Looking for the holistic in technology and the profound in advertising. Founder of Adverve, international account director at Darewin, #SocialSkim columnist for MarketingProfs, EU correspondent at AdWeek, and liveblogger for MIP. Cali*-born, Paris-based. Fluent in English, French, Mac + PC.
Creator of life on the weekends, but strictly single-celled. (Nobody likes a mutiny.)
Watch Kristen Stewart Grill Jesse Eisenberg Like a Lady
In the latest from Funny or Die, Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg plug their upcoming film, American Ultra, by interviewing each other. But, before it becomes fully clear what’s going on, it looks like the cards got switched: Jesse finds himself asking Kristen no-brainers like whether she’s always been funny, and Kristen asks Jesse questions that make him increasingly uncomfortable—like what designers he likes, if he shows boob to show off, and whether he’s pregnant.
The glaring statement this makes about how genders are treated differently under fame’s spotlight is further magnified by how quietly enraged Kristen seems: She advances mercilessly on as Jesse grows more and more flustered. it’s almost like they were meant to play these roles. Our favourite part is when Kristen asks for a close-up of Jesse’s hard-bitten, trembling fingernails.
La Bamba into the global village, courtesy of Google Translate
Building on the Word Lens technology it inherited last year when it bought Quest Visual, Google Translate can now translate text on an image in real-time … and in 27 languages. To see the magical, Star Trekkian way it works, watch as it translates the words to “La Bamba” in the ad above.
Learn more about how Google Translate works in this video. Notably, last year Microsoft and Skype launched a real-time translation tool that works via live video and would theoretically help two people converse live in different languages. You can test that here, but note that it only works for English and Spanish.
Six long years in the making have led us to this magical moment. What to do for a 100th episode? Well, since Bono wasn’t available we decided to pool our collective LinkInedness and drop some hard-earned industry knowledge on you. Basically, they’re things we wish someone had told us way the hell back. Brand, agency and creative alike will feel tingly after listening. We’ll be posting them at some point for use in your next review. Don’t forget to tip your creative.
Calvin Klein’s always been about ice-cold, near-unapproachable sex appeal. But times have changed, and it’s changed with them.
The ad above, which features a diversity of gorgeous faces (Torin Verdone, Laura Julie, Noma Han, and Jamie Carpena, to name a few) brings CK’s glacial attitude to the “It’s complicated,” Tinder-happy, Grindr-trawling texting set.
Words are the new bulge. Who knew?
If you haven’t gotten your fill, visit the #mycalvins subsite, where stripped-down normals have a shot of appearing alongside the horny jetset.
YouTube’s jimjarmo took the entirety of Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” and made you a karaoke video… using Twitter bios that kinda sound like the words. It hurts our brains to imagine how much work this took.
Users famous, infamous and still in egg phase are represented. Merp merp.
Is Man…kind? You won’t feel all that kind after watching this Airbnb ad
Airbnb’s shtick is about how awesome it is that strangers open their homes to you, or stay at your home, as you please, without anything awful happening.* Indeed, by and large, great things happen: You save money, live local, get breakfast, maybe develop a friendly connection. You could have exceptional shared experiences that bind us closer despite wide distances. And you could learn we’re not so different, despite skin, creed, hipster beards and whatever other efforts we make to split herds.
And despite us calling it a “shtick,” we’re not against that in principle. It’s a good position, and we dig Airbnb as a service.
But let’s talk about this weird thing they’ve done here. Even if you get past that whole “Is Mankind?” pun with your dignity intact, you might still find the piece overwritten and overwrought. Copywriting aside, it features expanding-universe music, the Elderly Sage voice, and imagery of a baby. A fucking baby!
For added odd factor, Airbnb teasered the ad with a series of out-of-context tweets that actually quote from it. If you’re looking at the tweets before screening the ad, the answer is no, hearing them in context doesn’t make them less weird.
There’s a reason the dude who coined “walk a mile in his shoes” settled on shoes. I’m sure he had “look through their windows” and “sleep in their beds” on his wall, then tore them off when he realised he sounded like a creeper.
Guys. It doesn’t have to be this hard. Go for the simple: People connecting, sharing, discovering. That’s what you’re about. Because right now you’re behaving like a startup sendup in Silicon Valley. There’s a reason why we hate the “world peace!” chirpers, and it’s not because we don’t actually want world peace.
Work by TBWA\Chiat\Day, whom we generally like when they’re not debasing themselves horribly like this. Although we’re sure the money was right and the client was happy so we get it, what can you do.
Have you ever wanted to fall inside Terry Crews’s left bicep?
Now you can with Muscle Surprise, a deeply weird interactive site that lets you explore the various worlds hidden inside Old Spice spokesman Terry Crews’s muscles. Think of yourself as Alice falling down the rabbit hole, except in this case the rabbit hole is screaming man-flesh.
A loose plot joins these universes together, but it varies based on which muscle you choose to open first. In one plot, Dr. Terry Crews, hidden in the left pectoral muscle, has a patient with a potentially fatal eyebrow emergency for which he must find donors. Nestled in the right pec is a plush tiger who, decidedly more generous than the sarcastic and stingy supervillain in Terry’s right shoulder, offers his eyebrows up gladly—except instead of donating them, he donates his entire lower body.
In another plot, you must find the tiger a home among Terry’s other muscles after Big Terry evicts him. This is somewhat less fun than the eyebrow emergency. Overall, the whole execution is like a dream, or an LSD hallucination where you can’t taste colours or music.
To motivate you when you haven’t been active enough, Big Terry periodically shouts things like “EXPLORE MY BODYYYYY”, which you may have heard in more romantic, less aggressive contexts (especially if you were sexually active in the ‘90s).
Small details are thoughtfully tended to in general: The initial loading page features two disembodied hands rolling out of two Terry mouths on opposite sides of the screen. When they finally meet for their creepy (and explosive!) high-five, you’ll know you’ve hit 100%. And minor lags between muscle-opens introduce a tiny, befuddled-looking Terry head, ticking down the waiting time.
Notably, there is also popcorn. We’ll let you find out which muscle that’s hiding in.
Work by Wieden + Kennedy Portland with help from Media Monks. If you think we’re swinging from the latter’s third pubic hair right now because they’re basically the only people whose beachside interview we published post-Lions, well hell, you’re not wrong and that’s why this is our blog and not yours. We win.
But there’s also some serious Old Spice fandom going on here too. It merits asking whether that fandom has actually led to conversions among AdVerve’s writers. I can say with certainty that it hasn’t inspired any personal purchases, because we’re elitists and one of us has ovaries, but at least one of us buys piles of this stuff as gag Christmas gifts, mostly as vehicles to transform the holidays into an Old Spice ad-watching party.
This Adobe Marketing Cloud ad’s about a year old but it speaks to something you probably see a lot with clients—that pressing mania for clicks, Likes, physical evidence that you’re being poked and prodded by someone, regardless of who they are.
We like the idea of comparing that to scoring a quick, itchy hit on the street. Because that’s all those figures are really good for—some warm, cuddly PowerPoint applause before the next.
Keys N Krates’ #MobileMusicVideo scrolls like a socnet
Vice and Canadian mobile provider Fido joined forces to create a unique music video for Keys N Krates song “Save Me”. Made to be consumed via mobile, the music vid looks like a constellation of GIFs that you have to scroll down to see, Instagram-style. To play with it, open mobilemusicvideo.ca from your mobile phone.
‘Why live if you aren’t doing something remarkable?’ asks MediaMonks’ Victor Knaap
It’s been just a few years since my last interview with MediaMonks co-founders Victor Knaap and Wesley Ter Haar. But in that short amount of time, it’s surprising what’s changed.
We still meet at the Majestic, and I’m still greeted by a warm, open smile. But Victor’s alone this year, and more pensive.
“Wesley’s all over the place,” he says by way of explanation. “He’s on the board of directors of SoDA now. It keeps him busy.”
Moving up in the world! We kiss three times, the Dutch way, and I ease into my seat as Henriëtte from Finch Factor eases water glasses onto the table. Then I look Victor up and down.
“Wow,” I say. “You’ve changed.”
“I’ve gone grey,” he laments.
I shake my head. “You’re a grown-up now. It’s different.”
It’s a feeling he only reinforces as the interview begins. Three years ago, MediaMonks were ambitious upstarts in the production world. We made jokes about watchmaking and porn. But the guy in front of me isn’t the same; Wesley’s adventures with SoDA aside, MediaMonks is now a global enterprise, with offices in three different countries, going on four. And Victor has thought long and hard about where the company is headed, and why.
What projects have you been most excited about this year?
VK: It’s a different year than all other years. In Cyber and Mobile, there are no real big winners; there’s not one case that sweeps everything up. That means smaller ideas get the chance to get awarded and get more attention.
We have two ideas that do really well, that move away from advertising and into products. The first is the Canon Gig App that we made with Uncle Grey. It started out as an ad, but move into being a product.
AN: The Canon Gig app basically promises to turn your phone into a DSLR camera. When you’re at a concert, instead of taking blurry distant pictures, Canon Gig lets you zoom in super close and grab something really worth sharing. It’s cool.
VK: There’s also PhoneAddress that we did for Base with DDB Brussels. It turns your phone into an address. You can have anything delivered wherever you are, as long as you have your phone with you.
So you’re going into software.
VK: We were always in software. We just happened to be working on marketing campaigns. But in the end, the core of our business is software development; we just happen to work with creative ideas. We have literally everything necessary to make software solutions. The heart of our business is coding.
How would you make the distinction between an ad agency and a production company today?
VK: The output of the work has changed, but the relationship you maintain with advertising agencies is still the same. We still work exclusively through advertising agencies. The good thing for our company is, now, that all the trends seem to point at this kind of stuff—where digital is at the heart of the product.
That’s why our company’s growing fast. We hired over 75 people last year and opened two offices: Dubai and LA. Shanghai is on its way.
A lot has changed for you guys since our last talk three years ago. What are your biggest market challenges today?
VK: Our biggest goal and challenge is to become truly global. There is no production agency in the world that offers quality at scale.We’re the closest, but we’re not there yet.
My concern is how to build up China, move into LatAm, and maintain quality across all different offices. I want the offices to have their own signature; MediaMonks in LA makes more entertainment-based work, MediaMonks Singapore only produces mobile-first, mobile-only. But it shouldn’t matter if you call MediaMonks in LA or China; you should have the same feeling and the same customer experience and service and quality.
So if MediaMonks Singapore is strongest in mobile, you could also use them for American business, for example.
VK: We work with a single P&L so we don’t have offices competing for budget; we shift work around—not just when we think there’s a better team to crack the job in Singapore, but also to work with the different timezones. LA and Singapore might work on the same brief because you can have 16-hour workdays.
What’s your company culture like, and how do you protect it?
