A Top 20 USA Business & Marketing Podcast

Marketing Made Sense - Episode 3 - 2018 State of Creative - Big Ideas Still Sell - Special guest Mike Weston, 30 year ad agency veteran and Chief Creative Officer of DOM360. Mike has worked on campaigns like Gillette “The best a man can get” and other award winning creative work spanning the country. Mike and Ryan have a candid discussion about the state of marketing in 2018 and specifically the creative process in a Digital-first world.

Marketing Made Sense - Episode 3 - 2018 State of Creative - Big Ideas Still Sell - Special guest Mike Weston, 30 year ad agency veteran and Chief Creative Officer of DOM360. Mike has worked on campaigns like Gillette “The best a man can get” and other award winning creative work spanning the country. Mike and Ryan have a candid discussion about the state of marketing in 2018 and specifically the creative process in a Digital-first world.


Ryan Alford [00:00:20] Hey, guys, what's up? I'm super stoked about today's episode. A great friend and colleague from the last 15 years joined me on the podcast, Mike West- a legend in the ad game. I'll call him that, even if he doesn't call it on himself. Everything from… “The Best A Man Can Get” at Gillette, to some of the best work at WB Doner and the biggest agencies in the country. You don't get this access anywhere to such creative talent. Mike and I are lucky enough to have had two rounds of working together and thrilled to have him on the podcast to share his perspective on creativity in 2018. We really dig into how much things have changed in the game as far as the mediums go, but in reality, how much the big idea still reigns the day and that gets lost a little bit in the tactics. I think everyone's moving so fast sometimes the ideas need a little time to percolate. We’ll talk about that. We certainly don't come at it. We're adapting. We're embracing. We're doing some award-winning work within the constraints of the mediums that we have. But we do talk about the importance of strategy, the importance of a big idea, the points of collaboration, and I'm really happy to have Mike on the episode today. I hope you enjoy it. 

Ryan Alford [00:01:47] Hey, guys, what's happening? Ryan Alford here. I'm joined today by a good friend and the creative director here at our agency, Mike Weston. Mike and I have worked together for a number of years, a couple of different agencies. Mike has a ton of experience in the ad game. As we talk about marketing topics, we really thought it would be interesting to talk about it as much has changed in the game and in the space with digital and the medium's creativity in 2018, it is still vastly important and it comes down to a lot of different things. I wanted to get Mike's perspective on this and wrap a little bit about what we've seen in our experiences across the industry, both recently and in the past. And again, as much as things have changed, a lot of it stayed the same. Mike, tell everybody a little bit about yourself. I know you've been at the who's who agency. So, again, talk a little bit about it for our new audience. 

Mike Weston [00:03:04] Sure. I started my career at BBDO in New York, my hometown. It was an incredible experience. I was part of a lot of great teams, probably most notably the vigilante team. And I was on the team that actually coined the tagline “The Best America Can Get,” which they're still using. It's pretty iconic. 

Ryan Alford [00:03:28] I've heard of that one. 

Mike Weston [00:03:30] They've changed agencies, but they haven't changed taglines. So I thought that was pretty good. From there I moved to Detroit. I worked for a place called WB Doner, and that's where I got my real first taste of automotive. I worked on their tier-two dealership group and it was basically dealership associations around the country. From there, we bounced around to Kalamazoo. That's a long story. We were in Nashville for a little while up in Louisville, where I probably had one of my best agency gigs. That was at a place called Doe-Anderson. There I was responsible for all the creative on Valvoline. Valvoline- it's an oil change, Kentucky lottery, and really most notably Maker's Mark Bourbon, which was an absolutely incredible experience to see where that brand is today. No thanks to me. But to see where that brand is today is pretty incredible. Having come from Bardstown, Kentucky is a very small batch of bourbon. But I guess we shouldn't mix drinking and driving. 

Ryan Alford [00:04:40] Yeah, we do a lot of automotive now. 

Mike Weston [00:04:42] We sure do. I think I've been in this business for more years than I can remember, but I've had to learn about everything from the last 25 years as a result of digital, and it's a huge influence in the industry. I tell Ryan this all the time. The big ideas still matter. Digital is a tactic l outdoor, like television. Digital is a tactic. At least I'd like to think I know Ryan shares this opinion that the big idea is still really important. Two weeks ago, we were all glued to our sets to watch the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl has become this phenomenon, this national holiday, this gathering. It's not to watch the game. Although,  I'm a New York Jets fan. I was very happy to see New England. But, we're all drawn to that because we want to watch the commercials. Everybody tunes in to watch the sports and afterwards, everyone ranks them. All the publications ranked them. People at work around the water cooler the next day rank those spots based on a lot of different criteria. And most notably, do I remember it? Did it move me? Did it make me laugh? Did it make me cry? Did it make me get up and go get a beer? Because it wasn't that interesting. So it is a testament to the fact that advertising and the big idea really matters. I always preach to my clients that creativity does matter. Consumers are exposed to around 8 to 10 thousand ad messages a day, if you can believe it, depending upon where you are. It's true. It's absolutely insane. There's this preponderance of yelling and selling, the stuff that is so forgettable and it's a sea of sameness out there. So how do you make sure your ship stands out on that sea of sameness? And it's a big idea. It's evidenced by all sorts of great marketers who get it. Geico and all their characters and all the campaigns that they've been doing, the bang homes, the big idea, the unique selling proposition of 15 minutes could save you fifteen per cent or more, the mayhem spot, the farmer's insurance stuff. What's really interesting here is I've cited three different spots from three different insurance companies. It wasn't that many years ago that insurance company ads were absolutely dreadful. 

