Saturday, June 25, 2005

Celebrity Roast

There is something about modern celebrity that I wonder about.

What exactly are the talents of Britney Spears or Jessica Simpson?

Am I being unfair?

Yes they are very attractive women. Well, Simpson is. Not convinced by Britney.

Am I asking too much?

Celebrity is quite different from talent.

Take Paris Hilton. She certainly has a talent for publicity, it seems she can hardly engage in an intimate moment without it appearing on the internet or the front page of every tabloid magazine and newspaper on the planet - and now an Osbourne's style TV show.

I watched Paris' TV road trip show a couple of times. Can't fairly comment on modern media if I don't consume it. To be fair to Paris; the publicity is usually unwanted, isn't it (Yeah right - to coin a phrase.

What was I thinking? A momentary lapse.

My real issue with bimbo celebrity (and I am using that as a blanket term) is that the media/publicity machine churns blonde, beautiful girls with the same intensity as the porn industry.

Young men and women are consumed for their superficial appeals. watching the Australian talk show host Rove McManus on TV last night pressed the point home. He spoke with Lindsay Lohan (the star - or should I say supporting actress to Herbie) in the Love Bug remake. Poor wee thing. She seemed care worn and world weary about the effect of being pursued by the paprazzi and being vilified for her lack of obvious talent - other than her obvious talents*. The girl is 19 years old for crying out loud! Give her a break.

On the other hand I have discovered a very modern perfomer. David Bowie, perhaps you've heard of him. Listen to Aladdin Sane sometime. It is unbeleiveable. When I was younger I thought it was tosh. Now I find it interesting and challenging. But imagine someone blogging back then in the early 70's (what do you mean they didn't blog in the 70's?)

'It will never last...
you can't whistle to it...
Whatever happened to Vera Lynne?..."

I'm going to rack my brains and spend time with a very big pile of magazines.

Let's figure out what's goin' on here and develop a unifying theory of contemporary celebrity.

A celebration of celebrity. Comin' up...on The One & Only.

*Which Disney reduced using computer generated imaging (CGI) to be more appealing to a family audience. By the way, you may have heard it here first Lohan is set to play opposite Tom Cruise in the next thrilling installment of Mission Impossible 3. I'm aquiver.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Kisses aren't contracts

I recently learned that the woman I loved and lived with for three years had been carrying on an affair behind my back for who knows how long before I ended our relationship.

Oddly, I don't mind the betrayal (we'd both been married twice before and had many lovers before we even met; fidelity in that respect seems a quaint abstract - medieval ideas about virginity or 'purity' come to mind), but the deception is a different thing…I could have chosen a different course - had I known - and I like to choose my own path.

It serves to remind me of the misunderstood and certainly overestimated concept of loyalty in marketing - as if we can truly expect fidelity from people in a world filled with infinite choices.

It doesn't matter that people might behave in a fickle way and choose the next brightly coloured thing. More power to them.

Don't simper, don't run after them. Be true to yourself. Enjoy what you do. And adapt.

If you make hand crafted guitars but teenagers want Japanese knock-offs of Gibson Les Pauls, what?

Change how your story gets told, but stay true to your talent and authentic self. Don't assume the problem is what you do.

Who knows, maybe they'll come back, and maybe, if they do, your prices will have changed.

In case you're wondering, I have new love and it brings me a different kind of experience than I wouldn't have had, had I stayed in my previous relationship.

The constant is me and I trust myself.

I came across some thing randomly in cyberspace (the poem below), it reminds me about the power of the self and the need to understand what is and what is not right for you.

Your own truth.

I am, after all, The One and Only (as are you).

