Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Imagination (And Sound Effects) Make A Basic Search Story Sparkle

We've been writing of late about stories. As marketers are challenged to connect more presently and meaningfully with people, we think story telling is taking on ever greater importance. It's not just a familiar device from which we learn, it's one of potent and enduring human value.

Here's a delightful example from Google. The search behemoth is promoting what it's best known for - its utility as a search destination and tool. What might otherwise be dry has been given deft emotional delivery through a charming story. While the concept that plays out is a highly engaging one, there is something refreshing about the simplicity with which it is done (a deliberate expression of brand character we surmise). Creatively speaking, heavy visual emphasis on the search box might be considered a sizeable constraint. But using the search box as an engine to evolve the drama is shrewd indeed. Sound effects, too, are judiciously employed to give a real warmth and emotional valence.

A Time For Levi-Strauss

The famous anthropologist and a jeans brand share the same name. While we were saddened at the news of the french intellectual's passing, we're commenting today upon the latter. The jeans brand has itself not been in the best of health in recent years. Grant McKracken points to this in his recent book Chief Culture Officer, by lamenting the billions of dollar in market opportunity the company missed out on by failing to understand the changes fashion in happening around it.

On the streets of San Francisco are examples of spirited Levi's advertising that fits the times. Jeans are a well-worn medium for self expression so it's no surprise that the brand is promoting a belief which it hopes will be shared by the followers it seeks. An added strength in the work (below) is that the themes echo the sentiment of the zeitgeist. Being a time of austerity and uncertainty has forced many people to question old priorities and focus on qualities that are basic yet enduring. We think it's a good move.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Telling Stories to Others (Let's Not Overlook The Ones We Tell Ourselves).

Here's a shining example of what we think about stories:

We typically see a story as something 'made up', an abstraction from the truth either completely fictitious or embellished with imagination which then removes it from the reality of the events on which it's based.

We also commonly think of stories as something we tell other people. Arguably the most important and potent stories are those we tell ourselves. Each of us has created stories about who we are. Quite literally, we had no choice: it was needed as a way of giving order to the psyche and structure to our identity. Overtime, these stories have been crafted into a coherent narrative about ourselves and our place in the world.

The intriguing part in it all is that many people are not aware that this process goes on, existing as it does usually in the subconscious. (Stephen Johnson's excellent book Mind Wide Open illuminates many ways these silent operators influence our actions.)

But if you have ever talked to a woman who colors her hair, especially one that has become and stayed a 'bottle blond', she will tell you quite calmly that this is who she is. That it fits how she sees herself and not just in the mirror; it is how she feels on the inside.

Such women do not have amnesia. They are well aware of the duplicity at their own hand and they are reminded of it at no time greater than with a showing of roots - evidence of an act of past intervention and a pressing reminder for the need to repeat it. But it does not matter and it does not violate the integrity of the idea.

Stories to ourselves are a secret pact. We know we're fibbing and there's nothing wrong with that because - after all - it is the truth in the midst of the fabrication. Psychopaths aside, we can rarely lie to ourselves and get away with it . Deep down we remember, even when we forget.

Luxury Marketing: Austere Times Call for Disarming Strategies

Even if the harsh realities of this year's economy have not touched us personally, we have not been unaffected by them.

As has been widely reported, the luxury market has taken a hammering. This year has seen a widespread climate of disapproval emerge in our culture. Mere ownership and display of luxury goods has become synonymous with an almost ostentatious flaunting, seen as reflecting a callous insensitivity to the hard times befalling so many others. There has been widespread rush to judgment, in much the same way that greets a Hummer on the roads albeit for different reasons; its existence has become an embodiment for a disregard for environmental concern..and almost a shameless pride in it.

One smart strategy is not to deny the criticism but to tackle it head-on. It is, after all, a hurdle that prevents people being comfortable buying, however much they might want (and secretly covet) the prize and long to own it.

