Work Relation 2014 - A film by Marina Abramović, in collaboration with adidas_00001

We ought to be excited when we saw this video. Commissioned by Adidas, designed to be coincide with the World Cup season, it featured an artistic interpretation of the brand’s ongoing “All In or Nothing” proposition. It’s the perfect example of brands creating cultural properties in the world of branded content.

Entitled “Work Relation”, the three-minute film captured the first ever re-staging of the iconic 1970s performance of the same title by Abramović and her partner at the time Ulay. In the statement from Adidas, they described it as a performance that “focuses on commitment, teamwork and the strength found in togetherness – reimagined through the lens of the 2014 FIFA World Cup”.

As part of the World Cup themed content, it was not the usual celebrity fuelled spot, nor did it deliver yet another manifesto type of script. It was actually a surprise in many levels. The collaboration is one – not a lot of artists are willing to let commercial brand take such a big part in their original piece of art. Timeliness is another – Marina Abramović is currently staging a premiere of her new durational performance at the Serpentine Gallery London.

Yet there is a certain kind of uneasiness about the film.

Perhaps it is the unnecessary placement of the product in the performance.

Perhaps it is the deliberateness of the set up. (In the reenacted piece, eleven performers reference the total members of a football team.)

Perhaps it is the over rationalization – or over simplification – of the idea of teamwork.

Work Relation 2014 - A film by Marina Abramović, in collaboration with adidas_00012

The “human chain” passing the stone by hand was described to be “the most efficient method”. “The chain has the most endurance. The chain stays forever.” says Marina in the voice over. We all know that the human chain is, in fact, not exactly teamwork, nor can it be called collaboration. It depicts the most primitive form of assembly line work. Each person in the human chain has the identical skill, not complementing each other. They might collectively accomplish a “task”, but they will never be able to innovate.

In the video, the eleven performers were recruited from “varying walks of life” and probably have never trained with each other before. That is a fundamental key element in any collaboration, and is not being represented in the piece.

In a true collaboration, differences between partners mean that one plus one will always equal more than two.

Teamwork is often chaotic and messy. And it may not always last. But it is the most enjoyable, and the only way to be creative.

If we choose to be rational, we can analyse it forever. But debates, discussions and active engagement from the consumers are what brands really want nowadays, especially if brands want to become cultural properties of the world. In one of the interviews of Marina Abramović in the book “Live Art and Performance” (published in 2004), she pointed out the need to “elevate” the public in order for them to experience art:

“…They (the public) have to make this radical step of not being an observer anymore, or a passive thing, but being participants. It’s essential, they have to be creative to finish the work.”

May be that’s what the best content should be – being open-ended, let the consumers interpret it themselves and own a piece of it. May be that’s the point.

When a western brand enters a foreign market, a lot of people will first set sight on the name. However, a name, as important as it seems, is just part of the defining factors. Let’s take a look at how a few brands across different categories have done recently.

Fashion

When American casual fashion brand Old Navy opened their 22,000 square foot, three-level flagship store in Shanghai in March, they did not launch with a Chinese name. Critics came pouring in right after. Some people criticised the overtly American presentation in their merchandising and launch activities. Old Navy may not be a brand that can accelerate so quickly in the market. Their parent brand GAP (also without a consumer facing Chinese name) launched their own-brand shop in 2010 in China, and is still gradually finding their way in the market. Shanghai is likely to act as their platform to anchor their presence and pave the way for a nation-wide launch of their e-commerce business, and that will be the time when their Chinese brand name will play an important role.

Old Navy_screen

Within the everyday fashion category, it is common for brands to launch without their Chinese name. H&M and ZARA, among others, all followed the same formula. When I worked on the launch of H&M in Shanghai and Hong Kong at the time, what the campaign had managed to achieve was to establish a new ‘category’ in the market. The message was defined through innovative media and owned channels such as their own house magazines. The brand also came in at a time when the millennial generation emerged, and ‘affordable fashion’ perfectly fits what they need. In a market filled with all kinds of Chinese fashion brand names, it was perhaps wise for these brands to focus on their authenticity. What latecomers like Old Navy need now is to craft the next ‘movement’, and to break the new dress code into the mass market. Perhaps adopting the notion of ‘made with Chinese’ rather than the traditional approach of ‘made for Chinese’, and leverage the impact of co-creation with the younger generation in the country. That, to me, is the real localization tactic.

