Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Creative vs. results? That’s so 2002.

For years, there were ads for furniture repair shops. Dance studios. Tattoo parlors. These “fake clients” helped line the awards shelves of many creatives. But personally, I blame the gerbils. Yes, the gerbils.
You can just sense the evil, can't you?

 Back in the late 1990s, a business called Outpost.com led the dot-com advertising frenzy with an incredibly memorable campaign whose sole purpose was to get people to remember the company name. The most memorable spot of the mix showed gerbils being fired from a cannon into the “O” in Outpost.

Cut to two years of crazy dot-com madness followed by a big dot-com crash. Part of the fallout? Clients stopped trusting ad agencies. Suddenly, we were all the creators of the gerbil cannon spot that became, somewhat unfairly, the “poster child” for irresponsible creative.

But that was then. These days, clients are starting to see great creative as a competitive advantage, something that helps their hard-fought-for marketing dollars go farther. And agencies are answering the call. Of course, we’ve had brief stops along the way with trends like “let’s make a viral video” (which is a bit of a stumbler, since one can make a video, but it takes the public—or a savvy seeding service—to get the hits required for it to be considered a viral success). Or the mad race to “do something” in the social space. Yes, Facebook is awesome. But for a brand to make sense there, it needs a relevant purpose, not just a page. That’s where creative (and smart strategy) comes in. It’s something that helps brands get noticed. And of course, something that helps meet sales objectives. Clients like Mondēlez are finding new ways to get the strongest creative out of agencies with some pretty groundbreaking ideas that include bucking the giant network trend and turning instead to smaller specialty shops with tighter teams.

The results speak for themselves. Sure, creatives are still lining their awards shelves. But the days of spec creative are fading. (The One Show in particular has extremely strict rules and penalties for fake ads.) The work that wins at Cannes, The One Show, and D&AD is, in many cases, the same work that’s winning Effie Awards for advertising effectiveness. In fact, the 2014 Cannes Lions Network of the Year Award winner, Ogilvy & Mather, was also named the Global Network of the Year at this year’s One Show. And, most telling, O&M was named Effie’s Most Effective Agency Network in both 2012 and 2013.

Thanks for the screen shot, AdAge.
As a creative lucky enough to be in the judging room this year at The One Show, as well as the venerable Hatch Awards in Boston, I can assure you that creative for the sake of creative has gone the way of the DVD. There’s just too much smart work being done for even smarter clients for a judge to settle on fake ads or gratuitous messages from the last century. Case in point: my “judge’s choice” for The One Show was an interactive outdoor board called “The magic of flight” for British Airways by OgilvyOne. It used real-time flight information to call out BA flights as they prepared to land at London Heathrow Airport. The same idea received five gold medals as well as the Direct Response Grand Prix at Cannes, a category known for celebrating effectiveness.

 In short, great creative begets great results. And in an ever-crowded, oh-so-competitive marketplace, that’s a foot in the door your brand deserves.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Thousands of entries. Dozens of talented peers. (The) One Show.

Time for a shot of inspiration, talent and humility. Yes, I just finished judging print for The One Club in beautiful, sunny Santa Barbara, California.
Outside the judging venue

Now for those of you who know The One Show, you know this is a pretty big deal. An honor. What a thrill it was to be asked. And what great business partners I have, who encouraged me to accept and picked up my slack while I was out. Thank you.

But don't be fooled, a boondoggle this isn't. There are literally thousands of entries. Entries that after six or seven hours start to look like a blur. But they can't. Because someone, somewhere cared a lot about that ad. They cared about the size of the logo. The turn of the phrase. The power of the message. The finesse of the illustration. I, and my fellow judges, owed them our undivided attention.
Inside the judging venue: no sunscreen required

Like any treasure hunt, there are hours of fruitless digging. But just when you start to lose hope, BAM. A quick breath. A pang of jealousy. A subtle smile. At this point in the judging, all is secret. So you smile to yourself and move on. The reason it's so exciting to judge is the chance to see what the best minds in the world are up to. And, the chance to (quietly) stand beside some truly great people. My fellow judges also represented the world. The One Show does an amazing job recruiting high quality judges across any barrier. Yes, even rarities like the female ECD (by now those of us in the biz are all-too familiar with the 3% stat) were carefully selected. I'm so glad I met you. Others, from industry legends to up-and-comers made for interesting, inspiring moments of conversation between work set ups.

