Search Archives




Powered by Squarespace

353. Commercial Patriotism? Patriotic Commercials?

Disclaimer: Writing articles like this is tough. There are a lot of different opinions out there, and lots of feelings, but thinking about these things is an important exercise, so here goes.

So, we all know that the ten year anniversary of 9-11 occurred yesterday. The date came incidentally on opening weekend of NFL football. So you have a very sad reminder of an atrocity meeting up with a day that most Americans look forward to, in a year we thought it might not happen. Clearly the former's importance is on a scale that the sport can't even begin to match in the smallest of degree. However, sport does intersect life - just as it did in the days and weeks following the twin towers falling. I remember a few baseball games that helped make everything seem normal, even if only for a few innings. Yesterday, we had another instance of sport intersecting life, and adding to the complexity of it all, was a layer of capitalism.

But first, a little background info on me so that none of you out there will quickly browse this article and declare me a heartless bastard, or worse, unpatriotic, or even worse, an insensitive jerk. On 9-11, I was driving down to Richmond, Virginia from the suburbs of DC to make an early morning meeting about a freelance project. The project was for a literacy center that I had worked at during my undergrad and graduate days at VCU, and even though the money wasn't very good, I liked the people and what they were trying to do in the world. I was driving down I-95 in my old pickup listening to some very bad DJs on some very bad radio stations, trying to find a decent tune. (This was before satellite radio or ipod aux jacks fit into my income bracket). When it happened, these poor DJ's were just not qualified to explain what was going on. In my head, given what they had said, a plane the size of a small Cesna had crashed into one of the towers accidentally. Didn't seem like much of a big deal squashed between two really bad country songs in the middle of Virginia on that rather pretty September morning.

When I got to campus, I parked my truck and walked up the four sets of stairs to the literacy center. I was totally not prepared for what I was going to see on the small TV set the employees had pulled into the middle of the lending library. It wasn't long before the towers began to fall. Of course, nobody knew what to say, or what to feel, or what to do. I actually got briefed on the project and started to drive back up to Northern Virginia. It was all a blur, but I do remember I-95 was empty. Which, if you are an east-coaster, you know how crazy that sounds. I might have passed ten cars on the hour and a half drive back north. The radio air was obviously filled with new words too: attack, terrorism, disaster, loss of life, and worse. I, like everyone else, watched the next few days and weeks in shock.

Oddly enough, I had had an interview in NYC that week that was obviously postponed, but I did end up going a few weeks later. What I will never forget were the holes in the skyline where I had been so used to seeing those buildings and the inches thick dust on cars coming out of the city. It looked like dirty snow. And the vigils set up all over town, but particularly the one at Union Square. And the Wanted-Dead-or-Alive posters for Osama. Those are hard things to get out of your mind. And I didn't lose anyone that I knew personally. I can't imagine what that must have been like, watching it all on CNN. Words like tragedy are overused, but not in this case.

So fast-forward ten years to NFL opening weekend yesterday. I have a cold, so instead of helping out on a last-minute project at EC1, I'm couch-surfing and watching football in a semi-Sudafed stupor. I know that I'll be seeing some 9-11 programming, afterall, you can't just ignore it, right? And most of the stuff the sports networks were doing was rather dignified and respectful for the most part. Robert De Niro reprising his role from the 9-11 documentary and talking about the events ten years ago didn't feel inappropriate, just to mention one. What I wasn't prepared for were the ads, even though I should have been. And as I'm want to do, I'm writing about this as much to figure out why I reacted the way I did, as much as I am writing for you the reader. First, let's take a look at three examples.


In this spot, the brewery remakes an ad that previously had aired only once, soon after the terrorist attacks. It's beautiful, well-shot, super clear, uses honest copy and seems genuine enough given the history of the spot and the company itself. I'm pretty sure Budweiser donates a ton of money and tries to do their part, so all-in-all, in terms of remembering a tragic event goes, this is about as good as advertising can get. I'm not saying I like it, more on that later, but they did their best, I suppose.


Now, if this is what passes for an empathetic spot these days - no thank you. I was messaging a friend earlier today and said this, "I'm not sure if this offends me more as an American or as a creative." And I'm sticking by that. Now, I understand how difficult this must be, creating a spot that isn't supposed to sell anything, but acknowledging a tragedy. And I also understand the scrutiny a spot like this would go through, especially at a decent shop, like McGarry Bowen. (Wonder if the client simply asked them to run this old ad?) But that's all the more reason I don't like it. I feel like this ad is talking to me like I'm stupid. And although I'm personally okay with the religious undertones, I'm not okay with kinda-using them but not too much so that you can appeal to the conservative christian and the non-religious at the same time. The end result, feels like they're singing to Verizon, the Great Diety of Telecom to deliver them. I've heard that this ad also aired on the one-year anniversary and I think I would have reacted the same way then, too. Perhaps they should have done something different, since the temperature of the nation has changed quite a bit since then.

Talking with the same friend, he summed his response to the Verizon ad even better than I: "My personal problem with the Verizon ad for instance, is that it didn't say anything and was just treacle and saccharine. Kids staring up at the statue of liberty for 60 seconds doesn't do anything, doesn't present any idea, and most certainly doesn't mean anything about how we should remember and honor the past. It's just melodramatic fluff. Then seeing who it's from makes me think that that advertiser thinks I'm just an idiot who can be easily manipulated with trite imagery and sappy emotion."  Well said, better writer than I.


