Saturday, May 29, 2010

The purposefully restless life.

Semi-distracted. Over-scheduled. Multi-tasked. It's become the standard. People fill every waking moment with something. Relaxation has been replaced with restlessness.

The outcome of all this restlessness varies. Restlessness can be a catalyst. It challenges the status quo and inspires innovation. It motivates us to pursue new territory. All while making us a little tired and crazy.

For me it's more of an insatiable curiosity. Surface answers are never enough. It doesn't take much to send me down a loosely connected stream of information.

For instance, after watching Art & Copy, I was intrigued by Dan Wieden's Nike tagline inspiration. This led to reading Norman Mailer's alarmingly-human characterization of Gary Gilmore in The Executioner's Song. Interested in how Mailer's mind works, I'm now on a controversial narrative writer kick. I'm starting with more Mailer, Advertisements for Myself. Believe it or not, he was thirty-six when he wrote this book. At that age, thoughts of his own grandeur were still somewhat delusional. In the book, he states that he would settle for nothing less than changing the consciousness of his times. Completely unafraid of failure, he went on to do just that for anyone who would listen. (His personal life may have had serious issues, but as a writer he was audaciously heroic.)

"I don't think life is absurd. I think we are all here for a huge purpose. I think we shrink from the immensity of the purpose we are here for." – Norman Mailer  
Is this restlessness evidence that we are all subconsciously seeking our own huge purpose? I'd like to think so, but maybe I should sleep on it first. Or maybe not.


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Saturday, May 15, 2010

So, what's a brand got to do to get attention these days?

As a rule, I appreciate Steffan Postaer's advertising views and his refreshingly raw honesty. I've been thinking about a post I read a while back from Talent Zoo. He ponders society's capability for being appalled. And, as he concludes, I'm afraid we've all become numb. How did this happen?

Postaer answers, "We have become inured by the proliferation of content. What mass media started the digital age is finishing. In order to stand out (be it advertisement, film, book, commentary, even acts of criminality), one now has to continuously up the ante."
Remember the first time a movie scene or an event stuck with you in a way that you could never forget? It demanded all of your attention. Your pupils widened. Your pulse raced. Your breathing became erratic. Intense shock mixed with shaky nausea. The more active your imagination, the more physical the reaction. Maybe it forced you to reevaluate your belief system or sleep with the lights on for a month. Your childlike optimism was compromised. You were able to put yourself in another's position and feel what they felt. It changed you. You were truly appalled. When was the last time you were affected at that core level? By anything. My guess is long ago and not to that extent.

One movie offers an extreme example of what happens when someone is incapable of being appalled. A Clockwork Orange introduced an idealized aversion-therapy solution. The question: Once someone is empathetically numb, can proper shock reactions be relearned? The answer: Not really. The part that was missing: Free will. He was not appalled by choice. In the end, the government was forced to cure Alex from his cure.

Kubrick is notorious for saying more through film element juxtaposition. Here's an insight I found at Apparently, he was testing the audience's ability for processing appalling content throughout the movie:
The film reflects this: many bad scenes in A Clockwork Orange are accompanied by jolly music; if we are to experience them as we should, we have to do it consciously, by realizing they are bad, and not because the director tells us so through the use of music and images. Steven Pemberton>

Each time we are exposed to something appalling, for better or worse, our capability for situation rationalization strengthens. We create boundaries. It takes more and more to engage our adverse moral-filter response system.

On a positive note, I'd call it survival mode. The mind is constantly analyzing external criteria and doing whatever it takes to enable us to carry on. If we didn't have this survival mechanism, we would probably all be housebound – paralyzed daily by our local news or even CSI promos.

So, if everyone is numb, how do you disrupt routines and generate brand attention? Ideally, a brand simply wants reactions from all of us content zombies.

In the connected age, everyone's thoughts are fair game. Appalling or simply intriguing, gauging what elicits a reaction is instantaneous. Society's content creation momentum infinitely builds. Making a blip in that spectrum is an ever-increasing challenge. But, it's being done. Just differently. One phenomenal commercial spot is not going to do it anymore. Brands have to coordinate smart, multifaceted, integrated-campaign assaults and be prepared to deliver.

We may be incapable of being appalled, but we are no longer a passive society. Interaction is the new action. And as Newton would predict, if a brand interacts in an interesting way, reactions will be inevitable.

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Saturday, May 8, 2010

Do you believe in fascination?

Sally Hogshead's latest book is not your standard reheated-leftover, marketing overview. It's a concise, but story-driven read about emotional branding and fascination. According to Sally, fascination is what ultimately drives us. In everything. It influences our situation responses, persuasive capabilities, and brand opinions.

She's dissected fascination into seven major emotional triggers: lust, mystique, alarm, prestige, power, vice, and trust. And, if you're curious, you can determine your main personality triggers through her F Score test. Mine were prestige (primary), lust (secondary), and trust (dormant). So apparently I could use some more luxury brand accounts.

Psychology and advertising have always gone together in a Wizard of Oz sort of way. The intended audience sees the brand magic without realizing an advertising mastermind is behind the curtain – pulling the strings and ensuring the brand personality appears effortlessly fascinating.

Fascination leads to a desire for belief. Without audience belief, you have nothing. Start over.

One of my favorite Mad Men scenes is an over-the-top attempt to gain client creative buy-in. It's a complete inundation of all seven fascination triggers. They cut it off before the final table-turning statement. After Draper steps down from his soapbox, the realigned client says he's looking forward to the campaign results. Draper calmly replies, "It's not a science, Hugh, we'll do our best."

It really isn't a science, but there is a rough process for emotional branding. I'd say it goes something like this:

1. Fascinate the audience. What is the core idea that makes the brand unique and exciting? Develop a brand atmosphere and experience around that idea.

2. Establish belief. Can the brand deliver what's been promised? Verify brand benefits.  

3. Inspire participation. How can you encourage the audience to create supportive brand content? Be adaptive and stay relevant.

4. Repeat. Outdo what you just did.

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