Is it Better to Stand Out or Fit In?

Yesterday I was walking down the street when I spied something very peculiar over the legendary San Francisco nightclub The Stud. It was a billboard for Sharethrough and it said only one thing: “native advertising”.

I have to give Sharethrough a lot of kudos because the mere idea of promoting native advertising via out-of-home literally stopped me in my tracks. Who would do that? The very notion of it seemed utterly absurd … and yet, there I was, standing in the middle of the street, thinking about it.

Advertising objective complete.

It turns out the campaign, which is under the tagline “Ads Can Fit In,” includes a variety of executions, all of which can be seen here.

Which brings up an interesting point, because the reason why the billboard worked on me is a bit of an accident. All of the executions in the campaign are meant to blend into their surroundings. In the case of the one I stumbled upon, it was designed in the same color scheme as The Stud exterior. Yet, the sedateness of the art direction and message actually made that point unclear.  What grabbed me was how much the concept of advertising native via out-of-home actually stood out.

The ad worked precisely because it didn’t fit in.

I think the right marketing message paired with the right medium can make a powerful case for Native Advertising … and in such cases, absolutely guys, fit in. But for something like out-of-home, where mindshare can be counted in nanoseconds, I have only one thing to say: stand out. Disrupt me. Give me something that makes me stand in the middle of the street, oncoming traffic be damned.

And in case you’re wondering, yes I made it to the other side unscathed.


IKEA Hacks Instagram


IKEA is the worldwide muse of ingenious aesthetic solutions, so it’s no surprise that they managed to return the favor by creating what might be the first Instagram website.

As reported on Mashable, their Ikea_PS_2014 Instagram account allows you to tap through a variety of photos to reveal accounts for individual items, resulting in a click-through system much like a website.

Clever—or confusing?

The jury is still out. What I’m guessing is we’ll be seeing a lot more of these kinds of inventive social media hacks in the future.

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Is There a Point When a Marketing Message Gets Too Complicated?


AdAge reported last week on this campaign by Trident gum.

To underscore the message that “Trident chewing gum keeps you focused on the important things in life” they partnered with an apparel company that created a line of clothing that shields radio frequencies from your electronic devices. The idea being that if you aren’t looking at your phone, ipad, etc you will be more focused. What does this have to do with gum? I’m not sure.

Really genius? Or really … uh … confusing?

You decide. 😉

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In Defense of the Collaboration Between Art and Commerce

Every so often I’m reminded of that advertising agency cliche. You know the one, usually a guy (although not always), usually an art or creative director (although not always), who throws a tantrum about the client who is meddling with their artistic brilliance.

Hey, I get it. I’m in advertising, too. I certainly know what it feels like to have client feedback take the teeth out of what might have been something more.

But here’s a dirty secret in the complicated psychology of selling stuff to people: stopping power doesn’t always translate into brand recognition. Entertainment always translate into ROI. Cannes Lions don’t always translate into sales.

Sometimes the people who get paid to sell things really do, in fact, know how to sell things.

It’s a complicated tango we dance as creatives and marketing professionals to produce an ad that has artistic merit and makes something sell like hotcakes. On both sides it requires the ability to reduce ego, to listen, to compromise, and to trust. Sometimes it even requires a bit of blind faith.

But there’s a lesson here. On the creative side, we know we have a responsibility to the idea and the work. We know we must be passionate and respectful advocates for what our experience has taught us is effective. After all, that’s the expertise we bring to the table. That’s what we are being paid for.

But, that said, we cannot do that at the expense of the client’s perspective. After all, they are the expert on their product, their brand, and often, their consumer. That’s what they are being paid for. To disregard their own expertise suggests patent disrespect. Just because we know how to build a beautiful house doesn’t mean we always know how to get people inside it. It’s not enough to say, “Well, it’s a beautiful house. People will want to come see it.” Art and commerce at its best is a collaboration.

