Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Impact vs. Inclusion

So, I've recently been hearing this phrase bouncing around our truly brilliant media department: Impact Media. It's not that I don't like the phrase, I do. It's very hip sounding. Easy to glom onto. Here's the problem. I don't agree with it. I know that in the world of advertising we are always tasked with "breaking through", with "having an impact". Some agencies refer to this as "disruptive media".

This past year, in order to promote McDonald's iced coffee, our creative team put to-go mugs reading "cold is coming" inside ice blocks and in the wee small hours of the morning left them in the middle of downtown Seattle. Very cool. The press picked this up (of course), people walked around them, took pictures, etc. Was this guerrilla tactic "impact media"? I think it qualifies based on my loose understanding of the jargon.

But the problem comes with the encouragement of all teams to come up with "impact" tactics. I think there's an opportunity missed. Maybe it's just semantics, but I think rather than coming up with ideas that shock and awe, we should be creating ideas that delight and surprise (endless praise & big thanks, Bruce Mau). I think we should be encouraging our creative teams to discover ways of making citizens (note: not consumers) want to be part of the experience. And I don't mean by "opting-in" to email bombardment. I mean getting people to want to find your product or service, and hunger to be a part of it. Experientially. Sensorily. As Mike Murphy from Facebook said at APG, "don't be disruptive, be inclusive."

Lastly, I think inclusivity is the tactic most overlooked and misunderstood by creative and media (and yes, absolutely, positively) planning departments. I believe if we're defining new media, we mustn't forget that the key element to the way people engage with the world feeds off of the notion of personal choice and high personal stakes. Not in a superficial "what's in it for me?" way, but in a way that clearly reaches out to the values and behaviors that are important to the engaged citizen. Remember that aside from its current online implication, the word "interactive" means creating a give and take, communicative relationship between user and product. A two-way street if you will that goes beyond making an impact, it creates a relationship, a bond. We should aim for tactics and experiences that don't just "wow" people, but ones that ask for their participation (be it to touch, watch, share, taste...). Calling all advertisers, calling all clients: Now is the time for Inclusive Media.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Is Photography Dead?

Normally, I'm not a Newsweek guy, I'm a TIME guy. But on a long trip to Rutland, VT, I picked up a copy of the "other" news reader and other than discovering a heavy commitment to experts from Harvard every other page (there are other reputable Universities, folks), I was really taken by a smart, insightful article by Peter Plagens entitled, "Is Photography Dead?"

In it, Plagens eloquently points out that the 21st century generation of photographers, for all their digital, Photoshopping, fabricated innovations and perfection have lost the honesty that the first photographers were able to capture using the medium. It's a great point. One that is linked to the controversial digital backlash. Is the world, in its pursuit of ease and technological advancement, becoming detrimentally removed from the idea of humanism? There is a fine line between social connectivity as we know it now and soulful, corporeal connection, or human to human contact.

Let me give one extended quote from the article:
"Digitalization has made much of art photography's vast variety possible. But it's also a major reason that, 25 years after the technology exploded what photography could do and be, the medium seems to have lost its soul. Film photography's artistic cachet was always that no matter how much darkroom fiddling someone added to a photograph, the picture was, at its core, a record of something real that occurred in front of the camera. A digital photograph, on the other hand, can be a Photoshop fairy tale, containing only a tiny trace of a small fragment of reality. By now, we've witnessed all the magical morphing and seen all the clever tricks that have turned so many photographers—formerly bearers of truth—into conjurers of fiction. It's hard to say "gee whiz" anymore."
So what say you? Do we have the ability to capture truth anymore from this medium? Can we look to photographs to capture moments for us the way we once did, or have the expectations already been set that photography is now a manipulated rendering (sometimes remarkably so) of the vivid imagination of the photographer?

me and Malcolm are back in action

(crickets chirping. chirping.)

Yes, much like Malcolm Gladwell, I am back from having taken a bit of a hiatus from the ol' blog. The main differences are listed below:

1) I was not working on a new book. He was.
2) Many eager thought leaders rejoiced over his triumphant return. My blog has had a total of 3 comments.
3) Gladwell is fun to say. Gingold is gutteral and could potentially hurt a dry throat.

Regardless of these minor differences, the Hogwash will flow once again. Be prepared and enjoy.

Monday, October 29, 2007

lovesong for the cassette

I was going through our storage locker a handful of weeks ago. Came across an old tape, a cassette to be painfully accurate. It was a live concert of my friend, Matt Trowbridge (formerly "Trowy", now Dr. Matthew Trowbridge) performing at Eddie's Attic in Decatur, GA. Back in the day, Dr. Trowbridge was a gifted singer/songwriter (I'm sure he still plays. I'm certain. Well, hopeful.) and at my insistence had given me a copy of this show he'd done. A relatively quick set of 7 or 8 songs, but it's gold. It's worth it just to listen to the earnestness of the introductions.

Anyway, I found the tape and have played it a number of times since its resurrection, but it got me thinking about the idea of tapes and specifically of "mixes" and the craft of making a great mix tape. In the iTuned mp3 world we live in now, making a mix tape requires almost nothing of the mixer. It's literally dragging tracks from a library to a folder and then fiddling with the order. But such was not the case 15 years ago, when putting together a tape for friends, or a girl, or as catharsis for yourself actually required commitment.

