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Archive for September, 2008

Geoff Rogers

[I’ve known Geoff Rogers since he first started showing his book around town back in 1995. His book was so good that Austin Howe, my mentor, kept a copy of Geoff’s book to show young copywriters how good their books should be. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Geoff on several occasions. Happily for Portland, Geoff always came back when he moved away. – Doug]

As anyone in advertising can tell you, there is always a gap between what you produce and what you wanted to produce. If you’re lucky, it’s a small gap, but it’s always there. So I should not have been surprised, when I had the good fortune of being asked to interview John Jay for a magazine article, that the magazine wanted a different, more biographical angle than I’d been intending to write.

It’s out there now, but I was more interested in finding out what makes John Jay tick. So, here. Be a fly on the wall.

John Jay

John Jay

It took a bit of canceling and rescheduling before I finally sat down with the man, but when I did, he gave me way more time than we’d allotted.

John Jay is insanely busy, and that makes his easy, cordial nature all the more surprising.

John Jay has a gift of focus that’s almost contagious. While we’re talking, his cell phone rings on a table behind me. Eleven separate times. But we’re talking. We’re into a conversation, telling stories. And stories are sacrosanct to John Jay.

“Stories are at the heart of what we do – what Wieden + Kennedy does so well,” he says.
Having produced Japanese hip-hop albums, dabbled in architecture, clothing design, photography and organizing Chinese beat box concerts, John Jay is comfortable in just about any medium.

Somewhere between his stories about the unique challenges of opening a Wieden + Kennedy office in Shanghai and his opinions on the importance of tangible art in an increasingly digital world, I thread-jack our conversation and ask him to name his favorite Porsche. I know he’s a fan. I know he’s owned a few. I also know it’s a totally irrelevant question but the answer is revealing. “The one I don’t have,” he says, laughing.

And that’s just it. Most people, if they’d been blessed with John Jay’s creative chops –or certainly with his resume– would feel quite sure they’d arrived. But not Jay. He has two assistants scouring Chinese and Japanese websites for trends and designs every day while he pores over art books, creates art, and plows through websites, himself, all to find something he “doesn’t already have.”

He’s thirsty for new designs, in any medium.

“I love the 993,” he continues. “You can stand on a corner with your eyes closed, and when any 911-based car drives by, you can hear the DNA of a Volkswagen in it.”

The advertising world is full of Porsche enthusiasts, but not too many of them feel the whole design continuum back to Ferdinand Porsche’s original VW Beetles when one drives past.

This penchant for contextualization is something that sets John Jay apart, and it serves him well. His office walls are lined with enough art books to fill a small library, no doubt helping him maintain the kind of historical perspective that allows him to see art and culture as things in flux. He knows where we’ve been. He knows where we are. And his guesses about where we’re going are more valid than most.

Of China, he says, “There’s a lot we can learn from a 5,000-year-old culture. That’s why we opened the

W+K Shanghai offices

W+K Shanghai offices

Shanghai office without clients. We wanted to acclimate. I told all the people in that office, ‘look out the window. That’s not traffic; that’s history passing by out there.’ Everything is happening at hyper-speed in China. Advertising as we think of it is only 15 or 20 years old in China. There will be a normal crawling-before-walking process, but China will stand upright, and they will do it much faster than we did.”

We were having this conversation in April of 2008, months before the rest of the world would see vivid High-Def proof of China’s creative chops at the Opening Ceremonies to the Olympics. With thousands of people choreographed to perfection atop a giant LED screen and ’84 Olympic hero Li Ning running gracefully in midair above the scene like some odd hybrid of a mythical kung fu master and a shoe pitch man, China did not look like a country in the infancy of modern communication.

There’s a sign in one of the 6th floor windows at Wieden + Kennedy. It faces outward, so for a long time, the man it was gently poking fun at didn’t know it was there. It reads, “John Jay is working harder than you are.”
It might just be that when one loves his work as much as John Jay seems to, the line between work and hobby blurs or disappears.

