all posts in creativity

How Amy designed a charming book cover

Amy Wessel, a graphic designer on our staff, recently had the opportunity to put her skills to work designing the cover for a self-published book by a local author, Mary Kay Mayer.

The book – entitled From Diapers to Dresses: How a mother’s past helped to shape her daughters’ futures – chronicles how the author used her grandmother’s folk wisdom to guide her parenting decisions and to convey important life lessons to her three daughters.

Amy describes her experience with the project:

Mary knew from the start that she wanted the main focus of the cover to be a dress that her grandmother had made for her. So I developed several ideas that centered around the dress and Mary chose the one she liked best.

Along the way, we discussed incorporating additional prop items and personal photographs into the layout, but in the end we decided to keep it simple and just use the dress.

Mary liked the idea of using an illustration rather than a photograph of the dress. As the book is intended for moms, not children, I was concerned about any illustration that appeared too “childlike.” So I used a combination of photography, hand illustration and Photoshop brush techniques to produce an image that has a childlike quality but is still firmly rooted in reality.

The background colors were chosen to complement the colors of the dress. The font combination was chosen to convey a whimsical yet sophisticated feeling.

The book is available at amazon.com here.

Why having a great tagline is so important (and having a lame one is self-defeating)

Great

As a word guy I’ve always been intrigued by taglines…how a handful of words could encapsulate the essence of an entire brand.

Even as a kid I thought they were cool. I liked knowing that G.E. was where they would “bring good things to life.” That Pizza Hut was where you could “let yourself go.” That you could feel “The Heartbeat of America” in a Chevrolet. And I took comfort in knowing that “when it absolutely, positively had to be there overnight,” Federal Express was fueled and ready.

Such is the power of a well-crafted line of copy. (Of course, millions of dollars in advertising helps too.)

Sometimes that line of copy is a single word (Coke just used “Always” at one point). But typically it’s two to six. (Making a strong case for your brand with just one word can be a little dicey.)

So what are the guidelines for writing a tagline?

Great

At our agency we believe a tagline must be:

• Simple
• Concise
• Memorable
• Easy to say
• Appealing to the human being reading/hearing it
• An accurate representation of the brand promise

Beyond that, it’s wide open. Depending on the brand, a tagline can be stoic, straightforward, heartwarming, humorous, whimsical, sexy, provocative, inviting, dramatic, open-ended or specific.

A well-crafted tagline that resonates with an audience can anchor a brand’s marketing efforts for years, even decades.

Not great

Just for fun, see if you can name the brand these phrases go with:

  1. Think Outside the Bun
  2. Get the door. It’s ______.
  3. I’m lovin’ it.
  4. When you’re here, you’re family.
  5. Let’s Build Something Together
  6. More saving. More doing.
  7. It’s everywhere you want to be.
  8. Better ingredients. Better pizza.
  9. Eatin’ Good in the Neighborhood
  10. That was easy.

Okay, now for the lightning round. Here are some classics:

  1. Like a Rock.
  2. The quality goes in before the name goes on.
  3. Don’t leave home without it.
  4. Have it your way.
  5. Finger lickin’ good.

(If you’re stumped on any, the answers are below.)

How’d you do? Did you know the brand associated with the line? Or had you heard the line but couldn’t quite identify the brand it went with? Were any completely unfamiliar?

Although it’s not entirely fair to judge a tagline outside the context of an adjacent logo or brand environment, how well the taglines above resonated with you can give you at least some insight into their effectiveness.

Which ones above achieved any/some/most of the following?

• Made an emotional connection
• Encapsulated the user experience
• Differentiated the brand from others
• Reaffirmed the brand promise
• Conveyed smart thinking
• Staked out territory, category niche
• Described/clarified the product or service
• Acted as a call to action

Naturally, no phrase can do all of those. But good ones can do more than one.

Over the years, we’ve had the opportunity to work on a few tagline projects:

• “The Seal That Solves It” – for NAPA Gaskets by Fel-Pro
• “Made to Fit. Built to Last.” – for MTD Genuine Factory Parts
• “As Good As I.T. Gets” – for MRK Technologies (a local information technology company)

They use phonetic/mnemonic devices such as alliteration, parallel structure or just a slight twist of a familiar phrase to help them “stick” in the reader’s mind.

Two of them continue be used. The third had a run of several years. (All of which is great, because it means they did their job.)

Of course, there are plenty of taglines out there that don’t work. They leave no impression and are easily overlooked, forgotten or mistakenly associated with another brand.

