Thursday, February 26, 2009

The great Mr. Cohen

Last week I got tickets to see the Ladies' Man in concert. Out of the blue, Ian and Chris from the Festival Network called me up. They told me they had tickets to a special one-off Leonard Cohen show at the newly refurbished Beacon Theatre in New York. It's a magical place and the concert was primarily for press and music insiders. So much for dinner plans that night. We rushed up to P.J. Clarke’s, had a quick seafood platter and a couple of beers and then off to the Beacon.

The hall was packed with Leonard’s long-time followers, and they loved him. Their excitement and anticipation was overwhelming and they couldn’t resist giving him standing ovations before, during, or after most songs. The band of 5 musicians and 3 female vocalists was terrific. 74 year old Leonard looked very cool in a black trilby, black suit, and gray shirt and was as magnetic and charismatic as ever. When he said this was his first concert in 15 years in New York City, he stopped the show. The last time he was here he was as a young stripling of 59. What a terrific attitude.

For me the power of Cohen's lyrics and the passionate perfection of the orchestra, the incredible harmonies and the lived in voice combined to make it the best night of 2009 so far. He sang all the old stuff including "Hallelujah", "Bird on the Wire", "Suzanne", "Chelsea Hotel", and a lot of his more recent stuff too. "I’m Your Man" was sung with great humor and brought the house down. The show started at 8:00pm and he was still going strong at 11:15pm – with the crowd wanting more. I’ve seen Leonard in concert in the 70’s, 80’s, early 90’s, and now the 00’s. He remains a captivating performer.

He’s touring now because having spent a decade in a Buddhist monastery in California, he returned down from the mount to find his manager had pretty much taken all his money and left him with nothing. He was persuaded to go on tour again and obviously loves it.

Next day I went out and bought a trilby from Ben Sherman.

I’m also listening to some great new music. Andrew Bird and his new album Noble Beast, M. Ward's Hold Time, J. Tillman's Vacilando Territory Blues, and Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion are helping me stay mellow in these tough times. But nothing compares to the great Mr. Cohen.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tell me a story

When I wrote about storytelling in my book Lovemarks: the Future Beyond Brands, I told how Maori of Aotearoa New Zealand surround their great treasures with interesting talk. Maori believe that by doing this they invest the objects with greater Mana (standing and status). I believe they are right and that stories and interesting talk are the best way to connect our past, present, and future. In times of stress and uncertainty, we need these connections more than ever.

Recently in New York I was talking to Aunt Pauline, a 90-year-old European lady who makes the world’s best goulash - she has no idea of the recipe, she just knows how to make it. Someone needs to watch her prepare this wonderful dish and film it, or her secret will disappear. It is just so easy to do now. I believe we should stop thinking of these new cameras and recording devices as being just for kids and put them to work capturing the stories of our elders. It’s a record that needs to be visual, not just words on a page. It is the only way we can ensure that Aunt Pauline’s great goulash survives. And believe me, having tried it, you don’t need another reason.

When I was in New Zealand recently, I met with a number of Maori who were using sisomo to enhance their understanding of traditions. Using small digital cameras, they were building a storehouse of their elders talking, telling stories, and demonstrating the skills they had learned from their own parents and grandparents. How to cook special local foods, tales of ancestors, vivid stories of childhood and growing up in times so different from today. I was struck by the central role storytelling has always played in Maori culture and how wonderfully new technology can bring it to life. In part, the love of Maori for stories is based in the realities of oral tradition – the practice of writing only came to them on the high-masted ships of Captain Cook and his men – but there is more to it than that. When people Love and Respect storytelling as performance, the compelling nature of metaphor and the mesmerizing effect of a tale well told, they place a greater weight on the skills of communication. There is a real virtuous cycle created with great storytellers influencing their children and grandchildren to tell great stories in turn. These skills can erode, however, when people choose to tune into mass media instead and lose the sound of their grandparents’ voices.

