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You Are Different Than You

When I was in graduate school we learned that great ads had a combination of 5 S’s:

  • Simple
  • Something to solve
  • Smart
  • Special
  • Strategic

I would argue that many also share another facet: they’re relatable. Unfortunately, relatable doesn’t start with the letter S.

Some of my favorite ads, and commercials in particular, do a wonderful job at storytelling. They find a thread about humanity or life that the viewer can apply to his or her life.

My favorite example of the moment is the new spot for HTC, a Taiwan-based company that designs smartphones. Their new ad ensnares from the beginning with a catchy tune, beautiful cinematography and simple, yet compelling copy. Take a look:

Stunning work by Deutsch LA.

Even though the new HTC commercial is all about new mobile technology, there’s still a timeless, relatable element to it. Is it smart, simple and strategic? Sure. But I find that the true beauty of the ad is that I see myself in one of the “you” characters. I also see my best friend and my mom.

Several times a week I daydream about the next time I can get away to the Outer Banks for the weekend. And no scenario hastens this utopia-like daydream than driving around Washington, D.C. on a Friday night looking for street parking (or for that matter, operating a vehicle in a 25-mile radius of the city during rush hour). Unsurprisingly I see myself in the guy staring out a cab window while the voiceover says, “You miss the waves.

I see several of my friends, first- and second-year lawyers, in the “While you are working late again” and my mom in the “While you just want to know if he’s OK.”

I’m pretty sure most people can see a little of themselves in this commercial, and often, more than once. Yeah, it’s trying to sell a product. But more importantly, it explores and penetrates humanity.

And that’s what makes it so beautiful.

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When was the last time a magazine changed your life?

Back in June I was sitting at Reagan Airport waiting for an 8:00 a.m. flight to Houston for work. As is my custom when I’m in an airport, I decided to pick up a magazine to amuse myself for my day’s flights. Out of the blue I decided to pick up the July issue of Wired. Little did I know this $4.99 decision would change my life, or at the very least, my next few months.

wired coverPicture Source: Wired

To this point, I had never read Wired, or at least the print version. I had occasionally read articles on the Web site when people tweeted about them or passed them along by email. But the magazine drew me in: two people clad in sleek workout clothes donned the cover. Around the picture there were quite a few headlines that drew me in, being the information-seeking/somewhat media-savvy person that I am (emphasis on somewhat):

  • “Battle for the Web: Facebook vs. Google” (“Oooh, I use those!)
  • “United States of Data: Obama’s New CIO” (“Kinda cool… government and new media and information collide in the great unknown.)
  • The Nike+Apple Experiment: 1 Million Runners and Counting (“I’ve been hearing about this a lot lately. Time to find out what the fuss is about.”)

This was definitely going to be worth the $5 and then some.

I plunged right in to The Nike+ Experiment. It ensnared me from the opening paragraph. Even though I ran cross country in high school close to a decade ago, I found myself relating to the woman introduced right away: a once-225 pound mother who with the help of Nike+ found a love for running (through her love of gadgets and data), lost 80 pounds and was now training for a half marathon. “I can do that [train for a half marathon],” I thought to myself. “Maybe I just need the gadget.”

Now I’m not exactly 225 pounds (or have I been close for that matter… I cautiously add “yet”), but I’m not exactly a runner these days either. I’d say at the time I read this article I worked out something like once or twice a week. Geez I hope none of my high school sports coaches ever read this…

The article was fresh in my mind for a week after I read it. I kept thinking in the back of my mind, I need to get myself Nike+. I even read it again. And again about a month later. Finally, about a month ago, I decided it was time for me to bite the bullet and get the Nike+ system for myself.

[A brief aside: if I had known at the time that all you needed to get Nike+ was $29 and an iPod Nano*, which I already had, there’s no way I would have waited so long to make this purchase. I also later discovered you don’t even have to wear Nike or Nike+ enabled running shoes to use Nike+. You can attach the sensor to any shoelaces using this handy little sensor holder. The holder is only $5 or $6! I needed new running shoes though and as it turned out the ones I bought, despite being Adidas, had a built-in Nike+ sensor-sized indentation in the left shoe’s sole anyway, so I could just insert it the same way I would if I had Nike+ enabled running shoes. Special thanks to the staff at Pacers in Arlington for giving me the heads up!]

