Analysis: “Epuron: Power of Wind” Commercial

A German Energy Company and a German government bureau sponsored an award-winning commercial spot in 2008. The commercial features the subtle use of devices traditionally used in poetry while expressing recognition of the French New Wave style of filmmaking.

The slow pacing captures viewers’ attention and takes them out of the average commercial experience. This is reminiscent of films such as Jean Luc Godard’s Breathless, but also many of Ingmar Bergman’s works such as Wild Strawberries. These films embody a feeling of reflection involving the central character. The music sets the mood of the spot, and the length of each scene is also important in establishing an aspect of timelessness.

Normally, this kind of spot would feature a commercially available product (rather than a government initiative such as wind power). The activities that the main character is engaged in at first are shocking and inappropriate which begs the question, “what is being sold here, what is the point?” As the commercial plays out, the viewer begins to recognize the device being used, personification. This person is somehow invisible to the people he is affecting. There are some shots where the cues present situations where it is obvious the main character is not another person, but rather, a person representing the wind. In this sense, viewers are invited to participate in unraveling the meaning of what is being introduced. These are all situations where the wind is causing trouble with the featured spectator’s life. The audience can begin to relate to these embarrassing and stressful situations, as they do they begin to understand what is going on.

The turn comes when we see that the wind is troubled by his role. Finally, we witness him meeting someone who recognizes him as a person. As the wind makes a new friend we can relate to this relationship that through these shots and dialogue seems to express repentance. Eventually, during a cinema vérité style interview, we come to recognize that the main character has been sitting in front of a model of a wind turbine. Here we have something we can identify as a product, something we can associate this commercial with. We know how to ask our friends if they have seen it. From the advertiser’s point of view we see how we can support the cause, wind power.

This is an advertisement, but it is also akin to poetry. It introduces us to a world, ascribes to rules or a language to understand, a lens through which to see the work. The themes are universal, loneliness and salvation. Like poetry, it presents us with meter, one scene after another depicting the same action. The repetition is in the main character’s way of relating to people. Our objective is to translate what he is doing beyond the literal, and the producers do this through repetition. We see what fruits this new relationship has come to bear. What lies central to this idea is that people coming together can harness the powers of the earth. This is the underlying theme that the producers wished to pursue.

This theme is significant because it comes from the circumstances that made this commercial a reality. The creative design team was approached by two organizations working side by side to spread awareness: Epuron, a company specializing in renewable energy, and the German Federal Ministry for the Environment. The two groups wanted to raise awareness and dismiss criticism about wind power. What stands is a testimonial to this union, an argument where the premises are public welfare and innovation, and the conclusion is progress.

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Analysis: O’Barr’s “A Brief History of Advertising”

A Brief History of Advertising: Analysis

“A Brief History of Advertising” is a fascinating text put together by William O. Barr concerning the beginnings of advertising in our culture.  The submission traces American advertising from its beginnings in 1609, with an advertisement created to entice Englishman to come to America, and finishes with the current age of personal relationship marketing.  We begin by viewing simple handbills designed to solicit purchases, and ended with an idea of the shape of things to come.

I found the first television advertisement posted to be particularly impressive.  It included a rather sophisticated graphic theme, which depicted the jingle drawn out in musical notes; the camera zoomed in on each note sequentially to reveal a particular aspect of the company’s services.  This would not have been an easy commercial to make in the early 1950s since the only analogous work to be found of this style would be in the mass produced feature film world of that era.

I was impressed to find that Benjamin Franklin played so central a role in the history of advertising.  Franklin was a non-traditionally educated politician, someone known for thinking outside the box.   According to James Dillon, author of “Benjamin Franklin: A Wonder-Based Approach to Life and Learning,” not only was Franklin an ambassador to France, he so thoroughly believed in democracy as to prescribe that it should be extended into the classroom.  He was driven to educating children with a Socratic method wherein rather than students being told the lesson plan, instruction would be self-guided.  Franklin set up his own educational institution.  This reflects an understanding of how Franklin thought the everyday-citizen should be armed with his own ability to think critically.

