Towards a Shining Volunteer Facebook Botnet of Truth and Victory

Facebook’s latest influence study is out, and the conclusions are not terribly surprising. You share information that your close friends share, but also things your not-so-close friends (or, your ‘distant contacts’, or ‘weak ties’, in network theory parlance) post. Thus, summaries of the study conclude, disproving the claim Facebook is an ‘echo chamber’, a set of behaviors many have insinuated is eroding our society, ingraining us in our ways and making life poorer through depriving us of tough choices about what we believe.

This is already leaving aside a glaringly obvious element. People wouldn’t be friends, even on Facebook, with people they don’t already share large swathes of cultural and economic common ground with. I am not issued a standard set of normative friends upon arrival, that’s rebalanced periodically to ensure all global viewpoints are represented. Reasonably, if Facebook is my only touchpoint with weak tie Jane Connection, it doesn’t mean she’s at the complete opposite end of the social and ideological spectrum to me. Some commonality brought us together, and I’d argue that’s strong enough to lend a coloration to the information he shares and makes me already predisposed to accepting it.

But, I can’t enter into a lengthy analysis of the paper until I actually read it. For now, more interesting matters.

The brilliant and able data scientists at Facebook have an unique porthole into some of the most amazing and interesting behaviors in human history. They’re able to observe major elements in how we fall in love, how we break up, how we celebrate birth and how we mourn death. They are able to judge very interesting things about human nature from these things. But, one must assume, their aspects of inquiry into the human condition are tempered by the desire of its executives to prove out Facebook’s advertising model, and the ability of Facebook to further monetize these events (or, the more prosaic ones, like when we mention our love for Starbucks or a positive experience at Hertz Rent-a-Car). Facebook actively works with advertising analysts to refine the products it sells marketers, so it should likely continue to do so more intensely as it grows.

Facebook is also constantly changing features in its service. Its EdgeRank algorithm, which determines what you see in your News Feed, is similar to Google’s PageRank, and a coveted position for marketers. If you’re a brand, even if millions of people have clicked ‘Like’, your content, which you may have spent millions of dollars to produce, won’t be seen by any of those millions unless someone engages with it, by Liking or commenting. If it’s not interesting, it won’t be seen. The more it’s interesting, the more it’s seen.

Trouble is, EdgeRank is largely a black box. Facebook’s Preferred Developers presumably have an inside edge, or at least a cobbled-together set of metrics with which they can determine how quickly something will take off.

But again, I’m straying from the point. The point is this: Facebook’s data studies should be assumed to be fundamentally serving Facebook’s interests. If it came to conclusions otherwise, why would it be released? Further, many of the statistics around behaviors on the web are commissioned and carried out by companies with vested interests in promoting the data. Security companies publish data on teenage hackers, for instance, or online persona management companies publish data on the proliferation of online personas. ‘These behaviors exists, so should we’ is communicated.

This is why I propose the Shining Volunteer Facebook Botnet of Truth and Victory to lead the way to transparent algorithm documentation.

It’s as simple as this: you sign away access to a moderately omnibenificient force that can monitor your news feed and occasionally post test elements, monitored by others in neighboring networks. Presumably it wouldn’t take more than a small percentage of groups to be able to make meaningful conclusions about the way EdgeRank works. Major changes would provoke an algorithm report to show what’s different. Maybe it would show that Coca-Cola’s content is altogether 10 times more important than Tiny Brand X’s content.1

This is a similar proposition to the idea of counter-algos in the high-frequency trading world, algorithms that try to out-act their counterparts. But this one acts on behalf of users of a system rather than its owners. The analogy that comes to my mind is that of a river and a dam. A dam may be owned and operated by a power company, used to generate power. But the water and the river are public property, and the department of the interior monitors the water level, and the releases from the dam, constantly, keeping track of flows and temperatures for recreation and the health of aquatic life. In the case of monitoring the health of our information flow, though, we need to actively allow some force to pretend to be us for a few moments to stick its toe in the water.

