The Stranger Self

Quick Read: Our future selves are strangers to us. For any brand marketer that wants to drive a habit change among people, this could be a million dollar insight.  

What advise would you give your younger self? 

That’s a common question Tim Ferriss asks his interviewees in The Tim Ferriss Show.

The answers are always wise, instructive and helpful. As they ought to be. For the exercise of looking back and reflecting upon one’s journey so far, tends to be a highly visual and (thereby) a pretty straightforward affair in our minds.

Brands like Tine – a Norwegian Dairy brand – have even used it as a construct to tell one of their stories. (more on this in my older blog post)

The idea of looking into a younger version of oneself was also the central theme of a fascinating photography project called Reflections by Tom Hussey.

Each photograph features a person looking into a mirror and seeing a reflection of his/her significantly younger self. Result – a powerful and a poignant means to communicate the story of someone whose mind has gotten stripped of its more recent memories.

Novartis – the pharma giant, used these photographs towards a campaign for their Exelon Patch – a prescription medicine for Alzheimer’s. (more here)

(Photographs by Tom Hussey as part of his Reflections series)

Now let us try flipping the scenario.

Let us try envisioning our future selves.

Think about it for a moment. Is it as easy as envisioning our past selves?

The answer tends to be in the negative. Well, mostly.

Many studies establish our biological truth that one’s future self is a stranger within each of us. For example, Jason Mitchell – Professor of Psychology at Harvard –  has found that when we picture ourselves experiencing something pleasurable a year from now, many of us use the brain areas involved in imagining a stranger.

Biju Dominic’s latest piece is on this very insight and what it could mean for us as a society.

He says that it is this lack of relationship between our present self and our future self that is at the core of many of our behavioural problems — from not saving enough for our retirement to unhealthy lifestyle practices and many more.

This is such a compelling insight that I am tempted to go out on a limb and wager that this lack of a more intuitive relationship between our present and our future selves could actually be the key to solving for classic marketing challenges like low levels of penetration prevalent across several future focussed categories like BFSI (Mutual Funds, Insurance) or Beauty (Anti Ageing) or other FMCG categories (like Oats, Sugar free F&B variants) etc.

The solution to this lies in getting our present self to be more aware of, relate to and empathise with our future self.

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Pic Source

But that’s the challenge.

It is known that the feeling of empathy between two persons diminishes as the physical and temporal distance between them increases. So how do we get our present selves to build empathy with a self that is 20 or 30 years ahead in future?

Now that could be a great problem worth solving for, with creative possibilities in marketing communications.

Biju Dominic’s article even provides thought starters for possible approaches. He writes..

Hal Hershfield, a social psychologist at UCLA Anderson found that people who spend a few minutes getting acquainted with a computer-generated simulation of what they might look like in the future were motivated to make better decisions about retirement planning.

Now that’s a spring board of an idea – using computer generated simulation to show what one might look like in the future.

Now hold on to that thought and juxtapose that with this famous Dove Sketches execution.

Do you also see the possibilities that I see?

(Featured Image: The Old Man in the Mirror by Vergyl)

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) 

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)