The marketing aspects of the early advertisements are worth contemplating.

It is interesting to note the juxtaposition between today’s Internet advertising and the personal relationship early advertisers had with clientele.  Advertisements were originally placed in sandwich boards and transoms these were designed to attract customers to particular establishments.  Today’s Internet advertisements can mimic this personalization of the message.  Data mining and behavioral targeting can reveal a wealth of information about a consumer who visits a particular website or makes a credit-card purchase.  As mentioned previously in the blog, websites like Hulu.com have taken advantage of customer information. 

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O’Barr, W. M.(2010). A Brief History of Advertising in America. Advertising & Society Review 11(1), Advertising Educational Foundation. Retrieved August 11, 2012, from Project MUSE database.

Corporate Culture and Symbolism: Old and New

You are in your car, on the road.  You are driving along a row of grassy fields.  You get bored so you turn on the radio.  You have pre-programmed stations.  You hit the first of these.  It is 96.5’s the Break Room with Tommy Mulet.  You know that he will say something raunchy, which might be funny.  You press the button to switch to the next station.  It is 98.9, the Breakfast Buzz with Kimberly and Beck.  You wait for them to offend a caller or badmouth a local politician.  You switch to the AM stations and turn on NPR, where you know you’ll find Morning Edition, a liberal oriented news program.  You know what they say, and how they will conduct themselves.  Furthermore, you may even know what buttons you have allocated for them.  According to Eric Eisenberg, H.L. Goodall, and Angela Trethewey, authors of the book, Organizational Communication, these are all cultural elements.  The radio stations, their content and personalities, represent the culture we share as local citizens.   Even the buttons you press to make your selections are elements stitched within your own culture.

To begin my investigation into culture I will examine what researchers have uncovered in terms of the affect symbolism has on our everyday lives.  Further, I will analyze corporate cultures under both the old and new social contracts.  I will then introduce some of the elements of culture at my former company, and then discuss how some values began to break down as others were created.  Towards the end of my time there, as different events unfolded, the culture would be forever changed.  Alternatively, my former company’s use of cultural elements comes in sharp contrast to a San Francisco-based software company called LoveMachine.  I will look at how LoveMachine enacts elements of culture according to the new social contract. I will conclude by examining the findings of corporate cultural ethnographer, William Ouchi, has detailed in his book, Theory Z, and relate how it pertains to both company’s cultures.

Cultural Research: The Interpretive View

George Herbert Mead, a philosopher and social activist at the University of Chicago, came up with the theory of symbolic interactionism.  According to Mead, symbols shape the way we experience consciousness, and they determine how we structure our behavior according to what is going on around us (Baran, Davis 303).  Mead argued that we are “constantly encountering ambiguous, complex situations that need to be understood” (Baran, Davis 303).  The human brain is able to adapt to this ambiguity through the introduction and adherence to symbols.  Moreover, how individuals define symbols shape the reality they experience (Baran, Davis 304).

Similarly, cultural researchers also study how employees of organizations interpret and process symbolism.  The term “organizational culture” is defined by the actions, ways of thinking, practices, stories and artifacts that characterize a particular organization: “All cultural studies begin with a focus on the centrality of language in shaping human perception” (Eisenberg, Goodall, Trethewey 104).  To advance this idea, cultural researcher, Kenneth Burke theorized that:  “symbols do not only stand for other things; they also shape our understandings of those things and help us identify their meanings and uses” (Eisenberg, Goodall, Trethewey 105).  In other words, how we make reference to tasks, events or phenomenon in an organizational culture contributes to the definitions of them in our consciousness.  According to the interpretive view, organizational cultures are created through cultural elements.  Cultural elements are helpful cues an organization sets up around it identify, for employees, the “right way” of doing things.

