I’m on a quest to find inspiration.
I struggle to find it in the 9-5ish world, where there’re always plenty of projects to do and many words to be written. I’ve been feeling stagnant for some time now and yearn for betterment. I want to read, but I psych myself out and convince myself that I don’t have time to finish books like Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky that could actually add something to my life and my work.
So I decided to stop beating myself up about it and find a way to learn in smaller doses. Thus begins an experiment. I’ll try to watch one TED talk every day for a week, then relate it to advertising or something in my life. Sound like a plan?
Okay, let’s do this.
After browsing the creativity category, I came across Andrew Stanton’s new talk about storytelling. This is the guy that brought us characters like Woody and Buzz, Marlin and Dory, Wall-E and Eve. He brought us plots about new toys in the room and their dynamics, searching a huge ocean for one tiny fish, even cleaning up a disgusting, polluted planet. But what’s more important are the themes he writes into each story. The battle of self-worth and your role in a society, even one of toys. The helplessness of parenthood and the terrifying experience of letting go of children, letting them make mistakes. The wonder we can find even in the darkest, dirtiest of places. These are truths that are universal regardless of the characters. I’m not a toy, or a cowgirl. Or a spacegirl for that matter. I’m not a parent or a clown fish (a percula to be exact). And I’m pretty sure I’m not a robot, although some days my coworkers might disagree. However, each of these stories—Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Wall-E—are relatable, regardless. And we fall in love with the main characters: a self-important toy, a grouchy fish and a simple robot.
Interestingly, what he talks about translates to the ad world in several ways.
First, storytelling is joke telling. Every plot leads to some punch line, and in advertising we’d call this the payoff. The part that makes everything before it worth the audience’s time. And in storytelling, as in joke telling, as in advertising, the punch line should represent or speak to some universal truth (like I mentioned above). This is something that often falls on a copywriter’s shoulders, but is really a strategic move. What’s the payoff of this ad? What’s the benefit of the benefit, we ask ourselves. Sometimes it lies just beyond our grasp until one morning under the scalding hot showerhead, we catch it. It’s one of the hardest parts of writing, in my opinion, especially as a new and young writer.
Next, every story has a promise. Stanton recognizes here that “Once upon a time…” is in fact a promise that the story will eventually pay off. Ads are similar in that they make a promise to the consumer. “Buy this car and your life will be filled with adventure and wonder,” says the 2011 Ford Explorer commercial featuring the track “Go. Do.” by Icelandic singer Jonsi. Even “Eat this cereal and you’ll feel better about yourself,” as Special K likes to promise. Of course, in these two examples, I’m speaking of the benefit of the benefit here. Of course, buying an Explorer really means you’ll have a vehicle that takes you places, but that means you can go and do whatever you’d like, wherever you want. Eating Special K doesn’t have self-confidence as its main ingredient. No, consumers lose weight while eating it by following a special diet program and feel good about their image because of the weight loss. This idea of a promise and a real benefit is hard to understand and implement as a student with a teacher trying to explain it, but it gets easier with practice and experience.
Another key to Andrew’s talk is this idea of making the audience work for its payoff. Sure, you can give them “4,” to use his example, but it’s more interesting to give them “2+2”. I think a big mistake some clients and even advertising folks make is assuming the audience is stupid. I’ll be honest, when I worked on Harley-Davidson, I had the wrong impression of my audience and what it would understand. Eventually, I came to trust that it would be able to make the connections I wanted it to make and understand “big” words that I threw into certain pieces. Think about a mystery novel. Of course you can always just say, “Marie was murdered on a cold Saturday night by her husband, John. Police arrested him, he was found guilty and he was locked away for the rest of his life.” Awesome. So, that was really fun to read. Great authors can take that exact story line and add the clues, subtract the obvious and weave a fantastic mystery that keeps audiences guessing until the end. Stanton believes in audiences, and knows they actually want to earn their entertainment. That’s part of the fun, right?
“Stories are inevitable if they’re good, but they’re not predictable.”
