Monthly Archives: October 2014

How Stage Actors Learn Their Lines. (Ad Agencies Might Want to Take Note.)

Laurence Olivier. Even with his title as a Lord he insisted all those he  spoke with address him as 'Larry'.
Laurence Olivier. Even with his title as a Lord he insisted all those he spoke with address him as ‘Larry’.

This is about the ‘Thear-tah’, as some might call it.

But it’s not a hoity-toity take on culture, it’s more about the trial stage actors undergo to learn their lines.

Hard stuff, at times.

You wouldn’t be the first to wonder how they can master  lengthy scripts that can play out for some two and a half hours or more.

How do they manage it with the right timing, inflection and convincing persona?

Actors must be superhuman in the recall department.

Maybe they should be supplementing their incomes by counting cards in Las Vegas.

One actor, Lord Olivier, was superhuman. Learning lines was no problem for him.

He’d be the God-sent witness for some lucky cop after a bank robbery.

Olivier would know the license number of the get-away car and be able to detail the clothing and facial characteristics of the villains down to a mole on the driver’s left cheek.

But that’s only one actor. The rest? Maybe not so much.

All this came by way of an actor who knows about the right and wrong ways of learning lines.

She admits to trying every way possible.

One way is to find your lines the moment you discover a script has been sent to you in the mail.

As you intently search the pages your fingers work independently of that to somehow find a yellow highlighter.

Singling out your role makes reams of dialogue seem less forbidding.

Or does it?

Try it yourself. Try getting some sort of hold on this speech by Hamlet.

O, it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated

fellow tear 
a passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the

ears of the 
groundlings, who for the most part are capable of 

but inexplicable dumbshows and noise: I would 

such a fellow whipped for o’erdoing Termagant; it

out-herods Herod: pray you, avoid it.

Without taking a wider view of Shakespeare’s play … without knowing that here Hamlet  is in the guise of a theatre director coaching actors ‘how to perform’, learning this short piece isn’t simple.

According to more than a few actors, a better way to learn lines is to actually read the play a few times to get the sense of it all. It’s called context.

Get interested in all the roles, how the play is constructed, understand the sequence of events, the foreshadowing, the twists, the characters’ motivations, the entrances, exits, blocking and notes on production design.

See your lines as part of a greater whole. A wider view can help.

Your approach benefits from absorbing the personality, temperament and disposition of a character rather than a one-dimensional need to commit dialogue to memory.

Advertising agencies might want to take a leaf from this all-inclusive thinking.

Too many of them automatically reach for the yellow highlighter to underscore their roles when hired.

Some just want to focus on ‘their part’. Have you noticed?

They’re happy to do the email blast campaign, put together an idea for an ‘experiential’ project, crank out a video for YouTube, do an online ad or focus on an SEO project.

They want to do what they know and what they’ve been comfortable doing.

It’s a bit one-sided, this, and it doesn’t always make for the best work.

It’s not unlike an actor learning his or her part independently of the whole production.

Perform this way as an agency and you invite clients to view you merely as a vendor. A  supplier who will always remain outside the trust of a true partner.

How can you do your best work if you’re consigned to the shadows?

The thing is, advertising isn’t brain surgery. But business can be.

It takes a lot of study, knowledge and experience.

It could pay agencies to start from that point of view.

Especially if they can buckle down to absorb more about their clients’ businesses.

That’s bound to lead to better work and a role that’s anything but a walk-on part.

Share with us. Marketers, what does it take for your agency to properly understand your business? Are there any tips for building the agency/client relationship? Thanks for reading. Regards, Steve Ulin




Those ‘Keep Calm’ Posters. Where Did They Originally Come From?

Foresight. Here's why the 'Keep Calm' message was developed in Britain in July 1939. This shot was taken in 1941.
Bombed out cities … it’s what Britain feared. So to boost spirits, the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ posters were created  in July 1939, just weeks before the war began on September 3rd. This photo: taken in 1941.

Apprehension. Worry. Concern. Angst. Fear. Nervousness. Fretfulness. Disquiet. Torment. Trouble. Anguish.

