July 2, 2009 by Colin
You could say the wire walker in this short film has intense short term focus, but is easily distracted by new opportunities. You could say that he is agile enough to react to changing situations, but acutely aware of the many competing interests around him.
If you’ve met me, or know my job, you could see why I feel some affinity for that wire walker.
In fact, if I was the type to build some sort of horribly overextended and barely consistent business talk out of the correlation between my personal life, professional life and this wire walker, I could type out three or four overwrought and barely personal posts meant to inspire you and increase my subscriber count. After all, I AM a capable strategist and thoughtful person.
His name is Florent Blondeau, and he wants you to “let your mind wander” – or at least that’s what The Economist magazine would like. This 70 second clip is the centrepiece of a new campaign that hopes to remind Brits that The Economist covers topics they seem to be interested in: domestic politics, world affairs, business, and travel. Apparently, surveys have identified 3 million of them as flighty, brainy or shifty enough to be targeted as potential readers.
I’ve read the magazine for nearly 25 years. Strangely enough, I appreciate it most for it’s dry and sometimes wry sense of humour. That’s hard to accomplish while discussing Indian economic reform, you know.
The campaign, to be launched on July 3, will play primarily in theatres. I have to imagine the clip will play much better on a large (or as large as a multiplex will allow) screen. (Faris has added his own thoughts about this and past campaigns.)
In 2008, Blondeau and some colleagues from the French wire walking fraternity (apparently, there’s a close kinship between the wire walking fraternity and the clown school alumni) showcased their skills in a regional performance called le fil sous la neige – a brief excerpt can be found just below.
January 12, 2009 by Colin
Those wacky geneticists. Sitting in their labs all day using million dollar computers, ultra high power microscopes and all sort of CSI-like technology to mess with the sanctity of life …
When they eventually arrive at an innovative finding, geneticists sometimes let their sense of humour slip into their naming conventions.
Take this extract from Your Inner Fish,
“Just as paleontologists get to name new species, geneticists get to name new genes. The fly geneticists who discovered hedgehog had named it that because the flies with a mutation in the gene had bristles that reminded them of a little hedgehog. Tabin, McMahon and Ingham named the chicken version of the gene Sonic hedgehog, after the Sega Genesis video game”
What seemed funny in a fruit fly, however, can be impolitic or even rude when applied to a human condition, as the New York Times noted a few years ago:
“… Many of those genes were given weird names when first discovered. Scientists have come up with names for genes in fruit flies, for example, that may be mystifying (“faint sausage,” “fear of intimacy”), cute (“tribbles,” “groucho” and “smurf”), or macabre (“sex lethal” and “death executioner Bcl-2.”)
…The human variant of the fruit fly’s “hedgehog” gene … has been linked to a condition known as Holoprosencephaly, which can result in severe brain, skull and facial defects.
“It’s a cute name when you have stupid flies and you call it a ‘turnip,’ ” Dr. Doe said. “When it’s linked to development in humans, it’s not so cute any more.””
You can find a flash version of Sonic Hedgehog here.
November 29, 2008 by Colin
On the occasion of Claude Levi-Strauss’ 100th birthday, a quote about the great anthropologist:
“Roger-Pol Droit, a philosopher who read from “Tristes Tropiques,” said that he “would have loved a text from Lévi-Strauss today saying, ‘I hate birthdays and commemorations,’ just as he began ‘Tristes Tropiques’ saying, ‘I hate traveling and explorers.’ “
“This is all about the effort of making him into a myth,” Mr. Droit continued, “because that is what we do in our time.” (NYTimes)
October 20, 2008 by Colin
There are many positive qualities to the tram system in Strasbourg: new trams, wide windows, efficient and predictable schedules, broad green tramways and a simple fare structure.
More remarkable, however, is the inspired effort to weave the network into the spirit of the community.
Artists were commissioned to create static and multimedia installations that warmed the relationship between an infrastructure project and the Strasbourgoeis: custom tickets for the “A” line, stations as a subtle artistic canvas, intentionally manipulated compasses scattered along the system, art incorporated into beams and columns, and a charming and lighthearted project to humanize the otherwise mechanistic station announcements.
