Friday, May 30, 2008


A month ago I had the occasion to attend a technology conference in Waterloo where various speakers, including the editor of Wired and Google’s former Chief Innovation Officer, discussed the evolution of the internet and where technology is headed. A major theme of the conference was the ‘nicheification’ of online content and the fact that with user-generated editing capability so firmly entrenched as a Web 2.0 best practice, the potential market of consumers is getting more and more fragmented.

However, another point brought up during the conference, and one that I wanted to elaborate on tonight, is the idea that all content is moving toward a free media model. Today at work I was reviewing creative and the phrase “free information” was used in our marketing copy. “Free information” I thought, was kinda redundant.

Isn’t all information free now? Shouldn’t all information be free?

Did you know that the cost of streaming ten hours of video from YouTube to one viewer only costs ¼ of 1 cent? So with technology that basically allows for nearly unlimited access to any media content at zero cost, how do marketers justify asking consumers to pay for information?

Prince provides an interesting corollary here. I consider Prince to be a musical genius and a marketing genius. Refer to the 2007 Superbowl Halftime Show for sufficient reason to tremble at his other-worldly skill with an axe. To promote a 2007 concert at Wembley Stadium in London, Prince gave away free copies of his latest CD in the London Daily Mail newspaper. Free content, huge publicity. Of course it helps that Prince owns his record company, NPG records, but it was still a very innovative move. At a time when the record industry is languishing from stronger content distribution competitors and an inherently flawed value proposition, Prince essentially broke ground on a new revenue model. At nearly $200 per seat, the money comes from concert ticket sales, not from CDs. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also concede that Prince recently sued fans for unlawfully distributing his music. Additionally it was difficult to find actual Prince videos that have not been removed or silenced on YouTube. Thankfully Songza came through. It seems that he’ll promote his music, but on his terms.

I’m about to tuck in for the night and watch an episode of the Sopranos that I downloaded from a torrent site. I did not pay for this content. If I bought DVDs of all six seasons of The Sopranos, I would have probably paid $300. Frankly, the concept of paying for media content is anathema to anyone under the age of 25.

So let’s get used to free content. Let’s demand more of it. Remember that as consumers and as marketers, we always have options.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The five greatest horror movies

Enough about marketing. Let’s have some fun! Today at work we were watching the trailer for the new movie ‘The Strangers’. In short, I had to clean myself up in the bathroom after watching only a few short minutes of the clip.

I love horror movies. Tonight I wanted to blog about some of the best classic and contemporary horror flicks out there.

Horror movies have always been popular. But today they take on a new significance with a younger generation raised in a highly borderless and uncertain world. See, the classic mysticism that surrounded the horror genre (The Blob, Nightmare on Elm Street, Rosemary’s Baby) isn’t as resonant with youth as graphic depictions of violence or extreme nail-biting moments of suspense. But sometimes the in your face, visceral, gore-filled scenes are overused because it’s so difficult to sicken a young audience that has been desensitized to the brutal and sick sides of human nature. I've decided to look at the best horror movies from an artistic perspective.

Fourth Runner Up: SCREAM (1995). That’s right, Scream. It’s not as lame as everyone tells me it is, but it was the vehicle to launch the careers of a few vapid, big-chested teen stars. What makes Scream unique is that it reinvigorated the stale slasher horror movie subgenre. After countless ‘quels of Jason, Freddie, and Halloween, the slasher genre became campy. Wes Craven acknowledged the inherent campiness of the slasher subgenre and sculpted a movie that could still laugh at itself and frighten audiences out of their seats. Admit it…that white ghost mask was pretty scary! I was too frightened to include a link to the actual movie, so please watch this clip of the ghostfaced killer speaking Italian in a chipmunk voice.

Third Runner Up: THE EVIL DEAD (1981). What a hoot this movie is. Evil Dead is so twisted and obscenely scary that it’s hard to draw comparisons to other movies or place it within a subgenre of its own. Isolated cabin in the woods, car that won’t start, arboreal rape, Teutonic Satanism. It’s like making horror movie PB&J sandwiches, it’s that easy! Love the axe scene, reminds me of how I get along with my friends. Watch the original Evil Dead trailer here.

Second Runner Up: ALIEN (1979). Ooosh! This one’s good. Make sure it’s the original Alien or at least the John Cameron sequel, Aliens. Sci-fi horror hasn’t come close to reaching the peak that Ridley Scott set with Alien. It unfolds and reveals itself so slowly the pace is almost languid. Sigourney Weaver’s character did set a new benchmark for kickass female heroes, but I find that it is her character’s quiet frailty and fear that make the movie so engaging. Check out Alien Loves Predator, a pretty funny comic if you can’t stomach the actual movie.

