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Friday, February 27, 2009

Crystal Ball Time

Every month or so this tech mag Streaming Media shows up in my in box. Like most of that ilk, it has long articles about which codec is the best for uploading to the web and which CDN is really hot. I mean, boring. But every once in a while I find something in there that peaks my interest. The January issue had an advertisement section asking web tech CEOs to tell us what they saw for the near future. As you would expect, most said that their particular technology was poised to help us all monetize and maximize the user experience. They seem to like that kind of language, kind of an arrogantly friendly approach to selling their wares.

But a few actually had something to say. Here are some of their more interesting quotes for your consideration.

"It's an exciting time for video on the Internet. Online video has become mainstream and represents a viable alternative to traditional television viewing. Video played a larger role than ever in the recent election with millions of people using their broadband connections to watch the presidential debates. Online video will become the typical 'web experience' that users associate with the Internet, and will become just as instantaneous and real-time as web page browsing is." --Grant Kirkwood, CTO of Mzima Networks

"We believe Internet TV is poised for new, rapid growth because of the financial downturn. As enterprises, associations and government agencies scramble to cut costs the potent value proposition offered by Internet TV stands out." -- Dave Gardy, Chairman & CEO of TV Worldwide

"I'm often surprised by claims that the rise of online video represents a huge shift in consumer behavior. Looking at the videos that people watch, the actual information being consumed hasn't changed - the medium of delivery has. Instead of surfing for a funny web page, consumers are now surfing for a funny video. The truth is ... video has become the vehicle for conveying that information." -- Dan Castles, CEO Telestream

So, I think what one see's in one's crystal ball depends a lot on attitude. There has always been an ebb and flow in demand for projects in our industry. But looking at the past few years the web and other virtual venues have created a whole new area for video. So just as the typical length of projects has shortened (remember when a typical client video would be 20 to 30 minutes?) the need for different forms and approaches (like podcasts) has grown. And I believe there will always be a need for good judgment, clear thinking and creativity. For me, that's what effective communication is all about.

Doing Well and Good at the Same Time

How do you make video that gets noticed? By thinking outside the box.

As reported in the WSJ, auto maker Fiat was strapped for cash and struggling to promote their brand. So a few years ago they came up with an audacious but attention-getting concept: show their Lancia brand as helping improve society. That's right, buy this car and make the world a better place. So they made a commercial featuring their cars and human rights activists, in a spot supporting San Suu Kyi, a democracy activist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize living under house arrest in Myanmar.

And, because Fiat presents it as a public service announcement, networks in nine European countries (Fiat's big market) agreed to show it free of charge.

So let's think about this for a minute. So often we think the easiest way to get from point A to point B is a straight line. But what I see is that the memorable, standout moments come from the unusual and the unexpected. It's that juxtaposition of what you assume and the surprising discovery that make work stand out. It could be a new way of thinking, a new way of describing the commonplace or using familiar images words or music in an innovate way.

Years ago I worked a Governor's re-election campaign. He was an old time pol and what's worse, he looked like one. Middle age, wide of girth, and somewhat dull. So to give him some verve and buoyancy in his commercials, I used classical music in a celebratory style, like Vivaldi.

Suddenly, he had a friendly gravitas. The exuberant music made him seem fun, accessible and active.

Just like the pseudo-somber Fiat spot makes the Lancia seem a suitable platform for democracy's heroes. And taking the approach they did garnered a lot of attention and free publicity. Doing good and doing well, right?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Lessons From a Turnaround Artist

Michael Kaiser, president of the Kennedy Center, has made a career out of breathing new life into arts organizations once on life support. He recently wrote a how-to book about his experiences, "The Art of the Turnaround: Creating and Maintaining Healthy Arts Organizations" and just this month started an online hotline for troubled arts groups.

I think some of the issues facing struggling arts organizations are similar to issues facing some of our clients, so I read his interview in the WSJ with great interest. Here's what caught my attention:

"When there are economic challenges, the first things that staffs and boards cut are programming and marketing, and that's the worst thing you can do. You're guaranteeing yourself you'll have less revenue next year, and that's how sick organizations get really sick." He went on, "If you start by cutting the programming, rather than everything in the back of the house, you're signing a warrant that everything will just get worse, worse, worse."

