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Nerf arsenal in Red Tettemer's interactive department.

Nerf arsenal in Red Tettemer's interactive department.

Today, something very exciting happened. Advertising Age gave national exposure to a Philadelphia shop for the first time in a long time and in a very big way. Not since Gyro tilted the Philadelphia advertising world off its axis has an agency in this town captured national exposure in the long shadows of Madison Avenue. Advertising Age’s new Agency Digs video feature visited Red Tettemer’s awesomely creative workspace. I encourage you to do the same. Not because I like to give exposure to competing agencies in the same metropolitan area, but because you’ll get a fascinating tour of a truly unique and creative enterprise.

Red Tettemer has come a long way from an old house in Narberth to the top two floors of the PNB ( former Philadelphia National Bank) building, complete with rooftop access. On those two floors is an agency workspace that is part Dave and Busters, part CBGB’s, part South Street head shop, part pet shop, and part Las Vegas lounge — in other words, every square inch seems to be conceived to spark the imagination, the funny bone, and the creative drive. It’s the coolest agency workspace I’ve ever seen.

From large to small, most of the agencies, I’ve visited over the years would not find themselves featured in Architectural Digest. Ours included. But these days especially, when great work is being produced on iPads in crowded Starbucks, the digital landscape and end results are what clients care about. Most clients never set foot in an agency anymore. The agency’s web site is as close as they travel.

I remember an early interview at Lewis & Gilman (the mega-shop that later became a unit of Foote Cone and Belding and later Brian Tierney’s firm). There was an air of importance to the place as I sat in the waiting area with my portfolio. Early episodes of Mad Men brought back the exclusive Old Boys Network air of the place.

Later, Philadelphia advertising captured national attention again through the TV show “thirtysomething” where the main characters Michael and Elliot had their own agency and later worked for DAA. The firm’s open workspace and the indoor basketball court were patterned after the offices of California based Chiat Day.

Some of the more interesting spaces I’ve visited in recent years have been creative firms that combine video production and all things digital. Howard McCabe’s firm Blue turned a former Fairmount residence into stylish editing and animation suites and workrooms. JPL in Harrisburg took over an editing facility from Tyco and converted it into one of the Best Places to Work in PA. The other week I sat in on a social media strategy session for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society at Think Brownstone’s great open space dominated by couches and a white board, in a Conshohocken brownstone.

But as exceptional as each of these offices are, none are as mind-bending and fun-filled as Red Tettemer’s featured space. It’s a theme park for left-brained types. Congratulations to Steve Red and everyone at Red Tettemer for creating a great environment for creative to thrive.

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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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This week’s post theme song is brought to you by Wilco. Also, two pretty well-known companies named Facebook and Burson-Marsteller.  You may not be familiar with the latter, but it happens to be one of the biggest and most respected firms in the PR field. While online privacy continues to be a hot button issue, incredibly Facebook used the matter as a cudgel to whack rival Google over social media turf wars. Burson-Marsteller allowed itself to be used as the messenger to plant the story via a tech blog without revealing who had hired them. What’s worse, the charge appears to be about activities Facebook was engaged in themselves.

There are plenty of accounts like this one about the nefarious deed and most of them read like inside baseball about the way Facebook and Google manage/leverage the privacy of their zillions of users. Increasingly, it is clear there are two eight hundred pound gorillas in the digital world and they don’t like sharing with each other. Meanwhile, Microsoft’s scooping up of Skype looks like an act of attention-grabbing desperation. More examples of mega corporations growing fat and stupid and ceasing to care about their many users. Where is the focus on innovation, new products, and exclusive benefits?

Anyone who has watched The Social Network should not be surprised that brilliant Mark Zuckerberg can also be vengeful Mark Zuckerberg. The aspect of this story that is most troubling to me, however, is Burson-Marsteller’s monumental lapse in judgment.

PR firms are trusted counselors and when they start acting like minions scurrying to do the bidding of Dr. Evil, it is time for self-flagellation. Public relations is all about taking positive messages to the market place, or when there are genuine problems, helping clients put the bad news in the best possible light (spin control if you will).  When a client asked you to anonymously badmouth a competitor, all the internal alarm bells should go off at once.

A few days ago, I came across this devastating piece of satire about my profession in ultimate humor site, The Onion —

“PR Firm Kills Innocent Child

‘Kills is a Harsh Word,’ Spokesperson Says.”

I thought it a little over the top that The Onion considered it not a stretch for public relations execs to murder a child in the park, then mount an upbeat campaign to downplay the crime. That was a few days ago. Ouch!

