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Posts Tagged ‘Creativity’

Marketing leaders spend a great deal of time worrying about the changing media landscape these days, and an article on MediaPost by Gavin O’Malley this morning will only further their agita.  According to a Princeton Survey Research study, 90% of young adults use video-sharing sites.  Well, no kidding.  The only reason that figure is not 100% is that broadband has yet to penetrate the entire country.

One of the marketing leaders’ principal responses to these changes is their insistence on renaming television production as “content” production.  In their minds, “content” or “video assets” can be endlessly re-purposed with different edits of different lengths for different platforms beyond merely television.

That is good planning, even if it is nothing particularly new.  Candidly, framing a shoot as “content production” helps agencies sell something that every creative on a shoot always wants:  options and additional scenes.  Production experience will quickly teach you to get alternate takes, particularly alternate endings.  With so much of a commercial’s impact and engagement dependent on the actors’ performance, the cost of getting options on set is relatively low.  If you experiment a bit, the actor might deliver a different and better performance than you planned- -which explains roughly 75% of creatives’ bristling at dogmatic pre-testing.  An animatic is but the palest imitation of fully produced film with human performances.

Viral?  Or TV Commercial?

Viral? Or TV Commercial?

Consider the videos that have clogged your inbox over the years: Bud Light’s “Swear Jar”, the non-sanctioned VW “Terrorist”, and arguably the granddaddy of all internet virals: John West Salmon’s  “Bear”.  People forward clips like these to their friends and family because they’re entertaining, surprising and fun.  And yet, every one of these began as a television commercial, albeit an outstanding television commercial.  These may have also worked in a longer format, but thirty or sixty seconds often proves ideal for their impact.  And our attention spans.  Why?  Because we have spent decades absorbing commercial messages at these lengths; we have been conditioned to expect these clips in these concise formats.

All of which means that the changing media landscape will not suddenly render the way we have learned to tell efficiently-structured stories as meaningless.  We must still engage consumers with worthwhile messages presented in a rewarding fashion.  Technology will continue to change, but story endures.

So yes, the marketing landscape is evolving and will continue to evolve.  Change will continue to be a constant.  And so creativity must adapt to embrace and leverage new platforms but never at the cost of classic storytelling.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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The "O" Stands for "Obvious"     

The “O” Stands for “Obvious”

Last week, the online market research people at Harris Interactive released their latest findings in a pdf titled “LinkedIn Research Network/Harris Poll.”   In findings that will come as a surprise to no one who has ever spent more than ten seconds on the Yahoo! home page, consumers find many aspect of the burgeoning world of internet advertising frustrating.  They resent expanding banners, page takeovers, and video windows without the option to close or skip.  And now the Harris Interactive people have the quantitative results to prove it.

But this is far from news.  Bad is bad, whether it’s bad television, bad product design, or bad recipes for zucchini.  Advertising is no different: to really engage people, it must prove useful or interesting or surprising.  Generally speaking, people recoil at obnoxious behavior.  And uninvited page takeovers qualify as obnoxious behavior.  Too many advertisers believe silly stunts like sending bouncing balls careening from a small space out over the entire home page constitutes innovation, as if unaware that animation has been around since the late 19th century.

Pointlessly interrupting people is rude.  Wasting peoples’ time is rude.  If you are an uninvited drop-in stranger, I’m not gonna open my front door.  However, if you are an uninvited drop-in stranger lugging an inflatable castle and offering free bouncing for the kids, I might open up a bit.  Because that’s a lot of fun.  Marketing works the exact same way, on or off line.

Essentially, this poll confirms a hypothesis most people in marketing should already consider painfully obvious.  It takes great creative wherewithal to escape the bonds of mediocrity, but that’s the goal.  Every day. In every medium.  

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Picture 3By now, you may have seen this incredibly charming video.  Posted on YouTube back in April by ad agency George Patterson Y&R in Melbourne, it’s been making the rounds a lot of late.  Do yourself a favor: carve out four and a half minutes to enjoy “Wicked Sick BMX” and a powerful reminder that creativity builds brands and adds profits.  Enjoy, won’t you?

Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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LanceBGBGuest Blogger: Lance Hill

As a Director of Account Planning, Lance Hill works on briefs and stuff, with a decided focus on the ‘and stuff.’  Lance’s relentlessly inquisitive mind may be a by-product of his fascination with philosophy; he’s long exemplified how a good question is always far more interesting than the right answer.  Sartorially, he is a sneakerhead, with a pair of kicks for most every occasion.  With time at the Forbes Group, Brann and Barkley, Evergreen & Partners, Lance brings a rangy perspective to his work.  Texas A&M remains close to his heart, though practically-speaking, it’s inked onto his calf.  Oh, and he’s pretty deadly at Halo too…  

One of my favorite parts of the family vacations we used to take was the random stuff we found along the way.  I travel quite a bit today for work, but these trips are always based on a “get from A to B as fast as possible” mentality.  I’m glad my Dad never thought this way or I would have never seen the World’s Largest Peanut in Georgia or the countless other random precious memories in my head.  Lance1

Wandering around a bit has always been a good thing for the spirit, the mind, and the body.  The Native American and Aboriginal cultures were strong believers in this.  It’s quite sad that it has been lost by most people.

Truly creative people not only see the value in wandering, they practice it daily, even if only in their mind.  Trying to force creativity into a straight line, into the “get from A to B as fast as possible” mentality is not only wrong, it simply doesn’t produce results anyone really wants.

I’ve been trying to allow for this when writing briefs.  Originally, an exceptional brief was a clear picture of where you were and where you needed to get to.  But along the way, we forced the path itself into the brief as well.  The “big idea”, “the single most compelling thing”–you know the drill.

Worse, this kind of prescriptive direction all-too-often creates the dreaded “it’s off-brief” client reaction, particularly to great ideas that nail the problem and achieve the desired point, but in a different (and often better) way.

Lance2Imagine if Leonardo Di Vinci hadn’t painted over his original version of the Mona Lisa as a portrait of a very tense pregnant woman.  What if Wilbur Wright had turned to Orville and said, “yes it flies and I can control it, but it looks nothing like our original design.  Time to re-brief.”

Yes, we all have to move faster in today’s industry. Great creative ideas can still be had in that time frame.  Just agree on where you are, where you want to go (what success looks like), and let the creative minds start to wonder.   It’s the only way the creative process can really work.

Lance3So how do you draw up and rationally show the creative process?  You don’t.  Two men have nailed, in my mind, the true articulation of the creative process in describing how their agencies work: Dan Weiden’s “Show up stupid every morning” and Brian Brooker’s “Come up with a good idea and then throw it away”.   From what I’ve seen, coming up with great creative is really that simple of an approach and incredibly hard to do.  Both embrace the chaos and the wondering inherent in the mind’s formulation of something truly creative.

Planning as a discipline is supposed to help this process, not get in the way.   So why do our briefs so often try to force creative into a pre-determined path?

By Lance Hill, Account Planning Director, Element 79

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“Search all the parks in all your cities;
You’ll find no statues of committees.”
David Ogilvy, Confessions of an Advertising Man

In any creative business, the deeply personal nature of aesthetics makes judging ideas highly subjective.  Worse, typical corporate structures layered with levels of administrators each empowered with a small share of specialized brand responsibility creates a highly-contentious approval process where narrow interests, task-specific wants, and individual egos sublimate well-intentioned cooperation into contentious compromise.  And along the way, ever fragile aesthetics collapse as these forces stretch ideas into tortured, accommodation-driven forms.

“Nibbled to death by ducks,”  “Pissing on the tree”: this process raises the cynical hackles of any designer who strives for the exceptional, which explains how last week, a user interface designer named Dustin Curtis generated a dust up among creative thinkers on Twitter and online message boards that far exceeded the usual grumbling.

Mr. Curtis published and promoted this site along with an open letter to American Airlines.  Essentially, he takes extraordinary offense at their website, despising the online experience so much that he vows “never to fly your airline again.”

