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A open letter to Stephen Conroy October 31, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in industry news, philosophy, politics, social media, technology, web 2.0, work/life.

Many international readers will not be familiar with the goings on of the Australian political landscape. Back in January I wrote about some unfortunate measures Australia’s recently-elected Government was planning to introduce, suffice to say our elected officials are engaged in a well-meaning but ill-informed program of censoring the access Australians have to the Internet. While looking in to the issue I’ve come to learn I reside in what is by law the most heavily censored Westernised nation, something I find rather ironic considering Sex & The City ran free-to-air here while it was confined to cable State-side.

Regardless, I have written an open letter to Stephen Conroy, the honourable member behind the intiative. Let it be known his intentions are good, but in practice his methodology is flawed, and imposing unnecessary (not to mention ineffective) rules upon the lives of ordinary Australians will achieve few, if any, of the aims of the program.

To read my letter to Mr. Conroy, please head on over to Marketing Magazine. If you feel as strongly as I do, please also visit Keep Your Filter Off Our Internet to learn how you can get involved.

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Stories ripe for the telling October 28, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in philosophy, storytelling, work/life.
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About 6 months ago a wave of posts flooded the blogosphere with the phrase “context is king”. I was convinced I’d started it, only I couldn’t find the post (turns out I’d written “candour is king”, which is different, but still fairly royal, particularly in social media). Regardless, I was thinking about this last night, particularly in light of the story-telling frame of mind I’m in at the moment.

Jeremy, one of the other Account Directors at IE needed to traipse out into Central Victoria in order to get earrings for his wife from a fantastic jeweler, Lisa Kennedy who lives in a small town called Maldon. It struck 5pm, and with the kind of look I his eye that only those who know Jeremy will recognise, he said “Do you want to go on a road trip tonight?”

Off we set along a highway I hadn’t travelled down in the three years I’ve been living in Melbourne passing town after town that were clearly now the by-products of progress; closed shops could be spotted from the highway, better days clearly visible from a distance of 10 or 15 years.

Anyway, I digress. We got the earrings from Lisa (who is fantastic) and then headed up to a lookout the locals know as the Rock of Ages (I’m promised it has nothing to do with the Def Leppard song, I’m sceptical none the less).

The view from the Rock of Ages in Maldon, Victoria

(It was incredible to be standing there just a couple hours after leaving work, to think most nights are spent a home with a glass of wine and old episodes of The West Wing, which in itself isn’t all that bad, but you get the point.)

Anyway, we stopped off in a pizzeria in Castlemain for dinner on the way back. It was called Capone’s Pizza and had such delicacies on the menu as the Bonnie and Clybe (we had this, I may never feel right about pizza again) and Mugsy’s Meatballs (we didn’t have this, I am OK with that). While Jeremy and I remarked on various things about the place that stood out as being vastly different from our inner-city Melbourne haunts, the thing that struck me most was the front counter which was covered with certificates of hospitality training the staff had undertaken.

Capone's was the kinda joint tryin'a do goodin a no good woild...

5 or 6 of the certificates were from the one family, two or three were from another. Jeremy and I talked about how you would never see that in Melbourne, these kinds of certificates displayed proudly. In addition, to have so much of one family’s story tied up in the place, there was something really nice about that. It got me thinking about the conversations I’m having about story-telling right now, and telling a story your audience wants to hear versus the one you feel like telling. That is rarely what we feel like doing, but there’s a story here about the Cutlers of Maldon I’d like to know.

Maybe remarkable isn’t as far from the every day as we think it is, maybe it’s just not the story we want to tell all the time.

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Marketing Quote of the Day October 27, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in marketing, philosophy, work/life.
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Blonde on Blonde album cover

Image via Wikipedia

Courtesy of Bob Dylan.

You can’t be wise and in love at the same time.

That is all.

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Australian GQ are listening… October 25, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in work/life.

A quick visit to Australian GQ’s website reveals some changes afoot. It’s not a complete about face on the things I called them out for, but it’s a start.

