How To Kill Creativity In Three Easy Steps.

Posted on November 24th, 2015

This is a rant on the presentation of creativity and how it’s received by people who are not in the business of looking at new ideas. If you resemble any of these remarks—and you’ve sat with me lately—I’m sorry. It’s not you. It’s me.


Some clients ask for startlingly new ideas and then want some picture of what that concept is going to look like or at least some sort of reassurance that the creator has done this before.

But of course there’s no real comfort level promise with new work. Maybe you can see samples of creativity (despite the irony of seeing something that hasn’t been done yet) and you can send the piece around for lots of folks to look at but none of these exercises will give you any indication of what will happen when the idea meets the public. If the concept speaks to you, if it makes the little hairs on the back of your neck stand up, if it inspires you to think of new and exciting ways you can use it, if it makes you feel that you’ll be proud to hand it out, go for it.

Otherwise you’ll suffer from paralysis by analysis. And the creativity will just suffer.


This unfortunate exercise sucks the uniqueness and power right out of creativity:

An agency presents a few different concepts. Of course they each use different components—colors, fonts, layouts, etc., and each has been carefully chosen to work with the specific design.

The client—high on the ether of creativity that permeates the presentation and suffering from the insecurity that afflicts almost everyone presented with new ideas—starts making suggestions: The designer should use the typestyle from one design, the colors from another, and the layout from a third in order to make something even better than what was presented.

But that’s not what happens. Instead, a thoroughbred devolves into a camel because while mixing various and sundry parts may indeed have worked for the duck-billed platypus, it doesn’t work for brand-conscious design.


Make no mistake—there’s ALWAYS another way to skin the cat.

Creativity is not Pizza There’s always another way to look at a concept, too. And sometimes those explorations will produce a good new look. But clients shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that the design they’re looking at is the only one the creator came up with. Before the clients sees the recommendation, the designer has already tried placing the logo, the address, and every other element in lots of different places, trying to find the best way to express their idea.

It’s not for nothing that the client has been presented with the design crafted the way the designer thinks it should be shown. It actually took a lot of painstaking thought and experimentation to get to the recommended solution. To off-handedly suggest that the creator try the design centered, with different fonts or colors just to see how it looks is not the right way to improve the piece, nor will it reassure the client that they’ve made the correct decision. Creativity is not a pizza that works equally well if you order it with or without pepperoni, onions or peppers. Revisions don’t usually make creativity better. They just make it different.

There. I feel better now. Thank you.

What Are You Waiting For?

Posted on November 18th, 2015

Last week we were all shocked and horrified by the tragic news coming out of France — almost 150 innocent people killed during four different coordinated terrorist attacks throughout Paris.

Just days earlier a suicide bomber detonated their vest in a café in Lebanon, ending 43 lives.

And barely a week before that a Russian Metrojet flying from Sharm el-Sheikh to St. Petersburg crashed, killing all 224 people on board. The latest news reports suggest the plane was brought down by a bomb.

Forced to the nether pages of the newspaper but no less important was news of escalating climate change, decreased acreage in the Amazonian rainforest, increased human trafficking, and horrific crimes against women and children around the world.

And here at home we read about more violent deaths in America’s urban centers, dropping educational standards in our schools, and increased awareness of the deterioration of our public transportation infrastructure.

It’s gotten so bad that the overriding Zeitgeist in at least one of our political parties is to tear the whole system down and start from scratch — boosting the candidacy of first time candidates and political outsiders including Fiorina, Carson, and Trump.

So here’s my question:

What the hell are you waiting for?

Why aren’t you writing that book, going out on that date, opening that business, starting that exercise program, ending that bad relationship, leaving that dead-end job, learning about social media?

What’s stopping you from studying piano, sticking to your diet, banging through your to-do list, calling that old friend, training for that marathon, running for school board, getting rid of all those clothes that don’t fit?

What’s stopping you from being true to the person you really are?

If you’re honest with yourself, your answer in most cases probably comes down to fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the uncomfortable. Fear of failure.

