free markets, free culture

Archive for the ‘popular culture’ Category

Gestalt advertising

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Frank J. Oswald’s latest Mental Shavings post is about the new Scientology commercial: Chocolate and Football Games

Frank notes: “Of the smattering of comments on YouTube, nearly all are positive, like this one: ‘This makes one of my friends cry every time. So beautiful and so true.’ ”

Filmmakers know that any sweeping montage of opposites — life, death, up, down, yin, yang — tends to have that tearjerker effect.

Or at least some kind of awe-inspiring, holistic, gestalt effect, like those commercials for multi-national conglomerates. These are the Koyaanisqatsi type clips of ships, airliners, wind turbines, planets… The viewer asks, “What does this company do?” The campaign says, “What we do is everything.” (Think Dow, GE)

Who doesn’t like a good, random collection of nouns? Shoes, ships, sealing wax, cabbages, and kings. I dare you to read one page of Adrian LeBlanc’s Random Family and not be spurred on to read the next 100 pages, just to see where all these nouns lead. Perhaps to chocolate and football games… roast beef, and trampolines.


Written by @hellopanelo

June 25, 2009 at 2:30 pm

Layoff schwag: the curious pile of left-behinds

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roulette industries

roulette industries

In the office kitchen, there’s a table crowded with knick-knacks and odd-ends, like the forgotten corner in a yard sale. Old books, plastic flowers, a vase, a bowl, several variations on a paperweight.

Upon closer inspection, you realize these are the desk remains of colleagues recently departed — most of them involuntarily, part of the fallout of an organization shedding layers to improve efficiency.

One book left behind was the above 1998 Cambridge Press title, Entertainment Industry Economics: A Guide for Financial Analysis by Harold Vogel. I flipped through it and immediately knew it would be one of my more, well, entertaining reading projects.

This book interests me for a few reasons:

1. It provides the economic theories/realities behind contemporary entertainment industries. It’s a financial analyst’s perspective of pricing structures, revenue models, distribution methods, and other considerations that an MBA would need to know, but may not be as apparent to the person marketing these industries. Someone like me, pursuing an MS in Strategic Communications, is used to approaching these industries from a narrow marketing perspective. This book is like a transparency filter to me, and fills in a lot of gaps I had about these industries. On the marketing side, I knew there were a lot of missing answers, but I didn’t know how to ask the right questions.

2. Because this is a real economics book, it does go more into the social sciences aspect of entertainment itself. The introduction dives into conceptual differences between “leisure” and “work” and the sociological factors that have increased our time for entertainment and the cultural place it holds in American society.

3. The book is tightly-written in the language of finance — macroeconomics, profitability synopses, corporate overviews, big-picture accounting — but is easily grasped as a simple narrative. I credit Vogel for striking a good balance of intellectual depth with accessible readability. As Edith told us (from Zinsser’s book On Writing Well), the simpler your words, the smarter you sound.

4. If the internet is a time machine, old books are the way-way-back machine. This book was written over a decade ago and it’s so much fun to read sections on the Music industry or the Broadcast industry or Motion Pictures and laugh about all the things the analysts never even saw coming! (Retro Futurism in general is a fun genre, looking at the past’s idea of the future, often involving flying cars and other imagined flights. My favorite retro-future concept involves food — surprise! — as featured in The Gallery of Regrettable Food, including some real culinary puzzlers from mid-century America… weiners in a sea of beans, anyone?)

I recommend this as required reading for anyone in or entering the entertainment industry, to get a lay of the land and understand the economic forces behind it all. This text doesn’t look readily available for mass market purchase, but you can preview the latest edition of this book (2007) on Google Reader or find it at the library.

On second thought, I guess this type of analysis is readily available from research consultants like Forrester’s or Deloitte, who routinely publish their industry outlooks as their core business. I prefer the book and its physical presence though. The weight feels appropriate — 500 pages, bound and covered, in your hand.

Written by @hellopanelo

April 23, 2009 at 1:02 pm

Think global, act hyperlocal:

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Seen in NYC:

(Twitpic posted by Jack Cheng)

This is when an open-source GPS system could come in handy… especially if you’ve ever tried the steamed pork buns at Momofuku.

(Do you think star chef David Chang uses Google Latitude?)

This outdoor ad promotes a beta website for “Locals Only” — NBC’s attempt at hyperlocalism for the true NYC insider. It’s a familiar tune: big media giant attempts to be smaller, friendlier to the consumer, now that the consumer has many more options than the old giants of broadcast television.

