Last week, I didn't write much, because I was worn out after a week in Mexico directing interactive video. It was every bit as much of a shoot as many of the network spots I've done in my career. The budget, however, was significantly smaller than most of those network spots. At the same time, though, it was significantly more than anything even approaching home-made. Yes, this is online video, but it's not your kid brother with a camcorder. The finished content is good enough to run anywhere. But it won't, because that wouldn't make sense. It was designed for the web.
In one week back at the office, I had three separate meetings about a total of five pending online video projects, with budgets running the gamut. Clients get online video, and they want more of it.
Some agencies react to online video with disdain: "It's crap. No production value - just some Schmo with a camcorder and kids doing stupid stuff." Others react with misguided glee: "You can shoot anything you want for a nickel, and the audience will buy it, because they're used to looking at DIY." Both views are missing what's really happening.
Clients are all over video because of the benefits we've always known are inherent in a moving-image piece. It tells a story, it conveys emotion, it demonstrates concepts, ideas, and products better than anything else. And because it's an affordable way to get an engaging message in front of the people you want interacting with that message.
Done well, video for the web is developed with the same kind of thought that goes into the development of a site: Who are the users? What are they looking for? What do they want to see? What are they used to looking at? What do we want them to do? All of that in context with the omnipresent parameter for all communications projects -- how much money can we spend on this? Video for the web, from an agency standpoint, isn't simply grabbing a camcorder, and shooting your kid brother on a rocket-powered skateboard. However, neither is it re-purposing a spot made for tv. But it could have some elements of either one of those, depending on its context.
Video for the web is just that. For the web. There's no defined style, duration, context, production value, or even, defined format. There's no one way to make it. Which means each video project done for the web is going to have its own set of conceptual and production requirements, based on content. Content that resonates with users, within the voice of the brand, and the budget. Content is, as always, everything.
When I wrote Use A Stick several years ago, I harped a lot on the overall cost of production -- how creative has to be developed for a new world where agencies compete for people's attention against kid brothers everywhere. When I wrote it, I didn't simply say, "Make it cheaper." I said agencies have to learn how to develop good stuff to play on a whole new playing field -- which includes new competition, and new budgets.
I don't know if people didn't read, believe, or pay attention, or if it wasn't all that important a concept back then. After all, online video was just an interesting blip on the radar at that point. Something that was surely coming, but at the time, was relatively experimental. It was, actually, relegated to the kid brothers of the world -- or, maybe, to early-adopter agencies re-purposing tv spots for this new thing called YouTube, hoping to somehow get more eyeballs.
It doesn't matter. What matters now is this: If you haven't developed an expert knowledge of how to concept, write, and produce quality video for the web on budgets that are reality for the web (not tv) -- and if you don't have a deep understanding of how very different an online video piece and its audience can (and should) be from anything you'll find on tv, there's a curve coming. It's ahead of you.
Short post today. Spent a good bit of the day writing my next piece for adotas.com, which is due this week. Here's the link to my author page there, where it'll appear, in addition to the adotas homepage, once the editor posts it. (A note about that -- I don't write the titles. Just the stuff under them.) Spent the rest of the time yesterday and today with my kids, because I've been out of town for a week.
I just got back from a shoot in Mexico. One of the cool things about my job is that I still get to direct from time to time. I suppose 15 years doing it all the time counts for something. The job I just shot was an interactive piece, and the shoot came off incredibly well, considering the lack of A/C in the studio, and plenty of 10Ks.
I was reminded how much I like the process. Not the process as most agencies think of the process -- scheduling time and talent, filling out the proper forms, making sure everyone's informed and on the right conference calls and email cc's. Not that. That stuff is necessary, and it's process, but that's not the process I'd call fun. I'm talking about the process of making stuff. Of creation. Coaxing a great performance out of an actress who isn't sure she's got it in her. Inventing new shots the client would have never envisioned, but that add a ton of style and punch to the end product. Being there, in the moment, creating the right moment, hopefully, while the camera is rolling. It's fun. And it's even more fun when it's done with a deep understanding of the strategy behind the whole project.
There's a lot of creative out there that strives for cool, just for cool. There's at least an equal amount, or maybe more, that has decent strategy, but fails the cool test. Neither are the kind that get me up in the morning, or get customers to your door. The kind that does that -- is the kind that's fun. And it's fun through the whole process.
Danny G has an interesting piece on TalentZoo that kind of re-sparked some thoughts that I've been having a lot lately about how we're all handling this integration thing. During the course of a typical day, I probably have four or five conversations about integration, as it relates to advertising -- or sometimes, media in general.
