Monday, April 30, 2007

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.

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

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
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 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.


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

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).

Monday, April 16, 2007

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 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.

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, 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 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?

Monday, April 09, 2007

Rubbery view

I really must get myself a digital camera - these images come from the built in camera on my lap-top. In the mean-time here's a shot from my break away in Waipu. The view from the deck, through the large rubber tree's leaves. The trees on the ridge in the distance are on the left I (if you were wondering what that smudge is).

I like Waipu, it is a couple of hours from Auckland the beaches are beautiful, white sands. I preferred Uratiti to Waipu Cove because it is surrounded by conservation land rather than tacky real estate. Apparently it is also a nudist beach, but since Easter is really summer's last gasp, it was a little cool for those who prefer to let it all hang out.

It has just struck me that I have two weeks without having to deliver lectures, ah the academic calendar...I could get used to it. The break will give me a chance to get on top of some of the client projects I have on the go.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Easter Bunnies

I find New Zealand's observance of a partially commerce free Good Friday at odds with the idea of being a secular society. Why can't I buy groceries today? I don't share the supernatural delusions of Christians (I'm sorry, but people don't rise from the dead - unless they are not actually dead in the first place). If you choose to observe some other faith, then too bad you're stuffed too, not only is it a public holiday but shopkeepers stand to be fined if they prefer to worship Mammon instead.

While I fast (haven't got a thing in the house to eat) I will read my pile of books.
Thoroughly enjoying The Culture Code by Clotaire Rapaille - I 'hear' the words in an outrageous French accent, which is curious - linked to watching the video of C.R. in The Persuaders documentary featured on PBS' website. I like the simplicity of his theory. He is a fascinating fellow. Equally interested in the fact that he has patented his methodology. Surely once the recipe has been published it is in the public domain. Which leads me to the second book (or should I say document?) by Laurence Lessig: Free Culture where he discusses the implications of turning intellectual property into a gated community. Jon Steel's book Perfect Pitch has arrived from Amazon (arriving from the U.S. in an impressive 8 days - when I ordered the site suggested that it would be here by the 23rd of this month - a classic example of under-promising and over-delivering).

Thursday, April 05, 2007

First we take Manhatten...

world domination
I have commented before about the odd loneliness of blogging. Sitting at the computer writing about everything and nothing without ever really know who you talking to or where they is an odd experience - but one that years of writing ads prepared me for. Often the only direct contact with members of the 'target audience' was observing them through a one way mirror in focus group situations.

Tools like the Clustermap (shown above and regularly stuck down on the bottom right) offer at least some kind of feedback - as do the statisitics I get from (below)

blog stats

But statistics aside - the feedback I enjoy most is the human contact from individuals who sometimes leave remarks. It's nice to know you're not alone.

Easter is coming so, here's a little something from my inbox...
Easter Bunnies

Kickstart your creativity

Do you ever feel as though you are in a creative slump? One of my students flat out told me that she hadn't done any work on an assignment to create a portfolio of six ad campaigns because she didn't have any ideas.'None?' I asked. 'Not one.' she replied.
Curious, I asked what she had done to attempt to find some ideas. Had she looked down the back of the couch? Had she dropped a tab of acid?...or perhaps something a little more mundane like reading the brief carefully and looking for clues in the products themselves? The truth was she didn't have any ideas because she hadn't done any work.
Laziness is not conducive to having ideas and certainly not useful in exploring where they might develop (too many people stop when they think they an idea that might work - but I subscribe to thought that nothing is more dangerous than an idea-if it is the only one you have).

The bottom line is that creativity is work (magnum opus, opera, operation...).
Forget about being visited by the muse.
Step one is to address the problem to be solved. The likelihood that you will serendipitously arrive at a viable solution is nil if you haven't prepared your mind with the facts and information - the raw materials - creative problem solving.

Step two is to have some fun. Play with ideas. Join things up in surprising new ways.

Make a start.

