Category Archives: Creative Thinking

Sell Me Content… ‘A New Word To Help Sell An Old Concept!’

Content marketing is a strategic way of attracting and engaging a defined targeted audience. Brands distribute valuable or relevant information to ‘pull in’ consumers, rather than using traditional advertising, which focuses on ‘pushing’ out a message.

Content is designed not to interrupt, but to interact.

From simply uploading an image or news article to Facebook, to putting peoples names on coke bottles or Jack Daniel’s sponsoring a YouTube video that shows ‘behind the scenes’ of a music producer, content marketing is on the rise. Boosted by the growth of social media, its effective and getting more and more creative and innovative.

I don’t believe people are ‘fooled’ by it. They know that its marketing based, but it doesn’t matter, if they like it, they will engage and interact.

However, Content is not a new concept. It is simply indirect information or entertainment targeted to a consumer segment market. Brands have been doing this forever…
Whether it’s a Magazine article in “Women’s Weekly,” informing you on how to get the cleanest clothes from your washing machine (brought to you by Cold Power) or MTV interviewing a popular rock band.

Content is not a new concept.It’s just a new word. And we have a shiny new potential lathered platform to use it.

It’s a word advertisers like to throw around to sound smarter. To add a little ‘pizzazz’ to what they’re talking about.

The idea hasn’t changed. It’s been around since the beginning…

How do we advertise without annoying the consumer with the same repetitive message over and over?

Lets give them something they’re interested in, and throw our logo in there somewhere or good measure. BOOM. Content.
But you still need a great idea, and how do you sell an idea? What can you use to help sell something that has yet to be proven to work?

You use jargon.

An internally constructed ad language that makes you sound like a wanker, but a wanker that knows what his talking about. Words like programmatic, channels, platforms, integrated, traffic, ideation and organic reach.
You use it to make old concepts sound new again.

Advertisers have the ideas, but they need to sell them to clients. They need to sound fresh, on top of it and impressive. They need to have a bit of the dodgy car salesman approach, or they might lose the account. All agencies have good ideas. But it’s a hard fought fight to see who can sell theirs the best.

Smother the client in so much jargon that they can’t understand what you’re saying, but they think you’re a genius… a wanker, but a genius as well.

Daniel Fitzsimmons

Programmatic – ‘Rise Of The Machines’

Programmatic has arrived and the machines are taking over. The idea of tailored advertising per person is now a reality. So, what does this mean to advertisers and consumers?


Imagine a world where you only got what you wanted?

If you got asked the question, would you like to control the ads you see? Most people would say yes. But if you told them they would have to give up some of their privacy, would they be more reluctant? Then remind them that most of this information is already being collected…

Everyone loves something for free and on the net this has never been more available. Though nothing is entirely free. With most free information or services including entertainment on the net, the only price you have to pay is being exposed to advertising. Most of us as consumers have learnt the best ways of getting around this and know we only have to wait a few seconds to hit skip or wait for the little ‘x’ button to close it. However, what if the advertising you were exposed to was only what you wanted to see or what was relevant to your life?

Being able to choose the types of ads your interested in would be a great option. If you have to see the ads anyway, why not choose to make them relevant, maybe even interesting and engaging in portraying your own desirable needs as opposed to just trying to close them as soon as you can.


Imagine a world where you only hit where it counts…

For the advertisers this could be a enormous game changer. If, they were only paying for the media space for consumers, that were interested, or deemed a good candidate. This could potentially save the advertiser plenty of money and let smaller businesses advertise to target consumers who would use their good or services, leading to a chance to grow their business through advertising without having to pay for pointless reach or product outlet.

Driving traffic to your site is always a big push for businesses online and with programmatic you are maximising your potential while saving money wasted on uninterested parties.


So what is programmatic?

Programmatic is the ghost in the machine. It collects data on consumer’s behavior online and through powers much faster than most media experts, which decides who and when is the best time to deliver a piece of advertising. There is a lot more to it than that but like me, is still in its early stages and has a lot more growth and potential.

Once the scary part of ‘they are watching you’ passes and people get the idea they are here to make life, on the overwhelming amount of information on the net more relevant.

