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...)