Water Sports in a Frozen City

For a state that’s frozen a third of the year, Wisconsin kicks ass at rowing. The University of Wisconsin beats on against the current and has been historically dominant. Milwaukee’s three universities – MSOE, UW-Milwaukee and Marquette University – tend to float toward the top. But at the same time, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a coxswain on Lake Michigan reenact the titanic.

But the way rowers keep shape through the part of the year when most people lose theirs is on a rowing machine – you know, those cardio machines at the gym that are always last to fill up. And to my surprise, they hold meets and competitions using just that.
The Marquette Crew was kind enough to invite me to capture them in action. And honestly, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into.
The competition was held in the basement of a former brewery. The building has long since been renovated for new tenants. But the basement was as unfinished as the one in your parent’s house – the do-it-yourselfer kind who has never had the time to get around to it.
It was dimly lit with rows of fluorescent whites. The dark, cream-colored brick absorbed more light than it reflected. And the large crowd surrounding the rowers ensured that the only light shining on my subjects were the ones directly above them. The competition was called the Fight Club Frenzy. But if you didn’t know this was a rowing meet, you would’ve just assumed it was a fight club.
So how do you take an east-coast prep sport, put it in a grunge basement with a difficult photo set-up and still make it presentable? You embrace the grunge.
For this, I didn’t even care to acknowledge any relationship to any rowing photography I’ve seen before. I didn’t have a beautiful landscape, no gorgeous skies, nothing that you’d image when the word regatta comes to mind. So I went with what I had and tried to make it look as intense and as physically exhausting as I could.
When it comes to sports photography, there are three things that really show intensity. Close-ups, grit and isolation. Whether you’re stepping onto the tennis court to face your singles opponent or you’re trusted with the ball as the shot clock winds down, an athlete is going to feel the most amount of pressure when it’s down to them. To emulate that feeling of isolation, I used a few techniques to visually isolate them in the photos.
I turned down the shutter speed and traced one athlete to emphasize motion. But because the subject is moving at a different rate from everyone else, only one person is going to appear sharp and in focus.
I composed the shot so that only one athlete was in frame. But I tried to time the action so that everyone else was looking directly at the subject. The direction of the eyes create lines so anyone seeing this photo knows immediately what the most important part of the photo is.
Even in this tight space, I used a 70-200mm f2.8 lens on an APS-C sensor to take advantage of the shallow depth of field and the forced perspective. With this length, even objects farther away seem closer. This creates the illusion that everyone appears to be grouped closer together than they really are. But the shallow depth ensures that only the subject is in focus.
This indoor rowing meet was a unique challenge. But with some experimenting as the day went on, I think I was able to handle it without feeling like a fish out of water.

See all the photos from this shoot on my Flickr gallery.


Women are 50% of the world’s population. But only 3% of all creative directors.

3 Percent poster by Bryan Miguel

Women make or influence 85% of all purchasing decisions, and purchase over 50% of traditional male products, including automobiles, home improvement products and consumer electronics.” And even though women account for $7 trillion in consumer and business spending in the US – and eventually will control 66% of consumer wealth within the next decade – a 2010 Forbes survey shows that 91% of women believe advertisers don’t understand them.

It’s not to say that women aren’t in advertising. Walk through the halls of Bader Rutter and you’ll see that there are plenty of passionate female advertisers. Dr. Jean Grow, Associate Professor of Strategic Communication at Marquette University, studied gender segregation in the ad industry across the globe. Her findings show that about half of all advertising employees are women, but they generally dominate lower occupational positions across all departments and occupy 19.5% of all upper management positions. Creative, however, was far less.

This is where the 3% Conference comes in.

Kat Gordon, Creative Director with 20+ years of experience, founded the conference to create awareness about the discrepancy. She started by researching why the ratio is so skewed and discovered that female creatives suffer from a, “lack of support for motherhood, lack of mentorship, lack of awareness that femaleness is an asset to connecting to the consumer marketplace today, lack of celebration of female work due to gender bias of award juries, lack of women negotiating their first agency salary and every one thereafter.”

