In Person: Story Hour

notes

A few weeks ago I was able to make good on a promise and participate in the second installment of the Design Museum of Portland’s Story Hour series. The premise is quite simple: a group of storytellers have a short period of time to tell a story around a specific prompt. There are a few constraints, though: the time period is very short, either four or eight minutes, and you get a single image as your background, no slides or other a/v trickery.

The theme was ‘invisible design’ and while a bunch of kind of pop-design podcast fodder (Can you see the arrow in the FedEx logo?) came to mind I felt the constraints and format leant themselves to a little bit of meta tomfoolery.

So the whole thing was series of stories inside a talk inside an elaborate setup.

The effect was better experienced in person, but I’ll try to set it up here for you before sharing the substance of the speech.

The entire story was delivered as if I were reading notes off a sheaf of papers, and there were several references at the onset to visual aids helping me work in this unusual style. As the series of stories around the theme build, I begin to spread outward to talk about how this elaborate level of conscientiousness around how things are set up can ultimately deliver experiences that leave a real impression on people.

The big reveal was at the very end, when I turn my “notes” around and show they’re actually blank. The effect I was hoping to impart on the audience was one of “oh, he wasn’t reading from notes, he must have memorized it, that’s another level of invisible design that he’s incorporated.” I think there were a few clucks of understanding; to be honest, my heart was racing so much at flubbing a few final lines that I wasn’t paying total attention to the audience. But the overall effect was not, as was my fear, totally lost.

Despite the thematic around magic and creativity, there was no magic involved (unless maybe someone thought I erased the notes on the paper or wrote them in invisible ink). It was sheer, brute memorization. The short format (four minutes) and my tendency to want to pack these sorts of talks with information made it crucial that I get everything down to the second, timing-wise.

Suffice to say I rehearsed the shit out of this, in a bunch of different ways. I have talked in public in front of audiences probably 40-50 times a year for the last four or five years and to have a totally scripted thing that has to be super tight on time is one of the more challenging things tasks I’ve set myself.1

recordings

First, I wrote the draft. That took about a week of side-time. Then I went through proofs and made 3-5 paper edits to make the master. Then, I recorded myself speaking a version to time (four minutes on the dot) based on the final refinements. Then, I would alternate between a few elements: table reads, out loud, from the script; sessions where I’d listen to the recording continuously (riding my bike to work, or waiting for lunch at a restaurant); sessions where I’d listen and simultaneously copy the material in longhand. And lastly were sessions where I’d recite the speech cold, with no prompts, then listen and compare with the original printed draft. I have at least 15 of those saved on my phone.

I’ve never been good at memorizing, and respect that skill a lot in friends who can. (I am forever envious of one friend, trained in the classics, who has an enormous mental library of poems and toasts and whatnot.) I need musical accompaniment to make anything stick. And about 98% of my cultural HD is full of jingles and nonsense anyway. But somehow I managed to get through this with only a few flubs.

Anyway, here it is. Not sure if I want to do something like this again anytime soon but I done did it. And it managed (I think?) to be entertaining to the audience, and not just esoteric wank.

Here’s the background image I used:

parish_storyhour.001 (1)

 

I

I opted for the four minutes partly as a disaster mitigating strategy.

I’m here to talk about creativity but it could all go terribly wrong

Because normally my presenting style is clicking through slides, rapidly.

I would stalk around the stage and gesticulate and use clever Keynote builds and other slideware to keep your attention.

So I decided, with all these constraints, to be sure of my words, to write it down. <emphasize paper>

Because I just have this one slide. And it’s barely legible.

Whoops.

First rule of presenting, make the font big.

Fail part one.

That’s not my only problem.

I’m a poseur.

I’m not a designer.

I’m a writer.

I only discovered what a drop shadow was a few years ago when I wondered why my printed-out screenshots were black on the bottom.

And maybe my own design, of this talk, is no longer invisible.

‘Oh, ‘ you’re thinking, ‘he’s going to talk about how editing is invisible design’.

Fail part three.

Fuck.

 

II

Well, writing _is_ invisible design, that’s true.

Writers and designers, we’re cousins.

We both use craft to build worlds.

Some of you who appreciate vintage advertising will remember the Think Small-era Volkswagen advertising.

The layout was classic, a photo, a headline, copy.

But the art director saw the copy, and it was just a huge mass at the bottom of the page. So he used his X-acto to thin it out.

When his partner came in, he asked him to re-write it into the windows he had cut, and the ad finally worked, and is now famous.

Jason Fried, from 37signals, once said, ‘before you redesign, rewrite.’

This is fundamentally the same idea.

But there’s one step beyond this invisibility, beyond the craft of writing and editing: making it magic.

 

III

For my money Emily Dickinson is the greatest American poet.

<What was that? Some Emerson partisan there in the back?>

Almost all Dickinson’s 1,800 poems were published after she died, and they’re all clean copies.

We don’t know anything about her process; her craft was fully invisible.

And so scholars, trying to understand her work, are puzzled by things like this. <point to screen>

This is one of Dickinson’s Master letters, surreal drafts written sometime between when she was 28 and 32.

They’re otherworldly, almost an alternate universe to her poems, written to a figure only known as Master.

We don’t know the identity of ‘Master’.

It is a mystery.

Is it a lover?

God?

The Devil? Was Emily Dickinson involved in some kinda bluesman-at-Crossroads-type deal?

True Detective stuff.

Because we all want to know what kind of shadowy power lurks at the heart of Dickinson’s art—worldly or otherworldly.

 

IV

To create something truly sublime, you have to include elements of magic, and conceal, and keep secrets—and reveal them, maybe—in addition to all the craft.

You’ve got to have some of that ol’ Razzle Dazzle—at least a little bit.

Joseph Conrad wrote something to this effect in an essay called “Fiction Is Human History”.

“All creative art is magic, is evocation of the unseen in forms persuasive, enlightening, familiar and surprising.”

In creating amazing work, you take the invisible and choose if, and how, it reappears.