Dustin Curtis' AA.com Redesign

Dustin Curtis' AA.com Redesign

However, unlike other irritated consumers, Mr. Curtis took the unusual but relatively easily-realized step of taking his beef public.  With high dudgeon, he openly questions how the otherwise respectable AA could tolerate such a ‘terrible’ customer experience, taking personal aim at CEO Gerard Arpey and their board of directors for tolerating such an assault on their brand and its image.  He went so far as to spend ‘six hours’ redesigning their landing page, and his design definitely features a clean, streamlined look compared to the Nascar-esque clutter of the existing AA page.

His indignant ranting vitriol at this perceived confederacy of dunces makes wonderful vicarious reading for creative professionals, but that was not particularly fascinating.

What was incredible was that an actual user experience architect from AA.com responded to his complaint, albeit somewhat anonymously.  Even Mr. Curtis seemed amazed, more so by the fact that this designer’s portfolio featured some great work.

In his response “Mr. X” sets the blame for their underwhelming site squarely on American’s corporate structure and culture: large, far-flunged and heavily, heavily siloed.  Many people touch the site, each with their own vested interests and many with autonomous authority, which results in the eventual dog’s breakfast that is aa.com.

The AA.com Website

The AA.com Website

In the end, I bet “Mr. X” vetted his letter with his bosses, providing a response to this challenge that simultaneously sought to explain, excuse and even pre-sell coming improvements.  It was a thoroughly contemporary version of corporate mea culpa: highly-targeted, highly-specific, tolerably supplicating and forward looking.

Mr. Curtis chalks this up to the permeation of bad taste in large organizations, but that’s a bit hysterical.  The real issue is empowerment.  With notably few exceptions, CMO’s lack any real authority in serious businesses.  They may be C-level, but they sit at the child’s table; easily replaced, ignored and overruled.

But its no coincidence that some of the consistently best run marketing organizations have adapted this structure to streamline the process and limit the amount of people with license to effect creative ideas.  The irony of the short-lived CMO tenure is how one individual with the remarkably rare balance of skills that makes them both strategic, sales-focused, and artistically discerning can radically influence a company’s image and their brands’ success.  For years at PepsiCo, that job fell to the legendary Alan Pottasch, who never touched an idea he didn’t improve.  Phil Knight’s role in the creative vision of Nike stands very well documented.  And ConAgra CEO Gary Rodkin’s recent emphasis on creative champions in marketing roles signals a powerful new resurgence for his collection of exceptional brands.

In a corporation, just as in society, an individual with vision can make a difference.  Corporations that choose and empower these kinds of exceptional individuals always win.  Those that don’t, inevitably spend too much on their advertising, forced to run more of it since it is of lower quality, and spending more to produce it due to overruns in editing, keylining, and approval.

In the end, not every creative idea or site can be as brilliant as this one, but they can all be better.  And the decision to be better has always been and always will be a personal choice.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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I’ve owned exactly two Pontiacs in my life: both GTO’s, both convertibles.  Sitting still, they exuded a raw, rumbling, asphalt-shaking power.  Which was a really good thing…

Zoe, Me and The Goat in Happier Times

Zoe, Me and The Goat in Happier Times

–because they never ran worth a tinker’s damn.  Truth be told, I’ve never owned more unreliable automobiles. The list of major family events where my cars wouldn’t start is legendary, including my older daughter Zoe’s Eighth Grade Graduation, where only the combined efforts of three grease monkey Dads and the janitorial staff of the Joseph Sears Elementary School brought my car to lurching, sputtering life a full three minutes after the rest of the cars had driven away for the traditional parade through town. Determined not to let Zoe down, I drove like a bat out of hell, confident in the knowledge that our entire small town police force was at the front of the parade. Screeching to a halt at a less-trafficked corner, I was able to hijack my daughter and two of her classmates out of their makeshift rides and back into the GTO before sneaking into the tail end of the line and turning down our town’s main drive.  We passed our family and friends, waving and smiling Grand Marshal style with no one the wiser.