So why is it this way? Dr. Grow said in an interview with the Milwaukee Adworkers, “Men tend to hire men. As the majority of CDs are men, it perpetuates a boys’ club in creative. Mind you, I, and many of the women I interviewed, don’t think men’s biased hiring practices are necessarily conscious.”

Cindy Gallop, former chairman of BBH New York, has noticed the practice in the workplace. “Men feel more comfortable working with, hiring, promoting and co-founding agencies with other men, and they do this unconsciously. Working with/hiring/promoting/co-founding with women is uncomfortable—because we’re ‘other.’”

The 97% agrees. Michael Slade, Partner and HR Director at Eric Mower + Associates, in an article with AdAge states, “The advertising industry is an incestuous one; agencies overwhelmingly hire from each other.” He goes on to mention that ad agencies generally fail at generating basic awareness with college students about jobs and internships. And among the general public, there’s a minimal understanding of what advertising careers are like. This low awareness keeps the talent pool relatively limited from the beginning and the effect snowballs into more senior roles. For an industry that’s expected to generate $603.1 billion in 2015 through communication for organizations of all sizes, we don’t know how to talk about ourselves.

Since it’s inception in 2012, the conference has gained significant traction throughout the industry and has earned significant support and sponsorships from big name sponsors such as Adobe, Communication Arts, The Advertising Club of New York, DDB, Wells Fargo, the 4A’s, McCann Worldgroup and many more.

So why would a young professional from the 97% take interest in this? Diversity.

Advertising is a reflection of our understanding of culture. It’s not a numbers game. It’s not just about gender. Or race. Or creed. Or age. Or disciplines. Or interests. Or socioeconomics. There’s so much more to people than what demographics say about us. What we’ve seen and experienced in life are major influences and inspirations to our creative vision. And though we can research and sympathize with different perspectives, we’re still seeing everyone else’s view of the world through our own lens. Gender, race, creed and so on only present an opportunity for different lifestyles.

Jeff Goodby, industry legend and founder of Goodby Silverstein + Partners, when Adweek asked about the importance of diversity replied, “Obviously, one of the things we do is advertise to a wide range of people, and our clients want us to do that. And the only way to really do that is to actually have those people present and have them contribute to the solution of advertising problems.”

We need diversity in advertising. New ideas are the result of mixing old ideas together. But if we have people from completely different backgrounds, you have a lot more old ideas to play with. So the more diverse our perspectives, the more ways we can look to solve a problem.

So where do we go from here?

Hiring to meet quotas isn’t the answer. Talent and accomplished portfolios will remain the best measures of a good creative. Cindy Gallop suggests, “Actively search out the talent overlooked in your agency because it doesn’t fit pattern matching. Tell recruiters you want to see an equal number of brilliant male and female candidates for every brief. Demonstrate publicly that you’re part of the New Creativity. You’ll attract the best women—and the best men.”

And to address the future as well as the issues Michael Slade has raised, we need to spark interest in College students about our field and fan the flames to ignite a whole new generation of creativity. After years of mentoring and fostering great talent, we can pass the torch to a generation that’s as diverse as they are talented.

The 3% conference is focused on the underrepresentation of women. But it’s a catalyst for the larger issue of a lack of perspective through homogeneity. As advertisers, we ask our clients and partners to support ideas that stand out from the rest. Let’s embrace the same philosophy and harvest ideas that aren’t business as usual.

Sweeping Away Trash Talk

Swiffer Screenshot
Cleaning made easy thanks to a gift from Swiffer.

The future of media may be a time warp to the 1950s. 

It’s been 36 years since the death of Martin Luther King Jr., 58 years since the bus incident with Rosa Parks and 150 years since Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery. Yet, it’s only been 6 months since Cheerios proved that racism still stands strong today.

Since Cheerios opened that unintended firestorm and controversy, Swiffer disables comments from the beginning to avoid mass insults and mob mentality. And whether strategic to pull at heartstrings or as a distractor to color, Publicis Kaplan Thaler takes things to another level by including an amputee.

