Three Essential Elements of a Writing Style Guide

April 15th, 2015 by ddeal

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Photo source: Wikipedia

Your brand has a publishing style even if you don’t realize it. The Whole Foods Whole Story blog is personal and conversational. The Red Bull Bullevard strives to be punchy and cheeky. I was recently reminded of the importance of style when I read “Holy Writ,” a passionate The New Yorker article about copy editing and writing from Mary Norris, who has been a query proofreader at the magazine for more than 20 years. Her article underscores the power that words retain in the era of Snapchat and Instagram.

With knowing, often wry prose, Norris reflects on a career in which she has checked the work of many esteemed The New Yorker authors, such as John McPhee, whose writing was so immaculate that reviewing his work was a breeze. She also reflects on the niggling quirks of modern-day writing that continue to cause debate and consternation among anyone who cares about words — such as whether a house style should permit or eschew the serial comma, or the third comma in a series.

She falls squarely in the camp of serial comma supporters. “I’ve gotten used to the way it looks,” she writes. “It gives starch to the prose, and can be very effective. If a sentence were a picket fence, the serial commas would be posts at regular intervals.”

I agree. When I was in journalism school, I glumly went along with the prevailing journalistic style of omitting the serial comma even though the missing third comma forced my writing along faster than I wanted. But the moment I graduated from college and went to work for a book publisher, I practically clicked my heels as I fled to the comforting embrace of the serial comma, The Chicago Manual of Style as my witness. Years later, I would also stop using two spaces after the period when the common style of the digital world took root — a decision that made me feel like Mad Men’s Roger Sterling growing sideburns and wearing a plaid jacket as the 1960s gave way to the ’70s.

There was a time when an article like Norris’s would have appealed to writers and copy editors of a distinct literary set — the tweed-jacket-wearing “professionals” who, like me, earned their stripes mastering The Associated Press Stylebook or The Chicago Manual of Style while gaining degrees in journalism and English en route to careers in journalism or book publishing.

But those days are long gone. A whole new breed of publisher has emerged — the brand that creates its own ideas and the everyday citizen who blogs. As a result, an article such as “Holy Writ” has a wider, and more diverse, audience: the blogger serious about relying on writing to create a one-person brand; the chief content officer in a Fortune 500 company; or perhaps an ex-journalist who writes white papers and blog posts for a corporation. The brands that are really serious about acting like big-time publishers realize they have an obligation to their writers (whether in-house or freelance) to guide them with an understanding of their business’s own house style.

I have had the good fortune to work with some of those businesses to create style guides that are every bit as important to their brands as The Chicago Manual of Style remains today for book publishers. In my experience, a good style guide goes beyond addressing questions such as the way possessives should be treated. A corporate style guide should show writers how to be engaging, answer usage questions, and identify common mistakes that can mar good writing. Here is what I mean:

  • Show how to be engaging: a style guide should spell out the elements of engaging writing, such as sharing relevant ideas and asserting a point of view. More experienced writers might not need this kind of guidance, but many corporate writers will require it, especially if they are just dipping their toes in the world of blogging. Coaching writers on engaging writing also means rallying them around a desired writing style. Is your brand authoritative and academic like Harvard Business Review, or edgy like Vice? In defining the writing style, your guide should provide insight into your audience: who they are, how they think, and how your writing should connect with them.
  • Answer usage questions: usage covers the mechanics of writing, including word choice, terminology, capitalization, and punctuation (including the all-important call about the serial comma). Some brand publishers simply defer to an outside resource such as The Associated Press Stylebook for all usage questions, but sooner or later you will find some crucial ruling in someone else’s style manual that just doesn’t feel correct for your own brand.
  • Discourage writing demons: here is where language nerds have a chance to call out every sin of bad writing that they have endured throughout their lives, such as mistaking its for it’s or incorrectly writing comprised of. An effective style guide collects the most common writing demons and casts them into a purgatory where all corporate bloggers and Website writers are forbidden to enter. But a writing demons section should not come across like the stern scold of a schoolmarm. A style guide should help writers, not browbeat them.

