Drawing on Excel

Added on by Leon Jacobs.

Look at this image: 


It was created by a 73-year old Japanese artist called Tatsuo Horiuchi. On Excel. Yes. Excel. The world's major spreadsheet application used for making numbers work. Not the thing for making beautiful imagery.

Horiuchi says he struck upon the idea of creating art with Excel after his retirement after he watched some of his colleagues creating graphs with the applications.  

The thing I love about this is how it shows that where the will to create pushes it can break through any barrier like a little sapling reaching up through a concrete slab.

Read more about his Horiuchi's creations here and you can even download the original Excel docs to see how he put them together. 

Mandela's legacy

Added on by Leon Jacobs.

Nelson Mandela is a man of flesh and blood.

He will succumb to his mortality - like we all are destined to.

Even though he has thus far spent 94 eventful years in this world - and by all accounts appear to be very ill - so many South Africans are trying to keep him alive through prayer and collective well wishing.

It is easy to understand why. He is the embodiment of a dream. He stands for the relentless pursuit of liberation. He stands for a kind of peace that transcends conflict. In South Africa today, the liberation he lived for and that we need, is under renewed threat of corruption and greed. 

But, the best way to keep him alive, is to pursue our own liberation with his tenacity. To seek peace, where others seek war.

Nelson Mandela's flame will go out. But instead of dying, it will be passed on if the same South Africans who are praying for his life today will be ignited with his passion tomorrow.


In praise of slow tech

Added on by Leon Jacobs.

The more I digitize, the more I yearn for slower tech. 

Let's take writing as an example. 

Have we made the process of writing too easy? 

Barely 50 years ago most writing was done using typewriters. The actual process of writing on such a machine is vastly different to what it is on a word processor. 

For a start, deletion is not to easy. When you press down on the keys, you are committing ink to paper. That means you have to have a measure of security that what you are typing is what you mean. It means more sentences and paragraphs are composed in the mind before your fingers type them out. With a word processor you just let rip, because backspace backspace backspace. Apple-c, apple-x. That sort of thing.

Think about photography. With film cameras, you have limited exposures on each roll and on top of that, the process of developing and printing the exposures is relatively expensive. That means, before you open and close the shutter, you think a little more about composition. With digital, the size of the disk is the limit. Zrrrrrrrr and you let rip, paying less attention to the quality of the shot - because in amongst those 1000 shots of the toddler smiling there must be something good. 

The ease of digital also makes the enjoyment of music easy. Almost too easy. We simply shuffle our libraries or subscribe to the world's entire music collection and whatever we want streams into our heads wherever our heads seem to find themselves at that particular moment. Before MP3 players shrunk our libraries to little portable disks that fit into the pocket of ones skinny jeans, the act of listening to music was an action. You had to use your fingers to select a record or disc, insert it into a player, sit down, and listen to the tracks. 

The advent of digital has helped us to cycle down to the lowest level of energy. We are allowing our creative selves to collapse on the couch and get fat. 

I am making the case for slow tech. For tools that slow us down to enable us to think more. Creative magic is not born from computers, they spring from the flash of inspiration inbetween our ears. Ideas, percolating slowly out of hunches that have been allowed to stew for the prescribed amount of time. 

Type a story on a typewriter. Write with a pencil on a legal pad. Design with a pencil on the back of a napkin. We have powerful tools at our disposal, but they require discipline and quality of thought to reign them and apply them properly. 

We need creative tools that slow us down and force us to think. Treadmills for our synapses. 

A better world needs slower tech.

I probably should have written this on a typewriter.

What Manchester United's approach to recruitment can teach the ad industry

Added on by Leon Jacobs.

Sir Alex Ferguson is leaving his job as Man United's manager after 27 years (and one piece of gum - some say). He is without a doubt one of the most successful coaches in the history of football. Thanks to his genius, Man United has transformed into a global brand.

How do you replace a rock like that? Do you hire someone with a track record? Lots of trophies? A media rockstar? José Mourinho?

Man United has placed its hopes on David Moyes, the 50-year old Everton manager. They signed a six year contract for his services.

Some analysis suggests that Moyes was favoured because he shares the same coaching philosophy as Sir Alex. They even hail from the same corner of Scotland.

Man United has a much lower transfer bill than most clubs their size. And Moyes is known too for doing very much with very little at Everton. So, there is every indication that he will continue to build on this tradition at Old Trafford.

