Monthly Archives: October 2012

More Targeting, Please

Forgive me if I seem a little jittery and distracted, but . . . I’m being cyber-stalked by a pair of shoes. It’s like an updated Twilight Zone episode. The eerie part is, I don’t really want it to stop—I want more advertising to behave this way. A brief explanation might be in order.

It all started when I was browsing Zappos.com (during my lunch hour, of course) and lingered over a line of pricey, old-school-but-with-Air-Soles wingtip oxfords designed by Cole Haan. Later (on my afternoon break), I was reading a techie site—Slashdot, perhaps. My eyes strayed to the right-hand border, and there they were again—standing out from a column of ads packed sardine-tight, that same pair of Cole Haan shoes, their supple leather tongues beckoning me from behind untied laces to click and order. Shocked and bewildered, I switched the browser over to a political site, Daily Kos. There—just below an unflattering photo of the Republican contenders for the White House—was that accursed footwear from hell. Only then did I comprehend that I was in the crosshairs of a crack marketing algorithm I will never escape without making a purchase.

As days passed, the shock of role reversal from hunter to hunted faded to resignation. Sooner or later I’ll buy the shoes, and by that act achieve a détente with my implacable foe, Zappos. But you know what? All things considered, I, for one, welcome our new marketing overlords. Which entails another explanation.

There’s lots of talk these days about “cutting the cord” to gain freedom from greedy, rock-stupid cable television monopolies. Personally, I come from a long line of video addicts, and we’re not cutting any cords in the foreseeable future.

But we would like our cable service to be cheaper. And 100% on-demand accessible. And one more thing: I’m old enough to remember an article in Popular Mechanics about the then-coming cable television “revolution,” whose author declared monthly subscription fees would mean “no more commercials.” Okay, the author was also picturing himself in a flying car when he made that prediction. And/or he was just high.

Back in the real world, a 60-minute show is going to include 20 or more minutes of marketing as long as there are displays to light up and eyeballs to gaze at them. Given that, I want my ads to be like those ubiquitous shoes: personalized … targeted to my demographic, constantly updated by an AI that shrewdly analyzes my viewing and online history—or failing that, at least about goods, services, and civic duties that are actually available to me!

I live in New York City. We don’t have any fast-food restaurants called “Sonic Burger” or “Red Robin” here. The actors in these strangely flat, alien ads exude Deep South, though Google tells me these chains have limited extra-urban locations in the tri-state area. But I have to point out that many New Yorkers don’t own cars, and even if they do, are not about to pile in and drive to Clifton or Bayonne, New Jersey, or take the Long Island Railroad to Hempstead, Long Island, in order to experience off-brand fast food. Someone is wasting his money and my time displaying these ads in my zip code. Question: How hard would it be to fix that?

As a New York City resident, I’m forbidden by law from voting in other states. But every night I watch a Connecticut woman who used to own a pro wrestling syndicate and wants to be a U.S. Senator berate her opponent—who apparently has no money to run ads in his own defense, or else is smart enough to run them in his own state. In any case, I can’t vote for her and definitely will not be making any donations.

Same story in New Jersey: A kindly looking middle-aged man wants to be re-elected to the Senate. His opponent doesn’t seem to have any cash for ads, either. Hey, if resembling Richie Cunningham’s dad on Happy Days means good things happening in D.C., I’m all for you, guy. But how about pitching to your own constituency next time?

Will it be privacy-invasive when, as happens to Tom Cruise’s character in Minority Report, signs call to us by name as we walk by them? Probably yes. But as long as the signs are pimping a product for which I have a yen, I can only echo a former president’s challenge to the makers of improvised explosive devices in an overseas adventure he himself improvised: “Bring ’em on!”

Author: John Wahmeyer

Cartoon Yourself – Easy Steps to Transform Your Photos into Cartoons

In all my life, I’ve never found the value in getting a caricature or sketch of myself drawn. And at certain points in my life, it certainly wasn’t a lack of vanity holding me back. Maybe it just boiled down to wanting to ride the Viper at Six Flags instead of getting my mug airbrushed. Whatever it was, I sort of regret missing out on the experience. That is, until I found out recently that I could do it myself.

Wing-Ki Lo, a fellow Vanguardian and friend of mine, recently gave a presentation that demonstrated how simple it is to cartoonify oneself using Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop. In 20 minutes, she took an adorable photo of her son and transformed it into a cute, lovable cartoon—the perfect recipe for a one-year-old’s first birthday invitation.

Over the years, “Kiki” has drawn many special-occasion cards for employees here at the shop. From retirement cards to baby showers, she’s become our in-house designer for all of the fun events that make our company and its culture unique.

Take a look at some of her samples, along with a step-by-step video that shows how, with a few pen tools and layers, one can transform photos into comic book caricatures.

Your author, Eric Swenson

QR Codes – Mandate!

