In The New York Times Magazine: Joan Winston

ENTERPRISING:
Her Star Trek conventions harnessed the power of media fandom long before the barons of content did.

The New York Times Magazine publishes its annual The Lives They Lived issue this weekend, and Consumed focuses on the Star Trek fan who helped organize the first Trek convention.

There’s another way of looking at such fans: as extremely active media consumers. And there’s another way of looking at the Trek convention culture Winston helped create: as like-minded individuals gathering to connect over a shared taste. In other words, Winston’s world was a template for what is now widely seen as the mainstream-media-consumer paradigm of the 21st century. Henry Jenkins, co-director of the M.I.T. Comparative Media Studies Program, has been studying and writing about media fans for more than 20 years and has summarized the Facebook/YouTube era as fandom without the stigma. “It takes all the things that fans have been doing throughout the 20th century and makes them public, mainstream, commercial,” he told me in an interview. “The mechanisms that fans were early pioneers of have become absolutely widespread in our society, whether we’re talking about early communities or social networks or participatory culture.”

Read the column in the December 28, 2008, issue of The New York Times Magazine, or here.

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“Letters should be addressed to Letters to the Editor, Magazine, The New York Times, 620 Eighth Avenue, 6th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10018. The e-mail address is magazine@nytimes.com. All letters should include the writer’s name, address and daytime telephone number. We are unable to acknowledge or return unpublished letters. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.”

Branded entertainment about branded entertainment

Via Commercial Alert, here is an article from Ad Age about something called “The Style Series, presented by Diet Coke.” Sounds like yet another example of “branded entertainment” — ho hum! — with the mild but lately run-of-the-mill twist that “the first event streamed live via the internet, outdoor electronic billboards and mobile phones.” Ooooh! Post-television! Whatever.

Anyway, here’s the thing that caught my attention: The debut episode includes “the exclusive premiere of Rihanna’s new e-film for Gucci.”

So, let’s just get this straight. One of the featured guests on the branded entertainment post-TV program was there to tell us about her latest post-TV branded-entertainment deal?

Maybe there’s a clue in here of what Leno’s new show ought to be, or what the future of talk shows in general might look like: How about a branded show that is exclusively devoted to the touting and discussion of the latest exciting new developments in branded entertainment? Instead of stars flacking their new movies, they’ll simply discuss their latest endorsements. Indie directors will premiere the latest commercial work they’re doing to pay the bills. Reality-show stars will talk about products placed in whatever series has made them “famous.” And so on.

Very exciting to live in the “post-advertising era,” no?

In The New York Times Magazine: Seinfeld reruns

REPEAT BUSINESS:
The selling — and reselling, and reselling — of a show that ended a decade ago.

This week The New York Times Magazine has a special issue about “Screens,” and Consumed approaches this theme with a column about … Seinfeld reruns.

Fluttering along in this blizzard of the new, there is the not-new, the still-with-us, the vintage, the classic . . . the old. Sitcom reruns, for instance, angle to keep entertaining us, over and over, and profitably. It is in that context that the “Seinfeld” promotional bus tour concluded in Las Vegas this weekend — a 30-city marketing gimmick for a show that went off the air a decade ago.

Read the column in the November 23, 2008 issue of the Times Magazine, or here.

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“Letters should be addressed to Letters to the Editor, Magazine, The New York Times, 620 Eighth Avenue, 6th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10018. The e-mail address is magazine@nytimes.com. All letters should include the writer’s name, address and daytime telephone number. We are unable to acknowledge or return unpublished letters. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.”

Of merch, murketing and money

So I saw the chair above on Coolhunting the other day (as did plenty of other observers), and I was interested. A chair made to look blood-splattered — I would almost like to have that. But it’s pretty expensive — $5,000.

I had to read the item again to figure out the inspiration for the chair. I don’t have Showtime, and don’t know much about the show Dexter, which is about a serial killer. But that’s the inspiration.

According to this official site, Showtime and Metropolitan Home have revamped a townhouse in Gramercy Park into The Showtime House, “a beacon of modernism inspired by six Showtime original series.” That is, it’s sort of a big walk-in ad for Dexter and The L Word and Californication — you go in and just sort of bask in this aesthetic manifestation of those programs.

And if you like what you see in the Dexter Dining Room And Kitchen, well, you can buy it!

