B-G-B (Bonus Guest Blog): Advertising Is Magic

Guest Blogger: Tom NapperPicture 2

Tom Napper is our Director of Digital at Element 79, but that hardly describes his real mission; what Tom does better than anyone in his field is drive convergence in constant practical ways.  For years, agencies wrestled with the best way to integrate online expertise into traditional creative development.  Instead of theory, Tom does that everyday through immersion and a calming understanding that, in the end, all that really matters in digital or any medium is the power of ideas.  Our recent awards for interactive creative at the Addy’s, D&AD, and New York Festivals all bear Tom’s influence.  For the past fifteen years, starting at Accenture and then on to Chemistri, Burnett and WhittmanHart, Tom has strengthened brands’ relationship with their customers in the digital marketing space, from Harley-Davidson and their owner/travellers to the KISS nation and the band.  With experience on everything from Secret to the US Army, Adidas, Quaker and Gatorade, Tom connects people, brands and minds.  Our agency deeply appreciates his willingness to commute down from Milwaukee, bringing us his insights and experience across the Cheddar Curtain…

Say what you want about what we do but I think it is magic. We take everyday things and do something remarkable with them. Our creative invokes a sense of wonder or curiosity: “What the heck was that?”

As a geeky kid in Connecticut, I was an amateur magician. I was paid so I guess I was a pro but that would put me in the league with Houdini and I was nowhere near that.

One of my best tricks was the coin-in-the-matchbox trick. Maybe everyone knows how this is done, but back when I was doing the cocktail party/birthday party circuit, it amazed even the most skeptical person. I would ask for a coin, telling the audience member they could mark it however they wanted. I remember one time a guy spent ten minutes marking his coin. When the guy was done marking it, I dropped the coin into my left hand pocket and pulled out of my right hand pocket a match box. You know, the big cardboard ones that have a bunch of matches in them. The box was secured with a bunch of rubber bands. I handed the matchbox to the guy (or anybody) to open up. What they found inside was not the coin but a series of five increasingly smaller matchboxes that were bound with rubber bands. The final box was about 2×3 and covered in rubber bands. Inside that box was a pouch that was secured at the top with another rubber band like a very tiny money bag.  Inside that pouch was the coin.  It freaked people out.

What was so great about this trick was that it used props that everyone had seen before. I let them handle every part of the trick. They could inspect the rubber bands, the boxes, the pouch, the coin. As I made more money doing magic, I tried buying fancier tricks from magic shops, but those tricks looked like tricks and people weren’t as satisfied. They liked my tricks that used everyday things, like their stocking caps to pull a bird out of or stuff like that.

MagicOkay, so what does this have to do with advertising? See I got into this field because I liked making something really cool, things that surprised people. The internet really helped with that. People logged into their computers and holy smokes; there was AT&T with a castle and a frog at their front door.

Our clients want magic to happen constantly. They want that magic moment where eyeballs turn to their table. If our clients were out there standing in the grocery store trying to get someone to buy their product, you bet they’d want a magician. That’s who we are. We take everyday objects or intersections or actions and surprise people. Sometimes we literally surprise them and they are surprised by how we’ve made them feel. We usually do this not by some fancy trick but by using things people know and relate to.

Working in the digital space, I’m constantly asked about the latest thing and how we can use it and what is it all about. In those conversations, what people really want to know is how is everyone else using it?  Until we know that…well, it is hard to find out what the surprise will be and how to create the magic.

One of the things I learned by being a magician was that it isn’t the fancy stuff that made you good, it was what you did with the normal stuff. We fall down when we start turning to the magic stores to supply our tricks. The trick or the surprise isn’t in the things that people haven’t seen before, it is in the cool ways we make the things everyone has seen before act. Everybody is talking about convergence and to my way of thinking, that is just about opening up and looking around. Digital is a space were we all can play. The best minds making creative in TV, print and radio can make really great creative in digital.

The digital space allows us to surprise and freak people out on so many levels because its reach is so great. What is freaky about Twitter today will be old news in about two months. But how the crazy creatives use Twitter to freak us out?  That has no time frame.

The digital space allows us so much flexibility because it is so fluid. What is out of reach today will be normal after you turn the page on your Kindle. And that is just so cool, right?  It can be frustrating to feel the sand moving under your toes, but the next wave is coming for you to body surf into shore. Paying attention and listening is what the best folks in the digital space are doing.

So what I love about this magical thing called advertising is that I can surprise you by pulling a lion out of my hat today, but tomorrow, through the magic of internet, I can make a lion eat your tweet.

Well, not really.  Not yet.  But wouldn’t that freak you out?

by Tom Napper, Element 79
TLC says:

Great insights and analogies. Mitigating your point is the fact that going to the magic store will almost always cost more than doing more resourceful tricks with existing technologies. Enjoyed the read.