October 31, 2009

Project delivered!

Forgive the long absence--I finally delivered my best project yet. A little late, a little long and a little challenging (why do people not warn you of how hard this really is??), but she's perfect in every way.

I'll be catching up on sleep and this wonderfully topsy-turvy new life for awhile, but I'll be back! In the meantime, here she is.

October 13, 2009

A Reese by any other name...

Reese's Pieces cups--those lovely salty-sweet things--have been running a new campaign for the last year or so. So far, they've produced a handful of 15-second spots that are all artwork and music--with taglines that, for me at least, leave much to be desired. Call me an elitist copywriter, but lines like:

Stop global warming or all the Reese's will melt.

Sharing is a nice gesture. Stupid, but nice.

The perfect three way: Milk chocolate, Reese's peanut butter, and you.

...feel like first-attempt cast-offs. Despite infusing a little New Order and Fiction Factory into the spots, the messages feel dull and predictable.

But looking up the things on You Tube, I realize I may be in the minority. The comments are filled with discussions about the music, the message, the originality. And I'm left wondering if I'm overthinking what are simply nice, memorable spots that are doing their job. Still, I cringe at just how easy the copywriter got off--and wonder again how a big agency can justify the big bills for something that could have been written on the bus on the way in to work.

The writing in one spot left me particularly bewildered--until I found its alternate ending. The ad begins like so:

And concluded with the bewildering:

(Forgive the picture quality--it's all I could find!) What in the world is a Reese? And how is it plural? And just who approved this? And how did anyone think this sounded nice? Or had any flow? Or wouldn't make people stop and say "wha...?"...? Until I found this ending on the Reese's Pieces website:

Ah, much better. Still terribly uninspired, but at least it's comprehensible.

Still, I can't help feeling that all this pseudo-coolness falls flat and feels forced. If any of these win at an awards show, I may just have to eat my hat. While listening to some bygone 80's hit, of course.

October 1, 2009

Baby Talk

In this incredibly round and bulging state, I have become a prime target for a kind of advertising I've never noticed before. Suddenly, sophisticated ideas and lovely language have given way to a kind of dribbly baby talk that, I'm guessing, is supposed to connect with my inner Mommy-to-be--plying me with cute alliterations, mono-syllabic tot-speak and line after line of eye-rolling goo-gooness.

When did I turn from consumer into dribbling moron?

I first noticed this while waiting hours for a RhoGam shot (and not, as I've yet to live down, a Rogain shot) at the hospital. I was leafing through a copy of Pregnancy&Newborn, looking for quick snippits of tips and advice and product descriptions to feed my baby-info overload. Yet instead of being spoken to like an adult, I was coddled and rocked with words like din-din, tummy, meat'n'taters, pre-preggo--and, yes, the dreaded Mumsie. A quick look at their website reveals this bit of saccharine insight:

"Will you depend on convenient disposables to cover your babe's tiny tush... ?"

Now, I've never been a fan of cutsiness. I prefer Vonnegut over Harlequin and The Beatles over... well, anything on the charts today. So perhaps that explains the nauseating feeling I get reading what's intended, I suppose, to be a light-hearted conversation about the cutest subject matter around. But such drivel leaves me incredibly annoyed and, worse, wanting to turn to the woman in the waiting room next to me and say "Have you read this dreadful fluff?"

Just what do the briefs for these articles and ads say?

TARGET: Moms to be
AGE: 25-35
TONE: Write like they've lost their minds to hormones and can no longer form complete sentences

Yes, dear baby advertising people, I'm a Mom to be. But right now, I'm at home awaiting B-Day, half bored and terribly restless. Soon it will be all-baby-all-the-time, and I will--no doubt--crave a little adult conversation and intelligent insights and wit and anything else that will reconnect me to the land of the all grown up. Keep your cuteness to a minimum and treat me like the consumer I've always been.

Yes, I'm having a baby.

And yes, my mind is filled with baby stuff.

But, for the love of all things holy, keep the ga-ga for your cartoons and give Mumsie a break.

September 21, 2009

What's wrong with now?

Spending so much more time with my new friend the TV these days, I've noticed a strange phenomenon--one I'll call the TLC Syndrome, since they seem to have made an art of the practice.

In the bottom right-hand corner, the station's logo--a blotch on the screen it took awhile in itself to get used to--now comes with a little announcement. Today it reads:


What I've noticed, however, is that week-long announcement will change as soon as the new show starts--either to ALL NEW JON & KATE NEXT WEEK or ALL NEW CAKE BOSS TUESDAY AT 10. It's all new something-or-other, all the time. Which gives you the feeling that whatever's on right now is old news. It's vaguely disconcerting.

Then I saw it again yesterday while flipping across the Emmy's. While Dougie Houser was plodding through some bit of prompter reading, across the bottom of the screen flashed some exciting newness, along the lines of:


Now, this isn't the information-overload news line that drags across the screen when you watch CNN or Newsworld--meant to super-inform and keep your head in a tizzy. These TLC bits of info are, essentially, telling viewers "If you think THIS is good, just you wait."

Except you never really get to the good part. At least not according to the TV station.

What's with the permanent focus on the future? What, exactly, is wrong with what you're watching right now? It's like some constant, artificial adrenaline rush for the next best thing--leaving you feeling like you've always just missed the boat. It's like some new kind of advertising, where the benefit is perpetually elusive and what you've bought into right now will never, ever be enough.

What kind of society are we to be so unsatisfied that we can never just enjoy where we are--even for a second? It's gone beyond taking the time to stop and smell the roses. Because their incredible bloom will be nothing compared to the daisies just ready to pop out--say, next Wednesday at 6.

September 16, 2009

Home again home again...

For the first time since I was 4, I have an entire year off. Well, "off" meaning not having to take the little yellow (or big white) bus to anywhere at 8 in the morning.

I'm on mat leave and playing the waiting game.

It's odd. I love my job, and the people I work with, and most of the projects that come across my desk. I love my AD, my CD, the praise for a job well done, the breakthrough ah-ha moment when a concept comes together. I love working where people understand what "copywriter" means. I love the results of having to go back to the drawing board (even if the going back was a bit of a blow). My aunt once told me that I'm probably the only person who enjoys how they bring their paycheque home--and although I think she's exaggerating, I'm not convinced she's far from wrong.

So yes, it's odd to be apart from all that. I feel a little useless, in that I'm not contributing to the work. I feel a bit disconnected from the adrenaline. Advertising gets under your skin, drives some inner force that makes you dig deep, deep, deeper until you get it just right. It's compelling and rewarding and frustrating and satisfying. And I wonder how much I'm going to miss it.

But truth be told, my brain has turned into so much mush. My kind and lovely AD has politely asked a few times if, perhaps, just maybe, I'd, say forgotten a word here? Or a bit of punctuation there? And I look and see the glaring mistake, invisible to this bit of Swiss cheese between my ears. Plus you know the week will be long when, by 10:30 on a Monday morning, your previously comfy office chair has turned into a bit of a torture device that no amount of jiggling, shifting, scooting, or leg-raising can fix.

I guess I'm swapping one responsibility for another, altogether bigger one. It hasn't hit me quite yet, though. For now, I feel responsibility-less (unless you count the unwritten shower thank-yous that are staring at me from the kitchen, even now). It's a strange, uneasy feeling--like being disconnected from the real world. Almost like losing your place. Or watching from the sidelines. I almost feel badly for the women who run out the office door, free for a year and so glad to not have to come back for a good long while. What could be worse than an unwanted return, a year-long countdown to the pain of going back to their small corner of hell?

But, but, but... this project I've been working on since January may just change all that.

September 14, 2009

Navel gazing

I just flipped through the latest issue of a local advertising magazine. It's largely about advertising around the city, and across the province--with bits and pieces of stuff gathered from here and there around the world.

And, good Lord, what a bunch of navel gazing.

