Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Paul Newman passes.

Like so many others I am mourning the passing of Paul Newman.
I love this clip from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. When you are in an impossible position would you you give up or take a risky option?

Here in New Zealand we call it Hobson's Choice, between a rock and a hard place.

He was a handsome devil, made great ranch dressing and some good films. He contributed 250 million US dollars to charity from the sales of his products - I'm sure he lost nothing for having done so.

Honour a great life…

Try to be better tomorrow.

Love, Speed & Loss - This Sunday on Sky

I'm pretty excited. No, not becasue Rachel Hunter has launched a signature range at the budget retailer The Warehouse (hmm, not sure about the ad Rach, weird accent bad synching). No, this Sunday on the Documentary Channel is the film about almost forgotten kiwi motorcycling legend Kim Newcombe.

Kim Newcombe (January 2, 1944 - August 14, 1973), was a Grand Prix motorcycle road racer from New Zealand. He competed in the 500cc Grand Prix World Championship finishing second to Phil Read in the 1973 season.

Born in the town of Nelson, Newcombe grew up in Auckland, then moved to Australia (first Brisbane, then Melbourne) in 1963, and subsequently moved to Europe in 1968.

Along with fellow racer, John Dodd, he developed a motorcycle using a two-stroke boat outboard engine designed by Dieter König. He and the König were the first to challenge the dominance of the MV Agustas after the departure of Honda from Grand Prix competition at the end of the 1967 season. In contrast to his main competitors, Newcombe was credited with the distinction of developing, building, maintaining, and riding the Konig machine in competition.

On August 11 1973, Newcombe was seriously injured at a non-championship event at Silverstone at Stowe Corner. After taking his customary walk of the track prior to the event, Newcombe had requested that hay bales be positioned on the outside of Stowe Corner before the race but race officials refused, stating they were "not required". In the race itself, Newcombe slid off the circuit at that very corner, and collided with the concrete barrier. He died from his severe head injuries three days later. He was survived by his wife Janeen, and their son Mark (aged four at the time).
From the Wikipedia

To the batcave! - on work environments.

Working in an office with no walls isn't so bad. Unless you want to hear yourself think. I'm not sure what it is about 'open-plan' but somewhere along the way , someone decided it would be grand idea to jam as many people as is humanly possible into a barn-like space and snigger at them from the hermetically sealed comfort of their corner office. Actually where I work isn't so bad. At least I have a wall I can stare at when the relentlessly picturesque view of the viaduct harbour gets me down. And, in truth there are no corner offices we are all in the same boat, or barn or whichever metaphor you prefer to describe the battery takes your fancy.

Unfortunately we don't have wireless in the office (I don't know why not, but that is how it is) so I can't annex the deck outside. In any case the bright sunshine would make viewing the laptop screen more difficult than it is worth.

My real issue is that I am so easily distracted by the conversations of others that I can hardly hear myself think. Even with my back to the room I can home in on particular people's voices and their (sometimes) inane chatter.

I guess my preferred environment is to be cocooned in a low light cave, surrounded by books and interesting stuff. I like to socialise as a matter of choice and on purpose, and I need quiet space to think sometimes. Oh, and I'm not a big fan of desks. I'd rather have a chair or a couch (couch better), stretch out my legs, lap-top resting on same. Probably explains why I had no time for the Aeron chair that I admired until I had to sit in it. It had all the comfort and charm of some sort of bondage implement - which I suppose it is. It didn't last long - foisted it on to a friend who is a designer and so, naturally, was easily seduced by the term modern design classic. Whn I see Aeron chairs deployed now I have to confess I pass a silent, mildly derogatory judgement on th sitter. But each to their own.

Office environments make a difference. I am not really complaining about mine, I am grateful not to be locked for eight to 12 hours a day in some dark, satanic mill making eyelets for sneakers. But I wonder if there is a correlation between the kind of space and the nature of the output.

What's yours like?

Nike Here I Am, slightly mad, but good.

Nike have a long history of innovative advertising that has contributed to the building of an uberbrand, one that has embedded itself in the psyche of the a vast percentage of the world's populations.

It has got to the point where they can pretty well say whatever they want and consumers will accept their message, however weird. Not that it's a bad thing.

I like this commercial, not only because it is different but also because I can relate to the idea that the parts of your body seem, in some way, independent of you. I often know that my legs can keep going but my legs have a different point of view.

