Concept is dead

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Never mind potholes, rampant crime or corruption, what we really need to expend our energy on is the fact that more and more mediocre pedestrians are being allowed to stumble into roles they have absolutely no clue about. So the scheduling clerk for a bicycle hire shop can become the marketing person for the brand you thought you’d die to work on. And die you will. Bit by bit and a little more each day.
4886172-in-loving-memory-of-words-chiselled-into-a-wooden-bench
Let me introduce you to Sally. Sally loved to colour during her early school days and was ever so good at staying inside the lines. She wasn’t sure what to do after high school so she worked in her father’s corner shop weighing butternut and manning the till. Then her uncle poached her to help run the front office of his car repair shop and in just a few mediocre minutes, she was bored of that too. With her eclectic mix of ‘FMCG and retail expertise’ coupled with being the ‘brand custodian’ for her uncle’s shop, Sally found herself mincing in to the first of many corporates in no time at all.

She hopscotched through half a dozen roles, careful not to stay anywhere long enough to ever actually learn anything of substance, and then – with a stroke of right-place-right-time-luck, and enough bullshit to baffle some very distracted brains – she secured herself the role of making some medium-weight marketing decisions on a brand doing itself proud.

There wasn’t an agency presentation or creative review where the words I don’t get it didn’t waft from her pouting, lip-glossed lips. Imagine how brilliant this imaginative doyenne was for the conceptual prowess of the creatives whose paths she crossed… No challenge was too big as this fierce game changer would design by numbers and rewrite copy at the drop of a hat – no questions asked… So die they did. More and more each day.

Mindless ads

Sure, “mindless ads” have their place. I once bought a fat busting apparatus from one of those if-you-dial-now-but-wait-there’s-more places. With a series of battery operated contractions, it promised to work all the unnecessary lard away from my stomach. It did. I lost so much weight I was kidnapped by a helium balloon at the Rand Easter Show.

People have brains and an imagination and despite popular belief (albeit brand specific), aren’t completely against having to think. Simple doesn’t mean you got smarter. But it may mean Sally gave you a budget of R2.50 with the disproportionate insistence that you address every shopper and consumer group out there. So you did… but at what cost?

The over simplification era

We’re living in an era of over simplification. Brands have a wider cross-section of people to talk to while clients shamelessly play agencies against one another for the work. This reduces the creative mettle by people who then have to spend more time tap dancing through ludicrous demands than being conceptually brilliant… And somewhere between the brief and the output, someone convinces everyone to put all their eggs on the semantics of the big idea and none on the magic of the journey that takes you there. Rest in peace, concept.

As much as agency creatives need to learn about strategy and the tangible differences of our audiences, so marketing professionals should be required (and driven) to have a semblance of creative vision. This way, the creative interpretation of a brief can be viewed at any point in its evolution; to be understood in the context of what informed it.

The movement away from waffling is not what I’m on about. I’m on about the unnecessary over simplification for audiences that aren’t simple. We get told so often to be sure the box is far away from our thinking yet, time and time again, we end up back inside it anyway.

Makes you wonder what our Sally would say to these three examples:

Okay… so concept isn’t completely dead, but it’s definitely looking pale. Something needs to be done soon or our dear friend should get its affairs in order and tie up any loose ends.

Let’s not forget the thinking man’s story… It is the magical vortex of the interpretation of creativity where talkability comes to life.

How’s your Sally?

© Dylan Balkind

Would the real Copywriter please stand up?

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In a world of SEO (dead or not) and the immediacy of content-to-consumer needed, there seems to be more copy needed than Copywriters out there. Never fear, for an article titled How to Get High-Performance Sales Copy Without Hiring a Copywriter hit the blogosphere recently.

Information like this is priceless and will change the future for Laquisha, the envelope filling entrepreneur, Donathan’s Christmas present opening startup or aunty Martha who believes that her smoked haddock air freshener range is going to make a mint. It’s easy, you see? This white paper on our profession by Christina Gillick says that readers make good writers, so if you read a lot, you can do your own Copywriting.

Everyone’s a writer

I arrived at the New Zealand Chiefs Super 15 practice. They asked what I was doing there before I explained that I’d watched a few games on the telly, was a fan of the scrum and always fancied being the guy they throw in the air in the lineout. Naturally, they showed me to my locker right away, kitted me out with my costume and we won the tournament. Hoorah! Anyone can do it, right?

