Angela Natividad's Live & Uncensored!

31 January 2008

Time for Super Bowl 2008

Ad-spotting this year? Dive in prepared. See the Adrants Primer and our stockpile of pre-Super Bowl Sunday notes. (Don't hate -- MoMa sells books of doodles. And I buy them.)

Catch you on Super Bowl Sunday. As of 10pm last night, which is when I finished the requisite team googling, I quietly changed allegiances from the Giants to the Patriots.

It's bitchy. I know.

30 January 2008

Justifying an 'Unjustifiable' Profession

Left-wing economists, ever eager to snatch the scourge from the hand of God, hold that advertising tempts people to squander money on things they don't need. Who are these élitists to decide what you need? Do you need a dishwasher? Do you need a deodorant? Do you need a trip to Rome?

I feel no qualms of conscience about persuading you that you do.

What the Calvinistic dons don't seem to know is that buying things can be one of life's more innocent pleasures, whether you need them or not.

- David Ogilvy, Ogilvy on Advertising.

23 January 2008

To Face McDonald's, Starbucks Gets Gritty

To edge gourmet caffeine peddlers off the dance floor, McDonald's goes highbrow.

So Starbucks goes low?! (And don't even get me started on the fucking doughnuts.)

I'm sorry, but into what warped universe have we stumbled?

This is almost as bad as that one time Wal-Mart alienated all its thrifty little shoppers and took out ads in Vogue for, like, two months so it could compete with that other big-box. And we were like, "Uh, Wal-Mart, you know Target worked over a decade to earn the upper middle-class vote, right?"

You don't win people back by wooing the other guy's customers. It's trashy and no one respects you more for it. (Ask Dunkin'.)

When you waste all your time reacting to competitors instead of improving life for your obviously disgruntled demographic, you are playing very bad brand chess. And yeah, I just said "brand chess."

22 January 2008

Why I Love My iPod touch

A friend of Benj's recently told him that the iPod touch is the only item that makes him feel like he's living in the 21st century.

Having fondled my new iPod touch non-stop for the last couple of days, I get what he's saying. This thing doesn't just wow me with new capabilities and integrated gadgetry like never before. Here's its grail: it works exactly the way I expect it to. (Which is saying a lot.)

I grew up with Windows*. You'd think after growing up with Windows, I'd immediately know what to expect from a new PC every time I upgrade. Maybe I'm exceptionally daft, but I generally don't. I give myself a few days to learn a new PC in case of nasty surprises or unexpected deficits -- or, at the very least, just to get a sense of how to navigate it.

Same with my first Palm Pilot. My mom donated it to me because it "complicated her life," and the thing took me days to get used to. And when I had finally purchased all the gadgets that would make it complete (custom stylus, Targus Stowaway), and grew to depend on it with all the accumulated data of my young unspoiled life, it reset itself the second it ran out of battery.

I sold it on eBay that night.

Now I have a Blackberry. I dig it all right, but it still took me a couple of hours to get a sense of its possibilities and limitations, and a few days before I really understood what I'd primarily be using it for.

But when I play with other Blackberries -- my mom's, for instance -- I'm totally thrown off-course. I don't know how to unlock it, I can't work out where things are, and I'm under the impression its functionalities are totally different from mine. (Does the Pearl seriously have no browser or am I just not finding it?)

Here's the beauty in the design of the iPod touch. From first glance, Benj and I knew exactly how to unlock it. We've never even touched one of these things before. And the icons? Hey, those look familiar. I know exactly what they do. Set up my email? In a snap.**

Everything syncs and loads and works just like you, for reasons you can't even describe, imagine it should. You look at it and just get it. Even the way I touch it makes sense: I pinch my fingers together to make things smaller and widen them to make things bigger.

I've never done that before. But it's like I was born with that knowledge.

I'm not saying the iPod touch is God's gift to digital junkies and can't be improved. And in all probability, the ads (which I watched maybe three times to incorporate them in a review) contributed to my so-called "intuitive" knowledge of the interface.

I'm saying extraneous factors aside, great design makes a big difference -- even just in terms of usability -- and it should always fall hand-in-hand with an improved feature-set.

When your revolutionary new product makes so much sense your core demographic isn't clamoring for a handbook just to turn it on, say hello to paydirt.

And if it's pretty too? Well, hey. Nobody needs to school you on the viral merits of pretty.


* 3.0, on up. We even had Windows ME. Ew. I know, right?
** This is a big deal. The Blackberry required guesswork, and it still doesn't operate as nicely as I'd like. It appears to delete or keep messages at will.

On the day I changed my Gmail password, the handheld went
Exorcist on me -- syncing six-month-old emails as "New," that kind of thing. I had to call at least three numbers to get it fixed, and I'm still not sure who resolved the problem in the end.

