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Thursday
Dec152011

361 State Flag Revisions: Alabama.

First a little history of the Alabama flag, pulled from a bunch of sources, but primarily that of the Wikipedia and various government websites. Alabama first decided upon a flag in 1861. The Republic of Alabama Flag had "one side of the flag displayed the "Goddess of Liberty" holding an unsheathed sword in her right hand; in her left she held a small blue flag with one gold star. Above the gold star appears the text "Alabama" in all capital letters. In an arch above this figure were the words "Independent Now and Forever".  The reverse side of the flag had a cotton plant with a coiled rattlesnake. The text "Noli Me Tangere", ("Touch Me Not" in Latin), was placed below the cotton plant.wiki). There are no more two-sided flags, and that's a real shame, something we may correct over the next 50 redesigns if there proves to be a reason. I'm not sure the modern interpretation of the flag is doing the original design justice, as it really looks like someone in 10th grade did it. Someone who wasn't necessarily 'good at art.'

1861 Alabama State Flag:

1861 This flag was also referred to as the Secession Convention Flag:

So it took the state from 1819 until 1861 to come up with a flag (designed by a group of Montgomery southern belles) and the flag only flew over the capital for—drum roll—a single month. It was damaged by a storm and removed to the governor's office.

In 1865, a little something called the Civil War was just beginning to settle down, but the flag of the Confederate States (which could easily be our national flag if things went a bit differently) would influence flag design for the next century plus. (Whether or not this is unfortunate, I'd let you decide.) And during much of the war in Alabama, this flag was the one raised instead of an official state flag.

1865 Confederate States of America Flag:

Even more odd than that, and slightly hinting at a lose of identity due to the war, Alabama flew the flag of the United States instead of an official state flag until 1895, some 76 years after joining the union. Of course in typical bureaucratic style, the state actually agreed that they needed a state flag in 1891, but apparently it took four years to decide upon a design.

According to netstate.com, "Alabama Legislature authorized the "crimson cross of St. Andrew on a field of white" as its official flag in the Acts of Alabama. Reminiscent of the Confederate battle flag, it was designated that the crimson bars were not to be less than six inches broad and were to extend diagonally across the flag. Because Act 383 did not specify a particular format, the flag is sometimes depicted as a square and at other times depicted as a rectangle." Personally, I find it odd that they would be so specific as to the width of the stripes, but not decide upon a proportion. (We'll talk more about proportions later.)

Now, graphically speaking the Crimson Bars is not at all bad design. It's actually rather striking, with it's thick red cross and clean white background. A design critic would be hard pressed to find something wrong with it — perhaps because it's so simple. However, there are two fundamental flaws that I have with this working as the official state flag.

First let's go back even before the official state flag. During most of the 1800s, over what is now known as Alabama a Spanish flag flew over the state—which by the way gets its name because Tribal town is what Alabama means in the Creek Indian Language. Those early residents were called Alabamans. The Spanish flag that few was called the Cross of Burgundy and was used throughout the Spanish Empire and its territories like Peru.

Pre-1861 Flag:

This too isn't a terribly bad flag either. You get the cross aspect, the graphically pleasing red and white, plus a bit of toughness with the spurs on the bars, which I've learned are actually called a saltire, or Saint Andrew's Cross. It's an old heraldic symbol of an angled cross you can see on many flags, like Scotland for instance. Flash forward to the current design and let's talk about those fundamental flaws.

Current State Flag of Alabama: (Again, I'm giving it a gray stroke to better show the white field.)

Because there's not much wrong with the flag per se, we could call it a day and move onto Alaska. However, there are two glaring reasons why this flag needs to change. First, it's already being used in Ireland as a national symbol and is called, St. Patrick's flag. We are not a nation of followers, and as such, no state flag should be a mere duplicate of another government's flag. Just not acceptable. Secondly, and even more egregious is the fact that one state down, in Florida, a very similar flag is being flown as well. Check out Florida's flag:

Current Florida State Flag:

Now, we'll be correcting Florida's flag issues soon, but both of these have to go. (I'm not totally sure why they went the lazy route and simply put a state seal on their saltire.)

A Little Cultural Perspective.

I firmly believe that a state's flag should say something about the people that live there, and be unique to that area, and to that heritage. It should also be graphically pleasing since we're visual artists here. So let's take a quick look at a few things that could be flown as the state flag, and have a legitimate chance of being loved by the populace.

