Monday October 31, 2005
… to make books cool again. When you use predictive text to type out a message on your cellphone, the numbers that spell out “cool” also spell out “book,” but “book” is the default. You could scroll down to select “cool,” if that’s what you meant, but why bother? British teens have apparently taken to saying “book” for “cool” instead, even when speaking, at least according to this post. Pretty sad or, um, rad.
Friday October 28, 2005
Don’t you wish special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald had delivered today’s indictment news with some of that over-the-shoulder finger waving deployed by Kanye West in the “Gold Digger” video? I do. … Incited by Boing Boing, Flickrites are creating illustrations to go with some of the 700 imaginary hobo names listed in John Hodgman’s The Areas of My Expertise. Beautiful. … Long story short: Get up in there and start making shit up. … Darren Aronofsky is going to direct an episode of Lost. Am I going to have to watch all the episodes I’ve missed so far just to understand how that episode makes no sense?
Wednesday October 26, 2005
While the MIT Advertising Lab assumes that this photo is of the real Subservient Chicken, it’s actually just someone Crispin Porter + Bogusky suited up for a photo shoot for Fast Company. Nevertheless, the decontextualized shot—by photographer Phil Toledano—is sublime in its own right.
Tuesday October 25, 2005
Ad Age hit the sphere yesterday with the staggering, yet somehow completely unsurprising, news that workers will waste the equivalent of 551,000 years reading blogs in 2005. That sounds like a lot, but is it? Well, it works out to about $77 billion in lost work, which puts reading blogs right between employee theft and alcohol among causes of lost productivity, which sounds just about right.
Here’s a list of some other leeches on the flabby underbelly of capitalism, along with what they cost:
Some of you probably thought I was kidding when I suggested that iPods are the new babies. I was not. Feast your eyes on iAttire.net, where you can buy Halloween costumes for your little bundle of trendy joy. Better get started checking out those pre-schools.
[Thanks to Charles and SF!D]
I earlier lamented the fact that Motorola abandoned the MPx before it even had a chance to live. But now, just in time for that gadget itch that means I’m desperately trying to avoid doing something useful, Samsung delivers a similar dual-hinge form factor in the new D307, available from Cingular. (Which, by the way, marks exactly the first time I’ve been glad to be a Cingular customer.) Must investigate.
I have been suffering from information overload and have been reduced to sucking my online content through a very small straw. Nevertheless, I have gleaned the following: John Hodgman—pound for pound the funniest person I have ever read, heard or seen—puts out his first book, The Areas of My Expertise, this week. I’ve seen him read from it twice and was delighted both times. … Author Brendan Halpin trashes himself so he can respond on Salon, a plan so crazy that it just might work. … I cannot believe the critics liked this. … It’s 1968 and you’re late for your Bar Mitzvah. You’ve got to run to make it while avoiding the third most influential band of all time. It’s Velvet Underground 3D Death Chase. Oh yes it is. [Via Buck Hill.]
Monday October 17, 2005
After careful consideration, I’ve decided to pass my copy of Zioncheck for President by my friend Phil Campbell to my friend Charles Star at Stay Free! Daily. But do not be disheartened, my friend Dylan De Thomas. Christmas is just around the corner.
The Presidents of the United States of America shoot an entire video with cellphones. … Commercial-makers pretend commercial-free television is awesome. Commercial-selling affiliates, on the other hand, are openly pissed. (TV Week; reg. required) … ASME expected to ban product placement in magazine content. Previously joyous AEs expected to backpedal on “unbelievable opportunities.” … Has success spoiled JibJab?
