Thursday, July 31, 2008

Coveting Art

One of the production companies our company, BrandWorld use for television production has this painting in their edit suit. It has been made on the bonnet of an old car. Further evidence, as if it was required, that what separates the ordinary from the exceptional is often a matter of interestingness - and sometimes it is nothing more than a slight twist that is required.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Competition for Google - Cuil

Aside from the rather silly name I like the new search engine - created by some former Google people. With a dark background it is like an opposite version of the omniscient, omnipresent Google (isn't it funny we think nothing of the word 'google' now when it was strange to begin with?).

Cuil claims to be the biggest search engine on the web - I did a quick search (my own name - how is that for egocentrism?) but it returned no results. I searched ThoughtSpurs (the next layer of the ego orbit ;-) and got loads of links. Bizarrely it posted random images next to text extracts.

I'm not sure it is good enough to change my behaviour - what do you think? Is Cuil cool?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Randy Pausch has died.

I just heard the news that Randy Pausch, the professor from Carnegie Mellon, famous for his inspirational 'Last Lecture' has passed away from the illness that propelled him to international fame. Obviously not unexpected, but sad all the same.

His Last Lecture was intended as a legacy for his kids but I'm glad he shared it with the rest of us.

Charlie Parr 1922 Blues

Just a footnote to my earlier post about the Vodafone (New Zealand/Australia) commercial. Thought you might like to compare and contrast the mood of the orginal with the glossed up message of the ad.

Is Unilever messing with your head?

Unilever were behind the Dove campaign for real beauty ads which generated a lot of discussion on the blogosphere; some positive - but not all.
The most recent twist in the tale were accusations that the 'natural' women who stripped down to their skivvies had been heavily retouched in the photos.

The campaign has been a resounding success for the brand, nonetheless. Consumers are used to being duped. It is part of the transaction between us and marketers. The loss of innocence happened a long time ago. In fact, I would go as far as to say that we expect to be fooled by advertising. We want to live the lie.

If I were to buy a pair of Emporio Armani I am fantasizing that there is some association between me and David Beckham. The B roll in my mind's eye shows me as irresistible to women - lean and muscular. Sadly has nothing to do with the more mundane truth that nothing could be further from any kind of hard, objective reality. It isn't even an aspirational truth - that I could be something like Beckham - even Armani can't defy genetics. So I calculate, in the blink of an eye, that the Emporio Armani underwear brand is not for me.

But back to our friends at Unilever. The marketer has trained their big guns squarely on women. I can only imagine the kind of money they spend on market research to probe the inner workings of the minds of their customers and prospects (probably as much as Beckham was paid by Armani to loll about in his daks). In the new campaign for their brand Suave in the US the results of the research has plainly made it to the screen.

In their commercials for Suave hair care products young mothers are shown being made over with Suave products. Research finding #1: the hair is the first to go when you have kids. There is just no time. Finding #2 a hair do will make a woman feel renewed and give her sense of self (including sexuality) a boost - no need for fancy clothes.

Solution: Be a cheerleader for the time honored institution of motherhood. Promise that great looking hair (and therefor a renewal of your sense of self - no need to be solely the giving goddess whose family suck the life blood out from them).

The ads are genius in their simplicity. Maybe a little fanciful in their casting and literal in their portrayal of the endless focus groups - which I am certain they commissioned - but full of warm, simple charm. They are likable and, unlike Becks' Armani advertising, achievable.

The web is cleverly used to take the message to the next step - showing the transformation of our harried mothers into practically elegant women who are also mothers - with the help of Suave products (oh, and hair stylist Luke O'Connell - a small detail they forget to mention in the ads).

I like the tone and delivery. Unilever have staked out the territory pretty well - with simple, direct messages that don't promise unattainable glamor but unleash the 'yummy mummy' within. 89% of moms say they've let themselves go - 100% can get themselves back. Say yes to beautiful"

Meanwhile their Lynx/Axe campaign promises young men the world over that they will be irresistible to women.

There are some lies we simply need to tell ourselves. Who can say no to beautiful?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Cult of personality in branding

iphone as celebrity in emporio armani ad

Celebrity is a funny thing - funny peculiar, that is.
For some reason you think someone nice looking, with a talent of some kind or other (playing games like soccer, singing, showing up at parties where free drinks flow like wine - that sort of thing).

Media need nice looking people to fill pages and screens. Consumers aren't so willing to fill them with ordinary folk. Life goes easier when we see what we'd like to be like, rather than who we are. After all Hello magazine isn't a celebration of normality (that would be obscene and too uncomfortable to look at).

So it is the natural and logical progression that marketers would enlist the celebrity of nice looking individuals and leverage their ubiquity in the media time and space that they, under normal circumstances, would have to pay richly for.

Why not enlist Britney, George, Becks, or whoever is topping the Google search charts?

Well, there are some reasons:

According to Datamonitor an aging population means that audience growth is slowing. Marketers must pursue new tactics to avoid the pitfalls associated with celebrity-backed campaigns or celebrity-branded consumer packaged goods.

