The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'marketing'
The world moves one step closer to gender equality, with the announcement of a washing detergent specially formulated for fragile-masculinity sufferers. Named Frey, and packed in a tactical-black bottle reminiscent of engine oils, it allows those afflicted to do their own washing without feeling emasculated by the pastel-blue packaging or the sheer unmanliness of the activity of putting clothes into a washing machine like a little lady. It's also musk-scented, so, upon putting on the freshly-washed clothes*, one can smell like an alpha-masculine sexbeast, and not some domesticated house-husband.
Still, assuming that they have done their market research and there are people who would buy this sort of thing, one shouldn't laugh at those people; after all, they are suffering from a very real, and very debilitating, condition. Also, they might punch you.
* Presumably the target market would only be washing their own clothes, either because they live alone in a state of primal, untamed masculinity, or because their partner is understanding enough to accommodate their needs.
A few days ago, the hipster-electropop duo YACHT posted a plaintive note to their Twitter feed; the note announced, in a sombre, contrite tone, that, some years ago, the duo (Jona Bechtolt and Claire Evans, who are also a couple) had made a sex tape for their own use; now, apparently, someone had stolen it and posted it online. The note ended, imploring YACHT's fans to respect their privacy and not look at it.
Only there was no sex tape; or rather, there was a contrived promotional video for the latest single, “I Want To Fuck You Till I'm Dead”, from their last album. The whole exercise was a publicity stunt; the following day, they were to, with feigned resignation, put up a website supposedly selling their homemade sex video, though one which always gave an error at the time of payment; ultimately the truth would come out, and fans would push the album to the top of the Spotify charts, all the while praising the artists' clever, subversive conceit. It was to be, in their own words, “a slowly-unveiling conspiracy”, referencing The X-Files and The KLF*.
Unfortunately, they miscalculated. What they weren't counting on was the mass outpourings of public sympathy at them apparently having had the privacy of their intimate lives violated. It turned out that the public, by and large, weren't grabby jerks hungry for celebrity skin; they were strongly susceptible to what millennials call “the feels”, and almost painfully empathetic with their sorry heroes. Which was a problem, as, all of a sudden, YACHT had committed the offence of obtaining sympathy under false pretences. Not quite in fake-cancer-blogger territory, but the difference is a quantitative, rather than a qualitative, one. As the truth emerged, they issued a weaselly non-apology, followed a day later by a genuine apology, for both the stunt and the non-apology. But the damage was done. Perhaps ironically, the exercise has left YACHT revealing a bit more of themselves than is entirely flattering.
While this is the most problematic of YACHT's public projects so far, it didn't come from nowhere; they have form taking hot-button issues and using them as superficial aesthetic elements, much like extreme violence in a Quentin Tarantino film. Witness their most recent album, I Thought The Future Would Be Cooler; it was in this blog's records of 2015, and it is a finely crafted piece of infectiously fun chopped'n'screwed electropop, albeit with pretentions above its station. As its title suggests, it is somewhat of a concept album about technological ennui; the actual execution involves taking a number of ideas about how our high-tech world, you know, kinda sucks, and mashing them together, like a selfie-stick-era We Didn't Start The Fire; thus, the Snowden revelations and extrajudicial executions by drone are mentioned within a breath of crappy ads on the web, corny Internet-of-things gadgets and Tinder being a bit lame, like a focus-group brainstorming exercise of some sort. (Needless to say, there is no time to discuss, say, the issues of privacy or trust in the digital age, the potential implications of data mining, or whether, say, the internet's convergence into corporate-run proprietary silos is bad for human development, democracy or civil society; this is pop music, not a Cory Doctorow blog post. Onto the next snappy soundbite!) The whole point of the song is that our technological age kinda sucks, in a nonspecific way that anyone can agree with. It's pretty close to content-free and a brilliant piece of marketing.
And marketing is YACHT's stock-in-trade. They appear to be relentless self-marketers, classic Frommian Marketing Characters, chameleonically superficial, as sexy, edgy or profound as you read into them. To the Marketing Character, depth is a liability that compromises one's ability to self-promote. This superficial engagement with the world in the mode of marketing also jettisons any distinction between critique and complicity; we have seen this with their marketing tie-in with Uber, making their then-unreleased album streamable when surge pricing was in effect; which is on one level a criticism of Uber's exploitative business model, and yet isn't, any potential critique being defanged into mere “edginess” of the sort ad agencies have thrived on since the days of OK Soda in the grunge era. Yeah, Uber, surge pricing, it says, with an affected vocal-fry of exaggerated ennui: but hey, have a listen to this awesome album! And I'm sure the edgily back-handed endorsement didn't hurt Uber.
From surge pricing to leaked sex tapes may seem like a leap, but it's not a huge one; in both cases, newsworthy exploitation is used as a vehicle for self-promotion; in the latter, YACHT don't merely reference the exploitation, with an edgy ambiguity that is well SugaRAPE, but actively concoct it, leaping onto a topical issue (revenge porn) and using it as a marketing gimmick. But hey, there's no such thing as bad publicity, right?
* Let's see: The KLF came up with a formula for gaming the pop industry, used it to score a hit, then when invited to
Top Of The Pops the Brit Awards, got shock-metal band Extreme Noise Terror to play with them, and poured buckets of pig's blood onto fired blanks into the audience, and then finally incinerated a million pounds in banknotes, negating any business value their exploits may have had. I somehow can't see YACHT doing anything so gauchely self-destructive or blatantly anti-commercial.
Last week was the annual ritual the year's iPhone launch. It followed the usual routine: new models (with larger screens and a new iOS version), new technologies (Apple Pay, a contactless payment system) and a preannouncement of an as-yet unready product (the Apple Watch, which, to all appearances, doesn't quite work yet, hence the carefully managed demo). And then, another surprise: Bono, that Tony Blair of adult-oriented rock took to the stage, looking particularly greasy and ratlike in his trademark rock'n'roll sunglasses, and, through a scripted “spontaneous” exchange with Apple CEO Tim Cook, announced that his band U2 have recorded a new album, and that Apple have bought each and every one of their users a copy; it would be showing up in their record collections whether they wanted it or not. And, soon enough, it did. Those whose phones were set to automatically synchronise with iTunes Match found the new U2 album waiting on their phones.
Of course, not everyone was happy with having a record shoved into their record collections; even without it being by a band with such a sketchy reputation (musically and otherwise) as U2. The similarity between Bono's rationale—that those finding the music on their computer may listen to it and may like it, and if they don't like it, they can delete it—and the rationalisations of old-fashioned email spammers, was pointed out. Though, actually, you couldn't even delete it; you could remove it from your computer, and meticulously scrub it from all your Apple devices, but it would always be waiting for you in your list of downloadable purchases on the iTunes Store, like an unflushable jobbie, taunting you with its noisome presence every time you lifted the lid. The most you could do with it was “hide” it, as you would a mildly embarrassing drunken binge-purchase; but you and Apple would know it was always there, mocking you.
This was not so much the “turd-in-a-can” business model of lowest-common-denominator consumer capitalism as the “unflushable turd” business model; or “now you have our album in your music collection; deal with it”. A bit like the Los Angeles band who blocked a freeway with a truck and treated the trapped motorists to a live gig from a stage on the back, only scaled up to the size of Bono's messianic ego and international-level schmoozing abilities. When you're Bono, it seems, you can push your music to millions of people. As for Apple, could this mean that their hubris about knowing their customers' needs better than they know themselves has extended from which controls a user needs in an app to what sort of music the user likes, or ought to like?
After considerable kvetching and sarcasm on social media and the web (and undoubtedly a number of complaints to iTunes Support), Apple relented, and created a world first: a dedicated web link for removing U2's Songs Of Innocence from one's iTunes collection; a privilege (if one can call it that) that no other musical act has merited, or is likely to merit any time soon, with the levels of hubris, influence and public antipathy required to pull off such a feat.
Apple surely have statistics about how many people have availed themselves of this link, and expunged the most recent U2 album from their record collections. It's unlikely that they will publish them. It would be nice if this whole episode had been a lesson in humility for Bono and his people, but, somehow, I suspect that's too much to hope for.
There is, however, some hope from this affair; it seems that, after all, enough people to be counted and listened to still consider their music collections—the recordings they have chosen and curated themselves—to be a personal artefact, rather than just another advertising billboard. Sure, Facebook may abridge our friends' party photos and emotional dramas and squeeze in ads pushing weight-loss plans and financial services in the spaces freed up, Twitter may season our (now similarly algorithmically winnowed down) feeds with “sponsored tweets”, Shazam may turn our phones into micro-billboards for the new Justin Bieber record when we hold them up to check what the bangin' track the DJ is playing is, and Spotify may bombard us with gratingly obnoxious ads until we relent and become paying customers, but both our record collections and our not-inexpensive, non-ad-subsidised, devices are off limits; and woe betide anyone who messes with them.
I think the record is the equivalent of an honest, expressive film or novel…something people can spend a bit of time inside. I know it’s good. But those are not the kind of attributes that a lot of the Pitchfork side of indie culture values. They mostly want clever abstraction of a good idea or aesthetic from the past. Which is like the same thing say… a trendy clothier does. Presented by skinny young white people whenever possible. Which is also what a trendy clothier does actually. I mean all artists explore what’s been done before, that’s WHAT ART IS, but ideally on top of a foundation of intention, something with a bit of warm blood in it. Music like DIIV seems to just aggregate other good records and blur the meaningful bits that aren’t quite as easy to ape. Youth as the best car commercial ever. VICE on the other hand just promotes what I call ”transgression tourism”. Nothing entertains rich kids quite like the fucked up things poor people, or better yet, poor people of color do. But beyond that, people aren’t really looking to take chances with what they expose. Thus you get coverage for a whole label, with the same publicist whom essentially do the same thing. Honestly, soon we will only be thinking in 7 second intervals and real art will be something exchanged in the shadows like cigarettes or Levi jeans in the 60s Soviet Union.
So our plans are to try to get people to give a listen, and our dream is to be part of a wave of groups that starts a discussion about the state of ”overground” music in the boutique subculture. Capitalism has finally alienated us from our music. Rock n’ roll was actually one of the success stories of capitalism in the 20th century. But no longer. We need to demand poetry.
In 2003, US mass-market clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch approached Slovenian Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek to write some ad copy for them; he took them up on the offer, and the result (NSFW) consists of goldenly sunlit vintage-soft-porn-style photographs of naked good-looking young people, with Žižek's unique brand of macaronic Freudian-Lacanian theorising superimposed over a proportion of the pages, in bold sans-serif face. A representative example of the text:
Žižek reportedly said that the assignment took him 10 minutes of free associating, and that he found it less demeaning than the US academic sector:
But Zizek bristled at the suggestion that there was anything unseemly about an internationally renowned intellectual writing copy for a clothing catalog. ''If I were asked to choose between doing things like this to earn money and becoming fully employed as an American academic, kissing [EXPLETIVE] to get a tenured post,'' he growled, ''I would with pleasure choose writing for such journals!''Which sounds like a Marxist take on the “punk rock” philosophy mentioned in an earlier post: if the bourgeois-capitalist system is (a) bullshit and (b) inescapable, and the supposedly “credible” parts of it are the worst by their pretence of being something other than bullshit, why not show the lie of the system by shunning its serious institutions and engaging solely with the most honestly base and tawdry aspects of it: populist cinema and mass-market clothing chains?
The rise of the idiots: A report from “Startup Riot Seattle 2012”, where social media marketing carpetbaggers get together to schmooze, do violence to the English language, pitch their ideas and contend for venture capital with which to make incrementally small improvements to the human condition and hopefully get rich:
They have come here in herds, dressed in business casual. Below their belts, the men are an ocean of khaki, broken intermittently by a cresting pair of Very Expensive Jeans. They wear their finest button-down shirts, but they make sure that those shirts are untucked, to demonstrate their willingness to let it all hang out, to think outside the confines of belted chino. The younger ones are in hoodies, their slouches cribbed thoughtfully from Jesse Eisenberg, who cribbed his slouch thoughtfully from Mark Zuckerberg. The women have it tougher. Their business casual is neither business-minded nor all that casual, a confusing melange of sundresses and sensible slacks, gossamer sweaters tossed over spaghetti straps. They totter about in chunky summer sandals that will leave bloody welts. These women and men have come together to do brutal violence to the English language, to leave the spoken and written word bloodied and victimized on a cold cement floor, wishing for the sweet relief of death.
But, oh, my God, the terrible things these people do to words. It’s like watching some sadist work over a baby lamb with a rusty crowbar and a broken gin bottle. The names of these startups sound like the products of an aggressive brain tumor on the frontal lobe. Crowdegy, Placeling, Kouply, QuoteRobot, Appthwack, Makegood, Onthego, Nickler, Kahal, Tanzio, Taskk. They’re all whimsical and unique in exactly the same way. One of the judges works for Storenvy. The main corporate sponsor for Startup Riot is Mailchimp, along with a flock of smaller sponsors like Uber, Gist, and Twilio. I could staple the mismatched meat of syllables together all afternoon and you wouldn’t be able to tell the legitimate businesses from the illegitimate: Mehole, Kaprah, Yimmy, Blanter, Catzap, Dunzyinonezy, Simplert, Lustaminate.
What do all these words that were seemingly invented by a wizard in a kid’s picture book do? They each solve a specific problem. You ever have trouble organizing an office softball team? Don’t you hate looking at the long list of search results that happen when you type a query into google? (“The problem is…the list.”) Isn’t it awful, having an abundance of news sources? Do you have too many tasks? One pitch begins with a simple, honest mission statement: ““There’s a big problem we all face every day: Information.”
Dorian Lynskey, music journalist and author of 33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs has posted a blog article about the rising infantilisation of culture, as seen in everything from food packaging to utility bills being written in a cutesy first-person voice. The catalyst having been a Sainsbury's branding exercise renaming tiger bread to “giraffe bread“, allegedly at the behest of a small child:
Surely rechristening a product to appease someone not long out of nappies marks some kind of turning point in the infantilisation of branding: a seemingly interminable trend which makes grown men think it’s OK to give their age as “27 & 3/4” without being shoved into a canal. Maybe I should ask my five-year-old daughter to rebrand the Jerusalem artichoke, which is neither an artichoke nor from Jerusalem, and we can all start cooking with Goblinhead instead. Or would that be “a bit silly”?(And Sainsbury's aren't the only supermarket to do this; according to Morrison's, the natural voice of food products is first-person, in a wobbly, childlike handwriting, which is perhaps somewhat disturbing. I'm not sure I'd like the idea of eating a loaf of bread with the ascribed personality of a small, cheerful child.)