Ah, more children singing, but at least this one feels like they're trying. Combine the innocence of children, a nice rendition of a modern song—one that ties into the vibe of New York City no less—and a visual nod to the first-responders and you have a decent spot. Another thing to like: the spots shows off the revived downtown of the city, a kind of subtle middle-finger to the event, which is a nice touch. Under normal circumstances this would be a great piece of communication. Of course, these are not normal circumstances. I wonder how many people in southern Manhattan had an easy time working with their insurance adjusters in the weeks after the event. Heck, maybe State Farm did a suberb job, but that doesn't mean that when most people think insurance and 9-11, they may have a different reaction to this spot. Maybe it's just the logo at the end. In the end, I would have rather just run/watched a more traditional State Farm ad on Monday Night Football.

As an added bit of exploration, take a look at how some advertisers handled advertising in the New York Times on Sunday, tip to Breaking Copy on these. Same issue here, I'm afraid.


It just comes off all wrong to me. Now, I understand how difficult this is. You're kinda damned if you do and damned if you don't for the most part. There will always be critics and there will always be toes to step on. I just feel like most of the work comes off as pedantic, condescending and insensitive to what happened. I don't know if it's just the logo slapped on this at the end that feels off - maybe at the beginning would be a simple fix?!? Maybe, that would keep it all from a whimper of an end. Maybe. I'm okay with a company having a perspective on the events and using their media clout to say something about it, and I am totally fine with people out there who think that this work is okay, even if it touches a chord with them. I'm simply trying to articulate my reactions to the work—which was not good—and think about how it could have been handled differently, and in my opinion, better.

Some of the most creative people I know work in this industry. Some of the most caring too. (And to be clear, I'm not one of those people against running a profitable business, since I like to have a job and pay for things.) I think we can do better with all this creative and business power and really show off our communication skills while doing just that - communicating a feeling to the country and world, albeit through a particular company's lens. If it were easy, anybody could do it.

So what is an advertiser to do? Okay, so it's easy enough to complain about something like this. But how about some answers? Here's how I would have approached an assignment that included advertising on the anniversary of 9-11, or referencing any tragedy for that matter, if I were in a position of power at any of these agencies or companies.

1. Don't. This may not be the most practical answer, and it certainly isn't the most business-savy either. No need in hurting the publications / stations even if for a day, right? But this would definitely have been a better choice for our friends at Verizon and Tourneau. If you're not going to put the time and energy into the project that will result in something honest and respectful, then you'd be better off being invisible. I've got to believe that if some individuals are reacting this way (I'm sure I'm not alone, right?), then there must be some companies that feel some awkwardness in pushing their products in a visible way on such a rememberance. Maybe pausing the ol' capitalism machine for a day isn't the worst idea out there.

2. Focus elsewhere. Personally, I didn't tune into any NFL games as the sole manner by which to remember the events of a decade a go. I tuned in to watch football. That doesn't mean that I didn't take time to reflect on the impact of that event, I just did it on my own time. Perhaps the advertisers that focused instead on the return of football were the more intellgent ones. You can have fun with that and it might respect the audience a bit more and feel more relevant for your brand. In other words, I'm okay with a company selling me soda and connecting with me through the launch of a new season. I'm not okay with a big advertiser telling me how to feel (or even how they feel, which indirectly tells me how I should be feeling) about an event like this, then putting their logo on that end to remind me that yes, you can still get that smartphone that you like. Just doesn't work. Granted, all advertisers were smart enough not to put a price  or item on their spots - but the underlying principle peeked through a bit too much for my comfort.

3. Advertising as Normal? Why not forget all the trappings of a normal advertising spot and actually talk to people like you respect them. The networks tried to do this during their pre-game shows. Not all to good effect, but none to really terrible effect. They showed people talking about how the event changed their lives. Why not have the CEO of a company say something like this, "You know, ten years ago the world changed for all of us. Today while we celebrate the kickoff of a new NFL season we are reminded of (using anything but these words, the tragic events of September 11th) and how the world just stopped. Today, we air this ad not to sell anything, push a product, or any of the usual marketing efforts. Today we just pause and thank all of those who helped us heal and continue to do so."  No logo or slogan or trite over-used message. Just a bit of honesty. I'm sure this could be done better than what I just wrote off the top-of-my-head.

4. Donate your ad time/ production. If you really care about remembering the event, why not donate your ad time and commercial production to an organization that is doing something about it. (This doesn't mean just tacking it on at the end, btw.) Maybe the 9-11 Memorial Fund. Perhaps any of the survivor groups. Just do something good and get out of the way. When you tell someone to (that we?) never forget - within the context of an advertisement, you have to be ready for people to respond negatively. You're telling them one thing, but not actually doing it. You want people to remember, tell them something that someone did that day that is worth remembering instead of following up those words with your logo. At least Budweiser tried to do this, and for that I respect the effort.

Again, there is no right answer to this, but I do think there are plenty of wrong ones, some on display in full HD glory yesterday. I also believe any of these four alternative methods would at least respect the audience and honor the victims in NY, DC and PA in a way that the ads that ran during the NFL games could not.

What are your thoughts on this extremely sensitive matter? Agree? Disagree?


