Search Results for "madison"
In the old days, most of the meanings of our objects came prefab.
This what brands did for us. Brands, and the advertisers, planners, researchers, and marketers who made them.
Inevitably we would add meanings to our possessions. We might finesse the ones we found there. But mostly, anyone with the same objects had the same meanings. Thus did our material culture make our culture material.
We have since seen the rise of custom-made meanings. This is one of the reasons we like antique fairs, and farmer’s markets is that these objects have been stripped of their original meanings and taken on new, historical, ones. What used to be someone’s tea cup is now our Victorian teacup.
It’s the reason we like the tourist trinkets we bring back from vacation. These were likely hand made somewhere. That textile just says Mexico. More than that, it says, "our vacation in Mexico."
It’s also the reason we like artisanal goods, the chocolates, beer and bread that is so popular now. There are no brands here. These products take their meaning mostly from the process of hand crafting and the person who made them. These objects come with stories more than meanings and we like to tell these stories. "Well, Frank, that’s the guy who made these chocolates, he’s got that little shop down on Cambie, Frank used to be a professional football player. No, I am not kidding."
Of course this sort of thing has always been true of high end restaurants. This has always been hand crafted, unbranded (at least in so far as national brands are concerned), and meanings that come with this food are all about this very particular restaurant, chef, owner, designer, etc. Here the brand is a man or a women.
The rich like to live in a relatively unbranded world. Kitchens, furniture, bespoke tailoring, all of this is completely custom made. It’s fun to go due north on Madison, I think it is. In mid town, we are looking at branded stores, but as we hit the the upper east side, the brands fall away. Now all the shops are little and very particular. This is no brand land.
Experiments like Etsy give us a glimpse of a democratized version of this world. Now, the rest of us can own customized stuff. No brands. No manufacture in the industrial sense. What we buy from Etsy.com is unique and if its to mean something, it will be because we have invested it with meanings particular to our own lives and sensibilities.
So I was interested to note the website called Significant Objects. (Thanks to Leora Kornfeld for the head’s up.) This was invented by Joshua Glenn, Matthew Battles, Rob Walker and others in the summer of 2009. Here’s how they describe what they do. (Sorry to be vague about the founders of Significant Objects but they appear to take pains to efface their identities on the SO website. I can’t but wonder whether they are waiting for authors to supply identities for them…or at least names. Excellent strategy.)
Significant Objects has three steps:
1. The experiment’s curators purchase objects — for no more than a few dollars — from thrift stores and garage sales.
2. A participating writer is paired with an object. He or she then writes a fictional story, in any style or voice, about the object. Voila! An unremarkable, castoff thingamajig has suddenly become a “significant” object!
3. Each significant object is listed for sale on eBay. The s.o. is pictured, but instead of a factual description the s.o.’s newly written fictional story is used. However, care is taken to avoid the impression that the story is a true one; the intent of the project is not to hoax eBay customers. (Doing so would void our test.) The author’s byline will appear with his or her story.
The first version of Significant objects can be defined still more particularly:
Significant Objects was originally intended as an experiment exploring the relationship between narrative and value. (In fact, we didn’t think many writers would want to participate — before we launched the experiment, we listed 100 writers we knew or just admired and asked ourselves, “How do we convince/cajole/trick/browbeat these talented people into helping us with no guarantee that they’ll get anything out of it whatsoever?”) Our goal, then as now, was not simply to generate content, or to provide writers with a fun creative exercise, but instead to pair our carefully curated objects with stories that we’d curated every bit as carefully. We want the site to offer a consistently great reading experience — and we put a lot of effort into that.
The relationship between narrative and value. How very interesting. Economics is not very good on this relationship. Indeed the idea that stories can create value is a little mystifying. And this would be a good time to come to terms with this, because as I say, it is the coming thing.
I fell to thinking about a variation of the SO theme. As it stands, in what remains of the old world of marketing, a watch comes charged with some standard meanings, crafted by the CMO, the brand, agency and its creatives. Take for instance the Rolex that uses the Bond movie franchise to give the watch a certain quality of romance, danger, adventure, etc.
A SO approach would craft the meaning of the objects more particularly. The brand could engage a team of writers and have them standing by to deliver stories to the owner, perhaps on a just in time basis. What I am a buying the watch then is also a stream of stories that might come to me every day or week or month. Tomorrow, I might get an email that reads
Today your watch is owned by a functionary, a man who lives in Ottawa and works for the Canadian government. You have a secret. You have embezzled $3 million from the Canadian government. Today is actually is your last day. You wouldn’t be here, but the embezzlement will finalize today. You are nervous. Actually you’re sweating bullets. Make it through today, and you can spend the rest of your life in some sunny country that laughs in the face of the Canadian extradition. But you can’t help feeling that suspicions are flourishing. You know people are looking at you. Aren’t they? Every glance, every comment today will be charged with menace. Have a nice day.
This is narrative and I believe our Rolex is more valuable for it. As these stories change, as we enter the narratives that come with the watch, the watch becomes more and more valuable. It serves as a portal on alternative realities and multiple selves.
See the Significant Objects website here.
See the Smoking Man Figurine complete with a very interesting story by Vicente Lozano here. (this image lost in the melt down, see note below)
Note: This post was lost in the Network Solutions debacle of 2009. It was reposted December 25, 2010.
I'm not sure why the digital appears before hard copy, but it does.
And, yes, Virginia, for an author, it is very like Xmas. All of a sudden, there it is at the end of your bed.
I am proud to have one of the largest Acknowledgments in the history of Western literature.
Why such a long list?
One, quite a lot of Chief Culture Officer was worked up on this blog and I wanted to acknowledge as many readers as I could. The only way to do this is to note the names of people who have left comments. (Forgive me, please, if you have commented and your name does not appear. I tried to be systematic but some names I know escaped me. Also, the book manuscript "closed" in April roughly.)
Two,I managed to publish my last book Transformations without acknowledging friend and colleague Bob Woodard. I was so horrified I thought, it's time to keep a list. And because I am a little bit obsessive, the list grew and grew.
Here is the "acknowledgments" passage as it appears in the book:
This book was written with the help, near or distant, of many people and especially George Anastaplo, John Deighton, Susan Fournier, Jim Gough, Tom Guarriello, Henry Jenkins, Leora Kornfeld, Guy Lanoue, Kate Lee, Kay Lemon, Bill O’Connor, Steve and Virginia Postrel, Montrose Sommers, and Marshall Sahlins. Special thanks are due to my editor, Tim Sullivan, for his sterling intellectual partnership.