And speaking of those set ups, I am so humbled and impressed by The One Club. Each and every one of them quietly, fluently and patiently made sure our process was as close to painless as possible. They apologized for the late days as we went off to our rooms at 9:30 at night. They, on the other hand, were off to tomorrow's set ups. I don't know how late they went. I don't think I want to. Thanks to all of you. I'm glad I met you and hope to see you again soon.  I can't wait to hear the pencil winners revealed in May. (Yes, us judges still don't know for sure, so don't ask.)
Until we meet again

I could go on here. Topics that showed up again and again. Bad breath's obviously a pretty major problem out there. Proper chewing gum disposal. And I promise, from now on I WILL NOT TEXT AND DRIVE. But one truth transcended all: from around the world, from differently agencies, great work consistently came from the same clients. It reminded me how important their voice is in the work. And how loud it shouts. Great clients: it's an honor to work with you. And, more than any of the other amazing people I've already mentioned, I'm glad I met you. Thanks.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Welders, truckers and ad girls

Being a confirmed right brainer, I never expected to use the words “fun” and “statistics” in the same sentence. But after hearing the stat recently that 97% of top creative positions in advertising are held by men, I decided we could all use a little fun.
Photo: Christopher Green
With the help of an XX planner friend, I decided to look at other professions. She pulled data that confirmed my suspicions: a truckload of surprising industries kick our backsides in the male/female workforce ratio.

For example, butchers, at 21.2%, outnumber top female creatives seven to one. At 34.6%, you're over 11 times more likely to be a female umpire than a top female creative. Truckers weigh in at 4.6%, welders at 5.4% and at 23.5%, you're almost eight times more likely to be a female fisherman/farmer/lumberjack than you are a creative leader.

But we shouldn’t completely lose heart.  We’re kicking some rear end ourselves versus many professions like drywall installers (2.5%), refrigeration mechanics (0.6%), and what is surely one of the most female oppressed professions: stonemasons (0.1%).
Stonemasons: the other 99.9%

Statistics don’t lie but they also don’t tell us why. Where are the women at the top creatively? Neil French, the incredibly talented and award-winning creative famously said it was because the product of women creative is “crap” and that we “don’t make it to the top because (we) don’t deserve it.”  He cited our need to “go suckle something” as a reason for our role in the industry. Gotta give him credit for speaking his mind. But names like Janet Champ and Sally Hogshead assure me that his blanket statement is crap, too. (Ironically both of these talented women have left agencies and are thriving in the industry as independents.) I’ve also of course heard the curse of the boys club blamed and once, a fellow XY Seattle creative director hypothesized, that “women are just too smart to put up with this long term.”

I however believe. I believe out there, somewhere is the next Mary Wells Lawrence. I believe we have a different perspective and a way of looking at the world that will build brands and sell our clients products. I believe that we will look at the stats some day and top female creatives will rank right up there with telemarketers (68%)  and HR professionals  (70%). 

Heck, why stop there? As the world moves deeper and deeper into a “caring” economy, top women creatives might one day rank right up there with dieticians (92.3%), speech language pathologists (96.3%), or even preschool teachers (97%).

 I believe.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Mom Month

Harry Chapin: the man who made the song that has
 been making parents feel like jerks since 1974
As a working XX parent, I've always wondered what it would be like to be a "Stay-at-home Mom," hereafter known as S.A.H.M. Sure, us working Moms go through all of the "am I a good mother" or "I can't believe I missed that performance" moments. And then there's always the rare occasion when we drop off or pick up our kids from some event wondering if the other Moms think we're Slacker Mom. In fact I can even recall a few times when I picked up one of my children from some soccer game or after-school program only to hear the adult-in-charge say "Well I'm sure you're okay to take (my child) because (my child) looks just like you." Nice. For years I've introduced myself not by name at elementary school auctions or girl scout sleepovers but as My Husband's Wife or My Child's Mom. Everyone was always very nice. And I'm sure the judgement was in my mind, not theirs. But geez, a Mom as "the parent that's never there" does seem to carry a bit more stigma than the reverse. (Working XY's, I know you feel it too. One of my old bosses used to break into "Cat's in the Cradle" every time he missed a parent teacher conference or, gulp, birthday.)

Okay, enough whining about missing first steps (I did) and plays and graduations. I do my best. But, recently, I got to explore the mysteries of those who don't hit the bus or the train or the traffic jams. I got to be S.A.H.M. for a month.

No tuna before noon please  
My last job finished in early March and I didn't start my new gig until April 1st. Suddenly, I was a full-time S.A.H.M. (With a strong XY work-at-home back-up if needed right there. But I can promise you, he took full advantage of the break and deserved every second of it.) So, I went to work. I got up every morning by 6:30 to gets kids up, make breakfast, make lunches, walk one to school, run home, get the other one to the bus stop. I can do this. Yeah. Breakfast was easy. Lunch seemed super easy. But after the third day, my XY wandered out of bed to peer at one of my children's lunches. "You know, you can make other things besides PBJ. You can make tuna." Well, I had been making Ramen soup in a Thermos. Quesadillas wrapped in foil. Lots of PBJ's, yes. But tuna? Hello. I would gladly give up my life for my children 1,000 times but there's no love deep enough to make me open and inhale a can of tuna at 6:50 in the morning. PBJ it was.

