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July 13, 2020No Comments

Angel Garcia on creativity, the gaming industry and growing up in California

Me (Leo Rosa Borges) and my good friend Antonio Marcato had the opportunity to chat to Angel Garcia – a designer who's had his hand on some of the biggest marketing projects in the gaming industry. He's now at Facebook, and tell us about the creative path that led him to where he is now.

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May 15, 2020No Comments

Pandemic constraints, meditation, and the magic of the first idea.

I spoke with my good friend and fellow professional creative Antonio Marcato (Creative Strategist @ Facebook) about a few themes involving creativity.

His perspective on the relationship between meditation and creativity was really a great lesson!

Here's what we talked about:

- Creativity in uncertain times and how constraints force us to be more creative
- Meditation and how it helps the mind in our creative efforts
- How your first idea is special, and should not go to the trash
- Risk and reward in brand communication
and much more.

Definitely worth the time. Enjoy, and let us know what you thought.

April 4, 2019No Comments

The Battle of the Bastard Ads

To arms, marketers! The battle of the bastard ads is about to start!

Game of Thrones is by far the biggest brand in pop culture right now. With the last season about to start, we can see a flood of brands rushing to associate themselves with the HBO hit show, both officially and unofficially. Everybody wants to rub off some of that sweet sweet mojo GoT has built for itself. Hailed as the "best TV show ever" (and that's pretty fair, because everybody LOVES it, including yours truly), it has become the IT thing in advertising in the last few months.

Oreo re-created the famous opening sequence with – guess – Oreo cookies!

Mtn Dew re-recorded the theme song with the help of Migos.

Bud Light had a Super Bowl spot with The Mountain and a fire-spitting dragon.

Last year, Johnny Walker launched a "White Walker" whiskey. These are just some of the examples out there.

I have to say, even I was pretty happy just to have ads I created in the special edition Entertainment Weekly magazine that came out about Game of Thrones. Any association with the GoT brand gets us ad people giddy.

We can be more creative

On creative grounds, though, this kind of advertising is really not the best we can do. I often say that ads relying on hot celebs, pop culture icons and/or someone else’s intellectual property are the cheapest form of creativity. Even though they are the most expensive to make! And that makes sense, because the brand is effectively buying relevance for its message, rather than creating it.

This follows the Hollywood trend of preferring not to innovate. How many more super hero movies do we freakin' need? And we've already seen Dumbo and Aladdin. But they do it, because they KNOW it's going to do well. It may not do AMAZING, but it will not do bad either. So, why create something new? Big brands in advertising like these safe bets too, and fork out millions to use celebs and OPIP (other people's intellectual property). A big example is Walmart's "Grocery Pickup" commercial, where they use every famous car from movies everybody loves. The commercial was a hit – but let's be real: people love those cars, and the movies they star in. They don't necessarily love Walmart, although it hopes all that love rubs off onto their brand.

That's a bastard ad: the value comes from someone else's IP, not from what the agency created. And that always feels kind of cheap to me, as a creative.

In contrast, there are great ads, TV and otherwise, that we know and love that don't rely on borrowed interest at all. Unilever "Moms", "It's a Tide Ad", Always' "Like a Girl", the list goes on and on. A good example that I love is the iconic Samsung's "Ostrich", by Leo Burnet Chicago. All that value was created in-house, with great ideas.

The role of the creative

The role of creatives in advertising is to add value to a piece of communication by creating a meaningful connection between audience, brand, product and culture. That's hard, and takes talent. It takes creativity. It takes sweat and tears. Adding the DeLorean from Back-to-the-Future to your ad, takes mostly money.

The bittersweet thing is, this tactic works. People eat that stuff up (literally, in the case of Oreos). Brands do get to bask in the glory of Game of Thrones and get their piece of the pie. They meet their KPIs and everyone's happy. And that's part of the business.

Don't get me wrong, I'd jump on the opportunity to have Jon Snow (and Wolf's Claw) in one of my ads – #sofun #blessed #adlife. But I just want to point out that creativity in advertising goes much beyond that. We can CREATE interest, rather than borrow it for a hefty fee. We can innovate. We can transform brands and change the course of the world.

Let's not fall into the Hollywood trap and just keep re-making, re-booting, and doing what's safe. Creativity is about innovating and pushing the boundaries. That's what the ad industry is really about.

July 26, 2018No Comments

Graph: Creativity vs Discomfort

We all need to constantly be reminded of this one simple fact, even if creativity is our daily job. Even walking in every day with the mission to create can become comfortable – and that's something professional creatives need to watch out for. We may fall into the trap that is believing that if we come in, learn the ropes, rinse and repeat we'll be creative forever. Comfortably.

That's far from the truth. Because creativity requires discomfort.

I like to define creativity as the act of using your imagination to bring into the world something that wasn't there before. I stress the last bit that refers to originality – because if you make something that already exists, you're not being creative, are you?

creativity vs discomfort chart

Chart: Well, there is such thing as "too much discomfort". Try to find the sweet spot, not the point of no return.

Originality is an absolute pre-requisite for creativity, because creativity lies only in what didn't exist before you created it.

