The time and place for a brainstorm by Michael Brown, MD psLIVE

Michael Brown, managing director at psLIVE, discusses how experiential agencies are a viable alternative to ad shops as a first port of call for campaign creatives or strategy.
Brown discusses the idea of the brainstorm and its place in creative problem solving
“No good idea ever came out of a brainstorm.” So stated Sir John Hegarty, otherwise fondly known as the H in Bartle Bogle Hegarty – the creative agency of global renown – as part of a talk he was giving at the Soho Hotel earlier this year to launch his then new book: Turning Intelligence Into Magic.
Undoubtedly this was a brilliantly controversial shard of rhetoric tailored to shock a room in which ideas are the stock in trade of both speaker and audience. When you further consider that the brainstorm was actually invented by the ad industry, you might conclude that Sir John was, in metaphorical terms, shooting the child of his creative and spiritual forebears: [brainstorm inventor] Alex Faickney Osborn would be spitting feathery expletives if he were still around today.
I am not sure how many of you know this, but Osborn was co-founder of New York based ad shop BBDO (now Omnicom owned). It was he who authored the first group technique for creative problem solving, set rules for the technique as far back as 1942 and described it as the brainstorm in his 1953 book Applied Imagination. The brainstorm then is well past retirement age and has had a free ticket to ride on public transport for at least a decade. Please give up your seat.
Delving deeper
But is Sir John right? Should we ignore or even, depending on our seniority, sack the next creative director who invites us to the latest gathering of sharp and shiny minds that has become the everyday staple of agency life these past 70 years?
Can we go further? If the brainstorm, and by extension the creative director, are outmoded vestiges of the past, when every campaign cascaded spring-like from a moment of inspiration clandestinely conjured in their closed shop environs, should we not be questioning the role of the creative agency as first port of call for a good campaign idea? Will we even need them, as they exist now, in the not too distant future?
Consider this: Apple’s recent campaign, Shot on the iPhone 6, is a great idea (on going to press I am unable to confirm if it was created in a brainstorm): it showcases stunning snaps that iPhone users from around the world have fired off with their devices.
In every instance, the shots were so artistically striking that they looked like the work of a pro. There was no ad agency required to dream the idea up in the first instance and certainly no need to send a crew to create the work in a series of exotic, wallet-bursting locations. Apple’s customers are doing it all. The only qualified person needed for this kind of work is a humble designer on a few hundred quid daily to create a nice, on-brand boilerplate, flexible enough to adapt to various mediums, onto which you can drop the work of your customer.
This is UGC deployed at scale, an approach that turns the brand away from advertiser, and repositions it as publisher – a strategic approach that is increasingly prevalent. Therefore, if your strategy is always the same, your client is now a publisher and their customers provide the content, then the ad agency may not always be the first port of call to get a campaign out of the traps.
User generated content
In one of my previous blogs Real Time Experiential we saw how lots of people, from Canon to Captain Morgan to Camelot, are experimenting with experiential as the vehicle to create user generated content, or content featuring consumers (CFC) and broadcasting it in real time to DOOH. The same content is then deployed across the mix to creatively inform the entire campaign from TV to social and all points in between.
To nick my own words in that previous piece, this puts live activation at the heart of a media plan, placing experiential and digital practitioners at the centre of the mix. The main thrust of my argument being that, in the future, we could see all content for any creative campaign flowing from the live activation with experiential agencies driving the campaign idea. In such a paradigm, how would an ad agency have to evolve to have a stake in that particular world order?
Nick Bailey, chief executive of digital creative agency Isobar, has a view: “In this context the role of the creative practitioner is not eliminated; it is simply changed – and changed into something very different from the world where ‘creative’ was the special responsibility of a privileged elite in an advertising agency.”
Bailey is a lot more than the chief executive of Isobar, a company operating in 70 countries under the strapline of ‘ideas without limits’; a philosophy that is perfect for the other hat he wears to work – he is also their executive creative director. I could not have asked a better person to comment.
He continues: “The explosion of forms and means of creative expression driven by digital in the last 20 years demands a different approach to creativity; one that has more in common with the process of invention, where many disciplines are involved, collaborating with each other, trying things out, iterating, being prepared to fail and try again.”
Bailey’s comments reverberate in our recent collaboration for adidas, in which psLIVE was actually the home of the campaign idea: a high-tech, immersive experience that allowed footballers to trial product around the recent football boot launch Ace and X
Players were invited to participate in two challenges that helped them to identify their playing style. Adidas believes there are two types of footballer, those who control everything and those who create chaos. We recorded their performance scores before making personalised product recommendations based on the type of player they were.  Players where then invited to show off their skills in a specially designed 2 v 2 football arena against the pros.
In this case, the ad agency creatively shaped (see above) the look and feel of our live activation – taking the lead from us. Isobar designed the corresponding digital experience and the media agency Carat drove huge awareness around the campaign to make manifest Nick Bailey’s earlier quote around cross discipline collaboration.
Interestingly, five of the ad agencies in the UK Top 10 – Publicis, Leo Burnett, VCCP, WCRS and McCann – include experiential in their service offering. Plainly these guys are intent on fully owning all the means by which a brand story can be told, but what is certain is that however the landscape continues to evolve, the future remains a very rosy place for experiential specialists.
Now, who is in favour of renaming the brainstorm as an ‘Osborn’ in honour of the great man who gave us the institution?
Published in Event Magazine

