We weren’t going to do an original agency Christmas card. Everyone’s too busy. No one wants to take responsibility. It usually has to be approved by too many people. There are arguments over who’s ultimately responsible. So we sent out old-fashioned cards. In envelopes. With stamps. Seriously.
But one day, a couple of weeks before Christmas one of our developers, Joe Palasek, was teaching himself Canvas, the HTML 5 element that lets you draw on a web page.
He created snowflakes that changed direction in response to the movements of a mouse.
Because this developer sits in the middle of the creative department, the CCO walked by, noticed the snow, and suggested, “that’s cool; we should use it for something.”
A digital CD, who also has to walk by the developers on a regular basis, peeks at it and asks, “How would that look on Google Street View?” Joe lays it over Google and it looks pretty good. He then thinks “Why not change the markers to different icons.” Ten different creatives, writers and art directors sitting within view, randomly throw in ideas. Two art directors sketch up 99 percenters, Elvis, a ginger bread couple, a Menorah and more.
Next, a creative technologist thinks we should make “epic cards” for locations that include Abbey Road and Stonehenge along with a “gallery” page that shows the most popular locations. So Joe, along with co-developer Luke Sideris, builds Snowify.me and wraps it in an interface so people can create and share their own.
A few years ago tech guys didn’t sit inside the creative department at most agencies. Creative directors didn’t start an idea by looking over the shoulder of a programmer and getting inspired by a rough rendering. Creative teams didn’t work so collaboratively in order to make someone else’s idea better.
But my favorite line and sentiment comes from Joe. “I was just playing around teaching myself Canvas. I had something cool, but it wasn’t an idea or a concept until other people made it one.”
- Put technology and development inside your creative department.
- Let everyone play and experiment and learn to make stuff.
- Encourage collaboration beyond the two or three person team.
- Create a space that fosters collisions.
- Just do it.
Like everyone else in America who still reads I am deeply engrossed in Walter Isaacson’s biography on Steve Jobs.
It’s a remarkably honest and thorough account. It introduces us to Steve’s early influences. It explains the genesis of his design obsession. It reveals his many flaws.
While the entire book chronicles the story of Steve’s life from childhood to the end, every chapter is a story in its own right. You probably have your favorite. The lost battle with John Sculley. The launch of Macintosh. The board trying to kill the best ever Super Bowl spot. (They failed because Chiat Day secretly refused to sell off the media.) Jobs’ questionably hesitant but triumphant return. The complex rivalry between Jobs and his sometimes nemesis, sometimes friend, one time savior Bill Gates. Or on another front, the confrontations with Michael Eisner that prompted Disney to back off its ill-advised attempt to re-write Toy Story.
Readers can cull endless lessons from these stories: how to simplify, how to believe in an idea, how to adhere to standards, how to trust your intuition, how not to back down. In some cases – personal hygiene, treatment of friends and family – we can also learn what not to do.
But one of my favorite lessons doesn’t come from Steve. It’s attributed to Mike Markkula. Upon his official return to Apple in 1997, Jobs fired Markkula from the board and then asked Mike to join him on one of his long walks. Jobs told the former chairman that his goal was to build a company that would endure. He asked Markkula’s advice. Markkula shared this.
“Lasting companies know how to re-invent themselves. Hewlett-Packard had done that repeatedly; it started as an instrument company, then a computer company. Apple has been sideline by Microsoft in the PC business. (by then Apple’s market share had plummeted from 16 percent to four percent). You’ve got to reinvent the company to do some other thing, like consumer products or devices. You’ve got to be like a butterfly and have a metamorphosis.”*
The language and the metaphor may not sound brilliant. But you sure can’t argue with the advice. According to Isaacson, Jobs didn’t say much that day in 1997, but clearly he agreed.
Lasting companies know how to re-invent themselves. I think the same might even be said for individuals.
Got a favorite story from the book of Jobs? Please share. And as always, thanks for stopping by.
Photo “borrowed” from Christopher Dernbach’s blog Mac History.
*Excerpt from Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs, page 320.
This just in: 50 percent of all social media campaigns go unnoticed. They fall on deaf ears. Consumers don’t give a damn. And brands are wasting time and money. In large part because they don’t know how to listen to consumers or deliver content that matters to them.
At least that’s according to the recent TNS Digital Life 2012 Report. The study interviewed 72,000 people from 60 countries and discovered that consumers, particularly those in the US and UK, are pretty cynical. In those two countries 60 and 61 percent of consumers have no interest in engaging with brands via social media.
Are you surprised? I’m not. In fact, we probably don’t need a study from TNS to tell us this. Look how much mediocrity is out there under the guise of “brand journalism,” or “owned content.” Much of it might feel good to its creators, but it’s a yawn inducer for customers and prospects. The fact that anyone with a laptop and Internet access can be a content creator simply means we have “mountains of digital waste” cluttering a landscape populated by friendless Facebook accounts and blogs no one reads.
While some marketers are getting it right, most appear to be missing an opportunity. Consider that almost half of all consumers willingly comment about brands on review sites – not to complain or praise mind you, but to share experiences and help others. So they’re using social media to engage. And they’re talking about brands. They just don’t want to have those conversations with the brand itself.
