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Goals for Better Collaboration in 2021

It’s a new year, and that brings a great opportunity to assess workflows to better serve company objectives. There could easily be an article dedicated to each step of a project’s process, but this take is more of an overview to getting the best results and design executions. 

Many mistakenly try to problem-solve from the start. To put it simply: companies often fall in love with the wrong solution. For example, a company could come to us and say, “We need to create an app to grow sales.” But is an app the best solution? Could something else come from collaboration?

Assessing past workflows

Our company, as with many worldwide, was forced to pivot in our collaborative process when offices shut down due to the pandemic. What was working with our workflow in February could not entirely be applied to any workflow we’ve had the remainder of the year. For us, that meant our collaborative thinking and whiteboard scribbles within a brainstorming meeting had to be processed through more cloud-based systems. 

Fortunately for our teams, we had already been working in many useful systems, including Google Drive, Invision and Slack. Assessing, and changing, workflows can be a delicate balance. At one point it is good to let your team get a feel for a system and how it works best for them, but if something new comes along that works better it’s important not to ignore new processes or programs because you’ve fallen into comfortable habits. 

Finding new processes

This isn’t just about programs or cloud-based needs. Although we’ve looked into other creative ways to share, like Jamboard or Microsoft Teams, we have also evaluated and updated the types and frequency of meetings to allow for a collaborative environment while we work remotely.

The end goal of your process should be to create an open space for the strongest collaboration. This leads to more creative thinking and better strategies overall. Thinking in this way, it’s also important to use cloud-based systems that are easily accessible to everyone, be it your internal team or clients that are part of the initial process. 

Even within programs, taking advantage of all that is offered can really boost collaboration. Don’t just use Google Spreadsheets to track projects, take advantage of the comments feature to tag and assign tasks, track changes, or update notifications so everyone is aware of new and changing ideas. 

Collaborating with clients

Client collaboration can be very impactful, but is not always within scope. This may be due to client needs, project timelines, or other reasons. But whether or not a client is included, it’s helpful within the process to hone the big ideas into one focused direction. 

If a client is included, this can mean analyzing feedback internally to find that focused direction. Or it could include simple artboards or design concepts to allow everyone, including the client, to be on the same page with next steps. 

In the end, better collaboration begets better strategy. And both of those lead to the best outcomes, designs and executions for every project.

Consumers vs. Marketers & Native Mobile Advertising

Not shockingly, the average person looks at their phone 200 times a day. But only 10% of that time is spent browsing the web; The rest of the time is spent using native apps. Unlike like traditional cookie-based tracking typical in PPC advertising, the insights gathered on users via native apps has virtually no bounds. On an aggregate level, marketers can collect data on age, gender and behavior such as where you ordered dinner or where you went to happy hour etc. All this data, but what are they doing with it? The more marketers know about their users, the more they can tailor advertisements and that’s exactly what they want. Creep factor aside, some would say this works in the user’s interest because marketers are more likely to present ads you’re actually interested in seeing. However, most users only see ads as an annoyance they instinctively “skip” or ignore. And with ad blocking software becoming more ubiquitous in web browsers (80% of Americans will be using some kind of ad blocker by 2017), that makes tracking in native apps the most logical path. Not to mention, some estimate that up to 1/3 of PPC traffic is fraudulent (that translates to $7.2B in 2016). That doesn’t make it easy to place the right ad in front of the right person at the right time. Brands and marketers still need to be smart and careful about how they position themselves in a market where consumers are becoming increasingly concerned with privacy and jaded with the typical banner ad or “pre-roll” video.

I attended a meet-up during Internet week hosted by Jun Group, presented by their CEO Mitchell Reichgut titled “Don’t Call it a Phone – How to Advertise on Smartphones and Tablets in the Age of Applications.” Here are key insights on how to stay ahead of the herd and adjust your digital marketing strategy to meet this ever changing market:

  • No interruptions: That means absolutely no auto-play ads (that you can’t skip) and no pop-ups – ever.
  • Consider context: How and where users see your content is just as important as the content itself. Opt for custom placement (visible, relevant but not in the way) and tailor content specifically to the website or app’s audience. Yes, this will require development of more versions of ads but it’s worth it in the long run.
  • Know where your ads are: Many advertisers buy placement but don’t really know exactly what websites or apps will display them and what placement they’ll receive.
  • Look at media differently: it doesn’t always have to be banner ads or pre-roll videos. Many marketers have had success with value exchange programs within games. For example, a user might be asked to watch a 30 second video (between levels) in exchange for bonus points or a gameplay advantage. However, be careful that the games demographics align with your intended audience, which can be tricky to figure out.

Above all, measurement is the most important component of a successful ad campaign. Some of the above tactics may actually result in seemingly less impressive metrics but If you’re still measuring the success of your campaigns on impressions and clicks alone, don’t forget there’s a good chance much of that data is fraudulent.

Future of Web Design NYC 2015: Some Takeaways

Flightpath has been sending team members to the Future of Web Design Conference for many many years now. We returned this year for a couple of days of education and inspiration. As our team tends to keep up-to-date on all the new design trends, this conference is not so much about learning something brand new but inspiring us to implement new ideas by hearing about things others are actively doing, in person. I have always found that the folk presenting at FoWD not only “talk the talk” but they “walk the walk.” and have the battle scars to prove it.

Every person takes away something different from these conferences, but in general, here are some of our takeaway lessons:

Everything About the Future is Now

Before we can even get into the specifics, ask yourself: are you trying to be different? Do you believe you’re doing everything you can to put out the best product? Whether you’re on the design, or coding, or management team, are you continuing to do things the same way that you did yesterday, or are you looking ahead and embracing new changes? We all find comfort in consistency and routine, but chances are you’re missing out on something big, new, or even better. Adaptive designers should find comfort in flexibility and in knowing that the future of web design is here; we just have to be willing to embrace it.

Collaboration & Ownership

Staff your projects with team members who truly collaborate across all stages of the project. A sense of belonging and ownership should permeate through each person. Use software that provides teams with a single platform to communicate, track and share ideas on. Collaboration should be present throughout the entirety of any project. Encourage ownership by fostering the philosophy that everyone’s ideas – good or bad – can offer value.

Design and Prototype in Code

While static mockups may have a place at the very beginning of a design phase, very soon in the process, still comps become inadequate to demonstrate to stakeholders – and more importantly testers (see User Testing) – how things work from a dynamic, interactive and multiple screen-size perspective. Flightpath designs experiences that are unique for the user from device to device. Static mockups fail to demonstrate these diverse interactions during the critical design phase. Web designers should never sit idle or wait for visual QA to find inconsistencies or inaccurate excecutions of the original designs. For design teams whose designers don’t code, provide a system in which they can learn and have hands on experience with coding. Think of Photoshop, Sketch, etc. mock-ups as mere design concepts that you can flush out and iterate as needed in code.

User Testing

Everything we do is to serve the user. Business goals, stakeholder opinion, designer intuition, etc. mean nothing if the users don’t understand the interface or believe there is an easier solution to their task/problem. As much as possible, include user testing throughout the process of designing a project. Even a half an hour of user testing a week can go a long way to hone design decisions. Experience can only take you so far, and relying only on designer experience, with or without client input and direction, will increase your risk of missing the best option or even risk the failure of the design entirely.