To be fair, this issue is all about event marketing--highlighting last year's big events, the agencies that organized them, the companies who decorated, the caterers who cooked, the sewers who costumed, the venues, the people who attended. So maybe I shouldn't be too surprised that they seemed to haver left out the--oh, how should I put it?--the dang message. I mean the big picture. The advertising point.

Sure, a creative awards show had a nice venue and great decor and fab lighting and lovely food--but, um, what did it communicate? (I know I know! That 2 agencies lapped up just about everything--I was there, I saw how everyone else vowed not to come back next year for what was, to put it gently, a great wank fest.)

Forgive me if I sound bitter. I don't mean to be. It's just that the more I read about advertising, and attend awards shows, and pay attention to what's going on in the agencies around me, the more I wonder just who we think we are.

Because, as a bunch, we take ourselves too dang seriously.

And we think customers--the people at the end of the line, the ones who ultimately pay all our bills--are a bunch of idiots.

I love being a copywriter. I love the creative process, the creative department, thinking in concepts, playing with words, finding the perfect fit for the brief. It's exhilarating and it sure beats accounting (sorry, accountants!). But to go from there to mistaking what I do for art, or to aim for an award when we should be talking to consumers--sorry. I don't buy it. Advertising has a terrible tendency to elevate itself to some higher plane, judging itself on what's breakthrough and cool and out of the box rather than what works.

And we all fall into it, at some point. We start to see what we do as all-important--as an untouchable bit of higher thought, smarter ideas, incomparable cleverness. But it's advertising. It's communication. It's addressing the almighty consumer.

It's not rocket science, and it's certainly not going to save any lives.

Yet here's this magazine, these award shows, these huge naval-gazing events. And for what? For the glorification of ourselves? The justification of our salaries?

A medical magazine has medical articles. An architect's magazine talks about architecture. So why do advertising magazines talk so much about the people in the industry and so little about making the message, addressing the consumer and doing our work a little better?

Awards are great, don't get me wrong. But this is our work. We should get our noses out of the belly-button lint and remember who we're working for.

September 10, 2009

It's a Small World, Indeed

So new client needs a great, big list of stuff for their website. It requires a lot of research--sifting through other websites, finding hidden gems, getting ideas, and putting an incredibly long list of stuff together so they can program the ultimate tool for their very serious program.

To help, they forwarded what they consider the perfect example to follow. Not to copy outright, mind, but to work with and get inspired from.

The source?

A page right out of a website I do pro-bono editing for. Written by people I've met in person.


September 1, 2009

Ode to the baby who's kicking me incessantly in that spot right above the ribs that really, really hurts.


Ditto with the bladder punching. Good thing I still have semi-quick reflexes!

Silly, funny little Bump.

(And now back to our regular programming.)

August 25, 2009

Dear CS people at our sister agency

I am not a copy vending machine.

When you change my copy before it gets to client, and then client doesn't like it, what is it that you'd like me to do now to fix it?

Bloody creative vampires. You suck the life out of everything.

(Sorry--needed to get that off my chest.)

August 24, 2009

Grammaticus Interruptus

So... you're saying Scandinavians are lousy salespeople?

August 19, 2009

More than verbs.

Since a lot of what I do is adaptation into English, I often come across a few conundrums that drive me a little batty. Now, I know every writer is different, and our toolboxes never look quite alike. But there are some basics that were driven deep into my copywriter brain from the get go, and I have a hard time breaking my own rules.

And number one on my list is the use of verbs.

Way, way back when I landed my first agency job, my hard-nosed (and temperamental--and I mean temperamental) CD would burst into my back-room office, holding a copydeck that looked like her red pen had sprung a leak. Most of the copydecks were newsletters--simple projects to cut my junior teeth on. And there, at every article headline, she'd scrawl the word "verb" (usually followed by a half-dozen exclamation points). She would change "New hotel offers 10% off" to "Get 10% off at new hotel". Or "Golf Course gives a free round when you book 3 nights" to "Enjoy a free round at Golf Course when you book 3 nights".

At first, I thought it was a whole lot of wasted ink over six of one, half-a-dozen of the other.

But then it clicked.

I'm talking to someone. Or, rather, the hotel and golf course are addressing a client, engaging them to take action, calling on them to sit up and take notice. And here I was, writing newspaper headlines when I should have been opening a conversation.

I've never forgotten the lesson. In fact, I'd guess that 95% of my headlines begin with a verb--and the other 5% have probably been changed by some well-meaning client or other.

So imagine my dismay when I have to adapt headlines like "The card that gives you more" or "A great deal for members". I call these painting captions--something you'd find under a work of art at a museum, like "Vase with fruit" or "Mary at the waterfall". Descriptive, yes, but flat and unengaging. It's the brand talking to itself. An empty bit of copy.

And, more often than not, I get out my boxing gloves and change it.. "Save more with the new card" or "Get 50% off--a great deal for members". I have to talk to the audience, tell them what they can do, take them by the hand and lead them down the path. I have to start the conversation.

Advertising isn't about features--it's about benefits. And benefits are all about what WE can do for YOU. So leave the captions to the paintings and bring on the verbs.

Cause I'm just going to change the dang headline anyway.

August 6, 2009

More than words.

I posted awhile back about Kurt Vonnegut--an absolutely brilliant writer who crafted every page of a novel perfectly before ever moving on. No edits for him, just a carefully constructed rhythm of words that evoked exactly what he wanted to say. And it led you along right through to the end--open mouthed, amazed and wanting more.

Now I'd never say advertising is anything like a phenomenal novel, but I think writing principles are generally the same, no matter the media. Words are meant to evoke, to provoke, to lead and tempt and seduce. The choice of words, their order, their rhythm--even the careful placement of a comma--all these work in tandem to pass a message. To communicate.

And that, after all, is what advertising is all about.

So when I get a copydeck back, either from client services or from client, that's been hacked and twisted and uncarefully rewritten, I sincerely get my knickers in a bind. I'm not sure just how to explain why a two-syllable adjective was needed here, or why the next sentence shouldn't have a comma right there. I just know it. I feel it. It's more than words on the page. It's more than just bullet points on a brief.

It's about lulling the consumer into reading. Making music out of words so that their mind floats from one word to the next like notes. So yes, I make a big deal out of a comma change, out of adding more words to this bit and taking words out here. Don't go playing in my copy--let me know what you need, and let me reconstruct. I've got the rhythm in my head. I'll play with the changes, try them out, move them around. I'll find the fit.

Just, please--leave my dang words alone.

August 2, 2009

Brief Truths

Our sister agency briefed us last week on a new project. The account people over there tend to be a lot more formal when writing up briefs, which include yawners like secondary audience descriptions, estimated price per piece and drop numbers per segment. This last brief even had the word "tertiary" in it. How often have you used that one in a lifetime?

But no matter. These things can be mammoths of 5 to 6 pages, so I highlight the good parts and doodle around the other stuff.

What gave us all a big reason to pause, though, was the entry for the big one--the main objective. That's the part you compare all your concepts to, the words that drive you in the right direction from the get go. This part should be short and sweet. It should have one, and only one, main point. It needs to be the guiding light for all the other information you need to include in the piece.

Oh, and it needs to be, you know, true.

Because this is what we got:

"We understand your company".

As in, the reason to pick us is because we understand your business. We get you. We feel your pain.


I've yet to meet anyone outside of advertising who actually "gets" what a copywriter does. Not even my friends are 100% sure of what I get paid for, except that I write stuff and it's perhaps like the brochure that came with their toaster. So I have no expectations--and would be highly dubious--of any company that wrote to tell me they get what I do. It would be an insulting generalization, and a communication cop-out.

Even worse, when we asked sister company for proof this was true, they replied a few days later with "Um, nothing more there--sorry. You'll have to work with what we gave you." Which, really, just enforces that the whole main objective had no wheels to begin with.

So here is what we've decided to work with: We don't get your business (gasp!), but we really know ours. So bring us onboard and we'll take care of our end so you don't have to.

