Act 2: Even in darkness…

My beautiful dark twisted fantasy

Scene set: the sequel. Welcome to Act 2.

Irrespective of what your favourite fortune teller may say, there is no more significant number after “one” than “two”. No need to pull faces; think about it. This is not a debate of abundance, but the number two can double what you own, at its most selfish. “Two” also has emotional scope, providing the opportunity grow beyond the ‘family inherited’ at birth – turning ‘two-into-one’. Nothing like companionship to reassure us we are not alone in this cold, cruel world, right? Most important is what “two” can do intellectually; imploring us to appreciate that things exist beyond our comprehension. Two sides to every story, a yin to your yang, a light to your dark. True wisdom is apparently found through balance rather than power, after all.

So – as mentioned in Act 1 (for those who missed it, here is your homework), the focus of this triology is the harnessing of stage tricks to help our marketing campaign “plays” stick in the minds of non-marketing folk. I primarily work on campaigns for an FMCG client with no bricks n’ mortar or online retail presence, so this is all pretty important to me – as we cannot provide instant (purchase) gratification with our comms, we often rely on ‘entertainment’ to help shift product – and a “play” well done is great entertainment, non?

Curating corporate content that stays true to the function of the given business will perennially stump many more intelligent and well paid practitioners than I. From the (debated) genesis of branded content through radio infomercials to contextually-relevant sponsorships to product integration, we now find ourselves in the era of “contentrepreneurship” – as per the glorious portmanteau uttered by Candace Kuss. Those at the forefront realise the importance of ‘organisation’ – the shaping and leveraging of your assets to tell a story in the way you want it to be told. ‘No shit Sherlock’ time, but look at Red Bull or Coca-Cola if you want examples.

The beloved infomercial. We may have lost Billy Mays (RIP), but awesomeness like this ensures QVC will never die

Returning to my obsession with “two”, it is the ‘light / dark’ duality that intrigues me most. Putting you in the shoes of a jaded screenwriter (if you didn’t see Seven Psychopaths following my prompting, PLEASE watch Argo immediately) – you will struggle to get any script funded without the presence of a few standard devices: a hero, an antagonist, a journey, the twist, a happy ending. Light, dark, light, dark, light. No matter how happy that “break-up DVD” makes you feel, the real fuel in the storytelling fire comes from the ‘dark’; from the antagonist or twist. This is where the human emotion emanates from, building that feeling of injustice to set up the grand ending we so crave – there is no hero without a nemesis. What would the New Testament be without Judas Iscariot? What would awful blockbusters be without the all-appears-lost ‘Michael Bay moment™’? Sarcasm is not required in your answer here, thanks.

Scenes of peril provide us with great dialogue

Scenes of peril provide us with great dialogue

and umm…cleavage shots

and umm…cleavage shots

The prevalent obsession with ‘rewarding’ audiences with pretty, nice things within our comms REALLY irks me. Can we not embrace the ‘dark’ once in a while? This is no cheap racial gag – we are trying to get folk to part with their precious disposable income, ferchrissakes. This is nowhere near as outlandish as it sounds; listen to Alan Rickman himself break it down – sharp beard and all. For whatever reason, we forget that content is “play”; Matt Elek of Vice Magazine has previously encapsulated this well, warning brands to “never promise entertainment and deliver advertising”. Humans (sadly) don’t think in product cycles, and where possible, we tend to describe and search for things by “category” as opposed to “brand” – the experience or function is often the “real” name people give to things. Who hasn’t got a family member who calls your extortionately expensive Dyson a “hoover”? I would wager it isn’t just my dear mother who calls every game console you have ever owned a “Nintendo”. Yes, it still happens.

Producing content using broader entertaining themes as opposed to mere ‘product’ is something Adidas did incredibly well just before the London 2012 games, with reference to their lauded green-screen photo booth stunt. From humble origins on the Loughborough University campus (where Team GB athletes got pose their self-esteem away), the gig really caught fire through the introduction of ‘real people’ and (the twist) a mildly-overrated footballer from Walthamstow. A simple concept through a wonky lens – a little cinéma vérité involving 60 people posing for camera produced reams of unique content, 3.3m YouTube views and most importantly – a human experience people could relate to and remember.