Unlike the Cheerio’s spot using actors, PKT uses a real family in a documentary-style video. Zach Rukavina, the husband and father in the spot, lost his arm to cancer and his amputation is key to the story of the commercial – and he cracks a couple jokes about how he’s still a better cleaner than his wife. Though the commercial pulls so many levers at the same time, which may leave itself vulnerable to cynicism, the spot’s realism may be more of a deterrent to criticism. However, realism didn’t help this black dad and his interracial kids.

I applaud Swiffer. They risk their brand in part of a larger movement. Polarizing statements may cause great support from one side and an equal amount of heat from the other. JCPenney had pulled a similar stunt with Ellen DeGeneres. Unfortunately though, after rehiring former CEO, Mike Ullman, JCPenney may step away from their support. But that’s an entirely different story.

Advertisements are a reflection of today’s culture. So it only makes sense that more and more interracial couples are shown in today’s media. Since more non-traditional couples are featured in ads, hopefully the shock of seeing mixed couples, same-gendered, reversed gender-roles, couples with wide age gaps or even a combination of the above can become more desensitized.

Where things go from here is yet to be determined, but we can hope that progress continues to be ahead of us.                        

Predictable. Easy. Bravo.

Screen Shot 2013-10-11 at 4.54.53 PM

Judging by books and blogs of ads around the world, it may seem that the best ads are the most well designed or with interesting wordplay. But great ads start with an idea. If you have a strong idea and no matter how predictable it is, it’s still a strong idea.

As an advertiser, our goal is to communicate the brand message in a way that our audience would want to listen. One of the stronger techniques is to create a relatable scenario that we can picture ourselves in. This is called a “lifestyle piece.”

This technique can easily be done lazily. And when it’s done lazily, you can easily tell. Almost anything that tries to tell audiences who they are by saying lines like, “You’re a busy woman,” or “You’re a hardworking man,” is trying too hard and showing too much strategy. When you tell people that you know exactly who they are, they’ll try hard to prove that you’re completely wrong.

Strangely, being told exactly who you are is a multi-billion dollar operation in creating rehashed self-improvement books that feed off insecurities. So if you prefer writing work that says, “You’re a busy woman,” or “You’re a hardworking man,” then write a book, not an ad.

Have you ever walked up to someone at a party and said, “You’re tall, you like hot women, drink whiskey on the rocks  – no chaser – and you like to party. I’m just like you. Let’s be friends?”

No. And if you have, you may need to rethink your social skills. Stop trying to be cool and just be cool.

This hallmark ad by ACD/Copywriter Dave Derrick of Leo Burnett Chicago is an example of really bringing home the idea of relating to consumers.

A realistic scenario. A person we can empathize with, if not sympathize. And a realistic ending that shows the product as the hero.

The best compliment you can pay a creative is to tell them you could’ve come up with that. Just shows you how relatable the idea is.

**Side note. Like any creative guidelines, there are great ads that break the mold.

Great writers drink good whiskey. Must be why these are written so well.


Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner, they all had one thing in common. They were all fantastic writers drunks. Alcohol was the lowest common denominator for their inspirations. These men weren’t just thinking of stories while inebriated, they were putting pen to paper.

Remember the last time you wrote drunk? Back in the days of having one six-pack too many study beers. Back in school, a more common exercise was to create an ad campaign about things that we’re passionate about. In the ad industry, we’re passionate about alcohol.

Tour an ad agency freely and I assure you that you’ll find bottles of liquor in desks, solo cups in the trash and remnants of the Christmas party in the toilet. And there’s good reason too. A recent study has shown that alcohol is better than caffeine at bringing out creativity. More reason to make Honey Nut Whiskey-O’s a more socially acceptable breakfast.

That’s why, regardless to Don Draper claiming that SCDP finally made it when they won their first car account, an ad agency really makes it when they win their first alcohol account. Some of the best ads out there today are for some form of adult beverage: Budlight, Budweiser, Dos Equis, Corona, Miller High-Life, Southern Comfort.

Even the ones I like making fun of most are for alcohol: Redd’s, 1800, Citroen, Wild Turkey, Big Hurt’s Beer.

