Motivation, Hollywood style

Lots of my favorite movies illustrate motivation principles. Runaway JuryA Civil Action, The Insider,  The Rainmaker, Quiz Show. Among documentaries, An Inconvenient Truth and Sicko.

Runaway Jury explores jury tampering. Near the climax, John Cusack’s character encourages an ex-Marine opposing him on the jury to express his view. He knows that stifling the guy’s opinion will make it stronger. So he eggs the guy on, until he’s left out on a limb and alienated from the rest of the jurors. If Cusack had directly confronted the idea, the opponent would have won the argument. And so it is when we are trying to persuade: if we foster an authentic airing of the issue, we gain power for the idea we are advocating.

This is not easy, because giving strength to the opponent can damage us, too. With The Insider and The Rainmaker, the heroes can’t win until they allow themselves to be sacrificial victims. There’s something attractive about a person who is willing to risk everything for his beliefs. That’s what these movies illustrate.

In A Civil Action, the hero never actually wins. He loses because the powerful attorney played by Robert Duvall conspires to keep the truth from reaching the jury.

And with Quiz Show, there are no heroes. Television wins, and continues to control the dialog process by holding contrary views off the air. The “communication cataclysm” that has now hit the PR/advertising world is a direct result of the failure of that kind of media power, and the ascendancy of audience power in its place.

In the documentary realm, lots of major films tend not to be good motivators.

Think back to Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”. Though I loved the film and agreed with it, many of my conservative friends (yes, I try to get along with Cs and Ls!) just laughed it off. I believe the reasons are two-fold: (1) by letting the director make the movie into a personal crusade, Al made it easy for conservatives to dismiss. (2) When the facts were flowing, contrary ideas were ignored or even ridiculed.

If Al had stripped out the intimate personal reflections, and instead brought in other authorities to champion his ideas, he would have sidestepped the personality issue. And if he had aired and then rebutted the contrary “evidence” with facts and logic, his movie would have packed a lot more truth, and been a lot more inconvenient to his opponents.

Michael Moore tends to make similar mistakes. In my view Sicko worked the best of any of his movies to date, because he kept his own personality out of the first half of the film. By then, the audience was bonding to those heroes of 9/11 who couldn’t get health insurance. But then the humorous stunts, the in-your-face trips to France and Cuba, ate away at the persuasive capital he had built . I didn’t mind… but my hunch is many viewers were offended. The approach dishonored the audience. Is anyone watching Sicko now, during the current health care debate? I doubt it — even though it has a lot of good things to say.

To motivate with integrity, make even one-way presentations feel like a dialog!

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Refreshing talent, refreshing subject

Today I discovered the work of Paul Pryor of Austin, who did this outstanding motivational video for Charitywater. It’s worth watching for both content and execution. I especially like the shallow depth of field. My next camera, I’m headed in that direction.

In terms of fundraising ideas, in my opinion this is one of the better fundraising videos I have seen, and asking people to have birthday parties at which their friends give as many dollars as their birthday year is one of the best fundraising ideas I’ve heard in a long time.

Apparently Paul is also involved in Upstream Visual. Strong work, and I like the simplicity of their site, too.

How to motivate with video 2: Six ways to inform the mind

Here are 6 tips on keeping our content informative … without preaching:

  1. Talk like you’ve been listening. Today we need the audience’s permission to present our movie.  So approach them with a listening attitude — a perceptible sensitivity to why they may be troubled, baffled, or bored.
  2. Acknowledge the barriers, their questions. This is really the first M of  motivation. All the arguments must solve their mysteries, uncover their secret treasures.
  3. Blow up your “talking points”. A boxer doesn’t go into the ring with a rehearsed choreography. The match evolves one punch at a time.  Let the argument incorporate their best defense of our best argument — not straw men. The most disappointing project I’ve ever been associated with involved a client who had a major PR problem, but chose to leave out the real nitty gritty issues for fear of upsetting the audience. Assess what your audience cares about, and talk frankly about “the elephant in the living room.”
  4. Enthusiasm, yes. Ridicule, no. Why do people like talk radio? I think it’s because they’re passionate about their message. Education tends to make people broad-minded … and less passionate. But appropriate emotion feels right. Use it, clearly and fairly. If you’re self-aware, you can avoid manipulating the audience.
  5. Understatement is more powerful than “power”. Use kind, understated approaches. And when it must deal a blow to their opinions, pull the punch if possible. Because in reality it’s not like boxing at all… it’s more like a first date or a 10th anniversary dinner with a spouse who has “issues”. We need to address the issues and yet we need to avoid offense: not PC, but not cocky either. The audience really is in the driver’s seat, and if we want to get to first base, demonstrate that we care, understand, and honor them.
  6. Gather strength from your opponents. Like I said, it’s really not a boxing match. It might, however, involve Tai Chi. In this gentler form of combat, you use the leverage created by your opponents moves, to bend his energy away from your hurt.

