For over a decade, I’ve been a regular guest speaker at Skidmore College in the classroom of Professor Christine Page. I’ve offered my POV on creativity, advertising, branding and marketing and have done ideation workshops with the students. I really enjoy working with Christine and her students because it’s fun and rewarding to share my years of experience. It feels good to give back, and I’ve learned a few things in the process too.
Then Skidmore scared the crap out of me.
How? They offered me the F. William Harder Chair of Business Administration. This is an endowed professorship, a great job, at a great school and an incredible honor. It made my knees shake. It’s one thing to drop in a few times a year and quite another to walk into a room full of bright young minds twice a week with the goal of imparting a kernel of knowledge.
Teaching is not easy work, and I love the work I’m doing with Brandforming; so why add this to the mix?
As Albert Einstein said, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.”
I love learning. It’s one of the things I love most about advertising; the need to keep learning to solve client marketing problems. To work alongside these students, to challenge them to dig for insight and generate ideas together will be a great experience.
Teaching is learning; and I’ll be learning right alongside these millennials, post millennials and Gen Z-Centennials. They have as much to offer me as I do them. I’ve worked with members of this generation the past few years, and I’m constantly impressed…not only by their intelligence but also by their willingness to write their own rules. This is not ambivalence on their part, it’s creation. Bingo.
So that’s why I’m now also the F. William Harder Chair of Business Administration at Skidmore College…or if you prefer, Professor.
In early April team 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 rounds of one-on-one interviews, we finally rolled cameras.
Special thanks here to our partners Associations Development Group for thinking of us and bringing Brandforming on as collaborators. Team Brandforming cranked out 5 different concept boards for client review. It didn’t take long for the client team to settle on the theme and spot we created, 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 well known for her work in Robotics but computer science is about a lot more than just Robotics, as she is very quick to point out. 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 FabLab too. The spot was filmed by Galileo Media Arts. Robot Love, the science behind computer science.
Team Brandforming and Computer Science, now that’s Cool Stuff.
In the books Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman and The Master and his Emissary by Iain McGilchrist, the authors explore the workings of the human brain. I think we can use their insights to help build #AHealthierNation, especially if we consider the workings of the Human Brain Vs. Pharma TV Spots.
Both authors point out that our brains are hot wired to detect danger before safety. We detect anger in others before joy. This extends to images and words, even those in abstract of a lived experience. For example, we can detect an angry face in a picture of a crowd of happy people faster than we can detect a happy face in a crowd of angry people. The mention of a word associated with danger, even in absence of that danger in the present lived experience, triggers lightning quick brain activity associated with a threat. This has been studied and documented with MRI data.
Kahneman points out the we live our lives as stories, collections of experiences and memories that ideally come to a happy finale, and this is what we remember. In a particularly interesting chapter, he explores the idea of duration neglect and how as humans, we will willingly endure protracted and difficult experiences if the goal, outcome and future memory would be a positive gain. One example he explains is that of amnesic vacations. An oversimplification; the duration of a vacation ideally has an effect on its quality. I think we’d all agree that 6 days are better than 3. But if the last day of the 6-day vacation is a poor experience, the overriding memory will be one of an unhappy vacation, despite the duration. This is the peak ending and most dominant lasting memory. For more on this you can watch his TED talk here.
Both of these books are fascinating and entirely different, but with many corollaries that make them both worth reading. The Master and his Emissary makes clear the right brain is dominant in the role of detecting the incongruent, new, exciting and dangerous. The left brain is dominant in breaking it down into known bits of all lived experience and cataloging it so as to help us detect the new vs the known, different or dangerous. There is a mysterious beauty to the power of this duality and the yin-yang balance that it achieves to help us detect danger and feel safe. You can watch him illustrate this in his TED talk here.
If we apply these findings of the workings of the human brain Vs. Pharma TV spots, it would suggest that ending a commercial with 30 seconds of “fair balance” that rattles off all the negative potential consequences of the therapy is not a good idea if we want people to seek out, consume and adhere to that treatment. What memory are we left with? What is the cumulative effect of these negative associations to the psychology of Americans to what is now decades of exposure to often potentially life threatening consequences of treatment? We are putting our minds on high alert and then leaving ourselves with negative memories.
