Using Humor In Advertising To Connect With Audience With Allen Kay

Advertising is the art of communicating with the users of a particular product. While you can easily reach out to your audience in this day and age, how can you actually establish a connection that will make them want your product? For famous American Advertising Executive, Allen Kay, that is through advertising humor. He tells us the keys to advertising humor and how it can change our style to make it connect with the people. In this episode, Allen tells us about his early encounters in the world of commercials and how he got into it. He then shares with us how it can be a perfect career course, along with the skills you need to go beyond advertising.

TTL 627 | Humor In Advertising


I’m glad you joined us because we have Allen Kay here and if you’ve ever looked up his Wikipedia page it is long for a good reason. He is a famous Advertising Executive. He is the creator of the If You See Something, Say Something campaign. He’s also behind many of the ads that were amazing. One of the most famous Super Bowl ads ever of the Xerox campaign is one of my favorites. We’re going to talk a lot about what he’s done and it’s a fascinating look into advertising and much more that he does.

Listen to the podcast here

Using Humor In Advertising To Connect With Audience With Allen Kay

I am here with Allen Kay. He is an American Advertising Executive and entrepreneur. You’ve probably seen the Brother Dominic ad which was famous. It’s the 1976 Super Bowl featuring the monk with the Xerox. He’s also well known for creating the phrase and campaign, If You See Something, Say Something. It’s exciting to have you here, Allen. Welcome.

Thank you. I’m excited to be here.

I am fascinated by your work. That Super Bowl ad is one of the best ever. I can’t imagine somebody not having that in their mind when you bring it up because it dominated. It was creative and unusual. I want to get a little background on you to lead up to that point. How did you get into advertising?

I got to advertising at the age of three. My father was the controller of Grey Advertising. He used to bring me in all the time and I would hang out in the art studio. We started at about three, once I was diaper-trained and everything, and it stuck. I always could draw and my father used to write the paycheck so he saw the checks of the creative people going up. He and my mom let me lean in that direction with a little bit of help and I’m happy about that. I was touring at one time, being a fine artist but there was Picasso. He beat me to it and I figured that I couldn’t be better than him. If I can’t be the best, don’t even get in the race. It was advertising and I loved it. Even as a kid, I used to make up stupid commercials and everything. I went to ArtCenter College of Design in California which at the time was the best professional Arts College. I graduated on a Tuesday, flew back on Wednesday and Thursday, I started at McCann Erickson which I didn’t even intend to do.

I was up visiting a friend and his boss, Laurel Cutler. She’s quite a famous person in the industry. I walked in and she saw that he was looking at my book. She looked at it and she said, “You’re hired.” I said, “No, I don’t want to work here. I want to work at Wells, Rich, Greene.” She says, “I don’t care. You’re going to work here. You’re hired.” I said, “No, you don’t understand. I had Wells, Rich, Greene and that’s my dream.” She says, “You can go there and get any appointments you want but you’re going to be working here. If things don’t work out, you stay here. That’s all.” I tried all ways to get up to Wells, Rich. I was even considering hiding out in the ladies’ room for when Mary Wells came in. I decided against that so I stayed at McCann. It was there also that I was adopted by Lois Korey, who was my partner for 22 years and we worked together.

We first started working together at McCann on special projects. She was a big-shot already and I was just a loudmouth kid. One of the reasons she fell in love with me as she was doing her office and spending thousands of dollars redoing a check. In the meantime, she was in a little office next to mine and the whole office was wallpapered with awards which were impressive. It took my breath away. I came in, I looked and I said, “I’m happy to see that someday I’m going to match you.” She says that she wants the person who recommended me. She says, “The nerve of him but I love this boy.”

We got together. She was originally a comedy writer that went into advertising. She wrote with Woody Allen, Mel Brooks and all of the greats. When the industry moved to California, she didn’t want to leave New York. She tried it and it was not for her. She came back and the whole industry was out there. She didn’t know what to do and her husband was looking into the newspaper. He went to help post it and there was an ad that said, “Coffee-writer wanted. No experience, mandatory.” He showed that ad and he said, “This is your place, Lois.” She agreed, she went up and she became a junior partner at Jack Tinker & Partners which was the creative agency at the time. It’s one of the first boutique agencies. They were the ones that remade Alka-Seltzer. Mary Wells came out of there, too and still Greene and Rich.