It’s usually because they’re guilty of one or more of these mistakes:

• Blandness – no reason for anyone to remember it
• Boastfulness – off-putting self-aggrandizement
• Clunky – hard to say, no rhythm
• Triteness – saying what everyone else has said
• Silliness – misplaced or unfunny attempts at humor
• Stating the year founded (e.g., “Since 1910”) – says nothing except that you’ve managed to exist

Taglines that fall victim to the above will almost always fail to connect.

But when a tagline works it’s a powerful tool. One that can anchor a brand’s marketing efforts for years to come.

(This link will take you to a site where you’ll find dozens of well-known taglines and advertising slogans arranged in alphabetical order. Although it’s not particularly current, it’s still very enjoyable to peruse. And what it lacks in timeliness it more than makes up for in volume.)

Tagline quiz answers:

  1. Taco Bell
  2. Domino’s Pizza
  3. McDonald’s
  4. The Olive Garden
  5. Lowe’s
  6. The Home Depot
  7. Visa
  8. Papa John’s
  9. Applebee’s
  10. Staples

Classic tagline quiz answers:

  1. Chevy Trucks
  2. Zenith televisions
  3. American Express card
  4. Burger King
  5. Kentucky Fried Chicken

 

A lighthearted look at why some ads work and others don’t.

The cover of one of the best books I’ve ever read on advertising features a drawing of an oversized frog sitting atop a bright pink pig.

The pig is wearing snorkel gear and flippers.

It’s a silly visual meant to illustrate the absurd limits to which people might go for an “original” ad concept.

You can imagine a marketing manager being presented with it and exclaiming “That’s our new ad campaign…?”

Which just happens to be the title of the book.

“That’s our new ad campaign…?” by Dick Wasserman is a great resource, as the subtitle states, “for CEOs, Presidents, Ad Managers, Account Executives, Art Directors, Copywriters, Students, and Anybody Else Who Wants to Learn Howto Create Better Ads.”

(If you’re reading this, you’re at least one of those people, right?)

It’s a book that gets right down to the basics: What makes good ads good and bad ads bad; how to achieve the former and avoid the latter.

Although it’s a perfect primer for folks just starting out in the business, there’s plenty in this book for seasoned professionals too.

Here are three (of many) reasons you’ll want to read it:

1. You’ll learn useful stuff (or at least better ways to articulate what you already know).

Stuff like how to judge the merits of a creative concept. Why ads should be more like plays and less like speeches. And why what an ad implies – intentionally or otherwise – is as important as what it actually says.

Sure, some of this is fundamental. But let’s face it, many people working in advertising and marketing began their careers in a different area altogether; some of these lessons may be things they’ve never formally learned. They’re lessons well worth hearing.

2. You’ll enjoy reading it. (Again and again.)

Wasserman infuses his book with a lighthearted tone that makes it a pleasure to read. Even some of the chapter titles induce chuckles, most notably Chapter 9: To Arms, To Arms! Every Man Look Sharp! That Damn Agency Is Asking Us to Trust Its Intuition Again!

But just as fun as the writing style is the illumination the book provides, especially regarding the way consumers and advertisers respond to ads. Wasserman pulls back the curtain on the human mind, unveiling why ads with a sense of “drama” are so effective (pages 7–9). He delves just as deeply into the fear factor that makes advertisers reluctant to approve any idea deemed too “different” (page 42).

3. The chapter called “Some Good Examples of Bad Advertising” is alone worth the price of the book.

In this chapter the author has created a series of print ad concepts for a fictitious advertiser (“The Widget Group”). These funny little thumbnail sketches perfectly illustrate common mistakes advertisers can make – such as trying to say too much, lack of drama/tension, and failing to communicate on a personal level. By taking note of these examples, advertisers can avoid falling victim to trite, banal ad concepts. Agency folks will find this chapter a valuable resource for steering clients away from tired ideas.

Here are a few more pearls of wisdom from Wasserman’s pen:

On simplicity: “Making an ad try to say more than one simple thing at a time is like inviting two people to give a lost driver directions at the same time.”

On the hazards of “safe” advertising: “The risks involved in trusting (your agency’s) judgment are small when you consider the risks and economic waste involved in paying for advertising that nobody notices or remembers because it looks just like everybody else’s advertising.”

On agency account executives: “A good account executive…should be encouraging your firm to accept more innovative, provocative advertising. This means…he’s always going to be bugging you a bit. If he’s doing his job, you will sometimes find him irritating.”

I’m convinced that if everyone involved in creating and approving advertising would read this book, the quality of advertising in America would increase tenfold. So by all means give it a read. It’s as entertaining as it is enlightening.

