All posts in Creativity

Brands at Cannes: Here’s who should go home with Lions.

With all the problems we have in the world, us advertising professionals patting ourselves on the back is a bit ridiculous. Countries are at war. People are starving. Rob Ford is wiping smoothie chunks from his International Clothiers blazer. Aren’t there more critical problems to solve and more important people to celebrate?

Of course there are. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do support Cannes.

Acknowledged work from around the world gives us all something to shoot for during the other 51 weeks of the year. It inspires us. It drives us. It informs us. And it is the source of that nagging realization that what we’re working on isn’t quite good enough. Yet.

Here’s who I think should go home form Cannes with some hardware. Put them into whatever category you want. These are the ones that’ll continue to motivate me over the next 12 months (in order of importance)

Red Bull Stratos
Whenever you think you have a great idea, ask yourself, “Is it as good as orchestrating the first human to ever break the sound barrier without any form of engine power?”. Sure, this was a really cool brand-appropriate initiative. But more than that, it redefined the editorial / advertising relationship and proved that consumers will tune into great content, regardless of who pays the bill for its creation.

Oreo Daily Twist
“You can still dunk in the dark” was one of my favourite executions of the year but let’s not forget that its spike was set up by a year long volley from the Daily Twist. Oreo didn’t just sign up for creating compelling content, they committed to it in a fun and progressive and consistent way. It was always fresh. And we kept coming back for more. Isn’t that what it’s all about?


Philips Walita Fruit Mashup
Oh, you made a QR Code? Big deal. These people invented new fruit.

Coca-Cola Small World Machines: India and Pakistan
Getting people from two nations who always seem to be on the brink of war to virtually touch hands with one another was more than just a nice story. It was a hint of Coke’s global content plan and a reminder that brands can (and should) be good. More than that, what do you think is more important? Bringing peace (however long or short it was) to a dangerous zone or paying Beyonce a lot of money to dance with your product? One has a soul. The other has a star.

McDonald’s: Our Food. Your Questions.
Thanks to this campaign, there’s a new definition of creativity. It’s called honesty. In a surprising turn of events out there, clever has been trumped by genuine. Smoke and mirrors have been defeated by transparency. And McDonald’s has won over skeptics. Congrats Tribal DDB. You absolutely nailed it.

Ragu’s Long Day of Childhood.
Everything about this campaign feels old school. There’s the food porn, the bite and smile, the cheezy track and more. Who cares? It features a wonderful insight and hilarious scenarios that can keep going as long as we want them to. I haven’t seen a campaign with legs like this since “Real American Heroes / Real Men of Genius”. Keep ‘em coming.

Dove Real Beauty Sketches.
I know, I know. Some of you wise ones out there dissected this down to the molecular level to justify your Negative Nancy perspective. Well, that’s wrong. You’re over thinking it. How a woman thinks she looks is a symptom of a lack (or abundance) of self confidence. Beauty may not be important but the underlying self esteem that warps our perception of ourselves is. If we don’t think we’re beautiful, we probably don’t think we’re as smart or as funny as we are either. Great concept. Great execution.

My name’s not b**ch. It’s Vicky.

On June 5th, I once again hosted the Art of Marketing in Toronto. This is the summary I presented at the end of the day.

While original in arrangement, this call to action features the thoughts from the wonderful speakers who preceded it. Thanks to David Usher, Jonah Berger, Seth Godin, Andrew Zimakas, Cheri Chevalier, Kevin O’Brien, Charles Duhigg, and Biz Stone for their inspiration. Thanks to Erica Ehm for the photograph.

Monkey See. Monkey Do.

While you didn’t see any monkeys here today, you did see some thought leaders and we hope that you were inspired and educated enough to do something different when you return to work.

After all, you’re in the ideas business.
And an idea is only as great as the passion behind it.

So don’t be a compliant slot filler.
Don’t sell average stuff to average people.
And stop bowling.

45% of your day is a habit. First thing tomorrow morning, start breaking it.
Everyone has the capacity to be creative. Especially you.
Luckily, creativity is a renewable resource because it’s 95% work and 5% inspiration.

