Archives for posts with tag: advertising industry


I grew up in a small town in Germany. Everybody knew each other, everybody knew everyone’s business. Many people had dreams to leave that little box they called home. They dreamt of living in amazing places like New York or Acapulco. They wanted to experiment with different professions, life styles and learn by traveling the world. 99% of these dreamers were not good in executing any of these ideas. They were extremely good at bashing the ones that tried: “Why would he leave our town to study art? You can’t make money with that.” or “No wonder he ran out of money in San Francisco. What was he thinking?” When people that walked the walked returned, they were embraced with an implied “You learned your lesson: Stay home and stick to what you’re good at. Don’t bother trying again.”

The advertising industry is like a small town where 99% talk the talk and 1% walk the walk.

And the 99% talkers can’t wait to start bashing the 1% walkers when they fail. The last example is the #shamrocking meme by McDonald’s, that followed the #McDStories bashtag revolt. Before that, Honda paid bloggers to write positively about the Honda Civic. the “Homeless Spots” by BBH, J-Lo’s Fiat campaign, etc.

I’m not defending the specifics of these campaigns. What I’m defending is that the client and their agencies tried. They came up with ideas, they executed them and we were waiting behind the bushes to bash them.

Attend any media/advertising conferences and you’ll be inundated by talks about innovation, fast failures and quick innovation. While talk is cheap, it gets cheaper in the hallways while the advertising community bashes any campaign/initiative that didn’t turn out to be the next Old Spice or Apple’s ‘1984’ commercial.

Every time people create something, they stick their head out. They risk something. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they fail. Bringing out the big hammer to put them back in line doesn’t help anyone. It just ensures that less people and brands will take risks.

“The essential part of creativity is not being afraid to fail.” – Edwin H. Land

Have we created an environment where people are afraid to even try?


Eons ago I worked with an Art Director (when I was still a copywriter). He was in his late 40’s, while I was in my 20’s. He was getting too old to become Creative Director and he wasn’t really interested in climbing the career ladder while I was more busy climbing than creating amazing work.

His designs didn’t change the world, didn’t revolutionize anything. They were very solid, always on time, never forgot an assignment. Clients loved him, co-workers respected him. And all these traits were his big problem: We took him for granted.

He was the equivalent of a plastic water bottle.

But everybody wanted a champagne bottle.

The advertising industry undervalues dependable.

We always look for the crazy ideas, the super-innovators. I’ve worked with some of them. They had fantastic ideas but they needed the dependable co-workers to execute and deliver. While we tend to focus on the great ideas, the small jobs make up the bulk of agency work. We should take some of that spotlight away form the superstars and celebrate the dependable people.

For every amazing commercial or print ad, there are tons of B2B ads that do the same job but are never mentioned by anyone. Or SEM ads that perform better than any fancy, glossy work.

Too often, the advertising industry acts like a girl who wants to be with the dangerous guy and ends up heartbroken over and over again. When are we going to reach out and give our heart to the dependable ones?


Everybody knows how to run our country.

Everybody has a better plan than Obama.

300 million Americans do.

Billions of Asians and Europeans do.

We have whole industries based on knowing so much more than the rest of the world: Talk Radio. Newspapers. Sports Radio. Blogs. Fashion Shows. Reality TV.

Basically, all of us think we can do a better job than anybody else.

Unfortunately, too many people can’t even do their own job properly.

I started my career in advertising as a copywriter and nothing irked me more when non-copywriters tried to improve my copywriting.

I might not like the meal in a restaurant but I would never storm in the kitchen and tell the chef what to do.

I might not like your latest song but I won’t tell the singer how to improve the song.

For some reason, people in the marketing/advertising industry think they know everything about anything.

You see account people change copy.

Copywriters request design changes.

Data analysts criticizing the Social Media plan.

Clients suddenly become commercial directors.

When did we stop trusting anyone else to do their own job?

One of the most prolific scorers in German soccer history was Gerd Mueller.

He was short.

He had no style.

You barely saw him throughout the game.

A journalist described him: “Müller was short, squat, awkward-looking and not notably fast; he never fit the conventional idea of a great footballer, but he had lethal acceleration over short distances, a remarkable aerial game, and uncanny goalscoring instincts. His short legs gave him a strangely low center of gravity, so he could turn quickly and with perfect balance in spaces and at speeds that would cause other players to fall over. He also had a knack of scoring in unlikely situations.”

And scoring he did.

He scored more goals than anybody else against other European clubs.

He won the World Cup in 1974.

He focused on his one job.


He left the brilliance to Franz Beckenbauer.

He left the strategy to his coach.

He left the media excitement to Sepp Maier.

He just scored goals.

And he was the best at it.

Don’t waste your time focusing on what other people should do.

Focus on your own job.

That’s how you win.


Dear Santa,

Only a few more days until you head back to the North Pole to get your well-deserved vacation of 11 months (Where can I apply for that job?). You’ve been with humankind for hundreds of years, transforming from a third-century boy bishop and miracle worker, to Christmas Eve sleigh-driving legend.

And, what have we done to you? We adjusted our vision of Santa to our culture: fanciful, exuberant, over-weight, and overly commercial. Your embodiment of human ideals like innocence, selfless giving, unfaltering love, justice and mercy are often overshadowed by the challenges our world is facing: greed, mindless materialism and selfishness.

I don’t have to tell you what happened: Christmas music in October, Black Friday, mall madness Saturday – you’ve heard it all before. I’ve been working in advertising for the majority of my life and I know we tend to go too far. We tend to focus on the ‘more’ too much and not on the ‘better’. We dilute your brand, make fun of you, remix you, mash you up. Anything to transfer some of that magic into our work.

Miraculously, all the things we’ve done to you have not diminished the magic you bring into our lives. You’re much deeper than a commercially created character. You give us hope, you connect us with our inner child and you help us understand that giving is better than receiving. As Clement Clark Moore wrote in his poem “A visit from Saint Nicholas”

“He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread”

And, dear Santa Claus, that’s my wish for next year: Our industry needs to connect with their inner Santa Claus. Rediscover their soul. Focus on the ‘better’. Create more signals, less noise. Don’t be fearful of the future, embrace it. Create wonder and amazement. Draw out the child in us. Have more of that Santa quality in our daily lives.

As you said in your famous letter to Virginia:

“You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which neither the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.”

My promise to you: Less tearing apart. More exploration of the unseen world. Getting in touch with the inner Santa on a daily basis.