Monthly Archives: November 2009

The crazy world of stop-motion animation.

I just went to see THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX, Wes Anderson’s excellent foray into the excruciating world of stop motion animation. Stop motion is where they make models of each character and painstakingly move them fractionally, shooting every single micro-action. As you can imagine, it takes bloody ages! No, even longer than that.

Stop motion animation is its own world. It is very nerdy and geeky. No human actors to contend with. It’s like playing with toys for a living.

This was my only venture into this arena. It was a holiday ad for OfficeMax from a few years back. We had a campaign featuring a charismatic African-American actor (later a star of My Name is Earl) who didn’t really say much in the ads. Actually he never said anything. So when it came time to do a holiday ad i suggested mimicking the classic Rankin Bass Rudolph the red nosed Reindeer style animation. We got BENT animation in Portland OR to go wild on the idea. and they did. I was impressed. If not exactly too involved in the actual process. they clearly had a lot of fun doing it.



Here at The Escape Pod we are very superficial. Because appearance really can be everything. Everyone judges books by their covers. How the hell else are they supposed to judge them? A great cover means your book stands a better chance of being picked up and perused in a crowded bookstore. And so stands a better chance of being purchased. So arguably the packaging – the book design, typeface etc—is more important than the substance: the ideas and writing in the book itself. You only find out later how good or bad the book really is. But only if you buy it first.

In a crowded supermarket the pickle jar with the nicer packaging will probably win out over the dull looking one. The orange juice that shows you the actual juice will win over the greasy cardboard box with a lame picture of an orange on it. You’re buying orange JUICE after all.

Years ago I worked on a mattress brand’s account. The campaign our agency was running was based on the premise that “nobody buys a mattress, they buy a good night’s sleep”. And the ads were all about dreams and such like. It was a classic advertising strategy. Looking at things a bit differently. You know, that “you don’t buy a drill bit you buy a hole” school of lateral ad thinking. It was also completely and 100% wrong. As I dug into the world of mattress sales one of the marketing department impressed on me the fact that in mattress sales 90% of the selling was done in the last “ten yards”. In other words it all happened in the store. but our campaign conveniently ignored this. mostly so we could do cool TV ads.

Another problem with mattresses is that the logo is always obscured by sheets. So you develop zero attachment to the brand. What brand of mattress do you sleep on every night? What brand of mattress do you spend a third of life snoring away on? Bet you don’t even know. Poor mattress!

You see, on average, people buy a new mattress every seven years. And then only because your old mattress has become noticeably uncomfortable. So off they trot to the local mattress emporium where there is ALWAYS a sale on. Mattresses and pianos are always on sale. Because they are purchased so infrequently. And everyone likes a deal.

And so they look at and touch all the mattresses (like they know what they’re doing!). And then, in a frantic effort to make a decision, they lie on a mattress. And it feels good! It feels real good!

Of course it feels good, compared to their crappy mattress at home, anything feels good. And then they lie on a competing mattress. And that one feels good too! And another. They all feel good! Problem: which mattress to choose? They all feel great! Answer: the one with the best point of purchase display. the one with the best packaging.

There was a competing mattress brand to ours that ran a very hard sell ad that showed bowling pins on a mattress. A bowling ball was dropped onto the mattress and not a single pin even stirred. It worked in a very visceral way. It was a single visceral image that stuck in your head. Whether or not it was good thing that none of the pins fell was immaterial. it looked good. It was an image that helped make up your mind BEFORE you went to the confusion of Mattress buying land. It was much better than our more esoteric strategy. Because it was rooted in the reality of the purchase decision. And when you went to the store there was a picture of the bowling ball bouncing on the mattress next to their display. The loop was closed. The advertising and packaging was a true competitive advantage. Ours wasn’t. Bastards!

The most insanely addictive thing I’ve seen in quite some time

its’ a Christian rap video trying to encourage a new behaviour among the youngsters. You see, apparently Jesus doesn’t like “front huggin’”, so they are trying to popularize a less sexual and more Christian “side hug”. File under: Only in America. Wow. Just wow.

What advertising can do

The former account director on Budweiser when i worked on the brand at DDB, Marty Kohr, put this on youtube recently. It’s a highlight reel that demonstrates the impact our work had on the culture. This was the bit that fascinated me most. Winning awards is nice but it’s really just the icing on the cake. it’s not enough.

our campaign was explosively popular. I’d never seen anything like it. it was kind of scary really at times. but just really exhilarating most of the time.

