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)

Fata Morgana

Quick Read: What do you call an ad that brilliantly grabs our attention – by its balls? Not the ones that are made to work like click baits,  but those made to create a meaningful and an impactful closure. 

Fata Morgana

This picture recently shot by one Mr. Nick O’Donoghue at 30,000 ft from a plane has been doing the rounds on the Internet this week. (source)

Seeming to be featuring what looked like some huge robot walking along the clouds, these pictures got Reddit rife with juicy speculations.

An alien? An Iron Giant? Some astronaut?

Well the suspense seemed to have been solved.

Weather experts say that the phenomenon can be explained by what is called as Fata Morgana – a specific kind of mirage. (some cool explanation here)

No wonder, throughout history few phenomena have both fascinated and scared the hell out of sailors, saints, warriors and vacationers alike as it did.

But Fata Morgana is great because of what it quintessentially succeeds at.

Over centuries every Fata Morgana has attracted our attention, invoked curiosity, set our mental models in search of narratives that could explain it, and sent us on a great deal of wild goose chase.

But all Fata Morganas have one thing in common. They all made complete sense once the underlying logic and rationale were brought to bear.

In modern marketing terms..

..Fata Morgana is like an ad that brilliantly grabs our attention – by its balls. But not like those click baits, or those that come with some cheap attention grabbing visuals or effects.

These are stories ensconced in narratives that are deliberately layered to challenge our conventional expectations and shake up our notions of rationality. Yet when the closure arrives, these make eminent sense and leave an indelible impact in our minds.

Let’s take Abby Wambach

The 35-year-old superstar is said to be one of the greatest soccer players to ever step on the field. Besides leading her team to World Cup victory, she also won two Olympic gold medals, became the world’s all-time leading goal scorer (man or woman), and was recognized as one of TIME’s 100 in 2015.

On 16 December 2015 she played her final game in New Orleans.

And on 16 December 2015 when she took the field for the last time, Gatorade released this commercial.

Her message? “Forget Me

(Agency: TBWA\Chiat\Day)

Updated: Kobe Bryant seems join a similar discourse saying Hate Me for Nike.

(Agency: W+K)

(Featured Image: Fata Morgana.Louise Murray/Visuals Unlimited/Getty Images. Source)

Story Tellers, Super Powers And Second Lives

Quick Read: For the first time in the history of story telling we seem to be having the means to explore the dimensions of *actual* time and space in building narratives. Story telling might just be at an inflection point.

Andrew Stanton while talking about The Clues to a Great Story quotes an incredibly insightful definition of what constitites drama.

Drama is anticipation mingled with uncertainty.” 

Now, while keeping the uncertainty element constant, what if you can build anticipation at the rate of actual human experience?

Wouldn’t the drama get amplified?

Let’s elaborate.

World’s Most Boring Television 

Stick a camera to an ordinary train on an ordinary day. Shoot the entire 7 hr + footage of this ordinary journey as the train pulls from station to station, and put it on national TV with almost no editing.

Sounds like the most boring television show in the history of mankind. Right?

Wrong.

The results of this Norwegian TV show were extra-ordinary, fascinating and even bizarely insightful.

Welcome to the world of ‘Slow TV‘.

What began as a pilot by the Norwegian TV producer Thomas Hellum and his team turned out to become a national phenomenon leading to more shows such as an 18 hour fishing expedition, a 5.5 day ferry voyage along the coast of Norway and many more.

These went on to receive extensive attention in global media, and were considered a great success with coverage numbers exceeding all expectations and record ratings for the NRK2 channel!

But why were these ostensibly boring shows so popular?

To paraphrase Thomas Hellum from the following must watch TED Talk..

Slow TV is so popular because it builds drama by letting the viewer make the story themeslves. 

In otherwords Slow TV is an amazing example of a narrative that rides on building anticipation at the rate of actual human experience in time.

Not to be left behind, the advertising/marketing world has also begun to experiment with the concept.

Virgin America has produced a six-hour-long commercial (!) about how unbearably dull the average plane ride is. The video shows passengers on a flight across the US, playing out its events in real time.

And it has clocked around 850K views till date!

Now moving over to the other dimension.