They have come a long way from selling home-made waffle sole shoes from the boot of a car at track meets.

The Nike.com site continues to be a cutting edge showcase for interactive technologies and storytelling.

GINA concept car challenges dogma

"Thinking flexible, acting flexible… context over dogma." BMW guy in the video.

Ponder that. I'll come back to it. Seems an important theme to pursue.

"A foolish consisitency is the hobgoblin of little minds." RW Emerson.

Brevity is the essence of Twit

I was just watching the Robert Scoble video at Fast Company, discussing using SMS with google to make queries.

The interesting thing is the economy and utility of the short format messaging. SMS only allows for 140 characters. Doesn't sound like much, does it? Having worked in advertising all of my working life I guess I'm not phased by the necessity for brevity. It costs a lot for media time - so 30 second commercials are the most common format. In 30 seconds the most words you can choose is approximately 75. That's a pretty densely worded ad. Because TV is a visual medium and humans receive most of our useful data through our eyes there is an argument for being a little more economical with the spoken word. Personally I think you should also avoid relying on titles or supers, but that's another story and some of my colleagues would probably differ in their views.

The 140 character format translates to Twitter, the social media microblogging tool (you can see my Twitter feed over there on the right). Twitter allows you to update from your phone (I don't really do this much because your TXT is routed through London - or somewhere - and it can become an expensive proposition). The interesting thing is how rich the twitter environment can be - in spite of the requirement to parse the information - I have some favourite Tweeters who have a deft ability to make me laugh in one sentence or less.

Badbanana, Munki and HotDogsLadies all have a genius for the medium. Munki, (Sarah Wedde) from Wellington New Zealand could easily translate into a TV comedy show - no jokes longer than 140 characters.

"Spooning my cat seemed nice at the time but on reflection it's really making me question the direction my life is taking." - Munki

"Spent the day at an orchard. An apple store without geniuses." BadBanana - Tim Siedell

"Short on time? Hand me two 20-dollar bills. I'll keep one and summarize the self-help book of your choosing on the other. Win win." Hotdogsladies (Merlin Mann)

Maybe a curated book of humorous Tweets. What would the copyright implications be?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The company you keep

For some it's Jane Austen, Bukowski or Kundera. For me it's a kind of random wave of books about business, culture, the arts… pretty much anything.

Here is what I have on the go at the moment:

The Age of Enchantment - Beardsley, Dulac and their Contemporaries 1890-1930

I have a thing about illustration. When I was a kid at high school I made a poster for the annual school production - a play called 'As Long As They're Happy'. I made an image that was a complete rip-off of an Aubrey Beardlsey image - Salome or something. It was a triumph of teenage angst over imitative graphic style. I over-estimated Glenfield College's appetite for Art Nouveau.

Brokeback Mountain

I got this cheap from the Whitcoulls bookstore's trestle table clearance in the local mall. Five bucks for a collection of stories by Annie Proulx is the bargain of the year. She is one of the best writers I have ever encountered. I soaked up Accordion Crimes and The Shipping News. The over-merchandising of the Brokeback Mountan Story (which is all of 35 pages long) smacks of over-merchandising, but that's Hollywood for you.

Luxury Brand Management - A world of Privilege
I am developing a theory about New Zealand's commercial future in the world. That is all I can say at the point.

The Knowledge Entrepreneur
The term entrepreneur makes me cringe, but figuring out how to make money form ideas is core business, need to know stuff. All I'll say, so far is 'I will not judge a book by its cover' - which looks worryingly like Microsoft clip art.

The Natural Advantage of Nations: Business Opportunities, Innovation and Governance in the 21st Century

OK, a little daunting because I know it has an ideological bias. But, not matter how dull, the sustainability thing has to be addressed. So I am holding my nose and taking the plunge.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

World famous in New Zealand

Following the Orange train of thought I came across this commercial. And blow me down if it doesn't look like it was shot in New Zealand. The Auckland War Memorial Museum provides the columnade. Toi To grass is unmistakeable and the bungalow is anytown Aotearoa.

Ah... the future - those were the days.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Coronation Street Rocks

I am working on the libretto for a new stage show. Not sure why no one has thought of this before: Coronation Street the Musical. It's sort of Peter Grimes meets,…well Coronation Street. Ena Sharples has a fantastic baritone role and Ashley is the Soprano.

