On Stock Footage

Quick Read: The ubiquitous stock footage that we see in most visual media around us can prove to be more influential than we can imagine.  

It all started with this video.

Tickets for the Fyre Festival were sold for up to $12,000 with promises of VIP chartered flights, luxury eco-friendly villas and gourmet food. The reality as it turned out over the last few days was very very different. And the Internet has been going crazy over this. (read here, here for more on this)

For me it’s the (above) video that fascinates the most. Composed of what looks like glamorous stock footage and some fancy copy (like, “..on the boundaries of the impossible..”) and made to look more like a video for a bikini fest than that for a music fest, it had all the clippings (pun intended) of an inflated bubble of pseudo reality.

Speaking of stock footage you should read this short poem by Kendra Eash called ..

This is a generic brand video. 

It begins with these lines..

We think first
Of vague words that are synonyms for progress
And pair them with footage of a high-speed train.

And goes on to poke fun at the stock language and footage that is often used by brands in their advertising campaigns.

The interesting thing is what Dissolve did with this poem.

With a stroke of marketing genius, Dissolve – a stock footage company went ahead and made a video of this poem using (surprise, surprise) its own stock footage and turned it into an ad for itself!

The result – work that is in equal parts parody and ad that went on to win the 2015 Shorty Award for Best in B2B. See the video here.

Extending this thought over the years, Dissolve brilliantly leveraged the US Presidential elections campaign and made This Is a Generic Presidential Campaign Ad on very similar lines. This again won them a Shorty Award for 2017.

Now with the ‘Fyre Festival Fiasco’ I really hope they go ahead and make a ‘This Is a Generic Music Festival Video Ad’.

Can stock footage say anything about us as a society? 

image-hack
Image_Hack, (Pic Source)

A lot, it turns out.

Mindshare in Denmark tapped into an insight around how the advertising industry has been perpetuating stereotypes around beauty over the years (knowingly or otherwise).

So they turned to one of the largest stock footage sites – Shutterstock and devised what they call as Image_Hack as an initiative for the Dove Real Beauty campaign.

Check out this video for more detail.

Though it arguably feels a bit ‘case study-isque’ (you know what I mean) it is definitely an insightful, novel and a refreshing approach to give more wings to the conversation around “Real Beauty”.

One stock photo at a time.

(Bonus Link: Speaking of stock footage, check out this new music video from Cassius, featuring Pharrell Williams and Cat Power. The amount of stock footage the director Alexandre Courtes went through to find all these corresponding split screen images must have been staggering!)

(Featured Image Source: Image_Hack, Photograher: Magnus Ekstrøm) 

Contextual Codes

Quick Read: Think Contextual Codes, not Category Codes. Sometimes it could make a massive difference. 

Fifty years ago, in the fictional world of Mad Men, Don Draper pitched a bold ad campaign to Heinz.

The ads showed close-ups of food that go great with ketchup— a cheeseburger, french fries, a slice of steak—but without any ketchup in sight.

The tagline: “Pass the Heinz.”

But the Heinz clients in the Mad Men episode called it “half an ad”. They wanted to see the bottle.

No wonder Don didn’t get the account.

But now, in March 2017, in a meta union of advertising’s real and fictional worlds, Heinz green lighted the ads.

The best thing: Heinz is slated to run these ads almost exactly as Draper intended, in print and in OOH executions in the New York City. Read more here.

Heinz OOH
Heinz, At 49th and 7th. NYC, Source

Regardless of the fact that these ads are part PR stunt, part on-brand communications, they have something great going for them.

What’s that?

For an insight into that, see any GoPro ad.

And ask the same question.

What do these GoPro Ads have going for them?

GoPro_1GoPro_2

 GoPro_5

My favorite is the following one. (big H/T to Rob Campbell for this one)

GoPro_3

As Rob raves about this ad in his post.

Look at it..Even if you’re not a skier, that photo makes you feel ‘in the action’. Literally in it.

You can feel the snow, the cold, the speed of the World rushing past you.

Then there’s that line, ‘Be A Hero’.

Now compare these GoPro ads to this one from Garmin for the same product category.

Garmin
Garmin, Source

Or this one from Nikon.

Nikon
Nikon, Source

These are all camera brands trying their hand at the “live action category”.

