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September 2007

CBS Lab Distributes Online Video Clips to Promote Shows

Cbslogo_2In a YouTube-like effort to promote shows through the creation and distribution of user-generated content, CBS announced the launch of a digital production studio that will present bite-size video clips as an entertainment and marketing tool. The network is capitalizing on the short attention span of most online viewers by reducing full-length feature episodes to clips more reminiscent of those seen on YouTube.

The idea is to make the clips look more like content than like a traditional promotional tool. According to CBS, inspiration for EyeLab came from a video posted on YouTube last year called "Endless Caruso One Liners." The clip showed a montage of scenes from CSI Miami showing star David Caruso muttering key phrases at the scene of the crime. According to YouTube, the clip had been viewed more than a million times.

CBS hired twenty-something digital video editors to create similar content for the lab, and will also distribute content created by users themselves.

It seems that CBS made a smart move by tailoring its tactics to the demographics of the online audience. While the success of YouTube prompted many networks to feature full-length video clips, the trend is now back to shorter clips that are able to link back to the shows.

What's interesting is whether or not the network's strategy of selling ads embedded in the clips will be successful. Online users traditionally shun corporate advertising in content, as it seems to go against online culture and behaviour.

What do you think? Will advertising work in CBS' revised strategy to create and distribute bite-size video clips?


Building Trust - How Poor Communication Loses My Vote

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As Ontario gears up for an election in October, we're being inundated with the usual flurry of promotional pieces. Election promises abound as candidates strive to make their message heard. Debates are won and lost, press interviews are countless - and television ads occupy our airtime.

Recently, one of the candidates left a brochure on our door outlining his promises for a better Ontario. What strikes me as a bit ironic is the fact that I found numerous typos in the brochure (not one, but several), as well as notable inconsistencies in design and format. Call me a perfectionist, but if I am to put my faith and trust in a candidate, you'd think they would at least take the time to use a spell-checker.

The idea of not taking the time to double check your work isn't just a problem in the political arena. When I was hiring interns from a nearby college, many of their cover letters contained numerous typos. I've seen emails from Executive Directors of national associations so poorly written, that it made me wonder how the person ever got (and kept) their high profile job in the first place.

Have we become too busy to care about the way we communicate? Politicians spend oodles of money on campaigns, yet lose credibility when they fail to remember the basic rules of communication.

That's not to say that all this will be the key factor in choosing my favourite candidate. But I have to wonder if a person who can't seem to handle things on a small stage, will have the skills needed to lead on a larger one.


Time IS the New Experience

Wc_l1_3A recent Toronto Star article suggested that the latest status symbol of the upper middle class is not stuff, but people. For those living a harried lifestyle who are able to afford it, hiring people to do those pesky day to day chores can free up a lot of time to do other things.

As financial planner Sylvia Sarkus says, "I am buying my sanity." The idea of having "staff" to do work previously done by households is nothing new. The rich and well-to-do have always been able to afford it. For those with more modest means, the increased competitive environment means people are working longer hours to make ends meet. Free time becomes a luxury that can be bought, for a price. The cost of relaxation takes on a value indicative of this faster paced lifestyle.

According to sociologist Stephen Katz, a Professor at Trent University in Peterborough, "the new status symbols are time and experiences."

I'm wondering if people who work in "Concierge Services" could now be called "time brokers." Perhaps time will become a commodity - something to be traded as people buy "shares" in it.

Is Time the new experience? How does our perception of time vary in 2007, as opposed to how we saw it 30 or 40 years ago?


McDonald's Goes McLeather

A recent article in the Toronto Star described McDonald's Canada's aggressive strategy to redesign its stores. While once the domain of uncomfortable plastic seats and ketchup-stained tables, the new stores will feature upscale leather sofas, fireplaces and accented lighting systems.

While similar designs have already existed in Europe, the redesign strategy marks McDonald's Canada's response to rising customer expectations. The new design is more contemporary, and has been compared to what customers experience while spending time in Starbucks or Second Cup.

In the Star article, Karen Skobel, one of the designers who worked on the plan, says that "there wouldn't be anything you recognize from the McDonald's of the past."

In an age where brand loyalty often depends on a consistent brand image and experience, is this new look necessarily a good thing? While I can understand McDonald's strategy from a business perspective, do I want to walk into a McDonald's and not recognize anything from the past?