A New Photographic Language Is Born 

..so says dronestagram – an instagram for footage shot with dones. We even have drone film festivals celebrating the art of films shot with drones.

Meanwhile, YouTube this year has begun supporting 360 degree videos.  And we already see several brands experimenting with this format to create truly amazing ads like the one below by Nike that lets you be Neymar on the field as you check out the action in all its 360 degree glory.

And then you have the likes of Oculus and Google Cardboard pushing the envelope in bringing immersive VR experiences to life. The Economist in its recent feature has in fact taken a serious take on VR and believes that its time may have truly come.

This year the Tribeca Film Festival has even called for ‘virtual reality’ submissions.

So why are we raving about films shot with drones, 360 degree videos and VR experiences?

It is possibly because they all have one thing in common.

Thanks to these, for the first time ever, we see possibilities in constructing narratives that can build anticipation at the rate of actual human experience in space

So what’s next?

From Story Telling To Crafting Experiences To Creating Parallel Lives

As story tellers build increasingly immersive narratives that progress at the rate of actual human expereince in time and space, it ceases being just a story and moves on to becoming an experience.

Now throw in sensory elements to this and you suddently have multi dimensional multi sensory experiences that could possibly shift the business of story telling to that of building parallel realms of existence.

What does that mean?

I don’t know.

But at the least it could herald a second life for the likes of Second Life.

(Featured Image, Source)

Food Is Food Is Food. Or Is It?

Quick Read: Good design can drive a price premium –  and this adage could hold good even in a category like perishables. 

Have you heard of flour by Prada, infant formula by Chanel, coffee by Cartier,  fruits by Nike and pasta by Ferrari?

coffee1

(Source: Peddy Mergui: Wheat is Wheat is Wheat)

Well they do ineed exist. Albeit as exhibits by Peddy Mergui under his series titled Wheat is Wheat is Wheat. These funny and provocative exhibits challenge our notions of branding and perception by casting them against a category like perishables/food.

Eggs by Versace anyone?

Let’s drop brand names for a moment and see how else can a product possibly command a price premium. We know tons of examples across different categories where design has helped a product command a premium.

Now, could design play a prominent role in commanding a premium within a category such as perishables? These two examples prove this point.

1. Whole Foods: 

When it comes to applying design for selling something as commoditised as veggies, there’s only one name. Whole Foods.

Avinash Kaushik recently posted this picture and the following lines regarding what he found at a Whole Foods store.

Avinash Kaushik Whole Foods

(Source: Avinask Kaushik)

“Do we shop at Whole Foods simply because the produce is so exquisitely displayed? And we pay a premium?

I think there is something to that. Look at it! Everything so perfectly symmetrical and lovely. There was a sprinkling of mist on all the veggies, drawing out the color and freshness.

For an engineer, me, all this organization definitely had an impact. It looks good, it shows people care deeply about the food, they went into extra trouble, it must be all good (and it was!).

What a great way to get someone to pay a premium.”

His lines encapsulate everything in this context.

2. Nuna Ice – Cream:

Billed by PSFK as a molecular-gastronomy popsicle that is set to take next summer by storm, Nuna is a design innovation in ice-cream born at the intersection of disciplines such as architecture, design and science.

Nuna(Source: Nuna)

According to it’s spokesperson, the Nuna Popsicle is design innovation in a crystal/pyramid shape, and stands for the ultimate refreshment that reflects the sensation of ice crystals bursting on the tongue while causing a unique and intense tingling in the mouth.

While it is expected to have a soft launch in art openings, fashion shows and music festivals during 2015, Nuna – which got its name trademarked recently – is expected to contract with a major manufacturer soon. (source)

Now that’s form following taste!

(Featured Image: Tiffany & Co Yogurt byPeddy Mergui)

When Sub Cultures Influence Brands

Quick Read: There are several fascinating Sub Cultures and Urban Tribes around the world that could give us insights and compelling perspectives into consumer behaviour by way of their unique shared values and behaviours. In each such instance they exemplify how anthropology can influence advertising and vice versa. The Floggers in Argentina and The Sapeurs in Congo are two cases in point.

