Now that’s niche marketing


“Wow. I never would have thought of that!”

It’s a thought that runs through my head maybe twice a month, as I come across marketing or sponsorship gimmicks that leverage a very niche audience to promote a specific product.

I don’t mean mass merchandisers parcelling off some of their advertising budget to include a weird marketing buy, like the goal crossbar at soccer games.
And I don’t mean large companies directly targeting their niche markets, like Speedo and Nike sponsoring swim teams.

Instead, I admire the insight that leads planners to find very small buys that may prompt a change in buying behaviour.

Like Tetley Tea sponsoring lawn bowling.

Now, I’ve never been lawn bowling. It seems like a slow, relaxed sport, but I doubt you drink tea WHILE bowling. More likely, you drink it afterwards – and Tetley builds brand preference by sticking their name right there, on the ball.

Now, if someone could tell me if curling stones have beer company sponsorship …

[tags] lawn bowls, Tetley Tea, curling, niche marketing [/tags]

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Toasty toasty meat and 8 ton signs


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The political economy of taco trucks


The political economy of taco trucks, as explained by Jonathan Gold: personal skill, quality products not overburdened by design or packaging, effective location scouting, and feature-rich marketing.

“…I love mini-malls. I love swap meets. I love tamale carts. I love itinerant fruit vendors. I love old Guatemalan women with hampers full of corn on the cob and squirt-bottle mayonnaise. I love the pickups that roam the Eastside, with loads of mangoes or bushels of fresh green chickpeas.I love the guys who lop off the tops of coconuts with rusted machetes.

I love entry-level capitalism at its most chaotic, where the barriers to doing business are on the wispy side of minimal, where a family with a dream and a catering license can support itself selling delicious barbecued cabeza from a truck window, where two dozen oddball eating places can be launched for less money than it would take to open a single outlet of Burger King.

There are plenty of cities in America where freedom is best expressed as the right to choose between Wendy’s, McDonald’s and Carl’s Jr., but Los Angeles is not one of those places. I think that’s why I live here…” (LA Weekly)

[tags] Taquero, taco truck, Mexican food, fast food, community development, economic growth [/tags]

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V2 Day – how social media is helping roil Italian politics


V2 Day Stop Media MafiaToday, millions of Italians are encouraging their government to perform a little act of self-love. It’s V2 day.

You have to understand, Italian politics is a giant mess. Governed by a parliament split into countless regional, ideological and personal political parties, Italy has been subjected to minority government after minority government.

Not that the ruling politicians have changed. If you bother to look up past presidents and prime ministers, you’ll see the same names popping up again and again – powerful politicians, financiers and oligarchs. Some have been cleared of conspiracy and corruption charges, others had the evidence disappear or claimed immunity as sitting legislators.

At the moment, Silvio Berlusconi is getting ready to become prime minister – for the THIRD time. There are some that argue, with some merit, that Berlusconi’s personal chokehold on print and television media in Italy plays a significant part in his abilities as a political phoenix.

Italians, understandably, are getting a little tired of their predicament. In fact, two million Italians hit the streets on September 8, 2007 to protest corruption and incompetence on the part of their government.

It was all part of a campaign of insubordination and protest organized around the “v sign” – the upturned fingers that really get the message across that an Italian would like you to vaffancuolo – perform intercourse on yourself.

Leading the charge is Beppe Grillo, a comedian, satirist and, now, political activist. Imagine Robin Williams, but with a lot more impact on the electorate. His foul but catchy anthem,

The New Yorker ran a lengthy interview with Beppe in February, which offered up an insightful examination of the political, economic and social currents that have prompted this sort of popular reaction.

Beppe has followed up on last September’s activity with V2 Day, being celebrated today, on April 25 (threw that in for you late readers on the feeds). From his blog:

…On 25 April we are liberated from nazi-fascism. 63 years later we can liberate ourselves from the fascism of information. It’s more difficult than it was then. It’s no longer rifle against rifle, hand grenade against armoured tank. The battle is between consciences that have gone to sleep and the freedom of thought, between those who no longer want to fly and those who cannot renounce the sky.

On 25 April we can change the country. We have the duty to do it for our children and for our conscience. The liberty of information cannot offer discounts. Three referenda for freedom of information in a free state: abolition of Mussolini’s Order of Journalists, elimination of a billion euro a year public financing of publishing, abolition of the Gasparri law and the duopoly Parties-Mediaset (shortly to be Mediaset-Mediaset).

In 400 Italian cities signatures will be collected. In tens of foreign cities there will be information about the control of the media in Italy. Music, bicycles, festivals and signs of peace. A new Renaissance. After so much shit, for Italy it is a duty…

Check out the flickr pool. Check out the PSAs, protest videos and citizen journalism reports on YouTube.

image courtesy of Stop.Media.Mafia

[tags] V2 day, Italia, Italy, Beppe Grillo, corruption, government, protest [/tags]

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Galen Weston brings home the white label love


Oh Galen Weston, you scamp. I admit, I was on the fence for a while. When you were appointed Executive Chairman of your dad’s company, I was naturally skeptical.

When your photogenic and cherubic mug started showing up in advertising for Loblaws groceries late last year, I questioned the wisdom of the move. After all, Loblaws is the home for President’s Choice, a wide-ranging white label brand that many consider a fundamental part of the Canadian identity.

President’s Choice isn’t just a success because of its delectable butter tarts, shortbread cookies, cheese trays, spreads and holiday train sets.

It’s the brainchild of Dave Nichol, a Loblaws executive who became synonymous with white label grocery products in the frozen North. Through sweat, blood, tears, market testing, brand development and millions of promotional inserts, Dave built the President’s Choice white label brand into a category killer for Loblaws.

But then you started playing with babies. Babies, man.

Let’s remember that Galen is the shining new star of a family ranked by Forbes as the #93rd richest in the world.

How is he gonna come across as personable, down to earth and a straight shooter?

Back in the 80s and early 90s, you knew Dave was simpatico. His ads were full of references to “working hard for you” and ” we’ve kept the same price as last year” and “my team” and “our family.”

Over the past few months, Weston has been working hard to put a personable and young face on the Loblaws brand. Personalizing the brand was first suggested over a year ago, by people like Mark Evans (read the comments, it’s one of those bitter but everfresh posts).

Weston’s clean face, tousled hair and open necked shirt have been pushing products that would appeal to the new and sensitive consumer. Organic baby food. Reusable shopping bags. Phosphate-free dish washing detergent. Apple crisp. Freakin’ apple crisp!

(Which, if you want to watch them, you have to dig into the Bensimon Byrne website under “current creative.” Because ad agency websites suck.)

And in the latest ad, Weston brought out the big gun – he ended the ad with “eh?”

“Clean dishes. And a slightly cleaner Canada. That works, eh?”

Normally, I would be all like “oh yeah? who are YOU to try the common and somewhat stereotypical colloquialism that has branded Canadians around the world?

After all, eh is not a word to be wielded lightly by copywriters – unless in an excessively ironic manner.

But Galen Weston pulled it off. Bastard.

Good for him.

And I can’t just help myself. Here’s a Bob and Doug MacKenzie clip, featuring a lot of “ehs”:

[tags] Galen Weston, Loblaws, President’s Choice, grocery, eh, Canadian culture [/tags]

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Secret Guide to Social Media in Large Organizations


The Secret Underground to Social Media in Large Organizations

Well, I’ve finished work on it. A handy little guide for exploring the world of social media and building support for social media in a large organization.

I think the advice in this 23 page guide to secretly implementing social media in organizations could be equally useful for any government employee looking to try out new technologies – I’m pretty certain on that point, since I’m a government employee in real life.

You can find the guide at this link, and please feel free to share it with your friends, colleagues and bosses.

Here’s an excerpt, from the introduction:

How do you do it? How do you bring a spirit of innovation and experimentation to the communications shop of a large organization?

I’ve worked in a large organization – the government – for the last ten years. You can find bright, creative and resourceful people around every corner, in every department.

During the course of their careers, many of these people have thought of a move that could improve their work or their environment.