A style guide will yield many benefits. Less experienced writers will understand how to write better prose and avoid writing demons. All writers, whatever their level of experience, will appreciate receiving ground rules about your corporate brand style. Editors will have a tool to help them guide the judgment calls they need to make.

Moreover, your employees will be on the same page when they represent your brand with words. Your corporate blog will benefit from a reasonable amount of brand style consistency even as your writers develop their own individual voices. Most importantly, your audience will benefit by reading consistently good writing from your brand.

If you have yet to create a corporate style guide, why not start now?




From Coachella to Jimmy Fallon: Five Ways Classic Rockers Stay Relevant

April 12th, 2015 by ddeal

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Photo credit: Matt Becker, www.melodicrockconcerts.com

A bunch of old rock and rollers are the toast of Coachella. AC/DC, rebounding after the loss of two key members, played a set April 10 that earned the band the kind of acclaim and attention that any artist would envy. Stereogum rated AC/DC the best act of Coachella’s first day, and The Guardian called the band’s return to the stage after six years a triumph. But by performing at Coachella, one of the de rigueur festivals of the millennial generation, AC/DC achieved something else important: cultural relevancy.

Being relevant to the contemporary zeitgeist is important to classic rock bands that continue performing long after qualifying for AARP membership. After all, rock and roll is supposed to be the music of youth and an influence on contemporary society, not yesterday’s news. No one wants to experience the embarrassment that U2 suffered when many people on social media asked “Who are these guys?” after Apple dropped the band’s latest album on fans via an iTunes download in 2014. Here is a rulebook for relevance that successful classic rockers usually to follow:

1. Embrace Digital

It sounds like fan branding 101 at this point, but some Baby Boomer-era legends are more willing to adopt digital than others. You can find the Rolling Stones on Spotify, but not AC/DC (proving that the band has some work to do yet earning its relevancy stripes). Although the Stones seldom release any new music, the band has effectively used digital channels ranging from the Web to mobile to maintain brand relevancy. Moreover, Joan Jett (being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame April 18), Annie Lennox, and Robert Plant do an excellent job using digital to share their lives and music with their fans. Plant relies on Instagram, Tumblr, and YouTube, to tell a narrative of his reinvention as an artist. For instance, he recently posted a documentary on YouTube about his travels to Mali in order to participate in the Festival au Désert.

Read more »




How to Win the War for the Everywhere Customer

March 19th, 2015 by ddeal

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The battle for the omni-channel customer experience has become a war for an “everywhere customer,” who uses multiple devices and channels for shopping and expects brands to be everywhere. On average, Americans own four digital devices and users who interact across multiple devices or channels are substantially more likely to purchase than those who do not. Some brands, such as Disney, Macy’s, and Wells Fargo, are moving from awareness to action by rolling out technologies that allow them to service everywhere customers online as well as in-store. And the early adopters will be rewarded: everywhere customers spend an average of 15-to-30 percent more than their counterparts.

Disney is an excellent example of a brand that knows how to design an experience that anticipates and responds to the behaviors of everywhere customers. Disney guides visitors through an online/offline journey at Disney World, from research to purchase to visit. The journey begins at the My Disney Experience website. Registered users rely on My Disney Experience for the most complicated part of their Disneyworld visit: planning. With Disney offering a wide variety of lodging, dining, and ticketing options, planning can be a complex task, and far too complicated for a mobile app. The website makes all those tasks easier. Users create their own profiles, which they may update as they build their itineraries. Users may also collaborate with one another on their vacation planning and reservations. The desktop experience is augmented with live chat, email, and click-to-call tabs for users, who need help planning their vacations or navigating the website.

As users update their itineraries, the Disney master ticket (a laminated card sent to users separately) updates in sync. When guests arrive at a park, their tickets contain up-to-date details such as lodging choices and Fast Pass ride times. Moreover, users may choose to link all their information to a Disney MagicBand, a smart wristband, instead of the laminated card. With the wristband, Disney creates its own customer service channel through the wearable device that is used throughout the entire Disney World experience. My Disney Experience also guides users to the My Disney Experience app, which can be used for managing onsite details such checking park hours and times for character appearances.

