A Hint of the Ideal

Edward Boches, Chief Creative Officer at Mullen, dropped in for part of the February 24th chat session at Please Feed the Animals.

There was a fair amount of conversation about “traditional” versus “digital”.  This is a theme a lot of CI people (of all flavors) seem to love kicking around.  To me, it’s a non-issue.  The means of producing traditional channels have been digital for years; the means of distributing the traditional channels are more and more digital; and new channels which are digital in every aspect of their pipeline are gaining increased prevalence.  Talk of “traditional” versus “digital” seems to be more deeply about “how things were done yesterday” versus “how things will be done tomorrow”.

Boches, I like to think, seems to share my opinion.  Even more exciting to me is the idea he offers of what a top-level creative should bring to the table in statements like these:

  • talking to creative circus thursday about looking for jobs in this recession. will go through my 10 suggestions and also encourage people not to be CWs or ADs, but creatives who can solve/invent/conceive everywhere
  • Look outside of ad agency biz. Jay Williams now at Oasis. There are lots of other places to apply the skills of problem solving, synthesizing, etc.
  • You have to get digital and quickly. New creative frontier is not advertising, it’s experiences, influencing, inventing applications, being creative and technical at same time.
  • Some of it is appearance. We have as many digital people as general, so does Crispin, so does Goodby.Best agencies have people who do it all or at least can think across spaces.
  • supposedly general creative should always be good at simplifying and focusing: synthesizing and positioning: these are valuable no matter the medium
  • What’s more important is to create and invent ideas that matter that will excite people that will live across all medium, that might even by inspired by the possibilities that only exist because of the possible integration.

“Think across spaces” is what I feel I have some talent for, what I want to do more of, what I’d like to get paid for at some point (good stage directors do this, but too few of them get paid for it…).

You can read the transcript of the entire chat session here.  Even if you haven’t been laid off from the industry — or haven’t been hired yet — Please Feed the Animals is worth going on your daily reading list.


How to Look Foolish in Just One Word

Details matter.

Outrageous fortune recently decreed that I was going to have to get my dose of morning background news from the web, rather than a TV.  No worries, I pointed the browser at CNN’s website, clicked on “Video”, then “Now in the News” to get a loop of recent stories.  Then, the most important step: I went to make coffee.

When I came back to enjoy my first cup (of many) of life-juice, I was seeing the pre-ad for the next segment.  Glancing at the text description made me curious to hear the story: “Hidden ATM danger: Next time you get cash from an ATM, beware of a new scam thieves are using to steal your money. Clark Howard has more.”  I’m a tech junkie and hey, I use ATM’s, so I was genuinely curious, even eager.

Intro to Clark Howard piece on NEW danger

Intro to Clark Howard piece on new danger

Perhaps this Clark Howard person was going to show me something new and fascinating!  Perhaps I would become a devoted viewer of his new show and a buyer of his obligatory tie-in books!  Perhaps he would save me from some doom I knew not of!

Nope.  Mr. Howard was going to do a piece on ATM skimming.

I first heard about ATM skimming over a year ago.   Snopes.com (a resource I wish more people would consult — before forwarding me dire warnings of spiders hiding beneath toilet seats) mentions that the technique showed up in U.S. newspapers in 2003.  But perhaps Mr. Howard doesn’t know about Snopes.  Does he keep up with the work of his CNN colleagues?  Deborah Feyerick mentioned skimmers in her piece on ATM theft back in July; and Dan Lothian seems to have talked about them in 2005 (though I can’t get any actual video on that one, the description reads “Police in Boston and New Jersey are finally catching up with thieves who use skimming devices and fake ATMs to steal card numbers and PINs.”)

This is probably not Mr. Howard’s fault.  For one thing, he’s a “consumer news guy”, not a “tech news guy”.  For another, he never actually says in the video that this is a “new” development.  Finally, in his defense, it is a fairly strong piece for those who haven’t heard about the phenomenon before.  My mother, for example, found it riveting and has vowed never to use her ATM card again.  This in addition to tearing off the subscription address labels before recycling her magazines, so the identity bandits won’t get her.  And always checking under toilet seats for lethal spiders.

I’m sure that whoever actually posts the clips to CNN’s website and catalogues them just added the word “new” to make the clip sexier.