Minimum Viable Product

“Less is more” is an adage we often use, as we find apps and sites are frequently ‘over-featured’ to the point they are very hard to use. Try to design, build and release product in iterative fashion. Arrive at something that is a minimum viable product (MVP), ship, get feedback and iterate. A minimum viable product doesn’t have to be weak – in fact, it ought to be good and useful, but it doesn’t have to do everything.  Trying to “bite off” too much at once often results in a compromised or over-complicated product which takes too long to release often with features that were unnecessary.

Even more than for learning about new ideas and techniques, we find these conferences are an excellent place to find a wake up call. When we take home ‘homework’ and scrawled notes about new things others are doing, we come back to the workplace inspired not only to employ the new strategies we’ve learned, but to build on them, and continue to adapt and improve our approach to design.

A Look at the New Facebook “Reactions”

On Thursday, Facebook gave us a look at their new “Reactions.” Unfortunately, the Reactions are just being tested in Spain and Ireland for the time being, but will add to the limited “like” button, introduced back in 2009.

Hitting “like” on Facebook is a way for users to give positive feedback, and to ensure that they are updated with regard to a topic or post, without all the commitment and effort of actually writing a comment. Although we don’t yet have an official release date, Facebook has responded to the overwhelming desire for a “dislike” button with their new spectrum of one-click responses, called Reactions.


Meet the new Reactions:

Facebook’s Reactions include the classic “Like,” along with Love, Haha, Yay, Wow, Sad and Angry. While this promises a much more articulate way of presenting input on posts for the average user, it will also serve as a diverse and emotional set of data for marketers and businesses using Facebook ads. As of now, Facebook’s newsfeed ranking algorithm will be calculating the reactions as likes, but they hope to learn more over time about the different ways marketers can use ‘loves’ versus ‘angries,’ and so on. For instance, a company might target people who’d marked “angry” on a competitor’s post, or double down on users who ‘loved’ a post, rather than ‘liked’ it.

With the recent change from billing marketers per ‘like’ and interaction, to focusing on product sales and app downloads, Facebook’s new feature will be able to provide a broader array of diverse data to advertisers, allowing them to mold their ads even more specifically.

These new emojis will do more than just allow you to “love” your friend’s new apartment; it will allow users to receive more ads targeted to their desires, and help advertisers to create content that makes you say “Yay!”

5 Things We Learned at SXSW Interactive

Hard to imagine it’s been 30 days since the Flightpath team set our sights on SWSW 2014. While the SXSW glow slowly fades, what remains is the energy and excitement about the work we do, the clients we serve and the enduring lessons we learned:
1.    If we’re too focused on the technology, we lose sight of the psychology
In this evolving digital world, nearly every IPO heralds a new tool that promises increased engagement (ooh!), better functionality (ahh!) and less ads (ohh!). But when we get so excited about the medium, do we lose sight of what we’re trying to share with consumers? That’s when campaigns fall flat.

During Jonah Berger’s session, What Drives Word of Mouth, he highlighted a need for marketers to gain understanding on why people talk and share. True understanding of human psychology will help us create the right message to reach our brand advocates and get them talking. We were so jazzed after the session. We grabbed a copy of the book at the SXSW bookstore and have plans to reinstate our Flightpath book club with Berger’s Contagious as our first selection.
2.    Never underestimate the importance of strategery*
We’ll admit, we first went to this session based on its title: Go Home Marketing, You’re Drunk. And we weren’t disappointed. Kristina Halvorson broke down the importance of a clearly defined strategy in the content marketing space. If our goal is to create and distribute valuable, useful content to our audience, we need know what we’re saying and why we’re saying it. Without a smart strategy? We don’t have focus and will find ourselves working hard but not smart. Smart strategy provides us with the guardrails to know where we’re headed. If we do it right, we end up doing great work with both substance and integrity.
3.    We’ve seen the future, and it’s the debate over wearable technology
Walking around SXSW, we saw our fair share of Glassholes. But as these “explorers” lead us toward a new frontier of wearables, society is asking more questions than the experts are providing answers to at this stage.

During Glassholes: The Cultural Dissonance of Technology, panelists debated wearables as ushering in the next phase of human augmentation (or how we expand our own capabilities with technology). The biggest concern levied by the panelists and the audience was how wearables separate us from the physical world. The Google Glass enthusiasts argued (persuasively) that Glass allowed them to be connected without interference. Those on the other side of the issue felt that the very nature of the wearer using them was interference since unsuspecting bystanders would be drawn into the digital world without their consent. While nothing was solved by the end of the session, it made us think about the digital personas we spend so much time cultivating versus how to live an authentic life where we benefit from technology but aren’t ruled by it.
4.    Use social media for social good
What is a conference without free swag? The notorious stuff we all get was abundant in the exhibit hall. Hordes of people clustered around booths in hopes of securing a shirt, a tote or other tchotchke. But thanks to Twitter and the #SXSW hashtag, we discovered that all those random goodies that we didn’t really need (but couldn’t say no to) could go to a good cause. It made the exhibit hall experience a grab-bag game — how many tees (that you would never wear) could you snag for Austin’s Foundation for the Homeless? Finding the volunteers outside the Convention Center and dropping the goodies into their outstretched arms just felt right.
5.    The true lessons are revealed when you return
Sure, waiting in line for a chocolate chip cookie shot can be a fun way to spend an hour or two, but the real fun? Spending time with colleagues and learning from thought leaders and experts who are pushing the envelope and bringing new technologies forward, left us looking for connections on how we can harness the latest digital trends on behalf of our clients — to help them reach and engage with consumers in a meaningful way.
Until 2015…


*Kristina Halvorson even gave a shout out to Will Ferrell’s hilarious George Dubya character from Saturday Night Live.



Happiness is in the Marketing Air!

Spring is finally in the process of springing, Baseball and Budweiser are trying to get the national past time’s Opening Day to be a national holiday Budweiser Opening Day and even Pharrell William’s “Happy ” shows no pull back or wear out. Oscars or not, it just fills your head with happy.

It’s an amazing time to be alive and happy.  Marketers, can’t you just smell it?  I think people are more likely to part with their hard earned money when they’re happy. There’s tons of data regarding “sadness spending”, but volumes of emerging research in the role of happiness and positivity’s role in work and play.Gallop recently asked 350,000 people about happiness. December is the happiest month (and 12/25 is the happiest day!) The food, giving, gifting, spending spirit is hard to compete with.

Holidays aside,  April is a great opening act to all the warm weather, longer days and six months of airy lightness for much of the country. Why is this important?  Glad you asked! The exceptional work within the positive psychology movement validates for marketers that leading with emotionally compelling and meaningful “happy” messaging causes people to act and be more positively disposed.  Which translates to things like greater engagement, richer connection/stickyness and transactional conversion.  In other words, marketers acting happy may very well lead to more action.

Positive psychologist, author and TED extraordinaire Shawn Achor lays out a framework regarding flipping the “work to be happy” (i.e. finding the job of our dreams will lead to a happier life) to the idea of front loading happiness in inspiring productivity and many other positive outcomes in the job we’re already in.

So, the message to my fellow marketers on this sunny day as we start the beginning of April, is raise your happiness game. Could be in simplifying the message, more intuitive navigation or maybe just adding a wink or whimsy to a brand/category not known for it.  Just remember what the Joker said ”Why so serious?”