Alternate Alabama Flag #1:

I would wager my salary that at some point in the 1990s, there were more of these flags flown across the porches, offices, small-town businesses, RVs and car antennas of Alabama than any state or national flag. You have to know a little about NASCAR to understand. The sport has famously ardent fans. Alabama has a fast, 2-mile racetrack located in Talladega that was a favorite of the sports biggest star, Dale Earnhardt. And you could spot (and still spot) Dale Earnhardt fans by the graphic, reverse italic, stylized #3 across every square inch of clothing and vehicle they owned. The track was the spot for the late legend's last win, a come from behind victory in which he passed 17 cars in four laps. (You can - if you have the heart - watch that race here.) Earnhardt's nickname, The Intimidator, even fits the state's vibe, if you ask me. The driver meant so much to the sport, this track and to the people that I don't think you'd have a hard time passing this as the state flag of Alabama. Seriously. But that's not exactly what we're going for here either.

One could also make the case that the stylized A of the Crimson Tide of Alabama University would make for a handsome flag. But it's easy to choose some of the sports icons as state replacements, especially for those states that have such a close connection to a particular university or sport. I'm going to resist doing this throughout this process.

Alternate Alabama Flag #2:

 

THE REDESIGN

So, after learning all about the history of Alabama, I decided to do a few things. Since, it's the first flag I'll be designing of the 50, I'm going to let the saltire slide and try to use it in some way. I'm also going to try to use iconography that has been used in the past, and those options were:

  1. Lady Liberty. Associated more with other states and if you have ever driven through Alabama I'm not sure liberty is the first word you'd think of — no offense friendly Alabamans.
  2. Cotton. A cash crop for much of its history, I like the symbolism here with something soft yet has a hard edge. I also thought the challenge of representing a boll of cotton an interesting design challenge.
  3. Confederate Bars. I think it's safe to say that these will not be making an appearance on any flag I design. Argue for this elsewhere.
  4. Crimson Cross. Since this is an element in their current flag, I feel like I almost have to use it. Especially if I totally change Florida's state flag once we get to the F's.
  5. Red & White. It also seems prudent to keep the state colors of crimson and white in tact.
  6. I also am trying not to put words or letters on the flags, letting other elements communicate for themselves.
  7. I also want to present a design that actually would have a chance of being approved. A serious attempt as it were. (Sorry Earnhardt and Crimson Tide fans.)

That being the case, I worked up the first redesign of the state flags. I'm going to give myself an hour or so on each of these flags. Mainly because I don't have more time in my schedule and because I think a flag should be graphically concise. I believe Alabama will be one of the more difficult redesigns of all the 50, but trust this design not only respects the past, but also is more modern aesthetically. A case could be made for cotton, something simple and soft that can be used in millions of ways as a nice metaphor for the possibilities of the state. I know there's a connection to slavery and plantations, but I'm also looking forward to organic, home-grown cotton helping fuel a comback of American textiles. Or at least, that's how I'd sell it.  It's not the sexiest flag we'll be doing, but it's the first. Introducing the new Alabama State Flag.

The 2012 Alabama State Flag:

So you can see we've kept the cross, the colors, and the cotton from previous flags and simply gave them more of a graphic foundation. I don't believe a lot of the flags will use this simple process, but like I said, there wasn't a ton wrong with the design of this particular flag. We're starting out slow here. If you want more extreme redesigns, trust me, they're coming. I'm looking at you, Arkansas.

New terms learned:

Obverse: The side of a coin, medal, flag, etc., that bears the principal design (opposed to reverse).

Saltire: Angled Cross.

Wednesday
Dec142011

360. State Flags are Ugly. Until Now. 

During a recent Facebook conversation that somehow rambled onto the topic of state flags, and after me posting a large image of all our state flags, it dawned on me: our flags by and large are an ugly mess. I decided that I could do something about this, and went off to do a little searching. The cool thing about the flags are that they are symbols full of history and meaning and substance, the bad thing is that almost all of them are visually stuck in the 1800s for no real reason at all. Over the next few months, or however long it takes, I'm going to give myself about an hour to redesign each one.

I'm not the first to attempt this. Fellow blogger Andy Rash, started a similar project over at the hilariously titled, "Your State Flag Stinks." However, it looks like it's been awhile and since he hasn't picked it up yet, and because I don't quite agree with everything he's done, I'm going to give it a shot.

Andy did post this image, which I think proves a point even though I would argue that the South Carolina flag doesn't belong. The point being: they all look alike, which seems to be the exact opposite of what you'd want in a state banner. 

And just in case you can't remember what they all look alike, because well, it's been awhile since elementary school, here they are:

Personally, just because I think 90% or more need to be redesigned, doesn't mean that I think it's right to toss out all the history behind each flag. I will attempt in some way, either directly or implied, to honor the past while reaching towards something more contemporary. We're going to go alphabetically rather than chronologically (when the state entered the union.) I'm not sure why other than the fact that I get to decide and as a kid I remember signing this song as fast as I could for many years. It doesn't hold up well, alas. In the process of this project, I hope to share a little information, a little history, and a bit about myself until we reach 50 fully re-articulated state banners, counting a select few that will remain intact. 

