I read the news today, oh boy

May 16, 2008

california ruling

Yesterday California’s Supreme Court ruled that a ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional. I should be walking on clouds today, but instead I’m fixated on what it all means and I have this dreadful sense of deja vu.

In the interest of full disclosure, marriage equality is something I absolutely believe in and have fought for both personally and professionally.  It was our agency, DDB in Seattle, that worked with Equality California Institute to develop the Let California Ring campaign and the television spot that, hopefully, helped create an environment where yesterday’s ruling is viewed by most as just. I spent many, many hours over the course of more than a year helping bring this creative perspective to life.

So I should be thrilled.  And in many ways I am.  But I also feel like the timing is as unfortunate as it was four years ago.  It was in the run-up to the 2004 Bush/Kerry election that gay marriage jumped onto the front pages and became national news.  San Francisco began marrying gay couples and the story became a media sensation.

But it was also clearly a gift for the right who used constitutional amendment ballot measures to energize conservative voters in swing states.  Conservatives used this as a wedge.  And it worked.  Look at Ohio.  Before Florida and hanging chads, the election in 2004 hinged on this state. Ohio’s anti gay marriage amendment drove a lot of very conservative voters to the polls — and convinced other voters who might have gone for Kerry to vote for Bush because he was the candidate who would protect “the sanctity of marriage.”

Are we about to replay 2004 all over again?  I’m sure there are many people I have worked with on this cause who will think that my view is far too pragmatic — that I have abandoned my ideals.  And, in some ways, I suppose this criticism is probably true.

Better books. Please.

May 15, 2008

I sat down with a young guy recently to review his book. He’d gone to a good, graduate level creative school.  I liked him.  Turns out we had some commonalities in our life and background.

But nothing about his portfolio of work excited me.  It looked like so many others I see.  There were spec print ads that used quirky visual solutions – but not in a very sophisticated way.  There were the out-of-home guerilla-ish ideas.  Books these days are often so formulaic, it’s unbelievable.

So, as nicely as I could, I asked him if he ever did digital work – anything on the Web.  “Oh, yeah, I love that stuff.  But I’ve been told to keep that stuff out of my book because it will just typecast me.  I’ll get stuck just being a “Web guy.”  Typecast?  The fastest way to be typecast is to show work that’s not reflective of our current reality and where the world is headed.  This guy should get a refund on his tuition because his professors gave him such profoundly bad advice.

A creative book is, after all, simply a means of showing a prospective employer how you think.  How you solve problems.  What kind of intelligence and insight you bring to a creative challenge.  I suppose it does level the playing field to some degree when all books have essentially the same kinds of work.  Then it’s all about the quality of the ideas – the creative thought – rather than how it’s delivered.

Except that’s presuming that how and where you tell a story – and in what combinations – isn’t nearly as important as what you say.  I know there are agencies out there whose go-to media continues to be TV, print and radio.  At DDB in Seattle, our world is very different.  And we need to see candidates who reflect a new way of tackling the world.  How do they think about sight, sound and motion in a digital age?  How will we consume information a year from now? What about social media?  What about surrounding your audience rather than using a single media in hopes of snagging them?  Imagination in the delivery of ideas is a lot about what creativity is these days.  It’s what makes campaigns greater than the sum of the individual executions.

Well, if your book is tradition bound, it’s going to be tough to excite us.  Some of the people I’ve been most excited about hiring recently are those people who clearly understand communications in this digital age, but also have the knowledge, desire and skill to ideate in traditional media.   They know how to bring it all together.  To surround an idea.

Without those skills, a candidate isn’t likely to find a job here.

PS  I’m not just talking about creatives, etiher.  The same is true if you plan to be a great planner, media strategist, or account person.  It’s a new day.


May 13, 2008


Back in 2004, I never really understood how people could be undecided in the Presidential election.  George W. Bush and John Kerry were two very different choices. Today, regardless of whether the Democratic nominee is Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, the choice between a president who is a Democrat or a Republican is pretty stark.

Sure, there are tons of issues at the heart of this differentiation.  The environment, the war, the economy …  The list goes on. But one significant factor is the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court is cloaked in mystery.

There is no doubt, however, that recent nominations to the Court has made it decidedly more conservative. If you like the rightward shift, vote for McCain and a generation of conservative rulings are sure to follow. If you don’t, vote for either Democrat.

