Thursday, December 4, 2008

...and while you're at it, create the next facebook, ok?

Another request came in from a client to create "viral videos" for them. Am I the only one in the world wide web of advertising to secretly roll their eyes at this request?

That's not entirely fair. I know what they're after. We all do. In every marketing department's vision, they create quirky web content that gets passed around the net and tallies a million hits before the sun rises the day after. But, for every Prop 8 - The Musical or Kobe jumping the Aston Martin, well-financed, professionally filmed and edited videos, there are 100 undiscovered gems like "One Line on the Sopranos" which explode due to their sheer creativity, audacity, or idiocy.

I guess what I'm getting at is that much as we'd love to accept the notion that with the mere instruction of making a viral video, we can actually create one. What we can do is build some online content. And yes, it could be a video. And yes, we'll probably make it funny. Will it be sliced bread? Probably not. Will people talk about it? Some will. Maybe a lot will. But once again, marketers are fooling themselves into thinking that control is their own when it comes to the internet.

I love viral videos. I have a tendency to laugh out loud (sorry. to lol) from my desk. There's a group of friends I share my favorite discoveries with. And THAT's what viral means. It means that we pass things around to a group who, in turn, pass them on to more people. Much like...wait for it...a virus. But from a marketing/advertising standpoint, they are one option. They certainly aren't the only option, and aren't always the best one when they're picked. At the end of the day, a great idea is a great idea. If people respond to it by sharing it, that's wonderful. But let's be careful what we, as advertisers, put within a scope of work, and let's be careful marketing departments that if we ask for a presence on the web, we understand that we will be playing by the rules of its democracy, that we can't dictate what becomes the vid du jour. If we could, we'd never have been able to predict or explain The Zombie Boy who loves turtles, Benny Lava or the Dramatic Chipmunk.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

in defense of accessibility, big ideas, and wild hair

The brown cardboard package indicating an awaited delivery from sat wedged in the mail slot begging to be freed from its bear trap. Upon recognizing my own name on the address label, I knew instantly what was inside. "Outliers", Malcolm Gladwell's latest lay snugly within the cardboard casing, and I, like my 5 year old on her birthday, tore open the package like a very hungry moose, or a deserving porcupine (if you know your literature).

It is not rapture to read this book. Not in the way it is to settle into the worlds of some of the fiction I'm fond of. But it is engaging. And utterly engrossing. And as I predicted to my wife, I think I'll be done with it within the week.

Yesterday, I had it lying on my desk at work and one of the fellas came by and we had the following exchange (not verbatim. but relatively close):

Him: I heard that sucks.
Me: excuse me?
Him: I heard that sucks.
Me: oh? who said so?
Him: reviewers.
Me: hm.
Him: they say his methodology is shit and that it's not as good as Blink.
Me: I'm actually more a fan of The Tipping Point than I ever was of Blink.
Him: well that's what they say.
Me: hm.

Despite my powerfully persuasive, monosyllabic, vowelless utterings, we ended at that impasse. But I did realize that there are many who dismiss Gladwell's ideas, his logic, his whole being as not scientific enough. Or too "poppy". Some even take great pride in disproving his theories. The most famous of which is Duncan Watts, who set out to discredit the Connectors, Mavens, Salesmen trifecta that Gladwell laid out in how trends move through our world. And he does offer up intelligent, scientific proof that he created using virtual community programming models. By all accounts, when I heard about him, he got me thinking. But then I realized, I wonder if Malcolm Gladwell cares?

Which isn't a slap in the face to the theorists who seek to knock him off the pedestal on which he never (as far as I know) asked to be placed. It's more to say, my sense of Mr. Gladwell is that he's simply curious. He thinks a big thought and then seeks to figure out a new way of approaching its proof and its validity. Blink certainly isn't the only book ever written about instinct, but it might be the most accessible. And therein lies Gladwell's gift. And by gift, I don't just mean his talent, but a gift he gives to we the people. He makes complex thinking available to those who can't follow the logarithms and theorem proofs that make big ideas seem the sole property and realm of the eggheaded and singularly-focused statisticians of the world.

In the Gladwellian form, I offer up as lab rats two of my dear friends from college. To protect their identities, I will change their names from Alex and Dave to Sam and Eric, respectively.

Sam and Eric were two of the smartest guys I've ever met. Ever. Each of them clearly representing the top echelon of intellectual minds at Tufts University in the mid-1990s. Both clearly well versed, and well-studied in multiple disciplines, they each settled into their respective majors with both ease and regret at not choosing one of the other numerous potential pursuits of study. Both had, over the drinking of beers, revealed (confessed?) their near-perfection on the standardized testing circuit. Both had rejected offers to attend other Ivy League schools based on academic opportunities and scholarship offers from the good people at Tufts. Both had proven their linguistic dexterity through dizzying thesaurian conversations that amounted to wordplay-based one-upmanship. By any measure, they were smart. Dare I say, very smart.

