134 Minutes as Jim Mathis

Not often you can justify spending several hours on a Saturday staring listlessly at the SyFy channel watching alien movie marathons, but all that time watching Invasion of the Body Snatchers proved its worth in 134 minutes. My 134 minutes as Jim Mathis.

I headed off to the South Dakota AdFed Chili Cook Off Contest last Thursday. With my bald cap in place (I couldn’t summon the courage to Britney Spears it and just bic my hair), vogue sweater vest (several sizes too big, stolen from the bottom of my husband’s closet, but still as sartorial as Ric Santorum or Ryan Tysdal) and big bowl of chili, the pot brimming with pork perfection, I set out to be Jim’s culinary copy, his sarcastic sous chef stand-in sans several inches. And in that two and almost a quarter hours, I realized pitching Three LIttle Pigs chili should be served with the same zest you pitch a client. Not everyone likes pork, just like not every client likes the creative we may pitch. But sometimes it’s just a bad taste from a mom who over-peppered pork chops, so a nibble or new presentation, makes it palatable.

When it comes to the recipe, remember the rules but add your own spice. The chili I dished up took a twist on the traditional, not just using so much pork you needed to do some extra push ups to pull the spoon up, but putting in that little extra (and no, not love… in this case, bacon, which is probably about the same thing). When working on projects, time-tested ideas can always work, but when we remember to make it just a little different, those ideas stand out from the others.

Did we win? No, tied for second. But the biggest lesson is, in the end you just need to be you. So while I spent 134 minutes as Jim Mathis, that time quickly came to an end when I ran into the gas station, bald cap burgeoning from the top of my head, and scared a small child. Probably best to stick to being a blonde with mediocre kitchen skills.

– Jolene

The Elusive Perfect Ad

Some say it doesn’t exist. Others blindly believe. Me? I was hopeful, but just didn’t know for sure, until I had a sighting the other day.

I was driving home from work one night, ear buds plugged in and listening to one of my favorite comedy podcasts Professor Blastoff, when all of a sudden an ad came on. It was a short, quirky-funny Old Spice ad, done in a style of humor that tickled me perfectly. Majestic and awe-inspiring, I literally laughed out loud (LLOL) then listened to it again. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the spot ever since; it just stuck with me. I guess that’s the power of the elusive perfect ad.

I’ve been a long-time fan of Professor Blastoff and have never heard any actual advertisements on the show, other than the hosts occasionally endorsing things like audible.com, but never anything product-related, nor anything that’s been professionally produced by brands, so I didn’t even expect it.

In my opinion, this was a perfect ad. The message was genuinely entertaining, and it reached me in a moment of zero clutter. Plus, after visiting the production company’s website (Earwolf) and looking at the “Advertise” section, I discovered that I fit into the surprisingly narrow demographic, so it was perfectly targeted. And most importantly, the ad led to a sale. After years of using the same deodorant, I finally upgraded.

Now the only problem is, I can hardly remember the spot anymore, and I don’t know what episode it was on. I have tons of Professor Blastoff episodes on my iPod; each is at least over an hour long. I fast-forwarded through a bunch of them but to no avail. I searched online and scoured the Old Spice website, nothing. I even tweeted @OldSpice and wrote on the Professor Blastoff Facebook page, no one answered.

In our world of ever-increasing media saturation and just plain bad advertising, this perfect ad is hard to come by. But it was refreshing to see that although elusive, it is still out there, that is, if my sighting was real. I’m halfway expecting Old Spice to respond to me with, “We don’t know what you’re talking about. We never ran an ad on Professor Blastoff.” And then creepy, mysterious music will play.

Maybe one day I’ll find this perfect ad again, but it really doesn’t matter, because now, I can say that I am a believer.

– Andrew

_ _ _R _ _ _ _ _ _

_ _ _R _ _ _ _ _ _ Sep 25, 2012

The other night I was driving home on I-229, probably paying too much attention to the billboards, businesses and illuminated signs along the road. I couldn’t help but notice the number of businesses and buildings that had signs with burnt out letters. One in particular read “_ _ _R _ _   _ _ _ _” (or something like that; I just remember seeing a lonely lit “R”), on the side of a large building, probably retail of some sort.

If they just took care of their sign, I’d be able to tell you the name of their business, but instead, we’re left trying to play hangman. This is definitely one of the worst cases of sign-neglect I’ve seen.

