Tag Archives: creative trends

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.


But maybe that’s an argument for another day.

10 trends for 2011 in 2.15mins

1 Dec

A little video intro to the JWTIntelligence 2011 Trends report…

2010 Digital Trends, Ideas and Technologies (Part 1)

5 Jan

Here is Part 1 (of 2, maybe 2 and a half) of our 2010 Digital Trends, Ideas and Technologies presentation that I finished off over Christmas. It’s based around 4 Themes, which are each broken into 2 areas of focus/exploration:

It is in Beta (or that’s my excuse for a couple of gaps) and draws on a lot of ideas from some interesting people who make the strategy and digital creative world a good place . I’ll be posting the full list of sources here but in the meantime any feedback, ideas or input is gratefully accepted.


Update: The presentation has now been voted onto the homepage and then chosen as a Top Presentation of the Day of Slideshare.net and picked for the homepage of noteandpoint.com. Thank you very much.

What is Brand Reality Creative? (2009 Trends)

26 Mar

The idea of what I call Brand Reality Creative – for want of a better term and I’m sure there is one – began in a whitepaper I wrote last summer as part of a series of digital workshops we were running with clients and other industry people.

Brand Reality Creative was initially a reaction to the corruption of the concept of Brand Utility that first rose to prominence in 2006; a concept that, despite what was promised by the oft repeated Nike+ story, was drowned in a tide of spam widgets.

Its starting point was in a few quotes I scribbled in my notebook copied out below:

  • “There is no market for messages.” David Searls
  • “People won’t buy brands as entertainment, they want products that entertain. Brands will need to be something people connect with and will want to engage with.” Flo Heiss
  • “It’s translating…intangible propositions into the result of something more basic and useful for society [rather than] just advertising through a medium the individual can use to make it less interrupting” Bram De Maesschalck

But Brand Reality Creative grew to be inspired by the notion of creative work that is “good enough to share“, that usefully reflects what people are doing using digitally enabled and real world channels.

Brand Reality Creative is based on the belief that useful, usable and delightful interaction engages the crowd and helps them connect, either functionally or for the purpose of self- actualisation across both real and digital spaces. It is a useful embodiment of the brand that affects the real world, not a metaphor or a distraction. It is not a tool with a logo.  It is not dry. It respects the need for stories.


It’s about:

  • Creating frameworks that people can use to make their own magic
  • Balancing “doing stuff for the brand (telling people)” with “doing stuff for people (achieving a goal)”
  • Acknowledging that not all brands need to be useful, some can just entertain – it’s not just utility
  • Accepting that really practical stuff can be dry
  • Creating entertainment that isn’t totally passive
  • Accepting real people’s relationship to the marketing web
  • Making work that is good enough to share

Next >> Examples of Brand Reality Creative

This is part of “The Changing Nature of Interactive Creative” whitepaper.

Good enough to share: designing creative with nodal points in mind (2009 Trends)

26 Mar

Often we have seen brands approach the internet like hedge-funds playing the stock market. So many strategies are double plays that aim to have their cake and eat it, to win no matter what the outcome but have a side order of “social” to round out the meal or case study. The result is expensive and doesn’t reflect the reality of the net.

The internet lets the crowd raise-up the things it likes with links and tags and re-posts, and damn the things it doesn’t like with a pointed lack of attention. Old passive message, big idea, objective correlative creative with a big call to action, and series of key frame proof points doesn’t cut it anymore. There is too much noise: now things have to be good enough to share.

But just because something is good enough to share and inherently interesting doesn’t mean it will catch on and spread through the network. The work that is interesting must be structured for the network, as demonstrated by SharedEgg. It must allow the crowd to create nodal points within their part of the network. It must also contain an idea that can be reprocessed and played with, passed on and owned.

This gives us two key challenges, one commercial and one sociological: (1) how do we make things that are good enough to share, and good enough to create or contribute to nodal points; and (2) how do we use creative to help shape the network so that the nodal points it throws up in the future are useful and “the best for society”? I believe that Brand Reality Creative is one answer.

Next >> What is Brand Reality Creative?



A Nodal point is a (potentially distributed) collection of content, conversations and links that spread a meme/concept and cause the ideas and journeys around it to be reshaped and dragged just like a planet’s mass influences the passage of time around it. It is a key point in the narrative of the net.



This is part of “The Changing Nature of Interactive Creative” whitepaper.

The changing nature of interactive creative (2009 Trends)

26 Mar

One response to 2009’s interactive creative trends has been the creative approach we’ve been calling Brand Reality Creative. 

The approach aims to develop creative that is intrinsically structured to reflect people’s true relationship with interactive, but that doesn’t lose sight of the need to affect the real world. It aims to combine work that works hard with work that tells a more interesting and inspirational story.

