Note: These words were written by the ChatGPT AI. I asked it to add some witty humor, so it should be a fun read. The images were also AI-generated, by Midjourney AI.
Although artificial intelligence (AI) has certainly made its mark in the world of advertising, one thing it will never be able to do is truly capture the magic of human creativity. While AI can analyze consumer data and behaviors and even design entire campaigns, it lacks the ability to truly think outside the box and come up with original ideas that haven't been seen before. It's like trying to teach a robot to paint a masterpiece - sure, it might be able to mix the paint, but it'll never have the same artistic vision as a human.
But humans, ah humans. We have the ability to take different pieces of information and mold them into something new and beautiful, like a poet weaving words together to create a work of art. We can anticipate future trends and consumer needs, while AI can only work with what it's been given. And when it comes to advertising, being able to think creatively is crucial. In a world where consumers are constantly bombarded with ads, standing out requires something fresh and unique.
So, let's not be too quick to hand over the reins to our robot overlords just yet. While AI can certainly be a helpful tool in terms of analyzing data and targeting ads, it can never fully replace the human touch when it comes to coming up with that initial spark of creativity. Let's embrace the balance between the capabilities of AI and the beauty of human imagination.
One year ago, I was lucky enough to have one of my ideas make it to the Super Bowl as a commercial for the Toyota Highlander. And I documented my whole experience as a creative in a video log. Welcome to Super Bowl Diaries.
In this series I tell the good and the bad. I'll let you judge if it got ugly.
As I grew up in my career, I always looked at those Super Bowl commercials, those super productions, as a world apart. I was always curious about how the creative process happened in those projects. But not the PR-sanctioned behind the scenes crap – I was curious to know what it was really like for a creative to make a Super Bowl spot.
So, when I got my shot, I thought it would be a good idea to document the whole thing. The successes, the disagreements, the difficulties. But especially the feelings. And this is what I put together to share with those who might have the curiosity I once had.
To start with, this is the commercial we made, which aired in Super Bowl LIV in 2020:
Toyota Highlander "Heroes" (2020)
When you see the finished 60 seconds of the commercial, it's hard to imagine that the process started more than half a year before the air date. So, let me start you off you all the way back to mid-2019, around the time the idea was born.
Episode 01 - The Winning Idea Explained
In this chapter, I talk about the idea we pitched, and how we presented it. I analyze its strengths and weaknesses and talk about why it ended up being picked amongst hundreds of ideas.
Episode 02 - To Celeb or Not to Celeb
Should we use a celebrity? In this episode I talk about the pros and cons on using a celebrity in a Super Bowl ad. Best of all, my present self gives the answers my past self was looking for.
Hindsight is so awesome.
Episode 03 - Picking a Director
In this episode I talk about the importance of choosing the right director, and how that decision is really not as straight-forward as it may seem.
Episode 04 - Keep on Writing
In this episode I talk about how we're not done once we sell an idea. And how we have to keep improving on the work all the way up to air date!
Episode 05 - How Much Can You Fit in 60 Seconds?
In this episode of The Super Bowl Diaries I talk about enriching the visual storytelling through art-direction. To delight the audience and enrich the story.
I also look back into a difference in opinion we had with the director. Whose opinion prevailed? And why?
Once again, hindsight is awesome.
Episode 06 - The Shoot
All is told in this episode! The race against the clock, the compromises, the clash of ideas…
Shoots are tough. Especially when you consider you're probably making the biggest TV commercial you're ever going to make. But just like any other shoot, stuff never goes as planned.
Sometimes you have nice surprises like we had on day 1. Sometimes you have to power through it, like we did in all the other days.
Episode 07 - Post Production
When the shoot is done, we're not done. We're just starting. In this episode I talk about the long and iterative editing process, and how you can sometimes get in a rut when you've been living and breathing the same script for months.
I also touch on color, and the work we did to make each scene have look like specific movie genres.
And hindsight confirms, once more, that idea is king!
Episode 08 - The Curveball
In this episode I talk about the time when things could absolutely have gotten ugly! After we were pretty much done, life throws the biggest curve ball I've experienced in my career.
And we have 48h to make major changes to the spot, or we run the risk of not airing at all.
Episode 09 - Post Super Bowl Blues
Why are we creatives never satisfied? Why do we always compare our work to other people's? Why do we sometimes feel shitty after big achievements?
This episode is deep! One day after our Super Bowl commercial aired I sat down to examine all the different emotions I was feeling. It seems after a great high, comes a great low.
All creatives have to deal with feelings of envy, frustration and resentment. And we have to deal with our infamous creative ego. It's part of our life. But how do we learn to live with these feelings? How do we make peace, and use them to fuel our creativity further?
I share here how dealt with these feelings throughout my career, and how I deal with them nowadays. Which is quite an improvement. 🙂
Episode 10 - Hindsight (finale)
This is it. The season finale! One year later, I look back and go through the biggest lessons I took away as a creative, as we cenceived, produced and delivered a multi-million Super Bowl spot.
What does it feel like, one year later, when you can count with the gift of hindsight? Did the things that bothered me then still bother me now? Did the details I fought for mattered?
Some of the lessons are pretty obvious. Others won't be what you expect.
I hope my sharing of this journey helped you somehow. Or at least entertained you.
I truly believe in sharing the things I learn in this business – which often feels counter intuitive. Ad culture is still very much about hiding ideas from others and hogging credit. And that's the part that needs to change, because it's killing us.
Last year, I was lucky enough to have my creative work make it to the Super Bowl.
I know it's a rare occasion. It might be a once in a lifetime kinda deal. So I thought I'd document it. I made a video log of our creative process and everything that happened during the production of the "Heroes" spot we created for the Toyota Highlander.
I tell everything: the good and the bad. You tell me if it got ugly...
We are one month away from the Super Bowl 2021, so I thought this would be a nice time to share my experience as the excitement builds towards the biggest stage of TV advertising this year.
The last 11 months have been pretty rough, but hopefully these videos can inform and entertain creatives like us a little bit.
Super Bowl spots this year are expected to be a bit of a downer. But if my colleagues are doing their job right, they'll be doing everything to break that expectation.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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
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 intowords 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
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?
If you ask me what I do, I’ll tell you I’m an advertiser. If you ask me what I am, I’m going to say I’m a designer. The two concepts, to me, are fundamentally different.
The concept of “advertising” carries with it all the things the ad industry has been accused of in the last century: ruthless capitalism, profit, greed, cheats and lies. Sexist ads and absurd cigarette ads still make rounds on Facebook feeds every now and then. Times have changed for the ad industry, and now our creative minds are much more focused on doing good to society. Read more
The words "conform" and "comfort" are disturbingly similar. You can't even tell them apart at a quick glance. Psychologically, "conformity" has a strong link to "comfort zone" as well. Neither word goes well with "creativity".
The Asch experiment, one of the most famous and popular in psychology, is a big eye opener. It simply exposes our group-confirming nature in an undeniable way. Humans are very prone to agreeing with what everybody else thinks, to go with the flow, to drop their own opinion in favor of the others', to conform. That's known as the "Asch Paradigm".
It's worth having a look at the video below – and think that you're not any different from the people being tested. By the looks of the video, you can tell this knowledge has been around for a while, but still to this date too many people change their opinions for the wrong reasons.