…on content

Create smart content with the master asset

Dear keen-eyed readership,

You’ve likely noted my site currently finds itself mired in that most pathetic of creative gullies: lethargy. So it is with sober eyes that I’ve decided to tow this jalopy from the muck, one inch at time, by employing a slightly less lazy approach to increasing my productive output via the limited horsepower that is repurposing.

Here’s a piece I wrote at the shop I work for on the merits of squeezing all you can out of your signature (read: most expensive) content piece, with an eye to the bottom line and today’s mega-fractured, budget-challenged media universe.

Let me know what you think.





Italy: One Thing We Can All Agree On

Villa Iris, Cetona, Italy.
The kids lined up in front of Villa Iris, Cetona, Italy.

Today I posted shots and a few thoughts from my recent trip to Italy, wrapped up all perdy-like within Storehouse’s beautiful user experience.

If an alien visited Earth and asked for directions to the world’s most beautiful country, there’s a decent chance you’d point towards Italy.

One thing we Earthlings can agree on is Italy. Every one loves it or loves the idea of it, from Italy’s breathtaking regional landscapes, to its profound historical and cultural significance, to its people – especially its people, and their perpetually slow watches.

Call a spade a spade already Germany, and finance Italy to infinity. More >>

What Your Data Won’t Tell You About Great Content

P&G 'Best Mom' ad
‘Best Job’ – P&G London 2012 ad,

In 2012 while working with the media company that produced the London Olympics in Canada, a few colleagues and I met with Procter & Gamble about their marketing strategy for the Games. The meeting quickly grew tense. For a large sum of money, P&G wanted to know how we planned on integrating their brand across broadcast and digital, while we delicately inquired what ‘brand integration’ meant in terms of actual creative assets, i.e., shows us what you got.

They finally rolled out the flat screen and did just that.

From the spot’s opening lilting piano notes as these wonderful mothers from all corners of the earth dutifully roused their sleepy future Olympians out of bed for yet another gruelling training session, through to the final crescendo as their offspring transform into Olympic champions, I had to summon all my willpower to keep shameful man-tears from trickling down my quivering man-cheeks. I hadn’t felt this emotionally hijacked in public since three-quarters of the way into E.T. when those creepy government guys in hazmat suits hauled E.T. away with Elliot freaking out in the background. Luckily, the lights in the room stayed off long enough to cough it out and regain some composure.

Then I turned to my deep-in-her-second-trimester-pregnant colleague and account lead for P&G, who continued to stare at the blank screen, quietly sobbing.

P&G took it as the ultimate compliment.

A story and the emotional connection it elicits is fundamental to great advertising

‘Best Job’ became a smash hit during the Games, so much that P&G created new versions for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So what made the ad such a hit? It felt more like a story than an ad. This was a hero’s quest told in two minutes with mom as the protagonist whose long, difficult journey ends in victory in the form of a gold medal and her Olympian offspring’s embrace.

There’s a lot of talk these days about the benefits of storytelling over traditional disruptive marketing tactics. There’s merit in having those discussions, given those tactics have all but failed across old and new media. Yet marketers should focus from the outset of these conversations on specific characteristics that make for successful storytelling.

You can pull audience analytics until you’re blue in the face, segment ’till your heart’s desire, A/B test every marketing asset across all platforms to try and figure out what your audience wants. However, if you don’t first go back to the basics and consider the key elements of good storytelling that date back to when our furrier, slopey-browed brethren gathered by the cave fire, then you’ve missed the forest for the trees.

P&G’s ‘Best Job’ definitely gets high marks for two of the most important elements: emotion and inspiration.

But you don’t have to make your audience cry for them root for your brand’s hero. Quiznos shows the power to entertain can prove just as effective as seen in ‘Burn Trials – Out of the Maze and onto the Playa’ currently killing it on YouTube or a Facebook page near you.

‘Burn Trials’ features the cast of the latest ‘Maze Runner’ movie (hello Millennial cross-promotion) as they delve deep into the heart of the annual Burning Man Festival in Nevada. Quizno’s real quest? To poke fun at what a lot of people suspect this ‘ritual’ is really all about: Privileged hippies and Silicon Valley types gathering in the desert to do designer drugs and ride unicorn cars that shoot fireballs, then check the whole burning mess off their bucket list before heading home to L.A., San Francisco and New York.

‘Burn Trials' Quiznos parody ad
Quiznos Burning Man spoof ad: ‘Burn Trials’

Quiznos also cleverly makes fun of itself while trying to sell a few actual subs. As the Maze Runner’s guide (played by Joe Towne) warns of subtle corporate influence creeping into the festival, he looks to his left and a banner ad for a discount on a Quiznos toasty sub magically appears on screen with the over-the-top ‘ClICK HERE!’ call to action; and yes, it actually clicks through to a redeemable Quiznos discount offer.

The only thing funnier than this Quiznos ad? The Burning Man festival organizer’s have threatened to sue Quizno’s because of it.