Hats off to Porsche for adopting this approach. Anticipating criticism is captured elegantly in the headline with a tone that far from seeming defensive sounds pragmatic, evoking a feeling of being confidently prepared. An accomplishment in itself.

The key to success?
Leverage the equity that give luxury makers rooted in substance (rather than overly dependent on style) a powerful neutralizing effect: Performance.

Performance is that wonderful quality whose existence is inherently self-justifying. It represents tangible proof for what one has paid more. It is born of advanced engineering and design - noble characteristics indeed - which enables assertions to or inferences about privilege to be assiduously avoided. Porsche has even suggested that the efficiency dimension of performance represents greater environment responsibility, the idea of 'doing more with less'.

Arming the audience with ammunition in the form of knowledge serves to disarm the critics. This is the final part of this erudition -- recognition of what is so overlooked by marketers in cultivating people's relationships through brands: storytelling.

Give people things that help them to tell their stories. If we can tell a story we have a claim to having a reason. An assertion to belonging. Storytelling is a basic human need, one that helps us feel connected to others and perhaps more importantly, to ourselves:

"A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo sapiens--second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter. Millions survive without love or home, almost none in silence; the opposite of silence leads quickly to narrative, and the sound of story is the dominant sound of our lives"

Reynolds Price

Monday, October 26, 2009

Consumer Consciousness: The Third Element Redefining the Value Equation

In our last post, we outlined PERSONAL and PLANET as two recent dimensions of the value equation emerging in light of the new climate of consumer consciousness.

There's a third that most readers will have seen almost at every turn: PEOPLE.

In the era of higher standards, of greater scrutiny about what is being bought and its effects, people also want an opportunity to participate and contribute towards a greater social good. As a result, they are also expecting more of the companies they buy from, for them to do their part to improve the world we live in.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been around for decades, but it's typically been more of a PR driven initiative to generate goodwill in order to shape perceptions than a deep-rooted embrace. Tom's Shoes is a great example of a commitment on a different scale. It donates a pair of new shoes to a needy child for every pair sold. The social good is inextricably part of its business model.

An example of a more traditional approach is Tide Detergent. The "Loads of Hope" campaign is P&G's latest CSR attempt to link 'doing laundry' with 'doing good'. (Don't get us wrong, something is better than nothing: but not only is the link conceptually a weak one - in our culture 'hope' is not something we think of in terms of 'loads' - but the scale and sustainability of the impact is modest).

Overall, this strategy is an ever popular one with marketers. The basic approach is to link consumption directly with a virtuous outcome.

Starbucks says that by buying its coffee YOU are the force behind change on a massive scale...

Volvic touts its 'Drink 1 Give 10' benefit if you buy its water (click on this recent airport commercial).

The intent of course: shape brand choice in a way that requires no additional effort by the consumer. "Keep doing what you're already doing". The act of buying is an act of giving.

Not a bad strategy (few things are inherently flawed except teapots made of chocolate). Though as Brandchannel points out: Cause Marketing Grows: but is the backlash ahead?

Consumer Consciousness: Two Forces Redefining the Value Equation.

The bubble of indifference has burst.

Until recently, it used to be very different. Consumers cared about functional performance and price...and cared about very little else. Like how products were really made. The ingredients they really contained. What they really did to the body. So the reasoning went, if it was available, it had to be safe. Governments regulate, after all.

Nothing like crisis to wake people up. And shaken up they have been. Toxicity in toy paint, lethal ingredients in pet food, health threats in the food chain (fruits and vegetables), ever rising cases of cancer, and obesity on a mass scale among not just adults but children. This is the PERSONAL dimension that evolved the value equation of what people buy. No longer is buying convenience foods so easily divorced from the health consequences of doing to. Marketers are responding with convenient foods that force less of that trade-off. It is a good development.

The consumer value equation is also being redefined by another key dimension: PLANET. The environmental crisis has precipitated a shift: people en masse are making a direct personal link between what they consumed and the impact they were having on the planet.

