October 11, 2007
TALKING IN CAPITAL LETTERS
I keep seeing those Oxi Clean ads with the bearded guy WHO SEEMS TO TALK IN ALL CAPS. It’s an interesting branding decision for parent company Church and Dwight; they’re deliberately avoiding what most companies in the home-tidiness category are doing right now.
Method are using their “so clean you can have sex on the floor” web campaign for their Omopi kit, probably as they don’t have the budget for national TV right now, and it seems to narrowcast well to their core audience. Procter and Gamble seem to do well by using a combination of knowing kitsch (the 80s-themed Swiffer campaigns) and old-fashioned soft sell.
Oxi Clean, from the same parent company as Arm & Hammer, seems to be aimed at guys who are too macho to use Shout. (I mean it’s called SHOUT, for heaven’s sake.)
There’s a bearded guy - who vaguely resembles the sidekick from Home Improvement - touting the nuclear-style cleaning power of OXI CLEAN by talking in a voice that suggests his caps key is BROKEN, even if he’s not yelling PER SE.
I’m not sure who he’s supposed to appeal to, but I sure do pay attention when he’s on.
Posted by aj_kandy at 11:12 PM
March 15, 2007
Brand Ethics Debate: March 23rd at HEC
The École des Hautes Etudes Commerciales (HEC) at Université de Montréal is hosting the latest edition of their Marketing Consortium, (warning: Flash site with music) a one-day event of speakers, panels, and debates about everything relating to marketing and branding.
The event’s being sponsored by L’Oréal Canada and other participants include the CROP polling firm, Gaz Métro, Deloitte, American Express, and others.
Yours truly has been invited to participate in a debate about brand ethics, along with Caroline Roux, a Ph.D candidate from McGill who also teaches as part of the U of M’s chair in business ethics; Nathalie Chalifour of the Jolicoeur Lacasse law firm, Yanik Deschenes of Wal-Mart (!), Jean-Jacques Streliski of Publicis, and Patrick Beaudoin of Cossette.
Our event comes towards the end of the day, from 2:15 to 3:30pm, but the rest of the schedule looks packed with some excellent panels and speakers.
If you want to attend, it’s $15 for students and $50 for academic staff and professionals. There’s lunch included and a networking wine-and-cheese afterwards.
There’s limited places for the morning sessions, and advance registration via the website ends on Friday the 16th. You can pay via credit card or PayPal right on the site. Hope to see some YULBloggers there!
Posted by aj_kandy at 2:50 AM
February 9, 2007
"New" Concordia Logo - part III
Not to flog a deceased equine, but compare the new Concordia logo to this.
I recently also discovered the site of the other agency that was bidding on the contract, PostImage. Check out their logo designs under Print / Campaigns. “Concordia 2” is frankly stunning, I’m really surprised it didn’t win.
From my friends at the University who have to implement the new….thing… on all manner of print and Web projects, they still don’t have a full set of logos adjusted for different uses (such as small or large sizes, different backgrounds, etc.), they have to fight with a central office to even get access to proper vector graphics files.
My sources also tell me, for all the money spent on this rebranding, there isn’t even a full brand identity guidebook with usage rules yet. Furthermore, to add insult to injury, they have to submit all their work to that same central office to make sure it passes muster. That’s really going to speed things up, I’m sure.
The more I look at the new logo, the more it seems like it’s gonna be really hard to center, as well…
Oh yes, answering the trivia question in my logo design: the heart shape is composed of the letters V and M, for the old name of the City of Montreal, “Ville-Marie” or “Villa Maria” in Latin - you can find that interlocking V-M design on many of the city’s oldest buildings and religious institutions.
January 7, 2007
Culture Jams, and Jellies
My fellow YULBlogger Marie-Chantale Turgeon, who I have great admiration and respect for, recently posted something in favour of vandalizing subway ads with little “You don’t need this” stickers, a kind of adbusting move.
I disagreed in comments with both the ethical stance and the economic logic behind this campaign (and hey, the use of paper is a bit unecological isn’t it?)
I find such anti-advertising moves puzzling because while they might raise consciousness, they rarely offer any antidote to the alleged social malaise of “overconsumption to fill social/spiritual emptiness.” Following the logic that advertising is bad, then capitalism is bad, thus any exchange of money for services or goods is bad, so then what? Do we all stay home and raise turnips? I don’t think that’s a viable policy option…
Andrew Potter posted something about Sao Paulo’s complete ban on public advertising over at his Macleans blog; he notes that yes, advertising can be annoying, but it’s also interesting, often delightful and enjoyable, and a necessary part of capitalism - and it also serves the needs of arts and alternative subculture groups, whose flyers were also swept up in the ban.