And that’s the magic…

<reveal papers>

…that craft can make design invisible…

<reveal papers>

…but only creativity can choose how to reveal it…

<reveal papers>

…to set an audience on a course to their own creative truths.

<reveal papers>

 

  1. Yes, the famous “short speech” quote (“If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.”) whoever said it, was running through my head pretty regularly. []

Catch up on the Cannestagious Podcast

We podcasted at Cannes for the second year running, all part of our #cannestagious push1, and Dan Southern and I had a lot of fun hosting. We typically would have a few Contagious folk and a few external folk join for each one, and discuss what went on that day at the festival.

The timing was a bit screwy—last year it was a ‘morning after’ timing, so we’d record the intro and outtro and get some juicy gossip in there, then play the segments recorded the preceding day.2 For those who might be interested in gear: we use a Blue Yeti mic attached to an iPad running Bossjock software to do all the cues, ducks, fades, etc. Typically afterward I’d clean everything up in Audacity and send it over to Soundcloud. The one and only DJ Tedward did some dynamite bumps and idents for us. Our audio booth? The world’s largest walk-in closet, in our villa, with duvets draped through the shelving to muffle echo.

I think we’re going to look into doing more with the podcast; key will be finding out how me in Portland and Dan in London can connect in a way that’s got some measure of audio fidelity. (The last phone-in interview, recorded off a conference call line, is crapola.) If you’ve got any idea, let me know.

Anyway, we had some fun interviews: Scott Galloway, Joanna MonteiroIain Tait, Nick Childs and Sir Martin Sorrell, and we had one kinda live-y podcast segment where we went cold calling with The Barbarian Group and Rood Studios.

Here’s the mighty podcast playlist in all its glory too.

  1. dig that amazing papercraft Cannes Lion! []
  2. The awards results are under embargo until like 9pm every night, so we can’t publish when we learn the results at the press conference in the morning. []

Appearing in La Petit Mort: River Talk

rivertalk_petitmort

A few months ago my buddy Michael Ventura asked me to write an essay for his new publication, La Petit Mort. Just last week I got the glorious, big-ass newsprint edition and found my piece, “River Talk,” reproduced faithfully. The design looks great, the illustration I cooked up wound up translating well visually, and I’m really grateful to have been involved and appearing alongside articles ranging from an ethical look at slum tourism to a primer on how to eat clean while traveling. The essay’s mostly about fishing, so head over to Current Flow State to read the whole thing.

The Contagious Holiday Zine Exchange!

contagious_zines

A while back I read a post somewhere, I think on the IDEO blog, about their experiment with a saddle stapler. There was a story about how they furnished an alcove at the back of the office, and put out the stapler, commonly used to make crude staple-bound zines, and lo, amazing rainbows of creativity happened.

We ain’t them, so I decided to steal part of this idea, with 100% more <shudder> forced creativity, and lo the Contagious Holiday Zine Exchange was born. Everybody had a few months to conceive and execute a zine, using the tools at their disposal, and we’d swap them at the end of the year.

Counting our own issues of Contagious, Most Contagious, and all the the client-commissioned stuff, we made probably 10+ print publications this year. But not everyone has the chance to get dirty with pagination, design, concept and all the other fun parts of making their own magazine. Hell, I’m an editor and I don’t feel like I always do.

I can’t tell you how impressed I was when we exchanged them today. Writers, sales folk, whoever, it didn’t matter. The publications were from the heart and fun, which is all you really need for a good zine.

Here’s a quick rundown:

Noelle: Drink More Whiskey, a primer on everyone’s favorite brown liquid, its characteristics and varieties, where to drink it, recipes, etc., with samples
Kyle: Pittie’ful Zine, a look at the pit bull terrier’s origins, evolution and characteristics, including info on pits in American history
Erin: les hashtags en francais, a study of this year’s top celebrity Twitter arrivals, with hashtagged critiques of their work in French
Arwa: Notes From Goats: A pun-filled literary magazine, as authored by goats (ie critique of The Great Goatsby)
Chris: A Hell of a Lot of Mice: Music and miscellany, including an article on Willis Earl Beal, photos from NYC venues and part of Chris’ top 52 albums of 2013 summary.

I did a short sci-fi photonovela called PATRONYM on the JP Morgan of the clone era coming to terms with his legacy.

Methods as far ranging as In Design and Comic Life and even old fashioned cut-and-paste and hand-lettering brought these to life.

Best of all, they really did what every good solo publication should do: convey something about the creator.

I was having lunch today with a guy who runs the innovation department at a really large package goods company, and one of the things he said stuck in my mind. “We have the tools,” he said, “we just don’t use them.” Sometimes you have to figure out a way to get people to use the tools.

Project Healing Waters in The New York Times

project healing waters in the new york times
A scan from The New York Times’ November 11th 2013 edition featuring Project Healing Waters

 

It was very exciting to see an organization I do some volunteer work with profiled by Helen Coster in The New York Times this year on Veterans Day. I would have never guessed the modifier that arrived along with my first appearance in the old grey lady would be “fly fishing guide,” but I’ll take it. I guess it’s a good impetus to finally get my casting instructor certification in order.

Please give the article a read to learn more about the sort of work we’re doing, and do get in touch if you’re interested.

We’ve had a huge outpouring of support since, including a bunch of people donating vintage fishing gear, which we resell to collectors to fund trips for vets.

There’s currently a great auction of vintage fiberglass and bamboo rods happening on eBay, from the collection of a man named Ed Travers. Ed’s rods, all in great condition, would make a wonderful holiday gift for the angler in your life, and a great way to give back to a worthy cause, so why not check them out? I’m helping administer the auction, and will be posting new rods every Tuesday for the next few weeks, with five sets in all available.

Writing elsewhere: Nicolas Jaar in Flaunt

flaunt-jaar-parish

Wow, a celebrity profile!

Pick up this summer’s Flaunt, the Context issue, to read a piece I wrote on Nicolas Jaar, one of the more interesting figures in dance music today. I tried to give a sense of the big ideas Jaar’s grappling with, and his perspective as an artist.