Blog: Live storytelling and its growing importance by Michael Brown, psLIVE

Storytelling, in an evolutionary context, has been undeniably important to our success as a species, says psLIVE’s managing director Michael Brown in his regular blog in Event Magazine
The myriad theories of precisely why this is so can bring the world’s sharpest intellects to fisticuffs in the laboratory car park.
Some scientists believe storytelling evolved to help impart crucial survival information, such as where the ripest berries could be found, or where to avoid the most dangerous animals. Others believe it bestowed a peacock-like advantage in the quest for a mate – entertain your would-be partner, raise a chuckle even, and you’re in. Others yet would punch you on the nose if you did not agree that social cohesion was the reason; storytelling was the stimulus to gather around the campfire, a social act that helped to strengthen tribal bonds.
To straighten things out, I contacted Doctor Mark Coulson, associate professor in Psychology at Middlesex University; home to the BSc Psychology and Marketing course.
Mark said: “Perhaps the most interesting contemporary psychological explanation of storytelling is that it allows us to ‘simulate’ emotional responses to situations we may never have encountered. As readers or listeners we take on the viewpoints of other people, perhaps very different from ourselves.
“By sharing their stories, we learn about our own emotions. Just as rough and tumble play teaches us behaviours which help us to survive, so listening to stories teaches us psychological skills that will serve us well in the future.”
What we did not foresee, when we dragged ourselves out of the primeval swamp, was that the evolutionary trail would lead us from hunter-gatherers to such occupations as working in media.
Assuming you are a fully adapted media type yourself, I am sure you would acknowledge that the ancient art of storytelling has been, and is, the subject of as much debate in a marketing context as it amongst those combative evolutionary scientists. There have been many articles on the subject. Here is yet another, hopefully, suitably evolved from its predecessors.
 Aggressive storytelling
Earlier this year, Adidas appointed creative agency 72&Sunny in order to mount a campaign of what the brand called ‘aggressive storytelling’. Ed Pilkington, Diageo’s marketing and innovation director western Europe, stated in May that a brand’s longevity depends on its ability to tell a great story. The UK marketing director for Three, Tom Malleschatz, spoke widely this month about the brand’s move into storytelling. This topic is evidently so hot right now (again) that you should be loosening a collar and opening a window as you read this.
If everyone’s at it then, just who is telling the best stories and how are the best stories told? Rick Hirst, chief executive of creative agency McGarry Bowen, creators of the fabulous Endless Road ad for Honda, offered some guidance.
“Stories have always been at the heart of great brands but in today’s world, those stories have to do two things,” he said. “First, a story has to grab the attention, like NOW, of the audience in that moment, in the right place and be memorable. No easy feat.
“It also needs to be cumulative – work toward a bigger, consistent narrative so that you build an enduring and deeper relationship with an audience. Simplicity is key: people don’t have the time or inclination to piece together a brand narrative. It’s our job to take away that complexity.”
