The case for a good case study

By Nick Cummins, Creative Partner, The Royals Sydney and Melbourne

This post originally appeared on industry website Campaign Brief.

Going into the judging at Spikes Asia this year, I was concerned that national styles would play a big part in the judges’ decisions. I was lucky enough to be on Kentaro Kimora’s Digital and mobile panel along with judges from China, Singapore, Indonesia, South Korea and the Philippines. So we all had the potential to be drawn to very different styles of humour, insights and solutions. But that wasn’t the case.

Although the work we judged – which started as a list of over 500 entries – was very diverse in tonality and levels of craft, the judges were very consistent in their views. Another thing that was very consistent over the four days of judging apart from the humidity, was how everyone entering these kinds of festivals ends up building the same style of case study.

There is a formula for a reason, I hear you cry. And yes, there are probably a few things that are important to keep doing but the problem is everything ends up looking like this –

The great thing about judging awards like this is you get to hang out with incredible people from our industry, from all different parts of the region and the world. We really are an amazingly smart, insightful, creative and funny bunch of individuals.

So why when it comes to representing our work do we lose our gift of great storytelling and end up producing cookie-cutter over-hyped communications? I don’t think a case study should necessarily outshine the entered piece, but surely there are other ways to represent our work. I asked my fellow esteemed judges what they felt about this and here are a few thoughts.

Get to the point. Every judge I met was really bright even after several Tiger beers the night before. You don’t have to tell them lots of people are using their phones these days or that people are distracted by lots of messages every day. Get straight to the point – what did you do and how did you do it? Personally I don’t think you even need to over-explain the brief or problem you are trying to solve. It will be obvious what your brief was if your solution is award worthy.

Don’t exaggerate. Dipping in to a big tub of hyperbole to get your entry to be taken seriously doesn’t work. We forget that a solution doesn’t have to have changed the world to win an award.

Keep it real. We watched a lot of videos of stunts, experiments, pop-ups, and activations. It was nice to see so many friends from agencies in the background looking intrigued and elated. The problem with this is not just their mediocre acting skills – it also makes great ideas feel like scams. People don’t have to point or clap or cry to prove an idea worked well or is great. So if you are going to record reactions, use the real audience reacting in real ways. And avoid creating a perfectly photoshopped example of your execution. Judges love picking that stuff to pieces and again, it makes the work feel dodgy.

Don’t over-animate. The amount of spinning, crashing, zooming stats, Tweets and quotes was incredibly distracting. And finally music is obviously important. Most case studies did this well. Finding the right track and voice to deliver the appropriate emotion can make a huge difference.

This year, teams entering the Spikes innovation category got to present their work to the judging panel. This I think is a great way to judge work. If you are ever lucky enough to make that shortlist, get ready to be grilled.


Eddie Nerds Out at San Diego Comic Con 2016

If you work at The Royals you would now know, by my incessant bragging, that I’ve just come back from attending the world’s biggest pop-culture convention in San Diego, Comic-Con. But I’m discovering that not many people really know exactly just what Comic-Con is. So here’s my experience and run-down of, what is quite possibly, the most nerdy thing ever.

San Diego Comic-Con (commonly referred to as SDCC) is basically a big shopping spree for those of us who are pop-culture inclined. It’s where you can buy all your favourite merch, and get a chance to check out all the new gear before it’s out. There are celebrity appearances, artists and heaps of other cool people there you can see. It covers everything from film, TV series, video games, anime, manga, technology, and even comic books (although that section grows smaller every year due to waning interest!).


I’d cut the whole thing into 2 parts; the market hall, and the panels. The market hall is, I want to say thousands, of little booths that are hawking their merch. It’s massive. Almost the entire convention centre is the market hall. I predominantly gawked at toys (“Dad, they’re called ‘figurines’ and they’re art!”).

Mingled in with all the stores, are activations and showcases from companies. I played a Playstation VR demo for Resident Evil 7 inside a big cardboard house, and played the upcoming Dead Rising 4 (and badgered a developer for information which he was not forthcoming with).

