Tag Archives: advertising

And I thought it was just writer’s block



As shared by an art director friend….

Granted, my “bees” are usually my sister Cairn Terriers, who love to distract me with adorable looks, requests to play ball, or advance warnings of impending intruders.

Or, is it that the mailman is here? Or their “boyfriend” the Scottie has dropped by for an afternoon visit? Or, for Cody, that another ice cube has dropped into the tray?

Ah, the joys of being an independent contractor working at home. Taxing at times (and I don’t even want to think about the whole tax mess coming up), but I have certainly relished the opportunity to do my own thang.

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giving thanks

There are times where I’ve found that finding new business is one of the toughest parts of being an independent contractor. During these past few months of being a freelancer, I’ve been pretty lucky to have either A) been asked by former coworkers to help out on their projects, B) referred by previous coworkers to people who were looking for a writer, or C) found new clients/agencies through my own networking efforts.

What has been an eye-opening issue has been my relationship with the umpteen different temp agencies I’ve registered with over the past few years. Sure, I get calls occasionally from them about my availability and/or interest in temp gigs. But why is it that their pay scale is less than half of what I’ve been able to bill on my own? I understand they have to make money, too. But why is it an agency will pay me my asking rate, but not get even close to that number when it comes through a recruiter?

I’m hopeful that 2010 is going to be a great year for my career. But before we get there (there still are 25 “shopping days” til the end of the year…and my birthday), I’m making a point of remembering the opportunities I’ve been blessed with during 2009.

As the inside of the Thanksgiving card read that featured the artwork above (1 of 3 that I sent out), I give thanks for this year’s opportunities to express my unique brand of creativity.

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Good enough?

There’s an article in a recent issue of Wired where the author lists a whole bunch of “technology” that, despite being inferior in build and results than more expensive competitors, is having a huge impact on the way business and industry are bringing their products to market. From video cameras to the MP3, today’s consumers are content to purchase products and services that are “good enough” for now, and almost adapting a disposable mindset.

Screen shot 2009-10-13 at 1.24.38 PM

So what happened? Well, in short, technology happened. The world has sped up, become more connected and a whole lot busier. As a result, what consumers want from the products and services they buy is fundamentally changing. We now favor flexibility over high fidelity, convenience over features, quick and dirty over slow and polished. Having it here and now is more important than having it perfect. These changes run so deep and wide, they’re actually altering what we mean when we describe a product as “high-quality.”

And it’s happening everywhere. As more sectors connect to the digital world, from medicine to the military, they too are seeing the rise of Good Enough tools like the Flip. Suddenly what seemed perfect is anything but, and products that appear mediocre at first glance are often the perfect fit.

Is this new attitude making it more difficult to market products and services to the right target audience? It seems that, for a whole bunch of marketing communications, the thinking and creative behind them matches this “good enough” mentality. Especially in the digital marketplace.

The beauty (and possible flaw?) of most digital marketing is the ability to quickly adapt and change the look, feel, and message. It’s not like print ads or broadcast, where you want to be absolutely sure before you put something on press, on in the can.

But is this “hurry up and get the best message [for now] up” really doing a service for the advertising industry? I know there are still numerous agencies that still do focus group testing, and then use the learnings from such sessions to tweak and adapt the message to make sure they get the biggest bang [to the widest audience] for the buck. But that seems to be more of a rarity than the norm.

Of course, part of the challenge for this disposable thinking, is the constant shopping of ad business from ad shop to ad shop the minute sales stall or decline. Don’t people know that building a brand takes a little time? And that constantly changing your message leads to confusion, not brand loyalty?

Sure, there are times that I’ve adapted the “hurry up” approach to some projects. But only when it was appropriate. The rest of the time, I remind myself that, in this day of practically “no act left undocumented,” that it’s not just a company or product’s name on the communication. In a way, it also has mine.

Because of this, I’ll continue to take a little extra time to make sure the words are doing their job. And that I’m doing mine. Because anything less isn’t good enough.

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Pre-tweet. And repeat.

Who needs 140 characters? For the past couple of months, I’ve been lucky to be included in a weekly Haiku exercise. It’s great to see how the people in this Tuesday group see the world through the simple pattern of 5-7-5.

It’s not like the addiction that is tweeting and Facebook. I mean, really, how much do I really need to know about the small details of people’s days? I don’t even want to share my own. But hey, we all get to choose how we want to share, with whom, and which gory details.

I guess I like that it’s the rules of this particular engagement. It’s weekly. It’s Haiku. And that’s about it. There’s no limit to the maximum number you can submit. One is super. More is good, too.