SXSW Sessions: The UX of Realtime Site Personalization

The static website is dying. We are at an age where having a website just isn’t good enough any more. With our attention spans constantly shortening, and typical web users multitasking, no one wants to dig through content to find what they’re looking for. Your site needs to know your user, and deliver them the content that they need, with as little effort as possible.

Currently the only major player that has come close to mastering their users needs is Google. I type in a search for “brunch”, and I am immediately presented with restaurants in my area, their user ratings, a map of their locations, and sites listing the top 10 best brunch spots in New York City. The utility navigation underneath the search bar, even rearranges itself making “maps” my second option right after search. I didn’t have to tell it I was in New York, or that I would be looking for the best brunch spots. Google simply knew what content I was looking for, and delivered it right to me.Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 10.12.37 PM

While all companies may not have the engineering geniuses at Google, let alone their budget, there are still accessible technologies available that can make your site more personalized for your individual users. Geolocating, media queries, and cookies are all technologies that we have at our disposal now, but I feel that the simplest method that can be implemented almost immediately is utilizing hard user data. Most sites are built now with some kind of analytics, tracking page views and click throughs of different users on different devices. That information can, and should be utilized in the design of your product.

There are certain assumptions can already be made about mobile, tablet and desktop users, and understanding their different needs and limitations is the first step in creating a more efficient experience for each device. Desktop users are typical stationary, they are in one place, and will be connected to a stronger internet connection, thus have the time to click through more pages, and the signal strenght to load them. A mobile user on the other hand, may not be stationary, or even connected to wifi, so they will not want to explore your site, or have the capacity to load additional pages. If we take that basic information into consideration, it is easier to create an experience catered to their specialized needs.

Hard numbers are also a great way to understand how your user is interacting with your site, and how to cater to them accordingly. For example, if you see your mobile users frequenting the “our location” section of your site, it may be a smart move to have the information at the ready when they visit your mobile homepage, rather than making them look for it. Your desktop user may have the time to sit and click through two pages to find your address, but your mobile user is possibly on the go, and may not be connected to a wi-fi hotspot. Making a change as simple as that gives your users a better experience, without using seemingly advanced technologies.

As long as we can learn from our users, and iterate accordingly, serving up a personalized web experience may be entirely within our reach.

Impressions from attending a SXSW session by Jesse Friedman

Apple TV Samsung Partnership?

Apple Inc.
Image by marcopako  via Flickr

Is Apple building a TV with iTunes built in? The big brother to the Apple TV sidecar?
I found some evidence recently that points to a match made in heaven. If Apple and Samsung can put down the legal briefs and realize there is more money to be made as partners than as enemies.

I’m talking about the Samsung 8000 series TVs, their apps and an amazing new browser.
So why do I say this?

You would think I am writing this from CES, but I’m not. Who needs CES when you can walk into any Manhattan Best Buy, talk nicely to the staff and they will start giving you the remote to every TV in the joint and gladly spend time nerding out with you. My husband built a system for capturing user agent strings. So when I recently tested on of the 8000 series TVs I loaded a few favorite test sites.

One of the pages I loaded saved the user agent string for me. I was able to open up a database tool and see this: Mozilla/5.0 (SmartHub; SMART-TV; U; Linux/SmartTV) AppleWebKit/531.2+ (KHTML, like Gecko) WebBrowser/1.0 SmartTV Safari/531.2+

Sure webkit is open source, and Smart TV appears in the user agent string three times. (wonder who wants to or is trademarking Smart TV…Samsung cough), but after more research on the string, the browser it is listed as Safari. Big deal? I think so.

Apple could have Foxconn or any other of their supplier/manufacturers in China build the Apple TV, there have been reports that  Apple is looking at bids from Foxconn and others to build the Apple TV, but Samsung has been building TVs since 1972. This experience coupled with Apple’s high expectations from its devices requires that they partner with someone. It’s just as easy for Apple to private label the Apple TV or iTV with just a little bit of tweaking.

Who better than your arch rival especially given Apple penchant for drama and buzz creating big reveals.

Apple is in a new realm with electronics manufacturers when it comes to consumer devices that are not in its purview. Panasonic, Sony, Toshiba- all of these companies have worked together for years to standardize and partner on technology sharing. In this area, Apple is the new kid on the block- but the coolest one in the room and as reported by Mashable this morning they have a stack of cash higher than the Empire State building.
Apple may be suing Samsung over the Galaxy tablet, but Apple needs a hardware manufacturer in place that can make iTV cheap.

Apple is making a big announcement at the Guggenheim next week, could it be a Samsung Apple partnership? Stranger things have happened. What do you think?

Interview: Indie Filmmakers on the Secrets of Crowdfunding with Kickstarter, IndieGoGo & Social Media

This past October, the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter reached its 1,000,000th individual backer since starting in 2009, with over $100,000,000 pledged to different projects in that time. Its peer IndieGoGo has helped raise money for over 50,000 campaigns since 2008. These crowdfunding platforms, combined with social media and other means of outreach, have become a powerful new model for funding a wide array of independent creative projects.

Flightpath caught up with two independent filmmakers who recently completed successful campaigns to glean their secrets. Jayce Bartok is an actor, screenwriter and director who’s appeared in projects from Spider-Man to The Station Agent and White Collar, and in January will show up in two features at Sundance. Jayce used IndieGoGo to raise over $20,000 to keep shooting Tiny Dancer, an indie drama he’s writing and directing. Award-winning documentary filmmaker Andrew Berends shot two films in Iraq that explore the conflict from the rarely-seen, ground-level view of Iraqis caught in the middle. He raised more than $16,000 on Kickstarter towards completing Delta Boys, about militants and oil in the Niger Delta.

Both were greatly empowered by their campaign experiences, but agreed there was no shortage of challenges.

Jayce Bartok: It was the hardest thing we’ve ever done. For those 60 days, it was just insane.

Andy Berends: Yeah. It’s awesome in a lot of respects, but I wouldn’t call it fun. For me, the first thing was you have to pretty much put aside your pride.

Jayce: Totally.

Andy: I had 184 backers but I probably directly contacted over 2,000 people, and indirectly maybe 3,000 – 4,000. For every backer, there’s probably 100 that ignored it and five that think I’m a jerk because I’ve been spamming them for a month straight.

Jayce: The first quarter of our campaign we were so far behind. Then we realized we have to email all of our contacts from A-Z. We had 15,000 contacts, and we emailed I would say at least 10,000 of them. That was what really drove it; once we started those personal emails, people started jumping on. But you’re right, you have to swallow your pride.

Andy: Which for me was a positive experience, because I err on the side of being too reserved and subtle. And that’s not how it works. That’s not how you sell your film, that’s not how you raise money. So it forced me out of my comfort zone.

Jayce: You need to be the total self-promoter and ask. It was an amazing experience for my wife and me. And for reconnecting with people. Maybe it’s been two or three years and you email someone, and all of a sudden they’re like, “Hey man, here’s $100.” But you can drive yourself crazy, because that guy down the block who’s like my best friend will not respond to my email.

Andy: As awesome as it is, it’s not free money at all. First of all, you have to have a project that people think is worthwhile. Second, you need to have a decent network of people who are willing to support you. And you have to do a lot of work. I worked hard to make my campaign and my video look good. I want people to say, he’s not just asking for free money. He’s put a lot of work into making this. You then have to be able to produce DVDs, t-shirts, all kinds of stuff.  You’re a full-on production/distribution company.