Rodolphe Burger, a French composer and musician, created Vox Populi – a series of interstitial melodies, backing tracks and station announcements which were completely enchanting during my stay in Strasbourg this week.
There is little more surprising than hearing a small melody, performed by the Conservatoire de Strasbourg, precede a small child announcing the upcoming stop for La Cour européenne des droits de l’Homme – an institution that defends the rights of young and old throughout Europe.
As Burger told an interviewer in 2001, a hundred people from 4 to 82 recorded station names and standard safety and information messages::
“… Plus de cent personnes ont été enregistrées, pour introduire le maximum de variation dans les voix, les timbres, les accents, etc …
Quand un supporter annonce le stade de la Meinau, quand un professeur célèbre annonce « Université », quand un habitant du quartier de l’Elsau annonce le terminus en poussant une sorte de cri de joie, quand une interprète anglophone du Conseil de l’Europe bute sur la station
« Alt Winmarick », s’excuse (là, apparemment, d’après les échos que j’en ai, lorsque cette annonce tombe, c’est l’hilarité générale dans la rame), etc …”
Burger also referred to the influence of singing and chanting traditions among the Aborigines of Australia and the Navajos of North America – where direction and instruction were communicated through tone, rhythm and personal voice.
“… Ça me fait penser au Chant des pistes de Chatwin, dans lequel il explique comment, chez les aborigènes, la carte et le chant sont liés. C’est présent aussi chez les Navajos. Les chants sont des chemins dans un paysage …”
The key is to create intertwining narratives and story lines, preventing each trip from becoming a routine and numbing experience framed by monotone announcements and mechanical chimes. It certainly works, as I noticed the distinct voices and musical combinations when arriving at each station on the “B” and “E” lines.
While I didn’t have the time – or the inspiration – to look for the other artistic elements on the line, a different report emphasized how the various projects worked together:
” … Il faudrait aussi évoquer les projets affectant l’ensemble de la ligne B : les dessins d’Alain Séchas dans les caissons lumineux des colonnes des stations, les boussoles de Jean-Marie Krauth incrustées dans le sol des vingt-quatre stations et le traitement de l’ambiance sonore des rames par Rodolphe Burger …” (Vacarme)
September 22, 2008 by Colin
I can enjoy a recent note on the work of Marko Pecarevic, a Croatian biologist who just finished up a Master’s at Columbia, for a number of reasons: he thought up an interesting thesis subject that dug into intensive behaviour that occurred daily right in front of millions of oblivious humans; he made up a uniform that would allow him to poke around unfettered, and he managed to make ants interesting.
“… If people, viewed from a great height, look like ants, do ants, viewed at close range, look like people? Of course not. Ants have six legs, compound eyes, no lungs, and impossibly narrow waists, and they tend to hang around with aphids and mealybugs. Still, behavioral similarities make them excellent analogues. Ants, like humans, are into career specialization, livestock herding, engineering, climate control, in-flight sex, and war; for them, as for us, free will may or may not be an illusion.
… Employing Google Earth (forgive him, he’s from Zagreb), he chose three median-rich stretches—Park Avenue, the West Side Highway, and Broadway—then made himself an official-looking ID, dressed in parkish green, and started collecting ants, travelling the city with a duffelbag of garden tools and Evian bottles filled with antifreeze. No one bothered him …” (New Yorker)
September 9, 2008 by Colin
Let me begin by drawing an analogy: this will prove you and I have a common cultural frame of reference that allows me to effectively explain a contemporary but minor development in the evolution of social media in a manner that you will understand and find appealing.
This cultural frame usually revolves around one of three axes:
- 80s movies or music (of which John Hughes and New Wave are subsets)
- A citation from one of: Office Space, Glengarry Glen Ross, or the Judd Apatow oeuvre
- A reference to a similarly obscure yet momentarily popular applications from either 2005 or 2000.
Now that we have a shared understanding, I will support my argument by making a tenuous link to social theory, literary criticism, existential philosophers or post-modern artists. This will reassure you that I can move beyond simple analogy and am capable of applying cognitive frameworks to the issue under consideration.
