A creative network of the idea, by the idea, for the idea

Friday, March 27, 2009

The (lost?) art of giving feedback

As a creative, feedback is your fuel. Or your stake in the heart or your wings, or a dead end or an opening in the sky. People telling you their "feedback" about ideas is the currency of our job.

We receive feedback from our team, our creative director, other creatives, account services, planners, lower level clients, higher level clients, girl friends and boy friends. Everybody is ready and willing to provide feedback. Unfortunately very few times we received the gift of good feedback.

Feedback or the art of processing, analyzing and providing an evaluative response is a misunderstood act at best and a power seeking action at worst.

But it shouldn't be so hard. It's a simple exercise if we understand its purpose and follow a few simple rukes.

1. No one cares about your opinion. As Seth Godin says:
I don't want to know how you feel, nor do I care if you would buy it, recommend it, or use it. You are not my market. You are not my focus group. What I want instead of your opinion is your analysis.
Analysis being the most important word in his explanation.
Analysis is a lot harder than opinion because everyone is entitled to his or her own taste (regardless of how skewed it might be). A faulty analysis, however, is easy to dismantle.
The only people entitled to give feedback based just on their opinion are the real kick ass, ninjas of creativity, 10-Lions-on-shelf creatives directors. Because sometimes all the years of experience and all your knowledge and all the power of your creative mind can't even help you to see what's missing in an idea, but your gut tells you that something is missing. But notice that this amendment applies to 30 people in the entire world. The rest of us mortals need to bring more to the feedback table than just our opinion. Which leads to the second point.

2. Say the right thing at the right time. Also from Godin:
try to figure out what sort of feedback will have the most positive effect on the final outcome, and contribute it now.
I've seen way too many times how good ideas with lots of potential are dismissed because negative comments are made before all angles have been explored.
The creative process has stages because ideas have a life cycle. Knowing that cycle is essential for people to understand what to expect at different times of the process.

2. The bigger the power the bigger the responsibility.
Creative ideas are easy to pick on. Its easy to look at what's missing, to search for weaknesses, to see the holes. Its easy believe me. Everybody can tell you, based on their opinion, that anything could be better or different. The harder thing to do is to add value to the idea.
The way I see it, either way you choose, you are empowered to kill or to give life.
And that's a lot of power resting on a few words.
And a big responsibility.

4. I link to link to link.
Humans imitate. That's what is happening in the deeper layers or our brain. When we see someone building on an idea, we imitate that behavior. Soon, an entire table is adding and providing value. Next thing you know, the Ipod or Twitter or RED is born.
People are attracted to creativity. There is something about being part of something magical like ideas and innovation.
I think this is the reason you tend to find creative people in groups. Very few times you'll see creativity happening in isolation.

5. Try on my shoes.
To really help me with your feedback you need to see thing from my side. Understand my goals and help me reach them.
Probably this is the number one reason why the feedback creatives receive form other departments is so far away from what we are looking for or need.
Other departments have different goals. Dave Trott talks about it in his blog.
I believe that agencies where everybody knows the ultimate goal, work better, communicate better and do better work.
When it comes to creative feedback, the reference should be creativity and the goal to make the idea better and more creative.

Ultimately, good, relevant, value adding feedback is not something that everybody can master. Mainly because to provide a good analysis, you need to do a good internal analysis and not everybody spends the time nor everybody is qualify to do it.

One final point that is important in my opinion is that when looking for the right feedback, one needs to ask the right people. Find the people who cares and understands and you'll receive good feedback.

Feedback is important to grow, please share yours with me. I'll appreciate it very much.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Brand Obama. The summary.

I recently came across MAD (through @pakkoidea) a site by TBWA\ Europe. They have very interesting posts and a different and refreshing point of view.

That's why I thought that It would be good to share their comments on the Obama campaign. Mainly because I agree with them, but also because I've been looking for a good summary of takeaways and I believe this is one of the best.

I'm writing just the highlights, please visit their site for the whole article. It's worth it.


Obama exemplified a new way of thinking that meets the demands of leadership in a complex world: “Adaptive Leadership“. While a visionary puts forth a specific plan to be implemented, an adaptive leader works with constituents to devise one together. The goal is to get your employees to tell you how they would improve your company. The less constrained they feel, the more you’re going to learn and the more your organization will benefit.

To grow, you have to invent a new game and beat them at that, too. Change the rules of the game where you can.