To expand on Hirst’s comments around narrative, I think a convincing case could be made for experiential as the best way to start a brand story.
Think about it. All the best stories are kick-started by an individual’s personal experience, whether that is the work of a favourite author or simply your mate down the pub regaling you about his or her hilariously bad day. To be truly engaging, a brand narrative would surely have to be similarly experience based. Adidas certainly took this approach in their recent Supercolor launch.
 50 Shades of Supercolor
A reimaging of their famous Originals trainer in 50 amazing shades by global superstar Pharrell Williams, who is (according to the story) a man with Synaesthesia, a condition that jumbles the senses in a spectacularly artistic fashion. The effect on Pharrell means he experiences sound as colour.
Here you can see the beginnings of a plot that is ripe for development. In this case, into a live experience in which people could use Twitter to control the colour palette of a dramatic light display choreographed to music. The plot also involved DJs, drones, arcs of floodlights strafing the skies over London, a live link up to Pharrell himself and a floating sound stage in Hackney Reservoir. Guests were immersed in an interactive sense in the story as it unfolded, and it gave them content assets enabling them to retell the story to their social peers.
This approach mirrors the oral traditions of storytelling in which a listener would hear a story, embellish it with their own experiences and pass it on. The listener becomes the storyteller and so on. This is marketing: plugging straight into, or simulating the ancient hardwiring of human behaviour to better chime with modern audiences. You may recall both the Canon and Captain Morgan case studies from my last blog on real time experiential.
Both campaigns mimicked the oral traditions of storytelling by giving the audience their own assets so that they too could become the storytellers.
Whether or not such case studies build a credible case for experiential as the prime mover in starting a brand story, the psychology would also appear to be with us, according to my interpretation of Dr Mark Coulson’s further words on this subject.
He said: “When we are engaged in a story, at whatever level, we come to share the experiences and feelings of the protagonist. The more engaging the story, the more we share. Books, movies, many forms of advertising are largely passive media, uninfluenced by our actions.
“Anything as a medium that is interactive, more responsive, which may include media such as computer games or forms of advertising such as experiential or social, is consequently more engaging. The opportunities for such media to further enhance the ways in which we become part of other people’s stories are an untapped and exciting frontier.”
 Good stories, well told
However we choose to tell a brand story, Hirst had both the last word and further guidance for us: “What we have at our fingertips are more tools, more opportunities and more ways in which we can tell a brand story.
“Whether a big cinema ad, an amazing interactive experience, or a surprising piece of PR, a great story can be a powerful way of communicating a brand’s message. The key in that last sentence though is the word ‘great’. There’s no such thing as a bad story well told.”
 Michael Brown is MD of psLIVE.