Short, sweet and with a benefit, to boot. How hard was that?

Apparently, very. Creative briefs are meant for the creative team. They're supposed to be concise and pertinent to the message. They're supposed to present a logical challenge, not a creative conundrum. Yet so many are written to please the client--a kind of client Valium, promising big answers to boardroom questions.

But we're writing to consumers. People who couldn't care less about marketing objectives, business challenges and the competition. People who just want a little something to make their lives easier, better, more interesting, even fun.

The main objective isn't supposed to answer a client concern--it's supposed to give consumers a reason to pick you. Mess that part up and you might as well put all your money on the forth horse in the second race.

July 29, 2009

It's the busy season!

I miss writing all my myriad complaints here and hearing all your feedback--but these last few weeks have been absolute mayhem in every way. Good mayhem, but mayhem nonetheless. So a quick hello and how are you and I promise to get something a little more substantial out in the next few days. All this work has got to be good fodder for a post or two!

So I'll leave you with this bit of insight on communication--and non-verbal communication, at that:

Mommy rolls over onto her side.
Baby isn't happy.
Baby kicks Mommy a good one in the ribs.
Mommy rolls back over the other way.
Baby flutters feet in happiness.

Lasts all of 5 seconds and gets the message across crystal clear. And for free! Maybe we can learn something from the utter simplicity and straightforwardness of a tiny (well, Bump's predicted at 8 pounds, so let's say "smallish") unborn with no vocabulary to form thought, but all the capacity to get their point across.

July 23, 2009

I'll be brief

I'm an avid note taker. I have a drawer-full of copybooks here, each one interspersed with meeting notes, doodles, word associations, concepts, scribbles, ideas, and unintelligible babble.

And briefs.

As in notes I took while being briefed. Out loud. By paperless people.

When did briefs become an oral tradition?

Agencies have always been busy places. People have always been swamped. Yet the brief remained the guiding light on every project--the common thread that tied client services, creative, production, and studio together. The rule book getting us from strategy to execution. The brief was brief yet full--inspiring, concise and, most importantly, a reference to return to when you needed to ensure you were still on the right track.

These days, every second brief is a chat. I pull out my pen, scribble some notes, ask for clarification, write down what I understand. Only to discover, nine times out of ten, that the Art Director understood something else. Or there's a chunk of meat missing. Or there's nowhere to turn for key words and insights. It's frustrating. And it's an illusion that it saves time--because the time saved not writing the dang thing is time wasted trying to get everyone on the same page again.

Case in point: I just spent half the afternoon coming up with new themes for a project, only to learn I was supposed to develop theme names for existing ideas. Subtle difference--two-hour waste of time. Not a single slip of paper exists to outline the requirements. All I have are scribbles in a copybook--my misunderstanding of what needed to get done.

And I've doubled my time on the project because no one invested their time up front.

I'm not asking for a novel. I don't need a 10-page dossier (lord knows long-winded briefs are just as bad). Just a single piece of paper that states the case, outlines the objectives, notes the next steps, and tells me when it's all due.

It's advertising. It's not the telephone game.

July 21, 2009


... just not mine! The writer at our sister agency is off and I've got a bit of a balancing act to do this week. Not that I'm complaining--a lot of the projects coming in are pretty fun and really varied.

It's just, you know... I haven't a minute to blog about anything. Gak!

Although how's this for odd: A client of ours insists on NOT putting a logo on a piece. First time in my career I found myself on the pro-logo side of the fence. Wonders never cease!

July 16, 2009

I wonder what they were hoping for?

Someone's search of the following keywords led to my blog:

free teenie in knickers pics

I don't know if they wanted to free me from my preggie knickers or if they want pics of me liberated from my...


July 15, 2009

This is why I do what I do

Just came out of a meeting with a newish client. We've presented to one of the clients before, some years ago, and now that the account is back there's someone new on the client team.

After some pleasantries and an intro by our lovely CD, I was all alone to present the creative, since the AD is swamped today. So I present the list of headlines, explain the pros of each, show the mock up, help the CD explain the layout, and sit back to see the clients' reactions.

They were smiling.

And the new client looked up at me, a little incredulous, and said:

"You wrote these?"

"Um, yes."

"These are... wow, these are great."

And for all the bitching I do, all the frustrations we live through, all the last-minute changes and debates and misplaced commas and missing hyphens and glitches and agency angst, this makes it all worthwhile. A happy client with an honest compliment. With a smile and an understanding that I pleasantly surprised them with something they weren't expecting.

"Ah, I love my job," I told her.

And it's true. It's true.

July 13, 2009

Unfocused groups.

This morning we were briefed on a new client. We're kind of coming into the picture in the middle of a campaign, where look and feel and media and approach have already been decided, and we're here to tweak and tease the message so that it hits home with impact.

One of the items we have to use in all our executions is a weird little logo. It contains a positive message--a reminder to follow procedure, to do the right thing, to keep a rule in mind. It's giving the green light to an important behaviour.

And the dang thing was designed in red.

I'm talking about a big red circle with a red icon in the middle and a two-word message in blaring red letters. And everyone at the agency who's seen it--and I mean everyone--asks the same thing:

Erm, shouldn't that be in green?

And the client service person rolls her eyes for the umpteenth time and repeats what the client told her when she asked the same question:

We tested this in focus groups across the country. That's what people picked.

Which brings up two points, at least as far as I can see:

1) Passing the buck off to Joe public for a decision that--according to your job title--is essentially yours is a big cop out. Not to mention a colossal waste of money (in this case, the Government's--aka yours and mine). And resources. Unless your title is "Focus-Group Manager", you kind of have to make the final decision yourself--and stand up for it.

2) Focus groups are very often a great, big, stinking waste of time and money.

Now, sometimes a focus group is a great way to collect insight and feedback. Say, if you're testing a new product flavour. Or changing the name of a well-known product. Or collecting feedback on people who live in a certain area, or have certain behaviours, or exhibit similar interests. A focus group can give you some pretty keen insights about where to focus your message, and how to target your audience. Focus groups work wonders IF you're using them for the talents they possess: namely, speaking about themselves and their experience.

Where it all goes horridly, flamingly wrong is when focus groups are used to test creative. Gather a group of rather haphazard people together and ask them to give their opinion on an ad, a logo, a TV commercial, anything at all, and you're going to get exactly what you ask for: an opinion. Based on personal taste. Influenced by the people sitting around them. And, worst of all, over-thought to death.

You're asking Mr. and Mrs. Sample to look at an ad, analyze it, talk about it, compare it with other ads, debate it with the people around the table, and score it on a scale of good to bad (and, in one horrific fiasco earlier this year, 1 to 10). I've seen people start with one opinion and change their minds completely in 10 minutes. Which opinion should we go with? What's their true gut feeling? How much is this forced focus-group atmosphere influencing what they say?

And moreover, what do non-advertising people know about advertising? I don't mean to sound pompous or elitist--I simply mean that agencies have an expertise in advertising. We've honed our communication skills. We've broken the data down into a brief. We've fleshed out the message. We've kept the target in mind. We know the project, inside and out. Yet these 10 strangers, sitting around a table for an hour, suddenly have more say than the experts that the client hired in the first place.

Focus groups have become career padding--a buffer between the client and their boss, between results and responsibility. How can 10 people off the street have a say powerful enough to derail an entire campaign? How can a client--being paid ample money to turn out a campaign that works--put their trust in those 10 people to get his or her job done?

It's baffling. And it's happening more and more. The anonymity of focus groups makes for the perfect scapegoat when it comes to taking the blame.

And advertising is suffering for it.

July 7, 2009

Client conundrum, agency angst

Over the last year, our agency has had no fewer than 3 newbie clients--clients who've never worked with an agency before. All 3 did the entire bulk of their advertising (mostly DM, with a few exceptions) in house, until volume, restructuring, the economy, the alignment of the stars, and so forth called for agency input.