To get a sense of how that’s coming through in the music he’s making, check out his page on SoundCloud. The second issuance from his DARKSIDE project is out now, so you can give that a listen, too. That’s probably my favorite work of his.

Tetsuharu Kubota shot him quite well, I think. Apparently it was a cover story, but one of four. The cover of the copy I got has Beyonce. And includes a poster! Fancy.

Jonathan Glazer’s Newest, Under the Skin

I really hope Jonathan Glazer follows in Neill Blomkamp’s footsteps1 and brings his special breed of moodiness evolved through ads and music video to tangential future scenarios. Under the Skin is described on IMDB as “An alien in human form is on a journey through Scotland.”

The inimitable Ben just dug out his canned Flake ad which I’m glad to see is still online. I remember frantically saving the source when it came out and have been showing it to folks we work with at Kraft / Mondelez as an example of something envelope-pushing, dramatic stuff that at least got partially made through previous incarnations of their organization. Lovely. Someone out there wants to make more of this stuff, right? A guy can dream?

Flake – Jonathan Glazer from David Nichols on Vimeo.

  1. For my money, Neill’s slightly dingy, surveillance state aesthetic is the best one going in contemporary sci-fi. I talked to him about it way back in ’07. []

Brands and Digital Downtime

I wrote this in May 2011 for the Cannes Lions Daily magazine; they wanted a view from the US, as they’ve asked me to write before. It had fallen through the cracks, but I’ve been hearing more and more ‘digital downtime’ talk lately and have only seen a few smaller brands step up and advocate for this. Maybe more on them in the future.

 

A new role for Rolls in real-time world

Amid all the noise of this always-on world, sometimes the best approach a brand can take is to find what its strong, silent side looks like, says Nick Parish, North American editor, Contagious

As ever in Cannes, great work will be given its due this week. Much of it will be, in some sense, immersive. But immersion is changing. Emotionally resonant web browser-based efforts, such as Cyber Grand Prix winner The Wilderness Downtown, an online music video for the Arcade Fire, executed by the fast-moving collaborative set growing around the Google Creative Lab, are supplanting epic TV commercials as the premier medium for mind-boggling communication.

At the same time, new technology is changing how we define advertising. TBWA’s Projeqt, developed on a brief to refine its online presence, is becoming a platform for creative minds across many disciplines, not just something that communicates TBWA’s effectiveness at making a website.

But one of the most interesting categories is the work attempting to dip its toe in the constant flow of sharing, the bits we all pass along. Real- time marketing is what it’s being called, and most look to Old Spice’s Responses work, which has also won a Cyber Grand Prix at the Festival. But in many cases real-time efforts are little more than interruption and couponing. Smart brands will be the ones that don’t just talk but listen, and are able to make sense of what people are saying, unprompted by another form of marketing intrusion.

At 60mph, the loudest sound in David Ogilvy’s Rolls-Royce was the ticking clock. But today the only brands offering respite as a positioning are those positioned as an escape from physical labour, or housework. Not the sort of chatter many modern urban dwellers find themselves inside. In that sense, Ogilvy’s line has ripened with age. Your Rolls will insulate you from the loud, irritating universe, so you can think your princely thoughts and build your mental empires. We could all use moments like these. But who will give them to us?

Some think real-time marketing means brands should be at our beck and call, popping up when we want, to prop us up if we’re falling behind, to pop by with that pallet of Wheat Thins and give us our minutes of web video fame for a tweet. It most certainly can be an effective way to engage, build a personality for your brand, and help you become an active player in a bubbling community, in Wheat Thins’ case especially so.

But, as the discipline and channels mature, brands will be measured more by how they listen than by how they talk. Surprisingly, the disparity between talking and listening is massive. Just 2% of companies, according to SAS, track what’s said about them on Twitter.

Sometimes it’s important to be actively quiet. On a recent episode of Harvard Business School’s Ideacast podcast, Sherry Turkle from MIT talked about her newest book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology And Less From Each Other. Turkle argues that we’re spending our time communicating, rather than creating. Multitasking, Turkle asserts, is boosting the former at the latter’s expense. People’s work is becoming communication — e-mail, chat, social-network engagement. ‘As we ramp up the volume and velocity, we begin to ask each other questions that we know will get an immediate response, and we begin to give responses so we can give immediately,’ she says. ‘So we’re dumbing down the questions we ask and the responses we give in order to gratify this need for volume and velocity. It’s as though the pace becomes more important than the quality of the response.’ Remember the recessionary mantra, parroted incessantly by media companies and publishers, usually through their starving- for-ad-dollars channels? In times of trouble, spend more, boost volume, otherwise you’re forgotten. In many ways, that has been twisted and misapplied, creating a pragmatic media agenda focused on being everywhere.

We’ve just seen Pepsi’s flagship product take a direct hit and cede its second-place rank to Diet Coke after abandoning brand advertising for its cause-marketing effort, the Pepsi Refresh Project. While that probably isn’t entirely due to marketing changes, those who were the loudest champions of Pepsi’s laudable efforts will tell you it shouldn’t have been pursued at the expense of brand advertising, but in addition.
Every marketer will tell you that if you’re not talking, or advertising, you’re losing relevance. But this rule is being eroded by the ability to flood the places brands are placing content, with little or no incremental increase in spending. ‘Constantly talking isn’t necessarily communicating,’ says Charlie Kaufman, through Jim Carrey’s Joel in Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind.

Remember, the negative spaces your brand defines for its group are just as important as the positive. The ‘negative space’ role is reminiscent of Add Art, a Firefox plug-in which turns display advertising into art. How about a plug-in to do what Instapaper and Readability have done for publishers, offering space and time to read something later, wrapped in a calm, new, page-like package? The Karmatech concept, from students at Hyper Island for Swedish apparel brand WeSC, brings a near-field connection to a shoe, allowing wearers to step their way to social-media updates and interactions. Imagine a near-field ‘I’m open to offers’ or ‘Leave me alone’ concept, where part of the utility a brand offers is insulating people and guarding their free time. Rolls- Royce could register on Twitter and give away a Phantom to some lucky tweeter, gaining followers to rival Charlie Sheen’s rapid ascent. But it would be more interesting to think of how the brand could bring that silent interior to the real-time web.