But seeing these, you could say that Garmin and Nikon have failed to understand a crucial distinction between a camera in the ‘live action category’ and that from the photographic category. Sure, they both involve a lens to capture the action, but fundamentally the rules, values and the culture around these categories are very different.

Quoting Rob again from another post,

GoPro’s success is not just because they were one of the first to exploit this market, but because they were part of the culture that created this market.

They understood these people. What they do. What they want. What they feel.

This knowledge influenced everything, from their positioning through to the style of advertising they created.

The fact  that Nikon’s (or Garmin’s) ads show an image that comes from the perspective of watching others do something, highlights how they have failed to understand the audience they are talking to.

So now my question again –  what do  these ads have going for them? 

The New Range Rover Velar’s ad is another case in point. 

(Agency: Spark44 . Directed by Chris Palmer of Gorgeous TV)

From the very first second of the ad you are living it.

Thanks to the brilliant sound design, you feel the jungle cruising by you and the night looming over you.

The car almost becomes your sensory vehicle for this experience.

Now, if you look at them all, don’t these great ads have one thing in common?

The Insight

Don Draper’s ‘Pass the Heinz’ creatives or GoPro’s ads or The New Range Rover Velar’s ad stand out because their executions are not about conforming to any of their respective ‘category codes’ but are about staying true to their respective ‘contextual codes’.

That’s perhaps why you don’t need to show the bottle.

As Don Draper said in his Heinz pitch..

“The greatest thing you have working for you is not the photo you take or the picture you paint. It’s the imagination of a consumer. They have no budget, they have no time limit. And if you can get into that space, your ad can run all day.”

(Featured Image: GoPro Ad)  

Willfull Wandering

Quick Read: A world fleeting by giga bytes per every nano second lends itself to the emergence of a paced down, nuanced and a deeper notion of travel as an experience  – of the body or the mind or the soul. 

Google ‘wandering’ and it says the following:

screen-shot-2017-02-26-at-2-38-34-pm

What if there were to be an aim for wandering?

Speaking of which, what if a sign post says ‘Please Trespass’.

That’s literally one of the unique joys of living in Sweden.

Called allemansrätten, or the Right of Public Access, it means as long as the land is not cultivated, and as long as no damage is caused, most of Sweden’s nature is yours to explore. This right of public access allows anyone to roam freely in the countryside, swim and travel by boat in someone else’s waters or even to camp or park a motor home on another person’s land.

Because it has existed for generations, allemansrätten is a part of the national identity of Sweden. School groups explore the forests from an early age and families often fish, pick berries or go for walks in the woods together.

No wonder, many people in Sweden can identify a surprising number of birds, fish and trees by name. (source)

What if we could all go to the woods to live deliberately. 

What if we willfully subject ourselves to the challenge of stillness and get away from the tyranny of the screens to appreciate solitude and seek inspiration from the nature?

Walden, a Game‘ is an upcoming video game that challenges the player with this very question. See its trailer here.

Inspired by Henry David Thoreau’s classic Walden, Tracy J. Fullerton, the director of the Game Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, came up with this idea of a video game as a way to reinforce our connection to the natural world and to challenge our hurried culture.

A game that has apparently been in development for nearly a decade, ‘Walden..” takes takes six hours to play. It starts in the summer and ends a year later — offering players tasks like building a cabin, planting beans or chatting  with Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Should you not leave sufficient time for contemplation, or work too hard, the game cautions: “Your inspiration has become low, but can be regained by reading, attending to sounds of life in the distance, enjoying solitude and interacting with visitors, animal and human.” (source)

Costing $19.99, the game is billed  as the world’s most improbable video game for obvious reasons. Nevertheless it signals the mainstream arrival of the phenomenon of people seeking a sense of calm, a modicum of mindfulness and a pinch of presence amidst a world fleeting by giga bytes per every nano second.

So let the world wait 

Perhaps as a reflection of such times that we live in today, we also have brands that have positioned themselves around this emerging need of the individual to seek these moments of peace and calm.

In its recent set of commercials, Black Dog encourages one to pause to unwind and relax. It asks one to take the time to savor all the things that truly matter – “because life is in the pause”.

