I think many women have the same basic experiences with the magazine world:
1. You grow up loving magazines, learning about makeup, fitness, life experiences, relationships, whatever from them.
2. You discover men’s magazines and realize that the scope of them is a lot more broad. For example, there are articles about planning your stock portfolio regularly. This discrepancy of content feels insulting to your intelligence, and your life plans. But it feels too late – you have been trained to think more about how to properly apply under-eye concealer during the formative years of your life.
3. You realize that men’s magazines are not a safe harbor, but are in their own way very sexist. (Read this if you don’t believe me.)
4. You feel frustrated with both gender-targeted magazine worlds, but equally frustrated with the world of journalism itself, which favors white, male editors, writers and points of view with its award and recognition system.
This article very well articulates how frustrating the world of magazines, and moreover, professional writing, can be for women. One of her main conclusions was that women’s magazines used to be up to very high standards, but when they started integrating advertisements, things changed. The advertisers wanted their ads to be integrated with content about clothes, makeup and weight loss products, and thus the content started to lean heavily in those directions. This is all true, although not exclusive to women’s magazines.
The classic criticism of the advertising industry is that it purposely lowers women’s self-esteem to sell them products, and it creates a false sense of beauty that they have to aspire to. While this isn’t something I’m going to argue against – I don’t think it has to be an inevitability.
A scene from Mad Men comes to mind here. Peggy is charged with making an ad for cold cream, and she reaches the insight that the cold cream application process gives women an excuse to stand in front of the mirror and look at themselves, something she believes women just like doing. Not out of any particularly pathetic tendency, but just because it helps them get in touch with themselves and feel more beautiful. Her writing partner, Freddy Rumsen, continually insists that her approach is pointless, and that they should hit hard on implying that the product will help women land a husband.
This was an interesting scene to me because it showed how a lot of the advertising that has changed women’s culture, and the editorial content surrounding it, was created by men who didn’t always have a Peggy around to say, “No, that’s not how women think.”
I don’t think it’s necessarily a sinister plan against women, but more a result of a system created before women had much of a voice in the matter. To be positive, I think there are many factors that are leading away from advertising having such a negative affect on women’s editorial content (and on their egos in general).
1. More Women Working in Advertising
A lot of women work in advertising now – but there are probably still a lot of ways that sexism remains in this industry. For example, many of the customer profiles we use are generalized types of people that exist as a result of a gendered world, whether created by it or created in opposition to it. Having more women working in advertising means more empathy, ideally, so that the content is more meaningful and less, well, stupid.
2. More Anthropological Understanding of Consumers
Lumping types of consumers into one broad category and reflecting what that looks like is still common in many types of ads. For example, many car ads aimed at women are like, “I love indie rock music and adventure! I’m a woman who loves this car!” But this isn’t the future of advertising. Because we have a lot more resources in culture to reflect what people are actually like (social media, blogs, etc.) and the means to analyze that more deeply, we can start to ditch the old customer profile in favor of more sweeping examinations of a product’s role in culture, as well as the customer’s.
3. The Death of the Print Ad
Print ads used to be the meat of people’s advertising portfolios, but now they have to compete with massive digital strategies, cultural initiatives and participatory platforms like The Pepsi Refresh project. What did you remember more this year – the Dove Real Beauty Sketches or any print ad you saw for makeup? Probably the former. Magazines and the ads that support them are no longer the sustainable business model they used to be. Many are desperately tailoring content around the advertising demographic as a last-ditch attempt to stay profitable, but I’m skeptical about the efficacy of that strategy. People read magazines for their unique point of view, which is why Monocle and Vice are doing just fine.
It will take awhile for women-targeted editorial systems to change. In the meantime, we as the people putting out brand messages can be dedicated to being more conscious of the way we’re affecting the media channels that shape women’s lives. We can hire people who resist one-dimensional portrayals of women in the work they’re doing. We can push for strategies that further the content people’s 12-year-old daughters are reading in interesting, useful ways that will make them grow up to be stronger women. And we can listen to women more often.
One of my favorite oddball super geniuses, the French semiotician, Freudian psychoanalyst and insanely rich business consultant Clotaire Rapaille, is famous for hisobservation about Americans and cheese:
“In America the cheese is dead, which means is pasteurized, which means legally dead and scientifically dead, and we don’t want any cheese that is alive, then I have to put that up front. I have to say this cheese is safe, is pasteurized, is wrapped up in plastic. I know that plastic is a body bag.”