There are also mini appearances, where people of note do signings (or y’know, just kind of appear). This is where I saw Adam Wingard, director of You’re Next and The Guest, as well as the upcoming Blaire Witch sequel that was announced there. Being up close with one of my favourite directors was incredible, and the kind of thing most people can only get at a convention.

And then you have the panels. The things were all the stars of your favourite show sit at a desk and talk at you and a big audience about past and upcoming stuff. Then sometimes you can try to ask them questions through your flop sweat and stammering when that practised sentence comes out backwards and that guy you love so much on TV just looks at you weird. Exhilarating.

Most of these are impossible to get into. You’d have to get there hours before the event opens and then sit in line for hours more to get a chance of getting into something like a Game of Thrones panel. It’s not gonna happen for you. But I did just kind of walk into the Capcom panel where they announced a few video game tidbits, nothing of real interest (HOW DO I BEAT THE RE7 DEMO WHY WON’T YOU TELL ME YOU FRAUDS).

There’s also a lot of big activations around the exhibition centre. My favourites were South Park, which had photo-op props of notable scenes from the show, and Ash vs Evil Dead, which build an entire replica of the Evil Dead cabin which you could walk through (to get free shit).

And then there are costumes. Boy, are there costumes.


Or as we call them in the biz, cosplays. Not everyone dresses up, but a lot of people do. Saturday seems to be the peak day for getting costumed and sweaty. And in the San Diego heat, you’re going to get sweaty. It’s not a particularly pleasant experience. Which is why I didn’t do it. But it doesn’t stop most people.


(My friends dressed up as Howl and Sophie from the Ghibli film Howl’s Moving Castle)

The convention itself holds a competition for the best cosplay and gives out prizes. I’ve never attended this event, but I’m sure it’s great. And yes. There are “Furries”. Although recently they’ve been usurped by the new gross fandom I saw a lot of this year, Five Night’s At Freddy’s. A horror game where animatronic pizza parlour robots attack you while you cover the night security shift. But I guess people want to have sex with the cartoon robot animals. Don’t google this.

To give you a good idea of this phenomenon, Adam Savage of Mythbuster fame has videos where he dresses up as his favourite thing of the year and roams the market hall incognito. It gives you a sense of scope of the place and just how much effort some people put into their costumes. He’s so renowned for this, attendees will just come up to the best costume they’ve seen and just ask ‘Adam?’. And most of the time they’re right.

Last year he totally jacked my Dredd costume, but we worked it out and we’re still cool. Brian Cranston once did this, wearing a big latex mask of his own face from Breaking Bad. Truly horrifying.

And then we have the mostly ignored and unfortunately neglected part of the market hall – artists and (very) minor celebrities. Last year, the original Hulk, Lou Ferrigno, attended and had a stall where people could just come up to say hi and get things signed. But every time I walked past, he was just sitting by himself. Everyone too focused on the big pull of the Star Wars or whatever. The same goes with the comic book artists, it’s a few aisles that have significantly less foot-traffic than the rest of the convention. Considering it’s the longest running tradition and namesake of the convention, it’s sad to see. But every year I visit one of my favourite artists Jason Edmiston, of Mondo popularity. He signs my toys and I buy a poster, it’s a great relationship we have.

I bought so many things and got so much free loot that I had to buy another carry-on to take it home and now I’m poor again. But I went, I conquered and I patted the furries. Until next year!

The Royals.

Job Role: Pokemon Go Hunter

UPDATE: This position has been filled. Thanks so much for all the entertaining applications!

I love Pokemon Go but I have a really busy job at The Royals. I’m so busy. We do a lot of strategy and innovation here. Some days I hardly have time to play table tennis or darts at work. So I’m looking for an intern to take out my second phone each day and find me some Pokemon. I don’t want to get left behind. And I really want an Oddish. You’ll get an incredible amount of exercise (cheaper than a gym membership!), see the sights (it’s like a free city tour) and we can talk about Pokemon before and after each of your hunts. That’s probably the bit I’m looking forward to the most. Apply here.