As a Youth sub culture, THE FLOGGERS originated in Argentina at the end of 2004 and have become popular through their unique fashion and went on to popularise the concept of picture sharing via photo blogs.

Essentially the floggers have two key characteristics:

  • They are dressed up in unique style: Floggers wear bright coloured unisex clothing – commonly tight trousers , V-neck T-shirts and canvas trainers and have dyed hair with long emo side fringes which cover their eyes and lip piercings. They have even developed a particular way of dancing to electro/techno music called Electro. 
  • They share their pics on Fotologs: Floggers take photos of themselves and friends and post them on photo blogs. Among FloggersFotolog.com is one such popular platform and lists more than 5.5 million users in Argentina, which is one of the two biggest markets for the site (Chile is the other). Here users comment on one another’s photos. The more comments, the more famous the flogger. (source)

floggers09(Flogging Frenzy, Source –  The Argentina Independent)

As a sub culture, if you come to think of it, the Floggers represent an interesting niche that are at the intersection of fashion, photography, social media, music and dance. Elite members of such a unique urban tribe naturally become trend setters in fashion and are the de facto voice of their generation cutting across class, creed and hierarchy.

Augustina Vivero a.ka. Cumbio is one such Flogger. She has a fotolog site that is said to be the most viewed Internet sites in Argentina logging 36 million visits in a single year alone! She is known to be the most popular and by many accounts the most influential flogger in the world and by age 17 has catapulted herself to stardom and unexpected affluence by transforming her Internet fame into marketing muscle –  signing modeling contracts, promoting dance clubs and writing a book about her life. (source)

Not surprisingly Nike enlisted her for a three month campaign including a giant sneaker-shaped slide that the floggers could slide down while posing for pictures.

cumbio(Agustina Vivero a.k.a Cumbio holding a NIKE poster featuring her, Source)

 Active members of sub cultures like the Floggers being ‘extreme users’, make for a rich minefield of emerging trends, attitudes, values and vibes of a whole generational cohort for the marketers. Thus they make for an interesting case study on how Anthropology influences Advertising (and arguably vice versa).

The Gentlemen of Bacongo

Take the Sapeurs – one of the world’s most exclusive fashion clubs in a city that you least expect – Congo.

SAPE – which loosely translates to The Society of The Elegant Persons of Congo – are a group of people whose life is not defined by occupation or wealth, but by respect, a moral code and an inspirational display of flair and creativity by way of their stylish dressing.

SAPE(Of Style and Swagger – The Sapeur. Picture by Daniele Tamagni. Also a cover page of his book)

In the words of Hector Mediavilla – who photographed the Sapeurs in his outstanding project, the SAPE can be considered to be the most interesting anthropological phenomenon for several reasonsDespite being surrounded by poverty and civil war the Sapeurs:

  • Dream on and survive the harsh reality.
  • Bring joy to those around them by way of their clothing and
  • Are required at funerals, parties and other celebrations to bring a touch of stylishness to these events.

Essentially, while everybody knows their elegance is just a façade but nevertheless, they perform an important social function for their fellow citizens. And in journalist Tom Downey’s words “when men dress as Sapeurs they become different people. Their gait, their gestures, and their manner of speaking are all transformed. The clothes are the gateway into a whole other way of being in the world.”

No wonder, the Sapeurs have inspired some fascinating photography projectsbooks and even music videos. More recently Guinness has brilliantly weaved the sartorial sub culture of the Sapeurs into their latest campaign, as part of which they enlisted Hector Mediavilla to shoot an inspiring documentary and a TVC.

Don’t miss this 5 mins documentary and the TV Spot.

Sapeurs Documentary

Guinness Sapeurs TV Ad, Agency AMV, BBDO London

For me, the connect between Guinness as a brand and Sapeurs as a spirit is a creative masterstroke truly befitting the flair and the flamboyance of ‘The SAPE Spirit’.

Do you know of any other marketing initiative that has sought to tap into a sub culture or an urban tribe

(Featured Image:  Sapeurs of Congo, Hector Mediavilla, Source.)

2 Executions, 5 Years Of Life

5 Years of life. 

Gripping narratives around this same thing but contextualized against two different ends of the ‘consumer & life spectrum’.

