How I Fell in Love with Rock & Roll

March 19th, 2016 by ddeal

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Led Zeppelin turned me on to rock and roll 40 years ago.

In 1976, I was 13 years old. My family had settled into a new home in Wheaton, Illinois, after moving from Battle Creek, Michigan, the year before. Music figured large in our lives. My older sister Karen enjoyed disco. I dealt with the loneliness of being a new kid in town by immersing myself in books and music. I was a huge fan of soul (especially Al Green), funk, R&B, and jazz (especially George Benson). Everything I knew about rock was based on what I could hear on singles-friendly AM radio, which meant a lot of soft rock along the lines of “Chevy Van” by Sammy Johns.

I knew who Led Zeppelin was because my older brother, Dan, owned all their albums. But Dan listened to music in the privacy of his bedroom, lost in a world defined by his collection of rock albums, black felt posters, and books about World War II fighter planes, and, it seemed, secrets I would never know. We lived in the same house but in two different rooms on different floors of the house, our doors always shut to each other.

My life changed one day when Dan and I were the only ones in the house. I was in my own room reading a book about baseball when I heard this strange, exotic, powerful tune wafting up from our family room downstairs. It sounded as though a collection of Middle Eastern musicians had decided to entertain themselves in our home. I tried to focus on studying baseball statistics. But the song just kept rising into my room like a dust storm from the desert. The tension built with each refrain, as strings, guitar, and a distorted drum complemented a man’s voice crying with angst.

I put down my book and cautiously walked downstairs. With each step toward the family room, I felt the rush of drums, guitars, and strings engulf me. Dan stood before me, his eyes locked on the vinyl record spinning on our family console stereo, a monolithic beast that housed my dad’s collection of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.

“What is this?” I asked.

Without turning his head, he replied, “Kashmir.”

We spoke no words after that exchange. We just stood together and immersed ourselves in the song.

Afterward, Dan wordlessly shared with me the album that had produced the song, Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, which had been released the year before. I was accustomed to album jackets that contained one simple pocket. Physical Graffiti was something completely different: a sepia-tinged photo of a New York tenement building with the name of the album formed by die-cut letters peeking from behind different windows. The jacket housed two albums protected by their own sleeves fashioned to look like the cover. The tenement windows were adorned with a hodgepodge of images including band members, Queen Elizabeth, a bomb dropping, and Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra. And the music inside would turn out to be a revelation.

I began to explore the band my brother loved. Physical Graffiti was an excellent introduction because the album destroyed every stereotype I held about the band. I had assumed Led Zeppelin was a group of heavy metal rockers, and I was quickly disabused of that notion. “Custard Pie” made me want to dance. “In My Time of Dying” felt like gospel. “Trampled Under Foot” resonated with my love of funk and soul, and the bucolic “Down by the Seaside” was certainly nothing close to hard rock. Listening to “Kashmir,” on the other hand, was like journeying to another land and time.

As a showcase of the many sides of Led Zeppelin, the album opened up my eyes to the diverse nature of album-oriented rock in the 1970s. As it turned out, my brother’s world was not as private as I thought it had been. Although he did not exactly encourage me to hang out in his room, he didn’t discourage me, either. Crucially, he allowed me to explore his album collection, including all the classics: The Dark Side of the Moon, Sticky Fingers, Who’s Next, and Fragile just for starters.

Rock and roll would loom large in my life from that point forward. I got caught up in the Doors revival of the early 1980s and visited Père Lachaise Cemetery on the 10th anniversary of Jim Morrison’s death. The music of Pink Floyd helped me endure some of life’s ups and downs and created more moments of bonding with Dan, as I discussed with the leading Pink Floyd fan website, Brain Damage. I edited a book about the history of rock and roll and began writing about music extensively on my own blog. Rock has become a lifelong passion, and I can trace that passion all the way back to the moment when my older brother and I shared Led Zeppelin for the first time.

