Wednesday, November 25, 2009

7 ways to chip off the old [writer’s] block

Writer’s block. It strikes at the worst possible time making what would be a simple, fun exercise an exhausting one. It is exacerbated by stress, and often, leads to endless hours of frustration and hundreds of pages of useless copy, discarded for eternity. At least we don’t use typewriters any more, right? Copywriters back in the day must have been the leading cause of deforestation and global warming (as if advertisers needed any more blemishes on their reputation).

So what’s a wordless wordsmith to do? Here are some ways to cure the linguistically challenged.

1. Misdirection. Try thinking of topics completely irrelevant to the task at hand. If you’re supposed to be writing about the social consequences of performance monkeys (what more can you say?), start from a different angle. Maybe it’s sandwich making, Disney princesses or firefighters. Sometimes the most random approach results in the most interesting, creative outcome.

2. Move and Shake. Get up. Go do something. Anything that will distract you from ruminating over those darn performance monkeys! Clean your office, go for a jog or call your grandma – she misses you! Once you allow yourself to relax and step away from the computer, the creative juices will start flowing once again.

3. Ask someone else. A different set of eyes, ears and brain cells can make a world of difference, and having a conversation can provide a fresh perspective to the problem. Experts tend to be TOO involved and often lose sight of what they have to offer - give someone else a chance to think for a change.

4. Research. What are other people saying about performance monkeys? Maybe you can build off someone else’s idea or maybe their opinion will spark a thesis of your own. Gathering as much information as possible will allow you to view the problem holistically and give you a more knowledgeable outlook going forward.

5. Wait until tomorrow. If you have the option, nothing beats getting your beauty rest. Who knows? Those performance monkeys may come to you in your dreams with just the right story… or maybe when you wake up, rested and refreshed, you’ll have the energy to tackle that writing once and for all.

6. Write exactly what you know. Right now, you think nothing more can be said about the social consequences of performance monkeys. So say that. Tell us what led you to believe that, and speak honestly and openly. A candid piece will come naturally, and even if it’s not your final draft, it will get your writing gears running smoothly.

7. Or, you can just write about writer’s block. That’s what we did!

NOTE: Happy Thanksgiving to all our followers and supporters! Have a wonderful Turkey Day, and get plenty of rest because next Thursday, December 3, we are protesting the disappearance of the Portobello mushroom slider from Little Big’s. Contact us ASAP to join in on the fun as we make a scene and bring that baby burger back!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Black Bean Slider and Lazy Ads: 5 Things We’re Totally Against

Black Sheep are typically happy people. We love things with bubbles, miniature animals and coming up with fun ways to get noticed. We love Airstreams and good music and Mexican food. We love making things and causing riots and celebrating success.

But today, we’re protesting. The following grievances must be aired, and while we apologize for the negativity, we will not rest until the following egregious errors are rectified. It is our civil creative duty to stand against the following:

1. Lazy ad campaigns. If your ad is a sad rip-off of the Got Milk? ads, please stop. If you use the suffix “–ista” in reference to something women might aspire to be, don’t do it. Target, we normally love what you do, but if we hear “frugalista” one more time, we might lose it. Furthermore, if you use quotes or definitions as the primary content for your campaign, we’re tired of it. We want something more creative – something that really tells us your product or service is special. That trend is over – waaay over.

2. WiFi Robbery. It’s bad enough when places don’t have WiFi, but you know, whatever. Maybe it’s too expensive to gain access to the Internet. The economy has been hard on us all. But charging us for it? Come on! You’re already paying for it, and it attracts us to your store. We drink your coffee and tea and eat your delicious snacks. We buy your books. Don’t make us sign up with AT&T or T-Mobile. We will just go away! Borders, thank you for rectifying this situation – smart move.