We got together at McCann and then we got drafted by partners to do the Rockefeller gubernatorial campaign. It was his fourth or fifth unprecedented run and the people had been doing it less. They searched into the public and asked what team could fill it. They chose Lois and me so we worked there on the Rockefeller campaign. Nobody was nervous because they knew he wasn’t going to win. He had no chance on Earth but we proved them wrong. He wound up doing some dynamic advertising and he, our staff, and with the help of Arthur Goldberg, who was running against him and not exactly, Mr. Popularity. Rockefeller got in and it was quite a feat. November came and that job was over. McCann expected us to come back and Lois said that she didn’t want to go backward. She got a job at Needham, Harper & Steers and she said, “Come with me, Allen.” I said, “I don’t know. I never heard of Needham, Harper & Steers and I didn’t know their accounts.” She said, “We’re working on this new company called Xerox. That will be fun.”

I loved her and she loved me. I couldn’t see working without her so I said, “Okay.” She got me a lot more money than I was making and she was an Associate Creative Director. I was, at that time, called Executive Art Director. We worked together there for eleven years. We ultimately became Co-creative Directors of the agency and handled everything. After eleven years, we looked at each other and said, “We conquered this mountain. Is there an Everest around here?” We decided, “Let’s go out on our own. If we don’t do it now, we’ll never do it.” That’s what we decided to do and we started Korey Kay & Partners. We left two people, me and her, in a borrowed office with a partner’s desk where we knock our knees, fought over the telephone and had one share in the room. We had to move out if she wanted to move around the office or get out the door and that’s how we started Korey Kay.

We were not allowed to take clients which was our contract. We were not allowed to take people and that hurts the most. Taking clients wasn’t a problem. These were hand-picked people that we trained over the years. They knew exactly our standards and what we want to do which is never any wasted motion. We couldn’t take it and they were hands-off. Finally, they let us take our executive assistant and I said, “Can we please take her? You said we can’t take any people,” and she said, “No, that’s okay. We don’t consider her people.”

I’m sure she appreciated that.

The best way to get people online is offline. Click To Tweet

I never told her. I hope she doesn’t read this. They are smart, ambitious and hardworking people. What happened is we have a list of 91 people that said, “When you go into business, we want to be your charter clients. We want to be one of your first clients.” We had a safety net there. We started making calls and they said, “I changed job. I’m going to be fired. We just hired an agency. The time isn’t right.” When we got to the 91st call and it said, “I’m sorry this number has been disconnected.” We looked at each other and I said, “What did we do?”

We took out an ad in The New York Times, the whole page with our own money. We decided that we were going to position ourselves as the first agency for entrepreneurs. It was the beginning and the entrepreneur wave is just starting to build. We felt, “This was going to be the future. Nobody was there yet. Let’s get there first.” The headline of it was, “Entrepreneurs advertise differently than normal people.” The first time it got me and said, “You bet your assets, they do.” Naturally, The New York Times wouldn’t accept it. They called up and they said, “Sorry, Ms. Kay, we can’t accept your headlines.” She said, “It’s the body. That’s the first line. You bet your assets.” “We can’t accept that,” and I said, “Assets, look it up in the dictionary. It’s a regular word. It means this is your money.” They said, “No, I’m sorry.”

I’m the type who doesn’t take no for an answer. I took it all the way to the top and I’ve met with the publisher. He was the son of the original publisher. I told him about it and he said, “That’s ridiculous and the ad run.” They got a lot of attention. The phone rings and it was the National Republican Party. They said that they saw our ad and they did a nine-month agency search. That afternoon, they were going to call the agency that they decided to hire. When they saw the ad that we ran, they got a feeling. They said, “We saw that ad and we knew you had tesfah. Could we send over an advance?” I said, “Sure,” and here we are in this teeny tiny office. We looked at each other. We were transparent before anybody knew what the word was. We said, “We are where we are. He’s not here to rent an office. He’s not here to buy furniture. He’s here because of our talent.” That’s tesfah and that’s the way it is.

The office that were loaned from a friend of mine did brochures. He was set up like an advertising agency that didn’t do advertising so we were able to show our reel. He saw the reel and he said, “Great. Nice. I’ll get back to you.” He left and he said, “Okay.” In another meeting, from there, we had an appointment at Manhattan Ribbon Chicken which was a new chicken place that opened up on Madison Avenue. They called and they said that they saw our ad and they’re entrepreneurs and we’re entrepreneurs. They want to be the McDonald’s of chicken and then want us to be their agency. We said, “Can you come up today?”

