On the Convergence of Politics and Advertising

SS+K founder Lenny Stern shares insights on politics, creativity + saving the world in Adweek’s Big Players, Big Ideas interview series.


Why is everyone at SS+K smiling?

Kids back in school?
Hedged against the euro?
Clint Eastwood called?
Bobby Hershfield?

Correct answer:
Bobby, our new partner/chief creative officer.

Bobby just joined SS+K last month and yet he’s had an immediate, energizing effect on us and our work.

See Bobby’s profile

He came from Mother (don’t we all?) and other great agencies, notably Wieden + Kennedy, where he went from being a good account guy to being a great creative guy. Thank you, Dan Wieden.

You can see a bit of Bobby’s work here and the announcement here – or, better yet, come by 88 Pine & see a bit of Bobby. You’ll smile, too.


Summer School

While most people spent the summer thinking about anything but school, we thought about it a lot. Great new clients Kaplan and American Student Assistance kept us in academic gear. And, in June, we launched the College Board’s Don’t Forget Ed campaign to keep education from being forgotten during the election cycle.


We put 857 empty desks underneath the Washington Monument to symbolize how many high school students drop out every hour of every school day.

The installation rocked, and made its way to the front section of the New York Times.

Next, we piled $1.5B in hundred dollar bills on Wall Street across from the New York Stock Exchange to represent what we gain by reducing the high school dropout rate by just one percent:


And it ain’t over yet. Hint: watch the debates


Get Old

It’s not what you expect to hear from anyone, least of all from the world’s leading pharmaceutical company. And that’s the point of our new effort with Pfizer.

Get Old may not be what we expect to hear, but it’s what we all hope to do: live longer, do more, see more. It’s a call to rethink our assumptions about our futures in light of medical science’s promise combined with our own potential.


Get Old
is a unique, provocative platform built on a core human truth – that everyone wants to live the longest, fullest life possible, at any age. This platform encourages dialogue, celebrates experiences and provides a space to share the wisdom and knowledge that come with getting older. Get Old represents a new bottom-up, listening-based approach for Pfizer, an effort to support a very important conversation in channels where people are already conversing.

Developing this with Pfizer has been a fascinating outing for us. It’s news we want to share with our friends, but we also invite you to join in:

  • Visit to tell us how you feel about getting old and to dive into the stories, videos, tips and information shared by Pfizer, their partners and ordinary people.
  • Join the conversation by liking the Get Old page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @GetOld and under the hashtag #LetsGetOld.
  • And If you’re near Pfizer’s worldwide headquarters in New York, at 42nd Street and 2nd Ave, come see our window installation.

We have the privilege of doing a lot of great things for a lot of great clients, but, every now and then, we get the chance to do something that brings together all of what we do best. For us, this has been one of those.












Rediscovering the Joy of Social Media With Path

Sometimes you don’t realize you ever had a problem until you have the solution.  For a while now, without thinking about it much, most of my social networking has practically been the same experience as building a resume.  Every post on Facebook, Twitter or Flickr was curated knowing that, besides my friends, hundreds of co-workers, clients, perspective employers and more would potentially be viewing.  When Klout launched, it was the ultimate manifestation of the symptom I didn’t know I had: living in public had driven me to focus too much on the necessity of perception.

Then a few months ago, enter Path. A social network that defies everything that defines every other social network.  Want people to see your content?  Too bad, it’s only on your phone so there’s no place for most people to view it.  Want to post a link you think will make you look smart?  Too bad, you can only share original content.  Want hundreds of friends + followers?  Too bad, you can only have 150 (which is based on Dunbar’s law of the number of real relationships you can mentally manage).


What you can do? Share the song you’re listening to at that exact moment on your iPod, or the location of where you’re standing, or the thought you just had, or the moment you’re about to go to bed.  Stuff that only a few people care about.  Stuff that you have to create with your phone, the most intimate application you have, by yourself.  Stuff that no one will see.  And did I mention Path was created by one of the first Facebook employees, after he helped build what is now the most public platform on the planet?