3. Bland company names and services. Maybe there’s nothing you can do about it because that’s what you’ve been called for 50 years. BUT, if you are naming a company RIGHT NOW, stop. Do not use the following words: Technology, service or solutions. These words mean nothing, and nobody will know what you’re talking about. Furthermore, when describing what you do, don’t tell people that your defining characteristic is relationships and customer service. Give us tangible facts – not hollow claims. Your reputation as a friendly, hospitable business will speak for itself.

4. PC Fonts – PC fonts are great for many things: Word documents, Excel sheets… even PowerPoint presentations. And that’s about it. If you use these fonts in your logo or on your printed collateral, people are going to know it wasn’t done professionally. Real designers use fonts that normal folks don’t have access to – or at least the kind that don’t come free with a laptop computer – and that’s how they create brands unique to their clients. When it comes to design, leave this work to the professionals.

5. Mediocre burgers and sliders – This is a huge issue with Black Sheep. Our favorite slider joint, Little Bigs, had a great thing going. While everyone else was offering nothing but standard beef sliders, they took it to another level with their tiny Portobello mushroom slider. That delicious little mushroom burger was our favorite, and now it’s gone, replaced by a lackluster black bean substitute. And this makes us very, very sad. Perhaps, the saddest we’ve ever been. Which is why Tuesday, December 1, we are taking our complaints to the streets in a BIG way. We are holding Bryan Caswell, the brainchild behind Little Bigs and this horrendous mistake, hostage (sssshhhh, don’t tell!) until he surrenders to our demands and brings the Portobello slider back. We’ll be meeting early to make protest signs and prepare for what might be the greatest battle in the history of our city. Are you with us? This is not a joke. Black Sheep do NOT take food lightly.

Whether it’s uninspired marketing, greedy coffee shops or the denial of our favorite slider at Little Bigs, it is important to ACT NOW. Take a stand against these horrible offenses, and together, we can make a difference one miniature sandwich and business name at a time. With enough support, we can do it, but we need YOUR help. As we present a united front against these wrongdoings, we are asking for community involvement. To volunteer your time for a good cause and stand up for the creative good, contact us at

Thursday, November 12, 2009

How Watching Television Can Improve Your Marketing

If Black Sheep made television shows (it’s gonna happen), we would win Emmys L and R. You know why? Because we love entertaining. In fact, if someone made a reality show about Black Sheep (just an idea, executives at major broadcasting networks), it would be like all of our favorite shows rolled into one hilariously fantastic, dramatically different agency. But that’s just us. We take cues from this spectacular programming because we recognize the importance of performance and the necessity of theatrics in our “everyday” work.

Let’s take a look at some of our greatest inspiration.

Glee – This show took what was just another played-out high school storyline, threw in some great tunes and questionable dancing, and abracadabra… semi-attractive stars were born. And they’re all about the mash-up – combining two unlikely disciplines and bringing them together. Adding a little extra flair to your campaign, presentation or event never goes to waste. Incorporate video, live performances and music, and before you know it you’ll be entertaining instead of just spitting out information. Black Sheep’s The  Rhyme and Reason to Outsource campaign for PFS Group, an accounts receivable outsourcing provider for hospitals, involves an elaborate characterization of Dr. Paid, the company’s own celebrity rapper. Dr. Paid has an album with songs, a fan page, magazine articles and news interviews available explaining his involvement with PFS and the outstanding services they provide. We mashed things up and took the entertainment value to a whole new level. And now, Dr. Paid is famous… at healthcare finance trade shows anyway.

Mad Men – Of course this seems like an obvious choice, but we’re not going to tell you to come up with advertising campaigns like these skinny tied skirt-chasers. Not at all. What you should notice with this show is the amount of intrigue and hype they create. Think about it – in one hour-long episode, NOTHING really happens. Just subtle nuance and suggestive foreshadowing. For your next campaign or publicity stunt, try to arouse that same kind of mystery. Instead of being up-front, plaster the town with ambiguous flyers or send obscure messages to your customers. People will be so overwhelmed with the need to find out, they’ll be hooked. Just like we are at 9 pm on Sundays. Once, in order to attract a major client, Black Sheep arranged for 25 hand-delivered envelopes filled with photographs and clever phrases to our target contact along with several personalized animated videos. By package 17 he’d already acquiesced to meeting with us for lunch to propose a contract. Who wouldn’t want to meet a secret admirer?