I am also grateful to the following people for support and inspiration of many kinds: Susan Abbott, Andrew Amesbury, Ken Anderson, Kevin Anderson, Will Anderson, David Armano, David Armour, Celestine Arnold, Tom Asacker, Ivan Askwith, Alec Austin, Jack Avery, Eleanor Baird, Laurie Baird, Darren Barefoot, Pippin Barr, Jonathan Salem Baskin, Ed Batista, David Bausola, Chris Baylis, Nancy Baym, Angele Beausoleil, John Bell, Brad Berens, Scott Berkun, Russell Bernard, J. Duncan Berry, Ralf Beuker, Stephanie Betz, Lesley Bielby, Gloria Bishop, Martin Bishop, Michael Blankenship, Danah Boyd, Mark Brady, Noah Brier, Amanda Briggs, David Bujnowski, Jeremy Bullmore, Timothy Burke, David Burn, Kenelm Burridge, Larry Buttress, Bud Caddell, Jim Carfrae, Ray Cha, Suw Charman-Anderson, Jeremy Cherfas, James Chatto, Allan Chochinov, Carol Cioppa, Kevin Clark, Patricia Cleary, Marni Zea Clippinger, Don Coffin, Chris Commins, Colby Cosh, Ed Cotton, Tyler Cowen, Steven Crandall, Pat Crane, Andrew Creighton, Gary Cruse, Simone Cruickshank, Rob Curedale, Tom Daly, Russell Davies, Guy Davies, Patrick Davis, Abigail De Kosnik, Leslie and Faith Dektor, Dino Demopoulos, Stephen Denny, Paul Dervan, John Dodds, Ana Domb, Amy Domini, Judith Donath, Colin Drummond, Dave Dyment, German Dziebel, Mark Earls, David Edery, Scott Ellington, Sean Embury, Peter England, Jim Ericson, Mike Everett-Lane, Francis Farrelly, Piers Fawkes, Rob Fields, Charles Firth, Sandy Fleischer, Jeff Flemings, Richard Florida, Denise Fonseca, Sam Ford, Nicolai Frank, Morgan Friedman, Nancy Friedman, Charles Frith, Bruce Fryer, Jed Feuer, John Galvin, Barbara Garfield, Marc Garnaut, Carol Gee, Larry Gies, Morgan Gerard, Vesna Gerintes, Nick Gillespie, Jamie Gordon, Francois Gossieaux, Jim Gough, Guy Gould-Davies, Dan Gould, Katarina Graffman, Stephen and Gillian Graham, Liz Grandillo, John Grant, Jonathan Gray, Rochelle Grayson, Lee Green, Edward Greenspon, Ric Grefe, Susan Griffin, Tom and Karen Guarriello, John and Janice Gundy, Nick Hahn, Scott Haile, Monica Hamburg, Tom Harle, C. V. Harquail, C. Lee Harrington, Stephen Hicks, Jens Hilgenstock, Leigh Himel, Ryan Holiday, Adrienne Hood, Ted Hovet, Kerry Howley, Christine Huang, Andy Hunter, Matthew Ingram, Leon Jacobs, Joseph Jaffe, Lance Jensen, Derek Johnson, Hylton Jolliffe, Matt Jones, Phil Jones, Shaista Justin, Max Kalehoff, A.J. Kandy, Anik Karimjee, Garth Kay, John Kearon, Tom Kelley, Paul Kemp-Robertson, Lynne Kiesling, Peter Kim, Rob Kleine, Nancy Koehn, Rob Kozinets, Holly Kretschmar, Joan Kron, Polly LaBarre, Vince LaConte, Johanne Lamoureux, Alain Lapointe, Joe Lassiter, Jon Leach, Anthony Leung, Curtis Lew, Mark Lewis, Xiaochang Li, Josh Liberson, Rick Liebling, Jeppe Trolle Linnet, Victor Lombardi, Geoffrey Long, Amanda Lotz, Ted Lowitz, Zbigniew Lukasiak, Tom Luke, Michael Madison, Eamon Mahony, Thomas Malaby, Beatriz Mallory, Brett Marchand, Margaret Mark, Roger Martin, Mary, Steve, Zack and Lee Mazur, Megan McArdle, Peter McBurney, Karen McCauley, Jake McCall, Andy McCauley, Seamus McCauley, Emmet McCusker, John McGarr, Joe and Christine Melchione, Bud Melman, Paul Melton, Jerry Michalski, Alan Middleton, Debbie Millman, Mary Mills, Candy Minx, Prashant Mishra, Jason Mittell, Sean Moffitt, Johnnie Moore, Karl Moore, Kim Moses, Roop Mukhopadhyay, Mark Murray, Eric Nehrlich, Matt Nolan, Bruce Nussbaum, Bill O’Connor, Charlotte Odes, Richard Oliver, Gian Pangaro, Clay Parker Jones, Lisa Parrish, Jan and Lauren Parsons, Chee Pearlman, Daniel Pereira, Martin Perelmuter, Neil Perkin, Mary Pisarkiewicz, Barbara Pomorska, Faith Popcorn, Steve Portigal, Michael Powell, Tony Princisvalle, Brandon Proia, Aswin Punathambekar, Mike Rao, Shaka Rashid, Rita Rayman, Adam Richardson, Rodrigo M. S. dos Reis, Diego Rodriguez, Daniel Rosenblatt, Mike Ronkoske, John Roscoe, Susan Royer, Monica Ruffo, Doris Rusch, Juri Saar, Danielle Sacks, Kevin Sandler, Gladys Santiago, Fredrik Sarnblad, Sean Sauber, Mary Schmidt, Nick Schultz, Yasha Sekhavat, Matt Semansky, Parmesh Shahani, Richard and Pam Shear, Brent Shelkey, James Sherrett, John Sherry, Al Silk, Simon Sinek, Naunihal Singh, Kevin Slavin, Tina Slavin, Alix Sleight, Drew Smith, Paul Snyderman, Ruth Soenius, Evan Solomon, Sir Martin Sorrell, Peter Spear, Daria Steigman, Rick Sterling, Diana Stinson, Will Straw, Rory Sutherland, Bob Sutton, Craig and Cheryl Swanson, Ashley Swartz, Wodek Szemberg, Ed Tam, Rodney Tanner, Andrew Taylor, Earl Taylor, Clive Thompson, Anne Thompson, Amelia Torode, Scott Underwood, William Uricchio, Shenja van der Graaf, Ilya Vedrashko, Carlos Veraza, Kelly Verchere, Greg Verdino, Michel Verdon, Colleen Wainwright, Jimmy Wales, Mark Warshaw, Mary Walker, Rob Walker, William Ward, Reiko Waisglass, Chris and Nancy Weaver, Henri Weijo, David Weinberger, Scott Weisbrod, Stefan Werning, Elvi Whitaker, Martin Wiegel, Sara Winge, John Winsor, David Wolfe, Stacy Wood, Bob Woodard, Michelle Yagoda, Faris Yakob, Khalil Younes, Andrew Zolli, and Edward Zuber.
