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posted by Michael Powelson Feb 15,2017 @ 02:46PM

My Left-Hand Man

(Or, How Fatherhood Taught Me To Stop Explaining and Love the Brand)

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 Parents are a greedy lot.

And us newbies can be the worst offenders. By the time he was six months old, nearly every aspect of my son Charlie had been spoken for.

His chin? Mine.

Eyes? My wife’s.

We claimed his laugh to have once belonged to my mother and that a certain restlessness was all Maria’s dad. Even the name we’d chosen wasn’t truly his, but a derivative of his great grandfather.

On the surface, this seemed normal and harmless. But somewhere in that six-month delirium of cortisol and dopamine, Maria and I lost our grip. Charlie became not so much a baby, but a blank screen on which his parents could project a lifetime of family pride, doubt, vanity and loss. At every stage of development, each new wrinkle he showed was an invitation to fire up that projector and retrieve an old slide carousel from the hall closet of our memories.

It was heartwarming. And self-indulgent. And more than a little ridiculous. Fortunately, I had something to keep my sappy, sleep-deprived mind from completely scattering to the winds of nostalgia.

 

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For months I’d been working on a client project that was finally coming to fruition. It had begun as a purely theoretical effort — an exercise to show a non-profit, community hospital how broadly their brand might define itself. The goal was to prove to them just how unique they were. In today’s healthcare climate of corporate consolidation, their independent, indigenous spirit made for something bigger than a series of loosely connected service lines. They were doing more than mending injury or fighting disease. They were providing a real, omnipresent sense of support and security for a close-knit community.

Hokey as that may sound, it’s the God’s honest truth. Which always increases the pressure on a creative team to do that truth justice. As such, scripts were written with great care. A subtle, symbolic story arc emerged that blurred the line between caregivers and community members, showing how this place and its hospital are inextricably linked.

Preparing the presentation, I realized how attached we’d gotten to the concept and, for the first time, regretted that it was only an exercise to show our partners what could be. A shame that it would never be produced, I thought.

Enter the first link in a chain of surprises.

“We love this,” the marketing director said. “More importantly, we need this. Let’s go.”

So we went.

Locations were scouted, shooting boards prepared; FAA airspace was granted and a helicopter commissioned. The creative team’s vision was set to become reality.

Then reality decided it had something to say about the creative team’s vision.

Prior to the shoot, our client began to question the amputee athlete we’d centered the narrative around. They acknowledged this was more exception than rule where their patient population was concerned and felt more comfortable casting a weekend warrior who’d recently received physical therapy for hip pain. They then decided against using professional talent for other key scenes, opting for real patients instead.

Soon after, Hurricane Matthew buzz-sawed the Carolina coasts and chewed through the largest autumn watermelon farm on the eastern seaboard — nixing one of our most anticipated setups.

And on day one of production, a shrimp boat we were to film ran afoul of the tides and was prevented from entering the harbor.

I phoned my wife late one evening, midway through the shoot. She picked up on the third ring.

“Charlie’s a lefty,” she offered in place of ‘hello.’

“Huh?,” I said.

“I think he’s left-handed. Every time I give him a Cheerio he switches it to his left hand before lifting it to his mouth.”

“Hmm.”

“Yeah. Crazy, right? So how’s it going down there?”

“Eh. Okay I guess.”

“Real convincing,” she offered sarcastically.

“I dunno. It’s not exactly what I imagined.”

“That’s normal though, right? Organic approach and all that?”

“Yeah. But the scripting was pretty intentional on this one. I knew how the dots connected on paper. I could explain it. What we’re shooting — I just don’t know.

“Could be a good thing.”

“We’ll see."

 

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We started to see in the edit suite a few weeks later. Yes, some of the beats had morphed. And several of the scenarios had to be adjusted to accommodate a cast with no acting experience. But all in all, the spot began to hang together.

It’s been running for a couple weeks now. The audience response has been overwhelming. And I’d be lying if I claimed the concept’s evolution wasn’t a big reason why.

The truth is, allowing the vision to evolve and finding ways to make the changes work produced a more telling reflection of the community. The audience responded because we had offered it a mirror, not a projector.

In a song for his young son Sean, John Lennon famously wrote that “life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” The experience on this spot leads me to think the same can be said for brands. Brands arise organically. Advertising doesn’t create them, it simply amplifies them in the direction of an audience. Marketing is a means, not an end.

As creatives, we can (and should) research and strategize and concept and script and explain until we’re convinced we’re offering clients the most insightful, dynamic work possible. But it's all for naught if we don’t recognize when to get out of the way and let the essence of a hospital, or a community, or a 6-month-old shine through.

 

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Two months later, Charlie’s still fielding his Cheerios on the left. And while Maria and I tried to find precedent for this on both sides of our families, we could not. He is the only southpaw for at least three generations. Which makes it damn near my favorite thing about him. On Saturday mornings, I like to grab a cup of coffee and pull his highchair into the living room where I can watch him eat. And wave. And conduct imaginary orchestras like only a baby can.

I know the more time passes, the more ways he’ll find to defy our explanations. “Who will he be?” I wonder. At six? Or 16? Or 22? What other wonderful things will he show us that we can’t account for or lay claim to?

We’ll see.

As Lennon said, “I can hardly wait.”

 

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 Special thanks to Greyhawk Films, our production partner on this spot.

posted by Julie Turner Apr 18,2016 @ 02:04PM

NEW WORK: Crafting a Digital Toolbox For a Construction Leader

Who knew construction and creative strategy had so much in common?

