Tag Archives: Creative

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.


Brand Reality Creative – Breaking away from the objective correlative in advertising and interactive.

14 Oct

Traditional advertising and marketing communications are frequently based on the concept of the objective correlative4 – where an object or person (signifier) represents a value or function that is transferred to the product or service (signified). The link between the product/service and the signifier does not have to be a literal or strong one but the “objective correlative, with its own logic that bonds so well with subjective work [makes] the connections seem plausible, even self-evident”5. Because the Crowd’s connection with brands is inherently weak we need creative actually to become the connection. As David Searls once said, “There is no market for messages.” This is Brand Reality Creative, where 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.

Brand Reality Creative has the value exchange firmly in the favour of the user. When applied to online advertising it should lead to semantic windows on personally relevant content and live, real events and features. Interactive creative is not inherently interesting because it is digital, it is interesting because it can provide a way for real people to connect and do things together – social networking was just the village pump on a global scale where we used social media and applications to present aspects of our real or imagined personalities. Reality and content will be sought after and valued by Crowds, and online advertising needs to evolve to account for this or else it will be filtered out and switched off. It needs to be valuable in itself and get people closer to content and reality.

Brand Reality Creative ties in with the post-credit crunch desire or need for tangible value over slick expensive fictions. Traditional object correlative advertising masking underperforming or non-useful products/services is sub-prime. Brand Reality Creative’s goal is to do something useful, helpful and valuable – to show not tell and embody the brand in the process.

“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”6, something that does something for them rather than interrupts them. It does not have to rely on a blatant do X and get Y message. It can rely upon people’s natural curiosity.

CNN.com’s T-Shirt Headlines Project used small T-Shirt icons next to headlines to draw peoples’ attention to their improved video offer. Clicking on the icon would lead them to a custom t-shirt shop where they could purchase a t-shirt with the headline on it. The shirts were emblazoned with the “I just saw it on CNN.com” tagline, along with the date and time of the headline. People could choose shirts with headlines they liked, were appalled about, found surreal, or just whimsical by actually interacting with the videos. It also spread the wider word as people wore the shirts, gifted them to their friends or broadcasted their purchase on their Facebook News Feed.

Brand Reality Creative like this is organic not viral, it has more usage loops and can be used by people for self-representation. It nurtures and incentivises invites and it cares about the retention rate rather than chasing installs through brute force. It is not the archetypal one hit widget – the type that cluttered up your old Facebook Profile page, the Viral App that is essentially spam. However, it is not just about Brand Utility.

The theory of Brand Utility arose in 2006 from the desire of agencies like Barbarian Group and Anomaly for the valuable communities, sites and experiences they create for clients to live beyond the average three month marketing campaign’s lifecycle. Soon it became the belief that brands should be “genuinely useful to their customers, employees, suppliers and the people they touch”7. Since then it has become a cliché to mention brand utility and Nikeplus in the same breath. Much comment has been made about this technological partnership between Nike and Apple since its revolutionary debut. The great combination of a useful training tool with sharing personal performance and comparing runs embodies Crowd focused brand utility. Yet it is Nikeplus’ recent evolution to form the heart of the Human Race 10k that transforms the campaign to one of Brand Reality Creative. Effectively “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”8. The creative 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 either.

In its ultimate form Brand Reality Creative needs to offer an experience you can’t get anywhere else. People will pay for things that they see as scarce, not things – digital versions – that they see as intangible and abundant. The digital element has to do more or be used for more. This has been the dilemma facing the music, game and film industries, indeed anyone involved in the creation of the new digital currency – content. The music industry, of all the content creation industries, has reacted to recent advances in the connectivity of Crowds as a threat rather than an opportunity. For every claimed “MyTube/YouSpace” basement success story, the major labels have seem to have ten lawyers with a handful of writs. Instead, it has been left to music’s actual practitioners, grass-roots movements and technology firms like Apple to forge the new business models for the Cloud and Crowd enabled world.

In October 2007 the band Radiohead shocked the music industry almost as much as the birth of Napster when their self-released album In Rainbows was sold online for only as much as people were willing to pay for it. Their digital honesty box confronted one of the downsides of the Crowd – intellectual property theft over file-sharing and peer-to-peer networks – while also generating a huge volume of PR and media attention. The digital version was effectively free but the real, enhanced physical boxed set retailed for £40. The experiment only lasted for 3 months and sales allegedly averaged £2 confirming that consumers, while valuing content, were not prepared to pay the old prices for purely digital copies. When something is “free” it is hard to go back to paying – ironically this situation is probably the ultimate end result of the industry’s own debasing of its currency via years of cover-mounts and newspaper giveaways.