Runner Up: THE EXORCIST (1973). Classic cringeworthy moments. Who could forget a 12 year old girl screaming such memorable lines as “your mother [knits socks] in hell!”? I love The Exorcist for many reasons: the score, the cast, the unrushed dialogue and pace. However, what really stands out in this movie above others from its era are the scenes which lull you into a false sense of security before rushing back at you with the force of a truck. Terrific movie. My mom always tells me that when it was released back in 1973 audiences were really quite upset. Although the original Exorcist is great, I think the Chris Crocker version is better. Watch it, the power of Christ compels you!

Winner: THE DESCENT (2005). Hands down, The Descent is the best modern horror movie. All horror movies should be this good. The movie flows and deepens as the characters descend further and further into the cave system. Unlike other genre fodder which debases the main characters or leaves them so intentionally shallow so that we’re less upset when their guts spill out, director Neil Marshall spends time exploring the dynamics between The Descent’s heroines - yes, all female cast – before letting the shock play out. In fact, it’s nearly a full 70 minutes into the film before the horror actually sets in. Up to this point, the suspense builds through intensely claustrophobic cinematography and jarring cutaways of shadows and strange noises. Watch it in the dark with the door closed. Did I mention that it has the perfect philosophical ending allowing you to draw your own conclusions?

Sleep tight.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Developing homegrown competency

I'm reading a terrific book this week. Who's Your City by Richard Florida explores one of life's three major choices, 'where to live?' (the other's being 'what to do' and 'who to do it with').

Despite the ease with which technology has allowed us to interact with each other over vast distances, we still love to congregate. Actually, it still makes sense to congregate. Theoretically, this is intuitive: concentration of talented and creative individuals leads to increase innovation which leads to happiness and wealth creation.

Florida affirms that the world is not getting flatter with technological diffusion and communications convergence. Rather, it is getting 'spikier' - a term he uses to describe the peaks and valleys of the world economy and the highly localized nature of very specialized jobs (e.g. computer game design, equity management services, and publishing).

But what makes creative people want to locate in proximity to one another? Are there unique physical features of the place that make it attractive to certain types of people or are these characteristics incidental and secondary to selecting a place with people in your social group.

So is it chicken or egg? Do creative people create creative cities or do creative cities create creative people?

Comments are welcomed and encouraged.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bad Ad Rodeo: Nestea Singles

Something really stuck with me from the American Idol finale last night. No, it wasn’t the noticeable absence of Taylor Hicks or the spastic breakdancing that Ryan Seacrest busted out during a Donna Summer performance…it was one of the most inappropriate ads I’ve ever seen.

It starts with a couple driving along the road in a car. The cinematography is oversaturated and very sunny. Boston’s “More than a Feeling” is playing and the girl is relaxing in her seat while her boyfriend drives.

She leans over, gives him a kiss, then stands up on the centre console of the car and stand up through the sunroof with her arms stretched out.

The clip then cuts to Nestea Singles Tea being mixed with ice water to make a refreshing blended iced tea. The voiceover reads something like “new Nestea Singles iced tea. It’s so refreshing."

Ok, let’s analyze: the product is fine, there’s nothing wrong with powdered tea mixes. The song is catchy, everyone likes Boston “More than a Feeling”. What about the fact that she’s standing up in a moving car without a seatbelt?


Why Nestea would feel it’s appropriate to associate their product with unsafe driving is beyond me. Sure I get the point that the new powdered tea is so refreshing that it feels just like a summer breeze on your face, but it feels like a summer breeze on your face as you’re barreling down the road at 60kph unrestrained? It’s just iced tea.

Wow. I’m actually not going to blame the agency for this one. I’m blaming the Nestle marketing department. They shouldn’t have let this schlock out the door.

Speaking of other ads which belong in the toilet, we’ve all seen this one for Dentyne Ice gum.

So, the guy’s head fell off? So he’s dead now? So the gum killed him?

Again, what were they thinking? It’s all tongue in cheek and very playful, but at the core of the ad, Dentyne Ice gum has been associated with cryodeath!

Ad executives: preview your ads and think logically about them. Would you behave the way that the characters do? Does the ad associate your brand or product with something it shouldn’t? Sometimes the ads can’t be as clever as you’d like.

For a full list of advertising no-nos, head to this helpful list of commercial offenses I found.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

American Idle: Minute by minute breakdown

American Idol is more than a television show to me. It’s a mirror of America onto itself, complete with goofy caricatures, wholesome values, and product placement. I love watching Idol. Yeah, I call it Idol. It’s an orgasmic mashup of over the top production value and glorified karaoke that just fascinates me. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the singing is shitty but sometimes they’ll strike gold – Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson.