  1. I’m not a conspiracy theorist when I imagine brands that spend $10x more than others have some sort of advantage in EdgeRank. This would make good business sense for Facebook, rewarding those that buy comprehensive display packages with a leg up on those that can only afford to create compelling content. []

SXSW Screenprinting

Contagious will be representing next week in Austin for SXSW Interactive1 and we decided to print up some T-shirts to give out to friends and allies.

We thought about just sending our logo and specs off to a printer, but what about making our own awesome shirts? And checking on colors and things? My awesome girlfriend gifted me time in a screenprinting workshop last year, so I already knew a thing or two about making your own shirts. So how about hire a studio and try to do it ourselves? Turns out that was much easier (and more fun) than we thought. We got in touch with Peter from Polluted Eyeball and arranged to visit him in his studio, in a loft building of artists’ studios, in Bushwick. We set up an evening session, so after work on Friday we could roll up and do some printing.

There’s a populist connoisseurship in T-shirts. Fine fit, fabric and a nice design can make a cheap item into a lifelong favorite. So we wanted to do these right. We stopped off on the way at Uniqlo to pick up around 70 of their Dry Pack Men’s T’s. I think they’re among the best going.

Once Peter had taken us through the process (and burned an extra screen for a white ink layer to sit below the fluorescent pink) we got to work, a three-person team, fitting the blank shirts on the platens2, then rotating them to the white and pink screens, through each ink phase, then under a heater, then off to be rolled and taped and sorted by size.

By the time we’d gotten our process right and picked up steam, we were out of blanks and had a whole load of handmade T-shirts to give away. Take a look at the photos below, and if you’re going to be in Austin, track down either me or Noelle for a shirt. Thanks again to Peter at Polluted Eyeball for all his expert guidance.

Here’s where the footnotes go.

  1. I’m on a panel called ‘Client Knows Best’ with some brainiacs from Droga5, McCann, Co:Collective and Verizon, it’s here, on Saturday at 5pm. Come if you’re around, it should be a fun chat. Noelle, meanwhile, will be raising heckfire in boots. []
  2. this was a new term for me, from Wikipedia: ‘In textile screen printing, a platen is a flat board onto which the operator slides the garment. It is generally made of either a plywood laminate or aluminum with a rubber laminate. Often the platen will be pretreated with a spray adhesive. This allows the garment to effectively become a rigid immobile substrate, especially important when printing multiple colors or utilizing an on-press infrared dryer. The screen is brought parallel and close to the garment (often within 1/32″) and the squeegee pressure then brings the screen into contact with the garment so that the ink transfer may occur. There are many special platen types, such as those for printing sleeves or pockets, vacuum platens, platens with clamps to hold bulky materials such as jackets, and even curved platens for printing on hats.’ []

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.

Banksy’s Exit Through The Gift Shop

I caught a screening of Exit Through The Gift Shop, Banksy’s feature-length film, last night, and, like most things related to the mysterious artist, it manages to zig around expectations and get to mind-twisting territory quickly.

There are probably a few spoilers in here, or not. Read at your peril.

Plot-wise, the movie mostly stars a Frenchman named Thierry Guetta. Thierry becomes obsessed with chronicling things via video, and fixates on street artists, adoring of the danger and spontaneity.

Thierry is clearly obsessed and mentally unbalanced, but in that endearing Man On Wire, French way. His marriage miraculously stays intact while he follows Shepherd Fairey across the globe, plowing through thousands of tapes–ostensibly, to the artists, for a documentary–which fill dozens and dozens of boxes in his house.

Theirry’s camera eventually, after much pursuit, intercepts Banksy, and several close scrapes bring the two together, as friends. Theirry gets comfortable in Banksy’s inner sanctum. Only in this short section do we get to see the artist working; otherwise he narrates in hood, face obscured, with robo voice. Scenes from his studio are really interesting; at one point he takes Theirry to his attic and shows him boxes of £10 bills, with Lady Di’s face printed on them, and explains how they printed £1,000,000 worth and have been passing them to vendors at festivals.1

At various points in the film, the question of whether Thierry is real or not came to mind. It seemed, thematically, that his obsession with videotaping everything melds perfectly with the themes of surveillance and voyeurism prevailing in Banksy’s work. But the dating of the footage appears to have been too elaborate to fake. Fairey looks younger, wearing baggy, of-the-era late ’90s clothes in footage purported to be from that era. Speaking with a few people more familiar than I, it’s true, he’s a real guy. Guetta’s character, though, is so surreal and outlandishly appropriate to the subject matter, that what happens next is completely conceptually seamless to the point where the rational mind rebels.