352. Ad of the Week: Chipotle.

I'm sure this is not a perfect ad, the music seems a bit at odds with the style of the visuals, and it's a bit long at 2:20 — but it's definitely worth talking about. To support their Cultivate Foundation, Chipotle enlisted Willie Nelson to do his own version of Coldplay's Scientist, (You know it, "Noooobody said it was easaaaaaay...") and put it over a stop motion animation of farming gone bad and then good again. You can download the song via iTunes to do your part.

More and more you see brands tying themselves to a cause, sometimes to good effect and sometimes not. It usually works best when the cause doesn't seem slapped on as an afterthought or marketing trick. If it comes from the values of the brand it is way more believable. Personally, I believe it in this case, as sustainable farming has been something Chipotle has been talking about for awhile, it's part of who they are.

Here's what the company says about this latest piece: "Coldplay's haunting classic "The Scientist" is performed by country music legend Willie Nelson for the soundtrack of the short film entitled "Back to the Start." The film, by film-maker Johnny Kelly, depicts the life of a farmer as he slowly turns his family farm into an industrial animal factory before seeing the errors of his ways and opting for a more sustainable future. Both the film and the soundtrack were commissioned by Chipotle to emphasize the importance of developing a sustainable food system."

Again, I'm not sure the 'haunting music' lends the right kind of tension with the visuals, but all in all, I'm glad to see a big company pushing this agenda. It's important. If you don't believe so - go watch Food, Inc.

I like to pull stills on such projects, as it helps appreciate the work and talent that went into producing it. Below are a few:

Happy Farming Family:

Love the perspective on this shot:

Uh-oh. Somethings gone wrong when you farm looks like this: (You hear us Monsanto?)

A Conundrum of sorts: (nice color)

Pretty cool technique here:

End Frame:

Here's the full-piece:

 Maybe even better are Johnny Kelly's production shots via Flickr:

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.


351. The Ad Awards of LA. Noire. 

First things first, or as the headline on every restaurant's drink menu across the US reads: Thirst things thirst. (Ugh. You know I'm right.) Anyway, I think I have found my dream job. Now let me state for the record that I'm perfectly happy with the job I do have, in the rare case that one of my bosses actually reads this drivel. (An unlikely scenario, I assure you.) But I think I've indeed found my dream job. It can best be described as Virtual Creative Director and the job description would center around creating fake ads for video games. Yep. Think about it. You not only pick the best creative you can conjure up, but you can actually make-up the best (fake) products too. Talk about total creative control, it simply could not get any better than that—concepting and executing an entire new world of advertising without any regard to actual market research, planning, client, agency or budget realities. You just create. And here's the kicker, everybody: somebody has this job. Or at least had this job for a time.

First, some background information.

Rockstar games has been putting fake ads into their titles for quite some time. Now, I can understand why a large company might not want to be associated with Grand Theft Auto. Or maybe even Red Dead Redemption. But when they released L.A. Noire earlier this year, they provided a great chance for a real-life, large advertiser, like P&G or Frito-Lay, to literally buy all the ad space in 1947 Los Angeles. In case you don't know, the game involves being a detective and solving cases throughout the city as you work your way up the police ranks. The city is a big cast member of this drama, since you have to drive all around to do your job. And like real life, you are subject to a whole bunch of advertising, some of the radio, but mostly outdoor and in the windows of the neighborhood shops and markets.

Imagine if Coca-Cola would have purchased the rights and simply inserted a selection of their vintage ads into the game, it would have felt perfect. (A major tobacco company would have been even better, but we all know why that didn't happen. Darn kids, they ruin everything.) P&G makes sense because they have a ton of different products and the ads would never have to repeat themselves. But like I said above, Frito-Lay also would have been a great option, not only because of the variety of products in their lineup, but also the target demographic. I think video-game playing and snacks go hand-in-hand, no?

Perhaps because of the producer we are talking about, and their past titles, (or maybe because no agency thought of this in time), the real advertisers stayed away. This gave someone the wonderful job of making it all up, and stealing my dream job. So when I got the game I was pretty excited about the seedy urban canvas that the game would be played on, but also because I'm an advertising, design, and cultural nerd — I was pretty excited to see the ads. You know your life is pretty lame, if you get excited about watching not just advertising, or fake advertising, but fake advertising in a video game. However, I know I'm not the only one, so I thought I would put the L.A. Noire advertising scene on display. I'm writing this perhaps in the hopes of having someone from Rockstar games read this and sign me up to develop the campaigns for the next update of this game. One can dream, can he not?

At first it seems like there are thousands of ads placed in the city, as you zip through L.A. solving crimes and shooting bad guys. Then, you realize that the same ads - maybe mirroring some of the worst parts of advertising - are simply repeated over and over again. But there are still enough pieces that were entered into the LA Advertising shows that year, so here's how they faired. (If I can't make these, I may as well be able to critique them.) Presented with tongue firmly pressed in cheek.

The Ad Awards of L.A. Noire.


The king advertiser in the game, on the basis of being the most prominent and having the most placements, easily goes to the aptly named Cola King. The ad features an illustrated suburban dad wearing a cheap crown and cape. (Most of the ads in the game are vintage illustrations, or more accurately, modern cgi versions of vintage illustration.) The type is set in what appears to be ATTimes bold italic or something close. The color palette stands in between Pepsi and Coke and comes off as more of a parody of RC Cola, which stands for Royal Crown. Appropriate I think. Like a lot of the other ads, the board includes a tagline, "The King of Cola." It's not great, but you see it everywhere. Not impressed? Players had a 100% recall on this campaign. How did your latest do, hotshot?


