Rollin’ with the Gnomies

This week I have the fortunate experience of spending my time in New York City with the University of Oregon advertising program for Creative Week. I figured most of my networking would come from various agency tours, presentations, and Q&A sessions. I never expected what happened to me tonight.

A few of us decided to mix business with pleasure, and go to a Yankees baseball game. As we approached the stadium, a crowd aggressively gathered in a circle. It was a hectic clump of chaos while people desperately clawed for their free giveaway.

Lawn gnomes. Of all things, they were giving away free Yankee lawn gnomes. If I had any shred of logic in my brain, I would have thought to myself, “What will I ever do with this? I don’t even have a garden…Or any miniscule area of grass for that matter”.

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But of course, I have no reasoning skills whatsoever, and my inner hoarder won. I yearned to own one because everyone else was getting them. Humans are so weird.

The game ended, and the Yankees lost. I couldn’t be sad though, I got a free gnome!

After leaving our seats, I happily carried my new, worthless lawn gnome to the subway. While we took our spot, a lady next to us offered us some cookies because she was in a suite and she (like me) was a hoarder, and took an excessive amount. I declined because I’ve seen too many late night television shows and assumed it was laced with methamphetamines. However, my friend Megan accepted. Once I saw that she wasn’t foaming at the mouth, I obliged (I know, I’m such a good friend…)

I thought the story ended there, until the woman asked me about my lawn gnome. She arrived to the game late and didn’t know that they had a giveaway. Since my hoarding side was fulfilled, the frontal lobes finally kicked in. I offered my gnome to her because realistically, I had no room for it in my suitcase (and no yard for my gnome to thrive in).

At first she wouldn’t accept because she felt cookies weren’t a valid exchange for a lawn gnome. I reassured her that TSA would probably confiscate it, and it deserved a happy life of freedom in her garden abyss. We talked about my trip for Creative Week, and low and behold it turns out she works at ABC in advertising! She was so pleased with my gesture of giving her a lawn gnome that she gave me her business card. We parted ways as she yelled out the subway door, “I’ll never forget you, garden gnome girl!”

Networking can happen in the most unexpected of places. It’s crazy to think about all of the strangers in public places that you never talk to, and the stories that can surface from simple gestures. There are so many opportunities that are lost if you don’t take chances. It’s up to you to break the ice, and take the cookie (well, as long as it’s not tampered with).

In the end, I’d say that a lawn gnome is a fair trade for a cookie, a business card, and a subway ride I’ll never forget.

Sharing is Caring? My First (Public) Short Story: The Bus Stop

PREFACE:

I’ve always been shy. Sometimes people find my shyness hard to believe because I have moments where I seem very confident in myself. But when I was younger, adults would ask me questions like “How old are you?” and I would run away without giving them an answer. I’d spend the next few hours breathing heavily and nervously wringing my hands. When cars drove past my house while I played outside, I would run and hide in my garage until they were gone.

One time, my sister asked me to buy her candy at the store. She gave me exact change, and I counted it hundreds of times to make sure that I had the correct amount. I walked confidently up to the register, only to hear the words: “you’re three cents short”.

I knew for a fact that I had enough money. I saw the lady count it, and she obviously made a mistake by adding it wrong. I panicked, and ran away (as usual). Candy-less and money-less, my sister made me go back into the store and get what was ours. I’ll never forget the amount of sweat that formulated under my armpits that day.

Not much has changed. I’m still absolutely terrified of public speaking. My face usually turns bright red and I stumble over my words. It’s pretty painful, like watching a dog try to play a video game. You know it’s not possible because the dog doesn’t have opposable thumbs, but you just don’t have the heart to tell him that he should give up because he is embarrassing himself (and it’s kind of entertaining for you to watch).

The truth is, we’re all self-conscious — especially if it’s about something personal to us. We’re all afraid of the judgement that will follow after we share something with the world.

This morning, I read an inspiring blog post from my friend Allison Francis. She talks about how we should let go of our fears and share it anyway. You should definitely take the time to read the post in it’s entirety (especially if you are in a creative field). Her last paragraph is my favorite:

Let go of your insecurities. Get out of your head and into your soul. Answer the call to art and become a part of something bigger than you; embrace a power inaccessible to lone individuals. Create, create, create, and help make the world an inspiring place to live.