But Path, a mobile only social network defined as much by its limitations as its capability, is an absolute pleasure to use.  It’s the  antidote to the sickness of public sharing.  It’s designed with precise care to enforce an intimate experience between you and the people you care about.  It strips away the fear of something not being smart enough for the pleasure of knowing that you shared a moment with the people that matter.  It provides a freedom from the public I’d forgotten I wanted, and as such has become the social network I want to use more than any other every single day.

In exchange for the ability to make you famous, Path focuses on making you happy (in fact, their internal motto is something like “design happiness”).  When you share something on Path you see the faces of every friend who looks at it, giving you instant viseral feedback.  It’s easy for people to smile, frown, heart or gasp at your content.  Everything is plotted on a timeline of your day, giving you a journalistic feeling.  If you connect Nike+ to Path and share your work-outs, when someone smiles at your run on Path, you hear cheers in your headphones like your friends are there with you.

With Path, I no longer worry about credibility because there’s no way to earn it.  Instead, I focus on sharing personal moments, and the reward is a closer relationship with the people I’m connected to.  It feels a lot like what social networking was probably originally meant to be.  And it’s really enjoyable again, in a way much of my experience with Twitter and Facebook isn’t.  Thanks Dave Morin, for learning to build great things at Facebook and then turning around and building exactly the opposite but better.

This content is cross-posted from Kevin’s personal blog.



Awards: One Show pencil times two


SS+K took home two silver pencils from last week’s One Show awards:

We’ve embraced yogurt from Korea, so why not pizza? Based on that preposterous allegation Marco Polo stole the idea for pizza from Korea (he stole pasta, didn’t he?), our cheeky ‘True Origins of Pizza’ drew 2.2 million views to an online video that got people talking about our client, Mr. Pizza, a Korean-based chain expanding here in the U.S. A multi-lingual blog, a Twitter account, protest T-shirts, downloadable posters and stickers with QR codes provoked millions of views and cross-cultural laughter. ‘True Origins’ nabbed the silver pencil for long form advertising/cinema at last week’s One Show Awards.

The silver pencil from One Show Interactive went to our AFL-CIO site, which reminds people what it’s all about: the work. Work is what binds Americans together, whether union or not, blue collar or white, even employed or not. We Americans define ourselves by what we do and invest ourselves in doing it better, with a profound effect on the world around us. From that core connection, is an interactive web experience where users list what they do and are rewarded with a custom animation that shows how their work inspires and influences others – we invite you to log in, explore your connections through work and how those connections affect the world.


Our 19th: a new partner + SVP

Sorry if the noise kept you up, but that party at Tribeca’s Locanda Verde on May 3rd was to celebrate SS+K’s 19th anniversary. The partying spirit peaked when it was announced Kate Rothen had been made a partner and John Swartz a senior VP.

Kate runs the consulting group and some of SS+K’s most significant accounts, and she does all with exceptional talent, dedication and integrity. John runs production at SS+K, which means he’s the calm amidst the storm of a very busy agency. He’s raised our game in ways that are reflected in things like, well, those One Show pencils.

The party’s over, and Kate, John and the rest of us have our hands full gearing up to launch cool new work for clients like Pfizer, jcp, Kraft and College Board.  And, to top things off, we were named Political Agency of the Year by OMMA.

That’s all for now. Thanks.


SS+K’s Foursquare-powered Birthday

Today is the (the SS+K’s 19th birthday (where I work), and coincidentally it’s also Foursquare Day.

Some background first: my co-workers and I happen to be somewhat obsessed with Foursquare. We have 18 different micro-locations in our office, and people are constantly battling for mayorship- so much so, that last year we created our own Mayorshup, a Risk-board of sorts for SS+K’ers to battle each other for supreme SS+K office mayor.

So a few weeks ago we had an idea for celebrating SS+K’s 19th Birthday and Foursquare Day at once- we’d create the first ever Foursquare-powered birthday card. When someone checks in to any of our office Foursquare locations, they “sign” our card by adding their Foursquare profile picture to our emblem, and adding their username to our card. The card is of course viewable online on our site, and also is being displayed on a giant lcd screen in our cafe.


