Seems as though everybody is talking about 'content marketing'. It's one of those topics that really depend on who is talking to figure out what they mean. Some ad agency talk content up because - well because that's what other people are talking up. Who doesn't want to be on trend? (For the record, ads, even long ones that simply push products, aren't content marketing. They're ads.)
Here's the thing about content marketing - it's not what you say - it's what you do that counts. I stumbled across this exercise via Shutterstock - who do an excellent job of developing interesting, useful stuff that is relevant to their customers - they add value to the experience of interacting with the Shutterstock brand and its products. I guess they are marketing with content.
The following is based on a live workshop programme the company ran. It looks like an interesting way to bump start your thinking. Give it an hour to give it a whirl and let me know what kind of results you get.
Step 1: Find your product "truth"
What problem does your product solve? What opportunity does it provide? When do people use it? When do they regret not having it?
On provided Post-its, each team member writes 10 initial strategic or creative thought-starters for one specific business goal. (10 minutes)
Step 2: Find your topic
What pop-culture or other interest does your core audience gravitate toward? How can that relate to your brand?
On provided Post-its, brainstorm at least 10 trending topics or activities that a large portion of your audience watches, reads, listens to, plays, etc., for fun or leisure. (10 minutes)
Step 3: Mash It Up
As a group, brainstorm "what if" scenarios, mashing up your product/brand with a trending topic. (20 Minutes)
Step 4: Sell It
Figure out the format and an irresistible headline to sum it all up. Is this a video, a poster series, an installation, a mini game, or something else?
Draw or storyboard your idea and write the irresistible tweet or article headline that would make the target audience immediately click through. (20 Minutes)
Visit the Shutterstock Zeitgeist part of their site - it's really interesting and useful.
Taco Bell is a chain of fast food outlets in the US. They want a slice of the lucrative breakfast market and have created a menu and minor fuss over their advertising.
As a comparatively small player Taco Bell don't have the budget to go head to head with McDonald's. So they have set about getting people talking. For their launch commercial they have recruited 25 people called Ronald McDonald to endorse how good the food is.
It's an unconventional approach in the category but it points to a new strategy that second tier and challenger brands are deploying to borrow interest from their competitors. The idea is to take another brand's idea and make it your own - but bypassing any competitive claim that might have to be substantiated, refuted or legally challenged as 'passing off'. The ploy is an obvious wink to the consumer and in the age of social media the hope is that the message will be shared. It's not very likely that many people are going to be so excited by the Taco Bell breakfast menu that they will share it with their friends on Facebook. But give them an underdog story - 'Hey, did you know there are dozens of people called Ronald McDonald and they eat at Taco Bell?…" (The implication is that Taco Bell's breakfast menu is so good that Ronald McDonald prefers it.).
The Ford/Cadillac ad is similar - though less directly competitive.
Perhaps another perspective is that brands are behaving more like individuals in their use of social media - personification is a part of the brand canon - brands are like people. So, rather than issuing a corporate cease and desist letter from the legal department McDonald's responded on Facebook with a vaguely condescending response - 'Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery'. The 'real' Ronald pats a ratty looking Chihuahua. (Never mind that the Taco Bell campaign featuring the dog ended over 10 years ago - though there is probably a subtext there too).
Don't wrestle with a pig. You get dirty and the pig loves it.
McDonald's are clearly not interested in engaging with Taco Bell. Doing so would stoke the fire and effectively be putting money into the underdog's marketing budget.
The Danes have a pretty good life. It's a lot like New Zealand - dairy production is important, it's conservative and has expensive social welfare. At 5.6 million they have a few more people than us and their economy is in good shape - US$211 billion. Last year the UN named it the world's happiest country (take that Bhutan).
But Denmark has a population problem. Its birth rate is stagnant at 10 per 1,000 residents in 2013. Other wealthy, developed countries have a similar problem (Germany 8.3, Japan 8.4 and Singapore 7.7). The Danes are worried. It's not that they don't want kids. Most Danish couples say they want two or three kids but 20 percent of couples are childless. Population growth is a real issue for most countries that, like New Zealand, are committed to the welfare of the aged - who have paid taxes all of their lives for the privilege of healthcare and pensions.
The Danish travel industry are coming to the rescue. They have taken up the issue as a promotional theme encouraging young Danes to go on holiday.
