Running away to the Circus: Dispatches from The Festival of Commercial Creativity – Day One, Session One

Circus_logo

yesterday saw the first day of Sydney's first Circus – a festival of commercial creativity for the advertising, media and communications industries.  and a rather cracking event it was too.  a series of speakers took us through what creativity was to them, how it was under threat, how it is thriving and how a changing world places ever incresing demands on those to work to use creativity to commercial ends.

despite starting rather dubiously – we were invited not to tweet, and to only ask questions if we thought that they'd be relevant for everyone (not the most encouraging of starts for a festival aiming to – in part – explore an evolving communications landscape) – it turned out to be a rather inspirational day…

this was how the first session of day one went down…

Circus_jeffrey_cole first up was Jeffrey Cole who eleven years ago founded the Centre for Digital Future at USC.  his talk was on surveying the digital future – and in particular the impact of the Internet on our behaviours.

he introduced himself as a TV guy, and observed that we 'blew' TV – in that we knew it was going to be a mass medium, but didn't track audiences to see how it was changing their lives.  important questions like where did the time to watch TV come from?  what did it displace? …went unanswered.

emerging media are way more powerful than TV.  in 1988 for the first time kids were watching less TV in the US, the result of the rise of computers and the web.  where Cole believes that we lost the opportunity on TV, we can make up for it with online, and eleven years ago set up a research programme to track a panel over time as the internet changes their life…

key findings from the research are around teenage behaviour and in internet, but crucially, Cole seeks to make a key distinction between those behaviours and attitudes that teens do and have because they are young and have time, and those behaviours and attitudes which are permanent.  what will drop off as life gets in the way?  versus what do they do that is 'transformational' with regard to the society that they will grow up to form.

he observed that college students setting up home for first the time are particularly instructive. no landline and no newspapers for them. but also no cable (90% penetration in US so this is a significant trend).  Cole believes that whilst we're not looking at the end of cable, we are looking at the end of the cable pricing structure as it stands.

things that teenagers abandon…

  • teenagers say they're not affcted by advertising.  which isn't true.  like all of us they are they just don't like to admit it
  • they believe that unknown peers are 'just like me' and can be trusted – similarly this comes to change over time as they learn the world isn't always what it seems
  • teenagers don't use email and claim to only need IM, texts and facebook (they go further and say that voice calling is 'an intrusion' – similarly this is an attitude that fades into adulthood
  • they want to know all the details of their peers' lifes in what they describe as 'ambient awareness' (a phrase strikingly similar to the continuous partial presence that Faris described in May 2007); Cole observed that Twitter works because of this … ambient awareness is a general understanding of someone's situation, and a reflection that teens want not fifteen minutes but fifteen megabytes of fame
  • we're not initially good at distinguishing truth from fiction. Cole argues that this is because we didn't have to question the mass media we grew up with (the Chinese for example are better at critical media assesment) …we are better at understanding amateur vs proffesional, which Cole suggested was due to beter understanding the limitations and boundaries of ugc
  • he talked about Murdoch and MySpace, and reflected that at the time of the NewsCorp purchase he commented that "it's a great investment but he'll never hang onto the teenage users" … an angry NewsCorp rebutted by saying "look how much money we're making" but Cole by that time already had the hindsight to see Friendster and Geocities go.  to teenagers, he said, "social networks are like nightclubs", despite this, Facebook is going nowhere (yet), a fact underlined by his observation that at their last Zeitgeist, Google seemed nervous (they have no place nor role in Facebook's world)
  • finally, teenagers have no sense of the nature of and need for privacy.  for good reason the law says you can't sign contract till 18.  whilst this attitude means that kids upload potentially very compromising things to the internet, this is not a lifelong attitude, and with maturity comes a sense of what is public and what is private

which brings us to the things teenagers keep, and with them significant implications for society, brands and advertising…

