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For the last, oh I don’t know, since it’s been trendy, brands have been wading into the social justice cheer squad with shiny pom-poms and witty banners. Recently, they’ve been bravely pinning their rainbow flags to the mast of marriage equality in what is surely the largest no-brainer in Australian business circles since Alan Bond’s corporate fraud trial.

While it takes a monumental cynic to poo-poo any effort to support worthwhile causes, and I’m hopefully not Robinson Crusoe on the matter, I’m about to poo-poo the efforts of mainstream corporate Australia for their recent ‘support’ of today’s “oh FFS just get it done already and move on” hot-button topic.

I’m not entirely sure of the long-term strategic benefits brands get from virtue signalling, but there’s no denying it provides an amazing sugar hit for the here and now. Finding five people you are friends with on Facebook who openly said Alan Joyce should stick to keeping planes in the sky during that whole ‘Margaret Court thing’ is less likely than ruining your mahabis by stepping in unicorn poo. Why? Because backing this stuff online is an absolute, no-look slam dunk. Brands have a ready-made fan base to give them a standing ovation and anyone with a dissenting view is either ripped to shreds or smart enough to leave it the hell alone for fear of being ripped to shreds. But enough about how social media skews our political views, let’s get to the actual point.

Over the past fortnight in Australia, the ‘debate’ around marriage equality has descended/ascended into a cyclonic shit-storm of WTFs and WTAFs. I’ve got so many friends currently occupying the moral high ground on this topic that I dare not open Facebook for fear of suffering some kind of contact-high vertigo.

But where have all the brands gone?

 

Where are the hand-on-heart, high-horse riding crusaders and their trumpeting trumpets?

I’d love to know.

Honestly.

I would love to know.

If the point of getting behind social change and political driven campaigns comes from a legitimate desire to make the community/country/world a better place – surely they should be making as much noise as possible right now.

If the point of getting behind social change or politically driven campaigns is a cynical exercise in bandwagoning low-hanging fruit – surely they should also be making as much noise as possible right now.

But here’s the rub – right now, there’s no slam dunk. Even within those who are for marriage equality there are wildly varying views on how to respond to the ‘plebiscite’. Some are saying boycott, some are saying it’s illegitimate, some are challenging it in the High Court, and some are pragmatically saying ‘well, at least it’s something!’ and clapping softly for fear of offending the rest.

 

For a brand who was simply hanging with the popular kids online without truly considering their actions only a few months ago, it’s quite the conundrum.

If getting behind causes is a tap that you turn on and off whenever it suits you, then you probably need to question why you were throwing your hat into the ring in the first place.

Or do we have to admit that being there for the sexy bit where we all hold hands and say ‘love is love’ is a lot easier than standing by your man when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, sleeves-up boring process? Is it too much for us to expect corporate Australia to do more than us (change our profile pic for a week)?

The next few weeks/months will make all the difference.

It’s going to be interesting to see who in corporate Australia has the guts to ride along side during this part of the journey and (hopefully) get the job done.

Character is action – Using what your brand does to define what your brand is

There is a truism that is often quoted in screenwriting: “character is action, not dialogue”.

For example, if you want to reveal that a junkie is addicted to drugs you don’t have him say “I’m so desperate for drugs I’ll do anything”, you put the drugs at the bottom of a blocked toilet, have him fish them out and swallow them.

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You know you’re a junkie if…

Character is action is also true in real life. When an on-hold message says “your call is important to us” but you’re still on hold 20 minutes later, that not only shows your call isn’t important, it also shows the people on the other end of the line are either happy to lie to you or delude themselves into thinking that no one will care about their lack of service.

This is why one of the first things any organisation should do when they’re thinking about brand development is audit how they act internally and externally, and how those actions appear to the people who see them. These actions do more to define how the organisation is perceived and what a brand currently stands for than any strategic business plan with overarching values and goals.

At Shabbadu, we like to start every brand development project with a Communications Audit and a set of workshops with our client’s front line staff. It allows us to capture and define every significant action taken on behalf of a brand. Are they positive or negative? Desperate or confident? Caring or selfish?

By capturing a snapshot of what an organisation does and how it does it, we give our clients a strong understanding of what their brand really stands for and what they might need to do differently to live up to the promise of their brand. It also gives us a great foundation to develop brand assets that make sense of the way their organisation acts.

