Thursday, March 29, 2007

Miss Y on going six feet under

Think about the typical words that people might use to describe a piece of advertising or design that they liked: beautiful, modern, clean, elegant, happy, funny, cool. And yes, actually that's what many ads and designs strive to be. We want to get people to like the ideas and brands we promote so we give them what they like (to see, hear, read, experience...).

But there's something refreshing in the approach of doing just the opposite of that. Give people what they don't like. Work with concepts and visuals that are unpleasant and/or taboo instead of ones that fit into the norms/comfort zones/the cool. Tap into the things that run through the undercurrents of society. Basically use turn-offs to turn-on people... And it works.

As one of the lighter examples, look at Dove's campaign for real beauty. Where models were regular women (with all kinds of figures) picked out as they went about their daily lives. Where the tricks of Photoshop retouching were revealed. Ads that challenged society's concept of beauty. Or take a look at Naked Communications’ Fray Bentos (pies) campaign that offers “real pies for real blokes” through The 'Real Bloke Challenge' that moved around to various cities in North England getting each city to back its local ‘real bloke’ through various forms of communication. Again, the real bloke comes in all shapes and sizes from anywhere in the social ladder, a challenge to society’s concept of what a real man is. This ad for YouTubers also fits into this category of showing what’s real.

What about something more uncomfortable? Like death. Actually that’s what got me started thinking about this whole thing. I was watching Six Feet Under (my personal favorite) which is about death, and I realized how uncomfortable I was watching the first few episodes especially when they started advertising death products like embalming fluid as if they were selling the world’s best facial moisturizer. The DVD box has this written on the cover: Everything Everyone Everywhere Ends. And I’m not the only twisted one out there that loves this show. It’s a best seller; people just love that someone dared to make a show based on such a taboo subject and that through some dark humor, it makes death an ok thing to talk about, even joke about... Actually AdAge’s Campaign of the Century (Funeral)by DDB NY for the VW Beetle is well ahead of its times in that it uses death and wills in a humorous way to sell a car.

I was reading an article in ICON magazine entitled 'Design is Evil' (Nov.2006). It showcases a variety of contemporary designers who are “producing work that aims to shock and undermine”. While a lot of this work seems a little overboard, they scream out their messages clearly (maybe too clearly) in a way that is very hard to ignore. In advertising this reaction is essential especially given that attention is difficult to capture for very long these days. Shocking and making people even just the slightest bit uncomfortable has the potential to alter peoples perception and reactions to certain subject areas.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Magical World of Soap Storytelling

Brands are constantly in search of a great story to tell, to entertain, to engage, to educate, to be discussed, to be memorable and off course, addictive.

Never ever did I think that I would be blogging about the merits of the Bold and the Beautiful and other Soaps, but then again never did I think I’d be blogging… I think it is safe to say that the Soap Opera has revolutionized the way we tell stories and has laid down the foundation for some of today’s best shows, Lost, 24, Prison Break and other addictive entertainment.

So what is it about Soaps that make them so extraordinary? 1 Multiple narratives 2 Intricate interwoven plots and 3 open ended formats.

Multiple narratives deepen the story

Traditionally most story telling involved a single protagonist or hero carrying a single narrative in a linear format e.g. Knight Rider, MacGyver or even Little Red Riding hood. Soap Operas on the other hand, have multiple storylines moving from ‘protagonistic’ to’ polyagonistic’. Multiple narratives give viewers a larger world to grapple with, more to discuss, more to do in terms of linking and theorizing.

Complicated Plot Lines instill the desire to reduce ambiguity

The average soap has anything between 5 to as many as 10 different plot lines co existing. Most will link somewhere in the overall story but storyline predictability is extremely difficult considering the combinations of possibility are innumerable. This ambiguity and the desire to reduce it result in conversation, thought, speculation and conjecture about the plot lines.

Open ended formats are participatory and addictive

Traditionally, most stories come with a basic format, a beginning, a middle and an end. The protagonist and context are established, a struggle introduced and finally transcendence of the respective struggle. Soaps on the other hand offer no such structure, no such closure. After each show the audience is left to participate in thought, theorization and water cooler discussion until the next episode. Open ended plot lines invite the audience to participate with the text itself. Compare the quantity and quality of conversation about a good one off movie in relation to a the dialogue generated by a single episode of 24.

