I’ve got beef with this billboard in Chelsea. To start with, what company does this ad belong to? Are the hands supposed to look like they’re simply emerging from azure? Or were they intentionally designed to resemble severed digits? If the answer is the former, then this is a poorly designed ad. If it’s the latter, then why does this advertiser think severed digits do the job of promoting a line of jewelry without context or copy? Is jewelry in fact what is being showcased? That’s a lot of advertising dollars to leave audiences with so many unanswered questions. I’ve got beef.
Nonprofits and cause-minded organizations, we know, have embraced professional design and branding services to help them connect with audiences and influence opinion. Charity Water is one great example. Brand balance, minimalism and cleanliness are everywhere on the Charity Water website…traits typically absent from the marketing toolboxes of 501(c)3 operations. The Girl Effect’s viral video campaign is another.
GOOD business writer Joe Ippolito says that design and branding matter to causes, but so too does research. “Sophisticated videos and flashy web pages can be fantastic but they’ve got to be right for your organization,” writes Ippolito. “That means knowing your audience. Talk to the people who are going to use your product or service. If you’re trying to help a particular group of people, go find out what sort of help they truly desire. Question all your assumptions, learn all you can about your audience, then come back and design something simultaneously stunning and strategic.”
Heal the Bay’s video ‘mockumentary’ about a plastic bag’s journey to the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch‘ – an area of the Pacific tarnished by plastics and other debris trapped by North Pacific currents – is one such ‘stunning’ example of a nonprofit employing sleek production values to create clever marketing. But it is also an example of an organization thinking about its target and giving that audience tools to influence policy. While the video appears to be aimed at those best positioned to move legislation (in this case, banning single-use plastic bags in Los Angeles), it quickly found a home in classrooms, here and abroad. To date ‘The Majestic Plastic Bag‘ has generated more than 1.7 million YouTube views.
Nielen’s Global Trust in Advertising survey says that most digital users trust, above all, the recommendations and opinions of their peers. The study, pasted below, is based on 26,000 respondents in 56 countries. From Monday Note: “The survey also provides a grim view of what people trust: they put more of their faith in a branded website (58% positive), a brand sponsorship (47%) ad, or even a product placement in a TV series (40%) than in a display ad on a website or on mobile (33% each)! Even worse is the general distrust of advertising: on this list of 19 ad vectors, only 5 are are trusted by 50% of the respondents.”
Thanks to @GerardoVergara for spotting this interesting graphic illustrating that while social media is a global phenomenon, each platform is making the world, a small world. Social networking, though, is only part of the story. “Mobile devices are also fueling social addiction. comScore looked at individuals aged 13 and above and as a result, they believe that mobile social networking is going to be the wave of the future.”
Interesting video by start-up Percolate explaining the shifts we’re seeing in the world of content creation. “One of the most beautiful things about the Internet is this sort of radical discovery where you start in a place that you’re familiar with and you trust and you drill down and you drill down, you chase the white rabbit and then you end up in some wonderland that you didn’t know existed.”
The best marketers tell stories. The worst end up marketing their marketing. This is about the ones in the middle.
My clients are a smart bunch: passionate, well-read, informed. I think they secretly became marketers because they love telling stories. It’s unfortunate that many of them shortchange the best stories they can tell.
As a small business owner I worry sometimes that I don’t defend with enough gusto ideas that make creative and strategic sense. The tension is always between following my creative instincts and adhering to the dictates of a client with a specific vision. It’s a fine line. Do I weave more brand into the creative, or worse, more corporate messaging? Indeed, on those occasions, I second-guess not having become an English teacher.
I acknowledge that most of my clients recognize good ideas and want to keep them intact as they go through rounds of feedback. In many cases this is due to a reasonable desire to get office-wide buy-in and remove another item from the day’s checklist.
Those of you on the agency side know what this looks like. Your idea works its way up a surreal approval ladder, gnawed at by executive fear, emerging in a new and egregious form: promotion. Promotion is not marketing; it is sideshow at worst, zero percent financing for a new car at best. Many serious companies fail to recognize this.
What, then, is good storytelling?
Take Volkswagen’s popular TV spot, ‘The Force.’ A child dressed as Darth Vader roams his house trying to harness supernatural powers on a plastic doll, his dog, his mom’s exercise bike. He finally succeeds when he lays his hands upon dad’s Volkswagen. The ad works by playing on our understanding and appreciation of the Star Wars franchise. Dig deeper, though, and it gets at the more tangible love affair thirty-something parents have with their kids and their kids’ idiosyncrasies. To date, 47 million people have watched the spot on YouTube. It’s Neverland, only in Yonkers.
And yet Volkswagen doesn’t mistake art for commerce. The logo is there, and so too is the shiny product. But it’s the boy’s story as much as it is the car’s, and no positioning of the logo at the ending frame is going to erase the memory of little Vader’s stubborn belief in his costume’s power. And while this is risky for a company to leave a stronger narrative impression than a brand impression, it’s also courageous, and ultimately strategic.
The occasional courageous campaign doesn’t mask the fact that, in Neil Gabler’s words, ideas just aren’t what they used to be. Gabler says that “once upon a time, they [ideas] could ignite fires of debate, stimulate other thoughts, incite revolutions and fundamentally change the ways we look at and think about the world.”
Are larger forces to blame? Faced with such fierce competition for jobs, are employees and their leaders just throwing their hands up? Maybe social networks are to blame. In Gabler’s mind “it is certainly no accident that the post-idea world has sprung up alongside the social networking world.” Social media, one might argue from the extreme critical end, begets a groupthink euphoria that is as narcotic as it is mind numbing.
If storytelling is so important, then how do marketers create a culture in which employees are able to mine the kinds of stories that connect with audiences?
It is in style for brands to act in a way that seems human. What this looks like, at least on the surface, is a public airing-out of a company’s shortcomings: take for example those self-flagellating Dominos TV ads touting the company’s quest to make a better pizza. Is this really a strategy for a brand to be perceived as more human? Or is this a brand being ironic? If it’s the former and signifies a trend that is catching on, then companies might be emboldened to get back to storytelling in a way that is less about defacing their brand for short-term social web satisfaction, and more about building long-term brand loyalty.
Years ago HSBC made a TV spot TV spot about a washing machine company executive that sends his middle manager to India to find out why washing machine sales have spiked. Local Indian restaurants, the manager discovers, are using the machines to make batches of mango ‘lassi’ yogurt drinks. Here we have a spot with a beginning, middle and an end: the problem that needs to be solved, the journey to find out, followed by discovery, which is the solution to a business problem via a most human need: quenching thirst.
No agency can guarantee that their marketing will resonate with viewers the way the time-tested campaigns I mentioned have. But what a creative company can promise to do is to remember certain principal values that go into developing creative and that, if remembered, provide an opportunity for a company to do lasting and memorable work.