Our Thoughts…

Heart-warming vs. Eye-rolling: What makes a commercial sentimental (not cheesy)?

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The best (and worst) in sweet and sentimental video

What one person may find cute, another may consider a completely repulsive pile of overly rich cheese. You can’t please everyone — this is indisputable.

But is there an objective line between cute and cutesy, between sentimental and cheesy? Is there a universal formula that can appeal to the largest potential audience and make even the most cold-hearted go “aww?”

What’s the secret? What makes a commercial sentimental enough to warm the coldest hearts without driving them away? Is it cute kids? Puppies? While both are great, we think it’s more simple than that.

Really, it’s all about sincerity.

A truly sincere ad can engage the audience in the lives of characters who are only around for a minute or less. We’ve already mentioned our favourite Christmas commercials, those of UK retailer John Lewis. In 2013, John Lewis’s annual Christmas commercial managed to captivate its audience with characters who are not only animated, but they’re not even human.

But what about ads that just seem disingenuous? This Toyota commercial clearly went for cute and, quite frankly, failed.

The dialogue between the parents and the receptionist is completely unnatural (why would the customer be saying to the employee, “Toyotas are safe and reliable!” and not the other way around?) and the kid takes wide-eyed eagerness to a whole new level. The extra-sweet vanilla ice cream on top of the cheesy apple pie is the receptionist’s last line — “Well, I didn’t win!” and her carefree guffaw. “Hah hah! I can’t spell!”

Writing “cute” can be a daunting task, but it all boils down to one thing: you have to believe it yourself. If you can’t even bring a smile to your own face, what makes you think it will have that effect on others?

Here’s a commercial we think walks along that line — the second in Cheerios’s “Gracie” series depicting a modern family with an adorable biracial daughter, Gracie.

In this, Gracie’s father explains that Gracie is soon to become a big sister. The dialogue is heartwarming, but not to an unrealistic degree (it helps that it’s well-acted). The music might help to lay the sweetness on a little thick, but overall, you have a cute little family scene that leaves you smiling. What do you think of “Gracie?” Too much sugar, or just right?

It may seem like a silly thing to ponder over, but sweetness is an art. Much like a baker attempting to achieve the perfect balance of tastes in a dish, it’s a meticulous process that is too important to be overlooked. The end result is clear: when you’re too cute, you become transparent, reminding your audience that they’re watching a work of fiction.

When you get it just right, you pull an audience in and make them feel like they’re a part of the experience on-screen. Make no mistake, no matter how short the video is, paying attention to this sort of thing is important. So if it doesn’t touch your own heart, why bother?

Kill the radio star: Five music acts who do video right

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Our favourite music and video double-threats

When it comes to finding fame, artists have to expect that their natural talent will not be enough. We wanted to highlight artists who do video right by using their videos to think outside of the box and grab our attention. What can others learn from these artists? Why should anyone care? Because they prove two things: one, that you can’t just do things for the sake of doing them — you have to do them intelligently. These aren’t just videos, they’re messages.

Two is that you should never settle for being one-dimensional. Being a singer is about more than just singing, just like being a chef is about more than just cooking. It doesn’t always have to be through video, but mastering some sort of other medium to ensure people know your name is usually the difference between you and total irrelevance.

What do you think? Did we get it right? Which artist do you think really made waves through video?

5. Weird Al Yankovic

Weird Al Yankovic

In an age where just about anyone with a sense of pitch and a camera on their phone can become a parody artist, the family-friendly yet always-biting Weird Al still manages to grab the spotlight whenever he makes a comeback. For his most recent effort, taking a queue from Beyoncé and releasing his songs with simultaneous videos, Weird Al chose a video-a-day format, proving that it’s actually possible to make the premier of a parody song an event to discuss around the water cooler.

4. Walk Off the Earth

Walk Off the Earth

Over a span of 18 months, Burlington surf-rockers Walk off the Earth went from a duo playing tiny college-town gigs to viral sensations. Their first creative cover was Gianni’s impressive loop cover of Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie,” and as the videos kept coming, the following grew. It was, of course, the infamous five-people-one-guitar cover of Gotye’s “Somebody I Used to Know” which that resulted in an appearance on The Ellen Show, millions of views and a record deal. Since then, WOTE hasn’t had to work so hard to prove their talents, but they continue to take to YouTube on a regular basis to bring their quirky takes on popular songs, often including other emerging artists. Way to pay it forward, WOTE.