Perhaps one day, you'lll see one of these flying about your state capital, who knows? Tomorrow, we begin with Alabama. Not the easiest one with which to begin, but nobody said this was going to be easy.

One other cool project, in a similar vein, is this collection of designer state mottos. That should get you all fired  up.

Wednesday
Dec072011

359. Art of the Pitch by Peter Coughter.

Seldom do I do book reviews and even more rare than that is reviewing a book that has yet to be published. However, this is one that you should probably check out no matter if you are a fledgling student in the business or running one of the biggest and best independent agencies in the world. The Art of the Pitch, by VCU Brandcenter professor Peter Coughter, promises to be quite helpful when it comes to selling your ideas and winning business. Known for his presentation and communication skills, Peter has taught countless students and agencies on how to own that process and get better results. After all, if you come up with great ideas but they are never actually adopted by your clients, what good are they?

Not convinced? Here's what Dan Wieden has to say, "What you'll love about this work is the total freshness it brings to presentations. From the very first chapter, Coughter redefines the challenge, resets the approach and shares invaluable tales from the front lines that will make you ache for a chance to get back in the game."

The book comes out in hardcover and electronic (Kindle) format on January 3rd, but you can pre-order either format here right now.

You may recall—if you've been reading Graphicology for awhile—that Peter had participated in our little series on presenting, The Art of Presenting. (Holy smokes - I just realized this was in 2007. Man, time flies.) The Q & A is definitely one of my favorites and is filled with his general perspective on how to present like a champ. It reads more like a little teaser for all the good stuff the book will no doubt expand upon. Peter has generously shared his talents for years now, and it only makes sense that he begins to do so on a much larger scale. Personally, I can't wait for this book to come out and see how many things I can use to tweak my own presentation skills.

If you want to learn more about Peter Coughter, you can follow him on Twitter. You can also check out the simple site for the upcoming book, http://theartofthepitch.info.

When you do buy the book, why not share your thoughts here?

Thursday
Nov242011

Happy Thanksgiving. 

I couldn't resist.

Tuesday
Nov222011

358. Thankful. Createathon 2011.

I just realized that I have yet to post anything here about this year's CreateAthon. (In the past, I had written about what I learned during my first toe-dip into the 24 hour creative marathon.) With Thanksgiving coming along in a few days the timing couldn't be better, even if this article is some two months late. Sometimes, forgetfulness is all part of the plan, I suppose.

Freddie cheering on our team around midnight:

A little background. CreateAthon was started by two Riggs Partners, Cathy Monetti and Teresa Coles when discussing how an all-nighter would help them get everything done. Being the compassionate souls that they are, it didn't take long for them to make the leap to doing that for charity. Maybe five seconds. Flash forward 14 years and CreateAthon is now a growing, national movement giving communications firms the opportunity to give back to non-profit organizations in a concentrated effort. I have no idea how many studios or agencies have participated, or how many great organizations have been helped, but the number is a big one. A lot of good has been done under this banner. This past month, CreateAthon itself became a non-profit, in order to better serve its purpose.

Riggs Partners WECO sign, pretty cool, eh?

My individual contributions to this event have been small, but I've enjoyed every bit of it. In 2009, I drove down to the WECO building, World Headquarters for Riggs Partners, and pitched in on an effort to help the Palmetto Opera, a small, non-profit outfit trying to hold quality Opera events in South Carolina. It was a dizzying blur of activity from the moment I stepped into the building. Before I even had my first cup of coffee we were off and running. In the next 23 hours, we concepted an event idea that would help change their marketing plan, designed a fairly thorough identity system, a small but punchy ad campaign, and we even started on a website — foreshadowing a fairly ambitious goal two years later in my next CreateAthon.

Identity created for the Palmetto Opera. I liked the subtlety of the P + O icon, that also has a strong resemblance to that little thing that dangles in your throat, as seen by someone singing...opera of course.

This past year, I really didn't know if I was going to be able to make the cross-country flight back to South Carolina, or whether it would fit in with my schedule here at Engine Company 1. Sometime in August, I received a few emails from a friendly gal saying she has secured a flight for me to attend CreateAthon. Now, in my head, I thought maybe there was a little fund saved up for organizational things or whatnot, but I really didn't think too much about it, other than I was excited to be a part and donate my time and um... talents... to good use. I checked the schedule with the EC1 partners and said yes. I'm glad I did.

What I didn't realize was that my attendance was a gift of sorts. (I'm not saying it was a good gift per se, but a gift nonetheless, ha.) Apparently, Cathy had worked with a group called The Cooperative Ministry in the recent past, developing a fund-raising campaign called, With A Little Love. (I can't think of a better organization/effort for the holidays than this, by the way.) The campaign took a cue from the Hootie & The Blowfish song, Hold My Hand, and was designed to educate others about the plight of the working poor and to encourage song downloads and donations. You can buy the song, performed by The Benedict College Gospel Choir, here. You'll be hard pressed to spend a better .99 cents.