Or, go for one of these other awesome jobs at The Royals:



Here are some of the super applications coming in vying to be my Pokemon Go Hunter:





Keeping the band together: how to build enduring creative chemistry

For every Lennon and McCartney there are a hundred more tales of bands that don’t go the distance. And then there’s Tim Rogers, musician and songwriter, who’s been fronting You Am I for 25 years and still going strong.

Yesterday The Royals curated a lively, panel conversation for Mumbrella360 featuring Tim, musician Jen Cloher, Sophie Hirst from Google Play and our own Dave King and Andrew Siwka. The group was tasked with exploring the ins and outs of creative chemistry and finding out if there are secrets to keeping the band – or any creative team – together.

Turns out there are a handful of things you should know if you’re in the business of forming enduring creative partnerships, like we are here at The Royals.


Tim Rogers: “I don’t believe you need creative tension to make great work. The only time our creativity suffered was when I was picked out as the ‘main guy’. Having an ego as I do I thought, ‘Yes I’m the main guy, I’m the main songwriter, the main singer, the biggest drinker.’ But the music we came out with at that time was really dull. If you try and provoke tension for the sake of creativity, people tend to clam up.”


Jen Cloher: “You’re in the wrong band if you have to have a discussion around what you’re creating. You’re in the right band if there is clarity of vision, which attracts like-minded people. It’s also important to know when to move on from a creative partnership.”


Dave King: “These days, in order to continuously create interesting and divergent work, we find ourselves working with an ever-growing bunch of weird and wonderful clients and creative collaborators. All of these people, not just those inside the agency, need to be treated like members of the band. This means having a shared sense of respect for what every person brings and sometimes parking, or at least softening, certain parts of your personality.”


Tim Rogers: “Not being an asshole is a good way to start. Of the group of people we’ve had working with our band for a decade or more, we have always tried to be really inclusive. We don’t hold ‘meetings’; we invite everyone down to the pub. If we did hold meetings, nothing would get done.”


Jen Cloher: “We live in a world that’s so obsessed with getting bigger and making more money at the expense of this tiny planet hurtling through space … how ’bout some businesses that just stay small and efficient and sustainable? When you’re driven by money and fear, you’re going to come up with really boring ideas. When you’re driven by doing something different and inspiring, that’s when you blaze a trail.”


Sophie Hirst: “At Google, if you want to tell someone you don’t like their idea you begin with the phrase, ‘Feedback is a gift’. It’s in our culture. Another thing we do really well at Google is fail. At our weekly WIPs, everyone can say one great thing they did, as well as something that didn’t go so well. It creates an environment where people aren’t scared to share their ideas.”


Tim Rogers: “Money is something we never talk about as a band. In the early days of You Am I, when I was paid $20 more per day on a tour of the US, even that caused a problem. So we take money out of the equation, and that’s helped us stay together.”


Tim Rogers: “We rehearse about 5% of the time we’re supposed to. The other 95% is social, which may look like we have bad habits or we’re not working hard enough, but so much of what goes into our music is social. I’ve been around people who think they must work 100% of the time and I’m pretty sure they’re only being productive 5% of the time anyway. It’s amazing what revelations can come through listening and fraternising.”

Thanks to Tim, Jen and Sophie for making this such a cracking discussion .

The Royals

Code for Australia & The Royals

We’re pleased to announce the launch of the new innovation initiative, Code for Victoria by the wonderful people at Code for Australia. The Royals are helping bring this to life, help find some incredible fellows and help government capitalise on the opportunities that digital transformation presents. Code for Australia and the Victorian Government’s Public Sector Innovation Fund are working together with the public to find new solutions to old problems.

In case you don’t know much about Code for Australia, jump over and have a look through. Alvaro and the guys there have created an organisation that’s making real headway into addressing public disengagement and distrust in government services. They have created a series of programs that use transformative, civic technology to a make a real difference to the way government operates.  

The Royals are also involved in the academy which looks to cultivate bold ideas and connect with leaders in the public and private sector. It’s great to see innovation programs that aren’t necessarily focussed on startup incubation and raising VC.  The Code for Australia guys have found a completely different route to making a difference for society as a whole.


