The Real Risk Is Not Standing Out

A friend of mine recently got a Barnes and Noble Nook. While he was setting it up I asked him where it came from.

He told me it was from a raffle at a local networking event.

I was surprised that he had won. No one I know ever wins those things. I told him this.

"I knew I would win," he responded.

I was thrown by this response. He is usually cocky but this was a new level. I asked how he knew.

Here's what he told me:

I watched what the other people entering the raffle were doing with their papers. They would write on the paper then either crumple it up or fold it very small. Then they would drop it into the slot in the box.

So when it was my time to fill out the raffle slip I wrote on it and folded it very lightly. It was small enough to fit through the slot but would reopen once it was inside. That way when the person was shuffling through all of the paper there would be tons of little pieces and my big piece.

And I had a pretty good feeling my paper would get picked.

I thought this was brilliant. He saw what everyone else in the field was doing and flipped the system. Everyone else was being small so he decided to be big. He made his entry stick out with the same tools as everyone else. And it works.

That's advertising. A lot of the work in a category will be roughly the same. A lot of  books will have ads that look and feel like ads in them. Things that tick all the boxes of prevailing logic.

But our job isn't to fit in, or to look the same as everyone else. Our job is making us and our clients stick out.

So the real risk is in doing the safe option. Folding the paper until it's small. But brilliant stuff, people and work that people talk about. Is the unfolded paper.

Sticking out isn't part of the job, it is the job.

We Can Do Better. We Must Do Better.

Super Bowl 45 happened yesterday. Like every year it was hyped up to be the biggest day in football and, more importantly, advertising.

Admittedly the commercials show were better than most of what will come out for the rest of the year.

But even the strongest ones - Chrysler, VW and Coke -  were not incredible.

There was no true standout. Nothing that overshadowed the game.

And that really blows. The one time people are excited to watch the advertisements and the majority of them fall flat. Even less will be remembered by the time you read this. In a year who knows what will be remembered.

2011 was forecasted to be the year with digital integration baked into the spots. From where I sat, computer open for the entire game, not one site was accessed. Even worse, I didn't hear or see a thing thing asking me to take action.

Before the game Audi had promoted that they would have the first Twitter hashtag call to action. It just sat there on the last second of the spot, unmentioned. I missed it on the first watch and didn't bother using it because it didn't make sense.

A whole lot of do as we say, with no way. The best use of technology integration was the fear of hitting Reply All used in the Bridgestone spot. It was as if the advertisers forgot to appeal to customers for the entire game.

It seemed like this was work made by advertisers for advertisers. Oh look honey, another commercial about making a commercial. How clever! wink.

This is the place to reach, potentially, 100 million people. And we resort to crotch shots, strange celebrity endorsements and the aforementioned meta-ness. I don't think any of this is stuff that people should loose their jobs over, but it's also not back patting worthy material.

We can do better.

We must do better.

Because nothing is more satisfying than hearing a regular person say, "damn that was a cool ad."

note: I think the standout of the night, but not at the time, was the NFL "American Family" spot. Great tag-line, great editing and it was very human. Too bad it got lost amid the spots. Here it is if you missed it. The subtleties they worked in are amazing.

I also liked the MINI "Cram It In The Boot" spot. But according to most of America I am wrong.

Chrysler's "Imported From Detroit" has the right amount of bite. I just would have liked half the commercial.

Doing it Big vs Saying You Are Doing It Big

Myspace recently went through a rebanding.

Quite frankly the changes they made are really cool, but it seemed a little bit deflated to me.

They had resigned to the fact that facebook was number 1 and they were some sort of media hub. At least that's what I surmised.

(Da new my___. If you haven't seen it.)

And myspace treated this announcement like it was huge, but it really wasn't that big of a change. The gloss over the top had changed, the design was cleaner and the logo had changed to something questionable. The biggest change was that they were now becoming another place to find content for facebook.

I think they made a huge tactical error. myspace, and its parent corporation, had the chance to take the site in a different direction and make it something really special. A destination site, not a pass through site.

