Advertising agencies are all the same.

Agencies all try to have a point of difference. A special sauce that make them different from the other guys. So processes are invented, systems designed, designs designed, buzzwords coined, tag lines generated, ethos written, and so on and so forth. Then these agencies, most agencies, walk into meeting touting their special sauce as the one true way. The answer, of course, couldn't be Drama Told Excellently it's all about Excellency Through Drama. And for all of the differences agencies purport to have, most of the output looks dramatically the same.

Why is that? These agency positioning aren't bullshit, they're pulled from somewhere. But they also don't mean all that much because agencies are willing to undercut their brand for their bottom line. As long as it looks good on a slide in the next pitch an agency positioning doesn't seem to have much impact on the agency's business.

So then what differentiates agencies? If finely-tuned positioning don't mean anything what makes one agency produce work that is better than the rest. I'd argue it's a matter of taste. 

And taste, put simply, is the barometer for quality of the work that makes it out the door.

A very lovely picture of taste buds. Not related.

It's taste in the creative work. Knowing that the audience is the customer, not the client. Knowing that people don't respond to a litany of bullet points. Knowing that the things that people respond to in popular culture are the same things they respond to in ads. (This does not mean stealing from or copying popular culture, it means striving to put things into the work that people can connect to the way they do popular culture.) 

It means having an opinion on what makes good creative work and what makes bad creative work. It means saying no a thousand times because it will hurt the work or the client. It means saying yes when new ideas are exposed. This is simple Advertising 101 shit. Stuff that should be baked into the creative process but agencies seem to forget or ignore.

But taste has to extend beyond creative work. Because creative doesn't work in a vacuum. Most agency creative departments could churn out at least better than average work given total control.

However, there's a big ecosystem in any agency that has to carry the burden of taste alongside the creative department. And that looks different for every department. But the overall goal is to keep the agency's product intact which means the core creative product needs to be spot on. It means having morals as an agency. Knowing when to say no to client requests. Knowing to not prioritize short term goals over longevity. 

That's different than flat out refusing business, but it's doing business in a way that respects people first, the client second, and pleasant relationships third. A really good example of this in how Ally & Gargano approached how they'd approach advertising cigarettes. 

Now taste is any easy thing to start with but not an easy thing to keep. It takes work every day to remind yourself what you're working for and working towards. It means always, always taking a introspective look at the things you're about to release on the world. The things you're about to sell to a client.

And the nicest part about taste is that it's not something that's concrete. Good taste means something different to everyone. So as long as everyone agrees on what taste, either individual or as an agency, means there's plenty of room for difference among agencies. 

But even with so many different definitions of taste it'd be hard to argue that advertising has much of it at all right now. 

RELATED: This the contract between DDB and Avis on how their advertising would be run. It'd be nice if this kind of client relationships came back into fashion.

Weekly Linkly: cowering in a corner edition

Do you ever find yourself frightened, tucked into some kind of corner? Just because you started thinking about the minuscule scale of yourself against the wide world and winder universe. You know, the infinitesimal meaningless of it all? What's that? Ha, yah, me neither. But if you need me I'll be over here in this corner, clicking these links.


What happens when you die alone? The New York Times Investigates.

Behind the excellent Channel 4 (UK) rebrand.

An LA mansion was turned into a street art gallery.

The role of the fool. It's a brave one.

What if we made guns uncool like cigarettes? (And would it then make suicide very fashionable?)

Old Chicago bank becomes badass cultural center.

Mental health and advertising. If you respect yours, read this.

The lost art of copywriting.


Appel. The story of a true friendship.

Girl knows how to sing.

Fab squad.

249 Days

Is a hell of a long time to go without writing here. The last time that happened was before this existed.

And I've missed it. There was no cause for the gap. No inciting incident that set off a downward spiral. It was much more insidious than that. I got busy, then lazy, then it didn't feel like it mean anything.

That isn't true. While this might not matter to anyone else, it does mean something to me. And I have felt myself mentally atrophy because there wasn't a constant filter running on ideas that could work here. Concepts I wanted to tackle. I let my world shrink because it was an easier way to live. 

That was dumb. And I'm sorry to you if you expected something from me. And sorry to myself for being so, so lazy. It won't happen again.

Oh. And sorry I called something dumb if that offended you. It will probably happen again. 

In this time of need we turn again to the Weekly Linkly for comfort.

Calm down, calm down. There's plenty of links to soothe everyone. Please see Madam Godfrey for intake.


The Problems with (ads as) Content

Why are we cool with people profiting off of online joke-theft?