I think it’s partly related to the Cult of the Child, defined by one blogger as “the brainwashing some parents undergo that convinces them their children are innately, infallibly wise, untainted by worldly prejudices, and therefore their opinions and pronouncements should be heeded as if they were handed down from the heavens, and their every wish should be indulged”. Parenthood, instead of marking the point at which one irrevocably becomes an adult, is often presented as a second go-around, with the parent eager to shrink the age gap. The packaging of Little Me Organics (“Lots of mummys got together to create a range that was carefully selected to be the best for their little ones…”) and Ella’s Kitchen baby food bizarrely addresses parents as if they were babies themselves, making childhood synonymous with those sacred concepts in upmarket food branding, “natural” and “pure”. Handwritten, obviously, because fonts are for phonies.
And that’s the thing. The brand’s voice is “childlike” but it’s not actually like a child at all, because real children are complicated and tempestuous and say all kinds of stuff: it’s the voice of a parent trying to get a child to do something by approximating their outlook. Innocentese is relentlessly chirpy and nice, in a profoundly white and middle-class way which connects with its affluent customer base.Lynskey puts the blame for this kind of quirkiness on the rise of faux-naïf indie culture (think Wes Anderson, Zooey Fucking Deschanel, &c.), with patient zero having been the twee indie-pop genre of the 1980s, where a rejection of adult tropes was a reaction to both reactionary rock'n'roll machismo, soulless corporate music product and sexualised consumerism.
When, a decade later, alternative rock had come to resemble the things it had once opposed, via Britpop and corporate grunge, key indie bands once again reached for the satchels. Belle & Sebastian named themselves after a children’s book and wrote some of their best songs about school, while Neutral Milk Hotel recorded an album inspired by Anne Frank and the lo-fi, pots-and-pans amateurism of a particularly enthusiastic summer camp. These were gifted songwriters creating idiosyncratic private worlds born of refusal and I don’t blame them for what followed anymore than I blame Nirvana for Nickelback, but over the following decade this cult of childhood became part of indie’s schtick.This sort of tweeness spread outward, to the less muscular fringes of dance music (Lemon Jelly and Mr. Scruff are mentioned), cinema (from Wes Anderson and such to more mainstream fare), and, so on. And as we all know, every oppositional stance gets commodified sooner or later, and in this case, the result is Innocent Smoothies, inanimate objects addressing people in the first person, and a surfeit of typefaces that look like wonky handwriting. Though the end of twee may be in sight:
I thought perhaps that the whole down-the-shitcan vibe of the world at the moment would puncture the whimsy bubble. If anything it seems to have intensified the need to escape to a wuvly innocent world where nobody’s heard of the Euro crisis or Iranian nukes. But I suspect that just as indie music and cinema laid the groundwork for Innocentese, the growing revulsion towards twee art is the first sign of a backlash against it among consumers. As the language becomes more common, more widely mocked, less trusted, it becomes less useful for brands and one day soon — I hope and pray — we will see the end of the Innocents.
What do you do if you're an oil company facing negative publicity over a controversial project like the Canadian tar sands? Well, you could always adopting the name of a much-loved company in another industry, as
Paramount Resources Pixar Petroleum Corp. has done.
This is, of course, not the first example by far of an unpopular company changing its name (there has been Cheney-era mercenary company Blackwater renaming itself after a popular exchange-rate website, and carcinogenic drug dealers Philip Morris adopting the name Altria, a name which goes so far in the direction of heavy-handedly calculated benignness that it comes out the other end sounding appositely creepy), though as far as chutzpah goes, it might well set some kind of record.
Writing in the Pinboard blog, Maciej Ceglowski tears apart the concept "social graph", saying that it is neither social nor a graph, but a sort of pseudoscience invented by socially-challenged geeks and now peddled by hucksters out to monetise you and your relationships:
Last week Forbes even went to the extent of calling the social graph an exploitable resource comprarable to crude oil, with riches to those who figure out how to mine it and refine it. I think this is a fascinating metaphor. If the social graph is crude oil, doesn't that make our friends and colleagues the little animals that get crushed and buried underground?The first part of his argument has to do with the inadequacy of the "social graph" model for representing all the nuances of human social relationships in the real world; the many gradations of friendship and acquaintance, the ways relationships change and evolve, making a mockery of nailed-down static representations; the way that describing a relationship can change it in some cases, and various issues of privacy and multi-faceted identity, things which exist trivially in the real world, even if they're in violation of the Zuckerberg Doctrine.
One big sticking point is privacy. Do I really want to find out that my pastor and I share the same dominatrix? If not, then who is going to be in charge of maintaining all the access control lists for every node and edge so that some information is not shared? You can either have a decentralized, communally owned social graph (like Fitzpatrick envisioned) or good privacy controls, but not the two together.
This obsession with modeling has led us into a social version of the Uncanny Valley, that weird phenomenon from computer graphics where the more faithfully you try to represent something human, the creepier it becomes. As the model becomes more expressive, we really start to notice the places where it fails.
You might almost think that the whole scheme had been cooked up by a bunch of hyperintelligent but hopelessly socially naive people, and you would not be wrong. Asking computer nerds to design social software is a little bit like hiring a Mormon bartender. Our industry abounds in people for whom social interaction has always been more of a puzzle to be reverse-engineered than a good time to be had, and the result is these vaguely Martian protocols.Of course, whilst the idea of the social graph may not be good for modelling real-life social interactions with naturalistic fidelity, it has been a boon for targeting advertising; the illusion of social fulfilment is enough to keep people clicking and volunteering information about themselves. From the advertisers' point of view, the fish not only jump right into the boat, they fillet themselves in mid-air and bring their own wedges of lemon:
Imagine the U.S. Census as conducted by direct marketers - that's the social graph. Social networks exist to sell you crap. The icky feeling you get when your friend starts to talk to you about Amway, or when you spot someone passing out business cards at a birthday party, is the entire driving force behind a site like Facebook.There is some good news, though: while general-purpose social web sites with the ambition of mediating (and monetising) the entirety of human social interaction may fail creepily as they approach their goal, special-purpose online communities can thrive in their niches:
The funny thing is, no one's really hiding the secret of how to make awesome online communities. Give people something cool to do and a way to talk to each other, moderate a little bit, and your job is done. Games like Eve Online or WoW have developed entire economies on top of what's basically a message board. MetaFilter, Reddit, LiveJournal and SA all started with a couple of buttons and a textfield and have produced some fascinating subcultures. And maybe the purest (!) example is 4chan, a Lord of the Flies community that invents all the stuff you end up sharing elsewhere: image macros, copypasta, rage comics, the lolrus. The data model for 4chan is three fields long - image, timestamp, text. Now tell me one bit of original culture that's ever come out of Facebook.I wonder whether there is a dichotomy there between sites and networks; would a special-interest site that used, say, Facebook's social graph as a means of identifying users (rather than having its own system of accounts, usernames, profiles, and optionally friendship/trust edges) be infected by the Zuckerbergian malaise?
10 pivotal moments in band/brand relationships, from the crude commercial tie-ups of the old days (the Beatles' disastrously naïve merchandise licensing deal and the Pepsi/Michael Jackson tie-up), through various milestones (Moby licensing every track on his album Play to advertisers, whilst saying no to firms he found ethically dubious, such as McDonalds; Of Montreal turning the sell-out into performance art by rerecording a song as an Outback Steakhouse jingle and pocketing lots of money for it (though, to be honest, they probably they probably stole the idea from New Order), and onto the current day, when traditional record labels are waning and savvy sponsors are acting more like the art patrons of the pre-capitalist era than the traditional merchandisers of yore, setting up free MP3 labels and free recording studios, letting bands do their own thing for a reflection of some of the cool; raising questions about the nature of authenticity and the idea of "selling out" (a concept by now as unfashionably anachronistic as boycotting Nike products). Is selling a song to an advertiser, and spending the money on projects one has creative control over, more damning than signing one's rights away in perpetuity to a major label owned by a hedge fund for a pittance? And if there's no such thing as purity, which ways of compromising are more acceptable?
Some time ago, I read about luxury goods companies sending free samples to celebrities. More specifically, sending free samples of their rivals' products to trashy celebrities, partly to obviate the need for them to buy their product and also to slime their rivals' brand image.
Today, I see the following text ad at the top of my Gmail:
I wonder whether this could be Google doing the same sort of thing to Microsoft's search engine.
For what it's worth, I know only enough about who Cheryl Cole is to have no desire to watch videos of her. I imagine it is not inconceivable that Google, with their vast databases of users' browsing histories, mail keywords and interests, would be able to infer this from my history. And if they have a model which can predict whether the probabilities of a user liking or disliking X (where X is a product, band, celebrity, political party or other unit of discourse) are increased or decreased by their history of choices, perhaps they can run this model in reverse, turning it into a discommendation engine of sorts. In other words, given a user's history, perhaps Google can predict exactly what sorts of things would be likely to put them off. Which, of course, would be useful for sliming rivals' brands in carefully placed ads.
Of course, something like that would stretch "don't be evil" to breaking point (it's the kind of douchey move you'd expect from viral Facebook game vendors or someone, not Google), and I suspect that Google aren't as resigned to becoming the next Evil Empire in the public's eye to openly start doing this sort of thing. But still, it's a theoretical possibility. The other, perhaps more economical, explanation is, of course, that this is just an authentic example of hamfistedly untargeted marketing from Microsoft (find something a lot of people are into, like celebrity gossip, and carpet-bomb everyone with the same ads).
Huffington Post co-founder Johan Peretti has posted a presentation, titled "Mormons, Mullets and Maniacs", on what makes online content "viral", i.e., likely to be passed along by bored people:
One key point: content that goes viral tends to appeal to people's personality disorders, or at least gives them an opportunity to score points, laugh at/put down those they disagree with, or express their obsessions, self-identification or narcissistic attention-seeking tendencies:
Chinese companies looking to make an impression are now hiring random white guys to put on suits and play the parts of American/European business contacts:
Not long ago I was offered work as a quality-control expert with an American company in China I’d never heard of. No experience necessary—which was good, because I had none. I’d be paid $1,000 for a week, put up in a fancy hotel, and wined and dined in Dongying, an industrial city in Shandong province I’d also never heard of. The only requirements were a fair complexion and a suit.
“I call these things ‘White Guy in a Tie’ events,” a Canadian friend of a friend named Jake told me during the recruitment pitch he gave me in Beijing, where I live. “Basically, you put on a suit, shake some hands, and make some money. We’ll be in ‘quality control,’ but nobody’s gonna be doing any quality control. You in?”
Apparently Sony-Ericsson have codenamed their latest mobile phone "Shakira", after a pop singer signed to Sony Music. This isn't the first time a Sony electronic gadget was named after a Sony-signed recording artist; four years ago, Sony launched a pocket instant messaging device which shared its name with a dance-music artist. Which makes one wonder whether there's now a clause in the standard Sony Music recording contract that grants Sony's electronics division the rights to use an artist's name for naming products, and, if so, what artist will get a gadget named after them next.
Apparently there aren't enough young people playing Scrabble these days. (Perhaps the demographic of bookish cardigan-wearers and cupcake-crafters tends too much towards the mid-to-late 20s for maximum shareholder value.) In any case, Mattel have decided to attract a younger audience by changing the rules to allow proper nouns and "introduce an element of popular culture into the game". So now EDWARD, BIEBER and LADYGAGA are valid moves.
They will still sell an oldies' edition with the staid, fusty no-sparkly-vampires-or-pop-stars rule. It'll presumably be distinguished by tastefully monochromatic packaging (the regular pop-cultural edition will undoubtedly be printed in a vomitous mix of fluorescent colours, with the letter tiles in Comic Sans).
Update: the rule changes will not apply to Scrabble as such, but rather to a new "yoof-oriented"/"extreme" variant named "Scrabble Trickster". (Thanks to Jessamyn for that link.)
If you want to see where the musical zeitgeist was 18 months ago, look at what Goldfrapp are doing. Pop-cultural cool-hunters par excellence, they mine the rich seams of the underground, find trends with legs and repackage them for mainstream consumption, exploding them into the public consciousness, and have successfully held this niche in the music-industry ecosystem for over a decade. Their début, Felt Mountain, took Morricone-infused trip-hop sounds and moulded them into what became the soundtrack to every upper-middle-class dinner party in the UK. After that, they turned on a dime, discovering electroclash and dragging it into the mainstream in the form of not one but two albums of mildly sexualised glam-electro, before getting wind of the wickerfolk trend and new appreciation of the output of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, fishing it out of the underground and presenting it to the world as Seventh Tree (an album even whose title seems to have been a homage to underground freak-folk band Voice Of The Seven Woods).
Which makes one wonder what Goldfrapp were going to do next. I was thinking afrobeat or similar exotica. But no, it looks like their next album is going to be Empire Of The Sun-style glo-fi. The only problem with that is, of course, that Empire Of The Sun were themselves a project (a supergroup comprised of two musicians from successful major-label projects) repackaging trends from the underground (essentially Cut Copy-style indie-house with the somewhat dated New Wave/New Orderisms replaced with the recent "yacht rock" fad) for the mainstream, and to considerable mainstream attention. It remains to be seen whether or not they have scooped Goldfrapp by getting in first, or whether Goldfrapp will pull it off for a fifth time.
The idea of the "End of History" is one which never goes away; every so often, it'll come back in a new guise. Its latest incarnation comes from none other than Brian Eno, who claims that nothing is "uncool" anymore.
We’re living in a stylistic tropics. There’s a whole generation of people able to access almost anything from almost anywhere, and they don’t have the same localised stylistic sense that my generation grew up with. It’s all alive, all “now,” in an ever-expanding present, be it Hildegard of Bingen or a Bollywood soundtrack. The idea that something is uncool because it’s old or foreign has left the collective consciousness.That makes sense (after all, when your aging parents used to be punk rockers, the shock value of music-as-generational-rebellion is somewhat played out). However, to extrapolate from this to the "death of uncool" doesn't quite follow. Granted, the old and foreign are no longer "uncool", partly because the idea of defining oneself against them has become passé (and thus in itself "uncool"). But nothing being uncool? What about Coldplay? U2? Or even Kenny G (proof, perhaps, that there are some things so uncool that they are immune to the process of reclamation into the Goldmine), or the Christian Side Hug rappers; the list goes on.
The latest character to get a darker, edgier makeover: Mickey Mouse. Yes, the antiseptically squeaky-clean mascot of one of the largest family-entertainment corporations is being brought back to his original roots as a sadistic prankster, mostly because today's kids find him too much like a personification of benign authority to actually, you know, identify with:
Mickey was a bit of a wild child himself, when he made his first appearance, in 1928, in that changeover period when silent movies were being superseded by the “talkies”. He played practical jokes, he pursued his girlfriend Minnie aggressively, and in Steamboat Willie, he vented his anger on an undeserving parrot.
