Monday, April 30, 2007

OODA Loop reprise



A friend is an airline pilot with Air New Zealand.
In a recent discussion we taliked about the concept of the OODA Loop. In simple terms the OODA loop is about decision making processes. But I am getting ahead of myself. The reason it came up was that we were discussing the responsibility the air crew have - an expensive plane and the lives of hundreds of passengers. There needs to be processes and controls. But at the end of the day it is up to the aircrew to make the decisions that will expedite the plans and allow for the things that plans can't plan for - the weird stuff called 'life' by us civilians.

The OODA Loop:

OBSERVE
ORIENT
DECIDE
ACT

It is a strategic tool invented by Korean War air force pilot ace Col. John Boyd of the U.S. Air Force.

The idea is the person who is able to see the situation, place themselves in a safe, effective position from which to make decisions and then to act will, most likely, be the winner of the dog-fight.

It is the best tool for understanding the dynamic inter-relationship between tactics and strategy I have seen. The pace of change in today's environment is analogous. The key to using the tool is to be capable and willing to make decisions and take decisive action - at high speed.

What do ladders symbolise?

Mucking about with some crayons I got from the French Art Shop in Ponsonby. I managed to get away with spending just five bucks. It's no wonder artists starve - the raw materials are insanely expensive. Come to think of that's probably why they cut off their ears too - to hock them.

Ask not whether we will fight on the beaches

In David Ogilvy's 1983 classic Ogilvy on Advertising he writes:
"When Aeschines spoke, they said ‘How well he speaks.’ But when Demosthenes spoke, they said, ‘Let us march against Philip.’”"

Great oratory is rare. How many times have you wished that a speaker would just shut up and sit down - or make a point? The best speakers have a sense of performance and theatricality. In a world of infinite distractions and entertainments it has probably never been more important than it is today.

So here is an interesting convergence. My friend and client Maggie Eyre has just launched the revised edition of her essential book Speak Easy. Maggie has trained the likes of Helen Clark to be more effective in their presentation and delivery - how ideas are conveyed.

In parallel I was alerted by Tom Peters' blog that the Guardian has published a series of the greatest speeches of modern history. Ironically Ms Clark is an avid Guardian reader (as confessed in an awful, saccharine, fawning segment on National Radio with Jim Moira).

The Guardian's web site
has audio of many of the speeches as well as transcripts and commentary.Well worth the visit.

Arctic Monkeys Hot

Arctic Monkeys Japan
The Arctic Monkeys are a band - for those of you who don't know about these things. They came to fame via MySpace.

Their latest album Your favourite worst nightmare has shot to number 1 on the UK album charts as soon as it was released. But the interesting thing is that each of the songs on the album have also charted. How? They are all available to be individually download from the web from sites like the Apple iTunes store. Changes to the way sales are accounted for by the music business mean that a physical CD single doesn't have to pass through a high street retailer in order to be counted for the chart. What is also interesting is that this very obvious example of the shift in buyer behaviour makes a mockery of the Record Industry Association's anxiety that downloads will kill their business. According to the BBC Radio 1 DJs interviewed in this story (video) the charts now have new acts that rise through the rankings, rather than meteorically arriving at the top - due to sell in and record co hype (payola) - and then sinking back down.

The times they are a changin'(had to drop that in after a Bobby Dylan fest on the weekend).

Album Reviewed here
(BBC)

And here (Rolling Stone)

What you lookin' at Willis?


Before - the sequel.
This is the AFTER.

Get this shirt here.

Before after


I have been pondering my navel. Or rather I would if it hadn't been consumed by my increasingly corpulent midriff. Nothing else for but to invent a T-shirt.

Buy the shirt from my shop.

Beam me up Scotty


The rituals we observe surrounding death and dying are quite interesting. Never more so than in Hollywood. I heard on the weekend that the actor who played Scotty, the engineer in Star Trek has had some of his ashes sent into space. Hmmm. I won't ask why?; the answer seems blindingly obvious; in the words of PT Barnum "There's a sucker born every minute"...or, in this case dies every minute. Your job is to get your money out the their survivor's grief soaked wallets.


Not that the rituals surrounding death have ever really made any sense. Why would Tutankhamen need to be buried with his riches (and hundreds of perfectly healthy retainers)-don't they take Egyptian Express in the afterlife? Ditto the buried army (nice blog images here).

Apparently Walt Disney was cryogenicly frozen. Uncle Walt had a checquered relationship with his animators - alternately locking them out when they struck for better pay and work conditions and dobbing them into to senator McCarthy's 'Reds under the bed' witch hunts of the 50s. They said that Disney had been frozen 'to make him a warmer human being'

Nearly died laughing when I read that.

Don't think me morbid, but I have my own epitaph worked out -

"Here goes nothing"
.

With luck and a diet high in fibre I won't need it for a while.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Handy Dandy





A couple of random examples of hand-made graphics from mainstream brands that I came across this evening. I'm thinking it is more common than I at first thought.

Made by Hand


I have noticed a trend toward hand-made artwork finding its way into advertising and design. It is an interesting trend. A rebellion against the slick, universal precision of computer graphics.

I guess some of the influences are street art (graffiti, stenciling etc) and the rise of body art in recent years. I have heard a figure bandied about that 30% of North Americans have a tattoo.

Major brands are getting in on the act. In the States Camel and Nike have hired the tattoo artist Scott Campbell to give their promotional material a unique character. In an odd way I wonder whether 'inking'onto the skin of a brand is anything more than stylised decoration or (in the case of Camel) being desperate to have something to 'say' in a category that has no real benefit - which reminds me of the UK campaign for a brand of cigarettes in the 80s as tough regulations began to bite: 'We can't tell you anything about Winstone cigarettes - so here's a tart leaning against a bar'(accompanied by a photo of a pie leant against a crowbar).

Whatever the reason for the trend there is no doubt that it is influencing brands that seek street cred or those keen to find a distinctive way of adding a unique texture to their messages.

There is an article in the New York Times you might find interesting.

I do admire people who have a talent for creating with their own hands - the desktop publishing revolution was a double edged sword. When I first began in advertising the agency I worked for still had an artist in residence who retouched images by hand, airbrushing, clear-cutting and creating line and tone product illustrations. Artists were once the stars of ad agencies before there were creative teams. And, much as I admire the genius of guys like Linds Redding of The Department of Motion Graphics' skills with 3D emulation of reality - it is when I can see their hand that I like their work best (Superbank and Starburst Sucks).

On that note enjoy this:

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Moving Minds


There is an Australian advertising consultancy called The Principals that sends out a regular email promotional link to a section of their website called 'Moving Minds'. It's one of the view things I have signed up for that I actually enjoy receiving. Check the archive out...

Lest We Forget


It's ANZAC Day. A national holiday to commemorate the battles at Gallipoli between New Zealand and Australian forces and the Turks in World War 1. It is an emotional day for many New Zealanders. We are prone to nostalgia. Though New Zealand is remote from the battlefields of Europe we considered ourselves to be the original Little Britain and 'where she went we went'. The casualties were devastating to the small New Zealand population at the time - like European countries engaged in that ridiculous conflict it had a lasting effect; wiping out some of the brightest and the best of an entire generation. Many regard Gallipoli as the moment when the colonies came of age, assuming identity and character of our own. Perhaps.

