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It’s certainly my lucky year for festivals and conferences. In March I flew to Austin Texas for SXSW14, the world’s largest interactive and tech festival where I was deeply impressed by Chinese maker culture, the old rules for new media storytelling and, of course, Bruce Sterling’s closing keynote. In terms of inspiration and education, Southby is very hard to beat. Oh, and because tacos.

I filed stories and interviews every day from SXSW for Ogilvy’s own thought leadership program ogilvydo.com which is a brilliant example of in-house content marketing that takes advantage of a global network of really talented people while operating on the smell of an oily rag. They must have liked what I wrote, because they’ve asked me to be part of the team covering the world’s largest festival of creativity: Cannes Lions, in the south of France.

Winners, grinners & sinners.

Everyone who works in the biz knows of Cannes and the power of the (really quite ugly) trophies they hand out. But it has become much more than an awards show, with a full week of education sessions, keynotes, seminars and workshops to go along with, apparently, a staggering amount of drinking and handshaking.

Every year, the organisers bring a smattering of hollywood and entertainment types (we have the Hoff and SJP to look forward to this year), but personally, I’m looking forward to hearing from the likes of Jonathan Ives, Spike Jones and (my hero) Aaron Sorkin talk about how creativity works in their particular fields.

Advertising is still all about marketing.

I’m also planning on spending time with the big platforms and publishers – the googles, facebooks, twitters et al – who have really been ramping up their presence at Cannes and are now locked in a kind of beachfront creativity & hospitality deathmatch. Honestly, I can’t wait. The other interesting part for me will be taking our brand new Padcaster video rig for a spin – it’s a really clever piece of kit that turns a regular iPad into a super-portable ENG kit, allowing you to shoot, edit and publish directly on the iPad for near-instantaneous broadcasting. I love how it brings together a few pieces of pre-existing componentry to form a totally new machine.

For some of the most comprehensive coverage and insights, I really recommend ogilvydo.com and for a hilarious (and usually pretty accurate) forecast, you should check Ogilvy SA’s CCO Chris Gotz.

 

Advertisements

These are confusing times for brands, and the people charged with growing them. On the one hand, we need to ensure the ROI of everything, while on the other we must pursue constant innovation. We need to be open to new technologies, platforms and networks, but we can’t spread our investments too thinly. We’ve got to stay on brand and on message, but we also need to go viral.

These competing ambitions make it very difficult for marketers and agencies to make intelligent choices for their brands – but it is largely our own fault. As an industry, marketing is particularly susceptible to ‘the shiny new object’ syndrome and, after attending SXSW interactive in Austin, Texas last month, I’m predicting that we’re about to start chasing after two diametrically-opposed aims yet again.

Plug in to everything.

Many of the presenters and panelists gave compelling testimonial that technology might not quite be everywhere, but it soon will be. More to the point, they believe it should be. Once we work out how the make wearable computing look more like clothes and less like, well, wearable computing, it appears inevitable that we’ll all be individually wired up, all the time. The ‘quantifiable self’ movement was also highly visible, arguing that the responsibility for monitoring health will soon shift to the individual – and the battery of sensors and transmitters embedded in our bodies.

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data, story

Expect data everywhere.

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Our homes, shops, offices, cars and skies will be literally buzzing with input/output devices, WiFied to the max and constantly shipping information to the grid. For marketers, this new tide of data will start to drive the automation of more decisions and more executions – we’re practically already there with automated media buying exchanges and personalised recommendation engines.

Easily half of the conference seemed to be welcoming our new Big Data overlords and the relentless efficiency it will bring to our lives, ready or not.

But stay, y’know, kinda human.

The other half, however, were preoccupied with that most human of endeavours – storytelling. There were panels and presentations and seminars and workshops on Product Storytelling, Immersive Storytelling, Content Storytelling, Transmedia Storytelling and on and on it went. The unified message from this side of the house seemed to be: use your marketing to tell human stories to human customers in a human voice, you’ll be able to make your brand appear more, well, human.

I’m being flippant here but some of the storytelling advice was pretty solid: stick to a linear format, don’t be afraid of offering complexity to your audience and don’t try and chase out all the imperfections, visual or otherwise. Implicit in all this advice was the belief that storytelling is an inherently good way to go about marketing.

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Is it possible to pull together the threads of story and data for an experience that is accurate and human

Is it possible to pull together the threads of story and data for an experience that is accurate and human?