21 January 2008

Don't Be Evil

"Really -- what kind of motto is 'Don't Be Evil'?" someone asked me recently. "Is Boeing's motto 'Don't kill people'? What does it say about a company that feels the need to remind its employees not to be evil?"

Good question.

In 2001, when "Don't Be Evil" first appeared, Google was the anti-Big Brother -- a label that wore negative connotations synonymous with the biggest, most "corporate" companies. Back then, the slogan was cute: Don't be evil, big guys! We're a search-obsessed bunch of guys with big hearts. We'll show you how it's done.

But now Google is a big company -- and what's more, it's got more claim to the Big Brother moniker than any other firm. In December, 66% of searches took place on Google. That's a lot of accumulated information (John Battelle goes so far as to call it our "database of intentions").

Today, we as Google users have to deal with divorcing "Big Brother" from its unpleasant undertones. We have come to trust Google more than any other company because it has somehow promised it wouldn't betray that trust. And so we hold Google to standards that competitors like Yahoo and Microsoft aren't expected to meet.

So while Yahoo and Microsoft do increasingly icky things in China, for example, it's Google we all watch. Y! and Microsoft are down to reveal Chinese bloggers' identities to the Gov? Well, what do you expect?!

But Google. Just to operate in China, Google made an agreement with the government to filter content deemed sensitive. And the Stateside outcry was so significant that Google had to write this super-wordy, touchy-feely explanation about the why's and the trade-offs.

Battelle's The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture has more on the expectations that surround a company whose ethos is inextricably moral.

Personally, I think it's a good thing. The Google employees I've met are obsessed with the core objective of "benefiting the consumer," and I think that has a lot to do with "Don't Be Evil." I'll worry when some Google icon in the not-too-distant future decides to trash the motto.

And hey. Maybe Boeing's motto should be "Don't kill people." (Insert eye-roll here.)

18 January 2008

London Icons and Ads

More of London (click on the Facebook images for commentary).

Nottingham, Quezon City/Manila and assorted airport shots coming soon.

13 January 2008

Welcome to the Third World

I'm in the Philippines, possibly the only country in the known universe where Friendster and Y! Messenger reign supreme amongst their industry peers.

Considering there's too much to process in the short space of time I'll be here (I arrived Thursday/Friday; leave Monday/Tuesday), I've done the natural thing and fallen back on the areas in which I can easily recognize disparity: the internet and advertising.

Right now I'm in an internet cafe that's been set up in someone's hallway. (Gotta love old-school XP and Mozilla Firefox pre-tabbing.) Besides this spot, there's no internet anywhere else I've seen - not even a closed connection I can mooch off of on the long lonely nights. People communicate mainly via text-message. The mobile industry is massive here, and texting takes on political importance. When elections hit, everybody's deluged by "personal" messages from presidential incumbents.

To think back home, the only "celebrity" to ever mobile message me was Sam L. Jackson. And that was considered a forward thinking marketing campaign for the so-called new wave "third screen." Puh-lease.

And the ads? What fun. A vivid example: I logged onto Xanga today, and the central banner ad on the homepage was for a "matrimonial assistance" service called

Women are the Philippines' biggest export. They depart the country as domestic helpers, mail order brides and -- for the lucky ones -- nurses. For this reason, all my island-bound cousins are studying nursing. It appears to be the easiest way for an educated person to leave the country.

For those who seek glamour in the profession, it's soothing to know that HappySlip -- who's practically a local celebrity amongst rabid YouTubers in Quezon City -- pays for her vlogging habit with a nursing degree. (Everyone here loves you, Christine!)

The long car ride from Manila to Quezon is colored with billboards that pretty much obscure the landscape. Open space is fast paved-over with high-rise condominiums by a company that calls itself "truly Filipino." The fruit of its productivity are virtually indistinguishable from homes I've seen in El Cerrito or Walnut Creek.

The most expensive cafes and restaurants boast European or American origin, though I have never heard of any of them.

As for the jeepneys, most are airbrushed over with religious messages in graffiti-style print. Refurbished army vehicles, now posing as buses, marked "GOD IS GOOD" or "Nothing is impossible with God" whiz topsy-turvy around kids playing basketball on the street. "How's my driving?" some bumpers ask -- a question immediately followed by a number too long for my brain to process.

It's odd to think this is where my parents came from. "Welcome to the Third World," my aunt said playfully.

This happened shortly after I asked her why the public toilet we were standing in didn't have flushers. "And what's that bucket of water for?" I added. She sure got a kick out of me.

