Tuesday February 28, 2006
Last week, I wrote an article for Advertising Age about the use of celebrities in advertising. For a sidebar, I spoke to George Lois, the iron horse creative director who has worked with so many celebrities—on everything from ad campaigns to classic Esquire covers—that he’s published a whole book about his exploits. Here’s his advice (or non-advice) for dancing with the stars:
I can’t give advice to people on how to do celebrity advertising other than that you can’t do testimonial-type advertising where you make the guy look like a fool and look like he or she is doing it for money. You’ve got to do it so they’re enjoying themselves. There’s no one way to do it. In most cases, it’s witty, it’s fun, and the advertising always makes the man or woman look good. You look at them and you like them for it.
Celebrities now—there’s nobody coming to them with ideas where they look at it and they say, “Wow, I’ve got to do that commercial.” They’re only doing it for the big bucks, and when they do it for the big bucks, it usually comes out pretty shitty.
Monday February 27, 2006
One in five Americans believe themselves to be holy. Whether they are disturbingly self-assured because God loves them or God loves them because they are disturblingly self-assured remains, as ever, an open question. … From an upsetting press release about “Red Teens”: “American teens are more religious than teens in any of the other countries studied,” according to a new study conducted by Energy BBDO, which surveyed teens from 13 countries, including Germany, France, India, and China. “They are much more likely to believe in God, more likely to consider themselves religious, and more likely to have attended a religious service in the past 30 days than other teens around the world.” I like how conservatives have co-opted everything from the left, including teenagers and the color red.
New York artist and friend-in-law Neil Goldberg (he and Alexandra are pals, although we have never met) has created a series of photographs based on a familiar, yet heartbreaking, theme: missing the subway. He spent hours in subway stations, capturing the faces of New Yorkers at the precise moment of letdown. Selections from the “Missing the Train” series will be on display as part of the “Welcome Home” group show, which opens Saturday at the Sara Meltzer Gallery in Chelsea. I was intrigued, so I emailed Neil a few questions about the project:
How did you get the idea for this series?
I don’t remember the exact moment when I had the idea, but it was probably (surprise surprise) while watching someone miss the train. I’ve always been interested in disappointment as a theme. We’re all filled with hopes and desires, and life often has other plans for us, so what do we do with that? I think it gets to something basic and huge about being alive. To see those big issues played out over something as overlooked and ordinary as missing the train is especially interesting to me. I love the way the expressions in some of these photographs have something in common with the faces you’d see in Renaissance paintings depicting religious suffering or ecstasy. That was something completely unexpected. This was originally going to be a video project, but when I saw the freeze frames of those expressions, I wanted to do stills.
Did you setup in the subway or did you take the pictures when the opportunity arose?
I set up on the platform at various stations and waited and waited. It was just like fishing. Doing this for hours on end, I was struck by how many people don’t, in fact, miss the train. I would actually find myself starting to root for people not to make it, which is a troubling thing to find yourself doing. Also, by the end of the project I felt I’d developed a sixth sense about who was going to catch their train and who wasn’t. That was disturbing, too.
Did you run into any problems
with the new restrictions on taking photographs in the subway?
… I noticed something really different about shooting this footage compared to the many projects I taped in public in the years prior. And, of course, it’s got something to do with 9/11. Up until then, except for the occasional crazy person convinced I was trying to steal his identity, I never encountered anything but pure New York blasé-ness. But with this project, I’d get a lot of hostile questions from passengers and was shooed along by cops pretty much once a morning.
Are there any people more disappointed than people who have just missed the subway?
Well, yeah. But if you’re looking for the highly-distilled essence of disappointment, there’s nothing better that I know of. It’s fleeting, but it’s 100 proof.
Another train is always coming. Why do people get so upset?
I hear you—but we should talk the next time it happens to you.
In the late ’90s, everything was “mine.” My Yahoo!, My AOL, My McDonald’s. Now, with all this talk of Web 2.0, everything is making a comeback, including interactivity, irrational exuberance, and—it seems—the marketing “My.” There’s MySpace, of course, and now News Corp.’s latest venture, My Network TV. (UPDATE: And MyABC.)
During the first wave of “My” marketing, I wrote an essay for the now defunct site ADAD, explaining how the strategy works. Like “AMBULANCE” written in reverse so it will appear as a word in your rearview mirror, “My” turns an advertising message around so that it can effortlessly appear, to the consumer, as a thought. Since everything old is indeed new again, I’ve reprinted that essay here.
Thursday February 23, 2006
Indecency complaints may be way down, but the FCC is just getting warmed up. According to Reuters, the commission is set to rule on several indecency complaints in its backlog. The FCC levied no indecency fines last year, after a record-setting year—for both fines and complaints—in 2004. Earlier, I predicted that 2006 would be the year the commission catches up.