The celebration of fame has witnessed a dramatic upsurge in recent years, with reality TV, celebrity gossip magazines and the Internet providing a 24-hour source of celebrity information.

However, Datamonitor's report says that this "explosive phenomenon" faces growing challenges, as many consumers are reaching saturation point and suffering from "celebrity fatigue".

Celebrities endorse too many different products. This undermines both the individual's and the brand's credibility (in it for the money - not a genuine endorsement - biased).

Take soccer cult hero/heart-throb David Beckham: he is featured in campaigns for products as diverse as: Gillette, Pepsi, and erm… Sharpie pens. He is currently working for Emporio Armani underwear.

The report says celebrity scandals or falling status degrade the brand and, if the celebrity's own brand is too strong it can eclipse the brand they are endorsing.

The report says products themselves will be the next generation of celebrities - iPods and iPhones are no longer simply products - they have identities and personalities of their own.

Datamonitor reckon "Consumers' relationship with these celebrity-like branded products are based heavily on participation and interaction, two behaviours that are desired, but rarely achieved by everyday people in their relationships with actual celebrity idols."

If you are thinking of plunking down a chunk of change to bask in the fame of George Clooney or a Shortland Street star then make sure the idea behind the campaign is a clear, strong brand message. The celeb should increase positive associations with your product - not supersede it.

It is also worth considering that super-stardom in one area might not travel to your brand. Gene Simmons is a celebrity known across the globe (and probably the rock equivalent of George Lucas when it comes to profiting from merchandise). Simmons rocks, but it's probable that he wouldn't play well with with Tena pads (though who knows - you decide).

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Why Twitter?

To follow the dryest wit on the web.


How social media works. A person tells one person, who tells two people, who tells three people, one of whom is Scoble. He tells everyone.

Bad Banana. Bad. In that good way.

Negative associations

I have to confess that I am fond of this commercial for Vodafone New Zealand. The idea is OK, if literal and a little obvious, but I really like the music which propels the OK to the very nice. Too bad it's for Vodafone, whom I am coming to the conclusion are really no better than Telecom when it comes to rorting consumers (ref iPhone contracts).

The music is: 1922 Blues by US-folk/blues singer/guitarist/banjo player Charlie Parr. I just bought it from the iTunes store. Yes, it is the best bit of the commercial.

Will I think of Vodafone every time I play it? They should hope not.

Vodafone are bilking kiwis same as Telecom did/do. Duopoly is just as bad as monopoly.
In the words of Charlie Parr, "Ain't that the way it is?" - The Man has you in his pocket.

The commercial was made by the talented Mr Worthington's team at Clemmenger BBDO Auckland, the CGI came from Animal Logic in Sydney.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Everybody complains about the weather

- but no-one does anything about it*

There is a major storm bearing down on Auckland. I have to say I am irritated by it. I have a visitor flying in tomorrow but if the conditions might be dangerous then I am sure civil aviation rules mean the plane won't leave, let alone arrive. It's very disappointing. I was looking forward to the visit. (though the storm might veer away - who can tell).

*Mark Twain

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Excuse me, I have a virus

I sometimes think the adoption of the expression 'viral marketing' is one of the most ridiculus missteps in nomenclature since Chevrolet decided on releasing the Nova ('doesn't go' in Spanish) in the predominantly Spanish speaking Central and South American markets.

Think about it, when was being infected with a virus ever a good thing. "Excuse me, …I'm feeling a little under the weather, I have spot of necrotizing fasciitis…"

Ad agencies and interactive companies that promise their ideas will 'go viral' are deluded and probably disreputable. Recent examples of fraud being perpetrated to create an artificial 'buzz' include the phony (no pun intended) guy who camped outside the Vodafone store on Auckland's main street, ostensibly waiting to be the first person in the world to get their hands on the G3 iPhone - a stunt organised to promote the Yellow Pages (I know, hard to see the connection). The media were duped - and therefore their audience were lied to. Either editorial standards have completely slipped (what happened to fact checking?) or the media are in on the deal - never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

Another trend is for agencies to release ads that their clients haven't approved. The Volkswagen suicide bomber ad is a classic example.

VW would never have approved this ad for use in any market. Saatchi & Saatchi recently found themselves in a similar situation with a fake ad for JC Penney.

Call it viral, if you will, but I call it scamming. The advertising industry needs to come clean and develop a code of conduct for non-paid media.

It seems cynical and pointless to try to contradict the consumer trend that demands transparency and authenticity from advertisers.

That aside, most campaigns contrived to be passed on virally don't stick because they are lame. Advertising people struggle to connect with consumers every day. Sadly they don't try hard enough.

Home Beautiful

New Zealand Home Magazine from ACP - kate sylvestor cover

Every now and then I pick up a home magazine. I have a feeling they are the de facto porn for the property obsessed bourgeoisie. This afternoon I was leafing through HOME New Zealand from ACP. Weird though it is, I have a new favourite New Zealand magazine, well for its design anyway.