And yet, if asked, I need not be heavily pressed to offer the opinion that Eric was the more intelligent of the two. (Oddly, I was actually much closer friends with Sam, and want desperately to change the story in his favor. But, I did just gush over his intelligence, so...meh.) The difference was very clear. While both beyond capable of passionate discourse on wide ranging subject matter, Eric had a way of making it all so tangible, so real. As if even I, a mere English major, quick-quitter of the pre-med program, soon thereafter Master of Fine Arts, even I could grasp Kant, Einstein, and Kurzweil. I didn't, entirely, of course truly grasp their theories. But Eric had a way of making it available to me in ways that Sam never could. He took big ideas and made them accessible. Not dumbed-down. Not condescending. Just, possible.

I think that's a real gauge for true intelligence. The ability not only to wrestle with big ideas, but to consider an audience and make the same information meaningful, fascinating, and understandable to them. I love this kind of intelligence because it helps the world engage in conversations and ideas they wouldn't otherwise be having because they aren't encouraged too. Because it's not their domain. Because big ideas belong to those with PhDs and labcoats and bowties.

Malcolm Gladwell, that wild-haired Canadian theorist-storyteller, serves us in the same way. His books grapple with some monster ideas: how do trends disseminate through a society? what is behind the power of our instinct? what is the context in which genius flourishes? And while I can't make a definitive pronouncement one way or another or his methodologies (they seem well laid out, thoughtful, and mostly logical to me), I offer the defense that anyone who asks the masses to consider and examine bigger ideas than they might not otherwise contemplate is always worth the price of admission. Or at least an Amazon delivery.

Monday, September 29, 2008

big theory followthrough, idea festival, analog/digital

Realizing that I am an intermittent (read: sh---y) blogger, I'm berating myself on my own site. Deservedly so. How about a little followthrough? How about ongoing entries? How about it, bro? Yeesh.

I have an ongoing hypothesis about social networking (the social surrogate theory) which needs a framework and more entries around the topics I've outlined for myself. Like many of my thoughts and hypotheses, I bore myself to tears when I don't lay the whole thing out and then I move on to the next idea bouncing around in my head. This is known as Topical A.D.D. And I've got it. It's one reason why I'm strong at brainstorming and poor at laying out multi-annual strategies on a month by month basis. So, I'm sure I've got more to add to the SST, but it might have to get picked up after being away from it for a while.

Went to Idea Festival in Louisville, KY. This will probably be the subject of one or two blog entries in a row (staring tonight? tomorrow? soon.). I just didn't want to do a straight up "here's what the amazing speakers said at Idea Festival 2008" blog entry. I'm more inclined to mull over what I heard and then offer up some thinking about how it will impact me. Suffice it to say, though. Pretty cool festival. Lots of topics. Lots of (dare I say) ideas. Hopefully, I'll have something interesting to say about it all in the upcoming entries.

Lastly, I've been noticing how attached to my iPhone I've become. I can't seem to take a bus ride, or a car ride, or even a walk to the local caffe without checking mail, twitter, facebook, playing a game, or texting a friend. oh yeah, or making a phone call. I had forgotten it does that too. I have taken to going for walks and repeating a mantra "stay analog. stay analog. stay analog." just so I can appreciate what's going on around me. I am losing myself to the machine. I used to sketch, noodle, write stream of consciousness, all kinds of things in my Moleskine. Now instead of contemplating nature, I am taking a quick picture to embed via twitpic. It's a little sad. Anyway, I am thinking of doing a walk-a-thon or some kind of sponsored event to get myself off the device. Stay analog. Stay analog.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

on the concept of Intimacy - (part 3)

Initially, I proposed the use of the term “intimacy” to describe digital connectedness to a roomful of my colleagues. “Why not ‘friendship’, ‘rapport’ or ‘togetherness’?” they asked. I think that what I observe to exist in the online world is the search for something of a kind of closeness that is a level deeper than simple affinity. Intimacy may not be what is commonly achieved in the digital world, but I think it is what is sought.

Certainly for some, the desire remains to be a collector of sorts. The goal in these cases is built on discovering how many friends or followers or connections (or whatever the appropriate platform vernacular might be) one can obtain. That’s always been my hang up with MySpace – it always felt like volume was the driver. It didn’t seem to mimic my own reality of finding a smaller group of people that was predicated on shared commonalities. That in real life (using the term relatively), humans strive to find intimacy – close familiarity that reaches beyond facial identification, name recall, or the automatic, empty exchange of head nods and how-do-you-do’s in a workplace hallway.

