Introduction: Regarding Emotion and Regarding The Pain of Others

AdAutopsy, Mediating Thoughts

“Shock can become familiar. Shock can wear off. Even if it doesn’t, one can not look. People have means to defend themselves against what is upsetting.”

“There is nothing wrong with standing back and thinking. To paraphrase several sages: ‘Nobody can think and hit someone at the same time.’” – Susan Sontag, Regarding The Pain of Others

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(Ash over shoulder as if you’re mind is too weighed down with all the injustice and inconsistency in the world to worry about the state of your carpet = Generic Philosopher Pose No. 7)

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This post has been incubating for over two months. Bloggers will be familiar with those odd pangs of guilt that come from not writing for a while. For those who don’t blog, it’s a bit like putting off your full-body (and eventual personality) transplant whilst continuing to scoff yourself silly, sloth about, smoke like a small chimney and haemorrhage money at your local boozer on a daily weekly daily basis. We are masters of procrastination and of cheating ourselves in the process. I suppose the general theme of the next few posts is about how we can know what the right thing to do is but don’t feel like doing it. It’s about how we are masters of ‘legitimising’ our actions or inactions to make ourselves feel better.

Susan Sontag is perhaps the broodiest philosopher I can feasibly tolerate. Of course, she’s a lefty (as in left-wing, not left-handed), as let’s face it, there are very few philosophers who come from the right. She’s an activist. She says the wrong thing at the wrong time (evidenced by her comments on 9/11) and her ramblings are riddled with contradictions. I tolerate her because these contradictions are undeniably human. She knows that only self-awareness and humility allow her to reassess her personal views and experiences. Such self-criticism prevents intellectual and moral conservatism. More importantly, I tolerate her because she rubs people up the wrong way, as all intimidatingly intelligent women do.

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Sontag’s ‘Regarding the Pain of Others’ ponders on the effects of emotionally engineered and manipulated photographs on society at the hands of the media. She examines how we can sloth-out in front of the 10 O’clock News, get terribly upset about Ebola’s grip over West Africa, compare the scenes to a zombie apocalypse or a medical dystopian thriller (like Contagion) that we saw on Netflix last week, then cynically berate the American media for it’s histrionics and wind up posting an article on Facebook about how you’re more likely to spontaneously combust than you are to catch Ebola.

Sontag identifies that photography’s claim of ‘eye-witness’ authenticity is false – after all, #nofilter wouldn’t have caught on if Instagram snaps were more likely to be un-filtered than filtered. Photographs are manipulated to be more effective emotional tasers. Sontag considers our growing immunity to photography-as-emotional-taser as we are exposed to more and more of it’s ‘shock therapy’ and we are more savvy as to the methods engineered and used to elicit an emotional response.

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Sontag explores how and why we crave the emotions aroused by shocking and horrifying images of suffering (so often used in those “for just £2 a month” adverts). Why do we simultaneously wallow in guilt, pity, shame and disgust whilst displacing and alleviating this plethora of negative emotions through media-cynicism and pointing (rather than lifting) fingers? She believes that such a craving for shocking images has led to their commodification and this in turn is lessening their emotional impact. The mass production of such images has degraded shock into cliche. Perhaps the manufacture of ’emotionally engaging’ pictures, films and adverts is also degrading a whole plethora of emotions into cliche?

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Sontag’s book has never been more relevant. Emotion is the advertising buzzword of the decade, followed closely by ‘engage’ and ‘content’. Selling moisturiser to women now entails making them cry about their low self-esteem and body image as a not-too-subtle-reminder of why they should buy the product. Emotion is incredibly important in brand building. Unless you have forged an emotional connection between consumers and your brand then you don’t really have a brand. The whole point of brands is to justify a price premium for that emotional connection. However, I have three problems with how ’emotion’, in the broadest sense, is used in Adland:

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1.We tend to just pull out the above graph from the infamous IPA Databank, nod knowingly, then reiterate to our clients how important it is to be ’emotionally engaging.’ Emotions are complex, and one big fat descriptor, ’emotional’, is hardly adequate. In advertising we have a morbid fear of complexity, of nuances. As a result we often swing violently between gormless positivity, cracking jokes or (usually for Christmas) we try and make people cry. With charity adverts, we tend to know only one emotion: guilt. I am privileged to work with creatives who create great adverts with fantastic emotional range. There are, however, too many adverts out there that have the emotional range of a teaspoon.

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2. Sometimes we confuse emotion as a ‘input’, when really it’s an ‘output.’ Showing a lot of happy smiley faces and people dancing around elated or crying african children does not constitute emotional advertising. If anything, my emotional response to this kind of advertising ranges from sheer indifference to overcome with annoyance (and the desire to throw the nearest object to hand at the telly). Sometimes rational inputs have a more emotional output, as is with the case with the UN’s Open Defecation campaign. 

3. We assume that ’emotional’ is diametrically opposed to ‘rational.’ It’s not that simple. It’s the connection between our emotions and our rational thoughts that is currently under-explored and under-valued. Although our emotions often lead the way when it comes to decision-making, we’ll dismiss our emotions as ‘irrational’ if we cannot post-rationalise them and make sense of them. We need to feel that our emotions are rational to justify any actions they have led to. Screen Shot 2014-11-16 at 21.35.47

Emotional disengagement is perhaps a rational response to advertisers going whole hog emotionally. My boyfriend argues until he is blue in the face that he is immune to advertising’s emotional manipulation. He’s part of a growing population of advertising-cynics who are willing themselves to be emotionally disengaged. People are consciously emotionally disconnecting and this is disconcerting. I loathe to be a portent of doom, but when you deal in emotional manipulation somebody needs to ponder on some potential consequences of such a manipulation:

1.  Is the emotional one-up-manship going on in advertising inadvertently fostering a coldhearted cynicism? Does shock therapy work well enough for us to keep administering it despite our continual desensitisation?

Part I: Emotional Desensitisation and The Ugliness of Shock

2. What if we came to think that love had to be “like the movies”? What if we came to think that love was just a concept manufactured by advertisers to sell De Beers diamonds and boxes of chocolates? What if the media owned our perceptions of what emotions should be like?

Part II: What is ‘Real’ and What is ‘Represented’ Emotion?

3. What would the world look like if we never thought about our actions and just went on emotional autopilot, reacting to everything without thinking? What if, in wallowing in guilt, pity and misery we feel like we’ve done enough when in fact we’re just relishing in the spectacle of it all from our couches?

Part III: Apathy is Not The Only Cause of Inaction

As ever, as much as I loathe to be a portent of doom I loathe more being unprepared for that potential doom. Here are some ‘ways in’ to the ‘ways out.’

Part IV: The Known Unknowns

Debord: The Society of The Spectacle and The Spectacle of Social Media

Mediating Thoughts

“All that was once directly lived has become mere representation.” – Guy Debord, Society of The Spectacle (1967)

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A few months ago I gave Debord’s Society of The Spectacle to a planner friend along with Baudrillard’s ‘System of Objects’. I wrote this inside the front cover of Baudrillard’s book:

50% of books in people’s homes are never opened. This book made me want to be a planner. It is inspirational and stuffed with insights. The other is the darkest and most harrowing portrayal of modern life I have ever read and should come with the warning “may cause existential crisis.” The other book is not to be opened, it is intended as a sacrifice for the sake of a (dubious) statistic.”

Debord’s book is a total headfuck. It’s a double headfuck because once you’ve got over the headfuck of deciphering this ludicrously impenetrable text you are confronted with the headfuck of it’s meaning. Philosophy can take you to some very dark places. There are times when I thank goodness that these philosophers don’t just lay it all bare in plain speak. This kind of philosophical bluntness could be terrifying, and, extremely dangerous. There are philosophers whose ideas and observations about the world we inhabit are so bleak that one fears these ideas reaching mass consciousness.

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However, Debord’s ideas are already reaching mass consciousness. The Guardian is writing articles hailing Debord as a futurologist and to have predicted in 1967 the current state of our distracted society. The very same concerns Debord had about TV and Radio have been amplified by social media, ‘Big Data’, ‘earned media’ and our always on, always online, always watched, always watching ‘Society of The Spectacle.’

Debord was a ringleader of a band of (not so merry) 60’s political revolutionaries called the Situationist International. Their movement is associated with Hippy anti-capitalist sentiment that pervaded the champagne socialist intelligentsia at the time. They sought to update Marx’s critique of Capitalism as the rise of the USA’s glitzy brand of Capitalism and Cold War tensions bubbled away in the background. Here’s Debord’s argument in four über simplifying steps:

1. “The spectacle’s ‘lonely crowd’ “unites what is separate but unites it only in its separateness.”

