Block, Light, Rehearse, Shoot.

It’s happened before, technology democratizes an industry and craft suffers before it rises again. There is a rash of technique over substance. We need a conscious return to the craft of story in the creation and execution of brand ideas.

The art of the story must be paramount to the art of the production. Thanks to the internet, there exists an insatiable desire for content. And thanks to the democratization of the technologies of content creation, everyone with a camera and a zoom recorder is suddenly a producer.

Content is delegitimizing advertising.

The skill and creativity of the story teller, not necessarily the gear involved, is one of the prime ingredients in the craft. In the right hands, the appropriate gear has the potential to make a great story that much stronger in execution. In and of itself, all the gear in the world will not make a better story. Flying cameras, movement for the sake of movement, outrageous POV shots are often senseless and usually add expensive. If not integral to the telling, these production hijinks are significant distractions from your brand idea. In a very real sense these distractions cost you twice. The essential skills of blocking in support of the scene, lighting that accentuates the moment and rehearsing action that will deliver the intended emotion seem to be a lost art in the world of brand content.

All the technical expertise in the world will not make a bad story better.

Most production companies are not built like marketing agencies; most are built for episodic engagements, not brand stewardship. Building and safeguarding your brand story takes a long-term view, it takes insight and planning and strategy and great creative ideas, smartly executed. This is the work of brand agencies.

Today there is a profusion of production companies that have technical skill because the technology has made it much easier to look and sound good.  Technical skill does not make them effective at decoding your story. A direct engagement with a production company may make your marketing budget look cheaper on paper but the long-term cost may be significant.

Content without brand strategy is death by a thousand cuts.

Really good agencies know this, and really good clients know this too. And really good production companies know this as well and expect to partner with brand agencies. A great commercial director wants to understand your brand and its audience and she wants to partner with your agency. This is where your brand agency insight and executional expertise will guide the production team and help them tell your brand idea in the most compelling way.

This is the work of producing content; to tell your brand idea, and it is why brand agencies employ creative directors, writers, art directors, strategists and producers, to define your brand idea.  And then in partnership with the director working to a clear idea, shot by shot, adding and building scenes, intention upon intention, the entire production is aligned with the purpose of your brand.

This is the craft of vocal pictures.

Smart Brand Managers are forever scrutinizing the value they are gaining from their agencies.

The ad industry is forever trying to accurately respond to the old quip, attributed to John Wannamaker, “Half of the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

Recently, Marc Pritchard of Unilever announced their “People First” initiative. As stated in CampaignLive; “a structure in which talent from roster agencies across holding groups are brought together under one roof to service the FMCG giant’s North American fabric care business.”

This is a client doing everything he can to unlock value from these relationships for his brands. Multiple agencies, multiple brands, massive media spend, redundancy and not enough of a payoff; or at least that’s what we can infer from the directive.

I don’t know Marc Pritchard, but really appreciate his efforts not to throw the baby out with the bath water. In the article he talks about bringing all the various agency creative together as a new model effort to find value by uniting the agencies in one collaborative effort.

I’ve run huge global brand development sessions with agency partners and client brand teams from all over the world. The largest initiative included participants from 16 countries. The approach can work miracles in ideation and equally important in getting everyone on the same page. Getting everyone on the same page with a big brand idea requires great talent in the room, a hugely collaborative effort, and egos left behind.

Believe it or not, it is rarely the creatives who do not play well with others.

The minute the big idea is agreed, it’s the agency business leads who start tearing at the budget like lions on a kill. Unless a client is willing to address the budget and compensation in an equally unilateral manner, it is very tough to make the collaboration stick.

I’ve worked on both Unilever and P&G brands and these are smart people with massive resources and still they are struggling to realize the promised value in the age of “new media.”

A big culprit is the industries’ addiction to its own hype.