A different side of Larry David.

Does creativity equal bravery? A smart person thinks so. (I agree but it's not like you asked.)

I hate listicles. I do not hate this listicle. Six things that make a great client.

Are agencies terrible places for introverts?

And, along those lines, is adland just one big fucking echo chamber that's perfectly content to follow the whoever? (Longer post about this next week.) 

What happens when Chinese art forgers are asked to paint themselves?


Reactions to virtual reality porn.

Quaking in my boots.

Light entertainment.

Pauly D on Eric Andre.

Fox ADHD is flawless

This 5th anniversary post brought to you by: Frustration! brand sprays.

Five years. Five fucking years. That's a lot of time to spend blogging. 

Or, lately, not blogging. Then reflecting on that not blogging. Then hating myself because my only thought was to blog about blogging. Which is what I'm doing now so the irony is I should have just gotten over it and gotten on with it.

But that didn't happen and now we're here. To be honest I don't know how to proceed. When I started this blog, or rather the blog that became this blog, I was in a completely different place. Physically I was sitting on a bed in one of my college friend's parent's house. And mentally I was some dumb kid who thought the best way he could show he could think was to share opinions about a lot of things.

Okay, maybe completely different place is an overstatement. But lately I've just been so bored by straight ad blogs. There were times I thought they were the sun and the moon, the ocean and the stars! But lately they've been wet farts in the wind of the internet. 

(Of course I'm not talking about YOUR ad blog. Yours is perfect.)

Doesn't it seem that way? Or is that a byproduct of saturation? Have I filled my head with so many ad thoughts that I can't bring myself to gush about slightly regurgitated ones the way I once did? Maybe. It is a bit like eating the same sandwich every day for five years.

And there are times I just feel so dull writing impassioned posts into this blank box. It's not hard, necessarily. It feels silly. There's a billion topics and problems to tackle and I choose to rant about advertising for the thousandth time? No wonder my friends got sick of me before I got sick of myself.

The small bit of solace I have is that I'm not writing a marketing advice blog. Or a blog of top-ten lists. Or a careerism blog. those kind of things make my skin crawl up my back, rip itself from my body, and go find some other, better human. It's a place that stays true to me even if that truth is a gelatinous, slippery thing.

So five years in I'm in the same place I was when I started blogging. Just a dumb guy putting thoughts out into the ether. It's a great way to not make a living.

Now congregation please open to Weekly Linklys 1:2 and repeat after me.

There's been a lot of talk on the internet. People saying LINKS are too much temptation. But I say to you today: read these links and go in peace!


Broad City's marketing department is on point with this Al Dente Dentist blog.

This post about good advertising being the best strategy. (Read the first comment too. It's a great discussion)

Short thing about how getting mad at the oscars is dumb. (Easy to parallels here regarding ad award schemes, too.)


Old spice is still great.

Fighting Cock Bot

Boyhood/Boy Meets World Mashup

Cool little documentary about Subway 

No, no, no. This isn't right at all. This is the daily linkly. *I* ordered the weekly linkly.

So it's a new year and I haven't blogged a bit. Really killing it in 2015. (Provided that "it" is doing fuck all with this blog.) Well here's some lovely internets from the past few weeks. Maybe longer. Who knows anymore.


Self-taught Chinese street photographer's vaguely absurdist photography.

Martin and Olly tackle content stats. Or, rather, tell you why ad view rates are complete bullshit.

Absolutely riveting article about a man's grandmother poisoning his family.

Why people act like they're all into food online.

Incredible solution to the whole stuff-left-in-the-bottom-of-jars problem. (Seriously. It's brilliant.)

Yo dudes, want to know what it's like to be oggled in public like a woman? Carry a cake.


I have no idea how this was done.

Parody of McDonald's golden globes ad.

Absolutely perfect radio ad for Lucozade. (via Ant Melder)

Okay. That is quite enough. Goodbye.

Flogging the rain to death

For anyone who lives in a city with real problems, let me fill you in on Los Angeles' most recent crisis: rain.

That's right. This week the skies opened up and poured down for hour after hour. Starting in the morning and going well into the night. The entire city was blanketed in an off-putting grey color that's so unbecoming of its usual sun-kissed self. Simply dreadful.

And the people of Los Angeles could not get enough of it. Every conversation held in the city pertained only to the rain. It was truly a remarkable event. Most people chose to hide in their homes or apartments hoping that this was just some bad dream.

But those brave souls who made it to work for this two day torrential downpour risked life and limb to do so. Aided by an app called Waze.