Capitalism’s competitive individualism creates a man-eat-man world where individuals trample each other striving for similar goals and aspirations. Individuals perpetually strive against each other, but together. We are united in corporations, housed in close proximity, do ‘team work’ but are becoming increasingly specialized cogs in the economic machine. Some of us do such specialized jobs that we can’t even have a conversation about what it is we do with people outside of work. We all go to work physically together, but sit in silence on tubes and buses psychologically alone.

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2. “The basically tautological character of the spectacle flows from the simple fact that its means are simultaneously its ends. It is the sun which never sets over the empire of modern passivity. It covers the entire surface of the world and bathes endlessly in its own glory.” – Debord

Companies want profit but don’t know why. We want progress for progress sake. We strive without realising exactly why. We haven’t questioned our definitions of progress. We haven’t evaluated, we just do stuff “moving forward.” Debord argues that man is now the economy’s puppet.

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3. “The more readily he recognizes his own needs in the images of need proposed by the dominant system [Capitalism], the less he understands his own existence and his own desires.”

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Many of us do not question why we want a bigger house, why we want a faster car and why we might commute for two hours a day for five days a week in order to buy more stuff. Society, advertising and the media tell us what we want, Debord argues. It’s not about driving the car. It’s about what we think the car represents to others. We constantly need approval from our peers. Debord laments life’s poverty despite affluent appearances.

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“The present phase of total occupation of social life by the accumulated results of the economy leads to a generalized sliding of having into appearing [to have], from which all actual “having” must draw its immediate prestige and its ultimate function. At the same time all individual reality has become social reality directly dependent on social power and shaped by it.”

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4. “All that was once directly lived has become mere representation.”

We used to understand what we wanted by having real emotional reactions to situations and people. This used to be done through lived, live and unedited ‘intersubjective’ experiences (a heart-to-heart with a whiskey bottle you might say) in which we read other’s body language. We react and interact. Debord worried that our emotions and values are shaped by the media. He considered that the media represents our emotions and values in easy to understand symbols, slogans, corporate speak and email conventions. Debord considers that social interactions, when “directly lived”, are messy and full of ‘guesswork’, or what we might call empathy. Now, representations of what social interactions should be like have stifled an empathetic, “directly lived” experience of conversations we have.

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We speak in embarrassingly corporate meaningless jargon to hide what we really want to say (“moving forward” = ‘I want to talk about things in the future but seem to have forgotten how to use the future tense’, and “manage expectations” = ‘be pessimistic, because I am’, are my personal pet peeves). This language, which helps to grease the cogs of the corporate machine, does not foster strong bonds between colleagues. It helps us sing from the same hymn sheet as workers yet masks real communication as people. Emails do something similar.

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We ‘read’ a bunch of clichés, symbols and slogans that are designed to make the guessing game or empathizing with other people a bit easier. If a man drives a Volvo we might guess that he valued the safety of his family and would be the kind of person who has a black Labrador. If a woman wears Chanel No5 we know she sees herself as glamorous. If a man has a beard we expect that he fancies himself as a trendy creative-intellectual type. We might then use that beard to sell products that we want to be associated with creative-intellectual bohemianism and Hipster culture.

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(Schick’s ‘Free your Skin’ campaign by Y&R)

“When I got my first television set, I stopped caring so much about having close relationships.” – Andy Warhol

The more we let the media mediate our lives the less we live for us, for now, Debord argues. Instead of accepting the now, the ‘me’ and our messy human emotions we are trying to fit into ideas that have been represented to us. The media has helped to formulate our understanding of what is beautiful, who’s successful and what’s ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ Now our interactions are mediated by the media and social media. We worry about how we come across. We worry about ‘I’ (a crafted image of ourself that we portray to others) rather than ‘me’ and we think about what we’re meant to feel rather than just feel it. We mediate ourselves, we mediate other people, the media mediates society. Everything is mediated. Nothing is directly lived.

tumblr_mhrehrSUR81qj73e2o1_500-7698How tasty our breakfast looked on Instagram is more important than how tasty it actually was. Instagram would give Debord a heart attack – we upload pictures of us having fun to represent the fun we were supposed to be having. How much fun we look like we are having is more important than actually having fun.

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This all seems fairly bleak (I did warn you) but I feel that there are positives planners can take from Debord’s extreme Marxist views. We shouldn’t shy away from advertiser-bashing and bury our heads in the sand. There are huge amounts of people who think advertisers are scum. We should figure out why to see if there is anything that can be done about it.

“All the branches of knowledge, which continue to develop as the thought of the spectacle, have to justify a society without justification, and constitute a general science of false consciousness. This thought is completely conditioned by the fact that it cannot and will not investigate its own material basis in the spectacular system.” – Debord

Debord can help provide the ethical, rather than practical, answers to several debates that seem to be gathering momentum in advertising and marketing at present. I believe that marketeers, in general, want to do the right thing but are lured into the easy or more practical approach. If we can debate the ethics, however, then maybe we could work upon improving the practicalities of reaching some ideals. If we don’t debate the ethics then we have not questioned our goals – we are upholding what Debord considered to be the tautological conditions of Capitalism, where our means are simultaneously our ends.

Firstly, Debord can help planners to understand and counteract a growing public scepticism of advertising and ‘The Media.’ Everybody hates being sold at. Everybody hates being told what to buy and what to think. They no longer want to be spoonfed information, yet, at the same time, the Internet has made spoonfeeding all the more necessary. It simply isn’t possible to read and see everything, but how do we choose what we find on the Internet? People have not only become increasingly suspicious of what they read and what they see but how and why they have come across it. Who has the power now when it comes to ‘The Media’?

Part I: Mass Media vs The Media of The Masses

Secondly, planners can use Debord’s writing as a way of analysing the social and cultural worth of online interactions. It seems to me that advertising no longer serves a purely commercial purpose. On the one hand advertisers are arguing that commercial success will depend on CRM (Consumer Relationship Management) on the other there are those who believe that creativity sells. How much is a Facebook ‘like’ worth? Should planners regurgitate culture by looking at what people have ‘liked’ and ‘shared’ online and reproducing something similar or should we aim to create something completely new? Should advertisers follow culture or aim to lead it? Should we let brands shape the world we live in or should we let society shape the brands we live with?

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Thirdly, reading Debord’s book is, to craft a rather torturous metaphor, rather like watching a CCTV operative watching a crowd of stalkers stalk each other. Planners could do well to look through Debord’s eyes when evaluating social media interactions in which people stalk each other online in full knowledge that they too are being stalked. CCTV is like ‘Big Data’, it gathers all the information on how the two stalkers stalk each other. CCTV and ‘Big Data’ can track their every move, when they move and what they do. The planner can use CCTV/’Big Data’ to observe the stalking game in a detached way.

banksy21Detached observations are objective, yet are, well, detached. We need to empathise too. The planner must ask the ‘who’ and ‘why’ questions to evaluate what the data actually shows. When people don’t know that they are being watched they act differently. They don’t edit their behaviour. On social media we know we are watched. Interrogating social media interactions might involve asking questions like: Who is following? Who is leading? Who’s trying to camouflage? Who’s conspicuous? Are they conspicuously trying to be conspicuous? Who has quickened their pace? Are they are worried that their stalker hasn’t followed suit?

In real life, when we feel like our every move isn’t being recorded we behave differently. We definitely forget about CCTV as Coca-Cola’s advert below demonstrates, but do we forget who’s following us and watching us on social media? How much value can we place on social media interaction when it comes to revealing internal whirrings of consumers? How should brands use social media to better people’s lives? Is it ethical to use ‘Big Data’ or is the CCTV operative a bit creepy? Annoyingly Channel 4’s documentary, CCTV: Caught on Camera, (as always) sat on the fence.

There’s a storm brewing in Adland. ‘Old school dinosaurs’, or Technophobes are questioning ‘Big Data’ and the validity of Social Media and Digital marketing. ‘The digital evangelists’, or Technophiles, are questioning the effectiveness of TV or printed adverts and taking a ‘gut feeling’ over data as a viable means of strategising a marketing plan. It’s that age old debate that Stephen King’s “Advertising: Art and Science” 1982 article discusses and was reinvigorated at an APG event on Planning 3.0.

Part II: The Lonely Crowd

 

Part II: The Lonely Crowd

Mediating Thoughts

“The economic system [which is] founded on isolation is a circular production of [that] isolation. The technology is based on isolation, and the technical process isolates in turn. From the automobile to television, all the goods selected by the spectacular system are also its weapons for a constant reinforcement of the conditions of isolation of “lonely crowds.” The spectacle constantly rediscovers its own assumptions more concretely.” – Debord

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(Puff at a cancer stick relieved that it will enable you to make a premature exit from this urban dystopia = Generic Philosopher Pose No.10)

I can imagine poor Debord having a mental breakdown if he were to ride the London tube. To witness an entire tube carriage glued to their iphones and ipads as they quietly observe urban solitude, not daring to break the heavy silence between people for the fear of coming across a bit too friendly and consequently mental, would be too much for Debord. Navigating the London bus system is already pretty daunting, but if you had Debord’s head instead of your own the ride would be psychologically apocalyptic.