Saturday October 15, 2005
I’ve got a few pieces in the “Creative Marketers” report in the new issue of Creativity, the ad trade that (as some of you know) I used to call home. In addition to Erick Soderstrom of Converse and Bob Stohrer at Virgin Mobile, I chatted a little with Burger King CMO Russ Klein. While the industry was more or less shocked when Crispin Porter + Bogusky managed to do good (and interesting) work for the notoriously hapless client, Klein—who was brought in by a new ownership group in 2003—spells out the winning formula: Targeting dudes and taking risks. A snippet:
“We view ourselves as a brand with higher risk tolerance than our key competitors are willing to undertake, and we consider that a competitive advantage,” Klein says. “Sometimes sparks fly and you have to have the stomach as a corporation and as a brand to do work that is provocative, and we’re pretty comfortable with that.”
And so we get Coq Roq and that creepy, creepy king (who appears with Klein on the cover) instead of that schmaltz McDonald’s is alway turning out. The story is online, but only for subscribers, unfortunately.
Friday October 14, 2005
If you want a free copy of Phil Campbell’s book, Zioncheck for President, you better act this weekend. Details on the giveaway are here. Winner announced Monday.
- They insist that their iPods are the most unique, and attractive, MP3 players in the world.
- They react defensively if anyone suggests their iPod is just like any other machine.
- They dress them up in all kinds of cute little costumes.
- They talk about them incessantly.
Inevitable, and creepy, conclusion? iPods are the new babies.
Thursday October 13, 2005
Jack Shafer calls the press corps on their shameless Apple worship. Someone had to, particularly as the hype surrounding the video iPod approaches absurdity. Shafer hits all the right points. The iPod may be a well-designed little machine, but it is certainly not unique for what it actually does, and it’s overpriced to boot. (Its extensions, like the Shuffle, are even more so.) I’m always surprised how even confirmed skeptics turn pious when you question their slavish devotion to their iPods. You might as well question the authenticity of the young Bob Dylan.
Shafer doesn’t get into this, but Apple’s continuing PR success is all about Americans’—or, rather, a certain upper-middlish class of Americans’—obsession with authenticity. And it’s ironic that the halo of originality that surrounds the brand—drawing all the rebels and renegades and “creative” types to it like moths—is almost entirely a product of marketing. Aren’t rebels and renegades supposed to see through marketing? Aren’t they supposed to, you know, “Think Different?” Well, exactly.
If a business consists of three parts—product quality, strategy and brand image—Apple’s total assets are brand-heavy (just as Microsoft’s are strategy-heavy), which means consumers pay more for Apple products, not because of their innovation, but because they’re Apple products—because the company has brilliantly positioned itself as the “challenger” more successfully than any product this side of the Republican Party. Thus the huge mark-ups. BusinessWeek, for example, reports that iPods net Apple a 50 percent profit margin and that St. Steve won’t settle for less than 20 percent on any product.
How rad is that? And how cool is it to pay a luxury tax for Apple products just because of slick branding? About as cool as wearing designer jeans.
Wednesday October 12, 2005
This should add a little spice to your next ad/edit confab:
While marketers are pushing for print’s answer to product placement, it turns out that most magazine readers already consider it rampant. A study released yesterday by Starcom USA found that 65% of the consumers believe that advertisers pay for editorial mentions.
“They already think we’re selling it, so let’s—you know—sell it.”
An abridged list of Jump Rope teams in the U.S., compiled after a long night of watching ESPN2:
- Jumping for Joy
- Jumping Buddies
- Rope Twisters
- Ropin’ Rockets
- Rapid Ropers
- Hoppin’ Hawks
- Leaping Leopards
- Bouncing Bulldogs
- Kangaroo Kids
- Tiger Turners
- The Skiperiors
- The SkipSations
Interesting day yesterday at the blog of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA). On the one hand, we get cheers for WOMMA CEO Andy Sernovitz, whose defense of his organization’s commitment to “honest discussions”—a spirited rebuttal of this article—appears in this week’s AdAge. Then, in the very next post, we get what AdFreak dubs “the creepiest marketing story ever told.” Here’s how the Freak tells it:
Seems a guy named Tom Coates, who works for the BBC, posts a long item on his personal blog, plasticbag.org, about how he hasn’t spoken to his father in 30 years. Among the sympathetic postings is one from a “Barry Scott,” who says he went through a similar ordeal but decided to make amends with his dad. He even says Coates can “drop [him] a line” if he needs further support. But as it turns out, Barry Scott doesn’t exist—except as an alleged spokesperson for Reckitt Benckiser’s household cleaner Cillit Bang.
