You Can Speak Softly And Still Be Heard

Life in 2018 revolves around everything trying to gain your attention. From real-life billboards to audio ads to increasingly clever integrated internet marketing campaigns, your attention is valuable.

Unfortunately for us, advertising agencies seem to think that the solution to overstimulation is to make ads increasingly loud and obnoxious. I’m sure your sanity, if not your wallet and spending habits, disagrees. But despite the seemingly intentional move by big media to numb our brains, there are still a few independent advertisers who at least attempt to tickle your brain the hard way.

Getting Heard The Right Way

Chris Marshall is a director who’s worked with big names including Kraft, Chrysler-Dodge, and Spotify. Originally getting his start at a larger agency, Marshall created the Toronto-based Content Citizen. At its heart, Content Citizen is a production studio that works with brands to create advertising content that doesn’t feel like… well, ads. By keeping a genuine focus on a message, Marshall and his team have found they don’t need to capture consumers’s attention via brute force. 

You can see the subtlety at play in nearly everything Content Citizen puts out. I watched this spot for CBC, for instance, and didn’t once realize that I was essentially watching a roll call of all all the network’s primetime shows. They don’t address any of the included stars by name, and had I not recognized Arlene Dickinson from the latest season of Dragon’s Den, I probably would have had no idea what the hell I just watched. I can only imagine that, if you’re Canadian, you might be able to name every show CBC just promoted. Even so, all that y0u have to work with are clues. The rest is on you to figure out.

Content Citizen’s CBC Spot, “Hockey Classics”

And that’s the thing about advertising with subtlety and taste — not everyone is going to get it. But for those following closely enough to see their expectations fulfilled in creative ways, the neurological reward far outweighs those of ads which merely bark at you.

Our conversation with Marshall focuses on the creative process behind his work and why society benefits when advertising is smart instead of just loud.

• • •

Origins of Content Citizen

Tell us about when you first had the idea for Content Citizen. Was there a specific moment of inspiration?

I wanted to create a consultancy that merged both strategic creative and execution. Being able to develop content quickly but with high production value, that was the ideal solution. Actually, what would make it really ideal is if we could deliver all of that with just a nominal budget.

How did you realize that this philosophy could be the ultimate combination for an ad-focused production house?

When I first had the idea, I was still working as a Senior Creative Director within an internal creative agency. I saw a lot of overlap and redundancy. I realized Content Citizen was a perfect approach: a cost-effective creative production house that wouldn’t need to leave a big footprint to make a big impact with its content.

Philosophy Of Effective Ads

Current Artisan: As people’s attention spans decrease through the use of digital media, how do you adjust advertising campaigns to reach people more effectively?

Depending upon the audience, I ascertain which media channels will work best with that particular demographic reach. Using our client’s key brand messaging, we develop stories utilizing the insights around audience behavior and create a narrative that aligns with both the brand and the audience.

So being able to work with various media is important to delivering an effective product?

We work with everything: video, photography, audio narrative, or a VR experience, we utilize innovative narrative at varying lengths.

We’re trying to make these experiences personal and relevant to the individual, and we’re trying to to do it in a timely and topical manner. That’s really what it takes to resonate with an audience.

Do you enjoy building a team and collaborating with lots of other creatives?

Yes, that’s the best part of my job. Collaboration provides an opportunity for finding inspiration and resources to build out a project idea or campaign.

Given your experience with creative development, do you view ads differently now in your daily life?

I always look at how and why creative is developed. I tend to break it down shot by shot to see how the narrative was told. Specifically — which shots, angles, sound, animation, acting, and VFX [visual effects]  helped add impact to the narrative’s emotion. I take note of what was done, what I may have done differently, and if the content provoked its intended reaction.

This keeps me actively engaged, inspired, and at times humbled. The amazing work that’s done by creative and production types all over the world…this is an exciting time! With new and growing media opportunities presenting themselves, creatives can develop endless possibilities through a global lens.

Specifics Of The Job

What’s the most exciting stage of working on a campaign?

Ideation is probably my favorite stage. Building out the ‘what if…’ and the ‘yes and…’ parts of a particular idea always feels like a euphoric state, one where there are no blinders or reservations. It’s the canvas where the creative is applied and where the picture can take on many shapes. I love that part of the process.

Can you tell us about any specific instances when the creation of an ad became especially difficult?

I wouldn’t want to cite any specific times, but I can tell you that a difficult process to overcome is when the client gatekeepers change amidst campaign execution.

Trying to navigate changes after everything has been shot tends to change the outcome of the spot. You have to be amenable, but you also have to defend your creative rationale in order to achieve the best creative output and messaging for your client. Otherwise, you may let your client diminish what it is that they themselves are paying for. 

Do you have any interest in directing or creating creative projects outside of advertising?

Yes, I am starting to look at developing longer pieces of content as well. I am developing two short films, both scheduled to go into production in the spring and summer of 2019.

• • •

Chris Marshall is Senior Creative Director at Content Citizen.

You can find links to Marshall and his work here:

• • •