My 73 cents

I love the treasure troves of thrift shops and used book stores.  I’ve been known to leave a consignment boutique with a J. McLaughlin tie, a Heineken tray, and the complete recordings of the Police – all in one swoop.  A week ago, I dropped into a used book store I had never visited, and thought I was going to leave empty-handed.  I scoured the shelves and only found trashy romance novels and books about climbing the rusty corporate ladder.  Then, I saw it: the treasure that was awaiting me.

It was an old, beat-up paperback copy of a book called The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore, transplanted to my hands from the late 1960s.

I opened it and was sucked into a psychedelic experience of distorted photography, intentional blank pages, and text meant to be read in a mirror.  At the center of this “inventory of effects” was an annual about the evolving media environment.

So, I purchased it.  Given the store’s pricing structure of half-off the publishing price, I dropped all of 73 cents.

When I got home, I opened the book and read the first line:

The medium, or process, of our time—electric technology—is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of our personal life.”

A chill came over me.  It was as if I was reading a prophetic text, speaking to today’s emerging media and the byproducts of our social networks.

I read on:

“All media are extensions of some human faculty – psychic or physical.” 

This is true across history, and it begs a timeless question.  Should the media solely be regarded as the extension of the human who authored it?  Or is it an extension of our society as a whole, to be rewritten and reshaped on a communal level?

On one side of this two-way street, the content originator is awarded ownership.  The work is a protected asset of the psychic processes that imagined it.  It is a physical appendage that cannot be severed from the source that breathed it life.  Such is the current state of our regulatory climate, with laws governing intellectual and spatial property rights.   Entities such as the Internet Systems Consortium believe the legislation is spot-on.

The other side of this street is more of a cluttered intersection, with all parties thinking they have the right-away.  In this case, the electric technology itself is shaped and restructured by patterns of social interdependence (instead of the other way around). Some Internet contributors oppose legislation they believe would overprotect Internet property rights.  These individuals believe the societal collobaration offered by this model is necessary to ensure media continues to progress at the appropriate rates.

What do you think?  Are property laws, in respect to digital media, necessary to preserve the appropriate ownership of projects?  Or, would society as a whole benefit if the regulations were lifted?

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RTPL Featured band: The Shins

If you’ve seen the movie “GardenState,” you may recall Natalie Portman’s character telling Zach Braff’s character that listening to the Shins would change his life forever.  We think it will change yours as well.  It’s a great time to start this life-altering experience because the Shins will release a new album, “Port of Morrow,” March 20.

Why they make the list: Singer James Mercer.  It’s that’s simple.  Although he will be backed by a completely new lineup for the band’s fourth release, his hauntingly beautiful crooning will still be at the forefront.

Learn more about the Shins: The February edition of Spin Magazine featured an interview with Mercer, where he talks about the band and the upcoming release. He also sheds some light into why he disbanded the ensemble and sought entirely new personnel.  If you didn’t have the chance to pick up a copy of last month’s Spin, you’re in luck.  You can read the interview here, or access the full magazine through your iPad.

To read the article on your iPad, download the “Spin Play” app.  As with the Shins’ music, this app could easily change your life.  At the very least, it will change how you read.  It features a digital, interactive version of the magazine with exclusive videos, streaming playlists, and up-to-the minute news and reviews.

A closer look at Spin Play: As with Mercer transitioning from his old Shins lineup, Spin is embarking upon something entirely new.  They are evolving with the times and catering to their audience.  So, how will a brand with its roots in print journalism measure success in the world of mobile?  Luckily for them, it will not be too different from how they have measured their readership engagement levels for their hard-copy magazine editions:

  • Perceived Usefulness: Erick Schonfeld at TechCrunch says the app will live or die by the musical taste of its editors, and how useful the readers find the song recommendations.  This has always been the mark of success for Spin, except now they’re having to hit it head-on.  If readers of the print magazine learned about a band such as the Shins, they would have to later purchase the songs to see if the writers were credible.  Now, the proof is a click away.
  • Navigability: It will be very important for the Spin staff to measure how easy it is for users to navigate the app.  A reader has to scroll through pages, swipe across news updates, and click to launch content.  Yet, they have always had to be mindful of this metric, gauging the ease with which users could navigate through their print layouts.
  • Access: The company will also want to measure the accessibility of their app.  How easy is it to find in the Apple App store, how fast is the download, is it crashing when users try to launch it, and are subscriptions delivered to devices efficiently?  Yet, the magazine has historically had to be mindful of access, monitoring print distribution to subscribers, ensuring well-stocked supplies at retailers, and producing timely monthly editions.

Spin is fortunate that they have already established an online presence through the magazine’s website.  Many of the factors they need to measure in the mobile realm can be drawn from existing studies used to measure the success of websites.  It will be increasingly important to adapt these practices to mobile.  The Shins are not the only ones planning a March release.  Apple is slated to reveal the new iPad 3 on Wednesday.  If you plan to have one of these gadgets, be sure to use it to check out “Spin Play” – and the Shins!

