Dan Shute: I’m Dan Shute, one of the partners at Creature London but the suit of the four of us. We’re a really young agency again just over a year old so it’s a great privilege to be asked to do this abjectly terrifying thing! Thank you! We thought we’d use our time to talk about something that we’re really interested in as an agency. Namely the fact that in a time when the divisions between all the different creative industries are becoming increasingly porous, how can agencies and brands gain to the borderlands and find ways to talks to consumers in more imaginative, more engaging and more and effective ways. That’s beer brands putting on pieces of experiential theatre, creating art shows, to burger chains releasing computer games. We’ve talked about manufacturers making featured films or releasing albums. Smart brands are already starting to do this. They’re starting to investigate other forms of cultural expression to get people talking about them rather than simply applying more traditional forms of message like marketing. When you’re setting up an agency you argue about a lot of things! But one thing we all completely agreed on was that we really wanted to explore those borders and investigate ways for brands to, as we slightly wankily put it, ‘creating choreograph, conversations and culture that can reach beyond the compounds of advertising’. Partly because it feels like that’s the way the industry’s going anyway. Partly because we thought it might be fun.
Dan Shute: This presentation is a short trip through some of the questions we’ve considered particularly around brands making entertainment and the questions that face any brand that try to develop work beyond the cosy traditional confines of paid for messaging. Working in advertising, we spend a lot time trying to come up with jokes, so we thought the based way of structuring this talks was to base it around jokes. But we didn’t want the message to get lost so they’re deliberately bad jokes! Genuinely! Honest!
Dan Shute: Before I get into it it’s probably worth pointing out, it sort of speaks for itself, everything I’m about to say is just a point of view, and it’s a point of view of a very young agency at that. A pinch of salt doesn’t quite cover it. We along with everybody else are only just exploring these borderlines. So, joke number one which Suki has already referenced. Why is advertising like a blind man’s Airfix? So, before we talk about where our industry could go, we need to have a proper look at where it is right now. How does it actually work nowadays? The funny thing is if you step back and look at the basic model that most advertising follows, it immediately becomes clear that the model has a number of fundamental problems. Like a blind man’s Airfix, it’s a bit rubbish! Because the model that much of advertising follows is one of interruption, there’s a basic contract that exists between viewer, reader, listener, surfer that says in order to watch, read, listen or experience the thing that you want, we’re going to interrupt you with a bunch of stuff that you don’t want. That’s not to say, obviously, that adverts aren’t sometimes brilliant, we are an agency as lots of people in this room are, that prides itself and drives itself to make these interruptions as diverting, as interesting, as beautiful and as entertaining as we come. Sometimes, you know we get that. But a quick look at the average commercial break will tell you that that’s certainly not always the case. The millions who sought out an watched spots of old spice, or nike, or whoever online should tell us that the message from a brand can act as entertainment in its own right and it can be more than just tolerated so why do we still need to put up with GoCompare and Cillitbang who I don’t think are in the room!
Dan Shute: One reason why I do this is because the entertainment value of advertising isn’t really that important. It doesn’t actually matter that much that advertising has a rubbish model. The model doesn’t require ad’s to be good, it only requires them to be able to afford the air space around a genuine piece of entertainment. Under the current model, creative excellence is a nice to have. It’s not a necessity, and that’s why most of the advertising that you see on TV get away with being average, or more often than not, a little bit shit! It’s not good enough from the explosion of channels and devices that compete for our audience’s attention, you look at the stats and twitter, mobile and social usage all soar during the ad breaks when we’re all being paid to produce what’s actually happening. Users fast forwarding on PDR’s etc. etc. Consumers are becoming increasingly adept at avoiding traditional advertising, and of course they are. Most of us, as a general rule in life, would rather not be interrupted. So, the old model’s broken. Let’s look for a new one!
