Ben’s Book

Ben Popken of The Spunker wants to be a copywriter.
Here’s one of the spec ads from his developing portfolio:
Popken had a portfolio review at Y&R last week and people have been emailing him with suggestions. What a difference a few interweb years can make.

Wowzers. My portfolio got a really high response. Thanks everybody. Now I hate all my ads. But it’s a good hate. Really, my reaming was surprisingly gentle. Though it’s still galling to bust ass and get told, “Nice, you’ve demonstrated you can tell an ad from a nutrition chart. Do it again, with feeling.” That’s how it goes. Take it on the chin and grin.

Good attitude. It’s easy to get impatient when you’re in Ben’s shoes, wanting that big break so badly.
In the interest of helping Ben improve, let’s examine the Kotex spec ad above. I have some opinions on it, but why don’t you start.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. concentricircles says:

    A play on words (not a particularly clever one) making a point everyone knows (Kotex is for my period?) doesn’t show any insight into the relationship between the brand and reader. If you’re going to rely solely on cleverness, let it come from some sort of insight.
    That said, I prefer it to a mom and daughter walking on a beach having an “earnest” conversation.
    By the way, the use of red for the periods/ellipsis seems kind of gross. But that’s just me….

  2. There is a Germ of an idea there.
    But . . . 99% of people don’t know the term ellipses. They always say: Dot Dot Dot.
    Now wouldn’t that really say more. Just show the dots.
    I’m not crazy about the typeface either. Looks like a rave invitation.
    The red dot vs. the black type is good though. It may be ‘gross’ but it explains the reality.

  3. waste of blog space if you ask me. people check these blogs for what’s new in the industry, not to crit some kid’s homework assignment.

  4. Thanks for the feedback, Eric. So noted.
    However, the struggle to break in to the business is a topic we want to cover. It’s difficult to do, and there is little help for those undertaking it, other than some books to read and schools to attend.

  5. concentric take note: Kotex already uses red periods.
    P.S. Ben, you’re one brave muther. Sticking out your neck in front of the world is something most creatives really don’t have the stones for. Lesson one: Hold on to that bravery. I’ll email you some thoughts on this and the rest of the work you’ve posted.

  6. Golly, guys,
    talking about periods and dots.
    dot dot dot dash dash dash dot dot dot.
    SOS cause that’s what it is when the flow goes and you have to dash to the john.
    You have a girlfriend?
    What do you think of my iMac ad?
    what have you got?
    You got it. Sometimes it is gross, but it is reality. Just wait till you turn 40 and female!

  7. I’m grateful to Dave for putting some Ad Pulp juice behind my efforts. NMK, yes I have a girlfriend. She wants me to disclose she, “told [me] the ellipsis ref was too obscure for an ad campaign… but she’s an English major and thought it was funny anyhow.” I thought I could explain the ad to anyone who asked by saying it was for the New Yorker? (Turns hands over, shrugs shoulders). Font inspired by the o.b. typeface Ravey look…I used to promote bands and shows so some of that pop! look remains in my blood. Thanks for the head nod, American Copywriter, I definitely look forward to your feedback.

  8. obscure fact, Ben:
    First tampons in Egypt…
    thousands of years ago, made from papyrus.
    Thank goodness you did not use that type.

  9. Ben,
    Alot of creative directors (especially copywriters) fear and loathe the mere mention of an ellipsis.
    the ad’s not blowing me away, but there is a kernel of an idea here.
    Also, I don’t agree that an ellipsis is too obscure for the general public.

  10. ben, your blogging is better than your ad-ing. you need to think bigger and stop trying to be clever/funny. every student makes that mistake. don’t join the herd. it’s headed over a cliff. focus on selling the product. the best ads merely reveal what’s already there in a fresh way. doing excitin ads for more boring products is always a good idea. you’re not a woman, what could you know about tampons? also i would question the value of doing traditional print ads in 2006. take a class at SVA. deadlines and peer competition are great motivators. narrow your job search. who do you really want to learn from? target them. stalk them. focus.
    hope this helps.

  11. Well, Ben…I hope you find this type of feedback helpful.
    Much (but not all) of what’s been said here, I totally agree with. For one, when you put together a spec book, choose brands that have meaning in your life. Ideally, we want to learn about you through your spec ads. So, let’s say you love Oshkosh overalls. We need to feel that love and see those overalls in a new light.
    Second, with this Kotex ad, you’re showing us how clever you are, but not how smart you are. Cleverness often does nothing more than draw attention to itself, and that’s not what you want. All the attention has to go to the brand.

  12. i disagree the kid is showing us how clever he is. sadly, he’s showing us how mediocre he is.
    the ad achools that encourage their students to do spec ads for feminine hygiene, condoms, bowling (please, no more headlines making references to being in the gutter and having large balls) are really messing up a generation of adkids.
    i would encourage all ad school students to insist on viewing their instructors’ portfolios before enrolling.

  13. Yea, and how many students please the teacher?
    High Jive, didn’t you comment to about that Jimi a while back. I said something about it fitting an ob tampon. You said some male devices? Anyway, as long as ob was mentioned here, it must be a real problem for ob to get over the fact that lots of girls prefer applicators, or? They don’t even want to touch the brand. Is it something for which an ad could come up with a solution.

  14. Geoff Bradley says:

    Base it on an insight, as concentricircles suggests, and maybe it can make the shift from clever to smart that HighJive is looking for:
    Insight: You wish you didn’t have to stop doing things you enjoy because of your period.
    Idea: Turns your period into a comma.

  15. full stop

  16. I like the idea of saying “dot dot dot” instead of “ellipsis.” “Turn your period into a comma” is also good. To dispell a misconception going on here, I didn’t make this ad for class. I was watching TV, thinking about the Depends ads where the femine product turns into an umbrella, and this ad above popped into my head.