Lets work with programmatic to change the perception of  ‘advertising’ into ‘relevant information’ and everyone is a winner.

Benjamin Sopronick


As creativity moves into the very public realm of the Internet, we’re seeing an explosion of user-generated creative content – from video, photography, design, illustration, art, animation and music, on a myriad of online publishing platforms from Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, Periscope, Facebook, YouTube and beyond. But we’re also seeing an increasing commodification of areas that have traditionally been created by creative cottage industries such as graphic design, illustration, information design, web-design, animation, video, music and sound production. So how do young creative people best prepare themselves for the digital future? How can they best use their creative skills to create effective art and unique visual communications in this very public digital arena? As the creative process becomes increasingly democratised, who and what will survive?


The flow of information made possible by the Internet has made the world a very open place. Not only can we instantly connect, interact and become informed by others from virtually anywhere on the planet (and beyond), but information, business deals, the transfer of goods and services, political and social experiences, philosophical models and ideologies have become globally accessible, more transparent and often free.

Hello, ‘Generation Share’.

The rise of the FREEMIUM economy has created an expectation among millennials and other digital natives (who have grown up in the age of digital communications), that information and services available over the Internet should essentially be free – because if not, they’ll just search an alternative that is. They understand how advertising on such platforms works, and expect that publishers source their revenue from those wanting to exploit our eyeballs, and not necessarily that publishers charge the end user directly. But where does this leave the creative authors of the content that has the potential to create audiences and engage and entertain large, specific segments of society?

We want democracy, but at what cost?

This empowerment means that the consumer is now in a prime position to drive the business arrangement. The democratisation of creative services on a global scale has created a world-wide market place, where young Creatives effectively compete with others from all over the planet. And the competition includes many young creative people working from countries with considerably lower business, labour and living costs.

This creates an attractive palate for the business community, wanting to access creative services such as graphic-, logo- and web-design through platforms such as –  a global online marketplace where freelancers to offer their services to customers worldwide.

Currently, Fiverr lists more than three million services on the site that range in cost from $5 to $500. The platform was launched in early 2010 and now hosts over 1.3 million Gigs. The website transaction volume has grown 600% since 2011. has been ranked among the top 100 most popular sites in the U.S. and top 150 in the world (Wikipedia 2016).

Even video and commercial production through creative-sourcing platforms like GENERO.TV are revolutionising the video production market for both clients and young film-makers.

Launched in 2009, Genero offers a platform for clients to source and generate quality video content that is faster and cheaper than commissioning production through conventional video production models. Genero claims it also “engages online audiences through authentic storytelling. In parallel, it helps grow the careers of the huge number of talented video directors and filmmakers globally, looking for opportunities to make a living doing what they love.” (Wikipedia 2016).

As much as this is an opportunity for business people and Start-Ups wanting to take advantage of a wide choice in a global marketplace in order to get creative produced for low cost, it presents a challenge for those young people wanting to work in these creative spaces. It’s becoming less financially viable for young creative people to sustain careers in first world economies in traditional creative skills-based ‘cottage’ industries such as graphic design, illustration and video production unless they can devise a way that they can complete.

Where to now?

So where do young creative people channel their creative energy and potential, if careers in more traditional skills-based creative jobs are being offered a lot cheaper from Creatives offshore and online?  This is where it’s important to focus on the door that is opening, rather than the one that is closing. Young creative people need to focus on two important areas of education and training to get an edge, and be able to create sustainable and successful creative careers in today’s democratised creative world.

Develop Strategic Thinking

It’s important that as early as highschool, to develop strategic-thinking and problem-solving skills in the upcoming generation of young creative people. Although there may very well be someone else on the other side of the planet being able to master design, technical and production skills, the question of whether the solution they come up with, is as strong strategically as someone who has focused their education on this is where the opportunity exists. Talent and creative intuition count for a lot, but the most effective creative solutions to business and communications briefs are research based and strategically driven.

