Friday, November 27, 2009

"What does a Creative Director do?"

A few months ago, I was getting ready for a meeting while an A/V guy was setting up our new system. We got to chatting, and immediately recognized each other as fellow smartasses. He was asking me about my job, and it came down to "so you just sit around and tell everyone else what to do, eh?"

Turned out he had to keep working through our meeting, which was a large creative brainstorm on a new brand for a government program. I ran the meeting, solicited ideas, gave direction, pushed people for more thought, and bent, spindled and mutilated the results until we had three strong conceptual approaches.

The meeting ended and I asked the guy, "now do you get what I do?" He did.

I know there are a lot of advertising students reading this blog now, so this post is for them. I get a lot of people calling me and telling me they're interested in Creative Direction. I often get the impression that they think it's just like this:

Besides the fact that there's a lot less smoking, infidelity and on-the-job drinking in the real world than on TV (well, less smoking and infidelity anyway...) Creative Direction in a 45-person Ottawa agency bears little resemblance to the glamour of the golden age.

So, for all those keeners who have asked me what being a CD is like, here are my "to do" lists from this week:

- Studio Managers' meeting: planning for the week's expected workload. By noon, everything will have been changed, delayed or have had its deadlines greatly accelerated.
- TV concept presentation to federal clients.
- Brief on client Xmas e-card.
- Blog about our foster parenting campaign


- Internal meeting on new transit campaign.
- Prepare pitch materials on another campaign.
- Review updated banner ads.
- Meet again on Xmas card.
- Write partnership prospecting letter for client.
- Secure freelance francophone Creative partner for another project.
- Review brochure copy.
- Review super treatment for TV ad.
- Review more banner revisions.
- Review voices for TV voiceover re-record.
- Blog about Facebook ads.

- Get interviewed by Ryerson Student Radio on Social Marketing
- Brief on new social media opportunity
- Re-present TV concepts to federal clients' boss. Major changes required.
- Direct voiceover re-record for another TV ad, over-the-phone, to Montreal studio
- Provide last-minute creative direction for Xmas card
- Check in with French creative partner
- Drive to Kingston for campaign wrap-up-lunch with St. Lawrence College (note: if you're ever in Kingston, I highly recommend Chez Piggy.)
- Drive back to Ottawa.
- Deal with several major crises that developed while I was away.
- Review and approve new voiceover for one TV offline, and new music for that one and another.
- Overnight: review and rewrite presentation for Friday pitch.

- Review, direct French creative.
- Direct English adaptation of same.
- Develop social media plan for new prospect.
- Finalize pitch deck.
- Blog about this. (How meta!)
- Rehearse pitch.
- Do pitch.
- Present new French creative (and English adaptation) to client.
- Present Xmas card to client.
- Go home for pizza & wine with the fam.

I've barely touched on evening and weekend work, or the fact that last week included four 12-hour TV shoot and post-production days in Montreal.

So, my keen young CD wannabes, I present to you the awesome reality of the job:

By the way, the moustache will be gone by next Tuesday. So if you want to help me kick cancer's ass, please donate to my Movember page at

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Messing with social ads

There's been a lot of chatter lately about Facebook hijacking personal photos for their ads. Wasn't that big a deal to me, because it's just a matter of updating privacy settings. That's the least of my problems with social advertising.

I'm not a big fan of most of the social ads I get on Facebook. They tend to be rather stupid. But what really bothers me is what it says about how I'm being profiled.

For example, I don't post a lot of demographic information, but my profile does say that I am married. And yet it seems to get me more "singles" ads:

And then there's my age, which isn't public info but is (I assume) read by the advertising apps. So I get this:

I just hope it wasn't targeting using using biometrics :(

And then there's the content of my posts, often about the advertising industry. Which generated this unintentionally hilarious ad:

But, as an adman, I just hate being pidgeonholed by my own people. That's why I've set out to mess with Facebook ads in any way possible.

