Monthly Archives: November 2010

I got nominated for best digital thingy of the decade by the One Club

How ironic.

That moi, Mr. TV who could barely start up my computer, came up with this idea.

Our campaign was ludicrously popular and arguably (and i did argue this) we didn’t need to create anymore ads. The end was nigh and consumers were creating our ads for us.

So if we did do something I felt strongly it should be a comment on the campaign.

And in a nod to the insane virality of the idea I thought creating a website that taught people how to say Wassup! in 36 different languages, and advertising that website on TV, was just stupid enough to work.

I was right.

Traffic to went through the roof. People were spending an insane amount of time on the site too. Downloading their favorite greetings. It breathed new life into the campaign.

You’ll notice that I’m listed only as WRITER in the credits on the One Club site. Which is a bit funny considering i never even met any of the other people credited for helping me have my idea. You know the expression about success having many fathers and failure being an orphan? I have found that to be very true. But so long as my name was on this (and i made sure of that) i didn’t really care.

And this was an awful lot of fun to shoot. I remember there was an actors’ strike going on at the time and i had to personally track down the Scottish guy with red hair. Found him in a bar in Santa Monica. He was a construction worker.

We won Best of Show at the One Show Interactive Awards with this idea.

Good times!

The end of digital innocence (2010 edition)

[I originally wrote this post almost exactly TWO years ago. Something annoyed me today. The notion of charging desperate “traditional” advertising people lots of money so they can suddenly “get digital” in boot camp format. You know who you are! So I thought I’d redo my bit to put these digital charlatans out of business. If you’d like to know the future of advertising, here’s my .02 cents. Video. Yup video. Learn to really tell a story using , irony of ironies, a “digital” camera. Suck on that ya codewritin’ geek]


Whenever a new medium comes along there is an understandable degree of suspicion and fear on behalf of those whose livelihoods was predicated on the older media.

Silent movie matinee stars with great faces but squeaky high-pitched voices must have cursed the day sound was added to films.

Not everyone made the transition to the new improved film medium.

Directors who had only directed action now had to contend with dialogue and having to record it. Sets now had to be quiet.

Cinema organists were suddenly rendered obsolete.

And nobody saw it coming.

Nobody ever sees it coming.

Thirty years later the radio industry was rocked by the arrival of TV.

And fifty odd years later, the arrival of the internet has complicated life for lots of industries – the record industry, newspapers, retail, television and television advertising.

We’ve all spent the last ten years watching the internet evolve. And our relationship with it continues to evolve.

And as always there are winners and losers.

But it’s fair to say that even if nobody has a clue where the internet is ultimately headed and what it will ultimately evolve into, we have at least come to grips with the idea of continuing evolution and permanent change as part of our lives.

The Internet is no longer the daunting mysterious “thing” once was.

We are all working out what works online and what doesn’t.

Patterns have emerged and they continue to emerge. And one important thing to remember though is that while our little lives have changed drastically, humanity hasn’t changed that much over the past ten years.

People still care about the things they’ve always cared about: themselves and the ones they love. And, ideally, have a bit of fun along the way. All this is reflected in what’s favored online, just as it has always been reflected in the dominant media of the day.

Ultimately humanity will win out. Every medium gets bent by humanity.

Adding sound to films made them better. TV was a huge improvement on radio. And the internet democratized media and empowered people. We’re no longer just passive consumers of what “the man” dictates they consume.

Look at me…having the temerity to presume that someone out there thinks that what i have to say about advertising is as important as what Barbara Lippert or Bob Garfield has to say about advertising.

Who the hell do I think I am?

Cable TV is dying

Cable TV has degenerated into one big reality TV mush. Channels that once had their mandate clearly spelled out for them (History channel) now desperately throw ANYTHING on the screen in the hope of ratings.

Older TV-raised diehards like myself shake my head, now question the value of subscribing to cable TV, and watch stuff online. Younger people, who never had a cable subscription fail to see the value of ever subscribing. And watch stuff online.

