Promos We Kept: A Good Sense of Humor
May 31, 2017
From couch potatoes to lunch meat to the chaos babies bring: This month's column features four photographers who use humor to make their promotions stand out.
"I like to allow my audience to come to their own conclusions about whether an image is funny or not," says photographer Randal Ford.
Ford and his team had to choose fabrics that could be used for both custom wardrobe and covering the sofas. "They had to be durable and heavy enough to upholster the couch, but also light enough to create wardrobe as well."
Patrick Marinello wanted people to open the envelope and be disappointed to see "a picture of plain piece of whole wheat bread," before realizing that promo resembled a sandwich.
"I love sandwiches and it always annoyed me that cold cuts got a bad rap, but people love charcuterie."
Marinello got the cheddar, olive loaf and spiced ham at local grocery stores. "You can’t go wrong with Boar's Head cold cuts on a sandwich."
Michael Clinard's promo showcased a variety of comical images from several assignments. Here are two from a series he did for the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPop) for the exhibit "Can't Look Away: The Lure of the Horror Film."
A close-up look at Clinard's promo. "The printed promo card still exists as one of the most potent forms of marketing. It is easy to file, pass around. . . take with you or leave behind."
Eric Prine and his wife Sarah Claxton, who collaborate often, say their promos are meant to show that they are fun to work with, and not necessarily highlight Prine's ability to shoot something comical.
Photographers employ just about any strategy to make sure their promotions stand out. This month’s Promos We Kept features four photographers who thought spreading a smile was as good a method as any to attract attention. After all, couldn’t we all use a good laugh?
“In the right context, humor can be great at getting attention,” says photographer Randal Ford. But it depends on the assignment and the subject, he says. It only works if it’s “genuine to the concept or character.” Ford’s use of humor is subtle. “Sometimes it might take a second for that humor to come through,” he says. “I like to allow my audience to come to their own conclusions about whether an image is funny or not.”
The subtlety of Ford’s humor can be seen in his “Couch Chameleons” series, which he photographed in collaboration with Arnold Worldwide for the client CenturyLink. The concept was to show people enjoying their TVs so much that they blended into their couches. Working closely with set and costume designers, Ford created four images, each with its own mood and feel. The campaign won several awards, including honors from the One Club Award and an International Photo Award.
Ford knew these images would make a noteworthy promo. “Visually, this is one of my favorite series I’ve shot. It’s conceptual, humorous, also a bit moody. From a technical perspective, it shows I know how to light. It shows I know how to collaborate, style and work with teams. I think the series really ticks all the boxes…It was a no-brainer to make a promo with it.”
Using Adobe InDesign and Illustrator, Ford designed the promo himself, down to the little silver chameleon logo on the back. “It’s a process I enjoy and believe that it allows for my voice to come through not only in the photography but in the design” he says. “Learning these additional design programs, like Illustrator, has been challenging but very rewarding.”
Ford used a printer in Austin, Texas to produce the piece. He had 5,000 copies of his 34 x 5-inch accordion-fold booklet made, and spent about $7,500 (including postage). The cost also included adding fifth color metallic PMS to highlight the chameleon logo. “I thought it would be a subtle design element that not everyone would notice but the ones that would notice it, would really appreciate it.” He says the amount is typically what he pays for a promo like this, but that he has created and sent out postcards for less than $2,000.
For the last ten years, Ford has sent direct mail pieces to advertising agencies and magazines across the country three to four times a year. “I shot a job a couple years ago and the creative director said he had one of my postcards up in his office for five years and was just waiting on the right job to come along: A 10-cent postcard that hung around that long.” He adds, “Goes to show you if you send out good work, even if the promo is super simple, it does work.”
Patrick Marinello says that when he hit a slow period two or three years ago, “I thought, if I want to make money in photography, I should photograph things that make me happy.” And “eating” was on the top of Marinello’s list.
So he began photographing dishes from his favorite restaurant in Queens, New York. That led to some assignments with a food website, and that lead to work photographing dishes made by some of the top chefs in the world. During down time, Marinello continued shooting personal work, but without access to the high caliber food and dishware that the restaurants offered, he decided to go in a different direction.
“I love sandwiches and it always annoyed me that cold cuts got a bad rap, but people love charcuterie. This idea popped in my head of shooting a single cold cut and then next to it have a graphically pleasing image of the same cold cut.”
