An Airplane in a Vagina. The Downsizing of Corporate Branding

By now you’ve heard. US Airways let out a pornographic pic on their Twitter feed. It was a woman retrofitting the function of a model airplane in (debatably) creative fashion. In other words, she stuck it in her vagina. Who the woman is and how the picture hit the Twitterverse are of little concern to me, and you can go find it on Google easily if you wish. What struck me later—I’d say immediately, but when you’re met by a picture of a dildo-fied airplane in use, thoughtful analysis isn’t a natural response—is that the democratization of information sharing has actually created a meritocracy to corporate branding that we should be thankful for.

Brands used to be big. And technically, by most forms of economic and cultural currency, they still are. For example, Coca-Cola has roughly the same number of Twitter followers (but a lot more money) as Chris Rock. But Brands used to be unknowably big. They were more abstract concepts like the weight of a galaxy or the size of the national debt. Whatever anonymous Don Draper fed you the idea that McDonald’s beats Mom’s cooking in any language was shielded by the time and process of the ancient ad mediums. Everything came out big and slow and crafted, so everything came out planned, double-checked and safe.

I don’t know what it’s like to be in the brainstorming sessions of Wieden + Kennedy’s creative brass, breaking down a marketing mix with the breadth of target countries and the granularity of specified font kerning. But I know how to use a Twitter account. And I know that every company has someone doing that for them. I also know that the chances are good that the person is a sub-30’s hipster who needs to infuse a little sass and personality to give their brand a noteworthy voice in the ongoing B2C conversations. Basically, the daily mouthpiece of a brand’s most volatile interactive platform is just a regular human being. Mistakes happen. Because we are all this person, we can all allow it.

Does this forgive the digital parceling of a particularly intrepid model airplane? Nope. Not by a longshot. The absolute best-case scenario is a hacked account, otherwise someone deserves to be fired. I can’t help but believe that 20 years ago this would have stunted US Airways in a very severe way. Knowing less makes each bit of information more vital to the brand’s consumers. Now we know so much, that we can’t possibly blame the whole company. When I fly to San Diego next month, if US Airways has the best deal, I’ll still fly with them, using this marketing snafu only as an odd conversation piece. The internet has given companies enough rope to hang themselves with, sure. But the declining impact of errors makes me believe that the new rope is too thin to hold a brand’s weight. And unlike that model airplane, US Airways is going to land safely.

It’s a little tight here,
Dusty “Flies Coach” Riedesel

Don-O-Mite trailer — MAD MEN meets Blaxploitation

Donomite_Poster

Every now and then, the Internet does exactly what it was meant to do. This is one of those times. The final season of Mad Men is debuting this Sunday. Frankly, it’s the best written show I’ve ever watched, and I’m happy spank anyone who disagress like a 1950′s stepchild.

That said, if there’s ever been something recognizably missing in the show, it’s relation to the world-dominating Marvel Comics movie franchise. If there’s two things missing, it’s the world-dominating Marvel Comics movie franchise and black people. The gaping holes left by the absence of black men (and women) have been satirically and satisfactorily filled thanks to the Internet harkening back to the blaxploitation of the era Mad Men inhabits.

By the way, this is incredibly well done. Hat’s off to Leroy& Clarkson.

How I Met Your Mother Ends with a Perfect Non-Finale

The Series Finale of How I Met Your Mother is over. A lot of people are pissed:

And that’s funny. Most people were just haters. “Haters, would you just!…okay!?” The predominant gripe has been that this finale made the show all about Ted and Robin, that it should have been titled something like How I Met The Woman I Want To Be With Now That Your Mother Is Dead. While catchy, that’s wrong. This was a great finale because it stayed true to itself, just like all the characters did, especially Ted Mosby.

Stephen King compares the job of writer to that of an archaeologist. To summarize his viewpoint, a writer is trying to bring a preformed thing from obscurity to public attention. The analogy works even better from the vantage point of the consumer. An archaeological artifact is a small window into an entirely different time and civilization. It’s a fragment of a much larger world, and with few exceptions, that’s exactly the way stories let us look into their imaginative worlds.