Here's what I like. The magazine is nicely paced, it doesn't seem to bother with florid and pointless narratives about the dwellings featured. Even the format and the stock are nicely chosen - satin matt, rather than glossy. I like my magazine pages to have texture and find gloss paper vulgar. The choice of homes and products is tasteful and contemporary without being remote or too luxe.

The layout is stylish and mature. No self conscious artifacts or flourishes. It is obvious the design has been considered but the designers have stepped out of the way and let the story live without ham-fisted flourishes - I like restraint. All in all, quite classic but distinctive.

I'm a fan.

One niggle though - printing the green living section on brown paper is gratuitous and unnecessary. I'm pretty sure it increases the cost to the publisher, delivers nothing to the reader and so is a waste of resources - which defeats the purpose of the section in the first place.

Chillingly familiar…

What if a big corporation redesigned the STOP sign. Oh, the humanity!…

Right up there with Mad Men for observation of awkward truth.

Darkest before the dawn

The Dark Knight Batman movie opens in Auckland today (I know, we're the first place in the world to see each new day, but for some reason TDK bootlegs have made it here before the film even screened). I'm looking forward to seeing the show. My son informs me that it has the highest ranking of any film on the Internet Movie Database, knocking The Godfather off its long held perch.

I think another barometer of importance is how quickly something is parodied. The web is awash with Star Wars mash-ups and homage to The Godfather. In no time at all The Dark Knight has joined the pantheon. I rather like the one above - TDK meets Napoleon Dynamite.

The speed and certainty with which the hype about the new Superhero movie has spread has been astonishing. In part my guess is that the whole sh'bang was altered by the death of Heath Ledger - maybe even how the movie was finally cut and certainly how the buzz has been framed. The Joker is the central focus of almost everything and even the surviving members of the cast, when interviewed seem to anchor their comments to the departed.

Interesting to see that the film has a number of websites:
Concerned Citizens for a Better Gotham
Clown Travel Agency
Acme Security Systems
Gotham City Police
I believe in Harvey Dent

They've been having some fun.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Google and Advertising

An interesting interview with Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google. The session comes from the Ad Age Madison + Vine Conference on July 16, 2008. I like that Schmidt is forthright about not becoming a media company "Because we're no good at it." Google will focus on things that are measured. He says that advertising is heuristic and subjective - which is, of course, true. I like the concept of adjacency of the web to be a companion to core business - it is something I am interested in exploring further.

The Atlantic Monthly article Schmidt refers to is interesting and worth reading. While you on the Atlantic site I also recommend reading the story about Frank Lloyd Wright's tallest building - Price Tower - which once headquartered an engineering firm that serviced the oil industry. The writing is prosaic, in that measured, very American style. If design and architecture is your thing also check out the companion slide show to view some of the building's details.

Price told Wright he wanted a three-story building and was willing to spend $750,000. Wright suggested a 10-story tower (“Modern elevators and all that,” he explained). In the end, as Price later wrote, “we finally compromised on nineteen floors.” Price Tower, completed in 1956, cost $2.1 million.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Give your roses to the living.

I am still receiving an email newsletter from The Wizard of Ads, even though my preference these days is to follow things I'm interested in through the Sage RSS feed reader that I have installed as a plug-in for Firefox.

It can be relied on for the occasional insight. And it is always engagingly personal and personable. I have grown to feel quite familiar with Roy Williams, its author.

This morning he recounts a story about his mother's generosity at Thanksgiving, inviting strangers in need to her family table - in spite of the fact that her own circumstances were modest; and how she would treat a friend to a trip away, simply out of generosity. His mother would say "We should give our roses to the living and not save them for the dead."

“When a person dies, everyone who loved them will cancel their other obligations, send a big bouquet of flowers, jump on an airplane and fly across the country to look at their dead friend in a box.” Mom waited a moment for this to soak in. “If I’m going to cancel my plans, buy roses and travel because of friendship, I’m going to do it while my friend is alive to smell the flowers and enjoy the adventure with me. And if my friend passes before I do, I'll sit quietly at home and remember the trip we took together.”

Like the best logic it is simple enough to be obviously a truth.

I wonder if its corollary in business is that many marketers ignore, forget or take advantage of existing customers, forgetting to reward us or simply ignoring us while they woo new customers with offers and promises that simply rub us up the wrong way. New customers are needed to compensate for the ones who move on to a happier hunting ground or are lured away by the promise of another harlot company offering the chocolates and flowers we become nostalgic for.

It is a war of attrition in the so-called attraction economy. Consumers are, some suggest, simply attracted by the next bright, shiny thing. In our hearts we would prefer to be treated with care, concern and respect by the companies we have chosen to do business with. I don't mean overwhelmed by them, there's only so much contact I want with my bank or a restaurant, car brand, clothes retailer (or what have you). But the opportunity to delight 'the living' must be worth so much more in cold hard profits than always triaging the hemorrhage of customer attrition - and worrying about where the fresh blood will come from.