I raised $16,000. If it was $10,000, I would say it’s just barely worth it for what’s going to be a month-and-a-half of work. But it’s not just the money, it’s the publicity on top of that. And then there’s no question that it’s worth it. And the experience was worth it. But it’s not free money.

Flightpath: How did you reach the point of deciding to go on these campaigns?

Andy: If I were just starting the production, I wouldn’t feel comfortable asking all these people for money if I didn’t know I’d be able to finish the film. But now that I’m finishing it, I know I’m going to be able to deliver. That’s part of why I was ready. But it was also: Everybody’s doing it now. If I’m going to do it, now’s the time.

Jayce: We’re in the exact opposite place [with our project]. We decided to do it because I’m tired of having friends who are like, “You made The Cake Eaters a long time ago, and I’ve made five $30,000 films since then.” And we were just like, “Oh man, we gotta do this.”

We had this giant fundraiser event planned, and IndieGoGo was our safety net for people who couldn’t attend it. And ironically, that event netted us like $2,000 and we had all these wealthy people there and some celebrities. And then the IndieGoGo campaign that went to all our broke-ass friends got us 20-some thousand. It started as almost an after-thought.

Flightpath: One early model for indie film-backing online was getting micro-investments, as opposed to a straight donation. What are the differences there?

Andy: Investment 99% of the time is just a pipe dream. This does away with the pretense that you’re going to see a return. I never felt comfortable asking for investors, because it’s very hard for independent documentaries to break even, let alone make money. This is more straightforward. And also, you don’t get $50 investments. That’s when you’re going around looking for someone to give you $5,000 – $10,000.

Jayce: It’s part of the shift where people are giving locally. You’re helping this person make a project happen that they passionately believe in, as opposed to trying to say, “You’re going to get a 120% return.” If I give Andy $50, he’s going to create something that I feel really connected to and that I’m a part of.

Flightpath: Jayce, you did a 60-day campaign. Andy, yours was 30. How did you choose the length, and how much did you plan in advance for sustaining it?

Jayce: We had no clue what was going to happen. The first half of our 60 days, we didn’t raise that much. It was scary, like we’re not going to make our goal. And what I found is that everyone loves a winning team. When you get close to your goal, everybody comes out of the woodwork to give you money. They want to be the one who pushes you over the top. In retrospect, I’d probably focus on 30 days, knowing the last 15 would be super-intense.

Andy: And also because, it’s a full-time job. Kickstarter actually pushes you towards 30 days. They feel that’s the most efficient bang for your buck. On a 60-day campaign, maybe I would have raised another $1000. The people who come in at the last minute would have just waited another month. In twice as much time, I wouldn’t have raised twice as much money, but I would have had to work just as hard for two months.

Jayce: I do believe what you put into it, you get out of it. But at the same time, I don’t believe we could raise any more money than we did. You only have a certain amount of contacts.

We learned that for your project, this is a giant PR campaign with the added perk that you’re getting money. But you want to make your goal. You want to show that this is successful. With IndieGoGo we knew we could keep the money no matter what. But there was an incredible amount of pressure when we were so far under-performing, that we were like, “Oh my God, we’re spamming everybody and they’re going to know that we failed.” We were definitely sweating it.

Flightpath: What about the psychology of choosing the all-or-nothing model, as Andy did, versus the take-what-you-raise platform, like Jayce. I’d argue that all-or-nothing creates a bigger incentive to donate.

Andy: Absolutely. And it’s also a bigger incentive on me to make sure I hit the goal. Once you click “launch campaign,” the countdown is on, and your pride is on the line. The incentive is there to make sure I hit the goal. And some people looking at it would say, “He hasn’t reached his goal, I better kick in some money.”

Flightpath: Jayce, you were blogging for MovieMaker, and you made a lot of down-homey videos with your wife and your intern. What was the social media outreach strategy?

Jayce: We tried to listen to what IndieGoGo told us, that your video has to resonate with people personally. We sat on our stoop with our son and made a video and put the trailer at the end. We tried to keep in touch with videos.

We were very strategic about social networking. Besides personal emailing and posting every day on Facebook, we went on a limb and tried to get anyone who was vaguely famous to tweet or retweet. I had worked with Kevin Smith on Cop Out. I emailed him and didn’t hear anything, and then someone at MovieMaker said, “Hey, did Kevin’s tweet help you guys?” I was like, “What?” I looked and four days earlier, he’d tweeted, “Help Jayce Bartok’s movie.” And he’s got 1.5 million followers.

We were going to get MovieMaker subscriptions to give away to a certain donor level, and they said, “In return, will you blog about your crowdfunding experience for us?” And ironically, my blogging has been way more beneficial to our campaign.

Andy: You get analytics on your campaign. Unquestionably, Facebook is by far how I reached the most people. Through my personal page, plus I set up a page for the film. I also set up an event, so that I could invite all my friends on Facebook. And there’s a Facebook group that friends of mine set up while I was detained in Nigeria making the film, with almost 1,000 members. Of my 184 backers, 69 clicked through from Facebook. Almost half of the people, and 26% of the dollars.

I had this other awesome stuff. Sundance has a curated Kickstarter page, so I was on their page. Stranger than Fiction has a page. Rooftop Films has a page. Barely any donations came through that. But I was able to leverage that and say I was endorsed by all these organizations. The endorsement is huge. Sundance sent one tweet for me. And it helps. But for me, it was Facebook and personal messaging. Getting other people to post on their wall is how it really starts to build momentum.

Jayce: I am super-impressed, because my wife and I were partners in this, but you did it by yourself. I don’t really understand social media. She’ll be like, “Go email Kevin Smith.” And I was like, “Okay,” scared shitless. I couldn’t really coordinate all that on my own. I was really in charge of the personal emails. I did all those 15,000 contacts. I just wrote them one-by-one with a couple of personal sentences and then the cut-and-paste part, and my fingers were going to fall off. That was the most effective.

Flightpath: Beyond the money, how much awareness did this spread about your projects, and how does that create a foundation for the rest of the film’s life cycle? What starts now?

Jayce: Because we still need to go raise $75,000 more, we have all these statistics now and all these backers. Instead of floating out these bullshit business plans, where we’re going to take the movie to Sundance and sell it and get this rate of return, we can say we have 1,000 dedicated followers, and that equals this number right off the bat. We’re using this audience that we built and trying to leverage that to raise the rest of the money and apply for grants.

Andy: For me, I’ve actually sold more DVDs than I probably would have if I’d waited until I finished and sent an email to my friends. Nobody’s going to buy the DVD for $30. But with the campaign, I’ve sold 42 DVDs for $30. I’ve sold 45 digital downloads at $15. So essentially, distribution has already begun.

This experience has been realizing that if I’m not going to sell it, there’s nobody else out there trying to sell my work, and that’s what I need to work on. That’s why this campaign was such a good thing for me. Because it’s freaking hard. And you do see your friends unsubscribing from your emails, and it’s devastating. There are moments of panic where I feel awful, like I’m going to raise this money, but am I going to lose friends over it?

This is something that independent filmmakers have to learn. You can’t just be a filmmaker anymore. You have to be a filmmaker, a distributor, a fund raiser, a graphic designer. It’s hard, but it’s empowering.

Flightpath: How empowering is this for you guys and your projects, emotionally and creatively?

Jayce: Hugely empowering. And morally, you owe these people who are your backers and supporting you, so you have to finish this, you have to carry on and see the journey through. You can’t be like, “That famous person never wanted to be in it, so it’s just sitting on my desk now.”

