Category Archives: Insights
By Sam Mackisack and Alex Wood, DT Strategy Team.
This story will not begin, as most do, with a request for your undivided attention.
It will not ask you to remain in the palm of my hand, a willingly captive audience, until a thrilling climax which leaves you in awe of my storytelling abilities, and ready to do my bidding.
The reason it won’t do any of this is because I am not the storyteller.
Storyteller implies power; the dominant force driving a narrative. Alas, I am not that dominant force. Once upon a time, I was: if you wanted to hear the end of this story, you had to listen patiently as I told it. Now you, the reader of the story, decides where the narrative goes, and how (or even if) it finishes.
Narrative is now on demand.
As Douglass Rushkoff discusses in his new book ‘Present Shock’, we have experienced narrative collapse. I haven’t read this book. Nor will I. I will instead Google the book and read only the information I find most interesting. I may buy the book, perhaps only to display it on my desk at work as a token of my cerebral nature. Mr. Rushkoff may have written this book, but I am still the storyteller.
Consider Game of Thrones. On the surface, a piece of classic storytelling. But we don’t navigate the Game of Thrones world as if it were a story we were being passively told. We are in full control of how the narrative is exposed to us.
I may watch half an episode, the highlights clip, or a whole season in one sitting. Meanwhile, with a second screen, I’m navigating my own Game of Thrones story. I’m watching the Sean Bean death reel on YouTube. I’m posting it to Facebook.. Now I’m trolling the comments section with questions about how to pronounce his name. I’m reading a chapter from the eBook. Now I’m Googling where to skip to in the episode for the ‘juicy’ bits.
Basically, I’m diverging and chattering away through the whole story… instead of sitting patiently, and quietly listening. And when the story finishes, production ceases, and George R. R. Martin puts down his pen, it’s still not over.
Because I read Game of Thrones fan fiction.
The stories that most engage us now, no longer have a beginning, a middle or an end. And if they do, these are incidental to the true emotional value we get from them.
So as a brand, you shouldn’t be telling a story. Here are five things you should be doing instead:
- Give up trying to control your audience. You are not telling the story.
- Collapse your narrative. Forget about beginning, middle and end. It begins where they choose. The middle is infinite. And the Internet has no dead ends.
- Be a world maker. A world is an environment with structure and rules, but ultimately offers the freedom to act within them. Think World of Warcraft, Facebook, Game of Thrones. You don’t own or control this world. Access is the new ownership; whoever is engaging with your world, owns it.
- Know your context. Your world is not the only one they are engaging with. They are combining yours with everything else they can consume, hence one of the most immediate forms of meme: the pop culture mash up. It might not always be with things you expect – it could be anything you share the zeitgeist with.
- Feed your fragments. Fragments are all the pieces of your world, strewn throughout the cloud. They could be products, paid advocates, users, mentions, both brand and user generated content. Any of these can act as “rabbit holes” (entries into the world), “mushrooms” (invigorating content consumed along the way) or “golden apples” (rewards for participation). Any fragment should be all three of these things. The more fragments storytellers touch, the deeper their story runs.
And if you’re an agency: don’t present to clients in story form. Let your audience control the journey – they’re used to it.
This post by DT strategists Sam Mackisack and Alex Wood first appeared on DT’s excellent blog.
In today’s guest post, Australian strategist-in-NYC Grace Gordon urges young creatives to think carefully before ‘doing their time’ overseas – and while you’re at it, lose the cultural cringe.
There are two social phenomena that we can agree are uniquely Australian and handed out in spades amongst those in advertising: Tall poppy syndrome, and cultural cringe (incidentally, a great wiki read).
Cultural cringe leaves the more impatiently ambitious amongst us feeling stifled in Australia; we hit a self-imposed ceiling and feel like there’s only so much we can learn on our home turf. We romanticize the big budgets and big names of American and European brands and agencies – the ability to influence at a global level, the dollars to make a real dent. There’s an air of legitimacy about those who’ve ‘done time’ in New York or London over those who’ve climbed the ranks at home.