SXSW 2016: Get the Message! The Rise of Conversational UI.

When a huge room at a busy conference is packed full way before the session starts, the subject matter, or at least the title of the panel, is obviously resonating with a bunch of people. This was the case with ‘Get the Message! The Rise of Conversational UI’. Designers, developers, strategists and entrepreneurs piled in to hear about the next wave of interface that’s redefining the relationships they have  with their customers.

This discussion of ‘Conversational UI’ featured some of the rockstars of this emerging field. Jeff Xiong (former CTO of Tencent, the makers of WhatsApp), Julia Hu (CEO of Lark, you should try it) and Chris Messina: a former Googler who recently became Design Experience Lead at Uber. And who invented the hashtag.

Conversational UI comes in many different forms but in general, it stems from developments in artificial intelligence, chat environments, chat bots (like those often integrated into Slack) and voice (where increasingly computers talk to you and vice versa).

These experiences typically offer a convenient, consistent and familiar way to interact with brands and services. They’re easy to share and install, because generally there’s no additional app. Often you just add a contact in your text or messenger app. And there’s no new interface to learn – you simply interact with a business, brand or organisation as you would a friend.

Lark is an interesting (and very well funded) startup in this space. It aims to clone the methods of the top doctors and behavioural scientists. The platform creates moments of conversation in healthcare that recognise what you’re going through and recognise your efforts, in this instance, in eating better and losing weight.

Jeff Xiong recounted the astonishing success of WeChat in China and, potentially, impending charge at Western markets. If you’ve never used or read about WeChat, it’s worth looking it up. More than an app, it’s more like a chat based operating system. You can transfer money, buy products and services, make bookings and heaps and heaps more. Xiong said that in China, if you didn’t have WeChat , you’re probably not Chinese. In China there are more than 10 million businesses on WeChat. Broadcast news and people interact with the business. People love talking to their banks, utility providers, schools… the kinds of companies that you have some form of relationship anyway. And for many the quality of these interaction are vastly better.

And now these services are emerging everywhere. From Uber ordering being deftly integrated into Facebook Messenger to the New York Times bot developed for Slack, or the bot made for students applying to Stanford (many people are more comfortable dealing with a bot than a human). You can have the kind of two-way relationship with an entity that suits you.

The final point made by the panel was that the kinds of people who are developing these experiences are not necessarily interface or app designers. More often than not they’re experience strategists and service designers – and occasionally, an improv comedian to help with creating natural, heartfelt responses.

So next time you wonder in a research or strategy session, “If this brand was a person, who would it be?”. The answer could well be “itself”.


SXSW 2016: Rooster Teeth and its 5.5 billion video views.

On the plane to Austin I was reading an article on how so many companies have sunk billions of dollars into producing content online, hoping to build audiences around their brands. The problem is, the audience didn’t come. The article talked about how the Internet has transformed how culture works in that digital crowds have become powerful cultural innovators – a phenomenon that the author coined ‘crowdculture’.

And, a phenomenon that I was reminded of during one of the most unexpectedly memorable presentations I saw in Austin, made by one of the biggest Internet celebrities I’d never heard of, Burnie Burns, the Chief Creative Officer of Rooster Teeth.

Why unexpected?  Well I hadn’t heard much about Rooster Teeth (named after a play on the American insult, “cock-bite”) prior to the session and went along without expecting much from these sci-fi loving gamers turned filmmakers.  Turns out that  the company’s potent combination of massive reach, unique creative voice and insanely powerful community has resulted in them building one of the most influential media brands on the Internet.   Such is the strength of the Rooster Teeth community that the company has even produced a feature-length film, “Lazer Team,” funded entirely by their fans.

So what is it about Rooster Teeth that the community loves? Well, the company are known to be pioneers of the machinima art form – that unique film style made using scenes composited together out of video games.  The company’s flagship property, Red vs. Blue (created using the Halo game engine) is one of the longest running video series on the Internet and their latest animation platform, RWBY, has already garnered almost 100M views.