The FDA lives in a paradox of endorsing the use of needed therapies that are in the majority proven very effective and safe and at the same time approving and controlling how they are promoted. The use of Fair Balance was deemed a reasonable solution to keep some checks and balances in the system. One early justification for direct-to-consumer advertising for healthcare products was that it would help make people healthier by helping them recognize health issues and solutions to what is ailing them. That said, I would argue it is not working entirely as hoped. Direct-to-consumer advertising has certainly proven to sell more drugs but is it really helping? Adherence and compliance rates remain terrible and as a nation, we are not among the healthiest, despite having the one of the best healthcare systems in the world. I can’t help but feel that there exists an unintended and negative consequence of bombarding our culture with therapy risk profiles instead of more positive educational messages about living a healthy and happy life.
I’m not suggesting that the problems of adherence and compliance have been caused by advertising, they certainly predate it. What I am suggesting is that advertising executed in this way has become just another part of the problem and it’s time to consider alternative approaches that not only make us aware of solutions but improve long-term outcomes for #AHealthierNation.
Advertising is part of the brand experience and nobody wants to experience side-effects, even in the abstract. Patients need to be educated about the potential risks of any treatment and there are other and potentially better ways to provide this learning. Awareness advertising by its very nature employs both reach and frequency to achieve its goal. The persistent drumming of risk factors in combination with how our brains are hot wired to detect risk is a perfect storm. Our abilities to detect risk and the frequency of exposure caused by this type of advertising may be creating strong negative associations with these brands specifically and perhaps more detrimentally, pharmaceutical therapies overall.
On any given night during a broadcast commercial break it is not uncommon to see 2-3 pharma spots back-to-back. This results in approximately 1.5 minutes of nausea, hives, Arrhythmia, trouble breathing, night sweats, diarrhea, dizziness, life threatening rash, allergic reactions, suicidal thoughts, dry mouth, internal bleeding, increased blood pressure, stroke, liver damage, heart attack and other potential drug-drug and dietary interactions that in rare cases have caused death. This parade of alarm bells is made no less volatile by the mostly generic visual backdrop of smiling happy people and the sometimes over-qualified claims of efficacy. Remember we’re hot wired to detect risk before all else. How’s that for a side effect? Human Brain Vs. Pharma TV could be a perfect storm of unintended consequences. June 2014 saw the beginning of OpenFDA an effort to make accessible the FDA database of side effects, drug labels, warnings, food recalls. This project is still in Beta but it holds great promise to help us better manage and understand the insights available through this repository and how insights gained across drug and device class can inform #AHealtherNation and perhaps will give us opportunity to create better, more positive and educational TV spots.
As communicators can do better to create a #AHealthierNation and support our Physicians and other healthcare workers to help us live healthier lives.
At Brandforming we’re confident that as an industry, if we put our brains together and challenge the status quo, we can build healthier brands and healthier outcomes with ideas that #HeadForTheHeart.
In March of 2015 the legendary filmmaker Albert Maysles left this earth for the great beyond. In his lifetime he and his brother David, who passed many years before, established a way of working in documentary film that elevated our ability to see life as it truly is, with as little artifice as possible. The December 27, 2015 issue of the NY Times Sunday Magazine brought Albert Maysles and the work of The Maysles Brothers back to me in the cover article, The Lives They Lived.
The seminal works of The Maysles Brothers are many and if you have not seen them, you should watch a few: http://mayslesfilms.com/films.
The Maysles Brothers work continues to have significant impact on the work of filmmakers around the world. Their approach was strongly observational and the aesthetic, sparse. Their faith in reality, as equally if not more interesting and powerful than fiction, created films of a raw, visceral quality. Occasionally in moments hard to watch, but also impossible to look away.
Albert Maysles began his career as a teacher of Psychology and, in fact, it was an interest in filming the life of patients in a mental hospital that represents his very first film, Psychiatry in Russia. This drive to represent reality unfiltered, to show things as they are, still holds incredible power and potential, especially in healthcare.
