Category Archives: Writing

Advertising is Not “Art”

People who make ads shouldn’t confuse their work with that of an artist.

An artist, by definition, creates something uniquely beautiful  — makes tangible some otherwise intangible emotion or idea from inside him/herself.  And then the appreciation of that creativity is where the “art” happens.

An advertisement, on the other hand, is a public piece — be it print, audio, video, a Tweet, blog post, etc. — whose primary purpose is to promote a product or service. So as an ad writer/producer/creator, that should be your primary purpose.

As soon as you impart your “vision” of what the ad should say, sound like, or look like, without first taking into account the ad’s message and purpose, then you’re putting yourself ahead of the Advertiser. In much the same way that a commercial should be about the customer rather than the business itself, so should the ad be written in the voice of the business, rather than the voice of the ad maker.

Let the ad interrupt! Let it sell! Don’t disguise it, or try to make it apologize for itself! In short, to quote David Ogilvy, “A good advertisement is one which sells the product without drawing attention to itself.”  If the “art” of an ad takes away from its ability to effectively promote the product or service being advertised, then it’s an ad wasted. It may look great, be shot with the latest state-of-the-art cameras, voiced by the finest thespian voice over artist, and win an Addy. But the bottom line, at the end of the day, is whether or not the Advertiser’s sales were up as a result of the ad’s creation and distribution. That’s really what’s important to the Advertiser!

Is that to say that an ad shouldn’t be well-produced, remarkable, visually or aurally appealing, clever, and memorable? Of course not. It should be all of those things. But only inasmuch as they enhance the ad’s primary message and goal, rather than undermine and distract from it.

Is there an art to creating an effective ad? I absolutely think so. But I believe the art of advertising is found in the ad maker’s ability to REMOVE his or her perspective from the piece, leaving only the ad’s message, spoken in the unique voice of the Advertiser.

If you make ads, don’t think of yourself as an artist. Just make effective ads that bring your clients increased business.  Then others will think of you as an artist. And that’s WAY more satisfying.

Advertisements

When Do “Bad” Ads Mean Effective Advertising?

Take a look at this spoof commercial from The Midnight Show:

Maybe I have a different philosophy when it comes to advertising, and professional videographers who consider every commercial they produce to be “art” may put a bounty on my head for what I’m about to say, but I honestly don’t think that “good advertising” is defined by how the spot looks… Rather, it’s about what the message is, how memorable it is, and where, when and how often it runs.

We have a used car dealer in town whose TV spots positively suck, aesthetically speaking. He’s an annoying on-camera presence, and the ads are campy and poorly shot. He runs his ads heavily and non-stop all over cable TV, and EVERYBODY in town mocks him and his tag line, and talks about how bad the ads are.

Did you catch that last part?  Everybody in town is talking about him.  And if you have damaged credit and need a car, his dealership is the first place you think of.

Lousy ads?  Or effective?  When his ads come up in conversation, mine is usually the lone voice that says, “Aw, man, GREAT campaign!”  To me, the worst ads are the ones that get forgotten as soon as they air.  I’d name a few, but they were so boring and ineffectual that they didn’t make any sort of impression.

“Just because your ad looks good is no insurance that it will get looked at. How many people do you know who are impeccably groomed… but dull?”  — William Bernbach

Now, quite obviously the above video was done strictly for laughs, but I think an ad shot like the one above is actually MORE effective because of its (albeit intentionally) lousy production value. It makes it more memorable.  I probably wouldn’t use a spot like this to advertise video production services like these guys did, but I think I could make a case for any other product or service using a spot like this — something “so bad it’s good” — as an opportunity to poke fun at itself, give viewers something to talk about, deliver a strong, salient message, and create something really unforgettable.

What do you think?  As a business owner, would you care what people said about your ads if, at the end of the day, your sales went up, your revenue increased, and your business improved?

My Creative Homeless Shelter

One of the most valuable lessons of my career is one I learned when I was in college, interning for Michael Coleman at WZLX in Boston:  Keep everything.

I have archives with all my old scripts, and most of the stuff I’ve produced is still on file someplace (I’ve changed computers several times over the years, so I’ve lost some stuff, unfortunately). Why? Because you just never know when something will come in handy.

On the Plane – Danke Schoen Parody

I’m of the opinion that there’s no such thing as a wasted idea. Clients have sometimes rejected my ideas for commercials over the years. When I was writing and producing bits and parodies for Daily Comedy Network, submissions would sometimes not get picked up. Hey, let’s face it: You won’t hit the mark every time. But, you can still turn that rejection into a positive.

http://www.poptent.net/getplayer/17354

Whenever a concept or a spot, or script gets kicked back, I still keep it, per that valuable lesson I learned back in 1992. That piece immediately gets moved to a special folder I have on my computer, named “Homeless Shelter.” It’s where all my ideas live which haven’t yet found “homes.” I keep them well-fed. I visit them frequently; check in, see how they’re doing. And sometimes I can re-purpose one of them for a new project that comes up.

Portly Boy – Parody of Lonely Boy by Andrew Gold

For me, coming up with the initial idea — the jumping-off point — is usually the most difficult part of the creative process. So I’ll often visit the Shelter first, to see if any ideas can be recycled for the project I’m working on, but secondly, because even if I can’t re-use the ideas there, they often will be great thought-starters to spark something new.

http://www.poptent.net/getplayer/17168

The pieces I’ve posted here all currently reside in my Homeless Shelter.  They’re all pieces which have previously been rejected for whatever reason but which I still use as creative inspiration. I invite you to watch, listen, and most importantly, consider creating a “Homeless Shelter” archive of your own, where you can begin to amass a cache of ideas to draw from, as well.

Peter Who?

Mehlman.

So, who’s Peter Mehlman?  Ask Jerry Seinfeld.  Everyone knows Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer.  Peter Mehlman, however, is largely unrecognized.  Mehlman wrote more Seinfeld episodes than anyone except Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David.  He’s the guy who coined the term “Spongeworthy,” and gave us the Soup Nazi.

Why mention Mehlman?  Because, while it may be that Michael Richards played one of the greatest characters in the history of TV, let’s not forget to recognize the people who actually create those characters — those quotables — those words and images that live in our hearts and minds.

Don’t get me wrong.  Great acting takes a certain level of skill.  But these men and women are still just going off a script that someone else dreamed, realized, and wrote.   Everyone knows who starred, or who directed.  But I don’t think The Writer is always remembered and recognized for the immense talent he or she possesses.

So as you (re)watch the final The Sopranos, the new CSI, or your favorite Seinfeld rerun, bear in mind that before Kramer, Grissom, and Tony Soprano ever spoke their first lines on camera, they existed in the ideas and dreams of a Writer.