And now for the first time, cable television subscriptions fell in the United States in the last two quarters, a trend some attribute to California-based Netflix.

Good riddance cable TV.

You stopped caring. We stopped caring.

My most sincere plea to the Irish Tourist Board for the Irish tourism USA account

Ireland is f**ked.   It’s that simple.

I grew up in Ireland in the ’80s.  we used to think that Ireland was f**ked back then.  It’s the principal reason i emigrated.  there was f**k all to do. So we all got the f**k out.

But now Ireland is biblically f**ked.  A plague of bankers and international economists has descended upon my homeland and are about to strip it bare.

Which got me to thinking…what can I do to help my homeland in its hour of need?

And i think I have the answer.   Give me the slender sliver of a budget that the Irish tourist board has and i will work for free to create the best motherf**king ads for Irish tourism you have ever seen in your  life!  You just pay for production costs and expenses.

Here are my qualifications:

1.  I grew up in Galway City.  Best town in Ireland i think we  can all agree.  I worked in a bar while in high school and college there.  I get the tourist dollar thing.

2.   I am in advertising.  I created a little ole thing called the Budweiser Wassup! campaign.  You may have heard of it.  I get the American culture.  I get the Irish culture.  There’s not many like me.

3.  Ireland is in deep trouble.  Americans love Ireland.  They just do. I can convert that love into much needed foreign cash.

4.  I have my own advertising agency in Chicago.  We can make anything happen. We have done everything from TV shows to Superbowl spots to beer coasters.

You should know that normally I really don’t have a bias about the products that I work on.  I love everything.  Everything is good in my mercenary view of the world.

But Irish tourism is one of the very few things I would go out of my way to work on.  Mostly because I have a decided advantage here, also because I still love my homeland dammit!

This is about as patriotic as I am ever going to get.

Go raibh mile maith agaibh!

Thank you Curvin O’Rielly

Former A&G-er and US ad legend Curvin O’Rielly left this in the comments section of a previous post.  He originally wrote it as an article for Adweek magazine.

Some invaluable advice here from a true pro who knows what he’s talking about.

“Here’s a confession: During my agency career, I worked at more agencies than most people can list. The places included big agencies, small agencies, great agencies that filled me with joy, crappy agencies that made me wonder why I’d signed up, agencies that have vanished and agencies still in existence, even agencies with my name on the door.

“My record isn’t one that will earn me a place in the Hall of Fame, unless a Ripley’s wing is opened. Nonetheless, working in all those different places gave me a unique view of the one thing that matters in the ad business: coming up with ideas.

“Why are some people so prolific? Why are other people duds?

“The truth of the matter is that some people in advertising – the really, really bright ones – are members of the Lucky Sperm Club. They were born with right-hemisphere dominant brains. They can’t be anything but bright, brilliant and creative. It’s often true, of course, that their ‘luck’ at birth is also a curse; that their brilliance at coming up with wild, crazy yet wonderfully effective ideas so quickly comes from the mild to moderately severe levels of manic-depression that plagues them. Barely one person in 10 has this ‘advantage.’

“The rest of us are stuck with our left-hemisphere dominant brains. Yet when it comes to extraordinary work, we aren’t completely out of luck. With a little training, we can compensate for the biological oversight that occurred at our conceptions. Instead of allowing our left-hemisphere brains the opportunity to plod forward serially, arranging one fact after another in a neat line of orderly, logical piles, we can learn to mimic the childlike, ‘why not?’ thought patterns of those born to be inventive.

“I can think of at least 11 ways that can help lay the groundwork for such a miraculous transformation.

“1. Stock your brain with goodies.

“Those who are truly creative seem to devour all knowledge in their paths and often everything that’s off on all the spur tracks as well. As David Ogilvy suggested, they possess a ‘well- furnished mind’ and are ‘relentlessly curious.’

“Do you read? Go to museums? Go to the theatre? Do you watch movies on DVD and then try to deconstruct them? Have you ever gone to Google, ferreting out details of odd subjects just for the sheer fun of it? Have you ever had long conversations with people considerably different from you – chronologically, politically, economically, racially – in an attempt to see the world through a different set of eyes?

