Trends, commentary, and insightful rants from the bleeding edge of advertising, content & branding.



Her words are witchcraft and heresy. The very tools of the Devil!


Although by no means exact, rough web based estimates of the number of words in the English language put the total at somewhere between 750,000 and 1 million.  By any civilized standard this is too many! A million words! That has the sulfuric stench of the devil.  Here at super genius we’d wager that at least 40% of that is pure waste, and we’d like to do our part to cut that waste. On the heels of the infamous memo put out by Tribune CEO Randy Michaels (a memo we support by the way); we’ve decided to begin publishing our own list of words we’re banning in 2010 and invite crowdsourced (uh oh! spoiler alert on that one!) additions.  Now, a millions words is a lot for us to go through so as THE BANNENING continues and we add new words we’ll publish them in our twitter feed (there’s another one!) under #dumbwords. The real goal here, is to avoid using words that make you sound like a jargon drunk simpleton. By not using these words you enhance your reputation as a human being. And so:

BRAND PROMISE (yes we know, two words, but it’s combination that kills)





ALCOPOP (this was actually on the 2007 list but we didn’t publish that year)

BLOG (the term micro-blog has been added to our 2011 watchlist)



Additional words will be published via the 140 character service known as Twitter under the hash #dumbwords. If you have words to add to the list please do the same. Cheers!

Filed under: advertising, Bad Ads, Self Help, skateboarding cats, Uncategorized, Vampires, , , , , , ,

Super Genius launches Facebook brand page and application for client lia sophia.

liasophia_AppADOur agency has just “given birth” to an official Facebook brand presence for lia sophia. Their business is largely driven by referrals and relationships, and social media tools align perfectly with how their Advisors work.  We’ve also created a photo sharing app that brings the lia sophia brand to life – by literally allowing fans to share jewelry on photos of their friends.  The photo sharing app was designed to tap into the sharing functionality Facebook provides.  With a simple call to action of “add lia sophia jewelry to your friends’ photos”, a user can select a photo from their own albums or their friends’ available albums they want to decorate with lia sophia jewelry.   Complete with cropping and rotation features, users can get their touches of jewelry just right before sharing.  Users can save the photos and post their friends’ walls which generate powerful news feeds for awareness.  The app also allows a user save an unlimited amount of images that they have created and sent to friends and any that they have received from friends.

Filed under: facebook, social media, supergenius llc, viral, , , ,

Black Dynamite: In Your Face Advertising

ebonyjetrethinkCheck out a piece we wrote for that debuted today.

RETHINK is an occasional series featuring contemporary thought on classic Ebony And Jet photos and articles.

We asked ad agency executive Mat Burnett, of Super Genius LLC in Chicago to give some modern perspective on a series of revolutionary ads done by Johnson Publishing in the late 1960s and how far (or not) ethnic advertising has come since then.

Filed under: ad agency, advertising, supergenius llc, , , , , ,

You Are Not a Brand

smarmy“I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being! I am a man!”

This is a pet peeve.  In fact, peeve may be too soft a description for my feelings on this issue. What “issue” you ask?   Oh well, that would be this whole notion which has taken root over the past seven or ten years that perfectly normal people should act as if they are boxes of detergent.  This whole idea of, “what’s your brand?” and “what’s your positioning?” as if the divine combination of soul and intellect is now the moral equivalent of Cheerios.  I had some hope that the New Depression would kill this off but no such luck.  Hey, if you’re Lebron James it’s fine. I get it. $150 million. You’re a corporation. You’re a mensch. You have people.  You’re Oprah? Understood.  Multi-platform proposition.  You help elect presidents. Enough said.  Even Donny Deutsch.  I guess…so.  Well, you had a television show. Fair enough.


2nd Vice President of Sales at Avirtex? Not so fast.  Not with that haircut.

I could continue ranting like this for the rest of the post but there is a (slightly) larger point to be made.  As the web becomes more social and as brands cede more control to people; and, really, as brands start to act more like people what with the twittering and the facebookery and so forth. In that kind of landscape it doesn’t make any sense for the real people to continue acting like brands.  Because plainly that’s not what we want from our brands these days. What we want is a sense of social responsibility. What we want is a sense of foible. What we want, dear Brutus, is a sense of HUMANITY from our brands. And if that’s what we want from Clorox Green then we certainly prefer humanity in the actual humans.

