Like thousands of others, I happily confess to being a fan of Jerry Seinfeld’s hit web series, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” The witty banter and heartfelt, reflective dialogue has caused me on multiple occasions to daydream that Mr. Seinfeld would show up to greet me (preferably in a 1950s Porsche Spyder), explaining, “No, you’re not a professional comedian, Matt, but people find you incredibly charming, so what the hey, let’s talk.”
The episode that really hooked me was the final show of the first season, in which he has coffee with one of his old co-stars, Michael Richards. Richards mentions what a hard job performing can be and how it is often far from enjoyable. “You know those performers who just love it?” he says, “It was always a struggle with me . . . Because sometimes I look back at the show, and I think I should have enjoyed myself more.”
Yet, Seinfeld quickly explains that inward enjoyment is not part of the gig: “Our job was not for us to enjoy it. Our job was to make sure they enjoy it.”
The concept of selflessness was a revelation for Richards, and he realized in that moment that if he had approached his comedy act through that lens, he wouldn’t have made the personal mistake he committed several years ago, “when I blew it that night in the comedy club ... lost my temper.” He further confesses, “I think I’ve worked selfishly, not selflessly.” It’s a poignant moment and the level of humanity that Seinfeld’s show is so great about revealing.
After watching the show, I appreciated the impact that the concept of selflessness could have on my own work. The advertising industry is feverishly working itself through a cathartic moment as it wrestles with the right approach to brand storytelling in a digital era fueled with social networks, user-generated content and ever-shortening attention spans. However, I’ve never heard an industry leader or media pundit articulate a strategy for successful branded content more precisely than Seinfeld did when speaking about entertaining. The content – like the performer – must be selfless.
Clients and creative teams often find themselves in contention for how branded they should actually make branded content. Too forced, and the blatantly commercial nature of the work feels inauthentic, but the vacancy of a brand’s presence does little for any business objectives in the first place. This is the wrong discussion to have, however, as the dialogue should not be around trivial details, such as how big to scale a logo, how long it runs or what is the call-to-action; rather, the more important discussion clients and agencies alike should be focused on is how the brand can make completely selfless content for their consumers.
Some brands are proving that they are indeed able to approach content creation in this way. Lowe’s, for instance, working with BBDO New York, produced a series of Vines for DIY tricks, such as how to unscrew a stripped screw with the help of a rubber band. Each Vine is six seconds of quirky know-how and pays off on the Lowe’s brand of “Never Stop Improving” in a way that is honest and not at all forced. The Vines provide real value for consumers, while communicating that Lowe’s is always there to help them.
Content should not be restricted to just video, however. As another example, last year we worked with an international food conglomerate to create a program for one of their meat snacks. Partnering with a video game franchise, the brand created a digital experience where their target consumers, avid gamers, could vote on some of the content they wanted to see integrated into the game, ranging from double XP point boosters to custom dog tags. Through this approach, the brand supported their customers’ own passions and pursuits.
Ultimately, content is simply about wrapping a brand’s message within a story to charge it with the power to spread and become more memorable. By crafting that narrative in a way that is selfless: completely focused on the audience and the experience they take away, you take the conversation to a different place and elevate the brand significantly.
Like Michael Richards realizing the fault of “working selfishly” in an otherwise brilliant career, brands should recognize that their content must work in a selfless manner to connect with people in a meaningful and lasting way.