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.


As a copywriter, I can get pretty anal about the proper use of written English. I admit I can be pretty hard-arsed about it, at times. Even unreasonable. After all, I couldn't Photoshop my way out of a paper bag, so why should I expect colleagues to have punctuation-perfect emails and briefs? Let's just call it my pet peeve and call it a truce.



Every once in a while, I come across people--people in our industry, mind, people who've studied communication--who have a such a gob-smackingly poor grasp of how to communicate in writing it brings tears of frustration to my eyes. Their emails are long, punctuation-less rambles or sentences with no subject or--lord help me--no verb. How exactly am I supposed on act on something when you omit the dang action word?

Honestly, I try. I read the thing. I read it again. I try putting two sentences together to see if that helps. But, unbelievably, it simply makes no sense--except perhaps in the mental ramblings of whoever wrote the thing. Look: emails aren't free-flow bits of thought. You can't just write what's going on in your head. Yeesh, you can't even write like you talk, because I'm not there and I can't hear the intonation in your voice or see what you're pointing at.

My personal favourite: an email from an AE that started off naming the project, then proceeded to use the name of the project as a noun, verb AND adjective in one run-on sentence of a request. And, pinkie swear, I wrote him back 4 times before caving and calling (they're not big on the phone, our sister-city).

When did written communication become so unimportant? I don't mean this as a rant on chat-speak or internet acronyms--they're intentional and serve some sort of purpose. But how did people with degrees, people who've climbed into advertising, people who communicate for a living, end up unable to get a simple point across?

Look back at old ads and old newspapers, and you'll see not an apostrophe out of place, not a semi-colon (good lord, when do we see those anymore?) omitted. The advertisers of old built their foundations before erecting their message. They learned the basics of writing before breaking the rules.

Sometimes it feels we've got a lot of advertising rebels and not a whole lot of sense.

April 15, 2009

Just give it a second.

We don't have cable at home. Not because I'm anti-TV or spending my free time doing activities that are highly productive or anything. More like a combination of me being too cheap and liking TV way to much to risk having 300 channels to choose from.

But anyway.

My tech-savvy Art Director brings me in downloads of Lost every few weeks so I can get my fill. And as I sat watching the latest episode last night--fork stopped halfway to mouth--it hit me. Why I like this dang show so very, very much.

It's subtle. Like Monty Python subtle, but without the Spanish Inquisition.

Guy 1 passed guy 2 a book. It was a blip on the screen, no more. And guy 1 didn't say "Here, take [NAME OF BOOK]." and guy 2 didn't respond "Oh, thank you for [NAME OF BOOK}." The camera didn't dive in on a close up or shine a spotlight on the cover. In fact, I had to rewind and play/pause to just the right second to read the title--and just barely.


The whole series is like that: paced, tense, dropping small clues and incomprehensible flashbacks that--slowly, slowly--make sense. The writers presume their viewers are smart. That we can add 2 and 2 together all by ourselves. That we don't want to know everything right now, plain as day, in a hurry. We're patient. We like to peer into the dark and around corners.

We want our ah-ha moments. And, good lord, do we get them.

Smart advertising should do the same--intrigue, compel, entice. It should make you think, take a step, meet the maker half way. Because that lovely ah-ha moment is mind blowing. The moment your reader gets it--figures out the little trap you've set, connected all the dots--they feel good. They feel smart. They feel gratified.

Too much advertising is like Monday Night Network Comedy. There's a reason Lost has survived as long and as successfully as it has.

April 14, 2009


That is how you end a 2-hour conference call where you're the only one not in the room, way over there in some other city, with 20 other people from 4 different agencies and media houses, sharing a PowerPoint presentation you can't see, with Mr. Booming Voice seated near the phone (and eating chips! From a bag!) and Ms. Itsy-Bitsy-Eenie-Weenie-Whisper Voice at the other end of the room, and your ear is ringing trying to listen for when you come in and your arm is about to fall asleep and you're praying the Art Director in your office won't have a spontaneous meeting and drown out what little you can hear and you can't quite reach your bag of snacks and the emails are coming in and you know when you get off the afternoon is going to be a madhouse and just when it looks like the whole thing is about to wrap up some new voice from far, far, far away starts a brand new topic by showing 30-second spots that you can't see and can barely hear...

It was productive, in the end. But jeezus, people, I had to PEE!

