"I don't battle anymore! I uplift motherfuckers!" - GZA
Wednesday, March 26, 2008,6:40 PM
The Next Cultural Revolution
By Aric Chen
Arriving for breakfast on a recent morning in Beijing, Jennifer Wen Ma looks as self-assured as the glittering new buildings rising around her. Her eyes convey a kind of benign ferocity, a flicker of knowingness that's jarring in a 33-year-old. But then again, for all her youth, Ma is carrying an unlikely burden: the aspirations of 1.3 billion people.

A Beijing-born, New York-seasoned artist, Ma is part of the seven-member creative team masterminding China's great coming out party--the opening ceremony of next year's Beijing Olympics. Leading her group is acclaimed filmmaker Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers, Curse of the Golden Flower); celebrated artist Cai Guo-Qiang (New York's Museum of Modern Art, London's Tate Modern, an upcoming retrospective at the Guggenheim) is also on board. But, younger than her colleagues by a generation or so--and with an artist's résumé that includes a video work, projected onto a tousled bed, of a woman engaged in what she politely calls "self-comfort"--Ma is emblematic of a newer, edgier China. The opening ceremony will no doubt be a G-rated affair, but when the Olympic torch finally arrives in Beijing next year, Ma wants to smoke out your clichéd ideas about her country--and those of your 4 billion fellow viewers--right along with it. "We're going to try to keep the ribbon dancing to a minimum," she says. "Whatever we end up doing, the bottom line is to showcase the innovation of the Chinese people. Everyone wants to project a very modern image--one that will stun the world."

China is not content to serve as factory to the globe. Call it economic foresight, or cultural pride, but despite the stratospheric growth of its economy--10.7% last year--China knows that cheap labor alone can't sustain the boom. While a flurry of activity (and, yes, a government five-year plan) has stressed scientific and technological innovation, look a little closer and you'll see that creativity in art and industry--in design, fashion, media, and the like--is fast becoming a driving national mission.

Look past the behemoth Three Gorges Dam, past a highway system that will be larger than America's by 2020, and China is building a creative infrastructure, too, at breakneck speed. You can sense it in the trendy restaurants and slick boutiques popping up in major cities--and in the gritty ex-warehouse and factory districts where imagination-driven companies are joining the cafés and art galleries that first settled in. Newsstands are brimming with glossies such as Vision, Urban, and Modern Weekly that, joined by online counterparts like Coldtea, feature international trends alongside promising local talents. China's answers to YouTube (Tudou and Yoqoo) and social-networking sites (Douban)--along with an estimated 34 million (and skyrocketing) blogs--are bringing in digital reinforcements on a national scale.

Combine all of that with a counterdiaspora and reverse brain drain of talent, and the overall result is a kind of primordial soup thick with the building blocks of creative enterprise. Emerging from it is an army--small, but growing--that's working to reinvent how China thinks and works.

Of course, that process has been under way for some time. Homegrown corporate giants such as Lenovo, which swallowed up IBM's personal-computing unit in 2005, and the appliance maker Haier, have made notable strides in design and innovation. The Sonys and GMs of the world are starting to get real mileage out of their Chinese design studios. Veteran filmmakers such as Zhang and Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine, Temptress Moon) and stars like Ziyi Zhang (click here [1]) are producing work that competes internationally while fashion designers Vivienne Tam and Han Feng (both long based in New York) have earned global followings as well. Judging by the country's Olympics plans--expect some of the most radical architecture the world has ever seen--even the old-guard bureaucrats seem to be getting the idea.

But does China have what it takes to become a creative superpower? At first glance, even the Chinese seem unsure. "We asked a thousand 15- to 35-year-olds in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou to rank the 20 or 25 words that best describe China," says P.T. Black, an American-born partner of Jigsaw International, a Shanghai-based trend-forecasting firm that counts major multinationals as clients. And "'creative' placed close to last."

Still, for those raised with the economic reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping, the world of Communist Youth Leagues and Little Red Books doesn't figure into the equation anymore--it's all about the Internet, new media, and MTV. China's overall population may be aging faster than almost any on earth, but its younger generations benefit from one creative staple long denied their elders: a sense of possibility. "These are people who have seen nothing but growth," Black says, "nothing but China getting the Olympics, Yao Ming going to the NBA, nothing but optimism." And, for some, nothing but the tantalizing proximity of a vast new affluence: By one count, the average age of China's 400 richest people stands at 46.5, versus 65.7 in the United States--bringing a 25-year-old in China a full generation closer to the average gazillionaire. "There's a sense that creativity is where you make money," Black continues. "People are getting rewarded for it, and that's only going to inspire more."

If anyone could be called Great Leader in this new countercultural revolution, it's Ou Ning. Originally from the southern province of Guangdong but now based in Beijing, Ou, 37, is typical of the kind of frenetic multitasker you're liable to run into here these days: A writer, filmmaker, music promoter, and graphic designer, he has founded several alternative magazines to boot. His latest project is Get It Louder, a roving biennial exhibition of young creatives that's billed as the first of its kind in China--a road show for the country's grooviest generation that, this spring and summer, is having its second run in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. "In Chinese society, it's always the old people who have power," says Ou, who's dressed in a pair of pea-green Nikes to complement his austere eyewear and uniform of black. "We want to create a platform for young people to speak their own voice."

Packed with everything from animation and illustration to architecture, fashion, and (almost literally) the kitchen sink, the first iteration of Get It Louder in 2005 was a designer-palooza that showcased 100 mostly Chinese up-and-comers--half from the mainland, with an average age of 25. Thousands came to check out the punk and skater graphics; sound, video, and art installations; and enough cool T-shirts to outfit New York's Williamsburg, L.A.'s Silver Lake, and London's East End combined. And then there were the parties. "A lot of people drank so much they just crashed on the sofas," Ou recalls, "which is how I think exhibitions should be."

It might sound like Sino-slacker anarchy, but Ou and his cadre are on the international business radar--and getting bigger. At the inaugural Get It Louder, the German faucet maker Grohe was so impressed by Shanghai architect Chen Xudong's "Water Corridor" installation that the company asked him to come up with some new product concepts. And Chivas tapped another participant, a collective called Unmask, to design whiskey and cocktail glasses for its sponsored events. "The most interesting work is coming from advertising, PR, and marketing, because they have the money," says Shaway Yeh, the editorial director of the Shanghai-based publication Modern Weekly. Pulling out a boxed set of 13 books, sponsored by Rémy Martin's Louis XIII cognac, she flips through a tour de force of sophisticated layouts, pull-out postcards, origami-like pages, and photographs that can be rearranged as in a scrapbook. Each book pays homage to one of China's cultural movers and shakers; all are the work of Les Suen, a 31-year-old Shanghai design whiz.

The massive influx of foreign multinationals, and the growth of their Chinese competitors, has given local talents new chances to stretch and prove themselves at home. More significant, those talents are starting to find demand overseas. Last November, the People's Daily proudly announced that China had become the world's third-largest exporter of creative services and products. Granted, how creativity was defined--and how much of the country's $969.1 billion in 2006 exports was "creative"--seems a bit unclear. Still, "the last 20 years have been about the West moving East," says Philip Dodd, a consultant and BBC radio host whose London-based firm, Made in China, is helping Chinese cities develop their creative industries. "But the next 20 years will be about the East moving West."

Dodd, who's at work on everything from an electronic-arts biennial in Shanghai to an animation festival in Beijing, isn't just talking about Haier washing machines at Best Buy or Chinese herbal remedies at Whole Foods. He means culture, too. He points to a contemporary rendition of the ancient tale of The Monkey King, directed by a Chinese theater impresario--and set to a score by Blur frontman Damon Albarn--that will headline the inaugural Manchester International Festival in England this month. And Dodd could have gone on: Not long ago, Cao Qiang, a young Chinese fashion designer, won the grand prize at an international competition--sponsored in part by the lofty French body that designates haute couture. From Germany to Japan, Chinese industrial-design students are also starting to rack up awards. Guest-edited by two Chinese artists, the latest issue of the global-culture quarterly Colors pays homage to the country's emerging creative gusto. And products by young designers like Lin Jing and Eddie Yip are making the cut at choosy retailers such as Milanese style mecca 10 Corso Como and "urban vinyl" phenomenon Kidrobot in the United States.

On a more monumental scale, three Beijing architects erupted onto the international stage last year when they clinched the competition to design a condo high-rise outside Toronto. Their winning scheme, set to begin construction this year with an estimated $114 million price tag, is a dramatic 56-story tower that spirals and undulates like a giant ergonomic barbell. And the units were such a hit that these young architects--who call their firm MAD Design--have since been asked to build a second tower next to the first, while other commissions have been flooding in from Denmark to Inner Mongolia. China, known as the playground for the world's most adventurous architects, is now exporting some flash-forward designs of its own.

"The young generation in China is unbelievably strong," says Stefano Boeri, who, as editor of the Italian design bible Domus (he's now at Abitare), oversaw the launch of the magazine's Chinese edition last year. Boeri is referring to China's emerging architects, but his words resonate more broadly: "They still need to metabolize," he continues, "but in a few years, they'll produce something new. Of this I'm absolutely sure."

Meanwhile, don't overlook that other Chinese characteristic: determination. "Recently," says Ou, the Get It Louder founder, "there was a series of television documentaries explaining the rise of empires. Everyone here watched it very closely." They were, he says, looking for pointers.

To get a sense of how Chinese creativity might evolve, just look across the East China Sea. "The Chinese see Japan as a role model, because it was able to modernize without losing its visceral culture," says Amy Gendler, who runs the AIGA's Chinese outpost--the design organization's only presence outside of the United States. Indeed, those who once dismissed Japan as a backwater of the imagination eventually ate those words as the nation became a global force in fashion, design, architecture, and pop culture--not to mention cars and consumer electronics.

Likewise, "there's a strong desire in China to become internationally relevant while maintaining a Chineseness," says Gendler, who also teaches graphic design at Beijing's top-notch Central Academy of Fine Arts. She's not talking about dragons and phoenixes. She's talking about people like Li Weiran. A soft-spoken 31-year-old, Li graduated from the prestigious Beijing Film Academy and went on to make TV commercials in China for the likes of Nike, Pepsi, and Google. With a keen cinematic eye and brilliant wit, Li's ads spoof hackneyed scenes from Chinese life: a generations-old family feud, complete with a flying chicken (don't ask), that's finally resolved over a bottle of Master Kong green tea. Or an unwitting utility worker, perched high on a telephone pole, turned into a human basketball hoop by a group of teens slam-dunking his workman's bag. (It was part of a series for Nike called "Anytime.")

"I like to get my creativity from real life," Li says, sipping a coffee at a trendy bar overlooking Beijing's Houhai Lake. "Most of my ads are localized, about experiences the Chinese can relate to, while maybe borrowing some Western ideas," he continues. Li started off with a bang when, at just 25, he directed a television commercial for UNICEF, which won China's first-ever Gold award at advertising's career-making One Show in New York. "It was an extraordinary ad that I remember well," One Club president Kevin Swanepoel recalls six years later. "As good as any I've seen." Apparently, Sony agrees; it just hired Li to help produce some new ads for the domestic markets in China, Japan, and Korea.

In other words, as China's influence expands, and its young creatives refine their export-grade material, the notion of Chineseness is expanding along with it. After all, you wouldn't think of MAD's Toronto towers as being typically Chinese. But "there's a reason we hid the buildings' structure," explains firm partner Qun Dang, referring to their torqued, sinuous exteriors. "China didn't have an industrial revolution like in the West, so the structure isn't the main concern. Instead, it's about the beauty of the natural form, a more eastern philosophical or Chinese way of thinking." In light of the current infatuation with expressive architectural gestures--think Frank Gehry or Zaha Hadid--it's tempting to argue that the world is catching up with China.

