What Words Can’t Say For Themselves

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What photography is to mountains, what cooking is to collard greens and what movies are to acting, is what typography is to writing.

They perpetuate greatness.

Typography is the style and appearance of printed matter; the art of arranging type. It comes after the writing is written, but not after the craft is completed.

Before you trivialize typography as the needless dressing up of a finished product, think about your favorite actor. Think about the characters he’s played and stories she’s told. Now ask yourself how much of that did he write himself? You will see that actors are typography in the flesh – through elaborate dress up they bring words to life, and in turn become a living testimony to typography. And the pattern progresses; film becomes the typography of acting, as it transforms performances into cinema… genius is a means, not an end.

What do writers think of typography? I don’t know, but I can tell you what this writer thinks about reality. Carrots are good, but they’re better dipped in ranch. Al Pacino’s cool, but it took Oliver Stone to make him a legend. Greatness comes from collaboration and possibility improves on the present.

Never forget, 

Reality is not a finished product.  

 

When Advertising Crosses the Line

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When advertising enriches our lives it transcends itself and becomes independently valuable.

Would you ever buy an advertisement? – not the product being advertised, but the advertisement its self.  Would you ever use an advertisement? – not to start a fire or as a coupon, but use it. The answer is yes.

In the late 1800’s Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was commissioned to make posters for the opening of the Moulin Rouge in France. Its opening has long since passed, but millions of its advertisements continue to sell and are considered works of art.

Henri was not the only one to create art through advertising; Norman Rockwell and Andy Warhol both surpassed Henri with their work for some of America’s most popular brands.



What about using advertising?

Nike+ allows users to track their runs and connect with others, increasing interaction and shoe sales. Nike+ is huge, not because of its advertising, but because of what it offers.

One of the first and most successful examples is the Michelin Guide. In 1900, Michelin published the Michelin Guide of hotels and restaurants to promote tourism, hoping to get drivers to wear through their tires faster. The guide is still in print still and still wearing out tires.

“We’ve got to stop interrupting what people are interested in, and be what people are interested in.”  – Axel Chaldecott

Expect more out of ads. Instead of wishing you didn’t have to see them at all, ask why you don’t ask to see them more.

Villainous Charm

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Heroes may be simply good, but the greatest villains are never simply evil. All-bad all the time is boring and predictable, not to mention unbelievable.

A man is only as great as the obstacles he overcomes, as heroes are only as great as the villains they conquer.

Adversity defines courage and a villain defines a hero. So what defines a villain? – Complexity and contradiction, that’s what.

 Darth Vader, Don Corleone and Hannibal Lecter are without a doubt the greatest villains of all time. They are also as complicated as they are legendary.

Darth Vader

 Before he was the leader of the dark side, Darth Vader or Anakin Skywalker started life as a slave who ultimately wins his freedom in a podrace on account of his unparalleled piloting skills.

After being taken from his mother and put under the wing of Obi-Wan Kenobi, he falls desperately in love with Queen Padme. The two eventually elope; but when her life becomes in jeopardy, Darth Sidious convinces Anakin that the powers of the dark side are the only thing that can save her. He takes the bate and grows to be the most gruesome goon in the universe.

 Don Corleone

 As a child in Italy, Vito Corleone’s father refuses to be extorted by a local Don. As consequence, his father, mother and brother are killed. The young orphan flees to America to escape the Don’s wrath where he gets a job in a grocery store, but is soon fired in favor of a local gangster’s nephew. Vito then organizes his friends and resources to establish an empire based on ruthless dominance and absolute devotion to friends and family.

Hannibal Lector:

Lecter was introduced to cannibalism as a child. During the twilight of WW2, Nazi collaborators kidnap him and his sister. The soldiers soon go mad from hunger and eat his sister just feet in front of him. Lecter is irreversibly traumatized and becomes fixated on revenge, and cannibalism. After leaving his orphanage, Hannibal lives with his Japanese aunt Lady Murasaki, who comes from a long line of Samurai Warriors and teaches him martial arts and flower arranging. He then enrolls in John Hopkins Medical School.