After a while you learn
the subtle difference between
holding a hand and chaining a soul
and you learn
that love doesn't mean leaning
and company doesn't mean security

And you begin to learn
that kisses aren't contracts
and presents aren't promises
and you begin to accept your defeats
with your head up and your eyes open
with the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child
and you learn
to build all your roads on today
because tomorrow's ground is
too uncertain for plans

After a while you learn
that even sunshine burns
if you get too much
so plant your own garden
and decorate your own soul
instead of waiting for someone
to bring you flowers

And you learn that you really can endure
you really are strong
you really do have worth

Veronica A. Shoffstall

P.S: I believe love is something you give - not something you feel or receive (another reason I am at odds with the concept of Lovemarks)

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Much to admire. Little to enjoy.

How bizarre. The British Lions are here in New Zealand. So far it has been terribly dull, Other than the advertising frenzy, led by the likes of Telecom - leveraging their sponsorship investment. And isn't that the point? Money and marketing is far more interesting than the thing itself.

The media has taken the opportunity to wax lyrical about how things have changed since the Lions last toured New Zealand, and further back when the Lions were ambassadors for the Old Country and spent time actually mixing with people in local host communitities - in rugby clubs and RSAs. Back then rugby was still an amateur sport. The Lions touring New Zealand now are an altogether different animal.

Sir Clive Woodward's shadow looms over the team. The puppetmaster. If he could secure the World Cup of Rugby for England, why wouldn't he be able to work the magic for the Lions?

The team has a over 100 personnel. Bear in mind that there are 15 players in a rugby football team. I heard a report that back in the good old days there were three roadies to support the team, coach and manager.
I guess that hair and makeup alone makes up a significant percentage of the crew? PR people and minders must make up a chunk of the rest. A psychologlst or two? Psychic..? Who knows. They obviously take it seriously. There is much at stake and I am not just talking about wins, loses and draws. I'm talking media coverage and exposure for sponsors.

It's a shame that the fans have been sidelined. I heard a report that guests staying in the same hotel as the touring team have been asked not to approach the players, speak to them or even ask for an autograph.
Can you hear the alarm bells ringing? It's rugby. It's a game. Players are not royalty. Royalty is not a good thing (where's my guillotine? Vive la Republique). Players used to be heroes of the young. I don't think my son wants access via Hello magazine.

At the end of the day he wants to see a great game of rugby - he's a fan. But wouldn't it be great if he could encounter a player and score an autograph. I'll never forget the effect it had on his own passion for playing when he was invited to a training session with the All Blacks where players coached the kids. The players who shone that day were the one's who engaged with their most committed fans. Byron Kelleher 's franchise increased dramatically. It was obvious he enjoyed the experience, while other, higher profile players treated it like Princess Diana on walkabout - a photo opportunity, not truly engaged, one eye on the exit, the other on the mirror.

Great brands are owned by their fans. One of the reasons nobody I've encountered seems to care about the Lions is that they have put themselves into a hermetically sealed bubble. They even refuse to call the All Blacks the All Blacks - preferring to use the term: The New Zealanders. Oh, please...give us a break. Show the fans some respect and stop acting like Pommie plonkers.

All Blacks Lion's tour pages

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

King of Poop

Well Michael Jackson is found innocent of every charge levelled against him. I heard it on the radio just moments ago.
Not unexpected. Even casually noticing, rather than watching the news of the trial I kind of got the vibe that the single minded proposition (if I can borrow advertising parlance for a moment) was that it was Jackson himself who was the victim. The victim of avaricious people willing to exploit Jackson's weirdness, declining fame and the generally accepted meme that he is a child molester (on the grounds that there is no smoke without fire and funny looking people must be baddies - thanks to Hollywood and the Borthers Grimm ).

The problem with being The One & Only is that, by being iconoclastic and setting yourself apart from the norm, is that you are going to either find acceptance or not. And that acceptance can be fleeting. Jackson once stood astride the world of pop music. His fortune was collossal, his repertoire rightly feted as an important cultural contribution. And, while there are still a cadre of intensely loyal Jackson fans it is unlikely that his career will ever recover from the negative effects of this trial.