Through the years, my Pontiacs proved to be mechanical nightmares; rusty frames, overburdened door hinges, entirely unreliable convertible top motors.  Both had huge, loud V-8 engines, yet a tiny Honda could smoke them off the line.  I got nowhere near the value out that I invested into them, with one major exception…

They looked vicious.  Exciting and sexy, they were bold in a notice-me-dammit way that no affordable production car is today.  Pontiac GTO’s and Tempests were integral to a proud Detroit muscle car heritage, even if my two specimens were pathetically out of shape.  Sadly, that era is now long gone, ground under the iron heel of assembly-line efficiency, wind tunnel dictates, and the total elimination of individuality the corporate industrial process engenders.

And there lies the real threat, not just to GM as it struggles to find a way back from the dangerous precipice it drove to under it’s own freewill, but to every American manufacturer. Yes, efficiency is useful to production.  Certainly, management can eke out greater productivity from a workforce.  But neither efficiency nor management are agents of inspiration.  They can’t capture our imagination.

In a world cluttered with too many choices and too much parity, we would be wise not to discount those rare products that represent the maverick, the singular, the non-focused group fever dream of a true-believing zealot.  Because unlike every other species, mankind alone respects and needs art.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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A week ago, Adweek named R/GA their Digital Agency of the year for 2008.  In the past ten years, few saw the sea changes coming to our industry like Bob Greenberg.  So he harangued clients, award show juries, the media–basically anyone he could buttonhole–with his zealot’s vision of a vastly altered communications landscape.  And today we’re living it.  Nice job Bob.

Adweek's Digital AOY.  Again.

Adweek's Digital AOY. Again.

But the thinking behind his shop’s “Apps not Ads” philosophy is nicer still.  In R/GA’s opinion, disruptive marketing techniques don’t work, so they strive to direct their technology in helpful and useful ways, to create positive branded experiences.  In a cluttered world of parity brands, that idea makes a ton of sense.

But this thinking should not be limited to technology.  Social media, microsites, events, sampling, even the humble recipe print ad: all sorts of marketing tools and techniques can provide tremendous opportunities to engage consumers less by being intrusive and more by being helpful.  Thinking creatively, we can bring usefulness and meaningful value to our communications by carefully considering their context and content.

In these times when advertisers no longer control the brand story…  When web 2.0 empowers consumers to share their version of the story…  When social networks enable those consumer stories to spread swiftly, far and wide…  We need to rethink our assumptions about effective messages.   We need to imagine ideas beyond an interruptive, attention-demanding context to a polar-opposite POV: empathy.

But not just empathy, radically-immersive empathy.  We need to get inside our customer’s lives and schedules and values to really understand their needs and wishes. Because the more we can empathize, the more we can innovate ways to intersect their lives with positive, meaningful and memorable brand experiences.

Radical empathy well might be the new creative frontier.  At least, I think so, even if that hasn’t always been valued as a creative strength.  And so I imagine, much like Bob Greenberg back when people like me knew R/GA only as that movie title company, I could well be talking to myself for a while…

But hopefully, it will start making sense before too long.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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real1My agency joined a number of our fellow agencies in a pro bono effort to help a big civic undertaking.  The clients were very well intentioned: they have a worthy endeavor, a LOT of material and a LOT of ideas.  What they lacked was focus.  And time.  And a budget.  

So there we sat, hopeful believers representing eight or so local agencies, listening as the putative briefing session for what could be a dream assignment slowly revealed itself as another unrealized opportunity redolent with layers, politics, and inconsistency.  Almost as one, every creative in that room lost their initial zeal.  It reminded me of that old business adage: “Hope is not a business plan.”  Sadly, these days, in both the charity and for-profit worlds, too many business leaders seem to forget that things like focus, discipline, and proper funding–if not financially then at least in terms of timing–are essential to success.  A blank canvas may appeal to an artist, but when your art involves driving action and results, a blank canvas proves useless at best.  All in all, it was a rather dispiriting experience.

