Is the New Tonight Show the New Coke of the ’10s?

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1.14.09 :: If you haven’t been stimulated by any photon emitting devices for the past few week, then you’ve missed the NBC/Conan drama on TV. What I find more important is the Facebook page, ‘I’m with Coco’, who’s purpose is simply to show support for the orange-haired comedian after his ejection from his current Tonight Show time slot. This amassed 25,000 fans in its first 8 hours live (thanks to illustrator Mike Mitchell) and achieved web notoriety of some of the big blogs in its first day.

While some people might look at this as standard pop culture upheaval, I would like to remind you of similar situation regarding another beloved pop culture icon that was once pulled from our eyes– Classic Coca-Cola. In 1985, Coca-Cola execs came out with new formula for the timeless soft drink, calling it New Coke and sold it as the best thing since sliced bread. Despite all this, consumer outrage brought Classic Coca-Cola back to the store shelves a mere two and half months later. People didn’t want something they felt apart of changed.

Now, I am not claiming that Conan is anywhere as iconic as our beloved corn-syrup filled can of nostalgia. However, the idea of the Tonight Show is. For the past half a century, this veritable American institution has aired at 11:30 and promised to pass on the late night comedy torch every 15 or so years. Conan mentions this in his public announcement and you can see this supported in many responses across the web.  To some extent, people are making sure their Classic Coca-Cola, The Tonight Show, maintains its integrity as an institution and a brand. Conan, is merely their shining knight in the moral battle for late-night comedy– a figurehead with great hair.

Now, will NBC listen? It depends on how big these groups grow. The next few days will determine if the idea of the Tonight Show belongs to its broadcasters or its viewers. At very least, NBC has to remember that this type of communication elected a president in 2008. Can it preserve the Tonight Show? Tune in at 11:30 for the next few weeks.

Can condiments have causes?

9.24.09:: I am all for brand banner statements. I find these professions of faith empowering. However, I get a little uneasy when it has to deal with a condiment. Take in exhibit A:

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This proclamation speaks to the product feature and ties in the audience. Day 1 stuff of any creative assignment, really. Now, may I present Exhibit B:

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Same thing, right? Nope. Ask yourself what is more believable– the condiment with attitude or a movement of Americans who wear the standard in rebel fashion? Obviously, the latter. And this is just for one reason: Levi’s has a brand that can do this. They can actually have people take up their banner. Take a visit to both their campaign websites (Go Forth and Zinger) and this messaging becomes more apparent. Levi’s communication is something that people can join. They not only ask for photo submissions, but actually have visitors engage in ‘expeditions’ and writing assignments about the brand and its’ mantra. Miracle Whip’s messaging is merely entertainment, as they just ask you to ‘zing’ the web.

Please don’t think I am claiming that Miracle Whip and Kraft have no idea what they are doing. They are simply living the limitation of their product, and doing the best job they can at it. However, when you create a piece of communication that proclaims the beliefs of your brand and its’ fans, remember an authentic message people can join in on will always be more successful. If you don’t believe me, here’s the number of Facebook friends each effort has:

Levi’s: 146,000
Miracle Whip: 18,607

And that’s the skinny.

Sticky Social Media, Literally

8.05.09 :: These days social media is bigger than MJ’s funeral coverage, and rightly so. A brand can actually participate in a two way conversation with it’s fans easily. All it has to do is find people that have a reason to talk and nurture that relationship. This is usually done by soliciting feedback, providing a forum or topic to discuss. But what do you do when your audience was born way before the age of the status update? The same thing. Take a look at one of our current direct mail pieces for Walker Place, a 55+ community in Minneapolis.
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Working along with the team at Walker Place, we established the idea that their residents were active and their ‘retirement was not tired’. We knew we had to create a piece that would allow resident prospects to embrace retirement and share this thought with others. So, we created a simple 6×9″ sheet of stickers with quippy sayings seniors could use to show their and Walker Place’s vibrancy. (My personal favorite is “I don’t feed pigeons.”) What resulted was a piece that allowed a community to rally around a cause (active retirement) and share this thought with others (with stickers). This mailer outperformed all our expectations drastically (some people even showed up to their tours wearing stickers), so needless to say the team at Walker Place was pleased.

But, what does this mean? Well, it still means an original idea, with the right medium and a great client can make an impact. It also means you don’t have to be online to be a brand people talk about (though it does help). You simply have to have the right message executed well.  Too often this simple truth is neglected when we are constantly bombarded with million dollar marketing buzz words, bloated creative and, dare we say it….sameness. So, before all else, embrace simplicity.

Possibility before reality

6.24.09- If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve probably noted my fascination with e-paper. Well, a group of students at Art Center shared my interest and created a site and a series of videos that demonstrate how a new newspaper might work at Beyond the Fold.

As you might guess, the first question people might ask is: Why waste your time thinking about this before we can do this? Well, aside from the aesthetic halo this brings, I think the it offers us some practical advice. Since the days of DaVinci and the helicopter, we have always come up with more human and organic solutions when there are no technological restrictions. Why? Because it is our daily experiences that we try to improve. We are not slaves to machines or guidelines.

The same goes for solving any brand problem. We must think what is ideal before we think what is real.  Start with: “In world filled with only possibilities, what and how do I want people to interact with my company?” After you have this, bring in the code, the legal copy and the sizes, but never forget your ideal solution (or least how it feels). After all, any reality can be beaten with enough imagination. 

Post Palm Pre Hype

6.8.09 :: I know what you’re thinking– we so very desperately needed another smartphone. The iPhone has the market cornered with excellent usability and the most 3G users, Google’s G1 is popular among the open source community and Blackberry’s got a handle on enterprise level solutions. So, if you’re the late entry, the only thing you can do is to claim you can do it all, better.

Not surprisingly, this is what is implied in Palm Pre’s new spot , “Flow” from agency Modernista!

Rarely, can a product or brand survive on this ‘we are everything to everyone’ strategy. In fact, Bob Garfield, an ad critic from Ad Age, agreed and called the Pre’s launch spot non- revolutionary and an iPhone “copycat”.

As for me, I remain positive. I had a small chance to play with the new phone this weekend, and while it’s by no means revolutionary, it has some features that are forward thinking and might catch on  (i.e. Visual application dashboard, compact design, a nice user experience and great software [gmail and pandora]).  My prediction is that the best practices of this phone will end up in the next generations of the G1 and iPhone, but as with the survival of all technology, it will be left in the people’s hands.