Infiltration Beyond Tradespace

Every once in a while a mainstream journalist comes to me on the odd chance I might have something interesting to say about a topic they’re trying to write about. Occasionally I cough up something coherent.

Very seldom do two such articles come out in the same week. But somehow last week both Inc and Bloomberg News had me grumbling and muttering in their content.

The areas in which I’m quoteable? You guessed it. Digital production companies and automotive social media.

Here they are:

B-Reel: The Company That’s Changing Advertising1

BMW Courts Bloggers For $110 Million Online Boost: Car2

  1. Despite the hyperbolic headline this is a good look at a cool company. Josh Dean also wrote a book called Show Dog that my lady had just finished reading when we spoke, so there was a nice bit of serendipity in there. []
  2. Alex Webb did a good job with this. Not to discount his effort, but the story hinged on BMW actually being willing to come out and attribute the sales to their marketing effort, which is rare. Typically if folks think they have an edge they keep it to themselves. []

We’re coming through the window: Most Contagious 2010

Most Contagious 2010.

Hello and welcome to Most Contagious 2010: a free round-up of the biggest global trends, technologies, and campaigns of the year, pulled together by Contagious Magazine, the advertising industry’s monitor of creativity and innovation. This year’s Most Contagious is supported by our friends at Yahoo!
A round-up of the global trends, technologies, and campaigns of the year from Contagious Magazine, an early warning system for the advertising industry. This year’s Most Contagious
is supported by Yahoo!

Please enjoy; it’s a true labor of love. Thanks to all of you for supporting us this year, and every year, to make Contagious as successful (and fun) as it has been. More end-of-year stuff to come, provided I complete a big stack of work.

A Resurrection From Cannes

Phew, it’s been too long. I’ve been busy. I’ll catch you up as we go along. But expect more here. The organizers of Cannes’ Lions Daily newsmagazine were looking for the U.S. perspective for this year’s festival in June, so here’s an article I did for them. It hasn’t aged too poorly. Enjoy.

cannes lions daily

‘Everything is clean and shiny but oddly threatening’. / J.G. Ballard, 1999

Although J.G. Ballard was actually talking about technology, this late, great chronicler of Cannes-based mischief came pretty close to explaining what’s happened in the United States and Canada since its ad folk last convened on the Riviera.

Budgets and spending are beginning to come back, but there’s the sense things won’t be the way they were before last year’s slump, both in outlay and style of communications and messaging. Optimism is returning, but how to connect with the NEW new media is still baffling to many. Why should my home plumbing fixture brand be on Facebook? What’s the value of creating a badge on Foursquare for a paper goods company?

The realignment currently taking place is forcing us to reconsider the fabric of our communications landscape, and it’s taking very interesting forms.

FINELY FORMED PLATFORMS /

The first of those is platform-building, the digital terraforming smart marketers are engaging in. This is an evolution from the act of adapting content to work on the web to creating or steering content that works within the Internet’s connective tissue.

Electronic retailer Best Buy has seen its Twelpforce program, which encourages employees to help customers on Twitter, service a massive amount of people. But, all that data it’s pumping into Twitter ultimately belongs to Twitter. And it’s finite, given Twitter’s propensity to hide tweets from search after 1.5 weeks. So what did Best Buy do? It built BBY Feed, a site that scrapes all the interactions from the Blueshirts, threads them into easy-to-read interactions and tags them for search engine optimization. If a month from now, I can’t remember how Best Buy’s folks told me to put the SD card in my camera, when I search for the answer it’ll show up on BBY Feed.

Meanwhile, brand communications platforms are growing up and evolving. Gatorade’s fantastic ‘Replay’ effort through TBWA/Chiat/Day, Los Angeles was initially shot as episodic online content by an advertising production company. The conceit was simple, and on-brand: any athlete’s performance can be enhanced by Gatorade, so why not convene and re-play crucial games that ended in ties, or were called because of injury, ten or fifteen years later? The idea of older athletes getting back in shape appealed to many, interest in the property grew, and Gatorade partnered with Fox Sports Net for the second round, with the cable sports network producing it just like it would a big-league game, and simulcasting it on the web.

Parallel to platform-building, disruptive hacker behaviours have begun influencing marketers looking to place content not only on their own platforms, but in unexpected and intriguing places as well. A great example is the ‘Lost’ flight on Kayak.com. The travel search engine listed Oceanic 815, the flight around which the TV series centred, in its search database. Word spread among Losties, and thousands looked up the flight on Kayak, performing all the behaviours of any other user, an introduction to the brand’s great interface through the thrill of finding the ‘Easter Egg’ of content—the actual flight listing for the mythic Lost flight. Great content, presented in its natural environment, is set to spread, and to maximize PR value.

Similarly, Burger King put a message on Digg’s failed search page, which is served over 600,000 times per month. When you look something up that isn’t there, you get a message from Digg and BK playing on the humorous ‘Tiny Hands’ campaign for the company’s double cheeseburger: ‘Looks like your search had a typo. Maybe you’ve got tiny hands?’

MAKER CULTURE & LASHED-TOGETHER TECH /

This maker culture, along with the rise of electronic hobbyists building projects to interact with the universe, places emphasis on solutions and speed, in the classic Bernbachian sense of ‘It’s ugly, but it gets you there’.

In fact, just over forty years after the moon landing and that classic piece of Volkswagen print, Nike and the Livestrong Foundation’s Chalkbot, from Wieden + Kennedy and the robot-making punk rockers at Pittsburgh’s Deeplocal, fits the tagline–the trailer-pulled robot sets a standard for the post-digital transition in its employment of ‘guttertech’–using the lowest available technology to solve the problem. The robot, towed along the route of the Tour de France, sprays messages of cancer support and memoriam people have tweeted onto the course. The system then takes a photo, geotags it, and sends it back to the participant on the other end of the connection. Chalkbot’s no-frills, simple-yet-elegant setup and movement through digital and physical elements nimbly skitters like Wall-E around a landscape where tech bandwagon-jumping is in danger of creating a proliferation of clutter and junk.