Food

“今個夏天我會喺銅鑼灣開間好正嘅意大利餐廳。”

This was, apparently, what Jamie Oliver said in his video announcing the opening of Jamie’s Italian in Causeway Bay, the heart of the busiest district in Hong Kong.

Traditionally, food is not an easy export. Even though Italian food is arguably one of the most accessible cuisine in the world, and starting with Hong Kong is going to give the brand a good testing ground of the concept, before they enter further into the mainland market. Jamie Oliver cleverly adopts his down-to-earth persona by appearing to be playful in this promotional video. A subtle way to say, “Hey, mixing with local culture is in my DNA”. If he is clever enough to ride on his personal brand, he should engage with the local market through his fantastic social enterprise activities and food revolution campaigns. I believe there is a market for a meaningful brand – a global one.

Professional social network

LinkedIn中国_00001

In a different category, Linkedin has just announced their expansion in China and has launched a simplified Chinese language beta-site branded “领英” (literally meaning ‘Leading Elite’, phonetically as ‘lǐng yīng’). Linkedin (the global site) claimed to have more than 4 million members within China already, but through the partnership with Sequoia China and CBC, they hope to refine and localize the product’s offerings to the Chinese users. The decision to launch with a Chinese brand name, in their case, will help to make sure the Chinese users can communicate comfortably in native language in a business context. However, whether they can fine-tune the nuisances of the communications within the platform to reflect the Asian way of communications is yet to be seen. And once communications start to involve cross-border interactions, how can they effectively help global users to connect and communicate successfully and seamlessly, is also a crucial element. All these challenges, is not just a well-coined Chinese phrase can help.

Think beyond language

A well thought out localized brand name, is just one of the ways to gain traction in the market. The most important part is whether the brand can identify the ‘market’ for their product. They should have the insight to localize the product elements and understand how they can fit into the lifestyle of the local market. Without a clear positioning, finding a Chinese name may just be another hit and miss exercise.

JOMO

It has become very difficult for us to think about just one thing at a time. In the process, we have all become self-confessed information junkie. We absorb everything from every sources, and joining the dots along the way. In the past month or so we have been reading every piece of articles and reports from journalists, thought leaders, trendspotters, you name it, on what we will expect in 2014.

One insight that I find particularly inspiring is the desire to stay focus in the increasingly mad world of multiscreen, multi-channel, multi-everything life.

The JWT Intelligence team call it ‘The mindful living’, predicting that more people will be drawn to the idea of shutting out distractions and focusing on the moment. The Ford 2014 trend report defines it as ‘the joy of missing out’.

There is a saying in Chinese 物极必反 that literally means ‘when something reaches its extreme, it reverses its course’. That is exactly what’s happening here.

In the visually dependent culture, every day, 300 million photos are uploaded to Facebook. An additional 40 million go up on Instagram. We are very busy.

We look at our smartphones 150 times a day, sometimes during times when we should be enjoying the moment right in front of us.

We multitask. We spread all the devises in front of us while watching the TV, and willingly interacting with everything and everyone at the same time.

We all do these sometimes not out of design, but out of a FOMO (fear of missing out) mentality, a habit, or that they are just so readily available.

We crowdsource. From making things happen to getting funding for our next invention.

We strive to gain the first million users in the first week of launch of any new app, so we do everything we can to ‘growth heck’. In the process, we lose sight of the fact that we could be damaging the brand rather than building it.

We give excuses for imperfections.

I think this will lead us to the next wave of new opportunities – for brands to focus back on genuine experiences and differentiate what they offer with the others.

Technology once were a novelty in our lives had become a commodity. We crave personal connections again. We want meanings. That I believe is what will guide everything in the year ahead.

I believe there will be true innovations that help us to achieve a new kind of mindful way of living.

We still take pictures, but now we may use it to learn something. Enter #Jelly, the new app that allows you to snap a picture and ask questions about it to your network of friends. Co-founder Biz Stone said, “Because knowledge is different from information”. A snap on Jelly, may seem to have a bit more depth to it then?

