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An Event Apart SXSW Interactive 2011 Guidebook – back cover ad
This ad appeared on the back cover of the SXSW Interactive 2011 guide, given to all 20,000 attendees of SXSWi in March, 2011.
An Event Apart SXSW Interactive 2011 ad on Flickr
We Didn’t Stop The Fire.
OUR LIBRARY IS BURNING. Copyright extension has banished millions of books to the scrapheap. Digital permanence is a tragically laughable ideal to anyone who remembers the VHS format wars or tries to view Joshua Davis’s 1990s masterpieces on a modern computer. Digital archiving is only as permanent as the next budget cycle—as when libraries switched from microfilm to digital subscriptions and then were forced to cancel the subscriptions during the pre-recession recession. And of course, my digital work vanishes the moment I die or lose the ability to keep hosting it. If you really want to protect your family photos, take them off Flickr and your hard drive, get them on paper, and store them in an airtight box.
Though bits are forever, our medium is mortal, as all but the most naive among us know. And we accept that some of what we hold digitally dear will perish before our eyes. But it irks most especially when people or companies with more money than judgement purchase a thriving online community only to trash it when they can’t figure out how to squeeze a buck out of it. Corporate black thumb is not new to our medium: MGM watered down the Marx Bros; the Saatchis sucked the creative life and half the billings out of the ad agencies they acquired during the 1980s and beyond. But outside the digital world, some corporate purchases and marriages have worked out (think: Disney/Pixar). And with the possible exception of Flickr (better now than the day Yahoo bought it), I can’t think of any online community or publication that has improved as a result of being purchased. Whereas we can all instantly call to mind dozens of wonderful web properties that died or crawled up their own asses as a direct result of new corporate ownership.
My colleague Mandy Brown has written a moving call to arms which, knowingly or unknowingly, invokes the LOCKSS method (“Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe”) of preserving digital content by making copies of it; she encourages us all to become archivists. Even a disorganized ground-level effort such as Mandy proposes will be beneficial—indeed, the less organized, the better. And this is certainly part of the answer. (It’s also what drives my friend Tantek’s own your data efforts; my beef with T is mainly aesthetic.) So, yes, we the people can do our part to help undo the harm uncaring companies cause to our e-ecosystem.
But there is another piece of this which no one is discussing and which I now address specifically to my colleagues who create great digital content and communities:
Stop selling your stuff to corporate jerks. It never works. They always wreck what you’ve spent years making.
Don’t go for the quick payoff. You can make money maintaining your content and serving your community. It won’t be a fat fistful of cash, but that’s okay. You can keep living, keep growing your community, and, over the years, you will earn enough to be safe and comfortable. Besides, most people who get a big payoff blow the money within two years (because it’s not real to them, and because there are always professionals ready to help the rich squander their money). By contrast, if you retain ownership of your community and keep plugging away, you’ll have financial stability and manageable success, and you’ll be able to turn the content over to your juniors when the time comes to retire.
Our library is burning. We didn’t start the fire but we sure don’t have to help fan the flames. You can’t sell out if you don’t sell. Owning your content starts with you.
Filed under: "Digital Curation", Advertising, Advocacy, architecture, Authoring, Best practices, copyright, Corporatism, Culture, democracy, Design, engagement, environment, ethics, The Essentials, The Mind, The Profession, work
The Great Salami Caper
In the late 1980s, while making efforts to move to New York City, I came up with the winning ad campaign for Hebrew National Kosher Salami. Only I didn’t win.
Hebrew National held a contest to see if people outside Madison Avenue could come up with a great ad idea for their 83% fat free salami. The grand prize was $83,000.
Even in New York, $83,000 would have more than covered a moving van, broker’s fee, and first and last month’s rent.
But creating the winning ad carried a benefit even bigger than the cash for someone like me who was trying to break into New York advertising. I’d worked for a couple of years at Washington, DC-area ad agencies, one of them pretty good, but that and my portfolio bought me nothing in the competitive New York advertising job market of the late 1980s. There were kids coming out of school with better portfolios than mine.
Winning that contest, I believed at the time, would make a New York ad agency take me seriously.
My then-girlfriend Eva S and I submitted an ad built around the headline, “You should be so fat.”
Well, we never heard back after entering the contest, and months passed the way they do.
I continued to drive back and forth from DC to NYC looking for jobs and an apartment.
A couple of times I flew to New York for an interview in the middle of my work day. I told my DC-area-agency creative director I was seeing a doctor. I still feel bad about that lie.
One day I open a magazine, and there’s a picture of an athletic woman wearing a leotard, working out.
The headline reads, “You should be so lean.”
Lean. You should be so lean.