But in the anxious 1930s, when American was threatened by recession and political radicalism, the highly conservative, communist-hating Walt Disney toned down Mickey’s behaviour and created the bland, all-American mouse kid that he has been ever since.
The new, grittier Mickey makes a début in a Nintendo Wii game set in a "cartoon wasteland" occupied by forgotten Disney characters.
I wonder if it'll work any better than Warner Bros. attempt to give their Looney Tunes characters a gangsta hip-hop makeover in the 1990s.
In an attempt to wrest back the spotlight from Apple, Microsoft are organising launch parties for their new Windows 7 operating system. For merely the cost of your dignity as a human being, you too can host a Windows 7 launch party, and Microsoft will supply balloons, napkins (printed with the Windows 7 logo) and tote bags, as well as a free copy of Windows 7 for you.
Microsoft have even produced a video, showing how it's done. In the video, four regular people (the Mom, the older lady, the Urban Outfitters cool-dude (casting brief: slightly hip and with-it, but not intimidatingly so, like those Mac-toting hipster douchebags) and, of course, the Token Black Guy*) stand around a Sony Vaio laptop in a regular American kitchen and discuss the activities you can do at a Windows 7 launch party. Awkwardness ensues. Yes, you too can have highly organised fun.
The whole video has that unmistaken sheen of ersatz authenticity so typical of a poorly-made astroturf campaign: the combination of shaky, pseudo-amateurish camerawork, professional editing and implausibly even lighting that suggests that the layers of Microsoft management who signed off on the campaign weren't sure of what they wanted: something that seemed "fresh" and "organic" but, at the same time, didn't let down the professional production standards one would expect from a Fortune 500 corporation campaign.
And here is The Register's impression of what a Windows 7 party, with a middle-class middle-English bent, would be like:
Now you'll have to excuse me for a moment while I do my hostess duties. If everyone can just come in here for a minute, and gather round the laptop, then we can begin. Yes, very funny Eric, you are allowed to bring in your drinks actually, so no it isn't at all like being at school again, and that was a silly thing to say. If you want to hear something funny, you should listen to what Verity says. Wooj, come on through and bring the others, will you?
* may not be available in all countries.
Soviet Russian national airline, has not traditionally been an airline associated with quality or customer service, to say the least. But now, all that's about to change:
Travellers report mixed experiences on Aeroflot, with reasonable service and new planes on flights to western Europe and the US, but horror stories about flights to other destinations. "On flights to London the service is okay," said a British accountant working in Moscow. "But I recently flew Aeroflot to Warsaw, and it was a nightmare. The seatbelt on my chair was broken, the crew were rude and spoke virtually no English, and the only meal option was an unspecified 'meat'. When I asked what kind of meat it was, they simply shrugged."
As part of the retraining, a number of Aeroflot hostesses have been sent to Singapore to receive training from Singapore Airlines. "The passenger is always right!" said Mr Savelyev, voicing a concept that often seems to be alien to Russian flight crews. "We have fired a lot of stewardesses for being rude to passengers," he admitted.The changes promise to bring Aeroflot into the 21st century, or, at the very leat, the early 1970s:
The new Aeroflot CEO Vitaly Savelyev said all new stewardesses would be "very striking, very eye-catching girls", who would not exceed Russian size 48 – roughly a British size 12.
The legend of aerial misogyny was born in the 1960s and '70s, when airlines would routinely use the glamour of their air hostesses as a selling point. Many airlines had "no-marriage" rules for their female staff. "Being beautiful isn't enough," American Airlines proudly said. "We don't mean it isn't important. It just isn't enough." Meanwhile, the now-defunct National Airlines ran a series of ads with a pouting stewardess proclaiming: "I'm Mandy. Fly Me." As the world moved on, the term "air hostess" was replaced with the gender neutral "flight attendant". But recently some suspect sexism has crept back into the industry's advertising. Virgin drew 29 complaints over an ad campaign in which passengers gawped at a glamorous all-female flight-crew. Ryanair even published an all-female calendar of its flight attendants – wearing bikinis.I wonder whether they'll keep their charmingly anachronistic flying hammer-and-sickle logo.
Unfortunately chosen brand name of the moment: Russian gas company Gazprom has recently launched a joint venture with the Nigerian gas firm NNPC. Unfortunately, the name they chose for their joint venture is Nigaz. Word.
I wonder whether the problem was caused by some Russian executive being unaware of pejorative words in English, or whether the name was deliberately chosen so that they can have a totally wicked gangsta-rap company anthem.
The Official Chart Company, which runs Britains's music charts, is reviving the indie charts, updated to reflect the changing definition of "indie":
The initial criteria defined an independent release as any record which was released by a label with independent distribution, in an era when major record companies were self-distributed and smaller labels used alternative routes. Today, however, with even majors outsourcing their own distribution to independent operations, this criterion has become less relevant.
Under the new rules, a download or CD will be eligible for the Official Independent Charts if it is released on a label which is 50% or more owned by an independent (or non-major) company, irrespective of the distribution channel through which it is shipped or delivered.So now joint ventures with the Big Four major labels are officially "independent".
I think, however, that they missed the big picture. When the word "indie" is used to refer to musical product (bands, labels, records), it seldom refers to the business model under which the product was released. Typically, when a band or record is described as "indie", this refers partly to what they look or sound like (which is to say, to a greater or lesser extent like the independent bands between post-punk and the rise of Britpop), but more saliently, to the target demographic. "Indie" means sort of what "alternative" meant in the 1990s; a conspicuous badge of not being "mainstream" that doesn't require any more effort to obtain than being in the mainstream would, with its sounds and styles (not to mention the word "indie") borrowed from the original independent bands, only stylised and streamlined for easy mass consumption ("Note: lose all that stuff about Marxism and Fluxus and existentialism, and pump up the sex.")
As such, looking at the ownership and distribution of a record label when assessing whether a record is "indie" is woefully inadequate. A more suitable criterion would have to be based on a points system, with bands or releases being awarded points if they fulfil certain criteria, i.e.,
- band is on an independently-owned label: 2 points
- At least 50% of the band wear skinny jeans: 2 points
- At least one band member has an asymmetrical haircut: 1 point
- 1 point for each of the following influences cited (with proof): The Clash, Joy Division, XTC, Gang Of Four, Neu! (maximum 3 points)
- band's sound has been described by music critics as "angular" - 1 point
To keep the criteria relevant, a committee of industry, media and marketing types would convene every six months to update these rules to take into account recent trends. (For example, in light of the recent trend towards hipster-folk, the committee might now be debating allowing one point for band members with rustic-looking beards, or for bands having ukuleles in their instrumentation.)
The BBC has an article about a French dance craze named Tecktonik, which appears to break new boundaries in the commercialisation, monetisation and wholesale stripmining of subcultural fashions. Tecktonik appears to be a local evolution of the electro/new-rave/fluoro meme complex, born among predominantly white middle-class Parisian kids and hard-partying, style-conscious young professionals. Much like the French language (and unlike Anglo-Saxon equivalents), it has an official, codified repertoire of moves. Oh, and Tecktonik's creators (who include a Merrill Lynch investment banker) had the foresight to trademark their creation, and the arguable judgment to milk the licensing for all it's worth:
Switch on the television and you'll see kids dancing Tecktonik in adverts for mobile phones. Go to the supermarket and you'll find Tecktonik playstation games and Tecktonik school bags. And the Tecktonik company opened its first boutique and hair salon in Paris in November.Of course, not everyone's happy with their subculture becoming a mass-market commodity. After all, coolness is what economists call a positional good (i.e., its value depends on its scarcity; if everyone's into something, it loses its value as a signifier of coolness; which is OK if you're talking about something with other, more practical, measures of utility, but trendy dance styles don't generally fall into this category).
"When you're young, you dance to tell your parents 'I'm a free man! I've got my sexuality, my desires and they aren't yours!' You dance to express your freedom! But, here, it's not this kind of dance. Because it's a commercial dance. It's a safe dance. No sex, no drugs, no alcohol… It's anti-rock 'n' roll! It's a Sarkozy dance!"Curiously, the article closes with this paragraph:
Down at that Tecktonik Killer night, one of the star Tecktonik dancers, Lili Azian, tells me the movement has got so commercial she just never buys anything with the Tecktonik label. And now, in any case, she prefers a new dance - the Melbourne Shuffle.The Melbourne Shuffle? I'm guessing they're not talking about the Melbourne in Florida or Derbyshire here, but rather of the Stockholm of the southern hemisphere. Which brings to mind the question of what the Melbourne shuffle is, and whom they got the idea from. (Architecture In Helsinki? Midnight Juggernauts? Corey Worthington? Some random bunch of coolsie electro kids on YouTube?)
Microsoft's latest attempt to shake off their stuffy, corporate image: selling MS-DOS-themed 1980s retro T-shirts. No, really.
Marketed under the name "Softwear by Microsoft", they come in two lines: one consisting of "classic" designs (the old MS-DOS logo, circa Windows 3.0, the original Microsoft logo, and Bill Gates' mugshot from his 1970s driving conviction) and one co-designed with rapper Common, and involving references to the 1980s; there's one with some rap lyrics set in a monospaced font after a DOS prompt, and one featuring a pair of black-framed glasses and a pair of fluoro new-rave sunglasses.
It's not clear who will wear these. Pointy-haired boss types on casual Fridays? Visual Basic programmers who always wished they could wear cool geek T-shirts like the Linux guys but never actually understood any of the ThinkGeek ones? The guy in the office who regards himself to be with-it because he listens to Coldplay? Zune owners sick of being looked down on by those smug Mac users? Or are they expecting people to start wearing them ironically?
Tom Ellard (of Severed Heads fame) writes about the uncanny experience of finding that someone else created a MySpace page in your name:
Imagine, if you will, that you are walking down the street and see somebody that looks a lot like you. No really, the resemblance is striking and disturbing apart from the fact that your doppelganger looks like he or she threw up over themselves. And pooped their pants. What little pants they have.
Later you meet a friend who tells you that you look a lot better than when they saw you yesterday. No, you say, that’s not me, just somebody who looks like me except they pooped etc. etc. But your friend and others don’t believe you - they think you’re a sly pooper. Infuriating! You’d really like to get that fake and give it a shake!
And that’s how I feel when yet another MySpace page shows up for my poor old dead band. It looks like it pooped itself. And there are ‘friends’ there. (No link to here of course, that’d give the game away.) Of course these aren’t really my friends and they don’t really want to do anything but advertise their own emo myspace pages. But like Mike Jones once said - you had better get rid of that if you don’t want people to think you are utterly sopping clueless.The thing that struck me was the phrase "advertise their own emo pages"; those five words seem to sum up the MySpace ethos: adolescent attention-seeking behaviour reengineered as marketing, or "Brand You" as the new face of teen-angst. Why wait for someone to notice the scars on your wrists when you can spam everyone and let them know how awesome the darkness of your soul is and why, consequently, they should totally want to be friends with you? We're all our own rock stars, the MySpace ethos tells us, even if we've never played anything other than Guitar Hero and merely rock a Hot Topic wardrobe and some smeared eyeliner; which also means that we're all marketers, constantly pitching ourselves to the world in the way that a shark constantly keeps swimming forward.
The Mind Hacks blog has a summary of a paper looking at the content of another adulterated street drug, in this case, heroin. Not surprisingly, your average wrap of street smack contains a lot of adulterants; the analysis lists random medications and pharmaceutical substances, anaesthetics, dietary supplements and chelating agents for metals, as well as other street drugs including cocaine and amphetamines.
The article also looks at the economics and business practices behind the adulteration of heroin. Obviously, taking advantage of the lack of quality control and getting more money out of less actual expensive heroin is a major consideration for the dealers, but it isn't the only one:
Interestingly, the paper also notes that professional heroin cutters are expensive, charging up to $20,000 for a kilo of heroin. This is likely due to the skill and knowledge needed to select ingredients that will have certain effects, which can be different for 'smokers', 'snorters' and 'injectors'.
Additionally, some ingredients are added purely for their psychoactive effect to give a different experience and 'brand' the dope.
(via Mind Hacks)
A few weeks ago, officials in Lancaster, California allowed the Honda company to grind grooves into a stretch of road, so that the wheels of cars driving along would play the melody of the William Tell Overture, at least if the cars were similar in dimensions to the Honda Civic, as part of an advertising campaign. Now, faced with complaints from nearby residents, the officials are planning to pave over the musical grooves:
The road is tuned to a car just exactly the length, and equipped with tires the same size, as a Honda Civic, a spokesman for Honda said. But other vehicles are also successful in playing the notes, if a little off-key.
That noise is not exactly music to the ears of persons living in a nearby subdivision, who are telling the Daily News that the notes blend into a cacophony that keeps them awake at night.
"When you hear it late at night, it will wake you up from a sound sleep," said music critic Brian Robin, who lives a half mile away from the project. "It's awakened my wife three or four times a night," he told the newspaper.There's a video of the musical highway here. You can probably imagine how, with several cars traversing it at different speeds, it could sound quite cacophonous.
I wonder how feasible it would be for guerilla art pranksters, MySpace band self-promoters and/or viral marketing scumbags to surreptitiously cut their own grooves into roads without any sort of permission. I imagine a device that lays down grooves whilst driving innocuously along, and doesn't attract the attention of the local road police, would be infeasible.
The shadowy phenomenon of product placement in pop music was thrust into the spotlight when culture jammers the Anti-Advertising Agency, who were running a virtual jeans-making sweatshop in Second Life as an art project, received a proposal from a product placement agency, offering to put his brand of jeans in a Pussycat Dolls song, which they published online
In the e-mail, Kluger (who has represented Mariah Carey, New Kids on the Blog, Ne-Yo, Fall Out Boy, Method Man, Lady GaGa and Ludacris) explained via e-mail that for the right price, Double Happiness Jeans could find its way into the lyrics in an upcoming Pussycat Dolls song. Crouse posted the e-mail on his blog at the Anti-Advertising Agency, an art project of sorts that's basically the philosophical mirror image of a traditional ad agency.
The Anti-Advertising Agency declined and has already drawn some attention to the practice of selling space in lyrics to advertisers through its blog. "Maybe Ludacris wants to rap about a luxury SUV, and is just looking for the right one," said Lambert. "We'll never know (everything about) how it works, because that takes the mystique out of it, and the mystique is one of the things that they can sell." But thanks to this e-mail, we at least have proof that the phenomenon is real.Meanwhile, the agency, Kluger PR (who have emailed WIRED and disowned responsibility for the actual email) has asserted that when they place products in songs, they take every care to ensure that artistic integrity is not affected:
"We are just financially taking care of the people that should be taken care of," he told us via e-mail. "If an artist like Sheryl Crow has the same target audience as XZY brand, we feel it's nothing but a strong and strategic way to pinpoint a market.