Andy: From every single person, it’s a vote of confidence, and now I have to live up to it. The thing about independent filmmaking is it’s lonely sometimes. You take a lot on by yourself. And to have the personal support from individuals feels very good. It makes me realize that we’re all indie filmmakers, but we’re all working together to make our independent projects, which I love.

Flightpath: Finally, what advice would you give people starting their own campaigns?

Jayce: Plan, plan, plan. For every dollar you get, you have to earn that dollar. You have to go out there and earn that money. You really have to think about it, plan and persist. Swallow that pride and figure out how to ask people to support you.

Andy: Chris at the Sundance Institute said to me, “Don’t be shy.” That’s the piece of advice I personally needed the most. I agree, swallow your pride. But you have to have a good project. Otherwise, don’t do it. Have something you believe in that’s worthy. And then swallow your pride and don’t be shy.

Interview: Josh Shabtai, Creative Director of Star Wars Arcade: Falcon Gunner

Star Wars has had a surprisingly rich history in video games. From the Super Star Wars trilogy for the Super Nintendo to the recent Force Unleashed series, there have been racing games, side-scrollers, RPGs and more, all designed to further engulf game and movie fans in one of the most successful film franchises of all time – but often with mixed results.

Yet some of the most beloved Star Wars games are also some of the earliest: the arcade shooters of the ’80s, starting with the classic vector-graphics based Star Wars, where users piloted an X-Wing in the first film’s Death Star battle.

In 2010, Vertigore Games created Star Wars Arcade: Falcon Gunner, a fast, fun love letter to Star Wars and its early arcade titles, but with new technology – touch screen functionality, motion controls and augmented reality – updating the experience for today’s audiences. Published by THQ Wireless and available exclusively for the iPhone and iPod Touch, Falcon Gunner has players twist, turn and tap their mobile devices to control and fire the Millennium Falcon’s gun turret in over twenty levels, including The Empire Strikes Back‘s asteroid field chase and the climactic Death Star battle from Star Wars. Or, with the use of the camera, they can turn the game’s setting into their immediate surroundings – the living room, the subway, or wherever. It’s exciting, looks great, and stands as one of the best Star Wars game releases on any platform in the last few years.

We recently spoke with Josh Shabtai, CEO and creative director of Vertigore, about his love of Star Wars, how his mother may have provided the inspiration for Falcon Gunner, and the game’s surprising original premise.

Flightpath: Just from playing Falcon Gunner, I could tell you were a huge Star Wars fan because of the level of detail in it.

Josh Shabtai: Oh man. Star Wars has sort of dominated life. I was born in ’79, so I wasn’t even old enough to see the original one in the theater. I’m not really sure what my first exposure to it was. I think I had the books on tape or something. But I ended up collecting a lot when I was a kid. Well, not really collecting so much as begging parents and relatives to buy me every toy.

I had hundreds of toys. I had an original Yak Face, which has gotten more and more valuable. My brother buried it, along with a handful of others, in Virginia Beach when we were on vacation. They’re gone. This was like, when I was eight. That’s kind of the one that got away and has tormented me all my life.

I’ve always been able to weave Star Wars throughout whatever I was doing professionally. I’ve been in PR for awhile, and I worked at an agency called Ketchum. And when I was there, I was on the marketing team that launched Geek Squad, as it transitioned from an independent brand to becoming owned by Best Buy. And I actually convinced them in 2005, the second year they were around, to become sort of the unofficial sponsor of Star Wars-related absenteeism around Episode III. We basically hijacked the launch in all kinds of crazy ways. We built a series of tools so you could get out of work, like an absentee excuse note that was customizable, or things that would automatically block your Outlook calendar. We then partnered with the fans who were waiting on line outside the Ziegfeld, and sponsored that line, and we went for 30 days. So I actually got work to pay for me to wait on line for Episode III. [Laughs] It was amazing. We rented this bus and skinned it to be sort of like the Millennium Falcon, and then inside we made it look retro and really crappy, like the inside of the Millennium Falcon. And there were all these wi-fi stations, so people could connect to work. That was sort of the brand tie-in. But that was the first time I able to somehow merge Star Wars with work.

Flightpath: And then you got into game development?

Josh Shabtai: Yeah. So I went from Ketchum to an Israeli startup, where one of the guys on our board is a serial entrepreneur. He’s put together a really neat incubator-slash-entrepreneur sort of resource calorie. So he not only funds companies, but he also has a layer of human resources developers that connects the business managers and owners with talent, so it actually gives you all the tools to run your own business.

And he was working with these guys on the beginnings of this [shooter] game engine, and as soon as I saw it, I was like, “You know, it’s kind of cool, but what would make it a ton cooler is if you were sitting in the gun turret of the Millennium Falcon. You have to do that.” And basically, Edo – his name’s Edo Segal – he’s like, “Really? You want to do a Star Wars game?” This was February 2010.

Flightpath: So that was where the idea for Falcon Gunner came from.

Josh Shabtai: Yeah. It was a game engine that let you move 360 degrees across three axes, so when I saw it, I was like, “This is serious Millennium Falcon territory.” It was a sprite-based engine, sort of a World War II [setting] for shooting planes that were flying sideways. But the cool thing was, Edo was like, “Look, if you really want to do this, let’s do it.” So I ended up, just sort of on a whim, writing up a 40-page design document and then working with the team to build a demo. And we tracked down THQ Wireless, who owned the license, and we were able to go to them with a working demo and a real design document.

Flightpath: You built a Star Wars-themed demo before you had any approvals?

Josh Shabtai: Yeah. I mean, when we were building it, there was no guarantee we would get to make anything. It really came just from, “I have to make a Star Wars game.”

This will sound like a canned narrative, but this is completely true. When I was a little kid, like three or four, I used to love the Star Wars arcade game. My mom would hold me up to the machine, and I actually got relatively good. For a four-year-old, I could play for probably five to seven minutes at a time. When Episode I came out, I actually flew back home to Erie, Pennsylvania, and bought tickets for my mom, dad, aunt and uncle and all my cousins, and we all went to see it together, because that’s how obsessed I was. And that’s when my mom first told me this story. There was a time where she was holding me up and was getting exhausted, and she actually wanted me to stop playing the game. She was like, “Look, we gotta go. I hear there’s a Millennium Falcon game at the other end of the mall.” And that’s what got me to stop.

Flightpath: Was she lying or was she telling the truth?

Josh Shabtai: No, she was lying! And they never made a Millennium Falcon game! They never made one in the arcade.

Flightpath: So maybe that was the genesis of the idea.

Josh Shabtai: Well, I would bug her. I would always be like, “Where is it?” So then when I started making Falcon Gunner, she was like, “You know, you’ve been working on this since you were four.”

Honestly, my entry point to video games is that I played a ton of them. I was obsessed with understanding how they work. I started to make some alternate reality games, so I was never really making video games as much as games that could be played in real life, and stuff like that. A lot of the work that I was doing in marketing and PR was basically designing entire marketing campaigns that would push people’s buttons to elicit responses, so essentially applying game design thinking to developing integrated marketing campaigns. You’re creating content you know people will interact with. I’ve always done it from that perspective, so when I saw what Edo was doing, I jumped at the chance to do that.

