When Brands Attack

CollegeHumor’s Jake Hurwitz and Amir Blumenfeld, the tw0fer talent behind the eponymously titled online show “Jake and Amir,” will emcee the next week’s 2009 Digital Content NewFront confab during Internet Week New York. Advertising juggernaut Digitas and its brand content entity, The Third Act, will host the invite-only symposium though a live-stream is available to the great unwashed who also hope to clean up with branded content (I feel so dirty). To create awareness of the gig, the duo created a comedic video that depicts a pitfall of branded entertainment ? namely, when the brand overtakes the entertainment.

The satire has particular resonance in light of Barbarian Group CEO Benjamin Palmer’s quotes in an? Adweek column (reported by David Gianatasio), which came on the heels of Digitas’ launch of The Third Act last year:? “Most of the time, something that’s going to make a perfect TV or Web show, proper video game or film is going to be an idea that doesn’t inherently play directly in line with the brand story (like, let’s say, insurance.). Because, what makes a great show, game or film? Artistic merit, humanity, story, talent. These occasionally overlap with marketing demographic, industry sector and brand penetration, but more often than not, they do not.”

Mind you Palmer’s comment came a year before the release of branded entertainment behemoth “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian,” though the case for “artistic merit” here might be difficult to make. As far as Hurwitz and Blumenfeld are concerned,? however, the overlap of “marketing demographic, industry sector and brand penetration” is near absolute, to say nothing of the melding of medium and message. It’s like McLuhan porn ? good work guys.

Sonoma Surveillance

I always feel like somebody's watching me.
I always feel like somebody's watching me.

One advantage of living in the Age of Information is that even Joe Sonoma has access to the kind of spy-fi gadgetry that would have made early incarnations of James Bond feel woefully inadequate.

Add to the fact that we live in an incredibly small town where one is as apt to spill as much gossip as wine (though the former usually precedes the latter), and suddenly any secret ever uttered is everyone else’s business. And backed with online evidence to boot. Aiding and abetting this social espionage are more than a few social networking sites that serve as online analogues to our quotidian experience. Though reading that Joe Sonoma “needs coffee” isn’t nearly as interesting as evaluating the current attractiveness of one’s exes, chances are you might actually see Joe Sonoma at EDK within an hour. Witnessing one’s online-foreknowledge of an event played out in reality is somehow gratifying (and, if Joe Sonoma is your ex, it’s probably time for a visit to the clinic).

Since I live my life like an open book, or at least an open broadsheet, I’ve been called out on most of my misdoings (especially the public gaffs, as when I riffed on the remaining life-expectancy of those at a planning commission meeting regarding a certain venue for live music and was roundly chided – and dare I say forgiven – by dear and lovely Cheryl, to whose enduring health and longevity I heartily toast). When I’m not being reproached in public (deservedly or otherwise) there are plenty of online forums, such as the Index-Tribune’s sonomanews.com, where my readers can stalk me and express misgivings about my work, which then become public record for all to enjoy. Forever.

A fellow recently posted the suggestion that I temper my use of the first-person in a comment appended to one of my columns, ignoring the fact that my gig is to write first-person observational humor.

I replied to the dude by posting a Woody Allen quote from “Stardust Memories”:

During a Q&A an audience member avers, “A lot of people have accused you of being narcissistic.” Woody replies, “I know people think that I’m egotistical and narcissistic, but it’s not true. If I did identify with a Greek mythological character, it would not be Narcissus.” The audience member persists “Who would it be?” and Woody deadpans “Zeus.”

The guy didn’t dig it. Of course, if I were to shirk the first-person and go for the alternative, referring to myself in the third-person, I think he’d be further nonplussed.

Oddly, however, that’s precisely how Facebook asks us to frame our responses to its ubiquitous query, “What’s on your mind?” Our responses are preceded with our login names, to wit, if one wants to maintain any pretense of grammar, one must post one’s updates in the third person. To wit, “Daedalus Howell is mulling the preceding 480 words of his column.” What’s on your mind?

These days, I seldom go anywhere in Sonoma without first tapping into the eye-in-the-sky made available by Google Maps.

The “street view” option takes the virtual visit to near perfection. You can put in your pals’ addresses and chide them on their gardening skills (the rosemary is looking a little unruly, Kathleen) without having to leave your desk. If Bond had Google Maps with street view, he’d avoid many an island fortress of doom. I personally enjoy clicking my browser around the Plaza, beginning with a right turn from Broadway and preceding with left turns until – and this is where the real thrill occurs – the traffic sign reads “Right turn only” from First Street West onto West Napa Street – and I click left (insert diabolical laughter here). Yes, I’m merely “virtual villain.” But I still expect you to die, Mr. Bond.