In advertising, when big personalities leave successful agencies, how often are they replaced with the José Mourinhos of the creative industry?

I have almost never been asked any of the following crucial questions during interviews for creative directing jobs:

  • What is your approach to budget split in the creative department? Ratio of senior to junior creatives?
  • What do you think has made us successful and what skills do you possess to build on this?

Too often, creative directors are hired for what they have achieved in other agencies - where, let's face it - the conditions were perfect for genius to strike. Great work never happens in a vacuum. There are loads of people with different skill-sets who all pour their hearts into the project at the exact right time. The creative director, the person at the end of the line gets the recognition and gets poached by a struggling agency who wants some of that magic - never realising that every great CD is surrounded by great people (sometimes through his own doing, and mostly those will be good creative, but the best work relies on good suits and planners). Inevitably, those agencies end up disappointed, often the relationship sours and a chunk of faith in the power of creativity is taken from everyone.

Any agency who wants the wind of great ideas to drive it to greatness, need to look deeper than a pretty face.

They need to do what Man United just did.

The power of brevity in the age of no limits

Added on by Leon Jacobs.

Advertising creatives got stuck with the 30" format because that was the duration that media companies could most easily sell airtime. Over the last few decades, generations of copywriters and art directors got really good at telling neat little stories in half a minute.

The new generation of advertising creative can now tell stories online. The 30" format is no longer that much of an issue. A few brands have started producing short films and broadcasting them online. Look at this new effort for Audi, featuring "old" Spock (Leonard Nimoy) versus "new" Spock (Zachary Quinto). The idea is quite lovely, but it rambles on. I wonder how much better it would have been if it was half that length. Or even 40%.

Because the fact is - longer is not always better. Brevity always trumps verbosity.

Any good creative worth their salt know that the simplest, quickest edits of their ads rank superior when you compare them side-by-side with either longer, or more complicated cuts. "Agency cuts", or "director's cuts", that are different to broadcast versions just because they are longer, are very rarely better if truth be told.

Last year I watched a candidate reel for the Saatchi New Director's Showcase and was amazed that almost 90% of the films on there were longer than 90". There were only two 30" films and they were the best by a country mile - judging by the reaction in the room.

A new generation of advertising storytellers will have to learn this lesson all on their own - without the 30" media obstruction we grew up with. 

And for the sake of quality storytelling, I hope they do.

Mandela the metaphor

Added on by Leon Jacobs.

The recently released footage of the Zuma administration visiting ailing statesman Nelson R. Mandela left me numb with shock. On the surface of it, it is a frail old man, receiving a visit from his friends.

But the images of the 94-year old Mandela, so devoid of the charisma and the life and joy and passion that propelled him to the world stage, and made him the darling of the world, has far deeper meaning. It is only now becoming clear - in the follow-up to rest of the week's news.

You see, there is no better metaphor for the liberated South Africa than Nelson Mandela himself. The optimism, the joy, the reconciliation and the hope that a country paralysed by fear and racism could be elevated to a new plane - to be a shining example for the entire world's people. All of that is wrapped in the persona of Mandela. 

In the recent few years, it has become clear that this President and his cabinet is unfit to lead this country effectively. They have abused the liberation to enrich themselves and they are sucking the life out of the hope. They doublespeak and divert attention. They allow textbooks to be dumped in rivers. They shoot at our people. They build mini-cities as homes. They send our army to protect their business interests. And they let their benefactors use our air force bases as their own private airports.

So when you see them smiling to the cameras, holding the hand of a dying Mandela, there is no better metaphor for what is happening everyday. Smiling, posing for the cameras, as the life of the nation slips away.

Breaking up with Standard Bank is so hard to do

Added on by Leon Jacobs.

Dear Standard Bank,

We've come a long way. It's been a marriage of almost 20 years. I remember opening my account with you to deposit my first salary. Over the years, I spent a lot of money with you. Too much to think about. 

But, during the last few years especially, you have done nothing but disappoint me. There has been no joy in being associated with you.

I have just returned to South Africa and I started thinking about leaving you. At first it was just a fleeting thought but the comedy of systemic errors and your outdated processes became too much.

Do you remember the fun times when overseas deposits would sit idle, waiting for you to clear them but you didn't because you thought I would call to find out what was happening? Or the particularly awesome experience of having my credit card debited for every swipe from my debit card - and charging me a cash advance fee for your mistake. Good thing I checked my statement, eh?