I was unashamedly in a men’s a cappella group in college, the Tufts Beelzebubs. I describe these people as my brothers, even today. We were notoriously close. When asked what the difference was between my Bub brethren and the campus fraternity scene, I was struck at the obviousness of the answer. We were brought together for a common purpose – we all believe in fun through song. We weren’t just seeking out quantity of connections, we were limited in capacity, but the depth of connection increased exponentially because of a shared purpose, interest, and idea (that and khakis, jackets and ties).

The phenomenon of intimacy in the digital space works, I believe in much the same way. People using the social web have a deep need to create profound personal connections with their communities based on a handful of drivers: likeminded thinking, shared content, musical tastes, or common experiences. It is when online social selves are allowed the opportunity to discover what their web counterparts are all about that they actually create a deep connective bond. An intimacy. This is why I have fallen so hard for Twitter. I have found a group of people that I follow based on watching them think their thoughts “out loud”, and then decide whom I’d like to reach out to because I think we share a sense of humor, a perspective on the industry, a political viewpoint, a common ground. It is (again) why some sites don’t offer much beyond a means of finding old friends or collecting a digital Rolodex. This concept has been discussed here and there online, but I had a great discussion about it with @abfdc and @tfrommer, which was captured nicely (and thankfully not as verbosely as I clearly would have done it) here.

As we create new social platforms, sites, and online communities, I think we will find that the most successful ones of the lot are the ones that encourage and enable the opportunity to discover each other as similarly as we do in the analog world – as beings with nuanced thoughts, sensibilities and tastes seeking intimacy with others who offer complementary qualities, beliefs and purposes.

This is already too long, but I wanted to make mention of tangential thinking that relates to the topic of intimacy of this kind.

Just as we can find great connections with likeminded folks online, it would be impossible to have this discussion without recognizing the antithetical at play here. For as much as there’s depth of intimacy to be found online, there is without a doubt a major amount of illusion at play as well. The truth is, despite the great democratization of voice the Internet enables, we still create a hierarchical, celebrity-system of digital personalities. Within that mistaken fantasy that we’ve all got the same sized digital megaphone, lies the difficulty that - with such ease of access comes an assumed closeness where there probably isn’t one. The open entry to our digital heroes via blog comment pages, online forums, or yes, my vaunted Twitter, create the illusion of connection, of intimacy. We believe that in that comment/exchange/response that we are securing the attentions and affections of other members of this online tribe, when the reality is that it is often much more fleeting than that, and as with all things, time and consistency remain the best indicators of the truest connections.

Another part of that illusion of intimacy is expressed through a certain amount of voyeurism. We feel that we know certain personalities so we like to watch the tête-à-tête, the back and forth of witty barbs. There’s a safety in just watching from a safe distance as people engage in one-upmanship and juicy banter. We’re not a part of the conversation (or maybe we dare to engage here and there), but the digital world allows us to be privy to whichever intimacies we stumble upon that day.

Closeness in the comments space (or, anonymity-enabled honesty)
Michael Wesch points this out in his wonderful address to the Library of Congress, but it truly is fascinating. The most interesting dialogue happening online is often found in the comments section after an article or blog entry. Most interesting or most degenerative? I’m not sure which is more consistently accurate. Sadly, my best guess is the latter. But the point is in watching how base feelings become quickly escalated and expressed in these end sections of a webpage. And yes, Wesch specifically calls out the common radical insult escalation game that gets played out, but I think there’s an implied intimacy here as well. One that allows a person to be as explicit as he or she chooses, with whatever degree of force or opinion they wish, with virtually no repercussion to deal with (perhaps an incoming barrage of assaulting messages). It is fascinating however, to consider the boldness that is found online. I link this with a different kind of intimacy, but a form of intimacy nonetheless. This one isn’t seeking connection, it is an intimacy of allowance, of emboldened spirits based on the closeness the Internet affords.

