THE CONTEXT IS THE CONTENT
When you’re getting an underground train, do you ever stop to listen to the buskers?
Nope, me neither.
The reason you’re in the underground is to get a train.
You’re not down there to listen to live performances by street musicians.
You’ve got something else on your mind.
And that’s not just in London.
It’s pretty much the same the world over.
I’ve used underground transit systems in New York, Paris, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Tokyo.
I’ve never noticed anyone standing around listening to buskers.
People are too busy getting on with their lives.
Going where they’re going.
The Washington Post recently filmed people walking past a busker.
He was playing classical violin in the DC Metro station, at quarter to eight on a cold winter morning.
About two thousand people walked past him.
Only six actually stopped to listen for a few minutes.
Several young children tried to stop and listen.
But their parents pulled them away.
The busker played for an hour.
Out of 2,000 people who walked past him, 20 dropped money in his violin case.
About the return you’d expect for direct mail.
So far no surprises.
The interesting part is the part that isn’t obvious.
The Washington Post had set up the experiment using the concert violinist Joshua Bell as the busker.
The previous week he had sold out a concert hall in Boston, with seats averaging $100 each.
The violin he was playing in that Metro station was worth $3.5 million.
He was playing six pieces by Bach.
The same six pieces he’d played the previous week.
Amongst the most beautiful and intricate music ever written.
The box office receipts at the concert hall were $2 million to hear that music.
Here it was free.
And no one wanted it.
The point is, it’s all about context.
The people who went to see Joshua Bell in concert had prepared themselves for weeks for the experience.
They sat in a hushed hall and concentrated on Joshua Bell on stage.
They stopped whatever else they were doing for that hour.
The people in the Metro didn’t do any of that.
This was just something happening as they went by.
At best an irrelevance, at worst an annoyance.
Now we all know it was actually a beautiful piece of art.
But only in the right place.
In this context it was the wrong thing in the wrong place.
That’s what a lot of people currently working in advertising don’t understand.
They think we’re just here to make a work of art.
An interesting technique, a stunning piece of film, full of delicate nuances, something everyone who’s worked on it can be proud of.
The director, the musicians, the sound engineer, the editor, the digital graphics guys.
They think we’re here to make a brilliant piece of craft.
But where it has to work isn’t a concert hall.
Or an art gallery.
Where it has to work is in people’s lives.
On TV, on posters, in magazines, on radios, on laptop screens.
On the street, in the living room, in the car, at the office.
And yes, even on the underground.
We have to think about this.
Think about the context.
Beautiful pieces of art work in art galleries, and in museums, and in concert halls.
Anywhere where people are expecting them.
Now take a look at the places were advertising has to work.
The other night on TV I saw a commercial that had some terrific animation.
My wife and children all work in advertising.
I told them all about it.
The lighting, the framing, the camera angles, the editing.
They said let’s see it, let’s look it up on YouTube.
The trouble was I couldn’t remember who it was for.
It was a terrific piece of craft, I remembered every single detail.
I just couldn’t remember who it was for.
And I work in advertising.
If I can’t remember it, what chance have the punters got?
I’m not saying don’t do art.
I’m saying do art that works in the context it’s supposed to work in.