I was talking with a young, talented producer at a major (Big 5) international ad agency last night. You would kill to have this 24 year old (24 YEAR OLD!!!) on your staff. As a way of checking in on that state of things, I asked him to describe his typical day.
Fasten your seat belts.
He gets in two hours before the “creatives.” He starts to answer the almost 200 e-mails he’s got in his in box from the past NIGHT! He starts to chart on the eight or nine projects he’s working on. (Not like in the good old days, he says, a year and half ago when he started, when he could work on one project at a time.)
What kind of projects? I ask.
A couple of radio productions, a few websites in various stages of design and wireframe, some web banners, putting some reels together for a big new business pitch, re-cutting some old TV spots, bidding out some new ones.
Does this kid have time to eat? Much less take a “bio break?”
The reasons are clear. The agency, which shall not be named, has shrunk. More work is being piled on. Even the once untouchable art directors and copywriters are supposed to be able to play almost any position on the field — from radio to TV to web to print to promotions.
He did mention they do have some kind of bar, or some way to get drinks in the afternoon, around 4.
They need it.
(Although, to be fair, it does remind me of my days when I was running my own shop after I left the cocoon of major agency-dom.)
More on this topic later…I’m exhausted just remembering it…
I hate to keep harping on this big data thing. I know it can add clarity and understanding and in our completely interconnected interwebs world it is often the only way we can have any sense of what’s going on.
But I’m here to tell you that big data can also be used as an excuse NOT to act. There are always more numbers to get. There are always more scenarios to evaluate. We will know more in a week. A month. A year. An hour. Five minutes.
Sometimes you have to just do something. I remember picking up a very useful expression from someone, “that client is wearing a belt and suspenders.” What’s it mean? It means they are beyond cautious. They want too much validation. And they look nerdy and ugly and dumb too.
(Now, let me very very clear on this — that was for a long lost client from a million years ago who is out of business, no relation to anyone living!!!)
At any rate, as someone else said, paralysis by analysis.
Hey, sometimes you just gotta throw the pitch. See if the other guy swings. See what happens.
But, alas, the blanket of numbers is too often a security blanket we won’t let go of. And in the meantime, a world of opportunity could be passing us by. Oh, and we look real nerdy too.
I’m just sayin…
And, what’s more, these days it’s where and when you say it too. Is your message for Tacos more relevant on a mobile phone or as a tweet? Does a political solicitation get more traction at four in the afternoon, or does it connect more with people who are surfing the internet at 4 in the morning when they can’t sleep?
Big data can tell us this. We can follow patterns of behavior that show us the strange and wonderful ways that people act — at least when dealing with a screen — and that can inform us about PAST BEHAVIOR.
But that’s not the final be all and end all. Or as they are forced to say in the investment ads, “past performance is no guarantee of future results.” Add where and when people connect with where and when and how and, most important, why they’ll act. Tomorrow.
And the crazy thing. We can’t know. The suspense, and promise, of the next thing is what keeps us going. So use data to uncover unexpected behavior patterns (for example, something like, “why do so many hunters in the Great North Woods buy Avon ‘Skin So Soft’ hand cream?*)
But use planning, and strategy, and guessing, and heart, to change the way people behave tomorrow.
* The answer on the Skin So Soft question: The stuff scares the hell out of mosquitos! Go figure.
And I’m not talking about the 15 minutes of fame quote, which, while cool sounding, never really made that much sense to me. No, I think I found an even better one. I was watching a TED talk with Rory Sutherland of Ogilvy and he name-checked a 1975 quote from Andy Warhol, artist and visionary. The guts of the quote — “A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke…” And this is also the thing about the Internet, and this blog, and every blog — it’s a wall-breaker-downer-machine. And that raised a question in my mind — can you create a brand, an irrational but powerful benefit — for specific bits and bobs on the Internet? Not just aggregating content, but new content? New destinations that deliver good feelings, regardless of the content they are delivering?
