Screens, screens, everywhere a screen…

What’s the end game to all this?

By “this” I mean integration, convergence and social media. By this I mean the explosion of Twitter, Facebook and You Tube and the implosion of newspapers, magazines, and books. We now have Iphones, Imacs, Ipods and Ipad and I can’t count all the rest. So where’s it all going? What’s the end game?

I’ll give you a hint. In India something called Bubbly is creating a stir. In case you haven’t heard –heard being the operative word- Bubbly is just like Twitter, only users speak words instead of tapping them out. Users listen to words versus reading them. A half million trendsetters in India are using Bubbly today. What about tomorrow…and the next day? I ask again: What’s the end game? Where’s this going?

Need another hint? Fine. This one comes in two parts. 1) The advent of screens. Flat screens. Kindle. Nintendo. Smart phones. Wii. Our world is now revealed to us via screens. 2) The end of print. Newspapers, magazines and books (as we know them) are going extinct. Not if but when. And when may be a lot sooner than we thought.

So…

This is the end game: we (meaning everyone in the world) will stop reading and writing and begin only talking and watching. I’m not here to bemoan it or criticize it or rail against it. I’m just saying it. Most everyone in the world will stop reading and writing. Most everything we do will be done via audio & visuals. Entertainment and communication are leading the way. Education and business are right behind them.

But screens are merely the gateway. With the advent of 3D and holographic technology, even they will go away. It will just be Us projecting to Us.

I’m a reader and a writer, and have been all my life, so don’t assume I’m down with this. But I am getting used to it. We all are. Things like Kindle, Iphone and Bubbly break us in. Books become antiques, heirlooms and decorations. Like the rotary phone, we almost forget they ever existed. This isn’t good news or bad news. It just is.

I understand some of us will never embrace the talking and watching world. Maybe you belong to this group. So what? Like me, you’ll be dead in 50 years. They’ll play a video at your funeral.

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You deserve your nominations and my apology.

“Mo’nique rolls over twittery actresses” This was one of the many tweets I made during the Academy Awards telecast last week. Obviously, it pertains to the winner of best supporting actress, Mo’nique for her brazen portrayal of an abusive mother in the controversial drama, Precious: Based on the novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire. Tweeting during TV events like the Super Bowl and Oscars has become quite a phenomenon. Nice to see old and new media benefiting from each other. Fun to be a part of it.

Integration of TV and Twitter would make a great topic for a post but it’s not the subject of this one. For that we must go back to the actual content of my above tweet. Read it again: Mo’nique rolls over twittery actresses. The line has been haunting me ever since I wrote it. The reasons why are complicated and difficult to write about, which is precisely why I must. As a copywriter and, moreover, a human being, I need to know the truth behind those five words.

First off, I chose the words carefully… very carefully. You need to know what I would have tweeted had I not edited myself. It would have gone something like this: “Baddass Black woman flattens flighty white chicks!” Awful right? But that’s what I was thinking. Equally offensive to blacks, whites and women in general, I feel embarrassed for having conjured the thought.

True, I did not actually write anything offensive. (Thank God.) Or did I? In retrospect it’s clear I coded my words, giving them the potency I wanted, without resorting to politically incorrect language.

Look at the verb. I used the word “rolls” instead of “flattens.” ‘Rolling over’ the competition is an accepted cliché’. Yet, I must admit I also liked the veiled allusions to “fat.” A steamroller is heavy. Fat people have rolls. I was aware of this when I chose the word “rolls.”

Now, about the adjective: twittery. What did I mean by that? This one is harder to explain. Besides not being black, the other actresses (those I saw anyway) played career women, in particular the nominated pair from Up In the Air. By calling them “twittery” (as in fidgety or nervous) I now feel I held that against them. I implied they were made anxious by their lifestyle choices, and the fact that they were single, with no men to define them. The word “twittery” also suggests (to me anyway) someone prone to outbursts, short and constant. In this context, my word choice, and comment as a whole, can be viewed as borderline misogynistic. Using it as an adjective to the noun “actresses” intensifies that point. Twittery actresses.

