Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The disappearing courtesy of rejection

When you think about job hunting, you might think the process goes as follows: You jazz up your resumé, send it out, get called in for some interviews, then you hear back in one of two ways—you got the job (Whoo!) or you did not (Crap!). However, if you've actually done any job hunting, you know there's a far more common, and even worse response.

Dead effing silence.

Now, some amount of this can be explained away. Companies sometimes receive thousands of resumés is a week, and responding to every one with a "No thanks" could be a full time job (which they could hire someone to do, but that's another story.)

However, if you get an interview, and that interview doesn't end with a job offer or a rejection, shouldn't you assume that you'll hear when a decision has been reached? After all, we communicate at the speed of lint these days, so you'd assume that rejecting people would have become less of a chore than it once was. I'll demonstrate:

"Thanks for your time, Mr. Smith. Although you had remarkable qualifications, we cannot offer you a position at this time. We'll be in contact if we have need of your services in the future."

Less than one minute, and Mr. Smith is out of my life for good. But more important than that, he has closure.

Perhaps it's the same technology that makes communication so easy that also makes it that much easier to ignore. If it will take less than a minute, what's the  harm in putting off another day? With the impetus to respond residing with the recipient and no longer an assistant, no one is making sure Mr. Boss is communicating with anyone.

Ad boys and girls, the only way to fix it is to take it upon ourselves, and vow that we will not do to others what has been done to us. So, here is my promise: Should I ever be so lucky to be in the position to hire anyone, I vow that those I do not hire will be given proper notice.

Until next time,


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Blogging for the man

Do you have something you really like doing, but you want to stop liking it so much? Here's a tip from ol' Uncle B—get paid to do it. It will start seeming like a whole lot less fun.

It's been, oh, about ten months since my last post. What have I been doing while I wasn't blogging? Blogging. For clients. I've been doing other writing, too, but a few of our clients have pretty active content marketing programs, and someone has to write that stuff.

It's all good, don't get me wrong. I've learned a lot about things I never, ever would have researched on my own. But it hasn't left me in the mood to post anything here.

If this seems like a pointless post—keen observation. But the only way to write is to write. And the only way to blog is to blog. And now there's only one way to go—upward and onward.

'Til next post (hopefully not another ten months), farewell.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Advertising folks are just a bunch of Fish Oil salesmen...

When we look back at advertising of old, we shake our heads and laugh at what companies used to be able to claim before regulation. Back in the day, cigarette companies could say their deadly little sticks could cure a sore throat. This was back before the government made sugary cereal manufacturers put the "part of" in "Cap'n Crunch is part of a balanced breakfast."

These days we wouldn't stand for outrageous claims that beer cures stomach ulcers. Or would we?

I have been seeing a commercial running with a elderly couple dancing. The VO says something like, "Studies show dancing is good for your heart. So is fish oil." The takeaway is that the Omega 3s or whatever in fish oil can slow the effects of aging on your heart. Near the end, though, there's tiny print that says the FDA hasn't substantiated these claims.

Will the FDA ever get around to proving or disproving this? I doubt it. After all, fish oil isn't that new. I mean, fish have been around for, like, years, right?

The argument is that some studies have shown that fish oil has health benefits. Some studies have also shown that drinking sugary soda helps kids get better test scores, which also hasn't been proven by the FDA. I try to imagine the backlash if Coca Cola tried to run a commercial claiming drinking soda was good for kids.

If fish oil has no proven benefits, it should have to sell based on its brand image, just like every other meaningless product. Advertisers should have to make people feel cool for taking fish oil. Fish oil should get a social media campaign, making virtual tribes of fish oil enthusiasts. Dedicate a store in the mall to fish oil, with a bar in it where you could go up and get all your fish oil questions answered (as long as you're a card-carrying fish oil brand advocate).

Am I serious? Not really. But I do think we'll be judged in the future for our laundry lists of pharm side effects and our mouse-type belying all healthful claims made in commercials. I just hope we learn our lesson before we need a Fish Oil Council to reduce oil use in kids.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Unplanned Vacation: Why I didn't post while I was laid off.

Last week I started a new job at a new agency. For about a month and a half before that I was laid off. My old agency, WonderGroup, did some restructuring, and my continued employment there was not in the plan. I wasn't the only one.

