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Back when I was a wet behind the ears, smart-assed copywriter I was in awe of the giants of the ad industry.  I was equally in awe of television as a medium.  TV was It.  Period. All other media had to get in line behind the awesomeness of The Tube.

Well before director Ridley Scott shouted, "print it!," this historic spot already was.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that one of my giants — Ed McCabe, creative chief of legendary Scali McCabe Sloves — used print as the medium to evaluate prospective creative hires.

I’m not sure of the exact quote, but it was something close to, “I don’t want to see writers’ TV reels.  I want their print work.  If a concept doesn’t work in print, it’s not a concept.”

That got my attention.

This can be compared to the measuring stick Hollywood uses to evaluate movie ideas – the log line.  If a script concept can’t be described in a single, simple sentence it is considered highly suspect.

For example, “what happens when a certifiably crazy police detective is cut loose against the drug lords of New York?”  (The French Connection, that’s what.)  Or, “three bachelors are forced to take care of a new born child.”  (Well, sir, you’ve got a hit on your hands – Three Men and a Baby.)  In fact, the title itself is a log line.  Perfect.

Here’s another: “why 1984 won’t be 1984.”

Actually, this isn’t a log line.  It’s a headline written by Gary Gussick of Chiat/Day San Francisco for a print ad for the original Apple MacIntosh computer.  Gary’s colleagues, art director Brent Thomas and copywriter Steve Hayden of Chiat/Day Los Angeles, discovered it buried in a pile of layouts.  They thought they could make a good TV spot of out of it.

Did they ever.

Print can capture the essence of a brand’s character.  Here’s a recipe.  Take one product shot.  Add a twist of “Lemon.”  What comes out is the expression of the personality of every classic Volkswagen print ad and commerical in the mid-1960s.  Not to mention advertising history.  Thanks, Doyle Dane Bernbach.

Instant brand character, across all media. Born of a single print ad.

So what have we learned?  It could be this — before you dive into that script and storyboard, work on the print first.

It’s amazing how far a headline and rough marker visual can take you.

For more on Bob Devol, visit www.bobdevol.com.

Nothing is Everything

NBC executives intially hated the script for the "Chinese Restaurant" episode in Season 2 of "Seinfeld." They didn't get that nothing was about to become something. Something big.

When Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David pitched what would become the definitive television series of its time to NBC programming executives they boldly declared that what was initially The Seinfeld Chronicles would be a “show about nothing.”  In fact, it would become a show about everything – from dating protocol, to working out, wandering in a mall parking garage, or waiting for a table at a restaurant.

What does nothing have to do with the advertising creative process?  Everything.

The essence of creativity is the ability to seize upon something that would be otherwise overlooked and shine a light on it.  Millions of great ideas had humble beginnings.  Legendary modern and contemporary art often had its genesis in the glorification of the ordinary, the mundane, even the banal.

Same goes for advertising. (Which, it should be noted, all too often ends up ordinary, mundane and banal.)

The greatest advertising creative is inspired by a simple notion that, except for a savvy copywriter/art director team and a risk-taking client, would be banished to oblivion.  Great campaigns like Clairol’s “Does she or doesn’t she?  Only her hairdresser knows for sure,” General Foods’ “There’s always room for Jello,” and Avis’ “We try harder” and were likely born of off-the-cuff comments or mindless scribbles in a creative brainstorming session.  On its own, each is starkly simple, almost prosaic.  Recast them in the bright lights of an ad campaign and they explode into the public consciousness.

In this instant classic spot for Snickers, creatives at BBDO New York started with nothing much of a premise: "Hey! I'm hungry!"

A current example: the Snickers TV campaign from BBDO New York.  A deconstruction of the core idea leaves us with an ordinary observation: when we get hungry, we get ornery.  Now, where can we go with that?  We could come up with an execution where, say, a bear becomes a human after eating a Snickers bar.  Yawn — too on the nose.  What else?  How about we swap out the bear for a diva?  Well then, now we’ve got something, boy howdy.

The lesson here is, pay attention to everything.  Give all those half-baked notions, inane scribbles and obscure observations a thorough airing.  There could be gold in them there nothins.

