Friday, August 28, 2009

R-E-S- . . . P-S-S?**

Research. Who does it? Who cares?

Lately that topic has come up quite a bit in conversation as I have talked to various people in the industry (of advertising).

Sometimes it seems that clients want to use research as a crutch, to validate the proposed campaign, to make decisions for them on what path to take, to help them sleep at night resting comfortably that they will get great ROI (Return-On-Investment. Perhaps one of the most hateful terms to have gotten stuck in my head since entering this dizzy little industry).

I think, for this reason, many creatives and planners have developed something of a resentful relationship towards research. It becomes hampering towards great ideas, diluting creativity, and stymie-ing potential growth. Some planners and creatives I have talked to value infinitely more the power of brilliant intuition.

This intuition comes in particularly valuable when you are called upon to offer keen insights on the spot, without the chance to research a question and assess trends and history. I would, however, counter that great intuition is built upon good research.

Once, long ago, I was fervently dedicated to the idea of becoming a clinical psychologist. People already came to me for advice, and I thought I was pretty darned good at it. I shudder now to think at some of the bad advice I gave. But at the time I thought my intuition was so damned good. It took years of listening to people's problems, studying human behavior in an academic way, going through some of my own life experiences, and taking a step back, pondering, and looking for larger patterns.

Now, when people come to me for advice on relationships, I think I can reliably say my intuition is pretty good. I can quickly look at a situation/dynamic and assess the key issues. Often, I can even offer a really good solution. But this quick intuition has been fed by years of research and analysis.

Ultimately what is intuition, but what is latently within us. And you can only get out of something what you put into it.

Some planners reading this will be quick to observe this is why we often want planners with a wide breadth of experiences, because they can draw upon those experiences to feed their intuitive problem-solving. Life experiences, reading, and deep pondering are definitely forms of research.

But I think we should not be quick to negate other structured forms of qualitative and quantitative research as incredibly valuable to the creative process. Research results from these endeavors can significantly expand our thinking beyond our limited experiences. Sometimes it is just about the right question. We see surprising data that maybe did not fit with our preconceived thinking, but suddenly that puzzle piece makes sense in the whole scheme.

I think therein lies the key to good empirical research feeding the creative process of advertising: asking the right question. Asking the question that probably no one else has thought to ask. It is asking these kinds of questions that has led to some of our great breakthroughs in thinking: air-borne germ theory, a helio-centric planetary system, pizza-on-a-bagel means you can have pizza anytime!

In all seriousness, as a former academic, I value good research and the insights it can bring, but, as a creative person, I know that the best solutions often involve an element of risk, of trying out something that cannot be proven to be fail-safe. And that is bad news to the business suits who want security blanket solutions.

**SPSS . . . the statistics analytics tool. R-E-S-P-E-C-T . . . the Aretha Franklin song . . . never mind.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Overdue Indulgence

Once again too long since blogging. I have had lots of thoughts to share on branding, which I will hopefully get to this weekend, but sometimes, you just have to get away from the noise of Twitter and blogs and recycled news chatter. I am SO sick of reading things from a screen. For awhile now I have been yearning to return to my favorite activity as a child--curling up with a good book. Which is why, after meeting up with some local creative/marketing peeps at Likeminds, I headed over to the the public library on Venice Blvd. to get a library card, once the ultimate symbol of power and knowledge.

I was actually pretty disappointed by this branch. It has only three bookcases of fiction! With one shelf dedicated completely to Michael Crichton. It made me miss the vast and glorious library of downtown SLC.

Nonetheless I made off with some wonderful, purely indulgent selections:

Eat, Pray, Love I have been meaning to read for a while now, I bought my mother the Spanish translation so we could read it together. I hope she is still game.

The Little Prince is another book I have been meaning to read for a while. They didn't have a copy of it in French, so I will just breeze through it in English. I am expecting to be delighted.

Flesh and Blood is a novel by Michael Cunningham. I really enjoy his quiet, introspective prose. It's about this family of characters that seem to touch on all aspects of Michael Cunningham's personality, so, like much of Michael's stuff, it seems to be a work of literary/intellectual masturbation.

My final book choice is Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary. This is perhaps my favorite book from childhood. It still makes me laugh out loud, and even as a grown-up, I relate to the characters. I just wish they had better cover art.

Notice none of these books are nonfiction books designed to educate on a topic, in particular marketing, culture, symbology, religion, or art (the only books I have read for the past five years). The choices were pure, unadulterated literary indulgence. I wasn't even going to reach for books I "should" read, like a Tolstoy tome. Just escapist fun. And no screens!

After reading just a few pages of Beezus and Ramona in the check-out line, I knew I had to sit and enjoy a chapter or two of this delightful book. But the uncomfortably tiny, non-cushy chair zone that is the Venice library would not do, so I headed over to Lemonade--the trendy new eatery on Venice's Abbot Kinney. At Lemonade I settled in to enjoy Ramona's antics and some cucumber & mint lemonade. Very yummy. The cookie was rather "meh."

