Friday, July 10, 2009

Anyone fancy a pint...?

Finally…! The news we have been waiting to hear. No, not Michael Jackson’s pill regime, not predictions of what Sarah Palin will do next. No, the word is that beer is good for you! At last.

And who says so? Why, the ad on North Korean TV.

Okay, maybe it’s a little early to rejoice. After all it is a beer commercial which extols the virtues of the frothy brew by citing that it relieves stress and extends life. However, it is a beer commercial in North Korea – a Communist country ‘wary of capitalistic influences’. The usual bill of fare for the North Korean TV viewer consists of ‘news, factory descriptions, some children's animation shows, and documentaries on leader Kim Jong Il and his father Kim Il Sung, interspersed with propaganda slogans and music’. (This may sound like eating a constant diet of steamed vegetables to a modern day Western TV consumer – but it actually doesn’t sound too far off from the BBC2 channel in the UK about forty years ago). And now here is the most Western kind of television that is possible – beer commercials.

The rise in post war Capitalism in the West, the relative affluence of the consumer, the many lines of credit and the advertising that accompanied all of this has been well documented. Twenty years ago this Capitalism was held up as the prevailing ideology that was triumphing over the crumbling Communism of the USSR. Today we are forced to admit that many people in the West are suffering because the lifestyles sold to us were more than we could actually afford. People were seduced into spending more than they earned in order to attain those things that they couldn’t live without – bigger houses, newer cars, faster computers, etc. And I must admit that this collapse of the capitalist dream concerns me. Shamefully, I am less concerned on an ideological level, but more from the perspective that I do the majority of my business working on VFX and animation for Commercials. The soothsayers have been predicting the death of the 30 second at least since TiVo started shifting some units. Were they right after all?

Is the game up?

Once again beer may be the answer. It may be that Kim Jong Il likes a pint of Boddingtons now and then and this love of beer influenced the appearance of this commercial on North Korean TV. But, frankly, the fact that a beer commercial is punctuating documentaries "Great Leadership That Prepared Eternal Asset for Education of Revolutionary Tradition" and "Natural Treasure Yonjibong Pine Tree" is incredible. The rise of consumerism in Asia is extraordinary when we think of the historical ideologies that we associate with many of these countries. But to have access to these formerly isolated markets, with the potential to sell to billions of people - despite the fact that the majority can in no way afford the products and services - has given rise to the prospect of new opportunities for many in the Advertising world. After all, why should the fact that billions of people can’t afford something stop them from buying it?

Thursday, July 2, 2009 Twitter, Tiger?

Fast Company posted an interesting item a few days ago.

The story is about Tiger Woods and other professional athletes and how they are using new media - or not using new media - to market themselves. In Tiger’s case he has a large Facebook presence but is not on Twitter.

This is an interesting story on sports marketing in general, an area of marketing that has always been very successful, no matter what state the economy is in. The article points out how many major athletes, such as Tiger Woods and Shaun White, list Michael Jordan as the athlete they have emulated down the path of self-promotion and building a personal brand. I am a big sports fan and have fallen victim to the marketing of many football players in my day. Anyone who remembers the Everton legend Alan Ball will also remember his not so legendary white football boots. As an eight year old boy I couldn’t resist their allure….although I’m sure that any eight year old centre-half I played against kicked me twice as hard for looking like such a prat. And we have all fallen for athletes who are not the best in their specific sport but are excellent at promoting themselves and, in the case of Anna Kournikova and David Beckham, their good looks. Brilliant athletes but elevated to a position well above others equally blessed with physical prowess but without the aesthetics.

This idea of falling in the crack between social media versus traditional media is one I think about a lot. Part of my job as the head of Framestore NY is to make sure that our skills find their way into every form of media as they emerge. And as part of that desire to keep not just abreast, but ahead of all new media and technology, we in the VFX and animation industry are becoming as adept at creating VFX for mobile and gaming applications as we are at creating them for television and film. It’s our job to incorporate and embrace new technology and become innovators in its use. I’m excited by this process and I am surprised to read that Tiger Woods and his marketing team are not leading the way in closing the gaps between television and Twitter.

I'm pretty sure that if the greatest self-promoter of all time, Muhammad Ali, was competing today he would be the greatest Tweeter alive. An arch self-publicist but also a brilliant communicator. And Tiger and Shaun can say that Michael Jordan was the leader in marketing the athlete as a brand, but I think it was Muhammad Ali with a little help from Howard Cossel.

Need proof?

Clearly, times have changed but I think if Ali was at his peak of fame now he would have been manipulating a far more avaricious corporate world which yields so many more opportunities than existed in his era. Obviously, Ali is not competing any more but interestingly, we’ve just been working with EA Sports to develop a commercial for their new game – Fight Night: Ali vs Tyson.

It’s great that our VFX and animation skills are successfully crossing over into the gaming world. I know that the team here was excited to work on this project; we’re all gamers at heart. And, after all, who wouldn’t want to help some 8-year-old somewhere spend some time pretending they are Ali?