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Last week saw the launch of a new piece of advertising technology, hailed by all involved as “a game changer”. It turned out to be a parody of advertising technology, that then turned out to be the launch of a new advertising conference called Creative Fuel, to be held in Sydney in a few weeks time.

Timed nicely to meet the run-up to awards season, the video takes Christopher Guest-esque aim at gimmicky, technology-driven stunts that many agencies use to create work, (sometimes for a client, but not always), to put in case study videos, to enter into industry award shows.

Ant Keough’s delivery of the metaphor for the pace of technological change probably deserves ‘best in show’.

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As a target for parody, however, this is fish-in-a-barrel stuff. And possibly a little off the pace. Canada’s Rethink agency used 3D printers last year to bypass award shows altogether. A couple of years before that, John St. (again from Canadia) skewered case study video culture with this tongue-in-cheek recap of the marketing campaign for Chelsea Bedano’s 8th birthday.

You can’t stop progress.

The Creative Fuel video, however, betrays a deeper unease within traditional creative agencies. After years of striving to stay abreast of emerging technologies, understand the implications and then put the technology to use for clients, agencies now appear to be saying “stop the world, I want to get off”.

And you can scarcely blame them. The pressure to deliver innovation for its own sake (already great), has been exacerbated by the rate of technological change and amplified by the firehose of instantaneous information (read: press releases). The spectre of new technology now has Creative Departments running away in desperation. In this video, quite literally.

After years of trying to integrate digital departments, hiring (or not, in the case of W+K) Creative Technologists and appointing Innovation Officers, the current rallying cry by ad agencies to ‘get back to ideas’ is actually a neat way of stepping off the treadmill, by calling the treadmill itself into question.

My fear is that it reintroduces a dichotomy between creativity and technology that is largely meaningless and, ultimately, counterproductive.

All creativity requires technology. Not all technology is new technology.

Beginning with fire, pretty much everything we use to express ourselves or to bring about change in the world (the broadest definition of creativity), is technology. If you go back far enough, you arrive at a place where that technology was new. All new technology goes through an experimental phase while we work out what to do with it. In almost all cases, the first thing we ask of any new technology is to replicate the functionality of the technology it’s supposed to replace.

One of the first regular uses of non-military broadcast radio was a live reading of the front page of the daily newspaper, word for word, interrupted by ads. Television started by filming and broadcasting plays, which were staged and performed just as they were in the theatre, except now interrupted by ads. The first time we got our hands on one of them new-fangled mobile phones, we dragged the thing downstairs walked around outside and rang our friends to tell them that we were calling them while walking around ON THE STREET! OMG!

Actually, OMG came much later, but still relied on technology for the delivery.

So it’s not surprising that one of the first things we thought of when we were presented with the possibility of a remote control helicopter drone was to literally strap a client’s product to it.

Variations on the same idea occurred to the marketing teams at Dominos, Coke and this Scottish bakery. So many ad-fuelled drones are taking to the skies, the FAA has had to step in and issue a ban.

Eventually, we get past the obvious stuff and start tinkering, experimenting. That’s actually called innovation, where we try stuff out, maybe have a happy accident or an unexpected collaboration. In our industry, we have to somehow incorporate the brand in our experiments, because that’s how we get it paid for, not dissimilar to Beethoven naming his concertos after his patrons. Some really useful drone-powered stuff appears to be in the works, it’s just that brands and agencies don’t seemed to be involved at this point.

Clearly, not all of this early-adopter advertising-funded experimentation with technology is great. In fact, the majority of it is relatively pointless. But, as the guys (and they are all guys) in the Creative Fuel video point out, that doesn’t stop us making some very slick video case studies and entering them into advertising award shows. It also doesn’t stop these award shows from handing these very slick video case studies for largely pointless (or worse, entirely made up) work a shiny trophy from time to time.

This may well be the part that is getting the furthest up the collective noses of the Creative Directors quoted in the Creative Fuel promo video. I’m not entirely without sympathy.

Don’t throw the bluetooth out with the arduino.

Rare is the individual able to grasp the full potential of a new technology first swing at the plate. While we were all sniggering at the ‘twats’ talking with themselves in teenspeak on Twitter, CP&B took the time to understand how people were using the technology in an informal way. They quietly scaled it up and created Twelpforce, making Best Buy one of the most accessible brands in the US and casually bagging a Titanium lion in the process.

It’s important to note that Twitter had already been going for almost four years and we’d seen a lot of relatively pointless, ad-funded crap on Twitter by this point. In fact, we still do. Some of it is even winning awards.