It was the perfect afternoon. I walked to my car with an extra skip in my step, eager to get home and curl up for an hour or two with a book, blithely trying to ignore the very grown-up buzz-kill that is Los Angeles traffic.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Future of Advertising

(above is the vomit of this digital marketing behemoth)

Perhaps it is because creatives AND business people are the biggest bunch of navel-gazers on the planet, but I am SO sick of hearing about "the future of advertising". "The future of advertising is . . . !" or "John, what would YOU say is the future of advertising?" or "Is advertising dead?"

It's like the frivolity of fashion forecasting. In fact the parallels between our industry and the fashion industry are staggering (for all that industry types loathe fashion ads). The point being, you can sit on the red carpet and postulate that patent leather will be the must-have for fall, but people with real style aren't very affected by these trends. They disdain the trendy and go for a unique style that conveys their values and outlook on the world and that works with their body types. They understand that jumping on fall's fad will leave them looking like an idiot in spring.

Not that I am the most stylish person in the world, but I do enjoy the impact of smart aesthetic choices in clothes, and I know that there are items in my closet that I wore in high school that still garner praise and still look very fresh and relevant and can be found echoed in the "latest trends".

It's like vintage Chanel or the brand identity designs of Paul Rand. They still look great, they are still appealing, and they are still very effective.

Rather than trying to figure out the next gimmick, I think it is the role of good advertising/marketing/pr/creative agencies to help individual companies find their own "sense of style", then as gimmicks and trends come along, like the latest social media app (it's scary how easily that word comes now) or a new media outlet, you can work with the brand to decide, "Does this fit? Hm. Maybe it kind of makes my ass look fat, let's go with the distressed oxford shirt. If we we change out the buttons and pull it with a cool blazer, we can really make it work." Ultimately, I guess I am saying its about the identity/message, not the medium and not the funky tools (*cough* drop shadow!).

PS-I will confess I am still irked that everyone started wearing blazers with jeans a few years ago because I enjoyed being the only person wearing that in high school.

The Perfect Day

What would the perfect day look like for John Quintana? If this anal-retentive, uber-picky guy had everything go his way, what woudl the world look like? Well, it would look something like the Saturday after my birthday, which I decided to take for self-indulgence. (for those of you who are patient enough to sit through all of this, there is a surprise at the end)

The night before I was able to go to bed at a reasonable hour and I woke up without the aid of an alarm and with no rush for a particular destination, which meant I could just roll over and cuddle indulgently with my favorite person in the whole world.

We defied the conventions of L.A. and headed out with pillow wrinkles still fresh on our faces to get my new favorite breakfast: bagels with cream cheese and lox!

(When first I saw the ambulance I was mortified someone had died or something at the bagel shop . . . and I would not be able to get my bagels and lox. I am that awful of a person.)

We enjoyed breakfast at my new favorite place in all of Los Angeles: our terrace. The morning light just made Shane look even more amazing.

We then got our asses kicked by a lithe Japanese yoga instructor at the gym. It was awesome, purifying, re-aligning, and transcendent!

I decided to treat my boyfriend to lunch at the restaurant where I am serving penance. I got to show him off to all of my co-workers, and I chose to sustain myself on yet another form of smoked salmon (FYI for my Gentile friends--lox is a form of smoked salmon).

On the way home, we were once again intrigued by the assembled young people waiting in line for days now in front of the Johnny Cupcakes. I decided to exercise my planner chops and went out an interviewed the people on the street. It was so much fun! And I learned a lot about this wholly different clothing brand. I will post a full report on my little gum shoe work later next week.

Once I put away my little tape recorder, it was time to bust out the Gregorian chants and do some baking! (thankfully I had a nice iced coffee to keep me cool, thanks to Shane's wonderful parents who got us a coffee maker while they were here)

Our good friends here in L.A. came over, we packed up some sandwiches, the banana bread I just made, and various other goodies and headed to Venice Beach (my new favorite beach) for a sunset picnic on the beach.

Everyone brought the perfect things for a picnic on the beach. Kevin brought a bottle of champagne and my favorite chocolate, Naomi brought yummy berries (which went great with the bubbly) and cookies, and Phil (bless his heart!) brought SMOKED SALMON SANDWICHES! I was in heaven. My third meal of delectable, savory smoked salmon. This time perfectly off set with dill and lemon.

We spent the rest of the evening wandering around Abbot Kinney, giggling like crazy and soaking up the local scene. We ended the night eating the amazing Korean-Mexican fusion taco truck that is Kogi.

Ah, it was a perfect day! I wish everyday could be like that. There were only two things that I didnt get to do that day, that I wanted to: 1) do a little clothes shopping and 2) go to the public library and piece of real, indulgent FICTION! Sigh. Maybe this weekend. Still, a perfect day, and I think Shane for being so wonderful in going along with all of it.

Still, there is the surprise I was talking about before. You see, on my actual birthday, Shane took me out to this marvelous Latin-fusion restaurant to give a birthday present unlike any other I have received: a trip to Machu Picchu!!! Aaaaaaaaaahh!!! Where is an Oprah studio audience when you need one?

Anyway, we are going in December and we are both super excited to plan the trip together, so I guess the most perfect part of the day was the reminder that I have a wonderful partner with whom to have wonderful indulgent days and exciting adventures, and for that, I have every reason to be grateful.

*for full photos of the day go to Flickr set.