My recently published CMO.com column, “‘Everywhere Customers’ Are Your Future,” offers six steps brands can take in order to win the war for this important audience, which I believe define the future of American consumerism. Read the column here and let me know what you think.




Why Mr. Spock Endures

February 28th, 2015 by ddeal

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How does a fictional character eclipse his real-life creator and become embedded in the fabric of popular culture? I have been pondering the question while watching the widespread outpouring of grief and nostalgia in the wake of the death of Leonard Nimoy, the man who gave us Mr. Spock.

When my older brother Dan called me on a cold Friday afternoon to share his favorite memories of Mr. Spock, I felt sad that we had lost Nimoy yet grateful for the enduring gift of Spock. As a child growing up with Star Trek via reruns in the 1970s, I admired Spock’s Vulcan logic, unbending loyalty to his friends, and the dignified way he carried the burden of being half-Vulcan, half-human. Nimoy essayed a character who found a way to reveal keen emotion bubbling beneath the surface of his steely calm demeanor. To borrow one of Spock’s catchphrases, I found Spock fascinating. And I still do when I watch Star Trek, both the TV series and the film adaptations, at home with my daughter.

Obviously, I am not alone. Spock has legions of fans even though the original Star Trek series lasted just three seasons and was canceled in 1969. Nimoy’s death February 27 was covered widely in the mainstream news media, ranging from Mashable to The New York Times. In reporting Nimoy’s death, The New York Times captured the essence of Spock:

[I]t was as Mr. Spock that Mr. Nimoy became a folk hero, bringing to life one of the most indelible characters of the last half century: a cerebral, unflappable, pointy-eared Vulcan with a signature salute and blessing: “Live long and prosper” . . .

The White House reacted, too: President Barack Obama issued a statement professing his own admiration of Nimoy and love for Spock. Social media exploded with tributes, such as the fan-made photographs of the Vulcan “Live long and prosper” symbol on Facebook and Instagram. The tributes came from both Baby Boomers and digital natives who were not alive when Spock first explored strange new worlds with Captain Kirk, Bones, Scotty, Uhura, and the crew of the USS Enterprise. The reaction was similar to the one we will experience when Sean Connery leaves us with the legacy of James Bond. Clearly, Spock, like 007, is a cultural touchstone. But why?

I believe we admire Spock because he represents an all-too-rare cultural archetype: the beloved hero. Yes, Spock does heroic things: his actions on Star Trek, both on the television series and in the popular film adaptations, save countless lives and thwart evil. But there is also a purity and moral goodness about Spock, which was largely missing from our recent fictional heroes until Harry Potter came along. Read more »




Three Oscar-Winning Movies That Rewrote History

February 19th, 2015 by ddeal

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Oscar-nominated movies should place more importance on historical accuracy than storytelling — at least that’s the conclusion you might draw from the criticisms lodged at American Sniper, The Imitation Game, and Selma. An angry cabal of tut-tutting, self-appointed guardians of public taste have attacked the directors of these movies for having the temerity to (gasp) take liberties with the real-life events that inspired the films (with Zaid Jilani of Salon characterizing American Sniper as a hideous pack of lies corrupting the minds of an unsuspecting moviegoing public). But American Sniper, The Imitation Game, and Selma are not the only Oscar-caliber films that have interpreted history to tell compelling stories. Here are three more from the annals of Hollywood history — all of them critically acclaimed, and all of them Oscar winners:

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  • Amadeus. This movie proved to be the high-water mark of the careers of Tom Hulce, who famously portrayed Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as a spoiled prodigy with a fondness for scatological humor, and F. Murray Abraham, who depicted Antonio Salieri, the erstwhile bitter rival of Mozart. Amadeus earned the scorn of historians who took major issue with the movie for grossly overstating the rivalry between the two men, especially the suggestion that Salieri had a hand in Mozart’s death. As Alex von Tunzelmann of The Guardian wrote (indulging in some bitter reflection years later), “Some fine research into Mozart’s annoying personality doesn’t really make up for the fact that the entire premise of this film – that Salieri loathed Mozart and plotted his demise – is probably not true.” But the critics were nothing more than voices screaming into the void, well after the movie had secured its place in film history by winning a slew of awards, including an Academy Award for Best Picture and designation on AFI’s “100 Years . . . 100 Movies” list.