"Now, we don't want an artist to write a song specifically to promote a brand, we just feel that if it's a product that's admired by the artist and fits his/her image, we now have the capability of leveling out the playing field and making things financially beneficial for all parties involved. 'Brand-Dropping' is the term that the Kluger Agency coined to describe discreetly advertising by product mentioning in song, and we feel we can make this the way of the future without jeopardizing any artists creative outlet or typical style."I wonder how much it takes to arrange that your (virtual) brand of jeans is sufficiently admired by the Pussycat Dolls for them to (quite sincerely, of course) sing its praises. Which sounds like the artistic equivalent of the question of how much money it takes to win the amorous affections of a lady (or, indeed, gentleman) of negotiable virtue. In which case, would that make Kluger PR a pimp?
Charlie Brooker weighs in on the issue of product placement, with a modest proposal of his own:
Let's say you're trying to launch a new soft drink. Traditionally you'd have to spend millions on a commercial, and millions more booking airtime for it. Screw that. Here's what you do: put up one billboard. Just one. Somewhere on a route near Buckingham Palace or Downing Street. Point a camera at it 24/7. Then simply pay a sniper to assassinate someone of global importance when they pass in front of it. Bingo! The clip will run on an endless loop on every news channel in the world, for eternity. Even as viewers gasp in horror watching the victim's head explode like a watermelon, they'll simultaneously be thinking "What's that? New Plum-Flavoured Pepsi? Cool!" each time a chunk of skull flies past your logo.
Meanwhile, the UK's media minister has vowed not to allow product placement in British-produced television programmes, saying that to do so would compromise the high esteem in which British television is held worldwide.
(Is British television still held in the same high esteem it was years ago, though? There is a good deal of unoriginal and generally cheap programming being made in Britain these days. Meanwhile, American television seems to have transcended its reputation for lowest-common-denominator programming, with series winning acclaim.)
The Rudd government wants to overhaul Australia's image abroad, ditching the traditional images of bronzed Aussies drinking beer on beaches and cheesy strine colloquialisms like "where the bloody hell are you?", so favoured by the traditionalist former government, in favour of a new campaign promoting Australia as "a mature, creative, innovative society". (Those drawing parallels between Rudd and the early days of the Blair government in Britain will see echoes of Blair's "Cool Britannia" here.) Anyway, a number of ad agencies and magazines have had a go at coming up with ideas:
The Sydney Magazine approached a few advertising companies for inspiration. One of them came up with the slogan "Sydney. Proudly UnAustralian".. It features that great staple of Australian tourist brochures, the Sydney Opera House, but with a twist - it's white-tiled roof is emblazoned with the words "NO WAR" in bright red paint. Another image features two butch rugby players locked in a passionate embrace.
"Sydney, it's a bit like London. Classic Museums, Rich History, Hyde Park, Paddington, the Queen on Our Coin. It's just lacking the miserable weather, miserable people, pasty faces, snobby bitches, soggy chips, warm beer, cold winters, teens pushing prams, lager louts, slappers, geezers, madcow diseases."
First came Joy Division
Oven Gloves trainers and now Microsoft are releasing a Joy Division-branded edition of their Zune MP3 player. It will apparently come engraved with the Unknown Pleasures cover artwork, and possibly some tracks or albums locked to the unit in a DRM-encumbered Windows Media format. If you don't use Windows, you may still find it useful as a paperweight.
Something which amuses me is the ads on Facebook, and the juxtapositions of irrelevant images (typically of attractive-looking young women, at times in provocative poses) next to pitches for products of various dubiosity, ranging from fairly well-known credit-rating agencies to get-rich-quick schemes and online gambling sites, but having as a common feature an inherent lack of sex appeal. The rationale, I'm guessing, is pure postmodern cynicism: somewhere, some executive decided that the model consumer they're pitching at is like one of the slack-jawed halfwits from Idiocracy ("Gee, I don't know the first thing about work-from-home schemes and stuff... but I sure like hot chicks!"), and decided to market at this notional demographic. Not aiming merely for the dullards, but also for those consumers, brought up on trashy television and celebrity gossip, who are well versed in the practice of simulating being simpletons in order to be entertained, as the Judd Apatows and Seann William Scotts of this world (and their bank managers) know. Call it cognitive slumming, if you will.
Sometimes, though, the juxtaposition between the content (or, rather, its tone) and the Irrelevant Hot Chick Picture becomes quite jarring. Case in point:
Scientists at NEC have developed a CCTV camera which can identify people's ages and genders, by comparing them against samples in a database, and are working on making it capable of determining their socioeconomic status depending on their clothing. The NEC FieldAnalyst technology is not intended for security purposes but for those of marketing, and is currently only avalable in Japan:
the data is intended to help mall owners better understand their visitors. How come no one is going to a certain store? What time of day do most of the 40- to 50-year-old women visit the place? Did the recent promotion reach the desired demographic?
It works better with Japanese people as the vast majority of the samples in the database are Japanese. It also hones down your age only to within 10 years. However, NEC wants to narrow the range, possibly even getting to the point where it can determine age within a year or two.
New market research has revealed that Mac users are snobs, upper-income-bracket elitist aspirational types who see themselves as better than the PC-using rabble, while, seen from the other side, PC users are cheapskates.
Meanwhile, a filmmaker has made a documentary about the intense loyalty Maccies feel to their brand, which bears out some of the findings:
Violet Blue, a popular blogger and sex columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, who also features in the film, says: "First of all, I've never knowingly slept with a Windows users ... that would never, ever happen."Anyway, back to the Mac-users-are-snobs thing: the description of the difference between Mac users and PC users reminded me a lot of (Mac user) Momus' recent paraphrasing of the right-wing anti-intellectual argument against liberal cosmopolitan elites:
The intellectual is not one of us. We are ordinary folks, he is a member of an elite. We gravitate around right wing ideas, he's left-leaning. We're family people, he screws men, women and children. We farm, he stays in the city, with his intellectual elite, or on campus, corrupting the minds of our youth. We're religious, but the intellectual is an unbeliever. We run to fat, he stays thin. We're patriots, he's a cosmopolitan, equally at home with foreigners as with his own kind. He puts loyalty to ideas before loyalty to his people. We have the church, he has the liberal media.I'm wondering whether Microsoft or Dell or whoever didn't miss a trick in the few years after 9/11 when Americans (and, to a lesser extent, other Westerners) fell into a right-wing populist groupthink, dissociating themselves from straw-man liberalism. Perhaps, had they run ads playing on the stereotypes of Mac users as potentially disloyal rootless cosmopolitanists, they could have converted some Mac sales into sales of PCs and copies of Windows. After all, when your country's under siege, you don't want to be seen to be distancing yourself from your compatriots, however symbolically.
Hot Topic goth rocker Marilyn Manson (he's like the Pete Doherty of Red State America, or perhaps the Tom Cruise of Satanism or something) has recently launched his own brand of absinthe, which is apparently on a par with his music:
So did Mansinthe have what it takes to be a premium absinthe? According to the tasters, the answer is, sadly, no. The No. 1 problem was the aroma, which some verbally compared to sewage water or swamp mud, but with the exception of a lone taster, the panel felt it wasn't really worth wading through the odor to get to mediocre flavor anyway. Sorry, M.M.Which is missing the point; this is not a product for connoisseurs in any sense of the word, but for unsophisticated teenage mall-goths rebelling against their stolidly Bible-believing, Satan-fearing, Republican-voting parents and church groups. As long as it looks and tastes unlike anything familiar and the label could be mistaken, with sufficient ignorance, for something exotic and sophisticated, any subtlety would actually be counterproductive; something that tastes shocking and vile would actually fulfill its role as a prop of commodified rebellion better.
And the award for chutzpah in music marketing goes to EMI for their "Independent Vol. 2" sampler CD:
This artefact was found at Rough Trade Records, in the area by the door where the free magazines and sampler CDs are left. Note the cover, with its semiotics screaming "keeping it real", with the photo of a lovingly tended independent record shop, and above all things, the blurb:
Independent Not depending upon the authority of another, not in a position of subordination or subjection; not subject to external control or rule; self-governing, autonomous, free.Note the word "independent". Not "indie" (which, in today's popular parlance, means music by white boys with guitars, stylists and skinny jeans, and has long since lost any connection to the prickly, unmarketable socialist-contrarian aesthetics of its origins in the Thatcher era), but "independent". If that wasn't enough, the word's definition is given. When we say "independent", the cover seems to say, we mean it
Turning the disc over, however, we see an entirely different story:
It turns out that the record is not actually a compilation of independent artists or recordings from independent labels, but rather a sampler from major label EMI and its various imprints. Granted, some of them are more "alternative" or leftfield than others (veteran post-punk indie label Mute, acquired some years ago, New York mutant-disco imprint DFA, and indie-pop retirement home Heavenly, not to mention Regal, best known for the underground hip-hop of Lily Allen, Voice Of Da Streets). Though somewhere along the way, they stopped trying to fool anyone and slapped on the logos of establishment cornerstones like Capitol and Parlophone.
As for the content? Well, there are some interesting bits (Loney, Dear and Jakobinarina, representing Sweden and Iceland respectively), a few credible veterans (Dave Gahan, who appears to have bought a copy of Native Instruments Massive), and some truly dire Carling-indie (the Pete The Junky Show kicking off the record, doing exactly what you, I and The Sun would expect from them), with a fair amount of workmanlike garage rock. Being the sorts of acts that a major label would convince its accountants to pour money into, though, it's considerably more conservative in style and tone than what you'd expect from independent artists. Independent this ain't.
A year or so ago, Sony's egregiously misnamed Universal Media Disc format (a prooprietary optical disc which only plays in one device—the Sony PlayStation Portable)—essentially died as a viable medium for selling anything other than PSP games. For some reason, people didn't want to spend good money on a low-resolution copy of a movie, bound to a plastic cartridge, for viewing on their PSP; perhaps the number of PSP owners who would use their units for repeatedly watching Spiderman 2 on the train, as opposed to, say, playing videogames, wasn't that great to begin with, and the percentage willing to incur the cost of buying a movie in this inflexible format was even lower. Not even Sony giving away UMDs of their films with DVDs, for only slightly more money, could revive the flagging format.
So now, we learn that Sony are trying to revive the UMD format as a medium for movies by selling TV shows on it, in conjunction with MTV (formerly a music-video channel, now a purveyor of entertainment to the lucrative young-and-dumb demographic). That's right; presumably some executive decided that, while people may not be willing to pay money for a disc containing a version of a movie that only plays on their PSP, they'd be willing to do so for some episodes of Beavis & Butthead. Unless they're planning to bundle them with boxes of breakfast cereal or something.
It's not just the cost of purchasing the disc that counts; it's also the cost of having another bit of plastic taking up space in your house and your mental filing system. As the value of the bits of plastic decreases, the awkwardness of their material nature increases. (A video game you may spend many hours playing is worth a plastic disc and case to store it in—not to mention £25 or however much it costs— a movie you watch once or twice, less so, especially since looking at a small handheld screen is not the best way to enjoy movies if there are alternatives. A few episodes of a TV show sounds like an even more marginal proposition, and the sort of problem that downloads were invented to solve.) Especially in a format whose flexibility is deliberately limited.
Lambasted for climate change and scorned by the green set, car companies are tailoring their marketing to the asshole demographic:
First to India, where an advert for the Ford Endeavour finds this 4x4 behemoth leaving slushy tracks on a melting polar landscape. Behind the two-tonne, seven-seater vehicle, which does just 7.5 km per litre in city driving conditions (compared to 22kmpl for India's new "People's Car", the Tata Nano), stand two rather forlorn-looking polar bears, an animal that has become the symbol of climate change. Could Ford India have chosen a more inappropriate setting to sell its wares? A children's playground, perhaps?
Ford in the UK goes for a much simpler approach with its Fiesta Zetec Climate (why would you ever use the word "climate" to name a car?) ads by accompanying a picture of the car with just a short sentence: "Most people would prefer a hot climate." It wouldn't appear as if Ford's survey of people's climatic preferences extended to those living in already parched regions of the planet now fearing the kinds of sharp temperature rises predicted by climatologists.
The messaging still not blunt enough for you? Try Hyundai's "Greed is Good" adverts then. Reprising the mantra of Gordon Gekko, Michael Douglas's odious city-trader character from the film Wall Street, is exactly what the environment needs right now, isn't it? Oh, how we need a return to the devil-may-care, me-want-now consumerism of the 1980s.Aside: when the line "greed is good" was penned for the film Wall Street in 1987, it was obviously an extreme, fringe view, that of a despicable character. Is this the case now, in the age of the Blatcherite "shareholder democracy" and "enterprise culture", where we are all encouraged to be marketing characters, constantly engaged in commerce, leveraging and monetising our assets much as sharks must constantly keep moving?
Meanwhile, someone at EDF's ad agency doesn't seem to have read Jared Diamond's Collapse:
The French energy giant EDF appears not to have done its homework before deciding to use the statues of Easter Island to reinforce its message that, "We develop tomorrow's energies for future generations." EDF is one of the world's largest suppliers of nuclear energy, an irony that ClimateDenial.org is quick to point out: "The Easter Island civilization collapsed from deforestation and overpopulation. The statues are a symbol of hubris and denial in the face of an impending environmental disaster. What staggering stupidity to use them to promote nuclear power".
A study in Singapore has shown that the sight or smell of appetising food can compel people to make impulse purchases, or else compromise their ability to judge risks and payoffs:
Similarly, another experiment used a cookie-scented candle to further gauge whether appetitive stimulus affects consumer behavior. Female study participants in a room with a hidden chocolate-chip cookie scented candle were much more likely to make an unplanned purchase of a new sweater -- even when told they were on a tight budget -- than those randomly assigned to a room with a hidden unscented candle (67 percent vs. 17 percent).The researchers make the further claim that "the presence of an attractive woman in the trading room might propel an investor to choose the investment option providing smaller but sooner rewards".
(via Boing Boing)
LogoLounge.com has just published its overview of trends in logo design in 2007. This year's trends include helices, ribbons and streams of descending/ascending bubbles, 3D trompe-l'oeil logos and uses of colour which wouldn't translate into black and white well (suggesting that designers are not caring as much for print as for the web), and a few recurring motifs:
Mix a little nose-in-the-air, overly stodgy, family coat of arms with a sharp tongue-in-the-cheek, Napoleon Dynamite liger, and you have something that approximates a Pseudo Crest. These are fun, and packed with detail that sticks it to the man at every opportunity. For the high school and college market, Jason Schulte's firm, Office, built a best-of-class brand for Target with the Independent Studies line.