Every year about 2 million children under the age of 5 die of infections like diarrhoea and pneumonia. A lot of these deaths can be prevented by the simple act of washing hands with soap. How do you translate this statistic and message into something real, personal and powerful? Lifebuoy‘s brilliant campaign called helpachildreach5 shows how:

(Agency: Lowe Lintas + Partners)

Over 30 percent of today’s children are obese due to physical inactivity. If action isn’t taken, one billion people will be affected less than two decades from now. Nike’s DesignedToMove campaign lands this through a shockingly powerful message.

(Agency: Wieden + Kennedy)

Two iconic brands, selling two completely different kinds of products, targeting two different sets of consumers with two different ‘need stages’ (w.r.t Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) but with one unmissable similarity: using ‘5 years of life’ as a frame of reference to pack a powerful punch.

The ‘contrasts’ are as compelling as the ‘similarities’ are in these hard hitting campaigns. Just couldn’t resist from juxtaposing them together for their unmissable power of story telling and sheer brilliance of executions anchored around one central tenet – 5 years of life.

(Source for header picture)

The Most Iconic Photograph Ever – On Perspectives

Lunch atop a skyscraper is believed to be one of the most iconic photographs of all time.

The photograph shows 11 men having their lunch, seated on a crossbeam with their feet dangling some hundreds of feet above the New York City streets. Many of us might possibly remember seeing this picture over the years and sometimes even wondering if this was just a work of some smart ass CG. Else, what on earth could they possibly be doing there? 

Power of Perspective as an Evocative Device

When I think about it, this iconic shot – that was apparently taken by an unknown photographer on September 20th 1932 from the 69th floor of the RCA Building during the last months of its construction – captures our imagination precisely because it presents a unique perspective of a moment frozen in time and space to evoke a multitude of reflections (and questions) from us: historical, metaphorical and  physical. It is these very questions that an upcoming documentary Men at Lunch seeks to answer. See this trailer:

The historical significance aside, what stands out to me here is the power of ‘perspective’ to make us react to, reflect upon and realize the multiple facets of a story.In other words, the power of perspective as a compelling story telling device. 

Power of Perspective as a Provocative Device

It is known that our preferences are mostly shaped by our perceptions. Hence when we are presented with something in such a way that our perspective shifts, it challenges us, provokes us and sometimes even immerses us in new ways.

Willow – a Belgian band has recently released a music video for their song ‘Sweater’. It is a tour-de-force in 3-D projection mapping that creates an outstanding optical illusion. Play the music video below and see your perceptions getting provoked as your perspective rapidly shifts (and possibly gets restored):

Obviously the guy just ‘strolls’ on a treadmill in a room while the projections on the walls play with our notion of perspective every passing second. That is for me, the impact that gets created when our perspective shifts – even for a moment –  despite our best struggles to restore it.

Power Of Perspective as a Narrative Device 

Did you see the website for 2012 Air Jordan Collection from Nike? Click on the pic below to land on the site:

(No. Seriously.  Browse through this site before reading any further)

How did you like it? Were you intrigued to scroll down till the end of the page? This is called as Parallax Scrolling Effect.  Essentially it  uses multiple backgrounds which seem to move at different speeds to create a sensation of depth and an interesting browsing experience that challenges your perspective of a web page.

No wonder then, Parallax Scrolling can be a powerful device that can in itself become the narrative of a page. (See some brilliant examples from the WWW that employ this UI design technique.)

And lastly and more importantly the Power of ‘Perspective Restored’ 

Recently Candy Chang has envisaged an experiment called “Before I Die” in New Orleans. What followed was an extremely thought provoking story about how she has taken up a neglected wall and transformed that into a constructive space where one can restore perspective. See her soul stirring TED talk here:

‘Before I Die’  has been recognized as one of the most creative and transformative community projects ever and has soon begun to expand to a number of cities around the world.

In Summary: 

While our formative years shape up our perspectives, these certainly need to get challenged and shifted as we grow up, in order for us to learn and unlearn. But may be sometimes when we get too caught up in our day to day, perhaps we just need to take a step back and seek strength in this power of our perspective, restored.

What is your perspective?