VK: We always had a very strong culture. We demand a lot from our staff; working on the best creative ideas in the world means that you have to put in a lot of long hours to make that happen. Here is how MediaMonks is different from competitors:
Teams have a lot of responsibility. They’re not micromanaged on Excel.
So who validates their work?
VK: We give them freedom: They get a brief and a deadline; we keep money off the floor.
Teams are always led by a creative, a tech guy and a project manager. So it’s always—does it look good, does it feel good? From a tech perspective does it work good, and is it done in time?
We produced 1260 projects last year. It’s impossible to have one CD controlling every single piece of output. And it’s diverse: We moved into film, mobile, games. You can’t oversee it as a single person.
Where’s the brand money going this year?
VK: There’s a lot of talk about decreasing budgets; I don’t believe in that. I just think that brands and agencies demand more content for the same budget.
My biggest challenge in MediaMonks is to combine film and digital, and have a single point of entry for all the different content and platforms that need to be produced. I’ll take on briefs from an above-the-line TV commercial, to the interactive experience, to the banners and rich media, all the way down to integration and the web.
The way we tackle it is by offering two creative leads: A film director combined with a digital director. Two things happen: Your interactive film work suddenly gets much better, and you get way better content across all different touchpoints.
Last words for the kids at home:
VK: I have one quote I live by: Why live if you aren’t doing something remarkable?
A lot of people are just there to finish the job given to them. We try to give our guys the chance to make something remarkable in every single project that’s handed to us—and that’s why we split them into smaller teams. They could be on a rich media campaign or a high-end TV shoot. But whatever you’re given, you can fight your way up.
If you do good work now, you’ll get better projects in the future. That’s our only sales channel. Beside me there are no sales people active at MediaMonks. We just push out our work, try to make something remarkable, and other work follows.
I have been here nearly three days, and I am proud of myself: I have not stayed out late, drunk to excess, or washed up at the Gutter Bar.
In other words, I have become exactly the type of person that nobody at the Lions wants to hang out with. But I’m okay with that, because Confucius (or was it a creative?) once said our greatest strength lies in embracing our solitude.
Rolled in around noon, grabbed my keys from the Airbnb folks, spent a new-asshole-ripping 10€ on bananas and cherries. Stumbled down toward the Palais for my badge.
Score! I am still early enough that I can choose my own T-shirt size. In Day-Glo yellow, the T-shirt reads “CAMPAIGNER FOR CREATIVITY”. Okay.
The Lions has this typography-geek hipster-chic vibe going on this year. To wit:
I find safe harbor at the Plage Goeland (which makes me happy because its wifi connection is “legoeland” and when I see it I always think “Lego Land”), but am quickly snapped up by Kerrie Finch of Finch Factor, who invites me to Le Petit Paris for a quick, rosé-soaked lunch that mainly involves tomatoes and cheese. Her comms chick Henriëtte Gathier is there too. Their week is busy; it’s Henriëtte’s first Lions, and she is excited.
They smile for my camera, in part for this diary, in part for my “secret project”:
It is inevitable that they ask what my Secret Project is. I explain.
“It’s a Google Docs where I note down everybody I hang out with, where we saw each other, what we discussed, they’re doing for work and in life, and a current photo of them,” I said. “This way, over time, I can track your personal evolution and the evolution of our relationship.”
Henriëtte’s eyes widen and fall toward her plate. “Wo-ow,” she says.
“Well, that’s really creepy,” Kerrie says in her frank not-dancing-around-this way.
“You think that now,” I say, “but imagine if this is the last time we see each other for the next five years. The next time we see each other, I’ll hug you and say, ‘Kerrie! You’ve changed so much from Le Petit Paris at Cannes Lions 2015, when FinchFactor was only 11 employees big!’”
Kerrie frowns at me.
“You’ll feel special,” I explain.
“So every time you run into people you’re going to quickly check in your phone for their little archive?” Henriëtte asked.
I hadn’t considered the logistics. We change the subject to upcoming parties and interviews. Henriëtte schedules me a Monday interview with MediaMonks, who apparently want to break some kind of back-patting record at their party this year. I don’t know how this will work, and I worry that it may all become unintentionally violent, but we are nonetheless excited.
After that we part and I head for Carlton Beach and rent a recliner on the beach for some tanning and swimming. In a stroke of luck, I find myself beside Julie Thompson, who wrote a Cannes survival guide for AdWeek. It’s something like her 17th Lions; after a long stint in ad land, she’s now helping match startups and agencies.
We gossip about industry embezzlement and how the Lions has changed. The first one she went to was only 5.000 people big. Then she shows me her tattoo, which she’s decided is the best tattoo ever: Just under her bikini line the word TATTOO is printed in bold letters.
“If I add an S, I can tell people I have TATTOOS,” she says proudly.
I am impressed by this strange and subtle show of ballsiness.
I return to my apartment. Near midnight, one of my flatmates for the week, Michael Boamah of The Next Gag, shows up.
The Next Gag is his ad and culture blog. It’s building nice traction; he now has sponsors. I ask him where the name came from, and he directs me to this.
This week Michael has come bearing a stencil and spraypaint. He plans to spread his brand across the walls of town this evening.
Two hitches in his plan: He has brought neither hoodie nor practical sneakers. I look down at his feet. All he has are shiny dress shoes.
“You look like a member of the Nation of Islam,” I say, taking in his neat demeanor, chemise and neatly pleated pants.
“I can lend you a tanktop … for your face,” I add.
Michael shrugs and politely declines. He goes out to do his graffiti-ing and returns a half-hour later, having failed.
“There are cameras everywhere,” he says by way of explanation. “I need to do more research before taking action. Also, I’m not really used to using this paint.”
I shake my head and go to bed.
Magnificent day! I get up early and go for a run around the cape. Halfway through, I strip off my running gear and dive into the sea with a bunch of screaming kids. I now have sunburn on my face.
I meander around the Palais afterward in search of the press room. Several times I barge in on judges doing their final votes. I give up on locating the press room and go to the Grand, where they regale me with champagne, free wifi and an outlet conveniently located behind a white leather couch, in the garden.
I do some preliminary work and update my Secret Project document. Some aggressive pigeons come and start eating my peanuts. I wave them off but they return, each time with more buddies, each time with more obvious swagger. They frighten me, so I cover the nuts with an ashtray.
David Griner and Tim Nudd of AdWeek join me for champagne and rosé. Because David is by nature very gregarious, we end up engaging in conversation with two chaps on the other side of the couch: Daniel Doherty and John Horsley of Communitize, who, from what I understand, manage a big network of publications. They are charming and friendly and buy us more alcohol. We chat about how ad journalism has changed, and I ask Daniel what his “Peoples Front of Judea” shirt is all about.
“You mean Judean Peoples Front!” David exclaims, and the men explode in laughter. Daniel explains it’s a Monty Python thing, and I nod dumbly.
Tim, David and I eventually branch off for dinner at La Libera. My pepper pasta is more peppery than usual and I choke a little bit. No one is nearby to bring me milk. I ask them if they have chosen happiness or success as priorities in life, and both tell me happiness.
Walking me back home, David and I come across a curious musical act for the Fête de la Musique. There is strange magic around every corner, and the streets are packed.
I roll out of bed early to catch the press conference about the winners for Mobile, Direct, Press and Promo/Activation. The president of the Direct jury, Judy John, tells a funny story about porn that I will relate later, when I am no longer embargoed.
I hang out a bit with Gary Smith of the Daily News, then Joe La Pompe comes by and gives me some stickers. It is the first time we’ve been able to properly hang out at any Lions in the last three years.
Since the late ‘90s, Joe La Pompe has specialised in unmasking ad copycats. His identity is a deeply-guarded French ad industry secret and he often goes places wearing a ski mask.
I ask him why he doesn’t cover a lot of digital stuff and he shrugs.
“I’m old-fashioned,” he says. “Plus it’s fast and more impactful to just put two images together. Digital is too conceptual; you have to explain everything, and if the case studies are slightly different, nobody will get it.”
Logical. We hug and kiss and promise to hang later.
On my way out I cross the path of Virginie Achouch, ex-editor at l’ADN and current founder of Deep Throat, whose name she finds both provocative yet politically interesting. We promise to have drinks, then separate.
I slink to the Google Beach. They give me a bracelet and a free smoothie. I feel like I’m back in California, watching people play beach volleyball and lounge around on beanbags. Upcoming: My interview with MediaMonks, and winners of this evening’s awards ceremonies.
This concludes my thrilling report of the first three days at the Lions.
Google for Business Tackles Gender Transition in Sensitive, Relevant Way
To change what remain very dire straits in the transgender community, we’re going to need more than Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover or Laverne Cox in Orange is the New Black. We need everyday, relatable people whose lives match our own.
That’s what’s great about this ad by Venables Bell & Partners for Google, which came out just in time for Pride Month. The piece highlights a small business called City Gym, which hosts a community of transgender men looking to build the bodies they’ve always dreamt of having.
We’re introduced to this story through Jake, a guy-next-door (he’s got his own fishing pole and everything!) who was born a girl, and who quietly relates his experience growing up in a body that just never felt right.
It’s sensitive, low-key, pragmatic—one human story among many. And that’s why it’s so important.
Thankfully, it’s also part of a huge wave to normalize gender variance. AdWeek’s Social Times has an article on how social networks like Facebook, Pinterest, G+ and OKCupid are increasingly thinking outside the Male/Female box (not to mention Ello, which didn’t have them to begin with), and explains why that’s important.
Software engineer Tilde Pier of Pinterest says it best (emphasis ours):
The right to self-identify in a way that fits you is a basic human right. Most people see gender as binary, and are more or less comfortable in one of the boxes. For folks who don’t, even small things such as finding a bathroom you can use comfortably are a struggle. Online spaces are particularly important for gender-variant folks. The relative anonymity and privacy of the internet makes it possible to explore and play with aspects of one’s identity in ways that aren’t possible in the physical world. Anything we can do to make Pinterest and other sites a safer space for marginalized groups of people is important.
Why use Axe when you can use… beer? We can’t think of anything more burly-man friendly. Carlsberg’s Beer Beauty Series for Men uses yeast, hops and barley to produce shampoo, conditioner, and lotion for the ale-swigging Viking bear in you.
You don’t have to tell anyone these products are packed with vitamin B and silicium, which are basically party enhancers for hair and skin. Instead, focus on the fact that each product contains a real half-liter of modern-day man-mead: "The beer is freeze-dried into a powder, and then mixed with organic ingredients in order to create a unique series of products,“ says brewmaster Erik Lund.
Get you some at the appropriately-named ThirstforGreat.com. The packaging’s pretty, right? We can smell the hops from here.
Here it is people. That magical edition just shy of our 100th. Feel the specialness as we rant rage rant our way through your ears. Darryl transcends to his other Darryl, thanks Destiny! The rest? Why, chock full of AdVerve hallmarks: Audio issues early on – hey, the internet Skype audio thing hasn’t been solved by Apple Music – and our legendary ability to prolong the start like Tarantino. But then, it wouldn’t be us otherwise. Listen you some.