I don't have much bad to say about my old agency. I had fun while working there and did good work. I met great people and not so great people, but everyone I met had something to teach me. The pay was (relatively) low and the benefits were nonexistent, but in the current economy, I felt lucky to have a job.

My new situation is better. I was lucky to secure a job for better compensation than I had before. A lot of people can't say the same, forced to take jobs for lower pay than before—a fact our unemployment statistics hide.

I didn't post while I was laid off for a few reasons. Firstly, writing and even reading blogs is leisure activity for me. I do it during lulls at work, or when I feel I've earned or require a break from what I'm doing. Being out-of-work, I felt like I didn't deserve leisure time.

Secondly, I'm not brave in my vulnerability. I remember reading Erik Proux's Please Feed The Animals when it first started up and being impressed by the guts it took to put oneself out there after being canned. Erik's whole project still blows me away, especially when his wife posts about making things meet from the spouse's perspective. It's easy (at least for me) to get overwhelmed by feeling sorry for myself, and Mrs. Proux's perspective makes me think of how my own wife must feel at times.

Now that I've landed somewhere else, I can give this advice to the aspiring ad-boys and -girls out there: Get noticed. Your work may be great, but it probably looks a lot like the rest of the great work out there. Make yourself unforgettable, whether it's with your portfolio design, website, cover letter, or, even better, an interesting or admirable non-advertising project. Do something that will make other people have to meet you, just to see what kind of person you are.

I didn't come up with this pearl on my own. In fact I stole it from PFTA. But I'm still proud to pass it along. With any luck, we'll all come out of this recession better off, even if that only means a little wiser and more grateful than we were before.

Happy Holidays.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Advertising against advertising can suck, too.

I work in advertisement. I also read Adbusters (here). If you know anything about Adbusters, you might let out a confused "Huh?" Adbusters is a publication centered around a movement to subvert ultra-consumerist culture (read American culture) and promote a more sustainable global outlook.

From their website:

Ok, so how do I reconcile these two things? Well, a lot of advertising sucks. There are a lot of things, like prescription medications, that shouldn't be advertised to the general public. There is a lot of advertising noise for products that don't need advertised at all. Example: Coke and Pepsi pour tons of money into ads, but they aren't converting anyone. Everyone out there knows about Coca Cola. Now, they have reasons to keep up the ads, and I love some of the ads these two Goliaths produce, but wouldn't one humungous ad during the Super Bowl be enough?

Anyways, I digress. What I really wanted to address is Adbusters, and their continued campaign to get "subvertising" on television. Again and again, they are refused advertising spots.

Their latest spot, shown below, is an example:

Commercial Breakers from Douglas Haddow on Vimeo.

This spot has been turned down by FOX and MTV, and I, for one, am glad.

I hate this spot for the same reason I love Adbusters. It sucks. It's bad advertising. The typography is nearly unreadable (and they seem to know it, since their last long bit of copy changes typefaces). The actors suck, and it's as much a promotion of hipster fashion as it is an attack on major brands.

Most of all, it's more noise. The reason commercials are louder and more colorful and more frenetic than the TV shows they surround (or that surround them, depending on how you look at it) is an effort to break through the clutter. Adding more clutter ain't going to help.

I'm proud of the ads I've done. Most of them have been interactive (websites) so they are, by definition, permission marketing. You have to want to go there. The little TV and outdoor I've done has been for a good cause, Boy Scouts of America. I feel like, in my own way, I'm reducing the suckishness of advertisements.

Imagine a world where the ads we see are well-done, for products we can make a rational decision about buying, and don't make anyone look dumb just to sell a product. If we can get there, we'll all be a little saner.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Sane and Happy

Yesterday was my son's 2nd birthday. It also marked two years since I decided to move from my job as a finish carpenter into one in advertising. The company I worked for built scenery and props for a cruise line, for use in their musical revues. I traveled a lot, and in my travels I met a lot of great people and saw some great places (and some not so great places. Costa Maya, I'm looking at you.) all while making a tidy salary. It was a fun job, but still a job, so there were bad things about it, as well.

When my wife and I were expecting our son, I was out on a job, talking to a coworker. He told a story about his daughter telling her friend what he did for a living. When she did, his daughter's friend said something to the effect of, "Great job. I want to be like your dad." To which his daughter replied, "Don't be like my dad. I don't even really know who my dad is." I could tell it broke his heart. He had been traveling her whole life, supporting her financially, only to have a tentative relationship with her.