This sentiment says a lot about American food culture in general. Historically, we have liked our food safe, simple and consistent, above all things. We have generally been divorced from the growing and sourcing of our foods, and prefer processed foods that have been scientifically engineered to have addictive thresholds of taste.
But things are changing in America, and we have, in a sense, entered an era where we are ready for our cheese to be alive once again. It took us awhile, and necessitated the invention of the Internet, but the new, enlightened consumer is here to stay. Today’s consumers have a newfound willingness to understand what things really are, and a desire for authenticity in what we do – and what we eat. Just like we are starting to want our cheese to be cheese, we are also starting to want our Italian food to be Italian.
I started thinking about all of this when someone told me yesterday that Olive Garden is suffering. How perfect, I thought. A downfall of Olive Garden would be perfect evidence that there is a certain type of karma at work with today’s new enlightened consumers. This type of consumer has traits that are often attributed to millennials in the Power Points that companies go through behind the scenes, but I think that they have affected baby boomers too, or anyone who has figured out how to use the Internet. Here’s a short summary of the traits that apply here:
1. They use the Internet to spread and learn about companies’ reputations.
2. They are more acclimated to cultural diversity.
3. They desire authenticity, in their own cultures and in their experiences of others’.
4. They are easily bored and constantly want new stimulus. This translates to being relatively adventurous with food.
In my opinion, Olive Garden committed a few “sins” in the eyes of this type of consumer.
1. Olive Garden has come to be the butt of a joke in ‘foodie’ culture
Marilyn Hagerty’s review of Olive Garden was hilarious to people because no one takes Olive Garden seriously anymore, and it was funny to see someone doing that. My friends may eat there out of nostalgia every now and again, but make sure to let everyone know they are only eating there ironically. It’s associated with safe, fatty comfort food more than any real idea of what Italian people eat like.
2. Olive Garden simplifies another culture in a way that we are uncomfortable with.
My comic friend once pointed out that taking an Italian person to Olive Garden on a date to offer them their own cuisine would be just as stupid as taking a Brazilian person to the Rainforest Cafe. Enough said.
3. Olive Garden has bad karma.
They’re the first to admit that part of the reason their sales are down is because of how they reacted to Obamacare. To absorb the raised payroll taxes, they slashed many employees’ hours back to part-time, which ended up hurting their bottom line even more because it just made them look like jerks. Companies could get away with this type of thing 30 years ago, when the Internet did not quickly make harsh business moves spread across culture and end up on the Colbert Report.
They continue to embarrass themselves by blaming payroll taxes and negative media coverage for their loss of sales, rather than look to the way they are operating first and foremost. If they did, they might see that their negative reputation is keeping mindful customers at bay in the short term, and that their brand of food is doomed in the long run.
Americans are finally waking up, and that means a lot of things for businesses. For now, it means endless breadsticks just may not be enough.
As creative partner Christian Erickson sometimes says, advice from Zeus Jones might be the opposite advice from what people at other agencies would give you. We have a relatively flat structure, we insist that everyone take a multidisciplinary role and much of our work is digital. But I think processes like ours are cropping up in other agencies around the world and a few of our observations can’t hurt.
1. Don’t feel bad about wasting time on the Internet. This is as important as school.
All of that time you are spending playing around on the Internet is actually very applicable to working in a job like mine. Explore it all, and actually care. It’s essential to understand these platforms as a user and not just a bored marketer being like, “That’s a thing people do.” Understand the emotional reasons why people use Facebook. Understand the cultural resonance of Reddit. Spend a week Photoshopping an embarrassing collage of your best friends. Download random iPad apps and use them to draw, animate things and organize your life. In a way, you’re studying web design and user experience by being your own focus group of one. Don’t be afraid of breaking things or doing things wrong.
2. Create a body of your own work that is yours alone, all about what you truly care about.
We get a lot of applications from people that are very polished but feature only group projects and collaborations. This usually makes me wonder how much of the work the person applying actually did. When it’s clear that people have their own passion projects that they spend hours working on in their room at night it’s easy to see what they’re about and what kind of skills they possess.