Obama didn’t accept any campaign contributions from large companies or lobbyists. He tapped the power of the small time donor through the Internet and went on to win the nomination. His fund raising methods and strategy of foregoing government funding have changed the future of American electoral campaigns.

Brilliant marketers don’t just fight for a bigger share of the pie. They expand the pie by bringing new consumers into the market.

Obama made and delivered a simple, consistent and aspirational promise: “change”. He coupled that with an empowering call to action, “yes we can.” By appealing to both the rational desire for change and the emotional need for hope, Obama presented his brand as a movement.

For Obama, however, “change” was more than a political slogan. He could not have been elected if he had not embraced and embodied the change he promised. Too many companies lurch from one strategy to the next, one consulting fad to another, because, deep down, their leaders don’t really understand what makes them different, better, and special. When you understand that, it gives you the confidence to stick to your positioning and strategy.

Obama’s team understood that his message needed to cut through the clutter. “Keep it simple ” is a cliché, but it works. If you ask any Obama supporter to define what Obama stands for, you will always get the same answer: “hope and change“.

Obama understood that politics was about more than just rational argument, it was about emotional connection. People want to be inspired.

Obama always stayed positive, no matter the twists, turns, and psychodramas from the other candidates or the media. In that way, he stayed above his rivals.

Obama wanted to make sure that his campaign was consistent with his philosophy of “ground up” rather than “top down”. When he was a political organizer, Obama had seen how a grassroots campaign could succeed. The internet allowed him to form an electronic grassroots, or netroots. He reached millions, built a formidable war chest and mobilized a dedicated army of supporters.

Online communities have become the place where billions of people of every age, social rank, and ethnicity hang out, where decisions are made about what to think, where to go and what to buy. The Obama brand was the creation of the community rather than of media or advertising.

Obama was the digital candidate while McCain was the analog candidate.

BarackObama.com beat the 24-hour media cycle with dynamic updates and offered a digital toolbox that allowed users to get involved. But the social media strategy of the Obama camp extended far beyond his site. His image and messages were everywhere on the web. His team not only created content for Web 2.0 sites, they also designed it to suit each individual site and its viewers.

Email marketing was fully integrated with these tools. “Be the first to know” was the email campaign theme, asking voters to sign up for exclusive email and mobile alerts. Obama‘s iPhone application transformed the phone into a campaign instrument to mobilize and inform supporters. Real time campaign updates on twitter made Obama the most followed person on this ever-growing microblogging service.

On YouTube, Obama staff constantly put up hundreds of cheaply and rapidly produced videos. Footage of events was edited from multiple cameras and uploaded, often only 20 minutes later. Toward the end of the campaign, they were being uploaded at a rate of 20 or more a day. Obama’s YouTube channel became a controlled media outlet. And he continues to use YouTube for his weekly addresses – a radical departure from Bush’s weekly radio address.

His message also appeared on billboards in 18 online video games, driving traffic to VoteForChange.com.

In the end, Obama’s familiarity with the most advanced new media technologies provided a huge advantage over his opponents.

Obama enjoyed a “co-creation” advantage – the passionate support of creative people. Their independent viral marketing impact was phenomenal. It’s hard to think of a political candidate who has inspired so much creativity.

The user-generated viral video “I got crush on Obama”, the “Yes We Can“ music video was conceived by Black Eyed Peas front man will.i.am and director Jesse Dylan.

Another prominent example of co-creation was the limited-edition print created by Los Angeles graphic designer Shephard Fairey. He used the proceeds from sales to finance a guerilla poster campaign. In addition to popping up on many streets, the image made its way onto bumper stickers, T-shirts and so on.

For all his mastery of new media, Obama also used also the old-fashioned route to the White House: he out-spent McCain 3-to-1 on TV advertising.

One week prior to Election Day, Obama turned up the heat with a prime-time 30-minute infomercial shown across most major TV networks. The half-hour simulcast was an extraordinary climax to his media blitz. Channel flippers had a hard time avoiding the ad because it was seemingly everywhere.

The primary brief given to the design agency behind Obama’s brand identity was to create something different. The designers (who had never worked on a political campaign before) were informed and inspired by Obama’s two books, as no identity can work if it does not stand for something real.

Instead of taking a closed approach to his brand identity, the Obama campaign let people remix the brand for their own uses. With the mark being easy to modify, it was an invitation for social interaction. A good reminder for marketers that, as with any mark, meaning and impact comes from what people bring to it.

Obama ended his last speech before the election by saying: “Let’s go change the world.” Obama’s change-driven election is a reminder that the status quo is a dangerous place.

