October 10, 2008 by Colin
I spent some time at the main branch of our public library* this morning. It’s one of those buildings that used to be described by terms like “civic architecture” – meaning the design is cumbersome, imposing and not in keeping with surrounding architecture. The sort of design that usually required an explanation, like “no, I wouldn’t call it Stalinist! I would say it’s modern!”
Lots of concrete, rough edges and corners. The formed concrete walls and railings feel an awful lot like Habitrails for Humans, not Hamsters.
I was in there picking out books for an upcoming flight. I have a particular strategy in the library, one that has served me well. Find a book that I’ve read recently and liked, and look up its Dewey Decimal Number. Then go to the stacks, and browse through all the books three feet either side of that number.
While shuffling around on the twenty year-old carpet, contemplating “Life in a Medieval Village” (No, really), I caught a distinct whiff of Axe body spray and Noxema. (Although there may have been some patchouli and the stuff A&F uses to “mist” their floor displays as well).
[Break in Narrative] Ahhh. I had built up a 60 word head of steam about the differences between Generation X and the Millenials, but it got boring real fast.
That’s what I’ll do for you, dear reader. Instead of leaving a few good observations to wither in my drafts folder for lack of a solid narrative or any concrete tie to current events, I will make a half hearted attempt to provide a setting and some context. I’ll drop the observations right here on the page.
Then I’ll cut and run.
Hey. At least I didn’t try to conflate my momentary brain fart into some great unified theory on how to wedge product attributes, brand qualities and trademarked ad slogans into the minds of ordinary consumers – usually with some overwrought and overthunk discussion about conversation, participation and relationships.
Instead, I’ll just leave you with the books I picked out.
- The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific
- The Best American NonRequired Reading of 2007
- The Best of the City Section of the New York Times
*you really have to read the note that was posted alongside the flickr photo of the branch. It will really ring true for males over the age of 35.
October 5, 2008 by Colin
All this blah blah blah about the relative strength of vinyl sales (following on the heels of several month’s worth of reports about the impending collapse of independent and chain record stores) occasionally focuses on the hard – and creative – work of band members, friends, hangers-on and small label owners to promote their music.
Such is the case of Seventh Rule Recordings, a Chicago outfit that works to win listeners for “brutally punishing underground metal”.
“We just don’t believe in just putting out shit like let’s get it done as fast as we can,” [Cara Flaster, cofounder] explains. “That’s so gross. I don’t care if we put out ten records—they gotta look good.”
Those who pick up early editions of Seventh Rule vinyl will find that the dedication to aesthetics goes deeper than the cover. A 200-copy edition of Intimacy, for instance, is being pressed on white vinyl splattered, spin art-style, with cyan, magenta, yellow, and black to match the cover. Eighty-four copies—the “nuclear” edition of the record—comes on black vinyl bisected by a vivid band of yellow.
Scott admits that special limited edition releases help pressure hardcore record collectors to buy—and buy early—but he and Cara are also motivated by their own geeky allegiance to vinyl …” (Chicago Reader)
October 2, 2008 by Colin
I’ve decided to improve my life at work. Not by increasing my productivity. Not by chasing down new opportunities. Certainly not by replacing my Bob and Doug MacKenzie action figures.
Instead, I’m going to begin assuming qualities and mannerisms normally seen from primetime television characters:
- when presented with a problem, I’ll tilt my head 45 degrees, look at the ground, and take off my sunglasses
- if something seems evidently contradictory, I’ll do a double take, look you right in the eyes, and go “huuuuhhh?”
- I’m going to mark off a corner of the conference room and use it as my own personal confessional
- how about introducing an amusing and quirky sidekick with an eccentric professional specialty into our circle of friends at work?
- forbid that the topmost button on any shirt or blouse be buttoned up
- poor performance review? welcome to exile island – the photocopier room
- begin carrying all my pens and notebooks in an aluminum briefcase. Before beginning a meeting, I’ll pull on a pair of latex surgical gloves, kneel down, and ask “what do we have here?”
- speed up corporate audits by introducing an 80 year-old British self-taught private investigator to the process
- replace every mid-level manager with a gruff yet attractive former Marine who starred in an 80s summer teen movie
- find a sassy wife that is disproportionately attractive and a better friend to my colleagues than me
- get a 60″ interactive whiteboard, like CNN’s John King
- introduce the tribal ‘do rag as a corporate promotional item
- weld the doors shut on all cars in the corporate fleet
- when all seems doomed, introduce Heather Locklear, John Larroquette or TedMcGinley into the mix
October 1, 2008 by Colin
A portion of the transcript from a conversation earlier this year between Peter Campus, Turner Prize-winning artist Douglas Gordon and David A. Ross, formerly Director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, published in Tate Etc.
