This was my first time as a One Show Entertainment judge. And in many ways, it was a lot like the other two One Shows I’ve judged. Infrequent bathroom breaks. Regular buffering issues. Peanut M&Ms. But there were also differences.
It’s still a who’s who of talent scoring the work. It’s just not who I’m accustomed to seeing in these dimly-lit rooms, starting with our judging chair, Damian Kulash, a creative who doesn’t come from Wieden, Fallon or CP+B, but the band OK Go, where he created one of the most interesting branded experiences in recent history with his Chevy collaboration. The other judges, surprisingly few of whom displayed the trademark advertising facial hair and trendy glasses, also seemed to have a less industry-centric view of the world. They were as interested in pop culture, store design and show development as they were with ads. There’s something refreshing about folks who probably don’t care much about winning a One Show Pencil determining who gets one.
As far as the work goes, let’s start with what I was expecting, which was a bunch of really long short films. Granted, I’m a bit of a snob in this area. But it’s only because I’ve lived through decades of hell trying to get features made and distributed, that I have a certain amount of disdain for friends asking me to share their short “film” about a product made by real people with real hands.
It’s 2:03 a.m. and 5,000 sweaty, rabid, Texas A&M football fans at Kyle Field have just unleashed a collective scream that would make you think they’ve just won the BCS national championship. The funny thing is, these kids aren’t here to cheer on their team. They’re here to cheer on the filming of our commercial. See the video here: Midnight Yell
Make no mistake about it, these are not consumers. These are fans. Fans of the Aggies. Fans of college football. And fans of our program, College GameDay on ESPN. From the Making of College GameDay Campaign TV show on ESPNU
The question is, how did we work them into this state? Was it happenstance, or was it a carefully orchestrated effort on our part to play into the motivations of the fan?
And if the latter, are there learnings that can be applied not just to other sports shows, but to brands across any category? In short, is it possible to turn people from “consumers” of a product to “fans” of a brand?
To answer that, we have to go back to the source. Because you can’t understand the behavior of the fan until you understand the anatomy of the fan.
Over the years at WDCW we’ve worked on a number of assignments where fan support was not only valuable, but essential to a brand’s survival. These include adidas, ESPN, Michael Jordan Cologne, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Harlem Globetrotters, the Seattle SuperSonics, Teva Sports Sandals, Yamaha WaveRunners, Cobra Golf and Clif Bar.
While the brands themselves and the business challenges they faced were unique, there were clear commonalities among the various fan bases and the way they thought about themselves, their teams and the media that covered them. By analyzing and deconstructing these beliefs and behaviors, marketers can imbue a brand with triggers that will motivate fandom.
The first thing to understand is that fandom is not rational. There is nothing logical or even reasonable about cheering for a group of men or women simply because of the shirt they’re wearing. If there were, I’d be screaming wildly for anyone I noticed in a denim button-down. Given the irrational nature of fandom, it only makes sense then that to get through to this individual, your message must be emotional rather than logical. And yet, because most marketers are so hyper-concerned that consumers understand their communication, they undervalue the importance of whether the piece actually affects them. They over-explain, dumb down and speak to the brain instead of the heart.
If you really want to win a fan’s heart, embrace the absurdity of the situation. Let them know you applaud their conviction, their warped priorities and their occasional meltdowns. We’ve gone to great lengths to demonstrate that ESPN is not merely a purveyor of sport, but a crazed fan. One of our most successful campaigns over the last 19 years was based around a character called, “The Rick.” He’s a sports fan in his early thirties who still lives at home, treats useless sports items like priceless memorabilia and always introduces himself by saying, “My name is Rick but everyone calls me, ‘The Rick’.” The reason The Rick was such a hit with viewers, hosts and professional athletes is that every sports fan could see a little piece of themself in him and a lot of someone else they grew up with. Remember, a character doesn’t have to be aspirational to be effective. He or she just has to exemplify that emotional commitment to the product.
Another thing that’s inherently tied to fandom is immediacy. Fans have always wanted instant updates on scores. Now, they also expect to get injury reports, trade rumors, tweets and general scuttlebutt in real time.
