Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The MacGyver Theory of Creativity

Despite the Department of Education deeming it an inferior form of intelligence by scaling it down for the HSC, I studied Visual Arts as a subject in Year 11 and 12 – and I was pretty freaking AWESOME at it. That is, until I had to do my final major work. For those of you unfamiliar with the topic, (presumably choosing to study ‘real’ subjects), the major work is the only part of the curriculum where you can do absolutely anything you want as your project, ANYTHING at all – the possibilities were endless, and that was my trap.
I found myself lost without clear problems to solve, challenges to address, and boundaries to push - it was what had always driven my creativity (wanker), and this was what was missing from the major artwork project (for me anyway). That was 10 years ago, so I have since had time to reflect whilst pretending to work, and reflect I did. I have decided that like MacGyver crafting a torpedo out of some sticks, rocks, rags, some pipe and a boiler (fact!), often the best creative work comes from places with the most barriers challenges and limitations to overcome.
Limitation breeds innovation. Or conversely, the bigger the box gets, the harder it becomes to think outside of it.
I will demonstrate what I’m talking about with the 1980s as my backdrop and the video game and film industries as my protagonists (yes you can have more than one, I Googled it!).
Back in the 80’s the 'box' was small (relative to now at least), it was before the CGI graphical capabilities of today – this had huge impacts on these two very creative industries.
Firstly, let’s look at the birth of Mario. 
NOTE: not actual birth, rather a Google image result that I'm unable to accurately source

Shigeru Miyamoto (pictured above right amongst the bevy of Nintendo virgins) needed to create a protagonist (then referred to as “Jumpman”) to fight against the (since reformed) evil Donkey Kong who had kidnapped one said Nintendo virgin. He had an extremely limited number of pixels to work with, and somehow managed to MacGyver a recognizable human being out of 13x16 pixels (below):

It was the limitations that Miyamoto faced that created the unique look of the character:
  • Drawing an accurate representation of hair whilst keeping a distinction between eyes, eyebrows and hairline would be impossible, Miyamoto's solution - give Mario a hat 
  • Why does Mario have a mustache? Again, appearing relatively small on-screen meant animating facial features such as a mouth would be impossible
There is much more to this now modern folk tale, but I think you get the picture. All of Mario's features are an innovative response to an extremely limited situation (like being trapped in a basement with some sticks, rocks, rags, some pipe and a boiler), but Miyamoto was able to make the best of this limited scenario - he was able to innovate his way into creating an icon that remains at the top of modern video gaming.
Let’s compare that to the videogames of today. 
The biggest console games; Call of Duty, Gran Turismo etc - they are all real life simulators. Whilst I am no doubt unfairly generalising, my point is that creating a video game that is 100% realistic feels like a lazy aspiration; surely replicating reality is not the most creative pursuit? Where is the creativity that could craft another reality entirely? A reality like a 2D world where you view your movements from outside your body and everything side scrolls as you jump on top of enemies to kill them and eat mushrooms to gain special powers – that is the kind of creativity I am talking about and that's what Miyamoto was able to achieve back in the 80s.
Is the gaming industry suffering what plagued me in year 12 art? Perhaps! But let's move on.
Secondably, let's look at film.
I love old-school special effects, and it's not just some kind of nostalgic Pavlovian response (like peeing every time I hear the theme song to Golden Girls). There is something amazing in knowing that what you are watching is the result of some extremely creative problem solving. Remember watching "The Making Of" specials and being amazed that the sound of a dude getting smacked in the face was actually made by a baseball bat and a cabbage? These days the equivalent on Blu Ray and DVD special features usually involves a green screen and some computer animation.
This video says it all - it's a behind the scenes look at the special effects from 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars (awesome):
The problem is, like I was in year 12, film makers are now spoiled for choice, they can visually create anything they want. Of course this does not mean it is devoid of any creativity, it just means that there are less innovations in response to limitations - instead just CGI (sorry another unfair generalisation for effect).  
Remember when the creature used to transform behind a bush and your imagination would fill in the blanks?
It's the type of thing we no longer see, and it may be killing our imagination. Think back to the 80s - the special effects in Teen Wolf were awesome, yet somehow these now look cheesy. What has magically happened to retroactively destroy these scenes? the movie hasn't changed, it's us. Do we now need everything literally represented to us?
But I digress (wanker line, sorry).
What is the point of all this? Well if you work in the advertising industry like me, or any other creative industry, stop waiting for the perfect brief where the client lets you run free and do whatever you want, because chances are the result will be shitty and lack purpose. Think of every winning advertising award entry you have read, they didn't set up the challenge with "we had a huge budget and the client said we can do what ever we want!".
Embrace the boundaries and then push them - build yourself a box, then blast your way out of it!
UPDATE: Since Googling the title of my own blog post I have come across another great piece covers a similar thought (Macguyver and all) and it seems to land the point a lot stronger than I managed to - check it out here.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Dual Genius: Tupac and Lennon