An imaginary spokesperson offering personal advice? No matter how you describe it, or what standards the industry adopts, this sort of marketing is always going to feel a little like human cloning—an artificial intrusion into life that will always be, above all else, universally unpopular.
Tuesday October 11, 2005
Last week, I plugged Zioncheck for President, my former colleague Phil Campbell’s memoir about his involvement with a punk rock campaign for Seattle city council. Then Phil’s book was liberally excerpted in The Stranger—an honor made all the more impressive by the fact that, in the book, Phil gets fired by the paper on page 5. Now, however, it’s time for the third pillar of the Zioncheck blockbuster marketing plan—the Encyclopedia Hanasiana giveaway. Grant Cogswell, Phil’s candidate, has a tattoo—a tattoo he got after winning a referendum to extend Seattle’s monorail system. Phil describes it, and its meaning, this way:
About three inches high and almost as wide, the Seattle city logo is now etched on Grant’s left bicep in blue-green ink, a stylized profile of Chief Seattle in the center of a small vortex of pointed half-circles, which, on closer inspection, are the outside parts of an S. The tattoo was the perfect bridge for Grant, connecting his self-styled punk persona to his passion for a rebellious form of grassroots politics.
Do you have a politically-motivated tattoo? Or if you had one, what would it be? Share it in comments, and if it turns out to be my favorite idea (or actual execution), you win my copy of the book. Simple. I’ll pay postage in the lower 48. Contest closed to all others. I’ll give it a week and announce the winner next Monday.
Monday October 10, 2005
TV Week (reg. req.) reports on NBC’s latest plan for self-destruction. Snip:
NBC and Bunim-Murray Productions are finalizing a deal for a reality pilot starring veteran comedic actors Leslie Nielsen, 79, and Ed Asner, 76, sources said. The concept, dubbed 100 Things to Do Before I Die, has been described as Grumpy Old Men meets The Simple Life.How can it miss?
Last week, as I read Paul Boutin’s eulogy for the Motorola ROKR—“in the gadget-lust department, the ROKR is more soccer mom than supermodel”—I was reminded that Moto had a truly sexy phone in the pipeline last year, and they killed it.
Remember the MPx? I do. I wrote an “Object of Desire” page on it for GQ, which seemed right at the time. It was easily the most-anticipated phone of 2004. Engadget called the dual-hinged PDA number—which could be opened both lengthwise (as a clamshell phone) and horizontally (sort of like a Sidekick)—“lust-inducing.” Gizmodo declared it “so hot that it’s getting otherwise non-techy geeks excited.” An advance version appeared on eBay and caused a stir. I myself got my hands on a prototype for several weeks, thanks to the GQ assignment.
Then, this April, Motorola killed it.
The RAZR has been pretty well received—and the company can perhaps redeem itself if it can merge that platform with Blackberry-like technology—but wouldn’t it have made more sense to satisfy the demand for the MPx’s innovative design, rather than flailing around in the non-demand for the gruesome ROKR? Ah, hindsight.
Sunday October 09, 2005
I was just thinking the other day that next year will be the 30th anniversary of Network, Paddy Chayefsky’s sickeningly prescient look at what TV news would ultimately become. I’ve written about the movie before—for the long defunct magazine Gadfly—and I thought there might be a pitch in there for someone. But I’m happy to find out that George Clooney is on the case.
