by Iain on January 27, 2009
Experts predict that, if current trends continue, by q4 2010 all advertising will feature groups of people making something big and impressive.
Recent examples of the genre are:
A big domino toppling thing,
a big, unfolded newspaper,
a ‘hand made’ internet,
a big picture,
an orchestra (forget for a minute that orchestras are made up of people collaborating and doing things together, this is an orchestra with a twist)
a big picnic,
Or milking a massive 80 foot udder. Actually that last one is a lie – or it might be a premonition.
I actually genuinely admire a number of these adverts. But put that aside for a couple of minutes…
Groups of people having fun together has always been good advertising fodder. We all want to be social and do fun stuff with our friends. It’s just that the groups featured in ads now have to be much bigger because technology has delivered us bigger groups of friends and contacts. In fact, everyone is now our friend, potentially.
As a technique it works especially well for brands that are about communication. Or socialising. Or simply not being on your own. Which is pretty much everyone. Apart from the Samaritans.
I guess it’s inevitable that we should end up with a bunch of not-dissimilar ads when everyone’s briefs contain words like sharing, or connection, or enablement. And given that infinite, always-on connections have changed the world in untold ways your brand would look a little out-of-touch if you didn’t at least nod to these things.
Then you’ve got the challenge of bringing things to life in 30s film. Which is far from easy. And let’s face it people outside, in the real world, doing something active is always going to be more visually interesting than the slightly dull reality.
Who wants to watch a bunch of people sat in their bedrooms, physically alone? Their only connection through wires? A girl sitting at her computer looks just like a girl sitting at her computer. She could be IMing her friend with an OMG because she’s unproved Fermat’s theorem, or because she just heard what Debbie said about Suzi. It’s the things that are in heads, on screens and coming down wires that are interesting and important. Not stuff a camera can easily capture.
293 people might be collaborating right now, on their computers, and be seconds away from ending climate change. But they’d look exactly the same as 293 people playing World of Warcraft. There would be no visual clues.
Which is, I guess, why advertising has to dial-up the excitement. To create quick, easy-to-grasp metaphors for collaboration and combined human effort.
But there’s a part of me that feels like the point gets overlooked for the sake of a nice colourful ad.
If you’ve ever actually been a part of something online, there’s something nice about the initial non-physicality. The fact that you’re not compelled to be a good looking, smiling stereotype that works as part of a human chain gang. You can be ugly, grumpy and totally asynchronous and still a hugely valuable part of the effort.
Every day millions of people experience comfort, pleasure, excitement, joy, anger, sadness, love, loss, hatred, passion, enlightenment, the horn and more. All online. All virtually. But this gets glossed over in ads. Because it’s not easy to represent in film. So we revert to metaphors of physical closeness and connection. Ideally in a sunny field. Which is kind of like the internet. In a way. Kinda.
That’s not to say that online relationships and collaborations don’t end up in real, solid, actual-world friendships and meetups. They do. But that typically comes later. And it’s more of a case of checking-in, sizing people up, and seeing how it goes. Not getting together to unfold a big newspaper.
But sometimes people do arrange to meet up with a large group of people to do something together. Sometimes it’s an incredibly useful and important thing, like a political rally. But sometimes it’s spontaneous and frivolous and pointless. And these latter things became known as flashmobs.
And now, inevitably, there’s an advert about a flashmob…
You can’t escape it. It’s on TransVision screens at all the London stations, escalator panels on the underground, the telly, and on the YouTubes (with a huge number of variants including the 2.41s mega-ad above). It’s pretty much everywhere. I’ve tried hiding from it. But it keeps on finding me.
Again. To be clear. I don’t dislike it as an advert.
But the truth is it couldn’t not have happened. It’s got the hip-but-not-too-hipness of flashmobs combined with looking just like one of ‘these ads’ should. And by creating this spectacular advert using choreography, trained dancers, etc. etc. etc. The ad becomes just an ad.
But it’s not surprising that they have to fake it, when an actual flashmob looks like this:
(I recorded this at the ‘Rick Rolling’ Flash Mob last year – I was not proud to be there)
Spot the differences:
- 98% observers – with absolutely no chance that any of the watchers are going to join in, they’re just watching
- No audible music whatsoever
- No one being quite sure what’s going on
- A total lack of any kind of choreography
- Just fades out when people get bored (very quickly)
- 30% observers dropping to 22% as a load of people spontaneously join in
- Loud and jolly music to dance to
- A core of people knowing what they’re doing and a bunch other people who get swept along
- Nice choreography
- A wonderful moment in time
The one thing that they have in common is people filming / photographing it. And to give it credit the T-Mobile ‘event’ does a great job of continuing the illusion by getting a bunch of assorted ‘real’ people to talk about their experiences of the flashmob:
Enthusiastic folk who’ve just seen a TV ad being filmed + editing = magic! If you’d done it you would though wouldn’t you…
I don’t dislike any of the ads above. I think they do a nice job of capturing a feeling and a vision of collaboration. And of course I’m not suggesting that advertising has to reflect reality. Otherwise it wouldn’t be advertising anymore.
However, my suspicion is that we’re seeing adverts made by people who haven’t been collaborating deeply online. Who haven’t been a part of these things. Who don’t understand the subtle, emotional things that happen in online relationships and groups. Another part of the reason we end up with big, generic, broad-brush, advertising. Things that work, in general, for some of the population.
But maybe broadcast media isn’t the place to tell the (more) interesting, deeper stories. The stories that happen quietly, inside the wires, over the airwaves, through the devices and in people’s minds.
Perhaps stories of togetherness and collaboration are best told in places where people are together, collaborating. And perhaps they should be told in ways that reflect the brilliance, excitement and usefulness of what doing things together using tools and technologies – not metaphors – is actually all about.
Or maybe in those places it’s not about telling stories at all.
Maybe. Just maybe.
Anyone got any thoughts?