This means you should end up with a brand that strengthens what it stands for in a natural, self-sustaining way, no matter what twists and turns the script takes.

Emojis: Linguistic evolution? Or stupid, bastardised Internet glitter?

Every generation bastardizes the language. It’s happened since forever. So really it should come as no surprise that the emerging rebellious youth, armed to the teeth with unlimited data caps and early-onset thumb arthritis, are helping to steer the vernacular into wondrously new, if head-scratchingly confounding, places with ‘emojis’ (winking smiley face).

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The ‘Call an ambulance I’m having a stroke’ emoji.

The evolution of language is a natural, beautiful thing. It helps shape a generation’s identity and date stamps the zeitgeist, and hopefully, as a result, we progress as a society. Cultivating new ways to communicate helps us form bonds with our peers and gives the ‘cool kids’ a sort of shorthand to help them decipher who’s in and who’s out. But above all, it’s supposed to make communication easier.

Yet, I can’t see ‘emojis’ helping ‘us’ achieve any of these things.

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I don’t know either TBH.

They distract, confuse, obfuscate, but most mischievously of all, potentially purport to dumb us down. Try finding the ‘emoji’ equivalent of distract, confuse and obfuscate, for instance. “Um, ok, well I’ve got a woman shrugging her shoulders…will that do?” No.

‘Emojis’ are the linguistic equivalent of glitter: nice in theory and can clearly serve a purpose, but once unleashed now inhabits every crevice of our existence and is seemingly impossible to get rid of. I can’t seem to shake this nagging feeling that they’re some big, dumb ‘so bad it’s good’ joke that people began using ironically. Only it’s been going on for so long now that everyone seems to have forgotten the punch line, walked the chicken back across the road and are now happily drinking in a bar with a horse, a tiny man with a piano, and various men of cloth.

maxresdefaultDon’t get me wrong; ‘emojis’ have their place as hieroglyphic hashtags to be used after the main event to highlight your point (ok signing hand) or provide a witty rejoinder (poo with eyes (hilarious)). However, plonk them in the middle of a sentence in place of an actual word and leave the reader to decipher your message at your own peril.

So are ‘emojis’ here to stay, or will they be banished to the cultural wilderness like Hammer Pants, tamagotchis and wine cooler?

I guess only (clock face) will (person whispering into their hand).

5 tips from Albus Dumbledore that I used to get a great job

Two rather important things happened at work last week. Firstly, my boss wrote a lovely article about my efforts to get a job at Shabbadu. Then I came out of the cupboard under the stairs to my workmates as a massive Harry Potter fan. So, I’m responding to one with a nod to the other for everyone who has asked for more info on my modus operandi. (Bear in mind that this is coming from a sample size of one. I’m not an expert. This is just what worked for me.)

“The wand chooses the wizard, Harry”

Work out who you want to work for. You can choose your employer in the sense that its up to you where you target your campaign. Employers don’t come and look for grads. You have to make yourself known to them, and the way that you do this needs to be magical – in other words, you really need to stand out.

“It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow up to be”

If you come from a rural town, like I did, you may think that the big smoke is impenetrable. It isn’t. Whether you grew up in the ‘burbs or you’re from a recently discovered tribe in the Amazon basin, it’s what you take on board as you grow that makes you the person you are. By all means, a degree matters, but it’s your personality and that will get you hired – you need to fit in with the team to become a part of something long-term.

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“It is our choices that show us who we really are, far more than our abilities”

What choices have you made that signify you’re the person for the role? Think about experiences that have proven challenging or where you’ve learned something valuable. Tell these stories at your interview. Others may have the same degree – but you’re the only you. You’ll know you’ve found the right job when you can be yourself and not compromise your personality. You’ll also be happier overall.

“Of course it’s happening inside your head Harry, but why should that mean it is any less real?”

You need to have a solid understanding of your goals before taking any action. You need to steer your ship in the right direction, and this doesn’t have to be literal. Once you know where you want to be, starting acting like you’re there. I’m not saying fake it to make it, I’m just saying that your identity is of your own making.

“Don’t count your owls before they are delivered”

If you’re a graduate, you probably suck a bit. Either way, your seniors are definitely better at what they do than you. Which is why you need to open your ears and listen to them. If someone is willing to teach you, don’t take it for granted. Don’t ever think you’ve hit the big time. And never stop learning.

If you’re waiting to graduate before looking for a job, what are you studying for?