DOUGLAS GORDON Well, I have a story to tell. When I was a student at the Slade, I was bored, so I went up to Glasgow where my mum and dad live. The pubs were closed, all my pals were in bed, my family were asleep, but I wasn’t sleepy. I was in my brother’s room. Being a good Jehovah’s Witness boy I had never seen Psycho, because my mum had told me not to watch it. Said it was bad. But then I thought, damn it, Mum’s in bed so I can watch it, so I did. There’s a scene where Janet Leigh takes her bra off, and I thought: I’m going to watch that again, in slow motion. Then I thought, well, I’m going to watch the whole thing in slow motion, and it turns out that it was about 24 hours long.
DAVID A ROSS So out of repressed boredom came an idea to create a work that put people into a very different space.
PETER CAMPUS Boredom is a powerful tool.
DAVID A ROSS I think Warhol introduced boredom into art again in an interesting way, but video made it really possible.
DOUGLAS GORDON It’s a fairly crucial and horrific fact that people spend longer looking at a video monitor that isn’t working than a painting, waiting for something to happen, while there is a Barnett Newman just round the corner for them.
September 27, 2008 by Colin
Today on Definitely Not The Opera, Sook Yin Lee opened the show by looking at activities we choose to undertake as a member of a crowd. Many of the examples were foolish, embarrassing or relied on being swept in a tide of emotion and amity.
To be blunt, I’m more sympathetic to the reticence Sook Yin expressed on the DNTO blog:
” … As far as crowds go, I’m more of a loner. I like spending time by myself or with one or two friends at a time. I enjoy that direct line of communication rather than the more general ADD conversations I seem to get into at parties with lots of people. Now the thing that makes me uneasy about crowds is how easily you can get throngs of people riled up over a particular purpose. Sometimes it’s destructive and other times that crowd dynamic can mobilize us to do good things en masse, but it’s disturbing that it all seems to stem from a primal human instinct … “
September 26, 2008 by Colin
Once you get past all the fuzzy wuzzy about knowledge sharing, community building and increased opportunity to work on projects that challenge and inspire you, there is one certainty about the implementation of 2.0 applications in an enterprise environment: METRICS.
” … So one approach would be to graph where everyone stands within the organization along six dimensions: authoring, editing, interacting, tagging, uploading, and positive feedback. A simple radar graph would instantly show were an individual is on each, based on their contributions to various [emergent social software platforms] and relative to everyone else in the organization …”
When combined with a more sophisticated analysis of the networks and information sharing processes within an organization, these sorts of measures could help pinpoint the employees who make a positive or continuing contribution – both as a participant in Enterprise 2.0 applications, but simply as employees.
More, including a graph and a rebuttal in the comments, at Andrew McAfee’s HBS blog.
September 26, 2008 by Colin
The anarchist ice cream truck, equipped by the Center for Tactical Magic. Now making its rounds in New York, it is equipped to supply activists in case of confrontation with security forces.
” … The ice cream inventory is limited, because cabinets are used to store rolls of film for documenting police action, Ibuprofen for billy-club headaches and rain ponchos in case of fire hoses and water cannons. There were pepper spray treatment kits and the counter-weapon of choice: water balloons. There is an ample supply of work gloves.
“These are for throwing tear-gas canisters back at police so you don’t burn your hands,” explained the driver, Aaron Gach, 34, who wore a skinny bow tie and black-and-white saddle shoes, and a uniform with “Art” on the name tag and the words “Tactical Ice Cream Unit” on his white captain’s hat. He was not wearing his usual big fake mustache …” (New York Times)
The truck is also equipped with 12 video cameras to produce an independent record of any confrontations, and an audio/video transmission facility.
It’s an interesting and provocative project, but it makes a lot of assumptions (and perhaps overstatements) about the extent of confrontation between activist organizations and security forces. It operates in the United States, not Germany, after all.
September 25, 2008 by Colin
Know what the best part of the “I Am A PC” ad is?
“I am a PC, and I SELL FISHH!”
As Faris points out, this ad tries to reframe our collective perception of Microsoft as a company and as a tool manufacturer – highlighting its prevalence and utility around the world.
Nevertheless, it still feels like the third of twelve steps in a recovery program.
Speaking of tools, at what point will Justin Long’s agent tell him to drop out of the Apple campaign? As people slowly grow tired of the comparative ads, he runs the risk of being tarred as the face of a smug and elitist campaign.
There’s more than a little touch of agism in that reaction – if one of my daughters came home with a foppy haired douche that behaved that way ….
September 21, 2008 by Colin
I spent the last three days at a resort in the Muskokas, wedged right alongside the majestic Algonquin Park. There is nothing more relaxing than a crisp and clear early autumn morning, sitting on a deck perched on an outcrop of the giant Canadian Shield, looking over a lightly misted bay framed by a ridge of pines, oaks birch and elm trees tinted in a palette of orange and red hues, the silence only interrupted by the far-off honk of Canada geese.
Which does nothing to explain why THIS was the only photo I took all weekend:
An AMC Eagle on display at the Huntsville old car days. Cherry.