Chief Culture Officer also available for the Sony Ebook here.
The Mechanical Turk (as I understand it)
Let's say Amazon needs to catalog a new product. It has the word "Java" in the title, and that's a problem. The system can't tell whether Java refers to the place, the coffee, or the programming language.
Someone at Amazon could sit down and figure this out. But this would use high priced talent to perform a relatively simple task. So what Amazon does is reach out to their Mechanical Turk.
The Amazon Mechanical Turk is, as Wikipedia puts it, "a crowdsourcing marketplace that enables computer programs to co-ordinate the use of human intelligence to perform tasks which computers are unable to do." It consists of thousands of people who stand ready for tasks send them by Amazon or others who may wish to use Amazon's MTurk service.
MTurk "providers" work alone, often in their spare time. Standing in line at a 7/11, they can bang out a few turns. They get paid a small fee for each decision. No one gets rich working in a mechanical turk, but many find it interesting.
That was probably not a perfect introduction to those just learning of the mechanical turk, but it sets things up for the theme of this post: how to detect change in our culture.
Change in our culture (when the forecasting was easy)
In the middle of the 20th century, when we were a more organized culture, it was pretty easy to detect and track cultural change. Often it came from small elites (artists, editors, filmmakers, etc) in a handful of cities (New York, London, Paris, etc.). It was picked up by ever less obscure venues (magazines, art galleries, etc.) and began its march towards the mainstream. Many died along the way, but the ones that made it "all the way home" would shape the tastes and preferences of every consumer, and the ideas, sentiments and practices with which we see the world. They became our culture, some for the short term, some for the long.
The cultural changes were like breakers off Waikiki: big, fat, orderly, and easy to see from a long way off. Even quite dim corporations could spot the future before it had installed itself in the present. And make ready. Even in the smoke filled haze of a Madison Avenue boardroom, even to ad men soaked in gin, someone was going to say, "you know, that bohemian thing...from Paris...you know, Henry Miller. Bongos? Berets? Geez, you guys really need to get out more." The corporation might be a little a slow off the mark, but it was never completely unprepared.
Now of course the future comes from many sources and all directions and the corporation lives as Peter Schwartz once put it in a "perpetual state of surprise." There is always a blind side hit waiting to greet them...sometime...from somewhere. Those breakers at Waikiki have turned into a perfect storm. They thrash. Veritably, they boil.
Change in our culture now (now that it isn't)
We really are "crowdsourced" now. In the place of small elites in a few places, cultural innovations can come from any number of people in any number of places. One of the big effects of the digital regime is that it disintermediated the old media and players, and gave us freer access of one another. Now some kid can invent a new kind of music or filmmaking, a new sensibility or point of view, and without the aid of elite players and channels, our culture can respond. To be sure, for this innovation to find its way into your world, vast amounts of capital and influence will have to be spend on its behalf. But that's the thing. Capital and access are now much more responsive than before, responding to something more like the will of the crowd than the arbiter of taste.
Of course, this makes it much harder to read the turbulent waters of our culture. Corporations that were clumsy and a little late to the party now found themselves sometimes terribly out of touch. What to do?
Where the Mechanical Turk comes in
It occurred to me that the Mechanical Turk could be pressed into service here. What if we captured little innovations from the far margins of our culture, send them to our Turk providers, and asked questions like the following:
1. Is X something you recognize as conforming to some genre, style, model, pattern?
2. If yes, is it completely "true to form?" [If yes, code accordingly and end task]
3. If it is not true to form, is this because it is incompetently executed? (The maker doesn't really grasp the genre, style, model, pattern.) [If yes, code accordingly and end task]
4. Does it depart from form because it contains another form? (An example: It was usual to say of music in the late 1980s that it combined punk and heavy metal.)
5. Does it depart from form because it contains an element that is not formed (i.e., that is difficult or impossible to recognize?)
6. How new is this new element to you? [rank on continuum: from "very" to "not very"]
7. How disagreeable is this new element to you? [rank on continuum; for "very" to "not very"] [[My assumption is that real innovation is always a shocking, hard to think and therefore disagreeable. This is because we don't yet have a form in our head for it. It comes to us as noise. Avant-garde types like noise. But most of us find it disagreeable. See my discussion of the "Kauffman continuum" in Flock and Flow for more on this.]]
8. Please review this innovation you looked at yesterday [or a week ago] and indicate whether it remains "new" and "disagreeable." [rank on continuum from "yes, it remains disagreeable" to "no, I am beginning to like the look of it more."] [[My assumption is that all culture novelty is disagreeable on first sight. But some of this novelty begins to "win us over" over time. The innovations that win interest and approval from Turk providers are hot spots for forecasting purposes. In a perfect world, we would keep dropping innovations in front of our providers and watching for this "I am beginning to like the look of it more" movement. How fast and in what volume this conversion takes place is a key indicator of innovation "with legs."
I don't doubt that this looks like a dog's breakfast, especially to people with training in questionnaire design and quantitative data collection. And I know some will be alarmed at the freedom with which I have used terms like "form," "style," "pattern," etc. At least here I can reassure you that these have substance and can be identified and defined particularly.
But I believe the Zoltan approach has the following virtues.
1. It allows us to canvass consumer reactions simply. These are easy questions. They allow the respondent to give us useful data even when they cannot necessary form coherent thoughts on innovations. We are asking them to say what they like, not why.
2. It allows us to canvass consumer reaction broadly. Because this is crowd sourced, we can canvass reaction in every corner of the wired world. This allows us to contend with the very distributed nature of innovation these days. If something is stirring in Minneapolis, the mighty Zoltan will know about it. Indeed, we can track innovations minted in Brazil, track them as they pass through the Caribbean and watch for landfall on the eastern seaboard.
3. It allows us to organize our providers according to Kauffman and other identifiers, so we know the risk tolerances and innovation enthusiasm of the coders. Some coders will be stand high on the Kauffman continuum. We will know this from their other coding work and from our own diagnostics. This will make them especially reliable in identifying innovation that are noisy but promising. These people are good at handling noise. They are not so much early adopters as "early oculars." They can see the new in the noise. Those who stand in the middle of the Kauffman continuum will be reliable indicators of the likely reaction of the mainstream.
