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Beyond Metaphor During my wayward youth, I lived in San Francisco and wrote advertisements for technology companies. Faced with the necessity of explaining complex software packages, I routinely resorted to the crutch of all lazy copywriters, the metaphor. This software was like a swiss army knife. This other software was like the missing piece to a puzzle. These lazy metaphors shared one common quality – they didn’t actually explain anything. But I comforted myself that there was no other way of explaining new technologies to the market. I was reminded of this during a recent visit to the offices of Local Projects, a company that designs exhibits and experiences for museums around the world. Local Projects had recently partnered on some interactive exhibits at the Tech Museum in San Jose. The one that struck me as the most impressive was an interactive exhibit that explained how synthetic biology actually worked. Here was an immensely complex, new technology and yet Local Projects had created a complete, engaging and intelligent explanation through interactive experience. No metaphors were necessary. Application to Marketing: Marketers are routinely tasked with explaining complex things to the market. In technology and pharmaceutical advertising in particular, escalating levels of complexity need to translated in a way that doesn’t leave the target audience shaking their heads. The result: rampant use of weak metaphors. What Local Projects has so ably demonstrated is that it is not necessary to resort to metaphor. The key is to engage your audience in the full complexity of your offering by creating experiences that challenge their intelligence and their imagination. Too many companies are playing away from their strength of technical superiority because they have no idea how to communicate that superiority to the market. Next Steps: Local Projects does work with brands. Read More The Technology of Art The Delft University of Technology in Holland has recently completed a fascinating project. They attempted to create a new painting in the style of Rembrandt by scanning all of the artist’s known works and using a computer to compose a new work using that data. Once this new face had been quantified and composed, they used a 3-D printer to print the work in order to capture the contours created by layers of paint. The result is a work of art. Perhaps it lacks the spark of life and interpretation that have made Rembrandt a household name, but it is certainly interesting to look at. Application to Marketing: Human creativity is an odd thing. Some AI researchers seem to believe that creativity is reducible to a series of techniques and quirks that constitute something known as “style.” But many psychologists believe that creativity is actually much deeper – a combination of novelty and synthesis that cannot be algorithmically reproduced. Marketing is driven by creativity. But only a tiny percentage of that creativity is genuinely original. Much of what we call creativity in marketing is actually the same as this “new Rembrandt” – just a bunch of old ideas processed and coalesced into something new. Does marketing require genuine, human creativity? Or will it eventually be created by algorithms? I’m less and less sure of the answer. Next Steps: Human creativity is only worth defending in marketing if it is actually in evidence. Read More Baby, you can drive my car. Last weekend, returning from a meeting out on Long Island, I encountered the normal traffic on the infamous Long Island Expressway. As the formerly brisk pace ground down to a slow, painful crawl, I began to search for culprits. As often happens, there were no shortage of people to blame (all of the other drivers). But the more I reflected on what I was seeing, the more I realized that the actual problem was that there was no shared set of operating instructions that the drivers were using. Some drivers would zip ahead, only cutting into lines at the last possible moment, blocking two lanes of traffic. While other would wait it out in laborious lines and try to punish the interlopers who had broken “the rules” as they perceived them. It was impossible to watch this ballet of hostility and dysfunction without imagining that self-driving cars would be a huge improvement. No doubt, some groups of “rugged individualists” will resent the loss of control over their own vehicle. But as these same individualists are now communicating largely through hand gestures and words of short duration, self driving cars seem like a net gain for civilized society. Application to Marketing: Driving is lost attention for marketers. During the entire time someone is behind the wheel they are (hopefully) focused on the road. However, people are terrible at driving (present company very much included.) Self driving cars will replace human controlled vehicles because they will get us to our destination faster and safer while freeing up our time to attend to other things. That is a net gain for marketers. Next Steps: Look at the companies that have successfully integrated entertainment into cars. Because there’s going to be a lot more of that. Read More Looking at VR Television has taught marketers some bad habits. Consumers sit obediently and consume messages that are projected at them. We marketers control the message, the narrative and the perspective. As virtual reality begins to enjoy significant numbers of users, many marketers are attempting to jump on the new medium by filming TV spots as VR. As Resh Sidhu of VR company Framestore explains, that’s a problem. “The challenge that we have is getting individuals to understand that VR is a consumer-first medium and not a brand-first medium.” VR is not a passive medium like TV. Consumers control the perspective which means they can simply look away from the narrative or the message. VR is truly a new medium and TV spots shot as VR are anachronistic. New approaches are called for. Application to Marketing: If you have ever edited a TV commercial, you know how much the medium depends upon controlling perspective. We are only able to tell stories in 30 seconds because we can focus the viewer’s eyes on telling details and key dialogue. Narrative is certainly possible in virtual reality but it depends on drawing the eye of the viewer and it will be slower to develop and must be richer and more multi-faceted. I’m sorry to say that I know only a handful of advertising creatives who I believe are capable of producing stories like this. I hope I’m wrong. Next Steps: Watch all of the attached video with Resh Sidhu to get a sense for some of the challenges of VR. Read More

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