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.
UPDATE: About an hour after this post, and over 600 shares later, I received a request to chat from the Council of PR Firms. They were apologetic, engaging and open-minded. In fact, we are in agreement on a number of points mentioned below. And while it was not my objective to get re-invited, it became apparent that we both agreed this was too good a mini, real time case — proving the need for courage, creativity and collaboration — to not get presented at their September event. It demonstrates the ability of an individual to create, the courage of the Council to acknowledge and engage. And the ultimate benefit of collisions and collaboration. And so, I have been re-invited. The power of social media, even in the hands of an “ad guy,” never fails to astound.
A couple of weeks ago, a colleague of mine asked, on behalf of The Council of PR Firms, if I would speak at a big event they were planning in Boston. The theme was to be change, acknowledging that the industry needs more diverse talent.
Perfect, I thought and immediately agreed. Given that I’d just spent the last few years advocating and initiating change inside a full service agency – hiring new kinds of talent, changing work that got made, embedding more of a social media mindset and inspiring collisions, I figured this was right up my alley.
But yesterday the Council of PR Firms uninvited me. Apparently they found out that I was an “ad guy.” And damn if a PR organization would have an “ad guy” talk to PR students and young professionals about change and diversity.
There will be no shortage of great ideas vying for attention at this month’s Cannes Creativity Festival. But I’l be rooting for one in particular. Forsman & Bodenfors’ energy saving experiment for E.ON.
The campaign has made more than one list of Cannes favorites and has already picked up a gold pencil at One Show. So it will probably make some noise in France and take home a gold or silver lion for sure, and possibly even a bigger prize.
I hope it does. For the simple reason that it might inspire the kind of work we need more of from advertising agencies, be they rooted in digital, traditional or a combination of the two.
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, it’s pretty simple. It’s a campaign for E.ON’s Swedish subsidiary that encourages people to reduce energy consumption not with a vapid advertising campaign but rather with utility that combines user participation, personal data, mobile, gaming, and the Internet of Things. It shows customers their energy use in real time, their savings when they take specific action, and their standing visa vis their neighbors.
If that’s not enough contemporary marketing buzzwords checked off by this one application, there’s also evidence of iterative testing and crowd sourcing, all in the name of conscious capitalism. Whether or not E.ON is as worthy a company as this campaign suggests is another story, but for these purposes let’s stay focused on the creative.
Partnering with Maingate, a Swedish company that tailors technologies for smart homes, Forsman and Bodenfors worked with E.ON to recruit 10,000 homes to use an app that monitored energy consumption for an entire year. The app visualized usage in multiple ways — money being spent, battles among participants, an aggressive coach who implored you to perform better, and a tomagotchi whose life depended on your willingness to reduce your footprint — so that users could find the one most motivating to them.
A companion site let users track their progress, compare themselves to others with similar sized homes, and monitor the collective gains of an entire country. Users could share what worked for them, garner insights from each other, and create a story worthy of attention from the press, bloggers and social media communities.
In the end, the 10,000 users reduced their energy use by 12 percent.
We all know that the future of advertising and marketing is less about messages and pleas and more about inspiration. Yet inducing change, as we’ve learned from failed attempts to stop drunk driving, smoking, obesity, drug consumption, texting while driving is incredibly hard. It takes design thinking like this. And a belief in ideas that do, that involve, and that invite participation in order to achieve something worthwhile.
Sadly, most agencies won’t think this way until someone else wins a big award first. Then the race will be on. That’s why I’m hoping E.ON’s energy saving experiment wins big.
Above a TV spot that was part of the campaign.
“You make a film to learn a little bit about life and to have an adventure of your own. But little do you ever realize what’s actually in store for you.”
That’s but one of many sentiments and insights shared by my good friend and cycling partner Chris Szwedo in the above film, The Making of Eye on the Sixties, about the documentary he recently wrote and directed examining the work and career of photographer Roland Scherman.
This short captures Chris talking about the experience of crafting the full-length film. It’s a 12-minute narrative on photography, filmmaking, storytelling, creativity, fund raising and shoe-string budgets. But perhaps more importantly it’s a story about determination and a passion to create.
