Thursday, 22 June 2017

Creative direction by numbers?

I've already bemoaned - or at least questioned - the use of 'predictive software' in the film industry, both here and here. And I see the phrase 'data-driven decisions' everywhere I turn, it seems.

The latest company I've become aware of plying their wares in this are is ScriptBook whose tagline is 'Hard Science. Better Box Office.' Moving on from the 'Hard Science,' they have quite a hard sell - 'subjective decisions lead to box office failure.' And they have the data to back it up. 87% of films lose money.

Now, there may be something wrong in the logic that making a film involves subjective decisions, and most films lose money therefore subjective decisions mean failure, but anyway. What ScriptBook  offer is Script2Screen, which employs artificial intelligence to analyse screenplays, delivering an objective assessment of a script's commercial and critical success. Out with hunches, intuition, bias, gut feeling and in with fairness and objectivity.

Not only do ScriptBook promise commercial and critical success, but innovation and originality, too:
'At ScriptBook, we believe that by unifying technology and storytelling, we will enhance innovation and bring back originality in film and television.'

Eh?

Do tell me how a 'predictive algorithm' which works by looking at a database of existing scripts can bring back originality? Unless it means oh, RomComs are successful and so are Zombie films and Historical Biographical, so let's have Gandhi meeting a zombie for a madcap affair.

Let's go back to the data-driven decisions. I remember a few years ago, panic about how e-commerce would destroy existing bricks and mortar retailers. But what's happened is not an 'either or' situation. Everyone is going multichannel in retailing.

It's the same with data. In the same way that Millward Brown and other pre-testing research agencies used to claim to 'predict' the success of your TV spot based on the analysis of their database of tested commercials, companies like ScriptBook are no different. it's just that there's even more data, and what we can do with that data is ever more sophisticated.

Perhaps data-informed is better than data-driven. 'Driven' suggests someone cracking a whip at a herd of cattle. As Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said, while speaking about House of Cards: 'We start with the data ... but the final call is always gut. It's informed intuition.'

Before we leave this subject, here's some light relief for my German-speaking friends. Who needs artificial intelligence when you have monkeys? Comedian Jan Böhmermann composed this smash-hit single with the help of monkeys who chose which of either the four most frequent words in German Chart Hits ('Menschen' 'Leben' 'Tanzen' 'Welt' ) or phrases from TV commercials should come next in the lyrics:

Friday, 16 June 2017

Don't just find your purpose

In the current depressing political atmosphere following the UK general election, I've been looking around to find something more upbeat and inspiring. I get the impression that it's time for some new blood on the UK political scene. It's positive that the younger people turned out in greater numbers to vote than for the referendum. Let's hope some of them get inspired to be more involved, actually change things. It can be done. This young man, at 33, is the youngest person to deliver a Commencement Speech at Harvard.



Mark - now Doctor - Zuckerberg addressed today's graduates as being from his generation. - the Millennials. His main message was about purpose:

My message was about purpose. As millennials, finding our purpose isn't enough. The challenge for our generation is to create a world where every single person has a sense of purpose.

What Mark Zuckerberg was saying is don't just pin your purpose on your (Facebook) wall, like a corporate mission statement, but get out and get doing. Where are the new generation-defining public works?

It's a good message for brands, too. So much time is spent in workshops and brainstorms trying to find a purpose, and even more in trying to articulate it. Your purpose doesn't have to be high-and-mighty . But once you've got it, get out there and do something with it.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Passing off and faking usually involves a one-way traffic: downwards on the price scale. But a month ago - or so - an amusing story made a bit of buzz on social media as the designer Balenciaga brought out a tote bag costing around $2,000 that appeared remarkably similar to the famous IKEA FRAKTA blue bag which costs, well, about a two thousandth of that.

IKEA responded in typical IKEA style - see above. This response has all the IKEA hallmarks - a quirky sense of humour and a matter-of-fact pride about the product - and its low price.

The story could have stopped there, but it didn't. It could well have been IKEA's participation that fuelled a whole host of hacks, some of which are more fun and comfortable-looking than others. You'll see what I mean if you click here.

And the great thing is that IKEA didn't walk away from the party. They stayed, and joined in with the fun. It's difficult to tell which of those ideas come direct from IKEA and which from the outside hackers, and it doesn't matter. IKEA have even made a short how-to film on the subject:



And maybe the FRAKTA bag deserves celebration in its own right, too, as a symbol of what IKEA stands for.  Maybe it should become a film star. It just so happens that IKEA have thought of that too:




Friday, 2 June 2017

Holy Logo!

Reader's Digest have recently published the third annual Trusted Brands Survey. The main survey is carried out in the US, where 5,500 people were asked which brands in 40 product categories they trust the most, and would recommend to family and friends. The study backs up, with numbers, a lot of stuff that marketers know intuitively - for example, that people are prepared to pay more for brands they trust.

From the results, Reader's Digest have created the Trusted League, giving the brands superhero names and personas. So McDonald's becomes 'The Satisfryer', or Dove 'The Beholder', and then there's 'Swoosh', representing Southwest, above.

