Category Archives: lali lessons

lali lessons in advertising #9: work dies and then you go back to the well. wash, rinse, repeat.

This is advertising. Work dies. We all know it and it’s just a fact of our lives.

dead as a doornail

However, li and I have had a particularly rough six months of work dying. When we got an email the other day stating the following:

is dead, sorry, they appreciate the work, they just don’t want to go in this direction.


We decided to just count out how many campaigns we’ve had die in the past six months. Seven.

Now, let me just back up a second. I’ve gotta whine for just a bit before I can spin this into something positive, e.g. a lali lesson (#9 to be exact).

When we get a brief in this business, there’s hardly ever one team working on a brief. Anywhere from two to ten or more. And we don’t present one idea. We present anywhere from one to 42+. And then we take whichever of those ideas the creative director likes and tweak, massage, blow out, revise, comp, revise, rewrite, comp more, rethink, rinse and repeat, for the account team, for the GCDs, for the Rob Schwartzes and Patrick ONeills of this business. And finally it goes to the client. If we’re lucky and everyone of those people likes our ideas enough.

Well, these seven campaigns we’ve had die over the past six months have not only gone to the client, some have gotten as far as director calls, photographer calls, focus group testing, etc. And the more you work on something, the more you pour your heart into it a little. Which means that when it dies, it hurts just a little bit more.

That’s not to say that we don’t realize this about the job we do. A big lesson for us over time has been to walk the line between caring enough to make it good and make it something we’re proud of and caring too much, caring to the point where a campaign’s death is detrimental and distracting. It’s just that when you put hours and weekends and holidays and creative juices and heartfelt belief into your ideas and they get rejected, it’s hard to get an email saying sorry it died followed by an email saying please can we have more work.

It’s like the Greek myth where the guy rolls the boulder up the mountain only to have it roll back down and so he has to roll it up again. Ad infinitum.

Now, for the positive spin.

tired & concepting

I love my job. As much as li and I roll around in the red couches room bemoaning our fate and grunt and moan over comps and writeups and campaign deaths, I’d far rather be doing that that doing something else. What we do is exciting. Thrilling. Different every day. In the past six months, we’ve gotten briefs for soda, lunchmeat, sausages, breakfast sandwiches, airlines, credit cards, luxury cars, compact cars, sportcross turbo cars (what?), batteries and makeup. We get to lounge around in flip flops and sweatshirts, show up late and have that be the norm, act unprofessionally and be rewarded for it. I mean, we get to sit around and talk about the iPhone apps we want someone to make for us. If I’m using Facebook during the work day, that’s just “research.” I’m expensing a photography class because it’s going to help me creatively. We get tickets to free shows (this Thursday in fact, Greek Theatre, Death Cab) from reps like John Buckley just for having “creative” on our business cards. I mean, that’s cool in and of itself – we’ve got the title “creative” on our business cards. And hey, maybe the coffee is runny but there’s always free food somewhere. Cool bands play for free on our basketball court. Wait, there’s a basketball court in our office? Oh, that’s kind of awesome too.

And while seriously, I spent most of this blog post whining about having to come up with MORE creative ideas, we actually get to spend out days coming up with creative ideas. That’s pretty awesome. And when shit gets really tough, and my brain is on the fritz and li and I can’t find anything to sing about and our personal lives keep taking over our concepting discussions because we don’t want to be concepting, we just need to remember that work dies, that sucks, and that’s why you have to keep working so that you can have work that eventually doesn’t die. And step back every once and a while and think that even though this particular moment sucks, we’ve still got it pretty good. And apparently, as noted by several ACDs, it’s totally normal to go a year (or years) without so much as producing a banner ad, let alone a tv spot or a campaign.

When li and I got our reviews (omg almost a year ago!), Chris and Margaret told us that we were incredibly resilient. That when work dies, we’re good at just bouncing back with more ideas and a smile. And that’s a great compliment. And even though they’re not here to compliment us anymore (frowny face), we’re gonna try and still make them proud.

