Archive for the ‘Events’ Category
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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…
…that craft can make design invisible…
…but only creativity can choose how to reveal it…
…to set an audience on a course to their own creative truths.
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.
Ahh, Advertising Week. Because the day-to-day celebration of ad culture just isn’t enough.
I’m going to be speaking on two panels. I will plug them thusly:
GIVE TO GET: BUILDING BRAND THROUGH SERVICE INNOVATION
Mon Oct 1 2012 – 9:00 AM
B.B. King Blues Club
Putting service at the center of your brand may be the next evolution of your marketing; innovation through service design is what will attract customers, turn them into advocates, create buzz about your product, and save customers with whom you #fail.
PRODUCTS, PROCESS AND PROGRESS
Tue Oct 2 2012 – 12:30 PM
B.B. King Blues Club
“Brand-led development”, it’s a subject that’s currently on the tip of every marketer’s tongue. This lively discussion, hosted by The Barbarian Group’s President, Sophie Kelly, will explore the new imperatives that larger brand marketers need to adapt in order to effectively build, refine and optimize longstanding products.
Of course, if you’re in NYC October 9, you should be at Contagious’ bi-annual look at what’s important, Now / Next / Why. I’m heading over to London next week to speak at that installment, then back again to talk at the Stateside version. My topic? Sponsorship Activation & Amplified Live.
Sponsorship Activation & Amplified Live /
The time we spend interacting with entertainment is often precious and pure. Distractions are not necessary, nor appreciated. Finally, a new generation of brands is beginning to reimagine the art of sponsorship activation, justifying their ticket to the game not just with a bulging wallet, but with a genuine offering to enhance, improve and augment the experiences for fans.
Contagious will showcase how and why brands are adding value for fans, not noise. From Coca-Cola turning an exclusive corporate box at a football ground into a dormitory for cash-strapped fans, to Kopparberg’s music festival playlist app on Facebook, brands are making their sponsorship dollars work harder to become an indispensable part of the events they support.
We’re also debuting our take on Marketing as Service Design, something we haven’t talked about yet over here. Some of the elements we’ll be discussing at Now / Next / Why in New York on October 9 will come into play during the panels.
We do a special edition publication for Now Next Why, and we just put that to bed last week. It’s looking great. Give me a shout if you can come out, so we can say hi.
I recently had the chance to head home on the dime of the Ford Motor Company, the great dynamo and historical symbol of prestige in the Motor City, or at very least its suburban birthplace in Dearborn. I got invited, I imagined, because we’ve covered the company’s efforts in the past. But now I found myself on a press trip home, to get sold on the innovation I grew up around, for Fordʼs North American Auto Show & Innovation and Design Fantasy Camp. If that’s not enough of a mouthful, here’s a rambling travelogue of what we got up to.
I took a car from the airport, and what can typically be a terse ride wound up moving quickly. One of the best things about talking cars with a Detroiter is that if you do it on the road, you have a constant source of conversation. My driver, an arabic guy in his mid-50s, was eager to chat. We talked about the driver’s Lincoln Town Car, a car that’s come to equal classy luxury transportation. We talked about what might replace it, now that Ford’s shut down the Canadian plants that produced it along with the Crown Victoria, cop car par excellence.1
We moved to the Chevy Volt (he’s never seen one around) the Prius (he’s seen plenty and likes ’em) and the changing American automobile appetite. I went to mention the new Fiat, and lo and behold we were passing one. “Italian design, it looks nice. Good for single people, maybe?” Then, the Dodge Charger. “It’s taken away a little from those guys,” he said, pointing to a Mustang. (See? It’s fun, it’s like I Spy crossed with the game where you move through the alphabet and say a different celebrity, or movie star, for every letter.) Toyota’s Avalon swung in front of us, and he remarked on its quality, being a former owner. He said the auto show, this year, would be a more positive affair, with the Big Three stronger than in previous years, a leaner and meaner American auto industry.
- The Town Car remains a weathered peak of luxury transportation for many, despite the changes in driver preference and civic fuel consumption standards Ford cited as its reasons for termination. I love the Town Car. Since the late ’90s, it’s been the longest car produced in the Western Hemisphere. My dad once told me it was designed to be able to carry four golf bags in its trunk, ferrying a foursome of chums to the links, where some real business can get done. [↩]
Compare it to Rob. He was the winner of our annual Worst Day in Advertising StorySLAM we do with Organic and amazing storytelling group The Moth. We’ve done it during Advertising Week in New York the last few years; we’re hoping to do it more frequently.
Stay tuned and I’ll let you know when the next one’s coming along.
So yeah, it couldn’t have been that bad, right?
We thought about just sending our logo and specs off to a printer, but what about making our own awesome shirts? And checking on colors and things? My awesome girlfriend gifted me time in a screenprinting workshop last year, so I already knew a thing or two about making your own shirts. So how about hire a studio and try to do it ourselves? Turns out that was much easier (and more fun) than we thought. We got in touch with Peter from Polluted Eyeball and arranged to visit him in his studio, in a loft building of artists’ studios, in Bushwick. We set up an evening session, so after work on Friday we could roll up and do some printing.
There’s a populist connoisseurship in T-shirts. Fine fit, fabric and a nice design can make a cheap item into a lifelong favorite. So we wanted to do these right. We stopped off on the way at Uniqlo to pick up around 70 of their Dry Pack Men’s T’s. I think they’re among the best going.
Once Peter had taken us through the process (and burned an extra screen for a white ink layer to sit below the fluorescent pink) we got to work, a three-person team, fitting the blank shirts on the platens2, then rotating them to the white and pink screens, through each ink phase, then under a heater, then off to be rolled and taped and sorted by size.
By the time we’d gotten our process right and picked up steam, we were out of blanks and had a whole load of handmade T-shirts to give away. Take a look at the photos below, and if you’re going to be in Austin, track down either me or Noelle for a shirt. Thanks again to Peter at Polluted Eyeball for all his expert guidance.
- I’m on a panel called ‘Client Knows Best’ with some brainiacs from Droga5, McCann, Co:Collective and Verizon, it’s here, on Saturday at 5pm. Come if you’re around, it should be a fun chat. Noelle, meanwhile, will be raising heckfire in boots. [↩]
- this was a new term for me, from Wikipedia: ‘In textile screen printing, a platen is a flat board onto which the operator slides the garment. It is generally made of either a plywood laminate or aluminum with a rubber laminate. Often the platen will be pretreated with a spray adhesive. This allows the garment to effectively become a rigid immobile substrate, especially important when printing multiple colors or utilizing an on-press infrared dryer. The screen is brought parallel and close to the garment (often within 1/32″) and the squeegee pressure then brings the screen into contact with the garment so that the ink transfer may occur. There are many special platen types, such as those for printing sleeves or pockets, vacuum platens, platens with clamps to hold bulky materials such as jackets, and even curved platens for printing on hats.’ [↩]
The fine people of advertising agency J. Walter Thompson, who recently hosted a week of panels and presentations for Social Media Week, asked me a few questions in anticipation of a chat we did about social games on Monday.1 Here they are; there’s more from others over at their AdGeek blog. That penultimate answer is a little tongue-in-cheek, but there’s something weird in the air I haven’t quite figured out yet.
What was your social media eureka moment?
I think everyone has a path of social media eureka moments which revolve around making real connections with other people. Everyone feels the magic when they meet someone in real life that they’ve come to know over the internet, and compares their concept of that person and their actions online with the living breathing talking version. That can be online dating or buying a dresser on Craigslist. Same goes with arguments; the first time you get into a blood-boiling argument on the Internet you pass a sort of barrier. To me, those are the most interesting bits, coming to understand the powerful connections we can create with people who share our interests and goals.
What do you use on a daily basis and how?
Whew, big question…currently running applications include: Mail, Chrome, Firefox, DevonThink, Pomodoro, Dropbox, Spaces, ManyCam, Skype, iChat, Word, TextEdit, Tweetdeck. Frequently accessed webservices/social bits/communities include Facebook (begrudgingly) & Twitter and Google’s suite of stuff, without which I’d be truly lost. Metafilter and Reddit are my favorite community sites. Google Reader tells me ‘from your 300 subscriptions, over the last 30 days you read 9,359 items, clicked 33 items, starred 10 items, shared 0 items, and emailed 61 items.’ I’ve developed an arcane and possibly foolish system to basically archive anything I touch on Twitter to a bookmarking site, and I spend a lot of time watching Contagious’ output and cataloging all that stuff for further analysis.
What is hot and what is just hype?
