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Comedy depends on you sharing a set of reference points with your audience and if those are very divergent then they just won’t simply get your jokes.

Helena Lewis Hasteley, Assistant Editor, New Statesman on the Radio 4 Today programme, Thursday 21st July 2011.

Paul Stokes from The Daily Mash sent me a link to the above Today programme conversation about whether satire can cross the Atlantic, mainly because the Mash gets a favourable mention.

But the above comment struck a chord with me in light of several conversations with clients recently.

Everyone has had a good, long quaff of the word-of-mouth, earned-media, social buzz Kool-Aid.

And everyone is still acting like their brand and their content has a divine right to “go viral”. It doesn’t.

However, your brand and your content has a much greater chance of being talked about, of earning that earned media, if the person doing the talking or the sharing is confident that the people doing the listening or the receiving will get what they’re on about.

The effort required to lovingly craft this geeky in-joke for instance is only worth it if the creator is confident that it will indeed be an “in” joke.

As it turns out there were indeed enough shared reference points for this image to do the rounds amongst the early adopter Google+ crowd.

And it’s why television and social channels work so well together. The broadcast exposure afforded to an idea by TV advertising pretty much guarantees that it will tick the “will people know what I’m talking about?” box in the eyes of anyone deciding whether to share your content or a picture of a cat.

A true viral effect is akin to the nuclear chain reaction that creates the awesome power of an atom bomb.

And your average atom bomb is triggered by a fair amount of TNT forcing the fissile materials together to generate critical mass.

TV advertising is your TNT.

Whether your idea has viral, fissile power of Plutonium is another matter entirely. (Most don’t have that power).

This one by Nike did.

And, as luck would have it, the Nike client nicks my TNT analogy.

The TV will get you that moment. That’s that dynamite. But what Facebook enables is you to translate that into connection.

Jesse Stollack, Global Digital Director Brand & Innovation, Nike

QED.

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Disclosure : I used to work on the Coors Light account. So, whilst I’ve tried, I can’t promise that this post is entirely objective.

I find myself liking, in a bordering on admiring kind of way, the new Coors Light ad with the frozen-panted Jean Claude Van Damme.

The writing, the performance and the message are as tight as JCVD’s pants.

The humour is understated and knowing.

There’s no getting away from it. It’s good.

At the time of writing it has had a decent 255,736 views on YouTube and the comments are mostly positive.

It’s good.

The YouTube video includes a pop-up link to the Coors Light UK – Closest To Cold Facebook page.

This has a somewhat less decent 1,679 likes at the time of writing.

Only 1,679 likes in spite of the incentives to Like of more JCVD content (how could you resist?) and the chance to win 2011 festival tickets.

And thereby hangs the tale.

The new ad is good, bordering on very good.

But I don’t believe that the UK has ever got its head round light beer in general and Coors Light in particular.

And I’m not sure that, outside of small pockets of male evangelists and small pockets of females, it ever will.

There is a huge disconnect between advertising that is easy to like or admire and a brand that struggles to be relevant.

And the trouble is that it’s hard to pinpoint what could be done better.

The association between a light beer that comes from Colorado with ice cold refreshment is intuitively credible.

They’ve somehow managed to get away with the line “The World’s Most Refreshing Beer”. Hats off again.

And the new ad is good.

If it were me, which it isn’t, I’d be seriously considering a radical shake-up of the brand’s targeting.

Coors Light is inherently female-friendly and it is a massive brand for women in Ireland.

But that approach brings its own challenges. How to market a beer to women when women recoil from beer marketing that is overtly targeted at them?

Not my problem any more, but I wish any client that bought the latest ad the best of luck.

(Views on this blog are my own and not those of my employer etc. etc.)

(Enjoyed tagging this post with “tight pants”.)

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"Imagination."

Patrick : All you need is a box.

Spongebob : And imagination.

It is the oldest parenting cliché in the book that kids play more with boxes than with the toys that came in them.

Boxes are more fun because they provide an outlet for imagination.

And it’s not just empty boxes. I recently watched (un-noticed by her) as my youngest daughter role-played between several imaginary characters for over an hour using clothes pegs.

Just as importantly they (boxes, pegs etc) act not only as an outlet but also as a catalyst for imagination. An empty box acts as a prompt or trigger for imaginative play, often in a situation where said imaginative play wouldn’t otherwise have taken place.

So a box is more than just a blank canvas.

A box is in effect a partially formed idea that allows (and encourages) kids, to build, develop, embellish, personalise, participate and, dare I say, co-create (ugh!) something more relevant.

It is well worth watching the Spongebob episode below, called Idiot Box, in its entirety. The idiot box in question is a television. And the film brilliantly illustrates the stark contrast between the passive way that we interact with TV versus the active imaginative engagement that is possible with the box in which the television was delivered.