The premise still holds up if your tools are simply ‘science’; Brendan Hodgson of H+K speaks of “data as content”, as illustrated by the raft of infographics and data visualisations currently bouncing around our inboxes – they are simply images formed by facts, after all. Visual storytelling can be traced back to Nikola Tesla and his use of “digital theatre”; there is no reason why harnessing the excitement of technology and knowledge cannot be as impactful as a cameo from Matt Damon – it may just be the anarchist is me, but sometimes there is nothing more engrossing than the truth. BT borrowed/stole from this theme here and here to plug their Infinity broadband service; each execution planted squarely between the work of Tesla and the natural wonder of the Northern Lights. This is nothing more complex than demonstrating transparency, “exploring the dark”, if you will. Therein lies the key; what is the broader, human story your data/content is trying to communicate? Be provocative to be captivating – make hearts feel what the accompanying mind is trying to digest – you can educate or advocate and keep it credible through your use of facts. Which is probably another reason why not to ‘make them up’, huh people…?

Et la pièce de résistance? If ‘all the word is a stage’ (if you need it again, here is your homework), then it is your duty to be theatrical – can you personalise the visualisation to tell the story from the perspective of an individual? Or can you display your facts dynamically to bring the volume and velocity of your data to life? This technique is often employed by police forces to report crime trends, as per this example from Oakland PD – your story/content SHOULD be based on truth; so your insight will make sense from whichever angle you look, right?

The smug grin of a man who knew he was headed to the Opening Ceremony by speedboat…twice

The smug grin of a man who knew he was headed to the Opening Ceremony by speedboat…twice

My impassioned plea is for you all to attempt unexpected; challenge your audience and embrace the pantomime villain, y’all. We can’t all be ultra-polemic, but for every bankable John McClain, there is a FAR more interesting Hans Gruber primed to steal scene after scene, offering the chance of huge dividends. Providing friction in this way enables and encourages your audience to peer into the ‘unknown darkness’ of your communications. If you can provide people with enough material (yes: “content”) for them to look hard enough, they will reach a degree of understanding of what you have placed in front of them.

Simon Cutts  of Coracle introduced me to concrete poetry in his talk at Playful 2012; a poetic style powerful in that it messes with your head as much as it delights you. Borne from the idea that the human mind ‘has’ to understand something when confronted with a new experience, so it will keep trying to until an experience or meaning is attached. The ‘dark’ side of poetry, one may argue. Our advertising is ideally a communication that is given meaning and adherence by people – a bitter pill to swallow for creatives, but there is no single input and response; plurality of understanding is where it all comes together. YOU are telling the story through YOUR content, but it is the process of ‘attempted understanding’ that generates awareness. Games do not exist without players.

Is this not what we want – to stand out, to be remembered, to be ‘something’ to people? Products of tension are stronger as you are forced to think harder to create them. Think how satisfying a home cooked meal is, how proud you feel driving a car you bartered an insane discount on, or how special receiving that “what you mean to me” bunch of flowers (NOT from an Esso garage) made you feel – it is the perceived value; the magic is in the trouble. Your content becomes most valuable when it contains human value to people; but remember this value is earned through consumption, not “baked-in”. In some extreme cases, even your humble flash banner can become “art” that is shared and admired – well done for showing the way, Gucci.

Simple, striking, yet disturbing. Pretty much how I would describe most acrobats, actually…

A bit more brain-bending than Act 1, surely? It remains to be seen (as so judged by you, reader) if this sophomore piece will represent the ‘Empire Strikes Back’ to my ‘Star Wars’, or whether it in fact becomes the (God forbid) ‘Super Former Infatuation Junkie’ to my ‘Jagged Little Pill’. Despite my issues with Return of the Jedi, I move towards the conclusion to this trilogy believing my next piece won’t crash and burn, a la Godfather: Part 3. Sorry George, but facts are facts.

No closing cinema tip this time; no pithy remark. Just a beyond surreal “adieu”, until Act 3.

(…those French, hey?)

Posted by John Duku (@dukes4), Digital Client Services Manager

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