4. Data of this kind would give us a baseline from which to chart the movement of innovations. This will allow us to track whether an innovation is meeting with acceptance, how fast it is doing so, and to whom it appeals.
Lorica, Ben. 2009. Mechanical Turk Best Practices. O'Reilly blogs. June 11. here.
McCracken, Grant. 2006. Flock and Flow: Predicting and Managing Change in a Dynamic Marketplace. Indiana University Press.
McCracken, Grant. 2009. Chief Culture Officer: How to Create a Living, Breathing Corporation. Basic Books. Preorder from Amazon here.
Schwartz, Peter. 1996. The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World. Currency Doubleday.
John Kearon and Mark Earls are doing some fascinating work on new ways to canvass consumers. I am indebted to them for several lively conversations on this topic.
Product placement is the shameful secret of the marketing world. More important, it’s a stain upon popular culture.
I have railed against it in these pages, but really who cares.
So I was very pleased to hear Advertising Age, in the person of Larry Dobrow, take umbrage.
Thanks to lead-footed marketers who believe that product integration is their secret weapon in the jihad against time-shifting, I’ve become inured to it.
I no longer think there’s a way to do production integration effectively, try as every piece of programming on Bravo and the Extreme Remorseless Unrepentant Home Makeover-type shows may. I’m not so sure it doesn’t do more harm than good.
Well said, Mr. Dobrow. Let us put this idiot idea out of its misery.
Dobrow, Larry. 2009. Is it time to put an end of brand integration. Advertising Age: Madison and Vine. May 21, 2009. here.
I was in the Chicago yesterday and I noticed an overweight security guard. I found myself looking at him through the eyes of Paul Blart: mall cop. (I didn't see the movie, but like everyone I saw the ads.)
The guard looked like the mall cop. And through this lens, my view of him was, well, diminishing. After all, Paul Blart is a dolt, a happy, well intentioned dolt, but a dolt.
NBC is about to launch a show called Parks and Recreation in which Amy Poehler stars as a minor functionary, an officious bureaucrat, a very busy body and, of course, a dolt. A well intentioned dolt, but a dolt. (It begins tonight at 8:30.)
We are told Parks and Recreation descends from the people who made The Office, Greg Daniels and Michael Schur. The Office is about a paper company where under the delirious managerial misapprehensions of Michael Scott, the office staggers from one cringing misadventure to another. The Office is dolts-ville.
There's a commonality to these shows, a theme. Call it: dolts in toyland. These shows take us to a world in which not very bright people labor in cheerful obscurity, apparently forsaken by good sense and good form. Because this is toyland, nothing bad ever happens to these people. They are really just innocents, somehow protected from their stupidity by their stupidity.
We may think of this trend (if that's what it is) as counter-prevailing, a kind of low pressure zone that takes the meteorologist by surprise. After, these days, popular culture seems preoccupied with master noticers and other smart people.
I'm thinking of Monk, House, The Mentalist, Psych and perhaps the CSI franchises from Jerry Bruckheimer featuring William Petersen, David Caruso, and Gary Sinise. These are people gifted with extraordinary powers of observation (they miss nothing!) and the ability to find their way to revelation (case closed!).
But dolts in toyland offer another America altogether. They don't really notice much of anything except the opportunity to be maladroit and clueless. This programming approach isn't as bad as Kath and Kim, a piece of nonsense that is now, blessedly headed for the chopping block. Kath and Kim was completely bicoastal, LA and NY conspiring to ridicule people in the heartland. America knows when it is being scorned and it rewarded NBC's effort with benign but firm neglect.
Paul Blart, Parks and Recreation, and The Office have a little more going for them than this. In fact, they have a manical energy, as if their stupidity serves them as a navigational device and a way to escape the ordinary and obvious. There is a chaos and absurdity to these shows that appeals to us. But it is of course very low risk chaos. Their stupidity puts these dolts in a liminal places beyond the reach of social conventions and orthodoxies. But nothing bad can happen, because this is toyland.
Also, dolts in toyland are the opposite of the economic man, the creature who is endlessly capable, rational, vigilant. They would like to pursue their self interest, but it's just so very hard to figure out what this is. And in this sense, these projects play out the cultural logic of Cheers, that 80s outpost of incompetence, a respite against the newly aggressive individualism of the Yuppie era.
And finally, we might call these projects some variation on the "greater fool" theory. We may not be feeling very capable or resourceful in the present economy, but, hey, it looks as if we will always have more on the ball than Paul Blart. And notice that these projects are always, and patronizingly, set some place where incompetence probably doesn't matter. The Office is set, probably, in an obscure part of Pennsylvania. Parks and Recreation is set in an obscure part of the mid-West. Paul Blart is set in a mall. I mean, really, what's the worst that could happen?
In sum, there are a number of ways to think about why this little trend (if that's what it is) should be flourishing now. It is a funny corrective (if that's what it is) to the master noticer trend of House and Monk. Our culture is working on something.
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!
Paul Blart has flourished at the box office. Sony projected $20 million for the opening weekend. The movie took $39.2 million. It's current total stands at $143 million.
Brodesser-Akner, Claude. 2009. Maketing Lessons From 'Paul Blart: Mall Cop.' Ad Age. http://adage.com/madisonandvine/article?article_id=135862.
Thanks to a shout out from 2Blowhards, the post several days ago on “stealing movies” is getting some attention online. (The question was, “Who has stolen the most movie with the smallest part?”)
I am grateful for this attention, and it occurs to me that the comments for the piece open up the opportunity for further comment.
Here’s is the whole list, grouping suggestions from the post with suggestions from the comments.
Holly Hunter in Time Code
Steve Zahn in Out of Sight
Selma Blair in Cruel Intentions
Siobhan Fallon in Men in Black
Brad Pit in Thelma & Louise (Rick Liebling)
Brad Pit in True Romance (Keven Lofty)
Joan Cusack in Grosse Pointe Blank (Keven Lofty)
Mickey Rourke in Body Heat (Communicatrix)
Chris Rock in I’m Going to Git You Sucka (Communicatrix)
Meryl Streep in Manhattan (Communicatrix)
Bill Murray in Tootsie (Mike Madison)
Madeline Kahn in Blazing Saddles (Mike Madison)
Joan Cusack in Working Girl (Mike Madison)
Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross (Bryan)
R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket (Bryan)
J.K. Simmons in Spider-Man (Bryan)
Don Cheadle in Devil with a Blue Dress on (MHB)
Sharon Stone in Total Recall (SRP)
Steve Buscemi in Miller’s Crossing (Virtual Memories)
Steve Buscemi in Billy Madison (James)
Brad Pitt in True Romance (JewishAtheist)
If we squint our eyes (essential to all acts of analysis) and ask ourselves what these movies have in common, one answer is this: they are all good movies.
