This is a video from a group of people called the Berkana Institute. As I understand it, they are a non-profit organisation that looks to use the power of community to create sustainable change for the greater good of the planet.
A fundamental component which drives what they do (or did – they are in a period of ‘rest’) is their theory on how systems change.
As one system culminates and starts to collapse, isolated alternatives slowly begin to arise and give way to the new
How Berkana describe what they actually do based on this insight around systems change is fascinating and I think there is a real opportunity for the ad industry to borrow from this model (perhaps rather crassly given the worthiness of the Berkana Institute’s mission and I’m repurposing for the ad industry…)
In the video Deborah in the video describes, the institue does four things to facilitate change:
1. Name… whilst many pioneers work on problems in isolation, they may be unaware that they are part of a global community with shared values, problems, ambitions etc So the Institute looks to name the good work that these pockets of pioneers are doing to highlight the importance of their work on the global stage
2. Connect… Berkana create the spaces,both virtual and real for the exchange of ideas to provide clarity of thought and motivation for the pioneers.
3. Nourish… create the conditions and resources that enable the sharing of wisdom and building of relationships for the pioneers to progress.
4. Illuminate… putting the spotlight on the pioneers to enable others to join in and get behind their efforts
But what I found most interesting was their role in providing ‘hospice’ for the ‘dying systems’ – the compassion for the ideas and people that are failing. Because when you want the system to change, you also need to offer a lifeboat for the people from the old system to participate in the new.
Much of the doom-mongering dialogue in the ad industry is based on this theory of systems change. Old network monolith agencies in need of hospice versus the new, young, hotshop, digital, ‘agile’ agencies that are coalescing to create the new order and offering the path of future advertising enlightenment – often offering up a new way to create sustainable demand and economic growth (if growth is the answer – but that’s another blog post).
Having worked in both large and small agencies, I think there is a definite opportunity for an industry body to assume the roles of the Berkana Institute. This would accelerate the systemic change the industry needs right now. Some bodies will claim they are already doing this but what I don’t see much of is ‘hospicing’. Many of us are all too quick to champion the pioneers and alternative ways of doing things but to really accelerate the systemic change required across the industry (whether that system change is to address the talent shortage, agency renumeration models, retention of IP, moving from a post-industrial economic growth driven model etc etc) we have to learn to bridge the gap between the stability and robustness offered by the network agencies (the global ad guys who have the ear of Fortune 100 CEOs) and the new systems of thinking that are forming outside of the established relationships.
Which leads me to my final thought – right now, where is the better place to be a catalyst for changing the advertising system? Do you think it’s better to be on the inside, within a global network agency – the established system – leading the global strategic conversations and influencing multi-billion dollar corporations from the ‘inside’, or on the outside of the established system, riding the wave of Moore’s Law, working on truly innovative projects with like minded people at a pace and impact that has the potential to disrupt the old system and force externally. Initiatives like Alex Bogusky’s Common spring to mind where he left his agency to start his movement free of the shackles placed on him by the old system. Or Damon Collins and Richard Exon who recently launched their new venture ‘Joint’ after leaving Y&R/RKCR.
I’m sure there is no right answer but would be interested to know your thoughts. And if this idea of how systems change can be applied to the ad industry what is the likely dominant new system that is going to emerge?
A bunch of us at Red Bee were chatting the other day about the latest Nike ad.
We started wondering… “where’s the story?” “Is this content or just a long ad?” etc etc
But it’s interesting isn’t it… The more I think about this, the more I think we need to carefully think about how we define ‘content’ because it’s a bloody minefield…
And well they’ve got 13 million views in a little under a week so they must be doing something that is worth taking a look under the bonnet for…
W+K’s response to the lack of a clear story may be something along the lines of this recent quote from FastCo mag:
W+K London head of interactive and innovation Graeme Douglas explains: “Instead of making a big ad for TV then putting together a bolt-on interactive version, what we have done is make a interactive film and experience, then created an edit for TV. That’s a fundamental shift.”
I agree that you need to think about the context your content sits in (is this now called comms/digital/engagement planning?)… In this instance, Nike have created something for Youtube first and foremost. They’ve developed an understanding of audience behaviour on this particular platform and developed the offering accordingly…
At Red Bee, we talk a lot about content.
For example, the three ‘c’s of all good stories – catalyst, conflict, conclusion. It’s a well trodden formula for making solid TV shows.
But this type of content creation was built for a linear medium. Namely TV.
When we as an industry talk about branded content, we are largely talking about using the interweb as our distribution channel because the barriers to entry via any other means are too high (print/ TV channel etc)…
The context in which people consume stuff on this medium is different to linear distribution platforms. People expect to be able to interact with ‘things’ on the internet (if they want to).