Not really. So would you sit down at the latest iMac complete with state-of-the-art spectroradiometers and design your own corporate identity? Quickly go and read a lot so that you could write you own objective-driven copy or sew yourself a tuxedo for that promotion-to-CEO gala dinner? You could certainly try – everyone loves a guy with a sense of humour.

I can count on my hands the amount of times I have read something and said “Holy shitballs Mom! I wish I’d written that!” – yet it would take you more than a day to count all the people in our industry who are calling themselves writers. Then try vetting them… that should blow your hair back.

I Googled one Christina Gillick and found a lovely picture of her lying under the tree with her laptop, working – obviously. It was titled: “Christina Gillick enjoying the writer’s life at her quiet country home in Texas.” They must do things differently in Texas because, let’s be honest, writing is anything but quiet-time. It’s as deadline-driven as any job and usually involves at least nine other voices in your own head before the first word has hit the page. But I’m down when it comes to helpful tips, so anytime I have to produce any High-Performance Sales Copy, I’m heading for a tree in Texas.

Supply and demand

Bad-Copywriting2Fact is, more and more people are looking for (competent) content generators. However – and whether it comes down to a budget or the urgency pandemic – the entry barrier at many agencies into these roles is not exactly up there with the bar exam. And if you believe that these agency roles are no science, then you may be part of the problem – there’s no avoiding the fact that writing decent, engaging copy is not for everyone.

Someone who kinda sorta maybe enjoyed English in High School isn’t necessarily the right talent for this work. What should be important to agency owners and clients alike is not necessarily finding someone with a Masters in English, but someone who has a natural talent mixed with an undeniable passion for their craft and a body of work that demonstrates such. There’s your candidate.

 

Has Copywriting lost its heart? 

Not entirely. But very often, the diluted skill-set in a room that determines the direction of a brand forgets the importance of stories. We all need stories that prompt us to feel something, and be inspired or motivated by. Whether these are seen on TV, heard on Radio, watched in a taxi or at the rank, interpreted across a series of billboards and reinforced with what we engaged with online once we got to the office, seen in a double page spread, advertorial, blog or TTL campaign – people need something to latch on to. What good is content that popped up first on your search but did absolutely nothing for you after that? And to tell stories by mastering his craft, a writer needs to be able to see something different about the world around him; to understand that the resonant power of writing is in the magic of how 26 letters are arranged together and that there is nothing coincidental about this.

There really are no sneaky tricks, nor are there quick fixes. If you want copy that moves and motivates while delivering on the brief, find a talented, passionate writer that loves to write. That’s all there is to it. Failing that, you could be master of all (none) and use Google to teach you how to do it all yourself. While you’re at it, you can learn how to remove warts, how to design a poster, how to be a good wife, how to become a vampire, how to strategic plan and how to find the best tree to lie under when needing to produce High-Performance Sales Copy.

The list is long, how much time do you have?

Copy1

© Dylan Balkind

Advertising can be so Gay

Originally written for and published on BizCommunity.com.
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It really is a fine time to be gay. The world’s getting its rainbow on more than ever despite some insistent folks who aren’t that happy about it. But, if you’re part of the Westboro Baptist Church and genuinely believe the gays to be the evil you claim, your problems are a little bigger than myself and my mincing ilk.

From Hurricane Sandy to Oscar Pistorius’ murder story, religious fanatics everywhere are blaming homosexuality for all sorts of malarkey. American Republican Michele Bachmann is having her own flap because of the abolishment of the Defence of Marriage Act; the land of the free is now the home of the gays, and what with what’s happening in Russia and the rest of Africa, we’re in the limelight now more than ever.

Commercially, this is big business and the ever-growing gay market is estimated to be worth $835 billion. Homosexuality in Advertising and Marketing is alive and well. This doesn’t mean that everyone in the agency model is gay (and now that I know this, I have to seriously question my career path), but it means that everyone is okay with it, because to legitimise this audience offers bonus opportunities for brands through an endorsement or a communication storyline.

The position these brands take (if at all) is a bold one. There’s business to be won and lost either way. The Chick-fil-A case in the States is a remarkable one that exploded because of the company’s chairman making clear his vehement opposition to the debate around marriage-equality. The backlash was enormous and business couldn’t have been good. Oh well… You win some, you lose some.

What’s more important to me are the brands willing to stand for a kinder message – and how big of a surprise some of them are: the Royal Dutch Football Association for example. Who would have thought?

There’s always the risk that someone without the chops or the know-how has a bash at it though and goes a little far. This spot for Toronto’s Gay Rugby Team has potential and then loses steam because while talking about challenging stereotypes, falls straight into one.