The dawn parade numbers swell each year - almost in inverse numbers to the surviving servicemen of two world wars. RSA members have their annual moment of remembered glory and invoke their canon:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.


For those who think there is glory in war then perhaps a poem from the frontlines might temper their views:


I KNEW a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.


Siegfried Sassoon 1918.

Monday, April 23, 2007

And so it goes...



Kurt Vonnegut
1922 - 2007



When the last living thing
has died on account of us,
how poetical it would be
if Earth could say,
in a voice floating up
perhaps
from the floor
of the Grand Canyon,
“It is done.”
People did not like it here.


-Excerpt from “Requiem,” a poem from Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s last book “A man without a country

Kiwi Holiday

My jaunts into New Zealand's fantastic Northland holiday spots reminded me of a painting I made of the little house I lived in for a while in Milford, by the beach on Auckland's North Shore - on the wonderfully named Holiday Road.

The house has been bowled and it has been replaced by a vulgar demi mansion so loved by the nouveau riche. So it goes.

A little thrill

The Magazine Publishers Association have just announced the finalists in this year's MPA Awards and Idealog is a finalist in the Magazine of the Year category and for design.

Developing the idea for the mag with Martin Bell and Vincent Heeringa was an interesting experience. It was surprisingly easy to give birth to the publication because of their experience in the publishing and with them at the helm they have built up a terrific team that produce an excellent product that competes in a extraordinarily difficult category (Hint: don't try to start a new business title on paper and ink in New Zealand - especially one with a highly conceptual sell).

Friends don't let friends drink Starbucks


Maybe so, but at least Starbucks offers free wireless access in conjuction with the Telecom, so this is my office for the morning. Sure a couple of doors down there are two or three much funkier cafes but, hey, here I get comfortable chair. It is virtually empty and the music is surprisingly edgy without being the 'doof doof doof' stuff that some of the places around here prefer.

I'm working on a plan to figure out how to move out of Auckland, maybe to somewhere like Waipu or the Hokianga and make my living entirely from the internet. I don't quite know how viable it will be and there are issues like children to consider but I am certain that I can work something out. The more I head out of the city on jaunts the more I envy the lifestyle of people who live in the real New Zealand. All I need is a fast web connection and an idea...

Papers to mark...post modernism and pop culture...It's a hard life.

It's the little things

The joys of being single.

Reassuringly Expensive

Stella Artois is one of my favourite brands. I don't like to drink it. Too aromatic and hoppy for my palate. But it has elevated mainstream, volume beer to a higher plane. Stella is the perfect invocation of the story being more important than the product. Not that the story has anything to do with overt representations of quality or tradition. Everything is implicit - or implied. The advertising is sublime (in this market at least - I think we receive the U.K. promotional materials - 'where Britain goes, we go...that's my ANZAC tribute).


However, the point of this post is to tell you how much I have been enjoying reading Peter Mayle's 1993 book Expensive Habits in which he chronicles his experiences with the accoutrements of the wealthy. From hand made shoes to mistresses. In his yarn about the joys of Cashmere he begins a paragraph:"It is also reassuringly expensive. Ounce for ounce only vicuna-which comes from a family of privileged camels who live in the mountains of South America-cost more,..."
I wonder if this was the origin of the phrase later coined by the creative team who developed the Stella campaign? I am not crying foul, simply observing. It is rich vein to tap - if you pardon the rapid succession of puns. Perhaps the expression was simply a part of the vernacular for those of us who have chauffeur driven limousines and private aircraft before Mr Mayle (whom I believe was a advertising creative before exiling himself profitable to France to write A year in Provence - the book being much better than the one star film A Good Year.)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Juiced about Joost


At a time when TVNZ are in disarray and I (for one) am confused about what they are trying to achieve I am delighted to be part of the Joost beta trial. It seems to be the way TV will be heading. My only problem is that it seems to eat my miserly Telecom Xtra bandwidth. There's a limit to the number of times a month I can keep cranking up my plan. How's that for an example of how two rusty old institutions have shown themselves unable to be nimble enough to cope with the speed of change in today's communications market.

Irnoically I am reading In Praise of Slow by Carl Honore.

Got Milk?


Here's a new tool I think you might find useful. Sign up. It's free. As I am the least organised person on the planet every little might help me.

One of the things about applications like Remember the Milk that fascinate me is that they are very much an expression of Web 2.0.

For a long time I wondered what people were talking about when they said Web 2.0. I felt anxious and threatened. I had only just come to terms with Web 1.0. Then I grew to enjoy it and ease into the idea that the web isn't an extension of mass media (the eyeballs mentality - we speak, you listen), but something entirely different. A gigantic dialogue. A pluralog - did I just coin a phrase? - feel free to use it). Blogging gave voice to anyone with the energy to tap out a greeting. What a Tsunami of pent up energy there seems to have been.

Convergent technologies like cheap digital video and editing helped give rise to the alleged Generation 'C'. C for create (the generation that knows no age). A media handle that goes part of the way to describing a phenomenon in progress. We love to dissect and define. But the problem with dissection is that it takes the life out of the subject.

Web 2.0 seems to be the emergence of the dynamically useful web, rather than the passively useful web (wikipedia, google etc). Tools, gadgets and widgets are popping up that might make life a little easier and a little easier and more fun.

I have heard that Adobe are developing versions of photoshop and a video editing programme that will be accessed (free?) online - no doubt supported by advertising.
Sounds good to me.

Impressionistic Journeys


One of my favourite Led Zeppelin songs is Kashmir. For years I thought Kashmir was in North Africa and not in the north of the Indian sub-continent. Singer Robert Plant said he wrote the piece in Morroco, the only place in Africa I have ever felt even slightly drawn to; an interest amplified when I read Keith Richards' biography. Morroco must have been very, very cool in the 60s/70s, a time when religion was less factional and made fraught by post 9/11 realpolitick.

Dave Grey of Xplane posted a YouTube movie of a traveller's sketch book which is just downright inspirational. When I followed the link back to YT and did a same user search I found the movie above, sketches in a small Moleskin notebook, mainly of people. I love it and am inspired.

Journaling is an important exercise, whether in words, or pictures - analog or digital. I have just come home from the beautiful Hokianga Harbour, where my daughter and I hung out for a couple of days. It was absolutely, insanely beautiful - the Winterless North has never been a more apt apellation. I would have liked to have drawn more, but that would have meant I couldn't have joined in the fun of fishing off the wharf. So I have made some video, and if I can figure out how to get it onto my computer I shall fill you with envy. Standby.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

You're not in Guatemala now Dr Ropata

I have just heard the news that the New Zealand government programme funding agency NZ OnAir has announced that, effective immediately, the scheme of revenue splitting between the producer and the agency for subsequent distribution of a work will be turned into a mirror image of itself.

Instead of 75% of future earnings for a TV show being returned to NZ OnAir, leaving 25% for the producer. Now the producer will receive 75% of the future earnings.

I believe this will generate a surge in revenues for the New Zealand producers, who are key players in the creative economy.

The motivation of the producer to find markets and outlets will be dramatically amplified. With 'long tail' distribution outlets now important considerations (rather than mass media) there is a correspondent increase in the number of commercial opportunities.

While the government agency would be unable to economically pursue deals on a micro scale, the same cannot be said of the copyright owner, especially when the incentive is there for them to actively seek out markets, however small.

