careers, challenges, creative, industry

Confession And Inspiration

Advertising is supposed to be the most fun you can have with your clothes on.

But somewhere down the line, you tend to forget exactly how much fun it can be.

It begins when you allow yourself to get sucked into the quagmire of briefs, deadlines and client issues. Before you know it, the term “fuck-all” has become a part of your daily lingo.

“This is a fuck-all brief!”

“How can I crack a great idea with this fuck-all deadline?”

“What a fuck-all client! He just doesn’t get it!”

The attitude you develop in your formative years is the attitude you take with you into your middle years. 

At some point, you realise that your Creative Director is being paid a lot of money. And you start thirsting to reach that same level. The journey is forgotten – all you think about is the end destination. You lose the Zen, the ability to focus on the here and now, and life suddenly becomes about hitting a target. And whining when someone hits that target before you do.

Along the way, the nature of your work changes. Gone is the edginess, gone is the humour, gone is the youth. You end up trying to play Creative Director when you’re not ready to yet. You may not notice. But your bosses do. And in that process, all you do is push that end goal further and further away.

The time comes when you manage to put out a significant piece – or pieces – of work. Or you take a path less travelled. A couple of jobs later, you’re where you wanted to be. The designation. The salary. The cabin overlooking the sea. A bunch of bright young people reporting in to you. And the ego boost to go with all this.

Then you find yourself in a rut again. Caught up in “senior management” things. Targets. Results. Client relationships. Processes. Evaluation. Playing mentor. Board meetings. Visions and missions. The whining begins. Again.

Slowly, it begins to feel that your job profile is, very simply, to deal with shit.

Where’s the fun in that?

Sound familiar?

A few days ago, I finished reading Dave Trott’s Creative Mischief.

Creative Mischief. Available on the Kindle store:

Dave Trott is one of those names you’ve seen in the award books fairly often. A former CD at BMP, he’s now at CST The Gate, a London-based agency with a global presence.

Creative Mischief isn’t the best primer on advertising there is. But it is by far the best primer on the attitude you need in the advertising business.

It’s exactly what you need when you’re feeling mentally jaded at any point in this exciting, fun, dirty, all-consuming, incestuous, joyful, overworked, underpaid, vain, glorious industry of ours.

It’s certainly reminded me of the mindset I had when I joined Lowe fresh out of college. It’s made me think, once again, of how much fun this business can be. It’s made me want to feel the fun again. No matter how long it takes. No matter what stands in my way.

It’s made me write this blog post. And, for the first time, write on this blog as the Creative Head of Jack In The Box Worldwide.

To all those young men and women in my team, I say this:

Find the fun in your job.

The fun isn’t about joking with your teammates and colleagues, or downing a beer with the boss on the terrace. It’s about the fun of coming up with an idea – under extreme stress, for a tough client, without a clear brief – that’ll solve a business problem. A headline that’ll make people laugh or cry. A web design that you’ll be proud to show off to your mom. The process is fun. The idea is fun. The joy is infectious. You just have to want it to be.

If you can’t find the fun in your job, maybe this isn’t the job for you. Maybe you’ll be happier doing a similar job in another agency. Maybe your fortune isn’t in advertising. In either case, I will be very sorry to see you leave. But I will be the first to encourage you to find something that makes you truly happy.

Don’t crib. About deadlines or briefs or clients. Look at it this way. Somebody out there is giving you the license to get creative by developing a campaign for their brand. Without them asking, you’d never have gotten the chance to show off your creativity. Yes, you need time and clarity to create the work, you need support to sell the work. But remember: the shit will always be there. It will only increase as you grow up. Whining won’t clean it up.

Don’t get bogged down by rules and restrictions. Yes, your work will always need to be on-brief and on-brand. You can’t do a sob story for Happydent. Or an adult joke for Surf. But ask yourself, “What are the boundaries and how far can I push them today?” If your idea isn’t doing that, push harder. Boundaries only expand when you push them. If you don’t, they’ll close in and strangle you.

Don’t knock the mundane processes. Job lists and job status meetings exist to make relatively unimportant tasks mindless and easy. Every ounce of your attention should be devoted to one thing and one thing only – pushing that boundary to create the best work you can. Work that solves the problem and makes you happy. Make the job list the mundane, not the job.

I could go on, but I’d rather advise you to buy Dave’s book. It’s the best $9.99 you could spend. 

Happy people = happy work = happy clients = happy people.

We all have big dreams. For ourselves. For our company. And we can only achieve them if we’re happy while achieving them.

