Allow me to rant about YouTube for a few minutes.  I consume a lot of media via YouTube. I’m insatiably curious. I watch all kinds of media from all kinds of publishers from all over the world. Maybe you do too.

YouTube is sort of like TV, but worse in its use of advertising. TV has gotten bad; in fact, it is a shambles because they lost the narrative. Like many others, I cut the cord. Instead, I’m paying more for 4 or 5 different streaming services. The programming tends to be better overall. The user experience is not convenient. I want to pay less, have better programming and greater convenience.

TV used to have them on convenience, everything they offer all in one place, minus the pay walls. YouTube is convenient. I’m talking about the allegedly free version, but the user experience is horrible. Some of the content posted for free by its creators is awesome. Most of it is crap, but I get to choose what I watch and find programming I value and enjoy. The options are far greater and geekier than any traditional TV programming.

There is a more organic relationship on television between show creators, advertisers and the networks. They’re all in on the gag together. The use of advertising on YouTube is a vulgar onslaught, a cold, ill-timed smack in the face.

The internet serves up great ads and the worst dreck I’ve ever seen. Your perfectly executed idea is surrounded by crap. Rarely is any of it delivered with respect for the programming or the audience.  It’s a race to the bottom.

The ad servers have control and have no issue slapping you upside the head with an ad right in the middle of an extremely poignant moment. It may be a powerful interview, artist portrait, great musical performance, film, cutting edge news broadcast, you name it; but the robots and the people that built them do not give a damn about the quality of the experience.

There are no gentle hand-offs between programming and advertising. It’s hideous. I find it so annoying that it makes me dislike the brands involved. Advertisers beware, you are turning off your potential customers because the ad servers that you pay to deliver impressions don’t really care about you or your customers.

The system is gamed against us both. Advertisers pay for impressions and the impression is, “go piss off.”

The latest trick of the platform is to have advertisers create short ads that the user is not allowed to skip. These ads are just as annoying. Recently, I noticed that it takes multiple taps on the skip button before it skips. Frustrating. I can’t skip fast enough and I’m not alone, and they know it.

Then there are the long form spots, the 15-minute variety. Some of these spots are longer than the programming. If you let these play the entire way through, you no longer remember the sentence or whatever, when the ad cut off your program. The people behind these platforms do not care about your brand, about your potential customers, or your sales. They only care about their sales; not about the negative impression they are fomenting about your brand.

When programming, networks and advertisers work together to create a quality experience everyone benefits. This is the power of the traditional broadcast model. It’s not too late to fix it, to get back to delivering a quality experience. The broadcast networks need to fight back with better programming. YouTube needs to go to school. Netflix is now entering the fray with the “free version.” Perhaps they’ll do a better job.

In the meantime, we’re all paying the price.

One of the challenges that comes with the democratization of camera technology is that anyone who can afford a video camera or smart phone can consider themselves filmmakers. “Do it yourself” starts to feel like an obligation because it seems so achievable. 

Running around swinging a camera, pointing-it here, there, and everywhere without the benefit of intentional lighting is a disease of the digital age.  

Just because one can record an image does not automatically make it good. What is good? Good is an image in service of a relevant story. Good is an image crafted to evoke the appropriate intention and mood of the scene. Good is a frame, designed to create the visual tension necessary to hold the gaze of the audience, to keep them in the story. 

Modern cameras and lenses have incredible capability to capture images in low light, some can practically see in the dark, but this does not forgive the need to understand how to light a scene. It is not simply about achieving exposure. 

Even without a proper light kit, the ability to utilize sunlight and practical sources in conjunction with modern camera technology will deliver impressive results. It just takes some knowledge of the principles and the forethought to put them to work.  

Great production is made with great preparation. 

There are countless on-line tutorials, so there are few excuses other than time and the will to do better. For many businesses who do not prioritize their content, the task often falls to younger staff that do not automatically show up with the full range of required skills. Taking this on internally seems efficient but it is anything but. 

The perceived need to keep up a steady stream of content takes precedent over quality. This is a significant misjudgment. The damage inflicted on a brand that churns out subpar content is like repeated exposure to radiation, you may not feel the effects right away, but eventually, it is going to kill you. 

The opportunity cost is real and often realized too late.  

Investing in quality content is not money wasted, it is an investment in the future of your business. Make your work stand out by making it better. Do not let it stand out because of its shoddy workmanship. 