If a brand appears to be on top of the latest news, it reinforces the perception that it’s equally caught up in the excitement, which, as I mentioned, creates that heart-to-heart connection with the fan. It also allows the brand to communicate with fans at the point when emotions are highest. I’m no psychologist, but I’m willing to bet that just as it is with soldiers on the battlefield, with sports teams, this heightened emotional state is where true bonds are made. When Manny Ramirez was traded from the Red Sox to the Dodgers, we placed one hundred single red socks in various laundromat dryers around Southern California. Each had a tag on it that said, “Lose a sock, Boston? ESPN welcomes Manny to the Dodgers.” By just taking some photos of the socks in dryers and posting them online, we began a viral movement that spread all the way back to Boston by the next morning, where the headline on Boston.com read, “ESPN Punks Red Sox.”
The expression “God is in the details” is never more relevant than it is in sports. Each game is comprised of a million little subtleties, from snap counts to hand signals. This extends into the bleachers and beyond, whether it’s the smell of the hot dogs or the way the crowd signs “Sweet Caroline” after the top of the seventh inning. Which is why it’s important to remember in your attempt to capture the bigness of the moment, not to lose sight of the little things that make it so special.
Add to this the fact that fandom is inherently competitive. You second-guess the manager. You bemoan a bad call or a bad coaching decision. But most of all, you want to demonstrate that you know more than another fan, whether that fan is friend or adversary. And details are your ammunition — batting averages, field-goal percentage, trade rumors, the names of future prospects, and the understanding of rituals, traditions and expressions. Fans always want more and more proprietary information about their favorite teams and players. When a marketer displays an understanding of these subtleties, they communicate an understanding of the fan as an individual.
Finally, more than anything else, the sports fan wants to play a role. This is nothing new. For ages there have been football stadiums where the crowd is affectionately referred to as the 12th Man, the Cameron Crazies or the Black Hole. Add to this the Jumbotron imploring everyone to “Make some noise!”, sports talk-radio programs around the world, and the proliferation of fantasy sports and it’s obvious fandom is not merely about watching, but about participating.
Thanks to the Internet, fans don’t have to wait till game day to express their opinions, share their passions or challenge other fans. Not only that, they can personalize and promote our ad campaigns in ways we never could have imagined even five years ago. The key is to not merely take advantage of these opportunities as they arise, but to bake them into your marketing plan from the outset.
Which brings us back to why the voices of 5,000 rabid Texas A&M fans are currently ringing in my ears. You see, in addition to the eight commercials/viral videos we created for GameDay, this year, we decided to create a Facebook app and allow fans to vote for whichever Division 1 school they wanted to see us feature in our advertising. The GameDay crew would then travel to the school that got the most votes, where we’d shoot an additional spot. We got roughly a million people to vote online, mentions on most every participating school’s website and blogs, a good deal of celebrity involvement and coverage on a number of television networks and radio stations. (Particularly in Texas and Nebraska — the schools that fought tooth and nail till the end.) We also got the opportunity to bring 5,000 people onto our set. People who turned our commercial shoot into a news event and who will go on to tweet, blog and brag about their involvement. All because we simply left space for the fan to affect our communications rather than simply enjoy them.
In the same way that lessons we learn in a classroom can be applied to life, the stuff that motivates sports fans can be used to stir and evangelize other consumers. Just remember to feed into their passions, dial up the emotional content, stay current and leave room for the folks who buy your product to affect and personalize your communications. If you do, you’ll generate enough fans to be able to do “The Wave” in a major football stadium. Which, ironically, might not be a bad idea for our next ESPN effort.
As seen on Forbes.com
There’s no more common refrain in marketing than that of the ad agency imploring the client to “do something big.” And yet, how many agencies do you recall actually doing something big? I’m not talking about big commercials, stunts or social programs for the brands they handle. But something big for themselves.
Looking back, I can’t tell you I expected our project to generate 55 million media impressions. Not even close. But I did know that it had the structure, heart and drama to make an impact. And that if executed properly, with a little of the luck that seems to befall all good documentaries, it had the potential to profoundly affect people.
It started with a simple, ad-like proposition: In a world of lines that divide us as people, let’s create one that brings us together. The first question was where to place this line that would unite? I chose the gymnasium floor at Compton High School—specifically the free-throw line, a decision based partly on the fact that my son, Chase, had played basketball with boys from Compton since he was young and partly due to an observation that Compton was probably the most rebuked and vilified community I had ever seen.
The first task was to work out the specifics of the program, which centered around a free-throw contest where the winner would receive at $40,000 scholarship and each of the seven runner’s up a $1,000 scholarship. The key was to ensure that the contest came off as a platform for these amazing kids to share their stories, rather than just another reward for athletic skill. My hope was that during our two weeks of filming, what began as competition would gradually become cooperation. Ultimately, the level of support and kindness these eight boys and girls showed one another rose to a level I could have never even imagined, as those of you who watch the film will inevitably see.