Licensing/brand association, a future content business model

Licensing/brand association, a future content business model

Radiohead’s experiment altered the industry so much that nine months later Prince conducted the physical release of his new album free through the Daily Mail. What Radiohead started, Prince took to the next level by ushering in a new era of business models based on brand association, product placement and live experiences; an era of brands supplying tangible access to content in return for Crowd engagement.

However, the new model does not mean that brands have to give the Crowd everything and expect nothing in return. Brands can use the Crowd creatively.

Once again one of the best example of using the Crowd to generate content comes from the Radiohead stable. After the initial PR success of the In Rainbows launch came the second phase of the campaign: promoting individual singles. Because the band was not signed to a major label they could not rely upon the traditional methods of single promotion – methods similar to those employed by the average fmcg launch – repetitive, expensive exposure of the message/music until it becomes engraved in the audience’s mind and they cave in and buy. Instead, they launched an remix competition – Nude ReMix. While net remix competitions are not new, indeed through projects like Looplabs or even technical mashups they are actually an ingrained part of internet culture, Nude ReMix was smarter. It was done where the audience was – on iTunes and on their Facebook pages – so it felt open and natural. It didn’t exist solely as a self-contained, controlled, exclusive product driven website where everything was approved by the brand team and compliance. The useful parts of the track (stems) were sold – SOLD – for self-assembly on iTunes and people could use their Facebook pages to distribute their work and gain votes.

House of Cards motion capture data visualisation

House of Cards motion capture data visualisation

The campaign to promote the next single House of Cards went even further into this world of open-sourced Crowd creativity when instead of releasing a video the band released the motion capture data of a performance. The data was then turned into beautiful visualisations – Crowd created music videos – using open-source techniques and languages like Processing.

At the end of these campaigns the Crowd had created experiences that could never have been created by a traditional marketing campaign. They had generated networked exposure9 through creative interactions that gave value to digital versions of the real product.

James Houston’s Big Ideas (Don’t Get Any)

James Houston’s Big Ideas (Don’t Get Any)

The Crowd based Brand Reality Creative approach also allows effects to last longer and achieve more long-term reach than the “average three month marketing campaign”. After the Nude ReMix campaign had officially ended its influence re-emerged in the form of James Houston’s Big Ideas (Don’t Get Any). This film of a real installation transformed the act of remixing into an art piece that married analogue and digital technologies and took the internet by storm. His reprocessed Crowd piece actually transcended the original and truly embodied the Reader Response Theory that brands are ultimately made by people. Essentially Product + Story + Audience +Context = Content10, or in this case art, proving that “content is the new democracy and we the people, are ensuring that our voices are heard”11.

Despite the obvious quality and success of these examples of Crowd reprocessed creativity it is important to recognize that they are still quite “niche”. The traffic, interactions and attention generated were high but the Crowd communities were still relatively specialised. How do we break away from highly technical/creative audiences and take a broadcast approach to Crowd creation and Brand Reality Creative?

In fact this has already been happening. While the Nikeplus campaign mentioned previously may embody Brand Utility, 2005’s NikeID campaign, where interactively customising the product became entertainment, truly embodies Crowd enabled Brand Reality Creative. As part of the campaign Nike launched an interactive billboard experience that let people use their phones to design a shoe on the Reuters sign in Times Square. Passersby could use their phones to interact with the 23-story billboard, customising and even directly purchasing their own Nike shoe. After designing a shoe on the screen, the user received a text message within seconds. That message contained mobile phone wallpaper showing their shoe along with a link to the NikeID site where they could buy it. People could also create and share their designs in online adverts and on the NikeID site itself. NikeID now forms a central part of the Nike’s overall strategy.

Brand Reality Creative is not limited to so-called “cool”, media or high-tech brands. A similar success story to the Radiohead or NikeID examples is the Lego Factory, an interactive campaign where people can digitally design their own custom creations, share them, discuss them and then order the parts and their own personalized packaging. Crowd based Brand Reality Creative like this, not constricted UGC upload your photo competitions, work on an open, simple mechanic (even/especially if the techniques required are quite specialist) and work with existing communities to drive involvement and the quality of entries. This in turn drives exposure and direct and indirect sales.

“…a sports shoe, a toy. Each has empowered a community of its consumers, and by connecting them together has itself benefited. But these aren’t ‘soft’ [brand] benefits. They’re driving revenue streams, repeat purchase and real engagement – consumer relationships whose strength is founded not on the transient moment of product need, but in the enduring nature of humans as social animals.” Andrew Walmsley, Superbrands.