Not that China doesn't have some work to do. Overall, its education system still does little to inspire. And then there's the weight of government censorship (a heavily redacted Internet, for example), red tape, and all that nagging piracy--though Beijing is working on a national design policy that promises, officially at least, to better protect intellectual property rights while promoting new education initiatives. What's more, while the country has spectacularly leapfrogged into contemporaneity, the flip side, many Chinese will tell you, is that there's not much of a pop- or sub-culture foundation to build on.

Even here, however, the vacuum is filling fast. "Street culture is becoming the biggest influence in China," says a hip and prolific Shanghai designer who goes by the name Ji Ji. His branding and identity clients already include Nike, L'Oréal, and Shu Uemura, but the 35-year-old also has five stores: four for Shirt Flag, his T-shirt line known for ironic takes on Mao-era graphics, and one for Under Oath, a more architectural and conceptual fashion collection. "Right now, we're following the Western world, but we don't want to copy," he says. "I think we'll have our own street culture soon."

Or consider Da>Space. A year-old gallery and store in a former factory building in Shanghai, it has hosted everything from a life-size, apocalyptic take on an army tank to an extravaganza, called "I, China," that got more than 80 emerging artists and designers to personalize a speciallycommissionedtoyfigure. Da>Space is entirely self-funded--no corporate sponsors allowed--which makes it an anomaly in this cash-hungry milieu. Sponsors tend to want to take over, explains Lin Lin Mai,oneofDa>Space's four 35-and-under partners, and while her design firm, Jellymon/JMGS, has counted Nike and ad giant Wieden+Kennedy as clients, she and her cohorts want to "go more slowly here," she says. "It takes time to develop a subculture before it gets latched onto the mainstream."

That's it: time. China just needs time. Yet in a country where everything is happening at warp speed, where neighborhoods and even skylines are transformed overnight, waiting around isn't an option. And so, from the grassroots to the very top, young Chinese are ramping up. Just think of Jennifer Wen Ma, as she spends her days and nights contemplating how to project an ascendant China at the Olympics next year. "It's a heavy burden--not only to show the world a new side of China, but the Chinese people are expecting a lot too," she says. "Everyone, it seems, is ready for a renaissance of creativity." They won't have long to wait.

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posted by R J Noriega
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,6:35 PM
Less Hulk, More Bruce Lee
By Mark Borden

It was David versus Goliath, with Attila the Hun thrown in to make it interesting. Microsoft had invited three brand designers to Redmond, Washington, in 2004 to present a new identity for the upcoming Xbox 360. Landor, the incumbent, was an obvious choice as it had created the packaging for Windows and attained legendary marketing status for transforming Federal Express into FedEx, including the slogan "The world on time" and the masterpiece logo. Turner Duckworth, out of London and San Francisco, authors of the Amazon.com identity (with its "logo that smiles from A to Z") was also a contender. And then there was David: JDK Design. From … Vermont.

Led by Xbox's global brand director at the time, Don Hall, some 20 members of the gaming division gathered to hear the back-to-back-to-back presentations. First up was Michael Jager, JDK's creative director. Standing before the tribunal, Jager (pronounced like the Rolling Stone) illustrated his vision through a combination of street theater, design psychology, and cultural fluency. Comparing the original Xbox with the Incredible Hulk, Jager used a razor to slash an X in a sheet of paper and then thrust his head through the hole. "X today is all AARGGHHH!" he bellowed. Pure aggressive power. He then withdrew his head, flipped the paper, and revealed how that X could become a doorway, "an invitation to an experience." Jager acknowledged power as a critical component separating Xbox from its competitors but urged the company to see it--and express it-- differently. "Our approach was to transition Xbox from this hulk of escaping power into this quiet power that is lurking, something still incredibly dangerous but with more of an elegance and grace," he recalls. "The analogy we used was Bruce Lee." And thus were two firms felled by a single stone.

"We were all just blown away by JDK," Hall remembers. "As soon as Michael and his team walked out, I looked around the room and knew it was just a formality to sit through the other presentations." Indeed, Jager's illustrative shorthand became a mantra for the 360 team as it created the look and feel of the new system. "Whenever we evaluated our work in terms of guiding our decisions for Xbox 360," Hall says, "it was like, 'This is too Hulk' or 'We need more Bruce Lee.'"

Getting Away With It

JDK was no doubt the dark horse for the Xbox account, but the Burlington-based company is no overnight sensation. Over the past 18 years, its client list has included MTV, Nike, Levi's, Patagonia, and Timex. But the rock in JDK's sling on that day in Redmond dates back to its relationship with another Vermont shop. "In the beginning, we were three people in the basement of my house doing design, and Jake had come up the same way--five people in a barn pressing his own boards," says Jager at JDK's SoHo studio in New York (it has a third satellite in Portland, Oregon, and 105 employees). Jager's fellow basement dwellers complete the firm's name: "D" is Jager's wife, Giovanna Di Paola, the associate creative director, and "K" is David Kemp, the marketing director and CFO. "Jake," of course, is Jake Burton Carpenter, the founder of Burton Snowboards.

With Burton as its lab rat, the fledgling JDK ignored textbook marketing and branding strategies--and began producing things Madison Avenue had never seen. In print ads, Burton rarely used the same logo twice, and the messaging was often cryptic, even unintelligible, to outsiders. One 1992 magazine spread shows a snowboarder smoking a cigarette and charging into a splintering tree stump; a tiny fragment of text reads "lucky strike." On the facing page, in equally small type, are a phone number and the words "free catalog of new s--t." Near the bottom right corner is a wee B logo, barely noticeable and basically meaningless to anyone not in on the nascent culture. Another vintage piece, from 1993, shows a frog splayed on a dissecting board with the copy "Burton. Advanced Snowboard Science. It's what's inside that counts." "There were no traditions," says Jake Burton. "There was no religion to our logo or word mark. We felt free to do whatever looked good and whatever seemed to work."

Jager, who was and still is obsessed with snowboarding, saw he had a chance to not only help invent a culture but also crank his own creative dial to 11. "You can look back and say it was experimentation and challenging the paradigm of traditional identity, which is cool," he says. "But the reality is, at the time we were asking, What can we get away with? Why can't we run an image of Charles Manson with a Burton logo on his forehead? Why can't we take a page out of Madonna's Sex book and make it a poster and T-shirt? Who gives a s--t if Warner Bros. calls us?"

Despite its growing status as a cult hero among boarders, JDK was hemorrhaging nearly $60,000 a year in working with Burton, leaving it to rely on early clients such as Converse to help underwrite Jager's "snowboard-design addiction." Not that JDK's design counsel to even that old-school client was remotely traditional: Jager worked with Baysie Wightman and DeeDee Gordon (prototypical cool hunters who helped inspire Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point) to pull dead products--the Dr. J, for example, and the One Star--out of the archives and repackage them with a retro-modern look. They launched a guerrilla campaign that plucked New York hipsters off the street, photographed them in a Larry Clark (Kids) documentary style, and then manipulated the images to create jazzy Blue Note--inspired album covers that became the centerpieces of the ad campaign. The early years also included work for an obscure local division of IBM, a relationship that eventually produced a JDK classic: a postmodern take on the iconic Paul Rand pictogram poster (an eye next to a bee, followed by an M--get it?), which transformed the bee into an animated, chrome, Terminator-esque avatar for a Web redesign.

The Anti-McKinsey

In many ways, JDK defies tidy definition. It is not a pure design firm or management consultancy or ad agency so much as it is a combination of the three. "As a consultancy, it is the anti-McKinsey," says Burton marketing chief Bryan Johnston. "It is not trying to run a company based on mathematical data or distilled versions of consumer logic. Michael utilizes all the hard information available, plus he has a deep understanding of culture--pop and everything else--that can't be taught."

The JDK crew is a bizarro creative hit squad that helps clients zero in on their psychographic id.
Asked for his influences, Jager responds with a list that runs from the Amsterdam-based Droog Design Collective to German artist Joseph Beuys (who saw society as a single great work of art) to eco-design hero Victor Papanek and former Clash singer Joe Strummer. "Hell, influences--they're endless," he says. "Influences rush in when you invite them."

More than anything, the JDK crew is a bizzaro creative hit squad that helps clients zero in on (and at times unearth) their psychographic id. "It's like we've given them the keys to our car and asked them to drive a bit because we're a little lost," says Duke Stump, chief marketing officer for Seventh Generation, an eco-conscious products maker and JDK client. Once the brand GPS is reset, JDK digs in to amplify its identity through a design offensive that covers the industrial design of the product itself, its online presence, advertising strategy, in-store merchandising, and trade-show displays.

But while JDK puts each client through a similar analysis, the end result is not some cool-pill-induced, cookie-cutter "personality." JDK looks instead to peel back the layers that may be concealing some inner kernel of zeitgeisty appeal. For backpack manufacturer Eastpak, it commissioned a Roman Coppola (son of Francis, brother of Sofia) video: The spot shows a backpack perched on a suburban mailbox, with a 1970s topless Ford Bronco barreling down on it. In the backseat, a teenage girl wielding a baseball bat delivers the pack a brutal thwack. Then the Bronco screeches to a halt, punches into reverse, and runs back over the bag. The passenger then picks it up, the Bronco burns rubber, and it's off to school. With Levi's, JDK invited creative directors from around the world for a two-day "collaboratory" summit in New York. One afternoon, a creative director from London was smashing jeans covered in plaster on the sidewalk and got a vision for a new way to distress denim; because a fabric specialist from Italy was there as well, they were able to discuss whether it was even possible. "It's amazing how many times the process we use gets people in the same room who have never met or only know each other from email," Jager says. "Together, they had an idea and figured out a way to pull it off."

The ubiquitous design process leads to what JDK calls its Living Brand concept. "We had an early belief that design distinction is what drove things on every level," says Jager, who's 47 but looks much younger. "The Living Brand is about how to synchronize the emotional, rational, and cultural ideas of a brand into a cross-fertilized form."

Nowhere is the Living Brand more apparent than in Patagonia's upcoming spring footwear line. The project had multiple chefs and thus all the ingredients for a disaster: Patagonia licensed Wolverine Worldwide, a billion-dollar shoe manufacturer that not only produces its own line but also has deals with Caterpillar, Harley-Davidson, and Hush Puppies, among others, to do the manufacturing. Wolverine--which had worked with JDK on the hugely successful Merrell line--recruited Jager. "It was an interesting dynamic," says Wanda Weller, a Patagonia design director, "because with three parties, you're kind of always like, 'Who's on first?'" But with design, one plus one plus one doesn't always equal three--sometimes it adds up to ∏. "With Michael, it's almost as if there's no ego," she adds. "Even if he's working in an environment where there is turmoil or conflict, he just rises above and uplifts. He is one of the most optimistic people I've ever come across."

From this collaborative triumvirate emerged the slogan "One small step," a succinct capture of Patagonia's pro-environment philosophy of best quality, least harm. In this case, however, JDK's client came away with not only a line of shoes, boots, and sandals, but also a bonus product. James Lindars, JDK's "3-D design director," is obsessed with the burgeoning do-it-yourself movement; after several verbal jam sessions with Jager, he came up with a shoe for Patagonia that distills the company's 35-year history into a single, slightly odd-looking DIY shoe: a modern homage to a Native American moccasin--three pieces of leather and a footbed that are assembled by the customer. No adhesives, no toxins, no sweatshops. And not only are the mocs constructed of scrap leather, the packaging pouch is made from surplus material, too. It's a wearable philosophical statement, built from trash. "There's this idea of having a creative spine that makes everything work," Weller says. "The consumer may not know what the backbone is, but they still think, 'This works, this is beautiful, I get it.' With Michael and his team, there is so much thought on the back end that creates that subtlety of effectiveness."

