You Owe the Companies Nothing

Stan Johnson shares this great rant from Banksy on advertising and advertisers in our society. It’s a little Cluetrain-esq with a more activist angle.

Take a read.

Does he make a fair point? I’m interested to know your point of view … not because it’s inflammatory or because I have a vested interest. How does it make you feel as a CREATOR of content and a CONSUMER of advertising? How do you reconcile this spectrum – or is there even a need? Do we owe companies nothing – or is there some silent, complicit contract or is is a fabrication?


Design is Trust – Using the Nine Principles to Change Your Work Practices in Nine Days

I like the central theme running through this presentation by Jason Cranford Teague – trust. And while the focus is on design – mostly web design as it turns out – these nine core principles can so readily be applied to any business or communication challenge. They can be applied to advertising. To social media. To storytelling. To literature.

So as you are browsing through this presentation (and yes, the 100 odd slides will slip by quickly), think about your particular business challenges in light of the nine principles. Consider the changes you need to make in your current work patterns to deliver on each principle. And if you dare to, write down one thing you WILL do for each of the next nine days – taking one  principle per day.

And I’d love it if you’d also go one step further – to write a blog post about what you are doing. Each day. Nine blog posts. You know you can do it.

Who Makes Snow?

Good copywriting is hard work – and hard to come by.

But this ad from National Australia Bank is a winner in my book. Some great visual storytelling – often in juxtaposition to the narrative – combined with sharp editing and a nice balance between landscape, industry and faces bring a warmth to the often bland branding associated with financial services.

What do you think? Thumbs up? Thumbs down? Meh?

Via @acatinatree

Saying is Momentary, Doing is Forever

WalkersTalkersStalkersBaulkers Over the past couple of weeks I have been doing workshops and talks and entertaining people with what I call “the magic quadrant of getting shit done”. It’s this chart of “walkers, talkers, stalkers and baulkers” – the four basic behaviours that people exhibit when presented with some kind of change.

This tends to get people talking – which is great. But more importantly, it provides us with a shared language. It helps us identify, from a 1000ft point of view, what is happening for the people who are involved in our projects – and allows us to name a behaviour. It allows us to identify individuals and then develop a plan to shift their behaviour (or to amplify their best efforts as appropriate).

Now, changing someone’s behaviour is never easy. It requires focus and commitment (from you). It requires a plan and often a great deal of time (also from you). Remember, the person, the organisation or the brand you are trying to change has little incentive to change – so the onus is on you.

While I have worked in marketing for years, most of what I actually do comes from the world of corporate “change management”. It just so happens that brands and branding are a great way of curating an ongoing narrative about change. I learned this early on and continue to bring this into every strategy I produce and every tactic that I use.

When I was recently asked about the difference between “talkers” and “walkers”, I realised that sometimes the talkers actually think THEY are the walkers. This is not just a case of drinking your own kool aid – it’s a lack of understanding of the principles of change management.

The talkers believe that simply identifying a gap or a problem is enough. They may even go so far as to point out a solution (which may or may not be obvious). In some cases they can even provide a connection – a person, a business or a recommendation to help. But this is not enough. Success means that even the most articulate and passionate talkers must at some stage shift mode and become walkers (or at least hire or surround themselves with some).

Saying is momentary, doing is forever. In the words of The King – what we need is a little less conversation, a little more action.

How to Write Copy for Social Media

When it comes to business communication, I have seen it all. I have written speeches for CEOs, developed product and service brochures, come up with copy for ads, websites, and jingles – and everything in between.

But some of the things that made me successful as a business communicator and copywriter were the things that prevented me from communicating well in social media. Even after some considerable time using social media, I found it easy to slip into a more formal business style for communicating.

Fundamentally there is a dividing line between writing in the voice of the brand and writing in the voice of the customer. I call this the “mirror of intent” – for your communication can go either way. Do you want authority or do you want authenticity? When you know which side of the mirror you stand, you can adjust your style accordingly. But be warned – both approaches are valid for different types of communication. And both take practice and discipline.

The graphic below explains five ways you can deliver on your intent.

These are my observations and were inspired by discussions with the wise and articulate community evangelist, Marilyn Pratt – but perhaps there is something I have missed. Share your experience by leaving a comment!

A Cup of Chaos #66: Emotional Storytelling

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece for MarketingProfs – Google Gets Emotional When Telling Stories … And So Can You. It showcases a video for Google’s Chrome web browser and talks not about the technology but about the emotional impact of that technology on our lives. It’s a great piece – check it out.

But can you apply the same storytelling approach to other sectors? Of course! Ann Handley shares this great brand story from the non profit sector.

A Love Story… In Milk from Catsnake on Vimeo.