When I founded Brandforming, I began to work with archetypes and their application to brands. The idea of brand as archetype was not something new but I sought to bring something new to it. Combining the use of archetypes with primary and secondary market research, coupled with a client workshop, has proven powerful in the creation of meaningful brand ideas.

I brought this discipline to my work at Skidmore College. Each semester, I invite a client into my classroom. The students are challenged to assess the client brand and generate new brand ideas. Last year we took the challenge from a company working in the social media space. To better understand the dynamics at work within the social media landscape, I asked the students to select the top social media brands relevant to the client business.

Here are the social media brands that made the cut, in no particular order: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Spotify, YouTube, SnapChat, Instagram, TikTok, Linkedin.

I led them through a workshop to identify the archetypes that most closely expressed the essence of each social media brand. The utility of the exercise would do two things; allow us to better position the client social media offering and suggest content strategies grounded in an understanding of the archetypes. Some of the results are self-evident, others may be a bit surprising. There were 19 of us participating in the workshop. You can judge the outcome for yourself. (See the graphic for the results.)

In our assessment, it was clear that many brands were repurposing the same content across their social media. With little regard for the deeper meaning inherent in each social media brand, the content often felt completely out of place and intrusive. In fact, some of it was downright annoying. The unconscious meaning of each social media brand, its archetype, offers opportunity to support (or contradict) client brands.

Understanding the archetype of each social media platform gives client brands an edge.

It does not mean you should abandon your brand’s archetype. What it does afford, is the ability to be more selective about which social platforms may be best suited to your brand. Additionally, brands can leverage the archetype of their chosen social media by leaning into those aspects of their own brand most relevant in that context.

Social media is a powerful tool for brands. There is no better or best platform. There is, however, a great deal of room for improvement in how brands are utilizing these media.

Going deeper into the emotional characteristics of each social platform holds great promise to improve results.

I love light in all its many variations. I’ve walked into walls studying light as it falls on some object or person. It’s an infatuation, an obsession and capturing light is at the root of my love for image making.

Perhaps there is no more beautiful expression than light illuminating human emotion. A face, an expression, an eye, a gesture, a form, and action that communicates the richness of human existence.

When walking into walls or what have you, it’s the intensity of my focus, the attention of my gaze that makes the rest of the world disappear. I’m locked on to the beauty. This astounding ability of the human mind to bring a very selective attention and clarity to complex visual and audio landscapes it what we do our best to emulate in film making.

Once the idea is defined and all the inessential parts removed what remains is ideally a powerful story. The cameras and lights and audio gear are manipulated to achieve, as close as possible, the selectivity of our innate human abilities.

In this context the camera is an editing tool. Protecting equally what is in the frame as well as protecting what is out of the frame. Framing the shot is essential in achieving the desired energy and emotion from any scene. It is both art, science and intuition combined. It is design in motion and a significant part of the visual language of film.

Documentary work is a great training ground for cinematographers and directors because the work commands the senses and hones the instincts of story. It quite literally keeps you on your toes. The camera in this context is often the most powerful actor in the scene, engaging with and framing the action.

This is camera work and it’s also editing in action.

There was a time when almost all media was inclusive. The old analogue days of 13 TV Channels, rooftop antennae, a handful of news programing and perhaps a few dozen major newspapers and magazines. There were some specialized publications, and radio stations were somewhat local, but they were the exceptions. Media was broadly casted by a limited number of producers, reaching millions of people.

Today almost all media is exclusive. Everyone is a specialist, if not due to content, then due to targeting. Even the national and international outlets cater to regional influence, and why not? Effective targeting is also about giving your audience what they want. Or what they think they want. Or what you think they want. Or what the AI predictive models think they want. It’s enough to make us toss our hands into the air and just default to something that feels safe for our brand. Something with hopefully broad appeal that we can run anywhere, hoping our audience will self-identify.

Our segmentation modeling is so divided, it’s become segmentation meddling. Exclusivity in media is a problematic reality if we stick to outdated norms of thinking. Let’s put aside the fact that it has created a platform for every nutjob with a computer and look at what it means for brands. A world of distractions in a distracted world.

Across the paid, owned and earned media landscape, there is now endless fractionalization of your audience which diminishes the reach of your brand. Not because the media is not reaching the target, but because the targets are polarized by the fragmentation.

