Beyond a beautiful tension: brand ideas and cultural conflict

1 Jul

An old JWT planning manual channeling the wisdom of Stephen King read once, “we believe that all insights spring from tension between or within ‘human truths’ (i.e. Maslovian needs that transcend cultural or geographic boundaries) and ‘cultural truths’ (i.e. motivations that differentiate).”

Tensions have always been at the heart of great communication and creativity whether that’s in a well crafted proposition like “Dirt is Good” or the tensions inherent in dialogic literature where “a plurality of independent and unmerged voices and consciousness, a genuine polyphony of fully valid voices” are not subject to the authoritative control of the author.

A tension is the grit around which you can build a great brand idea.

But now brand ideas are being challenge to do more. They must go beyond messaging and through the layers of the business and really count. Their impact on the world is expected to be more purposeful and meaningful, they are challenged to be, ultimately, cultural.

In a world of adblocking, ad-blindness, privacy fears and noise exhaustion being “part of culture” is an excellent choice that offers the potential for brands to be distinctive by giving people something of value they actually want to experience as well as helping them achieve the “Job to be done”.

The challenge is that “Culture”, like the other C-word “content”, has become a buzzword. It seems that for the last few years every brand and agency is talking about “creating culture” and how

“The best [ideas] make a poignant cultural point. Not a business problem, but cultural tension that you find. This one is a little meta and about advertising. If it’s great work, you can see exactly how it affects the culture,” Jason Marks, executive creative director of Partners + Napier in New York.

Diageo have even hired a “Head of Culture”.

Unfortunately everyone seems to have a different definition of culture.

An official OED definition of culture is “the ideas, customs & social behaviour of a particular people or society“. This sets a far more ambitious objective for any work. It means more than creating opportunities for associations, sponsorships or product placement, more than working with famous designers and artists to create fashionable packaging or a temporary PR-driven Pop-up or even hoping that an ad catchphrase will “Simples” it’s way into common parlance.

A desire to have culturally relevance and impact gives brands at first two choices: to co-opt or to co-create? Do you seek to “borrow”, support and nurture external cultural creators – be an advocate of them so that they and the people they inspire are advocates of you? Or do you take the harder road of identifying unmet cultural needs and working with communities to tackle them head on?

This difficult later approach may mean building and judging brand ideas and creative work not by traditional proposition, messaging or tracking KPIs but the “6 elements of news”.

Beyond tension to conflict

Perhaps if anyone can lay claim to operating at the fast coalface of culture it is journalists. At journalism school students learn to ask the four Ws (What, Where, When, Why) alongside finding sources but also develop the inherent ability to interrogate a story for its strength relative to the 6 elements of news: Timeliness, Proximity, Prominence, Consequence, Human Interest, and Conflict.

The last element, Conflict, brings us back to the tension at the heart of a great brand idea but also pushes us on to a new territory appropriate for a new post-digital world.

Traditionally brands love anyone and anything. A conservative, mainstream brand wouldn’t dream of picking a fight. A mass market brand is for everyone. But as the aphorism goes, if you design for everyone, you design for no one.

Ryanair famously built to maximum saliency in the budget airline space on conflict and customer masochism. Protein World’s 2015 tube poster campaign sparked 40,000 people who would never buy their product to sign a petition but in 4 days it also helped acquire 5,000 new customers and online notoriety that barely scrapped through to its Instagram-fitness-model heartlands.

These are obviously extreme examples but brand ideas like Dove, Sunlight or even Yorkie with its old “Not For Girls” ads, show that brands can be culturally relevant by standing against something – and it doesn’t have to be something obvious.

If you compare these brand ideas against the 6 elements of news they achieve a high score on at least 3 or more of the heuristics as well as being created with distribution baked in.

This inspired me to make a canvas and test it out to see if there might be a way to build “Cultural Value Propositions” or Brand Ideas. Lovingly “informed” by the Business Model Canvas, this framework challenges us to ask how we make brands count and to ask,

  • What value do we deliver to the individual or the community?
  • How do we add value not noise?
  • Which cultural needs are we satisfying?

Cultural_idea_canvas_poster.pdfCultural Ideas that count

It is open source so please have a go yourself and let me know if it works for you. While the canvas places all the heuristics on the same level I do think that ability to encompass Conflict could help a brand be truly distinctive in our brave new post-digital world.

If we are to create ideas and experiences that “create culture” then we should learn from outside our industry and one source is news and entertainment with their inherent feel for what creates human interest and culture.