From experience, we all know that small changes in process or presentation are easily won. After all, it’s just another line on an approval sheet, or a tweak on the website.

Large organizations can also be convinced to launch a large-scale overhaul of their systems – whether it’s a supply chain, assembly process or online order system.

But it’s a real pain to get them to rethink their relationship with humans outside the security fence. After all, our customer service reps seem to be doing a good job, right? That sales force really does have a handle on the needs of the community, doesn’t it?

In speaking to hundreds of workers and managers for large organizations (government and private sector), I’ve been asked the same questions, over and over:

• How do you convince your boss to even experiment with social media?
• Doesn’t it mean a lot of extra work?
• Isn’t this sort of stuff blocked by our organizational policies?

This Secret Underground Guide to Social Media for Organizations is meant to help you answer some of those questions.

[tags] guide to social media, instruction, dummies guide, introduction, organizations, government [/tags]

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Sweet whisperings of food


Finally. A tenuous reason to link to Russell’s splendid blog, eggbaconchipsandbeans – where he provides reviews and photos of the tasty grub prepared by local snack shops across the UK.

And the far less splendid, but somewhat entralling Grocery Eats. Deep fried White Castle Slider. That’s all I’ve got to say about that.

Euan Ferguson, writing in the Guardian, takes a light hearted look at the relationship between food and the senses, building off the ideas of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, in particular his loaded manifesto on “futurist cooking.”

[Marinetti, in a remarkable move for an Italian, suggested there were many more things better to eat than dried pasta]

Ferguson harkens back to his own memories – and the feeling of comfort brought on by otherwise boring and even unhealthy food:

“… A Ginsters sausage roll has to be accompanied by the sound of the M25, the feel of a crappy rental plastic gearstick, the gaze into rain, the smell of a cigarette to annoy the rubbish rental company and also because you cannot physically eat a Ginsters without smoking; the sound of the suburbs.

My favourite being-down meal, macaroni cheese with sweetcorn with an egg beaten into it, is best (trust me) accompanied by the feel of the remote, the opening bars of Armageddon, the smell of fresh-drying clothes, the sight of my kicked-off boots …” (Guardian Observer)

photo courtesy of DavidRLewis

[tags] Marinetti, futurist cooking, service centres, Ginsters [/tags]

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Can coporations manage the migration to social media?


Mitch has nailed it. A lot of companies being slammed by online controversies – like Hasbro – just aren’t used to dealing with emotional, irrational and impetuous humans.

Their relationship with the marketplace is framed by the work of their distributors, an import/export firm, or a licence holder.

The issues involved are often complex, with plenty of lawyers involved. Corporate positions frequently cannot be distilled into blogger-friendly language without affecting corporate interests in liability, finance or intellectual property.

Any corporate public relations pro will recognize their dilemma.

As Mitch points out, it’s hard for a company built to a fifty year-old model to adapt to a new business flow chock full of eddies, breakers and dangerous rapids.

Increasingly, though, they are trying. People like Petro Canada or Ford are dipping their toes into the social media swamp – and taking the punches and expanding their influence.

The transformation of the corporation demands participation and understanding at many levels – not just in the marketing and communications department.

As Doug Walker points out in a comment to Mitch’s post, the simplest point of contact may just be the customer service representative – if finance, facilities and human resources help you expand your CSR force to deal with the pressures that can be generated by social media.

And that means finance, facilities, human resources, and the call centre manager will all have to understand the needs and challenges of playing in social media.
Oh – and Mitch’s other point, about bloggers demonstrating the same qualities they demand from corporations? I agree as well.

Anyone can build a bully pulpit, whether they’re a fascinating storyteller or simply a demagogue.

It takes a level of dedication and transparency to actually maintain relationships and effect change in a community – small or large.

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Why does a Third Place have to have good upholstery?


I’ve come to a conclusion: a third place cannot really be created. In fact, every “home away from home” I’ve visited has some dirt in the corners, cracks in the parquet, suds in the bucket

One thing it does not have is wi-fi.

If you set out to make a “third place,” to create an environment, you (and your interior designer) will end up with a representation of your ideal third place. Or the sort of environment you imagine your prototype user personas would consider a third place. The visual cues are there:

  • not only are the magazines from the current month, their spines haven’t been broken
  • scented candles are evident and emitting
  • wind chimes inside the building
  • chalk signs with amusing sayings in even script
  • no sign at all of fresh bait

A true third place really becomes part of your life, and actively engages with your life. It’s not the sort of place that helps you write a book – it’s the sort of place that becomes a book.

In the case of a riverside pub and store in Garrison, New York, the book was called “Little Chapel on the River.”

That would be Guinan’s Pub. It certainly appears to be just such a third place, despite its well-worn looks. The flickr pool shows how small, cozy and Hudsony it is.

And a recent profile in the New York Times described the environment for us:

“…Nostalgia can be cheap. We’re not all soulless now, and we weren’t all noble then. The barista at Starbucks might have a heart of gold and the old-timer running the local bar might be a jerk. But in ways that are far more true than not, Guinan’s came to stand for cherished values — family ties, friendship, community, authenticity, localism — seen as being in steady decline. That’s why everyone and his dog who ever had a beer there, ever made it across the river from West Point, ever sat in the morning with a cup of coffee and a boiled egg enjoying the Hudson, every member of the Guinan’s universe who could make it, was there to say goodbye.

…“I’m not sure exactly how, but we became a comfort zone for people,” he said, “a place that reminds people of a place they went to when they were young, something that makes them think good thoughts. People need a place like this, but the reward you get for the kindness you provide is worth much more than whatever you give out. It blows me away to be a part of it.” (NY Times)

Why a profile? Because, after fifty years, the Guinan family is moving out and closing up shop.

We’re seeing a stream of similar stories in 2008 as local bookstores and record shops close up, driven out of neighbourhoods by gentrification and rising rents, and driven out of business by far greater choice available online.

Which makes me wonder – if someone was to remake St. Elmo’s Fire, where would it be set?
[tags] third place, neighborhood bar, tavern, community, small town [/tags]

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I don’t know how I missed this


…but The City Desk, a blog about a fictional urban centre, is pure genius.

A piece from last year reeled me right in, with a mix of nearly believable retail history, technological confusion and urban conspiracy: The Permanence of Gillard’s Electric Typewriter Service

“…All large cities feature that staple of stand-up comedy, the retail storefront which seems to change hands every few weeks, and our own is no exception. The left-center unit of the Pioneer Square strip mall, currently S.E. Huang’s Kenpo-Karaterie, was a Spanish-language tax preparation service catering to the South Street area’s large Ecuadorian population as recently as last November- and, in the summer of 2006, it was a boutique specializing in salsa-related merchandise. Lot 47 in the Galleria at Woldman Heights is particularly infamous in this regard; in the last three years alone, it has been a Wittman’s, a Sunglass Hut, a Gap for Seniors, a Dobbins Farm Dairy outlet store, and a shop where one could commission tailor-made potato chip varieties….

Then the suggestion that actor William Atherton, who I remember most as the EPA inspector from Ghostbusters (“It’s true. This man has no dick”), was in the running for mayor.

The City Desk is magic. It is the paper of record for every neighbourhood you have ever lived in. It’s so familiar, so accurate, it makes you realize how foolish urban life and obsessions can be.

[tags] urban life, city paper, neighbourhood journalism [/tags]

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Lighters aren’t just for REO Speedwagon concerts


Indulge me here. When I was a kid, everyone smoked. Everywhere. Which meant that lighters and ashtrays were an everyday fact of life.

So common, in fact, that they were considered accessories to your home decor. There were ashtrays that looked remarkably like appetizer plates, or maybe highball glasses. Popular in my house were ceramic ashtrays from Mediterranean countries like Spain, Greece and Italy. As for lighters, they resembled hookahs, and others looked like cubist party favours.

In fact, lighters could be divided into the personal (whether a small Bic, a showoff Zippo, or a swanky Davidoff) and the communal – a larger piece that suggested careful design and a shared experience (like a big hunk of silver or brass sitting on the coffee table)

Sort of like the Braun lighters to the right. I found these in a Gizmodo post on the similarities between Apple’s design and the work of Dieter Rams for Braun – in the 60s.