This suggests the possibility that it is easier to steal a good movie than a bad one. And this implies that a movie stealer is well served when he or she is working with other great actors in the larger parts.
(Let’s assume that there is no selection process at work here, one that says we don’t look at bad movies for issues of this kind.)
I think the sensible assumption is that it should be easy to steal bad movies. Less competition. But it may be that the bad actors who staff the big parts in bad movies will not let this happen. They watch great performances with envy, suffer a terrible insecurity, and prevail upon the director to fire the offending player.
Great actors are bigger than this. They believe, perhaps, that brilliant performances in small parts do not diminish their contributions but instead augment the movie’s hope of success. All boat rise with the tide, as it were.
This would mean that the Don Cheadles and Steve Zahns and Siobhan Fallons of the world do not steal movies after all. Which forces to ask what we meant when we talked about “stealing” movies in the first place. Do they belong to the stars? Is this a zero sum enterprise? What goes to one actor must come from another. Is every movie a quiet competition for that very scarce thing called attention (and admiration)? All of these sound like old economy assumptions to me. And then the question becomes whether we must dispense with the idea of movie larceny altogether. Just wondering.
McCracken, Grant. 2008. Grand Larcenty, Hollywood Style. This Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics. April 17, 2008. here.
Blowhard, Michael. 2008 Post for April 23. here.
There are stations and the stations have ads and that ads are, well, a little amateurish and darn good fun for this anthropologist and all the other marketing types who use this track to get to and from Madison Ave. Indeed, Metro North is to marketing what Australia is to evolution: the place were weird stuff happens…and that’s ok.
Take the ad I have photographed here. Accountant as super hero. Really? I mean, really? If there is a creature in the universe less like a super hero, it’s an accountant. Or so the stereotypes tell us. Totally unfair, of course. And for all we know some accountants live lives of real adventure. Enron accountants, do you think?
So it’s wrong to generalize this way, but it is also probably wrong to advertise…this way. Part of the problem is that this ad is trying too hard. A good ad is an act of metaphor. It transfer meaning from a world we know to a world we don’t. In this case, it invites us to transfer what we know about superheroes to what we know about accountants. (This is straight out of Aristotle.) But some acts of transfer are more possible than others.
But perhaps I am missing the "premise." In the strange world that is Metro North, a new physics may apply. In this world, superheros are just little less heroic. Accountants a lot more grand. And the two are close enough, transfer is possible.
I am on the West coast and running out of time. So this investigation of the cultural properties of alternate realities are going to have to wait for another occasion.
AT&T and Verizon are both making a pitch for their "unlimited calling" plans. Their campaigns converge in an interesting way. I wonder if we are not looking at an emerging anthropological approach to creative.
The AT&T ad opens with a middle aged African American walking down the street. His phone rings. He says,
Then comes a quick succession of people answering their phone. One after another, they say:
how its going!
yeah buddy! brother!
what’s up! (3)
Verizon features a Dad, as he comes storming out of his suburban home, daughter in tow.
"Today, I plan on not freaking out about my wireless bill."
And with this he offers a recitation of every "hip" word and phrase he can think of, including that he’s "kickin it," and "totally down with my boys." Each cliche comes with its own daffy hand gesture. Clearly, Dad has been watching too many "urban" movies.
Finally, the daughter can’t stand it anymore and she says "Dad!" We can tell by her tone of voice that what she is really saying is, "Dad, you are embarrassing me, yourself, my friends, our ancestors and every God featuring, sensate American. Stop it!"
Dad snaps to as if from a trance, and looks sheepishly at the Verizon gang trailing behind him. They pretend not to notice his humiliation.
At first glance, this looks like the triumph of Cliff Freeman advertising. Mr. Freeman was the guy who created a string of funny ads, including "Where’s the Beef," and "Sometimes you feel like a nut…sometimes you don’t" These ads were designed to amuse, but more than that it used "real" people and an earthy humor.
As Madison Avenue struggled to find a model that worked, increasingly it resorted to Mr. Freeman’s funny. It might not be very strategic. It certainly wasn’t sophisticated meaning manufacture. But, hey, at least it got a chuckle or two. It wasn’t long before we witnessed the triumph of funny over loud, funny over function, funny over endorsement, funny over testimonial, funny over pleading, funny over Carney barker demonstration. Funny came to rule the day. (This is my impression and not historically well grounded. I welcome comments from people who confirm or improve its veracity.)
Now it seems like whenever the agency can’t decide what else to do, it goes for funny. Hey, the client is not always very media or culturally literate (business school saw to that), but they do know funny when they see it. And amusing consumer seems low risk thing for advertising.
But are these ads merely an exercise in Freeman’s approach to humor, to raw, real people treatments? A closer look says that there is perhaps something anthropological going on. ATT and Verizon appear to be using culture in a particular way. In this event, the hero of the piece would be less Clifford Freeman and more Irving Goffman, the great student of our world.
Notice that the AT&T ad depends upon an ethnographic exercise. It records and replays the way people answer their phones. It makes greeting phrases the hero of the ad. In they make us present in that happy moment when one friend acknowledges another with an exclamation of joyful recognition. This is what a cell phone makes possible. It’s a wonder that some brand should not investigate this cultural domain before. Brands flourish when they are fed in this way.
The Verizon ad is also a steal from our culture: the middle aged man who appropriates gestures and language that belong to another generation. We have all seen this. Some of us have done it. There is something comic and human here, and the ad plays both to perfection.
In both cases, much of the punch of the spot depends upon a non verbal tick or a trick of speech. And off the top of my head it feels like there are several examples. There is the Jimmy Dean ad in which Father sun tells his daughter that he needs a good breakfast to light and heat the eastern seaboard. What makes this work is the little girl’s facial gestures which delicately mixes interest and dubiety. As it happens, the star of the Verizon ad appeared in a Subway ad (I think it was) in which he asks an accountant if he can "manufacture [his] butt" in lieu of a receipt. What makes this piece work for me is the little hand gesture he gives after the request as if to say, "I mean this is really the only sensible way to do this, no?" And finally, one of the really great ads of the last couple of years was the Volvo ad that shows a little girl talking and talking in the back seat as her Dad drives her gently home.