With A Little Love:

The Cooperative Ministry overhead Cathy talking about hoping to have me out for the upcoming CreateAthon, and as a thank you for all the work she (and the whole of Riggs) are doing for the group — they bought me a ticket. I didn't know any of this, of course, because they were keeping the whole thing a surprise. For all I knew the ticket was coming from Riggs and was business-as-normal. I was still thankful, but unaware of all the things that had transpired in order to bring me back. 

The first I heard of how I came to be sitting around the de-briefing table to kick of CreateAthon 2011, was at that very meeting. I was told that The Cooperative Ministry had paid for my trip out there as a thank you gift to Cathy, and that she was incredibly happy about all of this. I was incredibly taken off guard, flattered, a little embarassed, and a bit scared.

The Meeting looked a little like this (from 2010 Createathon, which I missed):

Because of all of this, I will never work on a project with more pressure surrounding it. I was determined to make good on this generous gesture on my behalf, knowing the whole time that my best efforts may still come up short to their kindness. I have known Cathy for some five years now, and really wanted to produce work and results that befitted all the effort that went into my arrival. What added even more pressure to the situation, was learning that my organization's goal this year was to have a deep, fully-developed website built from scratch in one day. The organization, a joint effort between The Columbia Opportunity Resource, The Central Carolina Community Foundation, Navigating from Good to Great (and others), had joined in a goal to help raise college-level graduation rates, itself an effort to raise the region's economic and social standing. I was pretty excited to help, but knew we had a huge task in front of us.

One of the best things about CreateAthon is the people you meet, and this year was no different. I would be working with the excellent TrueMatter, an interactive and usability consultancy to design and build this site. Partner Dean Schuster, a super cool guy who just happens to be running in the Antarctica Marathon in 2012, headed up a small team that I would be joining for the day, (Lies! I would be joining for the day + two and a half hours,) along with a wonderful writer, Kathryn White. I could not have teamed up with better, more welcoming folks. I'd like to say that, they would say that, we all worked seamlessly. Got that? I was in charge of the new design, but talked a little programming. They were in charge of development and talked about design. Kathryn provided content, but helped guide the design and site too. On and on this collaboration went, with a speed I had never heretofore experienced.

Dean is going to run with the penguins:

*By the way, Dean has to raise $30,000 to run in the marathon, as it's just as much of a charity event as it is athletic competition. You can donate your other .99 here. (That's $1.98 more than I have ever asked of my readers, all in one article. Not sure I'll ever do this again, but these are worthy causes, and wonderful people. The kind you want to help, doing things worth doing.)

Back to CreateAthon—we had to move fast. Some seven hours into the project, we decided to change the name of our cause, which sent a domino effect, well, into effect. I had to scrap all my design work and start over. The dev team had to rethink what they were doing, and had to set up new domains and hosting. And we still had content to write. So instead of 24 hours, we had 17 to do what was considered impossible anyway. To tell you the truth, I don't remember how it all went down, except that by our 9:30 AM client meeting, we were still making small changes to the site and walked into the presentation with the freshest, out-of-the-oven, website ever presented in the history of website presentations. You can view, The Graduation Imperative site, here. TrueMatter rocked it.

The Graduation Imperative Identity:

We walked the client through the new name. The new identity system. The new photography library. (Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that a photographer, Jeff Amberg, donated his time and went to the local colleges taking great shots of students earning their degrees. Or goofing off between earning their degrees. Either way, the shots were great.) We also presented the entire website, already up and running — complete with a nice jump on blog entries, sections for concerned business, students and schools. I'm not sure I've ever been more proud of work, not just because of how fast it all came together, but also because of the team that got it there.

The other great aspect about CreateAthon are the clients. I think because of the way they are selected, and the fact that they are really trying to do some good in the world with limited means, the clients seem genuinely thankful in a way that makes every client meeting afterward seem less rewarding. There were tears of joy. Applause. And yes, hugs. In a client meeting. If you have never experienced that, I would suggest that you and your agency sign up to be a Createathon partner next year. You will not regret it.

This year's group, before all the blood, sweat and tears were spilled:

After it was all over and I was flying back to California, I couldn't help but wonder whether or not I was worth the price of the flight. Why on earth was I—and whatever I can do with an idea and a computer in a day—a gift to someone from someone I had never met? I wondered whether or not I had made good on that gift. I still wonder that, actually. But as the last few weeks have passed and Thanksgiving approaches, I have realized that the gift was given to me. A gift of another experience that I will never forget, experienced with friends that—although we don't get to spend much time together—have a bond forged by a few long, caffeine-fueled, ambitious, daring, incredibly fun hours each fall spent in the service of others.