[tags] cigarettes, lighters, ashtrays, home decor [/tags]

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Show me the size of your sub-woofer


I may have mentioned this – my daughter is surfing our wi-fi at home using her new iPod Touch.

I am very jealous, and increasingly convinced that my childhood was a period of despair and deprivation.

Just like anyone who eagerly anticipated the x86 chipset.

Sure, I had a Casio calculator watch. And I had a transistor radio the size of a match book (with a single ear bud, much like an old man’s hearing aid).

A portable music player was never out of reach. That was an advantage we held over our parents’ generation.

But a device is always a reflection of existing technology – and contemporary society’s perception of innovation, utility and coolness.

That perception rapidly changes, to the point where cutting edge seems obsolete and burdensome.

When Grandmaster Flash first whipped out his ghetto blaster and showed it to the neighbourhood in The Message, the sheer size of the device was meant to impress and cower.

Back then, you chose a ghetto blaster based on its cassette replay features (two sided play, anyone?) and its speaker range. No – not the range of the speakers, but the range of sizes of speakers.

Of course you had to have speakers that pretended to mimic woofers and subwoofers. (They were the big speakers, usually at the back)

Key to the device was sharing the music – with everyone in a forty yard range. Music was to be shared, and maybe prompt some breaking.

That’s a big change from today, where portable music players are one more element in our defenses against our immediate neighbours, whether on the bus, at the mall, at the office or in the gym.

The glowing green Miami Vice suit was optional, though.

image from Taschen Books (and Sony as well)

[tags] stereo, D cell batteries, ghetto blaster, cassette tape [/tags]

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You have to understand your GD community!


Just like Jackie and Ben tell us, just like Jake emphasizes and Connie practices, a business has to know its community and its market to succeed. Here are a few examples:

On the east end of Long Island, there’s a 1,000 watt radio station that’s extremely local:

“…Mr. Tria’s morning show, “The Dawn Patrol,” delivers a style of local radio that is nearly extinct on Long Island: a neighbor’s lost dog, a birth or death in the community, and news from the schools, the police and Town Hall. It is a slow-drip blend of slow-paced life that seems meant to waft into kitchens and mingle with the smell of bacon. (NYT)

A Ford dealership in a small California town has been bought out, a reaction from hq in Detroit to declining market share and a surplus of dealerships in the region. But not for a lack of trying:

“…All the while, Norwalk and southeast Los Angeles gradually became more Latino — 63% in the most recent Census data. Stutzke says he adapted, becoming among the first car dealers to advertise on Spanish-language television. Families poured into the dealership on Saturdays to watch the making of El Show de Keystone Ford. (USA Today)

Looking for some heartwarming stories of big box chains and international brands failing? Reason magazine tells us that the little guy CAN win – and has an eighty year history of beating the big guy. It’s a good read with a lot of historical context:

“…By understanding local tastes, Newbury Comics, Phoenix Coffee Co., La Flor De Broadway Café, and Kansas City’s Broadway Café demonstrated that localization, customer care, and authenticity are far more effective means of fighting larger rivals than agitating for anti-chain legislation.

Had Broadway Café owner Jon Cates initially looked at historical precedent, rather than petitioning city hall, he perhaps would have understood that David slays Goliath with encouraging frequency in the history of American business.”

[tags] community, audience, brand, retail, radio promotion [/tags]

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More of Imperial Nostalgia – and some anti-consumerism


Well, with the oldest-living Queen launching a YouTube channel* in time for her Christmas Message, I’m feeling more than a little flummoxed. This sure isn’t the tradition I remember from my childhood – which was more along the lines of “What do you mean, she’s on all FOUR channels!!!”

Over at Crying All The Way to the Chip Shop, Lee spent some time earlier this month discussing why Britain doesn’t have the same great tradition of “road songs” as the United States. There are obvious geographic limitations – what with Britain being tiny and all – but he argues that there is also a cultural and spiritual chasm between the two countries as well:

“…The truth is, we (Brits, that is) don’t look at life and see endless bright horizons and dream big dreams, we’re a gloomy, glass-half-empty kind of people and who find idealistic American positivity a little embarrassing and phony. Americans, bless their hearts, do still say things like “you can be anything you want to be” and believe it (despite evidence to the contrary) because they’re happily unburdened by history while we’ve had way too much of it and frankly can’t work up the enthusiasm for anything anymore as a result. We built an empire and won a bunch of wars and now we just want to put our feet up and enjoy England’s plucky failures …

These days the stubborn refusal to “have a nice day” feels like a defiant poke in the eye of today’s noisy, amped-up consumer culture (created by America, of course) which bangs you over the head with its global franchises, useless gadgets, trashy television, and blinged-up celebrities. In the face of that, being miserable old bastards may be the last thing we have to hold on to that’s truly ours”.

Here in Canada, we have the worst of both worlds: a faint tie to British history and past glories, a tremendously long and expansive horizon, and very little history of our own.

That means we measure our voyages in hours (“How far?” “About four and a half hours.”) and our travelogues tend to be overladen with descriptions of the scenery (“Trees. Loads and loads of trees. Oh, and an iron mine.”).

Unless you’re driving through Saskatchewan, which is three hours of flat. And a uranium mine.

We’re really into that whole consumerism thing, though. And the franchises. A mall or a neighbourhood can’t really be considered to have “made it” until it’s overburdened with American franchises.

*or ,as The Register notes, “One would like to wish you a Happy 2.0 Christmas”

[tags] England, Half English, nostalgia, Empire, Queen, consumerism [/tags]

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Holiday parking, only for the pushy


Christmas Eve. Last minute shopping. Malls full of desperate shoppers. And it’s going to be parking hell. The Raleigh News & Observer describes some of the rude and desperate behaviour to be found at local mall parking lots, and provides some anthropological rough work on the types of drivers you’ll come across:

THE STALKER: This driver looks for a shopper loaded down with bags and follows behind like a vulture hungry for carrion.

THE ILLEGAL IDLER: This person parks in a fire lane, or a handicapped spot, and sits there with the engine running while a spouse ducks inside. If an idler is especially daring, he or she will use this time to change a baby’s diaper.

: Most hated of all, this person sees a pair of brake lights go red and stops, knowing that a fellow shopper is soon to leave. The worst stakeout artists will sit there for 10 minutes if necessary, blocking traffic for 20 other cars, while the fellow shopper loads 10 bags, a stroller and a grandmother into the car.

It’s the grandmothers that’ll kill ya. Often, you can’t see them lurking behind the shopping cart.

[tags] holiday, parking, mall [/tags]

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Style Council or the Jam?


Here’s an incredibly personal and limited comment, which will likely only be understood by a group of friends I hung out with in the mid-80s.

Chuck Thompson, the author of Smile When You’re Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer, was asked what music he would choose for a road mix to accompany specific chapters in his book. This is his note for one chapter:

“… “Headstart for Happiness” — The Style Council (video)

With a certain age group of British men, it’s possible to start a fight simply by walking into a London pub and declaring that The Style Council was in fact a better band than The Jam. (True, by the way.) [Author Thompson’s] life in Japan fired [his] suicidal imagination like no other place and there were dark weekends there when only [his] discovery of Paul Weller’s new and improved incarnation pulled me through.”

I think that our small group could still spend several hours debating the merits of post-punk Paul versus synth-pop Paul.

And part of that debate would centre around the proposition that Mick Talbot was Paul Weller’s Yoko Ono. Discuss.

h/t again to LHB

[tags] Style Council, Jam, Paul Weller, mod, Lisgar Collegiate Institute [/tags]

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Some snippets about retail


As we approach Christmas, we can harken back to when towns had local or regional department stores, each decorated in a particular style for the holidays. As the comments on a photo retrospective at Labelscar note, the retail landscape has now been Macyated.

As Canadians do more and more shopping at outlet malls in U.S. border cities, we’re increasingly leaving all but our underpants behind as we head home.