In his recent annual book of ideas and insights titled Non Obvious-2017 edition, Rohit Bhargava references some interesting trends in this space (of ‘willful wandering’ and its adjacencies) to watch out for in 2017. He calls them “desperate detox”, “deep diving” and “mainstream mindfulness”. (check out his insightful commentary around these trends and much more in his must read book)

Putting it all together, the industry that is rife with disruption due to this trend is obviously travel. And an emerging category of travelers in this space is called the ‘Post Tourist’.

The Post Tourist

The term ‘post-tourist’ is commonly used to refer to a new breed of travellers, those who eschew common tourist hotspots and opt for a more unconventional experience, immersing themselves in local culture for an extended period of time.

No wonder,  Airbnb tells us “Don’t go there, live there”

As Rohit says in his book..

“In a world filled with quick burst experiences, the future of travel seems to be something more meaningful, far deeper, and involving much more willful wandering.” 

Given this, what’s my insight?

If travel is nothing but a state of mind, I have a feeling we are just fastening our seat belts before the category takes off.

A category called, willful wandering – of the body or the mind or the soul.

(Featured Image: From Walden, a Game)

The Overview Effect

Quick read: Overview Effect – a phenomenon from space travel can have some great creative parallels in the arts. 

There’s a strange phenomenon that happens to astronauts when they see Earth from space. Most astronauts describe this as a cognitive shift in awareness, a state of mental clarity or a sense of deep connection.

This state called the “overview effect,” occurs when you are flung so far away from Earth that you become totally overwhelmed and awed by the fragility and unity of life on our planet. It’s the uncanny sense of understanding the ‘big picture’ and a humbling appreciation of our infinitesimalness in comparison – all at the same time.

Recently, two creative technologists have created an oddly mesmerizing website that provides something approximating the ‘Overview Effect’ for the rest of us.

Check it out at astronaut.io

screen-shot-2017-01-30-at-5-31-47-pm
astronaut.io

Andrew Wong and James Thompson created an algorithm that picks YouTube videos fitting specific criteria: uploaded within the past week, with generic file names (IMG, MOV WMV) as titles, and zero views. And juxtaposed this seemingly endless stream of random videos against a view of our planet from low Earth orbit. (source)

The result is a fascinating glimpse at the mundane, perplexing, and oftentimes sweet events of everyday life juxtaposed against the monumental, mystical and often times sublime views of the planet earth.

The insight here could be about the possibilities that can be achieved w.r.t driving a shift in the viewers’ perspective when an object is made to interact with a meta object. E.g., what if a character in a story interacts with someone that typically exists in a dimension higher to that of the character, like the author? 

Let’s take two examples.

The Gunfighter

Think of an actor in a film as an object.

Now think of the narrator of this film. A narrator is conceptually meant to be at a degree higher in dimension or abstraction vs an actor in that film, in order for him to be able to narrate the story to us. Right?

But what if the actor in the film is made to interact with its narrator?

The result? See it for yourself here. The Gunfighter

Directed by Eric Kissack, The Gunfighter has won several awards across categories like best narrative, best short film, best comedy etc and was the official selection for various film festivals.

Old Mout Cider even commissioned him to shoot a film with the same narrative device for their ad. (see here)

The Museum’s Ghosts

This eponymous photography project by Andrés Wertheim is an experiment on similar lines.

the-museums-ghosts_andres-wertheim_munich11-adapt-1190-1
Photograph from The Museum’s Ghosts – Andrés Wertheim

The premise as stated by Andrés Wertheim is simple.

It is assumed that when people go to a museum, they carefully observe the paintings and sculptures and thoroughly read the explanatory panels.

But what if the characters portrayed in nearby paintings looked upon visitors while they aren’t paying attention, what unusual scenes would we find ?

Through double exposures made in camera, Andrés Wertheim merged in a single photoframe, both planes of the visible reality – the audience in a museum’s room and the portrayed characters on the same room’s walls – trying to create a dialogue between them.

The Museum’s Ghosts as a photography project, has also been featured in National Geographic for its creation of such surreal scenes that place art and its observers together in a new imagined dimension.

The bottomline

Whether it’s art walking off the walls to interact with the visitors of a museum, or the characters in a film being able to interact with its’ narrator, or a micro level human narrative getting juxtaposed against the macro level perspective of the planet earth, they all have one thing in common.