The one thing that people still use myspace for is a place to discover new bands and music. And a place for bands to get discovered. It's the only reason I still go there.

So my thoughts are as follows. Myspace should have reinvented itself as an online music label with a completely different method of distribution. They have the means to measure a band's popularity built right into the site, pageviews and song listens. They could even see which bands are getting the most interaction and posting the most show dates.

Then at the end of the year/month/quarter they could sign the most popular bands and give them recording contracts.

I confess I know very little about the internals of a company like myspace but something like this should have been an option.

Starting a music label is not a particularly new idea. It seems like every artist has his or her own these days. But no site has the capacity to do it as well as myspace. No site or talent agency in the world has the amount talent trying to break into the industry.

Very often this issue is changing the way we think about something. In this case shifting a social network into a music company. But this would be a socially dirven music company and that could have been something tremendously groundbreaking.

If you're reinventing don't just delude yourself into thinking what you are doing is big. Actually do something big.

(I started writing this a week ago but the future is not looking bright for myspace as Newscorp announced they are getting ready to sell myspace today.)

A Year of Experience and This is the Best Title I Can Muster.

(I like this)

The end of January marks the one year anniversary of me starting this blog. I've learned a lot about finding a good voice. Obtained a clear direction for the blog. And learned that Tumblr is not the place I wanted to be.

Ultimately I want this place to be about people and ideas. If you like those things you'll probably enjoy reading.

I'm very happy at Posterous and want to ensure you that there will be a lot more Ad Caulk to come. I've set out to post more and I really do want to hear what people think down in the comments. I appreciate everyone who has helped me this past year.

Going forward I will post more lessons take from my life's failures and successes. And since this is my only public repository for thought you'll get a few of my half baked ideas.

Hope you've enjoyed reading, and possibly learning from, my posts. Here's to year two!

The real one year anniversary was Jan 27th but I was too busy posting about being dumb to remember this. Fitting.


I've been on a post-posting kick lately. This one comes from George Tannenbaum's blog, Ad Aged.

A Bit More Feynman

I might have read the article wrong, but I thought it showed the value of being dumb.

Not dumb as in stupid, doing stupid things, or acting unintelligently. Those are really dumb.

This is being dumb by not buying into the status quo. Being dumb by trusting your own instincts over the instincts of "experts" and "gurus".

I've seen example of this in my life time and time again. Times that I didn't know I 'can't' talk to someone because they're too established. Times that I didn't know I shouldn't speak up during a meeting. Times that I found a folding chair and made my own floor seat at a Maya Angelou speech.

This style is abrasive and it's not right for everyone but it has been tremendously valuable for me. So be dumb, comment, get into conversations but keep two things in mind.

You better be able to back up your opinions really really well.
You better get ready to eat crow more often than you would like.

Don't be abrasive, don't be an attention whore; just listen and talk to people. That's the smartest kind of dumb there is.

EXTRA: Evan Stark (DDB copywriter, not Ironman's brother) also mirrored these sentiments on a recent post from Vinny Warren. It's called "SCHMUCK, SPEAK LOUDER!", you should read the whole thing.

Puttin' the smack down on all you youngsters.

A couple of days ago The Ad Contrarian, a blogger you should be following, posted The Young and Witless.

AKA "Keep your egos in check, youngins."

When we're new to anything and full of energy we tend to believe we have all the answers. As you know that's not always the case regardless what we believe.

But on the same side of the coin people with tons of experience don't have all the answers, but they do have the disipline to go out and find them. Well they have that discipline if they're any good.

The most important part of this piece is that, once again, everything comes down to ideas. It's not the competition of young vs. old - it's good vs. bad. Where ever you are in your progression into 'The Life' take a couple of minutes and check out the post.

On cover letters

A few nights ago a friend asked me to look over her cover letter. She really wants an internship this summer and knew I had some success in the past. Her world is different than mine, theatre, but a good cover letter is a good cover letter.

She sent it over and I started reading it. About four sentences in I messaged her on facebook asking if the place had a stuffy atmosphere. It wasn't so I told her that she should probably rewrite her cover letter.

