Archive for October, 2007

Something You Don’t See Everyday

“The boss said to change the sign – so I did”

So read a sign on Northwest Boulevard in Spokane – one of those signs with the individual plastic letters that have to be changed by hand. It seemed, at first glance, to be about the dumbest thing to put on a sign meant for public display; but it started me thinking. And, it made me remember that sign, and the garage and coffee stand that shared that particular parking area on the route from the outskirts into Downtown Spokane.

I actually remember seeing that same message before, on other signs at various locations through the years in this city of some 200,000. Four other times, if memory serves. And it’s not that the message was anything special – it wasn’t. It wasn’t even unique. But, it was surprising, unexpected. It falls securely into the category of “something you don’t see everyday.”

That’s what a good Marketing plan will do – it captures the attention and plants an idea in the mind, usually without the viewer even aware it’s happening. Take the example of recent commercials for Fanta. In them, we see a group of dancers arrayed in brightly-coloured dresses touting the multi-flavored drink. Afterward, we associate the colors on the cans with those girls – orange, and yellow, and red, and purple, and green … the color of orange flavor, grapefruit, strawberry, grape and lemon-lime. If the marketing has done its job, you taste the hint of grape whenever you see a purple dress.

Of course, they’re just ads, right? Well, actually, advertisement is just one part – and often an unnecessary part – of a good marketing plan. There’s much more to marketing than ads. Branding is equally important, and sometimes much more important. The special lettering used in the Coca-Cola brand is far more recognizable than any particular advertising campaign – even the 1970’s “Id Like To Buy The World A Coke” campaign. Many of us remember the song. But it’s only that logo that is exclusively tied to the product.

On the flip side, quality service and trust can often be more valuble than hundreds of ads. There’s a furniture store, for example, called “National Furniture” that has sat quietly in the same place on Spokane’s Division street for nearly a hundred years.  Just within my lifetime, a dozen furniture stores have come into existence – huge, nationwide chains, often spending hundreds of thousands on advertising.  And then, one by one, they die.

The trusted local guys continue on, and that is the power of marketing. Marketing doesn’t just make you want to buy a product, here…now…anywhere.  Marketing makes you remember a product, or a brand, or a name…permanently.  Once you’ve come to associate a certain idea with another–whatever the relationship–it’s very hard to break that connection; and that’s the function of marketing.

Here, for example, is a song that I will forever associate with a specific set of images. It’s called “Black Coffee” by The Commitments. Fact & Fable Productions made it into an advertisement for Fair Trade Coffee. See it here on YouTube:

Or, check out “Autumn Leaves”, sung by Eva Cassidy. Fact & Fable turned it into an unforgettable Music Video:

And finally, here’s one Fact & Fable Productions did for the Spokane Dance Company. They taught a broom to dance! See for yourself! (I’ll never look at a dust broom the same way again…):

Marketing is a far more complete and far-reaching concept than advertising. Advertising just scratches the surface of a broad field of business-building tools. It gives the marketer an overview strategy in building a company or a product, and ultimately a much more permanent one.

It gives you something you just don’t see anywhere else every day.

SASS has Spoken

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How big is a Blog?

As a unit of measure, words can often be considered the smallest units of reason. Sure, in the hands of a master orator, a good speech, or a brilliant bit of prose or a poem can change the course of history. A well-crafted song at a critical juncture can mean victory in battle, or start a movement of people that changes everything.

But then, they’re just words … right?

Well, in a 2002 speech by Delaware Sen. Joseph R. Bidden Jr., I was reminded that our founding fathers knew how words could reshape history. Thomas Payne wrote “The Crisis”, a series of pamphlets that supported the Revolutionary War, and legitimized the founding of this nation. And when they wrote the Declaration of Independence … well, I probably don’t have to go into how important that was, seeing as how none of you in America are the future subjects of King Charles, nor pay your taxes to Elizabeth II … at up to 80% of your income, I might add….

This was done with words. Oh, sure, those words were backed up by muskets and cannon, but without the words, who would have raised a pistol or an arrow? And who … without the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. … would have stood up to the national guard in Alabama? Who would have fought for – and changed – the laws that held one segment of our society hostage to the will of another?

Yes, this is the power of words: words make people think. When they think, they change their minds … they take action, and they start talking, and the words change other peoples’ minds. More people acting, and talking, and thinking means the words spread and grow. Soon the words of one or a few people become the ideals of thousands, then tens of thousands, then countless masses. And when the words spread so far that they become the common thought of the people, then, for better, or for worse, history IS changed. When Adolph Hitler said, “It is not truth that matters, but victory,” a nation followed him and led the world into Hell. When John F. Kennedy challenged us “Before this decade is out to land a man on the Moon and return him safely to the Earth” we followed him into the modern world.

Indeed, we measure our success by the power – and longevity of our words. How powerful, then, are the works of William Shakesphere? The Gettysburg Address? The Constitution? What is the power of the common Blog? Will it not be a Blog that sparks the next Cultural Revolution, or Civil War, or Human Rights Movement? Is it not the Blogs which have propelled Environmental Awareness into the mainstream? Who among you is the next Martin Luther, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, or Thomas Payne?

What is the Measure of The Common Blog?

I tell you, it is immeasurable.

SASS has Spoken.

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The Ties That Bind

I kind of butted heads with my employer today.  I usually do, actually.  After working with her off and on for three quarters of a year, we’re still learning how to talk to one another.

