Digital Dissonance, Or: The Growth of Personalized Digital Bubbles

Let me start by saying that this post will contain some references to the Presidential election. This won’t be a post about my political opinions, nor how much I hate Trump/Hillary, nor will it contain any of the political bias that had seemingly soaked through every article you’ve read for the past 9 months. This post will be about the surprise I felt after the election, when Donald Trump defied the mainstream messaging, polls, and expectations that I (and many others) had in the weeks and months leading up to November 8th. If you’ve had enough of politics and just want to keep your head down for the next 4 years, feel free to move on - though if you do, you’re likely one of the people I’m going to be talking about in this post.

 

Now that some people have certainly moved on, let’s state the obvious: people are living in bubbles, and I am no exception. I’m sure you’ve heard people talking about the “bubble” already, and if not, let me explain it to you. Before election day, people would talk to me about Trump, and I would say, “there’s no way he can win.” I would touch upon the various things he’s said that have rocked the news cycle, set fire to social media feeds, and become water-cooler conversations where people would shake their head in disbelief that a Presidential candidate would say or do such ridiculous things. All of the news organizations gave Hillary Clinton upwards of a 65% chance of winning the election. It was a shoo-in, they said. Trump was finished. Crown Queen Hillary already, the election is over. All of my friends agreed, both online and off. So did all of the pages I followed on Facebook, as well as all of the people I followed on Twitter.

 

This was slightly over half the country on election night.

This was slightly over half the country on election night.

At about 11pm on Tuesday, November 8th, the bubble burst. People were in disbelief. How could Trump have won? How could every one of my content sources and connections be wrong? All the polls said he was going to lose. All the mainstream news media said he was going to lose. All of my Facebook friends said he was going to lose. The only people who thought he was going to win were those nutjobs who follow right-wing conspiracy pages on Facebook, and I don’t have to listen to them, right?

 

That, my friends, is what the bubble is. We all have one. It’s the world we perceive through the information and content we consume, and today, it’s easier than ever to personalize this bubble. When that happens, the bubble becomes more closed off from the world, and stronger. Let me explain.

 

We live in an increasingly digital world, one where social media is dominant. People have digital lives, digital friends they’ve never met, and consume media/information through the digital world far more than ever before. In fact, a majority of U.S. adults - 62% - say that they get their news through social media. The problem with this is that social media gives all of us an enormous amount of customization and content curation for which news sources we consume.

 

This simple and effective means of content curation means that you’ll only end up getting news from sources you happened to “like” or “follow” on social media. And, if you aren’t familiar with cognitive dissonance as a communication theory, it basically states that when you encounter beliefs, ideals, or values that are inconsistent with your own, it can create psychological discomfort or stress. In order to avoid that discomfort or stress, you will take actions to reduce those feelings. In a digital world, those actions can be as simple as closing a tab or scrolling past an article you don’t agree with, allowing you to fall back into the cozy, consistent warmth of your bubble.

 

Let me ask you: when you see articles or comments that attack your beliefs or point of view (as were so commonly seen in the run-up to the election), do you stick around with an open mind to read it? Do you think, “wow, that’s a valuable opposing viewpoint”? Or do you skim through the comments left by those “idiots,” chuckle to yourself, and self-assuredly scroll away, knowing that you’re right and they’re wrong? I’m sure I know which is true.

 

Having such simple and powerful control over the sources you choose to “like” and “follow” on Facebook means that the ones you consume are likely going to wind up being those that represent your interests, ideals, beliefs, etc. Your entire social network, regardless of platform, is likely to slowly build itself into an belief-consistent bubble where the things you follow are curated to match your life. It makes sense, doesn’t it? If I’m a liberal democrat, I’m not going to follow pages that post right-wing conservative articles, comments, or propaganda. The reverse is true as well - right-wing conservatives aren’t going to follow or repost HuffPost articles or Occupy Democrats Facebook posts. Going even further, the people you’re friends with online are more likely to be people who share your same beliefs. Not all of them, to be sure, but I would guess that the slight majority of your online friends or the people you interact with digitally are people who agree with your beliefs. People are simply more attracted to other like-minded individuals. This leads to your friends reposting content that fits their beliefs, which is then reposted by another friend who shares that belief, possibly even finding itself being reposted by you.

