Your content or your life?

“Tweet and FB are making blogging obsolete!,”  writes Andy Serwer of Fortune. He’s not entirely serious, or not entirely literal; he ties his observations into the ongoing debate about whether we’re in a culture of distraction or becoming more smartly connected and all that. In his own case, he says, he’s blogging less because:

I have literally been Facebooking and Twittering all my content away! I get a thought, I meet someone interesting, I go somewhere cool, and then snap crackle pop, I put it up. Crazy right?

Hmmm. The thing that stopped me here was the phrase “my content.”

Thinking, meeting people, moving through the world — this used to be your life.

Now, I guess, in the time of leveraging your personal brand via online social networking connections, it’s your “content.”

Does your brand have what it takes to be an instantly recognized insult?

I was amused by one bit of an AIM exchange that Jeff Staple reproduced on his Arkitip blog, between himself and somebody at Apple. The subject was the new Blackberry, which Staple was thinking of buying. Apple guy, who was appalled, replied in part:

uv tried typing on it? there’s fundamentals w/ just design philosophies….the haptic feedback screen and push down click/screen isn’t anything new…it’s cool that they’re trying to push it on their end tho…but…it’s like reebok dude….some shit is yeah…ok, i can live with…looks ok. but, at the end of the day its just………reebok.

Pretty much a bummer for the folks at Reebok to read that, I would think.

It’s not Ira Glass the person. It’s Ira Glass the brand.

As an aside in a piece about using Facebook etc. as a reporting tool, Ellyn Angelotti writes:

About a month ago, I Facebook-befriended one of my storytelling idols, Ira Glass, the host of This American Life. With my request I wrote a long message sharing how much I appreciate his work and the opportunity to network with him.

I was glowing when he accepted my friendship. It granted me access to his personal page. Then my bubble burst when I saw this:

“I’m not really Ira Glass. I’m the web manager for This American Life. We’ve put this together so that fans on Facebook would have a place to give us feedback. And because we’ve got tons of video stuff to share with you from the This American Life TV show, which debuted on Showtime on March 22, 2007.”

Angelotti adds: “At least they are honest about it.”

And I guess if you can’t really be friends with Ira Glass, maybe it’s nice to hear from his web manager all about his exciting TV show which debuted on Showtime on March 22, 2007. That’s sort of like friendship. Kind of. In a way.

Authors, brands, audiences, thank-yous

I think it’s safe to say that the highlight of my 20-minute appearance at SXSW Interactive on Saturday was the part where I wasn’t talking: Specifically, the questions from some audience members at the end, and conversations with others afterward.

In particular I’m still pondering a question I don’t think I managed to answer very well, from a young woman who wondered what I thought about — paraphrasing here of course — how the whole “personal brand” phenomenon has affected writing & journalism. This is a case where I think I have trouble saying anything definitive, not because I haven’t thought about it before, but rather because I think about it a lot.

I mean, let’s face it, the whole point of my being there was to promote not just a book but, in effect, myself. To say that I’m ambivalent about this process would be a wild understatement. I definitely think that many successful authors become brands (or “personalities”) of a sort, and possibly even that becoming something like a brand is almost required at this point; on the other hand, I cling to the idea that this doesn’t necessarily mean that the actual work completely takes a back seat to promotion.

I actually wanted to ask my questioner what she thought, but couldn’t start a conversation up from the stage, and didn’t have a chance to when I was off.

Anyway, just wanted to say thanks to those who turned up and said hello and asked interesting questions and said interesting things.

Actually, speaking of those who turned up…

Audience: SXSW Interactive / R. Walker.

This audience pic might be the first in a series, we’ll see. A few months ago, E brought to my attention a series by photographer Tim Davis called My Audience. I loved it — and immediately wanted to steal the idea!

To make my ripoff seem at least vaguely different — or possibly even as an homage — I thought I’d add the element of asking audience members to obscure their faces. That way I will ideally end up with a collection of images of audiences who appear to have something to hide, which I find amusing. Also: no release forms necessary.

(This may not turn out to be the first in a series, because I’m dropping a line to Davis and giving him the opportunity to say: Knock it off. Which he certainly would have the right to do.)

Anyway I was pretty pleased that everybody played along. So: thanks again.

Express yourself … or whoever

One of my favorite topics is the flipside of the supposed confessional, privacy-indifferent nature of Web expression: The amount of Web expression that is not only un-confessional, it’s somewhere between self-marketing and flat-out lying. So this story in today’s WSJ about people who crib from the profiles of others on social networking or dating sites made my day:

Online daters feel pressure to stand out and believe they must sell themselves like a product, say researchers at Georgetown, Rutgers and Michigan State universities who are conducting a joint study of them. “You are not making money off of somebody else’s work; you’re just trying to market yourself,” says self-confessed copier Jeff Picazio, a 40-year-old computer-systems manager in Boynton Beach, Fla.

