Archive for March, 2010
I like dags .. and dogs too. I’m certainly a fan of the movie Snatch, but this post isn’t about a movie; it’s about dags.
I’m a regular visitor and supporter of the Peanut Pet Shelter in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. The shelter owners do some great work taking in stray dogs (and cats!) and finding homes for them. They’ve also recently opened a clinic, so that local pet owners can get their dogs and cats spayed or neutered for free. The clinic is made possible through donations and private financial support.
If you have an interest in helping out the shelter, you can make a donation or choose to sponsor an animal through the “Share the Care” program. It’s very rewarding to sponsor an animal and then learn that the animal has been adopted–I’ve sponsored two dogs that both were adopted by homes in the U.S. Fun stuff.
So check out the shelter site and see what you think. I hope you’ll love the dags as much as I do.
An agency producer’s only loyal friends. The Lynyrd Skynyrd life-giving strength to clean out an in-box, the Sigur Ros “( )” passion to create Keynotes, and the Coltrane to seam together technical specifications. In an office of 60, without vertical barriers to keep us apart, a haven for rest, relief, and revival.
And now they’ve gone busted. Shattered. Fallen. All, from a jolted movement during a morning session of Trololo. A fitting tribute to Edward Hill’s ability to find weakness in us all. F#$%.
“What’s for lunch?” my coworker asks, usually somewhere around 10:15 a.m. We pick a spot, and two hours later, we eat. Just like that. Our lunches aren’t extravagant, but we certainly don’t have to worry about running out of money, or food.
Yesterday, after lunch, I came across this series of photographs on Time.com. “What the World Eats” explores just that, what people around the world are eating. And it’s fascinating. Families spend anywhere from $1.23 to $500 a week on food.
Take a look.
This weekend, I participated in a panel discussion on neuromarketing at the South by Southwest Conference and Festival in Austin. The panel, titled “Big Brother in Your Brain: Neuroscience and Marketing,” was organized by my friend and colleague Eric Kogelschatz. Along with Eric, the panel included Dr. Danielle Stolzenberg of the University of Virginia, Dr. A.K. Pradeep of NeuroFocus, and Roger Dooley, author of the “Neuromarketing” blog and a Vice President of Digital Marketing at Hobsons.
To help us prepare, Eric sent questions to each of us. I wrote down my thoughts before the event. (Eric’s questions are in italics.)
What is the creative process for advertising? How is creativity used in advertising? And how does strategy and research affect the creative process?
This made me think of the Archimedes story.
Around 220 B.C., King Hiero II of Syracuse in Italy asked the celebrated scientist and mathematician Archimedes to determine the volume of gold in his crown. This was not easy to do. Archimedes learned everything he could from the science of the day, but he still couldn’t arrive at the answer. He got to the point where he despaired of ever finding the truth. Then one day he was taking a bath and watched the water move up as he settled into the tub. He suddenly understood that he could measure the volume of gold by measuring the volume of water displaced by the crown. The story goes that Archimedes ran naked and dripping through Syracuse, shouting “Eureka!” (“I have found it!”).
When he made this discovery, Archimedes bypassed the science and wisdom of his day. He took a step into the unknown and encountered something entirely new. But he did this only after he absorbed all the science and wisdom of his day.
I am a strong believer in the “Eureka” moment, when you transcend everything you know about a product or service or situation and get at the truth of it in way that is original and inevitable at the same time.
This is how I see the creative process working. And this is how I perceive the role of science. I love science and research and measurement. I can’t get enough of it. I always want to understand as much as I can about a challenge at hand. But in the end, it comes down to more than the brain. In any creative process, there comes a time when you have to switch off your forebrain and set your unconscious to work on the problem. You have to prepare for the Eureka moment, whether that occurs in a bath or while exercising or even while falling asleep. Unless you arrive at that moment, the creative process isn’t finished.
There is something both rational and irrational about the Eureka moment. It is rational because it is the inevitable conclusion to all the working and studying and wondering you’ve been doing. But it is irrational in the sense that you can’t predict it ahead of time, and there is usually something very unusual and surprising about the solution. Finding the solution feels like taking a step into a dark room that may or may not contain a floor.