I’ll just leave this here for anyone currently studying with a view to working in a graduate position in the New Year.

A few years ago, from out of nowhere we received a request from a young lady who wanted to spend a week with us on placement during her (uni) school holidays.

We had no idea who she was at the time but she had clearly done her research before she called and when she spoke she was polite and keen. This was quickly followed by an email, which, surprisingly, contained no spelling mistakes and no obvious grammatical errors.

We made the necessary arrangements, made some space in our (then) small office and spent what we thought was a relatively low-key week with her in tow. At the end of the week, she thanked us very much for her time and all we’d taught her and sincerely stated that she wanted to work somewhere like Shabbadu when she graduated – we thought she was joking.

A year and a bit later I received an invite to attend her graduation. Unfortunately I was unable to attend as it was on a Friday evening during the ‘Christmas rush’. Still, within a fortnight she had requested an hour of my time to take me out to lunch as a thank you for all the advice and motivation we’d given her during the preceding few years.

When we met up she presented me with a 38-page bound document all about how she still really wanted to work at Shabbadu. It detailed the starting salary she was after and a list of all the things she could now confidently bring to the role. I was blown away. The amount of effort was astonishing. Yet there was no gimmickry or stunts involved. She simply set herself a goal, worked out a way to reach that goal, and did everything she could to achieve it.

Thousands of advertising, design and marketing students will graduate in the next few months. If you’re one of them and the place you want to work at doesn’t know your name, what the hell are you waiting for?

P.s: That girl’s name is Leah. She’s our graduate hire and she’s going to be an absolute gun. You might be too, but who’s going to give you the chance to prove it?

You are about to be advertised to.

Pretend for a moment that this is an advertisement.

We’ve got your attention with something eye-catching yet appropriate for you, the target audience, so now we’ll introduce a premise. The seed we want to plant in your mind is that you’re missing out on something as vital to your ongoing survival as water or oxygen. This is intended to give you a nudge – nothing huge -just enough to get you off balance. Then we’ll hint that you’re probably feeling off-balance now, so you’ll think we’re really on your level, possibly even psychic.

This establishes trust – something we’re going to take advantage of immediately by listing things that make currently being off balance the worst thing ever. Which is terrible news for someone only recently suffering from being off-balance. But don’t worry, these things will be so commonplace that everyone will feel them on at least a semi-regular basis. They’re the kinds of things usually found in click-bait articles entitled ‘Six words successful people never use’, or ‘Failures do these five things every morning before brushing their teeth’.

See, we use phrases like ‘at least a semi-regular basis’ for good reason. They sound impressive but are so vacuous and malleable that they’re almost useless as definite descriptors. Then there are ass-covering modifiers like ‘may, can, could’ and ‘one of ‘. Instead of accurately describing what something ‘will’ do or precisely ‘how’ it measures up against its competition, these let us overstate any benefit. But you don’t care by this point. Your self-esteem is sinking rapidly and you’re looking for the nearest life raft.

It’s about now that we’ll subtly attack your ego by associating people who don’t do the thing we want you to do with failure and ineptitude. Suddenly, you don’t just want this thing we haven’t even mentioned yet, you are getting a little pissed off with yourself for not knowing what it is already.

By the time we let you know, you’ve practically punched in everything but your CCV number and have posted about it three times on social media to ensure you retain the moral superiority over your peer group/colleagues/friends and people whose opinions you don’t even care about.

You won’t even know you’ve been chaperoned down the garden path. Your brain will release some serotonin as soon as you make the purchase and once more when you use whatever this thing was for the first time.

The effects will wear off over time. Long enough for the next shell game to be hastily erected in your browsing path.

This is how some people would like to think marketing communications work these days. It’s all based on great data, grand schemes, digital breadcrumbs and clever traps that consumers can’t help but fall into.

Closer to the truth is that most day-to-day campaigns are a hodge-podge of rushed work that’s been watered down by layers of approvals, compromised by budget constraints, or researched into a beige abyss with no time for real post-analysis or even a vague sense check that the train is on the right track, let alone being driven by someone with a license.

Funnily enough, it appears to be more palatable for a marketing department to put their business out for pitch than look back and examine their most recent work.

And, why not? A pitch is only confronting for the incumbent agency, a review, or communications audit is potentially uncomfortable for everyone.

