Sunday, 8 May 2011

What a tool

Brands spend an incredible amount of time, money and effort turning their products into a story they think consumers will want to engage with, to learn about, to share. Often the messages are few and really quite simple. So why does nobody bother to investigate?

Of course everyone is busy, there are all these new types of media etc. These are all very valid and old points, but I think often consumers just aren't given a credible reason and the motivation to follow what brands want to say.

As my old friend Shigsy (the creator of Super Mario) once said about computer game story telling - you don't write a story and tell people to follow it. You create a world (product) and give people the tools they need to explore it and understand it themselves.

The other day some clever people from the BBC came in to work to talk about their 'History of the World in 100 objects' series. Brands find it hard to get people to contemplate their single new feature - imagine trying to get people motivated enough to want to investigate the entire history of the world.

The answer for them was deceptively simple. Make it about objects.

Everyone has an object that tells a story. About them, about others, about places, about the history of the world. By using objects as the tool through which the BBC could tell the story, it gave everyone the tools to relate to the stories, to tell their own and get involved in the series.

I think what's key is how closely this fitted with the series (product), but still gave room for the tool to be taken out into the wider world, to explore other issues. This is when things can ingrain themselves in culture.

In the same meeting, Marmite was mentioned. Again, the Love/Hate thing is undoubtedly linked to the product, but as a tool it can be used outside of the campaign, giving Marmite the kind of cultural power that still gets it mentioned on Britain's Got Talent all these years later. People are using the Love/Hate tool, but every single time, it is linked back to the product. Magic.

Even things like Carlsberg - Probably the best lager. The sheer quantity of fake Carlsberg ads online is a testament to the tool they created of 'making dream versions of every day things'.

I pick these two examples in particular as, being a massive geek, I naturally see apps and online as a way of creating tools for people to interact with and explore brand stories. However, I think it's important to know that traditional advertising can still achieve this - it just needs to recognise that consumers need a way in to their story. A tool which makes exploring the brand fun, which brings to life the story, but has the legs to be used outside of what are usually quite boring and irrelevant product categories.

The danger is if you make your tool purely about your product. Then you end up with Alan Hansen talking to you about the HOT TOPIC of whether you can look professional while chewing gum. I'd personally have liked to have seen this Good side / Bad side idea stretched further, with gum merely the way into it. As Marmite has shown, this wider focus can improve the product link, not necessarily come at the expense of it.

Having said that, I'm sure the people who made those ads know more about the gum world than me. I'm too professional to chew.