Related:

The Golden Shaman: Robert Plant’s Journey,” September 28, 2015

Would Led Zeppelin Succeed Today? ” August 3, 2015

Three Lessons I Learned from Jim Morrison,” July 3, 2015

The Marketing Genius of ‘Led Zeppelin IV,'” August 29, 2011

How a Janitor and ‘Hotel California’ Shaped Me,” July 8, 2011




The Case for Remixing Your Logo

March 17th, 2016 by ddeal

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For most brands, corporate logos are protected and revered. A business such as Disney invests substantial energy and budget into making its logotype a consistent expression of its brand essence, and for good reason: especially in the age of Instagram and Snapchat, a logotype is like a totem that instantly tells a story about your brand through repetition across the online and offline worlds. But Google is not like most brands. On a major occasion such as St. Patrick’s Day, you can always count on Google to remix its logo. And Google delivers through its Google Doodles, which re-imagine the Google logo on the brand’s website. On St. Patrick’s Day 2016, the multi-colored Google logo transformed into a dancing shamrock and turned green.

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By remixing its logo, Google makes its brand culturally relevant.

Businesses can make themselves culturally relevant in many ways. One of Google’s most well known approaches is to remix its logo to celebrate cultural diversity around the world. As the Google Doodle archive demonstrates, Google creates different Doodles in different country markets befitting the interests and customs of those countries. On February 29, Google published a Doodle in India that honored classical dancer and choreographer Rukmini Devi on what would have been her 112th birthday. Google refashioned its logo as a flowing ribbon in a nod to Bharata Natyam, a traditional Indian dance form popularized by Devi.

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By contrast, the Rolling Stones remix their famous “rolling tongue” logo to immerse themselves in different cultures in a playful, even provocative way. To promote the band’s recent tour of South America and Mexico, the Stones have cleverly recast their logo in context of striking designs that pay homage to the countries where they are playing, as this example shows:

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Sometimes brands make themselves culturally relevant by making a statement about topical issues. For instance, the Honey Nut Cheerios cereal brand has temporarily dropped its bee mascot from boxes in Canada to draw attention to the declining numbers of bees and other pollinators worldwide.

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And of course many businesses practice cultural relevancy through their actions. But especially for large brands with high profiles, a logo remix is a powerful way to achieve instant cultural relevance.

If you are going to make your brand culturally relevant, it’s important to do your homework. There is a fine line between celebrating multi-culturalism and exploiting different cultures. And it’s not too difficult to find examples of businesses whose attempts to acknowledge different cultures have backfired miserably. Google gets it right through its logo mixes, which invariably strike the correct tone, being playful or reverent depending on the occasion. By making the Google Doodle a recurring practice, Google also makes its logo remixes feel less gimmicky. Google is and secure in its position as the world’s most valuable company. By remixing its logo, Google sends a message: we are part of the world, not the center of it.




My George Martin Memories

March 9th, 2016 by ddeal

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Sir George Martin crossed paths with me twice during my career in marketing, and both times he left his mark. I remember those two moments clearly as I reflect on the passing of the Fifth Beatle:

A Personal Encounter

I first met him in 2000 when I worked on the Accenture global marketing team. Someone had the presence of mind to book him to speak at one of those team-building meetings that features a blizzard of PowerPoint presentations and character-building exercises. He was a welcome sight. Drawing upon his career with the Beatles, he spoke about the collaborative nature of creativity and the give-and-take that must occur with any productive partnership. Certainly he was one who could speak with authority on those topics.

Afterward, he hung around and chatted with anyone who cared to linger. Of course, I took advantage of the opportunity. He patiently listened to me blather on about the Beatles (why is it that when you meet someone as famous as Sir George Martin, you can’t think of anything meaningful to say?). When I was done reciting my favorite Beatles songs, he did something I did not expect: he asked me about me. What did I do for a living? What inspired me? He noticed I was wearing a wedding ring, and so he asked me about my family. I mentioned how I wished my wife, Jan, could have joined me for the occasion. He replied, “I’m sorry you have to travel alone for work and that your wife cannot be here with you. Why don’t I sign something for both you and Jan?”

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I still have that autograph.

Hosting Sir George

Years later, when I ran marketing for Razorfish, it was my job to plan the annual Client Summit, which was conceive to inspire clients and employees to celebrate the state of the art in digital marketing. I thought it would be a great idea for Sir George to speak at the 2008 Client Summit, held in New York — not just because of his musical legacy, which was patently obvious, but because of that gentle warmth and charisma he’d displayed years before. After negotiating with the agency that represented him, I landed him as our closing keynote.

At this point in his life, he was in his early 80s, and it was public knowledge that he was hard of hearing and a bit more fragile. More than once, I was asked by colleagues, “Do you think everyone will know who he is?” and “Has he been in the public eye recently?” which were polite ways of asking whether he was too old for our event.