According to Spies travel “Studies show that Danes have 46 percent more sex on holiday, and because more sex increases the chances for more children, we call for a romantic break to save the future of Denmark.”
Whether the stats are real or not Psychology Today says the theory bears up. To help convince Danes of breeding age the promotion seduces with prizes for couple who can demonstrate they got pregnant while on holiday at a romantic location. The prize is a bit of a buzz-kill - three years of disposable nappies (how's that for bringiing you back to reality with a bump).
The ad does its best not to alienate customers who are unlikely to win - it is inconceivable that a gay couple would be in the running within the strict confines of the rules.
When you are developing a promotional idea think laterally. A promotion is a tactical expression of your brand. It helps to align your message with your brand's values - Spies is selling holidays - holidays are, by definition, playful. Holidays for younger customers are sexy - sun, sand, romance…
Make a wild creative leap. Your promotion can revitalise your brand and inject some surprise and delight into it. Taking the static birth rate as a starting point and making the jump to Do It For Denmark - genius. People are talking about it (there will probably be a spurt of inbound tourism too as randy young travellers come to do their bit to increase the Danish gene-pool).
As a promotional message it can afford to be slightly 'wonky' - the real message of the Do It For Denmark is that short breaks to romantic places like Rome and Paris are sexy. They are actually promoting dirty weekends. But it is fun and 'throw away'.
Be careful with sex jokes though. They can fail to excite the audience in a positive way - Telecom New Zealand learned that the hard way with Sean Fitzpatrick's tongue in cheek ad to encourage kiwis to put a black rubber ring on and abstain from sex for the duration of the Rugby World Cup. It was an embarrassing flop.
The Spies website has some helpful tips for conception. Google translate gives the Emerald Isle a helping hand by turning the word Denmark in Ireland.
Ford have come up with an ad for their electric car that bears more than a passing resemblance to the ad for Cadillac's electric car. They are all but identical. Except they are as different as, dare I say it, black and white.
The Caddy ad caused a fuss when it aired. It shows a rich white 'Master of the Universe' striding through his keep and delivering a monologue that could have come straight out of The Wolf of Wall Street*. The Ford ad on the other hand seems like an oblique swipe at Cadillac - or rather at the mind-set of the Cadillac owner who chooses an electric car.
The sub-text of the Cadillac message seems to be that you don't have to give up the American Dream and all of the assumed rights and privilege that go with it - like gas guzzling vehicles - to be a member of the Caddy club. They are letting their customers know that it isn't un-American to drive a vehicle that relies on renewable energy. The brand is fighting battles on two fronts. Giving up a massive V8 is no sacrifice at the altar of conspicuous consumption. By being so over-the-top with their character - almost to the point where the audience could dislike him as much as the 99%/Occupy Wall Streeters inevitably do - they have the fall back position of claiming it was a self parody. It's a close-run thing and I don't know if they pulled it off.
As for the Ford ad - well, taking the home-spun approach to the same story is interesting - but you really have to look more closely at the idea and the strategy. Cadillac aired during the Olympics. I'm not even sure the Ford ad was ever intended to air at all, it was made on the cheap. But let's put that aside for a moment. What are they trying to say?
By referring to the Cadillac spot so closely Ford are using the luxury brand's notoriety to leap-frog to another platform altogether. Sure - both vehicles are electric, but that's where the similarities end. Ford isn't competing for the attention of luxury buyers - even if 'the millionaire next door' does drive a modest sedan*. If there is a positive message it is to assuage the entrepreneurial urban do-gooder/wish-I-could-do-gooder that the Ford brand that is virtuous, aware, hard working and socially responsible - just like you - and not like 'them'.
But let's cut to the chase. Ford are leveraging the media investment made by Cadillac - a spot in the Olympics is muy caro and the time and space devoted to discussing it has created a critical mass of awareness. Left to its own devices Ford's electric jalopy would cause barely flicker in the media landscape - but here we are talking about it. It is a social object or rather it's faux 'battle' with Cadillac is.
I guess when you rub two things together you create a spark?
Keep an eye out for things that are being talked about in social media.
Don't try to leap in with an irrelevant attempt to hijack a thread - but do think about how you can leverage the heightened interest in the subject.
Some industry insiders have criticised Cadillac for distracting people with the message rather than the product (apparently the electric vehicle was a last minute product substitution anyway - it was going to feature an Escalade). Ford also managed to look like the minnow versus the shark - when the truth is the opposite. Perception is reality.
