Excellent Bill Gibson interview

Paul Raven @ 06-12-2010

The best author interviews are surely the ones where the interviewer asks the sort of questions that you yourself would have picked, had the opportunity arisen. Granted, the list of questions I’d like to ask of William Gibson is long enough that I could keep the poor guy occupied with them until the heat death of the universe, but Aileen Gallagher of NY Mag‘s The Vulture column has whittled a few of them away on my behalf [via MetaFilter]. Here he is, rethinking terrorism:

You also wrote in Zero History that terrorism is “almost exclusively about branding but only slightly less so about the psychology of lotteries.” How so?

If you’re a terrorist (or a national hero, depending on who’s looking at you), there are relatively few of you and relatively a lot of the big guys you’re up against. Terrorism is about branding because a brand is most of what you have as a terrorist. Terrorists have virtually no resources. I don’t even like using the word terrorism. It’s not an accurate descriptor of what’s going on.

What do you think is going on?

Asymmetric warfare, when you’ve got a little guy and a big guy. [There are] a lot of strategies that the little guy uses to go after the big guy, and a lot of them are branding strategies. The little guy needs a brand because that’s basically all he’s got. He’s got very little manpower, very little money compared to the big guy. The big guy’s got a ton of manpower and a ton of money. So this small coterie of plotters decides to go after a nation-state. If they don’t have a strong brand, nothing’s going to happen. From the first atrocity on, the little guy is building his brand. And that’s why somebody phones in after every bomb and says, “It was us, the Situationist Liberation Army. We blew up that mall.” That’s branding. By the same token, you get these other, surreal moments where they call up and say, “We didn’t do that one.” That’s branding. That’s all it is. A terrorist without a brand is like a fish without a bicycle. It’s just not going anywhere.

And a vindication of Twitter:

I’ve taken to Twitter like a duck to water. Its simplicity allows the user to customize the experience with relatively little input from the Twitter entity itself. I hope they keep it simple. It works because it’s simple. I was never interested in Facebook or MySpace because the environment seemed too top-down mediated. They feel like malls to me. But Twitter actually feels like the street. You can bump into anybody on Twitter.

[…]

Twitter’s huge. There’s a whole culture of people on Twitter who do nothing but handicap racehorses. I’ll never go there. One commonality about people I follow is that they’re all doing what I’m doing: They’re all using it as novelty aggregation and out of that grows some sense of being part of a community. It’s a strange thing. There are countless millions of communities on Twitter. They occupy the same virtual space but they never see each other. They never interact. Really, the Twitter I’m always raving about is my Twitter.

Lots more good nuggets in there; go read.


Batman Incorporated and Kanye West: media homunculi

Paul Raven @ 26-11-2010

Here’s a super bit of cyborg-media-culture-identity riffing from Kevin Lovelace at grinding.be about the power of brands and/or identities (the difference between the two is getting pretty fuzzy) as prosthetic cyborg extensions of our selves. A post that mashes up Grant Morrison’s Batman Inc., Kanye West and open-source umbrella identities like Anonymous – what’s not to love?

By becoming a transmedia brand, the Batman gains the ability to clone itself and sent out its conceptual mind-babies out into the world, doing the work of Batman even in the actual absence of Batman.   Many people “know” Kanye via his body of work and his carefully sculpted public persona – a persona so information rich and media saturated that it can spawn its own meta-narratives.  Kanye West is the puppet of the Illuminati, and we can prove it!  He’s brilliant!  He’s insane!  He’s…  He’s a story.  The Kanye that 99% of the people reading this know is a story about a man who makes music – a narrative crafted largely BY the man who makes that music.  Its is a story with granularity and richness enough to allow many points of entry and engagement, spin-offs, theories and supposition.    The Kanye West we “know” is a prosthetic identity – an interface program that uses media as its computational substrate that exists between “us” the audience and the “real” Kanye (and his PR team) who operate the prosthetic.

Lots of connections to our earlier discussions of the ubiquity of narrative in an altermodern culture… we are all the stories of ourselves, but we can change the plot whenever we like, or even let other people write their own versions. Go read it.


One-click celebrity endorsements!

Paul Raven @ 21-10-2009

As much as I have high hopes for the future, sometimes it seems that “the future” is just a place where you can buy a wider and weirder range of things more quickly and conveniently than before. This doesn’t just apply to us consumer types, either; the mechanics of business are being shortened and tightened and streamlined constantly. Speed is everything. We need it yesterday!

So, you’re building a new model of car (or cooker, or genetically modified guard-armadillo), and you need to get some instant credibility for it before your product launch next week. You need a celebrity endorsement, stat! But don’t they take ages to arrange? Not any more…

Brand Affinity’s goal is to automate the process by which marketers offer contracts to athletes, along with the process by which ads featuring those endorsers are created and produced. The Web site promises that those transactions will take no more than 96 hours.

It provides “a quick turnaround for something that would normally take months,” Mr. Brees said. “A company can contact a player, come to an agreement and the next day the ads could be up.”