Fortunately, my boss, Darin Brown, and our CEO, Clark Kokich, were not among those asking those questions. With their support, the moment happened.

His handlers were very protective of him. They gave me strict instructions on details such as where to position him onstage so that he could listen to the audience properly with his good ear. His team inspected every element of the room including the event A/V system. Their attention to detail was understandable because his presentation relied on audio and video, including the use of different versions of “Strawberry Fields” to demonstrate the evolution of the song.

When he took the stage, all of his elegance and warmth were immediately evident. He spoke fondly not only of his experiences as the world’s most famous producer but also of his love for his wife and children. He discussed his career producing classical music and comedy records long before the Beatles came along; later in his presentation, he demonstrated how he applied that background in shaping the sound of the Beatles.

For instance, he applied his classical music background often. He played the baroque piano solo on “In My Life,” and it was his idea to use strings in “Yesterday.” And, of course, he also famously corralled the orchestra that plays on “A Day in the Life.” He drew upon his work producing comedy albums in some unexpected ways, such as digging into his catalog of ambient crowd noises to create the audience laughter that occurs in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

I learned a lesson that day: there is no such thing as a wasted moment when you do the things you love, and if you have vision and patience, you can apply your skills and passions in unexpected ways throughout your life. Little did Sir George Martin know it when he was making comedy and classical albums in the 1950s and early 1960s, but those experiences helped prepare him for the most fruitful musical collaboration in modern music history. (Similarly, little did I know it, but getting a journalism degree in college prepared me to become a blogger years later.)

But most of all, I remember that personal warmth and grace shining through. He spoke with obvious pride when he described the work of his son Giles on the Beatles Love remix for Cirque du Soleil. He ended his presentation by sharing a memory about learning of the death of a good friend and realizing how happy he was to be a husband and father during a time of loss.

Ironically, I could not enjoy his company personally as I had done at the Accenture meeting. I had an event to run, and a million demands to address seemingly every minute. As he was speaking, I was in the producer’s booth, making sure the sound and video elements went off without a hitch. For instance, before Martin came onstage, I had instructed the sound engineer at the Client Summit to program “Revolution” to play when Martin left the stage. But as Sir George closed with a tender, personal memory, I turned to the engineer and said, “We can’t play ‘Revolution.’ It’s too harsh. We need to change the song to “All You Need Is Love.”

The engineer gave me an “Are you freaking crazy?” look. “I can’t do that,” he said. “We don’t have the song programmed in the playlist, and I can’t start searching for a digital file while I’m managing the sound for his talk.”

“Here,” I said, waving a CD of Magical Mystery Tour in the air. “The song we need is Track 11 on this disc. Let me do it.” So I opened a compact disc tray, inserted the CD, and queued up “All You Need Is Love.”

“But I can’t test the volume while he’s speaking,” the poor engineer replied. “How do you know the song won’t skip?”

“It will work,” I replied. “Just turn the volume up high. Trust me.”

And so we swapped “All You Need Is Love.” Everyone in the control panel breathed a sigh of relief when the opening chords of the song played while Sir George left the stage. And by the way, no one ever asked me why I had chosen Sir George after he enchanted the audience with his journey.

I cannot add anything to his musical legacy beyond what you’ve probably read already. My lasting impression of George is of warmth and love — warmth to strangers in a conference room, and love for both his family and his music.

 

 

 




The Overlooked Triumph of “The Revenant”: Music

February 28th, 2016 by ddeal

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The Revenant was robbed.

For all the Oscar nominations The Revenant has received, the movie was victim of a glaring omission: Best Original Score. The score, created by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto (with additional music by Bryce Dessner of the National), creates a sonic tapestry that deepens the emotional impact of one man’s struggle against nature and other men. The score also succeeds on its own merits for delivering an affecting blend of ambient sounds and melody, worthy of your attention regardless of your interest in the movie.

The score works for many reasons. First, the music complements the tension and sadness of the story, its violence, and the film’s natural beauty instead of trying to amplify it. A more conventional composer might have “piled on” by overwhelming the viewer with lush orchestration and rousing drums to dial up the action and remind you that you’re watching a stunning vista — much the same way that boldface, all-caps, and italics often serve to underscore a written narrative, and usually unnecessarily so.

