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.