 

Part of that, I think, has to do with where you’re raised and the kind of culture you grew up in. A 26 year old who grew up in Louisiana is more likely to be a conservative, have conservative friends, and follow conservative pages than a 26 year old who grew up in Vermont. So, to them, the large majority and extent of their social world is likely to be curated and populated with a certain bias that’s consistent with their beliefs. Of course, there are always outliers, like the handful of Republican friends I have who grew up in a liberal town but within a conservative family. So this isn’t a blanket statement to be sure, but an estimated guess about what is happening for a lot of people.

 

On top of all of this, social media and crowd-sourced news sharing platforms also means that things like fake news can run rampant without any sort of filter which would traditionally be used by “professional” news media in an attempt to maintain a level veracity. It’s easier than ever to write a compelling article about, for example, Hillary Clinton’s shady past, rife with lies and slander, and see it generate millions of shares on social media without consequence. Fake content that serves to reinforce beliefs and polarize people is quickly absorbed into the walls of their bubbles in disguise, and many people are none the wiser - in fact, they might not even care. But fake news on social media is a whole other can of worms, and I won’t dive into it now.

 

So that’s what we call the bubble. And, as we descend into a more digital world, it’s likely that these bubbles will become more isolated, thicker, and potentially cause more damage when they inevitably burst.

SNL did a great skit that pokes fun at a lot of bubble-dwellers.

 

So what can we do about this? How do we solve the problem of people living in their increasingly personalized, digital bubbles? That’s a great question, and a more difficult one to solve.

 

The answer, I think, lies in finding a way to expose people to opposing viewpoints, to be more open-minded, to get them to see that there are views and beliefs that exist outside of their digital bubble, and that - believe it or not - those views, values, and ideals are just as legitimate as their own.

 

But how do you get people to willingly engage or, at least, become exposed to those views when the user has a massive amount of control over the content they see? How do you willingly get your bubble-dwelling friends to stick their heads out and look around with an open mind? To be honest, I don’t quite know. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot, and haven’t quite had an answer to yet. In the past, a cure for close-mindedness was travel. Try to get the person to leave their hometown and go see the world. That’s still true, except today it’s more than that. The amount of content we consume regularly through social media means that people are only reinforcing their beliefs at an increasing rate instead of challenging them. It’s easy to just say “whatever” and continue on in your comfy little bubble.

 

Get out of your bubble. Like this handsome fellow.

Get out of your bubble. Like this handsome fellow.

Maybe the first step towards change is just realizing that you’re living in a bubble in the first place. Whether or not you start to venture outside of it is up to you. At the very least, take a few minutes for self analysis and see if anything I’ve written about applies to you. Are you a bubble-dweller? If so, do you even care? I know it’s cozy in there, all consistent and warm. But look what at happened after this election. To my Hillary-supporting friends, if you were shocked by the results like I was, ask yourself if that was just the bubble popping for the first time in a while. For my Trump-supporting friends, don’t get cocky - I’m sure you’re living in a bubble too, only yours didn’t happen to pop on election night.

 

For all our sakes, I hope that if you do find yourself realizing that you’re living in a bubble, you take it upon yourself to expand your content consumption beyond the cozy boundaries you've created. Follow an opposing page on Facebook just to see what they’re talking about. Read comments left by people with opposing views with an open mind and not a dismissive, condescending one. Take time to explore the immense world of the internet and all of the viewpoints that exist there instead of hiding in your personalized corner. The world will be better for it, I promise you. Or, at the very least, the next time your bubble pops, you'll have a better understanding as to why.

 

Until next time,

- Jake

Weird Ads Work

Try keeping the subtitles off for an even wilder ride.

At my job, we’re asked every week to give a response to a question in 140 characters or less as an ongoing blog entry for our website. A few weeks ago, the question was, “what was the last memorable ad you saw, and why was it effective?” My response surprised me in a few ways - the first way being that I had an answer spring to the front of my mind almost immediately. I thought maybe I’d have to spend a minute or two flipping through all the ads I’d seen and decide on the one I thought was the most memorable, but instead I had a clear winner from the start. The second surprise was the ad itself - an ad for light bulbs. From Japan. Where a father goes into the woods to live among fireflies in order to become one himself. And then returns home and keeps his family happy with his illuminating bottom. Yeah...I know.