It's a lot of fun and probably a nice pat on the back for the people working on these brands, but without being a total dreary killjoy, I'll add a note of caution: don't take this too seriously when you're creating your advertising. It could land you into a spot of hot water or holy hubris.

There's also a German version, with fewer product categories and no superheroes, although there are plenty of the usual suspects: Nivea, Milka, Haribo, Allianz, Persil.

I was a little surprised, however to see C&A on the list, as well as Deutsche Telekom and - wait for it - VW.

Maybe it goes to show that goodwill built up can go a long way when you do tell one or two porky pies.


Monday, 29 May 2017

For what it's worth


I recently visited the Strathisla Whisky Distillery, of Chivas Regal fame, and as well as having a thoroughly enjoyable time, I was reminded of two fundamental truths in Marketing:

- seeing, hearing, experiencing how food and drink is crafted can all add further enjoyment to the consumption of  that food or drink
- knowing the story behind a product or brand can add greatly to its perceived value

These truths are known by most marketers intuitively, and we can all back up our assertions with any number of examples or personal experiences.

I was interested to find a 'literary and anthropological experiment' which has sought to value the effect of storytelling on the value of objects. The experiment was started around 10 years ago, and is called Significant Objects. The experiment - which has taken on a life beyond the initial round - was conceived by journalist and author Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn, who conclude that: Stories are such a powerful driver of emotional value that their effect on any given object's subjective value can actually be measured objectively.

What the experimenters did was to buy a load of jumble-sale bric-a-brac, then give a number of writers a piece to write a short story or flash fiction about. The objects were then put on ebay, together with the accompanying story.

You can see the objects on the website, divided into 'significant' categories - Fossils, Talismans, Idols, Totems, Evidence. There's all manner of tat, from a Charlie's Angels thermos to a lighter in the shape of a pool ball. And the stories range from 6 words to minor epics.

In the first round of the experiment, the experimenters sold items that had cost $128 for $3612.

Now, I know you can pick holes in this. The stories were fiction, and were clearly marked as such. Would true stories about the objects, well-written have had the same effect? Did the well-known status of some of the authors have an influence? Was there knowledge that the proceeds would be going to charity? Was there a word-of-mouth element amongst the experimenters' literary and journalistic friends and contacts?

Still, you have to admire a writer who can raise the value of a 'mystery object' from 99c right up to $103.50.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Thank you and you and you and you and you and you and you

How can a company with thousands of employees around the world recognise the work and commitment they put in? Of course, at the local level, it's up to immediate bosses and colleagues to say thank you and make gestures that acknowledge what people do.

And in these days, of course, technology allows companies to make gestures on a global level, while still recognising the contribution of each individual. I'm impressed with the 'Big Thank You' event that Delta ran over the weekend - a 50 hour Facebook Live Marathon to thank each of its 80,000 employees, whose names were read out by a cast of celebrities, along with stories and entertainment for the course of the weekend.

This is the second year that Delta has said 'Thank You' on an epic scale. Last year they got themselves into the Guinness World Records with a 50 foot tall Thank You card - see above.

I guess you could argue that the money spent on these events could go straight into the pay packets instead. But I'm not sure anyone would notice, let alone remember for years to come.

And a couple of dollars extra in the pay packet is unlikely to get you into the Fortune Top 100 Companies to work for.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Make 'em laugh



A week later, and I'm still on my soapbox about humour (or lack of) in advertising. I read a super piece by Paul Burke in Campaign entitled No laughing matter: Why Advertising isn't funny anymore. The guilty are all called out and charged, from the Client to Sir Martin Sorrell and his bean counters, from Tony Blair to the Creative Department. Well worth reading: even if advertising isn't funny anymore, this article is, particularly the paragraph with the ghastly client marketing-speak.

One potential culprit, or group of culprits not mentioned in the article, are what we used to call target audiences. The people 'out there.' With social media, the stereotype of 'Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells' (usually a retired colonel) has been replaced by a whole army of militant social justice warriors, just waiting to spring onto your ad from Twitter, Mumsnet, Facebook, you name it, and give it a good savaging. Advertisers and agencies live in fear of causing offence and outrage. 'All publicity is good publicity' has its limits. It's one thing upsetting a stuffy retired colonel, but quite another offending an entire generation.

But I question: are the new audiences lacking in humour? Do they take a masochistic delight in ads 'making them cry?' I'm not sure. There's still plenty of humour around. But I feel sometimes that it's only the medium that's changed. Youngsters used to tell jokes in the playground, that they'd heard on TV, or through word of mouth. Now they flick through 9gag. And maybe show their mate if it's particularly funny. But the jokes haven't really changed. There's stuff on there that I remember from my schooldays, and that's going back.

20 years ago, it was cool for creative people to be finding inspiration on the internet. But, as I've said before, we've gone from surfing to stumbling to being fed as far as the internet goes. I think - and hope - that there's a huge opportunity for brands and the creative people who work on them to reclaim humour. Fresh, new humour that fits to the brand and comes from observation of life out there, not rehashed old chestnuts from the internet.

I'm convinced that people are even more well-disposed towards a brand that can make them laugh as one that makes them cry.