For more about Bob Devol Communications: www.BobDevol.com

Many SMB clients are savvy marketers, yet they're caught by surprise when advised that they need a professional ad copywriter on their graphic design project.

Virtually all my graphic designer partners hear it.  A new client turns to them for their design expertise for a print ad, direct mail, web, broadcast, or brochure project only to be advised that to make their project work they need professionally written copy, too.   Often the reaction from small and medium-sized business clients is that they can write copy on their own; maybe even tap a relative or employee.  “Hey, I got good grades in English.  How hard could it be?”

If they expect results, harder than they think.

Savvy designers recognize this common misconception and urge their clients to hire a professional advertising copywriter.

If you’re a graphic designer who needs to convince clients to take a copywriter on board, on behalf of myself and my colleagues, here are some benefits to emphasize.

First off, there’s a world of difference between advertising copywriters and other writers like journalists, P.R. writers, business writers, content writers, etc.

They do their thing, we do ours.

Our thing is based on an instinctive understanding that nobody buys advertising and marketing communications as they would other media.  Advertising is not an event, it’s an interruption.

The copywriter’s mantra is, “I must make them care.”  And then convince them to act.

This process of instant engagement has just seconds to take hold – or else that potential customer is gone, perhaps forever. Creating instant engagement isn’t learned from a book.  It’s a skill acquired from years of operating deep inside the media jungle where the average American is bombarded by more than 4,000 advertising messages every day.

Teamed with the designer/art director, the copy pro must create a concept that seizes the audience’s attention in a relevant way and never lets go until the call-to-action is driven home.  This requires writing finesse, marketing smarts, entertainment chops, and even an understanding of the visual side of advertising creative development.  In fact, sometimes the copywriter will come up with the idea for the visual while the designer/art director conjures up a headline.

We’re shape shifters.  We crawl into and under the customer’s skin to understand their needs and desires through their eyes.  “A copywriter should have an understanding of people, an insight into them, a sympathy toward them,” said George Gribbin, former CEO of mega ad agency Young & Rubicam.

We’re detectives, too.  We poke and probe to unearth the hidden assets of clients’ products and services.  We then apply showmanship to present them in the most entertaining– and ultimately convincing – light to potential customers.

A copywriter knows how to work with all members of the creative and marketing team.  We have a keen appreciation and understanding of the designer/art director’s critical role in the advertising creation process.  The best of us go beyond words to become creative consultants who can tackle marketing strategy, messaging, branding, look-and-feel, identifying unique selling propositions and maybe even provide a media recommendation or two.  As freelancers, we sometimes even take on the functions of account planners at ad agencies.

Copy pros have the experience to apply original language and ideas that seize attention, as opposed to concepts and copy that are immediately ignored because they’re trite.  To quote the legendary copywriter Bill Bernbach, “be sure your advertising is saying something with substance, something that will inform and serve the consumer.  And be sure you’re saying it like it’s never been said before.”

We also know that peoples’ time and the space we have to advertise to them is precious. There’s neither time nor room for wasted words, inflated claims, and muddled messages.  Great copy leaps to the point, pronto.  “Advertising says to people, ‘here’s what we’ve got. Here’s what it will do for you. Here’s how to get it,” said Leo Burnett, founder of his famous eponymous Chicago ad agency.

To borrow the more than eighty-year-old tag line of another agency, McCann Erikson, effective ad copy is “truth well told.”  And, to tell the truth, it takes a pro to do the telling.

So, there you have it – powerful ammo to use the next time a new client says, “we need a copy what?  Why?”

For more about me and my services, visit www.bobdevol.com.

Don’t abandon your writer on a desert island. Communicate clearly, concisely and often.

If you’re a creative director or principal at a graphic design firm or small ad agency chances are you employ copywriters who lance freely.

The working arrangement is often long distance via e-mail, phone, FedEx, fax, Skype, smoke signals, Pony Express, whatever.  Distance and logistics aside, it’s important to develop and maintain a relationship that’s as close as possible to that of an agency copywriter/art director team.

