what love?

Of all the things to bring me out of a blogging slump, Microsoft for the win. Who expected that? Anyways this 'Bring the love back' video and probable campaign is a very interesting beast.

First things first. Well done, kinda funny, but hardly a new message. Reading the project blog that I linked, the idea of conversation as the 'new' thing in the world of reaching customers online is floated at the end of april. This is not remotely a new idea. I can't even being to come up with the correct person to connect the idea to, but the internet as medium for conversation, and conversation as a medium for reaching consumers, is spoken about ad nauseum online. Not that it isn't completely true, but still.

The interesting part, however, is what is presented. It felt, to an extent, like an anti-advertising screed. The consumer complains about being ignored, is shown to be considered as only a section of a demographic, and desires something more than a discounted price or other form of 'bribery' for loyalty. Up until this point, it felt something like reading Adbusters. Advertising is the soulless pretty boy who doesn't care about the consumer at all, and the consumer has had enough. Except this isn't about rejecting marketing in all of it's forms, and arguing against urban spam. This is entirely about what messages are being shown to you via the channels you choose. This is about the tailoring of the message to the consumer.

I find this so amusing, because in essence, it's an anti-advertising clip, by Microsoft, and it might as well be a big ball of praise for Google.

The blog for this clip makes a comment about wanting to offer the "unique assets [...] to help advertisers to reconnect with today’s consumer (look at in-game advertising, personal expressions in messenger, Xbox, etc)" but these are doors already opened. I like the idea (and constant repetition) of the importance of creating a conversation as a means of reaching people, but at the same time, I feel this one is started under false pretenses, essentially an argument that consumer don't want discounts, and the 'same old' advertising practices, but instead deeply desire losing every last refuge from advertising, including in-game worlds, personal messages and emails, etc. For some reason, I doubt that being out of touch with your consumer base is something that is changed by the medium you choose to reach them. The first thing that pops to mind while looking into this 'Bring the love back' idea is that the conversation would be just as unsatisfying for the consumer whether it had been face to face, on Live Messenger, in email, written in a letter, through a tv screen, on a blog, or via messenger pigeon.

It doesn't matter how closely you stalk someone's interests in the attempt to find a new arena to throw your message at them. What matters is actually creating messages carefully tailored to the current interests and habits of the individuals in question. The 'Bring back the love' clip alludes to that. Google does it every time I check my email.

still sort of missing.

I'm looking for work, hence the lack of actual posting.

I realise this is far from informative, but what can I do?

Back soon.


digging in the detrius of days past.

I was walking through the mall, taking my mother to buy new speakers. We'd left my father to pay, as is our custom, and wandered aimlessly for about 15 feet until my mother pointed to a dress in a store window (it may have been Guess?) and said ' I had a dress like that for after my wedding'. This was horrifying at first, because it was a somewhat skimpy looking number with a bow right around the chest area, and I feared she was speaking to me about lingere. That she had worn. On her wedding night. But no, it was a dress, and the one she had had also been a dress, and all was well. I said something not-unlike me, that 'fashion is like everything else. Those who can't invent the future mine the past.' Mom got excited about that statement for some reason, and insisted I share it with people. I ignored the suggestion until I was watching tv, and the same idea came to be again.

This is unsurprising, as I'm certain the idea isn't original. But it keeps popping up. I was listening to the ongoing history of new music last night, and the focus of the episode was those accidental plagiarisms that make up so much of pop music. Combine this with the 'Melancholy Elephants' story by Spider Robinson that I posted recently, and I've been exposed to a large amount of material suggesting that the failure of creativity isn't any such thing, it's a mixture of going with what works, and of inspiration no longer having a longer collective memory than the human race. We're all mining in the past, and the only thing that matters is whether public opinion and that of the rights holders come down on the side of taking it as a compliment to the original, or taking it as a justification for legal action.

There's a reason I love the Creative Commons so much. Every few months I have a moment like the one I had in the mall with my family, and recall that every crutch I add to my memory locks ideas into a time and place that keeps them from becoming new again.

The telling thing is, as I was writing this, I kept wracking my brain in the hopes that I hadn't stolen the statement from somewhere. If I have, let me know.


children of the apocalypse.

Firstly, apologies for the long absence of useful content. And now, to business.

I've been rambling about this for a few weeks, and the responses I've gotten range from accusations of insanity, to quiet nodding, to the assertion that the idea that the sky is falling is universal. However, I still think it's valid, and I think it's worth exploring, if only because it partially explains a rapidly growing sector of consumer habit.