If I’m unsure of my interpretation, I will link to a Wikipedia article or mention that I last studied the point in university.
At this point, I will need to tie my budding argument into a contemporary narrative. After all, you the reader needs right here, right now to keep on reading. This means one of two things: a link to a more prominent blog that has already staked out ground and an opinion on the issue, or a direct citation from a report in a mass media publication.
Unless I’m an economist, you will never see me link to a more considered examination of the issue in an academic journal. This is largely because academic journals are long and hard to read, but can also be explained by the firewalls that keep me from reaching subscription-only material.
Anyway – back to the contemporary narrative. If I have bounced onto this issue from an MSM report, I will take issue with the reporting. There is no value to me, my reputation as a capable strategist and thoughtful person or my employer in reaffirming the work of a more informed and professional reporter.
If I’m deriving inspiration from another blogger’s insight, I will take one of two tacks: I will be 87% in agreement, or I will cockblock their argument. In either circumstance, I will be demonstrating that I am, in no way, a dogsbody or a yes man. I am a man of ideas, a man of thought, a man to be considered a thoughtful and capable strategist.
Having established that I am well informed, educated enough to draw historic comparisons and critical enough to avoid parrotting the work of others, I will present a thesis for why the issue under consideration has arrived at this point. This thesis will draw upon three things:
- my experience, however limited, with a particular technology still in alpha
- my conversations with other strategists and gurus
- trends derived from online analytical apps
This thesis will present a forward-looking statement that is sufficiently vague that I will not get in trouble with the SEC nor anyone who decides to conduct a semi-annual retrospective evaluation of my predictions and assessments.
IT WILL, however, claim that the issue under consideration will have significant impact on the future prospects of a) the public relations industry b) publicly traded consumer goods companies c) the future of one politician in particular or d) the advertising industry.
Now, as a capable strategist, I will take a moment to point out that others have taken issue with the position I am currently arguing. I will reference a high profile blog, even if I have to dig deep into the comments to find a point contrary to my own.
I will then hurredly summarize my position, for a variety of reasons:
- it’s a wobbly house of cards, truly understandable only when read on a smart phone in traffic
- I cannnot extend the argument without revealing that it was lifted directly from Wired and the Economist
- if I stretch the logic of my main thesis much farther, it will disintegrate like a stick of chewing gum from a pack of 1983 O-Pee-Chee’s
- the Lavalife commercial just came on tv.
Having established my bona fides with my insightful and prescient thinkpiece, I will tend to the comment fields like a Chinese democracy activist who had the temerity to actually apply for a protest permit during the Olympics.
There, people of a similar mind will be in 87% agreement, or will cockblock me. Or, if they’re Amanda Chapel, they will actually make constructive comments that point out the holes in my argument and question my ability to wield a keyboard without significant instruction.
August 8, 2008 by Colin
SPOILER ALERT: for those of you watching the Olympics Opening Ceremonies on time delay (courtesy of NBC), you may want to skip this post.
I was truly impressed by the use of space during the Olympics Opening Ceremonies this morning/evening. The Bird’s Nest is already an impressive facility, but the three hour performance managed to maximize use of the stadium – and the neighbourhood around the facility.
We’ve come to expect Olympics Opening Ceremonies to include several stock scenes:
- shots of the Jacques Rogge, master puppeteer and apologist for bullies
- shots of the head of state waving
- several nods to the cultural history of the host country
- panoramic views of the happy audience
- a tip of the hat to the previous host country
- an endless parade of athletes, some breaking the fourth wall by filming the jumbotrons that are showing the broadcast of the athletes themselves
- Prince Albert of Monaco
Today’s performance moved well beyond that setlist, and even made the aerial acrobatics from Athens seem like a second troupe Cirque de Soeil performance.
To begin with, the Bird’s Nest was treated as an essential component of the fireworks show – at one point, the outside overhead view made it look like a flaming volcano – rather than simply a reception stand for the show itself.
29 fireworks displays, shaped like bare footprints, ignited in sequence to draw a physical link between the Forbidden City and the stadium – an important consideration, given the standard flyby helicopter shot would not have worked at night.