One thing I remembered from the article was “Nike has discovered that once a user uploads five runs to its Web site, they’ve gotten hooked on what their data tells them about themselves.” Sure enough, they were right. I’d say it took me less than five runs to get hooked, but it also took me two or three to understand how to dizzily operate the buttons on my Nano after running a few miles in the D.C. area summer humidity. Regardless, it didn’t take long to get into the data collection. As a lazy person who has failed numerous times at keeping fitness logs by hand, I must admit, this is the way to go. It does all the data collecting for you: tells you your pace per mile, measures distance, updates you on your progress while your running and should you set a personal record (PR) on your run, uses celebrities like Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong to congratulate you on your accomplishments. It even graphs your progress on the Nike+ site and lets you add comments, routes, weather and “how I felt” feedback with ease.

Another point in the article that resonated with me was the Hawthorne effect. According to Wired, “[t]he gist of the idea is that people change their behavior — often for the better — when they are being observed.” I for one, know I’m quite susceptible to the Hawthorne effect. One of the benefits of using the Nike+ Web site is the ability for a user to create his or her own goals. When I set the goal to run 25 miles in the next two weeks, I know it’s watching. And you know what? It makes me go out and pound the pavement, especially when I know a deadline is close to elapsing. Thanks to these goals I find myself on the treadmill at 10:30 p.m. so that I don’t fail to achieve a goal I set on the site. I haven’t failed yet, but I fear the (likely quite innocuous) consequences that will result when and if I fall short of a goal I set.

So in summary, the Wired article left me with two cravings — a desire for Nike+ and, as you may imagine, more Wired. Needless to say, I sent in my subscription postcard right away and am now getting a year’s worth for $10! Solid.

Bonus: on a somewhat unrelated note, the Somali Piracy article in the same issue was the coolest magazine layout design I may have ever seen (Check it out! And trust me, it’s worth the PDF download. The Web version of the article does it no justice). I can’t wait to see what gadget-y/social media-y/design-y excitement Wired’ll come up with next.

Stay tuned for more thoughts my own Nike+ experiment in the future. So far I’ve run 16 times for a total of around 44 miles in the month I’ve used Nike+. A drop in the bucket for most, but a start for me nonetheless. Later this month I’ll be competing in my first 5K in close to a decade. And with any stroke of luck, my first 10K race will soon be on the horizon. ‘Til then, happy trails!

* You don’t have to have a Nano, it’s just what I happened to already own (and as far as I know, all generations of the Nano work). The iPhone/iPod touch also works with Nike+, but if you have neither, you can also opt for the wristband instead.

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Ice Cream and Cake and Cake!

Every few months I find myself falling in love with a commercial that the majority of the ad industry (or at least industry press) vehemently hates.  A few months ago I was gaga for the quirky Geico googly-eyed stack of cash commercials while much of the rest of the world expressed intense displeasure. Did I love the concept behind them?  No. Did I think they showed smart and strategic marketing genius? No. But did I love the catchy “Somebody’s Watching Me” tune and find myself getting off the couch to dance along? You betcha.

Knowing this, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the new Baskin Robbins ice cream cake spot is my favorite commercial of the moment:

And what a shock, the critics find it irritating. One even called it “brain-drilling.”  Well it definitely gets me off the couch and dancing, even if it’s just a 15-second spot. But then again, I’m definitely in the it’s “a funny and joyous celebration of ice cream and cake” camp.

Besides, shouldn’t ice cream and cake be fun?  Frankly, I have no interest in ice cream or cake commercials that snub their nose at silliness and humor.

You know who has it exactly right?  Heather McLane at FresnoBeehive.com.  Glad to hear her reaction to the spot was the exact same as mine:  a dance party with an abrupt stop for a drooling trance.

