“Just Sayin’…” By Doug deGrood

By The Minneapolis Egotist / /

Observations from a mostly retired but still fully functioning advertising mind

As an aspiring trumpeter growing up in the early 1980s, I learned firsthand the value of hero worship. Back then, every trumpeter I know, myself included, wanted to play like Maynard Ferguson. Maynard was renowned for his nosebleed-inducing high notes. Hitting a ‘double-G’ became every teenage trumpeter’s goal. I would attempt to play along with Maynard on “Gonna Fly Now,” playing the song over and over on my brother’s turntable, who threatened to kill me if I ever used it without his permission. For the record, I’m still alive. 

Without Maynard and the benchmark for greatness he set, I’m certain I wouldn’t have been inspired to practice and improve. But practice and improve I did—enough to be recruited by several music schools, although, in the end I decided to pursue a much more sensible career path—advertising. 

After high school, my idolatry shifted.  Through a college classmate and friend, Peter Zapf (you still out there, Peter?), I discovered advertising and was instantly smitten by the work of Tom McElligott, Jarl Olson, Rod Kilpatrick and Ed McCabe.  I slept with the Communication Arts (CA) Advertising Annual under my pillow. Like a painter studying the works of the Italian or Dutch masters, I paid attention to these great writers’ every brush stroke, memorizing their body copy word for word.  And I wasn’t alone.  Everyone I knew who was serious about the craft paid close attention to the award show annuals.  You’d go to the index and find out who had the most page numbers after their names, and that’s who you paid attention to.

I share this story to point out the importance of having heroes, whether you’re an aspiring artist, scientist or business leader.  It almost goes without saying, right?  And yet, when I look around today, I ask myself, where are all the creative heroes?

A few years ago, as I was getting set to leave the agency business, I sat down with a large group of young writers and designers and asked them, “Where do you find your inspiration?  Who are your heroes?”  My question drew mostly blank stares.  I then asked them to name one industry rock star.  Crickets.  Turns out, award show annuals—even the ones compiled digitally—aren’t really a thing anymore.  You might think all the attention has shifted to shows like the Webby’s, but I haven’t found many young people who pay much attention to that show either.  It stands to reason, that without a critical mass of eyeballs being drawn to these curated works of advertising art, there can be no rock stars.  And if there are no rock stars, where will aspiring creatives get their inspiration?  And what does that mean for the future of our industry? 

I brought this up with a colleague at a highly-regarded Minneapolis agency not long ago.  He sees the young people at his shop getting their inspiration from outside the industry, which he views as a good thing.  I agree, but to a point.  Obviously, it’s important to draw inspiration from all corners of life.  That’s what makes your work human, relatable, empathetic. But I also believe there needs to be a standard of greatness in our industry. And that standard needs to be readily accepted by most, if not all. 

If my own kids think listening to albums on turntables is cool, perhaps the time is right to bring back printed awards annuals.  I know great work today takes many more forms than it did yesterday, and some of it doesn’t present well in printed form.  But essentially, it’s still words and pictures.  And let’s face it, it’s hard to top the instant gratification that comes from paging through a book full of simple, clever ads that get right to the point. 

CA still prints its December Advertising Annual.  I assign it to the students in my class at the University of St. Thomas.  What’s fascinating to me is that—despite the fact they’ve only known a world that is digital—when they open that book, their eyes light up the same way mine did a generation ago.  The 2018 annual was one of the best I’ve seen in quite some time.  (Side note, Asia and Europe clearly didn’t get the memo that print is dead.) Here’s a link to order a copy if anyone’s interested.  https://store.commarts.com/single-copy/ISS201811 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the site you’re on right now can be a great source of inspiration as well. So keep sharing your best, most original thinking. 

I am quite certain the next Alex Bogusky or Gerry Graf is out there somewhere. They just need to be inspired.  Perhaps by seeing the work of Alex Bogusky or Gerry Graf?

Just sayin’…

— Doug deGrood
[email protected]


  1. chris Preston December 8, 2023

    Smart take as usual. Those annuals were the grail. Some still hold up today as big ideas you could build a multi-platform campaign around. Some that I greatly admired, feel trite and silly now. Some were so great they became cliche with imitation (flattery?) by the next generation. Too much writing has become captioning rather than storytelling IMO. I’d be curious to ask your students about agencies, as heroes, rather than individuals. Would “hot shops” make their radar?

  2. Cole Thompson December 8, 2023

    Hey Doug, did you know that Taylor Swift once said if she wasn’t in music, she’d probably be in advertising?

    She said coming up with slogans was similar to coming up with hooks for songs. Do you think that’s true?

    Imagine Taylor Swift the copywriter (eventual CD/CCO/CEO). Here are some of my favorite Taylor Swift copy lines and brands they’d be hits for:

    If I was a man, I’d be the man. – Dove

    Baby just say yes. – Tiffany & Co.

    Only the young can run. – UnderArmor

    Shake it off. – Peloton

    I’ve got a blank space. I’ll write your name. – Starbucks

    What’s your favorite T. Swift slogan?

    I can only begin to imagine the cool campaigns she’d have gifted the industry.

    An endless run past all of her ex-boyfriends’ houses to a poetic internal monologue for Nike.

    Unicorn cats with laser beams rescuing yellow spotted cows in rainbow pasture for Kraft.

    A fairytale woodland princess discovers elves in a tree making cookies for Keebler.

    Fun to think about but I think she made the right choice with the whole music thing.

    Do you wish you would have chosen music over ads? Your and Taylor’s careers could have flip flopped?

  3. Doug deGrood December 8, 2023

    Chris Preston, my students are slightly more aware of agencies than individual creators. But only slightly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *