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Archive for the ‘Advertising’ Category

In Person: Story Hour

notes

A few weeks ago I was able to make good on a promise and participate in the second installment of the Design Museum of Portland’s Story Hour series. The premise is quite simple: a group of storytellers have a short period of time to tell a story around a specific prompt. There are a few constraints, though: the time period is very short, either four or eight minutes, and you get a single image as your background, no slides or other a/v trickery.

The theme was ‘invisible design’ and while a bunch of kind of pop-design podcast fodder (Can you see the arrow in the FedEx logo?) came to mind I felt the constraints and format leant themselves to a little bit of meta tomfoolery.

So the whole thing was series of stories inside a talk inside an elaborate setup.

The effect was better experienced in person, but I’ll try to set it up here for you before sharing the substance of the speech.

The entire story was delivered as if I were reading notes off a sheaf of papers, and there were several references at the onset to visual aids helping me work in this unusual style. As the series of stories around the theme build, I begin to spread outward to talk about how this elaborate level of conscientiousness around how things are set up can ultimately deliver experiences that leave a real impression on people.

The big reveal was at the very end, when I turn my “notes” around and show they’re actually blank. The effect I was hoping to impart on the audience was one of “oh, he wasn’t reading from notes, he must have memorized it, that’s another level of invisible design that he’s incorporated.” I think there were a few clucks of understanding; to be honest, my heart was racing so much at flubbing a few final lines that I wasn’t paying total attention to the audience. But the overall effect was not, as was my fear, totally lost.

Despite the thematic around magic and creativity, there was no magic involved (unless maybe someone thought I erased the notes on the paper or wrote them in invisible ink). It was sheer, brute memorization. The short format (four minutes) and my tendency to want to pack these sorts of talks with information made it crucial that I get everything down to the second, timing-wise.

Suffice to say I rehearsed the shit out of this, in a bunch of different ways. I have talked in public in front of audiences probably 40-50 times a year for the last four or five years and to have a totally scripted thing that has to be super tight on time is one of the more challenging things tasks I’ve set myself.1

recordings

First, I wrote the draft. That took about a week of side-time. Then I went through proofs and made 3-5 paper edits to make the master. Then, I recorded myself speaking a version to time (four minutes on the dot) based on the final refinements. Then, I would alternate between a few elements: table reads, out loud, from the script; sessions where I’d listen to the recording continuously (riding my bike to work, or waiting for lunch at a restaurant); sessions where I’d listen and simultaneously copy the material in longhand. And lastly were sessions where I’d recite the speech cold, with no prompts, then listen and compare with the original printed draft. I have at least 15 of those saved on my phone.

I’ve never been good at memorizing, and respect that skill a lot in friends who can. (I am forever envious of one friend, trained in the classics, who has an enormous mental library of poems and toasts and whatnot.) I need musical accompaniment to make anything stick. And about 98% of my cultural HD is full of jingles and nonsense anyway. But somehow I managed to get through this with only a few flubs.

Anyway, here it is. Not sure if I want to do something like this again anytime soon but I done did it. And it managed (I think?) to be entertaining to the audience, and not just esoteric wank.

Here’s the background image I used:

parish_storyhour.001 (1)

 

I

I opted for the four minutes partly as a disaster mitigating strategy.

I’m here to talk about creativity but it could all go terribly wrong

Because normally my presenting style is clicking through slides, rapidly.

I would stalk around the stage and gesticulate and use clever Keynote builds and other slideware to keep your attention.

So I decided, with all these constraints, to be sure of my words, to write it down. <emphasize paper>

Because I just have this one slide. And it’s barely legible.

Whoops.

First rule of presenting, make the font big.

Fail part one.

That’s not my only problem.

I’m a poseur.

I’m not a designer.

I’m a writer.

I only discovered what a drop shadow was a few years ago when I wondered why my printed-out screenshots were black on the bottom.

And maybe my own design, of this talk, is no longer invisible.

