Archive for the ‘fun with creativity’ Category

In case you missed the Blanchardacus piece in the August issue of E’lite, click here.

Some background on this article  and –  more importantly – on its unusual concept for a photo shoot. Here’s how it happened.

About a year ago, some UK tech bloggers and other digitally-savvy professionals were contacted about a bold little photo project. The idea was to raise funds for Take Heart India, a charity focused on IT education projects for blind and disabled students in India. The method: A nude calendar. Kinduv. It was well done.

Check out the piece about it in The Guardian here.

Check out some of the images here.

Back in the US, some of us thought it was a fun idea. Not that I would drop trou for just any project – or ever – but hey, for a good cause, with the right talent behind the lens, and if enough of us did it, why not? Anyway, this was a topic of discussion among several of us, and it basically didn’t get very far. (As far as I know, such a calendar has yet to be produced.)

Somewhere along these discussions, someone asked me what kind of “setting” would suit me for such a shoot. (Surprisingly, no one thought to ask me what month I wanted to be, which to me seemed like a much better question.) I didn’t really know. I know this may come as a surprise, but I don’t really give nude tech calendar photoshoot themes a whole lot of thought. The scooter thing had already been done. So had the pensive couch pose. I was out of ideas. Me as Tarzan swinging from a vine made up of network cables? A little insane, especially since it would involve a chimp and a leopard loincloth, but okay, maybe. Another idea was – because I am an avid cyclist and triathlete – to shoot an homage to this Lance Armstrong photo shoot for Vanity Fair. That could be cool. The point being that once we started having fun with the notion, ideas proved to be anything but in short supply.

Fast forward to the spring of 2010. One of the people who had been involved with the calendar conversations was E’lite Magazine’s very own Cd Vann. She asked if I would be open to doing a quick little profile feature on me for the magazine, and I promptly accepted. All we needed to iron out next was the topic of the piece, and how to shoot some photos for it. Getting good photos wasn’t the issue. I wanted to do something a little different.

Now, at this point, it might be good for me to back-track a little bit and give you some context beyond our conversations about the calendar. Two things happened in early 2010 that led to the idea behind both the focus of the piece and the concept of the shoot – aside from our conversations about the US version of the aforementioned calendar.

The first was this: At the time, I seemed to have acquired a reputation for not shying away from a heated debate both on my blog and on the twitternets. Not that I was a brawler or anything nor a hothead, but the occasional blog post did chaff certain sensibilities when it came to… well, purveyors of Social Media snake oil.

Okay, fine. To borrow Scott Monty’s own words, I sometimes “poked” at people until I got a reaction. My piece on ISMA chaffed (especially at the since defunct ISMA). My criticism of horrendous R.O.I. calculators and other bogus equations didn’t exactly jive with the “live and let live” attitude many among the Social Media Elite seemed to favor. The truth is that I didn’t really care if I ruffled a handful of feathers, as long as the feathers were in need of ruffling. I felt an obligation not only to myself but to the public at large to not only cast a light on very bad practices, but also explain what was wrong with them. Not everyone likes that. Comments on the blog triggered some heated debates, which continued on Twitter.

No blood was shed and I did my best to always remain cordial, but people with thin skin and little ground to stand on left these discussions bruised, sometimes a little battered. “Don’t mess with @thebrandbuilder” showed up once or twice in my feed. I don’t think that makes me combative. That isn’t the right word. But okay, yes, I liked the open forum. I liked the public debate. I enjoyed the sport of it, and not just because of the moral ground angle. I won’t deny that.

Now, about the same time, Starz (yes, the premium movie channel) launched a new series based on Spartacus, the legendary Thracian slave who rose up against Rome in the first Century BC and nearly brought the Republic to its knees. Spartacus was of course made famous by Kirk Douglas in the golden age of Cinemascope (Thank you Stanley Kubrick). This version of Spartacus’ life (essentially a prequel to the movie) was much more of an overcharged special-effects cliché-fest with visuals ripped right out of Zach Snyder’s big screen adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300 (which told the story of the Spartans’ heroic stand at Thermopylae). Anyway. I started watching the show more out of boredom than anything, then out of curiosity, then habit… and then it actually got good. I became a fan and made no secret of it.

Sometime in the spring, someone started calling me Blanchardacus. Ian G. Lang, one of my friends on Twitter, amused by the idea, even created some pretty fly graphics with photoshop and some of Starz’ own promo graphics. Aside from being funny, it gave life to the idea that something could be done around the silliness of “Blanchardacus.”

