A simple doctor’s office video of an 8-month old baby, born deaf, experiencing hearing for the first time has captured millions of people’s hearts, including mine. When I shared it on Facebook it quickly amassed “likes” and comments well beyond the usual. I’m not surprised. Content like this is tailor made for social media and vice versa. Small but genuine miracles such as these fit perfectly on tablets, laptops and cell phones. Right there with talking dogs, pepper-sprayed protesters and passed-out celebrities. Save for one big difference: a total lack of sensationalism.

Yes, there’s drama. Upon hearing his mother coo, little Jonathon turns to face her, losing his pacifier at the very moment he gains his hearing. Good stuff, but it’s highly mundane, in that nothing unexpected or undesired occurs in the video. There are no props. The remarkable technology responsible for baby Jonathon’s hearing remains unseen. And still it’s riveting.

There are lessons here for everyone, especially marketers obsessed with You Tube views and grabbing attention. First, those of us who criticize social media as vulgar conduit or dehumanizing would be hard-pressed to find fault here. The human condition has been validated, spiritually and scientifically. All that is right in our modern world is on display. Second, the subjects of the video are deserving of attention -and not because they are unlike us but rather because they are just like us. Good people receiving great gifts. Happiness. It’s nice to know there can be awe without shock. Are you listening, Adland?

This is not to say the video’s execution is without artistry. Albeit unintentional there is profundity in the shot’s composition. Not to sound like an art-history professor, but the three principals (mom, baby and the doctor) evoke the iconic imagery of countless religious paintings, frescoes and murals: that of Madonna and Child surrounded by angels. Whether one is Christian or not, we are moved by this trinity.


Mother & Child, captivating imagery since Day 1

While the Internet and its social offspring have changed our world immeasurably, and not always for the better, this small recording and countless others like it, restore my belief in the human condition online and off.


Digital gone to far (image from Videodrome)

Every time I hear marketing people use the word “digital,” and indeed I use it myself, I keep going back to something Rishad Tobaccowala wrote in his excellent essay, Four Thoughts on the Future of Advertising: “The world might be digital but people are analog.”

He gives plenty of texture around the comment (how agencies overcompensate for various deficiencies by stressing digital, etc.) but one can take the comment at face value and still glean plenty, especially in the wake of Steve Jobs’ recent passing.

From day one, Jobs understood how much technology depended on the human touch, figuratively and literally. And that if there were a one-word catchall it wouldn’t be “digital” but rather “design.” And design, Jobs said, was not merely how good something looked but how well it worked.

To him (and for us), Digital was more than just tools but extensions of our limbs and imaginations. Not hardware and software. Lifeware. Sight, feel and now voice are the operating principles that drive Apple. Not “technology solutions,” a phrase, like the word digital, that couldn’t sound more inhuman if it tried.


Jobs introduces iPad. More than hardware and software…
Lifeware!

Oh, the irony! For the last decade or longer we marketing geniuses have gone great guns trying to bolster our digital creds, doing everything in our power to look savvy, often at the expense of working savvy. We learned the hard way that flashy microsites were likely meaningless to our client’s businesses. That hundreds of thousands of views on You Tube often meant winning a popularity contest without any prize. That brands aren’t social just because they’re on Facebook and Twitter. And so on…

The costs have been tremendous. To us and to our clients. But make no mistake clients are as culpable as we are. The clamoring for digital came from all corners. I’d argue that social media (another tetchy term) has exploded the myth of digital, reminding us Tweet by Tweet that people are and always will be living, breathing, human beings; in other words: analog.

However painful the learning curve, for Adland this is good news. Agencies are at their best when we put ideas before clients and, dare I say, technology.

Been seeing some new creative for Wheat Thins (Nabisco/Kraft), done by The Escape Pod in Chicago. (Full disclosure: I’m a fan of Vinny Warren and his agency and Lord knows I’ve done my share of work for Kraft.) From an execution standpoint, the commercials are variations on one of advertising’s oldest formulas, the man-on-the-street. Heck, Candid Camera did stuff like this in the fifties. But seen through the prism of social media, the old saw has new teeth, making the campaign fun and timely. The work also supports my view that modern “social” advertising is quite a bit more old-fashioned and promotional than the So-Me gurus like to think.

The concept? Wheat Thins monitors Twitter for dubious comments regarding the cracker –or is it a snack? When they find one that suits their agenda, Wheat Thins sets out in a branded van, locates the Tweeter, confronts him or her on camera, and after a bit of repartee, rewards the surprised person with boxes of product. It’s done to look on the fly (shaky camera, video as opposed to film) and for all I know it is. The commercials aren’t in themselves remarkable. But by monitoring and reacting to a twitter feed, the brand makes a contemporary statement.

The other cool thing about this work is the copy comes from the consumer, in the form of real tweets. For example, one called-out tweet challenges the campaign’s integrity, calling it “uber-fake.” The brand team shows up: “Am I uber fake? Does that pallet of Wheat Thins look uber fake?” By capitalizing on uber reality the brand seems relevant and fresh -good things if you’re a snack.

For more on this campaign, an article from the New York Times.

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