Bond, the Perfect Model

Skyfall!!!

Let me take an aside and talk about how much I am a fan of James Bond. There was a magical time when there were these things called video stores where you could go and rent video cassettes.* I want to say that there was a deal on Wednesdays or Thursdays where the rentals were really cheap and you could have them for the weekend. In any case the family kind of went through a phase where we watching a different James Bond movie a week. I think I was particularly interested because a video game was released about the same time that some have called one of the greatest video games of all time Goldeneye 007 . But I think the appeal of a 007 movie is that you know the formula walking into it. Like a typical action movie but with a semblance of class, of real machismo. I suppose that is the general formula for any action movie though.

1. Bad guy does something nefarious
2. Good guy tries to stop bad guy
3. First confrontation loss
4. Good guy recovers and has an awesome montage
5. Good guy gets better with help from romantic interest
6. Something happens to romantic interest
7. Good guy gets fired up and confronts bad guy again
8. Short lived victory then bad guy looks to completely triumph
9. Good guy remembers something from his montage/help from romantic interest
10. Good guy triumphs and hooks up with the romantic interest

In this perspective, James Bond is not unlike too many other action characters.*** From what I remember, the James bond books were born out of the romantic period of espionage. When there was idea that there were spies running some sort of complex web of information, assassination, and sexiness. And he was British! I’m a big fan of the British. Likely based on the history, the football, the accent (obviously), or James Bond. The movies were cool, James Bond wore a suit, was one of my first exposure to puns and drank cocktails rather than beer, slept with pretty women with clever names. James Bond did amazing things in sleek foreign cars, had unique gadgets, got out of impossible jams with a combination of intelligence, skill, and a bit of luck. What was there not to like?

*Thank goodness we haven’t talked about Blockbuster v Netflix in MBA school yet. That case was beat to death. TO DEATH! But now every business major/minor knows that you have to consider the internet as a new tool for delivering goods. Also to make sure that you are aware of new technologies and adapt to them. No company or industry is safe from small companies with innovation. DUH!!**

**I say “duh”, but that is not to say that there weren’t people at Blockbuster who didn’t lose millions of dollars and franchisees that lost everything because Blockbuster was ill-equipped to rapidly adapt to the new environment. A lot of executives who were either too stubborn or too blind to make that change. It was similar to the change when Blockbuster was stuck with millions of VHS tapes when making the transition to DVDs. Think of the investment that was essentially obsolete within a year or two and needed to be (expensively) replaced. 

As a marketer, there is everything to love about James Bond. As I have outlined above, there is a given formula for the movies. Writers can be clever but again it would only be within the same, proven action movie formula. James Bond provides a rather steady sort of income for whomever currently holds the rights. A set of actors and a company would take over for several movies and then it would pass on to the next generation, the next group to try and build upon. Sequels are a much safer bet than something new an original. And should you have the unique opportunity to have the rights to the franchise, especially a long living franchise, a significant amount of money is coming your way, despite the quality. **** James Bond is significant that every generation seems to have its own James Bond. And that puts the proverbial and literal butts in the seats. The stories have been compelling enough to keep people interested and while Skyfall has not been critically acclaimed, it has had good general reviews among the populace. One of the nice gauges that I like to look at is RottenTomatoes  which rates movies based on “freshness” which is a nice simple tool and it is not singularly biased on a reviewer, rather, takes the accumulation of many people’s ratings. (Skyfall is sitting at 91%).

***There are several terrific movie rating sites. RottenTomatoes among them. But as I’ve said before, with so much media and so much information out there, it is important to define your media mavens, those sources of information on which you can reliably trust. For movies, may I make a recommendation to check out Tony’s movie review tumblr. I like the reviews, Tony is a fantastic writer and funny to boot (at times). Worth a look if you have the time.  

****Just look at Star Wars. While that franchise has not changed hands save for the recent sale to Disney, the franchise itself had quite the revenue stream recently with the “prequels”. These first three films were roundly criticized for the cheapness and how the story was not as epic, too convenient, and ultimately not up to the standards of the original trilogy. But I’ll be damned if I did not watch all of them, follow the buildup to the release of the next movie, and explicitly love certain parts. I, as with most people, are drawn to see what happens next in story, despite good or bad. Especially if it is something that was very engaging, very much tied to a ideal. Generational, fandom, a number of other mental ties. 