When Cd Vann and I started discussing the piece for E’lite Magazine, I jokingly told her we could take the Blanchardacus idea and run with it. Remembering our discussions about the calendar and having been a weekly participant in my online conversations, she didn’t hesitate. It wasn’t a joke after all. We could actually do this, so… we did. The shoot was produced in South Carolina while E’lite’s editors combined three separate interviews into one, much of it Scott Stratten‘s handiwork. (You may know him on Twitter as @unmarketing – his superhero name.)

These are some of the shots E’lite Magazine played with for the piece. Some of them made it, others not:

Note the strange tattoo on my sword arm in the above image.

This is not a real tattoo. It’s just… a little hello to my friend Tyler at the Paper Street Soap Company.

You can pick up the trail here, if you dare.

Oh yeah. We shot this in full costume, fifty meters from a main road. Tourists were taking pictures of us.

What I learned from this photo shoot:

1. I’m no Andy Whitfield (who plays Spartacus in the series and looks a hell of a lot tougher, dirtier and cooler than I do):

2. Spray-on abs: Next time, they’re happening.

3. It was a lot of fun.

Check out the August issue of E’lite Magazine and the Blanchardacus piece here.

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Pop quiz: You own or manage a restaurant. A hotel. A coffee shop. A specialty goods store. A hot dog stand. A bank. A movie theater. A shoe store. A gym. A bodega. A hair salon. A sushi bar. A pub. A public park. A swimming pool. A museum. An art gallery. A city. Do you know who the mayor of your business is?

If you don’t, find out today. Right now. Here’s why: It could help your business grow pretty quickly if you play your cards right. More on that in a minute. First, here’s how to find out who has claimed the title of mayor on Foursquare: (Huh? fourwhat? Hang on. We’ll get to that too.)

The How:

Step 1: Go to www.foursquare.com

Step 2: In the search box (top right) enter your business name.

Step 3: When your business information pops up, look to the right of the screen. You will see an icon labeled “mayor”. That’s who the mayor is.

The Now What:

Find out who they are, and you give them the royal treatment next time they come into your store. Let them know you’re paying attention to a) Foursquare, b) whom is taking the time to check in every time they come into your place of business, and c) who is sharing that information (that recommendation) with their friends on Foursquare, Twitter and Facebook.

Think about giving them a discount or a gift while you’re at it. Set up a “mayor parking” spot outside. Treat them like a VIP inside the store. Address them as “Mister Mayor” or “Your Grace,” when they walk in. It’s up to you. Have fun with it. Give them more reasons to like you. It never hurts to reward kindness with kindness, and remember that it is supposed to be fun and rewarding.

The Why:

If you aren’t familiar with Foursquare yet, here it is in a paragraph: It’s a game played on mobile devices. People “check in” to businesses and other locations, and try to accumulate points. In some instances, they win much coveted “badges” (see some examples below).

In other instances, if they are the most frequent visitor of a location (like your store), they are crowned “mayor” of that location. The game is free, works on a variety of mobile platforms, and players have the option to share their check-ins with their network of family and friends on Foursquare, Twitter and Facebook. It’s a silly game, sure, but it is powerful as well. Here’s why:

1. Frequency – Because checking-in is a game, it is fun. That, in and of itself, is reward enough. Mayorships and badges are also rewards for activity on Foursquare. What it means is this: Foursquare gives people an incentive to visit your store more often, just so they can check in. Especially if you are running a promotion aimed at your store’s mayor. As a business, you can thus easily use Foursquare to increase the frequency of visits to your store(s). That equates to more foot traffic, more mindshare, and potentially more sales. (While they’re in your store, they’ll probably buy something.)

2. Reach – In case you missed it earlier, when someone “checks in” to your location, they broadcast that check-in to their various digital networks. Right now, that is mostly Foursquare itself, Twitter and Facebook. This will probably grow over time. But consider that the average american has what… over 200+ “friends” on Facebook? Think about the power of having a single customer broadcast that they are in your restaurant, in your hair salon, in your pub to 200+ of their friends every time they come in. Now multiply that by ten customers. Now multiply that by 100 customers.

Though not technically “active” word of mouth, Foursquare check-ins are still de-facto endorsement of your business. In other words, it isn’t just a question of exposure. A check-in is an affirmation of endorsement. It might as well say “I am here, and I am proud to tell you all that I am doing business here. Come do the same.” That’s the context of a check-in.