What better way to gauge a waterproof mascara than over a ‘Titanic’ screening?
That’s how McCann Mexico demonstrated the durability of L’Oréal’s product—by inviting 100 women to a makeover, followed by a screening of the epic tear-jerker (we recently rewatched it. It still holds up!).
They were then treated to before-and-after-the-movie shots of their faces so they could gauge for themselves how the mascara held up.
An effective test by any means, assuming the vast majority of these chicks haven’t watched Revolutionary Road (which is like a nightmarish imagining of how Leo and Kate’s relationship would have progressed if she’d just given him some room on the goddamn plank. Spoiler: It also ends in a death).
For HSBC, Grey London’s produced the wordless and poetic “Lift”. Set to Yann Tiersen’s Comptine d’un autre été - l’après midi (which you might recognise from Amelie), the piece follows one man over 40 years … in an elevator!
We start in 1974, the day he launches his company and rents his first office space. He enters the lift, giddy and idealistic, and the next few decades play out like the smooth transition from one floor to the next.
This is an especially poignant choice: We spend so much time in elevators that it’s easy to see them as witnesses to our passing lives. And in a few clever shots, we witness both small moments—like that one time he thought a beard was a good idea—and big ones, like the growth of his family.
In the aggregate, you see the evolution of his company story—the fits and starts, the first stirrings of a complicated culture, and how the priorities of our founder change as the decades do.
In one moment, which passes so quickly you’ll miss it if you blink, he sinks to the elevator floor and cradles his head, dejected in an old trenchcoat. It is resonant and emotional, reminiscent of nights like that we’ve shared.
But time is cruel, and days keep passing. You watch the birth of a sustainable idea, the return of hope. A few frames later, he’s laughing with Asian businessmen (perhaps a revealing choice, nagging thoughts about which are the only splinter keeping us from full-fledged ad fandom. Hat-tip to Nii Ahene and Julien Viel, who apparently can’t sleep if I’m enjoying something with too much abandon).
The corporate costumes get finer: His suits attentively tailored, his choice of eyeglasses more refined. Next thing we know, he and his wife are salt-and-pepper grayed. His face has changed dramatically, bearing the quiet confidence of experience and relative security, and we finally get to follow him into the international corporation he’s built.
The insight here is great: To establish itself as the best choice for your Big Business Venture (despite the awkward aforementioned), HSBC closes with “It’s never just business.”
It’s such a small thing to say, but it cuts deep. We’re always being told our personal and professional lives should be separate, yet we all know—deep inside, where it counts—this isn’t really possible. Whether or not we like the work we do, we express something of our selves in the doing of it. Often it is deeply personal.
More so for entrepreneurs, whose blood and dreams go into the startups they gently shape and try holding steady against conflicting currents. We pray for success so we can worry less about surviving tomorrow, and with success comes larger fears: Suddenly you’re sustaining families. It’s a whole different burden, one you can never easily lift, but one that, like our man, you might learn to live peacefully with.
This is stirring work whose elegance is equaled by its pragmatism: The story is universal and requires little context to understand. And lack of narrative means it’ll easily slide into many countries as-is. It’s nice to see such a cultivated balance between both romance and practicality. To run a business, you need both. (HSBC, seriously though, ahem.)
To #FeedtheGood, Pedigree takes us on a hopeful walk
It’s often terrible what we do to dogs. Loyal to a fault, they’re subject to our prejudices and sometimes even asked to fight ugly human battles (Exhibit A).
Speaking of the latter, by now it’s inarguable that since Trayvon Martin, the rage fuelling unspeakable racial tensions has blossomed to the surface of the American consciousness like a bloodstain, erupting most recently, and most dramatically, in Baltimore. In “The Walk”, Pedigree uses this state to illustrate something that is just as human as our compulsion to divide: The hope that kindness will win out and ultimately better connect us.
The ad follows a grumpy old white guy walking his dog in a minority-rich neighbourhood. His disdain for his neighbours—and maybe his fellow man in general—is obvious. So things don’t seem all that sunny when he approaches an oncoming, wary-faced black kid walking his pitbull.
But the ice cracks between them when they see how their dogs interact (for once in a way that doesn’t erupt in hysterical barking). Instant connectedness. The closer: “Dogs bring out the good in us. Pedigree brings out the good in them. Feed the good.”
It’s difficult and ill-advised for advertisers to wade into this boiling pot, but we’ve rarely seen a treatment so delicately executed and moment-relevant, even if the “Pedigree” at the end smacks soundly of opportunism. Can we blame them if we need it? Though to be fair, this ad would have served Pedigree better if it were only meant to remind us of one more thing that brings us together—without the marketing message.
Crises and tragedies are always tasteless times to advertise, but good times to use platforms of privilege to contribute something important—just for the sake of it, because we are all human and want the same things in the end.
The objective was to get people to think about them whenever they have a virus, so it decided to declare war on anything that could go viral—including videos. The company purchased a bunch of unskippable pre-roll ads, which pop up whenever you’re trying to watch content that is currently going viral. To stop the spread, an awkward medic proceeds to do the most annoying things he can think of. (Think terrible accordion- and harmonica-playing.)
The ad won’t help you save puppies, but we like that there are advertisers out there who are looking at the mechanics of social networking (like “Skip Ad”) and manipulating them to produce something that surprises people. Work by Fitzgerald & Co.
Storytelling songs will steal your soul, every damn time.
Alliteration aside, everyone has a story, but not everyone and certainly not every brand can tell theirs, let alone well. The Black Cadillacs beg to differ. Combining a love for travel-related campaigns and the latest debate over storytelling rewards you with a nice window into the soul of Memphis and Last Song to Memphis. WE’VE BEEN THERE AND IT’S SOULFUL. Dig on the interactive path as you pick your next destination while rolling down the highway, with meandering acoustic precision riding shotgun.
The first-ever album that can only be heard in the woods.
If a tree falls in the forest, and no one’s around to hear it, does it make a sound?
The answer to that is no, but that is of no relevance to you. Because if you wanted to hear John Moose’s debut album before anyone else did, you had to be in the forest.
You would have heard the tree. And you would also have experienced an album-drop arguably cooler than Beyoncé’s casual Instagram surprise (because anything Beyoncé drops, any-fucking-where, will be heard, which can’t be said for a group of Swedes who’ve never made a record before).
Some albums are meant to be experienced in a certain time and place. This can certainly be said for the music of John Moose (look how pretty!). So to ensure that people heard their music in the proper context, last month they released a mobile app that gave access to their entire debut album, prior to release, for free.
The catch: The app uses GPS to ensure you’re in a woody region. Only then can you score the music.
It’s a deceptively simple idea, executed in a smart way. It gives journalists a great story from both a creative and technical standpoint, and it gives fans a deeper sense of artist intimacy: They can relish in the fact that the environment they’re listening in was as carefully considered as the music, which engages them in ways both sensory and physical.
Bonus: It’s a lovely, non-preachy way to draw man closer to nature—and it was done through the Trojan Horse of our always-on, ever-present technology. All the high fives, John Moose. All the high-fives.
Israel’s BEKOL punts hearing aids like beauty products
For National Hearing Day,the Organization for the Hard of Hearing in Israel (BEKOL) released an ad that seeks to dispell the shame people feel when they have to buy hearing aids… by selling them like cosmetics.
The idea has legs, but we found the execution heavy-handed: There were awkward production moments (like uncomfortably long camera stares by the actress), and—a cardinal sin of storytelling—the terrible compulsion to narrate what they were doing while doing it: “You’re not embarrassed to use products to keep your skin young; don’t be embarrassed to also use items that support the quality of your hearing.”
It seemed a bit preachy and facile. Either they didn’t trust the idea enough, or they didn’t trust the audience enough. Which is too bad, because like we said: The idea has promise. Better luck next time, guys.
Responding to Russia’s decision to ban beef, pork and cheese hailing from the European Union, vendor Don Giulio of Verona launched an outdoor ad that uses facial recognition technology to punt the punishable products to ordinary people. When a cop walks by, the ad slides up, revealing an anodyne promotion for a Matryoshka shop.
We seriously doubt facial recognition technology would recognise a person’s profession or uniform. But the video tells it like it wants to: The ad does indeed slide up when an official-looking chap walks by—even though, for it to function, the guy’s so close that he’s already seen the forbidden goods.
Still, local citizens had a good time taking the quiet piss out of befuddled officers. We suspect that that was the real intention. Ballsy!
On Fury Road, the car washes spit you out dirtier.
Toronto’s Lowe Roche plugged Mad Max: Fury Road by transforming part of downtown Toronto into its post-apocalyptic future: Think coloured smoke grenades, pyrotechnics and a shit-ton of scrap metal. Smack in the middle of the action was the Dusty Car Wash, where your car is doused in dirt, then trace-designed by artists for a proper Mad Max finish. Drums, guitarist and War Boys not included.
Penguin’s partnered with the creators of The Gentlewoman and Fantastic Man (possibly the best men’s magazine name of all time) to create The Happy Reader, a quarterly rag dedicated to lovers of books.
This edition, the second so far, includes a sprawling interview with Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon. The rag is also riddled with delightful little tidbits that readers will love—like an “overheard”-style section featuring people referring to books in funny or interesting ways. (To wit: An old woman who lifts up a copy of 50 Shades of Grey and says she heard it was “lovely”.)
The magazine also manages to be edifying and tasty without ever feeling elitist or pedantic—a hard line to walk when you’re geeking out on books.
The best part? Because this is technically a gigantor ad for Penguin, all it costs you is postage and shipping. Order it here. Go be happy.
One thing that’s cool about Game of Thrones, the epic telenovela of our times, is how it’s rekindled a fervent interest in medieval history.
This Alex Gendler video helps highlight the books’ roots… and, for many fans, will mark the first time they’ve willingly learn anything about The War of the Roses.
History class hasn’t have done the subject justice. This century-long war, fraught with bitter rivalry between multiple families (whose GoT counterparts are helpfully outlined in the video), is rife with betrayal, political scheming and at least one Robb Starkian leap for love… kinda like your garden variety office, actually.
If the subject’s whet your appetite, you can also read about the historical basis for The Red Wedding: Two instances in Scottish history, respectively dubbed the Black Dinner and the Glencoe Massacre, per George R.R. Martin himself.
Apple Watch’s “Us” is a wordless, poetic piece that travels through a constellation of adult relationships—their happy, hopeful beginnings, their highs and lows, their long-distance moments and quiet togetherness.
Maybe by necessity, because the Watch is, after all, a distance communications device, its many protagonists spend a lot of time in transit, a stunningly faithful depiction of what many of our lives look like now.
Technology has made it so that we can spend more time working at home if we like, but we’ve often interpreted that as freedom to travel further—not just from home but from one another. Devices like the Apple Watch promise to make those gaps feel smaller, and to make acts of reconciliation easier… even if they have to be made via text.
