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Advertising for Peanuts

A consumer's guide to advertising, media and organic produce.

Updated: 2016-10-27T20:10:37.549-07:00


The Advertising For Peanuts Archives


Hi there. Welcome to the Advertising for Peanuts Archives.

In case you aren't familiar with the legendary advertising blog of the Oughts, here's a little back-story. I started AFP in in 2005. I was a hungry Chicago copywriter at the time and started posting the very best ads from around the world wide web, along with my own brief, astute and often hilarious commentary. Advertising for Peanuts quickly became a darling of the ad blogosphere and grew to have a modest following, with a few thousand people stopping by daily for their quick ad fix.

In these archives you will find over four years of advertising history and 850 bits of ad candy and wisdom. This blog got me fired from my first job and, hired at my second job and was a twisted labor of love for many years.

At the end of 2007 I took a job at Crispin Porter + Bogusky and no longer had time to feed the ad world's insatiable appetite alone, so I enlisted the help of some friends and industry pros to help offer daily meditations on the biz through 2008.

If you are an ad student, seasoned pro, or just been watching a lot of Mad Men lately, I think you'll find something of value in these pages. So dig around and enjoy. Thanks.

If you'd like to check out my work or contact me go here -

Thanks to all


My hat is permanently off to Littlejohn for, among other things, having created and evolved this blog over the last few years. That’s a long life for any blog. And to have kept it vital the entire time is no mean feat.

As Littlejohn knows all too well, I am not a fan of the blahgosphere. I think that, while it does serve our collective need to communicate, it also serves to encourage a culture of self-importance and self-indulgence, it enables (in the negative sense) tons of unhealthy and wasteful behavior by people and businesses who would be better served getting a life or tending to their businesses. And it feeds the tendency to self-delusion that plagues thousands of would-be-if-they-could-be “writers”, “thought leaders”, “pundits” and so forth.

That being said, this blog has been a great experience for me. In particular, I’ve really enjoyed reading the posts of the other members of the peanut gallery, who have served up much to chew on. And it is thrilling to have gotten responses to some of my/our posts. For a person who has worked in the dark anonymity of advertising for almost 30 years, where we send out messages and never hear back from anybody, it is very gratifying and encouraging to read the thoughtful, funny and challenging things that many people have had to say in responding to my/our blatherings.

So I want to join Littlejohn and my fellow peanut gallery denizens in thanking every one of you who have consumed Advertisingforpeanuts.

Keep an eye on Littlejohn. You’ve not heard the last of that guy.

Next to lastly, in keeping with my decades-long tradition of exploiting every last opportunity to promote myself, let me offer two suggestions:

1) If any of you bloggers out there can find a way to make use of the random cantankerations (cantankerizations? cantankerosities?) of a grizzled ad guy, by all means let me know. I know just the guy, and he’s always looking for an outlet. (Is it slightly hypocritical to eviscerate the blahgosphere with one breath and pander to its population with the next?)

2) As a freelance copywriter, I am forever searching for new clients. I just can’t get enough of new learning curves and thorny communication problems. If you are, or you know anyone who is, in need of some powerful big thinking, or intended-for-human-consumption writing, whether you’re at an ad agency, design firm or a business of some sort, I encourage you to make contact. Keep in touch. Don’t be a stranger. Let’s have a conversation. You know where you can find me. Or, if you don’t, here’s where:

Finally, I’d like to leave you with this simple reminder regarding advertising. In the words of Chairman Jimmy, “Advertising, like a good brassiere, is designed to lift and separate.”

The Death of an Advertising Blog


(BOULDER, Co) - Advertising For Peanuts, the daily blog known to all its readers as the Consumer's Guide to Advertising, Media and Organic Produce, has died at the age of 3 (which, in blog years, was a good long life). Its final post was number 858. Its visitors total 1,211,743.

Advertising For Peanuts was born September 9th, 2005, in Chicago, Illinois. In its infancy AFP showcased daily the freshest and most innovative advertising found on the world wide web, accompanied by quippy comments via blog editor and creator Littlejohn (ad copywriter).

Above all, AFP always sought to highlight the good in each piece of creative, the part that makes the brain tingle. Some days AFP even offered a nugget of ad insight of its own. AFP never slammed, trashed or poo-pooed, and it always cited its sources. At its core, quiet simply, it was a place for ad nerds around the world to get their morning fix.

On November 11, 2007 Advertising for Peanuts found a new staff of esteemed writers and a grown up format: 7 columns, 7 writers, 7 days of the week. Each writer offered a unique perspective on the ad game, giving AFP a new depth, range and a varied voice. (It should be noted that, unlike Advertising For Peanuts, all of its writers are living and in good health. And perhaps, even interested in writing for your non-deceased blog. See their info to the right.)

