Alex Steer

Advertising effectiveness, analytics and strategy / about / archive

Chasing lions

593 words

I've spent the last two weeks exploring some parts of South Africa I wanted to see before leaving for New York at the end of this month. One of those was the Kruger National Park (which is, fantastically, the size of Wales).

Aside from suddenly feeling like a tourist again in the country I've lived in for the last year, the thing that struck me, as we drove around the park looking for animal sightings, was the way in which digital cameras have changed the way in which people's holiday snaps are boring.

In the age of print and slide, holiday snaps were dull because they were staged. When you only had 12, 24 or 36 shots on a roll of 35mm film, you chose your moments, so all of your shots were of you standing in front of things, or with people you met. There you were, frozen in time and usually frozen in position, near something that might be an elephant.

Now that photographs are not limited to rolls, they are rolling - a semi-continuous record of holiday activity, like a dotted line between the states occupied by instant cameras (pull face, check hair, throw away) and film cameras (pose, smile, snap, print, mount, review). Taking photos of events is increasingly a default behaviour, and I'm not convinced we post-edit as much as we pretend we do, now that disk space is plentiful and cheap. That's why your holiday snaps are boring now: because there are hundreds of them.

Early one morning in the Kruger, a lion ran out in front of our car, across the road, and back into the bush. It took ten seconds at most, and between braking, oohing and aahing we didn't have time to reach for the camera before it was gone.

There are no blurry shots of hide or mane; no tail disappearing into the trees. It's just a story.

It made me think: is the value of unsubstantiated stories increasing? Is there now something special about events and experiences that slip through the tightening net of recording media?

Look at a lot of this year's Cannes Lions winners and you'll see media activations that were designed to be amplified through media and talked about far beyond the places where they happened. Think Kit Kat Chairs, Gatorade Replay, and T-Mobile Singalong. These are brilliant experiential marketing ideas that are only allowed to happen because they provide content for mass-reach advertising (often quite cheaply through social media).

Most media budgets won't allow for small-scale creative work that only reaches a few people, understandably. Some braver marketers invest in staging events in the knowledge that photos and videos will be captured and shared, though increasingly there's demand for a 'helping hand' from activation and digital agencies to ensure they get reach, which smacks of lack of confidence.

I never hear of creative activations which are designed only to survive as an urban legend. Which could mean they don't work, or could mean they aren't tried. Where could you do them? In a remote rural community? In a library? Underground? Wherever personal and social media aren't these days. They would be risky, but they would be special.

# Alex Steer (17/08/2010)