3. Realize that your schoolwork is not the most interesting thing on the planet.
It’s great to work hard at school and be passionate about what you’re learning. But academia and schoolwork can absolutely overwhelm your life while you are in the middle of it, and it can make people very myopic. It’s great to mention your thesis or whatever at a job interview, but I’m always wary when people roll in and start ranting about a very niche academic subject that has clearly kept them away from the real world for 6 months. Have internships that actually get you into offices and making things other than what you want to make yourself. Your career will likely involve working on things other people dream up. Learn to be interested in those too.
4. Don’t worry too much about guarding your Facebook and personal life.
Here’s the truth. Employers totally stalk your Facebook, your blog, your Twitter. But this industry is fairly relaxed, and it’s usually just to see if you’re a real, genuine, cool person. If you keep your image guarded and buttoned up, you may lose out on the chance to connect with people online. Jobs like mine are very collaborative, so people want to find people they resonate with and truly like. We don’t care if you’re drinking a beer on Facebook. We drink beer here.
This Sprint ad always makes me cringe when it gets to this line:
“I need to upload all of me. I need – no – I have the right to be unlimited.”
Is it really anyone’s right to be able to upload “all of yourself” to your mobile phone? To upload every meal to Instagram and never run out of data? Is it really an assault on rights to charge mobile phone users an extra $15 for exceeding their data plans?
To me, this seems silly, and a tacky example of marketing trivializing what it means to declare and protect your own rights.
But then I started to think about it more when a co-worker made a slide of the “modern consumer” and their desire to have everything on their own terms, from their media to their access to exercise. The slide contained birth control pills, because he said “Consumers also want to be able to have babies on their terms.”
This led to a discussion of pundits who still viewed birth control as a fairly new invention, and because of that, believe that access to it isn’t necessarily a “right.” Right now, that idea is fairly controversial, especially since the U.N. declared birth control a human right. How could you take away a technology that has created so much freedom, population control, family planning and progress toward gender equality? Especially one that is so cost-effective and relatively easy to distribute world-wide?
But the two ideas, that birth control is, for the most part, considered a right and that unlimited cell phone data is not, got me thinking, “How do we decide whether or not people are entitled to fairly new technologies?” After all, mobile access to the Internet has the potential to make almost as big of an impact on humanity as the birth control pill. We’ve already seen how it can inspire and empower social revolutions and change the face of modern journalism and communication. And within younger populations, smartphone ownership is growing for many populations, especially minorities and even people living technically in poverty. There could come a time when not having a smartphone during key parts of someone’s life could constitute its own societal disadvantage.
While I certainly don’t think unlimited cell phone data is a right, I do think it’s worth questioning when or if access to the Internet will become a right. Recently, Anonymousacted against Israel for compromising Internet access, implying they already believe that web access is a right that can be taken away. Could it be that the ability for the government to gain power by taking a way a new technology makes access to it somehow a right?
It’s kind of strange to think of fairly new inventions as something people have a right to. When we think of rights we usually think universal basics – the right to safety, food, shelter, free speech. Not the right to have a tricked-out cell phone. But there is something dehumanizing about taking a technology that drastically betters the lives of a population of people, and declaring that it’s just for some. Once technology is invented, it can’t be taken back. It’s already changed the way things are. There must be a point at which certain new technologies become rights.
Just brainstorming a couple parameters, it could be that to become a right, a technology has to:
1. Be widely available and affordable.
2. Be fully complete, safe and usable. Data plans are generally still limited for a reason, but birth control has been tested, tweaked and honed.
3. Create individual freedom, safety and empowerment.
4. Contribute to social mobility.
Looking at these parameters, we could observe that books and transportation could be considered rights that the government could actually promote, through public libraries and public transportation. Access to fruits and vegetables could be argued to fulfill 3 and 4, but not necessarily 1 and 2, as they are still not widely available and affordable for everyone, and the systems to make them so (2) are not necessarily in place. Is that because of technological constraints or a lack of government attention?
This whole post has clearly been somewhat of a tangent, but that’s because these are hard questions. What do you think? Do you agree with the Sprint ad? Do you think that in 30 years everyone will? How can we know for sure?
Society, and maybe advertising especially, focuses a lot on memes, which are replicable, spreadable ideas. Memes are memes because they are easily copied and shared, but also because they hit on something that makes people buy into them. Like this “That’s a Paddlin’” meme. It’s funny, it’s related to pop culture and it allows people to express annoyance at things people do on the Internet, so it spreads.