I wonder if they’ve made the magazine worth reading as well? A trip to Border’s might be in order to find out…

Fundamentals 2.0 – Open beats closed. Every time. October 23, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in business strategy, philosophy, strategy, web 2.0, work/life.
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1 comment so far
The image of author, essayist, poet, Ralph Wal...

Image via Wikipedia

This is the sixth post in my series on The A-Z of 2.0.

As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I can’t get it out of my head, I hope you can’t get it out of yours. If you’re managing then you’re not trying hard enough, you’re not grasping it deeply enough, you are, as I’ve recently stolen from the great Ralph Waldo Emerson, relying on methods as opposed to principles, where one leaves but a handful of tools at your disposal, the other gives you the knowledge to decide whether you want to use tools at all.

Advertising is dead, long live advertising. Where are we as opposed to where we were. Five, ten, fifteen years ago? What has changed so drastically at the level of sheer corporate, psychological and emotional DNA that those who get it are in many ways mutants, and those who don’t spend their time wielding traditional authority while looking nervously over their shoulders for what might be coming, deep in the night, right when they least expect it.

The fundamentals of what we’re doing are shifting. The A-Z of 2.0 isn’t about marketing or business, it is about everything. Everything is changing, and we all have two options: we can run with it or we can stand still and be taken along with the tide; we ride the waves or get caught on the reef below.

I can appreciate why this causes consternation among most people, we’re not naturally geared for change, we’re ostensibly creatures of habit, we make our lives familiar and manageable through a routine devised for us thanks to titans of media deciding when we’ll be inside thanks to the scheduling of Lost or Grey’s Anatomy. I don’t watch TV anymore, and in the generation coming up behind me that is going to be more of the norm than anyone who does not grasp open beats closed realises.

Because a TV schedule is a method of control. And because open beats closed is a principle that circumvents it. We’re changing the fundamentals of the methods used to entertain us for the last forty or fifty years, but what the big media companies are failing to understand is that does not mean we are forsaking the principles; we still need to escape, to live vicariously through characters on stage and screen, in books and music and art the way we have for thousands of years; to define ourselves through a greater collective consciousness. A song downloaded illegally is a challenge to an outdated method of distribution and value exchange; it is not a challenge to the principle that music is valuable and worth something, it is simply being couched in different terms, and we’re working with different currencies.

The crux is all business as we know it is founded on method and not principle. Almost every business anyway, I can think of one we all know, one with a principle of “Don’t be evil”. Where’s the method in Google that consistently trumps principle? With the understanding that no brand, business or person is ever perfect, show me a company that does it better.

We are more than a hundred and fifty years on from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s great insight, yet so many are still decades from grasping it that it has taken the invention of the internet and to some extents the rise and proliferation of social media for that to really take shape and force.

For businesses of all shapes and sizes to not only grasp the Fundamentals of 2.0, but move with them and avoid the reef below, they are going to need to adhere to higher standards, to move out of the quagmire of method and practice and habit, to step away from routine and the way we have always done it, and not only understand but be excited by the idea that we can do better. America 2.0, Borders 2.0, Celebrity 2.0, Dogma 2.0, Everyone 2.0 – these are all ideas based on principle, they frame the discussion and force us all to higher ground.

Principles beat method. Open beats closed. The way we have been is not the way we will be.

What is the point otherwise?

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Using consumers to tell your story for you (or “Hey diddle-diddle to the people in the middle”) October 23, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in social media, storytelling, web 2.0.
Tags: , , ,

So last week I identified the three ways stories are getting told in advertising. Today I want to talk about the second one: A narrative with the brand at the centre of the story but with the story being generated by consumers, leaving the direction of it loosely defined, usually through a particular campaign moving in a very particular direction. Also known as: User Generated Content.

I said this last week in the office and came under fire for it, but I’m going to wheel it out again because I think it’s true: user-generated content in its current context is a crock.