Guest Post: It’s Not About the Method, It’s About the Message

Over the years, one particular question is starting to become the norm. "What's our message?" Ok, I would expect this question from a small business or a startup selling something like snail-flavoured crackers. They get an idea, they are passionate about the idea, and boom, they think the next step is for us to crank out a logo or website. Unfortunately they aren't the only ones tripping over this error.

Organizations pulling in 20 million in revenue have the same question. When we are brought in, as goal-oriented graphic designers, the goal should be presented. We should be the creative outlet to communicate the message for that goal, but so many times there is no message to communicate. These companies spend their time focusing on the platform they will use to deliver the message, but not the message itself. It's like choosing a method of transportation before knowing your destination. This may have been permissible when bigger marketing budgets meant more ads plastered everywhere and more revenue, but this doesn't fly anymore.

In a new global economy consumers are harder to attract, and naturally suspicious of your motives. In this market place, simply spewing out gorgeous designs won't do; I can pay anyone with Photoshop a few bucks and get that. We need to be more emotionally and culturally sensitive. Simply jumping on Twitter and Facebook, or creating a "viral" video won't do it, these were trendy at first, but they are quickly morphing into simple distribution channels like web sites, email or texting.

Companies need to press their marketing firms, design firms and other ad teams to focus on goals. As a designer, let me caution the Marketing VPs and Communication Directors out there: Your ad campaign message needs to be established independently of the method of communication. The design should be the very last step. It's not about the method, it's about the message.

Justin Brady is the quick-witted founder of Test of Time Design in Des Moines, Iowa.

Write Me a Guest Post

Over the years I have had a few people write guest posts here, but it is not something that I have pushed. Recently I thought it might be an interesting experiment – so I asked some folks on Twitter and received positive feedback.

What got me excited about the idea was sharing in your creativity. Like a zombie, I am interested in your brains.

But then it got me thinking … how do I brief a guest blogger? What do they need to know about and how can they make sure that their writing and interests are a good match?

So – if you ARE interested in writing a guest post, here’s some things you should know:

  1. This is a marketing and branding blog. There’s a lot of information about social media here, but it is in the context of the business of marketing. Don’t send me posts on using social media without a serious business context. My readers are also interested in your brains
  2. About 32% of the web readership is from the USA with a slightly smaller percentage coming from Australia. The UK accounts for about 10% of the traffic, with Canada, India and Germany rounding out the top five. Make sure your topic has an international flavour
  3. In addition to the web traffic, there are about 135,000 subscribers per month – make sure you link back to your own site to benefit from the interest
  4. Much of the content here focuses on thought leadership rather than “how to” information. Challenge me with your ideas or explain a new way of doing the same old thing
  5. Twitter only generates about 5% of my inbound traffic. More than 20% of web traffic is direct and Google delivers about 30% so make sure you write good headlines
  6. No pitching. If you represent a brand or a product etc, write about the problem that you are trying to solve rather than about your “stuff”. And write it like a real person. If you send me a brochure I will ignore it
  7. If you DO have something funky that you’d like to share with my audience, don’t pitch it. Instead, tell me the story of why YOU love it and do what you do. Make it real. Maybe then I’ll take it

Now, if you are still interested in writing a guest post, leave me a comment below, or send me an email to outline your thoughts. I’m keen to feast upon your brains!

Beyond Innovation – Vibewire’s fastBREAK

I love a TED talk or a TEDx video as much as the next person. These videos that capture the speeches given at the annual TED conferences in Long Beach/Palm Springs and Edinburgh, feature some of the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers. Each speaker is challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes or less).

But time is short, and often I don’t need more, I need less. Sometimes even that 18 minute talk is a luxury that I struggle to squeeze into my day. As Clay Shirky suggests, what we often experience is not a glut of information but a failure to filter the information in a relevant way. And often that means that even the best TED talks receive short shrift.

But perhaps more than this need to zero-in on the essential elements, I find that I am increasingly interested in not just the hero story – the path to success, the riches achieved or the way it was done – but in the personal story that is the back story of the hero. I want to know the person behind the mask. After all, every great success costs us something as does every great failure.

This is where Vibewire’s fastBREAK innovation series breaks much needed ground.

On the last Friday of every month, Vibewire in partnership with the Powerhouse Museum, showcases five young innovators in five minute long talks (notice how quick they are?). The focus is on the personal journey that these pioneers have undertaken. Sometimes it’s fun. Sometimes it’s heartbreaking. And sometimes it takes your breath away. But it is ALWAYS inspiring.

Just take a look at these two talks and you’ll see what I mean – one from Leanne Townsend, CEO of the NSW Reconciliation Council and Courtney Tight, Media and Marketing Coordinator of the Young UN Women Australia Sydney Committee.

fastBREAK is a core component of Vibewire’s charter – to ensure that young people are included (and able to participate) in conversations that matter – at local, state, national and even global levels. The events are produced by a team of young volunteers. The speakers are carefully selected and coached. The themes are brainstormed and promoted. And each quarter the stories are gathered and published as an anthology.

