Wednesday, May 30, 2007

brain watching

I am going to annoy people at parties by talking about this book.

The book is On Intelligence, by Jeff Hawkins - creator of the PalmPilot - who is, in his words, "crazy about brains". On Intelligence details a proposed framework for how brains work and more excitingly how we perceive, think and 'understand'.

"The most powerful things are simple. Thus this book proposes a simple and straightforward theory of intelligence."

Thank God.

I'm fascinated by brains too. I work in the creative industries and have long felt that we abuse and misunderstand the definition and role of 'creativity'.

I am interested in how we think because it can aid and perhaps even revolutionalise the way we conjure up new ideas. Edward De Bono has made the most progress in this area (as far as I know) but in my opinion spends 95% of his energy reminding readers how great the other 5% is. He did however show the world that 'creativity' is a rebellion against the natural functioning of the brain and even showed us how to defy our neurological instincts.

The book fantastic so far (page 153) and I predict future postings that relate to the culture of 'creativity'.

If that doesn't interest you, here's a great idea concerning another organ.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

blinded by the green light

If The Terminator had been called 'Scary Robot', the film probably wouldn't have had quite the same appeal. Packaging is important.

Advertisers know this, often selling old ideas with new cosmetics. Folks in the industry would call this combination of words and image a property. The thing is, with so much emphasis on owning messages - and messages relying on a property - the property or packaging can take over. It can present such a distinct exterior that the interior stops being important.

In the advent of fragmented media consumption and the ever-increasing importance of consumer advocacy, this is one of the biggest reasons traditional marketing is failing more and more to connect to consumers. Brands present only the surface and therefore consumers trade on it at surface level. I.e. Their advocacy of the campaign or brand has no depth because there's no idea behind it.

An excellent example of this is Grolsch's current campaign "Welcome to the green light district".

The idea is simple: Take Grolsch's dutch heritage; take the generalisation that Amsterdam equals porn; apply Grolsch's trademark swatch and there you have it.
And a final detail which is so neat it must have caused the art director to pop his own lid, is that the "iconic" bottle top becomes the filament in a green bulb. Brilliant!

The problem is there isn't really an idea behind the campaign.

When I delved deeper - visited the website, which few consumers will bother to do - I saw that Grolsch's definition of a 'green light district' refers to areas that celebrate "dutch style drinking" - which is fine is say... Holland, but when you click through to Liverpool, Bristol and Sheffield I'm guessing the concept might start to lose its continental flavour.

So the concept gets reduced to: Cool places we want people to associate Grolsch with.

If the shallowness of the concept needed any further highlighting, it was done by Greenpeace.

Around the same time as the Grolsch campaign surfaced, Greenpeace launched its own campaign called... 'Green light district'. The difference: there was actually a thought behind it. The campaign (simplified to changing the red light bulbs in Amsterdam to green light bulbs) raised awareness for using energy-saving bulbs.

Why am I making this point?

When people see and talk about the Greenpeace campaign they will say "Greenpeace changed the bulbs to green to promote energy saving bulbs".
If and when people talk about the Grolsch campaign they will say: "I don't know what a green light district is." Or "Green Light districts are where you can drink Grolsch." But what does any of that mean for the brand. And does anyone care?

I am guessing that Groslch's brief to the creative agency was to 'own' dutch/continental style drinking. Arguably, this campaign cheapens dutch culture and also waters down the concept by suggesting that it can be emulated in the back streets of Cardiff.

'Packaging' is designed to enable brands to own ideas (make them snappy, tie them to the brand and seduce an audience.) This is vital and the difference between a memorable idea and a dull one. But packaging is not meaningful without substance.

Need further proof? Well, would Scary Robot have become governor of California? I think not.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

neon bible bashers

If music is "my hot hot sex", as CSS say it is, then last night The Arcade Fire put on a right royal gangbang at the United Palace Theatre in New York.

They did the impossible and out-shone the majestic neo-classical architecture. No instrument was too big: RĂ©gine Chassagne tamed the church organ like a schoolgirl slaying a dragon - and no object too obscure; a football helmet was briefly a drum.

It was epic.

And that's what people have grown to expect from The Arcade Fire. Which is why it's so great that despite the seven pedestals the group members respectively stand on, they don't distance themselves from their fans. This tone was set the minute Win Butler grabbed the mic and said: "Come forward. It's not a fucking movie theatre." And come forward we did; seat numbers and social boundaries disappearing in a flash of excitement.

For the final song, Win pulled an audience member onto the stage and coaxed the rest of us to follow. They played out the song (I'm one of those people that can hum it but can't remember the titles) in a sea of fans and a few bewildered security guards.

It's not new to get the crowd on-stage, but it's nice to see a band so deified remaining connected to its audience and understanding that a show is never a one-way performance. The audience is part of the show.

Last year I saw another "big band". The Killers were playing Brixton, London. The show was flat. They played like a band that know they're big and want to keep people behind a window. It just didn't work.

I see similarities with this and the way businesses and brands behave with their audiences. The bigger they get and the more power they have, the more they can shut themselves off. But it's a mistake.
Culture is changing and there are more ways than ever for bands/brands to connect with their fans/consumers. Those that refuse to be part of a conversation and insist on building a fortress out of their success will miss out.

Here are 55 Arcade Fire fans (and counting) that will agree with me.

So I salute The Arcade Fire for understanding that the bigger you are the more people you can touch.

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