You could say, in the end, that Advertising For Peanuts simply lost the will to live. But, while the blog itself might be dead, its content lives on forever, pingable and searchable by Google robots, in that great big archive in the cloud. So future generation can stumble upon the ideas and words written in these pages, only to realize this site actually has nothing at all to do with organic produce. Just another faulty search result in the ad blog blip of time.

Thanks to all of you, our loyal readers.
Feel free to pay your respects in the comments.

Advertising: the cottage (cheese) industry


In these troubled times, here’s a reassuring thought. Advertising may languish at times like these, but it will never die. Because, like so many other disciplines, the effectiveness of which is wide open to interpretation, advertising is too squishy to be pinned down—like cottage cheese. You can’t dismiss a discipline in its entirety, once and for all, if you can’t come up with irrefutable evidence of its worthlessness. Some advertising seems to work sometimes. And that is enough of a carrot to keep businesses coming back for more.

Disciplines that vanish are those that can be definitively disproven and discredited. Alchemy. Phrenology. That kind of stuff. But advertising, bless its heart, will always be able to make a plausible (but never airtight) case for its effectiveness.

The influencing of human behavior in a gross and macro manner can’t generally be tested and proven successful or unsuccessful. You can look at the numbers and find evidence of the effect of advertising, maybe, but other variables invariably muddy the waters. Not the least of which is the psychological/emotional variable that inclines both agency and client to interpret numbers sympathetically and optimistically, because they need to justify the time, money and effort invested in it.

Of course, direct marketing zealots will be quick to point out that their brand of advertising is absolutely measurable, and I concede that point to them. But that subdivision of the advertising community, it seems, will forever be just that—a subdivision—because, among other reasons, that form of advertising doesn’t seem to lend itself to softer emotional brand image/brand voice advertising that contributes, presumably, to the long term health of the brand. So far, no one has cracked the code on making an ad funny or touching or provocative while at the same time screaming “but wait, that’s not all!” and pounding away at the 800 number or URL.

What about all this online/interactive stuff that is being heralded by many as the future of advertising?

All this alternative/guerrilla/webby stuff suffers from many of the same limitations that traditional advertising does. The metrics that are used are mostly indirect—click through rates and other such dubious measures. But whether the website or the interactive game or whatever is actually enhances the brand or is responsible for an increase in sales is mushy stuff. Like cottage cheese, it’s slippery and squishy and it conforms to the container in which it is held.

I celebrate the cottage cheesiness of advertising because, as long as advertising appears to work, or, at least, doesn’t clearly not work, advertisers will advertise (though maybe not in the coming year, given the gloomy forecasts). And you and I will continue getting away with doing what we do.

A penny for your parallel thoughts


There is a kind of silly movie that came out in September called Eagle Eye. This movie relies heavily on the following device: the protagonist spends much of the movie being directed, via one electronic medium or another, to do this or that by a terrorist cell that has somehow secured control of every electronic network (ATMs, the electricity grid), including networked communication devices like news tickers and other electronic signs used to communicate.

So our hero glances at a news ticker on a building or some such thing, and is instructed to jump off a building or stop a train or whatever, in order to forward the terrorist plot.

The reason this idea of being able to instantly communicate with a single individual out in the world, using whatever medium is in his proximity at any given moment, interests me is that I’ve seen this idea executed by three different parties within the past month.

Here in the Chicago area, the Harris Bank has an ad campaign based on the idea of helpfulness, and has just started running a new set of spots that employs, basically, this same device. In one vignette, a guy bumps into a woman on the street who greets him by name, but he can’t recall her name. At that moment a bus passes by with a poster reading “Her name is Jane” or something to that effect. He reads the sign and greets her by name, thus being saved from an embarrassing moment. Each spot contains three or four of these helpful vignettes, always with signs of some kind providing a critical piece of information in the nick of time.

This month I also spotted a commercial from some other advertiser, the identity of which escapes me, that employs another facsimile of this same device.

Now, for all I know, this idea has been employed in the past by other advertisers. There are, after all, few new ideas. But it’s interesting that all three manifestations of the same device have occurred at virtually the same time.

The fact that all three popped up at the same time tells me that none of these three ripped the idea off from one of the others. This is not an example of bandwagon-jumping. It is, instead, just the most recent example of parallel thought, a phenomenon that most anyone who’s been in this business for any length of time, has experienced.