Food creators will do more in order to draw our attention back to enjoying the food rather than photographing them. May be even a ‘slow food movement’?

Now, if you think you have missed out on any of the trend reports, don’t panic. Here I have curated a selection that had caught my eyes. But scan it quick, for you should know that, what’s true today will be history tomorrow.

Enjoy the moment.

brand experience China

There is a subtle difference between brand pushing messages to consumers, and letting consumers discover what the brand represents.

Recently, a giant pavilion in the shape of a Louis Vuitton suitcase emerged on Moscow’s Red Square. The construction is part of an exhibition called “The Soul of Travel”, marking Louis Vuitton’s 150th anniversary. The blatant display of branding in a conservative culture didn’t go down well.

In fact, consumers in parts of the world where branded goods used to represent status are now turning towards more subtle expressions of taste. China is one of them, and luxury products have already seen heavily branded merchandises slowly losing their charm.

Brand presence has to be more intelligent, subtle, understated, and localised.

In doing so, brands need to dig deep into their DNA or develop a multidimensional personality, and not just fulfilling a functional benefit. Sportswear is not just for helping people excel in sports performance but as a fashion statement; cosmetics is not just about beauty but about fulfilling a social purpose; and coffee shops are not just about beans but about sharing with friends.

Brands are also becoming more like publishers. Creating content around the brand needs more than just one dimension. To be involved in popular culture, particularly the creative side, gives brands the opportunities to contextualize the brand stories, and build key components of their brand promise. It can also give them “currency” and relevance in specific local markets.

There’s a trend that resonates this movement – brands are making the most of retail space. Not just as a place for transaction of sales, but also as a place where they can project a multidimensional character of their brand.

The beauty and make up company Sephora created a pop-up museum concept in New York entitled “Sensorium” in 2011. The category of perfumes has always been solely relaying on glossy print ads and images, but the interactive journey of the setting of the “Sensorium” space introduces consumers to a new way of appreciation of fragrance. All of a sudden, beauty is not just skin deep, but adds a layer of intelligence to it.

In September this year, Starbucks opened two flagship stores in Beijing. They are not ordinary flagships, they are brand-defining establishments. One, located at Beijing’s glitzy and busiest Kerry Centre, is a 4,000 square-foot, two-story “coffee tribute”. The temple-like space features a giant, bold, Starbucks siren icon on the exterior of the building that illuminates at night. The other “eclectic” version, located in Sanlitun, is a 24/7 operation. Featuring ceiling-to-floor glass windows with a special club on the second floor called “Club 1971” that features live music by local talents on weekends. The Chinese Millennials are in dominance. It also reflects the young Chinese growing up in the one-child system with a strong desire to connect with their brothers and sisters outside the family.

In Shanghai, Under Armour opened its first store in China by blending art and science, presenting the Chinese consumers a sensory journey into the brand. The “retail theatre” is located in the new Jing An Kerry Centre, and designed by Marc Thorpe Design in collaboration with HUSH Studio.

China has a complex relationship with sports, although Chinese athletes are winning more medals in the global stage, but still relatively few Chinese has a personal relationship with sports. Global brands such as adidas adapted their strategy by creating two different divisions, on the one had is their flagship sports performance line; and on the other hand, capturing an aspect that translate sports into lifestyle and fashion. The result is, sub brands such as Originals and Y3 had been successful through the halo effects and the connections with its sports performance heritage, effectively crafting out a strategy that is relevant in the local market.

But developing local product strategy is not enough anymore. The idea behind the Under Armour’s “retail theatre” is to open up the minds of the consumers by redefining the notion of training – not as a pursuit of profession in sports but working to achieve physical greatness. It elevates the proposition from a physical one to an aspirational one.

In an age where authenticity of the brand is so critical that it defines what the brand is all about, by presenting consumers a production quality of epic scale it breaks down the boundary between the physical space and the digital, it will certainly triumphant over any content people get just from small screens.

Creating unique brand experiences is one of the most powerful, immersive means of building a brand. Ultimately, it boils down to making it relevant to local consumers while enabling sharable conversations.

