Rut Busters: What do you see?

September 28, 2010

By Dave Huerta, VP/Associate Creative Director @ NYCA

In every agency it’s the same story. Buildings filled with problem solvers doing their best to meet shrinking timelines, while providing their clients with their freshest thinking.

As you can guess, shrunken timelines and fresh thinking don’t get along great. Let’s just say they’re not friends. They don’t even like being in the same neighborhood. And rarely will anything good come about when they’re forced in the same room, let alone brief.

So being the super smart and evolved communicators we are, we naturally kick into high gear. Faced with no time, our brains do a quick search of all the solutions that have worked in the past and finds the one that best matches the problem in front of us. (Probably has to do with some left over fight or flight issues.)

Anyway, it’s awesome for meeting a timeline. But not awesome for creating unique and effective work that addresses a unique communication challenge. It leads to patterns and ruts where you end up with the same solutions to completely different problems.

At NYCA we don’t like ruts. They’re not good for agencies or clients, so we’re doing an internal series of rut busters in the way of visual teasers, thought provoking questions and brain contorting challenges. Just different ways to keep our minds open and seeing problems from unexpected directions so we can continue to provide our clients with unique and effective grow! work.

And it’s not just for the creative department. The Rut Busters are for every NYCAer whether you’re the President, in accounting or part of the cleaning crew.

Who knows, it just might reveal which senior account person will be our next jr. art director or writer.

Here’s the first rut buster and what NYCAers’ saw.

What do you see?


To find an idea, get lost.

September 10, 2010

By Michael Mark, Creative Director/CEO @ NYCA

I’m scared of the usual. I go out of my way to avoid it. So I’m perpetually lost. And I’m good with that. It’s why I try to eat at different places or never sit in the same chair in the conference rooms. Anything to give me a new perspective. New stimuli to react to. Anything to run me off the road of a routine and jab my senses awake.

The safe and well-lighted can be deadly attractive. But the need for originality has a greater power than the comfort of the known, and forces me into the gray. Off-balance is better than balance. I’d rather fall than stay still; I’d prefer to trip forward and land wherever. You have to live in-between, in the synapse, in the fog. Romantic, isn’t it? Yes, and we all love romance but there’s a danger: Will she kiss me? Will she slap me?

That’s the only way I believe you can discover a new way, invent a new road, what we at NYCA call a grow! idea. You gotta make yourself uncomfortable.

I actually like working on trains, planes, in the car. (You ever wonder how you got to where you’re going? Me too.) The motion pushes and pulls me, and my mind shakes free of the everyday. I might see something out the window, and that sparks something. I might hit the car in front of me and that makes me think something else. I might hear something on the radio and that makes me sing something. I might get off at a different exit – not wrong but unexpected – and that makes me see something new. I might not get to where I was going but I might get to a better place. And “I might” is what I’m after, not “I have” or “I did.”

So when my team tells me they’re lost, I know they are on their way. When I hear, “Oh, this assignment is easy,” I start getting tremors. Sometimes it is easy – the vision presents itself in a moment, and that’s great — but more often you bite into it and it’s fool’s gold.

You know that term “losing your mind”? I recommend it. The mind will tell you the rules, the mind will tell you fire burns or that is a bad thought. When you lose your mind, I think you lose your connection to the traditional – the acceptable way of doing something. And you can have originality – let’s call it temporary creative sanity. And what do you replace your lost mind with? A new idea, I hope. If not, get on a bus to anywhere.

So if you’re looking for a grow! idea, my direction to you would be to get lost.


The big idea isn’t dead; it’s just smashed into millions of itsy bitsy pieces.

March 9, 2010

By Michael Mark, Creative Director/CEO @ NYCA

The most dramatic change since I started in advertising is the big idea. In the hallways and conference rooms, that’s all you heard: “You got a big idea? Client is demanding a big idea.” We would work nights, weekends, lunches, coming up with the single-minded, iconic, brain-straining idea that would be the center of all the work. Now the big part of the big idea is that it would have to be so insightful, so expressive that it could be long lasting in the marketplace. That’s a lot of pressure on an idea and the people who were charged to come up with it. I must say I learned a great deal and still apply the intense training and scrutiny that went into coming up with those ideas. I wrote the line for the New York Stock Exchange, “The world puts its stock in us.” which was used for more than a decade because trust and fidelity must always be part of any financial institution.

In those days an idea with a lifespan of three to five years was the goal. Those were the ones that would run again and again with just resizing here and there. The longer it could last, the bigger. It was if the product, the competitive situation, the consumer was stationary, frozen, stunned timeless. A target that was a sitting duck. Hard to believe, right?

Take the Marlboro man. He was one such big idea – man, horse, sagebrush, logo. Welcome to Marlboro country. An emotional territory. Ran years and years without a change in TV, print, outdoor, POS, events. Sometimes he would ride the horse, sometimes he’d walk at its side, but that was it.

Today it’s about a lot of little ideas – tons, thousands of them, generating and regenerating connections – all energized with consumer insight and relevance, customized to the media in which it’s delivered, the time delivered, the specific audience delivered to and from again and again. Lots of small ideas, emanating from a bigger idea, packaged to travel anywhere at any time.

A big idea without the tentacles, the ability to scurry to multiple directions to many locations, is too slow, too clumsy, too asthmatic to keep pace with the consumer’s voracious appetite for more: more unique, more personal, more more. Due to the ability to see them all over, ideas can overstay their welcome fast, get outdated, become irrelevant, stale instantly. Bad for the brand.

Small is the new big. Lots and transmutable is the new focused.

Warning: this small is a bigger drain on the talent pool than the old big was. So it’s critical to find big and small thinkers and lots of small doers. And they have to love making the stuff (makes you think of Santa’s workshop with the elves). If they are passionate about connecting with consumers and generating ideas for and together with them, then it’s energizing. Then it’s a high (makes me think of those three-martini lunches of yore).

There’s a big upside for me from the old days of the single big event. Compared to now, they were lonely, self-involved, stagnant times. Just like we imagined our consumer to be. I’m big on small.


What goes into an idea?

February 23, 2010

By Michael Mark, Creative Director/CEO @ NYCA

Every idea has its creator in it. The uninspired idea has nothing more.

A good idea has its own self in it as well; its voice, mission.

A great idea has other voices in it. The client’s, the consumer’s, the brand’s, the product’s. They all have to be attached to it, to hear themselves in it, and deeply want to, since it is a great idea.

The grow! idea has all these voices in it plus it has the power to make people act.

It guides, changes, improves, breeds.

If you have one of those, know two things: it’s not yours alone and you should celebrate all for having it come to life.