In a noisy market, clamouring for attention and attraction, there is a quiet place that I am sure most of us would prefer to enjoy - once you've got your slippers under my bed - don't ignore me or treat me with indifference or I won't be there when you come home.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Web Design primer - Heed well.

I have been involved with a couple of web projects of late where I have been shocked by the lack of awareness of how the web works. I felt transported back to 1997 when people would routinely inform me that the web was a fad and that older people and women would never take to the darned thing.

Businessweek ran a story: The 10 Commandments of the Web. Quite timely.

1. Thou shalt not abuse Flash.
… the technology can easily be abused—excessive, extemporaneous animations confuse usability and bog down users' Web browsers.

2. Thou shalt not hide content.

Advertisements may be necessary…but usability researchers say pop-ups and full-page ads that obscure content hurt functionality—and test a reader's willingness to revisit. Elective banners—that expand or play audio when a user clicks on them—are much less intrusive.

3. Thou shalt not clutter.

The Web may be the greatest archive of all time, but sites that lack a coherent structure make it impossible to wade through information. and others put their sites' information hierarchy at the top of their list of design priorities.

8. Thou shalt be social.

Web 2.0 is everywhere…users communicate and interact—sometimes obsessively—on browser-based sites. Designers are now filtering those same elements into diverse sites, from smart advertising to online office productivity.

9. Thou shalt embrace proven technologies.

Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook, and their cohorts have become a part of daily life. Sites that can incorporate these elements into their design will connect with users in a meaningful way by providing functionality and an interface with which they're already familiar.

10. Thou shalt make content king.

Though the slogan is old, it still stands. Aesthetic design can only go so far in making a site successful. Beautiful can't make up for empty.

Read the full story on the BusinesWeek site

Liking the idea of Radiohead

My Online Marketing Presentation About Radiohead from iaintait on Vimeo.

Here's something interesting. Iain Tait is a co-founder of the British ad agency Poke. He says he is Creative Director cum Strategic Planner. I've snipped his presentation about how savvy Radiohead have been in their use of new media/social media to connect with their audience. The preso is pretty self explanatory (read Iain's post here). I like the simplicity of it and the added richness of including video. A nice counterpoint/compliment to the ideas Garr Reynolds talks about in Presentation Zen.

Also ironic that he talks about liking the idea of Radiohead without necessarily liking Radiohead. It's a similar thought to my own about how you don't have to like an idea to get some benefit from it. Agreeing isn't thinking.

On that note I was disappointed that I couldn't make it to the Idealog function where Kevin Roberts was talking. Like loads of people in advertising I am ambivalent about Mr Roberts - but he's a firebrand and some of his ideas get me thinking. I double-booked - said I would cook for my mother's 67th birthday party. There will , no doubt be other opportunities to catch up with KR's thoughts (and I guess the video will be up on the Idealog site soon), but you're only 67 once. Unless you're Hindu.

The Girl Effect

I am in the process of reading Made to Stick. Checking out the companion blog I came across this idea - that investing in girls in the developing world will deliver a far greater effect than investing in boys. Putting aside qualms I have about the inherent sexism of the idea - the way that the Girl Effect organisation has communicated their premise is superb - lots of comples information distilled into a persuasive 2 minute presentation.

According to the Made to Stick blog:

"At this point, they’ve got a credibility problem. You now understand what they mean by investing in girls, but why would you believe that the “girl effect” can make a dent in big global problems? The approach they use is “micro –> macro”. First, they paint a picture of a single girl. They show how the investment has cascading effects in her family and in her community. Then, they shift to the macro. “Multiply that by 600 million girls in the developing world…” [The zooming-out effect with the dots is a nice touch to make this more concrete.] This micro/macro approach also works well for entrepreneurs — I’ve often seen entrepreneurs highlight a single, vivid customer situation and then switch to the macro (”Our market research shows that there’s a $1.2 billion market made up of 181,000 customers with the same needs as this one.”)

Then comes the wrap-up. ideally, this will inspire you and move you closer to action. I love the line: “Invest in a girl and she will do the rest.” It makes you feel like you’re on a team — you do your part and she’ll do hers. Which brings me to my one (and really only) quibble: I don’t like the closing line … “It’s no big deal. Just the future of humanity.” To me, this line was a bit jarring … just when you’re feeling positive and empowered, all of the sudden you’re hit with a tinge of guilt. (”It’s on you, pal — the future of humanity.”) I think it would have been stronger to end with the “Invest in a girl and she will do the rest.”


Made to Stick- the book.
Made to Stick - blog

The Girl Effect site

The New Yak Times

I've decided to revive the blog I started about blogging - The New Yak Times.

Check it out.

It will be an experiment about blogging about a specific topic, versus the panoramic scope of ThoughtSpurs.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Millennial Cynicism

I received this comment to a post a few days ago from Alec Quig, a student in the United States:

This reminds me of something I’ve been thinking about for the past two weeks: millennial cynicism. The second a huge brand logo gets slapped on something in a commercial, the ad has immediately lost my 22 year old interest (and trust). If a commercial is cheesy, or at all in bad taste (aesthetically, or if it’s corny or generally/plainly stupid), it does more harm than good to the brand in my mind--the very opposite effect than what was originally intended. This, unfortunately, is what most ads (in the US, at least) are like.