So go out there a raise a ruckus.

Make the public private.
Play it the way you feel it.
Cross the 4th wall.
Talk it out.
Eat while you dream.
Be weird.
Failure IS an option so jump off cliffs and grow wings on the way down.
But don’t just want to do it. Plan to do it because without structure, freedom and imagination are just chaos.

You have a moral to your story but remember that it’s the story that people connect to.

This was the Art of Marketing. That was our job.
You don’t have a job. You have a platform to do art.

You’re really good at leading yourself. So do it.
You’re really good at connecting. So do it.

We hope we’ve inspired.
We hope we’ve educated.
And we hope you’ll act.

And if anyone ever doubts the brilliance you saw today, there’s only one thing you need to say:
My name’s not b**ch. It’s Vicky.

Thanks for the learning and the laughs.

They’ll tell 2 friends. And so on. And so on.

Those my age (or older), probably remember watching Love Boat on a Friday night. Well, in between drinks and double barrel finger points from Isaac and random love stories featuring guest stars like Charo and Don Ameche, you were interrupted by these things called “commercials”.

Commercials were different back then. Farah Fawcette hair. Memorable jingles. Crappy production value. And a lot of one shots of people talking directly to camera. They didn’t know any better and they certainly didn’t have the metrics to know they were wrong (although 4 out of 5 dentists probably would have told them so).

One of the most memorable spots for me wasn’t very good at all. But I’ll never forget it.
And given where we are in the advertising ecosystem, it should be taught to marketers on day 1. Have a look.

Why should we aspire to this piece of communication when it seems so bad?

1. It’s organic!
I don’t know that this was the first uttering of the word “organic” in a commercial but it certainly wasn’t the last. Brands all around the globe are clamouring to justify their products as organic. Why? Because consumers desperately want products that are simple and pure and sustainable. So while it’s great to dial up the earth tone colours and folksy language to try and appear more natural, your customers prefer you focus on actually making products that are.

2. Repetition helps.
While the split screen production technique certainly contributed to this campaign standing out over the years, it’s complemented by the repetitive line, “You’ll tell two friends. And they’ll tell two friends. And so on. And so on.” But the real repetition was the campaign. We seem to treat our communications like disposable diapers these days – they’re on one minute and at the first hint of odour, we pitch them in the garbage faster than you can say, “Pamper your agencies”. (Sorry) Instead of starting over, we should take a step back, rethink and reinvest.

3. It’s not about the Like. It’s about the product.
If this campaign was executed today, the line wouldn’t be, “You’ll tell two friends. And they’ll tell two friends. And so on. And so on.” It would be, “Please share this with 200 friends on Facebook and tell them to do the same. And so on. And so on.” Luckily, Faberge couldn’t do that because the platforms for simple social sharing weren’t around. So they did something truly remarkable: They created a product so good that you would want to tell two friends.

These days, we’re more focused on creating communications that ask people to spread the word instead of developing products so fantastic that they’ll just do it on their own.

Who knew Heather Locklear was so prophetic?
TJ Hooker would be proud.


The Kid Became a Man

Last night, we were really lucky to have 2 special guests on Monkey Toast, the live improvised talk show: Musician Nancy White and former Kid in the Hall, Mark McKinney.

Long before I even got involved in comedy, I was a Kids in the Hall fan. And of all the kids, Mark was certainly my favourite. I always thought he was the best actor of the bunch and his character range was far greater than his talented troupe mates. When you examine what he’s done after KITH, it’s slightly annoying to even describe him as “former Kid in the Hall”. After all, he was on Saturday Night Live and was in a few SNL produced movies. He co-created, co-wrote and performed in Slings and Arrows. He was a story editor on Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Trip and played one of the more memorable characters on the show, Andy Mackinaw. He wrote for Sports Night and Less than Kind. Produced Picnicface. And even though I was a huge fan of all of those, I think his greatest performance was in the stage production Fully Committed. 

