After recently dusting off my Advertising book collection (who keeps physical books these days anyway?), I had another read of Hoopla, a fantastically insightful manual on how to think differently when it comes to creating successful modern day advertising.
Hoopla is essentially the story of the rise of Crispin, Porter + Bogusky (CP+B), the tiny Miami agency that went on to become a global powerhouse. Besides the amazing insight into their body of work, it provides an overview of what they consider to be their secret sauce - the theoretical tools they have applied to drive success in a rapidly changing world.
This post is designed to take a deep dive on some of these concepts.
A CP+B History
There is a great anecdote from journalist and Hoopla author Warren Berger, about his first meeting with agency heads Chuck Porter and Alex Bogusky. This takes place after he asked them to send through a sample of their work:
"Then the package arrived in the mail, and I saw their ads. They were mostly for local banks, restaurants, clothing stores, and such. I think there might have been one for pineapples. But the thing is, all of them either made me laugh or made me think. Which is what ads are supposed to do but usually don't. As someone who specialises in writing about advertising, I was used to seeing the best of what Madison Avenue could produce. And damn if this stuff that arrived in the mail from Miami wasn't… a lot better. Seeing how good the work was, I was quite pleased with myself - I felt the the way you feel when you stumble upon some little hole-in-the-wall eatery and discover that it makes the best food in town".
Cue a few years later, and CP+B had added global brands such as Burger King, Mini, Ikea, Virgin Airlines, Volkswagen and Molson Beer to their roster - an incredibly meteoric rise.
So What is Hoopla?
What does Hoopla actually mean? Bogusky and Porter repurposed the term from PT Barnum, the legendary American showman, businessman, prankster and entertainer (and personal hero to them both).
Barnum drove his success in a vastly different world, with no access to modern mass media and communication vehicles. As a result, he was forced to create his own unique brand of showmanship to drive momentum.
Hoopla means bustling excitement, commotion, activity, or sensational publicity. It is designed to get people to react, respond, join in, or do… something. The idea that if you can inspire enough people to get together and take a step, you can create a cultural phenomenon (which CP+B seemed to consistently make happen).
As a note on this book - it was written in around 2006, so keep this in mind when reading it. Facebook was in its absolute infancy, having only just launched in 2004 at Harvard, and Twitter wasn't even around yet in any solid shape. More importantly, the iPhone didn't get released until 2007, which meant people were not yet walking around with an always on connected device in their pockets. Which makes the tactics they were promoting light years ahead of anyone else.
The Secret Sauce: The Elements of Hoopla
At its core, Hoopla is about setting a phenomenon in motion by utilising the key techniques of Mutation, Invention, Candor, Mischief, Connection, Pragmatism, and Momentum. We will look at each one in detail.
Today's consumers are not the same as the one's pictured on a show like Mad Men. There have been some fundamental changes in the way they consume information, but also in their levels of understanding of advertising. From Hoopla:
"The consumer audience, a.k.a the public - has begun to mutate in interesting ways. Mutation occurs when changing conditions force organisms to adapt; in the age of information explosion, people HAD to mutate so they could breathe in all the new information without drowning in it. With the rise of the Internet, the growth of digitaliZed personal media, and the constantly multiplying array entertainment and communication options, the only the only way to navigate and survive was for people to develop mutant multimedia, multitasking skills that simply did not exist among those in the previous generation. These new powers enabled people to not only consume information but also to absurd it, reshape it, and use it for their own individualiZed purposes."
"The old rules no longer apply when it comes to communicating effectively, building a brand, making something famous, or creating a cultural phenomenon of any type. The trouble with the old rules - their freaking old. Most were created in another era when there was less noise, less hype, less technology; a time when the people you might be trying to communicate with were easier to reach and influence - before they developed mutant powers enabling them to sort, filter, manipulate, or just ignore information."