My process was (and still is to some degree) always the same. First of all, there was a need to understand the rules (spins on which can be found here and here). My rules are simple:
  1. no repeat artists - there's enough great music out there that you should never need to rely on one band twice per mix
  2. think about variety and experiential arc - I don't prescribe to fast fast fast. slow slow slow. I listen to the ending of one track before finalizing the next one. It's got to flow. That might mean strings to strings or drumbeat to drumbeat or it might be a HUGE wake-up after an earned moment of silence. It just has to feel right.
  3. stay away from compilations - they are for cheaters. no mixes should be stolen. Yes, the soundtrack to Garden State is great. But don't copy half the songs and give them to me as your thoughtful contribution.
  4. don't give up - if you're tired of the process, go do something else and then come back to it. It's an artistic process. It requires something of you. Push though it or know your limits, but don't just stop and don't just throw six Stevie Wonder tracks on the end because you know they're killer.
And it is with those things in mind that I make my list. I would go through all my tapes and 45s and make a giant list of all the tracks I loved for that mix, and note the speed (fast, slow, med) and play time when possible (you've got to be aware of what you can fit on one side of a 90 minute tape). Then you start planning possible playlists. Each side is its own playlist. Each side must be considered separately. The two sides should connect from the standpoint of mood, but it's like the band came back from a break and had to get the crowd from moment one again.

Again, contrast that to today when a decent playlist takes maybe a couple of hours. It's still fun, but not nearly as meaningful. The connection to the mix is gone. Not to the music, there's an important distinction. The music is still moving, engrossing, alive, but the time, the pain, the song that was longer than you thought and got cut off, the starting over, the ruined tape because somebody hit record, the hours of planning and planning and care...they are lost in the drag-and-click model - gone the way of the cassettes that get locked up in storage lockers and lost to garbage cans.

One step further would be to look at all artistic processes. The value is coming back around for artisans. A hand-made chest of drawers. Personally tailored clothing. Original pottery. Photos taken and framed by someone you know. These things have value not just because they are "one of a kind", but because being "one of a kind" usually means that somebody poured their heart, energy, and attention into the construction of that object. I think we need more of those. Lots more. It's worth the extra time.

Now, if we could only get it all to fit neatly on side B.

Monday, October 22, 2007

"J" Joe Jeans and his Jellybeans

Watched a Sesame Street alphabet video with my 4 year old this weekend. I haven't stopped singing this little ditty since.

I have long been obsessed with the genius of Jim Henson. On college entrance essays he was consistently included within my responses to: "who you'd invite to dinner/who would you like to meet living, dead, or fictional"? As I watch this video now, the power of it hits me on a handful of levels.

Level One: nostalgia. I'll tell you there's just something about the quality of those voices. It's like coming home. Voices that change only very slightly regardless of the muppet they're representing. Those are the voices of my childhood. It doesn't take much to put me back in front of the television as a 6 year old in our old house on Sycamore Terrace.

Level Two: staying power. This video is from 1971. My daughter is watching it for the first time and loves it. The song literally transcends time. Like much of Henson's work, although appearing (and musically being rooted) within its distinct decade, the heart, the lesson, the crux of what's on display is absolutely timeless.

Level Three: talk to kids/talk to adults. Long before the Simpsons and Family Guy laid claim to the notion of appealing to kids through the medium (cartoons or puppets) while appealing to adults through the subtlety of the writing, Sesame Street and the Muppet Show were all over this. I laugh at an aside Grover throws away in one sketch and the kids laugh because the bald blue dude with the mustache can't get the "numero dos" without it spilling on the floor of the restaurant during the musical number "Granada".

Level Four: education. I am most inspired by the fact that this creativity was all developed in the name of education. As my daughter logically guesses that some words start with "G" rather than "J" (which both have the same phonetic root), I take comfort in "J-Jane jumping down the lane" singing a song about "J".

I guess what it boils down to is my admiration for the ability to use artistry for a greater purpose than selling something. Be it education, green technology, cultural innovation, or social connectivity. Every once in a while something comes along to remind you that once upon a time, someone just got it right.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Offsetting Innovation

An AdAge video promotes the partnership between Brooklyn Brothers and the Versus TV cable network as being "pioneers" for developing a software program that allows them to track how much tonage of carbon emissions they use on a commercial shoot. The tonage is then offset with a purchase of (I'm guessing here) RECs (or, renewable energy credits).

This is a tricky subject. On the one hand, I applaud the idea of offsets. I am thankful that the desire here with Brooklyn Brothers, Versus TV, and ERM (the London-based enviro-engineering company that helped develop the software) is to take ownership and responsibility of their impact on the environment and, ostensibly, to do something about it.

However, carbon offsets are slowly becoming the e-z pass to corporate guiltlessness. It's like deciding the leaking roof is fixed by putting a bucket underneath the spill rather than fixing the roof.

True innovation would have been to partner not with a software company, but with a hardware company. Instead of figuring out how they could "neutralize" their carbon impact, why not work with someone to develop a camera, an editing suite, heck, how about a food services refrigerator, all that run off of an easily renewable energy source? NOW you've got me standing up and applauding and saying "pioneer".