While promoting his Edward R. Murrow biopic, Good Night, and Good Luck—which he directed and co-wrote—Clooney let it slip that he’s planning to do a live telecast of Chayefsky’s script on CBS next fall. He previously did a similar production of Fail-Safe, also for CBS. Chayefsky’s florid script is incredible (save for some syrupy parts about William Holden’s marriage that haven’t aged so well), and Clooney seems to want to stay true to it, according to this bit in the Times.
Saying that everything Chayefsky predicted has come true may be a threadbare cliche, but the level of accuracy really is amazing. If you haven’t watched it recently, you should. It’s worth noting, however, that TV insiders didn’t find the movie all that fantastical when it was released. Barbara Walters may have feigned indignation, but Gore Vidal observed, “I’ve heard every line from that film in real life.” Meanwhile, Chayefsky—who won the first of his three screenwriting Oscars for the working class realism of 1955’s Marty—protested, perhaps a little too much, the characterization of Network as a satire. “I still write realistic stuff,” he told Time. “It’s the world that’s gone nuts, not me. It’s the world that’s turned into a satire.”
According to Wired News, so-called (by Wired) unGoogleables “have succeeded—either by luck, conscious effort or both—in avoiding the search engine’s all-seeing eye.” And are, therefore, indistinguishable from losers. … The passion of the Dell Dude. … Welcome to Park Slope. … Is a Technorati link worth $564.64?
Friday October 07, 2005
Alexandra’s short story “The Professional,” which appeared in the most recent issue of Stay Free!, is now available online. The first pull-quote sets it up nicely, like a line on a movie poster: “We teased her about being the humanitarian of our little group—it never occurred to us that we’d end up paying her for it.” Read the rest of it here.
Let the ghoul pools begin. Coke just awarded its $150 million creative account to Wieden + Kennedy in a major move. Coca-Cola will now account for almost 25 percent of Wieden’s U.S. billings—at least until the agency loses the account.
As great as Wieden has been for the brands it’s been great for—namely, Nike and ESPN—the agency has never cracked a major non-sports brand wide open. Remember Subaru? Randall Rothenberg got a whole book out of that miscue. More recently, there have been unsuccessful swings at Pizza Hut and AOL. (Miller High Life, you say? Great campaign, but for a marginalized product. Not quite the same as Brand Coke.)
Combine that with the fact that Coke has a rep for being the stiffest client ever—and one that is committed to a mass market world that is evaporating daily—and things look even bleaker. Things might work out, sure, but if they do, that will be the surprise.
My guess? Wieden and Coke will split by 8/1/06. For posterity, and future bragging rights, record your guesses in comments.
Thursday October 06, 2005
The big news today is that Jason Calacanis’ Weblogs Inc. has sold its network of blogs to AOL for somewhere between $20 million and $35 million. As Paid Content reports, that’s a pretty generous price no matter how you figure it. Weblogs Inc. reportedly brings in about $2 million/year. That’s not that much, even considering the keystone of any blog network’s business model—creating lots of content for next to nothing.
Weblogs Inc. reportedly has 130 bloggers. The base pay package is around $500/month for 125 posts, plus the possibility of bonuses based on traffic. (Disclosure: I once considered blogging for Weblogs Inc.) Supposing everyone makes only the base—and many surely make more—that comes to $780k. Add 15 fulltime employees at a lowball estimate of $600k and miscellaneous overhead and it becomes pretty clear that Weblogs Inc. is probably not turning a profit, at least not a very large one.
And the key to the company coming even close to profitability is bloggers who are willing to work for $4 a post. Even the very worst freelance markets—and I’m talking shoppers here—would be ashamed to pay less than 10 cents a word, yet Weblogs Inc. pays pennies. How long can that last, particularly now that Weblogs has been bought? It might be fun to parlay a hobby into a little folding money for a funky startup, but for AOL?