After the Republican Scout left, we go up. We talked to them and all they said was, “Everything sounds good. We’ll get back to you.” They go back to the office, they call up and they said, “We’ve discussed it and we’re weak.” It was hard in the decision but summer is coming and we need an air conditioner. It was an air conditioner for advertising. I don’t know if what a chicken store is like in the summertime so we decided on the air conditioner. The other funny thing that happened was the morning that we ran the ad and the phone rang first thing, Lois picked it up and a man said, “I saw your ad this morning. I’m excited and I just started a company. You’re an entrepreneur, I’m an entrepreneur and the match is perfect.” At which point the operator came in and said, “$0.10 more for the next three minutes.” The phone hangs up and we never heard the guy again.

Republican National Committee, that was for Ronald Reagan’s reelection, right?

Yes. He had been elected and the Republican Party was not getting high marks so they said that they were going to be an entrepreneurial party. When they saw this ad, what better agency would there be? He called and we come back to the office from Manhattan Ribbon Chicken and Lois is looking through her records and there was a phone slip that said, “Rep marketing called.” We were getting more calls from Media Reps. You could imagine, “If we could take Media Rep as a client, we would have been the biggest agency in the world.” She looks at it and she said, “Another rep. How are we?” The Republican marketing group calls up and the guy said, “I was impressed. I spoke to everybody here. Can you present the entire committee on Thursday?” We said, “Sure.”

We went to their office in New York. There were about 30 people there and all in their 30s. We presented our work. We happen to have a lot of head-to-head advertising like Wise against Pringles. We had a Xerox against IBM so we said, “These are political commercials because you have to vote to define and vote for the products. It’s one or the other.” They sat at the edge of the seat and we finished. We told them about this one story with Wise and Pringles. The commercial cause Pringles to come off the shelves and reformulate for nine months. Our cases happen to be fortunate and we looked at each other thinking, “They’re probably going to save my eye.” We said, “It is what it is.” The head of the committee got up and she said, “I have to tell you something. Every word they said about Wise and Pringles is true. My brother was the brand manager of Pringles and he lost his job because of them. If we don’t hire them, we’re out of our minds.” They hired it up. The next day, we were in Washington shaking hands with the President and the whole office. He saw a reel, he laughed, and he liked it. The deal was consummated and we were offered money.

The sense of humor you were saying, Lois is the one that had Mel Brooks and Woody Allen experience, right?

Correct. I’m not funny at all.

I disagree. I loved the monk commercial. That’s funny. How did that change your career at all? What impact did that have? Brother Dominic Super Bowl 1976 is a huge ad. Did you expect it to be that popular?

TTL 627 | Humor In Advertising
Humor In Advertising: The celebrity advertising that work are those with a natural affinity between the talent and the product.


You never know. When we do a commercial, I never know whether it’s funny but I know if it’s right. If it’s right, it turns out to be funny. I knew it was a good spot. My wife said, “It’s not the best one you’ve ever done.”

What’s the best one you’ve ever done in her opinion?

That’s hard to say. There was one I was involved with a writer, Lester Colodny. It was his concept and that was great about a football game and they’re in trouble. They call a kid in to save the day and instead of running out on the field, he runs into the locker room, makes Xerox copies and brings them out. The coach hands it out to all the players who get on the field with their copy, they do this crazy play and wind up getting the winning touchdown. That still is one of my favorites.

I’m curious about the creativity factor. You said you got this from being around that early age and knowing how to draw. The Steve Jobs that takes calligraphy and do a lot with that and that’s what you’ve done with what you have naturally. I’m curious how much you think curiosity plays into creativity?

It’s hard to say. As soon as I can have something in my hand that made marks, I made them first with the crib. I found some stuff there that I could smudge on the wall. After that, I always had a pencil in my hand drawing cartoon characters. I had those composition books full of them. It was an escape but it was more like my place and I drew all the time. In school, there were drawings that are all around my tests and everything. Fortunately, I was semi-bright so I finished the test in time to do my drawings. My father was a controller and by his own admission, he didn’t have a creative bone in his body. My mother, on the other hand, her side of the family were artists, writers and musicians. Luckily, I picked up those although I can’t sing a note and I learned how to play five instruments. I got as far as Mary Had A Little Lamb on each of them, and Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star stopped me. I was as bad as far as I got but I could draw, write and talk. If you have those three things going for you in advertising, it’s the perfect career because it uses all of those skills and balance. That’s all I did. I live for the arts.