The X Prize

Jager was surprised JDK even received a request for a proposal from Microsoft, let alone made it to the final three. "I was like, Microsoft is calling us?" he laughs. At the time, JDK was pushing capacity and Microsoft didn't exactly have a reputation for risk taking. But Jager was intrigued to see the guts of the machine. At least as important, he had a 13-year-old son: "Going into that meeting, I told those guys, 'This is great for me regardless, because my son thinks this is the coolest thing in the world.'" Then Jager--and Bruce Lee--closed the deal.

Microsoft's goal with Xbox 360 was to reach a more mainstream gamer while staying true to its hard-core, hard-won audience. It's a classic catch-22 of brand maintenance, the consumer-electronics version of going from indie-music darling to heavy rotation on Clear Channel. Microsoft's resident enfant terrible and development guru J Allard was keenly aware of the conundrum. "When we talked about the qualities of the brand that we wanted in 360, I immediately gravitated to Burton," writes a caffeinated Allard, who is a boarder in his own right, in a late-night email. It "prides itself on innovation and product quality, but more important, has scaled without selling out."

As JDK worked with the Xbox 360 team, they continued to build on the Bruce Lee idea. The final reverse-parenthesis design [ ) ( ] of the console is itself Jager's symbologic conjuring of the martial-arts master, representing the inhalation of breath before a strike. JDK helped design a font specifically for every aspect of the new system. Even the crossbar of the B in "box" packs a punch--it's shaped like a specialized type of box cutter, an Olfa knife. "When animated, this mark could unleash a razor-quick assault," Jager says. "Very Bruce."

Spinning off from the font itself, Allard and Jager invented a "codified language" based on a pattern of concentric circles linked to an alphanumeric system. "If you don't know what it is, it looks like this supermodernist pattern that was just sexy and cool," Jager explains. "But weeks before the release, we leaked hints on how to decode [it] to the core audience and created a subversive language." The code was disseminated via a Web site within teamxbox.com called the Colony (an allusion to the notion that ants, while individually puny, take on incredible power in the collective). So when Microsoft debuted the Xbox 360 in May 2005 on MTV, the half-hour telecast was pitched at two levels: On the surface, it was your standard-issue buzz circus with celebrities, athletes, and musicians taking the new system for a ride. But embedded on posters, stickers, and badges throughout the set were innocent geometric patterns that, to Colony members, carried hidden messages. The words themselves were not the point. They were simple and sarcastic: "Xbox is your friend," "You are the Colony," "Be the first kid on your block to destroy your block." But Microsoft's effort to connect on such an intimate--and complex--level certainly wasn't wasted: By the end of December 2006, it had sold more than 10 million consoles; that month, it outsold Sony's PlayStation 3 and Nintendo's Wii combined. "There's a transformation happening that is about a need for the humanization of brands," Jager says. "If you can't humanize your brand and connect with the audience, you're f--ked."

In humanizing Microsoft, JDK won a major evangelist for the Living Brand idea. "[JDK] is the only company in my 15 years at Microsoft I've collaborated with [that] I've wanted to work for," Allard gushes. "I've had offers--silly offers--but as amazing as some of the people I've met and worked with are, I've never been tempted to consider a career change until I met Michael and JDK."

At JDK's current headquarters in Burlington, a well-used skateboard ramp nods to the company's roots. Behind a door lies a silk-screen workshop where staff members create posters and T-shirts for local nonprofits and charities. JDK also has a pro bono relationship with the local music venue Higher Ground. In exchange for total design freedom, JDK creates concert posters for bands such as Ween, Yo La Tengo, and Aimee Mann. Art covers the offices: A mural by one of Jager's friends stretches more than 20 feet across a wall in a common area; a trio of black-and-white photos of the Clash hang near the elevator.

In a top-floor conference room, floor-to-ceiling windows lay out a panorama of Lake Champlain, etched with the wakes of ferryboats. Here, Jager talks about the intersection of art and commerce. Turns out, he's still asking the question, "What can we get away with?

"I believe in an Andy Warholian philosophy, really. Just as the Factory helped Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, John Cale, and Nico, I love to inspire progression and possibility because we all too easily get trapped by packaged process and protocol," he says. Then, indulging in a snowboarding metaphor, he goes on, "You try to lead by example, focus your energy where it's needed, and nudge people--whether designers or clients--as they stand, frightened, on the lip."

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posted by R J Noriega
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Sunday, March 23, 2008,3:00 AM
Magazines Doing Advertising Agency Work
By Louise Story

NEW YORK: Like executives at advertising agencies, Richard Beckman and his team talk to managers at consumer brand companies about the customers they want to reach. Four to six weeks later, they present a marketing and advertising plan.
But Beckman does not run an advertising agency. He is president of Condé Nast Media Group, a division of the magazine company that publishes titles like Vogue, Wired and The New Yorker. Over the past five years, Beckman has developed an agency-like business within Condé Nast's ad sales unit, generating new revenue by planning events for advertisers and creating advertisements that help sell more magazine pages.

Customarily, magazine companies have made money by selling ad space in their magazines or, more recently, on their Web sites. Now some of them have set up what amount to internal mini-agencies that work with clients to design campaigns for the media company's pages. Sometimes this work spills out into other forums, like radio and television ads.

Like Condé Nast, Meredith, which publishes such titles as Family Circle, More and Ladies' Home Journal, is now handling some creative work for its advertisers, and so is even Surface, a small, independent magazine dedicated to fashion and design. The trend poses a challenge to traditional agencies and has created some unusual partnerships (think of Vogue designing ads for Wal-Mart).

Condé Nast Media Group has been developing sweepstakes, television specials, radio ads, in-store events and, of course, magazine ads for companies like Dillard's, Kohl's, Grey Goose and Lexus. The unit, which relies on a panel of more than 100,000 consumers to evaluate advertising, generated about $200 million of revenue last year.
Beckman's group has drawn the most attention for Fashion Rocks, a concert and television special about music and the fashion industry. The event, now in its fourth year, ties in several large advertisers (like Chevrolet, Citigroup, L'Oréal and Cingular) and was featured last year in a custom magazine sent to Condé Nast subscribers.

This year, Condé Nast is planning another large event to sell to advertisers, Movies Rock. Produced by Beckman and some Hollywood heavyweights, it will feature music that has been influential in movies.

The idea behind both programs is to create major television events that showcase each advertiser. During the Fashion Rocks event last year, for example, Elton John performed a private show the night before that was streamed only onto Cingular Wireless cellphones. (AT&T, which now owns Cingular, has since started eliminating the Cingular brand name.)

Andrew McLean, president and chief client officer of Mediaedge:cia, the ad-buying agency that represented Cingular Wireless when it worked with Fashion Rocks, said that his client's work with Condé Nast had moved from "just buying bits of paper in a magazine to a much more multifaceted relationship." Mediaedge:cia is part of the WPP Group.

Beckman's unit also has access to relationships with celebrities who would not often work directly with advertisers. For example, Condé Nast arranged for Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to appear in an ad for Lexus that also showcased the Waterkeeper Alliance, a water protection group that Kennedy heads.

"They have the cachet and the credibility for top-tier celebrities to want to partner with them," said Robin Steinberg, senior vice president and director of print investment and activation for MediaVest, an agency that buys media in the Publicis Groupe.

Condé Nast's internal agency evolved organically, but Meredith took a different approach. Last summer the company established Meredith 360, an advertising consulting group that operates as a business unit separate from the publishing group. Meredith has purchased three advertising agencies in the past year, allowing it to offer a broad spectrum of services.

"A lot of our different divisions do what a lot of different agencies do," said Nancy Weber, Meredith's chief marketing officer.

Meredith 360 charges for its services, while Condé Nast charges only for costs when it creates custom programs for advertisers, Beckman said. (Condé Nast also makes a profit from such events as Fashion Rocks.) The rate structure means that Condé Nast can often beat ad agencies on prices, Beckman said.

"We don't have to make money from our creative, because we make money from our media," he said.

Some advertisers think that's the way it should be. Condé Nast is currently working with CIT, the financial services company, on a series of interviews with people like the fashion designer Marc Ecko. The interviews are featured online, and Condé Nast will produce live events and magazine sections over the next several months for CIT.
Kelley Gipson, director of brand marketing and communications for CIT, said she did not expect to pay Condé Nast anything more than the cost of the advertising pages her company purchases.

"I look at it as part of the value chain for media," Gipson said. "We don't charge for it when we're working with our customers. We look at the opportunity to provide sort of intellectual capital as the glue in the relationship, so we challenge our media partners to think about it the same way."

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posted by R J Noriega
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,12:43 AM
It pays to play nice, Harvard study says
WASHINGTON - Screaming sports coaches and cutthroat tycoons have it wrong: Nice guys do finish first, a new study suggests.

The Harvard University study involved 100 Boston-area college students playing the same game over and over — a punishment-heavy version of the classic one-on-one brinksmanship game of prisoner's dilemma. The research appears in Thursday's edition of the journal Nature.

Common game theory has held that punishment makes two equals cooperate. But when people compete in repeated games, punishment fails to deliver, said study author Martin Nowak. He is director of the evolutionary dynamics lab at Harvard where the study was conducted.

"On the individual level, we find that those who use punishments are the losers," Nowak said his experiments found.

Those who escalate the conflict very often wound up doomed.

"It's a very positive message," said study co-author David Rand, a Harvard biology graduate student researcher. "In general, the thing that is most, sort of, rational and best for your own self-interest is to be nice."

The study looked at games between equals. Punishment does seem to have a place in games when one player is dominant and needs to enforce submission, Nowak said.

In Nowak's experiment, the students played more than 8,000 games of prisoner's dilemma, using dimes to reward and punish. The normal game of prisoner's dilemma gives two players two options: cooperate or defect. If both cooperate, each ends up winning a dime. If both defect, each gets nothing. If one cooperates and the other defects, the cooperative player loses 20 cents and the defector wins 30 cents.

Nowak then added a "costly punishment" component. A player could choose to punish someone who didn't cooperate. That penalized the non-cooperative person 40 cents, but the other player had to pay a dime to mete out the punishment.

When Nowak compared how much money people earned or lost in the long run, there was a noticeable correlation between punishment and overall money. The players who punished their opponents the least, or not at all, made the most money.

Those who punished the most made the least money.

When faced with a nasty opponent, turning the other cheek and continuing to cooperate — or at least not handing out punishment — paid off more in the long run, the study found.

The paper makes sense and is interesting in its look at repeated interaction, said University of Central Florida economics professor Elisabet Rutstrom, who works on game theory but was not part of the Harvard study.

Nowak said he next wants to study chief executives to see if the findings play out in the real world.

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posted by R J Noriega
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Saturday, March 22, 2008,4:51 AM
Strategy vs Tactics
By Craig Miyamoto,

(This is an expanded version of the 2002 First Quarter issue of Public Relations Strategies, a quarterly publication of Miyamoto Strategic Counsel)

There is often confusion about the difference between a “strategy” and a “tactic.” Occasionally, they are used interchangeably, and of course, this is a mistake.

STRATEGY involves the “big picture” – the overall plan, how the campaign will achieve organizational goals and objectives. It involves deciding who the important publics are and which of them will be the recipients of your messages (i.e., “target audiences”).