If I had to pick one word to describe this ad, it’d be bizarre. Part of me wishes so badly that I spoke Japanese and could have listened in on the brainstorming and planning of this ad. It feels like it would have been one of those joke ideas that everyone laughs at, but then someone draws some faux-mockups for. Then they start jokingly storyboarding the commercial and everyone laughs some more. Then they start casting the actors and creating the costumes, and the costume is hilarious so the joke keeps going. In the back of their minds, everyone is waiting for the joke to be over...but then they found themselves with a finished ad about a man who’s turned into a firefly monstrosity.

But it worked. I mean, I remembered the ad, I remembered the brand name, and I remembered the product. Isn’t that the goal, if not to just increase sales of the brand’s products? While I don’t know if sales actually were impacted by the ad, I do know that the other parts were successful. I kept asking myself, why this ad? Why is this joke-gone-too-far burned into my mind with such powerful recall? Part of it, I think, is just because I found myself showing it to other people. I had to remember the name of the brand and the ad just so that I could search it on YouTube and pull it up on my phone, or to know what to tell my friends so they could search for themselves. Ultimately, this ad had a quality that many in the advertising world covet more and more as we become more connected - shareability.

You've already seen them, but does that really matter?

The bizarreness of this ad made me want to show other people. It made me want to tell my friends so that I can ask them, “are you seeing this too? Can you believe they made this?” In a world of viral videos where only the truly unique, overly-cute, or genuinely interesting can bubble to the top, there is magic to be found in what’s weird. It’s a trait that I’ve noticed many advertisers are taking - when it’s appropriate for the product. Not every brand can pull off the weird-factor, and that’s alright. If every ad was weird, then it defeats the purpose. Weird becomes the norm, the novelty wears off, and it’s dead. But for other brands, like Old Spice, their weird ads have become digital hits. The ones that come to mind are those with Terry Crews (directed by Tim & Eric of [adult_swim]). They’re so wonderfully weird, full of twists and turns, messing with your expectations along the way. Not only does this make them shareable, but it also keeps their audience interested enough to wonder what they’re going to do next.

Of course, there’s a fine line to be walked here. Brands can’t expect to just do weird shit on camera and have it connect. At the very least, there has to be some message or connection that’s made with the product, though I can see that tether becoming thinner as brands continue this trend in the wake of its apparent success. I would not be surprised to see some agencies blindly assuming that weird works without putting the necessary thought into why it works. I can envision CDs talking to their team about an ad they’re creating for ice cream where an Amish man is throwing jellyfish at a glass window, asking “this is great, but could they also be on fire and screaming, too? Maybe add some melting spiders. It’s gotta be weird.”

I mean, clearly, weird ads work - it’s just a matter of getting them to work right. Old Spice picked up fantastic talent in Tim & Eric of [adult_swim] fame because being weird is what got them famous, but not every brand can get so lucky. Undoubtedly soon we’ll get hit with the latest in weird ad magic that will fill our feeds and become a sharing sensation. The question is, will it be tied closely to the brand, with a satisfyingly clever strategy that makes you smile? Or will it be weird for the sake of weirdness, and leave you scratching your head and asking, “what?” I hope brands can continue to capture the magic, but things like this can become stale and unoriginal pretty quickly. Keep it fresh, 2017, I’ll be watching.

 

Keep it weird,

- Jake

The Brilliant Deck of Brilliance

Your brain should look like this. The rest of your head should probably have, like, skin and stuff, though.

Your brain should look like this. The rest of your head should probably have, like, skin and stuff, though.

    During my daily readthrough of the ad blogs I like to follow,  I stumbled upon a fantastic creative tool for idea generation that I would have killed to know existed from the start. It’s called the Deck of Brilliance, a creation by Juggi Ramakrishnan and Todd McCracken, and it’s a deck of digital cards where each card provides a different avenue of idea generation and exploration. As you click through the deck, the cards provide some thoughts on how to approach a problem from that particular angle, with questions and examples to push your thinking along the way. The creators consider it to be a systematic approach to creative work, and argue that in the same way neurosurgeons and gardeners use tools to accomplish their tasks, those of us who work in the creative field should be no exception. I couldn’t agree more.

    There’s a selfish part of me that doesn’t want to share this tool with you so that I can keep it all to myself, but that’s not really fair. Idea generation is hard, and I’ve dealt with the frustration and failures of that reality firsthand. I wish I could have known about this tool back when I was going through my creative classes in grad school and my grades depended on the quality of the ideas I produced. But I didn’t, and maybe it can be of some use to you. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing portfolio development or professional work, the Deck of Brilliance can help get your brain thinking on different levels and at different angles for whichever creative task you’re tackling that day.