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 Am I the only one who sees a problem here?

Maybe it’s just a re-imagining of the old above-the-line vs below-the-line marketing split for a fully digitized age, but I believe there’s a real schism developing here. The choice appears to be between a marketing philosophy based on ensuring the absolute accuracy of everything (marketing by algorithm, if you will), and one based on overtly accentuating the human element of communication (artisanal marketing, to borrow an adjective from the hipsters).

Perhaps the answer is ‘yes’.

Yes to being both data-informed and also to being story-driven, which is to say human. Just as we have seen the rise of ‘Data Artists’ in the visual arts world, ‘Data Visualisers’ in the statistics world and, more recently ‘Data Journalists’ in the publishing world, perhaps marketing is about to make room for ‘Data Storytellers’.

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Data Storytelling: patterns stay in the background, humans take the stage.

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This industry needs another made-up job title like a brainstorm needs a ninja evangelist – or like we need brainstorms, for that matter. Real creativity, however, often comes from combining two previously unrelated ideas to develop a new approach and I see real potential in combining these two ascendant disciplines.  A mashup of data analysis and storytelling could result in a new type of communication approach, one that is both accurate and human – and creative in a way we’ve not seen before.

 

This post originally appeared on the Firebrand Talent blog.

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.

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Some people call them brainstorms. Some call them ‘Ideation sessions’. Still others call them “a complete waste of time”. Whatever you call it, the act of getting two or more people together in a room to think on the outside of their heads is almost certainly going to happen to you.

So you might as well set it up for success by following these 5 simple rules I was lucky enough to learn from the SXSW panel “Turning a blank page into a great idea”:

1. Get the numbers right.

You often can’t control how many people are going to be in a session, but if you can, keep it around the dozen mark – then plus or minus one. Odd numbers create a more natural sense of dynamism, which is crucial if you want progress. Dealing with large numbers? Break the room up into ‘cafe groups’. Y’know, a natural number of people you might see around one table in a cafe.

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brainstorm, creativity, ides

Brainstorms are often an exercise in random creativity. they shouldn’t be

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2. Get your timing right.

Below two hours is rarely enough time to establish group dynamics, wade through all the obvious ‘first idea’ responses and start generating fresh thinking – maybe even with some consensus. Beyond three hours, people get bored and, even worse, distracted by FOMO*.

3. Do your homework.

Group idea sessions don’t (generally) occur for  no reason. There should be research, background material, competitive analysis** and, if you’re really lucky, a brief. Read them all. Understand them. Then, summarise everything you’ve learned (plus some of your own research) to a series of sketches (not slides) and have them on the wall before you start.

4. Start as you mean to continue.

Don’t wander through introductions or meander through the brief, kick the session off with a short, impactful and creative intro. It could be as simple as a clip from YouTube or a quick game or quiz – but make sure it is at least tangentially related to the topic at hand. Put some thought and effort into your opener and you’ll communicate your expectations: thought and effort from your participants.

5. Pass the mic (or the marker).

Ask your participants to describe their idea, or problem or example (or whatever they are trying to express) as a sketch, without words. You’ll force them to think clearly about what they are trying to express, because they’ll want to boil it down to a simple a picture as possible. It’s also a good leveler: seniority and politics get replaced by drawing skill.

 

These 5 tips were distilled from the SXSW Panel: “Turning a blank page into a great idea”, presented by Edelman Strategist and Ideator JB Hopkins along with New Yorker cartoonist Matt Diffee, who also revealed his 5 simple ways to improve an idea.

 

* Fear Of Missing Out. It’s why you check your mobile phone Every. Thirty. Goddamn. Seconds.

** I was once handed a folder marked “Competitive Anal”. It might have been an abbreviation, but I didn’t want to risk it, so I left it unopened.

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.

 

Most of the interesting work I’ve been pursuing for brands over the last couple of years was directly influenced by the things I learned at South By Southwest, where nerds are celebrities and everyone is trying to launch the next Twitter.

With over 800 scheduled sessions, there is a hell of a lot you can learn in 5 days, but for the sake of brevity, I boiled the findings from my last trip down to a seminar called 10 Things Agencies Can Learn From SXSW.

For me, the most valuable thing I took away was a framework of authenticity, content, relevance and utility as guiding principles for creative and strategic development.

2014: we’re back, baby.

SXSW, texas, Austin, BBQ, Salt Lick

The Salt Lick: the other reason Austin is famous.