This move is the smartest thing I have heard come from central government in a long time. It will probably exponentially increase NZ OnAir's return on investment in production with a similar effect to that of dramatically dropping tax rates in 1984/5 - producing equally dramatically increased the revenues.

I don't know what other constraints will be placed on the creators at the application for funding stage (it wouldn't surprise me - bureaucrats are not famous for being savvy), but on the face of it I think there is cause for celebration.

Click for New Zealand Herald Story

Visit NZ OnAir

Perhaps lowering the bar for funding in the first instance, providing more micro financing to more independent creatives would make sense - especially as the cost of production falls due to access to cheap, readily available technology (it's amazing what you can do with iMovie and a handicam) and the number of media outlets multiply exponentially.

I'm off on holiday now and I'm not taking the laptop with me. Look out Hokianga harbour, here we come.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Make play your life's work.


Is it any surprise that playfulness and a sense of fun are associated with creativity and innovation?
Plenty of experts have said time and again that ideas and innovation rarely come from serendipity or 'the muses'. I teach this doctrine myself to my advertising class at Massey University. Great works come from work - hence magnum opus(great work), opera, operation. I have always found it to be true. Sitting in a catatonic state worrying about where my next idea was coming from generally produced nothing.

The popular myth is that if you 'put junk in you get junk out'.
Let's think about about that for a second (or longer if you need the extra time - it's not a competition). What is the alternative to putting junk in? Or thinking a little different, how do you know what you are putting in is junk? what is the junk metric? And what is the alternative? Acquiring facts might mean that you end up with a load of facts.

When I worked as an advertising writer I would happily go along on factory tours to help me understand my client's business. This was really a part of the show for the client. They worked in crummy factories while we had nice offices with Eames furniture and a lady who came and made us sandwiches and snacks. After work the bar was open and the pinball free. So it was the least we could do to go along, nod sagely and ask penetrating questions. In most cases it was an irrelevant public relations exercise.

On one occasion I saw that a local Methode Champenoise was made the same way in the East Tamaki wine factory of a large local wine brand as it is in the great chateaux of France - the wine was placed at an angle, upside down in riddling racks and turned by hand every day by an old man in a vest and cloth cap. OK, I'm kidding about the cloth cap. But in process everything was the same as in Champagne and the grapes were probably just as good - if not better (New Zealand is a long way from Chernobyl, our grapes don't glow in the dark). My art director and I came up with an ad, a double page spread, that described in ludicrous detail the ludicrous detail the wine maker went to to produce a wine that was as good as champagne but at a much lower price. The headline said 'There's methode in our madness.' and, like the wine, we won lots of awards for the campaign - which successfully elevated the prestige of the brand at a time when everything made in Europe was considered better than anything made in New Zealand. I guess if we hadn't gone along and seen for ourselves then we'd have been stuck with a 'lifestyle' ad. I used to hate 'lifestyle' ads as much as jingles. Now they are the norm.

Another weird thing is the focus group. An entire industry has emerged to extract banal information from people who are so lonely, broke or sociopathic that attending a meeting of strangers in a room with one way mirrors seems like a good idea. In most cases the sessions are conducted by people who fit right in with the subjects.

I have never attended a focus group (from the other side of the glass) or read transcripts of a session, or a researcher's analysis of a group that gave me any sort of genuine insight into the true motivations or a participant. In most cases they have been used as low hanging fruit by an ad agency to prove a point and assign a loopy analysis in support of an even loopier ad campaign. Of course clients are guilty of using groups to kill ideas they don't like. It pays to have an agenda, rather than an open mind. If you want useful insights into how people behave and think, then observing them regularly in their natural habitat will always give you a better result than any contrived, intellectualised process where an intermediary is clipping the ticket.

If you want to know how middle aged working class men think just go along to a Returned Serviceman's Association (RSA) club or a public bar in a part of town you would normally avoid. Talk rugby league and politics with them. They will have opinions - oh yes, they will have opinions - I promise you. Most will never have consumed a latte or set foot inside a restaurant that charges more than 20 dollars for a plate of food.

The unstructured anthropological approach will give you nothing more than impressions which a researcher will typically regard as invalid - junk. But I am betting it will be gold. My bet is you will also have some fun.

Does anyone remember George Plimpton? When I was a kid he used to make documentaries about immersing himself into an activity - I think I remember an episode about becoming a rodeo clown. If it is a figment of my imagination I don't know where my life-long desire to be a rodeo clown came from.

The point is: Fill your head with junk. Don't have a brain with neat compartments. That's what Filemaker is for. You need experiences as well as information. Get out there.

I'm not talking about bungy jumping. Unless you can spend the day talking to the operator and observing tourists take a carefully calculated risk (i.e. 100% safe) and congratulating themselves for cheating death, instead of berating themselves for being cheated out of a hundred bucks. If you must do it, do it naked. Billy Connolly did. Mind you the 'Big Yin' seems to like experiencing most things naked.

Do things you wouldn't normally do. I don't mean drive to the dairy in your pajamas. I mean do mad things and meet people you would normally avoid. Hunter S. Thompson hung out with the Hells Angels motorcycle club and produced the brilliant book Hells Angels. Thompson received a savage beating from members of the gang (not those he had been close to in the process of researching the story), so I'm not recommending being reckless without understanding the risks. Understand risk and then be reckless.

Hell, go to an art gallery that shows something you won't see on a chocolate box.

See a live band - who play the genre you least like (for me that would be jazz, a Dave Dobbyn performance or a Welsh Choir - or a medley of all played to me while strapped to a chair like Alex in A Clockwork Orange).

Watch Dancing with the Stars.

Do a life drawing class during the day at a community art centre. Be afraid.

Go to the Otara market - but don't buy a pirated copy of Sione's Wedding. Buy some taro and find out how to prepare it. Prepare it. Eat it.

Actually I was kidding about watching Dancing with the Stars. Your brain will liquify and ooze out your ears. Don't go there and if you do don't say I didn't tell you so.

The more junk you pump in the better the chance that some thing interesting will come out the other end. Stop looking for the right answer. The right answer has already been done. It's the difference between colouring in and creating something new (which might suck, but at least it will be original and yours.

Make play your life's work.

You have nothing to loose but your preconceptions.

Footnote:

Billy Connolly From the Melbourne Age (story says famously goateed - picture says otherwise):

His favourite moment during the New Zealand trip? "The naked bungee," he instantly replies. "It's the highest bungee in the world - from a cable car into the gorge.

"You get it for free if you do it naked. So being Scottish I whipped the gear off and dived into the valley. I've been naked everywhere."

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

New Zealand is anorexic

“Ideas shape our world. They are the raw materials on which our future prosperity and heritage depend.” Kamil Idris, 2006

In the conceptual sell to sponsors and advertisers for Idealog magazine we made a great deal out of the fact that Micheal Jordan's earnings from licenses and royalties from things like his Nike Air Jordan association and his share of revenues from the NBA screening etc was greater than the income of the entire state of Jordan.

It was the central proposition - New Zealand needs to shift from being a net importer of licenses and exporter of royalties to being a generation engine.

The maps below make for depressing reading. The maps presented on this website are equal area cartograms, otherwise known as density-equalising maps. The cartogram re-sizes each territory according to the variable being mapped - generated by the University of Sheffield using a tool called Worldmapper .
Idealog has reprinted an article from The Atlantic Monthly by PJ O'Rourke using them to illustrate some important points. Get a copy of the magazine for the article if nothing else. It is funny and informative.