Integration of the Watch in this menagerie of stories feels natural, with more or less realistic use-cases that showcase ease of text message readability and nifty little functions, like big beating hearts and a handwritten, animated “hi”, that express more than a static emoticon. The fact that you keep it on your wrist, that much closer to your skin than a phone, adds a layer of intimacy that you can feel in these quiet moments between lovers’ texts.
It’s probably trite and silly to infuse what’s essentially a very expensive add-on tech gimmick—that sends prettier texts, pays bills, and opens hotel room doors!—with so much emotion. But it works, because it’s speaking to how so many relationships function today. We are far-flung and anchored by benevolent machines. There’s a certain kindness in “Us” that acknowledges this and suggests that doesn’t make our commitments less meaningful.
Work by Apple’s in-house marketing team and TBWA/MAL. You can also check out “Rise”, a meditation on how the Apple Watch facilitates our morning routines, and “Up”, which is about how it responds to our quaking need to be more physically active.
Game of Thrones fans will no doubt remember Viserys Targaryen from Season One. You know, the one who sold Daenarys into marriage and died, like they all do.
Anywho, the guy who plays him, Harry Lloyd, has made a web series called “Supreme Tweeter”. We like it because it revolves around two things:
1) How fucking hard it is to ever get a gig again after being Viserys Targaryen from GoT
2) How bafflingly important it’s become for celebs to support their shows with Twitter savvy. Did you know the Scandal cast livetweets their show? Srsly.
Another big plus to the web series is that it does appear Lloyd started his Twitter account fairly recently (December 3rd). Also, both George R.R. Martin and Maisie Williams make a cameo in the first ep. Kim Jong-Un kinda does too if you consider that a Twitter follow from him is like feeling his heavy hand on your shoulder.
Anyway, fun series. Watch it between GoT droughts, and feel a tiny bit sated.
So much good content out lately! Check out this list (bottom of the article) to score more web yummies if you’re thirsty for shows but mighty short on attention.
Created by mcgarrybowen to plug Honda’s 2015 CR-V, the video uses real-time data to reflect your location’s time of day and weather conditions — not an easy feat. Also, it’s set to that little Kill Bill whistle, which somehow contributes to the looping nausea you’ll feel once you’ve been watching for awhile.
We know we’re swinging off Mad Men’s nuts right now, but this vid from Vanity Fair was too much to resist. In less than four minutes, it carries you through Don Draper’s trajectory from Season 1 to the end of the first half of Season 7 via all the social networks we know and love. Including PornHub.
Also, you get to see him lurk all over Megan’s FB pics. FUN TIMES.
Mad Men’s Facebook page posted this today in preparation for the last half of its last season. Not to be cheesy, but it really does feel like we’re preparing for a funeral, doesn’t it? Guess we’ll finally see whether the conspiracy theories are true and someone really does plummet off the balcony. Whether or not we’re ready to let go is another story … but hey, that’s what Blu-Ray and Popcorn Time (for us #basicbitches) are for.
If you’re a hardcore fantasist, you can also try reliving three-martini lunchtimes on your own. But, barring a few exceptions, you will literally be on your own. See you on the other side (death pun only semi-intentional).
With help from Grey, Volvo’s released LifePaint, a product you can spray onto your bicycle, coat, helmet or other gear. The paint is invisible in the daytime, but is highly reflective at night under the glare of car headlights.
We dig it because it’s human-first and brand-relevant, reinforcing Volvo’s historic reputation as safety-focused and taking it further: It cares about the safety of people generally, not just Volvo owners. Of course, there’s an incidental interest for Volvo owners: They, too, are less likely to hit a driver by night.
This provides a neat exercise in thinking not only about user issues, but also about how to preempt issues before they arise. It doesn’t always have to be an improvement to your product or service. It can be an improvement that alters the ecosystem in which it’s performing—which ultimately also benefits you. (Comes with a nice halo effect, too.)
Inspired by Interstellar, Google Play’s partnered with Paramount Pictures to release a documentary-style short film called EMIC. Named for the anthropological term for cultural analysis, it’s made up of videos curated—by director Christopher Nolan himself!—from over 8,000 global submissions, and is a visual time capsule of life on earth in the 21st century.
To promote the last half of Mad Men’s last-ever season, AMC’s released the Mad Men Carousel app, which does something small but powerful for longtime fans who are already looking back on their favourite moments in the show.
Remember Don Draper’s stirring Kodak pitch from Season 1? The one where he talks about the impact of nostalgia and uses photos from his own rapidly-vanishing family life to sell that projector? This tiny little app throws us back into that scene, and plugs a selection of your own Facebook photos into the slideshow.
For us, it was a great way to relive one of the strongest moments in a series we’ve loved. It was also a sometimes-neat, mostly-awkward way to relive moments the Carousel randomly selected from our own lives. (Mostly crooked shots of people with their mouths open.)
It was unsettling, at best, to watch Don gaze longingly at that one shot of my cousin kind of touching my boob. But the app, however random and thoughtless in its choices, did its job: It wed me into his universe, if only for a few seconds. We’ll all miss you, brilliant, sad Don.
Does your safety belt match your shoes? Air France dresses up its safety vid
With help from BETC, Air France follows in the footsteps of Virgin, Delta and Air New Zealand to remix their safety vid. This chicer, choreographed version, backed by Glass Candy’s “Warm in the Winter”, goes in-flight in April.
To its credit, Air France knows it’s not a funny airline, so it doesn’t shoot for belly laughs or big wow factors. It’s an airline whose reputation relies on a certain visual je ne sais quoi, and it banks heavily on the French reputation for understated class. (For those of you who are choking right now, it might be best to chase the vid with a review of Flight of the Conchords’ “Foo Doo Fa Fa”, which makes light of these same tropes.)
So the video—in both French and English—features little touches about how the seatbelt will not only protect you, but also “elegantly highlight your waistline”. There’s even a smidgen of the peer pressure for which Paris in particular is famous: It’s chic! to avoid bringing cigarettes or other smoking apparatus on-air. As for electronic devices, set them on airplane mode “because it is trendy here”. (The French version is even more direct, with a perfect translation quite literally admonishing you to “be trendy during this flight!” and put your goddamn iPad away.)
But what really killed us was the sashay across the illuminated evacuation path. Taking an example from the last words of Cyrano de Bergerac, even in death the Air France flyer will hold fast to her panache.
To promote season three of the curiously modern Psycho prequel Bates Motel, French crime thriller network 13ème Rue’s launched Derrière Le Mur (”behind the wall”).
The experience lets you peep through a hotel wall and into the world of the show, just like resident 17-year-old creeper Norman Bates (who grows up to, well … you know). Once finished, you’ll also get to watch the first episode of the new season for free.
Imagineered by Darewin, the agency I work for. So what are you waiting for?! Switch your webcam on and lean in. Because the world provides so few opportunities to play the voyeur, and in this case you can say you’re testing movement recognition technology.
Bored with all those “Keep Calm & Carry On” posters? Looking to express your homemaking creativity in a way that’s actually unique?
Swedish agency House of Radon’s launched Onehundredforty, a Kickstarter project that takes one of your own tweets and transforms it into a unique piece of frameable artwork.
How it works: The project takes your tweet and transforms it into binary code to artfully display your text. There are over 5000 different design outcomes, ensuring your work is one-of-a-kind—design-wise and philosophy-wise (because you wouldn’t choose an RT for this, would you…?!).
Nice work here from a creative house looking to show it lives and breathes its passion, even off-brief. If you support it, toss some change into the pot. A $25 pledge scores you first-tester status and a tote bag (not including the cost of the print).
On the heels of a Gap microseries, Comedy Central’s using Instagram as its platform of choice for a new short-form show. Plot Twistagram will release one episode a week in a choose-your-own-adventure format: At the end of each ep, producers ask fans to submit ideas for the next episode’s plot in the comments section. Showrunners then produce their favorite one.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, a new Netflix show that we basically ate all in one night, has an Autotune opening theme that’s been stuck in our heads for the last three days. We dig it because it shows how pop Web culture leaks into the world of TV shows, and Indiewire’s got a cool story on how it came about.
Basically, NBC had first option on Unbreakable and decided not to take it, so co-creators Tina Fey (of unisex-beloved Mean Girls fame!) and Robert Carlock took it to Netflix (disclaimer: client), where ideas that won’t fly on network TV get greenlit with an “ain’t no thang”.
Another cool thing: The Autotune theme is introduced as part of the story in the first ep. A handful of girls in an apocalypse cult get rescued from a bunker, where they’ve spent the last 15 years, convinced the world was over. To add colour, reporters interview a neighbour, Walter Bankston, whose testimony serves as the basis for the final product.
Check out his “original interview”, the one that the internet in the universe of the show “uses” as the basis for a remix. (It isn’t seen in the show, which jumps right into the Autotune version. Easter eggery!)
Per the Gregory Brothers:
“They asked us to work on that video so that it had the look and feel and sound of something we might do on YouTube … The music and melody for the show theme was already composed by [Fey’s husband] Jeff Richmond, so we were able to come in and augment it, and add key elements of songification to achieve maximum catchiness.”
To promote the film Unfinished Business, Twentieth Century Fox joined forces with Getty’s iStock to create a passel of funny office-related stock photos featuring Vince Vaughn and co-stars like Dave Franco and Tom Wilkinson. 12 images total are available to download for free for a limited time—as long as they’re used for editorial purposes. Have at it.
One of my clients just went live and it can help ease your withdrawal symptoms. Looklive.com lets you shop the looks of all the main characters in Season 3 (not to mention previous seasons). Search by actor, character or show. And if you can’t afford the real stuff (like the Ralph Lauren gown above), it presents less-pricey alternatives alongside them.
Check it out. And if House of Cards ain’t your bag, that’s cool—they’ve already indexed the top shows, Hollywood stars and, increasingly, athletes in the US.
There were a few stipulations she had written into his standard contract that Mark had balked at: lemon rounds, not wedges; hypoallergenic makeup; fair-trade green tea. These, she explained, were gives—items that he was not to insist upon, which lack of insistence would make him seem like a much more reasonable person than his contract made him out to be.
— Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, David Shafer
Here's a neat story: Van Halen was renowned for having a stringent, vaguely insane and crazy-detailed contract, one of whose stipulations included the demand that the band be provided with a bowl of M&Ms with the brown ones picked out. If a single brown M&M was found, Van Halen could cancel the concert at the full expense of the promoter—right then and there.
This is usually told as an anecdote to illustrate how debauched and ridiculous rock-stardom had become. But there was actually a really good reason the clause existed.
Van Halen's concerts included some of the most complex and advanced pyrotechnics of any show at that time. A successful show required a number of safety precautions and precise technical measures.