Good storytelling doesn’t have to be done on a big budget or necessarily require a flashy creative agency. It does however require patience and hard work up front toward making sure you’ve captured the key elements that go into keeping your audience captivated.

For more characteristics of content that resonates, see creative director at Callahan Creek Stephan Mumaw’s tutorial at

Marketing and the Art of Ridiculousness
Photo courtesy of

As a kid in the 80s, I knew exactly what to say when asked what I wanted to do when I grew up – starting goalie for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Curiously, ‘Ad Man’ also ranked pretty high on my list too. I knew I reallly liked a good ad and one day might want to make one.

Good ads came far and few between back then though. Television accounted for more eyeballs than it does today. Why commit real dollars and talent when the audience has no other path to The Cosby Show?

Send in the hacks and get the spot done.

Exceptions to rule existed; everyone loved Wendy’s ‘Where’s the Beef?’ lady, or the flashy Pepsi ad where Michael Jackson’s hair lit on fire. But a local Canadian campaign still sticks with me as the most original and entertaining ad I’d seen up to that point (and also seems to have vanished, I spent way too long searching for it on YouTube).

The ad starts from the viewers’ vantage point as the patient in an eye-examination room. The doctor faces the camera, pointing to the top row of letters and symbols on his eye chart. Into the camera, he asks the patient (aka, the viewer): “Can you tell me what this symbol is?”


“How about this one?”

“What about this letter?”

A look of concern unfolds on the doctor’s face, followed by his diagnosis:

“Maybe it’s because you aren’t eating enough chicken”.

I laughed my arse off.

It broke all the rules through a wink at the audience that said ‘we know, ads are disruptive and built on trickery.’

All of a sudden it didn’t feel like an ad, it entertained like a really funny TV show or Monty Python; it also built trust with the viewer before the call to action for whatever meal deal Kentucky Fried Chicken had on offer.

This strange little canadian ad feels like a forerunner to one of the most effective tactics smart brands use more regularly today: Risk.

At the same time I feel a lot if  campaigns become watered down because their creators, or easily as likely, those that sign off on the creator’s concept, look at creative risk as damaging to the brand. That may be true in some cases, but by not taking a chance on a campaign with an element of risk, brands may find the audience ignoring them altogether.

Comedy and risk as tactics go hand-in-hand. Kentucky Fried Chicken – aka KFC for anyone under 35 – still employs both in their advertising (emphasizing health benefits? Not so much). What could be more ridiculous than resurrecting Colonel Sanders played by Norm Macdonald inside a giant KFC bucket. Congratulations Wieden + Kennedy.

Of course not all brands can or should go down the path of the absurd. With that, here is a great list of characteristics of creative ideas that resonate, compiled by Stefan Mumwaw, Creative director at Callahan Creek and author of Creative Boot Camp (Stefan walks through his list here at that content creators should consider from the outset in order to maximize audience attention for their brand.

  1. Is your idea emotional?
  2. Is your idea entertaining?
  3. Is your idea experiential?
  4. Is your idea novel?
  5. Is your idea authentic?
  6. Is your idea story based?
  7. Is your idea risky?

Speaking of chickens and risk (and idiocy), here’s my third-ever Vine. Enjoy.

Beyond The Listicle : Inspiring Journalism for Content Marketers

After a great conversation on the state of digital media, a friend and former colleague asked me to guest blog on her company’s site. ArCompany, analyzes conversations online to help business understand their audience. They also have a great blog, featuring contributions from highly respected folks in the digital marketing industry.

Nobody is going to confuse me for a genius marketer, but I think do know a little about the content side of digital media after all these years. I’ve also developed an interest in the idea behind the trend of content marketing and branded content as a means to attract and provide truer value to audiences online as banner and video ads become even less effective in a mobile world.

So Hessie kindly let me write about it on her site. Have a look and thanks in advance.

Now even Netflix is worried about Popcorn Time


If ever there were a clearer example of big media playing rancher, and digital technology the herdless cat, it’s Popcorn Time.

Popcorn Time, based on the BitTorrent software protocol, lets you upload and download media files quickly via other users’ distributed internet connections, making it hard for content rights holders and the law-man to crack down on service providers and thieves. And yes, torrenting is a hobby quite unlike, say, stamping – you are definitely a pirating little Jack Sparrow who is at the very least testing the limits of the North American and international law when grabbing that latest episode of 2 Broke Girls.

BitTorrent technology’s been around for about a decade now, but has largely remained the domain of Millennials and middle-age nerds.  That’s all changing with Popcorn Time. Why?

1. Popcorn Time is way easier to download and use (your mom could probably do it if she just took a deep breath) out of the box than other BitTorrent services, with an Netflix-esque user experience and bundled video player.

2. It’s widely available as a mobile app on iOS (no jailbreak required) Android and Microsoft.

3. Has a selection of shows and movies rivalling any of the big boys (again, Netflix, HBO GO).

Through digital and physical world of mouth, Popcorn Time seems to have grown faster than any rising digital service I can think of in the past few years; everyone I know has started to use it at the same time, sheepishly confessing exactly where they’d caught up on all 3 seasons of The Americans while the kids were away at camp. When you google ‘popcorn’, Popcorn Time shows higher than popcorn.