    This is by no means a guaranteed solution to the undeniably difficult work that lies ahead of you, but sometimes all you need is a spark to get you going. I think the Deck of Brilliance has the potential to ignite.

 

Until next time,

- Jake

An Overdue Update

    It’s been awhile since I’ve written a blog entry or posted any updates on here. Life has been pretty crazy between finishing grad school, trying to find a job, moving in with my girlfriend, and figuring out my place in the world. Truth be told, it’s not just that I haven’t had the time to sit and write, but also that I haven’t wanted to - at least in the same way I had been before.

This is how I felt about writing my blog before...

This is how I felt about writing my blog before...

    A few times in the past month, I’ve sat down and tried to come up with entries for this blog that would be interesting for both myself and my readers (though I suspect that those people are nonexistent). Every time I opened my laptop, cracked my knuckles and got ready to fill the blank page in front of me with some semi-interesting post about advertising, I felt as if I was doing homework. There was no joy in it, no love for the topics I was picking nor the format I was choosing to write in. It was a writing exercise and nothing more. It’s not that I don’t still love advertising, because I do. It’s just that, if I’m going to spend time each week writing things for this blog, well...it’s going to be about the things I like rather than the things I think I should be writing about. Otherwise, what’s the point?

...and this is how I feel about posting now.

...and this is how I feel about posting now.

    Going forward, these blog updates will not be finely crafted, nor profound, nor testaments to my skills as a writer. They will simply be a means of creation and expression for myself in a way that serves to satisfy me and me alone. I can’t force myself to write about the things I think my blog should have rather than the things I actually want to write about. If others who, for whatever reason, find themselves reading my posts and are actually interested, that’s just a bonus - though I have no idea why you’d find yourself caring about the opinions and ramblings of a stranger like me.

    So what kinds of posts can you, fellow stranger, expect to read from me? Honestly I couldn’t say. It would be whatever I feel like writing about at that moment. Maybe it’s entries about advertisements that I like, music I’m into, short stories I’ve made or even weird little poems that I jot down on my way to work. The only consistency I can anticipate is that there will be a lack of consistency, and that’s probably much more exciting for me than it is for you.

    To start things off, here’s a quick poem I wrote the other day. Usually I just pour these out onto the page as a way to get my juices flowing before tackling a writing assignment or as a way to overcome writer’s block. And, usually, they wind up being absolute nonsense. This one actually came out okay.

 

Shaggy hair and heart of hollow

A boy of 12 that none would follow

In words and person, he was alone

Doomed to sit a lonely throne.

A king so young and none could see

How much he longed to up and flee

To see the world from down below

Laugh with friends and come to know

The things he’s missed already passed

But no, just dreams - this life will last

To be a king, apart and lonely

Just himself, the one and only.

 

It's okay to feel like this after reading that.

It's okay to feel like this after reading that.

    Someday, maybe I’ll collect all of the good ones, hire an illustrator who can breathe some life into them, and put them into a book I can stash on my shelf. I’ve always had a dream of writing personalized books for my future kids where they are the hero of the story. They can tell me what monsters they’ll face, the places they’ll go, the things that they’ll find and the people they’ll meet, and I’ll be excited to bring their own wonderful tales to life. There’s a long way to go until then, though. If you stick around and read my blog for long enough, maybe you’ll see them come to life - you’ll just have to suffer through some really bad poems until then.

 

Until next time,

- Jake

 

Pop Culture Clash

The Super Bowl came and went, just as it does every year, and the conversations that followed it focused just as much around the advertisements as they did on the actual game. While the Super Bowl was at least an exciting game this year, the ads were certainly interesting in their own right. As I sat drinking beer and watching it all in a relatively packed restaurant, I paid careful attention to both the advertisements and the response of the loud, presumably drunk crowd around me. After all, I was there for the ads, and while I could have just watched them from home on YouTube, I really wanted to be able to hear what others around me thought of the ads in real time.

I don't want to like these commercials, but it's impossible not to.

I don't want to like these commercials, but it's impossible not to.

