When the agony of missing the shot trumps the joy of the experience worth shooting, the adventure athlete (climber, surfer, extreme skier) reveals himself to be something else: a filmmaker, a brand, a vessel for the creation of content.
The past week has provided a few notable redesigns of popular web services, including Squarespace and MailChimp. It’s interesting to note the visual similarities in how they have chosen to present themselves: photographed tableaus with props around laptops, tablets, and phones.
Both feature a cup of artisanal coffee on a dark wood counter, next to an iPhone 4 displaying the app in question. How to choose between them?
Liking in marketing was always meant to be a metonym for many other complex processes — persuasion, affect, cognition, recall — but it wasn’t meant to be exposed to the public as such. In Facebook, however, the “Like” button further reduces this reduction and makes it visible, making the whole process somewhat cartoonish and tiresome.
Tyler and the Clancys’ 4 Strike management group recently started a new creative agency called Camp Flog Gnaw, which aims to lend Tyler’s brain to companies that want to engage the youth demographic. The first fruit of the new enterprise is a partnership with Mountain Dew, for whom Tyler has directed four left-of-center TV commercials starring a talking goat named Felicia. “The agency is a way to stay true to Tyler and not do endorsements, but to allow companies to use his creative energy,” Clancy says. “There’s a demographic out there that corporate America has lost, but Tyler has managed to build a brand around it.”
“All I want is to go to a website, enjoy it for the time I’ve decided to spend there, and then move on with my life,” he continued. “Is that so much to ask?”
A still from Holy Motors.
Our version of working a small comedy club in Idaho was spending 5 minutes responding to an email about what type of camera we were using or a tweeted questions about the film. Little by little, it added up. We don’t want to push the analogy too hard. We’re not trying to say we’re just like Louis C.K. Not even close. But we do want to make the point that you don’t need throngs of ready-made fans to make this type of distribution effective and worthwhile. You can build towards it.
Blatancy is a means of weeding out all but the most credulous respondents. (…) A big cost for [spammers] is the time they spend coaxing fully into their net those who show initial interest. So they need to select the most promising targets, rather than timewasters or the wary. “By sending an e-mail that repels all but the most gullible, the scammer gets the most promising marks [victims] to self-select.”
Bin Laden’s biggest concern was al-Qaeda’s media image among Muslims. He worried that it was so tarnished that, in a draft letter probably intended for [Atiyah Abd al-Rahman], he argued that the organization should find a new name.
You’re a small group with no reputation, and you start covertly blowing up or murdering the people of a big group, like a government or a nation-state or a whole race. And you can’t just do it and then go and do the next one. You have to do it, and then go and do your PR. “We just bombed your mall. It was us.” And then maybe you do it, and some other guys, these upstart assholes across town, are calling up the news and saying, “We did it! We bombed the mall!” So then you have to get your PR guy on the phone and say, “No, they’re full of shit. WE bombed the mall.” So it’s about branding to that extent.
Steal Like An Artist Reviews – What People Are Saying. A stream of tweets, photos, and blog posts from happy customers. Why aren’t more writers/publishers doing this?
Extreme couponers, if you count the value of their time, basically make a modest living doing below-minimum-wage marketing work for the coupon-based marketing universe that welcomes them as raving fans.
From the point of view of the stores, far from being hostile opponents in some asymmetric game of chess, these are merely cheap and committed marketers. They are encouraged to model, in extreme ways, the very couponing behaviors that the marketing machine wants others to emulate in less extreme ways.
Which is exactly what happens. So long as you and I casually clip and use coupons, inspired by the extreme couponers in our midst, the grocery stores still comes out on top. If the extreme couponers’ leadership behavior were to actually lead to large-scale loss-driving sedition by too many customers, the store could easily staunch the losses overnight, by making minor changes to coupon-redemption rules.
I hadn’t thought about it this way.
I like this litmus test that Damien Hirst suggests:
If I put a painting outside a bar at closing time, and it’s still there in the morning, it’s a crap painting.