But Ryuichi Sakamoto, Alva Noto, and Bryce Dessner have something else in mind: the strings, percussion, and bass add texture and nuance to the movie’s many emotionally powerful moments.

For instance, “Goodbye to Hawk” builds slowly with a sad cello that gently suggests the emotion welling up inside the protagonist, frontier guide Hugh Glass, after he experiences a profound loss in the wilderness of 19th Century America. A single cello descends and floats for more than a minute. But at the 1:40 mark, “Goodbye to Hawk” changes course, taking on a more foreboding mood. A percussive sound repeats itself over a rising bed of strings and a thudding bass.

Within two minutes, anger and resolve overtake sadness, creating a kind of strength inside of Glass that he will draw upon throughout his perilous adventure. The strange, repeating electronic percussion sound feels something like a Native American drone. The composition is minimalist in nature — and yet signals a change in mood more powerfully than a wall of sound would have.

The score also combines melody with an unstructured ambience depending on the needs of the scene. The composers (principally Sakamoto and Noto) know when the music needs to suggest with ambient effect, rather than carry a scene with melody. For example, “First Dream” consists of a curious mixture of strings, piano, and percussive effects that narrate an otherworldly experience in which Glass dreams of his past life.

But the score sprinkles in melody at the right time, too. “Out of Horse” is a sad but sweet excursion, with the ondes Martenot instrument creating a flute-like melody that carries a key scene in which Glass seeks an unusual form of natural refuge from the elements.

Ryuichi Sakamoto has described working on The Revenant score as “the return from death” — and he is not exaggerating. He began work on The Revenant as he was recovering from throat cancer. At first he hesitated to work on the score. As he told Fact magazine, he was afraid he was too weak to collaborate with director Alejandro González Iñárritu, who has a reputation for being a difficult work partner. But he admired Iñárritu’s work and decided to seize what might have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a 63-year-old man staring down mortality.

He explained to Fact his use an ambient music thusly: “Since the beginning, I always thought the real main character in this film is nature . . . So to respect the sounds of nature, I thought the music shouldn’t be too narrative. I wanted my music to be like a part of the sound of nature.”

In the same interview, Alva Noto added, “I think we both created a lot of sounds where you could think of nature. A lot of sounds that are like a breath. They don’t always have a melodic quality — we’re just creating a space, a feeling. So I think they’re things that people might understand as sound design rather than music.”

The strength of The Revenant score, its understated interplay with nature, may very well be why the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences overlooked it. The score is just not flashy enough. There are no moments that listeners can easily latch on to and hum along with, as with the Star Wars movies.

Both Sakamoto and Nova agree, as is evident in their interview the Fact. As Nova put it, “[The Academy] couldn’t understand that these many noises had musical qualities. Which is very important, because we both come from a strong electronic background where every sound is important, not just the melodic ones.”

Fortunately, music listeners don’t need the Academy to dictate our tastes. We have the power to immerse ourselves in music on our own. And I hope you will immerse yourself in score for The Revenant.

Related:

The Fader, “In Conversation with the All-Knowing Ryuichi Sakamoto,” Ruth Saxelby, 4 December 2015.

NPR, “Review: Ryuichi Sakamoto, Alva Noto & Bryce Dessner, ‘The Revenant’,” Tom Moon, 30 December 2015.

The Wellesley News, “A Glimpse inside the Broody Soundtrack of ‘The Revenant,’ Scored by Ryuichi Sakamoto,” Ruth Jiang, 10 February 2016.




The Ugly Beauty of “The French Connection”

February 27th, 2016 by ddeal

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An art teacher once told me that a beat-up pair of tennis shoes is a lot more interesting to draw than a brand-new pair. I thought of my art teacher’s advice as I re-watched The French Connection during Oscars weekend.

The movie is justly famous for its gritty adaptation of Robin Moore’s book about two New York detectives who attempt to stop a French-based crime ring from distributing a large heroin shipment to the United States. The movie turned Gene Hackman into an international star and featured one of the most memorable car chases in film history. But 45 years later, I am equally impressed at how director William Friedkin and cinematographer Owen Roizman captured the grime and decay of 1970s New York. In the city’s fractured streets, they found a brutality that made New York fertile ground for drug abuse.

