ESPN Instills Emotion

In his book, Presentation Zen, presentation guru Garr Reynolds writes about how to give an intriguing presentation. When it comes to looking for inspiration, Reynolds thinks its important to go beyond simply reading. He cites documentaries as a source for inspiration in an oral presentation.

“Documentary films, for example, are a medium that tells a non-fiction story incorporating narration, interviews, audio, powerful video and still images, and at times, on-screen text. These are elements that can be incorporated into a live oral presentation as well.”

In order to gain some insight into Reynold’s theory, I decided to do a little investigating by watching a documentary completely unrelated to communications or presenting. Instead, I chose to watch a documentary on a topic I love, and one that is particularly relevant during the month of March: college basketball.

The greatest of all time

The greatest class ever recruited

The Fab Five is a 2011 ESPN Films documentary about the 1991 University of Michigan men’s basketball recruiting class, which earned the nickname the “Fab Five”. Considered by many to be the greatest class ever recruited, Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson, changed the face of college basketball forever. The film chronicles the recruitment, glory years, cultural impact, and scandal that followed these players who at the time were presented by the media as the embodiment of what was wrong with college sports. They revolutionized college basketball by wearing black socks, baggy shorts, listening to hip-hop music and talking trash to their competitors.

The film is brutally honest. The players look back on their mistakes, the way they were represented by the media, and their times of doubt. This makes The Fab Five that much more enjoyable. Its easy to think of basketball superstars as a different breed of people, untouched by the problems the rest of the world faces, but Director Jason Hehir shows just how real the Fab Five was.

The Fab Five wanted to be called

“Trash talking was 100% of who I was, on every level. I would do research on people, and say nasty things to them based on that research. I was a student of trash talking.” – Jalen Rose

In the film, Hehir uses many elements of story telling, but what really drew me in was the connection I felt to the players. Throughout the film, I felt like I really got to know the Fab Five. Many of these players came from nothing and had one goal: to win. By using photographs and clips of the players from the 1990s and in-depth interviews with them today, Hehir was able to show how likable the team was. They were funny, driven, and most importantly, they HATED Duke. These characteristics had me rooting for Michigan throughout the film. I was mad when they read the racist hate letters sent to them by Michigan alumni, I was mad when they lost to Duke in the 1991 NCAA championship, and I actually felt bad for them when they lost to my own school, The University of North Carolina, in the 1992 NCAA Championship game on the accidental call of a time out. Seeing where the Fab Five came from, how badly they wanted it, and how badly they still wish they had won it, really pulled at my heartstrings.

The Fab Five remain friends today

“I’d rather be the Fab Five losing two straight championships than the Fab Five at home cooking fries and watching them on TV.” – Jalen Rose

What I learned from this film about the art of presenting is simple. Play on the audience’s emotions. If you can draw them in by making them feel something, you have succeeded. By playing on my emotions, The Fab Five captivated me for 97 minutes. I can only imagine how effective doing so would be for a 10-minute presentation.


The Phenomenon of Fandom

Fandom is a phenomenon that affects everyone in some way. I believe that every person has a passion, dedication, or sometimes, a dependency for something. Whether it be for a rock band, a television show, or even a college sports team, fans are everywhere. From personal experience as a die-hard fan of many things, I can attest to the fact that fandom is a way of life.

Growing up in New York, I was exposed to hardcore sports fanatics at a very young age. As soon as you were able to understand, you had to make a choice: if you didn’t absolutely love the Yankees, you absolutely hated them and loved the Mets. With the influence of my family, I was a self-proclaimed Yankee fan through and through. Every year when the Subway Series rolled around, my classmates and I (and often my teachers) would represent our Yankee pride with hats, shirts, and more than our fair share of trash talking. In New York, being a die-hard baseball fan is part of our culture. Everywhere we go, our team logos are in our faces, and we love it.

Yankee fans come in all shapes and sizes

Yankee fans come in all shapes and sizes

After moving to North Carolina for college, I learned that sports fans are the same no matter where they live: dedicated, loyal, and sometimes a little crazy. I may not be a Tar Heel born, but after four short years at the University of North Carolina, I can say I absolutely  live and die for Carolina basketball. UNC breeds its fans with a (usually) consistently stellar basketball program, but more importantly with the culture of being a fan. Every year during rivalry week, the university gears up for the biggest game of the year against that school eight miles down the road that must not be named. You can literally feel the entire campus buzzing with anticipation. No one can think about anything other than the game, because for that week, our team is the only thing that matters.