Brands can learn quite a bit from these three traits that lay the foundation for much of today’s entertainment. Multiple layers deepen brand stories, intricate plot lines challenge people to reduce ambiguity and engage themselves. Finally open ended formats offer the consumer a participatory role as opposed to merely a receptive one.
It is the combination of these three traits the could offer the consumer a more sophisticated, interesting and engaging brand story that would lead them to want to spend time with.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Singing along to the Humdrum of The Karaoke Brand

‘We need to be consistent’ or ‘media neutral’ is a term we hear at least once every other day…and in full honesty I haven’t yet understood the logic behind this dogma. I’m assuming it is rooted somewhere in between the misperception of the consumers incompetence and their gold fish ability for recall.

Now who am I to question decades of branding practice or the collective intelligence of the industry practitioners, but I can say that there is no existence more mundane then a consistently consistent one…a predictable one.

It’s not rocket science, the most boring people on this earth, the people whom if asked to sit next to you at a dinner party you would rip your eyeballs out, squeeze lemon on, sprinkle some salt and shove them back into your sockets, are the ‘Karaoke People’. The karaoke people are the people whose words you can literally mime or sing as they are coming out of their mouths, people in whom you can see the wheels and cogs screeching and gyrating in their heads before they pump out their humdrum lyrics.

Contrary to ‘The Karaoke people ‘,I think the most interesting people we meet are people with multiple layers not personalities, people who surprise us, people who you learn something new about everyday…we as human beings need to have an element of unpredictability to stop us from gunning ourselves down from boredom, I see no reason why brands should be any different…I’m sure I’ll be ranting and raving about this a little later.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Rants From the Right Side - Guest- Miss Y on Street Art

When you work in advertising you’re always on the lookout for what’s cool, for rising subcultures and trends, etc... anything that you feel will help in breaking out of classic advertising (like TV, radio and print). Anything that will reach target audiences faster and with more impact than what they’ve grown used to (and bored of).

Inspiration comes from the street. Not surprisingly... this has become commonplace: you see classic dance mixed up with some hip hop moves picked up from the ‘streets’ and bang! it’s born again as contemporary dance... you see fashion on the runway inspired by fashion from the subway. Seems like the advertising industry has seen street artists gaining popularity and is attracted to the fact that this activist art form is on the street, it’s surprising, it’s in your face and can stop you in your tracks. So bang! guerrilla advertising is gaining even more popularity... advertising has moved into the street artists’ territory. Which is not something that is going to be accepted very easily I think... Advertising is like the antithesis of street art. Most of this art is actually ad busting, culture jamming, anti-brands, trying to take the street back from corporations and their advertisers...

So we’re in the middle of this now, what will the street artists do (given that their art is based fundamentally on reacting and causing reaction)? What’s happened so far is that some have actually been hired on a freelance basis by advertising agencies or corporations to bring brands back into cool, back into the streets. Others, fuelled by the ‘invasion’ have stuck to their message as artists and even stepped up their activism.

As with any other channel of communication, I’m sure guerilla advertising will be used and abused. The only difference here (as opposed to television and other media) is that nobody can really own the streets so it’ll be interesting to watch the reaction to this tug-of-war.

Check out Wooster Collective for street art from around the world.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A night out with Mr Cuervo

So the other day I was at this party.

You know… one of those random parties where a cocktail of nationalities and industries mingle polite conversation with dashes of need-to-know gossip. The kind of party that can either be the toast of the Dubai social calendar or fizzle out into a number of sub parties that, at best, leave you talking to the same people you showed up with. This particular party was working out quite nicely, so credit to ‘Dermondt’ the party liaison.

I was chatting to a fellow ad man about industry salaries or how certain campaigns registered on the crap-o-meter and how certain campaigns that were labelled as crap weren’t as crappy as everyone made out, when I was cut off mid-sentence by the kind of entrance that would put Jack Nicholson axing his way through a door of the Overlook Hotel and shrieking ‘Here’s Johnny!’ to shame.

There was nothing particularly ‘ownable’ about the character who’d just walked through the door other than his lack of ‘ownability’. He oozed effortless pretension, his smile exuded an aura of dishonesty, his perfectly styled hair looked like his GQ library was full of torn out pages he used as references during his frequent visits to Tony & Guy. His clothes and shoes inspired a new model of fashion retail whereby you give window mannequins names allowing customer to stroll into a store and try on an ‘Exclusive Youseef’ or ‘Bad Boy Roy’ (fragrance included). Though I was sure I’d never seen him before, something seemed familiar.