Since the beginning of my career, I have done something I call “breaking set.” And I encourage people at Modernista! to do this too. Learn everything you can about a problem, and then work as hard as you can to find the answer. Then, when you’ve found it – throw it out. Start over. Approach the problem from an entirely new angle. Sometimes you have to break set a number of times before you arrive at the Eureka moment.
I also believe that the Eureka moment engages much more than the brain. That’s why, although I’m interested in neuroscientific studies, I see them as just one of many factors to consider. For example, most neuromarketing focuses on evidence of increased blood flow to the media prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that relates to self-identity. When you look at a brand and this part of your brain lights up, you are probably relating yourself personally to the brand. Another part of the brain that is often studied is the nucleus accumbens, which mediates pleasure and pain. Both the media prefrontal cortex and the nucleus accumbens are in the cortex, the forebrain.
But many scientists believe that we don’t have one brain – we have three, a “triune brain,” with each part corresponding to different stages in human evolution. There is the neocortex, which deals with higher-order thinking. There is the intermediate brain or limbic system, which deals with emotions. And there is the primitive or “lizard” brain, which deals with basics like aggression and self-preservation (fight or flight). Research at MIT suggests that when people learn something new, their lizard brain does the learning first – and only then does it begin to teach the other two parts.
So it seems to me that we need to study more than the cortex – we need to study all three human brains, and in particular the lizard brain, where our deepest impulses lie.
In fact – why should we study just the brain? What about all the other parts of the human body that activate when we experience something? What about the body’s chakra system, with its energy centers in the stomach, the sex organs, the feet, and elsewhere? There is evidence that these chakra points are linked to activity in our endocrine system. Our Throat Chakra, for example, seems to be related to thyroid activity. Our Brow or Third-Eye Chakra is related to activity in the hypothalamus. So in addition to blood flow in the brain, shouldn’t we be studying all these other biological responses?
But still – after we’ve collected all the information we possibly can, there’s something deeply mysterious about the creative process. And although we can use science to arrive at the Eureka moment, I believe that the substance of the Eureka moment itself is usually not predictable or measurable by science.
Creativity embraces science, but in my opinion it is beyond science. It leads us into entirely new territory.
Ultimately, science can only measure what it knows. It cannot measure what it does not know.
Does sex really sell?
That depends on a lot of things – including the audience, the timing, the product or service, and the cultural context. If the question is “Does sex titillate?” – yes, of course it does. But does sex sell? I would suggest that sex sells best if it is handled in a creative way – and most treatments of sex aren’t creative in the least.
A few years ago, while marketing the Cadillac CTS, Modernista! produced a TV ad that turned our industry’s typical use of sex upside down. In most commercial depictions of sex, the female is objectified, turned into an object of desire. The theory is that desire for the female will translate into desire for the product. But in our Cadillac ad featuring Kate Walsh, she wasn’t presented as an object at all – rather, Kate Walsh was doing the objectifying, appreciating the car like a sexual object. I would argue that it was the empowerment of the woman in this ad, not any objectification of the woman, that made this a successful piece of marketing. In this case, sex sold, but it was a different (and I think more creative) take on sex.
How does humor affect advertising?
These days, humor is important for at least two big reasons. First, in an age of ad zapping, a TV commercial needs to be just as entertaining as the content it interrupts, if not more so. Second, we’re in an age when sharable digital media is one of the most powerful forms of marketing around, and people love to share funny things. An amusing, two-minute video is a great way to generate an exponential surge in awareness and involvement.
But I’m not confident that a feeling of pure pleasure induced by humor is always optimal. Sometimes a creative solution can involve creating discomfort as well. Take for example the ironic, self-referential humor you find in recent Axe and Old Spice commercials. These ads laugh at the process of marketing and at the audience’s susceptibility to corporate claims. They make you laugh, but for some people, they might inspire a bit of unease too. In fact, much popular humor these days has a biting and even painful element, like the humor we find on South Park and Two and a Half Men. The point is that an easy laugh is not always the best way to go.