If you’re still here, I love ya. Thanks for hearing me out. As always, I’m looking for your reactions, additions, and corrections. Agree or disagree, my guess is that we’ve shared something here. Haven’t we?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

on the concept of Identity - (part 2) opposed to persona

The important role of identity in the social network space seems obvious and unquestionable. Who we are, who others perceive us to be, how we want others to perceive us, how we want to perceive ourselves. There is a hinge, it seems, on the role of perception. And a spectrum of truth against which that perception is focused. Much has been written about online identities. Most eloquently might be Diana Kimball's take on it:
We build up our personal online identities, in large part, through the detritus we automatically leave behind: pictures we wanted others to see, articles we wanted others to read. Online identity is a very weird idea. It hinges on faith in honesty: if identity implies authenticity, then the information that helps to construct it cannot be false. But online identities are definitely constructed in other ways. They constitute the internet’s built environment: the structures we can see and study, and whose construction we can interrogate for meaning and consequence. These structures are in some ways completely under the owner’s control, and in others complete out of it.
There is a lot to take in here. I encourage you to re-read the quote.

The first part observes that it is our leave-behinds that define who we are. The moments of "check this out" or "some pics I found". It leaves me to wonder if we actively construct our online selves, or if identity is a by-product of engagement. Before responding to that, we must decide if we either buy into the idea that a person's first engagement in the digital social space is done purposefully or casually. Do people enter onto (let's say) facebook in a state of apathy, daring the online world to show them what's out there, or is there some intention around joining/signing up? If the latter is true, which I presume it is - at least for those who stick with whatever platform they've chosen, we have to believe that with intention comes awareness. And within awareness we find identity.

It is this awareness that leads to Ms. Kimball's last sentence:
These structures are in some ways completely under the owner’s control, and in others complete out of it.
Our self-awareness leads directly to how we present ourselves. I surmise that many start off trying to play a persona that is carefully constructed. Online, anything is possible. It's the neoclassic image of a person using false representations of themselves to appear more attractive on that great bastion of truth, the online dating site. Because somewhere in our minds, in our egos, perhaps in our most frustrated and desperate selves, we believe that the internet will allow us, will afford us the opportunity to become better than we think of our current self-assessment. But the key element in the construction of a social identity is time.

I think we grow into our authenticity. I think time is the great seeker in the game of identity hide and seek. It will always find us. We might begin our venture into the social networking world with the idea that we will become someone or something we wish for ourselves. But the more time we spend online, the more messages we write, pictures we share, dialogs we have, comments we make, the greater the chance that our true selves take over where the guise of a persona falters. The more we become certain of ourselves as individuals, the easier it becomes to maintain consistency of character. Or the more of our true feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and opinions become revealed to the communities we enter.

So where does that leave us? Have I talked in circles here? I often do. It's part of what makes me Me. I think the final thought on identity at this point is that identity is not something we construct. It is something that emerges organically the more time we spend engaging in social spheres, be they digital or analog.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Social Surrogate Theory - (part 1) which I pose the general hypothesis

I was inspired by Michael Wesch's ethnographic introduction to the Library of Congress (thanks for sending it around, Piers). Inspired, that is, to do a little more thinking out loud about social networks and why they matter so much in our society. I'm working on a hypothesis. I haven't quite reached the crux of what I'm searching for, but I feel I'm close.

I pose this idea, knowing that others have probably written multiple dissertations on the subject, not to mention books, blogs, and blah blah blah... If you're one of those people, my interest in the analog social impact of digital social networks is earnest. I'm open to references to read, conflicting points of view, research that already exists, and even an old fashioned "why don't you leave this to the experts" smackdown.

Here's the basic premise:
  • Social networks are a surrogate means of making authentic connections with other people. They are the natural outcome of a world with a dramatic reliance on machines and technology. As society moves into this culture of "togetherness through isolation", social networks are an enabling force that provide a simulation of the rich physical forms of human connection that we have lost our ability to cultivate through direct means.
Although I think this sounds a little like the diary entry of a erudite luddite, I am deeply, sometimes I think unhealthily, engaged in the daily (nay, hourly) use of a handful of these precious media.

My intention is to break down the thematic pillars of what social networking provides in parallel to the human experience. The next handful of entries will look at these, one theme at a time. My working list considers the concepts of: identity, immediacy, intimacy, possibility, advocacy, community, democracy, control, escape, and enjoyment.

As always, feel free to jump in and add direction, notes, your thinking, questions, or better insights.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


I was in a client meeting in which they briefed us about a new project and a term came up which irked me to no end. It wasn’t the first time, and I think that’s why I cringed at its utterance. Client X described the project target by saying, “we’re going after a target of 18-54 year olds, with a bullseye target of 21-34”.

As you read that, are you noticing what I’m noticing, or have you become immune to the inanity of this definition? It would be understandable. I hadn’t heard this “bullseye” idea until a couple of years ago and now I’m hearing it more and more. My problems with the bullseye notion are plenty, but let’s use the above example as our case study.