Regulating advertising seems to be much more effective than banning it entirely. Since the Drapeau era, Montreal is relatively ad-free and even our commercial signage is tamer compared to the 1950s neon jungle we used to have. (It seems to have all moved to the Internet, actually).
If advertising bears a social cost of annoyance, then let it be taxed or as Potter and Joseph Heath suggest, remove its deductability as an expense for businesses; and individual communities can decide to place limits on when, where and how big it can get.
But that sort of lengthy, negotiated, collective agreement isn’t as sexy as stickering ads — it doesn’t make you feel like an outlaw rebel, does it? ;)
January 5, 2007
Bad Brand Stewardship: The Mouse and KSFO
ABC/Disney are tarnishing their own brand by lending their legal muscle to rabidly right-wing San Francisco talk affiliate KSFO. In doing so, they’ve also enraged the blogosphere with their shut-down of a critical blog that was hosting clips of their shows under Fair Use educational purposes.
More after the jump. Comments are now closed for this entry.
ABC/Disney operates a US-wide network of radio stations and affiliates. One of these affiliates, San Francisco’s KSFO, is a die-hard right-wing talk shop whose rabidly eliminationist hosts have publicly endorsed (if not outright revelled in) torture and engaged in hate speech of all stripes. However, the station is sold to its advertisers as a “Disney” station, with all the connotations of family-friendliness that entails.
Self-described “fifth-tier blogger” Spocko decided to “out” KSFO to its national advertisers with a polite letter-writing campaign, and by exposing their hate speech on his blog with short audio clips and transcripts (which falls under the Fair Use statutes.)
Faced with the fact that their national brands were being tarnished, many advertisers including Visa and MasterCard pulled their spots. Hit thus in the pocketbook, KSFO’s response was to use their Disney legal muscle to get Spocko’s blog taken offline under transparently false claims of copyright infringement. (Now hosted at Online BlogIntegrity for your horrified amusement.)
The branding blowback from this story: KSFO paints itself as a Disney station to advertisers, but as an ABC affiliate to listeners, in hopes that ABC News credibility would rub off on them. Instead, if anything’s “rubbed off,” it’s in the other direction – a sticky blob of hate speech in the Mouse’s fur.
June 14, 2006
The CBS Eye is upon us
Media conglomerate Viacom has a large part of Montreal’s bus-shelter and outdoor advertising market. Walking home today, I noticed that all the little Viacom stickers on the bus shelters had been replaced by the CBS logo. Well, I guess I must have missed the news that the old Viacom media empire was split into two companies at the end of 2005 - CBS Corporation and Viacom Inc.
Stranger things have happened. Heck, during part of the 60s and 70s, CBS used to own Fender Guitars (a period where the quality of said guitars dipped precipitously — I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’).
I know it sounds odd, but it’s sort of disturbing to see this logo all over Montreal. Viacom was just another multinational; its logo tended to blend into the background. CBS is a very specific, very American network with headquarters on 54th Street in New York City.
I feel like somehow, someone has stolen the unicycle that Canadian sovereignty rides on, or something. Does anyone else find it a bit weird?
Posted by aj_kandy at 9:07 PM
June 12, 2006
Best Buy invaded by clones
What happens when a Best Buy gets 50 customers who all “accidentally” show up dressed like Best Buy employees?
Street-theatre improv troupe Improv Everywhere has the answer to that.
I think it’s a brilliant stunt, as it showed just how quickly an organization can be exposed as unimaginative, short-sighted and humourless.
By contrast, a bunch of non-employees showing up at the Apple Store and being helpful to other shoppers is considered normal and welcome.
No matter what your business is, if you can’t take a joke, if you won’t welcome the improv-ers, clowns, pranksters, Daily Show interviewers and Michael Moores of the world in for a chat, you’re missing an opportunity to put a positive, human face on your company. Oh yeah, and don’t send a PR flack with prepared talking points. You go out and talk to them, listen, discuss and have a laugh…
In the movie The Corporation, we’re treated to a scene of Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, then-chairman of Royal Dutch Shell, receiving human rights protestors on the lawn of his house with warmth, empathy, compassion, and tea. He listened to them thoughtfully, consented to be filmed, and agreed to look into their concerns. He didn’t overreact, call the police, or do what most corporations would have done had this taken place at their offices. He put a human face on Shell - brilliantly. Shell may have a long way to go in such matters, but by stepping out from behind the walled compound, even for a few minutes, they showed imagination, farsightedness, and even a sense of fun.
so…is your business actually talking to its customers? Or are you putting up elaborate defenses to avoid doing so?