When I’m hosting a show like Monkey Toast, I treat the guests with respect and a sense of professionalism that is expected of me. Sometimes, I want to say more than I can but I have to forget – albeit momentarily – that I’m still a fan.

Both interviews were great and the Monkey Toast Players once again delivered a hilarious and improvised interpretation of the proceedings. I had a ton of fun and learned a lot and appropriately thanked Nancy and Mark for giving up their valuable time on a Saturday Night.

But I didn’t really get a chance to tell Mark what I wanted to.

I wanted to tell him that through the years, he’s inspired me.
I wanted to tell him that his performance in Fully Committed blew me away.
I wanted to tell him that Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is one of my all time favourite shows and that the Christmas show, which he story edited, remains an all time favourite episode.
I wanted to tell him that I hadn’t really watched Slings and Arrows (I know!) but I’ve started to and I love it.
I wanted to tell him that it’s great that for every SNL and Less than Kind, he’s done a Corner Gas and Michael: Tuesdays and Thursdays.
But more than all of that, I wanted to tell him that as a Canuck, I was proud of him.

As Canadians, we either write off those from the Great White North who have succeeded massively or we fail to acknowledge the ones who haven’t quite hit the stratospheric level of global achievement of those we ridicule. Somewhere in between are a massive group of people who have quietly gone about their business and have produced unbelievable work that should unite and inspire us.

Somewhere, there’s a young comedian who is doing a set in a dingy club wondering if he or she will ever make it.
Well, they may or they may not.
But at least they can take comfort knowing someone did. And if someone did, why can’t they?

Thanks, Mark. I’m crushing your head.


Pitch to win.

Whether you’re an agency pitching for a piece of business or a bag of cookies pitching for consumer eyeballs, most of us default to playing it safe.

We don’t want to offend.
We don’t want to show personality.
We don’t want to take risks.
We don’t want to be unique.
After all, what if we’re wrong?

Where it leaves us is right in line with everyone else who, as luck would have it, have chosen to do the same thing.
My good friend, mentor and co-founder of Sharpe Blackmore (which became Euro RSCG which became Havas), Tom Blackmore knew this. Before a pitch one day, Tom passed on this wisdom:

I’d rather be last than second.

I don’t know that a better line was ever spoken about the art of pitching.
If you finished second, you probably said all the safe things.
All the expected things.
You checked off all the boxes.
And gave your prospect all the rational reasons to choose you.

But they didn’t.

They didn’t choose you because you weren’t memorable enough for them to say, “They nailed it.”
They didn’t choose you because you didn’t cause an emotional reaction.
They didn’t choose you because you told them what they wanted to hear not what you wanted to tell them.

When you come in last, you still lose.
But you lose knowing that you went for it.

In some way, at some time, in some place, you will have a pitch today.
Swing for the fences.

Business should busk.

What marketers can learn from street performers.

I’ve always thought that buskers were “Carnies with Talent”, working their way around the world entertaining suburban dads decked out in a Tilley hat and a willingness to be embarrassed in front of a crowd of assembled strangers. Now, given your average street performer makes less than minimal wage over a 40 hour work week, it may not seem like there’s much to learn from them. But there is.

Busking is the epitome of the cold call.

No brand awareness. No liquidation sale. No inbound marketing techniques. A busker has the unenviable task of selling their product in an environment filled with the direct  competition and booths with food and face painting that distract their customers even more. In one 20 minute set, they have to build an audience, deliver their product and then ask for voluntary payment. Is there a more pure business transaction in the world? I doubt it. Here’s what we can learn.

1. They build a unique product.
When you’re competing against other performers, you can’t simply do what the other guy is doing. Even if you’re juggling stuff, you have to look unique, act unique, sound unique and in some cases, smell unique. And when you hit the stage, you better have invested the time to perfect your product. Who’s going to invest the time watching someone perfect their bit when there are so many other perfect options available?

2. They use the audience to build an audience.
Stepping into an empty space, a busker has to immediately create interest in his or her product without the benefit of a social media agency to help them do it.