Absent from this (entirely manufactured) debate are the voices arguing for gimmicky campaigns running on obvious (and obviously new) technology. Which makes it hard to work out who exactly the Creative Fuse crew are railing against? People who like using technology in advertising? Gullible award juries? The clients who fund this sort of work?It’s not immediately clear. Maybe they’ll turn up to debate the point in a panel discussion on the day.

Let’s go to the video one more time

While it’s a fun (if a little lengthy) video and it’s working brilliantly as a piece of marketing against the target audience, it will be interesting to see how many put their hands in their pocket for a $600+ asking price that covers just a single day of presentations. By way of comparison, SXSW gets you five days of inspiration for around the same coin, admittedly it’s a long way from Sydney. TedX at the Opera House charged half that, if you were approved.

Although Reg Mombassa is always good for a story and anything featuring the work of Dr Suess gets a tick, it looks, at a distance, to be shaping up as a full day agree-a-thon.

For my money, I just can’t buy into the technology vs creativity argument as it’s presented by the Creative Fuel promotional material. This one’s a zero-sum game – one that can’t be changed.

There’s no one without the other. Technology is part of the creative process (and creativity is inherent in all technology). Terrible ideas are terrible ideas. Awards juries will sometimes fall for these terrible ideas when they are very well packaged (please try to remember which industry you’re working in before you allow yourself to become too upset by this). Nothing to see here, move along.

History, research and pretty much anyone writing seriously on the topic knows that there are many paths to creativity.

I just don’t believe running away from technology is one of them.

 

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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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Transmedia? Interactive storytelling? Multimedia narratives? Whatever you call it, whichever technology you use, you have to start with the fundamental ingredient: a great story.  If you want to be as successful at telling it, follow these rules from The Goggles, self-described ‘old media guys’ and Interactive Directors of multi-award winning interactive documentary “Welcome to Pine Point”:

Keep it Linear

Humans have been trained, for thousands of years, to follow a linear storyline, so help them to understand yours by sticking (largely) to the formula. While digital does allow for a completely unstructured and non-linear format (and it’s good for deliberately non-linear experiences like games), your audience might find it overwhelming. Take their hand, guide them. Pine Point really only allowed users to go forward, or back.

The Goggles took 2 years and about $500k to build their 'online documentary'

The Goggles took 2 years and about $500k to build their ‘online documentary’

 

Make it Layered

Humans are also complex and, when they like you (or your story), they will want to get involved, to spend some time. This is where digital really works, allowing you to create little piles of detail and texture, within a ‘chapter’ or segment of your largely linear story. Pine Point lets users shuffle through a pile of photographs of characters featured in a chapter.

Strive to Remain Human

The Goggles believe another problem with digital is that it encourages us to make things that are too perfect – perfectly flat, straight, round, photoshopped, aligned and cropped. Life, and the people who live it, are not perfect so leave room for imperfections, for ragged edges, in a digital storytelling experience. The aesthetics of Pine Point are very handmade

‘Chasing the Sun’, ‘Touch’ and ‘The Ghosts in Our Machine’ are some of the upcoming ‘new media storytelling’ projects from The Goggles.

A version of this story originally appeared on Ogilvydo.com as part of the agency’s coverage of SXSW 2014.

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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+

 

 

Pure functionality: a studio that completely conforms to the artist

One of the coolest things I took away from SXSW was a renewed faith in people. Not just the people on the streets and in the bars, or the locals who took me on a tour of their very happening city, but the visionaries and thinkers who got up and showed us that it’s cool for people – and brands – to care deeply about stuff.

I was deeply impressed by Cameron Sinclair, the self-styled Chief Eternal Optimist for Architecture For Humanity and his take on open-sourced architecture. Fashion designer Marc Ecko became my new personal hero when he rocked a madcap Prezi to take us down the rabbit hole of ‘AWEthenticity’ to a place where we were confronted by the issue of state-sponsored violence in U.S. schools.

Science-fiction author and SXSW veteran Bruce Sterling saved the best for last, launching into an incendiary call-to-arms for millenials. Nothing short of generational change will suffice for a man who, by his own admission, is in the wrong generation.

I fulfilled a life-long dream and got to floor the accelerator of a brand-new Corvette, saw a ‘secret’ Foo Fighters performance at a the official closing party and will forever be seduced by the words ‘breakfast taco’. I’ve got my longhorns cap and my wife scored a shirt from the Driskill hotel. Austin, you were great.