So what does that all mean? The main point I’m trying to get at is that James Bond may be an example of the ideal marketing model. James has the cars (Aston Martin & BMW), the signature drink (Vesper Martini*****) , the suits (Tom Ford this time), and one that I didn’t realize was the tourism. I was intrigued by the world travelling Bond, all those exotic locales around Europe does indeed paint a romantic picture of some already beautiful spots. In Skyfall, MI6 had a Sony Vaio computers and systems and for once, Bond stepped out of the cocktails and had a beer, specifically Heineken. I’ve included some of the commercials below for your perusal. We also got to see  a couple of Audis driving around. And why not? What safer investment could there be to see an iconic franchise (in its 50th year and 23rd film) using your goods. For the price of several million dollars (I would imagine, don’t quote me on that) your brand will be seen by hundreds of millions of people. And when the DVD comes out, those same people probably several times. Bond is sexy, classy, and almost universally While occasionally I would roll my eyes at the blatant product placement, it didn’t take me too much outside of the movie. Finally there is the song. Each Bond movie has an iconic singer perform the opening song and this time, using Adele (also below). A chance to tie in the another industry while leveraging your core competency (in this case Bond as an icon). More moneeeeeyz for everyone!

***** Martini

Advertisements

Rough Days

Not been the easiest week for everyone. Seems like kind of a crazy spring lull between Easter and Memorial Day. Though some things you have to expect around this time in the Midwest. The tingling of an uncomfortable humidity, tornado season, the Royals falling well short of preseason expectations (again), and many many students getting a bit stir crazy as finals approach.

Of course there are larger things to discuss. More of our armed forces were lost in the desert of the Middle East and sometimes it hits closer to home. Despite your feelings towards one political party or another, we can all agree that there are truly some extraordinary individuals who have put forward their lives in service to the country that deserve to be honored. So say “Thanks!” to an Armed Forces member next time you see one.

Also on the international front, scary times look to be ahead for our comrades in Europe. One of my favourite news organizations, the BBC, has a really in-depth section on their website concerning the eurozone crisis. Don’t know how much has really been reported stateside because the US is gearing up for what promises to be a rousing election season.* Essentially, there is unrest throughout the eurozone with most of the worry hinging on the current economic situations. In an earlier post about Greece, I wrote about some of the troubles that the eurozone was likely to face. Led by the Germans, Greece was resolved (sort of) and now all of a sudden the pieces begin to fall. Other countries, Spain and Italy have serious problems looming and stronger economies in France and the Netherlands have elections in which potential winners will fight the treaty that was signed recently to reduce all national debt in the eurozone. This means deep budget cuts all around which spells a period of stagnation in the general economy. Going back to the last post about the youth, there is no more disenfranchised youth population than in Europe. They are very well educated and there really are not a lot of jobs open for them right now.** Very uncertain future for the EU. We still need the continent to be strong or else we may look to stand alone against Russia and China in international policy.

*Fun fact: Think about voting in our current representative democratic system. It’s pretty nice right? Better than those oppressive dictatorships that crush the general populace while international powers stand by idly. Now think how important it is to vote. Now think about the population of the United States, everyone’s vote counts exactly the same as the next guy. A political analyst’s vote counts the same as a mathematician’s. A convicted felon’s vote counts as much as the busboy working the midnight shift at IHOP. Your vote counts exactly the same as that pretentious hipster walking a fixed gear bike up a tall hill while wearing a sweater and a striped wool beanie which is complimented by large plastic fake glasses and a $7 cup of organic coffee supposedly shipped from a third world country where it was lovingly produced by farmers who have no fingers or something in 90 degree heat with 70% humidity in the middle of the summer. Just something to think about.

**Reuters article about the situation in France. In short, ready to burst. Young, French, and desperate.

::

Times like this you have to try and fall back on stress relievers. It could be something simple (and delicious) like chocolate, putting in a couple of miles on the treadmill*, perhaps an adult beverage or three, or maybe chatting up an old friend. At work, I have a fancy “Dismember Me Zombie” which does help around times like these, just to pop off a couple of limbs actually does wonders to calm the spirit.

I also like to watch old movies in the background. It is very comforting. As a side note, one of my all time favourite movies, Casablanca has a one-night-only movie screening at participating theaters TONIGHT April 26. If you’re looking for something to do tonight, you could do a heck of a lot worse than see this terrific film once more on the big screen. Fathom Events

*Fun fact 2: Treadmills, while useful for harnessing energy from both humans and animals, were also used as torture devices and as a popular facet of hard labour camps.

::

I promised a recap of the Rock the Parkway race. Pictures (Courtesy of Action Sports International) Ran an appropriate 1:58. I say appropriate because my preparation should have been better but I’m glad I still snuck in under 2 hours. It is my slowest recorded half-mara (out of three) but it shows I still have some space to improve. I have one more half-mara scheduled this season in the beginning of June, the infamous Hospital Hill Run, highly recognized as the “Grandfather of Kansas City Road Races”.  My strategy to use music and a pacer to bump a couple of minutes off my time failed miserably as I never had the opportunity to stick with the intended pace group (or a series of subsequent pacers). I’m a fast starter when I run which means I tend to burn a lot of unnecessary energy towards the beginnings of runs but I’ve been trying to calm the pace a bit as I did during last fall’s KC Marathon. Maybe laid back a little too much this race, but again, it was a great time, beautiful course and they did a really good job with sponsors and food in the event area at the end.

Trolley Run this coming weekend for me. This super popular 4 mile run-walk will feature something around 11,000 participants. Instead of splitting up by age, the waves for this race are set up by general finishing time to reduce congestion and general danger for all runners involved. Last year I was in “Yellow” wave meant for slower runners and partial joggers with the Pure Fishing folks. This year however, since I ran a sub-30 minute race, I qualified for “Blue” wave. Technically I had a good enough time for the top wave (Red) but that seems too legit-sies for me right now. Those people are really fast. Found out today I won’t have to use this race to qualify for a Corporate Challenge 5K Race spot so that takes some pressure off. Wish me luck!

::

Edu-ma-cations

Quick blurb, I’m a subscriber to Esquire, a pretty decent periodical that lies somewhere in the cross-section of Cosmopolitan, Gentleman’s Quarterly, and a watered down Economist. Generally, as with most magazines, there are more ads than content, featuring a host of chiseled models flaunting booze or watches or clothes. Some pretty decent articles in there though. I particularly enjoy Stephen Marche’s column that appears in every issue, “1000 Words About Our Culture”. Sometimes lighthearted, most of the time insightful, generally critical, Mr. Marche is what comes to mind when I think of modern editorials.

::

The latest issue had this terrific piece titled “The War On Youth” generally talking about how the debt is packed against the interests of the future American generations. The point that I particularly liked was the discussion about education. If you have an ear to things that make noise about our current situation, education is a hot topic and one that probably is vitally important to the other, more publicized areas of concern that will be hotly debated in the coming election. From what I gather, everyone seems to agree something needs to change but what and how are still left blank. The United States is falling behind other industrialized nations in terms of quality of education and we are attaching far more debt to that situation than any other time in history. Marche’s article sums it up kind of like this (page 2 of the article linked above):

High School > College > Internship > Job> Work Until Somebody Retires > Maybe $$$* > Worried Some Young Guy With a Fancy Degree is Going to Take You Job > Retire**

*(more likely it will be $, instead)

**No Social Security. Also Do Not Pass Go. Possibly Eat Cat Food. Shake Your Fist at Politicians. And Children. Tell them to invest early for Retirement.

You have to get a college education. According to the data, you are going to make more money and have more job security. But the data and Marche show that the price of higher education has risen a staggering 128% since 1980. Compound that with numbers that show “no improvement in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing” after two years in college. Having just recently exited a university setting, I know that is definitely the truth. The University of Missouri-Kansas City has a test called* the WEPT  (Written English Proficiency Test). Requirements are to have taken a “sophomore” level English course as well as have at least 45 credits accumulated. What does that mean exactly? You need to be at least a junior standing in order to sit for a test that is supposed to evaluate your ability to write critically at a college level and enroll in “WI” Writing Intensive courses that are required to graduate. Ridiculous!

But even higher institutions are not immune to such ridiculousness. Highly vaunted Truman State University has a required course called “Writing and Critical Thinking” or** WACT. That course is coded ENG 190 and is a first year requirement at the “Harvard of the Midwest”*** And as much as I hate calling attention to the school paper, “The Index” there was a decent column written by biased and “TTS” (Typical Truman Student), Tyler Retherford in which he asked aloud why so many resources were being pumped into these WACT courses and other similar courses (Public Speaking and College Algebra) at Truman. Part of the appeal of Truman is that it accepts some of the best students in the region and there is more money being spent on making sure that they can write paragraphs than have adequate professors for junior and senior levels courses in certain majors offered.

*Hilariously

**Also hilariously

***Also known as: The Princeton of the Prairie, The Yale of the Yokels, Oxford near the Ozarks

So yes, I would imagine that indeed the quality of the American college graduate has suffered while the prices have gone up. So what does that mean? That means several things happen almost simultaneously.

First and most importantly, many, many people are earning college degrees that don’t deserve them.*

Second, the rise in prices creates a demand for education at (more) affordable pricing which brings in such institutions as Phoenix Online which offers college degrees through your computer at your convenience for a price you won’t get at any brick and mortar school. (Side effect of second point, more people who probably shouldn’t have a degree).

Thirdly, there is a massive amount of debt being racked up by those students. This is the tricky part. There are more people out there with college degrees** which means employers can afford to pay less. You are suddenly very replaceable and you are getting less pay than previous generations of college grads and on top of that you have all that debt. So what happens now?

*Like politicians and people getting “honorary” degrees. Also Pay for Degrees.

**Let’s not talk about quality of one university against another. Pretend it is a level playing field for a little bit. The difference in education between, let’s say Rockhurst, UMKC, Baker, and Southwest Baptist are likely negligible to a hiring company in let’s say Florida. Unless the hiring manager is an alum from one of those institutions, you’re likely going to get the same shot as the next guy. That brings up a rather sticky issue of “who you know” rather than “what you know” but that is a conversation for another time.

Now you really want to set yourself apart. This becomes a paper chase. Master’s Degree, Law School, Medical School, all are prestigious (although a masters in business administration (MBA) means about as much as an associate’s degree* nowadays), and all are super expensive. So you saddle yourself down with more debt and you become a lawyer or a doctor or a professor. Your dreams of reaching a higher salary are finally reached? Nope! Stuck slogging it out until one of your esteemed colleagues retires. Meanwhile more and more people are diluting your once exclusive pool.

*See also Bounty v Brawny or Charmin v Cottonelle

So you skip college and get a technical job. Labor is still important right? Work your way up in less time but with more physicality. You’ll be making about as much as a college grad in about a decade or so (and more than a college grad in sociology, psychology, or the arts!). And manufacturing is starting to return to the US! All good news except for the fact that manual processes are being done faster and more efficiently by machines and, as Marche points out in his article, the jobs that are coming back aren’t coming back how we left them. Globalization goes both ways, it brings the First World to the Third World but it also brings the Third World home, and in our case that means wages. Jobs are coming back at Third World rates and to make it through, we have to accept them.

What happens now? What is my grand solution? I really don’t have one. I would suggest for one, to take away the tenure of professors and de-unionize the teachers. I understand that this will turn away a lot of people wanting to become teachers but I think it will grant the more important power of taking away bad teachers. Please understand, I know about the general “everyone wins” psyche of the American student but I think that will fall more in line once the teachers are in line and the administrations are roundly dismissed. People more concerned about keeping jobs than the welfare of the students (sound familiar?*) No more blatant example of this can I give you than the case I believe I have discussed with Staley High School in the North Kansas City School District. At Staley you have the ability to retake tests and resubmit assignments. When it first opened the window for these actions was 18 weeks. I didn’t type that wrong. 18 weeks. Now it has been forcefully trimmed back to 3 weeks for normal classes and 2 weeks for AP and College courses. A retake or resubmission is good for a 100% replacement of the first grade that you got. Say you got a 0 on a test. Retake it! Get a 70 and that now replaces your grade. Such a blatant act that openly harms students and attempts to artificially boost GPA for the entire school. That this policy stands not only makes an open mockery of the administration but also only further cements that particular advantages given to the school. For those not familiar with the area, Staley High School is conveniently located in a predominately upper-middle class, predominately white cross section of the North Kansas City School District.

*Politics. I’m talking about people in politics.

In the end, there are a lot of problems. Maybe publicly funded schools are the problem. Maybe we as a society don’t read enough. Maybe it is because textbook manufacturers are a bunch of cronies.** In the meantime, I’m going back to work in the morning. I’m in the financial industry because in business I believe the hierarchy looks kind of like this:

By Prestige:
Management, Finance, Marketing, Accounting, HR

By Actual Money Made:
Accounting, Finance, HR, Management, Marketing***

**You know the politicians are. Am I right? Can I get a high five over here?

***Guess who has two thumbs, a blog, and a marketing major? If you said politicians, congrats! What a savvy humorist you are. If you said Thangers, you are sadly right! Also congrats!

I’m also likely to get in the paper chase as well. The company where I am gainfully employed has a tidy incentive program for those wanting to improve themselves, in this case, a bi-annual stipend for continuing education, namely the pursuit of a MBA (or as is the curious case of my manager, a Bachelors, more on that later). I’ll be keeping you, dear readers, in the loop.

Happy Tax Day!

Greece

Trying hard to stay focused on the task at hand. The mutual fund industry, much like the rest of the financial industry, is excessively complicated. A lot of nuances that deal with account types and how money moves around the system. Regulations and red tape everywhere. But slowly getting a grip on basics and moving into more technicalities of my position. I feel ready to get in the workload and get my feet wet. One of my co-workers described the job like a video game, which has some merit. You spend awhile learning how the system works, try out a couple of easy missions and then get to play the complicated stuff. Only this video game is more like a MMORPG (massively multiplayer role playing game), very open-ended and has some serious real-world consequences.* They delivered a phone to my desk yesterday, so hopefully the computer is also coming soon.

*Which is kind of funny if you think about it. Money, as it has been since we moved away from the gold standard**, is kind of an understood unit of wealth. It accomplishes a couple of things; a medium of exchange (think about trading two chickens for a couple of gallons of milk), unit of account (how much things are worth), and store of value (easy to put aside and use on a given whim). However with increasing amounts of transactions made digital, be it debit, credit, bank wires, etc. What is money really but an idea anymore? And it is funny how there are jobs currently “farming” for money in virtual worlds. “Farming” is a term that essentially describes grinding out repetitive tasks in a virtual world for in-game money. This in game money can then be sold for real world cash.

**This was a controversial move because it gave the government to print money that was not backed by precious metals. Previously, the paper money was correlated to the amount of gold that a person “owned” which made it a fairly good form of exchange. Essentially, there were two World Wars and Governments were paying for lots of things in debt so it could no longer be supported by gold-backed money. It is a fascinating story that also randomly involves the Wizard of Oz which was about this very topic. Google it. ***

***Also take a moment to look at Google’s new privacy policies for information gathering. Now they will have ALL the information. On the one hand, I like the idea of personalized advertising, that is definitely where online marketing was going anyway and at least those ads that you see will be relevant. On the other hand, holy crap, if for any reason, someone comes up with a crazy reason to search those results, that person can pretty much understand anything you’ve ever done online including searches, websites you’ve looked at, where you have accounts, etc. in one handy place. Talk about your data mining central.


::

This whole thing really got me thinking about the current situation in the EU, especially Greece. Any sort of search on any news site will bring up a number of articles about the problems Greece is facing and the reaction of the people. I really will not do the whole story justice in the following paragraph but it is kind of a synopsis from a passive (see: lazy) marketing major perspective. I know just enough about the situation to be dangerous to anyone who knows nothing about the situation.

Greece was about to default on a number of important loans that the government took out in order to do its day to day businesses such as public services. Do be aware that the European Union generally has a higher tax rate in favor of a much more robust social service system that includes a public health care system. (I’m not going to get into a discussion about the benefits and failures, that is a topic for another time) The Greek people however, are more than notorious for avoiding taxes which has only furthered the debt. When the American housing market crashed in 2008, the aftershocks rocked the eurozone and strained a lot of the cashflow.* One of the biggest problems was Greece who could not pay back debt on time. If Greece defaults it would throw a particular wrench in the massive EU economy. (If you are unaware, the European Union countries are precariously balanced, tying together national economies and using a single currency (the euro) which has performed very well.) So the EU was faced with a problem, bailout Greece and set a precedence for other struggling EU countries (Portugal, Italy) or force Greece out of the system. They decided that to force Greece out might usher in a breakup of the EU and again plunge European economies into the doldrums and unrest across the continent. So a bailout was put into play but not without consequences. Strict austerity measures were put in place, among them were a watchful eye from Brussels on all government spending, a 20% cut in the national minimum wage, and German tax collectors put into place. This resulted in continuing riots by the people, many of which believe Germany (the main economic powerhouse of the EU) is just taking over the country as they did in World War 2.

*It is not a new response for people to halt the flow of money in a recession. People stop spending money because of lost jobs, less hours, an uncertain investment future. This in turn creates a vicious cycle in which companies are not selling anything and can’t pay their employees or fulfill debts taken out to support production. Those employees don’t have much money to spend and so they save it at home. The remedy? Well most economists will want the money to flow again. How this is accomplished is a rather large point of contention.

Now I wanted to bring up this story because I’m genuinely concerned about Europe. If the rioting in London was a signal (albeit more of a signal of greed and showing the power that people and social media can have in a negative manner**) it showed that the will of the people is something to be feared and that the current  peace is extremely fragile. And should Greece be a signal for other struggling european nations that Germany will come and save them at the cost of control, I’m not so sure the continent is safe from an ongoing recession that destroys the will of generations of Europeans to come. Couple that with the complicated matter of Russia basically in control of the EU’s energy and China who has all the manufacturing, debt promises, and a severely questionable generation of “Little Emperors” there are very stressing times ahead.

**For positive examples, look at Libya and Egypt, overthrowing oppressive governments. We won’t get into what they have to try and do now, that is far too complicated for me to understand right now.

I’m not sure quite what to do and I don’t know what our leaders should do (besides count the money) so I propose this, a saying that I like to call my motto; “I do what I can.”

I used this in my job interviews and explained it kind of like this: This saying means that I will do what is in my power and what I feel is in our mutual best interest. This does not mean that I will stop when my task is complete but rather do what needs to be done at the extent of my abilities. I am not the smartest person,the wisest, nor am I a great athlete. But I can think and reason,learn from my mistakes,  and I can train my body to run (or bike or swim) and in doing so, my contribution is not lost and at the end of the day, I sleep knowing that during my life I did.

::

Thangers in: “Corporated”

Lots to cover. I am now officially employed at a well established mutual fund transfer agency. I will be joining a recently formed outbound call team, supporting the overall investor services division of the company. My training group or “bullpen” as they call us, is about to complete the second of eight or so weeks of training. In talking to some current associates, the company seems to take special care to bring in new people not well acclimated to the financial industry to really have the ability to mold the bullpen to its own corporate standards.* It has been a very strange experience so far, as the other jobs I’ve held in the past have not been so, I think the word is permanent. ID badges, 2 weeks vacation, 401(k), dental(!) the whole works. It is both terribly exciting and terribly frightening. My other jobs have not been without responsibility, but this promises to be something much more.

*I think that this is not altogether a terrible idea. While it would be easier to incorporate industry professionals into these positions, old habits are hard to erase. If a company takes particular pride in its particular training program, why not find motivated individuals not inside the industry and invest in growth. Not only does the company get to train the associates as it sees fit, it creates a good bond for the new associate as he or she has kind of a social obligation as they are getting some new skills as well as treated very well throughout the process.

So far the process has been meticulously planned even though not well executed. Standards and booklets are in place as well as a number of training logins, test systems, and a well defined script. Oh and the copies! Tons and tons of paper printed out for a relatively small class size. The trainers joke, “For a computer company, we sure do love paper/hate trees”. (Not a great joke, per se, but draws a wry smile from more than one of our little group every time.) (Okay maybe not wry but rather polite ). As you would imagine a bureaucratic two month training program would be paced, that is the rate it goes. I’m not terribly surprised but I am a bit nervous when it comes to the actual performance of my duties. There is a significant amount of time dedicated to “drive share” towards the latter part of the schedule in which the new associate performs the job duties under the watchful eye of an established team member. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to this part, wish I could test it out sooner than later, I find that I learn a little better on a “sink or swim” basis. Good on the company to make sure that new associates are very comfortable before putting them in the game.* In the meantime, I’m going to bask in what is the unadulterated corporate pleasures of hour long lunches and unlimited hot chocolate.

*Haha. Bullpen.

::

An Ad that I Love Vol. 4 -Super Bowl!

I read somewhere that it is only a matter of time before we as citizens of the US make a joint resolution to make the Sunday after the Super Bowl a national holiday. Not a terribly bad idea for a country that ranks pretty low in overall vacation time in industrialized nations. The eurozone, especially, sees the US as the kind of people who work very hard and don’t know how to enjoy themselves. A look around from this side of the ocean and it seems like Americans enjoy life a little too much. In that argument is a healthy balance of political natures, work ethics, and more than a good dose of patriotism. What we can agree on, however, is that the Super Bowl has created a kind of celebration for advertisements. Those deeply rooted American companies shell out the big dollars and tons of money on creating an exciting message of brand awareness in under two minutes. Many critics loved the Clint Eastwood/Detroit Chrysler ad which was probably my second favourite ad this year. It has a deeply patriotic theme with a beautiful sense of tone. Eastwood delivers an inspiring two minute message not only promoting the growth of Chrysler (which is profitable, apparently, despite the debt from the bailout) but also the rebounding American economy which reported some 240,000 new jobs in a recent report, which has spurred the market up despite worrying news from Greece. I think it was a not altogether inappropriate message, if just a bit slanted.

My favourite ad this year was from Volkswagen, who followed up last year’s smashing success Vader Kid with The Dog Strikes Back:

 

The Breakdown:
A neat concept about a dog working out in order to chase the new Beetle. Good simple concept, easy to understand with a little tie in to the New Beetle’s design. From what was an iconic bulky model to the newer, slimmer, and sportier model. It also plays on current social sensibilities about trying to be health conscious and the current state of exercise in the US (if you’ve read my blog, you know how running Americans are on the rise). Finally, my favorite part, the callback at the end to Vader Kid by showing the Mos Eisley Cantina from Star Wars: A New Hope. Again this is strategically placed to do a number of things. First, a simple callback to what was a tremendous advertising success in Vader Kid. Second, using the Star Wars theme to draw older fans who recognize the venue and the scene. And thirdly, I would imagine this has some part in helping to keep attention focused on the re-release (in 3D!) of the entire Star Wars saga in theaters.*

*As a side note, I’m torn about this plan. Good on George Lucas to take the old horse out and beat it senseless for profit. Star Wars fans are kind of obligated to go and shell out $12 a ticket to see these “remastered” movies in 3D. This current rash of “comic book” movies are being made because they have a very good customer base that will see the movies, good or bad, it is a compulsion. Star Wars is playing Disney’s game here by waiting a half a generation and re-releasing the same movie to not only get the old fans but the old fans taking their kids out too.

As an aside to an aside, an old (old as in former, not as in age) co-worker of mine brought up a brilliant point of view about movie remakes. The general gist being that he would like to see more remakes. Imagine if movies were like the theatre performing arts. Every year there are countless renditions of classic pieces each with an individual twist, a sort of personal touch, maybe the story itself adapted to fit the current trends of the times. How great would movies be in this same format? How about a remake of Star Wars by Tim Burton or Clint Eastwood’s take on Grease or Michael Bay taking on West Side Story? I’d pay for real real money to see Simon Pegg take on Casablanca.

Overall, Super Bowl commercials were only so-so. One article I found blames the internet and especially social networking on the general floppiness of the commercials which are generally celebrated as much as the game itself.

How The Internet Ruined This Year’s Super Bowl Commercials

::

Essentially, the author, Jeff Bercovici of Forbes, states that the “planned leaks” of this year’s Super Bowl ads made for a weaker product on showcase day. A lot of the ads that were released online were trimmed for TV and therefore less effective than the full versions that were made available a week before. The Ferris Bueller/Honda CRV ad comes to mind as disappointing when seen on the TV but brilliant when it was released before online. Not only did the still screens make for an incredible buzz due to old fans of Ferris Bueller speculating on a new movie but also just general nostalgia. This nostalgia was also a big problem according to Bercovici. I tend to disagree when he says that playing off of old viral bits to try to make another viral hit is cheap and uninspired. While in the digital age, our collective appreciation for things disappates quickly, I still think there is charm in casting Betty White to prop your show, or calling back to Vader Kid, or using talking babies. I do agree with Bercovici’s point on maybe advertising is changing from being made memorable to  being made to share. I think this is an important time in marketing, as well as business in general. The internet has changed the game completely and more and more money is being pumped into campaigns that are meant to spread quickly but not to take too much time. We’ll see how next year looks, I’m not willing to give up Super Bowl ads quite yet but I will expect to see them well before the Super Bowl.

::

Again, if you run into an Ad that you Love, drop me a line here or in my inbox: thangers@gmail.com
There is a good chance that it’ll be featured in a future installment.

Textbooks Reimagined?

Last week, Apple made an announcement and release of iPad textbooks. Check out the gizmondo story here: Apple’s iPad Textbooks

To see my thoughts on the current state of the Textbook industry, check out my post from last year: The Textbook Scam

Personally I’m pretty excited to see what can come of this. Carrying a load of textbooks to and fro on any given day not only affects student’s backs but also comes at a tremendous cost. The iPad system hopes to let students carry multiple textbooks perhaps in the cloud with interactive videos and models to add to the learning experience. By teaming up with textbook manufacturers as well as school districts, Apple may have an opportunity to effectively change the landscape of the industry. Imagine future schools where each student gets a tablet and gets passes or downloads a slate of textbooks for each semester. Students would be introduced and more familiar with emerging technology (which is important) while getting rich information much more tangible than a book. Teachers could tailor assignments that link to certain sections of the book and in some cases form the actual chapters the students would work on. And think of the trees!

Wired’s take: iPad Textbooks

A main point that Wired makes is that the technology in the classroom has met with mixed results and learning is affected mainly by the environment rather than available technologies. Children in communities with less crime, higher standard of living, and better teachers will benefit from the use of available technologies, like netbooks or laptops which have been introduced in many school districts. On the other hand, such as Wired makes the case, in Alabama where students and teachers are both struggling and general economic situations are poorer, the use of laptops in the classroom is negligible and does little if anything at all to improve performances.

Time will tell, especially at the primary and secondary level, whether tablet adoption (with school districts nationwide reeling from budget cuts, I find it highly unlikely they will adopt Apple’s iPad but may favor a skimmed down alternative…Kindle Fire anyone?)* Now on university level, I could see this a boon to students and professors (just the tech saavy ones, I find it hard to imagine my former Environmental Literature professor who is a noted environmental radical would be quick to jump on the bandwagon). The worry is that such a move would destroy a multi-million dollar business that is textbooks and used textbook resale. Little shops like the charming “Patty’s University Bookstore” in Kirksville, MO would have to shut down. There are already textbook rentals and online textbooks that are cutting into margins so I would find it hard to think of a situation where the old publishers would be willing to foster a change.Who knows, though, perhaps there is younger and fresher blood working at those publishers who understand the fall of Borders represents a significant change in the landscape for printed materials. Though I do believe that Barnes and Nobles will stick around because of a very special “vintage” niche that has slowly crept back into the American consciousness (be on the lookout for a post about vinyl records).

*Got a Kindle Fire a little after the New Year and it is AWESOME. If you have Amazon Prime, it is a great multimedia device and I would highly reccommend it. While it does not have all the bells and whistles that iPad does (size, camera, storage space) it performs admirably and at less than 1/3 of the cost.

::

Hopefully will be back on track as far as writing is concerned. I’m starting to ramp up the training for the race season starting in April and I have been pleasantly surprised by the exceptional weather we have had so far this winter. Lots and lots to do!