As the chair of the Vibewire Board, I am proud of the quality and the consistency of these events – and the hard work of Annie Le Cavalier and Hala Hubraq and her team. But the most exciting part of these events is seeing some of the Vibewire interns, volunteers and workspace residents step out of the audience to share their own stories.

So now, tell me, have you had the chance to come along to a fastBREAK event? What did you think?

It’s Time to Stop Killing the Heroine

I’ve never been a fan of film. While my friends studied film and communications, dreaming of becoming directors, journalists and documentary film-makers, my attention passed over the latest blockbuster, the must-see arthouse flick or the searing naval-gazing documentary as if it was already speaking in a dead language to me.

I studied theatre at university – completed a masters degree and even commenced a PhD on the subject of writing and performance. There was more breath – more life – in a dozen stanzas of Heiner Muller’s Hamletmachine or Shakespeare’s Macbeth than in almost any movie I had seen. Not that this always translated to live theatre – which seemed to want to replicate the shallow conventions of the silver screen. In my impatience for something more authentic, I’d often leave performances at interval, disillusioned between the promise and the delivery.

And so I’d return time and again to the text. That’s what fascinated me. But not just reading – I was drawn to writing as well. I wanted to understand what made great writing great. I wanted to follow the journey of writing to its end – or at least as close to its end as I could stand. And it was while starting this journey (that never ends) that I encountered one of my greatest teachers. And it all began with a single letter – H.

Helene Cixous’ Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing has been my constant companion for almost 20 years. She starts the book with the letter H – a ladder, but also her starting point – the first letter of her name. For me, it was the first letter of a surname that I had yet to come to grips with. Descending that ladder would take time and experience.

But something that struck me about Cixous’ thinking and writing was the way that she would expose the secrets of writing to the glare of the sun. To the scrutiny of the ever watchful reader. She points out that one of literature’s constant and recurring themes is the death of the woman. We see it time and time again – but the “death of the woman” that Cixous writes of is not the literal, ultimate disempowerment of death, visually and poetically reduced. It is something more visceral:

To begin (writing, living) we must have death … We must have death, but young, present, ferocious, fresh death, the death of the day, today’s death. The one that comes right up to us so suddenly that we don’t have time to avoid it, I mean to avoid feeling its breath touching us. Ha!

But so many writers avoid coming close to the face of death. They shy away from it’s sweet, pungent breath and they serve up the corpse, the lost girl, the fallen angel. These writers serve up death on a platter and name it “accomplishment” – and never once challenge us in our own complicity.We see it every day in crime drama on TV. It’s presented there – in the news – and in the streets where we live. But just because we see it, live it, breathe it – it does not make it art. By all rights, it should make it outrage.

And that’s exactly what I was left with at the end of a recent night’s viewing. It’s not that the writing wasn’t good. It’s not that the performances weren’t great. And it’s not that the twists and turns, the characterisation or the cinematography didn’t result in quality drama. Indeed, Black Swan, was far more than adequate in all these areas.

When Natalie Portman’s character, Nina, was challenged by director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), to “be” the black swan, we knew that death was on the cards. To find, to share, to become dangerous with her performance, Nina would need to open the door which would lead to the other side – to that ferocious death that Cixous speaks of.

But for a movie that deals intensely with the creative process – and with the life of an artist on the ascendency – I was bitterly disappointed that when the fork in the road was reached, that the lesser road was taken. Not only did the narrative fail to become its own “Black Swan” in the choice of ending, it did so by betraying its audience. We became witnesses to a crime in which we ourselves played a part – the lights come up, we all applaud and go home.

Well, I for one, am sick and tired of seeing heroines killed for our entertainment. These lazy metaphors numb our senses and inure us to the daily atrocities that grace our screens. We need to ask more of our writers. Our artists. Our news readers. Our politicians. We need to ask more of ourselves.

And we should do this not just for ourselves, but also for the beautiful, complex, challenging and fragile women in our lives – friends, mothers, daughters, wives and lovers.

When I studied theatre, I did so because it was the art form that brought us, moment by moment, closest to life. And if you have been privileged to see such a performance – say Nick Cave, dangerously leering over the edge of the stage, or Norman Kaye in Swimming in the Light – then you will know that there are indeed, moments where the divisions between theatre and life disappear. It’s these moments that I love and why I am also drawn to social media in all its chaos and fresh ferocity – for in our own performance, in our own perpetual storytelling, we speak ourselves into existence one blog post, tweet or twitpic at a time.

If you are going to speak. Speak truth.