Tag : awards

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128: Academy Award-Winning Advertising

THR UnbrokenTomorrow, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will announce the nominees for the 87th annual Academy Awards. Candidly, this isn’t typically big on my radar; but this year is different.

Inexplicably, several months ago, I started finding free copies of The Hollywood Reporter in my mailbox. The January 2015 issue understandably focused on the awards season that spans the Golden Globes and the Oscars. I opened this edition because 75% of the front cover is filled with a shot from an amazing movie I watched a few weeks ago.

As I flipped through the pages, nine of the remaining eleven pages of ads held something in common with the cover. THR HomesmanThey were asking for a movie (or someone who contributed to a movie) to be nominated for an Academy Award. I was intrigued by the challenge of representing movies that probably average a good two hours of scenes with static images in a print medium. I’d never really thought of public—even targeted—solicitation for awards consideration. So, I thumbed my way through the magazine several times to compare how each studio marketed their respective product and people.

Nine of the nine (100%) ads used testimonials from accomplished film critics.

I don’t know if this is intended to create peer pressure or to retroactively change impressions. Four of the nine (44%) even used the official masthead graphic of the critic’s THR American Sniperpublisher to add credence—a savvy touch.

Nine of the nine (100%) ads used “For Your Consideration” as a call to action.

Two of the nine (22%) ads led the ad with those three words as its headline. All of the ads “made the ask.” They just differed in the level or priority they gave it.

THR FoxcatcherNine of the nine (100%) ads hid their studio’s name and logo by inserting them very small at the bottom of the ad.

I’m not sure what the strategy is behind this humility—especially since the priority is usually exactly opposite at the start of a movie in the theater), but it seems that the studios wanted their movies or actors not to be considered in terms of who paid for the production.

Nine of the nine (100%) ads used ALL CAPS for most or all of its text.

As refined as these ads tried to be, they resorted to the font equivalent of shouting to grab attention. Maybe it’s everybody’s live theater background influencing the advertising?

THR EverythingEight of the nine (89%) ads came in the format of a single, full page ad, while one arrived as a double-page spread.

From what I can gather, it makes sense that Interstellar of the nine movies advertised would be the movie whose ad spanned two pages, as it seems to have placed the most emphasis on sweeping landscapes.

Seven of the nine (78%) ads placed the movie name and branded title graphic at the bottom of the ad.

All judging Academy members would know the movie without the title; so, the advertisers focused on the information they wanted to reinforce in the minds of the readers.

THR Box TrollsSeven of the nine (78%) ads included prominent demonstration of other awards won by the movie in question.

Six of the seven (86%) of these previously-awarded movies used the industry-standard laurel-parentheses graphic to indicate awards. Four of the seven (57%) used official awards graphics pertaining to the individual competitions in which they had won.

Five of the nine (56%) ads leveraged a single photograph for the whole page.

Four out of those five (80%) ads used the image to cover the entire frame of the page, placing text in the negative space around the primary subject.

None on the ads (0%) used stats like box office sales, cost of production, or man-hours to communicate the THR Inherent Vicechallenge or success of the craft. None used any infographics to make abstract concepts more concrete. None mentioned any particular filming or editing technology.

I’ve only seen one of the nine movies so far; so, I can’t make any observations as to how well the ads captured the overarching impression of their respective films. That said, there’s no doubt that thoughtful, intentional choices were leveraged on behalf of these movies.

THR InterstellarThat said, these ads aren’t necessarily prescriptive in terms of how advertisements should be written, designed, or published. I’m not recommending that you subscribe or not subscribe to The Hollywood Reporter.

What I am suggesting is that you as a marketer regularly take part in this kind of deconstruction and analysis of the media used by industries other than your own. That can go for print media and outdoor advertising, social media and online presence, event marketing and THR The Judgenon-traditional advertising vehicles.