Many people in “my demographic” flock to brands like American Apparel because they don't put a little tiger or alligator on their shirts. Though my age group is the increasingly-profitable millennial, my feeling is that personally I represent a segment of the market that’s not worth the trouble: I’m thrifty, buy used, am vigilant about scouring the net for deals, am irritated or disgusted by advertising 95% of the time. It seems that by contrast marketers target the consumers; people who buy and buy often.

Most commercials, of course, are tedious interruptions. I—the millennial--want commercials to be entertaining, enlightening, sublime, like a good mini-music video. The more unobtrusive the actual brand is, the better. In my imagination, the most ideal way for the brand itself to appear is briefly, at the end of the commercial, with a small white logo in the bottom right of the screen—obvious enough so that you just notice it. It's like that old rule in writing: show, don't tell.

I would guess, though, that this approach doesn’t sell. Perhaps it’s a little different in NZ; I’m very much aware of how much more “enlightened” much European advertising is, for example, compared to American.

My question, from all of this, is: is there much effort required to get into the headspace of your buyer and their market? Do you have to disassociate yourself from what you personally value in advertising and culture and think totally outside yourself? I find it difficult, if not impossible, to think like your average mall-going American. Do you, as well? Might this gap have anything to do with this “getting it wrong?”


The irony of Alec's question is that I was thinking something similar just this afternoon. How do I reconcile my personal belief that we should consume less stuff with the promotion of the very stuff itself?

My response is simple. My role is to make a value judgement about products (other than those I consider immoral or unconscionable - I have always refused to have anything to do with tobacco products). If the advertising I am involved in creating is: simple, useful and relevant then I will have done my job in good conscience. Let the consumer decide what is right for her.

Of course marketers who are foolish enough to promote products that are contrary to significant consumer trends are wasting their resources and will, likely enough, fail no matter what kind of advertisng they commission. There an old advertising chestnut that says: nothing kills a bad product quicker than a good ad.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Does my bum look big in this?

Every time I visit the local shopping mall there is a small group of fit young women who avoid me. It's OK, I'm kind of used to it - an affliction I have lived with since I was a teenager.

The women are promoting a local women's gym - I think it is called Configure Express. At first blush that might seem perfectly logical. The women have a job to do - to entice other women to sign up for the gym. I've noticed that they studiously avoided not just me but other male shoppers too.

But here's the thing. I know lots of women. And in my own way feel I can be at least a little influential. I may not qualify as the kind of uber-connector that Malcolm Gladwell describes in The Tipping Point (like Paul Revere on his ride to Concord, warning the Minute Men of the British advance) but I have a certain charm. Instead of embarrassed avoidance I think it would make sense to smile and say 'Hello - do you know someone who is keen to lose some weight or tone up for summer - maybe someone who is concerned about heart health or reducing the risks of cancer?" - that kind of covers it. "Do they avoid the gym because they are embarrassed to work out with men? Does that sound like someone you know? Most people feel the same way."(I just had to slip in some social proof there). "Yes, let me give you a brochure - better still, do you think it would be OK if I gave them a call and told them we'd met. I can offer them a free consultation with one of our top well being consultants - that would be a thoughtful gift from you - or maybe you'd like to give it to her yourself?"

OK, you see my point. But I wonder if we sometimes forget the power and opportunity of looking past the obvious in marketing and persuasion. All I have done in this case if flipped a scenario from my experience in marketing health products to men. Basically don't bother. Men won't respond to a direct health message - we are utterly invincible and when something goes wrong we tough it out - statistically speaking it is true to say that most simple illnesses will pass of their own accord. Target you message to the women in their lives and let millennia of cultural conditioning come into play.

By the way, when you come home with the gift consultation - be very, very careful…it might be better to let the woman from Configure Express to contact on your behalf.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


I received a bunch of books today from Amazon and Fishpond (the New Zealand online bookseller). Interestingly I ordered both lots on the same day - actually while I was in Garr Reynolds presentation at Webstock - they were recommendations from him.

Brain Rules - by John Medina
The Back of a Napkin - by Dan Roam
Made to Stick - by Chip & Dan Heath

What surprised me is that it took far less time (per kilometer) for orders to arrive from the US as it did from the local supplier. The reason I ordered the Made to Stick book from Fishpond was for speed. I figured I'd have it read by the time the Amazon delivery arrived. That's why I forgave the considerably greater price of buying locally.

Given that most books are freighted in anyway I won't ever feel bad about air miles again - I get the feeling Fishpond are drop-shipping anyway.

I am studying how information is presented and absorbed. Unconvinced that we're getting it right in advertising. In fact, convinced we're getting it wrong.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Wright on

Loving this cover for a biography of legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. If you've ever visited the Guggenheim museum in Manhatten you will immediately get the reference - though the building is so well known that you probably have the meme embedded whether you are familiar with the building or not.