The clinical explanation of a phobia is an anxiety disorder defined as a persistent fear of an object or situation which the sufferer makes significant efforts to avoid. This avoidance is typically disproportional to the actual danger posed and is often recognized as being irrational. Almost 6.5 million Americans have been diagnosed with this problem. This suggests that the number of undiagnosed people who suffer from unwarranted fears is a lot larger than you might think.

But even putting clinical statistics aside, our irrational responses to our fears are way overblown. A study commissioned by The National Institute of Mental Health (4/27/15) says that 60% of the things we are afraid of will never take place. And that number jumps to 88% when specifically related to health issues.

Looking back over what’s been going on in the world over the past few months, you see a whole mess of uncontrollable things that merit our fear yet don’t stop any of us from living our lives. Based on the dangers threatened in the media, just waking up and going about your business proves you’re already a hero.

Now all you have to do is to use that very same heroism you’ve already exhibited. Apply it to the things that are holding you back from being exactly who you want to be. Use it to overcome the fear that stops you from doing exactly what you want to do. Because NOW is the time for you to uncover and live your authentic truth. Now is the time to not just be alive but to live your life to the fullest.

The world needs you. The world needs what you have to say. The simple act of living your life out loud is an act of defiance that can inspire and reassure everyone around you.

Now is the time to Encourage The Courage. Now is the time to live.

Emirates Has Lost Its Mind.

Posted on November 9th, 2015

By now you’ve probably seen the Emirates video. In it Jetman Dubai pilots Yves Rossy and Vince Reffet fly alongside an Emirates A380 airliner. If you haven’t watched the Emirates video yet, click HERE. It’s exciting and dramatic. In fact, it’s so good it looks fake.


But according to the myth-busting website, it’s not. “…The stunt was met with skepticism online, with some viewers claiming that the video employed CGI effects and not real jet pack stuntmen. However, XDubai, the YouTube account that uploaded the video, directed skeptics to a second video that explained more about how the stunt was accomplished and detailed the meticulous and careful planning that went into it.”

You can watch Emirates’ second video HERE.

Pilots Yves Rossy and Vince Reffet also took to the web to write about their exploits. Here’s an excerpt:

“The Emirates A380 and Jetman Dubai team recently took to the skies of Dubai for an extraordinary formation flight which showcases just how far aviation has come…

While the formation flight looked effortless on film, painstaking planning and meticulous collaboration with an intense focus on safety drove all efforts.

The carefully choreographed aerial showcase involved the world’s largest passenger aircraft flying at 4,000 feet in two holding patterns. The A380 aircraft was then joined by the Jetman Dubai duo, experienced pilots and operators of the smallest jet propelled wing, who were deployed from a helicopter that hovered above the aircraft at 5,500 feet. The duo conducted formations on both sides of the aircraft and joined to one side thereafter before breaking away.”

All well and good. Emirates scored an incredible accomplishment with a powerful example of both bravery and technology. It’s a great use of state-of-the art aviation and video technology. And with more than one half million views after only two days on YouTube and over 13 million views now, Emirates certainly got their viral money’s worth.

But here’s what I want to know:

Has Emirates lost its mind?

Remember that the Russian Metrojet Airbus A231 flying from Sharm el-Sheikh just crashed on Saturday, October 31, killing all 224 people on board. This was only four days before Emirates released the Jetman video. And even though we don’t yet know what brought the St. Petersburg-bound plane down, the UK cancelled all flights to the region amid fears that the crash was caused by a terrorist attack.

And now Emirates is going to show the world just how vulnerable their jetliners are to external tampering? Who cares how well an airport monitors luggage if two yahoos in skintight Slankets can pilot their jet-propelled wings within spitting distance of a jumbo jet? Imagine sitting in a window seat and looking up from your complimentary dish of cashews to see two guys in jet suits rocketing past your porthole.