The result: a time of greater scrutiny but if anything higher standards. People care more about what's in products and how they're made. They have to know, it's almost not a choice. The cost of indifference - personally and for the planet - is too high. Companies are responding by making better products.

A new kind of involvement and a new strategy has emerged among consumers: asking question and demanding answers. The smart companies are recognizing this is a new age of transparency. Avoidance is an option but not a good one. Being part of the conversation is a way companies can shape the dialogue about them, thought the days of control are over. Trust has been broken and companies now have to earn it back.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Adjacent Opposites of the Gastronomic Scale

Opposite ends of a spectrum by their nature don't usually meet. You'll find a curious exception on Market street at Montgomery in San Francisco. On the left, Japanese Sweets makes dessert delicacies and beside it hotdog vendor, Zog's Dogs.

No doubt these two attract different clientele. An intriguing contrast nonetheless.

Platform Thinking: History Beats Jarvis' Edict by 170 years.

In What Would Google Do? Jeff Jarvis makes many great observations about the new rules of business success that have emerged in the last 10 years.

One example is platform thinking, in which products and services deliver the utility they were designed to, but which users go on to embrace and use for purposed well beyond the original intent.

Jarvis gives the example of Craig's List and Google Earth which have been adopted in new ways never originally envisioned. And with the dramatic popularity of apps for its handheld device, Apple's iPhone is perhaps the ultimate testament to platform thinking by delivering utility that have nothing to do with the phone at all.

We were delighted to find a historical predecessor to this digital idea by some 170 years.

An emigrant ship Niantic was moored and then marooned at a site now deep in the heart of San Francisco's financial district. It was covered in a shingle roof and housed offices and stores on the upper deck, while the hull became divided warehouses. A wonderful historic example of people taking an idea, making it their own and giving life to new uses, ones delivering valuable utility that was never anticipated by the original builders. Like their digital counterparts today, we're sure they were equally pleased.

[Click on image to enlarge]

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Lax grammar sends the opposite message

In LA this week, returning a rental car to the airport I passed a white truck. Its sides were emblazoned with the company's name, which was intended to describe the business it is in:

Nothing may seem wrong but something is seriously awry.

The company is in the business of transporting perishable items, one presumes for the restaurant or hotel trade, and perhaps even hospitals. Careless grammar, however, suggests that fragility and decay are what befall the logistics themselves that the company manages. Not likely to inspire much confidence in the service, needless to say.

The fix is simple: Perishables Logistics.

One imagines that the company has no idea it is sending the opposite message to the one it intends, all because it misses the letter 's'.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Reaching Back to the Past in a Time of Flux

Storytelling has very much been on our minds. In a recent talk to some students at SF State University we'd proposed it is the essence of account planning. Of course, its roots are altogether more human, for storytelling is a crucial cultural mechanism, vibrantly alive today in the digital age of Facebook updates and tweets, of Flickr and blogs.

This latest social media initiative by Virgin on Facebook strikes an appropriate chord with the times, not just because of its invitation to be part of a global village (Marshal McLuhan anyone?) but through its promotion of Elders.

Elders are a timely idea for two reasons:

First, it affirms the idea that there is value to the opinions of generations that precede us. The elderly have become significantly marginalized in US society, not so much due to intent but nonetheless through a shift over time. Retirement communities have removed them from the mainstream and deny us an opportunity to learn from the richness of their experience.

The second reason we think the idea of Elders is timely is because the term harkens back to an earlier time of storytelling, in which their knowledge was shared at the gathering around a communal fire. For sure, it was a time when life expectancy was half what it is today! But like the campfire itself, there is a simplicity, an enduring warmth about the intimacy of physical (rather than distributed) connectedness.

