Running away to the Circus: Dispatches from The Festival of Commercial Creativity – Chow on Chrome and Vervroegen on Creative Constraints

Circus_logo

the second session of the first day of this week's Festival of Commercial Creativity, Circus, saw Marvin Chow, the Marketing Director for Google across Asia Pacific and Erik Vervroegen of Goodby Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco take us through two very different kinds of creative process…

Circus_marvin_chow first up, Marvin Chow, who talked about the marketing of Chrome, and about what happens when creativity meets technology…

declaration of interest – Google are a client of PHD Australia, where I spend a lot of my time

Chow  started by making a few points about Google:

  1. one, Google is an engineering company. engineering is part of the culture. Google people like to solve big problems, he cited that driver-less car came from an engineer asking how Google can stop people dying on the roads
  2. Ideas can come from anywhere, for example the search-able maps that helped coordinate the Queensland floods response was conceived and developed by a Sydney engineer who wanted to help
  3. the role of marketing at Google is to bring technology to people.  often this is about filling the existing Google pipeline with content, for example the Life In A Day project, an idea that came from Tim Partridge in London.  The Life in a day video … which was created from a bank of 80,000 clips has now been seen by 13m people on YouTube and will have a cinema release later in the year
  4. finally it's about bringing a culture of engineering to marketing.  engineers are interested in the responses of real people to the real world.  there's no substitute to what real people do in real situations.  Google test 6,000 marketing ideas a year.  they fail regularly, they fail fast, they fail well – test and iterate people, test an iterate…

given that context, what follows is "the story of how one product can change the world" … the story of Chrome.

we know, I suspect, one side of the Chrome story, but the other side is just how challenging it's been for Google to gain market share and gain penetration in a market with a significant, dominant and entrenched player.

the first question was why bother?  why invent another browser?  when Google asked people about browsers, they found that people found browsers indistinguishable from search…

the suggestion is that people see browsing = searching…  Chow made the point that "browsers are a lot like Tyres – we know they are important but we don't care or think about them every day"

the last time a browser launched [excluding Firefox presumably] was in 1995.  Google's ambition was to bring speed, stability and security to browsing.  but how to evolve the browser proposition? … it's been a long time since 1995 and people do lots more than browsing with their browsers, it's no longer a passive experience; browsers are TVs now (35 hours a video a minute currently being uploaded), they are phones and communication devices (100bn emails and texts are sent daily).  this was the new context for the browser and for Google – and how Chrome should drive the web experience forward.

the marketing of Chrome actually began with a comic book, which was distributed in december 2008 to innovators influencers in the web space.

Circus_google_comicChrome's comic book, distributed in 2008, was drawn by Scott McCloud and can be viewed, courtesy of Creative Commons, in full here

post the comic book Google looked to deliver more scale, and so developed ideas around platform of 'why switch?' … exploring Chrome's value proposition and product benefits.  they experimented and tested different benefits, for example this effort around 'simple'…

made by a small team in japan, this was broadcast in the US and became Google's first broadcast ad.  but here's the trick, Google didn't just test 'simple' – they tested a whole range of value propositions and product benefits.  and tested them not in focus groups but in the real world.  how did they measure success?  which ones led to the most Chrome downloads … real people in the real world remember…

'fast' (rather than 'simple') worked best, and so fast became worldwide creative brief, which eventually led to this…

"The idea of showing Chrome and speed in a different way excited us" noted Chow … the next iteration of comms was Chrome Fast Ball, which invited browsers to browse the web as fast as you think in a race across the Internet…

the coolest thing – and very Googley – is that these ideas are being crowdsourced from everywhere … ideas like this one which has since adopted another classic Google behaviour – users being able to generate their own versions of the ad.

two and a half years on from launch and 100m people around the world use chrome.  Google seem to be happy, although as the below chart from Wikipedia shows, there's quite a long way to go for Chrome yet.

Share of browsers.svg

one of the most innovative areas of crowd-sourced comms for Chrome is Chromexperiments.com … I'm not going to lie, I don't actually know what these are – the website says that "Chrome Experiments is a showcase for creative web experiments, the vast majority of which are built with the latest open technologies, including HTML5, Canvas, SVG, and WebGL. All of them were made and submitted by talented artists and programmers from around the world" … I'm not sure that I'm any the wiser :o(

one example of which is Arcade Fire's The Wilderness Downtown – saw this a good while back but didn't connect at the time that this was a Google idea.