In our industry, we perceive two sides of the integration fence. But truth is, there are many. The most obvious ones to us are traditional agencies who want to become more digital -- who solve that any number of ways -- and digital agencies who either want a bigger share of the overall marketing pie, or who want more credit for the stuff they come up with. In the tech world, where they're (a little) less concerned about the development of marketing messages, there's lively debate on delivery options, connectivity, integration of platforms, and, of course, the relative usefulness, and frequent downtime of Twitter.
Those are integration discussions, too -- because they deal with the integration or adoption of new technologies into the real world. And that, to me, is both the essence of the agency debates, as well as the big, fat elephant sitting in the room that no one bothers to talk about much.
Because how this stuff integrates into the lives of real people is, really, the only thing that matters.
The talk for some time around agencies is about how consumers (users, people) are now in control. News flash: They've always been in control. You just didn't notice it as much, because they didn't have as many ways to express their displeasure or acceptance, and the ways they had were nowhere as far reaching or immediate. They are now. Which means, if you're used to putting out drivel, you'll get called on it much quicker. If you're putting out stuff that's appealing, you'll see faster acceptance.
Discussion about integration too frequently centers on what the other integrating party needs to do to make it happen. Traditional marketers think that if the digital set would just think more about the big idea, they'd be better off. Digital folks think that the traditionals need to finally get on Facebook and Twitter, and try to keep up. Both are right, and both miss the bigger point.
New technology has enabled human interaction to happen through new conduits. But it hasn't changed the essence of that interaction one bit. Dig deeper through the delivery mechanisms and the pithy headline-visual combos, and you'll find, if you're smart, that we as marketers are simply surrogates for our clients in a great big room full of regular people, and we're just trying to be noticed and liked.
My seven-year-old doesn't think about the mechanics of how he interacts with Sponge Bob. Sometimes it's with a mouse, other times it's with a DVD remote. They're different to him, to be sure, but what ultimately matters is that Sponge Bob (and, well, Patrick) crack him up. Nick has given him a variety of ways to interact with Sponge Bob, and he uses them all, right down to the new toothbrush. What they've done right is to deliver meaningful experience within two contexts -- one, the context of the medium itself (meaning the site he plays on isn't simply a re-hash or alternate distribution of the tv content), and two, within the context of his relationship with the character -- there's creative continuity without the use of, or need for, content duplication.
Analogy Alert: Say you're at a summer barbecue, and you meet a really nice woman, and buy her a beer. She enjoys hanging out with you for the day, because you make her laugh with your sometimes loud, but consistently funny behavior. She gives you her number. When you call, she invites you to go with her to a semi-formal garden party. When you go, do you (A) wear the same Hawaiian print shirt you wore to the barbecue, tell the same loud jokes, and offer to buy her a beer (after all, that seemed to work before) -- or (B) dress appropriately for the garden party, but keep her giggling with subdued humor?
Option (B), clearly, is the way to go. Because it recognizes the essence of your brand (humor) that is the attraction to the audience. Yet, it alters the nature of the creative to be appropriate for the delivery mechanism. It sees the underlying message ("please continue to like me") and delivers that message as basic human interaction that's appropriate to a specific time and place.
If I haven't lost you, here's where I'm going with all this: Digital - it's not all about the new cool stuff that's out there. Traditional - it's not all about forcing the same old stuff into new places. Everybody - it's always been about the people you're trying to attract, but none of us noticed as much before. Now it's clear that it's not partly about them, it's only about them, and what they want. It's our job to deliver it, in the ways they want it delivered.
In the last post, I put up a link list to a lot of stuff I've written here over the past three years. A common theme you'll find, should you read through it, is simplification. Getting beyond all the inherent confusion to boil down any new tactic to something basic. It's all about basic human interaction. Dynamics change, styles change, etiquette changes, tactics change, but in the end, we're still, basically, just conversing with people in a way that we hope they'll like. Once again, Seth simplifies, and nails it, here.
On Friday, this new piece went up on adotas.com. Hope you like it. I wouldn't have used the word "Lure" in the headline, but then, I didn't write the headline. Just the stuff under it. If you like the post, here's the link to the other stuff I've written for adotas.
I got to thinking about all the stuff I've written about how advertising has changed, and continues to. Possibly, because last week, I sat in a seminar for two days and listened to two guys tell lots of folks in my agency lots of stuff I've been saying, writing and thinking for a long time. So I looked at my archives for the first time in forever, and, surprise of surprises -- turns out I've been writing this blog for exactly three years, as of June 23.
The blog started out as an extension of the eBook I wrote - Use A Stick, which, fairly quickly, launched Tangelo Ideas, and eventually led Brunner to think I might be able to bring some more interesting interactive thinking to their party. Reading back, the book and the early posts are a touch naive, I must admit. Well, kind of. It's hard to know, really, how naive, because our perspective now is vastly different than it was then. Three years is a lifetime on the web.