MEDIA PLACEMENT. SILVER: First-Prize Condiment Co.

The second most prominent advertiser in 1947, fictional Los Angeles is the First-Prize Condiment Company, "The Tastiest Sauces in Town!". Apparently, First-Prize makes a wide-array of sauces from Tomato relish, ketchup and mustard to steak sauce. What sets them apart from the other fade advertisers in the game is they actually run a bunch of different ad variations featuring single bottles of each variety and two different boards featuring their whole lineup.

It's impossible to drive around and not see their boards. I do think they might have trouble with some of the product claims, but kudos to the agency team for producing multiple layouts. (And that great line, "Number one for Mmmmmustard!"


AMBIENT. GOLD: EV-R-Mint Bubble Gum.

EV-R-Mint Bubble gum seems to have put a lot of money behind their recent product launch. You'll see this Rockwellian scene on outdoor boards, bus benches (another big favorite in the game), and on the sides of buildings. I do like teasing the warm weather residents with this Vermont snow background and frozen breath design, even if the concept is pretty shallow and tagline really nothing more than a written-out strategy. MINT being the important part, but who doesn't like cool and refreshed breath?

So, you're asking yourself how did they win best ambient? Well, what the video game doesn't show is their creative bus-shelter extensions, where the bus stops were converted into air-conditioned, Vermont log-homes to complete the winter experience of the campaign. They probably just haven't uploaded it to Ads of The World yet.


IDENTITY DESIGN. GOLD: Alaco Gas & Oil, Corp.

Another advertiser that you can't miss, partly because of their outdoor spend in '47 and because of their ubiquitous brick-and-mortar outlets, is Alaco - your friendly neighborhood virtual big oil company. Alaco's boards have everything. Bold colors. Friendly attendant. Super anarchy-like identity. And an underlined tagline, "At Your Service!" Clearly this comes from an agency that was ahead of it's time, given all the underlining going on in today's taglines. You know an agency really means it when they take the time to underline it. Powerful stuff. I mean, powerful stuff.


IDENTITY DESIGN. SILVER: Spenser's Delicious and Creamy Root Beer.

Like a lot of the ads in this game, they get right to the point. You want some root beer? Well, here you go. And bonus points for the power tie, root beer guy. But this add pulls the medal for their cute little Spenser guy in a top hat, who appears to be eyeing the cold frosty glass with more than a little animosity. That's not in the spirit of the "Cheerful Beverage" now, is it?


BEST AD UNDER $5,000: Capt. Saltee Potato Chips.

A small-time advertiser that gets my vote for one of the better creative solutions, is Capt'n Saltee Potato Chips. The captain illustration is great, though I'm not sure if he is smoking the potato chips in his pipe or if they are falling from the sky, but in any case it stands out. The tagline, "The Tastiest Chips on the High Seas!" is a direct rip-off of the First-Place sauce campaign, and I suspect will be the subject of some forthcoming litigation, perhaps by the Lawyers Law Practice, since they specialize is intellectual property. One more thing - that punctuation in their name can't be right, can it? I'm no style guide wizard, but I don't think so, so nice try Capt. They saved serious cash by using the Captain and CEO himself, Jehosaphat Alphons Saltee. What money they saved, they kept and put out this cheap board.


ART DIRECTION. GOLD: Crawlakill Insect Spray.

Now, here's my favorite ad in the whole game. I don't know if it's the bold red and black color scheme, the lightning bolt, the wonderful crawl - LA - kill name juggernaut, or the slightly Saul Bass-ish layout, but I do like it. I'd totally buy Crawlakill, even though I bet it has some nasty DDT in it. Hey, I'm okay using that on roaches and bedbugs. I bet this agency didn't have the same problems as some of the NYC shops have had recently. Not only does it kill insects and bugs, but it also kills critters. (Aren't critters like raccoons and opossums? Strong stuff indeed. And FAST!)


ART DIRECTION. SILVER: Professor Kleen Cleaning Products

Maybe the only product in the game I'd actually buy because of the advertising. Introducing Professor Kleen's line of cleansers. Check out the use of color and packaging design. I submit that this would actually sell on our shelves today, so there. The agency produced a lot of work for this account, outdoor, posters and print ads that were scattered throughout the city. They're also not shy about talking to their consumer, it's new and it's tops for housewives. There's that market research shining through boys.



Another good one comes from the International Airline, Bla. Never has a creative idea been baked-into the product or service like Bla airlines. Bogusky would be proud. Seldom can an entire industry be summed up by one single outdoor piece, but this is it. I do hear speculation that this media buy has spurned industry competitors like, Bleh-Air and Meh Airlines to up their ad spend in '48, but that's just speculation at this point. There is something non-bla-like in the way the stewardess' skirt is twirling in the breeze, that seems a bit off-brand to me. Just a touch too optimistic if I were the CD on this account. Don't miss the award-winning Bla International Airlines viral video. It looked a little like this.


Honor of Recognition Because They Sponsor the Award Show. Platinum: The L.A. Inquisitor.

If there was one agency and client I'd like to go back in time to help out it would be those associated with the LA Inquisitor. Not only is their creative mediocre, but also their business plan. I'd get them started on their website offering and pay-wall subscriptions. Give them a leg-up on the competition. Looking at their outdoor board, however, I don't think they are a visionary bunch. Today's news just won't cut it in the 2000's, I'd tell them. Nor will the typeface Onyx. Or whatever it is. And using your building as some kind of phallic statement of your prowess isn't necessary. Just the facts, people.


