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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.

Written by Nick

November 6th, 2010 at 10:19 am

Guess What? I’m Contagious’ North American Editor

contagious logo

This went out to some folks over email but I wanted to post it here as well.

I’ve got big news I wanted to share: I’ve taken on the responsibilities of opening an office here in New York as Contagious Communications’ North American Editor.

The official press release is up, and I’ve done a quickie intro on contagiousmagazine.com.

If you don’t know Contagious, I’ll give you the quick primer. It’s a London-based marketing intelligence company founded in late 2004 and led by the flagship product, a quarterly magazine. It also produces FEED, a bespoke subscription service for specialized pulses of information, an events division offering custom conference programming and Contagious Insider, a consultancy that has helped think on a bevy of interesting challenges from a wide variety of top-notch clients.

Contagious started around the idea of chronicling and considering how non-traditional efforts were impacting marketing; it has grown to a robust clearinghouse of innovative approaches, unique insights and all manner of interesting ideas from around the world of marketing and beyond. (Download 2009’s Most Contagious report for a taste.)

It’s extremely exciting to be able to bolster such a robust and focused team. Contagious has a diverse and deep pool of talented writers, researchers and collaborators as well as a can-do startup mentality.

A while ago I was reading a blog post BSS&P’s Ed Cotton had written about the need for a creative-thinking version of McKinsey, about how stimulating ideas and creative revitalization can be more beneficial to growth than cost-cutting. I think Contagious has the potential to serve as that energy- and idea-giving entity for any of today’s companies interested in what’s next.

So in the next few months I’ll be building our presence on this side of the pond at conferences and events, paying visits to lots of companies and, most importantly, watching closely and taking observations and insights to the print magazine and website.

If you’re not already, get in touch. Sign up for our e-mail newsletter, follow us on Twitter (@contagiousmag) and submit your best work.

Contagious is well known in Europe, and has been very successful around the globe so far, but we’ve still got a challenge in helping it find a bigger audience in the Americas. I hope you’ll be able to play a part and contribute to what’s fast become a vibrant community of forward-thinkers.

Written by Nick

March 2nd, 2010 at 10:18 am

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.

Written by Nick

April 5th, 2009 at 4:14 pm

On my new gig…

I’ve got a new job! This just went out over the e-wire, and here it is now for some edification.

=-=-=-=-=-=-

Greetings,

My term as Creativity’s associate editor has come to a close.

I’m still under the Ad Age umbrella, though, and have exciting work ahead of me.

As of next week I’m moving into a role programming and developing content around Ad Age and Creativity events–recruiting speakers, creating leading content around concepts and panel agendas, making sure everyone knows what’s coming up, etc.–as Ad Age’s events content manager.

While it’s a disappointment to see my part in the day-to-day reporting in Creativity’s exciting world diminish, I’ve got something new to be looking forward to: shaping how we interact with you, dear reader, in the live space, how we help confer knowledge and make deeper connections.
read more about Parish's new post

Written by Nick

March 27th, 2009 at 4:49 pm

Riches To More Riches

An old colleague of mine from the Post, Jim Rich, made his debut at Salon today with a dynamite story on his travails in the Manhattan poker scene. You should read it. Jim’s got a great voice that matches his acerbic personality (if I had a quarter for every time he told someone ‘Die’…)

I’ve only played with Jim once, in a “Friday-night nickel-and-dime game” (which was actually on a Sunday, in a basement in Howard Beach) but if I recall correctly I managed to mad-dog my way through the game longer than he did. Obviously he’s gotten quite a bit better. Jim’s on Twitter, as well. I’d stay tuned, as hopefully he’ll have some more of this good stuff soon.

Written by Nick

March 24th, 2009 at 6:37 pm

Posted in Journalism,NYC

VidPik! Final Edition

“The unthinkable has become commonplace.” Rich Boehne, President & CEO, EW Scripps Co

Here’s another downer vid.

RIP, Rocky Mountain News, April 23, 1859 – February 27, 2009.

‘That was a good paper,’ they’ll say.


Final Edition from Matthew Roberts on Vimeo.

Written by Nick

February 27th, 2009 at 3:38 pm

Posted in Journalism

VidPik! Reynosa Shootout

It’s not always hysterical japes and fun videos around these parts.

Despite proximity to South Padre Island, the border town of Reynosa probably isn’t the right place to dip across for some tacos al pastor when you’re on Spring Break.

You might want to wait until after you’ve had your morning bagel for this one. (They were still picking up the unused grenades off the sidewalk a few days later.)

There’s some interesting analysis at Exiled Online but all you really need to know is these folks were likely involved and their recent tactics are far from the norm.

Written by Nick

February 24th, 2009 at 1:35 am

Posted in Journalism,Movies

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

Written by Nick

July 6th, 2006 at 10:27 pm

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Nick

October 16th, 2005 at 12:12 pm