Nothing can match a good story. I don’t care how bad your results, how shaky your insights or how thin your findings. Spin a tale, capture the attention of those people around you and you will be fine. Don’t worry about being a presenter — be a good storyteller. Take everyone on a journey. So that’s why I love Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling. Take a look:
- You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
- You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
- Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
- Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
- Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
- What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
- Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
- Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
- When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
- Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
- Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
- Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
- Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
- Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
- If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
- What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
- No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
- You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
- Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
- Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
- You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
- What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.
Everyone loves to hate ‘em. No one believes in them. Movies parody them. And they are very costly. So why do we love Focus Groups? Well, how often do you get to sit in a dark room and eat un-sanitized m&ms from a bowl where people go fist deep? A nice piece in Fast Company here. I love this definition:
focus group n. /fŭkūs/gɹuːp/
1. A way of giving power to people who are highly motivated by: a.) a free lunch, b.) a small fee, or c.) hearing themselves speak.
Now, I wouldn’t say they are a total waste of time, but we often go in blind with no discernable objectives beyond “where are the menus for dinner!”
Love this piece by Douglas Van Praet, author of Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience Can Empower (and Inspire) Marketing. He is also Executive Vice President at Deutsch L.A. He tackles something everyone is thinking about: Are traditional focus groups useless? Now, the key here is “traditional,” because there are many usefull forms. The key is, you must take into account the inherent bias. “The elephant in the room is that the vast majority of our decisions are made unconsciously,” Van Praet writes. ”What is a no-brainer for any cognitive scientist remains mind-boggling to marketers. The conscious mind is simply not running the show, but we’ve created an entire industry pretending that it does.” And here in lays the rub. We have built up everything we know about traditional research based on an assumption that may be false. So how do we go back? Start from the begining? Unfortunately it’s not that simple. But it’s comforting to know some of us are trying…
Just a quick bit of grand larceny — loved this diatribe by W+K’s Rob Campbell so much, thought I needed to post it here…
The bane of my fucking life.
I hate them. HATE THEM!
But – and it’s a very important but – you have to do them because they not only provide the framework and inspiration for creative teams to start creating their magic, but they become a piece of historical reference on the brand that ensures people won’t post rationalise the execution and miss out all the little bits that made all the difference.
That said, the debate of what should and shouldn’t go in a brief still rages and I find that sad because at the end of the day:
+ You should never be a slave to the briefing format, the briefing format should always be a slave to you.
+ Different people like different levels of information so a ‘one size fits all’ mentality, is totally and utterly ridiculous.
+ A short brief shouldn’t be an excuse for ignoring the real issues that need to be addressed & conveyed.
+ A long brief shouldn’t be an excuse for not being clear, concise and interesting.
+ Regardless of what you are being asked to do, a brief should always be interesting, informative & inspiring.
Read the whole thing here
I was reading this Rousseu quote recently and it caught my eye — if only for the reason I’m not so sure it’s relevant today? (I’m not talking about the French Woman from Lost). Just read this replacing “city” with “brands” — and give it a thought:
In a well-ordered city every man flies to the assemblies: under a bad government no one cares to stir a step to get to them, because no one is interested in what happens there. Good laws lead to the making of better ones; bad ones bring about worse. As soon as any man says of the affairs of the State: What does it matter to me? the State may be given up for lost.
Now, simplified, this is the use-it-or-lose-it philosophy. Brands must walk a fine line between inundating their consumers with crap and keeping “in-touch”. Brand affinity is a scarce resource and if you are lucky enough to have it, then you absolutely cant let it lapse. So how much is too much? That’s the sweet spot. But don’t get complacent. Or else you risk being shot by an arrow like Danielle Rousseau on Lost…
Who knew strategic planning had so much in common with looking up the anal cavities of baby chicks? I’ve been reading Moonwalking With Einstein, by Joshua Foer (he of the famous brother) and while much of the book deals with our working memory and why we do, or do not, remember certain things, there is a partuclar section on how our experiences allow us to make snap judgements (very reminicent of Gladwell’s Blink).
Foer uses chicken sexing experts as his example (apparently it can be quite difficult to spot a baby chick’s sex?), and this is where I see the parellel to strategic planning. There are so many things in this industry that can not be learned. Sure, you can go to school and get a degree, but that doesn’t mean you are adequately prepared for the daily uncertainty of cultural strategy. That’s why, when we are hiring, it’s nice to see you have some form of degree (just as it’s helpful to have a degree from the Zen Nippon Chick Sexing School), but we really need to know how you can think and act on your feet when thrown into the fire with clients.
You cant teach intuition and it doesn’t come with a degree, so planners must be able to observe the world around them and understand how this is going to effect their brands. You have to make some brave calls. All the evidence wont always be there, but you have to trust in yourself. If you are wrong, well at least you tried and maybe your agency gets fired. But if you are Chick Sexing and you are wrong you are condemning the wrong baby chick to death.
This self trust I speak of is at the core of this book, which explains how experts use their memories to see the world differently. We build up a bank of experiences that helps us process information differently — enabling a slight perceptual shift. So be confident in what you know. When someone thrusts the anus of a baby chick in your face make a call — and go with it. You will be right more often than you are wrong (and if you aren’t, well then you wont last long in this industry).
Came across a passage from the late great David Foster Wallce. It”s a story about fish and, honestly, who doesnt love stories about the sea?
There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”
While contemplating people’s habits the past few weeks, it’s increasingly evident that the will to believe is the most important factor when it comes to believing in change. As Wallace says, the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about. We are blind to our surroundings. Sometimes we look too far and don’t notice who is sitting next to us, or looking us in the eyes. Thus, we can’t possibly understand people’s innate habits and even begin to understand how we alter these habits as marketers until we first recognize there is a special free will people tap into that drives their cravings.
So, the moral of the story? Even if you think you’re swimming check to see if you are in water.
I’m reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and among many interesting things, one in particular struck me. There is a section about gambling, and Duhigg writes about Near Misses — when your slot machines ALMOST hits the jackpot, when that ’7′ is just one line too low. And, of course, this is all bullshit because there is no such thing as ‘almost’ with slot machines. The outcome is pre-programmed. It may look to the player as if they were close to the jackpot, but in reality they were no closer than if they hadn’t put money in and pulled the lever (pushed the button these days). Duhigg writes that pathological gamblers basically get high off of near misses. Neurologically speaking their brains light up when it appears they have come close to that elusive jackpot…What’s interesting, as a strategist, is understanding how and why people get ‘mental highs’ from almost getting/achieving something. Near misses trigger habits — and much of what we study in this industry are habits. So, what is the moral of this story? If you lose playing slots, then keep playing until you win or your money is gone. Or read this book.
Our culture looks down upon skeptics, but it’s important to be selectively skeptical — especially in the advertising realm. Take nothing for granted and make no assumptions. Thats what I tell my team. Which always bring me back to Scottish Philosopher David Hume, who separated himself from rationalists like Descartes by insisting that desire rather than reason governs human behavior. And as I sit in focus groups and kitchens across the world, I try to keep this in mind. People may appear to act reasonably – and we may make conclusions based on the most reasonable explanations — but when studying social behavior, as we do, it’s extremely easy to assume we know the answer – when perhaps the questions we are asking ourselves are all wrong?
Most notably, Hume analyses causal propositions, such as “A caused B”, in terms of regularities in our perception: “A caused B” is equivalent to “Whenever A-type events happen, B-type ones follow.”
All too often we just jump to the conclusion that A caused B — because it appears to happen this way often — but here’s where a little skepticism can help us. B may tend to always follow A, but let’s concentrate less on the A to B pattern and more on what falls between A and B…