Saturday, April 21, 2007

Adopted

I have been adopted. Or so my wife jokes.

I have a next door neighbor -- truly a nice guy -- who has chosen me to be the one who will guide him through the strange and bewildering world that is suburban america. He's from Belgrade. And he has three children who spiral around his ankles from dawn until dusk, screaming at each other in a slavian tongue I don't know.

He apologizes profusely when they steal my baseball cap or poke me in the chest and call me "Boy." He weakly swats at them when they kick each other in the shins and call each other "liar!" and "cheater!" We discuss leaky sprinkler plumbing and tree surgery while my son and his boys chase soccer balls around the cul de sac and abrade their knees in the asphalt. I grew up playing soccer in the grass - these boys revel in skidding around in the cinders and gravel.

I know precious little about suburban things. I too was a city boy until last year. I moved to Coppell and found the lack of near and dangerous traffic disconcerting. I was comforted by the occasional blast of the fire engine sirens as they whisked off to tenderly pick kittens from trees (houses rarely burn in Coppell, although the occasional apartment complex experiences some sort of electrical short, sending the emergency staff into a tizzy.)

My neighbor, on the other hand, is at a complete and total loss. He expresses guilt about his wish tear all the sod from his yard and replace it with astroturf. I nod, grinning but terrified about my property value. He asks me, while the boys jab one another with sticks and metal scraps they pry out of the street, if I have any investment advice for him. "Keep the grass." I tell him, half-joking.

He's a runner. I have considered myself a runner - especially now that I own running shoes, several pairs of lightweight workout shorts and a pedometer. He runs 6-8 miles. I run more like 2. Which, if you do the math, is like 2 miles per child. I think I'd run 8 miles a day if I had three boys that swarmed around me like termites on a damp log, until their taunts and whines sounded like television static.

I feel sorry for him. And so I let him adopt me. And I grin at his predicament, and cut the occasionally stern glance at one of the ankle-biters when they veer too near. And I quietly hold my son's hand when he reaches for it as they rumble by, kicking up rocks and anger. And I look critically at my grass.

guaranteed

Risk.

Not a just a board game in pursuit of world domination. Risk is THE ONLY WAY civilization advances. And not a new concept (certainly not for the ten people that read this blog with alarming regularity).

I am amazed at the way my business treats risk. It is a blasphemous word that I probably shouldn't even mention here, except that I work for what I consider to be a pretty frigging progressive agency that believes status quo is not good enough.

Risk implies the possibility that something won't work. And that is serious no-no talk at a lot of agencies. Risk also implies we haven't done our homework.

"Will it work?" The answer is always "How could it NOT work?" Never "Maybe not." Never "It's risky". Never "Who knows, But it'll be COOL to find out."

I wish a CPB employee would let it leak: does Andrew Keller ever shrug his shoulders and say "We did the research. We were impeccable with the strategy. We LOVE the work - but is it risky? Fuck yeah it's risky." Risky how? "People might end up HATING your product. This campaign is going to be like licorice: some people are going to love it, others are going to hate it -- and by hate it, I mean HATE IT."

People don't want to hear that others hate them. Unless they are Howard Stern. Very very very very few business people understand the concept that, in order to be truly embraced by some, you may very well be truly reviled by others. And those others may be a LOUD and unruly bunch. Like the republican party. Or 26 states. or "The rest of the world."

But that's the fact: true progress requires risk. True innovation require failure. As I ranted away about the Adweek Report cards, grading an agency for its creative output isn't worth a damn if it fails to mention that "Agency A pioneered a new medium. Consistently flew in the face of conventional advertising every single opportunity it was given. Risked big, and with those risks, acheived incredible things in some cases, and almost nothing in others." In short, the reason agencies take risks is FOR THE RESULTS. The reason clients spend money on advertising is FOR RESULTS. The reason Adweek continues to publish a magazine is due, in no small part, to the fact that advertising has historically acheived results. Not taking the effectiveness of an agency's work into account in a nationwide grading exercise is ignoring the very basis of what the industry is responsible for.

I don't like Crispin's VW work. I have lamented a return to the emotional provocative work Arnold did for that brand eight years ago. But if Arnold's work wasn't selling cars, something was definitely wrong. If the product no longer matched the advertising, you can change the advertising, or change the product. I guess option 3 would be to change both. If VW switched agencies because they demanded results, who is to argue?

My hat is off to agencies that take risks and truly change the game. Those that see the uncomfortable conversation, yet trust a simple strategy, the magic of storytelling, the art of professional production and the passion of brand evangelism will carry them through and across the goal line.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Report Cards

I know this is a little late coming, but Adweek's report cards are out and I thought I'd take a moment to point out just how stupid this tradition is: very.

In the words of Alison Fahey, "As usual, we welcome your comments and even your criticisms."

Well, Alison, here you go.

Summing up an agency, any agency, with A's and B's is pointless.
The methodology is ill-defined (for well-defined methodology, I point you to the elaborate, and well-documented weighted grading system Creativity used to determine the "most awarded agency"), the creative commentary is lame ("KFC spot with firefighters ribbing each other about lunch for under a dollar feels phoney."), and the results are pointless.
And all of this to sell Adweek magazine to people who already subscribe for pithy articles like "WPP records sluggish Q1" and "Draft Focuses on Results."

