Bridges to Somewhere: Saturday Night Fever, Physics & Connecting with Humans

Posted by Will Feichter on June 22, 2018

He was tall, stylishly dressed and full of youthful ambition. His name was Tony Manero. You may not recognize the moniker. Though I bet you remember the high heel strut through Brooklyn. He wore boots better made for dancing.

Played by John Travolta in the 70s cultural icon, Saturday Night Fever, Tony wanted more from life. His pathway forward was the Verrazano-Narrows Suspension Bridge. Spanning over 13,000 feet, it’s a somewhat forgotten beacon of American optimism. In SNF, it’s an allegory for Tony’s journey to somewhere and something better.

I was roughly Manero’s age, and full of a similar verve, when we launched Myriad in 1993. In the intervening 25 years I’ve noticed a recurring problem in the advertising field: a lack of alignment between clients, agencies and the audiences they seek. This often starts with the different agendas of clients and agencies.

 

I’ve been in many meetings where I strongly suspected my client was off their rocker given what they were hoping to achieve on a project. I’ve also been duly charged with being more focused on the creative than solving a business challenge. Interestingly, just 65% of clients believe their agencies truly understand their business. On the flip side, only 36% of agencies think clients are forthright with their thoughts. This lack of symmetry is counterproductive.

Then there are the poor human beings in the audience. In 2017, there was $590 billion in ads thrown their way. That’s billion with a “B” and it’s climbing. Indeed, we’re all made to sit through too many mightily bad commercials to watch shows we already paid for with our subscription fees. Do any of us have confidence this is working?

This misalignment—across clients, agencies and their audiences—creates justifiable frustration for each party. Curiously, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is just as fitting a metaphor for how to create business value and beautiful videos that connect with people as it is for Manero’s upward journey.

Think Dynamically

Bridge building is a donnybrook of physics. Compression and tension push and pull the span at the same time. This can create buckling and snapping. Structures like the Verrazano align these forces in dynamic ways. Its towers and vertical cables manage the compression. The iconic drooping cables stretch horizontally across the span, handling tension.

 

 

The magic happens when the forces of compression and tension, working in concert, make the bridge stronger and more flexible. A bajillion pounds of suspended steel carrying another bajillion in cars from shore to shore. No big deal.

The trio of client, audience and agency creative is similarly powerful when properly aligned together. The three lines of a triangle are nature’s strongest shape, after all.

 

The First Line – Business Objectives as (meaningful) Boundaries

If you work in marketing, count yourself lucky if your agency uses every aspect of your business as “positive compression.” Some don’t see it that way, but things like business objectives aren’t caps on creativity, they’re Legos. They can be built with. It’s not only business objectives that help bubble better ideas to the surface. Compression includes a company’s highest goals and the grand strategy to meet them. Time and budget are important forces too. Your organization’s core mission, vision and values infuse ideas with critical authenticity.

Working closely with your agency during the creative phase is an added boost to reaching alignment. A simple example is a three-day concepting sprint with creatives and clients in the same room. This shared experience builds understanding and trust. It also uncovers subtle details that can make ideas legendary and push returns higher.

In sum, good agencies transfer from thinking of a business and its many facets as limiting factors to using them as positive compression. By embracing the full agenda of their clients they begin to repurpose force to positive affect. (For more Myriad thinking on how video fits into business strategy, check this podcast.)

 

The Second Line – Find Relevance for the Audience

There is a more human way—one less about bells, whistles and the product in the center. The human approach casts the audience as the hero upon whom we focus. The product or business is there to help them achieve something relevant. I’d say it’s not rocket science, but it’s a truth forgotten so often it seems so. I’ve seen clients, co-workers and myself slip up on this many times over the years.

In a deep interview with Myriad strategist Jedidiah Gant on best practices for connecting with your audience, Sean Jecko of QUENCH Insights shared a key imperative. For Jecko, the need to ensure content is relevant to the audience is painfully obvious. The average person sees 10,000 brand messages a day and switches screens 21 times an hour. It’s important we get this right.

Thus it makes sense for us to check our egos and preconceived notions at the door. After that, let’s put on our “listening caps” so we can learn from actual people. These are the same ones we hope love the video and find your product relevant. It’s important we actively seek to understand your customers’ daily world.

With that sort of knowledge, client and agency alike can be confident in their direction. We didn’t guess or assume—the humans (actual people!) told us what mattered. I am not advocating we “focus group” the approach. Ideas and products should be creatively pure. They need to spark with individual inspiration. But the perspective of your audience should inform that inspiration. Make the humans you aspire to reach the heroes of your next campaign. Listen to them, they’ll tell you everything you need to know.

 

The Third Line – Creative Courage

The third and final line of this triangle is the creative. It’s what allows you to connect with the audience. It’s just as important as the other two lines—the business objectives of our clients and what the audience believes to be relevant.

Myriad director, Max Zampieri, is fond of quoting his artistic heroes: Kubrick, Picasso & other greats. Recently he dropped the mic of Henri Matisse’s challenge that “creativity takes courage.” It hits the mark.

According to Zampieri:

“I pondered so many hours on that quote, like why? Why does it take courage? It’s because it brings no promises other than you get into this mode of play. You explore pretty much all the possibilities that you can in that mode.”

Clients should join us in that exploration. They are well served by having courage when it comes to matters of creativity. This means staying cool even if you’re momentarily uncertain. This beneficial tension allows you to reach a state of flow where original ideas appear.

Further, the way to catch an eye is to be unconventional and divergent in our thinking. You’d be well served to forget what your competitors did to get noticed.

According to Harvard Business Review, more effective creative is an investment with multiplying returns: It creates higher audience engagement which in turn can help reduce ad spending. When you half step your creative you are literally leaving money on the table. Be courageous here!

Open Pathways

The Verrazano-Narrows Suspension Bridge and others like it repurpose the laws of physics to open pathways to a better place. As you do your own stretch for more, remember the dynamic impact of physics and of triangles. This three-lined approach uses alignment to increase value for clients, their human customers and the agency. The payoff is more impact, relevance and achievement for all.

Tony Manero did ditch Brooklyn as he headed out on a bridge to somewhere. Yet it wasn’t the Verrazano he crossed, which would have landed him in suburban Staten Island. In a surprise twist it was another NYC span that took him to an even better destination: starry Manhattan. I know because I saw the SNF sequel, Staying Alive. 1983, in theater. My wings looked perfect that night.

Editor’s note: original illustrations by Myriad Media editor and artist Paula Juri.