Innovative Media. Gold: Denta-Kleen.

Now here's a company that should fire their media reps, because all of their placements are of the neck-straining, out of the way, hard to see variety. Clearly this product deserves Cola-King quality placements, perhaps a billboard spectacular off of Santa Monica Boulevard? Anyone? I mean, the board doubles as a PSA for brushing one's teeth (Always before bedtime, kids.) And if the cute bobbed and ribbon-haired little girl wasn't enough for you, it does let you know that it's terrific. "It's Terrific!"  I do think we have a decent designer behind this piece - check out the golden sphere and black star graphic combo here. Way ahead of it's time. But that ad won for it's innovative use of media - at night the little girls teeth glowed white.

UPDATE: Sadly this ad was pulled before award show date, for skirting child advertising laws. Apparently, little sally had to pose for 8 hours straight to get her teeth-brushing portrait made. Not cool, agency folks. Not cool.



Now, don't look at this next ad unless you want to have dreams of orange trees and California sunshine. Residential developer, Elysian, brings it with either an architect or new home buyer carrying plans for his California dream in his hands, along with an 'original' headline. "Building a Better California." And I believe them, too. Check out that quality ranch-style home and .125 acre chunk of earthquake susceptible, So-Cal land on which it sits. Peering through a smoggy sunset, I even think I see a little shed in front of some type of agricultural planting in the backyard. They are heralding the next gold rush, folks. Get yours while the gettins good. Should be noted this creative also won The Greater L.A. Metropolitan Area 3rd District Realtors Ad of the Month, last month. Kudos.



At first glance, there's not much to see here. Just a normal outdoor board for a cigarette company. But we give out awards for using a typeface in 1947 that was invented only 18 years earlier. That's a great choice and that's why Valor's agency took home the gold in the typography category. Well, for that and the gleaming recommendation from all the doctors out there.


BEST TYPOGRAPHY. SILVER: Delapore Pest Control.

Delapore's Rat-B-Gone rodent killer seems to mean business and cut right to the chase. Yeah, when we see rodents we want to see them belly up and stiff. And maybe amongst a lot of their droppings? The agency ties it all together with the look of horror on the good homemaker's face. And if there was still any question about the product's effectiveness, you are convinced with the claim of being "America's #1 Exterminator. Though I'm sure Crawlakill might claim otherwise, since they are pretty good against critters. Again, get the attorneys ready.


RETOUCHING. GOLD: Lemonella Soda Mfg. Ltd.

I really wish the agency behind the Lemonella boards focused more on that cool bottle design than the 'old country'. That was cliche even back in the '40s. But I do like the name and using the bottlecap as logo. The little grove of lemon trees, and the "Zing!" line just complete the sitting on your porch experience - maybe in your Elysian two-bedroom ranch home, if you're lucky. Can't believe you can have all that for 5 cents. The good ol' days for sure. I will say the yellow background makes these placements "pop" driving around L.A. So, there's that. (Oh, I just made an unintended pun. I'm keeping it in. Seems fitting.) 

Ironically pulled after we learned the hand was photoshopped to look smaller, so that the bottle would visually read larger. Apple would be proud.



Check out that rhyme-scheme. Here's my submission for the wackiest ad in the game environment, Burst. I can tell you one thing right away, I'd never let my kids drink that stuff. First the personified fruit look more like balloons than actual fruit and there are not one, but two rhymes in there. Add the usual array of exclamation points and this creative becomes overwhelming. Probably like the sugary drink itself. No thank you.


PHOTOGRAPHY. GOLD: Inter-State Luxury Liners.

Now, here's an agency with chops. Perhaps no other ad in the game generates the visceral response that this ad produced. Contrasted with the somewhat bleak background of urban decay, this creative promised the joby of the open road to the residents of the city. Simply hop into your Inter-State Luxury Liner, and you can see America. If you can get past the construction for the Santa Monica Freeway. You might want to bring a few friends along, as it appears there's a lot of room, in this bus, er Liner.


ILLUSTRATION. GOLD: Stanley Brewing Teas.

Almost kicked out of the competition for putting long copy on an outdoor board, The Stanley Tea company wins for their 'cute' personifications of a happening teacup and a melancholy cup of Joe. You have a monocle. A bow tie. And a mustache. Clearly, they pulled no punches with this creative.

This award show was not without it's controversy. Just like the Dubai Lynx and Cannes Festivals are fraught with ads that are spec-produced, the L.A. Noire Awards have noticed a few entries that were plagiarized from other sources. All responsible agencies have been contacted and will be forbidden to enter any creative into next year's show. Shame on you.

Los Angeles Police Department Recruitment. Somehow, the agency ripped off an ad from a movie that wouldn't be released for another 50 years, L.A. Confidential. Go ahead and watch it. You'll see the same outdoor board as the one in the game, if you watch closely.


There were a bunch of ads entered that were actually produced a few years earlier by the Works Progress Administration Federal One program. The most blatant entries are the posters seen below for Yellowstone and Pennsylvania. I hope all the agencies learned their lesson here. Plagiarism will not be tolerated.

