Posts Tagged ‘Becky Lang’

Congratulations Becky Lang, Superhuman’s Newest Partner!

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Between new clients, new hires and a new office, 2017 brought big changes and bigger opportunities our way. We’re keeping that momentum going right into 2018 with the exciting news that Becky Lang is becoming our third agency partner. Drawing on her career as a copywriter and creative director, Becky brings to the table a peerless instinct for connecting with audiences, an incisive grasp of social and cultural trends and a sophisticated vison for the future of advertising. We could not be more pleased to announce her new role in leading Superhuman forward.

How has Superhuman changed since you came aboard?
It’s been exciting to watch Superhuman grow since I first came aboard. We’ve added some really talented people to our staff, who get what we stand for and want to help us build something different. We’re always evolving and trying new approaches, and each person expands what’s possible for us.

I’ve learned a lot from working with Van and Grant, especially about producing work that feels as intuitive and timeless as possible. As we add to our team and capabilities, our challenge will be to keep that simplicity alive in everything we do.

How will your background and experience inform your role as partner?
Before working in advertising, I was an entertainment journalist. Being on the radar for stories gave me a sense for what gets noticed and how it draws attention. I looked at what was impacting culture—who’s doing something different that people care about? That’s what was newsworthy. Brands should think about that first, rather than pushing out a message that may not matter to their audience.

My goal is always to help brands make sure their core proposition, product and service are shaping their category. Only then will creative work make the right impact. It can never be a band-aid for a brand that has lost a deeper connection with their customer.

What challenges do you think agencies in general are facing right now?
Brands today aren’t just putting out commercials—they’re building cultural experiences. But figuring out how to do that can be overwhelming. Where do you start? The modern agency’s goal is to crack the category’s codes and help a brand build an experience that their customers will love.

That means creativity has to apply to so much more than communications. It has to shape how a brand builds their ecosystem and forms an authentic relationship with their customers. AND it has to lead to communications that stand out above the noise of thousands of competing messages today. That’s a tough challenge, but a fascinating one. I think there’s a little magic and serendipity in figuring it out. Creativity has to involve experimentation and play.

What are your hopes for the new year?
We want to take our clients along for the ride in all our decisions and discoveries. We never want to bore them, or bring them esoteric ideas that don’t connect with what they do. This year we’re working on developing materials and experiences that bring the branding process to life for our clients and put them on our side of the table. I think that’ll be exciting, and also keep us honest. If something isn’t moving the dial, we’ll throw it out and keep pursuing bigger, better ideas.

Meet Our Three New, Full-Time Hires!

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Stacia Burtis, Senior Designer

1. What brought you to Superhuman?
To make a long story short, I was freelancing and Superhuman provided me with the perfect environment where I could collaborate while still working on personal projects. Eventually I had enough work at Superhuman to wrap up my other projects. The whole thing happened very organically, which is why I think it works so well. I love how small it is. I’m best friends with everyone I work with, which is very important in such a collaborative space.

2. What’s a career goal you’d like to accomplish in 2017? 

We’re wrapping up a big branding project right now which was super fun, so I hope to do more projects like that. I also think since Superhuman is so small I’ll have more opportunities to lead projects which is great. I’ve also enjoyed getting more involved in aspects beyond design, like strategy and naming.

3. What’s your passion project right now?
I don’t have a specific project but I just got an iPad Pro and Pencil so I’m having fun doodling on a new medium. Outside of design, I love cooking and baking and I’m always working on improving my food photography and recipe skills.

4. What’s your favorite holiday season indulgence?

Cookies all the way. And whiskey … but that’s really all year long.

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Stacy Kuhlmann, Project Manager

1. What brought you to Superhuman?

I came to Superhuman for a chance to surround myself with a highly talented, hilarious group of people. The fact that we can come to work and laugh all day while producing great work says a lot. The collaborative nature and having the chance to get your voice heard within the lifetime of a project is something I’ve always strived to have in a job.

2. What’s a career goal you’d like to accomplish in 2017? 

In 2017, I want to step up and not shy away from contributing to projects that are foreign or challenging. Creating efficiencies within our workplace is also a goal I want to incorporate on a daily basis.

3. What’s your passion project right now?

After work, I’m currently taking graphic design classes. Learning at school and working side by side with my talented coworkers every day gets me excited to continue to explore the creative field.

4. What’s your favorite holiday season indulgence?

I love the holiday and winter season because it gives me an excuse to hibernate and stay indoors for days at a time without guilt. It’s a perfect chance to slow down and spend quality time with friends, family, puzzles, red wine and all the cheese.

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Becky Lang, Creative Director

1. What brought you to Superhuman?

I wanted to try my hand at freelancing for awhile and Superhuman pulled me in right away. Soon, it became the only place I wanted to work. The level of collaboration, creative thinking, and polish is so fulfilling. Plus we eat really good food.

2. What’s a career goal you’d like to accomplish in 2017? 

Same as every year: I want to write a book. I’ve produced, contributed to and edited a couple, but I’d like to write one cover to cover. At work, I’d like to take the thought leadership I see at Superhuman and put it out into the world in interesting new ways.