Actually I haven't seen an episode of Coronation street since Annie Walker owned the Rover's Return. I guess I was traumatised by it as a child. Hilda Ogden reminded me of my mother. Don't tell my mother. I think it was the hair rollers.

Of course for some readers the cultural phenomenon that is Coronation Street is probably as baffling to you as if I were to be writing haiku in Zulu. It is a praticularly British COmmonwealth phenomenon. The Romans had the Pax to hold the empire together. The British had a grimy street in the North of England.

As one of the top rating shows on New Zealand Television it is heavily promoted n TV One, so I am exposed to a substantial volume of channel promotion for the show. I must say it is looking quite racy now. It seems to have been gentrified - you know nice hardwood floors and Habitat furniture. What happened to Stan & Hilda Ogden's 'murial'?
- a floor to ceiling woodland scene.

Overwhelmed with nostalgia and revulsion in equal measure.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Fashion Week redux - ex Eketahuna

OurNZ seems to be a couple of likely lads from Aotearoa who are documenting glimpses of the kiwi way of life. Their web site has a good-natured tone that is very authentic (if levened with heavy doses of beer advertising/student humour). I hope it keeps going - a contemporary Country Calendar. Check out the glimpses of Fashion Week as viewed from Eketahuna.

Via SpareRoom

Sexist Advertising and stereotypes

Advertising lives in the short-form world. Because mass media is so expensive the 30 second commercial is conventional and because there is so much clutter simplified signals are essential to 'cut through'. One form of communication short-hand used as a default is the stereotype -

"A stereotype can be a conventional and oversimplified conception, opinion, or image, based on the assumption that there are attributes that members of the "other group" have in common. Stereotypes are sometimes formed by a previous illusory correlation, a false association between two variables that are loosely correlated if correlated at all. Though generally viewed as negative perceptions, stereotypes may be either positive or negative in tone."

In the 1950's and 60's when men dominated advertising stereotypical impressions of women as inferior or subservient were not only commonplace but usual. It was normal to show women as housekeepers, largely because most were. The contraceptive pill arrived to emancipate women and it was sex that ultimately overcame the inhibitions of gender.

While it is more common for advertising to show men as stupid or infantile now, back then the shoe was on the other foot (which is a curious expression - if you think about it).

Here's a selection of ads that are offensive to our contemporary sensibility but which should give pause for thought about how people are characterised in advertising today. If you scratch the surface you'll see a lot of guilt being applied (still to women) about their role as working mother - much of it condescending. I'll see what I can dredge up to make my point.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Fashion central

Zoe leaping in her new kit
I'm not telling you this because it is any kind of revelation or insight, but because it is a plain and simple truth. Boys are different to girls. Today my daughter and I headed South of Auckland city to experience a little outlet shopping mayhem at the Dressmart complex. It has grown since the last time I was there. First we found some sushi, it pays not to shop on an empty stomach. You will need the energy to battle the crowds intent on locating and securing their bargains. Ultimately we found a little store specialising in outfits for tweens. Zoë is such a skinny little thing that it is difficult to find things that fit. Skirts and shorts, supposedly designed for her age group fall comically to the floor when she lets go of the waist-band. Unlike her brother, now 16, when I send Zoë off to the fitting rooms to check whether styles and sizes are a happening thing I wonder if the large hadron collider had, indeed created a black hole and Z had been sucked into it. She takes her time. I am pretty sure Taylor, on the other hand used to disappear inside the cubicle, look at the garments for the amount of time he calculated it would take to try them on, then emerge and deliver his verdict. If it looked ok on the dummy it will look the same on him - even if the mannequin didn't have a head. It is true that some garments do look better on the headless. There has to be some explanation for the phenomenon. I can buy clothes that look irresistibly cool in the ad or on display but on me I look, what is the word for it?…Wurzilgummage-ish.

The outlet store phenomenon is interesting for its effect on luxury goods marketing. In the United States they are especially popular. One in California, Desert Hills is the third most frequent tourist destination in the state. Japanese bus tours do a roarong trade. By going mass luxury brands have become somewhat dependent on volume and market share - where once they were exclusive and scarce. The upshot of which is that luxe brands aren't immune, as they once were to the roller coaster of the markets.