He also suggests the market for art is bigger than you think, even at his prices:
I remember flying into L.A. at a time when my paintings were 20,000 to 50,000 pounds and looking at the swimming pools here and thinking everyone who has a pool can afford one of these. The market is so much bigger than anyone realizes.
I hadn’t thought about it that way. Also, on the idea of masterpieces vs. ubiquity:
You also have to ask yourself as an artist, “What would be more appealing … to have made the Mona Lisa painting itself or have made the merchandising possibilities — putting a postcard on everyone’s walls all over the world?” Both are brilliant, but in a way I would probably prefer the postcards — just to get my art out there.
“The idea that there is some special magic attached to Hirst’s work that shoves it into the multi-million-pound realm is ludicrous,” [Hughes] wrote. But there is a special magic attached to Hirst’s work. That magic is the spectacularly successful brand known as Damien Hirst. And for those to whom the brand is successfully markted—hedge fund types, tycoons of all sorts, generally anyone who happens to be cash-rich but taste-poor—it makes his products worth every cent. […] Some people think a Lamborghini is vulgar, and lots of people can afford yachts. But put a Damien Hirst dot painting on your wall and the reaction is, “Wow, isn’t that a Hirst?” The point is, Hirst is not selling art, he’s selling a cure for rich people with severe status anxiety. Judging Hirst’s work by the criteria of technical skill, artistic vision, and emotional resonance is like complaining that the Nike swoosh is just a check mark.
Gamification is marketing bullshit, invented by consultants as a means to capture the wild, coveted beast that is videogames and to domesticate it for use in the grey, hopeless wasteland of big business, where bullshit already reigns anyway.
“Graphite. Black currant. Incense. And camphor?” This is a great read. You’ve probably read something similar about wine bullshit before, but this is probably better. Interesting that more expensive wines are described with more specific words.
When it comes to invoking elegance, foreign and complex words have a natural advantage. Cigars and truffle conjure up prestige and luxury. Meanwhile, a little-known berry or spice conveys the worldly sophistication of the critic, which the drinker can share. For a price.
What we call terrorism is always asymmetric warfare. You’re a small group with no reputation, and you start covertly blowing up or murdering the people of a big group, like a government or a nation-state or a whole race. And you can’t just do it and then go and do the next one. You have to do it, and then go and do your PR. “We just bombed your mall. It was us.” And then maybe you do it, and some other guys, these upstart assholes across town, are calling up the news and saying, “We did it! We bombed the mall!” So then you have to get your PR guy on the phone and say, “No, they’re full of shit. WE bombed the mall.” So it’s about branding to that extent.
By now it should be clear that you’ll be most comfortable with my arguments if you fully accept yourself as a fitness-flaunting consumer narcissist who has been deluded, throughout your whole life, into irrational spending habits by advertising euphemisms and peer pressure. In other words, you’ll probably feel uneasy for much of the time you’re reading it.
That line comes about 100 pages into the book. I stumbled on it when I was flipping through and it’s the passage that convinced me to take it from the library. Geoffrey Miller’s book, Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior turned out to be very good. If I could just block-quote the entire thing right here, I probably would.
You get a sense of the tone from the quote above. It’s fairly conversational. There’s a counter-cultural bent to it that comes across as more detached and bemused, rather than left-wing-ish panic or conservative haughtiness. He picks on both perspectives fairly evenly. Some of it I found genuinely funny, some was awkward funny (“Mobile phones are already becoming too Lilliputian for adult males to use without feeling like a palsy-pawed giant ground sloth.”). Most of it offered plenty of brain-tweaking “I hadn’t thought of it that way” moments. The book got quite a collection of dog-ears by the time I got through with it.
He starts out with a discussion of the “Big Five” personality traits, explaining what they are and how he’ll be using them to guide the discussion. The discussion at hand hinges around the idea of signaling: basically, how we inform others (and exaggerate) our worthy traits and minimize the appearance of less worthy traits. We signal in really primitive ways based on evolutionary learning (e.g. nice, white teeth = healthy) and in really modern ways, such as conspicuous consumption (e.g. nice, white teeth covered with a grill = wealthy).