The ad industry did not invent Google, or Facebook or any of the other super creative things that are reshaping the world; all we do is figure out how to monetize these things to our advantage and now clients are finally asking; How do all these exciting pieces of content you create make me money and build my brand?  Clearly there is benefit; but how much return is in that investment?  Spending less on creative and eliminating this redundancy is helpful to a brand if all the collaboration works out; but this is a client-driven attempt to solve an industry problem. We need to get better; showing and proving our value in context of the media and not just the execution itself.

Possibly one of the worst things to have happened in the advertising industry is when media was cleaved off from the agencies and became independent. It is not a matter of church and state; it is a matter of execution of ideas, and ideas cannot be separated from the media that gives voice to their expression.

The problem with the word no is figuring out where it’s coming from.

Turning no into yes is often a cat and mouse game with the marketing team. You might have 10 clients on a single brand with a claim to input and by the time you’re done, your big idea might not be so big and your enthusiasm may certainly have waned. Your idea finally gets moved upstairs with the warm endorsement of a semi-aligned brand team. Sound familiar?

If this is a regular routine, and when you look yourself in the mirror, with absolutely no self-aggrandizing bullshit you can say, without equivocation, that this is your best work and that the big idea for the brand has been pillaged to death, you’ve enter the club of no authority. The club of no authority, wields the only axe they are authorized to carry.

Have you noticed that decision making around big ideas by marketing teams is often a chess match.

They cannot give you a yes, because yes is not in the room. When the idea finally climbs the last flight of stairs and enters the corner office, it may not get that yes because it’s been watered down. The corner office thinks and behaves differently.

The corner office is not worried about the corner office.

The corner office wants the big idea to be truly big and liberating. The corner office wants your expertise above all else.

This is your moment.

Do everything in your power to be in that room and have your original iteration of the idea at hand. If the idea starts to take a dive offer the alternative solution, one of your originals. If it achieves yes, immediately give credit to the marketing team for pushing you to no end.

If it all falls flat, accept responsibility and start asking a lot of questions, get the corner office in on the dialogue. Show your humility in the face of their expertise, work to an insight, listen intently, walk out armed, tell them you’ll be back in 48 hours, ready to deliver a yes.

All client companies have their rules of engagement and most of the time you will be bound by these rules and the culture that defines them.

Work towards a unified C suite presentation with your client team. Ask them about a plan and make it together.  Your clients will appreciate this effort more than you realize. After all, a resounding yes benefits everyone.

The past nine months have been an exercise in constraint.

Adding the role of The F. William Harder Chair Professor of Business Administration at Skidmore College to my life’s work has taken some adjustment. All positive. This work will be the subject of its own blog post because it deserves the airtime.

At Brandforming, I’ve been aggressively moving the nature and scope of our engagements to be primarily defined by strategy and idea development. We’ve dialed down tactical execution with certain exceptions. We are in essence a creative consultancy with a focus in brand idea development and film production.

We’ve enjoyed some very nice engagements. The work has resulted in perspective-shifting, business-altering ideas for our clients. This is enormously satisfying as we’ve significantly and positively impacted the business of our clients, while also changing the nature of our engagements.

On average, 75% of clients are returning to us with additional work.

Clients are returning because they do not feel the idea is being fully realized.  As we re-engage it becomes clear that the client has gotten bogged down in execution. Bogged down, often with their own internal constraints, or the client-agency relationship is a drag on the work. In two instances the client’s AOR did not fully deliver on the potential of the idea despite agreement on the strategy.  We were able to help maintain a strong strategic platform while supporting the AOR in their vision for the execution. Win-win.

We are always delighted when the phone rings again with clients seeking our council because they trust the work we’ve done together. On the other hand, we would be equally happy to see the ideas take flight without the need for us to re-engage. Our shift in scope forgives us most of the burden of execution. Still, we are upset by the sounds of frustration on the other end of the phone. And because we know that being an AOR is often a compromised existence, we do everything we can to assure the best outcome for everyone involved.