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I’m feeling a little left out this week after reading this article from Advertising Age, which announced the first new Harley Davidson tv commercial delivered by a very non-traditional agency called Victors & Spoils. I’m still getting my head around the concept of Victors & Spoils, which on behalf of clients, employs “crowdsourcing” to solicit ideas from all over — from agencies and other creative firms and freelancers, as well as non-creatives. Sounds kind of like a Hollywood casting call in which armies of actors line up, assembly line style, for their 15 seconds of fame. NEXT!

I first became aware of Victors and Spoils, having answered a solicitation of theirs last year for concepts to promote the Andys, or another of the industry awards shows. My idea didn’t win, but it got me on their mailing list. It also made me more aware of their agency’s name. I saw in the industry trades that Victors & Spoils had won the Harley Davidson work. I had my interest piqued enough to respond to another e-mail at the end of January, a call for consideration to any writers who have interest or experience with Harleys. That’s not me, but I answered anyway, because (a) our Director of Accounting’s entire family rides or has experience selling Harleys in local franchises (and they would love to become consultants,) (b) good friends of mine worked at Carmichael Lynch and helped them win the Harley account, where it resided prior to Victors & Spoils (and they would love to become consultants), and (c) I took the plant tour in York, PA and came away impressed by the assembly care and the ability to customize the chopper you order.

Evidently, I got left in the dust, because this new spot was being worked on in September (not sure what Victors & Spoils’ latest solicitation is for, but I’m assuming it’s for ongoing creative support). You can get some sense of the crowdsourcing process from the article, and the sour grapes reaction to it from the rest of the agency community under the Comments section. Especially stinging is the idea from the spot came from a “passionate amateur.” I guess if Quentin Tarantino can make the leap from video store clerk to Hollywood auteur, the rest of us shouldn’t piss and moan when somewhere other than Madison Avenue dreams up the next big thing.

On the other hand, some of the posted comments about the new spot ring true. The cages concept and visuals are a pretty effective metaphor for the non-Harley crowd; however, production values of the spot could have been better. What’s more, the spot tries to do too much by introducing the customization message almost as an afterthought. That is what might attract and excite new Harley prospects, including how much fun it is to customize your cycle after you take it home (that last thought came from our Director of Accounting, though that’s not enough to win a consultancy around here). Where I think the spot really missed was in not being unveiled SuperBowl Sunday. One week later is its own kind of letdown.

Overall, the new commercial did get my attention. The jury is still out for me on the crowdsourcing thing, though. A great idea is a great idea, wherever or whomever it comes from. But in these days of content farms, and templated everything, I am concerned about the commoditization of this industry. The next thing  you know, we’ll all be replaced by computers as if we’re game show contestants.

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Startups on a Shoestring

Startups on a Shoestring

That headline is what we in the business call a grabber. Intentionally provocative and written to get you to read on. The subject of this blog post might also be called When Financial Media Overpromise. What prompted it was a special section of the Wall Street Journal entitled Start-Ups On A Shoestring/The tales of three entrepreneurs who launched companies for less than $150. At one time, the Wall Street Journal was considered a pro-business paper. You could say that the intent of this section is pro-small-business. However, the opening sidebar is A Guide to Online Marketing Tools and it shows you how to get marketing for practically nothing. So, since most marketing companies are small businesses, how is that helping them? As for the small businesses this piece purports to help, how is cookie-cutter DIY crap going to help them properly brand, market, and grow?
Get It On Paper tells you about web sites that can help you design and print marketing materials via templates. Who needs four years of art school and many years of learning this craft when you can download a design off the Internet? What’s next? DIY CAD sites for engineering your own products? Cranial mapping sites for performing your own brain surgery? Air traffic control for dummies?
Not bad enough yet? Enter Hewlett-Packard whose Marketsplash services enables users to design marketing materials on their web site and print out virtually anywhere. Cost? It’s free. I hope every designer who owns an HP printer will remember this valuable service. Of course, when they are put out of business, that’s a lot fewer buyers of HP printers anyway.
Making Pictures Perfect is a wealth of nonsense regarding photography, one of the most expensive costs of marketing. It explains how Google’s Picasa program enables digital imaging for amateurs who can’t be bothered spending hours learning Photoshop’s many complex features. And in the hands of amateurs, the results typically look as clumsy as when the Politburo would routinely blot out unpopular officials from historical photos.
The section goes on to suggest use of stock photo sites to buy or rent professional-level images. Of course, it does so barely touching on the distinctions between royalty-free and rights-managed, except to note the significant liability to improperly using a photo someone else owns (i.e., intellectual property) and that “legitimate sites generally aren’t cheap.” What a concept — paying for the product you are going to use.
Don’t Go It Alone introduces crowdSpring LLC, who allows you to get things like a logo design for $200. Designers submit designs (a.k.a. spec work) and you pick your favorite. Each project typically receives an average of 110 submissions, which means that one designer earns the below minimum wage honor of winning payment and 109 designers walk away with 100% empty pockets feeling used.
Things to Keep In Mind are some of the caveats to all this instant online marketing and graphic arts. Caveats such as templates need tweaking. Try to look unique. Don’t forget a coupon.
Shame on the Wall Street Journal and everyone out there selling solutions in a box. This is how to drive innovation and ideas and talent out of the business world, marketing businesses out of business, more people off the job rolls, and more money back into mattresses.

