Speak UpA Former Division of UnderConsideration
The Archives, August 2002 – April 2009
advertise @ underconsideration
---Click here for full archive list or browse below
Make it Bigger

When it comes to creating advertisements for my own business, I find myself understanding what my clients go through. Their doubts. Their fears. Their conservative gut reaction.

Like clients I have worked for, I have my own business. I sell T-shirts from my web home at sharpastoast.com. And like many retail businesses, most of my sales take place during the run up to the December holidays. In the past I have relied mostly on word-of-mouth, blogs advertisements, and shameless self promotion on first dates.

This year I decided to go a step further.

I decided on running a series of small ads over the course of four weeks in the print edition of The Onion in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

I am just getting a first glimpse at them now. One thing is for sure: these ads aren’t going to win any awards.

They are actually pretty clunky. Full of cliches.

I even resorted in using “look-at-me” models wearing my shirts (a guy with a huge Oregon beard named “Scrappers” and a lady who is nice to look at.). The logo and website? They are LARGE. Pass the Horsey Sauce.

No mystery. No misdirection. Just my company and the shirts. See them. Wear them.

I run Sharp As Toast “on the side” while I am pursuing other dreams at Wieden and Kennedy 12. The business hasn’t made me rich, but I think the perspective I gained from running a small business has helped me enormously in how I approach my work.

First, our clients entrust us with a great deal when they hire us. And the ones that step the farthest away from the work should be considered for Sainthood. I think we lose perspective on our side of the table. Advertising and design is a cost to a business, like electricity, mailing supplies, or a health care plan. Seeing performance and a return on investment is paramount. With electricity, for example, it is easy to see a return. You pay the bill, flip a switch, and the lights go on. But our craft is more tricky to measure.

Be conscious of the darkness that clients often have to waltz through when they are dealing with us. It is natural for them to be hesitant, and unsure. Consider this next time your leave a client meeting cursing because they want the typeface to be more readable, or their logo larger.

Second, remember who you are serving. I have found clients can sense when I am advocating something that may well be “cool” and look good in my portfolio, but may not be the best solution. This occurred when I was working on developing the brand for Frank Wines (frankwines.com).

The idea was for a “plainspoken wine”; a wine that was better tasted than discussed by Robert Parker.

One direction I showed the client had a large “Hi” on the label, and then proceeded to speak in a “frank” way to the consumer, describing itself plainly.

The other direction was a silhouette of a bottle with quotation marks around it. That was it.

The second direction was the one I pushed for. I felt, at the time, it would make a bigger visual splash in the sea of chateaus and french flowers you see in wine stores.

We tested both directions with a group of consumers. Most loved the “Hi” direction.

Like the good lawyer, I was stubborn enough to question efficacy of the testing. We then set up another test. I was routed again. So you learn. So you learn.

Even though my client loved the “Hi” from the start and felt it would do well with his consumer, I continued to be a jackass and push for my choice. If I had looked at it from his side, I would have realized that my solution was too risky, to artsy-fartsy to make any sense to someone lingering in a wine store. It would have been an enormous risk to take and for a start-up business, the stakes were even higher. As my relationship with the client has continued, I have taken these lessons to heart.

So, remember we are really blessed to do what we do.

But we get to do it because of our clients: we get to rock on the client’s dime. Keep them in mind at all times.

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
ARCHIVE ID 2745 FILED UNDER Miscellaneous
PUBLISHED ON Jul.16.2006 BY Jimm Lasser
Bulgaria's only son’s comment is:

Ahhh, Jimm

so glad to read another article of yours . . . def agree with you on this one . . . i had to design something for my mother's business not so long ago, in that case i chose the safest design as i didnt want to take any risk with her bread n butta

. . . there is also another flip to the coin though – perhaps finding clients that DO take creative risks is more friutful than changin ol' habits . . .

maybe your business is too cool for cool design or maybe you are just giving up too soon . . . but anyways, if you have a nice logo, nothing wrong with makin it big . . .

On Jul.16.2006 at 06:00 PM
Jonathan Melville’s comment is:

I agree we must walk a fine line between playing it safe and taking it too far. I have done battle with clients about which solution is best, only to have seen later in the design process that I was pushing what would be a less effective design (even though it was 'prettier').

On Jul.16.2006 at 06:02 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

Jimm, there are times - when I consent to the clients request for, say, a bigger logo - that I just hate myself for agreeing to do it after only one unconvincing recommendation that it uglifies the whole design. I used to be better at being a stubborn artist and fighting this steamroller decision by clients. But lately I cave in like tin foil. Maybe if I met them face to face instead of thru an agency rep and AD I'd be better at it, but email and phone calls just don't get my point across quite strongly enough for them to back off a bad decision.

Recently I consented to a 250% increase in logo size - not 150%, nooooooo, that would have been just BIG - I just blew it up enormously, grossly, fat big as an exaggeration thinking they'd allow me to scale it back. But no, they had me put an EXTRA black box under it just to make it even "horsier" which just about swallowed up everything decent in the overall art. It couldn't have been more ugly a design decision. I recommended one more shot of objection and that sunk like a stone. And I gave them what they wanted. I should have said NO. Someday, when I die, I'm going to Design Purgatory for my sins....

Clients, I know, have objectives that are about putting their name first and foremost , but Design is about placing it in a way that it's integrated into one overall statement in proportion to the visual. There's a refinement to sensible emphasis that, to a designer, is appropriately scaled.

I still don't understand how a client can first trust a designer to a visual message and then, at the last minute, distort one element - their logo size - and not trust the designers word that it's not right. Drives me nuts......

On Jul.17.2006 at 07:36 AM
jenn.suz.hoy’s comment is:

OK, I have to get some "un-seriousness" off my chest first. Jimm - I celebrate the existence of that old-school football handheld game living on on your t-shirt site. That, my friend, ROCKS! (Though it is still frustratingly impossible at times)

Now to be serious...

I understand the frustration, and I appreciate this post. The scaling-up issue is something I live with every blessed day working for my biggest client. Like Pesky Illustrator, I have to communicate with him solely through phone and email because he lives 3,000 miles away from me.

What's funny about this client is he praises my skills when, and only when, I pre-umptively destroy any thought of good design and make things just as he likes them - BIG, bold, and far too often fricken red. I will be right there in Design Pergatory as well, for caving in and not even battling him anymore on certain points, just because he doesn't care if it's ugly, just if his blind-as-bat eyes can see it.


On Jul.17.2006 at 11:51 AM
Jandos Rothstein’s comment is:

As George Lois told us a generation ago, and Malcolm Gladwell recently reminded us, focus groups are a crude if not counter-productive tool for determining the ultimate merit of various approaches. Snap judgements bias towards the familiar and comfortable. Success in the marketplace, on the other hand, is often won through innovation and originality. Would the label with the bottle in quotes gotten more sales? Who knows--but it might well have gotten more buzz and that's a start.

On Jul.21.2006 at 10:47 AM