Context before Concept.

Like any experienced creative type, I’ve got an unwritten list of rules that I alternately cleave to or break on a daily basis. One that proves surprisingly resilient is “Always understand the context before wasting time on the concept.”

I was reminded of this maxim when I saw this maximum impact creative for the Swedish drug store chain Apotek:

Apotek Hjärtat – Blowing in The Wind from Ourwork on Vimeo.

This is just so damn smart—and so good it makes me sick (my barometer for the quality of work: the more self-loathing I feel for not being involved in the creation of it, the better it is.)

And the worst part is, until the creative team at Perfect Fools talks, it’s impossible to tell if my little rule of thumb sucks or not. Nice work, jäkels.

- D.P. Knudten

iWhy no iTV?

People been harshing on my bro Apple for not living up to their expectations about an Apple TV that’s not just a black puck that hooks up to a real TV. And they’re claiming Apple’s lost its innovative edge.

Me, I think they’re just doing what they’ve always tried to do: bake the whole cake before serving.

Yes, I know about all the fill in the blank-gates (e.g., Antenna-Gate) and have to admit they are nowhere near perfect in this regard. But they try. Hard.

You don’t need to look far for an example: iPod/iTunes. I don’t separate the two because you can’t (at least in Apple’s cook book.) The one without the other was just a commodity. Together, they’re premium.

And here’s the thing about the missing, mythical iTV:
it lacks the codecrack Jobs hinted about.
And I’m guessing that crack is just about here, and you’ll be able to order it á la carte.

Do you think for one second the technology for an iTV doesn’t exist already? Of course it does. But the thing that needs to be nailed down beyond possibility of reversal is content. As in ‘you pick the channels you want’ apps or whatever. Such apps/channels are right there in front of your face if you’re a current Apple TV owner. I had no idea what Crunchyroll was—until it showed up on my Apple TV menu. Turns out it’s a…wait for it…subscription-based purveyor of animé and Pacific Rim pop-culture.

Come to think of it, there are more and more subscription-based channels out there AND THEY ALL SEEM TO BE SHOWING UP ON MY APPLE TV MENU!

Hmmm. I think I see a pattern here.

The Beatles’ music wasn’t available via iTunes for a long time, ’cause if you’re the Beatles, you don’t need iTunes. But eventually, the terms we’re ironed out (long after iTunes had not only proved it’s viability, but it’s near omnipotence in the music industry.)

Can better-than-broadcast TV-quality content be far behind for Apple TV/iTV? Not if you ask him:
or her:
Piper and Larry reunite under Thompson's watch
or them:

It’s already here. And proving tremendously popular—on iPhone, iPad, and…well, you know.

My personal prognostication: When there’s a critical mass of the very best á al carte content available (I’m talking ’bout you, HBO), there will be an iTV—even if they can’t call it that.

- D.P. Knudten

Gamification clarification.

I had a recent meeting with a client where I did what I too often do: use a relatively obscure term that requires a level of ‘get-it-ness’ that has yet to penetrate the popular consciousness. That term is ‘gamification.’

The easy definition? Take the techniques games use to delight their players, and apply them to non-game entities and actions. Need an example? Try this:

Dyson vacuum really suck. And that's a good thing.

• Use of color and design to elicit visual interest and tactile engagement? Check.
• Monitorable feedback indicating incremental success toward ultimate goal? Check.
• Optimized for replicable pleasure response even after repeated play? Check.
Yup, it’s a game.

I’m talking about vacuuming for Hoover’s sake. Dyson took a mundane, even hated, household chore and recreated it into a game called ‘holy moly, look at the crap I pulled out of my carpet—I wonder have many times I can fill the canister.’ And to some (including me) it’s as addictive as Candy Crush. That’s how my beloved wife gets me to vacuum. Not as often as she’d like (we’re seeing a therapist about this), but still, she knows she can sic me on doing the Dyson and I’m good for a couple of hours (as long as my back-queue of Radiolab podcasts holds out).

Dyson gamified a chore. And became a billionaire in the process.

Gamification is nothing new.
Remember Tom Sawyer? A fence that needed whitewashing?
And how he got others to do if for him?
Call it Twainian gamification.

Said client (referred to above) took mild offense because he perceived ‘gamification’ to be a ‘too fey’ description for what his very serious company was doing. I get that, but come on, if gamification can sell your service/product like Dyson sells vacuums, wouldn’t you just love that?

That’s what I thought. Call it ‘user interface simplification and addictive usage amplification’ if your MBA needs you to. But really, it’s called ‘gamification.’

