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    This is the personal blog of Simon Kendrick and covers my interests in media, technology and popular culture. All opinions expressed are my own and may not be representative of past or present employers
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Exploiting the medium to maximize engagement

After raving about The 21 Steps – the first episode (is that the right word?) of the We Tell Stories adventure, I have to say I was disappointed with Week 2’s offering – Slice. It was just too lightweight. The twin narrative wasn’t utilised effectively and the the Twitter feeds were essentially the same text as the blogs formatted differently. Following in real-time admittedly offered some excitement, but this was short-lived. 1 for 2 then, but I will continue to support the endeavour. Week 3 is released today.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I applaud Penguin and Six to Start for identifying the unique features of the medium, utilising its strengths and pushing the constraints. I wish more would do this. Or, if this is a common venture, I wish more people that do this were brought to my attention.

Two of my favourite books of all time are Watchmen by Alan Moore, and Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware. Not only are both superb stories (one revolutionary, the other heartbreaking) but they are also superbly told. Whether nuanced allusions, repeat motifs, parallel stories (sometimes in alternating panels), duplicated images, adjuncts outside of the strip format or dual narrative within the same pane, both writers (and artist) successfully explored the limits of their medium. In my opinion, this elevates two great stories to classics. Others agree.

I would like to see this creativity applied to television advertising. The best adverts circulated virally or collected online tend to be outdoor adverts making unique use of their environment. So what is the television environment? What are its strengths?

The strength most commonly identified with television is its centrality in many people’s lives. It offers national events and watercooler moments. Vast numbers tune in. And vast numbers talk about adverts. Traditionally, television adverts communicated rational benefits. So PG Tips spoke purely about the taste and how to maximise it. Then advertisers learned to tap into people’s emotions, and so the message changed from the product to the image.

And now we have reached a point where adverts don’t necessarily have anything to do with the products they are advertising.

Cadbury Gorilla

So the focus has moved from the message/catchphrase to the image, but not yet the medium. There have been some experiments – notably Match.com with their live advert, but none have caught the imagination. Yet.

My proposal may well be unoriginal, but I am unaware of any brand using it. The format has already proved itself successful in a different guise – board games.

In the right setting, it would work brilliantly. Thinkbox have plenty of research (this is but one example) that show the level of engagement and conversation that result from good advertising. The communal element of television is something that has yet to be fully capitalised upon. Interactivity will take this to the next level. It isn’t even very expensive – while I didn’t believe it when I was 8, Atmosfear is pre-recorded. By creating challenges and inviting the audience to participate, attention is gained. If there is a successful pay-off, it will generate those conversations the following day (or immediately online) and create that word-of-mouth supplement that helps make campaigns.

If an advertiser created enough different versions that went out during watercooler-moment, shared viewing television (whether FA Cup, Britain’s Got Talent or Big Brother) – and perhaps even publicised the times, it would create a sense of buzz and anticipation that is yet to accompany any advertising other than Superbowl spots (while the media world may look forward to the next Sony Bravia advert, I don’t think the general public are particularly bothered). And while I’m not an expert in cognitive psychology or behavioural science, I reckon the people that actively take part in an advert will be more likely to remember it than those that view passively.

I look forward to seeing the format being exploited in new ways. Whether it is an incorporated disruption to the messages in tiny font that whizz across insurance adverts or something more high concept, the opportunity is there.

Excellent creative execution is not inextricably linked to the message. The format – of which the message and the visual are but two constituents – is a rich body of characteristics that is still to be fully explored or exploited.

Are there any adverts in the UK or abroad that currently do this? If so, I’d love to hear about them.



Penguin – “We Tell Stories”

Penguin we tell stories logo

It’s great when companies experiment. It is even better when the company that does the experimentation is not one that you would have necessarily expected. After all, experiments don’t always succeed. Yet, you often neeed a failure to reach a success. And it looks like Penguin may have done that.

Fresh from their experiments with a wiki novel last year with A Million Penguins (which, despite all the PR it received has gone down, I think, as a noble failure), Penguin are back with a new endeavour.

Over at We Tell Stories is the first in a series of 6 non-linear tales devised to exploit the structures of the Internet. So, in Week 1 we have Charles Cumming taking The 39 Steps as inspiration for The 21 Steps, which takes places within Google maps.

Gimmicky? Totally. But I like it and, in this instance, it works. It is short and breezy – something that one can either return to in installments or consume entirely in one go. And without giving away too much of upcoming post that I have had planned for a while (yet still not written), Penguin have really taken a step back to look at the medium and to find ways in which to maximise both its features and its constraints. For that, I applaud them.

And not content with just experimenting with the form, Penguin have gone and included a viral ARG element to the project

But somewhere on the internet is a secret seventh story, a mysterious tale involving a vaguely familiar girl who has a habit of getting herself lost. Readers who follow this story will discover clues that will shape her journey and help her on her way. These clues will appear online and in the real world and will direct readers to the other six stories. The secret seventh story will also offer the chance to win some wonderful prizes in addition to the prizes on offer on WeTellStories.co.uk, including The Penguin Complete Classics Library, over £13,000 worth of the greatest books ever written.

I will be following the progress of this with great interest.