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Hail to the hashtag

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To some, it looks like a number sign.  To some, it’s a pound key on a telephone.  To others, it’s a hand-drawn battleground for X’s and O’s to square off in classic Tic-Tac-Toe.

But, to over 175 million Twitter accountholders, it’s a hashtag.  These users rely on the hashtag to help others find what they have to say.  It effectively cuts through Internet clutter, immediately identifying their words as a “tweet.”  And, best of all, it only counts as one character in their limit of 140.

These symbols have leapt from the virtual world to become a very real part of our culture.  Coworkers talk to each other offline, across cubicles using hashtags.  Jack Layton, the leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party bashed Prime Minister Stephen Harper, calling his crime policies “a hashtag fail.”  There is even a cult, known as the Hashtag Mafia, with members who use the index and middle finger of each hand to flash each other gang signs resembling the symbol.  You can do this at home.  The hashtag is so popular, there’s even a figure that can show you how.

The hashtag is many things to many people: a status symbol for the Twitter in-crowd, a punchline for self-proclaimed comedians, and an underhanded maneuver for politicians.   For marketers, it is an incredibly powerful tool that can help:

  • Create conversations: The reality singing competition, The Voice, has its judges engage in tweet-wars in hopes America will back their favorites.
  • Promote contests: ModCloth, a clothing company, launched a Valentine’s Day contest, encouraging users to change the words of songs to be about candy using #sweetsongs.
  • Crowdsource: ESPN anchors bring viewers into the action by reading their tweets on the air.
  • Differentiate from competitors: Virgin America now operates an originally named and branded aircraft, #nerdbird.
  • Integrate media: Audi drove users online by flashing #SoLongVampires at the end of a Supebowl commercial.

Have you come across other innovative ways marketers have used the almighty hashtag? 

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Business blogging: Know your foes

In the world of social media, we hear a lot about “friends.”  In fact, this term has risen to the highest form of prevalence: assuming multiple grammatical forms.  In the noun sense, we refer to the number of friends we are connected to in our online networks.  When we receive a new request, we use the verb form, saying that someone has “friended” us.  Yes, this term has really occupied the fast lane into our lexicon.

When it comes to companies and blogs, it is also important to consider a word we don’t often hear in the social media context: foe.

So, who are your foes?

Foe #1: For one, your foes are your competitors.  It’s time to heed the advice of Green Day and truly know them – particularly what they are doing on social media channels.  If your competitors are effectively executing on their own integrated marketing strategies, they may very well be managing company blogs.

Consider these company blogs publicly available intel.  Read them religiously.  Understand how your competitors are using this media to generate ROI.  Are they offering free trial of their products?  Are they flexing their customer support muscles?  Are they boosting their email subscriber lists?  Learn their tactics and use your own blog to compete.

Foe #2: In addition to companies publishing official blogs, beware of unofficial bloggers.  These seemingly harmless unpaid Internet journalists are foes for a couple of reasons.  For one, they may be writing about you – without you reading, revising, or approving their content.  There are a number of individuals who solely devote their blog content to everyone from large corporations to private universities.  And, these individuals have no official ties to their subjects.

Unofficial bloggers are also foes because they can beat you on the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) battlefield.  Depending on the search terms people use to locate information about your company, they may first see information from an unaffiliated search.  The unofficial blog may rank higher than your official one.  Or, it may rank higher than your company website.  It’s worth a quick Google Search.

The scariest thing about unofficial bloggers is that they can assume the identity of both friend and foe.  In one post, they may give a gleaming review of one of your products.  On the next, they may criticize your acquisition strategy or highlight recent negative publicity.  The minute you trust them, they will turn on you.

The cliché “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” has never been truer, as the digital age has brought us all closer together – friend and foe alike.

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The internet: your indie theater

Fourth Street in Downtown Winston-Salem is a happening place.  Along this strip, there’s the local microbrewery, a Lebanese restaurant with $3 falafels on Tuesday, and a great gym for rock climbing.  And, nestled between it all, there’s another great gem: an independent movie theater.  It’s the kind of place you can go to see cutting-edge documentaries, foreign films, and cult classics – with a bag of popcorn in one hand and a glass of wine in the other.


A/perture, in the theater’s own words, serves as a “modern, unique alternative” to more traditional venues for watching movies.

A modern, unique alternative.  Say it three times.  Meditate on the words.  That’s what your brand deserves – a modern, unique alternative to the traditional.

In this case, we mean traditional advertising.  While the media of yesteryear still has its place, it’s no longer enough to help you stand out from the crowd.  So, what per say is your unique alternative?  How about a film of your own – that truly shows your brand’s independence?