On a serious note, I would love love love to work on a series of ads for a game like this. They could be funny, charming, interesting, and interactive - what creative wouldn't want the chance to do that? I'm formally throwing my name into that hat, should anyone give this article to EA or Rockstar or heck, even that Angry Birds outfit. 


350. Del Taco's New Look. 

Wow - it's been a long while since I've done one of these articles. When covering new identity work, you have to move fast. No sense being the second design blog to cover it, so if I felt like I was behind or that it was covered somewhere else, I just didn't post it. Most likely, you would see it somewhere else. But I think I got the jump on this one, so here goes.

Del Taco, the Lake Forest, CA based quick-service taco eatery, has just launched a new prototype store in California and Texas. Officially intended as a pilot program, the new prototype features a revised seating pattern to accomodate different types of groups; refreshed wall graphics that promote more of the latin heritage of the company—and I'm using the term heritage loosely here—and an increased focus on quality above the value for which they are most well-known. Currently the chain has over 525 stores in 17 states, so you may not see this change for quite some time at your local DT.

My main contact with the brand came in Phoenix where most of the restaurants are connected to gas stations. The only other thing I can recall about them is that they have ridiculously cheap tacos. Somehow, they've managed to undercut Taco Bell in both price and ambiance, which is remarkable. When your brand is making Taco Bell look extravagant, maybe it is time for a brand update?

Check out This Vintage Location (Minus the gas station, but with a cool sun logo. Let's bring that back!):

One of the first things that strikes this author, is the updated identity. They've taken all of the familiar elements within their logo (the hills, the sun, and the script-type) and given them a make over. The new mark has more angles and crisp tails in place of the softer, more cartoonish elements of the past. Everything is still there, it's just more refined. The sun looks less like a five-year-old crayon sketch and more like a circular saw blade, and yes reminiscent of the original. Yay. The hills more like actual western topography. And the script type gets a bit more style. The palette is roughly the same, with an additional dark orange band added to the sun. I don't think I'd say that I like the design of the new logo per se, but it's an appropriate update of the old, and I like it far better than the original. (Well, not the original original, that sun is pretty cool.) Take a look:

Del Taco Identity:

According to, "Del Taco's fans also contributed significantly to the final logo and current new store prototype. Through focus groups and online surveys, Del Taco customers were given a chance to weigh in and assist in refining the new logo, new building design, and new colors."  It's always good to give the guy who walks up drunk to your fast food lane at 3:30am a say in your brand, I think. John Cappasola, Del Taco's Chief Brand Officer added, "Del Taco's fans also contributed significantly to the final logo and current new store prototype. Through focus groups and online surveys, Del Taco customers were given a chance to weigh in and assist in refining the new logo, new building design, and new colors."

Like I said, this refresh goes far beyond just the combination mark. The company paid a lot of attention the atmosphere of the restaurant, going for a clean yet friendly environment. It doesn't push any boundaries or conventions of what you expect from a fast-food joint, but it seems to do them all about as well as anyone else.

New Facade and Interior Shots:

A Fuzzy Little Peak at the All-Important Menu: (Where good design and common sense die. At least usually.)

The Salsa Bar Die-cut Wall Graphics: (Maybe the most interesting element in the whole redesign.)

More Die-cut Graphics and New Fangled Coke Machine:

Curb-Appeal? New vs Old:

Now, let's talk typography. For quite some time Del Taco has been using a typeface called, Haunted Mansion, or at least one exactly like it. As you'd expect, it's not exactly a classic face. Then again, it's not like we're talking about an authentic Mexican restaurant either, so it probably balances out in the end. Haunted Mansion does seem to have a ton of variants and terminals, and they've been used to some effect in all of the chain's posters, packaging, and website. You can see how the face may have actually inspired the custom typography in the updated identity, if you look close enough. Since, I consider DT to be somewhat trashy food, this somewhat trashy typeface seemed to work.

Haunted Mansion - Available Here:

A Example of Their Old Signage: (Check out their facebook page for more of this stuff. If you dare.) It's got a lot going on: dropshadows, textures, floating food, funky tribal elements, and in case you missed it: a 59 cent burrito.

In the newer looks, it appears that they've ditched most of the uses for Haunted Mansion and have replaced it with more traditional fare. I'm not sure if this will extend into other areas, or if it's strictly a wall-graphic treatment. It's hard to tell at this point. I'm torn here, because while the new type is more refined, I'm not sure that it matches as well. Could it be that bad typography in the right context is good typography? I guess so. (I think the top type is Archive Antique Extended, or something close. One of my personal faves.)

Overall, there's nothing too crazy going on here. It feels like a fairly typical QSR refresh meant to satisfy franchisee owners, board members, stock holders and the public. It's hard to please all four groups and still do something remarkable. The refreshed store and identity were produced in collaboration with San Francisco-based Tesser, Inc. Their portfolio is chock full of retail environment work for Ben & Jerry's, Dominos Pizza, Quiznos and KFC among others.

Throughout this whole article, I've been trying not to hold their Facebook Super Show deal against them. I almost made it.


349. Ad of the Week: Gap's Behind the Scenes.

So, I guess GAP has taken the challenge to try and make me like something they're doing. And they might be doing just that with a campaign that is launching this week called, Behind the Scenes. From looking at just the first few pieces they've produced, it seems like this is an attempt to distance themselves from the pop advertising of the past — and maybe distinguish themselves from corporate cousin Old Navy. The work will take the viewer behind the scenes of the company's various departments, highlighting the people behind the products. It's not exactly a new approach, but it might just be what the clothier needs to do to relaunch their brand, one that has been the target of so much negative press. (Or was all that negative press just on design blogs? I can't quite tell. Ha.)

