Ari Sherman, Creative Advertising

Through the Linkedin looking glass; What is a Modern Day Mad Man?

Posted in Advertising, Branding, Social Media, Uncategorized by Ari Sherman on May 21, 2013

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There it was, my Linkedin profile, led off by the caption ‘Advertising & Branding Creative Communications Pro, Copywriter, Consultant and Modern Day Mad Man’. Which I loved. The only problem was what came next, a paragraph that read like the bullet points in a resume, a solid, even enviable list of career highlights and abilities…it just wasn’t engaging. And it didn’t sound like what a Modern Day Man should be, which is anything but boring. So this morning it was time to act.  Have a look if you will. Hell, I’d even love to know what you think of it. Or just go ahead and hire me ; ) And by the way, at the end, where it says scroll on, that’s referring to the rest of my Linkedin Profile. Which if you’re really curious, please feel free to browse*

So here’s what I replaced the old version with:

Every picture tells a story, but not everyone’s equal when it comes to seeing what that can mean. I’m an  independent advertising and branding pro available for consulting, freelance and staff opportunities.

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I partner with many of the most happening companies around – from Movie studios and Broadcast Networks to cutting edge manufacturers to hip marketing consultancies and Ad agencies -finding the freshest and most memorable creative – copy, names, campaigns – to brand their products, identities and services as the cool, engaging experiences they can be.

I believe that if you emotionally connect with an audience, get them to smile, comment, feel excitement, you’ll make a far more powerful relationship than tired, safe approaches achieve. Tired safe approaches, yesterday’s news, aren’t going to drive results tomorrow. I believe in uncovering      your personality and putting it out there.

I believe you’ve got to rock your brand if you want anybody to buy it. You’ve  got to get out on the floor if you want your audience to dance.

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My guiding principle is that it’s ultimately the dance people really care about (I also like to get as close as possible to the edge of a cliff…but you don’t have to come that far with me).

I’m in to working with clients who want the truly remarkable, because if that’s not where you’re going where’s the fun? It’s got to feel good to bring good results. I’m eager to talk with you about how we can share the adventure.

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(And for those out for a story that goes deeper, scroll on to experience or just check out the Cliffs notes:Ad campaigns & Branding in all media / Strategic Positioning and Creative / Extensive Consumer, Non-Profit      and Corporate / Strong Client relations / Versatile in Identity, Retail, and UX Concepts / Love to play in      Social Media / Team Building and Leadership / Dynamic Collaborator/ Major Laker fan / Kick ass father / Once went down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon in a row boat / And I’m a great College lecturer)

www.linkedin.com/pub/ari-sherman/65/4b5/801/

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Smells Like Teen Spirit: Kurt Cobain, Forrest Gump and the generation between them

Posted in Advertising, Branding, Story Telling, Uncategorized by Ari Sherman on April 5, 2013

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19 years ago today, as Paramount Studios was deep into the launch campaign for the Robert Zemeckis helmed Tom Hanks movie that would, to its surprise, wildly exceed all expectations and become one of it’s most memorable movies, and a huge Box Office Hit, the world was shocked by the tragic, untimely death of Kurt Cobain. His passing hit a mass youth audience with the same devastating impact that previous generations had suffered over the traumatic losses of iconic greats like John Lennon, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.

About a year before, at Frankfurt Gips Balkind West where I was Associate Creative Director, Paramount Pictures came to us with a very appealing yet equally challenging project. Looking back from today’s perspective, it’s hard to imagine how one of the top box office hits of all time could ever have been perceived as a marketing challenge, but Paramount wasn’t crazy when they told us it was. They were just focused on the obvious. Forrest Gump was about someone who would have already been well into his forties by the time the film was released. His life story, interwoven as it was with history focused mainly in a decade that began 30 years earlier, seemed like an engaging story that unfortunately would most likely at best capture a target audience that was middle aged and older, in keeping with its distinct plot elements. And they would have been right, except for one factor no one was counting on, something about Forrest Gump the character smelled a lot like Teen Spirit.