Again, I preface this by saying that I think the idea of purchasing various offsets is at least a step in the right direction. I think it enables a person to make a gesture of taking responsibility for their (generally unwanted but necessary) eco-unfriendly actions (taking a plane, running exorbitant amounts of energy, etc.). But, I think with the amount of money, power, and leading-edge thinking out there, I think companies should be looking to do more than be able to lay their guilt aside at night. I think it's all too easy for major corporations with large factories or other significant emissions-producing workshops to buy their way to surface-level ecofriendliness.

Where are the leaders? Where are the risk-takers? Where are the dreamers? Build us a better filter, a better smokestack, a better generator, a water-based engine. Partner with those doing this work. Yes, yes, plant trees. Of course. Support solar and wind energies. Do the things that offset the world's emissions. But start making tangible, physical changes in your own backyards. THAT's the kind of pioneering I'm looking for. That would be noteworthy, new, daring, exciting, and dare I say, creative.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Deconstructing Katrina

I read about The Green Project in GOOD magazine. Definitely worth checking out. Here's the basics:


As New Orleans continues to figure out how to deal with the rubble and destruction brought about by Katrina, The Green Project is a nonprofit organization that offers a solution more sustainable, more valuable than a demolition team coming in and laying waste to the ruins. Instead, they carefully salvage and comb through damaged or collapsed buildings and gather materials (everything from doors, windows, light fixtures, pots, pans, etc.) and resells them in their warehouse store at a low cost to the community. This practice keeps excessive waste out of landfills as well as creating a local economy as well as preserving the flavor of architecture and style from Old New Orleans as the city rebuilds. Brilliant.

The other nonprofit organization I'd like to mention here is The Idea Village. They're an entrepreneurial collective based in New Orleans who work off of the mantra "Trust Your Crazy Ideas". More specifically, they are an economic development consultancy that have basically taken on the role of revitalizing the growth of New Orleans on business, cultural, and social platforms.

I learned about The Idea Village through a facebook group called "Planning for Good" - a collection of strategic planners (and their friends) using their brains to help solve problems for causes and non-profits. The first project listed was a brief asking for ideas on how to promote The Idea Village. Planners worked collaboratively and competitively to send in a strategic vision for how to help The Idea Village from a communications standpoint. I missed the deadline, but it's something I'll keep tabs on and open up to the agency when the next assignment comes out. Or, if you're feeling particularly saucy, give me a ring and I'll make sure you get tapped directly.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

the power of the innocuous moment

Life can really be divided into two categories: the monumental and the innocuous.

Let me explain:

The moments of our lives are either ones that we will stamp as worth remembering, stories we'll share with other people, or times that will be photographed and put on our mantelpieces. They may range from your first kiss to a job promotion to the birth of your children. They are the glorious events that will forever go down in history as having a certain depth of value and meaning.

The other parts of our lives can be categorized as innocuous moments. That is, the insignificant, everyday points of time that make up the majority of our lives, but which, in hindsight, are utterly forgettable. I put a band-aid on a paper cut. I picked a pen from my desk drawer. I shaved.

Here's the interesting part. Despite the fact that we would all love to experience the thrills (or even intense lows) of the monumental moments of life, it is the innocuous moments of life that truly unite us. Who hasn't almost slipped on a patch of ice, (or on a slippery floor, or inside the shower) but caught themselves and then looked around to see if anyone was watching? Those "innocuous" moments connect us on a deeper level than the major life events.

For example, many people have had a wedding. If you tell someone you got married, they are excited for you. Perhaps it brings back memories of their own wedding. But it is the fact that you stood in the mirror retying your bow-tie over and over again that connects the two of you because that's human. It's the moment of fallibility. The moment of imperfection that creates the shared experience, not the event itself.

I was thinking about this idea with regards to advertising. I think advertising has an inverse relationship with life's "memorable vs. innocuous" moments. Simply put, the more "monumental" life's actual moments are represented/recreated through advertising, the less memorable it is in the consumers' eye. AND, the more "innocuous" the life moment, the greater the memorability when put into advertising.

I will offer these two car commercials. In the one, the landscape is sweeping, the road dramatically winding, the footage downright breathtaking. The boredom overwhelming. In the other, VW has literally filmed a series of life's forgettable moments and created an impactful, memorable advertisement.



The idea is that we are, as a society, joined by these small moments of truth. Moments we don't think about at the time, but carry such emotional importance when we see them or hear them replayed by somebody else. It is the notion that we are not alone, that we all have to go through waiting for a bus, slipping through a closing door at the last second by "making ourselves super thin", or getting back the wrong change. It is by sharing the innocuous moments that we develop a sense of truth, compassion, and unity. Know what I mean?

Monday, September 24, 2007

got ubiquity?....still?

Came across this T-shirt on a coffee-walk with the gents. Hilarity ensued. Alright, it wasn't exactly this T-shirt, it was black with white font, but the phrase was the same. And it got me thinking...

Haven't we moved beyond the "got milk?" campaign for our clever pop-cultural references at this point? It was a monumental campaign. Truly. It has forever left its mark on our culture and will be inducted in the advertising hall of fame in its first year of eligibility. But surely there must be a handful of newer references to be made, no? Certainly we can do better than slapping one half of a tagline onto a T-shirt and filling in the blank with "x" product, can't we? Maybe we can't.