While working on the series, Marinello came up with the concept for his first promo. He wanted a way to bring photo editors, agents and some attention to his website, and he found that sending emails alone wasn’t doing it. “I figured not many photo editors or photo agents get promos that look like sandwiches. I expected the reactions to be either ‘What the hell am I looking at?’ [or] ‘This is amazing!'”
His sandwich promo wasn’t specifically intended to be funny; it was meant to elicit a reaction. He wanted people to open the envelope and see a booklet with his name and “a picture of plain piece of whole wheat bread” and get disappointed. Then after opening the booklet come to the realization that it resembled a sandwich. Marinello says, “I wouldn’t expect a person who didn’t have a good sense of humor to appreciate my sandwich promo.”
Marinello designed the 24 page, 5.5 x 8-inch promo himself and had 30 booklets created by Overnight Prints. The cost for printing was $117 and about $2 per promo for postage. He targeted magazines that feature food photography, as well as some photo agents. “The promo I sent out wasn’t the stereotypical promo or the type of photography that’s showcased in most of these magazines.” But he wanted to put himself “as a person and as a photographer in the promo.”
While food photography isn’t a natural subject for humor, Marinello says, it does require imagination. “If I have an opportunity to have 100% creative control of my images, all I want is a good reaction from the viewer, and if it makes them happy, laugh, inspired or hungry, then I [know I] have produced a great image.”
Humor has always been a part of Michael Clinard‘s photography. “Grown-ups and kids equally gravitate toward my work because I think it attempts to not take itself too seriously,” says the conceptual photographer.
Clinard’s promo showcases a mixture of images from several assignments and campaigns. The cover, originally photographed for the publication Mental Floss, features a man at his computer with his screen covered in cans of SPAM. “Because the SPAM image itself kind of plays on self-promotion, I felt it was a good one to keep on the front” says Clinard. “The front should be visually-arresting and cause for looking deeper into the mailer.”
Working with designer Tim Lahan and Michelle Bablitz of Saint Lucy Represents, Clinard wanted to create a promo that showcased several past projects that feature “dynamic portraiture” in “well-lit compositions,” he says. “We felt a large, trifold mailer was the way to go given the whimsical exuberance and vivid color palette that my work often depicts.” Unfolded the piece measures 8.5 x 17.25-inches.
He printed 1,500 mailers through Modern Postcard. Printing cost around $1,200 dollars after Clinard took advantage of some promotional pricing he received from memberships in professional organizations. He mailed out about 1,000 and kept the remainder for marketing packets that he or his rep send out to creatives. Clinard says he’s always used services such Agency Access to build and maintain lists of creatives and potential clients. “I tend to make note of everyone I’ve met, especially the junior creatives, because they’ll be my boss someday.”
Clinard has been sending out promos since 2011 and believes that “the printed promo card still exists as one of the most potent forms of marketing. It is easy to file, pass around. . . take with you or leave behind.” But he and Bablitz have “been brainstorming new ways to reach past, present and future clients through means that don’t resemble the typical printed promo piece.”
Specializing in landscapes and environmental portraiture, Eric Prine‘s photography isn’t really what you’d call funny. Tranquil, airy, luminous—yes. But once a year Prine and his wife, producer and rep Sarah Claxton, send out a promo postcard that brings humor to the fore. “I don’t tend to shoot a lot of work that is overly zany,” says Prine. “However, with this annual project, because it is really personal to us, we like to let our senses of humor come through and really have fun with it.”
This is the third year that the husband and wife team created a “winter” postcard. “We knew our son would be born near the holidays, so Sarah came up with the idea of having me knitting from my beard, which is meant to have grown during the long winter and we knew that the chaos of a new baby would be incorporated somehow.” Prine set up the camera and together they both styled the scene in their home. “The collaboration is usually pretty seamless,” Prine says. “This year Fritz did his part by wailing right on cue.”
Prine and Claxton, who collaborate often, say the promos are meant to show that they are fun to work with, rather than show Prine’s ability to shoot something comical. “I like my work to be a little more serious, but I do like when things get a little loose and fun on a shoot.”
Prine used Next Day Flyers to created 300 postcards. The printing costs less than $100 total, and he used postcard stamps to mail them. “All in, it’s only around $200, which is really reasonable,” Prine says. He sent the cards to a select group of clients they’ve worked with, as well as friends and family. Prine says this particular promo is less about getting new work and “more about staying in touch.” Prine and Claxton also promote it in email blasts and on Instagram after it’s been sent out and received by the original mailing list.