Blame it on the numbers, the over reliance of a usually very astute Studio marketing group on research and a ‘by the book’ read of demographics and what was believed to appeal to target audience quadrants. Blame it on the mindset that presumes anything that can be labeled as history is boring, that Gump’s character was interesting, but that a life story focused on the sixties wasn’t going to find anything but a somewhat less than mass-market core middle aged audience. Blame it on not knowing that the voice of a generation was about to be tragically stripped from it, that so many teens, with their strong propensity to identify with the other, the different, the misfit, would suddenly lose the figure they identified with most, and need someone to help them process that loss, and begin to find themselves again.

What had we done with Gump up until then? For starters we had to work with the title, a challenge in itself. As two words go, ‘Forrest Gump’ didn’t offer a lot to the uninformed. Maybe Winston Groom, who wrote the novel it was based on, had created a character with a distinctive name not unlike his. But the book wasn’t a massive bestseller or a widely recognized piece of Pop culture. We needed to work with the title first, a task that fell mainly to my hands, as a Creative Director chiefly responsible for copy at Frankfurt Gips Balkind.

Fortunately I had Gump himself to work with. One of his about to be famous Gumpisms, those distinctive turns of phrase of his, inspired a fun, somewhat breakthrough answer for us. The movie postured that the oft used comment ‘Shit happens’ was actually coined by Gump himself, during a signature moment that marked his stint of service in the Viet Nam war. It was an easy, if bold mental leap to get to ‘Gump happens’, a quirky but intriguing first introduction to Forrest Gump that we would unleash on an unaware general public. Before long billboards were up featuring those two words in big, loud type on a white background. ‘Gump Happens’ invited audiences to ask ‘What? What’s Gump? And why does it happen?’ hopefully priming them to be receptive to our follow up, the campaign that would launch a massive success for Tom Hanks, Robert Zemeckis and Paramount. photo-1

That campaign is now box office history. Visually, it broke through the clutter with the truly unexpected, Tom Hanks posed with his back to us, seated on the film’s signature bus stop bench.  It was a bold, iconic approach, relying on Tom Hanks star powered name to give the audiences a taste of his character’s quirkiness instead of the usual, easy ‘Big Head’ movie poster solve. And accompanying that maverick image, was a line of copy we didn’t realize could ever accomplish so much, inviting the audience to see the world differently by seeing it through the very unique eyes of Forrest Gump. By the time the film came out Kurt Cobain, sadly, was dead. Here was a guy whose music, style and distinct personality had galvanized a generation, rocketing grunge to the top of the charts, and taking popular music, fashion and the hearts and souls of millions with it. Like every paradigm shifting star before him, Kurt Cobain’s impact was to re-brand Rock and alter culture, he was different, he was a rebel, and teens, feeling different and rebellious themselves, fell in love with everything about him. He questioned, he reinterpreted, he forged his own path. He saw the world differently and they saw the world differently with him. Just like Forrest Gump. And therein lay a twist of unexpected marketing genius.

Forrest Gump opened at about 24 million, not a bad first weekend by the standards of the nineties, one surely attributable to Tom Hanks’ immense appeal, along with a smart marketing campaign. But it’s a long, long way from 24 million to $329,694,499 Domestic gross…let alone a worldwide take of $677,387,716. Had the film merely done reasonably well with it’s targeted middle-age adult audience and the six Oscars it went on to earn, Paramount would have been more than happy. The last thing they imagined was that it would become a mega-hit that would be 1994’s top box office success, and go on to become a timeless classic. But they had no idea the teen audience would ever find it, need it, or with their avid movie attendance and repeat attendance, make such a huge hit out of it.