Ryan Alford [00:07:21] Yes, State Farm. I mean, jab yourself in the eye, seeing another agent walk down the street.

Mike Weston [00:07:27] Exactly “We love you”. “We were there for you” and everybody was saying the same thing until Geico started the ball rolling in that category.  Honestly, what we've been able to do for the clients at DOM360 who really get it, who don't want to be those guys yelling and selling in their parking lot, shot badly, miked horribly, screaming prices, insulting your intelligence. The guys that don't want to do that have allowed us to do some work that honestly we're pretty proud of. 

Ryan Alford [00:07:55] What's interesting is I'm rereading Ogilvy on advertising these days and it'll tug at your heartstrings.  What's funny is, I would say 95 percent of what David says is absolutely true today.  And, number 4 on his list was The Big Idea. I was looking at that list, reading the back cover. So I'll go down his list. I’d like to get my perspective on this. It was the number one list that made me gasp when I first saw it. So I wish I had thought of it myself. Is it unique? Does it fit the strategy to perfection and could it be used for thirty years? Those are the 5 principles that he talks about for how to identify a big idea. And it's so true today.  We work at a digital agency and Mike talked about this a little bit and we're doing some really complete edge stuff with influencers video, you name the screen or even with some voice things, we're doing it. But it's still about resonating and creating emotion and creating a lasting impression with consumers. One thing that pains us both is the speed with which things are happening that you don't get as much reflection on some of these things. We're proud of the work that we do, but I think when we're catching our breath, we both look at each other and go, “man, we wish we could have done or thought about it that way”. It's so interesting how a lot of those things are still the same. 

Mike Weston [00:09:52] I think that's a net result of digital and the mentality of our society that is that “We want it now." This seems an eternity now, but I sit down with the copywriting partner and we concept for weeks. Those days are long gone. We used to craft our ads. We used to take time writing copies. We used to take time kerning, typing and making sure the layouts, the ads were absolutely perfect. Unfortunately, I think while the big idea is still incredibly important, I think the craft has gone out of the business too. That may or may not be important to most folks, but I know it does still matter to me. I'm amazed at these talented designers that I work with who really don't understand kerning and that sort of stuff. They're absolutely amazed at the difference it can make in the work they do, day to day, when there's time for it, that's the problem. I like to say there's never a time to do it but there's always time to do it over. 

Ryan Alford [00:10:56] Never a true statement. So talk to me, Mike, having the background and the experience that you do. You've seen it all now, from the biggest client with the biggest budget to some of the budgets that we deal with now. What are the things that maybe even knowing that and seeing those things are the things that get you excited as far as the technologies or maybe the avenues of creativity? You and I could rap forever about some of the things we wish were still a certain way, but I think we both are embracing the technologies and doing some incredible things.  Are there certain things or things that have gotten you excited or platforms or technologies in general, things that you're thinking about as far as ideation goes? 

Mike Weston [00:11:51] You mentioned budgets and big clients and I have discovered there's really a direct correlation between the bigger the budget the worse the work is. I've had million-dollar budgets on stuff that's not even in my portfolio anymore. It was a fun shoot. We went to L.A. It was a cast of thousands, blah, blah, blah. But at the end of the day, it didn't work out the way I was incredibly proud of. I think some of the stuff I'm most proud of that have been recognized by various awards organizations are the things that have very little budget. We were able to develop these big ideas. We forced it to keep it simple, but it was still a big idea. So a big budget doesn't always get you a big idea. I think what's really exciting is we've had to relearn to stay relevant. If we stuck to the way we did things 10, 15 years ago, I don't think either one of us would be employed right now. We had to become Google certified. We had to worship at the foot of the duopoly, Facebook and Google and learn all those things. I think the things that are really digging now and now are social media themselves, and especially these pre roles on Google because they have to be extraordinarily entertaining to captivate people. Nobody wants to go to YouTube and watch a commercial. If they have to watch the commercials, you better make sure it's entertaining for them. We have a campaign that we've running now with a lot of success and a lot of our different clients are picking it up. And we're utilizing one of those things that people love to go to YouTube for, and that fails. It's schadenfreude. Everyone loves to take comfort in someone else's pain or misery or mishap. That's why fails are so incredibly popular. What we were able to do is leverage car and truck fails and some other fails in other different situations like sledging and skiing and turn them into pre roles that are actually being watched from start to finish. They call it a view-through rate to Google. According to them, a 15 per cent view-through rate is extraordinarily successful. I mean, that's good. These pre roles have been getting upwards of 30 per cent view-through rates. Then the spots themselves are as entertaining and interesting as they are. I'll take my success wherever I can get it. That's one place where I'm pretty proud of what we've done. Believe me, it wasn't for a lot of money. 