Banksy asks Theirry to show him his film, Life Remote Control, and, surprise, the final product of his insanity and obsession is intolerable. You can watch a few bits of it here.

So Banksy decides to make the movie about Thierry, and, in the meanwhiles, tells Thierry, who has been experimenting with stickers and wheatpasting, to do an art show–and Thierry dubs himself Mr. Brainwash.

Given this mandate by his hero, Thierry can’t help but make it massive: he puts his life in hock (supposedly) and hires a team to create art (a style-less mish-mash of Fairey, Banksy and Andy Warhol) and leverages endorsements from Fairey and Banksy to get the punters (Fairey calls them suckers, which is maybe more appropriate) out and buying.

And they do. His Life is Beautiful show sells a million dollars in product and runs for months (I wasn’t able to independently verify
this). Theirry is an art star, and has had a subsequent show here in New York in February.

And there we have it. But what do we have? Well, the great street art swindle. Like John Lydon said, ‘Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?’

The Sex Pistols did it first. The KLF wrote The Manual on how to do it. Now Banksy is doing it: creating a story to spur demand, lending authority to it in a rapidly popularizing subculture, satisfying the hunger and laughing while everyone eats it up.

It is almost a performance edition of the piece pictured above.

Thierry’s the ultimate idolator, a King Toy of the graf world, but in an endearing, ‘let me hold the ladder and learn to do it’ savant-ish sense rather than cynical or ill-meaning way.

In him, Banksy has a tool to make us aware of our desire to belong and understand, nudging him forward, enabling his rise, only to gloat over the result. The art fans, clad in Ed Hardy, lined the sidewalk to see Life is Beautiful and take home a piece. But once everyone catches on to the gag, what happens to the work? And Thierry’s (clearly unbalanced) ego? If Banksy was affiliated, does that mean it has value (in an artistic or financial sense)?

Banksy is certainly a fascinating character, and this film will raise more interesting discussion on the nature of art in our times. But as opposed to his pieces on the wall in Gaza, indicting a system of oppression and bringing power and hope and positive messages to the world, and the Disneyland incident (which is explained in harrowing detail in the film) it feels like there’s been a turn in Banksy’s work toward the cynical.

Here, in helping make Mr. Brainwash into something of a star, he’s turned to lampooning the general public, ordinary people whose minds have been opened to the sort of surprise and wonder great street art fosters.

The film is out April 16 in the States, and if you’re interested in the culture of street art and image-making in cultural affairs I’d recommend you seek it out.

Animal New York has a post revealing some Fairey admissions, and that throws up a few good rumors and explanations about Theirry owning property and having family connections that let him do legal graffiti. It’s worth a look.

  1. I think this is a crime, counterfeiting, and admitting to it on film, with the evidence, would be trouble, at least in law-abiding Britain. Which makes me think its not entirely true. []

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.

More efficient than efficient, or, how crowdsourcing agencies can prove themselves