Contrary to popular opinion, the most important part of presenting is the intellectual.

Mad Man

Mad Man

There’s a myth that people don’t care about ideas. Yep, the Dullsville slums are huge and scary, but thankfully there’s a lot of enlightened folks around, too. While I hate the tactics of Rush Limbaugh and his ilk,  one thing that guys like Rush and Glenn Beck have proven is that there’s an enormous appetite for emotional talk about issues. Ideas can be entertaining.

So instead of cueing the violins and trying to schmooze our way toward persuasion, I have found that it’s really important to address the emotions behind the facts … and lay ideational groundwork in a systematic, transparent way.

Here are two examples of the intellectual part of a motivational presentation. The first excerpt is from a video shown to Ohio Wesleyan alumni. This section deals passionately with the challenges all colleges are facing. The premise comes straight from H.G. Wells:

The case we are making here is that alumni can be proud because of OWU’s commitment to serving a very needy world. While the claim is presented with emotion, I think it displays an attitude that the idea is more important than the institution. We’re not whipping up tribal loyalty, but issuing a call to arms for a moral principle.

The second excerpt is a simple sales video aimed at accounting teachers. Here, we use humor and surprise. But the fabric of the piece is a careful set of arguments based on the hot buttons that the audience told us they cared about. For example, they were unhappy with the old Glencoe software. In the first minute, the nerdy alter-ego jumps in with “Much Better Software”. It’s an informative presentation wrapped in an entertaining bundle. The substance of the product was authentically built in response to their requests.

In the next week I’ll write about the third M, Melding with the Heart… the emotional part of motivation.

VW Volcano taps volcanic resentment among creatives

Here’s a new spot on YouTube… thanks to the Creative Intensive Network on LinkedIn, for sharing it, and Alexander Bickov for posting it on YouTube.

I really love the storytelling that director Marcello Serpa of AlmapBBDO Brazil accomplished in only a minute seventeen seconds… but judging from the comments on LinkedIn, I’m in the minority. Most of the comments were critical of its relevance, amount of brand recognition, etc. “Creative for creative’s sake”, “Epic waste of a client’s money”, and an entertaining rant with no doubt an interesting backstory about sleek conference rooms and busty interns offering beverages in a big agency. Maybe they’re right. But I don’t think so.

This spot has everything an urbanite worried about the future could want: a smoking volcano threatening an idyllic way of life; a creative solution delivered in heroic fashion by young progressives, working together. Getting their hands and cars dirty in the process, and blessing the soccer players, the old, the young, the chickens, and the goats. A beginning, middle, and end all in just over a minute. Classic dramatic storytelling in the service of car advertising!

Here’s the spot.

Here’s what I said on LinkedIn:

I like it a lot. Well directed: good casting (the old man, the boy), amazing job of making a character statement about the people bringing the popcorn in just a few frames (attractive girl getting out of the car, cool-looking but not Abercrombie-esque shovelers.) Excellent editing… watch it 5 times and you can see how nicely the details support the message. Environmental/urban reinvention statement (Smoking volcano repurposed for human health — with cool factor like chickens & sheep) Great special effects that don’t detract from the story. Well-conceived branding elements as the line of identical cars come toward us (if you watch on YouTube at HQ).

Disagree with the linkage to the Beetle. This spot was clearly conceived to support some branding research somewhere that said “small, green, community, versatile, practical … and yet racy, daring, sporty, and fast.”

Come on, folks, lighten up. What do big horses have to do with Budweiser? Is there a meaningful difference between Huggies and Pampers? The whole thing is just another devilishly clever charade purporting to solve the challenges of life with a product that, in reality, is no better than any other vehicle in solving them. It’s art, and it’s artifice, and if we’re in advertising that’s what clients pay us for.

What thinketh thou?