Recently, when the Japanese architect Masamichi Katayama visited Portland, Jay showed Katayama and a

Design by Masamichi Katayama

Design by Masamichi Katayama

group of artists, architects and toy designers around the Pearl district in a train of pedicabs, touring the Ace Hotel, Chinatown and Studio J. The day ended with a trip to a Wieden conference room that Jay had filled with 100 out-of-print books on art, architecture and design.

“It has nothing to do with making money…nothing to do with Wieden + Kennedy getting work, he says. “It’s about being a conduit for culture and information. It’s the kind of thing that if I went to a country, I’d want done for me.”

And it’s the kind of thing that keeps him in the office long after everyone not pushing a vacuum cleaner has gone home.

But don’t all of those long hours feel like work? “It’s still fun,” he says, “or I wouldn’t do it.” Listen to him for an hour, and you’ll believe him when he says that. His anecdotes range from working on Star Wars films to hanging out with rock stars, but even more remarkably, his stories are peppered with phrases like “they let us” and “we got to…” These are things that most ad creatives try to strike from their vocabularies. And that’s part of the reason most ad creatives sound a lot more jaded than John Jay. He still appreciates things. He still wants to discover more. He even dared to say “there’s a lot I can learn from them” when referring to the artists and businesspeople he hosts at his art salons.

His ever-evolving Studio J remains as important as it is low-profile. “I’ve always had a Studio J. It’s whatever I’m not doing for work at the moment,” Jay explains. In the past, that’s been everything from books to architecture. And as soon as he smacks a home run with one of those projects, it’s time for Studio J to morph into something new. Even (or especially) at the height of its popularity.
Because John Jay seems Teflon-coated when it comes to hype. He’s already looking for the next big thing.

“Popularity hurts everything,” he says. “You just can’t stay still.”

– Geoff Rogers

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A recent report from Mayor-Elect Sam Adams cites a lack of “brand awareness” as one of the key reasons Portland, OR is losing out on global business. This report was based on a recent trip to China with the National League of Cities to explore sustainable business opportunities. Sam’s observation that Portland lacks “brand awareness” is insightful and raises the question… what is Portland’s brand?

Portlanders are very protective of our culture as evidenced by bumperstickers proclaiming “Keep Portland Weird”, and our unusually high level of civic engagement. We value protecting our natural beauty (and bounty), individual self expression, and an entrepreneurial spirit. These values, and others shared by Portland’s citizens, have shaped this city from the physical environment to the people who continue to move here. People are drawn to Portland because of the culture and natural environment, and these two are intrinisically connected.

One of the challenges Mayor-Elect Adams is realizing is that Portland has not been good at articulating these aspects of our city that make up the Portland Brand. Who’s responsible for the Portland Brand? Yes of course the citizens, but someone must then be responsible for expressing that brand to the outside world.

Sam, will you take the charge?

Matt

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Our sincere thanks and humble appreciation to the magazine Portland Spaces for including our Trillium Absinthe Supérieure bottle and label design among the work of such luminaries as Allied Works Architecture and Mayer/Reed landscape architecture in their current issue.

All of us here at ID Branding will spend our entire careers trying to create something as enduring and enriching as Brad Cloepfil’s redesign of 2 Columbus Circle, the most talked about architectural project in New York. It’s an honor to share magazine space with that building.

I also want to thank Rich and Kieran of Integrity Spirits for letting us stretch the boundaries of packaging design with their splendid products. They are true visionaries of distilling.

As a start-up, Rich and Kieran had essentially no money for marketing. So we strategized that each design for each product would generate buzz and attention equal to what other companies might spend on basic paid media. So far, the combination of extraordinary and inventive spirits and packaging that tells each product’s story seems to be working. Fingers crossed for our local boys at Integrity.

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If I could help the world today in one way (besides solving the economic crisis), it would be to reach out to every one of you who is looking for a job – putting yourself out there to be screened and judged – and give you advice. I’ve been there and it’s tough to sell yourself again and again. I’m certain I applied for positions where I hoped the recruiter could see my potential even though I wasn’t really qualified. I shudder when I recall it.

