25 February 2021
Great visuals are a critical component to having a successful social media design and social media marketing that drives engagement. This is even more important on highly visual channels like Facebook and Instagram. Here are some tips that will help you become that social media champion and ensure your social media design is on point. Cropping/Composition How your images are cropped is crucial. If you center all of your content, the images are a lot less interesting. Instead, try cropping the subject so that it’s off-center. This will draw the audience into the image. Also, don’t crop your subject so that it is right on the edge of a shape—either crop it off or don’t crop it at all. Avoid awkward tangents created by hard lines like rooflines, doors and windows. This will help optimize the visuals that you are using for your social media design. Image Size Always make sure to use the optimum image size that’s available and is the correct aspect ratio for each social channel. Images that aren’t correctly sized look unprofessional. Lighting Lighting in photography is one of the most fundamental aspects of social media design. Your subject should always be well lit with plenty of contrast between lights and darks. Flat images will not grab anyone’s attention. The more dynamic, the better. Stock Photography Stock photography can be used successfully for social media design, but it needs to be top quality. Don’t use images that are overly staged or predictable. Everyone has seen the cliché images of businesspeople shaking hands or attractive people smiling. If you are going to use stock photography, make it as authentic as possible. Try using photography that’s captured by a professional photographer and unique to your brand. Here are some great resources shutterstock.com stock.abobe.com pexels.com pixabay.com Brand Photography should always be on-brand. Try to develop a consistent look and feel—it will make your feed more interesting and help you convey the right message to your audience. Use similar lighting, style and tone so your feed looks cohesive. If you work for a corporation, chances are you have brand guidelines that cover social media marketing or social media design. Reference that document as needed to make sure that you are following the rules. Resolution Using low-resolution images is the kiss of death in social media design. Each channel continues to make improvements to their platforms. If you are using a smartphone to take images, make sure it is a newer model with a quality camera. Go to each social channel’s site and check the recommended specifications before posting any images as part of your social media marketing efforts. Unique Camera Angles If you’re shooting your own photography for social media design, try this: change the orientation of the camera to create interest or shoot the photo from a different vantage point (like from higher to lower, for example). Mix it up to keep things fresh. Quality It isn’t always about how many images you post—the old adage is true … so focus on quality, instead. Even a few bad photos can lessen the impact of your presence and turn off your audience. People are constantly bombarded with media these days—don’t fall victim to your audience tuning you out because of bad imagery. Social media marketing is a powerful way to promote your brand, products and services. Garnering engagement and growing your audience is always satisfying—so keep at it! If you run into hiccups, we’re here to help. Our social media team is HubSpot certified and knows the ins and outs of all-things social media design.
15 November 2020
As a designer, you know the phrase, “make it pretty,” all too well. You’re often asked to work your magic on a variety of projects—and it’s not always limited to websites or brochures. In fact, sometimes things are a bit more … shall we say … environmental. Take vehicle wraps, for example. These moving billboards are a creative way to get your advertisement in front of eyes you otherwise wouldn’t get if it was static. But developing an eye-catching wrap takes some Photoshop skills—lucky for you, we’re breaking down the steps to create your own, compliments of Cincinnati’s very own beloved hippo, Fiona. And, while you may not need a Fiona vehicle wrap necessarily, we’ve outlined the steps so you can practice in Photoshop and swap the images for your own needs. Let’s get started—and enjoy some Photoshop tips along the way! Step 1 Make a 37.5″x 16.5″ comp at 300 dpi (you can get those measurements going off of vehicle blueprint size). We can’t build to scale since our source assets aren’t large enough, but you want the