Casey Flanagan

What To Learn From: Pixar

Pixar is a creative powerhouse. Its fourteen feature films have earned 27 Academy Awards, seven Golden Globe Awards, and 11 Grammy Awards.

But for all of its innovation – and its related refusal to accept the status quo – Pixar has an important relationship with reality. Its approach depends on its ability to create a world that is recognizable, but different. Expectedly unexpected.

And two quotes from Pixar directors – taken together – paint a smart, productive approach that any company could learn from:

“I believe in research. You can’t do enough research, believability comes out of what’s real.”
– John Lasseter (Cars)

“We don’t want to reproduce reality; we want to make the unbelievable believable.”
– Brad Bird (Incredibles)

Most companies do research in order to understand. And that’s a good thing. Understanding allows marketers to make things relevant. But relevance has a dark side. Make something too relevant and it becomes expected. Or worse, invisible.

Pixar’s approach is successful, in part, because it doesn’t settle on reality. Understanding the world is a first step to diverging from it.

You have to know the rules in order to break them.

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Casey Flanagan

Exciting vs. Good

Stability is rarely exciting.

Lengthy tracking reports have a way of driving this point home – for both the presenter and the audience.

It is important to remember, though, lack of excitement has no bearing on amount of “good.” In the same way that good research doesn’t have to include new findings, it need not be “exciting” either. Stable, expected results – while not newsworthy – can be among the best presentations to sit through.

I was reminded of this when the Nate Silver news (he’s leaving the New York Times) hit this week. While we all want to report soundbites breathlessly, many meaningful changes happen in small increments. Slowly. Over time. Silver’s FiveThirtyEight is a great example of this. Within stable returns, there is still a powerful story to be told.

And stability? It can be good – even great. Especially when it comes to results.

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Casey Flanagan

Know Your Sources

I received an email earlier this week from Jim Geurts titled 13 Stats to Convince Your Boss to Invest in Mobile in 2013. It was a great read – I’d highly encourage you to spend a few minutes with it. A sampling: 25.85% of all emails are opened on mobile phones, and 10.16% are opened on tablets.

The content was great. But what I appreciated even more were the sources. (The stat above comes from Knotice).

In the Digital Age, facts can lose context easily. And, with an ever-increasing supply of “fact,” there is danger in Googling for answers. The numbers that seem too good to be true? They can be just that.

If a number is important, follow it to its source. A recent non-marketing example drives the point home as clearly as any I’ve seen. It comes from an article in this month’s Atlantic titled How Long Can You Wait to Have a Baby?:

The widely cited statistic that one in three women ages 35 to 39 will not be pregnant after a year of trying, for instance, is based on an article published in 2004 in the journal Human Reproduction. Rarely mentioned is the source of the data: French birth records from 1670 to 1830. The chance of remaining childless—30 percent—was also calculated based on historical populations… In other words, millions of women are being told when to get pregnant based on statistics from a time before electricity, antibiotics, or fertility treatment.

It’s not a marketing example, but the author’s point can – and must – be applied to anyone seeking truth online these days: “Most people assume these numbers are based on large, well-conducted studies… but they are not.”

Know your numbers. But, as importantly, know your sources.

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Katie Mullen

Reaching “Peak Bullshit” and Where We Go From Here

I’m a college graduation speech junkie. When you ask interesting people to share life lessons, not surprisingly, it can make for some pretty great stuff.

My favorite of 2013 was Jon Lovett’s address to the graduates of Pitzer College, which the 30-year-old former Obama speechwriter later excerpted in a piece for The Atlantic called “Life Lessons on Fighting a Culture of Bullshit.”