The potential of Brand Reality Creative for the Cloud and Crowd enabled world is immense but we do need a word of warning before storming this “new utopia”. While it is said that there is wisdom in crowds, the Crowd can easily become a mob. There are already instances of bloggers stopping writing because of over-democracy, because of people hiding behind usernames to flame and indulge in petty arguments. The risk is that sometimes in a crowd no one can hear you scream because everyone is screaming. The Crowd is people – we all got the “brands need to be like people and marketing is now a conversation” memo – and people can be downright ugly. People do not always act with the purest intentions, and the market does not always self-regulate, the great fact you Googled in support of your argument can always turn out to be the fantasy of a teenager from Tipton, something the phenomenally successful Loose Change conspiracy theory film proved. Equally, if an online newspaper were to be generated solely out of most viewed stories it would be overflowing with kittens, sexual accidents and pictures of Britney with no underwear. The next big challenge is how to manage masses of information, how to attribute identity, and how to work out what is truth and what is propaganda – or worse the Big Lie?

The birth of the semantic web touched on at the beginning of this paper, and a new focus on developing filters and aggregators, means we can start addressing these risks of digital fatigue and noise. The issues of identity and authority in crowds are already reflected in projects like OpenID and the move from the freewheeling Wikipedia to Google’s editor influenced Knol. Marketers and communicators need to support and engage with this future if they are going to continue to have any influence.

Brand Reality Creative for the Cloud and Crowd world is just one technique that Brands can use to become a way for people to sort the wheat from the chaff. Ultimately, our job should be to make the Cloud and Crowd work for humanity rather than debase it.

Full PDF version of this whitepaper

4.The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an ‘objective correlative’; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is evoked.” T.S. Eliot, 1919
5.The bottle that isn’t there and the duck that can’t be heard: The subjective correlative in commercial messages” Michael Witoski, University of South Carolina
6. Flo Heiss, The way things go
7. Johnny Vulkan, Anomaly
8. Bram De Maesschalck – PSFK
9.Driven by internet and mobile communications, networks are turning into the major means of doing business… Simply put, networks will make the world go round. So controlling the networks of this world will soon count for more than controlling the capital.” Netocracy, by Jan Söderqvist & Alexander Bard
10. Ian Tait, Crackunit
11. Brian Solis

Clouds, Crowds and Brand Reality Creative – distributed creativity and information, collaborative tools and ideas.

6 Oct

This is a whitepaper on near, medium and long term interactive creative and strategy that I wrote at the end of the summer in response to a “what should we be doing/thinking next?” question from several clients. It covers my belief that the semantic web leads to the need for a new way of approaching creative and content challenges – that the old “objective correlative” way of advertising and marketing has to evolve to a “Brand Reality Creative” approach which will hopefully be a step beyond “Brand Utility”. The paper can be downloaded here or found on my website  (http://www.davidjcarr.com/clouds_crowds_whitepaper.pdf) and I will post a blog-friendly version shortly.

In fact it starts here…

Interactive or digital? Big ideas or rich ideas?

14 Jul

When people start talking about the “digital space” I always react with the belief that “interactive is a philosophy not a channel”. It’s not the technology, it’s what you do with it that counts. And even more importantly, why you do it.

An old presentation I used to give to students in my militant phase was subtitled “Stop folding TV ads and learn how interactive works” and while I may have mellowed a bit in my old age – the trousers might disagree – a lot of the interactive creatives I’ve been interviewing lately still rail against the notion that digital is a place you can lever a “big idea” into given enough lube.

Mass ATL media was based on the concept of a simple “big” idea, a single proposition or USP delivered in a linear form. It was a bit like Don Simpson’s idea of High Concept movies – without the coke and hookers and Tom Cruise “Playing with the boys”.

For the old BDAs in advertising this would mean a 60/30 TV ad, a couple of press executions and, if you were really lucky, it would stretch to a bit of radio. Then someone would take it downstairs to the “digital” boys in the basement a week before launch and you’d end up with a flash game. Sounds bitter? Maybe. But really it was the communications process mistaking a Big execution for a Big Idea. The Gorilla worked for Cadbury not because it was a big, great execution (it was) but because of the rich idea of “Joy” that underpinned it. The second ad, just like the later Sony ones after Balls, seemed to loose sight of this and in the process seemed to loose its Soul.

Hopefully this cliché is dead or at least dying despite some BDA’s attempts to resurrect it.

Instead it should be about looking for a Rich Idea as a starting point. And Interactive is fundamental to this approach.

Interactive is about a multilevel proposition or complex idea delivered in a non-linear narrative. The ideas or narratives are assembled by people or, better still, used by people in the form of an application or entertainment, a slideshow, interaction, video player, service or personalisation that is useful, usable and delightful.

It’s lots of rich ideas rather one big one. A journey from A to C to D to B to E, not A to B.

At Chemistry we’ve channeled this into a set of 6 interactive creative principles:

Understand and appreciate the people you are talking to on their own terms without shouting. Promote their point of view.