Dan Shute: Joke number 2: why are most brands like Jeremy Clarkson? All the stuff that I’ve just talked about can sound absolutely terrifying. This is what we do, it’s what we’ve always done. It’s what we’ve got into the business to do a few years ago and god if it’s all fucked, are we all fucked? It isn’t actually. It’s one of the most exciting and welcome changes that we as an industry have been through and we need to move beyond attaching ourselves to things that the audience is already paying attention to, and try to be that thing. Someone once said if you spoke to people the same way that most advertising speaks to you, they’d punch you squarely in the face, and they’re right! The received wisdom in marketing is that messaging is king, that if you can land your message clearly, loudly, repetitively, the job is done, and that’s the reason why the experience of having a conversation with most brands is like talking to a self-obsessed lunatic with a megaphone. We’re fixated on what we want to say, rather than what people will want to hear. And much like a one way conversation with Jeremy Clarkson, you’re archetype pub wall that makes people hate us. This is at odds with the way the entertainment industry works, which is absolutely focused on the response it wants to create with an audience, not the message it wants to land. We’ve got it the wrong way round. Nobody walks out of the cinema having watched jaws and says ‘I really enjoyed that movie, it was really clear!’ But that’s the response we look for with advertising. Jaws isn’t telling a story to put across a message (although it’s not bad as an anti-swimming ad!) it’s telling a story to solicit a response. If brands want to continue to have conversations with an audience, in a world where they need to earn their attention, we need to consider this shift from messaging-led marketing, to response-led entertainment. Put it another way, it’s all about the punters. We don’t just need to learn from the world of entertainment, we need to become entertainment.
Dan Shute: So joke, which is a word that I’m starting to realise that I’m using in the loosest of senses, why are filmmakers like GoCompare? Because again we’ve talked about old ideas mascaraing as new already and advertising as entertainment isn’t a new idea at all. Brands understand that power of entertainment and have been trying to weasel their way into it for hundreds of years, when Jules Verne around the world in eighty days, travel and shipping companies lobbied him to be mentioned in it. Product placement isn’t new, but the problem with product placement is that most of the time it’s rubbish. Filmmakers, like GoCompare, tend not to make very good ad’s. So when the Pepsi truck backs into frame behind Will Smith, I don’t think ‘I could murder a pepsi!’, I think ‘fuck off!’ Part of the problem is when something’s so obviously placed, it tends to break the audience out of the narrative. It reminds them they’re watching a business concern, rather than letting them get lost in the story which is interesting to Jamie’s story about marketing getting in the way. When it becomes about the profit, and that Pepsi truck starts to take up the whole of the screen, all of a sudden you’ve lost your audience. The appearance of brands in films only works when it enriches and adds to the story in world, rather than being clunky placements in such a horrible world when response comes before messaging. It can be brilliant, if you think of McDonalds in Pulp Fiction, the Apple sound Wally makes when he powers up, or Martin Fliers Nike Max in Back to the Future 2, brilliant, genuinely brilliant examples of a brand adding enriching the story. One of which, in the last case, led to some fantastic initiatives 25 years on. Contrast that with James Bond stepping out of a mondeo. One jars you out of the story, the others don’t.
Dan Shute: So, (and this one isn’t even a joke!), why are Proctor and Gamble like Shakespeare? Because product placement obviously isn’t the only way that brands can get involved in entertainment, the next logical step is that they start making the entertainment themselves, which leads us neatly into the world of ‘branded content’. It’s another horrible phrase…I think firstly it gets the hierarchy all wrong, by placing branded in front of content, you’re suggesting that if you brand the shit out of the content, you ‘ve succeeded…you haven’t! Secondly that word content. It’s just so ridiculously all-encompassing to become ultimately meaningless. In a citizen cake, content. Nanacat, content. Ocean Finance’s TV channel, content. All of those things are content, but only two of them are watchable. But I think interestingly even thinking about it as entertainment for a client, or utility for a particular brand, it’s just a better way to think about stuff. Regardless of what we call it, not a new idea! We call them soap operas for a reason. What’s depressing though is that our predecessors in the industry seem to be so much better at it. ‘Guiding Light’ is a soap opera started by Proctor and Gamble in 1937. That only came off the air in 2009 after 72 years, making it the longest continual narrative in human history. And perhaps worryingly, making Proctor and Gamble a bit like Shakespeare. But I doubt we’ll still be watching Ocean Finance TV in 2084! I think that part of the problem with the majority of modern branded content is that it still feels like an ad that’s gone on for ages and ages and ages. Jam-packed with branding, with product, with messaging, if you want to make ad’s then make ad’s. They’re fine, they’re brilliant, make really good ad’s they’re great. Don’t make them 15 minutes long and then pretend that they’re entertaining, because people know that they’re not. They’re smarter than we think! They won’t match up against the real entertainment that’s out there and no one’s going to pay any attention to you.
