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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Rock 'n Roll Advertising

Last night I had the pleasure of hearing one of the advertising industry's top creatives speak here in Atlanta, none other than the illustrious Alex Bogusky of Crispin Porter + Bogusky. (For those of you who may not know, CP+B is responsible for some of the most ground-breaking campaigns run in the last 10 years—Burger King, Mini Cooper, Volkswagen, truth, Sprite, Coke Zero, and more.) Somewhat appropriately, the event was held at the Variety Playhouse, a local music venue. The whole thing had a bit of an air about it that we were all about to see an advertising rockstar.

The great part of the evening was hearing about the atmosphere at CP+B and how they've achieved what they have. It was particularly interesting to hear this all from the man himself since the agency has taken quite a beating rep-wise over the last few years.

While being both an engaging and somewhat elusive speaker, Alex had a few gems that were really worth the price of admission (which was a lot, trust me). I didn't find anything he said particularly earth-shattering, but it really gave insight into how CP+B has produced some of the most talked about work over the last decade.

He mentioned that instead of planners, the agency has begun to hire more anthropologists and sociologists. Rather than track trends and listen to consumers, these advisers provide much more deep-cutting information. For example, he said that he could sit and listen to a sociologist speak for two hours on the meaning of fire or of meat in our society (helpful on a burger joint account). These are truths that are deep-rooted in our psyche and will never change (or only change over centuries or millennia). They tap into a similarities that we all share. I think that this speaks to the idea of "human truths" that we all strive for in our work, but on a far more intrinsic level of our human nature.

In a similar vein, he mentioned that they don't try to adjust their products to culture; they adjust culture to their products. It's true. If you look at nearly any CP+B campaign, they've gone blatantly against societal norms and forged their own ground. Rather than chasing after trends, they create them. Besides, by the time you become aware of a trend and try to insert it into your work, you're already too late. The point of pop culture is to be constantly changing, he said, and they've become an active member in it. Think of some of the phenomenons they've given birth to: the Burger King King, BK video games for X Box, VW's "unpimp ze auto," etc.

This has lead their work to be some of the most talked about, inside the industry and out, which is perfect because part of their agency philosophy: ". . . to create the most talked about, written about work in the world." Think about it. Even the Orville Redenbacher campaign that got panned across the board got a lot of press. In that case, it got people talking and thinking about the brand—something that had never happened before.

Personally, I hated the BK stuff for a good year or two when it first came out. But you know what? Before that I had completely stopped eating there. Yet, after the campaign started, it became basically the only fast food that I would stop at. It was compelling, and it was in my brain, even if I despised it at the time.

So how do you get into the press with your work? Alex revealed that at CP+B they've recently started writing up description of their Big Ideas as press releases rather than simple paragraphs. It's brilliant really. What do you want to hear being said about your work? Start with that and then work backwards from there.

The big lesson was think about your process. Examine every step and see how you can put yourself ahead. Don't do what's been done or even what others have just started about doing. Make your own culture and let people be drawn to you.

Listening to him speak was really a treat and one that should fire up any creative. He pushed the audience to be yourself and be different. That's the ideal that CP+B was founded on. To be great, we all have to find what truths are buried in ourselves and then act on them.

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