Chris also said to us, when a spot we really loved died (it was on life support for many months, and then they finally pulled the plug), that it’s never really dead. He said ten years ago, Apple had wanted to introduce the Beatles to iTunes. And they had a great campaign. And then they never launched the campaign. Until ten years later. And not only did Chris and Margaret get to make their campaign a decade later, but they got their credit for it too.

beatles itunes billboard

As noted by our nickname a year and a half ago of “Black Widow Team” (since everything we touched sold to the client and then died) and then our brief stint as “Zombie Team” (since our dead work kept coming back to life), and then two months later we launched into our summer of producing two Nissan spots and four Pedigree spots and the entire Juke digital launch, things turn around. And maybe our dead Energizer campaign or our beautiful Nissan spot or our Infiniti campaign will come back from the dead.

Until then, we’re going back the well and we’re doing it with the conviction that if it gets made or not, we’re still going to make it good.

(with a little bit of healthy complaining because we’re still human after all)


PS In a meeting right now where it looks like a spot of ours just got greenlighted, fingers crossed, maybe. Did I just jinx it?
PPS One of those seven campaigns that died had a spot in it called “Imaginary Friend.” When I sent that script to Richard O’Neill, Executive Producer at Chiat, I got the most heartwarming email back. And while this spot didn’t get made, maybe it didn’t matter. This email made my day because I made someone feel something. And after all, what we’re doing in this job is just trying to make people feel or think or do. And if I can do that with a word doc and Richard’s imagination, maybe I don’t need a 2mill budget, a fancy director and months of production to get the validation that we can go back to the well and not come up dry.

Here’s the email:

It’s a terrific script. My daughter Hayley had an imaginary friend “Puppy Spark” when she was little. My wife and I would hold doors open longer for “Puppy Spark” as my daughter looked back to make sure he made it. We’d tuck “Puppy Spark” into bed every night beside my daughter and wish them both good night. Your script brought back this wonderful memory of Hayley’s childhood. My daughter is now in her twenties and is an artist in the movie industry. She still has a great imagination which she exhibits in her work. I’ll treat your script with TLC just like I did with “Puppy Spark”.


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lali lessons in advertising #8: get inspiration everywhere (AKA take a few days off and dance in the desert for Coachella!)

A couple weeks ago, li and I got invited to a Pepsi meeting. And while we can’t give away the secrets of our briefing, the music festival Coachella did come up. And again, while we can’t tell the specifics, we were told to let music inspire us and our planner even mentioned “imagine the feeling of being on a drug trip” when concepting. Which, for those of you who have attended Coachella, it’s a drug trip when you’re stone-cold sober. And there is certainly music to inspire. So guess who went…

Coachella 2011 Poster

Useless to convince anyone I went to Coachella merely to inspire for our Pepsi brief. But that’s not to say it wasn’t a completely inspiring weekend nonetheless. There’s something about three days in the desert that feels like you leave reality for this fantasyland of music and heat and art and people and strangeness for weeks. In fact, Goldenvoice founder Paul Tollett said: “By the end of Sunday you need to have gone through a range of emotions. The experience of the art and the ambience has to play a huge part in that.” In those three short days, you feel frustrated, sad, happy, angry, ecstatic, annoyed, exhausted, excited, famished, parched, moved, thrilled, enlightened, enhanced, loved, lonely, everything. All in a hundred degree heat with music playing everywhere and dust filling every orifice of your body. Maybe it’s really three long days.

Regardless, I came back to work Tuesday missing a couple brain cells and lighter by a few pounds and exhausted by a lot, but certainly inspired. If Pepsi is getting into culture, I certainly got my culture on.

Blog readers, if you were there, you don’t need a recap of everything because well, you were there. And blog readers who weren’t, you’ll just be jealous. I will say that Friday was a dance party, that YACHT and Cut Copy and Robyn got our glittered bodies jamming, that Mumford & Sons brought the first real soul to the stage on Saturday, that Arcade Fire was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen (rivaling only my Big Sur experience with them), that I was a needy girl for Chromeo on Sunday, that the National by sunset was the best time for friends and that Kanye can certainly put on a show. For a professional opinion on the music, check out Spin‘s or Pitchfork‘s take.

The ball drop for Arcade Fire is a moment I’ll remember forever. Let’s hope it helps inspire some Pepsi spots other people will remember forever… Maybe I can write off the cost of the concert to TBWA\Chiat\Day? Ha, doubt that on both those thoughts. What isn’t in doubt is how awesome this video is, and how much more awesome it was in person. In the original definition of the word.

Now I would definitely say the title of this blog post is appropriate. Get inspiration everywhere. If we spent all our time inside the walls of Chiat Day we wouldn’t be very good creatives. And Coachella is all about getting inspired. But I would be lying if I tried to tell you that I thought about work for more than twenty seconds the entire weekend. It was about dancing and music and living and friends and not really about advertising.