  • teenagers have, and keep into adulthood a total control over their media.  Cole cited the 17yo who first unlocked his iPhone; he didn't want to unlock it for anything in particular, he unlocked it so that he knew that he could
  • a huge implication for the media industry is that permanent changes in attitude mean we're seeing the beginning of the end of platforms … Newspapers, in Cole's opinion, are history. environmental reasons is one reason for teens, but furtermore the concept of owning media is in it's last days as we move to the cloud.  on newspapers, teenagers not using print is a permanent shift. they are very much into news, but the internet delivers this.  Cole's prediction is a stark one – because every time a print reader dies they are not being replaced, print has about 5 years in the states, and around 8-9 years in Australia (perhaps)
  • teenagers don't grow out of not wearing watches (the mobile is their watch and alarm clock and much else besides) – this is not a problem for Rolex, but will have consequences for more mainstream inexpensive watches
  • TV is not on a set top box and is not scheduled.  YouTube is TV, and TV is any content you watch on your schedule
  • Game playing is serious business that ecourages task-oriented behaviour and is similarly a behaviour and attitude that is here to stay
  • "Mobile isn't everything – it's becoming every thing" – it's rapidly becoming the primary and predominant place where teenagers get media
  • on the iPad, Cole observes that it is NOT the fourth screen, rather it replaces the second screen (the pc), and that we're witnessing the beginning of the end of the PC as standard home device for many people
  • finally and most significantly, there is an emerging and permanent shift in the perception of real versus perceived empowerment. we are passive readers no more, we contribute and correct. we self-diagnose our illnesses. we negotiate on deals based on pre-research and start our negotiations based on wholesale prices … the "internet is best at shining light into dark places", giving everyone power over governments, over repression … this most important trend will emerge and very much in Cole's opinion stay with us.

Q&A

will Facebook eventually be displaced?  yes, but it will continue to grow for around four more years. it will be supplanted by another more fragmented social media landscape.  Facebook won't be abandoned completely, but will become more passive – an ongoing reminder of the biggest social networking site there ever was or ever will be.

2% of people drop off the internet each year…  they leave because they change jobs or their PCs break. with few exceptions their back within 14 months.

advertising will remain the model for content. Cole wants to see content survive, and so wants to see digital advertising survive.

I asked about permanent vs transitory media.  there was suggestion that whilst the legacy media (BBC, NBC, NYT) were permanent, emerging media (notably social networks) aren't – they are transitory platforms that people adopt for a while before moving on.  will Hulu – for example – be permanent or transitory?  Cole's opinion is that all platforms will need to learn and adapt.  Google will adapt. as will Hulu.  legacy media brands – and indeed all media brands – will be defined by their ability to evolve.

Circus_agnello_dias next up Agnello Dias – creative director at Taproot, who talked to the festival about the remarkable story of advertising and comms work for The Times Of India, a story that began with a brief…

a brief to celebrate India's 60th year of independence. an argument broke out in the agency about whether India was on the verge or greatness or the cusp of the abyss.  the client talked about the country being at a crossroads. was India to go forward or back?  Dias scribbled a paragraph describing 'India vs India' as a creative brief, but as time ran out the client ran the brief as an ad.  the brief.  a dat later Dias was informed that the brief wouldn't be an ad after all … it was to be the front page editorial.

the front page became audiovisual content which became a YouTube viral.

which became a debate.  a debate so emphatic that The Times Of India decided to call the debaters bluff…

the response to the video was a national platform that created a parralel decision making group, bypassing party politics and supported by politicians.  facilitating democracy in a nation a billion people strong.

what has any of this to do with brand and selling newspapers?  nothing.  to the client it's not about that.  it's about building credibility – something that has huge benefit for a paper… after all who is the prime minister going to call?

the latest phase was editorial that ran on the anniversary of Mumbai terrorist attacks. The Times Of India ran a headline saying love Pakistan – a controversial position that stimulated a great deal of opposition, even people in Dias' office didn't want to work on the campaign.  but the objective was to start a debate that would lead to peace, rather than perpetuate an argument for war…

Circus_toi_fp_love_pakistan

the jury, according to Dias, is out on whether or not they should have done it. they will see what results.  whatever happens, it's a phenomenal story … a story of a media brand acting not as reporters or observers but as instigators of change.  as provocateurs of debate.  as writers of the future.

Circus_jess_greenwood next up the enigmatic Jess Greenwood of Contagious fame who talked about projects not campaigns – and a shift away from the creation of advertising to the creation of projects with no specific timespan.  less say and more do, behaviour rather than talk.

Greenwood also talked about how everything is advertsing and – in a phrase of which I was particularly fond – that we need to be "less 360 in our thinking and more 365" … nice.  as an example she cited how after tweeting to complain about the music in the Air New Zealand lounge in LAX, her tweet was picked up by the airline in New Zealand who called the lounge front desk in LA who invited Greenwood to choose her own music.  this all took less than 60 seconds.  remarkable stuff.

so how do we change, well one we put insights before advertising. no more the Mad Men model of ideas leading executions, of working out how to execute ideas generated on gut feel.  two, its about engagement over reach (allelulia) – citing one advertiser who said they would rather have 100 engaged people than 1,000,000 passive ones.

the Contagious mantra is that branded communications in the early 21st Century should be Useful and or Relevant and or Entertaining.  a mantra she expounded across three main themes…

