Select Page

When dealing with smartphone zombies, if you want to stop the thumb, you need to feed the eyeball.

As creatives, we’re all painfully aware of the realities of playing to the smartphone zombie generation. We know the metrics, 4000 advertising messages and 40 meters of mindless content scrolled through by consumers each and every day. We remember the halcyon days when a beautifully crafted story of a swarthy Mediterranean man, waiting to surf the perfect wave, could move a person to love Guinness precisely for the fact that it takes so long to pull the perfect pint.

But we no longer have the luxury of 60 seconds of our audience’s attention. Hook them in 6 seconds or they’re gone. We’ve moved out of the era of narrative to find ourselves working in the landscape of aesthetics. When you first lay your eyes on someone, it takes just 3 seconds to decide whether or not they are a potential sexual partner. It’s this subconscious reaction that creatives need to tap into the smartphone zombie era. We no longer have time to appeal to people's brains, we’re playing directly to their eyeballs. We’ve left the era of stories and complex ideas, and are now operating in the era of aesthetics, the era of the visceral.

In short, the brain is dead, long live the eyeball.

In this brave new world, the canvas and tools we use to create content have also been transformed. Cinematic widescreen has been replaced by portrait and square content. One locked hero film has been replaced by a measurement-driven process of constant prototyping and perfecting, creating content that evolves in real time. Showcase directors have been replaced by agile teams of digital artisans, from editors and motion designers to illustrators and 3D generalists. Their creativity was once just used to execute on other people’s ideas, but now their skills and intuition are key to creating the visceral content that really works in this space.

But do not despair, or mourn the loss of our industry’s ability to tell great stories, as the truth of the matter is that the perfect campaign should appeal to people’s eyeballs and their brains.

As an animation and VFX partner for Facebook’s creative shop, we were recently teamed up with John Hegarty’s The Garage for a world food program campaign, aimed at highlighting the heart-wrenching realities of child hunger and starvation. John’s creative idea was focussed on a 60-second cinema ad, telling the story of Miriam, a fictional scientist who was about to tell the world of a medical breakthrough she had discovered. However as she stands in front of the assembled press for the big announcement, she reveals that she has not discovered anything and that there has been no breakthrough, for she had died at the age of 7. The poignant film was based on the reality that when a child dies, the potentially groundbreaking adult that they could have become dies too.

We were tasked with creating 15s facebook ads and Instagram stories that communicated the lost potential of other children. We shot super slow-motion footage with different characters against green screen then composited them into epic CG environments. We basically took the spirit and idea of the cinema ad and tailored it to be effective on Facebook and Instagram. The films achieved a 25% engagement rate, 192x higher than the average for non-profits.

This is a perfect example of how the old and new worlds of advertising can work together in harmony across an entire campaign. You just need the knowledge and production capabilities to translate traditional narrative ideas to be effective on platforms where you only have time to appeal to people eyeballs.

So yes, the smartphone zombie apocalypse is upon us, and if we’re going to survive, we need to learn the tricks and techniques to feed their eyeballs. However, in the context of a wider campaign, and especially for long term brand building, appealing to their brain is still an essential part of the mix.

James Gibbon is chief creative eyeball @ (London & Singapore).