- The communication and entertainment options of consumers are no longer set
- Consumer are savvier than ever about advertising messages, and applying their own filters
- You need to respect the intelligence of the people you're trying to influence
- Mutation is a license for interpretation
- Challenge the basic format of advertising. Ads can mutate into other forms that can command attention, from t-shirts, films, live events, books, or something that hasn't even been invented yet.
- Play to peoples natural curiosity
The key here is businesses, agencies and even people in their own careers need to adapt. Experience matters only to the degree that the future's going to be like the past - so we need to evolve our thinking to take advantage of whats new.
Advertising has always been based on repetition of a message to drive success. This has fallen away in favor of the audiences desire for surprise and delight. This requires the invention of new ideas and new communication methods. From Hoopla:
"The old advertising model valued everything by levels of media expenditure. In the long ago days of three television channels, advertisers could somewhat predict how much share of mind they'd command based on how much they were investing in air time. The audience had yet to build up the filters that today's viewers have, and there were fewer media options and escape hatches. Hence it was assumed if a marketer spent enough money hammering away at the captive audience, the message was bound to sink in eventually.
But once the audience mutated with new choices, the formula began to unravel. In the new value-equation that has taken place, "surprise" is more important than repetition. To purchase awareness now, it's not enough to just buy more air time. It's increasingly critical to invest in ideas. And the return on investment will likely depend on the inventiveness of those ideas their ability to surprise, intrigue, engage, and stir conversation."
"Constant reinventions and new iterations are all part of creating successful innovation, which requires infinite variety in order to keep people surprised and interested.
Think of your advertising as a continual conversation or correspondence. It should always be bringing you something new, something you didn't know already. Whereas most advertising is like the same Xeroxed letter that gets sent to you over and over again."
- Invention is within reach of almost anyone, and does not require huge capital expenditures.
- The key to invention is to pretend. It's ok to make things up.
- People never tire of surprises, and invariable respond to novelty. They crave something fresh and original.
- Ideas are currency.
- Always practice obsolescence.
So what are some strategies to achieve this? How about do the opposite of what everyone else is doing - you will be halfway there. Then all you have to do is figure out why you are doling the opposite!
Another great idea they outline is to compile a list of all of the conventions that are used in any given product category. Now deliberately try and overturn those conventions - you may be surprised with the result.
Most advertising has fallen victim from overselling, over promoting, or being overly liberal with the truth. This no longer works, as consumers have unlimited avenues to double check your bullshit. As a result, the way we hype things needs to change. From Hoopla:
"To effectively "hype" something today, you must find a way to cut through "the hype". Tell the truth, or at least some interesting form of it. Advertisers, promoters and publicists have, for decades, developed a habit of relying on over promising, over selling, and focusing on the sizzle, no the steak. There are truths to almost every product, and yet most advertisers shy away from those truths. The tendency is to simply offer sales pitches that have little to do with the reality of a given brand or the actual experience of using a specific product."
"Shying away from the truth of your brand invariably results in a lack of emotional impact, but in the old three-channel marketing world, that was a forgivable sin; even the most empty pitch or banal slogan old be drummed into people's heads with enough repetition. However, as the power to control media began to shift to consumers, there was less willingness on their part to sit through empty messages. And now, as the power and sophistication on the part of the audience continues to grow, the brands that are unwilling to have a real and truthful conversation with consumers will become completely irrelevant and therefore invisible."
"If you have a wart on your face, you'd better make that your thing. Make people love that wart. Convince everyone it's a beauty mark. But don't waste a second trying to hide it."
- Nearly all of the public can't stand being manipulated; they do not like to be "played".
- Consumers have grown weary of blatantly false or bullshit sales pitches.
- In a world of hype, a few candid words can be more powerful than a thousand empty slogans or claims.
- Avoid focus groups. They elicit half-truths and predictable responses from participants who answer in ways they believe are expected of them. If you do use them, make them your hypothesis for further tests.
- Celebrate the fundamental truth of your product or brand. There is always a compelling truth deep down inside that can drive a message and give meaning and credibility.
