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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

My first year as The F. William Harder Chair Professor of Business Administration at Skidmore College has been a bit of a roller coaster.

The good kind, thrilling without the sense of impending doom that you get in those “poop your pants” rides that seem to push the limits of engineering. I went into this gig with some trepidation, not knowing how I’d fare. Not knowing is a good thing in my book. I like not knowing because it means I’m learning and I’ve learned a lot.

The first thing I’ve learned is that being a Professor is real work. From this day forward, if I ever hear anyone say, “those who know do… and those who don’t teach,” I’ll have them give it a try. They have obviously never stepped foot in a classroom full-time. The occasional rock star visit does not come close to staring down a room full of 20 something’s at 8:30 am on Wednesday & Friday mornings in February when it’s 20 below.

It takes real effort to keep students engaged. Effort, planning, follow-up and creativity. Sounds just like any other business.

The second thing I can tell you is the work outside the classroom far exceeds the work inside the classroom. But I’m still new to all this and it has already gotten easier but like any other gig, you get out of it what you put in, so if you’re doing it right, it’s never really easy.

In both courses, I bring in real clients, with real challenges. My approach is to workshop the challenge in a real-world format. It took some adjusting on my part to make this work for students vs. professionals.

It’s one thing to do something your entire career surrounded by pros and another thing entirely to codify it into a syllabus for people who have never done it before.

Another observation I can share is that Skidmore students are smart, with a causal confidence that belies their intelligence and strong work ethic. It’s a unique experience working with these students. Eager to learn and challenge themselves, to push their creativity and put it to work.

Working with creativity as a skill, with a business purpose, changes their ideas about creativity and helps them see it as vitally important, no matter their career choice.

In my courses, students have taken on assignments from organizations such as GE Innovations to Garnet River, an IT Professional Services Firm and Samadhi, Recovery Community Outreach Center.

In my Commercial Production course, we spend the majority of the semester discovering all that is involved in the making of a TV spot; perhaps more contemporarily defined as content. Most of these students had never before produced narrative content, so we invest ourselves in the art of the story, the heroes journey. We examine spots, listen to the words of Directors and Directors of Photography, Casting Agents, Location Scouts, Production Designers and Musicians. We practice concept development and story boarding our concepts. Then we focus our efforts on building production books to catalogue and manage the production. And finally, with approximately 4 weeks remaining in the semester, these Management and Business students get to work on their final assignment.

Their skill level varies but their creativity is strong. Click here if you would like to get a flavor of the experience.

Cheers.

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.

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.

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 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 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.

Human Brain Vs. Pharma TV Spots

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 a paradox of endorsing the use of effective therapies that are proven safe and at the same time 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. 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 TV 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 we can do better to create a #AHealthierNation and support our Physicians and other healthcare workers to help us live healthier lives.

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 work of The Maysles Brothers are many. 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 filmmakers around the world. Their approach was strongly observational and the aesthetic, sparse. Their faith in reality, as more interesting than fiction, created films of a raw, visceral quality. Occasionally hard to watch but impossible to look away.

Albert Maysles began his career as a teacher of Psychology. 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. I certainly contributed my share of work to what is now the formula.  

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. We did our best to break from the mold.  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 to represent life as it truly is. Regardless, David is an excellent filmmaker with an approach that is all his own; straightforward and honest too. Today, David is dedicating his many talents to creating meaningful human connection with Samadhi

It is more important than ever to create work with strength and honesty. Work that connects deeply and goes beyond selling treatments and help patients understand the value of wellness. It’s time to explore new ways of representing and seeing solutions in healthcare that improve on what has been 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 truly is. True stories told with un-glossed honesty that capture human nature with an observing, unwavering respect for humanity.