Ironically, when it comes to making purchase decisions, consumers rely as much or more on a brand’s content than they do on peer recommendations. They just want it on their terms and in a relevant context.
Let’s recap. Consumers want brand information and use it to make decisions. They willingly take the time to engage online, albeit for the benefit of each other. And too many brands, at least according to this study, can’t find a way to engage.
Why? TNS suggests inefficient targeting.
My conclusion would be a lack of creativity — a shortage of truly interesting, entertaining and useful ideas. Daily posts on Facebook – polls, questions, promotional offers (though the latter tends to work) – might cut it with a select group of already engaged fans. But will they hold their attention long term? Or delight them on a regular basis. Or succeed in attracting new customers?
I’m a huge fan of earned attention. And owning content. And being in the publishing business. But the one downside of everyone and anyone — and that includes brands and companies — being a content creator is that just like cable television, the good stuff becomes a smaller and smaller percentage of all that’s out there.
We’ve all seen, and hopefully created, stuff that’s good. It might be an event that lasts a day. Or extends for a month. It could be a price promotion. Or a new product launch. A single app. Or an ongoing story. Even a Facebook page. When social content is great, when there’s actually an idea to capture our imaginations, when there’s an execution to delight us, we want to engage.
Social media may have changed everything. But not the need for new, interesting, useful, relevant, and well-designed ideas. Let’s make more of those.
Most successful ad agencies have been built around a combination of the two: relationships and ideas. The former yields the kind of partnership that lets a brand team totally immerse itself in a client’s business, work as a partner rather than a supplier and take a vested interest in the success of the business.
That’s not to say that relationships are more important than ideas. After all, it’s the latter that goes into the market, attracting attention, generating buzz, driving results. No one gets famous from a relationship; it’s the ideas that make you immortal.
But you could argue that relationships contribute to great ideas in a big way. A strong relationship results in trust, which invites braver thinking. It yields a partnership that encourages client and agency to work through challenges and problems together. And it motivates creative teams to work even harder than they already do. We all want to please a client who appreciates what we do for them.
But if Will Burns, the founder of Ideasicle, is right, the relationship side of things just might be diminishing in value. In Will’s words, many clients care less about relationships and more about getting an idea faster, cheaper and more efficiently. He should know, having held senior account and new business roles at agencies that include Wieden, Goodby, Arnold and Mullen.
In response to that “trend,” Will created Ideasicle, an expert-sourcing agency. Similar to the crowdsourcing model of Victors & Spoils, which also posts briefs to a vetted community of creatives, Ideasicle calls on an even smaller stable of hand-picked, experienced, award-winning creatives who have joined as “experts.” All of them have worked with Will in one of his previous positions, so he has a good sense of how to match them with assignments.
When Ideasicle secures an assignment – sometimes from an ad agency needing to augment and internal effort, but more often from a brand advertiser looking for fast, affordable access to top talent – it posts the news to members of the Ideasicle community. Those who are available agree to work on short notice as a swat team. They collaborate with each other online — conceiving ideas, revising them, making each other’s concepts better – but stay invisible and anonymous to clients. Hired guns, they work for the joy of creating and the guaranteed payday.
Knowing my interest in crowdsourcing and new models, Will showed me a quick peek behind the curtain. The talent is impressive. And despite their anonymity, more and more clients are embracing the model, caring not who works on their business but rather what comes out of the process.
Like Victors & Spoils, which has generate impressive PR and clients – Harley Davidson, Levis’, Virgin America, General Mills, Discovery Channel – Ideasicle is challenging the traditional models as being inefficient and over-priced.
I’m not saying I agree totally with that sentiment. In a world where the only real trend that matters is hyper-connectivity, you could make an argument that brands need a deep relationship with an agency like the one I work for, where a dedicated hyper-bundled team can deliver creative, paid media, earned media, mobile and digital all working together to produce coherent brand experiences that consider everything from context to culture.
But it’s also likely that the new models, anxious to prove the maxim that abundance breaks more things than scarcity, are to be taken seriously. Perhaps we should embrace aspects of what they do ourselves, finding ways to source ideas from more people and places and deliver them even more quickly and efficiently.
What do you think?
I’m a huge believer that we should constantly challenge ourselves by trying new things and starting from scratch sometimes. So my newest project is to teach a full semester at Boston University. Wish me luck.
The College of Communication has offered me the chance to develop a syllabus for a course titled Strategic Creative Development. Granted I’ve taught and run workshops, lectured at numerous colleges and even done a week long executive in residence at the University of Oregon. But all of that pales compared to what it takes to prepare for a full semester. I have a newfound respect for anyone who teaches.
There’s still a month to go before the semester starts, but here’s what I’ve got so far. Thought I’d share it in hopes that you might have suggestions for how to make it even better.