Ok anyway, tonight I’ll be watching Idol and giving a minute-by-minute synopsis of the show AND the commercials!

Idol is great for quickly getting up to speed with the latest in pop culture and mainstream advertising. It’s like taking America’s pop temperature. America’s rectal pop temperature. The commercials you’ll see on Idol are unfortunately Canadian content only because of CTV simulcasting. The themes are usually the same though:

  • Wal-mart
  • Moms with tricky stains on surfaces
  • Moms with kids
  • Kids with tricky stains
  • Wal-mart, again
  • Promos for the latest crappy CTV show with lame jokes and culturally-sensitive characters

I like to think that when I’m watching Idol that I’m doing research and expanding my understanding of modern marketing….sure Max, sure.

Ok on with the show!

(And by the way, I will be rooting for Syesha Mercado, although I think David Cook will win).

9:00 Ryan Seacrest introduces the show in his usual yucky stacatto.

9:01 Paula flails arms wildly. Only looks like she’s slightly on drugs.

9:02 Group medley time. Shoot me now.

9:05 Commercial break.

Lysol Deep Reach Toilet Cleaner. Mom cleaning up after kid (seriously, I didn’t plan that!)

Wal-Mart Walk for Miracles commercial with baby. Piqued my interest immediately with good visual hook and playful tone. Kept interest up throughout. Click '2007 Walk for Miracles commercial at the top left' of the page. Good commercial!

Rogers Wireless (I cannot comment due to contractual obligations)

9:12 Previous winner Fantasia Barrino performs. Electrifying! Looked like a chicken-dancing Eartha Kitt.

9:16 Commercial break.

Pfizer. Interesting positioning here. Really emotional and very human. It’s for a microsite they’ve developed, you can watch the commercial here. Smart media placement too because American Idol draws a lot of elderly viewers – precisely the ones who would be using Pfizer medication. With so many patents expiring in a few years, important to get consumers to choose your medication brand over non-branded because of perceptions of quality. I like this commercial.

9:22 Montage of David Archuleta visiting hometown and breaking down into a sobbing mess in front of crowd.

9:28 Commercial Break.

Zellers. Poppy, bubbly, treacley commercial. Just bland.

Ipod + iTunes commercial. Another hip song with a great beat and trippy colours.

Fido Uno. New service that consolidates your home and mobile phone into one unit. Uses WiFi to do unlimited local phone at home but I’m not sure how well they conveyed the technology. I still don’t understand it. Cute, light commercial.

Some CTV promo about their consumer reports specialist. I hate when commercials feature premises that are so far from reality. To hit relevance in commercials, you have to believe that you would actually behave like the actors in the commercial. Dumb situations simply don’t fly – consumers are smarter than that.

9:33 Montage of Syesha Mercado visiting hometown. Her father just said that “[he] struggled through drugs and alcohol for years and having Syesha on American Idol is like a natural high for [him]”. Priceless. I live for lines like that on Idol.

9:38 Commercial break.

Dairy Queen Fudge Brownie temptation with mother and daughter and kid who sends her a free sundae. Stupid, but probably effective and hit exactly the message that the client wanted. Not all commercials have to be artistic or visionary.

Rogers Wireless commercial (I cannot comment due to contractual obligations).

9:43 Montage of David Cook visiting hometown. He’s mobbed by screaming fans. The crowds are massive for this guy. Surprised his old school music teacher. A group of hundreds of 10 year old girls were screaming and crying. Cheerleaders + football + values = America!!!

9:51 Ryan Seacrest wastes more time telling the contestants that the results are coming up after the break.

9:52 Final commercial break.

LCBO MADD drinking and driving commercials. I actually like these. The message is crystal clear, don’t drink and drive. What excuse do you have for not taking the keys from someone who’s going to get in their car and drive away bombed? Good commercial.

Motts Clamato. It’s with a guy who is mixing Bloody Caesars inside his apartment and he warns a friend not to go outside to the patio with one of the Caesars because everyone else will want one. I really like these. It’s so true, when you see someone order a Caesar, you want one too.

Sex and the City movie commercial. So what girl won’t be seeing this movie?

9:55 Idol returns. Simon says that the final show next week should be a “humdinger”. He’s pleased with how all the three did.

9:56 Syesha is eliminated. David Archuleta and David Cook move on to the final round. Audience claps but their reaction suggests that the vote wasn’t unexpected.

9:58 Syesha sings and cries. Thus concludes another magical evening of Idol!

I hope this was entertaining and informative!