Everyone in my generation has at least an inkling that we are doomed. (Excuse the hyperbole.) Massive climate change, AIDS, cancer, the animals are dying, the plants are dying, the BEES are dying, and we are probably on a similar chopping block. We're the children of the apocalypse, and the only interesting part is that we're responding with apathy, empty gestures, and praising ideology over results.

I think it's important to now differentiate between the apathy of my generation, and the apathy of generation x. Instead of a response to lost values, commericalism, and easy affluence, it's indifference as the only rational response. Everyone is aware that things are getting messy. I don't mean to suggest that the world is actually ending. But at the very least, this way of life is going to be forced to change so rapidly I plan on losing my footing. And, I find in my experience, the result is a generation of people who are aware, but indifferent.

People are still doing things. The problems are too massive for anything less than a concerted effort by world governments to curb behaviours, but the 'every little bit helps' mentality is mixing with the important of at least addressing the understanding of the coming trials, and the desire for a solution. This is what is pushing consumer behaviour to active steps, like hybrids, carbon credits, buying organic and fairtrade. There is an effect to these choices, and I'm not downplaying the ideologies involved. I'm just saying, a step in the right direction still leaves miles to go before we sleep, and unilateral 'right action' isn't going to happen unless people stop seeing hellfire in the tomorrow. It's also driving the greenwashing trend. I find it hard to believe that everyone who buys a (RED) product or some other 'ethical' choice that may or may not translate into any direct result at all, is ignorant of what they are investing in. But, if the futility is always at the back of your mind, simply wearing or buying something that indicates an INTEREST in changing things for the better is a positive step. If what will actually result in change is a rising perception of public demand for better, more ethical, more sustainable business and government, then wearing the AIDS-fighting tshirt that is really a GAP promotional tool almost makes sense.

Frankly, I have and will continue to pay the extra for organic options, or fairtrade options, because I like what it stands for. At the same time, it feels like a kind of ideological greenwashing, as opposed to behavioural greenwashing. I'm doing the right things, my money is going in the right directions, but at the same time, it's meaningless on the grand scale of the problems I'm attempting to address.

I read somewhere recently (and welcome corrections if I'm wrong) than in the last 20 years, the average age for a depression diagnosis went from 30something to 14. 14 is interesting to me, because it's what I think of as the point of awareness for challenging accepted truths. 14 is when I dropped religion because I found it meaningless and insulting (for me, personally). 14 is the age where what reason tells you becomes more important than what hope tells you. It would make a lot of sense to me, today, if every 14 year old looked at tomorrow, and began to feel deeply depressed about their prospects and options.

So, to crib from the fantastic Children of Men, how do you deal with the idea that we are running out of tomorrows? You just don't think about it, at least not deeply or honestly. You buy your tshirt and your fairtrade organic green tea, and you hope voting with your persona changes things, at least a little.


random question...

...culled from old notes in my moleskine.

Why is it that we no longer have pop-culture royalty who are also considered to be of artistic merit? I mean, one could argue that some hollywood names are also excellent actors, but I can't stop wondering why the most revered and the most talented are rarely the same.

Is this just a function of me looking back at all other times? By this I mean to say that it's possible that the people I consider pop-culture royalty of the past were actually just known and talented, and the body of work led to acclaim after the fact.

[The question was originally written about a year ago, while looking at the Andy Warhol exhibit at the AGO.]


why i respect authors.

Spider Robinson is, to me at least, best known for his work on the Callahan series of science fiction novels. Anything that involves a bar, aliens, adaptations of mythical creatures, time travel, and most importantly, genuine humanity gluing it all together, is worth my money.

He recently posted a story related to copyright on his site, written in 1983(!). I'm not at all surprised he won the Best Short Story Hugo award for it, because it manages to not only hold up 24 years later, but still manages to be the best, simplest, and most touching explanation for why continually expanding copyright may be the worst idea in the history of man.

The link is here, and the story is called Melancholy Elephants. I strongly suggest you read it, as even paraphrasing the arguments within in the story was enough to convince a good friend of mine (and staunch Disney supporter) that expanding copyrights further and further is one of the worst things a society can do, or have done to it.

this is a brand new low.

I'm now forced in to an awkward situation. I have to decide whether my principles are worth me no longer watching entourage.

This will be exceedingly complex to negotiate.