Then again, you might find out what you’re doing right, what you’re doing wrong, what you should be doing but aren’t, and what you shouldn’t be doing but are. You could use it to strengthen your relationship with your current agency, prove you’re all doing a great job, find budget savings or build a case for an increase, or, if you’re so inclined, give yourself the ammunition you need to get rid of some dead wood once and for all.

The Shabbadu Comms Audit may, can and could do all these things for you. In fact, you could say, it’s one of the best comms audits available today.

In defense of puns

Ah, puns. The copywriter’s equivalent of the dad joke. Harmless, chuckleworthy, eye-rollingly good plays on words that make us expel air out of our noses at a rate faster than normal for at least one breath.

I will admit I love a good pun and even kind of like a ‘bad’ pun. Good on them for having a go, I’ll think to myself. See, when you’re coming up with headlines for things, you try to find ways to highlight the stuff you’ve been told to highlight. You need to make a connection between the product and the potential consumer. Why not draw on common ground with a few well-placed words that have a smile-inducing double meaning?

But I’m not in the majority here. Some people hate puns, or deride them as ‘cheap’ and ‘easy’. They say ‘there’s no such thing as a good pun’ and spend inordinate amounts of time attempting to create a gem before reverting to a tried and true “more than just a…”, “we’re for…” or new favourite “welcome to…”.

As such, advertisers of a certain chip colour have been reticent to deploy puns in their mass-market communications. This week, a few would argue we’ve all been witness to front row seats as to why.

Woolworth’s ‘Fresh in our memories’ campaign drew a strong reaction, and deservedly so. The internet responded as the internet does and amongst the swathes of digital disbelief and virtual hand-wringing someone somewhere pointed out that one of the worst things about this misguided use of the word ‘fresh’ was that is was a pun.

Great, I thought. Another thousand lashes for the fly-ridden dead horse of pun hate. But as a staunch defender of the play-on-word, I feel a need to intervene.

‘Fresh in our memories’ was not a pun. I appreciate that this makes as much sense as saying water is not a liquid, but lets look at the actual facts. Yes, it has a double meaning, but only because of the association the Woolworths brand has with the word ‘fresh’. If it was a true pun, the fresh would refer to the people in our memories being either crisp like a spritzed iceberg lettuce or somehow dressed like the Price of Bel Air. It’s also neither smile-inducing nor giggle-worthy in any way. And the only air that would be expelled from one’s nostrils upon reading it for the first time would be from indignant anger, not some beige variety of pleasure.

Not a true play on words. Not funny. No nostril air.

Three strikes you’re out = Not a pun.

The internet will move on by the end of the week. But brands will be more cautious as a result. Knuckles will be rapped and contracts will be reviewed. And standing in the line-up with the guilty parties will be the pun. A case of mistaken identity in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unfairly judged for a crime it did not commit and I for one feel sorry for them. So now it’s not so much that every pun is a bad pun, they’re all just poor puns.

Sorry. I couldn’t help it.

Words are wind.

Here’s a startling admission for someone who writes words for a living: I seldom read books. It’s not that I don’t enjoy them. It’s not that I can’t make the time if I want to. I simply just don’t. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an active choice. There has been no resolution to shun the professionally published writings of others. Nor is it a reflection on my need to be up to date with whatever is currently perched upon the nightstands of Readerati.

To me, reading a book is a luxury and an investment. The kinds of books I traditionally read put me in foreign places, strange times and inside the minds of characters that demand you obsess over every little detail of their fabricated lives.

The other thing holding me back from devouring paperbacks at will is that I am what most people would class as a terrible reader. Not in the sense that I lack the requisite comprehension skills to absorb the information, more like I read every single word. That’s right. Every. Single. Word. Sometimes more than once. And if a particular sentence is exceptionally well crafted, I’ll deconstruct it and try to figure out what it was that made that string of words sing so beautifully.

The last two books to cop the word by word workout have been A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons – books four and five in the A Song Of Ice and Fire series by George R R Martin. Approximately 2000 pages in total. Needless to say, they took a while to wade through.

A phrase struck me as I read, and has stayed with me in the months during and weeks since: words are wind. It’s an utterance made by many, diverse characters from a made up place in a nondescript time, but its relevance to today resonated with me strongly.

In an age where more and more people are communicating on behalf of brands, not just externally in mainstream and digital channels, but internally among our colleagues, the way we use words has never been more important.