Besides, the commercial is darn good advertising!  Good thing most of the commercials out there don’t entice me into that “must have now” urgency.

And at $9.99?  I’m a little concerned about my willpower — I live a mere block away from the closest BR.

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Has it really been two months since my last update?

Apparently, almost.

When I first started this blog back in the day, I didn’t really know where I was going with it.  Truth is, I still don’t.  It sorta started as a way for me to expound upon things I enjoy (typically sports, media, advertising, design, journalism, food, you name it) while informing friends back home what I was up to in my graduate studies in Texas.

As most of you know, I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin’s master’s program in advertising in December and then started the job hunt.  Fast forward five months, and I’m finally (yet it really didn’t feel that long) working.  But not without my fair share of excitement.  I moved 1,500 miles back home to Virginia, ate a giant piece of humble pie and conducted the majority of my job search from my parents’ living room.

Anyway, you never know when or how it’s going to work out.  I had my second interview for my current job on a Friday in mid-May, was informed that I got the job that Monday and if I accepted the job, was expected to start Wednesday.  I was crashing with my best friend at the time and barely had enough clothes with me to make it through the first week.  But considering my instantly euphoric “Oh my God, I got a job!” state, I barely noticed.

So what am I up to these days?  I am now the PR/Media Coordinator at a trade association in Washington, D.C.  Every day I learn something new and I’m given the opportunity to use the skills I learned in school in my daily work.  I have been working at my office for about a month and a half now and I’ve already been on two business trips, have helped get press coverage for some of our member companies and have had my first dabbling in crisis communications.  And since I work in an office with such a small staff I am afforded the luxury of being part of the organization’s decision making, the ability to create and tackle projects limited only by my own creativity and the opportunity to learn from such seasoned communicators and professionals.

This Wednesday I’m going on my first overnight trip where I’ll be giving a brief presentation to our Board of Directors about a cable TV project I got to be a(n infinitesimal) part of during my first week at work.  I’ve been putting my PR, journalism and advertising skills to use every day and any day now I’ll get to add graphic design and social media to the mix.  And I couldn’t be more excited about it.

Sorry if this post hasn’t been the most riveting to many of you.  But for some, you finally know what I’ve been up to lately.  If you’re in the D.C. area, you know how to find me, so let’s make time to catch up!  To everyone else:  it’s time to nag me and remind me to give you a call or send you an update.  I miss so many of you all the time.

To everyone else, this is a promise of better things coming.  I have a few blog post drafts that need tending to, but I just want you to know I haven’t completely forgotten about the blog.  And since you’ve actually read this far, what would you like me to write more about?  What topics have you enjoyed me covering in the past?

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Roy and Coach K rocking out… together?

Just when I thought I’d seen it all, what comes across the screen?

Wow. Coach K jamming on guitar? In his undies?  Really?  And with Roy Williams (and Bob Knight and Rick Pitino) sans pants, no less.

I thought Michael Phelps rocking with A-Rod, Tony Hawk and Kobe was the peak of ridiculousness this campaign could hit:

Wrong!

What stomachache-inducing combo will DDB (and H.S.I. Productions) come up with next?

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Leaving Music Journalism to the Experts

Saturday night I had the good fortune to catch Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys kick off his new tour at the 9:30 Club in DC. It was a fantastic show indeed. Auerbach teamed up with Hacienda, a pretty talented band out of San Antonio (also one of the opening acts) for a lively concert. The show even featured Patrick Hallahan of My Morning Jacket on percussion.

I wish music journalism was more my forte, but every attempt leads to lame comments like “they sounded awesome” and “loved their use of [instrument].” As much as I love listening to music and going to shows, I’m pretty inadequate at expressing my thoughts on it.  My apologies for my ineptitude and lousy music descriptions.

Regardless, if you have the chance to catch Dan Auerbach (or Hacienda) on tour, I definitely recommend checking it out. According to his MySpace page, he’ll be on tour in the U.S. for most of March.  And if you’ve somehow snagged tickets to SXSW in Austin, he’s performing March 18, 20 and 21.

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