I don’t know if I’ve really told anybody this. Originally, the game design that I wrote up was not Falcon Gunner. My first instinct was to make an awesome Millennium Falcon game, but then second, I was like, “Man, you could make such a cool narrative experience.” So I wanted to actually make a game called Death Star Gunner. The idea being, you start off as the lowest guy on the totem pole in the Empire, basically a space janitor, who ends up graduating to becoming not the Turbo Laser operator on the Death Star, but just a turret operator. Like literally, just running one of those little stupid turrets on the side. [Laughs] Like, it’s so sad. That’s as good as it’s gonna get, and then ultimately…

Flightpath: You get blown up.

Josh Shabtai: [Laughs] Yeah, you get blown up! I wanted to make this awesome thing where you start as a janitor on one of the small frigates, and in the middle of a battle you end up taking on one of the turrets. Basically, your face would be covered the whole time by one of those black helmets. It’s so sad. And then there would be moments where he’s with his wife and kids. It would be this really weird, dry comedy set in the Star Wars universe. Ultimately you graduate, and then at the end when you’re on the Death Star, you get one shot at the Falcon. He literally zips by. If you hit him, the game ends with Vader wiping out Luke and the Empire winning and Vader getting all the credit, and no one ever knew your contribution to it. Or you blow up. [Laughs]

Basically, I put that together thinking, “We’re never gonna really make a Star Wars game, so if we’re gonna make a demo, let’s just do that.” Then I sort of dug deeper into who had the license. We found THQ Wireless had it, and had been making some games for awhile. And then we found we had a real shot at it, and I was actually afraid to pitch this off-the-wall concept.

Flightpath: It’s not a safe bet.

Josh Shabtai: I had no idea how it would fly. I think it’s funny, but will anyone else? So we were like, “Let’s go back to the original idea,” which was a Falcon game. So we went out to THQ, who was really great to work with. I just have to say, I find that so often, ideas get killed because they’re presented in idea form. So to be able to walk in and say, “Hey guys, here’s a working augmented reality Star Wars game,” totally unsolicited, it was good.

I remember the first title for the game was 12 Parsecs. But it sounded too much like a racing game.

Flightpath: How was the development process? What were the stages in creating the game after you got the OK?

Josh Shabtai: First thing really was rebuilding the complete engine from scratch. By the way, the engine that the game’s built on is our own. We call it the Immersion Engine. We built it from the ground up. So when we first started out, the engine we built the demo on was a sprite-based engine, and we gutted it and recreated it so it would be able to have full 3D models and things like that. So we started there. The game that we ended up building was essentially the design document that we put together to present, so a lot of the pre-work had been done, in terms of really outlining what the user progression structure was going to be, what the menu interface system was going to be like. All that work really was done upfront, and then we spent the next couple of months just building all this stuff. We got official sounds from Lucasfilm, and that was pretty cool, and obviously you have to have the real music.

We made a few bets on what the control scheme would be like. The original engine that we had was a simple touch-the-screen to shoot. There were no thumbsticks, so we added that in. In game design, it typically works that you have an idea you think is going to be cool, you implement it as a prototype, and you find out it sucks. So you have to go back and forth. Where we landed with how the control sticks work, the speed with which you can spin to manipulate the position of the turret – all those things – they changed a bit from the final version, but for the most part we nailed a really fun control feeling from that early demo. A lot of credit goes to our devs.

That was a dangerous first game to start with, because when you’re like, “Wow, this is fun with no effort,” you start to feel like that’s the way it’s gonna be on [making] future games. And I can say from experience now that it’s not. So we really lucked into it early on. It was pretty cool.

Flightpath: Was there anything that was off-limits? Characters or locales that Lucasfilm wouldn’t let you touch?

Josh Shabtai: Everything we laid out, they let us do. It was awesome. It’s funny. I feel like in the past, Lucasfilm got a lot of grief about how they played the fan community. But I have to say, they were amazing in terms of providing any assets we were looking for.

Flightpath: And once it was done, how did it feel, both as a designer and as a Star Wars fan, to have made a Star Wars video game?

Josh Shabtai: It hasn’t worn off. I really went into it saying, “Okay, I just want to make a Star Wars game. I don’t even care about anything else.” And trying to make one that would hopefully live up to what I loved about the X-Wing series, and the original arcade game, and to some degree, Rogue Squadron. I dunno man, it hasn’t worn off. It’s still pretty crazy. [Laughs] I really can’t even put it into words. And honestly, when I talk to Star Wars fans who are like, “Man, that game was awesome,” [I get] that good feeling of, “I was able to make something real,” that a lot of people had dreamed of for awhile.

And frankly, what’s funny is that it actually ended up spawning a company, and we’ve made two other games since then, and we have some other stuff coming up. It’s starting to become a significant thing. But I don’t even know if that’s as interesting to me as just having made a Star Wars game.

Flightpath: Well that’s a nice thing to check off your list of things to do in life: Star Wars videogame.

Josh Shabtai: Yeah! I’d like to make more!

Flightpath: Is there a chance for a sequel? Maybe one with speederbikes?

Josh Shabtai: I hope so. [Laughs] But speederbikes are definitely one of the things I’m dying to make.

Flightpath: I don’t know if you feel comfortable answering this, but Star Wars has a big legacy in video game history. Where do you think Falcon Gunner fits in that legacy?

Josh Shabtai: I was obsessed with the X-Wing series. The X-Wing and TIE Fighter series were unbelievable in terms of making you feel like this stuff was real. My favorite game of all time is Knights of the Old Republic. I actually think that nailed the themes behind Star Wars probably better than even the prequels did.

Realistically, I sort of feel like…you know, those games are incredible. You know, Knights of the Old Republic, X-Wing, TIE Fighter, not even just amongst Star Wars artifacts, but just amongst games, they’re unbelievable. I mean, we basically made a fun arcade shooter for iPhone. I’ve gone back and played Rogue Leader on Gamecube, and it’s amazing, some of the things they did in that game. It looks good, it plays well, it’s immersive. I feel like those guys really killed it.

I’m psyched that we introduced augmented reality to it. I think [Falcon Gunner] is closer in spirit to the original arcade game than any of the others. It’s more arcadey, and really, the design objective was really simple.

One part from A New Hope was probably my favorite when I was a kid, and it was when Luke got in the gunner seat and got really excited when he shot [a TIE fighter] down. Han says, “Don’t get cocky!” There was something about that moment. I love that feeling, where he’d never done that before. He’d never sat in a seat like that, he’d never fired those turrets. And for me, that moment where he was elated, and he figured out how to do it and master it, that’s the fabric of the Star Wars that I love. If the game did one thing, it would create that feeling in you. It’s kind of hard to figure out how the controls work well, and then all of a sudden, you lock into it and you have that feeling of elation like Luke did.

I feel like, Knights of the Old Republic, their objective was to immerse you in a universe where you feel the shades of gray between being a Sith and a Jedi, and the political ramifications of decisions being made throughout the galaxy. Those are experiences that are more intricate in nature, so I couldn’t put Falcon Gunner up with those experiences. But at least we nailed that feeling [from A New Hope‘s turret scene], and a game hadn’t done that yet. So, hopefully we earned our place amongst those games.

Digital Debate: Media Convergence on One Screen

twitter on television

We here at Flightpath usually get along pretty well. We’re all interested in digital media, technology and how the two continue to change and evolve. We go out to lunch, get drinks, and generally enjoy each other’s company (except for that one person here…). Occasionally, however, we disagree on things (Jets vs. Dolphins, Birch vs. Stumptown (both awesome local coffee houses), Brgr vs. New York Burger, etc.). You know how it is.

