Like a star-crossed lover desperate to make things work, I am back at my keyboard, trying to make sense of this digital world. 2013 has been pretty inspiring thus far: a year where the Catholic Church has a new Pope, Cadbury has released a new egg-shaped chocolate product, and JT is attempting to bring his musical career back from the dead. All these things considered – and given you all have this Friday off work – it would be amiss not to offer my own Easter address.
Let’s talk about nous; inner knowing, intuitive consciousness. The title to this piece comes from the biblical account of Saint Thomas the Apostle (Doubting Thomas to his friends), the patron saint of my secondary school. Whilst there is a fine line between faith and nous, both ideas play in the ‘popular in marketing at present’ space of heuristics. Riddle me this – as Thomas could barely believe without seeing, can we expect folk to be truly influenced by what we brag about in our comms without ‘proof’? I shudder to think of campaign success seen only through sales; those who end up with ‘product in their possession’ will always be far outnumbered by those who have been engaged by a given campaign activation. Put another way – within our fleeting campaigns wherein we call on transient digital communication platforms to tell our stories, how can we ensure people actually ‘get’ something from our efforts? I don’t often get to legitimately quote Nazi war criminals in a quasi-work context, but Albert Speer nailed this with his idea of ruin value – what do you have left when the digital conversation dies down? What value do we have when our comms are no longer live?
Referencing my marketing crush Helen Edwards, the ‘conversation’ of a live campaign clearly focuses on the here and now, yet things that remain relevant beyond their “living energies” revolve around the unchanging truths of our shared human nature. Intellectually, we are encouraged to “read the dead” for a deeper understanding of a given topic; beyond the excitement of the new, enduring influences become robust through the rigour of critical investigation and empirical observation, not via shortcuts. Why should our focus not be on humanity and motivation? Whatever your belief system, religious storytelling provides a clear illustration of how this has been done well. Not an easy word to roll off your tongue, but try to embrace ‘acheiropoeita‘, the phenomena of icons made without hands. Call me crazy; but deep down, is brand equity not just the attempt at creating your very own Turin Shroud in the mind’s eye of consumers?
At Google’s Think Branding 2013 event a couple of weeks ago, Conny Kalcher spoke of Lego (a portmanteau of “play” and “well” in Danish – who knew?) as being ‘more than a toy’ – without getting too existentialist, this would imply that that Lego actually has a ‘reason for being’. This works if you think of the Lego product as creative raw material to pin-prick reality – ‘platforms’ (Lego bricks) can be combined with ‘components’ (augmentations, such as motors) to create ‘applications’ (completed model designs). This semi-justifies the existence of actual Lego certified professionals, I guess. Music composer Eric Whitacre (inadvertently) referenced this in his later talk with my media quote of the year™ – the idea of being “pregnant with possibility” – “a brick dreams of being more than a brick”, apparently. Crazy.
Lauded French Sociologist Jean Baudrillard theorised the four ways of an object obtaining value:
(1) functional value – the instrumental purpose of an object
(2) exchange value – the economic value of an object
(3) symbolic value – the value a subject assigns to an object in relation to another subject
(4) sign value – the value of an object within a system of objects
For what we do, points (3) and (4) are of most interest as they riff on the human motivations coveted by many brands – sentiment, prestige, taste, class. This is heuristics in marketing again – jabbing at human instinct to shortcut decision making in favour of your brand; doing the damage before the consumer gets to the point of sale. This idea of ‘instinct’ is key – from the physical to the emotional, there are a number of bigger themes that bind humans together, no matter how different we think we are. In context to the creative space we work in, think of art, music, entertainment – rarely is anything truly novel created; what we consume and ‘fall in love with’ is simply iconography – a caricature of things humans instinctively find compelling. The “Amen break” provides a great example of this; the oft-interpolated six-second drum loop that exists as the backbone to more contemporary songs than you would ever imagine (this is the idea of simulacra, for the academically curious amongst you). Beyond the pirated music and porn, the internet has truly been valuable in melting distance and difference between humans. The T-Mobile “life is for sharing” series uses this idea to create a performative metaphor for what their core service can do, whilst Prudential have used this to redefine the moment/emotion of retirement, with their “Day One” activation.
There may be a science behind leveraging instinct – which takes us back to Mr Whitacre, who centred his talk on the Fibonacci sequence. Based upon the Greek symbol Phi, the sequence represents the ‘golden ratio’ of proportions (1:1.618, if you care) present in nature. You may have heard the idea of attribute substitution, the work of psychologist Benoît Monin – exploring the idea that attractive faces are more likely to be mistakenly labelled as ‘familiar’. The heuristic attribute here is the “warm glow”; the internalised positive feeling towards those people we know (the familiar) or those we find attractive.
Think of how major broadcast channels built their empires: familiarity, safety, consistency – there is trust in controlled experiences, so it appears. More pertinently, there is trust in experiences people understand – think of how ‘meme culture’ harnesses the input of the wider populace to be collaborative and innovative, yet ultimately consistent to the original – ‘hygiene content’ suddenly becomes ‘hero content’ to be disseminated to the masses. This raises an interesting point (to be covered in a subsequent post, no doubt) on video content as the proof-point of a zeitgeist – whether it be premium (e.g. big studio)-made, brand-made or user-made; it is not the uniqueness or unpredictability that makes a video great – it is the life-like inflection, the authenticity. Ensure this content name-checks your brand somehow – as per the Go-Pro camera example – then bingo: organic advertising, thank you please.
Before you ask; I DO get it – we all want the ‘big creative idea’ that will take us to Cannes; unfortunately ‘robustness’ is rarely sexy enough to sway a jury of peers. Many believe creativity just happens; a divine brainwave that shows a new way, a new approach, a new concept. In truth, there is an instinctive balance magic and logic – invoking digital intelligence rather than employing digital specialists, creativity can be facilitated through effort, not inspiration. Using hard data to identify consumer-inspired opportunities; toiling, striving, refining, testing, experimenting. AKQA founder James Hilton provided an interesting inflection of this, speaking on future-proofing businesses through “creating the inevitable”. ‘Inevitable’ inevitably sounds less sexy than ‘robustness’ (ahem); but more to the point – does inevitable exist in a tangible form? Following the ‘ease = value’ maxim – the idea of focussing on simple human actions, the ‘illusion of choice’ – then inevitable can, and does exist.
Think of contactless card payments from VISA cards; how Microsoft’s Kinect technology has revolutionised home entertainment; the rise of Burger/Lobster-esque ‘reduced menu’ restaurants – it is all about “taking the pain away”. I will remember you beyond your 4-week burst of paid media if you have facilitated improvement in my life somehow – if you have helped to make my life easier, catered for my innate human needs and motivations. In the same way the NHS (and to a lesser extent, ‘Obamacare’) makes healthcare available for the masses, Nike have significantly lowered the barriers to personal training expertise through the gamut of Nike+ goodies. At a less grandiose level, it may just be that your campaign provides a pleasant way for humans to interact, as per the use of music in Eric Whitacre’s pet project. I STRONGLY advise you to watch his TED talk from 2011. Go to bed 15 minutes later or something.
Anyways, enough of this; who REALLY talks about religion prior to the Easter weekend? We all know the true meaning of Easter is to buy chocolate. Get yourself to <insert generic retailer of chocolate> post-haste, Creme Egg season is nearly over…
Posted by John Duku, Digital Client Services Manager; @dukes4