We believe this yearning is in direct response to what confronts so many people today: the contradictions and ambiguity, the uncertainty of extremes, the fragmentation and convergence and of the deeply unsettling flux, one in which the old rules have already given way and nothing has yet has emerged to replace them. We'd say that yearning for 'old ways' for a former time is not isolated. Like the emergence of artisanal character in the world of consumer goods in recent years, it is a response to it. A way of coping with it. Until sureness should return underfoot, there shall be more of it to come.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Drinking Beer Helps Make Decisions

Surprising but true. It was a delightfully counter-intuitive discovery, one that parallels what we found under the cap of a bottle of Session beer recently.

There are many choices to be made while drinking is going on, whether at a club, bar or home. Rock paper scissors is an old parlor game that Session beer brings to the moment, and it helped decisions to be made as the evening wore on.

For us, it took quite a few bottles before we amassed the complete set (we think this was not an accident), yet once armed with our prize it became a recurring theme woven into the fabric of the evening as it unfolded, and part of the stories that were shared long after.

"Great brands are no longer the ones that are the best storytellers but the ones that the best stories are being told about"
so says David Verklin CEO of Carat America. We agree. Though we have a hard time imagining he was talking about this specific brand at the time, his sentiment is highly applicable to it.

More than pure entertainment, the brand delivered utility, albeit it in an unexpected way. A clever twist to a familiar theme, one perfectly suited to the character of a good time out.

Crowdsourcing finally snags the Netflix $1,000,000 prize.

It was inevitable. The competition that Netflix launched to improve its movie recommendation algorithm by 10% is finally over.

While the challenge took a while to crack the end was apparently tantalizingly close, with different cohorts posting their breakthroughs within minutes of each other.

Crowdsourcing is not new, but this recent application suggests an interesting lesson. While separate teams made strong progress in isolation, they reached a point beyond which they could not advance the algorithm further towards the goal. It took a final step of amalgamating the efforts of different groups and merging their algorithms together. One can only imagine the messy mathematical mash-up that entailed, but it resulted in the crucial incremental efficiency which enabled the 10% barrier to be breached.

It affirms how much more progress we can make through collaboration when conquering tough challenges. Several heads are better than one (as long as they’re the right heads!).

Full Wired magazine article here...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Car That Steers Itself. Science Fiction Becomes Fact.

The prediction that cars will someday drive themselves is nothing new. The tantalizing possibility has appeared in a number of science fiction films including The Minority Report in recent years.

That someday has arrived. The new Lexus HS 250 touts Lane Keep Assist technology. This feature reads the lines on the road, detects the car's position in the lane and helps to keep the HS from drifting out of the lane, even by steering itself back when necessary.

One must wonder how far off the day is when ours hands will be able to be taken fully off the wheel and the coordinates we've plugged into the console will take care of the driving for us. The rollout will be gradual and thoroughly tested for sure. But what might have been unthinkable in the world of commercial air-travel has already come to pass. Planes routinely take-off and land through automation, with the Pilot's involvement reduced to back-up in case of system failure. Our skies are much safer as a result. It takes no leap of the imagination to foresee how much safer our roads would be without human error.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Anatomy of a great night out

This study explored the night-time social life of young 20 somethings. Its goal was to understand what space there was for mobile devices to deliver greater utility.

The biggest discovery was how much unpredictability and spontaneity were the main experiential elements that defined a great night in the eyes of this cohort. The video gives their account of its value. An abridged report appears here

Monday, August 31, 2009

As folks who shape behavior, we love these stories about the power of data

For folks in the communications industry, the challenge is often how to deepen people's involvement in a brand. Conventional thinking says give them a new way to think about an aspect of their lives - informed by some kind of insight - and it will achieve the effect.

Here are two timely reminders that 'doing' trumps 'thinking'. That action can be a more potent agent of deepening a bond than words or rhetoric, however well crafted and informed they may be.

It comes down to data. Not the sexiest of sounding inspirations, but the results have been nothing short of transformative in the lives of people who run. Thanks to affordable, portable technology, they've had a wealth of feedback that has shaped their workout behavior and increased their involvement. The results have been not just greater utility - which firmly enhances an appreciation of value - but also entertainment.