Businesses have even cropped up to sell people elemements of a marketable personality. One, the WSJ says, “offers 12 ‘proven’ profiles for $4. Sample: ‘There is a shallowness, a fakeness to much of the “‘singles scene.”‘”

Worth reading.  

Happy sponsorship, one and all

“Corporations increasingly are attaching their names to holiday traditions across the USA as they vie for attention in a crowded media landscape,” says USA Today, which offers these examples:

•In Virginia Beach, McDonald’s Holiday Lights at the Beach Presented by Verizon Wireless features about 250 animated light displays, including a surfing Santa. The companies, along with other sponsors, finance the attraction.

•In Sioux Falls, S.D, the annual Sioux Falls Parade of Lights this year became the Avera Parade of Lights. The sponsorship by the local health care system enabled organizers to add a 60-foot Christmas tree.

•In Oklahoma City, the Sonic Segway Santa is a big part of the Downtown in December festival. Santa rides a Segway through downtown to promote green transportation and Sonic drive-in food.

The Sonic Segway Santa!

OK. And a happy holiday to you.

Bowery branding

New York Magazine ran a story recently on the redevelopment of the Bowery — all the new luxe hotels or whatever. They had a writer spend one night in an SRO, and the next night at one of said luxe hotels. At the SRO, he encounters a guy named Paulie, who is sweeping up:

This isn’t just redevelopment as usual, Paulie says as he sweeps. That’s because the Bowery isn’t just any neighborhood. “It is like 42nd Street. Like Harlem. Names that mean something. Those places you don’t just rebuild. You’ve got to rebrand them. The Bowery is being rebranded.”

I’m amused that even the guy who sweeps up at a Bowery fleabag is comfortable with “rebranding” as a concept.

I was also amused by the story’s subhead, which refers to the Bowery as “America’s greatest skid row.” I think I missed the issue of Conde Nast Traveller where they ranked all the “skid rows.”

Murakami’s subject: “Our pervasive culture of branding”

From the L.A. Times writeup on the Murakami show at MOCA:

Murakami has spoken about the kudzu-like proliferation of ultra-cute imagery in Japanese culture — Hello Kitty, say — as a colossal index of repressed confidence in the wake of a militaristic nation’s humiliating battlefield defeat 62 years ago. Even death now seems infantilized, as in his remarkable paintings of a skeleton whose mushroom-cloud shape is horribly adorable.

The conceptual debt to Andy Warhol, here and everywhere in the show, is obvious. But the squeamishness induced by Murakami’s distinctive brand of Pop Art is entirely different.

And I emphasize brand. Murakami is the first major artist, Eastern or Western, to make our pervasive culture of branding a primary subject, rather than simply exploiting it.

Worth a read. I would love to see this show, but I doubt it’s in the cards. At least Bobby Hundreds has posted a bunch of images here.

Bonus Update: Eric Nakamura (Giant Robot) blogs about the gala and the goodie-merch.

Multiplatinum, multiplatform … then what?

This is how most pop stars operate now: as brand-name corporations taking in revenue streams from publishing, touring, merchandising, advertising, ringtones, fashion, satellite radio gigs or whatever else their advisers can come up with. Rare indeed are holdouts like Bruce Springsteen who simply perform and record. The usual rationale is that hearing a U2 song in an iPod commercial or seeing Shakira’s face on a cellphone billboard will get listeners interested in the albums that these artists release every few years after much painstaking effort.

So writes Jon Pareles in the NYT today, in an article about the business of Prince. Who, he argues, fits the pattern in some ways, but is different many others. Still, he writes, Prince “doesn’t have to go multiplatinum — he’s multiplatform.”

Well said. What I wonder is how multiplatform models will get built in the future. Prince, U2, Sting, even Shakira and 50 Cent, owe a good chunk of their brand equity to old-style big record company mass market oriented tactics (the kind that resulted in multiplatinum sales) that seem to be increasingly incapable of building new pop stars of similar stature. Maybe the American Idol creations have some of that stature, but it’s not clear to me if it will be lasting, and in any case it’s hardly a pure grass roots thing.

Seems like stars who made their name in the “old days” (that is, anytime up to a few years ago) have a lasting advantage in the multiplatform marketplace.

