Lately, Mullen and Century 21 have been killing it with fresh weekly, social content. The agency has completely redefined the speed and process by which it conceives and produces such digital treats as Tryptophan Slo Jam, the sale of Walter White’s house on Craigslist and most recently the fake introduction of Century 21-branded drone landing pads so you can guide Amazon’s delivery vehicles to your front door. Or poolside if you ordered floaties.
There is no end of BS being written about content, branded content, owned content, social content. But truth be told, most agencies are content to talk about it, blog about it and invent buzzwords to label it. They neglect to actually do it. Sure there’s an occasional Old Spice on Twitter or a big campaign like Daily Twist. But few brands have actually embraced the practice.
What makes the recent Century 21 stuff impressive is that it’s fast, fresh, topical, and creative. It’s not a simple post on Facebook, a question about what color you’d like to paint your new house, or even a crowdsourced photo contest. It’s original ideas, conceived, sold, produced and shared online under crazy timetables. Shit, it used to take (and in some cases still does) an agency two weeks to generate copy and layout and that was after a brief has been written, re-written, presented, approved and shared with the creative team.
But this is the future. So what does it mean? It means you better, pay attention to the world around you, filter it through your client’s brand personality, learn to generate creative ideas quickly and surround yourself with a collaborative team of makers. Get rid of of process, approvals and layers.
True if you’re not buying media you have to earn attention. Given that there’s a shortage of that rare commodity not everything will generate millions of views. But if it’s constant and produced regularly, over time it will attract both attention as well as a community of followers who’ll willingly welcome and share the best stuff. It may even be more valuable than that big budget media plan. And if it’s actually creative — original, new, something the world is seeing for the first time — it will, inevitably generate both press coverage and inbound links.
If you’re not doing this at your shop, you better get going. And if you’re a student working on getting into the business, time to get faster, more prolific and learn how to produce stuff yourself. Or at least make some friends who do.
(Full disclosure: Before moving on to BU, I was a partner and CCO at Mullen for years and remain there part time as chief innovation officer.)
Thought I’d share a lecture I threw together for an introductory creative class I teach at BU’s College of Communication.
I know it’s an overdone topic — The Big Idea, Dead or Alive — but the fact is it will never be resolved and there’s plenty of room for argument on both sides.
If you look at recent efforts — John Lewis Christmas Adverts, My Blood is Red and Black, IBM’s Smarter Planet, Red Bull Stratos — you could argue that big ideas still work if you define a big idea as something that becomes part of the cultural landscape, generates awareness and conversation among many, endures the test of time (or at least dominates the moment), and needs traditional media or advertising to call attention to it.
On the other hand, if you go back to George Lois’s criteria — that it has to change popular culture (rather than reflect it), transform our language, launch a new business or idea, and “turn the world upside down” — well, then that’s another story.
I would argue that we may never see another Marlboro Man or even a Just Do It. But there are qualities and characteristics of the original big ideas that still make for great, effective, compelling and meaningful advertising in a digital age. On that latter note it’s important to acknowledge that ideas do not have to be digital, they have to work in a time where digital dominates.
Gone are the collective experiences where we all tune into the same thing at the same time, save the Super Bowl and national tragedies. So by definition what we make has to be interesting enough to earn attention; shareable because users are the new medium; usable because value is preferred over messages; and finally customizable so that it works for the individual.
Anyway, take a look if you’re inclined and let me know what you think.
The saying used to be, “pick two.” Fast and cheap, but not good. Fast and good, but not cheap. Cheap and good, but not fast. You get it. Anyway, that’s a thing of the past. And if you need any confirmation, take a look at the five-spot online campaign that Mullen recently did for client Century 21.
It was conceived, shot and produced in less than a week. And it cost less than what most of us spend on Halloween decorations and candy. How is that possible? With a client that said, “here’s a few thousand, go do something.” And with a creative team that welcomed the opportunity with a can do attitude and do-it-yourself mindset. Not a “what are you kidding we can’t do anything good for that amount of money,” reaction.
If you followed the story of my re-invitation to speak to the Council of PR Firms Boston event, here’s a follow-up. Last night the Council held a great event for students and young professionals labeled Take Flight with PR. I had my suspicions about just how good an even it might be, but truth be told it was outstanding. Great speakers, a genuinely informative panel, a very modern day perspective on the profession and a turnout that included students from numerous colleges and universities in the Boston area.
My talk — titled Courage, Creativity, Collaboration — suggested that the lines between all the communication professions are blurring and that we should welcome, encourage and hasten the tearing down of any remaining walls. Great ideas don’t know whether they’re PR, advertising or social. And users don’t care.
Here’s my talk.
Recently IBM asked me to participate in a series of interviews for their Think Marketing Program. I was in pretty good company: Twitter co-founder Biz Stone; Harvard Business School CMO Brian Kenney; Zappos’ Tony Hsieh; and Zillow’s CMO Amy Bohutinsky, among others, all contributed. The interviews were conducted by former Wired and Fortune reporter Jeffrey O’Brien, who also contributed to Making the World Work Better: The Ideas That Shaped a Century and a Company.
Thought I’d share my interview here, as Think Marketing does require you to be a CMO or CIO to gain access to the community. Below, my answers to Jeffrey’s questions.