Real time experiential fed by data. Michael Brown, psLIVE

Like a well-fed toddler constantly in need of ever bigger shoes, the footprint of digital out of home (DOOH) grows ever larger, says Michael Brown, managing director of agency psLIVE.
The proliferation of interactive panels is heading towards 20%of all UK poster sites. Correspondingly, more and more outdoor spend is channeled into the hungrier and hungrier mouth of the child of our times that is digital.
Posterscope state that this is 28% of all out of home revenues. This is an absolutely massive spoonful, especially when you consider the Advertising Association and Warc’s Adspend Forecast predicted that over £1 billion would be invested in Out of Home advertising during 2015. Open wide!
At this juncture you might be thinking that this has zilch all to do with your life as a purveyor of quality experiential services. In which case, I am politely requesting you think again for here beckons a table you may want a seat at. To build on a theme I explored in my previous blog piece Experiential Architecture; that of new opportunity, we practitioners are best placed to help nurture the DOOH infant into a fully-formed and well-adjusted adult!
At some point in the glorious future, all outdoor will be digital. A jury of media’s finest will take a long time to return a verdict on precisely when that will be but, while the experts are deliberating, we have enough coverage presently to get cracking.
All digital is inherently interactive – there is no point in it otherwise! Folk are definitely more inclined to engage with interactive advertising whether through their mobile devices or through touch screen. This means there is a very fuzzy distinction, or rather no distinction at all, between the creative on the digital panels, and the live space in front of those panels. Is it bought media or is it experiential or both? A savvy operator may want to lay claim to a chunk of this space before it’s too late and in so doing start a gold rush. Indeed, some prospectors have already staked a claim. Are they using it to its fullest potential though?
Recently a feature I read on interactive outdoor highlighted the Pepsi Max augmented reality bus shelter as a good example of the form. Unarguably, the idea is envy arousing, and it’s certainly famous around our meeting room table as the thing clients most want a variation of to adorn their own campaigns, yet it was a one-off tactical execution; as opposed to being the fulcrum of a genuine wide-scale media plan. Most of the other examples cited in the piece are similarly tactical by design.
There are real world examples where the medium is pushed further: In the bottom right corner of the below photo, (from way back in 2012) people are queuing up to see content they had moments earlier created with a Canon Ixus after first picking up the camera from a pop-up showroom and taking it on a ‘test drive’.
This in itself is a revolution. Up until that point, people did not queue to see creative on a poster panel – even if they had really uneventful social lives! Fast forward to 2015 and the people you see ‘joining the crew’ in the Captain Morgan advert on the Piccadilly One site in Piccadilly Circus are, right at that moment, taking part in a bar promotion in Yates’s just around the corner in Leicester Square!
Both instances are giving people their few minutes in the spotlight in spectacular style, therefore building on the fame social media users seek each time they share content, and both are broadcasting content to outdoor media bought in day-parts as part of a wider geo-targeted media plan that is scaled nationally.
As interesting as these examples are, and I must confess a partisan bias in that the Canon and Captain Morgan works were both done by psLIVE, there is so still so much more you can do creatively in this constantly evolving medium. Once you factor in real time data streaming you can really catapult the ante skywards.
Last winter, British Gas used real-time data about travel from public transport arrival and departure boards to trigger contextually relevant messaging in airports, bus and rail stations to travellers and commuters about Hive, a smart product that allows people to remotely adjust their home heating with their mobile devices. For example, if the number 50 bus to Croydon showed as due in 20 minutes then OOH messages were triggered to prompt relevant use of the application.
Dan Douglas, the founder of Liveposter, the company who developed the technology that enabled British Gas, among others, to use live data and content to effect campaign messaging explains the potential his platform may provide for experiential activity…
“The opportunity is to bring together the power of experiential to engage and involve consumers in brand advertising with the scale and speed of DOOH media to amplify it in real time to a broadcast audience. Real time data adds an extra dimension to both the targeting and display content ensuring the most relevant content is shown at any moment.”
Adam Cherry, Liveposter’s digital director, adds: “We know from recent research that data driven dynamic campaigns add value to advertisers in terms of increasing awareness and message recall. Using data to optimise the creative around experiential activity will strengthen the live work e.g. brands associating with sports could pull in live scores or even tailor the creative based around social sentiment in a particular location.”
Such work threatens to put experiential at the heart of a media plan, a switch from a tactical to a strategic medium. This places us practitioners at the centre of the mix, and potentially changes the old order, in particular the ad agency role: If this really is the glorious future then could the logical end point see all content, for any creative campaign, flowing from, and out of the live experience in real time fed by data? As I stated earlier, a seat at the table of this particular opportunity awaits us. Perhaps we may even sit at the head of it!
Michael Brown is MD of psLIVE
This story was first published in Event Magazine