This practice can wipe some of the myopia off the lens through which we evaluate our advertising. It can also lead us to dismantle how we build our media and become more intentional with our creative processes—with both large, conceptual decisions and seemingly-small choices. The ensuing conclusions might not lead us to the best practices; but they should, at least, lead us to more self-aware and purposeful marketing.

53: Postcards from the Competitive Edge

Mail Trucks2009 brought an influx of postcard orders to biplane productions, accounting for 50.5% of the 273 auction direct mail pieces that crossed my desk.

As a designer, I like big canvases to illustrate the messages my clients ask me to convey. With that approach, it would be easy to demote postcards to the lower castes of the direct mail population. To do that, I’d have to discount the two 2009 NAA awards for postcard design that biplane‘s clients won—especially the one that won a full-color brochure category. I’d have to dismiss some of the advantages postcards have over brochures and letters.

There are multiple reasons postcards trump their folded and/or enveloped mail peers.

For one thing, they don’t require opening, tab-slitting, or any effort from the recipient (other than reading) to communicate your message. Their rigidity helps them maintain their image and shape during the automated mail process. They take less time and resources to produce, shortening turn time on production. Large postcards dimensionally loom beyond the physical dimensions of envelopes—helping your images and message stand apart from the bills and other perfunctory mail in the mailbox.

They can be more easily gang-printed—the process where a printer prints multiple jobs from different clients on the same press sheet—which can cut production costs and allow more efficient and economical upgrades like UV or aqueous coating. Postcards are also the easiest direct mail format for variable data printing.

The cost savings that postcards usually provide allows you to spend more in other media or to mail more than one postcard during an auction marketing campaign. This two-stage mailing system can allow you to change or customize your sales pitch or to simply reinforce the first one.

Maybe more importantly, postcards all but force marketers to focus on the big picture—the core message you’re trying to communicate. If you’ve got a web site acting as an information safety net, why try to exhaust all information on your direct mail piece? Why overpower your pictures and crowd your message, when you have a clearinghouse of information online? If someone isn’t interested in the major points of your property, they’re not going to become a buyer with the minor points or directions to the property. If they aren’t interested enough to go to your web site for more details, they aren’t motivated enough to arrange financing, inspect the property, and bid at your auction—live or online.

So, why not just sell them on the sizzle, and get out of there? Postcards help you do that.

For premier properties, a postcard can’t adequately capture the full essence of a property—even on the 6″ x 11″ or 8.5″ x 11″ postcards for which I’m getting more and more orders. For multi-tract real estate, farm machinery, construction equipment, and other collections, sometimes the breadth of the offering is the message; and that can’t be sufficiently expressed on a postcard. But for your run-of-the-mill properties and estates, a postcard might prove the most effective marketing arrow in your quiver.

Everything’s on the outside on a postcard—your sale item(s), your message, your brand. If you only get a few seconds to convey all of that, why not use a postcard as your first impression?

One of the biggest changes in my spiritual journey over the past five years or so has been the level of authenticity encouraged by the circles of my spiritual environments. No longer do I feel pressure to maintain a buttoned-up exterior, to play the part of a mature Christian who’s got it all together—a checklist with as many check marks as the next person’s sheet. In fact, one of my weekly small group discussions starts with a disclaimer, “Leave your religious crap in the parking lot.” (The apostle Paul called it dung, too, folks.)

Monday night, I got asked, “On a scale of one to ten, where have you been this week with God?” If the momentum of the answer is trending downward, the followup questions usually sound like, “What are you wrestling with?” or “What would it take to shift the momentum toward ten?” or “What would be the first step you could make back toward fellowship?”

My spiritual health isn’t tied to what I wear to church, the letters on the spine of my Bible, the instruments on the platform, the length of my hair or my wife’s skirt. It’s not a pocket full of passed litmus tests–laurels on which to rest. It’s a marriage, and I need to address the baggage that stacked in the way of communication and intimacy with Jesus. God told New Testament believers to confess our sins one to another—and to him. It’s painful but cathartically freeing to unload the weight of our imperfection.