Stanton went on to talk about the spine of a character and that this is what drives the actions of everything the character does, for better or for worse. Actors might call this motivation, as I call it in advertising. “What’s my character’s motivation,” I’ve heard actors ask aloud. It’s this that is most important, in my opinion, within the realm of audience analysis. We can learn all we want about the demographics of our target audience. Where they live, eat, work, play, how much money they make, how many cars they have. But psychologically, this tells us very little. Discovering motivation, on the other hand, an insight into the audience’s psyche, that is what tells us a story as advertisers, so we can better communicate the right message to the right people. We need to know the spine of our audience and what causes its members to, say, shop at Wal-Mart versus Target, or avoid the Mall of America, or trade in the sporty coupe for a mini van or crossover. There’s motivation behind every action we make, sometimes clearly recognizable, sometimes not. And it’s this motivation, this spine, that’s the key to producing effective advertising.
So how was that? Not too painless on my end. But I’d highly recommend setting aside 20 minutes of your day to listen to Stanton’s talk, since what he says is quite profound. And while it’s going to take me awhile to get around to reading Imagine by Jonah Lehrer, TED will keep my mind sharp in the interim.
_ Unlike other times I’ve used that phrase, I actually have had a Pinterest account for some time now. I started back when it didn’t take long to get accepted (now the wait is several days, I hear!). It seems people have caught on to this new social networking idea, and many friends from Facebook have started following me.
At first, I was a little put off. This was my secret place where all my ambition & inspiration came from! It was my escape from the real world and the people in it. And now it was being inundated by these random people that don’t really know me anymore, repinning everything I pinned. What was my sacred Pinterest coming to?!
This feeling lasted about a day.
I realized, many people don’t quite understand the full value in Pinterest. I’m notified every time someone starts following my boards. Every so often, I’ll recognize someone that added my boards and when I check out their Pinterest, nothing is in it! There are many people who simply have an account just to observe the activity around them.
Just last week I received a LinkedIn newsletter with a link to an article titled, “5 Ways Brands Can Use Pinterest to Boost Consumer Engagement”. Honestly, I didn’t read it. Not yet, anyway. I’d rather think for myself on that one. However, just like the invasion of Facebook friends, I felt as though companies were going to taint my precious space like they took Facebook and Twitter and all that is good in this world.
I got over this, too. I am in advertising—I can’t help but be interested in the marketing aspect of Pinterest. And it is, in fact, a wonderful tool when utilized correctly.
In this post, I’d like to talk a bit about Pinterest for those who haven’t used it yet, or haven’t delved very deeply into the site and its unique user experience. Part II will break down the three types of users I see in the Pinning community.
What is this Pinterest thing?
Pinterest is a social networking site in which each user creates a myriad of “pinboards.” These boards contain “pins” of images (and more recently video) from the internet or their local hard drive. Boards can be categorized for others to find them, they can be co-created (allowing multiple people to pin to them), and they can be rearranged within each user's main page. The easiest way to place a pin on a board is to “repin” something another Pinterest user pinned. You hover over their pin, hit “repin” and voila! Inspiration. It’s much like Tumblr in this way.
Other tidbits of coolness
Pinterest has a nifty tool called the “Pinmarklet,” which is a bookmark in your web browser that, upon being clicked, allows you to pin any image on a web page. Users can comment on pins, “like” them, tag other users in captions of each pin, add a price tag and use hash tags (like Twitter). Of course, every pin can be posted to Facebook and Twitter as well.
The best part about Pinterest is that pins are usually direct links to the website where the image is housed. For instance, if I pin a picture of a cheesecake I found on a recipe blog, when someone else clicks on my pin, he will be taken to the original recipe. That way, I don’t have to write the whole thing down in the caption—it’s linked right there!
One final note on Pinterest.
Still in the news and still being debated is SOPA or Stop Online Piracy Act. As most Americans have figured out, this act in Congress has noble intentions, but incredibly wrong methods. Now, this blog and my website is certainly not a stage for my political beliefs, however, SOPA is a detrimental policy to almost every American that uses the interweb. It would essentially shut down Pinterest because the very basis of the site is to share other users' content. To most people, this isn't considered copyright infringement. Heck, to artists and photographers and designers whose work is constantly repinned in a slew of hundreds of pinners, it's free advertising and a way to increase global visibility. As a creative, I'd be honored to have someone repin my work. Under the current writings of SOPA, all activity on Pinterest could (and most likely would) be considered a violation of copyright law. Users could be punished, the entire site could be taken down and people could be fined exorbitant amounts of money. If you're interested, click here to easily contact your politicians and urge them to say no to SOPA.