Here are few ideas to help you get the most from your copy pro:

1. Communicate.  Don’t abandon your writer on a desert island.  Communicate clearly, concisely and often.  And make sure your creative brief, statement of work, etc. is in writing.

2. Get on the team.  Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone to spend time spitballing concepts with your writer.  You’d be surprised how many graphic designers leave all the concept work to the copywriter.

3. Start rough.  Few things can throw a copywriter off more than to receive a PDF of something that looks like a finished ad.  Give ideas time to germinate and grow by working rough early, preferably in thumbnails with markers.  (Remember them?)

4. Open client contact.  Not sure if your copywriter fully understands client input and notes?  Then get everyone on the phone for a live teleconference.  Leave nothing to chance – get it straight from the source, the client.

5. Keep it timely.  Don’t leave your copywriter in the dark by providing key details too late in the writing process.  Again, a thoughtfully prepared and well crafted creative brief is gold.

6. Be honest.  There’s something about your writer’s work that’s bugging you?  Maybe something you love?  Either way, don’t be shy – tell him or her about it.  Thick skin is part of our anatomy.  And the best of us can adapt our writing styles to suit your needs.

7. Proofread, please.  Believe it or not, the writer who created the copy isn’t the best person to proof it.  Read all the copy yourself, too.  Before it’s too late.

8. Keep those PDFs coming.  Once you’re past the rough marker stage, don’t hesitate to send layout drafts to your copywriter.  Seeing the copy in a layout-like context can inspire your writer to improve the copy.

9. Leave enough time to hate it – set realistic deadlines.  Just because digital technology can crank out finished layouts faster than M&Ms doesn’t mean deadlines must be one or two days from start to finish.  The longer you can set concept and copywriting lead times, the better.  Why?  Because it’s amazing what a few extra days of “distance” can do to sharpen your objectivity toward a concept you loved at first sight.

10.  Feed that feedback.  Keep it coming – by phone, e-mail, however and wherever.

11. Follow through.  Once the project is complete, stay in touch with your copywriter to pass along client comments, results of the advertising (if applicable) and to discuss ways to improve your working relationship.

For more information on Bob Devol Communciations, visit www.bobdevol.com

As other media channels clog up, the power of direct mail shines through

On a LinkedIn B2B marketing forum, I posted this response to a query asking for opinions on trends in B2B marketing for 2010:

“Many B2B marketers will be looking for high-impact, targetable, trackable and accountable media in the coming year and direct mail fits that description perfectly.”

All other media channels, particularly interactive and social, are suffering from chronic clutteritis and it will become difficult for smart marketers to justify increased spending in those channels when the payoff is still vague, might be years down the road, or never.

Caveat — DM has its advantages, but it’s all for naught if creativity is ignored.

Following all the “rules” of direct mail can, and does, diminish DM’s impact and effectiveness. Creativity will need to extend beyond copy and art to include exciting and engaging new formats like dimensionals, statement marketing, and super-targeted content from custom digital publishing.

Spending projections by media indicate a stronger move toward DM. The “Power of Direct” economic impact study projects that DM spending will rise from $44.4 billion in 2009 to $45.5 billion for the coming year.

2010 could be a breakthrough year for creative B2B direct mail. Who’s ready to profit from zigging when the competition is zagging?”

Happy New (Old School) Year!

For more on me, take off to: www.bobdevol.com

What became the quintessential American Santa was first seen quaffing a Coke.

I must confess. 

Copywriters and art directors didn’t save Christmas.  I needed a C.A.G.D. (Cheap Attention Getting Device) and “saved” is  more dramatic than ‘helped create.”

So “helped create” it should be.  And it’s true.

It’s common knowledge that Clement C. Moore’s poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (“Night Before Christmas”) and Thomas Nast’s drawings, both of which appeared in newspapers across the country in the mid 19th century, established the essential legend and image of the American Santa Claus.  (There’s a writer and art director, after a fashion, right there.)

Not as well known are the 20th century contributions to Christmas lore from Archie Lee, Haddon Sundblum and Robert L. May, all of whom were advertising creatives.