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  • Braveheart. Mel Gibson’s 1995 lionization of 13th Century Scottish warrior William Wallace won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Braveheart also launched a cottage industry of naysayers who scoffed at the movie’s many inaccuracies, such as taking liberties with the way the famous battles were fought, and depicting Scottish badasses running roughshod in kilts and cool face paint. In fact, kilts were not popular in Scotland until the 17th Century, and that whole face paint thing had gone out of style by Wallace’s time. But Gibson wasn’t going to allow facts to interfere with a good story, and audiences responded. The film grossed $210 million globally.

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  • JFK. In 1966, New Orleans District Attorney Garrison began an investigation into the assassination of President Kennedy. As a result, he prosecuted a guy named Clay Shaw, alleging that Shaw and some right-wing cronies colluded with the CIA to kill Kennedy. Garrison’s case was so flimsy that it took a jury less than an hour to acquit Shaw. The curious case remained on history’s dust heap until Oliver Stone decided to make an epic three-hour movie out of Garrison’s questionable work. The resulting movie, JFK, drew a firestorm of criticism for distorting one of the most tragic events in American history. (Jon Margolis wrote in the Chicago Tribune that JFK was “an insult to the intelligence.”) JFK grossed more than $200 million worldwide, won two Oscars (for editing and cinematography) and landed Oliver Stone a Golden Globes Best Director win.

Dig a little deeper, and you will discover many more examples, such as Gladiator and The Passion of the Christ. (Apparently, the further back you go in history, the easier it is to play by your own rules. And Mel Gibson is a repeat offender.) What do these distortions tell us?

  • Moviemakers make stories, not history lessons.
  • Moviegoers listen to each other and sometimes to critics. But they could care less what historians think.
  • If you hate a movie, the louder you scream about it, the more publicity you’re giving the film.

Finally, if you go to movies to learn about history, you get the history you deserve. What are some notable inaccurate movies on your list?




Real-Time Marketing Is More Than an Oscars War Room

February 18th, 2015 by ddeal

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The Academy Awards, Grammys, and Super Bowl constitute the peak of real-time marketing season. Throughout February, brands ramp up their efforts to generate instant buzz by capitalizing on the unexpected and exciting drama that unfolds throughout the course of these high-profile events. But as my recently published Gigaom report indicates, real-time marketing is more than a brand tweeting from a social media war room during the Oscars. Real-time marketing has become more influential across the entire marketing funnel, from awareness building to customer retention. To maximize the value of real-time marketing, brands should stop treating it as a one-off tactic and instead connect real-time marketing to their strategies across the customer lifecycle.

Real-Time Highs and Lows at the Oscars

The widespread perception of real-time marketing consists of companies building brand awareness by creating content that capitalizes on a time-sensitive event, such as a news development. Oftentimes, brands rely on social platforms, especially Twitter, to engage their audiences in real time. The popular definition might be limited, but it’s one that marketers can understand intuitively, and it has taken hold.

In 2011, David Meerman Scott’s Real-Time Marketing & PR helped trigger the adoption of real-time marketing as we know it today, although many thought leaders such as Regis McKenna and Monique Reese paved the way for Meerman Scott. By 2013, brands were experimenting widely with the insertion of real-time content into current events, with spectacular successes and failures resulting.

The Oscars have encapsulated both the rewards and drawbacks of event-related real-time marketing. The 85th Academy Awards in 2013 saw many businesses dropping real-time duds. As Jay Baer noted on the Convince & Convert blog, brands such as New York Life, Special K, and Bing used Twitter to spread content that ranged from the confusing to the ham-handed. The real-time content that night was so bad that David Armano asked whether real-time marketing had jumped the shark. But at the 86th Academy Awards a year later, Samsung pulled off a real-time marketing coup when the brand supplied Ellen DeGeneres with the camera that she used to snap the star-studded selfie that shook the world, a joyous image that depicted stars ranging from Bradley Cooper to Jennifer Lawrence hanging out together. Within 45 minutes, her selfie became the most reweeted content ever, and Samsung was enjoying 900 mentions a minute on social media.