While I don't think the trial itself was a witch hunt it is hard not see the parrallels - Michael Jackson looks weird. He doesn't behave like us (at least I hope not). He has a talent that is mercurial - and artistic gifts are often viewed as 'supernatural' - given by the muses rather than earned through the application of skill and hard work.

What will be left for Jackson? Who knows, but I suspect the man/boy who was once the King of Pop is now left to rule over a pile of poop. I'm not a big fan - but I find that a shame.

Maybe he should be remembered for his music and the pleasure that gave kids all around the world and not his self inflicted pain.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Mentioned in Dispatches

Squeeze would have been delighted to be honoured by his peers at this year's Axis Awards. Not only because of the accolade, but because he was usually actively involved in the creation of ads and didn't like being billed as part of the support team. Paul wasn't a frustrated creative person, like so many 'suits', he saw his role as to create fertile ground for clients to accept work that was challenging. He liked to build trust with his affable demeanor and boyish charm. He made the process fun.

I've written about Paul before (Sorrow's Gift) and, as the time passes since his death I've thought about him often. Paul tended to consume...objects, food and drink, substances...people. I look at pictures of him socialising with my family when my son was born and feel a certain nostalgia for the time we spent working together. It was often fraught. We walked out of an ad agency together, convinced we had their largest client in the bag. We didn't, as it turned out. While the marketing manager was with us, the owner of the company was terribly old fashioned and vetoed the move at the eleventh hour.

MacGregor Jeffreys and Company had little to show for itself other than beautiful stationery and our intention to shake the cage and have a laugh.

We ended up with a business that tended to focus on our own interests - music and entertainment. Luckily Squeeze and I both had friends in the business and we had the spectrum covered - from Rock (Polygram), Retail (Truetone Records) Classical (Naxos), Budget (Metro marketing), Performance (Auckland Opera) and the industry itself (the Record Industry Association of New Zealand).

The death knell of our association came when we fell foul of RIANZ - they had granted us license to turn the Top50 chart into a product. We negotiated a deal with Philips to sponsor the gig. Long story short: Philips pulled out, we sued them (stupidly turning down a fair and substantial settlement) and lost. Of course Philips owned PolyGram and the sh*t hit the fan.

By then Paul had jumped ship - leaving me to deal the the chaos of legal action that went all the way to the High Court. having gone so far I couldn't turn back without incurring huge costs (Of course Squeeze insisted that he would share in the proceeds of our certain victory). MacGregor Jeffreys turned into David & Goliath. Goliath won that time round.

I incurred huge costs. Mr Jeffreys was nowhere to be seen with his half.

I have forgiven him. Life, as Pauls own sojourn on the planet proves, is too short.

Congratulations on your award Squeeze, you deserved it.

Read the citation from the Axis awards

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Under the influence

I vaguely remember Geoff Ross, the guy who started 42 below Vodka, from an agency we both worked at - though he worked in the Wellington office and I was in Auckland. He seemed a decent enough chap. Quiet, unassuming…Who'd have thought he'd go on to be the founder of one of the most interesting brands in the world - and certainly THE most interesting in New Zealand. I mean, who'd have thought that Vodka would become a hip drink again (it sort of smacks of James Bond and martinis), let alone that New Zealand would become the source of a serious brand contender in a cluttered category.

I've worked on Vodka accounts. It's a tough product to differentiate. Colourless and pretty much tasteless. Sales of vodka used to experience a spike just before closing time (when there was a closing time). Spike being then operative word. Vodka was the great 'leg-opener'. Vulgar concept, but we're all adults here, aren't we? Mix it in with orange (a screwdriver, I believe) and you pretty much might as well be drinking the orange juice by itself.

So, the point is: the real point of difference when marketing vodka is, well, …the marketing.