Of course, the crowd favorite this year was Budweiser’s “Lost Puppy” ad. As it played, I heard the girls at one table “aww”-ing while the guys at another table commented on how cute the puppy was. The only thing I could think about was how brilliant the ad’s creators (Anomaly) were. I mean, from a creative standpoint, there is nothing groundbreaking here. It’s simply an ad about an extremely cute puppy who gets lost, makes it back home, and is saved from a wolf by his iconic horse friends. What does this have to do with beer, besides the Budweiser hat that the puppy’s owner is wearing? Well, not much — and that’s fine. Even though Budweiser has done puppy ads in the past, with their “Puppy Love” ad running during last years game, it doesn’t seem to matter. Budweiser knows that people love puppies, so why change it? For the record, I am not complaining. The Budweiser puppy is exceptionally cute and I expect we will see another entry with it during next years Super Bowl — even if the premise is somewhat of a layup.

Two other commercials that seemed to get some love were the Walter White pharmacy ad and the Liam Neeson Clash of Clans ad. Both of these focused on a pop-culture reference to some well known and liked personality in an unusual situation. Walter White at a pharmacy helping some suburban mom pick up her prescription is funny because he, as most people know, is a murderous drug lord, not a pharmacist. Sure it’s a little cheesy, but everyone in my small, makeshift focus-group of a restaurant seemed to respond positively to this one. I think the positive response here comes simply from the recognition of a fan-favorite TV character in the commercial. You could swap out Mr. White being the pharmacist for him being a taxi driver, or a chef, or a personal trainer at a gym — it wouldn’t matter. I think people would react the same simply because it has Walter White in it.

I wonder if he actually plays the game.

I wonder if he actually plays the game.

The Clash of Clans ad with Liam Neeson was similar in premise but had, in my opinion, much better execution. Everyone knows Mr. Neeson from the “Taken” movies, among others. He is always a badass guy with an intimidating voice who delivers terrifying monologues for his would-be enemies on screen. So, why not take that and make him do the same thing to a random online stranger while he waits for his coffee? The surprise factor here was also a big part — many ads for the Super Bowl provided a teaser to audiences before the game, or in the case of the “Lost Puppy” ad, released a week before the game. Audiences had no idea that this one was coming. It begins as an average phone-app commercial with CGI warriors battling CGI dragons — but then breaks the 4th wall and suddenly we weren’t watching an ad, but a battle someone was having. That someone was Liam Neeson — and he is angry. I heard many people laughing, saying that this one was their favorite of the night, and statistics seem to agree. Pixability, a website that did a study of the Super Bowl ads, says that this ad was both the most liked and most commented on ad on YouTube.

So, it seems that successful or popular Super Bowl ads have the commonality that is the inclusion of some sort of pop-culture figure or reference. I mean, the Liam Neeson ad was extremely popular, so is that all it takes? Well, T-Mobile will tell you that’s sadly not the case. Kim Kardashian could be considered the epitome of a pop-culture figure, so having a commercial featuring her should be a winner — except it wasn’t. Kim’s T-Mobile commercial has been rated as the most disliked and least favorite advertisement out of all of the ads that ran during the Super Bowl. Apparently you can’t grab any old pop-culture icon, stick them into a commercial and have it gain a good response. I don’t think it’s a secret that many people don’t like Mrs. Kardashian. It could be for a number of reasons, be they that she is vapid, self absorbed, unintelligent, or attention seeking (to name a few).

The face of T-Mobile.

The face of T-Mobile.

So T-Mobile decided to run an ad that focused on all of these dislikable attributes in the context of a faux-PSA about cell phone data…and expected what? For people to like it? I think T-Mobile missed an opportunity here for some self-deprecating comedy, where Kim addressed all of these things in some way and made fun of herself. Me, Kim, and the rest of the country could all laugh together at how dumb she is, and that could have made it a likable commercial. I probably would have liked Kim more if she was able to make fun of herself. The ad never went there, though. In fact, it seemed like it was kind of serious. It gave out the vibe that she actually wants you to use T-Mobile because that way you can actually keep track of her selfies (because yes, Kim, we all care about you so much).

So are pop-culture references the key to advertising success? Obviously not always. Hopefully this serves as a lesson to some would-be advertisers going into the field. Pop-culture references have the potential to be very powerful in terms of likability and shareability (is that a word?) — but it needs to be done right. It’s important to find out what people think of the pop-culture reference you are making, and portray it in a way that will resonate. Liam Neeson’s badass persona and Walter white are both very likeable, popular, and were shown in a funny way that really resonated with audiences. Kim Kardashian, on the other hand, is generally a more dislikable personality and was shown in a way that was not particularly funny — and the response confirmed that. Though I’m not sure that we can consider the ad a failure, since any publicity is good publicity, right? All I can be sure of is that I need to download Clash of Clans and hope I can fight battles with Liam Neeson — I mean AngryNeeson52.