But the worst part is, we will all probably try anyway.  Dreaming is what we do.  Even if our dreams sometimes become nightmares.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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logoA feature on ShootOnline describing how GSP won both Agency of the Year and Top Interactive Shop accolades for 2008 quotes an internal memo: “This was the year we decided we should no longer be an advertising agency.  In fact, no one should be an advertising agency.  They just don’t know it yet.  Instead, it turned out we should be something that leads our clients to create and embody popular culture in the world at this point in time.  Something that puts them into mainstream media well beyond advertising.”

Given it was an internal memo, let’s overlook the arrogance of the ‘they just don’t know it yet’ comment because the rest of the statement outlines a bold vision, even if it is left open-ended.  How exciting to think you will leave ads behind and enter the culture to redefine yourself as, well, something.  As a something, GSP certainly is an amazing something.  They have developed a singular style for massive, cross-platform projects that is both technically impressive and imaginatively ambitious.  This innovation springs from their thorough embrace of true interactivity.  So what can that teach the rest of us?

Primarily, we simply must create cultures of innovation.  We need to embrace the ongoing need for change and improvement, for redirection and reinvention.

We should innovate our creative staff mix.  Bernbach teamed art directors and writers back in ’47 and we haven’t changed since.  At the least, we should introduce interactive experts into that equation: user experience experts, flash designers, information architects.  But how much more interesting would it be to bring in radio station programmers, rock critics, magazine editors, game and packaging designers, performance artists and improv comics?  It might not always work, but we’d at least get better stories.

We should innovate media planning.  With today’s hugely splintered audiences, there’s real opportunity in creating bespoke brand networks across unrelated platforms.  The instruments in the media mix have never been more diverse; it’s time for new sounds, new experiments with how and where we hear brand voices.

Finally–and this is perhaps the biggest example Goodby sets–we need to innovate the reach of our assignments.  A client may want an ad, but it would be so much cooler to expand that assumption and deliver a movement, a force for social change or a platform for real commentary and engagement.  ‘Enter the mainstream media’ indeed…

A friend of mine who sold a successful Chicago business and moved to New York to start an entirely new successful business recently told me “That old ‘if you can make it here you’ll make it anywhere’ bit really should apply to Chicago because it’s harder there.  New York and the West Coast want innovation; Chicago resists it.”

It’s an interesting if debatable point, but ultimately, it is no excuse for a stumbling Chicago ad scene.  Because innovation doesn’t begin with clients.

It begins with us.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Arthur Golden, Massachusetts/Geisha, Japan     

Arthur Golden, Massachusetts/Geisha, Japan

Suzanne Vranica of the Wall Street Journal moderated a panel at ad:tech New York at the beginning of the month featuring Sean Finnegan, President of Starcom MediaVest, Richard Guest, Managing Director of Tribal DDB New York and Tom Bedecarre, CEO of AKQA.  The subject turned to recruiting digital talent.  Mr. Finnegan and Mr. Guest both weighed in on the side that integrating traditionally-trained agency people into their digital organizations can prove very valuable.  God bless them both…

But Mr. Bedecarre only believes in youth.  “Young people who are coming up in the industry are so naturally cross-platform savvy,” he said. “All this digital technology is human nature to young people. So I think we’ll have more luck training new people than retraining old people.”

Tom.  Tom, Tom, Tom…  I’m sure you’re a nice fella.  Maybe you contribute to the Sierra Club or take soup to shut-ins or perform some other noble service out of the goodness of your heart.  But that comment is just plain silly and short-sighted.  Creativity is creativity, and it’s best measured by the boundaries of the  imagination, not the technicalities of engineering and interfaces.

I have two words for you: “Arthur Golden.”  Remember him?  At the ripe old age of 40, this Jewish father of two from Massachusetts wrote Memoirs of a Geisha: a first-person account of a woman’s journey from a rural fishing village in depressed pre-WWII Japan into the elaborately ritualistic life of a geisha in Gion.  How’d he do something like that Tommy?  How could a white guy from America create such a compellingly vivid and believable account of someone from such a vastly alien culture?

I bet it’s because Arthur is curious, creative and driven.

Those character traits could probably make Arthur a good digital creative too.  And he’s waaaay over thirty.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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