The final hurdle, if you don’t count lawyers, was money and resources. I turned to my agency, WDCW, for both. After an initial round of friends and family fundraising, we were still in desperate need of cash and skilled people to bring the project to life and adequately reward all the contestants. There was no way to justify these investments from a P&L standpoint. There was only the promise of doing something that felt important. And I will be forever proud of my partners for believing that was enough.
You may have heard what transpired during and after the event, as it became the lead story on Yahoo News and one of Bing’s “Decisions That Shaped 2011.” But if not, it’s all here in the eight-minute TED Talk I recently delivered.
And the film, titled “Free Throw,” was just released on Apple iTunes, Amazon, Video On Demand and through our website, Freethrowmovie.com
Ultimately, the size and value of what we accomplished is better judged by someone other than myself. But as I’ve watched this line go from metaphor to a reality, I can say that, personally, I will feel less hypocritical next time I go to one of our clients and ask them to “do something big.”
In addition to the obvious, “Seeing my children be born,” I realized last night that I’ve had the good fortune to experience some pretty cool things.
I got to walk the red carpet at Mann’s Chinese in front of Will Ferrell at the premiere of my movie, Old School, while a bunch of college kids on either side went nuts. At the time, my heart was beating so fast that I had to go to the bathroom and throw water on my face before I took my seat because I thought I might pass out.
I got to stand on the coast of Nova Scotia with Colm Meaney and my entire family as the director, Adam Massey, yelled, “Action!” on my independent film, a Lobster Tale, after ten years of watching the script fall in and out of “option.”
And just last month, I got to share the Audience Award for our film, Free Throw, won with about a hundred of my high school, college and work friends at the Boston Film Festival.
But I think the single most satisfying moment of my life took place two days ago at the Manhattan Beach TEDx event, Journey To Purpose.
It was partly being asked to be part of a dais of that included everything from a professor of psychiatry at Harvard University, to the former ambassador of Uruguay, to someone who works with NASA’s aerospace and science technology. This group was so inspiring, yet humbling, and I couldn’t help but feel like a kid who had snuck into the party through a back door that some dishwasher accidentally left ajar while he was on a smoke break.
It was partly knowing that I was able to fight through my nerves and use my eight-and-a-half minutes to make a presentation that lived up to what I rehearsed in front of my dog. (I can’t tell you how intimidating it is to have no cue cards, multiple cameras, four hundred people and a giant digital clock that is forever counting closer and closer to “zero” from the moment you take the stage.)
Mostly though, it was simply realizing that this project that meant so much to me had, indeed, struck a universal chord. People laughed. People cried. And to my amazement, when I left the stage, they all stood and applauded. Walking back onto that stage was one of the strangest, most wonderful, out-of-body experiences I have ever had.
Thank you to John, Marla, Denise and everyone who helped make it a reality. It’s something I will genuinely never, ever forget.
About six months ago, I became intrigued with a group of people in our industry I had never thought much about— sign spinners. So one day on my morning commute, I decided to pull over and talk with one of them. Which inspired me to talk to another twenty. Which inspired me to get out on the street and try it myself. Which resulted in the article below that ran in the Los Angeles Business Journal last weekend. I hope you enjoy it.
Proof that Court took to the streets: the documented experience.
To read the full article, click here.
Here is my recent Ideasicle podcast with Will Burns. What I liked about the experience and the final product, was that it felt a lot more like a discussion than an interview. I don’t know about my answers, but Will’s questions were certainly interesting and provocative. I hope you find it somewhat informative and, above all, motivating as you work on your own creative endeavors.
I’ve known a lot of creative directors in my time. And the one thing we all have in common, is that at one time in our career, we were certain that our value was tied to our ability to sift through a mound of ideas, identify the ones with potential and help turn them into great campaigns. I used to think this way, and am pretty sure my partner, Tracy, did too. Heck, who doesn’t want to think that their personal taste, experience and certain je ne sais quoi are integral to the creation of every great campaign that comes out of the building? And don’t get me wrong, a good creative director can and should recognize the potential in an idea and be able to help steer it towards its finest iteration.