Turning exercise into data chronicles this story, from devices like the Nike Plus and Garmin Forerunner.

The Big Draw of a GPS Run is about getting creative with the route. People are using a city as a canvas to draw pictures using their run with the help of GPS technology.

Perhaps planners and engagement strategist would be better served identifying ways that data can be tapped to deepen involvement in other categories, rather than perpetuate the over-reliance on one-way monologue-based communications.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Texting: an update on its effects

We raised the effects of truncated communication in our April 29th post The language of though: how will it evolve?

Here's some encouraging and some not so good news.

Let's start with the good. Findings from a study of Tweens 10-12 years old in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology (Vol. 27, Number 1) seem to suggest that texting aids literacy rather than damaging it. The results indicated that the increased exposure to print, in any form, led to greater literacy with those using most text'isms being more literate.

Now the not so good news.

The rise in texting might be causing a shift in the way adolescents develop. According to Sherry Turkle at the Initiative on Technology and Self at MIT "Among the jobs of adolescence are to separate from your parents, and to find the peace and quiet to become the person you decide you want to be. Texting hits directly at both those jobs.”

American teenagers sent and received an average of 2,272 text messages per month in Q4 2008, according to the Nielsen Company — almost 80 messages a day, more than double the average of a year earlier.

Michael Hausauer, a psychotherapist in Oakland, Calif., said teenagers had a “terrific interest in knowing what’s going on in the lives of their peers, coupled with a terrific anxiety about being out of the loop.” For that reason, he said, the rapid rise in texting has potential for great benefit and great harm. Read the full NYT here: Texting may be taking its Toll

Although the developments are too recent to have conclusive data on health effects, we'll certainly be watching this space with interest.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Success takes work for geniuses, why not us?

The appetite for 'Getting Rich Quick' is nothing new in American society. Whether reflected through Ponzi-type schemes or the popularity of lotteries, it a dynamic that exists alongside a puritanical momentum in the cultural fabric of this country.

Open Fridge Door
thinks a 'short-cut' mentality has two companions, the 'Get-Success Quick' and Get-Expertise-Quick' trends. (These tendencies are far more prevalent than just among the Generation Y cohort, whose sense of entitled advance in the work-place has been well documented through syndicated research and won't be expounded upon here). People are inclined to inflate their career capabilities and accomplishments because doing so make them appear more desirable candidates and thus more competitive in their hunt for a job. (We'd speculate that such a tendency has evolutionary roots.) The tendency to self aggrandize about career capabilities goes beyond the current unemployed looking for work in this harsh economic climate. Evidence suggests we are in another climate, one in which people have embraced belief in a lower threshold for how success is earned and what it takes to achieve. It has created higher expectations about the value of one's experience and accomplishments.

Can we learn anything by looking at the highest achievers of all in society? From the geniuses in our midst?

It's tempting to think that genius is genetically determined (or god-given), an innate ability that simply exists and emerges of its own accord requiring little effort. Two recent books that study the ways of geniuses share a startling discovery. We might do well to take a page from their books and take it to heart.

In its review of these two books, the New York Times reports:

"The latest research suggests a more prosaic, democratic, even puritanical view of the world. The key factor separating geniuses from the merely accomplished is not a divine spark. It’s not I.Q., a generally bad predictor of success, even in realms like chess. Instead, it’s deliberate practice. Top performers spend more hours (many more hours) rigorously practicing their craft."

The full article is available here.

It is a refreshing perspective indeed: Short-cuts are illusory. If even geniuses have to work hard and diligently for their prodigious feats, what makes us think we can do any less in pursuit of our own?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The language of thought: how will it evolve?

Truncated communication is a feature of everyday life. We imagine linguistic experts would say that while this tendency has been with us for a while, it's rapid growth is due to a diffusion of technologies and cultural adoption of their expressive possibilities. Texting and emoticons have been augmented more recently by the trend for microblogging, through Twitter and Facebook.