A lot of "funny" ads are funny because they mine contemporary culture, and more specifically what they discover in their ethnographic expeditions is a nonverbal behavior. So why? What is going on here? I will have to leave the answer her for another day. I am in O’Hare and I want to post this before they call my flight.
For more information on Cliff Freeman, go here.
I searched to find out the agencies and creative teams responsible for these ads. No luck. Please if anyone knows, let me know.
"I believe it is important for consumers to know when someone is trying to sell them something and that is it is appropriate for the commission to examine these issues."
Hmm. The thing about product placement is that it’s not clear there is any selling going on. Marketers are so unhappy about being TIVOed out of existence that they are happy merely to get things on TV. They don’t get to control how products appear there. They don’t get to build a brand proposition. They don’t actually make a pitch of any kind. They merely to get the product on TV. Marketing, it’s come to this.
As I say, there’s no selling going on.
Teinowitz, Ira. 2007. FCC May Examine Product-Placement Rules: Chairman Kevin Martin Proposes Inquiry as Networks, Marketers Increase Integration. Ad Age. November 29, 2007. here.
His skit Lazy Sunday is credited with increasing YouTube traffic 83%.
He is heralded as one of the people who will replace Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller now that they are on to grander things.
Adam Sternbergh has an interesting treatment of Samberg in a July issue of New York Magazine. He quotes Mr. Samberg as saying,
When I was growing up, I was into movies like Ace Ventura and Billy Madison and Airplane. You know, movies where it’s like, ‘Welcome to Crazy World!’ That to me was so refreshing and freeing—that people actually made a whole movie about bullshit.
Ace Ventura, freeing? Funny, yes. Crazy world, check. Refreshing, sure. But freeing?
And then you discover that Andy grew up in Berkeley.
Sternbergh, Adam. 2007. Three Easy Steps to Comedy Stardom. New York Magazine. July 23, 2007. here.
The new brand is a guest, not a host. It doesn’t force itself on the consumer. (This is what Joe Plummer means by "engagement.") It doesn’t pretend to control the debate. (This is what the Chris Locke, Doc Searls, David Weinberger, Rick Levine, and the Cluetrain Manifesto meant by "conversation.") It didn’t pretend to know better. (This is what Prahalad and Ramaswamy meant by "cocreation.") The old days of asymmetry, with brands on high, and consumers below, are gone. Aren’t they?
In the last week I have seen three instance of brands behaving badly.
Mozilla’s Firefox, for instance. When I try to put a URL shortcut on my desktop, Firebox strips out the icon that came with the original, and insists on adding it’s own (as pictured). Yeah, I know. It looks like hell.
Now, this is the sort of thing I’d expect Microsoft to do. It’s kind of greedy, imperial, and, well, Microsoft. But I thought Firefox had taken a page from the "don’t be evil" game plan developed by Google. Why not let the original URL icons remain in place?
If Firefox can’t do it as a gesture, they could at least do it as a brand utility. When the original icons remain in place, it is actually easier for me to organize and navigate my desktop. And that is, after all, what a desktop is for. It is, to change the metaphor for a moment, a flight deck that tells me at a glance the projects I am working on and how to get at them. The original icons add value. The Firefox icon destroys this value. A brand destroying value? Good one.
I feel the same way about product placement. I do realize that there is now an entire industry here, encouraged in part by Steve Heyer’s famous call for new intersection between Madison and Vine. And, yes, I am now accustomed to seeing products jammed into movies and television. But it interferes with the suspension of my disbelief. Especially when that label is always face out. These brands are interlopers. They have forced themselves into my life. I don’t thank them for it. If I want a bully brand wandering into my entertainment time…well, I don’t. Gee, more brands destroying value. Perfect.
I know this will be an unpopular position, but I feel the same way about the Aqua Teen Hunger Force guerrilla marketing tactics that recently, um, unleashed in the streets of Boston. I will not comment on the scare the tactics provoked, except to say that it is perhaps not entirely surprising that a nation in a heightened state of security would leap to conclusions. No, I’d be unhappy with the Aqua Teen Hunger Force event even if it hadn’t provoked a terror alert.
Here’s the thing. One Andre Obey is charming, interesting, poetic, provocative, just the thing to make urban life more engaging. Two Andre-type campaigns is less interesting. And a great flood of Andre-type campaigns is a right pain in the ass. The world fills up. Poor old Naomi Klein is wrong to suppose that public space is being devoured by advertising. But enough Andres and her argument would begin to make sense. (And we will ignore for the moment the irony that the people who perpetrate these campaigns are mostly Klein enthusiasts.) Slapping things up around town, especially when it is driven by a marketing campaign and not artistic impulse, is annoying. No, actually, it’s intrusive, and bad mannered. No, it’s brand placement every bit as obnoxious as product placement.
All three of these seem like cheats. Firefox, product placement and guerrilla marketing, all seem like an effort to find a way around the rules of the game. Yes, I know that TIVO and an agile consumer make it harder and harder to reach the consumer. (Haven’t the new marketing tools also made it easier to reach them?) What we ought to have done is master the rules of the old marketing, not to go looking for a cheat, especially when this cheat was going to rehabilitate the brand as a vulgar, shouting, unwelcome guest.
So advertising is dead. Everyone says so. In its place, we’ll use banner ads, email marketing, product placement, that kind of thing. The 30 second spot? Oh, that’s dead as John Cleese’s parrot.
Right? Well maybe. Me, I think the argument is deeply mistaken. I believe that nothing manufactures brand meanings like a 30 second spot.
But I am beginning to think that I am the only one who takes this position. From the agency world itself, we hear not a peep. Well, there was Lovemarks, from the head of Saatchi and Saatchi, but this was a book so bad that it almost made me wish that talk of the death of advertising were true.
Otherwise, all is quiet.
Could it be that the ad world suffers a state of paralysis? Is it mesmerized by the new marketing and now helpless in its path. Will MadAve go quietly?
This doesn’t seem very plausible on its face. The ad biz is nothing if not "snappy with the come-backs." This profession is well stocked with conceptual and expressive gifts. It is occupied by people who can perform a 180 degree course correction, reinventing the entire logic of the pitch, in the 5 seconds it takes them to register "the client is not happy." Capitalism has a secret company of improv players, and one day many of these subversives will prove to have been on the payroll of Madison Avenue.
