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We’re Being Framed

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graham stewartWhether we like it or not, video is here to stay and TV, contrary to popular opinion, is far from dead, writes Graham Stewart. 

Everyone is pretty much on the same page that the foreseeable future of shareable content lies in video. Of course it does. A quick glance at what most people are looking at on their phones on the bus (and brazenly looking at on their screens in the office – oh it’s work-related, then that’s okay then) can tell you that. But when it comes to creating video content for our audiences to engage with, we’d better watch out, looks like Beadle’s about.

It seems a lot of activations designed to earn media attention – and the video content being developed around them – are nothing more than hidden camera pranks, tickling our voyeuristic fancy to see how people at large will react, or what they will say (cue beeps), when presented with a hilariously uncomfortable situation.

Hands up. Guilty, your honour. We’ve all dabbled in it. And it’s not purely an Irish thing. It’s a shortcut, a quick go-to, being taken right across the globe. Now either we’re pretending not to notice that it’s the same stunt being rehashed again and again, or we’ve convinced ourselves that people want to see this one-trick pony perform the same act repeatedly. And, look, to a large extent they do, if the feeds of the three teenagers in my house are anything to go by. But that’s not the issue.

The problem is this: we took the tried, tested, done to death, revived and then killed again TV show format of Candid Camera (which first aired on the telly in 1948, says Wikipedia so it must be true), simply repackaged it for digital channels, and thought we’d somehow created something new. This is something I think we tend to do a lot as creative agencies, moving into fields that are not our own, that the practitioners in those fields have become masters of (fashion design, television programming, documentary making, etc.). We knock something out, make a video about it, and go on about how it’s never been done before – except of course by the thousands of people who have been doing it for years, day in, day out, and to a very high standard, already. But I digress. I do that. A lot.

TV, contrary to popular belief, is not dead. It’s not running on all cylinders (contrary to what the numbers – that just don’t add up to me – say),but it’s still very much with us. And when I look through the channels, it’s not You’ve Been Framed, 24/7. There’s real variety there, even beyond all the scripted reality stuff. There’s drama, documentaries, education, sport, current affairs, and, yes, comedy… but the kind that doesn’t revolve around winding people up before jumping out and screaming “Surprise!” at them.

Here’s my take on it. And I think this is where the Irish psyche does come into it. We want to make people laugh. Actually, sometimes we’re desperate to make people laugh. We see it as the be-all and end-all. God love us. It would appear and charity are the only places where we see fit to appeal to the other end of the emotion spectrum.

And yet Dove seems to go there all year round, to reference just two examples, measuring men’s heartbeats as they react to pictures of different women, and hiring forensic artists to draw how people see themselves versus how they look in real life. It’s a thought-provoking book others are quickly and vociferously taking a leaf out of, with Always and Run Like a Girl as one example, and love it or hate it (whether you think it’s contrived or not), Momondo and The DNA Journey.

Now that’s not to say I’d like us all get on the Dove train – it’s one thing trying to make everyone laugh, but a little bit weird to have us all trying to make everyone cry. But look, in the event that does become flavour of the month, let’s just allow the subjects to know that there’s a camera in the room first.

Graham Stewart is creative director at McCannBlue and Tweets as @mrgrahamstewart

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