If the global appetite for books, movies, games, television etc is as insatiable as it looks then lets focus on that. Why we spend so much energy and effort mucking about with biotech I don't understand. Focus on your strengths. Likewise we need to rethink the significance of 'telling our stories to the world' - What percentage of global box office takings did Whale Rider and The Piano account for in their respective years of release?

The world doesn't care.

Cultural artifacts are important - to us, but we should produce them on the back of entertainment and information the world demands. The Lord of the Rings and King Kong have been lauded as great New Zealand movies. Maybe they are. Peter Jackson is a hero for the way he and his mates at Weta have created an industry almost from scratch. They didn't do it with New Zealand stories. Compare their approach to the movie The River Queen - very New Zealand film that no one outside of Whanganui wanted to see. Stories that have universal popular appeal are important (commercially). Black Sheep the movie errs toward that direction...but the same heavy handed New Zealandness that makes Peter Jackson films unpleasant to watch and its absence In My Father's Den a pleasure.

The challenge is to ensure the residual income from IP created here is reflected in our export earnings - that we don't simply become a craft factory for a fickle set of buyers (The UK recently revised their tax laws to ensure they can counter the threats from New Zealand and other emerging movie production markets).

Anyway, Here are the maps and supporting notes from the U of S site.
The main thing is to compare our anorexic exports and obese imports.

Imports


Ireland imports (US$ net) the most royalties and license fees out of all territories in the world. The value of net imports of these services to Ireland is more than three times higher than the next biggest importer, which is China. Ireland’s imports, when divided by the population, are also the highest per person imports in the world. The second biggest per person importer, Hong Kong, imports (net) only a fifteenth of what Ireland imports per head of population.

The high imports to Ireland partly reflect one method multunational companies use to maximise profits made, through exporting goods into the European Union via Ireland.

Territory size shows the proportion of worldwide net imports of royalties and license fees (in US$) that are received there. Net imports are imports minus exports. When exports are larger than imports the territory is not shown.

Exports



Only 18 (out of 200) territories are net exporters of license fees and royalties. This means that a few people living in less than a tenth of the territories in the world between them receive the US$30 billion of net export earnings for these services.

The International Monetary Fund explained that royalties and license fees include "international payments and receipts for the authorised use of intangible, non-produced, non-financial assets and proprietary rights ... and with the use, through licensing agreements, of produced originals or prototypes ...". Thus these export earnings are payments for past ideas.

Territory size shows the proportion of worldwide net exports of royalties and license fees (in US$) that come from there. Net exports are exports minus imports. When imports are larger than exports the territory is not shown.

The whole ball of seaweed

Seaweed ball by david macgregor
Some time ago I went for a walk with a friend on Piha beach.
She found an exceptionally long strand of seaweed washed up on the black sand. As we walked she dragged it along behind her. Being a creative sort she made it into a ball - a slick salty black ball of kelp (I think).

I kept it but it has begun to go mouldy and, I have to say, smell bad. So, I made a quick record of it for posterity and amusement. No great meaning or significance. But isn't it funny how a small artifact can evoke pleasant memories. I suppose that is why we buy nasty little souvenirs when on holiday?

The original? It had to go. It is composting in the garden.

It pales by comparison to this ball, a public sculpture in Berlin (see more Strange Statues from around the world here...)
Berlin ball scuplture

A close shave


My last two post have been a little serious. So here's one to make you smile.
(From BrandDNA, always good for interesting diversions).

The Gong Show


I was going to illustrate this posting with an image of Idi Amin but thought that might easily be construed as tasteless. Amin famously honoured himself with all manner of gongs. What got me thinking was the 'Newthinking' publication inserted into Idealog this month -the official magazine for New Thinking Week 2007. Curiously it is the programme for an event held in March. I bet that pisses off a few readers of Idealog: "Hmm interesting, I'd like to attend..." "Sorry bud, you missed it."

The publication includes the winners of the World Class New Zealand Awards - which were 'established by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise in 2003 to recognise highly successful New Zealanders who generously give their time, knowledge and skills to help New Zealand companies and industries succeed internationally.'

I thought the most interesting recipient this year was John Hood, the Vice Chancellor of Oxford University who is a New Zealander. While he was the Vice Chancellor of Auckland University he was one of the perps of The Knowledge Wave initiative - that's him in the picture with Prime Minister Clark finding amusement in a sign. He is lauded for 'addressing staff and colleagues, via a webcast to his continual message: Oxford needs to transform itself to become a world class institution-one which can be judged against the highest international standards. In one of the most venerable institutions known to academia, such a breakthrough insight just had to come from world class New Zealand."

Ummm. Can anyone else see the fault in the logic?

I can only assume that Dr Hood once addressed his colleagues at Auckland University in much the same fashion. Then buggered off to Oxford. If anything he is a fine example of one of our fundamental issues. New Zealand's brightest and best cannot achieve their potential at home. It is a mirror of the wider economic problem.

I am not criticising Hood for abandoning a ship that is listing to starboard, rather than sinking. But I do find it bizarre that five of seven recipients of the award choose to live elsewhere

John Hood - Oxford
John Bedrock - California
Kevin Roberts - New York
Brian Peace - Seychelles
Ralph Norris - Sydney

(Geoff Ross remains in New Zealand - He's got a business to run; Paul Callaghan - the citation didn't say where he lives).

I don't doubt they are useful lobbyists for New Zealand in their adopted homes, there must be vast potential in the Seychelles, but maybe the real heroes that Trade New Zealand should be supporting are the ones who bank their winnings here. As Idealog's editorial director says in his piece 'The Road To Nowhere' "The Key Figures behind The Knowledge Wave Trust have all gone offshore to pursue their own careers (who can blame them?).

Who indeed? Perhaps the continuing exodus points to the fact that, for all the talk of 'national interest and coherent, united responses', it is disingenuos. Self interest will always win in the end whether it is fear of missing out in the residential property boom or the lure of living and working a market that isn't characterised by economic lack and being a long way from Broadway, the West End and the centres of influence. Both are short term and create a weird paradox.

The New Zealand they leave behind will falter. But nature, and economics for that matter, hates a vacuum. The country will fill with migrants. Many of whom will be well educated and aspire to the very things we think are second rate. They will prosper as grateful migrants often do. When the Kea network come home to enjoy the 'great place to bring up kids', it won't be the same place they left behind. Probably it will be better, but quite different. They will be doubly cursed by nostalgia for the places they called home and the home they once new in Aotearoa, but which no longer exists.

Perhaps that is the reality we should be planning for. A country with quite different face. Invite and genuinely welcome migrants who want to live on the edge of the world - away from the middle east or fundamentalist, paranoid North America or cramped Europe. We have sufficient infrastructure to lever as a base for significant growth in business and education - and all that flows from that nexus.

Tomorrows heroes won't be the kiwis we know today who have had it pretty easy and seek immediate gratification - here or overseas. It will come from people who want more and who don't even know what Lemon & Paeroa is, let alone care. They will want to be world famous, but not in New Zealand - but they will value living here. Who wouldn't?

