Friday, April 30, 2010

29: bringing the ocean to ithaca

Thanks to Jess, my friend and resident partner in crime, I recently discovered Color Me Katie, a blog that has quickly risen to my top five list of favorite reads. Run by Brooklyn street artist Katie Sokoler, this blog is filled with color and imagination and playfulness and cheer... It's divine. It's charming. It's whimsical.

It makes us happy -- so happy, in fact, that Jess and I have decided to bring our own artistry to the streets (walls, sidewalks) of Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.

Here's what we started with:

Some of our ocean friends decided to join us. Our squid went for a swim in the rain.

The diver from Finding Nemo made an appearance.

A dolphin/porpoise joined the party.

Here we are! Look at you, Jess. You're a champ.

(P.S. Here's a quick side project we did, involving magical steps.)

Sparkle on, world. Sparkle on.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

28: when a relationship goes "facebook official"

These days, who doesn't know what it means to like something on Facebook?

Joe just posted a picture of him and his new 'stache -- you like this. Bob Saget might make an appearance at Slope Media Group's Earth Day celebration -- you like this. [He didn't show up, by the way. Whatever.] I'm willing to make the sweeping assumption that Facebook's "like" feature is the one social media quirk that we all wish we had in real life. (There's a llama on Ho Plaza? Automatic like!)

Simply stated, we like to like. And lucky for Facebook, too. This little notion puts them in a prime position to stir up a lot of buzz in the marketing/advertising industry, especially given the recent replacement of their "Become a fan" feature with the "Like" button.

The interesting thing about liking something is that it doesn't require much commitment. You can "like" as many things as you want. (We do this all the time in the physical world; we like colors, we like food, we like events that take place.) In contrast, people are typically more cautious to actually become a fan of those same things. Announcing to the world that you are a fan of a company or a person just seems to demand and indicate more enthusiasm and more devotion toward that name.

Becoming a fan versus liking really seems to boil down to the level of commitment you're willing to offer. It's kind of like dating versus being "just friends." Just because I like hanging out with my boy friend doesn't mean I want to actually call him my boyfriend. (Take note, boys.)

Now that Facebook has done away with its "Become a fan" option, companies don't have to worry as much about commitment. They can gather multitudes of fans and followers without too much difficulty. Customers can get involved way more easily because they don't have to climb over any sort of significant barrier.

I wonder, though, if this change will have implications for consumer action. Several of the articles I've read seem to suggest that with the replacement of the "Become a fan" feature with the "Like" feature, more people will be both willing and inclined to "like" brands, and their approval will nudge their friends and family and possibly their general network to develop an interest in the brand.

It's sort of this idea of referrals, right? We trust and value what our significant others, family, and friends think. If Jamie likes Cost Plus World Market, then I will think to myself, Well, maybe it's worth checking out. Similarly -- but on a different plane of understanding -- as humans, we have a desire to be accepted and approved by others, so it's possible that if my friends "like" Chick-fil-A on Facebook, then I might try to like -- in real life -- Chick-fil-A too, for the sake of social validation.* (Of course, this is totally my own personal speculation/theorizing... but it's certainly something to consider.)

However, at the same time, since we are very used to Facebook-liking everything, it's very plausible that as we "like" more and more pages, our actions and the attitudes that we hold toward a company and convey to our contacts will become less meaningful. Think along the lines of "boy who cried wolf."

Just based on my intuition, it seems that becoming a fan of Procter & Gamble has a much stronger connotation than simply liking Procter & Gamble. Liking is milder -- more mild? -- than being a fan; it requires less allegiance. In general, I am more willing to respect the opinions of people who are devoted to a brand, because I assume that those people are devoted for a reason. It gives me more incentive to try out the company's products or services. (And this is half the battle, isn't it? To merely get your market to try out what you're offering?)

In conclusion, I have no answers. Will Facebook's Like feature be successful at developing and retaining customer loyalty? Who knows? There are so many factors associated with it, so many nuances... but it's a fascinating dynamic, that's for sure, and it's one that we can all keep our eyes on.

*I don't feel that social validation kicks in as much when you find out people are "fans" of something. "Fans" tend to be at more extreme ends of the spectrum, so generally speaking, we might not feel the need or obligation to identify as much with them. However, when two people like the same thing, they are usually brought closer together, so in that sense, "liking" seems to have a greater impact on relationship development -- at least on the surface. Going along with this train of thought, if we find that our friends/family/significant others/crushes "like" certain brands, we might be more inclined to try out the same brand, simply to increase our chances of being favorably received and accepted by the others.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

27: what ever happened to inner beauty?

