Thursday, April 30, 2009

Marshalls Gets New Media

Marshalls is not a brand I typically consider hip or web-savvy, but their newest promotion shows that someone there gets it. To promote The Cube, a new mini-boutique for girls within some Marshalls stores, the company is using as its spokesperson someone who is neither female nor even real.

Kelly, a character created by comedian Liam Sullivan, is the star of many YouTube videos, most notably "Shoes," which is one of the most quoted viral videos among teens. The latest one takes place primarily in a Marshalls store, but the viewer is not hit over the head with the brand; in fact, only by reading the details of the video did I figure out the sponsorship.

This campaign is remarkable for several reasons. One, it shows companies are willing to take risks by using "internet celebrities" as spokespeople. Two, it shows they are willing to take this step in spite of vulgar language and possibly controversial imagery in the Kelly videos. Three, it shows a fantastic integration of social media and real world applications.

It's awesome to see boring brands taking risks like this, and exciting to see where advertising is heading. Keep reading...

Atlanta's Newspaper Gets Freshified

On Tuesday, April 28, my hometown newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, unveiled its drastic redesign. The change began several months ago with a new, more modern logo, and culminated in a total overhaul of the look of the paper itself.

The new AJC is now narrower, with a more vertical layout and cleaner typography. It is gratifying and encouraging to see a local newspaper make such an investment in its future, considering the constant heralding of the end of the printed news industry.

As a bit of a news junkie and newspaper snob, I always considered the AJC nearly superfluous and irrelevant. I got my news online throughout the day, and read the New York Times on Sundays for more in-depth and unusual stories. Yet this redesign has me rethinking my anti-AJC bias.

Where the old paper was flat and staid, the new one feels dynamic and fun. And to me, an unabashed Europhile, the new font (Publico) feels fresh and hip. The hierarchy is denser yet simplified, allowing the reader’s eye to skip easily around the page. Colors are brighter, and are used deftly to create areas of focus and interest.

A recession redesign is a brave bet, but one I believe will pay off. The new AJC stands out among its peers, and looks more like a paper from a trendsetting international city, rather than just another so-so local paper.

Interestingly, the new design is extremely polarizing. I showed it to several design-minded people where I work, and two of them thought the new paper actually looked old/worse. Of course, good creative work always elicits strong reactions, both good and bad.

I applaud the AJC and its design team on this impressive accomplishment. If you’re interested in reading more, Charles Apple, a journalist/designer, wrote an extensive blog entry a couple months ago detailing the process that led to the new look. It’s quite informative, and interesting to see the other options that were considered.
Keep reading...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My Two Cents on Susan Boyle and Hollie Steel

For years I resisted the pop culture behemoth that is American Idol. Its appeal baffled me, and its stars seemed cheesy and false. I stubbornly kept my distance from the show, refusing to give it a chance despite its enormous audience that kept building season after season. I likewise ignored other shows of its ilk (So You Think You Can Dance, America’s Got Talent, etc.), grouping them all together in the category of “Reality TV” that I disdained so much.

Then, last week, my outlook on these shows took an abrupt about-face. Having noticed the Britain’s Got Talent/Susan Boyle video on YouTube’s most-viewed list for several days, I finally broke down and watched it. I did not know what to expect; I honestly thought, given her appearance, something cruel and sad was about to happen. And then she sang. I literally got goosebumps as she sang the first verse of "I Dreamed a Dream." I was transported back to the days of Disney movies, when the songs I listened to were simple and hopeful, rather than over-produced and chock-full of sexism and cynicism.

Seeing the audience turn from scornful to awestruck, and the expressions on the judges faces--Piers's twinkling, Amanda's wide-eyed disbelief, and Simon's gradual grin--I felt the power of Susan's incredible voice.

Suddenly I realized why shows like Britain's Got Talent and American Idol are so popular. It's the potential to witness moments like this, when someone shocks the world with their talent, causing us all to stop what we're doing and share in their triumph and fame.

This week another YouTube BGT sensation popped up: the prepubescent Hollie Steel, whose equally unexpected voice rivals that of history's most brilliant singers. Granted, her performance seems a little more dubious, given that she pretends to be putting on a dance show, then bursts into song just as Simon is about to protest. Nonetheless, her stunning rendition of "I Could've Danced All Night" is absolutely breathtaking to behold.