3. What’s your passion project right now?

I’m going to start blogging about wellness experiments for City Pages, so that should be fun. I’ve also started doing podcast recaps of The Bachelor. When I’m not writing or making content, I am usually cooking. It’s such a relaxing outlet for creativity and it lets me work with my hands instead of my brain.

4. What’s your favorite holiday season indulgence?

I make a hot apple brandy cider that is really comforting and delicious. I’ve had to stop making it so often because when it’s there, we’re drinking it.

Should Your Brand Flirt with Women’s Empowerment?

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Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson - Mad Men _ Season 7, Episode 2 - Photo Credit: Michael Yarish/AMC

Women’s empowerment is a hot topic in advertising right now. As a lady, it seems like I can’t watch a razor commercial without being reminded that a) I’m amaaazing b) I’m beautiful, smooth legs or nah c) I can do anything! Sometimes these ads might acknowledge that it’s hard being a woman, as in we want to do it all, but we can’t, and also our teenage children scoff at our choice in footwear, no matter how hard we try to be hip.  This topic is so hot there’s even an awards show called #Femvertising.

The idea behind #Femvertising is a provocative and smart one. The award show itself aims to “honor companies that are challenging gender stereotypes by building awareness-generating, pro-female messages and images into ads that target women.” Challenging gender stereotypes and building awareness for women’s issues are noble pursuits, and brands have the money and scale to take them on. I can’t fault a brand for setting about to try to make women’s lives better.

That said, brands start from a tricky position of having decades of gender stereotype-coded messaging under their belts. Brands aren’t just one of the biggest peddlers of gender stereotypes — oftentimes they’ve created them. (Would diamonds be a girl’s best friend if the diamond companies hadn’t told us they were?) Today, many commercials are targeted at “gatekeeper moms,” assuming that not only do moms spend most of a family’s money, but they do almost all of a family’s cooking and cleaning too. (Even though realistically, 28% of women are the breadwinners in today’s families and 1.9 million dads stay home with the kids.)

This doesn’t mean that brands can’t have credibility in this space. Oftentimes advertising recognizes the scale and influence of a population far before even Hollywood does. Advertising will probably beat mainstream T.V. and movies when it comes to fully embracing America’s growing hispanic population, even if they may talk to them in a way that totally misses the mark. For women, advertising has evolved a lot since the days when Peggy Olson tried to prove women wanted facial cream for something other than landing a husband. It can’t hurt that women like Peggy have increasingly entered the advertising space, even if they still only make up 11% of creative directors. But compared to Hollywood, where only 12% of protagonists were women in 2014, advertising’s desire to not just court, but better understand women is worth a head nod, at the least.

So when did advertising first get bit by the women’s empowerment bug? To answer that, we’d have to figure out when women’s empowerment first reached the point of precipitation in culture. For fun, I looked to see if that term has been rising in Google trends. The answer? Not really.

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A smattering of celebrities have been raising awareness about feminist issues lately, from Emma Watson (#HeForShe) to Beyoncé to Lena Dunham. The increasing dialog about street harassment, women’s reproductive health, the wage gap and rape awareness has risen thanks to the Internet/blogosphere and comedians like Jessica Williams and Amy Schumer. There’s also the election, which has become a fight to appeal to feminists, mostly between Hillary Clinton, the potential first female president, and Bernie Sanders, a proponent of a higher minimum wage and better parental leave policies.

I’m sure these are influential factors, but it’s just as likely that brands just want to be like Dove. Unilever’s minimalistic body product brand struck a chord with its #RealBeauty campaign a decade ago, and brands catering to women have been clamoring to follow in their footsteps ever since. Since then we’ve seen some very compelling ad creative aimed at raising awareness of women’s issues, from Always’ #LikeaGirl documentary to American Greetings’ #WorldsToughestJob. What’s going to win your brand an advertising award? A tear-jerking documentary that really means something is going to do better than a shallow portrayal of a stereotype every time.

But criticism of this type of marketing is starting to rise along with it. The New York Times published a scathing essay by Jia Tollentino examining the many ways empowerment is being sold to women. She compares the feminism of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In project to Kim Kardashian’s statement that she is empowered by her [naked] body. “Sandberg and Kardashian are perceived by most to be opposites, two aesthetically distinct brands fighting for our allegiance, when each has pioneered a similar, punish­ingly individualistic, market-driven understanding of women’s worth, responsibility and strength. In the world of women’s empowerment, they say the same thing differently: that our radical capability is mainly our ability to put money in the bank.”

It’s the kind of final sentence that will make all women wince a little bit, because it rings a little too true. And yet. A part of me is hesitant to be too pessimistic about brands’ sudden interest in women’s empowerment. Yes, it seems that the rising awareness of our issues unfortunately seems to come with hashtags attached to products. But that’s better than nothing, and certainly better than resorting back to advertising that plays to female insecurities. Brands are never going to dole out spoonfuls of pure empowerment without there being some business goal at the center. But they can work hard to make their message ring true rather than hollow. When they do, they can create something truly powerful.