I came across this campaign earlier this year. It was created by Print Power Europe, advocating the effectiveness of print media in the multi-media environment. Like any organisation exists to protect the role of a specific media in the integrated marketing world today, the message single-mindedly focuses on the effectiveness of the media, communicating the notion that print often demands the ‘full attention’ of the reader.

However, this is of course just one side of the story. When was the last time you were not being interrupted by a push message appearing on your mobile while reading the newspaper? Or have you ever read something interesting from the newspaper, and quickly tweeted it in 140 characters?

In fact, any single media attempts to operate in silo is surely going to fail. The Print Power Europe also acknowledged that digital integration is central to the success of the print media.

But newspaper and magazine advertising now offer that interactivity with the use of QR codes, Augmented Reality and Near-Field Communication. 
This digital integration is now central to the success of print media and offers the marketer a host of opportunities to engage with their customers in a number of new and exciting ways.

The challenge today is not only because of the multi-screen media consumption habit of consumers that caused huge disruptions to any specific media, it’s also much more difficult to make a strong business case if we frame contributions of one single media too narrowly – and not from the entire customers’ journey.

What we have started to see happening is cross over interactions. Twitter had successfully reminded the advertising industry about their close relationship with TV viewership, their 140 characters actually could be a good fit as and when the consumers’ eyeballs are glued to the TV screen.

In the context of print media, we also see innovative partnerships. Here are just two of the recent examples:

Enhanced Lexus print ad:

By inserting an iPad screen under the print ad, it transforms a print ad into multi-media visual sensation.

Independent+ Powered by Blippar:

Through ‘visual discovery’ pioneer Blippar app, the enhanced Independent content is enriched with videos, pictures, story updates and all sorts of interactive engagements.

The original page:

Independent_original page

Scan with Blippar which triggers additional content:

Blippar_independent_screen_1

Instant access to constantly updated online content:

Blippar_independent_combined

As everyone is talking about ‘mobile first’ when it comes to digital strategy, we are in fact just touching the tip of the iceberg in its potential. I am so looking forward to seeing how the creative folks can think of even more innovative ways to create interesting partnerships with traditional media channels; and how such ideas could be implemented for brands on a global scale. It’s a constant and never-ending iteration, and it’s only going to get better.

Sir Dave Brailsford

It was a blast at the recent first ever Advertising Week Europe in London. There were truly diverse viewpoints from a wickedly broad representation of thought leaders in the industry.

True, it was pretty London-centric, and not representative of ‘Europe’ as such.

However, there was one point I found particularly refreshing.

Sir Dave Brailsford’s ability to balance art with science and his point on ‘clarity’ as the most important thing in winning is truly inspirational, especially for an industry that is constantly in a state of change.

Clarity, not contradiction, is what we need.

The advertising industry at large remains operating in silos. When mobile becomes increasingly important in the consumers’ journey, the only way to be creative is ‘to be mobile’. As clients demand the evidence of effectiveness through big data, creative ideas have to be ‘data-driven’. As the boundaries between ‘content’ and the traditional form of advertising are blurred, everyone starts raising their objections and protect their line of business, reminding everyone else to ‘mind their own business’.

Everyone has a point, within each individual’s own territory. But why can’t we think in a media-neutral way?

Or should be listen to what Chuck Porter from CP+B said: ‘Don’t start with ads, start with business solutions’?

Nevertheless, there were some fantastic debates and remarkable insights coming out from the conference. In the true fashion of today’s ‘bite-size’ communications, I summarise it in a slide show here.

And as Sir Dave Brailsford also suggested, ‘don’t let numbers inform observations’.

Untitled-3

Topshop is no stranger to creating social media sensations. Last year, Topshop took the high street fashion chain’s social presence to a global level when they collaborated with Facebook on a “Customize The Catwalk” experience during London Fashion Week (see my summary of it in my previous blog post).

This year, the brand worked with Google+ to create yet another multi-dimensional experience. The trend for brands to work with social media platforms takes the definition of ‘the medium is the message’ to the digital age. The benefits for brands to co-create content with social media platforms directly is to tap into the expertise of the technology and jointly exploring innovative ways to connect with consumers.

