Incite by Design

Caustic visions and shared thoughts on design, marketing, creativity, philanthropy, pop culture and business philosophy by Toronto design firm, Ricksticks Inc.


Selling "scary"

Happy Halloween Posted by Hello

Spend this Halloween in a room with a boo!

I can vouch for the Ghosts of Charleston, Charleston, S.C. - the tour is fun and Charleston is a fantastic romantic getaway if you have never been.

We are being pretty lazy this year, with respect to creatively playing up the holiday. No pumpkin. No costumes. No candy. Although I have pledged to do some kind of creative little giveaway next year.

Is anyone doing using Halloween in an ad campaign, or in any other creative fashion? Obviously the holiday works for some businesses better than others - but I am always open for ways to make doing business fun. I think Halloween, or Samhain, is really underappreciated.

Happy Halloween and Dia de los Muertos everyone!


Consumer Sophistication and Feeble Attempts

Kerry cooks his own goose

WASHINGTON In yet another attempt to prove to President George W. Bush that he is man enough to run this country, John Kerry made an animal sacrifice to the political gods in a cornfield in eastern Ohio last week.

Four dead geese are not too high a price to pay for a few rural, blue-collar votes in a swing state. As long as Kerry doesn't slip and ask Teresa to purée the carcasses into pâté.

Tromping about in a camouflage costume and toting a 12-gauge double-barreled shotgun that shrieked "I am not a merlot-loving, brie-eating, chatelaine-marrying dilettante," the Democratic nominee emerged from his shooting spree with three fellow hunters proclaiming, "Everybody got one, everybody got one," showing off a hand stained with goose blood.

I am always disappointed when I see a fairly decent guy pandering to the lowest common denominator to score points. I should not be surprised by this, but I am always taken aback when I see Kerry out doing the hunting and fishing thing. It seems to obviously contrived, but I guess since so many voters are prepared to vote for the Repugnant-ans, I guess they are pretty darn gullible.

Stepping off of today's political soapbox, I am reminded of my morning discussion regarding the new sophisticated, ad-savvy consumer. While there's a lot of debate among marketing and advertising folk about what constitutes true talk versus fluff, I seldom hear from business owners and entrepreneurs. I'm curious how many of us get direct feedback from consumers and clients about the nature of our marketing campaigns and how they feel about the methodology. Don't delude yourself - more of them "get" the methodology then some of us are prepared to admit.

Quite a few marketing blogs are becoming evangelical about the moral implications of branding. I know I have been in many a good discussions about truth telling and boundaries. Many colleagues of mine have a general disdain for marketing - selling has become a dirty word. I have even found myself shaking my head when I see the next telecommunications company or automobile manufacturer playing up family values and related emotions in the their commercials and ads, interlinking the object with the emotion, as though the emotion would not occur without the benefits of the object being sold. It is stinky.

Maybe some believe that the object they are selling is inherently valuable and will increase a deep sense of emotional connectedness in the buyer? Maybe.

I, for one, am delighted that the new consumer is demanding proof, evaluating the facts, and seeking practical answers to why the product should be purchased. Maybe if there was more discrepancy before the buy our landfills wouldn't be filling up at the rate they are.


There's always the after life...

Feeling down because you haven't yet made your fortune? There's a lot of money to be made posthumously...

Reaping Millions After Death

I wonder what would happen if the families and legal estate holders were to hand over all monies received to charity? I know I would feel a lot better about the cost of a ticket in to Graceland or that next bottle of Love Me Tender Lotion if I knew if the proceeds were going to a good cause.


E-Book Versus traditional Print Publishing

When Ross Yockey and his daughter, Beth, wanted to write a book parodying the national No Child Left Behind educational standards, they had no time or interest in the traditional book publishing route.

Read more... Do-it-yourself book publishing takes off on the Web

I know many of you out there have gone this route with you own book(s). I'm curious how successful the process was for you? What were the positives vs. negatives?

This is avenue that I have been considering as I am currently seeking a publisher for a book of poems and photographs (a collaboration with photographer, Elizabeth Siegfried).