Wednesday February 22, 2006
“Research finds that many film critics, faced with far too many movies to write about, tend to avoid writing reviews of bad films they’ve seen.” That’s funny. I thought the way critics dealt with that was by giving bad movies good reviews. (I will never forget. Never.) … Here, have some Neutral Milk Hotel ephemera. One of my favorite bands of the last ten years. … MySpaceSpeak spreads.
Harper’s senior editor—and friend of Hanasiana—Bill Wasik explains how he initiated the short-lived “flash mob” phenomenon and ponders what it all means in the lastest issue of the magazine. Bill previously did an anonymous interview—conducted by Francis Heaney—with Stay Free! magazine. From the Harper’s piece:
The basic hypothesis behind the Mob Project was as follows: seeing how all culture in New York was demonstrably commingled with scenesterism, the appeal of concerts and plays and readings and gallery shows deriving less from the work itself than from the social opportunities the work might engender, it should theoretically be possible to create an art project consisting of pure scene—meaning the scene would be the entire point of the work, and indeed would itself constitute the work.
Monday February 20, 2006
A while ago, I observed that Gen Y is lucky to be coming of age at a time when technology actually works. I take it all back, now that I’ve signed up for MySpace. (I’ve mentioned before that I have to try absolutely everything.) How did something this buggy and ugly become so popular? (Oh, right.)
Still, if you send me a request, I will totally add you.
Friday February 17, 2006
In October, I talked about how indecency and obscenity complaints were way down at the FCC. Well, the commission has released its report on fourth quarter complaints, and while they were up in the last two quarters of 2005, they are way down from 2004—down by 83 percent, in fact. There were 233,471 complaints in 2005, compared to 1,405,419 in 2004. Here’s a graph that charts complaints for the last eight quarters.
What does it all mean? When complaints fell off in the second quarter, the FCC attributed it to a drop in organized campaigns like those orchestrated by the Parents Television Council. In the fourth quarter, 96 percent of the 44,109 complaints received were logged in December. The PTC filed a complaint against CBS’s N.C.I.S., and asked its website visitors to do the same, on November 15.
Merrill Markoe presents a modest—yet chilling—proposal over at Huffington Post. Since politicians are just puppets for corporations, let’s let corporations run for office directly. Snip:
With my new plan perhaps the Republicans might create a ticket that would offer Rockwell Manufacturing for President; tough on terrorists (The B1 bomber) but still forward thinking and cutting edge (Rocketdyne! The Space Shuttle! The semiconductor!). Then balance the ticket with the friendlier and more gregarious sounding Beatrice Foods for Vice President: Progressive, (Beatrice sounds like it could be a woman) yet traditional (Orville Redenbacher) and concerned with domestic security (Blue Bonnet Margarine, Chef Boyardee!). Also, since Beatrice foods is a division of ConAgra, the minority vote would be assured (Rosarita Refried Beans! Hebrew National! LaChoy! Swiss Miss!).
Thursday February 16, 2006
Wednesday February 15, 2006
Language Log tries to explain why the use of “podium” as a verb is making me nuts—without really making me feel any better about it. … Thanks to John, I have learned that my favorite blog from the Athens Olympics is back in business for Torino. It’s called DFL and it tracks the Games’ last-place finishers. As the site’s proprietor explains, “DFL” is “athlete’s slang for coming in last. The D stands for ‘dead,’ the L stands for ‘last.’ and the F is, well, obvious.” … A note on Curling. It’s not a sport if you can wear an off-the-rack belt while playing it. These guys look they’re trying to sell me a Saturn.
There’s been a fair amount of chatter about a new study from the Columbia University Music Lab that finds that “social influence affects decision-making in a market” when people choose what music they listen to. Who finds this surprising? More importantly, what sort of radically atomistic view of personal taste do you have to start with to find it surprising? Oh, probably something like the precious hipster delusion that musical choices are somehow the purest and least commodified expressions of our innermost selves. Of course taste is social, and thank goodness.
WOXY in Oxford, Ohio—the radio station that helped raise me when I was growing up in northern Kentucky—is trying out an interesting model for keeping its online operations going. (The station stopped broadcasting in 2004.) It’s signing up paying members in the hopes of becoming listener supported.
97X, which went so-called alternative in 1983—long before Clear Channel and company began marketing the format ten years later—had as much to do with my becoming a writer (and eventually moving to New York) as anything. (The photo of a vintage 97X sticker above comes from a cracked skateboard deck I still own.) Listening from a stalled, post-war suburbia where Zeppelin and Rush ruled, the station cracked my head open to new music and to new possibilities in books, magazines, movies, politics, and life. Was my “life saved by rock ‘n’ roll,” like Lou Reed says? Maybe. But only because taste is social. I was just lucky to fall in with a good crowd.
