Market Column


Last Monday, Murray Kalis donned a suit and tie the better to put him in the right frame of mind to work on an ad campaign for a banking client.

The next day, he had to do some creative work on the Hormel chili account, so he put on jeans and deck shoes.

“I just think that’s more chili-like,” Kalis said.

Probably the most common, not to mention dumbest, question that anybody in a creative profession has to answer at cocktail parties is, “How do you get your ideas?”

Most people don’t have techniques for getting ideas. Ideas are the synapse that fires with blinding clarity after minutes or hours of guided meditation, the gift out of the ether from the Muse of marketing.

You either get ideas or you don’t; you can’t draw a blueprint on how it’s done.

But there are, according to creative directors at local agencies, ways to tickle the Muse or at least, like Kalis, to dress appropriately for her arrival.

For some, the process of putting oneself in the frame of mind to come up with great campaign ideas starts when they get dressed in the morning. Kalis, the right-brain half of Kalis & Savage Advertising in Pacific Palisades, wears socks with strange patterns even when the conventions of professionalism compel him to put on a suit.

Many creative types speak of getting themselves into an “empathic” mind frame before they sit down to think of ideas for specific ads. They become the consumer of the product they’re pitching if they’re advertising acne cream, middle-aged men morph into teenage girls.

“I go on a lot of those empathic mental voyages,” is the way Executive Creative Director Bell Stenton at Ogilvy & Mather puts it.

At hot creative shop Ground Zero Advertising in Santa Monica, there is much emphasis on emotion, rather than logic. Creative teams first set the emotional tone of a given campaign, deciding the feeling that the ad should convey and the way they want the consumer to feel about the product. Then they try to feel the same thing themselves.

“If we create our work with our hearts, consumers will react with their hearts,” said co-creative head Kirk Souder.

Ground Zero typifies another modern approach to creativity that has been wholeheartedly embraced by some West Coast agencies: the frathouse design.

Ground Zero’s “offices” are a converted warehouse decorated with wings from old fighter planes, plastic sheets hanging from the ceiling and pop-art sculptures.

Although taken to extremes at Ground Zero, this type of architecture has become commonplace in the L.A. ad scene. BBDO West’s offices are packed with ping-pong tables, exposed pipes, bleacher seats, and gigantic felt-pen blackboards. TBWA Chiat/Day Inc.’s Frank Gehry-designed “Binoculars Building” is one of L.A.’s most distinctive pieces of architecture, and Dailey & Associates is moving into a specially designed studio/loft space at the Pacific Design Center.

The point of all this, of course, is to enhance creativity. Not everyone agrees that it’s effective.

“When I think about some of the great work that has been done, a lot of it came from guys in suits and ties working in New York,” said Kalis, whose offices while boasting a glorious view of the ocean at the edge of the Pacific Coast Highway lack a single stolen street sign or inflatable dinosaur.

Kalis creates in a room decorated with blank walls and a computer. Jordin Mendelsohn, whose Mendelsohn/Zien Advertising Inc. is known for its edgy campaigns, sits in a conventional office, paces around and stares at the wall when he’s looking for ideas. Neither feels particularly influenced by his environment.

At Ogilvy & Mather, whose offices display all the aesthetic sensibilities of the average law firm, Stenton looks at the frathouse agencies with obvious envy. Not so much because he thinks a more artistic space would make a difference in his abilities, but because of the impact it would have on clients.

“I think (the frathouse design) makes a much bigger difference in the expectations of clients that come to you than anything else,” Stenton said. “If you look creative, they’re going to expect creative. If you look corporate, they’re going to expect corporate.”

Stenton’s creative process is probably similar to one employed by many people who create ads for a living. Mainly, he said, it’s just a matter of hunkering down with a notepad and a pen and scribbling out every idea that comes into his head, no matter how absurd.

“As a discipline, I try to fill pages and pages with ideas, and I make sure my internal editor is turned off,” Stenton said. “Even bad puns and things I know people won’t like have to get out there on paper, because if they don’t it really starts to bother me later.”

Apple bites BBDO

BBDO West chief executive and chief creative officer David Lubars had highly mixed emotions last week after the announcement that Apple Computer Co. had put its account into review.

“It’s a strange mixture of disappointment and giddiness,” Lubars said.

For good reason. After a decade of creating award-winning ads, and the living through the constant stress of working for a big client that was continually on the fence, the folks at BBDO are feeling a bit righteously indignant about being spurned by the flailing computer-maker.

“We’ve been a very loyal and committed partner, and we’ve been through hell and high water with this client,” Lubars said.

Although the loss of Apple’s $100 million account will come as a serious blow to BBDO, most of those billings are not handled by the L.A. office. The Western division handles only U.S. media, an account worth about $40 million.

Lubars said the loss of Apple will be more than made up by the $150 million in billings the agency has picked up in recent months, including the $100 million Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. media account. Most of the 40 workers on the Apple account will be switched to those new clients, and layoffs will be minimal, he said.

Los Angeles Business Journal staff reporter Dan Turner covers the marketing, entertainment and media industries.

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