No, I think the problem goes deeper than this, straight into the heart of the industry and the most adaptive of its adaptive strategies. The first ethnographic work I did in Detroit was for an advertising agency. An agency guy saw what we were doing as particularly "new wave" and he regaled me with stories about the old days
In the 1950s, apparently, the agency had a favorite technique for managing the client. It would go out and hire someone who was quite a lot like the client. Actually, they sought a match so close, the effect was sometimes chilling. The agency guy would just happen to like the same movies, the same sports teams, the same Vegas hangouts as the client. He would kind of look like the client, talk like the client, and dress like the client. In fact, in some cases, it was difficult to tell the difference between tweedle dum and tweedle dee, all the better to persuade Pontiac (or some other GM account) to sign those breath taking cheques and leave the agency alone.
Call it a doppelganger strategy. The 50s version was the most exaggerated form. But I believe this strategy is with us still. I believe the advertising world long ago committed itself to having no idea of what is was and what it did. Surely, this was the smart thing to do. I mean, if an agency insisted it used the Aaker model of advertising, well, what would happen if a client appeared who was particularly anti-aaker (I mean, of course, Aanti-Aaker)? Surely, specificity was a bad idea. The industry decided that on balance a clear idea of advertising would always cost an agency more than it gained it. Oh, I don’t mean to say that there weren’t tendencies in the ad world. Leo Burnett was always going to be seen as more "x" and J. Walter Thompson more "y," but, on balance, the industry conspired to create a code of silence on precisely what it was and what it did. This was the smart, the adaptive, thing to do.
This sort of thing costs you, I believe, in the long term. Being all things to all people creates a certain imprecision of self definition. After awhile, it’s hard to know who you are. In the day to day, this doesn’t matter very much. The prevailing notion seems to be, "What does it matter what they call us, as long as we just get paid?" Everyone harbors the idea that one of these days, if we wanted to do, we could just sit down and sort this out.
But neglected ideas have a way of disappearing. Some, the head strong ones, will away in the night. Others, heart strong, wither and die, proving not so heart strong at all. And I think that’s where we find the industry. Now that there is a crisis upon us, now that there is a paradigm shift under way, now that the industry is facing the disintermediation that has destroyed once mighty industries and brands, it proves to be too late. The cupboard is bare.
Sir Martin Sorrell once made the sly remark that the "interactive marketing is more measurable than traditional advertising–so its more pleasurable for the decision makers." And I think this means we are entering really perilous waters. We know, or I think we know, that much of the best work by the agency world would never have happened if advertising had always occupied a measurable world. Sure as shooting, the client would have measured the wrong things, leapt to the wrong conclusions, and otherwise mangled the creative opportunity without shame or apology. (The creative director with whom I worked in Detroit told me, "If I let the client get away with it, every single ad would be about engine specs and turning ratios!")
It’s as if the advertising world has been too fluid, too adaptive, too flexible and now that it is called upon to give an account of itself, it dithers. "Don’t tell me. I know this one. Umm. Oh, damn." As long as the client had no options, we could pull a "St. Augustine" on them: "do not seek to understand that you may believe but believe than you may understand" aka "just give us the money, and we’ll look after it." But now that there is competition, there’s trouble.
There is a darker possibility here. It may be that the advertising world wasn’t merely withholding clear and coherent ideas of what it was. It may be that it never had these ideas in the first place or long ago ceased to believe in them. Perhaps there was a creeping dread that there was no value here, that the whole thing was just a lark, a way to pry money out of clients, amusing one another, attending those endless award ceremonies, and dining often and richly on someone else’s account. Some may have believed secretly that the cupboard was always thus.
I hope I’m wrong. Perhaps Sir Martin Sorrell has a blistering manuscript in his desk drawer that will throw off the cloak of the shapeshifter, renounce the ways of the doppelganger, and make the case. Maybe the ad biz isn’t dead after all. Yeah, that’s it. Maybe, as Mr. Praline would say, it’s just stunned.
Cleese, John et al. n.d. The Dead Parrot Sketch. here.
McCracken, Grant. 2006. Lovemark. This Blog Sits at… Februrary 24, 2006. here.
McCracken, Grant. 2005. When Cars Could Fly: Raymond Loewy, John Kenneth Galbraith, and the 1954 Buick. Culture and Consumption II: marketings, meanings and brand management. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 53-90. (for one of the accomplishments of the advertising world in the 1950s)
Sorrell, Sir Martin. Patricia Sellers Interviews… The Hidden Persuader. January 27, 2004. here.
It is now commonplace to announce the death of TV advertising. The new marketers are positively noisy on this theme. The assumption is that ads will move from TV to product placement, internet, gaming, blogging, etc.
And it’s not just an assumption. In the UK, Heineken is shifting a £6.5m budget from television to sports sponsorship. Ford now spends about 30%-40% of its ad budget on traditional advertising, compared with around 80% five years ago. The move to online advertising is happening more quickly than expected. According to Heath Terry of Credit Suisse First Boston, the market for online ads will increase 32 percent to $16.6 billion in 2006.
So is this a good idea? Well, that’s the problem, isn’t it? It’s not an idea. It’s blind rush from one side of the marketing vessel to the other. We are abandoning TV advertising with scant regard for larger costs.
And there are larger costs. According to the BusinessWeek Top 100 Global Brands Scoreboard, Heineken has falled from #82 in 2001 to #100 in 2005. It is, in other words, hanging on to Top 100 classification by its fingernails. This might not be the time to move from spots to sports.
My argument is (a) that of all the old media devices at the marketer’s disposal, TV advertising created the most potent meaning and value for the brand, (b) that the new media forms of advertising are pretty modest meaning and value makers, and none competes with TV ads, and (c) that the move from TV to other forms of advertising may be expensive for the brand.
Today, I happened to stumble upon the Account Planning Group awards for 2003. (I was searching for the exemplary Ben Malbon.) Here are some of the things I found.
Rebecca Morgan of Bartle Bogle Hegarty got shortlisted for work she did for Barclays. (She may well have won the award. I write this under a little time pressure.)
This market tries to build trust by making banks likeable – we think the job is to make Barclays seem more knowledgeable about money.
This is an interesting marketing proposition and it is impossible for me to imagine that it is something that could be accomplished outside the world of TV (and print) advertising.
Here’s another. Fern Miller of JWT got shortlisted for work he did for Nestle and Kit Kat.
Kit Kat was being forgotten by consumers and nothing about the famous "Have a Break" campaign was helping them to remember. The solution is to reinvent the break territory, turning it from a platform for little more than well-branded entertainment into a powerful opinion about the importance of the break in this, the country with the longest working hours in Europe.
Good luck communicating this in any of the new alternatives. I venture to say none of the campaigns that drew mentions (and awards) from APG could be undertaken in new media advertising (or old media variations).