At first glance, most of these look like they've been lifted from a heraldry 101 style book, until you scrutinize the composition elements. Only at this point are you likely to see wrenches, guitars, penguins, shoes, cell phones and anything else you'd never expect to find in Camelot. This is a youth anthem; and designers have identified this as a source language for fashion culture and the music industry. In fact, this is a modern trend you will see everywhere, despite its roots in heraldry and even other intricate patterning like Victorian wallpaper.
Let's just make the assumption if you water a logo and give it adequate sunlight, it will start to grow a rhythmic crop of vines, buds, blooms and other fantasies of a botanical nature. These may be further evolution of last year's Embellish trend, or they could just be another subset of a larger trend. This would be a direction that uses borrowed remnants of a patterned, Victorian era to attach a delicate human quality to the hard outer shell of an other wise sterile logo. Detail of this nature is inherently engaging and asks the consumer to participate visually in a non-confrontational fashion.The floral/botanical/organic logotypes (also evidenced by the work of the British graphic designer whose name I forget, who seems to have come up with the idea of sans-serif type growing into organic vine-like shapes) could be a sign of a broader cultural trend: a reaction against the slick and industrial and a move towards a rustic/pastoral aesthetic. This trend has also come up in indie music (in the Pitchfork sense, not the NME haircut rock sense), with a shift away from angular/stylised sharper-than-thou aesthetics of the Interpol/Franz Ferdinand era (now thoroughly commercialised; witness the calculated faux-edginess of The Killers, for example, or the wave of derivative "indie" bands in the UK) towards more organic sounds (the antifolk/freak-folk scene, bands like Animal Collective (and, indeed, most of the bands with animal names in their names), as well as a more folky, anti-sharp aesthetic (rustic-looking beards, home-made clothes that look like hand-me-downs, &c.)
Anyway, the page also has links to previous years' trends in logo design, going back to 2003, which make for interesting reading.
(via Boing Boing)
11 of the world's worst word-mashup trademark filings. Includes gems like "eatainment", "collaboneering", "webume", the unfortunate "entremaneur", and the frankly jaw-dropping "innovisioneering".
(via Boing Boing Gadgets)
The latest buzzword in marketing is coercive atmospherics; i.e., using subtle scent cues to trigger positive emotional reactions in consumers:
THE AIR in Samsung's flagship electronics store on the upper west side of Manhattan smells like honeydew melon. It is barely perceptible but, together with the soft, constantly morphing light scheme, the scent gives the store a blissfully relaxed, tropical feel. The fragrance I'm sniffing is the company's signature scent and is being pumped out from hidden devices in the ceiling. Consumers roam the showroom unaware that they are being seduced not just via their eyes and ears but also by their noses
Westin and Samsung are not alone in using scent to tap into consumers' psyches. Diamond retailer De Beers scents its sparkling Manhattan and Los Angeles showrooms with an aromatic blend that includes floral, citrus and green tea; cellphone company Verizon Wireless recently used chocolate-scented displays to market the new LG Chocolate phone; and Sony is raising the stakes by not only scenting its Sony Style stores but also sending its signature scent home in scented sachets in shopping bags. Sony is also considering impregnating the hard plastics used in its gadgets with the fragrance, says David Van Epps, CEO of North Carolina-based ScentAir, developer of Sony's signature scent.
(via Architectures of Control)
Oh dear; it appears that there's now a Britpop revival, with bands like Kula Shaker and Northern Uproar coming out of retirement to play the Carling circuit for a new generation of NME readers:
Today, Hodgson is wearing a black Harrington jacket, tight jeans, trainers and badges - a visual blast from the era when he rode a scooter and rubbed shoulders with Shed Seven at Brighton Beach, the Leeds club night that was synonymous with Britpop in the north the way Blow Up was in the south. Hodgson went there for three years. He and his bandmates claim they could tell which band a person was into by the shade of their clothes.
"Music was stale," he says. "It was all shoegazing, American grunge. The charts were full of dance shit. We thought we'd bring indie back, but with more rock guitars. Suddenly, there were a load of bands with the same idea, and it became a scene."(Also known as "when indie turned to shite". Then the careerists, realising that there was money to be made from white boys with guitars, haircuts and a stylist's careful touch, jumped on and the whole thing went (champagne, or perhaps cocaine) supernova, sucking the oxygen out of the British indie genre like a fuel-air explosive. And thus, a decade and a bit down the track, we get Carling-indie in its most moronic, populist form; no longer music for thoughtful bookish types but for lagered-up geezers on the make.)
"There was camaraderie between bands that toured together, like us and Oasis, but I always thought Damon Albarn was a wanker," says Priest. "He'd say things like, 'You're looking very psychedelic tonight, Mathew.' I'm from Birmingham. What's that about? He totally puts your back up. But I completely respect the cunt. He's a genius."For small values of "genius". He's like a Momus for Evening Standard readers.
Radiohead have announced the details of their upcoming album. It will be titled In Rainbows. Even more interesting is the means of its distribution. Radiohead's contract with major recording behemoth EMI had ended, and not surprisingly, the band had chosen not to renew it. More surprisingly, they didn't go to another label. Instead, they will be selling the album themselves, over the web, in a two-tiered pricing structure. True fans who want the prestige of the collectible article can buy a two-disc box for £40 (US$80, or just under 100 Australian dollars), whereas those who just want the music to listen to can buy a downloadable version, nominating their own price for it. (The downloadable version is also free with the disc version.)
There aren't any more details at this stage. (I'd hope that the downloadable version is in a high-bit-rate open format, and not, say, DRM-shackled .WMA files, and for £40, you'd hope that you get something more impressive than a double jewel case with a booklet.) There is also no news on how Radiohead will make this available to people who aren't on the internet or don't like buying things online. I suspect that a deal with Starbucks is probably not on the cards, though.
The Israeli government, realising it has somewhat of an image problem in key tourism markets, has decided on a possible solution: pictures of h0tt soldier chyxx in their underwear, in the lads' magazine Maxim:
In the magazine, one of the women, Yarden, describes how she enjoyed firing her M16 rifle before she entered the military intelligence corps, while Nivit says her job in intelligence was so secret that she cannot talk about it. There is nothing military about the photographs, however, which are taken in different locations in Tel Aviv
Israel is keen to sell itself as a western country with beaches and nightclubs rather than a country full of religious zealots which has been in a permanent state of emergency since its creation.Needless to say, not everyone's happy with this.
The latest innovation in customer profiling: giving away free umbrellas with RFID chips, which can be read at participating shops, allowing said shops to identify where their customers came from:
A Motorola RFID tag is inlaid in the handle. Dutch Umbrella periodically dispatches an employee with a handheld reader to visit business sites and identify each umbrella. This information is later loaded into software developed by Concept2 Solution. Merchants can then pinpoint the areas from where the customers came and target those particular areas for advertising and promotion.
Blog of the day: Architectures Of Control. Written by an industrial designer, it looks at how products or systems are designed to control the behaviour of their users, explicitly or implicitly. It has posts covering everything from public seating designed to discourage sleeping or lingering to the way that packaged food portion sizes subliminally influence how much people eat to interactive museum exhibits subtly forcing people to learn things embedded in the context of a game, to deliberately incompatible light sockets which require compact fluorescent bulbs, and of course, the DRM/"trusted computing" debate. For some reason or other, this blog is blocked in China.
(via Boing Boing)
It has emerged that the version of the recent James Bond film Casino Royale shown on British Airways flights has been edited to remove references to rival airline Virgin Atlantic:
British Airways has removed a shot of Virgin Atlantic boss Sir Richard Branson from the in-flight version of the James Bond movie Casino Royale.
The British Airways edit also obscures the tail fin of a Virgin plane that was seen in the original.As a BA spokesman points out, the airline edits many films to render them fit for in-flight viewing, and what exactly that entails is its own business. (I suspect that neither Fight Club nor Snakes On A Plane made it to the backs of airliner seats, for example.) I wonder how many other similar instances of product displacement have occurred on flights.
(via Boing Boing)
Blog of the day: Suicide Food ("animals that want to be eaten") looks at the profusion of anthropomorphic animal mascots used to advertised food made from such animals, gleefully rejoicing in the eating of such food, and rating each one on how disturbing or perverse it is when you actually think about it:
It's not what it seems. The chicken, while being strangled harshly enough to pop out feathers, isn't pleading for help. That is not the international "I'm choking!" gesture. No. It's a wave. The chicken is waving to us. And with his left wing, he is welcoming us to the ranch. ("Ta-daaa!") Whether this is perverted or pathological, it's unwholesome. This playful pair, interrupted during a murder-suicide pact--or, is it merely prelude to the most revolting sex ever?--doesn't even have the decency to be embarrassed. The pig's ten gallon hat is pulled down tight enough to shut out the world, and the bug-eyed chicken just wants to get on with it and get it on.
The Wagon Wheel gives us a new twist on a standard theme. Pinky (as the website identifies him) is not simply preparing to dive onto the grill. No, he has contrived to be sent from present-day Stilwell, Kansas, back in time to the Papal Inquisition, there to subject himself to horrors unending and the torments of the soul. Thus, the act we see the pig performing in a state of near-ecstasy. "The Devil's Bicycle," as it is known in the alternate universe under discussion, involves the penitent pedaling a burning wagon wheel, all the while dodging the Holy Spit.Update: Just after I posted about it, Suicide Food outdid itself with this beauty:
One could write an essay on the cultural differences between France and America based on this entry and the others on this site.
(via Boing Boing)
In the landscape of the user-generated web, MySpace stands alone. Not because of any technical superiority or leadership; in fact, the site itself gives off a strong whiff of inelegance and half-bakedness. It stands alone, quite literally, by refusing to play nice with rival websites. MySpace is a jealous god, whose first commandment is "thou shalt have no other sites before me". Hence its "blog" functionality has no RSS feeds or permalinks, it doesn't ping or query other sites, and don't even think about APIs or mashups. MySpace may be mentioned in the same breath as "Web 2.0" (much in the way that, say, Lily Allen is "underground hip-hop"), but it is strictly Web 1.0; very Old Testament.
Up until now, MySpace's lack of interaction has been a passive one; users could embed third-party content from other sites in their pages. But now, MySpace has started blocking links to rival sites like photo-sharing site PhotoBucket.
What doesn't make sense is Fox's assumption that the MySpace stronghold (81 percent of the social networking market) can withstand a backlash from developers and users who prefer a more open environment -- even one that hosts ads and the Flash-based widgets that MySpace says are a security threat. In the end, MySpace is just one mass migration away from becoming Tripod.
The company's efforts to circle the wagons and push offending third-party widgets from its site comes at an interesting time. Its closest competitor, Facebook, has unannounced (but confirmed) plans to open its site to third-party widgets for the first time. Ultimately, the two sites could come to resemble each other, but which will users prefer?MySpace users are a stoical lot, willing to put up with having their spaces plastered with flashing, buzzing ads and to make do with late-20th-century levels of functionality in the age of the dynamic mashup; however, some are speculating that as Murdoch tightens his grip and attempts to get value from the $580 million he spent on the site, users will realise that MySpace is not their space but the online equivalent of a tightly controlled shopping mall and move on to more open sites.
Alexis Petridis reveals that the Unknown Pleasures trainers are not the only recent piece of Joy Division merchandise, as yesteryear's existential angst becomes today's nostalgia and marketing tie-in:
Yo! Sushi currently offers its takeaway customers the Love Will Tear Us Apart salmon and tuna box set, a selection of sashimi, nigri, maki and salad with tangy sunomono dressing, the latter presumably ideal for ridding yourself of "the taste in your mouth as desperation takes hold", as the song's lyric had it. The box set forms part of a menu on which every item is named after a classic song, including the Relight My Fire prawn yakisoba and the Sexual Healing salmon sashimi.The obvious question to ask is: where will it end?
This year sees the release of Control, photographer Anton Corbijn's long-awaited Ian Curtis biopic. Rumours that it will be accompanied by a tie-in with McDonald's - involving a new jingle based on the lyrics of Decades ("portrayal of the trauma and degeneration, the sorrows we suffered and never were free ... I'm lovin' it"), and the Ian Curtis Happy Meal - remain unconfirmed at time of going to press.I'm half-expecting to see Unknown Pleasures-themed babywear in shop windows on Stoke Newington Church Street any day now. Or, failing that, oven gloves.
Could this be a new record for concentrated stupidity on an advertising poster?
- Hollywood is staffed by people who don't know what a cow actually is, or
- they're assuming that most of the kids whom they market this steaming pile of mass entertainment at are clueless about where their hamburgers come from and those who aren't are sufficiently conditioned by condescendingly stupid television and movies to switch off the parts of their brains that notice that there's something wrong and just go with the flow, or perhaps
- in this post-industrial, post-post-agricultural society, the concept of barnyard animals has receded from plausible reality into the realm of mythology, where taking liberties (such as anthropomorphising cows as male) is acceptable.
In their latest attempt to buy underground street cred for their Zune music player, Microsoft approached record-store hipster bible Pitchfork to set up a Zune section on their website where hipsters could use the player's proprietary technology to post reviews and content (all under the umbrella of Microsoft's DRM, of course), and hopefully serve as opinion leaders for making the DRM-crippled, ultra-proprietary piece of crapware synonymous with indie cool as much as the spammy wasteland of MySpace has become with cutting-edge unsigned bands. Pitchfork said no.
"Pitchfork's audience looks at that site like it is the Bible," said one high-level music industry executive. "They might not take too kindly to a Microsoft pop-up on the site or a relationship with such a big corporation."
But Schreiber shot down that rationale. "It wasn't anything political, and I don't want to sell Microsoft or the Zune short," Schreiber said. "But the idea just doesn't make a whole lot of sense for us."There is still hope for Microsoft: they have
The Boston Globe looks at the phenomenon of Snakes On A Plane, the first major commercial film where the decision-making process was subordinated to the collective will of bored people on the internet. Is it a bold new era of democracy in entertainment, or just a larger focus group?
In the year since a Hollywood writer named Josh Friedman posted on his Web diary that he'd been script-doctoring a movie of that title, the ``SoaP" meme has grown like Topsy. It's the latest iteration of viral marketing, an Internet kudzu that initially took on a life of its own against the wishes of the film's corporate keepers. And it's almost certainly the most visible example of a sensibility that didn't exist before the digital revolution: Mass Camp.