The French Connection endures as a testament to the appeal of ugliness, which we see through the perspective of its main character and the urban locations Friedkin chose as a backdrop for the drama.

A Fascinating Protagonist

The main character, Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle, is based on the real-life detective Eddie Egan, who, along with his partner Sonny Grosso, was the focus of Robin Moore’s book. Doyle and his partner, Buddy “Cloudy” Russo (portrayed by Roy Scheider), combine hunches and dogged investigation to try and stop French criminal Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey) from importing a massive shipment of heroin into the United States.

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Gene Hackman plays Popeye Doyle as an unlikeable person. He is a racist. He drinks excessively. He treats women like sexual conquests. He is also so reckless in his pursuit of Charnier that he is willing to  jeopardize the lives of his fellow police officers and any innocent bystander who happens to be in the vicinity when it’s time to draw his pistol and chase the bad guy. At the same time, his dogged pursuit of Read more »




Movie Trailers Shine As Digital Stars

February 26th, 2016 by ddeal

With the 2016 Academy Awards fast approaching, Google has created a terrific piece of event-based content by ranking the popularity of the trailers for the Oscar Best Picture nominees. Google ranks The Revenant Number One based YouTube trailer views, which is ironic given that a trailer promoting a film made for the big screen was likely watched on tiny mobile phone screens. The Google analysis also underscores the important role that trailers play in the digital era as both a promotion and a form of viral entertainment, and even user generated content.

In the days of movie-going yore (aka before the Internet), studios usually dropped movie trailers in dark theaters as commercials bunched together before the marquee attraction. Studios hoped that trailers would create natural word of mouth to complement PR and advertising campaigns.

Watching trailers in dark movie theaters remains an inevitable part of today’s movie going experience. But the trailers have become high-concept productions distributed like morsels of viral content across the digital world, becoming so important that trailer launches get covered just like movie releases do. The popularity of the trailers for another Oscar-nominated movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, demonstrates the new reality of how we experience trailers.

The release of the trailers to promote The Force Awakens not only built anticipation for the latest movie in the vaunted series, they also became causes for celebration in and of themselves. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures enjoyed a special advantage with The Force Awakens trailers: each one tapped into a built-in fan base. The Star Wars films have been around since 1977. They have become a permanent cultural fixture like the Beatles have. So each trailer for The Force Awakens was guaranteed to generate interest among fans already eagerly awaiting the December 2015 release of the movie. (By contrast, The Revenant trailer was introducing an unknown movie when the trailer appeared on YouTube in July 2015.)

But Disney certainly didn’t take the popularity of Star Wars for granted. All the trailers were well-edited visual and sonic journeys. Taken together, the three trailers acted as a trilogy of sorts, revealing different details about the plot of The Force Awakens, giving you glimpses of new characters, and reminding us of the glorious return of Han Solo and Chewbacca. They were released months apart, with the first trailer landing in November 2014, the second in April 2015, and the third — in a brilliant masterstroke — on October 2015 during an ESPN Monday Night Football game, thus ensuring strong cross-platform viewing.

And, wow, did audiences respond. The second trailer set a Guinness World Record for the most viewed movie trailer on YouTube within 24 hours, with 30.65 million views amassed in one day.

The third and final trailer generated 130 million views across all social platforms (including 83.3 million views on YouTube and Facebook) within just six days of its release. As of February 26, 2016, all three trailers had accumulated 188,460,826 views on YouTube alone, according to YouTube analytics.

But of course we don’t just watch trailers. We like them, share them, talk about them, and play with them, as The Force Awakens trailers demonstrate. All three have earned nearly 1 million shares and 1.26 million likes. The trailers have inspired user-generated versions that became viral themselves, including recreations by a U.S. Navy crew, a Lego version, and a mash-up with the 1987 Mel Brooks comedy Spaceballs.

Movie trailers work because they not only build buzz but also contribute to the bottom line. According to a Google study, nearly seven out of 10 consumers aged 13-24 view YouTube trailers before deciding which film to watch at a movie theater. YouTube also reported that from 2014-15, there had been an 88-percent year-over-year increase in movie trailer views on YouTube via mobile devices, which is significant because 56 percent of searches for movie tickets come from mobile devices.

