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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles >  Hey, This Doesn’t Suck At All

Hey, This Doesn’t Suck At All

Posted on March 19, 2012 and read 4,521 times

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lukesmall Hey, This Doesn’t Suck At AllLuke Sullivan
Chairman, Advertising
Savannah College of Art and Design

Four years ago while writing the 3rd edition of Hey Whipple, Squeeze This: The Classic Guide to Creating Great Ideas, I just didn’t feel ready to make the book as digital as it needed to be. But I finally got off my butt and attacked it, adding large new sections about digital, about interactive, social, pretty much all of it. By way of self-review, I give the 4th edition the coveted “Hey, this doesn’t suck at all” award. To help you judge for yourself, here is a longish excerpt.

Shoot one idea through the lens of another.

In a screenwriting book I read years ago I stumbled on this basic Hollywood trick that seems to apply to what we do here in advertising. To create a story, the author said, “Create one world and then look at it through the eyes of another.”

Long before the term was popular, this author was talking about mash-ups. For instance, isn’t Bladerunner basically an old-fashioned gumshoe detective story seen from the future?  More recently we’ve had Cowboys and Aliens. I don’t mean to go all-sci-fi-geek on you, so how about Brokeback Mountain …  which one could argue is sort of a Cowboys and Gay Guys.  One world, seen through the eyes of another.

My point is this: thinking in terms of mash-ups may be a good mental exercise to add to your regular creative process; a doorknob you’ll want to rattle as you search up and down the hallways of your brain for ideas.

One of my very favorite mash-ups was a piece used to create talk for Mingle2, a dating site. It was called Zombie Harmony, a dating site for the undead. It’s worth a visit.

For an Aussie beer named Tooheys, they mixed the worlds of money and beer. In this world, doing a favor like helping a buddy move was worth a bottle of Tooheys, while helping him move in with your ex-girlfriend would cost him a case.

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Another way to start the mash-up engine is with a meme. Take a popular cultural image or saying and shoot it through the world of your client’s brand. Kit-Kat candy bars started a nationwide buzz by taking the whole silly Shroud-of-Turin, Jesus-on-toast thing and mixing it with the world of candy. (Figure 6.4) Voila, you have Jesus on a Kit-Kat, a “story” that was planted in Facebook and eventually picked up by the news media (on what I can only hope was a very slow news day).

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Memes are in great supply on YouTube, as are mash-ups. With a few edits, The Shining + comedy became a trailer for a happy family movie. You can also mash up media. Foursquare is Google Maps + social. And Google Maps + Twitter = Twittervision, a site displaying the location of tweets and tweeters in real time.  And TiVO + lots of marijuana = the Domino’s/TiVO ordering service that lets furniture vegetables order pizza without having to stop watching The Princess Bride for the 800th time.

Events can start offline and go digital, or the other way around.

Wikipedia says viral advertising is generally “any Internet-driven promotion in the form of video clips, interactive Flash games, or SMS text messages.” The really good ones get passed from one person to another and spread like global infection and become viral.

Keep in mind viral is a result, not a strategy. I continue to see the word “viral” written into client briefs like it’s something you can request: “Need one print ad, one radio spot, annnnd … oh, a viral video too, please.” We decide to go viral about as much as the Beatles decided to go famous. Before anything viral happens somebody has to do something mind-roastingly cool.

Honda’s famous “Cog” commercial (Figure 6.8) was that cool so, not surprisingly, I first saw it through a link someone e-mailed to me, as did millions of others; same with Burger King’s “Subservient Chicken.” If “Cog” and “Chicken” were digital events, equally powerful events can be staged in the real world and then pulled back online. Depending on how cool these analog-to-digital events are, promoted properly they can often go nuclear.


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Some are best described as events, or hoopla (to borrow the title of Warren Berger’s book about Crispin): to do something out in public that’s so interesting  or so cool the press picks it up and people who hear about it watch it later online. Events, of course, have to answer to a strategy just like any other ad and in London, Saatchi & Saatchi brought to life T-Mobile’s credo that “Life is for sharing” beautifully. In London’s Liverpool Street Station, 400 “commuters” busted out into a well-rehearsed Michael Jackson-like dance. (Figure 6.9) Everyone else in the station scrambled to find their camera/cellphones to capture the joyous event. Of course, the agency had film crews in place to capture images for the commercial that aired the next day, the online videos, as well as the fully integrated campaign that followed.

As you can see, this idea can be expressed as a press release. It was kicked off in reality and went nuclear on the grid (30 million views when I checked the site yesterday). The same reality-to-digital dynamic happens with this next stunt.