Strategic planning helps determine how the organization will be positioned; it decides how important publics will learn about the organization and how it can help them. It will provide avenues of discovery to facilitate this. Strategic thinking will create a reason for the audience should believe and support the organization, and it will help develop a consistent message and focus for the organization to uphold.

Each strategy must be considered on its own merits, and must be a viable option to be judged on its own strengths – one that definitely will solve the problem. Any approaches that will not solve the problem independently should be eliminated. If a combination of approaches can solve the problem, consider the combination as a strategic alternative.

Each alternative strategy should attain all audience objectives. All of the pros and cons of each strategy should be considered, and in the process, options are more easily identified. Identifying business risks and opportunities creates the chance to exercise informed judgment. Viable options are vital – knowing each option's advantages and disadvantages will enable decision-making based on fact instead of emotion.

Remember, you must take careful aim in everything you do in public relations. Don't shoot from the hip: you could end up with powder burns on your butt.)

TACTICS are activities specifically created and selected to reach specific and measurable objectives. Tactics are the actual ways in which the strategies are executed. They include newsletters, publicity, seminars, trade shows, advertising, Internet presence, and any other tool that target audiences actually are exposed to.

Look at each tactic from the standpoint of what it will do to achieve the objectives.

Tactics include:

ACTION EVENTS: Non-written tactics such as special events, demonstrations, exhibits, parades, community contributions (manpower, talent, advice, money) and other non-verbal activities.

COMMUNICATIONS TACTICS: Verbal tactics (oral and written) that use words or pictures. These include newsletters, flyers, news releases, brochures, direct mail, advertising, themes, slogans, the World Wide Web (WWW), and other initiatives that use words and language as their basis.

In both action events and communications tactics, separate the initiatives into message tactics (which will be used to get your message directly to the audience), and media tactics (how the news media will be utilized to publicize action events).

A Simple Example

You want to influence legislation at the State Legislature. Your strategy might be to contact all legislators directly and exclusively. Or, you might want to contact only the power leaders in the Legislature. Or, you might want to exert direct public constituency pressure on the Legislature. Or, you might want to fight your battle in the news media.

Each of these is a strategy. Pick one – the one that makes best use of your time, your money, and your people. Then, identify your publics, your audiences, your positioning, your general communications and actions thrusts, your rationale and messages.

Let’s say you decide to try and influence power leaders through direct public constituency pressure. Your tactics might include a letter-writing campaign by those legislators’ influencers – the individuals and organizations that s/he listens to. You might do a direct mailing to registered voters in the legislators’ district asking them to write, fax, phone or email their legislator (include sample letters and the legislator’s address). You might appear on talk shows. You might hold a rally in the legislators’ districts.


posted by R J Noriega
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,4:39 AM
by Randall Rothenberg

Much has been written and many voices raised over who -- if anyone -- is the most representative advertising figure of the past 100 years. Was it Bernbach or Burnett? Stanley Resor or Helen Lansdowne Resor? Jay Chiat . . . or maybe Roger Ailes?

In my life, it was Jack Vilinsky.

Jack was an art director at McCann-Erickson. He was also among my parents' closest friends. And because my folks were of the business -- my father a market researcher, my mother a co-owner with Jack's wife Muriel of a company that conducted research surveys -- my childhood was surrounded by ad talk.

This was the '60s, so that conversation was routinely punctuated by invocations of genius. "Mary Wells, she's a genius," I can hear Jack saying as we gathered for a holiday meal at his and Muriel's house. It was a small house, filled with the accoutrements of cool: Jack's clay sculptures and oil paintings (nudes!), and his glossy volumes of Kandinsky and Miro. "Mamma Mia, that's-a some spicy meatball" burped from the TV. "Bill Bernbach, he's a genius," Jack would add. "The commercials," my mother agreed, "are better than the shows."

Jack worked on those commercials. He helped change the name of Esso to Exxon. Why, when he did the Opel Kadett campaign, he even got to meet Alan Hale Jr. ("Gilligan's Island"!). No doubt about it, advertising was, to this 12-year-old, totally fabulous.

So why did Jack hate it so much?

"Advertising is a terrible business," my father explained, invoking the names of family friends jettisoned from jobs or forcibly transferred overseas. "You can do anything you want," my mother told me routinely, as I matured and expressed professional interest in writing, "only, please don't go into advertising." As for Jack Vilinsky, he couldn't wait to escape it -- which he did, as early as he could, retiring to the studio and the art that made him so happy for the rest of his life.

Later, chronicling the advertising industry, I would continually confront the same schizophrenia, a malady I came to call The Contradiction. Here were people lucky enough to work in this "genius" business, crafting what Marshall McLuhan called "the richest and most faithful daily reflections that any society ever made of its entire range of activities," yet as often as not, they were miserable. Here were the men and women responsible for inducting a culture into urbanism, for selling the New Deal and World War II patriotism, for inventing TV and opinion research, for entertaining us during the '60s and '70s and winking at us during the '80s and '90s.

But they referred to themselves as "hucksters" and lived their days in fear. "Fear is as much a part of the air," an ex-copywriter named Patricia Tierney wrote in a 1971 expose, "as the pollution along Madison Avenue."

Finally, reporting a story about the Carl Ally agency, I came to understand The Contradiction. Ally was famed for its memorable, take-no-prisoners style of advertising, which acolytes said derived from the conviction that they were making a product, not performing a service. When I couldn't grasp the distinction, Jim Durfee, an agency co-founder, explained it to me.

"A product," Durfee said, "is something that is molded, produced, thought out and set out before the person: 'We have made this for you, we think this will help.' A service is hat-in-hand and through the side door. It was a completely different attitude toward what an agency was and what an agency made."

And that, quite simply, was it. The hate and love, the torture and genius, the job and the calling -- the tension was all of a piece. From the standpoint of its creators, advertising was either the 20th Century's greatest tool or its biggest sham, depending on how they bridged the enormous chasm between product and service. This was The Contradiction -- the split personality that begat modern advertising and made the era now ending the Advertising Century.

The Contradiction began, conveniently enough, in 1900.

Brand names and marks, which had built the patent medicine industry, had for years been drawing consumers away from the cracker barrel to Uneeda Biscuits and other commodity products. Advertising itself, much of it infused with guilt-ridden emotional appeals, was already such a fixture that marketers were spending $100 million on it in newspapers and magazines, double the amount they'd spent only 20 years before. Indeed, magazines blanketed the nation the same way TV does now, with 3,500 of them reaching some 65 million men and women.

But there was a problem. Advertising was undeniably working to draw these modernizing Americans to all manner of new product, yet no one knew how it worked. "I know I waste half the money I spend on advertising," department store pioneer John Wanamaker said. "The problem is, I don't know which half."

Advertising agents, who had begun as middlemen between marketers and the media, tried to paper over the dilemma by giving away more and more functions for their commissions. One of the most successful offerings was sloganeering. In 1898, Albert Lasker, the architect of the Lord & Thomas agency, induced one client, a hearing-aid manufacturer, to increase its ad budget from $10,000 a year to $180,000, and to triple the commission it paid, because it so liked the slogan his agency had written: "You hear! When you use Wilson's Common Sense Ear Drums."

Other agents had similar experiences. So two years later, cognizant of the power that writing, especially in tandem with illustrations, had over clients and their budgets, N.W. Ayer -- which vies with J. Walter Thompson for the distinction of oldest U.S. agency -- established a copy department.

Undoubtedly there were copywriters, then and later, at Ayer and elsewhere, who reveled in their artistry. Many were the literary craftsmen -- F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Marquand among them -- who sharpened their talents in the ad trade. But woe betide any who dared believe it was some mystical allure of word and image that was attracting consumer to marketer, and marketer to agency.

Albert Lasker knew better. "My idea of this business," he said many years later, "was to render service and make money."

And so the ad industry did, piling service upon service onto its offerings, engaging in what one disgruntled copywriter in the 1930s called "the endless cycle of selling" itself to clients -- whatever it took to stay a course strewn with bounteous commissions.

This process of self-justification influenced U.S. culture as profoundly and lastingly as war, depression and invention, bringing forth many of the appurtenances of the modern consumer edifice.

Consider broadcasting. In its infancy, it was a reflexive instrument, a tool for selling radio sets. That was what Pittsburgh station KDKA, owned by equipment manufacturer Westinghouse, had in mind when it transmitted the 1920 presidential election results (Harding won), and what it, RCA and GE wanted to do in 1926 when they created the NBC network. (A similar motivation, to sell online technology, underlay NBC and Microsoft's decision to start the MSNBC network exactly seven decades later.)

But broadcasting's real birth might more accurately be dated to the Postum Co.'s 1926 order that its Philadelphia advertising agency, Young & Rubicam, relocate to New York, the developing center of the broadcast-network business, to handle the account of its Jell-O division. Within eight years, that move bequeathed to the listening public "The Jack Benny Program," "Colgate House Party," "General Foods Cooking School" and a smattering of other audience-delighting radio programs.

Opinion research and market research, too, began as children of the advertising industry. In 1921, J. Walter Thompson hired the Harvard psychologist John Watson, the father of behavioral research, to help the agency plumb consumers' minds. George Gallup came to Y&R in 1932 to head its new department of copy and media research, and stayed for 15 years.

With head-spinning rapidity, a nation balanced between post-World War I prosperity and a calamitous depression was shaped by advertising's influence. Status anxieties were stoked by Theodore MacManus' Cadillac advertisement about "The Penalty of Leadership." Sex went public with Woodbury Facial Soap's "The skin you love to touch," written by Helen Lansdowne Resor. Celebrity culture was molded by the belief that people, as Stanley Resor put it, wanted their "news, education and entertainment through the medium of personalities." So advertisers like American Tobacco hired endorsers as diverse as naval hero George Fried and the actress Alla Nazimova to plug Lucky Strike cigarettes -- a product that was also used to "emancipate" women as well as enslave them to the physical ideal of slimness.

Advertising executives themselves became celebrities, as representative of this new America as baseball sluggers or Hollywood stars. Batton, Barton, Durstine & Osborne co-founder Bruce Barton rode his assertion that Jesus was the world's greatest ad man to the top of the best-seller lists with his 1924 book, "The Man Nobody Knows," and used his notoriety as a catapult to the U.S. Congress.

The industry was helped to prominence by the maturation of the U.S. marketplace. In 1908, cognizant that the upper-class market for automobiles was now saturated, Henry Ford introduced the term "mass production" to economics and began manufacturing his Model T. By 1927, he had driven the price of his one-size-fits-all car to a low of $290, and virtually all middle-class Americans owned an auto. His rival, Alfred Sloan Jr. at General Motors, understood that the automobile industry's salvation depended on changing consumers' attitudes; the auto had to be transformed from a low-cost form of transportation into a symbol of attainment, one that could induce consumers to continually upgrade. To that end, Sloan introduced the concept of planned obsolescence through cosmetic changes, providing "a car for every purse and purpose" and encouraging consumers to trade up as their circumstances improved -- a living model of sociologist Thorstein Veblen's concept of "conspicuous consumption."

Sloanism's triumph over Fordism -- Chevrolet sales overtook Ford's in 1927 and never turned back the lead -- had a penetrating effect on business management and the larger culture. If sales were not dependent either upon ever lower prices or real technological improvements but on status perceptions, artificial needs and superficial change, then focusing on the brand, rather than individual products, might prove the best way for a marketer to achieve lasting profitability. Products, after all, had life cycles and died. Brands, properly managed, could last forever.