This is one of those topics that I can't believe no one else has written about, and to be upfront with you, I won't do it justice here. This post will be short and sweet (like Andy Milonakis dipped in honey), focusing primarily on their music - and in the process, providing you with a kick-ass soundtrack for your working day.

1. Dedicated EPIC songs to their mothers.
Both were abandoned by their fathers extremely early on, in Lennon's case his mother also abandoned him, but they were reunited briefly (long enough for her to introduce him to music) before she was killed by an off duty police who was driving drunk.

2. Dis tracks targeted at their ex-best friends
One of Tupac's most notorious tracks is his dis track against Notorious (see what I did there?), but did you know that decades earlier, Lennon released a dis track against Paul McCartney? Boom!
NOTE: if you are unfamiliar with Tupac's lyrical style and are in an easily offended environment, I recommend wearing headphones

3. Metaphor of a gun as a woman and a woman as a gun
This one may be a stretch since no one knows exactly what the Beatles' Happiness is a Warm Gun is about exactly (John Lennon insists it is not heroin), a popular theory is that the gun is a metaphor for a woman (I'll let you connect the dots there). Whilst Tupac's Me and My Girlfriend is more obviously a metaphor for a gun ("Picked you up when you was nine, started out my life of crime with you, bought you some shells when you turned twenty-two...")

4. Makaveli & Plastic Ono Band
A lot of people seem to forget that the album The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory was not a 2pac album, it was the first (in a potentially longer series) of albums to be released under the alias "Makaveli" (these days most people wrongly refer to that as the album name). 

John Lennon felt a similar need to re-invent himself on his first album away from the Beatles; John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. Both albums represent a departure from their usual style with a much darker / angry tone and an emphasis on an almost violent raw emotion and almost ZERO radio friendly tracks. 
NOTE: I cant include the entire albums below so do youself a favour and look that shiz up! but you can listen to the below for starters.

My laziness prevents me from proving it, but the parallels don't end there, trust me there are more than four! This half-assed post really does only scratch the surface, but if I have managed to convert a couple of Tupac fans into Lennon fans, and some Lennon fans into Tupac fans, I will be happy.

UPDATED: I have found a few mash-ups of Tupac and Lennon on YouTube, this one is by far the best:

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Masterchef, Transformers and the Chocolate Factory

Audience fragmentation, an 'on-demand' model, ad avoidance, terrorists! What a scary media landscape we live in. It is mos def branded content's time to shine. But the truth is, since the first licensed toy was born in 1930 (via the humble Mickey Mouse doll), we have all grown up on branded content.

Contrary to popular belief, branded content is not about creating a 30+minute commercial, and it doesn't mean meeting logo exposure quotas in-program. It simply refers to the fundamental shift in approach to communications planning; from placing our ads around the content our target audience loves, to becoming the content that our target audience loves. But whilst the philosophy and the buzz term "branded content" feels relatively new, branded content has been rampant since the Willy Wonka Candy Company was launched alongside the first film adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic children's book.

Cast your minds back, if you will, to the 1980's; aside from being a great time for hair and audio reverb, it was also (and more relevant to this post) somewhat of a golden age for branded content. Gen Xer's, do you remember eating your Coco-Pops to this little number?

