Monthly Archives: January 2014

Corporate sponsorship isn’t new. The active production of “branded content”, however, is a somewhat new phenomenon.

How about Broadway Joe on Broadway?

How about Broadway Joe on Broadway?

Broadway Joe on Broadway, brought to you by Dow Chemical, may have never happened, but today’s brands are bringing you everything else. And it isn’t just about slapping on the Coca Cola logo on American Idol. It’s Whole Foods developing a 20-part half-hour series called Dark Rye, featuring anyone from artists seeking social justice to entrepreneurs rebuilding Detroit. It’s Intel partnering with Vice to produce the Creators Project, an initiative that makes art happen with technology (from Intel); it’s Samsung getting Jay Z to drop his album exclusively through its phones; it’s Red Bull being as much a sports drink peddler as a media giant

Those may have been previously expensed as marketing costs, but these initiatives are becoming rightful brand extensions in themselves, and is perhaps the future of content. Is it good for the creative industry and brands that rely on them for the associations it brings? The economics, on the face of it, seem sound – the marginal cost of distributing a cultural good is low, but the fixed costs in creating one can be high, either because the thing is expensive to make, or the labor involved demands a high wage (i.e. Jay Z). Giant corporate behemoths can come in and be a source of income and technical support to the otherwise starving artists and storytellers. Naturally we are also faced with brands possibly chasing the lowest common denominator for the widest appeal.

Or not. Consider Netflix, who collected enough data (the Atlantic has a great read on this) on its audience to engineer its way to the award-winning/crowd-pleasing content: House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. Brought to you by Netflix, first a distributor, and now a media company. As Dow Chemical shall be, some day.



Disneyfication is the transformation of something real or unsettling into carefully controlled and safe entertainment, or an environment with similar qualities. We talk about it like it’s a bad thing. The truth is we work extraordinarily hard to come up with software and devices to contain and tame our environments towards the hope of reaching something seamless, like it is for the characters in The West Wing, always running into the people they want to talk to as they are pacing towards their offices.

For a prime example of that, look to, well, Disney World. John Foreman, chief data scientist at Mailchimp, has written a smart article on Disney’s practice of digitally tracking consumers in the physical world, and how it will be reaching everywhere, from theme parks to our homes. It starts with Magic Bands, specially personalized with names for the sake of digital data purity. Strap them on, and pretty soon Disney’s imagineers will know every ride you took, every food you ate, every stop you made, everything you bought.

The aim is optimization – how can they deliver a better experience so that you have a better time and, ergo, spend more money?

If the goal is to keep you in the park longer so you’ll spend more money, it can build AI models on itineraries, show schedules, line length, weather, etc., to figure out what influences stay length and cash expenditure. Perhaps there are a few levers they can pull to get money out of you.

Or perhaps its models know that your family is staying in a high-dollar luxury Disney resort and that this morning you forked over lots of money at the Cinderella character breakfast. But right now your high-dollar family is stuck in a long line at an attraction. If your family gets too tuckered out or frustrated, you might be inclined to call it a day.

So, a model marks you as a candidate for “encouragement.” Within the park, a character is notified to make its way over to your children and entertain them until they can get on the ride. This increases enjoyment, decreases perceived exhaustion, and hopefully keeps you around for more meals, more trinkets and more arcade games.

The research questions that might be answered with this type of tracking data are endless:

  • What menu items served at breakfast at the resort hotel restaurants will result in the longest stay at the park?

  • Do we detect an influx of park-goers into the bathrooms for long stays on the toilet? Perhaps they all ate at the same place, and we can cut off a foodborne illness problem before it gets worse.

  • Is there a roller coaster that’s correlated with early park departure or a high incidence of bathroom visits? That means less money in the park’s pockets. How might that coaster be altered?

  • Is there a particular ride and food fingerprint for the type of park visitor that’s likely to buy in-park high-dollar merchandise? If so, can we actively get vendors in front of this attendee’s eye by moving hawkers to them at just the right time?

The fact is that Disney world has the advantage of being a closed environment. Many other companies do not have the luxury of operating in a contained environment, but they’d also like to optimize their operations/your experience. Or to put it more crassly, to control your life – nudging you to buy this, on top of that; to come again this week, instead of next.

It’s not new. It’s one of the fundamental goals of marketing. For example, a discount pricing model implemented on airline seats wants to control your booking decisions by adjusting prices. The control is targeted and specific, so you feel pretty good about it.

We now know this is Google’s end game. Self-driving cars, Google Glass and the purchase of Nest — Google is dying to get out of your computer and all up in your life. With Nest, Google won’t just know how you like your air to feel. It’ll know when you’re at work and when you’re at home. It gets pieces in a data puzzle that is your entire observable life.

Loyalty cards (those things you swipe at the grocery store) were the first salvos into this real-world data gathering. Now, department stores are doing a lo-fi version of MagicBands by tracking the hardware ID on your cell phone’s Wi-Fi card as you wander the store.

Hey, look! That’s the same Wi-Fi ID as the person who bought a necklace from us last week. Maybe a sales associate should propose a pair of earrings to them?

It sounds disturbing. But consumers, and not just Americans, are willing to give up their data in a heartbeat if it’ll make their lives easier.

Same with Angry Birds (tracks location). Same with LinkedIn (can read AND WRITE my phone call data, can read my “calendar events plus confidential information”, etc.). Same with the freaking Shazam app that let’s me identify that song playing in the mall. Have you heard of Stylitics? You get your wardrobe mirrored back at you in a virtual closet –whatever that is — and Stylitics gets to sell your clothing data to retailers to better understand where else you shop beside their stores.

We’re all wringing our hands over the NSA, and meanwhile we’re handing our data as fast as we can to other entities for next to nothing. If the NSA were smart, it would buy Candy Crush Saga, change the permissions, and be done with it.

Jose Ramos is an academic at the Queensland University of Technology, and wrote an article in 2013 on the futures of power in the network era. In it he posits that in the struggle for power in network politics and network economics, four scenarios may emerge in the near future:

four futures of power in the network era


What is our preferred future? Judging from the 2 billion Angry Birds downloads, perhaps we can should roll out the red carpet for our Google overlords now.

In case you’re totally dead inside and have zero imagination, MIT Media Lab has come up with a wearable, augmented book that tries to physically make you feel the characters’ feelings as you read the story; otherwise known as “sensory fiction”.

sensory fiction

Note that the story is appropriately titled “The Girl Who Was Plugged In”.

The book is covered with sensors and hooked up to a vest worn by the reader to produce physical sensations. Depressed protagonist? Time for some moody lighting. Scared? The vest inflates itself so that it’s tighter.

It’s like we know how to do all these amazing things but are not sure what the hell to do with it. Technology is the answer, but what was the question? 

This needs to be on 

Storytelling for brands is the concept in vogue, even though that has always been what it is. (still, I’d hate to write storyteller on my business card, and other such similar titles i.e. chief troublemaker, agent provocateur, professional amateur, annoy me. However, Isaac Asimov gets a pass.)


Yet storytelling is what I/we marketers/designers/writers do, and I’m going to commit the following to my memory so family and friends can stop giving me blank stares when I describe my work (obviously the fault is mine):

Your logo is an extension of your brand, and your brand is a story. Your story.

Who you are and what you do is one part of that story; the combined experiences, feelings, and perceptions that your brand evokes are the other. The designer’s job is to distill that “special something” as neatly, and as elegantly, as possible.

Thoughtful design involves far more than simply choosing colors and stock images. To craft a brand identity that clearly (and effectively) communicates the core of your story takes an in-depth process of research, exploration and refinement.

The logo is only the final product.

It reminds me of what CS Lewis said about writing in a letter response to a young fan:

Dear Joan–

Thanks for your letter of the 3rd. You describe your Wonderful Night v. well. That is, you describe the place and the people and the night and the feeling of it all, very well — but not the thing itself — the setting but not the jewel. And no wonder! Wordsworth often does just the same. His Prelude (you’re bound to read it about 10 years hence. Don’t try it now, or you’ll only spoil it for later reading) is full of moments in which everything except the thing itself is described. If you become a writer you’ll be trying to describe the thing all your life: and lucky if, out of dozens of books, one or two sentences, just for a moment, come near to getting it across.

It’s more art than science, more history than invention, more fundamental than specific, more everything than something.

That’s my reaction to the news that Amazon plans to ship items it thinks you’ll like before you’ve even clicked on the purchase button. (Just the phrase, “it thinks”, is sort of enough to scare.) In addition to drone delivery, it recently filed a patent for “anticipatory shipping”, a system that allows Amazon to ship items to shipping hubs in areas where it believes said item will sell fast, cutting delivery time and getting ever closer to translating the instant gratification we get online to the real world.

Amazon plans to box and ship products it expects customers to buy preemptively, based on previous searches and purchases, wish lists, and how long the user’s cursor hovers over an item online. The company may even go so far as to load products onto trucks and have them “speculatively shipped to a physical address” without having a full addressee. Such a scenario might lead to unwanted deliveries and even returns, but Amazon seems willing to take the hit, stating in the patent, “Delivering the package to the given customer as a promotional gift may be used to build goodwill.”

I love Amazon for the lengths it goes to satisfy the consumer, while also being quite terrified of by the scale of its efforts. Perhaps more disturbing is the fact that this is granted a patent – I imagine there’s some proprietary technology Amazon has developed for itself using its data, but as a process, retailers have been doing it from Day One. What it really means, of course, is once Amazon starts matching supply with real demand and is reliably offering the best prices, there should be little reason for big box stores to exist. (There are also many reasons why that reality may not pan out.) But we have a ways to go.



Shutterstock recently published its third annual global design trends for 2014. Being a source for some 350 million image downloads for use in both online and offline communications, the company stands to have a good overview of the trends emerging in graphic design and visual culture.

The universal trends are not surprising – filtered, instagram-like pictures, flat designs, and authentic, emotional images are gaining popularity. Check out the rest of the infographic to find out what’s been or will be hogging the page/screen.



via Shutterstock. I suppose those images on StockFail weren’t real hits.