In Italy, Heineken leveraged the emotion soccer fans have for the game by getting hundreds of evil accomplices to convince their spouses to sacrifice watching a championship match and attend instead a (fake) performance of some boring classical music and poetry. 15 minutes into the tedium the ruse was lifted, the game appeared on a theatre-sized screen and 1,000 extremely happy soccer fans drank free Heinekens. In addition to being a brand experience for these lucky few, when the agency pulled the event online, 12 million people got a similar experience. It’s an idea that can be expressed as a press release.


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To promote an exhibition of famous press photos at the New Zealand Netherlands Foundation, Clemenger BBDO wrote to 74 world leaders inviting them to actually come view these provocative and politically charged photos. The agency correctly guessed that all the leaders would send letters declining and when their expected mail arrived, the agency simply posted the letters – the actual letters – on bus shelter boards, underneath headlines like: “We invited Tony Blair to our exhibition. Here’s the response.” (Figure 6.10) Tellingly, the copy signed off with “See the photos they should be seeing.” Follow-up phone calls to their offices were turned into radio spots and once the campaign broke the press snapped up the story (how could they not?) and they blew the museum doors off the exhibition. It’s a press release, an idea that is interesting on paper.

Weiden’s famous 1-second Super Bowl commercial Miller High Life was a media stunt. Their spokesman (from the campaign discussed in Chapter 3) stood in a warehouse and they filmed him saying “Miller High Life!” It wasn’t the 1-second commercial on the Big Game that got the attention but the whole idea of the stunt which, of course, could be written as a press release.

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On the other hand, what attracted the worldwide press to cover JWT’s event for the Human Rights Watch was the sheer artistry and graceful metaphor of the idea. A bank of small backlit images of the 2,100 political prisoners in Burma were turned into jail cells with the clever placement of black ball-point pens over the images; pens that viewers were asked to use to sign the petition calling for their release. (Figure 6.11) As the pens were removed so were the bars. The PR writes itself, people.

The whole thing about “idea as press release” is simply a way to ask “Is the idea good on paper? And can it be summed up quickly?” When the answers are both yes, what you have will be just as interesting as news as it is as advertising.

It’s all about ideas that are cool on paper, like these: A TV show is advertised on a half-dozen of the least-seen billboards on the planet – People make bets on the two half-ton die that a new casino rolls down a mountain – A live TV commercial where 19 skydivers spell HONDA – Coca-Cola tries to sue itself for Coke Zero’s “taste infringement” – Burger King tells customers they no longer sell The Whopper –  Someone releases a “smile-activated” vending machine.* They’re all ideas that were interesting on paper first.

Ideas this interesting can begin and end life entirely online as well. HBO’s well-known Voyeur Project is an example, as was the breakout video “I’ve got a crush on Obama.”

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For pure stopping power I think Droga5’s video for the clothing line ecko Unltd is hard to beat. (Figure 6.12) The brief was to position the brand (started by graffiti artist Mark Ecko) as an urban icon. They created an extremely realistic “home video” of two people stealthily climbing over a fence, creeping up to Air Force One, and tagging “Still free” the President’s iconic plane (as in  Dropped anonymously onto 20 websites, within 24 hours the video was literally the most-talked about piece of media on the planet.

VW’s promotion for its Golf took place entirely online. Taking its cue from an old-fashioned contest seen in the documentary Hands On A Hard Body, VW promised to give away a Golf to the person who could longest keep their cursor on an image of the car. It was 16 days, by the way, and it all tied in nicely with the endurance capabilities of the vehicle, and it picked up on the news.

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

Online sounds like a tough place to demonstrate the dangers of noodling with a phone while driving, until I heard this idea. People registered to receive an online video. While they watched the video (showing a driver’s POV in a moving car,) they received an actual call on their cell phone, the call coming of course from the website itself. If they answered their phone they caused a car crash in the video. I haven’t even seen this site but I heard the news about it first.

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Ideas that were cool on paper first and now are cool online: Customers get to write or draw things on a huge map using the GPS in their new BMW motorcycles – 472 students upload their own images to create and be featured in a mobile phone commercial – Gamers who love the violence of Sega’s Condemned 2 are encourage to “offset the evil” by playing their new happy-crappy games Pony Heart Quest, Clown Flower Time and Lollipop Gift ParadeVW actually buys space on the white “Site Not Found” page to demonstrate its helpful navigation system. (Figure 6.13) Again, all these ideas were cool on paper first.

  • Malik Küper

    The tooheys spot a clear rip off from New Zealand.

  • Jason Johnson

    Great article. Thanks again for a new perspective and nice reminder Luke.




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