He began sauntering through the room, hugging people who I was pretty damn sure didn’t have a clue who he was. His handshakes alternated depending on who he was saying hi to, from the basic hand-to-hand all the way to the African American right shoulder to right shoulder brotherly love embrace. He interrupted three ladies in the middle of their conversation to deliver all-round compliments so impeccably executed his mirror must have shot itself.

And I was up next. I braced myself and crossed my fingers in hope that this was not going to be a time defying activity, where seconds suspend brevity.

‘Yo!’ he smiles. Ok, interesting segmentation, I guess it may be my loose jeans.

‘Hi, how are you?’ I politely respond.

‘Fine, fine…I know you!’ he confidently declares.

‘Here we go’ I think to myself.

Thus begins the name-throwing guessing game. On the 6th round of ‘do you know’ my phone rings ever so expediently. Our conversation ends there. As the night continues, no matter where in the relatively spacious 2 bedroom Barsha apartment I am, his voice carries ubiquitously in the background. Most of his sentences kick off with an ‘I’, though on one occasion I did hear a name (perhaps a reference to himself in the third person?).

Toward the end of the night, as the tequila kicked in, the revelation struck! I knew who he was – He was to me what water is to a fish, and that’s probably why I couldn’t recognize him. He is everywhere, all around me; I hear and see him constantly, a hundred times a day…he is bad advertising.

He is the advertising that thinks it knows me and as a result categorizes me. He is the multiple and contradictory face of corporations with no identity, talking to different categories with affected sensitivity. He is that condescending barrage of mindless compliments that leave you yearning for a phlegmy cold. He is the impeccable packaging that roots itself in the ever-changing zeitgeist of the ‘now’, the packaging that masquerades in post modernistic values like individualism and freedom while standing for nothing short of the contrary- conformity. He is the hypocrisy of a personal message in an impersonal manner, the tedious advertising that made heroes of the inventors of TIVO and DVR. Finally, he is the advertising that enormously overestimates the role it plays in people’s lives…

So, despite the next day’s hangover, I have tequila to thank for two things: First, for sparking my revelation. And second but more importantly, for speeding up the inevitable response to bad advertising-helping me forget.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Wanted to thank everyone who voted for our Account Man Popup making it Russells post of the month!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Coffee with Saatchi's head strategist, Brenda Kassir

D: What's the greatest proposition of all time...

B: Woman don't buy lipstick, they buy hope. Revlon

D: Could you argue that a proposition like that is the antithesis of that supporting the dove campaign for real beauty? i.e 'Hope to be' Revlon vs.. 'just be' Dove?

B: The Dove campaign is tapping into another equally true insight. It is a reaction to years of fashion and cosmetic campaigns which give women an unrealistic image to aspire to.

Both brands appeal to women with different psychographics and needs.

Great brands create a need or fulfill an unmet one. Both Revlon and Dove have carved their niche.

D: You talk about dove carving a new niche, quite typical of this day and age, does more choice at the hands of the consumer mean less loyalty? Or will familiarity remedy excessive choice?

B: On this point I agree with Mark Earls. We behave as if the 'brand' were a tangible thing that exists separate from ourselves - a monstrous deity that demands complete obedience and regular feeding. We create a 'brand world' and assume that people have intense relationships with the products and services we sell. We spend all our energies and time philosophizing on the 'brand essence' and the 'brand triangle' and the 'brand meaning' and 'brand onions'.

A brand is a function of what people have experienced in the past. In reality, most products people buy are low involvement and people will buy the products they have in the past which suit them because of price, distribution, word of mouth, habit, the brand promise etc.

The moment something changes (either in consumers lifestyle circumstances e.g they get wealthier or poorer; or the introduction of a better alternative; or if the brand lets them down; or if they simply get bored because the brand has failed to innovate in product terms or in its image) they can easily change brands. Simple as that. Choice is a great thing. Brands that fail to stay innovative and fail to have a point of view on the world will lose out.

D: So where do the traditional agencys of today fit in tomorrow? The generation C phenomenon saw less agencys hands in superbowl ads this year, consultants are now weaving there way into branding, the plethora of web 2.0 superbrands like eBayYouTube, Flickr, Wikipedia have basically said 'who the hell needs an image when you got engagment'. All in all the new markcom paradigm isn't looking too good for us is it?

B: I think that whilst web 2.0 is opening up the way we use media (and web 4.0 will be even more powerful), it is no substitute for solid, long term brand thinking and creativity that comes out of a truly deep understanding of a brand and the collective psyche. I don't care much for one-off ads and short lived brand strategies. The result is a fad, rather than a long lasting brand idea.