That was the argument made in 1931 by a brash, young Harvard graduate named Neil McElroy to his superiors at the Procter & Gamble Co. In a three-page memo, he submitted that each brand within the package-goods company needed to be managed by a team whose sole focus was driving that brand into a No. 1 position in its category, even if that meant competing against other house brands. In other words, McElroy maintained, a brand was a business; its sales, advertising and other marketing functions had to be arranged to assure its lasting distinctiveness.

Between Sloan and McElroy, the brand was becoming the essence of marketing, and advertising the public face of the brand. No wonder that the president of the U.S. himself, Calvin Coolidge, had seen fit to acclaim the profession and its work at the 10th annual meeting of the American Association of Advertising Agencies. "It is the most potent influence in adapting and changing the habits and modes of life," said the uncharacteristically loquacious Cal, "affecting what we eat, what we wear, and the work and play of a whole nation."

But a service business had its limitations. There was little to prevent one agency from matching, gun for gun, the weapons unsheathed by another to gain and hold a client -- the more so after 1921, when price competition was effectively banished by the Four A's lobbying to establish the 15% commission on media billings as the standard form of agency compensation.

Of deeper import, if advertising was only about serving clients, where was the value? The virtue? The self-esteem? In a culture increasingly under the thrall of science, advertising had to be able to prove its worth. Thus a succession of scientists descended upon Madison Avenue (as the industry began to be known in the 1920s).

Claude Hopkins, Lord & Thomas' president, and Ruthrauff & Ryan writer John Caples both saw their profession's salvation deriving from direct mail. It was a discipline in which "false theories melt away like snowflakes in the sun," Hopkins wrote in his treatise "Scientific Advertising."

Caples, the author of an immortal direct-mail ad for a piano-study course headlined, "They all laughed when I sat down at the piano," went so far as to hone those principles into specific rules. There were 16 formulas for writing headlines.

Direct mail proved a shaky foundation for mass advertising, of course, not least because even the most successful direct-response ads drew a numerical response so paltry as to undermine any support for the concept of mass advertising. Fortunately, World War II intervened and consumer goods began to disappear from the market, reducing for the moment any pressure on advertising to explicate its effectiveness through sales.

Rather, pushed by Sen. Harry Truman's investigations into the tax deductibility of advertising, the industry launched a frontal campaign to protect itself, promoting its importance to the war effort (today's Advertising Council, the public service arm of the industry, grew out of the War Advertising Council), and construing itself as "the information industry."

After the U.S. emerged from the darkness of World War II into the daylight of economic expansion, ad executives reignited their efforts to develop proprietary theories that could both define advertising's value and link it to an agency's own offerings. As often as not, these theories derived from contemporary psychology. The improbably named Norman B. Norman, a creator of the TV game show "The $64,000 Question," anchored his Norman, Craig & Kummel agency to the theory of "empathy." An elegant British import, David Ogilvy, said it was "brand personality" and not "any trivial product difference" that drew consumers to products. His one-time brother-in-law, Rosser Reeves of the Ted Bates Agency, disagreed. To Reeves, repetition of a "Unique Selling Proposition" -- he explained it as "getting a message into the heads of most people at the lowest possible cost" -- was the foundation of advertising.

Battles between agencies over their scientifically designed products began to resemble religious crusades. Brand image, George Gallup huffed, was just a "passing fad." For a time, Ogilvy and Reeves stopped talking. "Each shakes his head," wrote Martin Mayer in his delightful chronicle of advertising in the '50s, "Madison Avenue U.S.A.," "over the way the other wastes his clients' money."

No wonder: there was vast wealth at stake. The end of the war and the march of suburbanization were fueling a demand for consumer goods unlike any the country had ever seen.

The creation of suburbia was an inevitable consequence of the car. The auto had already bequeathed to the nation the motel, the fast-food restaurant and modern retailing, in the form of the chain store. Indeed, as Sloan understood, autos had the paradoxical effect of promoting a landscape of vast sameness -- one in which a powerful brand could have national, even multinational reach -- and a desire for individuality that could only be satisfied by brand differentiation. Now, by enabling average Americans to have houses, yards and kids, in addition to well-paying jobs in the city, car culture became the foundation for an explosion in production and demand that had been held back by World War II and interrupted by the Korean conflict.

The appetite was whetted by the new medium of TV, which allowed advertisers to force new products and needs down the hungry throats of a long-denied public. RCA brought its first b&w sets to market in 1946. (Color TV, developed by CBS, already existed, but lobbying by its competitors persuaded the FCC to adopt a b&w standard, delaying color's introduction until the 1960s.)

The medium's impact was immediate. Movie theaters shuttered -- 70 closed in eastern Pennsylvania alone in 1950-51 and, as historian Erik Barnouw relates, Bob Hope's radio audience dropped by nearly 75% in the four years after 1949. Brands, meanwhile, rose like skyscrapers on the landscape: Hazel Bishop lipstick sales skyrocketed from $50,000 a year in 1950 to $4.5 million two years later thanks to TV advertising.

For advertising people, the possibilities for riches seemed endless. TV was offering marketers and their agencies an opportunity to bombard the entire country with message after message, each one worth a cool 15% to the agency behind it. Reeves, who assaulted the nation with such endlessly repeated slogans as "Wonder Bread helps build strong bodies 12 ways," publicly boasted how one client spent $86.4 million in 10 years "on one piece of my copy."

With all that money floating around, it was best not to let anything get in the way of a lasting client relationship. Not women; for decades it was hard to name more than two prominent women in the business, Helen Lansdowne Resor and Jean Rindlaub. Not ethnics; blacks were as absent from mainstream advertising as they were from the rest of U.S. corporate life; despite the prominence of Albert Lasker, Jews were rare presences at large agencies except in research departments. Not art; although a few designers, like Ayer's Charles Coiner, had distinguished themselves in advertising, for the most part art directors (many of them of Italian descent) were called "wrists" and separated from the development of strategies and campaigns.

And not the truth: that there was, as adman Victor Norman put it, "no damn difference between soaps." Norman was the fictional hero of "The Hucksters," a 1946 novel by ex-copywriter Frederic Wakeman that captured The Contradiction and the anxiety it bred. The book's villain was one Evan Llewelyn Evans, the chairman of Beautee Soap and a "scourge of account executives." "Two things make good advertising," Evans counseled Norman. "One, a good simple idea. Two, repetition. And by repetition, by God, I mean until the public is so irritated with it, they'll buy your brand because they bloody well can't forget it."

The caricature was rough. That it resonated with so many inside and outside the agency business was a testament to its underlying realities. The novel's pill-popping and preternaturally nervous agency chief, "Kim" Kimberly, was modeled on Emerson Foote, a co-founder of Foote, Cone & Belding, where Wakeman worked before turning to literary pursuits. (Foote suffered a nervous breakdown and retired from the agency in 1950.) And Evan Evans was a thinly veiled portrait of George Washington Hill, on whose Lucky Strike account Wakeman had toiled. Hill was said to have gone through 21 supervisors on his cigarette account in just a two-year period.

But because they shared richly in the spoils of the postwar consumer economy they were shaping, ad agencies willingly suffered such indignities. Did a client need to know the time? "What time," an agency was supposed to answer, "would you like it to be?"

This obsequious devotion to accommodation provided advertising much of its public image during the decade-and-a-half following the end of the war. The ulcerous ad man was ridiculed in film, on Broadway, on TV, in Mad magazine. His zeal for approval -- particularly from clients, but from a presumably somnambulant public as well -- fashioned an industry whose deepest desire was not to offend.

The fact was, for all its pretensions to science, advertising was still a service business. It had always been that way -- the industry hadn't changed in 25 years, fabled copywriter James Webb Young told Martin Mayer in the mid-50s -- and would always be that way.

"The establishment can't change, it can't give people anything different, it can't make the turn," a young copywriter named Jerry Della Femina wrote in the late 1960s of agencies like Thompson, Bates and FCB. "The establishment doesn't know what makes people think; they don't know what makes people go any more."

Until, that is, they started going by Volkswagen.

More than any single phenomenon, the Volkswagen campaign that debuted in 1959 transformed the agency business. Its modest, b&w photography stood in stark contrast to the exaggerated iridescence of Detroit's advertising offerings. The understated irony of the copy touting the odd little German automobile was equivalently contrarian. By positioning Volkswagen as an "honest car," the ads allowed the advertising community to shuck its self-loathing. A decade after being branded "hucksters," ad people could feel honorably about themselves and their profession.

The work was the product of Doyle Dane Bernbach, a New York shop built on the back of a quintessential New York piece of business, the Ohrbach's retail account. Its creative chief, Bill Bernbach, was a frail, mannered Brooklynite who favored Nat Sherman suits and Turnbull & Asser shirts; "soft spoken," as one former client once told me, "but with a diamond-hard edge." He needed it. For although he paid obeisance to advertising's basis in client service, at heart, Bernbach didn't really believe it.

"Advertising," he wrote, "is fundamentally persuasion." And persuasion is "an art."

Although Volkswagen sales had been swelling steadily before Doyle Dane's campaign began in 1959, their continued growth validated the advertising, the agency, and its philosophy -- which was, in a word, revolutionary. Bernbach denigrated market research; he said that all the money spent on measurement was causing "boredom like we've never achieved before." Where Rosser Reeves affirmed "the immutable principles of copy," Bernbach spoke the language of "provocativeness" and "imagination."

"If breaking every rule in the world is going to achieve that," he said, "I want those rules broken." He eschewed the kowtowing that had given Madison Avenue the nickname "Ulcer Gulch"; he even had a presentation he gave to prospective clients that showed how compromise had destroyed various advertising campaigns.

With network TV entering its second decade, with the "Pepsi Generation" questioning authority and rules, with the G.I. Bill's beneficiaries integrating corporate America, with the nation convulsively transitioning from the conformist '50s to the searching '60s, Doyle Dane's no-rules, no-compromise, no-insult advertising struck a chord with consumers and clients alike. The ultimate confirmation came in 1966, when Mobil Oil fired Rosser Reeves' Bates agency and hired Doyle Dane for its $8.5 million account.

The rise of the '60s counterculture helped power this change in the texture of advertising. Although they'd decided against lives in music or literature or film, preferring instead the security of a corporate existence, advertising men -- and now, increasingly, women -- began to demand the same rights to self-expression artists had. Some did it loudly: enfant terrible art director George Lois threatened to jump out a window unless a matzoh maker approved his campaign. Others did it more subtly; in one of their first Pepsi commercials utilizing TV's new color capabilities, a group of creatives from BBDO consciously modelled the first shot of the opening scene of the Fellini film "8 1/2."

The texture and composition of the ad industry were transformed. Embarrassing ethnics were invited in from the boiler rooms; in 1964, Wide World Photos ran ads in Advertising Age trumpeting the creative prowess of Italian and Jewish art directors. Art directors were empowered, and teamed with copywriters at the heart of the advertising development process, an embodiment of Bernbach's belief that, in the world of modern communications, "execution can become content." Many of these teams left Doyle Dane and other agencies to enshrine their partnerships on the lintels of new agencies, which in turn disgorged even newer agencies, often after bloodying internal warfare. In the first seven months of 1969 alone, more than 100 new shops were formed, a burst of entrepreneurial productivity that became known as the Creative Revolution.

The advertising industry began to seem like the Book of Genesis: Doyle Dane begat Papert Koenig Lois, which begat Carl Ally, which begat Scali McCabe Sloves, on and on. "In New York, agencies just breed each other," George Lois said. Wherever they came from, these and the other agencies shared a common belief: they were not serving a client, but making a product. "We didn't want to handle clients or be handled by them," Carl Ally recalled a quarter century after starting his shop. "We wanted to do the best work for the client, which was society as a whole."