The comment that sums up mischief the most is in reference to Subservient Chicken, one of the most famous digital campaigns created by CP+B that pretty much gave birth to the term 'viral marketing'. As outlined in Hoopla:
"The subservient chickens costume didn't have to include a garter belt; yet that small detail added just enough hint of S&M to make things interesting."
Mischief is about tapping into peoples natural tendency to like to be surprised, and to turn communications in to much more newsworthy items in the media. As outlined by the CP+B guys, you need to be very careful with this one - if you are mischievous for the wrong reasons, this can backfire in your face. From Hoopla:
"Unlike conventional advertising, which is forever struggling to seem believable and not fake, the rules of Hoopla allow for farce, tricks, pranks, and all manor of mischief - as long as you eventually let people in on the fun."
"Mischief is infectious. When you see two people whispering and giggling in a corner, you want to know what's going on and if you can be in on it"."
- Advertising and Publicity are much more effective than advertising alone. Publicity is one of the most powerful tools available to any marketer.
- Celebrate the trouble makers and pay attention to the rebels.
- Tricks, pranks, and playfully naughty behaviour can keep people on the edge of their seats and therefore more engaged with the message.
- Any sort of advertising or promotional efforts that effectively utilise mischief are likely to draw more complaints and press coverage. But that's a good thing, right?
- People believe more in news than they do in an ad.
- News coverage is free.
- If you are going to do something a little bad, better make sure it is also good.
Especially now with social media on the rise, marketers are invariably frightened of creating anything that could be deemed negative. However angry letters tend to suggest a campaign has evoked a strong response (be it positive or negative), because it can serve as evidence that the message has touched a nerve. Which means people are paying attention.
Successful advertising is not just about working out what needs to be said, it is also about how and where you say it. And in today's world, as there is so much clutter and cacophony in the media landscape it can be harder and harder to connect with people.
The basic assumption for decades was that to make any sort of connection on a mass scale, you had to spend large sums on Big Media, particularly TV commercials. But what happens when you don't have access to the shortcut of relying on TV commercials?
Hoopla creates a means to break free from this approach, by rethinking the nature of both media and branding. From Hoopla:
"Typically, an ad message is produced to fill an existing hole - a blank page in a magazine, a 30-second open slot during a TV program. The need to fill these predetermined spaces drives the ad-making creative process; copywriters and art directors instinctively start by sketching ideas for commercials and print ads."
"The old way of thinking was that a person's impressions about a brand could be formed and shaped by advertising alone, but that view has given way to a new, more holistic one, recognising that there are countless opportunities for contact between a brand and consumer.
Each one of these "touch-points" - which can occur on the street, in the store, on the phone with a sales rep, in a bar talking to other people, on the Web, or wherever - all contribute to shaping the impressions and attitudes someone has about the brand. They are all connected to one another (or should be) because they are all part of the same unending story of the brand."
"The challenge is to utilise as many of these touch-points as possible while also making sure the message conveyed at each point is consistent."
The result of this is elements that might have been considered tertiary to branding in the past such as the basic product literature or packaging around the product are now key components. Having the mindset that everything is media allows better connections without spending huge sums of money. From Hoopla:
"There is no longer a preset mould into which ideas can be poured. Which means (yet again) that extreme inventiveness is required, not only in terms of coming up with creative messages to promote a product, but also in terms of inventing entirely new vehicles to carry those messages out into the world."
- Everything is media. Everything is branding.
- Try and approach briefs by taking the traditional moulds from the table. "If there were no TV and no magazines, how would you make this brand famous?"
- Find new ways to communicate.
- Make sure the communication flows in two directions - both out and in.
- Interactive media has made it possible to have a two-way relationship or ongoing conversation withy the audience you're trying to reach.
- Shouting at people is the old advertising method; the new improved one involves talking with people.
- The basic rules of conversation can and should be applied to almost all brand communications. "A good conversation doesn't just talk over others but also listens, answers questions, and engages the other party in discussion."
