About Martin Murphy

International advertising guy, family man, soccer fan; on a daily mission to enjoy life. My entire personal and professional life has taken place in an international setting. This I think gives me a perspective on our industry that is different than the norm, and perhaps can contribute to the virtual conversation. I started this blog with two main objectives: a) to reinforce the discipline of being observant and thoughtful about the advertising and marketing industry b) to exchange ideas, meet people, and grow my perspective of the business that I work in To be a thought leader one day, the first step is to be a though contributor. This is my first step. Check out my linkedin profile for more info: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/martin-murphy/9/4a0/6a7

The Last Ad of the Day (part 2 of 2): Learnings and musings

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This is the end…for now, anyway.

A little history

The first AoTD, Aug 2011

The first AoTD, Aug 2011

Ad of the Day began three and a half years ago, as a way to force myself out of the account man’s cave of process, spreadsheets and business plans, and instead have a look at the world of creativity in which I presumably had been working all those years. It was a transformational experience, somewhat like going from a couch to a light workout, and then sticking to it for a couple of years. Initially AoTD appeared on a blog I had started up (adboardingpass.com), with a readership consisting of my parents and my grandmother. Once I started working in Ogilvy Shanghai a few months later, I started sharing it with my immediate team, with the hope of starting a conversation about what makes good creativity.

And then it began to slowly spread, mostly by word of mouth. It crossed borders and found a strong foothold in many Ogilvy and client offices around the world, from Chicago, to Buenos Aires to Bogota, to Singapore and back. (And of course, India…for some reason I gained a ton of readers among the India offices, and some of the most responsive and engaged readers too!) I always made it a point to not pester: with very rare exceptions, you’re on this mailing list because someone told you about it and you (or they) asked to be put on it. And thus, things took on a momentum of their own.

For those of you who like data, here are some rough stats:

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500+ readers on the mailing list. 571 posts. 93 cities around the world featured, in 47 countries, on every continent. Most commonly featured: London, NY, Paris and Sao Paulo, in that (not surprising) order. Most exotic? Yangon, Vilnius, La Coruña, Nairobi, Reykjavic, Ankara, Curitiba, Hanghzhou. Dozens of Cannes winners (grand prix, gold, silver, bronze – all categories) spotted early.

If you’ve kept up, you’ve seen a lot of work. Mostly good stuff, some just ok, hopefully very little bad. And although you probably disagreed with my commentary much of the time, it made you think about creativity for a few extra seconds each day, and maybe it strengthened your own ability to judge work. That is the hope, anyway!

Learnings and musings

What happens after a while is that you start setting patterns. You start sensing common threads in good work, and seeing how those ingredients mix well, or sometimes not. And if you think about it a lot, you come up with your theory about the very essence of great (not just good) advertising.

In my opinion these are the key ingredients of great advertising.

1. A simple story, well told – Since we were cavemen sitting around a fire, people have loved stories. There’s something in our brain that gets stimulated by “story”, something that makes us lean forward and drop our guard down. And in advertising, getting people to drop their built-in mental ad-blockers is half the battle. And why should you strive to make your story “simple”? For two reasons: To make it easier for people to engage with it, and to make sure you’ve gone through the work of distilling your story and stripping away the added weight until you reach the essence…which is always interesting…and simple (not simplistic!)

2. A simple story, well told – There are plenty of idea zealots out there, but you’re missing the point if you don’t look at the “how” and see its potential to amplify an idea. Crafting can turn work from good to sublime, and there is something noble about the care and dedication that the word implies. And let’s not forget the medium…which in some cases can become the key driving force of the idea. I agree with Keith Reinhard, who predicts that the next frontier of advertising will be (at long last) the convergence of digital disruption and old-school storytelling.

