On Commercials, Virals and the Legacy of Conditioned Expectations

Marketing leaders spend a great deal of time worrying about the changing media landscape these days, and an article on MediaPost by Gavin O’Malley this morning will only further their agita.  According to a Princeton Survey Research study, 90% of young adults use video-sharing sites.  Well, no kidding.  The only reason that figure is not 100% is that broadband has yet to penetrate the entire country.

One of the marketing leaders’ principal responses to these changes is their insistence on renaming television production as “content” production.  In their minds, “content” or “video assets” can be endlessly re-purposed with different edits of different lengths for different platforms beyond merely television.

That is good planning, even if it is nothing particularly new.  Candidly, framing a shoot as “content production” helps agencies sell something that every creative on a shoot always wants:  options and additional scenes.  Production experience will quickly teach you to get alternate takes, particularly alternate endings.  With so much of a commercial’s impact and engagement dependent on the actors’ performance, the cost of getting options on set is relatively low.  If you experiment a bit, the actor might deliver a different and better performance than you planned- -which explains roughly 75% of creatives’ bristling at dogmatic pre-testing.  An animatic is but the palest imitation of fully produced film with human performances.

Viral?  Or TV Commercial?

Viral? Or TV Commercial?

Consider the videos that have clogged your inbox over the years: Bud Light’s “Swear Jar”, the non-sanctioned VW “Terrorist”, and arguably the granddaddy of all internet virals: John West Salmon’s  “Bear”.  People forward clips like these to their friends and family because they’re entertaining, surprising and fun.  And yet, every one of these began as a television commercial, albeit an outstanding television commercial.  These may have also worked in a longer format, but thirty or sixty seconds often proves ideal for their impact.  And our attention spans.  Why?  Because we have spent decades absorbing commercial messages at these lengths; we have been conditioned to expect these clips in these concise formats.

All of which means that the changing media landscape will not suddenly render the way we have learned to tell efficiently-structured stories as meaningless.  We must still engage consumers with worthwhile messages presented in a rewarding fashion.  Technology will continue to change, but story endures.

So yes, the marketing landscape is evolving and will continue to evolve.  Change will continue to be a constant.  And so creativity must adapt to embrace and leverage new platforms but never at the cost of classic storytelling.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

On Memes: the By-Products of Our Participatory Culture

“Meme” is one of those words I’ve long viewed skeptically.  It sounds egg-heady and vaguely French.  And I always have a nagging sense I’m pronouncing it wrong (it rhymes with ‘dream’).  Still, like Web 2.0, once I actually learned what it meant, it wasn’t particularly intimidating.  There’s a lot of egg-heady, vaguely Greek background information, but a meme basically amounts to to a self-replicating idea; think of it as copy-catting gone viral.  Or think of it as a very high percentage of what you like on YouTube.

Play Them Off, Keyboard Cat

Play Them Off, Keyboard Cat

Actually, don’t think about it too much; just enjoy this recent one; the play them off keyboard cat.  This is not a topic solely of interest to cat people.  Hardly.  This kimono-sporting feline does nothing more than move his paws over a synthesizer keyboard in an entirely unconvincing manner to a simple, ear-catching tune.  This is clearly not about the production value, which–aside from the well-tailored silk garb–is non-existent.  It’s about the idea; whenever someone or something produces a video FAIL (yet another meme), some amateur video editor takes that footage and intercuts this increasingly degrading clip into the situation at the end–literally playing him off ala Doc Severinsen on the old Tonight Show or Paul Shaffer on Letterman.  These video clips often takes on meta status as they add this keyboard cat meme onto already popular video clips like this, this, and my far and away favorite–this

When everyone can participate in the media, when technology makes it easy to make simple edits on a laptop, and when any video that captures the public attention can be forwarded with a few keystrokes, memes like the play-them-off-keyboard-cat will continually pop up like so many smile-inducing mayflies.  Perhaps dancing babies and grape stomp lady and where the hell is Matt? don’t add to the intellectual advancement of the culture, but they add undeniable fun to a Friday morning.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79