And with that, I say,
Onward, fellow Pinners!
I'll admit, I haven't been as diligent about writing my blog as I should be. After all, blogs increase SEO and site traffic. But in my defense, it's been busy. My boss, mentor and teacher had her first baby in November, so I've been holding down the proverbial fort at AKQURACY, all while trying to maintain a certain level of fun and happiness in the workplace. Excuses aside, I should be writing more, especially since I enjoy it so much.
When the holidays were about a month away, I started brainstorming gift ideas for the important people in my life. Of course, the usual suspects made the list like gift cards and spa things, but each person's list was incredibly different, and hopefully filled with things (both tangible and not) that will excite the recipient. Which led me to thinking about why advertising professionals should make awesome gift givers. Let's take a look at the general break up of the industry:
Creatives & Strategists As a creative, I can relate to this best. The very basic reason we should rock the holidays' socks off is because we can conceptualize and execute our ideas really well. As a writer, I can write nice things for people. A designer can make super-cool pieces of art (see below). And both of us have an eye and ear for it. We're always looking for the unique thing that is new, different and attention-getting. After all, that's what we do, isn't it? Plus, I listen and remember. For instance, my boyfriend mentioned an appliance he'd like to own. While he wasn't meaning I should get it for him, I still stored it in the back of my mind for holiday shopping. I also know my parents incredibly well. Instead of forcing an unwanted, unnecessary tangible gift on them, I will be giving them donations to their favorite causes. Just like advertising, I don't want to force-feed them something in which they've already expressed disinterest.
We're also totally into the details and concept of the thing. Once we find the perfect gift, we have to package it in a way that expresses ourselves and the person who'll be receiving it. We make baskets that follow a theme, or wrapping paper that works together and tags with cute designs. We like the one-of-a-kind look and feel of our gifts and extend the nature of our craft into gift giving.
Account & Management Account is all about giving the person exactly what they need, with the persuasion that the need is a want as well. I think that right there is enough. Account people should be excellent gift givers.
Project managers have to get everything done on time and are deadline-oriented. I don't know of a more set-in-stone deadline than Christmas. A part of me really likes this aspect of giving as well. One gift I'm in the middle of assembling takes several parts, some of which had to be shipped from Seattle. It's not a last-minute thing, and I had to plan ahead of time when I needed to procure assets. Err...parts to the gift. See? Gifting is like its own project. I wouldn't be surprised if the most organized and hardcore of us create Gant charts to map out timing and schedules. So while PMs might not want to come up with the most creative ideas (I don't know their thinking since I am NOT a PM), they can get that stuff done and on its way. Will the gift have to be shipped to its recipient? Plan time in accordingly. How much will I be spending on my gifts and where can I save money so I can get something nicer or more valuable elsewhere? Make a budget tracking sheet. My PMs do this every day, so it only seems natural that they'd bring this kind of organization to the gifting table.
If we were all a team, working on gift-giving, we'd be phenomenal--in theory. But I'm sure the holidays can be just as frustrating for ad people as it is for the rest of the citizens of first-world countries. As it is, I love this time of year and while I still have some last things to purchase or make, I'm pretty much good to go--or good to gift in this case.
Happy Holidays and have a wonderful, New Year celebration. Plan your rides home accordingly, I want everyone making it safely into 2012.
What happens when the Harley writer gets involved in a focus group for young and new riders? She writes her first line that doesn't suck as much as those of the last seven months (in the words of Luke Sullivan). It's simple, and to those who don't write for a living, it probably seems a small feat to have written two sentences. But for the first time, those two sentences say exactly what I want them to say, both in words and tone of voice.
