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Sorry for the serious drop in the frequency of our agency blog of late. However, it can be a not-enough-hours-in-the day challenge to generate content for yourself when you are also generating content for others. The old shoemaker’s kids going shoeless dilemma.

Several stories this week resonated in an intertwining way to touch nerves for me as someone in the creative business. The problem is that too many creatives don’t run their businesses as businesses (emporiums of wit and awesome graphics, maybe) and too many businesspeople who purchase creative services realize that and take advantage accordingly.

This Advertising Age article about a panel from a Mirren New Business Conference on agency compensation contained an all-too-familiar anecdote from one of the panelists, Christine Fruechte, CEO of the Colle & McVoy agency. She recounted about having gotten to the last round of a pitch, but losing to another agency because Colle & McVoy elected not to lower their fees in a race to the bottom. The winner of that race went out of business within a year of getting the business. Ironically, the client approached Colle & McVoy again and Ms. Fruechte got the account (and in a rare turnaround for this industry) plus even higher fees than what cost her the nod in the original pitch process.

That story made me feel smug about the agency side of the business for all of a few hours until reading an amusing interview with the Black Keys by Danny McBride in the current issue of Entertainment Weekly. In an especially ironic turnabout, it seems agencies have been blacklisting the Black Keys when it comes to licensing of their music. The reason is appalling — once the Black Keys and their infectiously memorable hook-loaded music became omnipresent on radio and music services, they had to go to court on multiple occasions to stop brands, agencies, and jingle houses from using obvious knockoff versions of their songs.

So, this is an especially galling case of pot, kettle, black. Creative shops have no business whining about clients not wanting to pay them for original creative when they turn around and borrow a popular sound or look from other creative artists but conveniently don’t pay them for it.

Fortunately, some brands are thinking in different ways. It was refreshing this week to see Adweek report on how Chipolte has figured out a new way to attract business by featuring original content from Real McCoy big name writers like Toni Morrison and Jonathan Safran Foer on the restaurant’s cups under the theme “Cultivating Thought.” Hell, I might even pay a little extra for something pithy or witty from a favorite writer while enjoying a taco meal. And that little extra multiplied by the business it brings in might more than compensate Chipolte, Toni Morrison and other featured writers, while building brand loyalty for the chain (and new readers for those writers). Hallelujah. A rare win-win in the creative compensation department.

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Some stories are just too good not to follow and share. This one has two parts. The first is about badvertising — a creative concept that should have been killed by the agency before it ever reached the client. The second is about social media being wildly unpredictable and entertaining.

When ad and social media campaigns go bad.

When ad and social media campaigns go bad.

Adweek’s Ad Freak does an admirable job of presenting both accounts, going so far as to question whether the first one is worst campaign of the year. The badvertising is for the product of a new start-up company called Energy Sheets. You probably remember a similar product —breath freshening strips that you drop on your tongue. The effect is a hit of super-concentrated mouthwash triggered as the strip instantly dissolves. Presumably, Energy Sheets delivers the equivalent of a 5-hour energy shot via a similar quick hit. Incredibly, LeBron James is a key investor.

The entire campaign relies upon a dumb double entendre, “I Take A Sheet In The ______,” to include the pool (Caddyshack flashback anyone?), the library, and in an ad featuring the hot rapper Pitbull, on the stage. Even if you appreciate bathroom humor, as Adweek notes, do you want to promote a product that you put in your mouth with a headline that “references defecation?”  Can’t wait for the “Who gives a sheet?” gift cards.