The biggest risk is to take no risks – especially now. Business leaders can’t expect break-through results by following conventions. In an age of me-too products, where the consumer is in control, keeping up with the competition is no longer a winning strategy. Winning companies don’t just embrace change—they are the change.
Brilliant points.

• Be an inclusive leader • don't let the rules stop you • choose a strategy and stick to it • inspire, • use the right technology for the right medium • foster co-creation • use big media for big tasks • make your brand custumoziable and • be the force behind change.

My main "top-of-the-soap-box" message is that running an Obama-like organization or delivering Nike-like advertising are choices we can make. They are available to us. We just need to make the decision, get the right people in place and do it.

Just talking about it won't turn us into Obama or Nike.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Be like Nike

My first memory as a copywriter is about a Nike commercial. Back in 1996 I didn’t think as a creative. I was just a consumer. A regular guy who played soccer, and had a fascination with sports. All sports.

The Nike commercials were cool. The music, the athletes, what they said and how they said it. But they were true too. There was always something about the Nike spots that reached inside of me and touched my two hearts; the athlete one and the human heart. Later on I learned that this is called an insight. And it is about the most important thing in advertising next to a creative idea.

I just finished watching more than 500 commercials by Nike.

I did it online of course. You can find anything online.
It was a pleasure so don’t feel bad for me. I did it because I wanted to watch and take note of what makes Nike the best brand in the history of creative advertising.
Everybody wants to be like Nike. Everybody wants its creativity. Nike’s creative power and glamour are legendary.
But let’s go back to 1989 when Nike was just a brand. Just another brand of sport shoes, shorts and shirts facing some interesting decisions.
For the last 20 years Nike has stubbornly told us that we can be anything we want as long as we just try and do it. 20 years is a long time. How many brands do you know that have maintained their message intact for 5 years? 10 years?
While many brands were focusing on rational RTB’s, Nike went emotional. Emotional as in all range of emotions. Not tearfully emotional but insightfully emotional. Many brands believe that emotional is one feeling. When in fact, emotional refers to anything that makes you feel emotions. (see next point)
Back in 1989 few brands would’ve used an unknown black director (Spike Lee) playing a supporting character (Mars) from his first movie (she’s gotta have it) making him the start of the commercial over Michael Jordan? Nike connected with the black urban youth before they were a profitable target. And the rest is history. The thing is, they have been taking risks for so long that now risky looks safe. Yet, how many brands would have done the commercial “I’m not a role model” by Barkley? Or a commercial in Spanish about Dominican ball players in 1993? Or considered Jump rope a sport? Or made a commercial in 1995 about allowing girls to play sports? Or a commercial showing a soccer team of devils? Or a commercial in 1997 defending the rights of skateboarders? Or a commercial showing in detail the end of the world for Y2K?
Its painful to look at Nike’s reel as a creative. They have done it ALL. Leaving a small room for originality left. They have done nostalgic, humor, no humor, celebrities, unknowns, rising stars, falling stars, social activism, color, Black and White, washed out, graphics, cartoons, animation (at least 15 different types) “find the ending online”, CGI, puppets, animals, kids, fast editing, slow motion, opportunistic, video game characters, rap, musicals, miniseries, about winning, about losing, horror, nudity, suspense, comedy, romance, science fiction, documentaries, testimonials, claymation, graffiti, stick figures, tributes, salutes, condemnation, ads with two logos, with no logo, long copy, short copy, no copy, retro, modern, futuristic, viral, … they have tried it absolutely everything. I think because they understood that as a brand, you always need to be ahead of the curve to be relevant to consumers. I believe this applies to every brand.
Not just the quality of the creatives, producers and planners. But the directors, music companies and editing houses working on their ideas. When Pytka did Nike in the late 80’s he already was famous, ok. But look at this list:
David Fincher in 92, Dominic sena 91, Alex Proyas 91, Tony kaye 93, Spike Jonze 95, Samuel bayer 95, Tarsem 96, Jonathan Glazer 96, Michale Gondry 97, Bryan Buckley 97, Noam Murro 98, Jon Woo 98, Jhoan Kamitz 98, Kinka Usher 98, Alfonso Cuaron 98.
And to me the question isn’t so much about who wanted to work with Nike by 98, but the fact that Nike selected this directors before they became household names.
The amazing thing again is that many, many brands could have done it too. But only Nike did it. And they did it right. They knew the important role of music in people’s lives. And they use music brilliantly. From scores of music to enhance emotions to well know songs from pop culture.
In my opinion, this is the most important reason for Nike’s success.
They know athletes. But they also know the mind of the average runner, the average kid, the average woman, the average football fan, the average injured player and healing NYC marathon runner. I’m a runner, a soccer player, a triathlete, a sports viewer, a fan, a father, a man and a human. They have tap on to every layer that makes me, me.
As a runner I have dreamed of running on the beach to Chariots of fire in my head. We runners go out running and say a casual hello to the fellow runner. As a soccer player I have appreciated the goals I scored but always remember the ones I missed. As a fan I have admired and idolized athletes. I have seen Jordan play and believe that he was god dressed as a basketball player. I believe Brazilian players can have fun anywhere as long as they have a ball at their feet. I used to skateboard too and I appreciate that a brand would take a stand against “discrimination”. As much as I respect paying a deserved tribute to Jackie Robinson. Sports are fun, like playing chairs pretty much. I have imagined being Tiger woods, and Agassi and Ronaldo and Ronaldinho. I used to believe in Marion and Alex and Michael and Lance. I’m not a woman but Janet Champ made me feel like one with her copy. I also wish there was a secret tournament where all my favorite soccer stars play elimination games. But most importantly, Nike made me believe that I could achieve my dreams, as long as I got my shoes on and play.
Nike has been using insight focused advertising long before planners became the agency’s front face they are today.