It is paradise, after all.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Ask the wrong question get the wrong answer

I have just read Vincent Heeringa's essay 'On the road to nowhere'(Idealog May/June 07), a somewhat nihilistic view of the New Zealand economy. I agree with his figures and his case is well made. Where I take issue is with his analysis of the problem. The presentation of symptoms like ours are often easy to misinterpret. But it is a diagnosis based on old economy metrics.

Vince talks about a 'broad consensus on what needs to be done to fix (our economy):
• increasing investment in our business
• Raising productivity
• Becoming more globally connected
• Improving infrastructure
• lifting our ambition

They are all fine, worthy observations but I don't feel they are necessarily useful or particularly instructive.

Raising productivity
In a curious way the instruction to increase productivity is something like the 'anti-smacking bill' before the house. The businesses most likely to require improved productivity are most likely those that never will, for one reason or another. Increasing productivity in primary production might, for example, simply result in lower prices when there is an over-supply.
I think we need to consider more carefully what we produce to take advantage of world demands. It is the production mentality that is at the heart of many of our problems. New Zealand business need to become better at marketing - and I mean that in a considered sense; we have jumped straight to 'branding' in the sense of creating interesting narratives but then applying them to easily replicated or replaced products - and I know this won't be popular - such as 42 Below Vodka, Antipodes water, Icebreaker clothing etc..

Becoming more globally connected
Becoming globally connected is interesting, if banal and obvious. Of course we need export receipts. But I am concerned that the connections implied are at government levels. We are addicted to central control.

Trade New Zealand and Tourism New Zealand do terrifically well at what they do and with the small resources they have available (on a global scale). The problem is scale and it is a problem with two aspects:

Firstly, we cannot compete internationally on the mass media stage when we are required to buy the time and space. To be effective, even in key markets like North America, Britain and Germany (for example) our budgets are too small to be much more than a rather insignificant droplet in a very large bucket.

Second, there is a tendency for government agencies to back only enterprises that have a 'demonstrable' prospect of achieving success - marginally different products (or undifferentiated products relying on jingoistic 'branding')...fantastic ideas for incremental innovation to existing products, sold through existing channels to existing customers...with some promise of a specific return based on a proven model.

Micro entrepreneurs are alienated from the process. The kiwi creative economy (which I'm backing) is made up of solos and small groups. They are independent and largely unsupported by banks, venture capitalists, central government and (I'm sorry to say) Idealog magazine. In my view they are our unlimited resource. Their connectedness to the world is what is going to matter - and my bet is that they/we will hook up in ways that no structured 'smartest guy in the room' organisation will be able to compete with.

It concerns me that we are obsessed with free-trade deals with China and the United States (which will just continue to reinforce our distorted economy - more milk and lamb production, ...how Soviet).


Improving infrastructure

As for improving infrastructure? Well, my view is that this is the kind of stuff that turns-on professional conference goers. The fact is that the people who will make the difference don't go to conferences (see above), they avoid them and are more likely to be operating underground. The networking they do doesn't involve swapping business cards with someone else's company's name on it. Plenty won't have business cards.

Whining about the speed of broadband is another diversion. It will improve one way or another I betting. It is one area I think that government has a role to play. Like Rod Drury I advocate the nationalisation of the network.

Lifting our ambition
Lifting our ambition? Once again. Not so sure. I agree in principle. New Zealanders are internationally noted as 'lifestyle entrepreneurs' (Inc magazine had us pegged some time ago). But having ambitions for substantial growth on a global scale comes with built in problems. 42 Below is so often cited as one of the poster children for Kiwi brands competing successfully on the international stage. In June 05 I wrote the following on this blog:
I might buy some 42 Below shares - wouldn't surprise 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.

With the crippling cost of going national in the U.S - which you have to wonder how long 42 Below can fund itself out of New Zealand investor's pockets - even with clever, lucky and shameless tactical marketing.


As it happens I was exactly right; well, perhaps not exactly - it was the Bacardi group that bought 42 Below. But the principle is this: the cost of building large, successful brands is substantial - especially when it is the brand story that must carry the day, rather than a runaway demand for a unique new product.
Kiwi entrepreneurs have to accept that we don't have a large, sustainable domestic market and are a very long way away from most other markets of any substance. To me that suggests some obvious strategies for product development and markets - and they may actually involve lowering our sights in many respects.

Vincent's article is scathing about The Knowledge Wave hype of 2001. Rightly so. It was a talkfest for conference-goers and the encumbent government's bid to pull business closer to the tit. His call for a 'national ambition' leaves me with the vague memories of the same political party's commisioning of Micheal Porter the former doyen of Milton Freidman (Reaganomics) style economics in the 1980's.

National ambition...group think and central control run counter to the new market forces that have strongly emerged (and which no-one in the Knowledge Wave cabal saw coming down the pike in 01.

No camera...action!

Here's an interesting idea. Open-source film.
Stray cinema allows you to download wild footage, shot in London. You then use your editing software to mash it up, add your own narrative, music, effects etc. Then you upload your movie to the Stray Cinema site. Viewers can vote for their preferences.
There is a useful links page that includes free editing software and other resources.

It fascinates me that so many different interpretations and narratives can be derived from the same raw materials.

Could there be something in the idea for advertisers. Shoot the raw materials, make them available to consumers, allow them to decide which is best - reward them...Not sure what kind of result you'll get but I'm sure it could be fun.

Stray cinema

On a more cerebral plane: another interesting talk from the TED conference (thanks to Linds Redding of The Department of Motion Graphics for the heads up).

The digital revolution is over...we won! What happens after computing?



TED Talks

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Illogical Captain


I'm a fan of Rocketboom. In part because it is amusing. The presenter is engaging and it has a sense of playfulness and irony that I enjoy. It is also short and easy to digest. The show curates stuff from the web and presents it in the fashion of a news show, but with attitude. And whaddaya know it is informative too.

I enjoyed Thursday's episode (I save them for the weekend) with its theme of logic, or more precisely logical fallacies.

The clips demonstrate the ideas with surgical precision. Ok, some of them are loosely shoehorned in to a make the point, but none are entirely irrelevant.

Here are the Cliff's Notes on the points made (with some bonuses) on the show - based on a book called: Reasoning with Symbolic Logic by David Kelley.
Ad Hominem: Using a negative trait of a speaker as evidence that his statement is false, or his argument weak.

Appeal to Majority: Using the fact that large numbers of people believe a proposition to be true, as evidence of its truth.

Post Hoc:
Using the fact that one event preceded another, as sufficient evidence for the conclusion that the first caused the second.

Appeal to Force:
Trying to get someone to accept a proposition on the basis of a threat.

Appeal to Authority: Using testimonial evidence for a proposition when the conditions for credibility are not satisfied, or the use of such evidence is inappropriate.

Appeal to Emotion: Trying to get someone to accept a proposition on the basis of an emotion one induces.

Begging the Question:
Trying to support a proposition with an argument in which that proposition is a premise.

Diversion: Trying to support one proposition by arguing for another proposition.

Non Sequitur: Trying to support a proposition on the basis of irrelevant premises.

Subjectivism: Using the fact that one believes or wants a proposition to be true, as evidence of its truth.

Straw Man:
Trying to refute one proposition by arguing against another proposition.

False Alternative:
Excluding relevant possibilities without justification.

Ad Hominem: Using a negative trait of a speaker as evidence that his statement is false, or his argument weak.

Tu Quoque: Trying to refute an accusation by showing that the speaker is guilty of it.

