Step away from the exploding pen

Step away from the exploding pen

My World View begins at 38,000 feet in the air. I am en route from Sao Paulo to London. On the flight I watch the latest James Bond film, Skyfall. There’s a moment in the film that captures exactly what I have been feeling about our business lately.

It’s the scene where 007 and Q, Bond’s Quartermaster and technology guru, discuss his upcoming gadget needs for his current mission. It turns out the “latest thing from the Q branch” is a radio. A radio? Bond scoffs.

Q continues, dryly: “What did you expect, an exploding pen?”

And so begins the crystallisation of my current world view. The notion that technology and new platforms have hit a peak, signalling to we creators that it’s time to turn this plateau into a tableau. In other words, time to use the tech as tools and start building brand stories.

Sao Paulo, Brazil

It doesn’t get more worldly than this: The judging chamber of the International ANDY awards. A room filled with some of the most brilliant creative minds in advertising from places like KL, Mumbai, New York, Miami and London.

We begin our discussions with genuine genuflecting over Nike and
R/GA’s breakthrough FuelBand efforts. (Technology is alive and well for this conversation.) But after a steady diet of case study films touting all manner of whizz-bang technologies and a veritable app-a-palooza in the form of student work, our highlights and passionate conversations are about films. And more precisely stories. Pictures, words, emotions. Not a pixel in sight. Or sound.

Good news for brands like Axe, McDonalds and oh, wait, yes, Nike, too.

London, England

I go from rainy Sao Paulo to sunny London. (Hello, Irony.) London feels very much like LA weather-wise. (I take it as another sign that the world is going through a big shift.) I meet with a global client. The topic of our conversation? Apps? New platforms? Anything involving a chip or QR code? Hardly. The day’s topic is a global TV campaign and the need to tell clear, emotional stories.

Back at the London office, I chat with our creative chief of the UK group. He’s very excited about some new projects.

One involves a game-changing idea. The key piece of technology? A glass of water. Another is a new campaign that will lead with, wait for it… some brilliant press and poster ads. Oh, and the last bit of coolness? A play. An actual spectacle performed on a stage in front of an audience. Shakespeare: 1. Silicon Valley: 0.

New Orleans

I am now on stage at the 4As (The Association of American Advertising Agencies). The panel? Three creative directors (including me) here to present work they admire.

The first CD presents the brilliant ‘Glass Bottom Jet’ app for Delta. It truly transforms the way you fly. Amazing. Audience response? Golf clap.

Next up, I present the Help Remedies’ brand idea. Everything from the breakthrough packaging to the disarming and charming web experience to the Facebook app that helps you pinpoint the person who may very well have given you that bout of influenza you’re wrestling with. Finally, a healthcare brand that doesn’t make you sick! And the audience goes… mild.

Finally, the third CD, a South African now living in the American South, presents Wieden’s Southern Comfort film. In it, a portly 50-something hombre armed with nothing more than a speedo, some sunscreen and a tumbler filled with liqueur and ice strides effortlessly on a beach. Fuelled by the brilliant Odetta track Hit or Miss (Gotta Be Me), the audience is mesmerised. The hero finishes his jaunt and the camera zooms in on the drink. A cocktail flag is raised touting the brand’s point-of-view about being comfortable.

Whoops, hollers and applause ensue. The crowd loves it. A simple film. Pictures. A few crucial, but scant words. A wonderful track. All feeling. Logic and technology take a holiday. And wow, does it connect.


Finally home. I’m taxi-ing at the airport. Realising through all of this travel, I’ve missed SXSW, the recent launchpad of all new things technological. I’m scrolling through my Instagram feed with an eye towards what new apps and platforms I need to sink my teeth into, yet each picture I see looks more like Woodstock than South By. Band after band, party after party. Seems the most important technology people are celebrating is the electric guitar.

It brings me back to Skyfall. Arguably, it’s one of the best James Bond films since Sean Connery packed his first Berreta. What’s amazing about the film is the story. A simple “overcoming the monster” tale. Gadgetry takes a back seat. In fact, it’s lampooned, rather than lauded.

This film and my last two weeks of flying around the world and meeting with my fellow global creative citizens has really shaped the moment we are in right now. We love technology, but we are now no longer using it to do our jobs for us. We are not hiding behind it. We are not using it as a replacement for the most important thing: an emotional story.

Ooops. My smartphone just vibrated. I have a meeting about Vine and how it will transform the work we do on behalf of brands. Or not.

Rob Schwartz is global creative president at TBWA.

This piece first appeared in the March 29 edition of B&T Magazine in the 'World View' section. 

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