- Beyond just allowing for feedback, a truly connected campaign enables people to take action in some way - even if it's just to have some fun.
- If you want a site to go viral, don't "sell" top hard. Viral means people send stuff to their friends, and no one wants to send a salesman over to a friend's house.
A good aim for communication is to create a "surround" quality with your messages. Just being ubiquitous is no longer enough, and you can end up being annoying if you are surrounding audiences with repetitive or irrelevant messages.
The key here is to create fresh and new messages at each turn, that all seem to connect to each other to make an interesting and cohesive statement. A sort of communication puzzle, with all of the pieces connecting together.
In the disposable culture we presently inhabit, is there anything more disposable than an ad? It is too easy to skip, ignore and tune out when an ad is on. So how about we try and make things a lot more pragmatic? From Hoopla:
"Most of them (ads) are consigned to the cultural scrap heap instantaneously - or about as quickly as a person's thumb can hit the "zap" button on a remote. Which is hardly surprising since most ads offer little in the way of usefulness to anyone except (maybe) the advertiser."
What if an ad could actually help people in some real, practical way?
Like PT Barnum, CP+B look to history to see what worked. In the 1890's, a guy named Henry Beach revolutionised sales by inventing what we now call swag. He charged companies to put their names on the handles of fly swatters, which they could leave in the hands of sales prospects.
CP+B have repurposed this idea for todays modern brands. From Hoopla:
"Bogusky believes that in making these original creations in their various forms, the agency and the client are creating their own pieces of culture that people can use or absorb in some way. This represents a departure from conventional advertising that tries to piggyback in existing pop culture, e.g, an ad that aims to derive success simply from riding along on someone else's hot TV show or magazine. The piggyback approach has become less effective in recent years as remote control, expanded media options, and new technology such as TiVo have made it possible for the audience to avoid or zap those advertisers who are just along for the ride."
"The best Hoopla should take the form of something that people can use to broaden themselves or impress friends. It should be something people will want to hang onto and make their own - assimilating it as part of their personal cultural repertoire. At a basic level, it may involve creating original art, stories, or entertainment that isn't just sponsored by the brand but is the brand."
"And if such creations happen to be slightly offbeat and outside the mainstream, it just makes them that much more pragmatic - because it means people can feel like they've discovered something fresh and distinctive that's worth keeping and sharing."
"It's not easy to determine what might be compelling or useful to the people you may be trying to reach. But as a general rule, there are some things people can always use. One is relevant, truthful, and helpful information; if your communication can provide some of that, it's miles ahead of most advertising and promotion."
""Imagine a solar system with the sun being the product", Bogusky says. "A great product can market itself if it's designed to do so. The first ring would be packaging - probably the most under leveraged of potential marketing vehicles. The next ring out would include distribution opportunities, and the next ring would be PR. And the final, most distant ring would be ads in traditional paid media. In terms of brand-to-consumer interaction, the more you move to the centre, the more impact you can have on the individual."
- People like stuff they can use. Such stuff tends to stick around. And get passed around.
- Supply them with the cultural materials they need and can actually use, to produce their own things.
- Look for opportunities outside of just ads. What else can be leveraged, from packaging to experience to improve the customers lives.
Fundamentally, the tools of Mutation, Invention, Candor, Mischief, Connection and Pragmatism are just agents of the ultimate goal - to drive momentum. This is the central idea of Hoopla.
Momentum is not to be confused with "awareness", which is what most conventional advertising tried to generate and build. As Porter points out:
"There are brands that everyone knows about - and nobody cares about."
So in essence, an old, established, and rapidly fading brand may actually enjoy greater awareness levels than a young up-and-coming brand. But the up-and-comer has momentum on its side - and momentum, if fostered and sustained will roll over everything in its path.
As Bogusky points out, there are only two kinds of brands as perceived in the minds of today's hyper-aware consumers: The ones perceived to be on the way up, and the ones perceived to be on the way down. From Hoopla:
"Momentum, at least defined by CP+B, is primarily about keeping a brand in forward motion. You don't achieve that by repeating the same commercial over and over; on the contrary, that approach yields familiarity, awareness, consistency - all the things that used to be seen as the goal of advertising."
