Food for the Digital Soul

June 10, 2009

Gene Paek, Director of Interactive, NYCA

Beef pot pie. The ultimate comfort food. One night, I stumbled upon greatness—Marie Callender’s microwaveable beef pot pie. I read the cooking beef pot pieinstructions.  Microwave for twenty minutes. I paused and re-read. Twenty minutes? Not fast enough.

How fast does fast need to be? For today’s consumer, fast isn’t fast enough. And their communication consumption habits are changing just as fast. Email replaced the written letter. The web replaced the printed page. Texting replaced the phone conversation.  And now we’re communicating in 140 characters or less.

As agency-species, it’s part of our genetic code to adapt to change. And adapt faster than fast to keep up with the pace of the consumer. Agency-species that can’t keep up will become extinct. Problem is if you’re a brand manager riding on the thinking of an agency-species that isn’t pushing this pace or level of change, you’ll become a fossil too.

Today’s natural selection process has nothing to do with agency size. It has everything to do with how comfortable that agency is with being uncomfortable.

For example, CP+B is ten times bigger than an agency like Big Spaceship, but both adapt to consumer communication habits at the same rapid pace. It’s part of their agency culture because their agency-species feel comfortable being uncomfortable. Recommending strategies to connect with consumers that haven’t been documented in multiple case studies or put through rigorous rounds of focus group testing could make some feel uncomfortable. Uncomfortable because their particular strategy is more hypothesis rather than theory. But in today’s digital space, this is the type of thinking that is thriving.

It’s hard to feel comfortable in today’s digital world. Platform technologies change every day. Consumer web consumption habits change constantly. Just when you’re about to feel comfortable, the game changes. The trick is to not try and be completely comfortable with a particular technology or platform before implementing a program utilizing it. Just have the appetite for diving into how your consumer is consuming and embracing new ways of doing.

Find comfort in beef pot pie because if you’re looking for comfort in the digital space, you won’t find it.

Gene Paek, Director of Interactive, NYCA; Twitter @gpaek

Award Show Losers

June 8, 2009

By Michael Mark, creative director and CEO, NYCA 

We don’t enter award shows. Because we don’t want to lose.  

We don’t want to lose focus of our target audience. We don’t want to lose sight of our promise to our clients to apply all of our energies to growing their brands with inspired ideas. We don’t want to lose our reputation for integrity. We don’t want to lose our original voice. Work created to win awards is focused on judges. Makes sense, they’re the ones who hand out the awards. Our only target audience is our client’s consumers.  

How many times have we all told our clients that in order to be most effective, an ad has to be single-minded? One message, one target. Our work is based on an insightful positioning and a solid strategy devised from research on our clients’ products/services, the target audience and their media consumption. If we’re distracted even a little bit, we dilute the chances of getting this daunting task accomplished.  

So if you’re determined to win awards with your ads, which master do you answer to? This is the question that led to the invention of the mock ad.  Mock ads are those ads created by an agency who knows that the work that actually ran in the media isn’t quite what the judges are looking for so they do some minor surgery: nipping the copy (often cutting out “the sell” the client insisted on), perhaps doing a bit of liposuction on the hefty logo and then entering that as the ad that supposedly ran.  

No wonder ad agencies have a trust rating below politicians. With hundreds of award shows out there, we shouldn’t be surprised if clients are wary of our claims of 100% dedication on helping their business when it appears we’re really dedicated to advancing ourselves.  

When I started in the business, I was told by my creative director that gold and silver were all that mattered. To survive at the agency you had to win in the shows. Was that what was told to the clients as well? If so, perfect. But I never saw that goal written on a brief under the ad’s objective.   

Judges are big award winners themselves – that’s how they got to be judges. They know how to build award-winning ads. Talented and smart as they are, though, they don’t know our target as well as we do and they don’t know precisely what the client wanted to accomplish. So how are they going to judge the merit of our work? In effect, they don’t know the real score. So what is the value when they hand out that chrome- headed gargoyle? 

I just might start a new show– everyone is a guaranteed winner. No losers. Completely, single-minded and true. Don’t even bother sending in the ads. Just send your fifty buck entry fee and you too can bring home a shiny new statuette. Ladies and gentlemen, I present: the EGOs.

The Art of Production

June 4, 2009

By Lynne Roswall, VP and Director of Production @NYCA 

Producers are a unique bunch.  We are, by nature, PROblemsolvers, PROactive and we PROmote the importance of executing work efficiently for our clients.  Producers who grew up in advertising are most likely focused within an isolated medium; Print Producer, Broadcast Producer, Online Producer. 

Yesterday, that worked well because the world of advertising was also categorized into specific mediums and we found ourselves categorizing our agency’s work, “that’s a TV spot, that’s a sales video, that’s a billboard, that’s a microsite.”


Today, the world is not as clean. A TV spot could be edited from an internal training video and assets for a flash feature could be repurposed from a print shoot.  Today’s producers across all disciplines must collaborate.  Skill sets are expanding. Broadcast producers may produce a flash video for a microsite, print producers may now work with CGI companies to produce 3D renderings at higher resolution, online producers may become broadcast producers developing video used in a viral campaign. Even if you don’t set out to work across disciplines, chances are you will one day be faced with doing so.

The artistry of becoming a good producer is in the ability to be malleable, resourceful and inventive.  We have a hunger for figuring out how to get things done and become fed by accomplishing the seemingly impossible task;  on time and on budget.