‘Oh, ‘ you’re thinking, ‘he’s going to talk about how editing is invisible design’.

Fail part three.

Fuck.

 

II

Well, writing _is_ invisible design, that’s true.

Writers and designers, we’re cousins.

We both use craft to build worlds.

Some of you who appreciate vintage advertising will remember the Think Small-era Volkswagen advertising.

The layout was classic, a photo, a headline, copy.

But the art director saw the copy, and it was just a huge mass at the bottom of the page. So he used his X-acto to thin it out.

When his partner came in, he asked him to re-write it into the windows he had cut, and the ad finally worked, and is now famous.

Jason Fried, from 37signals, once said, ‘before you redesign, rewrite.’

This is fundamentally the same idea.

But there’s one step beyond this invisibility, beyond the craft of writing and editing: making it magic.

 

III

For my money Emily Dickinson is the greatest American poet.

<What was that? Some Emerson partisan there in the back?>

Almost all Dickinson’s 1,800 poems were published after she died, and they’re all clean copies.

We don’t know anything about her process; her craft was fully invisible.

And so scholars, trying to understand her work, are puzzled by things like this. <point to screen>

This is one of Dickinson’s Master letters, surreal drafts written sometime between when she was 28 and 32.

They’re otherworldly, almost an alternate universe to her poems, written to a figure only known as Master.

We don’t know the identity of ‘Master’.

It is a mystery.

Is it a lover?

God?

The Devil? Was Emily Dickinson involved in some kinda bluesman-at-Crossroads-type deal?

True Detective stuff.

Because we all want to know what kind of shadowy power lurks at the heart of Dickinson’s art—worldly or otherworldly.

 

IV

To create something truly sublime, you have to include elements of magic, and conceal, and keep secrets—and reveal them, maybe—in addition to all the craft.

You’ve got to have some of that ol’ Razzle Dazzle—at least a little bit.

Joseph Conrad wrote something to this effect in an essay called “Fiction Is Human History”.

“All creative art is magic, is evocation of the unseen in forms persuasive, enlightening, familiar and surprising.”

In creating amazing work, you take the invisible and choose if, and how, it reappears.

And that’s the magic…

<reveal papers>

…that craft can make design invisible…

<reveal papers>

…but only creativity can choose how to reveal it…

<reveal papers>

…to set an audience on a course to their own creative truths.

<reveal papers>

 

  1. Yes, the famous “short speech” quote (“If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.”) whoever said it, was running through my head pretty regularly. []

Written by Nick

August 12th, 2015 at 7:01 pm

Catch up on the Cannestagious Podcast

We podcasted at Cannes for the second year running, all part of our #cannestagious push1, and Dan Southern and I had a lot of fun hosting. We typically would have a few Contagious folk and a few external folk join for each one, and discuss what went on that day at the festival.

The timing was a bit screwy—last year it was a ‘morning after’ timing, so we’d record the intro and outtro and get some juicy gossip in there, then play the segments recorded the preceding day.2 For those who might be interested in gear: we use a Blue Yeti mic attached to an iPad running Bossjock software to do all the cues, ducks, fades, etc. Typically afterward I’d clean everything up in Audacity and send it over to Soundcloud. The one and only DJ Tedward did some dynamite bumps and idents for us. Our audio booth? The world’s largest walk-in closet, in our villa, with duvets draped through the shelving to muffle echo.

I think we’re going to look into doing more with the podcast; key will be finding out how me in Portland and Dan in London can connect in a way that’s got some measure of audio fidelity. (The last phone-in interview, recorded off a conference call line, is crapola.) If you’ve got any idea, let me know.

Anyway, we had some fun interviews: Scott Galloway, Joanna MonteiroIain Tait, Nick Childs and Sir Martin Sorrell, and we had one kinda live-y podcast segment where we went cold calling with The Barbarian Group and Rood Studios.

Here’s the mighty podcast playlist in all its glory too.