Commuters on an overcrowded train

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The people who physically surround us are strangers because we consider the risk of face to face conversation somehow too much to take. We act like socially phobic robots on public transport, yet, conversely, you might have never met some of the people you follow on Instagram or Twitter but for some reason you feel like you know them. After all, you’ve seen what they’ve had for breakfast, lunch and dinner or even what they look like post-coitus. 

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You can take that ‘social risk’ and accost a complete stranger on the internet and spark a debate or conversation. You can even tell a celebrity or MP that you think they’re an arse hole. The consequences of our online actions seem much more trivial than what we do in real life.  Picking an argument on youtube’s comment section or trolling news articles is ‘normal’, but overhearing a group of stranger’s political debate at the pub and injecting your two cents into their discussion is comparatively ‘weird’. It’s ‘normal’ to ‘like’ a stranger’s selfie on Instagram, but giving a stranger a thumbs up on the tube is ‘weird’.

It’s easy to click that ‘like’ button, to ‘connect’ with people online. This might not mean, however, that the sentiment portrayed by the ‘like’ button means much. Are we psychologically engaged in our online interactions? Does technology put psychological distance between each other and between us and our behaviours? Sherry Turkle seems to think that it does. The TED talk below describes how technology has exacerbated an already existing catch-22 that humans experience.

What Sherry Turkle explains in her TED talk is that real life is messy but technology makes human relationships tidy. People say dumb shit all the time. People have emotions that sometimes get out of control.  But, people like to feel in control of themselves and their self-image and social media helps us to do just that. Debord argues that technology enables the “systematic organization of the ‘failure of the faculty of encounter’ and as its replacement by a hallucinatory social fact: the false consciousness of encounter, the “illusion of encounter.”

On the one hand we are inherently social beings, on the other we are fiercely competitive and care a lot about what people think of us. The most obvious place to see this inherent contradiction in action is in (some, not all – rave clubs tend to buck this trend purely because of the nature of the narcotics involved) nightclubs and bars. We head along to a bar, dressed in our most fashionable/suavest/most expensive gear to meet our friends because deep-down we care what they, or anybody else in the bar, for that matter, thinks of us. This is why Moet champagne bottles and VIP areas exist. There’s a heavy dose of showing off involved in a lot of social interactions.

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Social media is a complex exchange of glances. You watch what your friends are doing. You watch how they talk to each other on the comments sections of photographs. You watch how happy they look in those photographs. Knowing that you watch and judge other people’s social media behaviour you might watch and judge your own. You might carefully tailor what you put on Facebook. You craft yourself. They’re crafting themselves too. You might try not to craft yourself – but even this is crafted. Everything is edited. Everything is re-presented.

“All that was once directly lived has become mere representation.” – Guy Debord, The Society of The Spectacle.

This is why people on the internet seem better, cleaner, more friendly than those very same people who are sitting next to you on the tube. You only see the healthy breakfasts or really good looking sexual partners that your Instagram pal from the other side of the world displays to the internet. You only see their ‘good side’ in their hundreds of selfies. Sometimes reading people’s twitter feeds is comparable to watching an American sitcom whose script is so witty and punchy that you wonder why real life isn’t as full of pizazz. Why are my ‘real world’ friends not as funny/informative/in the know?

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People aren’t necessarily straight with each other, and with themselves, when they know that other people are watching. They can often mimic other’s behaviour to fit in.  People are hard-wired to ensure their survival in a group. What other people are doing sets a benchmark for what you should be doing. Your values and desires are shaped by the people around you all the more prominently when these are made public. Social media is group mentality on a colossal scale in an intense always on, always online, and always watching way.

“The alienation of the spectator to the profit of the contemplated object (which is the result of his own unconscious activity) is expressed in the following way: the more he contemplates the less he lives; the more he accepts recognizing himself in the dominant images of need, the less he understands his own existence and his own desires. The externality of the spectacle in relation to the active man appears in the fact that his own gestures are no longer his but those of another who represents them to him. This is why the spectator feels at home nowhere, because the spectacle is everywhere.” – Guy Debord, Society of The Spectacle

Consequently, social media has a habit of exacerbating the two contradictory impulses of human crowd mentality (showing off whilst fitting in) in quite an alarming way to produce a culture that rewards banal interactions with banal ‘likes’. The ability to edit our personas online reduces the risk associated with human interactions and the result is a watered down version of ourselves that enables us to fit in with the crowd. Are we really true to ourselves online? Are the connections we make with those we interact with online merely superficial? Is it a connection born out of a fear of loneliness that only serves to reinforce that loneliness?

What does this mean for planners?

1. Likes mean practically nothing. Other than the fact that 62% of online traffic is formed of ‘bots’ and other non-human entities, the mere tap of the ‘like’ button means practically nothing.

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There are no real consequences to weigh up when you click ‘like’ or ‘follow’. If there is less risk to doing something then obviously the value of that behaviour is less. If you save a child from a burning building you are a hero. If you take a spider out of a bath, less so.

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Never form a strategy around gaining Facebook likes. Not only does your brand have to compete with liking a friend’s status or DJ/Photography/Cat Sanctuary Facebook pages, it has no reason to do so. If you’re so insecure as a brand that you want people to ‘like’ you online rather than buy your product and be done with it, then that’s a little lame.

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2. Social media “content” can breed banality. People now judge “content” do by how likeable or sharable it is. In order for it to be likeable it might not be challenging. In order for it to be sharable, you have to ensure that it is suitably bland or samey to other “content” so as not to offend anybody you share it with or, worse, portray yourself as some sort of nutcase. Cat videos, GIFs and memes are obviously more ‘sharable’ than Japanese Hentai Tentacle porn. This is why I populate my blogs with them. They’re populist and counterbalance what I hope comes across a little provocative.

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“Under the shimmering diversions of the spectacle, banalization dominates modern society the world over… The remains of religion and of the family (the principal relic of the heritage of class power) and the moral repression they assure, merge whenever the enjoyment of this world is affirmed–this world being nothing other than repressive pseudo-enjoyment.” – Debord, The Society of The Spectacle.

When you put “content” out on Social Media, try not to care too much if it might form a negative backlash. Sometimes it is more helpful to divide and conquer your audience than be all-things-to-all-people. You’ll forge a deeper connection or (wretch wretch) “engage” with your core fans more this way.

3. Think about how you use social media to feedback on your creative work. If you judge the content you have put up by the number of likes it gets and then decide to produce something of the same ilk, labouring under the misapprehension that you have ‘tailored’ your content to ‘consumer preferences’ (which are poorly expressed through likes anyway), then you are not jolting people to take notice. By merely adding to the noise, to the number of generic videos or instagram shots of food, whatever brand you are working on cannot hold a defining space in people’s minds. It merely falls into the cultural mulch that forms the backdrop of our lives.

Culture: “It is the sense of a world which hardly makes sense.” – Debord, The Society of The Spectacle.

When Debord states that “Culture is the locus of the search for lost unity. In this search for unity, culture as a separate sphere is obliged to negate itself,” he is speaking of how, through culture, we wish to relate to each other, to over-come the “lonely crowd” and our “lost unity” as a society. Unfortunately, when everything refers to everything else that was once popular or successful, you end up with nothing new. Ipso facto, “culture as a separate sphere is obliged to negate itself.”

My other favourite philosopher, Baudrillard, wrote in his essay The Hyper-realism of Simulation (1976) that the use and abundance of media, signs, and symbols has so bombarded our culture that “reality itself, as something separable from signs of it…has vanished in the information-saturated, media-dominated contemporary world.” Photography, mass production, television, and advertising have shaped and altered authentic experience to the point that “reality” is recognized only when it is re-produced in simulation. Ie. ‘Real’ or ‘Authentic’ has its own inauthentic tropes, iconography and visual conventions. There are thousands of pictures of #nature on instagram that all look pretty much the same. “An air of nondeliberate parody clings to everything,” Baudrillard wrote. Everything seems to be an accidental parody of something else. Its all falling into the same cultural mulch.

So aim to produce something new, not something popular. Have faith in being in the ‘creative’ industry. Don’t crowdsource ideas. Come up with your own. Personally, I believe that planners should avoid holding up a mirror to society without making a comment on it. That comment could look at the accidental parody inherent in reality and make it deliberate and pointed. That comment should disrupt reality, not fall into the background of it.

4. Take what people say and do online with a liberal and generous pinch of salt.

There is nothing wrong with looking at cultural insights through social media, but the quantifiable ‘engagement data’ should not lure you into a false sense of security. What we really want to find out about is the motives behind the data. Why do people like something? They may be liking it ‘ironically’ or out of pity as nobody else has liked that friends’ post. Most likely, they are liking it because everyone else has.