As we all debate climate change and the United States faces $4 a gallon gas, the Canadian Centre for Architecture presents 1973: Sorry out of gas. (Exhibition site, News Release)

Metropolis on the philosophy behind Rudy’s Barber Shop and Ace Hotels:

“…When I tell them it’s the handiwork of a Rudy’s stylist, neither one asks if I like the cut. Instead, they want to know if I enjoyed the experience, if I talked to other customers, if the vibe was good.

It’s obvious that what led Calderwood and Weigel into the business wasn’t an interest in hair. Rather, it was the idea of injecting new life into ritualized social interactions that intrigued them. “Wade used to fly back and forth from London and would see these barbers in Camden Market and Notting Hill where they’d just set up in the middle of the market and cut hair for the day,” Calderwood says. “And I used to live near Sig’s Barbershop downtown, this tiny old shop that’s never changed. I’d walk by it and think, ‘God, how cool would it be to buy that and get younger hairstylists to work there.’”

Need evidence that they’ve succeeded in creating an experience? Check out these Yelp comments about the original Rudy’s in Seattle.

James Surowiecki on how the web has affected how we shop:

“…the wealth of online product reviews and commentary has made the cues that stores use to shape shoppers’ perception of quality and value far less effective. This doesn’t mean that consumers are impervious to retailers’ tricks, and plenty of us shop the way Homer Simpson orders wine: buy the second-least-expensive thing on the list. …” (New Yorker)

[tags] mall, holiday decoration, Homer Simpson, Rudy’s Barber Shop, retail experience, outlet shopping [/tags]

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Get out of that habit, stick in the mud


You’ll never amount to anything if you don’t look under every rock, ask the follow-up question, get over your fear of embarrassment, try something new at your favourite diner, look at your old notes, speak to the stranger next to you, pick a book at random out of the library shelf, look up at the sky on a clear blue day, watch Univision for an afternoon, skip work to walk around a mall, leave a dollar on a busy sidewalk and watch from the other side of the street, give blood, volunteer at a shelter or an old age home, take a different bus home, request that they play Flock of Seagulls on the radio, pick a new vacation spot this Christmas, speak up at your next PTA meeting, help a tourist find their way, call your alderman or council member to make your point, listen to late night sports talk radio, chug Pepsi and PopRocks, sit in on a random course at the local university, listen to your grandparents, wish a telemarketer a nice day before hanging up on them, go for a long walk in the woods (with a topographic map), go to the kid’s museum with or without kids, buy a toy for a Christmas charity hamper, learn the scientific name for three plants found in your own garden, buy some indie music, try on some rose-coloured glasses, watch public-access television early in the morning and watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Did I miss anything?
Be interesting, dammit!

via Serendipity Book, Ace Jet 170 and fffound.

[tags] creativity, imagination, spice of life, variety, stifling boredom [/tags]

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Lego and economic development


Lego building blocks and economic history. Two of my favourite things. Yes. I know I need professional help, thanks.

Glancing through Stanford magazine, I came across an article on the SEE Science Center, where you can find a reconstruction of a late nineteenth century millyard: the Amoskeag Millyard of Bedford, New Hampshire.

The millyard itself was quite impressive, with mile upon mile of mill buildings, canals, railway spurs and tens of thousands of workers.

The display, built of millions of Lego building blocks and housing thousands of Lego workers, seems to make an equal impression.

There’s even a YouTube video of the train that circles the display.

Of course, mills were often horrible and depressing places to work, with long hours, relatively low pay and a significant possibility of workplace injury.

Today, many small towns with a proud industrial heritage are re-purposing these mill buildings, encouraging loft developments, craftsman industries and incubating web businesses.

Lego and yuppies. Isn’t progress wonderful?

[tags] Lego, New Hampshire, Amoskeag Millyard [/tags]

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Viral versus issues advocacy – poll reveals winner


Granted, these results are only from three very small (but politically influential) states.

Still, it’s notable that interested voters will seek out supplementary information on candidates (especially if it’s viral), but their participation in politically-oriented social networks is much less enthusiastic.

Is this a reflection of the relative simplicity and entertainment value of viewing a simple video versus the actual energy involved in “becoming a fan” of a candidate?

This from research conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

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Signs of a good conference


Do you know the signs of a good conference? I’ve been at a social media conference all day today, and I had a chance to contemplate what I liked about the experience, and what other features I wanted/needed.

A sampling of my thoughts:

  • – Engaging speakers with a good story
  • – NO breakout sessions
  • – practical examples with personal impact
  • – LOTS of caffeine, served frequently
  • – No motivational speakers
  • – No group exercises
  • – Very short presentation decks (10/20/30 – Follow It. Live It!)
  • – Free WiFi – inside and outside the conference room
  • – Electrical sockets for my blackberry charger
  • – A capable master of ceremonies with personal experience in the subject matter
  • – Relatively small room with a good audio system
  • – The conference materials are available on a usb key or wiki (BINDERS ARE DEAD!)
  • – A laptop set-up that has gone through a dry run (if I decide to show a movie, is the sound already connected?
  • – Somewhere quiet outside with good cell reception where I can do 5 national media interviews in a row
  • Not that all these qualities and criticisms apply to today’s event – but it is a wish list.

    [Tags] conference organizer, conference, professional development [/tags]

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    Journalists, pseudowanks and TED powerpoints


    Two comments from the fabulously named Noodlepie, Graham Holliday’s blog about journalism, food and other wonderful things.

    First off: one commenter notes that journalists largely treat the internet like an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet. Sometimes the entrees are tasty and refreshing, other times they’re old, stale and previously touched.

    “… The internet is a pub. The journalists are outside on a fag break. Every now and then they hear someone shouting or screaming inside the pub. They go in, ask what’s happening, take some notes and nip back outside for another fag break. On the second fag break, they are joined by their editors who cherrypick the journalist’s notes before heading back to the newsroom to add cherries as deemed necessary – with a nice fat link back to the man in the pub.

    The journalists don’t really hang out in the pub, but they’re in and out on a regular basis.

    Business as usual then really… That make sense?”

    And another person (and freelance journalist) has a comment about Web 2.0 evangelists:

    “… My point – although it’s a gut emotional response, really – is that I can’t stand the stupid technological determinism of Web 2.0 evangelists: i.e. the assumption that because technology has the potential to change something, that change will necessarily occur. Nope, it’s people that make changes – although they often use technology to do it. I think this may be what you call “pseudowank”, which is a much better term. Can I suggest you start a blog under that title?

    Oh, the other thing that annoys me (while I’m ranting) is that the debate about “journalism, social media, people-who-used-to-be-the-audience blah, blah, blah” is so skewed towards the evangelists. This is a small bubble, and there are a lot of people outside it – in academia, for example – who have very interesting things to say about media, democracy, information rights, etc who are just ignored – probably because they are writing deeply researched books about it, rather than spewing out blogs or polishing their TED powerpoints.”

    [tags] pseudowank, TED, social media [/tags]

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    My first impressions of retail architecture


    When I was a kid, I lived overseas. My exposure to the marketplace was at the street and store level: in Milan and Hong Kong, the majority of retail stores fronted on a street.

    In Hong Kong, there were very few malls, aside from China Products, a fantastic bazaar for consumer goods made in the PRC, and the mall found alongside the Kowloon cruise ship terminal.

    Which is why one particular scene from the Blues Brothers left an impression: the car chase through the mall.

    As Elwood and Jake Blues careened through the suburban indoor mall, all that ran through my head was: “all those stores, and indoors as well?”

    “Disco pants and haircuts!”

    “New Oldsmobiles are in early this year!”

    Twenty seven years after their adventure, the Dixie Square Mall in suburban Chicago remains empty. And for some reason, even in Canada, people prefer pedestrian malls with outdoor areas.

    Well, except in February, when it’s cold.

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    The subtle details of food porn


    How does an editor and a writer become a cook? That’s the premise of Bill Buford’s “Heat” – a book published in mid-2006. While I really enjoyed the book, one passage shed some light on the growing popularity of food porn:

    “…The new shows put a premium on presentation rather than knowledge and tended to have intimate-seeming camera close-ups of foods, as though objects of sexual satisfaction.

