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Consume, consume, consume. We all know the amount of content out there is drowning our audiences and creating a high-value attention economy.
Blue Ant Plus is on a quest to cut through that noise with engaging content. After Social Media Week, we sat with content creation expert and Creative Director, Matt Manuge, to learn more about his guideline to creating compelling campaigns.
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What’s a typical day look like for you as a Creative Director?
I’m sure it’s the answer that everyone will give you, which is, no two days look alike. It’s a bit of a copout response, but it is true in our particular business – Not only do no two days, look alike, no two projects look alike. One day we’ll be answering an RFP to try to win business. Another day will be on set directing or overseeing a shoot. You know, one week we’ll be focused on beauty products, next it will be automotive, next it will be food. So, it’s all over the place, which is fun. I like it; it’s chaotic.
Do you find you have to be a chameleon in your skills and knowledge? How do you set yourself up to be a beauty expert and an automotive expert?
There’s a certain level of multidisciplinary skill sets that you have to have, but more on the actual execution. So, being able to write, edit, understand graphics and art direction, talk to talent and clients, etc. Knowing genres is either just having the wherewithal to do the research into that, or the confidence to know that you’re not smart enough for that genre and to talk to subject matter experts who know it way better than you and really lean on them.
Clearly somebody like me should not be talking about hair care. Even though I’ve done a lot of hair care stuff, I’m bald and I think I might use a bar of Dove soap and that’s it. So, I had to learn about curly hair problems.
In your 30 under 30 interview, you said we have to basically step back and see what people really want to watch when creating content. So, how do you determine what someone really is looking to watch?
I used to work in film and TV for quite a few years, and you always create content because you want to tell a story; you want people to watch that story. The thing with branded content and advertising is, you might have these great grandiose ideas, but at the end of the day, do people really care? If it wasn’t being served to them as an ad, would people legitimately want to watch it? So, there’s a lot of things we do to understand “Does it have LEGS” as we say. Or, if it doesn’t have those things (those are meant for entertainment purposes), does the content offer something of value?
At the end of the day, content has to offer something of value to a person to give them their time, because time is so valuable nowadays.
What’s the story that almost anybody really wants to watch? What’s a good story that people are looking for?
Well creative is subjective, so it’s important that you really understand what you’re trying to accomplish with your content and who your audience is. Once you understand your audience, that’s when you can appeal to them through your content. I find one of the challenges that a lot of brands make is they don’t simplify their objectives. Sometimes marketers or companies are stuck thinking branded content is the same as their TV commercial, and that’s not the case at all. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve gone into a piece of content, with the best intentions and it gets watered down because of all the messages included in it. You want to tell [your audience] that you’re new, but you also want to tell them that you’re fresh, and you want to tell them this and that. By that point, you’ve completely watered down your story away from what made it unique in the first place.
Is there any campaign in particular that you like?
One that I talked about in Social Media Week, was a campaign we did for AXE. One of the great things about it was that AXE as a brand knew that they needed to change their perception, and they were willing to take a risk by making a piece of content that never showed the product whatsoever and really just focused on the people and their stories. And, so that was really cool and smart risk by AXE.
Editor’s Note: Matt’s team also recently released a Lysol campaign to increase usage of their products. People already know to clean their toilets and floors, but never think about cleaning their lightswitches or door knobs. So, they created a series called Germ Busters where families use a real-life germ detecting device to expose bacteria levels on every-day items. It’s both disgusting and fun. You can watch the first episode on YouTube.
A lot of successful companies are value based. At SMW, you had mentioned Patagonia, many of their ads are about saving the forest, Knix is about body positivity, but then there are brands that don’t try to be the “good guy.” Uber and Amazon aren’t trying to be philanthropic, but are still super successful. Do you think these companies would do better if they had more ethics embodied in their branding?