The issue was not that it was not a good cover letter. In fact it fit every criteria they teach you in business cover letter writing classes to a T. But she wasn't applying to a business this was a theatre company and, much like advertising agencies, they like people with personalities.

The cover letter was tragic because she had expressed so much excitement to me about the place. but didn't get that into the letter. she also did herself a disservice by listing what she's done, but not really conveying anything.

This is a problem I've seen with a lot of my friend's cover letters. They come off as a bit dull because that's how college's teach you to write them.

For being such a loyal reader you get to hear my technique. While no expert, I like to think my method for writing cover letters is pretty solid. 

However, let me preface the process with this; each cover letter should be intensely personal and customized.Write every single one tailored to the business rather than using some template. Companies can sniff out templates like bloodhounds.

Now the process 5 step process:

First, you need a grabber. this is the headline, the first impression. It can either hook or turn someone off immediately- so make it good.

I am going to transform your agency in ways you didn't know existed.

That's a grabber, but please do not use that one. It's really terrible.

Second, you'll need to tell them who you are and what you want from them. Avoid the generic student at so and so college, just your name and the position will do. But still jazz it up a bit.

My name's Horatio Salamon and the voice of God instructed me to apply for your jr. web designer position.

Third, you need to tell them why you are applying to that business. What makes them special or even the prefect place to work. This part takes some heavy duty research because you want to hit on the kernel that resonates the most with you. A big part of this section is actually wanting to work at a place. the passion will show.

Working at Gargantuan would not be an opportunity wasted on me. Your constant commitment to paradigm-shifting work has no equal in this industry. There is no way to describe the spine tingling feeling I get when looking at your work.

Fourth, write all about yourself. What you've done, what passions you have, why you are perfect for them in every way. Point out major accomplishments but you have to show them. Don't say you are a leader, instead tell them all about the time you had 150 students shut down the university in protest. this is the part where you make yourself uber-desirable. (Don't get all braggy but have some confidence about your work.)

I recently developed a site for Big Coffee Co. Coffee has always been a love of mine and I immersed myself in the company's entire process to make a site that really spoke to their core. You can see it at BigCoffee.Co. My friends and I also spearheaded an effort at State University to feng shui the freshman dorm rooms in 2009. Now every incoming freshman gets a bamboo plant the day they move on campus.

Fifth, close that sucker real tight. As Alec Baldwin said in Glengarry Glenn Ross "Coffee's for closers only." So no coffee until you come up with the perfect conclusion to the letter. Bottle up all your excitement about the position in this one paragraph. And put down your contact information. they should get how much you want to work here even if they just read this one paragraph.

There are few thoughts more exciting that getting to work at Gargantuan alongside you guys. You influence culture and I want to too. The best place to reach me is via email at - I'll be obsessively checking my iPhone for your response. 

Of course you cover letter should be a million times better than Horatio's. So good luck on writing a ton of these and getting a job. My last bit of advice would be to make your cover letter as concise as possible.

Unlike this blog post.

Straight From The Killer's Mouth


This is Dan Wieden, the Weiden in W+K.

He also wrote "Just Do It" - the line that has defined Nike since, well, forever.

And in this video he let's you in on how he came up with it.

Watch some awesomeness:

What's cool about the video is that he shows that inspiration can come from anywhere. When talking about inspiration I can't imagine a more morbid start to a story than "well, he was sentenced to firing squad." But even with the inspiration of the killer's last words Wieden tweaked it to become the mantra for the brand, he took the line and made it his own.

It's also cool to see that something he thought might be a throwaway ended up have mass impact on the brand and culture. Sometimes the best ideas aren't quite as obvious to us as they are when they get presented. It's easy to dismiss an idea if you don't get input. The same can be said for promoting bad ideas.

If a killer's last words can influence one of the most popular lines ever it's hard to say that great inspiration can't come from anywhere. What's the coolest way you've ever developed an idea?

BONUS Here's another great video of Dan talking about what makes a good idea. For your viewing pleasure:

symbols and pictures and logos; oh my!