Not just because we are consuming more bite-sized information than ever before, but due to the sheer amount of information being pushed to our tvs, laptops, tablets and mobiles, we need the right wind to blow our audience away.

Shabbadu’s Chris Taylor forced to hire his own sister.

It is with great regret that Shabbadu’s Chris Taylor announces the hire of a new Digital Strategist: his sister, Kate Crawshaw.

“I can’t believe I’m having to say this out loud in public, but I have a talented sister who knows more about the important field of Digital Strategy than I do.” says Taylor through gritted teeth.

According to Taylor, he was left with little choice. “Recently, more and more of our clients have been wanting in-depth strategic thinking for their digital and social marketing campaigns. I tried everything I could to hire someone else, but – and it kills me to admit this – the fact is my sister is one of the best thinkers in the field. Her fifteen years experience and strong skill set in everything from board-level facilitation and creation of strategic plans to implementation and staff training is perfect for our clients and for us.”

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“As part of her hiring conditions I’m required to acknowledge that she is now, has been and always will be smarter than me and that Mum loves her more because she is clearly the better child.”

Crawshaw is clearly happy with her new role. “Now that the whole sibling rivalry thing’s been acknowledged as the no-contest it obviously was, I’m looking forward to teaching the little snail-eating bedwetter how the world really works. I’ll give my little brother his due, though. Shabbadu is a fascinating business with some great partnerships already in place. My role is to help nurture those relationships as well as strengthening internal processes as the business heads into an exciting growth stage.”

Taylor has no concerns about mixing family and business, though. “Look, if it doesn’t work out I’ll give her a hug, thank her for her help and tell her she was adopted.”

The art of giving feedback ~ or ~ The Shit Sandwich

We ‘creative types’ are a sensitive bunch. Sure, we might act all aloof and intellectually superior on the odd occasion, but in reality we’re just faithful hounds to our client masters: pining for a belly rub and hoping they remember to feed us on time. This Jekyll/Hyde persona is no-more pronounced than during the creative presentation/client feedback parts of the creative process.

A presenting creative is confident and assured. They have answered the brief in a fresh way and they’re bound to blow the client away with their cleverness. A creative receiving feedback is the ultimate submissive. The client holds their hopes, dreams and future successes in their hands. In some strange way, this piece of work represents a small piece of the creative’s soul.

Don’t laugh, this is serious.

To a creative person, to stand before a client is to stand before Caesar. For they are the ultimate judge. There is no appeals tribunal. Just a thumb pointing up or down.

So stepping out of the poor, defenseless creative person’s $200 trainers for a second, it’s not the client’s fault that they can’t take criticism, is it? The client has a job to do. They have their own masters to please. Why can’t it just be how they asked it to be?

Well, the simple answer is, it can.

Sometimes as creatives, we get it wrong. Sometimes we get it hugely wrong. Other times, it’s mostly right but with a few little tweaks it’ll be bang on. Still, when we get it wrong, we need to fix it. But asking certain types of creative people that a little piece of their soul is wrong is akin to asking them to eat shit.

You can’t dress it up. You can’t make it taste better. But you can hide it. It all lies in the art of the Shit Sandwich.

So, how does a sandwich work? You’ve got a slice of bread at the bottom, filling in the middle and another slice of bread on top, right?

In the case of a shit sandwich, you start by saying something nice about the work. For example; “I love the visual treatment…”, “The headline was hilarious…” or “I really admired your punctuality…”

Then, you administer the ‘shit’; “But, it’s been rejected by legals”, “My wife/husband/cat hates it” or “It’s so off brief we sent out a search party.”

The final slice is another affirmation to leave the creative feeling positive about what must happen next; “We’ve managed to extend the deadline so there’s more time for you to come up with something amazing! We’re sure you’ve got it in you.” Etc…

Good news – Bad news – Good news. That’s the Shit Sandwich.

In my experience, it’s the most effective way to get a creative person to happily slice and dice a piece of their soul for you. The method also works really well on pre-school children.

But be warned, administering a good Shit Sandwich takes practice. I’ve seen good clients clumsily rush in with the Open Shit Sandwich (no layer of good news on top) which the creative can see from a mile off and get in a bad mood before you even start talking. Or even worse, the Reverse-Open Shit Sandwich. Which just leaves everyone really confused and with shit on their hands.

There’s no such thing as good, bad feedback. But when you slip it between a couple of slices of something good, it makes it a lot more palatable.