To the old joke about the client who needed to know the time, there was now a new answer: "To hell with the time. Read the copy."

Some giant agencies tried hard to learn the lessons of the Creative Revolution. A few failed. Some succeeded: Young & Rubicam established itself as the most creative force in TV after elevating an enthusiastic young art director named Steve Frankfurt to reform its creative department. That move gave the world some of the most memorable images of the '60s, from Johnson & Johnson's heartwarming evocations of mother love to the National Urban League's searing warning that the U.S. had better "give a damn" about its black underclass.

But other advertising giants never lost sight of their mission to serve their clients -- in as many ways and as many places as possible. U.S. agencies had been establishing beachheads around the world beginning in the late 19th century, primarily to support U.S. clients as they expanded overseas. But as communications with different people in different places grew more varied and complex, new methods beyond mainstream advertising were needed to reach them. Increasingly, marketers were employing specialists to help them in such ancillary disciplines as public relations and sales promotion. It stood to reason that advertising companies themselves should learn those specialties -- and capture those budgets.

Marion Harper Jr., a brash Yalie who rose from the mailroom to the presidency of McCann-Erickson by the age of 32, began beating the drum for an "agency of the future," one that could develop "total-marketing communications," shortly after taking McCann's helm in 1948. Four years later, he began to refine his vision, first with the acquisition of Marschalk & Pratt -- and his controversial decision to maintain it as a separate agency brand -- and then with his purchases of a PR agency, a sales promotion company and a TV production studio. Finally, in 1960, he reorganized his properties into an entirely new corporate structure, placing his affiliates, as he called them, under the umbrella of a holding company, which he named the Interpublic Group of Cos. For his boldness, Time named him "the most cussed and discussed man in advertising."

Harper's concept of "integrated marketing" served as a quiet counterpoint to the Creative Revolution, growing in attractiveness to the international advertising giants, even as Harper's acquisitions spree and personal profligacy were driving Interpublic, its prototype, to the brink of bankruptcy.

As the Revolution faded -- reasons include the shrinkage of ad budgets during the '70s recession, the public stock offerings of rebel shops like PKL, and the procurement of conservative package-goods accounts by several "swinging agencies" -- global integration replaced creativity as advertising's new mantra. The industry was abetted in its transnational, interdisciplinary drive by a theory espoused by Harvard Business School Professor Theodore Levitt. Modern communications technologies, he said, were "homogenizing markets everywhere," leading to the creation of the "global corporation" which "does and sells the same things in the same single way everywhere."

No company exploited this theory more aggressively than London's Saatchi & Saatchi. Founded in London in 1970 by two young Iraqi immigrants, the agency had won acclaim for advertising that helped Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Party ascend to power. But from early in their rise, Charles Saatchi, the creative force, and his brother Maurice, the smooth account man, were plotting to expand their reach internationally.

It proved surprisingly easy. After a quarter-century of extraordinary advertising growth, a generation of U.S. agency leaders was looking to retire. Favorable conditions in the London stock market, where the Saatchis listed their company in 1975, gave the brothers ready access to the cash needed to buy out these executives. Saatchi & Saatchi's increased cash flow then fueled growth in the company's share price, which helped finance more acquisitions. By 1986, Charles (a reclusive collector of modern art) and Maurice had turned their original $40,000 stake into a global confederation of 80 companies with capitalized billings of $3.2 billion. Among their prizes were the U.S. agencies Dancer Fitzgerald Sample ("Where's the beef?") and Backer & Spielvogel ("Tastes great/Less filling").

The Saatchis' rise wasn't lost on the great U.S. agencies. Some began to aggressively spout the lingo of globalism and the argot of integration. Young & Rubicam promoted its "whole egg" approach to coordinated communications; Ogilvy & Mather advanced "Ogilvy orchestration."

But other advertising groups saw that serving clients and -- importantly -- placating shareholders required matching scale with scale. In late April 1986, three of the most prominent U.S. agencies -- BBDO, Needham Harper & Steers and Doyle Dane -- briefly trumped the Saatchis' grasp for global dominance by announcing their own three-way merger under the umbrella of a company they called the Omnicom Group. By mid-May, Saatchi & Saatchi announced it would buy the world's third-largest agency, Ted Bates Worldwide. The price, $450 million, was nearly five times more than anyone had ever paid for an advertising agency.

There were, of course, other forces propelling these megamergers. One was a drive for shareholder value in a marketplace increasingly dominated by fickle Americans whose retirements depended on the quarterly performance of their mutual funds. Thrust into competition with the entire stock market, advertisers and their agencies had to grow or die, seeking efficiencies, paring staffs and acquiring their way to earnings growth.

Another looming factor was avarice. In the Wall Street culture of the 1980s, greed was good. And numerous advertising executives were sitting on assets that could make them, if not rivals to Boesky and Milken, at least their neighbors in Pound Ridge and St. Bart's.

The Ted Bates deal netted the company's Napoleonic chairman, Robert E. Jacoby, a personal profit of $111 million and turned another 100 Bates employees into instant millionaires. But unlike Wall Street, where greed was not only good but expected, the agency business was shaken by the Bates acquisition, more profoundly, perhaps, than by any other single event ever. The deal confronted marketers with an uncomfortable reality they'd been ignoring since advertising's misty origins -- agencies were getting rich, rich, rich off their commissions -- and triggered what Leonard S. Matthews, then president of the Four A's, called "chaos in the agency business" that was cutting a "schism in the traditional partnership between clients and agencies."

Clients who had looked the other way as their senior "marketing partners" played Wall Street's M&A game now suddenly grew attuned to the conflicts of interest these megamergers were engendering. More significantly, they began to question whether they were paying their agencies too much. Some former agency executives leapt into the breach, offering clients their services as compensation consultants; Matthews publicly branded one such consultant a "quisling."

A little more than a year after the Bates buyout, Martin Sorrell, who as finance director of Saatchi & Saatchi had engineered its spectacular expansion, struck another blow against the comfortable, insular culture of Madison Avenue. Using a publicly traded British shell company he'd bought for a mere 50 pence a share, Sorrell made a hostile offer for the venerable J. Walter Thompson. Thompson was the first agency to put photography into advertising; it was where James Webb Young had concocted the concept of "body odor"; it was the inventor of the testimonial ad. But in yet another acknowledgement of The Contradiction that drives advertising, Sorrell said creativity had nothing to do with his interest in the company. "We are looking for ways to serve our clients needs and desires," he said.

His successful $566 million bid for Thompson and his hostile acquisition of the Ogilvy Group two years later for an even more astonishing $864 million turned Sorrell's WPP Group into the world's largest marketing communications conglomerate -- the owner not only of two of advertising's grandest brands, but of the world's largest public relations agency, its largest direct-marketing specialist and about three dozen other subsidiaries. By the end of the '80s, Sorrell and his former employers, the Saatchis, were responsible for more than 8% of the $350 billion spent around the world on marketing.

But even as a new generation of giants was dominating the agency business, a counterrevolution was swirling from above and below.

The megamergers began to provoke overt rebellion. A few months after the June 1987 Thompson takeover, several senior executives at a small agency included in the acquisition left to form a competing shop, laying claim to the IBM account on which they had toiled for years. A subsequent, ugly court battle between Sorrell and the renegades ended with both shops being fired by the computer company.

Meanwhile, a worldwide recession was cutting into advertising budgets, putting financial pressure on the acquisitive conglomerates and sending both the Saatchis and Sorrell into a tailspin which ultimately forced the breakup of Saatchi & Saatchi and the ouster of its founding brothers.

Worse yet, the new technologies that were requiring agencies to achieve global scale were rendering their communications efforts less effective. A glut of new, undifferentiated products in category after category was taxing the limits of the advertising imagination. Network TV, the agencies' most profitable venue, lost 27% of its prime-time audience during the '80s as viewers fled to other media. New research tools and a quest for accountability were inducing marketers to abandon media advertising in favor of "below-the-line" disciplines, such as sales promotion and direct marketing.

The result: by the end of the decade, an industry accustomed to 15.7% growth even during previous recessionary periods was now growing by less than 8% a year. Madison Avenue began ejecting personnel, with the top 16 U.S. agencies reducing staffing by almost 5% in 1988 alone. "We're not nailing diving boards to the windows, but things are changing and changing for the worse," Martin F. Puris, co-founder of the Ammirati & Puris agency, told me at the time.

The cutbacks and substitutions did little to ameliorate the pressures on brand marketers. Goaded into promotional wars, pushed into competition with low-priced generic products, their goods stacked against a dizzying array of like wares in discount-friendly superstores, they saw shares decline and margins pressured. It was a veritable war against brands -- one that seemed all but lost when, on April 3, 1993, Philip Morris Cos. slashed the price of its flagship brand, Marlboro cigarettes, a move that set brand marketers' stocks plunging on Wall Street.

If brand marketing was to survive the commodity spiral, advertising agencies needed to find a new way to communicate with an overwhelmed and jaded audience. And indeed, they were. It was similar to the response the industry had made in the '60s: a turn in the cycle, as historian Stephen Fox described it, "from bigness and mergers back to smallness and meiosis; from ancillary services to the creative product; from science and research to art, inspiration and intuition."

Jerry Della Femina had prefigured it. "Cleveland will eventually change," he wrote in 1970. "The Creative Revolution will eventually get there." It did, by way of Los Angeles; Minneapolis; Richmond; Portland; San Francisco; Miami; Seattle and a host of smaller burgs that had once been considered the backwaters of the ad biz. No single campaign or event or occurrence focused the industry and its public on the fact that a creative renaissance was taking place. Rather, there was just a gradual recognition that a Los Angeles agency that had branched into New York in 1980, Chiat/Day, was making spots and spreads the likes of which the U.S. had not seen in years.

Chiat/Day's work touched upon a range of idioms, not only from advertising's culture but the culture at large: auteur film, rock video, poster art -- the panoply of forms that the post-'60s generation used to identify itself.

By cultural osmosis, the agency's style of advertising rapidly became indistinguishable from these other kinds of communication. What, after all, was the difference between Randy Newman warbling "I Love L.A." in a Nike ad or in an MTV video? Does it matter if an exquisitely produced strike against totalitarianism is written by Phillip K. Dick or sponsored by Apple computer, so long as both are directed by Ridley Scott?

Like Bill Bernbach, agency leader Jay Chiat revered creativity and the people who provided it. Like Charles Saatchi, he cultivated an image of mercurial aloofness that magnetically drew attention and acolytes. This succeeded in further pyramiding his agency's growth, as marketers, stymied by their inability to cut through the media's increasingly opaque clutter, opted to give creativity a chance.

With fax machines, geostationary satellites, overnight delivery services and computers, marketers no longer saw a need to get that creativity solely from New York or Chicago. From the Midwest, the Fallon McElligott agency used wickedly challenging headlines ("Perception/Reality" for Rolling Stone) to alter readers' preconceptions about familiar icons. From the Northwest, a cadre of postmodernists at Wieden & Kennedy challenged the values of their elder siblings by employing the Beatles' "Revolution" to sell athletic shoes.

Emboldened, New York agencies once again took up the cudgel of creativity, with Ally & Gargano inciting vaudevillian hysteria for Federal Express, and TBWA apotheosizing pure visual imagery in its campaign for Absolut.

Taken together, this work and the dozens of smaller agencies producing it galvanized a new generation of writers and graphic designers who saw advertising not as an occupational way station between fine-art projects, as our dear family friend Jack Vilinsky had done, but as a worthy venue to work their craft -- a place to create entertainment, commentary, even art.

It was a generation that deified its precursors, even as it tried to supplant them.