Regardless of how the movie turns out, a line is being crossed here, and it raises questions that don't have quick answers. Should audiences have a hand in how a movie is made, even an out-and-out crowd-pleaser? At what point in the process does a director become part of the marketing team? Is this a bad thing or does it just rubber-stamp a practice increasingly part of the cost-conscious film industry? Can studios even hope to control the use of the blogosphere as a marketing tool?
Moviegoers should also wonder if the results will be better films or more films driven by consensus. The two are most certainly not the same thing. Critic Chuck Klosterman recently worried that we may be entering an era of ``the Wikipedia version of a movie," and his concerns are well-founded. We go to movies -- even honest schlock -- not to see what we expect to see but to be surprised by what we hadn't yet considered.
In a bid to show that they're not just for left-coast liberals and get more of a following in the US "red states", the Church of Scientology is sponsoring its own NASCAR racing team:
The venture will be called the Dianetics Racing Team - the name is based on the belief system drawn up by the late L Ron Hubbard, Scientology's founder, during the 1950s.
Melbourne underworld hitman/standover man turned spoken-word artist/painter/celebrity/brand Mark "Chopper" Read's latest venture is a board game based on his criminal career:
Using bullets for pieces, the game starts at the dole office, and players visit brothels, standover notorious criminals, get busted by police, go to court, go to jail, before finally making their way to Tasmania.
For their sins players also have to go through a shocking form of Russian roulette. At the roll of the dice, put their fingers in a silver vice - and one of them gets a small electric shock.Chopper, his marketing people and the game developers (a Queensland outfit who call themselves the Blowtorch Group) haven't neglected the brand tie-in potential either, recommending that players may care to consume Chopper Heavy Beer (which, from what I recall, is quite decent) and Chopper Nuts whilst playing.
"It's no longer illegal what I do these days but it's bloody criminal what I get away with," Read said. "But I haven't had a penny out of it so far."It's interesting to note that board games are considered so safe these days that the chorus of condemnation has been all but absent. Certainly there have been no wowser politicians promising to see about getting it banned, as happens in Australia whenever a controversial video game or non-mainstream movie comes out.
In the US, the copyright industry is pushing for a law requiring anything capable of digitising video signals to respond to hidden embedded signals, originally designed for Voltron toys in the 1980s, and to refuse to digitise the content if it is marked as copyrighted.
Meanwhile, in Australia, the same technology is being embedded into plastic dolls of a cricketer, given away with bottles of Victoria Bitter; the signals they respond to will be embedded in broadcasts of the cricket:
Booney dolls went live on Friday the 13th of January with the first match of the VB One Day series, and internet blogs and discussion sites have been debating since then what makes them tick. Booney is activated an hour before each one-day match by an internal timer set to eastern standard time (a glitch for those viewing matches televised on delay in Perth). His first words are "get me a VB, the cricket is about to start", a cross-marketing plug for VB and the cricket that sets the stage for his main performance during the game.
Booney's timer chip is programmed to trigger random comments while the match is in progress, and to announce a codeword for that day's Boonanza competition, in which viewers can win cricket memorabilia prizes (separately, those buying slabs have the chance to win three "Boonanza Utes" and 90 flat-screen TVs).
The major innovation is that Booney's chip responds to four audible triggers broadcast by Nine during matches, to generate targeted comments about bowling, batting, general play and VB advertisements.
Booney's vocabulary ranges from the inane ("Got any nachos? I love nachos") to ones that boost the two key products — the cricket ("He's seeing them like watermelons") and the beer ("Got a beer yet?").
The latest rebranding of Jesus Christ makes him a black revolutionary in Africa:
Instead of robes and homilies about turning the other cheek, this Jesus wears jeans and T-shirts and urges supporters to resist - peacefully - a tyrannical regime in an unnamed southern African country which resembles Zimbabwe. A collaboration between Spier films and the Dimpho Di Kopane, a theatre and film ensemble, the feature, made in South Africa, was shot in rural Eastern Cape and in Khayelitsha, a township outside Cape Town plagued by poverty and crime.
Son of Man, directed by Mark Dornford-May, depicts Jesus as a divine being who performs miracles. But it may prove contentious for switching the story from Roman-occupied first-century Palestine to misruled 21st-century Africa. "He gathers people around him to fight against poverty and political oppression," said Pauline Malefane, who plays Mary. "It feels a bit like apartheid, people living in fear that soldiers could come into the house at any time and kill children."Compare and contrast with the hip Jesus-as-Che/Mao icons that evangelical groups around the world have been using in recent years.
1. You've Been Psychologically Conditioned To Want a Diamond
3. Diamonds Have No Resale or Investment Value
4. Diamond Miners are Disproportionately Exposed to HIV/AIDS
7. Slave Laborers Cut and Polish Diamonds
9. Diamond Wars are Fought Using Child Warriors
More on the explosion in product placement in television shows, brought about by advertisers' concern that consumers may be skipping ads:
In a recent episode of the NBC series Medium, writers had to work the movie Memoirs of a Geisha into the dialogue three times because of a deal the network made with Sony earlier in the season. They even had the characters go on a date to an early screening of the movie and bump into friends who had just viewed Geisha to tell them how good it was.
Another product placement intruded a touching scene on ABC's soap opera, All My Children, when writers were forced to incorporate a line about a new Wal-Mart perfume into the dialogue as a character, Greenlee, sat at the bedside of her husband who was suffering from a fatal gunshot wound.
It looks like hopes for a reprieve for legendary New York rock venue CBGB were short-lived; the venue will now close on Halloween of 2006. The owners are planning to open a new venue in the Lower East Side some time afterward, and/or to devote their energies to the lucrative "CBGB's & OMFUG" merchandise business.
In an attempt to generate spin for the PlayStation Portable, Sony hire graffiti/paste-up artists to put up pictures of kids playing with PSPs as if they were traditional toys. Local hipsters, irritated with the Spectacle's commodification of dissent (and/or copy-protection malware on Sony CDs), retaliate, scrawling anti-Sony slogans on them. Discussion ensues:
"Aaaaaarrrrggggghhh. I KNEW something wasn't right about the thing when I took a picture of it a couple weeks ago in san Francisco. Two kids. 6-feet tall. Right near the new freeway off-ramp. Looked way too clean to be real. Working for a branding firm. I'm adamantly opposed to this kind of infiltration by the big corporations. Equivalent in my mind with viral marketing stealth efforts to generate a buzz about a new product the unsuspecting masses by some cool, attractive shill on the company payroll."And more pictures here.
"We know firsthand how the story gets short-changed every time a reality show gets taken over by an advertiser," said the Writers Guild of America. "We're the ones forced to put in long hours just to figure out how we're going to embed that can of soda into the storyline eight more times before the final episode."
Product placement - whereby items are woven into programmes to satisfy advertisers - has become rife on US television as revenue from traditional commercials has dropped. It is most common in reality shows such as The Contender, which recorded 7,500 instances last year. It can also be seen in fiction programmes. In an episode of Desperate Housewives broadcast this year, one of the lead characters finds work as a model, buys a Buick LaCrosse and wastes no time showing it off to her friends at the mall. Two Buick commercials ran during the same episode.The Writers' Guild of America wants a statement at the beginning of each show, listing the incidences of product placement in the programme, in the hope that such statements counteract the economic pressure to shovel in more products into each script, with the story taking a back seat to commercial considerations.
One of the journalists who covered the Michael Jackson trial is going into the wine business, by marketing a brand of wine named Jesus Juice. The label on the bottles will feature a photograph of a Jackson-like figure in a crucifixion pose, wearing one glove and a fedora:
Jackson's lawyers have threatened to sue the winemaker. It is not clear on what grounds: will they claim that Jackson owns the trademark "Jesus Juice", or instead claim false advertising given that it is a wine rather than a sugary alcopop?
In an attempt to cash in on the lucrative Christian-fundamentalist market, Murdoch's 20th Century Fox studio has announced a film adaptation of Milton's Paradise Lost. It's not going to be in Aramaic, but for most audiences, 17th-century English in iambic pentameter would undoubtedly be as much of a a party-killer.
The whole project raises some interesting questions. Are they going to aim it squarely at cultural-separatist Christians in the US red states, or put Mason Serif on the posters and try to sell it to goths and Neil Gaiman fans and such? If the former, would they keep Milton's representation of Lucifer or edit it to make it less sympathetic? And what other decisions would be taken to encompass the moral and aesthetic values of contemporary American Christian-conservative culture. I imagine the production design could end up looking very Franklin Mint.
It looks like a Madonna-branded iPod Nano is coming out next month. No word on whether it'll come with a length of holy red string to hang it around one's neck on.
Faced with a ban on tobacco advertising, cigarette companies are turning to increasingly subtle forms of marketing, such as redesigning bar decor to subliminally suggest their brand identities:
These 'installations', as they were called, created lounge areas by placing comfortable red sofas in front of video screens showing scenes redolent of Wild West 'Marlboro country' to convey the essence of the cigarette brand while circumnavigating sponsorship bans.
'All that former advertising money has to go somewhere,' said one industry insider. 'The tobacco firms are looking to create extensive "design languages" in bars and clubs and other venues through the use of particular types of furniture or material which will make people think of their brands.'
As part of the 10th anniversary of Britpop*, the BBC looks at what became of the Britpop stars. It's interesting to see that two members of that most hype-driven of Britpop bands, Menswear, are still in the UK music hype industry; one of them managing NME-Carling-MTV2 darlings Bloc Party, and another being news editor at rigidly playlisted commercial "indie" radio station Xfm. The singer, meanwhile, seems to work in a mobile phone shop or something.
* well, the Blur-Oasis thing which defined it in the media's eye.
The official marketing restrictions for the London Olympics have been announced; in order to protect sponsors' investment, other businesses in London will be prohibited from using in their names or marketing not only the word 'Olympic', but also a host of other words, among them 'games', "gold', 'silver', 'bronze', '2012' or 'summer', as well as facsimiles of the Olympic logo (Audi dealerships can't be too happy about this) or the as yet undesigned mascots. No word on whether it will be illegal to wear T-shirts with political slogans in public spaces in London, as was apparently the case in Sydney in 2000.
A Cornell University study has demonstrated that men who feel their masculinity threatened overcompensate by adopting hypermasculine stances such as homophobia, support for the Iraq war, and a desire to buy a SUV:
Willer administered a gender identity survey to a sample of male and female Cornell undergraduates in the fall of 2004. Participants were randomly assigned to receive feedback that their responses indicated either a masculine or a feminine identity. While women's responses were unchanged regardless of the feedback they received, men's reactions "were strongly affected by this feedback," Willer said.
He questioned subjects about their political attitudes, including how they felt about a same-sex marriage ban and their support for President Bush's handling of the Iraq War. "I created composites from subjects' answers to these and other questions," he said. "I also gave subjects a car-buying vignette, presented as part of a study of purchasing a new car."With this in mind, perhaps SUV manufacturers will start running ads, with no brand names on them, impugning their audience's masculinity. I can see them now: "Hey you," a crew-cut, neckless drill-sergeant type shouts from the TV, "you call yourself a man? You ain't a man, you're a big girl's blouse!" Two ads later, a spot for the Hummer or the latest ultra-macho urban assault vehicle appears. Within the next week, sales go through the roof as office drones compensate for their perceived emasculation.
Meanwhile the researchers in question next intend to measure respondents' testosterone levels and also test their attitudes to violence against women.
Not content to sell trucker caps and retro-hipster flight bags to the world's indie kids, Belle & Sebastian have entered the ringtone business. Currently, they only have a few tones (mostly from their last album), and the Flash interface doesn't seem to play the polyphonic ones.
(Speaking of Belle & Sebastian's merchandise business, I wonder how long until they start selling their own line of NHS-style black-frame emo glasses; that would be a natural progression. Either that or doing a deal with a multinational electronics company to make Belle & Sebastian-branded MP3 players and digital cameras, à la GwenStefaniCorp.)
Meanwhile, it's a sign of how much Dionysiac Genius of Rock Pete Doherty's stock has dipped that Damon Albarn is now picking on him, and talking about starting a "Make Doherty History" campaign (a line he seems to have lifted from the cover of Private Eye). I guess that there's no danger of Babyshambles getting up and giving Albarn a sound thrashing, as Oasis did shortly before disappearing in a cloud of cocaine-induced self-importance.
You've probably heard anecdotes about the writers of blurbs for posters, DVD covers and other promotional material egregiously twisting unfavourable reviews to produce glowing praise (apparently, as long as the words in the blurb appear in the review in the same order, anything goes). Now here's proof of this practice, with a selection of blurbs and the reviews they came from. They really are shameless:
The Girl in the Café (HBO)
Oregonian: "An endearing romantic comedy."
Actual line: "This new offering from HBO Films is at its heart a bit of political propaganda wrapped into an endearing romantic comedy that starts losing its laughs when it gets to Reykjavik and decides its teachable moment has arrived."
People Are Living There
New York Times: "Exquisite! Very rewarding performances by the four actors."
Actual line: "Things do pick up, however, in the play's second half, when Milly decides that the way to show up her boyfriend is to celebrate. What follows is the worst birthday party of all time, and Suzanne Shepherd, the director, stages it with exquisite patience, including a long, silent stretch of eating that will leave any dietitians in the audience appalled and everyone else laughing. ... Apparently it's no fun turning 50 whether you live in South Africa or in Elizabeth, N.J. That may be the main insight to be gleaned from the Specific Theater Company's revisiting of 'People Are Living There,' an unrewarding Athol Fugard play that benefits from some very rewarding performances by the four actors."
(via bOING bOING)
Every so often, it seems, some stuffed shirt at Time-Warner decides that maximising shareholder value requires them to "update" their Looney Tunes brand to make it "more relevant" to today's 12-year-olds. In the 1990s, they gave Bugs & Co. a ghetto makeover, dressing them in hip-hop street fashions and posing them like gangsta rappers, and undoubtedly moving quite a few Tweety-the-thug T-shirts. Now, the classic properties are getting an extreme makeover, redrawn to look more edgy and hardcore and techno-tough for a new generation of kids. Oh, and they live in a spaceship and fight crime. Nobody will accuse this Bugs, I mean Buzz Bunny of being sexually ambiguous.
jwz on what's wrong with the idea of groupware, and how a focus on groupware (imposed from above by management) killed Netscape:
If you want to do something that's going to change the world, build software that people want to use instead of software that managers want to buy. When words like "groupware" and "enterprise" start getting tossed around, you're doing the latter. You start adding features to satisfy line-items on some checklist that was constructed by interminable committee meetings among bureaucrats, and you're coding toward an externally-dictated product specification that maybe some company will want to buy a hundred "seats" of, but that nobody will ever love. With that kind of motivation, nobody will ever find it sexy. It won't make anyone happy.