Being the victim of parallel thought can be very exasperating. How often have you presented an idea to your CD or a client, just to have essentially that same idea show up on TV or the web or whatever, sending you back to the drawing board?

What I’d like to know, but so far have no clue about, is exactly how this happens. Is it, in fact, pure co-incidence, because there are so many ideas being released into our culture at any given time that, inevitably, every now and then, two or three iterations of the same idea are bound to surface more or less simultaneously? What are the odds? I’d really like to know.

Or is there some other process at work, where by the probability of the occurrence of certain kinds of ideas is increased according to the nature and flow of our collective cultural conversation? Or is there some other organizing principal at work?

I have to think that some of you out there have given this phenomenon some thought. Any theories?

Sadly, not beckoned


I feel compelled to react to Littlejohn’s most recent post, in which he points a big arrow to Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s latest project to make a film comprised of “lovely things” submitted by everyone so inclined.

I checked out the short film chronicling the event that inspired or kicked off this larger film project. At first, it did my hippie heart good, watching this charming story of an event that she caused last August in Millennium Park in Chicago.

But that hippie heart of mine has always been sort of half-hearted. I just can’t reconcile it with the darker part of me that finds emptiness, folly and/or hubris in most human undertakings. That part of me promptly filed Ms. Rosenthal’s project in the same bin where I store so many silly sentiments that pop up in our culture. Make love, not war. Music can change the world. Stuff like that.

It is refreshing, I suppose, and surprising, to come across such an innocent and optimistic enterprise. But, as a citizen of the ugly real world, I find my self backing away from the sentiment.

Maybe it’s a guy thing. Maybe I am terminally cynical. Maybe I’m old. Maybe it’s because, as I now realize, “lovely” isn’t in my vocabulary.

Whatever the reason, I just can’t bring myself to join this lovelyfest. My loss, no doubt.

I wish the project and its originator well, but I must recuse myself.

The Beckoning of Lovely.


(image) In advertising, we get to make a lot of stuff: videos, posters, websites, widgets, booklets, characters, sometimes even new inventions. Making stuff is my favorite part of advertising. I think it's most people's favorite part. But it's rare that we ever get to make something that one would describe as lovely. Clever, funny, smart, fresh, innovative, these are the words that most often describe what we do. And sure, advertising has its lovely moments (Cog, Balls, Halo). But when was that last time you made something truly Lovely?

Amy Krouse Rosenthal is an Author, former "Ad Girl" and a skilled maker of stuff (you can see 17 things she made here.) Her latest project is a film called The Beckoning of Lovely. And she wants to use all the lovely things you've made to make it. Music, short films and videos, art, stories, lists, monologues, poems, sand castles, whatever it is you're making, if it's lovely, she wants it.

So, ad friends, this your chance to make something lovely, anything, and then, like we do in the ad biz, share it with the world. But this time you'll be making and sharing something, for the sake of sharing. A lovely thought indeed.

Watch how the Beckoning of Lovely project got started here.

And when you're ready to submit your lovely thing, go to

I’m Joe Blow and I approve this message.


Now that this silly waste of time has become well-established in political advertising, let’s take a moment to examine it.

I guess its original intent was to help viewers distinguish between an official commercial from the candidate and a commercial from some group supporting that candidate, but not sanctioned or financed by him. Some of these wacky groups can get even more irresponsible in their messages than the candidates themselves, so this “claimer” has now become mandatory in order to be clear just where the misleading advertising is coming from.

If politics were a “for-profit” endeavor, I assure you that they would have found a simpler, more efficient way to accomplish this task, rather than burning three-to-five precious seconds of a 30-second spot. For example, a simple seal of approval of some sort could appear in the corner, taking up no time.

But, for now, those who make these commercials are stuck with this stupid declaration.


I was asked to work on a political spot last spring. I’d like to think I was the first person it occurred to, to embrace this mandatory, rather than just having the candidate say it as quickly as possible. But I probably wasn’t. But I’m laying claim to the idea anyway, until someone else disowns me of the honor.

I figured, if the candidate has to speak the words, why not give the words more weight, more reason for being there. Make USE of the statement rather than treating it like evil legal copy (even though that’s what it is.)

I thought it might be nice to hear from the candidate WHY he approved the message. And maybe in the process, underscore his message, thus wringing a little bit of value out of it.

Otherwise, cynical viewers might tend to assume the worst. I know, when watching one of these spots, I often would complete the thought, in my own head, with something like this:

“My name is Joe Blow and I approve this message because I think that it has a good chance of pushing some emotional button with lots of you bozos out there, even if I know perfectly well that it’s misleading, exaggerated or an outright lie.”