Though linguists, psychologists and anthropologists might disagree on the degree of emphasis, we imagine that they'd concur that one of the richest ways to understand how a culture thinks is through its language.

The relationship between language and thought raises an interesting question about the uptick trend in communications truncation: what impact does it have upon thinking and coherence of thought? Does one beget the other?

As seems characteristic of the digital medium (across the variety of channels people use to communicate) there is a seductiveness in the speed with which people can contribute. Our research suggests that the efficiency and ease with which one expresses one's self or dispatches a reply invokes a confidence in the content itself. (Feel free to contact us to learn more about our findings.)

An opinion however is not synonymous with an idea nor does it confer rigor, though there seems to be a widespread assumptiveness (or at the very least a misconception) that it does.

There is an alarming casualness with which people claim expertise today, a disturbing comfort with which they adopt a tonality that suggests authority, when in reality they are far from having that earned stature. One only has to surf the net on a relatively modest number of sites to witness this in action.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What do Boomers and Gen Y have in common?

First, Boomers
Boomers have redefined retirement, the latest in a lineage of reinvention they’ve left in their wake. They refuse to go quietly into the night. Unprecedented numbers of this group are giving up the porch swing (or couch) to be actively involved in volunteering. Many report it is a new – albeit unpaid – career.

Now, Generation Y
This cohort has an insatiable appetite for communication. They suffocate without access to IM, e-mail, cell-phones. It is their oxygen, crucial not just for staying ‘with it’ but for managing their social capital and maintaining their place in the social hierarchy. They are prolific bloggers (particularly girls) endlessly taking part in quizzes and promoting the results.

Finally, the tie that binds
Both Boomers and Gen Y share a quest for significance.

Boomers are older and more secure with themselves, having achieved moderate financial success in their lives, but there is still a longing. Theirs is a desire not just to ‘do good’, but to be remembered for something meaningful.

Gen Y craves popularity but the ability to express character is limited when everyone has access to the same brands. Influence has become the new medium, if not currency. By proselytizing opinions their personal brand can achieve significance across a variety of channels: through how many friends will listen to them in the schoolyard or on-line, how many friends they have on Myspace, how many followers they have on Twitter. Of course it’s ‘significance’ with a very short shelf life (especially with this ADD affected group). And that’s the difference in a core theme that these two groups share.

Unconscious activity is 'thinking'.

When it comes to dissecting the brain, the subconscious can hardly be considered new territory. Freud gave it significant attention almost 100 years ago after all.

There has however been a stack of current coverage which has raised the visibility of this subject, notable contributions being Gladwell's Blink and Robert Walker's Buying In.

Neuroscience has recently shed light on previously unknown processes and activities. Mind Wide Open ably provides an accessible introduction to this emerging field.

All three sources reach the same conclusion. Much of what we believe is ‘free-will’ is apparently far from it. Brain activity below the surface of our awareness accounts from much of what we do, and has an inertia that carries through to our conscious realm.

It’s a theme affirmed in this week’s The Economist. In describing the use of brain imaging upon people given tasks to solve, it reports that EEG traces preceded conscious awareness by a participant of an ‘aha’-type moment by some eight (8) seconds. More curious still, while not all participants solved the task, the character of how brains ‘lit up’ was predictive of which people solved the challenge and which did not.

While the idea of a subconscious is not new - nor is the idea that its processing takes place beyond our ability to access or influence it - such activity is not thought of as, well, thinking. The findings from the study by Dr. Bhattacharya and Dr. Sheth are exciting precisely because they suggest that it is.

So while the magazine's reference to it as 'unconscious thought' might at first appear counter-intuitive, it is highly apt.

The full article appears here Here

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Crowdsourcing Caveats: NASA Learns The Hard Way

Colbert's chutzpah created colossal cosmonaut calamity.

