The Beauty of a Simple Idea

We’ve all seen Super Bowl commercials with amazing productions that cost millions to make. The actors, set design, props, locations, and a thousand other things can get very expensive very fast, but many big name marketers have forked over that money in the hopes that their spot will break through the clutter and interrupt their audience enough so they get noticed. There is another path. Having a simple, beautiful idea means you can strip away the artifice and tell your story intimately. A couple recent cases of this  – one emotional and one comedic – demonstrate just how far an approach can go.


The Always #Like a Girl video from Procter & Gamble has stacked up over 20 million views on YouTube. Watch it and you’ll see why. It’s all shot on one set, and the people are real. They’re asked, if you were throwing a ball ‘like a girl’ what would you do? Each person (men, women, girls) acts out throwing a ball in an overly affected and stereotypical girlish fashion.  We learn that women’s self-confidence plummets during puberty as these stereotypes chip away at their perceptions of themselves. The video builds as we see a new, confident image of women emerge, until doing anything ‘like a girl’ is a badge of honor. Simple.

And then there’s Stephen Merchant for Newcastle Brown Ale. All the actor does is sit down and talk to the camera, and riff on how great America would be if England had won the Revolutionary War. Merchant channels a bit of John Cleese here and it’s great fun.


No stunt work, car crashes or special effects could improve on these beautifully simple ideas. They cost money to make, but not Super Bowl spot money, and they’re getting seen by lots of people – without the ridiculous cost of the media buy. For marketers, the lesson is as simple as this new brand of video. Invest in your creative ideas first and foremost. If more extensive production is required to tell the story, then you can go there. But if you can tell a great story without moving the camera, you’ll move your audience instead.

Good news: your ads are getting lots of views. Bad news: robots are watching them

Today’s Wall Street Journal reports some interesting statistics on video ad viewership. And by “interesting” I mean “holy $#@t.”  Apparently companies will go to very great lengths to convince advertisers that their ads are being seen. But many of the views are on sites such as (and you can’t make this stuff up), a company that displays ads smaller than a needlepoint, hence invisible. That’s one of the better case scenarios. Another bit of data eye-candy comes from audience research firm ComScore, who found that 36% of online ad views are generated by nonhumans (i.e. bots, i.e. robots/machines/ i.e not your customers).

robby[1]So, in my post today, I’m going to break down the Wall Street Journal’s “Moving Targets” sample scenario of online fraud, and provide a content marketing alternative from Captains of Industry.


  1. Car brand X asks its ad agency to place an online video spot targeted to men aged 25-54 who are likely World Cup fans.
  2. The agency often goes to an ad network, which in turn sells ads across the web.
  3. If the network doesn’t think it can reach enough World Cup fans, it may turn to an ad exchange to find more ad space for the video campaigns.
  4. Fraudsters can exploit this system by setting up bogus sites who’s fake viewers look attractive to Car Brand X.


  1. Car brand X asks a content marketing agency to build engagement with men aged 25-54 who are likely World Cup fans.
  2. A good content agency will first look at what kind of meaningful, valuable, educational and entertaining web content will appeal to car buyers aged 25-54 who are likely World cup fans. What content would these people seek out, and then share?
  3. The agency develops a strategy for not only the kind of content to be used (i.e. video, podcasts, etc), but what the most effective platform should be for the content (new website, or existing social media platforms such as YouTube, for example)
  4. In tandem, the agency develops a distribution strategy for the content. This may include a publishing calendar, with different kinds of content deployed over time on different platforms and with different forms of social media outreach.
  5. The agency develops a creative concept from the strategy. If the research uncovers that male world cup soccer fans are hungry for information on a particular kind of car, and wary of superficial glitz, the agency might then create a series of entertaining but educational videos about the car, all hosted by a soccer celebrity.
  6. The web video series is then deployed on the kind of platform the strategy has determined will allow the video to be seen by the largest number of potential customers. Not videos that interrupt these people, mind you. These would be videos that the customer would seek out because THEY WANT TO SEE THEM. Because the videos are genuinely interesting, with a depth of information that helps the customer understand the features and benefits of this car – with the story tailored from a soccer fan’s perspective. The trunk space, for example, could be measured not in cubic feet, but by how many soccer balls and other gear it can hold.
  7. Social media is used to get the world out, including targeted outreach to soccer blogs frequented by men aged 25-54.
  8. Success is measured not just by views but by the number of people – actual people – who click through to request more information on the cars being showcased by our soccer star.

The result is that FEWER views may be recorded, but the quality of those interactions will be far greater, with actions and influence measured on a human scale. And here’s the kicker: If large advertisers took half the cost of the 36% of their media spend wasted on views by robots, they could fund a Captains content marketing campaign start to finish.

To quote the HAL 9000 computer from 2001 A Space Odyssey, “Dave, I really think we should talk about this.”

Redefining Instructional Design Through Typography

In today’s branding circles, there are the image geeks and the type geeks—the latter of whom frequently extol the virtuous presence of a perfectly crisp finial or manual kerning. For an increasingly visual reader demographic, typography can speak louder than the words it treats to convey the more elusive essentialities of a brand—personality, tone, age. But too often in this space, form trumps function; beauty rules purpose. It’s rare to see a typeface that is as lovely as it is legible—it’s even more rare to see a typeface that is lovely, legible, utilitarian, and on-brand. It’s this reality that makes the story of the Castledown font—created for students learning to read and write at the Castledown Primary School in East Sussex, England—all the more unusual.

Neil Small, a former teacher-turned-headmaster of Castledown Primary, was frustrated by a not-uncommon concern in our era of universal design: standard library fonts used in workbooks were dull and hard to read for students with dyslexia. When he first contacted Colophon Foundry, a London type studio, he had a clean typeface in mind— one shaped closely to young learners’ natural writing patterns. His request came with an extra layer of complexity and seeming impossibility: Small believed that the right font could be a learning tool in and of itself—a scaffold that would improve all students’ reading and writing practices.

Colophon designers Edd Harrington and Anthony Sheret spent a month with Castledown students, immersed in observing the minute details of their letter placement, pressure points, licks and type preferences as they traced out their letters and first words—contextualizing their findings against accessible design tenets. The namesake custom design they unveiled has now been in use at the primary school for a year. And beyond making it indeed easier for all students to trace, replicate, and read without issue, the Castledown typeface has become the school brand —its friendly curves and inclusive feel extended to a whole new audience of readers via the Castledown Primary website and print collateral.

Castledown School

While a month-long, audience deep dive isn’t always possible in type design, attention to the subtlety of real-life “typography” is and should be. The otherwise unnoticed oscillations of a pencil, or the intrinsic, human patterns of letter formation are precisely what make for designs that go beyond brand, legibility, and utility to refreshingly personal intimacy—the kind that translates across workbooks, mediums, and audiences. In this case, the story of one primary school’s pursuit of a deeper purpose through workbook type design provides an inspired lesson in visual communication—the kind that all true type geeks and branding experts can get behind.