3. OK Go


Pop-rock band OK Go had been together for nearly a decade prior to the release of their Grammy-award winning “treadmill dance” video for “Here it Goes Again.” Only after that did the band truly hit the mainstream. They’ve continued to catch attention for their (often) low-budget videos, and have even managed to grab brand partnerships as a result (Samsung, Google and Ford being just a few). Here’s our personal favourite, one of their more high-concept efforts, “This Too Shall Pass.”

(And to follow up a question we asked on an earlier post featuring the video, there actually is one small edit in the video, though the machine did run successfully multiple times).

2. Beyoncé


If she was a star before, her self-titled 2013 album promoted her to the title of icon. Beyoncé is an impossible-to-ignore example of how the marketing is just as important as the content. What grabbed the most headlines had nothing to do with Yonce’s more experimental, rough sound but rather the achievement of recording an album in secret and releasing it with no promotion as well as her visual accompaniment to the tracks and the way she used video to enhance the various themes in her music.

1. Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson was one of the first artists to truly make the music videos an art in their own right. The King of Pop’s videos made popular the idea of music videos with narrative, outside actors and elaborate art direction. Short films such as “Beat It” helped bring MTV into relevance during its early days. He also used it to make waves outside of music. It’s through Jackson’s videos that he was able to make revolutions in the dance industry as well as music — why do you think so many clubgoers break out into the ubiquitous “Thriller” dance when the song comes on?

Are you a slave to your “Likes”?

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age of information

We like to think we live in the age of information – the shift that has moved our society from the industrial to the digital, knowledge-based world we face today.

And yet through this, an interesting phenomenon has broken through the shadows of this information glut.

Our ‘me’ focus (some would say this comes from the rise of individualism which started in the 1960s) mixed with the ever-present, intoxicating, addictive access to social media has made it possible to not only broadcast out on a daily, hourly, minute by minute basis, but also to reach out for feedback, interaction and validation from others.

This form of communication may appear as chat, sharing photos and family moments, sourcing the best mechanic, camera or restaurant in Paris, but it can be much more insidious than that.

Our anxiety-riddled lives crave reassurance and validation.

That’s how we know that we’re okay.

That we fit in.

And so many of these interactions take place virtually these days. They take place in an arena that offers people anonymity and a false feeling of connectedness. It’s an arena where over sharing and trolling can wreak havoc.

And more than that, it’s an arena where interacting with likeminded people on a regular basis begins to bring swirling opinions closer; inward. Supporting, encouraging and agreeing. An arena where dissenting opinions are not that welcome and often denounced.

We’re becoming people that prefer the comfort of the known, avoiding the re-evaluating associated with new information, ideas and opinions.

We prefer homogeneity to the challenge brought by contrasting or contradicting perspectives.

Are we more interested in an affirmational pat-on-the-back then being challenged? Hard to believe, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

There are a few small shifts we could make to open ourselves up to a wider world of thinking:

1. Libraries Aren’t Just For Students

The New York City Library and many Universities offer use of an archive (run by Gale) called Opposing Opinions with over 5000 social topics in the form of primary source documents, statistics, website and multi-media materials [http://on.nypl.org/iNLIhP]. Go looking for information. Staying informed can one of the healthiest solutions.

But, “who has time” you say? Let’s take a look at another simple trick (that doesn’t involve studying).

2. Embracing our Differences:

Diversity in whom we follow, friend and generally interact with is a benefit. Even though it feels like we’re swimming upstream against a social media network that works double-time to try and connect us with similar minded people – it’s a receipt for conformity.

All “like”, “thumbs up” and “favorite” buttons have no opposites – but if you seek out differing thoughts they’re there.

3. Think It Through:

The need for debate grows stronger as group-think takes hold. It’s the practice of making decisions as a group, which results in unchallenged, poor-quality decision-making. Be it on Facebook, within your local community or at the national political level, group-think never works.