In the spirit of modern brand engagement, NASA decided to invite people to vote for the name of a new room in its space station. Crowdsourcing is in vogue because soliciting participation encourages involvement and belonging (hence enhanced attachment). It's also part of a wider democratization, a trend fueled by the internet and social media in which people participate in brands rather than them being formally planned and imposed by anointed architects.

It comes with risks however, as NASA discovered. Its failure to stipulate that choices were only among those listed gave Colbert the latitude to encourage his devoted followers to write-in HIS name, which thousands duly did.

In an additional failure to understand the cultural climate in which it exists, NASA has announced that it reserves the right not to adopt the winning name and select an alternative. Asking people for their opinion and then not listening to it is a sure-fire way to evoke a backlash. Better not to be involved than actively ignored. One hopes that NASA will come to their senses and that next time it will frame participation in a way that avoids unanticipated - and in this instance unwelcome - contributions.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Straight Line That's A Curve? Hyperbolic But True.

It sounds either impossible or something which only lives in the realm of the fantastical, such as that distant and murky realm of Quantum Mechanics in which matter can purportedly exist in two places at the same time.

OFD has found that however impossible problems appear to be or daunting challenges might seem, progress and solutions can often come in a surprisingly simple way: from seeing things from a different perspective.

We sought this ourselves recently, and did what we compel our clients to do on occasion: step away from the problem - and the office - and go seek some inspiration where it matters. For the nature of our problem, we went to The Exploratorium, a brilliant laboratory of ideas which encourages interactivity and literal hands-on learning.

How can something straight fit into a curve?

It was one of the provocative riddles we encountered on an entertaining and thoroughly inspiring field trip.

The answer was simple, with a new perspective. A line rotated in the right plane makes a hyperbolic curve. The hands-on exhibit allowed the viewer to manipulate a steel rod literally through a curve in a piece of plexiglass. The visual evidence was irrefutable yet mind-bending nonetheless.

When is an idea not an idea?

The image is instantly recognizable for its place in the recent election campaign. Its existence is a testament to the success the democratic party achieved in conscripting influencers to support its cause, such as the artist Shepard Fairey.

Now, it's not without controversy. According to a recent piece in The Guardian, the AP is taking legal action, claiming that the artist stole its image and used it without permission.

Of course, this is not the first time that allegations of copyright infringement have surfaced, nor also in high-profile circumstances. But it raises an interesting question:

When is an idea not an idea? Put an other way, how much change is needed to an original for it to become a different idea?

We think Fairey's cause will be helped by the fact the style that defines the piece has fueled a populist movement, one in which people convert images of themselves into this distinctive graphic form. (Obamiconme). These have been appearing all over the internet, including being used as personal icons in social media venues such as facebook.

That suggests an idea of its own merit to the legal lay people here at Open Fridge Door.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Giving Digital Music that Warm Vinyl Feel in the Age of The Internet - Part II

We posted a curious find on October 15th last year, one that stirred some unexpected nostalgia.

We've brought it back because it seems that original link to the video has been shut-down. Someone at You Tube determined there was a copyright issue. This is strange indeed for if anything the video provided exposure for an artist (for free). The evidently rough sound of the album recorded through a poor quality video camera wouldn't discourage people from buying the music. The quality really is quite bad. (For decades, The Grateful Dead allowed bootlegs precisely because they helped fuel interest in album sales.)

But You Tube demonstrate short-sightedness in another regard. Instead of trying to 'silence' people sharing music, why not incorporate a seamless way for that music to be bought and downloaded? Why not convert awareness and interest immediately into purchase? Why not have functionality built into the site or linked to iTunes? A great missed opportunity indeed.

As a tribute to the age of vinyl here's another example, created by someone inspired to copy the originator of this nostalgia inducing experience.

There's something oddly fascinating about seeing an album turn on a record player while the song plays. Millions of teenagers spent hours doing exactly this, camped out on a bedroom floor scrutinizing the liner notes while the record spun mesmerizingly. How times have changed.