Rebranding Digital Rights Management as Digital Consumer Enablement is similar to selling suicide as a means to 'Take back Control of your life!' Add to the already insulting suggestion the comment that 'CTO Bob Zitter says DRM is a misnomer, because the technology "allows consumers "to use content in ways they haven't before."'

So, only being able to watch it at the time, or via the devices pre-approved by the network is a form of 'enablement' for the consumer...

I really didn't expect to wake up today and have to hate HBO.

[edit: forgot to thank Consumerist for the link, and the quote.]


linkblogging like i just don't care.

This is amazing, and so, so correct.

Spare Cycles as the power behind web2.0, and possibly our least considered natural resource.

on boundaries of content.

It's become fairly accepted of late that advertising has started to require the creation of compelling content, rather than just an image of a compelling product with some vaguely interesting copy. The public-as-consumers has begun to demand a reason to pay attention to advertising, both consciously and unconsciously. This is the whole point of the viral explosion, that is someone can create content to interesting it's self-distributing, it doesn't matter if it's a commercial. My favourite example is the deep love my mother has for the recent Tim Horton's spot which features an old man and his son discussing family and hockey while watching the grandson play, all over a hot double double. My mother actually stops conversations, and silences the family to watch this. (I spent 30 minutes scouring youtube, no luck. Sorry.)

So, advertising is supposed to be compelling content. This is painfully obvious, and yet, people still seem to be screwing it up. Which is how we end up here...

Long story short, a band is found to have been created by an advertising firm (Saatchi & Saatchi) specifically for use as a promotions platform. Part of me likes this idea, that someone looks at the commodification of music and goes 'well, better than having to argue with a real band about compensation'. This could have worked, but the same damn mistake that Sony made over the Christmas season with an attempted viral campaign. There are enough people, with enough time, on the internet to find out whether or not anything in popular culture is genuine, or authentic, or an attempt to get them to buy something crappy. I don't know if the hair products being promoted by phony bands are any good. I actually WANT a PSP for myself. But if those responsible for advertising the product are so desperate for positive associations that they create fake people or artists to draw attention to them, it makes sense to assume they suck.

The thing that kills me is this. The music is question was good enough to be played repeatedly on the radio. It caught interest, developed a reasonable enough following to crack that massive barrier. All of this indicates, to me, that if those in charge had been clear about the fact this was a promotional tool, and been very transparent about it, it could have been very successful. Hell, that damn Snakes on a Plane song got radio play, and it was very blatantly about a movie. The difference is, there was no attempt to dupe anyone into thinking it was a coincidental work of art.

Adbusters demographic aside, the issue isn't that consumers hate anything phony. If they did, advertising would not exist, and no advertising related character would ever become popular. It is more or less totally acceptable for something to be completely fake, as long as there is no pretense of reality about the thing itself. What people hate is being told something is genuine, when it is not. They either a) see right through the attempted deception and resent the campaign and product, or b) find out later that they were deceived, feel stupid, and REALLY resent the campaign and product.

Baudrillard was wrong about many things, but he was right about this; if a simulation is PERFECT, then it is effectively reality. What are the chances of a band put together by an ad agency being that perfect? And why risk it when, in all likelihood, a quality product that is openly a promotional tool could reach a more interested, and self-propagating audience through distribution online, in audio, video, podcast, etc. formats.

I understand the rationale behind the move here, but at the same time, it's a little embarrassing that in a world where so much is spent on advertising, no one considered that with quality content, it doesn't really matter to a large segment of consumers if the purpose is also to sell something. There's no inherent need for adverts to be invasive, or annoying. Therefore there's no real reason to be ashamed that the content produced is an ad. My mother is fully aware that the charming elderly asian man is an actor hired to sell her coffee. She doesn't care, because when he says 'Gimme my picture back' it makes her laugh and smile all the same.


relationships and mobile media.

I am an avid text messager. I use my phone to send and take images, track my time, and give little reminders to those I care about. I don't have a smart phone, or one with any remotely impressive PDA capabilities, I use a somewhat outdated Sony Ericsson model that fulfills my needs of very long battery life and good reception better than I have come to expect from portable telephony. I had a cell phone for almost 2 years before I used any of these things, despite them being available to me. And, I think, the deciding factor for me to begin using the cell phone as more than just a last minute communications tool (as in, 'change of plans, to another coffee house') was entering into a serious relationship.

I went, in the space of a few months, from being completely against the concept of text messaging, to being the kind of person who sends a few a day. My original stance on the issue was something to the tune of 'why would I pay ten cents to send a five word email I typed with my thumbs?' This is still, when I think about it, a reasonable position. I think, more than the introduction of a girlfriend into my life, this was a matter of my relationship with the telephone in general changing greatly due to the introduction of said girlfriend.