The sensor array in our smartphones is currently the fastest track to bringing about the ‘internet of things’ – the practice of integrating digital capabilities to the most ordinary of objects. Ranchers are using RFID to track beef from pasture to abattoir and researchers at the Asthmapolis project are using GPS-triggering asthma inhalers to learn more about pollutants, and all are contributing to the proliferation of data. The objects around us are becoming networked, either through built-in communication hardware or software elements fitted on top.

MASSAGING THE DATALAYER /

A company called Stickybits, which had its coming out party this year at the South by Southwest Interactive conference, allows you to add content–a video, a comment, a photo–to any barcode scanned with its app. Essentially the company has turned every barcode-carrying product into a media node.

Keep an eye peeled this week for Contagious’ special Stickybits treasure hunt, centered on our Issue 23 cover (which you can scan from the illustration here), and has Euro RSCG London’s new Dulux spot attached to it. Find the pink bits around town this week, scan them with your Stickybits app, and win Contagious prizes.

While our Stickybit challenge is but a small example, building games is, to me, the most exciting element of future-facing marketing efforts.

Think of the devotion a good videogame commands: players often log days at quests, or facing rivals online. And unlike a film, or a magazine, the hefty price you pay for a console game doesn’t even guarantee you get to experience all the content–you have to be patient, persist, and earn the ending.

THE POINTS ECOLOGY /

Location-based services like Gowalla and Loopt and Foursquare represent a simple employment of game motivations using the sensors we carry. Get the most points. Be seen the best places. Unlock achievements.

Ultimately, brands are developing new ways to register loyalty and reward people choosing them, while enticing possible conversions from nearby consumers–nearby both in physical location and adjoining mental space (think of a hairdresser who promotes on check-ins at the beauty supply store).

Will location-based service companies wind up being overgrown, social-enabled supermarket points schemes? No one can tell yet. But as the unique user behaviour, the check-in, the acknowledgement of presence in a space-time-byte matrix, spreads and becomes more familiar, and our sensor-augmented actions begin to throw off more and more data, the smartest marketers will be engineering access to it, and in turn creating experiences and narratives all the more relevant.

Returning to Mr. Ballard’s quote, there’s good reason for these shiny things to feel threatening. The firmaments of this business are shifting, and we can’t see where they’ll settle yet. But without threat, we drift to complacency. Now is the time, more than ever, to re-examine what is useful, relevant and entertaining as the world keeps turning.

Desk-sider with Reilly

I’m very stoked to have been asked some questions about my media habits and habitat for pal Reilly Brennan’s “What’s on your desk?” series.

I most recently saw Reilly on the front page of USA Today commenting about the Chevy Volt’s mileage claims after a week fishing in Montana secluded from all feeds and transmissions. I think I whooped.

The first time we met, however, was a little different. It was on a high school Spanish Club Spring Break trip to Mexico in maybe 1997. That was a fun trip. For some reason our historical survey swung through Cancun for four days. Our initial evening in that fine town a fellow (neither of us, for the record) experienced what could be termed ‘rampaging intoxication’ for the first time and proceeded to chop apart his hotel room dresser with a ceremonial hatchet he’d purchased earlier that day from a roadside tourist trap. Goooood times.

Draplin Ditty Defies Deadlines

A funny thing happened on the way to this Talent profile of Aaron “All-American” Draplin that ran in March’s Creativity.

The piece had been done for a few months, and had gotten pushed to the March issue because it had certain evergreen qualities.

It was laid out, on the page, being proofed and minutes away from being sent to the printer when it was revealed Draplin, along with Chris Glass, another designer, worked with Chicago’s Mode Project creative director Steve Juras to develop logos for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) projects and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) team (seen here), which were unveiled by Big Boss Barack Obama in early March.

This was, as they go, a tiny bundle of candy placed into our lap by the great magazine fairy in the sky. And those are pretty few and far-between at the moment, so it was nice to savor. (The super-relevant photo, by the way, was taken by Mark Welsh from Nitro Snowboards back before Thanksgiving!)

We took around half an hour to rework it and a nice evergreen became much more timely and interesting.

Anyway, Draplin’s one to keep an eye on. Know how to do that? Via his kickass blog.

VidPik! A Letter From Brooklyn

About a month ago a forwarded email arrived. It was so staggering, actions were forced.

The note, laden in artistic pronouncements and full-of-itselfness, begged for an extension; a dramatic reading was considered, but it turned out only a full video could to the thing justice. After all, a 1500-word yearly update email sent to dozens of people deserves the highest degree of satire you can muster.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m an earnest man. But even sincerity, in extreme, is funny as hell. (Viz. Kenneth on 30 Rock.)

Who was the sender? An unknown personage, but clearly a modern-day Benjamin Franklin, part writer, part political organizer, all full of Brooklyn potential and privilege and so indicative of our generation’s rampaging self-importance.

We christened him Eric Anton Schechter-Oblomov; this is his yearly update, verbatim, brought to life as best we could.

A Letter From Brooklyn from Eric Anton Schechter-Oblomov on Vimeo.

Continue reading “VidPik! A Letter From Brooklyn”

The Transformative Power of Art, Pt. 239

the Glue Society's pigeon at Pulse
the Glue Society

Every once in a while you pop your head up from the daily slog and rise above the goblins of self-indulgence and negativity and fractiousness and see with crystal clarity, ‘Hey, this is pretty cool.’

Yesterday was one of those days.

I went to an early press preview of the Pulse art show with the express purpose of seeing a unique statue and writing a story about it.

Sure, the story’s just a humble few lines, but there was no need for me to do anything other than convey the facts: pigeon, man, statue, art fair, funny. An honest job, decently done. But it gives me pleasure to think of the time I spent putting this story together, and hopefully that’s conveyed. Briefly, this is something I struggled with: is it more accurate to say this is a statue of a man defecating on the head of a pigeon or of a pigeon with a man defecating on its head? Think about it.