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There’s a legendary anecdote that sums it up: A man is watching another man scrabbling around under a lamp post late at night, trying to find something. After watching for ten minutes, and sensing his desperation, he asks the man, now on his hands and knees,“Sir, are you sure you dropped your keys here?” The man looks up and replies, “No, no, I heard them fall about a block away.” Bemused by this confession he asks,“Then why on earth are you searching for them here?” To which he replies,“Well, because the light is so much better!”

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The moral is that although quantifiable data, such as Facebook likes or Retweets, allows for something to be quantifiable, it doesn’t mean it is where you should be looking. It also doesn’t mean that lamp posts should be looking at you either…. Which leads me onto my next post on Big Data.

Animals in Adverts

'Brand old' thinking on Brands, AdAutopsy

“Pets are indeed an intermediate category between human beings and objects.” – Baudrillard, The System of Objects

If adverts are an intermediary between people/consumers and objects/products then, by (il)logical deduction, adverts are pets. I know you’re thinking that I’ve finally lost it, that I’ve cracked up. That statement, however, seems less mental when you consider how many advertising campaigns and brand logos feature animals; Barclay’s horse, PG Tips’ monkey, Cadbury’s Gorilla, Andrex’ puppy, Frosties’ tiger, Playboy’s bunny, Lacoste’s alligator, Le Coq Sportif’s cockerel, Penguin’s penguin, Dove’s dove, Jaguar’s jaguar and Puma’s puma to name just a few.

Animals have been used to carry metaphorical and symbolic meaning since, well, forever. The first caveman paintings, Egyptian hieroglyphs, Roman and Greek mythology, Medieval heraldry, horoscopes, artistic iconography and now brands and adverts all use animals as a way of articulating complex ideas and adding a layer of meaning. Animals can aid people’s memory of a brand or product’s qualities without the need to bash them over the head with a brand proposition. A Platypus is the new mascot for First Direct as ‘The Unexpected Bank.’ A bunny is a sexually suggestive (“at it like rabbits”) symbol for Playboy without being overt. A jaguar is the perfect metaphor for a car that prowls about the urban jungle as it’s engine purrs smugly.

AMV/BBDO freaked me out in my first ever interview with the question, “If you were an animal, what animal would you be?” They weren’t just trying to keep me on my toes, they were trying to see how good I was at constructing a metaphor. I probably should have said a platypus rather than a puppy. Brands are metaphors for inanimate products and intangible services. Animals are living breathing metaphors. Their marriage is one of common sense.

A ‘Woof’Wagen over a ‘Volks/Folks’Wagen. 

Other than that dogs look hilarious with their chops flapping in the wind in a moving car, Volkswagen’s Woofwagen campaign by Adam&EveDDB centers on that old saying that dogs are like their owners. Put different breeds of dogs in all the different car models that Volkswagen have on offer and you have the message ‘There’s a Volkswagen for all of us’. Volkswagen can broadcast that they have many different cars whilst portraying a unifying message: Variety is the spice of life and variety enables us to define ourselves. Our dogs and our cars are suited to us, as the soundtrack ‘Me and You’ by Barry Louis Polisar reminds us, and luckily there is the breed of dog and breed of Volkswagen car for each and every one of us.

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The campaign, like many adverts featuring animals (The Bear and Hare John Lewis advert, also by Adam&EveDDB, being the most obvious) pulls at our ‘awww’ muscles. This isn’t just because dogs are cute. It’s because we can load animals with more emotional energy than we can humans. We are sceptical of human emotion, particularly when it is acted out in adverts. Their happy little faces, their tongues lolling out in 60mph winds are somehow more expressive than some loony tune grinning moronically and smugly as he winds his brand new VW around country roads.

We realise how much we love our dogs, how much we go through life with them by our sides. Oh yeah, shit. We do a lot with our cars too. People judge us by our cars as much as by which dog is sitting in the backseat. This advert is perhaps the truest manifestation of Baudrillard’s statement: ‘Volks’, meaning folks or people, has been transformed into ‘Woof’ signifying dog or pet. “Pets are indeed an intermediate category between human beings and objects.”

Human + Car = Volkswagen

Pet + Car = Woofwagen

Car <—-> Pet <—-> Human

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So what if Volkswagen had decided to represent the diversity of their range by putting different people in their cars? We might have been judgemental of the human equivalent of the Afghan Hound in a red open-topped sports car. We might have considered the human equivalent to be a bit of a poser or a cliché (Bridget Jones’ mini break moment above sprung to mind). Similarly the dreadlocked creature (please comment if you know the breed) is wholly appropriate to be sitting in the hippy Volkswagen Beetle. Even if we hate hippies or posers in sports cars, we still liked the dogs that represented them in the ad.

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When animals appear in adverts there is usually something a bit more interesting at play than mere association, metaphor and pulling on our ‘awwww’ muscles. There’s a reason why you can take a buzzfeed quiz telling you what your ‘Inner Dog Breed’ is (courtesy of Volkswagen). There’s a reason why most viral memes and youtube clips feature animals. There’s a reason why a Guardian article exists on ‘The Growing Economy of Cat Videos.’ This is, quite simply, because we almost prefer animals to humans.

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We trust animals more than humans

“The pathos-laden presence of a dog, a cat, a tortoise or a canary is a testimonial to a failure of the inter-human relationship and an attendant recourse to a narcissistic domestic universe where subjectivity finds fulfilment in the most quietistic way.” – Baudrillard

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‘The Cat Spinster Lady’ is a fantastic stereotype. To be honest, I reckon I wouldn’t mind being one. The tragedy is that ‘The Cat Spinster Lady’ is portrayed as an eccentric loner, who, too bizarre to hook a fella and have children, has ended up filling the void of human affection in her life with tens of cats. She gives them all different personalities and names, she is acutely aware of how they interact with each other. She settles their clawing scraps with each other like a mother would bang her children’s heads together. She watches out for the weaker one in the pack, making sure it has extra food. She knows which one is a bit naughty and enjoys shredding the curtains.

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Animals are passive receptacles for our emotions (The link here is for my good friend Joel’s piece on Cat Cafés, possibly the best description of cats ever written). We can project our feelings onto animals. This is why talking dogs, donkeys, meerkats and ‘Grumpy Cats’ are almost larger than life than real humans. We give animals dependable caricatures and turn our furry four-legged friends into psychologically predictable sort-of-human-beings. Grumpy Cat isn’t really grumpy. We have projected a human emotion onto the animal. We can put words into their mouths.

Humans, however, respond with their own words and their own feelings. They aren’t passive receptacles. Humans formulate their own meanings, they have their own emotions. Humans respond to things. Humans can hold back emotions too, they can say one thing and mean another. An animal, however, can only ‘say’ what we want it to ‘say’.

Perhaps, consequently, we are more likely to trust a talking cat telling us to ‘Carpe Diem’ than we would a human being. O2’s ‘Be More Dog’ campaign tells us to embrace, with the mindless enthusiasm of a dog chasing a ball, new mobile technology, to sign up to O2 Priority, to keep texting and mobile internet surfing without due care or cynicism.

If a person came on screen and told us to seize the day on behalf of O2 we probably would have a degree of cynicism. Humans have motives. Animals don’t. If my one-eyed geriatric cat pissed out of his litter tray then I wouldn’t think that he is doing this to annoy me. If my boyfriend pissed out of the toilet then I would probably question his motives (unless he was really, really drunk and then I would probably consider him to be something of an animal). This is because we know (or at least I hope we know) that animals actually do not have the same complex psychological mechanisms as our own. Animals are motivated by food, sex, a tummy rub and that’s about it. When an advert puts words into an animal’s mouth you forget about the human aspect of what it’s communicating. It puts one more dividing line between the marketeers in the boardroom talking about brand propositions and USPs and you as a potential consumer sitting in front of your TV. “Pets are indeed an intermediate category between human beings and objects.”

I would argue that mobile phone providers, like O2, have experienced the “failure of the inter-human relationship,” despite many of their brand propositions harping on about customer service and connecting people. This isn’t O2’s fault. Like as with energy, internet and public transport, consumers do not want to pay their mobile phone bills. These kinds of things are seen as ‘negative purchases.’  We expect to flick on a light switch without having to pay for it. We don’t see how people can put a price on texting your friends, but they have to. This, unfortunately, makes these kinds of brands seem untrustworthy in the eyes of the consumer. They’d rather listen to a cat giving them a pep talk about getting out there and enjoying life than they would some crusty CEO with pound signs in his eyes.