Let me explain; to the average single male, a telephone call need not last more than 45 seconds, unless one is talking to a family member. At that point in my life, most of the phone calls I made were about who was picking up whom, where we were going, what movie we were seeing, etc. Now that I had a significant other, I was actually having conversations on the phone. About how my day was, how hers was, making plans for the next few times we would see each other, and yes, sometimes just sitting and enjoying a mutual silence for exorbitant fees. This is, I would assume, a very common occurrence in young men, that entering a relationship is the point at which one makes phone calls for more than the sake of organisation.

The difference is, the telephone is no longer just used for voice conversation. So instead of changing the way I used a single technology, entering a relationship recontextualised SMS messages, sending digital stills, and other pocket technology minutiae, such as the use of a picture of my significant other for my phone background.

I changed my phone number today, and sent a message to some of my friends with the details. And I realised that I never would have done that, if my relationship to that technology hadn't expanded with my relationship to the phone, which in turn expanded due to my relationship with a certain girl.

And that, is my mostly sappy post for the day.


transparency and post-transparency.

Talking with Angus recently has led me to think a fair amount on transparency and the importance of it to creating a connection with consumers. This led to, last night at a Starbucks, me scribbling rapidly about the possible clash of branding and transparency in terms of making meaning. To put it bluntly, the chances of anyone or anything being both radically open, and creating and staying on an iconic message, are negligible (assuming that the message isn't mostly one of transparency and 'human-ness'). What this led me to thinking about was an idea of post transparency thinking, and the mixing of a curated message with a more natural one.

It is a both a good thing, and a bad thing, that I read a disgusting amount of magazines. Good because I managed to read the article that exposed me to the core of these ideas, and bad because it took 45 minutes of searching to remember that it had been in GOOD, and not Wired, or Monocle, or Maisonneuve (all of which I recommend wholeheartedly).

"Green is the Colour of Money", an article on corporate greenwashing, makes mention of the Clif Bar company, and one interesting facet of it's operations. The entire delivery fleet runs on biodiesel, and the company has 'a very strong sustainability program'. It also doesn't advertise this at all, except to mention on the packaging that the bars are about 70% organic in ingredients. This is interesting, and I think it goes beyond the fact that the company doesn't advertise, as far as I can tell.

This could be seen as a simple choice that the company live or die on the merits of the product, which is something easy to respect. But it is also a powerful choice given the nature of information access, at the current moment in time. While the article later mentions that the wrappers are not recyclable, this doesn't come across as much of a criticism, although it would if the company was pushing a strong 'green' image. However, it's 2007, and Google exists. Articles like this one being written, consumers blogging and posting on message boards, information like this gets out there, and people search for it. If transparency is about making it simple for consumers to see what you are doing, and therefore assume that you aren't hiding anything, than this is post-transparency; operating on the assumption that the consumer can find out what you do, and instead of simply not addressing your failings, utilise the power of not addressing your successes.

The end result is that you are lauded all the more for enviable facets to your business, and forgiven for little flaws like Clif Bar's non-recyclable wrapper, because, well, it's not like you were bragging about it. Moreover, if people have to look for information (and you can assume they will, if they care) they are at least somewhat more likely to assume it is true than if they are getting it spoonfed to them by the corporation in question.

By understanding that the information, if it exists, will be available, the only question becomes how to generate the interest necessary to turn a post-transparency approach into goodwill, good press, and hopefully good sales. The obvious choice here is to create a superior product, or at the very least one that speaks for itself. Most of us have already reached the point of understanding the brand is more important than any individual offering. Telling people they should love and respect the brand is the first step towards backlash. Letting them find out why themselves, after they have decided to love the product, seems like a fast route to overwhelmingly positive word of mouth, beyond the fact that it offers you a little forgiveness for any initiatives or approaches that aren't 100% of what the consumer might expect.

The other option that seems of the same school, is the ever-present-in-the-back-of-my-mind artificialism, which I should really get around to explaining clearly. I will, whenever I figure out a clear way to explain it. For a quick, cryptic attempt: artificialism is the point when a demand for transparency meets an adherence to branding. Constructing an entire system of information in the goal of creating a singular perception, divorced at least somewhat from reality. However, I'm currently of the mind this would only work on a personal level, as something that requires near-perfection in execution is rarely something that would scale.