Old Social Contract: My Former Employer

My own experience with cultural elements in organizational culture is somewhat extensive.  In my former corporate life, I worked for one of the top five media conglomerates in the world.  Within this large company I worked as a photojournalist in the local news division.  While I was there, at least, my former company operated under what Eisenberg, Goodall and Trethewey refer to as the old social contract.  This old social contract is what you would think of when you work for a traditional company.  It is marked by bureaucracy and stability, both of which I experienced at one point or another.  As part of our corporate culture we were asked to complete self-evaluations, and we were also given manager evaluations.  Each of these would create shared meaning, and common sense among employees.  Our manager evaluations would have us consenting to agreed upon goals.  Another element of this culture was the celebration of heroes and heroines (Eisenberg, Goodall, Trethewey 106).  The names of the twelve “employees of the month” were all entered into a lottery.  Winners were arbitrarily chosen to attend a company-sponsored trip to Puerto Rico.  The company considered these employees the best of the best for that year, were made to attend seminars that would further their exposure to the company initiatives.  Our news station also disseminated information out into the community.  In that way we would also contribute to the wider culture.  How people outside the company saw us, our channel’s logo, television channel and website maintained our status in the culture.  We were also a family of journalists, who shared techniques, visions and themes in the content that we produced.  In this way viewers could rely on how we operated.  The culture also established a healthy competitive environment, which made our on-air product better in the long run.

I was at this company for over 11 years before I was laid off.  The company responded to an industry-wide initiative (which was also a cultural trend).  They decided to “move in a different direction,” as the popular expression goes.  They wanted to use fewer employees to produce work, and consolidate facilities.  The emphasis moved from quality to quantity.  Over 20 of us were given six-months notice before the company let us go in October of 2011.  We were all provided severance packages based on the number of years we had worked.  Some newer employees left as they found other opportunities.  There was little incentive for them to stay as they were provided a meager parting allotment.  As staff lessened in the newsroom, moral suffered.  Cultural elements became transparent.  Burnout and an inevitable sense of loss became part of the culture.  Our corporate culture became accepted, more than it was embraced

New Social Contract: LoveMachine

Alternatively, after reading about how an Internet based company employs culture, my own former company’s culture is better illuminated.  Entrepreneur Philip Rosedale was interviewed in regards to his company LoveMachine, in the March of 2011 issue of Inc. magazine.  LoveMachine operates under Eisenberg, Goodall and Trethewey’s definition for the new social contract.  Employment for the individual is characterized as “a series of finite contracts with corporations” (19).  With Rosedale’s company, freelance employees must adhere to designated rules that were made up to supply them with just enough information to complete a job.  There is no full-time software development team or formal office.  Rather “Once the job is awarded, the contractor collaborates with the rest of the team virtually, through a custom-built chat room on the company’s website” (Dahl 94).  The LoveMachine software product itself is a cultural element for other companies.  It allows employees of a sponsor company to receive kudos from one another in the form of a Twitter-like message that is distributed to all of that company’s employees.

The LoveMachine culture is groundbreaking.  Its creators recognized how individuals perceive the Internet, the universal access it allows for, and used that perception to craft its cultural model.  Internal documents, such as emails, memos and press releases, are viewable to the public.  The progress and completion status of each work assignment is posted.  Anyone can see the performance, good or ill, of a freelancer and his or her job.  Every payment generates a publicly viewable record.  Everyone knows how much a freelancer made for that job.  Other than a website and a job, there are no artifacts for employees to regard as part of the culture.

Conclusion:

In terms of Mead’s symbolic interactionism, cultural elements seem less tangible under the new social contract.  LoveMachine employees can no longer rely on the analogy of walking into a room and being exposed to culture.  In contrast, the company was set up in the virtual environment of cyberspace to mimic some of the traditional elements of culture while augmenting them to allow for more accountability of its freelancers.