And then the ol’ TPS – Tall Poppy Syndrome. It’s a double-edged sword amongst our kind. On the one hand, the industry demands and breeds a particular kind of ego. On the other, it’s much easier to coast by as a yes-man, enabling the status quo and being everyone’s mate. Those who stand out are considered aggressive self-promoters, ‘a bit full-on’ or precocious and bratty if they happen to be on the wrong side of 30.
Since coming to NYC (and I fully admit I’ve only been here a year), I’ve come to truly appreciate how much we as Australians need to lose the cultural cringe and tall poppy baggage.
For one, the work we do in Australia is brilliant. A decent percentage of it is done with greater efficiency, flexibility, and sheer creativity than most of what I’ve borne witness to in NYC.
Our process is the definition of NYC buzzwords ‘lean’ and ‘agile’. Australian ideas are shipped from concepting to production at the speed of light compared to the incredibly sluggish and prohibitive nature of American consumer testing, legal and creative reviews. With small budgets, we’re forced to operate in remarkably creative ways to communicate to the masses in an intuitive and cost-efficient way. Instead of hampering ideas, I’d say this makes them thrive. We’re cheeky, irreverent and grab opportunities by the balls.
And that’s where our Tall Poppy Syndrome is interestingly flipped on its head. The Australian advertising world curiously allows dissenting voices with brilliant ideas to make it through despite our in-built cultural tendency to chop people down, and regardless of rank. Particularly in the case of Digital, we’ve seen some brilliant ideas coming through from the underdog independent or smaller shops; from agencies like Soap Creative doing innovative, world-renowned work for Lynx, to more traditional agency ideas such as Leo Burnett’s BYO Cup Day for Slurpee and Ogilvy’s Share a Coke.
Conversely, the hierarchical and deeply political nature of American advertising often means that a few VP’s and C’s in a room will dictate the outcome of any given year, despite the ideas that may bubble up from the side, or beneath, at any given moment.
I’m not sure exactly what my conclusion is. Perhaps it is to encourage Australians to keep being subtly defiant and rebellious in getting those ideas through. If this is how we perform with Tall Poppy Syndrom, imagine what we could get out there without it? Where everyone is allowed the full breadth of self-expression that they secretly crave?
Or, perhaps it is to urge us to collectively drop our cultural inferiority complex. If you’ve got your sights on Europe or America to progress your career, think about it first. Contemplate the reality of outrageously long production lead times; legal review after legal review until your copywriting has about as much flair as the nutritional guidelines box for the very product you’re advertising; hierarchical structures for agencies where you’re not sure if you’re aspiring to be an associate assistant executive director or if that’s who you’re delegating to.
In writing this, I’m completely aware that my experience is my own and there would be many in Australia and America alike ready to dispute me. I know things are often frustrating and stifling back home, and the production budgets in USA allow a gloss seldom possible in Australia. Nonetheless, I say – all hail the Australian advertising industry. You’re doing great work, and are truly a vision of the future.
Grace Gordon (@1800GRACIE) is a strategist, Australian-in-NYC, and Nextness fan. Her last post was “Hell, no. I can’t fall off my hustle”: lessons for creatives from the world’s biggest rappers.
If you want a job in the marketing content and communications industry – in advertising, digital, PR and their sister disciplines – then follow these four golden rules when it comes to the critical job interview, writes our COO Chris Savage in this guest post. It first appeared on his blog, Wrestling Possums.
I get about 30 unsolicited job applications a week. I try to meet at least three ‘would-be’ recruits every 10 days. And when I do, I am searching for the four critical ingredients that make for a great hire.
Seriously – I get asked about what qualifications are needed, what attributes a CV must show, what clever research a candidate must do prior to the interview conversation. For me, they count. But not a huge amount. What I am looking for, before anything else, are these four powerful and critical traits.
1. Are you a 150 percenter?
This is all about attitude and approach. Are you passionate, committed, driven, relentless in your pursuit to be the best you can be? As Vidal Sassoon told me almost 20 years ago, ‘The only place success comes before work is in a dictionary’. Do you work hard on yourself? Do you ‘turn up’ for learning and growth? Will you give this your all? Now relax- this is not about long hours; but it is about you delivering 150% positive intent and commitment.