To build an audience, they simply start with one person. They’ll politely ask an innocent bystander to get involved. “Can you hold this? Can you stand there? Can you put your hand up?” Volunteers aren’t given the 3 year strategic plan and asked to share with their friends – they’re just asked to do something simple. They’re involvement intrigues others to at least stand around and wait to see what’s going to happen. Even the most skeptical will wonder what we’re missing when a crowd starts to form.

3. VIP access for early adopters.
Why hang around waiting for something to happen when there are so many other options? Well, anyone who has been to a busker festival knows that the early adopters get front row seating. They get to see more and hear more and if they’re lucky, there’s a chance that they’ll actually get to star in the show. There should be a reward for those who stuck with us even when there wasn’t any show to speak of. I hope I never forget that.

4. Make ‘em feel special.
A positive attitude creates a positive experience. Every time someone does something, says something, or volunteers to join the show, the professional busker initiates a response with the age-old, “Let’s give Phil a really big hand, folks…” And it doesn’t just make the volunteer feel ridiculously special. It creates intrigue for customers who may be bored at another show. We consumers don’t want to think we’re missing out on something. With this strategy, the bigger a crowd gets, the bigger the crowd will get.

5. They use humour.
I don’t think puns or sexual innuendo are funny. Apparently, I’m in the vast minority. While crowds bellowed at lame one-liners, I was heard muttering, “They think this shit is funny?” Oh well. Regardless of the specific tone of the humour, I think we can all agree that humour is critical when building relationships.

6. They ask to get paid. 

Can you imagine if agencies had to complete a campaign before asking, “How much do you think that was worth?” Yikes. Part of me thinks agencies would actually make more. Well, that’s what these folks do every day of the week. And those who are good at it make more. When they make more, they can perform more.

The approach is usually honest: “I do this as my job and the festival doesn’t pay me.”
It’s rational: “Can you see a show this good for $10 for your entire family?”
It’s promotional: “If you give $20, you get a free DVD.”
It’s humourous: “If you give $10, you’ll go home happy. If you give $100, you’ll go home with me.”

I always feel bad asking for dough. I think I may change my approach.

It’s not like I’m asking brand managers to get a guitar case, work on stilts or juggle their product while it’s in flames. But there’s a lot we can learn from our nomadic creative colleagues. We all want to build community, give a good show and create applause. But unless people put money in our cap, we won’t survive.

If you want to check out more photos I took at Buskerfest, click here. 

Stay hungry. Stay foolish.

I was working away tonight and had turned off all distractions when I got a text from my girlfriend.

“Did you hear Steve Jobs died?”

I didn’t know him. Never met him. I didn’t even have the opportunity to actually ever see him in person. He wasn’t Canadian. He didn’t attend my university. He didn’t share my ethnic heritage. He was simply the founder and CEO of a company based in another country on the other side of the continent.

But he influenced me.

For most of my life, I’ve worked as a creative in the advertising industry. And for all of those years, I was inspired by Steve Jobs.

Was it because creative departments proudly used his computers and software? No.
Was it because he was behind my favourite spot, “Think Different”? No.
Was it because he approved what is widely considered as the best and most effective TV spot of all time, “1984”? No.
Was it because he lead a company that is THE branding case study? No.
Was it because he created brilliant products that people didn’t even realize they wanted? No.
Was it because he completely overhauled his business model creating the most valuable company in the world? No.

It was because he did something that all of us who work in this business try to do every single day: He succeeded simply by doing what was right.

His ads were what all ads SHOULD be.
His design was what all design SHOULD be.
His business was what all businesses SHOULD be.
He proved that the really successful didn’t need to resort to sales, promotions, or starbursts. He proved that a corporation COULD connect with people emotionally.
He proved that good taste wasn’t just a creative thing, it was the right thing.

Even when I had a hand in creating some brilliant work – work that I am extremely proud of – I compared it to his. And it never measured up.

Thanks for the inspiration, Steve. Thanks for being that bar that all of us try to reach in every piece of communication we create.

I promise to stay hungry and stay foolish. And I’ll always remind myself to think different.
Something tells me that’s the way you would have wanted it.