I mean, I read Adweek as much as the next advertising professional, but come ON.

Let's look at these overall grades:

Arnold C (D numbers, B+ creative, C- management)
BBDO B+ (B, A-, B+)
BBH B+ (B-, A-, B+)
LEO BURNETT C ( C-, B-, C)

Are you asleep yet? We haven't even gotten to the Campbells.

Campbell-Ewald C+
Campbell-Mithun C+
Carmichael-Lynch B-
Cramer-Krasselt A-
CPB B+
DDB B-
Deutch C+
Donor C
Draft FCB C-
Euro B
Fallon B
GSD&M C
Goodby A-
Grey C+
Hill, Holiday B
JWT B
Kaplan B
Lowe C
Martin B
McCann B
Merkley C
Mullen B

(Still reading? Bless you)

Ogilvy B
Publicis B+
Hal Riney D+
Richards Group C+
Saatchi B+
Chiat/Day A-
W&K B+
Y&R C-
Zimmerman C

(and now, the super regionals)

Berlin- Cameron C
Bernstein-Rein C-
McKinney C+
Modernista A-
TM C+
Venables Bell B-

The professionals at Adweek will point out that CPB's work "has been exemplary" (pandering) "but with a hiccup here and there" Well no shit - name the agency that takes the risks CPB takes and succeeds EVERY time?

What I hate about this stuff - yes, yes, I'm a creative person in a business world - is that it assumes that there is some way to scientifically judge an agency based on more than its business record. Why bother? Tell us how the numbers break down, who's making a ton of cash and let us all quietly understand that agencies that make 1.2 billion in billings may not be doing the best work in the country.

Save creative judgement for the Andy's. Every agency has its share of work it would rather not enter in the awards shows. But giving Crispin Porter Bogusky an A- for creative is like giving Elvis an A- for wardrobe. They both still kick ass (and I suspect CPB will bring Elvis back from the dead soon enough to properly compare the two.)

"In determining creative grades, like most award shows, we judge the work based on creativity, originality, positioning and strategy. We do not gauge effectiveness. We continue to review nontraditional and integrated campaigns, an addition to the process in the last two years. "

Who's we? The Best Spots crew? Internationally reknowned creative directors? Disgruntled clients? Why not judge effectiveness, if you're going through all this effort? Why stop short of which agencies are actually DOING THEIR JOB? How is that irrelevant in this too-broad-to-be-effective report? Too hard to judge effectiveness? More subjective to judge effectiveness than creative?

Another major issue this report fails to report is on any agency doing anything meaningful in the regional or local level. Is that true? If it isn't being done by a $33 million agency, it isn't worth grading? Strawberry Frog has been in nearly every pitch of note of the last 12 months, and yet there's no reason to included them with Kaplan Thayer and Grey?

Here's my equally relevant grade on the report cards: W.F. Cares?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Bill Green's theme song

This one's for you, Bill.

Funny. And it rocks.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Blogenstock

This just in: Birkenstocks are back, baby. This, of course, is tremendous news to those of us with feet that demand air and backs that demand arch-support.

Find yours at Zappos.com for just 123.95! (birkenstockusa.com sells them for $70)

Credit due


Saw "Stranger than Fiction" this weekend. And while it did much to fire up up my Maggie Gyllenhall crush, I was also intrigued by the motion graphics. Check out the credits.

Courtesy of MK12.

Greatness.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Torn

I am very sad about the Virginia Tech tragedy.
It is horrible. It is senseless. It is inexplicable.
And yet it is ubiquitous.

Can someone hurry up and do something REALLY GREAT so we can glom onto that story for a few days?

going DSLR

After literally YEARS of cursing my Canon Digital Elf's persnickety autofocus and selective shutter, I am upgrading to a Digital SLR in time for Father's Day. And as with any decision where I'm going to dump $$ on something new, I have researched myself into utter paralysis. (And I had a recurring dream the other night where I was comparing camera options - a combination of intense research and caffeine before bed?)

Nikon D40?
Canon Rebel XT?
Spend an extra $500 on the next model up from either of these?
Something else?

Everybody (who owns one) has an opinion on which one is best, but there are few resources that offer true side-by-side comparisons and complete lists of pros and cons. Every time I think I've made up my mind, I find something that talks me back into neutrality.

And almost as wide open is the list of way to purchase this camera. Photography websites offer these cameras for prices ranging from $409 to $599. For the exact same camera (I think.) So why the range?

Trust me, I have pursued all the obvious avenues, and near as I can tell, the packages are apples-to-apples.

One thing that fascinates me is how out of line retail is with the internet pricing. Do retail stores EVER sell a digital camera? You'd have to be a complete idiot to spend the extra $200. Unless there's a some benefit I'm missing. A guy at Wolf camera told me the price includes photography lessons, "for things like composition and selecting a subject." No thanks. Can I waive the lessons and get a $150 discount?

My too-good-to-be-true gene fires up every time I decide to go for the lowest price. And my seriously-cheap, what're-you-stupid? gene counter fires when I I decide to go with Costco's price ($549, $50 off retail)

Agony.