Monthly Archives: October 2008

The World According to Barack

I’ve been watching the presidential race unfold, and just had to comment about how different things are today, than they were just four years ago.  The Barack infomercial was a game changer for me (even moreso than the announcement of Joe Biden as his Veep via SMS) because it showed just how far one can take a brand.

The equivalent of Barack’s 30 minute spot on prime time TV, was the full page ad in the New York Times of years ago.  If you wanted to make a statement, you bought the entire page in a prestigious newspaper, and made your case to the public.  It was a ground breaking and effective strategy, turning the pages of a reputable and widely circulated newspaper into a launchpad for your platform.

Barack brought that strategy into the 21st century, by launching his platform directly into the homes of millions of Americans simultaneously.  I don’t have the numbers, but I’m sure Nielsen can tell you that a butt-load of people watched what Barack had to say carefully the day before yesterday, and were inevitably swayed by the quality production, the heartfelt stories, the message and its clarity, and the singular intent of the man of the hour.

Unlike a commercial, which is fleeting, and whose message is invariably countered by a commercial of the opponent, the infomercial can only be countered by another infomercial.  McCain has neither the prediliction, cash or first mover’s advantage to pull that off.  Moreover, if the McCain camp were to try to cobble something together to blunt the effectiveness of that move, it would be too-little too-late.  With only four days before the election, there is little likelihood of mounting any significant counter-attack.

McCain is left to send his storm trooper in lipstick out to do his dirty work.  All the Republican party has left, is that attack instinct, and they’re frothing like rabid dogs, at the prospect of forging a comeback.  They’re just so all over the place, that they look like rank amateurs, especially when juxtaposed against Barack’s unflappable cool demeanor and expert use of the media, at all turns.

Its like Barack has moved from a presidential candidate, to an awe-inspiring figure and every-man, simultaneously.  He appears to be one of the most approachable people in the world, yet he still portrays an air of greatness.  Now I’m no Obama jock-rider, caught up in the groundswell, but from an objective standpoint, it is clear to the most casual observer who our next president SHOULD be.

McCain is no slouch, but I’d never put a man in office who states (without hesitation) not to know ‘too much’ about the about the economy.  I would also not put a man in office who so thoroughly fails to vet his VP selection, to the point that her selection has become the punchline for SNL jokes for weeks.

As a Black man in America, I hold no disillusions about the capacity of my fellow Americans to disappoint.  When GW won in 2000, I wasn’t surprised.  When Kerry gave it away in 2004, I wasn’t surprised.  If the Bradley effect kicks in, and the GOP steals yet another election, I won’t be surprised.  I am surpsied, however, that Barack has gotten this far (and is still alive) considering the magnitude of what could realistically be a defining point in American history.

Win or lose, I take solace in the fact, that this moment in time is actually happening.  It has opened up the minds of millions of children of color, whose realm of possibilities include one day being president of the United States of America.  Its one thing to hear it (as a general aspirational statement of possibility), its another thing entirely to witness it, and create a firm basis for belief in that (for Black people) once abstract thought.

We’ve come a long way.  We’ve got a great distance to cover yet, but we’ve come a long way.  And for that, I’m glad.

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You’ve Arrived! Tips on Setting the Stage

A large part of branding involves setting the stage.  Creating the environment within which the impression of you will be made is a crucial part of managing your brand, and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Which entrance more positively impacts your brand:  showing up at an event and stepping out of a Mercedes Benz or showing up at the same event stepping out of a hooptie?  Clearly, unless you’re a clown, stepping out of a Benz is the more impactful entrance.

Each day, we make entrances.  Whether its what we wear, our hairstyles or our personalities, the way we ‘arrive’ helps to shape other people’s perception of us.  Since our entrance or arrival is something over which we have singular control, it bears some discussion.

If you’re going to a function, for example, its best to orchestrate your arrival, presence and departure, in such a way as to create the proper perception of you.  You’ve undoubtedly heard of the term ‘fashionably late,’ which, as you might image, has its roots in the practice of not showing up to a function until most of the guests had already arrived, ensuring that the maximum number of eyes would be on the entrant upon their arrival.  The guest who bore this moniker was two things: (1) fashionable (what good would it do to show up looking shabby?); and (2) late.

On the flip side, its best to always depart from a social engagement, prior to the balance of the other guests.  Having ‘another engagement’ to attend, is a sure way to create the impression that you’re in demand (whether its true or not).  Its also useful to extricate yourself from uncomfortable situations (such as showing up to a function that’s crap, and not wishing to stay a minute longer).