So I wrote a script in which the candidate simply asserts, “I approve this message because it’s true.” I thought it would be refreshing to hear the candidate make such a bold claim.

“Hey Marge, did you hear that? This guy is claiming that what he’s saying in his commercial is TRUE! Can he say that? Is that allowed?”

This spot was produced and ran early last spring, prior to a local primary election. I hadn’t heard anyone else ever modify the mandatory in this way up to that point.

Of course, six months later, most of the spots I’m seeing have the candidate expand on the thought, but, invariably, the reason they give for approving the spot doesn’t make sense. All they are doing is using this slot to re-iterate some political blah blah that they “stand for” i.e. “My name is Joe Blow and I approve this message because it’s time to move the country forward.”

That doesn’t really qualify as a reason why he approved the message. In fact,it makes no sense.

I’m just not sure if it doesn’t make sense because the candidate thinks the voting public is too stupid to realize that it makes no sense, or whether the candidate is, himself, too stupid to realize this. I lean toward the latter.

hidden desires


I only have time for a quick post today to point you to a fascinating documentary (The Century of the Self) about Freud's theories and their influence on politics, marketing, advertising, and how we as people consume products.   I'm embedding part 2 of 4 (all available free on Google Video), but this segment talks about the beginning of focus groups and the influence psychoanalysis has had on marketing.  

I'm planning to post more, but my quick take is that Freud's theories show how easily we can be manipulated and the power of persuasion, but they don't suggest that we are merely driven by irrational, subconscious forces (as he thought).  Although we do need to be more aware of why we do what we do (as consumers), and companies should be more honorable in how they *attempt* to manipulate, I don't think we are merely ruled by subconscious forces.  I think we can, through practice, become more aware of our (so called) hidden desires.  


Beg High The Roof Beam


In advertising, it’s important to have a grasp of how and why language is used, so that we can use it appropriately and effectively with whichever audience we are having a conversation. To that end, it’s important to monitor the ever changing meanings of various words and phrases. Here’s an example I’ve noticed lately that may prove instructive.

More and more often we are hearing people use the phrase, “begs the question.”
The rise of the use of this phrase coincides with the frequency with which it is “misused.” To beg the question means, or used to mean, “to assume that which your argument is trying to prove.” This phrase has been commonly used in philosophical discourse and other contexts of scholarly argument.

Today “beg the question” has come to mean, “raise the question.”

Why? What is gained by replacing the phrase, ”raises the question” with the phrase “begs the question”? They denote precisely the same thing. Nothing is gained, in terms of communication effectiveness, by saying “begs the question” rather than “raises the question.”

Yet, more and more, this substitution is being made, led largely by the news media. This development, and countless other similar developments in our constantly changing language, are almost universally mourned, if not reviled, by the self-appointed defenders of the English language, who I call “language zealots.”

This raises the question, “Why?”

The meanings of words and phrases are regularly modified by people using them to mean other than what they had previously meant, even if it doesn’t seem to add to our ability to communicate, and often, in fact, diminishes that ability. Often this change is motivated, ironically, by a person’s desire to sound smart or sophisticated or learned or whatever. I think that is motivation provides a partial explanation for why “raise the question” is becoming “beg the question.”

What I think the zealots are missing is that, at least as regards modern American English, there is another, more fundamental and universal need or motivation. Many American English speakers have need or desire for novelty. We have a strong tendency to evolve, modify, distort, vary bits of language, simply for the sake of novelty.
Why there exists this irrepressible need for novelty, at least in our culture, is a question for someone else to answer. My guess is that there is some kind of cultural ADD behind it. Whatever the reason, judging by the manner and rate at which English evolves, the need is clearly there.

Is this need less “important” than the need for clarity, stability, richness in language? I would say the people have spoken and the answer is no.

BegRecognizing and understanding this need for novelty in language is a useful insight because it provides us with one more lever, one more way to please, entertain, engage our audience. If we use this tool intentionally, rather than unconsciously, we can use it more effectively.

superb insight


(object) (embed)
I found this ad for to be spot-on regarding the people they are targeting.
They are targeting people that spend a lot of time on the Internet, but are likely a bit self
conscious about that fact. They like the Ineternet, but cherish face-to-face connections
with people.

And, the humor of updating multiple social networks so that friends know our status at all
time juxtaposed with the simplicity of face-to-face conversation is powerful.

This positions well as the company that uses the Internet to help people get off
the Internet.

Don’t give thanks.


How often have we seen commercials, usually from local or regional businesses, which consist, at least in part, in showing real customers, or pretend real customers, coming right out and thanking the advertiser?