After all, it's the past that connects me to the fast food chain in the first place. When I enter a McDonald's restaurant, I expect to see families enjoying their meals - teenagers discussing their social lives over a burger - and kids throwing ketchup containers at each other (I grew up with three brothers). It's all part of the experience. If I'm in the mood for it, I'll stop by. If not, I'll choose another place to eat.

While the redesign is appealing from an adult perspective, I wonder how it will work out logistically. If I walk into a newly updated store, will I find the same families, kids and teens now sitting in leather chairs...going through the same motions that they went through in the regular stores? Do I want to see ketchup stains or stale french fries from the previous customer on my leather chair?

Is there a disconnect between brand image - and brand experience here? Is McDonald's the place to go to for an upscale experience? It's too soon to tell whether or not this approach will work in Canada. It has worked in other countries, so it's possible they just may be onto something.

What do you think of the image change for McDonald's? What are your predictions for the success of this strategy?

Let's open the forum....


Business and Design: Can They Co-Exist?

The subject of "designing business" in a way that increases profits is an often discussed trend in industry publications. Virtually everyone agrees that design does belong in a business environment, and that it has the potential to have a significant impact on ROI. Managing a blend between the two worlds is often not that easy, as businesspeople and designers by nature tend to think in totally different ways.

In an article published in Fast Company magazine Roger Martin, Dean and Professor of Strategic Management at the Rotman School in Toronto, believes that to stay competitive, "businesspeople have to outimagine the competition as well. They must begin to think - to become - more like designers." While traditional corporations are run by logic and proven reproducible systems, design leaders make their decisions based on judgement, experience and gut instinct. Traditional firms depend on the completion of a series of ongoing, permanent tasks, while in design shops everyone lives "in the projects" - to quote management guru Tom Peters.

Having worked as an Account Manager in design firms, I also sensed a disconnect in the thinking between the worlds of management and design. While designers focused on the artistic and visual aspects of the project, my job as an Account Manager was to harness their talent and apply it in a way that addressed the needs of the client. All too often, this didn't happen without an argument or two.

As Martin and numerous other thought leaders have suggested, perhaps the best way to move towards the future in today's fast paced business environment is to invent it. Many of today's most successful business leaders have applied a common sense approach to decision-making, yet have also at times shunned market reports and data to take a chance on their gut feeling.

Martin calls this a businesses' IQ quotient - or imagination quotient. In this turbulent economy, the advantage will go to those who can outimagine and outcreate their competitors. In the "design economy", he says that real value creation will come from a designer's most competitive weapon - his imagination. By taking on a challenge, most designers are able to come up with solutions still unseen by those in traditional management roles. A combination of exploration and invention will be the keys needed to uncover successful new product design, a process still shunned and misunderstood by traditional linear thinkers.

Picasso once said that "Everything you can imagine is real." Perhaps the businessworld would be wise to take the words of this world-renowned artist, and use them to build their own masterpiece.


Help! I'm Drowning in Information!

I'm currently in the market for a cellphone, laser printer and digital voice recorder. Although there are plenty of options out there, I find the array of choices to be overwhelming. By the time the salesperson has finished describing all the features, I wonder if the item is even capable of performing its original intended task!

Yesterday, I made a decision to buy a laser printer, and took a few moments to learn how to install the toner. The printer came with no hard copy manual, so I was forced to go online to figure out how to do the installation. Once I finally found the manual, it was in PDF format and about 200 pages long! Funny thing was...I couldn't find the section that described how to install the toner. I decided to do another search, and came up with a 2 page PDF showing a series of cartoon-like diagrams. The document was so large, that I had to constantly scroll around to follow the sequence of numbers. Needless to say, the whole process was a bit frustrating.

Cellphone companies fared no better. Today I called a customer service line to ask whether the phone I was thinking about purchasing had a digital voice recording option. The agent assured me that the phone carried this option, but would perform best in small meetings with minimal ambient noise. I then asked him if he could help me find the activation information in the product manual (another 200 pages of information) that I was able to download online. He took a look, then claimed that the cellphone was only able to record short voice memos, and didn't have the capability (as he had originally claimed) to provide full voice recordings. Product specs for the phone told me that it provided a "digital voice recorder", yet nowhere did it explain exactly what this meant. This left further interpretation to the consumers imagination, and opened the door to potential frustration with the product.

In an era when we are constantly bombarded by more information than we can handle, I ask the following questions:

1) Is it really necessary to provide manuals that contain more information than a pre-flight check at NASA?