(Although this little gem is currently out of print, it’s well worth the effort to find a copy – which you can do easily at your library or amazon.com).

 

 

 

Then their eyes were opened…

It takes a certain vision to recognize the potential in a “risky” or unconventional idea.

Check out this story about a local pastor who literally lit up when someone suggested an unorthodox idea for a Bible study.

This story appears in the May 2012 edition of Cleveland magazine.

It doesn’t take a genius to see the obvious. (Then why don’t we notice more stuff?)

A  friend of mine has a gripe about the CBS show “The Mentalist.”

He says, “The guy’s not a mentalist, he just observes stuff – like Sherlock Holmes. They should call it ‘The Observer’ or something.”

He’s got a point. The character isn’t clairvoyant, he just notices things. Everything, in fact.

Most of us don’t do that. With images and information constantly buzzing around us, we’ve conditioned ourselves to “grazing,” to picking out only the bits that are most interesting and ignoring the rest.

That’s true whether we’re on the computer, watching a TV show or just living our lives.

I realized how non-observant I’d become when I tried my hand at an online “choose the correct logo” game.

I failed miserably.

I’m a writer, not a designer, so I tend to think verbally more than visually. But that’s no excuse. I realized I need to put more effort into retaining more of the information my eyes feed my brain every day.

After all, us agency folks work in a “creative” field. Ideas don’t spring from an information vacuum but from our accumulated knowledge and experiences. If we don’t actively gather that data and catalog it in our minds, we’ll have much less to call upon when we need to brainstorm an idea.

If we do load up our palette, however, we have that much more information from which to pull solutions.

Of course, being observant also has “real world” applications too:

• It’s a useful skill if you ever need to tell police about something you witnessed.

• It can help you remember a new acquaintance’s face so you’ll recognize them later.

• It can help you talk someone through a procedure over the phone without having any visual reference in front of you.

• In extreme cases it may even save your life.

But how do you become an observer, rather than a viewer?

You just have to do it. Take in your surroundings. In your mind, describe to yourself what you’re seeing.

For example, the next time you’re standing in line at a fast food restaurant, make a point of observing:

• The color and pattern of the floor tile

• The number of cash registers

• What the counter is made of

• If the lights are fluorescent or incandescent

• The number and location of the exits (This ties into the “may even save your life” statement above.)

That’s just one example of opportunities for observing. Any time you’re standing in line, waiting in the doctor’s waiting room, surfing the Internet, or if you’re just out and about, stop and force yourself to observe.

It’s a great mental exercise, and the things you remember will most likely be useful to you down the road.

________________________________________________

“You have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.”

“Frequently.”

“How often?”

“Well, some hundreds of times.”

“Then how many are there?”

“How many? I don’t know.”

“Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.”

—Sherlock Holmes and Watson, from “A Scandal in Bohemia”

Naming, Part I: It’s hard and all the easy ones are taken.

Occasionally our agency is asked to craft a name for a new brand or product.

It can be a fun project.

It’s also hard as heck.

That’s because most of the simple one-word names are already taken. If it’s a single, cool-sounding word, someone is probably using it.

Here’s a little brainstorming exercise that proves the point: Imagine an automaker in Detroit has asked you to come up with a name for a new car.

(Although in reality cars are marketed towards specific demographic groups, for the purposes of this discussion just imagine a “generic” vehicle and consumer.)

Where do you start?

You could run through a list of animals. You’d come up with Jaguar, Cougar, Eagle, Falcon, Skylark, Viper, Ram, Barracuda, Impala, Bronco and Mustang to name a few. (All kept shiny with Turtle Wax, no doubt.) Those names have all been used. Tiger? Lion? Panda?

Those just won’t work, will they?

So you try, let’s see…how about Zodiac signs? Taurus, Aries…crap, those are taken and the rest are kind of…out there.

Speaking of stars, does the universe offer a solution? Ford has a Galaxy, Mitsubishi an Eclipse. Mercury and Saturn are in use. Milky Way is fine for a candy bar, but not a car. Andromeda is too feminine. (And please don’t suggest Uranus.)

How about mythical names? Well, you’d think there’d be a lot there too, but other than Saturn, Mercury, Aurora and Thunderbird the pickings are pretty slim. You can’t exactly call a car Zeus or Thor.

And Puck is right out.

That leads us to Greek terms. Let’s see, there’s Delta (taken) and…um, not much else.