Granted what the video shows us is not only how vulnerable Emirates’ jets are but how vulnerable all jets are. But it’s the Emirates’ logo, along with beauty shots of the unmistakable Palm Jumeirah, Burj Khalifa, and Dubai skyline, that dominates the video — and our collective consciousness.

Although I can’t understand why Emirates would commission this video in the first place, what really makes me scratch my head is why Emirates released it now. Especially when all eyes are focused on the vulnerability of air travel and the Middle East’s worsening volatility. Apparently Emirates’ marketing people are even crazier than their stunt pilots.

Do You Play The Name Game?

Posted on November 2nd, 2015

Do you remember the first time you ate sushi? I’m not talking about after the Japanese cuisine became a common choice in cities and suburbs but when sushi was still an oddity in the US and you were still a bit squeamish.

“What??!! Eat uncooked fish? Me? Are you crazy?”

If your experience was anything like mine, that first taste was weird and slimy and of course very fishy. And even the searing tsunami of wasabi that burned out my sinuses seconds later didn’t do much to make my first bite any less odd.

My next few mouthfuls, and my next few trips to the sushi bar, were equally tentative. It took a while until I was willing to gobble it down and even a few more dinners out until I developed a taste for it and was enthusiastic about eating sushi.

Chances are you were more likely to eat it because of its cool, exotic-sounding Japanese name; sushi. What’s the chance you would have eaten sushi if it went by a clear description of what’s actually on the plate?

Raw dead fish.

Speaking of fish, Patagonia Tooth Fish was considered unsellable over catch until some marketing maven renamed it Chilean Sea Bass.

Although it’s counter intuitive, non-descriptive names often become more powerful brands than their more explanatory counterparts. For example, before 1997 Pierre Omidyar’s online superpower eBay was known by the much more illustrative, yet less successful AuctionWeb.

So what’s in a name?

Did you know that Google’s original name was BackRub?

Did you know Nike was first called Blue Ribbon Sports?

Of course you remember that AOL was America Online but did you know that first it was called Quantam Computer Services?

Some name changes, like Datsun changing to Nissan, are done for organizational reasons and don’t have much effect, other than costing millions of dollars to re-establish. Some name changes, like Federal Express becoming FedEx, make sense in an environment of 140 character tweets and even shorter attention spans. And some names, such as Yahoo, are explained after the fact, with the acronym apocryphally standing for Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle or because founders Filo and Yang were fans of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels uncivilized Yahoos.

Some name changes are made because the times demand them – think Ayds Diet Candies, perhaps, or Isis Chocolates. Andersen Consulting spent an estimated $100 million to escape the misdeeds of their past when they switched to Accenture. Kentucky Fried Chicken looked to push the word “fried” out of their name when they rebranded as KFC.

ValueJet became AirTran after slamming a DC-9 so hard and deep into the Everglades there was almost no debris found at the crash site. That unfortunate example makes me wonder when Malaysia Airlines will announce their name change in order to escape the lingering specter of losing two planes in 2014 (one over the vast waters of Asia and a second in Ukraine).

The Evolution of Sugar Smacks’ Name.

Cereal companies change their names to satisfy consumer demands for healthier eating. Sugar Smacks was switched to Honey Smacks and then just Smacks and then back to Honey Smacks again. Sugar Crisp became Golden Crisp, Sugar Pops was renamed Corn Pops, and Sugar Frosted Flakes is now just Frosted Flakes. Of course the actual sugar content of the cereals was only slightly reduced but the word sugar was cleanly amputated.

In today’s metric-happy world of Internet surveys and copy testing, the critical interplay between names and the products they represent is a chicken-and-egg relationship that’s as much art as science. But the next time you give a back-of-your-hand dismissal to the hard work of naming products, think how much you would have enjoyed your last serving of Toro or Maguro or Ikura or Hamachi if sushi was simply called raw dead fish.

This Lifeguard Tale Tells It All.

Posted on October 26th, 2015

The Lifeguard and The Little BoyWhen the little swimmer’s head ducked under the waves and didn’t pop right back up his grandmother started running towards the lifeguard station screaming, “My grandson’s drowning, my grandson’s drowning. Help! HELP!!”