We pitched and won for each, with presentations that detailed how we work, what we do, the process each project entails, costs, a portfolio--you name it. Basically a typical agency pitch, with a little more detail to help the uninitiated understand the inner workings of our little world.

Theory, however, is a far cry from practice.

Without fail, all 3 clients have had a rough time of it. From time constraints (you can't have that in an hour?), to creative confusion (that's not how we've always done it!), to process (can't I just talk to the Art Director myself?), to timelines (we're only mailing in 2 weeks--there's plenty of time for changes), these clients confront and balk every step of the way. It makes for some very heated debates (hats off to the Account Director for the verbal beating she endured) and bizarre meetings (the art director and I once sat across from 2 clients--another art director and copywriter--to be told how to make things more like they used to be).

It's eternally frustrating.

On the other hand, I get it. When you've been working one way for so long, who's an agency to say you're doing it the wrong way? What's a copywriter know about your product that you haven't written ad nauseam for years? How can an art director rejig a look you've whittled to perfection? After all, these clients know their product inside out, so just who are these people who want them to change, expand, try new things? Why would anyone want to rock a leakless boat?

Most of the time, I think, the clients who vote to go the agency route aren't the same clients who engage with the agency day-to-day. The people at the top may want change, but the people in the trenches know the one way of working--the process that's made them successful enough to be needing an agency in the first place.

So what to do?

On our end, we spend hours and waste money creating strategies, writing briefs and delivering concepts and creative arguments that take in a bigger picture--only to be resoundly rejected. On their end, they see strangers to the business who don't understand, change the rules and question their marketing input--then charge them for it.

It isn't enough to want an agency. It isn't productive to make the switch before everyone is ready. It's a waste of resources all around to head out in new directions only to be pulled back to old ones. Going the agency way is a big decision--and an uncomfortable one. And well it should be. Discomfort, and not the status quo, prompts change.

So don't stuff an agency down your workers' throats. And don't pick an agency only to reject what you'd initially agreed to.

It really isn't profitable for anybody.

July 6, 2009

Random words that should never be used in advertising... Part 3


I'll also accept: Things.

Unless dialogue calls for "The thing is" or "Here's the thing," I'd stay away from this big, bad empty word. My favourite example--courtesy of a lazy, profiteering pseudo-book writer from my days way back at a correspondence school (don't ever take correspondence classes unless offered by a reputable institution!)--is the following, for an Introduction to Computers manual:

A computer is a thing...

Jebus, you don't say.

July 2, 2009

Butt out?

I've been trying to decide whether or not to post about this for awhile--in part because I don't want this poor blog to sound like a whiny ol' tirade, and in part because I don't really have an answer. But it's bothered me again today, so I might as well open up the topic and see what people think...

I'm taking about public smoking. As in smoking on the sidewalk.

Here in Quebec, smoking in restaurants, bars and indoor public places has been banned for a good few years. It's nice to sit and eat without smoke billowing across your penne arrabiata, and it looks like many smokers are OK with stretching their legs between courses for a puff. I'd guess many even enjoy a smoke-free meal themselves.

But now smokers pool on the sidewalks. Or they simply light up on the sidewalks, walking around, blowing smoke behind them.

Except for one summer where I snuck puffs of my Aunt's discarded butts while baby-sitting my cousins, I've never been a smoker. Cigarettes send my allergies into haywire--just a step below cats and shaggy dogs. So I've never been one to hang around smoke.

With baby Bump on the way, my tolerance for smoke is at an all-time low. Walking down a busy shopping street today, in 30C heat, my slow self was stuck behind wave after wave of summer smoke--truly awful, nauseating stuff. Every time I hit a wave, I'd cough, then preggie gag, then stop to catch my breath (which I seem to have less and less of these days).

By the end of an hour's stroll, I'd had it. I wanted to knock the cigarette out of every last person's hand, wanted to blow something unpleasant into their faces--a whiff of our 2-week-old garbage bin, perhaps. A little bit of armpit.

Who are these people to invade my lungs? To invade Bump's tiny lungs? To walk around like the smoke goes nowhere? I don't see them blowing smoke into their companion's face, or covering their faces to exhale a second-hand wave of eye-watering exhaust into their own eyes. Even our new upstairs neighbour smokes out on the balcony, drifting whiffs of smoke through our open window and scattering ash all over our patio.

It's gross. It's invasive. And unless I lock myself indoors, it's getting into me--and into baby.

But what's left for smokers? What are these people, seduced by cigarette's allure, supposed to do? They're addicted. They're caught. They're running out of places to hide. Is the sidewalk equally theirs? Can we, as a society, ban smoking from every place but smokers' homes? Like any addict, they would barely be able to cope--to get through a day. Do we have the right to take the last smokable public place away?

I don't know.

All I know is that I'm addicted to chocolate. And I've yet to shove a Mars bar up some stranger's unsuspecting nose.

July 1, 2009

Navel gazing

Having totally given up on Geek Squad's ability to fix my defunct router, I went to Future Shop last night after work to get an ethernet cable that would stretch into the kitchen. I'm sitting amongst a mass of wires, but no matter. At least I have a working connection and some sort of idea on how to get everything humming along nicely.


Future Shop is a place that seems to pride itself on technology, service and know-how. Their commercials--although pretty lame--show employees pointing out great deals on new trends. The store is filled with long, white shelves loaded with every gadget imaginable. The prices are relatively competitive. The commission-driven salespeople juggle client after client, a bit rushed but always pretty well informed.

Plus Future Shop was the first place to pop into mind when I decided to kick the router out and bit the cable bullet.

So I was pretty surprised when I got to the cash to discover the direct-debit machine from hell.

I mean, this thing was big--a Motorola touch-screen Behemoth that stood upright on the counter... a counter that's inconveniently placed at the end of a very busy aisle.

The employee swiped my card and moved to the side. So I prompted the screen.

Price? OK.

Account? OK.

PIN. Er...

Try to hide a screen as big as your hand while attempting to hit the right numbers in sequence. The screen is flat. It's waiting for the right touch at the right place. And it's hidden behind my hovering hand.

I missed the first attempt.

I missed the second.

I tried peering over my hand, through my hand. I tried to stand in front of the thing. But there were people everywhere--even an employee typing away on the computer next to me, looking up stock. Not a lick of privacy and no way to feel around for the numbers I know the touch of by heart.

So I gave up, stood back and punched the things in full sight of whoever happened to be looking. I felt vulnerable and exposed, me who is so careful about keeping my money matters in check.

I assume some Future Shop big shot saw these direct-debit machines and drooled. Had visions of being technologically advanced at every touch point, offering a nifty new gadget that people would remember--hopefully even talk about. Wanted a fabulous Future-Shop experience for customers to get all excited over.

They should have tried the dang things first.

Innovative doesn't get to replace practical. And standing out certainly shouldn't come at the expense of ease, simplicity and comfort. You want to impress customers? Deliver great customer service. Make your store appealing. Be helpful. Take the time.

Get back to basics.

And get your heads out of your navels.

June 29, 2009

You reap what you sow--the advertising version

A recent post at the brilliantly written Jake's Take raised the question: How do you treat your one-off clients? And, really, this applies to advertising and everything. Just how do you treat people you'll never see again... or think you'll never see again? How do you treat people a few extra steps down the totem pole?

It reminded me of a client I had eons and eons ago.

I was a junior at what George Parker calls a BDA (or Big Dumb Agency, for the uninitiated). One of our biggest, and most profitable, clients hired a consultant to take on a bulk load of work and interact with us peons at the agency.

And what a bulk load of work he was.

He berated the client service group. He asked routinely if the writers were on drugs. He criticized concepts in the most ungraceful terms imaginable. I remember presenting to him once--two juniors with the jitters but 2 days' worth of practice--only to watch him take apart and put together his Bic pen, over and over, lining up the pieces along the desk. He didn't look at us once.