“For her part, [former editor Elizabeth] Spiers argues that Gawker is now so well entrenched that it is virtually unmovable.” —New York magazine
Tuesday February 14, 2006
When I was a rock critic in the irony-rich middle ’90s, I was frequently confronted with the following dilemma: Is this the worst band I have ever heard or is it the best performance art I have ever seen?
This question also comes to mind when considering McKinney + Silver’s (apparently?) ham-fisted “Pherotones” campaign for (we now know) Oasys Mobile. Let’s review.
Oasys launches a fake website featuring a fake doctor, Dr. Myra Vanderhood, who does fake interviews and figures in a fake Wikipedia entry. All of this fakery is initially criticized by bloggers, until it turns out Oasys is paying said bloggers’ bills. Meanwhile, Dr. Vanderhood drops comments around the blogosphere and the alternate reality gaming crowd gets understandably excited, since something this clumsy just has to be a setup, right? It can’t be music; it must be performance art.
It’s beginning to look like it just is that clumsy, however. If the client here really were Qwest—as some speculated—there would be blood on the walls in Durham. Since the client is, instead, a no-name, Go Daddy client like Oasys, things might net out. Still, unless this gets a lot more interesting in a hurry, it’s sure to go down as a cautionary tale rather than a case study.
Monday February 13, 2006
Adweek reports on a study released today by the Government Accountability Office that finds that the Bush administration has spent—through its various agencies—$1.6 billion on advertising and public relations services in the last two and a half years. Based on the GAO study and AdAge’s list of of the 100 leading national advertisers (pdf), the federal government—which, for the purposes of the GAO study, included only the departments of Commerce, Defense, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Interior, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs—was the 62nd biggest U.S. advertiser in 2004, right behind liquor marketer Diageo and right ahead of drug company Eli Lilly. Here’s where the government fits in, according to the GAO’s figures:
|63||Eli Lilly & Co.||$586.8M|
AdAge’s own tally, which includes the Office of National Drug Control Policy (which is within the executive branch) and the U.S. Postal Service (which is an independent agency), puts the government’s total 2004 ad spend at $1.2 billion, good for 25th position, right between Merck and Viacom.
Thursday February 09, 2006
I know, I know. John McCain is in the Senate, not the House, but I fell in love with the headline and couldn’t let go. Who can resist a good double pun?
Anyway, Sen. John McCain is getting behind the push for a la carte cable programming, now that a new FCC study (which reverses a previous FCC study) reveals that a la carte will be great. McCain’s support is important for the a la carte crowd but far from decisive. After all, McCain was the only Republican to vote against the Telecom Act of 1996, so he might end up alone on this one as well.
In any event, my position remains unchanged: A la carte will be bad for lots of people—including religious broadcasters, media conglomerates, and Brent Bozell—which is why it should be adopted as soon as humanly possible.
Wednesday February 08, 2006
So, I’m riding in to work this morning and there’s a guy watching a movie on one of those portable DVD players, you know with the little 4-inch screens. He’s on the last spot on one of the benches, I’m in that space by the door, and so I’m immediately to his side and above him, able to look down at a perfect view of the screen.
And what is he watching you ask? An action movie? A TV show? A documentary about the plight of the street children of Calcutta?
No. It is a porno movie.
A porno movie on the Lexington Ave line at 10 in the morning.
Monday February 06, 2006
I began tracking the Redbook curse a year ago, when Charlie Sheen and Denise Richards graced the February cover, then promptly hit the rocks. Since then, cover subjects Nick and Jessica (March 2004), Jennifer Aniston (June 2003), and Heather Locklear (October 2001 and July 2005) have all taken up residence in Splitsville. Hilary Swank (March 2005) has also been pricing real estate there.
Lance Armstrong and Sheryl Crow, however, didn’t even wait for their cover to come out. That’s right, the March issue of Redbook, due on newsstands in mere days, features Crow on the cover. Foiled again.
UPDATE: As you can see from this advance image, the cover line has Crow saying, “I’ve found my true self,” although now it’s apparently without Lance, despite what she says on the inside (“Lance and I were and are just happy to be together.”) Redbook’s recent breakup record is now 4 for 15 with one leaner. Britney Spears appeared on the cover in January 2005. (The full March cover appears after the jump.)
I don’t know about you, but my favorite ad from last night’s Super Bowl was the political allegory from Anheuser-Busch. George W. Bush, represented by a young Clydesdale, slips into a harness and tries to pull the Budweiser beer wagon—which represents both the United States and the free-wheeling lifestyle he has only recently left behind. He is unable to move it until he is secretly helped by two adult horses—James Baker and Dick Cheney—who push the wagon from behind. Then the farmer (Karl Rove) looks at the dog (Judy Miller) and says, “I won’t tell if you won’t.” And that’s why the little Clydesdale believes in Jesus. A beautiful story.