You have recently fallen in love. You do what all new couples do: watch movies, cook together, shop together, go out to eat…

How many times have you and your loved one browsed the streets, trying to find a great place to eat? In this economy we always try to get our money’s worth and at the same time prefer highly rated restaurants. Good food, a clean environment, great prices––this all matters. And the inspection grade posted on the window doesn’t always reveal enough information (at least if that grade is not an A).

How many times have the two of you walked around the city avoiding street sides or even blocks because of scaffolding, worrying about safety?

You love your partner so much that you want to get his name tattooed on your body. Think of all your friends who have picked a tattoo artist through word of mouth, without knowing whether the person has a real permit or not. That person may be great, but it’s important to feel safe, having trust based on credentials as well as artistic ability.

Let’s say you and your partner got married and have a beautiful girl together. Do you remember all those hours spent discussing your child’s day care center? You want to be able to go to work knowing your child is in good hands. A good feeling is not enough. You want to know that the day care provider is licensed for the job before leaving your baby with a stranger for the next eight hours.

Well, I have good news for anyone who has ever thought about these things: The New York City Council has approved a law (which will most likely take effect next fall) requiring every city agency that has inspection, permit, license, or registration information online to add QR codes, which link to more extensive information, to the physical documents that are posted in windows, at construction sites, etc. Agencies that do not post information online are obliged to do so by 2016. You’ll soon be able to learn a lot with just a quick phone scan.

Long live the smartphone!! Click here to read more. Thoughts?

Author: Marina Kaljaj

Touchscreens and Beyond

Technology is always moving, but one thing that has stayed the same for a while is the touchscreen on your mobile device. Although the touchscreens of today are efficient, they too will evolve. Here are some thoughts on where they may be headed:

3-D Buttons: Tactus Technology has developed a touchscreen that has on-demand raised buttons. Its microfluidic technology changes the user’s experience from that of touching a flat surface to one of a typing on a keyboard.

Gesture: Imagine that turning a page while reading on a tablet was as easy as waving your hand over the device. This technology is being tested and perfected with the Gesture Cube. Apple recently won a patent for something similar to the Gesture Cube. Apple’s patent specifically addresses the “pinch-and-pull gesture,” which allows the user to touch the screen to “pinch” and “pull” away from the screen to register a gesture, as well as 3-D gesturing inputs.

Voice Recognition: Siri was a big step in our introdution to voice or speech interfaces, but if Siri were human, she would be like a two-year-old, not comprehending larger words, requiring us to speak slowly and very clearly, and only only understanding basic commands. This technology will evolve quickly as the big tech companies compete to make devices easier to use.

Thought: IBM predicts that by 2017, most devices will be controlled by brainwaves. Emotive currently has a headset that reads EEGs (electroencephalograms) and facial expressions to control games, but everyday use can’t be too far away.

Author: Susan Hallinan

Cutting Through the Marketing Noise

How many of you have signed up for a credit card or a discount site just to save that extra dollar on a purchase, only to regret it the next morning when the spam––sorry––marketing campaign begins? Every search, purchase, “like,” download, post, and check-in is captured and analyzed so that companies can effectively and efficiently market their brands to targeted audiences. For the consumer, this means tens (if not hundreds) of emails each day, sponsored links on Facebook timelines, ads in apps, and strategically placed advertisements in both web pages and search results.

From a consumer standpoint, every day is a battle of the spam. I have gone to great lengths to limit my exposure to the onslaught of marketing campaigns. I do not “like” or follow companies/brands on social media, I filter all my emails, I fast-forward through commercials on my DVR, I browse incognito and frequently clear my history, cookies, and cache. I’ve even gone as far as setting up a new email account to escape the plethora of junk email from various sites and promotions that I signed up for.

This week, I came across an advertisement that caught me by surprise. I’ve gone back to the advertisement about a dozen times and have shared it with my coworkers and family. The advertisement was for Avis, and the advertising was done brilliantly. I was reading one of my favorite magazines on my iPad when I came to the dreaded “advertising spread.” Here is the moment that, with one swift swipe of a finger, I would turn the page and move on to reading another article. Something strange happened: The advertisement was shaking on the screen with the big, bright words “SHAKE ME” at the bottom.

I suddenly had the urge to shake my iPad, just to see what would happen. To my dismay, the error message (below) popped up, as I was in a PATH station without a Wi-Fi connection––fail.

While on the train, all I could think of was what would happen next!! As soon as I reached my stop, I hurried out of the station, headed to the first Starbucks I could find, and started shaking my iPad furiously. What happened next was a bit disappointing: The car turned into a room, and I could keep shaking my iPad to change the setting to a different room (three options in all). There was a link that I could click on to customize my room of choice, but I suddenly didn’t have the urge to invest additional time into the advertisement.