07 January 2008

The Lowest Common Denominator

I think the most groundbreaking thing about internet advertising is that it has made everything trackable: how users surf, where they go, how much time they spend on a site, what they ultimately buy, even what they're looking for at outset.

And because everything is trackable, ads are better tailored to consumers. This is what made Google AdSense so attractive to so many. This is what made behavioral tracking so frightening to those who prefer the illusion of anonymity.

The promise behind the Semantic Web ("Web 3.0") is of a universe that caters entirely to us. Anything with a chip or an agnostic barcode will be internet-ready or readable, and anything internet-ready should be able to serve us what we seek at any given moment.

But will it give me what I really, really want? Will it give me more me?

01 January 2008

One Laptop to Rule Them All

My landlord Atif has a One Laptop per Child XO, which he brought over the other day. For the next hour we sat around discussing its merits and exploring the functionalities.

The XO is a super-durable Linux-powered laptop. Its mission is to enrich the lives of children in developing nations for less than $100 per unit. (At a current retail of $200 per unit, it's a bit shy of that goal.) Atif put himself in queue for purchase the second they were available for order.

It's a pretty spiffy computer: Ten inches across, more or less, and totally weather- and childproof. It's wi-fi ready (buy one now and get a year of free HotSpot access, courtesy of T-Mobile!) and it automatically searches the area for other XOs so users can communicate with one another even if the 'net isn't otherwise available.

"Right now I'm the only XO user in Ithaca," Atif lamented. I patted his shoulder.

Other neat features: A memory game that teaches sums and spelling (multi-player-ready), a Fruity Loops-type application for making beats, audio and video recording capabilities, writing and content sharing features, a game for fledgling programmers that reminded me of Etch-a-Sketch, and a cute little app that teaches kids Python.

The laptop comes with a handful of gigabytes of memory (see it stripped down at Engadget), but you can add a great deal more with an external plug-in. (Atif took advantage of this. And to showcase its productivity, he gave us a trial sample of Paprika.)

He also installed Skype and Opera on his XO because he thinks the stock browser is crap. (I never got to look at it.) Then he pulled up The New York Times website and turned the backlight all the way down.

In high light, the XO's screen reflects text like print on paper. This makes the best use of its battery life, which ain't exactly the 10 hours promised by the founder -- clocking maybe 3 1/2 to 4 hours at most.

My first reservation with the XO was with its lack of casual usability. The kid-friendly icons and GUI are easy enough to navigate if you have the time and willingness to learn them, but parents buying the unit just to get their kids a laptop will be unpleasantly surprised. It's not exactly Windows XP, which is what most people are used to using.

Atif acknowledged the usability issue but pointed out the laptop is for improving the educations of kids in developing countries. "They'll have lots of time to learn its feature set. What else will they be doing all day?" he kidded.

But this poses another challenge. I don't get how OLPC proposes to improve the education system with these machines. It's wildly educational if you want to learn coding as a hobby, but how will it help teach kids history or pre-algebra?

Atif tied the logic to textbooks. He explained that textbook companies don't stand to make much money from Second or Third World institutions, so they provide schools with material for little cost. Naturally, it burns money to print a textbook for each student, so if they can save there, all the better.

If the contents of a textbook are USB-accessible, Atif argues, it would cost publishers less than printing books for schools who can't pay for them anyway. Students can learn from their XOs, which will also help the laptops pay for themselves.

That sounds pleasant and all, but I just don't see textbook companies doing that.

I'm thinking back to my 600-page AP Chemistry book from high school. Did it really need that gloriously glossy hardback cover, or all those deliciously slick blinding-white photo-quality pages?

And was the supplementary DVD necessary? Nobody never watched it.

The books were, in fact, so expensive that we weren't even allowed to take them home overnight.

Spending money lavishly on textbooks, even crap textbooks, justifies the existence of a textbook publishing firm. If children in developing countries can get complete texts in a little USB stick, plusher countries will go, "Why can't we?"

Think of it: No more lugging heavy books around, and no more high-cost print publishing on yards and yards of glossy paper. We'd really only need to pay for the content.

With that said, it won't be long before some stingy educator goes, "Why buy textbooks through Macmillan/McGraw-Hill at all? We can go straight to established authors and license the content directly."

It won't be long before all this comes to pass anyway. But with the little time they've got left before obsolescence yawns open and swallows their business model, I doubt textbook companies will put their precious data on a memory stick -- for starving kids or anybody else -- out of the kindness of their hearts, and certainly not as a replacement for a real-live book.

It would be innovative, it would be forward-thinking, hell -- it would be learning from the mistake of the newspaper industry when the internet flew into its face -- but it would also be perceived as boardroom suicide.

I'm willing to be wrong on this one, though.