Poisoning the Well: Trying to refute a statement or argument by showing that the speaker has a non-rational motive for adopting it.

Appeal to Ignorance:
Using the absence of proof for a proposition as evidence for the truth of the opposing proposition.

Complex Question:
Trying to get someone to accept a proposition by opposing a question that presupposes it.

I don't know whether you'll win any debates by deploying any of these techniques (or any points), but I am certain if you don't then you'll be the only person in the room who isn't.

Notes from the cave

As the weather gets more winterish (hardly arctic, but you notice things in subtropical climes), I feel the need to hibernate a little. I would rather be at home with a good book than out and about. Even the books I have piled up are comfort books, essays about music and pop culture. Not contemporary stuff, nostalgic turns from old Rolling Stone editions. I've even been drawn to books about cottages - the idea of a small place nestled among some trees appeals. It is all fantasy, of course. It doesn't reflect my real life at all. Escapism.

I have made a decision to attempt to lose weight. Not that I have any particular obsession with body image or anything quite so radical. A health matter really. So I am guessing comfort food will be going out the window and wine will be off the menu. The swimming pool is calling me - the only excercise I enjoy. My goal is 84 kilos from 90.

It is the school holidays, the university is out and I have a week with my daughter. Thinking of heading north for a few days - so things might get a little quiet around here.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Number 9...Number 9



There is a new edition of Idealog on the bookstore shelves from Monday.
The contents are interesting. I'm looking forward to the discussion about brand Maori and finding out what happened at Silverscreen (who provided me with two of the best after dinner advertising yarns I have - but you'll have to invite me to dinner to hear).

Go get it.

Why does TV cost so much?



Well, you asked.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Happy Birthday Helvetica

Helvetica Movie poster
Some things are so ubiquitous that you just stop noticing them. Helvetica is a typeface that is almost omnipresent. It represents modernist, calvanic utility. Well it does to me.

The thing about Helvetica is that it is hard to have an opinion about it. Now you might find it harder to believe that I have no opinion about something, but in this case I think it would be like having an opinion about breathing - interesting but pointless.

In the world of point sizes that point might just be a little more than stretched by the film: Helvetica. That's right, the font is now a film. I like the poster (above), who would have thought? The cast is quite a line up of characters - excuse my lame little type joke there. I'm intrigued. I want to see it. The challenge will be to take something that seems banal and make it entertaining. Mind you, I did enjoy the documentary about Frank Gehry and enjoyed the Line King documentary about Al Hershfeld...so I may actually find myself in my element.

As a footnote I was talking to a colleague at Massey University Design School about teaching typography. I wondered if she went through the old fashioned stuff about ems and ens and picas. The answer is no, they don't. I would have thought that having a knowledge of the traditions of typography would inform new directions. Apparently not.

Mutant Advertising



I've talked before about why I don't like billboards - they are one of the few forms of advertising that offer nothing in return to the viewer (on TV you get to see the shows in return for enduring the ads). The transaction is one sided, so the message is simply an invasion of your privacy. I don't claim this as an original thought; Howard Gossage talked about it in the 1960s.

In the constant battle to find new ways to intrude there has been an explosion of interest in so-called guerrilla marketing techniques that junk up our cities, and I am sorry but just because they are conceptually clever it doesn't make them anything other than junk.

The movie above is of yet another assault on the cityscape (somewhere in Brazil), and falls in the category of 'so much to admire and so little to enjoy' - not to mention that it is for a rubbish film - you know Hollywood is running out of steam when they revive the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and rename them TMNT.

I've lost track of where Auckland City is with its plans to restrict billboards and signs. I have a feeling they crumbled under the pressure of the pro-junk lobby.

Here is the article by Howard Gossage - it seems as relevant today as when it it was written.

How to look at Billboards.

While it is easy to see billboards, it is hard to look at them objectively without getting bogged down in trivial or secondary criticisms; nevertheless let me try.

It is so strange that billboards exist at all that the current controversy about whether outdoor advertising should be allowed along federal highways achieves the unreality of a debate on whether witch burning should be permitted in critical fire areas. Apparently no one has thought to wonder just what in the hell billboards are doing anywhere.

Why do you suppose this is? It must be that billboards have somehow acquired an easement across our minds just as they have gained squatter’s rights on our visual air space. They’ve been there–everywhere–for a long time and we have grown used to them. It requires a conscious effort to recognize that a billboard has the same objective status as a "Jesus Saves" scrawled on a culvert of men’s room poetry; it is there by public sufferance. But there is this difference: while those other gratuitous messages are accorded the shrugging tolerance that we grant to eccentrics, outdoor advertising has come to be regarded as an institution like any other overtly respectable industry. This is where the confusion starts, for if one accepts this premise all sorts of preposterous assumptions seem worthy of consideration; indeed, it would be positively un-American to question them.

Outdoor advertising is most certainly an institution; but so was the open range. And just as the open range ceased to exist when private interest was no longer compatible with public rights, so it is with outdoor advertising. While it is unlikely that we shall have more than a smattering of midnight poster-burnings, it is inevitable that the billboard will eventually join such other relics of America’s past as battleships, running boards, the language of flowers, flypaper, and two-a-day vaudeville. Perhaps our grandchildren will collect vintage Coca-Cola and Edsel billboards the way we do Toulouse-Lautrec and bullfight posters. They will do nicely to fill in unwanted picture windows; I am assuming that tomorrow’s man will grow less interested in bringing the outdoors indoors as he again becomes emboldened to meet it halfway.

As a matter of observable fact, the billboard is already starting to vanish from the American scene because of zoning laws and new residential developments of one sort and another. This, of course, does not mean that you have to hurry to get in your field work; there are still plenty of collector’s items around. But the market is starting to dry up thanks to, of all things, the automobile. The automobile: the very thing that made possible outdoor advertising’s greatest prosperity also contained the germ of its certain doom. The billboard, you might say, is dying of success. If only the horse had never been replaced, outdoor advertising, in modest flower, might have been tolerated indefinitely.

This is how it all came to pass: once upon a time, there was a blacksmith (say) in a small town. He didn’t need a sign since everybody knew he was a blacksmith, and even if they hadn’t known, they would have found out very soon, what with all the clanging. Still, he did have a sign of sorts: a horseshoe. Anything more would have been pure show, since nobody could read. Time passes; people learned to read, and so did the blacksmith.

One day an itinerant sign painter came by and made him a real sign, with letters; it said: "Blacksmith."

I haven’t mentioned that he was the only blacksmith in town, or was until (the place was starting to boom a little) another smith set up shop. At this point, you may be sure, the sign painter sold a new sign to the first blacksmith, let us call him Brown: "Brown the Blacksmith/Quality Horseshoes since 1776," and to the new blacksmith (Green) one which read: "Green the Blacksmith/Modern Horseshoeing."

And so competition was born. That might have been the end of it, had it not been for our friend the sign painter, by now no longer itinerant. He went to Brown and tried to sell him a new sign. Brown said, with justice, that he already had a new sign. Oh, the sign painter said, he meant another sign. With all the new people moving in (not to mention drummers and other transit business) it might be well to catch the trade before it actually got in to town. Just look at the Rotary and Kiwanis meeting notices. Brown fell for it and so, of course, did Green.