More efficient than efficient, or, how crowdsourcing agencies can prove themselves
This week saw the auspicious launch of a new agency called Victors and Spoils, made up of two former Crispin Porter + Bogusky folks, Evan Fry and John Winsor (who specializes in cognitive science and is a nice guy) and Claudia Batten, a former VP at Microsoft-owned in-game advertising facilitator Massive.
Fry, in the Times piece, makes an impressive statement:
“Crowdsourcing is looked at as a trend du jour,” Mr. Fry said. “We want to be the first agency that gets it right.”
I want them to as well. But perhaps in a different way than they do.
Advertising execs have been in love with Clay Shirkey’s ur-crowdsourcing text “Here Comes Everybody” since it made its debut last year, but they haven’t been able to get it right.
There’s a reason why; marketers have focused on using executions from the crowd (eg Doritos’ tone-deaf Super Bowl spots) to replace things they’d usually pay specialists lots of money for, like logos and commercial scripts, instead of the simplified tasks crowdsourcing excels at, like being able to draw a rough sheep (as in Aaron Koblin’s Sheep Market) or retype a blurry word (as in Luis von Ahn’s CAPTCHA).
So, to succeed, Victors and Spoils has to find the middle ground.
And, by the power of the crowd vested in this tiny node in a remote corner of the internet, I have it for them. Here’s your assignment, guys.
Build a community around the DARPA network challenge and one of the “household-name brands” you allude to pitching for in the Times, win the challenge, and donate the $40,000 to charity in the name of the brand.
Hire a mathmetician to figure out the best way to allocate your immense human resources and flex them to comb the country for the eight balloons. Issue incentives to players, keep them honest, allow the whole thing to develop near-realtime with streaming content and all sorts of extra goodies.
It’ll be tough, because you’ll be competing against ultra-efficient networks, the likes of 4chan, which is unfortunately the closest thing we have now to an effective megalith of distributed energy. But what they boast in adolescent drive they don’t necessarily hold in technical expertise.
In as much as advertising has become a highly-efficient substrate for many of our emotional responses, so too will you have to be the surface underlying the network, giving it nutrients and making it robust.

balloon

This week saw the auspicious launch of a new agency called Victors and Spoils, founded by former Crispin Porter + Bogusky folks, Evan Fry and John Winsor as well as Claudia Batten, a former VP at Microsoft-owned in-game advertising facilitator Massive.

Fry, in the Times piece, makes an impressive statement:

“Crowdsourcing is looked at as a trend du jour,” Mr. Fry said. “We want to be the first agency that gets it right.”

I want them to as well. But perhaps in a different way than they do.

Advertising execs have been in love with Clay Shirky’s ur-crowdsourcing text “Here Comes Everybody” since it made its debut last year, but they haven’t been able to get it right.

There’s a reason why; marketers have focused on using executions from the crowd (eg Doritos’ tone-deaf Super Bowl spots) to replace things they’d usually pay specialists lots of money for, like logos and commercial scripts, instead of the easy tasks everyone can complete, like drawing a sheep (as in Aaron Koblin’s Sheep Market) or retyping a blurry word (as in Luis von Ahn’s CAPTCHA).

So, to succeed, Victors and Spoils has to find the middle ground.

And, by the power of the crowd vested in this tiny node in a remote corner of the internet, I have it for them. Here’s your assignment, guys.

Build a community around the DARPA network challenge and one of the “household-name brands” you allude to pitching for in the Times, win the challenge by finding the eight balloons first, and donate the $40,000 in prize money to charity in the name of the brand.

I’d hire a mathmetician to figure out the best way to allocate your immense brain wattage and flex it to comb the country for the eight balloons. Issue incentives to players, keep them honest, allow the whole thing to develop near-realtime with streaming content and all sorts of extra goodies.

It’ll be tough, because you’ll be competing against ultra-efficient networks, the likes of 4chan, which is unfortunately the closest thing we have now to an effective megalith of distributed energy that has the get-up-and-go to mobilize quickly. But what they boast in adolescent drive they don’t necessarily hold in technical expertise.

In as much as advertising has become a highly-efficient substrate for many of our emotional responses, so too will you have to be the surface underlying the network, giving it nutrients and making it robust.

Small is Beautiful: Early Days at Crispin Porter + Bogusky

look at those faces

Leafing through Advertising Age‘s Small Agency Awards issue last week I was struck by this simple ad from MDC, one of the Awards’ sponsors: a group shot of Crispin & Porter Advertising in 1992.

Now, you all (probably) know what happened to little old Crispin & Porter. And nostalgia is great. But the underlying message of this ad–that you can go from a 13-person creative department to employing over 200 creatives over several continents in 17 years–is a fundamental testament to the spirit of entrepreneurship, as Alex Bogusky wrote for us when the idea of the Small Agency Awards became urgent. (And yes, I know that’s not a massive jump, considering the ascent of agencies like Saatchi & Saatchi, but, whether you like its ads or not, CP+B has managed to maintain a strong culture, unlike mega-networks put together via merger & acquisition.)

