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Posts from July 2008

Before the Gorilla there were the Chimps

I've believed for a long time that we fundamentally misunderstand how advertising works.

This misunderstanding is a function of a larger misunderstanding about the nature of communication and, by extension, the function of media.

When we think about communication, we think about transmitting messages from our head to other heads. Media allows one head to reach many.

But - I don't think that much content is really being transmitted. When you've been to a conference and watched a bunch of presentations back to back, how much content do you really retain? And yet, you definitely form impressions of who you liked and didn't.

How much of what you say is really about message transmission, and how much is phatic - designed to elicit emotional responses in others, in order to establish or reinforce relationships?

The same is true with successful advertising - it's not really what you say that matters at all, but how you make people feel.

As usual, someone had already worked this out, so I can now steal from the very wise Paul Feldwick, in reference to the commercial above:

Now what's going on in commercials like these?

Certainly there are some statements being made about the tea, but they're very generic. I mean good tea, fresh tea, when a good cup of tea really counts and so on. Probably every other brand of tea throughout the last four decades has been saying more or less the same things. So what is it that's making the difference? Well of course it's the monkeys, stupid.

Somehow 30 seconds of entertaining nonsense leads to a situation where people not only choose this brand but will pay 35% more for it.

Feldwick goes on to point out that we are really uncomfortable with this idea, because we cling to our rational self conception, as obviously flawed as it is.

When I read that I suddenly realised that the Gorilla really wasn't very groundbreaking at all - we just thought it was because it disrupts how we continue to believe advertising works, in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

In spite of the chimps.

The rest of the essay is here and it's brilliant - you should go and read it now.

If you didn't [shame on you] then remember at least that our only job, the only thing we need to do, is to make people feel good. As Jane McGonical says, we are all in the happiness business now.

To put it another way:

'We believe that if you are going to invite yourself into someone's living room you have a duty not to shout at them or bore them or insult their intelligence. On the other hand, if you are a charming guest and you entertain them or amuse them or tell them something interesting, then they may like you a bit better and then they may be more inclined to buy your brand.

Folded Paper

The IPA Excellence Diploma is inviting nominations for candidates for the 2009-10 programme, which starts in January.

They are hosting a couple of open evenings at the IPA in London for people who might be considering the course.

-         Wednesday, 6th August (5.30pm for a 6.00pm start)
-         Thursday, 25th September (5.30pm for a 6.00pm start)

More details are available here, but the gist is that the 15 month course is designed for people from any communications discipline who have 3-5 years under their belt and want to develop their knowledge of brands and communications, their strategic thinking, and their own opinions.

I did this course a while back - it resulted in my thesis, which has helped shaped my thinking ever since. 

I'm mentoring a candidate this year, my mate Louise, and that's given me even more to think about.

I recommend it highly, if you like thinking about what our industry does and should do, alongside a bunch of other nice people who are interested in the same thing, under the guidance of some of the leading thinkers and practioners in the business.

And writing essays.

Sadly I won't be at the open evenings, but I'm happy to discuss the course in the comments, if you have any questions.

Binary Beverage

So the Carling iPint from BMB is currently one of the most downloaded free applications on the App Store. It's top ten in the USA and I don't think you can even buy Carling here. Maybe this will get the brand to expand into new markets, as the Gorilla did for Cadbury.

[Yes I got the new iPhone. Yes I did queue up. I really, really didn't want to.

I didn't enjoy it. I spent hours in the Apple Store. I read an entire book in the queue.

I tried to enjoy it as a piece of immersive ethnography. I tried to think of it as a means of gaining some insight into how Apple manages to create demand, truly create demand, by listening in to conversations.

People mainly were just concerned that they would run out, and would endlessly ask staff if this was the case.

Ultimately it was just a painful experience that I wish erased from my memory. I wish I hadn't dropped my old iPhone in water the Friday the new one came out.

Look, I don't want to talk about it.]

It's being described as the future of advertising.

I do think mobiles are important for what we do, I do think that we should be thinking about making stuff that's right for phones, not thinking of them as a pipe to push TV or banner ads through, and I do think that things that use the accelerometers as the interface engine are awesome.