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3. When the world zigs, zag – I have never found a better way to say it than the famous BBH tagline for Levi’s. I think this is where most people in our industry miss the point by a mile: if it’s not different, if it’s not disruptive…it’s just not going to get noticed in the real world. And if you don’t get noticed, you don’t have a chance. As simple as that. I cannot stress this enough, and it’s so important. So I’ll repeat it in italics for greater drama: if it’s not different, if it’s not disruptive…it’s just not going to get noticed in the real world. And if you don’t get noticed, you don’t have a chance.

4. An important, credible role for the brand – Only rookies think that the brand or product get in the way of the idea. An ad without proper branding is at best art, at worst a jumbled visual collage…but it ain’t advertising. Advertising exists for a commercial purpose…”we sell or else,” as David Ogilvy so aptly put it. The best ads are stories that exist because of the brand/product, not in spite of it.

5. “Great” is pretty damn universal – Don’t let the international experts tell you differently. I’m convinced that today’s world, for all its glorious diversity, is far more alike in its appreciation of great advertising than it is different. Great work unites almost universally because it reflects back at us the very core threads of our shared humanity: family, love, humor, empathy, dreams, and more. It is one of the more wonderful hidden truths about our industry.

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6. “Make it straight, or make it great” – One or the other. This is a quote from David Droga, when he visited the Ogilvy Shanghai office last spring. Not sure if it was an off-the-cuff remark, or something he always says, but it left an impression on me because it explained 90% of agency-client stress over creativity: Someone wants to go for great, someone feels they need straight, and in the ensuing battle over the middle ground is where ideas and relationships go to die. So make one choice, and go for it. There are brilliant ads that are a 15 second product demo (anyone heard of Apple?) There are brilliant ads that are a 2 minute soaring anthem (Imported from Detroit, anyone?) Make it straight or make it great. Now, on a related note: one of the things that sets humans apart is our irresistible quest for greatness. To reach beyond and explore the unknown. Why must we climb Everest? Why must we go to space? We just must. So while the learning above is “do one or the other,” I’d urge everyone to always aspire to a “make it great” every once in a while, and to chase it doggedly. It will keep you feeling fresh, feeling human, feeling excited about the work that you do.

That’s it. You select as many ingredients as you can, you mix, and you hope for the best. I’ve seen great work containing all different combinations of the above.

And yet, none of the above is uniquely embedded in the DNA of all great work. They are merely the important building blocks. So what then, is that unifying element? The one thing found in all sublime creativity? The holy grail of great work?

Courage

Courage. That’s it. Perhaps you expected something more mystical? Sorry. It’s simple, and it has been in front of our noses all along. In every single great piece of creative work, at some point in the process, someone was driven to arm themselves with courage and push things beyond a point of comfort. To push things into an area that felt a little risky. Or uncertain. A cheeky turn of the script. An unconventional director selection. A foray into an unknown medium. A quirky edit. A counter-intuitive use of music. And so on. Big risk, hopefully for a big payoff. And they felt uneasy. Felt afraid. Nobody wants to fail. Everyone has a mortgage, everyone has responsibilities. Everyone cares about how they will be perceived. We’re hardwired to move away from the cold and closer to the warm fire. So it’s hard. But courage doesn’t mean being detached from reality – it means seeing the whole picture and making a decision that “I believe passionately that this will make the work better. Let’s fucking go for it! Follow me!” And so they do it. And sometimes (often!) they fail. Advertising is hard, even in the best of cases. But other times they really nail it. And this is the work that transcends. And the world looks at the work and says to itself “damn, I wish I had made that.” 

Next time you’re in the midst of a creative process where courage isn’t necessary: where everything is smooth, all goes well, everyone is aligned every step of the way, etc. Congratulations, you’ve made a (hopefully) good ad, and you didn’t have to stress it. And that might be good enough. Just know that your ad has no chance of being truly great.

On the other side of that coin…the chance at greatness beckons! Your call.