But if you are going to present yourself as being an expert, particularly in the world of tech, you cannot afford to give the impression that you don’t actually know what’s new and what’s not.

David Pogue‘s place in my heart remains secure.  I won’t be watching Clark Howard’s new show, or reading his blog, or buying his books.  Details matter.

The Future of the Internet

I don’t generally post a lot of links, because there are already a ton of sites that do such things better (just a few of the aggregators and blogs I’m addicted to: AdRants AdGabber, copyranter, Dear Jane Sample, Seth Godin, Third Way, AdLab, Make the Logo Bigger, and there are so many more…).  However, I haven’t seen this up on those (with my apologies to the respective sites if I just missed their posting on the topic…)

The Pew Internet and American Life Project (of the Pew Research Center, which — if you listen to NPR for more than 10 minutes — you’ve heard of) posted the latest version of their Future of the Internet survey.  I won’t even try to sum up the findings here, but it’s a fascinating discussion.  Anyone whose consumer interaction work touches on the internet (which now means, anyone who works in any aspect of consumer interaction) should at least read the summary, if not all 138 pages.  Regardless of which particular predictions turn out to be right or wrong, reading the expert opinions will inspire you to think deeply about the medium and how you (and your clients) are/should be/will be using it.

Delightful Details in Dirty Design


I recently received a Dirt Candle in the gift bag at a big environmental event.  The good folks at Dirt seem to be right on target with their efforts at consumer interaction and are getting their story out in interesting ways which have obviously been carefully crafted.  They present themselves as being environmentally friendly, socially conscious, and their candles as affordable luxuries.  


Those are soybeans

Those are soybeans

The first exposure most people will have to them will be their package design.  This is true for a lot of products and why it’s such an important aspect; and it’s one that Dirt Candles has done very well.
Note "Maker" and "Tester" initials

Note "Maker" and "Tester" initials...


Mine got rained on getting home, so the scans aren’t great, but the text, images, color palette, typography, layout, it’s all done extremely well.  My favorite detail is the text printed on the bottom of the box:

You are clearly the inquisitive type, as most people do not look at the bottom of a box.  Since you have though, we will let you in on  a little secret.  Why Dirt?  Well, for a company that is dedicated to using only natural ingredients, dirt is as much a life-blood as oxygen.  Please remember to recycle — thank you.

Makes the consumer feel smart and feel included, just for turning the box over.

Of course, it helps that the candle inside this great box seems to live up to the hype.

Too often, great package design is used to make up for crappy products.  Marketing, branding, positioning, advertising, all the myriad aspects of consumer interaction are critically important, but shouldn’t be lies.  You may fool people into buying your widget once, but they will hate you for it.

Political Branding Missteps

Politicians have a brand; and just like any brand, care must be taken to protect it from careless negative impacts. Oddly enough, I encountered two such hits last week. Both are minor, but still…


Hillary Rodham Clinton

The folks at Senator Clinton’s PAC made the interesting choice of cutting off communications the weekend before the election:

Image of email sent from HillPAC Staffer

Image of email sent from HillPAC Staffer

Ok, probably it wasn’t their choice, per se. And it’s not like she’s personally up for anything in the November 4th elections. Still, this is a time period when there’s likely to be a huge amount of political activity overall, and it just seems odd. Which is not something a politician wants to project.


Adam Clayton Powell, IV

This one is very minor as well, and maybe it’s just my personal bizarre visual memory that registers (or cares) that this graphic from the Assemblyman’s recent direct mailer is a blatant ripoff:

Scan of Powell direct mailer

Scan of Powell direct mailer

Maybe nobody else remembers the Sylvester Stallone / Michael Cain / Pelé soccer movie, or its poster image:


VICTORY movie poster.  Look at the cuffs.

VICTORY movie poster. Look at the cuffs.




But is annoys me that some intern photoshopped the original and plastered it on Powell’s direct mailer. Even if you wanted to steal the idea, how hard would it have been to take a digital camera and at least create your own source image?

Both of these issues are very small blips on the radar, I grant you. But in a “market” where the public impression is that there is so little difference between competing “products”, shouldn’t someone be paying attention to these details?