Trailers generate advance ticket sales, especially when they are linked to mobile ecommerce apps such as Fandango to create a seamless buying experience after you view the trailer. It’s not surprising that advance sales for The Force Awakens really did break the Internet months before the movie opened, as websites and mobile apps struggled to meet the demand for tickets. Trailers optimized for mobile devices are the perfect type of content that appeals to consumers when we experience “micro-moments,” which Google defines as moments when we use our mobile devices to decide what to do, where to go, and what to buy.

Movie trailers will continue to entertain and inspire fan-generated content. In addition, we should expect movie trailers to integrate more effectively with the mobile experience. According to Google, mobile has overtaken the desktop as the primary way we conduct searches overall. To turn those mobile searches into revenue, businesses need to do more than offer useful information such as their names, addresses, and phone numbers (or, in the case of movie theaters, movie times). To succeed in the mobile era, businesses need to convince searchers to become customers by sharing compelling content and an easy purchasing experience. Movie trailers linked to purchasing apps such as Fandango do so now. Movie trailers with the purchase functionality embedded in them will become more common.

What are your favorite examples of movie trailers that have become celebrated for their entertainment and marketing value?




When Advertising Becomes Art

February 22nd, 2016 by ddeal

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Advertising can sneak up on you in the most unexpected ways.

Recently I visited the Minneapolis Institute of Art for the simple pleasure of discovering art. For hours, my family and I got lost in an exploration of well curated paintings, sculptures, and immersive rooms, such as a recreation of a reading room from Jane Austen’s time. On the third floor, tucked away in a corner near a Georgia O’Keeffe painting and a Frederic Remington sculpture, I noticed three oil paintings that captured a long-ago era of the western frontier: a bear pawing its way through an empty box discarded in the snow, a grizzled cowboy on horseback delivering mail to a makeshift mail box, and a bronco buster dressed in a bright red shirt, brown vest, and chaps trying to master a wild horse while spectators in cowboy hats cheer him on:

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A “Bear” Chance, by Philip R. Goodwin

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Rural Delivery, by N.C. Wyeth

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Bronco Buster, by N.C. Wyeth

Like good art so often does, these paintings engaged me by telling stories. They also advertised the Cream of Wheat brand. As it turns out, from 1902 to 1926, Cream of Wheat commissioned artists to create more than 400 original works of art for an advertising campaign centered on the theme, “Cream of Wheat: As American as Apple Pie.” The paintings, depicting scenes of Americana, appeared as full-page ads in magazines such as Ladies Home Journal and Saturday Evening Post. Today, these paintings endure as works of art and advertising. Why are they effective advertising in addition to art?

The Paintings Are Engaging

Cream of Wheat commissioned highly regarded artists to create these images of frontier life. N.C. Wyeth, a renowned interpreter of the American West, painted Rural Delivery and Bronco Buster. Philip R. Goodwin, who painted A “Bear” Chance, had a reputation for painting wildlife scenes and illustrated Jack London’s Call of the Wild in 1903. The artists delivered memorable scenes that convey the loneliness of the prairie, a wild animal encountering the existence of humanity (through a discarded box), and a broncobuster fairly exploding off the canvas. These are works of art that stand alongside Remington and O’Keeffe.

The Branding Is Natural

The painters integrated the Cream of Wheat name organically into the art — a natural form of product placement. A bear paws through an empty Cream of Wheat box. The makeshift mailbox in Rural Delivery is fashioned out of a Cream of Wheat box, and the broncobuster bucks and twists in front of a grandstand wall covered with a Cream of Wheat ad, a natural element in any American sporting venue. These are not random product placements. The product is part of the story. Similarly, over the years, Absolut Vodka has emulated Cream of Wheat’s approach by commissioning artist Romero Britto to reinterpret the iconic Absolut Vodka bottle in his own colorful way:

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And Prada teamed with director Wes Anderson to present the short film Castello Cavalcanti. The 7-minute movie stars Jason Schwartzman as the racecar driver who discovers the joys of slowing down after being stranded in a small Italian town.

The Prada branding in Castello Cavalcanti occurs as a subtle product placement. When the storyline takes hold, you have to look closely to catch the Prada name appear on the back of the uniform worn by the driver.

Prada and Absolut Vodka are just two examples of many brands that have collaborated with artists either to create advertising outright or to do more subtle forms of content co-creation. The more successful partnerships focus on creating great content, period. When people are immersed in engaging content, they don’t care whether they’re watching an advertisement. An ad only becomes annoying when it feels irrelevant.