May 2, 2006
"I'm a Mac..." "...and I'm a PC."
Apple’s new TV ad campaign is out, and it’s brilliant. And funny. Go see.
April 28, 2006
Rebel sell, rebel style at Sun Microsystems
With Scott McNealy handing the reins of Sun over to Jonathan Schwartz, gossip abounds in regards to Schwartz’ hippie-nerd-engineer ponytail. Would he “give in to the Man” and cut it off, or remain a True Rebel™ and keep it?
I’m sure Schwartz has his own reasons for his tonsorial choices, but the commenters on that article who think a ponytail is “rebellious” or “anti-corporate” need to have their heads examined.
I mean, it’s rebellious the same way a leather jacket and a motorcycle is, which is not at all. It’s just another individual choice available to citizens of our lovely liberal free-market world. But of course the marketing of such things as “rebellion” still sells Harleys to over-the-hill dentists in Tucson.
On a similar note, Earth Shoes (they’re still around?) are rebel-selling their latest campaign: “Different, Like You!”: of course, written in a sort of extreme-skateboardery jagged font with a Photoshop glow effect added.
Yep, I buy negative-heel, spine and posture-supporting shoes to express my dissent with mainstream culture and show how extreme I am to others…don’t you?
April 15, 2006
The Social Economics of Indie Rock III: The Search For Schlock
Ok, no long treatise this time, but now that I've had some time to digest it a bit, what is up with Broken Social Scene's Kevin Drew's disdainful comments about the Canadian Idol kids at the 2006 Junos?
I think everyone with two bits of sense realizes that the global franchise that is Pop Idol is not going to generate the next Radiohead - or even turn up the next J.D. Fortune.*
The Pop Idol kids are vocal athletes, champion melismatists, who are made to sing goopy prepackaged Diane Warren-esque pop songs and ballads for their shot at the top. They're not allowed to play their own songs, sing in their own style, or play an instrument (much less rap, while we're at it).
And they know it. This is what they sign up for - a disposable, one-hit-wonder, moment in the sun.** It's not a million miles away, conceptually, from the Eurovision song contest.
And whoever watches the show, spends money to vote via 1-900 number, or buys the CDs knows it, too.
Broken Social Scene's audience probably doesn't overlap the Canadian Idol demographic. No one is forced to watch the show, listen to the songs or buy the Pop Idol CDs, either. So it's not like someone is stealing sales from indie labels; I don't think there's any conspiracy by major labels to keep indies down, not that I'm aware of, anyway, and after all, the music business is not a zero-sum game. Music lovers will buy whatever they want.
At its root Drew's comment isn't really aimed at the major labels, but at the Canadian audience that gives Idol its cultural currency. In truth, he's accusing them of having bad taste. It's the old rebel sell all over again.
And given the current ascendance, both critical and commercial, of the Canadian indie scene, it seems a bit disingenuous for Drew to cry "corporate oppression" when his band's records*** are mandatory listening for cultural cognoscenti.
If they're not making enough money, maybe cutting the band back to a 4-piece and writing some songs that girls can dance to is in order?
* Who, I must admit, slots pretty perfectly into INXS, but notwithstanding that fact, INXS still have a looong way to go to regaining the hit machine potential they had in the 80s and 90s.
**If some Idol alumni manage to take that attention and refocus it onto a more artistically credible project, more power to them, although it seems very few do. For every Kylie and Alanis who manages to reinvent herself, there will be several Tiffanies who don't. And that's just the biz: No one is entitled to a long and successful career just for showing up, although I have a longstanding suspicion that's how the Canadian arts award scene really works. ;)
*** For the record, I like the new BSS album better than You Forgot It In People - but I spent my music dollars on Kaiser Chiefs' Employment this year.
March 5, 2006
The Social Economics of Indie Rock (Part Deux)
I know I'm going to get in trouble with the rock cognoscenti for saying this, but so be it: The appeal of Broken Social Scene's You Forgot It In People was completely lost on me.
I bought it in 2003 at Sam The Record Man in Toronto. I popped it into the car CD player to give it a spin during the long drive back to Montreal – my wife being the driver.
After skipping through at least six songs that seemed like extended experimental intros, her reaction was "turnitoffturnitoff turn it OFF!" She was actually afraid she'd fall asleep and drive us into the ditch.