The most visible campaign of this sort, at least in my neck of the woods, is the endless campaign by Buy Owner. Every spot is riddled with happy folks chirping “Thanks, Buy Owner” for their good fortune in saving that real estate broker’s commission.

So what, exactly, is wrong with an advertiser doing ads consisting of customers thanking them? After all, there is an entire, rich tradition of using customer testimonials in which people praise the advertiser, presumably in their own words. This sort of advertising, while looked down on by those ad denizens who patrol advertising’s outer reaches, can be very effective, and can be artfully executed, telling engaging human stories and revealing glimpses of genuine human emotion.

I don’t find testimonials, per se, repugnant. I do find “Thank you, me” ads repugnant. What’s the difference?

I think it has to do, at least partially, with how easy and empty the latter is. A good testimonial requires some effort in finding a real person who has a real story, a story of some interest, and getting that person to relate that story, wrapped in some credible genuineness. And we LEARN something from the story, hopefully something positive about the advertiser, and perhaps about the customer as well.

“Thanks, Buy Owner” and the like involve no effort, give us no glimpse into who the person is who is parroting this empty sentiment. “Thank you”, after all, is something that any satisfied customer could presumably say to any company whose product or service he purchased. It doesn’t tell us anything more than that the company has some happy customers. This fact applies to every business that remains in business. So it isn’t interesting. It tells us nothing.

Even if the “thank you” is preceded by a story that does reveal something good or interesting about the advertiser, punctuating the story with the most obvious, heavy-handed, self-congratulatory words possible tells us that this company and/or its ad agency are devoid of any shred of understanding about their customers, about how to speak to them respectfully, about how to catch people’s interest, engage them or motivate them.

It is as transparently shameless as advertising gets.

Other than that, it’s a fine approach.

Thanks, Advertising For Peanuts reader.

ads ARE NOT the new online tip jar


Recently I read this post from Seth Godin and, unlike usual, I disagreed. Here's the crux of his argument,
If every time you read a blog post or bit of online content you enjoyed you clicked on an ad to say thanks, the economics of the web would change immediately. You don't have to buy anything (though it's fine if you do). You just have to honor the writer by giving them a click.
It's not often that I disagree with Seth and I'm hesitant to do so because his insight has inspired me and helped me develop my own thoughts on marketing and advertising, but alas I must.

To me the suggestion that banner ads are the new online tip jar only reinforces the fact that online advertising (and perhaps all of advertising) is very broken and in need of innovation. And, by treating ads as online tip jars, we are complying with the broken model, costing advertisers money, which in turn will theoretically drive up the cost of their product. Not good.

Instead, we should do two things:
  1. Create more innovative advertising solutions, perhaps like the one Avenue A and Pluck recently unveiled, called Adlife. Adlife allows people to comment within the ad on the ad itself or the product as well as rate the ad and product and upload pictures or videos.
  2. Create an actual online tip jar that is as easy as clicking on an ad, and allows people to show their support for the content they read for free.

Olympic Advertising: Who Won?


The 2008 summer Olympics Games are almost over. It was among the most watched - if not the most watched - in the history of the games.

So who won?

I liked some of the United spots. But what were your favorites?

Please nominate the gold, silver, and bronze ad winners in the comments below and tell us why you liked the spots too.

After all, the champions of advertising should be recognized too! Right?



I hereby proclaim a permanent ban on names that start with Ameri-.

AmeriTrade, AmeriPrise., AmeriShred, Amerigroup, AmeriFab, AmeriLine, AmeriSource, AmeriSeal, Ameritech, AmeriTec, AmeriCure, AmeriKing, AmeriCart, AmeriCrew, AmeriLog, AmeriCrew, AmeriTel, AmeriKiwi (?), AmeriLoo, AmeriClay, AmeriGas, and on and on.

First of all, since there are what, hundreds, or thousands of names sharing this same empty prefix, they’re all guilty of no imagination. Since the prefix is ubiquitous, it is also meaningless and powerless.

And considering that Ameri- can attach itself to any word starting with a consonanant, how clever is it.

There is simply no reason to resort to this cheap pander. Do the people responsible for choosing the name at these companies really believe that they are conveying anything useful by having the name start with Ameri-? Would anyone choose your brand over a competitors because it has part of the word “American” in it?

Does “Ameri-“ signal that your company is exceptionally patriotic? Or that it’s not a local, regional, or, for that matter, global company, but operates strictly within the boundaries of the United States. What about the rest of North America? Or South America, for that matter?

If you’re hoping to be listed first in any alphabetically determined contexts, I recommend AAAATrade, AAAAPrise, etc., rather than Ameri-.

