Category: Design

Our Favorite Award, Ever

Posted by:
Tate Linden

We don’t spend much time pulling together entries for stuff like ADDYs and OBIEs. As a small shop we just don’t have the manpower, and most award programs don’t seem to factor in the impact of the work on the business or industry. We’ve been humbled on more than one occasion (and not in a good way) by having a campaign that earned tens of millions of dollars for our client pushed aside as the award-giving panel instead honored creative use of props and 3D techniques that resulted in… pretty much nothing as far as we could tell.

Heck, our most significant awards have come from client-submitted entries. At this point we’ve pretty much given up submitting our own stuff.

So it was a bit of a surprise when a heavy box arrived via FedEx from Canada yesterday.

Inside was an ornately wrapped 4×6… chunk of engineered wood. Affixed to the front of the unquestionably cool and creatively presented log is a colorfully inscribed explanation:

for your outstanding contribution
to construction marketing

The inscription went on to list our firm’s name and our work for the Portland Cement Association as the recipient of the award.

This was already pretty cool, but since we couldn’t remember applying for the award we were thankful that a letter was also provided. Here’s the text:

OBJECT: Construction Marketing Peer Recognition Award


We feel the remarkable branding work your agency has done for the Portland Cement Association – think harder. concrete. – has gone well beyond the scope of a simple client assignment.

The brilliant concept, extensive work on the typography and flawless execution show exceptional creativity. The brand’s “making of” video shows that an extraordinary amount of effort and commitment was required to turn what may seem at first like a simple signature into truly exceptional work.

In recognition of your outstanding contribution to the field of Construction Marketing, I am pleased to award you with the very first Peer Recognition Award. May your work inspire other agencies and designers to search for innovation as you have.

The letter was signed by the Principal of Domicile Experts, a marketing and communications firm in Quebec.

It feels genuine, heartfelt, and more meaningful than any award we or our clients have ever received for our work. While we’re not humbled by it, we are unquestionably honored. And we’re pleased that we produced something that not only worked for our clients, but got some talented folks up North motivated enough to compellingly tell us that they appreciate and recognize good work.

Thanks to Phil and team for making this holiday season a bit more special for us. What a great way to wrap up the year!

The next time anyone from Domicile Experts is in the DC area the first pint is on us. Seriously.

The Difference Between Good Designers and Great Designers

Posted by Tate Linden


Are you a good designer or a great designer?

No… Wait. Don’t answer that until you get to the end.

There seems to be a common belief that any designer can become great if they just work hard enough on their technique. Most of our design schools are built on this very premise. And of course there’s Tippy the Turtle who remains infamous (long after most have forgotten what art program he represented) because many bought into it.

I don’t believe it.

I find that in most of the interviews I’ve had with design school grads and even journeyman art directors, their big moment seems to be when they show me their mad skillz when it comes to using Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. Or maybe it’s their charcoal technique. They’re usually truly excellent at one of these, mind you, so they’re justified in bragging a bit.

But none that went this route got a job offer, because in our world that’s not what commercial design is about.

Of course a designer must ensure that their design is strong technically before it goes into production. That’s a given. But isn’t it more important that the design is strong conceptually before advancing beyond sketch stage? A designer who doesn’t understand how to read a creative brief and develop a concept that not only fits within it, but can expand or enhance the effectiveness of the entire campaign or brand identity? Well.. that’s a designer that doesn’t work here.

And a designer that can’t stand up for what matters (at least once) with a client, creative director, or professor? You’re probably not seen as a designer, you’re seen as a tool. Most likely a paintbrush, but if you have other definitions that fit, maybe try ’em on for size.

Pay attention to how your peers, bosses, and clients discuss your work… I’m betting that what’s true here at Stokefire may be true elsewhere:

Good designers are praised for their technique, great designers for their impact.

So, which are you? And how do you know?

DARPA Wins Logo Award, Stealthily

2011 MarCom Award Winner

We just learned that our DARPA logo work received an Honorable Mention from the MarCom Awards. We’re surprised and honored by the recognition. We figured that without seeing the logo in action (e.g., transitioning from on-white to on-black as is shown in the video below) it’d get lost in the herd.