Finally, just writing the winners name, Mo’nique, in all its righteousness, communicated plenty.

Why am I going into this? It flatters no one, least of all me. As a creative person I always question my thinking. When I struggle with something I write about it. A writer writes. Even crazy ones. Especially crazy ones.

From a copywriter’s point of view, things get more interesting. We are paid to choose words carefully. After all, we typically write so few of them. Each word, by definition, is often fraught with meaning, double meaning, and even trickery. What seems like a sentence or two about this or that product has often been worked over for weeks. They must be, in order to grab someone. If the product being sold is controversial, the copywriter uses precise language to circumvent danger or vagaries to disguise it. Even casual banter is anything but. My seemingly benign tweet is a perfect example of this, which is why I’ve dissected it here.

Final thought: Social media forces us to let go our editing instinct. Writing is about the here and now. Wait to long in order to ponder a subject and the group moves on. While the dissemination of information speeds up, sensitivity and thoughtfulness ebb. Censorship decreases but at what price? As we write faster (be it tweets, texts or even body copy) we must learn to think faster. Or face the consequences.

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“You know you still want me!”

For all the talk about mass media’s demise, television is holding its own, especially regarding events. Frankly, that might be an understatement. So-called “event television” (such as the Academy Awards, Olympics, etc) cleans up. Evidence abounds. Adage reports almost every advertising slot for the Academy Awards sold out. A bajillion people watched the Winter Olympics, culminating in the epic hockey match between the United States and Canada. The Super Bowl captured the nation’s attention same as it always has. Likely March Madness will do the same. And so on…

If the giant no linger dominates our culture on a daily basis (it doesn’t), TV still leaves the biggest footprint. Even the most watched videos on You Tube pale in comparison to most watched television shows. “Pants on the Ground” or the Super Bowl? In five years which will be remembered? In five minutes?

New media is an amazingly potent drug, no question. Its ability to hook people supersedes that of television the way Crack does Cocaine. But the effects of Big TV last longer and cut deeper. Virals get shot around willy-nilly, recipients inhaling the fumes giddily before moving on to the next. Event TV is savored, talked about, and analyzed.

I grew up with TV but have learned to live without it. My computer screen satisfies at least 90% of my viewing desires. I even watch my favorite TV shows on line: The Office, 30 Rock and The Simpsons. Yet, I still make time for Big TV: The Super Bowl. The Academy Awards. The Olympics. Presidential Debates. These programs feel better served up in the living room versus my office. The oft-used communal campfire metaphor holds true. Event TV we want to share with family and friends.

Event TV and “water cooler programming” are old ideas. But it’s not just the Super Bowl. Numerous sporting events (playoffs, bowl games, tournaments) capture a mass audience. As do award shows. And game shows. Repugnant as American Idol and The Bachelor are to me, these programs own my family and probably yours too.

Open the flap further, and even more programming fits into the event tent. Tier two spectacles like Monday Night Football and 60 Minutes may seem like your father’s idea of popular culture but they still deliver respectable numbers.

My point? TV continues to be a potent, irreplaceable part of our popular culture. Indeed, of the world’s popular culture. While advertising effectiveness on television is perhaps another story, contrary to faddish obituaries the medium is alive and kicking.

Though predicted, television did not wipe out radio or, for that matter, the cinema. Those media evolved around it, found niches and expanded. Likewise, the Internet will not destroy TV; rather TV will evolve around it, finding sweet spots to flourish.

A casual observation: It’s all about the screen size. Smart phones and computers serve content to individuals. While the cinema caters to large groups of people. But the great in-between still favors television. Call it the medium-sized medium.

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A blogger and freelance copywriter I follow on Twitter sent me the following question:

This is such an exciting time to be in advertising and I love all the opportunities we have to craft messages that reach consumers in new/personal ways. With the new emphasis on technology and strategy, how do you think copywriters have to adapt in order to further their careers in the industry? Obviously words will always be necessary, but do you think (our) new digital colleagues are going to see earlier and faster success and development (than us)?