This is the future of Television. Or is it?

Television is caught somewhere between being a dying a medium and, because everything will eventually be delivered over IP, a rapidly growing one. Throw in the network acquisitions of Canadian telcos and it’s easy to see why the old boob tube is in a period of transition.

Well, one network that has clearly jumped the queue is internet television network Revision 3. If anyone has staked out a unique spot in the TV universe, it’s them.

I had a chance to chat with their impressive CEO, Jim Louderback recently. If you have any interest on where television (or the ads that pay for it) is headed, you should listen to this brief interview.

With close to 30 shows including Epic Meal Time and Digg Nation and over 80 million views a month, Revision 3 is redefining the modern day network. Here’s why:

Content people care about
It costs a lot of money to put a show on television so networks have to serve up programming that serves the most number of people possible. The result is lowest common denominator content that a lot of people like but may not love. Revision 3, on the other hand, delivers shows that people actually care about. Do you really love apps? Well, they have App Judgement. Into the “Unboxing” phenomenon? You can tune into Unboxing Porn. We all have specific interests that, given the choice, we’d watch over shows made for the masses.

A new approach to advertising
On mainstream TV, we either cut to a commercial break to see a big budget spot that is repurposed across a whole whack of shows or we’re forced to endure branded content that can leave us feeling dirty. Not so with Revision 3. They’ve managed to keep church and state separate while delivering more effective ads that are actually delivered by the hosts, a taboo among conventional networks. Plus, many of the advertisers featured could never afford to advertise on TV. Now they can.

The numbers
You want unaided brand awareness? 100% (yes, 100%) of viewers can name a show sponsor. That’s unbelievable. 93% can name 2 or more. More importantly, 57% of viewers have purchased products from the sponsors. When you pair specific content with advertisers that are closely aligned to that content, the numbers aren’t surprising but still pretty impressive.

The hosts
Normally, we get pretty people who are trained to be good on TV. Revision 3 chooses to get subject matter experts who are passionate about the content. It’s substance over style. The result is a more genuine host that the viewer trusts.

Social integration
Since it’s delivered through a browser, you can not only set up network preferences, you can also Tweet it, Digg it, Like it, share it, favourite it, download it, email it, comment on it, and check in for special deals. Don’t want to actually watch at No problem, you can tune in via tablet and smart phone apps or just watch on their Youtube channel. They even have Ambassadors who volunteer to help spread the word through their own social networks and face to face events.

Responsible production
Whether they appear on CBC, HBO, Netflix, or Rogers on Demand, there will always be a place for big budget shows like Boardwalk Empire and The Wire. Shows that have a smaller, more passionate viewer base will never be able to compete on production value. But with more importance being placed on the content, they don’t have to. Revision 3 balances both. Nice production. Low cost.

Is this exclusively the future of television? I don’t think so. It’ll augment standard TV and more importantly, it’ll help redefine what we watch, how we watch it and how it all gets paid for. Internet networks will continue to grow as more content is produced for smaller audiences. Many of the features that you see on internet networks will be seamlessly integrated into the shows you already watch.

I’m sure Revision 3 isn’t the last revision to the television model but as of right now, it’s certainly one of the best. To check them out, go to

Comedy is King

Bill Cosby

Image via Wikipedia

Maybe it was growing up with Bill Cosby albums. Perhaps it was a constant need for personal attention. It could have even been a deeper psychological thing that can only be explained by a licensed professional. Whatever it was, I chose part of my career to be in comedy. I have spent parts of the past 13 years in clubs, on campuses, and in front of corporate audiences simply making people laugh.

When standup goes well, it’s like crack – highly addictive and incredibly enjoyable where you’ll do anything to get your next hit. When it doesn’t go well, it’s like… ahem… crack – that deep dark underbelly part of crack where you lose sleep, lose weight, look like shit, and wonder how you could be so stupid to get involved in something so soul-destroying to begin with.

Luckily, the good nights have far outweighed the bad ones.