I like the design because it has dollops of wit embedded and uses a limited palette to convey a striking visual idea. The typeface used is EagleFeather, designed by FL Wright himself.

It all reminds me of the excellent documentary about Wright's life that I watched some time ago. I think I may have to indulge in a films about architecture season - three excellent ones come to mind:

Frank Lloyd Wright - Directed by Ken Burns
My Architect - A Son's Journey(Louis Kahn)
Sketches of Frank Gehry by by Sydney Pollack

Could even throw in The Fountainhead for light relief.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Banksy Tesco Painting

banksy commentary on consumerism
As ever Banksy seems to have nailed the mood of the moment.

Hot Metal Type

House industries cast ampersand
House Industries is a very cool type foundry. Of course in the digital era foundry is an antiquated term but House Industries have made these very cool cast metal bookends or doorstops - sculptures…

Can't take the weight of a solid piece of iron typography? Think the ferrous version will tear out the bottom of your messenger bag or absorb so much magnetic energy that it'll erase the hard disk on your laptop? Try this beautiful cast aluminum specimen! With more than a 60% weight savings, you can conserve fuel when transporting it home after charging it to your boss's corporate American Express card. Each sculpture is individually sand cast, hand selected by a qualified House Industries staff member and assigned a unique number. Remember that each of these have eclectic nuances and will differ from the photograph.

I can only imagine what the freight bill would be. But a man can dream, can't he?

Cannibalism and Beauty Pageants

As a footnote to my previous post about the performance of the Haka by a beauty queen it is worthwhile considering culture within the framework of being a brand.

Like brands culture changes over time. Like brands culture is defined by its users as well as its traditions. In western cultures women were once considered inferior to men. In many cases they were considered chattels belonging to their husbands, like livestock. That is no longer the case, the culture has adapted itself to meet the demands of its users.

Maori culture is widely promoted as representative of New Zealand. Much of it has been adopted by non-maori. We accept the haka as something that 'belongs' to New Zealanders. When the national rugby team , the All Blacks, play they perform a haka before the match. When the team led by Tana Umanga changed the haka from the traditional Kamate Kamate version to a new one there was a hue and cry from the wider population. The new version included a movement that represented the slitting of the opponents throat. Gross and unnecessary I thought - rugby is a game, after all; and probably culturally insensitive to opponents on the field.

In the news yesterday there was also discussion about the Maori tradition of eating their defeated rivals after battles. Obviously it was in integral part of Maori culture. Needless to say the practice is no longer considered an essential part of Maori life. A new book examines the practice and revises the thinking on the reasons for the practice in the first place. It has been widely assumed that eating the vanquished increased the mana of the eater. Nice theory, but not the case, according to historian Professor Paul Moon in his book The Horrid Practice. He says the history of the practice was rewrtten to be more acceptible

"With engagement with Anglican and Catholic Churches, Maori were starting to feel shame at cannibalism, alongside a desire to reshape or excuse past behaviour, Moon said.

"They thought, `Well Christianity has the communion which is symbolic cannibalism where the bread and the wine become the flesh and blood of Christ'. You consume it and you consume your god, so really, it's a grafting of Christian ideas on to traditional cannibalism. Therefore, you consume your enemy, you consume their mana.""

Cultures change and Maori culture is no different. The criticism of the beauty queen is absurd - especially when one of the critics is another beauty queen from a rival pageant.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Haka fracas-don't hate me 'cause I'm white.

Now I'm not a big fan of beauty parades, let me get that out of the way for the get-go. So this post must be read carefully before you judge my point of view.

Background: New Zealand Miss Universe contestant Samantha Powell performed a haka as part of her performance to win the title. At the end she stuck out her tongue. Not the done thing, apparently. In Maori tradition women don't stick out their tongues. It's a guy thing. Tongue sticking out. …guys. Really important - like women being required to sit at the back of the room (even though in Maori there weren't any rooms).

Some Maori people have taken arms against Samantha Powell, criticising her for her lack of intimate knowledge of Maori protocol. I have to say, most Maori have little intimacy with their own culture. My own daughter is Te Aupouri, her great, great … grandfather signed the Treaty of Waitangi (our founding document). She pronounces Maori words well, but other than that…

There is an arrogant separatism emerging amongst media savvy Maori. They seem to want everything their own way. Most of New Zealand society accepts Maori culture as something to be shared. When it is (and on the world stage) they nit pick over the minutae… and in doing so alienate themselves from their most important constituents…New Zealanders.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

A Rose by any other name

Language is important. Nicole Kidman just had a baby and, in the tradition of the Geldorf and Zappa families*, has given her daughter a nutcase name.

Sunday Rose.

Listening to the news on TV (is t really news?) it sounded like Sunday Roast.

Can't help but wonder if the consultant who worked with Nickers on the name thought beyond a provocative but acceptable name (brand) to how it sounds in a low bandwidth situation?