And if I seem to be forgetting these thoughts at any point in time, you have my express permission to whack me over the head and remind me of them.

Let’s do this.

campaigns, creative, digital, how to

How To Use Surrogate Advertising As A Template For Digital Creativity

He’d wondered why, after several drinks,
he could still pronounce
“she sells sea shells…” correctly.

Apart from the fact that alcohol lubricates brain cells and leads to better ideas, there’s something else we digital worker bees can learn from booze manufacturers’ surrogate advertising campaigns.

If you think hard enough about it, surrogate advertising is the tried and tested foundation of digital engagement strategy.

Let’s break down what we do when briefed on a digital engagement campaign. (When I say ‘engagement’ I don’t mean product-led banner campaigns; though this Pringles banner will beg to differ.)

Typically, we will come up with one or more of the following: a microsite, a Facebook app, a Yahoo! content property, a theme for a YouTube channel, a mobile app, etc. In some way or another, these properties will revolve around the brand positioning and eventually link you to the product website. 

Then – and this is where you must pay attention, children – we encourage the client to spend media money driving traffic to the property you’ve built, rather than to the product website directly.

Isn’t that exactly how surrogate advertising works? Launch Kingfisher packaged water to eventually drive you to buy more Kingfisher beer through brand recall and imagery?

This isn’t a theory – this is how several cutting-edge campaigns have worked.

Take a look at Tourism Queensland’s Best Job In The World campaign. Instead of directly writing banner ads telling people about the various fish you could find in the seas off Queensland, they ran a surrogate campaign to build imagery and recall for Queensland.

Look at what we at Yahoo! are running for Dove. We’ve built a co-branded content property that brings conversations around Real Beauty online. Real Beauty, of course, is the philosophy of Dove worldwide. You will find very few mentions of Dove on this site – but you can’t miss the brand either.

Ben & Jerry’s used the theme of Fair Trade to create surrogate branding with They created a microsite, mobile site and Twitter plugin to promote their support of the Fair Trade movement, in turn building salience for their ice-cream.

Heineken’s Star Player is an excellent example of a brand giving users a fantastic experience. What the app has to do with beer, I have no clue. Once again, great surrogate work.

Approaching digital creativity this way might be a simple way to break down what people think is a very complicated field.

Of course, your job’s not done until you have a killer idea in your head…

creative, digital, virals

The Truth About Internet Virals

 truth hurts, doesn't it?

A few short years ago, a small digital agency called Webchutney stunned (and entertained) India with a series of short, animated viral videos.

And in doing so, they screwed us all.

When we watched Pankaj Udaas, Thakur Ka Inteqam, Dilwale Dulhaniya Kaise Le Jaayenge, etc., we all wanted to do the same sort of stuff.

Webchutney had made us all – advertisers and agencies – believe that:

  1. Viral means viral film.
  2. Viral film means animated viral film.
  3. Animated viral film means Bollywood spoof – Sholay, DDLJ, Ghajini, what have you.

Dreams were coming true all around. Copywriters got TVC scripts that were rejected for being too insane animated and turned them into spoofy virals. Clients were happy to shell out Rs. 500,000 for a viral that would run forever (complementing a Rs. 5,000,000 TVC that would run for a month).

But then every viral started to look the same.

ICICI Prudential Life Insurance. Reliance. ADAG. OK Tata Bye Bye. The list was endless.

Naturally, effectiveness began to drop. I’ve stopped forwarding most of these animated virals. As have many friends and colleagues.

They’re simply not cool any more.

But clients don’t get it. And agencies are at fault for continuing to propagate a dying fad.

Clients today believe virals should be cheap and spoofy. So when we develop ideas that require great production, and therefore cost more, it’s a really tough sell.

When clients ask for virals, they mean films. Whereas the true meaning of a viral is something that is passed along from user to user. It could be an engagement idea. A micro-site. An e-mailer. A joke.

Somewhere I feel we’ve failed to realise the potential of Internet virals. As we continued to churn out clone after clone, we were just left behind.

Western agencies realise the true nature of Internet virals. They don’t treat them as callously as we do. Even when they’re thinking of viral films, they think of ideas for great films – not ideas for animated movie spoofs. They produce them beautifully. They seed them actively. They realise and tap into the human desire to share something memorable.

Here are some of 2009’s top virals, as collated by Mashable.