In this way it is perhaps no surprise that the only work in the last few years that has truly effected culture, “the ideas, customs & social behaviour of a particular people or society“, is Channel 4’s Superhumans for the Paralympics…done by 4Creative, a creative agency within a broadcaster.

35164_124898_PARA_48sheet

But maybe that’s an argument for another day.

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5 forces for today’s digital business

22 Mar

5 forces for today's digital business

What can public sector IT learn from start-ups?

7 Jan
Public sector IT has been a notorious feature on the pages of Private Eye for many years with projects seemingly assigned to those large consultancies and outsourcers capable of completing the labyrinthine RFP documents rather than those capable of doing the work. The old joke was that projects were awarded based on the “thud test” where proposals were printed out and dropped from waist height with whoever’s made the loudest thud winning the lucrative business.
Martha Lane-Fox’s report about the future of UK digital government plus the repercussions of the very public collapse of the Obama sponsored healthcare exchange website in the U.S. showed policy makers the need for a fundamental change. Both of these events led to the race to bring a start-up mentality and faster, leaner ways of working into the public sector. They also opened procurement to the people capable of doing the work differently.
In the UK this resulted in the creation of GDS and its approach to Government as a platform. While there are different opinions about the financial impact of GDS it has been very influential culturally.
GDS has shown that the ways of working associated with start-ups can work within the monolithic structures of the public sector. This is not due to Agile or Lean or any other now almost dogmatic code of working or project management omertà. It is because, for the first time, the person at the “receiving end” of public services was recognised. Instead of “organisation-out” ways of developing endless requirements, GDS rooted their work in a “people-in” method of customer discovery.
This is the true lesson that public sector IT can learn from start ups: it is not about “user as victim” of bloated, unyielding systems but people with “Jobs to Be Done”. Public sector IT must respect people with needs who are part of an “Expectation Economy” and will judge experiences by comparing them to the latest mobile apps or social platform not the terrible previous iteration of a local government form.
The true start-up mentality respects the “end-user“(shudder) as a real person with functional, social and emotional jobs. It is based on judging success with small, quick experiments using analytic proof rather than big crash and burn launches with wash-up blame sessions. This mentality means introducing flexibility and the ability of systems to evolve as technology and people’s expectations change – often rapidly. Ultimately it is about putting people at the heart of IT, whether they are a mum looking to update her Tax disc or a doctor trying to update your medical records.

Technological Innovation as a Knowledge Creation Process

12 Jun

technological_progress_knowledge

What if innovation is really just a knowledge creation process? A thought inspired by the SECI model of knowledge creation by Ikujiro Nonaka (1995).

To see if it could work I ran it backwards, now to run it forwards. Or if you’d like to do it for me you can have the PDF below. Let me know…

technological_progress_knowledge.pdf

Why does video seem longer on different devices?

1 Feb

A General (Media) Theory of Relativity or video seems longer on different devices

If you’ve ever shown someone a “hilarious” video clip you’ve just watched, you may have felt that nagging sensation. The “seriously this is great, honest, the good bit is coming up, god this is dragging, I swear it was over by now last time” Effect.

That quick 30 second viral suddenly seems like a James Cameron epic (maybe with more plot and characterisation but still soooo long).

I’ve always referenced this weird effect when asked that immortal question during almost every briefing: “how long can this be?”

Maybe the context and the device being used should dictate length more than any 60/30/15 second rule or the “it can be as long as it is interesting” statement? While standing at a train station trying to download and watch a YouTube clip on your phone it is amazing how long 11 seconds of a cat attacking a potato can seem.

Anyway rather than explain my theory every time I put together a quick diagram lovingly ripped off from an obscure physics theory no one has ever heard of…

Brand Building in a Digital World

17 Oct

It was the JWT Grads open day today with lots of young, enthusiastic people running around the building and getting to sample the hospitality of the Comm. It’s all part of the 2013 JWT Grad Programme and entry is still open until 1st November. You can apply here.

Personally I’d have loved the opportunity to experience it all. This year’s Grads have also had the pleasure of training at Hyper Island and Google. They have also had the good or bad fortune to have a bald guy in a bad shirt talking to them about “Brand Building in a Digital World” as an Intro to digital planning and UX, an edited version of which is below.

It’s a quick run through of some ideas about digital, channels and experience but most of all it’s about what I’d like to say is the the nature of Brand building in a digital world: Manifesting the behaviour inherent in a brand idea to deliver a measurable, business building, marketing goal.