The first spot weighs in at 1:30 and features GAP's 1969 denim studio in downtown LA, and all the eager faces behind the product - considered by most to be GAP's best. It's hard not to appreciate the effort and passion they seem to put into their work, and if it doesn't exactly change my perception of them as a corporation, it might just start that process.

Pico 1969 Denim Studio

Here's a nice quote from, It’s quite a shift,” from past campaigns, said Seth Farbman, Gap’s global chief marketing officer. “This is the beginning of a longer-term strategy” that continues for the holiday season and into next year at least, and also continues to feature different operations and people at Gap. Farbman, who is based at Gap’s Global Creative Center in New York, declined to disclose which Gap operation will be highlighted next."

1969 Denim Studio Profile: Rob Crews

1969 Denim Studio Profile: Masako

A product-specific ad/video/thing:

On one level, this seems to be much ado about nothing, but it still works. A little transparency, even quite polished transparency, can be beneficial if your brand has a story to tell, and I think everyone can agree that GAP is one such brand. Even if these spots are not the most surprising pieces of communication - my hope for this campaign is that it is just a start of things to come. Hopefully, more heartfelt, intelligent and eager advertising from the company and agency Ogilvy.

According to, "The videos break this week on Web sites such as Cool Hunting and Refinery29 before blanketing the Internet next week with sponsored content on Refinery29, DailyCandy, FabSugar, Glam, Hulu, Pandora, LookBook, TrendCentral, Rolling Stone and Gap’s Facebook page."

There's some print and inserts and probably outdoor coming soon I'd expect, so I'll be sure to update that as soon as I see it. You can view more of the videos on GAP's Youtube page.



348. Matchbooks - A Poweful Advertising Medium. 

I love this vintage catalog for ordering custom-printed matchbooks. I found this little gem a bit further below the embroidery typography book that Imprint linked to earlier in the week, and I'm glad I kept scrolling. Sure, like the straw post below, it's a small thing the matchbook, but this piece harkens back to a simple time. A time when matchbooks were a "powerful, result-producing advertising medium." Ker-pow. That's not just a matchbook in your pocket, it's a piece of strategically-defined communication. Respect.

If you wanted to customize your matchbook - you were certainly in luck. The catalog is crammed full of options, from stipple ink stock art to printing on the actual matches. Inside printing, matchheads, stems and striking surfaces could also be tweaked to your individual tastes and to tell your 'convincing story'. The supplier even had a skilled Art Department should you find all the normal, pre-packaged options to be unsuited for your marketing needs. (Can you imagine working at a matchbook art department?) They would have created a unique and distinctive cover for you, which might have included: dynamic layouts, specialized lettering (?), beautiful color schemes, and eye-catching illustrations. Imagine the possibilities!

I have to admit, I'm pretty fond of this wood-grain design:

You Can't Beat This: Matchless Games!

Perhaps my favorite option is the Super King Size 240's. Your business surely meant business if you were passing these monsters out. 

And remember, matchbook advertising doesn't cost. It pays. Dot. Dot. Dot.

Download the whole cataglog via Public Collectors, which is itself a pretty cool deal. They exist to make some collections that would ordinarily be lost, available to the public. "Public Collectors is founded upon the concern that there are many types of cultural artifacts that public libraries, museums and other institutions and archives either do not collect or do not make freely accessible. Public Collectors asks individuals that have had the luxury to amass, organize, and inventory these materials to help reverse this lack by making their collections public." Cool, eh? You can find them on Tumblr too.


347. Branding Is In The Details. 

Branding is a funny thing. It, like advertising, pretty much includes everything a company does. Big things, like campaigns, product and promotion but also all the small things. The way a store smells when you walk into it. Maybe the music that's played. How their customer service answers the phone. And for fast food companies, the color of the straw they put into your drink. Sure, that's not as important as say—how quickly a company responds on twitter to a complaint—but if you have to use straws why not make it a subtle reminder of what's behind it? No small detail should go unnoticed including this one.

Some companies are really good at this. Starbucks even mentions their 'green straw' in some of their interior signage - almost as if it's a sign of class or something. And although I wouldn't go that far, every time you see a green straw, you know what it reminds you of, right? And that got me thinking. I started to collect straws and notice who is putting a little effort into theirs. Funny and sad at the same time, I've been thinking about this article for over a year. Ha. But I know how to put this topic in its proper perspective and know you can as well.

Humor me for a somewhat related anecdote. You've heard of the legend surrounding Van Halen and their request to have a bowl of M&M's backstage, but with all the brown ones removed? "...And make sure there's no brown ones in there!" It's used in production circles often as a joke on behalf of someone who is known for being particularly difficult. But the 'brown-out M&M contract' was actually a genius move by the band's management. If the band saw the candy bowl, and there were no brown goodies in the mix - they knew their contract had been read with the appropriate level of detail. Since their shows were legendary for their large-scale production values, they felt it integral that every detail was take care of in advance. Sure, the more important things like electricity supply, unloading docks and other logistics were the integral elements needed for a good show. The candy bowl was simply the canary in the coal mine, telling the band whether they needed to worry or that they could relax. 