April 13, 2009


Two steamé all-dress' (no onions) for lunch makes for a rather burpesque afternoon. Two hours on the phone with a freelancer (good LORD can some people talk) and I've managed to transfer my nitrate aroma permanently onto my phone. It's now a scratch-and-sniff burger joint.

Baby 1, Mommy's Diet 0

April 10, 2009

After some thought...

... I got to wondering just what got me so completely riled about those dang awards on Thursday. Besides the unfairness and the wankery and the really bad food.

And it's this, it's always this: The quest for awards sucks.

A nice award can get you a better position, a better job, a bigger pay, perks galore. If someone offered me one on a platter, I'd say thank you very much. I'd be over the moon.

But everyone seems to have it backwards. We're not supposed to create to get accolades--we're supposed to create to sell. To entice. To seduce the man on the street to think a little differently, to feel a little thirsty, to want a little change. If that works, then our job is done.

Looking through the eyes of an award night is like looking in a funhouse mirror. The proportions are off. The priorities are backwards. The work is judged differently, by what it creates rather than who it moves. And try as I might, I don't get it. I can't work that way. I can't think over the heads of the people I'm trying to talk to. I'm not advertising to the jury.

So I jiggle out a coupon. Scribble out a DM. And once in a while, I get to let loose on something big and juicy and it leaves me beyond satisfied. I lick my lips at the end of the day.

I've got Tom Waits on. A inspiring writer if there ever was one. And if there's anyone who could care less about accolades or more about music, it is he. So back to the grindstone my nose goes, hopefully a little humbler and a lot more happy. I'm a copywriter. I write for a living. Pinch me, please.

And hats off to Geo. STFUADYJ, indeed.

Bullies in the Creative Schoolyard

What a farce. What a total wankfest. For the second year in a row, I sat there watching the president of the jury--the JURY--walk up on stage to receive award after award for his agency's campaign of the year. Oh, no--excuse me. Unlike regular old juries, this one simply couldn't decide which campaign was better, so the president and another member of the jury shared top honours AND collected 3/4 of the prizes. All for the same 2 campaigns.

Welcome to our city's annual creative gala. Check your coat at the door (for $2.50, if you please) and watch as we hand each other awards all night.

I'm staring at the awards book now and I still can't believe it. The jury president hauled himself up on stage over 20 times. It felt like your neighbour held a block party, and all night you and all the other neighbours sat and watched as he awarded himself with trophies for Best Dad, Best Lawncare, Cleanest Minivan, and Best Sprinkler System. It was trite and dull and insulting. It was a joke.

I don't know what the other big loser agencies entered, but our humble little private agency--whose name would draw a blank from most--had a great year. And we bat a big one. A really big one.

So we entered it.

What were we thinking?

The guys who worked on this campaign (and no, I wasn't on the team--just an admirer) had a challenge: small campaign, big impact, huge client. And I mean huge, but one of those clients with torque and teeth. So they came up with stuff so teetering on the edge, we had meetings where they'd lay out the layouts in the boardroom and ask people "Is this too much?". And most would cover their mouths, stare, and laugh--that secretive deep-down laugh.

So up the campaign went.

And the phones started ringing.

The newspapers called. The TV stations called. The blogs started debating the merits versus the implied insults. We received two lawsuit threats (to the utter delight of the AE, who spent the week in interviews). But, most of all, it got people talking. People on the street were saying the client's name, talking about the campaign, telling us how they FELT. They were engaged, they were moved. A few were taken aback, but by far most loved it. They loved that it spoke right to them, 'cause it was a campaign that would work here at home and nowhere else. People were--oh yes indeedy--interacting. And it was good. The client was ecstatic. Sales were up. We were in. Our little agency was in.

Not so fast.

Come awards night, the category passed in a flash. Literally. The jury deemed that no entry deserved a win, and only 1 meagre entry, from one of the jury's agencies, no less, even got nominated. End of story.

So the copywriter--hyped on beer and adrenaline--spoke to the jury president at the after party, under the guise of trying to improve their chances for next year.

"Oh yes," said the president. "Yes, I think I remember that campaign. Look, that's a pretty big client. You should have raised the bar a little higher."


I'm not saying the campaign should have won. I'm not even saying it should have beat the other contenders in the category. But to be deemed not good enough to even get in the door?