This term, I’m taking a creative writing class. We spend some time writing short entries, and sometimes that writing turns into something I’d like to continue with. I’ll probably never be able to give a speech without a red face, but here is to small steps…I’m going to start sharing some of my short stories on my blog under the category “Short Stories”  (very creative title, I know…).

Even if the stories suck, maybe you can laugh at my pathetic attempts at writing. Or, if there is a miracle worker out there, maybe you will watch my writing improve as the class progresses. Feedback is always welcome – it’s the only way I can improve!

p.s. Today’s writing prompt was Objective Correlative, which means we had to “use a symbolic article used to provide explicit, rather than implicit, access to such traditionally inexplicable concepts as emotion or color”. I don’t even know if I did this correctly, but heck, here goes nothing…

The Bus Stop

Dan sifted the dirt underneath his leather shoes, and waited for the next bus to arrive.

“I should have gotten a shoe shine,” he grumbled to himself.   “Hell, I didn’t even shave this morning,” he said, as his cold fingers stroked the graying stubble growth. “I guess it doesn’t really matter anymore…”

He mused to no one in particular, not even himself. Not a soul was even within earshot. That was just it; no one was there.

The bus stop taunted him with emptiness. After all, where would anyone want to go? Why would anyone have anywhere to be at 2 p.m. on a bleak Tuesday afternoon? Most people were busy shuffling about on their daily endeavors. Children were lacing up their shoes on the playground. Fathers were at work, furiously scratching away on yellow lined notepads. Mothers were sewing patches on the broken seams of the living room pillows.

Dan didn’t fit that lifestyle anymore. Instead, he was watching the rain drops slowly drip into larger formations of nothingness on the side of the bus stop at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday.

He recalled the last time that he was on a bus. A blue Dodgers cap had covered his slightly tousled hair – more hair than he has nowadays. He frantically checked his watch, each tick determining whether or not he would make it to the game on time. If it wasn’t for Jack, who felt the annoying urge to pick up every single stick along the way to the bus, they would already be cheering in the stadium.

“Hurry it up, Jack! We’re gonna be late,” Dan had told him, as he hustled him along by the arm. “I paid a lot of money for these tickets! The sticks will be there when you get back.”

The rumbling of the bus awoke Dan from his daydream, and he boarded the bus headed for Marisville Cemetery. He took a seat near the back, even though he was the only passenger on the bus. This time, he wasn’t wearing a baseball cap or checking his watch. Instead, he gazed out the window, and wished that he would have spent more time picking up sticks alongside of his son.

3. Curiosity Killed the Cat, But it Praised the Advertiser

When I was little (yes, here we go again with a personal anecdote), I used to beg my dad to take me to the library. Each time my mom had a “girls night” party at our house, my dad and I would hop into the ’93 Infiniti and head to the wealth of knowledge known as the public library. At the time, I never realized that this was all just part of my dad’s ploy to make me a genius while simultaneously escaping the frenzy of screaming middle-aged menopause, but I digress…

I would leap onto the brick pathway, scaling the wall like a spider monkey (I was a weird child if you haven’t picked that up yet), and after spending hours in the children’s section, I would check out at least 30 picture books. Usually, 28 of those 30 picture books were Curious George.

Curious George was a book I could relate to; first because I thought I was a spider monkey, and second because like George, I myself was curious. Also, my dad would occasionally wear a yellow hat (not really, but that would have made this story better).

Fast forward, and today in creative strategist we talked about account planning.

I am not an account planner. While I may have an obsession with plans and I use three different agendas each with increasing detail to map out my life, I want to be a writer. But the important message here is that the job title doesn’t matter.

To be a good advertiser, you need to be curious.

I first thought about curiosity during my Intel internship. Ironically enough, it was because we sponsored a television show on the Discovery Channel called “Curiosity”. They sent an announcement around about how we were sponsoring this new program, and I looked into it. One of the commercials that plays during this show is an interview with Genevieve Bell, Director of Interaction & Experience Research at Intel Corporation.

In this spot, she gives some great insight on what it means to be curious:

“Curiosity is what you can make people think about, and what you can make possible for them. Curiosity is not just about observing things; it’s about being changed by them.”

