Comics, Cartoons and the Art of Storytelling

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Once upon a time, enchanted by the power of grayskull and reading the future through the mystical Eye of Thundera, there was a boy that dreamed of having the power to help his beloved superheroes destroy the malevolence forces invading earth. That boy was me. Ever since I was ten years old, I’ve been living countless streamate adventures traveling between planets and alternate dimensions, thanks to the magical world of comics and cartoons. With the years, I then learned to appreciate them as much more than just a source of entertainment and begun to value their ability as powerful communication tools. Wikipedia defines comic as a graphic medium in which Jasmin live images are utilized in order to convey a sequential narrative. McCloud describes it as language that happens when two or more panels work together to contribute to a whole. Regardless of the definition, comics promise two things: 1) Spatially juxtaposed structure, and 2) sequential Jasminelive nature that distinguishes it from cartoons and comic strips. Since its origins, artists have used comics in a myriad of ways: to leave a mark (drawings from prehistoric times), to express ideas (street artists) and to entertain (traditional comic artists)… despite the end goal, what has been consistent across the years is its ability to convey a clear livejasmin message in a simpler way. And here is why, when it comes to storytelling, comics are king. They not only establish the ideal standards for simplicity and engagement with stories delivered via frames (sometimes without using words), but also teach us some lessons on how to play with Jasminlive audience’s minds and hearts. Comics use the power of closure to allow us to just observe specific parts of a story but still let our imagination perceive it as a whole. This technique is very common on movie making where icons from Hitchcock to Guy Ritchie have used it for many years (remember the famous scene on the shower, you actually never saw the knife hitting her), and comic artists still use it religiously. What’s interesting about these is that overtime they have certainly become tools that storytellers can master and use to tell better stories. Here are some useful tips to begin with: Play with the power of the mind – our brain is programmed to read between the lines, which allows storytellers to inspire readers beyond the medium. When crafting brand stories, we can use that same principle to ensure we have an engaging and interesting enough one to say. Master the practice of re-arranging the boxes – storytelling implies a high level of involvement and self-identification therefore, as every story has more than one angle just by re-arranging the order of the elements it is possible to tell more that one story and connect with more than one. Be subtractive – less is definitely enough. Good storytelling demands a clear and concise structure and the same principle should be applied when we are telling a brand story. If we can’t tell our story in one sentence then it is quite probable that it could be improved. Use narrative wisely – as comics have shown us, you can pretty much say anything you want as long as you keep one single and unified voice across the board. Make sure your brand is doing the same across every touch point.

The Socialization of Brands

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Soon enough, agencies won’t build brands anymore. People will do. Back some months ago, one of my interns asked me how I envisioned the future of brands in this technology driven society in which we live. Trying to look clever – or at least like I had a remote idea of what I was about to say – I suddenly started to think on how the concept of what a brand has changed during past years. My answer ended up being simpler [and more predictable] than what I initially expected… The future of brands is social. I thought… In order to successfully build a relevant community of evangelists, brands will have to fully empathize with the values of participatory culture as well to understand the impact that technology has -- and will continue to have -- over its development. Quite a non-brainier, no? But let’s be frank. We might be living in the midst of a ‘technology-inspired social revolution’ but the truth is that inherently, the world has always been social. “We are anthropologically programmed to share” as Clay Shirky stated at SXSW early this year; technology is just amplifying the process.

Now, while technology might not be making the world social [for the record, I did not say ‘more social’], it has certainly contributed to shift the paradigm that dictates what a brand is and how it behaves. And, in that sense, it has also helped to redefine some of the key elements that rule the existing brand-building model. For starter, the traditional hierarchy is falling apart. During the past decades, there has been a shift from ‘institutional’ to ‘individual’ power that has led to the emergence of a new breed of mindful consumers; people who [fortunately] recognize that brands need them more than they need brands [ouch]. Hence, a brand that wants to be relevant to this self-aware individual needs to - first - get out of its self-centered-narcissist bubble and – then - learn how to exist within his/her culture. Obviously, this demands identifying the skills, the methods, the habit and the technologies necessary for acting and participating within that given arena. The end goal is to build contextual relevance around their habitat and move from a ‘seen’ brand to a ‘shared’ one. Then we have the agencies, which - like any other ecosystem of its kind - are constructed around a hierarchical blueprint where tight sense of control and predictable risk become the holding pillars of its actions. But their world also falls apart once they realize that, nowadays, helping their brands to build deeper [social] relationships implies that they also need to give up their most precious treasure: control. And here lies the dilemma.