Be sure to tailor your appearance so that its signature.  Wear unusual articles of clothing, a pocket square or ascot, for example.  If everyone is rocking Kangols, you wear a fedora.  If everyone’s in Nike’s, grab yourself a pair of Greedy Geniuses.  Stay fashionably ahead of the curve.  Now this doesn’t mean that you should drop duckets simply to rock the latest gear (because that’s not fashionable, is it?).  But acquiring a choice piece of apparel every once in a while, to augment your collection of signature pieces, is a wise investment in you.

Know your audience.  SunTzu, in The Art of War, advises that before engaging in battle, one should know the terrain upon which the battle is to be fought.  Make it a habit to check out wherever it is you intend to go, in advance.  Get a feel for the place.  Is it a resturaunt? What’s their Zagat rating?  What have other diners said about the food? Service?  What are their specials?  How does one get there?  You should also have ‘dossiers’ prepared if you’re going to be meeting people, and be familiar with their personalities, etc.  This is especially true where you want to make a particular impression, and need to assess how you’ll be received.

Setting the stage may require a little bit of work, but the returns on your overall impression are well worth it, so do it right!

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Spike Lee

The Indomitable Spike Lee

The Indomitable Spike Lee

So apparently, Spike Lee moved into my building, and I’ve run into him a couple of times. Its interesting to meet an icon, when that icon is as humble and unassuming as can be. Perhaps his placid demeanor is the result of Spike’s implicit knowledge that he is that dude. Or perhaps, he’s just naturally chill, and I’ve taken for granted the fact that all celebrities aren’t full of themselves. In any instance, Spike’s in the building.

The first time I ran into him, I was with two of my colleagues. Never the one to be shy, I gave him the ‘nod.’ For those of you unfamiliar with the ‘nod,’ its an unspoken form of acknowledgment between Black men that silently says, ‘what’s up,’ through locked eyes, and a barely perceptible ascent and descent of the chin (the actual nod). I also gave him a hearty ‘pound’ (vernacular for handshake, that can involve a simple shaking the hand, or in combination with the pulling of the receipient of the handshake in to oneself, and a gentle thump with a closed fist on the back).

My colleagues, who happened to be two Jewish cats, continued to walk silently by, without saying a word, to which I protested, ‘you guys are in the presence of greatness! This is Spike Lee. Pay the man some respect!’ This of course, brought a smile to Spike’s face, who, I am sure, is used to a certain amount of anonymity (he probably craves those moments when he can move about unnoticed, which is probably why he chose to set up shop in DUMBO), but appreciated my histrionics, nonetheless.

I ran into Spike again today on the elevator. He was, once again, chilling, and I casually asked him if he was all moved in (I usually strike up conversations with people as if we were good friends). He said he was all moved in, and I proceeded to remind him that he could, indeed, call me if he needed a particularly aesthetic for extra work on any of his upcoming projects, as I knew how hard it was to find really attractive extras in these hard economic times.

When we got off the elevator, Spike (and his entourage still giggling) went about his B-I (that’s an urban acronym for ‘business’) while I waited for my colleagues, who had elected to take a different elevator. As I stood there, I thought to myself, ‘I wonder if that guy knows that he’s an icon?’

One of my good friends, Pete Chatmon, is referred to in his Wikipedia entry (yes, he’s famous enough to warrant his own entry), as ‘the next Spike Lee.’ I mean, if other people refer to up-and-comings as ‘the next fill-in-the-blank-with-celebrity-name-here,’ than those celebrities much must have achieved some form of iconic status. Haven’t they?

Anyway, in my moment of contemplation, I decided that the next time I ran into Spike, that I would tell him that I consider him an icon, and that as such, he had my profound respect and admiration for all the things he has done to advance the art of filmmaking, not only for people of color, but for all filmmakers. And then I will ask him, once again, to put me in one of his movies as an extra 🙂

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Random Thoughts on Branding

I recently returned from a conference in St. Thomas, USVI, where I moderated a panel on advertising.  The session, titled Advertising: The Convergence of Television, Film and Technology, included an attorney from Microsoft corporation, and a senior executive from Global Grind, a start-up of Russell Simmons, backed by the same investment group that funds Facebook.

The session, which started with a brief Power Point presentation (many thanks to my good friend Ben Tannenbaum for his visuals), segued into a heated discussion of the Microsoft ‘I Am A PC’ spots.  Actually, the discussion centered around the efficacy of the first series of commercials launched by Microsoft, which featured Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates, and whether Microsoft had intended to lead with those commercials, before unveiling the ‘I Am A PC’ spots.

Several members of the audience thought that Microsoft’s initial spots, were simply crap, and that the ‘I Am A PC’ was a belated effort to offer a more meaningful commercial.  Microsoft’s representative (and a few Microsoft ‘ringers’ in the audience) advised that the Seinfeld commercials (I think there were at least 2 that I viewed) were an intentional patsy, or sacrificial lamb, offered to get people talking about how bad they were.  According to him, the point of those commercials, were that they were…how to put this?…pointless.