It didn’t, and for that we’re giving thanks. Though we can’t seem to find any mention of the award online…

Congratulations to DARPA, and to the members of Stokefire’s very own design team:

Graphic Designer: Jonelly Sharp
Art Director: Randy Rodriguez
Art Director: Kaitlyn Wells
Creative Director: Tate Linden

Want to see the story behind the brand identity and the challenge we faced? Check out this live markup narrated by the boss:


Other live markups have been done for The Stokefire Logo and Think Harder. Concrete.


This month’s happenings at Stokefire Headquarters

September – October 2011

You’re probably wondering – what happened to the weekly happenings? Well here’s the simple answer – we’re busy, VERY busy. We know – the economy sucks, so what could we possibly be so busy with? Well I can’t exactly tell you (it’s a secret), but I can tell you that we’ve been having a blast making messes, taking photos (we may have even seen a ghost or two), and smashing things with a hammer – all for a client project. Oh and our boss Tate Linden has been writing blogs like crazy, he’s a fan of Gandhi if you haven’t noticed *wink*.

We’ve also been photographing more of our work – if you didn’t see our last website update we launched all of our client work, but that doesn’t mean we’re done. We are continuing to update our pictures and results from all of our projects. There has been a lot of media going around too – we won an award for our work on the Think Harder. Concrete brand for PCA. (If you look close, you can see Tate sporting the brand above!)

Video mark-ups #3, 4, and 5 are all in the works, so you’ll be able to see them coming out very soon. We already completed our mark-up video on the Stokefire logo (#1) and the Think Harder. Concrete brand (#2), so we’re pretty darn excited to have more on the way.

We of course can’t forget about our client work either. We’re working on advertisements, logos and a whole lot of strategy. Tate has also been off on a few speaking gigs, getting people all psyched-up about brand alignment. With all this stuff going on, we’ll be putting out the Stokefire Bellows (our newsletter) very shortly, so keep your eyes peeled.

Get More:
Posts involving Gandhi
Tate Linden: Speaker Extraordinaire
Stokefire’s Classic Rants

A Concrete Win for PCA and Stokefire Branding & Advertising Agency

Sorry to all for not posting this great Portland Cement Association PR on our site earlier. Was a bit of a flurry yesterday. Here’s the official release: A Concrete Win for PCA and Stokefire Branding & Advertising Agency. It looks pretty spiffy in PRWeb’s format – or you can see it awkwardly formatted below.

DC-area agency makes concrete front-page news and earns client top honors from 2011 CWA Marketing Communications Awards.

This billboard was viewed by hundreds of thousands of frustrated commuters during asphalt repaving.

A Billboard from PCA’s Award-Winning Campaign

“Forty-eight hours after the billboard posted, concrete was on the front page of the region’s major newspapers.”

Alexandria, VA (PRWEB) October 05, 2011

Stokefire Branding & Advertising Agency today announced that its work on behalf of the Portland Cement Association (PCA) has won the 2011 BEST OVERALL Marketing Communications Award as judged by the Construction Writers Association (CWA). This marks the first time a non-profit industry association has earned top honors in a contest typically dominated by commercial industry titans. PCA will receive the award at CWA’s Grand Awards Dinner in San Antonio, Texas on October 25, 2011.

“We are honored by CWA’s recognition and excited that the concrete brand and campaign developed by Stokefire’s creative team served the needs of our membership so well,” said Bruce McIntosh, PCA’s Vice President of Communications. “This campaign quickly allowed us to become part of critical infrastructure conversations, and ultimately led to new concrete and cement projects for our members.”

“PCA needed to provoke a change in behavior,” said Tate Linden, Stokefire’s President and Chief Creative. “Politely knocking at the door of opportunity hadn’t opened it, so we gave the industry another way through. PCA’s top-notch team delivered in a big way once the door was opened, converting opportunity into tangible results.”

