Second thoughts

Okay, that last post was a little cranky. I better repent, before someone says I’m a dinosaur who doesn’t get it.

How about this. Let’s embrace this exciting new showcase for citizen creativity — and simultaneously devise a way of sustaining (or even starting) widespread interest in the race for the presidency. Let’s have a parallel competition, a sort of talent show of candidate questioning. Let America vote (via text message obviously) for their favorite YouTube question-videos in each debate, judging them on creativity, production values, originality, and, if you like, substance. The top vote getters get to ask another question in the next debate — although of course they’ll also continue to compete against others who have advanced, in an ongoing, elimination-style tournament.

As the number of questioners gets whittled down, more of each debate broadcast will be devoted to learning about them — who they are, what their aspirations are, how much their new branded T-shirts cost and where we can buy them, etc. At some point, all the remaining questioners should probably have to live together in a loft-style apartment, maybe in Ohio. As their fame grows, the candidates will be expected to ask them questions.

Then the final showdown: After the primaries, we have not only two presidential candidates going through the motions of the familiar leader-of-the-free-world thing, but two YouTube question-video makers, squaring off to be America’s Next Top Citizen-Celebrity! (If Bloomberg or another independent gets involved, we could bring back some of the more annoying eliminated questioners in some kind of sudden-death YouTube press conference format.)

Fun, right? See, I get it!

Branding Billiam

As you probably know, one of the questions posed via YouTube video in the recent Democratic debate, came from a snowman figure, with a Mr. Bill-like voice, who asked about global warming. What is the significance of this? Is it the end of decorum? The dawn of a new era of interactive accountability?

Don’t be absurd. It’s a branding event!

The snowman has a name, which is Billiam. According to the WSJ, the two “unemployed” brothers who created Billiam:

have done interviews with local television, snagged a spot on the Wisconsin Public Radio game show “Whad’Ya Know?” and are working on a line of “Billiam the Snowman” T-shirts. They’ve also launched a “Billiam the Snowman” presidential exploratory committee — online….

The Hamel brothers couldn’t be happier about the attention. At last count, the question has been watched 130,000 times on YouTube. “It means our 15 minutes of fame may stretch to 30,” says Nathan, 26 years old, who created the snowman with his 23-year-old brother, Greg, who does the voice.

Once again, an example of co-promotion: Citizen-whateverism that’s not about participating in a brand or an event or a process. (After all, global warming questions are hardly a breakthrough or novelty in presidential debates.) It’s about latching onto a brand or an event or a process that seems likely to draw attention, and stealing some of that attention for yourself, and your own idea or cultural offering … however threadbare that may be.

Product of the day

“Pursuader.” It’s a handbag. But it’s shaped like a machine gun. Cost: $289. Details, and images of the item modeled by a woman in bikini and jackboots, on the designer’s site. Via BB.

Selling drugs

Indianapolis Star today says: “There were 462 mentions of prescription drugs on TV last year, more than double the number from just two years earlier.” Viagra, Vicodin, Botox, and Prozac are a few popular ones. It’s not clear how many placements are incidental (apparently Tony Soprano’s mentions of Prozac were uncompensated, for instance) and how many are paid brand-builders:

Some pharmaceutical companies have acknowledged paying for TV plugs. In one episode of the NBC situation comedy “Scrubs,” a logo for the contraceptive brand NuvaRing appeared 11 times, mostly on posters placed in the background.

The brand’s maker, Organon Pharmaceuticals USA of Roseland, N.J., told trade magazine Brandweek that it had done placement deals with several television shows, including CBS’ “King of Queens” and ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy.”

I haven’t seen that Brandweek piece, either I missed it, or it’s in an issue I don’t have yet. But pharma placements seem kinda creepy, no? How can that strategy be permissible? Do they scatter warnings of potential side effects on other background posters?

Via Commercial Alert.

Clean-water cause

Somehow, the people behind this managed to get my home address (maybe they inquired and it’s slipped my bind) and mailed to me their multipage newsprint piece on behalf of The point of it is this:

One in four households in Hale County [Alabama] is not connected to a municipal water system.

Without this service, families get water from sources that can be contaminated with sewage.

It costs $425 to bring clean water to one of these homes.

Help a family. Buy a meter.

I know nothing about the underlying facts here. But it certainly does seem shocking that anybody in America should be dealing with such a basic issue.

More about the project and those behind it here.

“Mad Men” Musings

In one of the handful of scenes in the second episode of Mad Men that was explicitly about advertising, main character Don listens to the ideas his creative team has come up with to sell an exciting new product: Right Guard, in an aerosol can.

The ideas turn on the excitement of this new technology, which the creative gang says ought to be linked to, you know, rockets, and the exciting future. (The assignment is a clever choice by the show’s writers, given that aerosol cans, which no doubt really were seen as a breakthrough at the time, were eventually demonized as an environmental menace.) Don says this approach is all wrong, because plenty of people fear the future, and because while the product is for men, it will be bought by women, and the rocketships & progress approach won’t work for them.

