In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.
But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new.
Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core.
In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau's famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize that only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.-A. Ego, "Ratatouille"
28 November 2007
27 November 2007
Benj (the boyfriend): "You like the feature because it gives you something to do when you log in, don't you?"
Yes. I do.
20 November 2007
We learned in college that the "teenager" is an invention of the early 20th century -- the Hallmark holiday of social development, if you will.
Considering teenhood is something we take for granted and chock off to biology, wrapping my mind around its artifice is an amazing mental leap. And yet in the the last handful of years, we actually got to witness the process by which marketers do, in fact, create, label and adorn a proud new developmental segment: the tween (formerly known as the pre-teen).
The other night I was having this moody quarterlife funk and it occurred to me that "adulthood" is probably as much a construction as teen and tweenhood.
It's more opaque, granted, because you can't really give it a beginning and end (13-19 or 8-12). And because of that, I have this abiding worry that unless we realize there's no placeholder for "adulthood" because there is no adulthood, most of us are going to be groping blindly for it for a very long time.
That's too bad, because so many of us need adulthood to exist so badly: Once you've taken all the prescribed steps -- pre-school, gradeschool, puberty, college -- and are launched out into that wide, wide world, onto what safe ground can you measure your next move?
We fall back on marketing, media and pop culture, which generously distributes guidelines grafted onto us in part by our institutions.
College taught us how to watch the news, question religion, suspect authority figures and have existential conversation. But jobs teach you that's kid shit. Life's about being jaded.
With time, and in the exact same way you and your ilk learned how to smoke pot, date and fuck, you will learn how to hate your inevitable office life, that you'll eventually lose count of your sexual partners (and it will be okay!), that you'll get cheated on or will cheat. You'll get married, have kids, suffer from a midlife crisis and buy too many cars. You'll divorce and go on some tortured quest for your high school sweetheart.
Maybe you'll find religion again. Or better yet, go to grad school.
Bills are inevitable, friends are few, and to unwind, everybody goes drinking on Friday. You'll make cliched statements: I've never felt this way in my life. I want to have your baby. Please love me.
And amidst all of this, every once in awhile, that question without an answer will surface in your mind: Is this adulthood?
Sometimes it'll come out as a statement: Behave like an adult!
Inanely: I'm a grown-ass man.
Or in a more childlike way, amid defeat: Grown-ups don't do this to each other.
On a quest for secure ground where there really isn't any, my generation has found a convenient shelf, courtesy of your local marketer: We're Quarterlifers. And we're having a crisis. Our debts are high, we're going home to mom and dad, no job is good enough for us, and we've been victimized by the murky indefiniteness of "adulthood."
According to the associated data, we'll be here from age 21 to age 29 -- after which we can coast safely into mid-life, a world we understand because, like teenhood, it has been so lovingly documented for us.
How hard would it be to say fuck all of this?
It is surprisingly much harder to leave a world safely accorded us by pop culture than any of us is willing to believe. And that's too bad. Maybe if we admitted we're addicted to a constellation of spoonfed -- occasionally bleak or beautiful -- images, we could learn to pick and choose which ones we actually want to live out and which ones to relegate to the heap.
And amidst all that personal sifting, perhaps then we could do the truly impossible -- indeed, that very antithesis of early adulthood: locate what makes us happy, and do it bravely, and do it now instead of seeking a prescribed "next step" that will earn nods of approval all around. (Granted, playing the martyr is also something we've learned along the way.)
But oh, many of us won't allow ourselves to shake all this off until after the long struggle toward retirement. Sagacity is part of the blueprint, but only near the end.
16 November 2007
This morning it began to snow. I investigate, wearing the rabbit-skin Bolshevik hat I bought yesterday:
A magical moment: "It's burning my hands!"
Raised in the flatlands of Virginia, our demented Figurehead migrated to Utah where he became an Unstable ski jumper known as The Mad Bomber.
That hat is the coolest piece of headgear I have ever owned. It's formally branded "Mad Bomber." Here is the story from the tag:
He continued on to infamy trading in Manchuria for these original hats. When the Siberian winds blow, whether you're traveling the steppes of Manchuria or skiing the Tetons, be cool and keep warm with Mad Bomber. "Because it's Cool out There."
I am crazy about it. And on that cheery note, here's a story about a little boy with an equally amazing hat. I give you Adventure Time (the best thing to hit Nickelodeon since Inside-Out Boy!), courtesy of this guy.