Execution is no little thing and it is often the first thing that becomes compromised. Clients need to invest in execution and the most important part of this investment is in a partner that can make things happen without a lot of wasted effort.

Big ideas don’t need to cost a fortune to execute, but they must be smartly rendered.

Luxury brands succeed by creating connections with their buyers through insights that leverage value against deep seated emotional needs.

These emotional values last a lifetime because they are not driven by trends but rather by qualities inherent in the buyer. Understanding these connections is at the heart of branding. At one time, the bespoke nature of true luxury brands limited their audiences to all but the most-wealthy. Today this dynamic is radically changed.

With the advent of mass customization and highly controlled product releases, within the mass market framework, luxury has come to mean many different things to different people.

Luxury brands of the truly bespoke type still do exist however.  The audience for these brands continues to expand with the growth of global prosperity. The internet has made these brands more accessible than ever which means that Haute Couture brands like Monvieve now enjoy a global clientele.

A designer and maker of bespoke bridal fashions, Monvieve is unique in the world of fashion design. They are an accessible luxury with heirloom quality. Derived from old world craftsmanship and a highly refined aesthetic Monvieve stands above all others. It is a luxury of pleasurable, aesthetically framed memories. These are #MonvieveMoments and this is the heart of the brand.

Working closely with the creative director and owner of Monvieve, Alison Miller, we’ve been carefully crafting #MonvieveMoments. From our participation at the global destination wedding planners conference in Florence, to our shoot at the Belmond Villa San Michele. From a new showroom in NYC, to video production, and the U.S. launch event at the Italian Embassy in Washington D.C., it’s been a series of #MonvieveMoments all its own.

The event launch video is below.

In April Team Brandforming was on location in Florence Italy at the incredible Belmond, Villa San Michele, shooting our campaign for Monvieve.

Monvieve is a haute couture Italian Fashion Brand. Monvieve designs and handcrafts bespoke bridal veils in Italy. Each veil is a unique work of art, as fine and beautiful as you can imagine. Our client, is Alison Miller, the creative director, owner and driving force of Monvieve.

Villa San Michele dates from the 15th century, the Villa’s facade is attributed to Michelangelo. Step inside and you experience the ethereal beauty and solitude of a Renaissance monastery that is as much a part of Italy’s culture as her great cathedrals. Grazie’ a lei Clio Cicuto and the entire team at Villa San Michele.

For those who know me personally, you will immediately grasp the joy in this moment, a lover of art, art history and nearly all things Italian.  

To work with another Italian luxury brand such as Monvieve and to shoot in Florence, puts this gig on the top of my list of great experiences. Our photographer, Massimiliano Botticelli and his all star team did an amazing job. They flawlessly executed a long and intense day of shooting. His team hit every mark in our production schedule to take best advantage of the glorious natural light. Max did not stop until the sun was gone from the sky. Grazie’ a lei Max!

Composing images for our campaign #MonvieveMoments against a backdrop designed by Michelangelo was the culmination of a tremendous amount of work by our client. Team Brandforming was thrilled to play our part in bringing the story to life. It takes years of dedicated focus and talent to succeed in the fashion industry and Alison is on her way to her next great success.

Defining Moments is what Monvieve is all about and it is exactly what is achieved whenever a woman steps into a Monvieve product. It is a transformative moment, a defining moment, a #MonvieveMoments

Check out some of our production stills up on the Monvieve Facebook page. Follow Monvieve on Instagram. Please remember, it’s nice to share.

Brandforming was on location at Carnegie Mellon filming a PSA for the Computer Science Teachers Association. We nicknamed the spot Robot Love.  

After months of work and insight development, derived from one-on-one interviews, we finally rolled cameras. Special thanks here to our partners Associations Development Group for bringing Brandforming on as collaborators.

We created 5 different concept boards for client review. It didn’t take long for the client team to settle on of the themes we presented; Computer Science. Cool Stuff.