And then there are these. Jameson really knocked this one out of the park. They must have been really paying attention to Money Ball because this home run came from one incredibly low budget.

If you open up a CA, a one-show, archive and so on, you begin to get the impression that the best ads come from incredible art direction, big budgets and screenplay writers who write copy on their free time. And if you’re a young writer, you may believe that you need to work at an agency with large accounts that are willing to shell out extra shekels for a big idea.

But this just goes to show you that you can entertain on a small budget. The economist has been doing this for years. And even as you get older, you can’t escape the small budget clients. Not everything you work on will be the fun stuff. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make an ad better than it has to be. That’s the beauty of our industry.

And coming up with one of these ads is way more impressive in your book than a mediocre, fully produced TV commercial. The world today is all about making things as simple as possible. So if you can get your message across on a magazine half sheet with a budget where your agency is getting paid in food stamps, and still get the message across clearly while being entertaining, then you are well on your way.

So once you work on your first alcohol account, feel free to sit back, crack open a bottle and get drunk write a great alcohol ad.


Das Werbung


A father who throws a baseball with improper technique!? Crucify him! One thing I love more than creating advertisements, is seeing how people react differently to ads. No, I’m not a fan of focus groups, but I do take comments – just with a grain of salt and a shot of tequila. This is target demographics at its finest. Volkswagen obviously did not aim for these following people:


Volkswagen Responses


But I have to admit, that last one is pretty funny. Unfortunately, some of these people lead marketing teams. So explaining the concept of not-pleasing-everyone and to consider-your-target-demographic is as successful as arguing which religion is right (comments related to religion will be deleted). This incongruity births ‘safe’ ideas and ‘safe’ commercials. And eventually you have people who claim they can be in advertising because they disagree with the position. But these people also make fantastic presidents, politicians, CEOs and so on. Take this guy for example:


Volkswagen Pro


Cool story bro, but Volkswagen has a history of some of the greatest ads ever. So armchair leaders and legends, a little understanding of history and branding goes a long way in this business. Though some agencies find a way to rob the grave of someone else’s successful campaign (Visit www.adsoftheworld.com for dozens of people to call you a hack and that your ideas are decades old), Volkswagen has a long history of elite level advertising. So guy, Volkswagen may not need your expertise.

Volkswagen Ad
Volkswagen Ad


Make the decision yourself. Is Deutsch, L.A. deserving of fame or lame? But Deutsch pulled all the right stops where they set up a familiar scene, a relatable situation and added a little bit of a twist. So next time you watch a commercial intended to be funny, see a comedian live or even read comments on YouTube, remember to loosen up. We’re not always a serious business.

The Big Morally-Ambiguous Wolf

Years of english, literature, theology and philosophy couldn’t prepare me for this. Typical upbringing, or years of jedi training, teaches us to look at things objectively. To not let the beliefs and stories of others influence our own judgment. In short, to take emotion out of the equation.

But there’s something about wolves. Little red riding hood. Peter and the wolf. Even Star Fox’s rival. Wolves are inherently evil. Sorry Balto.

So we pass quick judgment on our childhood bedtime stories to create a clear definition of what’s right and what’s wrong. We never stopped to ask about the big bad wolf’s motivation. These were pigs who could construct houses, surely a wolf in this world could purchase bacon from the local Pick ‘N Save. Unless of course bacon is off the menu seeing that pigs are intelligent enough to rule the world over people. But banning bacon should be a crime in and of itself. But I digress.

Jeanie Cagiano, Leo Burnett mastermind behind the Allstate ‘Mayhem’ campaign, uses an interesting storytelling element in her advertisements. Stories have a good guy and a bad guy, but “a good villain is a lovely thing.” 

So looking at the three little pigs, we ask, “Who is the villain?” And rather than blindly believe the first story we’re told, we can ask questions. Exactly like the Open Journalism of the UK’s The Guardian (www.theguardian.co.uk). Of course with more questions, come more ambiguity. And we now ask ourselves, “who’s fault is it?”

Unfortunately for these once-respected heroes, they cried wolf and the world called their bluff.