Just a few of the things that pushed the British Ministry of Information to create the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ posters in July, 1939.

It was only weeks before Britain entered WWII on September 3rd.

The posters were designed as a motivational message for a people under threat from the German Luftwaffe.

To that end, 2.5 million posters were produced to strengthen the resolve of the British public.

The fear was the Nazis would destroy British cities with bombing then step ashore along the Channel coast.

A day out at a seaside fun fair in Margate wasn’t exactly their aim.

But aggression aside, as a marketer you might be wondering … how did the ‘Keep Calm’ message test across all demographics?’

The fact is the posters went mostly un-used.  Bureaucracy is why.

Most of the posters were consigned to a warehouse, reputedly awaiting the moment when Panzer Divisions would clank across British beaches on their way to the Capital.

Later they were pulped for the war effort.

The few posters that were displayed got a cool reception.

‘Patronizing’ was the damning verdict. Their impact fizzled out because of a class thing.

The original 1939 design.
The original 1939 design.

Upper-crust government types got the mood of the British public all wrong.

Which is why the posters were looked upon as an intrusion and thought to be ill judged for their content.

I wonder where we’ve heard that complaint before.

Maybe in present day focus groups?

But no complaints are rolling in these days.

As you’ve probably noticed, the ‘Keep Calm’ theme has been reborn and is being commercialized out of all proportion.

75 Years after being created, the message that was a flop in wartime is a source of humor for us.

Of the latest efforts, ‘Keep Calm and Go Shopping’ rates high in our office.

Also gaining approval is ‘Keep Calm and Eat a Cupcake’.

The last is more than a little appreciated in an office breakroom when a ready supply of  cupcakes are parked next to the cupcake poster.

Now, for you as a marketer, with a keener sense of judgement than the Ministry of Information … how does the following go down as a ‘Keep Calm’ line?

Keep Calm and Make Sure Your Message Is Good Enough To Engage Your Target Audience.

Yeah, I know … too long and un-funny. Bossy, as well.

But suck it up. There’s meaning and direction here for us all, no matter how experienced we may be.

Besides, when you get it just right you can reward yourself.

By having a cupcake.

Like more on the ‘Keep Calm’ story? See how the posters were re-discovered in a used bookstore in the North of England with this video. Thanks for reading, Steve Ulin.



Take What’s Familiar About Your Brand And Present It In A Surprising New Way.

Soccer for the blind, a five-a-side spirited tussle. Despite impaired sight, the ball is controlled and passed with accuracy. How's that possible? Read on.
Soccer for the blind, a five-a-side spirited tussle. Despite impaired sight, the ball is controlled and passed with accuracy. How’s that possible? Read on.

Monaco. You’re at the annual Melody Amber Chess Tournament.

Half the games are played at the Rapidplay rate.

Hands move over the board in a blur of activity.

Speed keeps you focused on attacking pawns, knights, bishops, rooks and the queen.

You wouldn’t be wrong to call it the Usain Bolt-style of chess as games finish in record time.

Just when you’re impressed to no end, things get even better.

Out come the blindfolds.

The second half of the tournament is played with a view of the board that’s as black as the inside of your eyelid.

You can only marvel at players who exhibit superhuman powers of memory, braininess and strategy.

It’s compulsive viewing with blindfolded players. Chess comes off as something new, unexpected and compelling.

Here’s another unexpected experience to consider.

In this case you’re watching sport.

You hear, ‘Silence, please! Will you kindly respect the players’ concentration and keep silent.’

No, we’re not talking tennis nor are we looking on as a golf pro putts for a championship.

This sport requires a more intense and enduring silence.

It’s soccer for the blind, a five-a-side spirited match.

Despite impaired sight, the ball is controlled and passed with accuracy.

Near miracles are achieved by ‘listening for the ball’ as it rolls across the grass.

It’s how blind players locate the ball.

Equally, they sense opposing players by listening for their footsteps and breathing.

As a spectator in a pact of silence with those on the field,  you become an important part of the action.

you become part of a ceremony  that turns the tables on disability, quoshing the notion of incapacity.

More than a few spectators leave a blind soccer match changed for the better.