Just goes to show that using the power of language, with restrictions, can still provide an impactful message. Sure, I get paid to write. But that doesn’t mean I’ll always want to use a bunch of words. Quite the contrary. I believe less can be more when that’s the best/right solution for the communication. But I also don’t believe in the “a picture is worth a thousand words” mentality that some art-directors-who-will-go-nameless want to use.

It’s amazing how much I start thinking of responses in the 5-7-5 rule. Especially as Tuesday approaches and I know I’ll start seeing the weekly contributions from the group. And know that I have my own to share.

Tweet if you want to,
But I’d rather share my world
Through 5-7-5.

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getting in the “mood”

adschoolmeWhen I was at ad school in Atlanta, my mentor in the copywriting program made a great suggestion to help my writing style. Her tip: before starting the ad copy, write a quick letter to a friend. It helps put you in a conversational tone. And I found that it was usually pretty effective.(I’ll even admit, I wrote good letter. Even made myself LOL, only that was WAY before we even had LOL.)

Of course, the natural progression was to evolve from snail mail to e-mail. So as my career progressed, it was easy to fire off a quick electronic note to someone to help put me in the mood.

Next came IM, and the constant connection with people in the next office, or across the pond. It still remains a great conversation starter, and does help keep my tone casual.

Sure, it’s not always appropriate to be casual. And adapting to that style isn’t too difficult.

Today, we have status updates for Facebook and Linkedin, tweets, SMSs, plus the continuation of e-mail and IM. With all this electronic communication, and more time spent “connected” to people you know, and even people you actually know personally (and not just electronically), I find that it becomes more distraction, less motivation for the projects I have going. Almost to the point of quitting all communication programs (e-mail, IM, even the web) just to have a little peace and quiet.

It’s time to go old school. You know, using a writing instrument and (gasp) paper.

My new motivational process, well at least something I’ve done once this week with great results (IMO), was inspired by my dear editorial friend up in Seattle. She suggested a blank piece of paper, a writing utensil, and some actual quiet alone time. The intent is to be in the moment, and find inspiration in my immediate surroundings. Watch, listen, feel, and then capture whatever thoughts bubble up from wherever thoughts come from, and then jot them down in one of the four quadrants I’d drawn on the blank page. There is really no specific purpose of the writing, other than to just be present. But as my brain can do at times, it took it a step farther.

I think this extra curricular brain activity stems from my new desire to write poetry. I’ve been told my ad writing can (at times) be poetic, and seemed like a natural extension. So, once I had captured the four strongest thoughts of the moment, after a little tweaking, I actually turned it into 4 poetic tidbits. It’s still rough. Still a work in progress. But I’m pretty pleased with the overall results.

4 Views of a Fall Afternoon

Wind blows, chimes sing.

Lower tones swaying in the breeze,

High notes answer with another gust.

Reverberation drifts as the calm envelopes.

Silence, broken only by shifts in the atmosphere.

Stirred by the wings of a dove, or perhaps a butterfly.

Born half a continent, or a world away.

Creating mood, creating music.


The dark, dark beauty of longing eyes.

Looking for trust. Assurance. Love.

Big dark pools that reflect joy followed by uncertainty.

From what depths does the fear stem?

Not when, but if it will ever abate.

Find solace reflected in my gaze.

Feel joy from my heart.

Safety is yours for the asking.


Long, luscious green blades

Gently bending, giving way,

But not giving ground.

Flitter. Flutter. Swaying to what music

Is found in the power of Mother Earth.

Warm under the rays of the sun.

Water splashes, giving life.

As hope continues to flow—and grow.


The drone of a single engine.

Where has it been, where is it going?

In the now, does it really matter?

Chase the blue! Dance with the clouds.

So light. So free.

The drone grows louder in the moment,

Then softly slips beyond the horizon,

Leaving nothing but memory in my ear.

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confessions of a poser

OK, I’m no Don Draper, nor am I Darren Stevens. (Though I don’t have a personal preference between the two Dicks, I guess I have more in common with Sargent than York.) I don’t play an ad guy on TV, I play one in real life. Dick_Sargent

I get paid to write a variety of different things. Print ads. Brochures. Web banners and sites. And, as of late, TV commercials and radio spots.

Here’s where the poser part comes into play: I don’t listen to the radio because I have an iPod connected in my car. I usually fast forward through commercials thanks to my DVR. And I can’t think of more than a handful of times that I’ve actually clicked on a Web banner. (Now, Web sites are a completely different story. I do visit quite a few sites on a regular basis, and always enjoy exploring not only the content, but how the whole thing is put together from an end user’s POV.)

