The world will never be less chaotic than it is right now. That is so say, the complexity of life will continue to challenge us. In the presence of ever-expanding complexity, how do we get our story through the noise? How best to communicate our ideas?
A singularity of vision with a concise understanding of the problem solved is essential. The story must be equally comprehensible and told with economy.
The creativity is then free to become inventive. Creativity is the liberator of strategy.
Creativity has an obligation to deliver the idea fully rendered in the heart and mind of the audience. Clarity is actionable.
Complexity defeats clarity in the execution. The best creative talents understand this and labor to create clarity in their ideas and executions.
Visual clarity and written clarity combined to create conceptual clarity. The dual compliment.
Over written, over directed, over acted, over designed executions are warning signs. Perhaps the idea is weak and there is an attempt to prop it up. Or the creative team is letting their egos get in the way.
Maybe they lack the experience to know better.
Simplicity is recompense for years of effort.
When I put the camera on my shoulder and the brief is in my head, I’m looking for the truth. The deeper story, the stuff beyond mere words and pictures, the stuff that reaches the heart. Truth in performance; the essence of the idea to be communicated. The process starts again in editing, to polish the delivery of the idea, the emotion.
The brief is the framework, it establishes the context of creation. It impacts everything downstream; concept development, script, directing, photography, casting, location, tonality, mood, lighting, the entire production design…the works.
The brief is the springboard for ideas to take flight. A great brief is also anchored in the truth of the brand. The brief is a contract with the creative. The brief is also a contract with the truth. Not “truthiness.” The truth.
Occasionally, attempts are made to exploit “truthiness.” Savvy marketers know that great ideas communicate beyond the execution. They know the right ideas generate emotions that cannot be measured through any single ingredient that goes into execution. Truthiness can be tempting.
You can imagine the dismay when the client says, “The idea will not work because we cannot actually communicate that.” Discussion ensues.
It’s a mistake for anyone to use the brief as an opportunity to manipulate the creative work to communicate something that’s not entirely true. Creativity is a powerful tool and can certainly be made to imply things that are not the truth. Clever creative work, not anchored in truth, may achieve a temporary spike in sales but it’s a short money game. Disappointed customers, misled by “truthiness” will flee. Nothing sticks to a brand like the voices of unhappy customers. Truthiness does not build better brands.
Try making a better product.
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 expense. 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 supports the performance 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 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.
Insight driven strategy liberates creativity.
Really good agencies know this, and really good clients know this too. Really good production companies know this 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 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.
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.
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.