Thanks to my friends over at Ogilvydo (the agency’s online magazine for thought-leadership), I am fortunate enough to be heading to Austin again, as part of a larger Ogilvy team bringing you trends and insights for brands, marketers and innovators. My particular focus will be on storytelling: how stories are originated, structured, produced, managed and distributed for brands and their audiences.

There are well over two dozen individual sessions, including a handful of long-form workshops dedicated just to this area and I’ll be doing my best to learn from them all. I’m also looking at startups and innovation culture, growth hacking and future publishing. Here’s my schedule of sessions I’m planning/hoping to attend – if you’ve got recommendations or suggestion I’d love to hear from you.

South By South East Asia: Is America’s biggest tech festival broadening its outlook?

SXSW tara talk

Living in an Asian Megacity is the mother of this particular invention

I spent yesterday afternoon interviewing regional analyst and trendwatcher Tara Hirebet, who is based here in Singapore and operates out of the local chapter of The HUB, a global network of co-working spaces for entrepreneurs, technologists and creatives.

If you’re looking for evidence that startup culture is alive and kicking in Asia, I recommend you start here: it was virtually standing room only on a Tuesday afternoon. Tara was selected to present at this year’s SXSW and I got a sneak preview of her session,  ‘How Overcrowded Asian Cities Inspire Innovation’, which is one of several this year with a distinctly Asian focus.

Another is ‘Co-Creation by Design: Asia, Women & Innovation’ from Singapore-based entrepreneurs Grace Clapham and Bernice Ang. Look for the interviews and previews on Ogilvydo in the next couple of weeks.

You look taller than your avatar

One of the real joys of these conferences is the chance to meet IRL the people that you’ve been reading, following, retweeting and upvoting. If you’re reading this and you’re heading to SXSW, give me a shout @BarrieSeppings

There will be no shortage of SXSW advice articles in the next few weeks (and they all say: stay hydrated, wear comfortable shoes and A.B.C.*), so I won’t add to the pile except to point to the web services I’m relying on to get me there and get me through it:

– hitting up Airbnb for accommodation (which always scarce)

– grooving to these Spotify playlists

– getting some “I met you at” cards from moo.com

– pre-registering for a bunch of events with rsvpster

– keeping Uber up my phone sleeve (taxis are also scarce)

– finding a few local spots via ATXThrillist, if the lanyard crowd gets all too much

Despite all the planning and preparation, I like to think that the random talks – and people – are often the best. It’s always good to have a plan, as long as you remember to stay open to possibilities.

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* Always Be Charging

SXSW Interactive runs from March 7 to 11.

Tara Hirebet is an Asian Trend & Innovation Consultant & Ex-Head of Asia Pacific, trendwatching.com. She will be delivering “How Overcrowded Asian Cities Inspire Innovation” on Monday March 10 at SXSW, Austin, Texas.

Ogilvydo will be covering SXSW Interactive 2014, focusing on trends and insights for brands, marketers and innovators.

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

Every morning, I get an email from a site called betali.st that pitches 3 or 4 new web-based startups: You get a name, a snapshot of their home page and roughly 50-100 word description – their elevator pitch. It’s like witnessing the finals of a startup competition every day, over coffee.

There are a few things that make this email absolutely fascinating.

1. Absolutely everybody has a startup now

Or at least it seems that way. This email (and I’m sure there are others) is relentless. 7 days a week they serve up a series of mini ads for new startups and the demand appears to be so high, their revenue model is based partly on offering an ‘expedited listing service’. The startup communities are growing to the point that they are fragmenting and splintering, dividing not just by location, but also by specialist roles within startups – witness Sean Ellis’ burgeoning Growth Hackers community.

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startup, apps, media

The web is currently exploding with startups.

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2. All these people are spending a shitload of time & money

When you consider that Jeremey Rappaport recently put the true cost of developing an app at somewhere in the vicinity of $120k and 10 weeks, the cumulative investment in developing all these new apps is staggering. Even if you halve that, betali.st offers direct evidence of over a million and half dollars and 3 years of work spent developing new apps, every goddamned week. Note too, that this figure is only for development. These costs, ballpark though they are, are net of marketing, support and legals. Ker-ching.

3. In the quest for differentiation, these apps are getting seriously niche.

The language of these startup pitches is incredibly variable and probably warrants a post on its own (hint: from a copywriting perspective, it aint always pretty) but what is common is how specialised they are becoming in terms of the services they offer and, therefore, the audiences they are targetting.