CWA’s judges lauded the multifaceted national effort targeting wide-ranging audiences including public works officials, consulting engineers, city and county officials, and even taxpayers and the motoring public. Stokefire delivered campaign strategy and creative execution across print, web, outdoor, clothing, and trade-show elements. In awarding top honors to PCA, judges cited the all-around strength of the campaign, from the design detail and copywriting effectiveness to the broader strategic approach and key media placement.

A strategically placed billboard component above an asphalt repaving project received specific praise from the panel. Forty-eight hours after the billboard posted, concrete was on the front page of the region’s major newspapers, had earned favorable stories on CBS TV News and Public Radio, and had generated buzz on blogs, bulletin boards and Twitter. More importantly, PCA’s leaders were granted access to key infrastructure decision-makers, leading to the true measure of the campaign’s success – tangible new business.

About Stokefire Branding & Advertising:

Stokefire has secretly branded and advertised stuff from its hideout in the Washington DC metro area since 2005. The Stokefire team develops award-winning strategic brands and advertising campaigns that change behavior and get results. The agency has quietly established a diverse client list that includes Heinz, Charles Schwab, Discovery Communications and the US Department of Defense.

About the Portland Cement Association:

Based in Skokie, Ill., the Portland Cement Association represents cement companies in the United States and Canada. It conducts market development, engineering, research, education, and public affairs programs. More information on PCA programs is available at

About the CWA Marketing Communications Awards:

For over a decade the Construction Writers Association has recognized the top marketing and communications work from around the globe. Previous CWA Marketing Communications awards have honored work for megabrands like Caterpillar, Bobcat, John Deere, and Volvo. The CWA, founded in 1958, is a non-profit, non-partisan, international organization that provides a forum for journalism, photography, marketing, and communications professionals in all segments of the construction industry.


That’s it!

Congrats to PCA on the 2011 CWA BEST OVERALL Marketing award. Many, many, thanks to Bruce, Patti, Doug, Brian and the rest of the PCA team for giving us the opportunity, for giving our strategists and creatives great information to work with, and for executing flawlessly after the campaign launched. Without every ounce of opportunity, trust, and execution none of this would’ve happened.

Happenings in Advertising, Branding, and Design

1. Oh Netflix – What are you doing to us! Netflix’s Attempt at ‘Transparency’ Angers Consumers, Hurts Brand. Take a look at their new name and logo. (via Ad Age) (via Brand New)

2. OXY had a design overhaul, is that all they did? (via The Dieline)

3. Ben and Jerry’s won’t back down: Schweddy Balls Leaves Sour Taste in Conservative Group’s Mouth AFA slams Ben & Jerry’s. )What do you think of their new flavor? (via Adweek)

4. Nextel rebrands – X Connects the Spot (via Brand New)

5. BBH Rebrands British Airways in Grand New Campaign Ads debut new tagline: ‘To fly. To serve’ (via Adweek)

6. The colors you choose for your brand show personality and emotion – IBM represents it all. IBM Billboard Changes Color Based on Your Clothing (via Adweek)

7. Barefoot Wine presents a poster made completely out of rubbish: “One Beach” (documentary) (via Creative Review)

8. Esurance Taps Leo Burnett (via Adweek)

9. Maggie Gyllenhaal Does First-Ever Latte ‘Got Milk?‘ Ad.

10. A little something for all the designers out there: Josef Müller-Brockmann: Principal Of The Swiss School (via Noupe)

11. The evolution of the advertising executive infographic – Where do you think you stand? (via Adverblog)

Get More:

Thoughts on Advertising 
Thoughts on Branding
Thoughts on Design
Thoughts on Creativity


Happenings in Advertising, Branding, and Design

1. It was a big thing on all of our minds this week and last week. Here’s a great way to remember the good times: Twin Tower Cameos (via The Inspiration Room)

2. It’s been a long time since the side braids! Real Wendy Takes Star Turn in Wendy’s Advertising  (via Ad Age)

3. Well Toyota is definitely being creepy. Excuse me while I stick my foot in your face. (via Adweek)

4. Everyone loves a rebrand, especially when just about EVERYTHING is included! Warburtons’ Complete Package (via Brand New)

