Sometimes a message is altered by the environment. It may be appropriate to sing along with Bruce Springsteen at a stadium concert - but bellowing the lyrics to Beethoven's Ode To Joy at a town hall recital might be frowned on. This electronic poster for Swedish brand Apolosophy responds to its environment. The model's hair flies across her face when the train enters the tunnel.
The brand's proposition is that it makes your hair come alive.
Here's a clever thought to expand your horizons. Take a small space and multiply its value by three.
How, print three different headlines one each in Cyan, Magenta and Yellow. When the board is lit with red bulbs it shows the cyan message. Green shows the magenta text and blue-purple illuminates the yellow headline. The message is in Swedish (so who knows what it says) but the message is that IKEA can help you make the most of small spaces.
During the daytime the billboard is a cluttered mess - like your home if you have kids.
Not a perfect idea. But clever.
What do you think?
In the movie industry - like life, there are no guarantees of success. Giant studios can throw hundreds of millions of dollars at productions starring the biggest names in the business - marquee names with track records making and starring in hit after hit. And then…Ishtar happens. No-one seems to really agree about what went wrong with Ishtar - even the experts would rather forget it. The movie going public hardly had a chance to forget it - they never bought tickets. It was giant stinker of the first order.
Gary Cooper knew a thing about the movies. He'd starred in a few and was offered the chance to play Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind. He turned down the role and was glad that it would be Clark Gable who got the part. He was sure it would be a flop. It was one of the biggest grossing films of all time for a long time.
A big budget is no indicator. The Blair Witch Project cost just $600,000 to make and market but it made $248.3 million at the box office. A 20,591.67% return for a movie that conformed to no known formula. Remember Ishtar? Total cost: $55 million. Revenue $14.4 million. In today's dollars, $82.1 million lost (oh, I know it's not fair to pick on Ishtar - I almost feel like I am boosting it here).
Small budgets can lead to great success and big budgets can go down the gurgler very easily. The same is true with marketing budgets. There have been product and brand launches in New Zealand that have been disasters - remember 10 beer? Of course you don't. It wasn't even a three.
Finding the right balance between gung-ho enthusiasm for an idea and prudence in't easy. Too little investment and the brand might disappear without a trace. Over commitment can have exactly the same result.
To quote another Hollywood source - 'Nobody knows anything." The only suggestion is that it might pay to get another quote - just to reassure yourself. Sometimes advertising can be as out of touch with reality as Tinseltown.
Air New Zealand have been innovative with their in-flight safety instruction videos over the years. They introduced a muppet-like character Rico who chatted with minor celebrities and shocked some people with jokes sometimes loaded with sexual innuendo. After Rico's demise they brought Richard Simmons in to juice up the instructions. More recently the airline has partnered with New Zealand's government tourism organisation and the makers of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies to get passengers ready for their incredible journey. The latest, a tie-in with Sports Illustrated and Pacific Island destinations features Sports Illustrated swimsuit models performing the safety instructions. It has been controversial. Some find the video gratuitous and sexist. Others don't mind. They argue that, if it gets people to pay attention to the safety information, then it must be a good thing.
What interests me is whether the novelty of performing a safety video detracts from your ability to absorb the information. On one hand attracting attention sometimes requires a device to 'cut through'. This is important when the audience has multiple choices: they could simply turn the page of the magazine they are reading, change to another television channel or simply ignore information (imagine the overwhelming amount of stimulus there is in places like Times Square). In a commercial passenger plane the passengers have no alternative but to watch the video - though jaded travelers will more than likely ignore it. So a 'creative' element to attract attention may not be necessary.
