What I learned from Tracy Wong

5 Nov

Today, former University of Oregon grad Tracy Wong spoke to our class. Wow. Here’s a little background about Wong.  He is the winner of over 300 national and international creative awards. He is now the Chairman and Executive Creative Director of Wong Doody in Seattle, Washington. Before he began this agency, he worked for both Ogilvy and Goodby. He is working on a book entitled The Democracy of Good ideas, which he kindly shared some of his insight.

Tracy’s book is divided into chapters based on ego, reality, creation, judgement, and negotiation. As a creative, he spoke about an ego being your biggest enemy. I had never thought about this in that way, but sometimes it is hard to be criticized or told that you are wrong. What Wong said to remember is, ‘you are not your ideas’. Another was to go into a meeting not with an open mind, but an empty mind so that you can achieve objectivity. You have to separate yourself from the work that you produce.

Another thing about ego, is the work you produce. When he worked at Goodby, they landed a national vodka campaign and everyone wanted to work on it. Their other client was a then small, Mexican restaurant in southern California. Everything is a creative opportunity. Wong took on the small Mexican restaurant, Chevy’s, and determined what their unique selling point was. They made their food fresh, that day. So the concept became making a commercial ‘fresh’ in one day of production, then placed in the media that day. This account that no one wanted to work for, turning into an award-winning campaign.

“If you always follow awards you are just repeating what has already been done.” –Tracy Wong

Wong also talked a lot about strategy. From a creative perspective, you often just want to make cool and innovative things visually, but the ultimate job is to solve a problem. “A great idea is 99% strategy,” said Wong.

He talked about two campaigns he worked on that were solving a problem. The first was for a coffee shop called Tully’s. Tullys had frozen drinks that they wanted to sell in the middle of the day, in the pacific Northwest, in April. They had the problem of it being 50 degrees in April, and the saturation of Starbucks that sell virtually the same products. The problem was strategic, to get consumers to pass Starbucks and buy a frozen drinks in cold weather; yikes. What Wong and his team did was to create a ritual around Tully’s, called 3:21 wake up call. They would give away coupons good for 30 minutes at 3:21 that would awaken cubical dwellers. They had high school bands play music in the street, busses with signs, and a parade to draw attention. And it worked. Visually the design is not what important here, but the concept.  Here is a coupon from the campaign.

The next strategic campaign Wong talked about was an anti-smoking campaign for the state of Washington. This was for adult smokers, who were typically working people that were hard to reach. Initially they created a humorous campaign poking fun at the problem. The client hated it, and they went back to listen to their target market. These smokers consistently said that the only person that could make them quit smoking, was them. This gave rise to the ‘dear me campaign’.

Watching these campaigns made everyone go silent. I am not a smoker, my parents are not smokers, and I wanted to cry. This told a story and it could only have been achieved if they had not listened to their target. It is sincere and is creating a lasting relationship and a mutual dialogue between the client and the viewer.

The last thing I wanted to share from this talk was a quote that I thought was brilliant in relation to the democracy of good ideas, ‘anything is possible as long as no one cares who gets the credit for it’. Wong talked about his agency and how there are no separate creative meetings, everyone is involved with the common goal of creating good work. If you are only concerned with your worth to a company, or your preparation for your meeting, the strength of your ideas and creativity are greatly limited.

Here are some pieces of work from Wong Doody:

Clif Bar


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