As ADWEEK recently did its crowdsourced best-stuff-of-the-2000s thing, i proffer this as proof that we should win that contest. By virtue of its sheer popularity alone.


Oi! UK advertising, hire David Fitzsimons innit.

Recently I got an email from a talented young art director living in London. His name is David Fitzsimons. He wanted me to look at his work etc. And I did. And he’s really good.

Since graduating from college two years ago he has spent a year working at McLaren in Toronto and the past year doing the strange almost medieval “placement” thing at a variety of London agencies including BMB, M&C Saatchi. So clearly his work has appeal to his target market. He just needs to find the place where his face fits.

David is resourceful and dedicated and clearly can think. What more could you possibly want of an extremely well priced and energetic talent? OK, being hot can help too. winking smiley face.

But seriously, give David’s work a look a butchers and if you know of any jobs going in London (or anywhere really, internets!) send him an email ( Thanks.

You can see the rest of david’s work here.

Best ads of the 2000s

Adweek is hosting a “crowd-sourced” competition to find the best ads etc of the past decade. I’m happy to report that my Budweiser wassup! work is nominated twice (three times if you count Goodby’s shameless bandwagon-jumping parody). So get over there and vote in both “best superbowl ad of the decade” and “best campaign of the decade”. Look sharpish now! click here. thanks.


A couple of years back we were pitching SMART CAR USA. So in order to get familiar with the brand we bought a SMART car. Which i subsequently drove around Chicago. I recently got rid of it in favor of a bitching Scion xB.

The radio in the SMART car was weird. It would only pick up one radio station clearly. 90.1 WMBI, an evangelical Christian radio station based here in Chicago. So consequently i ended up listening to something I would never ordinarily hear. It was fascinating to me to eavesdrop on this culture. Much like my idea of heaven is to overhear strangers’ conversations on trains and planes. The more mundane the better. I just love it.

Here’s what I learned about the evangelical Christians.

They are motivated and organized. They do not believe in separation of church and state. they feel it is their duty to represent and push for Christian teachings in the “public square” as they put it. They really believe the story of Genesis and it bothers them that evolution is taught in schools.

They are hardcore social conservatives. They believe homosexuality is a choice and a sin. They bitterly oppose abortion.

They believe the bible to be literally true. And that it is the word of god. As a Roman catholic i found it fascinating to hear them constantly analyzing the scriptures for meaning and guidance.

They like the idea that Christianity is “under attack” and the culture is hopelessly polluted by sin. What i mean is they, or at least this radio station anyway, would constantly cite random loony court cases and events as incontrovertible evidence that Christianity in the USA is on its last legs and the whole thing is about to go to hell in the proverbial handbasket. And only they can save it! This was a recurring theme.

Which perhaps is a result of their belief that the end is coming just as the book of Revelations predicted. And only those that have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour will be assumed unto heaven in “the rapture”.

They are well funded. Evangelicals are generous towards their churches.

Their preachers all have “Dr.” in front of their name. And they sort of play the role of Jesus when preaching. Which I found kind of disturbing. They could be very dogmatic and stern. One of their biggest stars is a Scottish hellfire and brimstone preacher with a booming voice who i found very entertaining and compelling. Evangelical preachers put on quite a show.

All in all i found them to be a well-meaning and sincere bunch. And i’ve noticed that i find myself tuning in occasionally still. Maybe Jesus really does want me for a sunbeam.

I agree with Steve Henry 100%

The legendary Steve Henry gets it right as usual. A great reminder of what’s important. Damn, how come i never get any death threats? Click here for free enlightenment.

I did my bit for this btw. I found it via Twitter and immediately gave mr. griffin about 70 slaps before forwarding it on to others. It was great fun and really well executed. You really got the feeling you were giving fascism a good hiding. But a couple of days later found it had been taken down. Now I know why.

Think we got our Cannes Cyber Grand Prix 2010 folks. A great and timely idea. Well done Albion.


(FYI: I have recently watched a succession of western films that were staged in the twilight of the wild west: UNFORGIVEN, THE SHOOTIST and THE WILD BUNCH)

Pretending that things will continue to be as they have been in living memory is very tempting for obvious reasons. It makes an already difficult thing, surviving, much more bearable. contemplating your own obsolescence is very hard. nobody wants to feel like yesterday’s news.

Recently i finally got around to watching the legendary Sam Peckinpah’s legendary film THE WILD BUNCH. And i couldn’t but be struck by the parallel’s between their story and that of the advertising industry.

Both once ruled a lawless terrains solely by their wits and energy. both were purely the products of their time. No wild west, no gunslinging outlaws. No mass market TV, no advertising industry.

