Monday, March 30, 2009

Meet the Swinger

After years of waiting, I finally got my first "real" digital camera. Not being a pro, I just didn't shoot enough to justify the price of any digital camera that didn't leave me with that it's nice, but something is missing feeling.

Further complicating matters was the addition of a Kodak P850. Marketed as a prosumer camera, at a very consumer price point of about $200, the P850 did about 90% of what I want to do 90% of the time. All the things you want a snapshot camera to do, it did. Shooting in raw mode, you could get shots that blew up to 8X10 and looked quite nice. Since there was no film or processing to pay for, I shot more. Lots more. So much more that I was able to forget my background as a serious photojournalist, and just snap away like a fool. It had all the fun of the Polaroid Swinger, with the benefit of instant gratification.

The one only thing the new camera, a Canon EOS 40D, has in common with the Swinger is "it's more than a camera, it's almost alive." Alive, yes, but if the Swinger is a playful kitten, the 40D is a hungry tiger. Fun? Hell, yes! But it's a very, very different kind of fun.

Photography today is ubiquitous. The camera in most mobile phones is vastly superior to what you got with the Swinger. Here's a couple from my freebie Sony Ericsson.
Not bad at all. That fun niche filled by the instant camera is long gone. At this point, I suppose I should get all nostalgic abut that, but I can't. The fun of the Swinger was sharing the fun, and people are doing that now more than ever. It wasn't about the camera, but the pictures. So it is with the Canon 40D. With previous digital cameras, there was always that feeling that I could be taking a better picture with a film camera. That feeling simply isn't there with the new camera.

Undoubtedly, there will still be those with a passion for film. There will be those who enjoy that whole process. That used to be me, but not anymore.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Bland Loyalty

Ad Chick had a post that got me thinking. The idea, "Let's Level with the Consumer" was spot on, but that's not what stood out. It was something in the clip from Crazy People that struck a chord.

In the face of blatantly factual copy, the boss is incredulous. "Volvo, boxy, but good. Are you crazy? Are you out of your fucking mind?" Well, not really. While it makes for a funny moment in the movie, on a larger level it fails.

Okay, I get it....the whole crazy adman angle was just a setup to get you to the Dudley Moore/Daryl Hannah romantic comedy, but they really should have done a little homework. "Be safe instead of sexy" really wasn't crazy at all. It was pretty much the Volvo brand for years. This ad came out the year before Crazy People.

Way back in the early 1960s, when it seems every other car commercial was about looks and power, Volvo was selling durability and value.

For years, Volvo kept pressing the same three things: Safety. Durability. Value.

Even when it does get a bit immodest, as in the ad for the 164, it's a soft sell. Almost lost in the copy points on gas mileage, orthopedically designed seats, braking system and ease of parking are the modest claims of "fast enough for any civilized man," and "it looks good." For years, that "it looks good" is about as far as Volvo would go. They never really ran from their boxy image, and in some ways embraced it. So did consumers. Numerous Volvo owner forums have names like the Brick Board, Swedish Bricks and Turbo Bricks. Long before the Honda Element or Scion xB, the ubiquitous Volvo 240 pioneered boxy chic.

The Volvo demographic was perhaps best summed up in a post on one of the owners forums:
"I'm a plain person, and I like plain things."
That's actually a pretty bold statement. It says you know who you are, and you're comfortable with it. Can the guy stuck in traffic beside you in his Porsche 911 say that? What about the suburbanite who paid $65,000 for a Hummer H2 that will never be taken off road? There is image, and then there is reality. Image is easier to sell, but these days it's getting to be a luxury fewer and fewer can afford. If you have any doubt of that, check out where Jeremy Clarkson ranks the boxy, boring and decidedly unsexy Volvo V70 on Top Gear's Cool Wall.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Are you ready for some football?

Amid the controversy over the AIG retention bonuses, I couldn't help but think of another group of millionaires (and one billionaire) now benefiting from the largess of the American Taxpayer. Beyond the suburban homes in Greewich, past the summer cottages on Long Island, way across the pond in the unlikely city of Manchester, England. More specifically, in Old Trafford Stadium--charmingly known as the Theater of Dreams--home of the Manchester United Football Club.