They are all examples of objects interacting with meta objects, compelling us to re-evaluate and reconsider our perspectives of the world within and around us – perhaps just like in the ‘Overview Effect’ as experienced by a space walker when looking back at our planet earth.

(Featured Image: Photos being shot from International Space station. Source)

Expressions and Insights

Quick Read: No matter what we do, we tend to express ourselves. And these expressions can lend themselves to interesting insights. 

A very popular class of Kenneth Goldsmith at the University of Pennsylvania is called “Uncreative Writing”.  As part of this course, students are forced to plagiarize, appropriate, and steal texts. In fact, they are said to be penalized for originality, sincerity, and creativity.

What does the course do?

As Kenneth elaborates ..

What they’ve been surreptitiously doing throughout their academic career—patchwriting, cutting-and-pasting, lifting—must now be done in the open, where they are accountable for their decisions.

Suddenly, new questions arise: What is it that I’m lifting? And why? What do my choices about what to appropriate tell me about myself? My emotions? My history? My biases and passions? The critiques turn toward formal improvement: Could I have swiped better material? Could my methods in constructing these texts have been better?

Not surprisingly, they thrive. What I’ve learned from these years in the classroom is that no matter what we do, we can’t help but express ourselves.

No matter what we do, he says (and I repeat), we cannot help but express ourselves. And this forms of expression if interpreted and analyzed could lend themselves for some valuable insights.

Let us take a few examples from the most unlikeliest of the sources of expression.

The link between crime and ink

People choose to draw stuff on their bodies because of what that specific tattoo means to them. With one of the hotbeds of tattooing being the American prisons, The Economist set about to investigate what inferences it could possibly draw about a life of crime from different types of tattoos.

mob
Source:  Robert Gumpert 

 

Their question: If people’s ethnicity and sex determines their tattoos, can the same be said of their types of crime?

Using data from the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) – a downloadable database featuring records for all the 100,000 inmates currently incarcerated in the Florida state prison system –  The Economist built a series of statistical models to predict the likelihood  of criminals committing specific crimes based on their demographic traits and choices of tattoos. (see table below)

crime-ink
Source: The Economist

For example, their  analysis had found that inmates convicted of property crimes and weapons-possession offences have the most tattoos, while sex offenders, particularly those convicted of paedophilia, tend to have the fewest. For a full commentary on this revealing analysis read the full article here.

One big insight based on this analysis is that tattoos tend to be supremely effective in predicting recidivism – the tendency of an ex convict to relapse into criminal behavior. (Of the inmates who have been re-incarcerated, 75% percent had tattoos!)

So non profits like Homeboy Industries – one of America’s largest gang rehabs – have free tattoo removal services. For, the act of removing tattoos reflects a genuine investment in ones change and thereby almost guarantees a step change in how you see yourself.

Bespoke fashion: an investment in self expression

Getting a pair of bespoke shoes is considered an epitome in luxury grooming for men.

One, because of its obscene cost. And two because it requires a considerable investment of time—typically, you fly off to Europe to get your feet measured and place the order (or the shoemaker flies in to your city), there may be two-three more visits for fittings, and then you wait anything from 9-12 months for the final shoe.

These connotations of luxury don’t still capture the essence of the bespoke fashion movement, until one begins to see it as an investment in self expression.

Bespoke, thereby, is a journey where you typically start with shirts, move to suits, and then some men take the logical next step to shoes as a final expression of their overall style and look. So next time you see someone with a bespoke suit you know where they are in their journey of self expression.

berluti-shoes
Source: Berluti, Mastery of Form

Now, given that there’s greater variety in women’s body shapes than men’s, one would expect a greater choice for women’s bespoke fashion. Interestingly it’s the other way round.

Cost is one challenge – more curves mean more measurements, more places a garment might need to be adjusted and more time getting the fit just right, making the whole process more expensive.

But the key challenge could be in being able to support for the underlying vocabulary of self expression dormant in women’s custom clothing. After all, bespoke fashion for women is an ocean of choice for personal expression that goes beyond just body fit, spanning attributes like apparel, color, fabric, style, occasion and perhaps even mood.