The main problem with the neverending love affair with Goodby's contriubtion to the California Milk Processor Board is that it's just not:
a) old enough - it's in that middle phase where it was actually done over a decade ago, but isn't quite aged to the point where it's clever. Partly because of...

b) it has never gone away. - Since it's inception the "got milk?" campaign has had many admirers and appropriators. For a while, the mockery was somewhat clever, pointed to a phenomenon and made sense. But at this point, the use of "got ___?" puts an image in my mind of a group of dental secretaries gathered around the lunch table in Des Moines (no slight on the city, that's just where this imagination takes place) laughing over getting some T-shirts made up for the Christmas party which read "got plaque?" or "got brush?" or "got floss?"

I only ask that we harness our collective creative juices and agree to stop the derivative, redundant, old-news punnery.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Talkin' 'Bout Me Generation

Read a book a while back called “Generation Me”. It’s written by Jean Twenge (PhD) and deals with the differences between Baby Boomers and the generation after that.

Interestingly, Baby Boomers are referred to as the “Me Generation” in part because they were the first generation to attempt to find the journey to the self (somewhere Dr. Phil and Wayne Dyer are smiling and nodding). Not just as a drug-enduced search, but on a deeper level, the Baby Boom generation left societal norms behind and attempted to discover what was “true for themselves” – what they were passionate about, what was more than a “job”, but a “calling”. In their current, version 2.Oprah, Baby Boomers are on the verge of empty-nesterhood retirement and are reclaiming and rediscovering themselves and the interests that they gave up earlier in life or put on hold because of the families they raised. Now, time and money are enabling hobbies, passions, and edutainment excursions.

However, Dr. Twenge points out, despite the search for the self, the Baby Boom generation has always done everything in groups. Sit-ins and protests, consciousness raising, support groups, discos, even current “self-seeking” is based around joining classes, going out with girlfriends, joining a league, etc. As much as they can be, they are the “Cooperative Me Generation”.

Earlier I didn’t say “Gen X” or “Millennials” (nor Echo Boomers, Gen Y, or iGen). The author insists that Gen X is lumped in with our younger counterparts (which irks any Gen Xer – just ask us) and that Gen X, as a very label, is a misnomer because the same slacker mentality that got us the coolest of the generation names is not applicable to todays execs, entrepreneurs, and Internet millionaires who fall within that age range.

And so, the post-Baby Boomer generations (basically from 1967-1990) are all lumped together in Dr. Twenge’s definition and form “Generation Me” (or “GenMe” for short, buzzworthiness) - the flip version of the “Me Generation”.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The book points out that we are the true owners of this self-focused name because we have all grown up with the idea of “self-importance”. We were sent to school and sat through “self-esteem” curriculums. We have been reared on the notions that we can “do, be, and achieve anything we want in the world, as long as it makes us happy”. We take for granted that there could ever exist a time when our personal needs weren’t already met, or expected to be met. We don’t have to search for the self, the way our parents did. We live in the world of “self” because it is our birthright. Isn’t it? Twenge writes: “Today’s youth are experiencing that society right now, and they speak the language of the self as their native tongue. The individual has always come first, and feeling good about yourself has always been a primary virtue.”

The good doctor/author provides decades worth of comparative data of high school and college students between the 1950’s through the 1990’s showing the increase in such measures as “extrovertedness”, “desire to be famous”, “belief that my opinion matters”, “self-satisfaction”, “independence” and “self-promotion” among others. There is a clear rise in narcissistic behaviors and attitudes. We are more likely to argue that if we “do our best” that’s good enough. That (for example) a paper we wrote in college couldn’t possibly be challenged because what really matters is that we believe in its validity, not its execution or implicative merit. In plain English, GenMe is being labeled as the most self-serving of all time, and that we have no comprehension of reality. That despite our desire to be whatever we want because we believe we can, as Roper Youth Report states, “the gap between what they have and what they want has never been greater.” There are simple realities and truths we choose to ignore under the shingle of “positive self-esteem”: fat girls aren’t ballerinas and short kids aren’t in the NBA.

In fact, the very digital technologies that are so native to us (blogs, LiveJournals, etc.) play into this generation’s need to be recognized. Why have a MySpace page or a blog other than to collect “friends” or to have your opinion commented on. Rather than take the time to become an expert on a subject, we live in a YouTube-instant-authority world which enables anyone with a keyboard and a video, pardon me, digital camera to voice an opinion, and, if they’re lucky, become a celebrity du jour and experience the “Lonely Girl 15 Minutes of Fame” to which this generation is so latently entitled.

It’s a fascinating read so far. It has both had me baffled in indefensible agreement as well as had me turn to a stranger on the bus to let them know “that’s not true, she’s generalizing” or “why won’t she talk about the inherent positives of that kind of technology?”