So I said, narrow the focus. Your "use case" should be, there's a 22 year old college student living in the dorms. How will this software get him laid? That got me a look like I had just sprouted a third head, but bear with me, because I think that it's not only crude but insightful. "How will this software get my users laid" should be on the minds of anyone writing social software (and these days, almost all software is social software).
One of Britain's leading "visual merchandising consultants" reveals the psychological tricks used by shops to get people to buy stuff: (via Mind Hacks)
Most of the prices in electrical stores end in.99p. But a few end in.98p or 95p. That's a signal that a product is old stock and needs to be sold quickly. If you're foolish enough to ask a sales assistant for advice in a big electrical chain, the loyal staff will steer you towards these.
Table tops positioned next to racks allow women to handle the trousers and tops. "Younger women like scruffed-up clothes displays it suggests that these are popular. If the piles seem too neat, then obviously no one else is buying these items. Older women are more exacting in their standards."
Belle & Sebastian: not just a band, but your one stop shop for coolsie lifestyle accessories, from flight bags to--wait for it--trucker caps, all carrying the Belle & Sebastian brand (which could well be the next Paul Frank or something). The only thing they're missing is gas-station attendants' shirts.
And for the mono.net set, they have this badge of a very twee-looking bird kicking an egg.
"Princess Dreams" oven-ready turkey nuggets. Which means that someone decided that the best way to sell mechanically reconstituted meat was to brand it with a sub-Barbie/Disney "Princess" motif, complete with oddly mannish-looking "princess" character.
Formulaic music isn't just for the teeny-boppers and pissed-off teenagers. Computer scientist and songwriter Loren Jan Wilson develops a system to analyse Pitchfork music reviews, finding which words have the most positive connotations, and then using that to write two songs, scientifically designed to appeal to the coolsies who write for Pitchfork.
There are positive values for "rough" and "primitive," and negative values for the words "shiny" and "polished." This points towards a preference for lo-fi recordings, which are usually associated with lower-budget independent music. This falls in line with the Pitchfork reviewers' dislike of capitalism, which I talk about a bit in the other interesting results section below.
The "sadness" group is by far the highest-scoring mood, beating the next mood ("dark") by over 1100 points. As a response to that, I've tried to make these songs as sad as possible.
The songs, Kissing God and I'm Already Dead are provided with MP3 form, along with detailed descriptions of how the analysis guided his creative decisions. The songs, as you'd expect, combine gloomy lyrics, lo-fi guitars, choppy beats and layers of effects.
It'd be interesting if he had gotten Pitchfork to review these songs before revealing their origin, if only to see whether he'd have been critically lauded as the next Radiohead or whatever.
The clown prince of the American Left, Michael Moore, claimed a few days ago that Disney killed the distribution of his most recent film, Fahrenheit 911, to preserve tax breaks in Florida; a classic case of corruption, cronyism and corporate power suppressing free speech. Or it would be, if it wasn't an outright publicity stunt. Moore, it seems, knew all along that Disney had no intention of distributing his film, though found it more advantageous to strategically misrepresent the situation as Disney doing the Bush Junta's dirty work. The existence of the alleged tax breaks is also up for some debate. Then again, as Mel Gibson discovered, there's no such thing as bad publicity.
From today's Odd Spot:
A survey in a German car magazine has found that male BMW drivers have sex more often than owners of any other car - 2.2 times a week. Porsche owners have sex the least - 1.4 times.
...meanwhile, low-status individuals who don't own cars have little or no sex. Or perhaps, to quote Alex Torres, "Snazzy cars. Helping losers have sex since 1895."
On a tangent, a professor of creative writing recounts evading the seductive wiles of hordes of young, flirtatious female students, either after a good grade or, allegedly, the coming-of-age ritual of "doing the prof". For some reason, this doesn't seem to happen very much in computer-science institutions.
In late 1994, a 16-year-old American girl named Heather Robinson ran an elaborate scam in what she said was an attempt to make her recently divorced mother happy; she obtained access to an Air Force base and used this access to make up an imaginary Col. Cunningham, who then carried on a 3-month virtual relationship with her mother. She even sent her mother a marriage proposal from Col. Cunningham, along with an engagement ring, bought with a stolen credit card.
"We were 16 years old, and I wanted to do something good for my mom," Robinson said. "After the court stuff was done, my mom put her arm around me and said, 'I understand why you did it and maybe some day they'll make a movie about it.'"
And a movie is in the pipeline, masterminded by the same Heather Robinson. This time, she has pulled it off by getting a job at AOL, illicitly finding contact details of Hollywood celebrities and producers, and befriending them under false identities. The family-oriented romcom The Perfect Man is apparently autobiographical. Proof that social engineering pays, or itself a bogus story planted by some Universal Studios marketroid to generate buzz for an otherwise insipid-sounding film?
Via Substitute, another piece about high-definition TV (HDTV), and in particular, about how the resolution is so good that it brings out every wrinkle, blemish and imperfection on celebrities' faces. I've also heard it claimed that the spread of HDTV will drive the development and adoption of new make-up technologies (ultra-fine nanomaterial cosmetics sprayed on with high-precision airbrushes or what have you), to allow those celebrities to keep looking perfect under the HDTV camera's harsh scrutiny.
Though, when one thinks about it, this sounds suspicious. Is HDTV really more detailed than the 35mm film that is shown in multiplexes? This is unlikely; when film is digitised for processing, each frame measures something like 3,000 pixels across; if HDTV exceeds this, a consumer HDTV set would have a higher resolution than the best computer monitor on the market (and this includes those used by graphic professionals). Not to mention that HDTV production would depend on digital video cameras at the very bleeding edge of the technology.
I suspect that the various stories about HDTV being so good that it shows you every pore on a celebrity's previously perfect-looking face is a sneaky piece of viral marketing, designed by some agency to spread buzz about this expensive new technology. It's a well-crafted piece, tapping into fascination with celebrities and the desire to see them brought down to earth and stripped of their seemingly superhuman perfection. And HDTV is going to need a lot of help in getting off the ground (and recouping investment); with passive TV viewership declining as more people seek out more interactive technologies, the number of people ready to invest in HDTV (which is, essentially, the same deal as regular TV, only with better image quality) off the bat isn't great.
Virgin Atlantic abandons mouth-shaped urinals after pressure from feminist groups concerned about the symbolism of urinals shaped like womens' mouths. (Women? And I thought it was meant to be Mick Jagger.)
Move over Che: some outfit in Victoria are producing a beer named Chopper Heavy. It's described as "Australian style", and also features on the label an irreverent doggerel verse about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. I've no idea what the verse has to do with Mr. Read (perhaps he's a poet as well as a hitman and visual artist?), or indeed whether he has licensed his likeness to the brewery.
According to ads in the most recent Beat/InPress, there's a new John Butler Trio (for those not in the know, that's a sort of "funky roots/blues/folk" delivered by a studmuffin with dreadlocks and appealing primarily to a younger female audience; think an unusually well-scrubbed white "feral" version of Lenny Kravitz or something) album out; and, for a limited time only, it comes with.. a trucker cap. This is proof that trucker caps have lost whatever element of irony they once had and have become just a mindless piece of fashion.
A data-mining technology developed for hunting down criminals, and used to identify backpacker killer Ivan Milat, is now being adapted to identifying consumer preferences by analysing their purchases and media choices:
"We know the people who drink a certain type of coffee will also eat specific types of chocolate bars and eat at particular food chains," said Torque's managing partner, Oliver Rees. "It's not only interesting for marketing those products to specific people but also for how store layouts are designed and how brand alliances should or could develop."
Anti-hate activists are getting up in arms about girls' T-shirts with anti-boy mottos. The pink and pastel-blue midriff-baring T-shirts, with slogans like "Boys are stupid, throw rocks are them", are made by a company named David and Goliath (apparently based in the Clam stronghold of Clearwater, Florida; not sure whether that has any significance), and sold to a wide variety of age groups. In the eyes of anti-hate-crime campaigners and "mens' rights" groups (who may well be the US equivalents of the Blackshirts or something), the T-shirts are nothing more than an incitement to hatred:
"These T-shirts have nothing to do with girl power," says Joe Kelly, president of Dads and Daughters in Duluth, Minn. "They are a cynical manipulation of faux 'girl power' designed primarily to generate corporate profit, the consequences be damned."
"I think it's funny when people take the 'Hooters' shirts and turn them around in ways that bring attention to stereotypes that demean women," she said. "But name calling isn't funny or acceptable no matter what group it's targeted at. These shirts are simply substituting one power message for another."
More proof that Americans have no sense of irony?
According to the PTUA, the developers who own Melbourne Central shopping centre have seized on a novel way of spurring sales: closing off the entrance to Melbourne Central station, instead forcing commuters who wish to get to the station through a labyrinth of shops, where, hopefully, many of them will buy things along the way.
Branding and merchandising tie-ins are the big thing in hip-hop these days, and any rapper worth his salt in the MTV world has to have a portfolio of lifestyle product brands to go with their actual CDs. A rapper named Nelly, recently launched plans to add a line of energy drinks to his empire, but has run into opposition from black organisations planning to organise boycotts of the product. The playa-haters in question are objecting to it being called Pimp Juice.
(And I see their point; the fact that a word for one who exploits the labour of prostitutes has come to signify success and status does seem somewhat sick. Much in the way that "thug" has become synonymous with self-worth as a man.)
Today's Onion has some great stories, including No One Makes It To Burning Man, Horrified Teen Stumbles Upon Divorced Mom's Personal Ad (heh!), and the very insightful Graphic Artist Carefully Assigns Ethnicities to Anthropomorphic Recyclables:
Added Bellisle: "That brings another problem to light: If you include one woman in the mix, no one cares what race she is. As if one female recycling drum can represent female recycling drums of all races, but male recyclables deserve further distinction."
Drawing friendly, nondescript male characters is not the answer, said Bellisle. "Look at this grinning soda can giving the thumbs-up here," she said. "Everyone subconsciously assumes it's a Caucasian male."
"I have no idea how to make the plastic milk jug look gay," Bellisle said. "I don't want to make him a bottle of water, for obvious reasons. Maybe I'll use a soy-milk container when I draw the gay jug. Or maybe they'll let me switch him with the Chicano, this tin can here.
Unfortunately, though, the Onion seem to have switched their system so that the URLs of stories become invalid after the current week, thus reducing their bloggability. Which sucks.
Douglas Rushkoff on the evolution of branding and marketing (excerpted from his book Coercion):
The real intention of target marketing to children and babies, however, goes deeper. The fresh neurons of young brains are valuable mental real estate to admen. By seeding their products and images early, the marketers can do more than just develop brand recognition; they can literally cultivate a demographic's sensibilities as they are formed. A nine-year-old child who can recognize the Budweiser frogs and recite their slogan (Bud-weis-er) is more likely to start drinking beer than one who can remember only Tony the Tiger yelling, "They^(1)re great!" (Currently, more children recognize the frogs than Tony.) This indicates a long-term coercive strategy.
It amounts to a game of cat-and-mouse between advertisers and their target psychographic groups. The more effort we expend to escape categorization, the more ruthlessly the marketers pursue us. In some cases, in fact, our psychographic profiles are based more on the extent to which we try to avoid marketers than on our fundamental goals or values.
The Graun's Simon Hattenstone interviews Banksy:
Banksy's attitude to brands is ambivalent - like Naomi Klein, he opposes corporate branding and has become his own brand in the process. Now, people are selling forged Banksies on the black market or stencil kits so we can produce our own Banksies. Does he mind being ripped off? "No," he says. "The thing is, I was a bootlegger for three years so I don't really have a leg to stand on."
Incidentally, some of the fake Banksies (in particular, the chimp with the sandwich board and the parachuting rat) have ended up on the walls of Fitzroy (look around Brunswick St., between Gertrude and Johnston Sts.) They lack Banksy's signature (though at least the people responsible didn't try to take the credit, regardless of clueless journalists putting photos of them next to features about "the Melbourne underground art scene" or whatever it was).
Over the past couple of years the very brands he despises have approached him to do advertising campaigns for them. Is there work he would turn down on principle? "Yeah, I've turned down four Nike jobs now. Every new campaign they email me to ask me to do something about it. I haven't done any of those jobs. The list of jobs I haven't done now is so much bigger than the list of jobs I have done. It's like a reverse CV, kinda weird. Nike have offered me mad money for doing stuff." What's mad money? "A lot of money!" he says bashfully.
Why did he turn it down? "Because I don't need the money and I don't like children working their fingers to the bone for nothing. I like that Jeremy Hardy line: 'My 11-year-old daughter asked me for a pair of trainers the other day. I said, 'Well, you're 11, make 'em yourself.' I want to avoid that shit if at all possible."
And Banksy is having an exhibition at an undisclosed London warehouse. He won't, of course, be in attendance there (or so he says, anyway), with his art being technically illegal and pseudonymity being vitally important.
Germany's Goethe Institute is developing a campaign to rebrand Germany for the 21st century, getting rid of the old associations with either Nazis or beach-hogging tourists. The new brand will present Germany as hip, laid-back and sexy, playing up Germany's short working days, celebrities and events like the Love Parade, and is aimed at Britain and France. Though officials concede that Poland and eastern Europe may be tougher markets to win over.
French videogame giant Infogrames (they're the ones not making a "Shock and Awe" game) have changed their name to Atari. Infogrames acquired the Atari brand, best known for Pong, the Atari 2600 and retro videogames favoured by pill-popping GenX hipsters, in 2001, which is about a decade and a half after its glory days ended. I guess that this means that their lawyers will start going after all those people selling bootleg Atari-logo T-shirts to aforementioned hipsters at Camden Market and similar places.
Brand America update:
Madison Avenue advertising/branding guru Charlotte Beers is quitting her job as the Whitehouse's image czar for selling Brand USA™ to the Islamic world, after acknowledging that "the gap between who we are and how we wish to be seen and how we are in fact seen is frighteningly wide". Her appointment is expected to be
Tony Blair's spin doctor Alastair "Cool Brittannia" Campbell State Department official Patricia Harrison.
Recording companies using computer analysis to determine likely hit songs. The program known as Hit Song Science claims to detect the deep patterns which appeal to popular tastes; several labels are using it to help plan release dates, or decide whether to put money into releasing a song at all. Could this usher in a new era of conformism and stagnation that will make the late '90s seem like an explosion of creativity, and drive everybody looking for anything other than homogeneous bubblegum in genre drag into the MP3 underground?