Going, Going, GoPro

If I were to ask you to think of cameras, what brands do you think of? Canon, Kodak, maybe Nikon? What kinds of images do you associate with them? In my mind, I tend to picture a man with a scarf who’s kneeling over, holding an expensive camera with a huge lens in his hand, trying to take the perfect picture of a cracked acorn on the sidewalk which somehow — he tells me in a slightly condescending tone — symbolizes the “hardships of life and the cyclical nature of our universe.” I actually bored myself as I wrote that sentence.

Classic GoPro shot.

Classic GoPro shot.

What I’m getting at here is that typically when I think about cameras, I don’t think of things that are exciting, fun, or extreme, but instead about things that are artsy, black and white, and boring.  This is peculiar because there is a camera company that represents all of those attributes, yet never comes to mind when thinking of the product in a traditional sense: GoPro. Perhaps it is because they have done such an outstanding job of positioning themselves not as a camera company, but as a brand that provides excitement, fun, travel, and more to their customers.

Paul Crandall, Vice President of Marketing for GoPro, said in an interview, “…we’re not just a camera company anymore. We’re an adjoinment platform for people around the world to watch. It’s not about the GoPro camera anymore, but about GoPro in its entirety.” One way they've been able to make this leap from a simple camera company to a powerhouse brand is through fantastic content marketing. According to one source, “great content marketing requires a marriage between a company’s products and services, and the content that describes it.” GoPro has that in spades; their cameras literally create the content they are marketing.

This guy's got the right idea.  Well, he has an idea.

This guy's got the right idea.  Well, he has an idea.

In fact, that’s one of their strongest characteristics: the overwhelming majority of their advertisements come from user generated content. GoPro has a large presence on almost every social media platform, including Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube (who doesn't these days?). Their YouTube channel actually boasts an impressive 3.1 million subscribers alone, while Canon (one of the leading camera brands) has only 75 thousand! It also has over 2,700 videos in categories ranging from “moto,” “animals,” and “snow” to a “best of” page and even “staff picks.” It’s updated weekly with fresh content from users who upload GoPro created videos, so there is always something for everyone.

In the interview mentioned before, Paul Crandall also said, “…so many people in the world don’t have a camera…or won’t go out and do all of these things we see like skiing…but they like watching it, and that’s really meaningful to us.” This, I think, is one of the key components of success for GoPro. They know that not everyone in the world goes and does the things that are picked and showcased in their marketing content, but they realize that people love to watch it. The company has an army of brand ambassadors, ranging from professional athletes who can create amazing content for them (simply by being given a camera to wear), to your every-day guy who films his cats chasing a laser pointer. GoPro simply provides the tools and lets their users be the advertisers..

 

Their content isn't simply slow-mo surfing videos, either; they love to tell a story, and people love to watch them. One perfect example of this would be the video that shows a story of a fireman who saves a kittens life — all from his point of view. You watch as he enters the smokey house, dimly lit save for his flashlight, and there on the floor is a poor, lifeless kitten. The fireman picks it up (cue the heartwarming music), brings it outside, and resuscitates it, saving a life. It’s a beautiful, emotional, feel good story, all captured on camera — but not just any camera. Normally this would be a video that circulates online on its own with no real "value," but since it was all captured on a GoPro, it’s now also an ad for a camera. There’s also an outstanding opportunity here for real time marketing. If just one of the many videos made with a GoPro camera happens to go viral, all GoPro needs to do is slap their brand name at the beginning and enjoy the free marketing. Now that’s pretty brilliant.

I don’t own a GoPro camera, but that doesn't stop me from being a huge fan of the brand. They provide legitimately great content for people everywhere to watch, even if you aren't a professional skier or skydiver (and I am certainly not). However, if you would like to watch a professional skier do amazing tricks as they barrel down a mountain, GoPro lets you do that from their point of view. Anywhere their tiny, durable camera can go, a story can be created, and that’s really something fantastic to think about as an advertiser or a marketer. To be able to align your brand seamlessly alongside any video produced content simply because it was captured on a GoPro camera allows for enormous breadth in marketing content. There’s always something fresh, exciting, and shareable right around the corner. GoPro doesn't sell cameras, but the tools for people to make something fantastic and enjoyable for everyone.