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Similarly Aleksandr is so loveable that people actually buy cuddly toy versions of the comparethemarket.com meerkat. He’s made buying insurance feel less boring and less like you aren’t actually buying anything tangible. So much so that Aleksandr’s ­autobiography A Simples Life: The Life And Times of Aleksadr Orlov had more orders before publication than the life stories of Tony Blair, Cheryl Cole, Russell Brand or Dannii Minogue. The Go Compare man, Gio Compario, by contrast, is fucking annoying. Simples.

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The Go Compare man even received death threats. I think we all would have liked him to have been mauled by a pack of wolves in the advert below, but I can see why they thought that Sue Barker would be more ‘on brand’ and resonate better with their target audience.

Andrex: Because it’s embarrassing to talk about wiping your arse.

I used to feel a bit peeved when the Andrex Puppy would bound onto my screen in one of the 130 ads the little fucker has featured in. I used to think, “Jesus, do they really think we are going to choose Andrex over a cheaper brand just because they use a cutesy iccle puppy in their advertising?” Turns out yes. Yes we will. 

When JWT invented Andrex’ mascot in 1972 they were crafting an elaborate metaphor to give bog roll meaning beyond ‘the stuff we wipe our arses with’. Soft, loyal, a little bit mischievous but ultimately endearing is the perfect brand image to craft for bog roll. 1 in 3 people who buy Andrex will not buy any other brand of toilet paper. In the UK alone they sell 1.5million rolls of the stuff each day. That’s enough to circle the earth one and a half times in shit tickets. When I see a labrador retriever I think of Andrex. Andrex is the puppy. Andrex without the puppy would be unthinkable. Screen Shot 2014-06-20 at 17.07.53

But, for some reason when the Andrex puppy bounds onto the screen I don’t think about the loo. In fact, when consumers were reminded of the fact that Andrex sold bog roll (you know, the stuff you wipe your arse with) in their ‘Scrunch or Fold’ campaign there was a bit of an outcry.

Vice’s Alex Miller hailed it as ‘The Worst Advertising Campaign in History.’ Personally I can think of much worse adverts (or not think of them – arguably the worst adverts are the ones that don’t even make an impression), but Mr Miller had a perfectly valid point. He objected to the inclusion of real people in adverts about shit tickets. 

Remember: “Pets are indeed an intermediate category between human beings and objects.” When we find it hard to talk about something, like wiping our arses, we might get an animal to mediate the discussion, to sugarcoat what that object is actually used for.

About the farmer-type 13 seconds in: “This paternal nod from an earthy farmer type? A nod that advertisers normally use to reassure their customers that the sausages are organic is now being used to assure us that yes, those thick, working hands sometimes put down the shovel to fiddle with perforated paper so thin he can barely feel it between his calloused fingers.”

About the seductive woman 14 seconds in: “She’s a character straight from hell, a woman so depraved and overly sexualised that she even tries to turn wiping her arse into an erotic escapade. Imagine her beckoning you into the bathroom: “Oops, I left the door open and now my fake nail has burst through the seductively folded Andrex, I’m getting all dirty…” Jesus, this character is definitely the worst in this advert. No competition. I think she just made my dick grimace.”

5202024113_206397647cThe Andrex puppy has come to mediate our relationship with what is, quite frankly, a bit of a gross but necessary product. Its a strategy that Cushelle also adopted with their sickeningly cute koala bear and by Saatchi & Saatchi (Stolkholm) to flog Lambi. 

To conclude, animals can help flog boring products that are otherwise difficult to sell. It’s hard to get interested about PG Tips’ teabags, but a bunch of monkeys drinking tea is much more exciting. A cute puppy accidentally unravelling all the toilet roll and sprawling it across the house is much better than asking people to describe how they use the product. We can refer to the product’s benefits by using an animal as a metaphor that is informative, tugs at our ‘awww’ muscle and makes things a bit more interesting.  More importantly, an animal can do all these things much better than a human can simply because an animal will immediately appear to have fewer motives than a human. I’m fed up of skinny models telling me that ‘I’m worth it’ and celebrities telling me that if I drink Pepsi I’ll be like them. So bring on the cat videos. Bring on the talking dogs. Somebody get me a stuffed compare the meerkat for my birthday.

“The object is in fact the finest of domestic animals…In a word, it is a dog of which nothing remains but faithfulness. What is more, you can look at an object without it looking back at you. That is why everything that cannot be invested in human relationships is invested in objects.” – Baudrillard

Baudrillard: Collector Mentality (Introduction)

First Principles

“… For what you really collect is always yourself” – Baudrillard

Baudrillard with Books

(Stare Pensively into Camera + Surround self with hundreds of books = Generic Philosopher Pose 3)

A few months ago I watched a BBC2 programme hosted by Mel Giedroyc and Mark Hill entitled ‘Collectaholics.’ It was a tragi-comic portrayal of a special kind of nutcase: ‘The Collector.’ As Mel and Mark interviewed avid collectors of the likes of beer cans, salt and pepper shakers and taxidermy (and their long-suffering partners and family), Baudrillard chapters on ‘A Marginal System: Collecting’ intruded my mind. During the programme Mel and Mark tried to hone these collectors’ habits, and, as Baudrillard writes, to find the point at which their “sheer accumulation may give way to a measure of discrimination.”

If you still haven’t read why Baudrillard could be called the first Planner, then you’ve fucked up royally. I’m kidding, but its people like you that have made me feel obliged to repeat myself. If you have read it, I also told you to go and buy ‘The System of Objects’ and to read it backwards. You probably didn’t bother. No worries – I’ll be attempting to translate sections of it here in as plain and un-pretentious way as possible. I’ll be illustrating his thoughts with adverts and slightly tongue-in-cheek ‘reaction GIFs’ as a nod towards shallow populist accessibility belying my evil plan to get some deep shit into advertising. If you have read my first post and want to cut to the good stuff, then please sigh deeply for those who haven’t and click the links below/skip the next two paragraphs:

Part I – Discrimination, Choice and Geeky Brands

Part II – Accumulation and Completion

Sigh

Baudrillard is a Freudo-Marxist philosopher who also wrote about advertising. Baudrillard made me want to be an account planner. Marxist philosophers often focus on the exploitation of those who manufactured products that their bosses would then sell on at profit. Baudrillard was one of the first Marxist philosophers to realise the importance of consumer behaviour in our Capitalist system. Baudrillard’s work can be interpreted, as I have done, as a defence of consumer-orientated, and therefore planning-orientated marketing. He wrote ‘The System of Objects’ in 1968, which just so happens to be the same year in which the first account planner roamed the earth.

For Baudrillard, objects carry symbolic meaning (that is often fabricated by advertising and branding) in order to transform our world of impersonal, cold, hard, shiny stuff and the metal, plastic and whatnot of an object’s material actuality into something with a metaphorical ‘human voice’. Objects carry symbolic meaning and ‘talk’ to us. Baudrillard writes, “you can look at an object without it looking back at you. That is why everything that cannot be invested in human relationships is invested in objects.” We invest our world and its objects with human qualities to make it more meaningful. We also help to define ourselves through objects and we do this by choosing ones that we feel we can ‘relate’ to or that ‘speak’ to us. As Stephen King puts it in ‘What is a Brand?’ we “value brands for who they are as much as for what they do.” Right, now you are pretty much up to speed.

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Collections, like brands, are about meaning, not function.

Baudrillard wrote that “Every object has two functions – to be put to use and to be possessed… These two functions stand in inverse ratio to each other.” Baudrillard adds that when objects are put into a collection they are taken out of use. This is why a toy car collector doesn’t dare take his treasures out of their original boxes. A collected toy car’s value is not in its use as a plaything, but rather in what it means to the collector, subjectively, as part of his collection. “An object no longer specified by its function is defined by the subject,” Baudrillard writes.

Brands have absolutely no practical function. Although the products they are associated with may be useful, this often isn’t why consumers will choose, say, Colgate over Aquafresh. Brands are purely there to add meaning to something we use so that we desire to possess it. I rarely look at what brand of milk I use in the morning. When its on the supermarket shelf, however, its brand suddenly seems a bit (and only a bit) more important.

When the milk sits on the supermarket shelf, it isn’t in use. That milk isn’t milk until you drink it. In the supermarket we aren’t really thinking about what it might taste like. We are thinking in a very abstract way when we consider whether to buy it. We might try and be practical and think about how much milk is there compared to its sell-by-date. We most definitely consider it’s price. Just before you grab it you might be thinking, “Is this milk organic, is this milk British, is this milk’s brand ethical?” or “I should probably buy red top milk because I am on a diet” or “I liked this last time.” This sentiment is summed up by Michael McIntyre below:

This is amplified when we buy cars, clothes or things that are evidently displayed to others: “How do people perceive this item? Is that perception something I want to associate with myself through associating myself with this brand?” Practical aspects tend to take a bit of a backseat when we buy things, simply because we aren’t using them when we buy them.