A Brief Shout-Out to My Other Creative Pursuits

Life On Market

Like everyone else in the videogame industry, I only work 80 hours a week, leaving me with plenty of time to pursue some of my favorite hobbies. Such as eating. And sleeping.

Additionally, lately I’ve been experimenting with an amateur photojournalism project documenting my neighborhood in San Francisco. Although historically one of the most ‘gentrification-proof’ SF neighborhoods, the emergence of Twitter on Market and 9th has thrown the area into a rapid and dramatic transformation. What was once a location famous for drugs, SROs, and funky art enclaves has become a maelstrom of speculative renovation pitted against a cultural resistance to change.

Oh, and I don’t use the word ‘amateur’ lightly. I’m trying to keep a low profile so all of these are taken with my iPhone.

You can see my work on Tumblr under the header Life On Market. Also available on Instagram.

Check it out.


Writing on Phones In Planes

Two weeks ago, as I was flying back from Montreal, I had an interesting revelation on the plane ride home. That is, after I decided I was no longer going to die.

I’m not a great flyer. I fly a lot for work and for school, but it doesn’t get any easier for me. I’m the person that, while most people are casually flipping through SkyMall, I’m counting the minutes until we clear 10,000 feet. At which point, statistically speaking, the majority chance of legitimate danger is over.

This time, however, I tried reading through my fear—a tactic, I should note, that I have tried before, and not always successfully. But I ended up reading the February Vogue cover story on Lena Dunham, which shamed me out of fear of death and into writing.

Dunham, creator of the HBO series Girls, wrote her alter ego character Hannah Horvath as an aspiring writer whose creative output can only optimistically be called “erratic”. But, naturally, this does not reflect the work ethic of Dunham in real life. Cast mate Allison Williams describes Dunham writing everywhere, in bed, on the set, and on planes.


At the same time, I thought of Bryan Guido Hassin, who writes fondly of discovering the concept of ‘airplane days’ on a flight, and using that rare time devoid of enabled communication devices to focus purely on work. And it struck me that maybe the answer to getting over my fear was simply getting to work. Or, at least, giving my mind something to work on other than calculating the probability of crashing.

Working on a laptop on a plane, however, is not the easiest feat when you’re sitting in the middle of coach. Which I was. (My shame is partially comforted by the theory that people who get a lot of work on planes probably fly business class.) But the example of Dunham and Hassin did challenge me to think of other ways to write. So I pulled out my phone and proceeded to start typing. A half hour later, I had written this entire piece using the Notability app. (True story.)

So the lesson sticks with me. Not just about maximizing our previously unexploited windows of time, but also using those moments when others cannot reach us to our focus advantage.

And, as an upside, landing was a breeze.

Stewarding Our Own Potential

I’m in Carmel Valley right now, which I do periodically to recharge given the go-go-go nature of the videogame industry. Currently reading Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind. In it is a piece by Scott Belsky, co-founder of Behance (who is behind the book) which had this nifty nugget:

“You are the steward of your own potential. The resources within you—and around you—are only tapped when you recognize their value and develop ways to use them. Whatever the future of technology may hold, the greatest leaders will be those most capable of tuning into themselves and harnessing the full power of their own minds.”

Belsky talks about Jeff Bezos who, in the early days of Amazon, purportedly kept his schedule clear on Mondays and Thursdays so that he would think, brainstorm, walk the halls, and talk to people he didn’t ordinarily meet with.

Whilst “harnessing the full power of the mind” sounds a little new age-y to me, there is a serious truth to be found within. We are living in an increasingly reactive world. Games, in particular, can be an extraordinarily reactive industry. Our world of open-office floor plans opens us up to repeated distractions that that can oddly keep us disconnected from our own sustained focus—and frequently without the upside of connecting unexpectedly with others in ways that truly service the business of what we do.

What would happen if leaders devoted even merely 5% of their time to tuning into their instincts and focus on the road to the future instead of the fires in front of us in the here and now?