And, in closing…

Why am I choosing this moment to take a pause? There are small reasons for it: Like the work day in NY starting much earlier than it does in Shanghai, making it increasingly harder for me to find the 20 minutes to do this every morning. Or that a long-time blogger idol of mine (Andrew Sullivan) just decided to put his pencil down, which gave me permission to start thinking along the same lines. But there’s a bigger reason too: mainly that the format was getting a bit stale. David Ogilvy said “Encourage innovation. Change is our life-blood. Stagnation our death knell.” And so I must follow suit. I don’t know how AoTD will re-emerge or when. I’ve long wanted to do something in a digital format, where you can see present and past work, search and cross-reference, share, etc. We shall see, but there will surely be more to come. And, if you have any ideas, I’m all ears!

There have been a lot of ads shared, and the very last one I selected on purpose. Although it’s humorous and quite tongue-in-cheek, there’s a serious undertone too: it’s a call-to-action for our industry. It shows the disease (detachment, cynicism, lack of courage) and the cure (exposure to good work, engagement, reconnecting to the roots of why we do what we do) on the very same page. 

Let’s all heed the call. Because the advertising/communications/marketing industry is a wonderful place, and there’s no better time to be in it than today.

In closing, a word of thanks to you, dear reader. For your wonderful words of encouragement and your support throughout the years. Each email meant a lot, and I couldn’t have done it without you. Let’s keep in touch!

Martin

The Last Ad of the Day, part 1 of 2: February 27 (London)

Your daily dose of advertising awesomeness from around the world!

As of tomorrow, Ad of the Day will be taking a leave of absence. It will re-emerge at some point in the future: still focused on celebrating great creativity from around the world, but with a different format, focus and scope. For more on this, and learnings gathered in the last three and a half years, click here for Part 2.

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Today’s pick:

  • Agency: McCann
  • Location: London
  • Client: Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity
  • Name: Buy them a delegate pass
  • Category: Print/OOH
  • Why I like it: I’m in awe of this series of print ads. It’s the disease of our industry and its cure, all rolled into one. This campaign is quite narrowly targeted, and it’s not going to change the world…but it’s so enjoyable and packs so many of the ingredients of superior work. Let’s count some of them: a) wonderful art direction: the colors, the styling, the casting, the expressions, the way the copy box “hangs” on the people…impossible to miss and so nicely crafted. b) rich insight: shining a light on the hypocrisy and lack of ambition in our industry is bold and incredibly impactful, because it comes from a deep truth. We all know these folks, some of us have even been these folks. Nothing as powerful as a carefully placed mirror into one’s soul. c) inspired writing: just the right dash of truthful aggression, delivered with humor, poignancy and a hopeful/tongue-in-cheek call to action. Marvelous. d) knowledge of your audience: nothing wrong with being niche if you fully invest in the specificity. It’s a thought-provoking, timely challenge to agencies as they start planning for Cannes. e) humor: so hard to make funny work. But when it works it’s a joy – in this case with the right mix of snarky and cheery. f) business sense: it has to link back to the brand/benefit, otherwise it’s just babble. And the message that Cannes can be the antidote with a good “return on creativity” is a good one. In conclusion: a great set of print ads, that manages to be funny and deep at the same time. Sign me up!

Ad of the Day: February 6 (Reykjavik)

Your daily dose of advertising awesomeness from around the world!

Today’s pick:

  • Agency: Quiver
  • Location: Reykjavik
  • Client: Adalskodun Auto Inspections
  • Name: The Cliff
  • Category: Film
  • Why I like it: It’s amazing how irresistible a good story is. People often refer to advertising as an intrusion, but really they’re just talking about bad or mediocre advertising. Good advertising, as rare as it is, is enormously interesting and magnetic. The little details in this one (the casting, the music, the type of car, the sandwich, the window handle, the cinematic references) make this an enjoyable minute of anyone’s time, even overcoming the fact that it’s all quite predictable. And because  the connection to the brand is credible and woven it at the right time, the whole thing connects. Nicely done, and congrats to our first selection ever from Iceland!

Ad of the Day: February 4 (New York)

Your daily dose of advertising awesomeness from around the world!