To reinforce the facts, here’s how our virals fare against those listed above:

Viral Date Posted Hits (as of 15th April 2010)
Pankaj Udaas 30th August 2008 15,964
Thakur Ka Inteqam 14th August 2007 462,335
Dilwale Dulhaniya Kaise Le Jaayenge? 21st May 2008 4,389
ICICI Prudential 10th October 2008 2,410
Reliance Sawaal 13th May 2008 3,032
ADAG 31st January 2008 118,559
OK Tata Bye Bye 24th January 2009 14,088
Inspired Bicycles 19th April 2009 16,801,063
Schweppes – Signs 29th January 2009 4,391,312
Boone Oakley 28th May 2009 912,524
VW Piano Stairs 7th October 2009 11,661,969
Samsung Omnia HD 7th April 2009 1,242,421
MSI Computers 10th August 2009 2,936,493

Numbers don’t lie. Even when you take into account Internet penetration, the difference in proportions (and the time taken to go viral) is staggering.

Webchutney moved on long ago. It’s time the rest of us – clients and agencies – follow suit.

creative, digital, how to

How To Shift To Thinking Digital

Dorothy, we're not in Kansas anymore! It’s been just a few months since I formally moved to the digital side of marketing. And already I’m putting up my copy of Cutting-Edge Advertising on ebay and looking for a new Creative Bible.

As Javed Jaffrey says in all those Maggi Ketchup commercials: it’s different. It’s not just the medium. It’s the way consumers interact with it. What they expect from it. How easily they can build or tear down your brand in it.

Bernbach laid out broad guidelines, Ogilvy prescribed rules. I don’t presume (not loudly, at least) to be of their stature, but here are some of the things this copywriter has learnt about digital communication.

  1. Be clear why you’re doing digital. Ask yourself what will digital achieve for this brand that a TV commercial won’t. In India, TV is still the fastest way to reach an audience. The trick with digital (at this point in time) is to satisfy a different need for the brand, working in conjunction with traditional media. At Lowe Lintas, we call this Channel Planning.
  2. Don’t begin with technology. Begin with an idea. Preferably a brilliant one. Then figure out which is the right technology (or technologies) to use to build a brilliant engagement. It’s easy to get carried away by the technological novelty of the medium. We’re all nerds, but we should be nerds who can communicate. If you want to do great tech stuff, join Google.
  3. Have a clear strategy for every digital channel you’re using. Plan for what you’ll do on your website, your blog, Facebook, Twitter, banners, what-have-you. You’ll find each channel can achieve different objectives. Think of it as one dog to bark and one to bite. (Disclaimer: No dogs were hurt or mentally traumatised during the typing of that line.)
  4. Be very clear about how you’ll measure your campaign, and what will classify it as a success. That way, you’ll have enough ammo to argue with a client when he tells you he’s cutting digital spending. Don’t just show him the results, beat him over the head with them.
  5. The era of the clever headline and the twisted visual is over. Pour your heart and soul into coming up with the best engagement idea you can. But keep the communication for it simple. You want people to spend time on your website; not waste time trying to understand what that clever, subtle, visual-and-tagline emailer means.
  6. Execute your idea’s pants off. It’s far more critical online. On TV, trends emerge every year. Online, they emerge every day. Study web design, motion graphics, Flash, typography, CSS…whatever you can think of. You need to know how to get it done, and make it look better than anyone else. And the next time, the benchmark will be even higher.
  7. You want your audience to spend valuable time interacting with your brand online, and then spend even more valuable (in this economy) money buying it. Give them a reason to engage with you. An incentive. A surprise. New information. Relevant information, re-packaged. Remember: on TV, you still have a second or two to grab eyeballs before they grab the remote to change the channel. On digital, they can simply ignore you. And even get their browsers to do it for them.
  8. Keep reading. I spend my first hour in office every day catching up on my RSS feeds. Watch every campaign, read every case study, dive into every new technology. You’ll find some useful links in my sidebar. Why is Girl With A One-Track Mind in there, you ask? No comment!
  9. Get involved in everything. Work with your planners on the strategy. Then put on your creative hat. Work with your art director on the web design. And work very closely with your tech team. If it seems like you’re poking your nose into everyone’s business, you’re doing something right. Because in the end people see/remember/forget the work, not the effort or compromises.
  10. The basics of communication haven’t changed. Brevity is still important. People still read left-to-right, top-to-bottom. So don’t get intimidated by a new medium. Just don’t tear up your copy of Cutting-Edge Advertising yet.
creative, digital, opportunities

Friendly Neighbourhood Resource Poacher

A quick word of warning to Creative Directors everywhere.