So my marketing antennae were shooting straight up. This sort of disconnect doesn't happen very often.
Why were we expecting memorable, punchy singles with hooks, harmonies and choruses, when in fact YFIIP is a longish collection of mostly post-rock, experimental-ambient songs? Or to put it more succinctly, why was I expecting a New Pornographers album, to bring up another "indie supergroup?"
Was it the rock critics who put it into every best-of-2003 top 10 list - all of which used the word "pop," including an influential Pitchfork.com review that called it "endlessly replayable, perfect pop?" Quite certainly.
But by 2005, even those who'd heaped plaudits on the albums admitted they'd been a little hasty. Stylus Magazine, which had given the album an A-minus on its release, recently recanted with this column entitled On Second Thought:
This is it? This is the great revolution? This is what topped the critics’ charts, inspired a million rapturous articles and blog posts and personal testimonies? [...] I realize that one cannot actually hold Broken Social Scene accountable for the comments of others, but anyone who referred to this as some sort of pop masterpiece has hopefully listened to the radio in the interim. You Forgot It In People is yet more proof that the band-as-committee will probably never work [...] It also, tellingly, doesn’t avoid being what it is, which is the very indiest of indie. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with indie music, and if that’s all you listen to then yes, this or the Arcade Fire probably sounds as catchy as all get out – but to the average person out there who doesn’t (for example) read Stylus, this still sounds like every other hotly tipped mess that most people don’t like, not because we privileged few have “better” “taste” or something equally smug, but just because most people are bored by this sort of music.
(Emphasis mine.) In part 1, I mentioned the "social economy" underpinning indie rock, one that trades in cool as its currency - that is, cool as a positional good as described by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter in The Rebel Sell. So when scenes become overheated, hype becomes hyperbole, and signing frenzies abate, is this "death of a party" something akin to a market correction?
OK, computer, let's back up a bit. I want to draw a distinction between indie the genre and independent music, the business model.
Indie the genre is best described by what it isn't: mainstream, commercial, manufactured, "corporate" (whatever that means), and - most tellingly - popular. There is a wide streak of experimentalism in it, but also a rather wilful contrariness and obscurantism, as seen in movements like the C86 scene, shoegazing, lo-fi, twee pop, and so on. Its members eschew the trappings of fame, cultivating their own sort of ascetic, thrift-store anti-glamour* (mostly composed of bad haircuts and horizontally-striped shirts, apparently).
Terms like "indie supergroup," bandied about with abandon by lazy music writers, are on their face oxymoronic. After all, aren't supergroups made of musicians from widely acclaimed, popular and successful bands who've had hits?
I don't think anyone can argue that, maybe Metric aside, any band in the Broken Social Scene extended family have had anything like a "hit" as defined as a mainstream, top 40 record. Maybe they might have had "hits" as defined by the narrow terms of subgenre charts, but really - even cumulatively, have they broken 10,000 record sales worldwide?
Looking at many of the component bands, many of them are none-more-indie, that is to say very obscure and experimental, and correspondingly are known only to very small circles of chin-stroking scenesters in the Greater Toronto Area.
So maybe this is an interesting play on words; they're less an indie supergroup than a group that are super at being indie. Or maybe this is an example of the Canadian trend towards "collective solutions" at work - succeeding together where individually they couldn't. But I digress.
In the current issue of Spin, senior writer and genuine hit author Chuck Klosterman writes about the other currency at work in indie/alternative music today -- being first to hear something:
There are many people -- in fact, you may be one of them -- who devote much of their daily energy toward hearing about things first, even if those specific things don't particularly matter. This has been exacerbated by technology; the degree to which a rock song is new has become nearly as important as how interesting it sounds, even though there's no inherent advantage to hearing a song today as opposed to five weeks from now (when it will still sound exactly the same.)
I know a lot of people like this; I suspect you do too. For some, their personal/professional reputation hinges on knowing about bands first, about being the first to play them at a club, on radio or on their podcast, and the first to interview them, or the first to sign them.
I fear that in this great rush for firstness - staking a federal land claim to a seam of coolness-as-positional-good - the real gold is quickly mined out, and the rest of the rock ore is a lot of stuff that frankly is not very good. It's sold to us as the best thing since sliced bread, on the basis of its freshness, newness, controversial content, provocative politics, or postmodernist posing -- anything except the quality of the music.