I also agree with Ian that a sprinkling of geotility would make this application amazing, but that it's already very cool, probably the best ad for an iPhone that has been done, that people coo when they see it, and that people in pubs all over the land are going to be playing with it and showing it to their friends and that.

[Don't blame Ian for the neologism, that monstrosity is my fault.]

But let me pose you, dear reader, a hypothetical question.

Let's say you had been asked to be a judge for the Campaign Big Awards, for the Digital category.

Let's say that iPint had been entered, as the world's first interactive pint of lager, and that the judging criteria stipulated that originality was considered important, that new ideas or vitally refreshed variants of earlier ideas should be rewarded, because freshness in creativity is self evident.

Let's then say you saw the video above, for the iBeer application, that had been around for about a year.

What would you do?

[UPDATE: BMB and Molson Coors are being sued for 12.5M English Pounds. Apparently they contacted the iBeer creators, couldn't get a deal sorted, and then did it anyway.]

Feel Better or Prophylactic Advertising

Feel Better
[From here]

I've seen these Tylenol posters around New York for a while and they're great. I really like them - anyone know who did them? Well done.

Ads for painkillers have been stuck in a product power paradigm for as long as I can remember. They dramatise the pain, with hammers and that, and then show either blessed relief, with suitable bird tweets, or high impact demolition, hitting pain where it hurts.

Tylenol's new campaign elevates the brand's role to a higher order proposition - making you feel better. In fact, the tips contained in the ads and on the website are, more often than not, attempts at pain prophylaxis - ways to stop you getting the headache in the first place.

This no doubt seemed counter intuitive when the client first saw it - why would I prevent the pain for free, rather than treat it with my delicious analgesics?

Because it positions Tylenol as an expert on pain and as a brand that wants to help you feel better, not sell you painkillers.

Of course, for each set of tips on the site there are the relevant products to help alongside, but the point is the focus is on helping you feel better, holistically.

[They have an incredible, baffling, number of ways to package up acetaminophen [which is what they call paracetamol over here].]

The site is really simple. No bells, no whistle, just tips that are useful for chronic pain sufferers [they have no tips for hangovers].

Consumers have been adding their own tips to the ads - such as this advisory not to mix the product with wine. 

The only question I have is: why is the Tylenol website favicon the Netscape logo?

Tyl Fav

It cannot create your doppelganger


My mate Andy just sent me this, to warn me against attempting to make doppelgangers of my ninja self using a shredder.

Japanese "home electrical appliances" retailer Amadana have enlivened a dull webatalogue (and website) with some character and humour, appending these cautions to a number of their products, which is how they found their way here.

So this is a communication vehicle of some kind. And it seems have a viral coefficient sufficient to get posted and passed on.

But it describes the products in negative, highlighting silly things you can't do with each one. Nothing to do with the quality of the devices. Everything to do with being just silly enough to be worth sharing.

Bathetic tropes are very appealing since the dominant brand voice, for every big coporate brand, is po-faced, grammatically, and politically, correct seriousness.

There is something distinctly unappealing about anything that takes itself too seriously, person or brand.

They also sell their brand book on the site, which is either radical transparency or absurd hubris.

Radiohead: First Ever BitCast

Radio HEAD

I'm not going to add to the already excellent praise and discussion around the House of Cards videolisation.

Oh no wait, I am.

But only a little bit. Nothing substantial. Promise.

It just occurs to me that since RadioHEAD released the video as data, and actively encouraged people to develop other visualisations of that data, that House of Cards may be the first ever bitcast piece of content.

Bitcasting, which I've mentioned before, was Nicholas Negroponte's idea:

In Being Digital by Nicholas Negroponte, the former MIT professor of media proposes an idea he called Bitcasting. He foresees a time when the form in which content is consumed will be decided at the point of consumption.

An example, by way of illustration. The weather is bitcast - all the core data is contained in the transmission. Then, at the point of reception, I decide if I want to consume it as printed report, as  an audio stream, as video, as interactive simulation, and my computer dynamically generates the manifestation.

To which I'd only append: my computer, and a Google visualisation API, and express my wonder at how disturbingly prescient that book was.

Ideas are New Combinations

Bacon Bar

I was recently introduced to Vosges Chocolate by my mate Jenna.