Let's just say that the models now have your attention. Terrific. Will you be more receptive to the safety information if it placed in an exotic context, far removed from the reality of your economy class seat? The picture of the volleyball player on the right illustrates the point that your brain will play tricks on you when it is expected to perform double duty. In a way it is like multitasking - something human beings don't do well at regardless of their gender. "The brain is a sequential processor, unable to pay attention to two things at the same time. Businesses and schools praise multitasking, but research clearly shows that it reduces productivity and increases mistakes." - Brain Rules
But it's not that simple. We don't pay attention to boring things either. It's hard to image a modern airliner actually crashing - and even thinking about that pre-takeoff is an irritation "What you get me on the plane then you tell me it might be dangerous!?". The unlikelihood of plane crashing means the message is a low priority and one our unconscious would rather not confront. So maybe dressing the information up…or undressing it… might compensate. We call that borrowed interest. Illusionists might call it distraction.
Quoting Brain Rules again: "We pay attention to things like emotions, threats and sex. Regardless of who you are, the brain pays a great deal of attention to these questions: Can I eat it? Will it eat me? Can I mate with it? Will it mate with me? Have I seen it before?". So the airline might be juggling the pro's and con's. I'm setting aside the influence of the marketing department over the health and safety folks at this point - that's a discussion for another time.
It would be interesting to perform an experiment to determine how much information is extracted and meaningfully retained from an information video like the one above and something that Lufthansa or SwissAir might produce. Maybe a simulation? The starboard engine has been blown off by a North Korean missile and the aircraft is spiralling towards the ocean from 30,000 feet. An oxygen mask has fallen in front of your face - do you remember want to do?
Personally I'd take a last draught of my Bloody Mary and accept my fate or hope that the aircraft has a pilot like the Captain Sullenberger (who ditched in the Hudson River with no loss of life).
One of the problems some people encounter in business as they get more experienced is the fallacy that they have to know everything. When you start to think you already have the answers before anyone asks any questions you are dead in the water.
Curiosity didn't kill the cat - that's a parable from a time when unthinking allegiance to your master was the norm and change happened over generations, not over a flat white.
If you are going to have good idea you have to wonder why people do things. Why do certain things get done the way they do? There are no stupid questions - but blind faith in what you are doing now is stupid behaviour.
Look at what is happening in your industry - what are the general trends? What is happening in areas that don't even seem related? Making connections between seemingly unrelated things is the essence of creating new things. Pull things apart. Put them together in different ways. I used to teach design research methods at Massey University's School of Design. The most important discipline designers (and anyone for that matter) has to be curiousity. Avoid orthodoxy. It's all research – and the point of research isn't to prove a truth - it's to discover more interesting questions.
Know your audience.
Sitting in your office staring at your degree - or surfing the internet isn't going to stoke the fires of passion. Get out there amongst the people you will be communicating with. Learn their issues and listen to their language. I guarantee that the messages in your communications about the products you are advocating for will seem a whole lot less like 'persuasion' and a heck of a lot more like common sense coming from a like mind. Factory tours can be interesting too. It's amazing the stories you will hear from employees who've been with the company for 25 years. It might be the marketing guy who got recruited from another marketing company just hasn't had the time to learn the company while he gets his resumé ready for the next marketing company he's angling to work for. And don't forget the people who use the product. If you let the market researchers speak for them you might miss some nuance. Even in the era of metadata an insight can come from a single observation. A little bit of anthropology can go a long way.
In the Korean War* jet fighter pilots had to figure out how to shoot each other down. The propulsion technology had rocketed ahead of other systems on the aircraft. So hurtling through the air at twice the speed while trying to aim cannon and rockets at the enemy with tools that were not much better than World War 2's kit mean pilots had to think a different way. They had to be far more decisive. They came up with the O.O.D.A Loop –Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. The person who could put everything together systematically the quickest got to fly home alive.
Choosing your target, positioning yourself to take the advantage and acting decisively will make a huge difference. Choosing your mission is important too. MacGregor Media doesn't tout for grand strategic partnerships with global brands. We're Good. Fast. Cheap (pick any three). You can't be all things to all people.
Focus - that's what strategy is all about.