It isn’t very often ads in our magazine jump out, so I thought I’d try to give this one a little more light, and maybe see if there was some “where are they now” info on the people in it. I managed to put names to a few faces, but if you’ve got more info, by all means, contact me, or leave a comment.

1. Chuck Porter, now CP+B co-Chairman
2. Alex Bogusky, now CP+B co-Chairman
3. Markham Cronin, founded Markham Unlimited
4. Sarah Gennett, now CP+B VP/Dr. of Production Services & married to Markham
5. Dave Swartz, now CP+B VP/Creative Director
6. Mrs. Ana Bogusky, still Mrs. Ana Bogusky

It’s pretty amazing this many years later almost 40% of the people in the creative department are still with the company. I’m also digging the “good enough sucks” sign on the back wall.

UPDATE: The missing links have been found. Thanks, caller!

In the far back, next to Dave Swartz, is copywriter Steve Horowitz.

To Sara Gennet’s left is copywriter Michael Bettendorf (see his business card?) with art director Diane Durban to the left of Mrs. Bogusky.

That trio to the right contains Gloria Schmall (production), copywriter Shawn Wood (with the baseball hat) and intern Emily Chase.

In the front to the left of Porter, Bogusky and Cronin is Aileen Lopez, from the studio.

HeSays-SheSays

UPDATE: Last night’s meeting went great. I schlepped on about becoming a better geek, Matt from McCann introduced some tools to make anyone into a rabid Twitter fiend and James from Saatchi poked the crabby bear that is the age-old debate on advertising’s merits as art and the ethics of creative borrowing. Good times. Hopefully the ladies enjoyed as much as we did.

Continue reading “HeSays-SheSays”

Whose Umbrella Matters?

I was a little surprised this morning to see one of my favorite blogs reference Do I Need an Umbrella, a site that, conveniently enough, answers the question Do I Need an Umbrella?

Turns out, Do I Need an Umbrella? (left) is a downmarket version of Umbrella Today?. Perhaps the most popular single-serving site out there. Umbrella Today? does the exact same thing (and more), was established earlier and has since become immensely popular. In the case of Umbrella Today? versus Do I Need an Umbrella? the former’s brevity of initial query and the quality it suggests shines through in all aspects, making the site, in every way possible, better than its more literal stepchild.

But, despite Do I Need an Umbrella? appearing to be a knock-off, it made me think. A few weeks ago, someone I know wrote something like “I didn’t like the weather report, so I just kept looking at other places until I found one that was suitable.”

So why not check and see if they agreed, and if not, which one was correct? I was after all, in the mood for something to tell me whether to bring an umbrella.

They didn’t agree. One told me I needed an umbrella, the other said I didn’t. So who do I trust?

I didn’t want to just toss it up between those two, so I hit my F12 and checked the old standby, the easiest weather report, the one I check nearly every day. My dashboard widget showed a thundercloud; the only icon for the day was rain. It’d have to be an umbrella day.

I hedged one more time–Weather Underground. My old standby said I could get away with not carrying an umbrella until 5pm, when the storms rolled in. (All these tests were done by inputting my zip code within a span of five minutes.)

Done, right? The binary yes/no nature of the Umbrella sites was conflicting, and Apple’s weather widget wasn’t detailed enough. With a better forecast I could make the decision.

But it’s interesting that the uniquely internet phenomenon by which we tend to select our news and choose only sources that are similar to our bias, say electing to receive only news that’s been run through a liberal filter, has extended to something that should be mildly scientific. I don’t want to carry an umbrella on a Saturday, so I’ll look around until I find evidence to support my position.

Meteorology is by no means an exact science, but we can now ask dozens whether it’s going to rain and get different answers. That sort of thing never happened down on the farm.

So, to that end, wrapping up this non-item item (really, blogging about the weather is about as prosaic and time-filling than talking about it) someone needs to develop an optimist’s Umbrella Today?, which will only ever answer with an emphatic “No” and indeed, additionally, let us know it’s going to be a beautiful day where we’ll get closer to our dreams then we ever imagined.