In recent weeks, the email has pitched apps for rugby fans, fitness enthusiasts, disorganised photographers, semi-competitive cyclists, parents of kids with allergies… you get the picture.

There are also a lot of copycats: men’s fashion, restaurant reviews, holiday planning, stock trading and group deals are about to get even more crowded, if that’s possible.

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media, apps, fragmentation, audience

What happens when everyone’s living in their own app bubble.

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A lot of the startups are offering infrastructure services for other startups (hosting, customer service, social media monitoring, budget tracking, market research) and now there’s a raft of ‘startup in a box’ startups, such as CrateJoy, that provides everything you need to launch your own ‘subscription service’ startup. Presumably these startups will also appear on betali.st in the near future.

Once you work out what it is that a particular startup is planning to do (as it’s name suggests, most of the services on betali.st don’t technically exist yet), some of the value propositions are, frankly, outrageous: “build an ecommerce site in 20 seconds” was a recent favourite.

Obviously, not all of these startups are going to survive. In fact, almost none of them will. But, statistically, that still leaves an extraordinary number of successful apps, all doing things very, very well for small, tightly-focussed audiences.

Where did all the people go?

The media ‘fragmentation’ we witnessed with the rise of the web will become complete ‘atomisation’ as we all start disappearing into niche apps, spending time with the functionality and communities that exist only within the interface of
these ‘appified’ services.

The implications for brands are significant. Just as the strategies we used to rely on in the multi-channel world became ineffective in the post-broadcast world, we’re going to have to reinvent the role of the brand again in the post-site world.

Coke is getting a lot of attention for their wholesale abandonment of ‘the corporate webpage’ and I think that this gives as an indication of how brands are going to have to re-cast their role in this world of apps and the atomised audience it will engender.

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.

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We’ve been in the business of anthropomorphising Brands for a while now. We talk about expressing the ‘Brand personality’. We ensure our Brand has values. We get very serious about this stuff, we call them ‘core values’. We spend a lot of time asking people to engage with our Brand. We help facilitate relationships with our Brand. But then we get jealous and appoint ourselves Brand Guardians. In short, we’ve been treating Brands as people and making their wellbeing our professional responsibility,

Shouldn’t we stop for a moment and ask our Brands if they’re happy?

I got to thinking about the mental health of Brands while attending a talk by UK psychologist Oliver James, who appeared at the Singapore Writers Festival* earlier this week.

James used his ‘meet the author’ talk to discuss what it might take (assuming it’s remotely possible in the first place) for an individual, family or even a society to be genuinely happy. By way of background, James coined the phrase Affluenza, wrote the parenting guide “How Not to F*** Them Up”, and is now advocating ‘Lovebombing’ – giving your child complete control (and emotional support) for 48 hours as a way of re-setting their emotional thermostat. As a speaker, he’s an acquired taste, but his insights were eminently applicable and grounded in fairly deep science.

brands, mental health, happiness

Not happy.

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While discussing childhood, parenting, materialism and the impending collapse of the economic system, he also offered some insight into the ‘dark triad’ of CEOs and other business leaders. Reassuringly, your boss is composed of equal parts psychopathy, narcissism and machiavellianism (and I imagine a lot of heads are nodding out there while reading along).

After dissecting all the things that make everyone so miserable (parents, work, materialism, Tony Blair), James summed up by offering a really useful and interesting checklist of the traits of mentally healthy people.

Here’s Oliver James’ recipe for happiness:

1. Living in the present

2.  Two-way communication (knowing when to listen and when to assert your voice)

3. Insight (understanding how your childhood affects your adulthood) and empathy (understanding how you are perceived by and affect others)

4. Playfulness (child-like wonder and enthusiasm)

5. Vivacity and vitality (these are not the same as hyperactivity)

6. Authenticity (which, importantly, is not the same as sincerity)

So if we roll with the metaphor of Brand-as-personality for a moment, we could probably take this recipe and use it help us nurture ‘mentally healthy’ or happy Brands. That is, Brands that people want to engage with and form a relationship with.

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brands, people, personality

We demand that almost everything has to have personality.

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The 6 things happy, mentally healthy Brands do:

(with apologies to Oliver James)

1. They live in the here and now: forget globally-centralised, 3-year brand strategies, happy brands live where you do and react to the same environment and times that you and I are living in.