Every time one of your customers checks-in and broadcasts that they are doing business with you, they potentially trigger a visit in an average of 200 other potential customers. (Either existing customers or potential customers.)

3. Yield – Of the three, this one is probably the toughest to achieve, but as a measure of loyalty, yield (average purchase amount) can be impacted by foursquare activity. As frequency of visits increases and loyalty follows suit, it is likely that a portion of your customers will escalate their purchase amounts as well. Loyalty can lead to a higher percentage of wallet share, not just through buy rates (frequency) but also higher price-point purchases.

A word on escalation: Take the example of a bike shop. A casual customer may come in once a month and buy some energy bars, a bike jersey and some socks. As this customer is developed into a regular, they start purchasing all of their energy bars from you instead of buying them from several different places. They may also start jonesing for that new pair of cycling shoes and that new helmet they will soon rationalize they need to replace their “old” ones with. If you treat them well and understand their needs, this escalation may lead to a higher dollar purchase like a race wheel upgrade, a carbon-fiber set of handlebars upgrade, a full bike tune-up, or even a brand new bike to start off the new season in style.

Result: In six months to a year, you could potentially turn a casual customer who only bought low-hanging-fruit items in your store to a loyal customer with a habit of dropping large amounts of cash on premium upgrades with you, instead of blowing them on something else.

Note: You cannot escalate yield if you do not have a relationship with your customer. There is no shortcut here. You have to get to know them. You have to become part of their world. This is not something you can do from a corporate office, or from the back of the store. Someone has to interact with them on a human level – both online and offline.

More thoughts on how to leverage Foursquare:

How your business can use Foursquare is up to you. Use your imagination. Try different things. Be clever. Have fun with it. Perhaps you can work with Foursquare to create badges for your business, the way that Bravo, Starbucks, SxSW, Marc Jacobs and several cities (San Francisco, New York, Brooklyn and Chicago) already have. Here is Starbucks’ very own Barista badge. To obtain it, players only need check in at 5 different Starbucks locations:

Imagine the same thing for your business, or banding with retailers in your area to create a badge players could unlock by visiting 5 of your combined locations. You could work with an organization or with a city even, to help promote your business through Foursquare. You don’t have to do it all yourself.

Perhaps you can also create promotions around Foursquare activity, like flashmobs (using your business and a particular sales event to help customers achieve both all-too elusive swarm badges (50 people checking in together and 250 people checking in together.)

Another fun idea: Procure some Foursquare Merit Badges and ceremoniously award them to customers who acquired virtual badges online (see below).

Whatever you choose to do, start at the beginning: Find out who the mayor of your business is, acknowledge that status, and reward it with warmth and gratitude, if not with product.  Next: Create an account and get rolling. It’s your business. Take charge and participate. Welcome to a whole new world of marketing fun. If you’re lucky, you will beat your competitors to it. (Never underestimate first-mover advantage, especially in the age of twitter & facebook real-time word-of-mouth.)

Footnote: I spoke to two retailers yesterday who had never heard of foursquare. One didn’t know that dozens of customers were already checking into their store regularly, and I added the other’s venue because there wasn’t one yet. Guess what: One knows who the mayor of their business is today, and he has a plan now. The other will know as soon as someone becomes the mayor, and is already working on some promotions. We will revisit these two businesses in a few months to see how they fare.

Also check out Gowalla.com while you’re at it. Very much the same thing, and it too is growing.

Additional reading:

Via Mark Van Baale (@markvanbaale on twitter) – “Foursquare sees another big Domino fall

And this great piece via Mashable on Foursquare’s business analytics dashboard.

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#32: Dead-end meetings in drab, poorly ventilated conference rooms.

#33: Inexcusably bad coffee.

#34: Petty office politics.

#35: The futility of hope.

#36: The blockade of all social media apps.

#37: Cubicles.

#38: Windows XP.

#39: The day Dilbert stopped being funny.

#40: Monday morning whippings/team meetings.

#41: Unapologetic backstabbing.

#42: TPS reports.

#43: 15+ bullets per slide.

#44: Fluorescent lights.

#45: The imposition of artificial limits.

#45: All talk, no walk.

Life on the outside is GOOD!!!


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Another great Hitler video. If his Twitter follow issues weren’t enough, now his creatives are splitting too. What’s an agency dictator to do? Has the world gone mad? Check it out.

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Pure friggin’ genius. 😀

Click on the image to play the video.

Hat tip to Dan Hollings.