Ryan Alford [00:14:30] And what's interesting, Mike, is that idea is not only interesting, we're proud of it, but it's driving brand recognition for our clients. The brand recall has doubled. Not to pat you on the back here, but I'm going to do it. I think we've won a little hardware, it appears at the end of the month. We've added in some local ADDY awards, as I recall. I think that was one of the other winners. We don't know what it is yet, but yeah, we're getting recognition for it. 

Mike Weston [00:15:06] You're right. But I think that ADDY’s is a really good benchmark, a barometer for moving on to more national stuff, getting recognition on the national level. I've got my fingers crossed. We'll see what happens then. 

Ryan Alford [00:15:20] That's interesting. It's funny we talk about television and we're a digital-first agency. We talk about TV and we talk about the power of the Internet and all of that. But what's interesting to me is how so many people get caught up in the screens no matter where they're watching it. I don't know where the magic happens or why people get so pants in the water a little bit, oh, it's for a TV spot. Oh, it's for digital.  I think we've been successful with some of the most recent work being screen agnostic, whether it was the fitness center work we've done. We've done a couple of different fitness centers, though, some high energy stuff that went online on Instagram. Then we've done some TV spots for a local partner here. I think it's fascinating. I think to this day the differentiation still gets held up, but really it's still about the ID and attention no matter where they're watching it. 

Mike Weston [00:16:32] I agree. The other thing that I've really grown to really love is the various social media outlets, Facebook and Instagram, where we're posting a lot of really fun, interesting stuff. You don't have to wait for the Nielsen ratings to come out to see whether or not this resonated with the viewers, because some of the stuff's gotten hundreds of likes, and that's pretty exciting, too. It's a small thing, but it really matters. It's the Wild West, I'll be honest with you. We don't have to go through a lot of layers here. We don't have speed bumps internally or externally. It seems that social media is wide open, of course, within reason. We want to keep it moral. We want to keep it ethical, but you want to entertain. You want to make them smile. You want to make them laugh. You want to make them cry. You want to move them somehow. And, that's no different with social media. I'm amazed at the amount of that stuff that we pump out and how creative it can really be. It's really a nod to some of the talented people we have here.

Ryan Alford [00:17:46] I know you do some side projects. When I have guests on, I like to talk about what they do in their spare time and then you do some artistic stuff. I tell you, I want to get a plugin. What do you do? I know you do. Tell the story. A couple of clients that we visit are out in the middle of nowhere.  Mike and I were in the car a lot together, and we were driving down this country road in Atlanta. There's some interesting folk out that way. But nonetheless, we're in the middle of nowhere, and Mike says, stop, stop, stop. I have no idea what we're stopping for.  I think it was some beat-up barn or something. Before I could even say anything, he’s out of the car, he’s grabbing scrap metal from the side of the road. I know you do some cool stuff with that. What's that all about? 

Mike Weston [00:18:44] Born in the Bronx, but raised in the south, during my adventures in Greenville. We're really fortunate to live in an incredible place. It's absolutely gorgeous. I'm a motorcycle enthusiast and I have a group of guys. Our wives call us Wild Hogs derisively. But, we cruise around back roads and stuff in the mountains.  I started noticing all these dilapidated old houses and barns and the wonderful tin roofs they have on them. Each piece of tin is totally different, like a fingerprint. I love creating stencils. I dabble in painting, but I love doing stencils on the black and white, and high contrast. So I create stencils and I thought wouldn't it be cool to start doing stencils on this tin. So I started collecting the tin. I would drive around and borrow it from different properties, hoping I get shot. And I started creating these tins and they started taking off. I started giving them to people and they were loving them. I was getting more requests for them. I remember one time I read a white elephant Christmas party and they had a fight over the good stuff. And they were actually fighting over one of my tins.  I said to my wife, maybe I'm onto something. I'm going to try this. I have a site on Etsy and it's been moderately successful. I haven't really actively promoted it. Our SEM guys have been helping me as far as keywords and things to draw more attention to. I've been getting a lot of visitors lately but not a ton of sales. It's a nod to see Rock City, which is pretty iconic. Around the South Bronx city, is this place in Chattanooga, back in the day and to this day, they actually paint their messages on the tops of old roofs, tin roofs, barns on the side of highways. I was inspired by that. So I've done John Wayne, Johnny Cash, pigs, roosters, dogs, you name and all sorts of stuff. I get custom orders for things. So it's a nice little diversion. My creative hair down.

Ryan Alford [00:20:53] About to say creative day and night, and we can. Well, Mike is the chief creative officer here at DOM360 and appreciate him being on today and we'll talk with you soon. Thanks, Mike. 

Mike Weston [00:21:09] Thank you, Ryan.