Nothing happens by itself. Everything is triggered by something other than itself and anything has the potential to be a trigger. Approaching the work we do for clients with this simple fact in mind lets us get out of our own way, listen more empathetically, look more deeply and transform ideas into some sort of value for everyone who will experience them. Clients, audiences, and ourselves. Think Tank 3 turned 5 this year and it's still a bit of an experiment, a perpetual work in progress, an idea in and of itself. We don't have a logo, we have a look, an ethos, a sensibility, and a natural propensity to recognize and treat ideas with respect. Depending on how you look at it, we are either the misfits or the graduates of the ad industry who cherish independence--being that it leads to independent thinking and all. Our goal is to tell a good story through the campaigns we create on our client's behalf, make sure their brand is really their brand--not our styling. We move back and forth between media until the mix is just right, look for triggers and create environments for them to reveal their intentions. Given the 24/7 and RGB world we live in, it seems like the responsible way forward. Again, for everyone involved. Our clients, audiences, and ourselves. This issue of Trigger is our long overdue, longwinded, long format greeting; a check in with those of you we promised to keep posted on what we've been up to. We hope it finds you well, instigates a response, a visit, a project, or something.
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Think Tank 3 is our idea of what a modern advertising agency should be. We refer to ourselves as A Modern Day Think-Shop™ and work with clients including The Coca-Cola Company, Comedy Central, and TiVo out of a storefront in NYC where our creative director curates culturally relevant exhibits that we hope will trigger some thought, tell a story worth repeating, perhaps even begin a meaningful dialogue. The links below will bring you up to date on the past few exhibits, and some work we’re doing now.

The Lowest Common Denominator

What look like prison laundry carts or large mail bins on wheels have been transformed into closets on wheels. A guy I very liberally call a crazy neighbor pushes them around the block every other day. There are three of them total and they’re packed pretty high. Difficult to move an inch much less around the block. My neighbor pushes one at a time, little by little about half a block at a time. Then returns to get the next one. Never leaving any doubt about the stuff, being his stuff. The plastic bags contain items of like kind. There’s a madness to the method but there is indeed a method. Plastic bottles, glass bottles, clothing, shoes, toiletries, blankets, cleaning supplies, books, CDs, tools, etc. Everything has a place and everything is contained somehow in a separate bag or level. He doesn’t fit any demo or psychographic that marketers routinely ask us to think about, target with our ad campaigns, or “reach” if you will. He’s a guy, somehow eccentric, perhaps a performance artist waiting to be discovered, or maybe he really is full on crazy and homeless. He yells at me and whomever else approaches him; unintelligible things but he looks physically “okay” by New York City standards.

The thing is, he is more like the rest of us, than unlike us. He is a consumer. Perhaps one whose consumerist desires were interrupted, but the emotional memory, that of what makes him feel good remains. So he’s not a Walmart frequent shopper, or a patron of Whole Foods, or someone you’d run into at the Apple store or the Gap. But he wants stuff, needs stuff, and cares for his stuff.

Easy enough to call him a scavenger but he represents something more; the societal, human condition that we’re all afflicted with. For better and for worse, perhaps. The need to accumulate stuff, store stuff, go out and get more stuff. It’s a factor in how we express ourselves, how we experience our world, how we connect with each other. It’s a life thing. Not good or bad, just life. Wherever in the world you go, poor nation or rich, it’s people’s stuff that will help you understand them a little more. Their choices, their desires, their needs. Here’s my neighbor, pushing not just the stuff of his life "but essentially his life"-- on a recent day past our storefront in the West Village. If he had a home to take his stuff to, he’d look like the rest of us, and fit a typical profile: Urban Male 24-35. We’re connected by consumption, the lowest common denominator.

Comments, questions, objections?
Talk to Sharoz.


THIS IS NOT AN AD:Unsolicited Observations from a restless mind.

MURKETING: Now With Less Value Added, so claims NYT columnist, Rob Walker.

FLICKR MANIA: A visual blog that has a life of it’s own thanks to people who show up, etc.


Pasadena Ca. At the south campus Art Center College of Design in a converted wind tunnel, where the shapes of wings were once perfected, there was a recent gathering by innovaters to discuss winds of a different sort, winds of change.

While each presenter had a different message the one thread that held all of them together is that with global climate change and current resource use there is a sense of urgency to change the way we do business as it is incompatible with civilization's long term well being.

