Angela Natividad's Live & Uncensored!

29 October 2007

'Hulu' May Be the Last Sound Joost Ever Hears

With virtually no load or lag time whatsoever, I'm currently watching the feature film Sideways.

And I didn't need to pay for it, or illegally download it, or sacrifice any precious computer space for it. When I'm done, I might watch Arrested Development, or Heroes, or -- get this! -- Doogie Howser, MD. My whole day is officially down the drain.

And while the occasional :15 or :30 ad cuts through my experience, I'm willing to deal with it. The content is worth the wait.

This is all part and parcel of Hulu beta, a valiant joint effort between News Corp. and NBC Universal.

I was hesitant to pin Joost a YouTube killer, but I'm fast inclined to dub Hulu, and similar business models (think the ABC and NBC online sitcom players), Joost killers. It's all the convenience of Joost with better shows, better ads and no software downloads.

For someone who doesn't own a television but loves the sitcom -- and also happens to own a good-sized monitor -- this is very exciting. Brand me a Hulu addict.

Hulu avails you to:
  • Popular shows and clips
  • Current shows and clips (the two are not necessarily mutually inclusive)
  • Netflix-worthy feature films
  • Somewhat appealing advertising (no ballpark franks here -- I'm mainly seeing Axe Vice spots)
  • (Apparent) universal platform friendliness. Unlike the Netflix player, Hulu doesn't seem to mind whether you operate on a Mac or a PC. (Not sure about Linux.)
  • An "embed" and "share" feature
  • A "lower lights" feature. If for some strange reason you don't want to watch your show in full-screen, you can opt to dim the website offerings (film information, related videos) above and below the player
  • Pretty sophisticated toggling. You can check out film information, full-screen the feature, pop it out of its window, rewind or fast-forward, or opt to embed it somewhere without losing your place or having to stream the whole thing again. Most of the time, whatever you're watching just pauses and waits for you to push play again
Granted, Hulu isn't perfect, either. Some cons:
  • I wouldn't call it laggage but every one in awhile the picture pauses. It probably has more to do with my RAM than Hulu, though. (I'm streaming a feature film while doing three other things at once, including writing this blog.)
  • The ad breaks could be a little more graceful. Hulu hasn't quite mastered the art of easing into advertising without disturbing its audience. Sometimes breaks occur while feature characters are mid-sentence. o_O And after each spot, there's this jarring moment of silence and black screen. It's a little WTF?!-ish.
  • No uploads onto iTunes, no episode-saving or downloading onto your hard drive
  • Films cut to accommodate time slots and content restrictions. A scene in which Maya exclaims, "You wanted to fuck me first!" has been tastefully dubbed to a more morose "You wanted to fool me first." And when Miles sneaks into the trucker's house while he's in bed with his wife? No idea what's going on there. You get loud rock music and a stray bedsheet. First-time watchers of Sideways will have no idea why a naked trucker chases him back to his car.
In any event, congrats to a couple of old-timers for stealing the limelight from the new kid on the block -- and actually improving the value proposition (for the most part). How often do you see that happen?

Check out Sideways, courtesy of Hulu:

26 October 2007

Vancity Accommodates Unlikely (or Plain Unsympathetic) Lifestyles

To make sure no one gets left behind as society tumbles forward (both morally and environmentally), Vancity has released these three spots to advertise a few contemporary must-haves.

The spots were created by TBWA\Vancouver and give intimate insight on lifestyles we don't know much about. They generated rakish grins all around.

Get to know the enviro VISA, the climate change mortgage and -- my favourite -- the mixer mortgage.

But the climate change spot got a couple of extra spins too. I love it when the disgruntled eskimo goes, "I thought that whole thing was a hoax."

25 October 2007

Microsoft Takes Bird-Sized Bite Of Facebook

Competition makes you greedy.

22 October 2007

Chicken Soup for the Id

It's the last weekend of Ithaca's Friends of the Library book sale and in the next few days, you can make a killing. Saturday and Sunday, nothing costs more than $0.50. And on Tuesday -- the last day until Spring! -- it's a bagful for a dollar!