Poised at the precipice of a new century, it's inevitable, perhaps, that the pendulum should be swinging again.

As the new creativity drew public and client attention, it was only a matter of time before it attracted acquisitive eyes. Jay Chiat, who once had famously quipped, "I want to see how big I can get before I get bad," sold his agency and retired from the business before either happened. The buyer was TBWA, whose chief, Bill Tragos, used to boast how his agency was "built, not bought" -- before he sold out to Omnicom. Most other independent, midsized agencies also gradually disappeared under the umbrellas of publicly traded, multinational conglomerates.

But a pendulum may be the wrong metaphor for the changes now taking place in the agency business. For the stark bifurcation which for decades existed between "big" and "good," between "service" and "product," seems now to be an antiquated boundary.

Creative partisans, many of them veterans of past artistic rebellions, are today guiding some of the world's largest agencies -- Martin Puris at Interpublic's Ammirati Puris Lintas; Lee Garfinkel and Gary Goldsmith at the same holding company's Lowe & Partners/SMS; Chiat/Day veteran Bill Hamilton at WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson. The list is long, a recognition that The Contradiction, which lay within the ad industry's heart for this entire century may, at millennium's end, be reconciling.

And not a moment too soon. For as any moment's glance at a Nasdaq chart will show, a new form of communication has risen up to turn every prejudice about marketing upside down. A mere eight decades after Claude Hopkins prematurely assured that advertising was a science, the Internet at last promises precise accountability. But it also destroys the hegemony of broadcast networks and other communications oligopolies that could reliably deliver mass audiences. With viewers, readers, consumers -- hell, citizens -- now able to program their own media experiences, the irritating repetition caricatured by Frederic Wakeman and delivered by Rosser Reeves has become a recipe for brand disembowelment.

The boundary-blurring Internet has placed renewed emphasis on the importance of brands, now deemed the only forces powerful enough to draw the audience's eye and income through the chaos of the World Wide Web. That's why, only three years after its founding, Amazon.com is considered to have such a powerful marque that the market has valued it at close to $29 billion. To create and sustain such brands, consultants are counseling the virtues of entertainment, likability, and refreshment. They're arguing that in an age of interactivity and an era of choice, advertising, to succeed, must act no differently than film or TV -- or a conversation with a friend.

So a new generation of advertising agencies, unburdened by the biases of the past, is rising to serve these new clients and fulfill these new needs. Their names -- Agency.com, Modem Media, CKS Group -- may be unfamiliar now. But 50 years ago, who knew from Doyle Dane Bernbach?

I can't say whether Jack Vilinsky would like this new advertising industry any more than the one he left for his artist's studio back when. And far be it for anyone to assume that serving marketers' needs is any less important than it's ever been. But as we near the end of the broadcasting era, at the twilight of the advertising century, this much is now clear: In the spark of creativity lies the future of business.


posted by R J Noriega
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Sunday, March 16, 2008,2:02 AM
Jazz and the art of connecting
By Garr Reynolds

Most students of jazz will not go on to be professional players. And few students turned on by the creative arts in school will go on to be professional artists. And that's OK. Knowledge and understanding of the arts and the experience of pursuing excellence with, say, an instrument or a brush, etc. can teach students a lot about life and the value of focused effort, patience, teamwork, perspective, creativity, problem solving, and a million other things. All things that will serve the student well no matter what profession(s) she ends up dedicating herself to.

I made barely enough money with music to pay for my college years. Though music is not my profession today, jazz still inspires me in my professional life as well as in my personal/spiritual life. Jazz, of course, is about dialog and a kind of conversation with other musicians and a connection with the audience. Jazz is inspiring to me; it's lessons can be applied to other aspects of life, even the art of presentation. Below, then, are eleven quotes by jazz greats of yesterday and today which I find particularly inspiring and applicable. Following the list is a short video clip of a gig I did in Osaka earlier this month with some very accomplished musicians.

(1) “The most important thing I look for in a musician is whether he knows how to listen.” (Duke-Ellington)
The best communicators in the world are almost always the best listeners. Talking is easy; any dope can do that. But listening is hard. The lessons learned in life come more from when we open our ears not our mouths.

(2) “Writing is like jazz. It can be learned, but it can’t be taught.”

I'm not sure I've ever been taught anything about making presentations, but I have learned a ton from observing great presenters, from people like Steve Jobs to scores of people far less famous, such as college professors, etc.

(3) “Don’t bullshit… just play.” (Wynton-Marsalis)
Audiences today are busier than ever and have developed built-in "crap detectors" to filter out anything remotely insincere or shallow. They may not interrupt you or walk out of the room, but that doesn't mean they have not stopped listening. Guy Kawasaki has some good tips for those presenting to venture capitalists. If you're asking an audience for money, it is a safe bet that they will have zero tolerance for any overly optimistic views of future results unless you have strong evidence.

(4) “If they act too hip, you know they can’t play shit!” (Louis-Armstrong)
With practice we can become more polished. But too much polish turns a presentation into a TV-like infomercial unworthy of an audience's trust. Presentation is a very human thing. Practice, rehearse and make it great. But keep it real. Keep it human. And remember that it is about them (the audience), not us.

(5) “Master your instrument. Master the music. And then forget all that bullshit and just play.” (Charlie-Parker)
Studying design and presentation, communication, etc. is crucial. But when we present, all that matters is that moment and that audience. Get to the point. Tell us something memorable. Quit worrying and just inspire us or teach us (or better yet, both).

(6) “It’s taken me all my life to learn what not to play.” (Dizzy-Gillespie)
Most presentations are too long or filled with information that was unnecessary and included for the wrong reasons (such as fear). Knowing what to leave out takes work. Again, anyone can include everything and say everything, it is the master presenters (or writers, etc.) who know what to cut and have the courage to cut it.

(7) “You can play a shoestring if you’re sincere.” (John-Coltrane)
In most situations, you don't need the latest technology or the best equipment in the world. Showing that you are well prepared and ready to present naked is far more important. A poor presentation is not any better simply because expensive equipment is used to project images. Sincerity and respect for the audience matter far more.

(8) "When people believe in boundaries, they become part of them."
(Don Cherry)

Many books give prescriptions for the "best way" to present. There is no "best way" or "the correct way" to make a presentation. There are only two kinds really: good ones and bad ones. You know the difference because you've seen them both. Don't be afraid to be unconventional if you think "unconventional" will work best for your situation. Conventional wisdom is often the unwisest choice of all. "Conventional wisdom" about presentations is at best a prescription for mediocrity.

(9) “Anyone can make the simple complicated. Creativity is making the complicated simple.” (Charles Mingus)
This is my favorite quote of all. Many presenters -- very smart people -- either take something essentially simple and confuse an audience or simply fail to make their more complicated material meaningful to their audience. Simplicity ain't easy. In fact it's hard.

(10) “I can’t stand to sing the same song the same way two nights in succession. If you can, then it ain’t music..." (Billie-Holiday)
Even if you have the same set of slides or the same key points from one night to the next, every presentation is different because every audience is different. We must avoid the "canned presentation" or the "canned pitch" at all cost. If we focus on the audience and place priority on their needs, we're on the right path.

(11) “A great teacher is one who realizes that he himself is also a student and whose goal is not to dictate the answers, but to stimulate his students creativity enough so that they go out and find the answers themselves.”

My best teachers as a child and my favorite presenters of today have this in common: they inspire, stimulate, motivate, provoke, and lead...but they do not dictate.
posted by R J Noriega
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Saturday, March 15, 2008,3:34 AM
Media Fear Tactics
By G Becker

It would be interesting if the standards of Truth in Advertising were applied to television news as they sometimes are to television commercials. In that unlikely situation, TV news writers would be required to use phrases and words that convey accurate information – as opposed to the phrases and words they use today.

I want to help you break the code of alarming newspeak so that you can more easily find the valuable information that may (or may not) be part of a story.

Given the disturbing reasons we’ve all been watching so much TV news, it would be understandable to overlook the sheer ridiculousness that is inherent in some of the sensationalism. Occasionally, the way TV news is delivered can be downright funny, and indeed, the ability to laugh at something indicates that we are beginning to gain perspective on it. Accordingly, some of what follows is funny, and I have a very clear purpose in offering it: I want to help change your experience of television news, help you actually watch it differently. I want to provide some tools you can use to ensure that when you watch TV news, only actual information gets through.

Though not offered as a comprehensive glossary, here are some examples of words and phrases I think you’ll quickly recognize:

POSSIBLE: As in “Next Up: Possible links between Saddam Hussein and tooth decay…”

The word “possible” doesn’t really have the specificity one hopes for in journalism, given that it is completely accurate when applied to anything anyone can possibly imagine. “A possible outbreak of…” means there has been no outbreak. “A possible connection between memory loss and the air you breathe…” means there in no confirmed connection.

“Officials are worried about possible attacks against…” means there have been no such attacks.

Anytime you hear the word possible, it’s probably not happening right now.

“Next up: Possible links between convicted murderer Charles Manson and yesterday’s traffic jams in the downtown area.”

Are these two things linked? Absolutely, if you loosen your criteria enough, everything is linked by its presence on the same planet at the same moment in time – but only a very few links are instructive or meaningful.

Links are a great news trick, because you can tie a remote, unconfirmed, or even unimportant story to something that’s really pushing buttons. “Next up: Possible links to Bin Laden” is all you have to say to get attention these days.

Almost always when you hear the word link, there is no confirmed link.


“...our Nation’s water supplies…”
“...our Nation’s roadways…”
“...our Nation’s shipping ports…”

They use this trick to imply some large scale to a story. “A new threat to our nation’s water supplies” won’t be a threat to our nation’s anything. Our nation is enormous. Nothing, not even nuclear bombs, poses a threat to all of any system in our society at the same time. When they say “our nation’s” anything, they are usually trying to give grand significance to something that doesn’t have grand significance. We might not perk up as much if they said, “A new threat to Klopp County’s water supply…” The incident in which old Doc Ames truck leaked oil into the reservoir just isn’t gonna scare up enough ratings. But it could: “Next up, a new threat to our nation’s water supply. An alarming incident that experts say could happen anywhere!”

“Shocking new details when we come back.” Well, first of all, the details are not likely to be new, and if so critical, why are we waiting till after the commercial, and anyway, what does shocking mean at this point? Unless the news anchor reaches through the screen and pulls my hair, I don’t imagine he could shock me. They’ve ruined another word for themselves.


“Auditors cite loopholes in security at our nation’s libraries.”

That’s right, anytime you have an audit or an inspection, you’re going to find something. Auditors are people who’ve been hired to write reports identifying deficiencies. Have you ever heard of a one-line audit report? “The auditors didn’t a find one damn thing that could possibly be improved.” Did you ever hear of an inspector who said: ‘We’ve wasted six months on this inspection, because the place is bloomin’ perfect. Whoever’s running this show sure thought of everything.”

The implication projected in a story about a security loophole is that someone will come crashing through the loophole – but that is not necessarily so. They tell you (and the terrorists) about the loophole because it is frightening, not because it’s enlightening.

“In a carefully worded statement, the President said…” Is this as distinct from those statements that world leaders just have the kids throw together? “Carefully worded” is often used to imply that something is being hidden.

“Officials consider the threat to be serious.” Is that to distinguish this threat from the threats they laugh about over lunch? Taking something seriously does not mean the risk is great or imminent. It just means officials are doing what anyone would do.

“Officials here are taking no chances when it comes to school safety.” Sort of. More likely, they’re taking no chances that reporters will broadcast a report accusing them of taking chances.

Implies that something is imminent, and worthy of being closely monitored. “Closely monitoring” is like “Officials are on the lookout for…” Both phrases suggest that something bad is surely coming, as if officials are standing outside looking around with binoculars.