Talk don’t push. We have no right to talk to anyone, it has to be on their terms and they have to give us permission or it is just so much extra noise.

Appropriate Intervention
Do things when it is right not just because you can. Technology lets us target according to time of day, part of a journey or behavioural activity.

Relevant Conversation
Talk about what they’re interested in and what they want based on what they have been doing and previous conversations.

Be playful, be useful. React and reward.

The real world will always trump the virtual. Show and connect, don’t tell. Take interactive into the real world. The internet isn’t computers talking to computers, it’s people.

In practice these are then channelled via a mix of acquired/borrowed/learnt/ever growing beliefs that we can use to create a way of working.

• You can’t know everything but you can be open to anything
• Do good stuff
• Do fun stuff
• Do useful stuff
• Take ideas and don’t be precious with them
• Push the ideas into shapes and places that people, not marketers, are interested in
• Tell a deeper, more involving story – but know when to be shallow
• Try to create technical and cultural innovations not the same old shit
• Let people be playful and explore
• Don’t be difficult
• Have smarter conversations with people
• Have entertaining conversations with people

Part of this means the death or evolution of the old Ad team model. The work is too complex for the old model to work. The idea is in effect the easier part – not that good ideas are ever that easy. Making it happen and making it easy to use and engaging is the hard bit, hence it is now about a collaborative effort. Teams need to be prepared to share or even give up their ideas at an early stage and get much more involved in the production process; a process that needs to be predominantly in-house if you want to have control, collaboration and flexibility, to play and to learn.

So if your BDA comes wielding a big idea you might want to decline and ask for a rich one instead and spend less time on the digital and more on the interactive.

Psycho buildings/people

10 Jul

Getting out of the office is always good for ideas and at Rob’s encouragement we’ve started a series of Interactive creative outings – a bit like school trips but with less crack and knife crime. Our first outing was to Psycho Buildings and Tomas Saraceno’s Observatory, Air-Port-City, 2008 was a particular highlight (if you ignored the smell of feet). And Rob and Emma got lucky and got to bounce around on the top deck. But the manners of the youth of today…

We’re think of going to A Recent History of Writing and Drawing at the ICA for the next one but if anyone has a better suggestion let us know.

Online advertising thoughts

8 Jul

I was asked to get involved with a Marketing Week article about online advertising the other day and it was going to be a debate about creativity in online advertising and whether it was burnt out. In the end a follow up chat on the mobile while dashing across a car park became part of this but I wanted to explore the more interesting original idea.

In terms of my pitch into the idea of “is online advertising creativity dead” or “is the medium dead”…

We currently have two strategies of approach to online advertising: Tactical+ and Brand Reality.

The key is not to let similar creative executions run across all sites – great results come from integrated creative placements so you need to achieve a closer relationship between creative strategy and media strategy. This is where Tactical+ creative for “Browsing site placements” come in – giving all the information people need but not taking someone out of their journey – but measurement KPIs have to shift towards interaction rates and post-impression clicks. The idea is to cut through the clutter and reward interaction by applying brand creative values to direct transactional executions.

This approach is the one we’ve taken for some Emirates work like:

Newcastle Timelapse – Newcastle campaign as a whole got 12million interactions 270% rate, but Timelapse had a 5% CTR from 900,000 impressions despite it having a very small click-thorough area and being in the mail section of MSN.

Or for the TfL Oyster iTunes campaign for Auto top-up:

You can put as much content and experience in a banner ad as you used to put in a micro-site and you get more of a brand impact by not asking user to leave the site they are on or interrupt what they are doing. Download free content, play games, take part in polls and watch videos without having to go anywhere and as these units become more consistent, people will be more ready to interact with them. But you have to push the engagement, creativity and design which is what we have done with some other Emirates work like the Ladybird Execution (http://emirates.chemdig2.co.uk) or:

Or even some of the campaigns I worked on at my previous agency for the Army, like Army on Everest (don’t get me started I’ll go on for hours).

Obviously you need strong CTAs and offer driven work for Affiliates to ensure take up (they aren’t and never will be interested in interaction KPIs) and you need to know when to be shallow – particularly on “transactional site placements”.

I see the long-term future of online advertising as Brand Reality Creative. Online advertising should be semantic windows on personally relevant content and live, real events and features. Interactive work is not interesting because it is digital, it is interesting because it provides a way for real people to connect and do things together – social networking was just the village pump on a global scale where we used social media and applications to present aspects of our real or imagined personalities. It is this reality and content that will be sought after and valued, and online advertising needs to evolve to account for this or else it will be filtered out and switched off. It needs to be valuable in itself and get people closer to content and reality.

So I don’t think creativity is dead but it definitely needs to perk-up a bit. I think we need to stop the delusion that people leap out of their chair when they see an ad and actually try and make advertising useful instead.