So what’s the final piece, and the lesson, in the link between Kurt Cobain and Forrest? That data and demographics don’t tell a complete story, that great creative comes from creative thinking and problem solving. We didn’t try to target the teen audience for Forrest Gump, we never could have imagined Kurt Cobain would die as, sadly, he did, nor would we ever have overtly exploited or wanted to exploit a loss so tragic. But we did love Forrest. And we wanted the world to love him. And the more we thought about it, the more we realized that it wasn’t the history he lived through, the challenges he faced, or the circumstances he had to overcome that made him lovable. It was the way he saw his life, the way he talked about it, the way he processed it. In short it was experiencing seeing the world the way Forrest Gump did that encompassed the movie’s strongest asset, just like experiencing the way Kurt Cobain looked at the world was, and remains,  what made his songs, and ultimately him, so incredibly life altering for so many.And that’s it. An audience of young teens flocked to Forrest because he was different, just like we told them, and they felt different. They found in Forrest someone who was often confused, and hurt, just like they were confused and hurt, but who had a unique ability to come back and process the losses and hurdles of life by finding strength and reasserting his identity through his own, fresh approaches – just like they would. Kurt was gone, Forrest had arrived, and a young generation was learning to absorb, shape and be shaped by history, even sad history, just like Gump had. The movie will always be with us. And so will Cobain’s music. Powerful, raw, edgy, tragic, exuberant, wounded, defiant, angry, sometimes sad, sometimes ironic…and as different and hard and vulnerable as anything art and culture can give us. Through it, Kurt remains in a sense very much alive. Long live teen spirit.

Can you handle the truth? What I learned at the movies about branding, advertising and story telling

Posted in Advertising, Social Media by Ari Sherman on March 4, 2013

A funny thing happened as I looked over my portfolio this morning. I started thinking about how the truth, my writing, effective marketing and story telling all co-exist. And the result was both powerful and simple. I remembered that the best stories are true stories, true as defined as convincing an audience to embrace experience which doesn’t rely on falsehood, true as in not conceived in an effort to mislead. True rings true when one is moved to embrace, rather than reject. True is what bears repeating. Just like the experience of seeing a good movie.

And I should probably know. For years I’ve been paid to create compelling advertising for motion pictures and television shows. I don’t have to lie to brand a movie or TV series. I simply need to find a truth and help shape it into media designed to reach a wide audience. Usually this means reading a script or viewing a piece and then asking a core question. What motivates me to like it, what sells me on its message? What is its truth, and how can I impart just enough of it to generate strong response without giving away what will ultimately make it a pleasurable experience? Because that’s what entertainment is, one big user experience that hopefully drives its message to reach the hearts and minds of millions.

Oh, and I’ve got just one chance, because once the movie opens or the TV show airs the user community takes over. All I can hope to do is help convince a core targeted audience to buy tickets or tune in – from then on it’s all about word of mouth, community story telling at the water cooler as it were. Of all the advertising, branding and other work I’ve done, it’s been among the most high stakes, exhilarating, and rewarding.

It might seem easy, just find the sales point and state it. And it almost is. The only variable is creativity. Because in a world flooded with messages, selling customers on a creative experience takes creative messaging. The strategy, be it for digital media or traditional advertising, can only succeed if the story I tell about the experience being offered is compelling, in other words true, powerful and appropriately unique. Only a distinctive marketing message can reach, let alone convince, its target audience. To simply add to the indistinct roar of poorly conceived generic advertising and branding around us won’t move users to act, sell them on wanting to engage, tune in, or – in the case of a movie – go the theater and buy a ticket let alone encourage others in their community to embrace the same experience.

Which is why cookie cutters don’t always cut it. SEO, keyword placement, analytics – all these are at best tools. Another of my passions, poetry, has taught me to work successfully with tools…in part by recognizing their limits. Sometimes following a traditional form can yield a more powerful result, at other times it can reduce one to writing useless babble, just like search recognition tactics. If a tool serves organically to bolster original content great. But if it’s controlling the message, or used in place of fresh compelling writing, the effort is doomed to fail, as increasingly even the web recognizes and rewards original content. In the end, whether it’s a poem, branding effort or ad, the experience is only as true as what the user makes of it – just like a movie. If it isn’t convincing, they won’t buy it. If it’s true for them they’ll share it.

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