30 January 2010

Testing 1, 2, 3....


Growing up, we heard that droning message while watching TV at various times of the day on every channel. On Saturday mornings, the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS) gave us enough time to get a fresh bowl of cereal half-way through Scooby Doo, a staple of our Saturdays until they introduced Scrappy, he ruined everything.

Although the EBS was an American initiative, we were exposed to it because we watched their TV stations, drank their Kool Aid and marveled at all the neat products that weren't available on this side of the border. As Canadians, we were a casual bystander with enough of a socialist mentality to empathize with the Russians and a strong enough capitalist desire to consider ourselves as best buddies with our friends to the south. But, the sporadic EBS tests reminded us that we weren't entirely safe sitting on the sidelines, we were far from it.

The one minute monotone message could interrupt us at any time and warn us of impending doom which heightened the experience of growing up during the cold war. Scaring the hell out of children, showing kids how to cowl under their desks and general fear mongering was the order of the day. This was emphasized in the neighborhoods with giant air raid sirens casting cold shadows across the school yards.

Looking back, it all seems so silly - after the wall came down in the late 80's and Gorbachev turned out to be an idealistic hippy, the threat quickly dissolved. But the EBS didn't. The EBS soldiered on until 1997 when it was replaced by the Emergency Alert System (EAS). Prior to the EBS there was the CONELRAD system, which Bob Dylan sings the blues about, or rather talks about in one of his songs about world war III.

The EBS expanded to include satellite radio and network news stations. The focus went from a war alert to more of an alert of national interests like natural disasters and terror threats, which has yet to happen. Events like 9/11, the Oklahoma bombing and hurricane Katrina were ignored by the EBS because network news stations scooped the story. And, with the interweb consuming all souls through social media outlets the need for a national alert system comes into question. Everyone in the world knew that Michael Jackson died within 20 minutes of him popping the last pill, with jokes circulating just as quickly... all without any help from the EAS.

Many years ago, you could reach the masses through radio which is why the CONELRAD system was employed, it was later replaced to include TV stations with the EBS for greater reach and then again later with little more reach by the EAS. These days however, internet access is rampant and TV and radio are reaching fewer and fewer numbers. With social media entrenched in amongst the masses, news of world events like the Haiti earthquake spread quickly and with surprising results - people can actually respond and offer aid. Now isn't that a better way to handle crisis than to spew out warnings to a useless and powerless audience?

I guess what I'm saying is that social media is good for more than marketing, which is where most of the emphasis is placed it seems. It's not surprising, it's no different than any other medium when it first arrives on the scene. The invention of any great new media always gets greeted with 'how can we monetize this?' Slapping ads on things is the most creative form of making money for people that don't work in creative.

Getting messages out to the masses is easier than ever, ...if it's big news.

To market something these days, it had better be big news if you want to break through the clutter.

Think about this the next time you are putting a campaign together, ask yourself - would I share this with others? Or, will it just be another innocuous droning message with nothing much to say?

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09 January 2010

Suffering Jukebox

If you are one of my two regular readers, you will know that this is not my typical blog post. Usually, my posts try to offer some kind of honest opinion on what I do or some lame update of what I'm doing.

I guess, when it comes down to it, I find this type of abstract creative expression inspiring and drives me to push my own work to be the best that it can be and look at things differently.

So, without further adieu, from one of my favourite bands, The Silver Jews, a song written by David Berman, called Suffering Jukebox:

Cranes on the downtown skyline is a sight to see for some;
It ought to make a few reputations in the cult of number one;
While these seconds turn these minutes into hours of the day;
All these doubles drive the dollars and the light of day away.

Well I guess all that mad misery must make it seem to true to you;
But money lights your world up, you're trapped what can you do?
You got Tennessee tendencies and chemical dependencies;
You make the same old jokes and malaprops on cue.

Suffering jukebox, such a sad machine;
Your all filled up with what other people need;
Hardship, damnation and guilt;
Make you wonder why you were even built.

