If you give me $10 I will take a photograph of the sky just for you. That means I will go outside, shoot a photograph of the sky, print it as a 8.5″ x 11″ full color laser jet print, write the date on it, fold it into an envelope, and mail it to you. Oh, and I will also delete the file so that you will have the only existing copy of that photograph. It’s just for you.
If you give me $630 I will give it to my landlord for the month’s rent. I won’t work for one month and I’ll send you an email everyday of what I did and why it was important (unless I am away from a computer). Actually, I am going to need some more money for food and utilities. I am going to raise this to $1000. (NOTE: this is one person a month, if you buy this you will be given a specific month). I will also print out the emails I sent you everyday and mail it to you as a small edition of one artist book.
Honestly it might sound a bit odd, but go and have a look at the list. It’s really compelling. The values that he’s given to things and hist notion of ownership and limited-editionness are really interesting.
I’ve been doing some bits and pieces of awards judging for various folk this year. It’s all been interesting so far.
The one I’m most worried about is the D&AD Viral Category. I’m the chairman of the jury and I’m guessing that there’s going to be loads of debate around ‘what is viral?’. There always is at this kind of thing. There’s also going to be loads of fighting about whether specific things are or aren’t viral. Is a TV ad that went viral ‘a viral’? Is something that got passed round because it was really beautiful a viral? Does a viral have to have a farting squirrel in it?
I used to be of the opinion that you couldn’t really judge something as being viral or not unless you actually know whether it did or didn’t become viral. In which case you’d need to know the results. And how they’d managed to achieve the results. For example if a video has been seen 3,123,826 times, but they’d achieved that purely through paid media I’d have said ‘not viral’. Conversely if a clip was great, but had only been seen by 5 people I’d also have said ‘not viral’.
Basically the old me would have said something is viral only if it has been seen by a disproportionately high percentage of its target audience purely as a result of peer distribution (email, blogs, forums, mobile pass on, IM, etc.).
But now I’ve chilled out a bit ;-)
Having looked at 100s of supposedly viral things (I say supposedly only because they’ve been submitted into viral categories in awards) I think one has to be a bit more relaxed about the definition of viral. I’m not sure I can exactly describe what I mean here. But I’m going to give it a go.
I guess I’ve started judging stuff based on:
Has this thing been conceived and created with a set of qualities that might make it ‘viral’ to its target audience. And is it actually any good.
Quite often when discussing work in a creative forum you’ll find that people don’t want to talk about things like target audiences or results. But when you’re talking about something peer distributed those two things absolutely have to be considered. Don’t they? There’s still far too much viral stuff that relies on bad knob-gags and nudity even though it’s totally inappropriate for the brand and the audience (and don’t get me wrong I love a good knob-gag, in the right setting).
Anyway as you can see the whole debate gets very wordy and waffly and ultimately tied up in its own entrails.
So as I was trundling off to sleep last night I set myself a challenge. Could I come up with 5 words to describe whether or not something is viral. The three I can remember are:
I feel bad posting bad stuff about Adobe being as they’ve just launched 2 really cool things:
Buzzword.com is an amazing online word processor (the export functions are dead tight and you could almost survive without MS Word), and Photoshop Express (the free online Photoshop version) is pretty cool as well.
So those are good things. Here’s the bad thing…
I was looking to upgrade Photoshop Elements (on my MacBook I don’t need anything more powerful). When I got to the checkout of the UK online store I selected the ‘download’ option rather than the ‘ship me a box’ option AND THE PRICE WENT UP!
Getting the box sent costs £45…
Downloading it costs £47…
Why on earth would that ever make sense to anyone? It doesn’t make sense to a consumer. It doesn’t make sense to a business surely? And it certainly doesn’t make sense to the planet.
Unless the fundamental laws of atom shifting have changed while I wasn’t looking.
37 Signals bigged it up so it’s being hammered at the moment (uploading is disabled for the moment as I write this). There’s also obvious issues regarding rights. They do say you should used cleared tracks – but if you look at any of the muxtapes on there most of them aren’t. Including mine (sorry).
I was watching TV last night and an ad came on for continuing education. It’s one with fingers walking around the place. The ad was OK. I didn’t really pay much attention. But at the end of the ad the call to action was – “search for EMA online”. Not visit direct.gov.uk/ema or what you’d normally get, but just search for EMA online.
So I tried it. And it worked.
On Google both top natural search listing and the sponsored link would have taken me to the right place. On Live search and Yahoo.com the right link was the sponsored top link as well as being number 2 in natural search (not perfect, but good enough).
Then a couple of minutes later I stumbled on this article (via: BoingBoing) about how in Japanese advertising the use of search terms in posters is really kicking off. I quite like how they’re integrating a search box with a suggested search term into their ads.
It does seem like a potentially smart way to go now that most of the short and memorable domain names with any meaning have been scooped up. But making sure you’ve got the right people looking after your search engine optimisiation / marketing stuff is EVEN more important than it was yesterday.
It came with a hand-written comp slip that was written just to me. They’d spelled my name right and everything.
But the thing that made it super-special is that it was a total surprise. They’d gone out and done all the legwork themselves. They hadn’t emailed me to ask what my postal address was. They’d gone and figured it all out on their own.
So when it arrived it was a genuine moment of surprise and delight. (In case you’re not a jaded industry hack ‘surprise and delight’ is pretty much the thing that everyone talks about doing to make their customers like them better).
Cynically you might say that they’re just trying to get some more publicity. And maybe they are. But you know what, I don’t care. I’ve got a shiny mug and some splendid tea (it is really good by the way).
Things to learn from this: nice, charming, personal, relevant, free stuff, shiny things, no effort from me.
[I’ve written this post once already. I got to the end of it just as someone phoned me up. I picked up the phone. Fumbled it. And dropped it on my laptop which duly crashed in a spectacular fashion. The second revision is slightly shorter and hopefully more to the point…]
I watched a great documentary on BBC4 on Sunday called The Rise and Fall of the Ad Man. Presented by Peter York it featured a lot of the great ‘ad men’ of the past, and some of the present. There were loads of interesting points worth noting. But I’ve forgotten most of them now (for the next few days you can still catch the whole thing on BBC iPlayer).
The thing that stuck with me mainly was its celebration of the glory days of advertising and specifically the rise of the hot creative shops of the 60s. CDP (Collett Dickenson Pearce) was the poster child of the show and it’s success seemed to be attributed to a few things:
The time was right. The swinging 60s. Post-war gloom moving into a period of rapid cultural innovation.
The existence of a bunch of TV natives. People who had grown up with TV, who knew how to write for it, and to make it work for them.
A media environment where you could create a phenomenon overnight by putting something on the only commercial TV channel and hitting 20m people in one go.
Clients needed help.
The creation of a place where cool creative people just wanted to hang out.
[Forgive me if any of this is woefully incorrect I wasn’t alive at the time and I’m basing all of this on something I saw on the Telly, which is never a good place to start]
Is ‘now’ the time right for something new?
It feels a bit like the time is right for some kind of big shift again. And judging by the fact that there’s about 5 new agencies starting every week it would appear that others do too. Most of these new shops are claiming to be some kind of new new thing.
But if you’re coming out of an agency, trying to hire people who work in other agencies (media, digital, design, whatever), the danger is that you’re going to end up with just another variant of an agency. Sure, it might have better laptops, the structure may have mutated and the working culture might be tweaked slightly. But most of these new agencies seem to be built on well understood principles with well understood types of people working for them. This might give you a temporary moment of interestingness and competitive advantage. But it’ll only take a minor manoeuvre for someone else to catch up.
So assuming that the time is right (and it might not be), what would you do to create a brand new agency, like what they did in the 60s?
Hire Digital Natives?
I’m making the assumption here that digital natives are to today what TV natives were to the 60s.
So hire some digital natives. People like me who think that digital is ‘a thing’ are old-school. We might be able to help get you through the next few years, but unless we become less in awe of a bunch of computery things we could end up making ourselves obsolete.
But right here, right now, I think we’ve got our Hovis opportunity (Hovis make bread, they also got a seminal Ridley Scott ad during the 70s). There’s still a moment when we can do the big huge magical thing before all this digital stuff just becomes ordinary, everyday and expected.
I’ll get back to the hiring thing in a bit.
The Media Environment
Once you’ve got people you’ll need to create a guiding principle that celebrated the media environment that we’re dealing with. Embrace fragmentation and change. Realise that big lumpy unpredictable niches are about as good as its going to get. Or that narrow:deep audiences can become wide:deep audiences very quickly and with tiny media costs.
I’m not sure exactly what that principle is, but it’s the equivalent of knowing that a break in Coronation Street is your playground – then making the right stuff. (Hell if I knew the answer to this I’d be a very valuable and important man).
I loved this from the programme:
I doubt that this would be said by many people nowadays (especially not in the online space).
Clients Needing Help
The show documented the huge improvements that have been made to the marketing function within client organisations. Leading to a suggestion that in lots of places the marketing function is so sophisticated that they’re constantly butting heads with the agency – I can’t believe this could be true ;-).
In the ‘glory days’ it seemed like the agencies who were producing great work were almost unquestionable.
If you’re trying to launch a killer agency right now. Where do you think clients need most help? Where can you command a position of unquestioned god-like genius? On my list marketing and advertising wouldn’t be at the top.
Creating the Place
And now for the big one: creating the place where the cool guys come to hang out and do whatever it is they do.
I don’t think this is about environment it’s about a culture of possibilities and the other people they’re going to have as company/inspiration. And paying people properly – if you want to attract the best people you’re going to have to shell out. As someone in the BBC4 show quoted, CDP knew that if they paid peanuts they’d get monkeys.
In the 60s it was the best artists, writers, film-makers and suchlike who were the people you wanted in your gang. But who are the people you’d want nowadays? Here’s my list:
Entrepreneurs: You’ll be wanting the new Sergey and Larry. Of course. We all would. It’s about finding the people who just want to get stuff done quickly. People that make things happen. And who have a passion for things that they’re making / selling. There’s a big difference between business people and entrepreneurs. At least in my humble experience.
Geeks / Inventors / Designers: I’ll probably get shot for bunching these people together. But for these purposes I am putting them together. It’s the people who conceive of brilliant things. The ones who invent the widget. Or the new way of making something more usable, or more beautiful, or work faster or better. But specifically it’s about finding the ones who don’t have self-imposed limits. The ones who believe that anything is possible.
Super producers: Oh yeah. The people who know how to get things done. The people with the address book you’d kill for. Give them a thing to make or a bridge to build and they’ll know the people to make it happen. And have them on team in a couple of days. I think there’s about 26 of these people in the world (at last count).
Online content creators: People who make things. People who can’t help making things. The ones who are just be out there making videos, or music, or poems, or doodles. People who understand how to create a moment. A piece of online cultural history.
Cyber anthropologists: I didn’t really know what to call these people. They’re the people who have an ungodly fascination with what’s going on ‘out there’ the ones who are living real online lives, and watching and interrogating other people too. So they wouldn’t just be commenting on online dating, they’d be out there getting hooked up. And I’d be particularly looking for the ones who are trying to understand what it all means from a psychological and sociological point of view.
Uber bloggers: Of course I’m just sucking up to bloggers here so that they all link to this post and say nice things ;-) But seriously if you’re a certain type of blogger you know certain types of things that not many other people do. You understand how content and conversation work together. You understand how things get transmitted around the blogosphere. In short you understand some very important things about today’s media landscape.
As I went through this list I sort of sense checked it by seeing if I could put names next to all of these roles. And I could. So they’re not fantasy people. They really do exist.
Then once you’ve got a great place to work and assembled that rag-tag bunch of mistfits you’ll need some hardcore project managers and business people to be able to sell the shit out of the nonsense they’ll come up with.
I forgot. It might be expensive. And it might not work. But if it wasn’t it wouldn’t be worth bothering.
Anything or anyone else you’d chuck in for good measure?
It’s so killer it’s not even funny. They’ve got a load of top drawer interactive music machines that you can play with over the internet. And the way they’ve done the queueing and stuff is really nice.
I’m not 100% sold on the old skool interface look, but it doesn’t get in the way so I don’t care too much.
I just had a go on the choir and it was fun. And now they’re going to send me a film of my ‘performance’. How nice.
This is the kind of shit that gets me really excited. I love stuff that still feels like magic. It makes me all hot and bothered with the thought of possibilities and the things that can happen next. And that’s a good thing.