Sure, there are quite a few commercials that catch my eye. Presently, I love the one for Little Cesar’s Bistro dog food commercial with the big dogs trying to act like little dogs.

In my “I love dogs in TV commercials”, I also love the one from Traveler’s Insurance.

I love the brilliance of the American Express “protection” commercial, especially the image of the shopping bag.

On the radio side, I do love the Kaiser Permanente spots from a couple of years ago. Their TV spots are pretty good, too.

With all of this said, I know my job as an ad writer is to compel people to click, call, visit, or buy. I know the words I commit to paper or pixel (or airwaves) are supposed to help tell a story, sell a product/service, and ultimately, evoke a reaction of some sort.

But when I’m rarely compelled to do the very things I’m asking consumers to do, does that make me more like a paid spokesperson who is hired to schlock a product? Does it make me Brooke Shields who seems to be hocking everything these days? Or more like the guy from the hair club, who isn’t just president, but also a client?

I will confess to being a huge Nissan enthusiast. Not only did I work on their brochures, POS, and Web business, but I’m the proud owner of a Murano, and had a Pathfinder before that. That counts as putting my money where my ad thoughts are, right?

Nissan aside, does my near ad avoidance make me any less credible as an ad guy? I like to think of it as more like I’m someone who just happens to be talented with ideas, and then brings them to life using words and pictures.

I mean, really, I’m not a paid actor. I’m a real person. Trying to make a living in the best way I know how.

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Creative (Pro)Creation

During this recent spell of non-permanent work, I’ve been pretty darn lucky to work with some great agencies, albeit remotely. One in the Pacific Northwest, one right off old Route 66. The projects have been diverse, and quite creatively fulfilling .

With the distance between us, most of the projects start off with a creative brief and a phone call. Once we’ve established the need to create, I go off on my own and work my magic.

The biggest challenge has been the whole creative process. Often, once I’ve done my initial concepting and delivered the first round of creative, the project then takes on a life of its own. I don’t always get the opportunity to see the rounds of client revisions unless it requires a rewrite of significance.  And usually, I don’t see the final outcome until it’s ready for distribution/publication.

spermbankThese creations, however remote, feel like my children. Yet, with little involvement beyond the beginning of the project, what does that make me? A donor?

It’s like I go off into the little room, creative brief in hand for inspiration, to perform my “task.” You know, just some quiet “alone” time to let the creative juices, uh, flow. (groan) (Or is that, moan?) Once I’ve “produced” and handed off the results, it’s almost as if I just wash my hands and go about my life. Never quite knowing if this offspring every made it full term and actually goes out into the market? Always wondering how my lil creation is developing?

There are times that I wish I had more involvement with the development. But it’s not like I want to pay its way through college.

I guess what it comes down to, is maybe just a postcard or email, a PDF or quick note, just to say “I’m doing great! Thanks for your contribution.”

And then I can move on to the next creative brief waiting to be hatched.

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Web of Influence

It’s summer in SoCal, which means it’s sweeps time if you’re a spider. This translates to knowing that, no matter how careful you are, or what time of day, you’re bound to walk into a web somewhere.

spideryThis lil bugger was in the tree right outside our patio. I’ve seen others who have been a little more advanced in their web placement. The smarter ones are more like today’s super sophisticated, data driven banner ads. They’re building their webs above a light. They know that their target is attracted to the light, hence, putting them in a better position to punch their meal ticket.

The challenge, just like the spider who sets up shop in the place he/she thinks is best, is that no matter how much research or data, the attention of the intended target isn’t always guaranteed of being caught.

Old school advertising had a much easier time. Fewer choices meant a greater chance of hitting the right demographic. It was more like the spider who weaves its web high up in the tree where it has a chance to build a big target that most likely would be ignored, or knocked down by an unsuspecting person like…well….me.

Reaching the target today can be a challenge. Mostly because, as consumers, we have way too many choices. (Not to mention a shorter attention span. What is the latest data? If you don’t capture someone’s attention on a Web page within 15 seconds, click…they’re gone.)

We also don’t always follow the expected path. Look at Facebook. Created for college students by a college student. Because of that, makes sense to link advertising targeting the 18-24 year olds. Wrong! The largest demographic group setting up personal pages on Facebook is now the over 40 crowd. And especially women.