I hope you'll give some of the old stuff a read. As you do, consider two things: First, they
(the early posts, and Use A Stick) were written from a small, startup agency perspective -- a small
startup led by a guy who closely observed the mistakes lots of big
agencies made in commercial production over the course of 15 years. The
book, especially, is -- well, it's a poorly disguised rant.
Second, they were written three years ago, when things we take for granted today were in their infancy, or not even, yet. If you're reading something that seems really obvious now, take a look at the date on the post. For example, the first "spot" I uploaded to YouTube went up when they were getting 3000 videos a day. I thought I was late in jumping on the whole YouTube thing then, and said so. And frequently, now, I think I'm late in adopting some new technology or practice, only to meet with a colleague or a client or my wife, who tells me I might as well be speaking Chinese when I talk about this stuff. Early and late are a matter of perspective, I suppose.
If there are any constants that have held firm in what I've written over three years, they are these:
1. Ideas rule.
2. Change is constant, and constantly accelerating.
3. Users decide.
With that, I thought it would be cool to put up a snapshot, in list form, of the first two years of this (so far) three year project. There's a short description, newly written, under each link. I only covered the first two years, because, well, I guess I want the newer stuff to simmer a bit more. Plus, the list was getting long.
you like what you read, please, pop into the archives and pick up where
the list leaves off -- a year ago, in June 2007. The writing and ideas
seem, at least to me, to get better as the dates get closer to now. I decided to include a lot of links here, as much for myself, as any other reason. I personally find
lists like these useful to tag, and refer to now and again. Hope you
Here are 32 posts - the better, more pertinent stuff - from June 2005 through May 2007. Mostly, but not completely, in chronological order:
Today is the first day of the rest of whatever
First post: The blog in support of Use A Stick.
The only thing you can bet on
References = outdated. Message = just as current as ever.
A Barn Roof, A Tractor Hat, and a Surfboard T-Shirt
New delivery methods - but still, just basic human interaction.
What I've Learned
An article written for somewhere else, but posted on the blog.
Engage with something extra. Thoughts of Easter Eggs in all forms of advertising.
Four Year Old Wisdom
Simplify your traditional ideas. That works best.
Don't be one. Difficult, apparently, in this business, but doable.
Meaningless exercises undertaken by many cities. Come to think of it, many clients, too.
Naïve in articulation, but most of the core truth I believe.
Lead, follow, whatever
Don't do what everybody else is doing
Boiling it Down
Get to the essence of the communication.
Who Are You
The tyranny and absurdity of traditional advertising job titles, as they relate to new ideas.
(another) Boil it Down
Must have forgotten the first one. Or felt I hadn't made the point.
How pro made might always have to play nice with consumer gen.
Corrals, Pole Barns, Fried Chicken
Destination sites versus the 2.0 concept of multiple entry points. Content as a draw.
In Whose Interest?
The user rules.
Just a quote I never want to forget, and that all ad creatives should read.
Common mistakes made by people with good intentions.
Common mistakes made by agency creative people with good intentions.
Change is constant, and fast.
In Praise of Imperfection
Perfection is the new normal. Yawn.
Expensive Doesn't = Good. Good = Good.
Production value can only get you so far.
Sociological Shift - Why it's not another channel, and why the channels are changing the way they are.
The title pretty much says it.
We've changed our name. Here's the official release:
Blattner Brunner trims name; expands ownership.
Pittsburgh—As of June 16, advertising agency Blattner Brunner will be renamed Brunner, and its digital marketing group, formerly bbdigital, will be renamed Brunner Digital. The change both acknowledges chairman and ceo Michael Brunner’s sole ownership for the past 5 1⁄2 years, and also allows for new, broadened ownership going forward.
Simultaneously, Scott Morgan, Mary Kay Modaffari, and Petra Arbutina will make partner, becoming the agency’s only other stakeholders besides Michael Brunner and, formerly, co-founder Joe Blattner, who sold back his shares in January, 2003. Mary Kay Modaffari, previously evp dir. of account management, is promoted to the new position of evp Pittsburgh managing director. Morgan and Arbutina retain their same titles: president and
evp contact strategy, respectively.
Michael Brunner states: “Our agency is fortunate to have had the benefit of Scott’s, Mary Kay’s and Petra’s dedication and commitment over the years, and I am proud to honor their contributions by making them, officially, my partners. I am also excited by what I believe this agency can further achieve under such a team of leaders. Although I enjoyed ‘flying solo,’
now is the right time to make this change. The combination of internal growth and the extraordinary fragmentation of the ad/marketing universe both say to me that future growth will depend on a broader skill-set than I alone can provide. I am thrilled to have found three dynamic partners from within our ranks.”
Since 2003, under Michael Brunner’s direction, agency billings have increased from $76 to $200 million, and staff from 73 to 200. The client roster now includes several national accounts with billings over $20 million each; in 2003, there were none over $5 million. The agency has opened offices in Atlanta and Washington D.C., and, since 2006, been on both Adweek’s and Ad Age’s Top 100 U.S. Agencies.