Here's a brief primer on Waze for anyone who doesn't live in a city with the congestion of a coal miner suffering from a sinus infection. Waze is a GPS program that finds you the quickest way to get to your destination. It uses real-time traffic stats from other users to determine these routes. It's a pretty nifty tool. There are only two rules. 

First, you have to adhere to Waze's directions absolutely. If you so much as take a right turn that it didn't call for you will be spited by the traffic gods and end up taking an additional 20 minutes to get where you're going. Waze knows. You obey. 

Second rule, you have to be a maniac to use it. Or at least willing to drive like one. Most of the time Waze is perfectly reasonable. It has no vested interest in putting you in harm's way. But every so often it'll have you make a maneuver that would make Jason Statham's Transporter's knees quake. Fun things like ask you to cross a busy 6-lane street at an stoplight-less intersection. Or take a left turn into an alleyway only visible under the third moon of the month. Anything to shave a few seconds off your drive time. And if you're thinking you can get around these directions, please refer back to rule number one.

That's Waze in a nutshell. And the way it determines these routes is based off of other drivers using the app. Waze encourages its users to report events on the road. It depends on these reports to keep your drive speedy. 

Those reports are what I want to talk about.

During my Tuesday morning commute I got an alert asking me to use caution because someone had reported rain.

"Watch out," it chirped, "rain reported ahead."

I laughed. Because it was funny. Adorable even. The All-Knowing Waze doesn't know how blatantly apparent the rain is. 

Then 15 minutes later a second alert popped up. From a different user. And a few minutes and miles later, a third. By this point in time the little alert of "Watch out! Rain reported ahead." was more of a gentle annoyance than pleasant thing I could laugh at.

The day progressed. The rain persisted. Finally it was time to leave work.

That's when the deluge of alerts came in as torrentially as the rain. It seemed I couldn't go a thousand feed without being alerted again.

"Watch out! Rain reported ahead."

"Watch out! Rain reported ahead."

"Watch out! Rain reported ahead."

And so on. What was a pretty funny joke just 10 hours before has turned into a verse from The Devine Comedy. The alerts would not stop. The users of Waze had killed the joke.It had reached saturation but people were trying to get a piece of that action. To feel witty. 

They fell prey to me-tooism. They'd flogged the rain to death.

And while my soundtrack of alerts played on I couldn't help but think of how this same phenomenon plagues advertising. People are so eager to jump onto the latest trend or style of joke. To repeat what they've seen. It's the case over and over. Commercials, banners, tweets, print ads, websites start to coalesce and become this homogeneous blob of things that were once interesting and humorous. Because it's really easy to see something that already exists, identity it as funny, and decide to use it. It makes it really, really easy to get out of the office around six and catch that thing that's so hot right now. (That's going to be bastardized by making it into some ad a couple of months down the line)

Sure, this process works but it also undersells the creativity that agencies have in them. It leads to the chief criticism of advertising that there is no creativity in the business of creativity. That we're a collection of recycled YouTube videos and catch phrases picked from existing media. To a certain extent that criticism is irrefutable. 

Watch out! Derivative creative work ahead.

As you walk down the street you can't help but notice a small but proud flower. "Father," you say, "Father, what's that?" He answers: that's the weekly linkly.


It's been an inordinate amount of time since I last wrote something for here. I mean really wrote something. While that has absolutely no impact on your life it bums me out. So I'm going to start doing all that jazz again. If for nothing more than it'll help me get thoughts out of my head and into the world wide internet. You didn't need a missive to tell you that but I thought that unless I wrote it here I wouldn't be accountable to do it. 

Thanks for still reading, if you still read.


  • Mark Fenske's blog. Wish this was around when I was cobbling together my own pseudo ad school during college. Oh well.


Why all hipsters look the same. It's science! Or math! Or something. Just watch the video.

Lee Fields absolutely killing a takeaway show.

Building worlds and spinnin tales in Big Hero 6.

The dangers of whooping cough. From the always funny Hush Money.

There's gold in them links, Tobias. Gold I tell you. And I'll be goddamned if we don't get to them this week.

It's been a while. Which means there's going to be an onslaught of links. But all that means is that you all get tons of interesting stuff so why are you even complaining?

The Ad Contrarian's entire series about consumer behavior. Parts one, two, and three. It's an incredible well thought out jab in the eye of a lot of the current theories that drive advertising nonsense. It takes a while to read through all three pieces but I think it's definitely, definitely worth it.



How to cut cheese.

Making of 'Music for Machines'