Friday, August 29, 2008

Immersing myself in books

I have found the perfect place to read in peace. The swimming pool. When my H20 Audio headset arrives I'll be able to listen to audio books, right now it will be short stories, but as my aerobic capacity increases I'll work towards The Brothers Karamazov or War & Peace, I suppose music is an option too. What would the best music for laps be?

As part of my new exercise regime I am spending my allowance on all sorts of paraphernalia to make the experience more palatable. Anti chafe shorts, lightweight running shoes - resisting the urge to become obsessive compulsive as I was back in the 80's when I got hooked into triathlons.

It was in the very early days of the sport. I worked for an ad agency called MacKay King (famous for Terry King's cunning reverse takeover of Saatchi & Saatchi). The General Manager was Tony Thomas (now the business manager of the New Zealand America's Cup Team). Tony was also in charge of the Schweppes account and they were sponsoring the first short-course triathlon series. "You're young and fit" he said - "…sign up for this." "OK" Said I, signing as I spoke, "…what's a triathlon?" "Swim, Run, Cycle…" he giggled, disappearing down the hall in a blaze of Prince of Wales check and French cuffs.

The problem was that I couldn't swim.

I had six half hour lessons with Kiwi swimming Legend Lincoln Hurring. My classmates were middle aged housewives. For every half hour I spend about 15 practicing the techniques. Who'd have thought you'd have to relearn how to breathe?

In the end I got hooked. Oddly enough, swimming is the only part of the exercise I came to love. So much so that I swam until my arms nearly dropped off. Mr Hurring paid me a compliment I will never forget. He said I should compete. The true compliment was to his clear, simple instruction and emphasis on precision over power in the water - understanding hydrodynamics and buoyancy (quite important) - very Zen.

I was only a mediocre Triathlete - I over trained for swimming, which affected everything else…balance grasshopper…my shoulders became inflamed from endless laps of the Parnell Baths (long, outdoor and saltwater…my favourite place…especially on a mild summer's morning as the sun rises over Rangitoto).

So - now I am back…awaiting the arrival of my sound system.

What fun we shall have. Is there an audio version of Thus Spake Zarathustra
? Or better still Chronicles by Bob Dylan?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Show me a sign

I spent the weekend in Martinborough, the charming little village, 45 minutes north of Wellington, famous for its vineyards and Food and Wine Festival. Not much was going on. I guess it is the middle of winter so I didn't have very high expectations.

Wendy Campbell's French Bistro MartinboroughWe were lucky to be able to enjoy dinner Saturday night at Wendy Campbell's French Bistro, which had just won the Cuisine Magazine regional restaurant of the year award. It is a nice little bistro, I guess it seats 30 people at a time. The award obviously caused a bubble of interest - or perhaps Saturday night is always full. I didn't really enjoy the meal itself - maybe grey old French traditional cuisine can't cut it when you have been exposed to fresh, well prepared contemporary food - available in any cafe or bistro in Auckland or Wellington. The owners are parents of John Campbell (of TV3's Campbell Live current affairs programme) and it was nice to meet his dad, amiably making guests feel at home. In spite if my criticism of the food, it wasn't bad and if you like that style of cooking, you'll be happy.

One of the fascinating things I noticed was that there are some interesting street name choices in Martinborough. I think my favourite was Radium Street. Kind of random. I'm not sure I would be all that happy to have that as my address - or maybe not, it has a certain charm and an impressive half life.

Then there was the fabulously optimistic New York and New York Street West. The town planners in the Wairarapa certainly know how to have fun.

New York New York

New Dowse Gallery Upper Hutt, Wellington, New ZealandStopped in at the new Dowse Gallery in Lower Hutt where I noted this sign. They don't mince words in Lower Hutt, do they? It's a nice gallery. I didn't like any of the current shows, but I'd like something like it in my neighbourhood - Auckland's North Shore should have a gallery - maybe up by the Design School in Albany Village - a sattelite of the Auckland City gallery.

By the way, the cafe at the Dowse is excellent. Very good fod, well priced and a young staff that 'get' service. Nice chowder.

The sign below is a slightly self-conscious 'branding' excercise for the Gallery. Funky but strangely purile - high on the patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel scale.

With a wait in Wellington we revisited the Marinui Surf Club cafe. This has to the be the best surf club business in the country. Close to the city (not like Piha) and very funky. This is the door to the dunnies:

Maranui Surf club toilet

Interesting trip.

Note to self…return in summer.

Wairarapa Info

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Spotted in the crowd.