The goal of the PSA is to encourage more young people, especially girls, to get involved in computer science. In fact, the Fox TV show, FabLab is equally dedicated to this goal. Nearly half the high schools in the US do not offer computer science. It’s astonishing to consider since there is hardly a life today untouched by some aspect of computer science.

Filming took place at Carnegie Mellon because of their outstanding computer science program and also because of Professor Manuela Veloso. Professor Veloso is an extraordinary person, her brains, talent and determination make her a fantastic teacher, mentor and coach to all the enthusiastic students we met while filming. Thank you #ManuelaVeloso. Thank you #CMU. Thank you #Pittsburgh.

Professor Veloso is very quick to point out that computer science is about a lot more than just robotics.

Kids in America need more exposure to computer science and a better understanding of the many career opportunities associated with it. I hope the TV show #FabLab catches the imagination of its young audience and that our TV spot helps drive awareness of just how cool computer science really is.

It was good fun working with Robots to help tell our story. It was also great to work with Professor Veloso, her students and the producers of the show FabLab too.

Robot Love, the science behind computer science.

Team Brandforming and Computer Science, now that’s Cool Stuff.

Occasionally, rummaging through the back of the drawer turns up a gem. In this case, a merger pencil.  To me the no.3 lead was always the perfect choice, especially during a merger or IPO; no.2 was always a bit too soft. This was the mighty tool, long before we had computers on every desk. This, a blank sheet of paper and a cup of coffee was the ideal way to start any project. It still is a superior set of tools.

I have lived and worked through a number of mergers and IPO’s in my agency life and at this point, I can say with some degree of confidence that they are events that do little to elevate or even maintain the level and quality of the work. In fact, with rare exception, it is quite the opposite.

In the near term these events do very little to help most of the agency client base, save perhaps the largest.

Many years down the road, organizations like Wire and Plastic Products have turned up as global agency juggernaut WPP.  Sir Martin sure knows what he’s doing in this regard.  Before building WPP into one of the world’s top agency networks he was finance director of Saatchi & Saatchi  — note the pencil.

The team at WPP seem to have it all worked out, not so for the failed Publicis-Omnicom courtship. Was the proposed merger only love at first bite?

What’s working brilliantly for WPP did not turn out so well at the time for Saatchi & Saatchi. As the go-go 80’s imploded there was all kinds of intrigue and mayhem and loss of business as the operation began to unravel. Yet, it was fabulous to be there because at the time, it was the place to be…until it wasn’t. I should note that for many years now Saatchi & Saatchi is back on high ground and has been knocking out some great work, but it was a long road back.

Mergers and IPO’s come down to winners and losers. All the bather about a “merging of equals” or how being a publicly traded company will not change the culture are fantasies of good will.

When a merger works, it works because the dominant agency is a top-ranked creative powerhouse and that is the driving culture.

The executive team is identified and the agenda is supported and maintained throughout the process, across the entire new organization with no excuses and with respect all around. We see little turnover of talent and business. The goal is to deliver the same great product across the globe as well as around the block. A rising tide lifts all boats.

When it doesn’t work, it’s because the merger or IPO is an exercise in financial control designed to benefit the few at the expense of the many.

This unleashes all kinds of grief and stress because this agenda does not always align well with doing what’s right for your clients.  As a result, we see years of management change, talent flight and loss of accounts.

On the occasion of the pencil seen above, Saatchi & Saatchi Dorland was the UK based network agency and Saatchi & Saatchi Compton was the US arm. They merged DFS and Dorland to create DFS-Dorland which existed for a fairly brief period before they combined all of us into my very special Yellow no.3 pencil.

I save these pencils as Momento mori, small monuments of remembrance to the fact that even the best of hard work and talent can be defeated by the ephemeral trappings of scale for the sake of scale.

Pencils remain the most enduring way to put ideas to paper regardless of the names changing over the door.