Somehow to me this stuff becomes way less interesting when I realize it’s essentially a high-end brand extension. But maybe I’d feel differently if I were a Dexter fan. Or maybe it doesn’t matter at all — if I had the money, I might enjoy looking at that chair, or using some of the other products (the plate at left, for instance), and the Dexter factor would just fade into the background. What difference does it really make? I’m not actually sure.

Anyway, I also learned from the official Showtime House site that there’s actually collateral merch for all its shows, designed by Savannah College of Art and Design Students — here’s a link to the Showtime SCAD collection, but be warned that a video pops up. (I think this is separate from SCAD’s Working Class Studio). This stuff is somewhat more affordable, and some of it seems like straightforward buyable expressions fandom: T-shirts and the like.

Other items are more ambiguous, in that (like the chairs) they might be appealing to people who don’t care about the show — the $75 Dexter pillow, for instance. (I did say somewhat more affordable; up to you whether $75 pillows are part of your budget.)

Anyway I think this is murkily fascinating — sort of an elevation of the promotional object into a high-design piece.

I wonder if people are buying? And how much their decision is tied to the shows that “inspired” this stuff?

In The New York Times Magazine: Billy Mays

TOP YELLER:
The enduring appeal of the pitchman.

Today in Consumed, a look at the appeal of one of TV’s most ubiquitous sellers.

Much more interesting than the unlikely merchandise he booms on about is the boomer himself. With his slicked-back hair, beard and thunderclap voice, he begins most of his many two-minute spots by proclaiming: “Hi! Billy Mays here!” Usually declarations like this are reserved for those whose achievements or fame in some other corner of culture (movies, sports, reality television) are being leveraged on behalf of a product. Mays is a celebrity endorser whose celebrity is based entirely on having endorsed things.

Read the column in the October 26, 2008, issue of The New York Times Magazine, or here.

Bonus link: BillyMaysRules.com.

Consumed archive is here, and FAQ is here. The Times’ Consumed RSS feed is here. Consumed Facebook page is here.

To make a point about Consumed that you think readers of The Times Magazine would be interested in: “Letters should be addressed to Letters to the Editor, Magazine, The New York Times, 620 Eighth Avenue, 6th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10018. The e-mail address is magazine@nytimes.com. All letters should include the writer’s name, address and daytime telephone number. We are unable to acknowledge or return unpublished letters. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.”

Prime time murketing, and lots of it

Of course I was sad that New York Magazine never reviewed or otherwise acknowledged Buying In, but even so I was pleased to see they are interested in the broad topic of the murky line between commercial persuasion and culture, as evidenced by a big story on a very murketing-y topic: product integration. The writer, Emily Nussbaum, found some great examples, and makes what I think is exactly the right big-picture point:

It’s happened so gradually you may not have noticed—or, perhaps, haven’t cared. American consumers take pride in their media savvy; they are too hip to be fooled, too jaded to be appalled….

… “Most Americans, like the proverbial frogs in the slowly boiling water, may not notice how prevalent it has become. Yet Nielsen Media Research tells us that product integration has occurred more than 4,000 times on network prime-time television in 2006.”

… that proportion has risen vertiginously, jumping 39 percent in the first three months of this year versus the same time period last year. Within the top-ten broadcast-TV shows, advertisers paid for 26,000 product placements in 2007….

… And television integration is merely one ripple in a larger trend that also extends to “highbrow” art forms. In the recent revival of the musical Sweet Charity, the line “I’ll have a double Scotch on the rocks” was changed (with Neil Simon’s permission) to an order for “Cuervo Gran Centenario.”…

This is the post-TiVo click-culture counter-revolution I talk about in the middle section of the book: There’s no way to “zap past” these commercial messages, or the many others that Nussbaum collects in the piece.

Anyway, the article is definitely worth reading (and maybe it’s been highlighted already on marketing/ad blogs, but I hadn’t seen it until my physical issue of New York arrived yesterday), if nothing else, just skim through and fine the bit about Soyjoy.

And of course if you, or your friends at New York, are interested in murky forms of marketing, plenty of links, updated all the time, here.

Art v. commerce: When to walk away

Maybe this should wait till AntiFriday, but …

Via ArtsJournal, here’s Mark Ravenhill in The Guardian:

Recently, I became excited about the possibilities of creating a drama serial on the internet: thrice-daily instalments in a fresh medium. But I quickly discovered that the only source of funding lay in business. There are no ad breaks in internet drama. If money is forthcoming, the only option, at the moment, is for the drama and the advert to become one. Current internet dramas are funded by – and feature characters prominently using – a particular type of mobile phone or sanitary towel. The drama’s hero, driving the action of the scene and determining the final cut, becomes the product, not the character.