I began looking into advertising as soon as my son was born (I had to keep my insurance at least until he was a person in the eyes of the insurance company.) I got my first interview in October, and them immediately went on the road for 3 weeks. My son turned 3 months old while I was out. If I had kept going at that rate, I would have missed a quarter of his life.

I really admire what ErikProulx is doing at Please Feed the Animals. In addition to the site supporting out-of-work ad folks, he's making a movie about how people are taking the lessons they learned in advertising and using them to get the job they really always wanted. Meanwhile I left a job to be in advertising, which is where I really always wanted to be (little did I know). It turns out the grass is always greener on the other side.

In a couple weeks I'll celebrate the 1st anniversary of landing a job as a copywriter. For one year, I've been paid to think. I've been paid to be as smart as I can. My advice: If you're looking to get into advertising, or thinking of getting out of it, don't take for granted that you're being paid to think. In many jobs, including my last job, you get paid NOT to think.

I once heard a saying (and have never been able to figure out who originally said it), "If a man produces great works under external influence, we may admire what he does but abhor what he is." This may sound a lot like the client saying, "I want a print ad, scribblers!" and then you produce it. This is what we do, but in my last job, the designers would say, "We want scenery. It looks like this and moves like that and is exactly this tall. Build it." And we would. So having the freedom to present to a client my vision (or whatever you call the mental version of words) for an ad and having them accept or reject it is tons more liberating.

Advertising keeps me sane and happy. Sane, in that I don't feel like I'm being asked to put my brain in my locker everyday when I come to work, and happy, in that I get to go home to my lovely wife and son every night. That's what keeps me coming back and trying my damnedest. Because if I want to stay in this business, I have to be smarter than all the brilliant minds coming into the job market. I have to be just as hungry. Luckily for me, and unlike most young ad boy and girls out there, I have an extra mouth to feed. And he's ALWAYS hungry.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

When is a penis joke not the answer?

When I first interviewed at WonderGroup, the ACD/Copywriter gave me an assignment. I took home a handful of ads with no headlines, and was asked to create headlines for them. I completed it and turned it in. At my next interview, they told me they my lines were good...except the puns.

In the opinion of the ACD and the then-CCO, puns are easy, and easy doesn't cut it. In some ways I totally agree. Sometimes I think puns are appropriate. Just like rhyme and alliteration, they make things easy to remember, and Recall is one of the ways we measure the success of an ad.
I do agree with puns sometimes being the easiest solution, and therefore the most predictable. When measuring ads on creativity, and not efficacy, being expected is death. This brings me to the ad that brought this topic to my attention.

The pictured in-store poster for Burger King is a perfect example of taking the easy joke and running with it. Let's face it: Almost all foods resemble genitals. If they don't, they probably resemble poop. That's it! I can't imagine the creative team burned the midnight oil coming up with this one.

What makes this worse is that Crispin Porter & Bogusky is BK's agency. Since they took over the account, starting with the famed "Subservient Chicken," CPB's stuff has been very very creative. Like it of not, you can't deny the original thinking. Angry Onion always gives me a "wish I thought of that" moment. So, seeing bad ads like BK's Super Seven Incher come out of that awesome shop makes me cringe.

There are lots of explanations. Maybe BK really pushed this one on them. This seems unlikely to me, though. Wouldn't BK really trust CPB's creative vision by now?

Maybe this was rushed, and low priority. The best creative minds didn't handle this one, and the result was poor. This, too, seems unlikely. CPB has a reputation to protect, so why would they let something go out they didn't approve of 100%?

I think this might have been just a momentary misstep in CPB and BK's plan for "success through fame" and generating buzz. Did this poster generate buzz? Of course! I'm talking about it right now, and when it was released lots more people were talking about it. But where "Whopper Virgins" was controversial, this is just in poor taste. The same kind of buzz could be generated by farting in a job interview. It doesn't make you famous, just infamous.

So, adboys and adgirls, write penis jokes, poop jokes, puns and rhymes. 99 times out 100, they'll be funny, but not worth showing. And occasionally, when no one is expecting it, you'll be able to let one rip. Pun intended.