Critical thinking, overcoming your fears and fighting goes a long way to alleviating the problem.

Taking a few small steps outside of your comfort zone, away from your “likes” can make a big difference.

We all have our biases and our opinions.

If this is truly the age of information then we need to be able to share our thoughts and opinions freely. To listen and learn. To discern wisely and to be mindful of other’s perspectives.

I’m just not sure we’re there yet.

Who’s Viewing What? The power-move for big data and online video advertising.

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If you’re in the online video advertising world then you know all the stats on growth, budget relocations and everyone’s take on ‘the future of…’ (so we won’t bore you with the details). A recent offering in the marketplace however, did catch our attention.

online video advertising

Backing up a bit, we all know that advertising’s been ramping up and marketers heavily rely on SAAS streaming solutions to provide detailed analytics around watch, skip, mute and retention rates (as well as the people that just plain ignoring content).

So, we’ve got to wonder why market “frenemies” like TubeMogul, BrightRoll, Innovid, SpotXchange and LiveRail would suddenly partner to create an open-sourced product like “Open Video Viewer” (Open VV)? A free open-source solution that essentially provides the same analytics as their products… For free you say?

Checking it out you’ll soon realize that it’s nothing new. It’s just now free. And while it’s touted to put control in publishers’, marketers’ and advertisers’ hands, we have to ask the big question; why? Why a free open source solution?

TubeMogul’s communications director, David Burch points out how important it is that “anyone can download and use the code. The real reason for that is pretty simple: advertisers should know what they are buying and be able to see [if] it works or we all lose — it’s a fundamental issue.” Is that the real reason for it? This sounds like a truly noble undertaking.

You have to question what’s in it for them?

Could it be the past years ramp up of big data is what’s at stake?

For decades, metrics have been collected, compared and used based on TV advertising, not only as historical perspective and benchmarks, but also as the big data behind the relationship between campaign exposure and in-store sales. As you can imagine, the ability to measure online advertising allows for scalable, repeatable methods of quantifying the effectiveness of digital material on sales (source). But now the tables have turned.

Several years ago, Amazon launched an app that allows shoppers to price-check any item by scanning, photographing, speaking or typing it into their (say) mobile device. This improves customer service, boosts competition and reduces prices, right? Let Amazon help you “find what you want”. But what of the data Amazon will gather? Locations. Shopping habits. Product preferences. Shifts of purchasing power. Big data is valuable when in the hands of an organization that can capitalize on it.

Consider the case of online travel agency Orbitz when it began to up-charge Apple users for their travel arrangements. Data-analysis showed Oribitz Apple users would be willing pay more for the same services and the company reacted in real time. I’m not a ‘big brother’ kind of guy but today’s smart business practices feel a bit intrusive don’t they?

Today, Orbitz’s practices are a small blip. We all know giants like Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Amazon are in the business of data as much as they’re in the business sectors they dominate. When it’s estimated that a retailer using big data to the fullest could increase its operating margin by more than 60% or that personal-location data could allow consumers to capture $600 billion in economic surplus, those staggering numbers are enough to make us squeamish. It raises the spectre of privacy issues, security, data ownership, information ethics, intellectual property and even liability. And isn’t it all a matter of transparency? So far, there isn’t much of that.

So back to where we started with our five big corporation/partners offering a “free” tool to a market that already has lots of tools. We all know that corporations aren’t in the business of charity. So what are they really up to? Let’s admit that what’s going on behind the curtain makes us nervous. And sometimes a good dose of skepticism is healthy.

The Certainty of Uncertainty

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Just ask around and you’ll find a general consensus that’s its getting worse. That feeling of randomness and ambiguity? We’re told that both Rockefeller and Carnegie expanded their massive holdings during recessionary times during the 1870s and its documented that Warren Buffett converted a struggling textile operation called Berkshire Hathaway into a mega-success during the 1970s recession, but it’s almost as if uncertainty is more pervasive now. With indecisive governments, precarious global markets right down to individual industries and sectors, there’s a tendency to cling to contingencies like a life-raft. No?