Before I discovered the show, I had never thought about how those ideas could play into advertising. Genevieve puts it all into perspective: “you have to know why people love the things that they already have to invent the next generation of things that they’re going to want”. 

As WPP planning guru Jon Steel puts it,

“The key to success is understanding the basics of the human condition.”

It’s time to stop thinking about audiences and start thinking about individuals. If you are curious and truly engage with a consumer, then you will achieve unparalleled results. Take an interest in people, and they will reciprocate that interest.

So, how can you be curious? Be like George the monkey. Look at things from a childlike perspective. Ask yourself what makes people the way they are. Ask WHY. Collect things. Curate interesting.

It’s not always about the answer — sometimes you learn the most when you reflect on how you got there.

This was an installation by Renee Alvarado, Corey Haugen, Holly Schnackenberg, Kristen Mohror, and Emily Papp. Check them out - sheer talent.

2. Ode to the 90’s

It would have been much cooler if I wrote this blog post in 2010 for the whole “decade” effect but alas…I just thought of this blog post today.

This post will either make you feel really old (if you’re in that baby boomer generation – news flash: you ARE old! Just kidding, Mom and Dad) or very nostalgic (if you have fond memories of watching that incredible Nickelodeon line up of Rugrats, Doug, Salute your Shorts and Clarissa Explains it All while eating Captain Crunch in your footie pajamas). But hey, nostalgia is always fun!

As a proud member of the Spice Girls, Doc Martens, glitter eyeshadow era, today I reminisced on all of the things I used to love back in the 1990s. It should come as no surprise if you read my last post that one of the things I loved about the 1990s was advertising. I wasn’t lying when I said I used to memorize jingles as a child. While most kids my age were enjoying the great outdoors, I would sit in my living room surrounded by my larger than life beanie baby collection (I SERIOUSLY thought those would be worth a fortune someday…This is why I don’t buy stocks) and I would recite commercials. Out of adoration and pure love of the 1990s, here is my ode to the best advertising of the good ol’ days (or at least the commercials I remember most from my childhood).

1. Sears Air Conditioning

Ahh, the Sears air-conditioning commercial. Although most people would probably put this in the category of “worst commercial ever”, I have some very fond memories of sitting in the back seat of my suburban with my best friend Kara on our way to soccer practice as we each dramatically acted out this scene. I always got to be the sweaty woman who “CAN’T STAND ANOTHER DAY WITHOUT AIRCONDITIONING!”. How could you not love a commercial with lines like:

“Says tomorrow’s gonna be hotter.
HOTTER!?
Like yesterday.
Yesterday you said you’d call Sears!
I’ll call today!
No, you’ll call now!
I’ll call now!”

and

“So, what’s the paper say about tomorrow?
ANOTHER SCORCHER….
COOL!!!”

Now THAT is some quality copywriting*! Regardless of the cheesiness factor, I must say that I STILL to this day can recite those lines word for word. Successful advertising? You tell me.
(*sarcasm)

2. Budweiser – Wazzaaaap

Admit it, you answered your landline phone like this for the entire year of 1999.

3. Taco Bell – Yo Quiero Taco Bell

I wanted a chihuahua very badly after this commercial. Later, I met a chihuahua for the first time and it bit my hand. Long story short, I should have approached the chihuahua with tacos. (Sidenote: chihuahua may be one of the most fun words to say).

4. Budweiser – Frogs

I used to have a mug that would play the sounds of these frogs when you tilted it. I miss that mug…

5. Daisy Sour Cream – Dollop

This is the sour cream ad that I referred to in my earlier post. I used to drive my parents crazy by singing this repeatedly while I put sour cream on my baked potatoes. This commercial is also the only reason why I even know what a “dollop” is. (sidenote: dollop is also a very fun word to say).

Don’t worry folks – this post has some educational value. From a more scholarly aspect, the changes that happened in ten years (eleven years…but ten sounds better) fascinate me. When I look back on these commercials, I can’t believe that they were successful. Aside from the obvious production advancements since these commercials first aired, one thing that stands out most to me is the cultural implications.