Being asked questions as a rider, and as a member of the target audience, was enlightening and allowed me some clarity in what I was trying to say. It may not make it through the copious amounts of revisions, and even if it does go to print, will be thrown in the trash 90% of the time. But for the 10% that keep the piece and read it, I sincerely hope it resonates, making them drawn to act. I believe in what I wrote. Perhaps that's what the old "write about what you know" advice is really saying. Write about what you believe.
While making ribs last night, I decided to make some 'scream. Not wanting to run to the grocery store yet again, I looked for a simple recipe that used ingredients I already had. Right at the beginning of The Perfect Scoop, there's a recipe for Chocolate Peanut Butter ice cream, and only needs cocoa powder, half and half, peanut butter and some sugar and salt. This recipe yielded a small amount, but the consistency was incredible! Smooth, rich, full, it churned really well.
In between this flavor and the Oolong, I made Chambord (raspberry liqueur), and Chocolate Russian Stout. The last one was made using a home-brewed Russian stout that added a nice flavor, but was incredibly rich. I could only handle a couple spoonfuls before starting to give pints away to friends.
Speaking of pints, I ordered my own paper ice cream containers from Sweet Bliss Containers. It's harder than I thought to find ice cream containers in small quantities. But luckily, brewmaster Sean found Sweet Bliss for me and I'm just waiting for them to get here! Word.
Decided to try a different take on Belgian waffles. French toast them. We didn't have cinnamon, but it was still amazing. I do recommend using real eggs (of course) as the Egg Beaters egg whites just didn't taste "eggy" enough. I would suggest letting the waffles cool before battering them and frying. I'll try that next.
I decided to wait until my last quarter of school to take Intro to Photography, a decision that proved to be less than positive. It was a lot of work, critiqued very harshly, and distracted me from working on my portfolio. But it distracted me in a good way. My father is a photographer which seems like a huge advantage to most people. In a way, it absolutely is, but he was also incredibly hard on me. In the end, though, I feel that I got better at photography and I definitely enjoyed our final project.
So I didn't get a chance to find lavender leaves yet. Instead, I started making an Oolong tea ice cream using Teavana's Sweet Oolong Revolution (my favorite). I think I'll put some coconut flakes in it as I'm making the actual ice cream, since there is coconut in the tea itself. It is such a fragrant tea, I hope that comes through in the end result. I'll post pictures later when the mix is chilled.
I never thought I'd get into something like ice cream making, but I suppose since it's probably my favorite food it makes sense that I would be passionate about cooking it. And yes, I am aware of how ridiculous that sounds.
Thanks to the blog Bursting Through.
It's here! The International Motorcycle Convention began last night at 4:30 pm and my team and I stopped by for an hour to check out the scene. Call it primary research. We talked to Jason, a Harley dealer from Iowa, about Harley's competition with bikes and MotorClothes. Apparently no one compares to the clothes. Sweet. And that was pretty obvious after noting the large amount of people walking around in their H-D leather and t-shirts. One girl had leather chaps on--does that keep you warm in the winter?
We watched a stunt show with some guys on Kawasakis (I think) and I have to say, it was pretty sweet. After fifteen minutes of this, we were kind of over the whole scene and decided we'd gotten enough of an idea of who these people are. Melissa and I followed our noses to the roasted almonds booth and snacked as we made one final lap around the convention. She and I left with a picture of ourselves on a bike with Flo from Progressive, a tire gauge, a flashlight and a t-shirt as well as a giant Progressive tote bag. I'd say, given my affinity toward free office supplies and swag, it was a successful night. And with that we left the convention and drove home.
I've been writing for MotorClothes for just over a month and I never realized how strong a following there is for Harley. I mean, most of the designs aren't really my style what with the skulls and butterflies (what?) and orange & black. But I have grown to love the people who love Harley. While writing the women's collection earlier in January, I found Women Riders Now, a non-brand-specific website (and magazine?) for female riders. They feature "Why I Ride" stories and while all of them are important, there was one woman who made some excellent points. Emily Bracken wrote about the intangible reasons people buy and ride motorcycles, especially hogs. "Going fast is far superior to going slow, the only way to face fear is to feel fear, and the only truth is the present." She states, powerfully. And until I get on a bike, I will just have to take her word for it.