What do you think? Are we self-centered or independently-minded? Entitled or optimistic? Young leaders or Narcissists?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Bjork, Sadie, and living big juicy life

I caught Bjork on Saturday Night Live. Apparently it originally aired in April, but that's irrelevant. I have no words for what ensued. The band was intensely focused on the bizarre rhythms and experimental sounds coming from their drums and synthesizer. In the background were, (what?), a dozen women with various brass instruments in their hands and microphone stands in front of them. Eventually they played the instruments, but for the most part, they were there to join in the spoken-word chorus, chanting along with Bjork: "we are the earth intruders..." (shown here not on SNL, but an approximation of the performance)

And that brings us to the center of it all. Bjork. The rhythm literally was coming out of her. Her barefeet skipped and danced of their own accord, her hands kept time and shook and moved as well, she didn't look out at the audience, but was clearly connected to them just the same. What I saw was a woman so completely living out loud and plugged into her world that, despte the fact that I found the song itself at best a future punchline, I was transfixed, unable to turn away, and unable to deny the powerful joy I was witnessing that can only come from doing what you truly love.

Fast forward to my daughter, Sadie, this weekend (or any weekend really). I love my kid. She's four years old and lives her life in that same way. The picture here is her in just her underwear with her hair styled in upturned braided pigtails to look like the swirly curls of her idol, Uniqua. In the picture, Sadie is at University Village, dancing and enjoying herself while onlookers smile and turn to each other and say, "omigod, she's so cute". More than cute, which she clearly is, I pray that my daughter always retains that sense of freedom and joy and truthfulness about who she is, so that life's passion can move through her like it does Bjork, Jim Henson, Sark, Bruce Mau, or any other person who is clearly living their right livelihood. Do you know folks like that? I encourage you to start a list below.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Masculinity in the 21st Century

I came across some thoughts I'd had once upon a time about the idea of masculinity that I thought were actually quite interesting. I thought I'd give them another look and share them now that I've gone all "cyberguy".

In a previous series of focus groups that I did regarding affluent baby boomer men (41-55) and their views on masculinity, here were the key takeaways:

Essentially, masculinity can be divided into two main archetypes: Protector and Provider. This is supported by an exercise in which men were asked to bring in an article of clothing that made them feel most "like a man". Some men brought in sports jerseys, a fisherman's hat, a pair of strong, motorcycle boots. Others brought in a tuxedo, or an elegant tie. The earlier (sports & strength gear) we categorized as the Protector. These clothes and the feelings they described thereafter spoke to their sense of physical strength, the idea of feeling/being perceived as tough and rugged, a sense of something long-lasting/enduring, active, hard-working, and even the ability to overcome. The men who brought in the fancier clothes fell into the latter category, the Provider. There choices were outward symbols of a sense of confidence, a feeling of invincibility, a competitive spirit, resourcefulness, and integrity.

It was also interesting to note that these men pointed out that while their fathers were defined by their careers, they personally feel that they are defined by their family. The combination of the above paragraph (protectors and providers) with this notion is at the heart of what these men are all about. There is a need for their exterior to reflect traditional masculinity, but their interior is all about embracing femininity. Thus, the overall idea of masculinity becomes quite complex.

J.K. Rowling's Hagrid, for all his half-giant, cartoon appearance, is spot-on with the findings. Is he the model of true 21st century American masculinity? The caring tenderheart wrapped up in the Hell's Angels' motogarb? Maybe. But the bigger questions are what do we do with that juxtaposition of tough and touching? How do products become designed to speak to this exterior/interior paradox? How do advertisements reflect that lamb within a bearskin without becoming cliched? Who's doing well with it? Who isn't?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Dry is the new Jones

Much has been made of the Jones Soda phenomenon, as it should be. Despite some perceived missteps in attempts to expand their target audience (Jones Organics? Jones Naturals? Jones candy?), very few if any brands have captured a web-based movement the way they have. Early on Jones recognized the power of social media and blew up their online space without relying on traditional media. The gallery of folks who've plastered their faces, ideas, and artwork on Jones bottles is truly something to behold.

However, if you've not been following along with the soda trends, you're missing out on the latest brand to take advantage of a carefully targeted audience. Dry soda really hit the nail on the head in creating an upscale soda market. Pardon me, "the first culinary soda". Honestly, though, it's a brilliant piece of strategy. They're the only ones of their kind out there. They found the hole, the gap, the market. And now, they offer 4 flavors of "all-natural, lightly sweetened beverages designed for those wanting a sophisticated non-alcoholic option to accompany a great meal or simply a night out with friends." And oh, what flavors they are. Kumkwat, Lemongrass, Rhubarb, and Lavendar? I still have yet to try Rhubarb, but I'll tell ya, they know what they're doing. The others taste really good. And you're nowhere if your culinary soda doesn't taste amazing.

While everyone and their grandmothers were busy chasing after the young, extreme sports demographic, sponsoring events at the X Games or surf tournaments, Dry stepped in and hit a home run with a more discerning crowd. They are being very selective in where their product can be found, and it is unlikely that you'll find it at Safeway, Target, or Costco anytime in the first couple of years. They'll place themselves in upscale restaurants and Whole Foods to the delight of those still in the mood for exclusivity.

Although the website is still filling in its content, the groundwork has been set to develop sections of the site devoted to recipes, serving suggestions, and taste profiles, continuing the high-end, culinary proposition. The model is red wine, not Red Bull. Smart. All of it, very smart.