Be consistent, be bold, pay attention, try anything and stay ahead, work with the best talent, use music and truthfully show the consumer that they are the inspiration of it all.

I believe that this decisions could have been made by any brand. And I guess this is where every body who dismisses Nike advertising is right; Not all brands are like Nike.

I believe, not as an athlete but as a creative, that all it takes to head on the direction of becoming Nike is to just do it.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Planners are the keymasters

If you follow my blog thinking alaud you know I have two blogging passions; Dave Trott and Seth Godin. They are both brilliant, at least to me, because they both offer a unique point of view that I happen to share. But mostly because they manage to say interesting things post after post after post.
Now, sometimes, just a few times, I find myself in a different place on the discussion spectrum.

In this case is regarding planners and creatives and this time is mostly with Dave Trott.

In a recent post at the Brand Republic blog Dave Trott describes planners this way:
Planning basically wants to protect the brand. Their job is strategy, to have a plan of where everything’s going. And consumer feedback, making sure what’s being done works with the people who’ll be parting with the cash.
and he goes on to describe creatives this way:
Creative basically wants to win awards. They want to do ads that get as much publicity as possible. Because 90% of advertising doesn’t get noticed and, if no one notices the ads, they can’t possibly work.
His main point is that creatives and planners are on the same side but with different priorities. And I disagree with him.

It just so happens that today Leon, a planner at Jung Von Matt in Stockholm had a post on his blog titled: Advice for the next generation Planner

Leon posts the advice of three brilliant planners that could be summarize in this points:
  • Be curious and learn as much as you can
  • Think about how you help and solve the brand problems. Beyond the TV ad and the billboard headline.
  • Learn to get organizations to do stuff.
  • Pay attention to what works and what doesn't.
Read the blog because it is really much more than those bullet points and the planners are icons of the industry.

The thing is, as good advise as this can be for a young planner. And as good as Dave's point of view could be based on his many years of experience. I think that planners play the most important role inside an agency. And this is why their role has become more and more relevant and important in the modern marketing world.

In my opinion planners are in charge of finding the magic. What makes this product unique? what can be said about it that could engage the target? what ammunition could the creatives use to deliver stand out creative?

I'm not saying is easy, because it isn't. But being curious and knowing how to make an organization tickle is not enough. Not today, not with the complexity of today's consumer and not with so many similar choices in the market.

Planners insights are the master key that opens the mystery door to every brief. Without them, the creative team is left to try every key on every door. Sometimes we get lucky. Most times we spend a lot of time opening doors to a brick wall.
  • Planners need to see beyond the matrix. Planners have to see the code that is the matrix and make sense of it.
  • Planners need to deliver hypothesis.
  • Planners need to play creative chess and think three plays ahead.
  • Planners need to speak consumer and translate it into opportunities.
  • Planners need to stand out against confusion. Creative have played the bad guys for too long.
  • Planners need to remind us of the purpose.
  • Planners need to be independent. But lean on the side of ideas.
And I guess that this is the point of disagreement with Dave. The priority of the planners and the creatives should be the same; the idea. Nothing more and nothing less.
If planners then want to learn and be curious and tickle me to follow them, I'm cool with that. But first give me the master keys.