The writing’s on the wall in Ruckus’ office – literally – as whiteboard paint has been used to allow note taking, brainstorming and diagrams for all to see. Look close enough and you’ll see they relate to Mind Over Money and the challenge of making money an entertaining and interesting sell to audiences.
The production company’s slogan – ‘Engaging content people really want to watch. That's pretty much it’ – is relevant to all creatives during the growing avalanche of content, and Ruckus hopes it’s something brands will begin to prick their ears up to.
Co-founder Nigel Latta says NZ On Air does a good job distributing funds to a whole range of projects, but it cannot fund everything and there are some things that have a commercial potential. In fact, Latta says Ruckus is currently pursuing a couple of ideas involving other presenters.
But before the pursuit began, Kiwibank and TVNZ were knocking on its door with an idea to make a TV series about what we do with our money and why we do it.
“We kind of looked at it and went ‘yep, there’s a huge bunch of cool stuff we can do here,’” Latta says. And, so, Mind Over Money was born.
Presenting issues to audiences in understandable and engaging ways is nothing new for the Ruckus founders. Latta, director Mitchell Hawkes and producer Arwen O’Connor have been working together for eight years, producing shows such as The Hard Stuff with Nigel Latta and Nigel Latta Blows Stuff Up. And while a series fully funded by a brand may seem a new endeavour, O’Connor points out that it’s always had funders to report back to, only this time it’s reporting back to Kiwibank.
She also says Kiwibank didn’t take any independence away from the production company and it trusted Ruckus to do its thing from research to idea conceptualisation to execution. In fact, Kiwibank was so keen for Mind Over Money to have the integrity of a series fronted by Latta, Ruckus had to convince the bank to make chief economist Zoe Wallis one of the featured experts.
In this respect, Ruckus considers the bank to be ahead of the pack when compared to other brands, as it understands the importance of telling a story and creating content that will engage audiences and keep their attention. Branded content, though an increasingly popular solution for brands, often fails to do that and Latta says, “if you're going to make a TV show, it has to be a TV show” – something Ruckus does best.
“You don't want to be a thing on YouTube that people are clicking away from. You don't want to be the ad on top. You want to be the thing underneath that people are trying to get to. That's what Kiwibank got out of it. They got that the best thing is to let us do what we do really well and then people will watch it and people are going to come,” Latta says.
Big brands cannot live on branded content alone, however. Interruption is still everywhere and they still need to advertise on traditional channels to get the reach they need. Kiwibank is certainly still advertising elsewhere, but instead of plastering itself throughout the series with logos and offers, the bank’s branding is more subtle and is placed around the series in a campaign by OMD and Assignment Group. Ruckus also had a role to play here, ensuring the campaign was a reflection of the series.
Having shed light on a number of different topics over the years, the team at Ruckus could be considered a fountain of knowledge, but a pile of behavioural economics books on Hawkes’ desk shows it’s no easy feat being the experts.
When a series is conceptualised, the team hits the books and existing media to learn all about it, before getting together to come up with interesting ways to present it on screen. The scribbles and notes on Ruckus’ walls are evidence of these discussions and Hawkes says there’s a lot that ends up on the cutting room floor. However, that brutality ensures that what does make the screen is fun and “not naggy”.
Mention money or financial literacy and eyes might glaze over. For many, it’s considered a dull, dense and complicated topic. But, like its other shows, O’Connor says it went through a process of “humanising” the content with anecdotes and experiments that the audience can relate to and learn from.
This means Latta’s colleagues are responsible for putting him in freezing conditions and exposing him to electricity and explosions in Nigel Latta Blows Stuff Up.
“Like the hypothermia thing, that was Mitchell. But because I get to do fun stuff, I also have to do the shitty things as well,” Latta says.
His role as the presenter not only comes from his background as a clinical psychologist and author, Hawkes and O’Connor say there’s a believability about him that appeals to the audience, making them trust him and the information he’s presenting.
Over the years, Latta has analysed the psychology of violent criminals as well as make New Zealanders take a second look at the things they enjoy, including sugar and alcohol. And while he’s sure he won’t be accepting any jobs from the alcohol industry, Latta says having an impact on the audience is one of the nice things about what they do.
He gives the example of a suicide episode in the Hard Stuff series, saying after it aired, people came up to talk to him about it. Latta also received a number of emails. And he knows for a fact it saved people’s lives.
Latta says it goes to show just how much of a potent mechanism TV is despite its bad rap from some for being empty and vacuous.
“I know there's all this conversation about digital and everything is online, but the digital world is incredibly fractured. I think that's the difficult thing – particularly if you're a brand. If you want to talk to a large audience of people, it's still on TV. TV is still where you find this large count of people. Yes, the online world is increasing, but it's 200 views here and 100 views here. It's hard to compete with hundreds of thousands of views. TV is still a good medium. It's still alive,” he says.
And while the impact Mind Over Money will have on viewers is yet to be seen, it’s already had an impact on the creators of the show: Latta, O’Connor and Hawkes say they’ve already given their own money habits a second look.