They have a little shop in Soho a block from where I work. I have walked past it innumerable times and yet I have never seen it. I had seen the Molton Brown store, which is right next door.

I wondered about that.

I have had Molton Brown stuff before and I like it. It makes the bathroom feel fancy. I had never heard of Vosges. So perhaps there's some form of confirmation bias in operation here.

"It is the peculiar and perpetual error of the human understanding to be more moved and excited by affirmatives than by negatives." --Francis Bacon

We went inside and the people in the shop knew a lot about chocolate and were very nice. I had no intention of buying anything. It's very posh chocolate and I don't really eat chocolate much at all.

Then they gave us free samples. A bunch of them. They asked if there were any I wanted to try. I was fascinated by the bacon chocolate you see above. It sounded disgusting. My brain revolted.

[I have never understood how American cuisine blends sweet and savoury foods - bacon with syrup just seems wrong to me.]

I tried some. It was amazing. To steal from Joey from Friends [something which drags me back to an idealised verion of 90s NYC]:

What's not to like? Chocolate - good. Bacon - gooooood.

So I bought a bar. And gave it to a friend. And showed some other people the store.

[They had already been there. I assumed since it was invisible to me, it was invisible to everyone. This is also probably a form of confirmation bias.

Actually this might be related to another cognitive bias people exhibit - what I call the I'm Special bias.

Basically, I think asking people why they do things is pointless - they don't know and, worse, everyone in the world believes they are special.

[Some study I saw showed that 90% of people think they are above average intelligence.]

That said, people are very, very good at modeling other people's behaviour. So one way to trick the I'm Special bias is projective research - what do you think your best friend would do in this situation? Why did she buy X?]

So - the shop was nice to me and I now like them and actively advocate them. 

The ethic of reciprocity is a powerful human imperative.

But that isn't really what I wanted to talk about.

Their bacon bar is a new combination, which is one way of describing all ideas.

When genius steals, it builds on and from the elements. The more polarised the elements, the more interesting the combination.

Perhaps another good way of thinking about this way of thinking is what Matt Webb calls Idea Scaffolding - ideas supported by, built out of other ideas.

Like using movement as a generative metaphor for the web, which he does in that presentation.

Or the shift from web pages to a web of data, much of which we will be creating, passively in the physical world - personal infomatics.

And, as Tom and Matt point out in that presentation, everytime you combine one set of data with another, new kinds of services emerge.

And somewhere at the intersection, or combination, of SPIME [SPaceTIME] data and social data, lies the web/world equivalent of a bacon bar.

Unofficial Olympics T-Shirt

UNITYMy mate Ed has made the UNOFFICIAL OLYMPICS T-SHIRT as part of his new project SCHOOL, with his mate Hoon.

It's designed as a counterpoint to all the negative sentiment the Beijing Olympics has been stirring up, and a reminder that the Olympics is all about UNITY, which it demonstrates by featuring every single competing nation, in a beautiful word track.

There are only 888 shirts available, because the games begin on 08.08.08 - a cheeky and excellent piece of manufactured scarcity.

The Paper Part

Transmedia Campaign
This is the paper part of the transmedia presentation - it was published in Campaign the day of the conference.

Some people found the presentation via the piece, and vice versa. The live part was tailored for the INFLUENCE theme. I'll see if that feels like a good thing to post later.

I talk about the nature of the experiment and then finish off by pointing out that major advertisers are actively following the model Jenkins established and I stole:

When I first started talking about this, people would question whether it would work for all brands. It requires a lot from people – it attempts to distribute identity and knowledge, to drive the formation of brand communities who piece the brand back together, together. Fine if you’re Nike  - but how would this work for fast moving consumer goods?

Last month, at Media 360, Jonathon Mildenhall [Vice President Global Advertising and Creative Excellence] outlined the thinking behind Coke’s Happiness Factory as transmedia creativity.

A non-linear brand world, accessed via multiple accretive touchpoints: adverts, building towards a feature length film, an online virtual world, and from here comics, games, mobile applications and so on.

You can download the whole thing here

[Again you might need to change the file extension to .pdf]

And learn more about the Coca Cola transmedia vision here - it includes a virtual world of the Happiness Factory created by Starlight Runner.