Way back in 2006, AIG entered into a sponsorship deal with Manchester United to the tune of about twenty-five million dollars a year for four years. That's not unusual. Most top European clubs have shirt sponsorship deals. Since real football doesn't have commercial breaks during play, sponsor placement goes just about anywhere there is room for it. That's not a bad thing. Fielding a team of superstars is not cheap, and you have to pay for them somehow. That's fair....

Okay, that's all true, but in tough economic times, when people are losing their jobs and homes and health care, when retirement funds have been wiped out, and long-established business are going under, underwriting the salaries of millionaires is a bitter pill. Worse yet, we are helping defray the cost of what is, in effect, the hobby of a billionaire. Florida based billionaire Malcom Glazer finished his takeover of MUFC in 2005. Glazer also owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and further benefits from the generosity of taxpayers there who spent $200 million in a deal that built him a staduim they also pay to operate, while he gets to keep most of its revenue.

Fair or not, it sucks. But a contract is a contract, and, in the face of billions of dollars, the effort spent to recoup fifty million is probably better spent trying to fix a more important part of this economic debacle.

Still, while we are stuck in a lousy situation, we should make the best of it. Since American taxpayers own 80% of AIG, and AIG is paying to have their crappy logo on the front of Manchester United's strip, we should get something more out of the deal. How about we change the AIG's logo to something a little less bland and corporate, and more reflective of the new ownership?

Maybe something like this? Much better. Simple, clean and tasteful. I suspect some of the fans might not be thrilled, but a contract is a contract, and as long as we are holding up our end, they can deal with it. Yes, there is danger in it as well. The Royal Bank of Scotland owns Citizens Bank, which has naming rights to Citizens Bank Park, home of the World Champion Phillies. As part of their own bailout, England's taxpayers bought a 58% percent stake in RBS. If the Brits took offense to the premiere team of the Premier League flying the stars and stripes, they could retaliate. They could change the name of Citizens Bank Park to RBS Park or William Wallace Memorial Stadium. So long as the cheese steak concession on Ashburn Alley isn't replaced with a haggis stand, the fans would scarcely notice the change. We may have had our differences in the past (I remember hearing about some unpleasantness a couple hundred years ago) but we seem to have gotten beyond all that now.

One other benefit is that just maybe....just for once, we might get to see a soccer team wearing the American flag win a match that anyone really cares about. And that--even at the cost of $50 million--would be a bargin.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Put down the torch and pitchfork.

While it might be satisfying to literally skewer a few CEOs, it's not legal yet. Via Calculated Risk, Jet Blue has done the next best thing. I suspect this is a theme we will be seeing a lot more of.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

We're an American Brand

After finally taking the time to visit the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act website, I would like to say I am impressed. I'd like to, but I can't.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all about Obama, and the ARRA is a good--if somewhat tenuous--step toward the shallow end of our economic dead pool. The content there is good.

It's what's not there that bothers me.

What has always been attractive about Obama has been his balance of style and substance. Sure, he's a policy wonk--but he knows how to use the power of words and imagery to enliven his policy positions and engage the public. It's that whole brand Obama thing.

The power of the Obama brand wasn't that you believed him when he said, "Yes we can!" The power is that he made you want to believe.

The problem with the ARRA website is that it's more PowerPoint than powerful. It is as engaging as the list of possible side effects medical ads are required to include (and without the wonderful prospect of a four hour erection).

Obama's themes of Hope, Progress and Change were empowering. The subtext was a coming together, shouldering the yolk and getting America back were it needs to be. There is none of that in the "Recovery." Recovery reeks of passivity. It's what you do when you're sick...."just lay down, take your medicine, and do what the doctor says and you'll recover." At the time when citizens should be the most involved, the message seems to be the opposite.

Even the recovery logo is a bit tepid. It certainly does fulfill the design criteria of not looking too governmental, and that, I think is where it fails.

In case you haven't been paying attention, this is a government program. Why run from that fact? Why not embrace it? The very essence of the Obama message was that the government is not "them," it "us." After decades of being told government is an external thing, a bad and incompetent thing that some vague entity out there is doing to us, we are presented with a unique opportunity to rebrand what government is. It is us, working together, doing the things we want and need to accomplish.

By branding this as something other than governmental, we're just left with the nebulous Recovery. It sells the goal, not the process--and if when recovery is achieved, what then? When the goal is achieved, do we abandon the ethos and ideals that got us there?

Part of the Obama brand has been this cool, "relax, I've got this" vibe. And, for the most part, he's got this. There is no reason to panic, because we can handle this. We've been through this before. We've been through worse before. We've handled it. Obama's got this because he is following a model that has worked in the past. Remember the New Deal?

Yes, I understand why nobody wants to associate this with the New Deal. The New Deal invokes the inevitable image of, and comparison to, the Great Depression. Few politicians want to do that. But, why not? The most important thing about the Great Depression is that it's over. We got through it, and went on to thrive.

We don't need a new logo, or model to go forward. There is no greater argument than success. We did this before, and it worked. We can do it again. Along the way, we built much of what we take for granted as America.

As a connoisseur of irony, living in Oklahoma was something a treat for me. When people spoke of FDR and the New Deal, they usually decried him as a socialist who stood against everything that made Lee Greenwood's America great. All the while, there was a good chance they had gone to a school built by the WPA. The Works Progress Administration was responsible for many courthouses, armories, roads, post offices and parks throughout the state. If, upon hearing the name Roosevelt, an Okie were to spit on the ground, odds are the sidewalk he spat upon would have a WPA stamp.

When rural Americans listen to Rush Limbaugh explain how the New Deal and big government are destroying America, it is likely the electricity powering the radio station and radio receivers is at some level courtesy of the REA, TVA, or a WPA project. Before the REA, only one in ten rural homes had electricity. After the REA, only one in ten was without.

The United States that emerged from the New Deal went on to prevail in World War II, and send mankind to the moon. By embracing the names, the symbols and imagery of the New Deal and WPA, we embrace it's success. When small-minded demagogues portray recovery efforts as socialist and un-American, they argue against what has made America successful and prosperous.

Rather than avoiding a governmental look, the recovery should be wrapped in the past, and in the flag. One of the most enduring images of the New Deal was Lester Beall's poster for the REA. A smiling farm couple at a fence. Behind them, a field of blue, with red and white stripes. That's all. That's all that's needed. The message is simple. You're Americans. We're Americans. Don't worry, we've got your back. We will get through this.

Monday, March 09, 2009

There's a lot of that going around.

Jetpacks posted a funny earlier today about a Florida agency looking for a copywriter. So, imagine my joy at, on the same day, happening on this craigslist ad here in Philly.

At the start it serves up the usual tired cliches typical of ads in for an exciting career in marketing. "doing whatever it takes" and "an integral member of a team of all-stars" usually means you're going to wind up in a boiler room cube farm, direct marketing subscriptions to the Inquirer to the next poor bastard the auto dialer serves up. But, no. This is not one of those jobs. This is a special job, and it requires a special person. How special? How about this?

* Lives to write; writes to live. You know who you are. Pencils down.

* Has a fire in the belly. Walks through walls. Takes no prisoners. In a word: driven. Even when no one is watching. Especially then.

* Social connector. You are the hub of your social world. You know everyone. Everyone knows you. You are the Mayor. The fun one. Diplomatic, too.
Now, that's special! It's hard not to wonder just what kind or writers they hope to attract with an ad that comprised entirely of cliches and hyperbole. It's also hard not to wonder just how shallow and self-absorbed one would have to be to read that description and think, "Hey! That's me!" So, keeping with the YELP!'s desire for "compelling" writing, I offer this edit.
Are you a special person who doesn't understand why people don't recognize your greatness, and, instead, think you're an asshole? Have we got the job for you!
Pencils down.