The reality of getting a foot in the door as a junior in an agency, production company or Start-Up needs a hybrid approach. The notion of T-Skilling, or the now more often quoted Pi- or Two-Pronged-Skilling is the best approach to making a strong career start. By combining strategic thinking with one or even two, well developed sets of skills is how young Creatives can be useful in a job from day one, and then as the opportunities arise, prove themselves as strategic trouble-shooters and cross-platform problem-solvers. Become a Photoshop Profi, a Premiere-Pro Hotshot, a Digital Imaging Specialist or a Social-Media Know-It-All – these are all great for launching your career, but just make sure they don’t limit it.

And never stop learning. Careers in the post-digital age will be defined by strategic problem-solving that goes far beyond any one technology or skill-set. The technologies we use today may  no longer exist in the next few years. Solve problems for and with technology, but never limit solutions by it.

Become your own Brand

In addition to developing strategic skills, the second essential aspect to launching a creative career today is to promote yourself as a brand. Think of yourself as a product that you need to develop a brand or advertising campaign for. What are your strengths? What do you do better than anyone else? What is your USP? Then get out there and start generating content that focuses on what makes you unique. More than just your own website, LinkedIn profile, Instagram account, Blogs and Vlogs – how can you be creating and publishing relevant content that will sharpen your profile and build a reputation in your chosen area of specialisation.

A great example of a young creative person building a successful career by promoting himself as a brand is the YouTube Vlogger Casey Neistat. Casey was a passionate but poor film-maker, living in a caravan on the outskirts of New York. But by consistently producing his own, very distinct style of video blogs (always kicked off with his quirky stop-frame title sequences), he was able to build an audience. And with his following, came the advertisers and brands wanting to jump on his 3,5 million subscriber bandwagon.


Giving it away

It may be a paradox, but to make a buck in this user-generated jungle, we very well may need to start by giving our creativity away for free. Who manages to build an audience and offer eyeballs, will soon have the brand evangelists knocking down their door with deals and dollars.

But before we look at who is making a career out of their creativity in the online space today, let’s look at a couple of pioneers who have actively used the borderless virtual space of the Internet to experiment and create creative projects and new models for remuneration.

What David Bowie can teach us

The master of the modern Avant Guard, David Bowie is remembered for more than just his music. His courageous and innovative use of technology in his own creative practice, is a role model for the fearlessness needed to approach change. As early as 1998 he set up BOWIENET, a creative Internet platform where (for a monthly fee) fans got exclusive access to audio recordings, music videos, chat rooms, interviews and even personal photos, paintings as well as access to some of his journals. In a time before Instagram, YouTube, Twitter or even MySpace, most artists provided little if any online material to their followers. Bowie’s platform not only offered a wide variety of exclusive content, but also several ways to interact with the singer himself. Always a step ahead, Bowie spotted the potential of the Internet as a venue in which to make, share and expand upon art.


What Bowie started has become status. The music business has been massively disrupted by digital and downloadable technology. Meaning money is made less from the sales of a single track or album, but more through the audience a musician or band has online and how this can be monetised. In 2007 English alternative rock band Radiohead self-released its seventh studio album In Rainbows as a pay-what-you-want download. Radiohead was the first major act to understand that the old income models were being broken down and it was time for a new approach. They made headlines across the world and sparked heated debate, many claiming they could only afford to do so because they were already a highly successful band, but nevertheless it set a precedent about the implications for the music industry. Time called it “easily the most important release in the recent history of the music business”. 


Art for the People

In 2011, Google in cooperation with 17 international museums including the Tate Gallery in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Uffizi in Florence launched the Google Art Project – an online platform where the public can access high-resolution images of artworks housed in the initiative’s partner museums. The platform enables users to virtually tour partner museums’ galleries, explore physical and contextual information about artworks, and compile their own virtual collection. As part of the project, the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that the more than 400,000 high-resolution digital images may be downloaded directly from the Museum’s website for non-commercial use and can be used at no charge and without getting permission from the museum.