Here's the scripts for comparison:
The first ever ELR. Cadillac
*The Wolf of Wall Street. The Guardian's Review.
**The Millionaire Next Door - Prodigious Accumulators of Wealth (PAWs)
The Ford spokesperson isn't an actor. Pashon Murray the founder of Detroit Dirt, a sustainability consultancy and advocacy group that is converting urban wasteland into productive farms (there's a lot of wasted urban land in Detroit).
It's hard to work out the motivation of this ad.
HTC have gone to a lot of trouble to hire a major celebrity then given him a script that effectively says "ads for cell phones are a waste of time - find out what you want to know on the internet". Though what Mr Oldman actually says is "Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah'. That's what 63.45%* of most ads say, so no news there.
All that I can conceive of as a possible strategy is that HTC want to position the M8 phone (and their brand) as an understated, cool kids brand. People who choose HTC don't need the peer approval of placing the sleek new iPhone 5S on the meeting table. Heck, they probably don't even play Angry Birds, let alone give one iota of neural space to Flappy Birds. I'm guessing that's what they are trying to achieve. While everyone else is making ads with ukelele soundtracks with bearded guys in porkpie hats and sailor tattoos they'll need to explain to their grandkids, and sweet girls on single speed bikes and kids diving in slow motion off a wharf with a fake light leak effect…you know the kind of thing – nostalgia for the zeitgeist. This ad is more like a fragrance ad. never mind logic or salesman ship. Don't explain anything - just Google it dude.
So, breaking the fourth wall with an ironic reference to advertising and a kind of post-modern, bleak view of the world (from a hotel room in Gdańsk or somewhere equally challenged in the picturesque stakes) - this is an antidote ad.
It's perfectly reasonable strategy - along the lines of - if everybody else zigs then you should zag.
I guess my problem with the commercial is the product its self. To me a phone is a phone - a utilitarian device. My allegiance to Apple left the building a while back (I all but got a tattoo). But I still like appealing design and when I did as I was told - use the internet. I thought the M8 looked quite smart. The ad didn't do it justice. But I never made it further than a google image search - I wasn't motivated enough. The complete lack of urgency or vitality in the commercial made me think the brand is staid. or something.
Be careful with projecting your own super-cool hip (or anti-hip) view of the world on the people you want to consider your products. If you seem like you couldn't care less about them why should they give you the time of day?
P.S. In what universe is The Best Just Got Better a plausible headline?
*87.3% of all statistics are made up.
This book is worth a look: Zag. The #1 Strategy of high performance brands (I know, the title is up there with The Best Just Got Better - I suspect the publisher's marketing department felt it needed some explanation).
Perhaps the only thing I can say to compliment this video is that it could use a nice mission statement to go with it.
There is a commercial running on New Zealand television at the moment to promote the privatisation of Genesis, the last state-owned electricity generator and distributor. It contains almost every cliché you can imagine and, ironically, has all of the energy of cubicle worker dragging their sorry butt to work on a wet Friday. Even the singer of the jingle sounds as if they made him do it - maybe with some veiled threat to his family's safety if he didn't. (For the record it's a version of 'I've been everywhere, man').
When you communication lacks vitality then we can only assume your organisation lacks vigour.
If something truly, magnificently awful makes it to the screen it is usually a signal that there's a bulldozer in the organisation who gets their way. Either no-one has the guts to stand up and point out 'the emperor has no clothes' or the culture is so threadbare that no one really cares.
In the case of the Genesis float the issue is so tainted by its politics that half the people associated with the project object to the policy, but they need the work - and it is reflected in the work.
On the subject of mission statements - this is pure gold from the 37 Signals blog Signal vs Noise
'There’s a world of difference between truly standing for something and having a mission statement that says you stand for something. You know, those “providing the best service” statements that are created just to be posted on a wall. The ones that sound phony and disconnected from reality. The ones that come off like a press release, not an actual directive."
It has always interested me how often people who work in advertising, especially creative people, didn't arrive via an academic industry-related course. One copywriter colleague left behind a career as a town planner. I taught AWARD School classes for people who wanted to find work as creatives in the early 90s - one guy would drive hundreds of kilometers from rural Coromandel where he was milking cows for a living to eke out some insights that would give him an entrée into an agency job - then drive home again for milking in the morning. He's a creative director now. Others have been cops, journalists and one was a stripper. Being formally educated wasn't a reliable indicator of much at all…
You might think that Google only hires the best. You're right. But you might be surprised by what the search giant considers to be 'the best'. In a recent New York Times article Thomas L Friedman reported that, according to Google's 'head of'people operations' the company has determined that “G.P.A*.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. ... We found that they don’t predict anything.” He also noted that the “proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time” — now as high as 14 percent on some teams."