Here’s the proof:





And ten blog shout outs to anyone who guesses correctly what music instrument this is supposed to be:

So thanks to Hobart Birmingham, Jacqui de Borja, Anne Hurty, Chris Spencer, Spencer Larson, Travis Pfeifer, Noah Roper, Chris MacNeil, Sean Carroll, Chase Madrid, Kristina Krkljus, and many other desert dancers for both helping me forget about work and inspiring me to do better work last weekend. Justin and Allyson, Coachella love to you and I’m sad you weren’t there this year but there’s always next year!

And now, back to work. We just got briefed on something new, and it looks like I’ll be taking this lali lesson to heart while working over Easter weekend.


PS For those who no-chellaed it, here’s the playlists I made for the weekend. And let that inspire you :)

Friday Coachella Mix
Saturday Coachella Mix
Sunday Coachella Mix
The Coachella Hits Mix


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lali lessons in advertising #7: don’t be sexist and have a tough skin

Is any press really good press? When people tweet that Nissan should fire their copywriter for being sexist (and that copywriter happens to be me), maybe not.

Thank goodness Nissan didn’t listen to those naysayers and I still have a job.

Here’s the story:

Nick Ciffone (pronounced Nixophone like saxophone) is a new copywriter here (sorry we stole him RPA!). He and I wrote a radio script together for Pandora. Not a big deal. Actually, we kinda threw it together because we had so much stuff going on.

Here’s the script:
Radio Script

And here’s the petition to take it down:

(On a good note she didn’t get any signatures!) On a bad note, other people agree with her. Check out this article about sexist commercials… Yah, we’re the first example.


And this tweet, where they recommend physically beating us.
fire your agency

At least the tweet is grammatically incorrect in a number of places?? And li and I don’t have any bruises yet????

Well, let me just say I feel a little bad about being sexist. I promise I didn’t mean it. And while we offend people all the time with the work we do, this isn’t the way I’d like to offend. It just goes to show that no project is too small (it was just a little mobile radio ad! on pandora only! to boys only!), and what we write/art direct/create really is out there in the world for people to see, feel and react to.

So the next time I tell someone to be promiscuous with their music (and it really was more about the music and less about the ladies), I’ll leave it at just the music. Really it was a way for me to end the sentence with a metaphor and hey, the Juke is the car that makes really popular videos out of girls running in slow motion in bikinis…

So really I was just sticking with the campaign. I guess not an excuse, but really, Lindsey and I are creatives who like our creative luggage to match!

Thankfully, Juke is almost over and we can move on to Versa and a non-millenial-male target and I can stop writing sexist ads that make people recommend Nissan fire me!!!



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lali lessons in advertising #6: be skillbidextrous

for all you advertising creatives out there looking for a partner to hitch up with, i have a word to the wise. find yourself someone who is skillbidextrous. that means they can swing it as either a copywriter OR art director as needed. my partner, lauren smith, not only did her job by writing like 10 scripts in the last 12 hours. she also did MY job for me today.

we learned on monday that our 360 launch was going to the almost-highest level clients wednesday (tomorrow), and we needed a storyboard for our TV spot…immediately. when i ended up stuck in traffic at 11pm on the 405 last night, la did me a solid and briefed the intern to do my image search for me. fast forward to this morning, when i was stuck in traffic AGAIN on the 405 for 1.5 hours and she printed all the reference images and briefed the illustrator (partially in french), then proceeded to check in with him periodically throughout the day.

for those of you who don’t work in advertising, copywriters are not expected to pull images, brief illustrators, or make sure your storyboards are ready to present to the client. you know you’ve found “the one” when her skills overlap your skills and you can truly work as one!

grosses bisses to la!

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lali lessons in advertising #5: people don’t care about advertising as much as we do

So obviously, we’re ad girls. We care a lot about advertising. We’ve spent over hundred hour weeks caring a lot about advertising. We kind of have to, it kind of has to be worth it or else, jeese, what are we doing with our lives?

When we stress about branding on the top and bottom of banner ads, logo consistency, logo violations, view counts, making the frown lines stand out on the hood of the Altima, whether the mud makes a squish rather than a squash, countless hours in an edit bay to make changes (the difference between edit v. 12 and edit v 145 at the end of the day is something no one but us will notice), concept testing, how we can extend this idea to foursquare, whether we’re really speaking to the target, and on and on and on… Sometimes its nice to remind ourselves that no one will care as much as we do. Let’s face it. Besides us, who really uses foursquare besides us anyway?