In practice: agencies that are run more like newsrooms, global strategy with local input and real-time marketing.

2. They listen as often as they speak: set and forget broadcast models show brands have a ‘tin ear’. Listening for insights, alert for trends and reactive to change, Happy Brands also know when to assert their voice and have the self-confidence to make their opinions and presence felt.

In practice: social listening, empowered staff and a well-defined scope of expertise that your Brand can offer as a ‘gift of knowledge’.

3. They understand their heritage and their sphere of influence: Nike and athletics, Volvo and safety, IBM and technology. Happy Brands don’t deny they were shaped by their childhood, and they use that to their advantage. Constant, fashion-driven re-invention displays a lack of maturity. In practical terms: operating within a Brand’s wheelhouse and realising when a scenario is not appropriate for them to be present (Kenneth Cole, we’re looking at you). These narcissistic brands believe they are  always the main character in their own story.

In practice: take the time to understand your Brand’s original raison d’être and then update that for the here and now.

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skywhale, playful, happiness.

When playful things happen on a grand scale.

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4. They embrace play as a valid form of expression: Healthy, happy brands have a lot in common with human kids – they regard creative play as their ‘work’. Google’s ever-changing, often playful homepage is a perfect example. Taking yourself too seriously demonstrates a lack of self-awareness in humans and Brands, limiting themselves to only themselves as atopic, often behave the same way.

In practice: loosen up on the ROI metric-a-thon and provide a way for your fans to use your Brand to express something they enjoy. If you are accused of ‘just playing around’ – you may well be doin’ it right.

5. They show vivacity and vitality: Being unafraid to display bursts of unbridled enthusiasm (red bull let a guy fall from space) and also passion is a very appealing trait. When this passion is a passion shared with the audience, the Brand starts to feel like it is part of a tribe – it believes in the same things as we do. Instead, many Brands see themselves as the tribe, which we can only join via purchase.

In practice: create brand experiences and service that contribute in a useful, meaningful and helpful way. Re-consider the hyperactive ‘content factory’ approach that is merely evidence of industry.

6. They value (and practice) authenticity: When Oliver James explained that this was not the same as sincerity he illustrated his point with the example of Tony Blair, who was sincere in his admission that he knew Iraq did not have WMDs when he authorised military action. James believes Blair used his sincerity (“I sincerely believed it was the right thing to do”) as way of apologising for his lack of authenticity (“I knew I didn’t have the proof I needed, so I made it up”).

The practical corollary for bands here is in the field of PR and crisis management, where authenticity is going to be seen as more forgivable for a Brand than manufactured or self-serving sincerity.

The challenge now is for agencies to adapt their structure and their Operating Systems to be more ‘parental’ and less managerial. A happy brand is one that people want to hang out with and that has to be agencies’ number one objective, right kids?

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.

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* I really have to take a moment to declare that I found the Singapore Writer’s Festival, on the whole, to be a pretty frustrating experience. It’s not a brand I’m ready to have a relationship with.

One of the things I really love to do (apart from this sort of stuff) is say “I told you so”. I know, its petty and vindictive but by god it is satisfying. I don’t get to do that very often, so I’ve lowered the bar to: “See, some smart people have done quite a bit of hard work and they’ve produced some research that confirms a hunch that I’ve kinda had for a year or two.”

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B2B, buying, purchase, decision

Playing for the same team, but not necessarily on the same side.

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I got to say that earlier in the week when this article appeared in Forbes, shining a light on group dynamics in the B2B buying process. We all know that these kind of purchases are collegiate decisions (this is one of the key differences with B2C marketing), and the research was able to put the typical size of what we call the ‘buying cell’ at 5.4 people (based on North American companies). Patrick Spenner, who wrote the article, made the implication pretty clear:

“The punchline is, if your commercial approach

isn’t attuned to group dynamics, you’re in trouble.”

So far, so expected. But the new news here is not that there are several people who need to agree on a single B2B purchase, but that the lack of agreement starts very early in the ‘buyers journey’. By the time the buying is even a third of the way through the process (typically before your marketing has even shown up), they’re arguing. And they’re generally not even arguing about the price, or even which vendor, or even the solution. In a lot of cases, they can’t even agree on the problem.

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B2B, buying group, purchase

Show where the gaps are, and you can help the group structure a more productive argument.

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Yikes!