Laughter Breaks Through the Noise

As an advertising student, it’s part of my job to actively pay attention to as many ads as I can. I try to figure out what each ad’s creators were trying to accomplish when they put it out to the public. What’s the audience that they are speaking to? What’s the tone of the message? Does it fit with the brands image? What was the overall thought process that lead to this boring poster on the side of a building asking me to try their toothpaste? How could it have been done better?

“Well, duh,” you’re probably thinking. More than likely you are a classmate of mine, or almost definitely my professor, who already knows all of this and considers it to be pointless filler space on a blog assignment (on an unrelated note — you’re my favorite teacher and I think you look great in whatever you are wearing while you’re grading this). Well, you’re partly right — what I’m saying is pretty obvious to all of us. So let me continue with the obvious statements: a lot of ads we see in the world are boring.

My example of a "white noise" ad.  Get it?  Whitening toothpaste?  White noise?  Look at her face, she thought it was funny.

My example of a "white noise" ad.  Get it?  Whitening toothpaste?  White noise?  Look at her face, she thought it was funny.

In class we get shown a lot of examples of what’s considered great work, and typically it is. These ads try to get us to laugh, they try to get us to cry (I’m looking at you, P&G’s ‘Thank You Mom’ commercial), or at least they have that little something about them that makes you remember what they were saying. Inevitably, however, we leave the classroom to go back out into the real world and find that so many ads out there right now are like white noise. They’re boring, or irrelevant, or they try too hard, or — worst of all- they’re forgettable. The upside to this, though, is that it helps us to realize how hard it is to make some truly good ads that stand out against all the rest of the white noise in the world.

One of my favorite things in life is comedy. I love to watch stand-up comedians, most television shows I watch are on Comedy Central, and most of my favorite movies are comedies. I love people with a good sense of humor and I love making people laugh. For me, any advertising that can get me to smile or laugh out loud (which is rare), I consider to be well done. That doesn't mean any ad that gets a laugh is good, but I find myself drawn to those more than others. Most people would agree that comedy is hard. Harder still is getting you to laugh and selling you a product/service at the same time, but some ads manage to do it.

HBO’s “Awkward Family Viewing” campaign is my favorite campaign of 2014. It has a perfect blend of comedy, awkwardness, and relevancy that just makes for an extremely well done ad. The campaign focuses on those awkward times when you are watching a movie or television show (in this case HBO shows) with your parents and a sex scene comes on or there is more than a typical “PG-13” conversation happening. The silence…the tension in the room…the palpable awkwardness….it’s like somebody tricked me into watching soft core porn with my family out of nowhere. I don’t remember signing up for this.

They got the idea for this campaign from my living room. Except in in real life it’s longer than a 30 second spot. So much longer.

The first time I saw this campaign I just kept thinking to myself, “oh my god that’s exactly right.” It was like they had cameras in the living room at my parents’ house and seen what I had been through so many times as my family and I watched Game of Thrones or True Detective together. As soon as clothes start coming off on the screen I realize that I need to get a glass of water from the kitchen and reply to all the texts I suddenly got when the scene started.

It’s such a simple idea that came straight from the real life experiences of so many people. Plus, they sold HBO GO perfectly. “Might be a good time for HBO GO,” at the end of the spot just hits the nail on the head. Shepardson Stern & Kaminsky, who made the ad, gave me a perfect reason for why I should pay for HBO GO. They didn't show a guy at a party surrounded by beautiful women saying, “Oooh, you’re so sexy AND you have HBO GO?” who could be me if I just became a member already. Instead, they told me in a playful way, “Listen, dude, we've all be there, and HBO GO means you can watch on your own and avoid this scenario.” Thanks, HBO, that’s actually a good reason to buy it. I also shared this ad with a few of my friends who I know have been in this situation before, and when an ad has you sharing it with your friends, you know you've got something special.

So, to me, this is what makes for good advertising. It seems to have the perfect blend of comedy, awkwardness, and straight-from-your-life relevancy that makes you think, “Exactly.” If I still lived with my parents, I would already be a customer of HBO GO. Well, I still might be, but I’m going to wait for the next time I have to go home and visit. Regardless of if I actually buy it, in my mind, they've already sold me.

To Get, or Forget?

