A Little Something for Your Time
You’re procrastinating right now. I know you are. There’s no other reason for you to be reading this. No one assigned it to you. There’s no iCal notification that said “Catch up on thoughts of Minneapolis creative director.” No, you’re actively avoiding your job right now. And that’s OK. As I write this, I am too.
So we’re procrastinating. But if this article can make the leap to being something useful, that’d change everything. You will be able to reclassify the time spent reading it as educational, maybe even inspirational. And I’ll be able to call the time spent writing it “career-building” and possibly even “thought-leading.” A textbook win-win.
I think we can do it, too, because I’m setting up a work-related analogy with all of this. It might be a clumsy analogy but you’ll forgive me for that, because as we’ve already established, it’s in your best interest to find all of this useful and thought-provoking.
As ad people, this is what we do every day. We have a back-and-forth. We understand our audience, and we give them something in return for their attention. Howard Gossage, San Francisco’s legendary adman, summed it up nicely ages ago: “People read what interests them. And sometimes it’s an ad.”
Today, we have a lot more ways to interest people than Gossage did. That’s exciting. Less exciting is that we also have more ways to not interest them. Amazing, culture-shifting technologies, and we use all of them to talk about ourselves. Here’s an ad about us. Now here’s an Instagram post, also about us. Over here you’ll find a Facebook post wherein we can dive a little deeper into the topic of us. Look, VR, so you can finally know what it’s like to be us. But enough about us–let’s see what our complex influencer network thinks about us.
We spend so much time and effort to make ourselves look smart and good that we forget our audience wants to look smart and good, too.
That’s a violation of the deal. That is not our aforementioned win-win. Our audience is giving us their time, and we’re not giving them anything in return. My friend Spencer Baim with Vice Media says, “If you don’t have anything interesting to say as a brand, you’re just a product.” Spencer is very smart and I’m not entirely sure of his point, but it sounds both firm and damning.
So what can we do? We can give something back. We can be useful. We can be helpful. We can be interesting. It’s even OK if we’re just super-entertaining. People would appreciate that.
Plannerly-types talk about “brand utility” and that’s no doubt a part of it, but right now let’s just talk about the ads themselves. Because ads can do this. Ads can have utility. Ads can be mutually beneficial. Ads can be little pieces of communication that actually add something to life instead of just subtracting time from it.
Look at what LEGO just did. They saw the fidget spinner craze taking hold of our kids (and maybe our co-workers) and posted an Instagram story showing how to make one from pieces you might have lying around the house. It may not win all the Cannes Lions their past print ads have won, but as the dad of a 4- and 7-year old, it’s a hell of a lot more useful.
REI understands the deal. With #OptOutside, they not only took a stand on Black Friday, they gave us a way to take a stand, too. We got to look thoughtful, and outdoorsy (two things I strive to be) and all we had to do was share their content.
Beats by Dre did it too, with the launch of the movie Straight Outta Compton. Hard to get product-placement in a period piece. Instead, they got all-of-us placement, reminding us that we’re all straight outta somewhere. Suddenly, the movie felt current, Beats had a role, and we all felt a little cooler for being associated with it.
Subaru, a partner of ours at Carmichael Lynch, has been aware of this deal for a while now. And just recently we launched #MeetAnOwner, a way for prospective buyers to talk directly to current Subaru owners. You can even make sure your interests align. Pretty useful if you’re thinking about buying one, and pretty fun to browse (and brag) if you’re already drive one.
These aren’t selfless efforts. They’re ads. Non-traditional, maybe, but still ads. And they’re ads that hold up their part of the deal - you give us your attention, and we’ll give you something in return. It only seems fair. As creative directors and creative agencies and creative people in general, it’s a good bar to put on all of our work: make it worth their while, or don’t make it all.
Marty Senn is CCO at Carmichael Lynch