Point 1: 18-54 year olds is not a target definition, it is a massive cross-section of the general population. I have railed against using demography to outline consumers previously (check that here), and aside from the arguments made there, which basically state how we are products of our thoughts, actions, interests, and geographies more than our birth certificates, what irks me here is the notion that with this broad age range, zero nuance is taken into consideration. Essentially, Client X is telling me, “we imagine our product will be relevant for every adult north of high school and south of early retirement.” No. Way. I think we can all agree that a) in an ideal world, we’d have products that appealed to that kind of an age range and b) it has to be understood that by pinpointing a target (based on whatever factors you choose, but hopefully choosing something more to do with their reaction to a receding hairline and less about the year they began losing it), you will undoubtedly reach people you weren’t expecting to reach.

When Axe shows the guy picking up the girl in the convenience store, it is clearly aimed at (in bland demographic terms) 18-24 year old men. BUT, I think we can assume that somewhere out there, a mid-30’s guy, or a woman, or even a spry septuagenarian, might see that same commercial and feel it captures something about them too. No communication ever only reaches the “target” it always stretches beyond, even to a remarkable few.

My point simply being that you don’t need the big fat range of every adult in the Western Hemisphere. We get it. You’re hoping to reach a lot of people. Which brings us to

Point 2: Please help us rid the world of jargon. The last thing advertisers and marketing departments need is another buzzword. Catchphrases sadly sell books and draw attention, but they also push consumers further away from products and corroborate the notion that this is an industry of snake oil salesmen and sinister doubletalkers. Skip the new parlance, trust that simple, specific language will communicate everything you hoped and more, and get to who you really want to focus on. Just tell us.

Bullseye targeting is a lazy way to seem like you’re thinking deeper than you really are. I think it’s a trick someone came up with to make it appear as though they were working much harder than they were. That there was great understanding of consumer truth, when really it’s just saying “we looked at everyone and now we want to focus on this smaller group”. Which is what you’re doing if you just skip the “bulls---“ and get to the point.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

if a tree Twitters in the woods…

The combination of a great discussion the other day and my multiple explanations to creatives and clients alike to led me back to the question “why Twitter”?

Let the record show from the outset that when it comes to twittering, I’m all for it. I’ll tweet everything from my whereabouts to the inane to the cryptic. You can follow me here. But why? To what end?

I’ve been describing to the uninitiated (or semi-familiar) that Twitter is the best of the 4 worlds of: SMS (for the purpose of conversation), blogging (for the provision of intriguing content), social networking (for the inclusion of community), and most importantly, IM (for the immediacy). Without any one of these, Twitter would not be as important or impactful. Add in the constraint of messaging in 140 words or less, and you’ve got yourself a fun little gaming in the mix as well.

In my conversation with Ray, I asked, “if the idea is just to tell a close group of friends what you’re up to, why not send out an email? Isn’t the group communication function already covered?” What we realized is that there is an important element of voyeurism to Twitter that may be secondary, but is critical. There is a sense that somebody might hear my words, or might respond, or might (gulp) follow me. But then that last part is nullified by vast number of Twitterers who, like a teen newly exploring MySpace, is more interested in collecting people than actually listening to them. Which is valid, I suppose. I try not judge, although for the record, I don’t understand the practice. It seems pointless. (But, this is coming from the guy who stood in line for 12 hours when Tim Burton’s Batman opened, wearing a Joker T-shirt and getting upset that it had been spilled on. So my credibility rating on why teens do what they do is probably zero.)

The point is this: there is a part of the act of twittering that is a bit desperate, isn’t there? The kind of “somebody pay attention to me!” whining or “know it all-ness/my opinion matters” that nobody liked when we were kids. Which isn’t to say many comments aren’t interesting, but if I was to step back from it, I’m not really convinced that anybody really cares that my kids are still awake, or that I’m sitting in an aisle seat today, or that KEXP’s live streaming is piss poor. So there’s absolutely a part of me that uses Twitter for the hope of acceptance. That one of the tastemakers might single out one of my tweets and choose to comment back with an “@mrgingold blah blah blah me too blah blah blah good one, dude blah blah blah”.

Which brings us to another social ramification of Twitter that I find fascinating. Supposedly, in the not-to-long-ago, we went through a big social trend of Curator-ism. You know what I’m talking about, it was the Oprah phenomenon. The phenomenon that we hold people up in our society and look to them to help us choose what products, services, and people we should be purchasing, using, or supporting. But the Millennium was supposedly an end of that time, a welcoming of self-selection. The “iEra” in which I would pick for myself what, when, who, where, and how.