And if you get stuck try reading A whack on the side of the head. It might help. Anything is better than just sitting there looking worried.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

C'mon Aussie C'mon

The Campaign Brief magazine is hosting this tribute to Mo - it's Fair Dinkum....

Ryhmes with polyunsaturated

When I worked at the coalface of advertising I had disdain for jingles. One of my favourite promos was a Christmas card by the once great Chiat Day in Los Angeles that read.

----- Bells
----- Bells
----- Bells

...we don't do jingles.
But I read today that Alan Morris - the Mo in Mojo - died from cancer. He was an important (maybe definitive) figure in mapping the Australian national character.
I met him at the Caxton awards one year. To say he was larger than life is like saying Australia is a little island off the coast of New Zealand.

Sad news.

Read the tribute from Stan Lee on his Brand DNA blog.

Morris and Johnstone wrote this over twenty years ago...and it's still running today:

Meadow Lea entered legend when the pair decided people were sick of hearing about the health benefits of margarines and found the only word that rhymed with "polyunsaturated" - from

Populism is at the heart of good advertising, says Alan Morris, the copywriter who as one half of the Mojo partnership - the other was Allan Johnson - was at the vanguard of a new style of advertising in the 1970s that spoke with the voice of the consumer rather than the advertiser. "All the best advertising borrows from the vernacular and we just give it a twist and put the brand name in there," he says.
-From the Sydney Morning Herald

Monday, April 02, 2007

Goethe to go

Nobody's Perfect

I have an Apple MacBook Pro. I love almost everything about it. But I have a couple of niggles.

Firstup: The area where my hand rests...the coating is wearing off - do I use the machine too much?

Second: there is a lip in front of the spacebar that, for some reason, has a painted coating, it is becoming scratched and worn - very 70's. Not good enough on a premium priced machine.

I didn't plan on saying this but there's a third:

The light up keyboard that I though was a cool function is erratic. Sometimes it works, other times it flickers.

On Ogilvy on Advertising

Last week I delivered a lecture to my Massey University class based on chapter 2 of David Ogilvy's 1983 book Ogilvy on Advertising - How to create advertising that sells. It had struck me that, while the references to early figures in advertising seemed quaint, the core of the conversation remained as pertinent today as they were back when Ogilvy was active. His references to the practices of 'direct marketing' could easily be updated to read 'Internet marketing' (or some other all embracing term).

One of the most obvious pieces of advice that Ogilvy dispenses with curmudgeonly charm is that, when creating ads, there is no substitute for doing your homework. He talks about his disdain for the word creativity (and says it did not appear anywhere in his 18 volume set of the Oxford Dictionary). For him creativity was simply the work to be done between receiving the brief and the deadline for presenting it. I suppose that is a fair description.

The term 'creativity' is one of the things I find most often makes business people as uncomfortable as the proverbial long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. Business is specific, creativity is vague and covers a multitude of sins. I have begun to prefer the term innovation. The problem in advertising is that innovation doesn't really apply to the craft of making the majority of ads - it isn't an innovation to come up with a decidedly clever juxtaposition of picture and headline or visual pun/metaphor. On that matter Ogilvy has an opinion too (as if we could expect anything less), he says that originality is over-rated in advertising. I would have to say that the business has taken this one to heart since he published the book. In the past week I have seen more than a few commercials that refer to movies - such as the Beaurepairs homage to Sin City currently on New Zealand TV (which I rather like, I have to confess).

The fixation with execution and the elevation of 'creativity' in that context has made advertising vulnerable to changes in the media landscape. The most successful advertising company in the world today must (surely) be Google. Their Adsense and Adwords programmes have zero creativity, at least as it is understood in advertising but are a global, billion dollar business. Are there lessons in that for traditionalists in advertising? Of course there will always be a co-existence between traditional forms of advertising narratives - well so long as there are media outlets that require their support. It is important to consider that the shape of media is what has always defined the methods of advertising - and media is morphing daily.
I doubt we'll be seeing anyone pick up a D&AD award anytime soon for a Google Adwords campaign ....or will we?