The first thing I did was become a fan of a bunch of random things, in a number of foreign languages. But all that got me was a bunch of travel ads.

So now what I'm doing is using the "feedback" function on social ads. If you click the little "X" at the top right of an ad, it asks you why you want to baleet it:

- Misleading
- Offensive
- Uninteresting
- Irrelevant
- Repetitive
- Other

"Annoying", "Trollicious" and "Makes me feel like a creepy old man" are not on the list, but you have the option to add those in.

So, I've started marking up every Facebook ad I hate. Online games, get-rich-quick schemes, fad diets, anything I think is stupid.

And what did it get me?

I give up.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Foster Rollout

Last Friday, National Child Day, Children's Aid Societies across Eastern Ontario launched their new foster family recruitment campaign.

Conceived and produced by your favourite Change Marketeers here at Acart, "Winning Kids" includes a TV PSA/Web video series, posters, and print and internet ads.

Those of you who follow the blog have already had a sneak peek at the videos, but fairweather friends can see them here (click through to YouTube and follow the playlist):

What you may not have seen yet is the print part. Here it is:

The ads were all presented at a gala launch in the Museum of Nature. I was gutted that I couldn't be there, but according to other team members who attended, it was a moving sight. Apparently the ads had some people in tears (in the good way).

The one that hits me where I live, though, is this one:

When we were brainstorming the campaign, we wanted everything to look user-generated. So to give the client an idea of the snapshot-style photos we were envisioning, we raided our own Facebook pages for family and friend photos.

All of the ads were professionally re-shot with volunteer models except this last one. That's my own son, on a Saturday fishing trip to neighbouring New Edinburgh last spring. Nobody could figure out how to re-create the scenario believably, so we just made due with my 5 megapix personal shots. (It was strictly catch-and-release, BTW.)

Thanks to Chris at Photolux Studio for a great job. And thanks to our team and all the volunteers.

I'll blog the rest of the campaign later this week.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Ultimate Creative Director Shirt

Not everyone knows this about me, but I actually started my career writing some fashion. I was never really in the industry, but when I used to spend time in Milan and was looking for freelance opportunities, it was only natural.

So, with that in mind, I present Change Marketing: Fashion Edition.

This is my favourite shirt, made by Icebreaker of New Zealand. What's that, you ask? Check out their pitch:

Your Icebreaker garments can be worn solo or layered with other Icebreaker pure merino pieces to create a fine, breathable system that moves effortlessly between the mountains and the city, or wherever your travels lead you

We’ve translated this miracle all-weather fibre into a clothing system that gives people the same freedom to push their limits in the outdoors.

Icebreaker merino forms a buffer zone around your body, keeping you at an ideal temperature in all climates and conditions. It’s also lightweight, odour- resistant and soft against the skin – all qualities that will help you to perform at your peak.

These clothes are seriously addictive. My cousin John, an avid adventure racer, has worn Icebeaker over mountains and through deserts around the world. Julia, my wife, finds it stands up to the rigours of teaching primary public school.

In my world, I have come to love this shirt because:

- It is the optimal non-colour for a modern Creative pro: black
- It never fades (I bought it last March)
- No ironing
- Feels great
- Looks sharp

Yesterday, however, I gave my Icebreaker polo its harshest workout yet. Sure, they've been to the top of Everest and back, but can one of these merino miracle shirts stand up to a 12-hour TV shoot at an 80-year-old steel mill? Let's see.

Agency Call, 5:30 a.m. at the Mariott in downtown Montreal. Out of the bag and fresh as a daisy, as always. (The shirt was ready to go as well...)

BTW, the moustache is a temporary feature for Movember. Hit my donation page at to find out more.

6:30 a.m., Les Forges Sorel. We get our security briefing, and get our safety gear. My black shirt, jeans and boots pass the test for toughness and fire/melt resistance. Plus, it looks cool with the orange flameproof coats.

First shoot was an exterior. Beautiful day, but it was about -10 degrees. Everyone around me was freaking out about the cold, but the combo of a windproof shell and a wool base layer was pretty effective. They all thought I was crazy, but only my bare hands got really cold.