Still, it’s great to see that the subject matter is being covered with well-produced content. But for the relevance to resonate, I believe it’s more about the articulate subtlety in the story and how powerful this is for an audience who – in my lifetime still – will always and in some way be looking for acceptance.

I’m not here to force the issue. I wouldn’t say we need the gay version of every straight commercial out there. Noeleen going to that fancy schmancy institute to do that research for Ariel has saved us so much time, don’t put us down for a gay version of that one. And anyway, it would just be painful and very, very boring. But I am for more of the good ones. It would corroborate the work being done by shows like Glee, The New Normal and Modern Family. Shows that teach kids about how different we all are – and how cool that really is.

Advertising plays a very powerful part in the choices we make and our attitudes around them. In a country (and world) with so many closeted issues when it comes to tolerance, do you think we could help make them better?

© Dylan Balkind

Racist Advertising

Originally written for and published on BizCommunity.com.
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I was too young to remember what advertising was like in South Africa in the dark ages (Apartheid). I can only assume the emerging markets were all but disregarded (why go against what was happening in other socio-economic areas of life?) and were considered a non-event when it came to buying power.

Crazy that us elitist whites chose this route when you think about it, considering they still had to live, eat, wash, clothe themselves and travel around – albeit under much duress. So the world issued sanctions which in turn led to people learning about tolerance before imbibing a little sanctity and finally getting politically correct. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to stop since – getting politically correct that is. And God is it boring or what?

I saw the Caltrate TVC this week. This is a product that is supposed to help strengthen your bones and joints so that you can shimmy shake with the best of them and never stop, year after year after year. I was stumped at the storyline and wondered if the creative team and/or client had fallen and bumped their heads.

Let me tell you how the brief went (I wasn’t there, but ’ll have a shot at it anyway): “Create communication that attracts the black buying power to calcium supplements.” So they came up with a black lady and her elderly mom kickboxing.

Mmm…

Kickboxing.

Before I gave in to a blinding fury at the ridiculousness of this idea, I asked a few of my black friends how much time the matriarchs in their family allocated to kickboxing in a week. Much to the surprise of the Caltrate marketing team and whatever agency they entrusted with this script, the answer was a deafening ‘none’.

Shockingly-Racist-Vintage-Ads-3

Now I am no doyenne of sport, but I am sure that even a little dipstick research would have come back with a handful of better ideas for a storyline that still worked to highlight the USP of the product for an audience they were hoping to bring into the net. This kind of arrogance in marketing and advertising has long overstayed its welcome in South Africa. People are not idiots and you are not doing your brand any favours at all by patronising one audience in front of another.

This example is simply the ridiculous positing of political-correct casting onto a script a white writer wrote. Market research should have taught them how to make calcium-enriching supplements appealing to black families with sport or activities that are relevant to them. It’s a shame when something has so blatantly been written for a black audience by a white creative team who did no more work than the bare minimum. If they were more committed to their craft, they would create relevant messaging that resonates with the target audience in the right spaces at the right time.

We are the only country who uses LSM profiling – because of the dexterous tapestry of our socio economic landscape – yet so few marketing exercises use this information for their gain. My reaction to ads like this one is not a realisation I have reached because I am racist. This is fury at the racist creatives who worked on the script and who assume that the audience will buy whatever they are selling because they cast black artists.

Wake up. Think more.

Hashtag epic brand fail.

© Dylan Balkind

If getting blood was this easy…

100% for Talkability!

Advertising Agency: Z +, São Paulo, Brazil
Creative Directors: Alan Strozenberg, Leo Macias, Mané Zanzoti
Art Directors: Danillo Ferrari, Luigi Alliegro
Copywriter: Zé Ricardo Novoa
Account Managers: Renata Vieitas, Juliana Sanches
Production Company: Mixer
Director: Rodrigo Ferrari
Photography: Dado Carlini
Sound company / Sound track: Tralálá

History 101

If it’s not on Facebook, you can’t expect kids to know about it. So when it comes to lessons of Marie Antoinette, Bruce Lee, Napoleon, Darth Vader, Jesus and even Michael Jackson, there’s no doubt that generation-now needs arresting ways to get it into their heads.

Enter Agency H-57, Milan, with these entertaining summaries of those historical figures. They may not help you pass your exams, but grasp the gist of it and it will be easier to fill in the blanks.






Grow up and vote

It is the eve before important local elections in South Africa. A full moon is slung in the dark night sky and, looking at it, I wonder if this is the Universe’s way of giving this eve her quiet blessing; a hopeful sign of new and inspiring things to come.