*Ever see M.A.S.H.? - Hotlips, Radar O'Reilly, Hawkeye, Klinger…that was the Korean War.
Be The One & Only
Gerry Garcia from the rock band The Grateful Dead said something long the lines of 'Don't be the best at what you do - be the only one who does it.' I think that sums authenticity up pretty well. If you are interchangeable then your customers will shop around for what you do at a cheaper price. A client recently told me that they wanted to be like Apple. Not Apple in the beginning. Apple now. Audacious but lacking in ambition. As I'm lobbing quotes around here's another - the source is a magazine I was flipping through, maybe Vanity Fair, to be fair I don't remember: "If you want to be like Kate Moss…be yourself." Think about it.
Dos Equis is a Mexican beer brand. Not a light lager like Corona or Sol. It's interesting. Even the way the product is described is…interesting:
DOS EQUIS AMBAR
A robust, classic Vienna-style lager with a full body. A beer with brawn from Germany, swagger from Mexico, and the finest North American pale and roasted malts. An amber-colored refreshment that’s adventurous enough to be distinctly flavorful. A hot-blooded redhead that’s best enjoyed ice-cold.
Their front-man is The Most Interesting Man In The World. So interesting that 'he imagines himself in his own shoes', 'so interesting he speaks French…in Russian. The campaign has been running for some time now, since 2006. Each brand commercial ends with the carefully crafted line: "I don't always drink beer. But when I do I prefer Dos Equis." Think about that for a moment. It doesn't make any claim about the beer and, out of context, it is almost watery. But add in the character (who, interestingly, has no name), and his extravagant Munchausian tales and it is anything but insipid. It clearly isn't designed to drive category sales - that's the job of the market leader anyway - not that of an interesting niche brand. Dos is for moderate drinkers - it's not a 'session' beer. If you are a bar owner this will make you happy. This guy drinks less and pays more for it (and he is so interesting that he attracts beautiful women who order expensive cocktails).
Of course it is all illusion. But the brand has struck out with a clever, simple proposition. It ignores the trend of reflecting the target audience back at themselves in tortured semi-real scenarios. It takes interestingness to a higher plane - and without the over-the-top desperation of a Superbowl ad.
What can you learn from Dos Equis?
1. Ignore the conventions of your category
The Dos Equis campaign might be a nod to the era when suave men over-promised the benefits of Smirnoff to schmucks but its position is unique in current beer marketing - unfashionable even. in a way that makes it 'hip' - but hip isn't all about sailor tattoos and single speed push bikes.
2. Alienate some people
There are people who will find the Dos Equis campaign disagreeable for one reason or another. The ad featured has been criticized for objectifying female bob-sledders. But not being to everybody's taste is the point. Great stories have protagonists and antagonists. You cannot appeal to all people. When I order a Dos and you order a Corona we both should know that I am interesting and you are, well, …a Corona drinker.
3. Plug away
Developing a brand is like sailing a yacht. The journey will take some time. The winds and currents will shift during the journey. You know where you are heading but sometimes you will have to change tack to take advantage of favourable breezes or avoid being becalmed. Dos Equis has been building its story over time. It has become, if not a household name, a sensation. The commercials may not have been made for the internet (in the beginning at least), but they are made for the internet. "I may not always drink beer, but when I do …" has become a cultural meme. These things take time and perseverance and sometimes a little luck. If the brand's owners had changed their campaign annually as some beer brands do, maybe the results might not have been so golden for Dos Equis. Results? U.S. sales increased each year between 2006-2010 and tripled in Canada in 2008. Sales of Dos Equis are said to have increased by 22% at a time when sale of other imported beer fell 4% in the U.S.
Dos Equis Website.
Interestingness can't be underestimated in developing your marketing messages. This clip dates back to 2006 but it is worth watching.
What do you think? Leave a comment below - or Facebook if you prefer.