I think we gave up a lot of ground when we decided to get specialised, I liken it to trying to complete a jigsaw without all the pieces of the puzzle. The most fulfilling and effective campaigns are the ones where all elements work together - consumer insights, media strategy, creativity, CRM, PR. In this context, youtube and myspace are just another part of a strong marketing mix.

D: Could you give us a couple of your favorite examples of strategies that ran themselves nicely across both old & new media? Any from the region?

B: Saatchi & Saatchi's work for Folgers coffee is a brilliant insight into waking up or being able to 'tolerate mornings' better with Folgers. It showed a great understanding of the target market (early 20's) not only in terms of its tone of voice and message takeout, but also the integrated media used - print, viral, ambient.

The work done for Telecom New Zealand for the launch of video capabale mobile phones (which enabled people to make and send films on their mobile phones) is another well integrated, and innovative campaign. The campaign objective was to encourage people to start using the video service by driving them to a web site competition for people to create their own films. Advertising for the web site and new video service comprised TV, blogs, sampling, internet.

Regionally, I think the work we do in this region for Red Bull is world class. We bring to life the 'Red Bull gives you wiings' spirit and philosophy in a regionally relevant way through the use of now famous events (E.g Flugtag and Air race), sponsorships, TV, print, ambient and digital.

D: Bren as always it's been great chatting with you, you are without a doubt one of our favourite guests. Many thanks.

Monday, March 05, 2007

VIDEO- The New Account Man Pop-Up

So I was sitting in a meeting a couple of days ago hearing, not listening, to someone superfluously pre-selling an ad to a client. Now please don't get me wrong, I think pre-selling is important, target, insight, creative strategy, 'campaignability' etc...
But, most pre-sell I hear involves someone explaining execution to someone else who in many cases is a member of the addressed audience which makes the need to explain cause for worry.
This is the part of the meeting where my hearing shuts off and escapism kicks in as I begin to imagine how funny it would be if we had an account man pop out of every magazine ad...

Thought it might look something like THIS!

Many thanks to 'Dolla Sign Doxy' for the much needed comedic input.


PSS. We are being nominated for Post of the month, vote here

Sunday, March 04, 2007

A Heartfelt Letter to all the Planners out there...

A short video going out to all planners click HERE to view.

Courtesy of Aardman Animations
Image courtesy of Russel

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Rants From the Right Side - Guest- Miss Y on Stock Photography

One picture can say a thousand words. Now try it the other way around: One word can say a thousand pictures. I've been juggling those words around as I try to figure out what to make of the relationship between advertising and stock photography.

First instinct? I hate stock images and the way they stereotype and package people, emotions, moments... I hate how image banks slice up life into categories and neatly fit mostly intangible concepts into 'boxes' you can open with a keyword. Hi, welcome to the image bank. Please enter your
keyword(s) to access the image(s) we have decided appropriately fit your request.

But in advertising, let's face it, time and money are not on our side. We have tight deadlines, low budgets and high demand. So I'm not exactly at liberty to go out and take my own photos (like I did for university projects). Time, models, the right scenery, the perfect lighting...all hard to come by. So the remaining options are stock photography or a hired photographer. I would, if the budget allowed for it, go for the latter where I can at least cater directly to the concept.. I'm not actually taking the photo but I can make sure all the elements are exactly as I envisioned them.

But here's another problem. What's excruciatingly irritating, in this region in particular, is that stock images have become the norm to such an extent that even when the client allows for a photo shoot, he expects the images to be like those of stock photography...forced, fake and disgustingly perfect, lacking any real essence or emotion. I end up back at square one. The concept and layout become controlled by these 'alien' images that take the personal edge off the end result.

Like X so cleverly pointed out, this issue has been around for a long time but the way people perceive and deal with photography is evolving. There's an image overload, everyone's taking pictures (my grandma has a digital camera even though her TV is still one of those 12 channel, the remote is heavier than the TV kind of TVs). People know what real is, they love what real is (YouTube, reality TV). So why do we keep feeding them images that they just know aren't real?

Do advertising and stock images go hand in hand because we're selling stereotypes too or are we selling stereotypes because we use stock photography? I know there's no clear cut answer to this issue (Read this yesterday from Russell: " You get carried away with rhetoric and enthusiasm and forget that the likely scenario will be that everything will be a blurry munge like it was before, with this new element added in") but some blurriness would be nice.