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Okay, so the question today is: If I were to write a horror novel or movie script, what should I go with:

A) Conflicted government assassin turned into an undead slave by an evil Haitian voodoo crime lord struggles to retain his humanity, avenge his own “death” and save the woman he loves before his enemies can get to her. Action adventure. (Above.)


B) Creepy claustrophobic psychological study of how unhinged people can get towards one another when confronted with absolute terror in a very confined space. (Below.)

Use the little poll gizmo (below) to vote for what you think would be the coolest (or least horrendous) of the two projects.

Have a fun and safe Halloween, everyone! (Yes, even zombies.)

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Someone sent me this today, and it made me laugh outloud. Funny and clever no matter what your political views.

Also a great little example of the power of a well executed viral campaign. (Even Fox News picked it up!)

Click on the image to see the video.

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Come to think of it, let’s just call movie critics as a whole “morons.” How about this: Go see movies for yourselves, and make up your own minds as to whether or not they pushed the right buttons for you.

But back to the Wachowski Brothers’ Speed Racer: You may hear or read a lot of bad reviews about the film. Things being said will fall along the lines of…”Too cartoonish” or “too C.G.I.-looking,” or the most annoying yet “looks more like a video game than a movie.” Bleh.

Not to mention the fact that by catering its marketing to a VERY young audience, Speed Racer may not reach its audience and fail at the box office… which would be an awful shame, because it is actually a VERY good movie. You just have to a) completely embrace its style, b) leave your adult brain at home, c) embrace the insanely bold use of the medium, and d) understand the level to which this movie elevate the source material.

Yes, the movie looks like a video game in the sense that it looks nothing like our world. This may be one of the most colorful and purposely artificial movie you’ll ever see. The look of the film, with its unapologetic overdose of bright colors, its unbelievably blue skies and the very unique artificial look is part of its genius.

If you don’t like the look of movies like “Sin City,” “Moulin Rouge” or “300,” the visual style of Speed Racer may not be your cup of tea either. If, however, you can appreciate a unique visual style that successfully bridges the gap between the original source material and the movie adaptation, you can easily look at Speed Racer as an art film – which it so clearly is.

The movie is completely over the top in every possible way. As a matter of fact, I would go as far as to say that the film is completely ridiculous. From the laugh-outloud chimp kung fu fantasies to Racer X punching another driver in the face while both cars are performing insane side-flip maneuvers at 500 kph, the movie completely embraces its cartoonish high octane nature – which is precisely why it scores. The Wachowski brothers obviously didn’t hold back here – and actually went above and beyond what lesser writers & directors would have created. This movie is as far out there as it could possibly be, and it is refreshing as hell to see a movie so uncompromisingly edgy and full of child-like enthusiasm.

Surprisingly, Speed Racer is absolutely not a brainless visualfest. The script is surprisingly solid, and the actors absolutely kick ass. Just as Robert Downey Jr. elevates Ironman through his inspired portrayal of Tony Stark, Susan Sarandon and John Goodman infuse the movie with perfectly metered and stunning performances during key scenes late in the movie. These moments are absolutely priceless bits of movie-making and bring unexpected depth to an otherwise escapist underdog movie. Matthew Fox shines as Racer X, Emile Hirsch is completely believable and endearing as Speed Racer, and I must say that Christina Ricci is actually pretty hot as Trixie. The kid brother and the chimp are at occasionally annoying (probably not to an eight-year-old though), but overall, they made me laugh alot more than I care to admit.

The Brandbuilder blog isn’t a movie review site, so I’ll stop here… but I didn’t want the bonehead reviews I’ve read today to negatively influence any of you – my readers – when it comes to this movie. Speed Racer is actually a work of genius. Most people probably won’t get why or how, but then again, edgy doesn’t appeal to most people. The masses will most likely look at Speed Racer purely as an over-the-top cartoonish movie version of a bad 1980’s anime series, aimed at pleasing little kids… but it is on every level an entertaining art film that blends stunningly rendered visual effects, lots of action, superb casting, solid character development, impressive acting, some pretty funny stuff, a classic underdog story, kung fu and chimp humor to create a very unique package.

Mark my words: This flick is nothing short of a classic.

Even if you end up hating Speed Racer, you should go see it – chances are, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Bonus: Check out this article about the film’s technical aspects in Wired.

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This brilliant project lives squarely at the well-traveled intersection of nerdy, creative and cool. Click on the image to see the island in its full topographic glory, or go here to get it from the source. (via Orange Yeti.)

Ain’t creativity fun?

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