Similar cultural research was being done in the late 1970s, as Japan was having seemingly unexplainable success in international automotive markets.  William Ouchi studied corporate culture in the automobile industry in Japan.  Ouchi argued that a company’s ability to adapt to its external environment would determine its success.  Organizational culture is an ever-evolving model (Eisenberg, Goodall, Trethewey 107).  It is dependent on the new ways in which companies structure their work environments.  In studying the Japanese model, Ouchi noticed an emphasis on the support of the collective, whereas the American auto industry focused more on individual ingenuity.  Ouchi proposed a method that would utilize the strengths of both systems.  His theory Z proposes a workplace that would celebrate the individual, while making sure he or she respects the community (Eisenberg, Goodall, Trethewey 107).  My former company seems to try to embody these principles more so than LoveMachine.  Yet both also still seem to default to some of the traits of the American and Japanese auto industries of the ‘70s.  LoveMachine is dismissive of the individual, has a shameless disregard for culture in favor of the task.  On the other hand, the company I once worked for focuses on the individual’s contribution to the collective.

 

 

Works Cited

Baran, Stanley J., and Dennis K. Davis.  Mass Communication Theory: Foundations, Ferment and Future. 5th ed. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2009. Print.

Eisenberg, Eric M., H.L. Goodall Jr., and Angela Trethewey. Organizational Communication: Balancing Creativity and Constraint. 6th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009. Print.

Dahl, Darren. “Want A Job? Let The Bidding Begin.” Inc. 33.2 (2011): 93-96. Academic Search Complete. Web. 7 May 2012.

Second Life: A Study in Virtual Advertising

As I walk through the virtual, user created, world of Second Life I notice a convergence, old forms of media advertising are melded into the atmosphere and have taken on a new twist.  Why are well established, highly regarded companies eager to have their name attached to this newly minted social medium?  In several ways, Second Life’s advertising is adapted from more traditional forms of advertising, it is changing the way users relate to one another.

Billboard advertising is big in Second Life, but some sponsors go beyond typical displays by providing free activities for avatars to engage in.  The companies develop rides, games and buildings to explore which help them promote who they are and what they do.  Base jumping is one adventure that a company called Booville Skydiving maintains.  An avatar can climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower designed in a world modeled after 19th century Paris.  Booville supplies users with a free parachute and instructions on how to use it, but also allows you to buy other, more dynamic skydiving experiences.  Avatars seem to flock to the site, I witnessed four of them take the plunge as I was up trying to figure it out for myself.  Although I am only a novice when it comes to Second Life, this lucrative advertising opportunity left an impression on me.

Until recently, consumers had to imagine themselves with products for sale in a traditional two-dimensional way, Second Life is able to put the products in their virtual hands.  An avatar can choose to wear any kinds of clothes he can afford, in the same way he can change his height or the shape of his goatee.  In this capacity Second Life shapes the image of a product’s brand in the mind of the viewer or the wearer.  Because you are embodied in your avatar, and have learned to make it move as you move, you begin to assume that the products you’re using are your own, they alter the way people look at you and the way you see yourself.

Corporations, both for and non-profit, can purchase and build a geographical presence on Second Life just to get their name in the mix.  The geography in this realm is similar to the idea of a shopping center, where consumers flock to an anchor store and, as a residual effect, afterwards, go to a nearby store because they are in the area.  I found this proximity factor to be the most common way to have new experiences.  Walking through Second Life forces a user to naturally look towards what’s coming up next.

In many ways, radio stations on Second Life mimic those in real life. When an avatar teleports to his or her destination, venue authors and architects can have a selection of music or a radio station featured on the Second Life soundtrack.  Radio here sounds and behaves much like radio in real life, but in the virtual world users who are connected by the same music, and the same commercials share a bond.  Users can listen to a song and tell others to listen in, or stations may direct users to an area of Second Life where a promotion is being held.  Those who worry that radio is destined to extinction take heed.

The advertising in Second Life is directly derived from what we know as advertising in the real world, this allows users to easily adapt and respond to what they already know.  This familiar relationship to reality offers new users a comfort level to the strange new world they experience, and reinforces their power to create something meaningful within it.