I’m curious, what you thought of Mad Men?

I never watched it and people said, “Why not?” I said, “I did not watch it, I lived it.”

Have you seen any episodes of it? I’m always curious.

No. My wife would tell me about it. There were some cases and things that they talked about that I was involved in. In terms of pitches and sayings like that, they’re changing names to protect the innocent. She would tell, “Allen, they talked about it. Remember when you pitched blah, blah? They had that on tonight,” and I said, “That’s cool.” I know people loved it. From what I hear, it was accurate although it was probably a lot wilder than they were a lot of shows on television.

It was a different time for sure. Now, everything is on social media in a different base. You see campaigns like the Gillette thing that upset many people. What do you think of how social media has impacted everything?

It has a great impact but a negative impact. I was never a big fan of social media. I thought the hype was bigger than the reality. I always said that the best way to get people online is offline and people said, “You don’t understand the internet. You are behind the time.” They criticized the hell out of me. If you’d notice what’s going on in the industry and the latest articles, they’re saying that offline is the best way to get people online. I only took them 33 years to figure that out but it happens to be true.

If you look at any of great commercials that are humorous or whimsical, they make a point, not a joke. Click To Tweet

Do you mean like Billboards or snail mail?

Billboards, television, radio and mass advertising. When you think about it, social media hit one person one time. The key to advertising is reach and frequency. You need both. You have to reach a big number of your audience and you have to reach more than one. Once doesn’t make sense and the people that are promoting and we’re promoting online which were saying, “YouTube is free and you get 100,000 hits and suddenly, ten million hits.” I said, “This makes no sense.” One day, you get ten million people to see your viral video. This year once and they tell their friend. The next day, there’s another viral video that replaces it and it totally erases the one you saw before. That’s not advertising, not even close.

It’s like a movie theater in your computer and I say it’s going to catch up with it. I knew it was going to catch up with it and if you read what people are finally realizing, it has. I remember I had lunch with a prospect and her company was coming out with a new credit card. I said, “You’re going to have to reach a lot of people. You should launch on television.” We were successful in doing this Virgin Atlantic, Comedy Central and Celebrity Cruises. The only one that we didn’t have enough money for TV was Stuart Weitzman but we did outlandish things in print for him. She said, “I hear what you say but I decided we’re going to go on YouTube because it’s free.” I said, “It’s worth every penny.”

You’re saying that you’re going to get them online but you’re still only hitting them. Maybe they’re reading it once. You’re saying in multiple hits over and over that you’re doing through billboards is just constant repetition.

Also, it’s driving them to the internet. When I first saw what’s going on, I said, “This is a catalog.” That’s all it is. We used to do an ad with an 800 number and got people in the catalog. They hold it for the catalog for more information. The internet to me is the outlet for more information because you’re not on the internet to find a site that’s on the internet. Google came along. It’s helpful, easier to navigate and easier to find what you want but seeing a television commercial sets you up for it. It pre-sells you on the product then, “I want to find out more.” You google it up and you find competitors and so forth. It’s all part of the process.

I’m a big believer in including things. It’s not, “Do this. Do that.” It’s how do you do it and in combination, what is the proper balance to get people to buy your product which what advertising is about? If you see many of the commercials now, they forgot that the idea was to sell a product that normally people would say, “Advertising is terrible. I don’t remember the product. The commercials are stupid. I don’t understand them.” They happen to be right. One of the things that Lois and I were known for is using humor in advertising. It’s another thing that got me a lot of criticism and Lois over the years for always having to defend it. In order to explain it, I said, “In advertising, humor is a powerful tool. Like a hammer, it can build a house or break a window.” We use it to build houses. What people don’t understand in the industry about humor, most of them never did. In its heyday and more so now, if you look at any of our commercials that are humorous or whimsical, they make a point, not a joke.

Do you have an example? Xerox was a great example.