    The skin-flick feel was reinforced by a range of heightened effects, especially amplified sounds of frying, snapping, crunching, chewing, swallowing. There seemed always to be a tongue, making small, wet, bubbly tongue sounds.

    The “talent” (also known as a “crossover” personality, usually a woman with a big smile and no apron) was directed to be easy with her tongue and use it conspicuously – to taste food on a spoon, say, or work it around a batter-coated beater, or clean the lips with it.

    The aim was spelled out for me by Eileen Opatut, a former programming executive. “We’re looking for the kind of show that makes people want to crawl up to their television set and lick the screen.”…”

    The popular definition of food porn fetishizes food, either by preparing intricate and ingredient-rich recipes, accompanied by carefully composed photos (the Playboy of food porn) or the rough and sloppy presentation of clearly delicious but probably quite unhealthy entrees (something other than Playboy. I leave the choice to you).

    Let’s be clear: there are two components to food porn.

    One, the excessive attention paid to blemish-free and colourful ingredients. This is an ingredient list that demands the chemicals and horticultural shortcuts developed during the nineteenth and twentieth century. The luscious “money shot” of a basket of fruit, a smooth and supple tomato, a tropical fruit that seems freshly picked, even if it is a cold and heartless winter outside.

    Two, the emphasis on friendly and attractive cooks, chefs and hosts. Not necessarily stunners – those pinnacles of breeding, genetics and cosmetic surgery are still left for the faux newsmagazine shows – but pleasant and entertaining folk. The kind of strangely familiar person you wouldn’t mind inviting over to help make dinner, maybe pick out some new dish sets, and even redecorate the bathroom.

    As this excerpt from a 2005 On the Media broadcast further explains:

    “FREDERICK KAUFMAN: It’s also shot very differently. It’s actually shot single-camera as opposed to a four-camera television format. And so it’s almost shot like a 35-millimeter film. You get an amazing angle on Giada, who is beautiful, and who always is wearing a very close-cut sleeveless top. And then you get the food, and then you get Giada, and then you get her fingers on the food. And oh, it’s so moist. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]”

    I am sure you didn’t need my help to notice this. The second the Food Network became a favoured channel in dorm lounges, industry executives took note.

    I’ve noticed a big difference in the food programming produced in Great Britain and the United States. (Let’s not talk about food programs in Canada) My memories of British food porn only include one scantily-clad chef: Jaimie Oliver. And there is NO WAY I ever wanted to see the bare forearm of either of the Two Fat Ladies.

    Meanwhile, wholesome Western New York gal Rachael Ray has appeared in FHM. The restaurant critic at the New York Times – feared by some for his/her ability to cripple and crush new restaurants – has a blog.

    All the while, some traditional food writers see this fetishization and popularization as a weakening their trade, limiting the scope and depth of food-related stories prepared for readers.
    What would the apex of the food fetishization trend look like? How about Giada vs. Rachael Ray on Iron Chef? (YouTube)

    [tags] food porn, food fetish, Food Network, Giada, Rachael, vegetables, popular culture [/tags]

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    How wire rims bridged gaps in the market


    Spinners or wire rims? It seems that spinners are winning the fashion wars, even in suburban Ottawa. Wire rims are back where they always belonged: on antique British roadsters and your grandfather’s Cadillac.

    Over the past fifteen years, Dayton Wire Wheels, a premier manufacturer of wire rims, has profited from the growing popularity of their custom wheels among rappers and urban auto customizers.

    This success built on an already sizable and reliable fan base among the custom lowriders popular on the west coast of the United States. Not to mention their century-old business with luxury customers.

    Other brands have found themselves stranded and abandoned by their traditional clientèle after following urban fashions too closely (see Tommy Hilfiger): why not this company?

    How did Dayton avoid the familiar cycle of boom and bust common to most fashionable accessories?

    A recent feature in Cleveland Scene doesn’t offer many hints, other than noting a continuing loyalty from customers interested in bespoke wheels and custom rides:

    “…Dayton’s factory wouldn’t soon join the other hollowed-out plants that dot the city. The company has managed to maintain its original high-end customers, Guilfoyle says. And it’s hoping to capitalize on the inner city’s new interest in Harley-Davidsons. Besides, they still have their loyal vatos in East L.A.

    “Dayton is the wire wheel of status,” says Lowrider‘s Jeff Rick. “And it can’t be a lowrider without a wire wheel. I don’t see that going anywhere.”

    Part of Dayton’s secret was diversifying their markets. Instead of relying on unprecedented success found through easy cross-promotion opportunities with rappers like Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, they sought out new markets for their custom rims.

    Markets unlikely to rise and fall with the fortunes of urban music: playing upon the nostalgia of boomers picking up the “retro” Ford Thunderbird and P.T. Cruiser. Oh, and Harley Davidson buyers. And BMW lovers. And people obsessed with spending more time with their Jaguar mechanic than their spouse.

    Dayton has always served niche markets, customers interested in customizing their individual automobiles and motorcycles – whether they were built in Detroit, England, Italy or Japan, or built by hand or by a robot.

    It seems that the arrival of a new market segment – while exciting and flashy – did not distract the company from its overall long-term strategy.

    They continued to serve clients interested in paying top dollar to personalize and customize their “ride.”

    (They even have a blog for their street rod project)

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    Are skateboarders more saavy than social media experts?


    What’s the link between social media and skateboarding? Sometimes, social media experts will strike really poor bargains for their services – just like the early boarders who performed for stickers, decks and gas money.

    I mean, in what other industry would thought leaders trade their hard-built reputation for a free camera, cellphone, iPhone or a free laptop?

    A lot of social media experts are grinding out an identity as hard-working professionals – like the Social Media Group, or SHIFT, or H&K, or Crayon, or Converseon.

    In skateboarding, there’s a lot of people who have jumped on a deck and found a new image or sense of group identity. There are a few boarders that have developed the skills – on the deck and in the office – to build strong identities in the sport and personalities that are eagerly sought out by marketers.

    Sure, skateboarding has always had a distinctly commercial element. Even with its roots in home-made equipment and the growing legends of local or regional skaters, the continuing perception of skateboarding as an underground industry is largely manufactured. Today, it is part of a mainstream image industry.

    Social media, as a profession for consultants, marketers and public relations hacks, is growing into a mainstream industry. For every mis-step amplified by bloggers and journalists, there are countless small improvements being accomplished in large and small businesses, not-for-profits, community organizations and local governments.

    Still, I’m really growing tired of leading bloggers, authors and consultants crowing about how they scored some more schwag. Let’s keep this in perspective, people. Even community-access television can score $500 for a month’s sponsorship.

    At some point, we’ve got to stop behaving like the stoners at the back of the school. Even skateboarders figured out that pocket change was poor compensation for their brilliant footwork.

    Image above from a 70s era Skate Safety video.

    [tags] blogger outreach, schwag, social media, payola [/tags]

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    Mass Observation – the Science of Ourselves


    This appears to be a record of some early public history or public opinion research. Browsing through a university library, I picked up Britain by Mass Observation, a small Penguin book that reported on the results of “man on the street interviews,” day surveys and personal diaries compiled by volunteers.

    It’s an interesting read: one third about the Munich crisis, some thoughts on wrestling and local fetes, and big chunk on the bloody lambeth walk.

    (Here’s a newsreel from the time, chopping up film clips of Nazis marching to have them dance the Lambeth Walk. The National Archives has more on the reel.)

    The Mass Observation movement seemed a little too casual and non-too rigorous to qualify as public opinion research or market research – as we consider it today.

    “…Young, confused, and vigorous, Mass-Observation sought to understand something that anthropology and sociology still took largely for granted: the everyday life of ordinary people…(New Yorker, nice long article about the “movement.)

    Still, this one book is chock-a-block with direct quotes and observations from a variety of classes and generations. Some of the observations are likely more honest and frank than you would expect from a poll today.

    For example, here’s a woman of 38, speaking to a pollster about horoscopes:

    “I read them every Sunday, many a time it’s been true, but they don’t give you so much bad news. When it was my birthday they said I should get a surprise. I got one. It was a good ‘un, mister. No, I’m not telling you what it was, that’s my business.”