Monday, August 27, 2007

what is Uniqua? and why it matters so much

If you have a 2-5 year old child and you've not shown them the Backyardigans, on Nick, Jr., you're all missing out. Here's what's so great about the show, first, from a parent's perspective, then as a creative achievement.

...and I officially can't believe I just began a blog entry about a kids' TV show.

Now, as I was saying. From a parent's POV, this program is all about enabling your child's imagination. These five characters always begin their adventure in their backyard. The props they carry when they begin their play is minimal, much like the stuff most of us have sitting around our own houses. The characters then begin an adventure, complete with songs and choreographed dance numbers. As the journeys begin, the background changes from the backyard to whatever setting the kids find themselves in for that adventure (wild west, Mars, underwater, etc.). The language is never rough, gender empowerment is shared amongst the boys and girls (meaning the girls get to do just as much exploring as the boys do, if you're scoring at home), and it always concludes with the characters all back at the backyard and heading off to share a healthy snack (orange slices, sushi, etc.).

Now, for the creative-types out there, here's where the Backyardigans gets it going. The "songs" I alluded to earlier are always in a different musical style (polka, opera, jazz, etc.), however, the musical genre and the adventure genre rarely match up. For example, one episode takes place in the wild west and the music style is hip-hop (in a recent interview, the music director connected the dots, claiming both worlds have "posses".) To me, the juxtaposition of genres is the equivalent of a preschool-geared mash-up.

Secondly, the choreography is actual filmed choreography sent to animators. I love that a show goes all the way behind the scenes and does it right. They don't cut corners on the artistic values. And it shows. The characters move in very specific ways, and the dances are all different. There's no generic "Charlie Brown" style dancing (although I do love watching those Peanuts' predictable simplicity). If you watch carefully, you can also see the animated characters are slightly off from each other in the timing of movement and spacing, another stroke of genius. What is captured is very similar to reality, despite the fact that you're watching a penguin, moose, hippo, and other thing (what Uniqua is, according to Wikipedia is a "unique creature" - hence the name. However, my daughter is more daring, referring to Uniqua as a "butterfly without wings in pink overalls." God bless children.)

So where's the "strategy" aspect to this entry? Well, on the client side, in order to define yourself in a sea of sameness and loud loud noise (doesn't matter if you're a kids' TV show or a new soft drink), concentrating on the product, the offering itself, pouring your energies into creating the "best" something is essential to success. Creating something average gets you into the game, but striving for nothing short of greatness wins medals. Product innovation, newness, fresh perspective, imagination, discovering what is real, authentic, a willingness to be contemplative and thorough in the design proces, all the cliches we throw out there as advertarketers are on display on Nick Jr. for you and your preschooler to enjoy.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Where have you gone, Heathcliff Huxtable? Your country needs you now.

CBS continues to blow the network trumpet, heralding "Two and a Half Men" with the generous superlative: "top-rated". I've seen this program once or twice. Surely, the great comedy minds at the Writers Guild of America can come up with better jokes than Jon Cryer sees pretty woman and longingly groans. or Charlie Sheen winces eyes and deadpans something about women and booze. But, "top rated", c'mon.

So where have all the good sitcoms gone? I recently asked that and someone said, "The Office". Another was "Family Guy" and "The Simpsons". Nobody mentioned "30 Rock", but I know somebody would. However, when you look at that list, 2 programs are animated, 1 is based on a groundbreaking British series, and the other is, well the other has Alec Baldwin.

The bottom line is this: "No sitcom has finished in the top 10 since Everybody Loves Raymond in 2005" reads the stat from USA Today article** about "Back to You", Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton's new go at the 30 minute format. Gone are the glory days of the sitcom. Is this because writers have run out of ideas? Is it because reality TV is now the world's place to go to laugh? Are viewers getting less sophisticated? Are viewers getting more sophisticated? Are network dollars to tied up in advertising dollars to take a gamble on a sitcom finding its audience? What is the cause of the sitcom slide?

I have to believe it resides somewhere in the combination of a handful of the above factors. Certainly, the influx of reality TV programming has given audiences some of the stranger experiences in TV history. Equal parts idiotic, scandalous, hopeful, talented, talentless, and romantic, perhaps the needs we get from our sitcom characters gets scooped up with this rotating band of reality-celebs. I think the network dollars are probably responsible as well, though that's entirely conjecture. BUT, it always seem that when a hit comes out, 5 other shows are instantly developed with (say) 6 thirtysomething buddies trying to make it in NYC. Where is the original thinking? And if it's there and the public isn't allowed to see it for one reason or another, where is the spirit of taking chances? Creativity can not come from a place of fear of failure. There must be a willingness to be wrong, a freedom to fail and a readiness to be the one who tried something new that folks didn't quite "get" at first.

And maybe therein lies the purpose of this entry. I am convinced that talented, creative, funny writers are pounding out the next Cheers as we speak. I'd bet my job on it. But where are those programs? Where is the innovation? And as someone immersed in the world of advertising, that's a question we strive to answer all the time. Where is the passion that leads to risk that leads to true creativity?

