Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Engagement Planning, 50s Style...

Well, not as such. Let's call it applied empathy. A great passage from Hey Whipple, including a piece from one of my luminaries, Howard Luck Gossage. It's this kind of human understanding that underpins any good communication, personal or corporate.

Except for the handful I see in the One Show every year, most billboards are mediocre or bad. When an ad in a magazine sucks, I can turn the page. But if I live across the street from an ugly billboard, there's nothing I can do about it.
Copywriter Howard Gossage didn't believe outdoor boards were a true advertising medium: "An advertising medium is a medium that incidentally carries advertising but whose primary function is to provide something else: entertainment, news, etc... Your exposure to television commercials is conditional on their being accompanied by entertainment that is not otherwise available. No such parity or tit for tat or fair exchange exists in outdoor advertising... I'm afraid the poor old billboard doesn't qualify as a medium at all; its medium, if any, is the scenery around it and that is it not its to give away"
Until the day billboards are banned, either as "graphic littering" or "retinal trespassing," you owe the citizens of the town where your billboard appears your very best work. You must delight them.

This is a fantastically astute observation. Not because it shows sound business sense, though obviously that's a boon. No, I love it because it is so sympathetic to the audience member. I love it because it can only have come from someone who's in tune with his own feelings and experiences as an audience member.
It's also remarkably sensitive to the individual advertiser's sense of duty to the entire advertising medium. Each one of us, whenever we represent an individual client in an individual piece of communication, is simultaneously representing the entire medium and beyond that, the very concept of interrupted, unasked-for communication. And it's possible, believe it or not, to serve your client's interests well while damaging your medium - any credit card mailer circa 2002 will tell you. So it's nice to see Sullivan and Gossage take the long view.

I'm no expert in it, but to me this looks like a nice early iteration of engagement planning, too. Thinking that doesn't stop at "what's my brand like?" or "what's my audience like?" but continues to the very specific, very important question of "should my brand happen to appear in this medium... then how should it behave? Is it an invited guest in the audience's day, or an intruder? At what - a formal party or a gathering of mates? A sunny afternoon on the porch? A business meeting?" I'm going to stop now before this becomes very convoluted, but it's a worthwhile thought: if my product doesn't belong in this space, how it can it behave like it's been invited?

Monday, 18 January 2010

Ones to watch - 2010

I read with passing interest (read: loathing) the swirl of speculation and gossip surrounding last night's Golden Globes. What was more interesting was the slew of new information about this year's Summer Blockbusters. Odeon are warming my seat already. Read on...

The Road: Billed as the ultimate vision of a bleak, nightmarish future without purpose, without hope, this docu-drama into the modifications to the A303 Farnham-Guildford interchange has purportedly left test audiences weeping and clutching at their eyeballs.

Disaster Movie: an ill-judged new instalment of the never-popular "_ Movie" franchise which has yet again managed to rope in a cast of people who should know better for a project they'll Tip-Ex from their lives the second it hits the wire bins in Poundland, which it inevitably will. One to watch.

Rocky VII: left broken and destitute by his overinvestment in the Madoff Ponzi scheme, Rocky Balboa is about to take his own life for the insurance money when he's approached by a promoter with a truly unique offer. Go back in the ring for one. Last. Time.

Harry Potter and the X of Y: riding the crest of the interactivity trend, the first ever 'Modu-Film' allows each individual viewer to create their own film by picking a motif from Classical mythology, a special effects setpiece, a love interest, and their favourite chapter from the Jennings books by Anthony Buckeridge, which the Warner Bros. supercomputer stitches together into a three-hour epic and sells them all the figurines and promotional stationery for.

Mulan Rouge: what to do when the entire cast of your Riviera burlesque show drops out at the last minute, leaving no chorus for the night's big number? When Pierre LaFayette (Robert Downey Jr.) finds himself needing replacement dancers with three hours left before curtain up, he does the only thing he can: tries to persuade a passing retinue of Chinese soldiers to dress up. But the soldiers (Girls Aloud) have a secret of their own... time is running out, and the sinister Jean Valdemar (Dame Judi Dench) plans to unmask them. What ensues? Hilarity. Rollicking woman-plays-man-plays-woman comedy from the makers of Snatch.

Snakes on a Plane on a plane: cerebral meta-drama. When a wiring fault in the entertainment system of BA flight 515 from London to Sydney deletes every film except for a rolling loop of Snakes on a Plane, snake-handler John Deckard (Bill Nighy) faces a battle with his own paranoia - and the return of his own mental demons...

Schindler's List 3D! in the wake of blockbuster Avatar, Spielberg's World War Two masterpiece of suffering and hope gets the 3D treatment it deserves. Tragically, the black-and-white colour issues of the original remain uncorrected.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

The Tyranny of Failure

So here's a difficult one. The internet, that Janus-faced mistress, has thrown up two completely contradictory philosophies in 2009. It won't take a lot of editorialising to work out what I'm getting at:


Apps. Crowdsourcing. Blogging. 'Beta' as a positive state. Projects like Platform. Threadless. Personal data visualisers, like ManyEyes. A Battle Of Big Thinking winner espousing 'Brand Play'. The cheap piece of content, launched into the world with dreams of viraldom. Calls from all corners of industry - many industries - that what will save us is creativity and experimentation. Lovely.


Failblog. The #fail tag. The vitriol at Publicis for their cheesy Christmas card. (Beta) get torn apart for their first campaign (the best analysis can be found here). The sheer hatred of Jedward. Susan Boyle (She's ugly and talented! What a hoot!). 500,000 downloads of a song, mainly out of the desire to bring someone else down...

So, internet, what's it to be? Can we encourage experimentation with one hand and slap down failure with the other? The very term experimentation denotes the possibility of failure - a failure we need to be ready to embrace, without the glee of schadenfreude. It's fine for everyone to be a critic - but the problem is that nowadays, the criticism takes flight and spreads far faster than the object being criticised.

(*At this point, we could become very theoretical and talk about how hypertext itself is the final word in editorialising because it allows you to frame any thing you want to share with any other title you choose, and experts in NLP will know that this framing process irrevocably calibrates your expectations and final judgements - for example, would you rather look at this tasteless filth or this masterpiece? Exactly. I know I can feel my expectations shifting by the cultural values my peer group puts on things before I see them, and it takes effort to counter it. Let's leave this be, for now.)

'Get excited' and 'Fail culture' come from the same things - the glee and sense of empowerment that the internet (along with some other forces) has brought our section of society. But each of them runs up against more human problems. Critic Culture became Fail Culture because our brains are wired to fire more intensely and negatives than positives - part of our avoidance stimuli (that's why people watch Eastenders, not "Everything-is-fine-Enders"). And this climate of Fail is going to interact with the human limitation of Get Excited - fear. The fear of being found to be shit. Anyone who's seen me on stage (real, decks, or plinth-like) knows that I have had to suppress that fear in order to do anything at all. If our culture starts to act as an incubator for the very same sense of fear, well, I don't what's going to happen.

So: should we ease up a little on the criticism to encourage more experimentation? Or, in the wilds of the web, do we need efficient quality policing to keep society out of the dregs. I'd love to know. Help me.