The biggest challenge facing the various blog networks might not be waiting for ad revenue, but keeping blogger compensation way, way down. As Weblogs rival Nick Denton (who I also once kicked blog ideas around with) observed today, “The whole point about blogs is that they’re not part of big media. Consolidation defeats the purpose. It’s way too early. Like a decade too early.” But will able contributors really work for peanuts—on posts they don’t even get to sign (presumably so they can be easily replaced, as they often are)—for another decade? Denton, Calacanis—and now, AOL—seem to be counting on it.
Speaking of music licensing, I wrote a piece about songs in commercials for the most recent issue of Radar, and it’s now online. The angle: How a song’s meaning changes when it becomes a jingle. Sub-angle: Hasn’t rock and roll been a big sellout from the beginning? Feel free to discuss.
Wednesday October 05, 2005
[UPDATE:: Or not. I don’t know who to believe anymore.]
When I saw John Darnielle, aka The Mountain Goats, wailing on his guitar six years ago at The Map Room in Memphis, I never suspected he would end up on 4AD or on the soundtrack of a popular TV show. The song “Cotton,” however, appeared in Weeds a few weeks ago. Good for him. (People with a memory for Modern Humorist, meanwhile, might be interested to know that Noam Weinstein also landed a track in the most recent episode.)
In other, stranger news, Stephen Malkmus’ “Phantasies” currently appears in a commercial for, er, Sears—which is much more of a non sequitur than anything on Slanted & Enchanted.
Tuesday October 04, 2005
My former Memphis Flyer colleague Phil Campbell has always had a knack for getting into unusual situations. Before I met him, he organized a convention of people named “Phil Campbell” in Phil Campbell, Alabama. (You might recall his article about that in Might or its anthology.) In Memphis, he managed to bunk in the zaniest apartment complex in Midtown and fell in with a group of leftist protest junkies who were never happier than when their civil rights were being violated.
After that, Phil moved to Seattle, worked for The Stranger, and then hooked up with Grant Cogswell, a WTO activist who staged a punk rock campaign for Seattle City Council. This last adventure is chronicled in Phil’s new memoir, Zioncheck for President: A True Story of Idealism and Madness in American Politics, due out Oct. 10 from Nation Books. Named for Marion Zioncheck, a leftist Seattle pol who committed suicide in 1936, the book is a novelistic, funny, and deeply personal narrative of Phil’s involvement in the Cogswell campaign. We should all be so lucky as to have something this honest and compelling to write about. I hope the book is a big hit.
Phil will give his first reading from Zioncheck tomorrow night (10/5) at 7 p.m. at KGB. As the pub date approaches, I will devise some contest for giving away my copy to a lucky reader.
UPDATE:The Stranger has published, and posted, a long excerpt from Zioncheck for President.
Just as sex is legal, and selling is legal, but selling sex is not legal—selling your power to recommend products to friends might not be legal. … Can someone tell me exactly when it became fashionable to take Fiona Apple seriously? Please leave your account in comments. … Punk Turns 30 delivers pics and reportage from the Goner Fest in Memphis (promoted from comments).
Everyone who’s anyone will be weighing in on their opinion about patronage appointment Harriet Miers today—so, naturally, I’ve decided to focus on my favorite patronage appointment instead.
Last time we checked in with FCC chairman Kevin Martin, he didn’t have a Republican majority—Bush needs to make a few appointments once he gets done stacking the Supreme Court—and the backlog of unrenewed licenses was growing. Now Mediaweek reports that the Martin-led commission has agreed to renew licenses that have complaints pending against them if licensees agree to extend their liability for such complaints to three years. Normally, license renewals erase all pending complaints older than a year. This would give Martin “continued leverage over network programming while still allowing station sales that would be precluded by a stalled license renewal.” But Mediaweek buries the lede—just as I’m doing now.
Not only has Martin spent six months in office without sanctioning a single station for indecency, indecency complaints are actually down! To wit: “The number of indecency complaints against radio and TV programming has dropped, from nearly 158,000 in the first quarter to 6,161 complaints in the second quarter. The first-quarter number already was lower than the corresponding period a year earlier, a trend the FCC ascribed to a drop in organized e-mail campaigns. Such campaigns are a hallmark of Parents Television Council and other groups.”