It was infuriating. He was so mean. I don't know if he was trying to prove something or if it was part and parcel of his personality, but the agency put on a big smile and took it. And it hurt.

Fast forward years later, and I'm the only English writer at a teenie, tiny agency with small clients and smaller budgets. And what do I hear in the kitchen but the consultant's name. We were looking for a department head, and he'd come in the evening before for an interview. To be my BOSS.

So I got up from my desk, went into the kitchen, and explained the Bic story.

Last I heard, he was trying to sell chocolates online, writing long, loving emails to everyone he knew in an attempt at sales.

Advertising is like life, and I think a lot of people tend to forget that bold, brash, backstabing, and bullshitting aren't prerequisites for an advertising job. In fact, in advertising as in life, you get out what you put in. Kindness is free, but it reaps rewards that are truly priceless.

To those who bully their way to the top, remember the advertising adage: Be careful who you step on when you climb up that ladder, cause you may be needing them when you climb back down.

June 19, 2009

Time to Facebook the music

The other half's siblings have flown over the pond to stay with us a few weeks. They're the younger ones--hovering around the 20 mark--and are extremely polite and kind and funny and have been pretty diligent about picking up after themselves and keeping my new house livable, despite 3 of them to the small extra room. All in all, it's a great visit.

Still, I don't, you know, get them.

They get up at noon. They watch TV a lot of the day. They have supper at 3:30. They eat a whole lot of red meat and drink a ton of soft drink. They listen to music that stumps me. The girls giggle about celebrities and gossip I've never heard about, while the boys talk football and use expressions that contain words I understand but meanings that go right over my head.

A lot of the differences are cultural, but a lot more are getting lost down the giant cavern of a generation gap. Just when I think I get how they think, just when I think I can predict what they'd like, they surprise me in ways that make me tsk internally and try hard not to shake my head. Then I realize I'm the oldest in the room. The mother-to-be. To them, I must be (and how it hurts to say it) old.

Yet I work for an agency that's trying to jump on the Facebook bandwagon. An agency whose average employee age is probably somewhere right around my own.

What are we thinking?

Facebook and My Space and BeBo--and all those other social sites that grow and die in miniature lifetimes--engage this younger generation on a level that's almost impenetrable. Yet here we are, desperately making advertising applications, attempting to gather friends and fans for brands. We're like the old trying to be cool. It must be like listening to your father say "dude" or your mother attempt to fizzle her nizzle.

We're painfully embarrassing.

Yet we grease ourselves and our clients into skinny jeans and hang around social sites like our wrinkles and varicose veins don't show.

One of the first things you learn in advertising is to know your audience. To understand their needs and voice those needs in such a way as to attract your audience's attention. So although may know zilch about trends or fashion or new music or social sites, its our job to learn what prompts young people to buy their first car, open a bank account, choose one soft drink over another, pick this cell-phone company over that, buy eco-friendly, recycle.

It's our job to position the benefits in ways that attract our audience. It certainly isn't our job to pretend we're 21 again.

And the more we attempt to bring our brands to a painfully fake positioning, the less credible those brands are going to be.

And then we're really in trouble.

June 16, 2009

Client conscience

A post today on Why Advertising Sucks? (cause, really, it does just that sometimes) blogged about what we would do if confronted with a project from a client we really, truly didn't believe in. Cigarettes. Or Alcohol. Or big polluters. Or anyone who uncomfortably confronted our own views of the world.

Tough choice, that.

But it also got me thinking about waste. And by that I mean the millions upon millions of dollars flushed away every year by clients who are indecisive. Who can't pick something and stick with it. You know who I mean: The one who hums and haws, asks 20 people's opinion, gathers all their conflicting comments, and asks you to please start over. And ca-ching go the agency coffers, yes?


That means client B gets pushed aside. Again.

It means negotiating a big bill at the end of a project (and what insecure client doesn't balk and demand to pay less?).

It means late nights for nothing.

And it means a whole lot more for Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public.

I often wonder what people would say if they knew how much utter waste a bad client can trail behind them. I've seen taxpayer money shell out for 25--yes, 25--concepts and cross-country focus groups, only to have the project collect dust on some department shelf. You want to know where the money should come from to save health care? I have a very good idea.

I've also seen clients from private companies play the personal-opinion game. As in "I don't like yellow," or "find me a (royalty-free) picture just like that, but make the guy 5 years younger and facing the other way." They need to put their 2 cents' in everything--perhaps to feel like they're contributing, perhaps to justify their involvement. Would that they added something to the brief, or the creative direction. But no--it's nit pick and stall and change-my-mind for weeks on end. It's a whole bunch of noise about nothing.

And while the hours and the bill add up, the customer at the end of the line is hit with user-fee hikes and interest charges galore.

Money in, money out.

I'm talking just one agency here. I can't imagine what the waste would be if you took the pointless excess from every client in the agency world and added that together. I think world hunger could be eliminated. And I'm not kidding.

I've worked with a lot of really, really good clients. They trust the agency, ask hard questions, make excellent suggestions--guide us all to do better work. But it's these nit-picking nitwits who flaunt their incompetence that make our agency lives a little bit of a living hell.

And they're doing it with the money straight out of our personal pockets.

June 12, 2009

An abundance of agencies

The recent move takes us on a whole new route into town. It's now just a simple bus ride (except for all the dang traffic! What are you people paying for downtown parking every year?) down a single street and a nice walk to get to the front door of the office. The street is busy and beautiful--filled with old buildings and great architecture and life and people and colour.

And every second door seems to house an agency.

I've seen This Branding, That Design and The Other Communications. I've never heard of these places in my life--not in trade magazines, at awards ceremonies or even from other ad people. These little shops look modern and interesting and fun--and that's just from what I see on the outside.

What do they do? Who works there? Are they sinking or swimming in these odd agency times?

Our agency is a mid-sized, privately owned one--the last of a dying breed, and a great place to work. And people in the industry here just barely recognize our name (although we've been doing very well indeed). What work do these tiny agencies pick up, I wonder... Mom & Pop Stores, maybe. Or bits of packaging. Flyers?

I'm intrigued.

Our industry is fickle and to attend an award ceremony is to think a city has only 2 dang agencies to pick from. But look at all these little fish undertow. They're swimming in the shadows, but their names are still nailed tight to the door.

I wish you well, small shops. I'd love to see your name pop up sometime. Here's hoping the big fish move out of the way once in a while to let the minnows strut their stuff, too.

June 11, 2009

Why I never progressed beyond The Beatles

Walking past HMV this morning, I noticed a huge poster for supergroup The Black Eyed Peas. Now, I'm not one for rap or pop or anything with a monotonous beat, but the copywriter in me always flinches at that one. Cause they're not eyed peas who happen to be black. Gramatically, they should be:

The Black-Eyed Peas

Just like it should be:

Three Days' Grace

And not three times a Days Grace--which is really just gibberish.

Maybe I should just stick to Abbey Road.

June 9, 2009

Dead on, Mr. V

Clients and customer service seem to be taking up an unfair share of my brain space lately. So I thought I'd post something I truly, madly love: the best opening page of any novel I've ever read--Deadeye Dick, by the incomparable Kurt Vonnegut.

The first time I opened the book, I reread the dang page about 10 times. It's perfect--it's flows flawlessly. It's intriguing, exciting, un-pompous, simple, and human. It's Vonnegut. I read once that Kurt Vonnegut writes every word--every page--to utter perfection before moving on. Once he'd done a novel, he was good and done. No drafts for him, just perfection or nothing at all. I'm kinda like that with advertising--unwilling to move on till I get something just right. Sometimes it takes me a little long, but I can't take the lazy way out and come back to it later.

Would that I had more in common with Mr. V!

Anyhoo, for your reading pleasure, I give you page 1 of Deadeye Dick:

To the as-yet-unborn, to all innocent wisps of undifferentiated nothingness: Watch out for life.

