Salt Creek near Willamette Pass. Bottom floor of The Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. Danny Gregory's online journal. Top of Enchanted Rock on the 30th parallel. Visual thesaurus. David Byrne's brain (thanks, sam karp).
And there's always jon stewart and john hodgman.
Music by tom waits. caffeine discussions. harper's index. zefrank. powell's in portland. edward tufte. booth 21 at denny's exit 191 in eugene. online tutorials. mapmaking. message boards in the union. graffitti. fast company.
Sometimes I talk about ad education's dirty little secret: we should be teaching Responsibility and Culture an IdeaHatching and Brilliance rather than 5 rules for the headline. Most university programs hunger for textbooks to teach creative. Yikes. What a way to ruin a good thing. They throw anyone in to teach the classes whose ever written a headline, or really liked their art class, or knows a bit about photoshop.
So, Greg asked me the other day: what should make someone go to one program over the other?
Maybe it's time for 5 Rules.
1 -- Inspiration and mentors. Is there a shepherd in the faculty? Are there advocates for great work and best practices?
2 -- Ideas and freedom. Will you be given permission to fail at times? Do you have latitude in classes and concepts that make for a nimble curriculum?
3 -- Accountability and authority. Will there be a degree of meaning...either undergrad or grad...that you can use as nice wall art and as a salute to parents? Not as important as 1, 2, 4, and 5, but nice to have.
4 -- Connections and network. Will there be people to see and places to visit and secret knocks that get you in the right doors? No points if it's connected to a placement center; those aren't effective in the creative playground.
5 -- Community and workspace. Is there a happly place that allows for collaboration? Someone to push and poke? People who care about work, about people. A way to get work seen through strong reviews by smart people?
Maybe the 6th rule is the most important: Beyond advertising vision. It has to be not about advertising even if you're thinking advertising's the gig. It's about thinking and connecting.
Universities usually can't swallow these rules. Universities often use structure and curricular status quo thinking until institutional inertia creeps in. Universities often can't grow educators in the field so they borrow from industry and subjugate lecturers to secondclass citizenry. Universities even get philosophical rashes about teaching creative approaches, thinking that it's about pictures and headlines -- hard to even consider portfolios with other media -- when it's about sharp conceptual thinking.
How do you grade that stuff?
So universities have failed creative training for the industry. Portfolio programs take over. And now so much of the work from the portfolio schools looks alike. It's not great, but it's not bad. And so the people attending won't be bad, but they won't get to great.
Add to that the fact the creative industry is in dire need for universities to step up and talk ethics, responsibility, activism as you create brilliant work. That rarely happens in portfolio programs. It should happen in universities.
Reinventing the ad program model: creativity + responsibility + strategy + intellectual curiosity + passion.
I just wrote a short piece for One. a magazine on social responsibility issues we all face. That is, we ask people creating and thinking seriously about advertising as a cultural phenomenon: what are we doing to better the industry, the culture, the notion of training advertising thinkers?
Anyone who knows me understaands I'm not a pollyanna. I'm a realist who wants to believe we can change things for the better. A great percentage of advertising is a waste of time -- irrelevant, offensive, stupid, or misplaced -- yet I know there are agencies and great brains out there doing wondrous work.
How do we celebrate work that is good for the culture and good for business?
So, a short list to start:
1 -- Look for heroes. Drew Neisser asks us to engage, enhance, enlighten, entertain, and inspire in his Marketing for Good site. He's talking about how what we do maakes a positive difference. His agency, Renegade Marketing Group, takes that approach.
Kevin Tuerff and Valerie Davis of Enviromedia make doing the right thing a daily mission. They are remarkable.
2 -- Talk about the stuff done badly. Not just from the creative viewpoint -- that can take up all of our time -- but from the "That's a Bad Idea and You Should be Ashamed" perspective. I'm not for regulation. I'm not for cutting the creative opportunity. I'm for using your head and finding ways to make powerful messages that are good for us.
For example, don't do this: the stupidity of most liquor ads. Too cool by a long-shot, inauthentic and wannabe. If I've just described the target, we're all in trouble. BMW ads that talk about ideas then don't have any new ideas to offer. I'd love to be at the meeting where that was sold just to document the disaster. Or anything that lets us continue some crazy racial track of stereotyping people by color and gender. Plenty of examples. I'll post those later since they deserve special homage.
3 -- Talk about the good stuff and why social responsibility can be so smart for a brand. The best stuff does that. Sometimes it's all about the brand, sometimes it's about the world we live in. Liberty Mutual and their terrific tv spots about small things making a difference. Or any of the Mini Motoring Hearts initiatives we find cropping up in magazines and websites making colunteerism part of the brand energy. It's out there. Let's celebrate it.
Junior writers and art directors beware. Most portfolios graduating from universities and ad programs right now are outdated, old, hackneyed. They're built around 5 or 6 campaigns, mostly print. They trail what is happening out there by producing status quo work, in status quo ways, with little differentiation between one book or the next, or one school or the other.
Hmmm. What to do?
How about let's change what portfolios are? A portfolio should be a personal conversation, based on relevant and surprising brand work and mediated thinking that takes ideas to a new place. Defining it is the easy part. Creating it means the guts to break away from the pack. More thoughtful strategy, less self-congratulatory whackoff creative. More deliverable, less almost-got-it. More personal perspective, less herd instinct. More tomorrow, less yesterday. Finally...more social responsibility, less
As advertising evolves -- hard to define and frame at this point -- so should the work in a junior advertising portfolio. It means ad education and industry gatekeepers have to be brave together. It means university programs have to -- finally -- make progress toward understanding how to deliver relevant creative talent to the industry. Portfolio programs have to get what it means to grow responsible, ethical thinkers.
Today a portfolio class took their work to stuff to hold (booklets, napkins, mail) and stuff to see (screens) and stuff to talk about (sidewalks, cellphones, reconfiguring stores). They beheld the brand and thought connective strategy.
So who are the heros and experts we tapped into?
• Neverstop who bill themselves as cultural engineers.
• Someone working in a large agency making smart stuff happen, that has to be tough. But look at Danielle Thornton and friends at Saatchi for Air Tahiti Nui. They began it in 2005, it stays good.
Here's passion. Joe got royally pissed about the loss of habeus corpus on October 17. He stood for hours, day after day on the UO campus. He formed a group of like-minded people. He's talking, thinking, doing. Because he was passionate about what he believed in.