I am constantly amazed by how candidates present themselves. I often think, “maybe you’re just throwing another resume out there so you can tell the unemployment office you made a contact.” Because if that’s not it, you need more advice than I thought.

PART 1. Pre-Interview stage.

Don’t make me work hard, I don’t even know you.

You have one chance to make a first impression so don’t blow it at the get-go.

I receive resumes that say they saw our posting on Craig’s List but don’t reference the job title. That’s great – which one? We have several posted. Now I can either just discard your email at this point, or I can open your attached resume and try to figure it out. I could go either way depending on the day. Or you give the position a title that isn’t what we posted. A little respect, please.

Know the company.

If you haven’t looked at our web site, and you think we offer PR services then you didn’t do your homework. Round file, right now.

Tell the truth.

Absolutely, never lie on a resume – not even one iota. Don’t embellish your previous responsibilities or worse yet lie about your education. But that’s not what I want to address here. Be truthful in things like this: If your email says, “let me briefly describe…” then be brief. If you filled up two computer screens to tell me what your cover letter already says, then you lied to me. You won’t make the cut.

The devil is in the details.

We always look for new staff members who can demonstrate that details are important. So if you say, “attached is my cover letter and resume” and you sent me two cover letters instead, I’m probably not going to think you’re right for the job. (Worse yet, I received two cover letters from a candidate, one that addressed our agency and one for another agency, with exactly the same passionate plea – “You’re the only agency I want to work for.” Take the time to customize your resume for the position (I didn’t say “lie”). If your stated objective on your resume says you want to be a designer and you’re applying for an AE position, then we’re not going to consider you.

Bring something to the table.

Employers want candidates to bring skills and experience to the position. If you tell me you want to work at ID Branding so we can teach you everything, then you’re missing the point. If you were hired you would definitely learn, but you won’t be hired unless you can demonstate the value you’d be bringing to us.

Focus. Focus. Focus.

I look for someone who is on a path. It tells me they have a passion and a focus for whatever career they’re in. If you were a priest who got disenchanted, then dabbled in event management, then worked in a call center, you don’t have focus. It may not be too late, so pick a field, stick with it, and don’t be shy to take an entry-level position to get your foot in the door. Many companies like to promote from within (we do).

Accept advice.

I can’t think of anyone who gives advice for anything other than to be helpful. (Ok, except maybe your aunt Edna who told you recently you ought to lose a few lb’s). So if a recruiter takes the time to give you feedback, be appreciative and take it to heart. Hmmm, I never heard back from the priest.

Maybe in some small way I can help the economic crisis if I can help you put your best foot forward as a candidate – here, or elsewhere in the world.

— Diane

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Sorry, Barbara Lippert of Adweek, but your somewhat simplistic review of the first two “teaser” spots for Microsoft, the ones with Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld, is just wrong.

You are far more functional in your assessment of an ad than the general public is. A good portion of the public loves to scratch its head – witness the success of ABC’s Lost. People are capable of handling a lot more ambiguity than they’re given credit for. The general public is looking for things that catch their attention, surprise them, and maybe even puzzle the hell out of them on a rational level, as long as there’s some emotional connection and interest. On the other hand, you already know this, so I’m sorry if I sound patronizing.

A good example: imagine if Burger King had pulled the freaky plastic-faced King spot when people started scratching their heads over it, instead of letting the campaign play itself out. A great turn-around might have been sadly averted.

But you’re dead on with your assessment of the I’m A PC spot. Brilliant and perfect. On the other hand, it’s a more obvious brilliance than the two teasers. As Dan Wieden once said (and I paraphrase), real innovation doesn’t make you say “Yeah, great!” It makes you say, “Huh?”

Of course the beauty of the human condition is that there are multiple readings of any one thing. I just happen to disagree with yours. Yet your opinion of the teasers reinforces their “Huh?” factor, which I don’t think is a bad thing at all. I live for “Huh?” moments, and so do a lot of other people.

