Attention is becoming a scarce resource

There was an interesting article in The New York Times about ‘The Cost of Paying Attention‘. And why that is a problem. Not so much for those in need of attention, but for the people paying attention, that it consumes the very necessary time need to think and be creative:

“Attention is a resource; a person has only so much of it. And yet we’ve auctioned off more and more of our public space to private commercial interests, with their constant demands on us to look at the products on display or simply absorb some bit of corporate messaging. Lately, our self-appointed disrupters have opened up a new frontier of capitalism, complete with its own frontier ethic: to boldly dig up and monetize every bit of private head space by appropriating our collective attention. In the process, we’ve sacrificed silence — the condition of not being addressed. And just as clean air makes it possible to breathe, silence makes it possible to think.”

Make sure you make you mike the time needed for silence. There’s a nice little book published by TED called “The Art of Stillness” that I bought recently that taps into the same issue. Think about making time for silence, time to be bored, you will benefit from it.

Bonus link – In case you forget how much time you’re actually asked to pay attention, watch this 8 year old video ‘Kapitaal‘ made as an art project by Studio Smack.

And I’m off. Goodbye Duval Guillaume!

This week will be my last week at Duval Guillaume, the Belgian agency I joined after quitting Microsoft mid 2009. While at Duval Guillaume I enjoyed some of the best professional moments in my career together with the team at the agency – especially after we merged both the Brussels and the Antwerp office into one agency. An agency with the ambition to be among the best in the world.

Coming from client side I still remember my first conclusion in advertising after working there for a month or two. The highs are higher agency side and the lows are lower. It really has been an incredible rollercoaster ride with lesser moments like we all have, but I really only want to remember all these great special moments. Campaigns that we released that still today I’m very proud of and especially being at the verge of what is now commonly known as ‘social film’ in advertising with campaigns such as ‘Bikers‘, ‘Push to add drama‘, ‘Poker‘, ‘Coke Zero 007‘, … just to name a few. Especially TNT’s ‘Push to add drama’ generated some results that we could never have imagined – proof being the +50 million views and +5 million people that shared the video on Facebook, out of nowhere really. Anyway, too much great campaigns I will always remember.

And the (for Duval Guillaume) record streak of awards in Cannes, Eurobest and other festivals especially the last 3 years. Becoming agency of the year in Belgium 3 years in a row now. All the jury duties at award shows or keynotes given about our agency at all these fantastic events at sometimes wonderful locations. Good times. The photo featured above taken on top of the stairs at the Palais in Cannes captured all of that perfectly.

And all of that is at the same time the reason why for me it’s time to leave. Why it’s actually time to go do something else, something new, something I haven’t done before. Because that in essence is what I enjoy most. So time to find new boundaries. I am still figuring out what that will be exactly but first it’s time to leave and time to say goodbye to the fantastic team at Duval Guillaume for an incredible 6 years. Thanks!

And now on to the next. Keep you posted.

Are these the 3 types of agencies we need?

Tom Goodwin wrote an interesting piece for The Guardian where he talks about how to reinvent the agency structure. No rocket science but I think it’s an interesting take on the the current ‘structure’ if there is one and at least it does away with the classic ad agency / digital agency split in a way that makes sense:

Visionary agencies would be a group of innovators, technologists, futurologists and business strategists; they’d spend their time focusing on activity two years ahead and beyond. Their scope would be to improve the products/services made, on branding, positioning, and on understanding the future of marketing.

Brand agencies would be the closest agency to what we consider advertising today. A mixture of talent across all current agencies, to include PR, and some retail and talent from all new technologies, their job would be to build brands and classic upper-funnel activity. Their time horizon would be three months to two years. These are artists that design and shape the brand, and then produce ads and marketing to tell that story, and build brand equity.

Performance agencies would focus on the next two months. Their scope would be to understand how to tweak marketing and communication tactics, how to use automation, clever SEO, retail out-of-home advertising, flow advertising, creative optimisation, real-time marketing, short term PR, promotions at retail and many other tools to perfect the conversion of equity into sales, or in other words, largely lower-funnel activity.

 

Share rate. The best way to measure how content spread

There’s a lot of talk about shareable content and what it means to go viral. This post is in no means a guide to make sure content does go viral, with this post I hope to help people understand why content spreads and if that is really what has happened in the first place. The reason I think this matters is because marketers are judging other brand’s content to understand what worked and what didn’t hoping to replicate, but they aren’t necessarily always looking at the right data. And since I get into conversations related to this topic constantly, I figured it would be well worth sharing this idea of share rate here as well.