They had one chance to tell me who they were as I zoomed by at 67 mph, and they screwed it up. And the neon red “R” sign immediately left me with all kinds of preconceptions about their company. Thoughts scrolled through my head as I continued home.

“Their merchandise is probably out-of-date and disorganized.” “Going inside would be like being in a Kmart. Eww.” “They definitely have a bunch of fax machines in there.” Then my imagination really started to run wild. “On the upside, maybe they sell fun obsolete technology that you can’t find anywhere else, like shoe phones or mini disc players, and not as a ‘retro’ gimmick, but because their building lies within a rip in space-time that has frozen them in a perpetual state of 1993.”

A consumer’s first impression of a business, whether it takes place online or on the street, is extremely important. Often-times signage is a part of that first impression. The sign can say a lot about a business, almost foreshadowing what kind of experience consumers may have if they come inside. So based on the sign “_ _ _R _ _   _ _ _ _,” what kind of shopping experience would you expect to have? It definitely would not be like a trip to the Mall of America; I can tell you that.

Letter burn-outs can also result in comical changes to the sign’s meaning. Here’s a bunch of unfortunately funny examples.

– Andrew

New ADwërker On the Block

If you were to walk into ADwërks today, you’d be greeted by a new face at the front desk, and no, it’s not Andrew playing dress-up. The face’s name is LeAnn Erickson, and she’s our new Playground Monitor.

Playground Monitor is code for handling all those things we tend to think just magically happens, e.g. expense reports, filing, payroll, billing, and most importantly, keeping our snacks and beverages well-stocked! You don’t want to see Jim when he runs out of Diet Coke. So essentially, she’ll be making sure the office gears are turning in harmony.

LeAnn graduated from Augustana College with a BA in Communications, and brings a plethora of work experience to ADwërks including accounting, trafficking (at KSFY), and she even used to own and run a video production company with her husband. But perhaps the most interesting is LeAnn’s experience acting in CarHop commercials. About 12 years ago LeAnn’s husband produced a CarHop spot for ADwërks, and LeAnn and her daughter actually starred in the commercial!

LeAnn and her family (comprised of herself plus one husband and two daughters) live in Brandon, so she gets to commute to Sioux Falls every day. As a family, the Ericksons just like to spend quality time together, from shooting hoops, to baking cupcakes and cookies, to volunteering for their church.

We’re happy to call LeAnn an ADwërker; feel free to join us in welcoming her to the crew!

– ADwërks

Catty Clients

Catty Clients May 31, 2012

Insomnia can be insidious. You eventually learn about every type of beauty balm shopped by Photoshop-friendly ex-super models, the hottest trend in pint-sized grills and of course, the latest way to convert from couch potato to a lean, mean fitness machine. But the other night, I landed on another world… more like a fur, feather and fishy universe called Animal Planet and a rerun of My Cat From Hell on Animal Planet. Intrigued by the name, it pulled me in like catnip.

I learned about Duff, this puff of peaceful white that suddenly become a demon when brought home to its new owners. And teaching Duff to not mame, bite or amputate his owners became the challenge of Jackson Galaxy, also known as the cat whisperer.

But I started to realize cats like Duff can sometimes be all too similar to clients. The relationships start off with the best of intentions. Like taking Duff home, it all seems so picture perfect. But sometimes, within just a short time, the claws come out. While we may charm and put on the perfect smile to schmooze a client to sign with us, how often do we ask ourselves if it’s the right fight? Or as clients, figure out if the decision goes beyond the best bottom line numbers to personalities that work well together. To avoid an intervention with a crazy facial-haired cat whisperer, that’s where it becomes important to take a pause (or paws) and make sure that the people work so the work can do its work.

– Jolene

Unsuspecting Student Shadows at ADwërks

This past week Stuart Augustine, a Senior Advertising Major at the University of South Dakota (USD), chose to spend his spring break job-shadowing at ADwërks. What a weirdo! But seriously, we think that’s pretty cool. It shows a lot of ambition and passion for his future career. So here’s what Stuart had to say about his experience:

When Jim Mathis said that I could shadow at ADwërks for a few days, my first thought was, “If I get to sit in on a meeting with a client, it will be worth it!” My friend thought I was crazy for spending my spring break doing something educational. But considering the amount that I learned this past week, I almost feel like I ripped off ADwërks. (Besides, I jacked like four Dr. Pepper’s on the way out. Kidding!)