But Twittering is revealing itself to be more of the same Curator-ism, in a digital medium. We have our @PSFKs, @armano’s, @heyitsnoah’s that we follow and look to. These are the people we hope will notice our own tweets and comment or reply. They are the social media Oprahs. We look for their acceptance and are tickled at their recognition. Maybe this is just me. Maybe what I’ve done is revealed my own insecurities and shortcomings. My own small, sad need to be heard or singled out or told “that was what I was thinking too” by the people whose opinions I respect. If that’s the case, and I’m alone in this, I may have to reassess why I Twitter and blog. But I think there may be a handful of you out there who have a similar hope. Different “@_____” perhaps, but the same endgame.

And that is the beauty of Twitter. While I could never in a million years get Oprah to hear my voice, it’s possible to speak directly to anybody who Twitters. The medium is being used the way it’s meant to be used – as a great democratizer of opinions and thoughts. Nobody might care to reply, but when you put your 140 words or less out there, there’s the distinct possibility that somebody somewhere might connect with what you have to say.

And so I leave you with the thought: "now's a good time for coffee and caloric pastries". Care to reply?

once more unto the breach, dear friends

once more.

i've decided to give the hogwash one more go. i'm feeling a little like my blogging experiment has mostly been just for me and can't decide if it's self-indulgent, self-delusional, self-serving, or just undiscovered.

whatever it's been, i've admittedly been three kinds of sucky when it comes to consistency. and so, as i approach my bloggiversary, i'm going to give it one more try for some healthy blog activity.

if you've been reading, i appreciate it. wish me luck. feel free to comment openly.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

in search of authentic

Aki Spicer wrote a great bit on his musings from ROFLCon that really got me thinking. The last bit of his entry asks the reader to consider the future of "authentic". In my estimation, the word has, ostensibly, lost its meaning (much as has "green", "savvy", and "integrated").

Wanting to press a bit more on the topic, I looked up the word (using my MacBook dashboard). I was intrigued, as the first offering reads: "of undisputed origin". That's powerful stuff. Undisputed. Meaning, there can be no mistake about it. However, the watering down and adverspanking of this word is more in line with the second entry: "made or done in the traditional or original way, or in a way that faithfully resembles an original.” Sad, really. You can see, this is authenticity’s downfall. Essentially, this second definiton strikes the power of the first one useless. It says “faithfully resembles an original”. Meaning: “yeah, it’s close enough.”

With brands, we’re all telling our clients to “be authentic.” I can even recall telling a brand that one of their core “pillars” should be (you guessed it): Authenticity. In reality, every company should have authenticity at its core. And they all do. Except when they don’t. As company’s grow, expand, or look too much at what, where, and how the competition is doing their thing, brands lose touch with what they’re about. Or, why they were started in the first place. The role Authenticity plays is in what makes them (and this is where you’re BAM SMACK on it, Aki), human. It is the humanness of a brand that makes it an undisputed original.

It’s kind of flawed to suggest a brand should be more human, isn’t it? It’s a bit unfair. What is it that makes (or could make) a brand more human? As planners, our job is to uncover that very truth. We’re not always successful. The more we approach the work with an open and humble sense of curiosity, driving us to discover the answer to that question, the better the result. Open. Humble. Fallible. It’s what makes a planner human. And thus, relatable. And authentic. And successful. (NOTE: if all it took for a planner to be seen as successful were humbleness and fallibility, we’d all be long unemployed. I merely postulate that in addition to a hopefully insightful, trend-fueled, innovative mind, it would only be helpful for a planner to approach each project with a certain willingness to not know the answers and to reduce the abundance of high-falutin’, all-knowing platitudes and condescension that have plagued and tainted the role of the planner – at least in the US.)

So in the end, I think yes, the word authenticity, in its current “close enough to the original” state, is worthless. But, true authenticity is not something that needs to be learned by a brand, it is something that needs to be preserved.

Friday, April 4, 2008

you've been pownced

Had a good conversation with friends today. We were discussing the role of connections via social networking sites. The sheer number of networks that have come and gone, or come and don't get used or come and get used and get lost... it's insane. I had postulated that although I "belong" to a number of these networks, when it comes down to it, I only use three.

One is for networking. I build as many connections as I can, I welcome all who find me there.

One is for connecting. I get in touch with old acquaintances, stay in touch with friends, and am careful who I invite within that domain.

One is for dialogue. Spontaneous thoughts, insights, and delights.