I cannot overstate the importance I place on storytelling. In my own family we use video to lay down a memory of things past for our children that will, in time, inspire both wonder and delight. This is not about nostalgia. It is about tracing a living history and passing on the knowledge of elders to future generations. Now that small video cameras are so readily available, it is a task to which we should all lend a hand and our hearts.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A night at the Oscars

By the time you read this the Oscars would have come and gone. As with every year, there were rumblings that Oscar has lost his magic, but once again millions of viewers around the world settle down to study the stars in action, criticize their dress sense (or rather the dress sense of their stylists), and watch for the tears.

I’ve always felt a massive disjunction between the overwhelming rows of columns, giant Oscars, and endless drapery, with the intimacy of giving and receiving this major accolade. We are witnessing the peak of someone’s professional (and often personal) life but our attention is constantly diverted by one or two people striding into position. No doubt it’s impressive when you’re there, but to a screen audience scale can be a hindrance and all these set-ups slow the pace to a crawl.

Clearly I’m not the only one who feels this way. This year an architect was commissioned to design the set for the Oscars. David Rockwell grew up in the theatre and is famous for spectacular settings that frame events and experiences. He’s responsible for my beloved Nobu just down the block. Now he’s tackling the big one – and in the Kodak Theatre he himself designed.

Rockwell’s focus is fantastic. He says that Intimacy has been one of his keywords as he creates this year’s presentation. To me, he’s nailed the cause of the Oscar malaise. They’re certainly full of Mystery (icons, those envelopes, whether the host will be funny or embarrassing) and Sensuality (beauty, elegance, grace, music, the emotional voice) but have seriously underplayed Intimacy.

Rockwell decided to ramp up the experience of the event for those who attend so that we (the screen viewers) could feel part of something surprising and alive rather than a pre-packaged formula. The Oscars is a tough gig to pull off, with a global audience of millions plus a theatre full of extroverts out to have a good time when most of the time all they’ve got to watch is a stage populated by a couple of presenters – and each other. Rockwell is lifting the orchestra out of its canyon in front of the stage so that people can see who’s making the noise. He’s also reaching for more story, more screens, more sensation as sets swing in and out position and everyone draws in closer to the flame of talent, entertainment, and emotion.

I’m writing this as the stars are coming down the red carpet, so I'll keep my fingers crossed. Let me know if you think Intimacy shines through in 2009.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Good Ship Value

The cynic, they say, knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. I’d like to think, given the extraordinary enthusiasm inspired by the election of Barack Obama and his first days in office, that there is potential for important shifts in global attitudes. Obama is certainly giving the right signals. This is a man who takes listening seriously and listens intently and with focus. Most of us could learn something from that. Of all the tools at our disposal, listening is the secret weapon that can create the most value. Whether you’re playing for global stakes or selling hotdogs, the only way to work out what to do next is by listening. Who should you be listening to? You know who. Consumers. While your colleagues, competitors, and advisors are all important sources of advice and information, the Consumer is Boss and the source of ultimate insight.

Here’s another variant of the Love/Respect Axis. We created it by looking at the four quadrants through the eyes of consumers. The question I asked was simple. What do consumers feel about this commodity, this brand, this fad, their Lovemark?

Value is created in the minds of consumers when they feel they are getting a good deal, and in the hearts of consumers when they feel a deep emotional connection with a product, service, or brand. True value demands both high Respect and high Love together because people are taking control of value for themselves. They are prepared to experiment with fresh ideas and opportunities as they redefine what value can mean to them. At this moment we need new ways to recognize and create value.