Now, while I let the coffee kick in (Peet’s), I’ll ponder this. Thanks Andy.
(btw — another favorite Warhol quote I’ve carried around in my mind for years, from an interview in the Village Voice I think, “My favorite restaurant in the world? The McDonald’s on the Ginza in Tokyo — because the food there tastes exactly like the stuff I get at the McDonald’s across the street from my studio in New York…” That Andy….)
A guy from somewhere in the outback of Australia was rabbiting on with a cynical American from somewhere outside of Cleveland about French movies from the 1930’s and I was stuck in traffic, rain pounding on the car, going nowhere fast. I pushed a button and I was in the middle of a conversation between three ex-philosophy grad students, talking about stupid TV shows and Schopenhauer — one of the guys was in Boston, one in Austin, and one in Madison Wisconsin.
I wasn’t listening to the radio — AM, FM, Satellite. I wasn’t listening to any CD’s. I wasn’t listening to my Mp3’s. I was listening to this guy from Australia drone on about his renovation and Pepe le Moko and I wasn’t even thinking about how this miracle of technology was making this all possible. I wasn’t thinking about how a series of “ons” and “offs” in a little piece of silicon was allowing this voice from another place and another time to displace everything I knew in Chicago.
And that’s how it works. The scientists invent the machine. But the scrappy, make-it-up-as-you-go-along amateurs create the art — the flow — the glue that gets people listening.
Gutenberg invented the printing press. But people like Chaucer and Shakespeare and the 1515 version of “Gone With The Wind” and “Tarzan” had people using it.
In short, personality is interesting. Smart fresh thoughts are interesting. Using the medium in the way that it should be used, because it FEELS right, is interesting.
And there’s some really interesting things happening in the zero cost world of podcasting defining the future.
Are you listening?
I had a technology related kerfuffle last week and lost an entire post to this blog. Some of you got to see it, my comparing Churchill’s speech to what it takes to make a website score big. But most of you missed it. Because, well, because of technical difficulties. That post just got eaten, plain and simple. Yes, WordPress did get back to me with an e-mail from customer support — and I tried what they said, and all that was left of my Churchillian post was a couple of shreds.
Which led me to thinking — as much as we think we’ve got this Internet thing down, we are still in the dark ages. Remember when TV’s sometimes used to have coat hangers draped in tin foil sticking out of them in an vain effort to grab a fuzzy image of Johnny Carson? In many ways, our technology is in the same place. Too many passwords. Or not enough. Dropped calls. Apps v. sites. Streaming v. writing. And consider the government trying to collect tax from cloud-based retailers? What’s that going to do?
Subscribe? Free? Open platform? Closed? Steal? Borrow? On-the-go or on-the-couch? Just remember, we are all still making it up as we go along.
And pass me the tin foil.
(p.s. — perhaps someday I’ll recreate the Churchill post — how very analog of me!!!)
There is a no frills supermarket chain in the Chicago area that features no frills like no frills you’ve ever seen. No baggers. Nobody to take your carts back from the parking lot. One check out line. Blaring bright lights. Some of the food is really good — the produce. Some of it a little more suspect — I won’t mention. Most of the package goods are cunningly designed to ape big budget brands. Mac and Cheese that looks like Kraft, cereal that looks like Kellogg’s, and so on.
But if you’re interested in the power of brands, and more importantly, human behavior revolving around brands, it’s worth a snooping trip. One category that really stuck out to me, HBA, health and beauty. It’s interesting, they’ll pirate lots of things, even antiperspirants, but they won’t touch toothpaste. They still bring in branded toothpaste. Rip off razors, ok. But they’ll have branded toothpaste.
Why is that? Because you don’t want ‘fake’ on your teeth, in your head? Or because of the intense levels of emotional brand loyalty toothpaste, that much maligned category, enjoys? No Charmin in sight, but there’s Crest.
Account planners should take a trip there. And the rip-off Yellow Tail Shiraz ain’t chopped liver neither.