Mike O'Sullivan in the crowd at Beijing Olympics congratulates Nick Willis
What are the odds? One of my colleagues from BrandWorld has been absent since last Friday. Well, thanks to the wonders of everyday, all the time TV he's been spotted - in Beijing, ringside, congratulating Nick Willis on his Bronze medal in the 1500 metre final (New Zealand's first track Gold since the hay-days of John Walker, Dick Quax and Rod Dixon). I'm kidding of course, we all knew Mike O'Sullivan was heading for Beijing (I think he was modestly keeping it quiet - its the kiwi way). I hope he has his Free Tibet banner with him

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Ice-lollyman Cometh

One of the most interesting people I have met in my career so far is Mike Hutcheson.
When I was a young copywriter I worked for his advertising agency, Hutcheson Knowles Marinkovich.

They were strange birds.

It was the first open-plan office I had worked in. The building has a curious opulence, a converted early 20th Century space that is now the recording studio owned by the Finn Brother from Crowded House whose name escapes me presently.

In contrast to the baroque surroundings were the accommodations for staff. Everybody had a trestle desk with an unfinished door as its surface - even the principals who sat among us. Hutch was the managing director. Of the three partners he was the 'people person'. Everyone loved Mike (as I am sure they still do). The democracy was all embracing - there were 'Good News Bad News' meetings. Hutch would analogize about the mountains and the balloon - the balloon being the agency and the mountains the challenges we faced - sort of like a cheap video game, except on a whiteboard - so cheaper. Marco Marinkovich would let everyone know there were no stars at HKM. In may ways it was a hair-shirt Soviet style environment. Employees were terrorized into working stupid hours…I have to say that I've never had a Presbyterian work ethic. I just do my stuff. Sitting at a desk has never helped. Sitting at a desk looking worried is worse. I never really liked the pious, bloodless culture of HKM - though I did work two tours with them.

But through it all Hutch was an affable, human being. And, as I said, I liked him. Still do. So…I'm pleased to see him involved in the Print Centre reiteration Ice. Glad to see he's given up on the Robert Johnson eye glasses though (if you're going to have a signature, make it your own - that goes double for Deborah Hill-Cohen.

Check out Ice Interactive. Not sure about the staff photos, but what the heck - there's probably a theory/rationale behind it. I just wasn't there.

From Early Adopter to Early Discarder

I know this is already old-hat but I though you might be interested in it (from the New York Times:

All my life I’ve been a successful pseudo-intellectual, sprinkling quotations from Kafka, Epictetus and Derrida into my conversations, impressing dates and making my friends feel mentally inferior. But over the last few years, it’s stopped working. People just look at me blankly. My artificially inflated self-esteem is on the wane. What happened?

Existential in Exeter

Dear Existential,

It pains me to see so many people being pseudo-intellectual in the wrong way. It desecrates the memory of the great poseurs of the past. And it is all the more frustrating because your error is so simple and yet so fundamental.

You have failed to keep pace with the current code of intellectual one-upsmanship. You have failed to appreciate that over the past few years, there has been a tectonic shift in the basis of good taste.

You must remember that there have been three epochs of intellectual affectation. The first, lasting from approximately 1400 to 1965, was the great age of snobbery. Cultural artifacts existed in a hierarchy, with opera and fine art at the top, and stripping at the bottom. The social climbing pseud merely had to familiarize himself with the forms at the top of the hierarchy and febrile acolytes would perch at his feet.

In 1960, for example, he merely had to follow the code of high modernism. He would master some impenetrably difficult work of art from T.S. Eliot or Ezra Pound and then brood contemplatively at parties about Lionel Trilling’s misinterpretation of it. A successful date might consist of going to a reading of “The Waste Land,” contemplating the hollowness of the human condition and then going home to drink Russian vodka and suck on the gas pipe.

This code died sometime in the late 1960s and was replaced by the code of the Higher Eclectica. The old hierarchy of the arts was dismissed as hopelessly reactionary. Instead, any cultural artifact produced by a member of a colonially oppressed out-group was deemed artistically and intellectually superior.

During this period, status rewards went to the ostentatious cultural omnivores — those who could publicly savor an infinite range of historically hegemonized cultural products. It was necessary to have a record collection that contained “a little bit of everything” (except heavy metal): bluegrass, rap, world music, salsa and Gregorian chant. It was useful to decorate one’s living room with African or Thai religious totems — any religion so long as it was one you could not conceivably believe in.

But on or about June 29, 2007, human character changed. That, of course, was the release date of the first iPhone.