I mentioned last week the two key initiatives needed to create true value: creativity and effectiveness. Creativity to discover motivating and relevant insight so we can connect more deeply and emotionally with consumers, and effectiveness to improve margins, gain share, and increase sales. Cutting, backing off, and reducing are not going to take you anywhere apart from backwards. When the storm winds are blowing – and they’re picking up even as I write – it is not the time to head for a safe haven. If you really want to create value that will take your business through this storm, the better strategy is to see the winds as an opportunity and fill your sails. It will be one hell of a ride, but you’ll get there first. And that will make you a winner.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Movie Magic

I love the movies, and in these days of sisomo I can see them when I like, where I like. I watch movies in planes, cars, at home, and in all kinds of theaters from large to intimate. Like most of you, I’m very selective about what I watch so I get the impression that most movies are pretty good. A false impression. If it were true, the economics of Hollywood would be transformed. You only need to go into a DVD store to see that for every movie that attracts an audience at the cineplex, there are hundreds, maybe thousands, that don’t. Forbes tells us that in 2000 there were 373 films released in the United States. Last year there were 604 but the number of tickets sold was the same. The same! Wham! What you just heard was the commodification trap snapping shut around the ankles of studio bosses. Welcome to HOLLYWONT. Okay, I have some sympathy for a business that has to live off creative ideas. It’s not easy as Saatchi & Saatchi people know, but I am bemused by the way Hollywood so often retells the same old stories in the same old way.

I’ve heard it suggested that there are 55 movies on the go in the U.S. that are remakes. That’s right. Versions of movies that have been made already. I’m all for reframing but just rehashing won’t cut it. Audiences are smart and (thanks to the Internet and the availability of the history of cinema on DVD in all its richness and variety) possibly know more about the movies than the guys running the studios. Worst of all for the studios, their audiences are thumb-happy. They’ll text a bad review halfway through a bad movie. They’re in control and they know it. That’s how you can spend $100 million on the Eddie Murphy movie The Adventures of Pluto Nash (I haven’t heard of it either) and only end up with $7 million in the bank. Ouch. That would have to be close to zero ROI – Zero Return On Involvement leading to Zero Return on Investment. Yes, the two are causally linked and that’s the core of the Hollywood problem. The stories they want to tell are not the ones that involve us like they used to.

It seems a strange time to be going back into their own past for ideas. My advice to the movie industry would be to get closer to their audiences. At Saatchi & Saatchi we’ve found that our greatest storytellers are also the ones with the greatest empathy. They know who they’re talking to and they know that as the world changes, the stories we want to hear are changing too.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Turn the Tide

I have posted before about how small steps to change the way we live and the things we buy can make amazing things happen. It’s the principle on which we launched Saatchi & Saatchi S last year. Here’s a fantastic example to illuminate the principle.

If everyone in the United States turned to cold with Tide Coldwater for their laundry, the savings in total U.S. energy consumption would be a massive three percent according to BusinessWeek.

That is a truly extraordinary effect with great results for us as individuals (savings of up to $73* per year on a household’s energy bill) and as a society. I believe that practical and inclusive examples like this will do more to change behavior than clubbing people over the head with global statistics and messages of gloom. As the economy gets tougher, sustainability initiatives are often early casualties. It’s not that companies dump them, it’s just that they get fewer resources, less attention, less focus, less love. The result is inevitable. They start to wilt and once the business media starts writing headlines full of green fatigue, green overload, etc., sustainability starts to feel like yesterday’s news. All the passion is directed at the immediate trauma of the global economic melt-down.

Sustainability has to be sustainable which is why Saatchi & Saatchi has headed from Green to True Blue. Sustainability has to be more than a corporate commitment to environmental principles for a year or two. It has to be a transformation. I believe that Saatchi & Saatchi’s commitment to small steps focused on personal action is Blue. That Walmart’s focus on associate action is Blue. That Toyota’s hybrid technology is Blue. That thousands of other diverse and committed projects initiated by companies are Blue. And finally, that Tide Coldwater is Blue. It’s an irresistible drawcard for action inspired by emotion.

*Based on conversion from warm/cold to cold/cold for all loads in a vertical axis washing machine with an electric water heater set at 140F

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Child of Four

“A four-year-old child could understand that,” Groucho Marx once said. “Run out and find me a four-year-old child.” Groucho’s joke contains a truth we can use right now. Just look around at the mess of a capitalist system some of the "smartest" people have made. Their monumental mistakes remind me that now – more than ever – is the time for gut instinct. Anyone who reads this blog knows I’m wary of technical expertise. The people I know who are real experts don’t do jargon, back away from formulas and process, and sit out the brag sessions. This is because their expertise is fueled by something special – and it’s not the ability to read balance sheets (although they can usually do that too). The special quality I’m talking about is empathy. High intelligence has always struck me as a great gift, but I believe the real treasure you want for your kids is an empathetic connection with the world around you and the people who live in it.