The church stands less inclined to judge each other, when the inside makes it to the outside. We see that every heart, as God says, is desperately wicked beyond self-repair. Empathy ignites with authenticity—and with it support and encouragement, too. We grow more dependent upon and impressed by God’s mercy and grace the more we realize we are insufficient and broken. And God gets more and deeper praise when things are sweet.

[footer]Image(s) used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2010[/footer]

Direct Mail & Female

Visual AttractionI remember the first time I saw Crystal Young, the college coed who would one day take my last name and an average of half the covers. It was lust at first site. To be candid, she had just walked past me; and I wanted to talk to the girl who came with that cute, khaki-skirted rear end. I eventually found her again and asked her on a date that earned another date that became 12 years together this March.

We’ve traveled the world together, cried in each other’s arms, accomplished some cool feats as a dynamic team. But it all goes back to ten seconds of a seemingly perfunctory walk through the student commons by the campus post office—a first impression that begged a second one that led to an intimate knowledge of another soul.

First impressions make or break your advertising, just as they do potential relationships. Unlike most face-to-face interactions, though, you only get three to eight seconds to register the perception you want to project.

Don’t believe me? Have someone in your office sort the mail on Monday. Take the total number of seconds spent, divided by the total number of pieces; and you’ll see that you’ve got to communicate faster than it takes Clark Kent to change in a phone booth.

Your first few seconds with a potential client determine the general perception of your company, what you’re trying to do, and whether you have something they want. The images you use, the text you choose, the ease of reading—they all connect to your reader’s cultural training as to where to categorize your brand. And this is true no matter which media you use to advertise.

Despite these stakes, one first impression in the auction industry often goes embarrassingly unattended: the mailer panel on direct mail.

Sample Brochure Mailer Panels

Last weekend I saw literally dozens of awards competition mailers that were completely blank. No image, no text, no color—just a blank panel for “from” and “to” labels (and a stamp). That’s either hubris or ignorance—or both. “People will open it, because they know it’s from me.” Well, then, you’re not advertising to people you don’t know, which means that you’re not expanding your brand reach. “Well, it creates a sense of intrigue; people open blank mail out of curiosity.” Well, then, you don’t mail to the same people more than once; or you’re mailing to investors and other adults who still entertain themselves with jack-in-the-boxes.

Still others make that panel the black and white side, with color on the opposite side that gets viewed only as a second impression. Worse yet, I’ve seen auctioneers stuff their terms and conditions next to the address—starting the conversation with their prospect by telling them all the things they can’t do at an auction they haven’t described. Or directions and open house information—again for an item the recipients don’t yet know exists.

You could write this off as minor incompetence, if it weren’t for the question: “How is the vast majority of mail opened?”

Address side-up!

So if you want people to want what your selling, you have to show it to them quickly. You must build your mailing panel (postcard or brochure) to include:

  1. a large, singular image (or two)
  2. a bold, succinct headline
  3. high contrast for easy readability
  4. a short appeal to consumer wants or needs
  5. only tertiary mention of the method of sale (auction)

Sample Postcard Mailer Panels

I’ve inserted samples of auction mailers that follow most of these rules. They’re not perfect; but they illustrate that you can hit the ground selling, if you take first impressions seriously. And for mailing lists you implement on a regular basis, these corporate-looking mailers are brand reinforcements. The laws of attraction don’t change. And in most cases, it will cost you little to nothing more to sift your current content with the five filters listed above.

Otherwise, you can keep relying on blank, bland, or crowded first dates with your clientele. Me? I’d rather successfully earn a second look, a second date—and work my way toward that honeymoon.

Churches spend a lot of time making sure their buildings and services communicate a sanctified mood. Hey, I bought into that idea for years; so, I’m not throwing stones. And if we’re only trying to reach people with a natural inclination to do the church thing, we can find moderate success at making church churchy.