See, no organization [agency or client] is willing to commit on buying transformational ideas without some sort of guarantee; they feel like they need to control both the process as well as the outcome. And I guess we all can understand this behavior since, historically, the industry itself have mistakenly established that giving up control equals uncertainty in terms of ROI – which, ultimately, explains their obsessive behavior. Fortunately, now we count with loads of examples out there that prove us why this approach is not longer right and that also reveal that in order to ‘socialize a brand’ giving up control – more than just a choice -- is a rule. Yes, things could potentially go wrong so all this implies some level of readiness to deal with disaster. But when it comes to greatness, that’s part of the idea, no? Expertise only leads to the same old patterns so we have to trust on experimentation if we want to play on the realm of true transformation. The reality that any company needs to embrace is that screwing up is part of the process towards building great [social] brands; Brands that talk to people and that people would want to talk to. Brands that people care about. I’m not a psychic -- or anything of that sort -- but my best guess about the future is that building brands will require ideas that are rooted on the inherent social nature of the people they talk to. Therefore, our goal must be to find ways to help these brands either become the conversation, or at least be part of it. Perhaps the challenge requires a redefinition of the way we embrace social from a holistic standpoint [some agencies are successfully experimenting with this already]; I really haven’t quite figured that one out yet but one thing I know for sure: I expect a future where agencies no longer build brands. People do. [Thankfully perhaps] there isn’t really a model for success out there. There are a myriad of them. The idea is to continue collaborating, experimenting and prototyping to evolve them.

Should the Internet be Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize?

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This is a fascinating question. The internet is a platform, not an individual. The internet is tool not an actual actor. The internet does not undergo the personal sacrifices that other nominees undergo. These are some of the thoughts that come up as you try to tackle this truly interesting question. Therefore I will methodically explore the three in an attempt to arrive at my own personal answer to this question. The internet is indeed at platform and as such it presents two great notable strengths. The first is that as a platform, it serves to gather and harness the consciousness of a collective. It’s a platform with multiple magnets that allows liked minded people from across the globe to connect and find uniformity of purpose. In light of this magnetic strength, the internet is also a platform where ideas and actions are more important than individuals. Therefore the second strength is that the internet allows for ideas to flourish and move forward into action. It allows for those who prefer anonymity to be active and to an extent it de-emphasizes the centralization of power and control that leads to egomania and corruption.

That is not to say that the internet is a utopia where no evil exists. The internet is populated by humans and as such it will contain the same human conditions present in the offline world. But I do believe that the internet is a very fertile platform for group actions to flourish and grow. Its organic power of organization and participation far exceeds anything possible in the offline world. The work of world peace requires tons of organization and participation. Therefore these strengths are important to consider when answering the question at hand. So the next topic to tackle is whether the internet can be considered an actual actor in the endeavor of world peace. I believe that the internet can certainly be considered an agent of action. In fact I would argue that its not only an agent of action, it is an amplifier of action. The internet facilitates fund raising, which in turn amplifies the possibilities of action. The internet accelerates the rate of dissemination of information that generates awareness; another amplifier of action. The internet facilitates specific actions making it easier for a greater amount of people to take action (action once again amplified). The fact that with today’s technology, over night a government official can receive thousands of letters with a specific request is just an incredible tool for the endeavor of peace.