An absolute crock.

Marketers: you don’t want a UGC campaign. Agencies: stop telling them they want them, they don’t, not if they really understood the trade-offs. And in fact if you really understood them too, you wouldn’t recommend them either.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote the following:

As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.

The methods are simple: give people a platform, incentivise their involvement, and then let them get on with it. The problem here is the principles of user-generated content stem from people behaving in their natural state, creating work because they want to and not manufacturing it for a purpose other than self-expression and social currency. Brands see the natural enthusiasm people exhibit in their daily lives and and hope to co-opt it into their own work, which is like U2 showing up at an indie rock gig, deciding they like a song and then wheeling it out at Wembley Arena the following night.

In the above scenario, U2 wins by bringing the indie band on stage with them, playing the song together. U2 gets kudos for being hip and championing the next generation, the new band gets exposed to a new audience, everyone wins. Everyone wins. That is a principle of user-generated content, of social media. Mutual gain and that being a good thing is a principle – method is acquiring content for a campaign; that is neither cutting-edge nor insightful and increasingly out of touch.

I could go on, but instead just read this great synopsis of a terribly poor effort on BMW’s part, which sums it up perfectly. Brands need consumers more than consumers need brands. Without them their stories mean nothing, and without meaningful stories, there’ll be nothing to tell anyone else about anything at all.

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Ambiguity in narrative, in advertising October 19, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in advertising, creativity, storytelling, Video Games.
Tags: , , , , ,

Yesterday I was at my friend Tim‘s place where we waxed lyrical over beers on how we can make a squillion dollars – look for an announcement on retirement shortly. While there he fired up GTA 4 on his Xbox 360 as I hadn’t actually seen it in action (the gamer kids are asking for my dog tags back, it’s really quite tragic). I was incredibly impressed, it seems all the learnings about the balance between a sandbox and a story had been compounded into an experience equal parts open ended and focused. The biggest issue in games like GTA 4 (aside from the mammoth amount of technology they have to wrangle of course) is giving the users who want it an open ended universe to explore while at the same time delivering a taught experience for people who just want to play a game.

Tim actually took exception, saying it hinted at a completely open universe but didn’t actually deliver as he couldn’t run into any shop he wanted, rob them and then go next door to rinse and repeat. The pragmatist in me thinks that is unrealistic, but only because I’m coming from the perspective of a person who once had to generate content for people like Tim to run into every nook and cranny they could find; that is not a fun job to have.

I digress though. Ambiguity. Who did their homework and checked out the HBO Voyeur site? If you haven’t please go look at it now.

OK, what did you think? What did you see? A series of apartments spread across New York City, all with their own narratives going on. To my mind, what the agencies involved have done is take the essence of what they were promoting and asked themselves what the best way to tell the story would be. The other day I said the best examples of narrative in games are the ones where people think first about the story they want to tell and then settle on the style of game that suits it best; marketing can learn a lot from that approach, one of being platform-neutral and making sure the main thing is the main thing. No egos, no hidden agendas, just the desire to deliver the work in a way that suits the project best.

Sure, saying no egos in advertising is like asking the Pussycat Dolls to share vocals equally, like it was a vehicle for five careers and not one. The point remains though: we overcook so much on the way to delivering creative, we lose sight of what the brief was in the first place: to get the brand, product or service talked about.

Not the advertising around it.

Image courtesy of xeophin, with thanks to compfight.

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Everyone 2.0 – Remember you’re unique; just like everybody else October 19, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in business strategy, philosophy, web 2.0, work/life.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

This is the fifth post in my series on The A-Z of 2.0.

Needs. Need and wants. Things I desire that nobody else does, at least not the way I do, in the form I do, with the pre-conditions and checklists I have for them. Everybody has them, but we don’t articulate them quite into the detail they need to be in order to make them actionable. I could say I want to make music for a living; what I mean is I want to earn enough to be very comfortable from recording and performing my own songs; anybody with half an ear for music can go earn a couple grand a week playing covers, but that wouldn’t satisfy my criteria, regardless of whether I take the time to define it or not.