Now that’s one heavily under served segment in the super lucrative world of bespoke fashion –  if only one could demystify the method to the madness of the infinite variations of expressions that constitute women’s custom clothing.

Anyone that’s sartorially linguistic?

(Featured Image: Bespoke Shoes by Gieves and Hawkes)

Experiences Shaped

Quick Read: 3D replicas can make a killer demo of not just products but also experiences.   

Vincent van Gogh’s bedroom in Arles, France is arguably the most famous bedroom in the history of art.

It also held special significance for the artist, who created three distinct paintings of this intimate space from 1888 to 1889.

(Van Gogh’s Bedroom Painting, Source)

Earlier this year, the Art Institute of Chicago was to throw open an exhibition called Van Gogh’s Bedrooms containing 36 of his works including paintings, drawings, illustrated letters as well as a selection of books and other ephemera known to have been in his possession.

As part of the promotional campaign for this exhibit, the institute did something innovative.

It recreated his famous bedroom in Chicago’s River North neighborhood and threw it open for rent on Airbnb.

Result: the first block of nights sold out in 5 mins on Airbnb. It helped generate massive buzz about the exhibition that saw 200,000+ visitors in just a few weeks making it the highest attended exhibit in 15 years.

See this video for a sneak view into this initiative.

Commissioning 3D replicas to drive awareness and trial of a product is nothing new. Examples like the above show that they can also make for a killer demo in the realm of experience marketing.

For these are professional grade art works at the intersection of consumer psychology, complex 3D modeling, con art and story telling.

Or take the world of shokuhin samples – the hypnotic world of fake Japanese food. 

In Japan, fake food can look very, very real. It’s called “shokuhin sample” (食品サンプル) or “food sample”, and it appears outside restaurants so customers can know what they are ordering.

And it is a damn big deal.

Shokuhin samples have become such an intricate part of the Japanese dining experience that many people stop in front of glass cases filled with fake food, decide what they want, and then enter the restaurant. Some Japanese even complain about the lack of fake food when dinning abroad—that they don’t get to see what they are ordering beforehand!

shokuhin-sample
Shokuhin Sample (Source)

Most shokuhin samples are still hand made by highly skilled artisans whose painstaking craft – honed over several years of training – results in textures and colors that are so precise that it’s often difficult to tell real food from the samples.

Today shokuhin sample manufacturers fiercely guard their trade secrets as business is lucrative; the plastic food industry in Japan, by conservative estimates, has revenues of over 10 billion yen per year.

Unsurprisingly there are also stores that sell this fake food. Ganso Shokuhin Sample-ya  is one such shrine dedicated to all things fake food. It has been producing plastic replicas for display in restaurant windows since 1932, but in recent years it’s even wisened up to the tourist trade by selling fake food keyrings, magnets and phone straps as souvenirs.

640px-food_samples_1
Shokuhin samples in a restaurant, source

Journalist Yasunobu Nose has a theory that links the plastic replicas to the visual aesthetic of Japanese food appreciation. In his book titled “Me de taberu Nihonjin (Japanese People Eat With Their Eyes),” Nose writes that food samples are part of the Japanese tendency to “first ‘taste’ dishes by sight, then eat with their mouths and stomachs.” (source)

With such a strong visual aesthetic underpinning the Japanese way of food appreciation, it would be a massive opportunity lost if the food brands (all kinds from ingredient brands to ready to eat brands) in the Japanese supermarkets do not leverage the power of shokuhin samples in their visual merchandising on the shelves.

After all, this is serious performance art that seeks expressiveness of deliciousness and a sincere pursuit of reality as its objectives. While being rooted in local culture.

Can you think of any other multi sensory experiences that can be brought to life with the help of 3D replicas?

Other than sex dolls, I mean 🙂

(Featured Image:  Van Gogh’s bedroom replica as listed on Airbnb)

Time Travel Democratised

Quick Read: Time travel, branding and public sentiment indices could have a lot in common. To know more, just ask Zlaty Bazant (the Slovak beer) for a test drive to the 1970s. 

Here’s an exercise. Think of any science fiction story. Anything.

Now take a few seconds and reflect on its theme.

Chances are that its theme might not be the future. You would notice that the genre uses the future only as a canvas on which to imprint its real concerns—the present.