Local News Note:
Brunner will remain in its present location, 11 Stanwix St. The building’s new owners have committed to significant upgrades to the property.
Brunner (www.brunnerworks.com) is an independent advertising and marketing services firm with offices in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. The agency provides advertising, digital, direct, public relations, and design services to clients that include American Bankers Association, Atlanta Bread Company, CONSOL Energy, Cub Cadet, The Dow Chemical Company, GlaxoSmithKline, GNC, Philips Healthcare/Respironics, and Zippo.
Sometimes I indulge in thinking out loud. Not always a safe thing to do -- but probably a lot safer than thinking through a keyboard. Nevertheless, that's what I'm doing now. Thinking and typing (which, probably, is a distant cousin to drinking and dialing, but, whatever.) I need to. Because an "I wonder…" has been rolling in my head for a while and I'm wondering if a blog about it will help me firm up an opinion. Since I'm paid for my opinions, I find it helps to have them.
The "I wonder" has to do with the explosive popularity of online video. I wonder if I can pinpoint the, or some of the, main reasons for its popularity. Especially, but not limited to, how it relates to advertising. I suspect the overall popularity of online video has to do with its unique mix of passivity and control. I can't think of any other tactic that combines the two the way it does. So I'm going to think and type, and hopefully you'll come along for the ride.
For one thing, I think I know why online video is popular with agencies -- especially traditional agencies making the transition to digital, and especially traditional creatives making the same transition: It's familiar. It's not a spot, but it's like a spot. Easy to wrap your head around. Trouble is, make it too much like a spot and it tends to fail. I think Firebrand showed us (or rather, showed itself what some of us suspected all along) -- people like commercials, just not as much as we think.
So, why do people like online video? Why the Favorites playlist that defies genre, and includes everything from music videos, to sports highlights, to your kid brother skateboarding into the side wall of the garage? There's something about the medium itself, I think.
The web is complex. It's not one medium, but rather a host of disparate media that are held together only by the fact that they're all accessible with a mouse. People use the web for all sorts of things, ranging from getting the news to researching term papers, finding phone numbers to ordering pizza, communicating with friends, buying stock -- you know how extensive it is. And sometimes (less than agencies think, but more than most people admit,) people use the web for entertainment.
Remember when the common wisdom said your TV would eventually become your computer? It's clear now that the convergence is, in fact, happening -- only it's happening in the opposite direction. And what's available on this new thing is, well, a lot more than what is available on the old thing. But more important than there just being a lot more stuff is the fact that users can be a lot more selective. Actually, that's an understatement. They can be, and are, completely and totally selective. The control that comes with interactivity blows away anything that has ever come before. Even the most die hard TIVO junky has to admit that.
But…watching video, either on a computer screen or a TV, is a passive experience. Hit play, it plays, you watch. Fact is, an awful lot of entertainment is passive. Movies, concerts, theatre, sporting events -- while some may incite emotional and even physical response, the act of being entertained by these things, is essentially, passive. You've bought your ticket, or clicked (the remote or the mouse) for the very purpose of allowing someone else to do the heavy lifting while you sit back and enjoy.
So if interactivity is the key to popularity, how come videos with hot buttons an annotations aren't always the hottest videos out there? I think it's because when users are in "entertainment" mode, there's a certain desire for passivity. Note -- I'm using "entertainment" here to mean the mode you're in when you just want someone else to entertain you. Games are the huge exception to this theory. Games provide a digital experience that is completely active, even if it's not so, physically. A different thing altogether. Multiple media held together by a mouse, etc. etc.
In a video, I personally (and I suspect there are millions like me) don't want to click the hot button. When I do, it ceases to be a video, and starts to become a game. If I wanted to play a game, I'd play a game. I want to watch a video. I want you to make me laugh, or cry, or teach me something. You have a minute. Maybe two. Go.
It's the combination of just the right amount of entertainment (passivity) and choice (interactivity via limitless selection) that makes online video popular, as a medium. (Content, of course, is the critical thing that makes any given video rocket or bomb.) More, or less, of either passivity or selection, and you're not fulfilling user's quest of the moment. She moves on -- because she doesn't want to work that hard, right this second. It's too easy to click to something else.
I suspect (but can't prove) that "Will it Blend?" wouldn't be as popular as an online game. I think the series hit the sweet spot (great content, lots to choose from, click and watch) that makes, not just a great online piece of advertising, but more elemental -- great online video.
It's not that online video shouldn't, or won't, evolve into something more. It will and should. But that something more will be something else. Which should, in my now less cloudy opinion, leave plenty of room for plenty of things that are fun to click, and sit back, and watch.