What’s all this to do with marketing and advertising?

Creative executions with a new twist often work best to stop and engage your audience.

When all that’s familiar about a brand is done in a fresh, new way you can expect something special.

You’ve probably seen this yourself in the Old Spice campaign, ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like’.

It’s also there in a Honda commercial called ‘Hands’.

The spot opens with six words that are something of a portent, ‘Let’s see what curiosity can do’.

Then it dives into the job of showcasing the range of Honda products … but in a way that makes you want to see the spot again and again.

How rare is that when it comes to commercials. Here’s the spot:

Of course for you, there’s a message here.

Take what’s familiar about your own brand and do it in a fresh, new way.

That’s how to avoid content that’s inert, drab and in no hurry to engage your target audience.

So when you brief your agency, you could always bring out a chessboard and some blindfolds.

That way all those working on your brand will be certain of one thing.

You’re looking for something wholly different and surprising.

Share with us. How do you get your agency to come up with work that’s breakthrough, engaging and effective? Thanks for reading. Regards, Steve Ulin







The Agency-Client Relationship. And Non-Relationship.

Cooperation. Support. Teamwork. Take a lesson in all three from a little bird that can lead you to a treasure trove of delicious wild honey. Photo: Chrissie Jamieson,
Cooperation. Support. Teamwork. Take a lesson in all three from a little bird
that can lead you to a treasure trove of delicious wild honey.
Photo: Chrissie Jamieson,

You wouldn’t look twice at a bird called a Honey Guide.

Among other African birds it’s unremarkable.

It has none of the plumage that would make you stop and marvel.

It’s small, non-descript and mousey brown. Not exactly a stunning subject for a National Geographic nature film.

But it’s whip smart.

It can teach us all about cooperation, relationships, interaction, collaboration, support, synergy and teamwork.

Did we miss out on anything on this list? Well, let’s also add ‘communication’ to the mix.

The Honey Guide will flap manically into your view and encourage you to follow as it flies.

So off you go across the African bush, looking up from moment to moment to see if the bird is still there.

Yes, it is there. It continually doubles back to lead you on.

Your ramble across the African savannah could be miles but there’s a reward.

You’re guided to a hive of wild bees and delicious honey.

As you climb into the treetops to harvest honeycombs, you’ll see the Honey Guide hovering patiently close by. Your loyal friend.

The bird is looking for honey, of course. After all, he found you something you didn’t suspect was there.

So, what are you waiting for? Break off a piece of honeycomb and share.

In nature you call this symbiosis. In marketing it’s a coordinated effort.

It’s apt when it comes to a relationship with your advertising agency.

The agencies that excel know where the honey is when it comes to everything from strategy to branding to videos, Websites and mobile.

They have people with exceptional marketing and creative skills.

They know how to think outside the bollocks, as they say in the UK.

They’re adept at avoiding time-expired ideas and formulaic solutions.

They’re experts in developing imaginative and expressive brand stories.

Strong agencies understand how to lower your risk of investing marketing dollars in communications.

They do it with creative work designed to make you the smartest choice in your category.

Agency people are trained to make a difference for you if …

If they’re not relegated to the role of mere ‘vendors’.

So it might be an idea to invite your agency to the table as a true partner.

Give them access to information and develop a wider view when they present surprising new strategies and breakthrough creative work.

The kind of work that defeats predictability and the problem of ideas that arrive dead on a computer screen.

Work closer with your agency and you’ll also gain an advantage over competitors who take the opposite route.

When they keep their agencies at a distance — giving unschooled procurement people power in the supplier choice and calling for unpaid pitches almost annually — agency strategists and creative people can often be undervalued and forced to make decisions on incomplete knowledge.

Of course, this is a great way to produce creative work that comes off as seriously underpowered.

The point is, let your competition suffer with the vendor relationship while you benefit by partnering and collaborating with your agency.

When good results flood in, you might be asked how you know how to get the best out of your agency.

You only need to smile and say, ‘a little bird told me’.

Share with us. What does it take to work closer with your agency for better results? Are there any tips for building that relationship? Thanks for reading. Regards, Steve Ulin