The Other Side Up

Quick Read: Invert the traditional workflows, dispel orthodox notions and see lateral thinking come to life for newer ways of going about things.  

Every once in a while there come initiatives and executions that turn the tables on traditional concepts that we have always taken for granted. Such instances compel us to re-evaluate our existing notions of what we consider to be the norm and thereby make great fodder for some lateral thinking.

Three such recent examples.

1. Photography

Trevor Christensen is a photographer who shot to international acclaim with his recent series called Nude Portraits.

What is interesting about this project? In this series the photographer is naked, the subjects are not.

According to himThe photographer/subject paradigm is one of inequality. Nude Portraits is about leveling the playing field in an unorthodox way. Instead of focusing on bringing the subject to a place of ease–where I am, this project brings me to a place of vulnerability.

Nude Portraits

(Source: Nude Portraits by Trevor Christensen)

The results are an interesting commentary on the photographer/subject paradigm and hold a thought provoking mirror to the subject and photographer’s feelings around vulnerability, shame, guilt and self composure.

Talking of portraits, meanwhile elsewhere…

Samsung had an interesting set of executions that reframed selfies as Self Portraits.

2. Painting 

Rainworks is a project  by Peregrine Church.

What is interesting about the project? It is art that appears when it rains! Check this video out:

This cool project challenges our notions around negative space and opens up newer possibilities of creative expression.

Talking of negative space, meanwhile elsewhere…

Volvo introduces Life Paint to promote safety for those both inside and outside its cars.

According to this must read post, Life Paint is a unique reflective safety spray aimed at increasing the visibility and safety of cyclists, and other vulnerable road users.

What makes it special? It is invisible by daylight, but glows brightly in the glare of car headlights, making the invisible, visible at night.

Life Paint

(Source: Life Paint by Grey London for Volvo)

The Life Paint concept was developed by creative agency Grey London, in collaboration with Swedish startup Albedo100 and is one of a series of projects to highlight the key product innovations of the all-new Volvo XC90.

3. Reviews

Online reviews have become both a boon and a bane for many a marketer. As this HBR post says,

The idea that a new (reviews) website or app can undercut years of careful messaging may be deeply frustrating to marketers—but it is a reality they must face.

But what if we turn the tables around on the traditional concept of reviews. Australia based Art Series Hotel Group has recently initaited what it calls Reverse Reviews‘. 

What is interesting about the concept? While you review their hotels, you would also be reviewed by the hotel. Get five stars and get a free night to stay again (applicable between April 17 until May 31 2015).

Reverse Reviews AU

(Source: Art Series Hotels )

Talking of reviews, meanwhile elsewhere…

Today’s new world of ‘on-demand everything’ is being touted as The Shut In Economy.

Read this brilliant piece on why this is so and you would probably agree that institutionalising a ‘Reverse Review’ system could just be what the doctor would have ordered to make our world a better place.

Result: People behind the doors (who use the apps, platforms and services to place their orders online) and the people outside the doors (those that deliver) could live in a world that is more inclusive and respectful of each other.

Isn’t it?

(Featured Image: ‘This Side Up’ table design by DEDE DextrousDesign)

Is Sweden a Low Context Culture?

Quick Read: Differences between high context and low context cultures in branding could just be theoretical. All it takes is some brilliant marketing to blur the lines in between.

High-context culture and low-context culture are terms coined by the anthropologist Edward Hall.

Theoretically this categorisation between culutures has implications on branding and communications associated to them.

For example, according to this recent article, in a high cultural context, inherent cultural cues (e.g, symbols and emotions) add a lot of meaning to asociated marketing communications. Think of ads that reference cultures like Indian, Latin American or Middle Eastern for example and you get the picture. 

(A great ad that references Indian culture)

Low cultural contexts, by contrast, are those where there is little influence of emotions, gestures and cultural cues over the associated marketing communications.

For example – the article goes on to state – Sweden has a low cultural context. In other words, Swedish cues and metaphors are believed to contribute little meaning to any branding/communication.

But is it? 

While differences between these cultural contexts might help us to justify to ourselves the relative decibel levels of ‘cultural noise’ that gets thrown into their respective communications (e.g., narratives in films, ads etc), communications that reflect a culture are more complex and do not necesarily confine themselves to these siloed definitions.

Let’s take Sweden for example. Why is there a stereotype that Swedish metaphors add little meaning to any associated branding or advertising?

This cultural guide to Sweden encaplsulates it well when it says “Despite the generally contented natures of the Swedes, there is an underlying melancholy most often attributed to the long, dark and cold winters.” In other words, theoretically there is nothing much beyond a brooding sense of gloom to add as ‘cultural cues’ when it comes to referencing anything Swedish.

But lately, marketers seem to have used this very subdued under tone of melancholy and turned it into a state of mind (and soul) to be celebrated as uniquely Swedish!

Now that’s not exactly how a low context culture is meant to work. Right?