The weekend's spoils:
  • Memento Mori by Muriel Spark
  • eBoys: The First Inside Account of Venture Capitalists at Work, by Randall E. Stross -- a pre-published manuscript!
  • Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Fowler's second edition Dictionary of Modern English Usage
  • Logic and Language by Huppé and Kaminsky
  • Mirror, Mirror on the Wall by Gayelord Hauser -- a detailed and totally elitist beauty guide from a beauty consultant (à la Kevyn Aucoin) in the '60s
  • The Shackle by Colette
  • Retreat from Love by Colette -- the fourth installment of her Claudine series, allegedly written while her husband locked her in a room for hours daily to pen books he had published under his name
  • Peyton Place by Grace Metalious -- an oft-mentioned piece of pop culture, hopefully worth the read, but I imagine it's going to be a lot like Valley of the Dolls, which is a lot like The House of Mirth for 21st-century Nicos
  • The Arts of Costume and Personal Appearance by Grace Margaret Morton -- a grooming book from the '40s, full of useful tidbits like fighting "masculine" personality traits with the right outfit and make-up, and exercises on proper college girl or wife-of-executive attire on a budget
Total cost: $5. What an amazing place.

I also finished Malcolm Gladwell's Blink yesterday. Definitely worth the read. It ends better than it begins, a rare quality, I think.

An interesting anecdote: seeds of the book were sown after Gladwell decided to grow out his hair and started getting unwanted attention from cops. This got him thinking about the power of first impressions. Can we avoid the hold snap judgments have on us? Not always. Can we refine our own? Yeah, when we know how they're formed and how they operate. (Comforting.)

Now I'm working my way through Tulipomania, a detailed account of the tulip craze that began to take hold of the Dutch in the late 16th century.

Their obsession with tulip bulbs was so great that the flowers commanded a futures exchange. One rare bloom could cost over 10 times what a rich merchant was paid in a year.

It's good so far. Right now I'm learning about how the Turks razed through hordes of villages and planted opulent gardens in their wake.

The Turkish word for tulip is lale, reverentially close to the letters used to write out Allah. The term tulipan may have been brought to the West in association with the bulbs because of the flowers' similarity in form to turbans.

For awhile, it seemed that tulips were going to rival gold and other precious metals in terms of raw value. Then the crash came and ruined plenty of fortunes and plenty of lives.

Way to build a house on sand. Then again...

Dot-com déjà-vu, anybody?

17 October 2007

Productivity, Here We Come

Do you know what will change your life? An ergy Microsoft keyboard and a 22-inch LG monitor. As I write this, I'm reading the Vox homepage and my email at the same time. This is incredible.

If I could bring this set-up with me during conferences, I'd be tip-top.

In other news, today Watershed Publishing -- the company that owns MarketingVox -- took a minority stake in Adrants. The deal is expected to finalize at November's end.

Because Adrants took me on last year and MarketingVox took me on earlier this year, it's a little like my universe has come full-circle.

Next year's going to be an exciting one.

03 October 2007

YPulse: Closing Up with the Coveted Words of (REAL!!!) Tweens

If you followed my Advertising Week adventure at all, you probably know I hit YPulse on Friday. In the late afternoon, a bunch of kids were corralled onto the stage to give us one last shot at learning their inner-workings before hitting the road.

Like the minds of the demographic it hopes to distill, the one-room YPulse Tween Mashup conference hall is a different world.

Upon entering, you're accosted by Michael Jackson's ABC (this is before Hanson's Mmmbop was spun about 6 different times) -- and with so much pink SWAG just waiting to be snapped up, you feel roughly the same emotional tug that only Lisa Frank's overpriced unicorn-shaped pencil sharpeners could conjure.

With all this going on, the YPulse atmosphere serves to make marketers feel pre-adolescent and out-of-touch, all at the same time.

While waiting for the feature -- a panel consisting of children who seem worlds smaller than I remember being at age 12 -- I hung out with Maura of WeeWorld and a girl named Allison from Fleishman-Hillard.

From what I could gather, FH is a data aggregating firm for youth.

"So what exactly do you guys do?" I asked. "Is it a TRU kind of deal, where you take streams of information and paint pictures of Queen Bees and goths...?"