I have caught life. I have come down with life. I was a wisp of undifferentiated nothingness, and then a little peephole opened quite suddenly. Light and sound poured in. Voices began to describe me and my surroundings. Nothing they said could be appealed. They said I was a boy named Rudolph Waltz, and that was that. They said the year was 1932, and that was that. They said I was in Midland City, Ohio, and that was that.

They never shut up. Year after year they piled detail upon detail. They do it still. You know what they say now? They say the year is 1982, and that I am fifty years old.

Blah blah blah.

June 8, 2009


Moving means phone calls. And a lot of them. I have a list an arm's-length long of all the people I have to call or call back, and for every name I cross out I have two more to add to the list.

The calling is bad enough. What gets me most, though, is the run around.

Take this, for example: We got a new mortgage/life insurance policy. So I call the company to cancel the old one, only to be told that--since I used a broker--HE has to call to cancel. So I call the broker, who's out of the office for 2 days. I leave a message. A week later I call again, and leave the same message. I'm still waiting.

I'm thinking customer support may be dead. Or at least renamed Customer Unsupportive.

Now, I'm not a phone person. I have to psych myself up to get calling. So when I sit down and pick up the dang phone, I'm fully expecting it to be a quick, painless experience. Not so, not so.

Here's how it's gone so far:

* Furniture store calls 4 times in the last 2 months to confirm wrong delivery date. Then delivers broken furniture. I call and speak to 3 departments, one of which offers me a discount if I go all the way to the store. I get a call 2 days telling me about the discount again. A plus: They're sending me a cheque!

* Geek Squad: Outsourced my request for help securing my router. Tech help calls and, after 2 hours on the phone (and on my knees on the floor), succeeds in getting my working (albeit unsecure) router to go totally kaput. Tech suggests I buy a new router cause the old one is defective. I get passed along to Customer Service and ask for my money back, based on the fact that they left me worse off than before. Someone promises to call back the next day. Four days later, the tech leaves a message saying he may have figured it out.

* Need to pay municipal taxes for remainder of the year. Offices are open 9 to 5 (and closed for lunch).

Kudos go out to the prenatal class lady, who promptly returned my call with tons of information and a helpful attitude. Mind, she's a private company trying to keep her business running, so I guess she has a vested interest in keeping her customers satisfied.

What has any of this to do with advertising? We deliver the message. We make the promises to our client's clients. We write the big words that are supposed to make people feel calm, collected and taken care of.

But people, people--it's all a ruse. It's a bit of bait on a hook. Cause once they get you in the door (or on the phone), they figure they've got you.

It's like making an ad for a better mouse trap. Except you're the mouse.

June 5, 2009


Google Analytics tells me that someone found my site by looking up, wait for it...

"peta doesn't know shit about the the nunavut"

This visitor stayed 3 minutes and browsed around, so hello and welcome to you!

Hyphen mayhem

We have a client here who, apparently, has a writer on staff--or at least some kind of wannabe proofreader. This week, we've been having a hyphen saga, complete with Chicago Manual of Style quotes and lots of eye rolling.


Hyphens are my thing. I like hyphens. They are impeccable little blips of perfection that convey the exact meaning. I just had to retype "impeccable" there 3 times to get the spelling right, but I'm a one-shot deal with hyphens.

Unfortunately, client trumps logic.

So, if you'll allow me to vent what I cannot pass along up the food chain:

"Albany area stores" (sans hyphen) means stores in Albany that sell areas.

"8 to 9-year plan" (again, sans hyphen after the 8) means a plan that's either 9 years in the making, or the number 8.

I'm now stepping off the punctuation soapbox and off to get me a Beaver Tail.

June 2, 2009

Stuff that drives me nuts - Part 1

Writing "breathe" when you mean "breath". And vice versa.

Same as writing "advice" when you mean "advise."

One's a noun, the other's a verb. How people consistently get it wrong about 80% of the time is beyond me. You'd think it would at LEAST be 50-50.

June 1, 2009

Alarm bells...

So our new home comes with an alarm system. Two little motion sensors flash scary red lights when I go by, and the touch pad looks well used. It's not connected anymore, but I noticed the front door had a big dent in the side, as if someone tried to pry open the door at some point. So the previous owner was on to something. And I figure I might as well follow suit.

The stickers on all the windows read "ADT", and it seemed the logical place to start. You know, they're home even when you're not, and all that. I can sing the jingle in my sleep; I remember it from when I was a kid, I think. They're probably the only alarm-system company I can name off the top of my head.

So I called the toll-free line, after business hours.

A tired-sounding girl picked up.

And before I could get half-way through my first sentence (which I preceded with "I'm totally new at this"), she interrupted me with a half yawn to tell me she didn't take care of things like that.

I had to call during business hours.

Erm... OK.

I'm pretty sure she could have given me a little insight, or at least let me finish a sentence and offer friendly assurance that a specialist would be able to answer my questions best.

So now, in my advertising mind, "ADT = well-known alarm company" has been replaced by "ADT = inconveniently available only 9 to 5 with bored call-centre agent as back-up plan."

Will I call them again? I guess so--I don't know anyone else. But I think I'm going to start asking around, too. Cause if this is the kind of service they offer when it's NOT an emergency...

May 31, 2009

It pays to be a geek

So we're all moved in and the cable guy was nice enough to fix up the dang router and we have wireless for the first time in years and, computer non-geeks that we are, we can't figure out how to secure our network. I mean we tried everything, on my Mac and his PC. It's like following a conversation in Italian: I just get the gist, and then something comes out of left field and I'm stumped.

So, petrified of freeloading downloaders, I call the Geek Squad. And some geek answers. And rattles off stuff like I know what he's talking about, and I nod along (not helpful on the phone, but still), just wanting some other geek to fix this so we can cross one of a gazillion things off our impossible list.

And then.

And then he says "That'll be a one-time, flat fee of $158."

Would that I knew other geeks! How is it that none of my friends or family sport Buddy Holly glasses (well, my Dad did in the 60s, but what good is that to me now) and carry pocket protectors? Am I the only person in the free world who has to pay $158 to have someone jiggle a few keys and make nice with my network? Ouch.

Maybe I should think of changing my freelance fees...

May 28, 2009

The Big M

As in "move". As in tomorrow. As in I still have 10 boxes to pack and I can barely bend over to tie my shoes.

Fortunately, I came to the conclusion two moves ago that big, burly moving guys are far better than a gangly group of friends with bad backs. So here's hoping all goes well, and quickly. And if they just happen to, oh, say, break my terribly old radio and have to replace it.. well...

May 27, 2009

Bleeding hearts?

This is Canadian Governor General Michaëlle Jean, doing as the Romans do.

In case you can't make it out, she's taking a great, big bite of raw seal heart up in Nunavut. Ever since she devoured this bit of fine dining the other day, the media--and the public--has been divided along its usual fault lines, some calling her gutsy and determined, others calling her disgusting and cruel. PETA, of course, has jumped on this bandwagon with a call to boycott Canadian maple syrup. Ho-hum.

Anyway, talk of seal hunts and boycotts reminds me of the dung beetle.

In Africa last year, we saw signs everywhere declaring the lowly, stinky dung beetle has the right of way. So endangered and so crucial to its environment, the dung beetle has the power to stop cars and skitter across the road, rolling its catch of the day along. If you've never seen a dung beetle, it's both creepy and fascinating--big, with a shiny back, and creepy-crawly legs that propel it along. Fascinatingly gross.

However, in all the time we were there, I did not see one dang PETA person holding a dung beetle sign. In fact, I don't even know if PETA gives a crap (ha!) for dung beetles at all. Because, you see, them things is UGLY. And creepy. They don't tug at the heart strings or make you want to reach out and pet them.

Unlike seals, of course.

Now, I'm not saying I'd be able to stomach watching poor baby seals being clubbed to death. I don't even think I could make it dry-eyed through a round of slaughterhouse cow killings, even thought I take my steak medium-rare, thank you very much.

