Ignore what your teacher tells you

Back in the late 90s, when I was in art school, my graphic design teacher assigned us to create a set of greeting cards. Forget for a moment that this only prepared us for a very niche professional opportunity, it was a fun project. Most of the other students ran to Marshall’s and bought all kinds of expensive boxes to repaint and loaded them with all kinds of purchased accessories, very few spent much effort on the cards themselves. For instance, someone created a series of vampire cards. Their final product consisted of pictures of Bela Lugosi printed on a piece of cardstock, housed in a casket-shaped box containing a raw wooden pencil (stake) and vials of garlic. I mean, fun package right? Anyway, the students that spent the most got the highest grades.

I got a C.

I came up with the concept of pop-up pop art cards (at right); 3-dimensional cards that popped up like kids books, all based on pop art. Rather than buying a fancy box, I made a box from scratch (header image), designed the cover, similar to other gift card packages I’d seen.

My instructor explained, when I asked, that he gave me such a low grade because my cards weren’t practical. No one would print what I designed, it was too costly.

I still have those cards stashed away somewhere, but I took what my instructor said to heart; don’t try to do something that no one has done before, just do a different version of what everyone else has already done. That guided my career for a long time, but not too long.

A few years down the road I deferred to my nature. At the time I was working for an agency representing a sports retailer and manufacturer. We were preparing to launch a major campaign around a unique, award-winning flagship product. We had a series of videos about the product as well as a series of broadcast commercials ready to launch. Our problem? Which spot to launch? A new social network had recently popped up and while we already included a MySpace strategy, video couldn’t be used there at the time. But this new social network was all about video, it was called YouTube. I was blessed to be working with a brand CEO that wasn’t risk averse, so with his permission I created the first brand page on YouTube and launched all 11 of our TV spots there. The execution allowed us to see which were most popular, which gave us the data to pick the spot which then aired during Ellen and Desperate Housewives. The campaign was a success, increasing direct sales by 400%. The video was viewed over 200,000 times (between it’s simultaneous launch on the brand channel and my own) since it was launched in 2006. It inspired over 2 million consumer videos of the product.

Back to my pop-up cards. 17 years after my instructor said that pop-up cards were impractical I was walking through my local mall and spotted a hall kiosk selling, you guessed it; pop-up cards. A cool company called PopLove found someone in Vietnam making pop-up paper crafts and brought it to the US. The cards range in price from $10-15. What do you think Wallace? Still unsellable?

Next time someone senior to you says you can’t do something, do it anyway. Then try to sell it. And remember; teachers only teach what has been done, and a good teacher will give you the tools to do what can be done. I suppose a great teacher will arm you with the ability to do what no one has ever done.

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