On a positive note, this is a perfect example of a company being able to “cut through the noise.” There was no QR code, no link, no survey––just a simple statement that tickled my curiosity. This advertisement, however, did have some flaws. First, the entire interaction relies on the user being connected to the Internet. Even though I was intrigued enough to run to the nearest Starbucks, there could be as many (or more) users who were deterred and wouldn’t shake again. Secondly, the concept was better than the message that was delivered. Maybe this was intentional, but the only thing I can remember from the ad besides the “Shake Me” is the car morphing into a room, which still befuddles me today. Either way, the advertising worked as planned. Avis is now permanently branded (pun intended) into my head and I have shared this ad with anyone who would listen.

Now onto what matters … Analytics!!!

This advertisement is a prime of example of interactive advertising that was made possible by the gyroscope and accelerometer technology built into the iPad. A study performed by the Interactive Advertising Bureau found a direct correlation between the effectiveness of an ad and the type of mobile advertising utilized (static, animated or interactive). Interactive ads were most frequently considered engaging, innovative, and memorable. Not surprisingly, interactive ads were found to be both the least boring and the least ordinary (see chart below). Reading the study reaffirmed my belief in the effectiveness of the Avis advertisement.

Image from Internet Advertising Bureau UK (iab)

For now, the marketing directors have won. I will continue to be intrigued by interactive advertisements. So if you see me walking on the street or around the office shaking my iPad, do not fret. I haven’t gone mad––I’m either using my iPad as an Etch A Sketch or I am testing out the latest “Shake Me” ad! Let’s just hope I have a Wi-Fi connection to view it!

Author: Michael Hiney

Art and Technology: The Balance of Innovation and Harmony Throughout the Ages

The relationship between art and technology—wide-ranging, polarizing, and constantly fluctuating—is among the most influential factors throughout the course of human history. Certain periods of time witnessed art in a position of prominence; others featured technological advancement. Art and technology have always had a complementary and complicated relationship, but in 2012, this relationship has reached a pinnacle of complexity. In order to interpret the present or predict the future of these intertwined fields, however, one must first look to the past.

By the year 1492—which marks the European discovery of the Americas—Leonardo da Vinci had entered the twilight of his life, but more than 500 years later he is still considered by many to be the single most influential historical figure the world has seen. The reason for such a legacy can be found in the aforementioned relationship between art and technology: to this day he is considered the embodiment of their dualistic role for man. The European Renaissance—ranging (roughly) from the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries—is the period of time credited with man’s emergence from the Dark Ages; more importantly to the topic at hand, however, the Renaissance represents the first climax in the relationship between art and technology.

Man’s approach to technology (i.e., science and mathematics) prior to the Renaissance can be encapsulated by one inherent characteristic of the human race: fear of the unknown. In the sixteenth century, Nicolaus Copernicus provided the first proof of the heliocentric astronomical model, which proposed a solar system that revolves around the sun (rather than the earth); this radical concept was met with tremendous resistance, and the majority of the opposition originated from the Catholic Church. The Church was arguably the most powerful entity in the world at this time, and it strictly opposed any source of knowledge or truth outside its walls. The recently introduced and rapidly spreading scientific discipline, therefore, was considered an enemy of the Church. So while the Renaissance sparked the rise of technology, the prominence of art would continue for several more centuries.

Graphic design only became a profession in recent decades, but it nonetheless evokes the art/technology relationship from the time of Copernicus and da Vinci. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a field in which art and technology are better united. Graphic designers are artists, but they would not exist without modern technology.

Modern technological advancement—beginning in the twentieth century and exponentially increasing ever since—is unprecedented in both its rapidity and complexity. Cutting-edge technology is only cutting-edge for mere days or weeks, whereas in the past, a single advancement could define an entire generation or represent an evolutionary milestone (see: fire, wheel). The only constant today, it seems, has been mankind’s emphasis upon—and, in recent years, fetishism of—technology, to which art is a distant second. Maybe the Age of Technology will continue for centuries and art will be considered a luxury. We can’t know now, but we can be certain that the dynamics between art and technology, with mankind as the backdrop, will forever remain fluid and mysterious.

Art is no more important to man than technology, or vice versa. Creativity is neither better nor worse than logic. And a time period with more artistic innovation than technological is not inferior to its opposite. Developments in both fields, however, will prove to be infinitely relevant to the business world.

Is a marketing/communication company’s creative department involved in technology as much, if not more, than art? What does the future hold for the industry? What’s the next billion-dollar idea? Because of the way he was able to balance his interests in art and technology and thus excel at both, Leonardo da Vinci was able to theorize on concentrated solar power centuries before the invention of electricity and conceptualize a helicopter long before the steam engine was created. The potential is limitless for an individual, entity, or business that achieves such balance, harmony, and innovation between art and technology.

Author: Ryan O’Connell