**NOTE: This is a total case of "you snooze, you lose" blogging. I had thought about this for a couple of days, starting writing it yesterday and over lunch saw the USA Today article. Bastards. So, I included the reference above in my entry and published anyway. Oh well.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Making friends the old fashioned way

The debate continues as to which is the more effective way of meeting real friends. The (wildly oversimplified) 2.0 model is that I create my profile, look for other people with similar tags, view their profile and commit with a "poke" or an "invite" or whatever the site's technical term is. Alongside the active seeking is the promise that others are doing the same thing and that hopefully we'll meet somewhere in the middle because we both like DIY projects and The Shins second album. I have made some acquaintances this way, been introduced to a few people, mostly to their catchy, clever nicknames, but sometimes to an actual person, a photo they use to represent themselves in the best possible way and, of course, the list of personal beliefs, faves, etc.

Sunday I was at a baby shower. A real one, not virtual or nuthin'. The host family's husband and I struck up a conversation, and wouldn't you know it, Bill (that's his real name) and I laughed, joked, shared concerns about raising kids, sustained uncomfortable pauses, and downed a beer or two. Time passed quickly and we set up the promise to get our families together for dinner without an event attached. All in all, I'd say a solid connection. I only lament that this doesn't happen very often.

So, herein lies the cryptic quandary. Is there a preferred method of actual (dare I use the term out of its 21st century iteration) "social networking"? Is there greater promise to link yourself in to somebody else, to have the Amazon algorithm let you know that people who like Jack and Megan also like..., or to wait it out in hopes of meeting Bill, sharing a beer and laughter without emoticons or acronyms. The smart money is on the technology. Mine's on reality.

Increasingly I find myself longing for real experiences. The further we get engulfed and embedded in advancement, the less I feel connected, (though the more I am). BUT, I wonder if there is room, space, or logic in the idea of making friends the old fashioned way. I'm all for helping someone build a deck and discovering we share the same interests, but the infrequency at which that happens is far from my 21st century liking. I'd rather have the depth of connection at the speed of a tweet. The paradox is both frustrating and understandable. If Ray Kurzweil is to believed, and singularity is inevitable, is it just a matter of time before the overlap takes place? Or will we deliberately regress and learn to value the arts of writing a letter (yes, with a pen and paper! a what?!?!?!), holding a conversation, throwing a dinner party? I don't know.

But the deeper I become entrenched in my self-selected online universe, the more I long for something real and old-fashioned. Slow, inconsistent, unpredictable, but real.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Got a great tweet yesterday from Phil:

trying to figure out a real use for facebook ... linked in i get, twitter i get, kyte i get, wtf do i need facebook for again?

This sentiment echoed something Ray wrote a few days prior:

Stumble, Twitter and IM everyday. I LinkIn, Tube, and occasionally Flickr. Just joined Facebook and refused to jump on the MySpace bandwagon. There's a account buried somewhere. And well, I just remembered my Jobster account has been neglected.

Jotting is no stranger. And, I also belong to things that I really don't understand at first glance. I just feel obligated to try it out ... Like Pownce.

There are just so many options out there that the distinction between them is becoming as much of a wall to effective usage as the very ideology of social networking once promised to eradicate. I'm very new to the game, gang, but it appeared to me that the promise of social networking was to create a great equalizing platform, connecting networks of people based on commonalities. At this point, it's a brand race, and Facebook's rise to the platform du jour is a great example of the fact that like everything else, it's about "what's cool" rather than what's right or what's necessary. We're all on the same networks. We're just dragging our friends around asking them the same thing: do you like this better? And does better mean better or newer? Would that work? Do you like this newer?

Which is a longwinded way of going back to Phil's original question, what is the actual value of Facebook? And what will be the actual value of the network that launches tomorrow? What's new here? Tweet me your answer.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


I feel like I can still get in on blogging about the AAAA Planning Conference because it was only a week ago today that it ended, and some of the finer points I left with are really sinking in only now, with a certain amount of distance.

"The problem is not that we've set the bar too high and failed, but that we've set the bar too low and succeeded." - Sir Ken Robinson

Like many of the congregated planners, I left wishing I had a pocket Sir Ken Robinson to pull out and bring along to remind me of what is truly important and worth fighting for and to keep me plugged in at all times to creativity in all its forms. More importantly, I seem to bump up against the notion that not all our endeavors as planners (as advertisers) need to be of the "great depth" variety. That sometimes some quick, topline thinking is all that's really required. I have a great tendency to throw myself into the search for depth, to be dissatisfied with the idea of topline thinking, but I'll tell's a skill set I really need to develop. I would manage time better, satisfy business leadership demands and requests, probably even open a great deal of free time that I could use to "dig deeper" if that's really what interests me.

And yet... the very idea that accepting face value truths when you know in your gut something deeper is at play, or could be discovered drives me insane. I don't mean to sound sanctimonious (too late, right?) but I think we have to demand depth of thought. At Nissan, where I used to work in the Advanced Planning department, our director, Jane Nakagawa, would push us to our cerebral limits in considering a trend, a habit, a value. It wasn't remotely good enough to define a target (for example) as "covetous of free time". What was really at play? What did that really reflect? Really, those four words could go in so many different directions. (e.g. Gen X "Superdad" disease - stuck between the desire to be a rock star at work and at home, or "Missing the playfulness of childhood" or who knows what) My point is, the benefits of "setting the bar too high", of trying and failing in so many ways outnumber the benefits of passing the paper off faster.