You move on to names of places: Several sound really great and conjure up cool imagery – Aspen, Daytona, Malibu, Sierra, Milan, Capri – but of course they’re taken. You try picking other cities – Pittsburgh, Flint, Kalamazoo – and quickly realize you should just keep moving on.

What about music? Hyundai has the Sonata. What else could we try? Melody and Harmony would be great if the car were a girl. Octave? Nocturne? A bit technical. Most of the other terms are incomprehensible to anyone who doesn’t speak Italian.

Becoming slightly desperate, you throw caution and political correctness to the wind and begin exploring the hunting grounds of Native American tribal names. Unfortunately, Jeep has beaten you to the punch and grabbed up Cherokee, Apache and Comanche. Dodge took Dakota, and GM has owned Pontiac since General Custer’s time (not to mentioned the misspelled Aztek). Mazda even took the Navajo. You’re left with Cree, Sioux and Hopi, and there’s not much you can do with those.

A-ha! Why not something with just letters and numbers, like Mazda RX-7, Audi A4, Pontiac GTO or Ford F-150? Trouble is, letters and numbers don’t mean much on their own (although some, such as A, V, X, Z and the number 1 have more personality than others). It usually takes a massive marketing campaign to imbue an alpha-numeric name with meaning.

It’s at this point that you realize that coming up with a name, while perhaps still fun, will not be easy.

Barring the use of an existing single word that’s exactly right for your product and audience (Pontiac nailed it with Vibe, Kia with Soul, Nissan with Cube), what we’re left with is essentially three options:

  1. Putting two words together: Grand Prix, Grand Am, Town & Country, Town Car, Fifth Avenue, Ramcharger, Sunfire, Range Rover, Crown Victoria, PT Cruiser (PT isn’t a word, but…)
  2. Putting a prefix in front of a word: Ford Econoline, Pontiac Trans Sport. (This is actually a better option for car parts than for an actual car. Think of Duralast batteries, ThermoQuiet brakes, AutoLite spark plugs.)
  3. Coining a new word.

Option 3 has become particularly popular these days. We’ll talk about the challenges of coining a new name in an upcoming post.

NEXT: Naming, Part II: To create a name that’s on target, get ready and aim before you fire. 

 

 

 

 

 

40 Things You Can Ask Your Ad Agency To Do

A lot has changed since the days when agencies only did ads. (The concept this team is reviewing must have been brilliant; the guy on the left is wearing sunglasses.)

Long gone are the days when an advertising agency designed ads and little else. In fact, today’s agencies fulfill such a wide array of marketing functions that the term “ad agency” is woefully inadequate.

Take a look at the list below of stuff you can ask your agency to do and you’ll see what I mean.

  1. Create your website
  2. Design your packaging
  3. Name your product
  4. Develop a new brand
  5. Create point-of-sale items for your product
  6. Design your logo
  7. Design your corporate ID package
  8. Produce your annual report
  9. Proofread your annual report
  10.  Make it easier for people to shop for your product
  11.  Create a web-based sweepstakes sales promotion
  12.  Design your trade show exhibit
  13.  Produce training materials for your sales force
  14.  Create posters, banners and window clings for your showroom
  15.  Assemble and ship mockups in time for your big pitch tomorrow
  16.  Brainstorm ways to help you reduce unnecessary product returns
  17.  Organize all the information for your catalog
  18.  Write a clever, catchy tagline
  19.  Conduct audience research
  20.  Process mail-in rebate forms
  21.  Get translations for marketing your product in Mexico and Canada
  22.  Oversee a photo shoot
  23.  Recommend a social media strategy for your brand
  24.  Design a product sell sheet
  25.  Map out a plan for the way your products should be arranged on retail shelves
  26.  Negotiate and place your media buys
  27.  Design an eye-catching billboard
  28.  Write and produce your TV or radio ads
  29.  Stay on top of the latest trends in culture and communication
  30.  Write a sales offer email
  31.  Write and produce your how-to videos and post them on YouTube
  32.  Help you decide if Twitter makes sense for your brand
  33.  Develop an e-commerce component for your website
  34.  Guide you through a name change
  35.  Partner with popular blogs to talk-up your product
  36.  Help you develop a new product
  37.  Help coordinate your public relations efforts
  38.  Help maintain consistency in all your communications
  39.  Write instructions for using your product
  40.  Oh yeah, almost forgot…create your ad campaign

That’s quite a list (and not even a complete one). And there’s no simple, catch-all term for companies that do all this. Yeah, we could say “marketing communications firm,” but that’s a mouthful of syllables – and only slightly more descriptive.

So for now we’ll just stick with “ad agency.”

It’s not 100% accurate, but people get it, right?