Or, what about the time you wanted me to fax something. I mean, sies man, fax? Do you kiss your mother with that mouth? Speaking of your mother, she's on email now, you know. Everyone is. Other banks are too.

I have started hearing some of your radio ads. You are courting new customers. Maybe you are bleeding some. You are offering all sorts of gifts and things. But how about those of us who have been with you for a long time? When is the last time you offered me something for my loyalty?

When another bank started courting me, proactively, I decided it was time. They have a different attitude. It seems to be in their culture. They are offering me so much more benefit for the same fees as I paid to you.

And now, as I am leaving, you don't seem to care. Did you not notice me closing my facilities, one after the other? Did you not notice that I am switching debit orders? I mean, it doesn't take a forensic accountant to figure it out, does it? Yet, you don't call, you don't write.

I think you don't care.

Now, leaving you seems to be the hardest part. Do you want to know what happened in your branch today? I have been trying to close my credit card. I transferred the exact outstanding amount. I call the call centre to do the job but they say .. no ... There is still R22.47 outstanding. So, I go to the branch, pay the money into the account with a teller, take the receipt to your enquiries desk and the lady completes the form.

Reason for leaving bank: "No need for account," she writes. I said, "You didn't ask me what the reason was."

She looked perplex: "Do you want me to put something else?"

Yes, I want you to write I am closing this account because you have changed. You are not simpler better faster anymore. You're "moving forward". But you're not.

She ignores me, and calls Card Division. She comes back. "Sorry you still owe 8 cents."

8 cents, Standard Bank. From the five minutes that it took me to walk from the teller to enquiries, another 0.08 was added and now I can't close the card until I have paid in the money. I hold up a 10c coin. No, she said, you have already made one cash deposit this month and you will not be allowed another.

"You will have to transfer the 0.08 online and then we will check that the balance is reflected as zero, and then we will close it."

People in the queue behind me were gasping. 

Standard Bank, I don't know where you are going, but you're not moving forward. But I am no longer going with you.


A bit of woooo

Added on by Leon Jacobs.

Imagine we all had a switch in our brains that we could flip to switch our minds to a higher gear. A mode of thinking where we are more creative, more aware, more at peace, organised and above all - happy.

Over time, I have been led to believe that such a thing exists. Transcendental meditation, or TM as it is known fo' short, is a type of meditation that was introduced to the western world by one Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

To the mind, made cynical by the world of advertising, a lot of the teaching on the periphery of TM sounds like wooooo, but in fact, there is some solid scientific proof that TM does in fact have real benefits. The David Lynch Foundation lists a bunch of them here.

The WHO!? Foundation? Yeah, David Lynch, one of the world's most next-level film-makers is an ardent proponent of the technique. Check out this video in which he - rather articulately - points out the link between TM and creativity:

I have recently started to learn TM and although I am only at the embarkation point on journey of understanding, I can already detect a change in myself. Better sleep, more focus and clarity of thought.

For anyone interested in enhancing their native power of ingenuity and living a more blissful, creative life, I recommend finding a TM centre near where you are and signing up.

There Amazon, I fixed KDP for you

Added on by Leon Jacobs.

I have used Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) platform three times thus far to publish short stories and a novella.

Even though I won't call myself a KDP expert, I have a few suggestions how Amazon could vastly improve their platform - which won't just benefit its authors, but also itself.

  • Payment: Enable payments from all the different country stores to be transferred to a global payment wallet - like PayPal. At the moment, KDP offers EFTs to a limited amount of countries, and cheque (!) payments to the rest. 
  • Insights: Currently, there are zero analytical tools on KDP - well, not available to the authors anyway. What would be incredibly useful, would be to see numbers of page impressions per publication, where they originate from, and what the conversion rate is from click to purchase. Understanding how an updated cover, or log line or book description affects that rate could literally change the fortunes of a publication.
  • Promotions: At the moment, authors who enrol their publications in KDP Select have the option to set "free to purchase" days. This means Amazon will reduce the price of the publication to free for 5 days out of a 90-day cycle. But so much more is possible if authors had more options. 
  • Social engagement: How about integrating the book's Facebook page with its product page? Or being able to hashtag the publication and showing those tweets or interactions on the page?
  • Boutique imprints: Amazon should encourage the formation of specialised imprints. They should create the tools for small publishing houses to be formed on the platform that promotes work in different niches. 

Hey Jeff, you're welcome.