If the band found brown M&Ms in the bowl, chances were high that the contract hadn't been read. It significantly increased the likelihood of an onstage accident or technical failure.
Even after six years in France, it's hard to shake off the metrics that used to drive me: Start a company. Get rich in five years. Vacations waste time. Weigh every moment against your net worth.
A good friend who's enjoyed more success than I have, lived longer than I have, and is now fighting a much tougher battle than I am, recently told me that money, power and stuff make no difference in the scheme of things. What he cares about now is leaving ripples of happiness among the people he loves—making a difference to them.
And it isn't just an insular thing. Even in his work, he seeks to be a force for good.
I was moved by this. But knowing he's fundamentally right is insufficient to unteach years of conditioning.
I try to be a force for good in my work: To lift people up, share credit, see opportunities to help. But today I thought, What if every day I did a small, enriching thing? Something that improves the lot of a stranger and doesn't just improve my work environment or fuel my socnets? So today I left a book on the train. I read it, I liked it, and I happened to be carrying it with me. It seems small and insignificant but I'm weird about books; I have always needed to own them. I like touching the spines on my shelf. They benchmark my life. They're my great treasures.
One less thing for me, one more enriching thing for somebody else. It's a baby step. But it's a reminder of how little I need and how much I can give. Doing it once is insufficient; it's one of those things worth relearning every day.
I think that's what makes us better—the act of taking a lesson and manifesting it physically, as often as possible, until it simply becomes nature: A thing that ripples into everything we do. To change, it's important to undo even the small things that make us who we've been. It's only old skin.
My hope is that with time and the aggregation of these small acts, my metrics will change. My vision of success will change. And I'll no longer feel the compulsion to gauge how well I'm doing by how much of anything I have—not money or posterity or the capacity to disrupt. It will have been enough to be a force for good—to have been curious, to have learnt about other people and enriched the place where I was, and to have passed those pieces along.
I'm just a word in a very small chapter in the very short story of humanity—a story the universe, in its vastness and indifference, will not even realise occurred. Life is an accident that will end in a flutter.
Today, the nostalgia for pre-Internet life is pervasive. What was it like back then, wandering around in an eternally unknowing state, scrounging for bits of information? Is what we get out of a performance today any different now than it was then? No, it’s the same thing: the need for transcendence, or maybe just a distraction—a day at the beach, a trip to the mountains—from humdrum life, boredom, pain, loneliness. Maybe that’s all performance ever was, really. An unending kiss—that’s all we ever wanted to feel when we paid money to hear someone play.
—Kim Gordon, Girl in a Band
Some music I fall in love with at first hearing, a phenomenon limited to what I've been exposed to culturally and have a natural preference for. Much of the music I love isn't stuff I grew up with. I discovered them by accident—but rarely by ear.
Most came from books.
I wouldn't have known how to understand, how to appreciate, the full body of The Beatles' work without reading Here, There and Everywhere by Geoff Emerick, one of two Beatles books I picked up and started perusing while bored at a friend's house as a teenager. I would never have found Sonic Youth if not for Kim Gordon's Girl in a Band, which I bought on impulse after reading her interview in The Happy Reader. She has so much soul. And were it not for Ben Fong-Torres, I would never have discovered Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground. These would have all been terrible losses.
Years ago I read a study that found only 6% of self-proclaimed music enthusiasts care about the words in the music they listen to. I am part of that 6%, and in the worst way—it's often words that get me to music in the first place. I cannot separate a melody from the people, their story, their words. The place where my unending kiss begins is inextricably tied to that great totem of pre-internet life: In a book.
No more Internet. No more social media, no more scrolling through litanies of dreams and nervous hopes and photographs of lunches, cries for help and expressions of contentment and relationship-status updates with heart icons whole or broken, plans to meet up later, pleas, complaints, desires, pictures of babies dressed as bears or peppers for Halloween. No more reading and commenting on the lives of others, and in so doing, feeling slightly less alone in the room. No more avatars.
Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven
Station Eleven is a story about the end of civilization as we know it, and in reading it I traversed every emotion I expected: Terror, fear, deep sadness, loss, pain, guilt, hope.
But when I read this paragraph, I felt only a fleeting loneliness, like a bird skimming across the surface of water. Below that—deep below, where things resonate and expand inside you—I felt envy. This world has become so naked and noisy, and part of me wondered if that profound desire for quiet, for a day that means more than a compulsive Instagram upload, is the reason why so many people nurture only-half-jokey zombie apocalypse fantasies.
When I was little I used to write a lot. On our old computer (“Four gigs of ROM!” my mother cried, “You couldn’t fill that your whole life!”), I zapped out over two feet of floppy discs, filling them with stories about children who time-travel and a girl who saves Mars. They slid easily into the hundreds of pages, until my mother threw her hands up in frustration and shouted, “Just kill them!”
My mother yells a lot.
I never could finish properly, but it hardly mattered. What mattered was that I wrote every single goddamn day. And because I’d developed that habit, the words came like water when I sat down to do the work. It flowed. It was good.
I’ve been trying to find my way back to that river ever since, but when you’re older, it’s harder. You start questioning your work. You become convinced you didn’t research enough, haven’t experienced enough to produce living people from ink and breathe life into their two-dimensional bodies, like God blowing substance into clay.
(Remember when it was so easy? Remember when you were twelve and all you had to do was ask your Iranian friend, “Hey, what’s a common Iranian girl’s name?”, and then you could write an Iranian character that satisfied you enough? Knowing the name gave her mystery, an accent, the dark eyes that described to you her dark past. No more.)
Then you become convinced that you can’t write because you don’t have the right tools. So you buy books about writing. So many books! Stacks, and you’ve picked up maybe one, because the voices of other writers in your head, giving you their subjective “tips”, irks you.
Then notebooks—one after the other, sometimes you fill them, sometimes you don’t, but all you learn from that is to get fickle about paper quality. I can only write in a Leuchtturm1917, it’s the smoothest. Also it’s German, and the Germans think of nice touches like page numbers and table of contents sections. Can’t live without those again.
Then it’s all about the pen: Pilot fine-tips first, then Uni-Ball Jetstreams, then you graduate to a smooth maroon Sheaffer fountain pen made specifically for left-handed people. A delightful instrument. Too bad it inks you all over your hand, and inside your handbag, and it’s hell writing on cards with because you’re always smearing, smearing.
A typewriter, maybe? The best writers rode hard, lugged their Olympia SMs or their Hermes 3000s everywhere, slugged whiskey, changed ink cartridges around and carried reams and reams of paper. Threw out and rewrote the ones they didn’t like, or maybe just made typos on.
So much ribbon and paper and ink. And to produce what?
A short story once in awhile, when you take a weekend writer’s workshop, once or twice a year. Then the fragments of something longer, something that betrays you and flies off to finish itself with a better, faster writer. The bitch. Then you manage to produce one thing in a fit of rage one sleepless night—but it’s too personal, you can’t let anyone read that ever, because then you’ll betray everyone you know and also everyone will learn how much you love yourself. How very much.
So one day in March, on one of these soul-chases, I picked up Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Writing’s like a marathon, he says. It’s solitary. It requires discipline. It’s a long game. And I took up running, because I thought it would help me write.
But then my knee started to hurt, so I bought stability shoes and knee wraps. And I realised I only had one sportsbra, so I bought more, and since I was on Nike.com anyway, and there was a sale, I bought a whole runner’s wardrobe: Everything needed for fall, spring, summer, winter.
Even the padded breathable socks. Such good socks! You can get two runs out of them before throwing them into the wash.
I ran for about six months, then the pain came back into my leg, so I bought another pair of shoes. Then that pair gave out, so I went to a podologist and got specially-made soles, ones that ensure my shoes last longer because these bad-boys will hold out.
In short, I became a runner. And in that time—one year of buyer’s hijinks, of gathering the perfect accoutrements and watching runners’ YouTube videos!—I wrote plenty of words, lots of fragments of things, but still never finished anything. I can’t get past my own head. I can’t see past the callous, tiresome but sexy world of advertising, can’t see past the neuroses that keep me comparing myself to another account director or strategist or copywriter. Maybe one day when I’m retired and fuck-you rich, I think. But not today. I don’t deserve it yet.
In the meantime, I keep running, keep taking the weekend workshops once a year, keep buying Leuchtturm1917 notebooks, keep refilling the ink in my bleedy-ass Sheaffer pen. I drink whisky, I drink tea, I smoke. I read voraciously, in French and English, biographies and science books and literature—so much literature! I reread, to see how the books “work”. And I blog. About advertising. Small, pithy blogs about ad campaigns. People laugh, sometimes.
If a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory.
— Donella Meadows, Thinking in Systems: A Primer
To transform, it isn't enough to just undo what we've done. We have to tear out the very roots of how we think. Our deepest beliefs are so insidious, so difficult to divide from our very selves, that we have to remake that decision every day: Plough, sow, tear out the old ideas that so readily strangle what's only a seed today, the birth of your tomorrow self. We have to garden our minds with vigilance.
— Censor your voice. — Encourage journalists and artists to quit for safety’s sake. — Hate Muslims. It’s not them, it’s crazy people who’ve hijacked the vehicle that was most convenient at the time. — Avoid going outside and living. It’s what they think we deserve.
Things to do instead:
— Get angry, and use it to fight for your hard-won rights with your work, your art, your life. Many have died for them, and you can’t forsake those sacrifices. — Support your community. — Love your neighbours. Divide and conquer is a war strategy; we cannot and should not divide.
Heaven comprises of nothing save technicalities. There are eternal scribes devoted to the task of documenting such. They type every hour of every day without pause.
— Benjanun Sriduangkaew,Scale Bright
We've come to a point in time when it seems like everything is worth recording for some mysterious future purpose, from a profound thought to that one time I accidentally ate my hair. How will people 500 years from now sift through all this data? What actually gets the privilege of living on beyond our time, and representing it?
Just please don't let it be that one show where people get dropped naked on an island and have to survive for a month. I can already imagine how that will go: "In the 21st century, when we were developing the intimacy with technology from which we all profit today, people divested themselves of all worldly goods and competed to both catch and survive diseases that didn't even exist in civilisation any longer. For entertainment! Another common tradition of this time was 'planking', when people would record themselves balancing on their forearms and toes on increasingly dangerous surfaces, then broadcast the act on a widestreaming video channel called YouTube in exchange for as many views as possible. Sometimes they died."
Stories are dangerous. And I don’t mean stories whose messages are capable of endangering. I mean that the form itself is dangerous, not the content. You know what a metaphor is? A story sent through the super distillation of imagination. You know what a story is? An extended metaphor. We live in them. We live in this swirling mass of stories written by scribes hidden in some forgotten room up there in the towers. The day someone thought of calling pigeons flying rats was the day the fate of pigeons was sealed.
My 30th birthday happened and since then, every day has been #ThrowbackThursday for my mom. She's got a weird new picture of me out of the archives and onto the 'net every time I load Facebook.
