Sunday, June 20, 2010

father's day

It may be a Hallmark creation, but it's also an opportunity and reminder to say thanks to a man who did so much for your thankless, earlier self. So, thanks to my dad who, when he wasn't building computers the size of a house, took time to teach us fun things like Morse Code and imbue countless skills that have proved mighty useful later in life. Here he is talking man-to-man with my brother (now a father of four) who is nattily attired for church in his Eton suit. Whatever happened to shoe stirrups that keep kids' pant legs from riding up? Oh, those sixties. What a dapper decade to be a dad in.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

bloomsday, ipad and modern suppressors of vice

Say "Bloomsday" now and people will likely think you're talking gardens, but for years June 16 was celebrated by English speakers worldwide to commemorate the life of Irish writer James Joyce, author of Ulysses, a novel in which all events take place on this day in 1904. (Poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes chose the date to be married.) In Dublin, where the novel is set, the day is still celebrated with Ulysses readings and dramatizations, pub crawls and general merriment. But here in the US, Bloomsday is being celebrated for a different reason: It's the day Apple reversed its decision to censor "Ulysses Seen", a graphic novel adaptation of the masterwork for the ipad, which included a nude illustration. "We made a mistake," an Apple spokesperson said, apparently unaware that the book had encountered similar resistence when first published without pictures. In 1921, due to a campaign by New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, the book was declared obscene and banned by U.S Postal Authorities. In December 1933, the Supreme Court ruled that the work was not pornographic and therefore could not be obscene. Perhaps Supreme Court judges should be involved in new media adaptation. Or maybe it's a job for unemployable MFA Fiction grads.

Friday, June 11, 2010

this is the band kids are crazy about?

If you've got kids under 12, you probably know about this, but I was perplexed by a sign in our neighborhood that seemed to indicate a shortage of ubiquitous office supplies. My sister, the mom of two kidlets, informed me of the latest tween craze: braceleting your wrists with as many colored rubber bands as possible, Nefertiti style. There's a "designer" band called SillyBandz but I guess kids in our neighborhood settle for off-brand. I mean band. Benign as fad sounds, it's been banned from some schools. Lucky for recession-hit parents the craze is so economical.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

is Goodby responsible for killing Chevy?

Slow news day when story about a company wanting to change its branding hits the front page of New York Times. Or is it clever placement for a whip-smart campaign using free earned media, as Rohit Bhargava suggests it could be?

According to an internal memo leaked to the Times, Chevrolet wants you to stop calling it "Chevy." The memo was from GM to employees at Detroit headquarters: "We ask that whether you're talking to a dealer...or speaking with friends and family, that you communicate our brand as Chevrolet." "Swear jars" have been placed in hallways, and employees who let "Chevy" slip are expected to contribute a quarter. But, wait. Isn't Chevy one of the world's best-known product monikers, and longest lived? And isn't the trend away from proper brand names, to be more consumer-friendly and casual a la FedEx, KFC and The Shack? A GM spokesman who confirmed the memo linked the change to the recent switch from long-time ad agency Campbell-Ewald to Goodby, Silverstein (after a brief stopover at Publicis USA.) Could it be that smart cookies at Goodby "leaked" memo themselves, landing astonishingly good media coverage and generating heated convos about a brand that's been in the doldrums for years? They don't give out those Clio Lifetime Achievements for nothing.

UPDATE: Steve Hall of AdRants reports that GM has released a clarification that states the brand will not, in fact, urge people to discontinue the use of the word Chevy: We deeply appreciate the emotional connections that millions of people have for Chevrolet and its products. Pretty much plays out the way Bhargava predicted.

UPDATED UPDATE: The august Gray Lady devoted a Sunday (best-placement) editorial to Chevrolet vs. Chevy, ending with "foreigners will learn to love 'Chevy' the way Americans have ever since the company was founded in 1911." This is from a New York Times reporter? Or GM annual report?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

hey, baby, now you can blow catcallers away

Last time I did jury duty it was for a street harassment case which I couldn't believe had come to trial. A young woman going to work at 7 am was walking up from the subway and as she passed a man coming down stairs, he leered at her, complimented her breasts, then reached out and grabbed them. It was summer. She was wearing a lowcut, summery dress. And fashionably high heels which didn't stop her from running after him, and screaming for a cop to do the same. Her moxie impressed me. If it had been me on those stairs, I would probably have collected myself and simply continued on the way to work, blaming the incident on my choice of attire. But the young woman in court asserted herself and as a result, the groper was jailed, which meant he wouldn't be harrassing women on subways for a while, or in public restrooms either, where it turns out he liked to lurk in closed stalls, a habit he cheerfully told us about when his lawyer made the mistake of putting him on the stand.