To get a better sense of what it's like, check out this video, produced—you guessed it— totally during the 24 hours of this year's CreateAthon by Emulsion Arts from Charlotte, NC.


One last time, if you can help spread the word about With A Little Love, it would help me pay off a little debt. (Obviously, I know where my donation money is going this year.)

Happy Thanksgiving everyone, hope this is a little nudge to get out there and give something to someone.

Friday
Nov182011

357. Ad of the Week: Chevy True Stories.

It's been awhile since I've seen something that I really liked and thought was worth sharing, but this work from Chevy and agency, Goodby, is really nice. Called, My Dad's Car and seemingly part of a series titled, Chevy True Stories, this spot (and longer 5 minute mini-doc version) tells the tale of a car long-gone; but not forgotten.

"To pay for his sons' education, Herb Younger was forced to sell his beloved '65 Impala. Two decades later, they found a way to pay him back."

Yes, it's an overt attempt to pull on the ole heart strings, but few car brands can talk this way and I give them credit for doing so. I'm hoping there is more to come in this series since I can't imagine that there is a lack of such experiences to be shared featuring old and new Chevys alike.

Slowly but surely, spots like this have helped Chevy get its mojo back.

My Dad's Car — Long Format:

My Dad's Car — Short Format:


Friday
Oct282011

356. Guinness Factory Tour.

If you go to Ireland, you must go to Dublin, and if you go to Dublin, you must go to the Guinness Factory. Besides the obvious draw of drinking a Guinness as close to the source as possible, the factory tour is a top-notch experience featuring seven floors of exhibits. By walking along this self-guided experience, you learn about the ingredients, process, history, marketing, and industry behind the dark beer. But what I marveled at was their success in making the typeface, Impact, look good along the tour. (Somewhat kidding here.) I thought I would share a few snaps from my recent trip in case you can't make it across the pond.

The old brewery gate with the vintage Guinness logotype:

The whole experienced, designed as a huge pint-glass:

The message on this barrel/wall is my favorite:

That's a lot of Guinness:

They pretty much own St. Patrick's Day:

An unflattering pic of me explaining the brewing process to passersby:

There was an entire floor dedicated to Guinness advertising history:

The cooperage was one of my favorite parts of the tour:

The Guinness Guiding Principle:

Copper Tank Capacity:

This was hidden in a corner behind a presentation screen?!?

After the tour, you believe it too:

One of the many views at the top of the tour:

Your fresh pint at the end. Well, mine not yours.



Monday
Oct102011

355. Auto Razzle Dazzle.

As most readers already know, I'm a car guy. When I was a kid I took great pride in being able to name any car on the road without getting close enough to read the names on the car. At one point, I could name the car off of the front or back, and even at night just by the headlights. Of course, things change and when you grow up, you get busier. But I still try to keep up with the new models.

One way I do this is to read Autoblog.com fairly regularly. They do a really nice job talking about the new cars and pretty much anything else auto-related. One of the things they do really well is posting new car pictures captured during various stages of development while the vehicles are being tested on the roads of America and elsewhere. The cars are usually heavily camouflaged in order to keep the major design and engineering cues as secret as possible, keeping the surprise until an official unveiling at a car show or during an online event. This isn't anything new, as traditional car magazines like MotorTrend, Automobile, Car and Driver, and the like have been covering these 'spy shots' for many decades. However, the camouflage itself is of extreme interest to me, and has been getting more and more intricate as photographers get more and more crafty. The subject combines design and cars, two of my favorite things. (I'm going to be using images form Autoblog's archives, so be sure to check them out over there.)

Razzle Dazzle:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:USS_Charles_S._Sperry.jpgIf you are new to automobile spy shots, the degree to which the cars are camouflaged will surprise you. They simply don't tape a tarp on the car anymore. The car is usually wrapped in a complete vinyl covering and printed in a wide array of black and white patterns—similar to what they used during World War I on navy vessels. Back then, this Razzle Dazzle paint scheme, was meant less for camouflage per se, and more for confusion. And that's exactly what the large carmakers are hoping for as well. To counteract this, there is a budding industry that attempts to capture the cars without the camo (or at least be the first). Brend Priddy & Company specializes in this, and contributes imagery to Autoblog on occasion.

The car camouflage is not an exact science however; as each manufacturer has their own take on the patterns they choose to disguise their yet-to-be-released models. The result is an interesting study of applied graphic design. I'm including some of my favorites below, but check out this interesting article from Vauxhall's 2009 Insignia testing.

Applying the Razzle:

Subaru: Subaru uses a precise pattern of swirls, each given a bit of space on a black background. Somehow the design plays tricks with your eyes, though isn't as thorough of a disguise as you will see from other manufacturers.

Audi: Audi's version of visual trickery comes in the form of white swirls on black. A weird mix of the Atlanta Bread Company's logo and the famous Starry Night painting by Van Gogh. You can see how the pattern makes it difficult to discern major visual lines on the car's body, even when standing still.