Rather than concentrating on grades and scores Google consider these factors to be most significant:
1. Cognitive skills.
Can you do the job? If you want to fill a technical role you'll have to be able to perform the tasks - coders got to code good at Google. But the most important attribute is the ability to learn and to pull together ideas and information - cognitive ability.
Google's take on leadership might differ from the conventional idea. "when faced with a problem and you’re a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead. And just as critically, do you step back and stop leading, do you let someone else? Because what’s critical to be an effective leader in this environment is you have to be willing to relinquish power.”
3. Humility and ownership
“It’s feeling the sense of responsibility, the sense of ownership, to step in, to try to solve any problem — and the humility to step back and embrace the better ideas of others. Your end goal, is what can we do together to problem-solve. I’ve contributed my piece, and then I step back.”
“Successful bright people rarely experience failure, and so they don’t learn how to learn from that failure."
Humble people don't blame others or their circumstances when things go bad. On issues they have taken a strong position on they don't let ego get in the way when new information proves they were wrong. "You need a big ego and small ego in the same person at the same time".
Google doesn't think there's value in hiring someone who has all the answers. Experience and expertise are historical traits - what you did before. Sometimes the beginners mind (even in a world expert) needs to me applied to a problem to find new solutions to problems.
Graduates from the best schools might not always be the best candidates “when you look at people who don’t go to school and make their way in the world, those are exceptional human beings. And we should do everything we can to find those people. Too many college don’t deliver on what they promise. You generate a ton of debt, you don’t learn the most useful things for your life. It’s [just] an extended adolescence.” Ouch.
Friedman concludes his story with an important insight: "In an age when innovation is increasingly a group endeavor, it also cares about a lot of soft skills — leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn. This will be true no matter where you go to work.
* GPA = Grade Point average
The influence of psychology on advertising goes back a long way. From Gallup polling (which gave David Ogilvy his first break into media after arriving in the US as an emigré kitchen appliance salesman in 1938*) to the prevalence of planners in contemporary ad agencies. Along the way there have been forays into industrial behavioural psychology - like the famous case where, in 1911, Coca-Cola wheeled in Harry Hollingworth** to prove that the caffeine in Coke wasn't dangerous to the health of workers (he showed it wasn't with some pretty fancy trials that were credible and independent but they weren't what got the case thrown out). But on the subject of caffeine and Coca Cola here's an ad to ponder for the Mother Brand - marketed in New Zealand and Australia by the mother ship - Coca Cola.
…Giant cocks in your bedroom, mothers, eagles…you'd have to get up early in the morning to beat Freud to the punch on the analysis of this little materpiece (oops Fruedian slip - masterpiece). The giant chickens I am ok with - Mother momentarily vanquished V in NZ by introducing 500ml cans (because who doesn't want half a litre of caffeine and sugar and magic berries in one serving) so grande has been an integral part of their strategy. Quite how you'd get one of those mini dinosaurs into your Aga oven is a question for another day. But note the final shot when our Mook strides heroically to the face the day with a gigantic Golden Eagle on his arm. What does this all mean? How can we decode it? Giant roosters, eagles…energy drinks.
I'll just get my lab coat, clip board and electrodes…
The oversize chickens need to placed in context. Man asleep on top of bed. Fully clothed. We can only assume it was a big night. Man is alone, it is reasonable to assume that it was 'a big night', though not one of sexual conquest (fully clad, alone - though this is an assumption and the facts relating to it are not in evidence). The chickens have come home to roost though i.e. a big night out drinking will be followed by a mother of a hangover. It is reasonable to assume the hero, if I might assign this slightly ironic appellation, understands this universal law of cause and effect - because he has a beer fridge in his bedroom and it contains a jumbo can of Mother energy drink. Like the room, the fridge is impeccably clean, not a mouldy, half-eaten sandwich in sight. Why his mother tolerates his late night shenanigans is anybody's guess. As an aside, in case we think he is a complete loser a vintage guitar is magnificently displayed in the corner of his room - to suggest he is single and attractive to women (don't ask me how I arrived at that conclusion, psychology is a dark art and if things were obvious to everybody everybody would be doing it - but let's just say: if it were a set of drums the conclusion would be different).
