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Paste magazine asks: Is Indie Dead?

Illustration by Samuel Bosma (via Paste)

A must-read for anyone who cares about culture: Paste’s Rachael Maddux asks the question: Is Indie Dead? in the cover story for the magazine’s February issue.

In an incisive and far-ranging analysis Maddux grabs for fistfuls of smoke trying to pin a definition on the word, but nevertheless expertly and wittily charts its history, influence, rise, and fall—explaining, among other things, the advertising-music-culture cross-ramifications of a pervasive sensibility built around precisely its non-pervasiveness.

Read the essay to find out just how the democratization of technology, an Internet that eats its young, morphing music industry models, and cultural co-option (co-option?) of scene have worked together to create (and in some ways, kill) one of the most unstoppable and influential forces in pop culture today: the paradoxically elusive and ubiquitous “indie.”


Wrangler and Levi’s: Jeans campaigns share conceptual genes
January 27, 2010, 10:02 pm
Filed under: Advertising & Branding | Tags: , , , , , ,

Wrangler We Are Animals

AdFreak recently highlighted Fred & Farid’s Cannes Grand Prix-winning “We are animals” campaign for Wrangler’s European rebranding, and it reminded me strongly of the ads we’ve seen all year for Levi’s—Wieden & Kennedy’s expertly-hewn “Go forth” campaign. (Advertising Age pithily notes the latter is “no good because it’s too good by half.” I’m inclined to agree.)

It’s interesting to me that two such similar brands would take such a similar route at around the same time—and that both would manage to do it so well. In Levi’s spots, stern, crackling directives and psycho-scrawls send dust-bowl darlings bounding across the vast pioneer-promised land; in Wrangler’s, red-dusted hellions  flail and contort like the primal spirits they are.

What we see in both campaigns is the cheesy discount cowboy hokum of yore replaced by something earthy, optimistic, and deliciously reckless. Each has an element of Americana, Whitman romantic while Kerouac ominous. In a world where jeans have turned hyper-tailored, sleek, and designer-fussy, both Levi’s and Wrangler replace pretension with authenticity and present an alternative that’s unhokily rugged, young, and raw. Each campaign makes it about some underlying truth about human nature, so it’s a question of lifestyle and an assertion of outlook rather than a drab and meaningless global uniform. Each has the unironic sincerity of a stripped down close-up portrait, and each is aspirational—just maybe in a way we’re not used to seeing. Whether they’ll make an impact on sales is another issue altogether, but in these aesthetic-and-conceptual-DNA-sharing campaigns, both brands offer us something fresh and powerful in a world of winking blasé preciousness.

Wrangler We Are Animals

Levi's Go Forth

I totally had this idea: Grasshopper DVR-proof commercial
January 26, 2010, 9:37 pm
Filed under: Advertising & Branding | Tags: , , ,

Grasshopper Still

OK, seriously. I totally had the idea of a DVR-thwarting (nay, DVR-leveraging) commercial that would be created specifically to be played sans-sound and at warp-speed. (As in, when fast forwarded it would actually play at normal speed.) This isn’t exactly the same thing, but it’s pretty close, and I’m actually really excited that it exists.

Virtual phone company Grasshopper created a TV spot that fights ad-skipping by capitalizing on the way audiences behave in the medium. Noting that 70% of viewers fast-forward through ads using their DVR, that those who do ad-skip tend to watch the center of the screen, and that the human brain can process ad images up to 20 times faster than normal, Grasshopper created a spot in which its mascot never moves and stays center-screen, and which uses simple block-printed product highlights so that even fast-forwarders will see a constant visual and get the key points.

As far as ads go, it’s not the most clever, but it’s innovative in its understanding of (and to some degree, subversion of) the medium and audiences’ behavior within it. I’m looking forward to seeing more inventive, artful, and boundary-pushing iterations of the DVR-proof TV spot as real creative visionaries sink their teeth into the concept.

View the commercial here:

Nike’s UNICEF interactive billboard makes each kilometer go farther

Nike Treadmill

Nike demonstrates that even in philanthropy, it stands for athletes. In an interactive billboard (by BBDO) publicizing a charity 10k run in Argentina, the athletics powerhouse invites passersby to have a run on a treadmill that logs a communal kilometer count. For each kilometer run, Nike donates a set amount to UNICEF, urging that “Training for the 10k doesn’t only help you. For each kilometer run, you will be helping UNICEF. Sign up at nikecorre.com.”