You take that all the way to its philosophical endpoint. All the way to its QED. And what it means is that we are approaching an online social geography where brands are secondary to the people or “friends’ who use and recommend them to us and, beyond that, the value of a “brand” is only as good as its ability to live up to its WOM.  Or it’s only as good as the people who have the name on their business cards.  I’m looking at you, Washington Mutual.  This has always been true. We’re not shaking the cosmos here; but the facts got obscured back when we still had banks and U.S. made cars.  People used to actually talk to you (vodka soda in hand) about their “brand.” And not in a funny “Sex and the City” way either, but in a deadly serious I think I’m Martha Stewart way. And the terrifying bit? This self-delusion among white-collar professionals continues to this day.

I’m looking at you, Linkedin.

Self-branding is a silent killer.  Seems right in the moment. “Oh, I have to be a ‘go getter’ brand to get that job.”  Really?  What a mercenary and cynical approach to life that seems to be.  I’m speaking as someone who embraces the Great Game of advertising and marketing in all its tiny glory.  Honestly, I like my brands just as they are and I prefer people to simply be people.  For those of you not offended by this rant and who would like help with you actual, inanimate “brands” please contact one of the super geniuses (

Filed under: Self Help, , , ,

Sailing and the Art of Social Media

Man Overboard

Man Overboard

Let’s say you want to take sailing lessons. You go down to the pier, and pick up two brochures: one that’s glossy and slick, explaining how fun sailing is, with pictures of smiling sailors drinking champagne at sunset, put out by a well-known shipping company. The second one is obviously made on someone’s Macintosh, by two guys who live by the ocean, and tells you the nuts and bolts of what you’re going to learn.

Which company do you choose? Replace “sailing” with “social media” in the above paragraph, and it’s likely you’ll take the glossy brochure. Because they’re professional shippers, right? They know the ocean. They’ve been there before. The problem is, they have no idea how to actually get in the boat and push off the dock.

This is the trouble with PR firms right now. Their traditional media world is disintegrating around them, and they’re flinging themselves into social media like it’s water and they’re on fire. Because as Public Relations becomes less about newspapers (dying), magazines (gasping), broadcast (fragmenting) and blogs (moving to Twitter), the only thing they can see that makes sense as a future business model has an F at the beginning and a K at the end and has “aceboo” in the middle.

But PR companies are shipping companies: they are built to deliver big messages along traditional lines to create “news” and “events.” They are not built to scale. It’s likely that they got interested in social media about the same time you did, and are about the same place on the learning curve. It is also likely that they do not use social media.

This point bears repeating: while they know what social media is, and how it works, and who else is on there, if they don’t use it, they’re useless to you.

In social media, fluency is everything. Literally: everything. It changes so quickly that by the time most learn about a trend, the trend has played itself out: see “25 Random Things.” It’s not enough to be ahead of the curve. You need to be the curve. You don’t need PR. You need to know where social media will be tomorrow.

Creating and sustaining conversations with consumers, users, people requires a skill set built around engagement and participatory storytelling. Frankly, if the engine of online today is conversation then the fuel is content.  To keep the conversation going, to keep the dialogue moving requires more than just words in the air, it requires the ability to develop social tools (apps, widgets, etc.) and useful content (video, games, etc.) and cede some control to your consumers.  Sure, we (agency/brand/whomever) need to participate in those conversations but it starts with a strategic understanding of the sandbox we want to create and the technical capacity to create the right pails and shovels to go in that sandbox.

And not to toot our own horn – or, screw it, that’s exactly what we’re doing. If you’re at all serious about social media, you need people like us. Geeks with ideas. Plugged-in members of the technorati with a marketing background. We’re rare. We’re effective. And most importantly, we know how to sail.

Filed under: social media, , , , , , ,

Why We Blog

thacarterAgency blogs suck. That’s why we write one. It is a strange feeling to communicate in a medium you despise. Deep down, you despise blogs too. With rare exception, blogs do not add anything to your life. They are time-suckers. They are usually poorly written. They breed like gnats. Of these creatures, there are few things worse than the corporate blog, which are typically just glorified vehicles for press releases. Of the corporate blogs, there are few things worse than the advertising agency blog, because it has the stench of desperation. You can see someone, somewhere in the organization decided the blog had to be clever – because we’re an AD AGENCY, dammit – and so you have the obligatory twist of whimsy. But since it’s still a corporate communication, it has to go through legal, PR, IT, and some poor junior copywriter whose job it is to keep the blog from doing anything that would slander the reputation of the company. The result is inevitably unreadable. Why do we blog? I’m sure the readers of this blog are using the word ‘hypocrite’ along with their epithet of choice, and they’re probably not wrong. We might be hypocrites, or worse. We snark. We steal from popular culture. We bite the hands that feed us. We link to the sites that pique our interest and occasionally offer meta-commentary. We post opinions as fact. We have an alarmingly high opinion of ourselves. We lie to ourselves while pretending to be brutally honest. We’re maddeningly inconsistent. None of which you’ll find on a typical agency blog, except for the alarmingly high self-regard. If these were other times in history, we’d streak, or skywrite, or perform magic tricks. We’d paint, drink absinthe, and become expatriates. In some eras, we’d be hailed as prophets, in others, heretics. But this is 2009. And that is why we blog.