“Try any of them. Creative thinking, after all, is no more than an echo of all your personal perceptions, often ones formed in the oddest ways imaginable.

“2. Learn the difference between fertilizer and manure.

“Hemingway once told a reporter that the most important intellectual attribute a good writer can have is ‘a built-in, shockproof crap detector.’

“You need one of those in advertising, too. Use it with yourself and with others. How much of what you do, say, think and contribute has any nutrient value whatsoever? How much of it just stinks up the place?

“Question authority: A briefing that doesn’t make sense, a strategy that doesn’t add up, research that leaves too many crucial issues unanswered, even a client’s comments on occasion.

“3.     Escape from ‘concept prison.’

‘Concept prison’ is the dreary place you occupy when you’ve convinced yourself you have to do things the way they’ve always been done.

By resisting ‘concept prison’ – a term coined by Edward DeBono, the brilliant Cambridge thinker – Phil Knight built a company that doesn’t sell shoes but instead lets you ‘just do it,’ i.e., fulfill your personal aspirations. Then there’s Amazon, Starbucks, eBay and craigslist, the creative offspring of Jeff Bezos, Howard Schultz, Pierre Omidyar and Craig Newmark, respectively.

“Getting back to advertising, lots of people in the business spend their entire careers in ‘concept prison’ and often seem to get by quite handsomely. But they’re usually called ‘hacks,’ a term you never want to have attached to your name.

“4.     Avoid searching for ‘the right answer.’

“‘That’s not it.’ ‘That’s not it.’ ‘That’s not it.’

“Imagine what happens if your brain keeps telling you that your answers aren’t the right answer.

“Here’s the truth: In all likelihood, there’s more than one answer.

“Says DeBono: ‘The purpose of thinking is not to be right but to be effective. Being right means being right all the time. Being effective means being right only at the end.’

“So learn to accept failure en route to success, okay?

“For a good case history that illustrates this point, just spend a little time thinking about Steve Jobs’ ups and downs at Apple. He started the company. He gave us many, if not all, of the wonderful things about computers we now take for granted. He got tossed out in a management shake up. When the company fell on hard times, he came back with business- altering ideas so strong – carrying all your music in your pocket, as just one example – that in the eyes of many he now walks on water.

“5.     Get off the monorail.

“The monorail is the train of logic most people feel riding. The best example of a monorail is probably a computer. All a computer does is make a series of yes/no decisions based on previously programmed data. That isn’t creative.

“Try attacking a problem obliquely from time to time. Be haphazard, even a little sloppy. Make your thinking playful. Be less serious, more serendipitous. Surprise yourself. Scare yourself.

“6. Explore.

“Look for parallels in other businesses you’ve worked on. For parallels in business success stories you’ve read about. Not to mention parallels in art, literature, history, science, nature, etc.

“Set a quota for your explorations: Five completely different ideas by noon, 15 by the end of the day, etc. Reward yourself when you hit your quota – give yourself an extra half hour at lunch, for example, or go home early.
Whatever. Don’t cheat and set quota too low, or make it impossible by setting it way too high.

“When you’ve exhausted the possibilities – or just exhausted yourself physically – put all your ideas up on the wall. Then look for the major themes that emerged from your exploration. They could very well be the beginnings of a Big Idea or even the Big Idea itself. Rearrange the ideas on the wall. Look for holes. See if there are new routes you could take.

“Don’t discard anything. Build a ‘rustle pile.’ Those scraps of paper that were up on the wall as idea fragments during your exploratory thinking are valuable kernels for copy as well as good ways to jump start future idea sessions on the business.

“7.     Avoid perfection.

“’Perfection is spelled ‘paralysis,’’ wrote Winston Churchill, who could have become the greatest of all British copywriters given choice lines such as this. (Though if he had entered advertising instead of politics it’s likely England would now be speaking German.)

“Searching for the perfection of artistic detail in the idea-generation stage is like spending your bonus before your boss has presented it.