5. Ever wonder who’s behind the scenes of some of those awesome movie websites, such as Rise of the Planet of the Apes or Mars needs Moms? It’s this guy: Andreas Shabelnikov – Check out an Interview with him (via Web Designer Depot)

6. Do you have stuff? We know you have stuff – Norton Talks About Stuff  (via The Inspiration Room)

7. How a little copywriting can go a long way: David Ogilvy Inspires Big Ad Gig Hopeful (via AgencySpy)

8. Hooray for celebrity advertising (maybe) – Jennifer Lopez Stries Alliance with Fiat (via Adweek)

Great Designs from a Great Week

1. Celadon rebrand
2. Pop-up Design Museum
3. Madison Sourdough | Lincoln | Liberty | Eagle

Get More:

Thoughts on Advertising 
Thoughts on Branding
Thoughts on Design
Thoughts on Creativity

What Makes People Want To Follow A Brand? An Infographic Explanatory Attempt

Posted by:
Tate Linden


According to Get Satisfaction if you’re following us it’s probably because of our special offers, an existing client relationship, our sparkling wit and humor, because your friends are doing it, to get news, or the infamous and infuriating “other”. But as cool-looking as the infographic may be, I wonder…

Do the multiple choice responses above really answer the question, “what makes people want to follow a brand?”

I suppose it does if you’re interested in the narrowly defined social media definition of ‘follow’ coupled with the most broad definition of ‘brand’. The largest group of followers identified ‘special offers’ as the reason for clicking the follow button. Thanks to organizations such as Groupon and LivingSocial ‘special offers’ is now nearly synonymous with ‘discounts’. To my mind there’s a huge difference between following a brand and following discounts. Wouldn’t a true brand follower (stepping outside of the limited social media context here) follow a brand irrespective of deals or discounts?

I think perhaps the question actually being answered here is “what makes people want to follow a Twitter account representing an organization.” Once we look at it in that context the vast majority of answers start to make more sense. Being a current customer, looking for discounts, copying your friends, or being entertained are all legitimate reasons to follow a Twitter handle. But which of these actually drives engagement to the point of being a true brand adherent? Only five percent of respondents said they were interested in service, support, or product news – which seems to be the only response that has the hallmark of someone who truly follows a brand in spirit. (Yes, I’m being picky and suggesting that just indicating that you’re a current customer isn’t enough to be considered as anything other than taking a test-drive.)

Counting your social media followers is a fine activity, as is trying to figure out why they’re following you. You’ve gotta have some kind of metrics. But trying to equate a follower on Twitter with a follower of a brand is folly. Even tracking stuff like amplification probability and true reach (as provided by klout) doesn’t measure the one thing that matters in the long term.

Success in social media shouldn’t be measured in audience size or amplification probability. It should be measured in the same way that success of real brands should be measured – by tracking the brand’s ability to change the behavior of the target audience. A large audience helps increase the spread of your message, but if your message sucks or your brand elements are out of alignment (see: Gandhi’s Pyramid) all it will do is make your inadequacies apparent to more people who you’ll then need to reeducate if you ever invest in getting your brand right, or help you lose the clients you already have.

Two final thoughts:

1) I am very impressed with the research collected by getsatisfaction and this post isn’t meant to disparage their talented team in any way. What they uncovered is true when we limit ourselves to the social media universe. Unfortunately the vocabulary they (and most of us) use to distinguish a follower who defined themselves by clicking a single ‘FOLLOW’ button to receive a coupon from a follower who has spent a lifetime collecting brand memorabilia has a lot of overlap – and it probably shouldn’t. We’re running into this blurring of the two “fan” states more and more these days.

2) If your organization is focused on churn-and-burn tactics that depend on being at the leading edge of a trend and you aren’t needing to build or maintain a long-term client relationship then disregard all of the stuff I wrote above. Get in, get followers, be humorous, offer discounts, make scads of money and get out quick. Just don’t ask me how to do that without also selling your soul, because I don’t know. And, truthfully, if I did (even if I had to sell my soul in the deal, perhaps) chances are good I’d be trying to convince you that the answer was just a click (and three easy payments) away.

Here’s the original infographic-o’-coolness:

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