The strapping lifeguard scanned the ocean with his binoculars in the direction the hysterical woman was pointing. After a quick moment he spun the spyglass onto his chair, yanked off his sunglasses and pith helmet and jumped off the lifeguard stand, charging into the surf.

Reaching a rough patch of ocean just beyond the cresting whitecaps, the lifeguard dove down again and again, searching for the little boy under the waves. Seeing nothing, his eyes burning from the saltwater, he’d come up for a quick breath and dive back down again, checking the ocean floor for any sign of the boy.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity the lifeguard saw a limp figure crumpled on the sea bottom. The exhausted lifeguard filled his lungs with air and dove down one last time, deeper and deeper, until he was close enough to grab the little boy’s wrist. With a mighty effort he pushed off the sandy bottom and made his way to the top, dragging the little boy and a swirling lacy train of bubbles after him.

Bursting up through the churning sea the lifeguard took another enormous breath and started kicking furiously towards the beach. He fought his way through the undertow until he reached the shallows, cradling the defeated body of the little boy in his arms as he got closer and closer to the beach.

The lifeguard pulled himself out of the water and gently lay the lifeless form of the little boy down on the hot sand. Barely breathing himself, he dropped to his knees and began furiously administering CPR, alternately compressing the little boy’s sunken chest and breathing air into his little lungs.

The sun beat mercilessly on the lifeguard’s back as he attended to the limp child sprawled on the sand. The lifeguard pushed and pressed and huffed and puffed and pumped and pumped but to no avail. Then suddenly after more than ten minutes of labor the small body convulsed as the boy threw up mouthfuls of frothy seawater, coughing and gagging and fighting to sit up.

The lifeguard stood slowly, his knees etched with sand, and picked up the little boy. He walked slowly to where the boy’s grandmother was standing on the beach, stretched out his arms and offered the little boy to her.

“Madam,” the lifeguard said with what little breath he had left, “your grandson is okay. I was afraid we wouldn’t make it but he’s going to be fine.”

The old woman stared wordlessly at the lifeguard and her grandson for a long moment. Finally she arched her eyebrows and opened her mouth to speak.

“He had a hat.”

The Quickest Way To Improve Your Image.

Posted on October 20th, 2015

I’m sitting on a panel in a university auditorium listening to one of my fellow panelists talk about how to improve your image, the subject of our conference. I’ve already prepared my answer to the question asked by the group so now I’m looking up and out into the crowd sitting in front of me.

The people in the room are composed of a fair mix of age, ethnicity, and gender. Most are paying attention, although a few are texting on their phones (I like to believe they’re taking notes or Tweeting our brilliance but they’re probably arranging their lunch dates or updating their marital status on Facebook to get ready for the weekend), and one or two are napping. But what I’m most intrigued by is not what they’re doing but the expressions on their faces.

When a speaker makes a joke they laugh and when that speaker makes a poignant point they look concerned. Most of the time the people in the audience have neutral expressions – neither happy nor sad. But here’s what I’m finding so interesting: the sea of neutral expressions in front of me isn’t really so neutral after all.

Most people do have classically defined neutral expressions – flat mouths, unfocused eyes, slack cheeks. Some folks look like they’re hard at work – furrowed brows and pursed lips. Only one young woman looks very happy – her eyes are wide and shining and the corners of her mouth are turned up. But most people look like they’re constipated or even worse – with scowling mouths, sucked in cheeks, and wrinkled foreheads.

Remember, these people aren’t mad. It’s just that they have an angry neutral face (yes, I know the hip new term is BRF but I find that acronym unnecessarily sexist and misogynistic).

Connie Dieken knows how to improve your imageMy pal Connie Dieken spent years as an anchor on television news shows and she knows all the tips and techniques to improve your image and look good in public. If you get the chance to see her speak, make sure you go and make sure you pay rapt attention. Connie has studied this issue extensively and created and trademarked what she calls “The Magic Move™.” Connie’s Magic Move only requires you to lift two little muscles but it can help you change your world. Connie’s technique? Put your index fingers at the corners of your lips and lift them up. Move your fingers away and you improve your image.