The stuff you can touch and use resides in the objective realm. Branding belongs in an abstract realm of woolly things like ‘meaning’, ‘values’ and ‘concepts’. This abstract realm is where subjectivity resides, and this is what collecting and branding is all about: making concrete objects abstractly and subjectively meaningful.

Part I – Essentialism: Gender as a Science

Elusive 'Insights'

Feminist essentialism’s mantra is “equal but different.” This is a lovely sentiment that masks a nasty contradiction.

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Essentialism is the argument that women are, well, essentially different to men. Women can attribute differences in their DNA, how their brains are wired or how their bodies (hormones and the like) function to being better at multi-tasking, languages, looking after children or being empathetic.

Essentialism calls upon science to testify on debates such as “why are there no top female creatives?” or “why are there fewer women in boardrooms?” It also gets dragged out in equal force to explain the “DOW Jane effect,” (Which JWT’s Rachel Pashley discussed, but not in an essentialist feminist way) or why there are more female nurses.

My gut tells me yes, of course women are fundamentally different to men. I know that I can’t lift the same weights as men in the gym, so why should this muscular, bodily difference not also manifest itself in how our brains are composed and therefore how we think?

Jane Cunningham, who co-wrote the (hopefully deliberately) patronisingly titled “Insider Her Pretty Little Head” with Philippa Roberts as “A New Theory of Female Motivation and What it Means for Marketing,” spoke first at the APG. Cunningham very much falls within the old school essentialist feminist mindset. Here’s my subtext to her book’s first chapter “The Science Bit” – no doubt a title chosen to evoke those shampoo ads that encourage women to ‘concentrate’ for the ‘difficult science bit’.

“Given the controversial nature of any work that aims to look at the differences between men and women, it seems to us that the best departure point is the terra firma of scientific discovery and empirical evidence.”

Cue heavy-weight forefather of post-modernism, Nietzsche, in The Gay Science:

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(Grow a Fabulous Moustache + Focus on Sitting Very, Very Still because of the Long Exposure Required of Early Camera Film = Generic 19th Century Philosopher Pose 1)

“We see that science also rests on a faith. The question whether truth is needed must not only have been affirmed in advance, but affirmed to such a degree that the principle, the faith, the conviction finds expression: ‘Nothing is needed more than truth.'”

“Thus the question “Why science” leads back to the moral problem: Why have morality at all when life, nature and history are “not moral”? Those who are truthful in the ultimate sense that is presupposed by the faith in science thus affirm another world than the world of life, nature, and history; and insofar as they affirm this “other world” – must they not by that same token negate this world, our world?”

Put simply, (Nietzsche is notoriously difficult to understand, along with Kant)

1. Science is a quest for first principles driven on a faith that first principles exist.

2. Faith in science presupposes that it will reveal truths that will, and can, solve anything and everything.

3. Science is undertaken under the conviction that there is a truth to be found and thus runs the risk of affirming whatever premise by which the research was initially undertaken. The answers you get will depend upon the questions you ask.

4. In making scientific truth your moral compass, you might have to disengage from our world that does not exactly follow scientific truth.

It will come to no surprise that Cunningham feels it appropriate to isolate her argument from “the swirling storm of gender study or political opinion.” To me it seems strange to write a book about marketing to women that shuns the political, socio-economic context in which women and marketing operate. Objectivity and practicality are great thing to aim for, but they do simplify things somewhat. This is the practical guide that Cunningham gives us that she has distilled from “the neutral foundation of science.”

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Despite being a woman and what she would call an ’empathiser’, Cunningham speaks in the language of male ‘systematisers.’ She is using the focused, linear, logical and “unbiased and measured voice of science” to give us a practical, actionable guide to marketing to women. Her table systemises.

In the Q&A session a lady posed a question along the lines of “how do I get male creatives to be more empathetic when working on a marketing brief aimed at women?” Her answer was to ‘speak in the systematising language of men’. Cunningham advised that women undergo coaching to think more like men in order to communicate better with them. Er, what? Her suggestion that women bend to ‘male ways of thinking’ in order to be heard sat uneasily with me.

Essentialism it isn’t an argument that is seen to promote change. It goes back to foundations in order to legitimise stereotypes that have been built upon them. When you call upon science or ‘fundamentals’ to circumscribe and define differences you end up naturalising them. All women are great multi-taskers because of their brain chemistry (I, for one, am terrible at multi-tasking) or all women are emotional because of their hormones (my Dad definitely cries more than my Mum).

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(Infographic courtesy of JWT’s ‘Brands and the Modern Male’)

‘Proof’ of differences leads to ‘proof’ of how these differences make us unequal in different situations. Science, in the wrong hands, could legitimise why men earn more than women. If science proves that all women are emotional then arguably they really do have no place in a boardroom where they will be required to make more rational decisions – unless, of course, they learn to think like men. If men are really hardwired to ‘spread their seed’ then we should keep sexually provocative women in adverts to pander to this impulse.

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“There are no facts, only interpretations.” – Nietzsche

You can twist scientific data to make it say a lot of different things. The views of the person or people twisting the data are sometimes more important than the experiment itself. If science proves all women are emotional, then how have they defined ’emotion’ and how do they know that what they are measuring is in fact a measurement of emotion? Karl Popper wrote “Observations are always interpretations of the facts observed. They are interpretations in light of theories.” There will, of course, be a post on Art vs Science coming soon.

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“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” – Simone de Beauvoir – The Second Sex

I know that I don’t exist in a vacuum. There’s nature and there’s nurture. Nature may well be the starting point, but we are sentient beings endowed with self-consciousness (and opposable thumbs, yippee) that we use to determine what our aspirations are and how to go about obtaining them.

If it were really all down to nature wouldn’t all women be the same? If this were the case then either all women would feel alienated by one advert, or none at all. If marketing to women was equatable to a science and built on fundamental principles we would now have a tried-and-tested formula that we are all happy with. We were gathered at the APG precisely because many women are not happy with these formulas.

The essentialist/scientific argument is often labelled ‘regressive’ by feminist writers. Later feminist theorists might say something like, ‘Science is a phallo-centric discourse that serves to uphold the hegemony of men in our society.’ A deeply contentious statement, but there are two words that ring out from it: ‘phallo-centric’ and ‘hegemony.’

Part II – Patriarchy: It’s a Man’s World, and The Shoe doesn’t Fit The Other Foot

Part III – Relativism: “Speaking as a Woman from a Strategic Point of View”

Part II – Patriarchy: It’s a Man’s World, and the Shoe Doesn’t Fit the Other Foot

Elusive 'Insights'

“One is not born a genius, one becomes a genius; and the feminine situation has up to the present rendered this becoming practically impossible.” – Simone de Beauvoir – The Second Sex

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(Sit at a desk messy enough for an ‘inspired genius’ + pretend you can’t see the camera from all the books you are engrossed in = Generic Philosopher Pose 4)

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“I didn’t fight to get women out from behind vacuum cleaners to get them onto the board of Hoover.” – Germaine Greer

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(Unconventional Philosopher Pose 1)

Germaine Greer’s project has always been ‘women’s liberation.’ Greer is a fully-fledged, bra-burning, hairy, male-bashing, ’70s feminist. She’s had a lot of bad press and she’s given feminism a lot of bad press. Greer thinks women should side-step patriarchy and define their own value system. Women shouldn’t feel the need to compete on fair terms with men at men’s game. This is why she isn’t particularly impressed with women in boardrooms. Women should invent their own game, write their own rulebook, then tell men to fuck off if they want to join in. If women were really free, she argues, we might not even have hoovers.

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JWT’s Rachel Pashley expressed her annoyance that women were forever characterised by their responsibilities rather than their aspirations and achievements. Updating how Adland thinks about segmenting the female market is obviously the crux of the issue being discussed. Obviously our current categorisations are somewhat limiting: All women over fifty = beige-fleece-wearing grannies. All 20-50 year old women = (desperate single working careerists) or (coupled up with sprogs). Segmenting women by what they aspire to be, is obviously a great suggestion.

Pashley was irritated that women seem forever condemned to be portrayed as a passive presence in popular culture – the one who hands the gung-ho Brit Villain wannabe his Jaguar car keys. Why are these the role models that women give themselves? These passive, submissive portrayals of femininity should be banished from films. It’s time for the Katniss Everdeens of this world to step forward. I cannot help but wonder if she had read Laura Mulvey’s argument in Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.

“In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split
between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its phantasy on to the female form which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness. Woman displayed as sexual object is the leit-motif of erotic spectacle: from pin-ups to striptease, from Ziegfeld to Busby Berkeley, she holds the look, plays to and signifies male desire.” – Laura Mulvey

Greer would have had mixed feelings about Pashley’s address. On the one hand Greer might agree that we should be selfish as women, to fight the good fight to get where we want to be. On the other Greer would have read Pashley’s ‘female tribes,’ – women categorised according to their aspirations and achievements – to  inadvertently show how patriarchy is actually being upheld by women everywhere. Women are not being liberated in the sense that Greer would have wanted.