2) Given that we have a lot of information to work with, isn't it more important to be provided with the RIGHT information to make our purchase decision?

3) Whatever happened to simplicity in product manufacturing, marketing and distribution?

When it comes to consumer goods purchases, more is not necessarily better. It seems that the lengthier the product specs, the more salespeople have to know, and the less they really DO seem to know. While the margin for error might not matter with a small consumer goods purchase, would the same questions and concerns not apply to major purchases such as airplanes - or medical diagnostic equipment?

Kim Vicente, Internationally accredited Professor of Engineering, author of The Human Factor and global science and usability consultant extraordinaire (he has consulted to NASA, NATO, the U.S.Air Force and U.S. Navy), believes that business would benefit by making consumer goods easier to use. While technological innovation is advancing rapidly, Vicente claims that our ability to manage it is falling behind. On a large scale, this could lead to potentially catastrophic results as often products are designed without human nature in mind.

I'll leave my last words to Vicente as quoted in his book, The Human Factor. As technology continues to evolve at lightening speed, he claims that "At home, we have the latest electronic consumer products - each with its own remote control and hefty user's manual. All these gadgets are supposed to make life easier, but they often make it more difficult instead. And before we learn to use the latest technological "convenience", there's a new one on the market with more "advanced" features. No matter how many user's manuals we read, we just can't seem to keep up."

Bytesch_3What do you think about this issue? Can you suggest ways that would enable us to keep up with the increasing pace of technology? Do you think technology is advancing faster than our ability to handle it?


New York City Kids Transform Cabs into Moving Gardens

Bloomberg_home_2New York City is being transformed into a moving garden thanks to what is perhaps one of the largest and most ambitious public art projects ever undertaken in its history.

The program, Garden in Transit, is the brainchild of brothers Ed and Bernie Massey whose original program, Portraits of Hope, was launched as a creative therapy program for seriously ill and physically disabled children in 1995.

The idea is to give children a voice using art as a way of transforming high profile public landscapes. To date, thousands of kids have left their mark on everything from blimps, buildings, boats and airplanes - to that most famous of NYC institutions, the taxi. For those children who are unable to use a conventional paintbrush, special brushes are designed to help them paint with their mouths or feet.

Rtnav_git_cabThe symbol of the Portraits of Hope program is a flower - an icon universally known for its reference to life, hope, inspiration and healing.

In addition to its benefits in teaching the value of teamwork and community, what's most inspiring about this program is its ability to give meaning and hope to children who might not otherwise have a voice in society. By participating in the project, kids gain a sense of empowerment and pride by leaving their mark on some very high profile projects. The real value is the sense of ownership that kids feel by leaving a little bit of themselves on the city.

For a child faced with cancer, burn trauma, spinal injuries, HIV and other serious conditions, the ability to say "I did that!" is a gift that brings true joy and meaning to their existence.  Flower by flower, paintbrush by paintbrush, each child is empowered in a way that makes them feel as if what they have to say is valued.

The project also holds sessions in schools throughout the city where students are able to collaborate on ideas, and discuss issues of social significance such as the environment, ethnic relations, poverty and animal rights. The students then design art projects representing the issues they choose to be of utmost importance.

Starting September 2007, New York City cabs will have colourful waterproof panels applied to their hoods, trunks and/or roofs. The whole city will be transformed into a colourful mobile floral canvas - a monument to the hopes, dreams and inspiration of kids who remind us that in spite of its battles, life is still there to be savoured.

What an amazing inspiration, and what a monumental honour to the ability of the human spirit to surpass all odds!

Congratulations New York City, and congratulations to the Massey brothers for having the courage and vision to take on this project. May this serve as an inspiration for cities around the world who are looking for creative ways to address social challenges.

In a world so often fraught with chaos and violence, Garden in Transit is a true beacon for those struggling to find a voice and meaning in a society that so often forgets its disadvantaged.

What are you doing today to help provide meaning to someone else's life?


Sean Penn Takes TIFF Audience Into the Wild

200pxchris_mccandlessOne of my favourite movies so far at this year's Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is Sean Penn's movie rendition of Jon Krakauer's bestselling novel, Into the Wild. The story follows the real-life journey of Christopher McCandless (shown at left) who decides to ditch society as he knows it for the wilds of Alaska. The characters McCandless meets along the way are intriguing, and serve as a reminder to a time when life seemed much simpler.

