Mulholland Drive and the lesson for startup brands

David Lynch’s 2001 neo-noir film Mulholland Drive left many viewers baffled and perplexed. But many were impressed by the audacity of the invention and creative vision and many critics consider it a masterpiece of modern cinema. It was even voted the best film of the 21st century.

Lynch had to take a massive change of direction to make the movie happen at all.

A TV production company backed Lynch to develop a new TV series to follow the success of Twin Peaks. So he developed a new idea, and shot an open-ended proof of concept pilot. Mulholland Drive was his new vision, his new creative plan.

Mulholland Drive is a good example of a creative pivot. You set out planning to reach a target, but end up finding something you didn’t expect to find.

But when his backers saw the pilot they pulled the funding and decided not to go ahead and produce the series. Lynch’s plan was in trouble.

But he didn’t stop there. Convinced of the idea and his concept he sought a new producer, a new backer to turn the TV pilot into a feature film. He dug deep and found a new way to reach a target he hadn’t set out to reach. Read more

Copywriting and branding lessons from seven seasons of Mad Men

One of the interesting things about the recently ended Mad Men series was how it so often pitched its way out of the confines of the TV soap opera and into the real world of a creative advertising agency.

As a Creative Director who escaped the clutches of McCann-Erickson myself, there are lessons from the series for not just about every type of creative and marketing professional, but for every business owner too.

Copyhackers has produced the useful infographic below outlining the copywriting lessons from the show from the practical, ‘If you don’t like what they’re saying about you, change the conversation,’ to the philosophical, ‘We’re gonna sit at our desks typing while the walls fall down around us. Because we’re the least important most important thing there is.’

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The era of Game Of Thrones style agencies is over

If you work in marketing or buy creative services of any kind you’ve probably met some wag who has told you about the bad old days, when all agencies were like Mad Men where the drink and more flowed day and night and egos ruled the castle.

Having worked for McCann-Erickson in my youth – one of the best known of the Madison Avenue agencies that covered the globe – my stories of past misdeeds and behaviour from colleagues and competitors are more like Game Of Thrones than Mad Men. Creative agencies were once fiefdoms of influence and closely guarded secrets where account warriors fought tooth and nail for patronage and territory; often to the creative detriment of the clients they served.

But those dragon-infested days are on the wane I’m glad to say, and apart from a few isolated and dying outposts, those types of agency encampments are either dead or dying.

[blockquote]Now collaboration between client and creative agency is the watchword.[/blockquote]

Infighting and the incestuous drive for power that so often was the driving force behind agency monoliths are now outmoded ways of working. Put simply, the atmosphere that sometimes became poisoned in advertising agencies in particular was rarely a good breeding ground for creative thinking and fresh design ideas. Technology has disrupted the creative industries and that has largely been for the general good of clients and creative designers too.

There were agencies that banned creatives from ever meeting clients and other agencies that earned their revenues from hefty production and media mark-ups and practically gave the design away for free. Some dinosaurs still operate in this business model but thankfully this Game Of Thrones era has largely disappeared.

Daenerys and dragonTechnology means that design and creativity and the inventive ideas they engender are now more valued and lauded than ever before. Creativity is king and the big agency account execs that used to infest any creative project are now largely extinct.

As a client you want to deal directly with creative people who know you, your business and your brand. More valuable than someone with a gold Amex card who buys you lunch, is a creative professional who has insights and a solid grasp of your business and can play a big role in helping you grow your brand and your products – who has empathy and understanding of your story, your history and your future.

Design and technology are more powerful weapons than scripted processes and tired ideas. Creative teams and projects can be as small or as big as they need to be to get the work done and the objectives achieved without the intervention of too many egos. Now collaboration between client and creative agency is the watchword.

Clients should spend their money and resource on design and creativity rather than on layers of client service. That’s why I made Brandlogik a flexible, virtual team that puts the client and the client’s customers at the centre of our business.

We believe in the power of branding, design and technology to transform your life and your business and anything that gets in the way of delivering the best results is best eliminated, like those Game Of Thrones style feudal barons. Let’s talk.

Eugene Burns



Mad Men new season – dramatizing the creative process

Having just returned from New York I would like to share some thoughts on the opening episode of the Mad Men new season. Warning: contains some spoilers for readers in the UK and Ireland.

In the first episode of Man Men series 6 there’s an interesting examination of the creative process intertwined in the lives of the advertising agency characters.