Early in my foray into Healthcare advertising, I was doing a lot of work for broadcast, and I certainly contributed my share of work to what is now the formula. That said, I was really fortunate to work with Maysles Shorts, a division of the company helmed by David McNamara. As a division of Maysles Films, it was anchored in the traditions the brothers had established. David and I did some really nice work together. I’m not sure if the Maysles hired David because he has a gifted eye, or because they saw in him a devotion to a way of working that would continue exploring opportunities to attempt to see life as it truly is. Regardless, David remains an excellent filmmaker with an approach that is all his own, but remains straightforward and honest too. You can learn more about David and what he’s up to these days at the Collective.
Given the overall market conditions in Healthcare, it is more important than ever to create work with strength and honesty. Work that will go beyond selling treatments and help patients understand the value of compliance and adhering to their therapy. It’s time to explore new ways of representing and seeing solutions in healthcare that improve on the outcomes we have achieved thus far. The work of the Maysles Brothers remains so powerful because it is work that has a Head For The Heart. It is a belief in the intimate power of life as it is – an un-glossed honesty that captures human nature with an observing, unwavering respect for humanity.
On Thursday night, December 3 we celebrated the best of Healthcare and Wellness Advertising with the Global Awards at The NY Academy of Sciences. It was a big night with a tremendous volume of great work from around the globe. The passion and integrity of the work never ceases to amaze me. The world of Health and Wellness advertising continues to expand as more world cultures wake up to the idea that there is much more to staying healthy than taking pills. Western medicine continues to bring us many great therapies and we should never lose sight of that as we expand our minds to what I’ll call a more Eastern awareness — A more “global” perspective to personal health and well being.
Disease awareness continues to gain momentum as it proves its potential as a strong alternative to branded advertising when it comes to truly engaging audiences. If you read my recent blog post, Unstuck Yourself With Incongruity, on the importance of incongruity in the creation of and receptivity to ideas, you’ll note how the use of fair balance has potential to alert the brain more to the negative consequences of a therapy than to the suggested benefits. Consider the lingering effects of such messages when it comes to the pervasive lack of compliance and adherence that plagues the industry. Unbranded and disease awareness work are really important because engaging the brain in the context of a positive, unbranded story will help improve the effectiveness of communication, unencumbered from the negative messages of fair balance, we can help move individuals to a more positive and adherent lifestyle. This method effectively engages the ego-energy of the individual and heads for the heart with positive, affirming associations of the self.
The healthcare industry will always need communications that are focused on helping physicians better understand the medicines they prescribe. I’m sure most of us would like to see this work realized with more emotionally engaging ideas similar to what is now happening in unbranded efforts targeting consumers. Another area that is finally maturing in its potential to pull all this together is digital. We seem to have finally crossed a threshold where we are seeing very little digital work for digital sake. Achieving meaningful integration of ideas and medium delivers a powerful ecosystem of care that benefits everyone involved. This integration effectively unites all stakeholders into one seamless engagement. This type of work holds great promise to affect positive behavior change in all audiences, including physicians.
Last year in my blog post for the Global Awards I spoke of the deepening integration of digital into our lives, The Next Challenge for Global Healthcare Agencies and I believe this year we are beginning to see the potential of truly integrated ideas. There were a couple of entries this year that illustrate this point and I encourage you to enjoy an inspiring review of all of the winners here. One such elegant, creative solution is the idea called Penny The Pirate. Penny the Pirate is a brilliant integration of multimedia and delivers a concept that anchors a meaningful digital platform in conjunction with a delightful analogue solution to create a wonderful ecosystem of care. Say Ahoj to Penny the Pirate as she sets a new benchmark in integration. Penny the Pirate is from the great minds at Saatchi & Saatchi Sydney — Bravo to our friends down under.
With digital settling into truly meaningful integration, another positive aspect to this work is the trend we’re seeing in the return to ideas with traditional chops; ideas and executions not overreaching with digital hijinks — solid, great ideas…we might even call them analogue — resplendent in their simplicity and brilliance. This year’s Grand Global winner, the Luck Plan from Downtown Partners delivers on all fronts. The Windy City claims the big win; congratulations to the team..