This was an important milestone in outdoor-advertising history, for it marked the first time a sign was not physically attached to a place of business. From there on it was just a matter of extension. The sign painter began to specialize, and as he did so the signs became larger and further afield. He expanded, but at first he was largely limited to the sides of country barns and city buildings. It was not until the advent of the automobile that he got a glimpse of the staggering potential.

His was a stirring experience, roughly comparable to commanding the only keyhole on Ladies’ Night at the Turkish Bath. He saw Main Street become an arterial road along with the newly mobile population hopscotched to the suburbs, leaving vacant lots in its wake–enough traffic to warrant billboards, enough land to build them on! Moreover, his Main Street reached out, far enough to meet the next city’s Broadway–a highway. To the sign painter it was one long vacant lot. End of story.

That is the end of my allegory but not quite the end. At this point people began to be aware of outdoor advertising not as a raffish collection of isolated phenomena but as an ordered, reachable institution. It is very easy to slide your mind over "Good Eats 1/2 mi." or "Repent!" even if you do not find them attractive. Besides, they are only one of a kind, you may not pass that way again and, above all, you have no recourse. I imagine it would be difficult to find the man who had scribbled an obscenity on a fence and, finding him, to get him to admit it.

There was no such difficulty about billboards. The outdoor advertising’s company name was neatly, proudly lettered on a plague, there for all to see, and the sign itself was devoted to the sales message of a large and reputable firm. Recourse galore, offered and taken up. But it was not taken up by as many as one might expect, for, as we noted earlier on, we have got used to billboards; they have become a part of our way of life. On the other hand, how many garden clubs, neighborhood improvement leagues, and Pro Bono Publicos are needed to constitute a vanguard? Not many.

It is generally realized how sensitive large businesses are to even minor criticism. I have seen one of the world’s most colossal corporations stopped dead in its advertising tracks by a single derogatory letter addressed to the president and forwarded by him without comment to the advertising manager who, horrified, immediately called the advertising agency and canceled the campaign in question. The aftermath of this incident is equally revealing: the agency then got two people to write the president letters that extravagantly praised the ads, and they saved the day. Four cents’ worth of postage sufficed to swerve the course of a billion-dollar enterprise; eight cents put it back on track.

The outdoor advertising industry has done its best both to defend itself and to placate its critics. It has maintained costly legal, public relations, and legislative advisory staffs. It has devoted many of its nicest locations to public piety, and it must be admitted that "The family that prays together stays together" shows progress over "The day of judgement is at hand!" The industry has even landscaped its billboards and put little picket fences around them. All, alas, to no avail. You just can’t please some people.

The billboard’s day of judgement is surely at hand, yet awareness of this fate seems to elude the still-embattled principals, i.e. the public and the outdoor industry, as it is called in the trade. ("The outdoor industry," what a splendid name! It conjures up visions of Thornton W. Burgess and a host of dwarfs helping Old Mother Nature, Jack Frost, Johnny Woodchuck, and Reddy Fox to organize the countryside.)

Almost the only argument against outdoor advertising one ever seems to hear is that it blocks out the scenery and is unsightly. This isn’t a bad point, but it isn’t as good as you might suppose. The industry is quick to answer that less than 10 percent of all outdoor advertising is in open countryside, outside of developed areas. I am not sure what this means, for it is possible to drive fifty miles from New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles and never be out of a developed area of some type. As to unsightliness, the industry can prove that its billboards are well-constructed and well-maintained. We’ll accept that, although it does seem a trifle immaterial. It is rather like a man who is accused of shouting in a hospital quiet zone insisting that he has shiny teeth and gargles after every meal.

The industry naturally also sticks up for the design values of the posters themselves. It is right; the designs are the best money can buy. Truly, from an aesthetic point of view, it is hard to see that most billboards are inferior to the property they obscure; usually they are markedly superior.

Do you see why it is a mistake to attack outdoor advertising on aesthetic grounds? The row then becomes a matter of comparative beauty and one can go on haggling about that forever. In a sense the garden clubs have led us down the garden path. For when the girls insist that they shall never see a billboard as lovely as a tree it then becomes legitimate to consider all the things a billboard is lovely as. There are quite a few: ramshackle barns, flophouses, poolrooms, cheap lodgings for ancient ladies with orange-tinted hair. Since the world is absolutely stiff with arguably uglier objects it may be some time before the billboards come down; presumably the last billboard will stand on top of the last shack.

The other thing wrong with the aesthetic line of attack is its utter irrelevancy. It is like arguing that mice should be kept out of the kitchen because they don’t match the Formica. What a billboard looks like has nothing to do with whether it ought to be there. Nor does the fact that it carries advertising have anything to do with it, either. It would be the same thing if it were devoted exclusively to reproductions of the old masters; just as the open range would have been the same thing if they had only run peacocks on it. The real question is: has outdoor advertising the right to exist at all?

The industry says it has. It claims two rights, in fact. In asserting the first of these it clasps the flag firmly to its bosom and, in cadences worthy of William Jennings Bryan, invokes the spirit of free enterprise. Now, it should be understood that the outdoor industry is fighting only against what it regards as discriminatory regulation. It seems never to have occurred to the industry to question its basic right to any existence whatsoever. Therefore, when it protests against operational restrictions, it is not effrontery, as one might thing, but outraged indignation. Its reaction is that of an old-time cattle baron the first time a farmer dared to fence in his potato patch.

Outdoor advertising is, of course, a business and as such would ordinarily have a strong case against inroads on its domain. However, there is a very real question whether it has title to its domain. Outdoor advertising is peddling a commodity it does not own and without the owner’s permission: your field of vision. Possibly you have never thought to consider your rights in the matter. Nations put the utmost importance on unintentional violations of their air space. The individual’s air space is intentionally violated by billboards every day of the year.

But doesn’t everything visible violate one’s air space? Not at all. Visibility is not the only consideration. The Taj Mahal, street signs, the Golden Gate Bridge, a maze of telephone wires, even a garbage dump–however they may intrude on the eye–are not where they are merely to waylay your gaze; they have other functions as well. A billboard has no other function, it is there for the sole and express purpose of trespassing on your field of vision. Nor is it possible for you to escape; the billboard inflicts itself unbidden upon all but the blind or recluse. Is this not an invasion of privacy? I think it is, and I don’t see that the fact that a billboard is out-of-doors make the slightest difference. Even if it were possible for you to not look at billboards if you didn’t so choose, why in the world should you have to make the negative effort? Moreover, this invasion of your privacy is compounded in its resale to a third party. It is as though a Peeping Tom, on finding a nice window, were to sell peeps at two bits a head.

Thus we see that what the industry has to sell doesn’t really belong to it. It belongs to you. So much for the free enterprise argument.

This brings us to outdoor’s second line of defense. I doubt if you would be aware of this line unless you were in the advertising business. It is this: what threatens outdoor advertising threatens all advertising; what discriminates against one advertising medium discriminates against all advertising media. These propositions are interesting to me as an advertising man and I would like to dissect them.

First, what is the difference between seeing an ad on a billboard and seeing an ad in a magazine? The answer, in a word, is permission–or, in three words, freedom of choice. Through a sequence of voluntary acts you have given the magazine advertisement permission to be seen by you. You bought the magazine of your own volition; you opened it at your own pleasure; you flipped or did not flip through it; you skipped or did not skip the ads; finally, it is possible to close the magazine entirely. You exercise freedom of choice all down the line.