The “wazzap” commercial started an entire phenomenon. You couldn’t walk five steps on the playground without someone screaming “WAZZZAAAAAAAAAAAP” in your face. The Taco Bell ad has some subtle racism and stereotype generalizations that probably would not be accepted today, but at the time it was a huge hit. Don’t get me started on the Daisy and Sears ads — apparently the 90s were a big blur of straight sappiness. However, even though they were lame, I still could sing you the jingle or recite my lines flawlessly.

For me, these advertisements make me wonder. How will I look at advertising in the next ten years? To an outsider who watches these commercials, it would appear that the 90s were a carefree time of corny sensationalism, Boy Bands, and light-up shoes. How will the next generation of advertising shape our culture?

For creative strategists, we need to think about this. Do we really want to look back and have nothing to show but jingles and weird catchphrases? Or do we want to do something meaningful to shape the world?

1. WHY ADVERTISING?

It’s a scary time to be a future graduate. Every day I feel bombarded with messages that tell me I can’t do it:

The unemployment rate is too high.

We are in a recession.

In this economy, you should take whatever you can get.

When people ask me about my career goals, immediately following my overly excited response of copywriting!!! (with that many exclamation points) they say: “Why advertising?”

When I was eight, my elementary school held its first career day. Students dressed up as what they wanted to be when they grew up. Most students came to school dressed as doctors, lawyers, astronauts, and of course, Britney Spears (hey, it was the 90s).

I sat shyly in the corner of the classroom wearing plain clothes, a pencil behind my ear, and a notepad full of concept sketches. My classmates, blind with confusion as to why I wasn’t dressed extravagantly in pop star diva attire, spent the entire day interrogating me. “What’s an advertiser?” they’d say. Apparently, no one else my age spent their time memorizing commercials and singing jingles from sour cream ads…

My parents thought I would grow out of it. In kindergarten, I said I wanted to be a police officer (despite my lack of bravery). The next day, I claimed that culinary arts were my calling (despite my lack of baking skills). Yet as time passed, my passion for advertising remained. I grew up, but I never grew out of it.

This is me, when I wanted to be Batman. Then I realized I couldn't fly, and I'm not a man.

Ten years later, I started at the University of Oregon. My first class was Writing 121. I nervously took my seat in the middle of the classroom (I was too scared to sit in the front – total n00b) and saw “George Orwell: Why I Write – 1946” written on the board with chalk. Our first assignment was to read his essay, and then write our own version of “Why I Write”. I had always considered myself a good writer but through this reflection, I realized how much I truly enjoy writing. I had never thought about why I wrote, and this assignment made me understand my necessity to creatively express myself. However, it never struck me that it could be a career.

Sophomore year, I joined Allen Hall Advertising. It was almost by fluke – I had recently declared a journalism major and I needed a resume builder. I had no knowledge of advertising besides the lingering spark of interest from my elementary school days. Little did I know how fortunate I would be. I was completely taken aback by the innovation and creative thinking that surrounded me. I realized advertising is more than just persuading people to buy products — it has the capability to shift cultural ideologies and change the world for the better (more to come on that subject in a later blog post, if you don’t believe me). My time at the University of Oregon has allowed me to pick the brains of ad industry professionals and incredible student talent, and delve into the world that I am so passionate about.

It has been an interesting journey to find my professional identity. Some days I envision myself in that corner office, coming up with slogans on the spot like Don Draper (in a non-sexist, non-smoking, non-alcoholic sort of way). Other days, I read Ernie Schenck’s Be the Rabbit and wonder if I have what it takes to survive the cold, bitter slap of the advertising world. But that’s life; all I can do is try my best to live it.

What is my ultimate career goal? I want to be a writer at an advertising agency. How will I do this? Learn as much as I can about my passion – start small, educate myself, accept failure, learn, and grow. Why advertising? Because it’s time to make these dreams a reality, no matter how difficult it may be along the way.

A quote from my dad that inspired a page in my Idea Book. Thanks for always believing, Dad!