What follows are my best answers to that question. Some of them are trend-based and others ideas I believe will never change. I don’t profess to know more or less than any given copywriter but, hey, I was asked…

First off, let’s explore what the asker means by “new digital colleagues.” I think she’s referring to designers with a visual acumen for mining the digital space. In other words: the modern art director. The evolution from general AD to digital AD is relatively easy to chart (though certainly not easy to do). One either learns how to create in this space or enters the business doing so already. Understanding modern tools like flash, Photoshop and the like comes…or it doesn’t.

Maybe the path for copywriters is more ambiguous. We scribes are understandably insecure. After all, we put words together. Words don’t change. They stay the same forever. So old-fashioned. Recently, a well-regarded media blogger suggested copywriting soon wouldn’t even be a profession. As I was saying, we get nervous. What’s a girl to do?

From a copywriter’s POV, mastering new technology is not critical but having an intuitive sense of what it can do is. With agencies and clients clamoring to figure social media out, let alone exploit it, the pressure inevitably falls on copywriters and art directors. The brief screams: Make it happen! The woman who sent me the above question uses social media in her daily life. She has a great blog and website. Clearly, her question is more than just about “getting digital.” She wants to know how to make a living.

We all do. Having a grip on the digital landscape is merely the price of entry. Relevancy is mandatory for anyone in our industry.

“Okay, I’m relevant. Now what?”

Start with your “book.” (Should we even call it that anymore?) Evolve your best existing work from traditional mass media to newer forms. Instead of press and television, think holistically -about screens, about walls, about spaces. Obvious? You’d be surprised. A majority of portfolios I see are still comprised primarily with TV, print and outdoor, sometimes a few banners thrown in. Where is the new thinking? And that, of course, means integration.

As discussed in an earlier post, social and outdoor media have much in common. They both go where people work and play. They both instigate conversations. My advise: Start thinking of your ‘book’ as a ‘virulent’ combination of out-of-home, social, and other guerilla-like components. Do this well and you will have a modern portfolio. Do it really well and you will always have work.

A word about talent. One either has talent or they don’t. Unfortunately, talent cannot be calibrated. There is no SAT. Therefore, we rely on portfolios, award counts and other dubious barometers. If you are lacking in talent you will have to rely on your wits, which, to be fair, has gotten some of us very, very far.

I’ve saved my best advice for last. It was given to me and, with some modifications; I’m giving it to you:

1) A writer writes. Keep a journal. Start a blog. Tweet. And when you are not writing…

2) Read. Be it ads, novels, screenplays, the back of a cereal box. Read voraciously.

3) Learn how to edit your work. Banish every unnecessary word. Write sparingly. Hemingway spent hours crafting perfect sentences, mostly by cutting. A master of the short story, he would have appreciated Twitter. He would have been an excellent copywriter.

4) Finally, Smile. Regardless of all the gloom and doom, this is still one of the best jobs on earth.

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The bluebird of happiness aka “fun”

There’s been a lot of chatter about the efficacy and power of social media. Sometimes, it seems that’s all we talk about.

The discussion invariably revolves around SM as a tool of some sort, as if it were a digital Swiss Army Knife. Which it is. The debate is typically whether SM is truly useful to marketers, scientists, researchers, lawyers, teachers and more. Which it is.

Probing deeper, the conversation quickly turns to more ethical questions: Does SM impede our ability to process information and sort through ideas? Will it overtake legitimate analysis? Does it hurt our children? I myself recently asked, Have we become content zombies?

Yes, no, maybe so.

But one thing has been completely overlooked, if not lost, in these myriad discussions. And it is perhaps the biggest thing of all. Namely that social media –all social media- is fun.

Fun.

Think about it. Facebook was created to make “friends.” Myspace exists to share music -things that are fun. (Ostensibly, both help folks ‘hook up’ and last I checked that was fun too.) It’s called Twitter for Christ’s sake. You don’t name something Twitter and give it a blue bird (of happiness) for a logo unless you want it to be fun.

Revelation! Social media was created to have fun. Its usefulness, immense as it is, came after the fact, making those aspects secondary.

So, next time you’re at a social media conference, digital summit or whatever the hell they’re calling it, have a good time. The guru blathering from the podium sure as hell is.

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