The best modern ideas have much more in common with the cardboard box than they do with the idiot box.

The best modern ideas are partially formed rather than fully formed.

The best modern ideas invite play, participation and personalisation.

And, having been played with, participated with and personalised, the best modern ideas are more likely to be talked about and shared than a fully formed, dare I say boxed off, piece of advertising that leaves no room for adaptation, interpretation or imagination.

We’ve always been in the imagination business.

Great ads and the great creative minds that come up with them have always been, and continue to be, testimony to the power applied imagination.

But its increasingly important that our ideas capture, and make room for, the imagination of the people for whom they’re intended

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T-Mobile has disobeyed its own (flash) mob rules with its royal wedding ad.

Last night, on the train home, I jotted down a list of T-Mobile values on the back of a receipt.

(Sorry Evernote, I still love you.)

These values are my out-take from the brand’s recent flash-mob style ads; the ones that immediately preceded the latest offering.

And, based on that kind of list, I can see how the script for the Royal Wedding film could have been briefed, written, sold, bought and made.

On the face of it, it’s on brief, on brand and it moves the campaign on, keeping the surprise and originality factor up and avoiding any “tired formula” accusations.

And I should say that, on the face of it, it’s actually a bloody good ad. Given the subject matter I don’t want to like it. But I do.

It leaves me with a smile on my face.

The casting is great. They paid a great deal of attention to the lookalikes.

And, in a strange way, it’s credible. I kind of believe the unfettered brotherly vibe between the two princes.

(And I can imagine that their mother would be clapping along in her grave at the thought of this two-fingers-to-the-po-faced-royal-establishment style of wedding. “If only” she’d be thinking.)

And yet, at the same time,  it doesn’t quite feel all that it was cracked up to be.

That’s partly because the brand went to great lengths to crack it up. It released a teaser/trailer that on its own racked up over 400,000 views on YouTube.

But, for my money, it’s mainly because they’ve slightly misinterpreted or misunderstood some of their own values.

And the above trailer only serves to underline this in my view.

First there was Liverpool Street.

Then there was Trafalgar Square.

…and Heathrow.

True, the Royal Wedding ad has scale and amibition – the brand has single-handedly hijacked the run-up to a huge global event via a film that was launched online only and that, at the time of writing has amassed a huge amount of PR coverage (39.4 million Google search results) and over 5 million views.

But it’s not the same kind of scale and ambition.

Liverpool, Trafalgar Square, Heathrow.

Big, public, wide-open spaces.

Big, public, wide-open spaces that are difficult to hijack.

Whilst the Royal Wedding ad is ambitious, the degree of practical, logistical difficulty associated with making it happen is much lower than we are used to for this campaign. And I think this matters.

Moreover these wide-open spaces were shot with wide framing to accommodate the large number of people that were participating.

There is no wide framing in the Royal Wedding ad.

This makes it feel slightly cheap (production budget dictated by the fact that it is “only” an online film rather than a TV ad?).

But it also makes it feel very different and, for me, off brand.

There are far fewer people involved.

And those few people feel like they are acting rather than participating.

The ad has a kind of spontaneity and joie de vivre. But it’s rehearsed spontaneity and joy. And as a result the ad lacks the genuine, collaborative, anarchic vibe of its predecessors.

The Wikipedia definition of flash mob rules includes the word “sudden”.

There was a sudden-ness to the previous T-Mobile ads that is missing from the Royal Wedding execution. And I think that sense of the sudden is a big part of T-Mobile’s vibe.

(I should have added “sudden” to my scribbled list of values.)

Campaign vibes are precious, fragile and important.

So my overall verdict is that it’s a bloody good (one-off) ad, but I’m not so sure that it’s a bloody good addition to the T-Mobile campaign.

And here it is…

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Before The Creatives See It is a Facebook page that exposes and “outs” the magpie instincts of advertising creatives by sharing the original content that it predicts will be appropriated into advertising in the near future.

A creative director that I used to work with was refreshingly candid about this magpie approach to “originality” and said that the most important thing was to “conceal your sources”.

Before The Creatives See It sets its stall out to make it harder to achieve this concealment.

But whilst it apparently taketh away with one hand, it giveth with another by providing the creativity community with a well curated source of shiny idea fodder from which to magpie.

In fact if I think about this for too long my head might explode.

No names no pack drill, but a cursory glance at the page’s likers (formerly known as fans) tells me that a significant proportion are advertising creatives.

I wonder how many of the page’s likers are advertising clients.

And I wonder whether any of the creatives will be brazen enough to magpie content shared on this page and turn it into an “original” advertising idea.

The page might make it harder to conceal their source from other creatives, but that’s ok as long as the client hasn’t seen it.

But what if the client has seen it?

But the account team hasn’t?