Filed under: advertising, online advertising, skateboarding cats, supergenius llc, , , , , , , ,

The Enduring Mythology of the “Name” Advertising Agency

death of the dinosaursThe Enduring Mythology of the “Name” Advertising Agency

Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM. That’s the story. IBM was such an industry standard, and so widely perceived as being the best in the business, that no one could impugn you for making a decision based on that name alone.

Well, we all know that was a load of horse crap. Plenty of people got fired for buying IBM; IBM just had them quietly killed to preserve their word-of-mouth. But the temptation to buy something large, well-regarded, and safe is still with us. It’s how most of us buy (or bought, and will again) houses, cars, investment funds.

Oh, and by the way, advertising agencies.

That’s the funny part of this business. Agencies stake their name on their early campaigns that create edgy, breakthrough, back-of-a-napkin, two-guys-in-their-wetsuits campaigns that change a category and instantly make a name for themselves. Then those agencies get noticed, and get more business than the two guys in their wetsuits can handle. They get big. They hire people. They hire people to manage those people. And every level they add puts them further and further away from the ideas that made them great in the first place.

Here’s the ugly truth: big agencies get out of the idea business. They get into the selling-the-idea business. They stop feeling the idea and start thinking it to death. That’s why with every idea, you get a ream of paper explaining why the idea is not only good, it is also right. And they create an entire bureaucratic structure of planners, account service, creative and media to sell the idea to you, so you can sell it to your boss. Because nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.

Everyone who works at Super-Genius has worked at a big agency. We’ve made the sausage. We know what goes into one. And we were once seduced by the big names, too. We get it.

But we wanted to talk ideas without asking the admin assistant to schedule a pre-brief meeting in the staff room. We wanted to pick up the phone and talk to you. We wanted to be closer to the work and farther away from the smoke and mirrors we use to sell you the work.

Who knows? We might hire a bunch of people and sell out to Omnicom tomorrow.

But today? You’ve got two guys in wetsuits. Anything is possible.

Filed under: ad agency, advertising, brands, supergenius llc, , , , , ,

The Good News is…You’re Fired.

munchRecessions Are Good. Pass It On.

Stock trackers off, people.  Disable them, get them off your iGoogle, hide them on your iPhone, just put them away for a little while. Let’s focus on something else.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that we’ve been in recession for a year. The trouble isn’t that we’re in a recession. The trouble is that we’re scared to death.

Welcome to capitalism: recessions happen here. Always have. Part of the deal. The economy grows, reaches a breaking point, and recedes for a while, like a wave on the beach. A breather. An adjustment. It’s a healthy, natural part of the economic cycle. It clears out the bad wood and allows new trees to grow.

And that’s what we should be focused on, instead of the minute-by-minute stock trackers: cycle. Yeah, credit-default swaps and bubble real-estate markets are scary and unpredictable, but here’s the deal: we’ve been here before, we’ll be here again. No matter your personal philosophy, this is a real opportunity to get in touch with your inner Buddhist.

Oh, there’s another one: opportunity. Because – taking our cues from the Buddhists – if we stop focusing on what was, and what will be, we can free ourselves to look around and concentrate on the here and now. Calm hearts and minds will be the real winners right now, those people who can see beyond the panic and concentrate on what they can do today.

When so much is out of our control, we tend to prepare for the worst. But there is opportunity in every recession, even if the headlines drown it out. Your opportunities may be personal or professional, internal or external. But they’re there, and they’re real, and they’re more productive than firing up a browser and watching the stock market freak out.

Filed under: recession, , ,

You Are Not Viral. Stop Trying.

funny-pictures-strings-forte-pleaseSo you’ve decided to save some money this year by crafting a funny, on-message, stealth viral campaign.

Congratulations. You’ve already failed.

