i'm with the brand

Ministry of Sound goes Underground for New Year’s Eve
November 30, 2009, 11:26 pm
Filed under: Advertising & Branding | Tags: , , , ,

Ministry of Sound will be invading the London Underground to advertise their monster New Year’s Eve bash featuring electro-pop heavyweights including Eric Prydz, Calvin Harris, and Justice. To promote their upcoming party at London’s O2 Arena, Ministry of Sound will be decking out trains on the aptly-named Jubilee line leading to the arena with speakers, lights, and branded decor that create an immersive club atmosphere for riders. With this epic moving pre-party, Ministry of Sound delivers on its mission “to create the moments that people live for,” and truly brings the spirit of the event–and the Ministry of Sound experience–right to audiences.

Ministry of Sound TrainMinistry of Sound Train



Ministry of Sound NYE @ O2


User generated content: you’re doing it wrong (kind of)
November 30, 2009, 11:23 pm
Filed under: Advertising & Branding | Tags: , , ,

Iggy Pop

At first it seems like kind of a cool idea: rock legend Iggy Pop teams up with 8 amateur musicians for a little recording session…over Skype! In an age when Journey can hire its new lead singer off a Youtube clip, why not?

New Zealand’s Orcon broadband company commissioned this little stunt to tout the speed and clarity of its connections, bringing Iggy Pop together with 8 Kiwi contest-winners to record his classic, “The Passenger,” in a virtual jam session remotely via the internet. While it seems like a great way to involve audiences and prove Orcon’s brand claims, something is off, and as Pitchfork puts it, the result is “something of a clusterfuck.”

It seems here, as appears to be common with the faddish user generated content phenomenon (I’m hesitant to label this user participation, which I see as subtly different, a larger and more diverse umbrella–but I concede that this isn’t really straight UGC either), that the chief pitfall is that Orcon left the quality of this effort–and its brand–completely in the hands of users, thinking of it perhaps as cheap or easy advertising. While many companies do UGC for no discernable strategic reason, at least here I have to say Orcon’s approach does makes some sense–internet, collaboration-potential, clear signal, fast connection–I get it, I get it. But when you consider just how much time, effort, and monetary value is wrapped up in brands, it seems absurd the abandon with which companies regularly and cavalierly surrender brand control in ways that they would not with other more tangible assets–especially when UGC’s track record is so notoriously spotty. In Orcon’s case, perhaps a more cautious and brand-led approach would have yielded better, less-gimmicky results?

As for me, the next time I’m looking for my awkward-funny Kiwi music fix, I think I’ll just stick to Flight of the Conchords.

Who needs Banksy when you’ve got The Decapitator?
November 30, 2009, 7:59 am
Filed under: Art & Design | Tags: , ,

UK guerrilla artist The Decapitator takes an ax to street ads. Critique on a culture that fetishizes violence? Commentary on consumerism? Rejection of the cult of celebrity? Absurdist satire? Visual whoopee cushion? You decide.

Shakira - The Decapitator

Cage Rage - The Decapitator

KFC - The Decapitator

View more beheaded ads at Buzzfeed.

Mad Men character playlists give audiences a peek into shellacked heads and corseted hearts
November 29, 2009, 10:07 pm
Filed under: Advertising & Branding | Tags: , , ,

Mad Men


Mad Men is pushing the boundaries of TV storytelling with the release of seven new five-song compilations (out 10/27), each  inspired by characters from the series: Don, Betty, Peggy, Pete, Joan, Roger, and Sal. These songs from the Universal Music catalog bring characters to life by showcasing tunes with unique resonance to them–what they might have listened to, explorations of their personalities.

As always with Mad Men, craftsmanship is king, and these character sketch compilations are no less meticulous. Assembled with the help of series producer Matthew Weiner and composer David Carbonara, among others, these conceptual albums not only give listeners greater insight into individual characters, but also continue to develop these fictional beings’ complex interrelationships: songs deepen the dialogue between characters, as tracks on one character’s soundtrack form challenges and responses to tracks on another’s, as in the case of Don’s “Misery” to his wife Betty’s “Too Many Secrets.” For such a character-driven show in which music so fundamentally shapes the mood, these sonic vignettes are an excellent means of granting audiences greater access to and understanding of the characters and the Mad Men era, allowing series creators character development and atmoshphere-building opportunities outside the episode format–not to mention, they’re a tidy little cash cow capitalizing on superfans impatient for Season 4.

You can stream samples of each playlist on the characters’ profile pages at AMC, or purchase the albums on iTunes.

Google’s je ne sais quoi and the reinvention of the logo
November 29, 2009, 8:13 am
Filed under: Advertising & Branding | Tags: , , , ,

Recently Sesame Street marked its 40th anniversary, and on a stray whim deciding to search for something from the Google site rather than through my built-in search bar, I was delighted to see Google celebrating the occasion with a Sesame Street-themed logo. A little poking around online showed me a collection of Sesame Street-flavored Google logos the company was using in other countries that day, and I realized what a clever little paradox this themed logo was.

Google seems such a part of the culture that it seems fitting for them to celebrate significant cultural milestones and figures in the way that they do, endearing themselves to users in the process with this bit of on-brand playfulness. Google’s a part of the culture machine, after all–and not just locally, but globally as well: in my little bit of sleuthing, I found that these themed logos are much more common and much broader than what we might see in the US. While some are shown worldwide (like those for Earth Day and the day water was discovered on the moon), many are specific to a given market, tailored to fit the country in which they appear, celebrating local holidays and culturally significant people and events, from the birthday of renowned artist/architect Isamu Noguchi (shown in Japan) to the opening of the Acropolis Museum (shown in Greece.) In all of these themes, Google demonstrates an understanding of the people and culture, of what’s important and exciting at home and the world over–and in so doing, also seems to justify their rightful place in culture.