Zoe pronounces some of her choices a hit and tosses the 'unwanteds' under the door of the cubicle for me to deal with. I think I waited for more than half an hour for her to go through the process. It reminded me of waiting for her mother to get ready to go out when we were married. Some things must be in the DNA. I had a quick sortie to see if there were any fashionable garments that I could inflict my scarecrow styling to but abandoned the mission when Zoe announced she had a headache from shopping (once again uncannily like her mother). I prefer to shop alone in any case, so left it for another day. Probably just as well - I'm past pinto lizard skin boots with impossibly pointy toes and disgraceful Cuban heels.

At home Zoë modelled her purchases and insisted on the full fashion shoot. She rejected half of the images. I rather liked the one above. Instead of Elton John and Amy Winehouse in the front row there was only Latte and Thumper - the rabbits who were bemused and moulting heavily.

Now That's Entertainment

Television has undergone something of a rennaissance, by comparison to the quality of movies. The Sopranoa, Mad Men, Weeds, 24, Six Feet Under and the like are imaginative, finely observed and compelling in a way that Will Farrell movies and endless superhero, comicbook reworkings are not.

If you reading nothing else this weekend check out James Woolcott's commentary on the topic over on the Vanity Fair website.

Looking forward to seeing:

"In AMC’s disturbingly funny and darkly absurdist Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston, the wacky dad in Malcolm in the Middle, is Walter White, a chemistry teacher with cancer who turns to meth production in order to provide for his family after his approaching death, racing the clock against his own inner rot. He’s an Arthur Miller Everyman transplanted into a sunstruck no-man’s-land in a show that whips along with the laconic fury of Alex Cox’s Repo Man."


"And although I haven’t screened it yet, Shirley MacLaine is starring in a Lifetime cable biopic about Coco Chanel this September that has to be scary-good. The publicity stills alone of an imperious MacLaine in hat, pearls, and gorgon stare were enough to knock birds out of the sky."

I have to say, in closing, that the reemergence of game shows like Who Wants to be a Millionaire and Wheel of Fortune and the unscripted dirge of New Zealand's Got Talent…serves to remind that it's just TV and no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the average mook stuck in front of the box.

For a British counterpoint you can't go past Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe review of 07

Right then, as you were.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A polar bear in a tropical zoo

I went for a trundle in the car this morning to Matakana, just north of Auckland with Zoe, my daughter. We skipped fencing club this morning. The big Z is feeling discouraged because she is smaller than the other girls in the class and the boys her size are a little confused by the whole point of the exercise - a little too much Jedi knight/light sabre action happening there.

The weather was perfect - for the first time in weeks. Zoe and I had had a contretemps the day before. The mood today was like a clear day, figuratively, after a storm. She is reading the first Trixie Beldon book and described the chapters she had read (since last night) in great and elaborate detail. The book seems to contain a character who sucks poison from a wound inflicted by a copperhead. I guessed it was a snake variety and ventured that hypothesis.
'Of course it's a snake…what else could it be?'
'Well, it could be a nail.'
'what, like a fingernail.'
'No, like a hammerin' nail; nails have heads - they are the bit you whack.'
'I'd whack a snake on the head if I saw one.'
'I don't think that you'll be seeing one anytime soon. We don't have snakes here in New Zealand.'
'But we have White-tails.'
'White tails? …what, is that a bird?'
'Daaaad, I know you are smart, but don't you know anything?'
I confess, I don't know what a white-tail is.
'Is it a kind of kitten?'
'Not even close.'
'Ok, I give up. What is a white tail?'
'A spider - OF COURSE!'.
'Ah, that's right. Of course! A spider. … but hang just one second young lady…'
(long pause, how do I break this minor detail about arachnoid architecture)
'…spiders don't have tails."

I timed her response:
Two kilometres clicked over.
Five clicks.
At six and a half she emerged from her thoughts.
'I'm hungry. Oh, and - by the way - you are SO literal.'

The joys of being eight, nearly nine.

Remember the Art Linkletter TV show Kids say the darndest things?

Matakana has changed beyond recognition. It seems to have been utterly gentrified. Felt like somewhere in the Sonoma Valley. Loads of Porsches and stupid SUVs.

We had lunch at the fish and chip shop by the Farmer's Market (which was all but over by the time we arrived). The shop is called 'C' and I can say, straight up, the food was the best I have ever had from a deep fryer. The young woman who served us was bright and friendly. She broke out into song and asked me what I thought of the song. I told her I liked it and that it was the first time I had been serenaded in a fish and chip shop.

I couldn't help but recall the house of horrors I visited in Greenwhich, London where surly staff served skate (which I don't count as fish) and soggy fat soaked, deep warmed, par-boiled potatoes.