It was our concept made safe. “You should be so lean” was a faster read and a much less interesting idea.
Hebrew National had said in the contest rules that, in the event of duplicate ideas, they would pick the one that was best executed. I am certain today that several people submitted similar ideas and Hebrew National and its agency chose the best-looking comp, which was not mine. Quite probably the winner even wrote “You should be so lean.” All perfectly ethical.
But at the time I was sure that we had gotten ripped off.
So I confided in the president of the DC-area agency where I worked—like he needed another reason to fire me—and asked him if I should sue Hebrew National.
I sought this advice while buying a drink for the president of the agency when I should have been at my desk, working. I figured if the president of the agency was spending the afternoon in a bar, he wouldn’t mind his peon employee doing likewise.
I was thirsty and not very bright. A while later, for many reasons, the agency let me go, surprising absolutely no one but me.
But meantime I’m in the bar buying my boss a drink on his time.
He tells me something I’ll never forget: a big company has lawyers on retainer, and you don’t.
When Ads by Google Go Wrong
Presumably in order to avoid having to pay the child model and secure a release, Google deliberately blurred the Gap Kid model’s face on the giant outdoor Gap Kids poster before uploading this photo (and hundreds of seamlessly interwoven related photos) to Google Maps Street View.
It’s hard to say if the human beings on the street have had their features blurred as well.
Does Google go to this kind of trouble with every poster on every block of every city in the world? They must.
I bet their arms get tired.
Related: Recently, some friends and I have noticed news photos, and TV news video, where people’s faces are perfectly clear, but corporate logos have been deliberately blurred or pixelated. This is the world we live in.
Gender advertisements of the 1970s are but one category and decade among hundreds available to blow your mind at the Vintage Ad Browser. You can even search by color, which works remarkably well. Artifact-heavy low-res JPGs on the site link to higher-quality versions on third-party sites. All images are shown under fair use.
Philadelphia is a happening little city, the cradle of liberty, and the site of Happy Cog East. It’s also a city that gets unfairly overlooked—like a beauty whose sisters are supermodels. But I have a plan.
I want to rebrand Philadelphia as !adelphia.
I can see the logo. I can see half a dozen ad campaigns, some of them even good. I see a decent theme-line and sense that a much better one is out there. I see commercials and bus posters, I hear tourist board tie-ins and radio spots. I see Kottke, Joe Clarke, and Design Observer trashing the campaign on various intellectual and typographic grounds. I see contests where designers submit how they would have done the logo.
Maybe it’s the meds talking, but I think we’re on to something. Viva !adelphia!
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A modest proposal
It is illegal to make false claims in a TV or radio commercial unless you are running for political office.
If you’re selling toothpaste, your claims must be vetted by legal and medical professionals. But not if you’re selling a candidate.
If you’re selling a candidate, not only can you lie about his record, but more to the point, you can lie about his opponent.
These lies are seen and heard by millions, not only when they run as paid advertisements, but also when they are run again for free on 24-hour news networks hungry for controversy. And after they are run for free, they become talking points in an “unbiased” conversation that pretends there are two sides to every story, even when one side is lies. Two words: Swift Boat.
Lies, and a candidate’s embarrassing efforts to brush them aside, fill the news cycle and constitute the national discourse. And this terrifying and morally indefensible rupture from reality persists even when the country is on its knees.
If networks refuse to accept cigarette advertising, how can they readily approve dishonest political advertising? Cigarettes kill individuals, but lying political ads hurt the whole country. No democracy can afford this, let alone when the country is at war, and under existential threat from terrorists, and in economic free fall.
So here’s my idea. One that could actually work, if America’s networks remember they are Americans first, revenue seekers second.
Just as they once united to stamp out cigarette advertising, radio and TV stations and advertisers must get together and agree that false statements in political advertisements will not be tolerated. If you run a political ad that proves to be a lie, your network will pay a steep fine, and the advertiser will pay an even steeper one.
To avoid these crushing fines, networks will insist on proof of statements made in political advertisements, just as they demand proof of statements made in sugarless chewing gum commercials.
Political advertisers will not be able to lie about opponents. They will either have to attack opponents honestly, or talk about the actual issues facing the country, and how their candidate will solve those issues.
Imagine. We might hear ads about the banking crisis and how each candidate will address it.
Candidates might summarize their positions on Iraq and Afghanistan and end with links to more detailed positions on their websites.
The public might discuss the real issues facing us instead of manufactured Entertainment-Tonight-style “controversies.” People might even vote for candidates based on their resumes and positions on the issues.
It would be just like democracy.
[tags]advertising, political, political advertising, lies, TV, radio, politics, presidential[/tags]