In the end, a truly creative experience will probably make at least some people uncomfortable – and it will sometimes be bewildering, at least at first. I once read that when Captain Cook visited islands in the Pacific, the islanders couldn’t see his ships.
The islanders’ brains simply could not process this strange new data. It took a while for some of them to see the ships – and after they explained what they were seeing to others, those people gradually began to see them too.
A truly creative experience will be like those ships. Not everyone will get it right away. It will seep into the culture gradually, and may cause some befuddlement as it does.
What happens when we market products in a way that is solely based on “knowns”? Is creativity stunted?
Not only is creativity stunted, but the marketing itself is likely to fail. I don’t believe you can reduce a creative process to a set of “knowns.”
As Henry Ford once said: “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”
Take for example the Pontiac Aztec, which was produced by consensus. Do you like the look of this car?
How about this painting, produced by the conceptual artists Komar and Melamid? The artwork was created by asking Americans what they most wanted to see in a painting. This is the result: A pastoral scene with George Washington and some deer.
Here’s a thought experiment. Imagine that someone invited you to see a structure “with three floors and seven elevators, weighing 700 tons, and serving no particular function.” Does that sound fun to you?
In fact, over 200 million people have visited this structure:
The point is, people almost never know what they want until you give it to them. If you listen too closely to your audience, you are unlikely to achieve a good result.
Even Google, which is often held up as an example of numbers-driven marketing, would not exist today if its founders had paid attention to “knowns.” When Google was launched, the Web was dominated by portal companies cramming as much information onto their launch pages as they possibly could. But Larry Page and Sergey Brin insisted on keeping their launch page perfectly clean – a search box, nothing else. Everyone said they were crazy. But they stuck to their “irrational” guns, and we know the results.
What are the arguments for creativity vs. science (mathematical formulas) influencing consumer behavior?
A marketing campaign based entirely on mathematical formulas is unlikely to produce a good consumer response.
Take this design for a Campbell soup can, which was created with the help of biometric data. Do you like that design better than this one? There is something profoundly irrational to the creative act and the human response to a creative act. I believe that good marketing feels inevitable, but it can’t necessarily be codified in words or numbers.
Instead, good marketing seems to engage human beings on multiple levels – in various parts of their three brains, throughout the entire organism, and sometimes even in contradictory ways.
From a creative perspective, how can you ensure engagement and retention?
Creativity itself is what wins engagement and retention. If a campaign isn’t creative, it isn’t likely to get much attention at all. Because every day we are bombarded with thousands of uncreative images and messages.
We also need to think how a brand actually engages the consumer. I argue that it is not just the pleasure produced by the sight or feel or smell of the brand; it is not just increased blood flow to the brain. Rather, it is the extent to which the brand signals participation in a community. When you wear a Nike swoosh on your body, or when you walk down the street listening to an iPod, you are not just wearing a great pair of shoes or enjoying a great piece of music technology. You are signaling your membership in a group. The brand stands for much more than a product or service; it stands for belonging.
This is the genius of good branding. It allows people to feel like they are part of something larger than themselves. This is a deep, powerful need on the part of humans. Above all else, they need to belong.
But brands allow people to feel individual too. As we know, people use brands to express themselves, to make a personal statement. Oddly, a good brand serves as an expression of independent thinking even as it signals membership in a group. A good brand makes you feel both individual and joined. That sounds contradictory, and in fact it is, but we’ve all seen it at work many times.
And I wonder: Could a brain scan detect these rich, complex, seemingly contradictory emotions inspired by a brand?
Interestingly, social media have the same characteristics as a good brand – that is, they allow you to both stand out and belong at the same time. Which is why in modern times, Facebook and Twitter are the places where engagement and retention are most successfully accomplished. (We at Modernista! see a powerful connection between good branding and good social media, a huge potential for mutual reinforcement.)
