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)  

Marketing Nostalgia – Retro Innovation

The first thing you notice about Paperman – an Academy Award nominee for Best Animated Short Film (2012) –  is how different it seems from most modern cartoons.

paperman_title

See the full 6mins version here. It has a distinct retro black & white look not just because it is a story based out of 1940s Manhattan, but also because it clearly feels like as if real people have drawn it  it on a piece of paper as opposed to say – like machines creating it on computers.  The result of Disney’s new in-house software called Meander, it seamlessly  blends the best of ‘hand drawn cartoon kinda’ look with CGI animation in a way the animation industry has never seen before; a game changing animation style so distinctive, innovative and beautiful that WIRED magazine even bills it as the future of animation as a whole!

This can be called out as an example of a unique kind of innovation – new technologies, new products or experiences that are designed around connecting us with the past that is nostalgic. Something that  calls as Retro Innovation.  In this FastCompany article he writes that Retro Innovations roughly fall into three categories:

  1. Innovations that authentically mimic a product or experience of the past to transport the user back into a gone era.
  2. Innovations that use a nostalgic format to meet a new need.
  3. Innovations that use a new format to meet an old need.

Read the whole article here and get a dose of some 10 emerging examples of Retro Innovations. My favorite example is Moleskine, regarding which he says..

The Italian paper notebook maker MDleskine, whose recent IPO was valued at more than $600 million, is a stunning anachronism in a business environment that glorifies tech startups and digital business models.

There are reams of case studies out there that extol the brilliance of Moleskine’s branding. But the best example of its retro innovation is its Moleskine Evernote Smart Notebook that bridges the digital and the analog world.

The key insight on which most successful retro innovations thrive on is brilliantly articulated in this Washington Post article that says..

With the rise in computing power, there has been an acceleration of the rate in which we build on new information technologies, leaving us clutching awkwardly for things we recognize from the past. The pace of change at times seems so overwhelming that it’s no wonder that sometimes we want to be transported back to an earlier era.

Think about this insight and you could possibly have explanations for things like:

  • The emergence of  a ‘modern retro’ trend in the  retro gaming culture.
  • The popularity of Mad Men – the only basic cable series to win Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series besides 14 other Emmys and 4 Golden Globes. (source)
  • Brands like Adidas and Puma having a dedicated innovation pipeline specially meant for their retro line ups: Adidas Originals and Puma Classics. In fact by many accounts, Adidas Originals can be considered to be a top of the pyramid brand in terms of their positioning and price points. Besides, the corporate logo of Adidas is distinctive from that of Adidas Originals recognizing the unique appeal and potential of this retro innovation line up from the sports brand.
  • The popularity of classics that are remastered to the new digital world – Jurassic Park 3D anyone?

And  in extreme case it might possibly even explain the rationale behind the existence of Skeuomorps – which might be a different discussion altogether!

While the jury is still out to argue whether the ‘retro trend’ actually cripples innovation, a few venture capitalists do concede that  retro innovation is indeed the most lucrative kind. After all, if innovations are about elevating and enriching human experiences, there would always be a market that values a more traditional notion of this experience and that’s where Retro Innovations kick in.

What other examples of Retro Innovations can you think of?