The only justification I will accept for using this prefix in a brand name is if there’s something clever about it. For example, a company that sold sexual devices might call itselfAmeri-Tal Aids, or a company that made amusement park rides could choose Ameri-Go Rounds. Or for that matter, a company that made cans could . . . well, you get the idea.

But really, there’s just no good reason to slap Ameri- in front of the name of the category of product or service you provide and declare it a name. And many, many reasons not to.

So stop it.

Is wordsmithing passé in this experiential age?


I have accepted that proofreading has been devalued almost out of existence. I mourn its passing, but clearly spelling, grammar and punctuation are not the details that our culture, and this industry, choose to fret over any more. As long as its close enough that you get the idea, that’s sufficient.

But what about that careful crafting of language that we used to call “wordsmithing”?

As everything continues to accelerate, one of the tradeoffs we seem to be making in the pursuit of immediacy, freshness and so forth, is the thoughtful, well-considered construction of our communications. The idea itself, however germinally or sloppily expressed, has become more important than the most powerful or evocative articulation of the idea. When we have an idea, the task is now to express the idea as quickly as we can, in the first passably acceptable way that we can find. We settle for coherence, seldom holding out for finesse, nuance, dare I say, perfection.

Example: Those of you who call yourselves copywriters out there, when you write a headline, a banner ad, or some other one line articulation of your client’s message, once you come up with the idea, how much time do you spend on getting the exact articulation of your thought just right? Days? Hours? Minutes? Do you force yourself to write down two hundred, or even two dozen, variations in the quest to find the most compelling set of words? Or do you go with the first one that seems pretty good?

I know I’m guilty of caving into the pressures of time that have contributed to the erosion of wordsmithing. Where I once would have spent a full day sweating over a short paragraph of copy, I now spend, at most, half that amount of time. I’d like to think it’s because I’ve gotten better at my craft and work more efficiently these days. But, while that may be true, it’s just as true that I simply don’t work as hard, or as long, at the wordsmithing thing as I once did. No value is placed on my doing so, except by me, and I’m easily talked out of bothering, because I am a slug.

The ubiquity of email, text messaging and blogs has contributed mightily to this decline. It’s all about getting it down and getting it off to the recipient, rather than getting it just right.

Here’s another factor I’ve identified that I think is contributing to the waning of wordsmithing. As clients and agencies demand ideas of an interactive/engaging/experiential nature, the pressure is to come up with “experiential hooks”, which don’t demand such carefully crafted articulation. The heat is off, wordsmithing-wise. It is less the job of the words themselves to engage, involve, grab attention, and more the job of the experiential device.

This is an inevitable consequence of advertising’s shift to the interactive world of the web, and away from the more passive media—TV, radio, print.

For those of us who are better at words than experientials, it is a worrisome shift.

the most inneffective ads that work


It is interesting that the most ineffective ads (search links) are coveted for being so effective. But imagine if someone just asked for a car ad and then a car ad appeared; that car ad would be very effective. So really search ads probably aren't all that effective outside of the intent people infuse into the process while searching on google, yahoo, etc.

So what's the lesson we can learn from search?
  • align with people's intentions
  • don't interrupt what people want
  • give people the ability to explore
  • surrender control
  • don't horde people's time; instead push them toward their interests
  • simplicity often works (a simple text link)
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that search ads are effective. I'm saying that we misinterpret their effectiveness. The intent people bring to the search process is what makes search ads effective.

Keeping commitments in the ad business


It’s now 10:15. After more than a month away from Advertising for Peanuts due to a variety of reasons, I had made a commitment to myself to write a post for tonight.

But I am still at my computer working on another project. Something that has to get done. It’s on a deadline. And it helps pay my bills.

My day started wide open. More than enough time to do both.

But then I had to put out a few fires.

And then a few more.

I also had a few meetings.

And, of course, a few calls to return.

Not to mention a few emails.

And now in the evening, I can finally get to the first scheduled task of the day, the project I mentioned earlier.

But now I also have a conflict because, as I said, I made a personal commitment to come up with a column for tonight.

I am not writing this to complain.

I am writing this as a set up to two questions: How often does this happen to you—i.e., how often do portions of your day job get pushed to the night—and what do you do about it, especially when you have another commitment?

Please let me know. Advertising is an industry that puts huge time demands on us, demands that can often interfere with outside commitments. So how do you keep those outside commitments and keep your clients? Thoughts? Please, let’s get the discussion going. Just click on comments below to start.