Having consumed some of the drink we see our man transformed, showered, shaved, besuited, striding forth- with a giant raptor on his arm. It is safe to conclude that he doesn't have a large aviary at home and that the birds are symbolic. The dawn chorus of roosters have morphed into a Golden Eagle - eagles symbolise journeys of flight that open up new vista or perception and dimensions of awareness and the ability to look at things with new eyes. Just Like Mother Revive 'with caffeine, tea and yoga matté/moga latté (?)'. The eagle eyed among you with have spotted that Mother's competitor, the big daddy of the energy drink world, 'gives you wings'. Though their brand totem is a bull - which represents (depending on your culture) virility, strength, stamina, confidence, fertility and determination. Our hero certainly exudes all of these masterly traits. But I am left with one niggling doubt: I hope his consumption of half a liter of caffeine, sugar and magic berries has worked their magic on his negotiating skills. He'll need them to get that thing past the bus driver.
One for the road.
Concluding our foray into magical realm of animism, archetype and advertising let me leave you with this mini masterpiece from McCoy's crisps. In my analysis I can only conclude that it is just plain weird. "Your friends are not your friends'? 'Get your share." "Inner Tiger"… I'll leave it to you to infer what you will. Inferior or superior?
* Sticklers for detail will know that David Ogilvy actually had a job with the agency Mather & Crowther where his brother Francis has secured him a position after showing management the famous sales manual D. Ogilvy had written for AGA cookers (presumably) during lonely nights on the road.
** The tale is quite interesting - Read:
Pop psychology: The man who saved Coca-ColaOne hundred years ago, this psychologist launched his career by researching the effects the popular beverage had on people's motor skills and cognitive abilities.
The Syrian humanitarian crisis escalates every day. But in a universe where lolcats and "You won't believe what happens next" links to Upworthy and Mashable expand to dominate news feeds it is getting more and more difficult to capture attention for anything more than a brief moment of time. Important messages are history almost as quickly as they are emitted, sucked into the black hole of the internet.
This ad for Save The Children features Stephen Hawking's unmistakeable synthesised speech announcing "The children of Syria have no voice. That is why I'm giving them mine. What will you give?". It works on a couple of levels - It is a little bit odd that the soundbites from children are spoken by a computerised voice - like Fred the text to speech option on an Apple Mac. It is disconcerting to hear, and incongruous married to the image of a young child. We are used to the beseeching tones of celebrities like David Beckham asking for your help (actually Beckham is only slightly less robotic), so you have our attention.
The reveal of Stephen Hawking's twisted frame is still confronting, even though he has become an accepted part of the cultural landscape. It has the effect of making the viewer feel a little guilty - if he will help (when he looks like he could use a hand himself), then maybe I should too?…With Beckham and other celebrities there is a slight residual impression of 'why don't you flip them a few hundred thousand from your undies endorsements?', not with the prof. I don't imagine his undies endorsements amount to much.
And then there is the clever double entendre…lending his voice…priceless.
In most categories there are conventions. We become immune to even shocking messages. Finding surprising ways to connect is always going to be a challenge - more so in the era where fast, trivial distraction is escalating and immunising people against messages that matter.
Other than the obligatory 'hipster' beard this ad from Cadbury in the UK has all the hallmarks of an old fashioned ad - so processed that is lacks any kind of originality or warmth. Ads by the numbers.
For a while there cadbury were breaking new ground with existential gorillas playing drums and kids with spooky eyebrows that flexed to the rhythm all in the service of a glass and a half of joy.
This piece seems to reference Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks skit in a curiously irrelevant way. Maybe it's a precursor to a raft of ads that will, inevitably, reference the Happy by Pharrell Williams song/video (we should run a sweepstakes to guess which big brand will be the first to co-opt it).
My guess is the real problem with this ad is that it wasn't made by the core brand team - it is a promotion for some weird line extension/brand marriage (Ritz/Lu) semi-enrobed biscuit snacks aimed at commuters on The Tube.
Lu? Sounds like Loo. Who names a food after a commode?
But hey, it's Friday. Here's your Friday Frolic:
This blog is a notepad of contemporaneous and sometimes extemporaneous thoughts about creativity, strategy and ideas.