Volvo ‘Vintersaga’ – Embrace the Swedish melancholy

With a montage that celebrates the miserable weather conditions of Sweden aided by some spectacular photography and echoey music, Volvo recently paid a “tribute to Sweden at it’s worst” through its Vintersaga (Winter’s tale) campaign.

By capturing the country’s bleakest weather, Volvo goes on to explain that without the harsh Swedish winters it would not have become what it is today, or make the cars that it does.

Stutterheim Raincoats – ‘Swedish melancholy at its driest’

Being melancholic is an essential part of being a human being. 

…so says the philosophy page of Stutterheim’s rain coats. What for Mr. Stutterheim was initially an art project, has transformed – with a stroke of marketing genius coupled with a sharp positioning – into a line up of raincoats that are now shipped worldwide, with a price tag between $370 –  $1,400.


(Source: Stutterheim’s philosophy on Melancholy and Creativity)

Apparently Swedish gloom seems to have a tremendous market demand with the brand today seeing strong growth in Europe and the U.S., with sales estimated to reach $4.8 million in 2015, up from $180,000 in 2011. (source)

After all as its philosophy goes on to say …

Through our melancholy we come up with new ways of seeing the world and new ways of being in the world. Let’s embrace Swedish melancholy. Embracing rain is a good start.

Now that’s some smart marketing that has converted something as monochromatic as Swedish melancholy into a unique (and dare I say sufficiently loud) motif of the Swedish culture.

Bonus Links: Check out this Volvo campaign that celebrates Swedish wilderness and this recent one by Grey London that celebrates Swedish….. (hold your breath & drum rolls)…. air!

Now, do you still believe Sweden is a low context culture?

Any classifications exists only as long as marketers allow it to.

Isn’t it?

(Featutured Image: Sutterheim – Swedish Melancholy At It’s Driest)

Story Telling To Spur Action

Project Re:Brief was a very interesting marketing experiment (and a sales pitch) by Google.

As part of this, Google had partnered with five of the brightest “old-school” legends from advertising to re-imagine and re-create their most iconic creative work from a half-century ago for the modern web. These include:

  • ‘Hilltop’ –  Coke
  • “Drive it like you hate it” –  Volvo
  • “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing” – Alka Seltzer
  • “We try harder” – Avis

Take time to go through this website and ‘navigate’ through the re-mastered versions of these iconic campaigns of the last century. The documentary on this project has been premiered at Cannes 2012 and went on to win accolades for its idea and execution. However, the big insight that stuck to me was what they had to say in their synopsis:

“Project Re: Brief ….. aims to shake up the ad industry and inspire new ways of thinking. While shifting formats and media platforms is one thing, as we learn from our heroes of the past, the basic tenets of human storytelling haven’t changed.” 

The evolution in formats/media notwithstanding, the fundamental tenets of human story telling are still the bedrocks of great advertising. For example, consider one of the key challenges of the current Integrated Brand Communications landscape. With brands aggressively taking on to various types of Paid, Owned and Earned media formats in the Digital/Social Media space, a big part of the challenge still remains – How can marketers use conventional media channels (Print/TV ads etc) to drive people online in order to continue the conversation further?

By just having the URL of the brand’s page or a message like “become a fan on our Facebook page” slapped at the end frame of the TV commercial? A representative statistic of the state of TV and Print ads trying to drive people online:

(2011 UK Statistic: Source)

But why on earth would I even pay attention to these ads – let alone feel motivated to memorize the keyword/URL and take time to actually visit the page? Ironically that device is often called “Call To Action”.

There are countless examples of flawed executions that attempt to drive people online through their TV/Print Ads. In most cases it’s not that the attempt wasn’t ingenious. It’s not that they lack a clear direction or an underlying strategy that seeks to unite different channels towards a central message. It’s not even that they lack the ‘innovativeness’ of the new media. I believe that it’s because such attempts seem to side step the basic tenets of human story telling. 

Why? Because, I firmly believe that ‘Powerful Communication’ – in any form- is all about the story and how its told. Especially when a piece of communication needs to make you reflect upon and react to something in a very tangible way. See the film below and notice how the ‘story’ is told. Don’t miss how dramatic it gets towards the end.

Till around 1 min 20s into the film everything seems to be ‘oh-so-sweet’ /’oh-so-cute’ , making you even ignore the whole point of this – till the moment the kid asks: “(But Hang on) Why are you even asking me that?” That’s when it begins. A spine chilling revelation, a shocking fact that makes you sit up and start paying attention. It wakes you up to your most receptive state before splashing the last frame with the URL. That’s it. It’s done.

How many of you actually considered visiting the page now?

This film (by Wieden + Kennedy) was first shown at the 8th Annual Clinton Global Initiative earlier this week and proves in a very powerful way that the classic tenets of human story telling are still as impactful if not more in making us sit up, take notice and perhaps even take action. Even if the action entails us taking the time and effort to visit a website.

By the way the website in itself is pretty cool and has its own well researched spiel to spur you into thought and action towards the end.

Any brilliant executions of Call To Action that you have come across off late?