On April Fool’s day, I saw an article discussing Amazon Dash, the company’s new one-click product replenishment system. At first, like everything else you read on that particular day, I took it as a joke. It was probably just some other laughably dumb product or service that the big brands claim to be developing like they do on every April Fool’s day (ex: Google Nose a few years back). However, after my curiosity became piqued and I started reading to see what the joke was, I realized that it was the real deal.

One Click Coffee

One Click Coffee

Amazon Dash is a small device featuring a product or brand name sticker attached alongside a plain white button. Inside the device is a wireless transmitter that (presumably) connects to your home WiFi network. When you are running low on a product that you use frequently, like K-Cups for coffee or laundry detergent, you simply press the button and it automatically tells Amazon to ship you more of that product. Users would set up and decide their particular brands, sizes, quantity, delivery speed, among other things, when they are first using Amazon Dash in order to ensure they are getting exactly what they want. Imagine seeing that you need to refill on laundry detergent soon, but won’t have enough time to go shopping for more or simply don’t want to have to make the trip for it. Amazon Dash allows you to press it, forget it, and have exactly what you want delivered straight to your door. Pretty cool, right?

Yes, this is a real SkyMall product, I couldn't resist adding it,

Yes, this is a real SkyMall product, I couldn't resist adding it,

Well, sure, it may be cool. There are a lot of “cool” things in the world — just take a look inside a SkyMall catalog next time you get a chance. However, cool or gimmicky doesn't guarantee that it’s actually useful or worth a purchase. The real question you should be asking about Amazon Dash is: is it useful? I mean, Amazon already offers “one-click” purchasing options on their website and on their app, so why should anyone take the time to get a physical button delivered to their home and deal with the setup process, only to press a button that offers a functionality which already exists?

It seems that I frequently hear (in relation to brands) that it’s important to go where the people are, instead of trying to get the people to come to you. People are already on mobile and on PC/tablets — so is Amazon. Amazon already offers one-click purchasing as well. It seems like Amazon Dash is a product that was made simply because they could, without thinking about whether they actually should. Why not offer those same features through an Amazon Dash app on smartphones? It could do the exact same thing while also allowing people to order wherever they are instead of being forced to press the button they stuck to their kitchen wall. Plus, you wouldn’t have to go through the hassle of shipping, replacing, or setting up physical units. Boom, fixed. (Amazon if you’re reading this, feel free to send job offers my way)

Of course, all of that being said, I can kind of see where Amazon was going with this idea. Everything seems to be done through an app or some other digital medium these days, and a physical “one-click” button certainly breaks away from the clutter in that sense. Plus, Amazon Dash users would literally need only to press a single button to have their favorite or regular product purchases delivered straight to their door. It’s hard to get any simpler than that. I mean, on a smartphone, I’d have to first unlock it, then go to the app, and then tap the screen on there…that’s just too many steps, right?

Gary Dahl, inventor of the Pet Rock, was also an advertising copywriter and creative director.

Gary Dahl, inventor of the Pet Rock, was also an advertising copywriter and creative director.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh. I can certainly anticipate a future where this technology is ubiquitous. Touch screens might be built into countertops, equipped with a system that not only monitors your consumption habits but also can predict what you’ll want to buy and when. Products could be delivered to your door by drone (or teleported) before you even realize you needed them. Amazon Dash might be just a small pebble on the pathway into the future of instant purchasing/delivering. Or if that’s too bold, perhaps Amazon was envisioning a future where Dash buttons become a household staple, and all grocery or product shopping takes place by just clicking a series of buttons stuck to the inside of a kitchen cabinet. That would be pretty cool to have in your home. Of course, this is all personal speculation. If you had told me about the Pet Rock, I would have laughed and said that nobody would ever buy it, so who knows. People are very interesting creatures.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Amazon is currently only giving special beta-testing invitations to select Amazon Prime members with a limit of only three Dash buttons per person. People who are Prime members are also those who tend to shop from Amazon more frequently, and Dash might be exactly what they want. Those users might just find that they love the product, and once it became a part of their home, they really enjoyed the simplicity of purchasing it offered. As for me, I can’t say that I will be sticking Amazon Dash buttons around my apartment any time soon, but that’s because it’s different than what I would want. While it’s important to distinguish your services from others and offer something unique to the brand (which is exactly what Amazon is doing with Dash), it’s also important to not try to be different just for the sake of being different.