“These facial energy correctors are called the levator labii muscles,” Connie says. “They connect the corners of your mouth to your eyes. Activating these muscles creates a hint of a smile while simultaneously making your eyes sparkle. And that’s what’s so magical. People experience this expression as warmth radiating from you, without perceiving you as disingenuous or goofy. By simply raising these two small muscles on the sides of your mouth, you can change the way the world looks at you.”

If you’re not lucky enough to be like the woman in our audience whose neutral face is a perpetual smile, then you can improve your image and the look yourself. And Connie’s simple tips can help. By the way, if you haven’t figured it out yet, you should read Connie’s book, Talk Less, Say More: Three Habits to Influence Others and Make Things Happen.

If you research the power of the smile a little bit, you’ll learn that besides improving your interpersonal relationships, engaging the small muscles around your mouth and eyes has the power to improve your image, reduce your stress level, and just make your day a little bit better.

As Dale Carnegie said: “A smile is nature’s best antidote for discouragement. It brings rest to the weary, sunshine to those who are frowning, and hope to those who are hopeless and defeated. A smile is so valuable that it can’t be bought, begged, borrowed, or taken away against your will. You have to be willing to give a smile away before it can do anyone else any good. So if someone is too tired or grumpy to flash you a smile, let him have one of yours anyway. Nobody needs a smile as much as the person who has none to give.”

But what does a perpetual smile have to do with branding? I’m glad you asked. Besides helping to craft their own personal brands, happy, accessible people who look like they are engaged and interested in their customers build the relationships and perceptions that build businesses. Happy, smiling people improve the workplaces they operate in. And happy, smiling people create the positive energy that leads to creativity and productivity. Not bad for doing something that’s a pleasure to do, can improve your image, and doesn’t cost a thing.

Doing The Right Thing

Posted on October 12th, 2015

Doing The Right ThingSometime near the end of seventh grade I got my first report card with all As. This had never happened before because of my abysmal performance in phys. ed. It would never happen again because along with pimples and puberty, eighth grade introduced me to the Pythagorean theorem. Algebra and trigonometry became the bane of my educational experience from then on.

But on that spring day the planets aligned and I brought home my first (and last) ever perfect report card.

Of course my parents were pleased that I was doing the right thing. They made a fuss and promised we’d go to my favorite restaurant on Miami Beach to celebrate.

But I thought doing the right thing was worth more.

I patiently explained to my mom and dad that my buddy Alan got $10 for every A he brought home and based on that scale my folks owed me 60 bucks. I even thought there should be a bonus added for my perfect score.

My dad stared at me like I was a green-headed Martian. He explained to me that not only wasn’t I going to be paid for my grades but that he was stunned that anyone would be paid extra for doing the right thing. As he made very clear, “you’re supposed to get good grades. That’s what you do. You go to school, you do your homework, and you get good grades.”

“Sure” he continued “we’re proud of you and we’ll celebrate your accomplishment. But you’re not going to be compensated for doing the right thing.”

As my parents saw it, you shouldn’t need instructions or incentives, you should simply do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.

Imagine that. No explanation necessary. No divine intervention offered. No promise of a heavenly afterlife or threats of eternal damnation. No equivocating. No shades of gray. Just black and white. Just right and wrong.

There’s no question of how right and wrong is actually defined. Good grades are good. Bad grades are bad. No ifs, ands or buts. It is what it is. We all know the rules, we all understand what’s expected, we’re all on the same page. We are all supposed to be doing the right thing.

It might not seem so but this single-minded attitude is not only great parenting but also great branding. When practiced properly and consistently, great brands establish identities that are understandable, aspirational, and stand the test of time.

State Farm has been “like a good neighbor” since Barry Manilow wrote the jingle in 1971 (Yes, THAT Barry Manilow.).