By mid-morning, we were ready to shoot inside, near the actual forge. White-hot metal and sparks all around us. But once again, I was quite comfy in my breathable base.

Here is our Director, Jacques, and some of the team having lunch. They feed you non-stop at a shoot, and by the end of the day everyone is wearing coffee and grease stains. But you'd never know with the black Icebreaker polo. Black wool hides many, many sins.

I wish my eyes, ears, nose and throat were as rugged as this shirt. The smoke and dust of the ancient industrial site have been harder on my lungs than Don Draper pitching American Tobacco. (*hack, hack, hack*) The shirt didn't show the slightest bit of soot.

This steel mill began life as an arms factory in WWII, making barrels for heavy artillery. By mid-afternoon, we were shooting in the millwright shop, where some of the machines seemed to be original equipment.

They sure don't make 'em like they used to... except for this shirt. After 8 months of weekly wear, it still looks like new. But if I ever do get sick of it, Icebreaker recommends burying it in the garden - merino wool is both renewable and biodegradable.

All shoots have unexpected stresses, and this one was no exception. At this point, we were all tired, and the actors were having a hard time nailing the scene. But in cases like this, you can't let 'em see you sweat, and I was as cool and dry as bactrian camel in the Icebreaker.

Just an idea of the environment I was working in. Evening shift at the blast furnaces, and the shirt is still bringing it. I wish I was made of merino.

11 p.m., back in Montreal. About 3 pints into the day one wrap party. Note my glassy eyes, haggard appearance, and absolutely immaculate shirt. I could have slept in this sucker, but I needed to rid myself of the smell of burning steel.

Hell, I could've just kept rocking the black Icebreaker for the entire week. But there's no need. I also have this shirt in brown and blue.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Foster a new perception

Next week, the Children's Aid Societies of Eastern Ontario will launch their latest "Winning Kids" campaign. But to get the ball rolling, they're allowing me to give Change Marketing readers a sneak peek:

We've been working with CAS since last June, and shot these over the summer. It was a very different kind of campaign for us: shoestring budget, volunteer actors, and generous partners working at or below cost.

The overall objective was to raise awareness about the need for foster parents, but CAS also wanted to change perceptions about foster families from the idea of "rescuing" kids to one of shared, mutually-rewarding experience. Our whole approach, and one that helped us secure the contract, was to make the campaign feel "real". But there was one problem: we can't show real foster kids. Their privacy is sacrosanct.

So instead, we adopted "user-generated" as a style, creating 30 second PSAs that look like home movies. We were honest about it, with clear branding of the campaign, but at the same time we were able to make our low production values work. In other words, we OWNED it.

I realize that there are both good and bad news stories out there about foster parenting, but our choice to accentuate the positive is true to the types of stories I've seen and heard among foster families I've known personally.

And the need for new fosters is definitely there. Currently, 1,100 foster families in Eastern Ontario open their doors to some of the 3,200 children and youth in care. As of last year, more than 29,000 children and youth in Ontario were victims of abuse or neglect — many of whom are in need of new homes.

We felt strongly about getting this message out, and so did everyone involved. It's an honour to work with CAS. Thanks to all our volunteers, and to everyone at Acart, GAPC, and Photolux who gave so generously of their time.

And thanks to the Ladman who — although not a foster child — provided inspiration for the gentle spirit of the campaign. You'll see more of him when we reveal the print ads next week:

Please share.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thinking of you

Today's the day that we stop for a minute to forget deadlines and office politics, and think about something real. So we step out of our comfortable cublicles and living rooms to remind ourselves that war is not a movie, a video game, or even a memory. It is about real soldiers killing each other, real civilians dying, and real families left behind — generation after generation.