I enjoy exploring thoughts and simply finding the funny. I love that I can go up on stage with a plan in hand and then completely abandon it because, hey, “I felt like it”. Maybe deep down I even superficially enjoy it because it’s a more interesting response to dreadful cocktail conversation starters like “Soooo, what do you do?” Most of all, though, I think I most like the just-in-time feedback.

You want ROI? Choose comedy. Spend 2 minutes on stage and you immediately know what your return on investment is. Simply put, either they’re laughing or they’re not. There’s no need for an HR-mandated, 360-degree-feedback, quarterly review with your boss answering lame questions like “…and where do you see yourself in 5 years?” (People should just use comedian Mitch Hedberg’s response to that question: “Celebrating the 5th Anniversary of you asking me that question!”).

You don’t need to track Q3 sales data or year over year earnings per share or pre / post brand awareness figures to know whether you’re doing your job or not. If the crowd is responding to your performance with laughter and applause, consider your contract extended. If they’re not, well, you might want to think of the end of your set as a temporary pink slip. And don’t let the mic stand hit you in the ass on the way out.

There are no politics to navigate. No multi-tasking to distract you. No offsite team building exercises where you’re asked to catch a 400-pound office admin in a trust fall. And you’ll never hear a comedian say, “Well, I left the audience a voice mail but they haven’t got back to me yet.”

It’s you. The audience. And your microphone. That’s it.

Over the years I’ve learned that there are thousands of variables that can lead to a successful gig and thousands more that can lead an unsuccessful one. Countless small details can be the difference between a standing ovation and an experience that can only be described as the longest 30 minutes of your life where you question your sanity, your talent, and why God selected you as the one to go down in a ball of flames in front of 100 strangers at a charity golf tournament.

I once got a call that literally went like this:

“Hi, Mr. Tite. I’m looking for a comedian and someone gave me your name. The event is next week and I will need you to roam around interacting as a court jester for about 3 hours. You don’t happen to have your own court jester costume, do you?”

Are you kidding me? A court jester? And he expected me to have my own court jester costume? I wouldn’t improvise as a court jester for 3 hours if I literally was the last comic standing.

Well, that’s what I wanted to say. What I chose to say was,

“It sounds really fun but I’m not really a character comedian and my adult-onset asthma limits my ability to roam for extended periods of time. Perhaps I can give you some names…”

There are comedians I know who would not only be brilliant roaming as a court jester, but they would actually love doing it, too. Thankfully, I’m not one of them.

I guess that’s one of the reasons I could never see myself doing standup comedy full-time, even though I completely respect my friends who choose to do so. The life of a comedian is a tough one. I’ve always loved advertising because it lets me create and perform while still being involved in business and the rest of society. It’s a win-win. So thanks, advertising. You allow me have two passions which is rare.

Say I Do!

Image representing Michael Dell as depicted in...

Image via CrunchBase

The ability to tell compelling and engaging stories is critically important in selling your ideas, your company, your product or even yourself. Most corporate audiences I speak to agree with this notion. And then comes the usual response: “I’m just not a very good storyteller.”

My follow up? “How did you meet your spouse?”

This question immediately brings out everyone’s inner Spalding Gray. Even the shyest of the bunch can instantly deliver a narrative filled with great characters, intrigue, humour, and romance. They’re engaging, they’re emotional, and well, they’re good. They don’t have notes to refer to and they don’t whip out a PowerPoint deck to help them out along the way.

Here’s why:
1.        It’s personal.
2.        They’ve told the story hundreds of times.

Storytelling isn’t about talent. It’s about preparation. To be engaging with prospects, clients or colleagues, you have to tell the story from YOUR perspective. If it doesn’t matter to you, it probably won’t matter to them. Once you have the story, practice it. And then do it again. And again. Over time, you’ll bring it to life and leave people wanting more.

Do you want more? Check back tomorrow when I’ll reveal some more great tips on telling a great corporate story. I’d also like to know what you think are some of the most legendary corporate stories. Dell’s “This company began in Michael Dell’s garage” story is one of mine. Let me know.