  1. dig that amazing papercraft Cannes Lion! []
  2. The awards results are under embargo until like 9pm every night, so we can’t publish when we learn the results at the press conference in the morning. []

Written by Nick

July 2nd, 2015 at 12:01 pm

Tetraethyl Lead and Pure Inquiry

I just finished a standout investigative piece that’s aged very well, Jamie Kitman’s look into leaded gasoline’s terrifying public health legacy, published by The Nation in 2000.

A few things struck me.

One is the continued prevalence of the cascading uncertainty rule, described here:

By relying on what Jerome Nriagu of the University of Michigan has called the cascading uncertainty rule (“There is always uncertainty to be found in a world of imperfect information”), the lead industry and makers and marketers of TEL gasoline additives were able to argue in 1925: “You say it’s dangerous. We say it’s not. Prove us wrong.” (Or, as Nriagu prefers, “Show me the data.”) They still do.

This is an almost classic misdirection that’s affecting how we judge huge dangers to society and public health, like vaccinations and global warming.

Meanwhile, a crusading scientist used techniques for determining this age of the earth to hypothesize how badly we were screwing it up by blanketing it with lead. Clair Patterson then gave what stands as a lasting caution against undue influence in research. This has recently been in the news, with Wall Street and academia cozying up.

“It is not just a mistake for public health agencies to cooperate and collaborate with industries in investigating and deciding whether public health is endangered,” Clair said. “It is a direct abrogation and violation of the duties and responsibilities of those public health organizations.”

I tend to use a lot of others’ research to make points; often, I can be lazy about sourcing. Was it the federal government, or a non-profit organization that’s providing that figure, or is it an entity motivated to make a specific commercial point? Research, both good and bad, can be easily manipulated. This served as a great reminder that concrete, civic-minded fact-finding is always going to serve the truth better than interested parties’ ‘findings’.

Written by Nick

January 16th, 2014 at 1:17 pm

Around and around we go…Goldfrapp Mobile

Maybe it’s the rumbling beats and Alison Goldfrapp’s melty smooth voice?

Written by Nick

October 24th, 2013 at 9:32 am

Posted in Advertising,Music

Samsung’s Galaxy Gear Meets a Google-y Glass

samsungglassgear

I like Samsung’s new Galaxy Gear stuff—it’s direct, and right out of the hardware launch playbook Apple wrote for the iPhone.1 And we might, on first glance, think that’s where Samsung’s big competition for the watch lies.

This near-final frame though, the two seconds it the camera lingers on Jamie, and what are we left with? An Android UI, telling us Ms. Glass is calling? That’s a brilliant bit of priming to link the Samsung gadget with its the real competitor in wearables. These categories don’t invent themselves, people.

 

 

  1. The work is also everywhere right now, with tons of media spend behind the launch. []

Written by Nick

October 13th, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Jonathan Glazer’s Newest, Under the Skin

I really hope Jonathan Glazer follows in Neill Blomkamp’s footsteps1 and brings his special breed of moodiness evolved through ads and music video to tangential future scenarios. Under the Skin is described on IMDB as “An alien in human form is on a journey through Scotland.”

The inimitable Ben just dug out his canned Flake ad which I’m glad to see is still online. I remember frantically saving the source when it came out and have been showing it to folks we work with at Kraft / Mondelez as an example of something envelope-pushing, dramatic stuff that at least got partially made through previous incarnations of their organization. Lovely. Someone out there wants to make more of this stuff, right? A guy can dream?

Flake – Jonathan Glazer from David Nichols on Vimeo.

  1. For my money, Neill’s slightly dingy, surveillance state aesthetic is the best one going in contemporary sci-fi. I talked to him about it way back in ’07. []

Written by Nick

September 2nd, 2013 at 7:29 pm

Nudging the salad, pushing the Big Mac

Written by Nick

July 2nd, 2013 at 3:57 pm

eBay Nowness: eBay Now comes to New York City

image

I caught this new one for eBay Now in the subway coming home from work yesterday and at first glance I wasn’t quite sure what was offered. Was it a move rental service? Is eBay yet another company trying to rent me a film online?