Still thinking that kooky sci-fi stuff’s only for the basement dwelling fringes?  Here are some more numbers on the power of the Rooster Teeth media platform:

  • 150 Million Views Per month
  • 5.5 Billion lifetime views
  • 19 Million Youtube subscribers in network
  • 2 million registered users on
  • 3 million likes on rooster teeth facebook page

    The Rooster Teeth empire now encompasses sales of music, merchandise and videogames as well as live events, including Rooster Teeth Expo (RTX), an annual gaming and Internet culture convention that attracted more than 30,000 attendees last July in Austin, Texas.

    Asked what he put the success of the company down to, Burns talked about three core principles:

  • Engage with people that share your values and culture
  • Build a brand that stays true to these values
  • Build a community, with an emphasis on owning your database (vs. leasing from someone else such as Facebook)

    Cultural entrepreneurs such as Rooster Teeth epitomize the types of businesses making life so difficult for brands competing for attention online.  But they all have one thing in common in that they’ve succeeded in part because they tapped into a cultural truth that resonated with their intended audience. To outsiders, the resulting ideologies, practices and art worlds might be seen to be as strange as Rooster Teeth.  But to their fans, these subcultures are part of what makes the Internet – and beyond that, life – so interesting.

    All this begs the question, what’s the cultural truth your brand taps into that makes it so interesting?


  • SXSW 2016: Kevin Plank, CEO of Under Armour

    A titter runs through the packed SXSW ballroom. There are few in the brand world that would claim that their brand has a better chance of surviving the future than Nike, and yet the arrogant man on stage just did so with a sideways grin.

    Kevin Plank, founder of Under Armour, is holding the crowd raptured. Barely drawing breath as he answers questions about how he got to where he is today. Through a Baltimore drawl, the passion he has for sport – and the business built from this passion, is clear.

    He takes us on quite the journey, from crying at a toll-booth because he didn’t have the $2 needed to drive through, to starting the company in his grandmother’s basement, to proudly proclaiming “if our logo shows up on something it better be the best”. It’s the perfect rags-to-riches story, it inspires awe and yet unlike your usual ‘battler-done-good’, Plank still doesn’t seem terribly likeable.

    But somehow, I don’t think that bothers him.

    Under Armour is often touted as an ‘overnight success story’ but he reminds us that 20 years is hardly overnight. With over 160 million users, 14,000 employees and 23 consecutive quarters of over 20% growth, overnight story or not, he’s doing something right.

    What does he put Under Armour’s success down to?


    He believes that the culture of the business is the brand and vice versa. This culture must be carefully curated to protect the brand at all costs. For Under Armour this means defining and nurturing a voice that informs everything from the products it makes, to the people it hires and the athletes it dresses.

    “Any great brand is an aggregator. We’re trusting we have the best people, doing the best possible work.”

    He calls everyone he works and collaborates with a team-mate, and his company vision reads something like a quarterbacks half-time play scrawled on a white board. It’s clear that this former college footballer is running his billion dollar company much like a college football team.

    He let’s us in on few of the defining features of Under Armour culture.

    • Over promise and deliver.
    • Dictate and deliver.
    • Always find a way.

    If brands are a series of chapters, this next chapter of Under Armour is all about connected fitness. The latest iteration a 24/7 real-time barometer of fitness and health, Record was built from the insight that humans know more about what is happening inside our cars than we do our own bodies.

    Plank tells us “Data is the new oil” which is why the company’s engineering staff has gone from 20 to more than 500, including 350 app developers, in less than three years.

    But crucially, he doesn’t believe culture is something you set and forget. “We’re still defining the company we want to be.”

    Bob Safian, editor in chief of Fast Company, who is interviewing Plank on stage, asks him what kind of company he wants Under Armour to be.

    Just like a well-versed quarterback, Plank replies, “I like being defined as a performance company because I think it is completely unlimiting”.

    The question is now, is this limitless definition enough to take on sportswear giant Nike, and win.