Have we have reached the era where the interesting bio and the good press release trump notions of songwriting ability (verses? choruses? things people can hum in the shower?), musicianship, stagecraft, and charisma**? In the rush to be "not mainstream," have all these things become anathema to the contemporary indie scene? If so, does this sort of self-marginalization really strike a blow against anything, if we believe in those sorts of romantic notions?
To return to the idea that this is indeed a form of economics, what an overhyped indie scene resembles is an overheated stock market, a "paper boom" that attracts a lot of attention and investment, only to have its value collapse when the companies either fail to produce long-term growth, or deliver short-term profits. In a sense, paralleling the current trend for corporations to focus on quarterly earnings instead of thinking in generational timeframes, the modern indie (and to some extent, alternative pop in general) scene isn't really concerned about long-term artist development, not the way they used to, anyway.
What stops a runaway market? At the retail level, it's sensible financial advisers who can slow the buy/sell rollercoaster, and at the production end, the cost of money can be tweaked through adjustments of the prime lending rate. The financial press also have a role to play in managing demand, with various experts, prognosticators and pundits offering advice to the punters on where to invest their pounds.
In indie music, there are fewer controls of this nature. It's art, after all, and it's become politically incorrect to criticize someone else's work - unless they are "mainstream" and therefore ripe for a "takedown." There's no Alan Greenspan that everyone listens to to determine what the next great trend is, no Warren Buffett to tip which bands are "long-term keepers." There are no wise heads appointed to their 'boards of directors' to oversee their development.
There are critics everwhere - witness Metafilter - but to what extent do these outlets fuel or dampen the fire? As we've seen above, the tendency to promote something you like, or "go with the flow" and review something on its genre-tasticness, playing to the choir, or peripheral rather than musical merits, often outweighs the willingness to point out its flaws. More cowbell? More Cowell, I'd say.
The consolidation and agglomeration of major record labels into five global companies has worsened this trend, in my opinion. Over the last few years we've seen labels like A&M - originally founded by recording artists themselves - vanish, or be turned into hollow brands by their parent conglomerates. The legendary producers and A&R people - again, often former performing artists themselves - are all dead or retired, their legacy but a memory today. What remains is an industry run by fast-moving-consumer-goods people, who see the indie scene as a kind of style laboratory, from which to pluck the next new sound, but with very little insight about how to create enduring art, or how to develop mature, long-term recording artists.
I thought it was just more Boomer nostalgia-wank when the Gazette published a piece on "who is the new Dylan?" but the question is a valid one. Since the 1990s, really, can we point to anyone and say they've been truly culturally influential - touching film, music, television, figures of speech even?
Is the indie scene complicit in this? From the Rebel Sell point of view, yes. When indie takes the pose of being anti-mainstream it's done with a knowing wink and a nod. We're all anti-mainstream until we have a hit record, right? And as noted in Part One, the other option is to pursue the line towards complete unlistenability - or further, to not participate in music at all.
But in encouraging the kill-yr-idols aesthetic, have we left music cut off from its roots, its history, and frankly, its sense of humor?
On that note, I have at least a few conversation-starters and suggestions for today's indie groups.
- If your band has someone named Ben in it, have him change his name to .
- Shave the beards (that goes for you too, Peaches)
- Stop dressing like children or gas station attendants. You're all nearly 40!
- This is a verse. This is a chorus. This is a middle 8. These are good things.
- Essay topic: The Yamaha Motif is a much better synth than the Minimoog.
- The Darkness are much more exciting to watch than Yo La Tengo. Discuss.
* Note that Pulp and Suede took thrift-store clothes and made them look really good; let's say when Bryan Ferry is your fashion idol and not J. Mascis, things happen.
** Exception that proves the rule: Har Mar Superstar. If radio still ruled, he'd be the new Prince.
January 10, 2006
They're running out of good car names
The US is sometimes described as an "empire" these days, and it's often noted that there's an increasing class divide in that country. Two prototype cars unveiled at the 2006 Detroit Auto Show don't help dispel that notion.
Buick (warning: Flash) unveiled a concept SUV called the Enclave; the usual PR flacks stated the name was all about safety. This, on the heels of reports stating that SUVs are actually less safe for children to ride in, due to their propensity to roll over. Or maybe they were trying to go for an air of exclusivity - in which case, may I suggest the Buick Gated Community?
The last time I heard 'enclave' in any common currency, it was discussing pockets of Serbian or Croat villages during the Yugoslavia conflict...bad choice, Buick.
Chrysler unveiled its new hautebourgemobile, the Imperial. It's a nicely retro-futuristic design that blends a bit of Rolls Royce into the current Mercedes/Maybach-lite look. That said, with the country involved in a costly, bloody war over
oil, er, WMD, er, securing democracy in the Middle East, is that really the best name for something that's probably not gonna be a gas-sipper?
