Archive | July 2006

Those Who Throw Rocks Are the Best History Students

In Seattle, a Muslim man walked into the Jewish Federation and shot six women, killing one. The guy was apparently bi-polar. And the Muslim community has already condemned the shootings.

As you can probably guess, there’s a lot of local coverage hovering around this incident. A lot of people calling it “senseless violence” and baffled about how “anyone can do something like this”. 

Now, I’m not a terrorist or a sympathizer. (For the CIA spooks: I am not a terrorist). But it seems painfully obvious to me how something like this can happen- “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it”.

The tensions between Israel and the surround Arab community are well documented. To try to understand the reason why there is so much violence is like peeling the largest onion in the world. So many layers. But each act of violence is in response to something that happened historically and an attempt to rectify the situation. While doing something so destructive, they are actually doing something constructive (in their mind) by being vigilant about their histories and trying to control their futures.

It’s much different than what we have here in America where a heavily abbreviated version of history is taught to everyone so we don’t even have the opportunity rebel. I’ll admit, their history is more tramautic than ours and the effects of the past are much more apparent in their present. But the reason why we can’t understand their plight is because the history we’ve been taught in high school conditions us to be passive and accept the fact the “that was in the past, and it’s different now”. All the conflicts have been glazed over.   

Attack of the Niens

I have a little stats page that keeps track of the traffic coming into this blog. I noticed yesterday that someone found this thing by searching for “Nien blog”. I got curious and Googled it and it confirmed everything I was in denial about: I actually have a girl’s name. It’s not just girly, “Nien” or “Nian” is actually for girls like “Sophie” or “Emma”. Check it out:

Meet Nien Cheng, a Chinese American author who wrote “Life and Death in Shanghai”.

Meet Hai Nien, who says in her profile that she’s a really emotional person.

Meet Nien, whose favorite book is “Catcher in the Rye”.

Meet Nian, who eats snails.

Meet Nian, who is a fashion designer in California.

Do You Own Your Ideas?

Let’s take the example of beauty. I think it’s fair to say that there is an idea for what is attractive. I also think it’s fair to say that this idea changes with time. I also think it’s fair to say that people’s perception of what’s beautiful will change as well.

By changing their perception of what beauty is when the idea changes, does that mean people are passively participating in this exchange? Do people actually know why they believe in something?

I have a friend who is very visual and appreciates beautiful/pretty things- especially fashion. She keeps bugging me about updating my wardrobe to something cooler. But after I update it, I get the feeling that in two years, she’s going to bug me about updating my wardrobe again. If her first assesment for what’s hip and cool has no lasting value and has changed in two years, does she know what she’s talking about?

I was talking about this with a co-worker and he seems fairly certain that it’s not as passive and more of a take and appropriate type relationship where people take that idea and add their own twist. So in our beauty example, it would explain derivatives like preference for brunettes or large breasts or whatever. This happens not just because we’re free thinking human beings, but also because we have this need to express ourselves and be individuals. And because of that, we have the propensity to constantly evolve, hence my friend redefining my look to re-attain hipness after two years.

But I don’t think so. I think no matter how many of your own twists you add onto the idea to make it your own, you don’t create anything new and you’re no different than anyone else because the foundation of your new great idea does not belong to you. It’s like my WordPress blog. No matter how many widgets I install, or how I alter my template, it’s still a Wordpress blog. Of course, what I’m arguing for is nothing revolutionary or new. It’s the same stuff the crazy homeless man is yelling on the corner of Pike and 2nd.

But it really makes me think about how advertisers use research to discover what the consumer will want or respond to. I mean, in theory, we can just tell them what they want and they’ll convince themselves that it was their own great idea. This seems to go with Russell Davies’ post about how sometimes the best ads come from letting the creative team do whatever they want without us planners (or communication strategists) getting in the way. Just make something that’s so cool, that it’s awesomeness will not be denied and don’t worry about what other people want or need as they probably don’t know themselves.

Tips From Alumni of the Adcenter #6

In terms of ad advice, I strongly urge you, and this is also cheesy, to make smart, responsible advertising that doesn’t allow or force consumers to a) be only consumers, and b) lose sight of what’s really important (i.e., showing a man who’s more interested in a new barbecue then watching his wife give birth…that’s just bullshit, and we all know it… it’s not even funny).

Urban Culture

Lately I’ve been on an urban culture binge. It’s probably the result of living in the ‘burbs but I may also be an aspiring urbanite.

Space affects the way we live and how we interact with each other. Out of compromising “normal” behavior to adjust for the enviroment, I think the sum of all the different practices create a culture.