Long Break with Statues

A long break between posts… Again, my current life needed attention which had to be drawn from my pursuit of a better one. But as I still don’t have any regular readers, the impact is minimal 🙂

By way of a return, and a test of posting and uploading images from my iPhone, I was pondering the question: what is the purpose of public statuary?

The one below is outside Hunter College at 68th & Lex (in Manhattan, as am I). I was passing by and it caught my eye and made me wonder why it’s there.

New York is full of statues. Some of them are monumental in purpose, commemorating some person or event. Others are turf markers, letting you know you’re in the garment district or outside someone’s corporate headquarters.

But then there are all the ones that seem to be put in place to fill a hole or as part of the architecture, mostly non-representational.

Some of them, no doubt, are eventually given meaning by their location — such is the case with this example, I suspect. After a few weeks of classes, the weird hedron below probably becomes an associative symbol. It represents Hunter College because that’s its sole context for the students.

But before that happens, or if it never does, what are these things trying to communicate? What thoughts or emotions does the artist hope to evoke in the viewer?

This isn’t a rant, just a musing.

After several minutes of viewing at various angles, the only response it genuinely brought forth in me was: “neat”. I like it just for what it is, the angles, the balance. Neat is enough.

Besides, lots of cool stuff came about because someone somewhere thought something was neat, if not useful, and kept playing with it until it became something cool.

(Aside to the WordPress folks, I love the iPhone app, but it needs the ability to insert links, and to include photos within the post rather than at the bottom…)

[EDIT: added links, spell checked…]

Consumer Interaction

The tag line on this blog (currently) reads: “perspective of a middle-aged newcomer to the world of consumer interaction”.

That phrase, “consumer interaction” is not especially new, but I prefer to use it when discussing this broad field that fascinates me so, for a couple of reasons. First is that, as of this writing, I haven’t completely narrowed down which aspect I’m going to be most focused on (the dream being to find that magical sweet spot where they are all part of the job).

But a bigger, and more interesting, reason is that I believe the distinctions between these various efforts are getting more fuzzy and less important.

Branding, marketing, advertising, positioning, public relations, and all the others, they were never THAT far apart anyway — especially in the minds of people who weren’t in the industry, right?

But what we’re seeing now is not sloppy definitions nor poor understanding. It’s a whole new level of understanding how all of these efforts should be working together, as facets of a single, coordinated effort. This isn’t a new idea, not by a long shot, but I think we’re getting to a new awareness of the idea on a widespread basis.

Or, maybe I’m just still so new to all this myself that I’m spouting old maxims as new discoveries?

In any case, one phrase that I NEVER want to hear again is “integrated campaign” as if that were a magical incantation or trail blazing new concept. EVERY campaign should be integrated.

And more, every aspect of the company’s image should be unified, and every aspect of messaging should be working in concert. This isn’t easy, particularly at larger organizations, but neither is it complicated — it just takes awareness and commitment.

Evolutionary Campaign

[SIDE NOTE: I warned you this blog would be slow to ramp up!  Of course one (maybe the only) good thing about not yet having any readers to speak of is that no one will be the least bothered if I take a week off to concentrate my time on something else.]

There’s a fascinating article in today’s New York Times about the extensive campaign efforts by Barack Obama which revolve around social networking :

When a Clinton strategist said Barack Obama’s supporters “look like Facebook,” Chris Hughes took it as a compliment.

Chris Hughes is the Facebook co-founder who is now working his magic for Obama.  If you don’t have access to the Times archive, you can see the actual social networking portion of Obama’s site here.  

Beyond the profile of Hughes, the article gives us a profile of one of the first election campaigns to do social networking right.  Obama has a Twitter feed, for frak’s sake.  Of course, there’s no doubt that the tweets are composed by campaigners just like Hughes.  But still, he’s got one.

The article is interesting on its own merits, but for me the real kick is that I see it as (potentially) the last time someone thinks a major candidate using social networking in a major way counts as news.  Social networking through the internet is going to be part of the baseline by the time the 2012 U.S. presidential race happens.

There are all sorts of other ideas to be explored here, right up to how to use the internet to implement true democracy.  But right now I have to go see if Mr. Obama will accept me in his LinkedIn Network.