In Matakana the fish was locally caught snapper, beautifully cooked and the chips were perfect. There were too many fries though and I resented binning most of them - the price was high and I don't like waste.

Z & I shared a burger, halved by the kitchen staff. Home-made pattie, simple fresh salad ingredients. Very, very good. The Zoemeister complained about the raw red onions but I liked them and added hers to my half.

I give Matakana a thumbs up. We'll come back - leaving the Porsche at home.

The highlight of the afternoon was heading a little further north to Kaiwaka. My travelling companion advised me that means 'food canoe'.

Kaiwaka is the home of the Utopia Cafe. A funky festival of ferro cement. It is one of my favourite places. The coffee is good. The food organic (not that I care). And it is the antithesis of slick.

My mid-term plan is to head for the hills. The winter-less north. Simple life to balance complex problems. I never feel that sitting at a desk in an office works for me.

I feel like a polar bear in a tropical zoo.

Friday, September 12, 2008

More mirth...

I am glad to see the controversial Toyota RAV 4 commercial has returned to the airwaves. I love it, classic, old school advertising, the likes of which is rarely seen these days. Reminds me of the Danny de Vito directed War of the Roses. Maybe there is just too much piety in advertising today, guided by post-modern louche irony and political correctness.

See, light hearted...

A new version of the Uniqlock - the nicest way of selling T-Shirts in the world. You have to check it out. Hypnotic. Tripnotic.

Love Love Love

Ok, so…I don't want you to have the impression that I am obsessive about the state of the Nation. I'm not. I write my bog in between all the same mundus that you endure. But I have interests and desires that are fickle, sometimes base or frivolous - the things that prove my humanity.

I confess to a certain grumpy-ness these past few weeks. But I find pleasure in the bleak foment of life in simple things: my children, music, swimming, hope. Same as you, with inevitable variation.

I just watched this again. It always lifts my spirits. That's what culture does, whether it is country music (love it - sometimes) or contemporary (ditto) - or a shakespeare chorus ("oh for a muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention…") or a rambling verse from Sam Hunt (gave a colleague a copy of the Kiwi Bard's latest anthology as a birthday gift and suffered post-partum depression straight-away).

So, ladies and gentlemen, without further ado…the Penguin Cafe Orchestra…:

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Gnarls Barkley - listen to your heart

Been there.

Better now.

Gnarls Barkley - "Who's Gonna Save My Soul?"

Finely observed.

Lightening up…

A regular reader has suggested my post have become a little 'dark'. I suppose the politics filling the media is so distrbing I have felt the need to comment. So, deep breath…Here are some interesting design blogs i thought you might find useful:


A Daily Dose of Architecture
Desire to Inspire
The Style Files

You like?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Frank Stella Art Car Redux

I often feel nostalgic for a car I used to own - a BMW 3.0 csi. It was the 1975 model, the last year it was produced. These big, beautiful coupes were sensational. Mine was a stick shift. It uttered the most sensation howl from its 3 litre, six cylinder powerplant. At the time I lived in the country, not far from Auckland city and loved the ride home. And, yes, it would reach close to the 150 mile per hour mark (I assume there is a statute of limitations?)

So, combining my love of art and BMW 3.0 coupes from the era before sound deadening and the padded luxury for the rich ponce market kicked in, here is a redux of the Frank Stella car that I waxed (lyrically) about before.

I would own another in a Nürburgring moment.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Asymmetric warfare

superstar training

Last year I developed a brand concept for a client who specializes in professional training. It's live now.

The interesting thing about the project was the willingness of the client to adopt the brand name SuperStar. It is a training programme for top sales people. Superstar will contract to train individuals from one organization in a category.

My recommendation was to avoid selling the secret recipe to competitors. How can you gain a strategic advantage over rivals if you are all behaving the same way, using the same tools and, effectively canceling each other out - what is the point?

I also have an issue with cookie cutter business degrees. Singing from the same hymnal means the opportunity to strike shock and awe into the hearts of competitors is homogenized.

I recommend you get in touch with Martin Fenwick and see if he'll accept you into the program.

It's time for some Asymmetric Warfare.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

In a world…without Don LaFontaine

The voice of American movie trailers has died.
What a terrific example of a One & Only brand. Immediately recognizable even though he was endlessly imitated.

There are some sad ironies at the end of this clip.