What’s up with that? A look at the PTC’s website shows that the group has not called for a mass petitioning of the FCC since June 15, but instead has focused on contacting sponsors. Either the PTC realizes that the FCC’s current gridlock renders the commission ineffective for its purposes, or it believes Martin can be trusted to start throwing fines around as soon as he has a majority. Stay tuned.
Monday October 03, 2005
Mr. Hurwitz. Look out for that shark!
Effective immediately, NBC’s The Apprentice: Martha Stewart and E-Ring will flip time periods, with the Pentagon-based drama moving to the Wednesday at 8 p.m. hour followed by The Apprentice: Martha Stewart at 9 p.m. That, of course, means Martha will have to face ABC’s Lost. Not a good thing!
On the bright side, at least Martha hasn’t been moved to Saturday—yet!
A few weeks ago, when I mentioned that Alexandra appears on the cover of a print-on-demand book created to document a friend’s moving sale, I failed to realize—and thus to mention—that I’m in it, too. I bought an air conditioner, as you can see from our spread, which comes off as some sort of Brooklynite yuppie take on American Gothic.
Adscam’s George Parker is the Howard Beale of advertising bloggers, and he hates Interpublic—the embattled parent of Deutsch and McCann-Erickson—the way Beale hated the profiteers at the fictional UBS network.
On the subject of IPG CEO Michael Roth’s plans for a turnaround, Parker gesticulates—and punctuates—wildly:
Maybe if he could stop his agency CEO’s from giving multi-thousand dollar parties on the “Christina O” at the Cannes Film Festival. Or, try to spend more time in the office instead of hosting lame-assed TV shows (Donny … Donny, no one but your pals and employees watches The Big Idea.) Then he wouldn’t have to be quoted as saying, “Interpublic is putting this behind us and moving forward.” Well you know what Micky … Stop losing money, and start doing work that wins you some respect … Fuck the dinosaurs and fuck the lap dancers. But we all know that’s never going to happen. When an agency group is as deep in the shit as IPG is, no one is going to do anything that might endanger an account … Which is precisely how you end up losing them.
Aw, George. You had us at “fuck the lap dancers.” Bookmark his site immediately.
It appears that one of the unintended consequences of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which will extend daylight-saving time by about a month starting in 2007, will be to keep people outside and away from their television sets—or so the industry fears. In particular, programmers worry that extending DST a week into November sweeps will, you know, cost them money. Snip:
Television researchers, who acknowledge that even a hundredth of a ratings point in today’s marketplace can have significant economic value, have tracked the effect of daylight-saving time on the levels of homes using television and persons using television for years. As they assess just how much the extra daylight in 2007 might affect TV’s bottom lines, they said weather and other seasonal or regional factors could exacerbate or ameliorate the effect of additional sunlight at the end of the day.
Or, as David Poltrack, executive VP of research and planning for CBS, jokes, “We’re trying to get all people inside all the time so that they never leave the machines that count viewers, yet they refuse to do that.”
Sunday October 02, 2005
GAIMAN GIVEAWAY: While Blogebrity and It’s Raining Noodles both got in early, my friend (and Boring Boring co-conspirator) Francis Heaney drew on what must be a considerable Sunday readership to be the first to 27. He wins my copy of Anansi Boys, and saves me a bundle on postage. (Give it to you the next time I see you, man.)
CALLING ALL GREASEMONKEYS: If you just arrived from Hackaday, you must be wondering what my “quick project” is. Well, since launching Gawker Talker on Friday, a few readers have suggested it would be extra clever to create a Greasemonkey script that would add links from Gawker items to the corresponding Gawker Talker discussions. That would indeed be very clever. Anybody want to make it happen? Email me.