Not digital for digital’s sake or clicking around or wacky engagement for engagement’s sake.

This last word “Engagement” is a overused word. Everyone seems to have a different definition which makes it a difficult and debased term but if I was to define it I’d say…

Engagement is about “creating windows of enhanced attention to influence behaviour & motivations” in order to increase Brand Salience.

Brand Salience is building a brand’s propensity to be noticed or come to mind in buying situations by increasing the quantity & quality of memory structures buyers hold about brands and associated attributes.

Brand Salience is key to driving buyer choice & behaviour which is ultimately the real reason we should consider engagement as a tactic to increase the effectiveness of digital work.

Anyway if you can put up with that (it only lasts an hour) please give our Grad programme a go.

What is UX?

4 Sep

User Experience and considering the consumer’s entire journey and needs is a central part of digital planning. Here’s a short introduction to User Experience I did for JWT Planning Academy. It’s not exhaustive but it touches on a lot of things that cleverer people have said…

Creating a digital response – work that is good enough to share

27 Apr

The JWT Planning god, Stephen King once wrote “a good advertising idea has to be original enough to stimulate people and draw an intense response from them”.

I was thinking in this vein the other day about both the work we see produced in the industry these days and how we are increasingly asking ideas to behave, particularly online. In the spirit of sweeping generalisations I’d argue that the work produced divides into 3 categories: Good, Bad and Meh.

Good work is the stuff we all look at and wish we had done (or have done if you’re lucky), it has creative soul, creates an “intense response”, builds the brand and sells. It is rarer. We know it when we see it and should always aspire to it.

Bad work – we all know it when we see it. It lacks the love and the craft, it has the strategy (if there is one) showing through the seams and makes your toes curl up when you see it. But it does create a response. You do notice it and while you may not feel favourably about the creative, you are aware of what it is selling. It is also likely to be those ads the industry hates but the public remembers in a “we buy any comparing of your mum going to iceland via specsavers” way. There’s much more of it than Good work and it has a business effect even if we give it Turkey of the week.

Which leads to Meh work. Meh is the majority of the work we (don’t) see and hear on TV, in posters and online. It’s wallpaper, it’s ignored even though it’s probably been focus grouped to within an inch of its life and everyone got the KMA. There’s no response. It is everywhere and when we see it we just go “meh” and move on. I’d argue that if there is a choice between Meh and Bad choose bad, at least no one got killed making it and hopefully not much money was spent in the process.

It was this idea of intense response that made me think about digital work and how we want it to behave these days.

There is no such thing as a “Go virals on the interwebs” formula.

There’s no such thing as a brief for a “viral”.

But we do ask for our work to be shared more and more – it’s not just the confetti of Facebook Like and Tweet This buttons covering the web, it’s often part of the strategy or client brief. If we write “make it shareable” on a creative brief, it’s a bit like writing “make it good”. The answers is yes, of course, now what the hell do you mean by that?

Which led me to put together a diagram based on a collection of sources, theories and bits of research – which I tend to do if I’m trying to work something out. Generally involving circles.

If something is going to be good enough to share with the small numbers of people closest to us online – our friends, colleagues and family plus maybe that network of weak tie people who may notice us in their feeds – then first it has to create a response and then it needs to enable people to get a benefit or value out of sharing.

Stephen King talks about an “intense response” but one way of thinking about this is to consider it as a “physical response” – whether that is shivers going down your spin, your eyes opening wider, your mouth watering or that look on your face when you are surprised or realise something that should have been obvious.

But being good enough to cause a response is only the first step. There also needs to be a reason to share – whether that is selfish or altruistic – that encourages people to go to the effort of posting that link or writing 140 characters of witty commentary. No-one likes to be old hat so if there can be a sense of timeliness or being on the upward curve of popularity then this can contribute to the odds of the work being seen as “Good enough to share”. Then the work stands a chance.

If – and it is a big if – an idea can achieve this then our challenge as strategists and creatives is to address the mechanics of modern sharing. We need to make it easy to share by breaking the idea (or even in some cases the brand) into “atomic units” that can be experienced in different contexts by different audiences and communities.

At its simplest this process involves identify the themes, communities, sites and assets needed (from bespoke emailed pitches to animated gifs, short titles/description that tease and are detailed enough to be engaging but don’t give it all away, supercuts, image macros or behind the scenes photos) to encourage and make sharing easy, at its more complex it involves treating your brand or idea like an API. This relates to the increasingly common challenge we face as agencies with getting more value from our ideas and budgets – “skinning the pig” – but also meeting even more multichannel requirements.