November 10, 2005
The Social Economics of Indie Rock (Part 1)
I've talked many people's ears off about Andrew Potter and Joseph Heath's The Rebel Sell, aka Nation of Rebels outside Canada.
The book was issued as a paperback this past summer, after a long run in hardcover and translation into nearly every language on Earth. It's a riposte and reality check for those who blame brands and advertising alone for the excesses of sociopathic corporations operating in an overly free market. Most notably, they take to task No Logo author Naomi Klein and Adbusters honcho Kalle Lasn for missing a bigger point: that so-called counterculture is actually the driving force behind consumer culture, not the antidote to it.
Where I find the book particularly interesting is in its analysis of "cool" as a kind of positional good, a term they use to explain a status item that only a few people can possess at any one time. For example, a house in a desirable neighborhood is a positional good, because the amount and availability of them is limited, compared to a cool commodity like a new iPod.
When it comes to indie bands (and the people who love them) there's a lot of jockeying to occupy the "cool" position. And in its own way, there is a cashless economy of meaning - a social economy - that drives the scene forward, pulling the mainstream along in its wake.
The book contains a telling indie-music anecdote. Fellow Toronto author (and occasional dueling-reviews opponent) Hal Niedzviecki laments the corporate predictability of manufactured Top 40 music, so he sets out to find authentic music that can't be co-opted. He goes to see a hotly touted underground band called Braino.
At the beginning, he's keen to watch the reaction of the 'chattering poseurs' in the bar, as their bourgeois complacency is earnestly épatéed by Braino's 'self-conscious, ironic mélange of avant-jazz, rock, punk, soundtrack, and barbershop.' But as the evening wears on, even Niedzviecki admits they make "a big, awkward, painful noise," that is "annoying music. You want to walk out."
The authors remark that if Hal's wish was granted, and alternative took over the charts, then that would become the new top 40 and hipsters would hate that too, on principle. And truly un-co-optable music is pretty direly unlistenable - pointing out Lou Reed's 1975 Metal Machine Music.
So what's going on here, from an economic standpoint?
An individual has a natural desire for greater status within his group - to differentiate himself, attract mates, etc - and the market responds to that desire, providing products like cars with bigger tailfins, new colours of lipstick, and alternative/indie rock that promises true Rebellion.
The fact that the consumer "rebels" against consumer society by purchasing a different, perhaps rarer product, strikes not even a glancing blow against capitalism or consumerism. In fact, it utterly reinforces the logic of markets - that they provide a very efficient means of fulfilling individual desires.
The social economy of indie rock behaves surprisingly like any market for luxury goods - hot bands are akin to couture fashions or boutique winemakers. Everyone wants to be seen with it, wear it, have it, because it denotes membership in an exclusive club. When it becomes too popular, well - we declare it "so, like, yesterday" and continue our quest for authenticity.
Indie rock's hidden forces have real economic impact, too. For instance: As the band gained worldwide attention with its second album, copies of Belle and Sebastian's scarce first pressing of Tigermilk were fetching upwards of £400 in specialist record shops. Surely, the ownership of these precious slivers of vinyl conferred a heightened sense of status, of belonging to a rarefied clique, of being a purer, nobler, better fan of the band than, well, you.
Thus for the dedicated follower of fashion(© forever, Ray Davies) it's crucially important to be seen liking bands that no-one else knows about, even if you can't hum their tunes or dance to them without jeopardizing one's cruciate ligaments.
And of course, none of this is new. Punk sneeringly displaced the formerly-cool schoolboy profundities of Genesis and Pink Floyd – just as they in turn had dislodged their Sixties pop predecessors, as grimly as a Sith apprentice dispatching his master.
These changes in musical taste seem as regular as the new spring Miu Miu collection, and given the long hangover we have with paranoid 50s Mass Society theory - that an unseen cabal of corporations and media make us buy products against our will, and requires total conformity to do so - we sometimes think our pop culture is cunningly planned for us as well.
Pete Meaden's excellent photobook Mods! describes a clique of Ace Faces at the best 1960s London discotheques, who always had the latest suits, the latest dance styles, the latest records, before anyone else did; he suspected them of having some sort of Mod supreme council below the Scene club that decided such things. "Of course, there wasn't," he recollected in 1979.