But most importantly, I’ve got some very clear ideas about where our industry (or parts of it, at least) is heading and I’m lucky enough to be in a position to be a part of it. I’ve collected together a lot of the links and resources from SXSW and related coverage here and I thoroughly recommend you start working on your plans to get yourself to SXSW 20112.

This video is part of the video blog series  “10 Things Agencies Can Learn From SXSW” presented by Barrie Seppings, Creative Director at Ogilvy Sydney.

If you have any experience with mobiles, or South East Asia, or mobiles in South East Asia, you’ve probably come across QR codes several times over the past six or seven years and filed them quietly under ‘Only in Japan’. Get ready to take them out dust them off, as the general population starts coming to grips with the ease of ‘mobile bookmarks’ and people start dreaming up cool new uses for these pixilated black and white squares.

QR codes, and the companies hoping to ‘monetise’ them were at SXSW in full effect, reminding everyone that SMS started life as a test signal format for telco engineers and its current iteration is as a popular web service based on messages of 140 characters. You may have heard of it.

Need to rewind? Catch the previous episode, where Ad Agencies learn “How To Throw A Party (Like You Mean Business).”

Stay tuned for the next episode when ad agencies learn more “How To Get (Rich And) Famous”

This video is part of the video blog series  “10 Things Agencies Can Learn From SXSW” presented by Barrie Seppings, Creative Director at Ogilvy Sydney.

 It seems you can make a lot of friends, and some business as well, by renting out a bar (or auditorium) and inviting everyone in town, a tactic employed literally dozens and dozens of times every single night. Apart from the decidedly rockstar party thrown by The Barbarian Group (featuring an indie-rock supergroup, with actor Michael Cera on bass), the really big money events were bankrolled by publishers, software houses and platforms.

Hosting company Rackspace went burlesque. Microsoft held a massive BBQ for start-ups & VCs, and a huge dance party for their latest browser upgrade – both on the same night. Tech blog Mashable took out a double-fronted, three story pub for two consecutive nights yet, in true publisher style, they sub-let the party to a slew of major sponsors. The Foursquare and Frog Design parties were easy to find (just look for the queues) but took hours to get into (just look at those queues!). The biggest event was the official closing party, thrown by Media Temple (mt) (yet another web hosting company), held at a 2,000 capacity open-air bar and featuring a live musical performance. By the Foo Fighters.

The money these parties must have burned through was simply astonishing, but they were packed to the gunwales with people pitching, angling, dealing, wooing, financing, networking and recruiting. It was just like being at the conference, only with a (free) drink in your hand.

Need to rewind? Catch the previous episode, where Ad Agencies learn “How to Launch an App”

Here’s the next episode, where ad agencies learn “Why You Shouldn’t Write Off Yesterday’s Hot Technology.”

This video is part of the video blog series  “10 Things Agencies Can Learn From SXSW” presented by Barrie Seppings, Creative Director at Ogilvy Sydney.

Before I say another word, a moment of full disclosure. I’m an Ogilvy employee, have been for years and I went to Southby on the company dime. That said, of all the official agency activities, stunts and campaigns I saw that week in Austin, Ogilvy’s made the most sense. The New York office engaged a team from ‘graphic notation and facilitation’ firm ImageThink to create visual representations of the major panels and presentations.

These colourful, playful one page summaries were photographed, shipped off to a local printer overnight and emerged the next morning at the OgilvyNotes stand as huge piles of takeaway notes for anyone to grab. In a technology-saturated, mobile-app-focussed environment, these low-tech, analogue, paper-based notes were a hit, not for their novelty value, but for their usefulness.

Plenty of other agencies took to the stage, so to speak. Dentsu had a large stand at the trade show focusing on mobile innovation. JWT played caterer by renting a food truck and giving away free BBQ ribs. Sapient Nitro threw a big party on the opening night. Razorfish participated in several panels and solo presentations. The Barbarian Group did both. The only real misstep, in my opinion, was made by R/GA, who launched a mobile game called ‘SXSW Inferno: Welcome to Social Media Hell’ the week before the conference. Everyone I know signed up to play immediately – then quickly discovered the game was ostensibly making fun of them, and never played (or spoke of) it again. Seems you can’t make friends by turning up to a party and laughing out loud at what everyone’s wearing. Check the video for the full rant.

Need to rewind? Catch the previous episode, “#1 How to think like a software company”.

Stay tuned for the next episode when ad agencies learn “Why you should keep on (or start) playing games.”

