07 November 2019
You’ve been given the task of creating a powerful, engaging message for a brand. The boss is ready for you—wanting to hear what ideas you’ve got. You weren’t given much time, but you’ve been practicing your lines all morning. They have to be short and sweet. Something catchy. Memorable, immutable. You think you’ve got it … but is it a message that will persuade millions of people to spend millions of dollars on your idea? Or is it crap … just another catchphrase no one will repeat for a character no one will remember? If it’s good, will it get transformed into a design? Show up on a shirt? In a magazine? The side of a tractor trailer? How will it play out in a full hype video package? Will it connect with the audience? The spotlight is on. It’s your turn. You point your finger right at the camera and say … “And that’s the bottom line, ’cuz Stone Cold said so!” Surprised? If you thought this narrative was happening inside the mind of a creative—from the perspective of a designer, writer or ACD at any advertising agency—you would’ve been right. Agency creatives commonly talk ideas, brainstorm concepts, deliver high-pressure pitches for a brand’s identity. And they frequently do it in a lightning-fast amount of time. This scenario, however, was actually part of Stone Cold Steve Austin’s groundbreaking promo from King of the Ring ’96. It blew up, and almost instantaneously, he became the biggest draw in the history of “the business.” All from a few words. In the weeks that followed, the WWE (then known as WWF) would produce T-shirts with “Austin 3:16” printed on them—the tagline from that same 1996 promo. They would sell more than eight figures worth of those shirts. Eight figures. From those simple words. Stone Cold Steve Austin is a brand. His audience is the consumer. Coming up with powerful, engaging creative for a retail or business brand is not much different than a wrestler trying to get their brand “over” with an audience. We all know wrestlers need to put on a performance (an intense athletic one at that). But they also have to create a character. They have to come up with a tagline. They need to be able to deliver that line convincingly in front of both a TV camera and an arena full of judgmental fans. They have to work with designers to get their brand into logo form. Print that logo on shirts. And hats. And other merch. They have to work with a composer to come up with a piece of signature music for their entrance. It takes a complete production team to help them come up with a video package to get fans hyped for that brand so the fans in turn want to buy those products. And buy those tickets. Again and again. But for every Stone Cold Steve Austin, there’s a wrestler whose brand floundered (or failed). Didn’t have the right look. Their taglines were cringey. They couldn’t connect their brand with the audience. Case in point, a good example of a bad gimmick is Rocky Maivia. Rocky was a legacy brand. A third-generation blue chipper baby face. Very generic. The fans never accepted him. They would chant “Rocky sucks” over and over again. Eventually they just didn’t care—which was even worse. Rocky needed to rebrand. So he turned “heel” (aka, the “bad guy”) in the wrestling world. He changed his attitude. Changed his look. Changed his music, his video package. He started saying things like “Do you smell what the Rock is cooking?” He invented the word “Smackdown.” And eventually, he became known as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Complete rebrand at its best. Now the man is a legend. If something isn’t working for your brand, maybe it’s time to turn “heel” and try a refresh. And that’s the bottom line, ’cuz Stone Cold said so!
25 September 2019
Most creatives exist in a paradoxical place of passion and feigned indifference. We work to commit the kind of brilliant, blinding energy every project or concept deserves, side-by-side with trying to keep the heart distant enough to protect it from being quashed if our copy or design gets altered. Or meh’d. Or (ugh) rejected entirely. It’s a realistic part of the agency process (insert “thick skin” idiom of choice). One that ultimately helps fan the flames of creativity from the hope that someday one of our glorious ideas will get the green light, carte blanche. Enter GECU—General Electric Credit Union. A brand-new client who, after decades in business and a jaw-dropping history of success, felt it was time to up their game on brand recognition—a need they pegged us to take the lead on. They wanted it all, across the board. Immediate sales spots for radio and digital (and a brand-new buy to better leverage both). Plus other offer-based versions to follow. But at the forefront, paramount to all others: a soup-to-nuts, full-scale brand awareness campaign that would not only boost prominence with their target audience, but would set them dramatically apart from competitor banks and credit unions. Online, outdoors, on the airwaves and the tube. It was big. Huge. A colossal undertaking that had the marks early on of being a genuine game-changer for them—and to a certain extent, us. Put simply, it was the kind of high-level, big-picture, push-the-limits chance that professional creatives dream about. The starring role, if you will, in building something from scratch with every ounce of talent and vision in our toolbox. Remember that early radio deliverable? A project we pressured ourselves to knock out of the park with new scripts, new talent, new music—finding and establishing a complete GECU voice before we had fully sunk our teeth into how to amplify it. In one of the spots, we came up with a compact couplet we thought described them (their difference) to a T: Member owned, so we can’t be bought. Member run, so our best interest is yours. Powerful, punchy and to the point. GECU loved this line. We loved this line. So much so that it landed a leading role in one of our “big idea” concepts for the comprehensive brand boost. One that also involved 3D props, on-location filming, and most challenging of all, actual GECU members. Not actors. “People just like you.” It was the most ambitious. Definitely the most complicated. And the client went for it. Wait, what? Oh yes. Not only did GECU choose our A-list idea-star, they chose the concept that would force us to stoke our creative embers to full, bonfire-level intensity (and trusted from the get-go that we had the chops to deliver it). It was the concept that also placed the bulk of the first stage of work directly on their own shoulders—finding real credit union members who’d agree to be on-screen and larger than life. The soul of the campaign hinged on being able to recognize and relate to each of these people. Someone you know. And trust. And can relate to. Our challenge was to draw out these everyman connections from the members GECU chose—and then hope that sincerity and “realness” translated on-camera. It did. Of course, there were delays. And second-guesses. Our window of time—with our production company, our photographer, our own creative deadlines, even our media buy—was closing swiftly, and there were bumps and roadblocks none of us could have seen coming. Wouldn’t it be easier to hire talent to play the part of members? It was a thought