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Video: Not Just for the Small Screen

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Originally published, November 12, 2009

“This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.”
- CBS News anchor Edward R. Murrow, speech to the RTNDA, October 15, 1958.

Edward R. Murrow

Edward R. Murrow. Photo courtesy of the Library of American Broadcasting, University of Maryland.

As anyone who produces video content knows, “television” is no longer “merely wires and lights in a box.”

Video content long ago left the small screen. It now lives online, on hand held devices, and — as this article about Obscura Digital illustrates — on just about any surface you can imagine.

And, the definition of “content” has changed. Audiences don’t want a one-way conversation; they demand an interactive experience.

A while back, I was fortunate to work with White Design Studios, who produced a organizational overview video for Battelle. The “video” plays on a “simple” Obscura screen in the corporate lobby of Battelle’s the Columbus headquarters.

The video screen is actually three 16′X9′ panels lined up end-to-end. The center of each screen utilizes an advanced touchscreen technology that reads the electromagnetic pulses in visitors’ hands – offering a hands-free touchscreen. Sensors detect users’ walk paths, moving content and audio to wherever the visitor might be standing.

Plainly stated, it’s just flat out cool!

battelle lobbyFrom the White Design Studio case study:

“The lobby … features an interactive video installation that has 4 modes. A sleep mode plays a subtle animation 5’ tall by 30’ wide. The follow mode tracks users with a branded animation which entices people
closer. The user mode is a content-rich playful way for multiple users to find out more about the scope of Battelle and its contributions. The presentation mode shows a series of monumental video presentations,
triggered remotely. The seamless integration of these, together with the depth of information accessible, makes this installation unlike any

… The interactive wall tracks you from up to 20 feet away with an animation, beckoning you to approach and discover. It then invites you to touch it. When you do, you discover that there is a wealth of animated content that tells a rich story of the history and capabilities of Battelle. White Design Studio, in conjunction with Obscura Digital and Murphy Catton developed a device that can track the movements of three individual
users, in three dimensions, to deliver a personalized conversation between the user and the brand. The leader of a large group can remotely command the wall to play from a selection of monumental videos that take over the entire width of the 30 foot screen and all six channels of audio.

And, yet, for all of the incredible technology involved in the projection and display systems, Battelle’s video succeeds because it tells a powerful story.

As technology changes, so do storytellers tools. Yet, as Murrow so elegantly stated, video can — and must — teach, illuminate and inspire to remain successful as a medium.

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Weed: The Ultimate Symbiotic Marketing Partner?

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Originally published November 6, 2009

“If you’re going to smoke pot, you’re going to get the munchies, so come to Hapa to eat.”
— Mark Van Grack, owner of Hapa Sushi, quoted in New York Times, 4 November 2009

Mark Van Grack is a marketeer with business savvy. He sells food, so he advertises to hungry people.

Say what you want about the morality of marijuana. In Colorado, it’s legal — for medical use. And, as a recent New York Times articles explains, the medical marijuana industry there has spurred business opportunities for “ganjapreneurs” — printers, publishers, ad agencies and restaurateurs, including Van Grack.

smoking weed“A new print ad — by TDA Advertising and Design of Boulder — for Hapa Sushi, a restaurant chain based in Boulder, features a map of Denver and Boulder with 63 dots. Four dots are red, representing the four Hapa locations, and the remaining 59 are blue, representing medical marijuana dispensaries, some of which, it turns out, are just a stone’s throw from the restaurants. The ad was to appear Thursday in the Denver/Boulder edition of The Onion and in Westword later in the month. “We’re just kind of saying, ‘Look, these dispensaries exist and they’re becoming part of our community, so let’s welcome them in and have some fun,’” said Mark Van Grack, owner of Hapa Sushi, a privately held, 10-year-old chain. “If you’re going to smoke pot, you’re going to get the munchies, so come to Hapa to eat.”

This logic merits the Harry Domb Seal of Approval. As my grandfather used to tell me: “If you want to look thin, stand next to the fat guy.”

The campaign is brilliant for another reason: it counter-programs.

“As in most Hapa advertising over the years, something is conspicuously absent from these ads: food. “Most restaurants show food, but then you’re just one of a hundred,” Mr. Van Grack said. “We think that our clientele appreciates smart ads that grab their attention. By creating ads that people want to talk about, that are creative and maybe controversial, then at least they are talking about our ads and Hapa is top of mind.”