Lotus implements what might be my favorite, if not the most effective use of modern razzle dazzle. They take a checkerboard pattern and put a swirl in each resulting square. Something very pleasing about this, even if it doesn't quite disguise the shape of the car. Perhaps this is a more developed version of the car that is closer to production and as such less secretive?

Mini takes the theme of swirls and overlaps them, along with adding paint-dripping-esque design cues to the pattern in order to further obfuscate the viewer. It seems to work, though there is no mistaking this vehicle as anything but a Mini. This pattern is a favorite of mother company BMW and is seen often across their family of vehicles.

Land Rover is being super clever when test-driving the 2013 Range Rover model in Germany. At first glance you might think the image below is a low-resolution shot that has been made bigger, but then you realize that the pattern itself on the car is made to look low-rez, resulting in a weird eye-to-brain lost in translation kind of effect. The large swaths of black, white and gray do a good job of distracting one's eye as well; lending a crumpled paper affect to the entire form.

Cadillac uses an interesting series of black and white rectangles, cut and distorted by intersecting lines and shapes and composes what might be one of the more advanced efforts of disguise to date. Used on their upcoming small sedan, the ATS, you can see how difficult it is to discern some of the bodywork. You can also check out the effect when the car is in motion below.

Toyota Prius: This one is pretty complex. They take a hound stooth pattern and kick it up a notch with circular sections of warping applied to that pattern at key points on the car's shape. Again, you can still tell it's a Prius, but you would be hard pressed to make out any major design changes. (Please note the copyright on the image.) This hurts my eyes. The pattern, not the copyright.

Chevy likes to use large checkered-flag patterns, while occasionally covering their cars in black and white panels that resemble shards of glass. Both are seen below at different points of the new Camaro's testing timeline.

Opel GM-owned Opel is shown below using a shattered-glass type non-pattern to hide only the changed panels in their Zafira mini-minivan.

Ford is shown below disguising their new Focus ST, but since it's a car that has already been released, their camouflage doesn't need to be as extensive. The result is definitely one of the more odd implementations, and I'm not even sure it hides anything, and if so what. But it's worth a look. Below is what Ford uses most often, some variation of triangles randomly placed at odds with each other. Far below what is referred to as Ford's packing peanuts pattern.

I'm not sure how this new knowledge will help you out, or what we can do with it in terms of design and conceptual advancement, but I find it interesting. Hope you do as well.

 

Thursday
Sep222011

354. Ad of the Week: Wheetabix

This ad has everything I hate. Music that is trying too hard. Kids that are oddly adult-like. Lots of the hip and the hop dancing. And last but not least anthropomorphic stuffed animals. But somehow this spot for Spoonsize (as opposed to what exactly is unclear) Chocolate Wheetabix just makes me laugh. I think it has to do with the bellies on the bears, which seem to have the same physical properties of our local beloved SF Giant's mascot Lou Seal. (See the bottom video.)

From the official YouTube page, "The new ad stars nine-year old UK Streetdance phenomenon Arizona Snow, 'popping', 'locking' and 'tutting' her way through a high energy street dance routine in her bedroom. The track is 'A New World' by Mord Fustang." Cute Mord, I see what you've done there with your name. Make that another thing overcome by this spot, produced by BBH.

Wheetabix Chocolate Spoonsize - Dancer:

Now, you may have seen this elsewhere, but have you seen the making of? Honestly, at this point, they should have aired the making of, and had the actual ad go viral. Maybe that's new ground for one of my projects, what would be viral is the ad, and what is the ad is the viral. This is gold, people, gold. Anyway, pretty cool peek into how this went down. 

Behind the Scenes:

Lou Seal Gets Down to Cypress Hill:



Monday
Sep122011

353. Commercial Patriotism? Patriotic Commercials?

Disclaimer: Writing articles like this is tough. There are a lot of different opinions out there, and lots of feelings, but thinking about these things is an important exercise, so here goes.

So, we all know that the ten year anniversary of 9-11 occurred yesterday. The date came incidentally on opening weekend of NFL football. So you have a very sad reminder of an atrocity meeting up with a day that most Americans look forward to, in a year we thought it might not happen. Clearly the former's importance is on a scale that the sport can't even begin to match in the smallest of degree. However, sport does intersect life - just as it did in the days and weeks following the twin towers falling. I remember a few baseball games that helped make everything seem normal, even if only for a few innings. Yesterday, we had another instance of sport intersecting life, and adding to the complexity of it all, was a layer of capitalism.

