Hi. I’m Steve Bassett. Like it or not, unintentional or not, everything your brand does, says, or doesn’t say tells a story. As the creative lead on Geico for 20 years, I’m firmly in the camp of intentional branding, of having the bravery to create a long-term brand strategy and brand voice and sticking with it.
Creative thinkers and creative brands connect the dots differently. That’s what sets their ads apart from the 5,000 other ads your consumers will see today. And because stories are 22 times more effective in delivering facts than facts alone, I’ve collected a series of stories I’d love to share with you.
Some stories were part of my teaching curriculum at the VCU Brand Center. Some stories are about some of the brands I’ve worked on–from Geico to Nissan to Walmart. Some stories are about brands I admire, brands that help us see ourselves and our world in a new way.
Finally, sprinkled throughout, are stories about my brand, how Steve Bassett connects the dots. For more details click on About.
Your brand has a story to tell. Is it true to who you are, what you believe, and where you want to go? Long-term success belongs to the brands brave enough to ask the tough questions and with the vision to see far beyond the next ad campaign. If you agree, I’d love to talk.
Who knows why couples divorce? Obviously, there are as many reasons as there are couples. If Dr. Phil doesn’t have the answers, I certainly don’t. Nevertheless, after 25 years of marriage, my mom and dad decided to call it quits. What led up to the divorce? My dad had been commuting from LA to AtlantaContinue reading “Leaving on a jet plane.”
In the beginning we didn’t set out to create an entertainment brand. We set out to use humor to sell direct-to-consumer car insurance. But by staying true to our brand strategy and our brand voice, over time, instead of a distraction, Geico ads became a destination. Here’s a recent screenshot from Geico’s YouTube Channel. AsContinue reading “Insurance or entertainment?”
We’ve all had them. Those love/hate relationships we can’t live with and we can’t live without. For me, one of those relationships has always been with the wind. Sure, the wind and I have had our good times. Flying kites together. Watching wind farms. Going sailing. I still don’t understand how the wind moves aContinue reading “The Nor’easter.”
Obviously, I’m not a singer of songs. But every so often I’ll send one that I’ve written to a real musician to get his thoughts. On this one, the person simply said, “Man, you’ve gone through some tough breakups.” Haven’t we all? So to all the broken hearted people living in this world, I dedicateContinue reading “Maybe I’m feeling blue.”
I’m standing in the middle of a large, white room. On all four walls of the room is a blue line exactly a third of the way up from the floor. The line is actually blue masking tape. It is level and perfectly straight. Below the blue line is a curious mixture of visual referencesContinue reading “Below the blue line.”
Like you, I carry an assortment of cards in my wallet. Let’s do a little archeological excavation. The cards I pull out of my wallet the most are, of course, my credit cards. I imagine you do the same. However, in our defense, with the exception of muggers, our digital world can’t seem to beContinue reading “What’s in my wallet.”
Indulge me if you will in one of my meditation exercises. You’re standing on the edge of a green field. It’s a spring day. The breeze is gentle. The sun on your face is warm. Above you white clouds float effortlessly across a deep, azure sky. In the distance an occasional birdsong welcomes you in.Continue reading “Go play.”
Best Friends Forever. It’s somebody who is always there for you no matter what. They often understand you better than you understand yourself. They share your most intimate secrets, triumphs, and fears. A BFF is somebody you may not talk to for months or even years. But the moment you reach out, you pick upContinue reading “My BFF.”
When I moved from Virginia to New Jersey one of the things I needed to do was find a new doctor. Dr. Klassett in Richmond had been my doctor since I was in my early 40’s. So when I went searching for a doctor in New Jersey, I had to fill out all new paperwork.Continue reading “The Ghost of Christmas Future”
When I was 15 I got a work permit so I could get a job at Ogletree’s IGA. IGA stands for Independent Grocers Alliance. You find IGA’s in mostly smaller towns, and unlike the big grocery chains they are almost all locally-owned. Mr. Ogletree owned the grocery store in Sandy Springs where I went toContinue reading “IGA”
In the About section of my blog you’ll learn a little bit more about me including the awards I have won. But none of them, not even the Cannes Grand Prix, compare to The P 5 1/2. Neel Williams and Justin Harris, two of my creative heroes at The Martin Agency, captured the moment onContinue reading “The P 5 1/2.”
When I was in the fifth grade, my English teacher gave the class an assignment. Read a short story and write a one-page paper on it. The next thing I did goes against every molecule in my body. I raised my hand. I asked the teacher, instead of reading a short story could I writeContinue reading “Why I write.”