When you are in the supermarket, with your kids in train (or, more likely, running riot) there is only so much time you have to pay attention to the claims made on packaging. Claims like 'Natural' and 'Fat Free' seem reassuring - even though close consideration might reveal they aren't quite what you think you are getting. But it makes you feel a little bit better and, really, how bad can they be?
This video is an interesting exposition on the problem - admittedly from a group lobbying for all-organic food.
It is made to be 'viral' (we're sharing it) - but it's funny and makes its point well. Which raises another point about communicating important messages in the right pitch for the audience. But we can talk about that later.
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Stock photography is one way of getting you message across vividly and at a much lower price than commissioning original images. The problem is that, in the past, most readily accessible stock or royalty free images have been a little arbitrary or second rate. The scenarios shot can be so generic they become almost meaningless or cliché.
The way that people are presented and tagged - 'working woman' say - conjure up images that really don't reflect the kinds of roles and mores that are present today, rather than 20 years ago when it was enough to show a woman in a suit with glasses and a phone - it is broad brush-stroke stuff. But it has a consequence. It shows women in the workforce in a way that stereotypes or idealises in a negative way - which reflects back on the brand or business that might thoughtlessly promote the image.
Stock images can be invaluable but they can also be lazy and promote tropes. Some image libraries are become more adept at serving the demands of the market. Getty Images have launched a push to promote a curated selection "celebrating powerful images of women, girls and the communities who support them," The images are much better than they were - but one of the strategies of image libraries is to repackage and spin their catalogues.
If you search Getty Images for 'tattoo hipster woman' there's no shortage of pictures. Maybe in 10 years time we'll be wondering where the images of women without circus tent tattoos are?
Using Stock Images creatively - 3 Golden rules.
1. Begin with an idea.
This is a pretty good rule for most communications. If you have a clueless message and add a meaningless image then you will get a nil or negative response. Don't fill space in a layout with a random image.
2. Avoid tropes and clichés
The reason clichés become hackneyed is because everybody uses them. Ask yourself if there is another way of expressing your idea without resorting to a literal image of your imagined end user looking empowered (for example). If you are looking for a visual idea to illustrate your message think in terms of metaphors and similies - what is it like? Stock images will never be exact anyway - you might as well be playful.
3. Shop around
There are lots of stock libraries. Look through Tumbler and Flickr, you might find an image you can licence - sometimes borrow (though make sure you observe the copyright rules - even Creative Commons isn't a free for all).
With photography so accessible these days it might also be useful to search photographers sites - they may have an image you like that you can license - or hire them to shoot something original - it could cost you less than you think.
We're tempted to say 'it just is' and leave it at that. But there is method to our madness.
Call them postcards, mini billboards or proclamations (our current favourite) they perform a couple of functions - aside from announcing the products and services we offer and being clear about being Cheap, Fast. Good.
1. Social Objects
When you don't have much money then social media platforms present an opportunity not only to distribute ideas for free but also for people to share with their colleagues and contacts. If the information is dull and undifferentiated then that's just not going to happen. maybe it won't anyway - which is why we don't believe in over-thinking social objects. As long as they convey the idea then we're happy. That's the thing about sharing and 'viral' events - you really can't know in advance what will click. Of course we can see exactly what 'works' and what doesn't from the analytics and enquiries. We can talk about conversion in another post.
We are crystal clear about the place we want to occupy in the marketing communications landscape - Cheap. Fast. Good. Idea generation is a process. When we create something it is never going to be perfect. Even the best campaigns in the world are imperfect. Some seem almost quaint or comical not too many years after they cleaned up award shows -"What were they thinking?". Fashions come and go. Today's fetish for hand-drawn typefaces and naive, children's story book style animation might seem odd in the not-too-distant future. That's why we go for signature over style. That's our signature style. Our practice. And it's fun.
This blog is a notepad of contemporaneous and sometimes extemporaneous thoughts about creativity, strategy and ideas.