Put aside whether these observations are original, or even true. Instead consider the way Don arrives at them: it’s an instinct, a hunch, a feeling in his presumably golden gut. Read more

Boxed Set

In Consumed: The Buddha Machine: A portable music player serenades fans by eliminating the element of choice.

A few years ago, an experimental music duo called FM3 toured Europe, playing a 40-minute set that the duo’s founder Christiaan Virant describes as “very reductionist, very minimalist, very sparse.” He and Zhang Jian, who are based in Beijing, performed on laptops. Some of these compositions were later released on a CD by Staalplaat, a specialty label based in Amsterdam; it sold about a thousand copies. In the context of avant-garde music, that’s not bad: “If someone can sell 2,000 CDs,” Virant says with a laugh, “they’re like a superstar.” So it’s hard to find the right superlative to describe what happened when some of that same sparse music was released again — not on CD but in a little plastic box called the Buddha Machine. Two years later, sales are approaching 50,000 units and still going strong….

Continue reading at the NYT site.

Additional links: FM3; Forced Exposure; Disquiet interview; Boomkat interview; Studio 360 episode.

The Product Is You, No. 6

[The Product Is You is an occasional Murketing series collecting advertising that is aimed at advertisers: Magazines or television networks packaging up their consumers — that is, you, the potential ad target — in ways designed to attract advertisers. Previous installments here.]

Here is a Channel 1 ad, promising those who would advertise on the in-school television network that doing so will “connect teens to your brand.” What sort of teens does Channel 1 have to offer? Apparently the sort of teen who is concerned about such issues as high gas prices. But the key is why is concerned: “I have to spend my money on gas and not other things I’d like to buy.” He is tuned in to the big issues of the day — because he recognizes that they might have an effect on his personal consumption habits. Perfect.

Venue: The Bench

You’ve heard of the in-store appearance, the reading, the signing, the party in a bar or nightclub or lounge or retail space or maybe even a park. Here, however, is another venue. A bench — The Bench.

New York streetwear brand Married to the Mob (getting some buzz lately for its latest KAWS collaboration) will be at, or on, The Bench, this weekend. The Bench is on Orchard and Houston. Outside an American Apparel store, although that’s not mentioned and is I assume incidental. It’s not about the store, it’s about The Bench. This is not the first event at The Bench. The Bench, in fact, has a MySpace page, with news about The Bench, and hundreds of MySpace friends.

So, as the invite says: “Come Talk Shit with the Baddest Bitches in Town on the Most Poppin Bench Around!” Saturday night 10 pm. And as the email blast I got clarifies: “PS., it really is a bench!”

Shopping to save world, again

Concerned about that whole environment thingy? Looking for more ways your shopping can save the world? Well, Marketplace had a curious report that might interest you. It was about a GE credit card that puts one percent of your spending on that card toward carbon offsets. A GE rep explained:

A typical individual has a carbon output of 10 tons per year. And if you spend $750 per month on our card, you would generate enough rewards to fund carbon offsets which could completely neutralize those 10 tons.

Claw Money: The Q&A

I’m pretty sure the first Claw piece I ever really focused on was on a wall in Los Angeles, in 2003. Somebody was driving me around, showing me Shepard Fairey pieces, and there was this big claw symbol next to all of them. The guy I was with didn’t know what the story was. The symbol looked familiar, but I didn’t know the story either, until a little bit later.

The story is that the claw was/is the mark of Claw Money, about whom I kept hearing more and more from various people in the years that followed. Have made a name/mark in NY graffiti, she was doing the same in clothing and products (including, memorably, pillows), in the “streetwear” scene, or the “downtown” scene, or whatever you prefer to call it. She built an underground brand. The recent publication of her book Bombshell, which is about all of the above, and none of the above, seemed like a good excuse to see if she would answer a few Q’s. She said: Okay.

A few things are not covered in the Q&A that follows. One is that according to her recent interview on The Weekly Drop, she’s now making some art on canvas. Another is that her dog, Peepers Marie Saint (that’s PMS, she points out), turns 12 this year. But a lot is covered — graffiti, fashion, the book, her appearance in the documentary Infamy, being the first female artist ever to do a Nike artist series/”Tier 0″ sneaker, and what you might have said to her 15 years ago that would have inspired her to spit in your face.

Here goes.

Q: You’re a well-known graffiti writer, who also has a clothing line. Once upon a time that would’ve sounded strange, but not so much now. I think the essay by DAZE in Bombshell suggests you were into fashion before writing. The way the book is done, the fashion and the graffiti work all run together. Is that how you always thought about it?

I had a passion for fashion long before I got my hands on a can of Rustoleum. I’m an FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) dropout, and it was at that point that I picked up my graffiti habit. It wasn’t the other way around. I started in my 20s, which is late for a graff writer.