This polarization is a buzzkill for what might otherwise be a campaign that would jump the chasm into popular culture.

What is popular culture when culture is now unpopular?

Cultural fragmentation may not impact too negatively on major legacy brands, assuming they stay out of harms way.  But for newer, smaller brands, success means obsessively focusing on a minimal viable audience. Connecting with this audience and delivering real value to these customers will motivate them as culture ambassadors for your brand. These ambassadors will help the brand bridge to additional culture communities as they share their experience.

Bridging is the major action of digital media. It amplifies the power of word-of-mouth, of shared positive brand experience and helps drive brand growth.

Specificity should be a core part of your strategic and creative development. Create for one specific group of potential customers and build from the core.

In truth, this thinking is nothing new. Perhaps it’s been forgotten. Some brands have not forgotten. Patagonia is one example of a brand that has always been entirely specific in its audience goals and campaign platform. It puts its values of honoring and protecting nature into all it does and communicates. Its current market value is $3 Billion and recently the founder, Yvon Chouinard determined to give it all away to help save our planet.

Patagonia’s specificity of purpose, planning, action, and communication recently arrived in my mailbox in the form of a Patagonia publication, a magazine celebrating people and nature. This is no catalogue of merchandise but a catalog of beliefs and values, and it’s printed on 100% post-consumer recycled paper. It’s a home run in my opinion. I’m a nature fan boy and have, over the years, purchased Patagonia clothing. I still have most of it. It wears like iron. Built to last, not to be discarded. The user experience of the product aligns completely with the mission and values of the company.

This alignment includes Patagonia’s use of media: specific, focused, and effective. You may point out that they use the mail channel to reach me. Why not?  It’s a great tactic when used correctly. The publication has value, will be passed on and then recycled. But there is a bit more to it. Within the pub, there are URL’s that lead us deeper into the stories. This publication is a well-integrated driver of brand engagement.

Exclusive media means exclusive opportunities to Head For The Heart.

As some of you may be aware, I’m currently teaching at Skidmore College as the F. William Harder Chair Professor of Management and Business. Being a place of higher education and a fine one at that, there are weekly guest lectures given by thought leaders from both inside and outside academia.

For the most part, these are highly intellectual and interesting discussions. I prefer to think of them as discussions because the Q&A that follow is often more interesting than the lecture itself. Students and faculty engage the speaker with challenging questions. The freewheeling endings, if Skidmore students are a barometer, gives me hope for the future of our country.

A recent discussion led by an extremely well-studied thought leader, presented years of data that pointed to a significant insight in the world of business. I’m not going to try to unpack the topic, my point of writing this post is the use of data.

The data was significant and overwhelmingly clear in what it implied and what could be inferred.

During the Q&A a student asked the million-dollar question. If the data is so clear why is nothing changing…why are the trend lines continuing as they were?

The speakers answer: The data is not enough.

Bingo.

The world has become overly reliant on data as an end point. Data alone is not enough. If it was, no one would ever smoke, Hillary Clinton may have gotten elected and maybe (if this applies to you) more people would buy your brand.

Compelling ideas move people. Ideas that slap folks in the face, stun them into awareness and seep into their hearts, turn ideas into action.

This is the work of creativity. Let’s get busy.

In the world of corporate content creation, it often happens that the work is evenly lit, the sound is good, and the music is canned. It’s workman like but lacks dynamism. The work can feel like a forced march through a shot list vs delivering a story. When I see work like this it’s almost always the case that the story is equally flat and not all that interesting. Gut check: is your film ample payoff for the time invested by your audience to watch it?

My best advice to clients, if you don’t have anything important to say then don’t spend money on film production. If you have something important to say, then say it with gravitas, employing all the appropriate tools of the trade.

“In film, we sculpt time, we sculpt behavior, and we sculpt light.”
– David Fincher

Invest the money and the time commitment needed. Make sure the story direction is strong, clear and communicates with intention. Don’t sell your goal short. The most important thing is the arc and clarity of the story.

Lots of quick cuts and irrelevant B roll are poor substitutes for a real story. It’s very easy to distract your audience, especially if your story is not crisp. A drone shot is a distraction unless it is elevating the story.