But before we can jump ahead and answer the questions “what is Brand Reality Creative” and “why do we need to change the way we approach interactive work“, I think it is important to start by looking at what has been happening with a lot of existing interactive marketing and what are real people are actually doing? The two are often very different.

Firstly, what are a lot of brand organisations currently doing?

Whenever you create an online presence it becomes part of the network almost immediately. This has often led to creative work that takes the connections between media – between the pots of content and the ways in which they are served-up and linked – for granted. It leads to campaigns being shaped by one particular interpretation of the network: the marketing web interpretation that believes in an essentially hub-and-spoke structure to interactive strategy.

The Marketing web

The Marketing web

The marketing web places communication activities in a position where they drive in a more or less linear way to concentric circles of organisational focused content/technologies. This traditional, legacy model places social media and mobile technologies in a satellite orbit. Their role is essentially one of traffic driving to the core business function despite their two way potential. The model is dependent on compelling persuasion pathways, a high frequency of message exposure and repeated calls to action.

The problem is people are on the outside and the brand is in the middle. While it is an improvement on what was happening before (the old e-mail – microsite – send to a friend routine) it is still very website-centric.

Whenever I sit in a client meeting about a potential new website brief I always start out by giving our account handlers the jitters by saying to the client, “you don’t need a website.” When the account handler has been revived, or restrained from killing me, I finish saying, “you don’t need a website, you need a platform to share things with people. A website might just be part of it.” Just as we need “less advertising, more entertaining applications” maybe we should also declare “fewer websites, more interactive platforms”? More and more it is becoming what is outside your site that is most important.

The ever-increasing use of “Search online for….” as a call to action on TV and press advertising is part of this less site-centric movement and it is a good sign. I’ve sat in quite a few online-user research groups where, as part of the very first task, we’ve watched people type the URL straight into Google rather than the browser – a fact backed-up by many a search term site analytics report. Indeed if you ask someone what the internet “looks like” then the first thing that pops into their mind is a white page with a multi-coloured logo.

Unfortunately at the moment the “Search online for…” CTA is being used predominantly as a replacement for all the clever marketing URLs that are no longer available.

We need to move beyond shifting campaign journeys to the Google sponsored-ads. We need to target appearing in multiple locations with multiple functions within the natural search listings and beyond – whether this means websites, or application modules, conversation channels or even coverage of physical installations. All of these elements need self-contained, responsive, real-time content that is useful for where we are and what we are doing.

In a similar way to journalism accepting that “the article is not the story” so we have to accept that the website may not be the most effective communication tool – it might not even be the right place to have the necessary conversation. In a world of re-posts and video responses it is the story and context of the communication that is more important for fuelling any conversation. The conversation will not be centralised.

“When thinking about brands and media… we’ll need to make sure that we don’t confuse the article (the advertising) from [sic] the story (the context, the interconnected ecosystem of nodes that “bubble up” to a something much bigger).”

Dino Demopoulos, Chroma

One big brand that has taken a first step with this distributed approach has been Skittles.

SkittlesInterweb the rainbow” campaign is the great hype story of recent months and has been successful in creating noise, but not all of it is good – not that a single, on message, monologic approach to the internet could ever exist. However, the Skittles approach is a great example of the mechanic exceeding the message.



Skittles took an idea that had been previously implemented effectively by the digital agency Modernista! and “deleted their website” by replacing skittles.com with an overlay unit that sat over Skittles related content on other “real web” websites. It created a filter on a distributed internet experience across Wikipedia, Twitter and Facebook so people could see the brand “through the eyes of the web”. The insight was quite sound, after all does an FMCG brand really need a website with yet another “About us” section?



Unfortunately the campaign implementation fell down. Skittles was marred by inexcusable usability issues – issues addressed previously in Modernista’s approach – and a blunt legal department-imposed age-checker that turned the experience into that of a site that happened to pull other sites into itself.  But beyond this what let it down was the fact that it was actually a great mechanic rather than a conversation. Skittles provoked a lot of conversation but had nothing to say. There was nothing beyond the brand name. There was nothing to channel the crowd’s interest. The content stimulus was weak, and so it was filled and abused by people who like to swear in public.

However, the campaign’s relative merits are still being debated online thus adding to its success in generating more attention than a traditional microsite-focused campaign could do on a similar budget. In effect, it made us look, now what?

Despite these failings Skittles can still be seen as an important step forward by a big FMCG brand in its use of interactive marketing. Skittles recognised that there is an internet beyond the “marketing web”, where real people exist outside of brand control. There are platforms being used by real people that are “their territory” and they are far better than any “walled garden” faux-social network that most brands could afford to build.

Distributed campaigns like Skittles offer an effective and more interesting future for interactive marketing – campaigns that reflect what people are doing in the real world and the digital world.

Next >> What are real people doing in the digital world?