I can say quite confidently that were fate to have brought me to the show this morning with a budget of $40k and a suitable foyer or other entranceway needing of adornment I could see no greater way to immediately communicate my worldview than this piece of contemporary art. Perhaps, one fine day, it could be mine.

Highlights from the Creativity 50

A few avid readers of both Creativity as well as this thing may not need the spur, but we’ve just posted our annual list of 50 interesting people and groups in the innovation game.

The Creativity 50 has changed a bit in the three years I’ve been involved, and I’m glad to say this year we have a great balance of both interesting and inspiring people in the world at large and the world of marketing. The latter can be myopic to a fault at times and one of the parts of the magazine I’m gladdest to bolster is introducing new viewpoints to our readership.

So, to that end, I was really excited to get to talk to some interesting people for this edition, above and beyond exciting achievers in advertising. Jason Fried is the CEO of 37Signals, and knows a thing or two about productivity and development. Aaron Koblin has an exciting worldview and is one of the few who’ve been able to wrap samples of our world’s data in elegant cloaks. Jonathan Blow, the creator of Braid, is part of a group of game developers pushing to make things that are much more intellectually and emotionally stimulating than the standard entertainment offerings. I had an in-depth and highly informative conversation with Blow, but that’s still under wraps until April.

Lastly, I got a chance to talk with the ever-interesting Dean Kamen, a guy I consider a real pioneer. The full Q&A is on our site now, and I urge you to check it out. Kamen has some very exciting opinions about growing up in our era and how our future innovations will come about.

Browse through this year’s list of honorees; you may come across a nugget of wisdom or two. Special thanks to Von for the kickass cover illustration.

Update: Something screwy came about between the ampersands in the Creativity links and my WordPress RSS feed. If you’re into the links and they’re returning noise in the syndicated version, click through to the actual post and they’ll work from there.

Pick up this week’s NY Mag (not just for my ad spread)

nymag-parish-advertising

Over the last month or so I helped compile a list of the most memorable New York-styled ads for New York Magazine, and, at long last, here it is. We polled a whole host of past and present NYC ad luminaries to determine a big list of spots that had grabbed the city’s attention, then narrowed them down with a poll to find out which rated highest.

New York’s 40th Anniversary issue is fat, well worth the $4.95. Head over to NY Mag’s site to read my bit, but don’t forget to pick up the magazine–there’s a ton of good stuff inside.

Burgerman Bogusky Flips and More Late-Summer Follies

It’s been an interesting, albeit slow, few August weeks round these parts, so here’s a bit of a Creativity-related fill-in.

One of our favorite publishers, PowerHouse books, sent by a catalog for its new season, which, strangely, included a huge, front-and-center push for a book on small-plates portion control written by none other than Alex Bogusky. If you failed Know Your Advertising Creatives 101 (and no shame in that–certainly other coursework has greater world relevance) Mr. Bogusky is the Chief Creative Officer of Crispin, Porter + Bogusky, the Miami-based ad agency whose clients include Burger King and Domino’s. The evangelical pizza business is new, but CP+B’s relationship with Burger King is going on a decade, in which time they’ve revitalized the marketing, with a rock-n-jock approach hitting hard in the agency’s breadbasket, the young adult male. Continue reading “Burgerman Bogusky Flips and More Late-Summer Follies”

Radiohead, but with lasers.

Oh, you know, just another day at the office writing about Radiohead, lasers, and the folks that love them. Last week I talked with James Frost, the director of Radiohead’s new “House of Cards” video. I’m seeing the group play for the first time at All Points West next month; I’ll report back if the stuff from the video is used at all in the live show. It’d be a bit of a shame if it wasn’t; this look is too closely connected to this song to be utilized in a fresh way anywhere else. So Radiohead might as well keep trotting it out with “House of Cards” when they play it live. Come to think of it, as amazing as applying this technology to film the crowd and band during a live performance would be, it’d probably be impossible to render the data in time to produce anything but the crudest preview. But I’m sure you stopped at the link to read Frost say that in our talk and have already ruled out that possibility.

Good thing, too, as who knows whether that LIDAR stuff might cause some impromptu LASIK for audience members, like these dodgy Russian rave lasers.

Meta-WTF?

Oh Wighnomys.

My favorite technarchists from Jena are back with a great mix.

But Metawuffmischfelge? What does that mean? Well, it doesn’t hurt to ask (along with a technical Q):

from Wighnomy Brothers
reply-to Wighnomy Brothers
to nick
date Tue, Jun 10, 2008 at 1:59 AM
subject AW: a quick question for Gabor…

good morning nick …

i recorded the vinyls but i mixed the hole stuff in the computer!
metawuffmischfelge? it´s a fantasy word!

greetings!
robag

…in other news…a cool change at earplug; DJ charts now include bits about the records written by the DJs charting them. And no one knows why dance records work better than those playing them to make people dance. The linked installment is from Justin Simon aka Invisible Conga People (on Italians Do It Better). Don’t confuse him with Mike Simonetti, IDIB’s founder (and I’d say one of the people instrumental in getting those punk kids dancing when he was doing Troubleman). One of my favorite reads, Cosmic Disco, did an interview with Mike and is hosting a guest mix I’ve been enjoying. Check ‘er out.

Continue reading “Meta-WTF?”

Stud Farming

Here’s a piece from the June issue of Creativity I feel came out quite well. Pulling in young talent is a constant source of gnashing whether you’re blogging or running a basketball franchise–but as far as digital marketing goes, it’s time to take the next step from hiring designers and coders who can make things look cool to hiring developers who can form concepts and bring together a team with knowhow to execute higher level things. Software tools. (Like, imagine if Chase built Mint.) There aren’t any great case studies yet as to how these things will look but smart agencies are already thinking beyond microshites to applications.

Here’s the full thing; poke around on the site for more goodies–we were all really proud of the June issue (let me know if you’d like me to send one). I’ve also pasted it below for convenience (erm, and search engines).

