Yesterday, Founder/Chief Creative Officer of Barton F. Graf 9000, Gerry Graf, had a One Club Creative Week panel of successful smart people who talked about bravery in the ad world. While it was pointed out that there really is no bravery in our industry when compared to war journalists, doctors and firemen, there is a seemingly scary level of risk that many people can’t get past when it comes to ideas. The question became…how do you respond when someone says “the client will hate it” or “we’re not staffed to do that” or “I don’t think that’s funny” or “that’s illegal” or “that will literally cause people to start shooting at us”?
The best answer to all of these questions is a simple two-letter sentence: So?
It is unexpected, it is disarming and it forces the issue back on the person creating the resistance.
Ideas that make a difference are rarely easy, they are sometimes uncomfortable and they often take a lot of extra work…but isn’t that what we all signed up for?
Leaving the office for a few days and focusing on the future is never a bad thing. Just getting out of the weekly onslaught of meetings gives your brain a chance to process thoughts and make room for new ones. Pair that with a few good case studies and conversations around innovation and end-to-end experience and you have yourself a nice little party for the brain. If anything, I’ve got more clarity on what is possible and a few ideas on how we can actually make those things happen.
One of the biggest themes from this year’s Ad Age Digital Conference was the importance of experience…not just from a digital perspective, but as an end-to-end awareness of how and when people interact with a brand. We saw examples of brands that have embraced simple insights and changed the course of how they market. A couple of my favorites include Visa and HBO.
Visa realized that most people are multitasking when they use their phones, so they decided to focus on a one-handed experience. Everything they do in mobile, from app development to advertising, is now put through a one-handed filter. The thought is reinforced in television and PR…but it is all derived from an insight around how people interact with the brand.
HBO spent a lot of time working on their second screen experience…then completely shuttered the program when they realized that people didn’t want to look away from Game of Thrones because they might miss someone die or another plot twist (a true phenomenon I’ve experienced myself). Where most television is passive, people watching HBO tend to be glued to the primary screen. If they are truly going to be the Home Box Office, they need to focus on replicating the box office experience as well as possible, and you aren’t allowed to surf the web while watching movies at the cinema.
The thing that has me excited is how big and diverse GSD&M’s brand experiences are. Buying a tractor is completely different than ordering a burrito…and that is a lot different than booking a flight. The time and context in which someone is interacting with a brand completely changes the way that brand should interact with a consumer. As I’m sitting on a Southwest flight flying home, I’m picking apart every aspect of my interaction: learning I’m going to travel, booking a trip, heading to the airport, checking in, going through TSA, waiting for my flight, boarding, sitting in my seat for four hours, deplaning, getting my luggage, heading home and telling people about my trip are all very different interactions with different sets of expectations. Being able to stream music or watch satellite television on my laptop or tablet makes me feel better about Southwest, and it has nothing to do with advertising. It is the exact right offering at the exact right time. Same with the abundance of plugs and charging stations at the terminal—it’s a simple, thoughtful gesture that makes the entire flying experience a little more pleasurable.
Every interaction is a brand experience, and every interaction is an opportunity—not to put a new ad or logo in front of my eyeballs at every waking moment, but to help define how people are engaging with our brands. Everything we can do to make those experiences a little more pleasurable or rewarding is going to make people appreciate that brand a little more, and that is an exciting thing to focus on.
I always find it interesting that “content strategy” in its strictest definitions is considered a relatively new function within the advertising space. It’s only in the last decade that you see official business cards or job postings with this moniker (thank you, Internet). But what I think is missing is a basic acknowledgement that we are ultimately doing what we have always been doing: telling stories using the right tools at the right time.
In the context of advertising, you could argue that before the age of the Internet, we were all employing content strategies simply using yesteryear’s golden trifecta of consumer outreach: print ads, radio spots and TV spots. Then the advent of the digital age upped the ante for channel complexity for consumer attention, engagement and interaction. Obviously, it’s fantastic (and preferable) that we now have a more robust toolset to engage customers. It affords us the opportunity to go deeper and broader in our storytelling, the chance to communicate in an instant, to be visible at nearly every touch point along the customer cycle, to actively interact and illicit feedback. But today’s channel complexity also forces an increasing need for developing an overarching messaging vehicle that that can rise above any one campaign or specific channel. I love the example of our Walgreens tagline “At the Corner of Happy and Healthy” because what a customer specifically needs to be happy or healthy fluctuates in the moment. They may need a last-minute Valentine’s Day card or wake up late at night in desperate need of cough medicine—events that are entirely different animals. The tagline can flex to accommodate known holidays/life events and then jump up and be relevant in unexpected moments that can’t be preplanned for as well. In other words, this is an idea that has legs.