aspect ratio to be similar to the car. It doesn’t have to be perfect—just close. Since you’ll ultimately be printing the wrap, make sure it’s in the CMYK color space. Step 2 Next, add water. It needs to be longer than the photo is. Let’s duplicate it and Edit > Flip Horizontally. Then, line them up. This should make the seam seamless. Trim the transparent pixels via Layer > Trim. Save your water out as a .PSD. Step 3 Find a hippo picture and cut it out with the pen tool. Once you close the path, go to the pen toolbar at the top and Make > Selection. Then, click on the layer mask button to “cut out” the hippo. Trim the transparent pixels via Layer > Trim. Save your hippo as a .PSD. Photoshop Tip: Use Layer Masks Layer masks allow you to show or not show parts of a layer using white or black luma mattes. Simple way to remember: black = don’t show; white = show. The key capability of layer mattes is to be able to work non-destructively (i.e. you can revert any part of composing your scene). Using the eraser tool for example is “destructive”; it can’t be targeted or reverted easily. You can use layer masks on practically any layer—smart objects, linked smart objects, folders and even raster layers. The functionality of adjustment layers and smart filters include a layer mask for you to dictate where you want an adjustment or filter to happen. Step 4 Bring your hippo .PSD in as a linked object (File > Place Linked). Put it where you think you want it in relation to the car and save. Photoshop Tip: Linked Smart Object A linked smart object lets Photoshop reference an externally-hosted asset. It’s great if you need to use an asset in multiple projects or multiple times in a project without having to try and recreate it over and over again. Do your art up and save it out. Then, in your master composition, select File > Place Linked. You can also make an existing smart object into a linked object by right-clicking on the smart object and selecting “Convert to Linked.” Step 5 Next, go to the car template and File > Place Linked your underwater scene with Fiona—now you can see where the image is landing in relation to the car. Double-click on the linked underwater Fiona layer to open it as a .PSD tab. Now, adjust the hippo. Save and repeat until Fiona is where you want her. Step 6 This part is important: We need to make it look like Fiona is underwater. To make the hippo’s head look like it is above water, create a new layer mask and then select it in the layers palette. Use an 1800-pixel feathered brush at 40% opacity to fully paint the Hippo’s body underwater. Then, use a brush with a hardness of 40% at 100% opacity and paint her head back in. Now for finishing touches … use that same brush at 90% opacity and paint the water edge back in around the neck. Step 7 The picture we chose is somewhat flat compared to the water. Let’s create a curves adjustment layer to crush the shadows and bring out the highlights (commonly referred to as an “S” curve). Photoshop Tip: Adjustment Layers When making color edits to your art like curves and levels, you want to use layer masks to do it non-destructively. Layer masks let you turn on/off, change in real-time and mask out many different changes to a layer(s) utilizing a built-in layer mask. Step 8 Ready to add some fishies? Cut fish out, save and place them into your underwater Fiona comp. Fish need some blue to match the water—so drop the opacity. To soften it up, add some Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Now duplicate the fish and change size and rotation for variation. Step 9 Place your logos as embedded smart objects so that you can resize easily without changing the quality. Photoshop Tip: Embedded Smart Objects Use an embedded smart object to scale and resize vector or raster art without changing quality. You can also work smarter by editing your assets inside the embedded smart object and then saving it—then it will update in your main composition: right click > convert to smart object. Smart objects will also allow you to apply Filters to layer(s). Step 10 Yay! We’ve all been there—you get stuck in a creative rut and don’t know how to dig out. Sometimes it just takes getting out of your comfort zone, trying something new and putting your skills to the test. Whether it’s trying out a Photoshop tip from the post above or diving deep into the vehicle wrap step-by-step, practicing your craft will only make you that much better … and allow for more creativity in the future. If you find yourself needing a hand with any kind of design work or your own vehicle wrap, St. Gregory is here to help. Reach out to us today to schedule a free consult.