You may think you’ve probably heard this argument in past presidential elections — and not much has changed.  In some ways that’s right.  But that has largely to do with who has left the court recently (Rehnquist and O’Connor) and who replaced them (Roberts and Alito).

But a couple of things are different now.  First, Presidents are getting better at picking justices who will rule as expected.  Clarence Thomas, appointed by Bush1, has been reliably right.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, appointed by Clinton,  have been reliably left.  And John Roberts and Samuel Alito, appointed by Bush2, while still new appear to be reliably on the right.

So it really comes down to who will replace John Paul Stevens (who is perhaps the most liberal on the court — though appointed by Gerald Ford) will be 88 when a new president takes office.  And Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be 75 on January 20, 2009.  Right now the court is split, but tips to the right with Anthony Kennedy in the middle as the swing vote.  If a Democrat is elected, this very precarious balance is likely to remain because presumably a Democrat would replace these two justices with appointees who vote much like Stevens and Ginsburg. If John McCain wins (and Stevens and Ginsburg do, in fact, leave the court), the make-up of the court will be decidedly conservative for a generation to come.

Given how many issues that affect our lives come before the Supreme Court, the stakes are high for either side.  If you are interested in reading a little more, there’s a good article by Anna Quindlen in Newsweek.  And if you are interested in reading a lot more, I would recommend Jeffrey Toobin’s book, The Nine.

Pondering the legitimacy of graffiti, stickering and such …

May 10, 2008

I was out and about in the city this weekend with my kids, trying to give their mom a bit of a respite for Mother’s Day.  As we passed a large concrete wall, both of my kids started commenting on the “evil graffiti.”

They said this with a bit of mock horror and told me they learned it from one of their classmates. Now, undoubtedly, these classmates have been influenced by their parents who surely see the defacing of private/public property as the issue.

But my kids have also been to my office where various walls are adorned with the work of a handful of urban artists.  We love the energy it brings to the office.

But all of this got me thinking about where the line is for me.

Sure, there’s a lot of simple tagging that just says “I was here … and here … and here … and here … and here.”  That gets old for me.  But there are a lot of examples that I think are pretty amazing.

There was Keith Haring who, in the early 1980s, became know for drawing with white chalk on the black paper covering the unsold adspace in the subways of New York. Haring was fascinated with the idea of making art that was not elitist, but made and displayed in public for all to see and love (or not).haring

Another of my favorite artists is England’s Banksy. His works are full of social commentary and I’m fascinated with the way he uses stencils to create pieces that are at once both thought provoking and wonderful. Interestingly, nobody really knows who Banksy is in real life — though there is much speculation.  He chooses to remain anonymous because what he does is, at the core, still illegal. banksy flower2

Banksy has been a big influence on one of my other favorite urban artists, Shepard Fairey. While at Rhode Island School of Design, Fairey made a silkscreen from an old picture of Andre the Giant.  It was called “Andre the Giant has a Posse.”  Instead of spray painting, he created artwork that could easily be translated into posters and stickers so that people could easily be copied and replicated.  ObeyGiant

He refined the image over time and the result is that armies of young people ran off their own copies of this and plastered Obey Giant stickers and posters all over the country and beyond.  All of this has made Fairey a well-known and successful artist (both in fine art and commercial art).  obey-obamaAnd he’s so legitimate as a social commentator that when he created a poster in support of Barack Obama, it was enthusiastically embraced by his campaign.  In fact, it was a badge of honor.

So, stickers.  Shepard Fairey got famous with them. Snowboard brands and ski companies have built up their slope-cred by using this ultra-cheap advertising alternative.  When does the value of the message outweigh the defacing of private property (if, indeed, you see it as defacing)?  How about this example:


I saw these stickers one day while I was using a restroom at a business. It struck me as really smart in that it got me thinking about how much paper I was going to use just before I actually pulled the lever. It must work.  They claim that each of these stickers saves 100 pounds of paper.  That’s good, right? But do I have the right to put the 100 stickers I ordered off of their website and place them on paper towel dispensers as I encounter them? Is it OK because it makes people think a little more?  Or because there’s nothing really offensive about the stickers?  What do you think?  When does stickering become OK?  When is graffiti OK?  Tell me.