The same is true of advertisements in newspapers. It is also true of radio and television commercials though in a different way, I’ll admit. Arthur C. Clarke, in Holiday, likened TV viewers to "readers who have become reconciled to the fact that the fifth page of every book consists of an advertisement which they are not allowed to skip." The fact is that Mr. Clarke and you are allowed to skip–to another channel, to Dr. Frank Baxter, or to bed; you can turn it off entirely. Or you can throw the set out the window. You cannot throw U.S. 40 out the window, especially if you are on it. Nor can you flip a billboard over. Or off. Your exposure to television commercials is conditional on their being accompanied by entertainment that is not otherwise available. No such parity or tit-for-tat or fair exchange exists in outdoor advertising.

And this leads us to the other aspect of the intra-advertising controversy: do laws that discriminate against outdoor advertising discriminate against every other medium? The answer is yes–if you regard Outdoor as an advertising medium, which I don’t. It is not an advertising medium; it is isolated advertising. An advertising medium that incidentally carries advertising but whose primary function is to provide something else: entertainment, news, matches, telephone listings, anything. I’m afraid the poor old billboard doesn’t qualify as a medium at all; its medium, if any, is the scenery around it and that is not its to give away. Nor is a walk down the street brought to you through the courtesy of outdoor advertising.

Home of the kanagaroo


A little ditty from the otherwise serious and always interesting Simon Law Blog

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Here's to the hackers

'Hacker' is a term that seems to cause a constriction of the blood vessels in most people in business and government. To them it implies that their private universe is vulnerable to attack from unseen, unknown and unexpected enemies - whose motivation to cause havoc might well be vandalism rather than malice.

Others take a broader and, I have to say, more benign view of hackers. Try this definition for size:
A hacker is someone who thinks outside the box. It's someone who discards conventional wisdom, and does something else instead. It's someone who looks at the edge and wonders what's beyond. It's someone who sees a set of rules and wonders what happens if you don't follow them. A hacker is someone who experiments with the limitations of systems for intellectual curiosity. Bruce Schneier - internationally renowned security technologist and author.


Yesterday I was interviewed about my attitudes to being an entrepreneur and the start-ups I have been involved with. At the end of the discussion I had a nagging feeling that the rational questions about motivation weren't sitting comfortably with me. I have never been especially motivated by money or greed. In a way I am more comfortable being uncomfortable. This morning I stumbled across some discussions about 'hacking' that made sense of the vague feeling I had experienced yesterday.
(I noticed an RSS feed widget on the edge of a blog, followed the link to Google Analytics lab, found a site I had marked for a feed but had forgotten about -Paul Graham.com, as a footnote to an essay about start ups he mentioned hackers. When I check back through his essays there were other references...then I googled the term and found the Schneier site...gotta love the web).

I suppose I am fundamentally a hacker. In advertising, once I had cracked the code of the day for winning awards there wasn't much of a challenge left in it. Once you've figured Rubik's cube what is the point of continuing to fiddle with it? I turned my attention to other systems that are related to advertising and brands. My partners at Brandworld and I developed an idea for orchestrating all of the suppliers of marketing communications around a central brand story. We called it a Brandworld. The idea crashed and burned because there was no support for it in the market. Intellectually a good idea. But people don't behave in rational ways. We miscalculated the resistance from both suppliers and brand owners. Neither were comfortable with the perceived loss of control - or more exactly authority - that our model implied. So in an act of survival we became an advertising agency and concentrated largely on pharmaceutical promotion. It didn't take me long to be bored with that model. I think the expression is 'been there, done that' and the prospect of working in a small, specialised start up had little appeal. The hack occurred when we won the brief to launch Lipitor, Pfizer's wonder drug for lowering cholesterol. The company insisted that we relinquish another drug company's business so that they had our exclusive attention in the category. To my partner's obvious horror I suggested that the client should spend more money with us to replace the lost revenue. The truth was we couldn't afford to lose the account before we even began. Months of work on our false start had left us as financial skin and bone. But the client agreed and I set to work on what became Family Health Diary (FHD).

FHD was a hack for a couple of reasons. It defies the convention that the client owns the IP. We were never commissioned or briefed to do the work, so retained the ownership. It defied the prevailing wisdom in advertising that commercials should be amusing little vignettes or self contained narratives. It also invited more than one advertiser to participate - bringing deadly rivals into our camp and applying our rules to their behaviour. Creating our own media property meant that, instead of having to pitch for a client's business head to head with other advertising agencies we could exploit a monopoly - if a client wants to enjoy the benefits of our proprietary system they have no option other than to go with us. The system didn't require exclusive devotion from the advertisers, Brandworld had no obligation to drive their strategy, simply deliver their information from within our template.
Over time the product has been a considerable success, both financially and winning marketing awards. Needless to say it has irritated advertising agencies across the country. In part because it was 'not invented here', in part because it disrupts the conventional model and possibly most importantly it takes a portion of their budget.
Once it was established the code had been cracked and I can't imagine a worse hell than having to reproduce endless infomercials for medicines - even if it is now the biggest advertising property in New Zealand. So it was on to the next hack.

Most recently I developed and launched Idealog magazine. The key hack on that project was to launch with a sponsorship model, rather than first approaching advertising agencies for space commitments. I proposed that we form a 'family of five' sponsors to underwrite the project. My partners and I effectively created the magazine based on sweat equity and a big idea. It is now the biggest business magazine in the country after little more than a year. I achieved my aim of getting the creative economy onto the national agenda and now am working on my next hack...which is the national agenda itself - developing a model for nation branding that is decentralised and more pervasive and persuasive than any government department or NGO can possibly achieve within a hierarchical model and with thinly stretched resources.

We'll see.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Tick tock

Time is the best teacher; unfortunately, it kills all its students.

Then there is...

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.
-Alvin Toffler


Which is probably better because it is attributed. Owned words are better than anonymous.

How to stuff a brand

I wrote a post - Ticked Off - about McDonald's getting the Heart Foundation Tick in Australia. Well the other day I was horrified to see an Eating Well commercial for, that's right...McDonald's. They have introduced a pasta shapes Happy Meal. And good for them.

The problem is that McD's still pump tons of fries and burgers into the population. The brand stands for that, not good nutrition (well in my mind - and let's not forget 'the consumer owns the brand').

The presence of McDonald's products in Eating Well undermines the whole propositon. If I was an advertiser like Healtheries I would be unhappy being housed in the same stable.

A principle isn't a principle until it costs you some money.

By the way, I stopped at McDonald's on the way up North with Zoƫ...she likes the Pasta Zoo shapes. I am so conflicted...

Do it outside

It fascinates me that the interest in guerrilla marketing techniques has increased exponentially in the past few years. The kind of gimmicks that were once favoured by direct marketing agencies have become a part of the mainstream. Of course stunts that are created to surprise a relatively few consumers as they go about their business on city streets will always have a limited effect, especially on New Zealand's streets where foot traffic counts are hardly what you might expect in Times Square or Oxford Street. The trick is to generate a media buzz around the idea and be talked bout via the news. As editors wise up to the situation this gets harder and (cynical flacks) that they sometimes are featuring in a story can mean enduring a negative counterspin.

Still, the ideas can be stimulating...here are a few sent to me by a colleague from BrandWorld:
lego outdoor advertising
Durex condom outdoor ad
Adidas outdoor ad

What do you think?