We are all Big Brother

And we are all Winston Smith.

Those, of course (or maybe not of course if you have not read the book), are aspects of one of the great novels of all time – 1984. Published in 1948 (hence where the title comes from) and written by George Orwell.

I have read it a couple of times – the first being in High School. The second after college – which I appreciated more than the first read. Not sure if it was because I was older – or because it was my choice and not part of a course curriculum. I was fascinated by the hyped idea of predictions. I was sadly disappointed when there were no outright predictions during the first read. Again, it wasn’t until the second read that I saw the predictions for what they were – amazingly insightful narratives put forth by Mr. Orwell.

I think to a lot of people the power aspect was Room 101, Big Brother and the spin used in selecting words for description – Ministry of Love (read torture), DoubleSpeak, etc. Yes, those three main aspects were controlling and all powerful – in an omnipotent kind of way.

In looking back on the novel and seeing where we are (30 years past the time the novel took place) 66 years after it was first published I see some other more disturbing predictions. Here are a couple:

UnPersons

The premise in the book to ‘erase’ someone from history. No evidence, no existence. Orwell based this aspect on a Stalin practice – where photos were re-touched to remove people that had fallen out of favour (read killed). For the longest time this was in the hands of experts. People that could do this with skill. Not today – anybody with PhotoShop or any online Raster-based image-editing software can have access to a massive erase button. And it’s not limited to still images. Video is vast becoming the next realm of adding and deleting for content.

Thought-crimes

Winston Smith’s neighbour (Parsons) was turned into the authorities for having thoughts against the state (while he was sleeping no less)  – by his own daughter. He admits to Winston that he is relieved to have been caught and his thoughts corrected. We don’t need people we know to do this anymore. It can, and is anyone. We have smartphones and CCTV feeds that allow any of us to collect data (ideas and photos) and distribute them without any inkling of understanding to the situation they’re reporting. Some make their way to group-judgement websites. Now, I’m not defending or condemning these site – these are just examples.

You park like an asshole.

People of Walmart.

Clients from hell.

We are all in the same boat – we are all Big Brother by judging and being a voyeur (and recorder) to the lives and apparent missteps of others (guilty-pleasure confession – I love the sites listed). And we are a text or photo away from being Winston Smith – unaware of that telescreen behind the painting.

I think it’s time to read 1984 again.

What’s your biggest social media (big brother) fear?

 

Face(book)ing your level of creepiness

Social media is a weird and bountiful collection of amazing, cool, average, mediocre and creepy moments – both online and off.

I have a friend on Facebook™ who is in the same line of work – we’ve meet, but we aren’t friends per se. You know what I mean, we all have people like that online. Hell, as a comedian I have people connected to me that I’ve never meet. That’s the life of being social online.

There is nothing about this person that is bad in any way. He is good at what he does – and I respect him on a number of levels. He routinely posts pictures of himself in and out of the limelight. Again nothing new in this world of selfiedom. Here’s where it starts to get creepy – or at least awkward. Many of these pictures contain his wife.

I’ve never meet her. I’m sure she is a great person. I’m not trying to say it in that sarcastic way – really! I’m sure she’s wonderful. But I’m going to repeat – I’ve never meet her.

Here’s the issue.

I routinely pass by her on on my way from the gym to the office. How do I know that it is her? Trust me – I’ve seen enough photos to know – it’s her. And each time I’m tempted to say hey – how’s this and that. But I restrain myself – because even if I was able to explain myself: Yeah, I sort of know your husband – and I’m familiar with your life because of Facebook – so therefore…

where are you going? why you running? wait up!

See – creepy! I can’t wait to meet her for real – then I will gladly engage in a conversation that doesn’t start with – This is going to sound weird, but …

What’s your best creep moment?

Who’s social now?

For all the advertising that happens – for all that paid awareness – the true influence has been word-of-mouth. Don’t get me wrong, awareness is a key element in the process of word-of-mouth. But awareness does not close the sale.

Everyday we are surrounded by so many images and messages that they become environmental wallpaper, blending into the background with sublime camouflage. What is it that makes us take notice?

There has been advertising and marketing for a long time. And the arsenal at the disposal of companies moving those messages keeps increasing. From old-school approaches like billboards to new-fangled enterprises like twitter and pinterest. But for all that exposure, it’s word-of-mouth – still.

Interesting that we are moved by our friends using the same platforms. There is a certain disgust, stand-off that happens when we get a paid ad in our Facebook feed. But, if a friend makes a note about a product, service or even a show you are more likely to consider. So word-of-mouth still exists – it will always exist. All that is changing are the megaphones that we use – it was in person, then the phone, now it’s social media.

What will the future of word-of-mouth be?

Where does your brand start?

Or, more importantly, where does your brand stop?

Years ago buying products meant going to a store (physically) or at least opening up a catalogue (sorry America, that’s how it’s spelled). Side note: it’s weird how when I was a kid the notion of shopping from home seemed either rural, or something that you didn’t want to admit. And now, with this Internet and World Wide Web — it’s almost a trend!

Today, brands are reaching out in so many different ways – both to sell and to create awareness (which eventually creates sales, so I’m told). Whether it be traditional advertising, social/digital marketing, websites or in-store. And in some case, stores. For example, Apple – you may have heard of them. They make a few consumer products. They had a great leader – but he’s dead now. Yeah, that Apple.

Hard to believe that the First one opened in 2001, or that there are 421 (as of this date) worldwide. Apple wanted to have their own experience when showcasing the products. Ultimately they wanted control over that experience – hence the reference to the dead leader, Steve Jobs. I think he understood more than anyone the importance of owning your brand – not just physically, as in the products. But almost spiritually – how the store allowed you to move, how you interacted with the products and overall be in the mindset of Apple.