Andy Warhol‘s most famous quote is “In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.” At the time there’d only been a decade or two where it was actually possible to be famous just for being famous, prior to that you actualy had to be extraordinarily good at something for the word to spread enough and genuine fame to be acquired.

Fame in itself is a funny thing, one I feel, for most people, is entirely undesireable. To be endlessly recognised simply for being anywhere you went does not strike me as the kind of thing a lot of us would wake up in the morning with a burning desire to achieve, even though there are folk out there who do. With the assumption most people desire the money or lifestyle that comes with the kind of fame people find appealing, then I think, regardless of the dreams and desires you have for your life, people seek the conveniences being in that sort of position can bring with it; and in The A-Z of 2.0 a lot of those things are possible.

If you own a car, pause for a moment the next time you’re in the driver’s seat. Look at the dash, the airconditioning, the (if you have them) power windows. Seat adjustments, cruise control, airbags, CD, MP3, DVD players. All of those were once the province of the wealthiest of wealthy individuals. Movie stars and musicians and big business men and women had access to these features. They would be released in the top of the line Mercedes and BMWs, and slowly, via the wonder that is trickle-down economics, make their way into the lives of ordinary people.

This is true of most things around us. I have a Macbook Pro sitting on my lap as I write this, holding computational power that, in my father‘s lifetime has gone from being the sole domain of Government to an item available at the cost of a month’s salary for the middle-class. In our personal lives we seek the same thing in the automation of services; bills going out when they’re due, a cleaner every fortnight, a laundry where they will wash and iron 5 shirts for $12.50, the only decision I have to make being “Is two hours of my time on the weekend it would take to do that worth $12.50?”. I don’t know about you, but the ability to spend two hours on a weekend to do something other than washing is worth at least $12.50.

The ubiquity of products and services trading in an ever increasing commodity (money) to allow you more of an ever decreasing commodity (time) is an idea born from the same place as the DVD player in the backseat of an Audi. I can’t afford a full-time personal assistant, but I can set up an account at Remember The Milk which will automatically send me reminders and help me get through a to-do list. Get Friday takes it a step further, with staff on hand to assist with mundane tasks – I currently have them helping me roll all my superannuation into one account, we’ll see how that goes. For more on this though, read Tom Friendman’s The World Is Flat – you’ll be amazed at what you find.

There exists right now, in Everyone 2.0, an opportunity to provide products and services that were previously the domain of the rich and famous. It is commerce for the empowerment of others, as opposed to commerce for the empowerment of commerce itself. What we’re seeing right now in the global economy is the collapse of a system infected, at its core, with DNA doomed to rot from the inside out because it had blinkers on and couldn’t see how the world around was changing. Even if it had, there’s no evidence to suggest it would have cared, not when a bail-out for companies in need of it is, for all intents and purposes, socialism for the wealthy and capitalism for the poor. Everyone 2.0 is taking the personalisation the web affords us and moving it offline into the every day lives of every day people, where you don’t need a screen and a keyboard to feel the impact.

Capitalism, entrepreneurism, commerce as we know it hasn’t for a single moment meant that open beat closed, but in Everyone 2.0, it is the only way you win. Put the empowerment of others and genuine happiness at the core of your business model and watch as the opportunities for the life you wanted to live come to fruition.

Just like everyone else.

**Update** – October 25th, 2008

For those interested in thinking a bit more about Everyone 2.0, watch this fantastic talk by Paola Antonelli, Curator of Design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Image courtesy of kygp, with thanks to compfight.
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One of these things is not like the other October 15, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in marketing.
Tags: , , , , ,

Let’s be clear: I like me some Pringles (less so Pringle). What I don’t like is them moving to be something they’re not. Now, in fairness the supermarket chains demand consistent product innovation from companies, so they do somewhat get backed into a corner (make no mistake, they are the evil empire), but I just can’t let this one slide. On the left we have regular old Pringles just doing their thing Texas-BBQ stylie. This is familiar territory.

