sportswear to 10x sales growth and turned this formerly private company into a public one with a market cap of $1.27 billion. Not surprisingly, it is now BP&N's largest client. Pretty good for an account that started with hangtags, but try getting doe big agency all worked up over an account whose initial, annual revenue promises to be five figures."

p.78 "But here's a confession: neither of the above campaigns is entirely true (this is advertising, not divinity school). Nikons don't take the world's greatest pictures; great photographers take the world's greatest pictures (mostly using Nikons). And VISA isn't everywhere you want to be, it's just accepted in a lot more cool places than American Express. MasterCard could have (and probably wishes it had) said the exact same thing. But then, as my boss on BMW, Tom Thomas, once pointed out: BMW was never really "the ultimate driving machine" either. Not to anyone who knew cars. Ferrari or Lamborghini or Porsche were more entitled to that claim. But a) we weren't selling to true car aficionados, we were selling to yuppies, and b) no one else was making the claim. So in industry parlance: "fuck 'em". What important is that your truth ring true and be defensible, not that it be truly true.
p 107 "If you simply listen to your audience and observe people carefully, interesting insights into their live and the realities of their world (note, not your world) will surface, allowing you to put them to great use. They don't even have to be true. They just have to meet Tom Thomas's "test of common sense".

p. 143 Similar patterns exist in the world of advertising, and it's important to be aware of them before you make the conscious choice to toe the line or go your own way. Take the advertising typically done by car dealers. It's all terrible, right? All that screaming and yelling about "low, low prices and financing". How could anyone consider that na attempt at creating communications that connect with an audience? Beats me, but it seems like every time some car dealer is visited with a sudden burst of good taste and tried to do some more classy advertising, it fails.

...why is this? My hunch is it's because we've inadvertently trained consumers to look for this form of message, these semiotic triggers, when they re truly about to purchase a new vehicle. they may actively hate the stuff or ignore it for years at a time, but suddenly when they decide it's time to replace the old clunker they tune it in. Because this is the auto dealer's semaphore for a good deal.
p.146 "Retail advertising doesn't have to follow tired old conventions or die in the La Brea tar outs if category semiotics. It can make great connections with its audience--entertain and engage them. And when it does, it does something vital for the retailer: It creates a relationship with the brand that is not as high a risk of term

p. 125 
1. The best clients are brutally honest. 
2. The best clients don't expect research to make the tough calls. 
3. The best clients fall for the idea, not the execution. 
4. the best clients are always fighting this war, not the last one. 
5. The best clients don't se their agency as a partner (or a vendor [because agencies don't have enough skin in the game]). 
7. the best clients don't take themselves(or anything else) too seriously."

Let's circle back to number 3 for a second. Since I dogeared that page. "Further complicating this process is the proliferation of tools that allow agencies to make presentation pieces that appear to be finished commercials or ads. In other words "ripomatics" and "computer comps". There was a time when all advertising idea had to be presented in rough form which forced the client to use his or her (not necessarily abundant) imagination, but it also endured that what the client responded to was the idea."

Atlas Obscura

When I was little I dreamt about all the strange places in the world. Places that were different from my little St. Louis suburb. Mostly because I liked anything new different or extreme. (It's the same reason I had so into the Guinness Book of world records.)

These places exist despite the rest of the world asking them to fall in line. They are places of passion, or independence, or chance. They just stand out and can't do anything about it. And people, me included, are obsessed with these special places. They want to take a trip to them, or look at pictures, or bring them up at a dinner party.

Which is a long way of telling you I've just found a website that is all about these places. It's called Atlas Obscura and I got lost in it for hours. You might like it too if you're a fan of all the bizarre places the world has to offer.

Weekly Linkly

It's here. You're here. Let's forget our problems and run off and get married! Oh, you're not ready to get that serious. Okay. Well you can still check out this bouquet of stuff I got for you.


Old Spice Huey Lewis hair. Just go play with it.

"Stop collaborating with me, you dirty, dirty collaborator!" The Collaboration Myth by Sell! Sell!

Advertising thoughts on Advertising Thoughts from Erwin Rommel by George Tannenbaum.

University Challenge from Dave Trott about the important giving people something to remember you by.

The most interesting interview with a grave digger I've ever heard.

MIT's Fusion Center gets its groove back. Or whatever fusion centers get back when they get their federal funding back.


Dave Trott's excellent series on his approach to advertising. It's worth way more than the 40 minutes it takes to watch no matter what your billable rate is. (via Ben Kay)

Sony's ad for what's most assuredly the most easy to lose camera you'll ever own. Nice trains though.

Richard Ayoade's new movie looks terrifying. I am going to force everyone to see this. 

Best cooking lesson you'll ever get. 


(This started to a comment on Sell! Sell!'s blog post of the same title but quickly spun into something much longer)

Years ago I found myself sitting in a bar talking to my friend's dad. He asked me what I wanted to do with my life and I enthusiastically replied, "Advertising!"

He sneered at me, not out of hate but out of concern (god I hope it was concern), and replied, "What's the point? If people like Coke they'll drink Coke. Pepsi, Pepsi. Why do those companies need to spend millions of dollars not convincing me to drink the thing I don't want to drink?"

Now maybe it was my unbridled enthusiasm for advertising or, more likely, it was the unbridled stupidity that can only be brought on by drinking a copious amount in the daytime. Either way, the comment made me launch into an impassioned speech about advertising. We're talking major pontification, quoting statistics, citing great ads of the past.

I explained that even the largest companies need to advertise simply to keep their market share even (as seen with the failed Pepsi Refresh campaign). I explained that for companies that large you did not need to be extremely creative, you just had to show up. That's why they spent so much money.

I also explained that advertising was best for giving a smaller company an edge over one that can outspend them. That these littler companies stood no chance in the marketplace without raising awareness of their product. Even if that product was IBC Root Beer it still needed to show people what it offered that differentiated it from the Cokes and Pepsis of the world. That creativity was the only unfair advantage a company that is not the market leader can possess.

Now I can't tell you if this convinced him one lick. But it embodied and still embodies the way I think of advertising. The point of advertising is to give a company an edge over their competitors in the mind of people on the street. There are myriad ways to do this, and an equal number of objectives a certain company can have with their advertising, but if the advertising isn't trying to accomplish this it is sunk before it gets beamed around the world.

This is not a revolutionary notion. I'm probably stealing liberally from the people I learned advertising from (Bill Bernbach, George Lois, Mary Wells, Dave Trott and later the Ally, McCabe, Gossage schools) but I think those are pretty solid people to steal from. The reason their advertisements worked, and might even work today if shown next to most modern advertising, is that what they sought was a way to entice an audience in a way no one was else was. They were not slaves to style or fashion. They, to steal from advertising again, thought different.

So what's the point of advertising? It's to give clients an unfair advantage through creative thinking. That's all it's ever been. We just choose to complicate it.