Now you can see why I was delighted that academics at the University of Toronto have found that IQ tests would be hugely improved if they considered a wider range of human skills like the ability to make decisions and prioritize sensibly. The kicker is that researcher, Keith Stanovich, describes these skills as rational and labels everything leftover as irrational. Hang on a moment though, don’t we know now that making decisions and setting priorities are the very things we have to do with high levels of emotion? Emotion doesn’t make us irrational, it makes us effective. You say irrational, I say raised antennae. I’ve seen the brightest people make silly mistakes because they didn’t think with their hearts and their bodies. It has been the same since the world began. That’s why we have rules of thumb, following our instincts, and playing to our gut feelings. The people who ran Detroit all those years without connecting with car buyers, the bankers who invested in sloppy ventures, and anyone who did anything that didn’t feel quite right at the time were probably high on IQ but low on empathy.

Counting to ten and listening to your feelings is one of the most useful business tools. As someone once said, “If it feels too good to be true, it probably is”.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Pace makers

When you spend a lot of time in places where you don’t speak the language, you pick up on a different level of communication going on. In Italy, Spain, or South America, for example, you quickly work out how much is gestured and left unsaid. I’ve talked before about the odd uses the corporate world has made of the idea of body language (mostly about control and power), but gesture can also be a force for good. Whenever I give a presentation I feel that my hands are a second voice. They emphasize, include, shape, and mix in emotion. Best of all, I find that hand gestures often set the pace. You should see my son, Ben, communicating. He's lived, worked, and holidayed in Italy, married a beautiful Roman, Clarissa, and is bringing up Anglo/Italian Stella. Now there is a man who speaks with his hands!

I’m not suggesting that if you speak to a crowd you wave your arms like demented windmills, but I do think that studying your actions in a mirror and practicing really helps you communicate better. Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago, Susan Goldin-Meadow, will back me up. Her work suggests that hand gestures actually help us shape our words and ideas as well as the way we articulate them. After all, we do experience the world, not just talk about it. Counting on our fingers to do sums is a simple example of the connections between ideas and gestures. A study found that 90 percent of children who were taught maths with gestures could recall the lesson three weeks later. The control group who went without gestures only managed 33 percent. TV shows like Sesame Street had the action/idea connection worked out in the 1970s. And it’s a connection that this spot draws on brilliantly.

If you ever doubted the power of the five senses in business, get over it right now. All the senses are direct portals to the mind and none is more critical than touch. Wonderfully, the air guitar version of touch - the hand gesture - is right up there with the rest.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Like a Rolling Stone

I love magazines - the feel of the pages, the drama, the design, the imagery, the surprise … and the ads. Even more than magazines, I love music. My Ipod is filled with sound that inspires me. Last week, I put these Lovemark elements together on a visit to Jann Wenner’s iconic Rolling Stone magazine in New York. It was fun to meet publisher Will Schenck and his team, right opposite Radio City Music Hall.

I’ve had a 40 year love affair with Rolling Stone – going right back to the first issue in November 9 1967. The magazine is a great mix of Mystery – think of the iconic covers (their offices have every cover there has ever been on the walls). Then there’s the place it has had in quality pop culture throughout the years; Sensuality – the design, the legendary inspired photo shoots; and Intimacy – the new, smaller, format; that sense of familiarity between reader and magazine.

But it’s tough times in the magazine business. Advertising revenues are down, audiences are fragmenting, and the magazine glut grows even as titles close. On the way up is digital, interactive, user driven, new providers. Those advertising revenues need to be attracted back.

