Sunday, February 23, 2014

1 Weird Trick That Can Help You Crack Any Brief

A good Creative can crack any brief... as long as that brief is clear, and simple.

Hence, the real problem most Creatives face is not coming up with great ideas, but getting to a brief we can work with.

I'm now going to let you in on this one weird trick, that can get you to a clear and simple brief in around 30 seconds or less.

But in the spirit of those '1 weird trick' videos for losing belly fat or curing diabetes, I will first give some rambling examples that demonstrate why this tip is necessary.

The first one happened when I was working on a major car launch, a few years ago. This was a big project, and several Creatives had been gathered from several countries to work on it. In Amsterdam. The strategist did a supremely thorough 2-hour briefing, taking us through every aspect of the car, and how it was made. The brief was many pages long, and full of densely-written text. In fact the only part that was blank, was the proposition box. When I asked the guy why, he explained that he didn't want to "limit our thinking." Result: 10 days of flailing around.

The second example comes from when I was working on a brief for scratchcards. In the 'single-minded proposition' box appeared the words: "The fun way to win lots of money in an instant." That's right - fun, big wins, and instant. A rare 'triple'. Result: flailing around.

Okay, here's the weird trick. If the brief isn't clear, and you suspect that it will just lead to a lot of flailing around, simply ask: "What do you want us to dramatise?"

The answer to this question should tell you the way to go.

After all, every ad is some kind of dramatisation. (Tell me one that isn't, and I'll revise my theory).

It can dramatise the care with which the product is made:

It can dramatise the glorious silliness of the internet:

And N.B. it's the same deal with a social, online, or utility-based idea - you're always dramatising something. This app dramatises McCormick's expertise in the world of flavour:

So try it. If you're not crystal clear on what you're being asked to do, simply ask "What do you want us to dramatise?" It's a weird tip that really works.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Expectations And Reality

So you may have seen this meme going around - pretty funny, no?

I guess it has spread across the internet because the underlying thought must be relevant to many different industries - "client has high expectations, but not the money needed to realise them."

However, the truth in our industry is a bit different, and in fact strangely toxic. 

In my experience, Clients actually do have a fairly accurate understanding of what their budget will buy. Where they could be accused of unrealistic expectations is over how much time things will take. Especially in the digital sphere. (One of the ironies of digital is that virtual things seem to take longer to make than non-virtual things).

But leaving that aside, the big gap between expectations and reality in our industry is not between client expectations and client money, but between the style and shape of what is initially briefed for, and the final outcome.

And that's not the Client's fault. Or the Agency's. It's actually a kind of weird collusion between the two.

At the beginning of the project, both sides agree that they are going to create something revolutionary, multi-faceted, and futuristic. And what ends up running is a TV ad.

Since I too have the Impact font on my cheap image-manipulation software, I have created my own crappy meme-style comp on the theme, above.

The image on the left represents the first presentation. The Client is really excited about the project, since this product is 'a revolution' in the field of home entertainment/ chickenburgers/ toilet paper. They want something really different this time around. The Agency takes that with a pinch of salt, but is excited to have an opportunity to create a truly modern, integrated campaign. So that's what they present.

But as the process continues, everyone realises that they don't have the time to build that, and it's also too complicated, and some elements of it are risky (because untried), so both sides fall back on the tried and trusted - and familiar and straightforward - a TV ad.

Now, I have nothing against TV ads. Many are great.

But I do find it perplexing, and indeed a little annoying, that so much time is wasted presenting a city of the future, which never gets built. And please note, I'm not blaming either side. Like I said, it's a collusion.

No one starts by presenting a poster for a coffee brand that just says 'Best beans, best taste'. But somehow we end up there.


Sunday, February 09, 2014

Are 'Content Marketers' Smoking Crack?

More and more Clients are saying they want 'content'.

And more and more 'content agencies' are springing up to give it to them. Even regular ad agencies are setting up 'content units' to service this growing 'need'.

Note to lawyers: I am not suggesting that any of these people are literally smoking crack. But I am suggesting their judgement is severely impaired.

Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, has written an article in which he claims the Super Bowl advertisers would have been better off spending their money on "valuable, compelling and helpful content."

Joe reckons that Super Bowl ads - at $4 million a pop - are horrendously expensive. (This is not correct. Since over 110 million people see the ad, they're actually good value for money).

And he then lists some types of content these advertisers could have made instead, for the same money.

He suggests "53 Issues of your own magazine." (For $4 million, you can develop your own full-color 32-page print magazine delivered to 25,000 of your customers.)

Crikey. Would you really rather send some crappy magazines (brand-created magazines, let's fact it, are never going to match Vogue or Esquire) to just 25,000 customers, rather than have an ad in the Super Bowl?

Or how about "50 books (of about 225 pages) developed for your brand."

Who the hell would want to read a book about a brand, let alone 50?

Finally, "You can get your very own Chief Content Officer to develop and execute your content marketing strategy for 27 years (at an average salary of $150,000)."

Great. Instead of having an ad on the Super Bowl, I can pay the salary of someone to develop useless initiatives.

And Joe didn't even touch on the biggest new trend - brands making dull online videos, and calling it 'content'. Yes, it is possible to put films on the internet for zero media spend. And yes, with advances in video technology, it is possible to shoot them at extremely low cost. But just because something is inexpensive, doesn't mean you should do it. 

