Friday, March 16, 2012


Advertising used to be mostly about influencing. Welcome to the social media age: where advertising is about influencing influencers. Ian Kovalik calls it "storytelling."

A couple of years ago I attended a local advertising industry cocktail gathering where I chatted with a couple of recent graduates from the San Jose State advertising program. When they told me they had just graduated, my eyes grew wide and I exalted, "This is the most AMAZING time for advertising I've ever SEEN." They threw incredulous glances at one another, clearly not feeling the same glow. "Advertising is turning into something completely, entirely different," I told them breathlessly, "and the possibilities right now are unlimited. This is the most profound reinvention of the industry since the 'Mad Men' days."

They smiled, nodded, and the redheaded one with black horn rim glasses nervously gnawed on a chilled shrimp.

I was gratified to feel somewhat vindicated by the AIGA presentation I attended last night, titled "The Super Special Interactive Storytelling Hour" featuring a presentation by Ian Kovalik, Executive Creative Director of Mekanism, an interactive advertising agency with offices in San Francisco, L.A., and New York.

Ian employed a playful, interactive on-screen presentation that included several "Choose a Door" intervals where the audience decided which door (or box) to open. The prize behind the door invariably would be a brief, cheesy, hilarious video clip from Lawrence Welk or Carl Sagan.

The point Ian was making with his presentation was that the very nature of advertising has shifted irrevocably and tectonically due to changing behaviors. The advent ('advent' or 'speeding 18-wheeler?') of social media. The distractions surrounding the average viewer. The guys at Mekanism push the notion that advertising now has to take on a storytelling form factor to hold a potential customer's attention across a broad, integrated campaign.

The talk was one part portfolio show for Mekanism, one part inspirational talk. Ian produced real-world examples of programs and websites that generate buzz by "hacking brands", such as the current Old Spice Red Zone collection TV spots that feature NFL player and actor Terry Crews riding a jetski in his boxers - straight into a Bounce commercial.

Ian even invoked Julia Child, as he played an episode of her cooking show where she brandishes a pistol as they begin a demo on making a souffle. "She was an amazing storyteller. Learn from her," he advised.

The program he spent the most time discussing was their agency's campaign for Brisk Ice Tea and the new release of Star Wars Episode 1 3D. The campaign included a mobile game app for both iOS and Android, ongoing Facebook activity, internet meme posters and of course TV. The customer was given the chance to add new characters to his/her game by purchasing Brisk and entering the code from the bottom of each cap.

Not everyone gets to work with Old Spice as a client, but any client wants innovative and delightful ideas. And when the idea develops into a story (maybe one that you help tell, and then share with your friends), then what we used to call "advertising" becomes something eminently more powerful and influential.

Here's a list of some of the things Ian shared (not all of which are advertising per se, but interactive storytelling):

Golden Grahams job-interviews-gone-horribly-wrong animations (This was a crowd favorite last night)

Take This Lollipop

National Film Board of Canada - Blabla

Ape With AK-47 - Viral video for the promotion of Rise of Planet of the Apes

Brisk Tea Darth Maul and Yoda Battle TV Spot

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