Today, we’re having a “Digital Debate,” where we’ll offer two opposing views on an issue in the digital world. You decide who – if anyone – is right. In this sparring match, it will be “Smokin’” Social Media Strategist John Whitcomb vs. “Dashing” Digital Marketing Associate Dan Brooks.

The topic: Will there be a one-screen future featuring the convergence of television and Internet interactivity?


As I watched the Oscars and followed my Twitter stream, it got me thinking about how far technology has come. It was amazing that I could connect to other viewers from all over the globe just by searching for a certain topic or hashtag, such as #Oscars or #TheOscars.

My vision of the future, meaning three to five years from now, involves one of convergence. Instead of having to watch one screen and have another to connect to my friends’ opinions on Twitter with my laptop, I will be doing both at the same time on one screen, plus a whole lot more.

Let me indulge you for a minute and so that you can visualize exactly what I am talking about (and make it easier for you to agree with me). It is the year 2014 and you are just settling down for your interactive Oscar experience. You turn on the TV and tune it to your desired channel. Next you bring up your Twitter and Facebook streams and start following the conversations. Since you are a huge behind-the-scenes fan, you have also just downloaded to your TV the behind-the-scenes app, which lets you watch exclusive video that is not available to the general public.

You continue watching the show, participating in the live Facebook chats with the winners and voting in all of the audience participation questions. You change the camera view so you can get a glimpse of the audience, and by clicking on one of the audience members you are instantly greeted with their bio (in case you forgot who they were).

Some of this is already possible, and this year at the Consumer Electronics Show, “Connected Televisions” were one of the largest draws behind, of course, the Tablet craze. But I really do think that this isn’t that far off and we no longer will have to choose between devices, but will have all the options that we currently have on multiple devices on one screen. Oh yeah, and did I mention that this viewing of the Oscars takes place after you have eaten the dinner prepared by your robot butler?

Nice vision, right? Top that, Danny Boy!


John is wrong. THE END.

Just kidding. John brings up a good point in that many forms of media have been mixing and converging over the years. Our cell phones are no longer really phones; they’re music players, texting machines and mini-computers. Laptops are recording studios, DVD and movie players, and stereos. But I’m hesitant to lump TVs into this category, especially when it comes to Internet/Twitter/interactive functionality. The reason? The technology to incorporate interactivity and/or the Internet into the television viewing experience has been around for years; it’s been tried, and it’s never worked.

The biggest hindrance to web surfing on television has always been that the web just doesn’t look that good on TV. It’s the same as retrofitting a web site onto on iPad – it doesn’t work. The resolution is terrible and no one likes zooming in and out. Also, with web content on television, it’s really just no fun reading from your couch, which is usually pretty far away from the screen. In addition, no one seems to want a keyboard lying on their coffee table. (And who wants to use a remote to type on the TV? As a gamer, I hate typing messages on the PlayStation Network with my controller, and rarely do I or any of my friends write anything to each other short of highly intellectual quips like, “You suck.”)

But aside from that, even when media companies have tried to introduce web interactivity to TV, it’s been rejected. Remember the great WebTV craze of ’96? You don’t because there was no craze – no one wanted it. Yes, G4’s Attack of the Show does feature some onscreen Twitter messages from viewers, but this is a niche show geared towards tech fans. They’re low-hanging fruit.

And forget Internet or Twitter functionality; this is really all about interactive television, and there’s a vast graveyard filled with failed attempts at interactive television. There was Qube, Videoway, and Time Teletext, among countless others (see Fordham University Professor John Carey’s excellent paper on Interactive TV for more info). They all offered early versions of things that are now routine on the computer – banking, games, brief text news updates – and all were ultimately rejected or failed to make it out of their test markets.

My feeling is that the big change to how we watch TV in relation to the Internet was the adoption of laptops into the living room. Watching the Giants blow a three TD lead in the 4th quarter against the Eagles and want to see if any team has ever choked this badly? Turn right to the laptop and try to find out. (I’m a Jets fan, by the way.) Want to see what people think about Anne Hathaway’s supremely annoying “Woo!” yelp after every introduction during the Oscars? Check the laptop. Just watched a weird Korean horror movie sickly recommended by your boss that you can’t unsee and want to seek professional help? Open the laptop.

I will, of course, acknowledge that there already has been tremendous convergence between television and the Internet. There’s TV content on the Internet, and the TV experience has become more web-like, with Video On Demand, interactive menus and time-shifting via DVR. But I think this might be as far as it goes for TV meets the Internet because ultimately, TV is a passive experience. It’s a one-way street, where you turn it on, sit back and watch. It’s designed to work that way and nothing has ever been able to completely change that.

Checkmate, Whitcomb!

P.S. I have no idea who added that link to John’s “Nice vision” line. No idea AT ALL.

Pod People: How Podcasts Are Changing Niche Marketing


I’m a guy with admittedly niche tastes, and I really love the stuff I love. I’m at the comic book store every Wednesday (usually Manhattan Comics, located just a few blocks away from the Flightpath offices) to check out new releases, and there’s always a graphic novel in my bag or on my nightstand. (Currently, I’m reading the Star Wars: Legacy trades and the Deadpool ongoing series collections. I highly recommend both. Yes, I’m a huge nerd. Please don’t judge me.) I also love comedy, having been raised on a diet of SCTV reruns and Turkey Day marathons of Mystery Science Theater 3000. I’m a hockey addict, going to as many New York Rangers games as I can, and wearing my schnazzy new Heritage Jersey at every opportunity, while at the same time hating the New Jersey Devils with every fiber of my being. It’s a good life.

I like to talk about the stuff I like, or even better, listen to other people talk about the stuff I like. The biggest problem for a guy like me, however, is that there are no mainstream outlets for that to happen with my niche hobbies. There’s nothing close to comic book talk on the radio or television and probably never will be. Comedians are all over the media, but rarely do I get to hear them improvise without a filter, or speak, long-form, about who they are and what they do. Even with hockey, the coverage on local talk radio stations like WFAN is minimal. In the local papers, articles are banished to the back pages of the Sports section. So, if I want to hear actual human beings dissecting and exploring the things I love, where am I to turn?

Enter podcasts. Podcasts, for those who don’t know, are downloadable MP3 audio files (occasionally video), almost always free, that can be played on your computer, iPod, or essentially any device that plays MP3s. And what they’ve evolved, and seemingly settled into being, is niche radio made at home. If you want to hear someone talk about it, chances are, there is a podcast covering it. And unlike public access television, which for the most part, has brought us nothing but junk (and in the best case scenarios, weird junk), podcasts can actually be pretty excellent.

I first discovered podcasts through a fellow comic book fan, who suggested I check out a show called Around Comics. Hosted by a few friends and recorded in their local comic shop in Chicago, these guys were smart, witty, and spoke the language I knew. They weren’t afraid to say what they didn’t like, what they loved, or to disagree with each other. Moreover, they featured tons of in-depth interviews with comic book professionals, including controversial writer/artist John Byrne, legendary Silver-Age creator Carmine Infantino, and future all-time great, Goon creator Eric Powell. These names may mean nothing to you, but they mean a lot to me and others, and the result is a true emotional connection between audience and product that is essentially impossible on modern radio.