There are several things you can do to help:

Join the conversation at Canada Remembers on Facebook

Help children affected by war at War Child

Find out what you can do for our military people at Canadian Forces Personnel and Family Support Services

And to those who have served, thank you.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A better man than I

Yesterday, I just happened to catch wind of Mike Lush' 3rd Annual 320 km Rideau Trail end to end hike to end cancer on a friend's Facebook page.

Wow. In his own words:
All set to go, mid-October and this year I'm more motivated than ever !!! This horrid disease just took my Mom after a short battle on September 4th. 2 out of 3 of us can expect a cancer diagnosis sometime during our lifetime so you now have a far greater chance of getting this disease than not. So for the sake of yourself, your friends and family support the fight in any way you can.....remember, if you don't help fight this disease....who will?

So here I am, growing whiskers and wearing bras to work to support cancer awareness and research, and this guy's out there slogging it up the Rideau Trail.
Only 90 kms. to go !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Cold/flu waining......left leg, just a mild nuisance...all is well.

I can't believe this has been going on for three years without me noticing it. Mike's odyssey is very close to my heart for several reasons:
• I lost three grandparents to cancer (two far too young, one who gave thyroid cancer a damn good fight to almost 100!);
• I grew up on the portion of the trail just south of the Little Cataraqui Conservation Area, in Kingston, on which my Dad was among the volunteers who cut the paths through the woods where I take Ladman salamander hunting even today; and
• I love hiking (although I'm just a day tripper).

So, Mike, my moustache and my bra salute you.

Mike's almost done his trek, but you can still sponsor his 3rd Annual 320 km Rideau Trail end to end hike to end cancer at and follow his progress on his Facebook Group or Blog.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Is this really the city that fun forgot?

Recently, I've been seeing lots of transit ads for an interesting new user-generated content site: "picture it. downtown."

My first thought was that this is a great idea for helping define Ottawa's brand. Let's celebrate the people who are trying to make urban Ottawa just a little cooler.

Having lived in Ottawa for since 1995, I've always been frustrated by our lack of self-confidence as a city. We allow ourselves to be perceived as a cold, grey, bureaucratic wastelend — "the city that fun forgot".

When outsiders say "Ottawa", they really mean "Government". Just look at today's headlines:

Ottawa's mind closed on carbon (Toronto Star)

Native tribe will petition Ottawa to remove its Indian status (Globe and Mail)

Anyone who knows our city's history, or who has visited the Bytown Museum, knows that we have not always been seen this way. In the days before we were the capital (or even "Ottawa"), Bytown was known as the roughest town in British North America — home to thugs, hookers, and corrupt leaders who could put contemporary New York's Five Points neighbourhood to shame.

So, what happened? How did we become so boring?

Ottawa certainly has lots of life in its core. The Byward Market is a great place to hang out, day or night. We have a fun and exciting independent film community (did you know that pornstar Sasha Grey was in town for a "safe for work" shoot?). We have edgy artists and laid-back galleries. We are a centre of excellence for animation. We have a good music scene. Saucy happenings. A unique ad industry. We even have a few world-class cultural institutions — or so I've heard.

So, as you can imagine, I saw this "picture it" contest and eagerly Googled it in the hopes that Ottawa downtowners were finally going to let the world know how many interesting people, places and scenes this city has in its core.

Or so I thought. Despite the contest's tagline "Grab a friend. Go downtown. "Snap a picture. Share it." the vast majority of pictures I've seen on their online showcase lack something very important: people.

I see pictures of nature, of architecture, of objects. And very few of the people and who bring this city to life. Where's the Parking Angel? Weird paranoid bike guy? The Shawarma Nazi? Digeridude? Last call at the Elgin St. Diner?

If I were to go on the user-generated picture on that site, I would get the impression that Ottawa is a cold, empty place, halfway between museum and nature preserve. And that makes me sad, because that's not the downtown Ottawa I've lived and worked in for 14 years.

But I'm not bashing the contest — or 76 Design, who put together a nice site. It's still a great idea, and user-generated content just is what it is. But I'm going to submit some better pictures to that site. I hope you will too.