Film Review: Page One: Inside the New York Times

227x227bbIn 2010, just as Page One: Inside the New York Times was being made, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was releasing the now infamous department of defense materials provided by Chelsea Manning.  As a result of some amazing access given to the filmmakers on behalf of the New York Times, viewers are able to get an inside look at some of the decisions that were made on a story of this magnitude as it was developing. Some may remember the first Wikileaks video release, it consisted of a view from an Apache helicopter camera, the crew, heard on the two-way approach the scene which they believe to be a gathering of Iraqi insurgency troops. The crew sends a barrage of fire into the scene, killing what looks to be five or so people. Witnesses in a van who noticed the situation pull up to assist the men. The pilot and crew, who, at the time, had no knowledge of the van occupants open fire until there’s no sign of life. The Times chose not to show the video on their website due to its graphic nature.  Several months later the paper ended up publishing a series of front page articles that went about releasing some of the reports given to them by Wikileaks. They divulged some of the more covert operations that went on in Iraq and Afghanistan. This discussion and others like it about what should and should not make the news is threaded throughout the film. What develops is a tapestry of who we were as a nation in ’10 and how we consumed news.  For news agencies, it was a changing of the guard in many ways. Papers across the nation needed to respond to audiences’ wavering attention spans, divergent appetites and choice of media.  Ultimately, many outlets were forced to stop the presses… for good.

Page One also profiles the Judith Miller and Jayson Blair, both of whom were accused of publishing false information. Blair had been accused of plagiarizing other reporters from different news outlets that were assigned to the same event.  On the other hand, Miller reported claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, coverage which was said to have brought the nation to war.  Unfortunately, for Americans, her sources turned out to be incorrect.

The documentary follows reporters on stories, covers reaction on the unveiling of the first iPad and shows what a round of 100 layoffs in one of the most prolific newsrooms in the world looks like. You can find it on Amazon Instant Video as of this writing.

Hulu Commerce: Part III

Hulu Commerce: Collecting Resources

On All Sides of the User

How Hulu collects and triangulates data, uses advertising,

and circulates content from vertical integration –

with one click of your mouse

Part III

Welcome back to my in-depth series on Hulu.  This company is a dominant force among its competitors; Hulu has access to a higher quality of content than Google Inc’s YouTube.com, they can perform behavioral targeting more effectively than broadcast, and like Netflix they have a paid service, but they also have commercials.  In today’s installment I’ll talk about why Hulu’s fundamental reason for existence, commercials, has put them above their competitors.

The problem that drove media conglomerates to team up to create Hulu was the seemingly unavoidable death of the commercial.  In 1999, TiVo came out with its digital video recorder (DVR) and since then cable and satellite companies have followed suit, they issue DVRs of their own making along with their service.   Consumers now had the ability to fast-forward through commercials, along with being able to start and stop live

Courtesy Engadget

programming, but TiVo also taught media conglomerates that the day of reckoning had arrived (Patel2009).  Hulu was set up to force its customers to sit through commercials. The company created the pre-roll “selector” which allows viewers to choose between  brands they’d like their commercial breaks to be composed of, it is an opportunity to interact that has been shown to improve attention spans for the ads. (Learmonth2010)  These video ads and their companion banners typically sell for around $40 CPM, and 70% of the yielding goes back to the content providers.  The remaining 30% doesn’t leave a lot left for Hulu, but the company was set up to service these parent companies (Learmonth2010), and having a pay wall now helps to supplement the earnings.

Courtesy US Congress

Election campaigns have also now become a considerable source of commercial revenue for Hulu.  Political media buyers have been ordering from Hulu since the Obama administration began their campaign, the company can now use data mining capabilities to target customers right down to zip code (Delo2011).  Traditional broadcast television, a mainstay for Democratic and Republican campaigns, has too wide a gate when advertising in most district elections.  Much of the time a campaign is wasting money on people that live outside of a district, but Hulu has a sharper focus on such an area.