  17. a few delayed responses:
    1. nmk, students don’t have to please teachers — they’re paying them. over the past few years, i’ve hired over twenty creatives, viewing literally hundreds of books. the student ad books are painfully similar. that’s the fault of formulaic instruction, in my opinion.
    2. doing this kotex ad is a bad idea on a few levels. first, some other feminine hygiene product has already utilized a graphic period for its imagery. second, i’m guessing this effort would not be well-received by female creative directors. or male creative directors with taste.
    3. geoff bradley comes close to at least mining for an insight. wonder if the insight is actually valid. i think it’s tough for students to tap an insight if they don’t have the research/findings to back it up.

  18. High Jive,
    Well, I certainly didn’t please mine while I lasted, that is. I am painfully aware at similarity in student work. I went mad trying to get fellow students to not do the same. Some teachers in class wouldn’t show us their work because all the students would then do something to please them. (that was what my comment was about) As a matter of fact, we had a little exercise in class in an on board discussion group where we had to come up with a project with no teacher involvement. Quite interesting. I actually saved the whole discussion and wanted to put it in my portfolio.

  19. Thanks to all for taking an interest. Look for a brand spankin’ new portfolio at in 6 months.
    Now for the ripostes:
    HighJive: You say, “some other feminine hygiene product has already utilized a graphic period for its imagery.” Actually, this is an ad for Kotex and Kotex is the same product using the graphic period… Secondly, while my work might be classified as ‘student’, this ad was not created in class, so watch your remarks about teacher pleasing. I suggest getting your facts straight before sounding off about my ‘mediocrity.’ While we’re here, I’d also like to point out your commentary, here, on your blog and others’, strikes me as overly wrought and heavy-handed. Lighten up.
    Hans Akkerman: I did take a class at SVA. You’re right, though, I should take another.
    Burn: I like your suggestion picking new brands that I’m into. I agree that my book tries too hard to be clever. My next effort will strive to advertise the brands, rather than my self-perceived wittiness.

  20. yo, dude.
    first, i didn’t make the teacher-pleasing comment.
    second, i thought your ad was student work because it looks like student work.
    third, if kotex is already using the graphic period, then you really shouldn’t go there. you’re only producing a lesser derivative of someone else’s concept. i.e., kotex has already done it, and done it much better.
    fourth, think twice before criticizing your critics. you’re too young and inexperienced to be cocky. plus, you’re the one who put yourself out there for input. take the good and the bad. but if you really hope to succeed, you’ll take the bad quietly until you’ve got the cred to spit back.
    fifth, sorry about the mediocrity comment. but it was based on your work versus whether or not i thought you were a student, taking classes, etc.
    all the best. and good luck.

  21. Ben, you are witty. And you have ability. The challenge is to learn how to apply your skills in a tough business (and to NOT take things personally).
    High Jive, no one wants to be told they’re too young to be cocky, even though it may be true. Of course, no one wants to hear they’re work is mediocre either.
    For instance, it took me over year to walk away from my first book and develop another, much better one. I kept thinking I could fix it and that the next CD would like it, and hire me. Didn’t happen. And until one brave ECD in Kansas City trashed me thoroughly, I simply wouldn’t let go of my precious creations.
    Bottom line…the toughest critics are often the best critics, even though no one wants to hear it, at first.

  22. Actually I have a promotion for menstrual products. It is somethiing that I have never seen done before. I guess too many people would call it art instead of advertising. it involves no people or picture of the product. It hints, yet maintains discretion and beauty.
    I would post the whole thing on my blog. Unfortunately, I do not have any connections to people in this field. My work can easily be stolen.
    me? I’m just a mom–not even in tennis shoes. I wear swim flippers. And I am uncertain that any of you understand my waves.
    If any maker of female products is reading this, you can contact me at I assure you you will not be disappointed. I’ve been using these products for more than 30 years, but more importantly I understand the beauty of becoming a woman each month.
    PS you know that Nike ad… the famous one where they ask if you wish you could be a guy. With me the answer is no. Where’s the reality in that?

  23. For the record:
    Depends are not “feminine hygeine products.” (That “category name” needs a thorough revamping, but I digress.)
    Ben, think urine, not blood, where Depends is concerned. (And the great part is that men can use them, too.)
    And good luck.

  24. david,
    should we encourage mediocrity? if the work was stellar, would ben not be employed now, especially given the number of folks who allegedly viewed his work?
    being cocky when you’ve got so much to learn is, well, annoying. and annoying folks don’t usually get hired. especially if their work is mediocre.
    don’t mean to sound harsh, but even you admitted stepping away from an initial book and starting anew. ben needs to start stepping pronto.
    as i mentioned before, i’ve seen scores of student books in recent years. ben’s stuff doesn’t come close to matching the few great ones. or even the average ones.
    but that’s just my opinion.
    p.s., i landed my first job straight out of school (NOT an ad school) with my first book. i was producing national, award-winning ads within my second year. still am. so there.

  25. HighJive: Apologies. You didn’t make the teacher pleasing comment. I was a bit brittle. All these eyeballs out of nowhere has been a bit heady. I think I have the courage now to walk away from what is admittedly a mediocre book and go work on stronger material, thanks in large part to the ad blogging community’s honesty.

  26. Gawker Poaches Another One

    Ben Popken, of The Spunker has a new gig—editor of Gawker Media’s The Consumerist. Joel Johnson will be moving up to Executive Editor of the site. Hit me up at ben [the darn at sign] with your consumer kvetching,…

  27. me the genius says:

    My ad for KOTEX goes like this ; ” Stop the flood baby, we are going out”.