And both cultures really fancied themselves and actively created their own legends. Buffalo Bill Cody had a lot in common with Buffalo Bill Bernbach. It took ego to be a gunslinger too. And both Bills actively cultivated their own legends.

In the gunslingers’ case, power came from the lawlessness of their environment. civilization spelt doom for outlaws. In the case of advertising it was our ability to do something very specialized: TV advertising. And the erosion of that audience automatically means that the role of advertising as a creative force in the culture will lessen more and more.

At the very end of The Wild Bunch, the old-timer you least expected to survive this splatter-fest says invites a former nemesis to team up with him for future hijinks. He says “It ain’t like it used to be, but it’ll do!”. And then he bursts out laughing. That’s the end of the movie. Kind of how i feel about advertising.


One thing I’ve noticed over my long-ish career is that the things that work best in advertising are frequently, upon analysis, what was staring us in the face in the first place.

I’m going to mention Nike, so you can yawn now. YAAAAAWN!!! Anyhoo, Nike’s Just Do It idea is the ONLY thing worth saying in that category it turns out. A fact Adidas embraced wholeheartedly years later. And good for them. Just because another brand “owns” the only thing worth saying doesn’t mean you can’t say it too. You just have to, er, do it.

Personally i’ve also found this to be true too in my own work. My most successful ideas have been the ones that were pretty much staring me in the face to begin with. In retrospect. They were pretty much just common sense brought to life.

I remember years ago (1999), I found myself working on the Subway sandwich account. The agency was owned by the legendary Hal Riney (RIP) – an Irish-American writer from the old school. Hal had run the San Francisco office of Ogilvy and Mather in the 1970s. And he had a really distinctive style. It was like Disney meets Rockwell. Sincere American aspirational. And Americans lapped it up.

I had bizarrely and coincidentally met Hal years before in his Irish cousin John Riney’s Irish bar in New York one Christmas Eve. Hal had skipped out of his NY agency outpost’s rather dreary Xmas party to steep himself in Irishness — and whiskey — at his cousin John’s annual Christmas party for his regulars. The party went on all night. It was a lock-in as they say in the UK. And Hal could really drink his whiskey. I remember being introduced to Hal. That’s about all I remember of that night.

Anyway, I found myself working on the Subway account at Hal’s agency a decade later. And i hated their campaign. Which featured Hal’s voiceover. Hal had a seductive and reassuring masculine whiskey-soaked voice. Imagine John Wayne meets Garrison Keillor (VO of Honda UK ads). But clients came to Hal for his voice. Both his creative voice and his actual voice. And Hal cannily sold them on both. And he scored millions of dollars in TV and radio residuals in the process. Hal lived in a cavernous firehouse in San Francisco and owned a few islands in Belize. Hal was famous for, among other things, helping re-elect Ronald Reagan in 1983 with a series of ads that only Hal could have written (and voiced). I liked Hal! He understood what made America tick. And i wanted to know what that was.

The Subway campaign that i was asked to work on featured Hal cooing effusively about the wonderful sandwiches at Subway and the, ahem, “sandwich artists” that created them. I thought they were complete and utter shite. Hal was the only one making money off this campaign!

I went to Subway to research the brand and found that my “sandwich artist” was usually a very recent immigrant from India with a tiny English vocabulary limited to the various ingredients of Subway sandwiches. Hal was romancing something that just didn’t live up to his Americana shtick.

While researching i noticed that on the napkins at the Subway restaurants i noticed they had printed facts that compared how little fat their sandwiches compared to a Big Mac and BK Whopper and other popular fast food choices. This excited me greatly. Americans are obsessed with losing weight. And the idea of eating your way to being thin could only resonate positively. I knew I had struck gold.

So my idea was to bring this napkin to life. To show how much more working out you would have to do to work off a Big Mac or a Whopper. We had nutritionists and bio-mechanists work this out precisely and we shot ads that demonstrated just that. We had the TAE-BO exercise creator Billy Blanks lead a class out of his studio to a Subway for lunch. Punching and kicking the air as they went. It was crude but effective. It actively claimed the territory that they had already staked out on their napkins. It had literally stared me in the face.

A couple of months later I was in LA. I got a call from a producer from that agency, which I had since left. She told me that she was producing a spot with a guy who had seen my work and written a letter to Subway about how he had lost weight by eating only at Subway. His name was Jared. I can’t claim credit for that ad. But I will take credit for seeing what right in front of my and Jared’s (and everyone else’s) face. They’re still running that campaign.