That’s not to say EVERYTHING on the net should be interactive, but when an audience has grown up used to influencing or interacting with the ‘thing’ a brand has put out into the world, and the thing just so happens to be video, perhaps it makes sense to rewrite some of these rules that were written for a linear medium?
And because lot’s of TV types talk about the power of story-telling et al, I think you then get into a discussion about what is a ‘story’ and can you distinguish it from ‘narrative’….?
Some hints from games designers.
Games designers and commentators (well some of them anyway), have long held the belief that games are not stories. That’s not to say that games can’t be good at telling stories, more over that a good game doesn’t necessarily need to have a good story but it does need to have some kind of narrative.
Tetris does not have a story. Whichever way you cook it. Neither does Angry Birds. Nor Pong. But all have narratives.
So what’s a narrative then?
Well I think it’s the path that audience attention follows that leads to a series of events/experiences/emotions for the intended audience as a direct result of the artefact you’ve put out to the world.
I.e. You can play a game and feel happy about getting the new ‘high score’. Yet the story of the game hasn’t changed. You’re still just building and knocking down walls in Tetris etc.
(In fact this is how lot’s of print ads work… they let you, the viewer, take on the narrative through powerful semiotic and subconscious persuasion that the creative has sparked within you – the narrative becomes whatever you choose it to be).
So what’s interesting about games is that the narrative is often not written in the ‘story’ that is presented on-screen. It is not dictated by the author/ screen writer/ director like it is in TV content. For example, ‘tension’ created by a game, is often created in the players head. Games present players with choices, dilemmas, immersion that create tension and excitement. Games can do this because a game player is an active participant. A TV viewer is traditionally passive so content is created with this in mind… it does a lot of the legwork so you don’t have to.
Another way of looking at it is game players have ‘agency’ – a philosophical tennant that illustrates the amount of change a person can have in a particular world. What’s happening on screen can be just a couple of pixels moving in a predictable fashion. Yet this still forms a narrative through the agency that the player has created for themselves with the help of the game (and the designer’s smart use of behavioural economics of course too).
Finally, what games are brilliant at is making the specific ‘mechanic’ fun and addictive. The catapulting of a weird bird with your fingers into a bunch of weird alien thingys in Angry Bird, the satisfaction of another block that fits in Tetris etc. In the Nike instance, the finding of and transportation through the ‘tunnels’ to unlock more content. Again what’s interesting is that I take delight in this ‘mechanic’ yet all I’m doing is clicking on the video (there’s no skill to it).
All these things can be incorporated into defining what ‘content’ is on the web I’m sure - separating narrative from story, introducing agency, and defining an addictive mechanic.
I’m not sure if this post is at all helpful. It’s a bit of a stream of consciousness really. I think ad agency types could learn from games developers certainly. And a lot already are. But I think there are a lot of people who work within TV who have perfected the craft of linear story-telling and are happy to leave it at that. I know I sound a bit “transmedia 2009 darling” but I can’t help but think we’re still a million miles away from creating true stories (whether branded content, gamified tele, dual screen – social media strategies or whatever we call it) that can live and grow in an interactive world. And as the fundamental definition of what a TV screen changes over the next decade, I’d like to see more experimentation coming out of the indie and broadcaster communities.
How do we get clients to embrace more innovative work?
What can we learn from software startups?
Do agencies have a role in social media?
How do we stop the talent drain?
What kind of people should we hire?
Good questions… better answers…
My top five take outs…
Give examples. Show the client how other people are operating in a related space in an interesting way.
Convince by doing. Demonstrate some kind of success and understanding by trying the new shiny thing out for yourself. It’ll make you and the people you’re talking to feel more comfortable with the new shiny thing.
Prototype. Build things that can be used rather than honing messages that need to be pushed.
Incubate a culture of play and learning.
Be generous with your ideas and your inspiration. Share them early. Let others have a go to build on them.
(This last one wasn’t really talked about specifically but inherent given the topic, the personnel and the medium really).
Often, I get asked ‘what’s next?’ or ‘how do we do this?’ on projects which haven’t been done before.
It’s a pain in the arse of a question. But now I have an answer I think. Paul Bennett, Chief Creative Officer at Ideo, when asked ‘what’s next?‘ by the Google Think Quarterly (Google’s very good agency charm offensive) replied in this quarter’s ‘innovation’ themed essays;
…it’s about asking questions. I’m very inspired by what President Obama is doing right now, which is just about putting questions out there,being very transparent. In a world where trust has broken down, which clearly it has in a lot of businesses and in a lot of governments, you have to be transparent. And it’s not about being the one with the answer anymore. It’s about being the one with the smart questions and having everybody answer it with you.
Here’s the video in full;
The other week, I was faced with a very similar parallel. We had arrived at an idea for a client which we hadn’t done before (which always excites me). The account team were unsure whether to involve the client and other stakeholders in the production meeting as we felt we needed, as an agency, to get our ‘ducks in a row’ before we involved a wider group.