Allison gave me a look that actually made me feel like a member of the demo we came to see. She has a very expressive face. "No," she replied. "Actually, we make forecasts about upcoming trends."

"Cool," I said. "How do you do that? Like, do you take previous data and..."

Before I could finish, Allison interrupted in a manner most factual. "Our founder just knows things," she said. "He really has a good grasp on what's going on."

"I'm sorry, I don't understand." Seriously. I was confused.

Allison replied, "Well, he's made a lot of predictions that turned out to be true," she explained, broadening her hands for emphasis.

"Oh, he's clairvoyant," I said. After this she seemed to think I was some species of lizard, so she stopped talking to me for the most part, but I hung out near her anyway because that's where all the computer outlets were.

Somehow, it seemed fitting to close up a week-long ad conference orgy with a panel consisting of eight 10-12-year-olds.

Each of the kids gave their names and ages. They started out shy, with personalities that developed once they realized every marketer in the room was falling all over himself to field a question. And not even just for general opinions, either. On actual products. From what I recall, a woman from a major technology company actually asked whether they like the special features on her firm's DVDs.

"I like playing the games," a 10-year-old (who's teaching himself how to CODE!) answered nonchalantly. "But I hate it when you send me to websites. I like doing everything from my remote control."

Most of the panel members already owned a cell phone, though I can't remember having possessed one until I was 14 - and even then I was considered ahead of the curve. Talk about being dated. The kids also said they prefer to IM rather than text their friends, though one girl said the idea of texting was appealing, mainly because she didn't have a mobile phone and all her friends did.

A few young members of the cult of Apple expressed their preference for instant messaging because they could video chat.

The oldest of the group, a 12-year-old girl, kept emphasizing how technology gets boring after awhile, and sometimes she wants to go out and play, or see her friends face to face. Other panel members echoed her view - the 'net could get boring, it helps to get some fresh air. These opinions seemed largely overlooked.

Who plays outside anymore? That was so, like, mid-'80s (remember those branded basketballs that McD's used to give away?).

More importantly, the wee gen-Y reps admitted that when an ad appeals to them, they make the coveted click. Ads with little games are popular, but the most favored of all are ads that don't redirect them to another website. In fact, it's "really annoying" to get sent to a page they don't want to be on. Tell it like it is, baby.

Sometimes, they show an ad to their parents if it features something they really, really want.

This is a tendency that's not new to kids, but is largely overlooked by marketers in the digital era - unless you're Virgin (Parental Enlightenment, anyone?), which pretty much never overlooks any opportunity that involves desperate feats for attention.

In the early '90s, Nickelodeon leveraged kids' willingness to bring parents to ads by giving them examples of how they could actually nag adults into buying them a subscription to Nickelodeon Magazine. I wish I could find the example I remember. In any case, here's a classic in which kiddies are encouraged to tell their parents about some weird experiment involving herring, and give their parents the phone number for the Nick mag.

"Just give them the number, heh-heh." Even while awash in pleasant nostalgia like this, that guy still creeps me out.

Never underestimate the power of "gimme."

Advertising Week: Getting Behind Big Ads with the Editors

Mainly for personal conceits, Advertising Week's Why Editors Matter panel was by far our favourite.

The panel consisted of Chris Franklin, Big Sky Editorial, NY; Paul Gowan, Rogue Editorial, Toronto; and Neil Gust, Outside Editorial, NY. Check out the link to the panel information to see the work they've done; notably, Paul Gowan is known for having edited that Dove Evolution piece that people keep subjecting us to.

Each of adland's Geoff Emerick's had an opportunity to speak, which we'll go ahead and synopsize here:

Paul Gowan

At the outset, Gowan observed that you "just can't get enough of" any of the three spots for which these editors are particularly known. And he's right. A resilient, infectious piece isn't just prerequisite of great art; it's critical to an ad's success (for, um, obvious reasons).

If you can't watch them over and over, what makes you think you're going to push product?

Onto Dove Evolution. Contrary to rumors we've heard, the girl's metamorphosis took three hours - not 10. To address still other rumors, the agency did a making-of video to, we suppose, distill the finehanded work implicit in whittling down a long process in a way that still captures a watcher's attention.