But the Academy Awards constitute just one night for creating real-time content — albeit an important one, as are the Grammys and Super Bowl. What are some ways brands create real-time marketing beyond a single event?

Real-Time Marketing Across the Customer Lifecycle

Brands continue to swarm around major events such as the FIFA World Cup to generate impressions and social followers by sharing real-time content. But brands, agencies, and merchants are using some of these same techniques for multiple marketing objectives across the customer journey, influencing marketing tactics ranging from website development to media buying.

Read more »




Do You Trust Your Audience? A Lesson from a Great Movie

February 16th, 2015 by ddeal

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Do you trust your audience?

Before you answer “Sure!” make sure you watch the famous “Sam the Lion” monologue from the Oscar-winning movie The Last Picture Show. In just four minutes, Director Peter Bogdanovich offers a lesson on earning the trust of your audience, one that applies to any content marketer.

The scene focuses on Sam the Lion, an older denizen of a small Texas town, who fishes with two boys, Sonny and Billy, on a modest pond known as the tank. After the three idly shoot the breeze, Sam reminisces about a passionate affair from his past, a fleeting relationship that has remained strong in his heart as he ages.

And that’s all there is to the scene: Sam (played by Ben Johnson) sharing a fond memory with Sonny (played by Timothy Bottoms) and the mentally challenged Billy (played by Sam Bottoms) on a lake. No gunplay. No massive fist fights. Not much of anything — on the surface at least. And yet, the scene is beloved by movie critics (it was a favorite of Roger Ebert’s), and Johnson’s performance won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1972. Why? Because the moment reveals poignant truths about longing, regret, and growing older.

The monologue unfolds naturally. Sam makes small talk about fishing and turtles. He takes in the scenery of the pond and the mesquite trees, which triggers a memory of an affair between Sam and a woman.

“I brought a young lady swimming out here once,” he muses. “It was after my wife had lost her mind. And my boys was dead. Me and this young lady was pretty wild, I guess.”

Sam discloses that he and the woman shared moments of crazy passion on the pond, skinny dipping and racing each other on horses in the water.

“Kind of a crazy thing to do, but we done it anyway,” he says, before telling Sonny that the affair ended. And then, the payoff: “Being crazy about a woman like her is always the right thing to do,” Sam muses. “Being a decrepit old bag of bones, that’s what’s ridiculous. Getting old.”

Last Picture Show (1971)

The scene succeeds because Bogdanovich trusts the audience to appreciate quality of the writing (by Larry McMurtry and Bogdanovich) and the strength of Johnson’s acting. For instance:

  • Notice the absence of music. There are no syrupy strings to overplay the movie’s hand, no audio cues to tell us, “You’re watching an emotional moment. Time to let the tears flow.”
  • Similarly, the camera work does not overplay the scene with excessive close-ups to hammer home the emotional content of Sam’s monologue. The camera caresses Sam’s face through a slow build that permits the audience to drink up the scene instead of being hit over the head.
  • The characters are natural and authentic. Throughout the movie, Johnson portrays Sam as an aging man who carries himself with quiet integrity, and during the monologue, Johnson stays true to the character he has built. He does not lapse into showy emotion. And the boys act as boys do. Sonny is at turns bored and somewhat curious, while Billy watches at the water. The boys do not cock their heads in awe, as a director in a lesser movie might choreograph a scene. You know the “cocked head” moment in a movie, right? It’s that scene we often see in noble, well-meaning movies when a director tries to lead the audience by the nose.