I wouldn’t want to be the hapless account man (Before The Suits See It) that presents the idea to the client that saw the source at the same time that the creative team did.

(Magpie related anecdote).

My brother in law was once grounded for a week for telling my mother in law that a magpie had stolen from his hand the change from the money she had given him for a shopping errand.

Lying was the worst thing her kids could do.

Some time later she was stopped in the street by a neighbour who said “Wasn’t it amazing how that magpie stole the money from your son’s hand? I could barley believe my eyes.”

Magpies really are that brazen.

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Seven words that make your heart sink.

The seven words that made Patricia McDonald‘s heart sink in the February post of the month (Planning for participation) were…

Then people can upload their own versions.

I completely second that emotion.

But I’d also add the seven words that make every digital agency wince. The seven words usually spoken by the ad agency in an all-agency, all-discipline meeting with a client.

And we’ve written a few viral scripts.

No you haven’t.

You’ve typed onto your agency’s script template and changed the word at the top from “television” to “viral”.

In other words you’ve written up a few film content ideas.

None of which have a cat in hell’s chance of actually going viral.

People who write TV scripts for a living – i.e. content that is created to work, and which does work, with an above the line media spend behind it – need to understand that the same kind of content without a media spend behind it can’t just be re-badged as a “viral” with any realistic expectation of success.

“Wanting it to be so”, in other words abandoning hope in favour of blind faith and expectation, just doesn’t cut it when it comes to creating content with viral intent.

Especially when that viral intent is a means to an overt and obviously commercial end. Very few people are going to collaborate with you if what you’re effectively asking and expecting them to do is to distribute for free something that looks, feels and behaves like a piece of advertising,

Smartwater wants it to be so.

Their agency has written a “viral” script on a television template.

In classic agency fashion they’ve “magpied” various memetastic ingredients and bunged them all together in the hope of achieving sufficient viral load for this thing to take off.

It is dreadful.

The only award this is going to win is “worst use of a celebrity”; namely the hapless and more than slightly bemused Jennifer Aniston.

(I think the bemused demeanour is genuine rather than acted).

See for yourself.

The fact that she’s in it, the fact that they’re calling it a “sex tape” and that the fact that it’s getting hundreds of embeds on dismayed blogs like this one have propelled it to just over 800,000 views at the time of writing.

Maybe the brand is happy with that.

But it pales into insignificance against the 26,000,000 views enjoyed so far by the Double Rainbow clip that is referenced in the ad-not-viral.

Truly, spectacularly viral is something that happens once in a blue moon to genuinely original content.

And half the time – Double Rainbow being a case in point – it’s impossible to post-rationalise and bottle up why it happened.

I keep hoping that the quest for viral will usher in a brave new world of experimental, 100% original agency-generated content (AGC).

But I’m still not sure that trad agency cultures, trad agency working practices, lots of trad agency creatives, or trad agency/client relationships are set up to deliver genuine originality.

This Smart Water film is no exception to that rule.

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Advertising effectiveness moves in mysterious ways.

One of the unexpected effects of the Country Life Butter campaign featuring ex Sex Pistol John Lydon was that it funded the reformation and American tour of PIL (Public Image Limited).

As Jimmy Kimmel says in this interview, he is “fuelled by butter.”

Given the attendant risks, I don’t know many clients that would have embraced someone like John Lydon as a brand ambassador. To call him a loose cannon is a major understatement.

But, to be fair to him, he appears to have been steadfastly loyal, whilst also remaining steadfastly faithful to his uniquely unhinged, gives-great-copy, punk persona.

He ends the clip above with this gem about Sarah Palin.

Instead of moose hunting she should put that gun up her rear end. And load it with butter! BRITISH BUTTER!

This isn’t a new campaign. In fact it’s nearing its second birthday. Here’s the TV ad in case you haven’t seen it.

I was prompted to write about it by a radio ad from the same campaign, in which said brand ambassador effectively parks the Country Life tanks on the Anchor Butter lawn.

The offending line from the radio ad is this.

Do I buy Country Life butter because unlike Anchor from New Zealand they support our great British dairy farmers?

And offending it appears to have been, judging by the angry reaction from the Federated Farmers Of New Zealand as reported in this Daily Mail article.

Whilst today is perhaps not the best day to be having a pop at our Kiwi cousins, in light of the tragic events in Christchurch, it is nonetheless an entirely reasonable strategy to draw attention to the provenance of a competitor (as long as it is done in a legal, decent, honest and truthful fashion), especially when 39% of people previously assumed that Anchor was a British brand according to the Country Life marketing director.

You have to like a brand with the challenger balls to go toe to toe with a bigger competitor.

And Country Life appears to have chosen the right guy in John Lydon to perform what is the advertising equivalent of a haka. It’s a taste of their own medicine that the Kiwis at the Federated Farmers Of New Zealand don’t appear to like.

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