But cuteness is not a criteria for animal protection. The best example I can think of is watching Heather Mills on the news, lying on a ice floe, reaching out to pet a cute, cuddly, furry baby seal. Who just about ripped her hand off.

In life, as in advertising, we tend to focus on the wrong things for the wrong reasons. You can beat the seal drum all you want, and boycott stuff till the cows come home, but that dung beetle still needs to shovel a whole lot of other people's shit if the world's going to work out right.

May 26, 2009


I'm back at work--and backed into a corner. This brief on my desk is a rarity: it's too detailed. Not only does it give me a road to travel on, it's decorated the scenery, fixed me a lunch and booked a hotel along the way. It's like working with handcuffs on.

Creatives work best with good, detailed briefs. Show me the path you need mown and I'll get out the rider and start cutting. Give me a clear communication objective and we'll find the right concepts to bring it to life.

But please, oh please, leave me breathing room. When I start to explore, I've got to look under a carpet here, peek behind a door there. I write some true gibberish which leads to something that sparks an idea which, eventually, surprises even me as it emerges as an concept. Take away that maneuvering space and you cut off any surprises.

And, let's face it, it's the surprises that touch the heart of the matter in ways no over-constructed idea can.

So give me a good brief. A short brief. A brief that explains the problems, states the objective and inspires us to work. And please don't start crossing my t's from the get-go. Else you'll force me to leave a whole lot of gems in the dirt.

May 13, 2009

Vacation! If they'll just let me get out the ^#%#% door...

Technically, there are palm trees where we're going, although I'd guess they were imported eons ago cause it rarely gets above 16C on the other side of the pond. But! Time off and a trip is always welcome, and I'm relishing the relaxation. Cause... well, you get to relax on family trips too, right?


Back on the 25th!

May 11, 2009

Lost in adaptation

Our agency's a little different than most, since we work in both official languages. That means a whole lot of making sure our projects work equally well in English and français--with just the right twist and tempo to appeal to two pretty different audiences.

So a word to the uninitiated--or at least the unilingual: be careful how you develop a campaign intended for a market that doesn't speak your mother tongue. There are two equally important but extremely different ways to turn one language into another:

1. Translate. That means word for word--as in exactly word for word. Translators are absolute masters at finding exactly the right meaning for just about anything you throw at them. They can debate the finest nuances between purple and mauve. They make sure every word is included and no bit of thought is left out. They are impeccable at legal copy and straightforward text and go over everything with a fine-tooth comb.

2. Adapt. And here, you see, is where a lot of people err. People who adapt--and it's usually the bilingual copywriter that gets this job--take the essence of one ad and carry it over into another language. That doesn't mean they'll use the same words--they may not even use the same play on words. Sometimes you just can't. Languages are not exact translations of one another; they each have their own essence and rhythm and expressions. Those who adapt take the core of the idea and massage the dang thing until it fits just right (or, at times, shout back up the pipeline that it just isn't going to work).

And so, dear readers, knowing when to translate and when to adapt is crucial to ensuring the successful switcheroo of your ad. Cause if you go about it the wrong way, you may well end up with this:

May 9, 2009

Disgusting observation

I've begun to notice that projects labeled "rush" are a lot like your digestive system during pregnancy.

They start out in a hurry, then get jammed up behind a bunch of loitering projects and end up leaving you waddling around in confusion and discomfort." Is it ready now? No? How 'bout now? No? Two more days? Yeesh."

At least vacation's just 4 days away!

Will you hate me if I call this post "The President cuts the mustard"?

As a Canadian, I'm always a little surprised by the American tendency of turning politics into an episode of Entertainment Tonight. Maybe it's because our own politicians are so stuffy and straight you couldn't manufacture a political news story interesting enough to beat out boob jobs and wardrobe malfunctions, let alone what Nickelback bought at Zellers last Friday.


Seems President Obama is being called "snotty" by Fox News' Sean Hannity for requesting Grey Poupon dijon mustard on his burger. Now, I'm no dijon fan (it's a little too suck-in-your-cheeks me), but I'm pretty sure condiments expand just a little beyond ketchup, mustard and relish.

But the Spin Doctors have been spun.

My question is, however: Just who do the spin doctors think will be offended? Grey Poupon is made by Kraft, an all-American company. It can be found on just about every grocery-store shelf in the nation. Sure, it's not a staple at McDonald's, but I'm pretty positive most non-fast-food burger joints have a jar hanging around somewhere. So just who is going to get up in arms about President Obama requesting a little zing on his patty? Isn't America supposed to be about having a million choices at your fingertips, an aisle-full of condiment options to choose from?

From up here, it's like watching a bunch of oxymorons. We're free, but you'd better toe the line. We've got choice, but you'd better make the right one. We're about honesty and openness, but you'd best stick to the script.

Then again, it would be nice to turn on the news at 6 to learn Stephen Harper had a wardrobe malfunction. But, please, just a small one.

May 8, 2009

Random words that should never be used in advertising - Part 2


Breaking news!

This just in:

Client requests DM piece with NO LOGO and NO COMPANY NAME. You heard right--they don't want to include any of their details in the piece, anywhere. They don't even want us to use their corporate colours.

They think it creates intrigue. I think it's like a joke without a punch line.

Next up: Pigs take wing!

May 2, 2009

Swine flu? Try a reality check (up).

A post in this week's Ad Contrarian was devoted to the knee-jerk psychopandemic that is swine flu.

I think we may all be a little sick.

I used to write fundraising letters for a living. We tried it all: stories about sick children, pictures of scrawny dying babies, mothers with AIDS, towns wiped out by war, child soldiers (some who passed initiation by shooting their parents), dump scroungers, homeless families, you name it. Good lord, what we didn't try to get a rise (and a cheque) out of people. What the clients didn't do to get their cause in the news. Sometimes billboards went up. Sometimes a news conference got media attention. But mostly it was same-old, same-old: the same group of donors giving the same money. And we fought to keep them giving.

So, please, a reality check:

* Influenza--plain, old flu--kills up to 500,000 people around the world every year.

* Over 1 million people die from malaria every year.

* 540 people die of measles each and every day.

* And, my personal favourite, 9.2 million children die EVERY YEAR (that's over 25,000 A DAY) before they reach their 5th birthday. Mostly from preventable disease.

So far, there have been 615 confirmed cases of Influenza A(H1N1)--the fancy new name for swine flu--and 16 deaths. But if we held a fundraiser today, I'd eat my hat if we didn't raise millions for each and every one of those cases.

All we need is a few measly dollars a day to protect dying children. What, oh what can we do--I beg you, truly--to get this kind of coverage for the kids dying of stuff we've had vaccines against for years?

Lord help us all.

April 29, 2009

Some pretty colourful language

I was flipping through a printout of Fashion Trendsetter, swiped off the Art Director's desk. Seems this is THE reference for upcoming fashion trends and colours (and a great way to get the clients onboard when we decide to go all banana yellow with a concept).


I thought I'd get a glimpse into the world of fashionable colour patterns and super-secret trends. Little did I know that I'd encounter one hell of a creative writer. A creative writer on some whopping amount of drugs, no less! Whoo! I read through twice just to get a little trippy myself.

Observe "The Spirit of Autumn":

interpreting to revive a combative confidence and creative boldness
fearlessly experimenting
flaunting fantasy without guilt

Are you high yet?


Hold on:

Volcanic condensations intersect,
in an undulating and explosive harmony, with voluptuous incandescence

I think that one meant "light pink", or something. It gets better:

intersecting references
shuffling aesthetic boundaries
linking technology and an environmental conscience
setting differences ablaze
drawing on fabric and color as generators of energy

Good lord! The mind boggles! Who knew colours could be described so, well... colourfully. If I wasn't preggo, I'd get yarking drunk again on a pitcher of Cosmos and read it all over again just for the effect.