BMW has been the “ultimate driving machine” since the early seventies. The company confirmed their positioning in a recent TV ad that says, “We don’t make sports cars. We don’t make SUVs. We don’t make hybrids. We don’t make luxury sedans. We only make one thing. The Ultimate Driving Machine.”

From his very first store in 1962, Sam Walton’s philosophy was “Always low prices.” Still is.

Volvo stands for safety.

Porsche stands for performance.

Ferrari stands for impressing young women at nightclubs.

It’s this understanding of – and commitment to – a company’s authentic truth that makes branding such a powerful force. And not only does it make it easy for your customers to understand what to expect, it also tells your employees how they should act in almost any situation.

Doing the right thing works for brands. And it works for parenting, too.

Figures lie. Liars figure.

Posted on October 6th, 2015

Figures Lie.

From the September 2015 issue of Men’s Journal:

“In a new Danish study, recreational runners who ran 10 miles per hour versus a slow jog of five miles per hour put 80 percent less stress on their knees. ‘Although running faster increases the load on your knee with each step, you take longer strides, so you need fewer steps to cover a certain distance,’ says study author Jesper Petersen, a researcher at Aarhus University in Denmark. ‘This lowers the cumulative load at the joint.’”

As a runner who’s had knee problems, this article seemed insightful. But that was only until I looked at the theory with a more jaundiced eye. While the article’s basic premise is that running faster may be better for your knees, there’s no further information on why the studied runners were performing at a faster pace.

In a perfect laboratory both the faster runners and the slower runners would have exactly the same physical attributes so the test results could be isolated to just the effects of speed and stride. But of course it’s unlikely that that’s what happened.

Instead the slower runners were probably slower because they’re older, heavier, or simply not as gifted as their quicker peers. And so the reasons for their increased knee pain might have more to do with the slower runners’ physical condition or previous injuries or weight than their ultimate speed.

I’m a slow runner and I’m sure a few of the reasons are that I’m just a donut or two shy of 190 pounds and my years of youthful indiscretions are long behind me. My left knee aches because of an unfortunate skiing accident when I was a reckless 19-year old and I’ve come to accept that running faster is neither possible nor a panacea for what ails me.

Of course the important question is why do you care about any of this? Because as you evaluate the products and services you buy, and the candidates you vote for, it’s critical to remember that facts and figures and surveys and studies can be manipulated to create most any outcome a marketer is looking to promote.

Since we’re smack in the middle of presidential elections, it’s fascinating to look at the proceedings NOT as a passionate partisan but as a curious marketer. And what you’ll find there proves that numbers can be manipulated to tell almost any tale the storyteller wants to tell.

Donald Trump, for example, is polling ahead in almost every count – Tea Partiers, Christian Conservatives, even Hispanics. But savvy marketing professionals will point out that while the polls may be accurate, a great number of the people interviewed fall into the groups with the lowest propensity to actually vote. In other words, while Trump’s numbers appear to be strong today, it’s very likely that the people being counted cannot be counted on to show up on election day.

Similarly, far on the other side of the aisle Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is racking up very impressive attendance figures at his campaign rallies – numbers so strong that some consider him a real competitor for the Democratic ticket. But once again, prudent analysis suggests that the people getting all hot and bothered at Sanders’ events are the very same people who often can’t be bothered to actually vote.

Remember that the two things computers are best at – counting and remembering numbers – are the exact tools the pundits and promoters use to peddle their promises and products – regardless of what thoughtful accounting would actually suggest. Be aware, too, of what researcher Jean Twenge explained in the June 2015 issue of Vanity Fair magazine: “All data and all studies are open to interpretation – that’s just the nature of research.”

Plus, there’s the “observer effect.” Simply put, it states that the act of observation can actually change the action being observed. For example, a regulation thermometer must either capture or surrender thermal energy to record a temperature, and in doing so, it changes the temperature of whatever it is evaluating.

So as you evaluate the proffered “facts” when you research your purchases or your candidates keep in mind that figures lie. And remember what former US Senator and Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan said: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

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