Impossible.  Films take expensive camera crews, highly-paid actors, and months to put together.  Right?  Wrong.  It’s easier than ever to make a short film and embed a marketing message.  You just need an idea (we’re here to help) and a means with which to capture it (take the family camcorder off the shelf or use one of ours).

It’s also easier than ever to showcase your films.  There’s an entire theater at your disposal, packed with viewers ready to watch and share your message.  With streaming communities such as YouTube and Vimeo, the Internet is the perfect venue to showcase your masterpiece.

Here are some tips help you please your critics:

  • Make it entertaining so your viewers will want to watch all the way through.  While videos are a click away, so is the “Stop” button.  Introduce conflict early, on the way to a well-defined climax.
  • Make it accessible so you don’t eliminate potential audiences.  Save your work in a variety of file formats and sizes to accommodate different browsers and Internet connections.  And, don’t forget mobile.
  • Make it sell so it’s worth your while.  Tap the huge potential of this media by subtly featuring your products and services.  In other words, sell without selling.

Remember, you aren’t filming a commercial for a reason.

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RTPL Featured band: Vampire Weekend

At OffForty, we love music.  It inspires us.  It gets the creative juices flowing.  And, yes, it often leads to spontaneous dance parties.  So, on occasion, we will be introducing you to a featured band we’ve been listening to.  Our goal?  To help you create the ultimate Road Trip Playlist (RTPL).  First up: New York-based Vampire Weekend.

Why they make the playlist: They have a unique style, with an indie heart, punk energy, and reggae vibe – all played by preppy guys that could be your frat brothers.  But, most importantly, they have a song devoted to the Oxford comma.  For those non-grammar-nerds, that’s the last comma in a series such as “apples, oranges, and bananas.”

We think this is great, because the Oxford comma is often the star of discussions about consistency.  And, consistency is next to godliness.  Many people debate whether to use the last comma in the series or drop it altogether.  At the end of the day, parties on both sides say to be consistent.  If you use it, carry it all the way through your message.  If you omit it, make sure it doesn’t creep back into the text anywhere.

The all-important Oxford comma decision is only one important one when it comes to verbal consistency.  You also have to choose your tense, debate “toward” versus “towards,” specify the number of spaces between sentences, and decide whether to abbreviate or write out state names.

Even if you have mastered the wording, you’re only partway there.  It’s not only about maintaining verbal consistency; visual consistency is also a major consideration.  As with operating within the same grammatical guidelines, you should adhere to one overarching color scheme.  Start with a dominant color that helps your audience identify your brand.   Other hues should be complimentary.  Fonts should pair well together too.  Even when it comes to photo selection, there is a lot to consider.

Related to the joint efforts of the verbal and visual is tonal consistency.   This involves identifying your voice and sticking with it.  Do you want to come across as formal?  Funny?  Authoritative?  If customers see that your brand has found itself, they will want to find your brand.

Advisory: Using a choice expletive (sensitive ears, beware!), Vampire Weekend asks who cares about an Oxford Comma.  Since it plays a role in ensuring consistency, we definitely care!  We know how important it is for your messages to be consistent – not just within one piece, but across multiple channels.  Your website, Facebook page, Twitter account, and mobile app should all read, look, and feel like they’re authored by one source: you.

Call us today to help you promote consistency in your communications.  And, while you’re at it, add these songs to your playlist:

Oxford Comma (explicit)
Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa (live)
Cousins

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Road to the Super Bowl

The Super Bowl is today, and the New York Giants and New England Patriots will square off.  But, the week leading up to the Big Game, it’s been our Carolina Panthers who have been making headlines.  You wouldn’t expect the Cats of recent years to be in conversations at this point in the season.  Nonetheless, here they are – lighting up blogs, flooding the AP, and even rising to the #1 trending topic on Twitter.

It’s not because of the upcoming draft, or even stud QB Cam Newton’s bout for Rookie of the Year.  It’s all because of a new logo that really doesn’t look that different from the one the Panthers have had since joining the league in 1995.  The logo still utilizes the Panther face.  And, it still maintains the shape that is designed to represent how North and South Carolina appear on a map (if turned slightly sidewise).  Reportedly, the new Panther is intended to be fiercer and resemble the smooth statues outside Bank of America stadium.

The franchise is also ditching the funky, fun logotype for block letters mauled by a few anticlimactic cat scratches.  In the image below, you can compare the old (top) and new (bottom) logo/logotype:

Image

When the news broke the Internet, it seemed as if our Panthers had become the latest chapter of the GAP logo fiasco.  Fan reactions were both harsh and hilarious.  On one end of the spectrum, diehards criticized the team for changing brand elements that had become iconic.  On the other end, people wondered why they did not opt for a complete rehaul.

Here at Off Forty, it’s tough for us to criticize the changes, because the team had emerging media in mind.  According to a press release, one of the franchise’s key goals was making the logo “more three-dimensional for ever-increasing digital use.”

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