30 Rock – Funny one-liners, crazy scenarios and outrageous antics – that’s Black Sheep in a nutshell. We whole-heartedly believe in making the audience laugh… no matter how serious you might be about your business. People want to have a good time, and that’s all there is to it. How can you inject humor into your materials? Well, we can’t tell you HOW to be funny, but we will share an example of how we did it. One of our clients owns a bar, and we decided displaying mannequins outside would get some attention. We dressed them in silly outfits and even started a blog dedicated to following their every move (not real moves… because they’re plastic, but you get the idea)… scandals, awkward nights out and even the adventures of losing your pants! And because they only have one real facial expression, the jokes pretty much write themselves. Customers love it… and so do the bartenders!

See what we mean? There’s nothing more important than logging several hours of television-watching each day to learn from the best. Once you learn how to entertain your audience, they’ll forget you’re trying to sell something, and they’ll be coming to you for more. So sit back, relax and pour yourself a cold one. You’ve got work to do.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

How to brainstorm like a BAAAd ass

It’s a simple goal: Come up with the most amazingly fantastic, mind-blowing, yet inexpensive, and completely original idea possible. At Black Sheep we do it all the time, but even for us, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Drawing from our many experiences, we’ve gathered a few go-to tricks, and if you stick to the rules, they’re sure to result in something spectacular. Or at least make you laugh. Either way, it’s a good time.

Role play – It sounds naughty, but it’s only as dirty as you want it to be. Use your imagination, and approach the problem from a ridiculous, unexpected perspective. Pretend you’re in colonial times, or Egypt or that you’re a clown with superpowers from Iceland. Maybe you’re a golden retriever or a president or a teacher – from the Stone Age! When you put yourself in someone (or something) else’s shoes, you’ll start seeing the problem with a whole new point of view. It’s the less-than-obvious scenario that gets the attention every time.

Steal ideas – If you’re brainstorming in a group (and you should be), this is a little activity that allows you to steal your neighbor’s ideas. And make them better. It goes like this: Everyone in the group writes a simple idea or thought down on a piece of paper. Pass the paper to your left and the next person builds off of the first one. Repeat until everyone’s worked on everyone else’s original, and see what you come up with. You may not get a fully fledged solution, but you’ll definitely get the creative juices flowing.

Pull the trigger – This one’s another group activity. Brainstorm as many ideas as possible – there is no wrong, stupid or throw-away answer. Pick the best one and use those as “triggers” for more ideas. Continue until you’ve found the perfect answer. You will!

Be an astronaut  First, before getting together as a group, give everyone the chance to come up with a list of their own ideas.  Next, two people will sit together and discuss, covering everything on their lists. Then, add a new person to the group, discuss and repeat, until everyone has shared all their thoughts with the group individually. These steps make it difficult for a member to “hide” in the group or get squashed by bigger and louder members, and it’s a technique that has been proven by NASA! We trust those guys.

Follow the rules – 1. It’s a brainstorm, not a blamestorm. Don’t belittle other people’s ideas, kids. It’s just not nice, and it’s ultimately counter-productive. 2. Go for quantity over quality. The more ideas on the table, the better. 3. Drink while you think. You’ve heard of a drinking problem, well this is a drinking solution. Let loose, and throw a few back. It will make the creative process SO much easier. 4. Let the record show. WRITE everything down! Save your ideas for future brainstorms, and don’t risk forgetting the ones you have now. We’re talking to you, Paul Kinsey.

Sounds like fun, right? It is! Do you have your own brainstorming secrets? We want to hear them! We want to try them out! Share in the comments below, and let’s start a brainstorming brainstorm.