How To Make An Ad

August 15, 2008

It’s not uncommon these days for Joe Blow Web 2.0 to need to create an ad for something, in digital or physical media. Most of what they produce is a waste of money and time, and though that’s all too often true of The Professionals as well, pros like my friend at right have a distinct advantage in the form of something called a Creative Brief.

A Creative Brief is a kind of intellectual scaffolding for the magic of great ad creation. It frames the communication challenge in a way that helps talented people come up with a solution. While different agencies have their own take on the particulars, most of the big boys use a minor variant of the below.

Get In The Zone

Start by thinking about your target… not as a “Target Audience,” but as a person. Put them in your head… A real live individual, think about what they look like, and what they’re doing at the time they get your message. Ready?

OK… 5 Steps, to be done in order:

  1. Define the Desired State: What is it, exactly, that you want this person to think, feel, or do as a result of receiving this communication?
  2. Define the Current State: Relative to the Desired State, what does he/she think, feel, or do today, in advance of receiving this communication?
  3. Define the Key Thought: What is the singular, essential idea you believe will move this person from the Current State to the Desired State?
  4. Define the Support Points: What evidence, if any, to you have to prove or evidence the validity of this Key Thought? If more than 3, what are the 3 most impactful?
  5. Begin Creative Process. Once you have all that straight, we can start noodling ideas that will capture your target’s attention enough to deliver the Key Thought.

While there are no guarantees this approach will yield an ad that does what you want it to do, it will at least give you a fighting chance to come with what the late, great David Ogilvy called a “Big Idea.”


Meat in the Machine

August 7, 2008

Don Dodge has a characteristically thoughtful post here asking a bunch of good questions about why there seems to be such a big gap between the promise and the reality of online ad targeting:

Lots of startups and VCs are pinning their hopes on this simple premise. It seems obvious, but there is very little evidence to support it. So what is wrong?

  • Is the ad serving technology not able to take advantage of all this new “attention data” to better target the ads?
  • Are advertisers not willing to pay higher CPM rates for the better targeting?
  • Has ad targeting been tried with all this “attention data” and the results are not much better?
  • Is there just too much ad inventory which is depressing prices?
  • Are we just too early in the game to get good results?

Collectively, kind of.

To be more precise, starting at the top, the ad serving technology has not yet made it sufficiently easy for advertisers and their agencies to better target the ads.

Joe Blow Media Buyer

Sometimes tech folk forget that at the other end of the digital tentacles reaching across the ad-powered web, sooner or later, is a person pulling the levers. Joe Blow media buyer – think pimply-faced state college graduate 2-years out of school making $18K/year and living in Queens – simply can’t keep up with the pace of innovation on the web. They learn a few of the biggest ad targeting systems, which incidentally are the only ones with sufficient scale for them to complete their buys and move on, and crank 90% of their ad budgets through them. Once in a while one of the better ad network sales guys buys them some really good sushi and makes a decent case for some experiment, and voila, that technology gets thrown a $10K “test buy” bone.

If it works as promised – “works” being hard to both define and measure given the current cacophony of competing measurement standards and conflicting data – Joe may up the ante, and pay more for it on a CPM basis than he’d been willing to up to that point. Still, the equation he solves in his head:

  1. What is the probability that doing this will make me a hero with my boss and/or client?
  2. What is the probability that said boss and/or client is going to smack me for wasting time on this $35K diversion instead of doing everything I can to “optimize” the $500,000.00 buy we already have in process on Yahoo?
  3. Is the potential upside of 1. materially greater than the potential downside of 2.?

Goop in the Tranny

My point is simple: The reason all these Ferrari-esque ad targeting engines aren’t driving the wheels as fast as it seems they should is that there are a bunch of messy, imperfect, easily bored and overworked human beings gumming up the transmission.

The pace of progress in the ad targeting business will NOT be constrained by the capabilities of the technology to deliver improvements. The bottleneck is elsewhere… namely in Joe Blow’s ability to identify, grasp, and fully leverage the capabilities of that technology. That’s the lag, Don, at least IMHO.

Good News on the Horizon

So where are we in that process? Don refers to a pretty comprehensive post on the subject by CNET’s Stefanie Olsen, where she opines:

The first wave of Internet investing dealt with commercializing the Web, helping companies like and eBay get on their way. The second wave has been about helping people socialize and connect through sites like Flickr, YouTube, and Facebook. The third, venture capitalists say, will be about making sense of all the data people create around the Web, and then searching for patterns in the data to improve the delivery of personalized content, search results, or advertising.

Amen. I think we’re getting there, glad some smart folks on the VC side seem to agree.

What the frak is Social Media?

July 2, 2008

Great slideshow here, from the lovely, talented and rarely-limited-by-underconfidence Marta Kagen.

Entrant in the “World’s Best Presentation” contest on Slide, please vote for it if you’re so inclined.

Sponsoring Content, Context Are Not the Same

July 2, 2008

My monthly column, now up on ADOTAS

Sometimes you experience a new product online, and the penny drops on a whole new understanding of how media is changing. I recently had just such an experience, and you should have it too.

The product is called “Feedly,” and it’s available right here for that shiny new Firefox 3 browser you just downloaded.

Feedly rather humbly bills itself as an “attempt … to create a more social and magazine-like start page.” It’s a browser plug-in that delivers the Web 2.0 version of what we used to call a “portal” back in the day, the home page that kicks off your journey through cyberspace each time you start your browser. There are more than a few of these things out in the world already, most of which leverage Real Simple Syndication (RSS) technology to compile content from disparate sources on the Web into a single interface. There are great introductions to RSS already, so I’ll skip that to focus on what it all means for the advertising business.