When you are looking for something new and different and captivating, look to your right. When you are looking for something familiar and undifferentiated and understood look to your left.

When thinking up ideas and reviewing concepts and potential ways to execute them it is essential to consider the inherent tension in the idea, the contrast.

This is the thing that drives an idea, its internal flame. Great brands thrive on one insightful point of tension that the product or service can overcome. And the campaigns that deliver these ideas with great creativity propel these brands to stardom.

Volvo cars thrive on the idea of safety which resolves the fear of injury or death.  BMW thrives on its idea of the ultimate driving machine, casting itself against dull imperfection, sensory deprivation and blandness. These are emotionally driven ideas, that touch the heart. Achieving the whitest whites in your laundry is not simply about whiteness, it’s about knowing you’ve done the best job you can, of achieving a visible perfection.

But why do ideas like these work? Why do campaigns like these hold our attention? It all comes down to the way our minds work. The left brain-right brain functionality forever studied and in some cases grossly oversimplified, hold the key to understanding what make a great idea — great.

The functionality of the right brain is dominant in alertness to new, different, incongruent and more “emotional” points of tension that appeal to our emotional self. The left brain functions as a sort of running catalogue of all things known, understood and expected. The left brain is so good at this that it gives the right brain the full freedom to perform the major task of keeping us alive to anything new at all — good or bad – it is our early warning system. The scanning, searching, emotional nature of the right and the deconstructing, comparative, analytical left come together to define the essence of who we are and our relationship to the world — our ego. This coming together to form what I’ll call the ego-energy of left and right brain function is very much a complimentary end game. Failing to satisfy one, comes at the risk of losing the other.

Effectively engaging both could be considered as producing a whole brain affect. The significance of this can not be overstated when it comes to creating ideas, because this is the terrain of the big idea.

Let’s consider the ubiquitous “Pharma Beach” ads. I’m not sure who originally coined this phrase. It started as a slight to the ever present execution of people on beaches in pharmaceutical advertising and now seems to have grown in meaning to include all the usual slice of life stuff we’ve grown so accustomed to seeing day in and day out. Pharma Beach must be a pretty big place, maybe even bigger than the Hampton’s.  At this point there are so many people enjoying Pharma Beach that it would seem we’ve all been cured. Unfortunately that’s far from the truth, and for advertisers “Pharma Beach” has grown so familiar it is not the best place to attempt to differentiate your brand.

Ideas that wash up on Pharma Beach are known and easily broken up into familiar catalogued bits by the left brain, filed and put away — a place for everything and everything in its place. The right brain has little time or attention to give to the familiar and generic. It looks past the known and understood — the generic. Why create a generic campaign for a branded product?

This is why so many campaigns fail to deliver the true potential of a brand— they die of boredom, sequestered in the left brain catalogue of “I’ve seen this before.”

The capacity of the left brain to break things down into the known and understood can cause a kind of circular thinking; its constant need to dominate the world by manipulating it into known components can hold us back from creating and trusting differentiated ideas.

Like victims of Stockholm syndrome we grow sympathetic to our captor and are held by our left brain’s incessant desire to break everything down into known bits, catalogue it for us and keep our world nice and tidy, and we like it.  This functionality of the left brain helps us reside comfortably in the known world but it can also keep us from breaking free.

If you want work that breaks through, then we need to break-through to the right brain. There are no formulas for this, no secret ingredient that will make you successful. There is only the need for a commitment that goes for the heart, that stirs the emotion that appeals to the ego. Ideally this is supported by a brand essence that embraces a meaningful incongruity that can only be resolved by the product or service itself.

It is hard work but when you Head For The Heart, great things happen.

For the first time in recent history the CLIO Awards integrated Healthcare into the overall show. As an Executive Jury participant, it feels like an epic moment, not just because we had some really strong work to debate again this year, but because in the context of the entire show, health, if not healthcare specifically, was well-represented globally. The CLIO Awards are getting healthier.