John Wallace, president of NBC Local Media, confirmed:

“Our goal was to create a new type of user experience that’s less an extension of our TV stations and more of an online destination for the latest local news, information and entertainment. These sites are about putting consumers first and giving them the content they’re looking for from the best available sources.”

(link to press release here)

In the same release, Brian Buchwald, Senior Vice President of NBC Local Integrated Media, defines the target audience as Social Capitalists: “people who loved their cities, embrace change and have a huge appetite for local news and information.” It’s less a demographic than “a state of mind,” according to Buchwald, which I’m sure frustrates marketers who can’t run quant research on “states of mind” as accurately as they can demographics.

NBC joins the hyperlocal-experimenting ranks of the New York Times, who recently started “The Local”, a blog with a beat that’s only interesting to residents of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, in Brooklyn. NYT’s attempt at a hyperlocal blog is criticized by some who see it as a useless intrusion of a big brand into a space already populated by grassroots residents of those neighborhoods.

I see it as a place where I can potentially see news about block-specific events that would never make any other news, but would satisfy my morbid curiosities about why there were two accidents two days in a row on the intersection in front of my apartment, for example. (Edith, I hope you’re not reading my blog, I don’t know where that runon sentence came from!)

The stuff of hyperlocal blogs: selling illegal turtles on Flatbush and Fulton.
(story and photo here)

I’m reminded of small-town newspaper clippings — from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama — sent to me as charmingly anecdotal jokes, reminders of what is “news” in small towns.

Written by @hellopanelo

April 12, 2009 at 3:31 pm

Pure Solo: Karaoke 2.0?

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Real music, fake musicians

My friend Tan is both a Guitar Hero video game enthusiast and a student of the real guitar. Sometimes she hosts guitar lessons at her place — there’s real sheet music, and chord-learning, and pitch-whistles, and strings to cut.

When I come over, though, I always reach for the plastic toy guitar for some video game time. My friend Alexa asserts, “We Asians don’t want to learn to play a real instrument, we just want to play a game of it.” This is true for a lot of people, not just Asians! (Though we do love shortcuts.) Heck, some people dispense with the guitar altogether and go for 100% showmanship.

The cult of performance

Communal showmanship also drives an older performance-based phenomenon, karaoke. It’s so simple, there’s no “learning” how to be a singer. You have a mic, you’re in the room with friends (strangers too, if you’re brave), the background music is automated, and the lyrics spoon-fed to you. Everything’s in place, you just have to warble out a tune as best you can.


Pure Solo is a new company that wants to take karaoke to the next level. Their beta application has 10,000 legally licensed “backtracks” for songs. You can record yourself singing over these tracks (using their free audio software), download the finished product for a few dollars, and email the finished track to your friends.

Business model

In an interview with the Guardian, CEO David Kaplan explains the biz model: “We have a straightforward pay-per download model for the backing track and accompaniment and give the software away for free.”

David sees personalization and recommendation as key elements to his biz strategy too. “The core of our business is a personalized musical experience. Everyone loves to hear themselves play or sing – we take that a step further and make the process quick & easy and allow users to legally share the end results. The viral effect of this sharing should not only spread the word but also drive content requests and recommendations.”

Smart “social entrepreneurship” move

Pure Solo partnered with Take It Away, a division of Arts Council England that encourages people to learn and play music. They even subsidize instruments! You can borrow up to £2000 at 0% APR to purchase any kind of musical instrument. (I recommend an electronic drum kit… on a T-shirt.) In another example of a profit-within-a-nonprofit, this program is operated by ArtCo Trading Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary and registered LLC.

My picks for “Karaoke 1.0”

Pure Solo has a good idea, but it’s not Karaoke 2.0 as much as it is a lower barrier-to-entry for recorded songs and personalized entertainment. A recorded song from a friend is a neat thing to have, but karaoke will always be about the spontaneous, live gathering of tipsy people who want to sing their hearts out. (And the people who, inevitably, want to record them and post the videos to Facebook.)

  • Sing Sing (E. Village)– downtown divey, for those gritty rock songs
  • Japas 38 (K-town) — flat rate for unlimited songs, sushi, fried foodstuffs, and booze
  • Monster KTV (Flushing) — if you really want to go all out (literally, you have to go to Queens) this place has enormous rooms (downright palatial) with multiple small-cinema-sized projection screens and a delicious spicy beef noodle soup.

Written by @hellopanelo

March 11, 2009 at 11:54 am

Brooklyn Museum adds API; Matt Dickman explains API to marketers

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Museum gets it

Museum "gets it"

Matt Dickman is a techno-marketer — he explains, in plain English, technical terms that “confuse or intimidate marketers.”