This past week Starbucks changed their logo and it generated a fair share on buzz. Here it is in all it's glorious greenness:

When I caught the news of the change I was about to get on a flight to Denver and didn't think much about what it meant. Quite frankly I would have liked if they had kept the ring of words and gotten rid of the mermaid, but those are just my writer sensibilities talking.

The importance of the logo change didn't hit me until my friend and I were driving to Fort Collins and a car with this logo drove past:

In my excitement i blurted out, "that's a Crispin suburban!" My friend is in law school and was naturally confused. I explained what Crispin is and he replied, "that's nice," and went back to focusing on the road.

Get used to that.

At that moment something in my brain clicked and I got why this logo and the new Starbucks logos are so special. It's because a single glance at them makes a person immediately identify who the company is.

Not a single character of text is needed - a slightly unsettling thought for a copywriter.

There are few brands that can claim this about their logos. The ones that came to my mind are those I already mentioned, Nike, Apple, McDonalds, Target and a handful of car companies.

That's a pretty exclusive list, it's like the VIP room for Club Brand and every single company is trying to get in.

It also helped me understand the challenge that art directors have. My artistic skills are better than a lot of people, but it pains me to think of creating a single image to sum up an entire brand. So if you're on the fence about being a copywriter or art director (and some people can do both) run yourself through an exercise like this.

If you can sum up a brand in a single image that's awesome. Be an art director because that's something really special. If you can sum up the feeling of a brand in words but can't figure out that one image be a writer. It's fun and you could even have a blog like this.

Either way it's a great feeling to pin down which side of creative you want to be on. After that it's just all about churning out great work.

p.s. Angela Natividad wrote an awesome post about the symbolic meaning of the Starbucks logo change while I was composing this piece. You should check it out.

(not) ringing in the new year

Those of you who follow me on twitter (all of you) are aware that my phone broke on new years eve.

I did not drop it. I did not sit on it. I didn't even leave it in my pants pocket and wash it on accident.

I sent a text message, slid the keyboard into the phone, locked it and turned off the screen. A few moments later I reached for my phone to send another message and the screen would not turn on. I pressed the button alternating praying to and cursing the phone gods that this had not happened.

It had.

I spent the rest of the night trying to revive my phone because it is a part of my brain - Scott Adams wrote about this earlier this year. I resigned myself to the fact that it would not work and took the lifeless phone in to the T-mobile store the next day. The guy at the store told me that my phone was not dead but there was a screen connection error which rendered the phone useless.

This was the third Touch Pro 2 I have had in the 16 months since buying it. I received my now broken device in august so this one made it to a little over four months of use. By now I am out of the warranty period and did not buy insurance on the phone, stupid me thinking a product would last.

Which means I am now in the market for a new phone. I've been in and out of t-mobile stores trying to figure out the best phone to buy. Which phone to get bound to, by the law, for the next two years of my life. I increasingly use my phone more and more so the quality of the product and operating system are pretty important. The issue with the t-mobile phones is all of them feel pretty crappy.

The highest quality phones they sell are still molded out of cheep plastic. Phones that t-mobile proudly announces are marked down from their egregiously high retail prices. I know there is no way that those phones could possibly hold up for two years.  Even the Razr feels more substantial than many of these "high quality" smart phones. It gets to the root of what is wrong with a lot of cell phone manufacturers.

We have seen from the iPhone and the Razr before it, that people will pay a premium for a product that feels and looks like a quality product. Great internals are fine but the product needs to be able to hold up to regular use for people to enjoy the power under the hood. If something is supposed to be high quality make it high quality or stop kidding yourself.

This isn't really about getting into advertising at all but maybe it could help if you're ever involved in decision making about a product. There's really two lessons in this piece:

  • Make products that are worth buying. Bernbach said, "A great ad campaign will make a bad product fail faster. It will get more people to know it's bad."
  • Always, and I mean always, buy the insurance on your crappy phone. Because most phones just aren't made to last two years - or in my case 6 months.

Hopefully T-Mobile will announce something great at CES but I've learned to stop expecting much from them.