Archive for the ‘What we’re not’ Category

This is the fourth in a series of four postings, and certainly, for me, the hardest one to write. (See postings under “What we’re not” for the others.)


Late Gothic cathedral door

That’s because I have so much affection for the legacy of graphic design as a field, and because graphic design is uniquely tied to a much larger artistic force within human history, which is the broader category of design itself.

Not to slam advertising, interactive, and branding – the other three fields. It’s just that they’re not directly downstream from gothic altars, DaVinci’s machines, the books of El Lissitzky, and

Set design by Inigo Jones

Set design by Inigo Jones

Paul Renner’s Futura. (Actually, advertising has a closer relationship to art than has been properly presented, but that’s a different post.) (more…)


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I once was, but I got better.

As one of the founders of Paris France, an interactive agency in Portland, which existed between 1999 and 2003, I was privileged to work with some amazingly bright people, like Jeff Faulkner, Chuck Nobles, Erik Falat, and others, and to do some work I’m still quite proud of. It was a wonderful time to be in the field. We did a bunch of cool things together for some very cool clients, and I focused on strictly interactive work for almost 5 years. Long enough to know that the stand-alone interactive shop is not the future. (more…)

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Or, We’re Not an Ad Agency, Part 2.

Brian Collins

Brian Collins

Brian Collins, the ex-ECD of Ogilvy’s Brand Integration Group (BIG), who has just launched his own agency, Collins, nailed the difference between design and advertising in a talk he gave during the the One Show week in New York last Spring. He showed images of Philadelphia’s beautiful and historic 30th Street Station. And then he showed giant vinyl ads that ran down the walls and out onto the floor of the station’s historic architecture. A wretched, loud, visual assault against its targets. And against its venue.

His message: design would never do this. This is advertising. (more…)

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I’ve been in advertising for the last 20 years – at least the way I define advertising. But the way advertising agencies define it, well, I guess I haven’t.

Ad agencies, at least the majority of them, have an economic model based on selling certain media. Sure, they’re not getting the commissions they used to. But they tend to make up for that with mark-ups and other fees. It’s all still centered around a priority system that puts TV spots at the top of both desirability and profitability, and everything else below it. Down near the bottom is stuff like web sites, guerrilla tactics, and, I suppose, logos.


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Given my recent (minor) mishap with a motorcycle I’ve had a fair amount of time to contemplate scabs. (The owie-kind, not the labor relations kind.) Watching them form and then slowly go away, I had a small epiphany about branding firms.

My conclusion is that branding firms, as we know them today, are essentially scabs.

How are scabs born? Well, you start with healthy skin. Add trauma, in the form of friction against asphalt or a 360 pound motorcycle falling on your leg, and the skin is, um, disturbed. Eventually a scab forms over the site of the trauma. Bingo. You now have a tent of dead cells under which the living cells are busy replicating themselves and making something new.

And that’s how it is with traditional branding firms. At one time, they were healthy skin. They were alive and working, and their model of branding was quite adequate. Then trauma arrived in the form of change – change in how people relate to brands, change in how brands function, change in the marketplace, etc.

Ouch. That hurt. At that point the branding firms of today became shields of inert headbandage1protective matter while beneath them living cells began to reproduce themselves. As the skin heals, the old dead scab becomes less and less vital and is eventually sloughed off to reveal the shiny new skin.

Now, if the big established branding firms like Interbrand, FutureBrand, Landor, and Siegel and Gale decided to reinvent themselves after the trauma of change, they would be the new, living and therefore vital skin, not the scab. They could have used the trauma to transform themselves. But they didn’t.

Not too long ago Dennis talked to a veteran strategist in New York who has worked at several of the big branding firms. She said she was bored. The tools, she said, the thinking, and the methodology of branding was completely interchangeable among the big shops. They were all performing the same old studies, using the same old tired language, and making the same old recommendations. You could put any one of their logos at the tops of the deliverables and no one would notice. She was looking for something new.

Her experience is confirmed by the work we see from these firms.

That’s why we’re not a branding firm. At least not as defined by the current branding firms. We understand what they do, we know how they do it, and it’s no longer sufficient. The world is demanding something new. So for the past few years we’ve been bringing together people from the four main disciplines – interactive, advertising, design, and, yes, branding – to make a different kind of agency.

We’re the busy little cells under the big brown tent. And that’s how we like it.

– Doug

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