Dan Shute: Statement number 5. They’re questions not statements! Why is the Lord of the Rings like the Northern Line? Because brands can produce entertainment, when faced with the scary world of it, many marketers panic. They just try to label as many surfaces in the content as possible. The more Pepsi trucks that we can have in the shot, the better. But we’re not in the labelling business, we’re in communications. And the purpose of communications most frequently to elicit change in behaviour, to get people to do something or to think of something differently. And if you’re clear-eyed about your desired response, you start with the punter, you sometimes don’t need to shout about your branding at all. Some of the most successful examples of entertainment affecting change for a brand, they’ve actually been totally unbranded. For me, one of the best tourism campaigns ever created was Lord of the Rings and there wasn’t a New Zealand tourism logo in sight. That, for those of you who are still with me for the gags, is why the Lord of the Rings is like the northern line. Both make me want to move to New Zealand!
Dan Shute: The three creative partners at Creature, Ben Stewart, Ed, have all spent time with one another where they were involved with Somers Town which, for those of you who don’t know, was an unbranded, brand funded, feature film, directed by Shane Meadows and funded by Eurostar which attempted to move beyond the messaging brief. The brief was pretty straight forward and pretty dull, the Eurostar now leaves from Kings Cross and not from Waterloo, but by focusing on the response that the brand was after for its audience, the desire to travel to glamorous European cities, they were able to tell a genuinely emotive story and that story of two young boys dreaming of following their puppy love for a mythical colour-infused Paris (I didn’t write that bit!) joins perfectly with the brand’s desired response. And it worked, it did great things for the Eurostar and people really liked it and went to see it as a film.
Dan Shute: So, final question. Why is Bill Hicks like a dog in a g-string? This is the one we had the most fun writing, but I’ll tell you about that afterwards! Bill Hicks, as everyone in the room will I’m sure know, once memorably quipped that anyone who works in advertising or marketing should kill themselves. I’m not joking, kill yourselves, it goes on for like ten minutes, it’s good. It’s because we are quote, un-quote, “only making the world worse!” I, along with most people in this room, have spent most of my career trying to show that Bill Hicks, much like a dog in a g-string, is just wrong! And there’s never been a better time to do this than right now! The opening up of the borderlines between the different creative industries gives brands the opportunity to go beyond attaching their messages to the stuff that people are actually interested in, and the opportunity to genuinely become that stuff. To act as channels, as producers, as commissioners, as patrons of the art, creators of stories, tools that people genuinely want to interact with. What makes this even better, even more exciting, is that so many of these new models are still in adolescence, rather than in the maturity more traditional forms of communication. Which firstly means it’s a lot of fun, trying to work out how to do it, but it also means that people are very happy to collaborate, to explore and to play. We, at Creature, are finding that many creative practisers, outside of advertising, from the world of theatre, from the world of food, the world of science, they’re really interested in experimenting with brands, in new ways of funding the cool stuff they’ve been wanting to do anyway, and just trying stuff out. And doing stuff that is as ground-breaking now as the 30-second TV spot was back in in 50’s, defining the agency role in that can be challenging, which is why I haven’t slept for 6 months, but it’s really exciting!
Dan Shute: So, no more jokes! For people who are up for prospecting in the borderlands, here is the summary of Creature of London’s tips for finding gold in the them hills. Look for new models. If you know how to do something, everyone’s already doing it, so let’s try something else. Think about response rather than messaging. It’s the people watching that matter, not the script that we’re writing. Be smarter than mere placement. Work out how your brand can be involved and make something better, make something that people want to do. Be entertaining or be useful. Don’t just be content. Anyone or anything can be content and it’s rubbish. Behaviour change, big branding opportunities – sticking a logo on it doesn’t make it good. Making people give a shit about something makes it good. And finally…let’s all prove Bill Hicks wrong! Here ends the bad jokes!
David Hilton: I’d be really keen to understand your thoughts and maybe best practice agency aside, about how that can better work for a client. How you can get to more effectively examine and explore those borders and create that excitement in the simplest and most efficient way for a client.
Joe Clift: The number of times where I’ve had, and you’ve alluded to it. A great content idea thrown at me, which is, in my judgement somewhat, or massively off brand, has undermined my confidence, at times, in how far one is inclined to push it, and how far one is inclined to trust and make that aim.
Jack Fryer: Everyone in the room knows that revenues aren’t what they were, 95% of music that’s downloaded in the UK is stolen, so we have become by necessity, much more open to the idea of brand collaboration.
Justin Hicklin: That’s what’s great about starting an agency is that fear drives you to look at all those things that no one else has spotted to try and create a difference.
Russ Lidstone: We’re all guilty in this room of at some point in a pitch doing what I call a sticker on a banana, where you think ‘let’s put a sticker on a banana because we can’. Now I think we’ve got to look a lot more at analytics, at data, what we’re understanding about how different channels can work.