I’ve been involved with advertising all my life. And there are five truths about advertisers that I know you need to remember if you’re serious about sending advertising revenue North:

1. Advertisers talk metrics, but need Purpose.
Advertisers don’t like to be confused. They like to know who they’re talking to and where they are going. The desire for Purpose has only grown stronger in these turbulent times.

2. Advertisers talk presence, but need Creativity.
It’s not just about showing up in the media. And it’s not about recall. It’s about placing a brilliant idea in the perfect media so it connects. Advertisers need your creativity, not just your space.

3. Advertisers demand sales, but need Partners.
Partners who appreciate the complexity of their business. Partners who can help them sell and connect. Lovemarks research has shown that purchasing decisions are overwhelmingly emotional. For cars, it’s 63% emotional. Food - 75% emotional. And magazines? 85% emotional!

4. Advertisers cry out for digital, but need sisomo.
Sight, Sound and Motion. The digital revolution is transforming marketing, entertainment, communications, technology. But this is not about tools and technologies. It’s about the fastest, most exciting way to get emotional connectivity. Sisomo is the way to attract friends, fans and followers.

5. Advertisers want to be liked …. and hope they can be Loved.
Francis Ford Coppola said: When I review a new wine, a new gourmet food product, I ask only one question… Will people love it?

Visiting Rolling Stone was a great day, but I’ve just got one question. The location, the people, the titles were great - and next time I visit I’d love to be blasted with full on Rock and Roll!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Stella Visits

I couldn't resist sharing this picture Ro took of our granddaughter Stella (now 14 months!) who is visiting us with Ben and Clarissa. The painting Stella is sitting in front of is by international New Zealand artist Billy Apple.

The Value Shift

Winning Ugly Together has been at the top of my action list over the past few weeks. It’s the most effective way I know to pare away excess and focus on the things we can do something about. Control the controllables rather than be paralyzed by the unknown or the stuff that is not at the core of what you have to do. Loyalty Beyond Reason can only be earned when we all perform at our best.

The new reality makes it clear that consumers are looking even harder at how they spend every dollar. The more information they gather and the more comparisons they make, the higher the likelihood that when they do make their decision, it will be touched by emotion. A friend’s advice, a sense of connection, a yearning for fun or excitement, confidence in good value. In the coming months and years, Lovemarks will have new opportunities because they understand that Value does not equal price.

"The cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing." - Oscar Wilde

"Price is what you pay. Value is what you get." - Warren Buffett

Consumers know this. They also know that with price parity looming on so much of the stuff we buy, price is not the decider it used to be. The measure that matters is value. A smart perspective of the value consumers value will be the key differentiator over the next few years. This can be the advantage card small companies can play to win in an era when the big seem to keep getting bigger. I am convinced that winning value will be shaped by great insights so that people get value with emotional resonance as well as performance. As people become more careful, more informed, more flexible, and more connected, we’ll have to match them step by emotional step. The job of business is not to reframe value for consumers but to tap into how they are reframing it for themselves. Yes, the consumer is boss.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Play it again

I remember sitting next to a professor of music on a long flight to somewhere or other. He was staring resentfully at my iPod and so I asked him what he had against it. Turns out that his response wasn’t about branding or technology standards or design. He simply wouldn’t listen to recorded music. Full stop. The bottom line for him was that a recording by its nature is always the same. That’s the idea. It is always exactly the same. Unlike live performances once you heard it once, that was the way you were going to hear it every time from then on. I love my iPod and seem to remember making a case for it in terms of access and choice, but he was adamant. I remember thinking what a load of rubbish - until I went to my next live music event that is.

The fact is that recorded music is fine until you hear …the real thing. Real, live people and their instruments up there on the high wire doing their thing. Sometimes they fail and the room dies. Sometimes they find something fresh and extraordinary within themselves and we all take off together. There’s nothing quite like it. When I think of the great experiences I’ve had at live concerts, especially those involving Bruce and the E Street band, I relive the thrill, wherever I am and whatever I’m doing.