I was eager and always ready to run a forgotten homework assignment or project up to school. The lady at the front desk of the school started to chat it up with me. I was doing pretty well with this whole S.A.H.M. thing. But the whole "which day is practice for Child A, and where does the kid we pick up (or is it drop off?)  for tae kwon do live again and what time is that?" is pretty tricky. And while I can orchestrate an entire new business pitch in record time or tell you just at a glance whether a tv script is 30 seconds or 33, I can't for the life of me remember the difference between the (seemingly) thousands of randomly-named parks where soccer, baseball, softball and other unidentified practices are held. (Much to the chagrin of my XY, who CAN'T BELIEVE that I can't remember a park's name and location after one or two, or uh, ten visits.) Then there was the early school release day (what day was that?) and the Friday night practice ("What masochistic coach set up a Friday night practice," I innocently asked. Silly me.)

Tuesday and Fridays only
Over the month, the Moms (and Dads) were all nice and happy to see me every day on the blacktop. Yes, they knew me my name (and always have) and made small talk with me as I stood dorkily waiting for my child. The weather was unbelievably phenomenal so I got to walk miles and miles every day, and when I occasionally saw another S.A.H.M., we'd wave and smile. The excitement of my kids at the simple idea that I would see them off and be at home when they got out of school was wonderful yet heartbreaking (cue "Cat's in the Cradle").

It was a fabulous month. An unbelievable memory. A great way to say goodbye to some great S.A.H.M.'s and other parents that I never got to spend enough time with in the first place. But I think my proudest S.A.H.M. moment was one Monday when my XY looked at our child's clarinet case sitting quietly in the corner of the dining room with panic: "Oh no," he said, "we're going to have to take that up to school." But then, I gently reminded him that clarinet was Tuesday and Fridays, not Mondays.

Score one for S.A.H.M.

Friday, December 6, 2013

What boys have that girls don't

No, this isn’t about the obvious. It’s about the ongoing debate over whether XX's could ever, in our wildest dreams, be as funny as XY's. Like, do we lack the necessary equipment? Are the two somehow related? Is the funny bone connected to that bone?


Maybe it’s being around people and parties over the Holidays and hearing women, when they do struggle to burp out a joke, caveat it more times than not with the inevitable “Well I’m not very funny...” Maybe it’s in homage to the late Christopher Hitchens, who wrote the often-misinterpreted “Why Women Aren’t Funny” provocation in the January 2007 issue of Vanity Fair.  Maybe it’s because when I walked out of Bridesmaids last summer I said to myself “that was as funny as a guy movie.” (I am embarrassed to admit it, but I was skeptical that a movie about a female wedding party could run in the same circles as a bachelor party. Shame on me.)

Or maybe I’m just ready for a little LOL. 

Because it appears that, contrary to popular belief, science is proving that men are only SLIGHTLY funnier than women.

The study, conducted by Dr. Laura “Giggles” Mickes (okay, I’m kidding about the “Giggles” part) at the University of California, San Diego, featured a whopping 32 undergraduate men and women. After writing cartoon captions, additional men and women were brought in from the outside to score the overall  “funniness”  of the captions and then attribute them to either a male or female author. The bottom line: men did score “slightly funnier” overall, but both men and women assumed that the funniest captions were written by men and the lame ones written by women.  Not the case. And, no surprise to my cocktail party friends mentioned above, women rated their funny bones much lower, giving themselves a score of 1.5 out of 5 versus men, who gave themselves a score of 2.3.
Seriously? So this "comprehensive" study proves we can make funny like the boys. Of course this was not news to funny XX's  like Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Mae West, Mary Tyler Moore, even Marilyn Monroe.  I call her out because I know she regularly fought her funny girl image as she wanted to be seen as a “serious” actress.
In fact, it was Marilyn’s story that came to mind when my goddaughter came to me feeling very disappointed a while back. Seems that after being cast as Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh and the Genie in Aladdin, she landed the role of Miss Hannigan in Annie. She thought having the title role meant having the best role. I had to explain to her that the comedy roles were better and much harder. My logic worked; she rocked it as Miss Hannigan, no parental bias of course. Suffice it to say, Carol Burnett would have been proud.

Fortunately you don't need a "study" to find real proof. I believe the greatest gift to funny girls is Saturday Night Live. From Gilda Radner and Jane Curtain to Tina Fey and Amy Pohler, to Kristin Wiig and Maya Rudolph, these ladies aren’t me-toos, they’re kicking male counterpart butts outright. They've taught us that we’re no longer making funny like the boys, we’re making funny, girl-style. Agree or disagree but I laughed out loud at least four times in Bridesmaids (including once that reduced me to tears), and only twice in Hangover 2. Okay, the first Hangover rocked it, but I'd put Bridesmaids right up there.

This topic has a lot of mileage, I know that. From The New York Times to The Huffington Post, most conclude that men only THINK they are funnier than women, and women tend to reinforce it. But like the late Mr. Hitchins, I think what boys have that girls don’t is confidence. From what I see, looks like us XX’s need to tap into some of that joke juice. Because before we can convince the world that we’re as funny as men, we need to believe it ourselves. And once we do that, watch out mathematicians, because that stereotype ain't working for us, either.