Jason Sperling's new book, Look at Me When I'm Talking to You, gives brands new rules for fostering loyalty with consumers in an attention-scarce world. And the RPA executive creative director leads by example with a unique media plan for its release.
Beginning June 25, Sperling will publish the book on Instagram—one illustrated page a day for 160 days at @lookatmebook. As a sneak peek, there are already some excepts posted. The idea is to reach people where they already consume media, rather than force them into a different pattern of behavior—a key point of the book as well.
– "Look at Me When I'm Talking to You" examines the obstacles that collectively threaten our industry's future and offers up new rules for getting attention in an attention scarce world, inspiring care amidst consumer apathy, and fostering loyalty from an increasingly discerning and departing audience. It offers proven strategies for connecting with today's fickle, fleeing, over-stimulated audience. It has 20% more humor than most marketing books, and 100% more pictures. ———- It's getting harder for books to break through, as well. So in the spirit of disrupting prescribed models and in the hopes of being my best example, Look At Me When I'm Talking to You is going to be the first-ever book released on Instagram. Yes, INSTAGRAM. The home of selfiers and humblebraggarts will now become a home of authors, too. It will unspool page-by-page for the next several months, with a bite-sized portion every day. And because it's being released on social media, it will be a "collaborative" book, combining my thoughts, your comments and consumer perspectives. ———- Look At Me When I'm Talking to You will launch on June 25th. Read it daily by following @lookatmebook.
Sperling joined RPA in 2010 from Media Arts Lab, where he creatively led Apple's worldwide "Get a Mac" campaign. He has also worked on brands including Honda, Pixar, ESPN and Suzuki. We spoke with him about the book, the Instagram idea and more.
What inspired you to write a book in the first place, and how long have you been working on it?
I hate that I'm in a career where most people avoid and detest the bulk of what we create. I want to be proud of what I do and what I make, and of my industry as a whole. So I guess this book is manifestation of that frustration, with some practical tools to help people make things that transcend the usual, expected fare.
The inspiration for the book's idea comes from being immersed in this "mess of opportunity" every day, as well as from watching the way the industry changed so drastically since I first got into advertising. It comes from the day-to-day trials and frustrations of trying to create content and social objects that people will willingly engage with. And it comes from the constant strategizing of how to stand out, stand apart and increase our chances of success.
In 2014, I was scheduled to do a presentation at the Creative Conference in Mexico City. It was canceled, but I was left with a presentation I didn't want to see go to waste. So I stole moments over the next year writing it, sometimes in the passenger seat on a family road trip or in the bleachers during a kid's baseball game (don't judge me). And as you might expect, I would read through it every so often, think it was complete shit, put it down and then pick it back up a few weeks later and keep going.
So many marketing books are dismal. Why is this one different?
I feel the same way! They're usually so "Well, duh, of course" and filled with lots of catchphrases that are basically the same thing we've heard a dozen times before. Or they're filled with philosophy or generalizations that make for a great read but there's nothing to glean.
I hope what makes this book better is the awareness of what makes most marketing books so bad. I wanted this to be fun to read, and be more conversational, but still be insightful. And why can't there be a marketing book with pictures?!
It was also important to me that this be written with a creative bent, but for the subject matter to be broader than just a creative person's perspective of the business. I wanted to take into account all sides of the industry—media and technology included—to fully explain the forces reshaping our industry.
Lastly, I wanted this to be a marketing book that practices what it preaches. It's easy to launch philosophy salvos on blogs and in regular books, talking about what works and what doesn't. But when has a book actually demonstrated the things it was suggesting?