And we can curse the weatherman on the odd days it’s not correct, unless of course we want a spectacular summer storm and wind up getting one. I’ve been hoping for thunder and lightening from 5pm onwards today and Weather Underground has yet to deliver.

UPDATE: Never content to let an idea easily executed languish on the Internet unfulfilled, Noah Brier slapped up doineedanumbrellatoday.com, your one-stop shop for permanently sunny weather news. Another version of this whole affair came up recently when I was reading James Wood’s How Fiction Works. Speaking about the protagonist, Ricardo Reis, in Saramago’s The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, Wood writes “He reflects fondly on the story of the ninety-seven-year-old John D. Rockefeller, who has a speciall doctored version of The New York Tmes delivered every day, altered to contain only good news. ‘The world’s threats are universal, like the sun, but Ricard Reis takes shelter under his own shadow.'”

Dropping in to the 99% Conference

99% Conference Sneak Peek!, originally uploaded by jeffreyk.

I peeled myself out of the office briefly Thursday to stop over at Behance’s 99% Conference (“It’s not about ideas, it’s about making ideas happen”) at the Times Center.

I was only able to see a few speakers, but I picked a good time to drop by. First, Seth Godin talked about squashing your lizard brain, the fearful primitive part of consciousness that’s forever impeding progress and preventing us from actually finishing projects with thoughts of fear.

After that, it was Jake Nickell and Jeff Kalmikoff from Threadless, who talked about implementation of ideas at various stages in their business (the slide above is one of their credos). Another laffer was a picture of a desktop PC set up in front of a door, monitor stacked on CPU with a desk chair in front. That was apparently Nickell’s setup to prevent himself from leaving the house in the early days of the site.

I especially enjoyed Scott Belsky of Behance, who spoke just before lunch. Belsky touched on the different types of creative personalities, how we can pair people to max our their effectiveness by combining traits, how competition and conflict can spur things, etc. It was interesting, in part because it was similar to Hyper Island’s philosophies of group dynamics, which they illustrated last month at South by Southwest.

I ran into a chum of mine, Jocelyn Glei, who informed me she’s working with Belsky on a book-length exposition of his findings, which will certainly provide a grounds for greater comparison of the two groups.

Dominos, Orwell and Bloody Pizza Sauce

In just a few days we’ve seen a couple of dimwitted scumbags erode the brand’s credibility faster than you can say “Get the door, it’s Dominos.”

Unfortunately, George Orwell’s rule of thumb (“roughly speaking, the more one pays for food, the more sweat and spittle one is obliged to eat with it”) never applied to pizza franchises.

As the backlash against the two coworkers guileless enough to upload videos of their back-room chicanery continues (now, to the point of Dominos apologizing and the duo facing felony charges) I’m reminded of his classic Down and Out in Paris and London and one of its themes, that the working class and poor have a special code amongst themselves binding them to reverence and respect when they’re in a service role for those at or equal to their station.

Continue reading “Dominos, Orwell and Bloody Pizza Sauce”

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.

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.

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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.
Continue reading “On my new gig…”

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.

Argy Bargy: The Argentine Crisis, From a Creative Perspective

Beach Freeze

It’s rough out there. The seas are roiling. Companies are folding. You don’t need more than a limited grasp of economics to know we’re in for more turmoil.

For many, though, times of prosperity aren’t all that familiar. All over the world emerging economies have made do during tumultuous years as a result of mismanagement or forces beyond their control.

Around a decade ago Argentina was dealing with similar issues, yet the show went on. In the latest Creativity I tracked down six gentlemen of advertising who were around during those years and got their take on how the crash happened, and what they learned from it.

Perhaps the most obvious (yet striking) statement? “When you see the country in flames, people getting killed on the streets and the president resigning and fleeing the government house in a helicopter, well, you don’t exactly have to be a genius to say ‘Fuck, marketing budgets are going down to zero.’” Trenchant observations from Patricio Cavalli, who’s been blogging for Ad Age recently.

But it’s not all doom and gloom–there are lessons for playing it smart in tough times, most importantly, “the ones who panicked did bad work.”