Word of Mouth

When one plays on my side of the media game, one ends up on a lot of e-mail lists. Inasmuch as I’m often surprised to which lists my address has been sold, I’m sure the purchasers of my address are just as often surprised that I receive their cloying missives – who would surely rather I didn’t. Particularly my enemies – including Mick Robbins of VinSpinPR. Considering the tawdry attempt at solicitation pasted below, I’m sure Robbins would have remained mum had he known that I would print it here.  It’s a primer on word-of-mouth marketing so lacking, that mere comment risks improving it – and that’s just not journalism, mates.
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From the desk of Mick Robbins:

Tourist towns, such as ours, function much like airports – people from the world over momentarily converge, then dissipate, only to be replaced by an endless stream of other momentary convergences of humanity. This everlasting flow of international traffic makes both locations ideal for releasing one’s idea-viruses, memes and sundry other buzz-marketing notions at a fraction of what it would cost to reach the same far-flung consumers with traditional marketing. With word-of-mouth marketing, the best kind there is, one need only speak very loudly whilst repeating one’s message. Over and over. Until the police come.
Spend half an hour pacing the sidewalk in front of, say, a popular boulangerie, and you will likely hear half-a-dozen accents from at least three continents. Keep in mind that these fine visitors have never seen you before and will likely never see you again. This means they are prime targets for your messaging magic because you want them to remember your words – not you. Remember, sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can never hurt you. So, keep your sticks and stones out of it.

Now you’re ready for what I call the Three V’s of Word-of-Mouth Marketing: Vacuum, Volume and Volatility. And Vision. Continue reading “Word of Mouth”

50s vs 80s: Ever Wonder Why the 80s Look Like the 50s? Ask the 70s.

The 50s vs 80s

In the dopey hippie-mentors-square-padawan film Flashback, Dennis Hopper, riding easily on his 60s street cred, optimistically observed that “The 90s are going to make the 60s look like the 50s.” Uh, yeah. Somehow, Hopper’s character missed the fact that another era already looked like the 50s — the 80s — thanks to an over-investment in mid-century nostalgia made in the 70s. More to the point, the 80s version of the 50s seems to have supplanted reality, rendering the era as a postmodern play-date sandwiched between the bomb and the pill. And the 80s too, seem to have become conflated with its own rosy vision of the 50s. The eras are linked, in part, because they bookend the Cold War — that, and Reagan clearly nicked his haircut from the Bob’s Big Boy in Burbank, which has just opened in 1950.

How the 70s made the 80s Look Like the 50s

Consider a recent “Totally 80s”-themed event presented by the Santa Rosa Charter School, the poster for which featured a pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarers, the sunglasses first made iconic in the 1950s by the likes of James Dean and Roy Orbison. On the wane by the early 80s, the brand enjoyed a stratospheric resuscitation after inking a deal with Burbank-based Unique Product Placement, which pimped and subsequently placed the shades in about 300 movies and television shows into the mid-80s (could Risky Business-era Tom Cruise have peered through another brand of sunglasses as darkly?).

Our cultural yen for 50s nostalgia began steeping in the 70s, most notably with George Lucas’ seminal (and best) flick American Graffiti (which is actually set in the early 60s — per its bus ad “Where were you in ’62?”). That Lucas only had to wait 11 years before shooting his 1973 love-letter-to-a-bygone-era is testament to how radically the world had been changed by the 60s.

Likewise, given the cultural baggage of the 70s (Watergate, disco), family-oriented television eagerly embraced Happy Days, which owes a substantial genetic debt to American Graffiti, as well as much of its principle cast. Ditto its spin-off Laverne and Shirley. 1978’s Grease, set 20 years prior to its release, deepened the nostalgia craze with catchy tunes and the momentary resurrection of 50s teen idol Frankie Avalon. Moreover, revival act Sha Na Na had its own short-lived show in 1977 and Richard O’Brien’s rock opera paean to 50s science fiction double features, The Rocky Horror Picture Show began its climb to cult status.

Though the bridge to 50s had been built in the 70s, it took yet another Happy Days spin-off to cross fully into the 80s. And it wasn’t Joanie Loves Chachi. Even more improbable, it was the man from Ork. Robin Williams’ ADHD-afflicted spaceman Mork first appeared in the fifth season of Happy Days in a thinly-veiled launch of the character in his own series, Mork and Mindy, which ran from 1978 to 1982. In at least two more instances, Mork interacted with the Fonze et al, bouncing between both shows and eras because, as he professed, he enjoyed the 50s when life was more “humdrum.”