I know what everyone believes: that people TIVO through ads, that television is losing its audience to gaming and the Internet, that television audiences are fragmenting, that TV channels are multiplying, that the game, is, in effect, up.
This, too, is true: that the alternatives to TV advertising are abysmally bad. Product placement is now regarded with suspicion. From a meaning manufacture point of view, this was always a kind of hitchhiking, effectively borrowing the power and the narrative of the TV show or movie in question.
Google advertising! This is ought to be a punch line. If advertising could be reduced to the classifieds, newspaper advertising would have been plenty, and Madison Avenue would just happen to be a street in Manhattan.
And those colorful, motionful ads that compete for my attention on the websites of New York Times and Wall Street Journal. That’s the problem, isn’t it? I am trying to read!
I don’t doubt that television is dying. But when was the last time you discussed an ad you saw on line, or a product you saw placed in a movie? No one cares about these ads because they do not have powers of metaphor or narrative. The 30 second spot is a precious resource in the world of brand building. To dispense with it is a very bad idea.
For the Account Planning Group Awards for 2003, here.
Anonymous. 2006. Top 100 Global Brands Scoreboard. BusinessWeek. here.
Berman, Saul J. Niall Duffy and Louisa A Shipnuck. The end of television as we know it: a future industry perspective. Publication of the IBM Institute for Business Value. here.
Martinson, Jane 2005. Agency says goodbye to Walter. The Guardian. February 18, 2005. here.
McCracken, Grant. 2006. Product placment as marketing malfaesance. The Blog Sits At…. January 17, 2006. here.
McCracken, Grant. 2005. Madison Avenue and Google: no contest. This Blog Sits At … November 1, 2o05. here.
Thaw, Jonathan. 2005. Online Ad Growth Accelerates, Outpacing Newspaper, TV Spending. Bloomberg.com. December 28, 2005. here.
Google and Spot Runner (or something like it) could add up to a nasty scenario for the advertising establishment: automated ad placement, plus automated/mass produced creative, plus accountability via pay-per action. Word to the wise: the less you’d want to ponder this one, the more you probably should.
Spot Runner offers pre-fab ads in which a client merely inserts a company name, address and phone number. There are several sample ads at the Spot Runner website (see below) and while they are not complete stinkers, they are bad enough to remind us why God created ad agencies.
I don’t doubt that pre-fab ads will actually ad value for little companies struggling to raise their profile in local markets. I don’t doubt that "Bob’s warehouse" here in Southwest Connecticut would be well served by a Spot Runner ad. (I think a number of us in my little town would be happy to pass the hat to create a "relief fund" for Bob (our own).)
There’s a reason why ads are custom made. It is because meaning manufacture makes no sense when done in batches. When an ad confers pre-fab meanings on a product or a brand, it’s going to look like a suit from Mark’s warehouse and it’s going to wear like one.
It is easy to to accuse the agency of being distant, arrogant, unforthcoming, and indeed of turning out a little pre-fab of their own. I’ve made this accusation myself (McCracken 2005b). But finally good agencies deploy a range of talented people in the creation and execution of a very difficult task. They make brands. And they made the fortune and the fortunes of the brand.
As I was arguing several weeks ago (McCracken 2005a), Google doesn’t understand meaning manufacturer and their partnership with Spot Runnner (or something like it) is proof of this. Lots of things can be routinized and manufactured by rote. Ads, good ads, effective ads, are not among them. (It’s moments like this that a $460.00 share price just seem too high.)
Babej, Marc. 2006. The Other Doomsday Scenario: Google Talks About Automated Creative.
Being Reasonable.com. January 18, 2006. here.
Spotrunner ads can be found here.
McCracken, Grant 2005a. Google versus Madison Avenue: no contest here. This Blog Sits At the Intersection of Economics and Anthropology. November 1, 2005. here.
McCracken, Grant. 2005b. New Agencies, new clients. This Blog Sits At The Intersection of Economics and Anthropology. July 1, 2005. here.
So says John Condon, the new Chief Creative Officer at Leo Burnett.
He sounds a little like Dan Wieden, as quoted here in November
it turns out — thank God — that the idea is king. At the end of the day, one individual with one good idea can trump an entire network of thousands who don’t have an idea.
Is this the new model? Is the ad industry saying, "We don’t make ads, we make ideas"?
Bully! It’s about time. The rise of the new consumers, new channels, new media indicate has badly damaged the old business model. The ad world has found another value proposition.
But horrors! The "idea" formula leaves the ad business without a difference.
Lots of people can supply ideas, and lots of people do, strategists, consultants, brain stormers among them. What’s more, idea production is being democratized in the hell of a hurry. Even little blogs like this one presume to show where ideas come from. There are lots and lots of players in the creativity game. (And now that BusinessWeek has declared that we’ve left the knowledge economy for the creative economy, there will soon be plenty more. )
I can’t help feeling that the better proposition for Madison Avenue is "we make meanings." The fuller statement: advertising builds brands and brand proposition through the careful, clever assembly of cultural meanings. We source these meanings from every corner of contemporary culture. We invest the brand, or the brand proposition, with meaning through the judicious choice and combination of sound, image, language, and media (i.e., advertising, point of sale, direct marketing, on-line advertising, consumer co-creation. etc.)
In the meanings game, the ad world has few competitors. There are the design firms There are the creators of the various forms of contemporary culture (music, film, journalism) who sometimes "sub in." But almost no one has the depth or the range an agency does. More important, the meanings game makes the ad biz absolutely bullet proof when it comes to the Google challenge. Google can wrangle information. It is clueless and clumsy when it comes to meanings.
But what I like best about the meanings value proposition is that it allows the advertising world to take its true skills, its real accomplishments with it as it enters the new world of new media.
There is some small evidence of panic in the agency world, as if some now believe that "everything they know is wrong" and that the agency world must reinvent itself in every detail.
Oh, please. No one in the world of business understands the process of meaning management as an agency does. It would be a pity, no, a tragedy, if this great strength got lost in the stampede to new models.
Ideas are quite wonderful. We would be poor, mere beasts without them. But in the world of marketing (to say nothing of the creative economy), ideas matter because they are the way we manage meanings.
McCracken, Grant. 2005. The Idea is king (if sometimes Charles I). This blog sits at… November 9, 2005. here.
McCracken, Grant. 2005. Google versus Madison Avenue: no contest here. This blog sits at … November 1, 2005. here.
Vranica, Suzanne. 2005. Questions for … John Condon. Wall Street Journal. December 14, 2005, p. B3A. (no url available)
The image is Leo Burnett.