    [tags] mass observation, polling, public opinion research, 1938, Munich crisis [/tags]

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    Hard Work and a Grudge Pay Off


    It’s been a good day. Wrote up a note, had it translated. Posted it on the website and linked it to a couple of documents. We made a few calls, got a print story, a radio phoner and an influential blog reference – all in three hours.

    Oh – and it helps to have an interesting story to tell.

    Now, to my gripe:

    Dear lady on the bus, the one wearing the thin cardigan:

    We live in Canada. Despite our aversion to stereotypes, it gets cold here.

    When you left the house this morning, it mustn’t have been very warm. Maybe 50 degrees?

    Sure, at noon it was 70.

    Now, on the bus, we’re at about 60.

    Some of us like fresh air on a commuter bus. The designers knew that: that’s why they put small windows the length of the bus.

    What gives you the right to walk the length of the bus and close all the windows?

    Sure, being Canadian, you were polite and asked if you could close each individual window.

    And, being Canadian, we were pussies and let you. After all, if someone asks nicely, we Canadians must bend to their will.

    Secretly, I hope one of four things happens to you:

    – you miss your stop because you don’t pull the bell cord strongly enough.
    – the rear doors – from which you MUST exit – jam, forcing you to squeeze out of the bus sideways
    – you realize you took the bus in the wrong direction, or:
    – the second you step off the bus, those large, black, menacing clouds overhead break out in a shower of hail.

    OH! Surprise ending! I’m not making this up! She missed her stop!

    This has been a wonderful day.

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    My family goes way back with flavour modification


    Sixty years ago, my grandfather was writing articles for magazines like Canadian Business and Saturday Night magazine. Here’s an excerpt from a 1947 article titled “It gives Steaks a Lift!” – a report on the new miracle flavour enhancer, monosodium glutamate:

    “… It is not likely that M.S.G. will become a standard household commodity. For one thing, it is still expensive. For another, the average family does not consume enough separate foods to warrant paying any special attention to the individual flavors.

    But where food is prepared for a couple of hundred people at a time, and where numerous vegetables and seasoning agents go into each dish, M.S.G. is a decided asset. And even the housewife may eventually adopt it in some small measure …”

    I have three observations:

    1. Oh, to have been a public relations man in a time when every new chemical was seen as a testament to the ingenuity of mankind;
    2. “the average family does not consume enough separate foods” reflects the post-war diet, restricted by rations – and does not imagine a diet overwhelmed by fusion foods; and
    3. the explicit belief that corporations are trustworthy and always working to better the lives of families and housewives – certainly not the case today, is it?

    [tags] MSG, monosodium glutamate, flavor, chemical, Canadian Business [/tags]

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    Skepticism, opportunity and fear in social media


    David Bradfield has read my (admittedly small) mention in PR Week US, and asks:

    “I figured it would be a lively and insightful dialogue, but skepticism seems to have outweighed opportunity (again). Is this really the case?”

    Yes, Virginia. This is the case. Not just in Canada, however. The world has separated into three tribes of social media users:

    • Evangelists, who are confident of their diagnosis and certain their prescription will succeed. Evangelists can be divided into two camps: those with a budget, and those without a budget. I should restate that … two camps: those with a client’s budget, and those without their own budget.

    “We know you’ve got the money! We just have to spend it bonehead!”

    That’s the voice of the evangelist consultant. $5000, $50,000, $500,000 – you have the budget, they have a range of tactics that will address your ailment. Note that I said tactic. By definition, a consultant will not be around long enough to measure whether a social media campaign has a lasting influence on a company’s relationship with its clients or stakeholders.

    What about those without their own budget? Those are the true believers. They’re the ones that get a sour taste in their mouth when they say “word of mouth” or “buzz” too frequently. That’s because their original influencers were family and friends. These evangelists build shoestring campaigns of amazing complexity using the incredibly flexible 2.0 apps available to all comers. And they measure influence and impact several times a day – in the customer’s shopping cart and at their bank branch.

    • Hobbyists. They’re the ones that play with social media in their spare time. Niche experts or generalists, hobbyists have spent a lot of time examining how social media will affect their job, their industry and their world. I used the future tense because some of them have been doing this hobby research for three, four or five years. And they still haven’t applied their knowledge to anything other than a hobby blog or family podcast.

    Unfortunately, there’s always a reason: not enough time. not enough authority. not enough money. not enough confidence.

    I don’t mean to be harsh, but

    “drop your purse, honey! It’s GO TIME!

    • And, finally, opportunists. Once again, there are two camps of opportunists. There’s the executive that has heard their friends talk about some aspect of social media, or has noticed what their kids are doing at home, or realizes that their shiny new integrated marcomm campaign won’t take home any year-end awards without some hint of a social media component. These are what evangelists with a client’s budget call “walk-ins.”

    The other camp is more practical. They are not obsessed with social media as a life changing development in how humans communicate. Practical opportunists recognize the advantages promised by social media – in the right campaign, with the right positioning, and with concrete links to company strategy.

    The advances being made with social media are a mix of work by all three tribes. I’ve already suggested that crossover can happen among tribes. Many practical opportunists take a risk on a social media at the prompting of hobbyists hiding in plain sight in corporate comms or marketing shops.

    What is holding up innovation and experimentation in public relations in Canada? The capacity to take innovative thought, personal inspiration and a clear understanding of corporate priorities and strategies – and identify which social media tools make good business sense.

    Not a fun experiment, but good business sense.

    In all fairness, I’ll leave the last word to a stand-in for the evangelist:

    “…VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge…” (Original editorial from the New York Sun, hosted by the Newseum)

    [tags] social media, technology evangelist, PR in Canada, Canadian public relations PR Week [/tags]

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    Toll booths, plates and hammers


    It’s tough being a small alternative paper. You have to be edgy. You have to be insightful. Sometimes, you have to fill a big news hole:

    “…On Thursday, August 9, at 4:35 p.m., my Corolla came rumbling over the horizon of the causeway. Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries — the music that accompanies the napalming mission in Apocalypse Now — blared at full volume from the open windows. A small stack of dinner plates and a large claw hammer sat at my side. When I pulled up to the attendant, I waved a dollar bill in time with the ear-splitting German music and smashed the pile of plates into smithereens. White porcelain chips flew out of the car, striking the wall of the tollbooth …” (Miami New Times)

    That’s from “For Whom the Hell Tolls:What’s it take to get a tollbooth attendant to crack? We wish we knew.”
    [tags] toll booth, Corolla, alternative news, newsweekly [/tags]

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    The first MySpace and Friendster and Facebook and …


    Earlier this month, Joe Engressia died. That name may not mean very much, but the term “phone phreak” may. Engressia was one of the first phone phreaks: using his natural ability to whistle the tones that controlled the AT&T switching network, he helped a generation of nerds to discover their interest in electronics. Along the way, they manipulated the nation’s electronic infrastructure to learn new skills, meet new friends around the world, and talk about dating and sex.

    Forty years ago, personal computing was a largely inconceivable proposition. Computers, networks, phone switches and other electronic equipment were the property of large corporations. Sure, there were engineers, technicians and researchers working for those corporations, but they were employees, generally following the rules and maintaining order in the systems.

    It took a small group of technically-minded and generally socially awkward people to bend those systems to their own advantage, in the process creating some of the first electronic social networks. A lot has been written about the phone phreaks who delighted in developing new tools and techniques to thwart Ma Bell – here, here and here.

    Ron Rosenbaum wrote about the phreaking culture in a 1971 article for Esquire: Secrets of the Little Blue Box.

    “… (Joe)Engressia might have gone on whistling in the dark for a few friends for the rest of his life if the phone company hadn’t decided to expose him. He was warned, disciplined by the college, and the whole case became public. In the months following media reports of his talent, Engressia began receiving strange calls. There were calls from a group of kids in Los Angeles who could do some very strange things with the quirky General Telephone and Electronics circuitry in L.A. suburbs. There were calls from a group of mostly blind kids in —-, California, who had been doing some interesting experiments with Cap’n Crunch whistles and test loops. There was a group in Seattle, a group in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a few from New York, a few scattered across the country. Some of them had already equipped themselves with cassette and electronic M-F devices. For some of these groups, it was the first time they knew of the others.