Tarheel born, Tarheel bred

Tar Heel born, Tar Heel bred

Fandom consumes us. It becomes part of our lives; a part of our culture. People can be fans of anything. People have a relationship with their team, their band, or even their coffee provider. If a brand is able to use marketing to create a relationship with their consumers, the way the Yankees or the Tar Heels create a deep and meaningful relationship with their fans, they can have their own fans.

So, the next time you feel passionate about a brand or a product, stop and ask yourself, “Are you a fan?” The answer might be “Yes.”

And always remember, go Heels, go America, and go to Hell dOOk. 



To Be Brief…

A creative brief is essential to the advertising process. Planners and strategists use research and insight to produce the brief which acts as a catalyst for creative thought. An effective brief is inspiring, and acts as a spark for the creative team to come up with a campaign. In short, it explains why we’re here, who we want to reach, what we want them to do, what our key ideas are, and how we want to sound. It should be unifying, aligning business, consumer information, and creative inspiration. It should show a point of view.

In preparation for this post, I had a hard time coming across a creative brief to analyze. I assume this is because so much time and effort goes into making them that ad agencies aren’t willing to put them out into the universe for just anyone to see. However, I eventually came across several brief templates from advertising giants like BBDO, JWT and Oglivy & Mather. These briefs varied a bit, but they all were neatly organized onto one page.

The spark

The spark

Ogilvy & Mather Creative Brief:

This section provides a brief explanation of the product to be advertised and its main feature.

This explains what the client is trying to achieve in business terms.

This is the basis of the strategy.

This gives a detailed description of the audience. This should go beyond what their demographic is and helps the creative team get into their heads.


A) THE CATEGORY – What characterises use in the category and what makes these people different

B) THE MAIN COMPETITION – How do they feel about it and is there a weakness you can leverage

C) OUR BRAND – Truthfully, how do they feel about it?

This should explain what message you want to leave in people’s head about the product or the brand and what will change as a result of the advertising.

This should describe what the main point of the advertising must be.

This should be information to support the advertising


The creative brief should include all of this information in one form or another so that the creative team can know what to include in the advertising. Additionally, the briefing must be done in a creative manner so as to inspire the creative team further. The more creative the brief and briefing, the more inspiration the creative team has to pull from.

My Creative Process: From Stress to Spark

In her book, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life, renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp discusses her creative process. She emphasizes that people are not simply born creative, but rather that creativity is a skill that people can develop and refine over time.

Twyla Tharp

Twyla Tharp

“In order to be creative you have to know how to prepare to be creative.”

Tharp’s creative process is extremely methodical. She believes that taking time each day and setting a goal will allow creativity to prosper. By preparing yourself for the creative process, you are able to see, retain, and use your inspiration.

“The routine is as much a part of the creative process as the lightning bolt of inspiration, maybe more. And this routine is available to everyone.”

I can’t say that my creative process is necessarily a strict routine. In reality, it’s more of a spastic journey of mental breakdowns and creative breakthroughs. However, in my own way, I tend to follow a pattern when trying to spark the cartoon lightbulb hovering over my head. Whether I’m writing a paper, a blog post, or even an important e-mail, I always begin with a blank screen. Then, typically I sit there – staring – for what usually feels like three years asking myself why I didn’t start this earlier, or how I’m ever going to finish.

When writing a post for my travel blog, I like to look at pictures from my trips to jog my memory of what happened, and what I want stories to share with my readers. This is usually (ok, always) a lot easier, and a lot more fun than writing a 10-page paper about the rise and fall of some ancient empire that doesn’t even exist anymore. So, when I have to write about something that doesn’t immediately get my creative juices flowing, I take some time to clear my head (most likely after I call my mom in the midst of a panic attack). This usually involves going on a run, drinking a hot cup of tea, turning on Bon Iver Pandora, and snuggling under my favorite blanket. Once my head is clear, I try and organize my thoughts. I read prompts, take notes, and jot down ideas for what I’m going to write.

Before I can create, I have to clear my mind

Before I can create, I have to clear my mind

It’s important for me to be in a mode of total focus. And as much as I hate it, I need to be in an environment with no distractions. This usually means going to the top floor of a dark and dismal library or an empty classroom. Once I get in the zone, where I think about nothing but the task before me, that’s when I am most productive. And while my best ideas may not always come to me when I’m in this environment, it sets the stage for effective, and if I’m lucky, creative, writing.