- D.P. Knudten

Three chords + truth = (part II)

Just a quick post about a song that’s on perma-repeat in my iObsess list. It’s stylistically pretty far afield from purebred country (like part I here) but the performer’s pedigree in that genre is rock solid. I’m talking about Jennifer Nettles. Of Sugarland. And this:

Jennifer Nettles “That Girl” from Crosby Carter Management on Vimeo.

Woh. Jennifer Nettles x 2. Duh-ang.

But the song, oh my lawd, what a great tune. The arrangement, the instrumentation, the fact that a guitar hack like me can solo along with it in first position and sound pretty dang cool? Oh man, and the holla back to this absolutely foundational Pigeon-Forged piece of Partonian perfection?


Tell a timeless story and you’ve got a timeless song. Both of them. And somebody tell Jennifer for me: ‘Girl, you don’t need the guy in the hat when you cook like that.’

Kudos to JN, Butch Walker and producer Rick Rubin on a song that kills.


Just saw the full album drops January 14. You can preview it right now on iTunes.

About my Zuckerbirthday.

All of you kind Facebook folks who wish me a “Happy Birthday” every January 1st need to stop. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the greeting (which I most certainly do, especially from those I haven’t seen in decades) but…it’s not actually my birthday.

January 1, 1901 is my Zuckerbirthday—the bogus date I selected when I first signed up for Facebook a long, long time ago.

Why? Because I’m a natural contrarian who doesn’t like making marketers lives any easier. And I work in marketing.

I remember getting one of those “register your product” tip-in cards when I bought a radio as a kid. The card was asking for every bit a data about myself just this side of shoe size, and even at age 13 I couldn’t help wondering what they needed it for. Years later I discovered the nefarious ways of database direct marketing and put two and two together.

So Mark, thanks for asking, but do not get to know my real birthday (guess you’ll just have to Google it.)

- dp

Beyoncé zags.

Big news today: Beyoncé dropped a new album

Beyoncé is Marketing Fierce.
Bigger news today: the way Beyoncé dropped her new album.

Now we all know Beyoncé is a force of nature that demands attention. And she’s getting it. But the cool thing about this (to me) is that the lady (and her marketing team) clearly understands an old chestnut of marketing: When everybody else is zigging, you zag.

I mean, come on, this is the most crowded, noisy, and just plain annoying time of the year for a marketer. Everybody with something to sell is on a soap box with a bullhorn vying for your “holiday party/gift buying/dealing with family issues/oh my GAWD just make it stop” attention. So what’s Queen B do. Release her latest album (just in time for holiday gift giving BTW). In the middle of the night. Via Instagram (to her over 7MM followers.)

Beyoncé's Instagram release.

What do you think the traditional media are going to do about this? Play catch up by featuring it all day long. I would LOVE to see the earned media value this move generates. My guess? It’ll be in the millions.

Pity any other recording artist who’s releasing an album today. Or anybody shilling anything today for that matter.

Beyoncé is Marketing Fierce.

- D.P. Knudten

Spare me your dystopia.

I get it. Things aren’t all rainbows, unicorns and flying cars. Life is a struggle. Always has been. Always will be. But enough already.

The Hunger Games, The Walking Dead, Doomsday Preppers, Left 4 Dead, Minority Report; a non-stop diet like this leads to mindless nihilism—or the necessary purgatives of Duck Dynasty, anything Disney, and K-Pop.

Dystopias can be fun (Get the zombie, Rick!), but overdose on it and you’re the problem. Suddenly every turban is a terrorist. Every hoodie hides a hood up to no good. And your next-door neighbor is coveting your ass. Please.

Such things are fiction, people. Remember the Harmonic Convergence? Y2K? The Mayan Apocalypse? Not such a big deal after all—when you think about it.

Fear is the mind-killer. And dystopias are all about fear.

Those of us old enough remember another feariod of history, best summed up by this dude:

Planet of the Apes* (1968) kicked off a nightmare of dystopic futures including A Clockwork Orange (1971), The Omega Man* (1971), THX 1138 (1971), Silent Running (1972), Soylent Green* (1973), Logan’s Run (1976), Rollerball (1975), Death Race 2000 (1975), A Boy and His Dog (1975), and countless others. Side note: *The big tell re: dystopias? If Charleton Heston is starring, it’s definitely one.

The best dystopias are detection/early warning devices (think 1984 and just about anything else by George Orwell.) But like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, they should lead to action, not some defensive crouch. You can’t kill many zombies from the fetal position.

There are plenty of real-world zombies out there, but none of them are easily dispatched with a bullet, macheté, or baseball bat. The only solution to INSERT YOUR ZOMBIE HERE is a community that won’t put up with INSERT YOUR ZOMBIE HERE.