Continue reading “Stud Farming”

Brad Neely’s Big Debut

If emerging web video platforms are sports teams Brad Neely is Super Deluxe‘s franchise player. Neely’s been rolling with his twisted brand of hilarity for some time, but now that he’s at the Turner-sponsored spot thousands are braying for Babycakes and the Professor Brothers. Here are the interview bits I didn’t use when I talked to Neely recently for Creativity. Check out more of his work at his Creased Comics site and at his Super Deluxe site. Look for the rest of the interview and a few morsels of Neely’s funniest after the break.

Hey Brad, how’s it going with Super Deluxe?

BN: It’s been really fun so far. Iím turning in a great deal of work, both Babycakes and Professor Brothers and a lot of one shots as well, they’ll be just characters that you never see again, some holiday things. But the core will be Babycakes and the Professor Brothers.

At what point did you take the comics you were making and put voices and animation along? Had you always been doing that?

BN: No, I hadn’t. A few years ago I did “Wizard People, Dear Readers,” which was an unauthorized alternate audio that’s synched with the first Harry Potter movie. I toured around with that and got shut down by Warner Brothers and I had such a good time doing that, it was my first time to be really close to film in a weird way, but it got me to thinking about how to continue to make things on my own terms with my own brand of comedy. So making the pictures sort of cartoons was an easy thing that I could do all by myself.

Where did the character Babycakes come from? I saw one of your comics with a Babycakes-esque guy.

BN: I’m always drawn to the giant, hairless bald person, I don’t know why. Babycakes, whenever, I’d done the George Washington cartoon on YouTube and the Super Deluxe people came to me and asked me if I had anything else to work on, and I just kind of rummaged around a lot of notes and Babycakes and the Professor Brothers just kind of evolved out of that. There are certain types of jokes that I want to be able to tell and certain tones and songs and fantasies and nightmares and prophecies and dances and all that kind of stuff and you make characters that will bring those out.

Continue reading “Brad Neely’s Big Debut”

Navel Gazing and other Humid Pursuits

Self reference time! Post-Euroswing I’ve had to relearn the most basic human motor functions, including complex cognition and not expecting chilled bottles of champagne lurking at every turn and beaches packed with delirious hedonism. Unravelling? No, I’ve tied up several loose ends in recent weeks in several strange twists of fate.

The first came in Cannes, a few days after I left the techno madness of Barcelona behind. I was dining at a quaint Italian restaurant called Arcimboldo when I noticed a guy at the table next to me was wearing a M.A.N.D.Y. T-shirt. I had to mention something, and when I did he introduced himself as Peter Hayo, a founding member of Get Physical and producer of many fine dance records. He was in town as part of his other concern, Perky Park, a company that does music production for commercials and otherwise. His two co-conspirators, Walter Merziger, Arno Kammermeier are also known as Booka Shade. So, naturally, I asked him about a rumor I’d heard, that they produced Aqua’s “Barbie Girl.” The rumor delighted me–that the popularity of a silly Danish pop song I’d found so much delight in could have been been responsible for the genesis of one of the biggest forces in contemporary dance music would have been an utterly fun piece of cosmic coincidence. Alas, not so, entirely. Hayo and chums just remixed the track for Universal Music, and, as you know, it spent a significant amount of time on the charts, and, subsequently, fattened the Perky Park synth fund.

The second weird, ‘What the?’ techno moment came after I returned, and got a tip from a diligent German about the closeness between the group awarded the Titanium Lion at Cannes and work done by pfadfinderei, Bpitch’s design gurus. Turns out, shaping barcodes to make them look cool while still functioning is a pretty routine concept in graphic design. So kids, don’t believe everything the awards shows tell you.

Also worth noting, on recommendation from this man I picked up some Hans Fallada, which, some months and many pleasurable pages later, turned out to be appropriate here:

Hans Fallada wrote The Drinker over two weeks in 1944, while residing in a a criminal asylum near AltStrelitz, Germany. He was confined there for the attempted murder of his wife. Given these inauspicious beginnings, the book has been especially troublesome for critics. It’s disingenous, however, to look at The Drinker as anything but the personal reflection of an author torn asunder by a turbulent society in collapse.The novel begins as narrator Erwin Sommer’s successful grocery concern teeters on the brink of collapse. With sparse language, the book composes an intimate psychological profile of an obsessive who would fling everything to the wind sooner than ask for assistance. He empties his savings and steals his wife’s silver — anything for another moment with his muse, Elinor, a village barmaid he fixates upon during his initial jag and who becomes his queen of schnapps, ruler of a woozy and throbbing world.

All his life, Fallada — a pseudonym chosen by Rudolf Ditzen — has inflicted tortures upon himself and others. During a melancholy childhood, he killed a chum when a suicide pact disguised as a duel went awry. Ditzen later grew into morphine addiction, alcoholism, and a carton-a-day smoking habit, with eventual trips in and out of institutions and prisons. Astonishingly, Ditzen found time to write nearly two dozen books during his dissolute life, very few of which are available in English. While Little Man, What Now? is justly famous for its excavation of pre-War German consciousness, The Drinker is an equally profound exploration of the author’s own demons of substance abuse.

While the book’s spare tone, lack of flashy language, and stark portrayal of German society are all signature marks of Ditzen, The Drinker more closely resembles Evelyn Waugh’s The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold. The novel is clearly founded in life experience, yet its narrative flights of fancy cultivate readers who place confidence in the narrator’s inner turmoil, but remain wary of the details.
– Nick Parish

Biding my time…

Wednesday I embark on a trip destined to try my patience and rub the nerves raw. Four days in Barcelona for Sonar and six days in Cannes for the international advertising festival. I’m not sure where I’ll find the strength, considering the schedule at Sonar and the plans for Cannes (we’re doing a blog at AdCritic, which I’ll link up when it goes live). Expect plenty of commentary as well as photos and grainy videos, barring a stress-induced loss of memory. In the meantime, check out a review of DJ 3000’s first full-length here:

Album Review
DJ 3000
Migration
Submerge 

June 08, 2006

Surrounded by Detroit, the smaller city of Hamtramck is best known for the paczkiMotor, and Franki Juncaj, aka DJ 3000. On his debut studio album, Juncaj, who grew up in Hamtramck, celebrates his Albanian heritage by looping, sampling, and tweaking traditional instruments over a variety of backdrops. The strongest tracks stick to the meaty techno and house rhythms that earned him his Underground Resistance badge, but Juncaj also explores broken beats and slight, wispy moods. Along with Los Hermanos’ 2005 release On Another LevelMigration strengthens his crew’s growing reputation as a musical force with equal footing in the future and the past.