On such dubious footing, it makes perfect sense that Energy Sheets would work with retailers like Wal-Mart to leverage the popularity of Pitbull via a social-media based contest. Like your favorite Wal-Mart store on Facebook and win a visit to that store by Pitbull. Sounds okay in theory, but the wild world of social media always has room for the unpredictable and unexpected. Enter one David Thorpe, a writer for the Boston Phoenix, who decided to have a little fun. He and a friend researched the most remote Wal-Mart store in the chain store’s chain and launched their own social media campaign to send Pitbull to Kodiak, Alaska, reachable only by plane or ferry. Already at 60,000 likes and climbing fast, the Kodiak Wal-Mart is looking more and more like the destination for Pitbull, who calls himself Mr. Worldwide. If that happens, Pitbull will have to reorient himself from hot, steamy Latin rhythm dance clubs to arctic landscapes. However, in the process, he may be able to finally answer the question, “Does a polar bear sheet in the woods?”

Update: Wal-Mart has a winner. Looks like Pitbull had better start packing his parka and lined boots for Kodiak, AK. As they used to say in the old Shake and Bake commercials, “And I helped.”

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My friends and I have had a running gag since senior year of college, every so often suggesting names for the rock band we never got around to forming. This article from A.V. Club renewed the conversation last December and revived another round, still nothing topping our default choice — Insipid Ostrich.
Two memorable songs from the late Jim Croce and the late Johnny Cash underscore the importance of selecting the proper moniker.


Not surprisingly, ad agency naming bears more than a passing resemblance to the rock world, which would help to explain some of the memorable names featured in this Adweek story. Here are the 40 strangest names in the global ad business; the article gives the background on each.

40. Taxi
39. Odopod
38. Bonehook
37. Big Spaceship
36. Droga5
35. The Bank
34. Razorfish
33, Naked
32, Wikreate
31. Steak
30. Creature
29. Lean Mean Fighting Machine
28. High Heels & Bananas
27. Blammo Worldwide
26. Omobono
25. The Chopping Block
24. Captains of Industry
23. The Glue Society
22. Farm
21. Adam & Eve
20. Elephants & Ants
19. Victors & Spoils
18. David & Goliath
17. For Office Use Only
16. Walrus
15. Mother
14. Mistress
13. G&M Plumbing
12. Moosylvania
11. The Barbarian Group
10. Omelet
9. Big Kitty Labs
8. Hello Viking
7. High Wide & Handsome
6. Barton F. Graf 9000
5. Kids Love Jetlag
4, Pocket Hercules
3.StrawberryFrog
2. 72andsunny
1. Wexley School for Girls

In the past week, I’ve taken calls from two creative production houses whose catchy names were carefully chosen to set them apart — Fat Chimp Studios and The Nerdery.

Yesterday, I was reading an industry story on The Pitch and saw a banner for Gyro, the edgiest, buzz-worthiest branding/advertising agency to ever call Philadelphia home. When I clicked through, I realized it was not Gyro Worldwide, but another agency now using the name. A Google search for Gyro Worldwide led me to Quaker City Mercantile, a surprisingly mellow but still memorable (by comparison) rebranding.

The traditional agency nomenclature direction is a lot like the method followed by the legal profession. The name(s) on the door belong to the principals: Ogilvy and Mather; Doyle Dane Bernbach; Della Femina Travisano & Partners; even the fictional Mad Men shop, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

That’s the model followed and continued by Newton Associates. Yes, Virginia, there was and still is a Jon Newton. We continue to collaborate, lunch and kibitz with Jon regularly. In 2003, when Gerry Giambattista and I purchased the agency as long-time employees from Jon and his account service business partner, Harry Streamer, we made a conscious decision to retain the name, carry the torch, and honor the high standards set by Newton Associates. We’ve never regretted our name decision and we’re proud to soon be coming up on marking our first decade.

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Schweddy Balls, for real, courtesy of Ben and Jerry.

Schweddy Balls, for real, courtesy of Ben and Jerry.

This is a post about double entendres so I probably shouldn’t mention that it is also about brand extensions. Now, that I have that out of my system. . .Ben and Jerry’s decision to add a “Schweddy Balls” flavor to its ice cream line-up is one of the strangest branding/marketing decisions I’ve seen in a long time. No, make that forever. There’s a lot riding on whether consumers will relate to the not-so-recent, yet oddly memorable Saturday Night Live sketch spoofing National Public Radio at its quirkiest and featuring a guest appearance by Alec Baldwin as holiday food purveyor, Pete Schweddy, owner of Season’s Eatings.