But first, a little background info on me so that none of you out there will quickly browse this article and declare me a heartless bastard, or worse, unpatriotic, or even worse, an insensitive jerk. On 9-11, I was driving down to Richmond, Virginia from the suburbs of DC to make an early morning meeting about a freelance project. The project was for a literacy center that I had worked at during my undergrad and graduate days at VCU, and even though the money wasn't very good, I liked the people and what they were trying to do in the world. I was driving down I-95 in my old pickup listening to some very bad DJs on some very bad radio stations, trying to find a decent tune. (This was before satellite radio or ipod aux jacks fit into my income bracket). When it happened, these poor DJ's were just not qualified to explain what was going on. In my head, given what they had said, a plane the size of a small Cesna had crashed into one of the towers accidentally. Didn't seem like much of a big deal squashed between two really bad country songs in the middle of Virginia on that rather pretty September morning.

When I got to campus, I parked my truck and walked up the four sets of stairs to the literacy center. I was totally not prepared for what I was going to see on the small TV set the employees had pulled into the middle of the lending library. It wasn't long before the towers began to fall. Of course, nobody knew what to say, or what to feel, or what to do. I actually got briefed on the project and started to drive back up to Northern Virginia. It was all a blur, but I do remember I-95 was empty. Which, if you are an east-coaster, you know how crazy that sounds. I might have passed ten cars on the hour and a half drive back north. The radio air was obviously filled with new words too: attack, terrorism, disaster, loss of life, and worse. I, like everyone else, watched the next few days and weeks in shock.

Oddly enough, I had had an interview in NYC that week that was obviously postponed, but I did end up going a few weeks later. What I will never forget were the holes in the skyline where I had been so used to seeing those buildings and the inches thick dust on cars coming out of the city. It looked like dirty snow. And the vigils set up all over town, but particularly the one at Union Square. And the Wanted-Dead-or-Alive posters for Osama. Those are hard things to get out of your mind. And I didn't lose anyone that I knew personally. I can't imagine what that must have been like, watching it all on CNN. Words like tragedy are overused, but not in this case.

So fast-forward ten years to NFL opening weekend yesterday. I have a cold, so instead of helping out on a last-minute project at EC1, I'm couch-surfing and watching football in a semi-Sudafed stupor. I know that I'll be seeing some 9-11 programming, afterall, you can't just ignore it, right? And most of the stuff the sports networks were doing was rather dignified and respectful for the most part. Robert De Niro reprising his role from the 9-11 documentary and talking about the events ten years ago didn't feel inappropriate, just to mention one. What I wasn't prepared for were the ads, even though I should have been. And as I'm want to do, I'm writing about this as much to figure out why I reacted the way I did, as much as I am writing for you the reader. First, let's take a look at three examples.

Budweiser:

In this spot, the brewery remakes an ad that previously had aired only once, soon after the terrorist attacks. It's beautiful, well-shot, super clear, uses honest copy and seems genuine enough given the history of the spot and the company itself. I'm pretty sure Budweiser donates a ton of money and tries to do their part, so all-in-all, in terms of remembering a tragic event goes, this is about as good as advertising can get. I'm not saying I like it, more on that later, but they did their best, I suppose.

Verizon:

Now, if this is what passes for an empathetic spot these days - no thank you. I was messaging a friend earlier today and said this, "I'm not sure if this offends me more as an American or as a creative." And I'm sticking by that. Now, I understand how difficult this must be, creating a spot that isn't supposed to sell anything, but acknowledging a tragedy. And I also understand the scrutiny a spot like this would go through, especially at a decent shop, like McGarry Bowen. (Wonder if the client simply asked them to run this old ad?) But that's all the more reason I don't like it. I feel like this ad is talking to me like I'm stupid. And although I'm personally okay with the religious undertones, I'm not okay with kinda-using them but not too much so that you can appeal to the conservative christian and the non-religious at the same time. The end result, feels like they're singing to Verizon, the Great Diety of Telecom to deliver them. I've heard that this ad also aired on the one-year anniversary and I think I would have reacted the same way then, too. Perhaps they should have done something different, since the temperature of the nation has changed quite a bit since then.

Talking with the same friend, he summed his response to the Verizon ad even better than I: "My personal problem with the Verizon ad for instance, is that it didn't say anything and was just treacle and saccharine. Kids staring up at the statue of liberty for 60 seconds doesn't do anything, doesn't present any idea, and most certainly doesn't mean anything about how we should remember and honor the past. It's just melodramatic fluff. Then seeing who it's from makes me think that that advertiser thinks I'm just an idiot who can be easily manipulated with trite imagery and sappy emotion."  Well said, better writer than I.

State-Farm:

Ah, more children singing, but at least this one feels like they're trying. Combine the innocence of children, a nice rendition of a modern song—one that ties into the vibe of New York City no less—and a visual nod to the first-responders and you have a decent spot. Another thing to like: the spots shows off the revived downtown of the city, a kind of subtle middle-finger to the event, which is a nice touch. Under normal circumstances this would be a great piece of communication. Of course, these are not normal circumstances. I wonder how many people in southern Manhattan had an easy time working with their insurance adjusters in the weeks after the event. Heck, maybe State Farm did a suberb job, but that doesn't mean that when most people think insurance and 9-11, they may have a different reaction to this spot. Maybe it's just the logo at the end. In the end, I would have rather just run/watched a more traditional State Farm ad on Monday Night Football.

