5 Mar 2006

Jim Riswold-hip, self-aware, slightly absurd, and completely original

In his latest post, Luca Vergano presents a very enticing interview with Jim Riswold, a famous copywriter who has worked with Wieden&Kennedy for 21 years, creating memorable work such as "Bo Knows" featuring Bo Jackson, great spots featuring Michael Jordan, the inspired teaming of Jordan and Spike Lee in the Spike and Mike commercials, "Hare Jordan" featuring Bugs Bunny, "I am Not a Role Model" starring Charles Barkley, Lou Reed selling Hondas, "I am Tiger Woods", to name just a few. Everything he says is interesting (how couldn't it be?), but i wanted to mention here three particular things. Four, come to think about it, if i include the aspect which i loved the most, namely that the guy's got a strong background in philosophy (just like me), and that this "eclectic background" helped him a lot, by providing him a particular, different perspective when looking at the world.
First, "I always tried to take an element of something that I was interested in, and mix it with something else to create a hybrid that was different. You know like, what would happen if you put these opposites in a pot together and shook it up and took it out? That's what I tried to do. A lot of it is instinct—no amount of research would have told you, "If you put Bo Jackson with Bo Diddly, the kids are gonna love it." [...]But the idea is, you use it to create something new. And I think that becomes a stronger form of communication because you're creating popular culture, rather than just taking it". It's really important to create something both different, and relevant, yet this is so many times mistaken with creating something new and extravagant, for the sake of shocking, rather than understanding the target.
Second, "I can look at a lot of commercials and say, well, they got that from Seinfeld, and that came from an old SportsCenter commercial, and so on. But that kind of borrowing doesn't really work. Often by the time they produce the commercial on what they thought was hot, the culture has moved beyond it and they just look foolish." This is why W&K Honda commercials appealed to me in the first place. They seemed to be actually willing to transmit something, they seemed to have analysed and understood the people they're trying to talk to, and they seemed to be talking their own language. Express their brand values as attempts to build a powerful relationship with the target, and doing this in their very own original, particular way. And i wasn't working in advertising when i first saw "Cog" and had these thoughts.
Third, "the best advertising comes from people who are willing to make glorious mistakes. Is this new? No, Bernbach was saying the same thing in the '60s, so maybe it just cycles through, and now we're in a period where a lot of people don't want to make mistakes. Nothing will come of that kind of advertising.[...]at the end of the day, whether you are communicating on balloons or skywriting or whatever, it still comes down to this—you have to have a great f---ing idea. People aren't talking about that much, but it remains the constant: You need a great idea that moves people, hits them in their gut."

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