For brands who want to play in this field, I humbly offer these tips for doing something meaningful for women’s empowerment:

1. Acknowledge that There are Real Forces in the World That Hold Women Back

What feels the most phony in this women’s empowerment movement is any ad aimed at giving a woman a little ego boost. Women are not getting the short end of the stick because we just don’t believe in ourselves enough. Our problems are not actually our own fault. We’re paid less, we’re harassed more and our rights are brought into question every time there’s an election. If your brand can do something about one of these actual problems rather than just tell us we’re beautiful no matter what, you’re on the track.

2. To that Point, It’s Not Just About Being Beautiful

By emphasizing beauty, you’re just reinforcing the idea that our looks are all that matter.

3. It’s About What You Do for Women, Not Just What You Say to Them

You can write a beautiful poem about the power of women and put it in an ad, or you can lead by example. You can pay your company’s female employees equally, give them three months of maternity leave and put women in executive positions. You can publicize this and encourage other companies to do the same. You can also make products that make women’s lives easier.

4. Focus on Real Women, Not Aspirational Women

Almost all the good ads about women’s empowerment are documentary-style, in my opinion. No anthemic excitement-fest is going to say what real women can say as well as they can.

5. Listen to Women in the Creation of Your Campaign

It shows when you don’t!

Becky Lang

Absurdity: The Best Way for Ads to Reach Millennials?

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lil-sweet

Justin Guarini. A cat driving a tiny car. A confused dad as “the straight man” in a suddenly pink and bubbly universe.

Some form of this equation must have been chalked up on the wall as creatives dreamt up Diet Dr. Pepper’s latest ad. It reads like the episode of South Park where they discover Family Guy jokes are written by a manatee pushing balls into a Powerball-like machine. The theory is, if we string a bunch of random pop culture references together in a bizarre way, it creates magic for millennials.

This type of advertising is nothing new. Skittles has been pioneering it for years, and many other snack brands have followed suit since. Skittles’ brand of absurdity hasn’t historically rested on celebrity guest appearances, but their latest Superbowl ad featuring Steven Tyler seemed to indicate that they are heading in that direction. Before that, many Skittles ads focused on banal but relatable moments, like awkward job interviews.

This type of topsy-turvy “situation comedy” absurdism is reminiscent of Geico ads, which Matt Damon’s 30 Rock character Carol criticized for having too many mascots.

Absurdity has been going on in advertising for a long time, but lately I’ve felt like more ads than ever are super-weird. Being a millennial, presumably the target, I have had to question what it all means about me, advertising and the world. Here are a couple guesses.

Hypothesis One: People won’t pay attention to your advertising unless it is off-the-walls weird.

There’s a lot of noise out there, and more media outlets are vying for our attention than ever before. Beyond that, people just don’t see ads that often when they’re buried in Netflix, Amazon Prime or fast-forwarding through them on regular old TV. Advertisers are getting savvy as of late and asking creators of shows to help them make ads that blend into a show, so you’re less likely to skip through. This Old Navy ad starring Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein captures this well.

If grabbing attention is the goal, these ads do the trick better than, say, watching Selena Gomez toss her hair in a Pantene commercial or any more typical ad. So, in that case, well done. (No hate to Selena though — you’re magical.)

Hypothesis Two: Absurdity is brand’s self-awareness taken to the next level.

Because of millennials’ general literacy when it comes to branding, the reigning approach has often been self-aware advertising. “Yes, we know this is an ad. But at least we know that, so let’s have some fun.” Watch any channel aimed at 18-24-year-old dudes and the majority of ads use this tone. Absurdist advertising takes this a step further. “We know this is an expensive production about pillowcases. Isn’t that, by nature, a bit absurd? Let’s celebrate the bizareness of this.”

This morning I saw several La-Z-Boy ads featuring Brooke Shields throwing water in the face of a guy named Demitri who didn’t believe the chairs were La-Z-Boy chairs. Compared to most furniture ads, this one is pretty funny, and it’s smart to play on its daytime TV timeslot. But at the core, it seems to be saying, “This is a commercial about chairs. Who cares. Let’s make it weird.” Gotta say, it made me laugh out loud a couple times. Thanks Brooke Shields!

Absurd / Weird Advertising: Bad or Good? (Or Does it Work on This Millennial?)

In my opinion, absurd ads can be sorted into two categories: ones where it seems like the people making them had fun, and over-engineered ones that feel forced. You can tell the people making the La-Z-Boy ad were having fun. The Justin Guarini ad for Diet Dr. Pepper sits in the gray area between feeling generally fun and feeling weird in a “safe/pandering” way. The Skittles ad falls firmly in the latter camp, in my opinion.

Engineering a bunch of random celebrities to “go viral” in an ad comes from a very different place than taking a risk with your brand and trying something different and self-aware. When we work on brands, they become very important to us. But remembering that to consumers, your brand may just be fun — and not the center of their world — can lead to some incredibly refreshing advertising. If there’s one style that’s going to dominate commercials, I’ll take gleeful absurdity over the alternatives, as long as it’s done well.

Becky Lang