2. Are you obsessed with details?
Bill Marsteller defined ‘Excellence’ as: Clarity of purpose: attention to detail. Are you relentlessly focused on the detail – on getting the detail right? It is the platform for excellence. Spell my name, or title, or company name wrong on the envelope or email, and I’ll bin your approach immediately. If you can’t get that right, how can I ever trust you with a client? As NutraSweet’s Cameron Hall smashed into me in 1987, ‘God is in the detail’. And you know what? It really, really is.
3. Do you have good interpersonal skills?
Are you personable? Can you hold a conversation? Are you a better listener than you are a talker? Do you pay attention? Do you look at me when I am speaking? Very basic stuff. But absolutely vital in this business. I caught up in Singapore with Jerry Smith, the regional chief of Ogilvy One a few weeks ago. I marveled at his incredibly persuasive and charming interpersonal skills. Engaging, self-deprecating, amusing, cheerful, enquiring, interested, respectful, cheeky, entertaining. Seriously – you look at Jerry and you know immediately why clients love him and want him on their team. That’s the power of interpersonal skills.
4. Are you a client ninja?
As advertising industry legend Chuck Porter told us at Cannes, he built his great business on the back of ‘client ninjas’…. Executives who were obsessed with delivering outstanding client service, who loved working on clients, who understood ‘clients come first’, who are comfortable to be totally service oriented and focused on others and the success of others. Whether internal ‘clients’ or client clients, are you absolutely relentlessly passionate about clients, their careers, success, products, satisfaction. You have to be if I am to hire you.
These are the four golden rules to making it through to a role opportunity if you’re talking to me. As my brother Greg – a leader of the recruitment industry – tells me: “Hire for attitude, train for skills.”
I have met thousands of ‘would be’ recruits over 30 years, and it’s those with these traits that shine through. Of course work on your academic qualifications and your experience in the trenches, work your networks and do your research, but show up at my desk and fail on any of these four golden rules, and that all counts for nothing. Harsh, but true.
Today’s guest post is by Grahame Morris: Federal Director of STW Group’s Barton Deakin Government Relations and a former chief of staff to Prime Minister John Howard.
Do you live in a marginal Federal electorate? Desperate to avoid the election communication noise because you don’t care what political candidates want to say to you? Well, good luck!
You’ll need to blow up your letterbox now, put your TV in storage, drop the radio in the bin, pull the plug on the computer, take the batteries out of the iPhone, Blackberry and iPod, cancel the newspaper subscriptions and drive through the back allies to avoid the 24-sheet billboards.
At its essence, a Federal Election campaign is simply a massive communication exercise every three years.
It is probably the biggest spend crammed into the shortest period for any product launch at any time in Australia.
There’s not a lot of money to be made from political campaigns. But those creative people who are involved in the communication side of the game get a prolonged adrenalin high, a lesson in high pressure working conditions, instant judgement on your work from the media every day, bragging rights if successful and a lifelong memory of a weird experience that few people have.
The way the major parties approach parts of an election campaign (advertising, direct mail, online, social media and so on) tends to differ. Some have always had one agency do the lot. Some have specialist agencies and others, including the Liberal Party, pick a team of specialist individuals from several creative organisations and build a kind of temporary in-house “agency” for the duration of the campaign.
Their job is essentially to crystallise the messages in a visual and audio form that has impact… and get it right.
An election is not a time to practice.
More and more nowadays, many ads are made and on air within 24 hours to make sure they relate to issues of the day.
Meanwhile, back in the marginal electorates, voters are being wooed by personalised direct mail on issues most likely to be of interest to them.
In the current climate, the true Labor marginals are these ones: Brand (WA), Corangamite, Deakin, La Trobe (Vic), Greenway, Robertson, Lindsay, Banks, Reid, Page, Eden-Monaro, Parramatta, Dobell (NSW), Moreton, Petrie, Lilley (Qld). On the Coalition side, they need to hold Boothby (SA) Aston and Dunkley (Vic) Hasluck (WA). The seats of New England and Lyon which are held by Independents are also in play. Labor also has to worry about The Greens in Grayndler and Melbourne.
(Find out what electorate you’re in on the Australian Electoral Commission website.)