208 episodes is a lot of time to spend with characters, but it all adds up to less than four days of real time. If you want this show to be true to real life, that’s an important fact to remember. A lot of life happens in these unwatched margins. Does it seem weird to you that the kids aren’t emotionally enraptured by how Ted met their mother? They’re teenagers who have been with Ted their whole life. They’ve heard the stories. They’ve seen him living alone, and they’re not shocked about the big reveal that their mother is dead. We’re all egocentric, so confusing the show and the story is simple, but the show was called How I Met Your Mother, not How I Met The Mother of My Children. We were always the show’s audience, but we were never the story’s audience. After waiting for 9 years, the word “Your” ended up being way more important than the word “Mother”.

Completion is the biggest fallacy pitched in most finales. Even the tightly-packaged Breaking Bad finale left us with some unanswered questions (What happens to Jesse? Did Hule ever leave that hotel room? Will Walt Jr. ever enjoy breakfast again?), and that was a show that told us it was a completed story. HIMYM was almost finished after a few seasons, revived, then dragged out all the way to season nine. It never had the luxury of being complete. Instead, the writers had to keep brushing away more dirt from the artifact. They had to keep showing you more and more of the fantasy world that these New Yorkers encompassed. And it was a fantasy, Barney alone proves that.

In the end, Ted probably did marry Robin (“The only way either of you are having sex with her is if you marry her.”) But the story we were actually being told was of the emotionally resilient Ted Mosby. Maybe we wished his life was even more fantasy because the real stuff isn’t as fun. We watched him fail. A lot. We watched him struggle to find himself by looking for completion in others. But we mostly just watched him keep on going. That’s what real people have to do. And in the final moments of the show, they took us back to the show’s one prevailing sentiment, the undying romanticism of a human soul (forever enshrined for Ted by a blue French horn). And honestly, to give that romanticism a complete finale would have been the biggest betrayal of the show’s true star.

“Love doesn’t make sense. You can’t logic your way into or out of it. Love is totally nonsensical. But we have to keep doing it, or else we’re lost and love is dead and humanity should just pack it in.” – Ted Evelyn Mosby

Wayne Selden Returning to KU. My Heart is Beating Again

Every now and then, people love something fiercely and it lets them down. For me, this crushing bolder of despair is called the NCAA tournament. I root like hell for the Kansas Jayhawks, and with rare exception, the season ends in failure. It happened again this year, and ever since the loss to Stanford on Sunday, I’ve been refreshing the CNNSI Jayhawks teams page for a thread of hope, a sliver of light to give me hope in my sports fan-cave of woe. And now I have it. From The Washington Times:

Kansas guard Wayne Selden announced Tuesday that he return for his sophomore season.

The 6-foot-5 Selden averaged nearly 10 points for the Jayhawks, whose season ended with a 60-57 loss to Stanford on Sunday in the third round of the NCAA tournament.

Selden was considered a first-round talent coming out of high school, but an up-and-down campaign may have caused his stock to drop. Most draft projections had him going late in the first round or at some point in the second round.

I’m a big fan of Wayne. I’ve said so before. And this is all I needed. It’s going to be okay. We’re all going to be okay. Hope springs eternal.

We’ll get ‘em next year,
Dusty “The Realist” Riedesel

What I’m Working On…The Rough Start to a Business Article

So between working and personal projects and maintaining what I call a social life, the blog gets slow from time to time. I’ll throw up the rough draft of the first half of what I’m working on to get published. A business profile…and take it easy on me. I said it was a ROUGH draft.

“Everyone knows the show Bar Rescue. This is bar reality.”

That’s how Ryan Waters begins describing BarMetrix, a business that has coached over 5,000 bars and restaurants since 1999. He bought the rights to franchise BarMetrix in the Triangle area in October of 2013, and he doesn’t have to speak long before it is apparent that he’s passionate about the endeavor.

“Most bars in North Carolina lose 15% of their inventory to theft, overpouring and spillage,” Waters says. “And in a lot of cases, that 15% is almost all of their profits. What we do is get that variance down below 5%.”

At its simplest, BarMetrix is a recurring audit of inventory to assess how much liquor a bar isn’t accounting for. Either weekly or bi-weekly–depending on the bar’s preference–Waters will weigh or count every bottle, keg and can of alcohol to be cross-referenced against the bar’s invoices. After inputting this information into Barmetrix software and comparing to sales data from the bar’s POS system, Waters can provide a report that shows not only what a bar’s variance is, but on what drinks the variance occurs.