Take API for example, one of the core tenets of web 2.0. There’s a lot of tech jargon behind this “Application Programming Interface” but Matt breaks it down in a 3-minute whiteboard video, “What is an API?”

Basically, an API gives people a “key” to a company’s data. Your API key lets you do what you want with the company’s data, within limits.

This is like Google giving you access to their maps, so people have the ability to make crazy maps that no self-respecting company would touch, such as “She Went of Her Own Accord”, a Google maps mashup comprised entirely of location-based jokes, i.e. place names that are puns.

Cool enough. And what if the company is a museum? What does an API bring to that organization and its marketing?

Enter the Brooklyn Museum, which this week launched an API of their collection. This API key consists of “a set of methods that return structured data and links to images from the museum’s collections.” It works nicely with “Tag! You’re It!”, the museum’s previous foray into tagging their online collection.

So, awesome, you get to mash up all the pretty art in the Brooklyn Museum’s collection. What’s the benefit from this kind of work?

Even the museum blog doesn’t pretend to know the answers:

There’s a wonderful X factor to all this—that we just don’t know what interesting something that someone will come up with—so it is exciting to wait and see. One thing we do know is people within our own industry have been working to create various pan-institution collection databases. By releasing our API, Brooklyn Museum data can now be included in these endeavors without requiring more staff time from us (something that would have been impossible prior to the API). The API offers us a way to share our data in a very democratic way—the work we do on the API can benefit all developers working with our collection online—not just major projects coming out of the non-profit sector.”

Lesson learned: APIs introduce the X Factor… hope you like surprises.

All images owned by Brooklyn Museum are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerviatives license.

All images owned by Brooklyn Museum are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerviatives license.

Written by @hellopanelo

March 6, 2009 at 1:45 pm

Celebrate theft, embrace cliche, and go see Soul Samurai already!

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Talent imitates, genius steals. In the spirit of yesterday’s quote, here are 3 random picks from the
Cultural Remix Blender:

A) I Heart Wong Kar Wai

I ❤ Wong Kar Wai is a collection of short films in the visually-saturated, melancholic-love style of the famed Hong Kong filmmaker. “If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then these films are pure adoration.”
(Hollywood is the biggest recycler of them all, often to the point of formulaic mass appeal. Some directors strives for exact artistic replicas, like Gus Van Sant’s 1998 Psycho, which remakes the classic 1960 Hitchcock film, scene for scene, shot for shot.)

B) Dutch-style portraiture

Hendrik Kerstens’ quirky portraits are an uncanny take on Vermeer… or any Flemish painting where the women wear odd headgear.

C) Soul Samurai

I’m not usually a play-pusher, a fangirl, or heck, even that excited about “live theatre” but I’m on a mini-campaign for this show since I saw it two weeks ago. Beyond WOM marketing and the standard social media blasts, I’m twitter-stalking the playwright and broadcasting the last shows to relevant mass email groups. I even nudged a freelance writer to pitch a review (accepted by!)

Soul Samurai is great on many levels: writing, set design, acting talent, multimedia storytelling.

But the strongest point was the genre-busting! It had comic books + Kill Bill + Shaft + smart sexy heroines + mixed martial arts + puppets + blaxploitation + live-action digital shorts + philosophical pimp wordplay + post-apocalyptic American Apparel outfits.

And breakdancing. Lots of breakdancing. It takes place in Brooklyn after all.

“All of that… in a play? I’m impressed,” says Cheryl Metzger, who has yet to see it. (Hint!)

“It’s like it was made of all these cliches,” says Catherine Chiong. “Familiar phrases, and things I already knew — but put together in a unique way.”

The force of cliches can be powerful in the hands of a gifted author. Literary critic Umberto Eco tells us that familiar cliches are the force behind films like Casablanca, which is “not just one film. It is many films, an anthology.” It’s love, it’s death. It’s music and seduction. It’s all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, and “we’ll always have Paris.”

Arielle Schiff, fan of the Vampire Cowboys theatre company (producer of Soul Samurai), notes their shows are “always so fun and funny, and then there will be a really poignant moment that is surprisingly touching.”

As Umberto Eco explains it: “Two cliches make us laugh. A hundred cliches move us.”

Show ends March 15. Tickets on sale here, $20 with discount code VAMPFAN.

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March 3, 2009 at 3:15 pm

Link roundup

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March 1, 2009 at 1:04 pm