Those seats will decide the election outcome and as a general rule, it is the young families with mortgages where the breadwinners are half way up the ladder in their careers who will make the difference.
They aren’t particularly interested in politics and they make up their minds late. That’s why policies are released late and it’s why there is a communications blitz towards the back end of the campaign.
Incidentally, if would-be political communications gurus have a way to produce a positive message that actually has political impact, most campaigners around the world would like to hear from them.
Unfortunately, as of now, negatives are powerful. They work.
They cut through, particularly in the irreverent “up yours”, cynical and wonderful political market that is Australia.
Grahame Morris is the Federal Director of STW Group’s Barton Deakin Government Relations and a former chief of staff to Prime Minister John Howard. He also ran the communications side of many election campaigns. For updates on the people and policies of the Coalition in government and opposition around Australia, sign up for Barton Deakin Briefs.
Detective novelist Dorothy L. Sayers worked at S.H. Benson’s (later Ogilvy & Mather) from 1922 to 1931. She is credited with coining the slogan “It pays to advertise!” and also worked on the iconic Guinness ‘Zoo’ ads. But while she spent her days selling, she spent her nights plotting.
Murder Must Advertise is a detective novel Sayers published in 1933. The book, in which five people die before the mystery can be unravelled, features her famous detective Lord Peter Wimsey: an English aristocrat with the background of a Bertie Wooster and the smarts of a Jeeves. To solve the case, Wimsey goes undercover as a new copywriter at “Pym’s Publicity” (based on Sayers’ real-life agency) for a salary of £4 a week.
After seven days, Sayers wrote in one breathless long paragraph, Wimsey had learned a great many things about advertising…
He learned the average number of words that could be crammed into four inches of copy… that the word “pure” was dangerous, because if lightly used, it laid the client open to prosecution by the government inspectors, whereas the words ‘highest quality’, ‘finest ingredients’, ‘packed under the best conditions,’ had no legal meaning and were therefore safe; that the expression ‘giving work to umpteen thousand British employees in our model works at so-and-so’ was not by any means the same thing as ‘British made throughout’… that The Morning Star would not accept any advertisements containing the word ‘cure,’ but there were no objections to such expressions as ‘relieve’ or ‘ameliorate,’ and that, further, any commodity that professed to ‘cure’ anything might find itself compelled to register as a patent medicine and use an expensive stamp; that the most convincing copy was always written with the tongue in the cheek, a genuine conviction of the commodity’s worth producing – for some reason – poverty and flatness of style; that if, by the most farfetched stretch of ingenuity, an indecent meaning could be read into a headline, that was the meaning the great British Public would infallibly read into it; that the great aim and object of the studio artist was to crowd the copy out of the advertisement and that, conversely, the copy-writer was a designing villain whose ambition was to cram the space with verbiage and leave no room for the sketch; that the layout man, a meek ass between two burdens, spent a miserable life trying to reconcile these opposing parties; and further, that all departments alike united in hatred of the client, who persisted in spoiling good layouts by cluttering them up with coupons, free gifts offers, lists of local agents and realistic portraits of hideous and uninteresting cartons to the detriment of his own interests and the annoyance of everybody concerned.
Happy birthday Murder Must Advertise, 80 years old this year. How some things change and others stay the same!
In 2013, this is what we have instead:
- “Here’s the Real Reason Why…”
- “Good Morning, X Happened to Y”
- “The Cycle Of Love You’ll Go Through With Your Phone.”
- “I Can’t Stop Staring At….”
They’re cliched web headlines, and they’re everywhere.
… a strange cross between imperative and inviting. The tone is soothing, seductive and at least a little bit demanding… What’s oddest about this form of headline is that it’s disassociated from conveying news. Instead it conveys interaction. Headlines once were stuffed full of proper nouns. But it turns out, old-fashioned headlines don’t convey things that aren’t news well.
And if they’re not news, why are you reading them?
Sicha concludes sadly, “These constructions acknowledge a truth: our actions are increasingly passive online, and we really are just looking for something to watch, click, share and receive.”
If you spot a headline like that, save yourself time and skip it.
But what about when you’re scrolling through Twitter, or FB? The feeds of your friends, people you follow and trust?