You don’t need to be a Hollywood director to learn from Bogdanovich. Content marketers can apply his lessons in many ways. For instance:

  • When you select topics for thought leadership (whether for white papers or blog posts), choose ideas that will teach your audience instead of hyping your own services and products. Trust your audience to understand the difference between self-promotion and thought leadership, and to reward your thought leadership with positive word of mouth and even potential business.
  • Don’t clutter your writing with excessive adjectives and hyperbole. When you share an insight, trust your audience to draw its own conclusions and appreciate the value of your idea. Flowery, overwritten language is the equivalent of a movie scene that hits the audience over the head with music that grasps at the heartstrings.

Finally, earn the trust of your audience by being authentic and believable. Sam the Lion’s monologue worked because all the collaborators involved in the scene created a moment that was believable and true to the essence of the movie. When you trust your audience, you earn its trust, too.

Do you trust your audience?




Show — Don’t Tell

February 11th, 2015 by ddeal

BC_Logo_ColorUnveiling a new logo is like telling a joke: if you have to explain it, you’ve lost your audience already. That’s why I like the approach that innovation consultancy BeyondCurious took recently in sharing its new logotype.

Instead of publishing a self-important press release explaining the technical specifications of its logo and waxing poetically about the logo’s deep meaning, BeyondCurious lets the new visual expression of its brand speak for itself. On its social space and website, BeyondCurious (a client of mine) has carefully coordinated a rollout of the new look without great fanfare. Appropriately, on its social spaces, BeyondCurious demonstrates excitement in sharing the logo — after all, a logo is one of the most powerful elements of a brand. But on Facebook, the agency has simply invited fans to check out the logo and let the company know their reactions.

The company made one concession to explaining the logo, in a blog post by CEO Nikki Barua on the company’s website. In the post, “What’s in a (New) Logo?” she provided some insight into the meaning of the logo, such as how “[t]he clean and minimalistic appearance of the mark is a representation of how we make the complex simple.” But for most of the post, Barua discusses other brands’ logos that inspired BeyondCurious, ranging from Red Bull to the MIT Media Lab. By casting the spotlight on sources of inspiration, she provides insight about BeyondCurious’s own culture of learning.

A massive business-to-consumer brand, especially in the field of media/entertainment, will take a completely different approach to unveiling a new logo. For instance, a sports team needs to make a huge splash with a new logo. In the sports world, new logos drive massive merchandise sales, and fans are going to discuss the new logo with or without the brand’s participation. And there are times when a business-to-business services brand such as BeyondCurious might want to adopt a higher-profile approach — for example, when the creation of a new logo occurs as part of a more comprehensive re-brand that includes a change in the corporate name and value proposition (which can from any number of circumstances, such as a merger with another business). And a huge business-to-business brand such as Accenture might choose a high-profile campaign because it is impossible for a brand of its size and name recognition to do anything quietly.

But in the services world, the ultimate measure of a brand is its performance. Fittingly, on its website, BeyondCurious spends far more time talking about work for clients such as GoPro and Toyota than it does extolling the virtues of its new logo. When it comes to delivering great results, it does pay to tell.




Bob Dylan Doesn’t Need Your Stinkin’ Badges

February 9th, 2015 by ddeal

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Bob Dylan has always defied expectations. He famously went electric when folk was acoustic and released the austere John Wesley Harding when electric psychedelia was in vogue (among many other career twists). With the release of his 36th album, Shadows in the Night, the 73-year-old music legend once again shows that he refuses to pander to anyone. The release of Shadows in the Night also raises an intriguing question: how important is cultural relevancy to artists such as Bob Dylan who challenge the cultural zeitgeist instead of reflecting it?

Dylan’s history of shaping popular tastes, particularly in the 1960s and ’70s, is well documented by writers far better than I am. The most recent phase of his career, in which he has entered the digital age, is also absorbing but for different reasons. Starting with the 1997 release of Time out of Mind, Dylan has enjoyed an artistic renaissance lasting longer than the entire careers of most fly-by-night pop acts. His songwriting during this period has explored themes ranging from vengeance to mortality, and he has melded musical idioms ranging from rockabilly to swing. Albums such as Love and Theft have earned him his strongest reviews since 1975’s Blood on the Tracks.