Mind you, what's wrong with Sunday Roast? Smells good.

Wasn't there a performer called Wavy Gravy?

* Moon Unit
Tiger Lilly

Run Your Own Race.

The best way to be competitive is not to compete. Returning the original mantra of this blog - be the One and Only - "Don't be the best at what you do - be the only one who does it." A quote from Gerry Garcia of the Grateful Death via Tom Peters (ages ago). On that not here is another reference from Tom that I rather like:

"Obsessing about your competitors, trying to match or best their offerings, spending time each day wanting to know what they are doing, and/or measuring your company against them—these activities have no great or winning outcome. Instead you are simply prohibiting your company from finding its own way to be truly meaningful to its clients, staff and prospects. You block your company from finding its own identity and engaging with the people who pay the bills. ... Your competitors have never paid your bills and they never will."—Howard Mann.

I always imagine a sprinter on in the blocks for the 100 meters at the Olympic Games. If they turn their head fractionally it changes the entire mechanics of their performance. When you are talking 100ths of a second margins between winner and losers (who wants to nearly win gold?) there is only one way to come out ahead. Prepare physically and mentally, show up, run like hell. The data you get about the position of your competition will be of no value to you whatsoever. A glance to the left or right will take you out of contention.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Let it slide

Thinking more about the Presentation Zen workshop a week ago I have some concerns about the interchangeability of the word presentation. Maybe interchangeability is the the wrong word - perhaps the word I am looking for is ambiguity?

Garr Reynolds touched on this in his material. Conference hosts often ask their talent to forward their presentation in advance. Of course this isn't possible because the presentation is going to happen at some stage in the future. Of course the organiser wants the Powerpoint slides.

I think the problem I have been having with the concept of Presentation Zen is that it emphasises design - which, of course reinforces the idea that the slides are the presentation.

Tom Peters produces the pug-ugliest slides in the world. You can download them from his website. I've seen Mr Peters present (one of my earliest posts covered his talk at Better by Design's inaugural conference in Auckland.). Present is the operative word. Peters is a pro. He tells his stories with vim I've never seen before. Culturally Garr and Peters are poles apart. The Zen garden and a bear pit. I like them both.

The Presentation Zen workshop reminded me to stop the rot of terrible Powerpoint presentations. But the idea of being present is more important than your slides. You audience came to hear your ideas and experiences first and foremost. If the slides help them understand - make 'em as clear as bell. As simple as needs be - and no simpler.

Picture from the WebStock Flicker stream Me talking to Garr Reynolds - that is Idealog in his hands - I had to brave the antarctic blasts on the streets of Wellington to find a copy - that is dedication.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Space, the final frontier

Polish satellite stamps
Maybe one of the biggest challenges in design is how to use small spaces. What could be more challenging than designing for postage stamps.

These Polish stamps are genius, designed in 1962 to celebrate the Soviet Union's technical achievements in orbit - they gazumped the United States in the space race, which promoted Kennedy to initiate the programme to land a man on the moon.

Like Kennedy's remark "…We choose to go not because it is easy but because it is hard." Designing with limited resources - such as space, or simple printing processes can produce surprising outcomes.

The stamps are enduring works of art. They communicate a powerful story and they do so with an economy of expression that is refreshing even 45 years later.

I think every designer should be thinking carefully about lessness to make moreness.

Heads up from I Love Typography blog

Say no to el Cheapo

I have been think over some of the material that I learned in the Presentation Zen workshop with Garr Reynolds at WebStock the other day. One thought, probably quite random keeps bobbing up to the surface which is a realisation of a problem that I have been contemplating for years.

"Be very expensive, or free. But never cheap."

A number of times I have allowed myself to be whittled down on price because I kind of felt sorry for a client, or because there were a friend or colleague whom I wanted to help out. The 'mates rate' never turns out to be a good idea. Things take time whether they are expensive, cheap or free. But by allowing the project to err into the cheap zone you go with it into a bad psychological place that can lead to problems.

The cheap client has a moral position over you. Having agreed to buy your services at a reduced rate the price is irrelevant - your obligation is the same. A small amount of money might be perceived by the client as a great deal of cash - it might be all they have and so their expectation is elevated, possibly to higher level than for a client who is not betting the farm.

In my experience el cheapo clients tend to behave the worst. They often demand more from you than first class, full fare paying passengers. Like holiday makers on a budget they want their full allocation of complimentary drinks, and will doggedly stay awake on a trans-continental flight to make sure they don't miss out on any in-flight service.

If there is a project you want to do, but the client doesn't have the cash to pay your rate-card fee, and you want to do the job do it for free. Come to it from a generous place - don't be the mirror image of the cheapskate and demand more of the client because they are enjoying your beneficence. Do your usual great job and do your best work. Why would you offer anything less whatever the price? (after the money is spent you still have to live with your work). As a measure - if you can't afford the time and resources to do it free, and it will never be a job you can be proud of - don't do it at all. Having dud projects orbited by the satellites of passive aggressive reasons why it could have great - if wasn't for a) lack of budget b) cheapskate clients c) any other feeble excuse you can think of - will affect your ability to shine your brilliance on the plum jobs that keep you in the luxury you have become accustomed to.