My first ten minutes were filled with mixed emotions such as, “I could be sleeping,” or “What if they hate me?” I started thinking that this could get bad, fast. After getting to meet the ADwërkers and seeing the chemistry between them, I learned more in a couple of meetings and conference calls then I did during my last two semesters. Right from the start I noticed my favorite thing about advertising – the blending of ideas between the needs of clients and the agency’s vision.

To compare this experience to school, day-to-day meetings were like class time, and the rest of the day was to handle business! Although I knew there were many things that had to be done by people who knew what was going, Andrew did a tremendous job of finding tasks for me to do that still contributed value to the projects and the team. Whether it was proofing a website or helping with a radio spot, I think there was a great balance between learning and real work experience. Here are a few things I’ll take with me…

  • If you don’t own a sweater vest, you don’t own your soul.
  • You think gold’s expensive? Try buying words on a page!
  • It’s not just in commercials; companies really do have people video conferencing in from China!
  • An ADwërks branded water bottle and coffee thermos. (I’m holding Jim to that.)

To any future employee or intern that is fortunate enough to work for ADwërks – if you can’t enjoy yourself while working with these fine people, I’m afraid you are not as cool as you think you are.

Thank you to Leigh, Carol, Natalie, Elizabeth, Andrew, Mike, Kara, and of course Sara and Heather- the two ADwërkers who I was only able to meet via Skype, since they work remotely in Chicago and Shanghai. I think I’m leaving someone out… Yes! Also, special thanks to Jim Mathis for giving me the time of day after he spoke to my class, and giving me this opportunity. I simply asked to shadow at the agency, but feel I’ve gained an irreplaceable experience that I can only build upon in the future.

– Stuart Augustine

Is Your Writing All Talk?

Commitment Innovations Today

People Inspiring Discovery

Soaring Achievement Excellence

Do these phrases mean anything to you? I mean, the individual words are ok. But put together, they’re ambiguous, and pretty much meaningless.

This is something I frequently notice in advertising and business communications – words that are pretty on the outside (sometimes not even that), and empty on the inside. They’re purely cosmetic. It’s just a gag played on the audience, similar to the tricks performed by this magician.

For the sake of conversation, let’s call these meaningless ad phrases “gaglines.” (Not only is the illusion that they’re saying something of value a joke, but they make me gag.)

Gaglines defeat the purpose of your advertising. They’re just pretending to say something, but really not saying anything at all.

The purpose of your advertising is most likely to fix some kind of problem; transparent gaglines don’t fix those problems. Just because you use words like “excellence” or “inspire,” doesn’t mean you’re saying something meaningful and beneficial about the brand. Ad copy needs to be real and genuine. It should focus on the message, not the words.

Every ad you put out there is an opportunity – an opportunity to be heard, to influence consumers, to boost sales for the client… Failure to say something meaningful about the brand is a missed opportunity. So take advantage of your spotlight moment. Give your words legs to walk, and say something worth listening to.

– Andrew

To All You Brands Out There

Specifically the ones that don’t take branding seriously:

Branding matters, a lot, no matter how big or small your business, even if you have 6 Likes on your Facebook page. Remember, every single time your business is represented in relation to your customers and the general public, whether it be a Tweet, a sale or an ad, it all affects your brand image. And not only can your brand image affect your sales and reputation, but it can affect the entire future of your business.

Your brand isn’t necessarily defined by you; it’s defined by consumers, and the way they perceive your business. And that perception partially comes from what you have put out into the ether. Influencing that perception occurs in a number of ways, from the content of your website, to your logo, to your advertising, especially the experiences customers have with your company. All of these things (among others) contribute to your brand’s identity.

If you own a small business, do not make the mistake of thinking this kind of neurotic concern for brand development only applies to large, global brands. It’s just as important to your business, especially if you’re in the early stages of brand development. Every “branding moment” matters, regardless of how minuscule some moments may seem to you. By “branding moment,” I mean, every opportunity your business has to influence or support your brand in the public eye. And the outcome of every moment applies a plus or minus to your branding scoreboard.

So take it seriously. After all, this is your business. A business you’ve probably made sacrifices for, a business that puts food on your table, and provides for your family… You probably put a lot of care into every aspect. Don’t leave branding out of it.

