Forget slow, incremental progress. Sometimes a huge change is exactly what the industry needs. And the answer lies in entertainment.
A View from Mel Exon
An email entitled "Somewhere in a Bag of Crisps, a Universe Explodes" gets my attention.
My friend Tea Uglow has written a short book by the same name about a parent losing their grip on reality. This isn’t any book – it’s an experiment using blockchain (the technology behind Bitcoin). The email goes on to tell me that I’ll receive a dedication in my copy of the book.
My task is to make a number of edits to render the book uniquely mine, then pass it on to someone else who is up for doing the same. With this idea, Tea is testing what "ownership" means and the value that confers, particularly when the book carries within it both provenance and the opportunity to leave your mark.
Her videos on YouTube do a better job of explaining something that, like most experiments, hasn’t been done much before now.
The "endowment effect", the behavioural economics theory that states our perceptions of value habitually increase with ownership, suggests my feelings of proprietorial pride about the book won’t be that unusual, but it’s early days.
In other corners of our creative and technological universe, augmented reality reaches its first decade with high hopes offered by technology companies such as Magic Leap, and Facebook Live has its first anniversary.
On that front, props to Anomaly for its Cancer Research UK work as a brave and brilliant way to demonstrate how cancer is being fought, urgently, in the here and now.
Meanwhile, a different brand gets flamed for intrusion when using artificial-intelligence assistant Google Home in an ad, and there is much soul-searching in these pages about whether AI will replace human creativity. Our very own interpretation of the Turing test beckons, perhaps.
Reading this, we might pat ourselves on the back for trying new things, accepting that the axiom "win some, lose some" will continue to prevail.
However, if we stack up every effort being made to reinvent brand communications against those being made to maintain the status quo, I fear we’re still overwhelmingly in maintenance mode.
Sure, mankind’s survival is often predicated on the achingly slow, steady progress delivered from the safety of tried-and-tested ground. But sometimes the task is to jump a chasm, which cannot be achieved in increments.
I’d argue right now that it’s time for our own magic leap. I confess I am biased about the solution. I work in a business that was founded as an entertainment company, where we work every day according to a simple maxim – don’t interrupt the things people love, be the thing people love.
As advertising gets increasingly deleted from people’s lives and its transparency questioned, our industry has to look to its laurels again.
As Nils Leonard put it in Campaign recently: "Is it skip ad or skip ad industry?" We have to develop new expertise and examine alternative ways to reach and build audiences and users.
It has never been more true that, to earn a sustainable place on the planet, brands need to be useful or entertaining, create digital products and services with marketing baked in or create bona fide entertainment.
Granted, this approach is not for everyone. The development of entertainment that is truly worthy of the name, particularly with a brand involved, ain’t easy. It requires an intense diversity of skill and relationships – a perfect union of "brand x entertainment x commerce", if you will.
A good story or experience is one thing, but it is nothing without proper financing and distribution. It’s a complex process, it takes time. It’s a far cry from branded content ad formats on YouTube. Entertainment also asks us to re-evaluate our attitude to brands and storytelling.
Boy, do some industry commentators hate stories. Not the bedtime variety, more the idea of a "story" distracting from the low-level processing task of making a choice about which washing powder to buy.
Perhaps because the very word "story" gets dismissed as the spinning of a web of fabrication in the wrong hands. As much as that debate is healthy – of course, there is a time and a place for straightforward utility in communications – I can’t help but think the story-haters are splitting hairs.
To my mind, this is an "and", not "or", argument. The commercial arm of the creative industry is fighting for nothing less than the future of its existence and it is well past our bedtime already. We need lots of magic leaps of our own, simultaneously. More on this topic next time – stay tuned.