Stories from Childhood: The Capri Pants

It has been a while since my last post. This is not due to a lack of inspiration – I actually have a sticky note full of topics to blog about – but instead lack of time. I didn’t want to keep my billions of fans waiting anxiously for my next post (and by billions of fans I mean maybe 2 friends who I force to look at my blog) so I decided to start TWO NEW series of posts…

By popular demand, I will now be posting stories from my childhood, and embarrassing moments of my life. If you know me personally, you know that my life is one long sequence of embarrassing moments. This could be a terrible idea, but I decided to make most of these embarrassing stories public so that everyone else can have a good laugh at my expense. Also, my childhood was a joke, so I’ll tell some stories that my oldest friends enjoy. This particular story is a mix of both an embarrassing moment in my life, and my childhood. Here goes:

The fourth grade was the dawn of a new era. I was no longer a novice “primary” student, but I graduated to “intermediate” level. The big dogs. The fourth, fifth, and sixth graders. Elementary school wasn’t a cake walk anymore like the “primary” first, second, and third grades. Intermediate kids were the ones who passed the “Big Kahuna” multiplication test with flying colors and were now moving on to bigger and better things like outdoor school. The ones who gave Student Council speeches that promised soda in the water fountains. The ones who controlled the ins and outs of the four square court.

I remember the last night of summer ’99. I grazed the bark dust below the swing set with my scuffed Mary Janes, as I reminisced on my “primary” years. I turned to my friend Nora and said, “Man. I can’t believe we are going to be “intermediate”. We are getting SOOO old.” I was 10. The future looked bright.

Naturally, with the dawn of a new era, I had to make a statement – a fashion statement, that is. Out with the Mary Janes, in with the backless platform Jack Purcells, which adorned the feet of all cool intermediate kids. Out with the fold-over lacy socks. Out with the elastic-waisted jeans. This was the new millennium!

My mom called me upstairs for a surprise. A plastic T.J Maxx bag waited on the counter for me, daring me to open it. I carefully unfolded the purchase to find (brace yourself) a freshly pressed pair of khaki Capri pants!! Cue hallelujah symphony music.

Now, you may be saying to yourself, “Really? All of that excitement over Capris?” Well. Let me tell you. This was early 2000. Capris were not mainstream yet. They were the next hip fad, and I was about to be the driver of the bandwagon. I was about to be the coolest, best-dressed fourth grader to walk the playground.

The next morning, I strolled into school with confidence. Backless platform Jack Purcells laced up nicely, Glitter bejeweled sweater from Limited Too, Gap Kids visor to match, and of course, those fashionable Capris. I looked pretty damn good. First bell rings, and I already received three compliments on my pants.

The day carries on, and recess rolls around. I take my position on the four square court, when suddenly that familiar feeling lurks up and interferes with my game. I remember someone telling me that if I held my pee too long that my bladder would explode, so I decided it was best to take care of the situation. I calmly found a substitute, and Nora escorted me to the bathroom.

I unzip my fly, no biggie. But suddenly, trouble strikes. The button of the capris will not come undone. I did the nervous pee dance, where you stamp your feet up and down and look to the ceiling and beg for the pee gods to hold your pee for just a few seconds longer.

“What’s the hold up??” Nora asks anxiously. We had a four square game waiting on us.

I start sweating. This button will not come undone! Curse my mother and her bargain shopping!

Panic sets in. The button is literally too big for the hole! Why was it so easy for me to put on the capris but impossible to get that button undone!?

And then it happened. Slowly but surely. That terrible trickle. It ran down my legs, and tainted my Jack Purcells. I was an intermediate kid, and I just peed my pants.

I opened the stall with a defeated frown. Nora stared at the wet spot, wide-eyed.

“Its okay, Kelsey…We will just go to the office and no one will know!”

I dialed my home phone number. Each key burned my fingertips with a tinge of defeat. A few minutes later, while I sat on a parchment paper covered bench, my mom arrived with a fresh pair of clothes and some red licorice because she felt bad for me. There is nothing worse than when your parents pity you for peeing your pants.

“Nora, don’t tell ANYONE what just happened!”

After I had her word, we proceeded to the playground. I tried to act like everything was normal, but it wasn’t. I was ten and I just peed my pants! Intermediate kids didn’t do that. Sheer embarrassment. I was never going to get elected student council president, and my career as a cool fourth grader was ruined. As I approached the four square court with my head down, everyone giggled at me. Nora ended up telling the entire playground. At first I was mad, but then I realized that regardless of her secret keeping, they would have figured it out with my outfit change.

I have never worn Capri pants since…

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?) I do not have a picture of myself wearing the capris, but the above picture is from my first day of fourth grade. Clearly, my outfit exemplifies my keen eye for fashion…