This video is part of the video blog series  “10 Things Agencies Can Learn From SXSW” presented by Barrie Seppings, Creative Director at Ogilvy Sydney.

It felt like almost all of the agency types in Austin had converged on one conference room to listen to people from the likes of Barbarian Group, Google, Tribal DDB and Simple Geo talk about how technology is affecting the agency model and the creative process.

There were plenty of good thought starters (applying software development theories like ‘Agile Development’ and ‘Scrum Management’ to the agency process), and some neat metaphors (the brand as OS, campaigns as apps), but it fell short of providing a blueprint. Maybe because there were no actual project managers from actual software companies on the panel. Or maybe because no-one has truly, honestly, worked this out yet. It is abundantly clear, however, that plenty of people are interested in re-tooling the OS of the traditional ad agency. Take a look at the ideas and thought-starters in this episode of the the videoblog series “10 Things Ad Agencies Can Learn From SXSW”

Need to rewind? Catch the previous episode, where we introduce “10 Things Agencies Can Learn From SXSW”

Ready for the next episode? See which ad agencies learn “How to be useful” at SXSW.

Now in its 25th year, SXSW hit the big time in 2011, thanks largely to the interactive portion of what was traditionally a music and film festival. An estimated 30,000 people ‘checked-in’ to Austin in an attempt to discover the very near future of the interwebs, and it felt like most of those people were in marketing.

If proof were needed that the web is mainstream news in America (at least), the festival’s major sponsors were a car company and a soft drink manufacturer. CNN set up a broadcast facility across the road from the convention centre for the week. The Guardian UK also sent a team to produce a special lift-out news section dedicated to the event. Conan O’Brien reportedly did a couple of shows live from ‘SouthBy’. Ashton Kucher showed up, presumably to make it even easier for people ‘on the Twitter’ to follow him.

Where the brands, the broadcasters and the stars go, the ad agencies surely follow – myself unashamedly included – to see what they can learn (or steal).

This videoblog series explores “10 things agencies can learn from SXSW” and is taken from a presentation I gave @ Ogilvy House, Sydney, recently. The first episode gives a background to the event and a look at the “mainstreaming” of digital in the American marketing landscape.

Ready for the next episode? Lesson 1 – How to think like a software company.

Google has certainly copped a lot of flak for its corporate motto “Don’t be evil” and some of the criticism has merit, but I still love the simplicity of the phrase and the boldness of the sentiment.  It demonstrates a lot of respect for the intelligence of the employees and a willingness to give them room to make their own decisions. Also, it’s a very instructive example of the difference between guidance and rules.

We’ve been working towards a guiding philosophy for the sort of marketing we do (or at  least, the sort we’d like to do) that gives us enough room to make decisions while providing a clear direction, or reference point, to check that we’re making progress.

And the closest we’ve got so far is this: “Be useful”

If truth be told, it started out as “Don’t be useless” which we liked as a both homage and self-directed threat. But we had a bout of the positives and tried to make it more about what you should do, rather than what you can’t.

But what does it mean? Take a look at a lot of traditional marketing (the ads, the catalogues, the mailers, the webpages and emails), and try to measure it’s usefulness. How much simpler does it make your life (or just your day)? How much did you learn from it? How much more do you know now than you did before you read or listened to that piece of marketing? What can you do now that you couldn’t do before? How much time or effort has it saved you? If you had to pay for that piece of marketing, how much would you be willing to hand over?

FWIW, I think this is particularly important when answering briefs that describe the audience as “Time-poor” (ands that’s just about everyone, as far as I can tell). If they don;t have much time for anything, they certainly don’t have time to spend on stuff that isn’t useful to them.

These are pretty tough questions for a piece of marketing collateral to answer. But what if we stopped creating marketing and started building something else on behalf of our clients? Something that helped people, that gave them information, or a tool or an experience, or wisdom? Or anything really, as long as it was useful.

We’ve been playing at the edges of this for a while – our Live Event Matchmaking effort for IBM’s Pulse events was a step, but we believe we’ve moved even closer with a recent campaign for IBM’s sponsorship of the Australian Open 2011 tennis tournament. We took a look at all the data that IBM generate  from the action on the court, married it up with all th open-source data that fans generate on the web and presented it back as a data-powered window on the Open experience:

Yes, it is marketing, but we’re hoping that it is useful marketing. And we’re going to spend a lot more of our time trying to figure out how to do more of it. Let me know if you’re on a similar path.