This opens up complete new realms for creative inspiration, re-interpretation, re-mixing, re-sampling, mash-ups and other fusions. The notion of copyright and originality are becoming blurred in a world where there is an increasing value in the originalcombination of existing elements, rather than purely the origination of the unadulterated ‘new’. Here too lies opportunity for young creative people to use this approach to their own creative practice, and to also develop clever and pragmatic ways of making this financially sustainable for themselves.


Coding our Way to the Future

One of the more recent artists projecting his work out through the ethers of the Internet is the artist/designer/coder Joshua Davis. Best known as the creator of and winner of the Prix Ars Electronica. Joshua started out as a graphic and web-designer. As an early adopter of open-source, he developed visually complex graphic patterns and animations as computer artworks, then would offer the source code to the public. Davis’ intention was initially not to charge for each individual artwork, but by gaining great media exposure and building a strong following he has been able to monetise his creativity by creating a subscription model.

So to return to the question of how do young creative people best prepare themselves for the digital future: In addition to deepening one or two of your creative skills, develop your strategic thinking and look at how you can promote yourself as a brand in order to offer a creative service that cannot simply be replicated somewhere else, by someone cheaper. It will be the clever thinkers with a unique personality that will move and change with the creative industries and the developments in technology, and come up with innovative solutions to creating sustainable careers and memorable art.


Ian Thomson is a writer, filmmaker, facilitator of innovation workshops and is the program leader of the Advertising & Media faculty for Macleay College’s campuses in Sydney and Melbourne.

About Macleay College:

Established in 1988, Macleay College offers highly regarded, industry focused education in Business, Journalism and Advertising & Media. These tertiary courses have an emphasis on multi-media qualifications and offer students a hands-on approach to fast-track their career. Macleay College has campuses in Sydney and Melbourne.

TypePlay® at Macleay

Inspired by Jessica Walsh’s AGDA keynote presentation Play by Your Own Rules, and Jessica’s design workshop by the same name, Julieann Brooker ran a TypePlay® workshop for our Creative Process students at Macleay College.


The client:  Pacific Artisan, a new online shop that sells ethically sourced and produced fair-trade products handmade by women from countries in the Oceania region and indigenous Australia.

The biggest advertising related problem:  How to promote yet another online shop in the Australian market, with a minimal budget. No real promotion has been done yet other than infrequent Facebook and Twitter posts.


The creative task:  To develop branding and advertising to target socially aware women, aged 35+, and persuade them that the relaunched online shop will provide an easy way to buy unique hip cool products made locally by women living ‘off the beaten track’. To use creativity and design to do good.

Why TypePlay®?  Let’s get serious about play. In Dr. Stuart Brown’s 2008 TED talk, Play is more than just fun, he shares how contemporary innovation and creativity has been impeded by the reduced use of our hands. In fact, it’s currently a condition of employment, in problem-solving roles at NASA and Boeing, to have worked with one’s hands.

Play is boosting creativity and innovation for young and old, across several domains, (Brown, 2009), and studies indicate work and play are complimentary, (Staw & Barsade, 1993). Hence, it’s an ideal practice for developing branding and advertising.

“Play is nature’s greatest tool for creating new neural networks and for reconciling cognitive difficulties.” (Brown, p. 127, 2009).

The students made their own rules and played.  

PA_4 of prep

Constraints included materials, limited words, and time. They split into groups of 2-4, selected words and brand statements to portray, sketched ideas and tested materials. From a wellbeing perspective, play is an excellent conduit to integrate our lives and ourselves, and especially useful in building trust, a valuable commodity for group work!

The cohort regrouped for a quick critique, then photographed and recorded their work as pics to be used in marketing, the website, and social media.

PA_brookeOne team used the products and some props to create a stop motion piece of an island village.

PA_3 of Village

“Nothing lights up the brain like play”, Stuart Brown, 2008. 

The rewarding project continued in the Social Media and Digital Design units, and the bountiful creative concepts presented pitched to a panel of judges at Publicis Mojo.


You can browse the Pacific Artisan story, and purchase their authentic range of off-the beaten-track products here.

Play By Your Own Rules: AGDA Workshop

The morning after Jessica Walsh’s AGDA keynote presentation, Julieann Brooker and a few fortunate Sydneysiders met to Play by Our Own Rules.