On that date, media displaced culture. As commenters on The American Scene blog have pointed out, the means of transmission replaced the content of culture as the center of historical excitement and as the marker of social status.

Now the global thought-leader is defined less by what culture he enjoys than by the smartphone, social bookmarking site, social network and e-mail provider he uses to store and transmit it. (In this era, MySpace is the new leisure suit and an AOL e-mail address is a scarlet letter of techno-shame.)

Today, Kindle can change the world, but nobody expects much from a mere novel. The brain overshadows the mind. Design overshadows art.

This transition has produced some new status rules. In the first place, prestige has shifted from the producer of art to the aggregator and the appraiser. Inventors, artists and writers come and go, but buzz is forever. Maximum status goes to the Gladwellian heroes who occupy the convergence points of the Internet infosystem — Web sites like Pitchfork for music, Gizmodo for gadgets, Bookforum for ideas, etc.

These tastemakers surf the obscure niches of the culture market bringing back fashion-forward nuggets of coolness for their throngs of grateful disciples.

Second, in order to cement your status in the cultural elite, you want to be already sick of everything no one else has even heard of.

When you first come across some obscure cultural artifact — an unknown indie band, organic skate sneakers or wireless headphones from Finland — you will want to erupt with ecstatic enthusiasm. This will highlight the importance of your cultural discovery, the fineness of your discerning taste, and your early adopter insiderness for having found it before anyone else.

Then, a few weeks later, after the object is slightly better known, you will dismiss all the hype with a gesture of putrid disgust. This will demonstrate your lofty superiority to the sluggish masses. It will show how far ahead of the crowd you are and how distantly you have already ventured into the future.

If you can do this, becoming not only an early adopter, but an early discarder, you will realize greater status rewards than you ever imagined. Remember, cultural epochs come and go, but one-upsmanship is forever.

Uncommon Sense

Over on Tom Peters' blog he poses an interesting question under the heading:

Hiring criteria.

Are there enough people on your payroll who "lack common sense"?

It's an interesting twist. Common sense would seem to be a desirable trait, isn't it? The antithesis of stupidity. Or is it?

There are other expressions that have an insidiously stultifying effect, for example: Curiosity killed the cat. That's a doozy. In fact curiosity dragged mankind out of the quagmire of the dark ages. Society is ambivalent about breaking ranks but it is essential for anything new to happen. Somebody has to be dissatisfied with how things are now and apply their curiosity and inquiry to the problem.

That said, I found it remarkable how many of my design students at Massey University utterly rejected my assertion that their mission in life should be constantly question how and why things were done, how things would be different if they tried to do things wrong, counter-intuitively and playfully. I didn't want to see another submission in the conventional, prevailing style of the day, not matter how pleasing and decorative it was. The superficial application of style is the bane of communications in all of its forms.

Yesterday I was privileged to spend some time with Martin Lambie-Nairn, probably the leading thinker and practitioner in the world of brand identity, particularly for television channels. He pioneered a new way of thinking that dismissed the flying logo and chaotic diversity of many on-screen identities. He spoke with my colleagues and I about his experiences with the BBC and O2. By turns he is funny, wise and very very clear about what he has learned in his career. If nothing else, his emphasis on clarity and simplicity of message, based on focused insights, was a timely reminder for a couple of projects I am working on.

It would seem to be common sense…after all.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Ukulele rocks

I got a pink ukulele for Zoƫ on the weekend from Bungalow Bill's Music Shop. She loves it. Seems to have a knack for quickly figuring out chords - well the fingering bit. The Ramones thrash classic is featured in the New Zealand Ukulele Companion (published by AUT Media - get a copy). I wasn't sure how it should be interpreted - the Hawaiian strum just kept coming to mind. But this video cleared things up for me.

Bring On The Trumpets - sweet as…

Sometimes I like ads that fall under the loose description 'existential'. They don't mean anything in particular. The Cadbury Gorilla commercial (which recently began running on a moderately high rotation here in New Zealand) is an exemplar. The ad above is another. Unlike the Phil Collins lookalike, the cast of this ad don't actually do anything. The effect is curiously hypnotic. It means you can concentrate on the message. Not that there seems to be a message - except that Natural Confectionery Company's jelly snakes have natural colours and flavours.

I did think that the sugar coated bear might have been significant - a rival product maybe? But no, looking at another commercial in the series - its part of the range.

See, looking for answers just complicates things.

There's nothing else for it but to bring on the trumpets.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Wonders will never cease.