Asking the “Right” Questions to Get the “Right” Answers

In advertising, the goal of planning is to understand how people think, feel, and behave. Account planners need to ensure that communications speak directly to consumers and draw them to the client. In order to do this effectively, it is crucial to do research that allows us to:

know the consumer, know the brand, and connect the two.

How do we get to know the consumer and the brand? By asking questions. Not just questions about a brand or category, but questions that provide some insight into who the consumer is. What they watch on television, or what their favorite type of takeout is. These types of questions provide invaluable information about what the best method of communicating with the consumer is.

Focus groups are commonly used in consumer research

Focus groups are commonly used in consumer research

The best way to ask the “right” questions is to use open-ended questions that can lead respondents to tell a story. Here are some ways of turning close-ended questions into more effective, open-ended questions:

Have you ever sent a text message while driving?

  • What do you do if you want to tell your friend something while you’re driving?
  • What do you do if you receive a text message while driving?

Would you say you travel abroad frequently?

  • Have you been overseas? Tell me about your favorite place you’ve traveled.
  • Tell me about any experiences you’ve had abroad.

Do you post a lot of pictures on Instagram?

  • What are the things you consider when uploading a photo to social media?
  • What do you like the most about posting pictures on Instagram?

Do you prefer to shop at big boxes or locally owned stores?

  • What are your favorite stores to shop at? Why do you prefer these stores to others?
  • What differs the most in shopping at a big box vs. at a locally owned store?

Do you have an iPhone or Android phone?

  • What type of smartphone do you own and what factors did you consider when purchasing it?
  • What factors do you think are most important to people when purchasing a smartphone?

How often do you eat sweets?

  • What is your favorite type of sweet? Why?
  • If you could eat whatever you wanted without impacting your health, what sweets would you indulge in and why?

Do you tend to buy things that are on sale?

  • Would you consider yourself a bargain shopper? Why would you say that?
  • What type of impact does a sale have on your purchasing behavior? Explain.

These few examples show how asking open-ended questions can lead you to better, more detailed answers from the consumer. Another effective tactic is asking follow-up questions. These questions make the respondent feel at ease with the interviewer and more likely to open up to them.

Remember, questions should keep the respondent engaged. If you ask boring questions, you’ll get boring answers that provide no insight for your campaign.

Any questions?

That’s all, folks!

Selfies Provide Insight into Real Beauty

What is the difference between a fact and an insight? Merriam Webster boils it down to a few words:

fact noun \’fakt\ : something that truly exists or happens : something that has actual existence : true piece of information

in·sight noun \ˈin-ˌsīt\ : the ability to understand people and situations in a very clear way : an understanding of the true nature of something

In the most literal sense, a fact is something sure. Something true. Something that leaves no question as to what it means. An insight, on the other hand, is something that is interpreted from a person or situation. We each have an inherent sense of insight that allows us to understand things in our own way. Because of this, we have the ability to develop different insights from the same fact.

While both facts and insights are essential to advertising, the use of valuable insight is what truly makes a campaign successful. In order to create an ad that resonates with the target market, advertisers need to have a deeper understanding of consumer behavior, attitudes, and reactions.

Dove effectively used consumer insight in the making of their new 7-minute short film Selfie. This film debuted at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and follows teen girls and their mothers as they participate in an experiment exploring how social media is shaping the way the we perceive beauty.


Dove’s Selfie

In the film, teens are encouraged to take “selfies,” the latest photography phenomenon that has taken social media by storm. The selfies are then displayed in a gallery where people can leave positive notes and messages highlighting the girls’ uniqueness and beauty.

Research performed by Dove revealed that 63% of women believe social media is the largest influencer in defining beauty today. From that conclusion, Dove was able to determine which social media trends among teen girls should be used to conduct their experiment.  Dove’s mission to redefine beauty through social media, and more specifically through selfies, is an excellent example of how an insight can be used effectively in a campaign.

Even Celebrities Take Selfies

Celebrities Selfies

Insights are absolutely crucial to any campaign. Without insight, we would simply have facts–information that is useful to a campaign but provides no real story. Advertising without insight would simply be information thrown out to the general public. There would be no brand identity to reside in the minds of the audience, and no understanding of the brand’s target market.