we briefly entertained as the clock ticked down. It was also a sticking point our ACD refused to budge on, an uncompromising stand we felt was integral to the campaign (remember, soul and all?). But then in the space of a week, it all came together. We found the final participant, secured the last two locations—setting in motion a full-scale shoot that was then only four days away. We scheduled everyone and everything down to the minute: three days, five scenes, five different parts of the city, with close to 20 of us on set at each location—plus editing, voiceover and design work to follow. The stars themselves—real GECU members with everyday lives and jobs and commitments—blew us away with their eagerness and excitement to be part of this. Then blew us away again as their natural personalities absolutely shined on film. From this, we built four unique TV spots, currently running on all major cable and local networks. One radio spot doing the same across the area. Three billboards in nearly 100 locations. Dozens of digital ads and sponsored social posts. Not bad, right? Suffice it to say, the client was blown away. Together, as a team, we created something bigger—better—than we ever imagined. More to the point, we reveled in the fact that we had the chance to do it. Dare we call it our magnum opus? Nah, surely not. (Well, maybe.) Thanks, GECU. We’d say more, but the orchestra has already started playing …
13 September 2019
If you’ve ever sat through a long meeting debating the relative merits of the headline in concept #2 versus the color choice in #7 (or maybe with the design of concept #16?), then you’ve seen firsthand how approaching a marketing challenge from too many angles is basically like not approaching it at all. Everybody likes choice, but too many options at decision time often have the effect of leaving your brand team confused and your creative team demoralized. So how do we ensure we’re considering the best ideas without trying to execute all of them at once? Even more important, how to can you learn to ask for and expect only the top-drawer concepts—the top three, the mind-blowing two—rather than the entire pool of a dozen or more your team started with? It hinges first on a solid brief. By outlining the specific challenge and strategy, the creative team can zero in on the best, brightest solution from the beginning. There may be refinements along the way, but the surest way to get where you’re going is always knowing where you ultimately want to be from the start. Your creative team shares this responsibility. When they know and understand the market situation and the strategy you’ve set, you can challenge them to bring you the strongest ideas and best executions—the solutions you actually need. Trust the team’s expertise. At the end of the day, your creative team’s skills and experience are your most valuable assets. To get the most from your investment in them, you must first value their experience as much as their work—it’s the surest way to free them (even challenge and motivate them) to do their best work. Expect a focused presentation. How many concepts do you want in the meeting? The correct answer is the fewer the better. When the brief is on target, the creative product likely will be, too. Asking for too many second-tier ideas from the reject pile takes the focus away from stronger concepts—and makes it tough to execute any of the strong candidates at the highest level. Shouldn’t they have a back-up plan? Of course. And trust us, they’ve got one (likely more than one). But a word of caution … you really only want to see these under certain circumstances: The idea supporting the initial presentation misses the mark in a way that wasn’t anticipated in the brief. The secondary idea takes a completely different approach than the one they’re leading with. At the end of the day, it’s all about the process—the challenges your team has already navigated and solved, the tough (sometimes ruthless) creative decisions that have already occurred along the way. A strong creative team will have curated and selected only the best and most effective work long before it’s unveiled to you on presentation day.
28 August 2019
The ever-growing craft beer market—it’s a strange and unique animal. On the one hand, brewers have the ability to easily craft small batches of their barley bev of choice for a specific palate, flavor, style or season. More to the point, the masses are buying it. In passionate, perpetual quantity. On the other hand, this ease and interest have created an incredibly saturated market—a monster all its own where the average, non-Untappd-using drinker often chooses the next sixer based on packaging design rather than more common variables like ABV or price point. Even flavor profiles get ignored if the label is too cool to resist. Recognizing that the need to stand out on the shelf is more than half the battle, craft brewers have (smartly) turned to the creative industry for help. My, my, beer, how the tables have turned. The boom in the craft beer market over the past decade has created a veritable renaissance in contemporary design. Like skateboard decks of the ’00s, craft beer packaging design is exceedingly creative tolerant, allowing artists (or an agency) more room to take risks and produce more subjective work. This does have a downside, though. Grabbing some brews anywhere that carries a decent selection feels a bit like a scene out of Blade Runner … walls of cans aggressively fighting for your attention like a neon-lit alley in a dystopian future LA. Taking a line from The Incredibles: “When everyone is special, no one is. The ones that do it right, though, understand that it’s more than making a pretty label. It’s about the artists/agency being more involved, more fully hands-on—with the team, with the brew, with the success of the brand. Ultimately, they’re transformed into the brewer’s best and most trusted partner, rather than just another vendor. This trust allows the creative team to really hit the mark in terms of great concepts—ideas that are anything but arbitrary. Cutting through the beery noise are brands like To Øl (toolbeer.dk), whose designer/art director, Kasper Ledet, has been around since their beginning. Inspired by art history, architecture, contemporary art, politics and science, he believes the design is more than just marketing—it’s part of the actual experience. Then there’s Burial Beer (burialbeer.com), who approached their artist, David Paul Seymour, on Instagram. At the time, he was creating album art for some heavy bands—based nearly on interest alone, Burial knew Seymour would be perfect for creating their look from the ground up. Even local faves like MadTree and national giants Avery and New Belgium have upped their game when it comes to design, altering their established (somewhat iconic) labels in a targeted attempt to stand out more among the crazy craft crowd. So while craft beer continues to command attention and serious consumer dollars (despite InBev’s efforts to keep it corporate), the art of label design remains an ever-evolving, uber-competitive, highly creative field in the graphic design universe. The competition is fierce—what are you drinking?
27 April 2018
11 November 2015
14 October 2015