If your wife were in danger of dying, would you compromise your morals to save her life?

If you were thrown into the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, would you have the tenacity or intelligence to survive, let alone construct an empire?

If Nazis ate your sister, would you try to rectify her death, maybe even in the same manner it was executed?

I did not write this in defense of villains; I’m not justifying their actions, or ours. But I am making two points about nefarious scoundrels.

1) We have a lot in common with the ones we hate.

“Just cuz you don’t like’um, doesn’t mean you ain’t like’um.” – Sam Jackson, The Sunset Limited.

2) An epic hero demands an epic advisory – Good guys vs Bad guys; it’s never that simple.

“The shit’s chess, it ain’t checkers.” – Alonzo Harris, Training Day (Honor Roll Mention Greatest Villain)

The Danger of Research

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Storytelling, just like advertising, is an art, not a science.

“Logic is one of the great obstacles to progress.” – Bill Bernbach

Despite what we may think, we are not rational beings; we are curious creatures with illogical behaviors. In fact, we are defined by our idiosyncrasies and unique ambitions – our quirks give us character.

It’s foolish to rely on research. For the same reason you think it’s going to work it’s bound to fail because it leads to conformity, and the audience wants something new. Storytelling is an art not an audit.

Research is dangerous because it deals with facts, and not necessarily the truth. And the facts can be distracting for the same reason lawyers rarely lie, and can rarely be trusted. 

“As poet and mathematician, he would reason well; as mere mathematician, he could not have reasoned at all” – Edgar Allen Poe 

Research puts us in a position we have already been. From that familiar place we need to push the boundaries, and intuition tells us what barriers to break. We are motivated by intangible forces and crave original content. And when seeking originality the rules of convention are impotent.

Regurgitating research is like telling someone a joke they’ve already heard. Storytellers have the responsibility to give the audience what they didn’t know they wanted, or as an ad man would say – creating demand.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge” – Albert Einstein

We didn’t know we wanted Alice to go to Wonderland until Lewis Carroll stuck her down a rabbit hole. And no amount of research would have told Mark Twain to put an orphan on a raft with a runaway slave.

 

Relevant Intangibles

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We live our lives in a series of small stories; the morning routine, the commute, the daily grind and the battles of the weekend warrior are all roles we play that collectively make up our lives. We don’t live in a series of unrelated events; we live in context.

Anecdotes, short stories about real people, are how consumers experience products and services, and that’s how brands should advertise them. Detailing the narrative surrounding a product or service helps us digest quickly and clearly. Anecdotes answer questions like, “When will this make my life easier?” and “How will it make me look cooler?” In short, short stories relate relevance and intangibles.

Products and services are more than the sum of their parts. Describing the molecular characteristics of Hennessey doesn’t communicate the emotional value of cognac. Just like nightclubs are defined by their atmosphere, not their square footage.

 

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Routine Hero

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People have generous hearts, and lazy feet. If you want my charity, make it easy and pat me on the back.

 Almap BBDO in Sao Paulo, developed a campaign called “Half for Happiness” to feed hungry people in Brazil’s poorest neighborhoods. The campaign partnered a charity organization and local grocery stores. They took popular products, cut them in half and repackaged them with a message asking full price, so the missing half could be sent to the hungry. The half-packed products were placed alongside normal goods where shoppers would see them as they browsed their usual options.

We all love kids, even dirty-faced poor kids. But we have kids of our own, and football games to watch. We care, just not enough to miss kickoff. This doesn’t mean we won’t donate; it means we won’t go out of our way to give our money away.

This campaign put charity down our isle and in our shopping carts. In other words, they made philanthropy convenient. Unfortunately, this was not enough. “Half for Happiness” forgot the other half – the pat on the back – and the campaign generated humble results. I believe they would have been far more effective had they given donors recognition. More than a thank you, they could have given costumers credit for their charity by creating a Facebook or other social-platform page dedicated to the cause, then tagged participants in a picture of that same dirty-faced kid with pizza sauce everywhere dirt used to be that read “Thanks for dinner.”

When someone gives you a dollar, don’t forget to dance.

