Thursday, July 27, 2006

It's not easy pretending to be Green

What is it about doing “look how green we are” corporate ads that drives companies to make up ridiculous terms for what they’re doing?

First GE came up with “ecomagination,” which, given the company’s history with PCBs in the Hudson River, must mean “our imaginary ecological commitment.” Or maybe it means “it takes a hell of an imagination to call our coal-mining technology ecologically sensitive.”

Now Honda is jumping in with “enviromentology.” So silly—and so unnecessary, because Honda has been a leader in fuel efficiency and cleaner emissions for decades.

Curiously, the copy leads off with some belligerent noise about preferring to let the company’s actions speak for themselves rather than just writing about it. But, ummm, you are writing about it.

Here’s a thought: rather than “enviromentology” and “ecomagination,” why not just call it what it is: trying to do the right thing.

I say “trying” because the dominant color when it comes to balancing a company’s roles as profit engine and corporate citizen is not green. It’s gray. The trade-offs are complicated and the win-wins are infrequent. And I say this as a spotted-owl-kissing, dam-blowing, Nature Conservancy-giving greenie.

That’s why I respect BP’s take on environmental issues and responsibilities. It’s full of nuance and shades of gray (even when they highlight the buzzwords in yellow), and notably short on easy answers. I think they’re trying, and that—not an overactive ecomagination—is what counts.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

A different kind of cool.

A week spent flyfishing in the Canadian Rockies empties the mind of most thoughts about advertising. Which allowed this thought to find its way in:

We coastal sophisticates use irony to keep an emotional distance and to avoid embarrassing displays of enthusiasm and happiness.

Southwestern Alberta, however, is a 100% irony-free zone, and it’s like breathing pure oxygen—utterly refreshing and slightly giddy-making. So how do flyfishing guides, who are among the coolest people anywhere, keep their cool in the face of jaw-dropping scenery and 24-inch trout?


“Pretty nice sky, there, don’t you think?”

“Decent fish you got there.”

We in the ad business could use more understatement and less irony. Is the advertising world ready for “Introducing a new truck that's not half bad”?

I don’t know. But we’d feel better. We’d be less ironic. And we’d be a whole lot better-liked.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The arc.

Agency-client relationships have an arc, just like movie plots and short-lived romances. The arc typically has five points:


Let’s look at each one, and for you agency young ‘uns who haven’t traversed a full arc yet, don’t despair. Sometimes these things can stay at Habituation for years.

Admiration. The client starts to hear about a new shop. Maybe he reads a trade magazine article. Or he meets the creative director. Or maybe he sees an ad he likes and tracks down the shop responsible. Whatever. He goes to the agency’s web site and likes what he sees. He asks around and likes what he hears. He googles the agency’s principals. He finds himself daydreaming about working with this new shop. His current shop doesn’t know it yet, but they’re toast.

Infatuation. With or without the pretense of a review, the client has consummated his relationship with the new agency. The people--they’re so bright and shiny and new! And their ideas—so bold! Their media plans—so nontraditional! Where have these people been all my life? And the wrap party for the anthem spot? Dude!

Habituation. He can’t remember exactly when. It was such a gradual thing. One day, the process was a smoothly-running machine. Everyone on the same page, deadlines all getting met. The next day: a kind of comfortable boredom. Business as usual. Not in a bad way—we’ve got a total Vulcan mind-meld going. But do the senses tingle? No they do not.

Alienation. If the client saw one more podcast-driven idea, he was going to scream. The art director’s piercings were no longer exciting—they were tiresome. The Account Supe’s verbal tics—were they ever endearing? He thinks maybe once. But not now. Every flaw, every glitch seemed to be magnified, like zits in a make-up mirror. And that franchise meeting where the new campaign was shown? What a nightmare!

Termination. What was the name of that agency the West Coast sales manager was talking about last night? They sounded kind of cool. Wonder what their site looks like.
Wow. Very cool. Wonder if this is the right time to make a change?

That’s right—it’s the Great Circle of Life. One agency’s alienated client is another agency’s smitten stalker.