“8. Curb your ego.

“Don’t be so quick to find the faults in a thought, especially in a team or group setting. Making a definitive yes or no decision early in the game freezes others and makes them hesitant to share their innermost thoughts.

“It’s not only counter-productive, by the way, it’s totally rude.”

“9. Simplify.

“Boil your problem down to its essence. Throw out every detail that isn’t relevant.

“Said Albert Einstein, a man probably a good deal smarter than you are or ever will be: ‘Everything should be made as simple as possible but no simpler.’

“10. Don’t knuckle under.

“Having the courage to think outside the lines is only half of it.

“When you finally have an idea that’s different, unexpected or otherwise off the well-trodden path, count on running into others who’ll whimper and retreat to the land of ‘yes, but we’ve never done it that way before,’ the place where they think it’s good and safe.

“Anticipate them. Build a case and prepare to fight for your baby.
Remember those memorable words from an anonymous sage: ‘Every great oak was once a nut that stood its ground.’

“If those words don’t do it, keep George Bernard Shaw’s admonition in mind: ‘All great truths begin as blasphemies.’

“11. Have some fun.

“Advertising is the toy department of the business world. As are marketing and branding. So play!”

Sorry for such a long comment, Vinny…

The value of stupid obsessions

One of the career hazards of being a professional creative is running out of fresh material.  Or not having enough fresh stimuli that will lead you to fresh output.

One thing that i’ve found really helps in this regard is constantly having new interests.  New things that capture your imagination and make you think about something you’ve never considered before.

A few years into my career I was working on a national brand with a  lot of creative freedom.  so potentially, anything i could come up with, could get produced.

So i had no limits, right?  Wrong.

I found, somewhat to my dismay, that rather than feeling like a limitless universe, my mind felt more like a really big hotel that I walked around in looking for something: ideas.

And after a while i would open a door and go “Oh, I’ve been in this room before! Damn!”.  If that makes any sense.

In other words, simply racking my little brain alone wasn’t making it for me.  So I actively turned my focus outward.

On more than one occasion i’ve found that following things that caught my fancy led me to have ideas i would never have otherwise had.  Sometimes these interests turn into full-blown obsessions.  Sometimes not.  Sometimes they lead nowhere.  But at least I have followed them.

Currently I have three obsessions/interests on the go:

The life and work of director Sam Peckinpah.  I am taking this one to the next level.  I am hopefully meeting a friend/colleague of Sam’s for dinner in LA in a couple of weeks. I couldn’t be more excited.  I have a good feeling about this one. And it obviously has potential since a lot of my work is shooting film.

Professional Irish poker players.  I listened to an amazing radio documentary about three Irish poker players.  They were real characters and i have learned a lot more about them.  And poker.   And the reality of being a poker pro. In my head it’s become an HBO series about these guys.  Sort of like a downmarket ENTOURAGE with more boozing and funnier lines.

Stephen Sondheim talking about writing musicals.  I recently became transfixed by hearing Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim talking about his craft. I don’t have a musical bone in my head but when he talks about it, i feel like i could write a great musical too.   No idea why.  Not even that interested in plays or musicals.  Have since listened to lots and lots of interviews with him.

I like to think, somewhat grandiosely, that fate is leading me to these interests.  That’s probably overstating it.

But if nothing else I am utterly convinced it’s imperative that we never stop listening to, and acting on, the mysterious voices in our heads.

Maybe they know something we don’t.








The curse of creative freedom

i have had a  lot creative freedom in my career.

that means being potentially the weakest link in the chain.

one thing this has taught me is that what this really means is that you have be the responsible one.   it’s a double-edged sword.

I remember one time shooting a  Budweiser ad and only when we were finishing it I realized that there wasn’t a single shot of a Bud bottle in the entire spot.

I felt guilty.

the client had approved this cut.  they loved it!

But it bothered me.   So I had the post house insert a bottle of bud into a three second scene at the end.

I actually felt better once i knew it was in there.

I had become more of a client than my client!


Damn you to hell creative freedom!!!