I believe the process of production development is similar, regardless of the medium. Producers take something intangible in the creative idea and make it into a tangible thing. The more diverse the project, the more the producer’s tenacity is tested.  What skills or experience we may have gleaned from one project, we take to the next. 

With production budgets getting slashed, faster deadlines, sales targets and most brands needing to interact more directly and personally with today’s consumer, it is imperative that producers start thinking of different ways to develop assets used across many mediums.

While somewhat daunting for those of us who have been in the business a while, there is something happening to our industry.  It is a new time.  There is an art in re-evaluating one’s role, one’s experience, one’s ability to engage a new consumer.  The only ‘known’ is that what was done before is probably not what will be done now, or at least not in the same way. 

The art of production is in the doing of it.  The artistry is in the journey, gaining experience while wading through impossibilities and coming out the other end, grown.  It is in considering the potential of inventiveness.  On time and on budget.  Kumbayah.

We took some time. Now it’s ours forever.

June 3, 2009

By Michael Mark, creative director/ceo @NYCA 

In the middle of this recession, in the middle of being too busy launching two global websites, in the middle of strategic planning for three full-out 2010 media campaigns, in the middle of applying all we learned from our research, and Tweeting, Facebooking, IMing and blogging, we stopped. And painted vases. 

We did what seems impossible these days – we took some time.  

Time is a gift often seen as a foe: we race the clock, we are up against a deadline, we push the meeting, we run behind.  And the way we try to compete is by splitting ourselves up into pieces, to do more tasks in the same second. 

How often have we said we need to clone ourselves?  And in the attempt we become fractured.  We say that media is fractured, but it’s not true. There are just more complete communication channels each going on simultaneously, multiplying by the instant it seems.  However there’s only one of us. And it is us — our attention, actually — being shattered into pieces. Tough to be centered and focused in such a state. 

That’s why yesterday some of us took time and danced in the middle of the corridor by the creative area.



In this week’s “New York” magazine article, In Defense of Distraction,  author Sam Anderson interviewed David Meyer, an expert on multitasking & cognition.

 In Defense of Distraction



Illustration by Glen Cummings/MTWTF  

He describes distraction “as a full-blown epidemic—a cognitive plague that has the potential to wipe out an entire generation of focused and productive thought.” Because of the way we use the ever-multiplying communication channels, he says, it is tough to get things done, adding “..even ten years ago…it was a lot calmer. There was a lot of opportunity for getting steady work done.”

True.  And we have proof.  In NYCA’s production area there’s an LED clockthat stares, red-eyed, at everyone passing, as it winds down from the moment the client approves the brief to when we have to have the work out there. Heartlessly, it heads to 0:0:0:0:0 from month to week to day to hour to minute to the final second. It started as a joke. It became a nervous-laugh producing – and, some say, an effective — monster. Every time we walked by, we were reminded we had to do three other things by this time.  Clock_Nina 004

And while it blinked away precious seconds, we painted away in Fargo – one of our conference rooms between the NY and CA rooms. We casually dipped into each other’s color wells, sharing brushes, and stories and time.  

 Here’s what we got out of the time we took: 

We got to create in a new way.

We got to catch up with ourselves and others.

We got to start again on projects with new energy (ok, perhaps fueled by anxiety of losing 40 minutes).

We got 40 minutes that we will always own.

We got something new to tweet, IM, blog, talk about.

We got vases that will sit on our desks and hold flowers that are given out twice a month as a thank you for being an NYCAer.


Oh, and Sandy in admin sent out an email later in the day telling everyone how to mark that vase painting time on our time management program. So all in the world is at peace — or at least accounted for. Thanks for taking the time to read this. Now go back to work.

A fresh angle to legitimize beer pong?

June 2, 2009

By Lisa Harder, Associate Media Director @NYCA

Is Anheuser-Busch’s sponsorship of Hard Bat Ping Pong just another attempt to corner the beer pong market?


Back in 2005 the company called off its promotion of “Bud Pong,” a game created by the brewery eerily similar to the ever popular beer pong but with one key difference – it was supposed to be played with water. The Bud Pong campaign launched complete with branded tables, balls and glasses to distributors in 47 markets, several in college towns. The distributors helped organize tournaments and Anheuser-Busch even explored trade marking the name. When executives found Bud Pong was being played improperly – with beer – all the fun came to a screeching halt. Drinking games will always be played with the cheapest, chuggable beer on the market. Until the product changes, Bud will continue to be a natural choice to fill those Solo cups.

Now, four years later, Anheuser-Busch is hoping that we have all forgotten about the failed campaign and is hoping to revive a more family friendly pastime as the lead sponsor of the Bud Light Hard Bat Ping Pong tournament. The brewery has gone on record as saying “This is about the residual goodwill we all feel for the better times we grew up with. This conjures up family.” The Bud Light Hard Bat Ping Pong tournament is intended to reach drinkers at the grass roots level and at the same time emphasize on the fun angle of the brand.

Executives behind the project believe that ping pong will be an emerging trend in this time of recession when the country nostalgic for family values and simpler times.

Do they believe ping pong is the next pastime to sweep the nation or is Hard Bat the more politically correct way to reach beer-pongers? I would argue the latter.

A good sponsorship should not only tap into the passion of the target audience but also resonate with the brand image. Bud Pong was an obvious choice based on consumer insight, but a misstep for a brand which attempts to promote responsible drinking. On the other hand, Hard Bat may conjure up fond memories of more wholesome times, but among who? I can’t help but wonder if the Bud Pong backlash pushed marketers of the brewery too far in the opposite direction. Where they once forgot about the brand, they may have now forgotten their audience.