Showing posts with label communication arts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label communication arts. Show all posts

Monday, January 29

Selling Sausage: Marc Gobe

Marc Gobe likes to be called a “conceptual provocateur,” which he defines as "a mind that never rests, that never stops seeking ways to look at things from a new and totally different point of view." He has a lot of interesting ideas that come from his stream-of-consciousness approach, but the one I read in Communication Arts, yesterday, is baloney.

That is what happens sometimes: instead of finding stream-of-consciousness inspiration, we end up selling baloney.

Gobe writes that the designer is the mirror image of the consumer, calling it a revolutionary idea, but mostly, it seems, it's revolutionary because he claims it is his idea. He says that designers are the consumers, understand visual communication better than anyone, and basically, if the researchers would step out of the way, then designers could reach down deep and pull out innovation to jazz up those brands. (Not surprisingly, his design firm, he says, fully endorses this approach. Eh hem, it would be a shocker if it did not.)

Sure, everybody in the industry "feels" this way from time to time: free the creatives from the shackles of research, give them unlimited access to the consumer, and add more weight their opinion, because, after all, they are consumers too. But just because we "feel" this way, doesn't make it so.

Case in point. How many professional organization meetings have we attended when one person floats an event idea, a bad one, but inevitability, someone else on the board says "Ooooo, that's a good idea ... I would go to that" despite the fact that it flies in the face of everything the organization knows to be true from its own member research. The logic: board members are members too. When the event flops, everybody stands around scratching their heads wondering what happened.

What happened? Simple. They fell into the trap that board members are the mirror image of members, despite the fact that there are fundamental differences between them. Board members and members are different audiences because one is engaged while the other is optionally engaged. In business, we often remind clients that no one is more interested in their product than they are. In other words, once you're engaged, you're automatically different than the target audience.

The same holds true for designers and other commercial creatives. Sure, some will find brilliance by becoming emotionally engaged by their own perspective and ego similar to artists like Paul Guanguin. But like all great philosophical approaches to art, design, and even business, there is another direction that's given less attention but has a superior effect. Staying with artists as the analogy, it would be the path taken by Michelango.

Michelango understood that if you destroy the ego and view the world as a third-party observer, looking not for that not-so-elusive emotional jazz, but for the truth, inspiration will flow through unencumbered and touch a greater audience. Right. Take yourself out of the equation and you'll end up with better design. Likewise, you'll end up with better communication that achieves the only real result: changing behavior.

Besides, when designers are given the shot to be the consumer, something else happens. Not all, but most fail. For evidence, look at the abundance of overproduced Flash-heavy agency and design Websites out there and you'll see what I mean. Their self-promotional work has more consumer appeal to their competitors than it does to the businesses they hope to win over.

Denis Du Bois with P5 Group Inc. in Seattle made the case nicely. He didn't have an article in Communication Arts like Gobe did, but he did send in a letter critiquing that designers are becoming too addicted to Flash. While I'm not a fan of the P5 Group Inc. Web site (that's okay, I'm not a fan of mine yet either), I am a fan of this thinking: "When our only tool is a hammer (Flash), every problem looks like a nail." Now only if he would concede that budget has nothing to do with whether or not you can make great communication, we might be friends.

Anyway, here, I'll give Du Bois what he asked for that Communication Arts didn't deliver and also illustrate my argument against Gobe's notion that all designers should be counted as the ultimate consumers (nor do all of them have intuitive superiority). ScuderiaO2 produces an simple, probably cost-effective design Web site that seems to appeal much better to its business target audience than most agnecies without any Flash whatsoever. Smart.

In conclusion, let me clarify a few things so there is no confusion: Flash is cool and works for a lot of products and companies (just not all products and all companies); Gobe has floated some great ideas before (but he's not as innovative as he thinks by feeding designer egos this time around); and Du Bois seems like a nice guy with some smart ideas (though I hope he abandons the "it's all about the budget" excuse). And ScuderiaO2, well, I'm still learning about them ... there seems to be a lot to be liked ... they seem like the kind of folks we would like to work with. But then again, we like everybody. Grin.

Monday, January 22

Breaking All The Rules: AdAge

As the 20th century was coming to a close, Advertising Age (AdAge) launched a major chronicle, the history of the era's advertising industry. It's a remarkable piece of work that can be seen online and contains the top 100 ad campaigns and people, along with the top 10 jingles, slogans, and icons.

I have shared segments of it in my public relations class for several years, under the auspices that public relations needs to work hand-in-hand with advertising (or vice versa if you prefer). The other reason I share it is simple. I like to show public relations professionals what they miss out on because for all the "rules" they have to follow, the best in advertising does not.

No, I am not talking about "rules" like whether or not there needs to be a call to action (although, I suppose, maybe there doesn't need to be). I'm talking about rules like those parodied in a Communication Arts classic article "Nine Ways To Improve A Volkswagen Ad," which, not coincidentally, targets the very ad that AdAge calls the best in history.

Here's an example: rule Number One from the classic parody touts the idea that we must always "think positive" in advertising. Applying this rule to the Volkswagen ad is easy enough: instead of the headline "Think Small," the headline should be "Think Big." And so on goes the list of rules, until one of the best campaigns in advertising history is nothing more than a shell of its former glory because it ends up looking like everyone else. In a previous post I link to the 2006 version of the Volkswagen parody, which uses Apple and Microsoft. The idea is the same.

I guess it's for this reason, my background in advertising, I also prefer the term "process" to "formula" with the distinction being that one guides you through strategic thinking (like a core message) while the other is nothing but a bunch of rules. The net result is that my favorite answer to most broad communication questions is "it depends." Because it really does depend.

For me, everything becomes more clear when it is applied to a single case study, because the answers are frequently different in one case study than another. Blogs, for example, are much like that. Lots of people are trying to invent formulas as to what makes the best blogs better than average blogs. The answer is actually pretty simple: the best blogs have a strategy. Everything else, whether it's online chat or cluster maps or anonymous comments, depends entirely on each specific blog.

If you don't believe me, perhaps you'll believe Bill Bernbach (1911-1982). Bernbach never read a blog, but there's a reason he emerged as No. 1 on AdAge's 20th century honor roll of advertising's most influential people. "Rules are what the artist breaks; the memorable never emerged from a formula," he said.

That's good enough for me. But just in case it's not good enough for you, take a look at all 100 campaigns featured by AdAge. They all have one thing in common. They all broke whatever rules were being enforced at the time. The same holds true for businesses in general, I suppose. The biggest success stories always seem to be innovate ideas no one else is doing.

Wednesday, September 13

Getting Web Design Right

"In the future, smart studios, advertisers and marketers will set up a team that's about the concept first. They'll nail a concept and they'll understand how technology has really changed fundamentally the way people are interacting with television, with film, with music, with social interaction. It's a very exciting time for designers, because it's a whole new set of areas to communicate and to think about the two-way dialogue." - Susan Easton, founder, New York City-based Easton Design, offering her take on the future of Web design to Communication Arts.

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