There are some days when I'm just in love with packaging and all the brilliant designers who are thoughtful about what they want to say and what they want people to think about. Passion + awareness + consideration + skill = staggering results. Truth!

Unfortunately, it appears that not all copy-writers, designers, and companies stop to consider the full repercussions of their messages. Many seem to take a concept (weight loss, or body mass index, as you're about to see) and hone in on it to the point that they get tunnel vision. All they can think is, "My message hits the spot exactly and completely," and as a result, they end up ignoring all the other ways people could interpret the same few words.

I think that this is what happened with General Mills' Multigrain Cheerios cereal box.

The intention of the packaging is to promote good health -- and there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to live a healthy lifestyle -- but it does so in an extremely unsophisticated way.

Image from Multigrain Cheerios' corporate website

Two things that immediately stood out to me:

(1) There are a lot of SMALL THINGS you can do every day!
Notice the typography: Because of the weight and capitalization of the text, the phrase "small things" is what stands out to you. It's almost as though "small" should be your focus within that whole statement.

(2) The slogan "More grains, less you!" is a clever play on semantics. "Less you" refers to less of you physically. Less body fat, less "excess," less "glut," less you.

The phrasing is certainly clever, but it is also incredibly distasteful at the same time (not that "distasteful" automatically means "bad" -- sometimes we get a kick out of things that are distasteful. Sometimes companies do well with "distasteful"). But in this case... seeing as Multigrain Cheerios are a widespread commercial product, I'd say it would be in General Mills' best interest not to offend its market, no? Whether consciously done or not, the company is promoting the idea of body as identity. You = your fat. You = your body mass. Let's aim for less you!

As a woman, I understand the importance of having the ideal weight, the perfect shape, tiny arms and slim legs. I get it. I really do. In a world where, like it or not, we are bombarded with images of beautiful people, the rich and famous, stick-thin models, all the clichéd perceptions of beauty... how can we not want -- to some extent, at least -- the same for ourselves? We all want to be fawned over, complimented, admired for our physical appearance, the shapes of our bodies, our external features...

It's okay to want to be seen as beautiful. There's nothing wrong with that. But it can become an obsession, an extreme, and it turns into an issue when we look in the mirror and see "portion control," or "double chin," or -- heaven forbid -- "more grains, less you."

There are many, many, many, many people and campaigns out in the world, fighting against this type of self-identification, this idea of weight and BMI as an indication of allure and level of happiness. Unfortunately, Cheerios is one brand that does not seem to be doing much in the way of this.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

26: owning it

Last month, there were a lot of deaths at Cornell. It brought on a bunch of preventative measures, like all the professors reminding their classes of "resources" they could use, like the "Lift Your Spirits" rally on the Arts quad, like all sorts of Facebook groups in which community support is the theme of the day... But none of these measures were so controversial as the installation of temporary fences alongside the bridges all over campus.

This sparked the creation of Facebook groups such as "Don't fence us in!" as well as an outpour of actions to make the fences a little less of an eyesore. In the month that the fences have been constructed, I've seen fake flowers stuck in the chain links; little wooden signs of bees and butterflies and positive words; streamers; Hawaiian leis... I've seen fences painted red and blue and yellow and green, just to bring some life into the gray... Someone even bought several potted plants and real flowers to set along the bridges.

Yes, having fences to prevent people from jumping off bridges and killing themselves is a depressing notion. But it doesn't have to be just that. It could be so much more. Imagine a fence filled with "graffiti," all the things that make people smile. Bright ribbons. Key chains. A bulletin board of people who want to share a little bit of themselves with the campus, who want to bring a little beauty to a wall of mesh.

It's all about creativity. Taking something that exists and giving it a life of its own.

I wrote all of the above yesterday afternoon. Later in the evening, I attended a special Friday night Christian fellowship with lots of different Christian fellowships on campus. Afterwards, we had a post-fellowship activity that involved dividing into teams, targeting locations all over Cornell's campus, and chalking.

Chalking, for those of you who don't know, involves using chalk (duh) on sidewalks to publicize or promote events, organizations, ideas, and so forth. In light of the recent suicides here, and also because we wanted to spread love to the Cornell community, we decided to chalk encouraging Bible verses on North Campus, Central Campus, and in the Engineering and Ag quads.

My team was one of the two groups that went all the way up to North Campus, and we chalked on the sidewalks along Thurston Bridge. Materials: a big box of Crayola sidewalk chalk, our hands, four other lovely women with great minds and resourcefulness.