Let me make it perfectly clear. I am not a musician. But I do like writing songs. If I were to start a band I would call it GBV. Garage Band Virgins. Not only can I barely sing or play, I know only the rudiments of how to record on Garage Band. The two songsContinue reading “Two love songs written 50 years apart.”
In 2006 I had an idea to promote The Martin Agency. Each employee would produce a one-minute video and talk about what made Martin special to them. To get the ball rolling a young, talented assistant producer and I created three sample videos. She directed, shot, and edited them. For various reasons, the idea neverContinue reading “My Martin Minute.”
I love this quote from William Goldman who, among other great screenplays, wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. He was referring to Hollywood studios and executives who try to predict the next blockbuster. But nobody knows anything for sure. Not the studios. Not the screenwriters. Not the directors. Not the investors. They make theirContinue reading “Nobody knows anything.”
It’s easy to get caught up in the next ad campaign, the next competitive onslaught, the next agency shoot-out because fourth-quarter sales were off by half a percentage point. It’s harder to look at a brand as a journey, a journey that if the brand and the agency have done their jobs bravely, the brandContinue reading “The bravery of long-term branding.”
For someone who worked on Nissan, Mercedes, and pitched the Honda account, this is probably not the most re-assuring headline I could write. But even though I’m not a car guy, there were four car moments in my life that gave me at least a glimpse into why car guys (and any other genders) areContinue reading “I’m not a car guy.”
I don’t watch the news on TV anymore. I get it fed to me online. I have no idea where my newsfeeds come from. They just appear out of thin air on my iPhone seemingly at their own convenience and pleasure. When I used to watch the news on TV, I always watched NBC NightlyContinue reading “My conspiracy theory.”
Before Elon Musk and Tesla there was Steve Bassett and Pivot. Both cars had supply chain problems, but there was one big difference. Pivot wasn’t real. The backstory. One of our clients wanted to promote their new Supply Chain Maximization or SCM. (Does that roll off the tongue, or what?) I did some research andContinue reading “Introducing Pivot.”
This is a story about Mike Henry and the short time I was privileged to work with him at The Martin Agency. For a brief time out of college Mike worked as an account executive at our agency. Meaning no insult to either Mike or Account Executives, Mike looked and acted like an AE. HeContinue reading “You can’t say penis on TV.”
Here’s a story about my first job interview. After months of sending out resumes to agencies from New York to LA and getting rejection letters from agencies from New York to LA, I finally got an interview with a small agency in Florida. They were looking for a junior copywriter. Perfect. They didn’t come anyContinue reading “The Robin Hood of Savings.”
This is drugs. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions? Remember that ad? Any guess as to when it was done? Try 1987. I don’t remember my own ads from 1987. But that PSA for Partnership for a Drug-Free America was and still is part of the American lexicon. Talk about simplicity. Talk aboutContinue reading “A PSA.”
In an earlier blog I said the best thing in my college portfolio was a talking baked bean. Why a talking baked bean? Because the only thing I could draw with any accuracy was an oval. Draw an oval. Add stick legs and stick arms. Add eyes and a mouth. Color the oval brown. AndContinue reading “An ad for Elizabeth.”
It could be a painter, a composer, a filmmaker, or anybody else whose creativity changed the way we see ourselves and our world. It is someone who connected the dots in a way that had never been connected before. And because they did, they elevated their particular art form to a new level, a levelContinue reading “Who’s your favorite artist?”
This is Fari when she was 17 in Tehran. Two of the many things I love about Fari are her empathy and tender heart. She cries easily. And when she cries she gets a headache. And when she gets a headache it turns into a migraine. And when it turns into a migraine she suffersContinue reading “Google made the woman I love cry.”
…more than you need advertising. This is my shortest blog so far. It is also the most important. The most powerful advertising doesn’t come from our brains. It comes from our lives. Our life experiences, our beliefs, our truths. Or, more accurately, from your life experiences, your beliefs, your truths. And if advertising ever neededContinue reading “Advertising needs you…”
Once upon a time there was a young creative director who promised his client the best commercial ever made. Instead, the young creative director delivered the worst commercial ever made. His arrogance and his ignorance were his downfall. The end. This would be an excellent place for me to end my story, especially for me.Continue reading “Curse of the Flying Monkeys.”
When people ask me about my earliest memory, I tell them it goes back to 1903. Since I was born in 1949, either dementia has set in or I’m hiding a DeLorean in my garage. Let me suggest a third option. Long before she died I asked my grandmother about her earliest memory. She couldn’tContinue reading “Interview the past.”