Enough for the introduction, I will use online video (ads) as an example, but the theory works for all kinds of online content, although the data sources will be different of course. There are two key numbers that people tend to look at when judging the succes of online video: views/impressions and shares, although I presume that’s already a distant second measure.

Youtube for instance has its own way to rate popularity of video ads, that is explained by themselves rated based on “an algorythm that factors in paid views, organic views and audience retention” – the Youtube Leaderboard. It’s unclear what the weight of each element is, but it’s clear that it’s mostly based around views. It is also the only number mentioned in the rating. As an outsider it’s difficult to judge only on that number what made each video succesful, was it the idea or was it the mediaspent? Knowing what Youtube’s business is about, there’s no need to explain why this rating makes sense for them.

YoutubeLeaderboard

So it’s important to look further. If you as a marketer (or agency creative) want to figure out why something worked views aren’t the best number to look at on its own. Unruly Media created another way to measure video by looking at the amount of time something was shared on social media. The ads chart is sponsored by Mashable, but you can also look at popularity of other video content. If you want to understand why content was spread amongst people it’s probably a good idea to check if it actually spread in the first place.

Here’s where it becomes interesting. The ranking based on shares looks pretty different than the one based on views, if you look at Youtube’s n2 for August for instance, you will see it’s almost impossible to find in the Unruly ranking. So it’s clear, you wonder how content spread? Look at the shares. But that’s not all.

ViralVideoChart

Let’s look at a classic video we all know for instance: Evian Babies. With over 3 million shares that puts it at number 7 in the Unruly Viral Ads Chart of all time. Very succesful, but does that proof it was spread across social and hence a big succes? Not quite. Paid views will also generate shares – paid and organic. So we need to look beyond that. Here’s where the share rate comes in. The best way to judge whether a video was viewed because people shared it across the web is to look at the ration between views and shares. There’s a few ways to look at it, we use [shares/views] as the ratio, some use percentages, the idea remains the same.

Snapshot of internal tool (c) Duval Guillaume
Snapshot of internal tool (Duval Guillaume)

Truly viral content such as ‘Dumb Ways to Die‘ or our own ‘Push to add drama‘ will have a share rate in between 1/20 and 1/10 or even higher (meaning 1/9 or 1/8 but you won’t see those number appear much). Evian Babies – to come back to that same reference – has a ratio of 1/40 and the other example I mentioned (Foot Locker – Youtube’s August n2) has a ratio of 1/200. I would reckon that everything below 1/15 (probably) or 1/20 (definitely) received some kind of ad push. The lower the number the more views were generated through advertising (versus organic) obviously.

The share rate on its own doesn’t say much either of course, a high rate with little views isn’t much of a succes. But if you really want to know why a video was seen by so many people then this is the measure you need to look at. Does that mean those other videos weren’t successful? Of course not. Is it wrong the push videos online with media? Ofcourse not. But want to understand where success came from with the little data you can access? Find the video on the Unruly chart (they show both views and shares – makes it easy) and calculate the share rate.

For the record, Youtube also has a kind of share ratio they use in their presentations but it’s not meaning the same thing. They will look at the ratio between paid views and organic views. Again, thinking of their business selling video ads, I makes for them to correlate paid versus organic views, rather than views versus shares as I suggested.

As mentioned in the beginning I used video to explain but this idea of share ratio counts for all types of content and thus should help you analyze success (or not) of others in good way.

(Please note that I only use examples to illustrate a point, it’s no judgement at all about the videos themselves).

Advertising should be about enabling stories to be told

A few weeks ago I did a talk about the ‘Rebirth of Advertising‘ at TEDxLiege. Rebirth was the theme of the TEDx event that day and I wanted to bring a story that proves it is actually a great time to be in advertising today. That is if you don’t think about advertising as the intrusive, obnoxious thing that interrupts interesting experiences. Here’s how I define advertising:

“Advertising should be about enabling stories to be told. Whether those are brand stories, product stories, consumer stories, … Why would I listen to anyone if it they don’t have something interesting to say?”

Also when I started developing the talk I wanted it to have no advertising in it, I wanted it to excite people about a business I am excited about without showing entertaining work. You can see the 18′ talk in the video below.

Thanks to the team at Duval Guillaume for trying to push the boundaries of advertising every single day and special thanks to Mike Arauz (Undercurrent) whose thinking influenced me quite a bit lately. Thanks Mike!

What strategists could learn from standup comedy

A while ago 4 of the best comedians of all time met and talked about their profession, sharing a whole bunch of insites that are valuable for all of us. It’s impressive to see and hear how much preparation goes into a good standup comedy show and that it’s not because they make it look like they’re inventing the jokes on stage that they haven’t prepared it in the tiniest detail. Here’s what I believe strategists could learn from Louis CK, Ricky Gervais, Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock.