The Art of the Brand

It seems fitting that you can find the Cream of Wheat paintings not only in a museum but also on the Cream of Wheat website, which contains a representative sample of artwork from the campaign (along with little tidbits of trivia, such as the fact that Cream of Wheat’s advertising budget in 1902 was $10,000). Today Cream of Wheat tells its story through the benefits of healthy living. The Cream of Wheat blog urges site visitors to integrate Cream of Wheat into a healthy diet for kids and describes the advantages of adults pumping up their daily iron intake with Cream of Wheat. All of the blog tips are well and good. I expect that kind of information from Cream of Wheat. I did not expect Cream of Wheat to enrich my understanding of art.

What are your favorite examples of advertising as art?

 




Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo”: Art, Fashion, and the Record Album

February 12th, 2016 by ddeal

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The release of Kanye West’s new album, The Life of Pablo, is a testament to the enduring relevance of record albums even as people buy fewer of them year after year. Albums no longer possess any of the commercial power they once had. But they can create tent pole moments that generate awareness for an artist and support other commercial endeavors.

The Kanye formula for an album release combines Kanye’s penchant for creating controversy and cultural relevance with some confusion tossed in for good measure. It looks something like this:

  • Months before the release date, stoke interest by leaving hints on social media that you’re going to drop some new music, even giving your new album a name, So Help Me God. Keep leaving hints on Twitter but don’t release any music, thus inspiring news articles such as “So Help Us God: Where’s Kanye West’s New Album?
  • Collaborate with a music giant and a hot star on a single to remind everyone that you exist, as he did when he created “FourFiveSeconds” with Paul McCartney and Rihanna
  • In case no one noticed your single, draw attention to yourself by annoying Western Civilization with an ungracious remark about a popular Grammy Award winner. Break the Internet in the process.

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  • Continue to remind the world of your relevance by appearing at a major music festival, as he did by performing at the Glastonbury Festival. Surely Kanye was pleased that 135,000 people signed a petition against his appearance. You must be doing something right to generate that kind of reaction when you haven’t released new music in a few years.
  • Keep your name and pending album in play by distracting, breaking, and confusing the Internet with the launch of a presidential bid.

Read more »




The New OK Go Video Is a Brilliant Co-Brand

February 11th, 2016 by ddeal

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I’ll bet you’ve never heard of S7 Airlines. But you’ll be hearing more about the Russia-based airline now that OK Go released a new video, “Upside Down & Inside Out.”

“Upside Down & Inside Out” is the latest crazy video from OK Go, a band that long ago set the standard for sharing music through viral videos. During “Upside Down & Inside Out,” OK Go band members float, careen, and summersault in a zero-gravity airplane, creating a madcap moment that is typical of OK Go’s work. Oh, and the video is also a product placement for Russian-based S7 Airlines, which made available the plane and receives prominent acknowledgment at the end of the video.

OK Go and S7 Airlines have created a brilliant co-brand that demonstrates the power of content marketing. Musicians and brands have co-branded for decades, with companies acting as sponsors for concerts, concert venues, and musicians themselves, and musicians endorsing products through advertisements. In the 2000s, those relationships have become more sophisticated and content-driven, a trend that has always fascinated me. (In 2012, I created a content-driven co-brand between agency iCrossing and music mogul Jermaine Dupri.)

Back in 2004, Apple and U2 provided one of the landmark moments of music/corporate co-branding through the launch of the iPod U2 Special Edition, housed in a special black case, and laser-engraved with the signatures of each band member on the back. As part of their co-brand, Apple and U2 also made U2’s single “Vertigo” exclusively available on iTunes as well as a first-of-its kind digital box set of U2’s catalog. Alas, years later, Apple and U2 showed us how not to do content co-creation by trying to force consumers to download U2’s album Songs of Innocence, an ironic stumble given how Apple and U2 had succeeded years before.