– Andrew

Click for photo source.

The Sport of Love… and Placement

A tear-jerker of a Lifetime movie of the week, maybe Bravo’s latest gathering of domesticated and disturbing housewives or some classic TLC Kate (minus John) Plus 8… I couldn’t figure out what the heck (hey, we like to be family friendly at ADwërks, so I’ll leave out the expletives) my husband, Nate, would be doing watching anything but a television channel about, with, around, named after or related to sports.

You can walk into a room and wonder a lot of things about what your significant other may be doing, but grab a glance of the screen to see a life-size teddy bear, then you bear the burden of wonder and worry. So I ask him what he’s watching.

His answer: ESPN.

ESPN! ESPN? I wait a few seconds and listen to learn more about the life-size teddy bear (which in the wrong situation, could be creepier than a crew of clowns) that the voice-over espouses would bring joy to your wife, girlfriend or FWB when she receives the gift of an over-priced, over-stuffed toy for Valentine’s Day, even serving as a stand-in when your man cannot be there. (I don’t know what it says about a guy that he can be replaced by a 54-inch polyester carnivore. He may need a gift of a gym membership.)

Seconds later, a 20-something woman kicks her footed feet up to the camera, proclaiming what every girl must dream of getting from her fella, leopard print footed pajamas, courtesy of PajamaGram. It’s then Nate waxes poetic about every type of teddy, Puritan-teddy ala PajamaGram and floral confection available for last minute ordering, and he sheepishly admits he visited each of their websites.

It made me realize, roses may be red, but the true color of Valentine’s Day must be green. For advertisers, for the love of the game means the game of placement. We talk about knowing your audience, understanding your target, comprehending your competitor, but none of it matters if it goes where no one you want to see, sees it. Somewhere along the lines, the makers of mail order teddy bears, pajamas and flowers figured this out. They also figured out it doesn’t matter if women don’t want to lounge around in pajamas with ears and tails. They just need to get to the guys with copy laced with racy double entendres. While I find the fashion of the hoodie footie jammies horrifying, Nate describes the horror movie plot line that becomes real life around Valentine’s Day shopping. A fear these companies learned to master and conquer (like a valiant hero of any host of Katherine Heigel rom-coms) with perfect placement.

Now if only the Real Housewives could show me the perfect procrastinator’s gift.

DISCLAIMER: After reading this, Nate wanted to be sure no one thought he “actually bought any of that crap.”

– Jolene

What’s In A Name

What’s In A Name Feb 09, 2012

Celebrities name their children after fruit, colors, numbers and even cities. (Or in the case of one psuedo-celebrity, Press. Yes, Press, for all the attention she allegedly did and will receive.) Us common-folk laugh at birth certificates filled with words more commonly used on spelling flash cards for first graders. But the stand-out-in-the-crowd naming mentality does not start or stop with preschoolers hounded by the paparazzi.

These superlative skills also flood companies and products. Want something in HD, you get your pick of makeup, movies or sunglasses. Then there’s extreme (or EXTREME or even X-TREME) for games, pop or memory cards. And the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show introduced ultra – ultrabooks, ultracomputers and ultratelevisions.

Add to all of this, 3-D and ultimate, and you get the Ultra Ultimate Extreme HD 3-D phone, television, computer, apple, car or pajama jeans (ok, that may be a little extreme).

But it begs the question – Does an avalanche of adjectives actually help sell a product by moving it into the sphere of talked-about-ness, or does it end up disappointing? Does a name in itself create credibility, or cause chaos in an already overwhelmed marketplace?

Maybe in the end it’s not what’s in a name, but what’s in the product itself. If we sell people on exaggerated expectations, we often end up with disappointed consumers. So if a name brings with it the showmanship of an Elton John costume, but also delivers, it does the consumer some good by delivering what it promises. But when we brand an object outside of its personality and label it for headlines and not accuracy, well, it ends up like a 72-day Kardashian wedding, a lot of talk and even more gifts that should be returned.

And then there’s the guy who named his sons Winner and Loser. Names hold power, but the product (or the person) holds even more. As for naming children, she may not be a celebrity outside of her own yard, but we named our pug Mayhem Awesome. Unfortunately, as our furniture proves, she did not over-hype her name.

– Jolene

“Adjective” Photo by Procsilas Moscas, “Mayhem” photo by Jolene Loetscher