Today’s pick:

  • Agency: Publicis
  • Location: New York
  • Client: Vicks Nyquil
  • Name: Dave & Amanda
  • Category: Film
  • Why I like it: For those still feeling the hangover from the extravaganza that is Super Bowl advertising, here is an antidote. A couple of short and sweet 15 second ads that distill a commercial down to its very TV essence. How to get there? You find an truthful, relevant insight about a product (real life doesn’t allow you to be slowed down by a cold) and you turn it into an interesting, catchy creative idea (“Dads/Moms don’t take sick days”.) You then build a clever hook that disarms you and brings you in (the boss/child misdirection) and bam! you deliver the message to a receptive audience. In and out in less than 15 seconds. The hardest thing to do in advertising is to make this look so easy. Wonderful job.

Super Bowl ads 2015 – the Adboardingpass review!

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The big game has come and gone. Lovers of football sure got a treat: drama, fanfare and color. But lovers of advertising were sadly left out in the cold. 

It’s a bit of deja vu from 2014: As a whole, the level was decidedly mediocre. It was no worse on average than the past two years. But…there were hardly any standouts, those soaring home runs which capture the imagination and elevate the profession. It makes you yearn for the magic that was captured in Chrysler’s “It’s Halftime in America”, the solemn grace of Ram Truck’s “The Farmer”, or even the pop culture hipness of Samsung’s “The Next Big Thing.”

What were some of the overall takeaways of the night?

  1. Movie and TV is big business – Amazing to see how many trailers for movies or TV shows.
  2. Has the pre-buzz reached its peak? – Seems to me like everyone pre-released their ads early, and…nobody cared that much. It’s like everything else these days in our fast-moving media world. Two years ago some people leaked their ad early, and it got huge buzz. Last year, more did it, and even greater buzz. This year, this tactic feels like it may have jumped the shark. Why? Probably because people enjoy being a part of a pop culture “insider” event, but once it gets big and folks come to realize they’re just being blatantly marketed to, they get turned off.
  3. Did I mention this was supposed to be a party? – Like in real life, it’s so important to be able to gauge the temperature of the room. I was surprised by the amount of somber ads in what is normally a very festive event. The approach is both gutsy and risky in search of breakthrough: for some it worked nicely (eg: Always “Like a Girl”), for others it was a bit of Hindenburg moment…though still far preferable, in my book, to indifferent mediocrity.
  4. Long-form rules – What was once the exception now feels like the rule. The level of scale an emotion in most of these just asks for 60 seconds.
  5. Call to action exhaustion – Was it me or were there far fewer “call to action gimmicks” than in years past? I’m referring to ads that ask you to vote for how the ad ends, or tweet in support of this or that, etc. Perhaps they didn’t work as well last year? Or is it just that people don’t need to be told anymore what to do in order to get more info?
  6. Going for it and failing – You can’t fault the level of ambition. More than previous years there were efforts that clearly aimed for greatness, but for some reason or other just failed to make the landing. An example is Nissan “With Dad” or Carnival’s “Come Back to the Sea.” As they say, A for effort…
  7. Men good, domestic violence bad – The NFL has lived through a well-deserved PR crisis based on a series of spousal abuse incidents among its players. Was it a coincidence that much of the messaging was explicitly anti-abuse and/or painting men in a positive light?

My Top 5 ads of the night, in order of their appearance:

1. Reebok “Be More Human” 

I love everything about this ad. It’s beautifully shot, and has lovely, soaring copy. By fully embracing those on the fringes of exercise (those crazy crossfitters, mudrunners, etc.) the ad humanizes them, it makes them (and their approach to exercise) more approachable and even desirable. For Reebok, a once-dominant brand since swept aside by Nike and Adidas, it is a powerful statement that says “watch this space.”

2. BMW i3

A great story, well told. The ad uses all the trappings of a big Super Bowl ad: celebrities, pop culture references, humor…all in the service of a very crisp message  (“Big ideas take a little getting used to”) that then connect seamlessly to the car that is being introduced. Car advertising is really tough – here they hooked you in so well that when it comes time to make the sale, it sticks. Nicely done.