To me, graffiti and fashion come from two totally different places, but I’m lucky enough to have eventually merged them. And really, so many graff writers have clothing lines! West FC, one of the graffiti greats, is actually one of the founding fathers of streetwear. The company he started with his high school homeboys Sung Choi, Zulu, Bluster and Brue, is of course the one and only PNB. (Unfortunately this line been recently resurrected without any of the original members and in my opinion is destined to be terrible.)

I don’t consider my collection “graffiti clothing.” My logo is the “throw up” that I painted on walls illegally, but other than that, it’s not meant to evoke graffiti associations. I did it a a joke. Who knew it would be a hit? And as far as my book is concerned, it is not a graffiti book, or a fashion book– it’s the real story of Claw Money: artist, designer, family girl, dog lover and all!

WEST is in the book, too. He remarks on how the claw is “more of a symbol than a throwup.” But you weren’t thinking the claw could have a life beyond walls? Read more

Lessons of “Simpsons” marketing: Clip and save

I’ve been reading with great interest the various marketing gurus talking about the brilliant campaign preceding the movie version of The Simpsons. I make no predictions about anything, such as whether the film will actually do well. But if it does do well, here are a few secret ingredients that — so far as I know — the experts haven’t mentioned yet. These, in other words, are the “lessons” you can apply to your film or brand. I’m revealing them to you now! Are you ready? Here goes! You heard it here first!
1. Prior to the release of your film, create a successful television program.

2. Do this many years before TiVo, or the widespread availability of 200-channel digital cable packages, or Mosaic (that’s Netscape kids; do people still know what Netscape was?) and all that it begat.

3. Enlist an authentic creative genius to actually invent your show.

4. The creative genius should be a known (and revered) quantity among certain audience members because of his work in something that was called the “alternative press,” which was kind of like the “niche culture” thing that today’s gurus talk about, but back before it had made its way into the marketing lexicon.

5. Make sure the show stays consistently strong — for 18 years.

6. Do this in a way that continues to attract new generations of viewers who have absolutely no idea what pre-Web culture was like — but without alienating those viewers who do.

7. By the time your film/product is released, make sure that the above-mentioned groundwork has woven your TV show deeply into the American pop psyche, so that its various catch phrases and references can be used universally, and without explanation, in almost any situation.

That’s it!

Once you do those seven things, you should be set. Good lessons! Apply them well!

Geico numbers

The Consumed column earlier this year about the Geico cavemen mentioned the massive amounts of money that the insurance company spends on advertising. Is it worth it?

An item in Ad Age the other day says yes. Since 2004, Geico has increased its ad spending by 75%, to more than half a billion dollars a year. Citing a study by JD Power, Ad Age says Geico’s market share has grown, it tops rivals in acquiring new customers, and awareness of the brand has risen — “91% of shoppers today say they have seen or heard at least one Geico message in the last 12 months.”

That’s really an amazing figure. I didn’t know it was possible to expose 91% of Americans to anything anymore.

What this really means to other advertisers is hard to say. It does suggest that advertising can still work, etc., but creative aside, that spending level is pretty dizzying.

Lock up

One more note on the Business Week/IDEA design awards. This item is the KEY Bicycle Rack. “Its proportions allow both wheels, typically the most stolen part of a bike, to be locked to the rack, giving cyclists added peace of mind.” Okay. But it looks like you’d need to have two locks to do that. (Or one really long lock, which of course could be used to secure both wheels to a traditional rack.) And unless I’m missing something, in this picture, neither wheel is locked to the rack. Odd.
Nice color, though.

Design spew

Best Product Design of 2007 list includes The HomeHero Fire Extinguisher. Apparently it’s not actually for sale yet (a surprising number of the picks have no demonstrable track record in the actual marketplace — odd for a business magazine, no?) but will be available at Home Depot later this year. BW says: “A modern, elegant look makes it more likely to be displayed — and accessible in case of fire.”

Oh really? And is that a big problem? Lots of fires burning out of control as a result of all the shamefully ugly extinguishers we’ve been stuck with up to now? Good Design to the rescue!

Whatever. I failed to figure out how much the thing costs, compared to a regular fire extinguisher (another thing that BW surprisingly doesn’t bother to tell us), but while trying to do so I found this Core77 post, in which Don Lehman asked two worthwhile questions:

Is it just me or is every product that you see getting a ton of press lately meant to be proudly displayed on your counter or coffee table instead of being relegated to the closet?

It’s not just you. Instead of building a better mousetrap, someone, somewhere, is designing a more gorgeous mousetrap, the kind of mousetrap you’ll want to leave on your coffee table, even with a dead mouse in it.

And on the subject of breaking away from the traditional red extinguisher form, he asks:

That seems like a kind of a bad thing right? … [T]he traditional red fire extinguisher is a design icon in its own right and a recognizable one at that. I hope in an emergency that someone who isn’t familiar with this new version will know that it is in fact, a fire extinguisher and will think to look on the counter for it instead of in the closet.

That’s actually a really good point!

Besides, red fire extinguishers already look pretty cool, I think. That’s what I want to own: red ones. The classic.