Ben and Jerry is known for its own sinful fare — homemade ice cream with clever counter culture names like Cherry Garcia, Phish Food, and Half Baked. Founders Ben and Jerry are also recognized as social activists for liberal causes. So, what would possess them to introduce a new flavor based on a somewhat obscure SNL skit from yesteryear, more specifically a skit entirely based on testicular and oral sex jokes?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PAMMB_g5YDk&feature=related

Don’t believe me? You can watch the ice cream’s inspiration here. Not really sure what Ben and Jerry were thinking. Is this a fanboy tribute to Alec Baldwin? Is it a deliberate attempt to tweak social conservatives, who already have their panties in a bunch over the announcement? Is it a surefire way to drum up publicity in an anti-sweets nanny-state environment? Is it a tone-deaf mistake because no one in Vermont gets all the inside jokes in the SNL skit? Hard to say, because this is such a strange and out of left field product launch.

Ice cream is a family-oriented, dairy-farm-fresh food category. Even with Ben and Jerry’s hippie-dippie history, naming a flavor after an inside sex joke is beyond edgy. It is an idea cooked up on hallucinogens, then best cancelled when the drugs wear off.  Then, again if Ben and Jerry are mining SNL for flavor names, they can’t do worse than this audio clip.

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Transport yourself back to kindergarten. When the teacher handed out coloring book pages to color in, there was always one kid whose finished product looked like it was fresh off an eight-color Heidelberg press. Perfectly colored in, no white show-through, and no stray crayon lines. This is not the future artist in the class. This is the completely buttoned-down kid who subsequently earned straight A’s and became a corporate president.

The future artist is the kid in the corner whose scribbling went all over the page. The black lines that formed the image of the pokey little puppy be damned. This kid’s work resembled Jackson Pollack after a five-hour energy drink. This kid saw boundaries then ran roughshod over every single one of them.

This profession is full of the latter kids. Creativity demands that you recognize the expected parameters, then do something totally unexpected. Advertising is full of what we call “borrowed interest” — sexy models, outrageous humor, music that bores a hole in your brain it is so darn catchy. The best campaigns never feel like the interest is borrowed; their attention-getting is right on target and always earned.

In the past week, I saw two such examples during time spent online. Both pushed the actual media they were appearing in, going way outside the lines, and engaging readers and viewers along the way.

Adweek's AdFreak column spotlights 10 boundary-pushing print ads.

Adweek's AdFreak column spotlights 10 boundary-pushing print ads.

The first is an entire collection of ads that get you to rethink print much in the way that the best outdoor boards demonstrate what’s possible beyond the application of ink to canvas. I encourage you to take the time to check out this excellent Adweek feature (courtesy of AdFreak columnist Tim Nudd) on 10 wildly memorable print ads that go way beyond trim and bleed specifications.

The other is a surprising T-Mobile spot from Barcelona created by Saatchi and Saatchi (global agencies are not always known for drawing outside the lines, so even the creator in this case is a surprise). The clip came to my attention from Kerry Antezana in my LinkedIn network, who posted it from Terry Doyle, whom she follows on Twitter, and now I’m blogging about it (see the cross-platform boomerang power of social media?).

You don’t have to be an Angry Birds player on your smartphone to appreciate this clip, but it helps, because the wildly popular but wonderfully eccentric game has had its boundaries expanded, still within a smartphone screen, but replicated in real life with the same Angry Bird characters to a town square set-up. The virtual digital world is suddenly the real world and slingshotted birds really do knock down silly structures. And the black ones really do explode and cause more well-timed damage. There are some great reaction shots from the people who step up to play.

The most hackneyed overused expression of our industry is “think outside the box” but occasionally you come across reminders that it is still possible to do so and still be wildly original.

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