But also: “Yay!” – that’s pretty fertile territory for creative marketers to be working: defining problems, rallying groups, offering possible approaches to problem-solving. Notice how the product (arguably the least interesting bit of B2B marketing), doesn’t get much of a look-in?

What’s interesting here is how ill-equipped ‘funnel-oriented’ marketing automation tools and technologies are to respond to ‘buying cells’ in general, let alone one that might be in open conflict. The creative opportunities lie instead in the application of a little psychology and also through partnership with publishers.

Group dynamics, illuminated.

We’ve been exploring the idea of approaches that target the ‘buying cell’ in a particular company, where the offer (of distance education or networking or custom site visits) is made on the proviso that the entire cell takes part, as a cohesive unit. We’ve also had great success with publishers who track their users, not at the individual level, but at the company or even department level. When enough people from related roles in a single company start consuming a specific type of content (say, data centre migration), you can safely assume that a major data centre migration project is being kicked around.

The question then is, what can your brand offer that is genuinely useful (no, not another whitepaper) to this group, knowing that they are probably arguing mightily about whether they even need a data centre?

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.

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Even then, they are still kind of dopey. Ok, dopey is a bit harsh. At best, they are an imprecise measure of a spectacularly subjective quality, which is, ironically, ‘quality’. At worst, they can totally warp an agency’s culture and turn relatively normal people into career dickheads. Irregardless, it was welcome news to learn that both our China team and our Sydney team were handed silver trophies from the DMA Echo Awards last week.

When we’re talking about demand generation in particular, the Echos are the creative awards you want to win, because of the fairly significant and reasonably rigorous effectiveness component of the judging criteria. The work has to be good, it has to be real and it has to have worked.

What was really interesting was that the two pieces of work were for the same client, reaching the same (basic) audience, entered in the same awards category to produce the same awards result: silver. But the 2 pieces are radically different from each other – in form, strategy and tone.

The Ogilvy China team produced a branded content film called Parallel Paths for the Notes productivity suite, which told the story of two young and hungry salesmen climbing the corporate ladder, and let the Lotus information flow naturally throughout the story. This piece picked up a similar coloured trophy from Spikes just a few weeks earlier.

The Sydney team were tasked with convincing CIOs to outsource parts of the workload and resources they would normally consider to be the domain of ‘their department’. The approach here was to appeal to the audience as people, not roles, and draw a parallel (see what I did there?) with their own workloads – in this case, mowing the lawn.

DMA echo, award, Ogilvy Sydney

It’s hard to ignore the fact that someone just sent you a load of grass.

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The “Grass Pack’ as it became known is particularly interesting, as it’s almost retro in execution: a completely analogue, dimensional mailer. It was particularly effective, I believe, because of the contrarian approach the team took to delivery. The average IT manager’s inbox is overflowing with messages, while their in-office pigeon holes would be lucky to see more than the occasional leaflet. If you want to stand out, move away from the crowd, which is part of the reason why a piece of artificial turf outperformed a dozen email campaigns, combined.

I don’t like to say “I told you so”.

I love to say it. Which is why I’m going to point out that I called Direct Mail “The comeback kid” a couple of years ago, and I think the assertion is still valid. There are a lot of fundamental disciplines that classic DM can offer to digital campaign planning (the importance of the list, the creative opportunities of segmentation and personalisation, the advantage of perceived value versus actual cost and so on).

But if you treat the desk space (rather than the desktop) as media space, the reach and frequency of creative mail can be spectacular, especially if you are selling into a ‘buying cell’ of multiple stakeholders and decision-makers.

I don’t think these pieces are good because they won (I think they are good and they won). We’ve had other great pieces struggle in award shows this year, I believe, partly because the complexity of the solution slowed them down. We’ve even had pieces rejected by awards show entry co-ordinators for being in the wrong category, only to be rejected again in the categories suggested to us by those same co-ordinators, again for being in the wrong category. At that point, you know it’s time to walk away from that particular casino.

Again, congrats to our China team for creating entertainment from email software and to our Sydney team for cleverly moving against the herd.

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

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Not all customer insights come from customers: 5 Lessons in Luxury Car Design From the Guys Who Park Them

If people don’t understand what brand journalism can be, I think it could go sideways and end up being derided as another ‘failed journalism experiment. I’m bound and determined to see that that doesn’t happen.

Brock Meeks, editor of Ideas Lab: curated and operated by Atlantic Media Strategies but owned and paid for by GE.