    The exposure of Engressia was the catalyst that linked the separate phone-phreak centers together. They all called Engressia. They talked to him about what he was doing and what they were doing. And then he told them — the scattered regional centers and lonely independent phone phreakers — about each other, gave them each other’s numbers to call, and within a year the scattered phone-phreak centers had grown into a nationwide underground. …

    … The last big conference — the historic “2111” conference — had been arranged through an unused Telex test-board trunk somewhere in the innards of a 4A switching machine in Vancouver, Canada. For months phone phreaks could M-F their way into Vancouver, beep out 604 (the Vancouver area code) and then beep out 2111 (the internal phone-company code for Telex testing), and find themselves at any time, day or night, on an open wire talking with an array of phone phreaks from coast to coast, operators from Bermuda, Tokyo and London who are phone-phreak sympathizers, and miscellaneous guests and technical experts. The conference was a massive exchange of information.

    Phone phreaks picked each other’s brains clean, then developed new ways to pick the phone company’s brains clean. Ralph gave M F Boogies concerts with his home-entertainment-type electric organ, Captain Crunch demonstrated his round-the-world prowess with his notorious computerized unit and dropped leering hints of the “action” he was getting with his girl friends. (The Captain lives out or pretends to live out several kinds of fantasies to the gossipy delight of the blind phone phreaks who urge him on to further triumphs on behalf of all of them.)

    The somewhat rowdy Northwest phone-phreak crowd let their bitter internal feud spill over into the peaceable conference line, escalating shortly into guerrilla warfare; Carl the East Coast international tone relations expert demonstrated newly opened direct M-F routes to central offices on the island of Bahrein in the Persian Gulf, introduced a new phone-phreak friend of his in Pretoria, and explained the technical operation of the new Oakland-to Vietnam linkages. (Many phone phreaks pick up spending money by M-F-ing calls from relatives to Vietnam G.I.’s, charging $5 for a whole hour of trans-Pacific conversation.)

    Day and night the conference line was never dead. Blind phone phreaks all over the country, lonely and isolated in homes filled with active sighted brothers and sisters, or trapped with slow and unimaginative blind kids in straitjacket schools for the blind, knew that no matter how late it got they could dial up the conference and find instant electronic communion with two or three other blind kids awake over on the other side of America.

    Talking together on a phone hookup, the blind phone phreaks say, is not much different from being there together. Physically, there was nothing more than a two-inch-square wafer of titanium inside a vast machine on Vancouver Island. For the blind kids there meant an exhilarating feeling of being in touch, through a kind of skill and magic which was peculiarly their own…”

    [tags] Facebook, Friendster, MySpace, blue box, phreak, Engressia  [/tags]

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    Hamlet’s Blackberry: you had me at hello


    The new paper from the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy was tugging on my heartstrings from the moment I read its title:

    Hamlet’s Blackberry: Why Paper Is Eternal (.pdf)

    William Powers, normally the media critic for the National Journal, has penned a wonderful and rambling discussion of modern attitudes towards news, newsprint and paper in general. Mixed throughout are citations from much older texts that speak of the impact of innovations in paper felt by contemporary societies.

    More importantly, his essay doesn’t hew to either of the well-worn straw men seen in the current “online vs. traditional” discussion: online isn’t the harbinger of the end of paper, and paper isn’t naturally and eternally superior to the ephemeral qualities of online information.

    Instead, Powers draws from texts, interviews, web extracts and book citations to look at the role of paper in our world today. At 74 pages the download may seem , but it’s a quick and interesting read.

    Because I’m quirky sometimes, I was drawn to a story Powers tells of the clash between old and new cultures – a clash that modern store clerks are incapable of resolving:

    “…I chose a box of basic cream-colored note paper, took it to the counter and handed the clerk my credit card. “Do you have cash?” she asked, explaining that the computer was down. I didn’t have enough – couldn’t she just get the charge approved over the phone?

    Alas no, she said, waiting for the approval takes forever. “It can be, like, ten minutes.” We stared at each other for a moment. “Couldn’t you go around the neighborhood and find a cash machine and come back?” she asked off-handedly, as if I’d created the problem and needed to fix it. “You’ve got to be kidding,” I said. She shrugged. I left the box on the counter and walked out.

    It was almost unimaginable: A chain store in a modern American city demanding payment in paper currency. One of the paramount values of consumer culture is convenience, and I suppose I was punishing the store for violating that ethos. But then, think about the errand that had taken me to Papyrus in the first place.

    … The clerk was essentially asking me to make the same choice I’d already made, choose the paper medium over the electronic one, even though it required a little extra time and effort. And why not? The store is called Papyrus.”

    I remember my first job, more than twenty years ago. I felt an enormous sense of pride when the assistant manager asked my to authorize a credit card. It was a VISA. Not a branded VISA – just a plain old card.

    I ran the card through the table-mounted imprinter, making sure that I pressed hard enough to make an impression on all three tissue-thin pieces of paper. I asked the customer to sign.

    Then, I picked up the phone and called VISA directly. I read the card number and the expiration date out loud – loud enough for most of the store to hear. Then I wrote the authorization code on the imprinted paper.

    Even if one person today was willing to wait for that five minute process to finish, all the other people in line would not be willing to wait. And so, one of the daily applications for paper has disappeared.

    [tags] death of paper, newspapers, online vs. inline, Powers, National Journal, Shorenstein [/tags]

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    We need to resurrect the brand of prom itself


    File this under market segments you have no sympathy for. Just like the baby industry and the wedding industry, the prom industry plays upon vanity, peer pressure, short time frames and aggressive upselling to make a pleasant experience a real chore for most people.

    “There’s an absence of joy in this industry,” said Mike Denton, … president of the National Prom Association. “This year, more than ever before, I’ve heard consumers say, ‘I just want to get this over with.” …
    “We are charged with creating the most exciting shopping experience possible. If we’re not doing that, we’re not doing our job,” said Denton. “We need to resurrect the brand of prom itself.” (WWD, August 3)

    You know what they need? They need to leverage the notoriety of a “B” list celebrity to make another teen movie centred around a prom. Like Kellie Pickler, who has that small town charm, a little bit of talent, and a slightly embarassing prom history.

    For your comment and amusement, the Top 10 High School Characters:

    1. Michelle Flaherty (American Pie)
    2. Duckie (Pretty in Pink)
    3. Olivia Newton-John (Grease)
    4. Hard Harry (Pump up the Volume)
    5. Screech (Saved by the Bell)
    6. Lea Thompson (Back to the Future)
    7. Marcia Brady (Getting Davy Jones)
    8. Long Duk Dong (Sixteen Candles)
    9. Suzette (Absolute Beginners)
    10. Jimmy Cooper (Quadrophenia)

    [tags] prom, rite of passage [/tags]

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    How Ralph Lauren Kicks You in The Ass


    Yesterday, the greeter at a Ralph Lauren outlet store kicked me in the ass as I left the store.

    “Thank you for browsing Polo Ralph Lauren!” she said in a cheerful but automatic voice.

    I wouldn’t have thought anything of it, but I heard her say “Thank you for shopping at Polo Ralph Lauren!” to the people behind me – the people carrying a bag full of clothes.

    All of the sudden, my cheerful “browsing” had an unspoken meaning: “you cheap bastard.”

    For all I know, she was trying add some variety to her trite and repetitive patter. But her words left a stronger impression than her fixed smile.

    Which left my next encounter with her all the more amusing. You see, when I hit an outlet mall, I case all the stores and weigh all the bargains against my budget before I spend any money. I WILL hit some stores twice – and buy things.

    In Polo Ralph Lauren’s case, I had a 20% coupon they had emailed me, as a frequent customer. But I had left it in the car, so I HAD to leave and come back.

    About 30 minutes later, I came back into the store. The greeter launched into her “Welcome to Polo … today our classic mesh polo is on …” while I listened and smiled encouragingly. I’m Canadian, you see. If someone feigns interest in us, we reciprocate.