Check the YouTube channels of any major brand (they all have them). These channels typically have about 45 cheaply-produced videos on them, each of which has a maximum of 1,000 views. That's just a waste of time and money. Just think of the salary costs of all the people who created that effectively invisible content.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of content when it's done well. "McDonalds Gets Grilled" was an interesting piece of brand-funded content that aired on TV so was seen by a huge audience, and enabled McDonalds to correct myths about how their food is prepared, while at the same time positioning the brand as caring and transparent. BMW's series of short films called 'The Hire' used top talent like Clive Owen and Mickey Rourke, and directors including Ang Lee and Tony Scott, and scored over 100 million views.

But to be done well, content requires way more thought and investment than it's currently getting. Too many marketers are simply doing it because they can do it cheaply.

The result is that far too much 'content' is just crap.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Super Bowl Supercraft

Not sure which football teams are playing, but I sure as hell know that VW is up against Kia, Hyundai, and a hundred others!

There'll be a lot of analysis of the Super Bowl ads, but it will mostly be superficial. People will say "I liked this one" or "I liked that one." There might be the occasional comment on the idea or the strategy, but not a lot.

And we definitely won't talk enough about craft.

At the end of the day, that's what consumers consume. Not the idea or the strategy. They consume the music, the performances, the cinematography, and most of all - the storytelling.

So I thought it might be fun to go into a little depth about the craft of one single spot, an ad that I reckon has been expertly crafted.

It's this year's Budweiser Clydesdales ad, 'Puppy Love', by Anomaly New York and director Jake Scott, which at time of writing already has 29 million views on YouTube. Before the game has even started.

Here it is.

So, the craft.

First, the music: 'Let Her Go' by Passenger, could not be more appropriate to the story, plus is highly emotive.

Performances: can't fault them. Oscar for the animal trainer, especially.

Casting: again, dead-on. The farmer character is perfectly handsome yet rugged. The puppy adoption lady (despite apparently being a former Sports Illustrated swimsuit model) here becomes the epitome of wholesomeness.

The trickiest role to get right was the would-be adopter. The puppy must end up with the horse, and we don't want this to cause the audience to feel sorry for the thwarted adopter.

All is achieved very cleverly. First of all, he's a bit of a dick - he's wearing sunglasses, at a farm. And most importantly, when this wannabe adopter is first given his puppy, he's checking his phone.

The implication is clear - this douchebag doesn't deserve a puppy.

And that brings us on to storytelling. What a masterclass. First of all, any good story makes us care about the protagonist. But most storytellers don't know how to do that. (Especially in ads). They think the way to make the audience care about a protagonist is simply to make them likeable, which is why we end up with so many characters (especially in ads) who are attractive and smiley.... but we don't care about them. In fact many great stories feature protagonists who are dislikable, even actively evil - such as Tony Montana in Scarface or Michael Corleone in The Godfather - and yet we become deeply involved with them.

Simply put, we care about a character who has a clear goal that they care about, and struggles to get to it. Someone once said that a movie consists of 90 minutes of a character failing, until they win. (Or lose, it doesn't matter, as long as the result is definitive). Luke Skywalker gets kicked from pillar to post, until he finally blows up the Death Star. Harrison Ford barely wins a single fight in the Raiders of the Lost Ark films - he is repeatedly captured, beaten and insulted - until the final scene.

The more they struggle and suffer, the better. Take Gatsby. He's a spoiled rich wanker. Why the hell do we care about him? Because he goes to an unbelievable amount of trouble - putting on all those immense parties - because he wants Daisy.

Sorry, back to the puppy. He wants the horse. And he struggles a hell of a lot to get to it. 

He burrows under the fence...

...opens a heavy door with his nose...

 ...cops a soaking...

 ...but still goes back under the fence again.

That's why we care. Because he's struggling and striving for his goal.

So is the horse. Here he is jumping a fence, to get to the puppy.

The audience identification is cemented with one 'cheat shot'. The entire story is told in the third person (camera as observer)... except for this one shot where we see the horse from the POV of the puppy.  (The same trick that Spike Jonze pulled off in his famous Ikea 'Lamp' spot).

After getting the audience to invest so completely in the puppy as a protagonist, it's supremely rewarding for the audience when he and the horse finally get together. But that's not all. The final shot also makes the audience believe that the farmer and puppy lady will get together - a piece of thematic 'doubling' that makes the climax even more satisfying.

Oh, one more thing.  Since this is a post about craft, I'm not going to discuss here whether the ad will be commercially effective or not, though I strongly believe that it will (American newspapers are already calling it "the most adorable Super Bowl ad ever"). But there is one craft aspect that's crucial in advertising though not relevant to storytelling in general, which is branding. 

The more the audience feels they are watching a beautiful emotional story and the less they feel they are being sold to, the better. And yet, obviously the ad must be well-branded, because mis-attribution is a disaster, from an effectiveness point of view.

The great advantage here is that Budweiser has been running these Clydesdale ads for years - since 1933, in fact - and it's a property the brand is strongly associated with. So the spot is intrinsically branded.

But even then, the ad's makers have included nine separate shots of the Budweiser logo, before the endframe. The logo features on the farmer's cap. But because it is always very carefully shot to be 'visible but not visible', I'd say it does a fantastic job of unconsciously reinforcing the branding, without an overly-commercial presence that could compromise the emotion of the storytelling.

So, apologies for the long post. But I'm only trying to redress the balance a little. 

We don't talk enough about craft.