I offered to write and draw out all the text -- all my time spent drawing block letters has finally paid off... sweet -- and we each embellished. We made it a point to use a lot of colors, but we also ensured that they corresponded with the words (light blues and lavenders and soothing turquoises for "rest," for example), so that people would get the message even more. It was fun to consider what we know about people's attention spans and to then use that information to guide our chalking strategy.

I'm proud of all of us. We spent a considerable amount of time in the cold (34 degrees, man! and windy!), bruising and scratching our hands and knees, rubbing our fingers into chalk dust to blend colors and get them to stay... but it was well worth it to attract the attention of cars passing by, of students walking home, of kind words and open conversations with strangers. We poured our love out into our work, and I think it showed.

A senior girl walked by and commented that she absolutely loved what we were doing; that our chalking was one of the best she'd ever seen; that she was happy to see us bringing color to this place; that she was delighted that we were just hanging out and relaxing and spending time with friends; that she was glad to see us doing a little bit to make these fences our own. "Making these fences our own." What a great way to put it.

You might not be given the best or most favorable situation, resources, etc., but it's up to you to change that. Bring yourself to the project. Commit and give it your all. Make it your own. Content is important, but emotion -- expressing ours and appealing to yours -- is what makes things stick, what makes you even consider what we have to say in the first place.

Sadly, it's supposed to rain on Sunday (it's currently snowing now!), but with luck, tons of students, faculty, and staff will get to walk by it and appreciate what we've chosen to speak. Visit my Flickr to see more photos.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

25: speaking of innovation or lack thereof

AT&T is rolling out a rebranding campaign, drawing attention to itself as a foward-thinking lifestyle and innovation company under the theme "Rethink Possible."

The whole effort is being headed by Esther Lee (Senior VP of Brand Marketing and Advertising). This woman is intense. She used to be the Global Chief Creative Officer for Coca-Cola, and before moving to AT&T, she worked as the CEO of Global Brands for North America at Euro RSCG (!!!). Yeah... she's legit.

Apparently, the campaign is stemming from the whole Verizon vs. AT&T 3G fiasco that popped up back in November. You know what I'm talking about...

Verizon busted out with its "Yo AT&T, I'm really happy for you... I'mma let you finish... but we have the best 3G of all time! Of all time!" commercials.*

And then you had AT&T responding with a lawsuit that went nowhere, and Luke Wilson standing around, trying to prove to the world that AT&T rules... (Comparative ads, what up!)

(This is their "Marbles" spot. Marbles. As in, "Verizon has lost its marbles." Oh, ho ho. I see what you did there. So clever, AT&T.)

(Oh, Luke Wilson. You're charming. You really are. But I must say, I prefer your Wes Anderson films immensely.)

In general, shifting away from "telecommunications" to "lifestyle and innovation" is a smooth move. I like this quote from Robert Passikoff, President of New York-based Brand Keys, a consumer & brand loyalty research company: "Selling on price is a pathway to commoditization. The only way to get out of that is to have the brand stand for something meaningful to consumers." (via the New York Times) +2 for staying away from marketing myopia and getting the bigger picture, you know?

However, as a consumer, knowing that this campaign was at least partly sparked by Verizon's little, uh, blitz makes me wonder if this whole rebranding strategy isn't just another "surface" move. I'm hesitant to trust in companies who rebrand as a reaction to competitors. It just seems less purposeful, less guided, less directional.

Not to mention... besides AT&T's U-verse service (which is still slowly being implemented in residential communities... I haven't gotten it yet, but apparently my neighbors down the street have), I can't think of anything particularly innovative that the company does... It all just feels very contrived to me, as in, "We're calling ourselves an innovative company! Look how innovative we are! See? See? Aren't we innovative?!" So... I'm really hoping their rebranding "strategy" doesn't end up being all talk. Good or bad, it'll definitely be interesting to see where this all goes.

Some places worth checking out/keeping an eye on:
Rethink Possible (corporate website)
AT&T trying to convince you that it's innovative -- Successful? Unsuccessful? You be the judge
AT&T research labs - Proving that the company is indeed innovative (if you can get through all the technical jargon and research terminology, that is)

(via Advertising Age)

*Okay, okay. Yes. I know this is so 2009, but secretly I can't get enough of it. Don't judge me.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

24: on innovation & popping bubbles

Oh, blog. I've missed you. It's been a while. This semester has consisted of: lots of dabbling in new ventures, new student organizations, new conversations with new people; exploring different avenues, not knowing what I'm doing; flowing and challenging myself like never before. Scary, yes, but deliciously rewarding in its own way.

I've got legitimate content coming soon, bookmarks and folders of things -- old and new -- that keep sneaking into my mind, so I will share in the very near future. Promise!