His solution is "great art well-marketed."

I think what he's focusing on makes sense, namely that programming and marketing are really the beating heart of the organization. They're what make it vital and without it, how will people see the work?

Since we often find ourselves creating programs to help our clients market ideas and information, I'd like to offer three questions to consider before launching the next video project: How can we re-purpose the work to reach a broader audience? How can we reach new arenas and viewers? How can we insure a longer shelf life for the material?

We recently completed a video to introduce an alternative energy process that could have enormous potential in our battle to protect the enviroment. But the process is complicated and not everything could be adequately covered in the short overview video we created. Knowing this upfront, our initial proposal included re-purposing the material to create short video packages for the web, each one exploring in greater depth an issue raised in the video. Not only is it a good way to do more with less, it also opens up the possibility for greater outreach as well.

This is a more effective and cost-efficient way of working. And I think the key to all this is to spend some time thinking about programming and marketing from the very beginning. Planning for it ahead of time can really pay off.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Meaning What?

An article on a recent front page of the WSJ described a city's angst over a controversial Mustang sculpture by artist Luis Jimenez. Here's how the paper describes it, "The mustang rears on splayed hind legs-his nostrils flaring, his eyes glowing red, his taut body a slick, sweaty sheen of blue. Anatomically correct - eye poppingly so- the 32-toot-tall sculpture makes quite a statement..."

The article, "A Horse of a Different Color Divides Denver" goes on to describe how Jimenez's sculpture at the gateway to Denver International Airport has the town in an uproar. It's been called "mean," "terrifying," "a demon horse" and a local developer launched a campaign to remove it.

But when I read this piece, I realized immediately it was a horse of a different color. Not too long ago we created a series of artist portraits for the Smithsonian American Art Museum. One of those featured Luis Jiminez. A gentle, soft spoken man, he was proud of his Hispanic heritage and had a great love of horses and the expressive moment. His work adorns the entrance to the Museum and is featured in public places across America. I was sure his flair for dramatic expression drove his creative impulse to create what he probably saw as a proud and heroic creature and an embodiment of the adventurous Western Spirit.

Unfortunately the artist passed away last year. But his widow was quoted later in the article: "You look at the piece and you know it was built with love." She said that the stallion's neon red eyes are an homage to the artist's father who ran a neon sign studio in Texas. The keenly articulated stallion's body is a symbol of freedom, strength and the American West. And it makes her think of his beloved horse "Blackjack" that hung around just outside his studio.

Which brings me to think about how differently people can perceive the same thing. Of course, that's why art exists, to make us think, feel and experience in new ways. But it also is a lesson in how we interpret and find meaning. And how easy it is to get lost within our own assumptions and ways of seeing without testing them in the outside world.

And we encounter this often in our work as we try to translate our client's needs into a visual language to effectively communicate their vision. And help them move from their organizational world view to reach and impact a wider audience. And with almost everything ending up on the internet, it's even more essential that we all get it right. So the meaning and intent will be clear. And the message will be heard.

Monday, February 2, 2009

deja vu all over again

While most people watch the Superbowl for the game, some put their focus on the commercials. It may be the year's most expensive advertising slot and a lot of creative energy and marketing dollars were spent honing a message. And now the spots can live on another day, namely on the WSJ website. I found it inspired. They have a feature front and center on today's homepage, inviting you to rate the best and worst superbowl TV spot.

For me, this is a great example of thinking outside the box. Here's why: they could have just had an print article about the spots or they could have put up a few sample videos of what they thought were the best spots. But by putting all the spots there and inviting readers to vote, they made the whole thing interactive and fun. And they branded each viewing with a WSJ logo and music. So you're constantly reminded the spots are brought to you by the Journal. It's an innovative and creative way to make yesterday's news fresh and inviting. And of course the companies like it because people get to see their commercials again for free. So everyone wins. Which is the best result for out of the box thinking.
You can check it out at


My favorite is the Bud Light Swedish commercial featuring Conan