I think this question is becoming less and less relevant, but I can’t quite explain why. I’ll try, though. In the last year or so we’ve seen enterprising groups take things that are in the hype cycle’s trough and make fun new things out of them. I hope the cycles created by our anemic attention span and relentless economic machine continue to pump up and churn through emerging technologies—it leaves more room for the inquisitive tinkerers to come through and say ‘oh, what’s this, how does this work.’ It’s like the kid who always had the most fun, newest toys—you knew a few days later their attention would be elsewhere, but that fun toy probably still had some life in it for something. I’m currently obsessed with the Kinect, Minecraft, quadcopters and autonomous flight sequences, Mechanical Turk and whatever a rotating cadre of members of the present-day Invisible College of technology is doing.
What do you see as being the next big thing at next year’s conference?
Definitely jetpacks. Seriously though—with the speed at which companies seem to be earning venture capital money, I would look for topic ideas from this article on SXSW 2001: “Is there still an Internet economy?”, “Internet Industry Trends 2001: Is Anyone Making Money?”, How to Survive Takeovers, Acquisitions, Layoffs, Mergers and Other Supposed Career Setbacks”. Etc. Mad-Libs the blanks where appropriate, change “million” to “billion”, there you go.
What is the one takeaway you hope everyone gets from your panel?
I hope people leave the panel understanding the difficult lines games makers have to walk, between manipulating game mechanics to maximize profit and making genuinely fun games people want to play.
Boss Paul sez:
Contagious devotes a lot of attention to the intersection of brands and technology, so we’re extremely excited to be curating The Hive at Eurobest. Our aim is to create a dynamic, experiential space where delegates get to play with the latest gadgets and gizmos as well as learning how technological innovation will shape the marketing campaigns of the future. Paul Kemp-Robertson, Editorial Director, Co-Founder, Contagious
In 2010, Eurobest has teamed up with Contagious to gather together the most exciting technological innovations and innovators to engage, entertain and stimulate visitors to the Festival in The Hive. Discover a whole range of technology from interactive art works, to apps, robots and augmented reality. Companies already involved include Dentsu London, Prime & Strip Digital, metaio, and Total Immersion. Plus Google Creative Lab and Freestate
If you are interested in showcasing your product in The Hive, please get in touch.
Phew, it’s been too long. I’ve been busy. I’ll catch you up as we go along. But expect more here. The organizers of Cannes’ Lions Daily newsmagazine were looking for the U.S. perspective for this year’s festival in June, so here’s an article I did for them. It hasn’t aged too poorly. Enjoy.
‘Everything is clean and shiny but oddly threatening’. / J.G. Ballard, 1999
Although J.G. Ballard was actually talking about technology, this late, great chronicler of Cannes-based mischief came pretty close to explaining what’s happened in the United States and Canada since its ad folk last convened on the Riviera.
Budgets and spending are beginning to come back, but there’s the sense things won’t be the way they were before last year’s slump, both in outlay and style of communications and messaging. Optimism is returning, but how to connect with the NEW new media is still baffling to many. Why should my home plumbing fixture brand be on Facebook? What’s the value of creating a badge on Foursquare for a paper goods company?
The realignment currently taking place is forcing us to reconsider the fabric of our communications landscape, and it’s taking very interesting forms.
FINELY FORMED PLATFORMS /
The first of those is platform-building, the digital terraforming smart marketers are engaging in. This is an evolution from the act of adapting content to work on the web to creating or steering content that works within the Internet’s connective tissue.
Electronic retailer Best Buy has seen its Twelpforce program, which encourages employees to help customers on Twitter, service a massive amount of people. But, all that data it’s pumping into Twitter ultimately belongs to Twitter. And it’s finite, given Twitter’s propensity to hide tweets from search after 1.5 weeks. So what did Best Buy do? It built BBY Feed, a site that scrapes all the interactions from the Blueshirts, threads them into easy-to-read interactions and tags them for search engine optimization. If a month from now, I can’t remember how Best Buy’s folks told me to put the SD card in my camera, when I search for the answer it’ll show up on BBY Feed.
Meanwhile, brand communications platforms are growing up and evolving. Gatorade’s fantastic ‘Replay’ effort through TBWA/Chiat/Day, Los Angeles was initially shot as episodic online content by an advertising production company. The conceit was simple, and on-brand: any athlete’s performance can be enhanced by Gatorade, so why not convene and re-play crucial games that ended in ties, or were called because of injury, ten or fifteen years later? The idea of older athletes getting back in shape appealed to many, interest in the property grew, and Gatorade partnered with Fox Sports Net for the second round, with the cable sports network producing it just like it would a big-league game, and simulcasting it on the web.