You had me at “bullshit,” Jon. Being that the recession created skeptics out of even the most trusting among us, I’m willing to bet his point of view will strike a cord with you too. It’s kind of hard not to agree with statements like this:

“One of the greatest threats we face is, simply put, bullshit. We are drowning in it. We are drowning in partisan rhetoric that is just true enough not to be a lie; in industry-sponsored research; in social media’s imitation of human connection; in legalese and corporate double-speak. It infects every facet of public life, corrupting our discourse, wrecking our trust in major institutions, lowering our standards for the truth, making it harder to achieve anything.”

You can see where I’m taking this as it relates to brands. Phoniness is becoming a liability and, conversely, there’s more opportunity than ever for brands that are honest. In a McKinsey & Company article about the rise of socially conscious consumers, the growing importance of brand integrity is spelled out in the stats:

“At the same time, consumer trust in corporations has declined by 50 percent since the crisis. Consumers now trust only one in four companies on average. The dearth of trust in the marketplace makes it an agent of differentiation. As a result, the correlation of trust to brand equity has increased by 35 percent in the past three years. Trust, once an afterthought, can even help companies enter new market categories.”

Jon Lovett not only recognized a similar demand for sincerity in his commencement speech, he argued that it’s led us to an important cultural tipping point:

“I believe we may have reached ‘peak bullshit.’ And that increasingly, those who push back against the noise and nonsense; those who refuse to accept the untruths of politics and commerce and entertainment and government will be rewarded. That we are at the beginning of something important. We see it across our culture, with not only popularity but hunger for the intellectual honesty of Jon Stewart or the raw sincerity of performers like Louis CK and Lena Dunham. You see it across the political spectrum, from Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts to Chris Christie in New Jersey to Rand Paul in Kentucky.”

Marketing can’t create trust in this environment, it can only magnify it. More and more, people are looking into the practices and policies of the companies they choose to hand their money over to. Do they treat their employees fairly? What are their environmental policies? Where/how are their products made?

That’s why I think Jon’s parting advice to the Pitzer graduates is as relevant to brands as it is to individuals:

“All you have to do is avoid BSing yourself — in whatever you choose to do…be honest with yourselves, and others…reject a culture of insincerity by virtue of the example you set.”

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Casey Flanagan

In Praise of Fact

Theories are the bedrock of innovation. They question the status quo. They drive new thinking. They spark change. But where do theories come from?

Whether we can articulate the specifics or not, theories originate from data. From numbers, experiences, results or reactions. And data comes from the past.

But the role of theory is to look into the future.

Facts are the bridge. If data comes from the past and theories look to the future, facts live in the present. Facts are the linchpin.

While theory’s job is to explain facts. It is the job of fact to organize data.

Theories get the credit. And, perhaps, they should. Great theories bring data – and facts – to life. With vision, through storytelling.

But make no mistake, facts do much of the work. Obsessing over facts is time well spent. Doing so is the first step towards your future.

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Katie Mullen

DEAR ADVERTISERS: YOU’RE OFFICIALLY ON NOTICE. SINCERELY, WOMEN

Photo: Vagenda Magazine

I started down my path as a marketer in the late 90s as a media major. One of the first things I observed about the industry I was preparing to join was how off-base, out-of-touch and sometimes downright insulting too many of its messages targeting women were. Sadly, not much has changed since then (which still amazes me given the significant consumer purchasing power women have had for decades). But I do think it’s finally about to.

As a women’s issues advocate and an account planner at an agency that gets it, I’ve felt the momentum building toward a fourth wave women’s movement — and, concurrently, a tipping point-level demand for more media accountability — for a while now. Then a few weeks ago, this widely-held presumption was recognized as an official consumer trend by Kate Muhl of Iconoculture (my favorite research resource). From Kate’s “The F-Word Returns” trend brief:

Thanks to post-recession economic realities, a 2012 campaign season that brought women’s issues to the fore, and public figures like Sheryl Sandberg, feminism is back — but with a witty, social-media-fueled twist. Both women and men are participating in the conversation, and taking misguided brands to task.

 Yes. Yes. Yes.