This installation is cool in that it is in both form and function an expression of generosity and community spirit: it empowers the individual personally in their pursuit of fitness and athleticism by giving them a place to train, and it also, in its very setup as a kilometer-by-kilometer sponsorship, gives them the tools to help others (with the help of those around them, of course) by logging a few km for kids in need. For a brand that has placed such an emphasis on grassroots community in the pursuit of sport, it’s an engaging execution that brings the best of the brand’s beliefs to the fore, but tastefully leverages them in service of a greater good.

Text to donate: Red Cross offers quick, easy means to help Haiti
January 13, 2010, 6:40 pm
Filed under: Culture | Tags: , ,

Red Cross in Haiti

Make a difference in less time than it takes to get out your checkbook. Simply text the word HAITI to 90999 to have $10 automatically donated to Red Cross earthquake relief efforts in the disaster-struck nation. (The donation is added to your phone bill, easy as that.)

Donation by text is not new—for example, UNICEF’s TAP Project for clean drinking water used it to great results—but it’s effective, and an ingenious way to mobilize people in support of a cause. It’s smart, it’s easy, and it’s immediate—for us as donors and for the recipients and organizations in need of aid. It removes a lot of the obstacles that keep people from donating, making the act of giving almost as convenient as doing nothing at all.

The donation-by-text method capitalizes on the ubiquity of mobile phones (maybe the only thing we really take everywhere with us—even more so than money, as this campaign shrewdly observes) and allows us to seize the generous impulse before it has a chance to fade, or before we just forget.

Beyond just the ease and speed with which the text donation delivery method works is the “price point” of the donation—a mere $10. It’s meaningful and it adds up, but it’s small enough for most of us to donate without much thought. The token default amount of $10 can probably quickly generate—just through ease of donation and sheer grassroots volume of donations—a great deal more money and awareness than a smaller number of larger donations, as with a traditional crisis-response drive. (Of course, those who want to donate more always can—this text feature is not really for them, but for the “casual” donor, the everyman.)

Philips Activa MP3 player with TempoMusic matches music to workout pace
January 6, 2010, 9:20 pm
Filed under: Technology | Tags: , ,

So this is pretty awesome–Philips is debuting a new “motivational” mp3 player called Activa, which uses its prorietary TempoMusic software to analyze your music library and serve up songs of just the right tempo based on your speed at any given point in your workout as clocked by an internal accelerometer (it does a whole bunch of other motivational things too, but that’s less interesting, I think). That’s pretty amazing–and a cool, utilitarian innovation. I just wish it could go the other way too, so you could specify a pace for it to play so you could keep pace to your music and not just the other way around. (Maybe then I wouldn’t have to trial-and-error stock my 5 mph playlist for those long outdoor runs…)

Although this seems more like a fitness gadget than a music gadget, I’m curious to see where this innovation goes from here. Apple streamlined and simplified mp3 player design to a point where no one’s really been able to improve on it (freed it from its Michelangelan block of marble, if you will), but we haven’t really seen anyone make them do something really cool since. (No, videos don’t count. I don’t like watching a 3 inch screen. Do you?) Apple and Nike had Nike Plus, of course, but this responsive music playback is something really interesting and I’m excited to see where this interactive smart music analysis technology leads.

Put this in your eyes: Law & Order tailored billboard
January 6, 2010, 5:06 pm
Filed under: Advertising & Branding | Tags: , , ,

Law & Order Billboard

Our friends at bAd Men brought us this brilliant billboard for TV staple Law & Order. We’ve discussed excellent media arts practice, and this is another terrific example–the content has an acute awareness of its medium, and leverages its unique context to deliver a cleverly tailored message and a compelling story–in this case, bringing the delicious drama of the time-worn procedural to the fore.

Once upon a time creating a cohesive campaign meant blind and ruthless copy-pasting of the same ad from medium to medium. Now is not once upon a time–thank God–and a sound, holistic campaign is one whose brand beliefs and behaviors provide a throughline. As seen in this execution, this more organic “rule” allows brands tremendous flexibility in seizing opportunities to tell the best story in the best ways–in ways that get their resonance from both content and medium (or rather, which meld the two seamlessly). It allows them to re-envision media, to create opportunities to tell the story they want to tell.