12 November 2007
Paul: "You know the dollar's in trouble when Jay-Z's flashing Euros."
We needed to wait for Jay-Z to tell us our economy was in trouble? This is the kind of news that makes my figurative Baby Jesus cry.
09 November 2007
You can't call yourself a new media advertiser if you're not hip to the jive, and ad:tech is a great place to brush up on this crucial skill-set.
But it can be tough to keep up. With that, I give you the 2007 edition of the Official ad:tech New York Ad-Jive Dictionary. Use this knowledge well, and you're sure to be the life of the break room.
Better still, you'll confirm your CEO's conviction that burning $5K to send you to an ad conference was a very intelligent idea.
Agnostic. adj. Connotation: positive. Used in reference to an application that plays nicely on any OS or browser, or in reference to a marketing campaign theme flexible enough to perform on any media platform. The Hulu video player is browser agnostic, and thank heavens, because I will kill somebody if I have to download IE7.
It can also be used as a verb, allowing for some mental play between Ajax as it is referred to here, and Ajax the household cleaning product. We need to Ajax the forums. Nobody's going to stick around if they have to refresh during a burn war.
CGA. n. "Consumer-generated advertising." See CGM.
CGM. n. Connotation: hysterical, particularly at ad:tech. "Consumer-generated marketing." Refers to "amateurs" (read: non-advertisers) building brand messages, for subversive, evangelical or monetary reasons. Dude, forget about hiring the agency. Why don't we just launch a CGM contest and give away an iPod? I think my cousin has a camera at home.
Collaboration. n. Connotation: euphemistic. The dreamy thing vendors say will happen between marketers and consumers, or between IT and upper management, when their "online solution" includes a messaging feature, a Twitter function or a news feed. State-of-the-art digital technology encourages seamless real-time collaboration between the enterprise and the end user.
Dovetail. v. Connotation: euphemistic. Used when small companies get absorbed or otherwise hopelessly eclipsed by a larger entity. Paths between Wee Guppie, LLC and Big-Ass Sharks, Conglomerated began to dovetail in '03; a collaboration was the next logical step.
Iconistan. n. Connotation: negative. Coined by Sphere CEO Tony Conrad, it refers to the untidy collection of icons, usually found at the bottom of a blog post or article, that enable readers to disseminate the post on a social news medium like Digg or Newsvine.
We see less of this clutter now because social news leaders, such as Digg and Reddit, have emerged in the field. As a result, "Iconistan" has fallen into antiquity -- which is too bad, because it was strangely charming. Dude, your blog looks like a virtual Iconistan. Why don't you delete all that crap? Nobody ever Diggs you anyway.
Intermediate marketers. n. Connotation: nebulous - probably negative. Hails from the dust jacket of a marketing strategy book called The Eyes Have It: How to Market in an Age of Divergent Consumers, Media Chaos and Advertising Anarchy.
The precise meaning of the label remains unclear. Based on its original context, where it was paired with a less nebulous demo, "Advanced digital marketers in the C-level suite," we can assume it is at least slightly pejorative. That shit looks like Crayon on cardboard. Clearly it was disseminated by an intermediate marketer.
Meatball sundae. n. Connotation: negative, but using the expression will reflect positively on the user because it is still fresh. Coined by Seth Godin for his heavily-promoted publication of the same name. Refers to what happens when you put together two great ideas (like meatballs and ice cream) that produce something unfortunate. Rich media ads on a widget? I don't know, Rick. We don't want a meatball sundae on our hands.
The expression may unseat last year's book-title-cum-buzzword, "the tipping point."
New media. n. Connotation: positive. Refers to any number of the socially "democratizing" applications or services -- usually ad-supported or AJAX-heavy -- that have appeared on old media (the online and mobile platforms) over the last several years, bringing said media back into vogue.
Platform. n. Connotation: neutral. May refer to the means by which content is delivered (e.g. the mobile platform), the technology on which applications are built (Google's open source mobile platform), or any other foundation -- figurative or literal -- upon which something else can be built. The platform of Lisa's sanity was piled high with new jargon.
In the tech realm, "solution" and "offering" can be used interchangeably with "platform" when referring to a new means by which advertising or other content can be conveyed. Jerry thinks Facebook's Social Ads solution is the ultimate collaborative platform for advertisers and consumers.