Creating tension in the frame with contrast ratios is essential to supporting the story, scene, and talent with appropriate dimensions of light. Light that helps motivate the action, that creates visual tension in the frame works to keep the audience engaged. Don’t be afraid of dramatic lighting. Embrace an unmoving camera and focus on the performance, the telling of your story. Move the camera, only if it helps tell the story in a more effective manner. Build interesting soundscapes too. The ears perceive more than more than you may realize. Embrace all the tools.  Focus on a complete multi-dimensional telling of the story.

Even though your cast may not be professional actors, doesn’t mean they cannot be compelling on screen. With the right preparation and coaching, you’ll be surprised at what your team can do.

Telling something truly is more work but the payoff will be a more engaging and compelling story, a story that heads for the heart.

What was true during the American Revolution is still true today and applies equally well to the media. Better together.

The hyperbolic segmentation of media is a landscape of diminishing returns. With some notable exceptions, media performance reviews leave more questions than answers.

The ideal scenario is one of ever improving ROI as refinements are made, not only in the creative, but critically in the media buy. To optimize results also means lowering costs.

Media technology companies have extraordinary ability to target and segment audiences and should generate strong results. At least that’s the goal. Conversely, too much segmentation can drive up costs, reduce ROI and add to the confusion.

Media-tech is very good but, in their ambition to drive their technology forward they have lost the thread. Media strategists and buyers have a tough challenge to untangle the gordian knot. Brands deserve optimized ROI, not more ways to spend money on media.

The right media mix is not a kitchen junk drawer of guess work. The right mix more closely resemble a well-organized silverware drawer.

Too often, media cannot explain itself and the default is to start faulting the creative work. It may indeed deserve the criticism, but it should not be the first place we look for improvement.

Here’s why, media spread sheets look like certainty but just as often, turn out to be an inexplicable hot mess. All you need do is ask a few probing questions. Don’t take my word for it.

Before the creative ever hit the media, it has been developed with audience insight and research and goes out into the world with some earned confidence.

Thanks to vast segmentation and targeting, media today needs to be considered within the discipline of direct response. Direct response methodology would employ control and test groups to refine the mix and optimize results to a final plan. Then, with incremental decisions, make adjustments with A/B splits of media and creative to achieve optimization.

This approach at first appears more costly but in the long run achieves optimization with assurance. Quarterly readouts of media performance are insufficient for the dynamic nature of media today. Monthly readouts in context of a rolling 30-day strategic plan that seeks optimization and learning offer brands increased efficiency and confidence.

If done correctly, ROI modeling utilizes segmentation as a tool and not an end in itself.

I recently came across this wonderful quote attributed to Ann Richards, commenting on the talents of the famed dancer Ginger Rogers.

“After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.”

The phrase “backwards and in high heels” struck a chord with me. It reminds me of camera work. Especially the hand-held or shoulder mount variety. I love this type of work, particularly in a less scripted context like a documentary project.

It gives the feeling of doing a dance with the subject and the subject matter, following the lead of the story. The work of following the action, framing, pulling focus is very much performance art. It hones the instincts and sharpens the senses. It also places me in the heart of the story, not observing from a distance but observing from the inside.

The intimacy of the viewfinder and anonymity of the camera are a strange and lovely paradox.

When I’m hired to produce a story, it is authenticity we are after. This is what is so powerful about documentary work. It’s an act of bravery. For people who have a story they want to tell, it’s essential that our relationship is anchored in trust and mutual appreciation. It’s all part of the dance that shows up on the screen.

As partner to Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers was certainly his equal, if not superior, in every way.

Their combined talents achieve something more than either could do alone.

To the untrained observer, walking a tightrope seems like a high-risk activity. To the well-trained acrobatic artist, the tightrope is a platform for their creativity. The risks are well-calculated and the practice so refined, that confidence brings buoyancy to their work.

In the world of ideas, clients and agencies must come to a mutual understanding of well-calculated risk. The goal is break-through creative that challenges norms, animates the brand and motivates the audience.

For many clients, there’s also an additional objective; “not to do any worse than the past brand manager or campaign.” There’s nothing wrong with a good dose of self-preservation.

To the unprepared client, work that appears as if on a tightrope is going to incite fear of doing worse. To the agency, it’s the platform from which to demonstrate their hard-won skills and highly developed talents.

It takes a trusting client-agency relationship to explore boundaries and push the limits of creativity. The goal is to see the tightrope not as a high-risk activity, but as a well-calculated and desirable achievement that will deliver growth for their brand.

Confidence is the glue that binds us to big ideas.