Sunday Money

Sports books generally aren’t very good. At least for the sort of people who prefer reading to sports. But Jeff MacGregor nailed the crossover in his most recent, Sunday Money. It was by far my favorite sports read last year, and if you’re looking for an introduction to NASCAR you’d be hard pressed to find a better primer.

For the uninitiated, NASCAR can seem a set of baffling unknowables — or just 300,000 rednecks in the grandstand, braying at death-frenzied hayseeds. Lacking the pastoral sophistication of baseball or the strategy of football, for as many adherents NASCAR claims (around 75 million) there are sports fans set against its inevitable rise.

Jeff MacGregor’s first book serves as a shot across the bow for those staunchly in the “stick-and-ball world;” Sunday Money is a primer on the history of stock car racing and a vivid portrait of the season MacGregor and the Beep (his “Beautiful, Brilliant Partner,” photographer Olya Evanitsky) spent crisscrossing America in a motorhome, clocking 47,649 miles on the Winston Cup tour.

But more than offering race descriptions, anecdotes, or driver hijinks, more than recounting life in the NASCAR tent cities or parking lots of Wal-Marts, MacGregor examines the sport’s commercial machine — the squadrons of flacks regulating image, the promotional juggernaut packing logos and endorsements into sports columns and TV highlights. Incorporating an analysis of consumerism into his book, MacGregor shows NASCAR as larger than the sport and its myth. It is the inexorable Tony Stewart, Orangeman of Home Depot; Mark Martin in the Viagra Ford; Jimmie Johnson in the Lowe’s Chevy. It is Will Ferrell as Official Spokesman of NASCAR Day. It is the scads of products bearing drivers and their cars, it is the cardboard cutout of Dale Jr. in the beer aisle with a pile of Bud. As MacGregor argues, in buying widgets, shopping at Home Depot, or seeing Will in his new movie (coming this fall with Sacha Baron Cohen), you’re anteing up, so you might as well learn how to enjoy it. To that end, short of attending a race, track down this primer. The depth of description and insight jacks it head and shoulders above the ordinary.
– Nick Parish

I rocked the Rocker

Please allow me to preface the following with an explanation of my baseball talent:

Previous to this “pseudo-professional” (Rocker’s words) at-bat, the most recently I’d picked up a bat was during a cameo appearance on “No Comment,” the Fordham student paper’s club softball team. I went 2-3 against the yearbook team in a pathetic effort by the Ram squad.

I played little league until I was twelve or so, mostly as catcher. I couldn’t engage the game long enough to play infield, as my coaches and parents learned one fateful day when I was stationed at third. I guess my attention wavered, and a liner that should have been an easy out hit me square in the forehead. Knocked out cold. The last thing I remember was hearing the bat and looking up at the ball flying toward my face. When I came to, with my dad and the coaches around, the first thing the coach said was “Well, that’s why they call it the hot corner.”

So my history makes this all the more improbable, exciting, and, well, awesome. I’d like to thank the inventors of Lasik, who allowed me to take the batter’s box without Rec Specs for the first time in my career, as well as Deadspin’s Will Leitch. Will took the photo, offered words of encouragement, and, well, a least common denominator. I mean, what would the world be coming to if print guys are outhit by bloggers?

Amare on the Rebound

 

 

Magnetic Resonance bounced around Amare Stoudamire‘s reconstructed left knee, tracing the results of last year’s microfracture surgery and showing things were on course in his recovery. If you cruise to the newsstand this month and want to hear the big man’s take on his recovery, pick up this month’s Slam, with Allen Iverson on the cover. In addition to the regular Bball goodness, I got Amare’s take on his injury and the patience required for recovery.
His return is still up in the air, and estimates vary wildly. One tidbit with little regard to dates or places relates to performance: due to increased resistance training during rehab, it’s rumored his vertical could increase by as many as four inches.
What does this mean for the Suns? Well, the timing of the announcement — Amare beginning light jogging in early February — suggests it’ll be at least March before he’s ready to suit up. Their schedule this month is light, with two homestands and the All-Star break. A series of winnable games to put distance between themselves and the Clippers. But faced with the option of easing Amare back into the lineup against mid-grade players in the conference or in March, when key matchups include two clashes with the Spurs and one with the Clips, I’m sure Mike D’Antoni would rather the former.

Thee Wilde Billy Childish Interview

This interview took place last year a few days before Billy Childish and the Buff Medways came to America to play two dates, one in Long Beach, California for the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival, another opening for Modest Mouse at Radio City Music Hall.

Believe that at the height of Modest Mouse’s recent popularity, at a concert heavily promoted by K-Rock, the Medways put the zap on a lot of young minds.

NP: This is the Buffs’ second or third time here, right?

BC: I think it’s only the second, I’m not quite sure. We used to come quite often but then our bass player couldn’t do much, and we’ve got a new bass player who is a fireman who can’t do too much. You know, because we’re not a professional group, which is sort of like our saving grace but also causes a few problems, because we don’t do touring really, even in the Headcoats we didn’t used to really do touring, I don’t really sort of like see much sense in it. Its usually to make agents a load of money and sort of like promote yourself and seeing as we’ve never ever promoted ourselves, you know, we actually play to earn some money, and to enjoy it, but most groups just do things to become, to promote themselves, and we’ve never done that.

NP: It seems like these one offs that you do, to come over and do a couple of shows in a couple of weeks or a week are a lot more healthy than a regular touring schedule.

BC: Well yeah, really, for those reasons, people do it because they’re promoting themselves; we don’t do promotions because it’s boring. We’re not in music as a career. It’s something we do because we enjoy it. And when we don’t enjoy it we don’t do it.

Continue reading “Thee Wilde Billy Childish Interview”