OT: No-Brainer iPhone Upgrades

Yes, yes, 3G is a wonderful thing.  GPS will be handy.  But if you really want to improve the iPhone‘s usefulness as a part of my everyday life, there are a few tweaks needed on the software.  Here (in no particular order) are a few things I’m hoping to see, either in the new release from Apple or from the first round of 3rd party development.

Cut, copy & paste – Long bemoaned by every person on the planet.  It makes me wonder if the folks at Apple actually used the device in daily life before the thing was finalized.  Ok, finding the perfect gesturesfor text selection and subsequent commands is a challenge.  But y’all are geniuses.  Work it out.  And when you get around to implementing a clipboard, make it work from every app.  I should be able to copy a contact from my phone list and paste their details into the body of an email (or attach them as a vCard). 

Sync notes to desktop – Seriously?  This one’s not even a technical challenge.

Better OFFLINE experience – I’ve always thought of Cupertino as a magical place, and apparently part of the magic is that no one is ever cut off from cell service.  In other places, though (especially places where people ride subways) users spend a significant amount of time without signal, and it’s often that very time which they most want to make better use of!  So, why does Safari insist on getting rid of a webpage that I was looking at 10 seconds before?  Why are emails I’ve already opened not still available to me later, even when they were merely text?  I have tons of empty memory, so that’s not it…  Anyway, I expect off-line web readers, e-book readers, and other such tools will be very popular items in the first wave of third-party developers.  That being the case, would someone create a general off-line reader that allows easy syncing of websites and documents (e-book, pdf, etc) with my main computer and the ability to acquire new documents directly to the phone from the web while on the go?  kthxbai.

Tighter calendar / contact integration – Hey Apple, guess what.  When I make a new appointment, the location is frequently someplace I already have in my contacts list.  How about letting me choose it from there?  Feel free to generalize this idea to allow cross-referencing of all the basic data types to/from all the apps.

iPhone specific social & blogging sites – This isn’t Apple’s doing, but with the beauty of the iPhone-specific FaceBook, I now want equally functional iPhone versions of other sites I use often — like WordPress!  (UDPATE: WP is working on it!)

QR code functionality – Recognize and act on QR codes, at least for URL’s.  I’m sure a 3rd party app will hit for this, but it may take a while.  Hope it integrates directly with the camera software.

Video recordingAlready available for jailbroken phones.  The hardware is there, the codecs are there, other phones have been doing this for ages… why didn’t Apple include it from day one?

Switch between email accounts as sender – Am I the only person who has more than one account, and sometimes wants to reply from one to an email received by another?  Super minor, as I can forward to the other account.  You know what, Apple?  You give me clipboard functionality, I’ll give you a pass on this one.

There are more, of course, ever more features we greedy users want; and the web is bursting with wish lists that are probably better considered than this one.  The thing is, the iPhone was/is such a great design that big, obvious misses like cut & paste are that much more frustrating — and when such deficiencies interrupt your workflow several times every day it becomes downright maddening.  So we’re all hoping that the new generation fixes these problems which Apple has known about since day two.


Who did that?

I have a lot of questions about how all this stuff works.

Some are questions that you people who went to college for marketing/advertising/branding probably got answered in your first survey course.  Others are the kind that your professors probably told you would get answered by your first employer.  Maybe a few you didn’t think to ask until after you had already started a job somewhere.

Here’s the first one, which came up during the [title of post] post.  How does one ferret out an agency/client relationship?  Say you see a TV spot and that’s all the info you have.  Is there a particular site or reference where you can find out who created that spot?

Assuming it’s not easily found by a Google search, of course.  Even as an outsider, I can find a lot of them just by searching on the name of the product, the tag line, and a keyword like “campaign” or “agency”.  Something a la: Who did those Skittles spots?  (Of course, it’s much easier when the spot has won awards or otherwise generated its own press…)

UPDATE:  Shortly after, of course, I found the 4A’s Agency Search, which goes a long way to answering these questions in a lot of cases.  Every industry has these sorts of insider publications.  I remember starting as a Marketing Associate at a big law firm and having no idea who Mr. Martin Dale might be — is he in the estates department?

[12/28 EDIT: Removed the FYK stuff — six months after the 6/25 posting, I realized it wasn’t useful…]