That fast pace, said Brian Bos, senior vice president and convergence director at Team Detroit — the alliance of WPP agencies that work for Ford Motor — “reduces risk and provides flexibility, because you’re not tied into long-term deals.”

[…]

Athletes are “human capital brands,” said Ryan Steelberg, president and chief executive at Brand Affinity in Irvine, Calif., who share in an estimated $3 billion paid each year to celebrity endorsers.

Although “the days of someone right out of the draft getting a multimillion-dollar shoe deal are over,” Mr. Steelberg said, large sums are being spent on the handful of big sports names, active and retired, who appear in multiple campaigns.

“Relative to the cost of the superstars, you could potentially activate 5, 10, 25” players who are popular in local or regional markets, he added.

Now, that’s a strong modern business model right there. You’re trading in the currency of celebrity, which (sadly) shows little sign of decaying in perceived value, despite being based on a nebulous social concept whose hollowness is revealed on a daily basis; you’re using the web for swift brokerage and expediting; you’re offering a national service tailored to localised needs. You’ve bolted yourself as middleman onto the Long Tail of celebrity. [via TechDirt]

As pointed out in the article there, the biggest plus point of Brand Affinity’s service is its fine-grain duration scale. No need to risk a lot of money and kudos on a season-long campaign with a particular jock or clothes-horse; keep an eye on trending topics for rising names, jump on ’em when they’ve got enough cachet to give your product a boost, and drop ’em like a hot potato when their star slips out of the ascendant. In a world where fame burns brighter for ever shorter periods of time, that’s a system with a lot of appeal for the marketing and branding wonks… the sort of thing Leggy Starlitz might have stumbled into had he spent longer in the States, perhaps.


Packaging the genre: publishers as curators

Paul Raven @ 14-10-2009

There aren’t many business methods worth copying from the record business at the moment, but should book publishers be trying to work more like record labels? Over at the if:book blog, one Bob Stein thinks there’s something to be learned from the days when books had a distinctive look that immediately identified their publisher as well as the author:

I find myself thinking a lot about what i call the “Foyles” model. in the not too recent past Foyles in London shelved books, not alphabetically by subject or genre, but by publisher such that there was the Penguin section and the Bloomsbury section. For a more recent example, video stores usually shelve Criterion titles on their own — precisely because of the power of the brand. From this perspective I see two sorts of physical store plays — one could open a completely new sort of superstore . . . . where publishers, like perfume companies, effectively rent space to show their wares (fulfilling in some cases with actual books but also via POD and online). The second is a publisher branded cafe/store…

It’s not that crazy an idea, really… it’s pretty evident the current book-barn approach isn’t working so well. Perhaps I’m more attracted to the idea through being a genre reader, where publisher trust is stronger and more focussed: I’m statistically more likely to be interested in a book published by Gollancz or Tor than I am one from Penguin or Bloomsbury, for instance.

Visual branding plays a part, too, as pointed out by Joanne McNeill at Tomorrow Museum:

If there were a Tony Wilson of publishing, you bet I would buy every book printed…

Well, yes!

This all ties in rather neatly to Jonathan’s Blasphemous Geometries column from December last year, where he suggested that someone should give science fiction the Criterion Collection treatment. And there’s a new column from Mr McCalmont due later today, as it happens…

How strongly does a book’s publisher influence your likelihood to buy that book, if it’s by an author you’re not familiar with? And what about packaging? I rather liked the look of the Gollancz Future Classics collection, but I know a lot of other folk found them ugly or odd.


Religion as brand identity… and vice versa

Paul Raven @ 09-04-2009

cross and jet planesOK, this is a fairly short three minutes of video but it’s not available in an embeddable format, so please take a moment to watch a chap called Martin Lindstrom talking about his somewhat controversial research, in which he brainscans consumers while showing them images of religious iconography in between logos of the biggest  and most auspicious lifestyle brands.

Now, the comparison of brand loyalty and religion is far from being a new idea (didn’t Ballard write some stories around something like that?), but I’ve only ever encountered it as a literary metaphor; to see that the advertising industry is researching it in detail isn’t surprising so much as it is a little alarming. [image by laverrue]

The marketing business focusses on what actually works; if something doesn’t get a good ROI, it gets passed over in favour of something that does. Meanwhile, over the course of centuries, the major religions have evolved an astonishing ability to extract loyalty, unswerving devotion and financial contributions from their adherents… which must make them a fairly appealing business model to emulate, no?

Brand loyalty and conspicuous consumption are old news – you can see it on any street in any city in the world, with people wrapped in logo-blazoned clothing (be it genuine or fake). So is the notion that word-of-mouth is the best form of marketing there is. The “street team“, however, is comparatively new, as are social networks… but they can (and probably will) converge with the preceding phenomena very quickly indeed once the right brain-triggers have been unearthed.

Are we ready for brand evangelism? If you find the doorstop importunings of your local church an intrusion, how will you cope with people dropping by to ask “whether you’ve thought about Harley-Davidson today?” [via No Fear Of the Future]


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