But what if church were meant to attract the unchurched? What if Jesus chased harder after the lost than the found? I mean, didn’t Jesus say he’d rescue the strayed sheep instead of revel in a 99% safety rate?

Well, in that case, we need to take our changed lives to the world—to appeal to the estranged where they are. If that secular interaction is barking on political TV or pejorative bumper stickers, suited condescension or plastic hypocrisy, why would they want a second look at Jesus?

It’s up to us—harnessing the Holy Spirit—to attract others to the embrace of our lover, just as the crowds gathered to see Jesus two millennia ago. You never know when you’re Christ’s first impression to someone. That’s why we’re called to live authentic, growing, holy lives.

[footer]Images used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2010[/footer]

20: Fair Advantage

Awards StageIn the wake of winning seven more national awards, I have been again asked what makes a contest-winning piece of advertising? I’d rather answer, “What makes a brand-building piece of advertising.” But the more of the following attributes your piece contains, the better its chances for garnering a plaque or trophy:

Photogenic Property
I’ve seen template pieces win year after year. Because contest judges are usually rotating, they don’t know what’s template work and what’s custom design. I’d like to whisper like the girl on the DLP commercials, “It’s the mirrors,” as your pictures just reflect what you’re selling. If you have a beach front or signature property—and the design gets out of the picture’s way—your piece will beat the foreclosure sales, the main street real estate, and the rural acreage. If your tractors are new or your cars are classic, you’re going to trump the estate collections and consignment groupings. Pictures sell the judges the same way they sell your auction.

Quality Photographs
You can overcome a property’s lack of shine or accentuate a showcase offering with some creative and/or quality photography. If you can’t afford (by time or budget) a professional photographer, you can still get professional results with your point-and-shoot camera.

  • Take more pictures than you need.
  • Take pictures only during proper lighting hours.
  • Take pictures from angles and perspectives your competitors don’t.
  • Take pictures at your camera’s highest resolution.
  • Take pictures proactively. Spend time on the site, and plan ahead.

Premium Media
While you can’t control the quality in the production of all your media, particularly in newsprint and on niche web sites, you can control direct mail. The paper on which your piece is printed matters both in the marketplace and on the judges’ tables. Extra touches, like coatings and metallic materials grab attention, as do non-standard orientations and folds. These do not sell properties, but they do sell the piece—and your brand.

Professional Layout
Design can be a double-edged sword. You want design that draws attention to your brand but only as much as it doesn’t draw attention to itself. You want a layout that accentuates the property—which doesn’t necessarily require technical, expensive work. Your designer should be able to explain every font, color, line, space, and arrangement with intentional reasons. Those answers should all correspond to the nature of your brand and, if possible, to the mood of what’s being sold.

Self Control
Less is more. The less text and information you have on the outside panels of a direct mailer or in between the borders of an ad, the easier it is to build a captivating mood. Let the picture(s) breathe; rely on the image(s) to sell your property. Words rarely trump photographic proof. Don’t try to buck that law of nature, especially in our ADD culture and visual world. Pare as much from the piece as possible, publishing an exhaustive information package on the internet. If they aren’t sold in the first few seconds, they won’t care about the details. Neither will judges. They rarely read entries—just trying to grab overall creativity and readability.

Subjective Luck
Judges have human eyes with unintentional biases. I find politics typically NOT a factor on the contest level. (If anywhere, you’ll find sour grapes pettiness in the committees that draft the competition rules.) The prettiest piece I’ve ever printed lost this year. An already internationally-awarded piece lost this summer to a humble, white brochure. I’ve had pieces win in years past that I was embarrassed to have even entered and publicly recognized. I can’t explain judges’ reasoning; I just give them lots of options from which to choose.

This past year has been a banner year for awards granted to biplane and its clients’ work. It’s a fickle process—advertising contests—but it can be honed more predictable with a little work and an intentional budget. Advertising awards can build your company’s identity; but a professional, recognizable, and consistent brand in the marketplace is far more likely to build your company’s revenue.