– Some things about me: ———- I'm an habitual over-sharer. ———- I wet my bed until the age of 11. ———- My go-to karaoke song is "Jessie's Girl" by Rick Springfield. ———- I love brilliant ideas, brave work and being the underdog. ———- When I was a student at UCLA, I called about a job listing for marketing and selling condoms. It turns out it was for a different employer and they happened to be looking for a creative intern. The rest is history. ———- I was fortunate to spend years working on a brand like Apple, and then doubly fortunate to help bring Apple's "Mac vs. PC" television and digital campaign to life (FYI, there are 230 more Mac vs PC ads that never made it to air.) It was declared Campaign of the Decade by Adweek and Top 10 of the Century by AdAge. ———- Currently, I serve as Executive Creative Director at RPA Advertising, working primarily on Honda North America. In the few years I've been here I've recreated my favorite movie, Ferris Buehler's Day Off, for the Super Bowl, developed a massive digital campaign to help save the American drive-in movie theater, and worked on too many social media campaigns to mention. Fortunately, Forbes took notice of them in December 2014 and said, "Honda has become one of the most prolific and effective social media practitioners in the auto industry." ———– I call Los Angeles home. I have a beautiful wife, three amazing kids and two mutts. ———- Thank you RPA Advertising for supporting the launch, and Bill Westbrook and Marsha Rybin for the necessary kick in the pants. And of course thanks to Nik Piscitello for the brilliant illustrations. ———- Twitter: jasonsperling_
What are the big themes of the book?
It talks about how consumer disenchantment has turned into disengagement, and suggests ways to build brand attraction in an age of brand aversion. It factors in the democratization of creativity, the proliferation of media channels, social media and mobile technology, and suggests ways for creating attention in an attention-scarce world and care in the midst of consumer apathy. And I share a story about selling my dad's dirty magazines door-to-door. That's not so much a theme of the book as it is a theme of my life.
You talk about new rules for attraction in the world of advertising and branding. What are some of those rules, and who's doing it well?
One of the rules is to "Serpentine, serpentine" (borrowing from a scene in the comedy film The In-Laws). I think we're in a world now where people expect marketing to be predictable, pushy and manipulative. They're looking to shoot it down the moment they're exposed to it. They want to hate it. They want to avoid it. To get around this gauntlet of cynicism and the reflexive need to turn us off, we need to always be moving in unexpected ways—through the content we create, the canvases we use in unintended ways, or with the context in which our work is seen.
I think the Honda Type R experience was a great example of serpentining consumer expectations: an unexpected twist on a familiar consumer experience, and simple yet impactful interactivity that allowed people to toggle between two really engaging, overlapping storylines.
There are also rules for what not to do in the book. One rule is "No quickies." The possibility of hitting the content lottery and creating something that goes viral is a powerful aphrodisiac. But in today's fragmented media world, where every little bit of brand equity counts, we need to build deeper connections, establish brand loyalty and maintain continuity of message across everything we create. It's not an anti-awesome-work idea, it's just saying the work needs to be smarter and more strategic than ever. In the case of Kmart's "Ship My Pants" commercial, it made for a funny spot, but it did nothing to position Kmart away from its competitors or engender brand loyalty with consumers. Sales were going down before it came out, and continued to go down after.
You're releasing the book page by page on Instagram. Where did that fanciful idea come from, and do you realize you won't make a lot of money that way?
I never assumed a niche marketing book would earn me a Scrooge McDuck money pool. It was more of an itch I needed to scratch. And it was more important to me that people read it than it was to write it and have it sit on sub-page 17 of an e-book store.
The Instagram idea was a reactionary thing. I gave the book to several people to read, and after several weeks, no one, not one person, had started to read it. Could be I have crappy friends, but I actually think it was the big, imposing stack of papers filled with heady thoughts that impeded them. That led to the "a-ha" insight/connection that these days people are ingesting content in small, mobile-sized chunks. So, why can't a book be built that way? And since a good portion of the book is dedicated to breaking through and connecting with people in unexpected ways, it would be great for the book itself to exemplify the thinking.
How has your particular career path informed the way you see the challenges facing brands today?
Not sure my particular career path informed my viewpoints. Everyone in advertising faces the same thing, no matter where they've been. It's diabolically tough today with technology and consumer mindsets being what they are, and the media and content explosion is making it harder for brands to get seen and break through. And then knowing that the increasing rate of innovation will cause even more flux … it makes the head spin. But it makes the wheels spin, too. And it demands smarter, more unexpected solutions. If you happen to marry a smart agency with an extremely savvy client (I like to think I found that match), then you're in good shape.
Will your next book be published on Snapchat?
Book: Look at Me When I'm Talking to You
Author: Jason Sperling
Illustrator: Nik Piscitello
Animation: Cameron Sperling
Senior Editor: Wendy Sandoval
Book launch: 6/25/2015