Elections and the hype around them have become a germane part of our lives in South Africa, now today as much as they are a part of the history that brought us here. The long lines of voters in the first free and fair elections are as recognizable an image locally as the man who brought it all about himself – Nelson Mandela.

So with all the rumblings out of the mouths of people in offices and the places we choose to hang out in, you have to wonder why, when it comes to crunch time, people are so tediously ambivalent. In 1994, 86.87% of the population voted in the National Elections. In 1999, 89.3% turned out, dropping horribly to 76.73% in 2004, and barely any better with a dismal 77.30% in 2009.

It’s not only South Africa that has this problem. Voter-psychology all over the world will surprise us time and time again. Perhaps it is smarter-hitting campaigning that we need from our politicians, with more dynamic and relevant messaging that addresses the symptoms as well as the problems. Maybe it’s time that our local political parties got savvy and sat down with energetic, pulse-driven communications agencies and worked together with them to do what they do for any other brand; put the ‘product’ in the line-of-site of its target consumer by way of the right communication, pitched at the right level, in order to ultimately accelerate buy-in.

Turkey has clearly suffered a similar national lethargy, resulting in Publicis BOLD, Istanbul creating this engaging print campaign. Rather than taking the option of regurgitated statements and promises from campaigns gone before, the agency used the forum to tell Turkey nationals that far too many people have been keeping their silence for far too long, and the time has come to grow up and vote! Now we’re talking. The power of thought-provoking media and politics meeting on the same playground the nation plays on.

Now it is time the local political melee for airtime took a step back and considered what their message is, who they are trying to reach and how they are going to best put it into the hearts and minds of the people they want to elect them back into their jobs. Cardboard photographs on street poles aren’t doing it for me. It takes a true leader to change a nation. Why not start with how you talk to them?

Sure, a slight deviation from the regular content here, but what part of a blog is not political? It’s all opinion anyway, and when we are lost of that, what do we have left? Martin Luther King Junior said that our lives begin to end when we become silent about things that matter. Who can we blame if we choose this?

© Copywriter Dylan Balkind

Zimbabwe’s hope for 2011

It was an unforgettable image – the Pulitzer award-winning photograph by Kevin Carter from the Sudan famine of 1994, where a little girl was hunched, starving, as a vulture lurked nearby. She was trying to get to a food camp 1km away while the vulture was waiting for her to die. Kevin took the photograph and then left the area.

The world threw its arms up in furore while journalists and artists argued for the role of a photographer and their right, will or obligation not to interfere. Whatever your stance, you have to respect the power of an image to evoke interest and create awareness. As advertisers, we live to do the very same; seldom as intense, but never indifferent. It’s when it’s not about the sale of a product that things get really interesting.

The convenience of a commodity is fascinating, especially when you think it might be taken away from you. Then, compared to something more than that – like your voice or your human rights – even more so, right? Right. This is the reality that TBWA Hunt Lascaris leverages to create awareness in their campaign for The Zimbabwean – a newspaper published in South Africa and the UK by a network of Zimbabwean journalists. These professionals have no place in Zimbabwe’s current state due to forced evictions and fear for their own lives. Their plight to bring news to Zimbabweans (and the world) about the truth of what is going on there comes alive via what I interpret as one very poignant question: when was the last time you had something taken from you?

‘Give a voice to the voiceless’ aims to uncover and expose exactly what they are looking to keep silent in Zimbabwe – atrocities on her people. To fight the deafening silence on the potential for change, TBWA sent requests to journalists for their photographs from the last two years, added an empty speech bubble (in the shape of Zimbabwe) and the payoff line to each of the images received and selected for the campaign.

Shine a light on the issue and you may help to heal it – even if just a little. Look at the awareness that Kevin Carter’s picture ignited for what was happening in the Sudan. There are a lot of naïve people out there but it doesn’t mean they don’t or won’t care. A little coaxing may help them make the jump, and if these images help some people do at least that – then it has been a very good day for advertising.

You too can help. Click here to find out how.

 

 

Spitting milk through your nose for Doritos?

I thank my lucky stars that we are all unique. I couldn’t imagine the world having to put up with two of me, let alone two Robert Pattinson’s, Justin Bieber’s, Robert Mugabe’s or two Mubarak’s. God alone knows, one of each keeps us busy enough. This makes for an interesting landscape for advertisers and the scope they aim their messages at. Even though we are unique, we most certainly fall into groups with common interests. Mine do not include Pattinson or Bieber, but yours might and that is cool too.