These were not Birkenstock wearing hippies or tree hugging environmentalists but rathers scientists, engineers and designers, Among the distinguished speakers was Paul MacCready, Ph.D. the designer of the first human powered airplane. David Goodstein, Ph.D. Author and Vice provost and professor of physics and applied physics at the California Institute of Technology. Amory Lovins co-founder and CEO of Rocky Mountain Institute. Dean Kamen, holder of hundreds of patents, Dan Sturges the inventor of the first new car class in our lifetime--the Neighborhood Electric Vehicle or NEV. The creative and design directors of Honda, Ford, BMW and a bunch of other not-so-underachievers also discussed new ways for us to shape transportation systems and economy to adjust to said changes.

To hear someone like Dr. Paul MacCready matter-of-factly say that we need to approach this change with the same sacrifice and determination that we approached WW II. Or Dr. Goodstein of Caltech say, also matter-of-factly that "Our Civilization may collapse as we are so dependent on oil and that's not in our future". Or to hear Dean Kamen say when talking about the auto industry and all that it encompasses that "we've outgrown the system model and it's over". If this isn't a wake up call that you can't ignore, I don't know what is.

As the only member of the advertising industry at this conference I couldn't help think about the connection between the need for radical change that was articulated throughout the conference and the role of the advertising industry in this needed change.

My day-to-day responsibilities of the last couple of years have been acting as president of a small idea-centric shop in NYC; Think Tank 3. There is a lot to do and worry about every day. We worry about the quality of our work, we worry about keeping our clients happy. We don't worry about the hubble curve, melting polar glaciers, and the need to build new cities because of rising ocean levels. Sure we read and think but in general these are not things we worry about.

As an industry advertising is pretty light on the planet. After all there are no smoke stacks. We have no metal to stamp. No plastic to melt, no widgets to make, and the waste we create is mostly paper. But the issue is not the energy consumption that we use to run our industry but rather our industry's influence across all other industries. After the designers design, the engineers engineer, the factories are tooled and begin churn out goods it is our job to sell whatever it is we are hired to sell. And as such, our influence is profound. It is our industry that lies at the intersection of products and consumers. We bring insights to the table and create desire for products. And it is this desire that drives consumer demand otherwise known as consumption.

Our industry's role in the economy is essential. This is not something you get a sense of working within an agency. But something that is there if you measure the amount of goods sold because of what we do.

As advertising professionals it's easy to remove ourselves from any serious discussion regarding our contribution towards the state of the earth. It's so easy to hide behind our clients and say that they are driving the bus and we are just passengers. And then of course there is the excuse that there will always be another agency happy to pick any work that you would turn down.

Recognizing all of this, there is still a necessity to begin an industry dialogue. So let's begin it. If the predictions are true about climate change, then business as usual is anything but "usual". And as an industry we need to recognize our influence and instead of shirking away from our responsibility learn how embrace our role as positive change agents, the time to sit on the sidelines is over. What we need is not hang wringing but leadership.

The question is, What is the approach that we take to get off the sidelines? This is something that I've been thinking about and think I have an answer for, or at least the beginning of an answer. Certainly something that can provide a foundation for other people in our industry to build on. The insight is based on another profession. That profession is medicine where the Hippocratic oath-taken by all doctors at graduation from medical school prior to practicing medicine.

The basic premise of the Hippocratic oath is recognition of the damage that doctors can do in treating people improperly that if they are not careful they can do great damage and thus they take an oath to make healing their patients their professional priority. If you ask a doctor what his/her purpose is ideally the first part of the answer will be: To Heal.

Perhaps our industry needs the equivalent of a Hippocratic oath. A commitment to recognize the power we have, the great damage we could do, and to therefore promise to and sincerely intend to do only good with our skills. This is a shift from our industry's traditional model of doing anything to make money and taking on pro bono assignments to make us feel better about what we have to do to make payroll and keep the lights on day in and day out.

Creatively we know we can do good work for any product or service--that is NOT a challenge. The challenge is how do we keep people employed and shareholders happy doing good?

This is admittedly not easy, and in fact it may be not be impossible for some agencies but we at least need to talk about it. Example: If we know that as an industry we have the skills to make people think that smaller more efficient cars are also "cool" then shouldn't we commit to doing that? And would GM even make a Hummer if they knew that no agency would work on it for them? We have a lot of influence with consumers and this gives us some leverage that we shouldn't be afraid of using intelligently.

It will take real leadership, the kind that gives someone the confidence to navigate unchartered waters, safely. In many ways our industry is about keeping up with change so I'm confident this is a challenge we can rise to, if we decide to embrace it.

Comments, questions, objections?
Send them to Harris on this one.


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