As OK Go demonstrates, content-based co-branding is not just for A-list musicians and brands. OK Go has famously collaborated with State Farm in the creation of music videos, as has Deerhunter and Intel. With “Upside Down & Inside Out,” OK Go and a lesser-known brand (to American audiences) are demonstrating how to do content co-creation the right way:

  • The video is fun, and the song is catchy.
  • The branding feels organic: although S7 Airlines receives a thank-you at the end of the video, the real branding occurs throughout the video itself, in which the content (the song and the video of OK Go having a rip-roaring good time) positions S7 as a playful, forward-thinking brand. After all, it’s an S7 Airlines zero-gravity plane that acts as the content-sharing platform.
  • OK Go earns your attention. Unlike Apple and U2, which tried to force their ways on to our radar screens with the Songs of Innocence download fiasco, OK Go uses social media (debuting the video on Facebook) and earned media to spread the word (Gizmodo, Rolling Stone, and ABC News are among the news media jumping all over the story.)

Everyone wins. Fans win because we get great content. OK Go wins by promoting new music. And S7 Airlines has just expanded its reach to a global audience.




Keep Your Paws off Lady Gaga

February 8th, 2016 by ddeal

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Never underestimate Lady Gaga.

The viral effect of digital has made it possible for artists to experience meteoric rises, falls, and rebounds within a matter of a few short years. If you didn’t know any better, you would think that Lady Gaga demonstrates this reality. She exploded in popularity in 2009, but by early 2013, the critics were asking, “What Happened to Lady Gaga?” because her album ARTPOP didn’t match her previous efforts in terms of sales and critical reception.

The criticisms continued. For example, in 2014, Kat George wrote of “The Slow and Bitter End of Lady Gaga’s Career” in Noisey, and in 2015, Lauren Duca of The Huffington Post asked, “Lady Gaga was the biggest pop star in the world. What happened?” as her music seemingly lost its luster for no other reason than the critics said so.

Then, just as suddenly as they were vilifying her, the critics began singing a different tune throughout 2015. After a stunning performance at the 2015 Academy Awards, and after winning a Grammy for Cheek to Cheek, her collaboration with Tony Bennett, the critics spoke of a “Lady Gaga comeback.”

But Lady Gaga never went away. From 2013-15 — supposedly years of living in the wilderness — she was ranked consistently among Forbes‘s highest-earning musicians. For the past three years, she has earned $172 million according to Forbes, with most of her money coming from touring as well as commercial ventures such as her Fame fragrance. That’s what happened to Lady Gaga.

It isn’t just the money that matters.

She continues to set the standard for fan engagement. She is all over social media, celebrating her Little Monsters on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. But, being Lady Gaga, she takes engagement to another level: her LittleMonsters website now boasts 975,000 members worldwide and is the most vibrant of any celebrity-run communities.

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And if you have ever been to a Lady Gaga concert, you understand that her shows are not one-way performances. She involves her fans, whether inviting them up onstage, calling them on the phone, or simply celebrating them. Not surprisingly, marketers cite her as an example of building customer loyalty. I think community love is more like it.

She continues to expand her artistic reach. She has always understood the power of theater, as her over-the-top appearances at public awards ceremonies demonstrate. In 2015, she channeled her knack for drama into her appearance as the Countess on American Horror Story: Hotel, for which she won a Golden Globe. Her American Horror Story performance has been lauded as “her greatest invention yet” by Daniel D’Addario of Time. What’s next for Lady Gaga on the drama front?

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Image credit: FX

She is culturally relevant like no other artist. She is, of course, noted for being a champion of LBGT rights and youth empowerment in ways that go beyond the scope of my blog post. She is, quite simply, a champion of human rights. She is involved in so many philanthropic efforts that it’s easy to overlook the many times she has risen to the occasion to help people, whether donating concert proceeds to victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake or donating $1 million to help victims of Hurricane Sandy. During the height of her fame and the depths of the critical backlash, her commitment to human rights has been unwavering.

Finally, at her core, Lady Gaga reminds us that she has the soul and talent of an artist. For casual fans, Cheek to Cheek, and her performance at the 2015 Academy Awards, was an introduction to her powerful yet tender voice that sometimes gets overlooked amid her theatrics. Oh, and the critics are falling all over themselves to find the right words to describe how awesome her performance was at Super Bowl 50 February 7, when she turned the National Anthem into a soul standard.

And there’s more to come: she will perform a tribute to David Bowie at the Grammy Awards February 15, will perform at the Academy Awards February 28 (which will make her the first artist to perform at the Super Bowl, Grammy Awards, and Oscars in one year), and reportedly has a new album on the way.

In fact, Lady Gaga is the first artist to win the Super Bowl, making the actual game between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers look small.

Any questions?