Michael Brown, MD psLIVE, talks about Experiential Architecture

Michael Brown, MD of psLIVE, pops along to Google’s retail experience inside Curry’s flagship store in London’s Tottenham Court Road for his first blog for Event.
The Google retail experience inside Curry’s in London’s Tottenham Court Road has reached the grand old age of over a month! Which is a time frame well beyond the life expectancy of your average pop-up.
Tottenham Court road store
A few weeks on from launch, I thought I would drop by to see whether or not the experience is still alive and kicking: Do we need to pension it off or are we, as I believe, seeing the evolution of a new opportunity to diversify our services; to build on the notion of retail experiential to become experiential architects?!
 Google portal in the London store
Vend: The online POS software provider predicted that more web brands would be setting up in bricks and mortar in 2015 – they pointed to Birchbox’s shop in New York as proof of this. The launch of Google’s store in March backs up their clairvoyance and other earlier precedents might include eBay’s in-store partnership with Argos and the fact that Microsoft are rolling out ever more retail outlets – their latest in São Paulo opened this week.
Moreover, they say that in order for these online brands to compete with the established players on the high street, they will need to focus on the experience, as opposed to plonking stuff on a shelf in a supermarket and expecting people to buy it. This mirrors long held views about the shopper experience. As far back as 2006, the seminal book Retailization spoke about shoppers only being loyal to the superior shopping experience and asked marketers if shopping for your brand was a fun-filled and exciting thing to do.
 Experiential doubters
Almost a decade later, and there is still much marketing theorising about the point of engagement getting ever closer to the point of purchase, which is particularly salient for the future of our discipline: For, while we all know and love the myriad benefits of doing experiential, who hasn’t come against the odd cynic in a pitch for instance, or at a chemistry meeting who is an experiential doubter?! The sort of person who darkly mutters something about how you can’t link what we do to actual sales uplift, despite your best persuasive efforts. Which is actually a fair enough reaction if we practitioners cannot actually prove a correlation!
While there is plenty of research linking sales uplifts directly with experiential – the EventTrack 2014 Study out of the US for instance – Google, Birchbox, eBay et al are plumping for the safest option it seems and setting up shop err… in a shop. Which makes the point of engagement and the point of purchase so close that they risk getting hot and steamy, and we should perhaps draw the curtains.
If, then, in the future, every online brand wants to build a retail experience around their core offer, then forget hiring a shop fitter! Who better to design an engaging consumer journey through a store than an experiential practitioner? Who better to dictate how the experience will impact on the structure of a store and the customer journey through it?
This is not so much “Retail Experiential” but “Experiential Architecture”. It is different from the pop-up, which in terms of design and experience has to fit into a designated or pre-existing space, and often has to be mindful of any co-partners brand guidelines – as in the case with Google and Curry’s PC World.
In other words, the ambition of the pop-up or retail experiential risks compromise by the limitations of the space whether brand led, physical or regulatory – ever tried to build a wall higher than 2.5 metres in a mall space?! Is anyone else seeing the opportunity here?
Experiential Architecture
Agency TRO certainly do. On its website they state that they are leading the way in retail experiential. Could they become architects?!  Michael Wyrley-Birch, chief operating officer for TRO EMEA, outlines his view here:
 “As sales move online, every brand interaction is a retail opportunity. Consumers are therefore looking for something different from the physical retail space – be it education or entertainment. We are in the business of creating face-to-face live experiences that stand-out, and are relevant and authentic to the brand and product story.
“It is not surprising that this is more and more within the retail environment. We are excited about the future of retail experience and continuing to offer innovative ways for brands to engage physically with people taking it beyond a purely transactional relationship.”
 London’s green bridge
In my opinion, this opportunity is not limited to the retail sector only: It’s potentially everywhere you look e.g. The Mayor of London’s office rubber-stamped plans for an, admittedly controversial green bridge on the Thames last year.  This initiative will effectively turn the river into a green playground. It is an entirely experience-led proposition that could sell London as the green city of the future, and add more experience led visitor attractions to the Capital, as well as being useful to Londoners.
I bet they have not even thought about engaging an experiential consultant to help design the experience, the user journey and advise on how that should impact on the architecture to have the best impact on the people participating in the experience. In a world where people actually value experience over product, it won’t take much imagination to identify many other opportunities where consultants like us can get involved.
I don’t know about you, but I fancied becoming an architect as a kid. I may just do that now.
Via:Event Magazine

2015 Forecast: Positive Outlook for Experiential

Michael Brown, MD psLIVE, spoke to Event Magazine about his predictions about experiential in 2015. 
Is there a positive 2015 outlook for experiential marketing?
psLIVE is looking at 52% growth on last year’s performance as we come to the end of the year. If I couple that with significant approved projects in 2015, the outlook seems very positive at this stage.
Big trends for the next 12 months?
The thing that most enters our sphere of influence is big data. All experiential agencies are striving to make what they do as relevant and as measurable as possible. The near future will see more and more experiential agencies invest more in this. Without such weaponry, an agency can only operate as an event producer as opposed to a genuine experiential marketing business.
Another marker for us in 2014 that looks set to grow next year is the deployment of live content from the experiential activity to the paid, digital out-of-home campaign. We have an increased number of case studies, including Center Parcs, Very Beauty and Littlewoods, in which the live experience has been created to inform the DOOH campaign with compelling content. We have used a proprietary tool called Liveposter to implement these new initiatives, which allows the deployment of live data and content to change the creative on digital panels either singularly, nationally geo-targeted.
For the full article, please click here.