If this is the only choice available, then I figure, as a dramatist, it’s best to walk away.

In The New York Times Magazine: TapouT

ULTIMATE BRANDING

This week in Consumed, a look at TapouT and other brands that “speak to the mixed-martial arts lifestyle.”

The vague term “lifestyle” is particularly vexing in this context. Perhaps clothing lines associated with surfing or hip-hop or Ralph Lauren suggest such a thing. But what “lifestyle” might we associate with one person kicking another in the face?

Read the column in the August 31, 2008, issue of The New York Times Magazine, or here.

–> Murketing readers will recall that I floated this subject here a few weeks ago and got some great comments that both convinced me this was worth pursuing as a column, and offered me a lot of excellent guidance in doing so. Thank you!

Consumed archive is here, and FAQ is here. The Times‘ Consumed RSS feed is here. Consumed Facebook page is here.

Does old content have a bright future?

In the WSJ’s story today about Seinfeld doing ads for Microsoft, I thought the most interesting thing was this bit, toward the end, about the state of “Seinfeld” ten years after the sitcom ended:

After 10 years of reruns and only occasional appearances by Mr. Seinfeld in the media, keeping the franchise fresh with younger adults is a concern. Last week, Sony Corp.’s Sony Pictures Television, which distributes “Seinfeld” in U.S. syndication, announced the “Seinfeld Campus Tour,” in which it’s sending a 60-foot “Seinfeld”-themed bus to U.S. colleges to drum up interest in “a new generation of viewers,” a spokeswoman said.

Will people watch “Seinfeld” forever, like “I Love Lucy”? Actually, what about “I Love Lucy” — will there come a time when those reruns finally fade from the airwaves? How about, I don’t know, “MASH”? Is anybody watching those shows for the first time, or do they stay on the air for reasons having more to do with nostalgia?

Maybe it’s routine, but I’ve never heard of an explicit marketing effort to rope in a “new generation” of fans for a dead show.

Then again, maybe a dead show that achieved near-universal awareness from the mass era has a built-in advantage.

AntiFriday Bonus: Apocalyptic political smear?

This Wall Street Journal article sums up the “controversy” over a McCain Web ad (on YouTube, here) that some say suggests Obama is not just aloof and full of himself and naive … he’s the antichrist! A highlight is expert commentary from Left Behind * co-author Tim LaHaye:

[He] said in an interview that he recognized allusions to his work in the ad but comparisons between Sen. Obama and the antichrist are incorrect.

“The antichrist isn’t going to be an American, so it can’t possibly be Obama. The Bible makes it clear he will be from an obscure place, like Romania.”

The story also notes that “suggestions that Sen. Obama is the antichrist have been circulating for months in Bible-study meetings” in some towns, and also that the ad’s imagery is suggestive in ways that will be obvious to anyone versed in what an expert calls “apocalyptic popular culture.”

I’m hoping that this draws a Paris Hilton-style response video from the actual antichrist.

UPDATE: Here is barackobamaantichrist.blogspot.com. “Hello. You have stumbled upon this site by searching ‘Barack Obama Antichrist’ which was in the back of your mind, you were curious if anyone else had thought about it, so you gave it a google. Welcome. You are not alone, explore the site.” Be sure to view the poll results. [Thx to extra-special adviser E for that.]

[If you're not a big apocalyptic pop culture follower, Left Behind was discussed in the November 13, 2005 Consumed.]

Fighting and branding

A Freakonomics Quorum offers various answers to the question “What happened to boxing’s Golden Age?” One participant says:

It’s also a brutally honest sport despite the presence of pageantry. I wonder if the American audience in this current day and age wants to deal with something as raw as the sweet science.

Having spent some time in the last few days following this post learning about how popular “mixed martial arts” (ultimate fighting) is, and how brutal, I’m not so sure about this theory. Maybe that earlier post actually offers another answer: boxing’s problem is the lack of associated fashion brands!

Saving the world from dystopian corporation — while touting cool brand?

