“And another thing…”

Finished my 15 minutes of SXSW fame, delivering a “quickie” presentation called Signs and the Evolution of Ambient. Bit nerve wracking this one, on account of the round robin approach with presenters: one up one down and another in the wings. It kind of worked though, especially given attention spans of wired to the gills audience.

Among other things, my discussion dealt with human being’s seemingly innate compulsion to imbue meaning into just about anything. Creating and/or perceiving signs are an inevitable part of the human experience, transcending mediums and technology. Graffiti, tattoos, constellations, billboards… all signs. As such they attempt to compel belief and behavior. Modern advertising is merely an extension of this age-old process.

6. Cave drawings

8. Tattoo

18. Apple
“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign!”

Given I was at the epicenter of Interactivity I relished pointing out that low-tech does not necessarily mean less powerful. On the contrary. For advertisers, signs can be more humanly relevant than any other media.

Technology is grand but I think many marketers (and by default most everyone at this festival) try too hard proving how contemporary they/we are, by desperately and perhaps naively competing with screens.

I gave the following example on the ill effects of tech worship. In the 70’s, digital watches were the rage. So cool, we all had to have one! And then we didn’t. A traditional watch face is timeless. Ironically, digital watches have become nostalgic. I know it’s a flawed comparison but it makes good oratory.

After presentation w/ colleagues from gyro…

I’ll be modifying this presentation (obviously) for a presentation at ad:tech San Francisco in April. Maybe I’ll see you there?

A dark night indeed…

When it comes to horrible tragedies like the one in Aurora, Colorado, where a lone gunman opened fire on innocent movie-goers killing at least a dozen of them, the old debate about violence in the media being partially responsible always comes up. Especially in this case, given the massacre took place during the midnight debut of Batman: The Dark Knight Rises. People and critics admire Chris Nolan’s hyper-violent Batman series precisely because it’s so real and bloody, a far cry–and I mean far- from the goofy 60’s era Batman TV show and, more relevantly, from just about every other super hero franchise popular right now. For example, in this summer’s other big comic book movies (The Avengers and The Amazing Spiderman) hardly anyone gets shown being killed. I counted two in Spiderman (Uncle Ben and the Police Chief). And with them, it’s a huge part of the story. Not random at all.

In Nolan’s Batman movies slews of people get destroyed, viscerally. In many respects the carnage plays like a horror movie, modern video game or some brutal You Tube clip, thus the inevitable and uncomfortable comparison to fiction mirroring real life. The fact that the Aurora tragedy took place in a movie house showing Batman smashes the comparison home. Factor in videos of the tragedy replayed on You Tube and in the mass media and it’s almost impossible not to consider the validity of violence in media causing the same in real life. Inside Edition created a name and logo for their top story: “The Batman Theater Massacre” and it’s scary how well the iconography of the movie syncs up with the sensational copy.

Yet, I don’t buy it. Lone assassins are thankfully rare but hardly new. They existed before You Tube and the movies, even before guns.

Ambient (Terrifying?) marketing for Batman

Being in advertising, I was struck by a new observation, however and one that can now be added to the debate. Many of the survivors from Theater 9 claimed to have thought the gunman and his bloody rampage was a publicity stunt. “At first,” one of the audience said, “I thought the chaos was part of the movie.”

This is a modern phenomenon, not possible without the advent of flash mobs and You Tube. In the few years since advertising has embraced “street theater,” it has become part of our popular culture. Interactivity and user experience are expected elements in the marketing mix and, in turn, by society. The more “real” these stunts are the better. If Warner Pictures had staged the gunman and the gas and the guns, had paid actors to run out of the theater bloody and screaming, had anticipated the smart phone videos, then we likely would have had a completely different view. It would have been labeled an ingenious spectacle, entered into creative award shows and won.

Think about that…


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