Oh, and for those of you following Movember, the 'stache is coming in nicely. Visit my page at to watch it grow and/or donate to end prostate cancer.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

F*ck you, Cancer!

This is my kind of cause marketing campaign: It's meaningful, street-level, message-driven, and has kickass attitude:

It's part of the Canadian Cancer Society's "Fight Back" campaign. I haven't been able to track down the ad agency responsible, [update: a commenter tells me it's DDB Canada] but I wish I had done this campaign. It's been up around town for several weeks now, yet it keeps getting my attention.

The reason I'm so keen on the tone is that, like many Canadians, I have lost loved ones to cancer. Both my maternal Grandparents succumbed to it, too young, and it eventually got the best of my paternal Grandmother — even though she lived strong with thyroid cancer to the age of 98.

I find that people who deal with the spectre of cancer in the family tend to react in one of two ways: Either in hushed tones, as a taboo subject, or with righteous anger.

I am one of the latter group. It may seem irrational to anthropomorphize a cellular disease, but even misplaced anger is a great motivation. My mother tells me the story of how my uncle, a family doctor, was prone to fits of rage against inanimate objects when he realized he could not save their mother's life. But he remained a vigilant and committed fighter against the disease for the rest of his career. I imagine many researchers are driven by the same fire.

Through activities like Movember or our Breast Aware Day last month, I've participated in some of the goofier consciousness-raising efforts. But for me it's a particularly vengeful form of satire.

Beneath my cheesy, sparsely-sprouting moustache, you should be able to hear me muttering:

"Fuck you, Cancer!"

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Adding a little Mo to the cause

I'm off to a late start, but inspired by Facebook friends like Jake and Dave O., I've joined the whiskers brigade for Movember.

According to their Web site, "Movember is an annual, month-long celebration of the moustache, highlighting men’s health issues - specifically prostate cancer."

Participants are invited to grow a moustache all month to raise awareness and donations towards prostate cancer research. I'm doing it. How could I not?

Acart Communications has a long association with the moustache. Al Albania, our President, was long famous for his Italian classic until he recently shaved it off for a change. John Staresinic, our Senior Creative Director, still rocks his. These are the two men I report to, so a little flattery through imitation can't hurt, right?

That said, I've never been a facial hair guy. My sideburns occasionally get a little '70s copshowesque, but I declined the whole goatee trend, and I've never had more than a week's beard. But I'm up for this. If I can wear an enormous pink bra to client meetings for women's health, the least I can do is grow a hair for my own gender.

So please donate! The movement has an excellent online donation tool. My page is

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

You're gonna love my nutty infomercals

Working in various agencies (and freelancing) in a smaller market like Ottawa, you get your share of bizarre or disturbing clients coming through the door — like the guy who wanted me to brand a porn version of Netflix, or the domain registration entrepreneur who asked me to create an ad that had a 100% chance of getting publicly banned. But even though I've seen my share of hair-brained entrepreneurs, I've never had to do an ad that would cause me to hang my head in shame.

Which is why I was so curious about the online infomercials featured in Huff Post's The 15 Stupidest Products of All Time. Some I had seen before, like the Tiddy Bear, although I had always assumed it was a joke:

Related products, like the Kush Support, are too dumb to be made up:

And yet others, such as the Aspray and Comfort Wipe, are just plain gross:

But as amusing as these are, you still have to stop and think of the incredible amount of work it is to shoot a TV commercial. I just got home from a shoot in Montreal for a real client. But no matter how ad-hoc or low budget the production, several teams of people still had to sit around through pre-production meetings, video shoots, and offline approvals trying to maintain straight faces while talking about boobies and butts, jiggles and stinks. It must've been like a Kindergarten playground.

How do they do it? One can only assume alcohol is involved, but how depressing would it be to meet with a Creative Director and show her a reel like this? Hell, if you showed her your award-winning work for The Back Up, she might even back slowly away and call security.

So my question is, are there any adpeople out there who have actually worked in the infomercial genre? And how's that working out for you?