I haven’t seen Wall-E, but yesterday someone* was telling me about it. I wasn’t taking notes but Wikipedia says much what she was saying about the movie’s plot. (Spoiler alert!) Here’s the context:

In the 22nd century, the megacorporation Buy n Large assumed every economic service on Earth, including the government. Overrun by un-recycled waste, the planet eventually became so polluted that it could no longer support life. In an attempt to keep humanity alive, Buy n Large sponsored a five-year exodus to outer space aboard massive executive starliners…

Etc. Etc. So Wall-E, who I guess is technically a Buy n Large product, eventually saves the day, or whatever.

Anyway, details aside, the point seems to be that a rampant corporation took over the world and didn’t give a rat’s ass about the ecology, and so on: Profit motive runs amok.

So it’s interesting to read that according to Ad Age, this article deconstructing the product-placement style used in the film. Read more

Watching

The average American spent 127 hours of time with TV in May, up from 121 hours in May 2007.

That’s from an NYT story today about a Nielsen survey.

Can that be right? How do we do it? How can we be watching more TV?

The story says Nielsen found that 119 million Americans watched video online, spending an average of 2 hours and 19 minutes doing so in May. Not only that, an estimated 4.4 million Americans have video-ready mobile phones, and supposedly these people watch 3 hours and 15 minutes a month watching video on those phones.

What’s surprising to me at least isn’t the Web or mobile-phone figures, but that according to this study at least, somehow those numbers aren’t driving down the TV number.

I’m always at least a little skeptical of these things. But still — what does this mean for that “cognitive surplus” I’ve been hearing about?

Celebrity endorsements and the end of selling out

As this long New York Times piece acknowledges, there’s nothing new about celebrity endorsements. But the piece is correct, I think, in setting out to explore why such endorsements seem more pervasive — higher-profile celebrities, and more thoroughly “integrated” deal formulations. (The article opens with a recounting of Rihanna’s people pitching a company that makes umbrellas, in advance of her now-famous single “Umbrella.”)

To me the key line comes from Steve Stoute. “Hip-hop completely opened the eyes of other music genres as to how to relate to corporations and not be seen as sellouts,” he says.

This isn’t really explored in the piece, so I don’t totally know what he means. But it’s definitely true that nobody is seen as a sellout for doing corporate sponsorship deals anymore, which is why mega-stars (not just in music, but across the board) who ten years ago would have feared tarnishing their reputations don’t sweat such things any more.

I’m guessing Stoute means that hip-hop opened people’s eyes about this in the sense that hip-hop stars simply did it, and there was no particular backlash. So everyone else followed suit.

Possibly the underlying factor is that more people see such deals as signs of hustle, and respect the paydays and corporate support that stars (musical or otherwise) are able to extract from brand-owners. Or maybe he sees other reasons; I’d be curious to know.

(On a consumer level, I think, the way these endorsements really work is that we assume/guess that P. Diddy, or whoever, is smart enough about managing his own brand not to ruin it by association with a truly awful product.)

Meanwhile, the most preposterous quote in the piece is from Rihanna: “We always want to bring an authentic connection to whatever we do. It must be sincere and people have to feel that.”

Oh really? So the authentic connection, I guess, is that the song was called “Umbrella,” and the company writing you massive checks does in fact make umbrellas? (As opposed to, I don’t know, galoshes?)

Come on. There’s no “authentic” reason for a deal like that to exist, other than Team Rihanna “sincerely” smells money. Period.

Moreover, everybody knows it — or “feels” it, if you prefer. Nobody really thinks Rihanna has strong feelings about umbrella quality.

What’s authentic is the hustle.

Not that anybody has a problem with that.

Dove murketing’s next stage: The stage

I’ve sure ready plenty of criticisms of Dove’s “campaign for real beauty” marketing tactics, but the thing just keeps metastasizing. Via Arts Journal, this article describes how marketers got playwright Judith Thompson involved in creating a theatrical production tied to the brand:

Dove Canada’s marketing partner, ad agency Ogilvy & Mather Canada, first proposed creating a theatre piece about beauty and aging as part of Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, which launched in 2004.

Dove Canada’s marketing manager, Alison Leung, said Ogilvy targeted the theatre as a way to give a voice to women over 45, a group their research suggests has chronically poor body image and feels underrepresented in media and culture.

Early in the search for a playwright, Leung said Dove and Thompson forged an immediate bond during the first phone call.

Thompson concedes that for Dove, “it really is about is brand loyalty.” But: “I don’t care if ultimately they hope to sell soap with it, the soap’s fine.”