Granted, Susan and Hollie will likely enjoy little more than several weeks of fame, given the world's ravenous appetite for new stories to latch on to. But I'm no longer the AI refusenik I once was, and I've rediscovered a love for classical vocal music that has been dormant for years.
Keep reading...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I’m Rocking On Your Dime

I'm Rocking On Your Dime
A Brief Evaluation of the Logical Validity of Colin Gray’s T-Shirt

On Colin Gray’s t-shirt there is a bear. This bear (polar, perhaps?) is sipping tipple and appears to have recently set down his cigarette. He claims to be rocking on my dime.

I beg to differ. I am not acquainted with this bear; or, indeed, any ursine creature. Therefore it is impossible that I am bankrolling this bear’s indulgences. Even if I did know this smug animal, it is highly unlikely I would pay for his alcohol or tobacco, out of a concern for his health (I would not want to contribute to the extinction of such a majestic species).

Quod erat demonstrandum, the premise of this t-shirt is false. Keep reading...

Friday, April 17, 2009

Advertising Atrocity

Quite possibly one of the oddest success stories in advertising, the epileptic banner ad continues to be a mainstay in online campaigns for various mundane services, such as car insurance and mortgage companies. Its first, and most famous, incarnation was the dancing silhouettes used by that were virtually ubiquitous (pun intended) for several years. Recently a smaller, yet no less optically painful example of this form of advertising has popped up on If you haven’t seen it, it shows two women gyrating jerkily, a telltale sign of an animated GIF file. One of the women, dressed in Midwest-modest attire, shakes her rear enthusiastically, as if dancing to some unheard bass-heavy beat. The other woman, smiling, does a lame “raise-the-roof” motion. Somehow this combination is supposed to incite me to check my car insurance. Huh? Someone please end this abomination of advertising. Keep reading...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Audi Commercials Offend Me

I caught this commercial during The Office tonight, and was quite turned off by the message it seemed to send. The spot shows a bunch of children emerging from their school, only to be confronted by an endless line of champagne-colored Lexus SUVs. "Identity theft affects everyone," the spot says. The confusing copy notwithstanding, I find the premise of the spot completely unappealing. True, Lexus RX300 SUVs are quite popular among a certain upper middle class demographic. But to market the Audi Q5 solely to snobby private school parents seems pretentious at best and offensive at worst.

It reminded me of another Audi commercial, below, that I also found in bad taste. This one shows a house changing through time, and ends with the tag "Progress is Beautiful," implying that antiques and retro design are not beautiful. I, as well as many interior designers and style mavens would have to disagree.

Though I dislike Audi advertising, I do very much like the headlights on the new A4. Very very cool.

Keep reading...

I kind of like paying taxes...

This week, like a hundred million other Americans, I paid my taxes. Though I’m still in school, 2008 was my most profitable year to date, and this relatively substantial income was reflected in the amount of taxes I owed.

My mother, who happens to work in an accounting office, encouraged me to think of anything I could write off as a “business expense,” which can be proportionally deducted from my tax return.

I worked part of the year as an independent contractor, and was paid on a 1099. This allowed me to write off all my mileage driving to and from work, which made a surprisingly significant difference to the bottom line. I also worked as a waiter for several months, so I wrote off the uniform I bought and alcohol-education course I had to take for that job.

Such tactics are commonplace in the world of accounting; indeed, clients expect their accountants to not only fill out their tax returns, but to exploit as many loopholes and clever accounting techniques as possible to minimize their check to the government.

As a rational actor in a capitalist economy, I should fully support this tactic. A smaller check to Uncle Sam means more money in my pocket. Yet as a naïve and idealistic young man, I wonder about the legitimacy and justness of so easily knocking down what I owe.

Yes, my claims are real, and they would certainly hold up in an audit. But if it is so easy to find a way out of one’s tax obligations, how will our economy ever emerge from the staggering debt that it currently faces? If anyone who can afford an accountant can shake off 30-50% of his original amount, as I was able to, how can our government continue to function?

Tax rates today are already far lower than they were in the pre-Reaganian days. From 1936 to 1980, those in the highest tax bracket had a top marginal tax rate of at least 70% (meaning they owed 70% of their income above a given number), compared to less than 40% today.

It’s not that I strive to live like an ascetic monk, and give up all my material earnings and possessions. But I struggle to comprehend how a country can continue to provide for its neediest citizens, as well as prepare for the future, when the amount it collects in taxes is determined by millions of shrewd, self-interested actors, and therefore utterly insufficient.
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