In the building trades, surprises are often expensive and time consuming for clients. When you’re sweating bullets over a multi-million dollar project on a tight deadline neither variable is particularly welcome.

Our client McCrory Construction is one of the most respected builders in the Southeast. One reason more than 90 percent of clients choose to work with them again is the ability to prevent those unexpected surprises and hurdles. Quite simply, the work they do before the build has built them an uncommon reputation. Fortunately, we can relate.

As communicators, we’re big believers in the value of the "before-you-build" focus. The magic of the creative process isn’t just the ideas generated by it, but what’s used to power creative engines, too. Discovery isn’t just a line item on an invoice; it’s the necessary investment in making a relevant, sales generating impact on your target audience.

 

mc_before_after_web.gifClick to view the new mccroryconstruction.com 

developed with Mad Monkey

 

So rather than simply create a new, responsive web presence to refresh their longstanding brand, we took the deeper dive and strengthened their market position in the process. Enter McCrory Construction; Nobody's Better Before You Build.

 

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Click to visit @McCroryConst

 

 

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posted by Michael Powelson Sep 02,2015 @ 12:23PM

Circa 1995

Three to five years.  That's the current lifespan of the average client/agency relationship. I'm not here to bless, bemoan or belabor this. It is, as we so poignantly say now, what it is.

But it's also a telling lens through which to note a remarkable milestone for one of our most remarkable clients.

Last Friday, First Community Bank celebrated its 20th anniversary. What began in 1995 with two banking offices, has grown into a publicly traded, multi-state entity that tallied more than 800 million dollars in assets last year.

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Such growth has been achieved, in large part, by remaining steadfast to core principles. Sound fiscal planning. A commitment to relationships. And most importantly, a focus on, and loyalty to local businesses.

Including this one.

You see, last month also marked our 20th year as First Community's marketing partner. In all that time, they've done more than change the way we think about banking. They've shaped the way we think about business. First Community's insight and inspiration bleeds into just about every other account we work on. For their achievement, we could not be more grateful, nor they more deserving.

To Mike, Robin and the hundreds of other diligent and talented individuals that have made this anniversary possible, we offer the most heartfelt of congratulations.

Here's to you and all the homes, communities and businesses you've made better.

Including this one.

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First Community's first ad, circa 1995:
First Community's first ad, circa 1995
Twenty years later:
 

posted by Michael Powelson Apr 08,2015 @ 11:20AM

"Intimate Exchanges": New work and the possibilities of Point of View

Our Cups Runneth Over 

Everyone loves secrets. And as a creative director, it’s always a treat to realize your client is holding on to one of the “best kept” variety.

In the case of Goodwill of the Upstate & Midlands, that little known fact was the extraordinary lengths the organization stretches to squeeze every last drop of value from a second-hand donation. We’re talking extreme thrift and re-imagining of materials — an “everything-can-be-used-for-something” mentality that would make the earliest inhabitants of this continent nod in solemn approval[1]. Bottom line: if you think that junk in your basement is worth just as much at the dump as anywhere else, you’re wrong. And a 20-minute tour of Goodwill’s distribution center in Greenville will prove it.

So raise your hand if you’ve ever considered taking a 20 minute tour of Goodwill’s distribution center in Greenville.

Siri? Siri is that you? Please say something so I know in which direction to speak…the multitude of hands…they blind me so.

Yeah, it’s just not something people do.

What people do is watch videos on the internet. Even some that don’t have kittens or naked people in them. So we decided this might be a decent way to tell the story of Goodwill’s obsessive point of difference.

But a virtual tour? Come on. We’re not hocking timeshares here[2]. Besides, a 50 mm lens just isn’t going to do justice to the massive operation and rigorous protocols that break donations down to fetch the most a market will bear. What we needed was a unique, amusing way to demonstrate how Goodwill gets more out of things than anyone else. What we needed was a different point of view.

Ever wonder if your old stuff has thoughts? Anxieties? Even, gasp, desires? Sure, it’s ridiculous. But so are human beings. Just ask John Lasseter, who turned the notion into a feature franchise and 2 billion dollars worth of ridiculousness for Pixar.

Point is, when we took our own tour of the Distribution Center, we couldn’t help but be distracted by the true menagerie of donated items. It was fun to realize that each one had recently left its home with a back story, a sense of character, and, given a little imagination, a point of view. We saw such unlikely pairings of items sitting side by side, waiting to be sorted out. What in the world would their conversations be like as they made their way through this Ellis Island of material goods? And could those conversations be an unexpected ticket to telling the larger brand story?

Given a few of the more colorful things we saw, we think they might have played out something like this:  

 

 

 

 

P.S.P.S (Pleasant Surprise Post Script): This work was recently featured on the international industry site "Best Ads On TV," an accomplishment made even more special given that the videos will never, in fact, be seen on TV.


[1] Not something there's been a lot of cause for in the last 500 years.
[2] That is unless you own some. Who doesn't love time? And the sharing! Call us.  

posted by Michael Powelson Jul 15,2014 @ 06:24AM

Spirit of the Lowcountry In New Spots

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Went in search of some Lowcountry soul and met great folks with unique perspectives on patient care at Beaufort Memorial Hospital.

Hope to have done both justice with these new spots.

 

Suzanne Larson from Michael Powelson on Vimeo.

 

Mike McCarty from Michael Powelson on Vimeo.

 

Jo Anne Tudor from Michael Powelson on Vimeo.

 

Special thanks to director Joanne Hock and GreyHawk Films, our partners in crime on this rewarding project.

 

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