But in addition to the warmer sound that is attributed to vinyl, it was also a time in which where the music was stored and how it was being retrieved was there in full view, something that with cds, iPods and dvd is hidden as a matter of course.

The Opportunity for Brands in a Time of Adversity

The adversity felt right now is a collective squeeze, a nation tightening its proverbial belt in a reaction (if not anticipation) of a greater need for frugality. Many companies are experiencing softening sales.

We at OFD think that for certain brands, a time of adversity is an opportunity. It's a chance for brands to strengthen relationships with existing customers, but perhaps the biggest upside comes in inspiring a connection and bond among people currently outside the brand fold. Doing so the right way can stabilize sales and reverse a downward trend, instead of a purely tactic response of price discounting, which can erode the brand's perceived value not to mention profits.

The cultural context

This is a zeitgeist moment. On a mass scale people are struggling financially and psychologically with extended uncertainty; the road through the turmoil is unclear and people have braced themselves for a tough journey ahead.

The brand connection opportunity

Brands can inspire a bond by going beyond mere empathy for how the current climate is affecting people and instead take actions that show genuine understanding and commitment to help.

The idea: Fuel For Everyday Life
Be a champion of the people in their pursuit of moving forward by being the fuel that energizes people and feeds their need to keep going....for getting through their day/week.

The action
Something as simple as a message about the importance of fueling one's day in conjunction with distributing samples at unemployment lines, malls where busy mom shop or to commuters as they file in to work in the morning, could help to give contemporary relevance to products in a context broader than the typical ones these brands are associated with.

The point
Just as adversity builds character, so a brand's character can be built when inspiring a valued connection during a time of adversity.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Using a Little Visual Wit to Help an Idea Stick

We're bombarded daily with communications imploring us to recycle, to think of the consequences of our actions. These messages have been long overdue, but many of them are being tuned out simply because they are becoming too commonplace.

It is a challenge many companies and their brands face. In the 'noise' or 'clutter' of advertising and promotional appeals, being noticed at all is harder than ever. It was Mae West who famously intoned "It is better to be look-over than over-looked" when asked if she minded being gawped at. Many brands should be so lucky.

So this charming piece of communication stood out effortlessly in a sea of sameness. Here, visual design and a little wit have been imaginatively employed to get the message across without getting in the way. And that's the trick. Not 'design' for its own sake (all too common too is seems these days) but one which inspires the reader to linger and - importantly - take something away that will be remembered.

The Other Thing That Tourists Leave Behind

Tourists to San Francisco arrive in great number, a reverse diaspora of different cultures converging upon our own. The currency they bring remains after they are gone but there's something else similarly valuable which they leave behind if we're lucky enough to notice - a fresh perspective on the city we live in, one whose familiarity often makes us blind to some of its fine features, character and vitality.

The opportunity is quite literally everywhere around us and comes from that ubiquitous, indispensable accessory of well-equipped travelers. In their act of lifting up cameras - or often these days it seems, phones - to a scene or landmark they want to capture for a memory, so too our own perspectives are raised, and we have the fleeting chance to glimpse our environs in a new way, through the eyes of an outsider.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The beautiful fantasy of revisionist history

Of course, it was never really like this.

And of course it absolutely doesn't matter. Because our senses our delighted at the imagined world back in 1984 when Virgin Atlantic started flying translatlantically.

It's a faithful (if not tongue in-cheek) capture of London life, full of subtle observations about technology (look at the brick-sized cell phone) the economy (miners' strike) entertainment culture (Asteroids arcade games, rubik's cube, a Big Country album) and how utterly colorless flying was back then (and still is in many regards).

There are definitely hints of Addicted to Love in the stunning collection of Flight Attendants, though here wearing the corporate red rather than the black of the Robert Palmer video.

Thank you to Virgin (and RCKR/Y&R) for this delightful piece of fantasy that does it's job in style.