But it’s not just happening on the Web. it’s happening in stores. Or, in my case, an auto dealership. I went in the other day to look at a particular luxury brand’s offerings. And when I asked my old school car salesman Walter about one of their newer, smaller (and perhaps seen as more youthful and hip) vehicles, he quickly quashed my desire to look at it because I was “much too old” to be considering that vehicle.

Uh, really?

Consumers will continue to behave in ways that aren’t always expected. Which just means that advertisers will have to do like the spiders in our neighborhood. Increase the numbers. Spread out wherever they can. And if they get knocked down, rebuild as quickly as possible. (That scenario alone is what makes the Web so powerful. Immediate results show marketers what’s working, and what isn’t. And making small changes is a lot quicker than editing a print or TV ad.)

Eventually, the marketer will capture the attention of some poor, unsuspecting fly.

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swimming in the creative pool

there are days when diving into the creative process is as shocking as the water temperature here off the coast of southern california. not that i really know. i’ll admit that in the 15 years i’ve called SoCal home, i’ve been in the water twice. no deeper than my knees. as shocking as that sounds, it’s no more shocking than my own response to hearing people say, “no, the water’s warm! it’s like 68 degrees today.”

uh, thanks, but give me the warm waters of maui any day.

but i digress. my initial thought for this post came from finding myself at times in the creative zone for small pockets of time, and then wham! it’s gone.

for some odd reason, it reminded me of when i was a kid, and we spent many a summer vacation at “the lake.” by the lake, i mean lake brownwood. it was where the family had a home that was home to my maternal grandfather for years.

AB06523i spent a lot of time swimming, fishing, and basically overall relaxing in that lake. but one of the things i remembered the other day was how, out of nowhere, you’d find yourself either in a warm or cold spot depending on the overall temperature of the water. i remember wanting to stay in that zone because of the momentary relief it provided.

but just like some creative zones, it can all change in a matter of seconds. one minute you’re basking in the brilliance that is streaming from your head to your fingers and onto the page. the next…your a cold fish gasping for, well, water.

i’ve learned the trick is to swim as fast as you can when in the zone. and when not? keep tredding. something will break free.

or, if you’re lucky, you’ll find yourself in another lil pocket of creative warmth.

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Marketing to a more sophisticated palette

There’s no question that today’s consumers are a much more sophisticated lot. It seems everywhere you turn, men and women are constantly clutching their latest digital toy in one hand, and either a gourmet coffee drink or a $4 bottle of tap water in the other.

I find myself falling victim to these choice choices. And not just when it comes to dressing and feeding myself. (All said as I’m sipping my Starbucks coffee with my new Palm Pre sitting on the desk.) Like every parent who insists on dressing their little ones only in Baby Gap, I find myself spoiling my “children.” alliecody

Sure, it’s easy to justify the drawer full of dog toys. And the 4 different collars/harnesses with matching leads hanging by the back door. (I’ll even reluctantly admit to having tons more toys and accessories bagged and on the shelf in the garage.)

But our biggest indulgence of late is what we choose to put in their bowls.

Take a walk through any pet store or look on any grocery pet food aisle and you’ll be inundated with variety. But, just like those parents who believe only Baby Gap will do for their child, we spoil our girls.

Why, just this morning, breakfast consisted of Stella & Chewy’s organic (and certified safe) freeze-dried goose and duck liver that I lovingly revived with some hot water, and then mixed into the California Natural dry kibble (sweet potato and herring). But, oh no, it didn’t just stop there. I also pumped one good pump of wild caught salmon oil, because nothing says I care about my girls like an added dose of Omega 3 fatty acids.

As the gal who owns our local pet supply store stated, these girls should have one helluva coat. Well, of course, that’s our intent. And we’ll see how it all works once they’ve been on the new diet for a bit.

This is definitely not the food I recall from my childhood, when the most exotic things I remember were the Gaines burgers that I think I was fonder of than the dogs. (Yes, I am told that, apparently when I was but a wee toddler, I was known to get to the dog’s food bowl before they did. I’m just saying…..)

But the marketers of these newfangled pet foods know when they are going in a good direction. Even mainstays like Purina and Pedigree are getting into the mix with their own offerings of “premium” or “all natural” choices.

But every time I open a can of Merrick’s “Grammy’s Pot Pie” or “Cowboy Cookout,” I have to wonder who I’m dishing this up for? Is it really for my girls? Or is it for me?

At least I can admit that it looks a hell of a lot more appetizing than those pathetic Gaines burgers that used to catch my toddler eye.

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