But, if you took a “Moneyball”-like approach to creativity and eliminated all the subjectivity and romantic notions about creative leadership, what would you find has the greatest impact on creative output? (For those who haven’t seen or read “Moneyball,” it’s an approach to baseball espoused by Oakland Athletics general manager, Billy Beane, who stopped focusing o more subjective qualities such as speed, quickness, arm strength, hitting ability and mental toughness and instead, focused almost exclusively on simple on-base percentage.) Would it be the creative director’s ability to see and develop the big idea. Or would it be something else?
I would argue that in an industry that’s more driven by technology than ever before and spread across a number of disciplines that require more specialization than ever before, there can no longer be a single keeper of the creative flame. A creative director may be great at storytelling or great at digital or great at experiential, but he or she is invariably not the single best, brightest, most informed individual in the building on every possible initiative that will require creative thinking.
So if it’s not the keen insight and direction of the creative director that most directly leads to breakthrough creative work, what is it?
‘Tis the season and ‘tis the profession to look forward. To let old acquaintances be forgot along with technology that’s more than 15 minutes old and ideas that got 3 million hits on YouTube last month. Let’s face it, this time of year fits well with the mindset of our industry. One that’s driven by what’s just around the corner, whether it’s the next campaign, the next pitch or the next big thing. And I not only understand but embrace this mindset as, well, it completely mirrors my own.
I have a feeling advertising attracts people who have trouble standing still for a few minutes, much less getting satisfaction out of their accomplishments. But while I’m already spending a good 90 percent of my energy on what lies ahead in the first month of 2012, I am forcing myself to spend a moment to look back and think of all the cool stuff that took place in the last 12 months. And, no matter how foreign this idea is, I urge you to do the same.
For me, it was an exhausting year in many ways, but one of my most satisfying. With the help of my partners and the people in our company, I got to direct my first feature film around a concept that was dear to my heart at the start and close to all-consuming by the end. Then I got to watch that concept go from being a half-baked idea to something that was on the local news, to the lead story on Yahoo. More importantly, I got to bring all these incredible new people into my life as a result of the project including principal Jones, Satra Zurita, the head of the Compton school board and numerous civil servants, humanitarians and other ordinary folks like myself who were just looking for a little inspiration to create their own platform. I’ve always said our business is about the people, and I got to meet more good, smart, generous people in 2011 than any year I can remember.
I also got to learn about a hell of a lot of really interesting stuff. We tend to minimize this benefit of our job, but there was one moment last year where it became particularly apparent. I was driving back from an interview with one of the physician/scientists at our Cedars-Sinai client, when it suddenly hit me how amazing it is that I just got to listen to one of the leading cancer researchers speak for an hour about the potentially world-changing breakthroughs he and his team are making, and I didn’t even have to buy a $1,000-a-plate chicken dinner for the privilege. Honestly, without either having cancer or going to four years of med school to work at Cedars-Sinai, there’s no way I’m able to hear this story unless I’m in advertising and lucky enough to work on the Cedars-Sinai business. I also got to hang out with Clay Matthews, Serena Williams and Carmelo Anthony on an ESPN shoot, work with my partner, Tracy, on our first pitch together and eat some really good Lebanese food in Detroit. Finally, I got to learn all sorts of new technological wizardry like how to create an app that scrubs your Facebook page and turns it into a personalized song and how to use projection to turn an ordinary piece of glass into a touch screen, which my partners Scott and Kris at our digital company, United Future, actually created.
(Like airplanes, I still can’t fully understand how it can work without, um, magic being involved.)
As far as ideas went, this was probably my favorite of those we produced:
Unfortunately, there were a bunch other really good ideas which came up somewhere short of actually getting produced for a variety of reasons that range from the garden variety to “the FBI just seized our Full Tilt Poker client’s business.” But man, was it cool to be part of work for Conan, Epson and others that would have rocked the ad world had the ad world actually gotten the opportunity to seen them. In short, like most agencies these days, we’ve got some cleaning people who are super impressed with the comps they saw lying around our office in 2011.
I guess the point of all this, is that the best part of our business is that we get to learn a little about a lot of things, work with some really smart, creative and likable people and spend a good portion of each day trying to come up with stuff we think will delight and entertain others. So, no matter how many headaches you endured, disappointments you experienced and great ideas you had that met an untimely death, there have to be a few wonderful moments you experienced in 2011, specifically because you are in the ad business. So take a moment, breathe deep and reflect on them. Okay, time to go kick ass on 2012.