You don’t need to worry about other agencies poaching your people.

(Well, you do, but there’s a bigger threat on the horizon.)

You see, LooksGayButClaimsHeIsn’t and I are swamped with work, and need some help.

So we’re going to be going from cubicle to cubicle, from person to person, requesting them (unofficially) to spend their spare time helping us.

Therefore, you shouldn’t be surprised to find your art director ignoring a print ad layout in favour of a website design. Or your copywriter suggesting you don’t do a poster, but a Facebook app instead. Digital is like that only – far more fun.

Of course, this is all part of my top-secret, highly-classified, under-the-table, ultra-stealth master plan to transform every mainline creative person a digital creative person. Without slipping strange chemicals into their drinking water, that is.

Already two people have volunteered their spare time, and we will brief them today.

And for all those creative folk who are happy writing product tags and the odd poster, I paraphrase what the Creative Director in the Ramgarh office said to his people: “Beta, kaam kar, nahin toh digital-waale aa jaayenge.”

advertising, creative

A Study In Creative Thinking

Today, I shall take all you wannabe advertising creatives – not that there are too many of you, what with the industry’s pitiful pay scales – through a basic exercise in honing your creative skills. This exercise has been advocated by some of the world’s greatest creative folk, creative directors and advertising professors who couldn’t quite put their theories into practice in the real world.

Every young creative’s first question to his or her senior is, “How can I think better?” Well, my inner voice Marble, who is extremely sarcastic at the best of times, usually answers, “Use your head.” But that is not the solution I refer to.

The exercise we go through is to sort of reverse-engineer a brilliant ad. That is, look at the final creative product and try to figure out what the creative brief must have been. That way, one will (hopefully) understand the thought process that went into the ad, and (even more hopefully) apply it when one is next briefed.

To simplify this for your understanding, I will provide examples. But you will, in all probability, not have seen the ads I’d put down here. Plus, I’m too lazy to search for the YouTube links. So, I will use examples we’re all extremely familiar with – nursery rhymes. (Many thanks to Dan Brown for the symbology lessons.)

Here goes.

Example 1
The Creative
Humpty-Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty-Dumpty had a big fall.
All the King’s horses and all the King’s Men
couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Decoding The Message
Humpty-Dumpty, a large, fragile, egg-man, clearly represents human beings. In particular, his fragility leads us to infer that Humpty-Dumpty represents that most fragile of human beings – a human child, probably about 5 years of age. And if a human child sits on a wall (at some height, presumably), it is likely to fall. In case of such a fall, said child is likely to be seriously wounded, with little or no hope of survival.

Therefore, The Brief
Children these days are taking too many risks, especially when it comes to sitting at a great height. We need to educate children aged between 4 and 10 of the inherent dangers of sitting on a high wall without adequate safeguards.


Example 2
The Creative
Jack and Jill went up a hill
to fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down
and broke his crown
and Jill came tumbling after.

Decoding The Message
Jack and Jill are clearly two reckless, post-pubertal teenagers who believe that nothing bad could ever happen to them. ‘Going up a hill to fetch a pail of water’ is evidently a metaphor for, you know, getting it on. The disastrous consequences of ‘going up the hill’ are clearly a metaphor for teenage pregnancy and all the problems it brings.

Therefore, The Brief
Teen pregnancy is increasing rapidly these days. Lack of viable birth control – not to mention self-control – is resulting in a great number of underage marriages and bastard children. We need to educate teenagers of both sexes about the disastrous consequences of premarital sex.


Example 3
The Creative
Hush a bye baby, on the tree top.
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock.
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall.
Down will come baby, cradle and all.

Decoding The Message
Why would anyone try to hush a baby? Obviously because the baby is bawling its lungs out. No amount of rocking, singing, playing, feeding or cleaning diapers has helped quiet the fretful child. Leaving the mother, one would imagine, in quite a frustrated state of mind. Hence, the last three lines of the rhyme can be interpreted as a threat from a mother at the very edge of her sanity to her screaming child. Sort of along the lines of, “Beta, so jaa…nahin toh Gabbar aayega.”

Therefore, The Brief
Mothers all over England (the land where most nursery rhymes originated) are frustrated with their screaming, squalling brats. There have been several incidences of mothers killing their babies, themselves, or their husbands due to the resultant loss of sanity. This sets a bad example. So, we need to give mothers a tool to help them quiet their babies, thus removing the source of frustration.