The insight: Counterintuitively, time travel stories are often those tales that are most anchored in the present.

Similarly, stories that transport you to the past do so only to provide the necessary distancing effect for the narrative to be able to metaphorically address the most pressing concerns of the here and now – the present.

This has an interesting corollary for brands.

Na zdravie, Slovensko (“Cheers, Slovakia!”)

Central and eastern European countries faced the scourge of communism for most part of the last century. So it’s only natural to expect that the people in these countries would not want to be reminded of those darker times.

Yet, a curious trend seems to be suggesting the contrary in recent times.

Retro is seriously back with a bang.

  • Polish hipsters are lapping up retro furniture of the Jaruzelski era.
  • Lidl stores (the German supermarket chain) in Czech Republic have sales of imitation communist products in their now popular “Retro Week” promotions
  • Even the communist era beers are getting resurrected across the region

(Retro Products at Lidl. Source)

As The Economist article frames it, communist nostalgia is not new, but it does seem to be having a new wave of resurgence. While this makes some sense in Russia, which ruled the empire, it is puzzling to understand its relevance among the central and eastern Europeans whom the Soviets ground under their boots.

And to frame this irony even more acutely, this affection for the socialist era products seems embodied even in the consumer products that are marketed by Western multinationals!

For example, in May this year a Heineken-owned Slovak brewery, Zlaty Bazant, introduced a premium version of its beer based on a 1973 recipe, priced 20% higher than its standard line up. Even its slogan Na zdravie, Slovensko! (“Cheers, Slovakia!”) vaunts its local roots as opposed to typical beer marketing themes that emphasize Europeanness and modernity.

zlaty-bazant
Zlaty Bazant Ad. Source

Yet, this doesn’t necessarily reflect a desire of these people to return to the pre-1989 era. That’s where it becomes a bit complicated (in terms of their relationship with these brands).

The insight here: As Ivan Klima, a Czech novelist, puts it, “nobody is nostalgic for the communist era, but many people are nostalgic for their youth”.

Why?

Most people in the region are believed to be discouraged about the future.

In fact according to the recent Eurobarometer survey, just 30% of Slovaks and 26% of Czechs have a positive view of the European Union. Poland and Hungary are more pro-European, but have elected governments determined to check the power of Brussels. (source)

And these themes of insecurity and pessimism in the current socio political context manifest among the central and eastern Europeans as an inexplicable longing for brands of the bygone communist era. As if returning to these good old things could bring about a sense of security and stability amidst the slipping sands of the current times.

So if a Serb is seen enjoying a 1973 communist era quaff like the Zlaty Bazant, he is perhaps not so much contemplating nationalizing the auto industry as he is struggling with his attempts to reconcile with his current times.

Almost like the fascination with that time travel story to the past that is fueled by the strifes of the current times.

This could have interesting implications on brand building.

Public sentiment index (or their proxies) can perhaps be a lighthouse for brand builders. If the sentiment is low for a prolonged period of time in a market, brand builders there could perhaps do well to dust the grime off legacy brands and shine a light on them.

And may be even charge a premium for the same, as it is after all time travel, only packaged in a little bottle.

(Featured Image: Zlaty Bazant saying “Merry Christmas, Slovakia!”)

Repeat After Me

Quick Read: Some deep seated cultural values that we project on to our children are in need of a massive over haul. Nike and Dove have brilliantly brought this to life in their recent campaigns. 

Handwriting just doesn’t matter.

Or does it?

For a long time it was believed that cursive writing identifies us as much as our physical features do, revealing something unique and distinctive about our inner being.

But over a century, the focus on cursive handwriting in schools actually ended up achieving the opposite. Mastering it was dull, repetitive work, intended to make every student’s handwriting match a pre-defined standard.

In fact in the 19th century America, students were reportedly taught to become “writing machines”, holding their arms and shoulders in awkward poses for hours to get into shape for writing drills.

Or take this Lego ad from 1981. See anything unusual here? 

1981+Lego+Ad

(What it is is beautiful. Source |HT Seth Godin “Stop Stealing Dreams“)

Those were the days when LEGO blocks were sold by the “bucket” with blocks of different sizes and colors thrown in together and labelled “Universal Building Sets”.