One of the most entertaining examples of “taking misguided brands to task” is the hilarious parody commercial Ellen DeGeneres created for Bic’s “For Her” pen series after the brand attempted to recruit her as its spokesperson last fall. But, as Kate points out, “Women (and men) are no longer sitting in a passive position waiting for the entertainment industry to channel their irritation into lampoons and parodies.” They’re taking matters into their own hands and, in doing so, are forcing worldwide change:

  • Just weeks ago, Reebok dropped their sponsorship agreement with rapper Rick Ross because of social media-fueled pressure surrounding song lyrics referencing date rape.
  • Miss Representation, the advocacy organization behind the fantastic documentary by the same name, introduced the hashtag #NotBuyingIt during this year’s Super Bowl to call out brands that rely on sexual objectification to sell their products and are currently raising money for a #NotBuyingIt app that will let users photograph, map and share sexist ads.
  • Ford India’s leaked ad mock-ups depicting bound women in the trunk of a car sparked online outrage and resulted in the termination of several of their agency’s employees. (Again, keep in mind that these ads never even ran.)

Possibly the best example how tired consumers have become of the media’s hyper-sexualized, perfection-obsessed depictions of women came not from yet another outrageously disparaging ad, but from an unusually relatable one — Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” video. Unless you’ve been off-grid for the last week, you’ve probably seen it and/or had discussions about why it was such a big deal. Although some have made relevant arguments about the limitations of Dove’s message, it’s clearly proven that authenticity is an approach that women will not only respond to, but champion.

Women have become so used to media that creates and preys on insecurities (there’s a lifetime of that BS inconveniently stored in our brains), which is exactly why the Dove campaign feels so revolutionary. And the message it sends to the industry couldn’t be any clearer: It’s time for a more progressive and respectful way to communicate with women.

“Girls get the message, from very early on, that what’s most important is how they look, that their value, their worth, depends on that,” says Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D, an author and filmmaker internationally recognized for her work on the image of women in advertising. “Boys get the message that this is what’s important about girls. We get it from advertising, we get it from films, we get it from television shows, video games — everywhere we look. So no matter what else a woman does, no matter what else her achievements, her value still depends on how she looks.”

The price our society pays for this environment is high: girls are increasingly learning to self-objectify, women are twice as likely to suffer from major depression than men, 65% of females exhibit eating disorder behavior, and 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

This is not just an industry issue (and certainly, within our industry, there are many exceptions) or potentially a bottom-line issue, it’s a social and moral issue propagated by other cultural influencers as well. Yet when media shapes culture, like it does in this always-connected digital age, not taking responsibility for our role in it is…well, irresponsible.

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Ilana R. Borzak

It’s (Not) all about the Money

This story begins when Max Ahlborn, a judge for One Show (an international advertising award show), noticed a pattern. Nearly every submission he reviewed included “crescendos of press and blog posts along side a proud announcement that not a single dollar had been spent on a media buy. A pattern that in just a few hours had become, well, slightly cliche.”[1] His critical view of the ad industry’s tendency to overhype page views and no media spend is something I share.

To highlight his point, Ahiborn created and launched a website, nomediaspend.com. He used no money to promote the site, only his and fellow judges’  Twitter accounts. Within a day, the site’s counter hit the 10,000 mark and multiple media outlets covered the story. He even created a case study video, that mocks the typical format advertisers use when presenting and highlighting an ad campaign’s effectiveness. The video uses advertising lingo and sophisticated-looking (read: confusing) charts to create the aura of a marketing success.

This campaign is truly clever. It’s both creative and tongue-in-cheek; a combination that, in this case, generated significant attention. It also ironically highlights his issue: getting people to talk about a brand doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve created a successful and effective campaign.  Other metrics are needed.