It is long overdue that the creative industries take on healthcare and apply its vast wealth of talent to help solve the world’s health problems. Kudos to CLIO for leading the charge in contextualizing the work within the industry. With the integration of healthcare into the show this year we achieve not only the recognition of great work but more importantly, how this work stacks up to other health and wellness work not submitted into the healthcare category. Work such as the simple, powerful project for 28 Too Many is brilliant for its insight and simplicity and absolutely riveting execution. It achieves in a series of deceptively simple images what a 50-page website could never do. I say this not in disregard to the power of digital but in homage to the incredible power of an idea that succeeds because of its intelligence and its sparseness.

End FMG everywhere. Donate Now.

Ogilvy & Mather, London

In an age when it often feels that one surefire path to an award is to orchestrate an event, film that event and then share it across social media, the work for 28toomany.org defies present convention. The work is executed with great empathy and delivers a tearful blow to the pride of nations who dare look away… and it does it without relying on the gaming of social media to prove its point. I will suggest this is a very analogue idea — a bit of old school brilliance. I tip my hat.

As an industry, I think we have an obligation to keep health and wellness on the top of the agenda because it benefits all of us and with more of us doing it, the more we’ll get accomplished. The work for 28 Too Many delivers on all fronts, regardless of the category it was entered into.

In my former gig as a founder and chief global creative officer Palio, I traveled the world for both research and creative development. Health and wellness is one of those topics that unites all peoples around the globe and it is one area in which we have many more commonalities than we do differences. Keeping it in a silo only makes it harder. Let’s mix it up, think and behave differently about health and wellness — this is one of the motivations behind my new company Brandforming — to tap the broader talent pool and leap boundaries.

As technology continues to topple old barriers almost as fast as we can name them, it is time to apply the learnings of all the fun and fascinating applications to do some truly heavy lifting and solve real problems, not just for the entertainment value . And with that, let’s consider Lucky Iron Fish, the 2015 Grand CLIO in Healthcare Innovation winner. This work astonishes with its simplicity because Lucky Iron Fish excels not through some fantastic application of technology, but through the power of its cultural insight and a few pennies worth of scrap iron. Another powerful analogue idea. Visit their website and learn their story http://www.luckyironfish.com/

Insight into action

Lucky Iron Fish – Ontario

Lucky Iron Fish was developed with great cultural sensitivity that unlocked an insight that placed the Lucky Iron Fish into the heart of every home and improved the quality of health. For this very reason this same work also achieved legendary status at the Cannes Lions Festival earlier this year.

World health data offers the promise of incredible perspective, if not insight, into some really pressing global health challenges. Many of these very same challenges find their way right into our daily lives; yet we persist in acting as if these problems belong to someone else. The recognition this year to Dr. Mickey Chopra, CLIO Healthcare Honorary Award for his service at Unicef as Chief of Health and Associate Director of Programs at UNICEF’s NY headquarters, acknowledges the profound impact he has had in shaping policy into action for maternal, newborn, and child health, immunization, pediatric, HIV/AIDS, and health systems. To Dr. Chopra, we all matter, the world over.

Healthcare advertising and communications have come along way in the U.S. but still has much further to go to achieve the kind of impact these campaigns deliver. The very regulations we rail on about are a trap we set for ourselves when we insist on following the same old well-worn paths. Just because we are allowed to do branded promotion for healthcare brands in the U.S. doesn’t mean it is the only tool in the box. At this point it is abundantly clear that all the advertising and promotion for products here in the U.S. has not done much to improve our health or drive down the cost of healthcare. Americans are not among the healthiest people and as we know all too well, the cost of and access to healthcare has become one of the biggest burdens we face.

I’ll leave us today with another CLIO winner that Heads For The Heart with humor and takes on the Affordable Care Act

Not so funny but no joke

The Affordable Care Act from Funny or Die