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Ad great Albert Lasker, The Man Who Sold America

Ad great Albert Lasker, The Man Who Sold America

Ever hear of Albert Lasker? Me neither and I’ve been in this profession longer than I care to admit. After reading a book review for “The Man Who Sold America” in Friday’s print Wall Street Journal, and a book excerpt from, I am embarrassed by my ignorance but excited to have a new addition for my summer reading list. I also think there is good reason for Lasker’s low profile (more on that in a minute).
First, Lasker and his incredible resume.
• In 1898, joined the Lord & Thomas advertising agency as a teenager, winning many new clients, and becoming a part owner by the age of 24.
• Helped transform the agency business from media space brokerage to creative “reason why” advertising development.
• Built brand concepts that would last into modern times: Quaker Oats Puffed Rice and Puffed Wheat (“foods shot from guns”); Palmolive soap’s beauty appeal; the “Sun” brands of fresh foods, Sun-Maid California raisins and Sun-Kist California oranges; the transformation of Kleenex tissues from cosmetics removers to disposable handkerchiefs; and Goodyear all-weather tires.
• Helped make Pepsodent toothpaste a household name, and in the process, the sponsored radio show’s host, Bob Hope.
• Convinced a certain chewing gum magnate and personal friend to change the name of Cubs Park to Wrigley Field. Later, when the Black Sox scandal erupted, it was Lasker’s plan that was adopted for restructuring major league baseball and appointing Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis as its czar.
• Managed the 1920 campaign that put Warren Harding in the White House, considered a landmark in political advertising.
• Served under Harding as chairman of the Shipping Board.
• Reshaped philanthropy, using radio to reach more people and influence how America though about cancer and other diseases.
• Suggested the Birth Control Institute change its name to Planned Parenthood.
Looking back, some of Lasker’s work, like MadMen’s snapshot of the sixties, is interesting for its depiction of his time. His agency got Kotex to put its tampons in plain-wrapped packages on store counters, so as not to embarrass the ladies who asked for and purchased them. His “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet” campaign turned a lot of women into smokers, specifically Lucky Strike smokers, and ticked off the candy industry (and maybe Bill Wrigley?).
So why isn’t Albert Lasker better known? Advertising, like pop culture, is pretty much “of the moment.” The MadMen period brought more recent fame to many well-deserving creatives from David Ogilvy, to Geoge Lois, to Bill Bernbach, to Jerry DellaFamina. Today, beyond Wieden and Kennedy and Crispin Bogusky Porter (now sans Alex Bogusky), the absence of memorable shingles sadly reflects the commoditization of this business.
Advertising has always been about individuality and ideas and enthusiastic creative selling. In Lasker’s case, he built his agency Lord & Thomas into a powerhouse of his time, but by 1942, he kept that name and sold its assets for a small amount to Emerson Foote, Fairfax Cone, and Don Belding. Now, we’re getting somewhere. For my entire career, Foote Cone and Belding was an agency of national and eventually international stature. In the 90s, they acquired Philadelphia’s largest agency, Lewis Gilman & Kynett (and the granter of my own first ad job interview), and went through several additional transactions and name changes (some helping Brian Tierney make a name for himself). Nationally, Foote Cone Belding became True North Communications for awhile. Today, as units of Interpublic, the reminders of the Foote Cone Belding brand and the 20th century advertising juggernaut that Albert Lasker helped build have been reduced to acronym-based entities: Draftfcb and Draftfcb Healthcare. Go to Interpublic’s pulldown “Choose a company” menu and be disheartened about the obscurity of this legacy. Or be awed by the size of the global modern enterprise that Lasker’s insightful, ground-breaking creativity helped build.

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