For anyone who followed Seinfeld, the pointless nature of each episode, was, in fact, the point of the entire show.  They were shows about nothing.  Similarly, Microsoft explained, the spots were intended to do nothing more than spark discussion about how pointless they were, and to have audiences asking ‘what’s the meaning of all this?’

They specifically didn’t want there to be a single mention of Mircosoft, Vista or anything remotely related to either.  More importantly, they didn’t want people talking about Apple.  Hence, the spots were not intended as a response commercial to Apple’s many diss ads, which continually punked Microsoft as a clunky out-of-touch company.  Rather, they were intended to take the dialogue in a completely different direction.

And when people were just as confused as they could be, the ‘I Am A PC’ spots began airing.  The resulting tide of adulation and praise for these commercials, which were full of life and meaning, and the antithesis of the original Seinfeld spots, were Microsoft’s resurrection.

The reason I used the Microsoft commercials in my example, was because whatever you thought of Microsoft, or its operating system, or its commercials, for that moment in time, Microsoft had captured everyone’s attention.  It had become the quintessential brand of the moment.  When the first commercial aired, the blogsphere was a twitter (no pun intended) with people debating its meaning.  Angry posts declared that Microsoft had missed the mark in responding to Apple’s clever ads, and that no one ‘got it’ (whatever ‘it’ was).

Similarly, when the ‘I Am A PC’ dropped several weeks later (after the subsequent Seinfeld spot), the blogsphere was, once again, flooded with bloggers (and regular folks) discussing the Microsoft spot.  Over the period of time between the first and last spots, Microsoft claimed that there were literally millions of independent threads online about its ads.

While Apple may be THE brand of the hip cool, current, plugged-in minority, Microsoft (if only for a fleeting moment in time) demonstrated that it had the capacity to be that hip brand (of the dorky majority).

By the end of my session, people were literally up-in-arms, and I thought contentedly (to myself) “well done, my good man.  Well done.”  After the session that day, and into the next day, people approached myself, and my two panelists, to give us hearty handshakes and thank us for so spirited a session.  Law students wanted to know how I got into the business and asked for my card.  And a few of the conference planners invited me to moderate sessions in the future.  I may be on next year’s planning committee.  Shoot, I may have even landed a client.

While Microsoft and Apple will continually be in this war of attrition, I’ll happily pimp them for the benefit of MY brand.  ‘Nuff said.

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Self Promotion

In three days, I’ll be moderating a panel entitled “Advertising: The Convergence of TV, Film and Technology.” I’ll be speaking to the members of the Black Entertainment and Sports Lawyers Association (BESLA), in St. Thomas USVI, about how to properly leverage their brands in an increasingly interactive world, with these highly interchangeable (and intertwined) mediums.

I was asked to speak at this conference several months ago.  One of the organization’s conference chairs, Elke Suber, invited me based on a discussion we had had over a year ago, when I advised her that if she ever needed a dynamic person to speak at her annual conference, that I was her man.  When she called me, she referenced that call, and said that she had been waiting for the opportunity to bring me in.

The funny thing about this, is the fact that I have known Elke since 1994, when we were both student members of BESLA, attending our first conference in Aruba.  We were both in the audience, listening to panelists speaking about the impact of the internet on the music industry. At one point, I had asked (what I thought was) a simple question about artists (vs labels) registering domain names, which sparked a lot of controversy among other audience members, and became a flash point for the balance of the session.

Afterwards, I was approached by several of the attendees of the session (as well as a few of the panelists), who wanted my opinion about the subject, and exchanged contact information for further discussion stateside.  I found the whole thing rather amusing, since I was still in law school, and didn’t really consider myself an expert on anything, much less the topic of discussion in that session.  But apparently, the way I couched my opinions and posed my questions, left the distinct impression that I knew what I was talking about.

Anyway, that’s how Elke and I met, and why she offered me this speaking opportunity.

When I reflect on that first BESLA conference, I realize that what made my opinions so impactful, was the fact that I held myself out as an authority.  Even though I was still in law school at the time, I spoke with such confidence and intelligently, that I came off as ‘an expert’ on the topic being discussed.  Considering the relative new-ness of the topic being discussed, and the fact that there were relatively few people assessing the overall impact of the internet on revenue streams at the time, the niche issue I raised had (apparently) never crossed the mind of the panelists (and made me look pretty cool).

I’m going to BESLA with a real sense of purpose.  I’ve prepared a sweet Power Point presentation, assembled a nice crew of panelists, and outlined all the points I want to cover.  I realize that there may be a bunch of audience members who may be looking at this topic from an angle that neither myself, or any of my distinguished panelists, may have considered (and who may come off like the ‘expert’ in the audience).  But that’s cool (and to be expected), because, as much as I’m there to impart information on the attendees, I’m also there to promote me.

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