What is the difference between using neuromarketing to promote art and using it to promote big business?
I wouldn’t rely heavily on neuromarketing to promote either art or business. I believe neuroscience can give us important information that can assist the creative process. But marketing based exclusively on neuroscientific findings is unlikely to succeed.
Nor do I draw a firm line between art and business. Business is just commerce between human beings, and that interaction is a lot more fun when it involves creativity. This means that by definition, creativity will assist business. It makes us all more prosperous, both materially and spiritually.
Art and commerce can coexist; they should coexist. In fact art should coexist with everything. It enriches and nourishes us and should be a constant presence in our lives.
How is neuromarketing different than subliminal advertising? Or is it the same?
I have never consciously produced “subliminal” advertising, in the sense that I have never deliberately hidden a message or image in a piece of marketing. At the same time, I believe that all good marketing is subliminal marketing, in the sense that it operates at levels deeper than the forebrain.
Marketing that engages just the neocortex is unlikely to succeed. In the final analysis, I support science 100% – but I trust magic more.
”I believe in fairies, the myths, the dragons. It all exists.” -John Lennon
What if the marketers of your favorite soda (or jeans, or movie, or toilet paper) could read your mind? What if they mapped their advertising strategy to the neurons in your cerebral cortex?
Sound like science fiction? Maybe.
If you are attending the SXSW Interactive Festival this weekend, be sure to check out M! friend and former colleague Eric Kogleschatz duking it out with M!’s Gary Koepke on the topic of neuromarketing at the panel, Big Brother on Your Brain: Neuroscience and Marketing, taking place Saturday, March 13 at 11:00 a.m. at Hilton F.
Also participating in the panel are Dr. Danielle Stolzenberg, PhD, University of Virginia; Dr. A.K. Pradeep of NeuroFocus Inc.; and Roger Dooley, author of the blog Neuromarketing and also a Vice President – Digital Marketing at Hobsons.
What’s neuromarketing? That’s when corporations gather brain research to study how and why you buy what you buy, and of course, how you might be persuaded to buy more.
You could argue that it is quite simply the future of advertising and should replace focus groups, surveys, and other antiquated research tools.
Or you could argue that great creative work is more art than science, and what moves people emotionally will never be wholly scientific.
Or you could just watch the panel argue.
Hope to see you there.
…Kathryn Bigelow on her Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director for The Hurt Locker – and in doing so share this TV commercial she shot for Modernista! a few years back. Enjoy, it’s quite fun:
And congrats to producer Fisher Stevens and crew for their Best Documentary win for The Cove, distributed by Participant Media. Modernista! colleagues Nate Naylor and Geoff Lillemon did the titles for that one.
We New Englanders are a hearty bunch.
On the precipice of emerging from our winter hibernation here in Boston, we will soon be enjoying the delicious products from area farmer’s markets once again.
I am a huge proponent of supporting local businesses. For the past few years, I have been a member of The Food Project, a terrific CSA that engages local youth in personal and social change through sustainable agriculture. They distribute their products in local farmer’s markets, through weekly box shares, and to hunger relief programs.
The Food Project connects inner-city teens with their suburban counterparts, and their team-building activities instill meaning and purpose through farming, fresh food, and community service. The labor involved with cultivating local produce transfers energy into my cooking like nothing else. The final products are filled with nutrition and pride.
Every week, my weekly Food Project produce box was like a gift; an unknown variety of vegetables awaited pickup in Jamaica Plain. Potatoes, carrots, swiss chard, basil, haruki turnips, golden beets, arugula, brussels sprouts, red onions – each week was a surprise.
The most peculiar inclusion in the CSA bounty has been the garlic scape.
Two years ago, we received 2 or 3 garlic scapes one week. I didn’t even know what they were. I had to use Google to help identify them.
Last year? Different story. I received 17 of them in one weekly box.
What was I going to do with 17 garlic scapes, I thought?
I remember arranging all of my new, fresh produce on the counter, carefully scrubbing the New England soil from the root vegetables and soaking the leafy greens, finding a peculiar inspiration in the garlic scapes, as seen here.