Hats off to you, Mr/Ms colour-trend copywriter! I couldn't use 3/4 of those adjectives in a 500-word DM with 50 lines of 6-point legal even if you paid me in vodka shots.

April 28, 2009

I lift my finger to you, bank!

I have a lovely mortgage with a bank.

I sold my home.

I bought a new one.

I'm sticking with the same bank, and transferring my unpaid mortgage over to my new mortgage.

La-la-la, I go on with my life, thinking "good rate at nice bank. Me happy."


Oh, my dear, but!

The nasty buggers are charging me $600 as a penalty--for transferring my mortgage! From the same bank! How hard is it to type in "put old mortgage into new mortgage?" Surely not $600 worth of anyone's time.

So this finger's for you, bloody bankers!

April 26, 2009

Having a life in advertising

Me over at Why Advertising Sucks? just wrote a great post about getting wallopped out of nowhere by the big B: Baby. As in me want. As in me suddenly looking at babies, babies everywhere and turning to the other half with a half-desperate smile.

For a long time, I wondered how well advertising and babies mixed. The first agency I worked at, all those years ago (when, lord help me, I knew absolutely bubkus), was one of the big-wigs with a fierce attitude. I was intimidated from the get go, partly because I was a junior, partly because I was lost, and partly because that was how the agency rolled. The hours were long, the praise was faint and the expectations were always tuned to high. It wasn't that you couldn't have a life, it's that your first priority was the agency. The rest of your life was meant to be a distraction.

So having babies, to my scared-out-of-my-wits eyes, looked like a career death sentence.

There was the story of the VP who flipped upon hearing his manager was having a second child. There was pressure to attend every work function, even if someone couldn't get a babysitter. There was a strict no-spouses-allowed party policy. I even remember coming in early one morning to see my 8-month's-pregnant colleague, bags under her eyes, just wrapping up one rush of a 22-hour shift. She was smiling bravely and still, still not sure whether she could finally home.

A lifetime later I find myself in a whole new boat. I somehow stumbled upon an agency where hard work is the norm, and having a life is the priority. No shareholders means no pressure to make arbitrary numbers, and the policy of hiring hard-working, human employees--and not advertising robots--makes for a little piece of heaven on earth. And with little bump on the way, there's nowhere else I'd rather be.

My advice to you wanting a life in advertising: look to the top. An agency is made in the reflection of the people in charge. It's run on the attitude and the principles of the ones who pay your salary. If their families come first, it's safe to say they'll understand if you need to skip a meeting if junior didn't sleep the night. But if they work 'till 10 and miss birthday parties and ask the nanny to pass the phone to junior, well... you take your chances.

Anyone out there an advertising parent? How did you manage to find a balance and have a life?

(With a tip of the hat to Jane!)

April 23, 2009

In praise of proofreaders

What is it about proofreaders? They're like angels sent from heaven, with a Chicago Manual of Style for a harp.

Without exception, every one I've ever worked with has been infinitely kind, patient, smart, diligent, and hawk-eyed. Usually quiet and always willing to go the extra mile--stay the extra hour--to get that 3-inch docket out the door, proofreaders are the unsung heros of the creative department. Many a time my spelling-challenged butt has been saved by those scouring eyes, that infinite knowledge of even the most obscure of grammar rules.

So hats off to you, proofreaders. I hope we do enough to let you know how important you are.

April 22, 2009


Big meeting. Complete with snacks. In comes lunch. Client hands out brief. Everyone's friendly. Chit-chat exchanged. And then, just as we were rocked happily, full of chicken and hope, the universe stands on its head.

Client: This time round, we want something out of the ordinary. Jazzy. Elegant, something that pops, rich-looking, special, pull out all the stops...

Agency (purring): Mmm....

Client: Just keep in mind we have half the budget this year.

April 21, 2009

A revelation...

For the first time in my 35 years, I am seeing what the inside of my belly button looks like.

What a strange, fascinating thing. Here I thought I knew myself, and foomp--just like that, literally overnight--there's this little bit of me revealed. A weird surprise.

My little belly bump, I'm getting to know myself better as I get to know you.

April 20, 2009

A convenient excuse?

Lately, our clients have been acting a little wacky. And I mean all our clients--on every project, be it ads, DM, web, or the lowly coupon. Our clients are making changes.

But not just any changes.

They're making petty changes. And I mean A LOT of them. And almost all of it is petty six-of-one, half-a-dozen-of-the-other stuff.

What's going on?

Now, clients have always been into changes. They don't like a headline. They're just not that into the picture. They don't get the concept. They don't think this has been explained well or that reflects their brand. And you go back to the drawing board, sometimes swearing, sometimes frustrated, sometimes enlightened. But you get what they want, whether or not you agree.

But now, there's this trend to pull some sort of jigglefest. Say varied instead of diverse. Find a photo of a girl with bangs. Change the man's name from Frank to Harry. Sometimes clients send us a brand new copydeck, or--a first for us, but true--a new layout. Other times they send the results of their photo searches.

I cannot, dear client, dear people who help pay my mortgage, guess what phrasing you'd like better. What word you'd prefer. What colour t-shirt you'd like the guy in the photo to have. All I can do is understand your product, your brand, your voice, and ensure that every concept and every line of copy does the job it's set out to do--sell. But it's got to have rhythm. It's got to have flow. And, I promise you, every word, every picture is a part of a puzzle, carefully chosen for its beat. I have spent many a time looking for a 3-syllabled word that will fit just so. Advertising is seductive music. We compose this stuff. The AD and I start with a brief and a blank slate and we tune the instruments and test out the score until we get it just right.

So what's with the jiggling all of a sudden?

Here's how a coworker put it: It's the fault of the economic crisis.

You have a job, see. And maybe your coworker doesn't anymore. Maybe your budget's been slashed. Perhaps you're a little worried. Or the vibe in the office isn't good. And you're looking at the totem pole and you're finding yourself near the bottom.

Except, of course, there's the agency. The people you give mandates to. The people whose work you get to look at, and critique, and show around the office, and present to your boss. And maybe you think, this is it. This is where I need to show I'm needed. This is where I can give ample input and prove my worth. And so you get out the red pen, and wonder where to start. And when you're done you do the rounds of the office, sighing here and pointing there, showing how the agency doesn't have it quite right, see. This word should go there. This picture isn't red enough. Tsk, tsk.

And it comes back to us. And suddenly the rhythm is gone. The beat is buried. And there is no room for argument, just this slashed mess of a page, this eyesore. And we complain, as we have for a hundred years, but now there's no logic, no way to learn, no drawing board to go back to.

There's just somebody else's desperation on the page.

Back in the 80s, computers turned everyone into a copywriter. Then software came along that's turning everyone into an Art Director. And pretty soon some smart-cookie client will add 2 and 2 and discover that everyone's an advertiser.

Lord help us all.

April 17, 2009


I really want another bowl of these yummy Chinese spicy doohickies and Wasabi peanuts, but to get to them I have to toss aside the garbage bag that smells like a decrepit fridge and makes me gag in that holy-jeez-where'd-that-come-from pregnant way.

What to do, what to do...

April 16, 2009

And one more thing...

I just saw yet another pro-bono ad with a minute call to action and an almost non-existent web address, so I'm back on the soapbox (momentarily, I promise) for just a sec.

Hey, creatives. Yeah, you. If some non-profit organization gives you free reign to produce a piece to raise awareness, funds, site visits, lists of names, or whatever, I hereby make it your duty to GET THE MESSAGE ACROSS. You heard me. Don't lock yourselves into a room and have some wankfest over how many awards your clever visual pun is going to win you.

I've worked with some of these organizations, writing fundraising letters and reply coupons to pull a dollar or two. Some of the top people at these places make as much as you made as a junior. They don't have money to spare. All they have is passion and a mission.

So get the message out. Raise those funds. And zip up your pants, you opportunists.