You see, I am a computer programmer.  I write the codes and symbols that make these lumps of plastic, steel and silicon jump up and make your day a little brighter.  Or, a little more stressful, depending on who you are and what you do with them.  Yes, you can thank me and all the others in my industry for all your ills and distress, or all the fun and simplicity the computer provides – honest, I can take it.

The problem is, Petrushka is an Artist.  (The capitalization is correct … in this case, Artist is a proper noun.)  Her given name is Petrushka Pavlovich, a British citizen of both Russian and Jewish descent originally from London.  She has worked with the BBC as a videographer, and has won numerous awards for her work in Video Production and editing, and she has a studio here in Spokane called Fact & Fable Productions.  She really is a creative genius.  An Artist in the truest sense of the word.

But I am a Programmer.  There’s the rub.

Programming, you see, is a very pedantic profession.  The programmer goes about his job, moving from “A” to “Z” through “B”, and then “C”, and then “D” and so on.  All of the steps must be carried out – usually, but not always – in order.  If they are not, the program doesn’t work.  Period.

Art doesn’t work that way.  The Artist sees things that are invisible to the rest of us.  The Artist frequently bypasses entire stages in the evolution of an Artistic work.  She can go from raw footage to final presentation there within the confines of her own mind, often before she’s put away her camera.  More often than not, however, she puts the pieces of her work on the tableau in front of her–or, in this case, on the timeline of a program called “Final Cut Pro”, and tweaks and fiddles with them until she is satisfied with the result.  In her mind somewhere, she always has the “effect” she wants to achieve; but until she can see it, she’s never sure exactly how to get there.

As a programmer, this defies rationality.  In order for me to achieve an effect in a certain piece of software, I have to know exactly how to get there.  I must use exactly precise language to spell out what the effect will be; and then I must make use of tools that will carry out in code what I have defined in language.  I could no more build an effect by tossing random pieces of code into a folder than I could build a turn-of-the-century train station by tossing Lego blocks into a pile.

And yet, that’s precisely what Petrushka does with video.  And she’s a master of her Art.

Trying to achieve a common subset of the English language, complicated by the fact that we grew up in very different English-speaking countries has been quite a work in itself.  At least we’ve each been able to observe the difficulties the other faces in the course of doing our jobs.  Beyond that, our experiences are very different.  I have grown up in a somewhat closed academic environment, while “Miz Pea” was raised in a very social one.  I think like the young punks coming out of the ’80s and ’90s, while she’s of a older, more thoughtful generation.

As you can see, we’re different – very, very different.

The latest round of disagreement, as you can imagine, was over words.  On her site, Petrushka is trying to maintain a specific image – one of style and elegance, mixing old-world charm and post-war glamour, catering to the kind of older demographic who really appreciate this.  Her list of clients is really impressive.

At the same time, she is trying to woo a younger and more diverse crowd, and so she’s counting on me to help craft technical language for her Blog … but then she doesn’t want to upset her older crowd or ruin the image she’s crafted … then again, she wants to attract the attention of the Internet bots to raise the page ranking of her site … and I’m saying WAIT A MINUTE!!!  How can you have it ALL THREE WAYS???

Humph.

So anyway, we argued the point for a while, then we reached some kind of a compromise (I’m still not sure how) and I posted the blog and we moved on.  But … as a computer programmer who’s used to proceeding on a task linearly from a beginning to completion, I can only say one thing:

DAMN, IT’S HARD TO WORK WITH AN ARTIST!

Sass has Spoken….

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The SASS is Here…

A new day has dawned.

I know that statement is cliche and overused, but every morning it happens again … a brand new day.  And on this particular day, I’ve started my own Web-Log.

This actually comes as a surprise to me, as, while I’ve posted responses to many blogs, I’ve never seen the necessity of starting my own.  That is, until my collegue advised me that I should start a blog for my employer, and I wound up creating one of my own.  A forum, if you will, for the many words of wisdom I’ve gathered, and a few words of ignorance, I’m certain, to be displayed for all of the world to see.  In the words of an ancient “tagline” from the pre-Internet days of dial-up bulletin boards and WWIVnet, “Open mouth, insert foot … echo internationally.”  Well, in this case, there is no echo … you’ll hear it all directly from ol’ SASS himself.  Unless you read some quote out there on somebody else’s blog.

I have alot of quotes.  Some of them are downright funny.  Take, for instance, the immortal words of one Samuel Clements.  You might know him better as the legendary Mark Twain.  Back in his day, they weren’t all complaining about how stupid the President’s foreign policy was.  Nope.  Their scapegoat was Congress.  For instance, Twain once said, “There is no distinctly American criminal class.  Except Congress.”  Of course, in his day, many of them were in the pockets of major corporations and trade groups (read: monopolies) like US Steel and Standard Oil.  (Any correlations to Haliburton here?)

Also, few lawmakers in the 1800s had the education we now take for granted.  We once even had an illiterate president!  Said Twain: “Let’s say you were an idiot, and lets say you were a member of Congress … but I repeat myself….”  And then there’s Bush.  So … we have us in 2007, and we have Twain in 1887.  Has anything really changed?  Why, YES!  NOW we can blog about it internationally!  In his day, Twain had to wait for his comments to appear in the Saturday Evening Post (Anyone remember that one?  My grandmother had a subscription….)

And, so I blog.  You will learn my politics (I consider myself a cultural Anarchist with a touch of Avant-Garde), my professional life (I do computer stuff … duh), and my inner self (there’s something deeply religious in there, if I can sift through the insanity to find it … you have to be a little mad these days to see the world objectively).  I am SASS.  I am THE Sass.  Observer.  Corresponder.  Correlator.  And I blog.

Hello, world.

SASS has Spoken.

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