Oh, sure there are some people who can discern subtle differences in Vodkas, but, in the main - in a dark club say, (with the presence of cranberries or the hint of fragrance from one's companion and maybe some cigarette smoke) I'm not sure anyone can really tell the difference. But that's just my opinion. Or maybe not. I lauched Pepsi and its associated brands (7up, Mirinda, Canadian Dry,) and saw the head of Pepsi undertake the 'Pepsi Challenge' on camera for a news crew. Stupid guy, stupid thing to do. He was flavour-challenged and chose the Coca-Cola. Oops.

While I'm labouring this point I can also tell you that most people can't even choose their favourite beer from a selection of like brands (and yet swear loyalty to their preferred brand erring on devotional).

Let's assume that 42 Below is actually ok. It is certainly well packaged. The marketing is energetic and they've adopted a provocative positioning that not only lampoons it's 'origins' but also the people who believe marketing stories about liquor origins.

It's called, if you'll pardon the pun and the shocking use of the vernacular 'taking the piss'. And it seems to work.

The media fuss over an offensive response by the U.S. based marketing guy for 42 Below to a gay bar owner who found their approach offensive is a classic case of rising to the bait. TV One's Sunday programme covered the story - or should I say re-covered it, fuelling interest in the brand (watch NZ sales increase this week).

42 Below executives will be sniggering all the way the the bank.

I'm going to grant The One & Only status to 42 Below Vodka . Because it's hard to differentiate bathtub booze and because the plonker who markets it in New York is so offensive that watching the news article was hilarious - like watching a train wreck and knowing that we're all being played - because it's not really a train wreck, but a staged event (ever see Wag The Dog). More power to them.

I might buy some 42 Below shares - wouldn't surpise me if Seagrams or United Distillers or somebody big buys them out, either to shut them down or to get some of their perceived mojo.

The crippling cost of going national in the U.S - which you have to wonder how long 42 Below can fund out of New Zealand investor's pockets - even with clever, lucky and shameless tactical marketing. My guess is that would make the brand as insipid, colourless and flavourless as the product itself.

All Marketers Are Liars Check out Seth Godin's Latest book The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-trust world.

42 Below's web site

Friday, June 10, 2005

Old Dog, New Tricks

Blimey, what am I thinking? I have decided to fulfill my lifelong ambition of playing the guitar. Even signed up for some lessons with the very patient Danny McCrum (who is also teaching my son).

What I wasn't prepared for is how much it hurts your fingers. Ever seen the photo of Pete Townsend with blood running down his hands. Well, that's how it feels. I'm told you get used to it. I hope so.

Maybe I'll start a band. Is it too soon to get a manager? Will there be groupies?

And will I need a garage? (for cred).

Danny McCrum's website

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

What's Up Doc?

I have just returned from a charity fundraising lunch. My client Dr Tom Mulholland was the keynote speaker. I have worked with Tom for several years now, off and on, but had never seen him in action.

Tom is a living and breathing example of The One & Only. While his message may not be especially 'original' (Turning life's lemons into lemonade) his personal style and story make the critical difference between being a successful speaker and author and being an also-ran.

When I first met Tom he was the founder of the web start up - His vision was to create an online medical consultation service. It mutated into being a powerful database of secure, private health records used by large corporations and institutions. Tom got to the point so many entrepreneurs reach when the time comes to hire a professional manager to run the company. Long story short Tom lost control of his gig and his shareholding in the company he founded was diluted. His wife left.
Things weren't going well for the good doctor.

He fell into a deep depression.

And then one day Tom realised something that changed his life. You'll have to read his book to find out how Dr Tom turned his life around. Now he has a bestselling book, he is a professional, full time speaker, motivator and author. he consults to major corporations and stars in his own daytime show - Dr Tom - The Attitude Doctor.

Tom's genuine, personal character is the thing that sets him apart. He explores the edges of what possible for him and, in the face of apparent disaster draws on a fundamental strength and that carries him through adversity.

It all sounds terribly cheesy, but it is the truth. This Vampire jet flying, tsunami surfing iconoclast is, without any doubt whatsoever The One & Only.

Visit Tom's Web site