Archie Lee, working for D’Arcy Advertising on the Coca-Cola account, wanted to portray a wholesome Santa being himself for Coke’s holiday campaign in 1931.  Lee commissioned a Michigan illustrator, Haddon Sundblom, to realize his vision.

Sundblom (who 26 years later painted the Quaker guy we see on all Quaker Oats cartons today) characterized Santa as the jolly, playful, red suited, big belted regular guy in the form we know and love.  He continued to create memorable scenes of Santa for Coke’s holiday ads until 1964.

Copywriter R.L. May added one more to C.C. Moore's original set of eight.

Six years after Lee
and Sundblom recast Claus, a new Christmas legend sprang full-blown from the fertile mind of an advertising copywriter, Robert L. May.  His legacy is “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and is based on May’s real life experiences as a misfit child.  He wrote “Rudolph” as a children’s storybook for his employer Montgomery Ward when he was a staff copywriter for the big department store.  Ward’s management first distributed “Rudolph” as a holiday gift to their customers.  Eventually, May was granted rights to the story and, in 1948, he asked his brother-in-law Johnny Marks to set it to music.  Several top artists of the day, including Bing Crosby, passed on the song until Gene Autry took it into the studio for Columbia Records in 1949.  The rest is recording – and holiday – history.

Still another Christmas chestnut was the creation of Bill Backer, a copywriter and creative director at McCann Erickson who created the “Real Thing” Coke campaign.  Backer co-wrote the “Real Thing”  jingle and needed a way to tie it into a holiday TV spot.  The result was the first singing Christmas tree, which had its debut in 1971.

Happy holidays.  Limited time only.  Hurry.  Act now!

For more on Bob Devol Communications:  www.bobdevol.com

CrowdImagine advertising created without copywriters and art directors.  Ads, commercials, designs, logos, even whole campaigns conjured up by hundreds of erstwhile “creatives” out there…somewhere…somehow…

It’s real.  It’s here. 
It’s called crowdsourcing.

The theory behind crowdsourcing is, “if two heads working on an assignment are better than one then, hot damn, 12,000 heads must be the absolute best-est best of all bests.”

There’s even an agency start-up in Colorado, Victors & Spoils, claiming that it generates all its creative output through crowdsourcing.  (Actually, read their fine print and it’s clear that they’re a virtual agency with an all freelance off-site creative department that pitches ideas against each other. Sounds more outsourced than crowdsourced. Nice try, guys.)  There are also several websites offering crowdsourced logos.

Wow, crowdsourcing sure sounds like it’s the goods.  All those heads with smoke coming out of their ears focused on a single creative assignment, it’s a slam dunk.  Right?

Sometimes so.  Mostly, not.

I think crowdsourcing is viable in certain applications. Product naming and product idea generation are successful examples.  But unleashing a mob to do the work of one, two, or three talented creative professionals is counterproductive.

Let’s start with client contact.  Smart, effective creative sparks its genesis with a keen understanding of the client’s marketing problems and objectives.  That means face time with clients, their people and their customers.

Second is incentive.  What some hail as “crowdsourcing” isn’t much more than a contest.  How much “prize money” does it take to make it worthwhile to spend days working on an idea that, in all likelihood, won’t see the light of day?  Are we really attracting the best and brightest?  Those with true creative chops are working elsewhere, either on-staff at agencies or as fulltime freelancers for set project fees.

What if the crowdsource agency decides to combine two or more ideas or tweak a crowdsourced notion into something similar, but not exactly the same?  Who gets paid?  How much?  Why do I see lawyers hovering?

Then there are deadlines.  Can a crowd meet a deadline faster than one or two creative teams?  What if the crowd comes up with crap?  Who’s accountable then?  What about rewrites?

Remember, too, that many great campaigns, spots, ads and designs are created at the last minute or even after.  Bill Bernbach called this “breaking the plate,” which happened when many of the most famous Doyle Dane Bernbach concepts sprung to life after press plates were made for print ads.  Bernbach wasn’t shy about scrapping plates and making new ones in service of creating great advertising, which is also great art.

That’s why you won’t see exhibitions of crowdsourced art or One Show pencils awarded for crowdsourced ads any time soon.

More on Bob Devol Communications: www.BobDevol.com

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