Today's was this shot of me inside a suitcase. Its caption reads, "I knew baby Angel would be traveling a lot someday."
It isn't the first time I've seen this picture or heard that anecdote. My crawling into a suitcase probably had less to do with an early affinity for travel and more to do with the possibility that, like cats, toddlers enjoy crawling into things that can snugly enclose them, like a womb. (Go-to places for me included cabinets and crawlspaces, where I'd watch while The Adults searched for me with mounting hysteria. They would later buy me a rainbow-coloured leash.)
But we can't resist weaving threads through random snapshots like string through Chex. I've often worried that by doing this, we do ourselves a disservice: A story made up of unrelated parts takes on a life of its own, hardens into a kind of truth. And the "truth" I wanted to save, the truth getting lost in the anecdote, was, "I never planned to be a breezy globetrotter."
There's nothing really important about this truth. It's just the truth, so it's worth more. Isn't it...?
I think of this reflexive defensiveness against narrative as Big Fish syndrome. In the movie, a tight, super-rational guy battles with his dying father's tendency to pass epics off for truths. Most of the movie juxtaposes these lush legends against the son's efforts to find the small kernels of truth that remain, hidden somewhere in the details.* (I love the Siamese twins!) You know the rest: He can't change his dad, so if he wants to make peace with his death, he'll have to find a way to make peace with that grey area between the quantified "real" and the stories we invent.
But what makes us need to invent them?
In a 1973 interview with William Kennedy of The Atlantic, Gabriel Garcia Marquez was asked about his tendency to embed the surreal into otherwise "realistic" stories and settings. He replied, "In Mexico, surrealism runs through the streets. Surrealism comes from the reality of Latin America."
I loved this idea. As a child of Philippine immigrants, I know what it's like to straddle two worlds: One where reality is understood as what we can see and prove, and another where spirits throw mud at your car, meeting men as tall as an apple could spell death, and witch doctors can proffer cures that good San Francisco doctors can't.
Those two worlds easily become warring tribes. For a long time I embodied the conflict central to Big Fish, except that the father and his yarns were my family, whole traditions, sometimes even myself.
Ironically, what calmed this conflict was becoming an immigrant myself. We lack clarity about the future at the best of times; when you leave everything you knew and create a new reality, you're entering a parallel universe, one where you only resemble the person you left behind. You're naked and everything around you becomes incoherent: Unfamiliar rules, uncertainty about the order of "life steps", and even less visibility about where you're headed. Suddenly, it hits you how little of the future you actually control and how much of you is in the hands of others.
So you tell yourself stories. You start seeing signs in small gestures, patching moments together to produce a narrative about who you are and where you're headed. You revise your past, ever so slightly, and invent a trajectory that, when squinting, might resemble a destiny.
Stories are a survival instinct. They tell us who we are, where we're going. They tell us that, if we can just hold tight to the storyline, we can somehow control — or at least come to grips with — the outcome.
That's everything I thought when I opened Facebook and saw the picture of me in a suitcase, with its fond little caption, at the top of my newsfeed.
I knew baby Angel would be traveling a lot someday.
On the surface it's a loving mother's humblebrag. One level lower, and it's simply a statement about where I am (Paris), and where I was (in a suitcase in San Francisco). Descend again, and it's the hope my parents had for a prettier life for their hypothetical kids, where the possibility of travel, as much for pleasure as for work, would be more of a scheduling issue than a financial one. And at the lowest level, the deepest and the thickest one, it's the rippling of my mother's own story: How could a child of wanderers not wander?
It's so many stories, really. And stories aren't born out of the ether; each is a tiny promise of sanity that encourages you to go on changing, an insane quest to find beauty and reason in unmitigated chaos. Stories are the only means we have to survive the violence of evolution.
Why fight that?
*The "truths", or at least the realities lost in the stories, are very "meh". In the end, nobody cares about them. Did you know that in ancient history the common interpretation of truth in storytelling was completely different? There wasn't this Wikipedia-esque mania for having to recount things "as they truly happened". It was more like, "there's a truth we want to convey. So we're going to tell a story." Everyone accepted these stories for fact, not because the pieces of them were so important, but because the sum was. I learned that in Zealot, so thanks, Reza Aslan.
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I was my parents' first kid. This is a tough role: they were nervous and wanted to raise me well, and they filled me with all the things they learned to fear, in adulthood and in immigration. My success became first-priority; my capacity to think before acting, crucial.
In short, they wanted perfection. It was an impossible mission, one I could never fulfil, but I don't blame them for that. They thought it was the best way to keep me floating, like a cork in an uncertain world.
When they left me home alone, I memorised words from the dictionary. In the car with my dad, we listened to success tapes. I was put in Gifted and Talented programmes, taught music, and I learned to fold laundry like an employee at the Gap.
But there's one night that stays with me. It comes to me sometimes in exchanges with clients, or when watching superiors deal with assistants or interns. The night is this one:
I was doing the dishes. The dishes were porcelain and we'd had roast chicken, an especially oily meal. I'd been at the washing so long that there was almost no hot water left, making de-greasing long and tricky.
My dad came up behind me, picked up a just-washed plate lying in the rinser, and held it up. "This isn't even close to clean," he said. "Couldn't you tell? Can't you feel it with your fingers?!"
My dad is a big and powerful guy. He could look at you wrong and you'd shrink a foot. But when he yells, it's something out of hell.
He went on like that: What the hell is wrong with you? Don't you think? Are you lazy? Do you think you're the only one living here?
The shouting got louder. My mother came into the kitchen and folded her arms, watching silently. My hands started to shake, and I tried very hard to focus on the dishes. I scrubbed harder, and stared at the white of the porcelain until it blurred.
My dad kept yelling. And in one of those terrible betrayals that your body sometimes makes when it buckles before your mind does, I dropped a dish.
The yelling got worse. He hit me with his go-to rebuke: "Stop screwing up! Only people who don't think screw up. Stop it! Can't you think?!"
I dropped another dish. Then another. It was like a really loud waterfall. Tears rolled down my cheeks; the yelling didn't stop, and the pile of smashed porcelain at my feet got bigger and bigger. I started to have weird thoughts: think of all the elephant statues somebody could make with those. They'd look so sad, white elephants stitched together like quilts. They'd be greasy. The moment felt surreal; I started to slip out of myself, and still I kept dropping the goddamn dishes.
Finally my mother said, "You're killing her concentration. Stop yelling."
My dad stopped, took one last hot breath, and walked away. Eventually I stopped dropping dishes, but the fear that rose in me in that moment has never left.
I live in perpetual fear of making mistakes: disappointing people when I don't mean to, failing to think far enough ahead or consider all the variables involved. I'm working on this, because I know that I get really tense and freak out everyone around me, but it's work I have to redo every day. Mistakes always suck, but even small ones are hard; I repeat them in my mind for days, weeks, sometimes years.
Sometimes people treat employees like my dad treated me that night. I don't know what they're seeking to achieve when they do. Experience, and that moment in the kitchen, taught me it's ineffective and even traumatising; it doesn't improve the job people do later on, and it certainly doesn't improve matters in the moment. Whenever it happens, and however much I know it's not about me, I still can't help thinking: did I fail to do enough? Is something wrong with me? Am I a broken human who sucks at life? And even if those thoughts (or variants thereof) look productive, they aren't. They sit there, eating me inside like cancerous bits, erecting thick walls that slowly start closing in on whatever other — potentially creative, potentially useful — thoughts are left.
When I manage people I put myself in their place before addressing a disciplinary issue. I try not to make them feel worse than the situation calls for; I try to be kind. And I try, very hard, not to expect perfection. People fuck up. They fuck up worse when you put them on eggshells and make them question their roles, their careers, their very existence in the universe.
It is chilling, in fact, the similarity between alcoholism and good ol’ fashioned demonic possession, the kind seen in The Exorcist. Like the devil, an alcoholic just wants to hide in his room, curse God, puke on visitors, and die. Attempts to cast out either alcoholism or the devil get the same response: both demon and disease will deny they exist. And when exposed, both will try to make deals to survive, or threaten suicide, or lash out, or play dead. Alcoholism is well described as a sickness of the soul because it is in the soul that the alcoholic’s problem lies.
I wonder if Ibrahim’s palms were damp as he walked his son to the summit. Did he tell him they were going on a hike? Did he take water? I think he must have glared at the knife until his reflection was part of the blade. I think relief must have replaced his horror when he unsheathed his knife and recognized his face. He must have known that what he was to do was of such significance it had already become who he was, and so he offered both his son and himself to the kinzhal’s edge.
— A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Anthony Marra
I think the biggest lesson my dad wanted to teach me — the one he still regularly reinforces — is his firm belief that we become what we think about. Being an engineer, he acted on this concept the best way he knew how: by ensuring my input was as diverse as possible. On the day I was born he ordered the complete collection of Encyclopaedia Brittanica and accompanying Great Authors series. Every year he bought a new dictionary for my birthday. He made me write down and map goals, and he still sends me newsletters or ideas he finds edifying. His entire approach to the mind revolves around keeping the software up to date.
On some level I guess we know that idea to be true: a single thought, the suspicion of a thing, or the significance of some future event can so affect us that we get chills, can almost literally feel ourselves transforming.
Scientifically the idea is sound. I've read a lot lately that we can change our synaptic patterns based on actions, new habits, new input, even thoughts. Synaptic pathways define who we are, generally speaking, during those autopilot moments when you're just feeling and reacting to things.
So next time you find yourself snagged in a debate about determinism versus free will, you'll have an explanation for why it's neither and both.
Today in Things Media Bloggers Love that No One in the Real World Cares About, Telemundo's Peter Blacker called pirates "super-fans" and said they're wonderful to study, to help, and to use for optimising proprietary channels.
It was the most magnificent thing in all the world ... and it happened just three years after Matt Mason said companies should use BitTorrent to do just that.
SCENE: I return to the newsroom with stars in my eyes and twitchy livetweet-mangled hands.
Me: "I'm in love with Peter Blacker."
Stu: "Does this mean I can have Cécile Frot-Coutaz all to myself?"
Two days prior, we decided to be mutually in love with the CEO of FremantleMedia, who's whip-smart and deliciously bullish about OTTs like Netflix.
Me: "Yes. No... no, no, yes."
Stu: "We can have a double wedding."
Me: "Let's have a double wedding, then go on double dates until we die."
Stu: "This is not at all creepy." (Checks watch.) "It's Katzenberg time." (Smiles apologetically, then abandons me.)
The speakers are so good this year! I wish they had trading cards.
Stuart: "No. Although I guess I liked the idea of the men who've secretly admired a woman for a long time going on a date with that woman dressed as a rabbit. Oh, there's also the one where you try to stop a bull by grabbing it by the horns."
Meanwhile, on Twitter: "If you see the half-naked Wiccans pitching the sex cooking show we recently got pitched, DO let us know."