Social advertising, Social seeding, user marketing. n. Connotation: positive or used in jest, depending on who you're talking to (a client versus a colleague, respectively). Refers to astroturf WOM: When advertisers and marketers attempt to harness word of mouth as an ad campaign in and of itself. Attempts to generate inorganic WOM have very rarely worked, and backlash can be uncomfortable. Jesus created a resonant dialogue after implementing an aggressive social seeding approach.
UGC. n. "User-generated content." See CGA.
UGR. n. "User-generated revolution." See UGC.
Viral. adj. Connotation: positive. Refers to when an effort, usually online video-based, gets passed from user to user until the offering becomes part of a larger cultural discourse.
A unit cannot "go viral" until after this has occurred. Marketers that call freshly-released efforts "viral" commit a serious faux-pas in this regard. Did you see that Hitler viral where he's all pissed-off about his Xbox gaming score? You have to. I'll send it to you.
Wikinomicon (not to be confused with HP Lovecraft's The Necronomicon). n. Connotation: expected to weigh in as "positive" when more people know what it means. Refers to the mindset that new communications technologies are democratizing the creation of value. I'm just here to brush up on my intermediate understanding of the wikinomicon. What? You haven't heard of it? Here, take my card.
The working affluent. n. Connotation: neutral. Refers to members of the labor force bearing a net worth between one million and 9.9 million dollars. It is unclear why there is a cap. One may surmise that if you still come to work after breaching the $10 million mark, you likely suffer from Marie Antoinette syndrome -- which, while admirable to the subject, is loathsome to observers. It has not been determined what percentage of Nalts watchers consist of the working affluent, but a fair estimate is anywhere between five and 90.
08 November 2007
And I can't stop thinking about Chris Franklin of Big Sky Editorial, who laughed at the idea of a viral ad. "All ads are viral!" he'd said. The point he made was that in order for an ad to succeed, it should be watchable again and again.
How many of our frenetic new manifestos are ideas that have always been there, or at least should have been?
With that, and as a kind of tribute to the future, I give you the Tootsie Roll ad. I couldn't count on my fingers and toes how often in childhood I saw this spot.
What's awesome about it is, most everyone I've met who's roughly my age still knows all the words to the song. We enjoyed watching it then; a lot of us still do.
And in our lifetimes, we ate a hell of a lot of Tootsie Rolls.
07 November 2007
First ad:tech session of the week: Media & Entertainment: Programming, Distribution and Advertising in a Multi-Platform World.
Moderator Ira Rubenstein kicked things off by cutting to the chase. Observing that the "old media model" revolved around scarcity, he asked how panelists make media buying and planning decisions for a show like Heroes when you can watch it on NBC, Hulu and Joost.
What followed were a bunch of really good-sounding quotes if you happen to be a fan of Seth Godin's literary masterpieces: Understand your audience! Follow the good content! What is your consumer looking for?
But then the wind changed. And the boys ran with it!
Drew Reifenberger, Senior VP and GM, Superdeluxe, Turner: "Generally consumers are OK with advertising and accept it as a reality. We should just try a lot of [different ad models]."
He emphasized sponsorship models versus CPM-based models. Good examples - in my opinion - include tasteful product placement, online web dramas (like what Tide did with Crescent Heights, only watchable), and maybe episode-spanning ad buys for feature shows on sites like NBC, ABC or Hulu.
I'm a big online TV watcher, and I don't generally mind repeated ad messages too much if they're good. (Strangely, Australia's tourism department does this quite well.)
What won me was when Ted McConnell, director of interactive relations for P&G, remarked, "Brand equity is expensive to build, and it builds over time. It's sacrosanct."
Sacrosanct. For six seconds, I believed again. But he went on!
"The content of your message reflects on your equity. It gets harder every day as content gets slung around -- who knows where it's going to land? That's an issue."
No, that's a takeaway if I ever heard one.
In every panel there's always one super-quotable person. In this case, that person was McConnell.
McConnell went on to say channels have different levels of intimacy. If you want to succeed in the digital era, you have to learn to balance the intrusiveness of your message against the intimacy of the channel.
He elaborated by observing you can say what you want in an outdoor ad without hurting a user's experience of "outside" (unless you live in Sao Paolo), but you oughtn't ruin a private dinner party by knocking on the host's door and trying to sell Tupperware.
A good illustration always wins the day.
Not to say McConnell was the only star. EVP and CDO Curt Hecht of GM Planworks/Starcom Mediavest Group had his moments in the sun, too.
"Don't get fooled by shiny, blinky things!" he admonished. "They're just tactics looking for a home that are not really being driven by the consumer at the end of the day."