ONE – Inside Out Marketing

we need to stop mindlessly pushing marketing and product into the world and instead be the change we want to see.  as example is Operation Nice, which seeks to encourage people to embrace an emering sense of independence by saying that 'if you want something doing…'

her next example was Dulux who want to own colour.  rather than telling people that they want to own colour they behaved like they owned colour via an urban regeneration project.  they asked people which areas deseved colour, then launched Let's Colour.  they went to areas around the world and added colour, areas like Tower Hamlets. the brand managers and local communities did the painting, and produced some rather remarkable content…

their sucker punch is that Dulux 'own' colour, but communicate such in a very real and credible – or inside-out – way.  Greenwood talked about a smart approach by Dulux to how this thinking is deployed on a global via local level; the global mandate was to find out what colour means to your country, and make it happen through actions and behaviours at a local level.

Greenwood talked about mass media as an "iterative process", citing the example of how VW and a tiny Darth Vader 'jacked' the superbowl.  the ad was deliberately released prior to the broadcast to build buzz prior to seeing it on the Superbowl screen.  it is TV (advertising) but TV not just designed for TV – it's wholeheartedly designed for theiInternet.

another example from Levi's and their Go Forth organising idea (note not campign).  Levi's are using this idea to generate behaviour and action as opposed to making and broadcasting hyperbole. Levi's – amongst other things – built a community centre and funded the library in Braddock.  they are building infrastructure. they've opened workshops to give substance to their claim that 'Levi's makes things by hand and makes things the right way'.  this makes levi's meaningful.

Greenwood talked about four pillars of convergence in media and communications:

  1. AV experience on screen (whatever and wherever that screen may be)
  2. Interctivity of internet (facilitation two-way engagement, converstion, debate and cooperation and cocreation)
  3. Location-based functionality and customisation of mobile phone
  4. Real world experience

when developing insights and ideas we need to ask ourselves if said insight or idea can work in and across these four areas. if it can, then it could work…  for example T-Mobile create advertising as programming. if you're doing mass media it has to be this engaging…

"it's designed not just for broadcasting but for sharing.  they are creating mass media for the Internet, for niche media".

TWO – be Prolific not Precious

'Social media makes stories' – this, in Greenwood's opinion, is the evolution of user generated content … smart brands monitor and track the stories as they emerge around them – cue Gatorade Mission controlness.

another example is reformed drug addict Ted Williams, the story of whom was picked up by a journalist who learned he had a great voice for radio.  he made a film about ted's life.  which went from zero to 13m views in two days.  this in turn ws picked up by Kraft who used the Ted in their ad.  all of which is phenomenal enough, until you consider the timescale…

Monday – upload the video
Tuesday – watch the views pile up
Wednesday – Ted appears on TV with ad agency
Friday – Ted's voiced ad is on air

using social media to tell stories garnered 450m media impressions for Kraft.  and there are a plethora of examples where that came from…  Qantas flew the girl with the twitter handle @theashes to Australia for the Ashes.  all because said girl / handle got messages from people wanting the cricket score … a bit of support via #gettheashestotheashes and Qantas and Virgin were fighting it out to make it happen.

Hippo snacks example of using tweets as distribution management system and saw a 76% increase in sales.

and finally on proliferation, the South African low cost airline project (not campaign) around the World Cup in aid of being the 'unofficial national carrier' of the World Cup… the best thing about this campaign was something they hadn't planned for.  the airline offered free flights to anyone called Sepp Blatter, so when a dog came forward to say that that was his name the airline flew the dog around the world.

THREE -  Play and Gaming

the rise of play dynamics in marketing. Gamification. adding game dynamics into marketing but also product design.  Greenwood used the example of Ford who have a virtual plant on the dashboard that grows if you drive in an environmentally friendly manner.

NBC do market research not via a focus group or survey but via fanit, an initiative that I discussed in a post in May of last year.

Nbc_fan_it

Skittles pitched David Phoenix versus Skittles fans.

Mini gaming in Stockholm example. Steal the car.

one interesting point from Greenwood, if you're going to develop or have a game or app, make sure that you have an end to it, a climax or endpoint to which people can aim.

and finally in gameification a wonderful project called iButterfly, which uses an app that captures virtual butterflies to get vouchers to people.  smart, contemporary, embedded with utility and above all fun.  as Contagious as it gets.

three final suggestions from Greenwood…

  • ensure that your communications are Useful and/or Relevant and/or Entertaining
  • make sure your idea is created, developed and deployed for real people not marketing people
  • Be brave and make mistakes

and that was session one, post is way big enough so I'll write up the other sessions in following posts…

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