3. Always “Like a Girl”

In a year packed with ads in the PSA mold, this was the best one. It’s innovative and surprising, and yet it rings true. It’s the type of ad that generates conversation in your living room immediately after it has passed, and that’s hard to do. Of the top 5, this one is the one where the linkage to the brand is least clearly defined, which is a shame – but nonetheless it has an unusual staying power.

4. Clash of Clans “Revenge”

See, this is how you use a big celebrity during the Super Bowl. It’s not just about plugging in famous people. It’s about plugging in famous people in an unexpected situation, having them say something that is interesting (his monologue is hilarious) timely (his “Taken” movies have become part of pop culture) and relevant (the motif of revenge connects the story to the game.) They even luxuriated in a little twist at the end (“it’s Liam”) that wraps it all up in a smile. Fantastic.

5. Budweiser “Brewed the Hard Way”

Not much subtlety about this one, but it’s really, really well executed. The beer category version of Chrysler’s “Imported from Detroit,” it’s a good 60 seconds of a classic brand thumbing its nose at newcomers and short-term fads. Tons of confident brand essence, lovely “product porn” and quite a bit of irreverent fun thrown in. Give me more! It makes me want to go buy a six-pack, and I prefer this one million times over nonsensical stories of puppies.

 

There were a few others that stuck out a bit, even when falling well short of greatness:(click on name to view the video)

  1. MountainDew “Kickstart” – Such ridiculous moves that they managed to make a fun ad out of a nothing idea.
  2. Mercedes-Benz “Fable” – Car advertising is tough. This one is redeemed by a really cool looking car, and special effects to match. Made it passable, and that’s saying a lot for the category.
  3. Kia Sorrento “The Perfect Getaway” – Another good use of celebrity star power. Lets Brosnan play to his strengths, with a little tongue-in-cheek humor and plenty of car beauty shots. A solid effort.
  4. Fiat 500 “Blue Pill” – Grand in scale, cheeky, and a very appropriate Euro vibe all communicating a crisp message in an engaging manner. As simple as that.
  5. Doritos “Middle Seat” – Thousands of user-generated ideas yield and this was the best one? Guess that’s why ad agencies exist. But, hey, it was good for a laugh, and for Dorito’s that’s not a bad outcome.
  6. Turbotax “Boston Tea Party” – a big, fun production that gets the brand benefit across with a smile.
  7. Victoria’s Secret – Not over the top, just focusing on beautiful women and beautiful lingerie. It’s so hard to not ruin something so simple. Here they avoid disaster…by keeping it simple.
  8. Snicker’s “The Brady Bunch” – It’s like a joke that you already know the punchline for but you laugh anyway. In this case, thanks mostly to the inspired casting.
  9. Mophie “All powerless” – A grand, apocalyptic, special effects extravaganza. It’s what Super Bowl production budgets were made for! I’m a fan.
  10. NoMore.org – Really jarring and not in the Super Bowl’s festive spirit…but really, really well made.
That’s it. Not bad, but really not great. Next up, the Oscars?

Ad of the Day: January 30 (London)

Your daily dose of advertising awesomeness from around the world!

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Click here to go to the web site

Today’s pick:

  • Agency: N/A (Produced by Unit9)
  • Location: London
  • Client: Casio G-Shock
  • Name: Five Minutes
  • Category: Interactive Film
  • Why I like it: Is it advertising? Well let’s see: There is a story being told. There are multiple elements which grab your interest and keep you engaged. The product/ brand plays a central role in the action. It leaves you with a good feeling for the brand, and a sense that your time and attention were not wasted. Sure sounds like advertising to me, and of the good kind! The fact that the experience feels like a cross between a video game and a movie is just proof that innovation is the lifeblood our industry, and we have more outlets than ever to reach consumers with great ideas that sell.

