Sunday, April 13, 2008

Bring on the "design boom" in branding.

Did you see that story in ADWEEK (3/10/08) about how agencies are waking up to the fact that design is actually an important element of the branding process? After I stopped laughing I realized how sad it is that there actually is a culture in which the technical aspects of branding have overshadowed and marginalized the design process.

Here's a little piece of that story -
"The desire to imbue all touch points of integrated campaigns with a common aesthetic is leading to a design boom at many top, traditional shops. The growing emphasis on design at the front lines of communicating the "big idea" is the reason agencies and design recruiters from Aquent, The Creative Group, 24 Seven and Gale Executive Recruiting said the designer's star is on the rise, and that salaries are stretching to meet it."

Alert the media! Someone has discovered that it takes good design to create an effective brand!

The story quotes John Butler, partner and ecd at Butler Shine Stern & Partners, Sausalito, CA -
"We believe that design is branding. It starts there before advertising and controls the look and feel of it," said Butler.

It really doesn't take a major ad industry guru to know that advertising is not a science - yes, George Lois is right on this one - it's an art, and it always will be. The technicians are necessary, but good, talented designers, even interactive designers, should be designers first, and technicians second.

Remembering Hal Riney.

Hal Riney, the San Francisco advertising man whose iconic and memorable work helped establish the city as a leading creative center for the industry, died last month. He was 75.

Whether his client was an automobile manufacturer, a wine cooler or the committee to re-elect President Ronald Reagan, no one could put as graceful a spin on Americana as could Hal Riney. He made likable, engaging advertising in a career of nearly 50 years.
Some would say he is best remembered for creating the brand and image of General Motors' Saturn automobile division. Others would argue he is equally famous for the codgers Frank Bartles and Ed Jaymes, who sing the praises of the Gallo wine cooler that bore their names. That campaign had such a profound affect on me that I still go around saying "thank you for your support."

Followers of political advertising - not one of my favorite subjects - would say that his best work came in 1984, when he wrote soft-textured, 60-second montages of Americana to make people comfortable about re-electing Reagan. The ads - titled "It's Morning Again in America" - assured the public it would be folly to return to the days before Reagan's tenure. Okay, so nobody's career is perfect!

George Raine of the San Francisco Chronicle said Riney's advertising campaigns had a unique and relaxed Western feeling to them and stood in contrast to so much in a New York-dominated industry. Importantly, Riney's ads prompted marketers to pay attention to the San Francisco ad scene. He narrated many of them himself, and his gravelly voice is as memorable as the products he promoted. His work stands out among lots of, shall we say lessor, advertising created in the '80s.

Riney's proteges, Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein, who started with Hal Riney & Partners, left in the spring of 1983 to establish what is today one of the country's top agencies, and they in turn encourage the next generation of San Francisco creative advertising people. In fact, Riney's disciples went on to found no fewer than 28 advertising agencies. Not too shabby.

Yes, Hal Riney was an advertising legend, and one of the guys responsible for shifting the equilibrium of the U.S. ad agency business further to the west. In case you're wondering, he is a member of the Advertising Hall of Fame, inducted in 2001.

My not-so-funny valentine.

Regular visitors to the SOB blog might be wondering why there were no posts from me during February - or March for that matter. Let's just say I had an unscheduled vacation that took me out of action for about a good six weeks. Those of you who know me already know the situation, so pardon my reluctance to blast my medical history all over the Internet. Good news is - I'm doing great, feeling great, and very happy to be back in the groove!

Toyota's Scion brand allows owners to create DIY logos.

As much as I cringe when I hear the words "Do-It Yourself" used in conjunction with creating logos, Toyota's latest idea to promote its quirky Scion brand admittedly amounts to a semi-brilliant stroke of loyalty-inspiring product personalization.

DIY logo design? Not quite. As the NY Times story (published 3/24/08) describes, it's actually a marketing campaign with an underground vibe that is intended to show just how much their chosen transportation reflects their personality. With an eye to the social networking ethos that has made Facebook and MySpace wildly popular, Toyota will let Scion owners design their own personal "coat of arms" online, a piece of owner-generated art that is meant to reflect their job, hobbies or whatever else happens to blow their hair back.

I guess this is the Generation Y version of sidepipes, mudflaps and the other stuff old-timers like me used to customize our cars with. Now that the cars - even the cheap ones like the Scion - are too complex for their owners to do much mechanical work themselves, going to a Web site and designing a personalized accessory is just the ticket.

You can check it out at But if you think Toyota is doing this just as a merchandising gimmick, think again. They want to make a few bucks. The design Web site,, is free, but Scion enthusiasts must pay for the auto shop renderings of their design, an indulgence that can cost thousands of dollars. Remember, Toyota can't be making much of a profit on the cars.

Give me a good pinstriper any day.

Traditional agency business model - viable, or needing change?

This is one of two stories I chose for the spring 2008 edition of our agency's "Advertising & Other Creative Stuff" e-Newsletter. I think it's an interesting look at how the big ad industry players are rethinking, or atleast talking about rethinking, their role in the modern world of brand marketing.

Publicis Groupe CEO Maurice Levy and Dentsu Chairman-CEO Tateo Mataki told the International Advertising Association's World Congress that traditional ad agencies will have a role in the advertising world for years to come, but their role is going to change.

So what will the advertising agency of the future look like? The two executives presented somewhat differing views. Mr. Mataki said Dentsu is increasingly looking to become entrepreneurial in ways that allow both it and advertising clients to capitalize on brands and then share profits from developing new revenue streams instead of just relying on fees from doing traditional advertising. "The business model in which the agency's sole function is to create advertising and buy media is no longer viable," he said. "We need a new model. We need to develop relationships where both parties share risks and rewards equally. Rather than just accepting assignments, we must be proactive. To manage change, we must take risks."

What's wrong with that way of thinking? Often the folks on the client side of the desk want the agency to take a bit more risk than they should. Will this usher in a trend of advertisers asking agencies to become more like "principals" or "partners" in their business? Probably.

My take on this? I want the advertising industry to evolve, rather than clinging to a business model that may be quickly becoming obsolete. However, as an advertising agency owner I can see some rough sledding ahead, with advertisers choosing an agency based on its risk-taking potential rather than its true qualifications.