10 September 2020
Being creative as a brand is always a must—and staying creative during a pandemic, well, that’s even more of a must. With so many businesses taking a hit and modifying marketing plans, we’re impressed at those who’ve decided to take a somewhat different approach … as we like to call it, “the smile effect.” For instance, take Kraft Heinz’s lemonade brand, Country Time. The imaginative group launched a new campaign called “The Littlest Bailout Relief Fund” that will send stimulus checks at random to kids who had to close their summer lemonade stands due to the pandemic. Parents simply enter their kid’s name on a microsite for their chance to win a $100 commemorative check and prepaid gift card. As the voiceover says, “Now the smallest of small businesses are about to get some help.” Cue the smiles. Country Time isn’t the only brand focused on the littles. Great Parks of Hamilton County felt the tears from miles away when news broke that playgrounds and picnic areas were off-limits earlier this year. That didn’t stop them, however, from bringing the park (and fun educational content) to the kids. But it’s not just young ones who are feeling blue this summer. Anyone with PTO on their hands is lamenting canceled cross-country vacation plans. While staycations are likely the most popular option for the foreseeable future, Audible UK tapped into consumers’ pent-up yearning to get out and explore after months of quarantine. Thanks to a new 30-second spot mimicking the oh-so-familiar welcome and safety message airlines broadcast before takeoff, as well as vintage-style images recalling the golden age of flying, “Fly Audible” repositions the audio book seller as a travel company (and reminds us that books truly can take us anywhere). Head to Hogwarts or Mars … no matter which destination you choose, it will be somewhere other than your living room. Perhaps the most heart-tugging campaign comes by way of Heineken. Their “Ode to Close” commercial puts a spotlight on the closeness we miss—and the closeness we feel by being apart. It’s the perfect happy hour inspiration. Rather than being stale and stagnant, brands are facing the facts: in order to stay in the black, they’ve got to get inventive in 2020. Scrap the plans and knock consumers’ socks off with something totally new (and smile-worthy) instead. Not only will it build brand loyalty and morale in the midst of the pandemic, but it can boost profits, too. Let the creatives, marketers, product peeps, heck … even management … flex their innovative muscle. If we’re all stuck in this together, why not have a little fun? Your business (and consumers) will thank you With a big #smile, of course. This post is part of a series on marketing during and after the pandemic. To read the others, follow this link.
28 July 2020
Author: Daniel Lally
There’s a saying among litigators that goes something like this: If the facts are on your side, pound the facts. If the law is on your side, pound the law. If neither is on your side, pound the table. The thing about that maxim is that it works equally well as a mocking review of almost any argument with which you disagree, or as pretty solid career advice for anyone who aspires to persuade people for a living. Like lawyers. Or advertisers. That’s because marketing strategy depends on having a conversation with your customers that is both relevant to them and highlights the specific benefits of your brand. In the late 1960s, major home appliances like washing machines had become harder for advertisers to differentiate. The performance and features offered by the big manufacturers were pretty comparable, particularly when it came to higher-end models. But one copywriter at Leo Burnett found a way to frame the purchasing decision in a way that ensured his client would definitely stand out. The insight pointed out the worst part of owning a major appliance was when it stopped working. Other, larger competitors pointed to their national networks of factory-trained repair technicians, but based on that insight, they were making the wrong case. And so, the Maytag Repairman came to be. With a single idea, Maytag changed the conversation from which machine was bigger or got whites brighter to which one you could actually depend on. Framed that way, Maytag would continue to chip away at the market share of its much larger competitors for another 35 years or so, when one of them finally gave in and bought the company. Combine a new insight with a creative idea and you’ve got a powerful force. These are the proverbial unicorns—those truly revolutionary products that are exactly what everybody wanted or needed and just didn’t know it until a new gizmo came along. This week in particular, air conditioning comes to mind. But if your brand has real competition, and your customers have real options, you’ll likely benefit from framing the discussion to the context that best suits your benefits. Which conversation you decide to have can make all the difference.
25 June 2020
Marketing professionals are inundated with data. We have economic indicators, demographics, web analytics, SKU mixes, pivot tables to compare trendlines and dashboards to keep track of whatever random statistic the boss or the board is likely to ask about next. We’re confirmed believers in the science of marketing. The data revolution has given us access to consumers and business decision makers—not only where they collect information, but also when they’re ready to consider a purchase. Talking to the right person at the right time is only as effective as the message you deliver when you reach them. This is why there will never be too much creative talent in advertising. It has to be relevant, useful and all the other important marketing jargon we use every day, of course. But it also needs to play to the unconscious expectations of the buyer: What do they *really* want … aside from a new pair of sneakers or whatever? Why this style or this brand? If you own a car, why did you pick that particular make, model and trim package? (Not the reasons you tell your partner, but the other reasons?) Chances are it had as much to do with how you feel about driving it, being seen in it, or even telling people what kind of car you drive as it did with gas mileage or towing power. When Lee Iacocca launched the original Mustang at Ford in 1964, he had a novel suggestion for sales managers at their network of dealerships. Several days after the sale, he recommended calling the new car owner and asking them one simple question: “What do your friends think of your new Mustang?” Because it makes a difference. Subscribe to our blog to get updates when new posts are available.
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?