Another victim of street harassment reacted by creating a video game. Suyin Looui got the idea for "Hey Baby" after a guy on the subway came on to her, invoking a racial epithet. (What is it about undergrounds that breeds misbehavior?) "Hey Baby" is a new web game that takes aim at catcallers by arming players with weapons--and permission-- to blow them away. Only men can be killed. And only after they say something first. Their words can be benign as "God bless you" or overtly offensive. The player chooses to respond with "Thanks, have a great day" or by shooting, turning the man into a tombstone engraved with his last words.

A trailer for the game is on youtube. The first comment is "I find this game offensive" and I was surprised to discover that what offended the commenter wasn't that if a man says "Hey, Beautiful" that is license to kill him, but the fact that the weapons weren't real-looking enough. "What is this, 1998? Put some more work into those graphics, people! The gunfire should be louder. Why does the flamethrower not even make any sound?"

Seth Schiesel reviewed the game for the New York Times and was prepared to dislike it. "At first I found myself somewhat offended...a video game in which you play a man who can shoot only women would be culturally unthinkable, no matter the circumstances." But as he played on, it gave him "a visceral appreciation for what many women go through as part of their day-to-day lives" realizing that, "The men cannot actually hurt you, but no matter what you do, they keep on coming, forever."

That realization, according to its maker, an artist, is the point of the game.

Friday, June 4, 2010

vintage magazine

When was the last time a thing of beauty landed in your real-world mailbox? Mine is usually crammed unattractively with solicitations and bills I can't obliterate into paperlessness without risking late charges. But recently it was graced by Vintage Magazine.

Vintage is based on the short-lived but legendary Flair Magazine which wowed discerning readers from 1950-1951, featuring die-cut covers, fabulous foldouts and illustrations, and contributions from the likes of Salvador Dali and Tennessee Williams. The New York Times called it "one of the most extravagant and innovative magazines ever published."

Publisher Ivy Baer Sherman was introduced to Flair at a 2003 retrospective of the magazine and was inspired to create a publication equally extraordinary. Premiere issue of Vintage is a cool-hunter collectible printed on multiple card stocks and bound with red ribbon. Articles include illustrated letters from artist Judith Oksner to her parents when she was a student in Paris in the days before email; long lost recipes from a 60 year old collection; the story of record albums told on pages die-cut to resemble jackets for "45's"; and a fascinating take on the Barbie phenomenon by Adweek's ad critic (and arbiter of pop culture) Barbara Lippert who found out that the doll was modeled on German streetwalkers and originally marketed as a "teen grooming aid."

Sherman calls the bi-annual "a multi-textured foray through history and out into the present." I call it well worth $20. Premiere issue sold out. Subscribe to get on the list for le deuxieme, due this month.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

McDonald's serves gays. But only the French are supposed to know

Que sera, sera. McDonald's serves customers with disregard for their sexual preference. This BETC Euro RSCG spot runs only in France because it would presumably risk giving Americans heart attacks. Wait. Doesn't the fat, salt and sugar they sell already do that?

thanks to MFO who found it on AdFreak

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

guinness record of branded content

In 1951, when corporate off-sites took place in settings more luxe than chain hotel ballrooms, a dispute took place between Sir Hugh Beaver, managing director of Guinness Brewery in Dublin (are all CEO's over there knighted?) and a guest at a shooting party at his estate in County Wexford. The dispute centered on which was the fastest Eurpean game bird. No reference book gave a definitive answer.

The royal director decided to publish a volume of facts, intended to be sold to bartenders who could use it to settle pub arguments. The first Guinness Book of Records was published in August, 1955 with a plastic cover to protect it from beer stains. Despite skepticism from retailers, the volume became an instant hit. It reached bestseller status by Christmas the same year. Over a hundred million copies have been published worldwide in 25 languages. Over 3 million are still sold every year, the best-selling book under copyright of all time.

Times being what they are, listings are also available digitally. A website tells you how to compete for your own. But note that one of the original categories is no longer cited: "Uncontrolled Drinking." Current editor in chief, Craig Glenday, told the New York Times: “We’re not going to encourage that sort of thing today. That’s how people get hurt.”

Hats off to Sir Beaver and his prescient marketing move. But is it truly successful as branded content? Do consumers associate the purveyor of brew with best known arbiter of facts and factoids? I didn't until reminded of association by New York Times article. And Alan Wolk of the Toadstool blog observes that book's popularity is highest with kids too young to (legally) be target for Guinness. Still, selling millions of book objects these days is a feat to be marvelled at.