So, that's kind of how I feel about quick-service restaurants and their straws. It means nothing, except that they've thought out everything from the largest of topics right down to the smallest. They're serious about their branding and image.

Can you name the companies to whom these straws belong? Of course, the first one is a gimmee.


These are all the ones that I could find that seemed to be purposeful branding decisions. Pretty much every other company uses a standard clear or white straw, which is a real shame. Some of these establishments could have a ton of fun with theirs as seen by my quick attempts to do just that. Try to guess which fast-food companies these straws represent (keeping the design as simple as possible.) Some of these are no-brainers, are you listening marketing managers? Answers far below.

My Suggested Straws For Other Fast Food Companies:

You have to admit, even though this is a silly excercise, it's still fun. (And by all means submit your own.) If I have one more serious suggestion to these companies it would be to make all their straws the ones with the bendy necks. They provide a superior drinking experience, as everyone already knows. It's worth the extra $.01 per thousand.


Straw Spoilers:

A. Starbucks of course. B. McDonald's - one of the first. C. Dunkin Donuts. D. Baskin Robbins. E. Taco Bell. I'm giving them credit for their slushy-like beverages. Their standard straw is generic. F. Dairy Queen. Also famous for those little red spoons. G. KFC. H.  Jamba Joice.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

I. Burger King. C'mon, the King should have a gold straw. End of story. J. Another easy choice. Chik-fil-A should have a cow straw. And I resisted making it an udder, because that's just gross. K. Wendy's should further extend their yellow cups into the straw. And nobody really owns that color yet. L. I thought long and hard about this, but it's for Jack in the Box. Somewhat clown-inspired, using their red and white scheme a bit differently. M. Arby's should use a nice burgundy straw. (By the way their new campaign is really bad. But their site design is interesting.) N. Subway. Keeping it simple, but it's yellow and green and perfect for them. Their plastic-wrapped straw really stink. O. The oft-forgotten chain of Long John Silver's. Utilizing their new colors makes for a handsome straw. P. Hardee's and Carl Jr's. An easy choice here. Though they're more apt to put a bikini model that strips when the straw gets cold or something. Q. White Castle. Done. R. Chipotle should take the foil they're somewhat famous for and use silver for their straw. Simple. But effective.



346. Ad of the Week: Weetabix - Big Day.

I'm a big fan of Weetabix. Well, not the original flavor, but the ones with the chocolate bits in them. Good stuff though quite difficult to find here in The States. Anyway, BBH just launched this spot, Big Day, and is a good example of how to do nice, solid, traditional storytelling. There's nothing fancy about the spot, it just gives you a good reason to properly fuel up in the morning. Everybody has a different reason to get the right start to their otherwise tough day, right down to the kid. Charming, in the usual British manner.

Weetabix Big Day:

(I go this via The Drum. They were all over it.)


345. Ad of the Week: Beck's Green Box Project. 

This one will be interesting, especially after some time to develop and mature - but it has great potential. Becks, the first brewer to protect their beer behind green glass, has started a commission supporting augmented reality art around the world called the Green Box Project. Using an iPhone app—called The Key—users will be given access to a growing number of virtual art installations that showcase independent talent, something the brand has been doing for awhile now through their Art Lable Initiative (currently celebrating its 25th anniversary. The project is a partnership between the brewer, agency Mother London and independent artists from design, music, fashion and general art. These categories are referred to as the four passion points for their average customer. (Marketing talk, gotta love it.)

The Green Box Project:

The Key:

What makes these installations (up to 1,000 eventually) interesting, is that fact that they don't exist in the physical space - but must be opened via augmented reality when you are standing close to the virtual green boxes in reality. You check in with the app, and then experience the art. Not totally original in concept, but very intriguing in scale and setup. For the project launch on July 4th, artist Arne Qiunze gave the Statue of Liberty's torch a flame that could be seen through your smartphone. It looked something like this:

Currently on the project's site, only 18 of the artists are listed but anyone can submit a proposal for funding in the four areas mentioned above. If approved by the board, the artist will be given funding to bring their project to life, for a 2012 release around the globe. Let's keep an eye on this one over the next year or so.

The Fund:



344. Depth of Speed - A Little Americana. 

Just in time for the 4th of July, comes Josh Clason's Depth of Speed series. Here's how he introduces this series on the video site: "Depth of Speed was born from a desire of story, travel, and a love of anything automotive related. Next year my wife and I will be taking to the streets to uncover and document the greatest stories from the automotive world. From coast-to-coast and from top to bottom, finding the best stories will take the highest priority. Every time I meet someone new or attend an event I amazed at the depth, passion, and love that the automotive world brings. Depth of Speed is just that, an in-depth look at these stories. There is something about motors and machines, that to an outsider looking in, would make us seem plain crazy."

So he and his wife set out for a year on the road pulling a 13 foot trailer as a base form which to live and to capture these stories. So far they have released three short films. The production value is top-notch as is the storytelling, even if you're not one who is normally excited by things automotive. The first video below highlights the work of Andy the pinstriping artist, and is my favorite of the three. What a craft. The other two aren't shabby though either, focusing on Chris Davenport of Salt Flats Speed Shop and Andy Carter founder of Pangea Speed, a custom motorcycle outfit.

If nothing else, this series makes me want to get out on the road this weekend. Enjoy and happy 4th from Graphicology.

Andy the Pinstripe Artist:

Salt Flats Speed Shop:

Pangea Speed: