Tag Archives: Consistency

The Day A Visionary Died

When visionaries come along, they are usually not always thought to be so when they hit the scene. Many times, once they do reach a certain level of stature or praise, they lose their vision.  We’ve seen it time and again in history. When the Beastie Boys came on the scene in a big way in 1986, most people didn’t know what to make of them as white guys in a rap world where most artists were not. People didn’t know whether to write them off as jokes or pay attention to them as real things – the fact that before their transition to rap, they were not doing to well on the punk scene. What ultimately helped them sustain, was the punk attitudes that they intertwined with their rap and hip-hop leanings. Over the course of the nearly 30 years since, they were masters at blazing new trails in music, art and video – and their creator and ringleader on the video and arts front was Adam Yauch (also known as MCA).  Sadly, he died today of Cancer. Luckily, Yauch was appreciated in his lifetime as a visionary and we are all the beneficiaries of his .

While the music the Beastie Boys created continued to evolve, it always maintained a consistent style.  Whether it was three rappers (Yauch, Adam Horovitz/Adrock, Michael Diamond/Mike D) with a turntablist, instrumentalist with a layer of quick staccato MCs on top or a multi-layered mix of original music, samples and thoughtful rhymes – you always knew you were listening to the Beastie Boys. While the styles might have shifted slightly, the core remained the same.

Their play within the art and video worlds ran along the same lines as their music – using styles that everyone knew and felt comfortable with and then adding their own layers on top to make their products as great as your uncles old cardigan that you used to snuggle with. Their spirit and attitude remained consistent and what may have first led you to ask, “are they for real?”, ultimately made you think that everyone other than them were just posing. And Yauch had a lot to do with that.

Though Yauch always seemed like the most subdued of the three to me, his work directing a large number of their videos (under his pseudonym, Nathaniel Hörnblowér) always seemed to push the boundaries of what was acceptable, but still seemed as right as a chill afternoon hanging with your best friends. The Beastie’s collection of music videos is the only music video set that has actually been released as part of The Criterion Collection.

Yauch used his position to do numerous things for the benefit of society and seemed to have no shortage of friends to help him pull these off.  Whether it was the organizing of benefit concerts to Free Tibet or end violence in New York City, he made the best use of his connections. Though I took some pride that he (and the rest of the boys) spent some quality time in one of my old neighborhoods (Atwater Village, Silver Lake, Los Feliz) it was clear what sway the five boroughs held on him and his cohorts. They’re love was greatly shown in their last few releases.

When someone has a vision like Yauch had when he first put the band together and then expanded with the creation of Oscilloscope Laboratories, the recording and film studio he started a decade ago, its hard not to want to be a part of it. Whether watching with envy the people selected for the crowdsourced Beastie Boys concert video he directed (Awesome: I F—in’ Shot That!) or the wonderment when watching all of the stars (i.e. Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Seth Rogen, Elijah Wood, Will Arnett, Ted Danson, Alicia Silverstone, Steve Buscemi, Mary Steenburgen, Kirsten Dunst, Jack Black, Will Ferrell, and on and on) he got to take roles in his long form video return to Fight For Your Right: Revisited (below), his presence, power and influence was clear and we can now only image what could have been.  At the end of Revisited (which clearly illustrates the consistency of the Beastie Boys brand – cool, irreverent, sense of humor), there’s a “To Be Continued: Check back in 25” years. I only wish we could.

RIP MCA, I’m sorry and Saddened that you left so soon…

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Dear John, If Only You’d Told Your Story, We Might Have Come

It probably isn’t a surprise to anyone that JOHN CARTER opened so poorly at just over $30 million.  Disney marketers can take some solace from the markets outside of the US, where the take was around $70 million with the biggest opening ever in Russia.  The shame is that it probably didn’t have to be that bad.  Because there were so many challenges inserted by the marketing team themselves, they lost sight of the story.  If they had focused more on that, perhaps more people might have come to see it.

I can understand their reported concern about mentioning Mars in the title due to some concerns – perhaps unfounded – about people’s perceptions of titles with Mars in it.  But the Mars comps I was hearing were kid’s animated titles – not epic ones like this?  And, with the change to a name like John Carter, isn’t it a no-brainer that you would/should focus everything on conveying who he is?  Even with the fan-made trailer that was better than anything the marketing team put out doesn’t really provide any emotional connection to the character.  It does provide context of where he’s from and, possibly, how he got there, but not much more.

From my understanding, Disney was floundering with how to promote it and became wishy-washy about placement and focus and even relied more on lamenting its qualities.  I don’t buy that hinging a huge picture on a less-recognizable name or less-known source is what the main problem was. In some markets, the blame game had already begun, leaving me to shake my head at the larger international numbers. The marketing seemed to become a grabbing of straws – do we go after kids and show the dog-looking character?  Do we go after the action fan and show battle sequences?  Do we post humongous billboards with battle scenes and retro B-movie design motif or humongous billboard with a four-armed alien amidst an entirely different design motif?

Amidst all of that, there was still nothing about John Carter, the character- or anything that people cared about.  During the same opening weekend, a small film opened with very direct marketing to gain $7 million at the box office.  SILENT HOUSE didn’t hide what it was and went after that crowd with a vengeance.  They’ve got to be pretty happy with the opening weekend return.  Did Disney think they had an epic, so therefore they just needed to be big and hammer at no-one in particular? If you’re going to be sci-fi, tell a sci-fi story.  If you’re going to be an otherworldly fish-out-of-the-water love story, tell it. Paralysis is not an option for storytelling and maybe the testing and second-guessing internally led to that paralysis here.

The books by Edgar Rice Burroughs a century ago were the forefront and inspiration of so many of our beloved stories – from STAR WARS to AVATAR and more. It is truly sad that the story so many storytellers derived their stories from could do no better than seem like a derivative of all those who came after it.  The campaign tried to do everything but tell its own story and it will have nothing to show for it other than the piling on about what the marketing group did or didn’t do – and that isn’t good for anybody in the industry. Just tell the damn story…

A Bold Campaign By A Bold Brand

There are some brands that are of a certain ilk that make you wonder whether they really need to do any marketing at all.  They are the ones that everyone who would ever covet their product knows exactly who they are and can either get their products or just dream about them.  Some, like Tiffany, are forever embedded in the psyche as key parts of movies – or their opulence speaks for itself. Another example is that we don’t see a lot of commercials, banners or other for Bentleys, Ferraris or Lamborghinis.  In these cases, one might even think that the companies would be in trouble if they started doing mass advertising.  Cartier could be considered one such company with a history of selling to royalty, celebrities and the elite.  Granted, we do see advertising for high-end clothing lines and jewelry brands, but they are very specific and not as large-scale as this. With Cartier’s jewelery and designs celebrated in museums, it is commendable that they should launch their new “L’Odyssée de Cartier” campaign as a bold celebration of the brand.

The centerpiece is a three-and-a-half minute film that fantastically evokes the 165 year history of the company.  It uses a central icon of the company’s design, the panther, and really had fun with it. Around that film, they built a site and advertising campaign that retains the exclusive feel that would ordinarily be expressed through private parties or elaborate mailers through its tasteful execution. Expense did not seem to be an object with the elaborate and elegant production and full page color ads in Sunday papers.

The video treatment was not completely out of the ordinary as you can see many product videos that evoke the same whimsy on their YouTube channel. Most everything there is of a longform video nature, but not at this scale. The fact that they did this provided the opportunity to not only promote it more than their previous campaigns and create a source of content that can continue to be re-packaged for many shorter pieces and needs.

They’ve even gone so far as to include bonus features –  a “making of”, discussion of the score and a piece on the panther and its place in the company – in the L’Odyssée site.

By making everything effectively larger than life with all parts, it seems like they really hit the mark by doing mainstream advertising and maintaining the exclusive feel of the brand.

All in, its great to be able to see a well orchestrated execution work so beautifully when a brand mounts a big and bold campaign that stays true to it’s core and invites consumers to join it’s odyssée.

USA Displays Character To Overcome Key Challenges

One of the challenges in entertainment is building a brand.  On the theatrical and home entertainment side, the titles change and it can sometimes feel like you are starting from scratch with each new release.  Disney may have a leg up on everyone else because of their overall brand and audience recognition, but often even that doesn’t work (see JOHN CARTER, SORCERER’S APPRENTICE.) On the network side, unless your programming is all about the same thing – like food, home and garden or cartoons – you often have to rely on marketing your shows as mini-brands.  Sometimes you can get away with promoting comedy night or reality night, but with those, its hard to differentiate one network from another.  USA Network has overcome that challenge and has been doing well since they established their core with Characters Welcome in 2005 and have been expanding on it ever since.

Perhaps it started with the syndicated airing of MONK episodes – a heavy character piece starring Tony Shalhoub – was one of their most-watched shows. They not only focused on the strong character theme in their marketing, but in their programming.  With a string of original shows featuring strong characters, starting with PSYCH in 2006, through to other shows that were light on drama and heavy on character (BURN NOTICE, IN PLAIN SITE, ROYAL PAINS, SUITS) – not only did the audience know what they would find, it was clear what the network executives were looking for in both original programming and syndication.  With the emphasis on character, it isn’t totally about programming fads or copycat programming.

That consistent, clear direction works throughout its marketing as well.  Wayne Friedman talked about network branding in his blog yesterday, focusing on the non-scientific polling of his wife.  When he asked what her favorite network is, she took a moment to scroll in her mind through all the programs from disparate networks, hemmed and hawed, and ultimately stated, “No, wait. It’s USA. It’s about the characters. The shows are fun and light.” Friedman was right that her response is derivative of the network’s content and tag line, but much more of it comes from their consistent messaging and experiences in their marketing extensions – and it goes even further than that…

Everything ties to character.  They have won awards for their digital extensions of the theme and keep pounding away at the character moniker throughout their messaging. So, that consistency alone should be enough, but they leverage the messaging to actually go above and beyond in ways that help their bottom line.

They extend the theme into non-profit and PSA territory in a way that’s organic and meaningful.  They have shown the spotlight on characters that make a difference through their Character Project – a series of short films – and in their PSAs under the Characters Unite campaign.

The PSA series has been USA’s campaign against prejudice and racism and promoting tolerance and acceptance.  An interesting point is that they are able to involve celebrities that are not even on their network for the cause, bringing in different viewers than usual.  One key example is the involvement of NFL players though the network has no NFL connection.  There is even a city-to-city tour going on right now that brings celebrities around to live events as part of a national storytelling tour.

In the end, they leverage every opportunity to prove that Characters are Welcome and key to their existence.  It helps across the board as everyone knows what they are getting then they either go to watch shows or sell them to the network.  It is certainly easier for a more pointed network to pull this off than a broadcast network that needs to be broad in its nature.  The same could be said for studios that have to have somewhat of a broad output of properties. What stands out is that USA not only defined a tag line, but a governing rule of thumb for their entire being.  The campaign has been going for 7 years and does not seem to have any signs of stopping.  You’d be hard pressed to find another example of that overall branding success for a network or studio. In doing so, USA overcame the inherent challenges in branding entertainment and even took it a further step beyond.

Without Consistency in Star Wars, What’s The Limit?

We all know what kind of uproar there was surrounding the release of Episodes 1, 2 and 3 of the STAR WARS Saga – while there was a lot of excitement and anticipation, the end product was a tad underwhelming.  The fervor was there, especially after episodes IV, V and VI became such a huge part of our culture. Creator, George Lucas took a lot of heat from going back on his promise to never change his original films when he retouched them for their coinciding theatrical re-release and DVD releases. So, it should be such a shock that the filmmaker would go back into the vault to mess with the originals and create 3D versions.  I’m sure that the 3D release of Episode 1 today and the surely forthcoming 3D refreshes will make loads of money, but is it worth the price of consistency?

With that being said, I couldn’t pass up on celebrating the changes in Darth Vader’s graphic interface that our friends at Oskoui+Oskoui created.  If Lucas can mess with the mythology, then why can’t everyone else?  Please select your interface, but know that a 2 year contract is required…

The Blackberry InterfaceWindows 7 Interface

Facebook Is Rearranging the Bar in the Move to Timeline

Can you imagine if your favorite local store, restaurant or bar were to go through an overhaul each year?  They might have the same items, but decide to change the entire layout of the place. Or, they maintain the design and change from a breakfast-all-day place to sandwiches only.  Perhaps they decide that they will make people enter from a different location each time. Better yet, when you step up to the bar, you have to do a different set of hand gestures each time before ordering your second drink. Now, compound that with the idea that as each change comes, you become treated less as a regular and start to question whether you should go there in the first place.  If such changes would surely hurt businesses in the real world, why are they becoming such a big part of our digital world? The largest example of the phenomenon is  in Facebook effectively changing the seating arrangement, the menu and the ordering procedure through the coming weeks with their Timeline product.

Facebook’s shift to Timeline is a major one that will be mandatory.  We’ve been waiting for it since the F8 conference a few months ago and now its hitting accounts.  Some people have it and like it, while others have no sign of it in their account.  Even the way they are rolling it out is different that their practices in the past as they usually just seemingly “press a button” every few weeks to push site changes live immediately.  One has to imagine that they are doing a progressive rollout for a reason – could it be to help people prepare?

At this point, it is almost becoming more daunting to users the longer it takes to hit accounts.  There’s huge issues raised about privacy and how the timeline features could affect users in both personal and professional matters. Having not received the update, I can’t even follow these directions for changing the Privacy Settings yet.

Even with the ability to change settings, there is a lot of concern voiced by users. The security firm Sophos polled over 4000 users to get their thoughts and the response is overwhelmingly cautious with 51% saying they are worried about Timeline, 32% even questioning why they are still on Facebook and less than 8% stating they like it. 

The concerns run the gamut from worries about identity thieves more easily finding information to the fact that even we don’t remember everything we’ve put on Facebook.  I know that I have been concerned about privacy since the get-go, but I am equally sure that I am likely to see some things I probably would not like to have had up there.  Imagine what users who posted regularly as college students and now find themselves all grown up will see.

Add to this, the fact that users will have only seven days to change all of their settings once their sites are switched over – whenever that may be – and you’ve got a recipe for a lot of customer loss.  If I’m no longer a regular visitor to my Facebook page recently, you better believe that I’m checking it out every day now to see if the switch has been flipped.  Hell, it might actually up their user activity numbers in the coming weeks – which would look nice for their mythically pending IPO.

This is not to say that change should not occur, but consistency is key.  With the advances in technology, the ability to constantly upgrade and change is exciting and enticing, but is it always best? We’ve found in traditional businesses, change takes a lot of preparation.  More digital companies need to take that to heart.

One instance of a brick and mortar changing in a way that is similar to Facebook is hopefully not a sign of what’s to come for Facebook… A local family restaurant, Nichols, has been in Marina Del Rey, CA for decades.  The menu contained everything you could want from a glorified greasy spoon diner and they were always filled. Last Spring, they closed for a couple of months to get a facelift – which made sense as the fittings were dated. There was a lot of excitement about the re-opening.  As far as the customers knew, the only thing changing was the decor and the addition of “J.” before Nichols.  When the place finally re-opened in December, the menu had completely changed, shortened and none of the old staff were there. Sadly, there is never a line to get in and you drive by to see the place empty.  My only hope is that they figure things out and maybe add back a lot of the family friendly food that was on the old menu.

It’s not a bad thing to change, but it has to be done smartly.  It is one thing to change a store or a restaurant that might have a total of 10,000 customers, but to change the confines of a community of over 800MM is another deal entirely.  Even if the site or app reaches a much smaller community, the UI is not something that can be tweaked easily and often – regardless of the company’s technical prowess.

I don’t believe that Facebook is doing anything wrong by making this drastic change, per-se.  It’s just that the online equivalent of one of our favorite high-street shops is changing itself considerably when there was already a questioning client base.  It may end up being a source of lessons for other companies both traditional and digital when they look to make a whole change just because they can.

Consistent Branding and the Key to Not Disappearing

While many small business executives state their belief in the importance of branding and identity, a surprising amount miss the mark.  When proper branding can have the largest impact on their company and its survival, they either choose to skimp on it by just having a logo created or worse, working counter to any identity at all.  In some of the worse cases, the branding – or lack thereof – is so diabolical to the product offered that it actually taints the product.  There are examples from all different sizes of companies showing where companies that are consistent across the board on identity excel and companies that seem to have no clue remain stagnant or disappear entirely.

Proper branding doesn’t just provide a logo for your letterhead or website – it provides a clear communication of the company and its values across all connection points.  It should certainly help convey what you’re offering is, but it should also enable clear guidelines for how you actually do your business.  Consistent identity informs your staff or perspective employees what you’re all about from a day-to-day and ethics basis when related to communications and even the design of the offices. And, it doesn’t even have to do with imagery alone.  In the case of Zappos, they laid their identity foundation when they made clear that customer service comes first.  That identity persists even after their phenomenal success led them to be acquired by Amazon in 2009.  That unique and established identity enabled them to continue as they were and not be rolled into Amazon outright.  You can read further about this in a Mashable post by Ben Parr soon after the deal was announced.  Ultimately, it was not just about the logo or the business, but the entire brand, business and culture.

Just the other day, I experienced a small example of how consistency of brand is so important on a small-scale.  In this case, it was about how a small restaurant was able to change the taste and perceived value of its food by changing the decorations – and not for the better.

This restaurant used to have stark white walls and clear tables. Just recently, they added the strip of wallpaper, lace tablecloths and placemats that sort of match the wallpaper strip.  From this look alone, you would think the style of food is down-home cooking, comfort foods or maybe Italian if you want to stretch it.  Either way, it does not seem like the sushi restaurant that it actually is. As a relatively frequent customer, I was shocked to see the decor change.  To me, I would rather see stark white when it comes to Japanese food and this was so off to me that I wonder if they changed ownership and the quality of the food is going to suffer.

To be honest, the food didn’t taste as good as usual – and I wonder if that was because of the visuals.  As with anything, all of the senses play a part in the experiencing of the product.  In this case, the sense of sight colored my sense of taste.  My hope is that they work through this and change it back to what it was.

In the same way senses affect everything, just because you put out a great product doesn’t mean you can skimp on the office space or the characteristics of your staff.  Having a clear and consistent brand and identity makes it easier to convey what you want – rather than leaving it to your customer’s or partner’s imagination.  Without strong adherence to consistency, it will prove to hurt you in the long run. 

So, when you are small or just starting, the establishment, sharpening or even changing of identity is that much easier since you wont have to touch so many people and places to pull it off.  Therefore, it is that much more cost-effective to do so at the beginning of your company’s life cycle rather than later when you’re trying to round the corner to ultimate sustainability at whatever cost. The vision that is created by clear and consistent branding is that much harder to disappear – don’t skimp on that vision.