A simple example is below. A few months back JWT made a film for the Male Cancer Awareness Charity called Rhian Touches Herself. We were very lucky in that some very talented people gave their time for a worthy cause (full story here). We were also lucky in that the idea caused a “physical response” (if you haven’t seen it I won’t say…), gave an excuse to Strengthen Bonds, got people to respond to each other and we managed to ride and reinforce an upward curve of popularity for a good cause for a period of time. There are probably better case studies out there but I’d argue it is good start.

Fancy dress street rugby for HSBC HK7s

20 Mar

Here’s a nice bit of smashing, crashing and general rugby mayhem played out across the streets of Hong Kong. By men dressed as toy soldiers, cowboys, disco kids, centurions, vikings etc etc. It also features Jason Robinson and George Gregan. And it’s for HSBC! HSBC 7s Fancy dress street rugby…

Audio, Haptics and other changes in the way we interact with technology

6 Mar

SXSW kicks off on the 9th and I’m looking forward to seeing what particular hits, misses and hypes come up.

But beyond the usual “marketing tech” I think the most interesting areas at the moment are around the way we physically interact with technology and media.

Two of the most innovative areas are Audio and Haptic technologies.

Audio

Audio in interaction design terms has been a long neglected area that is now exploding in terms of possibility and the potential for mainstream exploitation and adoption. The poster-child is obviously Siri on the iPhone 4s or Iris on Android but Ford has been employing Microsoft Sync—which also uses voice control extensively—in its cars for a few years, even in lower cost vehicles aimed at younger drivers. However, it is the use of Audio based interactions in the real or entertainment worlds where the interesting applications apply.

Sonic Notify is an interesting example. It uses Audio detection to deliver tailored and synched media content to people in a store, in front of a TV or at a concert. The media is actually transferred over audio via “the communication of data in the ultra high-frequency inaudible range between any speaker and microphone. The [Sonic Notify] decoding algorithm enables a common process for extracting data from audio using any microphone on any smartphone or tablet.”

If you can cope with the intense American spokes-model-weirdo below there’s an interesting demo:

Media can effectively “piggy back” on TV soundtracks, store PA systems, or radio ads and offer a richer experience without people having to use their own data allowances.

Similar Audio driven interactions are found in the eBay Application which synchs content and goods displayed with the TV programme people are watching – more Retail TV than Social TV or IntoNow.

Haptics

Haptic technology is all about touch. It is incredibly personal and all about giving natural instantly understandable feedback to people. It is when technology starts to make a physical connection with people. It has been described as “doing for the sense of touch what computer graphics does for vision”.

We’re starting to see more high end implementations such Surgical Robots but the idea is leaking into more and more concept products such as the Seabird phone.

Or even concept haptic speakers.

sourdine_arnaud_lapierre_yatzer_2

Or potentially something (anything) that could save the Blackberry smart-ish-phone.

But ultimately Haptics is more than waving your hands or body in the air (Kinect) or trying to use a holographic projection or wall mounted Tablet (like Samsung’s CES Innovation award-winning Smart Window) which rapidly leads to a heavy, tired sensation, or “Gorilla Arm” as Human Computer Interface designers call it.

It is about creating a dynamic tactile medium which should be able to tangibly represent almost anything. That might be through a descendent of deformable materials (Shape Memory-alloy or Electroactive Polymers) or a descendent of haptic holography.

It is the Tangible User Interface and will play a big role in the future of mobile devices or even flexible eReader Paper.

So far, so Sci-fi, but could Haptic technology make the mainstream sooner than we think? If there’s anyone who can the technology into real people’s hands – not just those of early adopters – it’s the people at Apple.

The invite to the iPad 3 (or iPad HD?) launch hints that “We have something you really have to see. And touch” and people are taking this to be a trial for possible use of haptics.

If so it could be “a technology from Senseg, a Finnish startup which has developed a system called E-Sense which appears to give texture to a touchscreen. By using “tixels” generated by electric fields from elements embedded around the screen, it can make areas of the screen feel rough, ridged or rounded – and change those just as the screen pixels can change.” Guardian.

We’ll see soon. It could be hype.

It could be a red herring.

it could be a disappointment like the iPhone 5.

Hopefully it won’t be as under-whelming and over-priced as iAds.😉

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