Advertising exists to generate sales and increase profit. The amount spent on media is merely a detail, not a goal. A campaign that generates one hundred views, spends nothing on media, and results in no sales is not necessarily better than one that spends $10 for 50 media impressions and generates $20 in sales. Never mind that both types of campaigns incur costs during ideation, production, and maintenance.  Each brand, product, message is best presented in a certain way and through a certain medium. If 100,000 views without spending a cent of media increase sales, great. If it requires buying media, cool. Particularly during our ‘social age,’ it’s easy to get in lost in the metrics of earned media (likes, tweets, shares, etc). But, at the end of the day, we’re here to increase a brand’s profits. And sometimes, but not always, it takes [media] money to make money.

 

 

[1] http://creativity-online.com/news/breels-max-ahlborn-on-being-cheap/149619

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Casey Flanagan

Another Six-Pack For Sunday’s Game

Six points-of-interest about the much-talked-about off-the-field action. If you are going to share them this Sunday, just make sure to do so once the on-the-field has started up again.

THE BOTTOM LINE
The average price for thirty seconds of Super Bowl air time is $3.8 million. That’s up 8% from last year. And about a 25% bump from just two years ago.

THE CHANGING FACE OF MEASUREMENT
USA Today’s Ad Meter is an oft-cited source of judging popularity. As recently as three years ago, these numbers were gathered from 250 handheld devices in San Diego, CA and McLean, VA. This year you can join the Ad Meter panel so you can “have a voice in the biggest pop-culture event of the year.”

THE STAR PLAYERS
Since 2003, beer and cars made up 37% of all Super Bowl ad sales.

THE SECOND SCREEN
16% of online videos accessed by tablet and mobile phones are watched on a day with a major sporting event. It makes sense, given that 36% of viewers report they’ll be using a second screen during the game.

THE GAME BEFORE THE GAME
Ads released before the Super Bowl generated more 9.1 million views on average, compared with 1.3 million for those appearing online the day of the game. VW’s 2011 The Force which was watched 14 million times before it aired on Super Bowl Sunday.

THE LONG GAME

Great content wins – in the short-term and the long-term. 92% of shares came from the top 20 Super Bowl ads. 55% of Super Bowl 2012 shares came after March 1.

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Casey Flanagan

Plans are temporary. Planning is permanent.

Dwight Eisenhower famously posited “Plans are nothing. Planning is everything.” It’s true. Here’s a corollary: Plans are temporary. Planning is permanent.

Plans matter. But they can – and will – change. We are now able to track, to test, to optimize more efficiently and effectively than ever before. And we must account for market forces that are providing new challenges and opportunities at increasing rates. For technology that offers consistently new ways to do things. For consumers who are constantly exposed to new bright, shiny objects.

What is permanent is the thinking that goes into creating the plans. The questioning. The reasoning. The prioritizing. And while conclusions should never be set in stone, the act of planning builds a strong foundation for insight and understanding. A foundation that can evolve with the next round of rigorous analysis.

As I wrote last week, when the possibilities are endless, priorities are essential. Plans tell you where to go – what possibilities to tackle now. Planning should focus on bedrock – providing a deeper understanding of why you should get there.

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Casey Flanagan

The Future Of Strategy

We are told to try more things. To fail faster. To be nimble. To make more, smaller bets. To stop thinking so much and to start to… do.

It’s good advice.

It’s good advice because media, technology and consumers are all changing. As a result, we must challenge assumptions on an increasingly ongoing basis. The best way to test? To do.

It’s good advice because choices – and niches – are proliferating. Standing out in an increasingly cluttered field will require trying new things. The best way to try new things? To do.

And it’s good advice because the idea that “if you can think it, you can do it” has never been more true. So why not start getting things done?

So what is The Future Of Strategy in A World Of Doing?

The idea that doing is easier than ever is – also – exactly why strategy matters more than ever. The planning, the thinking, the talking-it-through? They set the direction. The roadmap for the many available decisions and opportunities. They make the day-to-day doing more effective.

When possibilities are endless, priorities are essential. The Future Of Strategy is strong.

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