Exploring the seven techniques used to create a cultural phenomenon by leveraging Mutation, Invention, Candor, Mischief, Connection, Pragmatism, and Momentum.
In the history of advertising, the rise of Crispin Porter + Bogusky is fascinating. The little Miami shop situated so far from Madison Avenue grew at an astonishing rate in the early 2000's to become an advertising behemoth (albeit not without the usual advertising controversies), and became a pioneer of the “everything is an ad” Creative Disruption model.
I still remember playing around with the Subservient Chicken on dial-up, and being blown away.
In 2006, journalist Warren Burger created one of the most famous advertising coffee table books entitled Hoopla, a fly-on-the-wall snapshot that tried to record the secret sauce of CP+B. Part creative showcase, part how-to-guide, and part propaganda, the books goal was to codify the new principles the agency was applying to their clients problems.
Both Bogusky and Porter were obsessed with the career of PT Barnum, the most American of showmen, who himself was part businessman, entertainer and prankster.
Hoopla was a word used by Barnum to mean bustling excitement, commotion, activity or sensational publicity. It was designed to get people to react, respond, join in, or do… something. And if you can inspire enough people to get together and take some form of action, you can create a phenomenon that impacts culture.
When applied to advertising, this can be seen in the shift to Creative Disruption being applied to the idea of “culture” - this was the point when ‘culture’ began to really enter the lexicon in 2006.
Elements of Hoopla
CP+B saw cultural movements being created by leveraging seven key techniques - Mutation, Invention, Candor, Mischief, Connection, Pragmatism, and Momentum.
"Mutation occurs when changing conditions force organisms to adapt; in the age of information explosion, people HAD to mutate so they could breathe in all the new information without drowning in it. With the rise of the Internet, the growth of digitalized personal media, and the constantly multiplying array of entertainment and communication options, the only way to navigate and survive was for people to develop mutant multimedia, multitasking skills that simply did not exist among those in the previous generation. These new powers enabled people to not only consume information but also to absurd it, reshape it, and use it for their own individualized purposes."
- Consumer are savvier than ever about advertising messages, and applying their own filters.
- You need to respect the intelligence of the people you're trying to influence.
- Mutation is a license for interpretation.
- Don’t be afraid to challenge the basic format of advertising. Ads can mutate into other forms that can command attention, from t-shirts, films, live events, books, or something that hasn't even been invented yet.
- Play to peoples natural curiosity
"The old advertising model valued everything by levels of media expenditure. In the long ago days of three television channels, advertisers could somewhat predict how much share of mind they'd command based on how much they were investing in air time. The audience had yet to build up the filters that today's viewers have, and there were fewer media options and escape hatches. Hence it was assumed if a marketer spent enough money hammering away at the captive audience, the message was bound to sink in eventually.
But once the audience mutated with new choices, the formula began to unravel. In the new value-equation that has taken place, "surprise" is more important than repetition. To purchase awareness now, it's not enough to just buy more air time. It's increasingly critical to invest in ideas. And the return on investment will likely depend on the inventiveness of those ideas and their ability to surprise, intrigue, engage, and stir conversation."
- Ideas are currency.
- People never tire of surprises, and invariable respond to novelty. They crave something fresh and original.
- The key to invention is to pretend. It's ok to make things up.
- Always practice obsolescence.
"To effectively "hype" something today, you must find a way to cut through "the hype". Tell the truth, or at least some interesting form of it. Advertisers, promoters and publicists have, for decades, developed a habit of relying on over promising, over selling, and focusing on the sizzle, not the steak. There are truths to almost every product, and yet most advertisers shy away from those truths. The tendency is to simply offer sales pitches that have little to do with the reality of a given brand or the actual experience of using a specific product.
Shying away from the truth of your brand invariably results in a lack of emotional impact, but in the old three-channel marketing world, that was a forgivable sin; even the most empty pitch or banal slogan could be drummed into people's heads with enough repetition. However, as the power to control media began to shift to consumers, there was less willingness on their part to sit through empty messages. And now, as the power and sophistication on the part of the audience continues to grow, the brands that are unwilling to have a real and truthful conversation with consumers will become completely irrelevant and therefore invisible."
- Nearly all of the public can't stand being manipulated; they do not like to be "played".
- Consumers have grown weary of blatantly false or bullshit sales pitches.
- In a world of hype, a few candid words can be more powerful than a thousand empty slogans or claims.
- Avoid focus groups. They elicit half-truths and predictable responses from participants who answer in ways they believe are expected of them. If you do use them, make them your hypothesis for further tests.
- Celebrate the fundamental truth of your product or brand. There is always a compelling truth deep down inside that can drive a message and give meaning and credibility.
"Unlike conventional advertising, which is forever struggling to seem believable and not fake, the rules of Hoopla allow for farce, tricks, pranks, and all manor of mischief - as long as you eventually let people in on the fun.