This approach celebrated a child’s creativity regardless of what she has created. As the ad copy above goes on to say..

“…how proud it’s made her. It’s a look you’ll see whenever children build something all by themselves. No matter what they’ve created”

Sadly this approach didn’t sell a lot of LEGO blocks presumably because it required too much risk on the part of parents and kids—the risk of making something that wasn’t perfect or expected.

So what did LEGO do?

They switched from these all purpose “Universal Building Sets” to a lineup that included more of predefined kits – models that must be assembled precisely one way, or they’re wrong.

Why would these pre-defined kits of LEGO blocks sell so many more copies? As Seth Godin says, it is because they match what parents expect and what kids have been trained to do.

Lego Products Page

(The LEGO products page today, with a disproportionate focus on predefined kits)

These discourses on cursive handwriting or LEGO are metaphors of what’s happening with schools around. 

By the turn of the 19th century, the biggest challenges of our newly minted industrial economy were two fold.

  1. finding enough compliant workers and
  2. finding enough eager customers

The school system – that most of us would have been brought up under – evidently solved both problems.

But the world around has changed into a culture that celebrates ideals like ingenuity, connection, ideas, courage and risk Vs one that only promoted values like conformity, obedience and risk aversion.

Sadly our schooling system has changed little from that originally envisaged for a completely different era. (More in Seth Godin’s must read manifesto ‘Stop Stealing Dreams – What is school for?’)

So a scene with a class full of students repeating ad nauseam after their teacher, rhymes or lessons that only serve the purpose of further perpetuating outdated or worse still outlandish values against today’s realities is certain to provoke anger and perhaps even instigate an active change in our world view. 

Two brands have recently used this very scene, to demonstrate how deeply we have tried to graft our misplaced conceptions of ideas around individualism and beauty in our children.

Nike’s Minohodoshirazu

Earlier this month, Nike Japan  launched a new campaign with a spot that redefines the phrase ‘Minohodoshirazu’, which translates to “Don’t know your place.” While the term is typically used as an insult towards the overly ambitious, the anthem ad tells viewers that not knowing your place can instead be a mindset for athletes to strive for. (source)

Created by W+K Tokyo and directed by Omri Cohen, the ad manages to contrast the values being embedded in children with shots of athletic achievements that run counter to these messages of compliance and obedience. Video here.

Dove’s Is That You? 

The famous nursery rhyme ‘Chubby Cheeks, Rosy Lips…’ is used as the background score for this video created by Culture Machine (and subsequently pitched to Dove).

The rhyme and the contrasting visuals make you wonder if this is how we have sought to institutionalize a misguided set of beauty ideals in generation after generation of young girls, every single year. Video here.

It is always interesting to see different brands, different agencies from different parts of the world adopt a similar executional approach to land their respective ideas.

(Featured Image: Source)

Isomorphism

Quick Read: Cooking up amazing food and language translation could have something in common. Isomorphism. 

Chef David Chang – the famed American restaurateur who owns the Momofuku restaurant group shares a great insight on what characterises amazing food.

When you eat something amazing, you don’t just respond to the dish in front of you; you are almost always transported back to another moment in your life.

He believes that food – like fragrances – has a set of ‘base patterns’ that people inherently respond to. So, as long as you can string together the required base patterns of any given dish- no matter what the ingredients are – you are sorted.

So the formula for a hit, according to him, is to strip a dish down to its component flavours,  and re-compose the dish bottom up, by staying true to its constituent set of base patterns albeit with unexpected ingredients.

Think of it like making Bolognese, the Italian meat sauce but by using only Korean ingredients. (He calls it Spicy Pork Sausage & Rice Cakes, and when most people taste it, it reminds them—even on a subconscious level—of a spicier version of Bolognese.)

And that’s what makes his dishes the smash hits that they are.

He calls it his Unified Theory of Deliciousness. 

UTD_WIRED

(Source: WIRED, August 2016)

Featured as the cover story in this August edition of WIRED, David Chang’s give away is his insight into base patterns and how they constitute the building blocks of any given dish from around the world.

He draws parallels to the concept of isomorphisms – concepts that can be expressed in different ways while retaining their core form.

That’s how I feel about food. Different cultures may use different media to express those base patterns—with different ingredients, for instance, depending on what’s available. But they are, at heart, doing the exact same thing.