And that's the crux of my point with discomfort and creativity. Read more

March 13, 2018No Comments

The Brainstorm Is Not Dead

There's a lot of buzz around brainstorming not being a thing anymore. This Forbes article is but one of many debunking the myth of brainstorming being great for coming up with ideas. But guess what? 70 years later, brainstorming is still around. And for one reason:

It has a very cool name.

Alex Osborn, the man who invented brainstorming, didn’t get everything right, but the name “brainstorm” was certainly a home run.

alex osborn

Alex Osborn, the father of Brainstorming, asking for ideas over the phone.

Since the late 40’s when Osborn – who happens to be the “O” in BBDO – gave brainstorming to the world, his creation has been scrutinized, debunked, evolved, changed and re-adapted. The brainstorming techniques used today by IDEO and other creative companies are so different from Osborn’s original process they should not be called brainstorms. Yet, they are, because no one wants to let go of that supercool name.

Would you rather tell your wife/husband when you get home that you took part in a “brainstorm", or in a group idea-generating session?

“Brainstorm" for me, any day of the week, please.

Many articles today that debunk brainstorming still take as reference Osborn’s model, which was flawed. There's plenty of science out there to prove it. Many better ways to come up with ideas are at our disposal. Heck, telling everyone just to have ideas on their own works better than Osborn's brainstorm. Yet, it was the starting point to all the knowledge we have today on idea-generating. Fact is, nowadays, "brainstorming" has come to mean "generating ideas" – either in group settings or individually. To which there are many different techniques – some of them have nothing to do with the original brainstorming from the 40s.

Osborn got a few things right, though, besides naming it “brainstorm”. Here are my 3 favorites: Read more

January 26, 2018No Comments

I’ll know it when I see it — how to deal with bad feedback

Now, it was make it or break it. We had been going back and forth with the client for days, and this was the last chance to get the layout approved the way we knew was better. Earlier that week, we had heard very specific feedback from the client – the kind that makes you angry as a creative, because it feels arbitrary and outside the client's expertise: "Move the product away from the headline so it doesn't overlap". What? Why???

Up to this point, all our discussions had happened over email. On the agency side, we thought this would be just something they'd let go, if we pushed back a little. "The creatives feel it works better as it is".

That wasn't enough, and I saw our ad being pushed further and further into the ordinary.

You see, clients and creatives have the same goals, but they look at things from different perspectives. The clients were doing what they thought was best for the job, but they didn't understand the consequences of making the changes they suggested. What sounds like a simple change for the untrained eye, is actually a major blow for a layout that was intentional in every detail. Taking the product away from the headline would undo the point of tension, which was carefully crafted to direct attention to the product feature – while flattening the layout and taking away most of its visual appeal.

So, as it was our last chance, I met the client face-to-face. I said exactly what I wrote in the previous paragraph, while showing them the layout we recommended, next to the one incorporating the requested change. I also took the time to explain the feeling we get from graphics that break expectations, and how that tension draws the eye. I took the time to explain how overlapping elements give a sense depth to the page that makes the product "pop out." All the things we know and feel as we design a layout, I put into words so they could understand.

"I just wish you guys would take us through your thinking, like you just did, more often. Now that you made us understand, we'll go with your recommendation". These are invaluable words, coming from a client.

Once I was able to communicate the reason behind our creative choices, we got on the same page. If I hadn't been able to translate to them why the product overlapping the headline mattered, we'd be left with a damaged relationship and a bad layout in major national publications. Read more

January 17, 2018No Comments

Like germs to Purell: 99.9% of ideas get killed

Ask any professional creative: The fact is that the vast majority of our ideas end up in the trash.

This reminded me of Purell and its famous tagline: Purell. Kills more than 99.9% of germs.

That's about the same amount of ideas that get killed by CDs, ECDs, CCOs, account people and clients, collectively. Of course, that's just a rough average. Sometimes, 100% of your ideas get killed!

One of the things I quickly learned in the world of professional creativity is that, to come up with winning ideas, we need to come up with lots of ideas. Lots and lots of them. Really. Piles of ideas. Read more

January 8, 2018No Comments

Did you just call me an artist???

I remember the banter among my colleagues from back in the day, at design school. We'd tease each other calling "artist" those who did a nice job or came out with a nice design for a project. No one liked it.

Being creative is highly associated with being artistic. It shouldn't be. Although art can hardly live outside creativity, one can certainly be creative without creating art. The problem is many people believe they can't be creative because they are not artistic.

It’s about time we separate art from creativity.

Creativity manifests itself in many forms outside the world of art. A new product, a new app, a new system, a process, or even a new way of organizing your closet. These are all examples of creative endeavors, and they are not art. "Creativity os not a talent. It's a way of operating.", as put Joh Cleese eloquently in this famous talk.

Creativity comes in handy when the possible solutions for a given problem are endless.

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December 5, 2017No Comments

The 3 letter question that kills campaigns

Whole advertising campaigns have been killed by a single question. And it's happened to me.