Find the unique human insights. Those things that we all recognise but that are often remain unsaid. When talking about how all 4 comedians find their jokes, they all make a reference to 2 very interesting things. First of all they don’t like ‘easy’ jokes. If you or I could have come up with the joke as well it’s probably not good enough. I like that. Secondly, while searching for their unique form of comedy they often get to human behavior that most of us recognize but don’t often talk about. At Duval Guillaume we search for what we call the ‘provocative insight’, those insights that are recognizable but often left unsaid. It’s there that we find a territory that will help us search for those creative ideas that will get people to talk about brands.

Keep a notebook with you all time, write down every little idea or piece of information, quote, … that you think has something of interest even if you don’t know what exactly what that something is when you write it down. Most comedians also develop their shows based on things they’ve read, heard, got annoyed by, … which eventually mixes up into a gread night out for all of us. Often in developing a good creative strategy it is about connecting the dots, it’s about making the connection between a piece of research, an article you’ve read somewhere, a drawing on the white board from another meeting, … Whether it’s a paper notebook or something else (I almost religiously chose for Evernote) write down everything that you thing sounds interesting when you hear it. You’ll find out later whether there is a use for it or not.

Talk about your ideas frequently with other people, also outside of the strategic department, also outside of the agency. By telling the idea you’ll find thing that don’t really sound right or still aren’t perfect match with your idea. And by the feedback, questions you’ll get you will refine your thoughts. Comedians will often try out their jokes (or partial jokes) on their friends, not only to see if they respond but ultimately to help develop the jokes. Jokes become better by sharing. It’s not that people will have to say whether they like the joke or not, it’s to see how they react so you can use that learning finetuning the joke. Same goes for strategy.

Deconstruct things / issues to the smallest little detail. While listening to Louis CK, Ricky Gervais, Jerry Seinfeld & Chris Rock I learned that they go to extreme lengths to tweak each joke in their show to the finest details. They say that it’s often the little things that make the greatest differences. The specific choice of words, the facial expressions, the posture on stage, … every little thing is tweaked to make sure it works perfectly. A strategy should be developed in the same way. It’s important the general vision of direction is the right one, but it are the little details that make it really come to life. Very often those little things are even more inspiring to creatives than the overarching thinking.

Know who you’re talking to and tweak your idea along the way. Even when you’ve done everything to prepare yourself, made sure that it will work every show is different, every audience is different. It’s a different city, another vibe, … but it’s important for comedians to ‘feel’ the room they’re performing in and add little tweaks to the show while they’re doing it. So apart from the obvious ‘hello city x’ which is different every time there will be more things that will need to be different every show. Of course when you’re a skilled comedian, it’s still you on stage so you can be agile throughout the show. Strategists need to apply that same agility. The strategy might look good on paper, allow it to evolve throughout the process. Maybe it’s the client that added a thought worth including or the creatives find ideas that will influence the strategy. None of that is bad as long as you focus on what the end result is so let it happen, tweak along the way.

Put the hours in. But that’s what you have to do in any job that you want to be successful in. Put the hours in, there’s no such thing as a free ride. I’ve blogged about this before and when you watch the video you’ll see that it’s a common element of success for all 4 comedians, they are all – still today – working very hard.

Watch the full ‘Talking Funny’ video to see for yourself how those 4 talented comedians look at their work:

No boules, no glory. New work for Coke Zero

Here’s the new campaign we launched today for Coke Zero, it is part of the ‘Just Add Zero’ campaign. Hope you like watching it, I know it was fun making it ;-)

“When is the last time you and your friends gathered around the television to watch a good game of pétanque? Right. Pétanque players, knitters, fishermen,… they don’t get the glory soccer players get. But wouldn’t it be nice if for once they got some more support? We asked 5 ordinary people if we could film them while going about their hobbies. They had no idea we were about to turn their quiet pastime into a crazy experience, just by adding zero each time.”

Truth is people don’t actually like creativity

There was an interesting article in Slate a few weeks ago about the bias against creativity, about the fact that most people say they like creativity but that the truth is we really don’t. And since I work in a creative agency often presenting creative ideas to clients the theory based on a 2011 study used in this article makes a whole lot of sense to me.