Marina's video started a worthy discussion about what it means to go viral. I really like Benoît Raphaël's distillation (sorry, it's in French): that she suffers from a culture that's increasingly less about creativity and more about numbers, a familiar refrain in any creative career. But Benoît also points out that creativity and viral ambitions are not mutually exclusive; the problem Next Media Animation has is that it's a victim of having produced what, at the time, was an innovative model, and it's spent the last three years beating that horse dead.
NMA's rebuttal drove me to this article on Gawker, where a spokesman speaks honestly about Marina's departure and how it affected the company, and invites people to ask questions about how things really go on at NMA. I won't defend what he says about its 9-to-5 policy, overtime compensation or the trips and opportunities they offered Marina over the course of her time there. Departures are complex; there is never really one reason, or even two, and anyway we can't really know how she lived that professional experience.
But it was nonetheless heartfelt, worthy of reading, and it got me thinking about our responsibility in the viral equation. Questions of creativity and numbers (primarily producer/client concerns) aside, we also endorse and condemn when we share without taking a second to think about the complete ramifications of that small, not-so-trivial act.
Onto the personal (the UNCENSORED!, if you will). I don't write here much anymore, and there are lots of reasons for that, but here are the big ones:
I'm doing more strategy work lately, which I really love
It's been a long time since I've been able to sit and distill whatever it is I'm experiencing
A few years ago I was doing the hardcore-blogger loop: 16-20 articles a day under tight deadlines. Like Marina, the people responsible for publishing my material put me under a lot of pressure to perform under growing demand, with fewer and fewer resources. It was around that time that writing started to feel less like a calling than a chore, and that I started seriously thinking about exiting the will-blog-for-food lifestyle.
Online blog/journalism is thankless, ephemeral and robotic; I've critiqued ads and written long articles that I don't even remember because my output was so high. So I decided to change course: focusing more on teaching companies how to express themselves online, building fulfilling and meaningful identities, instead of pumping words out at an Olympic pace.
I'm finally at the point where I do more strategy than blogging (although I do still copywrite, which is simultaneously more creative and more chill). But I miss taking the time to synthesise what I'm seeing and experiencing. It's an important activity, both for me and for people who care about the media, tech and ad industries. So I'm hoping that eventually I'll write more — and more importantly, to write things worth reading.
There are small, sporadic moments when I'll succeed — like today. And like today, I'll share those moments with you. I hope those moments become more frequent, and that you go on reading.
We're a breath away from Cannes Lions, and it's usually around this time that everybody starts wondering what The Point of this conference (or even our jobs!) is. Is it Awards? Notoriety? The Networking* that may lead to a Better Job, Awards and Notoriety?
I'm in freelance. We get no Awards and probably no Notoriety (unless maybe we write a book). So for me, The Point has to be something else.
I've been working in freelance for nearly seven years, only the last four of which involved Real Agency Work. One of the biggest things I learned when I actually got inside was how hard it is to do work you're proud of. All the vitriol people lobbed at me for critiquing their babies on Adrants suddenly made sense: when you've got crazy clients (vague briefs but high standards!), a political agency system, a fixed budget, and a pile of conviction-laden creatives in the mix, you just wanna go home at night.
You don't want some coffee-fueled CPG epiphany to be your fucking cross to bear. Not when there's sleep to be had and children to (almost) watch grow up. Because this industry? It takes your whole life: complete sacrifice for cereal slogans, holding company positioning statements and the merits of Flash versus HTML5. If you go Joan of Arc every time things go pear-shaped, you really will lose your shit.
A certain freedom comes with the uncertainty of freelance. All that hopped-up agency madness? You can enjoy it for the lifecycle of a project, then peace out and take a nap. You can travel. You can do sports. If you're stuck on something, you can move onto another, then come back to it. You can say, "Catch you later, I'm going to Cannes Lions -- FOR MY BLOG!" and nobody can say "SIT YOUR ASS DOWN, THERE ARE NO AWARDS WAITING FOR YOU."**
Professionally, freelancers may not be part of a big agency network, but we do form groups: clients and other freelancers we look forward to seeing randomly throughout the year. It's more Lost Boys than Ogilvy, but it's people we like -- not the prickly ones you secretly hate and have to deal with every day until somebody finally leaves.
And it isn't just work relationships that bloom. I once thought there was no time for more than 3 reasonably good relationships in a life, but now the world seems full of people to go to dinner with, learn things from, collaborate with, and plan last-minute weekend picnics with. At any given time I feel a deep, meaningful intimacy with all of them. They aren't just local: with Viber, Gchat, iMessage, Twitter and Facebook, I feel intimately connected with people far away. Like my sisters. (Although the distance probably helps them like me more.)
The biggest tradeoff, though, is having to make your own success metric. It's hard to find; at an agency, you do a pipeline of good-to-great things, win awards, get promoted and maybe someday you'll be ECD. I don't deny I'd like that, and often wish I was drawing closer to (instead of farther from) it.
Now, work changes day by day; it's stuff that challenges and that I enjoy, so I don't question it or wonder what it's building to. But that Big Question -- what's the next step? -- seems secondary now.
At this point I feel strangely okay not knowing its answer. I realised today that while the projects are important, it's in great part because the people I've managed to cultivate in the Darwin Dice Toss of Freelance are so good. As long as I have time for them, and they for me, life seems full -- generous, even. The Bottom Line is no longer the metric, but it seems to take care of itself: it's hard to drown when there are so many hands around to grab you.
Then I thought, maybe this is The Point. The Point of Social: what we should be telling brands in the first place. The money, the endless search for more ways to penetrate a "consumer occasion", and the mind-numbing hammering of TV ads are not The Point. The people you can really touch, truly befriend, mean something to? That's where it is.
To make those connections, there are risks to take: a certain giving of yourself so that people can see what your insides are like. But in the commercial arena, that seven pounds of flesh will be withdrawn with or without your consent; it may as well be on your terms. Isn't it worth it? Because then you don't have to be scared. There'll be so many hands that you simply won't drown; at the worst of times they'll drag you kicking and screaming forward. They'll never lose faith if they can trust that you'll remember what The Point is.
Going into Cannes Lions, that enormously drawn-out stomach pump of an event, it's a reassuring thought. Talking to creatives high off a win (or close to one), they start waxing poetic about what they learned about people. Often the road to that insight was finally understanding something about themselves: I'm this way. I love this. I hate this. If the stars are aligned, you execute well and production and timing are just right. And like good comedy, this tiny propped-open window into your own naked and trembling subconscious yields an unanimous universal AHA! -- and for a breathtaking second you feel like you're holding hands with the entire fucking world.
It's precious. That connection, the birth of something worth cultivating? That's The Point. And it nourishes the entire ecosystem.***
*Running into that Stockholm ECD who had an Alky Nap on your porch last year?
**They probably want to, though. ***It is true, however, that for every inspiring storyteller you come across there'll likely be a troupe of Certified Douchebags waiting to claim him. Our industry is rife with these and they are merely an occupational hazard. Make like a freelancer and RUN AWAY.
“You are now entering a technology and device free zone. Please refrain from using your cellphone inside this space. The use of WMDs (wireless mobile devices) is not permitted.” Word about the Device Free Drinks party, billed as an occasion to “enjoy a few hours off the grid,” had spread through Facebook and other social media ... and drew about 250 participants. But asking people to surrender their digital tethers at the door still required some coaxing...
Eight years ago a much older friend said, "One day, only the rich will be able to disconnect." Hipsters off Union Square are hardly the richest slice of the populace, but their little Digital Detox shindig captures the spirit of his idea: disconnecting has become some novelty thing you do in a club over drinks with other giddy friends eager to "experiment".
But what really got me was the party's structure: little activity stations encouraged you to type, draw and chat in "analog" ways that, in order to reassure (or be relatable), still bore traces of the digital world: you didn't just draw; you drew profile pictures. And what would you type at the typewriter station, if not a tweet? Finally, perhaps for the most adventurous, a jar labeled "Digital Detalks" included strips of paper with questions you could ask others in order to start a conversation.
I remembered a scene from Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. In the book, the US government is overthrown by a theocratic conservative extremist group, under which women lose most rights, including the right to read, and people's lives become tightly regimented. The country's name is changed to the Republic of Gilead. At some point the protagonist, a "handmaid" or concubine for a wealthier couple, finds herself at an underground party where people wear makeup, dance and dress the way they did before the Republic was established. There is something sad, desperate and deeply caricatural about the way people at the party interact, as they draw mainly from memories of how they used to behave -- memories that grow less unreliable and more cartoonish with time.
The purpose of a Digital Detox party is to remind us of the importance of establishing and maintaining real non-digital connections, but part of doing that is remembering how it's done. I guess that's why the activities, so heavily (if playfully) inspired by our digital lives, struck me as imaginative but sad: have we come so far that the only way we can be cajoled into drawing is by using the template of profile pictures? Or by pulling talking-points out of a jar...?
What'll a party like this look like 10 years from now, or even five? Maybe we'll only be able to paint if the utensils are arranged like Photoshop features: life's cheap imitation of digital. And I thought the iBook page-turner feature was sad.
I'm being glib. All this is to say don't let yourself get so disconnected from reality that you need a themed party to explore the concept. (I'm saying this for me, too: I'd be the first in line at a Digital Detox to turn my phone in ... then cry.) Digital will penetrate every aspect of our lives -- and our bodies -- soon enough. So soon, in fact, that once it's arrived we'll have no time to turn back and remember what the world was like before, much less ask ourselves what we've lost for this gain.
We're running out of time to relish in the freedom we really do still have. Why surrender it so readily?
If you haven't already heard of CentUp, you will. Co-founded by our friend Len Kendall, it's an opportunity to improve content produced by hard-working folks like YOU (and US!) while paying a little forward to charities making change around the globe.
How it works: Alongside your standard sharing buttons, blogs and other content sites will have the option to add a CentUp button. If you like what you've read or seen, you can toss a few cents to the content provider; half of what you give will go to a worthy charity. It's that simple.
"Dare. Change", an ad for Peruvian clothing brand Saga Falabella. It is old but captures the spirit of this post nicely. It's a symphony of modern womanhood: our own battle with the timidity and shame that's strong enough to stay that next step. And when we do dare to fight those feelings, it's beautiful, right? So we should all get up and clap, right? So why don't we?
So Sheryl Sandberg, who's enormously wealthy and successful, published a book called Lean In, which is supposed to help women achieve career success in the context of a sexist environment.
This sounds politically charged, but it isn't. Any woman who has been in any primarily-male workplace ever has likely been made to feel uncomfortable, put down, come onto, or passed over for reasons that somehow tie back to her gender. It is not something I or any of us really complain about, it just is, and among the many talents of being a career woman is learning how to dissuade people, change perspectives, or find other loopholes to achievement without making this a "gender" thing. Because making this a "gender" thing can result in the worst alienation of all.