We were so sure we'd sell that concept. We could already see ourselves shooting the commercial in the Caribbean, laughing out loud over piña coladas paid-for by the client. We made a kick-ass presentation deck. We rehearsed the presentation. We made sure the visuals were tip-top, and in line with the target audience. You know the drill: edgy enough to be impactful, but safe enough to get the client's approval. This was gold!

We presented the campaign to the CCO. And he always asks this one tiny, tough question. After we finished presenting, he said this:

"This is beautiful. I see you guys put a lot of effort into it, and it shows. I really like the idea. Thank you for that... but, WHY?"

A little awkward silence follows.

He meant "Why is this the right idea to solve the problem? Why did we choose to use a walking-talking piñata to sell the product?"

We hesitated. When we answered, the answer wasn't clear. And we knew that meant the idea wasn't right and there was only one place our campaign was going. "Where's the recycle bin?" was my question. We had to start over.

How could we have missed something so basic? So simple? Often times, when we get into the weeds of the creative process we can lose sight of the big picture. Suddenly that joke about candy falling off a living piñata didn't make a lot of sense anymore, even though we were sure it was killer.

Let's explore how questions can save campaigns rather than kill them.

Questions make your mind go places

Questions are a big part of the creative process. They both set you in the right direction and give you freedom to explore multiple possibilities. Asking the RIGHT question is often the difference between success and failure in professional creativity.

It's the question, Neo. It's the question that drives us. It's the question that brought you here. You know the question, just as I did. – Trinity

Questions that set you in the right direction

Framing your problem in a way that fosters creativity is a VERY important step in the road to originality and innovation. And the best way to do it is with a question.

"A problem well framed is a problem half solved"
- Charles F. Kettering, Chemist

IDEO, the legendary company that pretty much created the "design thinking" process, puts great importance in framing the problem in ways that allow creativity to flourish. Problems are always posed in a question that begins with "How might we..." For instance, "How might we help people achieve their personal goals?" or "How might we make an ice cream parlor the perfect first date venue?"

This quick PDF from Stanford d.school (created by David Kelley, one of the founders of IDEO) will give you an idea on how to create actionable questions.

Questions that help you keep going when you start to lose momentum

Starting with a "how might we" question should get you churning out ideas. For better performance, apply brainstorming rules. You will eventually slow down, though. The more ideas, the better – so what can we do to keep us going? This great article from Fast Company gives a great solutions. They all involve asking questions. Here are a couple of techniques it mentions:

Change the point of view
Ask yourself "how would a child approach this problem?". What about a senior? Or an expert? Or a poor person? A rich one? A farmer? A sailor? Each different perspective will force your brain to switch gears and uncover new insights and ideas.

A similar technique to this is called the Six Thinking Hats, created by Edward de Bono. It's about forcing a perspective change according to 6 different perspectives, represented by colored hats. A lot of people swear by it, but I find it too stiff to be used in the day-to-day of professional creativity. You can find out more about it here.

Why, why, why, why, why.
Asking why is a powerful little thing. It can make and break careers! The power of "why" lies in helping us break the perceived notions we have about how things are. It exposes the "hidden rules" we are subjecting ourselves to for no reason. Genius comes when we deliberately break those rules.

"We make the mistake of assuming that the way we do things is the one right way. For example, we believe that specific types of clothing are appropriate for different occasions, we have preconceived ideas about how to greet someone, and we have fixed ideas about what should be eaten at each meal of the day. However, a quick trip to China, Mexico, Pakistan, or Korea reveals completely different norms in all of these areas."

Another great way of to keep going is to keep asking "what else?". That keeps the train moving. Loosing traction again? Ask "how else?" – that should take you in a different tunnel in the same mine to unearth more ideas.

The boss question

Since 2009 and Simon Sinek's TED Talk on the "Golden Circle", this 3-letter question has picked up more and more attention. "Why?" is the most important question one can ask. Ask it enough and you'll get to the core of an idea. Fail to have an answer to it and be ready to start over.

The important thing is that you must remember to ask yourself the hard questions. Why? How? Why? Why? Why? – you don't want to be in a place where you find yourself in a meeting without answers for all the why's. Because if you can answer all the why's, you'll probably sell that idea. If you can't, you won't. Unless your CCO and the client want to go to the Caribbean, too.

Share your story in the comments. Have you ever been put on the spot by a well-placed question?

November 29, 2017No Comments

5 Creative Reasons NOT to write a listicle

1. Everyone is doing it (me included!)

Originality lies at the core of the creative effort. Everyone is doing it, hence, it's not original. Since "listicles" are a "thing", you feel like it's totally OK to write it. Yet, this is when the professional creative will find the opportunity to deconstruct it. Creative rule #1 - Try to Be Creative. If you're not going for originality, you're breaking the first rule.

Everyone is trying to write original content, of course. But since we live in the hay-day of the listicle, their creativity is stuck to that formula – which is totally OK. And OK is not what creativity is about. If we think a little broader, we'll realize we can brake the "rules" of the listicle to our advantage. Everyone already knows what a listicle looks like. It's time we do it different. I'm having a go at it right now.

2. It leads you to conform

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