What it means, gentle reader, is that the space where the vast majority of promotional spending is nestled cozily right now is starting to disappear like arctic coastline. Don’t see it? Skeptical? Let me explain… MORE

Why Google Sucks

May 27, 2008

I still remember the first time I used Google.Dyson

It was in early 1998, and I was sitting in my office at Ogilvy & Mather in New York. I hit the page, expecting something Yahoo!-ish, and sat there staring at a word and a box on a white page for maybe five seconds, marveling at the boldness of it. This was not white space for design’s sake. Oh no. This was a statement of confidence.

“You want the stuff? Yea, we got the stuff. Take your best shot, boy.”

I typed in “Sinatra,” and there, painted before me within milliseconds, was a list of sites related the Chairman of the Board. Even more amazing, the best ones seemed to be towards the top. I clicked around, suppressed a yelp, then returned almost in disbelief. I tried “Star Trek,” then “Ogilvy,” and finally “Troiano,” each time uncovering the fruitful bounty of the Web, each time amazed – literally, amazed – by a technology that seemed able to look inside my head, inside my soul, almost, and give me what I wanted.

The memory is still vivid for me, as is a certain nostalgia for the early days of the net, when we were all just tooling around on our Netscape browsers and Panix e-mail addresses, trying to figure it all out and explain what we’d learned to the dinosaurs who still cared about TV.

All of which is why it pains me to face the truth of 2008, which is that Google sucks. And I’m not talking about the company, or the business here. To be honest I think the accusations of evil-doing at The Goog are 1 part factual and 4 parts envy, and as for Google’s actual business, well, to quote a great film of an even earlier age, “We’re not worthy.”

No, I’m talking about About Search. About the very foundation of what is expected to be a $10 Billion industry next year, about what may be the most powerful franchise on the planet.

Why doth Google suck? Let me count the ways…(cont’d)

“Thought I otta share my naked feelings…”

April 27, 2008

Dropped the kids off with their Mom in Lee, MA, earlier today, and was feeling kind of mellow for theFinal Cut two-hour ride home.

I started with some Joni Mitchell, who I came to appreciate later in life after that scene with Emma Thompson in Love, Actually, featuring a miraculously fresh and poetic version of “Both Sides Now.” After a few more songs it was onto Jeff Buckley, who I first heard about on, of all places, American Idol. “<Jeff Buckley’s version of Hallelujah> is one of my favorites,” said Randy Jackson, sending the brilliant album on which it appears to number 1 on iTunes for a few days.

Warmed up for something heavy and emotional, I dialed over to Pink Floyd’s “The Final Cut,” an album (yes, I first bought it on vinyl) I remembered fondly from my youth. “Cut” holds up as a modern masterpiece, IMHO. It’s a rock album about a son struggling with the death of his Father in a foreign war, and I found it even more poignant today than it was when I was 16. Do yourself a favor, buy and listen to this album when you have the time to really listen to it. It includes the tale of a soldiers death from the perspective of his son, describes thoughts running through the mind of an airman shot out from the under bubble of a B-29 as he floats toward the earth, and climaxes with The Final Cut, a disturbingly intimate reflection on depression and suicide.

They don’t make ’em like that anymore. So what’s the point of all this?

It struck me that what made these artists special was their willingness to share their innermost feelings with the rest of us. What’s made their work into enduring art is the respect the rest of us have for how difficult this is, what an extraordinary act of faith it is to expose yourself to the extent necessary to establish a real connection with another human being.

They say web 2.0 has democratized media, made all of us artists in a away that was never possible before. It’s not any easier to tell the truth about what you feel, though. Do you? Do you know of someone who does?

Sometimes “Irrational” is just “Emotional”

April 23, 2008

“Predictably Irrational,” a book by M.I.T. Economist and Federal Reserve researcher Dan Ariely, has been the talk of the geekerati in recent weeks. The book, in its seventh week on The New York Times best seller list, has been the subject of commentary in professional media from the Financial Times to NPR, and is now a hot topic among the online elite.

From the book’s Web site:

Do you know why we so often promise ourselves to diet and exercise, only to have the thought vanish when the dessert cart rolls by?

Do you know why we sometimes find ourselves excitedly buying things we don’t really need?

Do you know why we still have a headache after taking a five-cent aspirin, but why that same headache vanishes when the aspirin costs 50 cents?…

By the end of this book, you’ll know the answers to these and many other questions that have implications for your personal life, for your business life, and for the way you look at the world.”

The book is well written and insightful, but reading it I couldn’t help but think over and over again that it was really a book about branding written by a mathematician who – working deep below the earth in an undisclosed location insulated from brands of any kind – had somehow uncovered the existence of brands through an elaborate mathematical proof.

If you replaced every instance of the word “irrational” in this book with the word “emotional,” it would loses 80% of the revelatory irony that forms its spine, to the point of making observation after observation which would seem plainly obvious to your average small agency Account Coordinator.

“People love free, even when they’re not getting much!” Thanks, Bernbach. Duh.

The question worth pondering here, at least from a marketing perspective, is why even really smart people still don’t get the brand thing. Why is it so hard to grok the concept of assigning emotional value to something, beyond whatever rational utility one derives from it? And is doing so really “irrational,” or is it just a function of the fact that, for better or worse, we are all emotional beings?