Look--here's what you need to do to win an award in this town. First, work for one of the big agencies. Then get yourself on the creative jury. And finally, rev up your wrist and reach for your neighbour.


April 7, 2009

R.I.P. Apostrophe

I admit--I'm one of those nerds who reads things EXACTLY as they're written. If you leave out a comma or misconjugate a verb or, heaven forbid, omit an apostrophe, I will stare blankly at the page. Lost. It will sound like total gibberish in my head. I can't help it. Punctuation is intuitive to me (unlike spelling, unfortunately), and those tiny writing road signs guide me to what you're trying to say. Pull out a sign or stick it in the wrong place and you're setting me up for a mental crash.

But I'm in the minority. And a tiny minority at that.

How do you argue with "I just don't like how it looks"? I mean, I can pull out my style guide and point to the paragraph that clearly states, nice and simply, how a dash is needed between two adjectives that describe a noun, or an apostrophe comes after a collective possessive s--and not to pluralize. It's right there, in black and white. But no, you insist, it just doesn't look nice.

So, after my 3rd email attempt to explain the rules and how they're important and how they help people understand what you're trying to say and that clear communication is important, I finally give up. The AE is giving me her understanding-but-exasperated look. The client is slowly losing patience with the muddled look that is my poor dash, my battle-wary apostrophe. And so I grunt. And I sniff. And I cave.

Goodbye "8 months' free service". Hello, unintelligible.

April 6, 2009

Stuff I Like

So I've added a couple of my favourite blogs over there on the right. For now, it's the stuff I check every day--great ad posts, rants with class, ER adventures (you should READ the stuff that goes on in there!), plus a great site devoted to the worst in frosted goodness.

I mean, these cakes don't just go wrong--they go terribly, explosively wrong. What's not to like about the horror that is this bit of confection? Or this chocolately perversion?

Dang. I just triggered a craving.

April 5, 2009

Speaking of photographers...

ours was incredible. Yes, the last payment has set us back a bit much right when we need the extra money, but good Lord is our wedding album lovely. And, honestly, what photographer these days throws in the whole shebang on CD--for FREE? Found a gem in that one, I did.

And sitting here in my size kazillion pants and nursing the return of the nausea monster (for a truly good cause, I know, I know--I'm just being indulgent), it sure is nice to look back and reminisce. Boy, did we have a great time.

April 4, 2009

Can't get away from it

I'm taking a break from packing to enjoy (yet another) lovely snack. Sincerely, no one warned me just how food-coo-coo you get when you're preggers. Gimme a snack or I will rip off your arm and get the plum sauce. Sincerely.

But yes--I'm packing boxes. It's like making a puzzle, where every piece should intertwine with the next without a gap. No empty corners, just tight little boxes and lots of packing tape and a neat stack in the corner. And, marker in hand, I pop the cap and pause. Nic nacks? Knick knacks? Nik-naks?

So I load up the laptop and look it up.


Er... $5?

I have no idea how much a photoshoot costs. I'm a copywriter. I know it's going to cost you a chunk of cash and I know you're going to do that sucking-in-your-spit noise when you finally find out the estimate, but I'm sincerely not the one who can provide you with anything remotely useful. $10,000 and $50,000 both seem like a lifetime of savings to me, but it's the difference between a good photographer and a great one.

So, please, let me transfer you to the Art Director. Or call production. You're the AE--you WORK here. You should know better. Tsk.

And no, I don't know how much the company charges for my time. If I made that in real life, I wouldn't be taking the bus.

April 2, 2009

Funny you should ask...

I don't know. Really--I'm not entirely sure what this blog should be. I'm still in the empty room flagging down passersby, but it's quite nice to have the stage. 

So, where does this leave my collection of teenie thoughts? One day a preggo ah-ha moment, the next a rant on clients and tomorrow, if all goes well, maybe an exasperated commentary about the long-awaited wedding album that will eat up half of next month's mortgage. 

So to set everyone (or simply me, I suppose) straight: It's a blog about a girl in advertising with a monstrously expanding belly and a whole lot to go on and on about. 

I'll keep you posted. 

April 1, 2009

Like bubbles running up the sides of a glass of Coke

That's exactly what it feels like. Baby bump surprised me in the middle of lunch with an odd tickle of a position shift. And it felt just like you'd filled your stomach up with Coke and the bubbles rolled together up the sides of the glass. I was wondering what the first movement would feel like.