I admit, the hundreds of traditional drummers, while impressive, were a tad imperialistic. The raising of the Chinese flag was definitely militaristic – although I think some of those soldiers keep in shape by speed walking (it’s got the same unnatural hip movement).
The use of dancers and an illuminated and moving scroll, however, took the action off the stadium floor, as did the flying Olympic Rings.
Similarly, the salute to the invention of movable type avoided the routine floor-level spectacle so common at Super Bowl halftimes.
Let’s not forget Liu Huan and Sarah Brightman performing the predictably saccharine Olympics theme atop a giant lantern – which was later the set of mid-air routines reminiscent of the opening sequence of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.
All in all, an engrossing performance that set some new and outrageously expensive standards for future Olympics.
May 28, 2008 by Colin
Even while GPS allows geographers, archeologists and sociologists to map neighbourhoods, slums, suburbs, abandoned developments and ghetto encroachment onto parkland, the characterization of each block and community escapes standardization. As Daniela Fabricius points out in Harvard Design Magazine, the same technology that offers great promise for social scientists may also fall into more misguided use, like the geolocation of protests by police in Rio de Janiero.
On the other hand, civil society groups have used commonly available GPS equipment (like your phone) and online mapping technology to track human rights abuses and the consequences of disasters in remote areas like Burma.
Fabricius’ essay on the development, perception and possibilities of the favelas in Rio provides a novel and wide-ranging look at the development and expansion of these communities, providing a political, economic, geographic and sociological insight into these vibrant slums.
“… When it comes to favelas, which by definition evade or exceed administrative or bureaucratic oversight, both the efficacy and the politics of conventional mapping (and of statistics and demographics) must be questioned. Statistics, etymologically a “science of the state,” have historically been an instrument of power. The indeterminacy of data on informality makes it particularly vulnerable to fabrication and manipulation. Census taking in favelas provides a notorious example. Population estimates for individual favelas vary widely, with differences between what the city declares the population to be and what the citizens themselves claim—usually a larger number that would give them a greater opportunity for political agency. The favela of Maré, for example, has even set up its own information-gathering center, which takes unofficial but probably more accurate census data of the neighborhood. Using this information, those in the center have argued that the neighborhood should be eligible for greater political representation and state funding.
… This is the geography in which informality has emerged, beyond modernity’s peripheral vision. Informal housing and markets have found a basic grid of support in the architectural ruins of incomplete or abandoned projects of modernization, whether in Modernist housing projects designed to Athens Charter specifications, infrastructural objects and large buildings that have fallen into disuse, or what remains of social services like schools and hospitals, built in more optimistic times. These housing projects, highway overpasses, warehouses, and even high-rises are modified, mutated, adapted, and inhabited. Even if favelas form a close symbiosis with late-capitalist cities, they are not restricted to one urban typology.
Premodern and colonial cities, modern cities, and postmodern cities can accommodate the favela’s flexible typology. This is one reason it is difficult to situate favelas historically. On the one hand, they are very much a product of modernity, and particularly of the unprecedented scale of urbanization happening all over the globe. Favelas are not the product of “primitive” or premodern societies, like many of the urban typologies studied by Team 10 members in the 1960s, but are instead specifically related to industrialization and modernization. On the other hand, they bear no ideology of progress or marks of newness.
Even though they are very much a product of modern economies and social formations, favelas are still associated with an abject, primitive, or regressive form of urban life. Even if Rio’s favelas were once visited and celebrated by figures like Le Corbusier and Marinetti, they remained an image of counter-modernity, particularly in a country like Brazil, which developed a strong Modernist ethos. Favelas are frequently misunderstood as a transitional urbanism, a phase of the urban form as it evolves from a premodern to a modern civilization…
Cities like Rio de Janeiro and, perhaps more urgently, cities like Lima, which are more than half informal, must be represented in new ways. Informality requires a rethinking of mapping, both of informal areas and of the city as a whole. The invisibility of the informal sets it apart from other modes of urban life and produces a different and problematic relationship to representation.