I won’t bore you with all the details, but the same holds true for comedy and hockey podcasts I later found. Marc Maron’s WTF podcast delves into the comic’s own personal life with brutal honesty, and he gets his interview subjects (comedians, comedy writers and directors) to open up about almost anything. There’s also the Pop My Culture podcast, more light-hearted than WTF but still very smart, in which hosts Cole Stratton and Vanessa Ragland deftly mix serious discussions about craft with very funny riffs on just about anything with their guests (see the Bob Odenkirk and RiffTrax episodes for proof). For hockey, I turn to the NYRangerscast, hosted by a couple of knowledgeable young fans who adeptly express all the joy and pain every Rangers fan feels through the course of a season, as well as the insightful Puck Podcast, which features highlights and clips from around the NHL.

Now, why should this matter to those of us in digital marketing? Most successful podcasts end up being sponsored, and anecdotally at least, I submit that podcast sponsorships are a great opportunity to reach target demographics. Through Around Comics, I discovered, which offers incredible discounts and packs each book—even the dumb Thundercats trade I ordered—like it’s the most valuable thing on earth, not to be damaged under any circumstances. (This shows that they know and care about the needs of neurotic comic book fans like myself. I will be a customer for life.) But larger businesses can find value in sponsoring podcasts, too; companies like Audible and Netflix have sponsored Around Comics and WTF. When I hear their promos (read live by the hosts), and see that they are supporting something kind of underground and kind of off-the-grid, like a comic book or comedy podcast, it makes me think, “They get it. And they’re helping something exist that could not exist anywhere else.” It changes my perception of them as a nameless, faceless corporation. Suffice to say, I’m a Netflix subscriber and consider Audible one of the good guys.

The New York Times recently took notice as well, highlighting the mega-popular This Week In Tech (or TWIT) podcast hosted by Leo Laporte, which receives a quarter million downloads each week. According to the article:

“Advertisers, especially technology companies, appreciate Mr. Laporte’s reach. Mark McCrery, chief executive of Podtrac, which is based in Washington, and measures podcast audiences and sells advertising, said TWIT’s advertising revenue doubled in each of the last two years and was expected to total $4 million to $5 million for 2010.

Starting at $40 per thousand listeners, TWIT’s ad rates are among the highest in American podcasting and are considerably higher than commercial broadcasting rates, which are typically $5 to $15 per thousand listeners.”

This is great news for successful podcasts, but even better for advertisers.  Ad rates may be higher, but advertisers, some of which are huge corporations, know that they’re getting an audience that’s interested in their specific product. Indeed, TWIT counts Ford as one of its many sponsors.

Podcasts, ultimately, fill much-needed gaps: they give us the chance to be our own talk radio program managers, letting us choose what we would want our own station to be. They tell you that there are other people out there who love the same stuff you do, which, to put it simply, means a lot. Because of this, the bonds between show, hosts and audience are that much stronger, no matter if the podcast is recorded in someone’s kitchen or in a studio; thus, sponsorships seem more honest as a result. And there’s also the fact that, in most cases, podcast listeners find the shows they love on their own. They’re not being advertised and they’re not being sold to you. You find them on your own terms, you give them a shot, and you choose to subscribe or check back in. And the emotional connection created, because you found something that isn’t cynical and speaks to who you are, is real.

So, try a podcast—whichever it is, I promise not to judge. (Unless it’s about something I don’t like. Then, woo-boy, are you a weirdo.)

The New Non-Geek Computer Speak

Recently over happy hour drinks, I sat listening to a friend of mine discuss her sudden weight loss. This was by no means extraordinary, but what was interesting was exactly how she chose to talk about it. Attributing her new slimness to a recent job change, she stated, “sitting and staring at the computer used to be my default setting, and now, I’m constantly on the move.” The phrase “default setting” jumped out at me, and as I began to break it down, I realized the complex semantic underpinnings at work. The opposite of personification or anthropomorphism, my friend crossed into new terrain, likening human behavior and consciousness to that of conventionally inanimate, yet not entirely lifeless, technologies. And she was totally comfortable, if not eager, to make this comparison.

Consider a few more examples. Often after a hard week at work, I tell my family and friends that I’m taking the weekend to “unplug and reboot.” Sometimes, during an especially dry film or conference, I check out from the present moment and go into “sleep mode.” Off the top of my head, I can think of at least three instances this week of someone telling me they’d like to discuss something “offline.” And I’m sure that you can think of dozens of similar tech-come-human phrases appropriated in your daily conversations, too.

I think these examples signal a very important shift, if not transcendence, in mainstream consciousness. Gone is the era of hysteric technophobia. In its stead, a new age of cuddly techno love and acceptance is dawning. And what’s particularly interesting is our willingness not just to accept technology, particularly computers, but to empathize with them. At some point, we began to see a likeness in our own consciousness, a familiarity of being. That’s a radical change.

Arguably, computers and other technologies are engineered to mimic human brain processes, or at least what scientists think they understand about human brain processes. Therefore, one could purport that it’s only natural people adopt those words and phrases traditionally set aside for computers, sensing a likeness in their own brain function. It’s a solid counterpoint, but narrow-minded in the sense that it doesn’t honor the emotional pains taken to achieve that sense of familiarity.

Feeling at ease with technology didn’t happen overnight. It took decades for humans to develop benevolent feelings toward computers and hours of one-on-one time to seal the deal. Certainly not everyone is hip to this trend, but the mainstream has spoken with a voice that doesn’t get ignored. The new non-geek computer speak comes loaded with technological innuendos and reveals our true sentiments, one flippant happy hour conversation at a time. We like computers. They’re like us. And together, we’re gonna share this state of being.

This new dawn we’re witnessing really excites me. I believe it means that people have opened up that warm, lighthearted, and fuzzy side of themselves that was traditionally locked away from technology. It’s a new dimension in the collective consciousness, full of empathy and richly emotional, that’s begging for creative word play and fun.

Keith Richards Builds a Digital Life

Keith Richards’ new autobiography Life debuted yesterday, and from what I know about the man and his band, the book must truly be full of it!  In the best, most irreverent, original kind of way, of course.

Keith’s book of Life has a great digital consciousness including a cool, but understated site,, and all the expected social links. Though I will say, Mr. Richards’ fandom and followings are not-unexpectedly small (given his generational chords); while, his publisher – Little, Brown – has a quite robust social outreach.

So, even before listening to his own introduction to the book, uploaded at, you get a flavor for just how real the book and experience is going to be.  This digital primer provides the emotional glue to the man and his place in the world that a book by itself could never really do.

Little, Brown has done a great job using Twitter in the days leading up to the book release, from seeding bite-sized juicy quotes and factoids, to trivia question giveaways, to even seeding clips of Johnny Depp reading the audio book. Fans have been posting about the book to Keef’s Facebook wall as well, adding fan drawings, photos of ticket stubs and more.

There are some missed opportunities here, too. Keef’s Twitter feed is clearly the work of a publicity team, and has no feel of coming from the man itself – a shame when you have one of the most unique, defining personas of the past 40 years of pop culture to leverage. There’s no sense of interaction between the icon and his fans on Twitter or Facebook, which many followers now rightly come to expect.

Nonetheless, how fitting that such a historically-significant musician from one of the most defining bands of any generation writes a memoir titled Life and it actually comes alive, in an emotionally relevant digital experience. Proving once again, as we inch towards 2011, that it now does take a “digital village” to really tell a story for this generation, let alone telling the amplified story of a musician for any generation!