Brandforming was honored this year to pick-up the mantle and create the key art for this year’s show. What a great way for agencies to support the Global Awards and their theme of creative globalization. You can read more about the origins of the idea, the art creation and the collaborative work that made it happen by going here.
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, the incongruity of it all.
This is the thing that drives an idea, it’s internal flame. Great brands thrive on incongruity and great products and services are often defined by 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 functions is very much a complimentary end game and failing to satisfy one comes at the risk of losing the other and should be considered the emotional whole brain effect. 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, unless of course you do something incredible different with it, which we rarely see.
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, my friends, is why so many ad campaigns fail to deliver the true potential of the 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 can cause a kind of circular thinking as 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.
This compilation video offers a nice snapshot into the connectivity we discovered between the creative pursuits of these artists and the work they do 9-5, in short, creativity in the workplace. If you have not seen the show at the Spring Street Gallery in Saratoga Springs you should stop in to the gallery. The show will be up a few more weeks, catch it if you can. The video linked here is a compilation of videos about the show, you might enjoy watching it. It’s too short for popcorn but important enough to leave you with something stuck in your head, if not your teeth.
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.
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/
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
It would be great to see more people expressing themselves through the arts, to put away fear and self-doubt and to create for the simple act of creating itself. It is powerfully liberating. The journey of any passionate artist is one of both refinement of skill and changing conceptions. This is another point that needs to be made and remain top-of-mind when seeing the show, skill and creativity do not necessarily travel hand-in-hand. Some of the artists are much more advanced in their skill level than others but this by no means diminishes the power of their self-expression.
I’d like to personally thank the following people and organizations for their help and support in bringing this show together; Charles Wait, Chairman and CEO of Adirondack Trust Company, Mayor Joanne Yepsen of The City of Saratoga Springs and Angelo Calbone, President and CEO of Saratoga Hospital, their employees and in particular their internal communications, HR and marketing people who’ve been instrumental in getting the word out. Lori Goodale was not only one of the catalysts in the creation of the show, she has also been integral to the successful of implementation, execution and coordination all communications with the participating organizations as well as external media relations. Thank you Lori, for wearing so many hats, including the time coding of the video edits.
I also have to give thanks to Augie’s Restaurant for agreeing to supply their great food so we can all sup while we enjoy the show. Thank you to Gabby Delattibodier Wright for her art promotion and event planning support in bringing needed resources to the show. To Benj Gleeksman for picking up the ball and running with the design of the promotional materials to bring further awareness to the show — go Benj! Thanks also to Belinda Colon, for her excellent sense of story and translating that to the mounting and exhibition of the show. This is no easy task with a mix media show such as this. I hope you take the time to appreciate not just the work but the presentation as well.
Thanks as well to Ed Murphy, Executive Director of Workforce Development Institute for the enthusiastic support of his team as well as their financial assistance to offset some of cost of the show.
Thanks to these members of the extended Brandforming team, Erica O’Rourke and her team at Social Radiant for taking on the task of sharing the idea and promotion of the show through social media channels. Thank you to John Wager and his team at Galileo Media Arts for lending their talents to film the leadership interviews and other certain aspects of the show. Thanks in this regard must also go to Hudson Payer a very talented senior at Saratoga Springs High School, who jumped in last minute and agreed to film some of the individual artist interviews.
In many ways this is a show about community, about the people and organizations that make Saratoga Springs the wonderful place that it is. Spring Street Gallery is a unique space in that it is entirely not-for-profit. This makes it at once very liberating but also challenging for Maureen Sager to achieve the kinds of results that she does, which is to say, the shows that she has brought to this community are wonderful examples of art, artists and the relationship of art to our lives. Shows that wake you up to the power of the arts, that challenge thinking and that inspire you to walk out a bit differently then when you walked in. This is one of the great purposes of art curation, if not of art itself. I, for one, walked into Spring Street Gallery a different person than I am today and for this I can not thank Maureen enough for her trust and her steady hand as she continues to guide, challenge and inspire me in all aspects of this show.
Last and most certainly not least — but in fact most of all — thank you to the brave and creative artists who put their heart and soul into everything they do — they truly Head For The Heart.