Not necessarily. Patagonia can do it extremely well – they’re able to take risks through their content because they have such a strong idea of their identity. Some brands still have a strong idea of who they are, but who they are isn’t to make these big, grandiose, philanthropic, save-the-rainforest, messages. If you’re a broom company, you can be a kick-ass broom company without giving back to charity. There are tons of companies out there that aren’t “sexy” and don’t need to do those things, but can still make great content and great products and serve a need.
When you are acquiring a new client, what are some of the first steps you take?
Ask a lot of questions. The majority of clients that we work with are one-off projects, so it’s impossible for us to live and breathe the brand as well as the brands do. So, early on in the relationship, we work hard at taking as much knowledge out of their brains as possible. The big question I like to ask is “what is storytelling success to you?” If a viewer saw this piece of content, and could only come away with one thing. What is that one thing? Is it that it smells good or there’s a sale? I do my best to try to understand all of those things before we even start brainstorming.
A lot of your content generally are these beautiful long-form pieces. How do you balance that with the low attention span of a scroller?
I personally believe that however long it takes to tell the story is the length the content should be. But, it’s also important to understand where the content is living and what the objective is. Our portfolio is filled with some long-form pieces, but it’s equally as filled with six- and 15-second videos, we just tell those stories a little bit differently. Often when we approach a shoot, we’ll think of what the overarching story is – what needs to be communicated. And then we think about where it’s going to be living. From there, we adapt our story specifically to those formats, because we also know that a TV commercial doesn’t have the same impact as it would on YouTube, and a YouTube video won’t have the same impact as it will on Facebook, Instagram, Tik-Tok, or Snapchat.
Do you take one piece of content and repurpose it for each channel? Or do you produce fresh content for each?
There used to be a time where we used the phrase “cut down” a lot. You’d start with the hero video and then you would cut it down to a fifteen and six second length. One of the things that we’ve stolen from Facebook was the word Remix, because cutdown is such a negative thing. It’s like you’re getting the “lesser-than” piece of content. Oftentimes it’s that fifteen or six second format that more people will see than the actual long form video, so we always try to think ahead to create content that’s specific for that six-second form. Recently, we did a really fun series for Lysol and the actual long-form video is four minutes long, but then we made specific videos for fifteen and six seconds. We wrote scripts for those videos in advance and recorded them separately.
Are you finding more requests for Snapchat or Tick-Tock formatted videos?
Not so much. Although, Tik-Tok is a platform that I personally love. Tik-Tok is probably the most creative platform I’ve seen. The stuff that people are making on it is wild. It makes me think that there’s going to be a generation of filmmakers who are gonna completely blow me out of the water in 5 years.
What would you say is a common trait amongst creative directors? And do you have that trait?
I realized very early on when I took on this role that the thing I enjoy most about being a creative is when I make a decision, whether it’s choosing a color or writing a piece of dialogue, I get the most enjoyment when that component goes live in the market. So, as a Creative Director, I ensure that my team makes those decisions for themselves. So, I guess the one thing that I hope other creative directors do is really empower and trust the people underneath them to do their best creative work.
Do you still get to do any filming for fun or have any personal creative filming outlets?
Not as much as I would hope. I used to have a lot of side-hustles and projects. Sometimes the reality of work is you get bogged down and I don’t always have the time of day. I try to do little things like doodling or taking a goofy picture of my dog or a tik-tok video, little things like that to exercise my creative muscles.
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What skills are important in the workforce today in Marketing and beyond?
In general, especially in what I do, people have to learn to be multidisciplinary. When I started my career in film and TV, I came from a world where everyone had one job and that’s what you did. If you were an editor you were an editor, if you were in graphics, you did graphics, but eventually people started embracing this idea that the cameraman can also be the director. We ask a lot from our team to be able to do multiple things. Our graphic designer is also a photographer, our writer is our copyeditor and will partake in brainstorms, so I would say in general, people need to be open to learning new skill sets completely, be open to trying to learn as much as you possibly can.
What’s next for Blue Ant Plus
I think what’s next for us is evolving our identity and figuring out what we’re awesome at and the best way that we can help brands and clients create content that will truly connect with people.
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