Chow's two key messages … that ideas can come from anywhere, and that it's crucial to experiment and iterate.  he stressed the importance of understanding the problem that you're trying to solve, and whilst I'm not entirely that sure his solution – hire an engineer to fix it – is feasible for everyone, the last of his comments is true for all of us … that "you have to resist the voice inside you that says only you knows the answer" let go of the problem and let the answer come to you…

you can view Marvin's prezi here.

Circus_erik_vervroegen up next in session two was Erik Vervroegen, who as the recipient of seventy Cannes Lions, is a very creative person indeed.  his thesis was that life in agencies is hard :o( … but don't feel too sorry for the ad agency kids just yet, because it turns out that the result of constrained conditions often produces the best work … the more problems you have the more creative you have to be…

problem one: no money (but free media to use and a super-tight production budget)…

…which was a problem faced by Amnesty International.  the answer for whom was to make this…

of this spot for the Nissan QashQai, where Vervrogen's agency came up with creating an entire fake sport…

McDonald's had no money and no time to combat a recycling message so recycled ads to create new posters…

Circus_erik_vervroegen_McD_recycle

it's so beautifully obvious in retrospect, but it takes someone to imagine such an elegant solution in the first place.  take these examples for Amora Hot Ketchup, the shoestring budget necessitated a shoestring production, which the creative embraces and uses to its advantage…

some of Vervroegen's most creative work is for AIDS prevention charity AIDES who's brief was "nobody knows us and we can't advertise but we want to be the biggest provider of Aids prevention in Europe' … the solution: target the advertising industry with the magic word 'awards'

if you want proof as to whether or not the strategy has worked I urge you to Google image search AIDES, but here are some of the highlights…

Circus_aides_skull

Circus_aides_trouser_snake

Circus_aides_space

Circus_aides_underwater

Circus_aides_spider

Circus_aides_scorpion

stunning, brilliant work for a client with no money but a lot of balls.

problem two: the impossible brief

Vervroegen quoted the following actual brief from an actual real life client (I'm paraphrasing) "we would like exactly the same ad as last time only this time we want it to work" … you couldn't make it up.  another example was the bread client who said that they wanted to show an entire breakfast table and demonstrate that their bread was the softest.  the solution:

Circus_erik_vervroegen_bread

Nissan QashQai asked Vervroegen to come up with an ad that showed the car in the urban environment and which showcased every angle of the car.  every angle.  every.  angle.  they actually said "think of it as a 45 sec 360 degree pack shot" … cue this beautifully elegant solution in which a 45 sec 360 pack shot has never looked so good…

Amnesty International want to show the power of a petition.  specifically in the background they wanted to show the harshness of torture and execution … without violence.  this poses a bit of a problem, as it's hard to show torture and execution without violence…

problem three: Burnt out creatives

…who feel sorry for themselves and are producing tired work.  the solution, observes Vervroegen, is to continue to push the idea.  and push and push as far as it will go…  for example a brief to show how Mir washing powder 'keeps black strong' let to the obvious place of clothes with budging muscles, which was able to be pushed to these fellas…

Circus_erik_vervroegen_mir_arms

Circus_erik_vervroegen_mir_spider

Circus_erik_vervroegen_mir_vaders

another example of pushing a bad idea until it becomes a good one was for a brief for Playstation to show rebirth, the idea for which was this tired (his words not mine) approach…

Circus_sketch_egg

which was pushed to it's limit and resulted in this…

Circus_erik_vervroegen_ps_birth

…an effort which secured one of Vervroegen's seventy Cannes Lion in the print category.  the last example, again for Playstation was around a brief to show the excitement of the Playstation gaming experience and equate it to sexual arousal.  here's the obvious sketch…

Circus_erik_vervroegen_sketch_bulge

and here's the pushed execution…

Circus_erik_vervroegen_ps_blow-up

that was it for session two.  I'll aim to get session three written up tomorrow…

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