Of course you want to avoid impulsive, uncoordinated and, therefore, ineffective responses in favour of flexibility, awareness and resilience. You want success. But it seems that social influences have tipped the scales towards more uncertainty. Long-range visionary planning could, in fact, be wiped out by 20 mommy-bloggers over a weekend. Impenetrable divisions along party-lines in the largest economy in the world can make debt-repayment almost impossible. Who knew?

Don Pepper, co-founder of Pepper & Rogers Group in the U.S. suggests that we prepare for multiple outcomes so as not to be caught off-guard. He also advises that businesses find and rely on the predictable elements in any given situation – like, you know it’s going to rain sometime. Not banking only on the outcome, good or bad, is also recommended because there is so much value to be had in the process; the planning and execution. Of course, he mentions being agile and responding quickly to any changes and challenges. You need to be aware, listen carefully and detect the minutest ripple in order to be the most flexible.

Forbes Magazine questions whether uncertainty is today’s new bogeyman. For example, in the Comcast versus Verizon battle over bandwidth, isn’t pointing to the uncertainty a bit of a scare tactic to force to FCC’s hand? Risk management and aversion is so often the small difference between a thriving and a dying business. Leadership style can sway the outcome.

In her article for the Poole College of Management, Masters student Rebecca Hampton cites three distinct types of leadership:

// Head-Only leadership refers to the analytical, “just the facts, Ma’am” style

// Heart-Only leadership is characterized by a leader who gathers opinions, engages in discussions and explore all avenues with others

// Guts-Only leadership is based mostly on instinct

Ms. Hampton stresses that leaders should try to cultivate all three skills to keep a better handle on uncertainty within their businesses.

So, here’s a cheat-sheet for dealing with uncertainty at the best of times (let alone the worst):

// Face Fear: when personally challenged, try to get to the bottom of negative thinking and limiting beliefs to better manage them

// Live the Moment: work yourself out of a reactionary mode, worrying about the future or feeling hijacked by part experiences.

// Reach Out: to mentors, advisors, coaches. A personal team can support you through anything.

// Stay Authentic: because being yourself builds trust in other (employees, customers and stakeholders). People Don Pepper points out will stand by you to weather the storm.

Most importantly, prepare. Prepare for failure. Prepare for success because it can be nearly as off-balancing as the alternatives. And prepare for all the possibilities in between. These are uncertain times we live in. Get used to it!

5 Reasons Canadian Thanksgiving Is Awesome

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Canadian Thankgiving

We all know that other countries observe Thanksgiving. And while theirs may commemorate some great, glorious moment in history; ours, in typical Canadian fashion, started because an English navigator was thankful for what he had. Simple.

For the benefit of those non-Canadian-Thanksgiving-celebrating-people of the world, we thought we’d point out the subtle, yet drastically important reasons why Canadian Thanksgiving rocks so much harder than the rest.

1. Time of Year

Second Monday in October is the PERFECT time of year to be thankful. First of all, it’s warm enough to spend time outside, enjoy all those maple leaves as they change colour, you don’t have to worry about shoveling the driveway yet and it marks a nice halfway point between the unofficial end of summer (Labour Day) and the monster holiday that is Christmas.

2. Not To Be Outdone

Speaking of Christmas, how are you supposed to celebrate everything you’re thankful for while dodging a stampede of crazed shoppers? At our Thanksgiving, there’s nothing overshadowing it. So while American’s can be found lining up for a sleepless night, preparing themselves for a potentially death-defying riot over a flat screen, we’re found having a casual get-together with family and friends.

3. Thanksgiving Poutine

“What’s that?” you ask. Take the most heavenly way to eat French fries and dump truckloads of goodness into it and you have Thanksgiving Poutine.

4. We Have So Much To Be Thankful For

You can pick what you want, but here’s a small list of pretty awesome reasons we’re thankful.

// Stable Governments
// A Stable Bank System
// Universal Healthcare
// Hockey
// Tim Hortons

In fact, we’re so thankful the Government officially proclaimed the observance of Thanksgiving and the “reasons therefore”.

5. It’s in Canada…

Need we say more?

Canadian Thankgiving

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