Anyway, as you make it to page 75, he lists a few reasonable assumptions for the rest of the book:
- We are social primates who survive and reproduce largely through attracting practical support from kin, friends, and mates.
- We get that support insofar as others view us as offering desirable traits that fit their needs.
- Over the past few million years, we have evolved many mental and moral capacities to display those desirable traits.
- Over the past few thousand years, we have learned that these desirable traits can also be displayed through buying and displaying various goods and services in market economies.
And a few pages later, he brings the connection with consumerism and marketing, and hints and hints at the anti-consumerist arguments that he’ll get into later in the book:
Consumerism depends on forgetting a truth and believing a falsehood. The truth that must be forgotten is that we humans have already spent millions of years evolving awesomely effective ways to display our mental and moral traits to one another through natural social behaviors such as language, art, music, generosity, creativity, and ideology. We can all do so without credentials, careers, credit ratings, or crateloads of product.
The next bit ranges into a really interesting discussion on the three basic ways we signal: conspicuous waste, conspicuous precision, or conspicuous reputation. Conspicuous waste is fairly self-explanatory: gigantic cars, 30oz steaks, liquid-cooled gaming PCs. Conspicuously precise products rely on refinement, intricacy, low tolerances for error: luxury cars, fine sushi, Apple products. Conspicuous reputation is about envy or facade. Miller mentions BMWs and well-regarded postal codes in this category. Those aren’t perfect examples, and the categories can bleed, but you get the idea.
In one great leveling passage, he writes:
Each signaling principle has its distinctive pros and cons from the viewpoint of the signaler, the audience, and the population and ecology at large. These distinctions are significant but often overlooked. For example, socialist and environmentalist critiques of runaway consumerism apply most forcibly to cruder forms of conspicuous waste, which sequester matter and energy for the rich at the expense of the poor, and which impose the largest ecological footprint (resource and energy requirements). It is much harder to raise socioecological objections to an iPod nano than to an H1 Hummer. Aristocrats differ from the nouveaux riches not in their freedom from consumerism, but in their preference for conspicuous precision and reputation (“the finer things in life”) over conspicuous waste (“the crass and the vulgar”).
Later parts brought to mind the idea of social objects: “As a self-display strategy, it is very inefficient to buy new, branded, mass-produced products from stores at the full manufacturer’s suggested retail price. The product comes into one’s life naked and mute, without any social context, memorable circumstances, or narrative value.” It’s not just what you have, but how you earned it and how it brings you closer to those you love.
And I just love this one bit, about 3/4 through the book. He’s spent a couple sentences talking about buying a Toyota Camry or a comparable Lexus. Both are made by the same mother company to similar quality levels:
If you must have the Lexus, that’s OK, as long as you consciously accept two things: (1) apart from its higher mass, you are paying an extra $40,000 for the Lexus badge, and (2) everyone who sees you driving the Lexus, and who has read this book, will assume that you could think of nothing in the world more creative, kind, or conscientious to do with $40,000.
Zing! Boom! That’s something to think on.
The last 10% or so of the book wasn’t as good the beginning. It got more prescriptive than descriptive, and it just wasn’t as interesting. But man, that first 90% was so worth it.
- Robin Hanson of Overcoming Bias is obsessed with signaling, and he has a nice series of posts about the book.
- Bryan Caplan at EconLog has a couple posts and criticism of the book.
- A couple bits from Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution.
- Steve Sailer quotes Geoffrey Miller’s long passage on IQ and hypocrisy in academia
Is it me, or is there subversive body language in this Apple promo video? I was watching the iPod Touch guided tour, and I noticed that our friendly host keeps moving his head left and right, as if to express disagreement. It’s incredibly distracting.
A particularly clever bit of telemarketing revenge: transfer the salesman to a recording. Should be cool to see how it turns out.