Too Much Information

I have been attempting to compile a list of must-reads for our business. It's a way for staff and management to stay abreast of the latest news and views relating to design, technology, marketing, and business and to keep creativity fresh.

Some of our weekly reads include:

- How
- Applied Arts
- Profit
- Strategy Magazine
- Red Herring

and of course, all of the blogs I have listed.

I'm curious - what are your must-reads and why?




I am not someone for whom "campy" is a strong selling point. But whatever William Shatner has, it's easily translated into dollar bills.

Not only has his recent album received loads of attention (with the help of some recognizable collaborative artists), he's appeared on more tv shows and commercials than I care to name. This Shatner phenomenon is about as close to Elvis as we will get with living, trans-generational icons.

Can anyone else think of a celeb that is as campy and successful? The guy is popping up everywhere!

Our particular favorite Shatner moment is the Crest Night Effects commercial - the dreaming?!The dancing?!

What corny icon speaks to you?



Super-Size my McLogo please!

McDonald's will be dropping its logo from its new ads in Britain. Wow.

Looks like the people are finally winning this battle. Overstuffed on burgers, consumers are becoming more educated on the food facts: grease will kill you. Or at least, it will lead to obesity.

The replacement for the old logo will be a question mark. You can see a sample here.

The move is a clear demonstration of how much an organization's identity can be tied to a mark. The double arches now symbolize the old McDonalds: burgers, fries, shakes. The question mark somehow must embody salads, wraps, and soy milk.

A question mark?

The copy: "McDonald's. But not as you know it" might be in reference to the old Star Trek, "It's Life, Jim, but not as we know it."

Healthy eating... the Final Frontier. These are the desperations of the restaurant, McDonald's. Possibly, a five year mission: to explore strange new foods, to seek out new beverages and new menu items. To boldly go where conscientious eateries have gone before....




"What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us. What we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal." - Albert Pine

We are getting ready for our first student intern at the firm. While we have worked with new grads, this is our first 18 year old, fresh-out-of-high-school student to emerge on the scene. Believe it or not, we are pretty enthusiastic. It's a good chance to give back to the community and provide a learning opportunity to someone with a burgeoning interest in design.

In Toronto, internships can be hard to come by. There's a lot of competition out there for internship spots with popular industries, design being one. We are pleased to be able to carve a niche for mentoring - and as most of you who run your own business know, time is limited.

This opportunity has me really thinking about the importance of mentoring and being mentored. Rick, being the creative director and founder of the firm, has had a lot of difficulty finding a mentor who is both involved in a creative field and is a business owner. As an entrepreneur in a creative field, sometimes finding likemindeds can be pretty tough.

I can sympathize - although as a writer it's a little easier - it's difficult to find a mentor who has experience in both running their own business and creative ability. (Anyone want to volunteer?) It's probably not for lack of these qualities in potential mentors, but rather it's finding the time to share with others. Or, at times, it's that "knowledge hoarding" I spoke of in a previous post.

This challenge in finding our own mentors has driven us to want to mentor others. Leading by example and sharing your life's wisdom with upcoming students has an impact that is far reaching. I have spoken to countless friends and colleagues, and almost everyone of them have at least 1 person who has really challenged and inspired them. It's more than gaining knowledge - it's a lesson in humility, trust, sharing, and character development.

On some level we are all mentors, whether we intend to be or not. Our actions and attitude are witnessed every day. Scary thought! Especially when we are not at our best or brightest. Even as passive mentors, we reflect our chosen role and leave an impression on those fledglings in our path.

To directly mentor is to accept the challenge of being truly accountable, understanding the role we have and using it to serve others. It can be both gratifying and terrifying, depending on how you look at it. Personally, our firm is excited about providing an example to a student and, in turn, learning a little about ourselves along the way.

What's your experience with mentoring? Who has been/is a positive role model for you?



Happy Thanksgiving, Canada!! Posted by Hello


Beating a dead horse...