Voice from the Past and Future

Dave Fennoy, Voice of God
Dave Fennoy, Voice of God/Hulu

As Hulu continues to siphon viewers from TV land into its gaping maw of its voluminous server-barns, we can finally say ?Convergence is upon us.? Fortunately, no one is using the word ?convergence? anymore. However, back when we did, one man?s voice could be heard loud and clear above the din of ka-ching and kaput. That voice belonged to Dave Fennoy.

Fennoy has been the deep, golden-throated resonance behind such companies as McDonalds, Corona Beer, Toyota and AT&T (he also done stints with nearly every TV and cable network reachable by remote). Moreover, according to the Wookiepedia, Fennoy?s voice can be heard in a couple of Star Wars video games, which, I believe, is casting agent code for ?Fennoy is cheaper than James Earl Jones.? This was good news for Jerry Rapp and I, who happened to be creating content for Hypnotic, which was then a subsidiary of Universal Pictures (then it wasn?t, then it somehow morphed into Bourne Identity helmer Doug Liman?s shingle and eventually changed its name to ?Dutch Oven Productions? for reasons lost to the annals of Hollywood).

Anyway, Rapp and I produced a suite of mock 1950s-style educational films for the pre-Le Creuset version of the company, which included narration by Fennoy, whose ?Voice of God? one might now recognize as the ?Voice of Hulu? (“The following program is brought to you with limited commercial interruption by…”).

To edify your ears with the genius of Fennoy back when ?hulu? only meant ?cease and desist? in Swahili (seriously), I present to you the complete R&H Educational Film Series in this convenient YouTube player (yeah, take that, Showtime).

Business Travel on the Cheap

Up, up and expensed.
Up, up and expensed.

Your intrepid reporter and aspiring media mogul has returned from a weeklong tour of business stops and family visits across the continent (LA to NYC with, somehow, a pit stop in St. Helena). Though I travel frequently for business, I’ve never been one of those corporate road warriors inured to the slings and arrows of pursuing one’s outrageous fortune.

I’m a travel wimp. I love my own bed and the woman with whom I share it. Pangs of homesickness set in after about half an hour. This is why I’m always going home for lunch and napping midday. “You ate everything in the house and slept all day,” says my wife and I reply “Yes, because I missed you.” I’m also prone to “traveler’s remorse,” due to the fact that, like you, darlings, I live in the most beautiful place on earth. Thus the nagging question “What the devil am I doing here?” whenever elsewhere.

The short answer, while on business is: Wheeling and dealing, baby, that’s what I’m doing, and sometimes you just have to go where the action is. And the devil. Consider this mental jujitsu – You wouldn’t go to Hollywood for wine would you? I rest my case.

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Well, actually, we drank my case, but it was for the sake of the flick and I have the footage to prove it. It’s a living and I’m pleased to once again be part of the jet set, or at least, the JetBlue set, because, hey, start-ups aren’t what they were when I first got into the biz. Ah, the bubblicious late ’90s. “Content is king,” pronounced the emperor as he streaked the halls clad in designer hubris. Those were the days; catered lunches, a hand masseur and Fusbol game on every floor. Yeah, my new operation has none of the above and even less for good measure. When you’re the boss, what once seemed cheap is now respectably prudent.

I even packed my own burrito for my JetBlue flight and checked in some of my clients’ wine for later (the delightful new Menage a Trois chardonnay for business and the splendid 2007 zinfandel, courtesy of Kunde Family Estate, for pleasure).

In recent years, charging extra for checked luggage has become an expensive trend among airlines. Checked luggage meaning the change of clothes one is unable to cram into one’s allotment of a single laptop bag. Hence, when one absolutely, positively has to be wherever overnight, save on the fees by wearing layers that can be rearranged to suggest the appearance of fresh garments. A leather belt can double as a skinny retro necktie if properly knotted; a T-shirt worn on top of one’s dress shirt can easily pass as a vest in most low-light situations.

Also, keep travel expenses down by forgoing pricey hotel accommodations and simply staying up all night at any of a number of 24-hour chain restaurants. Don’t worry about being tired for your big meeting the next day – all the coffee refills you’ll be imbibing because you’re too frugal a businessman to order anything but a beverage should keep you ready and alert. And remember to tip every waitperson whose shift you sit through. Otherwise, they’ll call the cops on you for loitering.

In an effort to keep your insurance costs down, avoid picking up airborne illnesses. Jetliners are really just huge, airborne tubes of human pathogens. No one wants to be Patient Zero of the next pandemic, but if you’re like me, a facemask is not an accessory that fits easily into one’s wardrobe. Yet, while flying, the last thing one wants to do is breath the recycled air that has already passed through the lungs of dozens of potential sickos. Solution: Bring face masks for everyone else – you get to keep your couture intact while expressing your magnanimous concern for the well-being of others. Plus, you can pretend you’re the patient in an airborne operating theater. Just be sure to retrieve all the masks for your return flight. It’s good for the bottom line and that’s good for you.