The task set by Jessica for the 2-hour workshop: Design, create and record a typographic piece within specific constraints. I recalled some of the bold typographic work Jessica Walsh and Stefan Sagmeister produce at Sagmeister & Walsh.

4 of jess work

Clearly, time was going to be our most challenging constraint,  and Jessica reminded us that limitations provide opportunities for creativity. The other three constraints were our team – we split into groups of five; the material – we scrambled to select only one set of media from the colourful range on offer; and the phrase we wrote – the shorter the better for by own rules DEWe dove for the reels of coloured crepe paper, spent less than two minutes on introductions, and eight minutes on brainstorming our words. We settled on Roll With It for the kinetic possibilities.

4 of process

We had 20 minutes to sketch some concepts, while Jessica played with a Sharpie and some typographic art in her notebook. She was clearly in flow, and soon, so were we.

Jess artline

We started big and bold, on the floor, red words on black paper. Jessica advised us to work small(er), both for speed and ease of production.


We changed process. Restricted to our one media, we innovated and twisted the crepe to produce a finer ribbon.

4 of process 2

We chose three bolder colours and complementary cardboard backgrounds. We worked fast, laying out the words and photographing intermittently in order to produce the stop-motion.

Roll with it-colour

We had an hour to create it, and 20 mins to photograph it. We used every minute, hastily inverted the pic order and created a gif of the piece for the quick group presentation.


Our team was strong – all AGDA members, practicing creatives or design educators. All eager to participate and contribute, five was perhaps too many, and teams of three may’ve been enough.

others 1.jpgOne group used party poppers to illustrate the verb ‘pop’, and another ‘handle with care’ with drinking straws.

One of Jessica’s mantras is: “Just get off the computer and make shit.”  And that’s what we did.

make shit_2

The results are raw and far from finished, but absolutely adequate to experience this innovative approach – taking chances, starting over, and experimenting with techniques not available via digital media.

Play has proven benefits for creativity, moving students – and businesses – from a ‘fixed’ to a ‘growth’ mindset. In his book Play, Stuart Brown writes, “Play is nature’s greatest tool for creating new neural networks and for reconciling cognitive difficulties.”

See Macleay College Advertising & Media students playing, and generating dynamic typographic and illustrative work for Pacific Artisan, in our Creative Process TypePlay® workshop here.

Pa thumb square

AGDA is the acronym for the Australian Graphic Design Association Limited, and is our design industry body. Annual membership starts at $65. Benefits include access to resources and discounts to local and international events.

Play by Your Own Rules: AGDA Keynote

JWJESSICA  WALSH  is introduced by stating she needs no introduction, which looks about right as I pan across the star struck faces of AGDA members assembled for her Sydney keynote presentation. Jessica is the “IT Girl” of graphic design (Observer, 2014), and “an ever growing personal global brand.” (AGDA, 2016)

A self-proclaimed computer nerd, Jessica was coding at 11, and soon blogging, designing graphics for websites and even creating free CSS and HTML tutorials and templates. Now 29, Jessica introduces herself as a partner at Sagmeister & Walsh, and both a graduate of, and teacher at the Rhode Island School of Design.


s and JThere is nothing pedestrian about Jessica’s creative work. “It’s bold, provocative, surprising and playful all at once,” says Dan Olson, AIGA Portland. Together with her “personal projects”, such as “40 Days of Dating” (2013) and “12 Kinds of Kindness” (2016), she is becoming increasingly well-known. Such social experiments have earned millions of unique visitors to her blog, the purchase of film rights by Warner Bros, published books and enormous (mostly) positive feedback.


apple logo cropOn graduation, Jessica interned with Apple and turned down their $100K+ per annum role to take an internship at Pentagram design firm. Jessica entreats us to “do the work that feeds your soul, not your ego.” Next was Print magazine, and in 2010, she joined Stefan Sagmeister’s New York studio. Sagmeister – described as “the rock star designer” in the biography of one of his three TED talks – invited Jessica to become a business partner at just 24.