Rick and I were watching tv the other night and happened to see the latest Subway commercial. Is it just us, or is it really lackluster? The script is unbelievably tiresome. I am unsure how good a contract Jared has, but these commercials need some revitalization and fast!

What ad campaign do you think has gone a little stale?



Those Fleeting First Impressions

I've been thinking a lot of first impressions and the reasonable amount of importance we, as business owners and professionals, place on them.

Despite the progressive changes being made in the manner in which we conduct ourselves at the office or over lunch, there's still much talk about how good first impressions can really make or break a deal. We're not so unlike other animals, relying on physical appearance and body language to determine our next action or response.

But what does occur to me is the artificial ways in which we go about creating that impression. There's no fixed rule that good first impressions are made by way of a suit and tie, or being a good listener, or fine tuning the art of the handshake. While all of these things are fine, too many other people use the same techniques.

Am I going to be particularly dazzled by the guy or gal in a nice blue suit, when there's a sea of conservatively dressed, well mannered professionals around? Now, I am not suggesting a week without a shower and a turquoise dinner jacket. What I am suggesting is that making a first impression means more than donning the standard garb and cliches.

I've always found that a person with genuine enthusiasm for what they do will create lasting impressions. Their passion is contagious and memorable. They get away with eccentricity or unorthodox dress because it adds to their already interesting charm.

An example of this would be the impression Hugh MacLeod left on me with his blog, Gaping Void. For anyone who has read Hugh's blog, you'll understand what I mean when I say it is quirky, smart, and irreverent. Very irreverent, in fact. For a prudish North American like myself - hah - the language and sexuality displayed can seem somewhat shocking. But with a little time invested in reading the content, you realize you've stumbled across one of those people with a genuine passion for what they do. His enthusiasm is contagious.

As much as I'd like to avoid the "to thine own self be true" mantra - there's a lot to that simple concept that cannot be overlooked.

Don't get locked into the sterilized version of what you're supposed to look like, do, and say. There are too many robotic business people out there already.

When you are following your heart, inspired by your work, and deeply interested in learning - great first impressions will follow.


Ding * Dong, The Ads are Dead

What is it with the Yellow Pages that makes us cling so desperately to them?

I am meeting with yet another Yellow Pages rep tomorrow - which is another point of contention for me - every time I get comfortable with a rep, they send me a new one. Of course, the new sales rep is going to try their hardest to sell my client (a law firm) the biggest ads possible. This will never happen. We have the YP figured out, you see. (smug smile)

After a few years of careful analysis and calculated tactics that would put a skilled mathematician to shame, we've yet to see worthwhile return on investment. At first, I thought it had something to do with placement and / or ad notice-ability, so we tried some of our clever-est tactics - still, to no avail. The return is simply not where it should be to justify the cost.

After some discussion with a few legal professionals, I have come to believe that for higher end businesses, phone book listings are just not worthwhile.

Now maybe I am deluding myself, and I am fully prepared to eat crow if I am wrong, but I don't think the level of clientele our law firm is looking for is going to happen via a phone book. And my careful encouragement, along with their general frustration with the limitations of the Yellow Pages, is moving the firm toward a radical re-thinking of ad campaigns.

While we aren't prepared to fully nix the ads, we are putting more emphasis on fueling the fires we want to light through presentations and workshops, PR arenas that attract the upper echelon of local businesses. Putting more energy and money into public speaking and writing certainly requires more of the lawyers, but it pays off.

What almost all of us as marketers are finding, something that crosses the boundaries of every industry, is that consumers are ad-underinspired. Frankly, we have to work harder to grab their attention, and harder still to get them to act. I just don't feel like the telephone book ads are worth their weight (despite the desperate attempts by the reps to sell those full pagers).

Has anyone else abandoned the phone book ads for greener pastures? What new vehicle has replaced those YP ads for you?



Lazy weekend blogging

It's my birthday today, so I am going to slack on the blog writing, but I wish everyone a lovely weekend. I will be partying like it' evening at the nursing home (which will entail dinner, a movie, and in bed by 10 pm).

Happy birthday to all the other Libra babies, too.