How do you know if your friend’s (or favourite curator’s) link is just a time-sink?
Well, it will probably announce itself with a lead-in like this:
- Made me smile: [link to a thumbdrive in the shape of a clothespeg].
- Just so you know: [link to an infographic showing how to escape from a disused well if all you have on you is a lifejacket, false teeth and gas cylinder].
- Just spat coffee on my keyboard: [gif of a newsreader falling off a platform during a live cross; paralysis, hospitalisation and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of surgery and physio not shown].
- You’re welcome: [Ryan Gosling with no shirt on].
- My ovaries just exploded: [animal of X species snuggling animal of Y species].
- And the laziest presentation of a link, ever? “This.” When people just write “This.” Nothing else. Just “This.” This: [Ryan Gosling with no shirt on snuggling an animal of X or Y species].
The fact is, unless someone takes the time to explain either:
- Why the link is important to them, or
- Why it should be important to you
…it’s probably just ephemera.
There’s nothing wrong with ephemera.
So long as you’re consuming it consciously – and you’ve got the time to spare.
First, you’d watch TED Talks. So cross-disciplinary!
Johnny Lee shows Wii Remote hacks for educators (2008). Sir Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity (2006). Elizabeth Gilbert on nurturing your genius (2009). Daniel Pink on the surprising science of motivation (2009).
Then you’d read Jonah Lehrer’s blog Frontal Cortex, and see how human behaviour could be explained by neuroscience.
A little bit of daring piracy opened up American TV to you long before the laggard Australian networks got round to showing the best shows.
And as for memes…! It felt so nice to be among the first people to get the joke, any joke. So that when friends from school or your aunties posted a macro to Facebook you’d think, “Ew. That’s months old.” And pity them.
Workwise, instead of reading the ad trade rags, you’d follow ad blogs, cooler and quicker on the uptake in spotting great work.
You’d go to Cannes and think “this stuff was all on the internet a year ago.” (Or was that just us? Sorry Cannes.)
You follow @brainpicker, or at least trust that her best stuff will be RTed into your stream.
And what’s the problem?
The problem is everyone’s doing it! We’re all the same. And so it’s not interesting any more!
Well, that’s what it feels like nearing the end of a long year.
You like to say “Science!” in a weird, self-congratulatory way. You wear jeans during the day, and fancy jeans at night. You listen to music featuring wispy lady vocals and electronic bloop-bloops. You really like coffee, except for Starbucks, which is the worst… Pixar. Kitty cats. Uniqlo. Bourbon. Steel-cut oats. Comic books. Obama. Fancy burgers. You listen to the same five podcasts and read the same seven blogs as all your pals… You are boring. So, so boring.
What would happen if we stopped listening to the same five podcasts and reading the same seven blogs as our friends?
Would it impact our work? (Would our ideas be more fresh, or less?)
Would it impact our friendships? (Do we need a baseline knowledge of the same exact stuff to be able to connect?)
Would we still be able to imagine the future and what’s next without other people’s prognostications to help us?
Scott Simpson recommends some ways to be less boring.
- When talking to someone, “give a conversation some air. Really listen. Ask questions…”
- Consider why you’re sharing something to your networks. “Why are you adding that link to Facebook? Will it be valuable to the many people who will see it? Or are you just flashing a Prius-shaped gang sign to your pals? If it’s the latter, keep it to yourself.”
- Instead of instagramming your lunch or doing a boring status update, “could you find a better way to communicate your experience?” Focus on proper storytelling and “give us a reason to care.”
- “As you widen your social circle, work on your intellectual one as well. Expose yourself to new writers. Hit the Random Article button on Wikipedia. Investigate the bromides your friends chuck around Twitter like frisbees.”
Here at Nextness, we are too reticent to actually call you boring to your face.
Especially as we read all those blogs and listen to all those podcasts you do too! (And love them! And make it our life’s work to curate the best of them for you!)
But our resolution for next year is to consume more consciously. To share more consciously. To go a little bit deeper; be a little bit more off the beaten track.
To not just produce “content” for contents’ sake. (After all, buckling under that pressure was what got Jonah Lehrer in trouble.)
And to unsubscribe from TED Talks.