Meta Brand News: April 2007

[Editorial Note: Vis-a-vis this recurring feature, somebody observed that “Rob Walker has noticed that everyone wants to be a brand,” or words to that effect. I did once “notice” and write something along those lines, for The New York Times Magazine — in May 2000. However, that has nothing to do with the Meta Brand News roundup. The point of the Meta Brand News roundup is that “the brand,” as an idea, has entered the rarified sphere of metaphors that everyone understands, and can be applied to anything. That was not the case seven years ago. It is the case now. Hence, I wrote what I wrote seven years ago — and now I’m doing this. Until I get tired of it. Here goes the April 2007 version. As always: links not guaranteed]

“The German baby polar bear rejected by his mother has sent shares of the operator of the Berlin Zoo up 94 percent this week as investors bet ‘Knut’ will become a brand name like Paddington Bear or Winnie the Pooh,” according to Bloomberg News.

Pakistan needs “to become a brand name in international tourism like Sri Lanka and Thailand,” suggests the Hungarian ambassador to that country.

Orange County is a change agent—it has become a brand,” a CEO informs the Orange County Business Journal

“New Zealand could be undermined as a brand if the Australian company [MFS Living & Leisure] gains control of” New Zealand’s Tourism Holdings Ltd., the country’s Green Party contends.

“It’s a shame that it should become a brand. It’s a work of art,” says the grandson of J.R.R. Tolkien, regarding the fate of his grandfather’s writing.

“The Tate used to be a polite collection of British and modern art, but it has become a brand,” observes The Guardian

Philospher Slavoj Zizek’s planned series of documentaries “sounds like a brand name in the making,” sneers the New York Times.

“Neil Perry, at the forefront of Australia’s breed of celebrity chefs, has become a brand,” says The Canberra Times

“Consultants are aiming to make a sale to American voters by positioning their candidate as a brand,” observes The Financial Express.

“Around Downriver [seems to be some place in Michigan], the last name Lesko [an area softball picher] has become a brand name for softball excellence,” reports The News-Herald.

Roger Daltry “carries his view of The Who as a brand name with him, and he is more of a fan than I am,” Pete Townsend tells The Voice of America.

And finally, director Shekhar Kapur denies being a brand! “I don’t want to be labelled as a brand because to me, it is to depend on my past work. It is an artistic death.” This at least is how he is quoted in Business Standard.

Thinking like a champion

How will LeBron James decide whether to join the U.S. Olympic basketball team in 2008? Will it be a matter of patriotism? The champion’s desire for the gold medal? The raw need to compete at the highest level, with the best of the best?

Possibly. Or maybe it will just be a matter of what’s best for the brand called LeBron. ESPN notes:

Jeopardizing his spot on the Beijing roster would be a huge risk for James, who has been studying Mandarin as he seeks to become even more of a marketing and pop icon in China. There’s are financial implications, too, for James, who would lose more than $250,000 in endorsement bonuses from Nike, Coca-Cola and Upper Deck if he failed to make the 2008 Beijing roster.

Studying Mandarin! Not even Jordan did that.

Meta-Brand News: March 2007

John McCain’s political advisers “need to rebrand” their candidate, one adviser tells The Wall Street Journal.

The Florida “Gators have become a brand name to rival Nike,” declares a columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“I think Suffolk as a brand is very strong,” an English farmer tells The Evening Star.

“Jane Austen has become a brand,” notes Spiked Online.

Angola “needs to be promoted like a brand of quality, innovation and as the best option for investments in Africa,” says in summarizing the views of Angola’s deputy foriegn minister.

“Luka Bloom is like a brand name,” Luka Bloom explains to The Daily Telegraph.

Lacrosse players the Powell brothers “have become a brand name,” according to The Towerlight in Baltimore.

“So should successful sports players of the future all expect to become a brand like David Beckham?” asks Varsity: The Indpendent Cambridge Newspaper.

“While LL Cool J has grown to become a brand, he is still known as Todd in his personal life,” observes the Hollywood Reporter.

The character Hannibal Lecter “has become a brand,” says The Prague Post.

Meta-Brand News: February 2007

I don’t know when it happened, exactly, but it’s an established fact by now: Everything can be thought of as a brand. To help you keep up, Murketing introduces what may become a new monthly feature tracking what’s become, or becoming, or trying to become, a brand.

Tips are welcome: murketing AT robwalker DOT net.

Here is the February wrapup. Links not guaranteed.

“Britain has become a brand,” reports The Times of London.

Maria Bartiromo has “become a brand unto herself in financial news reporting,” says Multichannel News.

“Montenegro, for sure, has a chance to soon become a brand which provokes the perception of a beautiful, safe, unique destination,” according to Visit Montengro.

Che Guevara has “has become a brand himself, a capitalist’s dream,” notes The Daily Texan.

Indian producer/director Vidhu Vinod Chopra “has become a brand,” according to an expert quoted by DNA India.

“I have a chance to become a brand, which is a big focus for me,” Annika Sorenstam tells USA Today. “So is golf.