Sometimes it’s sad how much caring we do, sometimes it’s good. Because that’s just our job. All the effort that goes into that 7 second animation of a banner ad, a 30 second TV spot, a Facebook application, even a 360 campaign, pays off because we care.

But really, sometimes it’s refreshing to step back and go, it’s just advertising.

That’s why we’ve got sites like this one, “Things Real People Don’t Say About Advertising.”

Take a look, and if you work in advertising, have a laugh. The stock photography combined with the catch phrases had lali LOLing quite a bit in the past couple weeks. It’s funny because it hits too close to home.

Enjoy a couple here:

And check out the tumblr site here:

Now back to making logos bigger and overthinking everything we do!


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lali lessons in advertising #4: suck it up and deal with concept testing

I learned a lesson today during concept testing.

Ahhhhh concept testing. I’ve been working remotely this week. So much for vacation! And spent the afternoon yesterday watching concept testing groups.

Now, I understand why we do concept testing. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. There’s a certain helplessness about watching people dissect your ads in a way in which they never would when watching them on TV. And there are so many frustrations. Like the fact that they are done in the style of “board-o-matics” (see above video for example). And that you can’t capture the spirit of any film in that style. And the simple act of sitting around talking about the animated boards of the infant of an idea just isn’t what consumers WOULD do.

And back to the helplessness. I sat in concept testing once for a SOYJOY spot (see here for the spot), and in the board-o-matics, some soy beans use a hi-liter as a battering ram against jelly beans as they battle to be your afternoon snack. One woman thought that “hi-liter” could be misread as Hitler. And spent the rest of the session saying that the commercial reminded her of Hitler (see here for the infamous soy bean Hitler reference). And you just sit there, and watch through the glass, as people say some ridiculous things. People say they want features, and specs, and price points, and about twenty more things than could ever fit in a :30s commercial. And about a hundred more things than could ever fit in a good :30s commercial. And at the end of the day, people want to be entertained. Or shocked. Or laugh. Or cry.

Otherwise we’d all just be running regional local dealer MSRP spots.

And there’s something about the group mentality that can bring out the negative nancy in everyone or the yeasayer in everyone. It’s a pain to have an entire group of strangers who were paid to sit in a room and talk about your idea bash it. But it’s also a pleasure to have people like it. Which leads me to my main conclusion on concept testing:

The pains of concept testing may be just an ego thing. And it’s a good lesson in learning to take criticism. So we’ll just have to take a breath, roll with the punches and know that it’s for the betterment of our work and for the health of our client’s business.

Because before you run off spending millions of dollars on media and production, maybe you want some security knowing people are going to like the stuff you put in front of them. I can’t think of a better way to do it. Just doesn’t mean I have to like the process as much as I like the other aspects of my job.

And to cheer us all up, I’m glad they made 1984. Enjoy it. We hope they’ll make one of our two spots getting tested today!



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lali lessons in advertising #3: be an angel’s advocate

angel's advocate

So now that I’m working with all these new partners, I am having to adapt my work style to fit everyone else. Or at least I hope I am! The boys may say something different.

Either way, concepting late night last night with Dave, I was reminded – and probably wasted ten minutes of our precious concepting time telling him about it – of something that my old partner at RPA (xoxo Brian Farkas!) and I used to do together.

While we walked to CVS to get red bulls, or had Brian write at the tallest part of the white board that I couldn’t reach in 2317, or I lay down with blankets and pillows in the Acura team room eating Soybean chinese food or Brazilian cheese balls, we tried to always be Angel’s Advocates.

You can never be scared to say a bad or stupid idea in front of your partner. And with new people, that’s hard to do. But with Brian, we always tried to remember that just because it sounds stupid at first doesn’t mean it can’t lead to something amazing. Inconvenient Poops and whatnot. So instead of shooting down stupid thoughts, we tried to Angel’s Advocate everything. Believe in another person’s ideas enough to make them shine.

Of course, it goes without saying that la and li are always angel advocating lali ads. It’s just something that I’ve been attempting to remember now as she’s gone, and hoping I am really doing. Also hoping to sell some new concepts after a tough week of work.



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