David Engel’s Self Interview

March 29, 2010 – A young David Engel interviews himself about creativity, form and function in advertising.


David: So, what is an advertising inventor?

Engel: It’s my way of telling the world that I’m an advertising copywriter and inventor. Copywriters are known for creating beautiful, funny form. Inventors are fascinated with making things function better. My practice is to blend both form and function into my work.

David: I understand what you mean by form. What does “function” mean in advertising?

Engel: “For everything else, there’s MasterCard” was a functional campaign. It was like a giant embedded command, very persuasive. Function could also measure usefulness. Virgin Atlantic released an iPhone app based on its “Flying Without Fear” course, which has a 98%+ success rate. The app is one of the most useful–and therefore functional–ads Virgin Atlantic has ever made.

I’m excited about the possibilities that smart phones are opening up as far as function goes. I see a future where ads interact with physiology.

Instead of watching a workout infomercial while I’m slouched on my couch, give me an iPhone app that teaches me the first exercise and counts my calories. I’m more likely to buy an exercise program when I’m in a state of exercise.

David: Ads that interact with the body. That’s different…

Engel: It’s already happening in other areas of technology, like biofeedback. A less intrusive example would be the Apple iPad. It’s designed to fit the body for a natural computing experience.

That reminds me of an experiment I did last year. I chased down about 15 professionals (mostly engineers) to get their opinion about a computer that could easily adjust for sitting or standing. They all thought it was a good idea. I think that we should all have the option of standing at work instead of sitting at a desk all day. At least for me, I have better access to my brain when I stand up and move around.

David: Tell me about your creative process.

Engel: I have two creative processes. The first is copied from Tom Kelly, co-founder of world-renown design firm, IDEO. In the 10th grade, I picked up Tom’s book, The Art of Innovation. It became my Bible in high school and influences me to this day.

The creative process I picked up from the book was 1) Understand 2) Observe 3) Visualize 4) Evaluate & Refine 5) Implement. I could go into more detail, but I’ll save that for another interview.

Another thing I picked up from the book is to brainstorm with giant sticky notes. Forget looking out the window when I’m leading a brainstorm. I cover the room wall-to-wall.

David: You said you had two creative processes. What’s the second one?

Engel: The second process comes in handy when I’m working by myself or if the team can’t find the answer. It’s simple. I sit with a problem until I can’t solve it anymore. Then, I completely let go and the let the answer appear.

David: I’ve heard you say on more than one occasion that experience doesn’t really matter in creative industries like Advertising. Would you please tell me more?

Engel: Experience is, “I’ve done this before. Next time, I can do it faster.” But, the next big idea has not been done before.

David: That’s kind of cryptic, but I like it. What kind of people do you need to surround yourself with to do your best work?

Engel: People who can laugh at themselves. And T-Shaped people.

David: T-Shaped people?

Engel: T-Shaped is a term from IDEO. It means people who have wide experience across disciplines and are masters at one or two things. For example, I’m a computer programmer who studied business and political science, who reads self-development books and does hypnosis, who studies linguistics, who meditates, who runs, who has experience as a lobbyist, who was a top B2B salesman, who has done Amway, who regularly practices QiGong…

These broad experiences are the top of the T. The deep part of the T is where I perform best, copywriting and invention.

David: What is it like to work with you?

Engel: Both my clients and partners will tell you the same thing. I’m up-front and precise. I swing to hit a home run. And I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong.

David: What are your hobbies?

Engel: “How to Art.” Meditation. Running. Swimming in the ocean in the summer.

David: What is “How to Art?”

Engel: “How to Art” is my way of blending of education and art. “How To” literature is mostly textual with a few ugly diagrams. Art is beautiful and often not functional. Combining the two is “How to Art.”

My first “How To Art” piece was the Puzzle eMindset. I’m working on my second piece right now. It will probably be published in December 2010. These things take a great deal of time to complete. If I told you how much time I spent on the Puzzle eMindset, you’d probably think I was nuts.

David: {laughs} Thanks. Would you tell me briefly what your experience has been in sales.

Engel: I started out in 2006 knocking on doors selling house painting services. That evolved into a two year adventure into Multi-Level Marketing with Amway. During that time, I got a job as Business to Business salesman at BillQuick Software in Los Angeles. I do best selling B2B, and I’ve invented ways to completely bypass gatekeepers.

David: Do you think that ads should sell?

Engel: I think ads should create a mini-experience of the product. If customers want to experience more, they’ll take the next step. Sometimes that next step is a sale. It just depends on what you’re advertising.

David: Thank you very much, Mr. Engel. That’s about all the time we have for now. I believe you’re wanted on deck.

Engel: David, it was a pleasure. Thanks for inviting me to your news studio in this awesome pirate ship. Do you think we could pull over somewhere? I have to go to the bathroom.

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