Adbusters on the apparent failure of Brand America, the Whitehouse's project to sell America to the Islamic world; deemphasising the liabilities (Bush, Playboy, Israel) and emphasising the big selling points (Coca-Cola, democracy and opportunity), and finally boiling down Brand USA to three themes: opportunity, democracy and freedom. Unfortunately, those damned Middle Easterners are being stubborn.
So how are sales? In January, Beers visited Egypt to start sussing out Arab opinion-makers, who, it turns out, wanted to talk about American policy. Beers and her team preferred to talk about opportunity, democracy and freedom - hold the details. "No matter how hard you try to make them understand, they don't," said one Egyptian newspaper editor in response.
Happy Hallmark Day: Mobile phone operators in the UK are bracing for a bumper crop of SMS messages this Valentine's Day, as people send flirtatious text messages to each other. I wonder if they'll take a hint from the floral industry and jack the price of SMS messages up on Feb. 14? (Remember, if you express your love on any other day of the year, it doesn't count.)
Yet all this consumerism, patriotic as it may be, is not without cost: A survey has found that the effort people put into sending amorous text messages, buying cards, arranging romantic dinners with a loved one and seeking out gifts is estimated to cost British business more than £92m. Which is an outrageous toll on productivity. Perhaps we need a levy on Valentine's Day price hikes to make up for lost profits and productivity?
This is Graham the Happy Scum's universe and we're all just living in it:
To counteract the rise in vegetarianism and similar "wacky eating behaviours"
among teenaged girls in America, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association has set up a site whose message
is basically "
Grudnuk sez: Eat meat, it's cool!".
The site, which looks like a cross between a Barbie fan page and a Taco Bell ad (beef-filled tacos and gigantic hamburgers dot the screen), extols teenage girls to "Keep it Real" "real" as in a person who eats beef, preferably three or four times a day. Visitors are also invited to send e-cards to their "real friends" and to tell the world why they are "real girls" (because they eat beef burritos, of course!)
(Now we finally get to find out whether irony did die on 9/11/2001, as some commentators claimed; if this site somehow succeeds in turning the tide of teenage veganism in America, then we are indeed living in the New Norman Rockwell Era of plain-dealing boy-scout earnestness. If it falls flat, then irony is alive and well.) (via rotten.com)
AOL Time Warner have come up with a new form of synergising their recording labels and online service: putting recording artists on their tech support line. If you call AOL's technical support number, you will hear prerecorded messages from Warner artists such as TLC and LeAnn Rimes, instructing you to "listen to the menu carefully prior to making your selection", and then urging you to buy the album "you've been enjoying during this call". (via Plastic)
A BBC article on the much-hyped New Saviours of Rock; i.e., the Strokes/White Stripes/Vines (oh, and the Datsuns too, Jen).
Form your own "new rock" band You will need:
- To be thin
- To be male
- To be white
- To have dark hair
- To have a band name starting with "The..."
- To wear tight T-shirts or leather jackets
- To know a maximum of three guitar chords
Word up, y'all! In an attempt to grab the lucrative black-identified-white-kids demographic, CNN plan to start using hip-hop phrases in headlines.
"In an effort to be sure we are as cutting-edge as possible with our on-screen persona, please refer to this slang dictionary when looking for just the right phrase," reads an internal Headline News memo obtained by the Daily News. "Please use this guide to help all you homeys and honeys add a new flava to your tickers and dekos."
Hmmm... middle-aged white people spouting hip-hop lingo on air; should make for some amusing sample material if nothing else. (via Plastic)
Let's hear it for the Telstra marketing people. Every so often, my mobile phone bill comes with a booklet titled "conversations" (note the stylishly lower-case title), containing announcements of new services, SMS competitions and other attempts to get the consumer to work up a higher phone bill. To keep up the façade that the booklet is a fun free magazine, and not, in fact, an attempt to sell you something, the "news" and advertising are interspersed with a small amount of copywritten, non-promotional "fun" material, such as some highly dubious "conversation starters":
- Conversation Starter #2: Is a zebra white with black stripes or black with white stripes?
- Conversation Starter #3: Did you know our nose and ears never stop growing?
- Conversation Starter #6: Why is it called an eggplant? It's not an egg or a plant.
I can totally see these being used as an icebreaker at parties. Or indeed to approach attractive strangers in a bar.
YOU: "Did you know that pearls melt in vinegar?"
ATTRACTIVE STRANGER: "Wow! I never knew that..."
YOU: "It's true. And the Grand Canyon could hold about 900 trillion footballs... (nervous giggle) That's a *lot* of footballs!"
ATTRACTIVE STRANGER: (wide-eyed) "Reeally?"
Meanwhile, in the land of commercial radio, the latest entry to the top-40 charts is a pop group named after a confectionery brand. The fictitious band named Starburst, whose actual performers' identities are concealed, was manufactured by a marketing firm commissioned by confectionery maker Mars. Their song, "Get Your Juices Going", whose lyrics are built around the flavours of Mars's Starburst sweets, was released by Zomba Records (who also released Britney Spears' branded hit "Taste The Victory", free with bottles of Pepsi not that long ago), and is on heavy rotation on "hip", "alternative" new commercial radio station Nova. Is it just a 4-minute ad jingle, or the future of branded pop culture? And what would Naomi Klein say?
(Also, haven't extended versions of ad jingles been released on records before? Was that "It's The Real Thing" Coca-Cola jingle that those DJs sampled recently released to the public; or the German commercial jazz on Popshopping? And I vaguely remember some commercial-techno Coca-Cola jingle being in the suburban Sanity singles racks in the mid-90s.)
Here it comes: product placement in rap lyrics, with rap record labels and luxury product companies doing deals for mentions in lyrics, and rappers hawking their own lines of luxury products. Hands up who didn't see this coming from a long way off, with the conspicuous brand consumption obsession that is central to commercial hip-hop. (via Reenhead)
An article on stencil bombing; the use of illicit spray-painting (with smoothly designed stencils) as an underground advertising tool; predominantly by trendy T-shirt labels in Prahran (you know, the ones that sell $80 T-shirts where the logo accounts for $79.50 of the price).
Tim Everist, who runs a Prahran-based T-shirt label called Schwipe, says "stencil bombing was effective and underground in the '90's, but then all the big companies started using this form of advertising".
The next wave in marketing is here: chatroom bots or "buddies" with virtual personalities, which befriend people, make conversation and gently encourage them to consume lifestyle products -- and potentially provide marketing analysts with a lot of customer-profile data in the form of conversations.
Most buddies are programmed with personalities that appeal to their target audiences. ELLEgirlBuddy, the Internet ego of teen magazine ELLEgirl, is a redheaded 16-year-old who likes kickboxing, the color periwinkle and French class. GooglyMinotaur, a buddy for the British progressive rock band Radiohead, affected a British demeanor with words like "mate." The Austin Powers buddy, which promotes the summer film "Goldmember," interjects the movie character's favorite phrases - "yeah, baby" and "grrr" - into conversation.
Perhaps surprisingly, thanks to improvements in natural-language technology and extensive customer databases, the bots give the illusion of being sentient. People know they're machines, but choose to suspend disbelief.
ActiveBuddy's bots save details about each user - names, birth dates, even instances when the person used offensive language. When the buddy recalls these facts, it could appear to the user that it is taking a genuine interest in him or her. "We're programmed to respond to certain signals as though in the presence of a life form," said MIT's Turkle. "These objects are pushing our buttons."
There's something disturbing about a world where companies sell padded bras for 9-year-olds. (via Reenhead)
The sexual marketplace: The greatest love letters in history have used the same techniques used by direct mail marketers.
In advertising, we must remember, honesty is a commodity that can be traded freely against expectations; since Henry (VIII) clearly didn't need Anne (Boleyn) as a repeat customer, he could afford to promise her more than his final cutthroat offer.
Cool Britannia et al. In this postmodern age of designer style over generic substance, nation-states are learning from corporations and redefining themselves as brands:
The British management consultant Peter York has even argued that Nike's "swooshffitick logo means precisely what the crucifix meant to an earlier generation in ghettos -- it promises redemption, vindication and a way out."
In Belgium, for example, Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt has hired a team of image-makers to rebuild the country's reputation after years of scandals involving government corruption, child pornography, and dioxin-polluted chickens. In an attempt to clear the air, Belgium has decided to introduce a new logo and hip colors and will sport the cool Internet suffix ".be" as its international symbol. The overall aim of the campaign is to emulate Virgin, which, according to one Belgian advertising expert, "isn't big, but you see it everywhere you look."
(from the Council on Foreign Relations, who may or may not be a front for the Bavarian Illuminati and/or secretly controlling everything fnord from behind the scenes.)
Tenser, said the Tensor: Scientists are studying Stuck Tune Syndrome, commonly known as 'earworms', or the condition in which a melody or song starts repeating in one's head, becoming impossible to dislodge. A researcher at the University of Cincinnati is investigating what causes a song to become an earworm:
Kellaris, a marketing teacher who moonlights as a bouzouki player in a Greek band, theorizes that certain types of music operate like mental mosquito bites. They create a "cognitive itch" that can only be scratched by replaying the tune in the mind. The more the brain scratches, the worse the itch gets. The syndrome is triggered when "the brain detects an incongruity or something 'exceptional' in the musical stimulus," he explained in a report made earlier this year to the Society for Consumer Psychology.
The fact that the researcher in question is a marketing teacher, and working in "consumer psychology", is slightly worrying, making one wonder exactly how the research is going to be used. (See Egan, Greg, Beyond the Whistle Test.)
A classic example is "If You're Happy and You Know It," he says. The melody in each verse builds sequentially from the previous verse... With each "happy and you know it" line, the melody changes slightly, "but in a predictable way," he says. "It's the same pattern, which makes it more memorable."
The World Trade Organization has, one must admit, a bit of an image problem, especially amongst youngsters susceptible to the seductive underground brands of the anti-capitalist movement. So, to combat this, the WTO has commissioned a marketing campaign from yoof marketeers Y Not, to sell their vision of neo-liberal free trade to the kids under the brand of "Positive Anarchy". A leaked report floats a number of strategies, including beating the lefties at the merchandising game (gas masks and bandanas being relatively unexciting brands) and selling trendy teen clothing with the WTO brand, to getting comedians to take the piss out of the anti-capitalists and product-placing fake WTO-brand merchandise on Reality TV shows.
- Recruit model/spokespersons. Polling indicates that "Anti" has benefited significantly from association with high profile musicians/actors. (Note: 43% of teen girls identified U2 singer Bono as related to "Anti" "brand.") Through a third party, Y NOT, Inc. initially approached actresses Sarah Michelle Gellar and Tara Reid about serving as spokespersons for the WTO "brand," but made little headway. We have since been approached by a representative of Kevin Costner, but aren't convinced that he is "brand" appropriate.
Utilizing this strategy, the WTO "brand" would be replaced by a symbol or logo that teens consider more appealing. Note: in focus groups, 59% of teens reported that they would consider purchasing WTO product if associated with friendly talking frog.
As far as I know, this is not a parody, though it looks like one. (via Lev)
A British divorce law firm has stirred up controversy by advertising its services on posters in lavatories at trendy bars. The posters in womens' toilets read "All men are Bastards!", whereas the ones in mens' toilets bear the old anti-Thatcherite election slogan "Ditch the bitch".
Making consumerism fun: Taking product placement to a new level, a Los Angeles company is planning an all-product-placement movie. Foodfight! will feature animated brand mascots uniting to fight "Nazi-like brand X products" that are trying to take over a supermarket. (via Plastic)
The future is already here: it's just not evenly distributed: Companies have been hiring the service of cool hunters , who are sort of like upmarket yuppie anthropologists, to tell them what the trendy urban hipsters are doing, thinking and identifying with; the theory being that the twitchily hip urban fads of today will be the next big hit of tomorrow's mainstream; a view Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point put forward.
When not receiving facials or having their toes dipped in Bollinger Grande Cuvée, trendsetting teens claim to be experimenting with digital filmmaking, vintage computers and "geometric prints from the '60s and '70s." Mainstream teens say they're having sex, "rolling up my jeans" and "going to college." Asked about the "newest thing your friends are doing," the mainstreamers, in a sudden burst of Eisenhower-era conformity retrograde even by their standards, cited "getting married," "working on cars" and "going to nudie bars." Trendier types mentioned "freestyling" and "drunk bowling."
The cool-hunting consultancies, of course, charge hefty fees for these vital tips. (An annual subscription to the L Report will set you back $30k.) Mind you, they're now discovering a corollary to the Tipping Point hypothesis; namely, that most cutting-edge trends are too rarefied to trickle down to suburban mainstream consumers to the point of being marketable; leading to missteps such as marketing guarana-laced soft drinks and male makeup kits to the Wal-Mart crowd, with predictably underwhelming results. (via rebecca's pocket)
The Branded Life: Two American teenagers, whose respective parents apparently didn't begin putting money away for their college education when they were born, have come up with a clever way of putting themselves through college: by renting themselves out as walking advertisements. If you give them money, they will not only walk around with your logo plastered all over their clothes but eat your food, read your magazines in public (regardless of subject matter), fly on your airline, and generally turn their lives into advertisements for your brand.
This leads to a lot of speculation. What sorts of constraints would their sponsors put on their lifestyles/behaviour? Given how rigidly controlled the lifestyles and images of inanimate brand mascots are, you can bet that corporations won't want their walking billboards doing anything that does not suit their image. If their fellow students, wary of being advertised at whenever in their present, begin to avoid the two, will the sponsors dump them? Would such an experiment end in corporate-image catastrophe or could such corporate sponsorship be the future of education for the underprivileged and mediagenic?
Musical iconoclast Moby's latest album, Play, made history by being the first album with every track licensed commercially, and sold almost four million copies so far, quite impressive when you consider that it's not the product of a major label. This article sheds some light on the Moby phenomenon: (via RobotWisdom)
"The irony is that a lot of people who really love music end up working for the creative service branches of a bigger corporation." But not many of them work at major record labels, according to Moby. Instead, he says, you often have "these pencil-pushers at Seagrams, Sony and BMG, who basically see music the same way they see pencils and mufflers. Maintain your quarterly market share so that your stock price is artificially elevated so your CEO doesn't get fired."
"To be honest with you, when the record first came out, having the music used in TV shows, movies and advertisements was the only way we had of exposing it to people. Radio wasn't playing the music. MTV and MuchMusic, they weren't really getting behind it. So we had no way of reaching people except through advertisements and films."
A Scottish entrepreneur is attempting to combine yoof fashion with national pride, and promoting the kilt as 21st century clubwear. His products include kilts with pockets for mobile phones and water bottles.
A web page on that irritatingly ubiquitous feature of corporate logos of the past decade: the Millennum Orbital Crescent Swish. (via BoingBoing)