And yet, I, like many, am a marked man. Discovered by a friend of a friend of my friend and now they want nothing more than to be connected. But to what end? To take an extra space in a list of names? To have a profile picture collecting virtual dust on my personal page? My hang up with MySpace (for me) was that it was all about numbers. So concerned with how many. It felt entirely pointless. Not everyone approaches it that way, but it feels embedded in the MySpace culture. So, when, say... Ed Cramley, who graduated high school 3 years after I did finds me and wants to be pals, I draw a line. Which is rude, isn't it? What harm would it be to have Ed listed amongst my friends? Well it feels entirely insincere to have Ed's picture listed amongst my "friends". I didn't know him a decade ago, I don't know him today... people aren't for collecting. So I ignore the invitation. Repeatedly, if necessary. Which, again, doesn't do much as far as building karma points.

So we came up with a plan today. A widget or app needs to be built (I'm nominating Phil) that acts as both a personal firewall and a social re-router. It needs to look at the spam-friends (those like Ed Cramley who serve no real purpose in my life at all) and filter them out, rather than rudely, to one of the other dozen social networks that I joined when I was trying them all on for size, and invites Ed Cramley to be my friend over there.

It's a kind of gentle breakup instead of a harsh "no thanks". A kind of deprioritization of social networks. I don't want you near my facebook account, so I'll re-route you to be "friends" with me over on Plaxo Pulse. Everyone happy? Perfect.

Hang on, I just got a reply from someone I haven't been in touch with from undergrad...sonuvabitch...I've just been Y!Mashed.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

a method to the madness

As a kid growing up in Syracuse, NY, University sports were everything. Our family had season tickets to basketball and football, and we were even known to cheer for the lacrosse team, despite the fact that we all sucked at the sport.

But something happened on the way to adulthood. My beloved Tufts University Jumbos took the spirit and tradition of raging championship-at-all-costs mentality away and replaced it with a joyful love of collegiate a cappella music and a respect for literature. The shame. The horror. I know.

Back then, the idea of filling out a bracket was a no-brainer. Through high school I was a king of useless data about how a Big East team would do against an ACC squad and had a distinct logic as to why certain teams couldn't be beat and knew the assists per game of the starting point guard from each Cinderella squad psyched to be slotted in "the Dance" as a 15 seed.

Fast forward to last week. At the ad agency where I work, one of the creatives sent around an email (which wound up in my junk mail folder) the day before brackets were due and for $5, I agreed to fill one out and be part of the office pool. Now, I know it's been a crazy tourney for many people, but never have I spent such little time filling out a bracket, never have I entered a pool with such little information about the teams at play (Davidson?!?!? seriously???), and, most importantly, never had I had so little invested in the outcome. Which begs the question: why do it? Why play? Why waste the $5 that could have gone toward an afternoon's triple tall americano from Vivace?

Here's why. It's quite beautiful really. March Madness and the bracketology that ensues is one of the last bastions of true camaraderie. People who don't know each other are talking about picks, predictions, shared disappointments, and fantastic finishes. We find ourselves purposely and overtly eavesdropping on conversations held in lines at banks, bus stops, and grocery stores. We want to be a part of the discussion. There's a primitive social aspect to March Madness. It has equal impact both nationally and locally. So I played to be a part of the conversation. I threw my money down the drain (G'town, Duke, UConn, Clemson) and did it with a smile on my face knowing that I wasn't putting money down to win, I was putting money down to participate.

And that's the experiential ingredient missing from much of life's newer events. The idea that we, as citizens, crave being active participants in something, in anything. We need to be a part of something. It's been argued before that as our world has become more digitized, so too have we seen an increase in the desire and need to collect real experiences. The NCAA tournament is a great example of yes, a great shared, collective participatory event. But also, of a social need that transcends the event itself. A reminder that even if you don't know the difference between a Cardinal from Louisville (bird) or Stanford (color), you can still be a part of something special, still be a part of the Madness.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Jill Bolte Taylor at TED

Just watch below...and choose to go right.

You'll see.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

on social energy

Working on a project these days that has me thinking a lot about energy. At my last job, that would probably have been a sentence about Casella Waste Systems and the patented processes of energeneration. But this is a new month, a new creative agency, a new outlook. And so, with the days of Vermont-based, resource management behind me, I open up a new chapter on the very idea of energy. Let's call it the subtle movement from natural resources to social energy.

This time, I'm looking at the almighty need for the afternoon buzz. Why do college kids gravitate towards coffeehouses? Or do they at all? Is there another source for regenerating personal energy altogether? Basically, what constitutes and what drives energy for college-aged kids?

I generated a handful of hypotheses before really looking into it. And when I say "really looking into it", I mean doing what is known in the Plannerworld as "Ghetto Research" in which I spent the afternoon around the UW campus, hanging out at a couple of Starbucks (and one convenience store - a sore subject and fodder perhaps for a diatribe of its own) and asking students their thoughts on the subject at hand.