That made a point, “We have a copy that makes you work a lot easier.” That was the point it was making. We didn’t do it to be funny. The way our mind works, if we see irony and stuff, we see human stuff. When we talk about our work, it has a sense of human. That’s what it does because it captures the human truth and human nature. Every one of our commercials, whether they’re for Honda, Virgin or Stuart Weitzman, they’re all human and you feel the people. You say, “They know me. They’re real people like me.” That’s who you like. I don’t think anybody predicting likes doing business with the computer. They don’t like making a phone call and getting a machine connecting them to another machine. That goes against everything that is human and we would draw from everything that is human. What problems do regular people face every day? What problems can we solve for them? They’re not digital. That’s not the way to solve their problem. It’s something real.

It was something that they can relate to and empathize with. I was thinking about some of the ads that were popular when I was a kid. You mentioned Alka-Seltzer with the flat fizz that was big. Whereas the beef was big and I can’t believe he ate the whole thing. Is there any particular one that stood out that you did or didn’t do that you thought, “That’s genius?”

The Volkswagen stuff is brilliant. One of the first commercials that floored me was the Volkswagen snow plow commercial. I don’t know if you’ve seen it but it’s wonderful. You’ll find it on YouTube. It shows close-ups of a big storm, a guy opens his garage and you hear a car start. You see this terrible blizzard and then you see that car drive out and it’s a Volkswagen. You see it drive up to a big snowplow and a simple voiceover says, “Have you ever wondered how the guy drives to the snowplow?” You don’t need a lot of words to tell your story. You can tell it with pictures and just give it a little tap at the end which is much more effective than what you hear now that is a stupid wall-to-wall copy, “Who is interested?”

What do you think of the sexy ads like the Joe Namath and Farrah Fawcett thing?

TTL 627 | Humor In Advertising
Humor In Advertising: The key to advertising is reach and frequency. You need both. You have to reach a big number of your audience and you have to reach more than one.


They’re cute and they’re fun. It catches your attention. It looks like, “The shaving cream is cool.” The celebrity advertising is another thing that’s misused because there’s an expression that says, “If you don’t have anything important to say, have somebody important say it.” That is true in most celebrity commercials. They pay them a lot of money to say that they love the product or to appear in the commercial and they’re just doing it for money. The ones that work are when there is a natural affinity between the talent and the product like we did one campaign with Tracey Ullman. Tracey Ullman is the personification of a virgin. She was absolutely right. We didn’t impose higher on the product and we didn’t impose a product on her. It was of natural match and the commercials were funny. This was interesting. We were doing some research on another product of some focus groups and the guy that was handling the group said that he does all of the groups for British Airways. We said, “Okay.” He said, “They researched virgin commercials more than they research their commercials because they can’t figure out how they work.”

It is interesting to see which ones take off and which ones you just go, “Huh.” There is sophistication that changes throughout time. You’re the creator of the phrase, “If You See Something, Say Something,” and that’s a huge story in itself. We could spend all the whole hour talking about that but there is a day set up. It’s September 25th, right?

Yes. They made International Recognition Day. Every year on that day, it’s going to be the If You See Something, Say Something Awareness Day which is fun. If somebody had told me that I would create something that they would create a holiday around, I would have said, “No. I doubt it. I would not take that bit.” Life is full of surprises.

I listened to one of your interviews about how you came up with this idea and how it took off that you tried to talk to the FBI and all these people about it. The Justice Department turned you down initially and then they didn’t have the same vision but eventually, they went with it, right?

Nope, I could not get anyone interested. No public entity and no company. Nothing. The first one to turn it down was the Justice Department. They said, “We don’t need anything like that.” I came up with the idea on 9/12, the day after the attack and it was similar. Everybody else has made me angry and frustrated. When I get angry and frustrated, I do what I do best and that’s advertising. That’s where my mind went and I wanted to do a gift from the advertising industry to the country. I came up with this idea which was quite simple. I said, “We are ignorant of what’s going on around us. Americans don’t pay attention, particularly in New York.

You’re taught to look down and don’t get involved. We needed just the opposite so I was thinking of the phrase, Loose lips sink ships, which was big in World War II. I was not around at that time but I knew about it. Everybody did and I said, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could give a modern-day version of that?” They laughed because it was erotic. That was about, don’t say anything and If You See Something, Say Something was about, do say something. It came into my head simply as if this reel is sensitive to it. How do we sensitize people? What do I want to tell people? I want to tell if you see something, say something. That’s simple and that became wide.