We all want to make the “next meme” and get rich off something that seems simple and infectious. But memes are ideas that succeeded, if we can define success in an evolutionary way, which means they can copy and spread themselves. But we don’t often think about the ideas that don’t spread. Ideas, just like most things go through a natural selection, wherein a huge amount are generated every day and only a small amount survive. Think how many random concept blogs people are making and hoping go viral on Tumblr every day.
I recently started thinking about how many ideas have to be tossed out before one takes off. As I was explaining to someone who was new to working at Zeus Jones, a small percentage of what we do here actually gets made and put out in the world. There are some things I have worked on for months that get killed in the end. Sometimes on a naming assignment, we’ll come up with hundreds of names only to have all of them rejected. In some projects, the ratio of killed ideas to successful ideas can be 1,000:1, and in some that ratio can, thankfully, be smaller.
But we do work in an agressive, fast-moving industry where ideas compete with one another and the variability of success is insanely high. One project might change culture, one might make a small splash, one might flop. This translates to my personal life as a writer as well. For every 50 Shades of Grey, which, arguably, is not a good book at all, thousands of similar books probably fizzle out of existence every day.
I think the key is to maintain zen-like detachment from your ideas. If you treat them less like your “babies” and instead try to come up with as wide a variety of ideas as possible, some are bound to succeed. But when an idea of yours does not succeed, you can take comfort in knowing that millions of ideas don’t succeed every day. Those are the sacrifices we make to get to the ones that do.
When people were first speculating about Apple creating a tablet, there were certain problems that it was supposed to address. At the time, all of these problems were assumed to be somewhat impossible. These problems were, in my memory, primarily the following:
-Can you make a color tablet? (For some reason at the time this was doubted.)
-Can you make a product that will save the newspaper and magazine industry by giving people a way to consume them digitally?
Apple creating the iPad almost seemed like Apple taking a dare from different worlds. Could they create a digital device that would save newspapers in a digital age? Could they make that device do even more, like play videos and let people surf the Internet?
In my mind, this was the prompt that led to the iPad. Remember how ridiculed the name was? Now it’s one that 2-year-olds shout with reverence. This is how things change.
I started thinking about this after the iPad Mini came out, and it quickly became apparent that it was somewhat perfect. After poo-poo-ing the idea that Apple needed a small tablet, I tried one, and then pined for one until I broke down and bought one, even though I wanted to hold out for a retina display. I already use it far more frequently than I had the regular iPad. Compared to the mini, the first iPad seems overly large, clunky even.
This has made me question the initial design of the iPad. Didn’t Steve Jobs, after all, argue for a larger size, leading to the comical headline, Seven Inches Is Enough, RIM Tells Jobs? There was a lot of dismissal from Apple when it came to smaller tablets, yet they eventually released their own.
So what gives? Well, I think 7-inches maybe was too small for a device that was supposed to replace the newspaper. (Another question – wasn’t the newspaper itself poorly designed to begin with – too big and awkward?) But the iPad as primarily a replacement for the sunday paper is hardly how anyone thinks of it anymore.
Instead, the process of publications switching to iPad versions is still being figured out, iPad magazine subscriptions haven’t exactly taken off and well … the publishing industry is still in decline. But at the same time, people are reading more than ever, just differently. For example, apps like Flipboard let them aggregate news from many sources, for free.
The better news is that the iPad has evolved to do a lot more than replace the paper you read with your coffee. It has trained a computer illiterate world into the Internet. It has given toddlers their first interaction with the power of technology. I have been shocked by watching my mom, who has rejected computers her whole life as “confusing,” suddenly sitting on Pinterest all day, shopping online and even asking me if she should sign up for Instagram. She literally calls “the Internet” “the iPad,” because to her there’s no difference. My niece and nephew, 4 and 2, can navigate the iPad more impressively than my 7-year-old classmates could play Number Crunchers.
And Apple has realized this. Maybe it was initially trying to replace large papers for large hands, but they realized that didn’t mean they shouldn’t make an everything-machine for very small hands. People have called the iPad Mini the “paperback” version and the regular iPad the hardcover. The harcover comes first but isn’t it the paperback you want to keep in your purse?
I think this brings to light the importance of looking at the original challenge a product was supposed to solve, and thinking about how its purpose has led to new opportunities. For example, with many things we make at Zeus Jones, we stop at the end of the year and ask, “Why did we do it this way?” When we trace back the reasons why, we sometimes see that it has become something altogether different from what it started as. There are many ways something evolves over a year, and that creates a lot of potential opportunities that could be overlooked.