Two summers ago, Chris, an independent filmmaker, a lover of photography, and a child of the 60s himself, met the legendary Life photographer Roland Scherman (Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Woodstock, the March on Washington, etc.) after discovering his work in a tiny gallery in Orleans, MA.
As I recall him telling me, the images were remarkable. Arthur Ashe before his US Open wins. Bobby Kennedy on the campaign trail. Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell in a tree house strumming guitar and singing a duet. Bob Dylan, back lit and silhouetted, playing the harmonica.
Chris didn’t know Roland, but instantly understood that there had to be a story behind the man who’d created such iconic images. He decided then and there he’d make a film about the aging photographer. He tracked Roland down, introduced himself, convinced (not easy) the cantankerous photographer to cooperate and then endured, and grew to enjoy, their many road trips back in time – to the Washington Mall, to Woodstock, to Newport. He funded the film with a little bit of help from Kickstarter and good hunk of his own money. Then spend the better part of two years writing, filming, editing and narrating the production. He even composed and performed the music.
Though audiences welcome the film with both praise and enthusiasm when it plays in theaters, Eye on the Sixties may never be a mainstream documentary. It may never get to HBO or win big at the festivals. But that’s not why Chris made it. He made it because he had to make it. Because the story needed telling. Because the subject captured his imagination. Because it’s always more rewarding to make something for yourself than for a paying client.
Hope you enjoy this clip – it’s wonderfully written and reveals the director’s feelings and motivations. And if you get the chance, keep an eye open for the full length film.
Yesterday, in a class at BU, I gave a lecture and led a discussion about “advertising” creative ideas. We explored “big” ideas: Let’s build a smarter planet; Giving wings to people and ideas; Day One. We dissected “campaign” ideas: A long day of childhood calls for America’s favorite pasta sauce. We thought about “advertising” ideas.
While some are clearly the creation of a traditional advertising creative team, the higher up the idea food chain you get, the more you can see the contribution of the strategist, or at the very least the strategic side of the creative team.
Ideas like “Day One” don’t happen without a pretty deep understanding of the user.
With the proliferation of screens, the mainstreaming of social media, the omni-presence of digital technology and the arrival of the Internet of Things, it becomes essential to know a lot more than how a consumer feels about a category, a company or its advertising.
How does she use technology? When does she access content? What role does her community play? How does context affect her willingness to engage? What kind of value and utility does she expect from a brand? What inspires her to share? Can you turn her into an advocate?
Today, the very best creative people have to be able to ask and answer those questions. And the very best strategists have to be able to get to ideas as good as Smarter Planet or Day One.
Years ago, when we worked in a linear fashion – client hands assignment to account guy who passes it to planner who writes brief for the creative team – we didn’t need to be T-shaped or know all that much about each other’s roles. Now, however, we have to be 20 or 30 percent something else. A writer/planner. A designer/coder. A strategist/creative.
Which leads me to the second part of this post — my excitement about Planning-ness having its 2013 conference in Boston next month. There is certainly no shortage of conferences, planning or otherwise. But as we all know, too many of them are designed to have you sit and listen as opposed to think and do. Planningness labels itself an “un-conference” for creative thinkers who want to get their hands dirty, offering a bit more how-to and interactive workshop sessions than the typical conference.
That makes Planningness a good thing for strategists who want to get more creative, or for creatives who want to get a bit more strategic. There may always be a distinction between creative and planning, but look at the very best of new, big, or digital ideas and that distinction gets more and more blurred.
The Planningness Grant
This years Planningness is offering a $10,000 grant for anyone the best research idea or project designed to benefit the planning community and creative thinkers.
How do social ideas spread? Are smaller communities of influence a new trend? Does real time come at the expense of enduring ideas? Do we learn by iterating or by testing?
Come up with a proposal and get it in. You have three days left. But this is a great opportunity to learn something that will make you, your agency and the community of planners better.
Anyway, hope to see you at Planningness. Let me know if you’ll be there.