But in a world, as Paul describes, where transparency and honesty reign, coupled with the variety of creative execution possibilities today, perhaps it’s a smarter and quicker way to work with as many clever people as possible to ask the right questions together. It not only encourages all stakeholders (not just the agency) to emotionally invest in the project and make sure it happens, but also cultivates a much more open and transparent working relationship with a variety of stakeholders. This changes the role of the ‘creative agency’ maybe (or perhaps more emphasis on the word ‘agency’ than ‘creative’) where innovative projects are concerned; where the agency increasing acts as an ‘agent’, a catalyst and facilitator of smart people asking the right questions rather than simply setting the “creative vision” as the ‘creative lead’ on a project. In this model, it also becomes a lot easier to iterate and improve the idea collectively as you go.
So when you’re doing something new, perhaps it’s OK to admit, that you don’t have all the answers. The value now, perhaps, is knowing who you want to ask the questions with.
I’ve been working in advertising for nearly five years.
It’s been fun.
But there has been a lot of 360 chat. A lot.
I’ve been across some brilliant ideas (don’t think I’ve ever come up with any mind, just across them).
But some didn’t see the light of day.
Because they’ve tended not to fit into the ‘big idea’ that has been agreed upon by all the various stakeholders working on the project (the big idea, by the way, is obviously only a big idea when you’ve got AT LEAST seven ideas across various different mediums, which CATEGORICALLY PROVES that the idea is BIG).
Since when was the validity of how good an idea was, how much you could bastardise it into twelve different incarnations?
Plus, when have you ever seen a full ’360′ campaign bought in it’s entirety?
So it seems a little silly to judge how big an idea is by how many different types of media you could fill with it.
I’d argue you can still end up with the desired outcome across lots of different media, platforms, devices etc without having to rely on one big ’360′ idea to prompt the outcome across them all.
Given the growing influence of digital shizzle across our lives and low barriers to entry to applying a more agile process of idea development and roll-out, it seems silly to me to have to wait for a ‘big 360′ idea. It seems that an increasing part of my role as a planner is to encourage this spontaneity – getting behind proactive ideas that had no brief but are simply brilliant right the way through to discouraging another TV spot which drives to Facebook game app of the same design etc etc
As a client, I’d be ecstatic to know I had an agency thinking about me when I wasn’t thinking about them - proactively bringing me ideas off the fly – that were small, stimulating, new, measurable, creative, interesting, timely, relatively cheap, idiosyncratic and most importantly, answered my business problem.
A few weeks ago, Much awarded British TV writer Jimmy McGovern was asked
“How does the relationship work between writers?”
(in reference to a couple of shows – ‘The Street’ and ‘The Accused’ which he has a team of writers collaborating together whilst he leads).
He made a quip which I thought was quite good…
“We confuse writing with typing. This is writing, walking around, getting into your character, into the concept. That’s writing, sweating blood. Sometimes, I’ll have walked round and hours will have passed. “
I thought this was good because it’s a fundamental challenge confronting the world of agencies right now. Collaborate we’re told. Play nice. But it’s quite superficial. We type. We create ’360′ documents/ toolkits/ dossiers that get farmed around with each agency inputting in their two penneth based on their discipline and taking the opportunity to land grab.
Nobody wants this. It’s a pain in the arse for everyone, not least the client.
And quite simply, this isn’t collaborating. Collaborating means doing what Jimmy and the team do. They put down their pens. They acknowledge who are better at some things than others. They go and explore. Together. They also explore each other – as each other explores. Thinking out loud is actively encouraged. They listen to each other and riff off a half baked idea.
And I thought this was quite a smart idea. What if, as an ‘all-agency’ team, nobody wrote anything until everyone had explored the problem and then explored each other as each of the other teams explored the problem? i.e. So there is an all-agency briefing. Each agency then buggers off to think about their bit of the puzzle. But, then halfway through that thinking time, where no one’s cracked the brief yet, you’re forced to put down your pens, stop typing and go and visit the media agency, the ad agency, the PR agency, the experiential agency etc and you go and chat about some of the things they’ve been thinking about – some of the challenges and opportunities the brief throw has thrown up for them. Chances are you may even have some of the same issues or maybe it’s thrown up new ones for you.
The key to collaboration in my mind is the initial talking-it-through phase. Having a walk and a cigarette down Charlotte Street with the PR director on the account (you pair of cliches you). A pint with the media planner. A breakfast with the ECRM dudes. Having an appreciation and a humility that you can’t do it on your own and making sure the other disciplines understand your limitations, processes and nuances. Integration is as much about acknowledging weaknesses as it is recognising strengths in each other.
I think this is how we should be collaborating more. Not writing ’360′ presentations. Less typing. More talking.