This is not an indictment of violent video games, Death Metal, firearms, or the Kardashians. This is a call for sanity, thought, and “what can I do today” action.

Dystopias are not about the glass being half empty either. They’re about the glass shattering, animating, and attacking your jugular vein in a fevered cloud of homicidal shards. And that’s not going to happen. Ever.

Fill the glass, don’t kill it. You are the change you seek. Get off your keyboard (and keister) and become the solution in whatever way you can.

- D.P. Knudten

PS: What brought on this diatribe? Netflixing this.

People like p z l s, part II.

I wrote a post a long time ago (in social media years) entitled “People like p z l s.”

Its takeaway: that too many marketers want to say everything in every communication, but that it’s more important to leave room for their intended readers to fill in the blank.

A simple, brilliant example:


-from the folks @ Ireland/Davenport, Johannesburg, South Africa

The story of Vivian Maier is “People like p z l s” personified.

Long story short: a quiet, unassuming, slightly odd nanny dies leaving thousands of photographic images behind. Dude finds them at an auction house, recognizes their quality, buys them, and eventually gives over his life to ensuring the artistic legacy of a woman he’s never met. And the whole art world takes notice.

Each photograph is a puzzle. Who is that? Where was it taken? What’s the context?

But there’s a meta-puzzle at play too: Who is Vivian Maier? Why did she take these photos? What’s her story? Why did she never share her talent with her friends, much less the world? Would the world have even noticed? The
questions are endless—and endlessly entertaining.

Winston Churchill once said, “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Add “all wrapped up in a Moebius loop,” and you’ve got Vivian.

If you find any of the above intriguing, you must watch this:

Now ponder this meta-meta question: what if John Maloof didn’t find some old photos at an auction house?

- dp

portfolio_Discover Wisconsin’s Next Host

25 year-old TV show. Host of 18 years goes on to bigger and better. So what are you going to do?
Scour the state for a new one.

Discover Wisconsin's Next Host Audition Event Logo

The audition event and attendant social media marketing campaign resulted in over 400 user-generated video auditions, 65+ live auditions at Lambeau Field, and countless Facebook likes, retweets, blog posts, etc. And the result?

Discover Wisconsin Host Emmy Fink

The new host for the 2011-12 season, Emmy Fink.

Creative Director/Copywriter: D.P. Knudten
Art Director: Wayne Koenig

Agency: Discover Mediaworks • Madison, Wisconsin

portfolio_The Cherry Cricket

The Cherry Cricket is a ‘50’s-era gin joint located in Denver’s swankiest shopping district.
These ads are just a sampling of those created for this unique establishment, and are great examples of how a headline’s tone can reflect a product’s core attributes while complementing the attitude of the publications in which they run (alternative publications like The Onion). The previous sentence is an excellent example of how a competent copywriter can create an effective rationale for just about anything.

Creative Director/Art: Melissa Harris
Copywriter: D.P. Knudten

Agency: Studio Harris • Denver, Colorado


True story: an employee of Briargate who was unaware that a new marketing campaign was being launched was watching TV the night this spot aired. Half way through she said to herself “this is the kind of commercial we should be running for ourselves.” She was delighted when she saw the logo at the end, and that the spot captured the truth of this brand-new, old-style community.

Associate Creative Director/Copywriter: D.P. Knudten
Art Director: Greg O’Leary

Agency: Miles Advertising • Denver, Colorado

portfolio_London Bay Homes

A custom homebuilder for the ultra-riché, London Bay Homes needed an ad to run in symphony concert programs.

My thought? The buyers for these homes travel in Gulfstream jets, not VW Jettas.

Let’s make an ad that looks like it should run in Vanity Fair, not New Homes Finder. It’s also another example of how I think visually.

London Bay Homes print ad

Concept/Copywriter: D.P. Knudten
Art Director: Rick Tackett
Agency: Miles Advertising • Denver, Colorado

portfolio_Ski The Summit

This is another piece from early in my career.
The agency I was working at found out that the review for the SKI THE SUMMIT account was reopened at 1:45 p.m. on a Friday afternoon.
Scrambling quickly, we put together a “foot in the door” piece with ad samples and broadcast reels by 5 p.m. This panel appeared on the outside of the box.

The inside reveal said:
“That’s exactly how we feel.
We heard your account is still available.”

P.S. We got into the pitch–and won the account.


Creative Director/Art: Brian Hawkins
Copywriter: D.P. Knudten

Agency: Pierson Hawkins Advertising • Denver, Colorado