Since it evades “the bureaucratic gaze,” it also has forms of citizenship that fall by the wayside but that must be recuperated in some way. The geography of informality—its enclaves and networks or islands and currents—presents barriers to political representation and social inclusion. But in the many ways in which the favela and the informal exceed the boundaries and borders that seem to contain them, they also present the potential for forms of community solidarity and the claiming of the “right to the city.” …”
[tags] favelas, slums, urban development, geography [/tags]
May 18, 2008 by Colin
Crispy Mint Indiana Jones M&Ms
It was to be expected.With the new Indiana Jones movie due to come out on June 22, the cross-branded products are beginning to emerge.
Already in the market for a M&Ms from the candy machine here at the sports complex, I came across a bag of M&Ms with old-school Indiana Jones on the package.
What are the brand attributes commonly associated with Indy?
- quick to the mark
Seeing Indy on the packaging, I honestly expected the candy to have some variety of nut – maybe a brazil nut, a little darker and more flavourful than the run-of-the-mill peanut? Maybe even a praline.
Crispy Mint Indiana Jones M&Ms, seems to have no association with Indy. The candy embodies these attributes:
- light, in taste and in heft
- a wisp of a crunch
- a selection of pastel green shells
- a slight aftertaste
This is not Indiana Jones’ candy.
If I could imagine any Indiana Jones character eating this stuff, it would be:
- the Gestapo agent from Indy I
- the French Archeologist
- the double crossing German archeologist
- the advisor to the teenage Indian Rajah
- Kate Capshaw
In fact, I half suspect that Mars is just tricking us into buying old Shrek merchandise.
[tags] M&M, branding, Indiana Jones [/tags]
May 3, 2008 by Colin
- Is George Foreman a design genius? Otherwise, he’s just a thief. Remember the Meat Toaster! (Armagideon Time)
- Los Angeles is awash with illegal billboards – and not small ones. (LA Weekly)
- You know what would make a cool business card? Something that looked like the card from an old-school library card catalog.
- How “historical sociologists” work, by Charles Tilly via MR.
April 11, 2008 by Colin
Hi It may appear that I am outrageously distracted. I have a book in my lap, a BlackBerry in my hands, and earbuds up top.
That must be why you’re staring at me.
Rest assured, I’m using my time productively, and I don’t have some form of attention deficit disorder (at least not clinically diagnosed, anyway).
The book? A galley copy of Rob Walker‘s Buying In. All he asks is: are you the master of your consumer environment, or are you the bitch of marketers, pop psychologists and retail designers?
The BlackBerry? In the thirty minutes it takes to get downtown, I’ve checked my morning clippings, clicked through on a Google Alert produced by my vanity search, checked a couple of work-related blogs (Hi Kady!) and sent an email to my assistant. Oh, and I sent off a half dozen or so tweets.
The earbuds? Covers of 80s songs. Jose Feliciano. Petra Haden. Ben Gibbard. Harvey Danger. Spek. And a bunch of other stuff not so lame. It’s all better than the low rumble of diesel engines, the rattling of aging bus bodies and the snoring of middle-aged bureaucrats.
All in all, a very productive bus ride.
Don’t think I didn’t catch you sneaking a peek at your BlackBerry just as we approached downtown.
But what’s the use of that? It’s too late to actually respond to any emails, but early enough that you begin to worry prematurely about the workload that facing you at the end of that elevator ride up to your office.
Either use the BlackBerry effectively, or don’t wield it at all.
[tags] BlackBerry, commute, productivity, work/life balance, Buying It, Rob Walker [/tags]
March 30, 2008 by Colin
For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why a brand manager would buy these ads. An ordinary woman, with ordinary if well-presented clothes, obviously standing in front of a false aisle of consumer goods, blatantly promoting a particular product – sauces, detergent, food.
The most direct comparison? Imagine the scripted pitch and rigid product positioning of an in-store sampling program, recorded with better lighting.
That’s Brand Power, the work of the Buchanan Group, which was featured in the National Post yesterday in an article called “Back to Basics.”
And here I thought Brand Power was a particularly Canadian program – but it’s obvious that audiences across North America and the Commonwealth are seeing one interpretation of the advertisements or another.
“… From a creative point of view the ad executions are awful, but mesmerizing. These are the type of commercials that are generally abhorred by agency brand strategists who spend months deciding on how to sell you breakfast cereal artfully.