Another disingenuous dancing alert


In the spirit of summer reruns, I’d like to reprise one of my pet peeves for a moment. Among all the contrived, non-credible behaviors we see portrayed in advertising, I find the “breaking out into dance because I’m so pleased with such and such a product” thing to be among the most reprehensible.

Because dancing can be so wonderfully expressive and joyful when it’s genuine, it’s that much more repugnant when the dancing is false.

There is a lot of behavior in advertising that would never take place in real life. This if fine, as long as the ad makes it clear that the advertiser is taking license—that there is a clear, mutual understanding that they aren’t pretending to replicate real life.

It is the advertising that attempts to represent some semblence of real life behavior that usually fails miserably. Generally, what we experience is simply the advertiser’s wishful thinking about how reality goes. “If only people, upon discovering my wonderful product, would really beam, or eagerly tell others, or be inspired to break out into a celebratory dance. Maybe if I portray this scenario in my advertising, it will somehow make it so in reality . . .”

What compels me to return to this topic again and again is that it keeps happening. We, the creative community, seem incapable of learning this lesson.

I am hearby issuing citations to three advertisers and their ad agencies for recent crimes against dancing credibility:



(Though this, I concede, is a grey area, because sometimes the wiggly dancing represents the fun nature of the product, but in recent executions, the dancing seems to cross the line into characterizing the reactions of presumably real people)

Yo Plus

During the decade or so of diatribes against disingenuous dancing that I’ve produced, I must have cited at least a score of examples, starting, if I recall, with the notorious Senekot commercials in which old people who’ve returned to regularity dance with joy to a wincingly diluted arrangement of the James Brown tune “I Feel Good.”

There has been no letup recently. In fact, if anything, the frequency with which creatively bankrupt advertisers and their agencies have been resorting to this desperate, empty device, has been increasing.

Please, I implore you, whoever you are, desist with the disingenuous dancing.

advertising as content (revisited)


Back in March I wrote about the possibility for banner ads to carry content (i.e. The Office episodes), not ads. Back then I had this to say:
Picture this scenario: you are browsing yahoo news and you notice an ad that says something like, "Did you miss the last episode of The Office? Click here to watch it". You click on the ad and a player pops out and starts playing the episode of The Office that you missed. You can either watch the entire episode in full screen or leave it on in the background as you continue to browse the web.

This seems like a winning scenario. It's useful to consumers, the Studios get folks watching their programming and they make money off of every view, and advertisers make it all happen by running a few ads during the content.
I then stated that Hulu was closest to making this a reality with their "embed" functionality, where people can take an episode of a show, a movie, or a clip and embed it on their blog, website, etc, which allows the content AND the advertising to go beyond a static website.

Well, it now appears that Google is also attempting to make this scenario a reality. In a recent press release Google announced that they will be partnering with Seth MacFarlane to distribute his newest creation, Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy. The way they will do this is what is most interesting as they will be distributing the content across the Internet using Google's Ad Sense Network. So instead of needing to visit a website to view the content, the shows can be viewed from some of the most popular blogs around the Internet in the same place as where the ads are usually displayed.

This is interesting to me and raises a few questions:
  1. Will people pay attention to this new form of advertising / content distribution?
  2. Do people want to watch shows or clips as they visit / read their favorite blogs?
  3. Will they allow themselves to be interrupted?
  4. Will this cause more people to pay attention to the ad space on websites, rather than ignore it?
  5. Will the episodes carry ads with them or be advertising free?
  6. Will Google allow people to view the episodes in full-screen or embed it on other sites?
I'm sure there are many more questions, but this is a start.