But to save us all from the slippery slope of fundamentalism, he added, "It's really easy to get excited by half the stuff that comes across my desk in a given day."
How do you know when the hype train is going to conceive a super star? At ad:tech in particular, you hear a lot of noise. (Just ask Craig Peters.) But hey, you have to sympathize with the "shiny blinky things" vendors. It's tough to get even a winning product to a catalystic point.
McConnell sent us home happy with a little philosophy (always a great closer): "In a world of infinite niches, I think there's going to have to be something that's more structural that's introduced. One example of that is widgets. What's a widget, really?"
I held my breath. Was he going rhetorical on our asses? No. As we've learned to expect from our P&G homie, he kept right on going.
"[A widget's] just a container."
And before we could go flying into speculation, he rapidly illustrated his point with a FedEx comparison: FedEx has done an excellent job of taking the emphasis off the interior and placing it on the container itself.
But here's to hoping that whatever we use to stock our widgets, Facebook apps or direct mailing envelopes are just as compelling as the shiny blinky brands on the outside.
Overheard on the ad:tech NY press room floor:
"The whole point is to remain agnostic."
Digital advertising and spirituality: two sides of the same coin?
I'm not going into huge detail about last night's shenanigans since Steve already bared our souls (curse you, AIM!). This is more like a moody play-by-play of stuff worth noting.
For reasons not worth discussing, listening to Like a Prayer always puts me in a state of religious ecstasy and self-loathing. These aren't feelings you want to have over breakfast while hung over. Which leads to the question: who buys the Muzak for hotel dining halls?
Flash back to Monday evening, the reason for said hangover. As Audrey said in Breakfast at Tiffany's, "Quelle night!"
Last night I checked in at the Paramount. My room is matchstick-size and features a gigantic tapestry of a man sitting over my bed. I'm scared of it. Paramount is otherwise cool if you don't mind the Eastern European Alice in Wonderland aesthetic which, when you're slightly tipsy, is kind of nice.
First stop of the night: Soho House for the Old Timer's party, where I found a couple of members of our OG ad:tech party crew: Adrants co-editor Steve Hall, and John Engler.
I felt disoriented by the musical selection (The Train by Quad City DJs?) and decor -- wallpaper with bookshelves printed on it. (Titles included Stupid White Men, a Roget's Thesaurus, and a book about orchids.)
While snapping shots of the wallpaper I met Peter Shankman of Geek Factory. We shared complementary views about vice, ad people that double as porn stars, and pogs (the best marketing platform that never happened), then debated what books were worthy of converting into wallpaper. He chose The Art of War. I picked the complete Oxford English Dictionary.
Perceiving the growing sense of lameness in our midst, Steve and John whisked us to the Datran party, where Brian Ambrose and I did a pseudo-twist to Dancing Queen.
Then the crew hit Pascha, where we all lost each other. In my blind quest for the loo, a security guard asked if I was Asian and said we should get married.
Affirmative action in action.
Later another security guard took my arm and asked if I wanted to party with some dudes in a VIP lounge. I said okay and he introduced me to the CEO of a start-up I've never heard of but that is apparently "very forward-thinking," someone said. The CEO had a big bouffant and kept throwing cigarettes and drinks and glasses over his shoulder. I guess that's how you roll in the VIP.
He kissed the back of my hand and said if I wanted to hang out there I should be "very sweet to everyone," then he kissed the serveuse's face. (The VIP lounge had its own bartender.) I said, "Awesome." Later he and I put our arms around each other and sang "We will, we will ROCK YOU" into one another's faces.
A Senior VP of Microsoft was there too, apparently because the up-and-coming startup wanted to recruit him. He was kind of like Patrick Bateman except maybe not as tall, and he appeared to be in the world's worst mood. I avoided him after he failed to laugh at any of my Super Awesome Jokes.
I half-heartedly danced with the serveuse and got to talking with a few media guys who told me the internet is where it's at and mobile is the future: out-of-the-box thinking. I suggested we look further out of the box and try bringing digital video technology to gravestones, which was dismissed as "possible, but not in the next five years."
They did, however, like my idea that people should make nostalgia montages of old ads at clubs and raves, which was validating.
The intellectual parrying lasted until 2 AM, then inhibitions dissolved and we brought back dances from the '80s until 2:30 in the morning.
Nothing fills you with both religious ecstasy and self-loathing like a string of ad parties will. With the exception of Like a Prayer.