But 14 years into his final act, the world around him has changed. Albums, especially those released in compact-disc format, are archaic. Oh, hip musicians release them, but really only as a collection of random songs to support tours and merchandising — not as conceptual statements that succeed on their own merits. Instead, singles rule the day as they did, ironically, when Dylan arrived on the music scene decades ago. Being a successful artist means finding the “Gangnam Style” moment that will turn you into a fleeting Internet meme until a “Harlem Shake” comes along. Or becoming a celebrity by delivering over-the-top, fist-pumping moments on American Idol without really recording anything at all. Meantime, Dylan’s core audience, and the critics who anointed him into the halls of music royalty, are growing older. His fans and the music journalism elite, seeking a way to define him in a way that makes sense to their tastes, have cast him in the persona of the wise but frayed old minstrel, grinning while he spins truths and contemplates his own demise.

So how does Dylan respond? He digs back into his past (and I mean, way back) and releases a set of 10 songs that were written decades ago by writers whose names, for the most part, are (unfortunately) lost in the white noise of the digital age, unless you’re a Baby Boomer, a music historian, or a seasoned critic. He rejects modern recording techniques and relies on a live band that features instruments such as a pedal steel guitar and an upright bass, adding to the feel of an album recorded many years in the past. The most famous American songwriter in the history of rock doesn’t even pen a single tune on Shadows in the Night, and a man famous for his gravelly voice selects songs suited to the more polished crooners of yesteryear. (In fact, Shadows of the Night is an homage to Frank Sinatra.)

To promote the album, Dylan gave his first interview in three years — not to Pitchfork, Stereogum, or any other hip music publication with its finger on the pulse of modern rock culture for the digital generation. He didn’t even interview a music publication at all. Instead he chose AARP The Magazine, the official publication of the American Association of Retired Persons. In addition, 50,000 AARP The Magazine subscribers received a free copy of the album via compact disc. Talking with AARP was his idea, which elicited more than one head-scratching response. As NPR asked, “To Promote A New Album, Bob Dylan Gave His Only Interview To … The AARP?” Ann Brenoff of The Huffington Post wondered, “But AARP The Magazine? Really?”

Really. The AARP interview and promotion seemed to signal that Dylan is not so much ignoring the digital generation as honoring the fans who are growing older with him and are old enough to recognize the Great American Songbook he sings about on his new album. (AARP delivered more than 35 million potential listeners to Dylan, too.) He certainly is not pandering to digital culture. He does none of the things that aging rockers are supposed to do in order to ensure cultural relevance in the digital age. There are no collaborations with a hot contemporary producer to translate his sound to younger listeners, no duets with Jimmy Fallon, no Reddit Ask Many Anythings, and no Twitter hashtags.

“These songs have been written by people who went out of fashion years ago,” he told AARP The Magazine. “Certainly, the people who first heard these songs, like my parents and people like that, they’re not with us anymore.” He made a similar point February 6 during his acceptance speech for the MusicCares Man of the Year award.

Commenting on his career, he said, “These songs of mine, they’re like mystery plays, the kind Shakespeare saw when he was growing up. I think you could trace what I do back that far. They were on the fringes then, and I think they’re on the fringes now.”

On his website, he also gave some insight into the recording of Shadows in the Night. He observed that he rejected contemporary recording styles and tools. In fact, the album was recorded live:

It was all done live. Maybe one or two takes. No overdubbing. No vocal booths. No headphones. No separate tracking, and, for the most part, mixed as it was recorded. I don’t see myself as covering these songs in any way. They’ve been covered enough. Buried, as a matter a fact. What me and my band are basically doing is uncovering them. Lifting them out of the grave and bringing them into the light of day.

Days after its February 3 release, Shadows in the Night has garnered several positive reviews, adding up to a score of 82 (“universal acclaim”) on critic aggregator site Metacritic. The strongest reviews have come from the established rock press: publications as Rolling Stone, which caters to a more seasoned, older audience. Meanwhile, Pitchfork, one of the Bibles of the hip and young music scene, delivered an amusingly confused review full of passive aggression. After asking “Is Bob Dylan trolling us?” writer Stephen M. Deusner notes, “And what do you know, Dylan can actually sing. Without sounding overly reverent, he croons persuasively, especially on ‘Why Try to Change Me Now'” . . . only to conclude that “for the more casual, less obsessive listener, [the album] can be a bit of a snooze.”