"According to CP+B, consumers today no longer just consume - they pick, choose and use. They download, absorb and assimilate the bits and pieces of a complex culture that enable them to form a unique and diversified persona. All of those selected cultural fragments, processed together, become the raw material people now use to produce their own customised version of "me"."
"Where yesterday's consumers saw consistency, today's consumers see staleness."
"In order to be perceived as being "on the rise", a brand needs to be seen as surprising, fresh, in transition, innovative, topical, ubiquitous, dynamic."
"Usually, maintaining momentum requires constant reinvention," says Porter. "Without that, even an icon become just another piece of nostalgia." Which means you cannot simply generate momentum with a big idea and then sit back and enjoy the benefits; the invention and reinvention must be constant, necessitating that one's "idea factory" continually turn out new products."
""News is the pipeline," says Keller. "If there's no product news, then we have to make 'creative news' with content. That builds momentum."
"If your'e about to spend advertising dollars on a campaign and you can't imagine that anybody is going to write or talk about it, you might want to rethink it," Bogusky says. "It means you probably missed injecting truth or social tension into it. And if there isn't some aspect of news in your message, today's consumer has filters that will probably prevent the message from penetrating at all."
- Traditional advertising was specifically designed to create awareness. Hoopla is better suited to building momentum.
- It's harder top generate momentum than to lose it.
- Momentum is often the result of not one big push but many pushes and a multitude of forces coming together at the same time.
- The starting point for momentum seems to be (as always) the big idea, around which momentum - and indeed popular movement - can be built.
- Without a constant flow of news, people tend to quickly compartmentalise - and forget - a brand and its message.
- Embrace topicality. Inject all kinds of stuff that is happening in the culture at the moment.
- But… don't just react to what's going on in the culture. Every time the zeitgeist is moving strongly in one direction, there's room for a daring communicator to come along and push things in a new and different direction.
- You must be willing to go against the flow of current ideas and conventional wisdom.
- If you try and ride everyone else's momentum, you'll never build up any of your own.
- Remain informal and chaotic. Hoopla does not thrive in bureaucracies, and it's rarely created in formal meetings.
- Momentum is about looking forward, not backward.
- Momentum is about doing a ton of work.
What Does Momentum Look Like?
This quote sums it up perfectly:
"How do you know your brand has momentum? The answer to that is… You just know. People are talking about it without being prompted. News stories are being done about it. Independent websites spring up, where enthusiasts swap tips about it. A-list celebrities pop up in trendy clubs wearing the brand's logo on a cap. The brand seems to be interwoven into the culture - which is not the same as being trumpeted in lots of ads. When a brand inserts itself into the mix of current culture, by the way of momentum, people become more than just "aware" of it. They become interested in it. As a brand and it's messages attain a cultural relevance, this "creates a suction that pulls people in", says CP+B's Bernard. People find themselves in the position of needed to know about this brand in order to stay culturally tuned-in themselves."
In my mind, the most important takeaway from Hoopla is that there is a traditional idea that advertising needs to be expensive, take certain traditional forms as dictated by the existing media, or that ad messages need to be clearly spelled out and repeated over and over again to get through to people. With the explosion of information via the web, and new forms of technology, consumers have built strong filters that prevent this from occurring.
The goal therefore is to try and drive Momentum. This is built by utilising the key principles of Mutation, Invention, Candor, Mischief, Connection and Pragmatism. Each plays a role in helping to generate communication that is different enough, intriguing enough, ubiquitous enough, and useful enough to set a phenomenon in motion - and create a brand that can cut through the clutter of todays information overload.
I highly recommend grabbing a physical copy of the book to add to your shelf. It has a lot of great examples of work, and a few hidden Hoopla surprises of its own - just take a knife to the back cover of the book to see what I mean.