Yet to be Realized Greatness

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Some stories are captivating because of what someone has done, others because of what someone may become.

In February, Leo Burnett Toronto created an awareness campaign for homeless youth. Potential was their rallying cry. The potential in a potato, in curb-side furniture and in a withered house plant. “If you can see potential in an abandoned chair, why not a homeless youth?”

No offence to the typical hobo, but a homeless youth commands more attention, and inspires more imagination, because their story has just begun. Despite their miserable condition, they have chapters yet to be written, chapters that may be the pieces to a great novel. Or they could just be a future hobo – depending on the help we give.

Their story stays with us, because it ends in our lap. We have authorship of the ending and the freedom to define the finale. A child’s future is latent with beauty, no matter how filthy their face. You can’t screw up potential because it hasn’t happened yet.

Sometimes the most telling part of a story is the story untold.

The Humor in Hitchcock

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Every great story contains dichotomy – complementary contradiction. Alfred Hitchcock did this masterfully. He is known for his horror, but humor was one of his greatest tools. “Puns are the greatest form of literature” he insisted. He employed satire to set up suspense and parody to provide panic in order to tease the viewer’s emotional pallet – first sweet, then spicy.

You’re hurt most by the people you love and scared most easily when you’re comfortable. Without humor the audience is left anticipating the terror and suddenly the scary movie becomes cheesy and predictable. But if you are romanced, your eyes develop a taste for love and a weakness for fright, leaving you susceptible to surprise. Balancing the range of emotions and intellectual capacities is essential to effective storytelling. No matter what the genre, there is a need for a dynamic script, and advertising is no different. Kathy Hepinstall did it with Nike Women’s apparel, Jules Vern did it with science fiction and Bernbach did it with Volkswagen.

When you keep the audience on their toes it is easier to sweep them off their feet.

The Acoustic Portrait of Place

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We identify with where we’re from and what we listen to. When we move, we bring our music with us. When we come home, we return with a more eclectic sense of sound. Music carries a certain climate, it’s our reflection in that sound, and it’s certainly not an accident.

People are worried that we’re becoming a homogenized society, that our country is becoming uniform. Local regions are losing their native attitude and neighborhoods are being deluded by strip malls and Taco Bells. I disagree. I believe that music is evidence that we do not live in a homogenized society. Could the Grateful Dead have been from Miami? Could Kurt Cobain have developed his sound in San Diego? Could NWA ever have been straight outa Boston?

It is no secret that artists use their music to tell about the places that inspired them. The Chili Peppers sing about LA, Ray Charles brought Georgia to every show and RunDMC edified the streets of Queens. The difference in styles is a difference in culture, we are not the same, and it is this individuality that we have in common.

Environmental baggage is a musical thing.

The Mississippi without music is nothing but muddy water. And Muddy Waters without the Mississippi is nothing but a sad guitar player in the swamp.  

Get Yeti for a Reality Check

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The initial upside-down shot establishes the quiet panic that must consume a destitute hiker. We are immediately thrown into the blood dripping delirium of the injured man. Then the Yeti appears! and we immediately believe it. We want there to be a Yeti, we love the Yeti. We play right into the hands of the storyteller. They spin a tale and we wear it like a sweater, just to look down and realize we’re naked and dizzy. Next the majestic mountain montage takes us to our emotional peak. We climax. Not even a full minute into the video and it has told an epic tale of loss, recovery and friendship – not to mention beautiful cinematic delivery. This would be a great movie right!? Yup, but in the mean time your going to lose a leg and four fingers from frost bite.

At the one minute mark we get the twist. The protagonist confesses there is no protagonist. Our susceptibility to fairytale seduction is exposed and the setup to the punch line is in place. Finally they strategically place their message at the realitycheck moment – very powerful, very good storytelling.

Not to many Brands can get away with crushing our dreams and telling us they might show up if were lucky. Well done BBDO.

 

 

Credits –

Video created by Colenso BBDO for New Zealand Search and Rescue. The copywriter was Jonathan McMahon and Nick Worthington (other work) was the executive creative director.