You just gotta look.



I learned from my mistakes. You can earn from them.

When I started designing print advertising, most of the work was for brochures, magazine ads, and other small format work. There was plenty of room and time to tell stories and show incredible images. My clients loved the work.

After years of success and more design and writing awards than I care to count, I was handed a few billboard and sign projects. They failed horribly because I used the same design principles that I used for everything else. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks...

Billboards and signs are the only kinds of advertising that have to work with a moving audience.

Advertisers get bad direction from agencies and designers. Fact is, outdoor and in-store advertising are the only forms of visual advertising that has to get noticed, read and remembered by an audience that is moving. All visual advertising is written and designed for people who aren't moving. Instead of 7 paragraphs, you get 7 words. 12 pages are replaced by a cover shot. Minutes become seconds. Making it work requires brutal cutting of everything until you're left with an image and message that refuse to be ignored and will never be forgotten.

Choose one of the nation's few Outdoor and In-Store Advertising Specialists.

Outdoor and point-of-purchase advertising takes a certain knack, instinct, you know, the stuff that you have to be born with. Train Wreck is all about the sucker punches. In your face — sometimes with an iron fist, sometimes with a velvet glove. That choice is yours. One thing is certain: Our clients are never ignored.

You have three options for outdoor and point-of-purchase advertising design:

1. Billboard and Sign Companies: The assembly lines of design

Most often, outdoor advertisers need to rely on billboard and sign companies for design. Those companies make their money renting space and printing signs.

Billboard and sign companies often advertise "Free Design." But "free" might come at a price. Their designers are great people, but they work in assembly-line mode with little if any time to do the research and develop concepts that assure results.

Remember, the most expensive advertising is advertising that doesn't get noticed.

When you're ready to kick it up, call me. You'll discover how a small investment on the front-end will pay off big when it's time to measure the effectiveness of your advertising.

2. Advertising Agencies: Expensive and inexperienced

Even the high-priced agency designers and copywriters can spend their entire careers without ever creating a billboard, outdoor sign, window display or any other large-format work that has to be designed for a moving target.

And, if such a project comes across their desk, they quickly discover that they have entered a world that is foreign to them.

Most everything they learned about design and copywriting for small-format work like brochures, direct-mail and websites is now useless.

It is not uncommon for ad agencies to call us when they're faced with outdoor advertising projects. We work for them anonymously and in strict confidence to create incredibly tight copy and sharp,uncluttered design that outdoor advertising requires. We make them heroes. We'll do the same for you.

3. Train Wreck Creative: The affordable expert

I only do out-of-home advertising. I love it and understand it better than almost anyone in the business.

Train Wreck Creative is one of the few independent design firms in the country that specializes in outdoor advertising. It's all we do. And, as a result, my clients have the distinct advantage of over 40 years of insight into what makes out-of-home advertising work.

I've spent a lifetime honing the science and art of making sure that our clients' work is never ignored and that it's always easily remembered.

I'll make sure that your out-of-home advertising is in perfect sync with your brand and with your current advertising campaign.

Because I am a specialist, Train Wreck is incredibly quick and embarrassingly affordable.

Brash or comforting, unexpected or familiar, grasped in a moment then remembered, Train Wreck hits home runs if you're willing to let me swing the bat.

Ready? Call 402-537-0067.

J McCarthy: Still crazy after all these years

  • Started in the ad business in '72.
  • Started counting projects in 2000.
  • 2000-2016: 4,343 projects.
  • Best-guess total: 9,000 - 10,000 projects.
  • Will go fishing as soon as project 31,258 is wrapped.

A little background...

  • Started doing this stuff when the Grateful Dead were still alive and CB radios were cool. (Still have one.)
  • Pickier about who I work with.
  •  Ad guy since the mid 70's
  • Michigan roots. Now Omaha.
  • Grew up as solar-powered kid. Mom sent me outside and pressed play.
  • Red meat: Great as long as it is not in moderation.
  • Listens to Zeppelin, Guess Who, Rare Earth, Traveling Wilburys, Highwaymen, Steely Dan, Classic Motown
  • Also listens to absolute silence.
  • Apocalypse Now (I wish they would make it into a musical.)
  • Once Upon a Time in the West (Great dialog without talking.)
  • Movie Rule #1: If it has swords or British accents, it probably sucks.
  • Movie Rule #2: If it has swords and British accents, it definitely sucks.
  • Prefers phone calls.

Largest Clients:

  • General Motors
  • Buick
  • Brunswick
  • Caterpillar
  • K-Mart
  • Little Caesars


  • Bait shop in Northern Michigan. Budget: $30.00 (Worked my butt off and was glad to do it.)

What I believe about advertising:

  • The only reason to advertise is to get people to do what you want them to do.
  • If it's important, it's in print.
  • If you won't let me me review your accountant's work, don't let him review mine.
  • Sometimes advertising fails the company. Sometimes the company fails the advertising.
  • If the creative needs an explanation, it's wrong.
  • Something is offensive to everyone. Don't make a hobby of being offended. It just makes you look like a weenie.
  • Everything is 50/50. Either it will or it won't. We won't know until it does or it doesn't.
  • Inform.
  • If an 8-year-old can't understand it, it's wrong.
  • “On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”
    (David Ogilvy)
  • If it doesn't sell, it's not creative.
    (David Ogilvy)

What I believe about everything else:

  • Results matter.
  • Words mean things.
  • If it doesn't feel right, it isn't.
  • Lighten up.
  • What you do is more important than what you say.
  • Earn it.
  • Be openly grateful.
  • If you hate your job, either quit or shut up.
  • Ties suck most of the time.
  • Give me the headline. If I want to know more, I'll ask.
  • How you drive is more important than what you drive.
  • Cilantro is a fad. Get over it.
  • Quit saying "myself" until you know how to use it in a sentence. (See this.)
  • If you can't pronounce it, don't eat it.
  • If you can't pronounce it, don't eat it.
  • Expect periods of silence. They're okay.
  • Most things aren’t really all that complicated.
  • Beef is okay, as long as it is not in moderation.
  • “Please” and “Thank you” are important.
  • Most environmentalists build their houses out of trees.
  • Animals are the best people you'll ever meet.
  • Given the choice between a perfect kid and an average dog, go with the dog.
  • Sleep on it.
  • Before you flip off the driver, check to see it they are old. They're doing the best they can. If you flip them off anyway, you won't make it to their age.
  • Sit in absolute silence at least 20 minutes a day.
  • Tofu sucks more than ties all of the time.
  • You can know what time it is with a Timex or a Rolex.
  • No. It's not getting warmer.
  • Most college degrees are just nicely framed receipts.
  • I don't do movies that have swords or accents.
  • Learn to read and write. In English.
  • Everything is 50/50. Either it will or it won't and we won't know 'til it does or it don't.
  • I am a Christian. I believe in God and Jesus. Deal with it.
  • Better isn’t always new.
  • I don't care about what's trending. I care about what works.
  • Greek yogurt vs. gravy. Seriously?

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