As an added bit of exploration, take a look at how some advertisers handled advertising in the New York Times on Sunday, tip to Breaking Copy on these. Same issue here, I'm afraid.

 

It just comes off all wrong to me. Now, I understand how difficult this is. You're kinda damned if you do and damned if you don't for the most part. There will always be critics and there will always be toes to step on. I just feel like most of the work comes off as pedantic, condescending and insensitive to what happened. I don't know if it's just the logo slapped on this at the end that feels off - maybe at the beginning would be a simple fix?!? Maybe, that would keep it all from a whimper of an end. Maybe. I'm okay with a company having a perspective on the events and using their media clout to say something about it, and I am totally fine with people out there who think that this work is okay, even if it touches a chord with them. I'm simply trying to articulate my reactions to the work—which was not good—and think about how it could have been handled differently, and in my opinion, better.

Some of the most creative people I know work in this industry. Some of the most caring too. (And to be clear, I'm not one of those people against running a profitable business, since I like to have a job and pay for things.) I think we can do better with all this creative and business power and really show off our communication skills while doing just that - communicating a feeling to the country and world, albeit through a particular company's lens. If it were easy, anybody could do it.

So what is an advertiser to do? Okay, so it's easy enough to complain about something like this. But how about some answers? Here's how I would have approached an assignment that included advertising on the anniversary of 9-11, or referencing any tragedy for that matter, if I were in a position of power at any of these agencies or companies.

1. Don't. This may not be the most practical answer, and it certainly isn't the most business-savy either. No need in hurting the publications / stations even if for a day, right? But this would definitely have been a better choice for our friends at Verizon and Tourneau. If you're not going to put the time and energy into the project that will result in something honest and respectful, then you'd be better off being invisible. I've got to believe that if some individuals are reacting this way (I'm sure I'm not alone, right?), then there must be some companies that feel some awkwardness in pushing their products in a visible way on such a rememberance. Maybe pausing the ol' capitalism machine for a day isn't the worst idea out there.

2. Focus elsewhere. Personally, I didn't tune into any NFL games as the sole manner by which to remember the events of a decade a go. I tuned in to watch football. That doesn't mean that I didn't take time to reflect on the impact of that event, I just did it on my own time. Perhaps the advertisers that focused instead on the return of football were the more intellgent ones. You can have fun with that and it might respect the audience a bit more and feel more relevant for your brand. In other words, I'm okay with a company selling me soda and connecting with me through the launch of a new season. I'm not okay with a big advertiser telling me how to feel (or even how they feel, which indirectly tells me how I should be feeling) about an event like this, then putting their logo on that end to remind me that yes, you can still get that smartphone that you like. Just doesn't work. Granted, all advertisers were smart enough not to put a price  or item on their spots - but the underlying principle peeked through a bit too much for my comfort.

3. Advertising as Normal? Why not forget all the trappings of a normal advertising spot and actually talk to people like you respect them. The networks tried to do this during their pre-game shows. Not all to good effect, but none to really terrible effect. They showed people talking about how the event changed their lives. Why not have the CEO of a company say something like this, "You know, ten years ago the world changed for all of us. Today while we celebrate the kickoff of a new NFL season we are reminded of (using anything but these words, the tragic events of September 11th) and how the world just stopped. Today, we air this ad not to sell anything, push a product, or any of the usual marketing efforts. Today we just pause and thank all of those who helped us heal and continue to do so."  No logo or slogan or trite over-used message. Just a bit of honesty. I'm sure this could be done better than what I just wrote off the top-of-my-head.

4. Donate your ad time/ production. If you really care about remembering the event, why not donate your ad time and commercial production to an organization that is doing something about it. (This doesn't mean just tacking it on at the end, btw.) Maybe the 9-11 Memorial Fund. Perhaps any of the survivor groups. Just do something good and get out of the way. When you tell someone to (that we?) never forget - within the context of an advertisement, you have to be ready for people to respond negatively. You're telling them one thing, but not actually doing it. You want people to remember, tell them something that someone did that day that is worth remembering instead of following up those words with your logo. At least Budweiser tried to do this, and for that I respect the effort.

Again, there is no right answer to this, but I do think there are plenty of wrong ones, some on display in full HD glory yesterday. I also believe any of these four alternative methods would at least respect the audience and honor the victims in NY, DC and PA in a way that the ads that ran during the NFL games could not.

What are your thoughts on this extremely sensitive matter? Agree? Disagree?