“The Dow Jane Effect” is Pashley’s term for how women have become an economic force to be reckoned with. Female consumption represents $12 trillion of the $18.4 trillion global consumer spend. The top 77 global brands all have women in the boardroom. Greater financial rewards are to be had in companies with proportionally more Women board directors – something that was particularly prevalent in Russia.

Oh, and by the way, Russian businesswomen look fantastic in boardrooms.

One cannot help but wonder whether women getting to the top of a man’s game, and, looking great as they do so, is something that all women are that interested in doing. Pashley’s female tribes did include the likes of ‘The Tiger Mother’ – a woman obsessed with obtaining the highest educational standards for her children, or, ‘The Modern Courtesan’ who is typified by the WAG and uses sexual or social engagement as a means of earning her crust. For some reason there seemed to be a male presence lurking uneasily, casting a shadow over women’s achievements.

Aren’t women putting undue pressure on each other in a competitive environment that isn’t even of our own making? Could many of these aspirations not actually be set by women at all? Are women trying to fit into a persistent and well-disguised underlying patriarchal order? Does advertising uphold that order? Does it hell. Advertising invented that order. Greer would probably love to slap all of us.

SLAP

“The present enshrines the past—and in the past all history has been made by men” – Simone de Beauvoir – The Second Sex

It was the men in Gillette’s boardroom in 1915 that decided that women’s underarm hair was ‘objectionable.’ The ‘women’s problems’ (and more increasingly men’s) that surround female care brands are so numerous and complex that I have decided to give Kate Smither’s discussion of Dove its own post (coming soon.)

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“Yet if a woman never lets herself go, how will she ever know how far she might have got? If she never takes off her high-heeled shoes, how will she ever know how far she could walk or how fast she could run?” – Germaine Greer

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Pashley’s female tribes evoked something primordial and neanderthal about MANkind that women were trying to shoe-horn themselves into. The stilettos women are shoehorning themselves into, Greer would argue, are simultaneously symbols of female oppression and female empowerment. Pashley’s approach is the practical and feasible response to the question at hand, Greer’s is idealist and arguably unattainable.

Part I – Essentialism: Gender as a Science

For some reason the link to Part I is a little dodgy, click here instead https://planosophy.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/essentialism-gender-as-a-science/

Part III – Relativism: “Speaking as a Woman from a Strategic Point of View”

A Ping Pong Match between Text and Image: Semiotics, Magritte and Why Creatives come in Pairs.

First Principles

“Between words and objects one can create new relations and specify characteristics of language and objects generally ignored in everyday life” – Magritte

Rene Magritte Portrait

Rene Magritte was a Belgian Surrealist. Surrealism was a Freudo-Marxist art historical movement of the twentieth century that sought to explain how our imagination can help us escape from an all-consuming (by which I mean consuming us as we consume the world) Capitalist system. Surrealism ran into problems when the likes of Salvador Dalí (a.k.a Avida Dollars, as the movement’s leader, André Breton less than fondly dubbed him) started flouting the Marxist political emphasis of the movement by making ‘Surrealist’ window displays for Bonwit Teller and expensive jewellery. Soon Dalí provided the front cover of that not-exactly-Marxist magazine, Vogue. 

Dali's 'The Persistence f Memory' used for cover of Vogue 1939

If you have read my other post on Baudrillard and the question of Freudo-Marxism and consumer-orientated Capitalism, you could well see how Dalí had managed to flip Marxism into Capitalism via Surrealism’s interest in psychoanalysis and dreams. Surrealism, to make a sweeping generalisation, was born out of the idea that imagination is what sets us free from our worldly humdrum existence. Tickling the consumer’s imagination, as well as helping to humanise brands and objects by giving them meaning and personality, are, for me, two principle components of advertising.

For me, imagination is ‘creativity’ – that horrible word that gets brandished around ‘creative’ agencies. I humbly suggest we all start thinking of ‘creatives’ as being imaginative and avoid that mythical, over-used word that has become so difficult to hear in any sentence that starts with a pronoun. It would be nice if ‘imagination’ was separated from the word ‘spark’, but hey, I’m probably just being a bit grumpy.

 

Rene Magritte always described himself as a philosopher who paints. There’s a reason why he painted rather than wrote (like any normal philosopher) and there is a reason why he is a philosopher rather than just a painter. This philosophical painting is why:

The Treachery of Images - Magritte

This work is possibly the philosopher/artist’s most famous. Conceived in 1928-9, it encapsulates a whole branch of philosophy, semiotics, in one image. For those of you who don’t read French, this picture of a pipe boldly proclaims that ‘This is not a pipe.’

Well, what the fuck is it then?

WTF

It’s a riddle. It’s asking: “Do you believe the image or the text more? Is it a pipe, like the image suggests, or is it, as the text tells us, ‘not a pipe’?”

A clue to help you answer the above questions can be found in the work’s title: ‘The Treachery of Images’ 1928-9

Foucault

 

(Place Hand on Chin + Stare Broodingly into Camera = Generic Philosopher Pose 2)

Foucault wrote in a one-hundred page book that there are actually numerous ways in which this painting tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth even though it initially seems to be telling one big fat porky. As is the case with most philosophers, he probably could have explained himself in a page. Here are a few of those ways:

Foucault this is not a pipe

The words spelling out ‘This is not a pipe’ are not a pipe. They are squiggles of black paint that happen to suggest to us the idea of a pipe.

The illustration of a pipe is not a pipe. It’s just squiggles of brown, black, yellow and white paint that happen to suggest to us the idea of a pipe.

The whole canvas is not a pipe. (OK, fine, it could be if you were sad enough to fashion a smokable pipe out of the image/canvas – I have trawled the internet and am shocked to have not found some deeply witty [saddo] individual smugly puffing away at such a contraption.)

Foucault not a pipe

Of course it’s not a pipe. You can’t pick it up and smoke it. It’s a representation of a pipe. In fact, it’s two representations of a pipe, one verbal (in the painted word ‘pipe’) and one pictorial. Even the two representations together do not constitute a pipe. It would be deceitful to suggest that the word and image were really a pipe. So why were we so hell-bent on the idea of there being a pipe there in the first place? And why did we immediately think the words were lying? Why did we then think, OK yes the words are right, it’s ‘not a pipe,’ but what the hell is the image then?

Unimaginative people would have got bored fairly soon of being stuck in the mental loop of being presented with a picture of a pipe, then being told that this isn’t true and the picture isn’t a pipe at all. They would have simply labelled it a ‘contradiction’, the artist a ‘facetious pretentious arse’ and moved on with their prosaic little lives.

A planner’s job is to try and rationalise something as irrational and nebulous as ‘creative’ thought for the more rational mind. This is why we are called the left-side of the creative brain. Planners also inject briefs and brainstorms with some creative fodder that transform otherwise dry stats about engagement KPIs and the competitive market place. Planners might put some weights on the bar in order to get people to flex their imaginative muscles.  This is why we might also be called the right-side of the logical, sequential and analytical mind. 

This image is interesting for planners as it helps to explain a way in which imagination can work. A typical Suit will have not seen this image as an opportunity for lateral thought. They may have thought to paint over the ‘n’ pas’ in order to resolve the contradiction and thus apparent problem. A ‘creative’ team, by contrast, together would never have dismissed the possibility of both the word and image being true. One would perhaps have believed that the image held greater truth (likely the Art Director), the other the text (the Copywriter) but they would have found a way to reach an agreement. When a creative team is presented with a contradiction, they use their imagination together to try and resolve it. This is why, I think, a planner might present a business problem to the creative team as a simple tension or contradiction.

Planners will circumscribe the box that the ‘creative’ team need to think out side of. Planners have to think a bit like Magritte.

Think out side the box

 

This is an imaginary conversation that a copywriter and art director could have had about Magritte’s painting:

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Copywriter: “Dur, of course its not a pipe.” *thinks of other meanings of the word pipe* “I mean, a plumber wouldn’t be able to use that to fix a sink.”

Art Director: “Well yeah, precisely. I mean, it could be something else entirely.” *Other similarly shaped objects crop up in their mind’s eye* “To be fair though, that wouldn’t make a great sound if you blew down it. Its definitely not a musical pipe.”

Copywriter: “I get you on that. Well, what is a pipe then?” *Thinks of ways of writing down what a pipe actually is or does*

Art Director: *hastily sketches various tubular objects* “Well, I suppose pipes all look a bit like this.”

Copywriter: “Yeah, I suppose, it’s more like a ‘tubular vessel’.” *types in ‘pipe’ into dictionary.com* “Yeah, see.” *Swivels laptop to face Art Director.*

Art Director: “Yeah, but it could also be any one of these things.” *points at his own google image search results.*

Copywriter: “Yeah, maybe its like a metaphor for what a pipe stands for, because now that I look at it, it really doesn’t look much like a pipe.”