Here is the sad, honest truth that keeps a lot of creative people cranking out a lot of subpar home videos and releasing them to the web:

Viral is a lottery ticket. So many factors have to be working with you that it is impossible to predict the success and failure of any one idea, no matter how brilliantly conceived and on-target. In fact, the brilliantly conceived, on-target viral campaigns are the most doomed to fail. Here’s why:

It’s not the perfect storm. For a viral campaign to really catch fire, every wind has to be blowing in your direction. For ten years now, everyone in Hollywood has been trying to recreate the campaign for The Blair Witch Project. This just happened to be the first movie that utilized the web as its main promotional medium, by creating a virtual, creepy, unpolished world that heightened the verisimilitude of the movie itself. It couldn’t have been done after that, it couldn’t have been done prior to that. It only worked because there happened to be dramatic technological upheaval and a new form of communication.

The idea has come and gone. Let’s stay with arguably the most successful viral movie campaign of our lifetimes, Blair Witch. In the wake of that film, a hundred movies tried to do exactly the same thing with a thousand times the budget. But viral is a fickle mistress: once you’ve seen it, it’s over. I mean, over. The target for Blair Witch probably didn’t notice the desperate attempts to catch their attention, because they saw it the first time, when it was still cool.

Your competition has multiplied. By a million. When you make the leap to the web, you’re no longer competing for eyeballs with other marketers. You’re competing for eyeballs with everyone who owns a computer. There are a million people in Los Angeles alone trying to craft “viral” videos to advance their career, to land an agent, to hit the big time – and they don’t have a product to push. Andy Samberg creates a viral video on SNL every couple of weeks, has a million people watch it on television, and (aside from Lazy Sunday) still can’t get much viral traction. Professional entertainers can’t do this. It’s hard.

You’re smarter than a doorknob. Afro Ninja. Numa Numa. Star Wars Kid. Some of the most popular viral videos of all time. What do they have in common? They are viscerally stupid. They’re humiliating. They are the web equivalent of a blooper reel. If you’re smart enough to say the words “viral marketing campaign,” you’ve intellectually excluded yourself from being able to judge whether a viral video will succeed or fail. Your sense of humor is not America’s. Please trust us.

You can embarrass yourself. A lot. Because the most successful viral videos tend to be the most outrageous, marketers frequently assume that outrageousness will get noticed. This is deadly thinking. For every Bruce Campbell Old Spice or JC Penney’s ad that gets traction, there are a thousand misfires, some of them crippling. is a smart agency in general. How did this happen? But by far, the majority of viral efforts just never get noticed at all. And that’s embarrassing enough.

Viral does not mean free. Pay to play, baby. Unless your video features NSFW images of people doing unspeakable things (or a skateboarding cat) you can’t just release into the wild on its own and expect some sort of wildfire runaway hit.  You want people to know about it? You want your viral thingy to get seen? You better be prepared to ante up for that viral goodness.

This is not a screed against web content in general. The smartest thing you can be doing is looking for new opportunities to spread your marketing message via the internet. Just don’t go looking for the viral force to be with you.

Filed under: online advertising, skateboarding cats, supergenius llc, viral, , , , , ,

Content Sucks

The Bard

The Bard

I’m going to write a few words, and I want you to note the first thing that pops into your head. Don’t worry, this isn’t a test, just an illustration. Here we go:








Chances are, the first six words conjured an emotion, a picture, an idea in your head.

And chances are, the last one didn’t.

“Content” sucks. “Content” is a word that people use to hide behind when they don’t know what they want. It’s a safe, open word that people can fill with their own meanings, and keeps you from having to make a decision. Like “synergy” and “reengineering” and “benchmarking” before it, it has been rendered meaningless from overuse. It’s uninspiring. It’s a verbal placeholder until a better word comes along.

So don’t.

Don’t use the word “content.” Spend the extra three seconds to find the word that expresses what you really want to say. Do you want to entertain? To inform? To inspire? To shock? To amuse? To ramble?

The word “content” is too often used to describe what goes in after we establish the brand experience. But in reality, it is the brand experience. So that word we use to describe it makes all the difference in the world.

You don’t use “transportation” to describe a motorcycle.

You don’t use “emotion” to describe the act of falling in love.

You can do better than “content.” Try.

Filed under: supergenius llc, , , ,


Super Genius LLC is a digital media and creative incubator that excels at bringing fresh, new thinking to existing strategy as well as blank-page strategic development. Our mission is to open up unique and exciting ways of connecting brands and consumers.

"The future is here, it's just not evenly distributed yet." William Gibson

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