They are fundamentally playing the same music. And if you can recognise that music, you’ll blow people’s minds with a paradox they can taste: the new and the familiar woven together in a strange loop.

Now think of the concept of isomorphism for a moment.

It occurs to me that languages are perhaps the best examples of isomorphism.

Different cultures may use different expressions to communicate their ‘base patterns’—with different words, phrases and idioms, depending on what their language is. But they are, at heart, doing the exact same thing.

So a software that powers a good language translator has to be able to strip down a sentence according to it’s language’s base patterns and be able to construct them back in the other language for the user to be able to appreciate the original meaning.

Almost like how David Chang believes his hit dishes should be made of.

(Incidentally, Google Translate paired up with some amazing food earlier this year.

In April Google opened Small World, a curious pop-up restaurant in NYC with celebrity chefs like Danny Bowien, Eina Admony and JJ Johnson.

But, there was one catch: diners could only order their food using Google Translate. This recent video captures the essence of the campaign.

This short film documenting the restaurant’s run, “#EveryoneSpeaksFood,” was directed by Josh Nussbaum.)

(Featured Image: Momofuku Ssam Bar’s Spicy Pork Sausage & Rice Cakes – the spicier version of Bolognese made from all Korean ingredients)

 

Visceral Targeting

Quick Read: We love ourselves so much that even the Mona Lisa could use our face to appear more engaging to us. No, seriously! But does that tell us something about the future of advertising? 

You stand in front of the Mona Lisa, only this version is around three times the size of the original and has a blue sphere on a shelf that juts out from the painting.

In the blue sphere – called the Gazing Ball – you see a reflection of yourself naturally juxtaposed against the Mona Lisa.

As part of this exhibition, Jeff Koons has taken 35 masterpieces, had them repainted in oil on canvas, added a little shelf, painted as if it had sprouted directly from the image and added the Gazing Ball on top of that.

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(Jeff Koons with the Gazing Ball (da Vinci Mona Lisa).Photograph: Fruity MacGuinty)

Presenting his artworks, Koons (fancily) says that while the gazing ball “represents the vastness of the universe and at the same time the intimacy of right here, right now, this experience is about you, your desires, your interests, your participation, your relationship with this image.”

Now, is the joke here on us or is it on Leonardo da Vinci that even in the master piece we have to be able to see ourselves in order to evince a higher level of curiosity and appreciation- the heady mix that all artists crave for?

Pop-culture has become more narcissistic in recent decades. And we, being the most narcissistic species on the planet, obviously help perpetuate the trend even further.

The Doppelgänger Effect

Popular wisdom tells us that opposites attract. But as this post suggests, all we need to do is just take a look around us and bear witness to the thousands of couple twins, boyfriend twinscelebrity couple lookalikes and even facial recognition dating sites, and we’ll start to realize that what we might be most attracted to is, well, ourselves.

Today there is mounting scientific evidence to prove that we are friendlier to people who look like us.

And this has interesting ramifications on advertising. 

One knows that it’s easy to algorithmically construct an ‘average face’ – a composite image that averages the faces of any given sample of people.

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(Image Source: Averageness – wikipedia)

(In fact earlier this year, Benetton used this approach to algorithmically construct a ‘Face of the City‘ for each of 6 global capitals in order to celebrate their status as a melting pot of various races and cultures. Video here.)

In the same way one can construct a composite morph using weighted average of individual faces. For example, the ‘Tiger Morph’ below is a weighted average of a stock model face and that of Tiger Woods.

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(Image Source: Personalized Face Composites for Implicitly Targeted Marketing)

Using similar means what if a social network were to subtly blend our profile picture  – almost on the fly- with that of a brand’s spokesmodel to make online ads more attractive?

Would these ‘Personalized Face Composites’ be more credible as spokesmodels in the ads?

And would such ads be more effective in increasing our purchase intent?

And let’s not even get started on user privacy. (Yes, I am looking at you Facebook!)

Welcome to the world of visceral targeting.

(H/T Austin Kleon: Jeff Koons Gazing Ball. H/T Rosie & Faris: The Doppelgänger Effect)

(Featured Image: United Colors of Benetton – Face of the City campaign )