PLUS: Save time with Lost Remote’s three word reviews of yesterday’s ads.
Friday February 03, 2006
After three years of covering Super Bowl ads for AdCritic, I’ll actually be able to watch the game this year. I’ve got to go with the Steelers, although they did knock the Bengals out of contention. Still, Ben Roethlisberger attended my alma mater, Miami University (that’s Miami of Ohio to the rest of you), so I can make it work. The team was so bad when I went there, I think they won one game and tore the goalposts down. … Consumers to advertisers: This would be awesome if it weren’t just another gimmicky Super Bowl ad. [via] … My former colleague Chris Davis has returned from the Gulf Coast with some stories to tell.
The White House has announced that it will nominate Robert McDowell to the FCC. If confirmed, McDowell, who was previously endorsed by Senate Commerce Committee Co-Chair Ted Stevens, will fill the last open seat on the commission.
In related news, ABC will be on nipple patrol Sunday. It’s putting the Super Bowl on a 5-second delay. Says Brent Bozell: “ABC has wisely decided to ensure that this year’s Super Bowl is not hijacked by raunchy performers as it was in 2004. Now, we hope that millions of families can safely watch this family program without the worry of seeing inappropriate sexual content or hearing vulgar language.”
God bless us, every one.
Pat recently asked me what I thought of the prospect of Steve Jobs eventually taking over Disney. From a completely superficial perspective, I think it’s great. I hope it happens soon. Why? Because first generation moguls are more interesting than company men like Bob Iger. They are more likely to say interesting things and to make sudden, interesting moves.
A few years ago, I was at a banquet where the guest speakers were Ted Turner and then AOL Timer Warner CEO Gerald Levin. Turner was a man on fire. I don’t recall what he said, exactly, but he had a wild look in his eyes and you could almost sense the nearby handlers who had long ago given up trying to contain The Ted. Levin, on the other hand, was a stiff. A bureaucrat. A stilted purveyor of businessese.
So, give me a William Randolph Hearst. Give me a Felix Dennis. First generation moguls marry Barbarella. First generation moguls manufacture wars out of whole cloth. First generation moguls write poetry and commission bronze statues of Robert Crumb, godammit. They succeed spectacularly, and sometimes fail spectacularly as well—which is why a Jobs-run Disney might be worth rooting for. He did, after all, make one of the worst strategic decisions of the Information Era by refusing to license the Mac OS, paving the way for the meteoric rise of the most boring first generation mogul of all time.
Well look at that. I actually agree with something over at OpinionJournal—Jim Fusilli’s hilarious column on the influence of Cookie Monster on death-metal vocalists. A must read.
On a personal note, I once compared a Memphis death-metal band’s vocals to an Andy Kaufman routine and they threatened to sue me. That was sort of disappointing. You figure a death-metal band is going to threaten to kill you, right?
Thursday February 02, 2006
The news that advertising agency J. Walter Thompson has set up shop in Afghanistan reminded me of a short piece of speculative fiction I wrote years ago. “Report from Ichtonyia” tells the story of a small, isolated country that is suddenly consumed by the advertising business. I’ve posted it here in its entirety.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about where fiction fits into the blog world. I have been fortunate to have my stories published in some nice journals—including McSweeney’s, One Story, and the Land-Grant College Review—but what happens to them then? Usually, not much. They are forgotten.
Inspired by Cory Doctorow and Francis, I’m going to put out an e-book next month to release some of those previously published stories. Consider this the beginning of that experiment. I know that longer formats don’t fare as well as, say, pithy diagrams in blogland, so if you read it and like it, pass it on. (It prints out real nice, too.)
Wednesday February 01, 2006
Alito sworn in? As a Supreme Court justice? And here I thought he was the neighborhood above Little Italy. … A question about Koren Zailckas, author of Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood: Was she a drunk drunken girl or, like, a James Frey drunken girl? Get on it, Gun. … The best thing about these oft-blogged Law & Order Valentine’s Day cards? No Vincent D’Onofrio. I really don’t care for him.
Word comes to us that stop-motion phenom PES (that’s a self-portrait by the artist on the left) is at work on a pair of shorts for AtomFilms. The NYC animator talked to The Boston Herald last week for a story about Atom’s plans to commission six new shorts from “all-stars” of viral video.
PES has done some commercials lately, but is best known for the cult hit Roof Sex (audio NSFW), the Nike parody/tribute Wild Horses Redux, and the sublime KaBoom! (for Diesel), which chillingly depicts an urban air raid using toys and Christmas ornaments. The Atom shorts, due to be released in the spring, are titled Cemetary Sex and Game Over.