Nope. On second look its the proposition you use eBay Now to buy a flatscreen and a carnival-style popcorn machine to guarantee success on a date. Huh.

Good old eBay, haven for bargain compulsive shoppers has become a momentary dropshipper for those same folks. Now, take that itchy trigger finger that bought 1,000 copies of the Billy Ripken “fuck face” card for an art project (that never panned out) and apply it to home electromics and durable goods.

Funnily enough (and maybe showing how out of it I am) when we chatted about this in the office one of our Contagious folks mentioned her friend using the service to buy, you guessed it, a flatscreen. The reason? Because she could be sure it would be delivered ASAP. It came 25 minutes later. So, like pizza delivery, maybe it’s less about fast and more about control.

Written by Nick

June 27th, 2013 at 6:43 pm

Posted in Advertising,NYC

Contagious’ 2013 Cannes Lions Seminar

Well, back from Cannes, and after three days of not shouting in opposition to overloud, washy acid breaks at an expensive agency beach party my voice is almost returned to normal.

And after a year off I’m glad to say the world’s premier advertising awards show slash boondoggle is still going strong. One global network CEO we met estimates the Cannes Lions organization (which is for sale) turns all that delicious communications milk into €80m of net cream a year. It’s a really expensive exercise in ego validation if you see it that way, or a chance to give some ideas world-class recognition if you see it otherwise.

I’m not entirely jaded about it, but close. What keeps me from going crackers and retiring to a cave tends to be the stuff we do, and the response to it. Contagious events are a break from the norm of bizniz-led chest-drumming or celeb-puffing nonsense. We try to do stuff people actually get value from, entertainment value, or inspiration, and measure worth in that, not just in terms of the value derived by us through people talking about it or the fact we “got our message out.”

So its with great pleasure I present our seminar, sponsored by and created alongside Holler. Our cofounder Paul, James from Holler and Will Sansom worked pretty hard to make this come off as well as it did.((Meanwhile, I ducked all serious obligations and helped set up a Moth StorySLAM on the beach. To each according…)) And the gorgeous Scriberia animations didn’t hurt.

Seminar quality this year was spotty at best, and delegates, who paid (or their agencies did) $2,400 for a pass often had to wait over an hour for entry into the theatre. But our seminar won the popular vote to be broadcast live on YouTube, and was packed in the Palais. Invariably through the rest of the week when I was introduced someone would remember the session and compliment us. And that’s pretty cool.

 

Written by Nick

June 25th, 2013 at 6:54 pm

When life gives you lemons…

…take a Tylenol. Though hopefully not even Johnson & Johnson is crass enough to tout this advantage.

It sure ain’t often fate offers you this easy an out, folks.

From The Onion

This What World Like Now

BOSTON—After Monday’s horrific terror attack at the Boston Marathon that killed three and left hundreds injured, officials confirmed Tuesday that the bombings and senseless violence that followed occurred primarily because this is the kind of world we live in now.

To Psychological Science

Anxious About Life and Afraid of Death? Tylenol May Do the Trick, Study Suggests

The study builds on recent American research that found acetaminophen — the generic form of Tylenol — can successfully reduce the non-physical pain of being ostracized from friends. The UBC team sought to determine whether the drug had similar effects on other unpleasant experiences — in this case, existential dread.In the study, participants took acetaminophen or a placebo while performing tasks designed to evoke this kind of anxiety — including writing about death or watching a surreal David Lynch video — and then assign fines to different types of crimes, including public rioting and prostitution.Compared to a placebo group, the researchers found the people taking acetaminophen were significantly more lenient in judging the acts of the criminals and rioters — and better able to cope with troubling ideas. The results suggest that participants’ existential suffering was “treated” by the headache drug.

Written by Nick

April 16th, 2013 at 9:04 pm