There’s no beating around the bush: cancer sucks. Chances are you know about that first, second, or even third hand. So why not do something about it? Why not grow a mustache? “Movember” is the name of the global campaign for raising awareness about prostate cancer and mental illness in men. From their official about page:
During November each year, Movember is responsible for the sprouting of moustaches on thousands of men’s faces, in Canada and around the world. With their “Mo’s”, these men raise vital funds and awareness for men’s health, specifically prostate cancer and male mental health initiatives.
Just last year, Movember raised 127 million dollars worldwide1. Grooming for a good cause? Count me in. And I need your support. This month is going to be Smarterbits’s Momembership month. Here’s how you can participate:
Make a donation through my Movember profile and I’ll hook you up with a lifetime membership. You can donate any amount. Just click the ‘donate to me’ button under my mugshot.
If you sign up for a renewing membership through my membership page, your first payment will go towards my Movember donations, AND I’ll match your initial donation myself, up to a maximum total of $300.
If you are already a member, this month’s payment is going to the cause.
And in the meantime I will try to grow a decent moustache for you all to enjoy. In fact, I encourage you to grow your own too.
CAD, ok? It’s still alot. ↩
Let’s get the snark out of the way. From the looks of it, it seems we’ve discovered who the Galaxy Note is designed for: the enormous hands of NBA superstars. In Lebron James’s palm, the Galaxy Note II seems like… a Galaxy S3. (Honestly, I couldn’t even tell until they showed the name at the end.) That aside, I wanted to talk about this new commercial from Samsung because it’s probably the best smartphone commercial I’ve seen from anyone in quite some time. The spot is fun, captivating, informative, but most of all it comes off as effortless. You might even say cool. And yes I’m talking about Samsung.
The first and most obvious reason why this ad works is Lebron James himself. His performance never looks contrived or forced. It’s a small miracle that someone hasn’t talked Lebron James into a role on some major motion picture.1 James has amassed a fantastic resume of commercials over the years, which I’d attribute to both his otherworldly charisma and comfort in front of the camera. In particular, I think the fact that James’s considers himself just another regular dude with regular friends like the rest of us is what makes him so endearing and relatable.2
In this instance we watch as he’s going around town on the day of the NBA season opener: eating breakfast with his family, getting chased around by fans, grabbing a taco, visiting the barbershop, and getting dressed in a locker room with the faint but looming roar of thousands. There’s nothing special about it but consider how much more natural it comes off than Apple’s series of Siri commercials which employed a similar concept and casted actual bonafide movie stars. The premises to those Zoe Deschanel/Samuel Jackson/Martin Scorsese are ostensibly the same, but they feel like characters in an overly polished Williams & Sonoma showroom, not famous people letting us catch a glimpse into their lives. Those commercials are an instance of Apple’s attention to polish and detail working against them. In abstract spots such as all those utilitarian ‘hand on a white background’ iPhone spots, the production polish helps makes the otherwise uneventful visuals shine. It even works to create an aura of magic in those early iPad spots, where we yearn to be the one under the sheets being bewildered by dinosaurs again for the first time. In the case of the Siri campaign however, the too-even lighting, the way they phones are held all to perfectly to frame the device, and the obviously scripted narrative creates a kind of uncanny valley where we know right away what’s in front of us is fake. The magic is lost. We know that it’s Zoe Deschanel acting in a fake version of Zoe Deschanel’s life that’s supposed to feel like a real version of Zoe Deschanel’s life.
It’s precisely that lack of polish — the absence of perfection, in the world of Samsung/James’s spot that makes it believable and allows us lose ourselves in it. And because the ad doesn’t try to build a narrative around any one specific feature of the phone, events seem to unfold organically. Who doesn’t let their kids play with their phones over breakfast? I too would be watching a video if I was lying down on the floor silently getting stretched by a physiotherapist. And I actually do tweet pictures of my shoes (only sometimes ok?). Again, the ad generates fun and interest by feeling effortless. That’s what allows the scripted glimpse into James’s life to feel plausible. And feigning effortlessness has to this point been’s Samsung’s Achilles’s heel.
Why Samsung is able to feign effortlessness this time around is because they’ve finally produced a campaign that doesn’t acknowledge the existence of the iPhone or try and comment on the meta-commentary surrounding Samsung and Apple. Simply put, it doesn’t try and pander to the tech crowd. Even if there’s some element of humour in some ofthose Galaxy S3 spots, building a script around turning the success of your main competitor into some laughable flaw comes off as the ploy of someone who’s decidedly in second place and is sour about it. Many have made the comparison to Pepsi’s own marketing, which often hinges around talking down or mocking Coca-Cola. While that might be true in spirit, I think we can conclude that Samsung’s ad agency isn’t as skilled at pulling off mockery that doesn’t come off as insecurity.3 The result is even worse when Samsung tries its hand at replicating the magical world building of Apple’s commercials and crawls through its own series of contrived scenarios designed to stimulate emotions that immediately comes off as fake. I’m getting a little reflux just thinking about slow motion shots of a couple gazing into each other’s eye’s as their phones touch to share god knows what over NFC.
The secret to effective movie making, which turns out to also be the secret to effective advertising, is that emotions have to be dangled as threads for the audience to unravel. We have to be left alone to come to our own conclusion. That this new Galaxy Note II ad contains none of it’s previous propaganda is what allows it to succeed. Without some agenda or message it’s determined to beat us over our heads with, Samsung finally gives the Galaxy line its own identity as a phone, one that doesn’t have to live within the shadows of another.