“We think of creative people in a heroic manner, and we celebrate them, but the thing we celebrate is the after-effect,” says Barry Staw, a researcher at the University of California–Berkeley business school who specializes in creativity. Staw says most people are risk-averse. He refers to them as satisfiers. “As much as we celebrate independence in Western cultures, there is an awful lot of pressure to conform,” he says. Satisfiers avoid stirring things up, even if it means forsaking the truth or rejecting a good idea.  Even people who say they are looking for creativity react negatively to creative ideas, as demonstrated in a 2011 study from the University of Pennsylvania. Uncertainty is an inherent part of new ideas, and it’s also something that most people would do almost anything to avoid. People’s partiality toward certainty biases them against creative ideas and can interfere with their ability to even recognize creative ideas .

Clients will come to us for creative tasks since that’s what we’re most known for. You can literally witness though how the creative ideas that were presented and liked by the clients will be softened once they start to move through the chain of command. That is if you allow that to happen, we’re quite protective on the essence of an idea to make sure that while we’re very open to tweak it we will make sure that that essential core idea is never lost.

Most people agree that what distinguishes those who become famously creative is their resilience. While creativity at times is very rewarding, it is not about happiness. Staw says a successful creative person is someone “who can survive conformity pressures and be impervious to social pressure.”

And of course I realize like anyone else that some creative ideas are just not good or are creative but not an answer to the question or briefing at hand. This is purely about ideas that are recognized as good and creative and how they are being judged during the decision process. This is about how people often reject creative ideas even when espousing creativity as a desired goal (as the research so eloquently puts it).

In terms of decision style, most people also fall short of the creative ideal. they are satisficers rather than searcher for the optimal or most desirable solution. They follow a number of energy-saving heuristics that generally lead to a set of systematic biases or inaccuracies in processing information. And, unless they are held accountable for their decision-making strategies, they tend to find the easy way out – either by not engaging in very careful thinking or by modeling their choices on the preferences of those who will be evaluating them.

Especially that last sentence is a problem I think. Not only in judging creativity by the way. When people make decision upon what they think someone else will probably think of it instead of what they think themselves sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. There’s a clear link with management style there as well. How much do you empower your own people? It seems that to enable creativity you need to do that.

Instead of issuing directives and policy statements and hoping that they will be obeyed, innovative firms must encourage disobedience. In fact, those in power should go so far as to encourage active opposition. Innovative organizations are those that harbor multiple perspectives and objectives, not simply a variety of views.

Last but not least, it’s also why creativity takes courage – dixit Henri Matisse. Definitely an interesting read, be sure to check the full article.

Creative Academy @ Golden Drum: Social Currency fuels Braveness & Creativity

Last week I was in Portorož (Slovenia) to give a presentation at 20th edition of the Golden Drum Awards. To this creative audience I wanted to show that the necessity of building social currency for brands calls for bravery and creativity and as such is a great opportunity for the business that we are in.

We know that we have a lot less control of what is being told about a brand today. In the world where we control messaging we need great storytelling, but that alone isn’t enough anymore. We also need to make sure we try to influence the part where we have no control: “giving people a story to tell to each other”. We believe it’s key for brands to do both.

Web_GoldenDrum

But too often today when you talk about influencing the uncontrolled part we end up quite immediately into social media content. When business discovered social media in 2005-2006 with blogging, it proved an interesting way to share opinion or backstages stories around a brand. In the better examples CEO’s would openly talk about their business once a week in a lengthy blogpost that would allow people to reply to. When LinkedIn but especially Facebook came along, more content (but smaller pieces) was needed for updates several times per week. And with Twitter brands are urged to posts several times a day. At the same time content became more visual, we all know (I hope) the importance of the visual web. This trend however has brands talk to us as we are all ignorant kids and to be honest, most ‘branded content’ is actually worse than the 30″ commercial that so many hate.

Managing the conversation is not the same as provoking the conversation. And we should have the tactical rules of social rule our decisions in developing content to provoke. We no only think you should provoke a conversation, it should result in a conversation worth remembering. As an example I give the campaign we created for ‘Stop The Traffik’. This campaign is approximately 2 years old and yet 1 month ago 2 million views were added to the video when Upworthy discovered it (again). And since the the conversation that came out of it is still as valid for the brand is it was at launch.

That brings us to social currency. You create that when you repeatedly created social objects. And as I’ve written before, with the social object, it’s not so much the object that is important as it is the conversations it triggered around it. My business card is a social object. Almost every time I hand it out people ask me what ‘Change Architect’ (my second role) means and by explaining that I already get a chance to explain why change is important for the agency and how that defines the work that we make.

So why then the necessity for bravery & creativity in building social currency? In my presentation I list 5 points:

  • Provocative insights
  • Surprise & entertain
  • Make it irreverent
  • Make it awesome
  • Let go

But remember, this is not a science so stay agile and adapt constantly while creating.

Photo credit Golden Drum