    And then her patter trailed off as she recognized me … “Oh!…” I said thank you, and wandered off to find my booty.

    “Thank you for shopping at Polo Ralph Lauren!”

    Thank YOU, for not leaving the unspoken footprint of a size 6 nubbed driving moccasin on my ass – this time.

    [tags] Polo Ralph Lauren, Polo, greeter, retail, store management [/tags]

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    How brands changed my Toronto to Ottawa flight


    Toronto to Ottawa. It’s a little hop of a flight. If you’re a big city, big plane kind of person, you fly from Ottawa to Toronto’s Pearson Airport. It’s a hub. It has hustle and bustle. Security guards with golf carts. $60 cab fare to make it from the airport to your meeting. A Cinnabon.

    Me? I’m a small plane kind of person. I’ve always liked flying into Toronto City Centre Airport. It’s on an island in Toronto Harbour, only handles turboprop planes, and is only served by one airline. Yesterday, our 80 seat Bombardier regional plane had to wait to take off – behind a floatplane and a two seat Piper.

    Up until a few years ago, City Centre (or just Island) Airport had a distinctively seedy feel. Under served by Air Canada, the terminal was a refit of a World War II era building. You got the feeling that the check-in staff were waiting out some sort of disciplinary action or probationary period – they had to graduate to a bigger airport. The waiting lounge had some untended plants, and when you went out to the airplane, you walked across the tarmac, even in winter.

    To get to the airport, you had to cross a shipping canal by ferry – a dump of a ferry. Passengers walked onto the ferry, and stood out in the wind for the 5 minute crossing. I swear to god, one time it was me and a ride-on lawnmower making the crossing.

    Once you made it to the “mainland” you were faced with not much of anything. In the 80s and 90s, the mouth end of the Harbour was dominated by industrial relics like the Canada Malting Silos and barely maintained old manufacturing buildings. The signs of gentrification and urban infill had begun, but there were giant voids in the urban skyline between high rise and condo development. The train yards dominated the landscape between the Harbour and downtown.

    I used to enjoy walking from City Centre to downtown.

    Well, Porter Airlines has changed all that. New terminal. New Uniforms. Happy and smily staff. A transit lounge with free Italian coffee machine and wifi.

    The silos are still there – but make less impact thanks to a new air conditioned shuttle bus, a new two story ferry and a new ferry terminal (the terminal is nearly as long as the canal).

    The walk out to the airplane? Covered and carpeted. Which somehow offends my Canadian sensibilities. After all, there’s a small community of post-war houses wedged onto one of these islands – people who managed to get out of their houses and commute to work by ferry every day without the help of covered walkways.

    For years, Air Canada let City Centre survive on as little attention as possible, all the while running a schedule of regional flights to Ottawa and elsewhere. It was almost like arriving in Toronto by hitch-hiking: you were aware that others had arrived in far classier vehicles, and you were dumped off sort of near where you wanted to go.

    And I liked it that way.

    I may just have to go back to taking VIA Rail to get the same experience.

    [tags] Toronto City Centre Airport, Toronto Island Airport, Porter Air [/tags]

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    The BBC’s web principles


    The BBC’s Web 2.0 principles, as set out on Tom Loosemore’s blog back in February. Brought back to life by Paul Canning, and transferred to SlideShare.

    1. Build web products that meet audience needs: anticipate needs not yet fully articulated by audiences, then meet them with products that set new standards. (nicked from Google)

    2. The very best websites do one thing really, really well: do less, but execute perfectly. (again, nicked from Google, with a tip of the hat to Jason Fried)

    3. Do not attempt to do everything yourselves: link to other high-quality sites instead. Your users will thank you. Use other people’s content and tools to enhance your site, and vice versa.

    4. Fall forward, fast: make many small bets, iterate wildly, back successes, kill failures, fast.

    5. Treat the entire web as a creative canvas: don’t restrict your creativity to your own site.

    6. The web is a conversation. Join in: Adopt a relaxed, conversational tone. Admit your mistakes.

    7. Any website is only as good as its worst page:
    Ensure best practice editorial processes are adopted and adhered to.

    8. Make sure all your content can be linked to, forever.

    9. Remember your granny won’t ever use “Second Life”: She may come online soon, with very different needs from early-adopters.

    10. Maximise routes to content: Develop as many aggregations of content about people, places, topics, channels, networks & time as possible. Optimise your site to rank high in Google.

    11. Consistent design and navigation needn’t mean one-size-fits-all: Users should always know they’re on one of your websites, even if they all look very different. Most importantly of all, they know they won’t ever get lost.

    12. Accessibility is not an optional extra: Sites designed that way from the ground up work better for all users

    13. Let people paste your content on the walls of their virtual homes: Encourage users to take nuggets of content away with them, with links back to your site

    14. Link to discussions on the web, don’t host them: Only host web-based discussions where there is a clear rationale

    15. Personalisation should be unobtrusive, elegant and transparent: After all, it’s your users’ data. Best respect it.

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    Peter Cottontail makes a good appetizer


    There are many decisions that contribute to the growth of a successful business. Faced with a limited marketing budget, many can benefit from a carefully chosen name that not only engages and possibly entertains, but also clearly communicates the benefit to the customer.

    Like the rabbitry featured in today’s Wall Street Journal article about alternate food sources for cat owners.

    Hare Today

    As in: hare today, gone tomorrow.

    A fairly macabre name for a rabbitry that’s selling 1,000 pounds of raw rabbit meat each week. But still awfully funny.

    Slightly more exceptional is the feline diet followed by one online cat nutrition expert:

    “Holisticat’s Ms. Arora is a vegetarian, but feeds her cats mice, rats, rabbits, Cornish game hen, quail, pheasant and chicken. For Thanksgiving she buys Missy, Pigpen, Trikki and Puma a small heritage-breed turkey from a nearby farmer.”

    I wonder if that turkey is still alive when it’s turned over to the cats.


    But seriously, that sounds like the cats are following a Colonial Williamsburg diet.

    But then their names would by Moppet, Fluffy, Downy and *that damn wild cat that keeps impregnating my little princesses.”

    [Tags] cat food, rabbits, feline diet [/tags]

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    The Life of An Alternative Band


    Here you go folks. I’ve tried to draw out the career arc for the typical alternative band (or one hit wonder pop band). The arc progresses from left to right, with the four segments representing roughly two to three years in total (although it could be 18 months if you’re an American Idol winner).

    I know I’m being unfair. Many bands have very successful careers as independent artists, profiting from one huge national hit to avoid working crap jobs as baristas ever again. Others turn away from more mainstream paths to emphasize their music and build a close connection to their loyal fans.

    I’m thinking, really, of those bands whose career has been defined by one song. No matter how varied their discography (empthreeography?) and how nuanced their work, the only time most of us think of these bands is when we catch a bar or two of their signature song in an office building lobby, at the mall, or waiting for a teller at the bank.

    Or in an ad for a feminine hygiene product.

    A special added treat: Midnight Oil on Alan Thicke’s talk show – that’s right, Alan Thicke people!

    [tags] music promotion, music marketing, AOR, AC radio, American Idol, radio, record sales [/tags]

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    A parking space with your hot dog?


    You know, it’s the focus on the needs of your customer that helps a small business stay alive.

    Like Wahid Rafiq, a hot dog vendor that usually works outside a Department of the Interior building in Washington. Like the many toppings available for his dogs, Rafiq allegedly offered options for his regular customers – like pumping the meters beside their cars.

    “…The parking enforcement unit of the Department of Transportation noticed that revenue was way down in this block, [a telelvision reporter] reported. Police said the man was using a device like a quarter on a string to put time on meters without using money…” (NBC4)

    Aside from the defrauding the government aspect, it makes perfect sense. An opportune brand extension.

    He’s on the block all day long anyway. He knows when parking enforcement officers are approaching and leaving, and his clients have established a history of trust with him.

    h/t to Fedblog.

    [tags] parking enforcement, meter maids, Department of the Interior, hot dogs [/tags]

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