Try to recall all your favourite movies with athletes in the leading role to understand why it’s a miracle. I’m sure many of you will point out Space Jam, but I’d argue that one is the exception that proves the rule. And having seen it in adulthood, I can assure you, it’s not as good as you remember. ↩
I don’t think it’s just a public persona either. From everything I’ve read or seen about the man, I really think the predominant trait that defines Lebron James is his desire to surround himself with friends and family. Parse through all the significant events and details of his life, and the public’s reaction to them, and I think what rises to the surface is an enduring attempt on his part not to become isolated from the everyday world the more famous and prominent he becomes. (Otherwise known as the standard paradox of fame and success.) Contrast this with Michael Jordan, who always seemed to embrace his position as the centre of attention. He chased and enjoyed the notoriety of being the king of the mountain. Even in commercials, MJ is always utterly alone and isolated in his world. That’s not to say he wasn’t as charismatic or magnetic as James, but my feeling is that Michael Jordan was attractive because we wanted to be him, while Lebron James is attractive because we want to know him. ↩
Consider how much of a gamble it is for Samsung to include so many inside jokes based around specific anti-Apple sentiment stemming from a very specific segment of the tech-community. I understand where the digs about the iPhone 5 being perceived as a jewel come from, but I’m not convinced that joke has a very broad reach. And who should be the target of a primetime national ad campaign: the blasé nerd keeping a spot in an iPhone line for his parents, or the parents themselves? ↩
Marco Arment lifted the veil off his much anticipated new app, surprising many with an app-published magazine with a form-eponymous name that raises — and itself asks — lots of questions. The content of this inaugural issue is for the most part1 anodyne; subscribers to Read and Trust will feel right at home, as will anyone who’s browsed a decent blog in the last decade. My impression is that the magazine was inspired by the blog, written by blog writers, and meant for blog readers. And so the whole thing’s raison d’être is a big question mark for me. Marco believes The Magazine sits in a “category between individuals and major publishers” but I can’t, at least so far, distinguish how its content does anything to occupy a space that isn’t already littered with minimalist Wordpress themes.
Reading through Marco’s foreword fails to provide any examples of the new and/or experimental. The content is positioned as being for geeks but not about technology, in other words the stock and trade of blogs. In this first issue you’ll find the same meta-commentary, GTD personality analyses, love letters to sports, and personal introspection you’d find filling your RSS or Twitter stream any other day. The intentionally bare bone layout is great for speed and readability but does nothing to build an interesting foundation for text to build on, something magazines were designed to do. Even the pitch, with its call to arms for content ownership and disdain for traditional media, is familiar. The only perceivable differences (or similarities if you’re on the magazine side of things) are a preference for longer form writing, a publishing platform that’s universally loathed, and a payment scheme that’s been collecting dust in the internet’s closet for a long time. I am curious however about how the latter example has the potential to fill a gaping hole in web publishing. The Magazine actually addresses the topic itself with an article from Guy English:
A business model where the author only occasionally writes longer pieces can’t be sustained — there’s too much time between pieces for sponsorships to work, and daily site traffic will be so low that ads won’t work well either. A Linkblog format offers the author a way to keep consistent traffic, be a constant voice in the greater conversation, and buy time between more in-depth pieces without losing audience interest.
The optimist in me sees The Magazine as an attempt to solve this problem while the pessimist sees ancillary income for the semi-independant link-blogger who’s long-formed thoughts aren’t as profitable on his homepage. There’s opportunity here, but for now Marco’s vision of — and for — the magazine (common) seems better espoused by sites like Thought Catalog, the New Inquiry, or what the Atlantic and the Verge could be if they weren’t beholden to precisely the issues The Magazine is attempting to defeat. And if it doesn’t, then the worst that could happen is that this project turns into a blog centric, shortlist version of The Feature. Albeit one that can actually pay its writers.
Going back to forms for a second, perhaps my biggest question is why Arment felt he had to create another platform to foster long form, non-traditional, financially viable writing. Wasn’t that Instapaper’s destiny? Isn’t it already poised to accomplish what he’s setting out to do with The Magazine? You might even argue Instapaper is in a better position given its popularity among a new generation of readers that want to be the the gravitational center of the content they consume. From the readers perceptive The Magazine is a throwback to the old traditions. Yet this is true only if you believe that the magazine serves only at the reader’s leisure, or that it’s only meant as a compliment to Instapaper. For one it’s probably better suited for the economic stuff. OneWayback Machine trip to Readability.com shows how difficult it is to turn the Instapaper model into a viable living for the independent writer. Could the app-publication’s master end up being the writer? As long as interests and intentions align, there’s no reason why The Magazine couldn’t succeed where Readability failed.2 Maybe that’s enough to justify The Magazine’s existence (blog-centric Readlist or otherwise). Playing along with that possibility would mean Arment is henceforth offering two solutions to the nagging plights of reading in the 21st century: One that empowers the reader, and another for the writer to wield. Whether both succeed or fail, at least there’s someone out there bored by the idea of reinventing publishing only once.
The expression “plant” a basketball is so revealing of one’s lack of knowledge of the sport that I half wonder whether Jason Snell is actually using it to drive his point home. That not being the case, misfit sport-jocks should be aware that one can nail a three-pointer, sink 100% of his free-throws, be nothing but net from downtown, or possess a smooth stroke that never hits anything but twine. But one never plants a jump shot. ↩
Note for the confidence weary: the 4-week deadline to profitability before the plug is pulled doesn’t seem like an idea hatched by someone in it for the long haul. ↩
This week on the show voted as Clipperton Island’s number 1 lovemaking podcast, the Techblock’s Abdel Ibrahim joins us to talk about whatever it is people are talking about this week when it comes to gadgets. Did a new MP3 player come out? I don’t remember. Can a phone save the economy? Not if it’s a Lumia.
Sponsored by no one.