There was a meeting at the ad council about it and they talked that they want to do a campaign from the advertising industry. From the start, I didn’t want to do a nationalistic campaign. All America was great and feel great. I wanted to do something that would have a lasting effect. It would be like an answer to prevention and although all of these things went into one giant formula that came out as If You See Something, Say Something. The Justice Department turned it down, scores of companies and organizations turned it down and we wrote it up so I was like an Ancient Mariner. Anybody I saw in the street, I said, “How would you like to sponsor If You See Something, Say Something?” “I couldn’t get arrested.”

Ultimately, nine months later, the MTA who was our client for twelve years at that time called me up and said, “The management here thinks that we should do a security campaign. Do you still have If You See Something, Say Something? Did somebody pick it up?” I said, “No. I didn’t get it. I’ve wanted to go see on my computer.” They said, “Would you mind if we use it?” They were clients spending $15 million a year. I’m certainly not going to say no. I wanted it out anyway but this was a nice way to get it to the public. I said that there are three provisions but the main provision is I don’t want a penny for it. Anybody and anywhere in the world with a bonafide organization can use it for anti-terrorist activities. They’ll get it for free and nobody makes money on it. If you agree to that, fine. They said, “If you want to do that, that’s what we do.” It took eight years for the Department of Homeland Security to realize, “This is something good.” It took the Times Square incident for them to wake up and realize that this is a message that we should put behind. By then, it had already gone global.

The week it came out, Australia picked it up and I was shocked. Somebody sent me the newspaper with a picture of their big train station in Perth and right across the top of this huge poster saying, “If You See Something, Say Something,” with my layout and my typeface. They look like I had done it. I was proud and surprised thinking A, how did they find out about it? B, how did they know to utilize it quickly? Right now, it’s in over 150 locations around the world. It became global on its own steam. I didn’t push it. Nobody pushed it. It had a life of its own. Once the seed was planted, it grew in all directions.

Many things that you’ve done have been amazing and I was looking forward to talking to you about your work and advertising, how this iconic phrase and what you’ve done to help. I was looking at some of the things online of major incidents. You mentioned Times Square and different things that have been stopped because of people saying something. That must be such a great legacy to know that you had a huge part in that. Everything you’ve done was fascinating. I’m going to definitely share a lot of your ads with my advertising students. I still teach a lot of marketing courses on the side. This has been fun and a lot of people would probably like to know more. Do you have a website or anything you’re promoting? I know you have several years with Korey Kay & Partners. Is there some way that people can reach you?

Yes. I have a website which I call click it. One page should tell it all and if you want more information, you contact the company. If they go to, they’ll see about eight of my favorite commercials that I was involved in. That’s a qualifier if they like that work and they will like what I do. If they don’t understand it or don’t like it, they’re not going to pull with them at all. That’s a way for them to get our capsule of what I tell you, “I am what I do,” and that’s what I do.

In advertising, humor is a powerful tool. Like a hammer, it can build a house or break a window. Click To Tweet

You do a lot of amazing things. It was exciting to have you on the show. Thank you. This was fun.

I’m glad.

That was amazing and thank you.

I want to thank Allen for being my guest. We get many great guests on the show and what’s fascinating is the different stories they have. I love the true stories and their backstories of what they’ve gone through and what they’ve done to be successful. Allen created some of the most unbelievable campaigns. If you didn’t see some of those ads that we talked about on the show, I hope you look them up. Everything is on YouTube these days. You can see some of the ones that made a difference. I love the creativity behind what he does.

I have watched some of the interviews of how he becomes creative and gets himself into that mindset. A lot of it lets his mind get to the point where it’s open to new ideas and things. In a lot of the research I did on creativity, I found it was interesting that a lot of the creativity experts all had said that curiosity came first when we’re talking about what comes first, curiosity or creativity. We need to let ourselves open our minds to new ideas like he says. We let our fears and our assumptions hold us back. Our fears of looking stupid in picking the wrong thing, saying the wrong thing and that type of thing. Also, our assumptions, that voice in our head that tells us, “I’m not going to be good at this. I’ve never been creative. I’ve failed at something in the past so I probably won’t be able to do it again.” If you do that, you shut yourself down to creativity and intuitive nature that we have that can lead to the next big innovation. That’s why I was interested in watching some of his other interviews and things that he’s talked about how he got to this level of success.