But Bob Dylan is not writing for Pitchfork. He is doing something far more risky and yet rewarding: writing his own legacy. When you write your own legacy, sometimes you find yourself out of step with popular culture, as Dylan has found himself at times in his career. It might sound odd to say this about someone whose art has been dissected as Dylan’s has, but I don’t believe anyone will fully appreciate Dylan’s power to shape cultural tastes for many decades yet. As Dylan says, his music is like a mystery, and the impact of a great artist cannot be properly assessed in a real-time Twitter stream. Bob Dylan does not create to be culturally relevant. He creates for himself.




New Report: Grammys Already a Hit with Real-Time Advertisers

February 5th, 2015 by ddeal

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For decades, the Grammy Awards have been knocked for being out of step with the times. (After all, the Grammys once awarded “Winchester Cathedral” Best Contemporary [R&R] Recording instead of “Eleanor Rigby.”) But in its 57th year, the Grammy Awards are more culturally relevant than ever.

Consider this: a new report from Taykey analyzed the top cultural trends affecting the performance of advertising campaigns in the fourth quarter of 2014. Taykey wanted to assess the performance of advertising that capitalizes on real-time news events and trends such as the release of the new Star Wars trailer. Well, the top-performing trend for the fourth quarter was the Grammys — months before the actual event was to take place. According to Taykey, the December 5 announcement about the 2015 Grammy nominations was the top trend from an advertising perspective — creating better-performing real-time buzz for advertisers than the release of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies or Ed Sheeran performing on The Voice Season 7 finale.

In fact, brands that created real-time advertising capitalizing on the Grammy nominations generated click-through rates that were 1,145 percent higher than industry benchmarks — easily higher than any other trend by a wide margin.

The obvious question: why? According to the Taykey Real-Time Trend Report, “The music industry may be fragmented and suffering from a revenue perspective, but it’s clear that audiences still care very much about these nominations and their favorite artists.”

Moreover, the Grammys remain the leading destination where music fans can immerse themselves in the fragmented music industry, all in one place, at one time. For instance, at the 2015 Grammys, Paul McCartney, Kanye West, and Rihanna will perform the live debut of their new single, “FourFiveSeconds” — which perfectly demonstrates the way the Grammys, with one masterstroke, can appeal to multiple generations and musical interests. In 2014, the Grammys tapped into the cultural zeitgeist by featuring performers ranging from Lorde to Daft Punk. The 2014 telecast secured 28 million viewers. By contrast, the MTV Video Music Awards, considered the younger, hipper alternative to the Grammys, has never attracted more than 12.4 million viewers.

Music industry critic Bob Lefsetz argues that the Grammy nominations perform an important role of getting music fans to pay attention. “Attention is everything in today’s world,” he writes. “Used to be there was a river of songs, now it’s a veritable tsunami, which is why so many people get out of the way, they’re afraid of being buried. But if someone makes sense of the incoming, if someone turns down the faucet to a trickle, then we’re not so overwhelmed.”

In effect, the Grammy nominations turn the faucet to a trickle by presenting us with a curated short list of performers to program into our music streams, ranging from Sam Smith to Hozier. Even the controversies generated by inevitable Grammy omissions make the Grammys useful by shining light on the also rans.

But the Grammys are culturally relevant in another important way, too: its use of social media. Advertisers capitalizing on the Grammy nomination announcements probably benefited from the way the Grammys tapped into social media to announce the nominees. Instead of doing a mass announcement, the Grammys revealed the nominees over a period of six hours February 5 via the Twitter accounts of different celebrities — creating a real-time stream rather than a real-time moment.

Taykey updates the Real-Time Trend Report on a quarterly basis (the next one should be published in April). The fourth-quarter 2014 edition contains far more insight into cultural trends across industries and demographics than I’ve discussed in this post. Read it and form your own conclusions. After reading the report, my single-biggest takeaway is this: for advertisers, the Grammys have already won.