12 Lessons on User Experience + Transmedia Storytelling from SXSW 2012

I had the opportunity to attend SXSWi this year, a mega-conference in Austin which is essentially the mecca for internet geeks. The event packs in over 1,000 panels + talks, hundreds of networking sessions + demonstrations and just as many parties in 5 quick days. It’s completely impossible to do everything you want to do, so you basically have to pick what you want to focus on and allow serendipity to drive the rest. I split my time between fun “brain candy” inspiration type things and educational sessions on two primary topics: User Experience and Transmedia Storytelling. Here are a dozen lessons I learned from entrepreneurs like Path’s Dave Morin and media mavens like New York Times’ David Carr on the topics:


…on user experience and product success 

  1.  Effective user experience should be designed to convey values + emotions to the user during the experience itself, not just at the outcome. That means thinking about everything from colors, to menus, to page animation and more.
  2. Think about how device types provide different experiences. Path was built as a mobile phone app only to enforce personal content creation and intimacy. Path is more emotional because you can’t do a lot of things you can do on Facebook, etc.
  3. Either it’s good or it isn’t. Be honest with yourself or you’ll end up never achieving great. Demanding “great” before shipping was the different between Path 1.0 failure and Path 2.0 success.
  4. We are in an attention economy. To succeed you need to find new ways to stimulate and provide value continuously, in the face of a generation that is more incapable of paying attention than ever before.
  5. Information design is critical in modern storytelling. The New York Times architects stories so readers with five seconds, thirty seconds or two minutes each have a complete experience, while maintaining the choice to dive deeper.
  6. Popular new media apps Intapaper + Flipboard have fantastically enjoyable reading experiences but no business model for content creation. New York Times and other stalwarts have a business model that ruins user experience. Who will crack the middle ground?

…on social’s role in transmedia storytelling

  1. Your social ecosystem isn’t separate from your other platforms, it’s part of one cohesive story that your brand is telling. Understand how your social hubs can be access points to that larger story.
  2. Social enables your audience to expand your potential farther than you can on your own. ESPN Top 10 is now more diverse because fans help identify great sports moments in smaller markets and less popular sports.
  3. Marketing opportunities are more engaging when all touch-points are planned as one. MTV develops 360° programs by planning broadcast, web mobile and social for partners all at once, as illustrated by this year’s Verizon + VMA’s sponsorship.
  4. Know your purpose across your ecosystem. ESPN knows it can’t always be the one to broadcast every sporting event, but it can be the one to host and drive the conversation for them all. Other brands become curators to help illustrate their point of view.
  5. Don’t lose sight of meaningful actions in the face of social KPI’s. Causes was fantastic at building audiences empowering “armchair activism”, but it hasn’t yet figured out how to move participants up the ladder.
  6. The goal of a mashup is to enable people to see something that already exists in a different way. Similarly, understanding creative ways to tell stories beyond just straightforward narrative will make your content more compelling.

The truth is most of what you take away from SXSWi can’t be captured in a number of bullet points.  Spending the majority of a week focused entirely on trying out new mobile products (I had four different ambient awareness iPhone apps running simultaneously on my phone), meeting new people and feeding thought-provoking concepts into your head is something we should all do at least once a year, if not more. That alone is a lesson in itself.

This content is cross-posted from Kevin’s personal blog.



The Online-Piracy Bills Were Killed by a Generation’s Expectations

This article was originally published on The Daily Beast.

Hyperbole is so helpful. When tech companies used social media to kill the anti-piracy bills in Congress this week, breathless observers heralded the dawning of a new age in Washington. Old media was out; new media, officially, finally, was in. Tides turned; eras crumbled, we were told.

Really? Highlighting the fact that social media brought down the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is like saying Yankee Stadium is responsible for 27 world championships. It’s not the grass; it’s the talent that takes the field. The social uproar around SOPA didn’t arise because it threatened a generation’s favorite new media, but because it threatened their whole value system.