“NASA reports that a large piece of space junk -PERHAPS as big as a freighter– COULD enter the Earth’s atmosphere sometime tonight over North America. Experts warn that it is could potentially slam into the earth.”

What are we to do with this report? Move a little to the left or right? They don’t say, of course, that every night, thousands of pieces of space junk enter the Earth’s atmosphere and completely burn up before ever hitting the ground, or that no person on Earth has ever been struck and killed by a piece of space junk. Or that if something’s as big as a freighter before entry, it might end up as small as a grain of sand – but it could potentially hit your house, I suppose.

15%, 20%, 25%…
“15% of Americans are at risk of being seriously injured in car accidents on our nation’s highways this year.” Whenever you see a percentage cited, reverse it and think about the other share in the equation. For example, from the story above you can conclude that 85% of Americans are not at risk of being seriously injured in car accidents this year. Sort of good news, all things considered. Also, phrases such “a sizeable percentage,” or “an alarming percentage” can be applied to just about any percentage. Get the actual number, and then you decide if it’s sizeable or alarming to you.

“Experts warn that as many as 25,000 people in America may be carrying the deadly gene…” or “As many as twenty states may be susceptible to radiation leakage disasters.”

“As many as” means somewhere between zero and the number given.

A phrase used when they don’t really have the story yet.

“But one former employee at the doomed refinery reveals shocking new information…”

What does he reveal? That they fired him because he was too ethical, or because they didn’t want to hear the truth? Or that he knew all along? Anyway, he wasn’t there the night of the fire, so is he the best source of information? Truth in advertising would require the reporter to say: “We interviewed one man who hasn’t been to the refinery in three months – his opinion, next.”

As certain words and phrases become symbolic or evocative from one type of story, they’ll use them in another. In the days after 9/11 I saw a TV news report about a tropical storm making “a direct hit” on a tiny coastal community, as if the hurricane were aiming. (And the word tiny is used because it implies vulnerability. Storms that make direct hits on tiny places are frightening bullies.) A story about a flight that experienced extreme turbulence is headlined “Terror in the Sky.”

As in the popular “deadly virus;” this word is used to imply that everyone who gets the virus perishes, when the truth is that very few people die from the virus. If a really serious virus ends up being fatal for 20 percent of the people who contract it, then truth in advertising would require language such as: “Next up, a local man is stricken with a highly survivable virus.”

It’s quite a bit shy of deadly when someone tests negative for anthrax, yet in the weeks after 9/11, even a negative test for a “deadly” virus was presented as a frightening thing.

To put this into perspective, flu-related disorders killed 5000 times as many people as anthrax in 2001. Is anthrax still scary? Yes, and all the more so because of the implication that it was everywhere (colored maps showing the places in the U.S. where anthrax was found or suspected). It wasn’t everywhere. Reports were everywhere. And the same report repeated seventy-five times is still the same report. But you wouldn’t know that by the excited delivery: “New details emerge in that anthrax case.” Details maybe, but not new – far more likely when you watch TV news, they’ll be the same “new” details for the tenth time that day.

A storm is described as deadly: “We’ll have new information on that deadly hurricane that’s heading up the coast.” A hurricane qualifies for the word “deadly” when someone, somewhere on the hurricane’s round-the-hemisphere journey dies as a result of the storm. That does not mean the hurricane tries to kill all people it encounters, but that’s the implication – that something dangerous is coming. You’ll note that the people who die are usually in a situation far different than yours: They are on a small fishing boat at night off the coast of Peru, and you’re at home 1200 feet above sea level.

Usually means they didn’t get a news crew there in time. Or they didn’t warn you about it yet, which actually is interesting, since there’s only two or three possible awful outcomes involving human beings and they haven’t warned us about yet.

As in “Disturbing questions have been raised about the safety of our nation’s…” Yes, the questions are disturbing. They’re disturbing everyone. Please stop raising them.


Yes, reports and experts do seem to warn, fear, and worry a lot.


They sure do.

Global conclusions drawn from man-on-the-street interviews represent literally nothing. You can edit a story into “New Yorkers feel terrified,” or “New Yorkers are ready to move on” – and it all depends upon which of the five interviews you cut into the piece broadcast.

Here are two quotes brought back by one NBC News crew:

“I think if you change your life, they’re winning,” says Captain Frank Carver. “So the more we continue our daily routine, better off we all are.”

At Pat’s Country Bakery nearby, Joann Charters concedes she’s still apprehensive. “It’s a really scary feeling with kids in school. You don’t know what’s gonna happen,” says Charters.”

To accurately summarize these quotes you’d have to say: “Some people feel one way and some other people feel another way. Back to you, Tricia.”

Joann Charters citing that it’s scary because “you don’t know what’s going to happen” is right on. That’s why it’s scary: because you don’t know what’s going to happen – not because you do know, not because danger is advancing toward you, but because it is not.

TV news stories like this are filler, background, static, irrelevant. You don’t need a reporter and a video crew to bring you man-in-the-street opinions. There are men on your street you can get opinions from. Or you could just talk to your friends and family.

Any list of warning signs implies great risk. I recall a rash of reports about car-jacking in Los Angeles, and this list of warning signs:

Armed stranger approaches car;
Taps on closed window;
Looks around suspiciously.

And then they offered the checklist of precautions, given by an “expert on car-jacking.” (Is there a college course on that?) The checklist:

Keep doors locked;
Don’t let strangers into your car;
Drive away.

This is tantamount to:


Warning Signs:
Purse feels extra heavy;
Strange noises coming from purse.

“Officials admit that the incident could have developed into a full-fledged riot…” In this context, admit means that when a reporter asked, “If police had never reached the scene, and if a hundred other factors had fallen into place in an extraordinarily unlikely way, couldn’t this have developed into a full-scale riot?” Yes, it could have – an admission.

It may seem you are getting expert advice on the news, but that’s far from so. The moment you edit what an expert says, it’s just words you might as well put in the blender. Would you let a TV news crew mediate your doctor’s advice? Imagine being challenged by a difficult illness and your doctor’s compassionate and complete 30-minute presentation was edited down to 23 seconds.

That’s what the local news brings you: expert opinion edited, mediated, and minimized by non-experts who ask questions designed to elicit the most alarming responses. “Yes, yes, Dr. Stevens, but if it did happen, it would be terrible wouldn’t it?

When the news media assign a nickname to a wanted criminal (e.g., The Night-stalker, The Hillside Strangler) or to a disease (Legionaire’s or Flesh-Eating Diseases), it is indicative of a hoped-for series of reports. When it’s a type of crime (Follow-home Robberies), a trend is not far behind.


Next comes “Officials are concerned,” and soon enough –as with Road Rage, you’ve got hearings before the House Subcommittee on Surface Transportation, and somebody (in this case, committee staff member Jeff Nelligan) calling the issue, “A national disaster.” Presumably, Mr. Nelligan would tone that down a bit today – all of us having found a new meaning for the words “national disaster.”

An NBC News story quotes a member of a university task force on weapons of mass destruction: “We’ve been talking about this for years and people in general have not been interested.” Is there some surprise there – that someone on a task force about weapons would be talking about weapons? The intended implication of these stories is that if someone had just listened, this could all have been prevented. How could discussions at some college task force have been used to prevent anthrax scares? If we had listened, what would be different? This is like an earthquake happening and earthquake experts saying, “We warned you.” Yes, you did; you said there’d be an earthquake sometime. If only we’d listened.

These are stories where TV news people cannot lose. They ask hospitals or public health officials or the utility company or the fire department if they can handle a disaster of X magnitude. If the response is yes, they just keep upping the disaster magnitude until the response is no.

Here’s an example from NBC News: “A survey of 30 hospitals in four states and Washington, D.C., found them ill-equipped to handle a widespread biological disaster.” A guaranteed fear-inducer, pokes right at our insecurity. First off, just asking the question implies that a “widespread disaster” is coming, and it’s even better if the survey was part of a “new study,” because that implies that the question itself is well founded.

Either way, the basic premise of the story is true: If hospitals currently able to handle 500 patients an hour get 5000 patients in some terrible hour, they will be unprepared. The standard of care will drop. Is there something surprising about that? Do TV news writers think Americans assume there is some extra team of 200 doctors and an extra 5000 fully-equipped hospital beds waiting in their community somewhere just out of sight?

Indeed, hospitals are unprepared for that which they have never had to be prepared. Being able to deal with what predictably comes down the pike and putting your resources where they are most likely to be needed is good planning. An emergency room would have to trade some daily-used resource to be ready for mass casualties that don’t appear to be coming. Yes, as the world changes and events change, so does preparation – but expecting hospitals to be fully prepared, for example, to treat thousands of inhalation anthrax casualties when there’s been a few lethal cases in 30 years would constitute bad planning.

One can make an “unprepared” story about anything; America’s police are unprepared for a “widespread crime disaster;” our supermarkets are unprepared for a “widespread food shortage.” It all depends upon how you define the word widespread. Put a microphone in some official’s face and ask if he’s adequately prepared for an attack on the harbor by Godzilla, and you’ve got an unreadiness story.

“Being stuck in the elevator for six days is an experience Betty Hamilton will never forget.” This is used as a measure of how serious an incident it was, but did anyone imagine she was going to forget it? “I think I was stuck in an elevator for six days, but I can’t quite remember.”

Pay attention to the very last line in news reports. They are rarely summaries, but rather are designed to keep the story open for more reports. Most often, the closing line takes a last bite at the fear apple, one final effort to add uncertainty and worry. “Many here are left wondering if it will ever be safe.” “Fear continues its tight grip on this tiny community.” “Whether more will die remains to be seen.” In the world of TV news, frightening stories never end. We never hear the words “And that’s that.”

Let’s put a few of these newsroom strategies together into a story and see how it looks. As the basis for our mock TV news report, I’ll draw on something that actually happened to my assistant. Earlier this year, her wrist was injured when a dog bit her.

“NEXT UP: DOGBITES! THE BONE-CRUSHING POWER OF DOGS. Experts warn that even friendly dogs can bite, sometimes without provocation. And they’re everywhere. A new Government study estimates as many as 300 dogs per square mile, with the numbers climbing each year. How many backyards in your neighborhood are hiding a deadly menace? We’ll tell you what experts say – when we come back.

A shocking bite from the dog everyone described as “a little angel” leaves one area woman nursing her wounds. Dog-jaw experts say that even a small dog can produce as much as 500 pounds of biting force, and given the rate at which dogs breed, it’s just a matter of time before more people are placed at risk. A former employee with the Department of Health says hospitals are unprepared for a major increase in dogbites, and officials are closely monitoring this situation that could pose a deadly threat to our nation’s neighborhoods. Disturbing questions have been raised about loopholes in the licensing system, and observers point out that dogs who bite can receive licenses and be released into neighborhoods.

It’s no surprise that many local residents are living in fear: “You never know when somebody is walking their dog right behind you. We’re scared.” Officials say links between the recent dogbite and one that occurred in the tiny town of Ames, Iowa have not been confirmed, but either way, it’s a nightmare few will ever forget. And one that many fear will not be over in the morning.”

Coming to understand these popular phrases and strategies, and being able to see around them has made me appreciate those news reports that are direct, clear, and informative. Since many news people use these tricks, those who do not stand out as all the more special and valuable.

If you watch TV news, you’re probably going to spot lots of sensationalizing tactics I’ve missed, and maybe even start a list of your own. If finding them becomes an occasionally enjoyable part of your news-viewing experience, that in itself will be great news.

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posted by R J Noriega
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