I’ve been poking around looking at urban art (graffiti art), urban music (hip hop) and urban athletics (parkour/free running). The common theme the drives each of these things seems to be a celebration of the human spirit, which is even more meaningful seeing that it’s juxtaposed against the proverbial concrete jungle.

While graffiti art has changed a lot, some of it is still tagging and incredibly cool and cryptic designs in public spaces. But there’s also another branch that focuses on re-appropriating public space from advertisers and big businesses and give it back to the people. A former Saatchi & Saatchi art director, Ji Lee, started the Bubble Project as a way to jam outdoor advertising on the streets of New York by posting up dialouge bubbles on ads and inviting people to fill them in. The guy at PublicAdCampaign is doing something similar as well deal with issues like the “colon[ization] of public physical space and public mental space”.

Despite the fact that consumers of hip hop are largely white kids from the ‘burbs, hip hop will always be an inner city art. And despite what you hear on the radio, it’s not all about drugs, bitches and guns. Seattle hip hop artist Macklemore has a song called “White Privilege” that talks about the appropriation of hip hop by mainstream culture that leads to those misconceptions. Like graffiti art, hip hop evolved to become a mouthpiece for social justice. Artists like Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Public Enemy, 2Pac (to some extent right?) and many more use hip hop to describe the social inequities of the Black community and the inner city. They are putting a very human feel to issues that are calloused by misinterpretation and exoticism and sensationalization.

If you remember those Nike commercials for their Pesto line of shoes, you’ve seen some Parkour. From Wikipedia:

Parkour is a physical discipline inspired by human movement, focusing on uninterrupted, efficient forward motion over, under, around and through obstacles (both man-made and natural) in one’s environment. Such movement may come in the form of running, jumping, climbing and other more complex techniques. The goal of parkour is to adapt one’s movement to any given obstacle.

What the Wikipedia definition left out is that they do this in the city. But if you watch the clips on Youtube, you’ll see that the movements are so fluid and natural. These athletes are giving urban architecture and city planning the finger with the way the move around, over, under the things they built to control how the rest of us interact with the space.

The problem with urban culture -as is with all sub or counter cultures- is that it’s participants are highly intelligent and somewhat exclusive. I think they understand the cultural appropriation process and want to protect against it. But at the same time the themes that they are dealing with are so important for people today to be exposed to. It’s cliche now to say that people are out of touch with humanity, but it’s true. And many people go to religion or the mountains or where ever to rediscover themselves, but that is regressive. Population booms, new architecture and city planning trends are going to pack us in tighter and we need to start discovering these things because they’re in our backyard the back alley.  

Calling All Communication Strategists!

When I got that email about the curriculum change, I held back from posting a knee jerk reaction about it. After a couple of days of thought, I’ve concluded that yes, this will be a good thing because it means I will kick more ass and will have the ability to apply for two times as many jobs as before. But the bad thing is who the heck knows what a Communication Strategist is?

I got an email from someone recently who is looking for an account planning job in Seattle because the small town shops don’t respect or use this role. His example of a small town was Dallas!

So my concern is while this is an innovative position and is totally cutting edge, will the agencies keep up? Will they appreciate it? Will agency recruiters know what to do with me when I tell them I studied communication strategy?

Even the web has conflicting definitions for a communication strategist:

“They’ve looked hard at the way companies use language and the results they achieve, and they’ve sought out new ways of making language work better for their clients. That may involve introducing new forms of communication (migrating paper-based memos to email, for example) or it may mean running poetry workshops in law firms, to improve personal communication skills.” From the Writer, first result on Google when you search for “communication strategist”.   

The rest of the results introduce guys with experience that seem to skew towards internal corporate communications and not advertising. I checked Advertising Age and found nothing. I checked Russell Davies’ blog and nothing. I checked the Brand New blog and nothing. Not even Rm116 has anything on it. 

Maybe the Adcenter is launching a super sweet (possibly super stealthy) word of mouth campaign amongst industry folk so they know what do with us when we get out.

HK Media Got Punked!

By these guys:

From left to right: Conroy Chan, Andrew Lin, Terence Yin and Daniel Wu.

These guys made a boy band despite the fact that none of them can sing. Then they released a couple of songs, got some press, then taped the whole thing to create a documentary called: the Heavenly Kings.

It’s a cynical take on HK’s entertainment and media industry. All those people who have been bombarded by craptastic Cantopop will appreciate this documentary. Here’s a review and synopsis of the film.