– Doug

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Hey, there, young person trying to get into this business. Maybe you just graduated from college, or from a portfolio program. Or maybe you just moved to town.

Please know that I’m speaking to you with the greatest compassion and affection possible. This is for your own good, OK?

When you send me (or my agency) an email or letter that opens with “To Whom It May Concern” you are actually saying to me “I am a total lame-o hack loser.”

You’ve just flunked your first real assignment. You’re supposed to create personal, intimate communications that feel like one-on-one conversations with your audience. Nice job.

You’re also saying you are so uninterested in me and my company that you didn’t bother to find out what my name is and how to reach me. And you think I’m tree-trunk stupid because you followed that general salutation with the line, “I recently came across samples of your companies work online and was both inspired and intrigued by what was presented.”

Like I believe you for a second. That’s a real quote, by the way, typo and all. It came immediately after “To Whom It May Concern.” Guess what. I didn’t read another word. I usually don’t even read that far when I see a general, versus a personalized, greeting. You don’t care? I don’t care. See ya.

What can you do? You can do what I always recommend to people just graduating. Identify the places where you might want to work, figure out who the right person is to talk to, dig up some of the work you love that they’ve been involved with, and write a personal and honest letter or email to that person about that work. And tell that person why you’d like to work in their particular agency. And then ask for an informational interview or portfolio review.

We’re all suckers for people who take the time to learn about the stuff we’re doing because we’re way too personally invested in it and we want others to be just as excited about it as we are. And we’re almost all interested in helping people just getting into the business. After all, someone helped us. Maybe a bunch of different people helped us. We owe. And you just might win the payback of attention, help, and advice.

But come on, you’ve got to earn that attention.

– Doug

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Ah, the Buddy Movie. A venerable old wrench pulled out of the back of the tool box, sprayed with a bit of WD40, polished up with a shop rag, and put back to work as a Microsoft campaign.

Absolutely brilliant. And honest. Honest because Crispin and Microsoft together realize that the ultimate symbol of the Microsoft brand isn’t a Windows logo or their start-up tone or any number of other icons. It is Bill.

And people have some very peculiar perceptions of Bill.

Now, here’s a man who, when the dust clears, will obviously be one of the most influential humans of the Post-Industrial era. Maybe of all time. But Microsoft had never bothered to pay attention to how people saw Bill and the emotions that were generated by their single most powerful symbol.

But the partnership of Crispin and Microsoft changed that, and frankly, given the audacious intelligence and honesty of Crispin as an agency, I’m not surprised. Crispin reached for that wonderful old forgotten tool and used it to show that Bill can be goofy, funny, curious, price-conscious, engaged, normal, and human.

If you’ve never seen a Bob Hope and Bing Crosby movie, commonly referred to as the Road Pictures, they are seven quintessential buddy flicks. The cast always included Hope, Crosby, and the lovely and perhaps talented Dorothy Lamour. Road to Hong Kong, Road to Morocco, Road to Singapore, etc. Watch them and you can’t help but love those two guys.

And that’s the point. Microsoft needs to make Bill lovable before people can really embrace the larger Microsoft brand as a brand culture they can whole-heartedly belong to. Until that happens, Microsoft will be the one brand we all use and depend on, but a brand we don’t necessarily have a positive emotional relationship with. Apple oozes positive emotional relationship. Microsoft needs to. But Microsoft has always felt that people would love them for their brilliant technology. Sadly, for the masses, technology is hard to love. Happily, for Microsoft, the campaign is already working.

I think of this whole new Windows campaign as an effort to reveal the humanity behind the brand, which has always been there, it’s just been hidden. It’s a shift for Microsoft. It’s a realization that human is more important than technology. And for a culture invented by engineers, that’s not an easy shift to make. Happily, Microsoft seems to be on the right path.

I was talking about this with Cybelle Srour, a very savvy brand strategist, and her question was, “Can Microsoft transform their internal culture to match the campaign?” That’s the question, isn’t it?

– Doug

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