Ad of the Day: January 28 (London)

Your daily dose of advertising awesomeness from around the world!

Today’s pick:

  • Agency: adam&eveDDB
  • Location: London
  • Client: Virgin Airlines
  • Name: Let it fly
  • Category: Film
  • Why I like it: Hook them in quickly, build entertaining momentum to draw them in further, and deliver your line during the climax, which will have your brand seamlessly woven into it. Somewhat easy to describe, hard as hell to pull it off. But they sure do here. I love the line “life doesn’t come to you, so go to it.” It’s such a perfect call to action: it feels real, it’s inspiring, and it brings to life the role of the brand in a very credible way. But you can’t just toss it out there and hope people care. That’s where the entertainment comes in. From the music, to the pace, to the humor and more, everything about the first minute has you leaning in all the way into the punchline. Expertly done. 

Ad of the Day: January 27 (Sydney)

Your daily dose of advertising awesomeness from around the world!

Today’s pick:

  • Agency: Host
  • Location: Sydney
  • Client: Pizza Hut
  • Name: Mitey Stuffed Crust
  • Category: Film
  • Why I like it: A round of applause for this ad, exhibiting courage with a capital C. Sure, the notion of vegemite being an acquired taste is nothing new, advertising has been riffing off of that for ages. If you were the brand manager you would allow yourself to have a lot of fun with that, push the envelope, right? Wrong. If you’re like 99% of people out there, you wouldn’t. It takes a special breed of crazy courage to say that your product is awful, tastes like shit, and more…all in your own ad. It’s downright unusual. And yet, it’s that very hyper-genuine approach that, handled properly, is irresistible to a younger target. A startling honesty which becomes the hook that draws you close. Join that up seamlessly with a little national pride to boot, and the result is a disruptive, entertaining little film that will make a dent. More of this, please!

 

Ad of the Day: January 26 (Stockholm)

Your daily dose of advertising awesomeness from around the world!

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Today’s pick:

  • Agency: M&C Saatchi
  • Location: Stockholm
  • Client: Norwegian Airlines
  • Name: The Flag of Flags
  • Category: Print
  • Why I like it: If I were in the team that came up with this and we actually got it to run exactly as featured…that’s a “drop the mike” moment right there. Just pack it up and walk away in victory, because you’re not going to capture lightning in a bottle like this for a long time. The idea of flags within flags is not new, granted. But in the real world – you don’t have a norwegian airline company as a client, so the Norwegian flag won’t work. In the real world, the airline company doesn’t actually offer travel to Bangkok, or Poland, so you lose the ability to make that connection. In the real world, there is no media budget to run a double page spread, so you have to do it in a vertical format and it doesn’t work. In the real world…there are so many other reasons why brilliant little executions like this one never see the light of day. So when, against all odds, they DO see the light of day…it’s something worth celebrating.

 

Ad of the Day: December 22 (Los Angeles)

Your daily dose of advertising awesomeness from around the world!

Today’s pick:

  • Agency: N/A
  • Location: Los Angeles
  • Client: 20th Century Fox
  • Name: A Particular Set of Skills
  • Category: online/social media contest
  • Why I like it: Watch the video first. If you enjoy seeing Liam Neeson kick ass in the “Taken” move series, then you’ll enjoy this contest announcement. Then take a moment to appreciate the sheer brilliance of this marketing action. It lives at the precise intersection of advertiser, co-sponsor, target and medium – delivering an interesting and compelling “everybody wins!” that is actually extremely rare in these types of activities. Fox drums up inexpensive awareness of their upcoming release (the value of the prize they’re giving away? $0!) Linkedin is the perfect catalyst for a conversation about “skills” and becomes 1000% more relevant and hip to a younger audience than they were last week. Young professionals are given the chance to win big-time social currency while engaging with fun content, and social media once again is leveraged as both an amplifier and executor of activities, at less cost and offering bigger potential payback than traditional media. A slam dunk.