Social media isn’t even new. Social is now old. It has been used to overthrow despots around the world for years now, elect a U.S. president in 2008, and get Americans talking about income inequality for the first time in memory. We know it has given unheard-of power to anyone with a browser. And we marvel at the new, new things on our phones that send messages, images, and ideas around the world in seconds. That’s historic, potentially powerful–but not new.

For many Americans, nothing is more sacrosanct than the Internet. Call it creepy, but look in the mirror. Did you read to your kids last night before you went to bed, or did you check your email?

Protesters demonstrate against the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) outside the offices of U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) on January 18, 2012 in New York City. (Mario Tama / Getty Images)

Social media is a platform. It sits there, begging for creativity, hoping that someone, anyone, will stir the passion of its users so it can let loose. It’s like a Ferrari idling. We desperately want a pro to show us what it can do on the track, not a hedge-fund executive taking it to Starbucks for coffee and bagels. It’s kind of depressing, actually, when potential is quashed.

While the technology, architecture, engineering, and science that go into building the pipe is astounding, the pipe is not overthrowing despots. How people use creativity to stir our passion, which in turn catalyzes the social response, is where the power lies.

For many Americans, nothing is more sacrosanct than the Internet. Call it creepy, but look in the mirror. Did you read to your kids last night before you went to bed, or check your email? Even if you read that story, you kind of wanted to take a peek, right?

And for at least one generation, and now almost two, that passion is a given. It’s a right. And for many, it’s a right to get stuff free online. Indeed, research shows that if kids pay for stuff online, they actually feel less good about themselves. They failed as a person. So if someone–say Congress and lobbyists representing big businesses–tried to clamp down on their online freedom, they would view that as a personal affront.

Tech companies, not surprisingly, know this. So as The New York Times reported, Reddit and Tumblr decided to lean into it. They, with unquestioned credibility among their users, began to demonstrate that SOPA was censorship—and censorship is one thing this generation cannot abide.

Look at what censorship might look like, they said. Other sites jumped in, and on Wednesday, the big guys joined. Google, Zuckerberg, Wikipedia, Wired, and all the other kids at the cool table took action. Unsuspecting members of Congress flipped, and that was that. It really wasn’t a fair fight, in the end.

Passion takes many forms. For the same group who think unfettered Internet freedom is (or should be) a right, they also think tolerance, fairness, and open-mindedness are absolutes. They grew up with the Internet and that meant growing up in a space where there is not one central norm but many. They have formed a generation that fosters individuality, self-expression, and plurality.

This group is defined by their age—20-somethings, broadly. But people younger and older than this group aspire to be like them, including teenagers and 50-year-olds who take their laptops to bed.

They support gay marriage and can’t fathom why we’re even having that debate. They support abortion rights as vigorously as they want to protect the environment. They want enlightened immigration and appropriate regulations for Wall Street, and don’t understand why some wouldn’t put education funding at the top of our priority list.

For them, these are not just issues, but values and deeply held beliefs. In political terms, these Americans are the new values voters. And they believe Barack Obama not only shares these values of plurality and fairness, but also lives them daily.

On the other hand, they think Republicans are … well, like the old media companies in the SOPA debate. Republicans, they feel, just don’t get it. They are like their parents, they say: close-minded, living in the past, clueless about the modern world, opposed to things they just don’t understand.

When they hear that Mitt Romney wants a constitutional ban on abortion, they cringe. When they learn that Rick Santorum thinks global warming is “junk science” or when Newt Gingrich says child labor laws are “truly stupid,” they don’t get it. When John Boehner and his House Republicans wants to zero out Planned Parenthood or eviscerate environmental laws or give tax breaks to wealthy Americans, they worry about the future of the country.

And like SOPA, when that political debate is framed as a choice between the president and any Republican later this year, it won’t be a fair fight, at least for this group of Americans.

Once again, we relearned old lessons this week. It’s not about the medium, as interesting and dynamic as that is. It’s about human passion and how leaders can creatively channel it online and in the real world. The tech companies know it, the Egyptians in Tahrir Square knew it, and so does President Obama.