September 21, 2008 by Colin
Plus ca change, baby. Five hundred and sixteen years ago, respectable intellectuals were worried, nay, overwrought, that fantastic new technologies were giving any loudmouth and troublemaker the opportunity to speak to larger and larger audiences with fewer and fewer filters.
“… every grosse braind Idiot is suffered to come into print’, and ‘every scandalous tongue and opprobrious witte … will advance their peddling wares of detracting virulence in the publique Piatza of every Stationers shoppe …”
Anna Bayman, Rogues, Conycatching and the Scribbling Crew, History Workshop Journal, Spring 2007 (sub. only)
See what that fool Gutenberg wrought? Within a hundred years, fantasies and crime stories about the rapscallions of the street – “conycatchers” – were stimulating the masses teeming on the streets.
And here we are, worried that poor strategy, bad language and weak logic is undermining social media.
September 13, 2008 by Colin
I saw a brand new van driving down a nearby thoroughfare* today, freshly painted and wrapped with graphics for a local graffiti removal firm.** This is Ottawa. We do not have a quantifiable graffiti problem, no matter what resident associations, politicians or the police would argue.***
Not to sound too Marxist, but the creation of a private graffiti removal firm can be interpreted as catering to the petty prejudices and simplistic tastes of the suburban bourgeoisie.
Considered and creative graffiti can make a statement about the economic, political or social situation in any urban area – even boring, quiet Ottawa.
It certainly makes a statement about the level of engagement between community activists, artists and residents. A knee jerk opposition to graffiti can belie a knee jerk preference for order and restraint – to the expense of debate and criticism.
NolaRising, a blog championing New Orleans’ recovery from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina through the use of public art, pointed to a very creative and constructive application of graffiti: the appearance of several Banksy pieces in the Louisiana city in the weeks leading up to the third anniversary of Katrina’s landfall.
Now THAT’s graffiti that demonstrates a sympathy and empathy for the city and its citizens.
*what’s the difference between a thoroughfare and a street? One is full of stupid people that drive too fast. And fast food restaurants. The other has no restaurants.
**can you appreciate the irony that a graffiti removal company feels the need to cover every inch of their van with graphics in order to make an impact on a society besieged by commercial messages every second of every day?
**although some property owners certainly do have a right to complain about poor graffiti and vandalism on their property.
September 12, 2008 by Colin
Being a generalist doesn’t mean you shy away from being an expert in one particular subject. It means that you remain open to the possibility that other subjects, items, disciplines or theories may have value for you, your customer and their product.
“… my profession is identifying and establishing the connections between people, culture, brands, stories, and products, and that means it’s absolutely crucial that I know a little bit about all sorts of stuff that I may personally regard as crap.
… I believe strongly that those of us who make things for other people need to embrace the existence of the “other.” Whether it’s postmodernism or pop culture, we need to consider the good, the bad, and the terrifying aspects of those others …”
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.
September 7, 2008 by Colin
With his defeat of Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray has the potential to be the first male tennis player from the United Kingdom to win a Grand Slam event since Fred Perry won Wimbledon in 1936 – which is opportune, since Murray is sponsored by the Fred Perry brand.
As a global consumer brand, Fred Perry was long ago overshadowed by Lacoste and Polo, and more recently by athletic wear manufacturers like Nike and Adidas. More recently, the brand has been capitalizing upon its appeal to more segemented markets (like hipsters) through targeted efforts like the Fred Perry Subculture microsite, with its music downloads, band features and bar openings.
Too bad, on the day that their brand has reached its greatest popular exposure stateside in decades, www.fredperry.com is down.
And I can’t understand, given the range of colours, patterns and styles in the Perry range, why Murray is wearing that tshirt in bland browns and earth tones.
Maybe I pay too much attention to this brand …
As for Murray the spokesperson:
“… Granted, he can be gauche, tetchy and, in Tim Henman’s measured assessment of last May, ‘a miserable git’ - a criticism that Murray accepted as legitimate and acted upon – but none of these undermines the fact that the faith he has in his ability is genuine. All professionals talk up their chance of reaching the very top, but only a few do so with a conviction that rings true. Murray is one of this handful …” (Guardian)
September 3, 2008 by Colin
I’ve got a new ringtone that doesn’t fail to bring confusion and smiles to the people around me, thanks to the guys at You Look Nice Today.
Just over a month ago, in a podcast, they slipped in a short little sound bite that essentially went like this:
Boop Boop Boop Be-Doop Be-Doop Boop
On its own, it was a promising ditty. But then a fan got involved, and created a ringtone.
Others stepped up to the plate, and now there are TWENTY SEVEN different versions available, including techno, party, chase and Atari 2600 versions.
All in the comments to one blog post.
Now that is co-creation. No bullshit marketers trying to create an environment where consumers – sorry, I meant users – can help a brand leverage its product with the help of wacky online twists to the brand identity. As long as we don’t stray too far from the brand manual!
The one I picked has cowbell. I’m retro that way. Cowbell is SO 2005