Here's what I learned: much like the chicken and the egg, I couldn't get a clear answer as to whether or not kids cam
e out to Starbucks a) to hang out, and thus, being at a coffeehouse, ordered the house special; or b) felt they needed an afternoon coffee, and thus, with an awareness of caffeine deficiency, went to the nearest green mermaid shoppe. Put more simply, did students want a place to hang out or did they want a coffee?

To add a twist of purported advanced thinking to the question, is today's college student energized by a chemical or by socialization? A few of the kids I spoke to were not drinking coffee drinks at all, but either water or tea. However, regardless of what was in the cup, I heard many times over that the energy came from the conversations they were having with friends. It was the engagement that created the energy. And so one would conclude that the answer to the question of energy source would be socialization, not chemical.

And yet...
They were in a Starbucks. And if socialization were all that were needed to avoid this a
fternoon lull, the
y could just as easily been at a bookstore, a record shop, a street corner, a falafel stand, etc. But as I walked down the street, those businesses were practically empty. The Starbucks was most decidedly not. It was overflowing with not enough seating to supply the demand. There was a line you joined within millimeters of opening the door.

So what's the answer? Where do I fall out on this subject? It doesn't take a scientist to intuit the impact a stimulant has on the body's system (although it does take one to systematically prove it). And so ignoring the obvious effect an afternoon coffee would have on a 20 yr old's chemistry would be folly. At the same time (and a sociologist or anthropologist could speak with much more clarity on the appropriate theory in place here), the social phenomenon of eneregeneration (Arlene, I couldn't resist), meaning, regenerating energy from a natural resource, is clearly at play here. The environment that Starbucks and many other coffeehouses have historically provided (e.g. plush chairs, warm wooden floors, gentle mood lighting, perhaps a couch or a fireplace...) create the opportunity to sit comfortably face to face with a friend and connect. It is within that moment of connection that, for many people, the batteries get recharged. The more lively the conversation, the more energized the bodies engaged.

Of course, I always found a nice nap works too.

Friday, January 4, 2008

ringing in the new year

I've been thinking about this post for a while now. As a bus rider, I have had many of my favorite observations on the daily commute, be it to or fro. A few weeks ago, a cell phone rang on the way in to work, and despite my best efforts, I couldn't help but to play name that tune. It was, after a couple of bars, unmistakably the strains of that classic Hall and Oates' ditty, "Private Eyes". Do not misunderstand me, I actually have H&O Greatest Hits album, "Rock n' Soul" in my iTunes library, so I do not question their musicianship, nor their appropriate place in pop history. It is what happened next that is the basis for this entry.

The woman, scrambled to find the source of the melody, pained look on her face, hoping to end the embarrassment of her song selection in this most public and judgmental of forums. With much ado, she found the phone in her warehouse of a purse and stopped the ringtone.

My question is: if she was going to suffer such shame over the audio selection, why did she pick it in the first place? And she is not alone. I have seen this phenomenon countless times, yes on the bus, but also at work, coffeehouses, and other public spaces. People expressing externally the internal groan of "yes, that's really the song I picked for my ringtone."

Which begs the further question: is your ringtone a reflection of who you are, who you believe yourself to be, or who you'd like the world to perceive you to be? For some, a ringtone is what it is meant to be, a way to indicate you have a phone call. BUT, if you're going to customize your cell's sound functions, then you've obviously made the very conscious, very self-aware decision that your ringtone means something just a bit more. So, why pick something which will elicit anything less than joy and/or pride when it rings? If the woman had smiled at the Hall and Oates song, or given it an extra beat before turning it off, I'd have thought to myself, "that's pretty damn cool." Instead, I joined her in her emotional self-flagellation, and thought quite simply: "lame."

On a larger scale, so many products and services tout the idea of "customization" or "make it your own" and I think, as a citizenry, we are delighted to seize our own uniqueness where we can, thrilled to finally be supported, not ridiculed, when we order things "on the side" (or whatever might be the applicable "my way" form or functionality). However, the system fails us if we don't pick things honestly. Or, perhaps it's not about honesty, it's about comfort. Or perhaps it is neither, but rather, recognizing the platform of our customization, and having the wherewithal to discern said platform's availability to public scrutiny. Any way you slice it, it boils down to being true to yourself in life's decisions. (someone call Bill Shakespeare, there's something in that) Even the little ones.

P.S.: my ringer is set to Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo a la Turk". I'm not entirely sure what that says about me when folks here it ring, but I'll tell ya, it's a great song from a great album, and I tend to let it ring just a little longer than I should when someone calls. Just in case anyone's listening.
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...)