Internship SmackDown! Week 7: Cope-a-SEE-no.

“Shit.” I was annoyed.

My wife knows instinctively when it’s time to talk me off the ledge. This, more than anything, is probably why I love her. That, and her french toast casserole. Or her Magic Buffalo Chicken Dip, which she totally gets all the credit for, even though I discovered the damn thing, and cobbled together the recipe in the first goddamned place. But I digress.

“Shit,” I whined. “I’ve got nothing for class tonight, and what I do have for class is completely lousy.” This, of course, is probably not true, but I’ve convinced myself otherwise, and when I get in that frame of mind, it’s hard to get out. 

What was the project that was driving me bonkers? Our assignment this week was to come up with an outdoor and print campaign for ru2hot.org, a great message that is clouded by poor execution. Public service projects, as I found out over the course of the week, can be challenging to pull off-especially for something as serious and important as HIV testing. I strongly felt that HIV testing is something that deserves better than a cheap joke or gimmick for a campaign. It certainly deserves better than the pandering message it’s currently getting.

Shirtless dude? Check. Pandering tagline? Gotcha. Ineffective execution? You betcha.

But nothing I came up with clicked with me. I had two pages full of half-baked ideas, and lazy taglines. I didn’t see anything in there that could live as an effective campaign, and worse, I just flat out had no ideas. Nothing. After the Victoria’s Secret debacle, I really didn’t want to go up and get obliterated again. I said to my wife, “Maybe I’ll just stay home. Conan’s premiering tonight anyway.”

“You’re being too hard on yourself,” she said. “Are you worrying too much about the internship again?”

“Of course not,” I lied. “I just want my work to be great.”

“That’s why you go to class, silly. So that you learn, make mistakes, fix those mistakes, and get better. You won’t get better if you don’t go.”

She’s right, of course. I have to tell myself that I don’t have to keep swinging for the fences with every assignment. I also have to keep telling myself that the internship is NOT the reason I’m in this class, and I need to take a step back and realize I still have a lot to learn. Some of these students are four or five quarters into their programs, if I remember correctly. This is my second ad class ever-and the first one I didn’t get to finish. I have time to figure all of this shit out. 

So I dragged myself into class. And, as usual, there was some good work being put up on the board. To hell with going third, I thought. I was going last. Actually, I’d have gone three people past last if I could get a way with it. 

Some of the work went in a direction I didn’t feel comfortable going. Overtly sexualized imagery, I felt, only played to the gay stereotype, and I have too much respect for the gay community to go there. Showing shirtless hunky men to promote HIV testing would be like using fried chicken and watermelon to raise sickle cell anemia research to the black community. I didn’t want to go there. 

Cliff came up with a powerful idea involving AIDS quilts that I will not even attempt to put into words here, because I will not do it justice. I can only hope he takes Mike’s advice and hooks up with an art director to make that come true.

And of course, I got to follow THAT.

“God bless you guys,” I started off. “I racked my brain for days trying to come up with something interesting for this, and I just couldn’t. I have two pages of half baked ideas, and I think I’m off to a good start, but this is definitely a work in progress.”

The one thing I found interesting in my research was that gay men were so scared of the possibility of having HIV, that they won’t get tested, on the off chance that they might have HIV. Which of course, doesn’t change the fact that they might, and not finding out only makes things worse. Combine that with the knowledge that several of the symptoms of HIV are very similar to the flu or strep throat, I decided to take the approach of “selling” it as if it were an over the counter drug.

The billboards didn’t really have anything to do with the print ad, more just varied explorations on the main piece.

Sidenote: I realized at that moment, that I have a tell when I’m not crazy about an idea I’m putting up on the board. When I’m happy with it, I stand there, with my chest out, waiting to deflect criticism. When I’m not thrilled with it, I literally dive for cover, and stand as far away from the toxic piece as I can. I think I was actually cowering behind Arnie’s chair.

Kurt and Mike quietly studied my work. They weren’t crazy about the billboards, but they actually thought the print piece was pretty great, to my astonishment. They told me if I were going to make that connection between the RNA test and over-the-counter drug advertising, I needed to make it stronger, and to make it obvious I’m talking about HIV testing. I’m going to ditch the billboards, and work on this as a print campaign. We’ll see how it goes.

In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t let fear keep me from going to class last night. Even though I didn’t hit a homerun, I hit a stand up double, and more importantly, I got valuable feedback on the work that I’m doing. That, more than anything, is what is the most important thing to me in this class. Strong criticisms are going to only make my work better in the long run. 

(And yes, Melissa, you were right for telling me to go to class.)

NEXT TIME: Creative Circus grads are trying to get Don Draper to speak at their commencement. But I wonder what Don Draper would have to say about portfolio schools? 

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