As for performing music live (and Bruce would concur), the great conductor Daniel Barenboim said in November to the New York Times, “When playing music, it is possible to achieve a unique state of peace, partly due to the fact that one can control, through sound, the relationship between life and death. Since every note produced by a human being has a human quality, there is a feeling of death with the end of each one, and through that experience there is a transcendence of all the emotions that these notes can have in their short lives; in a way, one is in direct contact with timelessness.” (A whirlwind named Barenboim – New York Times 11/23/2008).

Music is one of the great joys of life and however you get it into your system, that’s ok by me. I’m not alone. The music experience stats headed up in the short period from 2007 to 2008. Bauer Media’s research calls them consumption stats but that’s a reach too far as far as I’m concerned. We experience music; we do not consume it because it’s always there for someone else to fall in love with. The number of people passionate about music is heading up as well. It might be because there is so much more music around to connect with or because it’s all become so much easier (take a bow Apple), but the exciting thing is whether you’re a fanatic or simply along for the ride, everyone loves lots of different kinds of music. Hallelujah! Bring on the ballads, bring on the rock and roll.

If music be the food of love, play on.

Monday, February 9, 2009

True Blue

Robert Hildreth sent me this from San Francisco, he is head of Global Strategy for Saatchi & Saatchi S. It’s written by Hugh MacLeod, a terrific cartoonist who lives at Go start a movement. KR.

The Market for something to Believe in is Infinite

We are here to find meaning. We are here to help other people do the same. Everything else is secondary.

We humans want to believe in our own species. And we want people, companies and products in our lives that make it easier to do so. That is human nature.

Product benefit doesn’t excite us. Belief in humanity and human potential excites us.

Think less about what your product does, and think more about human potential.

What statement about humanity does your product make?

The bigger the statement, the bigger the idea, the bigger your brand will become.

It’s no longer just enough for people to believe that your product does what it says on the label. They want to believe in you and what you do. And they’ll go elsewhere if they don’t.

It’s not enough for the customer to love your product. They have to love your process as well.

People are not just getting more demanding as consumers, they are getting more demanding as spiritual entities. Branding is a spiritual exercise. These are The New Realities, this is the Spiritual Republic we now live in.

The soul cannot be outsourced. Either get with the program or hire a consultant in Extinction Management. No vision, no business. Your life from now on pivots squarely on your vision of human potential.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


For those of you living in Auckland, take a walk up Queen Street near the Civic Theatre and check out Giapo. This is a new store opened by Gianpaolo Grazioli, a young Italian entrepreneur with lots of dreams. Giapo is a tremendous character with his own family, including girlfriend Stella. The store has been created as a Lovemark and is dripping with Mystery, Sensuality, and Intimacy. It’s not an ice cream shop. It’s not a gelato shop. It’s designed to be an experience. The purpose of Giapo is to make a child smile with a run-on effect of everyone picking up the habit and smiling too. The store is beautifully designed and the culture is all about hope, dreams, and inspiration. Stay tuned. The website will be up and running shortly.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Diesel: Winning the Dream

Late last year, Diesel turned thirty years old. Renzo Rosso, Diesel’s rock star founder, celebrated with epic parties and concerts around the world – all free. They also partnered with Rizzoli to publish a gorgeous book about the history of Diesel’s advertising and communications. As I have mentioned earlier, Renzo asked me to write the commentary and what started as some thoughts for the introduction turned into a 10,000 word script.

I’ve long admired Diesel for its creative and irreverent style. Its thirty year history is a story about overcoming adversity in pursuit of a dream. When Renzo started out in 1978, stores weren’t interested in vintage denim. Renzo knew otherwise, and thirty years later the world can’t get enough.

This spirit has fueled Diesel’s approach to advertising. Diesel connects with us, involves us, and participates with us. This is communication that respects your intelligence. The ads are certainly a relief from the bombardment of today’s boring and mindless ads. As Renzo says: “It’s a form of loving – if you love somebody, you put respect first.”

