Thursday, May 3, 2012

How Do You Know Your Creative Doesn't Suck?

There is a thread on the Pictage Forums where someone was asking for critique of a print ad.  I see questions like this all the time and this one got me thinking that it’s time for me to do another practical, ‘how to,’ marketing related blog post.

I had a job in college with a well known producer named Ralph Winter.  Ralph has become a good friend over the years but I learned a very important lesson from him (well, actually I learned a bunch) but one applies to creative analysis; Content, Structure, Style.  Ralph didn’t originally apply this to advertising, but when I got into advertising school at Pepperdine, this method saved me more than once.
For most creatives this is exactly backwards.  Most creatives start with style and then work backwards to structure and content, trying to figure out how to shoehorn the words they need into the cool graphic they created. That is a recipe for a bad movie and it is also a recipe for a bad advertisement, website, blog design, logo, etc.  Here's a better method.
Content, Structure, Style works this way.
What do you want to say.  By this I mean, what is the single most important point you wish to convey?  Take some time to think about that.  In an ad of this size you get to convey one, maybe two messages.  What is the single most important message for your target?  What is most likely to drive the outcome you desire?  Before you start on your creative, write this down.  Pin it somewhere.  You’re going to need it later.
What are the principle elements you will need to tell the story in a complete way?  Do you need an image?  A logo?  A graphic design?  Do you need words?  Take some time to really think about this.  I know you like your fancy pink scroll logo underscore thingy, but does it need to take a lot of real estate in this piece?
The actual creative process of developing your piece.  Obviously your style should fit your brand and be consistent with your site, blog, etc.  (so the consumer knows they’ve gotten to the right place when they go there from the ad).  The images you show should show the people you are targeting, or at least their archetypes.  The piece should be different (differentiated) in the context of the environment in which it will be placed.  If it’s a magazine and there are lots of businesses like yours how will your target market know you’re different?
Critiquing your ad.
If you started out understanding your most important message then your critique is pretty easy.  When you show your ad to someone else and ask them what it communicates to them is the first thing they say on target?  (Making sure the ‘critiquers’ are as close to your target market as possible helps.  I often wonder why photographers ask photographers what they think.  If you want to shoot photographers this is a good idea.  Why not ask past clients?)
When you first look at a graphic where does your eye go?  This is called ‘read order.’ Your eye will naturally go somewhere first.  Where does it go?  Does it go where you want it to go?  Read order applies to both text and graphics.  For a multi-element piece there remains only one read order.  Your eye goes to the graphic first and then the main text and then to the phone number and then to the secondary graphic and so on.  Does the first place your eye goes begin to convey your message in a clear way?  That's good.  What's great?  When the first place your eye goes conveys the whole message.
Obviously there is a lot more to this science then this.  I’ve found through the years though that if I just go back to content, structure, style, and develop a very clear idea of what I want to say ahead of time and then evaluate the creative with that in mind it’s pretty hard to go wrong.
I think you will to!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The 10 Second Rule is in Effect.

It’s funny but most people have no idea that underneath this calm, sedate exterior is a guy who can be temperamental.  Folks close to me know that I rarely lose my temper.  That doesn’t mean I don’t get frustrated.  When I do my sense of humor can get very acidic.  I can easily say pretty hurtful things.  I’ve learned over time though that doing so only causes more frustration.  Most of the time it’s better to not say anything at all.  Here’s how I do that.
Emotions are flighty.  They come and they go.  I meet some people who seem to live on a high, emotional plane.  They are either super happy, super mad, or super sad.  I think that would be exhausting.  They probably think living my way is exhausting.  Perhaps it’s just how you’re wired.
A few years ago I got mad about something and sent off a short, to the point, very direct email to a group of people.  Quite literally no sooner had I pressed ‘send’ then my inbox chimed and it was one of the people emailing me to say they were sorry and that they would make the wrong right.  Then they got my email.  Those folks and I never really got over it.  It damaged our relationship for the rest of the time we were working together.  While I felt my temporal emotion was justified, expressing it wasn’t worth the cost.  But how to keep from doing it again?
Here’s how.
  1. If you write an email in frustration don’t put anything in the “To” box until you’ve had sufficient time to review.  That will keep you from sending it before you’re ready.  The harsher the email the longer you want to wait before you send it.  This can be anywhere from 10 seconds (and after a very thorough proof read) to 4 days for me.  I just leave them sitting in my ‘drafts’ folder.

  2. If I want to vent about something publicly I take a long time to think about it first.  I’ve found my public rants rarely accomplish much.  They make me look unstable.  They make my customers nervous.  When I’ve done this in the past I get the most random notes from people trying to help me.  Then I have to reply to all of them.  I worry more about the people who didn’t send a note.

  3. For bigger frustrations and even big decisions I invoke the 24 hour rule.  I actually learned this from my good friend, John Zdanowski, easily one of the smartest guys I’ve ever known (though if you know him you have to get him to tell you the stop, drop and roll story).  When we came up with a great idea or when we were greatly frustrated he would say, “OK, mandatory 24 hour cooling off period is in effect.”  I still say that now.  It works.  In the end it saves me so much time.

  4. The 10 second rule works for me in conversations.  When I’m starting to get frustrated I make a decision to slow down the cadence of the conversation.  I hate saying things I don’t mean.  I hate apologizing for things I’ve said.  There is nothing more frustrating then being wronged and then having to apologize to the person who wronged you because you said something stupid.  So now, I actually sort of lump all of this into one basic rule that we all heard growing up.  Count to 10.  I can count to 10 really fast.  If I stop myself and actually have to think, 1 1000, 2 1000, 3 1000, 4 1000, etc. then that makes me think of something besides my budding anger.  It’s amazing when I do this how often the anger subsides.

Luckily most people aren’t wired like me and so this is really idle advice.  Some are though and if it helps in any way that’s great.  Writing it this morning has helped me. Now I’m ready to get on to the next thing.  After all, what’s next is what’s important.