Mischief is infectious. When you see two people whispering and giggling in a corner, you want to know what's going on and if you can be in on it”.
- Advertising and Publicity are much more effective than advertising alone. Publicity is one of the most powerful tools available to any marketer.
- Celebrate the trouble makers and pay attention to the rebels.
- Tricks, pranks, and playfully naughty behaviour can keep people on the edge of their seats and therefore more engaged with the message.
- Any sort of advertising or promotional efforts that effectively utilise mischief are likely to draw more complaints and press coverage. But that's a good thing, right?
- People believe more in news than they do in an ad.
- News coverage is free.
- If you are going to do something a little bad, better make sure it is also good.
“The old way of thinking was that a person's impressions about a brand could be formed and shaped by advertising alone, but that view has given way to a new, more holistic one, recognising that there are countless opportunities for contact between a brand and consumer.
Each one of these "touch-points" - which can occur on the street, in the store, on the phone with a sales rep, in a bar talking to other people, on the Web, or wherever - all contribute to shaping the impressions and attitudes someone has about the brand. They are all connected to one another (or should be) because they are all part of the same unending story of the brand.
The challenge is to utilize as many of these touch-points as possible while also making sure the message conveyed at each point is consistent.
There is no longer a preset mould into which ideas can be poured. Which means (yet again) that extreme inventiveness is required, not only in terms of coming up with creative messages to promote a product, but also in terms of inventing entirely new vehicles to carry those messages out into the world."
- Everything is media. Everything is branding.
- Try and approach briefs by taking the traditional moulds from the table. "If there were no TV and no magazines, how would you make this brand famous?"
- Find new ways to communicate.
- Make sure the communication flows in two directions - both out and in.
- Interactive media has made it possible to have a two-way relationship or ongoing conversation with the audience you're trying to reach.
- Shouting at people is the old advertising method; the new improved one involves talking with people.
- The basic rules of conversation can and should be applied to almost all brand communications.
"Most of them [ads] are consigned to the cultural scrap heap instantaneously - or about as quickly as a person's thumb can hit the "zap" button on a remote. Which is hardly surprising since most ads offer little in the way of usefulness to anyone except (maybe) the advertiser.
The best Hoopla should take the form of something that people can use to broaden themselves or impress friends. It should be something people will want to hang onto and make their own - assimilating it as part of their personal cultural repertoire. At a basic level, it may involve creating original art, stories, or entertainment that isn't just sponsored by the brand but is the brand.
"Imagine a solar system with the sun being the product", Bogusky says. "A great product can market itself if it's designed to do so. The first ring would be packaging - probably the most under leveraged of potential marketing vehicles. The next ring out would include distribution opportunities, and the next ring would be PR. And the final, most distant ring would be ads in traditional paid media. In terms of brand-to-consumer interaction, the more you move to the centre, the more impact you can have on the individual."
- People like stuff they can use. Such stuff tends to stick around. And get passed around.
- Supply them with the cultural materials they need and can actually use, to produce their own things.
- Look for opportunities outside of just ads. What else can be leveraged, from packaging to experience to improve the customers lives.
Fundamentally, the tools of Mutation, Invention, Candor, Mischief, Connection and Pragmatism are just agents of the ultimate goal - to drive momentum. This is the central idea of Hoopla.
Momentum is not to be confused with "awareness", which is what most conventional advertising tried to generate and build.
"Momentum, at least defined by CP+B, is primarily about keeping a brand in forward motion. You don't achieve that by repeating the same commercial over and over; on the contrary, that approach yields familiarity, awareness, consistency - all the things that used to be seen as the goal of advertising.
Usually, maintaining momentum requires constant reinvention," says Porter. "Without that, even an icon become just another piece of nostalgia." Which means you cannot simply generate momentum with a big idea and then sit back and enjoy the benefits; the invention and reinvention must be constant, necessitating that one's "idea factory" continually turn out new products."
- Traditional advertising was specifically designed to create awareness. Hoopla is better suited to building momentum.
- It's harder to generate momentum than to lose it.
- Momentum is often the result of not one big push but many pushes and a multitude of forces coming together at the same time.
- The starting point for momentum seems to be (as always) the big idea, around which momentum - and indeed popular movement - can be built.
- Without a constant flow of news, people tend to quickly compartmentalise - and forget - a brand and its message.
- Embrace topicality. Inject all kinds of stuff that is happening in the culture at the moment.
- But… don't just react to what's going on in the culture. Every time the zeitgeist is moving strongly in one direction, there's room for a daring communicator to come along and push things in a new and different direction.
- You must be willing to go against the flow of current ideas and conventional wisdom.
- If you try and ride everyone else's momentum, you'll never build up any of your own.
- Momentum is about doing a ton of work.
Author's note, all frameworks are inherently flawed, so apply them wisely. The utility of a framework is always dependent on the individual problem at hand.