Advertising appeals to how we view ourselves. So at first, when looking at these two Doritos commercials, I would have said I preferred one above the other. In hindsight, I simply think they are smart enough to have hit on different audiences under the common element of humour. They work for the brand because they are able to attract the attention of a (hopefully) versatile audience that has one thing in common: a love for Doritos.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRMMBXx3kqk

I don’t like The Best Part’s geeky guy. He is a little over enthusiastic about Doritos if you ask me, but, in all fairness, I don’t fit into a group of people who think electrons, data and the hypothetico-deductive model is cool or phenomenal. The guy in this spot strikes me as one who does – so that is exactly who they are appealing to. His type – and anyone closely associated with his type – is going to find this funny, whereas it just left me straight-faced and unimpressed.

The House Sitting version appeals to me in a bigger, better way. Yeah, it’s silly, but it is also simultaneously cheeky and self-deprecating. The college guy forgets to attend to any of the things he was supposed to do and is faced with that last minute panic to get the house back in order – with one final clincher that aims to score points for the power of Doritos.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCdnFMp6s84

The difference between the two is that one highlights Doritos as the hero and the other lets the (supposed) humour take over. No matter which one you prefer (if any) it comes down to whether you are buying into these corny chip ads or not – and whether that is translating into sales of their products. The rest of the series proves they are definitely that – corny. I am sure that their creative team salutes everything about Revenge of the Nerds, and I don’t doubt for a second that they have some people laughing so much they spit milk through their noses or suddenly discover their own incontinence. But, like I said, I thank my lucky stars that we are all unique.

Others in the series:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpjaOUjUPUc&feature=channel

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4BaIDViPhM&feature=channel

No matter how you feel about these, they are harmless. Even if you don’t like them, it is unlikely that they are going to mean you refuse to buy Doritos from this moment forward. I’m thrilled they haven’t won me over entirely. I hate spitting milk through my nose and quite fancy the idea of being able to control my bladder.

You?

Lost in translation

Sheiße! What happens when an idea that seemed so good in the brainstorm process flatlines just after that? Well, if you have the time – you go back to square one. If you don’t have the time, you pull an all nighter and go back to square one. Not only is your client’s communication and brand-building strategy at stake, but so is the reputation of your agency and the creatives that put their names on the work.

Frese & Wolff from Germany produced this campaign for Animal Rights and… well… I think that somewhere along the way, the greatness of where it began got lost in translation. It’s not the fight for the safety or care of the monkeys, horses, pigs and minks’ lives I am disagreeing with – it’s the execution and the final product I am not buying.

“The term art director is a blanket title for a variety of similar job functions … but an art director unifies the vision. In particular, the art director is in charge of the overall visual appearance and how it communicates visually, stimulates moods, contrasts features, and psychologically appeals to a target audience…” – Wikipedia.

It must be said, I don’t think the concept here is the problem. However, someone chose very pretty models with no acting experience whatsoever. Stills or moving, believing feeling is all about expression and comes down to what a talented performer can offer with their eyes. It is either believable or not, and these I am sorry to say are not. Look at Tilda Swinton, Chloe Sevigny and James Franco; these are artists that whether pretty or not, can convey emotion and power in a stills shoot as much as in a scene for a film. And if it’s unknown faces you are after, there are models with the same abilities and who can access the same depth of emotion.

“One of the most difficult problems that art directors face is to translate desired moods, messages, concepts, and underdeveloped ideas into imagery,” says Wikipedia again. I don’t think this work is short on merit in terms of concept. I just think the execution is weak. None of these models convey an experience of pain equivalent to what the animals would. To be honest, they all just look a little constipated if you ask me.

What do you think?

Credits: Advertising Agency: Frese & Wolff, Oldenburg, Germany | Creative Directors: Uwe Linthe, Ingo Steuber | Art Director: Thorsten Abeln | Graphic Designer: Alexander Wille | Photographer: Tim Thiel | Published: December 2010

Choose your toys. Choose your message. Get ready to roar.

Before this was set to raise questions, inspire debate and result in lengthy red-wine-teeth debates on how men and women communicate, it was set to animate the differences going on in either minds when the mood strikes and the iron is hot for poking. Sexy Avenue couldn’t have been closer to telling the story of men and women and mars and venus – albeit with stock footage of two lions and an eventual TVC.

Choose your toys. Choose your message.

This one’s spot on!

Roar.

PS: Print ad’s clever too. Click image to enlarge.

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