The media entities that own the content everyone on the planet is current stealing through Popcorn Time have taken notice, including Netflix. The end of days seem nigh when even Netflix, still very much in the crosshairs of North America’s biggest media rights holders due its position at the vanguard of innovation, recently called out Popcorn Time in what the Verge aptly described as a ‘Whine that goes well with Popcorn’.

Indeed, the dramatic rise of Popcorn Time has not gone unnoticed by Netflix. The company specifically mentioned Popcorn in Netflix’s January letter to investors. “Piracy continues to be one of our biggest competitors,” said the letter. “This graph of Popcorn Time’s sharp rise relative to Netflix and HBO in the Netherlands, for example, is sobering.” (graph here at The Verge)

Good luck Netflix, and welcome to the club. Comcast feels your pain.

Make Your Fans Famous


So I’ve been messing around with Burst. A very cool UGC video application that allows fans at live events, or anywhere, to upload their videos to the Burst cloud (AKA ‘Bubble’), primarily for integration within broadcaster’s live productions.

Think Periscope, but near-real time as opposed to live, allowing for more control over the quality of the UGC that digital producers can curate and integrate within the show. ; I think this is a better proposition for edgy TV producers, digital producers and sponsors, wary of integrating live user-generated videos within their shows.

The benefits for media rights holders are clear: Burst lets fans capture and share near-real time videos within their live stream, TV broadcast and even screens within the venue.

For fans? Why share your live from Coachella video with just your friends, when everyone can see it, and you, in the live production? Traditional broadcasters also have a boost toward courting younger viewers, eager to claim fame as part of a production of their favourite sports team on TV, or live streamed from the very phone they took to shot their video.

A friend at a major media outlet here in Toronto assures me he’s not concerned about the quality fan video from a technical standpoint, when it comes to integrating them in his company’s broadcast. In fact, quite the opposite, grainy video + shaky iPhone = street cred with millennials.

Check it out.

The Last Waltz

RIP, Roger Sterling.

Roger and Peggy – Sterling Cooper’s last dance. Courtesy of The Vox.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Periscope?

Photo courtesy of

For anyone in the business of profiting from live events, I’d imagine this question is making the rounds in many a boardroom. Hopefully forward-thinking executives feel brave enough to speak up and provide the correct answer: You embrace it.

While Meerkat looks like it came out of the gates like a bat out of hell at exactly the wrong time, Periscope offers the same live streaming service for iOS devices (Android to follow), and looks poised to change how audiences consume and share live sports and entertainment content, just as Periscope’s parent company Twitter has.

I read about Meerkat the day before I left for South by Southwest. While psyched to attend SXSW, it also meant I’d miss my son’s playoff hockey game at home in Toronto (insert Canadian joke here ___ ). Problem at least partially solved with Meerkat where my wife, playing producer in a north Toronto arena, gave me a view into my son’s game on her smart phone to mine in my hotel room in Austin. It genuinely felt like the future, but at same time so simple: Mobile phone ubiquity + cheap cloud-based video processing & delivery + giant social media platform promotion.

Folks have pegged Periscope out of the gates as another vanity tool, the ultimate live selfie-enabler (Why wouldn’t all 817 of your Twitter followers want to watch you make a ham sandwich?), but it doesn’t take much imagination to see its broader applications, particularly in the live sports and entertainment realm. Pics from the game or video clips from that epic EDM festival evolve into a truly vicarious, live experience for followers, streaming remotely.

What’s more, sports and entertainment venues in conjunction with major sports leagues have unwittingly aided fans in sharing say, live, restricted NFL video content via Periscope by blanketing stadiums with dedicated WiFi networks and Beacons. That’s only one reason why major organizations such as the NFL, NBA, FIFA and the IOC should look to embrace Periscope by including user-generated content in their social media marketing strategies to grow their fan base.

Major League Soccer has already embraced this approach, where in some cases such as Seattle and Portland, clubs pour the bulk of their marketing budgets into social media, seeding their accounts with photos and videos of game play and fans showing pride in their teams. Fans reciprocate and extend the club’s fan-based narrative by sharing their own updates and content on their MLS team social accounts.  Both Seattle and Portland attribute healthy attendance at games to, in part, to facilitating in-stadium content distribution via social media.

Sports and Entertainment organizations should go a step further by  incorporating Periscope in the main production. Particularly with sports, organizations could easily offer younger fans (and brands for that matter) on digital platforms much added value via alternative mobile phone coverage from the sidelines, or out in the parking lot covering the tail gate party. Ref cam anyone?

As Periscope becomes a Next Big Thing, its usage will evolve. One thing that seems clear though, it is that it’s here to stay and presents live sports and entertainment organizations with a significant opportunity to enhance their products and fan experience. After all, resistance is futile no?

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