In the Doodle 4 Google competition, Google even gives users a chance to make the brand their own, mining students around the world for their imaginative twists on the logo, displaying the winning doodles on the Google homepage for a day. This strategy wisely leverages user enthusiasm and creativity, fostering audience participation without relinquishing control, allowing user input while remaining brand-led. Here are some some of China’s 2008 submissions:

But that’s not actually what I came here to talk about.

What really got me thinking was how Google’s distinctive logo could metamorphose so regularly without losing itself. Going through an archive of Google’s holiday and fan-created logos I noticed that in earlier years Google’s themed logos were much more conservative, typically the standard logo with a little nod to the holiday tacked on–a shamrock here, a pilgrim hat there. Typical shy logo-tweaking. But over the years, perhaps emboldened by their hegemony and recognizability, the holiday logos interpreted the Google logo more and more loosely, sometimes dispensing with the traditional logo, font, or color scheme altogether–but still, in a rare feat, I thought, never leaving me in doubt as to Google’s brand: whose logo it was, and what it stood for. And that’s what I found most intriguing, most fascinating–what was it about their brand, and their logo, that it could survive such drastic changes with tone and identity intact? That could strengthen their brand in spite of (perhaps in part because of) a shapeshifting logo? I’m not sure at the moment that I can offer any great theories as to how they did it and how a brand might replicate it, but it’s something that’s been tumbling around in my mind for the last few weeks and I though I’d throw this musing out there. Whatever it might take to accomplish such a coup, however elusive the solution, it sort of gives overprotective brands something to aspire to, doesn’t it?

Due to Google’s logo policy, I’m afraid I can’t post any images as examples here, but you can check out Google’s official holiday logo and fan logo archives here. Definitely worth a look!

Verizon takes a bite out of Apple, forgets to put down own roots
November 27, 2009, 8:02 am
Filed under: Advertising & Branding | Tags: , ,

You really know you’re doing a great job when your competitors see their best bid for attention in borrowing your own vernacular to express themselves. Verizon’s recent string of ads appropriates (purportedly mocks?) key elements of Apple’s iconic branding and recent iPhone/AT&T Apps commercials to point out the brand’s failures–but who really wins?

A recent TV spot for Verizon’s Motorola Droid phone turns Apple’s famous “i” into a series of “iDon’t”s litanizing the shortcomings of the iPhone. The only thing is, with an aesthetic and verbal style ripped straight from Apple’s own commercials, the message is muddied–who doesn’t do these things? Is this an Apple commercial about a competitor’s phone that doesn’t do these things? Or what? Ugh not worth it, switching channel. But what do I remember? Apple, not Verizon, not Droid. Thanks for the free attention, V, I’ll be over here counting my money.

In another spot, Verizon’s refrain “There’s a map for that” slams AT&T for the iPhone service provider’s spotty 3G coverage, mimicking the “There’s an app for that” tagline of Apple and AT&T’s varied and long-running Apps campaign. However accurate the claims made, it’s a branding mistake that comes off more smug than playful and enticing, as if they’re so desperate to use that particular phrase that they didn’t bother considering whether it was the most appropriate to get their message across. If the iPhone is for the effortless and breezy, Verizon and their whateverphonestheyoffer are for the trying-too-hard.

The  lack of cohesion or campaign follow-through on Verizon’s part in pulling from such disparate Apple brand elements  suggests an unfocused urgency to find any way to make inroads, even if it means a haphazard pastiche of quasi-relevant mocking that rides Apple’s brand coattails to get Verizon’s own short-term business message across. As such, the fact that these ads exist seems more a badge of distinction for Apple, an indicator of its branding ubiquity and success, than an Achilles’ heel deftly pierced by Verizon’s arrow.

Perhaps people find these ads clever, perhaps it’s a matter of taste. There’s no arguing that they have led to at least some immediate business results, but they also represent a missed opportunity for Verizon: to depend so heavily on the competitor’s unique verbiage and iconic visual language gives the competitor audience brainspace, lends credence to their dominance and legitimacy to their brand, and ultimately just doesn’t seem the most judicious and sustainable method of articulating and building a brand on its own terms.

For an interesting pro/con take on the escalation in the iPhone/Droid ad battle, check out The Week.

Javelin Spins UGC with Fan-Co-Created Custom Record Sleeves
November 25, 2009, 8:30 am
Filed under: Advertising & Branding | Tags: , , , , ,

Javelin Album Cover

Javelin Album Cover

Javelin Album Cover


In a great marriage of content and form, Brooklyn-based junk shop beatmakers Javelin are putting their remix skills to use on your record sleeves. For their upcoming 12″ release, “Number Two” (Feb 16 on Thrill Jockey), the duo is having fans send in empty record sleeves from their collections to be decorated by the band. Once jazzed-up Javelin-style, the sleeves are sent back, their new record neatly tucked inside. Playing user generated content wisely and leveraging the current fascination with high-touch, handmade, and cutsomized objects as brand souvenirs of sorts, the duo more importantly echoes their own musical philosophy and rummage-through-crates ethos: take someone else’s something old, make it their own, send it back into the world a strange and beautiful thing that’s greater than the sum of its parts. With all the sturm und drang about music in the digital age, it’s clear from Javelin’s media arts-savvy foray into packaging-as-medium that there are still plenty of innovative ways to engage meaningfully with audiences, to bring the brand (the band?) experience home organically.

Check out past examples here. For more info, head on over to Pitchfork.