It also guarantees a certain level of exclusivity during content-rich season such as the London Fashion Week when every brand is now producing live streaming of some sort and winning the consumers over unique experience is important.

Brands are also able to make the best use of data collected from various activities. While live streaming, and other ways to give consumers digital access to runway fashion, was more of a marketing tool at first, is now being seen as a research opportunity.

Here I would like to give a brief summary of the key elements of the campaign to illustrate how they are all inter-connected with each other:

Teaser: On 12 Feb, a trailer “The Future of the Fashion Show” (as featured below) was released as teaser of the upcoming activities, giving hints on the ‘storyline’ that would unfold in the following days leading up to Topshop Unique show at London’s Tate Modern on Feb 17. It’s also a crucial step to invite fans to get onboard Google+ that essentially acts as the hub and springboard of the Topshop ‘story’ of the season.

The Future of the Fashion Show – the trailer:

Creating buzz: On 14 Feb, Google+ and Topshop installed a “Be The Model” photo booth in Topshop’s flagship Oxford Street store in London. Customers can try on Topshop outfits and snap pictures in the booth, the device creates animated GIFs users can share with others on their social networks. Organically growing the number of followers and Topshop fans were turned into brand advocates through peer-to-peer recommendation.

Connecting with professional influencers: On 15 Feb, Topshop unveiled behind-the-scenes videos of the models and creative team preparing for Sunday’s show on its YouTube channel, and invited bloggers and fans to join a Google Hangout with Topshop’s creative director Kate Phelan and the Topshop design team. Specific content targets at the fashion circles that in turn act as credible voice for the brand – to give ‘a 360° view of what goes into creating a catwalk show’

Real-time experience: On 17 Feb, Topshop activated its full portfolio of interactive tools. 3-D Google Map technology was employed to give fans access to the show’s space in The Tank at Tate Modern. To create pre-show buzz, 30 mins before the show kicked start, Topshop broadcasted Google Hangouts between fashion bloggers, Topshop fans, and celebrities on their way into the unique space. More opportunities for the content to be widely spread on various platforms such as Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.

Hangout Live Backstage Before Topshop Unique AW13:

Topshop Unique AW13 – The show:

Multi-platform distribution of content: The Topshop Unique Show was streamed live on Topshop’s owned website, as well as on Google+ and Twitter (Tweek Walk), in embedded media players on news organization websites and various fashion blogs, and on a giant screen in the window of Topshop’s Oxford Street store.

360° Interactivity: Runway models’ outfits and accessories were fitted with ‘Model cams’, HD micro-cameras powered by SIS Live’s Hawkeye techonology. The tiny cameras broadcast model’s-eye video in the corner of the show livestream, giving audience an opportunity to experience stepping out onto the catwalk through their favourite models’ eyes.

Content optimization: Other spin-offs were adopted from the success of the previous season’s livestream “Customize The Catwalk” initiative. These include the very successful “Shoot and Share” feature for fans to take still shots from the webcast, and various ways to prolong the experience by allowing fans to download the catwalk music tracks (this year the music featuring tracks from the Smiths, Beats International and Saint Etienne) and purchase the make up range. Every single element was fully utilised to extend the lifespan of the campaign.

Data intelligence: “Be The Buyer” post-show custom Google+ Hangout app was launched so that every clip from the runway will be swipable into a ‘wish-list’ which will then be featured on Topshop website. The data from the Google+ Hangout app will help the buyers decide what they are going to actually bring to retail. Fans feel like they are literally taking control of what they are going to buy.

It’s exciting to see how brands embrace digital channels to produce experiences that consumers really enjoy. The use of data also allows designers for the first time to make a very educated decision about how to plan. I believe the clever and seamless application of technology without making consumers feel like they have been put under the microscope is the key to success. As we know, the worst things happen to some of the digital campaign is that they tend to make consumers feel like they are generating content on behalf of the brands rather than having an enjoyable experience.

I would also like to see how this kind of co-creation could evolve to a global level, creating universal experience for consumers from different markets joining in the big event. It also allows brands to understand what works where globally. That could well be the next big news in global digital content creation.