Parallel to platform-building, disruptive hacker behaviours have begun influencing marketers looking to place content not only on their own platforms, but in unexpected and intriguing places as well. A great example is the ‘Lost’ flight on Kayak.com. The travel search engine listed Oceanic 815, the flight around which the TV series centred, in its search database. Word spread among Losties, and thousands looked up the flight on Kayak, performing all the behaviours of any other user, an introduction to the brand’s great interface through the thrill of finding the ‘Easter Egg’ of content—the actual flight listing for the mythic Lost flight. Great content, presented in its natural environment, is set to spread, and to maximize PR value.
Similarly, Burger King put a message on Digg’s failed search page, which is served over 600,000 times per month. When you look something up that isn’t there, you get a message from Digg and BK playing on the humorous ‘Tiny Hands’ campaign for the company’s double cheeseburger: ‘Looks like your search had a typo. Maybe you’ve got tiny hands?’
MAKER CULTURE & LASHED-TOGETHER TECH /
This maker culture, along with the rise of electronic hobbyists building projects to interact with the universe, places emphasis on solutions and speed, in the classic Bernbachian sense of ‘It’s ugly, but it gets you there’.
In fact, just over forty years after the moon landing and that classic piece of Volkswagen print, Nike and the Livestrong Foundation’s Chalkbot, from Wieden + Kennedy and the robot-making punk rockers at Pittsburgh’s Deeplocal, fits the tagline–the trailer-pulled robot sets a standard for the post-digital transition in its employment of ‘guttertech’–using the lowest available technology to solve the problem. The robot, towed along the route of the Tour de France, sprays messages of cancer support and memoriam people have tweeted onto the course. The system then takes a photo, geotags it, and sends it back to the participant on the other end of the connection. Chalkbot’s no-frills, simple-yet-elegant setup and movement through digital and physical elements nimbly skitters like Wall-E around a landscape where tech bandwagon-jumping is in danger of creating a proliferation of clutter and junk.
The sensor array in our smartphones is currently the fastest track to bringing about the ‘internet of things’ – the practice of integrating digital capabilities to the most ordinary of objects. Ranchers are using RFID to track beef from pasture to abattoir and researchers at the Asthmapolis project are using GPS-triggering asthma inhalers to learn more about pollutants, and all are contributing to the proliferation of data. The objects around us are becoming networked, either through built-in communication hardware or software elements fitted on top.
MASSAGING THE DATALAYER /
A company called Stickybits, which had its coming out party this year at the South by Southwest Interactive conference, allows you to add content–a video, a comment, a photo–to any barcode scanned with its app. Essentially the company has turned every barcode-carrying product into a media node.
Keep an eye peeled this week for Contagious’ special Stickybits treasure hunt, centered on our Issue 23 cover (which you can scan from the illustration here), and has Euro RSCG London’s new Dulux spot attached to it. Find the pink bits around town this week, scan them with your Stickybits app, and win Contagious prizes.
While our Stickybit challenge is but a small example, building games is, to me, the most exciting element of future-facing marketing efforts.
Think of the devotion a good videogame commands: players often log days at quests, or facing rivals online. And unlike a film, or a magazine, the hefty price you pay for a console game doesn’t even guarantee you get to experience all the content–you have to be patient, persist, and earn the ending.
THE POINTS ECOLOGY /
Location-based services like Gowalla and Loopt and Foursquare represent a simple employment of game motivations using the sensors we carry. Get the most points. Be seen the best places. Unlock achievements.
Ultimately, brands are developing new ways to register loyalty and reward people choosing them, while enticing possible conversions from nearby consumers–nearby both in physical location and adjoining mental space (think of a hairdresser who promotes on check-ins at the beauty supply store).
Will location-based service companies wind up being overgrown, social-enabled supermarket points schemes? No one can tell yet. But as the unique user behaviour, the check-in, the acknowledgement of presence in a space-time-byte matrix, spreads and becomes more familiar, and our sensor-augmented actions begin to throw off more and more data, the smartest marketers will be engineering access to it, and in turn creating experiences and narratives all the more relevant.
Returning to Mr. Ballard’s quote, there’s good reason for these shiny things to feel threatening. The firmaments of this business are shifting, and we can’t see where they’ll settle yet. But without threat, we drift to complacency. Now is the time, more than ever, to re-examine what is useful, relevant and entertaining as the world keeps turning.