In addition to the breathtaking shots of Alaska's raw and untouched wilderness, what's perhaps most intriguing about this movie is its ability to touch within us a profound and universal cord. By the end of the movie, there wasn't a sound nor a dry eye in the house. I would wager to bet that every single person in the audience had at some point (if only for a moment), contemplated the idea of leaving the concrete jungle to tackle yet another kind of wilderness. A place as of yet still untouched by societal pressures and norms.

Movies with powerful stories have the ability to transport us to another place and time. For 140 minutes, Chris McCandless' journey became my own. It reminded me at times of my own journey in life, and how during my teenage years, I began to question authority and what was expected of me.

Powerful movies in all genres are able to:

1) Transport us to another place and time through use of a universal theme

2) Make us think about decisions or actions we have made in our own lives - and about the consequences of those actions

3) Inspire us through someone else's story

Perhaps you know of a Christopher McCandless out there somewhere. Or, perhaps, there's even a little bit of him in yourself.

What movies have inspired you to take action in your life? What is it about a good film that moves you?


Capitalizing on Emotions to Predict Hollywood Blockbusters

Et_equipFor decades, the advertising and entertainment worlds have used emotional appeal to sell their wares. Content that touches the emotions of movie-goers is almost certainly going to make an impact on the bottom-line. But is it possible to predict a Hollywood blockbuster before it's even released to the public? PictureAnywhere thinks so.

PictureAnywhere is a company that evaluates content for the entertainment world. Using proprietary, psychology-based software called Envio, the company measures the entertainment value of scripts, storyboards, movies, TV sitcoms and advertisements by measuring the effectiveness of emotional patterns generated by the content. The process is usually implemented in the pre-production stage to allow for any changes to future content.

Using emotions as the fundamental unit of measurement, scripts or storyboards are broken down into pictorial elements. The content is then charted using Envio to see whether or not it is connecting with audiences.

In the unforgivingly competitive industry that is Hollywood, a process that can help predict a movie's potential for success is definitely worth looking at. At its fundamental level, the process of gaging a movies' entertainment value makes sense. Although financial success in Hollywood depends on a variety of factors, most blockbusters follow similar themes, and affect audiences in similar ways.

Et_image_left In the book "The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters", Christopher Vogler outlines the importance of good stories, and how it's the emotional journeys that "hook" the audience and make a story worth watching.

PictureAnywhere takes the process one step further by delving into measurement success predictors such as "heart to mind", "emotion packed" and "positive to negative" ratios. It seems to be an innovative combination of tools taking key findings from art, science and commerce and using them to determine potential emotional impact on an audience.

With increasing competition from a variety of platforms, Hollywood's success will continue to rest in its ability to connect with audiences. As Ravi Reddy, founder of PictureAnywhere says, "Scripts with no emotional intelligence are toast. Before committing to any script, it is best to measure its emotional content and entertainment values."

Imagine the value to Hollywood and the entertainment industry in general if, as PictureAnywhere claims, we could measure entertainment value before it happened? It seems the real winners in the race to box office stardom will be those who possess that rare and extremely marketable trait - emotional intelligence.


What Does it Take to Get Hired These Days? Ask Seth Godin!

Seth Godin wrote an interesting post on what employers should be looking for when they hire someone. According to Godin, it seems employers tend to hire people who are better at self-marketing, than they are at doing the actual job. So what if you can think on your feet, create documents without typos and present well to strangers! Chances are that potential employers will go for charisma and clever cover letter writing, before they will hire someone who can actually help them out.

Being on the job hunt myself, I fully agree with Godin's viewpoint. In most cases, I'm just as qualified as anyone to do the job. I have great references with highly reputable companies and a proven track record, yet for some reason certain companies won't hire me. Funny thing is, once they do hire someone, I see the same job ad posted several months later, because their new "hiree" decided to move onto greener pastures. So...what kind of criteria are these companies basing their decisions on? Why can't they see that it's not always the smooth, fast talking types who are able to succeed at job requirements?

I don't for a minute discredit myself by saying that I lack charisma. I've given speeches and presentations to both small and large audiences, and know that I have personality and am able to genuinely connect with people. So...what's missing?

Maybe it's time for employers to look beyond the superficial and really take a hard look at someone's experience and potential. Jim Collins, in his #1 Bestselling book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don't, says that "In a good-to-great transformation, people are not your most important asset. The right people are."

Maybe I just haven't found the right company yet. If you have any ideas or comments, I'd love to hear them. In the meantime, I better get busy on that cover letter...