He also discussed something that ties into the environment and he talked about how his father took him to his company when he was a kid. Our environment is such a huge impact on whether we go into this field or that field. If your family says, “This is a cool thing to do,” and you love that thing, that’s great but if you don’t love that thing, sometimes, you get guided in the wrong direction. It sounds like he got guided in the greatest direction for what he was skilled at doing especially with the background of being artistic and all the things that he had going for him. He also talked about technology. We talked about whether it helps or hinders sometimes and then getting a message across. Every single aspect of our conversation tied into the four factors of fate that I research for curiosity, which are fear, assumptions, which are the voices in our head and the voices we tell ourselves, technology and environment. Those are the four things that inhibit curiosity.

People can be highly creative if we work on some of these things. I know I’ve mentioned some of the TED Talks about creativity by Sir Ken Robinson or some of the work by Dr. George Land. Some of these guys talked about how we have educated people out of their creativity, their curiosity and their ability to learn and think in the ways that we naturally do as children. We see that kids are super curious and creative until about age five and we see this marked decline until adulthood. That’s what I want to open up a dialogue about when we talk to organizations and we talk about the importance of curiosity to creativity to innovation to engagement. All the factors that are inhibiting productivity in the workplace.

If we can work on starting with curiosity, we can get many other areas and help people succeed. That’s what I’m trying to do with the curiosity in my book on Cracking The Curiosity Code and my Curiosity Code Index which is available at as well as at If you go to the top, you can drop down the Curiosity information there. If you can get a baseline and a measurement to give yourself an idea, “Here are 36 questions and they’re all tying into the fear, assumptions, technology and environment type of issues.” You can find out, “These are the things that are holding me back,” and it opens up a dialogue with others if you want to talk to them or just within yourself, in your mind. You can discuss, “How am I going to overcome these issues if I’m afraid of looking not prepared? I’m telling myself I’m not interested in this. I haven’t learned this technology. If I over-rely on this technology or if somebody my family said this is a cool thing to do or this isn’t a cool thing to do.”

There are all these factors that have impacted our curiosity and what I’m trying to do with consultants and HR professionals is get them certified to get this Curiosity Code Index, be a CCI certified provider, go to organizations and help them with this. I’m working with large organizations and pharmaceutical companies of people in different fields all around the world. Talking to them about, “How can we get your workplace to be more innovative?” What’s fascinating to me is that curiosity is such a common term and idea of how important it is and yet nobody’s working on improving it. There’s no real assessment to determine the things that stop and inhibit curiosity.

They’ve only had assessments that tell you how curious you are which is great if you want to know if you’ve got a higher or low-level curiosity and a potential higher. It doesn’t tell you, “This is what we need to work on. This is their problem with fear, assumptions, technology and environment. If we can put together a SWOT analysis and action plan, that looks at these opportunities and threats and how can we overcome these with measurable SMART goals. That’s why the training courses are important. If you’re a consultant, an HR professional or somebody that’s interested in becoming certified to give this, the course is available for five hours of SHRM certification credit which is nice. I spoke at SHRM at their big event about this. I know that HR people are excited to get out in the field and train their employees about this because they have such a problem with lack of engagement. We know that Gallup is saying, “You’re losing $500 billion a year in organizations because of this.” A lot of people are aligned inappropriately or they just aren’t passionate about what they do because of that.

If we know that technology is going to take some of these jobs away, maybe half of the jobs are going to be done by some AI or something else. People are going to have to do something different. As we put people into new jobs, wouldn’t it be great if they were aligned with what they would love to do? How can we find that out if we’re not allowing them to explore or if we’re not asking questions about what they would love to do? That’s what I find amazing about developing curiosity and it ties into creativity. All that we talked about with Allen sparked my interest and all this stuff that I study. I love that Allen got into some of that and it was fun to talk about how creative he was. I hope some of you take the time to check out his site, go to YouTube and look at some of these videos because they were great. I’d love to hear what you like and what you thought was creative and what you think is important about in all the shows. I enjoyed this episode and I hope you did as well. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.

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About Allen Kay

TTL 627 | Humor In AdvertisingAllen Kay is an American Advertising Executive and Entrepreneur. He is the genius behind the iconic Xerox ad featuring the monk named Brother Dominic, which aired during the 1976 Super Bowl.

He co-founded Korey Kay and Partners advertising and served as its Chairman and CEO for 32 years. He was the creator of the phrase “If you see something say something.”


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