Think Visually

(Click to enlarge image)

Even if you’re a writer or copywriter, thinking visually can be just the thing to generate a fresh idea or creative concept. I know this may seem obvious, but for some writers (myself included) words have usually been the way to solve a communications challenge.

And that’s OK. As writers, words are our creative playground.

There’s a saying I’ve heard that goes something like, “He has to talk to know what he’s thinking.” A similar thing can be said about wordsmiths: “He has to write to know what he’s thinking.” That’s been me much of my career.

For example, when developing concepts for B2B advertising and marketing projects, I’ve often just scribbled raw headlines, taglines and such in stream-of-consciousness fashion. Sometimes for hours at a time. I can usually come up with something. Add a complementary visual or image to a smart headline or slogan and it becomes a snappy ad or perhaps a campaign.

But there’s another way. It’s the way graphic designers and art directors think. Visually.

As the years have gone by, I’ve improved in this area. I’m not great, just better. Sometime I’ll suspend the writing and just think visually. This week, for instance, I came up with the above image idea for a direct-mail piece about a fax-to-email service. The creative director liked it, and after the art director rendered it, I worked on a headline.

I’ve also at times suggested that those talented art people come up with the concepts or a visual direction, and then I’ll write the headlines and copy. This approach can work quite well.


Rediscovering My Bookshelf

“There are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt.”
−Audre Lorde

I’ve been cleaning and organizing my home office in recent days. I’ve thrown a lot of stuff away. I’ve also rediscovered stuff I haven’t seen or thought about for a long while, including my modest collection of books on writing.

Somewhere in my travels I picked up books, magazines, articles and other bits of information that I thought were worth having — at least at the time. Then they were left behind, forgotten, on a dusty bookshelf or in a file drawer or stowed away in a cardboard box.

I’ve enjoyed rediscovering some of these “collectibles.” I’ve cracked open some of my writing books and found that many of the ideas and inspiration are still relevant in this bizarre age of 140-character messages.

Now that they’ve been set aside for so long, they’re fresh again. And fresh is good for my brain and creative energy.

Can an 83-Word Billboard Work?


Click image to enlarge. (Daniel Bowen/Flickr)

Conventional advertising wisdom says to keep words to a minimum on a billboard – or in any form of advertising, for that matter. In an age of 140-character attention spans, messages should be super short and lightening quick. At least that’s what the experts often say.

So, the above billboard (technically a giant poster) with eight lines of copy and 83 words is definitely zagging when others are zigging. It’s located in the main concourse of Flinders Street Station in Melbourne.

Is it smart or misguided?

Continue reading “Can an 83-Word Billboard Work?”

Brainstorming at the Library

I’m in the back of the town library, feet propped up, laptop on lap, staring out the window. In other words, I’m brainstorming. Sort of.

Some days the best thing to do is give the brain a rest. That’s the way I feel today. I’m working on a new campaign, but I don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere.

That’s the way brainstorming often seems. Like a big fat nothing.

When I’m brainstorming, I like to doodle on a pad. I like to tap on my keyboard. I also like to look at magazines, especially pubs such as the Atlantic Monthly that have a lot of smart ads. The big advertisers and companies with the large budgets typically have the smart ad campaigns with sharp creative.

I’m looking for inspiration – words and images that spark something, anything. Currently, I’m looking for some simple, direct and authentic-sounding ways to say “community.” I haven’t found them yet. But that’s OK. I have until early next week (not very long, actually). Which means I’m still brainstorming.

The Sixties: Popular Slogans and Characters


Last week I began a two-part series on the Sixties. The initial post was about how the decade was considered a creative revolution.

This final post highlights some of the popular slogans and characters. Are you old enough to remember any of them, or have you studied them in school or advertising awards books?

Popular 1960s slogans:

Isn’t that Racquel Welch behind those Foster Grants? (Foster Grant sunglasses)
Drive it like you hate it (Volvo)
Put a Tiger in your tank (Esso gasoline)
Everybody needs milk (Milk Foundation)
The closer you shave, the more you need Noxema (Noxema shave cream)
I can’t believe I ate the whole thing (Alka-Seltzer)
If you spent 40 days in the sun, you’d be plump and rosy, too (Hunts Catsup)

Popular 1960s characters:

The Pillsbury Doughboy – Arrived in 1966 in a series of ads for ready-to-bake dough.
Hawaiian Punch – An aggressive character who punched an unsuspecting tourist and helped punch up sales by 30 percent in 1964.
Maytag Repairman – This lonely repairman was introduced in 1967 and is still being used in Maytag ads more than 40 years later.
Charlie the Tuna – The beret-wearing tuna became Star-Kist’s advertising cartoon character in 1961.

These slogans and characters worked because they were memorable (and often plain silly) and repeated ad nauseam to a captive mass media audience.

Creative Essay: Believe, Start

By Dick Paetzke

Many years back, I swapped my position as a senior account manager on the largest account in the Seattle office of McCann-Erickson, for that of a copywriter. I moved from a large and prestigious office with a Puget Sound view to an office one-third the size, with a view of the roof of the YWCA.

It wasn’t a whimsical decision and I hadn’t been demoted. In fact, I’d rescued our relationship with our biggest account by hijacking and writing an entire campaign for the client when our creative department failed to come up with anything but inappropriate and useless ideas.

When I sat down for the first time at a my much downsized and less imposing desk, I was struck by a terrifying idea: “Just because I have written acclaimed creative pieces once, what if I can’t to it again? What if I am a one-trick pony?”

Continue reading “Creative Essay: Believe, Start”

10 Tips for Good Creative in Bad Times

Jim Castanzo of Godfrey’s B2B Insights Blog offered 10 solid tips for producing effective creative during a downturn. Here’s his list:

1. Make your message relevant.

2. Speak as an authority.

3. Conduct research.

4. Speak directly to them [audience].

5. Sell benefits, not features.

6. Integrate [message across all media].

7. Demonstrate. [Using smart visuals.]

8. Perform a competitive analysis.

9. Be genuine.

10. Think different.

As Jim points out, there’s nothing new here. But in bad times the basics are more important than ever.