Tag Archives: advertising

Content, Form, Fantasy


Picture credit: John Holcroft Art

There is no content without form.

Neither is there form without content.

Neither one is greater than the other. As both have their unique roles. And as creators, we must take care to ensure that they play their parts to create the world that we’re aiming to create.

As creators, our job is in fact to conduct two equally capable musicians coming together to create a single piece of music coherent to the ear.

We must take care to not present content with no form whatsoever. For form helps content by making it more easy, interesting and appeasing to absorb. Most philosophy is guilty of a lack of form. So is most theoretical physics.

But bring together a fair balance of form and content, and you have the opportunity to bring to the world things that are normally difficult to digest.

Alain de Botton does this with Philosophy. Or Jason Silva.

Carl Sagan did this with Physics. So does Stephen Hawking.

On the other end, we must take care not to glorify form at the cost of content. For we can build several empty things on form, but they shall be just that: empty. Fads are guilty of a lack of true content. So is most pop music.

This is when any creation enters the realm of fantasy. It is when you see that metaphor is greater than meaning itself. Or showmanship, greater than the show.

In a culture that encourages and propagates this, real content is either non-existent or completely forgotten.

And any culture with empty form, is just that. Empty.


Who’re You Bullshitting with “Creativity”?


In my few years in the creative business, I have learned two lessons more than others:

  1. There are two types of ‘creative’ people in the world: those by designation and those by nature
  2. ‘Creativity’ is the most bastardised word in the business

Both of which bring us to the fated reality of the business in general, that we have a creative product that is more a product than it is creative.

At its core, the problem is that we have come to define creativity as ‘original, out of the box ideas’. Ideas that are interesting to us, and ideas we would not have thought of non-creatively.

But the truth is that creativity; is the ability to create something that does not exist before.

We leave that by the wayside and pursue the use of creativity for mere cosmetic improvement of preexisting solutions. Which are perhaps then filtered through several layers of verification: with sieves large and small, and what we are finally; most often than not – left with, is a substance that has neither content nor personality.

But it does check all the boxes.

The use of creativity for cosmetic and superficial improvements rests in a fundamental fear and incapacity for the unknown, the better and the truly new.

In truth, it is the difference between envisioning a faster horse, or an automobile.

But it is reduced to an excuse for having something that looks new, but is fundamentally the same.

It is an excuse for having nothing extraordinary. But just good enough.

It is your excuse for putting a funny, insightful video in your presentation but never changing the way you work.

It is your excuse for having beautiful slides. That lack in real content.

It is your excuse for having a website that invites the visitor, and speaks of lofty visions with beautiful words but is a facade to an organisation that counts only its bank roll in the end of the month.

True creativity is its own ends.

But it has been reduced to the means of being barely interesting. Almost relevant. Spineless. Or worse yet: just pretty.

Image credit: banksy

Why Advertising is The Dark Knight


Some of you may think I have an obsession for likening the advertising industry with Christopher Nolan movies. I wouldn’t blame you, I have done it in the past. But as any good planner will tell you: two instances, do not a trend make. (Besides, I’m thinking more Frank Miller than Nolan)

Having established that, here’s why I think advertising is like Batman.

For a very long time, I have held the belief that people are fundamentally irrational. And have tried presenting this point-of-view in several occasions – stretching from conversations with friends over beers (that invariably have me outnumbered) or in conversations with colleagues and clients and of course with the more engineering minded folk aiming to develop new products, interfaces or even services.  To little avail.

Perhaps this is something that more of you from adland can relate to. From conversations I’ve had – I believe that it is.

As an industry: irrationality is not only something we believe in but also a truth we work with. Many of us are irrational in our own ways, and certainly welcoming of it. Yet, our stand on irrationality outside our own industry often receives little or no heed.


I found the answer in The Anatomy Of Humbug, by Paul Feldwick:

“the need for clients, agencies, and the public alike to cling to their self-image as ‘rational’, autonomous decision makers.” 

Everyone wants to believe that they are in control. And nobody likes to be told otherwise.

Even if the truth that is spoken, is used everyday to create something that makes their lives better – yet eluding.

It is for this reason I believe we advertisers, are the dark knights of industry. For people will not understand our ways, and we certainly won’t receive much gratitude for them. If we speak of our ways we will be silenced but we act on them everyday to make things better. For it is what the world needs, it is what our client’s need and it is what our consumers need.

It is because we recognise, that rationality, like morality is not black-or-white.

Speak, beautifully


“And a poet said. Speak to us of Beauty. 
And he answered:
Where shall you seek beauty, and how shall you find her unless she herself be your way and your guide?
And how shall you speak of her except she be the weaver of your speech?”

– Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

Whatever happened to saying things beautifully?

It doesn’t appear that language alone, has taken a turn for the worse. Rather, communication as a whole.

We don’t believe in people being gorgeous or beautiful anymore. They’ve been reduced to ten point scales.

Nobody is exhaustedThey are very tired. 

Poetry has made way for the bullet point.

While penmanship has made way for words on a jpeg.

Beliefs and fortitudes have been bastardised to hashtags.

Truth be told, the things we express, and how we choose to express them are no less than art.

In each note, stroke and syllable, lies the power to transmit beauty, pain, wisdom and emotion from one soul to another.

No, not just one man to another. Rather, a truly metaphysical transfer of intangible concepts from one transient mind to another. Wherein lies the capacity for so many things to be said, simply by being unsaid.

Yes, that power. To change minds. Change perceptions. Even time.

Whatever happened to using that power, wisely?

Illustration by Kahlil Gibran Source

See Your Own Blindness, First


I have seen many managers distance themselves from consumers by drawing a line between their own perceived rationality, and the irrationality of consumers.

However, we must recognise that we are fundamentally irrational beings, and as managers and business people too, we have our own irrationalities that we are not aware of. And that these irrationalities affect our view of the customers of our businesses, and of our own biases – which in turn affects the management decisions we make.

It then becomes of paramount importance that anyone in a role that has to do with customers or driving business growth through understanding and influencing customers (be it marketing, sales, advertising, business development, customer acquisition and so on) first recognise that they are a consumer too.

For the more we distance ourselves from those who are influenced by our decisions and actions, the less effective we can be in influencing them.

On reading ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman, I found this excerpt which I believe makes this point in the same vein. In the context of the experiment on inattentional blindness (watch before you read on, if you don’t know it already), it says:

“The authors note that the most remarkable observation of their study is that people find its results very surprising. Indeed, the viewers who fail to see the gorilla are initially sure that it was not there – they cannot imagine missing such a striking event. The gorilla study illustrates two important facts about our minds: we can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our own blindness.”

As managers, we are “blind to our own blindness”, too. We are people after all.

Stop Talking about ‘Storytelling’

And start telling stories instead.

What’s the difference?

‘Storytelling’ is a noun. Or an adjective. It’s not something you do.

It’s a word you put up to describe something that is done. Or is simply something that’s done. You can say “This brand uses storytelling”. But you would never say “I will storytell“. That makes no sense.

That; to me, is the key difference.

Instead, you could tell a story. And a story is narrated in a context. It has a protagonist. An antithesis. It has ups and downs, climaxes, crescendoes and pitfalls. Stories impact us because we see a transition of emotions and we relate to that. Not to the occurrence itself, but to how the occurrence is relevant to us:

A tortoise racing a hare is not a story. A protagonist racing his antithesis and winning when nobody expects him to: that’s a story. That’s a story of getting something the world thinks you can’t have. And we all relate to that.

Here’s Kurt Vonnegut’s hilarious story models:

So, how is this relevant to your brand / start-up / company / you?

  1. You are not the protagonist. You are a character, perhaps an agent of change. The fairy god mother, if you’re lucky.
  2. Recognise the point in which you fit in the story of the protagonist. Where are they now?
  3. Become a part of their story, and help them write it. Be relevant to the story. But don’t be the story.

And finally, you might even be a storyteller. If that is the case, then start telling your story. Because when you do, people listen.


Picture Courtesy: jerry8448

Your Customers Don’t Care

Another irrational behaviour of people is that we feel we are being noticed. In a sea of people, we feel conscious of our behaviours, because we have a feeling of “being watched”.  Truth is, nobody cares. Everyone is busy doing what they are doing, and unless you do something really interesting (or stupid), nobody takes notice.

The same is true for marketers, who believe that their customers are genuinely interested in their brands. The truth is, they’re really not. They’re thinking about their careers, families, pets, vacations and other more important things. Your brand, actually doesn’t feature in their lives.

Source: Tom Fishburne, Marketoonist

This really comes through a lot in how we approach brand management, as marketers who make this assumption always refer to “their consumers” as a group of people who are eagerly awaiting the brand’s next move. This is one; among other, sure shot ways to failure.

The key to truly understanding customers, and getting their attention must begin with the assumption that they are going to ignore you. Next up, ask yourself what is truly interesting and attention worthy: this is not just a matter of communication or brand messaging (Old Spice, for instance), but of remarkable product delivery too (Dyson, being a case in point)

Brands today, live in an economy of attention. We are each vying for a momentary attention of our consumers, divided between a plethora of brands and media. The only way to get their attention is to be truly note-worthy.