I guess if I were better at either, I could a) get my depth of thinking done faster, or b) convince people to give me space and time to go for big.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

local shout out for Ballard in Details

Just want to give a quick hazzah to Ballard Ave and 22nd NW for making the latest Details magazine's small list of "The Best New Shopping Streets in America". They highlight Blackbird, Space Oddity Vintage Furniture, and Bop Street Records. Also featured are Chicago's N. Damen Avenue/N. Milwaukee Avenue/W. North Avenue and NYC's Lafayette Street (b/w Canal and Houston).

Good job, Seattle.

on etiquette

I take the bus to work. Everyday. Sometimes you see something very nice, like a young feller getting up so that the elderly woman or the blind man can sit down in one of the first few seats near the front of the bus. But what intrigues me is when there is a breakdown in that accepted civility. I am curious as to what creates the absence of etiquette. Or maybe it's the opposite of etiuqette. Take the examples above. I am not referring to a situation in when the young feller doesn't give up his seat for the more needing sitter. I am thinking of moments such as I will list in a moment, in which a person goes out of their way to prevent the moments we've come to appreciate in a civilized culture.

Scenario 1: "The Keeper of the Seat" or "The Seat Boss"
This scenario also takes place on a bus, though I can see it happening on a train or subway too. This persona has two plays, both with sinister motives. Move #1 is to sit in the window seat, but to put their bags (and coats, if applicable) on the aisle seat next to them so that as the bus fills up a person who wants to sit down must ask the Keeper of the Seat to please move their things or even a humble "may I sit here?" It's obnoxious. Accept as a given, Seat Boss, that the bus before 9 in the morning heading into downtown is going to fill up and that your seat will be needed.

The second, and more attrocious of the Keeper of the Seat's arsenal is the one in which the Keeper sits down in the aisle seat, leaving the window seat empty. In what universe is this acceptible behavior? At this point, new entrees onto the bus are forced to request passage to the open seat, now requiring more than moved baggage, but the Seat Boss to get up (if they're kind) or just turn their knees to the side, wedging the new window occupant against the seat in front of them and putting them through a generally rough experience.

Scenario 2: "Airplane Sprinters"
Let's just accept as a given that anyone traveling on an airplane is eager to get off the plane when it lands. This could be for any multitude of reasons, among which are: late for a connection, want to see family, it's been a long flight, etc. If one can concede this contruct, one must realize that the folks who sprint as far as they can from the back of the plane to the front when the "unbuckle your seatbelt" bell chimes, like a herd of Traveling Pavlovians, are in violation of another cultural etiquette: letting the person in front of you exit before you. I have been late for planes. I have missed connections. I have not one time caught a connection just as the terminal doors were closing which is the envisioned scenario of the Airplane Sprinter, who must assume that by moving with LaDainian Tomlinson-like agility for the extra 4 yards before being absorbed by the mob of people who dared take a small breath before leaving their seats after the bell. Let it go. Let. It. Go.

In the spirit of not continuing attempts at cleverness, I'll settle on a point. At what point did decorum go out the window? These are isolated instances, yes, but I see people pushing their way onto elevators, cutting others off on the freeway, cutting others off from speaking (dear GOD! look for an entry on etiquette in the workplace coming soon), and acting in actively selfish ways. It is the "actively" part that frustrates me. Not realizing or accidentally doing something rude is defensible. But going out of your way with the sense of absolute entitlement is the result of what? A society that allows self-selected technologies and other options? Distance from formality on the whole (casual workplaces replacing casual Fridays replacing casual functions replacing semiformal workplaces...)? Truly, there must be something to point to. I just wish we could stem the tide and live with more of a sense of community. Not formality, just harmony.

I'll wrap by saying that at one stop today, in front of Dan's Belltown Grocery, a young feller came running out of the store, long hair flapping behind him, an apron covering his camouflaged shorts and obligatory iron cross calf-tat and he stopped a middle-aged, pear-shaped woman from getting on the bus in order to give her the (what...) dollar thirty-six she'd forgotten to get back for her iced tea? It was a nice moment. Etiquette and goodness are out there. I'm a believer.

Monday, August 13, 2007

let's give this a go, shall we?

Got some great advice, albeit a bit contradictory, about starting a blog from Aki Spicer at this year's APG conference. On the one hand, you've got to just jump in. It makes no sense to pussyfoot around with the thing - you're either a doer or a don't-er(?). You can create any number of excuses why you aren't a part of the blogosphere (not enough time, too hard, nothing to say, etc.), but it really comes down to leaping off the cliff. Having a little faith. Being willing to go down in flames. However, he also posed the question: are you going to be part of the light or just part of the noise? I'm 100% certain that is not what he actually said, but the nugget is close enough (and there are no quotation marks there). In starting a blog, is what I have to say contructive, insightful, or at the very least, mildly amusing, OR is it all just part of the egocentric, self-important din that passes itself off as "blogging"?

Lamentably, it appears to be careering toward the latter. (sigh) Not a good start...
the thoughts and opinions expressed below are entirely my own, and are not necessarily shared by my friends, family, or employer. (though they very well might be...)