Art Director: “If you turn it on it’s side it looks more like a backwards seven.”

And bingo. The ping pong match between text and image has started, and already the two have branched out by imagining all the possible scenarios that could solve the contradiction inherent in the image. On the one side the copywriter is racking his brain to find a way to conclusively define the pipe, on the other the Art Director is trying to draw what a pipe is, in its most essential visual form. A winding thought process ensues along which they generate and throw out ideas as they crane their heads and minds to see it from a different point of view and more importantly, from each other’s point of view.

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“We never see but one side of things. It’s precisely this other side that I’m trying to express.” – Magritte

 

I see creative teams, particularly working in print, as using text and image to create works that can be arranged along a spectrum of how much they want the viewer to ‘join the dots’ versus ‘tell’ the viewer something specific. When the team want to convey something more abstract, like with Lego and the concept of imagination (appropriately for this post), they will mis-match text and image in order to generate an imaginatively fertile advertisement for the viewer. Abstract concepts, like imagination, exist only in the imagination.

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The more the text and image agree with each other, the less the viewer has room for manoeuvre with respect to their own imaginative input. Less abstract concepts tend to be advertised like this.

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Like a calligram, this Ronseal ad is tautological. The advert’s function is one of de-mystification, practicality and conveying simple information. ‘It does what it says on the tin.’ There can be no mistake what this image means. There is no room for imagination here.

Semiotics is the study of how we generate meaning. It’s concerned with how words and images are merely approximations of what we experience in the real, tangible world. Words and images are nothing but a code by which we can communicate to other people who know the same code. We use this code to approximate something more real and abstract, or real and tangible that exists either in our minds (as concepts) or in our experience of the world (and experience of things). Both our thoughts and our world are real, but words and images are not. They merely allow us to re-present reality in a way that others can understand by means of a shared code. Reality is ‘present’ and words and images are ‘representations’ of what was once ‘present.’ Words and images point to reality. They are not reality. When both words and images point to the same bit of reality, we are less likely to be mistaken as to what that reality is.

Ron Weasley woah

For example, if a law was passed proclaiming that all washing machines should be called ‘enicham gishnaws’ the real-world object and concepts associated with it wouldn’t change. Just because a dog in French is a chien, doesn’t mean that the English concept of a dog is any different to the French’s. If I went around telling everyone that a hoover is no longer called a hoover, it’s called a Dyson, this won’t change the concept of what a hoover is for anyone. It might change how people refer to it. We can give objects different names, or even change their design entirely, because essentially words and what things look like are not real in comparison to the concepts that we relate to them and our experience of their material existence. 

This is what Magritte explored. He realised that words are essentially meaningless and that images are deceptive too. Meaning only exists in the spaces between words and images, because imagination/concepts, for Magritte, where more real/true than anything else. Thus it makes sense as to why Magritte is both a philosopher (in using words) and a painter (in using images).

I managed to drag my long-suffering boyfriend to a university lecture on Magritte and all he said afterwards was “I can’t believe you are learning about somebody who doesn’t know any basic nouns.” He was joking (he loves state-the-obvious-jokes; his favourite is ‘why are giraffe’s necks so long? because their heads are so far away from their bodies’). My boyfriend had this work in mind:

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Imaginative people can genuinely cite a ‘coherent,’ nay even ‘logical’ reason why Magritte labelled a leaf ‘the table’ or a penknife ‘the bird.’ Creatives see more when they look at shapes in the clouds, they hear puns when people talk. They can draw lateral lines between things that seem entirely unrelated, sometimes including each other’s thoughts.

Thus, when I first started in the industry I remember not batting an eyelid when I was told that creative teams come in pairs. I consequently found it strange that a Suit, on encountering the creative department’s peculiar Noah’s arc arrangement for the first time, called it “creepy” and “unnecessary.” Fuck knows how he’d managed to be in the marketing game for three years before coming across this. It was probably born from the attitude that can be found in a lot of agencies and that was summed up by a former colleague in the pub one time after work: “I think it would be cheaper if we didn’t have a creative team all together – we [us suits] are all creative and can come up with the ideas ourselves, together.”

gawp

Let me just say here that I have utter respect for this particular colleague. This colleague is fucking brilliant at what they do. There is no way that I could do her job. As anybody who has worked with me will testify, I would make a terrible Suit. But, at the time, I stood gawping at my colleague, incredulous. Is it not a little arrogant to suggest Suits are as ‘creative’ as the agency’s award winning creative pairings? I don’t think I have ever heard a ‘creative’ moaning that they could draw up a better spreadsheet or handle a difficult client better than a Suit. Is it not illogical to suggest that a ‘creative’ agency be filled with Suits and Suits only (many of these types of agencies don’t rate planning as a discipline either)? The bowler hats in Magritte’s most famous paintings represent the antithesis of imagination: conformity.

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In my mind’s TV screen I imagined striker Ronaldo picking up the goalie gloves, and, in an attempt to be the hero, he tried and failed to save the deciding shot of a World Cup final penalty shoot out with his feet. I’m sorry to piss on anybody’s parade – but we aren’t all ‘creative’, and some people are definitely more ‘creative’ than others. It’s about using a different part of your brain and interacting with the world in a completely different way. It’s like playing football with your hands rather than your feet.

Emerging from my dumbstruckness, I attempted to reason why creative teams are essential to an agency, but my speech was slightly slurred and my brain was as agile as my one-eyed geriatric arthritic ginger tom cat by that point in the evening. What I was trying to say in my drunken stupor is that I can see why agencies want to work in this way. It’s a way of working born from the golden-hearted democratic principle – ‘together.’ I have a deep respect for the kinds of agencies whose whole philosophies are born from the beautiful principles of democracy and equality. As democracy gives everyone the chance to give what they have to give, great ideas can come from anywhere in such an agency. Democracy is hard to get right, however.

Thus, it was the word that preceded it, ‘ourselves’, that concerned me. This word preceding ‘together’ belies some fundamental human impulses that fight against the noble democratic principles at play. Human beings are hardwired with Neanderthal impulses: to instil a pecking order, to be competitive, to be self-centered. We derive a sense of self, or ego, from understanding one’s position within a hierarchy. Teams are inadvertently plagued with hierarchy. Read Lord of The Flies if you disagree. Hierarchy or ‘teamwork at all costs’ is creatively stifling. Sabotage, put-downs and one-up-manship can plague brainstorms, as we all know. Sucking up to people higher up the chain, or appeasing people to look like ‘the nice guy’ always leads to ‘group think’. ‘Teamwork’ in our often embarrassingly corporate world can mean a room full of non-autonomous thinkers saying “I don’t know. What do you think?” To quote ‘creative’ Hugh Macleod (who wrote ‘Ignore everybody’) “Team players are not very good at creating values of their own” – they need the team’s constant reassurance to survive.

We all rationally know that, in theory, (to quote Neil Hourston from The Corner) “no one of us is as effective as all of us.” You will see on any agency’s website under their ‘culture’ or ‘about us’ tab words to the effect of: “we have an open collaborative environment that allows each of the diverse voices in a room to be heard.”

A little thing economists call ‘Division of Labour’ is what has carried human progress since the Industrial revolution. I am not advocating rigidity, as that too is stifling, but there is something to be said for not invading the ‘creatives’ territory. ‘Creatives’ simply think differently to Suits, and consequently, when they do their bit we must trust that they are doing it right. Democracy also works on trust. Each person in a creative problem-solving situation needs to be comfortable with knowing where their strengths lie relative to those of the rest of the team. This way they can pipe up (no pun intended) when they want to *gasp* disagree with whatever the person with the most inflated job title is saying or have the courage to be in the minority with a certain view.

Suits (although there are exceptions and frustrated creative-suits, my aforementioned colleague is probably one of them) think in rational, sequential, straight lines that join problem to solution. Creatives see squiggly routes from A to B, associations, combinations and the like where most people cannot see any.

Creatives are more than just lateral. They intuitively grasp how imagination exists in the gaps between things and comes from the right chemistry between people. Creative problem solving is not about striking bargains, assigning tasks, ‘feedback’ or getting shit done: It’s about banter, carelessness, freedom and often a lack of sense of purpose that allows people to meander sideways.

Creatives aren’t in a hierarchy either when there’s only two of them. They don’t work in a team, really, they work ‘together.’ They seem to evade the office politics which can be so very toxic for creativity.

Therefore it is what exists ‘between’ the copywriter and art director, however, that Magritte’s peculiar text and image paintings show to be important. Creatives intuitively understand the nuances of being creative together. They understand the ping-pong game of imagination and the optimal conditions for a good game: a friendship of mutual respect.