Above and beyond that Apple has moved to taking that control further. Basically having mini stores in other retailers. It’s not uncommon to find an Apple display in a Best Buy or a  WalMart. It’s part and parcel of having that power – the sales weight combined with an unflinching attitude. But, that approach is slowly seeping into other brands. Now you can be standing in front of a branded sales area for Beats (by Dr Dre) or Bose, or a few more. And the real estate that they take up varies. Depending of course on product depth and how much they’re willing to pay for that space.

It is quite a natural progression for brands that are setting their own tone – through product development, unique product offerings and stand-out company personalities. It’s really just another place to harness and expose a brands wherewithal.

Where will the next level of brand-takeover be?

How small is your brand?

Often, we see the world of brands in terms of large – and derivatives of such. Numbers point to the worldwide retail locations of Apple; burgers sold in a McDonald’s; how many Subway restaurants you can see in one block.

But, big branding is also about small branding.

How often have you looked at the tiny aspects of any product – are they an extension of the brand? Or just some off-the-shelf component. Over the years I’ve been amazed at the attention to detail (and to the brand) so many companies have worked at to convey. The best example I can think of right now (there are countless more) is the Nike logo that appears on the pull-tab, on a zipper, on a my sports bag. This swoosh is maybe 8 points in size (take that metric system!). It is embossed in the plastic – therefore only visible if you look carefully and the light catches it the right way.

There are larger versions of the swoosh on the bag itself. And on this bag they are subtle – being applied as if a version of using Varnish on a print piece. That actually was one of the reasons I purchased the bag. I was not wanting a flashy item, but I did want it to be a Nike.

There are myriad brands around the world that are recognized by a shape (e.g., Coke), colours (e.g., IKEA) and design (e.g., Ferrari). But all of these cases, and many more, the true beauty is in the details that each of these companies put into their iconic artifacts. It’s something that we all could be better at – whether it be a multi-national or a personal brand. How many people put the effort into customizing their social media exposure – twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn pages, etc. Hey I’m the first to admit – I don’t do as much as I should for my own brand.

Do you?

Is advertising an option?

There is a tremendous amount of focus on social and digital media – relative to pushing a brand forward in these turbulent times. Many books have been, and will be, written about this topic – from Seth Godin to Mitch Joel. Including relative newcomers with such lofty titles for their books like Social Media is Bullshit.

It would be great if all the hurdles of marketing could be solved by applying just digital and social media (d&sm). It would be. But ultimately impossible.

There are a lot of positive stories associated with d&sm – kickstarter, warby parker and many more. But the biggest companies are still the biggest companies – Starbucks, McDonalds, Nike – you know the rest of the list. You know the list because they never stop advertising. I’m sure there are people in this world that do not know the companies I’ve listed. There has to be. Surely, somewhere – people don’t know what Nike is, or what they make.

But for the other 98.4%* of this water-based sphere – those companies are ubiquitous. And one of the main reasons – advertising. Sure they are getting busy in the d&sm space – but their world-wide presence is cemented by hard-core advertising.

It’s not just that they advertise – they Advertise. All the time.

And I think the take away on this for all is – whatever your channel of promotion – fill it all the time. The areas of d&sm are like children – and what I clearly remember the judge saying is that children need (read are legally required) to be feed.

*this stat may, or more likely may not be accurate.

Two problems with one project

Recently, a York University student requested to not work with women on a group school project. This request was based on the students’ strict religious beliefs. I take two issues from this exercise in delicate manoeuvring – both on the part of the student and the administration of York.

I’ll get this out of the way – I don’t care if you want to work only with guys, women, characters from Avatar, etc. I think that is what freedom allows you to do. And if that is truly the case here, the student should not have picked a post-secondary institution that is close to 70% women in population. He most likely should have gone to an all-male school, in an all-male country – that of course being The Vatican. Although I get the feeling the student would have had other issues. Just guessing.

A lot of people have and will write on this topic – whether it be religious expression or a misogyny adventure.

My other issue – and one that is becoming a big issue – is of course Group Projects.

Can we, now, start the process of eliminating 90% of all group projects in schools. Please.

Firstly, I’ll ask as a parent. Watching your kids struggle with groups projects is painful. Knowing that not everyone contributes equally, knowing that a group of four or five will have the lions share of the work done by two. Trying as you can as a parent to quell stress and calm fears. Hoping that there will be some sort of benefit to this exercise – but there isn’t.

Secondly, I’ll ask as a professional in an industry that hires individuals. Schools, stop allowing teachers to assign group projects. I understand that it’s far easier to mark six assignments than 30. I get it. But as a person that sees the portfolio of potential employees I am encountering far too many group projects. In some portfolios it’s been over 50% of the work been presented. How can I evaluate the potential skill and ideation of someone if their work is clustered in with masses?

Lastly, as a former college instructor, I hated the thought of giving out a group assignment. And therefore I didn’t. Here’s why from a teaching standpoint group projects suck. All of those students will leave and go searching for employment (or maybe graduate school) as individuals. At no point will that part of the journey be in groups. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the thought of a group project. Getting people to understand how to interact in a group dynamic, to get along – not kill someone. Yep, I see it. Cause more often than not you’ll be working in an office – not alone – with other carbon-based lifeforms.

But, in the real-world, you tend to work with people that have different skill-sets. Designers work with writers, account people work with media buyers. Teams are people that play different positions – if you had a hockey team of all goalies – well, you can imagine how that would not work out at all.

If colleges and universities truly want to expand the experience of group projects and make it remotely applicable – then the groups need be made up of students from different disciplines. But that would require a group effort from the administration – which seems to be the stumbling block. Ironic.