My first job in advertising was working in the Communications Department of an electric utility. I was the client. One of the best agencies in the southeast worked on our business. My boss, the Communications Director, tasked the agency with creating an ad campaign that would prepare the utility’s customers for higher electric bills duringContinue reading “Are you a (expletive deleted) idiot?”
Is this Method Acting or Pissed Off Acting? From where I’m sitting, behind the director, it’s hard to tell. We have crammed our two actors into a five-foot-high set built on a Hollywood soundstage. The house looks like a real house, only tinier. And the director keeps asking for one more take. In the spot,Continue reading “The first tiny house.”
In advertising, you don’t just sit in a room and think up stuff. Once you’ve thunk it up you have to go out into the world and make it. Over the years I’ve helicoptered onto a glacier to film snowboarders weaving downhill on virgin powder. I flew to Prague to film fashion models create beautifulContinue reading “Oh, the places you’ll go.”
According to one Stanford study, using stories to communicate facts is 22 times more effective than using facts alone. If you’ve ever taken a history test, this makes perfect sense. Sure, you can memorize a list of people, places, and dates the night before the test. But it’s the stories surrounding the facts that you’llContinue reading “Storytelling in advertising.”
This is not a trick question. I really want your opinion. And there is no right or wrong answer. Here’s the backstory. During my career, I got to work with some of the best art directors in advertising. They saw things I didn’t. They asked the tough questions. When I started to back off aContinue reading “Is this the best the ad could be?”
When I joined Chiat-Day in the late ’80s it was a place where anything felt possible. Four years earlier, Chiat-Day had created Apple’s 1984 ad. Directed by Ridley Scott, it changed forever how people watch the Super Bowl. Today, brands spend millions of dollars a minute to make the first Sunday in February as muchContinue reading “A lesson from Lee Clow.”
In 2004 people were just starting to buy things like books and music online. Geico asked, can we make it just as easy for people to buy car insurance? That was basically the creative brief: geico.com makes shopping for car insurance easy. An important sidebar here. I love when a creative brief is this single-mindedContinue reading “The elevator pitch.”
Here’s what’s on mine. Meet Ross, Kate, and Elizabeth Bassett. When people ask me how I was able to survive such a long career in advertising, I show them my computer screen. It occurred to me, I’m kind of like the Navy pilot in Top Gun. You know, the one who had a picture ofContinue reading “What’s on your screen saver?”
Remember when you couldn’t skip ads on YouTube? You came for videos of cats playing the piano or dads falling off of stuff. What you got was a 15-second pre-roll commercial that was usually just a cut-down of a TV ad you’d seen dozens of times before. The brilliant creative team working on the projectContinue reading “You can’t skip this ad.”
Several years ago, Workman Publishing came to us about publishing a book written by the Gecko. We checked with the Gecko. He said he had never written a book before, and he was reluctant to take on the project. He made a lot of excuses, but what it really came down to was his armsContinue reading “The Gecko writes a book.”
Two summers before I got my first job making ads I got my first job building airplanes. My dad was an aircraft engineer for Lockheed. His amazing career spanned more than 40 years. He got me a summer job as a riveter on C-130 wheel pods. What’s a C-130? It’s a four-engine turboprop military transportContinue reading “How not to build an airplane.”
It rained all morning when we started shooting. Now it’s just after lunch and the sun is coming out. The morning scenes aren’t going to match the afternoon ones. We’re going to have to put up huge scrims to minimize the harsh, noon shadows. This will take the production company an hour to set up.Continue reading “Stunt possum.”
At a certain point in your career, you’ve either accomplished a few things or you haven’t. Hopefully some of my work speaks for itself. Other than that, moving forward, I guess I’ll just have to depend on my rugged good looks. (Okay, you’re right. I’m in big trouble.) The truth is, I’m too lazy toContinue reading “Too lazy to write a resume.”
Testimonial advertising has been around almost as long as advertising has been around. Usually it follows one of two formulas. One, hire celebrities to endorse your product. (Entertaining, but does anybody believe they actually use the product?) Two, hire real people to endorse your product. (Often awkward and not entertaining, but their stories come fromContinue reading “How would Geico do it?”
Answer: From anywhere and everywhere, and often when you least expect it. Here’s one example. A writer and art director are working together on a new savings campaign for Geico. It’s late at night at the agency. Everybody else has gone home. The creative team is stuck. Really stuck. They have a few ideas, butContinue reading “Where do ideas come from?”
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