What really propels changes in taste and style are consumers themselves, who consume competitively in order to maintain or enhance their own personal status within their peer group. Some of these things are commodities whose status you can 'buy your way into,' like the newest model iPod or Motorola Razr phone. Some of these are luxury statements - to purchase a bigger SUV than the other VP, or conversely, the smallest Smart car for the city. Or even to declare that you are purchasing no car at all, because you don't need one. Why? Because you own a positional good - something others cannot have while you occupy it - like a house in Mile-End, or a genuine factory loft in the King/Spadina area.
Marketers don't create these status desires; they pick up on them and reflect them back at us. A Mile-End house is genuinely desirable because it'll be on narrow, leafy streets of genuine 1900s red-brick duplexes and row houses, in a walkable neighborhood close to shops, restaurants, work, schools and services - while maintaining the edgy cachet of real local, non-chain businesses and - bonus! - a real live immigrant/ethnic community(tm)!
Now, you can't just make "more" Mile-End, like ordering up a few thousand more Sony PSPs. There are a limited number of places to live within its confines; rents are high, and prices are higher.
So in a market where demand exceeds supply, alternatives arise. One up-and-coming neighborhood after another will be designated "the new Plateau" by real-estate mongers; first it's Verdun, then it's the "Canal District," aka a sexed-up St-Henri and Little Burgundy.
So it is with indie rock. How many bands are touted as "the new (insert name of successful band here?)"
Next: The Great 2002 Broken Social Scene Indie-Economic Bubble.
We've already seen Williamsburg hipster band backlash, and an emo backlash seems brewing on the horizon – or at least on LiveJournal.
Posted by aj_kandy at 1:30 AM
March 24, 2005
So yesterday I'm using Google to find an old post of mine (yes, ego-surfing) and what should come up but this Astroturf marketing site for Wellbutrin.
Essentially, this site snarfed up the text of an old post of mine from last year simply because it contained the word "Wellbutrin," and placed it as an entry in a faux depression-support forum called "depressionforums.com."
The domain registry resolved to Patient Experiences, LLC, located at 827 Central Avenue, Suite 117, Dover, NH 03820 USA.
That company had no website, but the street address revealed that Patient Experiences is a front company for 1st Approach, a "street team" marketing firm that specializes in product placement in television, film, at celebrity events, etc.
They have a whole division devoted to creating Astroturf -- i.e. fake grassroots -- "buzz" campaigns on the Internet, which apparently includes "link traps" like the site above, so that you see "real people" talking about the product wherever you go.
What I really deplore about this episode is that it sets back the efforts of ethical marketers -- who want to use mailing lists, the Web, forums and blogs to generate real conversation in the marketplace.
We're all dragged down and tarnished by people who hijack these tools for a quick buck.
I include the pharmaceutical companies (GlaxoSmithKline, I'm lookin' at you) that do business with such people, too -- they stand to lose more in credibility than they will gain in sales by pursuing such tactics.
EDITED: while I ponder my legal options under the DMCA and international copyright law. Anyone know anyone at the EFF who deals in cases like these?
January 14, 2005
The Sweet Spot
The Nixlog has a splendid infographic charting Apple's slow but steady move towards the big, fat middle of the mass market -- the sweet spot and the tipping point.
Posted by aj_kandy at 9:03 AM
January 10, 2005
Macworld + The Value of Rumors as PR
Macworld Expo kicks off tomorrow in San Francisco, and Steve Jobs will be giving one of his semi-annual "One more thing..." keynote addresses.
This keynote is more shrouded in mystery than usual, as Apple has taken the unusual step of suing rumor site Think Secret and not simulcasting the keynote via satellite feed or QuickTime, opting instead for a 9 hour delay.
I have a suspicion they're announcing something either really good, or really disappointing -- either way, something that would cause a major fluctuation in their stock. In that case, quashing rumors may be more to comply with SEC insider-trading rules, than out of meanness to rumor-lovers.
Apple knows that ongoing interest is almost entirely handled by Mac news and rumor sites. What company wouldn't kill to have dozens of rumor sites and blogs talking about it 24/7, passionately, for free?
Posted by aj_kandy at 12:12 PM
January 4, 2005
The Branding Of Polaroid: Paul Giambarba
In the late 1950s, Polaroid was the technical leader in consumer photography with the Edwin Land instant camera system. But the company was still getting hammered at point-of-sale by Kodak's ubiquitous, highly visible yellow boxes. Their dull, conservative, silver-and-red packaging simply had to go.
Polaroid in-house designer Paul Giambarba was part of the team that developed an American classic -- Polaroid's "rainbow" brand identity. One little old lady in Upstate New York liked the new design so much, she bought it, sent back the product and kept the box.