Many Christian leaders motivate their American followers with the rewards of heaven. The Bible mentions crowns and compliments as potential compensation for lives well lived. As someone who has always been easily motivated by reward, I used to share that eternal retirement account view.

Then I stumbled on the irony that everything we win we give back to Jesus, laying it all at his feet. This coupled with the warning that anything done for ourselves will be consumed (rather than available to give back to Jesus), creates a symbiotic irony: the less we care about eternal reward, the more we receive.

Advertising’s success is measured by its effectiveness with its audience, not by the accolades of judges. The success of our Christianity, likewise, is not measured in how it looks either now or in heaven—but in how its observers are moved to salvation through it.

Once our sanctification becomes motivated by the amassing of personal heaven points or structured around the trappings of faith, it is religion. Religion is the largest idol used to distract mankind from a relationship with God. So, we need to guard against improper motives as much as against improper actions.

[footer]Stock image(s) used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2008[/footer]

14: Extreme Makeover: Logo Edition

biplane productions introduces bold new branding!
biplane productions updates it’s logos, web site, and marketing materials to better reflect its brand position

why the change?

Back in 2002, I intentionally anchored biplane’s original logo and other imagery in early twentieth century colors, fonts, and motifs. The look intended to creatively combat the skepticism that a small firm, started by a 24-year-old can endure while trying to gain trust from an experienced industry.

Having overcome this inception period and attracted some of the industry’s influential members as clients, I felt comfortable re-branding the firm as I had envisioned originally: as a premium advertising studio.

With the validation of 90 state and national advertising awards and the Torraspapel international award, biplane had the hardware to match its claims. Between these awards, the 1,000+ auction campaigns completed, and multiple well-received seminars, biplane had built legs to support this bold branding.

After teaching corporate consistency as the primary means for brand building, I decided it was time to practice what I preached.

Unlike the old logo, this new logo’s dimensions and elements lend to consistent application to business cards & envelopes, marketing materials, apparel, signs, invoices (and other non-standard stationery), and web applications.

why now?

The process of reworking the logo and related media began several years ago and is finally culminating.

The first upgrade came with the “boarding pass” piece, which won the NAA’s award for best business brochure in 2004. Then came the overhauled biplaneproductions.com in 2007.

This coincided with the successful reception of AdverRyting, biplane‘s biweekly article about advertising concepts.

With biplane just passing its fifth birthday, this seemed a good time for commemoration and renewal. While I don’t expect this drastic of a rebuild every half decade, regular updates prove healthy; and rare seismic shifts prove sometimes necessary.

why this look?

Since most people remember the company as “biplane” more than by its complete name, I wanted to emphasize the part easiest to remember and most distinctive.

The abstract wings communicate the movement and symbol of a biplane and don’t overpower the logo fonts. The colors (one is metallic in print) represent a bolder, more modern palette. The fonts are universally available ones, which make transfer to multiple media easier and more consistent.

why outsourced design?

You might think it strange that a design firm (and a designer trained in logo design) would hire someone else to create their look, but it’s actually a fairly regular occurrence in the advertising industry.

It’d be very easy for such a process to tend to the myopic and even narcissistic tendencies of any business person—let alone designer. Introducing multiple designers, consultants, and peers into the exercise helped me better shape the intended perception.

biplane has been so busy doing what it does best—meeting client deadlines with quality materials—that time-intensive and creativity-draining tasks such as this one often take the back burner.

why logoworks?

biplane chose logoworks.com and their hundreds of competing and specialized freelance designers to design ten different concepts. From these, we were able to hone an image that matched the personality and ambitions of biplane. Their final product matched the vision I’d tried to sketch for over two years.

Their track record (former #66 on the Inc. 500), portfolio, and pricing couldn’t be matched. They delivered the files in the most professional manner I’ve ever seen, as they had for two of my clients in 2007. They truly gave biplane a product I couldn’t develop by myself.

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