As I explore this thought of the internet as an amplifier of action, a fundamental question arose in my mind about the need to reward an individual for the endeavor of Peace. That question is: Is the endeavor of peace the responsibility of a select/elite few OR is it the responsibility of the collective? In the political sphere they always talk about “world peace.” Most religions speak about “peace on earth.” The world created an organization that is seemingly responsible for establishing and protecting peace. Therefore it would seem that all of us could agree that peace is the responsibility of the collective not just the individual or select few. So I ask myself, why do we therefore look for unilateral action in matters of peace OR why do we continuously look to reward the individual for their achievements in the endeavor of peace? What good has that gotten us? The US is constantly looking to be the flag barer of the protection of peace and freedom. Yet the US is the world’s largest nuclear power, has legitimized a notion of “preemptive war” and currently has 30,000+ troops in a foreign sovereign land pursuing a couple hundred remnants of Al Queda. The response of the previous Nobel winner was to send 30,000 troops into harms way/harm others against the wishes of both his own people as well as the will of the victim country. So what good can come of continuing to reward the individual? Sure many deserving individuals have won the recognition, but has it really made a substantive difference? As time passes it seems we are further away from peace. Israel and Palestine are the furthest from agreement than in the last 20 years, North Korea continues to threaten and be threatened, Iran continues to threaten and be threatened, many groups who had roots in noble causes have been radicalized and incensed to the point mass violence and corruption. The American president(s) segment the world into allies and the axis of evil.

The third thought to consider in answering the question of the internet as a nominee for a nobel peace prize is that it may undermine the sacrifices of other nominees and winners. Here I would argue that the internet once again serves as an agent of amplification. It facilitates unpopular speech, it allows for you to shine a spotlight on injustice immediately, it allows for a global platform of education. Lets consider some tangible examples: how about collective sacrifices made by feet on the ground in Haiti funded by OR given strategic direction in light of the internet? How about the tons of social media messages and actions that came in Iran after the elections? How about the contributions of many non-profit news organizations that disseminate genuine accurate and thorough information, not the fair/balanced and packaged nonsense provided by the big media corporations? Are those not noteworthy? And given their impact collectively, aren’t they more effective than just individual action? The internet for sure has many aspects that are despicable. But that is simply a reflection of the human condition. Its not the fault of the technology, it’s the fault of the people that operate it. The people are what needs to be fixed so censorship or curtailing or fear of the internet certainly won’t solve our problems.

In exploring this question I find genuine passion and inspiration in the possibility of mobilizing the collective. I find great merit in inspiring people to join together in action, not take individual action in a pursuit of praise. I find genuine value in conveying to people that the pursuit of peace is our collective responsibility and that it should be done, not because of the potential reward, but because its simply the right thing to do and our responsibility. The pursuit of peace should not be seen as something that a select few sacrifice for while others observe and applaud. So I like the idea of rewarding the internet because it is like rewarding all those who contribute their little grain of salt. It rewards all those who do the little things on a daily basis whether its through their life choices, their purchase choices, the donations they make, the groups they join, the matters they blog about, or the sacrifices they raise awareness of. I also like the idea of rewarding the internet because it inspires all to think differently about how to achieve peace. It involves everyone. It requires a lot of amplification in light of the powerful interests that threaten peace. And most of all it just challenges status quo which is monumentally critical to the success of the endeavor of peace. So in the same spirit that many supported the decision to reward Obama in the hopes of inspiring the future, I vote to support this nomination in the hopes of what it could mean for the future. A future that can be less about chat roulette and more about amateur videos, status updates, reports and blogs from the suffering impoverished corners of the world...hopefully leading to meaningful success on the ground, not a photo-opp in Europe.

Manifesto For Agile Strategy

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Earlier this year, the smart folks at Made By Many wrote a great post sharing their ‘Agile Philosophy’ and how it fits the current ‘Agile world’ in which we live. Their take is well summarized on the chart above, which they appropriately titled: ‘Manifesto for Agile Strategy Development.’ Needless to say, I strongly agree with their line of thinking and just recently had the chance to experiment with this approach myself working on the strategy of one of my bigger [and more traditional] clients. Overall, what caught my attention wasn’t the end result but instead the path that took us there. It was collaborative by nature [for the most part] and heavily rooted on the concepts of prototyping and adaptation. It wasn’t all about the magical insight but instead about a simple yet strong bigger purpose that guided us through the entire journey. It wasn't anymore about "us" and "them" or about “strategy” versus “creative.” It was bigger than all that. It was about understanding that things are quite different and, to survive, brands need to create a new framework where to live. It was also about further defining my role as a ‘strategist’ [whatever that means to you]; as someone who doesn’t necessarily have the magic key, but that can definitely show you the right door. We’ll then open it up together. Yes, things are quite different now but I believe one thing remains: the best strategy is like oxygen, sustaining but also invisible.