Inventory controls are common practice in many industries, so this doesn’t initially seem novel. But how do most bars track their inventory?
“Most bars live off of cost of goods sold, which can be very misleading,” Waters says. “For example, if a bartender is short pouring a Red Bull and vodka and the customer is happy with the drink, that might mask the fact that the owner is missing a half bottle of Tequila, but the owner doesn’t notice because his sales are roughly the same.”

Talking to Waters, there’s a subtext that he visibly avoids voicing. Bartenders are stealing from their bosses. Liquid embezzlement.

“It’s not theft,” Waters insists. “What we find is that roughly 80% of this loss is unintentional. Bartending is a hard profession. You have to be fast. You have to be accurate. It’s dark. You’re customers are drunk. It’s late at night. If you’re not paying close attention, you can easily overpour drinks. In most cases, when I post the report that says, ‘hey guys, we’re missing 50 ounces of fireball last week,’ they want to do better. And we see that number go down simply because we brought visibility to that fact.”

To be continued in a publication near you (assuming you have WiFi).

DR

The more we know, the less we think. The danger of consumability.

It is a great power to take something and make it fit for human consumption. Crack a coconut, skin a rabbit, manufacture sunscreen, capture on film, put an idea into words. Somewhere along the metaphorical assembly line of producing human consumption—probably coinciding with Gutenberg’s kite getting struck by lighting and giving him the electric idea of a printing press powered by a steam turbine engine—it was realized that the more turnkey the entire process of consumption can be, the more individuals will consume it (whatever it may be). From Microwaves to Twitter, this idea has been the cornerstone of most technological developments. If it’s easy, people will use/buy/watch/click/eat it. Necessity hasn’t been necessary for decades. Laziness is the true mother of invention.

 

I call it consumability. There should be a better word for it since IBM tainted this word, but I’ll figure that out later. You see consumability being practiced everywhere. Peanut butter and jelly in the same squeeze bottle has higher consumability than peanut butter and jelly in two separate jars. Bottled water has higher consumability than a gallon of water. Send an email instead of writing a letter. Fly instead of driving cross country. Buy pre-sliced cheese. Hire a trainer. Join weight watchers. It’s any news focused around a ten-second sound bite. It’s anything that doesn’t require you to educate yourself. It’s anything that’s processed or mass produced, etc. Anything that’s prepackaged, presized, etc. Anything tweetable, etc. Anything etc. Yada yada. I know, right?

It all leads to curiousity about the consumability bell curve, where the easier it gets to consume something increases your enjoyment of it up to a point, and past that point you no longer appreciate the consumption because there is so little invested to get it. Individuals with time-intensive hobbies inherently understand this bell curve. They enjoy making ribs with a homemade rub and a homemade sauce that took 12 hours of prep time and 3 more hours to cook. They like fixing their own cars, mowing their own lawns, oiling the leather to break in their own baseball mitt, and slicing the orchard-picked apples to bake their own pies. If this sounds like a heavy handed call back to some suburban utopia of Americana past, it’s only because it is. The crazy part is that all that utopia describes things that are still my parents. That distant past is still happening tomorrow.

I’m not against advancement. I get it. Brewing a cup of coffee and hand-rolling a cigarette is a pain in the ass compared to a Keurig and an E-cig. You don’t even have to walk outside to enjoy the latter two (although that’s changing). Technological ease is not an evil unto itself, which is kind of a “duh” statement. But the human mind is a muscle that requires training, and once trained, it gets stuck in its ways. It’s the reason that a five-year-old can figure out an iPad faster than a 50-year-old. When trained for the far end of the consumability bell curve, we become dumb because we lose our curiosity. Our minds are trained for answers, not discovery. We have Google searches, Yahoo answers, whatever BING does, and the knowledge is given, not earned. The more we know, the less we think. On the flip side, someone who appreciates process as much as results has a learned understanding and healthy skepticism about everything that goes into the consumable end product, tangible or otherwise.