“They are not ads that electrify you,” said Anthony Stokan, partner at retail consultancy Anthony Russell Inc. “They are very lame and uninspiring. But that said, they are highly believable because they focus on the essence of the brand and the products.” …”
Chris Clarke has made a strong, and emotional, argument in the past that Brand Power could be considered deceitful and misleading. I agree that the format is designed to appear informational rather than promotional, but I have never thought it anything but blatant advertising.
March 29, 2008 by Colin
Some on the scene retail anthropology, at the Tim Hortons donut shop in Khandahar, Afghanistan.
“… Of all the troops who crowd Tim’s counter or queue at the “walk thru” window outside, Barbarie’s personal favourites are the Royal Gurkhas, the diminutive but notoriously lethal Nepalese mercenaries who have fought for the British army for nearly two centuries.
“The Gurkhas are real fighting machines, so I don’t know if they want people to know they like frou-frou drinks that aren’t so manly, but they really love their French vanilla cappuccinos and their honey-dipped doughnuts,” joked the 35-year-old Barbarie, who gave up a job in Canada with a logistics company to serve a six-month stint in Afghanistan.
One of the revelations for Barbarie and the Canadian staff at Tim’s most remote outpost – owned by the Department of National Defence – has been that national tastes differ greatly.
Everyone at KAF, as the base is known, likes French vanilla cappuccinos – including the French. But Canada’s Afghan warriors hardly ever order this beverage unless extra coffee is put in it. The Dutch are keen on hot chocolate. French Canadians love honey crullers, which they call roues de tracteur (tractor wheels) …” (Canada.com)
Why is Tim Horton’s in Afghanistan? I discussed that last year.
February 29, 2008 by Colin
I had a chance to speak to a passel of Canadian government communicators about social media yesterday, and I promised them I would post a number of useful links to help them work around implementing social media in their workplaces.
So here goes:
- How the Social Web Came to Be, Part 1 and Part 2 and a linear time line in pdf
- Social Media Marketing vs. Social Marketing, via the Church of the Customer blog
- Network of Public Sector Communicators – a New Zealand blog written by a govt type
- 26 free tools to monitor buzz and online conversation. This is a must read, folks!
- Blog search tools: Google, Technorati, Blogpulse, IceRocket, Bloglines,
- E-government and Web 2.0, from Cisco.
- Introduction to Twitter (via KDPaine and Jeremiah)
- Big Brands and Facebook, a Forrester presentation
- the Three Types of Government Blogger, by me
- Four Tenets of the Community Manager, by Jeremiah, and even more detail and advice from Jake McKee
I’ve obviously missed a lot of resources, and I encourage my readers to mention more in the comments, so I can pass them along to the more disadvantaged.
February 25, 2008 by Colin
In-store television channels are not a new development, but I will grab an opportunity to riff on a tactic wherever possible. Kroger has just announced that they have built a television network (KTV) to serve the internal communications needs of their central division.
“… Each store has two servers with storage capacity and on-demand video, Kroger spokesman John Elliott said. Programs will include anything from quarterly financial messages from the company president to safety instructions for meat cutters …” (Rockford Register Star)
This may be some programming you could expect on similar channels:
- The 5 Second Rule and the Safe Handling of Meat
- Your 401(k) and Your Future: We’ll always have hours on the night shift
- Wax on, Wax off: Entry Level Jobs
- Channeling Bob Ross in Bathroom Decoration
- Creative Accounting in Determining Expiry Dates
- Our New CEO is Better Than Our Old One
- Cashier and Stockboy: A Story of Forbidden Love
- The Grocer’s Chiropractor: One Box Too Many
- How To Spot A Mystery Shopper
- My Barbie Oven is My CoPilot: a Food Sampler’s preparation guide
- Bleach and Ammonia: A Shortcut to the Cemetery
- How to Detail a Buick – your manager’s Buick
- That Market Analyst Is A LIAR
- One Lick Too Many: One night shift employee’s mastery of Guitar Hero 3 – and resulting unemployment
[tags] in-store tv, internal communications, grocery [/tags]