My suggestion is that you budget a certain number of pro-bono projects each year and stick to it. Or learn to say no. Life is less complex that way

Wordle world

I like the graphic visualisation of language. Worldle converts words entered into a panel into a graphical cloud. It is great fun. This image is from the url of this blog.

Have fun.

Via the ever interesting Brand DNA

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Starbucks Lesson

Starbucks seem to be in free-fall - closing over 600 stores in the US.
I wonder why? In New Zealand I don't think we have a representative picture of Starbucks. In the US the stores are quite different (apparently) and they have headed into complex diversions from core business - music has been a distraction. Tail wags dog,

The truth for me is that I want to like Starbucks. I want to love it as I do Apple. But their core product doesn't cut it. The coffee sucks. Here in Auckland we have the most sophisticated coffee culture in the world - big claim - come down and test it. Take it from me Starbucks products are rightly shunned. If only our funky coffee houses could 'get' the idea of the third place. Any hospitality space should have free wireless. One of the best things about webstock in Wellington (and the airport) was free access to the web. Even if I smuggle good coffee in to Starbucks, at least I get a comfortable place to check my mail.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Whip it good. Devo sue McDonalds

Devo McDonalds toy
The 80's New Wave band Devo is suing McDonald's over a Happy Meal Toy. The toy, New Wave Nigel, is part of McDonald's American Idol-related line of give-aways based on various genres of music.

Devo's Jerry Casale says

"This New Wave Nigel doll that they've created is just a complete Devo rip-off and the red hat is exactly the red hat that I designed, and it's copyrighted and trademarked.

"They didn't ask us anything. Plus, we don't like McDonald's, and we don't like American Idol, so we're doubly offended."

Sounds like Q.E.D. to me and something of a surprise that an organisation like McDonalds could be so naive - did they even know who Devo were (or are - do they still perform?). I'd be especially careful about appropriated things from the cultural landscape in advertising - especially if on the grounds that 'it was part of my childhood'. You may not own your memories. I wonder if Lemon & Paeroa got permission to use the 'Stubbies' brand (of shorts) for use in its commercials? (and if anyone would lay claim to being their creator?)

VIA Fast Food News

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Running with scissors. Martin Creed at the Tate

martin creed runner at the tate
Every single time I visit the public art gallery I think I overhear another visitor asking the perennial question of the modern age - 'Call that art?'

The Tate Gallery has a new installation in place - though 'in place' might be understating the case. Every day, for four months an athlete will sprint 86 metres through Tate Britain’s central Duveens Galleries. Then a 30 second pause. Then another runner will burst from the blocks.

The work is by Martin Creed. He is notorious for winning the prestigious Turner Prize in 2001 with a light bulb which was switched on and of like a …well, a light bulb I suppose.

The current piece is enigmatically titled Work No. 850. An enigmatic title is half the game. Creed talks about 'An art gallery is a theatre for looking at things,'.
Hmm… profound title, curiously inarticulate rationale. But let's not let reason get in the way of expression. More importantly I hope the visitors don't get in the way of the runners - it's all fun and games until someone gets hurt.

What if Microsoft made the iPod

Here's a little ditty produced by 'Microsofties'. Garr Reynolds showed it in his workshop today. It goes on a bit long but it makes a good point about the power of simplicity and why Apple has it and other tech companies don't.

Simplicity = Maximum effect with minimum means.

The world according to Garr

I am in Wellington for the WebStock conference – attending the Garr Reynolds workshop (, which I am covering for Idealog magazine.

I must tell you about the flight down from Auckland. A significant chuck of my fellow passengers were a large group of Pacific Island women, all dressed in lime green mumus. There must have been thirty of ‘em. I have to confess I was nervous about being squeezed between a couple – I had been allocated a centre seat. It wasn’t to be. I had a row to myself. As the aircraft taxied to its position for takeoff the group began harmonising what sounded like a prayer. It was both beautiful and unsettling. Did they know something I didn’t?

As we began the descent into Wellington, caught by the traditional gust of crosswind, which caused the tail to yaw slightly, the choir struck up again; this time a slightly more strident hymn. I was uplifting and kind of surreal. The other passengers applauded when we landed. Pretty sure it was for the tune. I have had much hairier landings in the shear crosswinds of Wellington - on one flight a wing actually grazed the tarmac.

The Presentation Zen workshop was very interesting. Garr is a nice chap and he knows his material, as you'd expect. His experience of living in Japan for 20 years lends an exotic dimension to his material. I feel a certain despair about the calibre of presentation that even seasoned campaigners deliver. In many ways they are the worst. They should know better. The problem is just that. They think they know better. Asking them to remove something from a presentation is akin to questioning their experience and judgment - a personal affront. "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few." - Shunryu Suzuki.

Perseverence grasshopper.

More George Carlin - Stuff.