Looking over Diesel’s success, I see simple and powerful guidelines for positive change. Here are four of them:

Be Yourself:
Throughout its advertising and clothing line, Diesel celebrates the individual – people with alternative lifestyles or people who may not fit in but are open and honest about it. Diesel’s product offering shows that too, with nearly 3,000 items per year. Fight the forces of conformity.

Attitude, Have One:
Diesel is full-on attitude. Irreverence for conventional advertising won Diesel not just award after award, but praise from customers and outrage from the sad souls who took the message at face value. Nothing extraordinary comes from ordinary actions. Diesel’s 2008 launch of its fragrance asked: “Are you alive?”

Champion The Revolution:
Think for yourself. Challenge tradition. This is the path to reinvention and revolution. After thirty years, Diesel is as unpredictable as ever and the company is in constant motion. Diesel experiments, breaks down barriers, subverts norms, and throws caution to the wind.

Forget It All, Just Have Fun:
The Diesel experience is about Joy. Combine the surreal imagination of Willy Wonka, the individuality of David Bowie, the provocation of Andy Warhol, and you’re approaching the Diesel Planet. Diesel’s pursuit of fun turns out to be a radical model for business and for life.

Diesel has reinvented the institutions of both denim and brand communication. This bravery led to an expansion of the brand far, far beyond the Italian village of Molvena. It’s been one hell of a story so far. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Boss: Winning Ugly

Not too long ago I got to hear an advance copy of Bruce Springsteen’s new album, Working on a Dream.

Oh boy. God knows when he wrote this stuff; sounds like it was during the recent Magic Tour with the E Street Band. It’s concert honed, hot, and hungry.

This new Springsteen album, his 24th, was written as a tribute to Danny Federici. For me, one of the all-time great videos of this year was Bruce and Danny Federici getting together on 4th of July in Asbury Park. Federici died last April and the piece by Bruce on his website was one of the most moving obituaries I’ve ever read. Federici’s son, Jason, plays Federici’s signature accordion on the 'Last Carnival'. It is a thing of beauty.

The whole album is a great example of street fighting, ball kicking, road warrior rock ‘n roll. In my mind it’s gonna be the theme album for Winning Ugly Together. The opening track is 'Outlaw Pete'. This is a Bob Dylan-like gun fighter parable with incredible instrumentation, fantastic keyboards, great harmonica, along with awesome guitar from Steven Van Zandt. It feels like an epic western with John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Sam Peckinpah all involved. 'What Love Can Do' and 'Surprise, Surprise' keep the album moving, and 'This Life' and 'My Lucky Day' sound like they come right out of 60’s Pop Nirvana.

All Bruce’s influences are alive and well, ranging from Bob Dylan to Roy Orbison to The Beatles and his New Jersey Stone Pony roots. It is ideal for road trips, iPods, and starting-the-day-pick-me-ups when hell is breaking loose. Working on a Dream was released on January 27. Order your copy today.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Credit where credit’s due

Strange times attract strange responses. We’ve all read articles about making do, taking care and paying attention, but who’d have thought that the Department of the Treasury in the U.S. would respond to the credit crunch with a game? When the official seal of the Treasury looms up on a plain black screen, I’m all there.

Bad Credit Hotel is a stylish game in black and white that teaches people about debt and how to get out of it, or at least how to get their finances under control. The setting is an Art Deco hotel somewhat reminiscent of the Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. For people who don’t like playing games, this one is pretty easy even for a non-gamer, so you can concentrate on the task at hand. The rules are simple and there’s a lot of guidance. Obviously the Treasury is keen for people to complete this game, not give up on it. To keep us at it they’ve loaded it with Mystery, Sensuality, and Intimacy. Unanswered questions, casual conversations, scary music, sound effects, and a rotary dial phone. The interface is a bit creaky but I like its style.

The combination of education with entertainment will be one of the big winners as the Internet gets more sophisticated. This was always the dream for television until education was overwhelmed by entertainment and lack of interactivity. This time I reckon the mix will hold, to the great benefit of us all.