Suffering jukebox in a happy town;
You're over in the corner breaking down;
They always seem to keep you way down low;
The people in this town don't want to know.

In the end, we're all just suffering jukeboxes - we've all got lots to sing about, but in this self-absorbed, busy world, we're ignored. This sense of frustration is beautifully illustrated in words as are most of what Mr. Berman writes.

I listen to this song and am in awe at how cleverly crafted each and every line is. My favourite line is, "All these doubles drive the dollars and the light of day away."

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03 January 2010

Nomenclature Time of the Year

Hard to believe it's twenty ten already. That's what we're calling it right, twenty ten?

Who decides these things anyways?

There must be some committee or scientific team that puts these things together. I mean how else is there consensus? Uniformity when it comes to describing an event such as an entire year is probably very important. You know, have everyone on the same page and all.

As I look back at the past decade, I am reminded of the fact that it provided us with a couple of real gems as far as popular sayings, phrases and clich├ęs go. For the most part, I opted out of the hilarity and took the high road... well, you know me - not the really high road, just the one less traveled.

At the turn of the last century a phrase that was way over used was, 'I'm gonna party like it's 1999'... very funny and painfully obvious. Good one. Who writes these? For the record, I only said this about three dozen times leading up to 2000. I think that because of my under use of this phrase, I choose to say it in more recent years, not just because its nostalgic but because it's now finally become funny. OK, maybe not that funny, but it's my new years eve standby now.

Remember Y2K? Even though ten years have passed, I think most people forgot within ten days the ordeal brought on by the thought of that impending disaster - satellites falling out of the sky, appliances quitting, communication systems being knocked out and all 'round general mayhem. While some people stocked up on water, canned food, batteries and other sundries, I decided (read procrastinated) to wait for the new years sales, and lucky I did. The year 2000 rolled around and nothing happened. The previous 6 months I spent creating disaster plans, backing up systems and mapping out alternative ways to get the advertising job done was for naught. It's quite laughable now, but in 1999 this was perceived a big threat to businesses.

Y2K was a term quickly adopted by the masses and without much pushback... not like Y2K1 - no surprise that never caught on. After Y2K, the nomenclature became Oh One, Oh Two and so on, up until last year. Now we're Twenty Ten... perhaps next year will provide the greatest challenge. Twenty Eleven? Twenty One One? Surely, 4 or 5 syllables won't cut it in this world of brevity. Perhaps the worlds top scientists are already working on it. Afterall, It is the year before the world ends, so we want to make sure we go out on a high note, not left with some awkward 4 or 5 syllable albatross hanging around our collective neck. This team of scientists will no doubt craft a suitable name for 2011 before the dice is cast over mankind.

I totally missed the boat on the 'double O seven' year (2007). Not that I needed any copyright infringement lawsuits, but it would have been nice to toss that nugget into a few conversations. You know, for appearances sake, to appear more topical and on top of current events. But alas, I forgot until it was too late. The same way every May 5th I remember to say, May the 4th be with you.

Maybe the Chinese have it all figured out with naming years after 12 rotating animals. I don't mind being a monkey, it has some good attributes. For the ladies, an animal association has some benefits too, like the secret decoder ring / paper placemat that conceals the year of your birth, if even just for a few minutes before you eat dinner. Of course, the Chinese would have had a committee to choose the animals and you know there was some dissension when the rat was proposed and accepted.

Come to think of it, I'm sure that my opinion of the Chinese system might be a bit more critical if I were a rat. But I'm not, I'm a monkey and I like that a lot.

I guess we could have worse problems than worrying about what we're gonna call a year, and it's probably best left to the experts anyways as to what it's called. As long as they figure it out, all will be well in the world. And, we'll find out the way we find out anything these days, through Facebook.

For the time being, let's be thankful that we've got twenty ten, and that we've got all year to enjoy it. Happy New Year!

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