I signed up for membership at the Tepid Baths and gym. I haven't joined a gym since 1996, when I came back from London. Back then I didn't make the most of it (never join a gym that isn't in your neighbourhood). So I expended more energy being grumpy about the contract than actually using it.

The 'Teps' are an iconic part of the Auckland landscape and just a couple of hundred metres from my office in the Viaduct.

Maybe I am inspired by the Phelps effect -or maybe I just see the pending train wreck if I don't knock myself into some kind of shape. It would be nice to drop some weight for summer too.

I could certainly use some more energy. (Maybe that is why I have been slack about blogging recently?

So, watch out for post-propulsion.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

What it's like to be hearing impaired.

A dear friend of mine has a hearing impairment - she wears an aid. This commerial for the New Zealand Foundation for Deaf is brilliant - it demonstrates clearly what it must be like for her. I found it quite moving.

I like the spare exection, the straight delivery and the use of the demonstration technique. I'd pick it as a surefire winner of many awards this year. I think it was made by DDB Auckland- well done.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Japlish 101

weird japanese english
I spotted this wheel cover the other day in traffic. Ummm;…what were they thinking?

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Vote for Paris

See more Paris Hilton videos at Funny or Die

Possibly the most sensible thing I've seen from the America Presidential campaign.
Very funny.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Tiptoe through the tulips

Interesting day to day - caught up with some of my favourite people. Lunch with Martin Bell and Vincent Heeringa from HB Media - we founded Idealog together and the lads have gone on to publish the successful travel magazine Inspire and sustainability magazine Good. They have also published a number of books - a large format volume about snapper in New Zealand - a slightly mad topic but nicely done. What caught my eye though was the Kiwi Ukulele book. I finagled a copy - I have always wanted to know how to play Blitzkrieg Bop on the Ukulele (and Anarchy in the UK), naturally enough I needed an instrument to go with the book so I went to visit my old mate Bill Lattimer up at Bungalow Bills on Kybher Pass Road.

Bill is a living legend on the New Zealand music scene. He's an lovely bloke who is always happy to have a chat. Today we talked about how he is using the internet to grow his business. You should visit his shop - it is an Aladdin's cave if you love interesting instruments. Years ago I bought a steel Dobro from Bill and, though I am an infrequent, visitor he has never forgotten it. Go say hello and get yourself a Ukelele and a copy of the Kiwiw Ukulele book.

Ukele Book Website
Bungalow Bill's Shop

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Bike Rental in Auckland

One of the saddest sites in Auckland City are the rows of rental bicycles that go unused every day. The concept is simple. Call a number from your phone and the operators will give you the code that unlocks the bike's security chain.

Maybe it's winter, so there is less foot traffic down here in the Viaduct? Or maybe the problem is a little more deep seated. I took this snap when I went for a lunchtime stroll. When I came back to the office I looked at the image closely and noticed the web address of the operator. On closer inspection I see that you have to register your credit card online to be able to use the equipment. Not only is this 'too hard' but it eliminates the spontaneity of seeing the bikes and thinking "That's a good idea - I'll give it a try."

Maybe we simply have too small a population to support the idea? Or the prospect of cycling in downtown Auckland is roughly as appealing as being a policeman in Bagdhad? (I've done it - commuting cross-town - and living to tell the tale).

From the look of the bikes - almost no wear on the tyres and oxidising foot pedals - my guess is that the concept isn't working. The website also reports that bikes have been removed from tourist spots like Rotorua and Tauranga.

Shame really, good idea whose time may yet come

Friday, August 01, 2008

BrandWorld wins third marketing award

At the marketing awards last night my colleagues and I celebrated winning our third Marketing Magazine Marketing Award. So now, each of our media properties has a gong attached to it: Family Health Diary, Eating Well and Discover.

I chuckle to myself because, though we are now a fixture on the media landscape, it hasn't always been the case. Over ten years ago it wasn't easy to sell syndicated media properties. I won't say it is now, either - we have a very committed sales team who perform exceptional feats to grow our business every year. If you think it is easy - I heartily recommend having a go - though buying a lottery ticket might be more fruitful.

It is also interesting that the Steve Bridges from the University of Auckland, chairman of the judging panel singled us out - along with McDonalds - for entering every year. I thought that might be either an admonishment or a boost - it turned out to be the former. According to Mr Bridges it is evidence that we are constantly testing ourselves against the market. That would be true.

The other aspect of constancy is that our product works well for advertisers because we are ever-present. Consumers are not only familiar with our brands but they also have to spend very little energy figuring out what we are talking about - so the messages stick.

I shall sit quietly now and nurse my hangover. It was a well deserved party.