So that’s the worry. But every generation has always worried that everything’s getting bigger, faster and will spin out of control. It’s entropy on sociological level, and that’s always been the natural law that will drive the apocalypse. Does the universe expand enough to introduce an alien race that takes us down? Will technology become so smart that it renders human beings extinct. Will we create energies so powerful that we blow ourselves up? I’ve always thought that a blend between Wall-E and Nineteen Eighty-Four’s apocalypse stories was most likely. The interent doesn’t democratize us and set the world free. It spoon feeds us knowledge and makes us easily manipulated. Who under the age of thirty has any interest in reading 500 pages of legal verbiage in a political bill about what Tyson can feed their chicken? So it slides by, and the butterfly effect means no more privatized daycare. How the hell did it happen? Nobody on the single parent message boards knows.

Making something fit for human consumption does take power, and every Spider-Man fan knows what goes great with power. As long as consumers follow through with the responsibility of thinking critically, we should be alright.

Does my nickname prove a point?
Dustin “TL;DR” Riedesel

A Gameday Portrait – Kansas Coach Bill Self: What are we not seeing?

The most fascinating aspect of a serial killer is their familiarity. Assumedly, they wake up, they pick an outfit for the day, they eat meals, and they probably have a hobby, like reading Garth Ennis comic books or perfecting their homemade salsa recipe. People who argue that serial killing is the most fascinating aspect of a serial killer are either ignoring the narcissistic nature of man or underrate the importance of familiarity in earning attention, probably both. Green ketchup wasn’t interesting because it was green, but rather because it was ketchup, America’s 3rd favorite condiment (behind Mayo, and—cue twilight zone music—salsa). Ketchup isn’t supposed to be green. Ketchup is red. If Heinz had produced green jeotgal, no one notices. No one cares.

Society’s aggregated comfort with expectations often hides the differences that make people extraordinary. With a suit, a debatably fake haircut and a paunch that could belong to your grandpa’s neighbor from Okmulgee, society could not be more comfortable with Bill Self. He’s totally the kind of guy that you could find yourself sitting next to at an Applebee’s bar discussing which Riblet’s sauce is the best. What he totally isn’t is the kind of guy that would point out the difference between Applebee’s Riblets and real riblets because he’s not a weirdo. He’s so ordinary. See the stammering interviews, hear the plugs for the Salty Iguana and speak about his conceivable opinions on Riblets. Given his situation, isn’t this how an ordinary person is expected to be?

But then there’s this. He’s a total weirdo. His normalcies somehow obscure the obvious fact that no one else is in his same situation. No one else is the highest paid state employee in Kansas. No one else is going to win a 10th straight conference title. No one else landed the most hyped high school prospect of the last 10 years. This is the most frustrating thing about Bill Self. He must be extraordinary, but try to hash out the reason and it will inevitably become a recitation of “The Nine Things Successful People Do,” an article written by smart people to help normal people be better than average people. That’s not a recipe for creating an extraordinary person, it’s a diagnosis of a their symptoms. And despite the cliché, every division I basketball coach is giving that “little extra”, so there must be something else to Bill Self. He’s not a normal coach, so what’s abnormal about him? Frustrating.

A wolf in sheep’s clothing. A fox in the hen house. A serial killer living amongst us is a common (and fun) trope of television. The juxtaposition of being completely normal and completely different pleases our narrative palette like the best salty sweets. Comparing Bill Self to a serial killer will only make a tiny bit of sense if his career takes a Bob Knight-like turn into maniacal competitiveness. There’s an infuriated smirk Self puts on his face when his team is playing at its worst that suggests it’s possible, but the analogy is extreme and grotesque and ignores number 7 on the successful people symptoms list, “build your willpower muscle.” Mob Boss then. Coaches are kind of like that already. Nick Saban could be Michael Corleone and Tom Thibodeau is definitely Tony Soprano. John Calipari and Rick Pitino are factually (probably) frontmen for the Dixie Mafia. So maybe Bill Self is just a more refined spin on the underground CEO. Maybe he’s Vito Corleone, a man who built his empire on a foundation of favors and kindness so renowned that all inquiries of his methods uncovered was gratitude. And Maybe he’s not. He’s probably not. I’m just trying to please that silly narrative palette I just mentioned.

Bill Self is extraordinary. You’re familiar with this fact. It’s the most frustrating thing about him because you can’t figure out why he’s so extraordinary. And maybe we’ve discarded the importance of what we already know. Bill Self is extraordinary, and whether its mob bosses or serial killers, the best are never caught.