That is just life in the workplace today, and there are plenty of reasons why it is thus, and they are not really the subject of this post.
I haven't read Lean In, but I did read an enormous number of angry reviews about it -- most written by women. There have been so many, in fact, that Michelle Goldberg of The Daily Beast wrote a takedown of these critics, arguing that they're "aimed less at what the book says than at who Sandberg is."
Sandberg, as I mentioned above, is now filthy rich. I don't know if she was born rich, but she certainly wasn't born COO of Facebook. (Or VP at Google, or a Harvard MBA.) That happened later. When she was small, she went to public school, like a lot of us, and studied hard. That's something lots of women can relate to.
It's understandable that many women now feel she's out of touch with your average chick on the rise, but this isn't a critique we make of wealthy men who write success how-tos. Some also tout Sandberg's "war on moms", despite Sandberg repeatedly expressing respect for mothers. As Goldberg nicely puts it, "Her message isn’t that all women need to be corporate executives or high-powered lawyers or political leaders. It’s that we’d be better off if more corporate executives, high-powered lawyers, and political leaders were women."
Why did the book, or the idea of the book, piss so many girls off? I'm gonna cite Goldberg (and Sandberg) one more time before getting to my point:
Women are conditioned to compare themselves with one another. When we’re not wholly at peace with our own choices—and who is?—those comparisons sting. “There is always an opportunity cost, and I don’t know any woman who feels comfortable with all her decisions,” Sandberg writes. “As a result, we inadvertently hold that discomfort against those who remind us of the path not taken. Guilt and insecurity make us second-guess ourselves and, in turn, resent one another.”
All this got me thinking of girl-on-girl violence: its insidiousness, its ugliness, and the way it hurts women: as children, as teens, as adults.
In college I learned about female genital mutilation (FGM) -- from a woman, who was French, and who taught it through an optic that a male American sociology teacher wouldn't have. This is what was most telling about that lesson: studies and journals reviewing the act of female circumcision find that it is the women who most often perpetuate the tradition today.
I'm not taking the blame off men, who obviously got the ball rolling on this bad-boy. But give it a generation or two, and they don't have to do a thing. When you're a young girl in a culture that embraces FGM, the pressure you'll feel is from the women, who tell you that your honour is tied to this act. A woman is often also the one who orchestrates the circumcision.
It's the same with slut-shaming in high school: the trauma associated with being called a "slut" usually finds its roots in other girls. I was a "slut" in high school: girls gave me that name, it had nothing to do with promiscuity, and there was nothing I could do about it. I'll venture to say that the adult female equivalent of those chicks who sullied your reputation because they didn't like how you dressed is today's "war on moms" instigator. She's not the only species, but this is the one that rears its ugly head in the Sandberg story.
Working mothers sometimes, and guiltily, lament that the toughest thing about going to PTA meetings are the stare-downs from the "stay-at-homers". They get this enormous sense that they aren't really doing their jobs as "real" mothers because they haven't made that same 24/7 commitment. I'm sure that stay-at-home moms also feel pressure, intentional or not, from women who seem to be able to "do everything", even though we all know this is never the case: nobody can do everything. There is no choice that's easier to make than any other, particularly when it comes to how you're negotiating your household.
All this shit about Sandberg has been needlessly tied to "feminism" and how she's somehow hurting The Cause, but I'm going to argue that anytime a woman hates on a life choice some other woman made, however different the path, that is what hurts feminism.
Like Sandberg I had trouble calling myself a "feminist" because the word is loaded. A lot of people look at me stupid and say feminism is just about believing that women are equal beings, and that's just dandy. I'm all for equal beings. But I also know that identifying as a "feminist" carries a lot of baggage that I'd rather not be associated with: abusing women you don't consider to be "feminist" is one of the biggest. But it's really just the same old demon: garden-variety girl-on-girl violence. The act is so prevalent that some women pride themselves on "having no girl friends" or being "unable" to get along with women -- they think it makes them look less passive-aggressive and more pragmatic. That is a shame, but it's also not their fault: women can be vicious to other women.
At Berkeley, some women behaved like I was carrying the patriarchy on my shoulders because I shaved my legs and wore high heels (I had a job at an office, which I usually ran off to after school). They whispered about me in class and gave me mean looks when I walked into a room. That was pressure I didn't need to feel; it's not like I was doing it to please some guy back home on some tigerskin rug by the hearth (and if I was, who cares?). I like to shave my legs, and I like it more than not shaving my legs. We can go into why I feel that way and the history of hair removal and constricting footwear and how it's all very patriarchal, but this post is not about that either.
In this life, you pick your battles, and you decide who you're comfortable being based on an unending number of negotiations with yourself and with the society at hand. There are no easy decisions. So why fight each other over the ones we did or didn't make?
Being a woman, and making another one feel terrible about some choice you would never have made, is not a constructive or empowering act -- the feelings that should fuel feminism. It's demeaning and shaming -- the emotional WMDs that keep patriarchy ticking. It's a vicious, horrible thing we've been taught to do to keep other women in line, and it improves the lot of exactly no one, including the perpetrators, who feel just as shitty as the perpetrated do.
So ladies, lay off Sandberg. If you don't like her book and don't feel it applies to you, then you're in luck: you don't have to read it, change who you are, or wage some misguided war to protect the honour of Women Like You. It doesn't have to be any of your damn business. And if you read the book and didn't like it, write about the contents of the book. Don't write about Sandberg. We don't need to invent another cafeteria slut.
I’m OK with having failed at this part of the journey. If Groupon was Battletoads, it would be like I made it all the way to the Terra Tubes without dying on my first ever play through. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to take the company this far with all of you.
Also, I love that he starts it with "After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I've decided that I'd like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding - I was fired today." A little legerity in a rough situation never hurt anyone.
International Account Director & Compulsive Blogger
Marketing and Advertising | Paris Area, France, FR
So much of advertising is teaching people something about themselves. We learn this in individual experience, then master it in the process of building brands.
My job lies in helping brands produce resonant messages in an environment that's fractured for them but intuitive for customers. Clients have included Reed MIDEM, William Grant & Sons, Nestlé Maternal & Infant Nutrition, ad:tech (US and Europe), Elle&Vire, L'Oréal, the Canadian Tourism Commission, Bouygues Telecom, Schwarzkopf, EMI, Red Bull Music Academy, Truvia, Blue Diamond France, Coca Cola, and Canal J.
Agencies I've worked with: Darewin, Revolvr, Momentum NY, Draftfcb Chicago & Paris, Reload VivaKi, DDB Paris, Feed Company, Change, CB'a Connect, E2C2, Noblemouse, and Vanksen.
Startups I've helped: Everfeel, Scoop.it, Pealk, hypios, and Ooshot.
Specialties: brand adaptation, simplifying the complex, and being a consumer. (At least this is how I justify all the web-trawling and TV watching.) I also ask lots of questions ... especially on long trips, during meals, and when I should be washing dishes. You may also have noticed I write. (A lot.)
2014 - Present
International Account Director / DAREWIN
Business development, traffic control, international outreach, and strategic direction of international accounts, which include:
- Liberty Global, pan-EU (pitched and won) - Unitymedia Germany (pitched and won) - ARTE GEIE - Red Bull US & UK - Netflix FR, BE and DACH (pitched and won) - Looklive, US market-facing - AMC Sundance, French market (pitched and won)
2009 - Present
Co-Founder / AdVerveBlog.com
AdVerve the Podcast is Bill Green, Darryl Ohrt and me deconstructing advertising and the culture. We do our best to earn the EXPLICIT tag on iTunes. And on AdVerve the Blog, we serve the tastiest ad, design and pop culture finds daily.
2009 - Present
Digital Strategist, Copywriter + Blogger / Freelance
International strategy consulting, teaching social, a bit of copywriting, and just generally helping brands get through weird adolescence.
Fun things I'm doing now: copywriting and liveblogging for Reed MIDEM (the MIDEM, MIPTV, MIPCube, MIPCOM, and LeWeb brands), international web project management for Sodexo ... and trying to make my BambooPad work.
2008 - Present
Social Strategy Columnist / MarketingProfs
From 2008-2012, MarketingProfs produced a series of short marketing strategy newsletters under the banner "Get to the Po!nt." I researched successful techniques in social media and mobile, then distilled them for its Social Media newsy.
In December 2012, I started the #SocialSkim column, a weekly roundup of social news of interest to B2B clients. Watch for it every Friday! It always finishes with a bang.
Operations Manager / DAREWIN
Began as the head of international PR, then evolved into a strategy role before shifting into operations for the international team, including recruitment, day-to-day implementation and optimisation of the strategy, organisational management and client services. Someday I will also know how to speak German. (Not today, though—unless it's to ask where the toilets are.)
Social Strategist / CBA - Designing Brands with Heart
The development of social strategy, tone of voice and guidelines for an international suite of major brands, including the launch of Blue Diamond Almonds in France, Truvia, Nu Skin, and perfumerie Yodeyma. My role also included selection and oversight of community managers.
Journalist / AdForum
Blogging and liveTweeting the AdForum Worldwide Summit, strategic web consulting/social counsel for ACT Responsible. I still drop in for classic laughs, to help with Epica, provide social media workshops, and eat all their food.
Reporter / FrenchWeb
Distilling the French tech, startup and VC scene for the English-speaking world - kicking off the launch of its English-speaking publication, FrenchWeb.com.
Editor and Market Consultant, North America / Vanksen
Vanksen's Culture-Buzz.com keeps readers abreast of buzz-making campaigns in the ad industry. I hunted the aforementioned down, then nailed them to the wall. I also conducted US market research and strategic planning for the agency.
Vice President, Marketing / Hypios
hypios supports innovation by organizing online competitions to solve tough R&D problems. I served as in-house ideology disseminator and pitchwoman. The company later underwent a management shift and decided to focus solely on the French market, at which point I left, along with the original team.
Chief Editor / MarketingVox
MarketingVox is an online publication that covers trends in digital and mobile marketing. I managed the team, kept the site spiffy and raised ad revenue by 50% year-over-year, using 1/3 of the resources.
Co-Editor / Adra
The inner dialogue for the tastemakers of clever creative. In addition to writing six articles a day, I co-launched social ad network AdGabber (short-lived but lively!), and liveblogged for all ad:techs across the US, in the UK and in France. We had a grand ol' time.
Co-Editor / CMSWire.com
Writer and commentator on content management, virtualization, enterprise RSS and everybody's favourite subject, that new media thing.
Marketing Director / DriversEd.com
Launched, led and developed the marketing department, cultivating a team of four. Stuff I did while there: - Decreased PPC costs by 80% while increasing positive leads by 65% - Launched the brand strategy, social media marketing and digital advertising - Led SEO efforts - Conducted business development with school districts across the country, as well as outreach to students - Launched the driving school partnership programme, which expanded to four states before my departure