"It does get tiring," Gowan admitted of both editing an hours-long tape and watching it.

And while Dove Evolution seeks primarily to cut into the deception inherent to advertising, it's not without its own smoke and mirrors. The model used in the film was chosen specifically for her relatability to "average" women.

And that Photoshop-esque series of functions at the end, where a mouse widens her eyes and lengthens her neck? Complete invention. If shit were that easy, there'd be no excuse for Condy Rice to look the way she does half the time.

All told, the spot took a whoppin' three weeks and 15-17 hours.

Neil Gust

Gust has got to be the most touchy-feely of his cohorts in terms of talking editing. His work seems to be less about smoothing technical rough-edges than taking unrelated snippets to convey a feeling, a non-narrative that flows like it tells a story.

The object, Gust explains, is to capture a chemistry associated with feelings that clients hope to associate with their product - like "sexy" or "gorgeous."

"They tell me how they want it to feel," he says, and his job is to create relationships from shot to shot that best convey that sensation. Good shortcuts include building formal relationships between themes that leap from cut to cut: streaky imagery throughout, consistent shapes and logical flow.

In the case of the Jaguar ad, the client wanted a "really long car shot," which didn't quite fit into the existing "hyperkinetic visual." To make it work, they stuck in a scene where the car skids to an abrupt stop, the music halts, and an airport voice is dubbed over the long shot of the vehicle. Then the pace speeds up again.

Chris Franklin

Franklin probably reminds us the most of the electives professor with promise that we all encountered in high school. He compares showing off an editor's back-end work to airing your underpants for all the public to see - it's clearly uncomfortable for him, but there's a tinge of exhibitionist pride at the same time.

He calls editing a series of mistakes that work eventually; mainly, it's a painfully solitary and long process.

"You just try to find variations that keep you going, keep you thinking," he says. Sometimes you have to go off and stare at a wall, or buy a flower, just to keep the ideas flowing.

The Ellen spot for American Express consisted of seven hours of footage, and the actress was never shot in the same room as the animals. In fact, each animal in the boardroom scene was shot one at a time.

90 percent of the spot was composite-driven, and each animal (and actress') performance had to be elegantly orchestrated to appear like they were all moving together.

A particular point of pride is the moment in which Ellen and an ostrich nod downward (um, toward a kangaroo) at the same time.

Franklin also scoffs at the notion of a "viral ad."

"All advertising is viral, period," he says. "Any advertising is viral." When you really think about it, that makes sense.

As a final thought, Franklin admonishes editors-to-be against attending the shoots that produce the images you'll work with. "AVOID the shoot at all costs!" - the politics behind the cuts will always affect your unadulterated view of the final footage, and that's a shot in the foot.

Overall, editing is described as as much emotive and sensory as it is logical. And music, dubbed "spiritual glue" by Franklin, is a big factor for casting the feel of a spot. The audience can't be expected to see what you're seeing if you don't provide them with the right background noise.

The Ellen/American Express ad has a distinctive Dick Van Dyke feel that hits you the moment you start watching it, and you're not even really sure why. It's cast in black and white, and the vintage music was produced to give it a "timeless" quality. This early sensation is part of the bouquet of emotions you're intended to feel over the life of an ad.

One of the editors observed that without an appropriate soundtrack, this stuff just doesn't work - and it's all too easy to aim for a popular pop song, because those types of tracks can make nearly any series of images likable, which can lead to lazy editing.

In fact, Gowan calls the use of popular music "Irresponsible [...] unless you're Microsoft." It's considered part of the job to stockpile obscure, interesting and affordable music.

Thankfully, indy artists will meet you halfway in this regard. Now, plenty of records get "made" on the strength of an ad. (Consider the popularity of Telepopmusik's "Breathe" after Mitsubishi eased it into that one ad where that raver dude is dancing around in the car.)

At this point in the game, Franklin notes that great ads can leverage equally good -- but otherwise obscure -- indy work "because RADIO SUCKS, but that's a different story."

So much for Emerick.