Who knows what future projects companies may be able to do with customer data such as Facebook posts, emails and registration details?  Perhaps it will be much more valuable or incriminating in the future.  Advertisers are already well versed in manipulating consumers into buying a product, what if data mining techniques become so precise that the consumer has no choice but to make a purchase?  If they know who we’re talking to, what we’re talking about, where we go shopping, what we had for dinner yesterday would they be able to engineer something that could evoke a response of their choosing?

A search into studies regarding data mining will lead you to conclude that advertisers now have psychoanalysis 2.0 at their disposal: not only do they know us as a people, they’re starting to understand us as individuals, and when they can develop software designed to guide each one of us to their wishes, then who will watch the watchers?  Could this rouse lawmakers to propose government regulations?  Will the government, fearful of more recession, choose to allow it to go on?  With power comes responsibility; consumers should come to expect ethical treatment from media companies.  These corporations should extend the professional courtesy that we all expect in face to face relationships, because that’s how intimate technology has allowed us to become.

Thank you for reading about Hulu, I think everyone could learn a little something more about a company who’s going to be a big part of our entertainment future.

Works Cited

Learmonth, Michael. “Hulu’s A Towering Success–Just About Every Way But Financially.” Advertising Age 81.13 (2010): 1-31. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 10 Jan. 2012.

Delo, Cotton. “Hulu Makes Play For 2012 Political Dollars As TV Ad Prices Heat Up.” Advertising Age 82.41 (2011): 2-26. Academic Search Complete. Web. 12 Jan. 2012.

Liston, Ed. Hulu Decides to Quit Shopping for a Buyer. The Stock Market Watch. N.p. (2011). Web. Jan. 2012.

Patel, Nilay. “Ten Years of TiVo: how far we haven’t come” Engadget (2009): Web. Jan. 2012.

Hulu Commerce: Part II

Hulu Commerce: Collecting Resources

On All Sides of the User

How Hulu collects and triangulates data, uses advertising,

and circulates content from vertical integration –

with one click of your mouse

Part II

Welcome back to my in-depth series on Hulu.  This company is a dominant force among its competitors; Hulu has access to a higher quality of content than Google Inc’s YouTube.com, they have a paid service, and they can perform behavioral targeting more effectively than broadcast.  In today’s installment I’ll talk about data mining and the company’s new production arm, “Hulu Presents.”

Courtesy Yao Micro

Hulu uses another tactic in its multifaceted approach to making money.  Data mining is a process wherein the company creates software that trolls through the entire catalogue of its customer data, unearthing demographic information that can be sold to third parties or used to promote other content on the site (Hulu 2011).  Hulu uses a combination of three methods in the process of mining your data: they explore what you programming is watched, what you post on social networks, they collect information about you through “cookies” that your computer keeps a log of, and they send out web beacons that track emails you send, and other sites you look at (Hulu 2011).  A user’s computer stores this information, it collects data on where and when sites were visited,  performs data comparisons: last names, addresses and phone numbers.  Hulu may then deploy marketing that is location specific to the user; in other words when you log in anywhere in the world you are letting them know where you are so they can instantly tap into their arsenal of advertisers for that region.  In addition customer data is sold to third party advertisers and social networks.   Media buyers for Democrat and Republican campaigns find this data especially attractive during an election year; I’ll talk more about data mining later when I get to commercials.

Hulu is also engaged in production work, Hulu Presents is the video and film production arm of the corporation.  I had the chance to watch one of the eight series, documentary director Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me) created a series called A Day in the Life.  Media Mogul Richard Branson, owner of Virgin-Atlantic, is the first to be profiled.  Reality TV is one of the least expensive genres of programming, and if it’s done well and has audience

Courtesy Hulu

appeal (e.g. BravoTV’s Real Housewives, MTV’s Jersey Shore) it can be a goldmine.  If the company can create a show of their own, market it with their own commercials, then they could climb the mountain of vertical integration.

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