Giambarba discusses the evolution of Polaroid's brand identity from its 1960s high through to the late 70s failure of Polavision instant movie film -- true tales from the advertising Creative Revolution instigated by the Doyle Dane Bernbach agency. The story starts here on his spiffy TypePad blog.
He's also got a lot of other articles about art and design, well worth reading.
December 8, 2004
The People's Republic of StarbucKEA
I've got a book review and interview with Andrew Potter, one of the co-authors of The Rebel Sell coming to this space shortly, but apropos of the subject, I'd like to point out this great piece Adam Greenfield wrote on the disproportionate amount of energy spent by our young Adbusting types on "uncooling" consumer brands such as IKEA and Starbucks, vs corporate giants that aren't in the consumer space:
The dynamic at work in both cases is one many of us might recognize from bad relationships: when a deeply wounded person suffering from low self-esteem finally fights back against the various agents of their distress, very often it's the closest, most sympathetic soft target they lash out at first, in defiance of all logic (or justice).
Not the absent father, but the present lover. It feels like the same neurosis at work with young activists of the No Logo stripe: never ADM, General Dynamics, Monsanto, but Nike and Ikea and Starbucks. And never mind that each of these latter firms is, to a greater or lesser degree, founded on what used to be known as progressive principles, or is to a greater or lesser degree responsive to the demands of a politically and socially conscious audience.
There are a lot of arguments that Starbucks edge out "local" coffee shops. I don't buy them. There are places (like Open Da Night or Navarino's bakery, for instance) that go out of their way to be friendly and serve good food, and they are very popular neighborhood institutions. Starbucks can't even be said to compete with places like this, because (aside from coffee) they're selling two completely different experiences.
Greenfield makes the astute point that before Starbucks "swept down from its Pacific Northwest redoubt to cluster-bomb us with franchises," the coffee experience in America was, by and large, pretty insipid. In fact, today's elevated consumer knowledge about coffee in general - fair-trade, shade-grown, organic, Blue Mountain, etc. etc. can be traced back to the arrival of Starbucks on the franchise landscape. Partly also due to the controversy surrounding them. But it can't be argued - we're all drinking better coffee today.
If any "local" places died off because a Starbucks opened down the street, they probably would have gone out of business if any stronger competitor with better coffee and a better experience opened up next door. I've walked into "local" arts-sceney-indie coffee shops in Montreal and been completely ignored; I've gotten alternatingly great and terrible service in locally-owned Starbucks-a-like chains -- and when it's been bad, it's exactly as described in Greenfield's entertaining little rant.
Being local's got nothing to do with the core mission of good coffee and excellent service. The one deplorable thing about chains like Starbucks is that, despite local jobs for local people etc, a large chunk of change heads Seattle-ward.
But we're getting our quiet revenge: we're giving America Couche-Tards on every corner.
"You got your Slöche in my grande latte!"
"You got your grande latte in my Slöche!"
(via Patrick Tanguay.)
Posted by aj_kandy at 2:29 PM
November 30, 2003
An excellent article by Tobias that critiques Adbusters' adoption of an authoritarian viewpoint, a frightening mirror of the same tactics used by mainstream media and the capitalists they despise. With some surprising insights about postmodern philosophers (specifically, Derrida) and how the Vancouver-based expensive leftist mag fails to even do basic background research in their treatment of them.
For a while, when they started, they seemed fresh and necessary, particularly in the wake of No Logo and Michael Moore's works. I credit them for bringing media literacy and criticism into high schools. But where once they disarmed the messages of the High and Mighty with deconstruction and wit, now they seem to have embraced the tiresome, humourless, haranguing politics of the first-year university student (or possibly, the Cultural Revolutionary).
Collective action and personal engagement are necessary. But at another level, continually focusing outwards, shouting slogans, reducing arguments to black and white "you are with us or against us" issues results in burnout, cynicism, and intellectual bankruptcy. Balance requires not that we retreat from the world, but to engage the internal: one's own ethics, self-improvement, self-actualization, listening, learning. Taking the long view, trading unfocused passion for reason (not reasonableness, necessarily...)
What can one do in one's own life to bring about positive social change? A million people choosing to become vegetarians for their own personal, "selfish" reasons arguably has a greater effect than a million people marching for vegetarian rights...The not-so-invisible hand of the market at work.
[Portions edited 12/02 for clarity and, well, frickin' wordiness.]
Posted by aj_kandy at 1:54 PM