Course Description (what it will say in the syllabus)
Advertising strategy is no longer only about inspiring the creation of an ad. Today it has to inform how brands generate content, engage in the social stream, encourage participation, and create cohesion across all media. Likewise, creative concepts are no longer limited to the art and copy-based executions that defined creativity in the traditional media of TV, print and outdoor. They now include digital experiences, gaming dynamics, mobile utility, Facebook apps, crowdsourcing and experiences that connect the digital world and the real world.
In this course you will study, dissect, analyze and conceive creative ideas that include traditional advertising, but that emphasize social media, digital platforms, mobile apps and gaming dynamics to understand how brands connect with consumers in the new age of participation.
By the end of the semester you should have a broader definition of “creative” and some experience in generating ideas that take into consideration consumer participation, the role of influencers, the value in branded utility, and the importance of emerging social platforms.
Objectives for the course or why you are here
· Learn to think, solve, create
· Expand your definition of advertising creativity and possibilities
· Understand the new roles and teams in the modern creative process
· Practice generating creative ideas, working as teams
· Get better at evaluating yours and others’ work
· Push beyond the basics of traditional art/copy advertising ideas
What you’ll be asked to do
We meet but once a week, so attendance is mandatory. Missed classes will lower grades by half a grade per class. Three missed classes lead to an F.
A teacher can’t really teach creativity, students have to learn it by exercising their thinking and doing muscles. We can only be successful if you play an active role in class, engaging, debating, asking questions, contributing to the conversation.
Write (to help you think and analyze)
Creatives and strategists have to express their ideas well. As part of our learning you’ll maintain a blog and post a minimum of 13 weekly blog posts (approx 400 words) with links and appropriate embedded content in fulfillment of assignments. Example: find an innovative transmedia campaign, identify objective, back out audience/community, determine strategy, assess creative.
Over the course of the semester each of you will make three or four stand up presentations of that week’s blog post content and findings.
Maintain an Idea Book and generate creative solutions
I haven’t totally figured this out yet, but am inspired by Professor Deb Morrison at U of O and her book on the creative process.
Work over the course of the semester will include individual assignments and a semester long team project. The latter will consist of developing insight, strategy, driving brand idea, and campaign elements that include social media, mobile, experiential, utility and advertising.
Work/think/create all the time
Creating and thinking doesn’t happen in an allocated three-hour time slot once a week. Nor does it occur during the hours you schedule to do “homework.” It is a way of being and living. You want to learn to observe, discover, capture and develop creative ideas all the time. Inspiration is in the books you read, the movies you see, the museums you visit, the subways you ride. Learn to be open to it.
The Semester (presuming things go as planned)
Every class will include a brief lecture from me, student presentations, a full hour of workshop and creative development and in many cases guest speakers. Some pretty good ones I might add, presuming client presentations and new business pitches don’t get in the way. (Don’t worry, Matt Britton: I will find a place for you.)
January 23: The End of Us and Them
The transition from Bernbach to Zuckerberg
Creating in an age when readers and viewers want to create, too
January 30: Strategy in the age of participation
What is the brief, what does it look like, what does it inspire?
Guest: Kelsey Hodgkins, digital strategist/planner, Mullen
February 6: Is the big idea dead or alive?
Do we need them? Integration vs cohesion
Guest: Dave Weist, Tim Vaccarino, ECDs Mullen (VW, Cadillac, Jet Blue, Google)
February 13: Social from within
Being social vs using social
Guest: Daniel Stein, CEO and Founder of EVB, creator of Elf Yourself and Facebook Studio
February 22 (Tuesday make up)
Surprise visit from young creatives who’ll work with the class on their projects while I am away for the week.
Week 27: Transmedia story telling
Complex narratives that inspire participation
Guest: Helen Klein Ross, Founder Brand Fiction Factory, Betty Draper on Twitter
March 5: Strategic and creative in the mobile space
Where on the funnel? Adding value through utility
March 19: Learning from the individual
What we learn from Gary Vaynerchuk, Sheena Matheiken, Dan Savage, et.al.
Guest: Sheena Matheiken, founder/creator The Uniform Project
March 26: Creating experiences and owning the media
Go Mo, Shocking Barack, Chalkbot and more
April 2: Crowdsourcing
A new marketing and creative tool/strategy
Guest: John Winsor, Founder/CEO of Victors and Spoils
April 9: Inventing things
The importance of technology, innovation and APIs
Guest: Matthew Ray, Creative Technologist
April 16: Thinking Small
Make great stuff with small budgets
Guests: Michael Bourne, SVP Social Media and Michael Ancevic, SVP/CD on Olympus Camera’s Will it Blend, Pen Ready and Tough
April 23: Do brands need a soul?
Having a purpose. Richard Branson, Alex Bogusky, Simon Mainwaring
Guest: Scott Henderson, Founder of Rally the Cause
April 23: Bringing it all together
Presentations from semester long projects
If I don’t suck, it will in part be due to the generous advice from the likes of Professors Tom Fauls, Deb Morrison, William Ward, Tracy Tuten and Scott Sherman. And insightful suggestions from some of the smart young professionals I work with, including Brenna Hanly, Angela Ruffino, Elena Romeu and Eli Perez de Gracia.
What do you think? Got any suggestions that might help me out?