It’s important to be honest about the way something’s purpose can change, rather than be stubborn about what it was originally created to do. What’s a better challenge, getting newspapers online, or getting a generation that thought they were “too old” for technology onboard? If Apple had stuck to their original belief about the ideal tablet size, well, I wouldn’t have spent so much time reading on my iPad mini last night.
I’m going to start by saying I’m not actually an expert at this. In fact, I’m fairly new to thinking about how brands can work with bloggers, although it seems to come up frequently. What I am an expert at is being a blogger who ignores countless queries from people wanting to put their message on my blog. Any email that seems impersonal (even if it uses my name and knows I’m in Minneapolis) and wants to promote their whatever on the blog, I delete immediately.
I’m also an expert at judging websites for being full of spam. We’ll put up with a lot, as Internet readers, because we know these writers have it tough. Pop-up ads, takeover ads, countless queries to take a survey, posts written for SEO purposes alone, we’re used to it. About the closest thing to a tolerable brand presence on a website (other than a routine banner ad) that I can take is a sponsored story where it’s clear that the brand let the person write whatever they wanted without injecting in their campaign message. A story about watches sponsored by a watch company can be interesting. I’ll take that. Writers have to make money somehow.
But how do you do a blogger partnership well?
Ok, disclosure – I feel weird answering this question with something that my work produced, but I’m going to. If it helps, I didn’t have anything to do with it (that would be Joseph Kuefler). I just discovered it and thought, “this is how you do a blogger partnership.” Upon seeing it, my inner critical reader was silent, impressed even.
Theron also has a project called This Wild Idea, where he interviews people across America about their lives and takes pictures. It’s amazing – get lost in it for awhile.
Anyway, Purina ONE beyOnd let him come up with a project, and he came up with Why We Rescue.
Over 30 days, he will be interviewing people across New York about why they rescued a pet, and taking pictures of their homes.
How does Purina ONE beyOnd fit in? Well, the logo is on a tile on the site, and other than that, purely ideologically, in the sense that both This Wild Idea and Purina ONE beyOnd promote adopting homeless pets. Spam quotient – zero.
Anyway, inspired by this, I talked to JK and came up with some basic guidelines for partnering with bloggers/creative people:
1. Pick good bloggers
This sounds really obvious but it’s actually not. It’s easy to just pick bloggers who report high monthly impressions among a certain demographic, who just have badly-designed blogs full of sub-par content. Even bad bloggers can get an audience, with the right amount of SEO manipulation, coupons and targeted posts.
If you pick a blogger doing respectable, even amazing and different work, like this guy, it’s going to be much cooler. Not only will it show that you’re having fun (which I truly believe is something people sense and look for in creative work), but it will also give you clout, helping you attract more good bloggers, who will give you more and more clout. Suddenly your brand is cool, instead of just being associated with spam, noise and banner ads.
2. Scale isn’t everything
As JK pointed out, the creator doesn’t need to have a huge audience for the partnership to work. If their audience is still growing, the brand can provide the scale, and draw lots of people in. That means you can worry about the quality of their content, not the quantity of their fans. It’s also worth considering the quality of their audience. Are they thought leaders or influencers, people living and working in the media? Bonus, even if it’s a small group of them.
3. Go outside your own industry/category
Creating blog posts about pets might seem like a task that calls for partnering with pet bloggers. But people who write about pets as their main subject may not be as engaging to your audience as people excelling in photography, design, fashion or any other subject, who also love pets. As JK said, you can make partnerships based on shared values, not necessarily just a shared category. Limiting your brand to your own category can limit the type of conversations that you’re capable of having.
4. Partner on the creator’s terms
Respect the bloggers and creators you partner with as their own brand rather than dictating the content they provide. If you come to the table with an open brief, willing to collaborate and make compromises, it allows them to invest themselves in what they create. Try to give them creative control over what they say and depict as much as you can while still ensuring your brand is comfortable endorsing their content. When it comes to adding your logo, be open to different strategies and placements that will integrate it naturally rather than shoving it in people’s faces.
As I said, I’m not an expert, and I believe that what makes a smart blog partnership is still being determined by creative brands and cultural influencers. Hopefully these rules will be thought-starters.