Why writers are willing to negotiate

Sent from my iPhone

WWW – Writing without whoredom

Liz Craig, Writer has a great rant on her blog. She refers to penny-a-word writers as “word whores” and stresses the importance of creative professionals standing up for the value of their work. It’s a fun read, especially if you’re a writer. She says in part:

The blogosphere is a gaping maw that demands to be fed with words. Like a coal furnace in a ship’s engine room, it must have fuel shoveled into it continually to keep it “hot.” The blog-fuel is the “articles” these speed-typing drones crank. Their work is not, shall we say, of the highest quality. But quality is not a concern for most owners of monetized blogs. The writing is just the obligatory filling between pay-per-click advertisements.

Liz, you are so right. Seth Godin, in Small is the New Big, which I’m reading right now, called the internet an echo chamber. Dididididid youuuuu sayyyyy youuu nneeeeddddd aaaa wwrrriiitttttterrrr?

Liz also included this delicious video rant by Harlan Ellison:

As a creative guy I agree emotionally with Liz and Harlan. But for those of us who haven’t written dozens of books, movies and Flying Nun, Outer Limits & Star Trek episodes, there’s a collossal yeh-but that keeps us from being able to throw our weight around while negotiating. As Vizini put it, we are absolutely, totally, and in every other way caught in the maw of that beast Liz writes about, the disadvantages of globalization. So while I’d like to think folks hire my services because they love me, the truth is all they care about is my body of work. And for all of us who scribble on the cave wall, if we’re not writing our own words but the thoughts someone is paying us to express, it really is just a business proposition and the only real question is how much they will have to pay.

Fortunately, there are more opportunities to make a decent living in creative pursuits than really any other part of the economy — if we “do hard work” as Seth puts it, or use our right brains, as Dan Pink puts it. But I think I know where this movie plot is heading.

Here’s what I posted on her Linked-in discussion:

Great post, Liz, and I loved Harlan’s rant. Personally, as I shift from producing expensive videos for institutional clients to freelance writing while I retool and relocate, I’m resolved not to settle for commodity prices, because I don’t and never will do commodity work.

Here’s the economics of it, though: Adam Smith, Thomas Robert Malthus and Henry George called it the “limits of subsistence”: the minimum that workers are willing to accept in order to gain employment. Average the world, and it turns out it’s rice & beans & a shelter. Or maybe just the rice.

So remember that these word whores might have just graduated from college and are living rent free with mom. Or they’re housebound parents toiling at night to fight foreclosure. Or perhaps they live in Mumbai and can smell the slums from their doorway.

Globalization flattens the entire world, pressing good people against the limits of subsistence in an unfortunate, undesired competition for finite resources. It used to only affect mindless drone work like assembly line factory jobs. For the last decade it has affected computer programmers, accountants and now doctors, who must compete with what highly trained specialists in India and China are willing to work for to review X-rays … or even perform surgical procedures.

And now more creative work than we care to admit can be outsourced. You’re right, the beast of the internet is like a raging furnace that needs constant, fresh “content” in order to continue providing what Seth Godin called an “echo chamber” … a plasma stream of mostly inconsequential words and images.

So while we can prove our value to those who need our skills, and demand what we’re worth from those who can pay us, the cruel fact is that when engineers in China are worth $1.57/hour in the marketplace, a penny a word for writing at home might be a pay increase. And from the client perspective, if a company doesn’t really NEED golden words because they’re marketing to fools, fools gold is a lot cheaper.

Keep your overhead low and your powder dry, my friend. This problem won’t be going away.

There: I just fed the beast with 437 words. Where’s my McDonald’s breakfast? 🙂

Finally, something fresh

Oh, boy, finally I’ve got something brand new to share. These admissions projects, in which every nuance must be weighed and balanced and reviewed by a committee, seem to take forever. It’ll probably get tweaked one more time, but here’s a pretty darn finished version of a contemporary college admissions piece done on a very modest budget.

I welcome your feedback. Do the interview comments and visuals feel authentic? Do the pacing, music, and editorial decisions work for Millennial audiences? And if you’re at all familiar with OWU, does it feel like an accurate reflection of the institutional culture? I’m not aiming for art (my personal vision of a college campus) but for artistically rendered reality… using story and the tools of media to create in a small amount of time an engaging, rich, nuanced, correct impression of an extremely complex institutional fingerprint. How did I do?