Creativity vs. Co-optivity


This is a larger topic than this post has room to do justice to. The question I raise is not a new question in the arenas of art, popular culture and commerce. When artists, and I’ll use this term broadly enough to include rap/hip hop artists and even “advertising artists”, borrow or pay homage to or include a reference to the content of another piece of art, or include the actual piece of art, as happens very often in music, particularly rap music, and as also happens constantly within advertising, is this creativity? Or is it simply what I term “co-optivity”? Of course, as is maddeningly true of any question of this sort, we immediately sink into a dark grey semantic sinkhole—what do we mean by “borrow”, “creativity” and so forth? And the answer, if there even is one, will wind up somewhere in the middle, and totally case-dependent. Nevertheless, the question bears asking because the simple act of raising the question may help quell the everpresent tendency to cross whatever the line is between borrowing and stealing, between paying homage and plagiarism, and ultimately, between creativity and co-optivity.Let’s consider just two old examples that I can’t seem to shake:Beck has a song called “Devil’s Haircut” from the Odelay CD, which is built on the defining riff of an obscure song by Van Morrison’s formative band, Them. It’s not just built on the riff, however, it is built on a faithful reconstruction of that riff, as it was executed in the Them song, fuzz guitar and all. Beck took a key piece of another artist’s work and created a different song built on this same piece. Never mind the legalities, how much of another artist’s work are you allowed to steal, and how little do you need to change it, and still be able to claim that it is your creation?While he didn’t sample the actual recording, such sampling is a common practice, and while these samples are often used as seasoning for some musical piece, there are those who compose songs around them, which is just taking what Beck and many others have done one step further.Last night I heard a musical piece by a “mashup” artist with the moniker, “Girl Talk”, in which he peppers his composition with several samples of others’ work, each playing a fairly prominent role. I didn’t recognize all of the samples, but his composition begins by leaning heavily on a sample of The Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin’”. So here we have an entire musical genre, or sub genre, that feeds shamelessly off the creativity of others, pretending to share authorship.The textbook example of co-optivity in advertising is when the Budweiser creatives at DDB Chicago lifted the characters and schtick from an independent film and more or less re-created them for the purpose of selling Bud. The “Whassup” campaign was critically acclaimed and showered with accolades. It was as if these creatives had actually thought of the idea or something. Is this what creativity in advertising consists of? The audacity of theft? Advertising seems to be increasingly Simpsonized, where the power of advertisements relies on pop cultural references, which is a practice that already skirts the edge of co-optivity. But when allegedly creative people don’t simply make a reference, but, rather, resort to ripping out entire chunks of someone else’s creation and claim them as their own, how is it creative?I loathe intellectual dishonesty, especially when it’s not me doing it. And I submit that co-optivity is inher[...]

inverse relationship


I have a theory. I'm not sure whether it matters, but I find it a bit funny and potentially true.

Tom's theory:
companies that are hiring ad agencies to help them "innovate", or become more "digital", are companies that are doomed to insignificance and lackluster performance


companies that are hiring ad agencies to help them create advertisements are companies that are innovative, significant and delivering a superior product or service
It is all very counter-intuitive and ironic, but I think it's true.

Collateral Damage


Let’s make a list of things that have been ruined forever by advertising, shall we?

Talking animals;

Countless pieces of great music, from pop to classical, most recently, Daydream Believer;

Talking babies. Granted the Etrade baby is, at times, inspired, nevertheless, the whole talking baby shtick is toast;

Our respect for artists who prostitute their art by allowing it to be bastvertized, starting with Dylan, the Beatles, The Who, the Rolling Stones, Springsteen, and we haven’t even touched on visual artists;

Countless one word punchlines such as:

“What?” (in response to being stared because of having done or said something stupid or outrageous)


Children talking like adults;

Impossibly clueless people who are dumbfounded or rendered speechless by the news of a benefit of some product or service, (see the new National City Bank campaign.);

Many special effects and other manipulations of reality. For example,


abrupt changes back and forth between normal speed to fast motion to slow motion;

Large objects (cars, pianos, wrecking balls, etc.) falling unexpectedly into frame, crushing a person, a car, whatever.

The credibility of many iconic cultural figures, when they become aadvertising pitchmen, i.e. Robert DeNiro. Bob Dylan, Spike Lee, Bill Curtis,

This, surely, only scratches the surface of stuff that advertising has beaten to death, thus severely diminishing or outright ruining the original intended effect, along with stuff like great art, music etc., that simply ought not to be cheapened/diminished/ prostituted for the purpose of selling banking services, soda pop and so forth.

I invite you to add to this list. It’s not only good therapy, but it might turn into a useful list of “don’ts” next time you’re conceptualizing. If we compile a long enough list, it could become a book, in which case we could all split the royalties.

Do something good, jerks!


Most days we sell crap to people who don't need it. Every now and then we do something good for humanity.

These isolated cases we praise in our industry publications and awards shows. We then get back to our day-to-day grind.

I keep hearing that advertising has some of the brightest people in the world working in it. Theoretically we could change the world.

But, we don't.

A friend of mine here in San Francisco (not an advertising guy) just planned a fund raiser based on people bringing pies and paying a few bucks. It's a simple idea, but it's doing something good. Why don't agencies come up with stuff like that more often? We're brilliant supposedly, why don't we put just a small percentage of our minds towards making the world a better place?

Big praise to Droga5 for setting a good example.

less and more


--choice is good, but leads to more, which creates complexity
--simplicity is good, but can limit choice, which is undesirable

i suggest choice and simplicity as the model. the tension between the two is helpful in:
  • creating a strategy
  • writing copy
  • art directing
  • client management
  • web design
  • etc.
the phrase less is more should be rewritten to be less and more