In hindsight, Transformers is an obvious example of branded content; and so you can explain to your friends why, here's a brief history (courtesy of reputed branded content textbook, Wikipedia):
  • 1974 & 1980 - Japanese toy company Takara launches Microman and Diaclone toy-lines (respectively).
  • 1983 - Tokyo Toy Fair - Hasbro toy company product developer Henry Orenstein 'discovers' Microman and Diaclone.
  • 1984 - Hasbro re-brands the toy lines under the new name "Transformers" and launches the new range alongside an animated series and comic book (produced by Marvel Comics)
Hasbro had previously trialed this three-pronged approach with G.I. Joe, but it wasn't until Transformers that it became the proven successful model that would be replicated through the 80's onwards; from Spiderman and Xmen to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Pokemon. In fact, a huge chunk of 80's and 90's cartoons were actually branded content built around this model: 

It is a model and a language that has been built into the Gen Y and Gen X brain, and as we have grown up, it has been able to successfully translate into broader categories. Whilst not branded content in its purest form, the Coles / Masterchef partnership is probably the best recent Australian example. With the launch of the Masterchef magazine, and with Coles completing the loop in a physical product sense, we see the same model used by Transformers and pals all those years ago:

So unless this was a model sent back through time to change the future for one lucky Japanese toy company, branded content is not some scary new beast that must be tamed (like some kind of fire-breathing elephant with a troubled past). Given we were raised on it, it shouldn't be hard for advertisers to understand; and if done well consumers don't need to understand it, i.e. as long as they are getting what they want out of the content it doesn't matter if it's branded or not (and in reality the distinction between the two is not clean-cut). 

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Lennon Vs. Draper: The Bed-in for Peace

Product: Peace
Creative Agency: John Lennon & Yoko Ono
Copywriter: John Lennon & Yoko Ono 
Art Director: John Lennon & Yoko Ono
PR: John Lennon & Yoko Ono
Media: John Lennon & Yoko Ono 
Let me be clear; this post is not about the moral conflicts that arise in the advertising business (although this example does speak volumes about using our powers for good); this post is more squarely targeted at our egos (over there, past 'dem trees).
The best campaigns always make you feel stupid, insignificant, lazy, and as if you add no value to the industry, let alone wider society (I don't care if you recycle). This is one such example where anyone referring to the "paid, owned and earned" model as anything new is quickly made to look quite the fool; and it was achieved nearly 50 years ago, not by Don Draper and pals, but by a couple of hippies who decided not to get out of bed one day. To be exact, it was 35 years before Facebook, 36 years before YouTube and 37 years before Twitter. 
The twist? It's still being amplified through social media today. Fittingly, I have embedded a video below that will bring you up to speed if you have never heard of any of the above:

How did they do it? High on love (but mostly drugs), in 1969 John and Yoko knew their wedding was sure to be a media frenzy, so they decided that if they were going to be in the paper, why not try and get the word 'peace' in there; it was basic product placement.
"We're trying to sell peace, like a product, you know, and sell it like people sell soap or soft drinks" 
- Lennon, The David Frost Show (14 June, 1969)
That core thought grew into a massive cross-platform-multimedia-Titanium-Lion-worthy campaign.

It launched with a stunt in Martin Place Amsterdam in March 1969, and was then replicated in Customs House Montreal shortly after in May. The stunt was of course, the aforementioned "Bed-In for Peace", and it built a model often (poorly) replicated today - launch with a stunt / capture content / amplify through paid, owned and earned media.

Journalists participated, and headlines were generated. But beyond editorial, the output from the stunt was not only the film "Bed Peace", but also a song; "Give Peace a Chance" peaked at number 2 in the UK (behind the Stones' "Honkey Tonk Woman") and number 14 in the USA.

Before you call them cheap lazy hippies (jeez, where do you get off?), it didn't end there. Later that year the paid component was implemented. In December 1969 John and Yoko bought outdoor billboards in 11 major world cities, including the below example from Times Square, New York:

But it was the next component that crafted a thick velvety layer of icing on the already delicious hippie cake (may contain traces of THC). In 1971 John & Yoko produced a bespoke piece of content that has received earned media coverage every year since - it was of course the song "Happy Xmas (War is Over)": 

By tapping into a seasonal tradition, John and Yoko were able to create something that has added infinite longevity to their campaign, and it remains as relevant as ever, the above clip is just one user's posting currently sitting at over 5million views.

Most recently, and the catalyst for this post, the full 1hour 10minute "Bed Peace" film has been posted on YouTube by Yoko Ono (and embedded below for your convenience); I strongly recommend you watch it:

Did you watch it? If you did, you were just on the receiving end of social media amplification of a campaign (via blogger seeding) that two people launched nearly 50 years ago - beautiful!