On PLAYplay by own rules DE crop

When Jessica talks about the role of “play”, it’s not the activity that matters, ”play is a state of mind”. We can use a playful attitude and “state of mind to be more creative”. She quotes Picasso, reminding us “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” She refers to Stuart Brown’s pioneering research on play – his evaluation of highly creative individuals, their success and well-being. Brown writes:

“We are designed to find fulfillment and creative growth through play.”

Jessica makes time and space, away from phones, emails and clients, to play, and potentially arrive at the state of “flow”. If Jessica hadn’t become a designer, she says she’d be a psychologist and is a prolific reader on the topic. “Half of our job is psychology, getting into their [clients’ and consumers’] minds… changing [our] approach based on who they are and how they’ll respond.”

Book-Flow cropPositive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discovered that people find genuine satisfaction during a state of consciousness called “Flow”. Jessica actively sets up this meeting of skills and abilities, of complete concentration, when we’re so involved in what we’re doing that we’re no longer aware of ourselves, time, hunger and so on. This is when our best work is done.

With this playful approach, Jessica believes humour allows our mind “to make interesting and new connections – which is what creativity is about – in a fresh or slightly twisted way.”

Sagmeister & Walsh are creative celebrities, in fact, they’re so highly regarded they’re able to insist on realistic project time frames.

“Sometimes these ‘deadlines’ come out of people’s asses (sic) and if we push back they [find] us the time.”

With enough time, Jessica can take risks and fail; without adequate [play] time, we can miss an opportunity to find a new direction; we’re more inclined to pull from existing styles we feel more comfortable with.


“Every great game has a strict set of rules, and I think the same goes for design. I think limitations help creativity thrive. It’s difficult to do something great when the possibilities are endless,” Jessica explains. Leonardo da Vinci wrote: “Small rooms discipline the mind; large rooms distract it.” When clients approach Sagmeister & Walsh with open briefs, a “trick” they use is to set their own rules and constraints. Jessica:

“I used to think to have a wide open creative brief was the dream. I quickly learned that when you can do anything, it’s the worst possible scenario for a creative”…

Case Study

Aishti, a premium Lebanese department store required a complete rebrand in order to compete with brands such as Prada in the Middle East, but without the budget. Jessica focused on the luxurious orange and black boxes that customers wanted to keep.

Constraint: The ads must contain the orange and black box. The campaign began enigmatically, featuring merely the shoe box, then positioned in different scenarios – on a mouse trap, in a safe, a spider web. Gradually Jessica added fashion models, typography, energy and drama, but still working within the self-assigned creative constraints.

Identity and advertising campaign

Aizone is an Aishti sub-brand targeting a younger market, with a significant scheduling issue – it isn’t possible to show the new season range in advertising. So Jessica leveraged this production constraint for her creative constraint: creative was initially restricted to a palette of black and white, supplemented with patterns, zebra stripes, then elaborate painting of maxims on models. After three seasons, both the audience and creatives were bored of the black and white, so they leveraged the positive response to the short inspirational maxims.

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In typical Jessica style, colour was added with a bang – brave and bold. The art direction and attention to detail is painstaking, see the process here:  View the print campaign appearing in newspapers, magazine and billboards throughout Lebanon here:

On doing work WITH HEART

Jessica didn’t always have her current dream job; she created it. Persistence, not procrastination is key.

“I had a job I hated. You don’t have to have a perfect client. Don’t let that stop you. You can make what ever you want at night, on weekends.”

She asks herself: “Can we touch people’s hearts? Not just at a conceptual level but on an emotional level too.” We’re urged to “make less pretty crap, and more with heart and soul”, and to not be afraid of discomfort, any good idea is born out of some form of struggle”.


The overarching mantra?

make shit_2
“Just get off the computer and make shit.” Jessica Walsh

See more of Jessica’s graphic design on Behance:

The morning after Jessica Walsh’s AGDA keynote presentation, Julieann Brooker and a few fortunate Sydneysiders met to Play by Our Own Rules. Read about the process and view the creative output here.

See Creative Process students in flow during Julieann’s TypePlay® workshop at Macleay College.