On the right though, Light Aromas. LIGHT AROMAS FROM PRINGLES. SPARE ME. This is a snack food where people compete to see how many they can fit into their mouths at once, there is nothing subtle or understated about this brand. Mediterranean Style Salsa “with a touch of Oregano Oil”. I’m sorry, I didn’t know Gordon Ramsay was now consulting on snack food. Is Heston Blumenthal about to roll out a selection of Smith’s Crisps under the Fat Duck brand?

This is utter nonsense. Honest to God smack-my-ass-and-call-me-Judy rubbish. Oregano oil.  You couldn’t make this shit up, I don’t know anyone other than Pringles who has ever cooked with oregano oil, next we’ll have saffron-infused potatoes being prepared in Franciscan monasteries for a deluxe Happy Meal at McDonalds. Give me strength.

Of course I could be wrong, and this is a lovely opportunity to try out WordPress‘s new built-in poll. So, are Pringles jumping the shark here or should I shut up and enjoy the taste sensation?

Just as I was about to press “Publish”, I spotted the below article. Stop the world, I want to get off.

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Take a message to my love October 15, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in advertising, storytelling.
Tags: , , , , , ,

There’s this age old idea that people got into advertising who wanted to make movies, the same way every journalist is supposedly a frustrated novelist. I’m sure it is true for some, and entirely not true for many. My friend Matt used to be a journalist and now works in advertising, he might have something interesting to say there (he usually does).

There’s a distinction, an important one I think, between people wanting to make movies and people wanting to tell stories. I’m wondering if advertising always has to tell stories, at least, needs to tell them in a traditional sense. One thing I think old media advertising did and still does much better than digital is deliver a whole story in just a single image and a bit of copy. We can argue until the cows come home that that isn’t the point any more, but that’s for another post.

In writing this I’ve been thinking about ads that have conveyed a story for me, and particularly ones that didn’t have narrative at their core, but still managed to tell us a whole lot. Take for example one of my favourite commercials ever (yes, forever-ever, forever-ever):

There’s a whole lot of story going on here, it isn’t just five guys goofing off with each other. The bikes hanging up in the first apartment, the cut to Dookie who is clearly the rennaissance man of the bunch, left-handed and a gamer, at the end we’re even shown it’s winter outside. We could make some guesses around the character archetypes employed to bring the story to life, but we’ve already got a variety of things to work with, and in a transmedia environment there’s a lot of fun to be had very quickly, and very easily.

Another commercial that only came out this year that I loved was this one from HSBC:

What did you think? One colleague I showed it to said it made him angry, he really got worked up by it. I thought it was great though, brilliantly executed to deliver a very particular point – and in delivering a point we get to the heart of narrative in traditional advertising.

Advertising, in telling a story, requires a very specific emotion or lesson to come out of the narrative in order for the brand’s proposition to connect with the audience; if there’s ambiguity it falls flat, it only works if it can’t be easily refuted, and that’s really, really hard to do. With this in mind they have more in common with Hans Christian Anderson than they do with The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (great book, read it), stories employed to deliver a very particular point, constructed from very simple devices to make the re-telling as simple and easy as possible, which is why when I get around to having kids they’re still going to be hearing about Hansel and Gretel, even though I’d much rather be telling them about Han Solo and Chewie.

This is getting a bit long, so I’m going to split this into two sections as I still want to talk about ambiguity and how it works in favour of the story when done right (it’s more interesting than it sounds, I promise). To whet the appetite, if you haven’t seen the HBO Voyeur site, then that is homework.

Meanwhile, what’s your favourite example of a linear story in advertising?

**Update** October 29th, 2008

Watch the Budweiser guys get resurrected in this pseudo-spot for Barack Obama. This is now a meme as much as it was ever a commercial, which means the fun is only just getting started.

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