Archive for July, 2009

Simple Strategy

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I read an old Russell Davies post today, “My Schtick” that somehow missed my radar up until now, and I thought he said something really profound which I wanted to share:

“What people actually want is stuff with some complexity, some meat, some richness. Stuff that has depth, humour, tension, drama etc etc. Not stuff that’s distilled to a simple essence or refined to a single compelling truth. No-one ever came out of a movie and said “I really liked that. It was really clear.” Clarity is important to our research methodologies, not to our consumers.”


One of the first things we learned at Ad school was how to write a creative brief and how to whittle our research down to a Simple Most Important Idea (SMPI). This SMPI was meant to serve as a springboard for our creative team to develop their executions.

But Davies’ post and some things I’ve been reading in Stephen King’s “A Master Class in Brand Planning” are beginning to shift my thinking to a strategic approach that uses a patchwork of ideas to inspire creative thinking.

I don’t mean to say that we should throw a huge information dump at our creatives – part of our expertise as Strategists is digging through research to find what’s especially inspiring, interesting and most of all, relevant. It does, however, seem that the current Planning process being used, in it’s endeavor to simplify things and keep them nice and neat, is 1) stifling Planners’ creativity 2) causing Planners to work with blinders on and possibly missing some things in the process that can be useful for brand building. Rory Sutherland writes in “A Master Class…” :

“At one level, it matters to me as a creative person because, in maintaining the pretence that our business works through a rational and sequential process, I feel we are perpetrating a minor fraud. And the victim of this fraud is creativity itself. Because in suggesting in our case studies that we arrived at success through process, we are falsely paying to logic a debt that we really owe to magic. The magic of imagination, or insight. And, as a result, we are causing the left-brain to be overvalued at the expense of the right.”


This makes me think about storytelling as it pertains to Planning. The word “story” has multiple definitions, but I especially like this one:

— the plot or succession of incidents of a novel, poem, drama, etc. —

Therefore, by definition, a story is not singular in nature. A story is layered and complex and this is what draws in an audience, among other things.

Take a look at this recent campaign from Stella, a classic example of brands telling engaging stories:

The marketing campaign for “The Dark Knight” is another example, I think, of taking a much more multi-layered approach to brand building.

A brand can be an ongoing narrative, but I feel like many Ad campaigns are treated as finite events. If anything, they have infinite potential. This is why Hollywood pumps out so many sequels. It continues the narrative. We’re brought back to a story that’s familiar and curiosity, more than anything, makes us want to continue the story and see where it goes.

Rick Webb, co-founder of The Barbarian Group, seems to share my sentiment in a recent AdAge article titled “Agencies Need to Think Like Software Companies“:

What they should have been taking away all of this time — and have increasingly begun to — are the concepts of the constant beta and agile development,” he says. “Marketers need to abandon the time-limited campaign online and start to think of it as a constant application of a rigorous discipline. They should think of their marketing the same way that Facebook puts out a new feature every two weeks, tweaks it, changes it, and re-releases it. It’s not a coincidence that’s brought Facebook 400 million users and Twitter 40 million. We’ve been applying them to for three years now and have seen results beyond anything that a single campaign could do on its own.”


There’s another problem I see with using a method of finding a single truth:

If everyone has access to the same basic data, and strips that data down to the barest idea, we’ve all basically arrived at the same point – this is one reason so many ads look the same.

One of the strengths of a Planner is our ability to interpret relevant data in a way that will inspire and focus our creative teams, but I think we need a happy medium here: Too much information is useless and makes us act as pure researchers — too little and we may be missing opportunities to develop an ongoing story and build better brands.

I’d love to hear some thoughts in the comments!!


Focus and Distraction

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”  — Viktor Frankl in “Man’s Search for Meaning

Jonah Lehrer has a terrific science blog, “The Frontal Cortex” which covers lots of interesting stuff on how the human mind works. The other day he talked about a woman who is a top ultra-runner.

The captivating part of her story is that she’s missing her right temporal lobe in her brain. This actually helps her endurance because she can easily lose track of time.

You know that feeling you get when you’re on the treadmill and know you’ve only got about 2 minutes left? She doesn’t have it because when she’s engaged in an activity (in her case running), she doesn’t have the feeling you get of relief (or agony) as she approaches the finish line. In other words, she’s in constant flow.

Here’s the takeaway and it completely parallels what I learned in my martial arts training:

The runner’s story is a perfect example of mind over matter. Sure, it’s important to have a healthy body, but when you’re completely focused on something, how you interpret what your body is going through is actually more important than what’s happening to you.

This philosophy is a major concept in Stoicism and a theme I’m reading about now in Viktor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning.”


Brain Surgery Frees Runner, but Raises Barriers

Categories: PSYCHOLOGY

The Difficulty of Creating Influence When You’re In a New Group

PsyBlog has a new post called “How Newcomers Can Influence Established Groups” but I think the title of my post may have been more appropriate, since PsyBlog basically says that newcomers are going to have a hard time getting their input recognized.

In one study, 187 health professionals were split into one group of participants that thought they were being critiqued by a newcomer who had only been there 3 weeks while the other group believed they were being critiqued by an 18 yr veteran:

In each case the criticisms were presented to participants were identical, the only difference was their apparent source.

The results were clear. Compared with old-timers, the health professionals:

  • thought newcomers provided less constructive criticism,
  • agreed less with newcomers’ suggestions,
  • were more negative about their criticisms.

So what can a newcomer do to improve receptiveness?

Another study showed that they could improve their standing in a group by distancing themselves from their old group.

Thinking back on some of my previous jobs when I was vocal (or not), it makes sense that as someone who’s new in an organization it would be wise to hold back initially, but NOT because you’ve been a part of the group for such a short period of time.

Instead, I think what it really comes down to is trust. When you build trust, your peers will be more receptive to your thoughts. Yes, it does take time, but the way you act (offering intelligent opinions, helping others, listening intently, etc.) can really alter and reduce the amount of time that it will take for the rest of the group to believe in you.

Categories: PSYCHOLOGY Tags:
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