50s vs 80s: If Looks Could Kill

The idealized 50s of Richie Cunningham and crew germinated for three years and sprouted as the Back to the Future franchise in 1985. As aspiring rock guitarist Marty McFly, Michael J. Fox’s time travel itinerary finds him departing the 80s and arriving in the 50s via an upgraded DeLorean. And, of course, the Wayfarer-wearing Huey Lewis performed the film’s signature tune “Power of Love” (Lewis’ “Hip to Be Square” ode to social conformity was later used to better, if chilling effect, in the 80s-set American Psycho).

Thanks to the abundance of 50s imagery, fashion at my 80s-era junior high began to morph, which accounts for the unfortunate outbreak of flat-tops. Just as suddenly, Godzilla tchotkes demanded shelf space, Peggy Sue got married and 50s-inspired diners spread with a virulence not seen again until the advent of Starbucks. Seth MacFarlane’s gang at The Family Guy observed this later 80s/50s phenomena in “I Dream of Jesus,” episode 2, season 7. Upon entering a diner donned in 50s decor, Lois observes to her kids “There’s a lot of history here. 50s diners were really popular in the eighties.”

If Santa Rosa Charter School’s “Totally 80s” event is any indication, the tide of 80s nostalgia is rising. Perhaps they got it right and instead of skipping down Memory Lane in Sperry Topsiders, wore their Wayfarers at night so as not to be blind The Day After. In the real 80s, kids, we didn’t expect a flashback — just a flash.

This column is brought to you by…

Meanwhile, in Hollywood, your intrepid reporter slung his Timbuk2 “blogger bag” over his shoulder, and dashed from the Virgin America terminal to a random rental car shuttle. And since he hadn’t the foresight to book a car prior to departing Sonoma, he booked it via his iPhone while en route. Mysteriously, at no point did he realize that he had become a brand cliché. He was a walking-talking amalgam of various themes and associations projected by the products with which he perceived the world and himself within it, um, through Ray-Ban sunglasses.

As advances in online media continue to poach eyeballs from traditional media, advertisers have had to find new ways of integrating their messages to a public, which increasingly has the means (and the right) to avoid them. This is where brand-integration enters the picture – a notion I encountered firsthand while searching for my 11 a.m. meeting with a client to discuss partnering on a new TV series. I had managed to get lost in the convoluted corridors where Lions Gate Films and other notable entertainment brands create tomorrow’s graven images in cubicles. Fortunately, I found myself receiving directions from a gentleman also wandering the hall, who works for a leading brand-integration agency. I looked them up later and according to their Web site, “Brand Integration is the process of building a brand into an entertainment property in a way that creates a direct interactive experience between the product and the characters or audience.” Moreover, an “entertainment property” can be anything from movies, TV shows and video games to comic books, novels and (presumably) newspaper columns as old-school broadcast commercials, and the sundry other means of mass messaging are trundling like mammoths into the evolutionary abyss. Continue reading “This column is brought to you by…”

Courtesy Phone: It Rings for Thee

Ring, ring, ring...When it comes to dead media, I’m something of a tomb raider (at least I was while penning a futuristic ode to the Singularity, Google-gone-awry and 70s sci-fi flicks). Of course, scribe Bruce Sterling’s Dead Media Project aided in this endeavor and recently I encountered a similar project at Netherlands-based Experimental Jetset’s rather stylish Lost Formats Preservation Society page.

Neither of these sites, however, references the myriad means of personal communication devices facing extinction in our Digital Age. The pay-phone, of course, has long been a goner thanks to the advent of mobile phones, which, I suppose is great for everyone except Dr. Who and Clark Kent who relied heavily on phone booths for their respective travel and sartorial needs. An often overlooked endangered species of phone is the once-ubiquitous “white courtesy phone” whose natural habitat of airports and finer department stores has been steadily chewed by the Bluetoothed and Jawboned. I spotted the white courtesy phone pictured here in the wild, cowering near an exit at SFO’s International terminal. As I studied its ivory handset, yellowed by time and neglect, a sort of Borgesian fantasy sprung to mind: Fingerprint the phone. Find who last used it. Call them. Learn that they died years ago after receiving a call from Death. On a white courtesy phone. Make clever allusion to For Whom the Bell Tolls. Send to McSweeney’s.