Garlic Scape Face
I enjoyed cooking with the garlic scapes over the following weeks. Sautéed in butter, they made for a much milder garlic flavor in omelets and with chicken. But for a brief moment, their flowing curls, pointed ends, bumpy protrusions, and gentle color screamed Garlic Scape Face to me. Art finds inspiration in many forms.
Advertising supports the economy – and the economy, in the world commonly referred to as developed, involves getting stuff. The more stuff the better. The economy wants you to get stuff, and advertising cheers you on. Getting is the key concept here.
In 1497, Raimondo di Soncino, Milan’s envoy in London, wrote to his duke about explorer John Cabot’s return from New England. He said that according to Cabot,
The sea there is swarming with codfish which can be taken not only with the net but in baskets let down with a stone.
A little over 500 years later, New Englanders are well aware that the handful of cod remaining in Cape Cod Bay are shriveled, emaciated, pitiful creatures with large, saucer-like eyes emptied of all emotion by an unspeakable holocaust.
Clearly, all the getting required by our economy has not been particularly kind to New England cod. And as the global human population has tripled in a single generation, it’s now widely understood that all this getting has not been particularly good for our planet. Which is why, of course, most Americans felt encouraged when our new president began speaking of a New Economy rising on the rubble, waste, and trillion-odd cod-bones of the Old. A sustainable system he said, in which, at the very least, we replace what we use – an economy that involves not just getting but giving.
This is not a new idea. As Lewis Hyde points out in his book The Gift (1979), a number of societies (such as those of the Massim people of the western Pacific, and American Indian tribes of the U.S. Northwest) have based their economies on giving rather than getting. Societies in which wealth is measured by the amount of giving you do. Societies, in fact, in which mere getting is perceived as a form of death.
George Romero, the man who made the movie The Dawn of the Dead, set his film in a shopping mall near Pittsburgh; the parking lots and aisles of discount stores may be where the restless dead of a commodity civilization will tread out their numberless days.
As far back as 1996, some of the people who would one day come together at Modernista! began toying with an idea that they referred to as “Hopi Marketing.” They spoke of it half seriously, half ironically. What, they wondered, if advertising could actually involve giving, rather than getting? What would advertising in a gift economy look like? Would there be a “tag line”? Would there be “design”? Or would the ad itself, in effect, be a gift?
Or was the whole thing a non sequitur – a joke?
And for a decade, Hopi Marketing seemed just that: a joke. How could marketing be a gift? Marketing is for getting stuff! Marketing entices others to get stuff! Getting is the soul of the business, man! Forget about it.
But during that decade, things were changing. Al Gore and others demonstrated that our relentless pursuit of getting threatened to burn us alive. The Internet emerged, then social media, a virtual environment held together by not getting, but sharing. Not talking “at,” but talking “with.” Seeing this, marketing pundits envisioned a world in which gifts and marketing aren’t necessarily incompatible. (Enter “social object theory.”) And in 2008, Barack Obama began sharing a vision of a culture based on sustainable energy, ecological stewardship, and, in general, doing good. And a generation of young people looked around, didn’t like what they saw, and began trying to help out in droves – without getting anything in return.
In a Hopi world, giving is a circle. As long as a gift keeps moving, it delivers wealth. When it stops moving, it dies. I’m reminded of the tides of social exchange on the Web. I recall that word of mouth is the most effective form of marketing. I think of marketing as not persuading, or conditioning, but as social intercourse. And I wonder if a Hopi attitude toward life and commerce might be possible after all.
There is reason for hope. A typical female cod contains about 9 million eggs. In 1873, Alexandre Dumas, in his Grande Dictionnaire de cuisine, wrote the following:
It has been calculated that if no accident prevented the hatching of the eggs and each egg reached maturity, it would take only three years to fill the sea so that you could walk across the Atlantic dryshod on the backs of cod.
That was over 100 years ago. These days, it might take a bit longer to fill the Atlantic with cod. But not so long.