Van Grack also deserves kudos for his ability to successfully “navigate the convergence of PR and marketing.” As the Times reports, his advertising campaigns garner what PR professionals call “earned media” exposure. That is to say, news outlets pick up and repeat his messages, while reporting on the uniqueness of his ads.

More than an amusing read, the article offers food for thought (very punny!) to marketers looking to break the mold. To be successful, follow this recipe: know your market, sell to the needs of your audience, don’t take yourself too seriously, differentiate yourself from the competition, and take advantage of multichannel/multimedia marketing methods to get your message out to the masses.

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Happy Festivus, Newton Minow!

Originally published, December 22, 2009

FCC Chairman Newton Minow,

FCC Chairman Newton Minow,

In his 1961 “Television and the Public Interest” speech, former FCC Chair Newton Minow famously accused TV of being a “vast wasteland.”

While it led to much spoofing (ever consider why creator Sherwood Schwartz named the Gilligan’s Island shipwreck S.S. Minnow?), Minow’s point was deadly accurate. It remains so, perhaps more now than ever.

While he is famous for lambasting the medium, Minow also spoke of television’s positive powers: “When television is good, nothing — notthe theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better,” quoth the Chairman.

Since I make my living through the sale, production and promotion of electronic media, I, too, must advocate for the value of television — if only it’s ability to make us laugh, and forget our troubles for a few minutes at a time in this world gone mad.

For one particularly timely example, let’s dial up the (Not So) Way Back Machine to Seinfeld. The “show about nothing” is the gift that keeps on giving.

Deep in the midst of the holiday season, consider the now 13-year-old “holiday” of Festivus, which fans (Costanza-ists?) celebrate on December 23.

When the weather snarls your holiday travel plans, the joys of family togetherness become too much to bear, or you just need a laugh to help stave off your Seasonal Affective Disorder, watch excerpts from the Festivus episode, and try not to laugh.

Let the airing of grievances start!

Happy holidays one and all …

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Free Fries With Hillbilly Steak

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Originally published, September 30, 2009

"Free Fries With Hillbilly Steak," the sign at the Flying Dog Cafe in Nelsonville, OH. Photo by Joshua Platt.

“Free Fries With Hillbilly Steak,” the sign at the Flying Dog Cafe in Nelsonville, OH. Photo by Joshua Platt.

When I first moved to Ohio, I often spent time explaining to East Coast friends and family that Columbus was not a backwater town.

We have everything “the city” (a.k.a. – New York) has to offer … great restaurants, extensive cultural attractions, professional sports (what we lack in Yankees, we make up for in Buckeyes), etc. Plus, Columbus is easier to get around, cheaper in which to live, and the people generally treat each other nicer.

I believed what I said. Until today.

While driving to Athens, Ohio, I passed through Nelsonville – most famous for being the home of Rocky Boots (Moose and Squirrel!).

In Nelsonville, we passed the Flying Dog restaurant, and its wonderful sign.

The sign proclaimed … and, in the immortal words of Dave Barry, “I am not making this up!” … “Free Fries With Hillbilly Steak.”

This got me thinking:

  • What, in the name of all that’s holy, is Hillbilly Steak?
  • Do fries, in fact, go well with it?
  • How many accidents has this sign caused, as distracted drivers careen off the road laughing?
  • Would my East Coast friends and family think less of Ohio, or me, if they knew such a culinary delicacy, existed?
  • And, most importantly, would we have time on the way home to stop, take a picture of the sign, and find out, definitively, what is a Hillbilly Steak?

As you can see, we stopped. We photographed. We inquired.

For anyone wondering, a Hillbilly Steak is “a fried bologna sandwich served with a smile.”

I’ll reiterate my opening comment: I saw the sign, and it opened up my mind … to the topic of effective marketing.

Kudos to you, Flying Dog copywriter. P.T. Barnum would be proud.

With five pithy words, your sign did, almost, exactly what it is intended to do.

It influenced my behavior. It motivated me to stop the car. It encouraged me to enter the restaurant. It forced me to interact with the restaurant staff. It very nearly coerced me to open my wallet and make a purchase. And (bonus points!) it got me talking – and texting, blogging, Tweeting, Facebooking, etc. – about the Flying Dog Restaurant in Nelsonville, Ohio.

Alas, I may never know the joys of a Hillbilly Steak. As we’d just lunched with our clients, we didn’t partake in this, no doubt, tender vittle. In some ways, that’s disappointing. In other ways, my stomach … and my marketer’s mind … thanks me.

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