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.

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

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

Read more

June 11, 2015No Comments

A Shortcut To Ideas

One day I showed the image below to a couple of American colleagues. It shows a few "caboclos de lança", a carnival character very specific to a small region of north-eastern Brazil, where I'm from. They wear magnificent hand-embroidered cloaks, carry a white gillyflower between their lips and wear those amazing sparkling oversized wigs. Not to mention the massive spear they swing around.

The first comment I heard was about how much their shoes resembled Converses.

Maracatu Rural

When exposed to something alien, our first instinct is to try to find a connection to something we already know. That's our way of making sense of the world. We will (unconsciously) try to use previous experiences to better understand new ones.

This concept can help us understand both how ideas are formed and how communication can be optimized by leveraging this fact. Read more


Learn the secrets to coming up with brilliant ideas.

And stop wasting so much time with re-work. Learn with some of the best ad creatives in the world, including CCOs, ECDs and CDs from top agencies.

© The Professional Creative 2020