Early in the episode Don returns rejuvenated from a luxury winter break in Hawaii with Megan, paid for by his client Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Yet later in the episode when it comes to creating the next advertising campaign for the hotel, he allows his own emotions, his own inner inferno, to get in the way of finding a great creative solution.

Don’s past and present confusion gets in the way of the client’s brand so he fails to execute one of his killer presentations, much to the annoyance of Pete Campbell and Roger Sterling. His creative approach and his stapline ‘Hawaii – the jumping off point’ are so clouded by his own emotions that the voice of the brand and the brief itself is lost, and the great Madison Avenue Creative Director is all too visibly cast adrift in front of his disappointed client.

Don’s confusion is later contrasted with Peggy – now a senior copywriter at a rival agency of course – who is forced to come up with a new creative solution for a Koss headphones Superbowl spot, when the client gets nervous and wants to pull the advert at the last minute.

In contrast to Don, Peggy – who of course has learned so much from the master – is forced to work hard to find a stronger feature about the product that better dramatizes the brand.  And how does she find the solution? Not by looking within but by allowing the outside world to inspire her creative juices. The implication is that Peggy has grown to be a better creative by getting out of her own way and taking her creative thinking to a higher level.

There may be a lesson here for all designers and advertising creatives. Great work is not about you. It comes from finding out great things about your client’s business, or product, and getting out of the way to allow the truth to shine through to the users and the audience.

That’s not to say that there’s no room for personality in design and advertising. In fact personality is essential. It’s in the treatment – how you choose to use your skills to express the tone-of-voice of the brand. It’s the words you choose and the typeface that you use. It’s the colour, the definition and the character that you bring to the end result and what gives depth to the final work.

In many ways the creative process must be much the same as the scriptwriting process. With Dante’s Inferno echoing in your head, you may have trouble allowing long-established characters to find their true voice.

It’s this level of approach that makes the Mad Men new season something more than just another TV series. It sometimes knows when to creatively get out of the way and let the ideas and the characters speak for themselves.

Eugene Burns

First Screening driven by great ideas

‘The mobile is evolving as a primary screen for consumers.’ Mobile World Conference, Barcelona 2013

There was a time when we all got our news and even some of our values from our TV set – when most major news and sporting events were a shared, national, screen-based experience. Like many of you I no longer depend on TV alone. In fact TV is my second or even third screen. My first screen depends on the time of day or where I am. Second screening no longer applies.

Thinking back it’s almost four years since we’ve had a web TV that plugs right into our home network and we bought that TV standing in front of the exact same model in John Lewis while completing the Amazon check out on my iPhone.

Before breakfast or traveling my iPhone is my first screen. That’s where I not only first see my important emails of the day – and weed out the unimportant ones – but where I catch up with all my social media feeds finding out what’s happening in design, tech, sport and general world news before logging into my retina iPad where even on the move I’ll do some more detailed web browsing and check apps for business issues of the day.

For business and for pleasure my laptop and my desktop iMac are the first screens for pretty much everything and I expect you are like me in this respect.

Things have come a long way in just a few years and we’re still just at the beginning of what’s possible. Why does this matter?

[blockquote]First screening means now more than ever it’s the ideas that drive an insanely great design or marketing campaign.[/blockquote]

Designers have always designed for multiple formats and delivery channels. I remember back in my early days at McCann-Erickson reformatting full-page adverts for Peugeot was my first real studio job.

The difference is that now different devices and channels take and reinterpret the same artwork, the same imagery, and the same design. The measurement of success is in the engagement that the design delivers and not on the number of copies sold, or adverts screened.

The mobile device is starting to become a primary screen for viewing long-form video thanks to bigger and better screens, faster processors and connectivity and evolving consumer behaviour.

‘One out of three digital media consumption minutes takes place on a mobile channel.’ Source: comScore

First screening means now more than ever it’s the ideas that drive an insanely great design or marketing campaign. The freedom from the tyranny of format and the breaking out of the standard delivery channels means it’s the quality of the thinking that’s really on display. Great ideas can drive brand engagement now rather than multi-channel frequency.

Designers still need to deliver creativity and excellent thinking through imagery and copy while clients need to back and invest in that thinking if they want their brands to feature on that first screen where creativity is the star.

Creativity is the new rock and roll. So throw that TV into the swimming pool.


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